Iconic Road Trips: Weaving Through West Virginia And Maryland On Interstate 68

I’ve driven Interstate 68 more times than I can count. It’s one of the main roads I take any time I’m traveling from the east coast to my hometown (Marietta, Ohio) or the town where my family lives now (Morgantown, West Virginia). I am currently engaged in a longstanding love-hate relationship with this road. I love it because the scenery is outstanding. The rolling hills of Appalachia surround you as you drive through, over and around them. I hate it because it’s a tough road to drive and being a passenger in the car on this road can be a terrible (and scary) experience if the driver isn’t sensible. The hills are steep, the curves are sudden and the cars travel quickly on this road.I once had an engine die on me on this road and, as I sat on the asphalt waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I admitted to myself that I wasn’t surprised. But in regard to a road trip, this is a wonderful road. The fact that it can be a challenging drive makes it more fun if you’re in good company.

If you have the time, stop at Cooper’s Rock State Forest, Cheat Lake, Rocky Gap State Park and Green Ridge State Forest.

Museum Month: American Visionary Art Museum In Baltimore, Maryland


An enormous ball made out of more than 18,000 bras, a replica of the ill-fated Lusitania constructed of nearly 200,000 toothpicks, and a floor mat created out of hundreds of toothbrushes are just a few of the quirky treasures to be found inside Baltimore‘s imaginative American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM). While it’s a lesser-known spot on the city’s tourist circuit, once anyone catches sight of the museum’s exterior – a found-object mosaic made out of tiny pieces of mirror and glass – it’s impossible not to be curious about what is kept inside.

Wander through the halls and galleries of the museum and you’ll be greeted by an eccentric collection of “outsider art,” or work made my self-taught art makers who have little or no contact with the mainstream art world. It’s common for these artists to be discovered after their deaths, and often times their artwork illustrates unconventional ideas, extreme mental states or extravagant fantasy worlds. Some of the pieces in the museum are thought provoking, while much of it is laugh-out-loud funny – but no matter what, the AVAM has the potential to make you change your opinion on what can be considered art.

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Here’s a sampling of some of the fascinating things to be discovered in the museum’s three buildings and sculpture garden:

  • A 55-foot wind-powered sculpture called a “whirligig”
  • A collection of non-electronic machines that visitors operate by pushing buttons
  • Robots made out of streetlights and vacuum cleaner parts
  • Framed, aerial photographs of crop circles
  • A collection of postcards from the Post Secret project
  • Sculptures made out of Styrofoam cups
  • The “Flatulence Post,” a podium decorated with fart art that plays recordings of all the winning farts from an annual competition
  • An expansive Pez collection
  • Several “art cars” covered in mosaics
  • An observation deck fashioned to look like a bird’s nest

If visiting Baltimore in the spring, check and see what dates the museum hosts the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race (this year, it was May 5). For the race, entrants create wacky, roving sculptures that traverse both land and sea on a 15-mile dash. Racers receive awards such as the “Golden Dinosaur” awarded for the most memorable breakdown and the “Grand Mediocre Champion” for the sculpture that finishes dead center in the middle of all entrants. Some of these kinetic sculptures are on display in a section of the museum.

The summer months, on the other hand, bring an outdoor film series to the AVAM. The museum takes advantage of a natural amphitheater formed by the adjacent Federal Hill, screening movies on a 30-foot wide screen that hangs from a golden hand sculpture on the west side of the museum. The screenings happen on Thursdays, so if you’re in town bring a lawn chair or blanket to the hill and enjoy the show.

All year round, be sure to browse the Sideshow Shop, the museum’s version of a gift shop that is packed with oddities and other goodies. Round out the trip at Mr. Rain’s Fun House, a moderately-priced restaurant serving American food and hand-crafted cocktails that match the creativity of the museum, and you will have had a day that truly defies convention in Baltimore.


Photo by Libby Zay.

Summer Hotspot: Baltimore, Maryland

If scenes from “The Wire” are the only images that come to mind when you think of Baltimore, it’s time to reevaluate. The city is a hodgepodge of distinct neighborhoods, including historic Fells Point, where you can take your pick from more than 120 pubs, and quirky Hampden, where you still might be able to spot a beehive hairdo straight out of a John Waters film. Although Baltimore is only a stone’s throw away from Washington, D.C., and a short drive from Philadelphia and New York, it’s a charming, comfortable city with its own culture and a lively arts scene. Plus, the city has several events happening this summer that are worth a trip.This summer, Baltimore will ring in a three-year celebration commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812 with the Star-Spangled Sailabration, a maritime festival that will bring dozens of tall ships and warships to the city’s bustling Inner Harbor from June 13-19. The Inner Harbor is a pretty public space filled with shops, museums, ships and restaurants. It is overlooked by Federal Hill, a park that sits on a prominent hill that was a lookout during the Civil War and the War of 1812. Don’t miss the American Visionary Art Museum, just to the west of Federal Hill, which is filled with oddball outsider art. On Thursday nights during the summer, the museum plays movies on the side of the building facing Federal Hill, which turns into a makeshift amphitheater.

From August 31 to September 3, IndyCars will race around a 2.04-mile temporary circuit set up around the Inner Harbor for the Baltimore Grand Prix. The circuit passes many Baltimore landmarks – including Oriole Park at Camden Yards – and contains 12 turns, one of which is an adrenaline-pumping hairpin turn. Race fans from around the world are expected to descend on the city and the crowds are expected to surpass 150,000 people.

Also in the Inner Harbor, Phillips Seafood – known for creating the first ever crab shack in Ocean City – recently moved to a new space in a restored power plant along the water. When doing so, Phillips opened up a huge new crab deck that juts out in the water. Visitors shouldn’t miss the true Chesapeake Bay experience of ordering up a bucket of clams and cracking them open in the sunshine. Wash the crabs down with Baltimore’s most famous beer, National Bohemian (better known as “Natty Boh” to Baltimoreans – just look for the can or bottle with the mustachioed man), and you have a true Baltimore experience.

Don’t forget that there is a lot to do in Baltimore beyond the Inner Harbor, including Artscape, the largest free arts festival in the country that features funky art cars, musical performances and plenty of neat art to peruse.

[flickr image via sneakerdog]

Sweetlife Festival to feature hot music and sustainable eats

sweetlife festivalIt isn’t often you get invited to a party with a purpose. But that’s exactly what the Sweetlife Food & Music Festival at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, will be: an all-day extravaganza celebrating the values of “sustainability, community and fun.” Scheduled for April 28, the festival will feature a stellar lineup of musicians, including: Avicii, Kid Cudi, The Shins, Explosions in the Sky, Fitz and the Tantrums, A$AP Rocky, and Fun. In addition, the event will offer healthy, sustainably sourced food options.

The third annual Sweetlife Festival is organized by the founders of Sweetgreen, a northeast chain of eco-friendly eateries known for dishing up fresh, local ingredients and changing the way the country thinks of fast food. This year’s festival will feature twice as many music acts as well as a second stage, called The Treehouse, which will host a roster of emerging artists. Festival-goers will be able to participate in environmentally-focused interactive activities between sets and nosh on munchies from the likes of Jose Andres’s Pepe Truck, Shake Shack, Roberta’s Pizza and Smucker Farms in the Food Forest, presented in cooperation with Serious Eats.

“Our vision is to extend Sweetgreen’s hip and eco-conscious ethos from the table to all facets of the Sweetlife – including the festival fare,” said the press release.

General admission tickets went on sale today and are available for $75 on ticketfly.com.

National Parks Foundation picks 5 most romantic park getaways

The National Parks Foundation picks five romantic getaways.Valentine’s Day may be over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to incorporate a little romance into your life, especially if it happens to involve travel as well. Earlier this week, the National Parks Foundation selected their five most romantic national park escapes, and they are so good, they’re practically guaranteed to score you points with your significant other.

The five romantic getaways include watching the sunset at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California; paddling together through Florida‘s Everglades National Park; taking a scenic wagon ride in Oxon Cove Park, Maryland; going birding along the Padre Island National Seashore in Texas; and strolling along the beach in the Virgin Islands National Park.

What I like about this list is that it incorporates a little something for everyone. Active couples can paddle, hike or even snorkle, while those looking for a bit more relaxed experience have several options as well. These parks are scenic, and somewhat lesser known, but most definitely romantic all year round. I’ve personally been to several of the places on the list, and can attest to how wonderful they are – both as a couples escape and as an adventure travel destination.

So, if you missed the mark on Valentine’s Day, or are already planning ahead for next year, this is a great list to give you some ideas. Of course, if you’re a hopeless romantic at heart, why wait? Start planning your romantic national park getaway now.