Archive for the ‘Travel’ category

A Saturday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

September 5, 2011

On Saturday my fiance and I decided to go to Portsmouth, New Hampshire– a supposedly cool city just an hour’s drive from Boston. We got there around noon, walked around for a few minutes and then stopped at the River House for lunch. Although the restaurant’s on the water, we decided to eat inside because it was so hot out. The highlight of the meal was certainly the seafood chowder, which is shown in this picture.

It contained lobster, scallops, shrimp, clams and haddock, and was so so good. I guess that’s no surprise considering it won first place awards at the 2009/2010 Portsmouth Chowder Festival. The above picture also shows my fiance’s tasty lobster roll and hand cut potato chips. I had a lobster Lorraine quiche with a house salad.

Everything was fantastic! And they even gave us a free bowl of chowder (sort of an accident, but we gladly accepted)! After lunch we got some coffee at Breaking New Grounds in Market Square. We vowed to return later in the day (they had tons of delicious-looking pastries and gelato), and we did. Look at these gelato flavor combinations we came up with.

Hazelnut chocolate and strawberry chocolate

It would have been nice to sit outside of the coffee shop and people watch, but alas it was too hot. These photos will give you a feel for Market Square:

We walked around for a while, went shopping and saw some cool things.

A mural

A bridge going up

A fountain

A church

A quaint restaurant nestled in a back alley

Frogs doing yoga

Nice streets like this one

A physic studio

I got a couple of shirts for super-cheap in this consignment shop.

And we discovered a beautiful garden area.

My fiance in the garden area

Me in the garden area

Turns out this area is called Prescott Park. It’s right near an old cemetery, with gravestones dating to the 17th century.

It’s not far from the water either.

On our way back to the car we came across the Oracle House, one of Portsmouth’s oldest homes (circa 1702).

And the Liberty Pole, a flagpole commemorating our freedom from British rule. At this location in 1766 colonists hung a banner reading “Liberty, Property and No Stamp” to protest King George’s Stamp Act (it imposed taxes on newspapers, stationary and documents).

We saw this just before leaving. It pretty much sums up our experience in Portsmouth.

“I’m ba-ack!”

August 20, 2011

Wow, I’ve been MIA the last few weeks. Not that many people noticed, but I feel weird not having blogged for so long. So here I am, bright and early on a Saturday, ready to share my experiences from the last few weeks.

A few weekends ago I met up with some college roommates in Ocean City, Maryland, and we had a blast relaxing at the beach, going out for dinner and drinks and catching up. Here’s a picture of us at Liquid Assets, a bistro and package store with an awesome menu.

We started off the evening with martinis, shared a decadent cheese plate and enjoyed our delicious main courses. I got garlic chicken with roasted tomatoes, onions, fingerling potatoes, Benton’s bacon, spinach and herbs. One of my friends ordered the open faced slow braised Carolina pork BBQ with chipotle coleslaw and thick cut fries, and the other two got seared scallops risotto with roasted garlic and shallots, peas, mushrooms, fresh herbs and grana padano.

My garlic roasted chicken

The pork BBQ

The seared scallops risotto

The weekend following our Ocean City Extravaganza was a busy one as well. Jim and I hosted some friends, went to a Red Sox game and attended a two-day marriage prep class. The Red Sox game was a blast — thanks to our friend, Candace, we managed to get second-row seats!

Our view of the park

Unfortunately, the Red Sox did not win this game (and what’s worse is they lost to the Yankees), but we still had a great time. We enjoyed watching Dustin Pedroia do his little hop move before fielding the ball, making fun of Candace for her “crush” on Josh Reddick (I put crush in quotes because the rest of us sort of invented it) and going out after the game.

The marriage prep class was quite an experience. Due to a friend’s recommendation, we attended the one at the Espousal Retreat House in Waltham (completing a “Pre-Cana” marriage course is a requirement for a Catholic wedding, which we’re having). We showed up on Saturday to discover that 75 other couples in the greater Boston area were doing the same thing. Apparently, this was a record number. We spent the next couple of days together, listening to married couples share their marriage experiences and insights, receiving advice from a priest who’s worked with hundreds of married couples and discussing different aspects of marriage with out significant other.

The Espousal Retreat House in Waltham

In fact, they had each us one us complete forms devoted to specific topics, and then discuss our answers privately with our fiance (or fiancee). Topics ranged from finances to goals to religion. It was helpful to discuss those taboo topics you always try to avoid but really should confront. My fiance and I learned a few things about one another, but were pretty happy must of the subjects we’d already addressed (and were familiar with the other person’s perspective on).

The big theme of the weekend was: COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR SPOUSE. Even if you have an issue with another person (say, a friend of the family), you should always be willing to discuss your concerns with your husband or wife. Because you are a team and that person is there to help you out. They will feel validated knowing you trust them with your thoughts, and you’ll end up with a constant source of support and encouragement.

Last weekend my fiance and I headed to Syracuse, NY to take care of more wedding planning. We met with our priest for the first time, picked out the church readings and decided on the layout of the reception space. Also, my fiance designed wedding programs using his fine-tuned Excel skills. I was so proud of him. I had spent hours trying to figure out how to format Microsoft Word properly for a program. And then he goes ahead and whips up an awesome, perfectly formatted program on Excel in no time! I really think he should market his wedding program making skills!

Not only have I been so busy the last few weekends, but it seems like nearly every weeknight I’ve had some event to celebrate. For example, it was my sister’s 29th birthday on Wednesday (we had an awesome tapas meal at Solea in Waltham), my friend Bridget’s going away dinner on Tuesday, and my 3-year anniversary on August 10.

I love this card my fiance gave me for our anniversary

Finally, I feel like I can relax. I was so tired from all the recent happenings last night, that I went to bed at 8:30 (yup, on a Friday night). But now it’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday, I’ve already had my coffee and Stella D’oro almond toasts, and I’m feeling good! I’m really looking forward to this weekend — my only plan is to attend the Futures at Fenway doubleheader. Actually, I have one other plan as well: to celebrate my fiance’s acceptance into his graduate school program of choice! He’ll be attending Northeastern for political science starting in three weeks– yeah!!!

Make the most of the present

June 24, 2011

Have you ever not pursued a friendship because the person was leaving town in a few weeks? Or not been especially nice to someone because you thought you’d never see them again? I’ve certainly been guilty of these things, but the older I get the more I realize these are big mistakes. Life has a way of repeating itself.  I mean, things don’t happen the same exact way twice (obviously). But elements of your past return in ways you’d never expect them to. For instance:

  • I knew a girl for just a couple days in France, but a couple years later unexpectedly drove her 10 hours to a wedding in Indiana (and 10 hours back).
  • I met a guy for just a few hours in Boston, but ended up going out with him 10 years later (and getting engaged).
  • A friend I briefly studied abroad with had me in her wedding eight years later and I’m going to have her in my wedding in September.
  • A town official I covered for a daily newspaper gave me French translation work several years later.

These are just a few of the many examples of people coming back into my life. I’ve been thinking about this lately because a new friend of mine (from my French conversation group) is moving to California in a month or so. It’s sad she’ll be leaving but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make the most of being her friend for the next month. We might end up in the same place at another point in our lives, and even if we don’t, it’s still worth hanging out.

You never know what might happen tomorrow (you could get struck by a lightning bolt and die), so you need to make the most of the present. Enjoy people while they’re with you, and don’t worry about whether or not you’ll see them tomorrow.

Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/kicks01/4795408812

Mont Saint-Michel breakfast tray

June 22, 2011

My fiance just got me a breakfast tray for my b’day (I’ve wanted a breakfast tray for a long time). He ordered it from WardMaps on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, and had them print a photo of Mont Saint-Michel on one side. Boy do I love it.

P.S. I visited Mont Saint-Michel (it’s in northern France) about nine years ago. I went there by myself and would really like to show it to my fiance/anyone else who’d like to come along.

What if my wedding stinks?

June 12, 2011

What if she shows up at my wedding?

I had a horrible dream last night. I dreamt that my wedding (which is scheduled for Sept. 17) really stunk. The DJ couldn’t get people to dance (in fact, he wasn’t even playing music), guests were leaving extremely early, and for some reason I plunged into a swimming pool, ruining my dress, hair and makeup.

I’m actually not too surprised I had this terrible dream. Pretty much since January, when I got engaged, I’ve worried about the wedding. Mainly, I’ve feared that no one will show up. I know this is an irrational fear. Obviously some people will show up. But I’m still worried that a ton of people won’t end up coming. Whenever I have a party I feel this way. I felt the same way before my 29th b’day party and the same way before my housewarming party in November. And both times a lot of people came.

So why am I so afraid? Maybe it’s because recently several people told me they can’t come. And I imagine there are many more in that boat, but for whatever reason haven’t told me yet. I am inviting people from all over the country (and even from other countries), and I’m afraid the long distance will keep them from making the trip. A number of people haven’t acknowledged they received the save the dates, so I feel those people don’t intend to come.

I wish I could stop freaking out. A bunch of people have said they’ll be there. And I wish I could stop worrying about whether they’ll enjoy themselves. My parents are doing so many things to make sure the wedding goes smoothly. I just always assume the worst. I guess then I’m not disappointed. But it’s certainly a stressful experience to assume the worst. You worry a lot, and worrying is not good for the soul!

Going to Charleston, South Carolina? Then stay at The Anchorage Inn

March 25, 2011

I already mentioned that my fiance surprised me by booking a room at The Anchorage Inn in Charleston, South Carolina instead of the Days Inn. Well, I find it necessary to expand upon the awesomeness that is The Anchorage Inn. Until last week I’d never stayed at quite a place. Let me list some of the bed and breakfast’s notable characteristics.

  • The inn is on Vendue Range in the heart of Charleston’s historic district. Not to mention it’s just steps from a fountain, park, pier, and Charleston Bay.
  • The Anchorage Inn is affordable. According to my fiance, it’s just $20 per night more expensive than the Days Inn. It’s funny because the other hotels on Vendue Range are much pricier. Sure, they might have doorkeepers and valets, but if you can do without those frills The Anchorage Inn will save you major moolah.
  • The inn takes you back in time. Originally built as a cotton warehouse around 1840, the building is furnished with handcrafted reproductions of seventeenth century English decor (the area was settled by the English in 1670).

This picture shows some of the sitting room's decor.

A lamp in our room

  • Staff are friendly. There’s always someone sitting at the front desk, ready to answer any questions you may have. Our first day in Charleston a young man helped us figure out which beach to visit. In fact, he firmly suggested we check out Folly Beach and the nearby Morris Island Lighthouse. We appreciated his assurance, especially because the outing proved wonderful.
  • Daily breakfasts are included in the price. Breakfast is served between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.; meal items include orange juice, grapefruit juice, coffee, cereal, fruit, yogurt, bagels, biscuits and gravy, danishes, and muffins.

Biscuit with gravy

  • Daily wine and cheeses are included in the price. This was one of my favorite parts of the vacation. Each day, starting at 4 p.m., the inn served complimentary wine (red and white), cheese (including cheddar, jalapeno cheddar, and Swiss cheese), and crackers. As we enjoyed our food and drink in the sitting room, we conversed with Anchorage Inn guests from all over the country and even world (e.g. we met a couple from England and a woman from Malaysia). We made so many new friends.

Wine and cheese table

  • Nightly sherries are included in the price. Every evening, from 8 to 11 p.m., the hotel provides sherry for its guests. Either before or after dinner you can stop by the sitting room, enjoy a glass (or two) of the cordial, and chat with anyone else who happens to stop by. Although these weren’t as popular as the wine and cheeses, we highly enjoyed them.

Enjoying my sherry

In short, be sure to stay at The Anchorage Inn if you’re ever traveling to Charleston!!!

I’m in Charleston, South Carolina!

March 14, 2011

My fiance and I arrived in Charleston, South Carolina yesterday evening! We are spending five or so days here for vacation. It’s so sunny and warm (high of 75). We left Boston on Saturday morning, and headed toward Connecticut. Connecticut traffic really slowed us down (as a result of this horrific accident), but we eventually made it over the border to Westchester County, New York.

We had lunch in charming Tarrytown, which sits right beside the Hudson River. We chose the Tarry Tavern, a Main Street locale prioritizing locally grown ingredients. I wasn’t that hungry, as I had enjoyed a calzone and yogurt in the car. So I just got some acorn squash soup, which was amazing.

My fiance had a “TT Wagyu” burger that he called “one of the best burgers” he’s ever had (the meal included bacon onion jam, white cheddar, and hand-cut fries).

Before out meals arrived, they served us rolls with butter.

Here are a few photos from Tarrytown:

This phone booth was in someone's front lawn.

The Hudson River is in the distance.

From Tarrytown we headed over the Tappan Zee Bridge.

We drove through some more of New York and New Jersey; then we crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge to Delaware.

We went through Delaware, Maryland and part of Virginia, before stopping in Ashland, VA. After getting prices from several hotels off the rest stop (including a somewhat sketchy hotel with a glass barrier protecting the concierge), we settled on a Quality Inn. Ruby Tuesday was right across the street, so we went there for dinner.

My fiance had lobster macaroni; he said it was rich and very good.

I had one of their tilapia specials. It included a bruschetta sauce, grilled green beans, and white cheddar mashed potatoes. I must say, Ruby Tuesday has really improved their offerings since I was in high school.

The next morning we stepped outside and it was gorgeous out (about 60 degrees and sunny). We decided to take a picture so we’d remember this moment.

We got back on I-95 and drove until Wilson, North Carolina. There, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel for lunch. We had yet another fabulous meal! My fiance had meatloaf with mashed potatoes, green beans and macaroni and cheese.

I had grilled chicken pieces with green beans and steak fries.

Our meal came with corn muffins and biscuits.

While we were in the car, we played the state license plate game (where you write down the names of all the different state license plates you see).

I fell asleep somewhere in North Carolina. Before I knew it, we were in South Carolina. My fiance and I loved the lush greenery on the side of the road.

We stopped at a McDonald’s for coffee (by the way they reacted to our request you’d think no one drinks coffee in South Carolina), and then got back on the road. Around 7 p.m. we arrived in Charleston. We drove by an industrial part of the city that wasn’t so nice. However, things improved as we got closer to downtown.

I thought we were staying at the Days Inn but my fiance completely surprised me. He had booked a room at The Anchorage Inn, an adorable bed and breakfast on Vendue Range right by the Waterfront Park.

Just so you have an idea of how cool this place is, each day they have a continental breakfast, a 4 p.m. wine and cheese, and an 8 to 11 p.m. sherry. Not bad, huh?

What we can learn from the French

February 25, 2011

What we can learn from the French

It’s been seven years since I last lived in France, but I picked up on a lot while I was there. Plus, I’ve visited France a few times since 2004. I know you can’t clump everyone together and say they’re all one particular way. But you can point out things you noticed about many of the people you encountered.

  • The French know how to eat healthily.

This has been written about a lot (e.g. French Women Don’t Get Fat) so I’ll stick to what I observed personally. I noticed that French people (in general):

  • Don’t snack between meals (and when they snack they just have a cookie or a few pieces of chocolate)
  • Eat big lunches and relatively small dinners (That way, they have something to look forward to during the work day AND don’t go to bed on a full stomach.)
  • Have small breakfasts with coffee (Because they have big lunches, they don’t need a huge breakfast. And, coffee helps suppress your hunger).
  • Drink water with their meals (much healthier than soda, of course)
  • Eat lots of vegetables
  • Eat a wide variety of foods (For example, they don’t just eat chicken and beef. They eat chicken, beef, ham, pork, duck, rabbit, horse, fish, bull, boar, guinea fowl, oysters, mussels, shrimp, sea urchins, etc.).
  • Finish most meals with a dairy item (yogurt or cheese) and a piece of fruit
  • Take their time eating

I think all of these habits are good for you.

  • The French exercise less than we do.

But, because they eat healthily they don’t really need to exercise. I mean, their daily activities (walking, doing chores, etc.) are enough for them to get their daily dose of movement. Maybe we should follow their lead given this recent Wall Street Journal article.

  • The French take time to cook.

Obviously, this point relates to the first point I made. But I will expand on it a little here. Most of the French people I encountered just go out to eat for special occasions. The rest of the time they make their own meals. This allows them to control what goes into their bodies, save money, and go out to nicer places when they do go out. They also have a fair amount of dinner parties; those provide a great opportunity to see their friends and share their favorite recipes.

  • The French are polite.

OK, maybe this is a real stretch. And maybe their politeness often masks their true feelings. But frequently I observed French people saying (or doing) the right thing at the right time. Say your brother-in-law just died, for example. The next time they saw you they’d start off the interaction with a “Oh, I’m so sorry about your brother.” Or when they are invited to a dinner party they bring along a gift. While these might seem like obvious things to do, I’ve noticed this type of behavior isn’t always practiced here (and yes, I’m guilty of not being polite as well).

  • The French are experts in their fields.

In France, it’s really hard to get into a particular field when your degree is in something else. So, you’re forced to find a job in your area of expertise. While this certainly limits you choices, it helps ensure you’re good at your profession (or at least better at it than your average bear). Here, you might just get a sales job because you’re deemed friendly. But you don’t necessarily know the ins and outs of how to be an effective salesperson.

  • The French are into equality.

I’ll always remember this one particular experience I had while teaching English in France. I was in a fifth-grade classroom, quizzing the children on their knowledge of animal vocabulary. One of the students– Yoan (pronounced “Yo-on”)– was answering practically every question correctly. Each time I interrogated the pupils, his arm would shoot up in the air. Sometimes no one else would raise their hand, so I had to pick him. He’d get the answer right, and I’d congratulate him.

Well the class’s main teacher (a French woman) was not a fan of Yoan’s behavior. Whereas I viewed his ability and willingness to answer the questions as a positive thing, she viewed it as a horrible thing. She started screaming at him, saying it was not his place to answer so many questions. The others deserved a chance, she said, adding that he couldn’t participate any more. While most Americans would consider her reaction unfair or harsh (I think), it actually worked. Once he stopped raising his hand, the other students began participating in the exercise.

  • The French are fashionable.

They don’t necessarily have many clothes, but they know how to pick out items that fit them right. Sometimes this means spending more money on individual garments, but overall they might even spend less than your average American.

In a future post, I will write about what the French can learn from Americans.

Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/kalleboo/2036413105

A Week at the Airport by Alain de Botton

February 8, 2011

I am in the midst of reading A Week at the Airport by Alain de Botton. I heard about the book on the “On Point” radio show. As you can guess, de Botton (a Swiss-born philosopher) spends a week at an airport. In this case, it’s the Heathrow Airport in London. He’s actually asked by the company that owns the airport to partake in the project. They sort of want to show off the new Terminal 5, but also provide the public with an in-depth look at an airport.

The idea is that travelers, in their rush to get to their destination, often overlook the ins and outs of what’s going on around them (including the philosophical questions that airports and travel evoke). So de Botton is assigned to a desk in the middle of the terminal, where he makes observations, interviews travelers and airport employees, and takes notes. He put his thoughts into the approximately 100-page book. The book includes many colorful photos from his time at the airport.

I’m about halfway through A Week at the Airport, and I have to say I have mixed feelings about it. Sometimes I like de Botton’s excrutiatingly detailed observations/long sentences, and other times I find they get in the way of my interpretation of what’s going on. In other words, I’m expending so much effort trying to understand what he’s saying that they slow me down. This description of de Botton’s hotel (and its surroundings) reflects his style:

“The hotel and terminal seemed like a giant machine poised in standby mode, emitting an uncanny hum from a phalanx of slowly rotating exhaust fans. I thought of the hotel’s spa, its hot tub perhaps still bubbling in the darkness. The sky was a chemical orange colour, observing the final hours of the fragile curfew it has been keeping ever since it had swallowed up the last of the previous evening’s Asia-bound flights. Jutting from the side of the terminal was the disembodied tail of British Airways A321, anticipating another imminent odyssey in the merciless cold of the lower stratosphere.”

I enjoy de Botton’s frequent philosophical musings. Like when he writes about a man who screams after arriving at the terminal too late to board his Tokyo-bound plane. The man is very upset that he can’t fly for another 48 hours, and that he’ll miss out on a day of meetings. De Botton follows the little anecdote with these two paragraphs:

“I was reminded of the Roman philosopher Seneca’s treatise On Anger, written for the benefit of the Emperor Nero, and in particular of its thesis that the root cause of anger is hope. We are angry because we are overly optimistic, insufficiently prepared for the frustrations endemic to existence. A man who screams every time he loses his keys or is turned away at an airport is evincing a touching but recklessly naive belief in a world in which keys never go away and our travel plans are invariable assured.

Given Seneca’s analysis, it was ominous to note the direction that the airline was taking in its advertising. It was promising ever more confidently to try its very best to serve, to please and to be punctual. As a result, in an industry as vulnerable to disaster as this one, there were surely many more screams to come.”

I also enjoy how de Botton’s ruminations patch together different times and places. For example, he discusses how the wealthy carry the least amount of luggage because they believe they can now buy anything anywhere. He goes on to say:

“But they had perhaps never visited a television retailer in Accra or they might have looked more favorably upon a Ghanian family’s decision to import a Samsung PS50, a high-definition plasma machine the weight and size of a laden coffin.”

While that passage referred to another part of the world, the one below refers to another time– the future. De Botton has just discussed the casual way in which ground staff and colleagues in a plane greet one another after an 11,000-kilometer journey:

“Then again, the welcome may be no more effusive a hundred years hence, when, at the close of a nine-minute voyage, against the eerie blood-red midday light bathing a spaceport in Mars’s Cydonian hills, a fellow human knocks at the gold-tinted window of our just-docked craft.”

Overall I’m enjoying the book, though I sometimes have a problem with its overly windy passages, and lack of action. De Botton muses over the simplest-seeming of gestures or happenings, but sometimes I find myself wanting to draw my own conclusions. Tell me what’s happening, and I’ll make my own interpretations. But maybe he hasn’t seen enough in a week at the airport to provide enough good stories.

It sure is snowy in Somerville

February 1, 2011

When I left the house at 7:15 a.m. to go to the gym, the roads were clear. When I got out of the gym at 8:30 a..m, they were covered in snow and ice. Not only that, but snow was streaming down, vehicles were moving slowly (good thing!), and pedestrians were struggling to get to work. Here’s some of what I saw:

On Elm Street in Somerville

An ambulance headed out of Davis Square (toward Elm Street)

A woman walking in the road on Willow Avenue

A vehicle being towed on Willow Avenue

A guy with an umbrella (smart idea!) on Highland Avenue

People crossing the street on Highland Avenue

Vehicles backed up on Cedar Street (right before the intersection with Highland Avenue)

Home sweet home

Talk about a lot of action for before 9 a.m., huh?


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