(Two thousand and) fourteen memories

2014. Hoooo, boy. Where do I start? Crazy, mixed up, stressful things happen when you pick up and move across the country. And things stay pretty crazy, mixed up, and stressful for a long, long time once you get there. I’m absolutely looking forward to a more settled 2015, but I gotta give crazy, mix up, and stressful some credit: they sure do lead to some exciting experiences. So, without further ado, here are my top 14 memories from the past crazy, mixed up, stressful year to help me say…

New_Years_Eve_2014

14. Sean and I visited 11 states (Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine) AND Canada. And that’s not counting the three states we drove right on through (Delaware, New Jersey, and Rhode Island).

13. We lived in a hotel for almost a month and ate A LOT of ramen.

12. I got sick of working from home, so I found a new job. Now I write about World War II-era Germany and French wine in an office with coworkers instead of Medicare and Medicaid on the couch with my cat.

11. I missed Texas more than I thought I would. If I didn’t own a map, I wouldn’t believe I’m still living in the same country. Seriously — culture shock like whoa.

10. But I found so much to love about New England — beautiful scenery! Compact size! SEASONS!

9. I learned to speak Yankee: “rotary” instead of “roundabout” (or “traffic circle”), “Yankee swap” instead of “white elephant,” “munchkin” instead of “donut hole,” and “barbecue” meaning any old kind of summer get-together.

8. I indulged my inner history buff: the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, Ellis Island, Plymouth Rock, and the Mayflower. (Not to mention the Mooflower!)

7. I watched the Red Sox take on the Rangers and heard Tom Petty play at Fenway, I went to my first Division II football game (just like a high school game, but with free food and cheap beer), and I saw The Nutcracker for my birthday.

6. I survived an entire summer without air conditioning. But I probably wouldn’t do it again.

5. I walked through the sets of two movies: Black Mass and Ted 2. Coming soon to a theater near you!

4. I also watched Top Chef film a promotional spot AND I got my own tiny taste of fame on ESPN College GameDay.

3. I didn’t get a Massachusetts license, but that’s ok — without my beloved car, I only managed to drive three times between March 1 and December 31.

2. Sean finished his first semester of grad school. And when I say “finished” what I really mean is “showed grad school who’s boss.”

1. We recently started planning for 2016 at work, so I’m actually not even sure what year it is anymore. Time is meaningless. Days are just numbers on a calendar. Happy 2012, everybody!

Howdy, Portland, Maine! // 4th of July 2014

Sean and I didn’t originally plan on spending the 4th of July in Portland, Maine. Up until about a month ago, we were actually pretty convinced that we’d be celebrating Independence Day in Philadelphia. But then a little thing called Memorial Day in New York City happened. And while that trip was an absolute blast, it was also an absolute madhouse. We knew Philly would be similar in terms of crowds, and we just weren’t sure we were up for two crazy trips in a row.

So ultimately we decided on Maine. Not any city in particular — though we did choose Portland as our final destination — we were really more interested in the drive than where we ended up.

Friday: York, Kennebunkport, and Ogunquit
We took Highway 95 out of Massachusetts and through a sliver of New Hampshire, but as soon as we crossed into Maine we headed for the scenic route along the coast.

We’d only been in Maine for about 10 minutes before we decided that we should’ve moved to Maine instead of Mass. Maine is heart-achingly beautiful and a little bit mysterious. It’s quintessentially New England (lobster; lobster everywhere) but it’s also wild and remote. Maine makes up half of New England, but fewer than two million people live in the whole state. The rest is bears and trees. (And lobster.)

There’s a huge outdoor store just on the other side of the New Hampshire state line that lets you know you’ve arrived. “Welcome to Maine,” it says. “Take a look around — what business could you possibly have inside?”
kittery_outdoor_store
True, the weather was not great for our drive, particularly along the water (thanks, Hurricane Arthur!) but there were outdoor sights to see and, by golly we were going to see them! We didn’t realize we were going to run into a lighthouse on our way up to Portland — until we watched the Nubble Lighthouse rise ethereally from the fog as we wound our way toward it. My gosh, you guys. That craggy coastline. The angry, hurricane ocean. And that lonely little house standing resolutely in the middle of it all. As far as first lighthouse experiences go, ours was pretty perfect.
nubble_lighthouse
My mantra for the weekend was “We need to become the sort of people who’d have a summer house so we can buy a summer house in Maine.” As we drove through Kennebunkport, Sean spotted the house he wanted. It was set off from the others and built right on the coastline. It was large and full of windows and surrounded on three sides by water. And it belongs to George H. W. Bush. Perhaps we should set our sights a tad lower. (Shout out to the prez for the Texas flag!)
george_bush_house_kennebunkport
Our last stop on the Tour de Maine Coast was in Ogunquit for — what else? — lobster. We split a lobster roll and a lobster grilled cheese (yes! One thousand times yes to that!) and then piddled around the cute shops until the sky really opened up. After that, there was nothing left on our agenda but to get to Portland.

Portland is the biggest city in Maine. It’s home to a whopping 66,000 people; it inspired Portland, Oregon; and, with more than 230 restaurants, it’s one of the foodiest small towns in America. Our foodie senses led us to Duckfat for dinner on Friday night.
duckfat_portland
French fries are to Duckfat what lobsters are to Maine. We ate buckets and buckets of French fries as poutine and dipped in — wait for it — truffle oil ketchup. (If you’re like me and have always pronounced “poutine” as “p%*#@$,” I can now assist. In the States it’s pronounced “poo-TEEN.” In Canada it’s pronounced correctly/differently, but who cares? This is America. We say what we want.)
Continue reading

Howdy, New York City! // Memorial Day 2014

Sean and I faced a couple of new travel challenges when we started planning our trip to New York City: (1) we’d been five times between us, but never together, so we had to find things to do that were new to both of us and/or interesting enough to see again, and (2) New York City is very expensive. New York City on the first holiday weekend of the summer is even more expensive. New York City at the last minute on the first holiday weekend of the summer is O_O!!!

Once we started researching, we realized number one wouldn’t be that much of a problem. It’s New York we’re talking about, not the backwoods. Number two required a bit more thought — we didn’t want to break the bank for three days in the city — but with a bit of creative finagling we ended up overcoming that, too.
Manhattan_e
Transportation: One of the nicest things about living in New England is how easy it is to get around without a car. Trains and buses run in all directions, and they’re very widely used and comfortable. When we decided to go to New York City we didn’t think for one second about driving ourselves. (Can you imagine how much it would’ve cost to park there for three days? Plus the tolls we would’ve had to pay? $13 just to get on the George Washington Bridge!) Our first transportation choice was Amtrak, but by the time we’d committed to the trip all the cheap seats were gone and tickets would’ve cost us more than $175 apiece. Two seats on Bolt Bus cost less than one train ticket, so it seemed like a much better bet (HA! — more on that later).

Lodging: Sean’s a big fan of Greenwich Village, so that’s where we started our hotel search. He stayed in a very reasonable hotel in the area last summer, but that same hotel was very unreasonable on Memorial Day. In fact, every hotel that we looked at was at least $250/per night. NOPE, NOPE, NOPE. We’d never tried AirBnb before, but we’d heard good things from friends, so we decided to give it a shot. And it was FANTASTIC. We paid around $125/night for the cutest little studio in the perfect part of Greenwich Village. The girl we rented from made the process so easy, and she left us a note telling us to help ourselves to her wine. I mean!
airbnb_greenwich_village
Friday: As soon as we arrived in New York, it started raining. HARD. We hailed a cab to drive us to the apartment, but it’s a wonder we didn’t wind up at the bottom of the Hudson:
NYC_cabbie
We hid out in the apartment for an hour or so waiting for the rain to let up before venturing out to dinner. When Sean told me that two of his New York friends had recommended The Meatball Shop, I felt myriad emotions: confusion — they only sell meatballs? How does that work? Hunger — mmm, I hope they also have provolone cheese! And, ultimately, bemused acceptance — we’re talking about New York City here. Of course there’s a restaurant that specializes in meatballs. They also specialized in serving Shiner Bock. I KNOW.
Sean_Shiner
Saturday: The first half of Saturday was all about immigration — we booked a combo tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We chose to tour the Statue of Liberty island only (meaning no going into the pedestal or climbing up to the crown) but that packed a great, big emotional wallop for me, so I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. Plus there were more than enough people to bump into on the island — thinking about squeezing into Lady Liberty’s nethers with hundreds of other tourists gave me hives.
statue_of_liberty
SPEAKING OF WHICH — Ellis Island. Ho boy! Talk about living history. That place is HUGE and absolutely swarming with people. It’s a multicultural free-for-all. It probably hasn’t changed much in 150 years. That said, I absolutely loved visiting. It was, hands down, my favorite thing about our trip. Half of the exhibits were closed (casualties of Hurricane Sandy) and we were short on time, but I would absolutely go back to see more.ellis_Island_2Sarah_ellis_island
After Ellis Island, we ventured to Times Square to attempt to buy discounted theater tickets, only to be thwarted by a line that covered an entire city block. Rather than spend the rest of the day waiting in line to maybe get tickets to a show, we walked straight up to the Avenue Q box office and bought tickets for full price. It was splurgier than we’d intended, but Avenue Q is off Broadway, so the cost wasn’t that extreme. And it ended up being totally worth it. Songs from that show still pop into my head from time to time (I just have to be careful not to sing them out loud).

After the show was over, we met up with one our friends from college who lives in New York and explored the city into the wee small hours of the morning. (I’m now qualified to tell you that New York does, in fact, sleep.)
Continue reading