New York City: A Park, A School, and Stackable Cars

DAY 1: Welcome to New-effing-York

After parking in White Plains, I headed over to the train station that was connected to my parking deck. I was only able to pay to leave my car for 24 hours, but I noticed they had a call-and-pay system, so I could pay again from my cell without leaving NYC. Good news, since I planned to stay in the city a few days. Just as a side note to anyone who decides to park their car for a few days in White Plains – the deck I left my car in was only universally available after 10am on Friday through 5pm on Sunday (or a similar weekends-only schedule). So don’t go parking your car there during the week.

Grand Central Station New York, New York

The I'm-doing-the-weather-green ceiling in Grand Central Station threw me off a bit too

I waited an hour for the train, jumped on when it arrived, and rode the rickety thing 30 minutes to Grand Central, where I transferred to another line and met my friend Evan. The transferring was pretty easy. If you’ve ever used a subway system consistently before, you shouldn’t have any problem.

I dropped my stuff off and we headed downtown to check out all the happenin places (i.e. the Mac store on 5th ave where Evan works as well as Dubspot, the music production school he attends). The school, located in New York’s meat-packing district, had just opened some new labs and built them around an ultra-modern style mixed with beautiful exposed brick walls. I also noticed a number of African tribal masks lining the walls.

Dubspot Expansion Labs

Dubspot Music School (not the best pic, but you get the idea)

After checking out the school, we made our way to the Chelsea Market, and admired some of the cute shops and restaurants there. Ended up getting side-tracked by cool books (typical) in Posman Books, and spent a good half hour there before moving on.

Chelsea Market in NY, NY

After the market, we walked over to the High Line Park and walked along the bridge. The bridge was built in the 1930s “as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan’s largest industrial district” (High Line Website). There haven’t been any trains running on the bridge since the 1980s, and in the early 2000s, the High Line was transformed into a beautiful park stretching from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues.

Cool Windows in High Line Bridge in New York, New York

It was fashion week in New York, and there seemed to be some kind of photoshoot going on on the bridge and around it. I actually almost walked right into it – and the security guy wasn’t going to stop me! Evan had to tell me I was going the wrong way before I turned around. Guess it just goes to show that if you walk like you know where you’re going, few people will question you.

Fashion Week Photoshoot From High Line Bridge in New York City

Strangely, there was a plant in all of the planters on the bridge that smelled overwhelmingly like cilantro. But it definitely didn’t look like cilantro. For those of you who don’t know, cilantro is my one and only food allergy. Weird, huh? I tolerated the smell as long as possible, but we left the bridge sooner than intended (but not before snapping some cool shots of local architecture and signs!).

Melting Architecture in New York, New York

Garden Terraces in Apartment Building in New York, New York

Bicycle Sign in New York, New York

The spot where we got off the High Line Bridge was right next to a bizarre site. It was the strangest parking deck I have ever seen. Take a look.

Car Shelves in New York, New York

Umm, yes, those are cars stacked on top of each other. And they are not in line to be impounded or on a truck being shipped from one state to another. These are literally electronic car shelves, and they remind me of the system in the home of Pixar’s robot Wall-E (if you haven’t seen that movie, don’t worry about it. It’s not really that great). Regardless of how difficult it is to find a parking spot in NYC, I’m surprised by how many Beamers I see in this shelving unit. Although I suppose it pretty much guarantees your car won’t be broken into.

Empire State Building Sign in NY, NY

Looking at this plaque makes me think of Steampunk since it has been so popular on Etsy lately.

We wandered around a bit more then grabbed dinner and decided to go to the top of the Empire State Building (“Don’t go to any high-risk areas this weekend since it’s September 11th,” Evan’s dad had told him. Clearly we took that advice seriously).

It was dark out by the time we got to the top of the building, so we had some beautiful views of the city. There was even a saxophonist playing! Unfortunately, it did cost a good bit to climb the tower – $20 or so. But there were some perks to going in the evening. It wasn’t crowded so we didn’t have to wait in line very long. It was sweet passing through all those ropes that had been set up in case the line got extra long, like we had a fast pass. Also, the nighttime view is incredible. The wall surrounding the lookout is high enough that you can rest your camera on it like a tripod and get some pretty sick photos. Here are a couple of mine.

Nighttime View of the Hudson from Empire State Building in NY, NY

Nighttime View from Empire State Building in NY, NY

Next, free yoga in the city and my brother-in-law’s MLS game.

Hartford, Connecticut: Elizabeth Park, oldest rose garden in US

On my way down the coastline, I decided to make a stop in Connecticut somewhere because it was the only remaining state in the Northeast that I had not visited. Of course, I didn’t research very much ahead of time and while I was in Portland waiting on a response from my host in Boston, I researched places to stay in Connecticut. And wouldn’t you believe it, there are no hostels to speak of in the entire tiny state! Also, the majority of the Airbnb rooms on the coast were out of my price range or poorly located. So by default I ended up in Hartford.

It ended up being a good choice, though, as I discovered later that there were a number of old, beautiful gardens and parks surrounding the city (who knew?). Since I spent a while in Rhode Island, I arrived in Hartford a little after dark and decided to stay in for the night. The next day I headed to Elizabeth Park, the oldest (and one of the largest) municipal rose garden in the country. Check out my pictures below. (Keep in mind that it was mid-September and had been raining all week, so just imagine how the garden must look in the summertime!)

Afterwards, I wasn’t feeling too great so I skipped the other parks on my list and headed to White Plains, NY where I parked my car and hopped a train to NYC.

Portland, Maine: I’m on a boat

After another long day in Quebec City, Kim and I jumped in the car and drove 6 hours to Portland, Maine. Our original plan had been to stop by Bangor, ME to see Stephen King’s house, but we ended up driving through a little late and didn’t have the time to stop. We did, however, see a moose. And it wasn’t just chillin like moose do, eating a branch or something, it was galloping alongside the highway – no joke. The customs guard told us that it’s their mating season, “The moose have been going craaaazy lately!” He said, “they’ve just been runnin all over the highway, so make sure you keep an eye out!” For some reason, he was amazed we’d seen one in Canada, despite all the moose crossing signs, “Yeah, I only ever see ‘em in Maine! Never hearda somebody catchin site of ‘em cross the border.” Maybe it’s because you never cross the border, I thought.

Econolodge in New Brunswick, Maine

We arrived a little past ten at our comfy Econolodge one town over (we quickly found that it’s not easy to make last minute reservations in a vacation town over labor day weekend), spent the night and headed into Portland the next day.

We decided to take a cruise on a sailboat at 1pm with Portland Schooner Company and headed down to find some Maine lobster before getting on the boat. The cruise suggested we bring a picnic or bottle of wine to enjoy on board, so we stepped in the wine shop across the street from the pier. On our way out, we asked the cashier where the best place to get lobster was. “You see that guy dressed up in a lobster suit across the street?” We nodded. “You should go to his place.”Three Sons Lobster in Lobster Suit Portland Maine

“His place”, Three Sons Lobster and Fish, was a dingy, dirty looking place with a few inches of water gathered on the cement floor. It wasn’t a restaurant, it looked more like a mini fish warehouse that sold whole, live lobsters, and frozen lobster tails by the pound. Three Sons Lobster and Fish in Portland, MaineIt looked like a cool local place, but not exactly a sit-down restaurant, so Kim and I moved on. After another swing and a miss, we ended up at this little place called J’s Oyster. J's Oyster in Portland, MaineIt was exactly what we were looking for. We just barely beat the lunch crowd and ordered, were served, ate, paid and left in less than 45 minutes. Definitely try the lobster roll.

Windameer with Portland Schooner CompanyWe made it to our cruise with time to spare, and waited around until the launch. Finally, we got on the sailboat and were off! The crew found some adorable little kids to help them hoist the sails, and then wandered around talking to people the rest of the time. Kim and I pulled out our bottle of wine and I went in search of a wine key. Turns out there was no bottle opener to speak of on board (either that or the crewman I spoke to didn’t feel like going through everything to find one). That was a bit disappointing, since they had advertised on their site and brochure to bring wine or beer. The group next to us had the same problem.

Our inability to partake of our wine did not prevent us from enjoying the scenic views, however. It was so calming to be on a sailboat cruising around the beautiful bay for two hours. It wasn’t exactly a historical tour – there wasn’t a tour guide or somebody dressed like a pirate, but it was exactly what we wanted that day – relaxation and some pretty things to look at. That’s what vacation should be, right?

Scenic Views on a sailboat in Portland, Maine

After the cruise, I drove Kim to the airport, and she went home. Then I headed back to the Econolodge where I had left my camera charger. On my way back to Portland from Brunswick, I stopped on a whim at this cute little diner called the New Brunswick Dinerand had dinner there.

Historic Brunswick Diner in Maine

Photo Cred: Spoon & Shutter

I ordered the Lobster roll – which is apparently what they’re famous for – and it was delicious! I asked for some cocktail sauce on the side for my french fries and the waitress scolded me, thinking I was going to put it on the sandwich, “And what exactly are you going to put the sauce on?” she demanded. “The fries!” I squeaked, a little intimidated. “Well OK then,” she said, and brought me the sauce. In the end, I did sneak a little onto my sandwich when she wasn’t looking.

Eventually, I made it to my airbnb hosts’ house in Portland and spent the evening doing a (much needed) load of laundry. In the morning, one of my hosts, Martha, made incredible scones with blueberries and yogurt for breakfast. As it turns out, she is a fiber artist, and she gladly answered my questions about her work, even going so far as to demonstrate how to use a spinning wheel!

Streets in Portland, Maine

After completely repacking my car in Martha & Joe’s driveway, I headed back downtown to explore, then took off to Boston, my next destination.

Streets in Portland, ME

Quebec City: Everyone’s at the free Cirque du Soleil show

Quebec City, day 2. Kim and I have taken our time getting up and head back to St. Joseph street around 10:30 to find breakfast. End up eating the most amazing sesame seed baguette sandwiches at this little boulangerie not far down the road called La Boîte à Pain. I have found baguette sandwiches in Montreal, but nothing ever came close to what you can find in France. This sandwich did more than come close; it surpassed the French version. Definitely recommend this place for breakfast/lunch/snack/just to enjoy the smell.

Architecture/Painting in Quebec City

Afterwards we returned to Jean-François’s apartment, packed our things, thanked our host and jumped in the car to locate our next airbnb residence. This time we had to cross the river to the south shore, ville de Lévis. After a bit of confusion, we got on the ferry and headed across the river.

On the Ferry View of Chateau Frontenac

A few hours and two ferry rides later we were parked and back on the Quebec side of the river, looking for something to do. Jean-François had left us a nice long note about the best places to see and some cool events happening in the city. We decided to go look at some of the historic buildings and find somewhere to grab a pint. We wandered up this cute winding cobblestone street, and heard some smooth jazz music coming from an open door not far away.

I peeked my head around the door. “Are you open?” I asked in French of the elderly bartender (there was no one in the bar and it sounded like the band might just be practicing). He chuckled and said, “Oui, oui bien sûr.” After ordering a pair of Boreale blondes, we decided to sit and play a game of chess while listening to the band – who, it turned out, were three teenagers (at least one of which was probably related to the bartender) – who were still working on their routine. Regardless, they were pretty good, and we enjoyed their music. We asked the bartender to take a photo for us – it’s not the best quality, but definitely a fun memento!

Playing Chess in a Jazz bar in Quebec City

After our game of chess, we decided to go see the free Cirque du Soleil show down near the river that was being performed under a huge highway overpass (maybe that’s why the bar is empty? Everyone’s at the Cirque du Soleil show?).

Crowd at Cirque du Soleil show in Quebec City

We arrive at the show 15 mins or so later after getting directions from a very friendly pedestrian carrying a soccer ball and a gym bag. Things are just picking up – costumed performers are walking through the standing audience, and a couple of them jump up on stage, shouting into megaphones. They directed us to dance, jump, wave our arms, and do the wave. Then, once they had everybody’s attention, more and more performers gathered onstage and began their first choreographed dance of the evening. As always, the Cirque du Soleil performance was very…fun. Their costumes were silly and fancy all at once, and the characters didn’t so much talk as emit noise. Throughout the show, there were firedancers, hula hoopers, flying trapezists, and a number of other dancers, musicians, and clowns. My favorite part was a number that included a few trampolines that at first were out of site, so when you see the first guy fall, it doesn’t look purposeful. But then he bounces right back up and other performers join in. Though the show was pretty short – only about 45 minutes long, it was still amazing that we got to see Cirque du Soleil for free! Where else can you achieve that feat?

Cirque du Soleil Performers in Quebec City

After the show, we ate smoked meat at a little restaurant on the way back to the ferry (this is a Montreal must, btw) and caught the bus home. The next day we drove through the old city to see the sites we missed before – the boardwalk in front of Chateau Frontenac,Boardwalk at Castle Frontenac in Quebec City Rue St. Jean,Rue St. Jean Quebec City the Old Port market, Old Port Market in Quebec Cityan art fair we just happened upon near the Grand Allée, Art Fair in Quebec Citya cute garden with a statue of Joan of Arc, Garden with Joan of Arc Statue in Quebec Cityand a cool park with a historical lookout. Park, Historical Lookout Quebec CityCheck out the beautiful views!


Bromont: wineries and chocolate museums

View of Montreal from The Summit Park in Westmount

After packing my car until 3am and then getting up at 8 to finish up, Kim and I finally rolled out of Montreal around noon. A few weeks earlier I had bought a Groupon for a wine tour in a rural area outside of the city, so we went in search of the place. Of course I had subconsciously wanted to make this a difficult task so I wrote down neither the name of the place nor the address. “We’ll just call them and get directions” I said to Kim. Not exactly my best plan ever.

winery in Bromont, Quebec, Canada

So after driving back and forth for a good hour (at least) we finally make it to the a winery. I had spoken to the lady at the winery about 10 times on the phone by now so as we entered the boutique at this winery, I approached the woman behind the counter and asked if we were at the right place. I took her look of confusion to mean no. But she offered us a free wine tasting, and who can say no to that – I mean really? So 25 dollars lighter and a bottle of Port heavier, we left to find the Groupon winery with clear directions from the lady (who was apparently from Geneva) at the first place.

Bromont of the ski hills but I'm not sure which one

We managed to get there without much more confusion, and were finally able to enjoy our Groupon-bought wine tasting and complimentary bottles of wine. Quebec is actually famous for their ice wines (most of their regular wines, to put it bluntly, are awful), so we went home with a couple bottles of delicious dessert wines.

Afterwards we headed to “Old Bromont” and had lunch on a beautiful terasse before checking out the adjoining Chocolate Museum. They had dozens of types of chocolate from all over the world. There was even a picture made entirely from chocolate! We did our best to avoid anymore detours and were (finally) on our way to Quebec City!

view from the terasse at the restaurant/chocolate museum

Picture made entirely of chocolate

Thanks to Kim for the pictures!

Goodbye Montreal…completing my bucket list

I am finally on the road and have officially said goodbye to Montreal and my friends there. Before I start off on my adventures in Quebec City, I thought I’d do a post about working through my Montreal bucket list. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to complete everything on the list, but I guess that means I shall just have to come back soon!

What became one of my favorite places in Montreal, the Botanical Gardens, I actually visited a few times since my resolution to check it out. I loved the Japanese and Chinese Gardens and even walked all the way up to the “Tree House” which, much to our dismay, was just a museum about trees and not something built by the Swiss Family Robinson. My friend Sung visited me halfway through August and accompanied me to the garden, where we found an exhibit of artwork by Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming. The sign mentioned there were 12 pieces in total, each displaying a person performing a different Tai Chi move. Sung and I decided to try to find them and create our best imitation of their poses. Check out some of our attempts below.

Unfortunately, we were unable to find all 12 of them. Granted, we didn’t exactly search for them, but we were a little disappointed nonetheless.

Strangely enough, when I on the way to spa Bota Bota with my friend Kim for two-for-one-Tuesdays, we came across another four statues that had to be by the same artist. Funny thing is, they weren’t anywhere near the Botanical Gardens! They were actually in a little park in the Old Port.

Ju Ming Tai Chi Sculpture

Just another beautiful day in the Old Port on the way to the spa…

Ju Ming Tai Chi Sculpture

…mimicking statues’ tai chi poses, as you do…

Ju Ming Tai Chi Sculpture

…doing my best not to fall over…

Ju Ming Tai Chi Sculpture

I’m not sure if these are four additional statues, or just the four that seemed to be missing in the gardens. Regardless, they were pretty cool.

I also completed a few other things on my list – among them trying the flying trapeze, checking out the cemeteries (pics below), and attending the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Musée des Beaux Arts (I’ll be posting something more extensive on this as soon as my camera starts functioning properly again and I can upload the pics).

Cemetery Montreal

At the cemetery, Kim and I encountered a very nice security guard who gave us a ride to the bathrooms down the hill (“didn’t your parents tell you never to get in a car with strangers?” he said) and pointed out the oldest, most interesting parts of the place. People here are so nice!

Cemetery Montreal

Kim and I noticed a trend: headstones that are also benches. Personally, I think it’s quite nice. If you’re going to come spend a quiet moment with a family member, may as well have somewhere to rest while you’re there, right? Ok, maybe it’s creepy, idunno… Cemetery Montreal

After the cemetery, we checked out the view of the city from the Observatoire (and later from the Summit in Westmount). Will post more pictures later if I get around to it.

Check back in a day or so for more updates on my travels! Will likely write more on Mtl Bucket list, then Quebec City, then Maine, etc… I have also started a new tumblr: “Read the Sign”. It’s a photo blog of funny, stupid, or ridiculous signs (mostly road signs) that I’ve seen out and about. You can follow those updates here.

[travelthursday] The end of the road

Last weekend I went to the end of the road and came back. And by the end of the road I mean I stared death in the eyes and survived…and I also went to the end of the road – highway 50 ends in roadblocks and a do not enter sign right after the turn off for the rafting place, and if you look at Google maps you will see Highway 50 literally just…ends.

Highway 50 ends near rouge riverWe had planned to camp the night before rafting, and I was prepared to rough it. To my surprise, Nouveau Monde‘s idea of “roughing it” involves a restaurant/bar, a swimming pool with poolside bar, a jacuzzi and a volleyball court. We roll up to the camp site and see in the parking lot a guy selling firewood. Perfect! We don’t even have to go to the store to get any. Unfortunately, he tells us in an indistinguishable (to us North Americans anyway) accent (is he an Aussie, a Brit, South African…?) that each bundle is $10. No thank you.

My friend Nina and I go in search of firewood (and something to cook over our camp fire!) and pass by a guy building a house. We noticed a big pile of chopped wood (as if he had recently cut down a tree just to get it out of the way) so we stopped by and asked if we could relieve him of the wood. Turns out the (very Québecois) man is building the house along with his 7 brothers, son, and nephew and they’re nearly finished! He said we could take all the wood we want, and even led us to a pile of scrap construction wood and helped us pile it all in the car. We returned to the campsite triumphant, proudly carrying the wood past the wood-seller (who we found out is from Worcester, England)’s truck, only to realize we’d failed in our main mission – pick up Liam from nearby town Montebello and transport him to the campsite.

An hour and a trip through the parking lot of the “Castle” of Montebello later, we have food, firewood, and good friends hanging round the campfire. There was a beautiful pathway built of wooden planks that snaked through the campsite. In the dark, it was hard to tell, but there was a slat missing halfway to our particular site. We joked that someone must have taken it for firewood. The next morning we were cleaning up our area and noticed that a piece of our firewood (or rather, the remains of it) had a couple of nails sticking out of it and was about the size of a slat for the walkway…whoops!

An 8 am breakfast was included in our coupon (did I mention this whole thing was only $45 from Groupon!?) and we rolled out of our tents and up to the lodge to stand in a food line reminiscent of middle school lunch-time for a choice of eggs or French toast. I should also mention that as luck would have it, I was recently gifted two amazing tents from friends of friends Matt and Joanne, who didn’t need them anymore, saving me from an investment I can’t make at the moment.

After breakfast, we filled out our forms, fussed over wetsuits/booties/just wearing a bathing suit, then piled onto an old school bus with helmets, life-jackets and paddles in hand. We arrive at the launch point and discover that our guide is a Québecois guy who goes by the name Sou and has green plastic grass duct-taped to his helmet. Looks like we won the cool-guide lottery [insert witty allusion to Johnny Cash song, Boy Named Sue]. He starts off the trip by telling us that rules are made to be “used and abused.” He definitely followed that philosophy during most of the run, letting us “surf” in rapids two or three times in a row, as other rafts just kept floating downstream. At one point, he let us sit in the rapid for so long that the other rafts behind us started to line up, and we got several angry glares.

White Water Rafting with Nouveau MondeSou led us through all the good rapids and most fun routes. At one point he tells us all to close our eyes and just to trust him as we ploughed forward. He yells “OK open your eyes!” just a split second before we run headfirst into a huge rock. “I didn’t used to say ‘open your eyes’ at all until a lady smashed her face once” Sou told us. We all chuckled nervously.

The only bad thing about bending the rules is the inevitable painful experiences. Our third time surfing a class four rapid, everyone except Yichao was thrown from the raft. I nearly stayed in except that one of the two people in our raft that didn’t come with our group, a middle-aged woman who told us she and her husband, also in our raft, had moved from Florida to Montreal to retire (sounds kinda backwards if you ask me), was launched from the other side of the raft and, perhaps in an effort to stay in the raft, caught me in the chest with her forearm and propelled me backwards into the water. The impact knocked the wind out of me, and I gasped immediately. Unfortunately I was already underwater at that point, so I just gasped in a bunch of water. The next thirty seconds were probably the closest to death I have ever felt (though realistically I know I had on a life jacket, there were trained guides all around, yada yada), and when I finally resurfaced, I still couldn’t breath because of all the water I breathed in. I kept doing the hiccup breath, unable to really draw in any air. I looked up and Sou was yelling at me to swim towards the boat, so I clutched my paddle (somehow still in my grasp) and swam like my life depended on it towards the raft. White Water Rafting with Nouveau Monde

After that experience, I was significantly more spooked about the rapids. “Are you scared?” the Florida woman asked me the first time we headed back into the class four, “nope,” I replied, and I meant it. Had she asked me the same question after that fall, the answer would have been very different. Towards the end of the run, Sou pointed our raft back into a rapid and positioned it so that we flipped over completely, propelling us through the air. This time I was more prepared for the subsequent turmoil. I let go of my paddle and tried to float on my back as I had been instructed. Somehow I managed to get stuck under the raft for a second. Let’s just say, being stuck underwater and feeling something preventing you from surfacing doesn’t exactly give you a feeling of joy. But I got through it, and in no time we were all back in the boat paddling to the next rapid.

White Water Rafting on the Rouge RiverAt the end of the day, we returned to the compound, chilled by the pool and played some volleyball with some cool Quebecois guys and girls. On the drive back to Montreal, everyone napped. When I finally fell into bed that night it was the best sleep I’d had in months.

Unfortunately my camera got quite water-logged and is still recovering, so for now you’ll have to settle for the professional photos that we bought. Will add more pics as soon as my camera functions properly again!

[travelthursday] Happiness for $3.50

I know, I know…I’ve been terribly slack this week, what with no Music Monday post and all. But things have been quite busy lately – I have finally decided for sure to leave Montreal and return home come September 1st! So you will get all kinds of posts in the weeks to come as I will be driving back to South Carolina.

Wildflowers Marché Fermier Montreal PlateauIn any case, I do have a pretty sweet travel post for this week. Earlier this week I was walking home after a great Yoga class at my place of work, Yoga-à-Porter, when I decided to walk by the little stretch of green, Parc Lahaie, on St. Joseph and St. Laurent.

To my surprise, the Marché Fermier was up! I had previously thought it was open only on Thursdays. As I was walking through the market, one stand in particular caught my eye. In front of the table, a girl was holding a small bouquet of flowers, and I noticed that they had the flowers for sale.

“How much was that bouquet?” I asked the girl.

“3-50,” she replied, “really reasonable, right?” That sold me. I looked at the wild flowers – beautiful big yellow ones, small fluffy purple ones, leafy red ones. They did look a little wilted, but I was in one of those moods – you know, where the smallest things can make you happy all day – so I started picking out my bouquet.

After I had made my choice, I emptied my change-purse, only to find that I had exactly $3.45! I looked at the merchant, “Is $3.45 okay?” I asked.

“That’s perfect,” he said, a soft drawl sneaking into his voice, “actually, I overcharged you.” He smiled at me, and I walked off with a little slice of happiness for less than 4 bucks.

The Marché Fermier is great because you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables as well as cheeses, breads, and plenty of other local products for much cheaper than in a grocery store or épicerie. As I passed through the market, there was even a guy playing the banjo – and very well, I might add! Just walking through the market made me feel much more connected with nature, and later I had fun imagining myself frolicking in beautiful fields of wildflowers with the faint sound of a banjo coming from somewhere and not a single care in the world.

[travelthursday] 6,000 feet of rocks and stuff

This is more than a day late, yada yada, I know. I’ve just been trying to increase the level of suspense. Really.

So let me tell you a little story about two girls who didn’t know each other very well and decided to hike the tallest mountain in the NE and then almost died (not really, but that sounds like a good story, amiright!?).

Conquered Mount Washington...almost

just finished my gymnastics routine

My friend Ally and I drove 4 hours from the great city of Monteal, QC all the way to New Hampshire just to hike a mountain. But not just any mountain, we hiked Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast USA. Funny, now that I think about it, it took just as long to hike from the bottom to the top as it took to drive from Montreal to NH. Let’s just say we had some issues we didn’t anticipate.

It all started at the grocery store…or rather, Mac’s Market. We were browsing the isles the day before the hike – Ottawa native Ally was oggling the 13 types of cheez-its American grocers stock (I refrained from sparking a conversation about Easy Cheese) and I was deciding on the flavor of beef jerky to buy, when an idea came to me. “You know what we should get?” I said to Ally, “No camping experience is complete without Franzia.” I couldn’t have been more wrong right. What I didn’t consider at the time was the fact that we were hiking Mount Washington the next morning (did I mention it’s over 6000 feet high? Yeah, I didn’t think I so).

So we pulled into Dolly Copp campground just before dark and started setting up camp. Ally set up the tent and I built a fire. There were dry sticks a-plenty around us, but we could have really used some real firewood! Just a note – most campground will sell you firewood, but you have to get there before their office closes most of the time. So we were SOL in that department. Luckily, Ally pulled some she-woman moves and pulled up some serious stumps so we were set. After cooking our Yves veggie burgers on the grill at the site, we played some guitar and made s’mores (both staples of the camping experience). We chatted until the fire died down and then rekindled it and ate some more marshmallows. The second time the fire died, we decided to call it a night and headed to the tent.

The next morning I’m up around 8 with that “don’t eat anything funny” feeling in my stomach and the “don’t move too quickly” feeling in my head. Ally is still asleep. After changing into some clean clothes, I rebuild the fire and then fumble around in the car for a bit to find something to cook our egg whites in. I know Ally said she brought a pan, but this pot will have to do. I pop a couple Advil and put everything edible that I can find into the pot with the egg whites.

After breakfast, Ally headed back in the tent for a nap. I cleaned up our campsite a bit then headed to the bath house to wash up. On my way back, I found a dumpster and chucked out the rest of the Franzia. There’d be no more drinking from that box that’s for sure.

When I got back, I woke Ally up and made a proposal: “Look, I know we came here to hike Mount Washington, and I really do want to do it; however we may need to accept our current hungover state and just drive to the top instead.” Ally looked at me indignantly, “No way, we came here to hike, we are going to hike! I know I’ll be disappointed if we don’t.” And with that it was settled, we were going to hike Mount Washington hungover.

Beginning of Hike Mount Washington

Us before we got tired

At first, the hike was not that bad. The rocky dirt path climbed slowly but steadily upwards, and we chatted a bit and played brain games. But soon the path became a stream of boulders, and we were out of breath, so we stopped on a bridge over the stream we’d been following to have a bit of the teriyaki beef jerky I’d picked out. It was surprisingly delicious. Feeling rejuvenated, we picked ourselves back up and continued up the mountain. We met plenty of people hiking back down the mountain. When we asked how much longer to the top, each person seemed less optimistic than the last – could it be possible that we were climbing to infinity and the path was just an endless staircase to nowhere?

Steep trail Mount Washington

Steep trail

Halfway up we came across a ravine with a little cabin and deck with tables. There were toilet houses close by, which was a nice relief. We also came across a real-life hand pumped well hidden off in the woods. It took a good 15-20 pumps, but once I got to taste the water, it was some of the freshest, most pure-tasting liquid I’ve ever experienced in my life. We refilled our water bottles and continued on our way.

Fresh Spring Water Pump Mount Washington

Fresh Spring water pumped from the well in the woods

In no time, we were past the tree line and were just climbing rocks – using our hands almost as much as our feet because of how vertical the climb had become. About 3/4 of the way up, we came across this miniature mount that from far off looked like the mount where Boromir dies in LOTR, although by the time we reached the top it looked more like mount where Frodo gets stabbed by one of the Ring Wraiths. (Let’s just say this hike involved plenty of LOTR references).

Hill on Mount Washington, NH

Is this where Boromir died?

Top of Hill Mount Washington

Is this where Frodo was stabbed?

As we reached the top of this mini-mount, we had begun to ascend into the cloud that surrounded the top of the mountain. It felt like rain, but was really just mist/fog. The path flattened out for a few minutes, and then the real climb began.

Level Trail Mount Washington, NH

Trail levels out

Ally and I stood for a second, staring up at the completely vertical climb over sharp, moss-covered rocks, trying to identify the best route. Finally, we just said “screw it” and started climbing, doing our best not to look behind us at the long drop over sharp rocks and into the mist that had by now completely engulfed us. “It feels like we’re on a movie set,” I said.

Sharp Rocks, Mist, Fog Mount Washington

rocks and mist

I found it to be more and more difficult to continue to climb, but I forced my legs and arms forward, using all four limbs equally to haul myself up the side of this mountain. Finally, we relocated the path, and it became more sloping. A few minutes later, we passed two hikers on their way down. “How much farther to the top?” I croaked. “Oh, have you guys come all the way from the bottom!? It’s not much farther at all. Maybe two minutes! Good luck.” Two minutes. Best news all day. I could do two minutes.

Finally, we reach the ridge of the mountain – there is literally a ridge, as if you’re in a bowl or a volcano. We went across the top, only to find…a road. Then, stairs.

Stairs at top of Mount Washington, New Hampshire

Got to the top only to find...stairs!

“We have to go to the real summit!” Ally exclaimed, and proceeded to climb the stairs and practically jog to the mound of rocks with a sign on top proclaiming, “Mount Washington Summit.” We got there only to be asked by a rather overweight New Hampshire tourist if we could take her picture next to the sign. And I have to say, New Hampshirites, you guys have the weirdest accents. Afterwards, the NH lady returned the favor, then we went to check out the old hotel, The Summit House, which was opened in 1852.

Girls hike to Mount Washington summit

We are triumphant!

We left the hotel and spotted a snack bar, which was convenient considering I had a craving for a Snickers Bar (as you do after a long hike, right?). We were feeling pretty dead by then, so we just trudged without talking through the mist (did I mention it was about 45 degrees at the summit?) to the snack bar.

Snack bar at Mount Washington

Hungry? Why Wait?

We inquired about the shuttle down – $45 per person! Can you believe that!? After snacking and staring into space for a bit, we checked out the gift shop and the small museum then headed to the parking lot to see if we could catch a ride down. Luckily, a nice middle-aged Quebecois couple agreed to give us a ride to the bottom, and we got to ride down with the heat on, listening to an informative CD in French and napping off/on. I think that was the most relaxing car ride I have ever experienced in my life.


[travelthursday] Vacation in your backyard

You may or may not have noticed that I didn’t put up a Travel Thursday post last week. I was also more behind than usual on my Music Monday post, which held me up on the Thursday one, sorry about that! (Since I know all of you are just dying to read my blog, I apologize for ruining your entire week by not writing one post!)

That said, this post was supposed to be for a contest that ended last week (so yeah, not winning that one) but the theme was “Vacationing close to home.” So yeah, I know I live in Montreal and all, so I do feel a little cheap because of all the options the city gives me, but I’m pretty sure this is fairly original. Read on to see, and feel free to give me feedback in the comments!

This year, budgets are still slim from the economic downturn, and as a result many people are cutting back on vacations. Instead of going to far-away destinations, they are opting to stay close to home – going camping, staying with relatives, etc. In my search for the best vacation close to home, I came upon an interesting site in Parc Mont Royal.

On an overcast Sunday afternoon, I bypassed the Tam-Tams and the first hill to take a stroll deeper into the woods.parc mont royal tight rope walkers The trees were sparse but shady, and as I approached a large clearing, I saw tight-ropes strung from tree to tree, and people practicing circus tricks. I felt like the little boy who sneaked into the Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

I ventured further into the woods, past the first clearing and the circus-folk and into what looked like a dirt arena. To my surprise, contained within this arena were a couple dozen grown men dressed as knights and pirates and villains. Each had some sort of foam weapon and shield, and was decked out in a variety of home-made armor. Some even carried big flag-poles. I sat and watched for a minute as the men pummeled each other. Eventually I discovered their system. There were two teams, one on either side of the arena. As soon as the signal was given, they rushed at each other and started hacking mercilessly with their foam swords. After a minute or so, there were a handful of guys squatting, and a handful left fighting. In another minute, the whole thing was over.

Close by, two men sat under the shade of a tree next to a blanket covered in foam weapons and armor. I walked over to inquire about the game. “So what’s going on here?” I asked of the tall, broad-shouldered man with the flame-red beard, “What are the rules of the game?” He looked a bit taken aback and was reluctant to talk, but eventually he explained that the rules were quite simple: there are weapons for larp at mont royal parkgenerally two teams. At the signal, the two teams rush each other and the team completely eliminated first loses. A blow to the chest or back is fatal, but if you get hit on a limb, you simply have to stop using that limb. Short swords can be used one-handed, but if you have a longsword, you must use two hands – which means that if you lose an arm, you can only use your longsword to block, no longer to strike. The cost for playing this game? “It’s free to play,” my informant explained, “but if you want to rent a weapon, it’s $5. Well, $5 for guys, $3.50 for girls, and $2.50 for kids for the whole day.” Talk about a cheap vacation!

Now, I know this isn’t really a vacation in the traditional sense – there’s no overnight stay in a scenic area or big city. You don’t have people waiting on you hand and foot, and you still have to go home at the end of the day. But, it is a way to “escape from it all” even for just a day. Somewhere deep in the woods of Mont Royal Park, you can be a warrior, a pirate, or just a kid for a whole afternoon. Sounds like a vacation to me!