Hiking homework

This week was my first lecture as part of the Boston chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club spring hiking course (say that five times fast!).  I expected the class to consist of 30 people who would all become my fast friends over six weeks as we shared stories of blisters and dreams of windy peaks. 

Erm, not so much. 

When I arrived at the AMC office on Beacon Hill, I was one of a dozen people all rushing in slightly late. I paid my $65 fee and was handed what can only be described as a brick of a guidebook, as well as a carefully curated handbook. Maybe this is actually kind of serious, I thought to myself as I looked for any open seat in the room that held more than 125 people. 

The goal of week 1 was to terrify you into never wearing running shoes or cotton in the woods ever again, and it definitely worked. The clothing workshop also made me realize that I need to spend about $500 just to get my basic gear up to snuff – gulp. But everyone was nice and encouraging even as they called cotton the devil. I can’t wait to see what part of hiking I’m woefully unprepared for next! 

 

(Trying not to read too far ahead in the book to keep the suspense alive!) 

Hello sunshine

Spring has sprung in Boston and not a moment too soon. The air is fresh, the snow piles are shrinking, and the Red Sox season opener is Monday. 

  

What more could you want in life? Give me an iced coffee and call this heaven. 

Euro Top Ten : #6 – A weekend in Paris

#6 – A weekend in Paris

There’s nothing quite like meeting Paris for the first time.  Or being there when your friends do, which was the case for half our party on this recent adventure.  Yes, it’s touristy and such.  But it’s also beautiful and truly romantic and steeped in so much history that you can hardly breathe.

Shakespeare and Company - a tribute to the famous ex-pat bookstore beloved by Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald

Shakespeare and Company – a tribute to the famous ex-pat bookstore beloved by Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald

My favorite moments in Paris this time around were the moments, not the big scenes.  We didn’t go into the Louvre or Notre Dame (though I kind of regret it).  Instead, we walked down small streets and into old courtyards.  We hunted down the best chocolate shops.  Katie and I arrived and immediately ate one of the best three-course meals of my life, from the salad to the boeuf bourguignon to the crème brûlée (parfait!).  We walked by the Seine, even getting to a place where we saw more than a few rats and realized we should probably turn back…. but couldn’t find a staircase to exit the embankment. (Don’t worry mom, there were a few other people around!)  We picked “our cafe” and ate breakfast there multiple days.  We navigated ourselves around our neighborhood based on our proximity to an iPhone 6 sign posted on the side of the police headquarters.

IMG_6516

Our breakfast spot (we managed to avoid Paul, since they have that here in the US!)

My friends did indulge my touristy side a bit by agreeing to go on the Sandeman New Paris walking tour with me – I love this company and have been on their tours in Berlin and Amsterdam too.  I think it’s a great way to see a small slice of the city within a set structure – no one needs to worry about watching the time or holding the map (though we did get totally separated at the end and almost have to just go home without each other…).

Kate at the Louvre - please note the people behind her posing for the exact same photo!

Kate at the Louvre – please note the people behind her posing for the exact same photo!

It took us all over the city, to the monuments and bridges and parks.  We learned about the kings and queens and the French government’s attempt to keep their culture intact through actions like trying to come up with a French alternative to “selfie” (good luck!).  We also visited the Pont des Arts, which was made famous by Carrie and Big’s kiss in the final scene of Sex and the City and which has essentially been destroyed by tourists since then.  The idea is to add a lock to the bridge to symbolize your eternal love for your sweetheart and throw the key in the river (dozens of vendors sell locks nearby in case you didn’t plan ahead) – but our guide pointed out all the combination locks, which he said were from coy French lovers who make promises to women, then come back and collect their lock again the next day to re-use it on their next date.

Locks on the Pont des Arts

Locks on the Pont des Arts

It was a whirlwind trip – I think I could stay in Paris for at least six months and not get tired of it, even though our Airbnb was the size of a small camper.  The bubbling fountains and historic buildings – the late dinners and uneven streets – the artists and bookshops and museums galore – and these friends by my side, at sunset at the Eiffel Tower.

Best friends in Paris!

Sunset at the Eiffel Tower

What’s your favorite part of Paris?  I’ve still never been to Sacre Coeur and could spend an entire week in the Musee d’Orsay, which I’ll aim to do on my next trip back!

Katie and I also took a detour to Versailles – read about it here!

The #6 is brought to you from the street of our Airbnb in Paris.

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

Click here to read the other posts in this series.

Euro Top 10: #5 – Barcelona’s beaches

No-5-Paris

#5 – Barcelona’s beaches

This was originally going to be #9 because it was definitely one of the top moments of the trip, but after the month we’ve had, I needed some sunshine a little earlier in my life.  Boston has been walloped with more than seven feet of snow in the last three weeks, making this the snowiest month since weather was first recorded in the city in 1872.  Let that sink in.  But don’t get frostbite while you do it – the temps are so low that you can be at risk of losing fingers in just 10 minutes.

It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago, I was lying on a beach in Spain.  Yes, it was fall.  Yes, we had about 10 total hours of daylight each day to work with. But coming from New England, I was more than satisfied with the mere moments we were able to spend on the warm sand.

IMG_0520

Le Barceloneta

 

This is the beach in Le Barceloneta.  We walked all the way down to that harbor area with the ships, where there was a concert going on, including food truck and a DJ, whose smooth jams we heard up and down the beach all day.

We lay on the beach on the two small towels we brought with us, and Sara told us about how in Valencia, people give massages on the beach.  Alas, here we “just” saw people selling mixed drinks out of coconuts, big beach blankets, bottles of water, etc.  We liked to watch the drama unfold and see who else on the beach was giving into these passing temptations.  And I declared that if Sara could materialize a masseuse for me, I would be the happiest person who ever killed her back lugging a suitcase for a month.

Then, behold! Someone did come by.  An older woman who Sara was able to negotiate with in Spanish.  She gave me one of the best massages of my life, and it only cost 5 euros for about 15 minutes.  Ridiculous.  It was a surreal, lush experience, to be lying on a blanket with my bare back to the sky, my friends sitting next to me, getting my shoulders rubbed.  I would like to go back there right now, pretty please!

IMG_0539

Barcelona beach stones

 

The other amazing thing about the beach was the sand itself.  It contained so many large, beautiful stones, unlike any beach I’ve been on before.  They were all about the size of your fingernails, and the most beautiful colors (the photo above has had zero editing!).  They hurt to walk on after a bit, but Katie and I had a blast digging through them and filling our pockets with treasures.

IMG_0547

Le Barceloneta with the W Hotel in the background

 

Because October is the off-season, we didn’t have to share the beach with many people, which was perfect for us.  But getting here at all was a good reminder that even though we might not think of ourselves as beach people, even though we love the culture and history and gourmet food the actual city has to offer, we all need some time on the sand every now and then, whether or not we know it in advance.  This has already played a big part in planning my next trip to Hawaii with my sister, where we’re trying to limit what we book ourselves for and instead leave ourselves lots of time for just soaking up the sunshine.

And next time I go back to Barcelona, I’m aiming to get a massage AND a drink out of a pineapple.

The #5 is brought to you from a sign in the Barcelona metro.

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

Click here to read the other posts in this series.

Galentines + Valentines

love Valentine’s Day.

I’m as single as they come and have been for most February 14ths in my life, but I love this holiday.

To me, it’s about spreading love with glitter, chocolate, crafts, and syrupy sweetness.  Sure, it has been ultra-commercialized over the years. My solution: don’t give in to that hype.  Make it the holiday you want to see.  For example, Amy Poehler and the writers at Parks and Recreation invented “Galentine’s Day” through one of their episodes – today, dozens of my friends and thousands of people around the world are celebrating their lady-friends.

My version of this holiday involves spending the weeks leading up to it watching rom-coms and making handmade cards which I send out (despite the rising postage rate) to my loved ones.  I’ve also organized my Mount Holyoke classmates to send cards to the students who have our old mailboxes now (hey hey 1168!).  Friends from college, cousins, colleagues – no one can escape my glitter pen and warm wishes.

And no one should try – because once you back away from comparing what other people are doing on this day, you’ll see that it’s just a nice excuse to tell your pals that you think they’re swell, and offer them a mini-snickers bar or two. Or maybe just love yourself and #treatyoself to a hot chocolate with extra whipped cream.

Here’s hoping you have a lovely Galentine’s AND Valentine’s Day!

Euro Top 10: #2 – Windsor Castle

No-2-paris

#2 – Windsor Castle

(Still better late than never, right?)

#2 on my list of best adventures in Europe is Windsor Castle.  My parents and I took a day trip here, out and back from Waterloo station.  We got an audio tour and what turned out to be a private guided tour (because no one else showed up!).  Our guide told us all about the history of the place and the people who still live there today.  She also told us that the queen was expected to arrive that afternoon – we would know if she was there because her flag would replace the Union Jack.

IMG_9437

The castle itself was fascinating.  The round tower, seen here, was built in the 1100s, and sits on a hill with a dry moat around it.  It was never meant to be filled (and today, contains gardens).  For the first 100 years, the tower atop it was wooden, in order to give the man-made pile time to settle before loading it with rocks.  Apparently this is how most castles are started!

Windsor is still in use today, so it has a strange mix of history within its walls.  One room is filled with commissioned paintings depicting the battle of Waterloo – next door is a hall filled with armor from all eras and origins.  Then other parts of the state apartments had their actual walls and ceilings completely destroyed by a fire – but the furniture, which was put aside during renovation, was saved and now the rooms represent another era entirely.

My favorite part was Saint George’s Hall, which contains depictions of all the coats of arms belonging to the members of the Order of the Garter, and bearing their motto over and over – Honi soit qui mal y pense. That’s Middle French for “Shame on him who thinks evil of it.”  (Read more about the Order of the Garter here.) Prince William’s is up there, along with those of Sir Edmund Hilary, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, and others.  And then between the red, blue, and gold, there are also blank shields for those who lost their honor and have been erased from the ranks – mostly from treason, back when that was a thing that kings and queens literally lost their heads over.

IMG_9486

Mom and dad very effectively guarding the Norman Gate

 

We ended the day with tea at the Crooked House – more about that delicious meal here!

And by the time we left – lo and behold! – the flag had changed to the royal standard.  Somehow, the queen slipped past us (probably while we were eating our second scones…).  Maybe next time we’ll actually get to see her…

IMG_9540

Royal Standard flying over Windsor Castle

 

Top tips of you go to Windsor Castle:

  • Get the audio tour and also go on the guided tour – totally different material and worth every penny
  • You can’t take pictures in the castle, so get ready to just enjoy yourself
  • But you CAN take great pictures outside, including with guards.  At other British landmarks, it can be difficult to get close enough to take a good photo, but here, we were able to pose at will without having to share the spotlight!
  • Phones also don’t really work in the castle (dead zone, I suppose) so don’t lose your group or else one of you will end up at the exit wondering where in the world the rest of you go to!
  • Always end your trip with tea.  Always.
Dad didn't get the memo about making a serious face.

Dad didn’t get the memo about making a serious face.

 

The #2 is brought to you by a racetrack next to the Seine in Paris!

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

Click here to read the other posts in this series.

 

Written in the snow

Written while waiting for the T on Wednesday morning

Hello from the snowy Northeast!

Boston is waking from its blizzard-induced slumber. The T is trying its hardest to resume normal service, without much luck to report. And the streets are still mostly snow, a few cars, and many pedestrians putting their LL Bean boots to the test.

Yesterday, my neighborhood of Davis Square was a ghost town – silent and white. Katie and I ventured into the square where only CVS and the liquor store were open (priorities, people!). From down the street, other adventurers approached with only the whisper of their boots. If you were looking for a good time to cheaply film a movie about a zombie apocalypse, I hope you got a few good shots yesterday.

And with that swift kick of New England weather, it’s back to work – if this train ever arrives.

IMG_7733

IMG_7737

IMG_7727