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.