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Snapshot: Marriott's Moxy Boston Downtown

If you've never stayed at a Moxy hotel, it's safe to say you'll find this trendy boutique line to be unlike any other of Marriott's brands. Moxy hotels are very hip -- and also incredibly comfortable.

When we were in Boston recently we stayed in the city's first Moxy hotel and found a lot to love, especially its location in the theatre district that's also close to the very efficient T subway system. The hotel is also about a 15-minute walk to touristy areas such as Faneuil Hall, the North End and downtown. And at the end of the day, we found the inviting lounge to be the perfect spot to unwind with a drink.

The Moxy Boston Downtown is actually so new that it had been open for less than two weeks when we stayed there. The rooftop bar wasn't quite finished and there were workers still applying the finishing touches to one of the elevators. But these were the only signs that the work was not quite done.

The staff was fantastic, helping us to sort out a booking mixup that was not Marriott's fault, apologizing profusely for it, and then upgrading us to a room on the top (23rd) floor with a view of the Charles River and Boston Common. And then they threw in some complimentary drink tickets for good measure. How to make us feel welcome!

About the only negative thing might be the size of the rooms, which are definitely small for two people. But we considered the location, the comfort level and the above-and-beyond staff, and for us, those factors will always be worth more than slightly more square footage.

Here's a look in photos:

Part of the lounge at Moxy Boston Downtown.

Another area of the lounge. There are lots of games like Jenga, as well as a foosball table.

Entry is on the first floor; reception is on the second. Signs have words spelled like Bostonians would pronounce them.

This photo booth is such a great touch! Guests can primp and pose, and then email the photos to themselves.

The bar at Moxy Boston Downtown.

Bedroom with view of the Charles River. The wifi is lightning fast.


Fantastic shower.

View of the Charles River and some of Boston Common to the right.

"Press here for bedtime stories."

Washington, DC: Land of the free or very cheap

I've recently returned from a visit to Washington, DC and it's been a long time since I've been so impressed by a city.

Many cities are nice, or fun, or really enjoyable, but they are not places I'd visit twice. They're one and done, basically. But there are some cities that are remarkable from the moment you step off the plane, cities that have that intangible WOW factor. Venice, Italy, is one such city. Singapore is another. And now I'm going to add DC to that list.

There are many reasons for this. The city -- the part that tourists will see, anyway -- is incredibly clean and so well laid out. Transportation is cheap, efficient and intuitive to use. And because there are police officers and Secret Service and FBI everywhere through these areas, you will never feel as safe as when you're in DC. I really loved talking with our Uber and Lyft drivers and hearing how proud they were of their city.

When you tour the Capitol (above), make sure you also visit the amazing Library of Congress.
My favourite sights were the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery. But there's so much to do in DC that it will appeal to a broad spectrum of visitors. Stroll along the National Mall, visit any of the wonderful museums, take in a baseball or football or hockey game, have a bite in the hip new Wharf area, or do a little shopping in Georgetown.

Here are five things to know while you're planning your trip:

Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. 

1. Pretty much all sightseeing is free. Yes, really. After you've shelled out for a place to stay, this will be the cheapest place you'll ever visit. The Capitol and the Library of Congress? Free. Any of the 17 Smithsonian museums? Also free. The very moving Arlington Cemetery (which is actually across the Potomac River in Virginia)? Absolutely. Sights like the Pentagon or White House? Yep, even these are free.

In addition to free admission, many sights also offer free tours. They really like tourists in DC! Ask at the information desk if you don't see the tour times posted near the entrance. And the tours are fabulous. For example, we had a fantastic docent named Jack who gave us such an informative tour of the highlights of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Ditto at the Capitol, where we enjoyed another free tour. My favourite tour was of the Pentagon (more on this below) and of the White House as well.

An aerial view of about two-thirds of the National Mall, between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. It's long!

2. The sights aren't as close as they look on the map
. In fact, just about everything is farther apart and it will take longer than you think to see the museums along the National Mall, which is that long, green space along which many of the museums and galleries are located. It's also wise to keep in mind that most of the sights you'll be seeing are government-run, and so they will all close around 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. In DC, you need to get an early start.

Many sights offer timed entry slots online; take advantage if possible by booking before you leave home. It will save you a ton of time when you get there.

It's also good to remember that it can take a long time to gain entry to a sight due to security checks. Just about all of the museums will ask you to remove cellphones and metal items from your pockets; then you'll have to go through a body scanner. It all takes time. The National Gallery of Art seems to be more relaxed in this regard. They had no lineups when we were there, and guards only did a visual check of my purse.

The front of the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

3. Visit the White House and Pentagon.
 I find it incredible that these two sights are open to the public. One is the home of the President of the United States and the other is the home of the Department of Defense and the U.S. military. And you can visit both for free! Just make sure you allow lots of time after making your request to clear security checks -- literally, months. There aren't a lot of spots and the few that are available will go fast.

My favourite visit in DC was to the Pentagon, where unfortunately no photos were permitted except for the cheesy fake podium shot at the gift shop. (So of course I got one taken! See below.) The most surprising thing to me was that practically the whole first floor of the Pentagon is a giant mall, complete with drycleaners, banks, pharmacies, clothing stores and even a jewelry store. The Pentagon also has four Starbucks locations and two Dunkin' Donuts spots, and a full food court. The reason: 26,000 people work there and it would be chaos if all of them left at noon to go into the surrounding areas for lunch or to run errands. So everything a person might need is right there within the Pentagon walls. Other fun factoids: The Pentagon has 17 miles of corridor, and some 8,500 parking spots. It is the largest office building in the world.

Pro tip if you want to visit the White House: Canadians, despite what it says on the White House website, our embassy hasn't helped us get tickets for a White House tour since 2011. I contacted Congresswoman Suzan DelBene in Washington state for help, and her office was kind enough to help us get our tickets.

The Washington Monument, where you can take an elevator right to the top.

4. The Washington Monument is open again!
After being closed for more than three years for elevator repair and for the construction of a new visitor screening centre, the sight opened again in October 2019. Built without cranes, bulldozers or electric power, at 555 feet in height it was the tallest structure in the world for some time after it was completed in 1885.

Did you even know the structure has an elevator? The views are spectacular from the top. You'll need to act fast to get tickets to go on it, though. (Again, they're free.) Put your request in as soon as you can. Make a full morning of it and also visit the majestic Lincoln Memorial to the west as well as the poignant Vietnam Veterans Memorial you'll pass along the way. (Both are free, of course.)

5. Transportation & weather: About the only thing you'll pay for in DC is transportation, and even that is very low-cost.
✔ The best way to get around is on DC's easy-to-use Metro system (map is below). As a tourist, you'll spend most of your time on the Blue Line, which will take you from the Capitol all the way west to Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. Rides cost between $2-$3 each way.

✔ Once you're in the vicinity of the National Mall, you can also take the Circulator bus for just $1. Seniors pay 50 cents, and students ride for free. The bus has a number of routes, but the one you're most likely to be interested in is the National Mall loop. It will take you to all the points you'll want to get to for sightseeing.

✔ Finally, just a note about the weather and the skeeters. If rain is forecast, bring appropriate gear because it rains in sheets in DC. And, after the sun sets, expect to get bitten by mosquitoes unless you've got repellent.

Photos by Juanita Ng

5 best restaurants in Nashville

I have a confession to make. Prior to visiting Nashville, I had no idea the food would be so good. Why did I think this? No clue.

I guess it could have been because I've visited several Texas cities previously and I was pretty sure you couldn't do better than Dallas BBQ brisket and Houston Tex-Mex and Galveston seafood. But wow ... Nashville's restaurants knocked my socks off!

Here are my top 5 best places to eat in Nashville. Got your own favourites? Add them to the comments.

1. At the top of a very stellar list, Biscuit Love. If you're in Nashville, you must, must eat here. The biscuits, which are served in different ways in many dishes, are absolutely sublime. But be prepared for a huge lineup that starts very early. A great way to pass the time, though, is by having some of your companions hold your place in line while the rest head around the corner to the #WhatLiftsYou wings mural for your daily Insta shot.

Here are my top picks at Biscuit Love:

East Nasty: Buttermilk biscuit topped with fried boneless chicken thigh, aged cheddar and sausage gravy.

Princess: Similar to the East Nasty, only with Nashville's famous "hot chicken," pickles, mustard and honey.

Lily: Buttermilk biscuit French toast, lemon mascarpone, blueberry compote, house syrup.

The famous "Bonut": Fried biscuit dough with sugar, topped with lemon mascarpone, served over blueberry compote.

This was the lineup at 10 a.m. on a weekday at Biscuit Love's Gulch location. Also, they close at 3 p.m.

2. Hattie B's Hot Chicken, because Nashville is all about the hot chicken, right? And yes, it really was all that and it really was that hot. Just like at Biscuit Love, you can expect a lineup. But it was totally worth it! The chicken was crispy on the outside and moist and tender inside. We chose a Medium heat and that was plenty hot.

A large dark plate of hot chicken consists of two leg-thigh quarters plus sides.

Hot chicken sandwich.

The interior is pretty utilitarian. Place your order and then your meal is brought to you.

The patio seating is cooler than inside but keep in mind you'll be surrounded by the lineup of folks waiting to get in, all of them staring at you with sad, hungry eyes.
The different levels of heat. My top tip is: Err on the side of caution.

The lineup at the Broadway location starts at around 10 a.m. for an 11 a.m. opening time.

3. Peg Leg Porker is a little out of the way from downtown and you'll be entering a slightly grittier neighbourhood, but I highly recommend it. The restaurant is down-home and the BBQ is smoked to perfection, so what's not to love?

Peg Leg Porker has a great patio but alas, you can't air-condition the outside so we sat inside.
Tender barbecued ribs. We did feel the portions could have been bigger.

Pulled pork platter.
Order at the front and your food is brought to you.
The interior of Peg Leg Porker.

4. Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint: Amongst the locals, there seems to be a bit of a rivalry over whether Martin's or Jack's (No. 5, below) has tastier BBQ. After dining at both, I have to say I'm leaning towards #TeamMartin's. Don't get me wrong; the meals at both spots were delicious. But I'm giving the edge to Martin's for a better plating and friendlier service. However, Martin's is a little farther to walk to than Jack's, which is right on Lower Broadway. Please forgive the yellow tinge to the photos; that lighting at Martin's ... gah!

One of the Martin's locations in Nashville. The chain has restaurants in four states.
Sliced beef brisket sandwich.

In a fit of madness and guilt over a week of overeating, I ordered a chicken salad. 

Martin's in downtown Nashville.

5. Jack's Bar-B-Que: As mentioned above, the food is great here and the Lower Broadway location can't be beat. You can have supper and be at the Nashville Predators game across the street in two minutes. Or, if honky-tonking is more your thing, you can walk next door to Robert's Western World and then a couple of more doors down to Tootsie's Orchid Lounge.

A three-meat platter at Jack's.

You might have to wait a while for a table. 

The menu at Jack's.

Jack's is located on Lower Broadway, close to just about everything.

Cruising: Should I get the drinks package?

The dilemma over whether to get a drinks package is a common one. I hear this all the time from cruisers, even the experienced ones: "Is it worth the money to get the drinks package?"

Obviously, it depends on how much you drink. If you're sailing on a Celebrity ship, this post will help you decide what to do.

Here are Celebrity's drink package prices.

And here's what you'll get in each package. Prices are accurate as of August 2019.

If you're trying to decide if a drink package is worth it for you, this is what you'll pay per drink:

If you're not sure, you can also buy a drink card midway through your cruise:

Finally, if you decide coffees are the way to go, here are the prices: