Tag Archive for 'Travel Journal'

My Mini-Break Summer

Taylor and I haven’t managed to take a major vacation yet this year, but we have been on a string of lovely mini-breaks this summer.

Perhaps that’s been better off for my mental health, since I was just reading that some research suggests  only a week after their vacation workers have already lost the boost in happiness they get from taking time off (Really, someone studied this?).

Taylor is definitely a big-trip person, with his three month, see-every-country-in-Europe excursions. I usually fall into the two to three weeks would be ideal but I’ll take it where I can get it camp. And living on the East Coast, there are so many lovely and totally different places to go within a two to three hour drive. Usually I like to stick around in the city during the summer, when the nights get hot and sticky and I can wear shorts outside and get ice cream at midnight. But this year I couldn’t take it — the over 100-degree days have melted away my love for summer heat. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’ve done too much Bikram and my body is just telling me No More! In any case, I am seeking escape as often as possible this summer. Here is a roundup of highlights from what will forthwith be known as The Summer of Mini-Breaks.

Boston – July 4th Weekend

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Baby Owen’s baptism, North Shore beach time, fried fish and a delicious affogato-esque concoction of coffee and cream-flavored ice cream. That’s right Megan and Taylor!! My affogato-like concoction was Delicious and had no need for your sugar-saturated root beer. On the way back, Taylor and I stopped at the Framingham Target and Wal-Mart to stock up on essentials. Like cute dresses. And beach chairs. You know.

Camping in the Catskills – Little Pond Campground, Andes, NY

What a perfect camping spot. I can’t rave enough about this campground — beautiful sites, clean bathrooms, good hiking all around and a beautiful lake with ice-cold water that felt like liquid glass.

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Yet again, we found our camping site to be a little bigger than we have need for, given the extent of our setup is a tiny two-person tent and two chairs (see below). I like traveling light, especially when camping, but I am beginning to really envy the beautiful clean tents I’ve seen, the big grills and screened in table areas, the elaborate rope rigging people set up to hang their clothes and towels on, yeah all that crap.

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We’re beginning to develop a camping routine: pack for days, inevitably forget something (last time: pillows; this time: bottle opener), drive 20 minutes to the nearest town to purchase said forgotten thing, set up camp, debate over how to inflate the Big Agnes — our double-wide sleeping pad and a whole other story — and whether it does inflate at all, pasta for dinner, crackling fire that dies three times before we get it going, smores for dessert, bedtime. Next day: repeat, throw in a hike that takes twice as long as expected.

Country Relaxation in Warwick, NY

Forecasts of temperatures going well above 100 prompted us to book a last-minute getaway to a town in the Western Hudson Valley, technically Orange County. I had found Warwick because of its proximity to Greenwood Lake, which is supposed to be one of the nicest in the Hudson Valley. But the weather was so atrocious, we didn’t even make it to the lake. No matter, the B&B we put up at was absolutely lovely, with a sitting room, homemade cookies, a hammock and lots of air conditioning. I always feel like a pretender at B&Bs — they’re meant for stodgy old folks who wake up at 5am and go antiquing, right? But the proprietors were lovely, helpful and made darn good waffles. I still think someone out there should look into a B&B model for young people — and when I say young people I mean 30-year-old-farts like me who like to sit around all day reading with a good stiff cocktail, and would perhaps like to do that in a beautiful house in a beautiful setting but with maybe not so much French toile and Americana kitsch.

We camped out at the Stony Creek Inn all day and night, I did two diagramless crossword puzzles and finished a book, Taylor dutifully worked on programmy stuff all day, and it made me realize how much I miss the country. I may have only been a country girl for four years in college, but it has stuck with me.

Coming Up:

Visiting Erika and Pookie in North Carolina!!

Camping on the Cape, Labor Day Weekend!!

The Berkshires — in planning!!

(I don’t know why I think anyone else cares about my mini-break schedule but it’s gratifying to see it all spelled out for some reason.)

A Whirlwind, Rainy Tour of Italy

Rome, Florence and Tuscany in seven days. That was our goal, and we made it through, but not without severe exhaustion and a sense of having been everywhere and nowhere at once.

Given that two of my favorite things in the world are good food and art, it did seem like sacrilege that I had never been to Italy. So for my 30th birthday, I wrangled Taylor into a trip.

The more I travel, the more I realize two things: 1) I am getting old. And 2) I am turning into a real New Yorker. Neither of these things are very good. I experienced such jet lag in Italy that I had to take a nap every day and nearly passed out standing up in the Borghese Gallery in Rome. And while we ate wonderful food, I came away from most of my meals with the thought, Eh. I’ve had better in New York. It’s truly sad.

But there are a few things that did meet and exceed expectations.

The Raphael Rooms at the Vatican Museum.

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Yes, the Sistine Chapel was remarkable but it also, well, smelled like BO in there. It smelled like hundreds of people had been crammed in there for years. Which is true. It’s extremely difficult to commune with Michelangelo’s genius while the Italian guard is yelling at people over the loudspeaker to shut up in five different languages.  The Raphael Rooms were also crowded, but less so, and given their smaller size it was much easier to get up close to the walls to take a closer look. I was unprepared for how beautiful this set of rooms would be — truly, it took one’s breath away. Here I am descending the stairway of the Vatican Museum on our way out:

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Bernini Sculptures at the Borghese Gallery.

I had studied several of the Berninis at this gallery, but oh my how different they are in person. It’s difficult to put into words why. They are so heartbreakingly beautiful, so hypnotic and expressive in person, it’s as though the figures are literally coming alive to speak to you. I was so tired during our visit that I was practically hallucinating, so that could have contributed to the otherworldliness of it all…. It was nightfall when we were there, and there is something creepy and mystical about exploring the palace at night — I recommend it.

Gelato in Rome.

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Despite it being cold and rainy, we ate gelato everyday in Rome. We went to the places recommended by all the guide books, but also happened to be staying just next to a delightful small place called Geletaria Teatro that seems to specialize in interesting flavors and is also off the tourist beaten path. People say you can get delicious gelato no matter where you are in Rome, but that’s just as ridiculous as saying you can get good pizza anywhere in New York. Yes, you probably can, but if you go to the best places, it’ll be that much better. My favorites were pretty much everything at Geletaria Teatro, the rice gelato at Alberto Pica (the white gelato pictured on left) and the sabayon at San Crispino.

Rediscovering Tiramisu

Ever since it became some kind of trend at American restaurants, you can find tiramisu almost everywhere in the states, but never have I had a tiramisu that truly impressed me. It usually tastes too mocha-y, too sweet, and the texture is off — overly hard cakiness mixed with overly bulbous creaminess. But at a restaurant in Florence, we had the tiramisu at the recommendation of the waiter — and it was fantastic. The cake part was drenched in alcoholy goodness, but not soggy, it was of course very sweet — but balanced by other liquor flavors. This does not mean that I will be romping all over New York looking for a tiramisu to match, but it was to discover how well the dish could be done.

Home-Cooked Meal in Greve-in-Chianti

We ate with the family that ran our agritourismo one night, and everything about the meal was so delicious. I wish I could recreate it, but I’m sure it would be impossible. Everything was so simple, yet so punched through with flavor. Everything cooked to perfection, (seemingly) effortlessly.

Houston, We Have Liftoff. Thank God.

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So, all I want to do for my 30th birthday is get dressed up, drink a good, strong cocktail and stuff my face with black-bottom cupcakes and coffee ice cream. Maybe I’ll even get Double Rainbow espresso bean shipped in…

But Taylor’s 30th-birthday wish was a bit more, shall we say, adventurous. He wanted to see a shuttle launch. And that meant we had to do it now, before NASA shuts the program down later this year. Planning a vacation around something that could be canceled at any point up to the actual moment of it happening is not the wisest idea. But it’s Taylor’s 30th. So to Orlando we went.

A week out, all signs were looking good for launch. We arrived in Orlando late Thursday night; the launch was scheduled for 2:30pm Friday. We boarded the bus for the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral at 6:30am. SIX THIRTY AM. Let’s recall people that I work nights and when I see 6:30 am it’s usually from the other end and I’m on my way to bed.

Pretty much the entire time from 6:30am until 2:30pm was spent waiting: waiting for the bus to arrive; waiting for the bust to leave; waiting for the bus to park; waiting in line at the Kennedy Space Center to buy blue chairs that say Kennedy Space Center on the back; waiting in line to re-board the buses; waiting on the bus to leave Kennedy Space Center; and, finally, waiting in our blue chairs on the NASA Causeway for liftoff.

Even a few hours before launch, they were still only 70% Go. I spent much of the day trying not to imagine how soul crushing it would feel to get all the way out there and then have them scrub.

Thank the lord, the launch went off exactly on time. Were all those hours of waiting worth the 30 seconds of awesomeness? Eh. I’m glad to have seen it; we witnessed a part of history; etc etc etc. What really made it all worth it was this face (and yes that is a NASA hat he is wearing):

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Dubrovnik

The bus ride down the coast to Dubrovnik was stunning — the rest stop where we took a break along the way had a beautiful lookout. Once in Dubrovnik old town, we rolled our suitcases along the the Stradum in search of our apartment. Just above a lovely plaza, our apartment was perfection: tidy, ideally located, and outfitted with antiquey furniture and decoration. We paused long enough to change into clothing appropriate for the (finally) warmer weather and set out to walk the old town walls. Though there were definitely more tourists in Dubrovnik than anywhere else we had been thus far, it was still quiet and on our tour of the city walls, we were virtually on our own. We were incredibly lucky in this; I can imagine the experience wouldn’t be nearly as sublime with hoards of people on either side of you.

Dubrovnik was definitely my favorite part of the trip, and though I felt that every day there, every meal, every activity, was a highlight, walking the old town walls would have to top that list. Even at a fairly speedy clip, it took some time to encircle the city — mostly because at every turn and stretch, there’s a stunning view to stop and behold. Part of the fun is imagining what the city looked like when these walls were first built; and how they were used over the years. Part of the fun is peering into the modern apartments housed partially in the walls. I was struck by the juxtaposition of ancient stone with hanging laundry and satellite dishes. As we turned one corner, I espied on the other side of the wall a man sitting on his balcony, working on a laptop. The banal sitting just next to the sublime; modern life layered upon the old city’s historical frame. Here’s how I saw it:

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Hrvatska

This is a long overdue report on my travels to Croatia earlier this year.

It all began over drinks with Kai in San Francisco. She mentioned she was planning to travel to Croatia in the Spring. With who? I asked. Why, by myself, she replied. To which I naturally, and in my standard elegant mode of address, replied, I Wanna Go Too I Wanna go Too!

And so we did go. Since Kai is a busy doctor and all the time busy with doctoring things, she let me take on most of the planning for the trip. Which, naturally, suited me just fine. We had only 8 days in Croatia, with a few days in London on either end, but we wanted to experience as much of the country as possible. So we planned a whirlwind tour of the Southern coastal area, beginning in resort town Zadar, through Split and ending in Dubrovnik, with one venture inland to Skradin and the Krka Waterfalls.

Zadar

It rained the morning we were in Zadar, preventing us from exploring the city. Our one adventure here was taking the public bus to the bus station, which the guide book made sound quite simple, but was complicated by the rain, our bags, the crowds and the fact that the bus station was not labeled as such. We made it, though, and went onward to Sibenik, where we had yet another interesting bus travel experience in trying to decipher which bus was our bus.

Skradin and Krka National Park

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We were travelling just before Easter, which marks the beginning of the high season for tourism in Croatia. We arrived in Skradin to find it a ghost town — empty streets, shuttered restaurants and stores. In wandering around, we would see restaurants washing down their decks, dragging about tables and chairs, beginning preparations to open for the season. In our day and a half there, we had the place totally to ourselves, which was actually a bit disconcerting. It almost felt like we were interrupting the town’s last moments of solitude before they open their doors and welcome in the masses.

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We were the only occupants of our hotel and for the included breakfast, instead of opening up the dining room, they set us up our own little table in the lobby. It was comical, but in an endearing way.

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The town has a lovely pier, where the boat that takes visitors to the Krka National Park and its waterfalls docks.

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Though Krka is much smaller than the famous Plitvice Lakes, it was still a lovely way to spend the morning and was all we had time for anyway. We ended up having to hike there since the early morning boat never showed up to take us.

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Before leaving, we stopped for what was fast becoming a morning, noon and night ritual for us: cappus.

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