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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I took myself to Boston’s North End for some wandering, before meeting a friend and her kids for ice cream nearby. I’ve long enjoyed an occasional meal out there – the neighborhood is justly famous for its Italian food – but in the 12 years I have spent in Boston, I’ve rarely gone there simply to explore. It felt good to wander around while not worrying about making a dinner reservation, and I found a few new spots to enjoy.

My first stop, as you can tell from the photo, was I AM Books – a delightful Italian-American bookstore, which moved to its new home on Salem Street last fall. I’d never visited its first incarnation, to my shame, but this one is glorious. It has tons of space and an amazing selection of books about Italy, books in Italian, books on Italian food and culture, and books by Italian-American authors. I picked up a food memoir and some expensive (but delicious) chili-spiced chocolate.

The neighborhood has more than a few small shops, and I dropped into several: a funky vintage store, a sweet gift shop, a venerable wine shop with an incredible selection, a market called Going Bananas. There were lots of tourists around (it was a Saturday in July, after all), but it was fun to wander the streets as a local, picking up an item or two for dinner and noting restaurants I’d like to try soon.

My last stop was Salumeria Italiana, which my guy and I discovered only recently. Their sandwiches are delicious (and affordable!), but I was after something else: the briny mixed olives from their deli counter, which G loves. I picked up a bag of Tuscan crackers to go with them, and headed home via the T. I think I’ll save my next North End excursion for when the tourist traffic calms a bit – but it was still fun to explore a corner of my city in a way I rarely do.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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Last month, my girl Jackie and I took off on a Saturday morning, heading north up Route 1 to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, about an hour from Boston. (After 12 years in New England, my Texas-girl sense of space still marvels that you can get to another state that quickly.)

Our main destination was Book & Bar, which has had a facelift since I was there last, and still feels full of literary possibilities. We browsed for ages, split a salad and some yummy pretzel rolls, had a long chat with one of the managers, browsed some more. Eventually, we left to wander the main drag (and get caught in a rainstorm). But Jackie had another destination in mind to cap off our day: Auspicious Brew, a kombucha brewery in nearby Dover.

I’d only had kombucha once or twice before, and wasn’t sure I liked it: the fermentation can make it taste real funky. But I’d never even heard of a kombucha brewery, and from the moment we walked in, I was utterly charmed.

The brewery is in a former industrial space that reminded me both of Downeast and of the Lower Mills buildings, near where I used to live. It’s bright and funky, with potted plants and twinkle lights and hand-painted signs. We tried flights of kombucha, choosing from the eight (!) flavors they had on tap, and I picked up a mix-and-match four-pack to take home to my guy. You can also order Mexican food from the restaurant down the hall – they’ll even deliver it right to your table. We were hungry after a day of shopping and schlepping, so we took full advantage.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the kombucha: it reminded me of the fruity ciders I love, with a little extra funk and some creative flavors. (Concord grape and cardamom – the dark purple one above – was surprisingly delicious.) We sipped and talked and snapped photos and talked some more. I was delighted to try something new and tasty, and it was even more fun to share it with a friend.

What local(ish) adventures and/or fun libations are you having, these days?

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Last week, I hopped a Green Line train after work to go hear my friend Louise Miller have a books-and-baking conversation with fellow author Vallery Lomas. (I met another friend there, and we sampled treats afterward, and I hugged Louise and convinced my friend to buy her lovely first novel.)

The weekend before that, I volunteered as an usher at my favorite local theatre company and saw the excellent play The Book of Will for free. (Bonus: the witch hazel was out in the Public Garden.) And the weekend before that, my guy and I took the commuter rail up to Beverly, just north of Boston, where we ate and shopped and got caught in a snow squall, and took a long, rambling walk along the frozen beach, watching the birds and the light.

After a year and a half where we mostly stayed in our own apartments (or at least in our own neighborhoods) and/or felt safe doing mostly outdoor activities, it’s felt good to open myself up a bit again. The joy of local adventures – besides their accessibility – is the fact that they add serious magic to the everyday.

Some version of this phenomenon happens to me every spring: after curling up inside during the colder months, I love trying a few new restaurants, going for walks, planning visits to museums and generally enjoying the milder weather. Spring adds a bit of zing to life. But this year, going on a local adventure feels extra exciting. Whether that’s trying a new-to-us brunch spot with my partner, walking down unfamiliar streets or immersing myself in music or theatre for an evening, it feels revitalizing and fun.

What local adventures are you having these days?

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It’s no secret I love a solo trip to NYC. Some of my favorite memories of the Big Apple are from weekends spent wandering the streets by myself. My last trip there, though, was kind of a failure: it was January 2020, just days after my divorce court date. I thought I wanted an adventure to look forward to, but once I was there, all I wanted was to be back home. I came back early and didn’t regret it, but I’ve been wanting to revisit NYC alone (and basically unable to do so) ever since.

I hopped down to NYC a few weekends ago for my shortest trip to date: I was there for just over 24 hours, and it was a hot, humid whirlwind. But I loved wandering my favorite tangle of streets in the West Village, browsing bookstores and drinking my weight in iced tea. Here, a few highlights:

My beloved Three Lives & Co. is in a temporary space due to renovation, but I made sure to walk down West 10th to visit their new digs. I had a long browse and a lovely conversation with Nora, one of the booksellers, and bought a fabulous compendium of essays about Manhattan.

I headed straight for Bryant Park (see above) when I arrived, for lunch and a lemonade. But once I made my way to the Jane, where I stayed, I stuck to Chelsea and the Village all weekend.

I walked and walked – to Pink Olive, to Chelsea Market (above), to various shops that looked intriguing. I popped into cafes for iced tea and took photos of flowers and street art. And I had dinner at Roey’s (the most fantastic burrata pizza), and sat outside on one of my favorite corners in the city, sipping a gin cocktail and scribbling in my journal until nearly closing time.

Sunday morning meant a long run through the Hudson River Park (the High Line wasn’t open yet, but I loved discovering a new-to-me running route). Then I had a fantastic sandwich (with iced chai) at Three Owls Market, and wandered up to 192 Books, where I’d never been.

I grabbed some snacks for the train, walked around some more, and headed back to Penn Station to catch my train home. I was exhausted and delighted, and so glad I went. The city is waking back up, and it felt like mine again.

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My guy and I love Salem, that famously witchy town a bit north of Boston. We spent a few weekends there in 2019, but hadn’t been back since March 2020, for the obvious pandemic and life reasons. But a couple of weeks ago, we decided to just go for the day – hopping on the commuter rail in the morning and coming back in time for dinner. It was, in a word, fabulous.

We started the day with iced chai and treats from Caffe Ducali (see above) and then hopped on the train. When we arrived, we did some browsing of favorites old and new: the bike shop, the comic-book shop, the fabulous consignment shop Re-find (where I always find the best stuff). We ran into an old friend of G’s and chatted a minute, then headed down the street for hot dogs. I almost never eat hot dogs unless I’m at a ballpark, but I made an exception for these:

Thus fortified, we wandered some more (stopping at Front Street Coffee for iced tea – it was hot!), then headed out on a bike ride. I love exploring new parts of familiar places with G, and we adore a good long bike ride. We ended up at Winter Island, which has campgrounds, a beach and ocean views.

We rode back to town and headed to Far From the Tree, Salem’s wonderful local cider house, for some sampling (G) and an old favorite (me). We have a cider-focused Instagram account these days, and it’s so fun to taste different ciders and compare notes.

After a ride back on the commuter rail, we ended the day where we began it: at Ducali for a delicious dinner. It was so lovely to revisit one of our favorite towns together. I want to go back (again).

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A few weekends ago, I hopped on a plane – still a novelty after nearly 18 months of not going much of anywhere. I was headed to a new-to-me destination: the Twin Cities. I’ve been taking a writing class through ModernWell with Nina Badzin and others during this pandemic year, and when my classmates started planning an in-person meetup, I knew I had to be there.

Nina and I have been friends online for years, but we’d never met in person, and I’d never met any of the other women in our class. But in some ways we know each other deeply: we have spent the past year meeting via Zoom on Tuesday mornings, exchanging updates about what we’ve been reading and watching, then discussing writing prompts and craft, and sharing our writing with one another. I don’t know all the names of their kids or where they went to college, but I know the soul-deep insights they’ve shared in class these last months. In turn, they have been sounding boards for me as I processed my pandemic grief, post-divorce loneliness and various job hunt woes.

My friend Debra picked me up from the airport and took me straight to Lake Harriet for lunch and a run (see top photo). “I feel like you need to run a city lake while you’re here,” she had told me. She was determined to show me the best parts of her hometown, which included that lakeside run, a bike ride to the cute little town of Excelsior on Saturday morning, a long walk around Lake Minnetonka (shades of Betsy Ray!), and several delicious meals both out and at home. (Debra has a fun cooking Instagram, and I loved watching the magic happen in real time in her kitchen.)

I didn’t care about most touristy things (we skipped the Mall of America, for example) – but I had to make a pilgrimage to a certain street corner downtown.

I went through a serious Mary Tyler Moore phase after moving to Boston. I watched all seven seasons of the show over the course of a year, and I drew strength and comfort (and a lot of laughs) from Mary’s adventures in Minneapolis and her close bonds with her friends and colleagues. So of course I had to go pay homage, and throw a hat (which I borrowed from Nina) in the air.

The rest of the weekend was filled with eating and talking: so many stories to tell and catch up on, so many delicious dishes to sample. Debra and Nina took me to the charming Excelsior Bay Books (after brunch at Coalition) on Saturday, and then Debra whipped up a fabulous happy-hour spread for the whole group before we all went out to dinner. I was out of words every single night by the time I went to bed. And it was wonderful.

Just as Debra intended, I was utterly charmed by the Twin Cities, and by meeting her and my other ladies in person. I’ll definitely be back.

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sneakers rocks running west Texas

Running has brought me many unexpected joys: as previously stated, I never expected to try it at all, let alone love it this much. But even after I discovered the meditative, satisfying qualities of running, I mostly expected that to be part of my daily life. I was surprised to discover that running on vacation is its own particular pleasure.

I started my vacation running by going back home: I packed my gear for Christmas vacation, the year I became a runner. My in-laws had recently moved to a new town in East Texas, and I came to enjoy running around a local park and the surrounding neighborhood. (I did hop on the hotel treadmill one rainy day when I got desperate, but I’d much rather run outside.) And I love morning runs around my parents’ neighborhood: they live in a quiet subdivision with wide streets, and I have taken myself out there in all seasons, enjoying the big Texas skies, the sunshine, and (in December) the neighbors’ creative Christmas decorations. (Bonus: it’s often a dose of much-needed solitude during crowded family holidays.)

I’ve taken my sneakers on a few other trips, so far: I loved running the High Line in Manhattan, and I did a big loop around Prospect Park in Brooklyn last summer. My favorite place to run, other than Boston, might be Coronado Island in San Diego: I’ve visited friends there several times, and relished morning runs around the island, past palm trees and the golf course and all manner of blooming flowers.

palm trees san diego

Running is a way for me to pay attention as I move through the world, so it adds a new dimension to any place I’m visiting. I love running past tall apartment buildings and corner delis, through winding neighborhoods with wide curving roads, past whatever local features, natural or human-made, dot the landscape. I love how I notice different details when I’m on foot rather than whooshing by in a car or a bus. And the particular qualities of each place – the feel of the air, the strength of the sun, the humidity, the altitude, the smells and sounds – all combine to form indelible memories that add to my experience of each trip.

I’m not doing much traveling at the moment, of course, but am looking forward to lacing up my sneakers in new places when it’s safe to go on long-distance adventures again.

If you run (or otherwise exercise), do you do it on vacation?

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Last week, my guy and I hopped on the commuter rail (for the first time since March) and headed to Gloucester, about an hour north of Boston. We’d each been up there before, but not together, and we reveled in wandering around, eating seafood and soaking in some time away.

Because I am me, and because we were there to celebrate my birthday, we went to two bookstores, both of which were utter delights.

The Bookstore of Gloucester was our first stop: it’s a cozy, well-curated shop with green walls, situated right at the bend of Main Street. I loved browsing their local section at the front, and picked up one of Jennifer Ackerman’s books on birds. They have a huge children’s/young adult section (this is only a slice, above), a handful of cards and journals, and interesting stuff in all genres. I always enjoy seeing what bookstore owners choose to highlight in their spaces – it’s such a reflection of both the staff and the community.

Our second bookstore was down the street: Dogtown Books (“used and unusual”). It had an entirely different feel – a huge space lined with crowded bookshelves, bursting with titles of all types and eras.

I headed straight for local history and fiction, where I picked up Anita Diamant’s novel Good Harbor. I browsed the poetry, too, and the children’s section in the “way back” of the store. (I did not buy any awesome pulp fiction, but I appreciated the sign.)

There was entirely too much to take in, but I did snap a half-dozen shots of fun used-bookstore touches, like this typewriter. (Yes, I did type a few letters and yes, some of the keys do stick.)

Bookstore browsing feels different these days: lots of places have limited hours, and of course everyone – staff and customers – is distanced and masked. I made some online orders from my favorite stores during quarantine in the spring, but I am so glad to be able to wander the shelves again. The booksellers at both Gloucester shops were friendly and kind, and it felt good to lose myself in the stacks for a little while.

Despite their good cheer, I am sure both stores, like lots of indie bookstores, have struggled mightily during the pandemic. If you can, please order your books (and anything else they sell) from independent bookstores instead of online retail giants. It makes such a difference to those stores and the communities to which they belong.

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One of the things I’ve missed the most in these pandemic times is travel.

I love my little nest in Eastie, but I also love hitting the road or jumping on a plane or train, to see somewhere new or revisit familiar, favorite places. Like so many folks I know, I have mourned multiple canceled trips this spring and summer. My guy and I have ridden our bikes all over Boston, and it’s been fun, but I’ve barely been out of the city for months.

Last week, though, I decided to get out of town – at least for the afternoon – and head down to Falmouth, near the base of Cape Cod. My friend Hannah had invited me for lunch and a walk, so I rented a Zipcar and drove down in the late morning. By some miracle I escaped the weekend traffic (in both directions), and the afternoon was just what my soul needed.

Hannah and I met at a writing workshop years ago, and we love talking about books and faith and catching up on our lives. I sat on her sun porch and sipped tea while she made lunch for us, and we ate at a square blue table in her front yard, trading stories while the skies gradually cleared.

After lunch, we slipped on our sneakers and went for a long, rambling walk, past a local farm where someone had nailed a small box to a fence post and written “Enjoy!” on the side. It held a few cherry tomatoes, so I helped myself. And the dahlias nearby were stunning.

We walked down the bike path, through a sedate neighborhood filled with late-summer trees and flowers, over to Little Island and the beach there, which you reach by walking through the woods. There was a rotting pilot whale carcass on the beach (so smelly!) but there was also sweet autumn clematis, blooming away, and the first red leaves. We perched on the rocks and talked for a while, and then we walked back and I hopped in my rental car to make the drive home.

It was only a few hours, but I’d forgotten how refreshing it could be to see different views, explore a new path, breathe (slightly) different air. Not to mention the nourishing company of a dear friend. In these strange, anxious months, making the effort to get away often feels overwhelming. But I’m here to tell you: it is entirely worth it.

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Two things I’m struggling with during this time: being unable (or deeming it unwise) to travel very far, and – related – having no fun travel plans to look forward to.

Like a lot of folks, I had to cancel several planned trips when the coronavirus hit the U.S.: a work trip to NYC, pleasure excursions to D.C. and California, a beach vacation with my family. I did squeeze in a day up in Salem with my guy, before the restrictions really clamped down, but I haven’t been on a plane since Christmas, and who knows when I’ll get to hug my family in Texas, or other far-flung friends, again.

It’s a first-world problem for sure. I am healthy, I am safe, I have a steady job and health insurance and plenty of food, or the means to acquire it. I know all this, and I am grateful for it. But I am missing my annual dose of California sunshine and flowers (I usually take a trip there in the spring), not to mention my West Coast girlfriends. I’m craving the wide-open skies of my West Texas hometown, and my nephews’ excited chatter about bikes and board games and Disney movies. I’m longing for the bustling streets of Manhattan (though I know they’re not bustling right now), or the excitement of packing a bag and heading somewhere entirely new.

None of us know, of course, how long it will be till we can travel freely again without putting ourselves and others at risk. So, for now, I’m losing myself in the occasional travel memoir or novel set in a faraway place, and dreaming of future trips that take me farther than the grocery store.

Are you missing travel during these strange times?

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