Thursday, November 15, 2012

Safari #69: Observatory Nights at Boston University

I felt a little like 2001 A Space Odyssey's Dave Bowman when he proclaimed, "My god, it's full of stars!" this past Wednesday night.

I've always been a stargazer and can remember the times as a child when I used my constellation map to look at stars.If you're remembering the stargazing you did as a child and wondering how you can do it Boston, look no further.

There are a number of ways to enjoy the stars compliments of local universities. Boston University, in particular, has held public observatory nights every Wednesday for the past 40 years from the Coit Observatory located on the roof of the College of Arts and Sciences Building at 725 Commonwealth Avenue.

On the night of my visit, I saw Jupiter (very clear, thus super cool), the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Messier 2 (M2) Globular Cluster.  The latter two items were a little fuzzy - but that's ok, they're pretty far away! (33,000 ly and 2.5 million ly respectively).

If you are looking for a midweek date night idea, have star loving friends, or just want to try something different, the observatory nights are perfect.

Happy viewing!

My Tips:
  • Details. Public nights are held on clear Wednesday nights, year round. During the fall/winter months, viewings start at 7:30pm, and during the spring/summer months, viewings start at 8:30pm.  Viewings last one hour. Generally, three objects are highlighted during the first half hour with three additional during the last half hour. Due to the changing nature of Boston weather, it's good practice to call the observatory after 5:30pm (617-353-2630) to confirm that a viewing will be held.  
  • Getting There. The easiest way is to take the T to the Boston University Central stop on the B line. The 725 Comm Ave building is on the side of Comm Ave closest to the Charles River. When facing the building, take any of the entry doors to walk up to the 5th floor. Head towards Room 520 and take the smaller staircase next to it to find the entrance to the observatory.  Need an elevator? Elevators are located at both ends of the building.
  • Guides. Representatives from the BU Astronomy department host the observatory nights and have a lot of great information to share. They also love questions. Quinn and Trey, the hosts on my night, were friendly and engaging. 
  • Rules. Very simply, do not touch or move the telescopes, and no flash photography is allowed.
  •  Viewing in the Winter? Dress warmly (gloves, hats, balaclavas - you name it).
p.s. Observatory nights are also held the Museum of Science every Friday during the spring, summer, and fall. The Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics also offers either a viewing or a lecture on the third Thursday of each month. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Safari #68: Boston's Skinny House

The Skinny House
It's been a while since my last post, but even with the change in the weather, I haven't lost my Boston wanderlust.

Today's safari took me to a little known Boston landmark called the Skinny House - and skinny it is. The house is located at 44 Hull Street directly across from the Copp's Hill Burial Ground. It was my first time at both of these locations, and with the mild temperatures and gentle sunshine, it was the perfect afternoon for exploring.

I love pretending to be a tourist.

My Tips:

  • Be Respectful. If you're up for a visit, remember that the home is occupied. I made sure to enjoy my view from across the street so as not to disturb the residents.
  • Take a Walk. While I had heard of the Copp's Hill Burial Ground many times, today was the first time I've seen it. Take  note at the detail in the headstones.
  • Mangia, Mangia! Since you're in the North End, you may as well stay for a meal.  By the way, if you turn left out of the burial ground and walk back down Hull Street, the Old North Church is right there too.

Copp's Hill Burial Ground

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Safari #67: Films at the Gate

Fellow travelers, I recently did one of the most interesting things of all time.  In fact, I might just say ever.

Every summer in Chinatown near the paifang (or gate), Films at the Gate  takes place - kung fu films are displayed outdoors inviting residents and visitors to enjoy an evening of movies, local take out food, and cultural performances.

The Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC), along with sponsorship from local companies and universities, has been providing cultural programming including Films at the Gate for a number of years.  This event is a great way to partake in the thriving community that is Chinatown.

At one point, I took my attention away from the film and decided to people watch instead.  Hands down, it was truly the most diverse crowd I've ever seen here in Boston.

We were all there to enjoy something special together, and I think that was the point.

My Tips:

  • Getting There.  Of course, take the T.  Parking is limited in Chinatown.  If you insist on driving, you can park at South Station.
  • Arrive Early.  Films start at 8pm, however, cultural programming begins at 6.  On the night of my visit, local kung fu schools showcased some of their most talented students and included a Lion Dance performance.
  • Seating.  Chairs are provided however, they are available on a first come first served basis.  If you do not plan on arriving early enough to grab a seat (before 7:30), you might want to consider bringing your own.
  • Food.  Another great reason to arrive early, in addition to selecting seats, is to purchase take out from a local restaurant.  

Special thanks for Anulfo, Jen, Jane, and Emily (who made it up all the way from Connecticut!) for a wonderful evening.

Photo Credit: Lion Dance photo kindly borrowed from Anulfo G. Baez.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Safari #66: Red Bull Cliff Diving at the ICA

How many times have you taken a deep breath and made a wish?  If you attended the Red Bull Boston Cliff Diving World Series this past weekend at the Institute for Contemporary Art, you probably did it more than you'd care to admit.

We've all seen competitive diving before, but never quite like this.  Not many competitive divers dive from 80 feet.  In just a matter of seconds, the divers reach the water with a gut-wrenching, feet first, entry. 

This event, now in its second year, is free and viewable along Boston's Fan Pier.  And without a doubt, Red Bull knows how to draw a crowd.  This event is perfect for hungry Boston sports fans, general city dwellers, and anyone looking to say "Ahhh". With jumbo trons and dive by dive announcements, it was easy to stay engaged, excited, and absolutely thrilled.

If you would like to see more images from the event, visit the Red Bull website.

My Tips:
  • Take Public Transport.  While there is plenty of parking available in this area of Fort Point, I'd suggest taking the T.  I (wrongly) decided to drive - and spent 45 minutes trying to find parking.  I only saw 15 minutes of actual diving.  Sniff, sniff.
  • Bring Seating.  I can't begin to tell you how many spectators came to the Fan Pier.  If you're early enough, you can grab a spot along the pier or within the grassy area located between Strega and the ICA.
  • Food Truck and Vendors (Oh My!).  There are plenty of places to grab a bite and cool drink while you watch the festivities.  You could also opt to bring your treats.
  • Visit the ICA.  If you are so inclined, you can attempt to watch the diving from the ICA.  You will also get a chance to view the current exhibits.  Regular admission charges apply.
*Image kindly borrowed from Fred Durso.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Safari #65: Shakespeare on the Common

For the last 17 years, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC) has been offering free performances of Shakespeare's plays on the Boston Common.  At this point, it's practically a tradition to head to the Common every summer to picnic and watch the show.

And there are a number of ways to do it.  Pay $30 (a donation to the CSC) and secure a lawn chair near the front of the stage.  There's also the option to stake out your own spot on the lawn and have a picnic - which is exactly what friends and I decided to do.  We brought our own blankets, delicious nibbles, and beverages to enjoy the show.

This year's performance of Coriolanus (one of Shakespeare's most political plays and possibly apropos for an election year) was excellent. Shows run Tuesday through Saturday, and start at 8pm.  The Sunday show begins at 7pm.  There are no shows on Mondays.  The performances run through Sunday, August 12th - so make your way to the Common ASAP!

Last but not least, the play runs 2 hours and 45 minutes with the intermission occurring after Coriolanus is expelled from Rome (Act 3, Scene 3).  Hit the restrooms just before!

My Tips:
  • Send a Scout.  Given the number of people who attend the performances, a spot on the lawn offering premium views of the stage is a valuable commodity.  Try to arrive early to stake your claim.
  • Make a Donation.  Why not?  Give back a little and help others enjoy the show too.
  • Read Along.  Depending on where you're sitting, you might want to have a copy of the play in print or on your smartphone.  I read along on my iPhone so as not to miss any of the dialogue.
  • Don't Forget - Flashlight, Bug Spray, and a Trash Bag.  It's easy setting up at the beginning of the evening, but at the end, the Common is dark.  A flash light and your own trash bag will make cleaning up your picnic a snap.  The bug spray will keep you comfortable.
  • [Update as of July 2016] - There are food trucks available onsite, so if you only have enough time to grab a blanket, you'll be ok ;)
 Have you attended a performance?  What tips would you share?  Add them to the comments below!

*Image kindly borrowed from DigBoston at

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Safari #64: A Free Downward Facing Dog

Last summer, I blogged about ongoing outdoor activities at the Esplanade, including yoga. If you’re still trying to find ways to enjoy free yoga around town, I have a new resource for you - Lululemon.

In addition to offering clothing and equipment to yoginis, Lululemon also offers free, weekly yoga classes. Combine a class on the Esplanade with one of Lululemon’s classes, and you’ve got free yoga twice per week. How’s that for your downward facing dog?

Last Saturday, I made the journey out to Nantasket Beach (near Hull, MA) for an early morning yoga session (followed by a free surf lesson - way cool!). It was wonderful, and the sound of the lapping waves and rushing water made shivasana all the more relaxing.

If you’re interested in finding free and inexpensive yoga around town, try the following resources:
  • Charles River Esplanade Association. Read my post here about Wednesday night yoga on the Esplanade.
  • Community Classes at Back Bay Yoga Studio. One of the best studios in town (and my studio of choice for regular classes), Back Bay offers $5 and $10 Community classes multiple days per week.
  • Lululemon Athletica. Both the Newbury Store and the Derby Street Store (organizers of the beach yoga session), offer free events every week.
  • Liberty Hotel. Every Saturday at 10am, free yoga classes are held in The Yard.
  • Spa at the Intercontinental Hotel. Every Saturday from 8 to 9am, free yoga classes are held on the waterfront lawn. Classes will be held through September 1, 2012.
Do you know of other places to practice free yoga? Please share in the comments!

*Image kindly borrowed from the Lululemon Derby Street Facebook page

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Safari #63: Haymarket

I know what you're thinking, and you're absolutely right.  How is that I've never been to Haymarket?  I honestly don't know.  This past Saturday, I decided to finally make a visit - and it was definitely worth my while.

The Haymarket open air market has been in Boston since the 1830's, and it's just a short walk from Faneuil Hall.  Vendors call out their prices in the hopes of attracting buyers while buyers scramble to find the best deals.  Fresh produce abounds and the colors, smells, and diversity of the crowd make Haymarket feel like a bazaar in a far off place.

Here you will discover some of the lowest prices - if not the THE lowest for produce.  If you regularly prepare meals that require fresh ingredients, do yourself a favor and shop here.  For a whopping total of $5, I bought: 10 apricots, a bag of cherries (yes, a whole bag), a box of strawberries, and 6 ears of corn.  These items will make great snacks and dinner sides for the entire week.

Haymarket takes places every Friday and Saturday from dawn until dusk.

My Tips:

  • Getting There.  Haymarket is accessible from the Government Center, Haymarket and State Street T stops.  A parking garage is also available at the corner of Hanover and Congress Street.
  • Walk Around.  Haymarket can be overwhelming.  Walk around the entire market first, taking note of what you would like to buy and the prices.  You may find your desired item at a lower price if you're patient enough.
  • Do Not Touch.  Shoppers are not allowed to handle the produce, unless the vendor gives you permission.  When you see something you want to buy, ask the vendor to bag it for you.
  • Bring Canvas.  Vendors will provide plastic bags, but it you plan to shop for a week, bring some sturdy bags with you.
  • Meat? Yes, meat and seafood are sold as well, but they are sold in storefronts versus open stalls.  Walk down Blackstone Street towards North Street to find the stores.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Safari #62: Paint Nite

Learning to paint in elementary school was fun, and it most likely included messy fingers and a sippy cup of your favorite juice.  Today the expereince can still be just as fun - minus the messy fingers and the addition of a different kind of juice.

Transform your sippy cup into a wine glass, add paint brushes and a canvas, and you've got a modern day learn to paint class.

Paint Nite Boston offers approachable and fun learn to paint classes that focus on small steps to build a larger masterpiece.  A lesson incorporates mixing paints, blending colors, basic brushstrokes, and other techniques.  After securing a ticket, you can make your reservation based on date, time, and desired painting.  For my class, I selected a sunset.

Paint Nite is a fun and inexpensive way to enjoy an evening with friends and awaken your own creativity.

My Tips

  • Book Early.  Many online coupons are available from companies such as Groupon or LivingSocial.  While the coupons are easy to obtain, securing your desired date, time, and painting can be difficult. 
  • Many Choices.  There are many local companies offering learn to paint classes in Boston.  If you're located closer to downtown, Paint Nite is a great option.  If you're located west of Boston, The Paint Bar in Newtonville is also an excellent choice.

Special thanks to Jen for suggesting the activity and doing it with me!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Safari #61: FIGMENT

When was your last play day?  Mine was this past weekend at the FIGMENT participatory arts festival on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Participatory means exactly that - you can not only view the art, but create your own to contribute to the overall experience.  Whether it's hula hooping to music, creating your own collage, writing a segment of a short story, or learning how to belly dance, any effort you make it noticed and appreciated.

Leave none of your creativity behind - wear it, sing it, paint it, and just shine. 

While the festival has ended for this year, be sure to visit next year.  Follow on Twitter or Facebook to stay up to speed.

My tips:
  • Dance Like No One is Watching.  If you enjoy electronic music, be sure to check out the schedule of music performances as many local artists spin.
  • Sign Up! Are you an artist or musician?  Learn more about how to participate next year.
  • Take a Break. On the day of my visit, the Greenway Open Market was also taking place offering conveniences such as food trucks and other concessions.  If you're in need of a break, continue walking down the Greenway towards State Street to find the market.
  • Take a Stroll.  Is it your first time to the Greenway?  Keep walking to enjoy all of the local art, like the recently added Os Gemeos mural.  
The Os Gemeos Mural on the Greenway
Special thanks to Anulfo and Jen for making the experience even more enjoyable!  I think we are becoming quite the trio :) 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Safari #60: Tequila Snow Cones

My silent prayer for a refreshing, frozen, alcoholic treat has finally been answered.

For the first time in a long time, I am at a loss for words.  As it stands, there are only three words you need to read - tequila. snow. cones.

Papagayo is a new hotspot in Boston's trendy Fort Point neighborhood offering delicious Mexican food and a well-stocked tequila bar.  I had heard rumors about the snow cones and just had to witness the icy deliciousness firsthand.

For only $12, you get four flavors, which do vary.  At the time of my visit, the flavors were peach, raspberry, strawberry, and mango.

My Tips:
  • Don't be Nervous.  We all know the strength of tequila, but don't let that dissuade you from ordering.  I handled all four, which are fairly petite, and polished them off without issue. Each serving is about 1.5 ounces of frozen tequila, fruit pieces, juice, and ice.
  • Use a Scout.  Papagayo is busy with the just after work crowd, so if you're planning to visit during the week, be sure to send a scout who can arrive a little earlier to either reserve a table or snag bar stools.
  • Convenient Location.  With South Station only a short walk away, there's no reason to skip that second cocktail.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Safari #59B: A Bostonian in Amsterdam

I've been fortunate to travel to many places, and I've never visited a place quite like Amsterdam - and for bike riding, long walk taking, water loving Bostonians, Amsterdam is perfect offering you whatever adventure you may be seeking.

Getting Around
Public transportation is excellent in Amsterdam, but as we Bostonian's know, walking can be so much more fun.  I couldn't enjoy the strolling more - heading out of my centrally located hotel (Hotel Amsterdam) and walking my feet off every day.  If you don't want to stroll, rent a bike.  Keep in mind that there are bike lanes on nearly every street (don't walk in them!) with their own set of traffic lights.  So long as you follow the rules and pay attention, riding a bike is a safe and effective way to get around.

A trip to any European city really isn't a trip if you don't visit a local museum.  The national gallery is the Rijksmuseum, which at the time of my visit, was under renovation.  It houses all of Holland's best known artists including Rembrandt.  While a limited portion of the collection was available for viewing, it was still thrilling to see the work in person.  My favorites were Rembrandt's Self Portrait at an Early Age and Johannes Vermeer's The Kitchen Maid.  Unfortunately, the Stidelijk Museum of Contemporary Art was closed for renovations at the time of my visit.

Amsterdam's Open Markets
If you really want to stroll, you have to visit at least one (if not all) of the following open markets.  Of course, this is still a short list as there are many others to check out as well. If you enjoy vintage shopping (clothes, accessories, and housewares) and fresh produce (don't miss the freshly squeezed orange juice), this list is a good start.

  • Waterloopein - this market specializes in touristy items (mostly new) and very specific vintage items such as military gear (boots, jackets, pants, etc.).  There are also a large number of leather goods.
  • Albert Cuypmarkt - Did you lose your luggage?  If so, head here to find all forms of cheap under clothes and toiletries in addition to fresh snacks and produce. 
  • Noordermarkt - This large market offers an unbelieveable amount of vintage clothing, housewares, and art.  If you are looking for a unique piece to take home, spend most of your time looking here.  Fresh produce is also available.
  • Bloemenmarkt  - some might argue that locals do not shop here, however, flowers are flowers folks, and if you saw the selection of fresh flowers and bulbs, you would want to shop here too.  If you're hoping to take bulbs home with you, don't miss my tips.
  • Nieuwmarkt - If you're staying in Dam Square, this market is a short walk down Damstraat. I was glad to walk to this market and purchase fresh fruit for the refrigerator in my hotel room. To get there from Damstraat, turn left onto Klonveniersburgwal and keep walking.  The market will be on your right. 

Curious to know which market was my favorite? Hands down, Noordermarkt. Seriously.  I wish I brought an empty suitcase with me for all of the housewares and old prints I wanted to bring back.  Sigh.

Eating Like the Dutch
Yes, it's true that the Amsterdammers enjoy their Indonesian food - and if you feel compelled to enjoy the popular rijsttafel (ricetable), please do so.  However, there is absolutely nothing more authentic than eating raw herring.  That's right, lightly brined and served whole or sliced, you can enjoy this summer treat via kiosks located around town.  I decided to try it on a bun with onions and pickles.  It was awesome, and I ate one every single day.  If you enjoy fresh fish, don't pass this up.

Drinking Like the Dutch
You already know that this traveler appreciates craft beer, which means I had to find the best I could while in Amsterdam.  I certainly did.  Don't miss the chance to grab a seat at t'Arendsnest to try the best in Dutch craft beer.  Every beer I had was better than the last.  It was truly an experience, and I could not recommend a better place.

Picnicking at Vondelpark
We Bostonians love our parks, so it's impossible not to visit Amsterdam's Vondelpark.  With green, open spaces and a series of connected ponds, this peaceful park is the best place to rest your weary feet and enjoy a picnic.

As I mentioned in my previous post, enjoying a sit down dinner in Amsterdam most times requires a reservation.  If you're hoping to try Indonesian food and you don't make a reservation, you may not get the chance.   In addition, if you're looking to try Indonesian and not spend $40 euros on your meal, try take out.  There is a delicious a take-out restaurant near the park where you can choose small, medium, and large portions of dishes perfect for sharing.  I stumbled upon Ed's Indonesian Deli one evening and picked up a number of small samples perfect for enjoying in the park.  If you ask, they will heat all of the items for you.  Ed's in generally known only to local's, so consider this one of the best tips I can give you.  Ed's is located at 31 Alexsander Boersstraat, which runs along the southern side of Vondelpark.

Canal Tours
You simply cannot visit Amsterdam without taking a canal tour.  I read about canal tours from Boom Chicago, which in truth are not really tours, but more a local's insight into canal system's most enjoyable sights.  In addition, unlike other tour company's, Boom's boat is small allowing you to gain entry into smaller canals and neighborhoods.  More than anything, if you take a canal tour, do like the Amsterdammer's do and bring food, drinks, and a party attitude.  Most of all, enjoy the views and smile at passersby.

"Other" Things to Do
I'm sure that many of you are wondering about "other" things to do in Amsterdam.  I will share this - the Dutch believe strongly in the idea of personal responsibility.  If you're going to do anything, do it responsibly so as not to place either yourself or other's in harms way (and if you place yourself in harm's way, it's your fault).  Whatever else you choose to do while you are in town, do it respectfully and take notice that the Amsterdammer's (no matter what state they may be in) always have their act together.

Happy travels.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Safari #59A: Planning a Trip to Amsterdam

Greetings safari travelers!  I've been away these past few weeks enjoying a trip to northern Europe.  Now that I'm back, I'd like to share my travels and perhaps inspire you to head north yourself.

Up first, lessons learned from my trip to Amsterdam.  If you're planning at trip soon or if you've already been, please share your tips or ask questions in the comments.

Schipol Airport and the Train to Amsterdam's Centraal Station
Netherlands Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS)) and Fyra (high-speed train) provide rail service from Schipol to Amsterdam Centraal Station.  Access to the train system is through the arrivals hall.  Signs will clearly mark your way to the hall after you leave baggage claim.

An important point for American travelers - the kiosks that sell train tickets only accept credit and debit cards that use the 'chip and pin' system or euro coins.  The majority of American debit and credit cards do not use the chip and pin system**.  Be sure to have euros on hand, and even better, euro coins.  The train ticket will cost you anywhere from $3.80 to $4.80, depending on whether you choose the standard or high speed train.
  • If you have euro coins - head to a kiosk that accepts coins (not all of them do).  Look carefully for the coin slot located above the touch screen.  
  • If you do not have coins - head to the one of the NS service desks to speak to a service agent.  You can use euros to purchase your train ticket, and if you choose, you can also purchase your return ticket as well.
Note: As of July 2012, the cost for a 2nd class ticket on a standard train was $3.80 euro.  The cost for a high-speed, 2nd class ticket was $4.80 euro.

Fast food can easily be found everywhere in Amsterdam.  However, if you're hoping to enjoy a nice, sit down dinner, reservations are strongly suggested and at most times required.  More casual dinner options are available as well that do not require reservations.  Most bars and cafes will offer simple menus that include sandwiches and appetizers.

Not that I'm encouraging you to eat fast food, but free WiFi is available in most chain fast food establishments, and many are represented in Amsterdam.  Buy yourself something to drink and take advantage of the free connectivity - especially if you don't have WiFi in your hotel or an international data plan on your smart phone.

Purchasing Flowers from the Bloemmarkt
It's hard to resist purchasing blubs at the Bloemmarkt or flower market.  With all of the varieties and low prices, you could easily plan your urban garden for a full season.  However, not all flowers are authorized for entry into the United States - a fact that some sellers will not mention unless you ask.

Be sure to locate the Certificate of Inspection located on the back of the bulb pacakge.  Pay close attention to the date of issue as it expires after six weeks.  While going through customs, the customs agent told me that tourists unsuspectingly purchase expired bulbs that only have to be thrown away when they arrive back in the U.S.

**According to PC Magazine, chip and pin cards will be available in the U.S. as of spring 2013.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Safari #58: Wine Bingo

Bingo is now more than random numbers on ping pong balls.  Rather than just using your ears, you can now use sight, smell, and taste to determine whether your wine is up.

That's right folks, it's called Wine Bingo, and I had the pleasure to try it - along with at least 20 different wines - a few weeks ago with 90+ Cellars, a Brookline based wine reseller.

Held at the Boston Wine School on Commonwealth Avenue in Allston, the event was well organized and fueled with plenty to eat and drink.  After a short tasting lesson from 90+ Cellars co-founder Brett Vankoski, our game began.  Samples of wine were poured for tasting and analysis.  Using your knowledge and senses to determine the type of wine, you could then place a marker on your card.  The process was fun, educational, and challenging.

This lucky player (every so graciously) won her own bottle.

Interested in attending?  Be sure to watch the 90+ Cellars website or follow them on Twitter.

**Special thanks to Jen for making the suggestion and inviting me!

Safari #57: A Bostonian in Montreal

Long weekends and road trips are great, especially when they take you over the border for an international adventure.

Less than a 5 hour drive from Boston, Montreal is perfect for a weekend getaway.  It's a modern city full of old world charm offering enough culture, arts, cuisine, and nightlife to keep you coming back.  The joie de vivre you will find here will be all your very own.

General Information
Montreal is the capital city in the French-speaking province of Quebec.  The majority of tourists spend their time in the borough (arrondissement) of Ville Marie, which contains a number of popular neighborhoods including Old Montreal.  Each neighborhood has it's own pedestrian zone, which are great spots to grab a cool drink, rest your feet, and rub elbows with locals.  Public transport is efficient and reliable, however, some would argue that you're better off on foot.  I suggest a blend of both options just to get a feel for city living.  If you're so inclined, you can also rent a bike.  Montreal is a great place for runners with plenty of paths across the city and near the water.

My Spots
Old Montreal (Vieux Montreal; map)
Upon recommendation from a friend, we visited the Notre Dame Basillica and headed towards Places Jacques Cartier for a cool drink and people watching.  We also saved one evening for a special meal at L'Auberge Saint- Gabriel, an inn well-known for its wonderful cuisine.  The service was excellent, and all of the additional touches from the attentive staff were greatly appreciated.  Even though we had no room for dessert, our waitress indulged our sweet tooths with brownies wrapped to go.

View from Mount Royal

Gay Village
A long walk down St. Catherine Street (Rue de Saint Catherine) led us directly into the Gay Village.  A pedestrian zone during the summer, this street is full of shops, cafes, bars, and nightclubs.  We enjoyed a relaxing lunch and cocktails while enjoying all of the street traffic.  

Mount Royal (Mont Royal; map)
The best view of the city can be seen from the top of Mount Royal.  A simple climb (about 20 to 30 minutes depending on your physical ability), will take you to the top where a panoramic view of the city can be found.  It's a great spot to bring your own lunch and take a break.

Chinese Quarter Paifang

Chinese Quarter (Quartier Chinois)
Every major city has a Chinatown, and Montreal's offers access to pan-Asian cuisine including Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese.  Paifang's mark two major entrances on Rue St. Laurent.  A newer and smaller Chinatown is also located new Concordia Univeristy. 

Plateau (Le Plateau-Mont-Royal; map)
As authentic as you can get, the Plateau is a neighborhood that many Montreal residents call home.  Practice your French and stroll like no one is watching.  We used the opportunity to visit a boulangerie to purchase bread, wine, cheese, and charcuterie. 
Picnik Electronik

Live Music
Montreal is well-known for its many music festivals throughout the year.  Our trip allowed us to partake in the Picnik Electronik - a day long electronic music festival held every Sunday May through September.  We took the Metro from the Plateau to the Island of Notre Dame (Ile Notre Dame) and headed to the festival.  Held directly underneath an Alexander Calder sculpture, festival goers danced to the DJ's never-ending stream of music.  Feel free to bring a bottle of wine (one per person) along with food.  This event was the highlight.

Future Trips
As my first and only time in Montreal, I can say with certainty that I will return again soon to explore more neighborhoods, shop, dance my butt off, and revive my French.

**Thanks to Lisa, Toni-Ann, and Eric for a great trip!  Special thanks to Carolyn for making the recommendation for Places Jacques Cartier and L'Auberge!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Safari #56: Porch Fest in Somerville

Is there anything better than a sunny day, good company, and amazing, live music? Nope.

I visited Porch Fest in Somerville for the first time this past weekend and left full of awe and excitement. 

Dotted throughout Somerville, 100+ bands played all afternoon to passersby. 

My friends and I chose a general route through town in the hopes of stumbling upon some great music. And we surely did. Here's what we found:
  • Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band - offering new orleans style jazz with lots of improvisation from outstanding horn players. Been to Honk Fest? If so, you've seen some of these folks before.
  • Sam Spencer -  Sam quietly played his bass and gently touched us with his sound as we passed by.
  • Nemes - four guys sitting in a small driveway drew us in with the sound acoustic rock and the sound of plucked violin strings. Their lyrics had me in tears.

If you've been thinking about visiting Porch Fest, you should definitely make a trip next year.  The website offers a full map and band listing making it easy for you to find your way to good music.  

Did you go to Porch Fest? Which bands did you enjoy most?

**Special thanks to Jen, Jeff, and Aaron for a wonderful afternoon! I was so glad to spend it with you!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Safari #55: Waltham Steampunk Festival

Very few of us remember what it's like to live in our imaginations.  Even fewer are willing to live those dreams out loud. 

For steampunks, those who embrace the Victorian era (fashion, science, exploration, literature) and a blend of 19th century and modern technology, this dream was brought to life in Waltham over Mother's Day weekend at the third annual Watch City Festival.

With vendor shops dotted along Moody Street and all the way to the Common, the world became a different place - with steam driven menageries, iron workers, jewelers, steampunk fashion designers, and every costumed individual in between.

The crowd was impeccably dressed in their finest steampunk-inspired garb - corsets, feathers, fascinators, aviator jackets, stirrups, gas masks, and goggles.

Everyone was different, and it was fantastic to witness.

My Tips:
  • Purchase a Festival Pass.  Many of the vendors and outdoor exhibits are free, but there are additional festivities only open to those wearing a pass.  All purchases help support the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation.
  • Dress up? Well, why not? There's no better way to participate than to dress up yourself.  Even the smallest accessory (like a top hat) is enough.  And if you think you're too old to participate, guess again.  This festival is for anyone with an imagination.
  • Vendors - if this is your first time hearing about or seeing anything related to steampunk, don't miss the vendor exhibits to learn more about it. 
**Special thanks to Jen, Lisa, and Cristina for being my partners in crime.  It was a wonderful day!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Safari #54: Somerville Open Studios

Neon arrows gingerly direct. Telephone poles and stoops tether orange balloons. A stake in the ground opens a door.

I walked through many open doors this past weekend at the Somerville Open Studios. If you're not too familiar with Somerville, the open studios are like a welcome mat - both to the city (still a fairly new safari spot for this traveler) and to the many artists who live and work within its boundaries. There is no better introduction to Somerville than to plan a trip to the studios.

To some, studio events imply making a purchase. While it's true that many artists are hoping to sell their work, the open studios are an opportunity - both for you and the artist.

The feelings and conversations that art can evoke are priceless.

If you decide to attend the Open Studios next year, here are some tips to help plan your day:
  • Visit the Website. The site is more than just a little comprehensive - it has everything you will need for your visit. Even though the event has passed, you can still get information about the artists.
  • Start on one End and Finish on the Other. We started our art crawl in Union Square and headed towards Davis Square over the course of the day. It was the perfect way to stop into individual homes and collectives. Pick spots for beverages and food along the way, and you've got a whole day planned.
  • Don't Feel Like Walking? Take the Trolley. That's right folks - those of you who are less inclined to walk can always use the free trolley service. If you're more like me, you'll definitely enjoy walking around the neighborhoods. As a matter of fact, I stumbled onto Prospect Hill Park for the first time, and I loved it! Check out the fort and the view of Boston from the top.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Safari #53: Bacchanalia Comes to Boston

And what a riot it was.

Second Glass, an organization that makes wine accessible to all, brought the wildly popular Wine Riot back to Boston this past weekend.  The event leaves all pretension at the door and encourages rioters to simply taste, enjoy, and have a great time.  My first ever was a smashing success thanks to good company, great wine, cheesy noshes, and free bottles of water (well played, Second Glass, well played).

I had to laugh while standing at one sampling tables in the presence of two wanna-be sommeliers; as they were sniffing, aerating, sipping, and spitting their wine, the host simply said, "Look, just drink it."

That's all you need to know.

If you're thinking of hitting Wine Riot in 2013, here's a few tips:
  • Buy Your Tickets Early.  Sign up on the website or follow SecondGlass on Twitter to learn when the riot is coming back to town.  If you're early enough, you can also get a discount.
  • Download the Mobile App.  The mobile app is fantastic because it keeps track of the wines you've sampled and helps you find local places to purchase your favorites.

*Wine Riot logo kindly borrowed from

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Safari #52A - Picklebacks

I couldn't help myself.

I recently went back to NYC and this time, I decided to focus on Brooklyn and the outdoor version of the Brooklyn Flea Market in Williamsburg.

After exiting the Metro and walking through the Bedford Avenue area, I found myself near the Brooklyn Brewery.  Thirst and ready for a pint, I decided to head inside.  Unfortunately, it wasn't open, so I headed next door to The Whiskey.

After an enjoyable conversation with Peacock, the well-known and friendly bartender, he asked me if I wanted a 'pickleback'.  I hesitantly said yes, and before I knew it, I had a shot of whiskey and a shot of pickle juice waiting for me.  It was unexpectedly tasty - and a Brooklyn original.

What's one of the most original things you've had lately?

*Image kindly borrowed from

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Safari #52: Outside These City Streets

Sometimes I wonder what urban safaris in other cities would feel like - walking out of the door, choosing a path you've never been down, and finding something amazing. 

I've always wanted to try it while visiting New York City, and this time, I did just that. With 5 boroughs, your imagination can run wild. If you're up for an adventure in a city that is fairly close to home, take a few notes from my most recent trip.

p.s. If you try any of the below, some might just confuse you for a local.

Shop Unique
If you're looking for more flavor than usual, try visiting one of the many public flea markets starting in the early spring.
  • Hell's Kitchen Flea Market - As my bus entered the city, we passed a smiling, pitchfork wielding devil.  It didn't take much for him to entice me.  After dropping my bags off at the hotel, I walked back towards the market.  Inside, I found unique handicrafts, vintage clothes and accessories, and tons of local hipsters looking for the next cool buy.
  • Brooklyn Flea Market* - I visited the winter home of the Brooklyn Flea at One Hanson Place in Brooklyn. Check out this market simply for the atmosphere - an old bank with immense vaulted ceilings embraces a maze of vendors of all kinds. The prices may be a little higher than you're expecting for a flea market, but you'll waste no time with the jewelers. My spoon ring and steam punk cufflinks (a gift for a new friend) were well worth the Subway ride. Watching the Brooklyn bridge unfold from my subway car window was exciting. When the weather warms up, the markets move outdoors.

Neighborhoods? Try the LES 
The next time you visit NYC, concentrate on one neighborhood to spend the day exploring. This time, I chose the Lower East Side - and I'm SO glad I did. From the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, cheap eats and local landmarks, the LES was a super cool place to be. Here are some spots I recommend checking out:

  • Orchard Street Pedestrian Mall - a great street for perusing and finding something unique to commemorate your visit.
  • 76 Orchard Street & the Tenement Museum - the LES has a vibrant history and truly reflects the diversity that is New York City. If you had relatives enter the United States through Ellis Island, chances are that they came through the LES. Full of tenement housing at the turn of the century, the LES was a microcosm of the world. Today, you can visit the Tenement Museum and learn more about early immigrants and their lives in NYC.
  • Prosperity Dumpling in Chinatown. As I was standing in line waiting to pick up 5 dumplings for $1 (yes, $1), a couple approached me and asked, "Why are you standing in this long line? Is there something here we don't know about?" Yes there is . Wait patiently in line to find out.
  • Next time. What's left on my LES bucket list? Katz's Deli and the Hester Street Fair.

What is your favorite neighborhood in NYC?

*Image of Hanson Place kindly borrowed from

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Safari #51: How Sweet It Is

Maple syrup reminds me of two things - the arrival of spring and Buddy the Elf.

This year, thanks to warmer temperatures, local and regional farms have started the syruping process earlier than usual. I recently visited Natick Community Organic Farm in Natick, MA to learn more about making maple syrup.

Did you know that early Native Americans made syrup? Our tour included demonstrations of how Native Americans and early colonial settlers made maple syrup.  

We also had an overview of the sap gathering process (pictured left).  The tour ended at the farm's very own maple shack where the sap was boiled. Billowing maple scented steam filled the shack and our nostrils.

 I couldn't help but long for a short stack.  Mmmm.

My tips:
  • Be a Sweetie - Buy local maple syrup this season and support your local maple producers. The spring is a great time to take a road trip and visit a farm. 
  • Check out Natick Community Organic Farm - Syruping events take place through the month of March and cost $6. If you can't make it for syrup related events, try visiting the farm during the growing season, buy farm fresh food, and visit the animals (cows, sheep, goats, and BUNNIES).

What do you like to put maple syrup on?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Safari #50: What the Pho?

Pho, pronounced "Fa", is a Vietnamese soup known for its savory broth and rice noodles.  Better than your Mom's chicken soup, Pho is a wonderful gateway into Vietnamese cuisine and culture.  If you haven't tried it yet, let this post inspire you to get out and try some.

If you're wondering where to go, look no further than Boston's own "Little Saigon" located in the heart of Dorchester's Fields Corner neighborhood where Vietnamese restaurants, shops, and businesses abound.

My safari took me to Pho 2000 (198 Adams Street) where, according to rumor, the best Pho in town is served. You can garnish your Pho with bean sprouts, freshly squeezed lime juice, thai basil, and cilantro.  Other accompaniments include fish or Sriracha sauce.  Pho 2000 is easily accessible via the Fields Corner T station (only a few blocks away).  A 2-hour public parking lot is also located directly across the street.

While you're sampling Pho, try some of these other activities in Dorchester:

  • My DOT Tour - visit historical spots around Dorchester including Fields Corner and the Municipal Building.
  • Franklin Park - if you're really up for an adventure, head to Franklin Park for a stroll and picnic.  If you're really feeling adventurous, get Vietnamese to go and eat in the park!
  • The James Blake House - Visit the oldest house in the state of Massachusetts.  I had no idea!  It's a few T stops before Field's Corner.
Have you tried Pho?  Which is your favorite place?  Share in the comments below - I'd love to try your place!

Special thanks to the @EvolvingCritic and @Jenlightenment for joining me!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In Search of Potica

I'm an Ohio-bred, Boston transplant who's been living in the area for nearly four years.  Periodically, I make trips home to visit my family.  Every trip is good, but this one was extra special.  Why?  Because of something called Potica.

Pronounced 'po-teetz-sa', it's a Slovenian nut roll.   Layer after layer of pastry dough is brushed with butter and spread with a nutty mixture.  It's then rolled up and baked till golden brown.  It's delicious, and a treat that always reminds my mother of her childhood.

My mother, who is of Slovenian decent, wanted to take a trip to far east side of Cleveland to visit an old Slovenian neighborhood to buy sausages and of course, potica.  Our trip eventually led us to Joe Zuzak - owner of R & D Sausage.  Joe welcomed us with open arms and couldn't have been happier to provide my mother with her favorite treat.

Sometimes it's the reminders of home and childhood that bring us comfort when times are difficult.  My mother, who is now in remission from a 2 year battle with cancer, was thrilled to be able to leave the house and head out in search of potica.  And I was happy to be with her.

What foods remind you of home or your cultural heritage?

*Special thanks to Joe Zuzak, owner of R & D Sausage located on 15714 Waterloo Road in Cleveland, Ohio.  For hours and other information, call (216) 692-1832.

*Image kindly borrowed from 30 Days of Decadence

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Different Kind of Safari

Class Photo
Very recently, I had a different kind of safari. It was more than a trip. It was a safari of self-actualization.

When I first moved here four years ago, I didn't know a anyone, and I'll be the first to admit that I was a little frightened. I was unable to anticipate much of anything, and this uncertainty left me feeling uncomfortable. I decided that taking a self-defense class - to help me deal with expecting the unexpected - would help.

I'm happy to report that it has.

Thanks to the many wonderful connections I've made on Twitter, I met Jake Steinmann, a mixed martial arts and self-defense instructor. When I explained my interest in learning more about self-defense, Jake invited me to participate in one of his courses based on the Personal Defense Readiness System, which is a holistic self-defense program focused on finding realistic solutions to hostile confrontations in real-world scenarios. The class, held at a local gym in Central Square, was a combination of lecture, group discussion, and hand-to-hand exercises.

I was nervous at first, but Jake's easygoing style and sense of humor calmed me immediately. Most of all, I welcomed his perspective of self-defense. Using logic and reasoning, he encouraged us to determine the tools we have available to defend ourselves - right now. This realization was amazing given that my impressions of self-defense involved needing to know how to fight.

The class was a mixture of curious individuals, like myself, and trained fighters. I was surprised to see fighters present, but soon realized that they, just like the rest of us, cannot always be prepared for the unexpected. This gave me even more assurance that I was in the right space to learn and grow.

Before You Go
  • Check out Jake's Blog. Visit to learn more up his upcoming classes and his teaching ideology. To learn more about the Personal Defense Readiness System, visit
  • Interested in attending a session? Check out Jake's next class scheduled for Feb 26, 2012. 
  • Don't be afraid. While the subject is serious, the environment is open and honest. You have nothing to be afraid of! 
*Special thanks to Matthew Gaskill and Jake Steinmann for making this safari in self-actualization possible!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Safari #49: No Pants?

The No Pans Subway Ride is exactly that - a ride on the subway with no pants on.  Why?

Well, why not?

The Societies of Spontaneity, organizers of this yearly event, encourage fun through participatory, public events.  Participants shed their inhibitions (and their pants) all in the name of having a good time.

Dropping your pants in public may be one of the hardest things you ever do, but once you do it, you can do anything.  Seriously.

You'll also get a rare opportunity to laugh at yourself and consider what else its time to let go of.

Here's the 2014 Event Details

You Might Be Wondering...

  • It's not Illegal.  The Society offered a great pre-event guide outlining the do's and don'ts for the subway ride including how to dress without pants on. 
  • Selecting Attire.  The idea is to ride without pants, but you can be as creative as you'd like.  I wore (gasp) shorts (as did many of the other riders).
  • People's Reactions.  They were priceless!  One of the MBTA T drivers gave us an enthusiastic "Woohoo!" as we got off the train.  She was just as excited as we were.  An out of town family visiting for the day thought it was one of the funniest and unexpected parts of their trip.  I was glad to contribute.
  • Safety.  At no time did I or any of the other participants ride by ourselves.  We were always in groups of at least 8 people.
  • Want Pictures?  Visit to see all of the images from the day.
Special thanks to @EvolvingCritic for throwing out the idea to do this and then doing it with me.  I will never forget it!

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Happy New Year fellow safari travelers!

While I'm still compiling ideas for 2012, I wanted to take a moment to reflect back on some of my favorite local finds during 2011.  While I always enjoy all of my trips, there were definitely a few standouts.

Special thanks to all of my partners in crime this past year - I'm sure we'll have more great adventures in the New Year!

2011 Favorites
Do you have a local favorite I haven't visited yet? Please tell me about it in the comments below!

*Image borrowed from