restored taftsville bridge, vermont

rediscovering new england (trip report, part 3)

in the first two parts of this series, i have revealed a few things. in part 1, we learned that megan had another life as a horse trainer. in part 2, she revealed the dirty secret that she is part texan.

here is the revelation for part 3: many years ago, i was a resident of boston and worked at the museum of fine arts. what is the reason for my extended residence in beantown? well, that is another story for another time, and probably one i’ll need a beer to tell you about. so you can buy me a beer if you want to hear it.

nevermind. the purpose of this post: trip recap!

new england was, in fact, the actual reason for our trip to america this year. the, if you will, holiday portion of the trip.

restored taftsville bridge, vermont
perfect autumn holiday! taftsville covered bridge, vermont

we landed in boston pretty late, but luckily it is a compact little city and easy to get around on the T (boston’s subway system). it being, perhaps surprisingly, one of the more expensive cities in the US for accommodation, we’d opted to book a few airbnb properties rather than overpay for a mediocre hotel.

the thing about new england is, it is small. and it fills up! and i had not planned properly! i would urge you, if planning a trip to that part of the world, to book accommodation well in advance. especially if you are going to be there during prime leaf peeping and baseball season, such as we were.

our airbnb property – a dark little studio in the up-and-coming jamaica plain neighbourhood with a very odd shower-in-the-entryway setup – was not the best one i’ve stayed in, but considering the savings and last-minute booking, we were pretty pleased. it was just a short hop 10-15 minutes into downtown boston on the T.


boston common
boston common on a perfect autumn day.

boston was, as i remembered it, incredible. people were friendlier than i remember them being, perhaps owing to the fact that years ago, it was my first foray into big city life. it was also more compact, more maneuverable than i remember. and the bars were fantastic. we spent three days hopping from beer pub to beer pub, sampling the finest ales of the region, interspersed here and there with some art (museum of fine arts, which has had an incredible upgrade since the days when i used to spend my lunch hour staring at mummies and early 19th century furniture) and lots of ambling. boston is a great city for flaneuring.


leaf peeping along vermont's route 100
leaf peeping along vermont’s route 100

october 2nd marked bill’s and my fourth wedding anniversary, so we hired a car and got down to the business of serious leaf peeping, a peculiar term americans have for driving around and gawking at autumn colour. a stop on the way out of town at walden pond, where henry david thoreau wrote his eponymous dissertation on a life removed from modern trappings, proved a lovely walk and entry into the wilds of new england.

we made our way further north and onto route 100, the classic north-south thoroughfare through vermont that provides incredible leaf peeping as it winds along riversides and over covered bridges in between perfectly groomed, steepled new england towns.

the lincoln inn, woodstock, vt
autumn anniversary treat: the lincoln inn

arriving at our lodging for the night was like stepping into an autumn dream. sat on a perfect patch of grass overlooking the ottauquechee river, the lincoln inn is a white clapboard house with gables galore and perfect windows for peeping out onto leafy landscaped countryside. the proprietress knew it was our anniversary and greeted us by name, and we enjoyed a tasty (if perhaps overpriced) dinner and lots (and lots) of red wine.


notre-dame basilica of montreal
notre-dame basilica of montreal

some of my friends think i have a ‘thing’ about canada. i don’t, really. i have several canadian friends who i count among the nicest, most open-minded and interesting people i know. but sometimes…in mixed company…when i’ve had a few drinks…i like to make the odd joke about canada. it’s more because the jokes are right there, and canada makes a fun and easy target for a bit of ribbing.

the honest truth is, though, i’ve spent no time in canada at all.

it was an object of much amusement for my best friend that, when bill and i first started dating, he had a copy of lonely planet’s canada book set and ready for an adventure. we’ve always wanted to go and see what the fuss is about, particularly montreal, which i’ve been assured on a number of occasions and by a number of people i really trust, is one of the coolest cities, like, ever.

it’s not far from boston – about 5-6 hours if you drive straight through – and there are a number of overland border crossings where you pass across your passports as if you were at a drive-up bank. no trouble at all.

vices et versa montreal
vices et versa – fab montreal beer pub.

but here’s where i admit that montreal did not wow me. this is not to say that we had a bad time, because we had a really good time! mostly thanks to the genius of one, jane atkin, prior resident and connoisseur of great food and great beer, who gave me amazing suggestions.

these two things were, in my mind, montreal’s two greatest strengths. it is a foodie town and it is a beer-lover’s town. it is also an ugly, mid-century north american city with a lot of heinous towers and huge wide roads – not at all what i imagined would be a quaint, cobblestoned former french colony. also, montrealers seemed to frown a lot, which has not been my experience with most canadians. but i digress, as i am at risk of stereotyping and generalising.

montreal tower
an honest view: montreal’s mid-century architecture.

the good things? wow, the food scene! also, practically every restaurant we went to had a BYO policy, and there is plenty of great, cheap french wine to be found in the shops. also, the shops! some of the most beautifully arranged grocers with such colourful and diverse arrays of produce and bread, gleaming under perfect soft lighting. a farmer’s market, right in the metro station!  and so many good beer bars we came away happy and a little bloated.

jean-talon market montreal
beautiful produce at the jean-talon market.

i would also like to very briefly gripe about the road system in quebec, because it is awful. they have their own style of road signage that conforms to no international standard i’ve ever come across and is, frankly, impossible to understand. they also sent buses down the left lane of one three-lane side of a very scary, very narrow, very high bridge, only separated from oncoming traffic by tiny orange cones. seriously what the fuck.

i came away with the feeling montreal, like some of the best cities in the world (for example, dublin!) is a place to live, but for me not a place that can really be understood during a three-day visit.

back to boston

a cold day at salisbury beach.
a cold day at salisbury beach.

we took a different route back to boston, through new hampshire this time (another state for bill to tick off having visited) and met up with an old friend of mine for coffee on the way. once again, my late-minute planning had struck a hard place, there being essentially nothing in boston for our price range. so i decided, hey, let’s pick somewhere on the north shore of massachusetts and enjoy some rocky coast! we ended up in salisbury beach with a bit of an airbnb horror story, but not one i’ll relay here (again, buy me a coffee if you want to hear it) because i don’t want to put off future airbnbers and this was a once-off.

around the corner from our apartment was one of the most famous clam shacks in new england: brown’s. this particular clam shack is like a kind of grimy old wonderful clapboard restaurant situated right on the marshes of salisbury beach – something straight out of 1960s new england holidayville. there are huge tanks of lobsters right there in the main front room and pretty much everything you order comes out deep fried. they also have a BYO policy, so we picked up some delicious craft ales at the local petrol station (i love america for some things, and being able to buy amazing booze in a petrol station is one of them) and tucked into clams, scallops and chips, oh my.

brown's seafood shack
lobster tanks at brown’s.

the final couple of days in boston were spent flaneuring, sampling ales, doing a bit of necessary america shopping and eating a lot of dunkin donuts breakfast bagel sandwiches. we met bill’s old college buddy from dublin in the infamous L street tavern, known for being featured in the film good will hunting. south boston, which was once one of the city’s roughest areas and full of working class irish, is now more gentrified, but the L street still draws in a local crew of punters, who that evening were having a rousting time watching what else, but baseball? (spoiler: the boston red sox won the world series a few weeks after we were there, so it was a big year for them).

we also took a day trip to salem, a town north of boston that is widely known as the setting for the salem witch trials of 1692. it was also once one of the most prosperous towns in the new world and a huge shipping port. it also has the house of the seven gables, which inspired nathaniel hawthorne’s gothic novel by the same name. but around this time of year, it tends to go a little nuts for halloween, with loads of witchy and ghosty decoration and plenty of autumn leaves.

halloween decor in salem.
best halloween decor i’ve ever seen.

conclusions? i am not sure i came to any real conclusions. perhaps the main one is that, while i love america, i am still so happy to not live there and that shall continue for the foreseeable future. oh, and america has some of the best beer in the world right now, but more on that to come over on brew travel.

read part 1: rediscovering my home of enchantment
read part 2: rediscovering the lone start state

things i want to tell londoners

as i roll into nearly a year of working full time in central london, i have come to understand – and in some cases loathe – my commute. actually, most of the time my commute works like a well oiled machine, but there are still aspects of it that baffle, confound and annoy the shit out of me.

don’t get me wrong. i am incredibly grateful to have the access to public transportation that i do. to have the chance to gripe about my daily tube journey. but still. sometimes londoners do some weird things.

some things i want to tell londoners:

-if you don’t have your oyster card or ticket ready, don’t stand in front of the gates and rifle through your bag to find it. that is just annoying as shit.

-that whole “but i just topped it up” bit doesn’t work on the underground staff. i think they have probably heard it before once or twice.

-your agenda/schedule/day/mustn’tmissit appointment is no more important or urgent or life-threatening than mine, or anyone else’s. and huffing at me about it won’t hurry me up.

-walking fast and loudly behind me also won’t hurry me up. nor will your clackity heels (that goes for you too, boys).

-and also speaking to the boys, there are some of you who have chosen to wear a “cologne” that could also double as oven cleaner. mosquitos won’t go within a 10-metre radius of you and everytime i sit down next to you on the tube, my eyes begin to water. i am pretty sure that your dried up sex lives will attest to the fact that this scent is not, does not and will not ever get you laid.

-get a pair of decent headphones and turn the sound down. showing the world in no uncertain terms that you like justin beiber or that chick with the $ in her name is not doing you any favours.

and finally…

-jogging is just never a good use for a saturday afternoon. go out and get some culture, for gawd’s sake.

photo by brownincs

the murtaugh list

Photo by Michael Dorausch it was about 1:12 am last night. we were on the way home from our very civilized wine celebration of bill’s 30th birthday, when i saw a guy get on the tram, start to hiccup wildly and then puke out the window. [tweetmeme]two thoughts occurred to me at that moment:

1. fuck’s sake prague.
2. i’m too old for this shit.

so, i decided with my 30th rapidly approaching and bill’s quite literally just passed, i should pay tribute to the murtaugh list. if you watch how i met your mother, you already know that this is a list of stuff you’re too old to do, inspired by sergeant roger murtaugh (aka danny glover in lethal weapon.) Continue reading “the murtaugh list”

some awesome things about living in europe

Photo by AbhijeetRanei am so ecstatic to be back in europe. this is my first time living in continental europe, and it feels so freaking good! don’t get me wrong, living in the US has its advantages (readily offered ice water, coffee refills, cheap rent), and so does china (cheap food, cheap beer, cheap everything).

but europe… ah, europe. Continue reading “some awesome things about living in europe”

on taking the 66 bus

taking public transport in the western united states is not like elsewhere. in fact, around here, you are lucky if public transport exists at all and, unless you live in the exact right part of town, it probably won’t do you much good.

but we’ve been taking a lot of public transport in albuquerque since we moved into our apartment in university heights and it has served us well. but the 66 bus deserves particular attention. Continue reading “on taking the 66 bus”

on being carless in a car society

an 'average-sized' american car one thing that has often struck me upon returning to the U.S. after time abroad is the size of the vehicles. nowhere else on earth do the size of the cars match those of the united states. i distinctly remember after a year and a half in china and 2 weeks in new zealand following it, i landed in san francisco and nearly had a heart attack as my friend’s teeny ford escort buzzed down the highway with huge pickup trucks screaming by.

Continue reading “on being carless in a car society”

new blog for (yet another) new start

i’ve been thinking about life in the USA. that’s because, for the first time in … let’s see… 16 months, i am actually IN the USA. spending half of the summer here has been gratifying and enlightening, and also maddening, at times. i’ve caught up with and gotten to know family and friends that i dearly miss during my seemingly incessant travels abroad. that part has been fantastic. the weather in new mexico can’t be beaten, and even when it’s hot as the dickens, nothing rivals china in terms of sweat-production.

the thing that’s most affected me here this summer has been the lack of a vehicle. my car, which was kind of a dud to begin with, went to live with my sister in colorado (sorry juels!), so i have been couchsurfing and begging for rides. i hate begging for rides. my aunt and uncle live near the railrunner, new mexico’s answer to a public transportation train system. after my arrival at their place, i quickly downloaded schedules and fares, grateful for being able to get around albuquerque sans a car.

the 20 minute walk to the station didn’t bother me, even on hot days. it was more exercise than i’d gotten since i left my bike behind in china. the fact that the railrunner goes to 2 stops in albuquerque also didn’t bother me, because those two stops happened to be my aunt’s house and downtown – lucky me. in addition to public transport, i had the goodwill of friends and the generosity of my aunt & uncle to loan me a bicycle (which, admittedly, i didn’t use much) and their truck, on occasion.

i guess it was labor day that i really started to curse things. i planned to meet a friend for lunch, knowing i would have to take the railrunner WAY out of my way and then catch a bus up and around town to meet her. believe me, it was more than the long way ’round, but i seriously didn’t mind. the train even had added service times due to the wine festival and labor day weekend, so i was stoked. i hopped on the train and settled into one of the bright red seats, and it greeted me with a familiar “meep meep”… i could even imagine the coyote was right behind me with a bucket of TNT.

once downtown, the bus stop, a rapid transit dual car system that goes every 10 minutes, is just outside the train station. additionally, you can access all of the bars and clubs and restaurants downtown – nevermind that the railrunner only goes until 7:30 pm… anyway.

the bus wasn’t there. i waited. some drunk spanish-speaking bum with a lazy eye approached me and asked me “donde esta tu casa? vienes a tu casa?” i was like “uhh no.” i waited more. the spanish guy came back and said “no bus.” i barely heard him. i noticed that there really HADN’T been a bus… for 20 minutes. ok, maybe it’s a lessened labor day service. i waited more. i watched a horde of eddie bauer- sporting lesbians standing nearby. i assumed they must be waiting for the bus. lesbians always take the bus, right? tick tick tick. 30 minutes. finally, a fat kid nearby starts looking as scared as me. i ask him if he’s waiting for the bus, and he says yes. i say is there a bus today? he says, there’d better be or i’m screwed. me too, i say.

turns out there’s no fucking bus. with no american cell phone and no car and basically no money, this left me waiting around for the next train back to my aunt’s house – a full hour away.

this leads me to the point of all this. HOW THE FUCK HARD IS IT TO HAVE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION?

additional side notes:

1) what is the need for massive-ass cars?
2) why don’t restaurants serve vegetables? as their own dish?
3) why is it that people who eat eggs freak out about the idea of eating chicken feet?
4) i freaking LOVE having 37 different ethnic restaurants to choose from for dinner
5) fast internet is a beautiful thing
6) so are sandwiches and dark beers and bars without dance floors
6.b) it costs $9 a person to eat lunch at furr’s cafeteria.
7) you can survive without a mobile phone (it was questionable)
8) yes, it is a mobile phone
9) what’s wrong with using chopsticks to eat salad or steak?

i wish everyone on earth would get over themselves. that probably includes me.

regarding this new blog:
-you can “subscribe to” it (meaning, get the update notices via email), by clicking on the “Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)” at the bottom of the page and signing up.
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-if there are pictures available, you can access the photo albums by clicking on the photo featured in the blog entry.

that’s all for now. see you in a few days. from ireland. FUCK. YES.

click here for photos:

summer web album