Brunch in Philadelphia

If you’re one of those rare college students who tends to wake up before noon and likes to partake in some quality eating to start off the day then brunch sounds like the restaurant genre for you.

Philadelphia is home to an eclectic variety of brunch restaurants only a short and cheap train ride away and certainly affordable on the tight college-student budget.

The closest to St. Joe’s happens to be right on campus. The new and popular Landmark Restaurant, walking distance for most of us, does in fact serve brunch on Sundays with about six or seven unique breakfast dishes including Breakfast Nachos, Heuvos Quesadillas, and Steak and Egg Burrito, none of which hike above $10. The menu also includes about twelve lunch dishes including the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Sandwich, Fish and Chips, and Seafood Bisque Bread Bowl.

Café Lift, located in the Loft District (not far off of Route 676), offers a variety of both egg based dishes
(excellent Huevos Rancheros) and griddles such as the Canoli French Toast (as good as it sounds) for those who don’t mind indulging early in the day. For those who’d rather skip breakfast, “Café Lift” offers an array of salads and paninis as well.

Another less expensive choice is Sam’s Morning Glory Diner located a few blocks below South Street’s Magic Gardens on 10th and Fitzwater. The small, changing menu is made up for in quality. My recommendation? The Frittata—fluffy with fresh grilled veggies and served with an enormous hunk of biscuit. Their homemade jam is excellent as is their coffee. Give this place a visit. You won’t be disappointed.

Of course you can’t mention Philly restaurants without a Stephen Starr. “Jones” is a fun, 1960s, almost Brady Bunch themed restaurant that serves brunch on weekends from 10AM until 3PM. Jones is slightly more expensive but don’t let that discourage you – a quality meal under $10 is certainly possible and still a superb choice. A few things worth noting on your first trip: if you love a simple breakfast sandwich, the Jones Biscuit Sandwich is a must. The Monkey Bread ($8.50) is a mouthwatering pastry to split between your group before your meal.  The orange juice is fresh squeezed and worth the $3.75.

For those who don’t mind spending a little time waiting and some extra money, try Green Eggs Café. With three locations (one in south, north, and midtown Philadelphia) Green Eggs is known for its commitment to being environmentally friendly. Their products are bought fresh and locally and their herbs and spices are grown in house. Dishes are often too big to finish in one sitting. Griddle-fans will be in brunch heaven here with French Toast flavors of peanut butter, crème brûlée, and tiramisu. Get there early, it’s quite popular.

Philadelphians take pride in their Brunch. No one does it better. Take advantage!

Mardi Gras in New Orleans

The city of New Orleans [‘NAW – linz], home to the most soulful brand of jazz and funk that’ll leave your spirit in an elated daze for months. You’ll be tapping your feet to this city’s tunes a long while after you’ve departed while staring sideways at the frenzied humdrum of busy East Coast living—separated’ enlightened. You’ll notice the lack of humanity in most places once you’ve left; the serene, hospitable personalities, the soulful energy, the conglomeration of cultures meshing and working together to create not a dull shade of brown, but an explosion of art, a celebration of life’ won’t exist back at home in the stale suburbs of North Jersey or the brash brawns of South Philly. If Dixieland had a motto, it’d be ‘Slow and Steady Wins the Race.’ If New York had a motto, it’d be ‘Slow and Steady Wins the Race My Ass.’ For New Orleans, it’d be ‘What Race? This Dance Floor Aint’ No Competition.’

Mardi Gras is French for ‘Fat Tuesday,’ a Christian day reflecting the practice of eating rich, fatty foods, and drinking in high quantity on the last night before the traditional fasting of the Lenten season. This story’s evolution from its humble, religious beginning to the iconic event it is now speaks only to the unfaltering energy at this city’s core. So, when attending a world famous event in a city that’s no rookie to partying, going in blind is a risk not wise to take.

My recommendation for shelter: Airbnb. It’s affordable, manageable, and you’ll find yourself in the residential areas of the city, which, if you’re like me, is something to be absorbed: the bold architecture, the hip people, the array of colors, the intrusive botany, the funky street art all ooze a wonderfully original creativity unique to the city.

My recommendation for food: eat out’ as often as your budget allows. This is soul food at the highest possible quality.

Further advice: don’t let your hangover keep you down. The southern sun is a beautiful remedy in the heart of winter. Don’t expect too much nudity, it’s going to be a little chilly. Don’t get too used to being able to leave the bar with your beer because you may make this mistake once you’re back home. Go with good friends. You’ll leave great friends.

Last but certainly not least: don’t bother with Hurricanes being sold at every bar in the French Quarter: very little alcohol, tons of sugar—paralyzing hangovers in waiting.

Roaming Around Rome

First and foremost, the cliches are all true; the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Coliseum, the Forum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel are all breathtakingly beautiful displays of ancient human society—not just society in general, but THE society—as well as monumental feats in architecture. While the city hosts many under-the-radar beauties, the famous ones are nothing to skip. Bite the bullet, be a tourist, bring your cargo shorts and fanny packs, it’s worth it.

My recommendation: brush up on your history before or while visiting all these famous landmarks. Without doing so you can appreciate the architecture and the art, but to stand in the spot under the arch Julius Caesar led his army through to conquer Rome, to picture the hundreds of artists taking Michelangelo’s direction, hanging from the ceiling, to wonder in awe how they staged naval battles in what was the world’s largest structure for centuries, is to truly appreciate Rome.

Don’t be afraid to wander, Rome’s a safe city. However, you will certainly need to watch out for pickpockets.

If you have an evening free and plan to walk around aimlessly, Trastevere is your destination. Probably the most charming residential neighborhood, Trastevere is home to a number of restaurants that meet our expectations of real Italian cuisine. After dinner, there’s plenty of Gelato places to choose from. My recommended flavor: Stratecella (chocolate drizzle in vanilla).

If your night is calling for some more excitement, the nightlife of Rome isn’t as laid back as Italian culture would have you think. For English speaking travelers who don’t mind a bit of rowdiness, Scholars Lounge is a great time. The Irish pub, a few minutes walk away from Il Vittoriano (or Altare della Patria), is a two large room bar that hosts fun events most days out of the week including live music and karaoke. And of course, the nature of an Irish pub is near and dear to most English speakers from Australia to America, so meeting people is a lot easier in Scholar’s than with the language barrier somewhere else.

Campo de’ Fiori is great spot for a good dinner in the late afternoon when the restaurants are in full swing or at night for a lively time when the bars are active. During the day Campo is a colorful farmer’s market surrounded by cafes and shops with great local produce including good cheese, pastas, fruits, vegetables, spices and more.

Terror Along Italy’s Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast has some of the most sensational sights in Italy, arguably in all of Europe. After spending a month in Rome I trekked south with my mother and cousin in a rinky-dink, decades-old bus along the cliffs of Italy’s west coast.

The views inspired both awe and terror. To your immediate left shot up rock what seemed thousands of feet higher than the road and to your right, a thousand-or-so foot drop to the blue blue blue sea of the Mediterranean.

Having spent a month in Rome prior to this spectacular and horrifying bus trip, I was under the impression that Roman drivers developed their own form of insanity on the road, much like New Yorkers have; an enormous city with a high population where if you dillydally for a second, you’ll be passed, honked at, cussed at, etc. Having worked in the Big Apple for a month, I can attest to the trouble tourists from the suburbs or worse often find themselves in with lifelong city dwellers, and I figured that Rome, the city with the fourth highest population in the continent, would be no different. I learned quickly that Romans are both more daring and insane than New Yorkers in their vehicles. This may be because cars are smaller. This may be because of the large amount of Vespas to compete with. Nonetheless, my first cab ride—from the airport to our apartment—was nothing short of a vomit-inducing roller coaster ride; street lights, stop signs, lanes, crosswalks—all mere suggestions for the driver, so it seemed. Not, you know, THE LAW, like it is in the States.

However, this bus trip taught me that insanity on the road is not merely a Roman trait, confined to a big, overpopulated, busy-as-hell city buzzing with waddling tourists and numerous obstacles to weave around. It’s an Italian trait. How do I know this? Because, despite having less than the average height of a man as room between this bus’s right wheels and certain death, as well as inches (no exaggeration) between its left side and oncoming traffic, our speed rarely, if that, dipped below 70 mph.

In the moment, I’d have done some sick things to be back in that first cab ride.

My mother didn’t seem as affected on a deeply emotional level as I. All of Italy so far has put her into a sort of absent minded state of awe during which she would loudly vocalize every bit of beauty her eyes ran across (keep in mind, we’re tourists in Italy – beauty is everywhere). So, Mom yelling in my ear to look at the views quite impossible to miss wasn’t helping my ever-increasing state of anxiety. I’d share a few photos, but I don’t have any. Letting go of the chair in front of me to reach for my camera hung around my neck seemed like a death sentence at the time.

Nonetheless, we made it to our hotel where my mother and cousin excitedly had a day to roam around Positano, and I stayed in to watch movies and recuperate.

Would I suggest the Amalfi Coast? Absolutely. Would I do the Amalfi Coast again? Absolutely not.