Friday, January 27, 2012

Boston images


From Boston to New Hampshire and back again in a day. I rolled in to Beantown on the silver bullet early evening Monday, got a quick peek at the cityscape and proceeded to navigate the underground from South Station to North, where I bought a ticket to meet Kerry, who was tending her uncle’s place in NH. North Station is also home to the Garden, where a Celtics game was in progress. I was privy to a group of drunk kids in green and yellow being scolded by the police and the drunkest among them passed out and carted off on a stretcher. A fitting welcome to Boston, I guess.

My train to Fitchburg arrived soon after that fiasco and after an hour’s ride I got to see Kerry’s shining face at the station. After enthusiastic greetings we hopped in the car and drove into New Hampshire. Driving up to it was like driving through Narnia; the driveway was snow-covered, winding and lined with gas lamps. The house was awesome, with a bevy of cozy guest rooms for the choosing and a fireplace. Kerry had cooked spaghetti with sun dried tomatoes for dinner. We sat in front of the fire, unwound, listened to the quiet and caught each other up with our respective lives.

The next morning Kerry and I had a leisurely breakfast and sauna. (The house had previously been owned by Swedes, and you know how they love their saunas)  It was such a relaxed way to ease into this trip, I couldn’t have asked for better! After giving the house a quick tidy we packed our stuff and Kerry’s pup Gabi into Kerry’s Subaru and motored on to Jamaica Plain, which is akin to a borough like Greenpoint in Brooklyn, but further away from downtown and with it’s own unique vibe. That night we decided to stay in and hang out on the couch, watching a couple of episodes of Boardwalk Empire on her roommate Ethan’s projector screen after checking out Ula’s, a cute café near the Sam Adams brewery. Kerry scooped up some macarons and cupcakes for dessert for all the housemates, who’d made a yummy soup and fried yucca for dinner.

Wednesday was a nice leisurely morning of Mickey-shaped chocolate and beer waffles, followed by a visit to the Sam Adams brewery all on my lonesome. Sam Adams has a tiny brewery right in Jamaica Plain, a 20 minute walk through the neighborhood from Kerry’s place. The tour was nothing too special, being such a small brewery with only about 4 tanks for brewing and everything in one small warehouse. The tasting part was fun, albeit slightly awkward for being alone. The tour guide and bartender were pretty cool to me though so I didn’t feel quite so odd being the only solo taster.

Later I met Kristin, a dear old friend whom I’ve known since elementary school. She brought me to the theater district and treated me to a very lovely meal of gourmet French cuisine. Unfortunately not everyone in the restaurant was being conscious of the high class atmosphere, by which I mean the couple that were sat next to us… the woman, maybe in her late 60’s, was very sick throughout her meal and kept laying her head smack on the table, burping and possibly vomming into her napkin. Her husband seemed pretty cavalier about the whole incident, although it occurred to Kristin and I that the woman needed some medical attention. The couple stayed on, despite frequent interventions from the staff. I clearly remember the woman even once asking about dessert. Weird.

Before meeting up with Kristin, I got a chance to walk around Copley Square and check out the Boston Public library. Impressive. 

I found myself wandering over to Newbury Street, which is a shopping concourse consisting of some very high end stuff. Of course this was a window-shopping mission for my broke self, although I came pretty close to a purchase when I tried on a pair of opalescent pearly gold Doc Marten 12 holes. In the end I couldn’t justify throwing my current boots in the trash or casting them off to the thrift store yet. But earlier in the week I did get a chance to shop in some JP thrift stores, which were spectacular! I picked up 2 awesome sweaters for just $9! Can’t go wrong there.

I got to do a little historical sightseeing on my own as well, following the ‘Freedom Trail” past Paul Revere’s house, the church where he hung the lantern to signify that “The British are coming!” and all that jazz. Along that path I stumbled into a crazy old cemetery (which Boston is chock full of) and photographed some of the headstones in the golden-hour light.

My last very “touristy” venture in Boston was another beer tasting, this time at Harpoon Brewery. Again I was on my own, as Kerry was working and Kristin and her sister had to pick a friend up at the airport. I felt like an absolute nerd but I wasn’t going to miss out on the free beer just cause I didn’t have a bud to go with. However, looking back, it would have been MUCH more fun with one.

I bought a growler of Harpoon Chocolate Stout (chocolaty-er but less creamy than the Brooklyn Brewery version) and headed back to Kerry’s. We had another night of snuggling and Boardwalk Empire viewing, snuggled on the couch with blankets and My-My (the kitty) and Gabi (the pup.)

The next morning we ate Dim Sum for brunch in Chinatown. The weather had since become quite inclement, and the trek to the ICA (Boston’s contemporary art center) after a brunch of dim sum on Saturday was made unpleasant by the discovery of my boot’s lack of waterproofing. Travel tip: always be sure your footwear is waterproof when you travel on the east coast in the winter (no brainer there.)

The museum itself was pretty cool, although scaled down to only half it’s usual offering due to an installation in progress that isn’t opening until February. There was a video art piece detailing the violent and hateful reaction of the first Gay Pride March in Serbia, juxtaposed by a video of interpretive dance. The documentary footage of hate-filled speech and violent, bloody mayhem turned my stomach to the point where my mind was made up that humans were the most horrifying creatures, but I think the thing that stuck most with me about that was leaving the small room where the video was screening and coming into a room where the delicacy, introspection and thoughtfulness of human beings was palpably evident in the sculptural works and cerebral undertakings. I felt slightly less sickened to be a member of the same species as those creatures on the previous screen.

 After the museum Kerry and I walked over to a bar called “Drink,” an underground (no, literally) establishment that boasted a clean, minimalist bar setup, industrial surroundings and cute, tattooed and vest-clad bartenders who were definitely skilled in their craft. Kerry and I both indulged in a lovely warm drink called a Tom and Jerry, which is hot water, milk, rum and brandy with lots of wintery spices and a creamy sugary meringue topping.

 The bartenders were very attentive and honestly curious as to how we found their creations. I would definitely recommend that spot to a Boston visitor (although I have to admit to a slight sticker shock when the bill came.)

Next I met up with Kristin and her posse again in Back Bay, where we hopped a cab to Faniuel Hall and had a few beers and Chinese food at a crazy packed Karaoke bar called Hong-Kong. After witnessing some of the worst (best) Karaoke I’ve ever seen happen before midnight, I headed back to JP to meet up with Kerry for a dance party in Somerville. Of course, being us, we jumped up on stage when the emcee announced a dance contest… unfortunately, we weren’t the favorites of the target demographic and were all but booed off the stage. Still, we made the best of it (as we always do) and danced for another hour- sadly enough I went a little too crazy without stretching first and woke up Sunday morning with a very painful right knee joint. I felt better though when Kerry came into the room I was sleeping in and told me to hold out my hand, into which she dropped a beautiful crystal and gold necklace as a birthday gift!

Kerry and I chowed down in a really cool vegetarian/vegan friendly café called “the OtherSide” right near Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon and then she helped me cart all my junk to the bus station and I boarded the Boston-New York express bus with the intention of meeting my friend Jay for a beverage and getting back on the bus at 10:45 to Austin. 

Well, it’s noon on Monday and I’m still in Brooklyn, so you can see how well those plans worked out! It seems Jay’s still pretty good at getting me to agree with whatever he says, so I went along with the plan of spending an extra day in New York (yeah, he really had to twist my arm for that one.) and we hung out last night in some Brooklyn bars I hadn’t yet been to.

As for Boston, I checked off 5 out of 7 of my “to-do’s”
√ take a million photos
√ sit in café’s and drink black coffee (City Feed, OtherSide)
√ visit art galleries and museums (ICA)
√ call my mom often
√ drink local beers (Sam and Harpoon, that was easy)
_ make 1 new friend (made some acquaintances)
_ photo booth strips (couldn’t find one) 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


First, by way of introduction: I’m Kirsten. And I’ve decided to take a trip.

This isn’t my first trip- I’m lucky enough to be able to say I’ve been to Europe twice and made my way through a good many countries there.

However, after surveying my travel history, I realized that despite the many European capitals I’ve seen and thoroughly enjoyed, I hadn’t yet made time to explore my own country. So that’s what I decided to seek to do, after I graduated from college (at long last) this December.

A trip, by my definition, is not a vacation. I’m not necessarily working, but I’m not kicking back at the hotel pool with a mai-tai either. My travels through Europe, although unbelievably entertaining and incredibly enlightening, were also pretty exhausting and, in truth, composed of a little bit of luck, some mild discomfort, and a whole lot of effort. I see this trip across the US as occupying a similar vein, although admittedly made easier by lack of both language barrier and exorbitant currency exchange rates.

These “trips” are a means by which I challenge myself- test my mettle, as it were. I tend to put myself in situations that are strenuous, difficult, and maybe even scary (although seldom do I feel afraid.) Prior to my departure, my friends would ask if I was frightened, nervous, or anxious. I immediately attempted to assuage their concerns, assuring them I could handle whatever craziness got thrown in my path. To tell the truth, I hadn’t even allowed myself to feel those fearful emotions. If I had, it was only subconsciously. I had decided that since I’d hoofed/trained/bussed/flown (without health coverage or a particularly large budget) through countries where I was unable to speak or read a word of the language, I could certainly handle the good ol’ US of A, country of my birth. If I’d started thinking about everything that could go wrong, I’d probably be hiding under my bed in Niagara Falls right now instead of curled up on a yellow zebra-striped kidney-shaped couch in Jamaica Plain Massachusetts.

I’d decided sometime in the beginning of my last semester as a Bachelors candidate in the Art Education Program at Buffalo State College that I wanted to make a cross country trip. The idea gestated as a sort of gift to myself for graduating from college; something I'm sure I don't deserve. I decided on a US venture rather than, say, returning to Germany or England for a quick stay in the company of friends, for a couple of reasons; one being cost and ease, two being that I'm in some ways preparing myself for a "settling down" to come in the future. I'm open to the possibility that one of my destination cities will become my home, even though I'm currently set on Brooklyn for that. I’m still not sure if I’ve made exactly the right choice in taking a cross country trip as opposed to a "last hurrah" (but not really) jaunt to Europe, but as some people who know me are aware, once I decide on some hare-brained idea, I become laser focused on it and there’s no going back.

So on January 10th I took the plunge and put my plastic where my mouth was- I bought a two month Discovery Pass from the Greyhound Lines Incorporated (headquarters in Dallas Texas.) For those that don’t know, the Greyhound Discovery Pass is a deal proffered by Greyhound Lines Incorporated that allows the buyer to travel as many times, as far a distance as they like, for the tidy sum of $446 USD (for one month,) or $556 USD (for two months.) Considering a round trip ticket to New York City from Buffalo can cost upwards of $100, not to mention the three-hundred-some-odd-dollar amount a bus ticket to the West Coast would cost, I deemed the deal “not bad.” Especially in comparison to the Amtrak version of the Discovery Pass (over $800 with the same travel times) or the cost of flying about the country (astronomical, I presume.)

Now, the next question that most people weren’t keen on actually asking me but were obviously thinking or talking about amongst themselves was that of my finances. “How is she affording this extravagant bus venture around the circumference of these United States?” they all seemed to want to know (I guess.) Well, for starters, the Greyhound pass is, as aforementioned, $556 for TWO WHOLE MONTHS. That is less than the cost of a month’s rent for most people. Also, like a whole lot of American twentysomething women, and a whole lot of American’s in general, I own and use credit cards. I know this isn’t the wisest financial practice. Hell, I even had to use a debt relief program in my early twenties. (Don’t judge.) But I’ve wised up somewhat along the way, about how many cards I have open (precious few) their interest rates (fairly low) and how I pay them off (quickly.) Not to mention that I’ve already swung this travel-on-credit-and-pay-it-off-immediately gig before… twice. And I even have a little (very, very little) cash to my name to boot. Top it off with gracious and lovely friends willing to host me in their respective cities (and to fall back on,) and the whole thing becomes quite affordable.

In spite of the possible longer term financial implications, I've decided to grant myself this voyage across the US of A, with destination cities of Boston MA, Austin TX, San Francisco CA, Portland OR, Seattle WA, Chicago IL and the big ol' Apple. I think it's worthwhile for me, as well as relatively cheap. I'm in a position to do it, as I've just graduated and don't have a job, and my graduate program (should I be accepted) won't start until September anyway. That gives me plenty of time when I return home to save up money for a real move.

So there you have it. The genesis of the idea and subsequent fruition of my fantastic voyage across the US of A. Hang out with me here, I’ll have lots to talk about and plenty to show you along the way.