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Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh

The legacy of 19th century steel baron Andrew Carnegie isn’t in the business he built, it’s what he built with his business.  Carnegie was a believer in concept of the self-made man, like himself, and believed the masses would need access to education and cultural enrichment to fully realize their potential. He went about sponsoring many philanthropic works including 2,509 Carnegie libraries. Some of the libraries had an event space attached, the most ornate and grandiose of those spaces are sister music halls in New York and Pittsburgh.

The Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, was built in 1895 and is a grand example of the guilded age with gold leaf, marble, and frescos. The 1,928 seats in the theater are built from mahogany and covered with crimson velvet cushions. We learned that they also have wire cages under the seats where gentlemen once stored their top hats.

The acoustics are excellent. We recently visited to hear former Vice President Joe Biden speak and think even without the microphone he could have been heard loud and clear. If you have the chance to visit the hall, take it.  You’ll be impressed with the design and wonder why they don’t build buildings this beautiful anymore.




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Showcasing Pittsburgh’s German Heritage

Have you ever passed a place all the time and thought you should really check it out? Amanda and I felt that way about Pittsburgh’s Penn Brewery. It sits just up the hill from our apartment (although there are several major highways crossing any direct path) and we finally decided to hop in the car and drive up for an early dinner last weekend.

Penn Brewery is Pittsburgh’s oldest and largest brewery. It’s housed in the mid nineteenth-century landmark E&O Brewery Building in the North Side’s Deutschtown neighborhood, which was settled by German immigrants. The current brewery has been onsite producing craft beer since 1986 — long before many of us had ever even heard of the small-batch brewery concept. Penn Brewery do their best to craft award-winning German-style beers brewed in the tradition of the early German immigrants of Western Pennsylvania. Penn Brewery tells the story of Pittsburgh’s European immigrants through its craft beer and homemade cuisine.

Our flight of Penn Brewery’s beers

We started out with a flight of the brewery’s year-round beers which include:

  • Penn Pilsner
  • Penn Dark
  • Penn Gold
  • Penn Weizen
  • Penn Kaiser Pils
  • Penn IPA

We enjoyed all of them, although we were split when it came to our favorites. Amanda was partial to the darker options and the Weizen (it had an almost-spicy finish) and I was more fond of the lighter craft creations.

We sipped and sampled until our German-inspired food was ready. I opted for a braut — and I’ve been thinking about its delicious, sweet flavor all week; it was THAT good. Amanda mixed and matched her order, getting the traditional pierogi appetizer and a side dish of Penn Brewery’s mac and cheese (mmm, beer cheese).

The food was excellent, the beer was cold and refreshing and the atmosphere was comfortable and cozy. Our only regret is that we waited four years to visit; we’re sure to be back soon.

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Nassau’s Coming Attractions

The Minister of Tourism and Aviation getting a look at the model of the planned development. Photo Credit: Kemuel Stubbs

A lot construction will be happening near downtown Nassau as a $250 million project begins to take shape.  The unveiling of the project with the Bahamas’ Minister of Tourism and Aviation showed a large hotel complex to the west of the British Colonial Hilton.

“This is very exciting. It starts the revitalization of Bay Street. It’s a modern project that is very different from the colonial feeling of Bay Street and it is going to add something even more exciting for our visitors to experience when they get off the cruise ships,”  said Minister Dioniso James D’Aguilar.

The project is expected to begin a phased opening in mid-2019 and will feature a 150-room Margaritaville Beach Resort. Nearby, you’ll find a 150-unit luxury oceanfront residence that will be branded One Particular Harbour at The Pointe.

You will also eventually see a marina, waterpark, spa, retail shops and of course a Margaritaville restaurant and kids’ club.

“What I find really wonderful about this is the water park; that will provide something different for all visitors to do,” the Tourism and Aviation minister added.  The minister believes that The Pointe is including all the elements to be a successful project by having a mix of residential, commercial, food options and parking.

“We need all of those components to bring about the revitalization of Bay Street. We have millions of visitors coming to our country. Now, we have to create experiences that will get them to spend money here.”

The Ministry of Tourism and Aviation and the Downtown Nassau Partnership (DNP) are working together to finalize plans for the revitalization and beautification of Bay Street in its entirety.

We’ve been to Nassau twice and stayed at the British Colonial Hilton each time. We really enjoyed our stay each time and wonder if the new luxury development will change the authentic local feel of the neighborhood. I think it will be really interesting to go back after the projects have been completed.


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It’s Just Like Being There? (Well, Kind Of)

Merge VR Headgear

We tend to be techies here at No Kids and are often early adopters of new technologies. We had a DVR when TiVo was the only game in town. We got a plasma TV when LCD was the only alternative and LED hadn’t been introduced yet. We even got on to platforms like Twitter really early, too, when there were 18 million users compared to the 328 million users there are today. Yet, it took me a very long time to try virtual reality. I just couldn’t find a use for it other than a simple distraction, not to mention the start-up cost seemed really high until recently.

I finally bit the bullet and decided to spend a little money ($50, about the same amount it cost to fill up the tank in my Jeep a few years ago) and buy the best VR headset for the lowest cost that would work well with my phone. I settled on the Merge VR, a headset made out of molded foam with simple functionality. The Merge Miniverse is a store on their website with a large selection of apps for VR beginners and has been a place to play around and get used to the concept.

I had to explore the net to find the travel-based apps. I’d seen virtual tours of places on my laptop but now wanted to try them in a true 360° experience. I was disappointed in the Apple app store when they didn’t offer a VR tour of the Uffizi in Florence or even one to explore the Colosseum in Rome. But I was able to find a few videos on YouTube to get my fix. I went to Italy in Virtual Reality and found a good collection of 360 videos on some of my favorite spaces. The videos aren’t interactive but you can turn your head in any direction and see what is around you. The tour of Florence, Italy by TravelingMel is pretty good, too. The tour guide explains the history and significance of the location and you stand in one spot and look around. I really enjoyed walking across the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and taking a tour of the Piazza Del Duomo, being able to look up and see the bell tower and then turn behind me and see Ghiberti’s Doors on the Baptistry. The experience is good and we can’t wait to show our parents.

Florence Italy Tour in 360 Virtual Reality by TravelingMel

I think the VR experience still needs a little work. You can see the sites and in some cases move around the virtual landscape but it lacks a few of the important experiences, like touch and taste. We won’t be giving up exploring the world in real life anytime soon but VR is certainly a way of getting a fix of a sunny place you love.

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Social Media, the Winter Olympics and My Small Winter Olympic Encounter

On Thursday, the world of social media  was flooded with clips and photos of the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics hosted in PyeongChang, South Korea. The official coverage by NBC of the opening of the winter games was broadcast on tape delay Friday night (EST).  You’ll find that despite being promoted as “live” coverage most of what you’ll be watching will be live-to-tape. You can tune in to actual live coverage if you’re interested in watching in the middle of the night. You need to remember that South Korea is 14 hours ahead of those of us on the east coast of the United States; if you truly want to be surprised you’ll have to avoid looking at social media.

The impact of social media on how we watch the games makes me think of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002. You may be old enough to realize that 2002 was two years before the founding of Facebook and five years before Twitter. You didn’t have social media to spoil things. I was still working in news back then and was lucky to have access to the Associated Press wire service that alerted us in real time as the winners were announced for each event. At times we were under embargo by our parent company, NBC, and couldn’t spill the beans since they had broadcast rights. I just find it fascinating that less than twenty years ago it took a team of people to get the news out and today we just need one person with a phone.

The encounter I mentioned in the title was when the torch for the Salt Lake games was traveling across the country. I was fortunate to be at one of the stops. A small Olympic village popped up in a parking lot in Martinsburg, West Virginia where the flame stayed for the night. After being relayed down its route for the day, the torch would light a portable cauldron. I was able to get nice and close. I was so close I could feel the heat pouring off of it which was good because it was really cold. I hope to go to the games one day and witness the event my ancestors created.

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Slow News is Good News

News in Slow homepage

We’ve found a common trait among travelers is an interest in languages. The goal could be just to know a word or two like please or thank you or to become fluent, but in general we all want to be able to communicate. We know a couple of people who speak two or three languages fluently (and, of course, we’re jealous).

Personally, I’m really bad at learning languages. I tried and tried in high school and not much stuck. The teacher even told me that for someone like me to learn to speak Spanish, living in Spain was the only option. I’ve never had the pleasure so you can imagine my Spanish skills aren’t that great. I used to have a elementary grasp of Greek but it evaporated from lack of use. I’ve picked up bit of Japanese from anime but it’s really not a real grasp of language. Heck, my writing takes a lot of work to get it right in English and I’m what they refer to as a native speaker.

If you hover over the highlighted word it gives you the translation.

We came across a new way to work on your language skills called News in Slow. The course focuses on listening comprehension and vocabulary building. You even get a good sense of grammar and idioms. The concept is pretty simple: you listen to a newscast read at a slow pace so you can hear each word clearly and in turn each sentence. Right off the bat you’ll be able to identify some of the topics covered because the reports cover current events. The website has a player and a transcript you can follow; the key vocabulary is highlighted so you can hover over words to see the translations.

News in Slow has beginner, intermediate and advanced lessons to help you become proficient. You will probably need to practice and study if you are going to truly succeed — just like any kind of education. The online course currently has French, Italian, German and Spanish courses.

News in Slow is a subscription service with prices ranging from $16.90 for one month at the Bronze level to $179.90 for a full year at the Gold level. That’s not a bad price point to learn a new language (or brush up on your long lost language skills). Check out one of their demo episodes before you make the investment — and let us know if you try it! We’re intrigued but haven’t bought in (yet).

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The USVI is Back in Business and Letting Everyone Know

The USVI recently detailed a new marketing plan for the islands after the disastrous impact of two category 5 hurricanes in September.  The islands are rolling out a 150-day marketing strategy to help bring tourist dollars back to the islands.

“This new plan has been developed to establish priorities and a road map of activities we will pursue as our destination recovers,” Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty stated in a press release.

Nicholson-Doty noted that the new plan will have to remain fluid to handle the ever-changing conditions in the recovery process.

The main challenge for the department is they are funded by the island room tax, which is way down in the post-hurricane islands.

“With a significant number of accommodations unavailable for most of 2018, the marketing plan reflects working with a reduced budget,” she explained.

“Our digital marketing efforts will primarily focus on social media, where we will highlight segments such as cruise, shopping, dining, watersports, beaches, romance, culture, available accommodations and yachting,” she said. She wants the hashtag  #USVIStillNice to promote the islands are open for business and are welcoming guests.

“As we recover from the challenges posed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, we have no doubt that there is an opportunity for the U.S. Virgin Islands – with a refreshed product and visitor experience – to become the premier tourism destination in the Caribbean,” the Commissioner stated.

She asserted that you will still see the USVI at industry trade and travel shows to help spread the word about everything from voluntourism to vacations in the USVI.