Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bahston, baby: eating my way through the North East

I’m in Boston on a vacation unlike any I’ve ever taken.

For various reasons, I found myself in need of a few weeks off from my life in Dayton -- as full and wonderful as it is. Generous bosses helped me arrange it, provided I put in the planning to take care of my work responsibilities ahead of time.

My sister, here on a travel nursing assignment, offered to put me up for two weeks, as happy to offer me the much-needed break as to have my company to explore New England in the fall.

I landed on a gorgeous afternoon that put the sun in Sunday, with no plans for the next two weeks, except a vague idea of exploring Boston and the surrounding region, and camping out in coffee shops to spend some time catching up on personal writing. Hence, this blog post.

Something you should know about me. I’m typically a compulsive extrovert. The idea of a single Saturday afternoon with no plans usually scares me into a planning frenzy, texting every friend I know until I find a companion for the day.

But I was ready for a change. And from the minute Callie had put the idea of a trip to Boston in my mind, I’d had a good feeling, like something was waiting for me here.

We hit the ground running -- literally, as soon as I waded through Callie’s two dogs’ enthusiastic welcome celebration, and set my bags down in the furnished apartment, Callie suggested we go for a run. We parked at the hospital she works at, and set off on what I anticipated would be about a 3-mile run, since I had just recently recovered from mono, and was easing my way back into exercise.

Locals hang out on the docks on the Charles River during our run

Four and a half miles later, we had detoured to the Bunker Hill monument.
“Does this mean we are 4.5 miles from the car?” I asked, catching my breath as we walked around the monument.
“Yep,” Callie said.
“So much for that 3-mile run…” I said, as we started off jogging back down the hill towards Quincy Market.

We caught our breath at the Bunker Hill monument.

Although we stopped more times on the way back to the car than on the way down, we also took a few detours through some of the main sights of Boston, and chanced upon a breathtaking sunset over the Boston Common.

The sunset over Boston Common took my breath away.
My GPS app read 11 miles when we reached the car.
“Welcome to Boston!” I told my aching legs.

From my previous travels, I’ve learned that public libraries are a must see in every city. The Boston Central library is no exception. Its vaulted ceilings, calming inner courtyard, marbled staircases, and studious reading room made me ache for a good excuse to spend hours in study at the wide work tables.

I was happily distracted by a small exhibit on cartography, one of my weaknesses. If it has a map on it, I want it.

I could lose myself for hours in a place like this. 

My companion for the day was my sister’s friend Keith, who was staying with her after finishing up hiking the Appalachian Trail. We set up my hammock in the Public Garden, much to the surprise of many onlookers. I guess hammocking hasn’t really hit Boston yet. We nestled into the cocoon of the double hammock, our heads disappearing below the top. I dug into my book, and Keith took a nap as the daylight slowly faded and it was time to pick Callie up from work.

On Tuesday, Callie and I took one of several day trips we would take around New England, themed around eating our way through the East Coast. We did some shopping in Newport, Rhode Island, and I happily checked the state off my list.

The  view from the Newport Cliff Walk

We had intended to run the length of the famed Rhode Island Cliff Walk past the opulent Vanderbilt mansions in Newport, about a 7 mile round trip. But when we hit the trail, my body just wouldn’t work. A little shocked by the 11-mile run on Sunday, everything in me felt wrong and each step jolted me from my knees to my neck, and I realized in dismay that I was desperately in need of a restroom.

I thought I could muster a brisk walk, but about a half mile in, I found myself in a near state of panic.

“Callie, I’m prairie-dogging it!” I whimpered. We rounded the corner, looking for a secluded spot that might do in a pinch. I had actually grabbed a doggie bag from the beginning of the cliff. I’m not going to say I’ve never stooped to that level before. Or, squatted.

But lo and behold, to my utter delight, the trail presented us a fully functional, indoor plumbed bathroom, with no line to the women’s room. The veritable bath “room of requirement,” as it shall always be called in my memory.

We ended our night with a trifecta of clams -- in the form of Rhode Island style chowder, clam cakes and fried clams -- from Flo’s Clam Shack by the beach.

Wednesday was a delightful day for spending time in a hip coffee shop in Somerville, and catching up over the phone with one of my college roommates while lounging in the Boston Common. Rejuvenated after that day, I woke up Thursday morning to a text from an unknown number, but the friendly familiarity of a 919 area code.

“A little birdie told me you want to go to the Sam Adams brewery today.” The text said. It was my long lost friend Keary, whom I’d swam with for years and years growing up. Swimming friends are forever friends.

Keary went to school in Boston, so she’s got the inside scoop on what to see, and her favorite pastime is giving Boston tours. She had the day off and no plans. This was a win-win situation.

Me and my tour guide, and my brand new Sam Adams shirt

We met at the brewery at 11:40 a.m., where they heartily thanked us for choosing to spend our Thursday morning with them drinking free beer. I learned more on the Sam Adams tour about the subtleties of creating a beer’s taste profile than I’d ever known before, and thanks to the #DaytonBoozenessJournal, I’ve seen the underbelly of a quite few breweries.

The brewery promises each guest one 7-oz pour of each of three beers during the tasting session, but if you’re sharp-eyed, you can snag the last pitcher as it comes around again for seconds. Keary and I nailed this part, and stumbled out of the brewery 30 minutes later, into the gift shop. This arrangement is rather clever, because my buzz changed my reasoning skills as I ogled the softest baseball T I’d ever felt. At $39, I knew it was highway robbery, but I justified it by saying I’d wear it every day. I am wearing it now. Good sense: nil. Olivia: one.

We hopped onto the party trolley to DOYLE’S. I say it in all caps because whenever you reference DOYLE’s, you must say it with gusto and a fist pump to match. Or, hold on because the driver is letting go of the wheel, a DOUBLE FIST PUMP “DOYLE’S”!

After DOYLE'S we stopped by Keary’s apartment to drop off her tasting glass and complimentary Sam Adams pint glass. I was impressed by the size of her roomy apartment, compared to the living situations I’d seen of my friends in Manhattan.

Keary was thrilled to show me a relatively unknown museum in Boston, called the Mapparium. I’d never heard of it, but my love of maps made me an easy sell. It’s a giant, three-story stained glass globe, and thanks to a catwalk built about halfway up, you can walk inside it. It puts the equator at about eye level for the average person, providing an amazing view of most of the habitable earth. I love maps and could stare at it for hours, as it hasn’t been changed since 1935, and presents a snapshot of human history from a geographical standpoint. But the acoustics were even more fun. Standing on one end of the bridge, you can whisper confidential messages to a friend on the other end and hear each other loud and clear, but no one else is the wiser. Or, standing in the exact center, your voice fills the room and bounces back from every corner, and you hear yourself in perfect surround sound. If there were voices inside my head, that’s what they’d sound like.

It’s no surprise I also love a good birds’ eye view of a city, since it's basically like looking at a real live map. So Keary took me to the Top of the Hub, a bar on the 52nd floor of the Prudential Tower. Instead of paying $16 to go to the observation deck on the 50th floor, an $11 cocktail will get you the same experience, plus booze.

The view from Top of the Hub, looking out over Boston Harbor

Eyeing Keary’s assortment of piercings, I asked whether she knew a good piercing spot in town. I’d been wanting some new piercings in my right ear -- truth be told I was hoping for an industrial, but my ears just aren’t cut out for it -- and decided Boston, and my new start to life, were the right combination.

In which I make weird faces while a nice man punches holes in my ear. 

We took the train to her favorite piercing salon, and gritted our teeth through the experience, as the smooth-voiced piercer Owen coached our breathing. Thrilled with my new holes, we headed out to the final experience Keary wanted to share with us. In her last year at Northeastern, she’d discovered a bar popular with many students called The Squealing Pig. On Thursday nights, the comfy gastropub hosts Mike Barrett, the “world’s most outrageous folk singer,” who delights the crowd with bawdy and irreverent pub songs. The regulars beat the tables in time with the songs, singing out the words, which are often changed to be more inappropriate. We picked up many of the songs quickly, and joined in whenever we could. Between fits of hysterical laughter and trying to keep time with the table drumming, I kept wondering how I could find a similar experience like this in Dayton.

Friday’s highlights included running five miles through the gorgeous countryside along the Battle Road Trail in Minuteman National Historical Park. It reminded me of the hours me and my brothers spent coloring photocopies from the American Revolution coloring book when I was a kid. Callie and I also drove up to Portsmouth for the evening and enjoyed fine beers, more mussels, live music, and delicious orders of egg-in-a-hole on thick, hearty homemade toast from an adorable diner called The Friendly Toast.

Now that is what you call toast!

Then we set out Saturday morning to climb Mt. Katahdin in Maine, which is another story for another day.

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