Friday, August 15, 2014

Home Sweet Boston

Front of Complex
We found our Boston home smack in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Charlestown dawns the prestige of being the oldest neighborhood in the metropolis of Boston, as well as home to the U.S.S. Constitution and BunkerHill. Being situated right on the Boston Harbor and Mystic River, makes for an excellent front row seat to the sunrise over the city and lovely evening walks for the family right along the harbor; we really couldn't have asked for a more perfect location to stay while here.

A little history on the area: Charlestown was the first capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony all the way back to 1629 and it is home to the oldest Navy Yard in the country. The U.S.S. Independence, the very first Navy ship, was built right down the road from us and the area we are staying is now part of the National Park Service. Our home in Boston isn't to be excluded from this history either, it was once the metal shop for the Navy, of course completely rehabbed but still exudes that character of what it once was.

Our condo represents a plethora of history and when the building was converted in the 1980’s they did an amazing job at leaving the facade of its roots, many of details were left so that you can still see the representation of its rich past. Each unit holds the original windows and the exposed brick interior walls, adding that rustic old feel, while blending with a touch of modern. This is a place where you can feel the history, but still relax in the comfort of current day amenities; I can only begin to imagine the stories these walls hold. Besides beautifully shaped arched windows, this place boasts vaulted ceilings, a giant skylight and a tin roof. The tin roof I had the pleasure of thoroughly enjoying yesterday as a rainstorm came in, listening to the soothing sound of the “tap, tap, tap,” of the rain as it hit the roof; hearing that cleansing rejuvenation of the rain just added to the charm and energy of this place, causing me to fall even more in love with it.

View from Harbor Walk
And to top off the perfection of this place, the building itself as well as the community are very pet friendly. The condo complex has a huge dog park for the resident critters as well as being one block away from the Boston Harbor Walk and kiddie corner from Menino Park along the waterfront. Needless to say, Miss Ethel has plenty of options to mark her territory and explore which makes for a happy girl, which in turn makes for very happy humans.  

Charlestown gives that small community feel while still being able to be part of big city life. We are just a quick walk across the bridge or we can take the ferry over to Long Wharf in Central Boston, depending on where we want to go and what we happen to be up to that day. Being in a walking city again is so refreshing, knowing we never have to pull the Flex out of the parking garage and that we can access anything we need by foot again has breath of fresh air. Who knew we would fall in love with the idea of not having a car and the convenience of public transit; a shocking surprise for both of us and a definite must to wherever we land.

So here is our Airbnb gem and Navy Yard Condo for the month of August:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Mapping out one location to the next can sometimes be a little crazy and doesn't always work the way I envision, sometimes leaving gaps in landing places. It could have something to do with availability in the cities we are bound for, or it could be my procrastination and indecisiveness. It can be a struggle to find a place because we can’t make up our minds where we want to go next, but it all works out in the end and gives us an opportunity to see sights that would have gone unseen by us otherwise. We had five days between Toronto and Boston, five days with the open road and no agenda, nothing to do but explore and spend quality time with friends. 

Cayuga Lake
Our week of meanderings took us to the Finger Lake region of New York and then to the official “Jersey Shore,” Monmouth Beach where the “Compagno Car of Chaos” descended upon the Prince family. We left Toronto, bound for Ithaca, fairly early in the morning, hoping to avoid the mayhem of traffic at the border, but alas everyone else had the same agenda! We sat in a line of cars for close to an hour and part of it on a bridge spanning Lake Erie no less. Now I don’t know about you all, but being grid locked on a bridge sort of freaks me out; it tends to make me feel vulnerable. I don't like the lack of an escape route other than jumping to my death, maybe I am being paranoid or I have seen way too many doomsday movies, but seriously it kind of scares me.

Only thirty minutes of being petrified on a bridge before we finally approached our gate, passports handed over, we were asked a few questions and then because I had put Tom’s Global Entry pass in his passport for safe keeping, we got sent the inspection zone! Sitting in a building, wondering if they were going to inspect the car, pull out all of our strategically packed belongings and us visualizing our cargo pummeling the Customs Agent as he opened the car door, but the stars aligned and they only asked us a few questions and then cleared us for Sentri. Although looking back I feel like I was robbed of a great photo op, Customs Agent having to be rescued after bag after bag falls from the Ford Flex, arm extended, reaching for aid, between the Samsonite luggages. I should stop now before they revoke our privileges, especially since I now feel obligated to take another trek across the border in order and utilize our expedited credentials.

Swimming Hole at Robert H. Treman State Park
We landed just outside of Ithaca for two nights, ready to take on the Finger Lakes region, hikes, wine and all, and mostly just ready to move our legs after spending the majority of the day in the car. I had researched some of the pet friendly hikes and vineyards so we had a pretty good grasp on what we could and couldn't do in town, definitely more than a day and halves worth of adventures, forcing us to pick and choose our favorites. The downfall was we were constantly on the move and didn't have the pleasure of taking our time - we lost a bit of the leisure aspect of travel we both enjoy so much, but still spectacular.

Finger Lakes is surrounded by stunning waterfalls and swimming holes, we only hit three of the many that surround the area, ones that we knew where in pet friendly parks and we knew Ethel could join us. We started with the Lower Falls in Robert H. Treman State Park and I wish we would have come prepared in a bathing suit. This is an amazing little water fall that cascades right into a giant swimming hole, with a diving board and all. The place was just beckoning us to jump in, it was so hard to resist stripping down to my skivvies and not taking a dive.

Lucifer Falls
Further up the park lies the magnificent Lucifer Falls, a bit of a jaunt to get down to it, and Miss Ethel demanded to be carried for half of it, her poor little old legs! Dog in arms, we made it down to the base, in awe of the energy and yet the serenity of this fall - here lies that moment that I wish were not rushing, because this is a moment that I would have loved to of been able to bask in.  It would have been nice to sit and listen all day to the gush of water as it fell from the mountain, enjoying that wondrous mix of vitality and peace that only Mother Nature can give.

After hiking back out, we were ravenous and thought it would be best to stop for a bite of food before heading off to a wine tasting. We stopped right in the heart of Ithaca, ate some lunch and perused the streets. I was slightly disappointed since I had heard how adorable this town is, but unfortunately it was under some major construction while we were there, entire streets blocked off, masking its certain charm.

Full and ready for some vino we headed off to Six Mile Creek Vineyard for a wine tasting. Six Mile Vineyard was great, the staff was exceptionally friendly and they let Miss Ethel into the tasting room with us, even offering her own water bowl. The wines were tasty, the atmosphere excellent and the view and the grounds were gorgeous. Throughout our eight months we've been to quite a few vineyards, of course most during the off season, but it was so nice to finally see succulent grapes growing on the vines - the fruit of the nectar of which one is drinking.  The staff encouraged us to take Miss Ethel for a walk through the grounds. The landscape was stunning and a lovely way to relax. It’s nice when we can bring the critter to places like this with us. I highly recommend this place to those of you who are traveling with your dog and if not, still stop in for a tasting.

Six Mile Creek Vineyard
One last hike to snap us out of our food and wine coma, a stop at Buttermilk Falls. Again we were taunted with another swimming hole at the base as we hiked up the side to the top of the falls. Once top side and sitting in the shade, we looked out as the water rolled down the mossy rocks and into pool below, the screams of children splashing and playing in the background was surprisingly calming. Sitting for a moment, we relished the mood before heading back down the hill and into the car for a ride along Cayuga Lake.

Buttermilk Falls
The next day we were Jersey Shore bound, to stay with the Prince Family for a few days, in their beach retreat and summer escape from Brooklyn. Heather greeted us with wine, dinner, good conversation and of course lots of laughter. I was looking forward to one of my favorites, "Heather Adventures" - in which I was so spoiled with as part of our NYC jaunt! She always has a way of finding the best “off the beaten path” excursions to do and she never fails us. This time, lavender picking for all of us, so excited I could almost smell the rich scent of lavender. Now I think we all had in mind lush fields of lavender, visualizing the Provence landscape, rolling hills of incredible rich purple. Imagine our surprise when we rolled up to some ladies house; yeah we went lavender picking out of somebodies back yard! Even though it wasn't what any of us had in our mind’s eye, it was still an adventure for the books! Chickens were running amok, stories of bee swarms and the eccentric group of ladies shopping in the lavender store for pillow sprays and lotions, made it all worth the drive. Did I mention the store was the front yard, next to the badminton court?

Heather and her adorable boys
A visit to the Jersey Shore wouldn't be complete without a stop to Point Pleasant to take in all the clichés that give Jersey its reputation for being a little rough around those refined edges. Point Pleasant didn't disappoint, we were surrounded by Snooki and Pauly D’s look-a-likes galore. My jaw dropped as I just sat back and watched the people walk by, surprised that it really was true, that reality television hadn't failed me and that this world truly exists; people watching at its finest!

Ethel, taking time to smell the lavender or possibly chasing a chicken
Of course being on the ocean, Tom, Ethel and I stopped over at the pet friendly Asbury Beach for a bit, to breath in some of that salt air. It is amazing what a sea breeze, the crash of the waves, and the sand between your toes can do for your center, such a calming essence, it gets me every time. It was exactly what we all needed before taking the trek the next morning for Boston.

Sunset in Jersey
Our five days in between homes was a great opportunity to catch up with friends, wonderful late nights full of reminiscing and enjoying the sights we wouldn't have had the pleasure to see otherwise. Thank you Prince Family for letting us invade your beach escape for a few days, and introducing us to new friends. We loved being able to catch up with you all and your hospitality was much appreciated! Next up Boston!!! 

The Amazing Prince Family!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ontario Outings

Oh, Ontario and your adventures. My favorite of course was that jaw dropping waterfall, but let us not forget perusing downtown Toronto, the Distillery District and the Belt Line. This post is directed at our Ontario based excursions and all the fun we had while pretending to be Canadian for one month.

Let’s start with my favorite, Niagara Falls! A-freaking-mazing! Granted driving into Niagara you feel like you've taken a detour and have suddenly landed in the Canadian version of Las Vegas. It is kitschy, full of casinos, Ferris wheels and total Niagara clichés, but in reality the city does need to provide some other form of entertainment, I mean one can only stare at a waterfall for so long, regardless of how remarkable it is. 

We had made plans to meet up with Tom’s long lost cousin, Tim and his partner Steve from Buffalo, while visiting Niagara, but first we needed to take in the fury of the river. We arrived a couple of hours before our lunch date, bound and determined to hike into the whirlpools; unfortunately heat and lack of adequate planning prevented us making it before having to turn around and head back into town. Feeling slightly defeated, but the excitement of meeting family members for the first time quickly overcast our brush with failure.

Tim is a cousin from Tom’s biological father side and since Tom was quite young when his mother said sayonara to Ralph, that part of his life has been minimal to say the least, especially since he passed about eighteen years ago. Fortunately though, Tom’s brother, Todd, did some genealogy research, looking for family members, medical history and what not and came across some long lost cousins, including Tim. Being able to connect with him, learn that part of their genetic make-up has been a great experience and learning what little was known about Tom’s biological father has been fascinating. Meeting up with Tim and Steve made for a wonderful afternoon; we spent hours chatting, getting to know one another, learning about that side of Tom’s heritage and it’s definitely one of the greatest treasures we've had on our journey. Thank you Tim and Steve for making the drive across the border and dining with us even though we were a little ripe from our hike; we did test that unconditional family bond by meeting up post exercise. 

Tom and his cousin Tim
On our way back into Toronto, we took a quick drive through the thriving wine town of Niagara on the Lake, of course part of me want to stop, taste the wine, but the urge to shower and crash had a greater pull. Although I would strongly recommend for those honeymooners or couples checking out Niagara Falls area to stay in Niagara on the Lake. The streets are lined with flowers, adorable cottage homes, a park as the centerpiece of the city and vineyards just around the corner; this is a city that exudes romance and full of so much more whimsy than Niagara Falls.  

Tom taking in the Distillery District
Toronto and our excursions here were pretty mellow, taking them a day at a time to peruse the downtown area, the urban beaches, the Distillery District and the Belt Line. All unique and each got their own day of adventures. Why? Because Toronto is the Los Angeles of the East, seriously! This town is so spread out and you literally have to drive everywhere and in horrific traffic; it was a quick reminder of my strong dislike of LA and why I could never live there. Although there was lots to see and do in Toronto, it was my least favorite city so far, and maybe it had to do with how spread out it is and that everything is at least thirty minutes away by car. Or maybe I have become accustomed to walking cities and having everything one could possibly need within a fifteen minute walk from our apartment, literally being able to run out for something is a true gem.

Locks of Love at the Distillery District
Although we were ready to head back stateside, there are a few things we will miss about Canada. Poutine for one, the delicious concoction of fries and gravy, I mean, what’s not to love!  Plus by the time we had left I was mastering the metric system and my ability to read directions in French, phenomenal! And, I am not going to lie, Netflix in Canada, awesome! Thanks for the adventures Canada, but it is time to bid you adieu. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

New France

Sometimes I get a hankering for Europe, it feels like too long since we last crossed the vast sea to Italy; that urge to surround yourself with old, to be sucked into a culture that just engulfs you at every turn and just suivre le courant. Plus it feels as though our friends have been taunting us this summer, as numerous amounts of them have spent their spring and summers abroad this year; they have been instantiating my desire to return, a yearning I haven’t been able to let go of and so what does one do when they are already on the road trip of a lifetime and can’t quite make it happen? Well you head to Quebec for a long weekend.
View of Montreal from Mont Royal
Quebec is a French paradise without having to leave the soil of North America, from the language, food and architecture, something we haven’t been able to surround ourselves with since leaving New Orleans. Now don’t be mistaken, New Orleans and Quebec are nothing alike, both vastly different; Quebec is refinement at its finest, while New Orleans is its rowdy sister, both exuding a culture and experience each their own.

Habitat 67 in Montreal
It has been ages since I was last in France and needless to say what little French was still my head I had to pull from the archives of the brain in order to retrieve what little remained so not to look too ignorant while in Quebec. Other than catch phrases and basic language skills, I relied mostly on a phrase that worked wonders for me the last time in Paris, “'Desole, je ne pas parler le francais. Mais, tu parle l'anglais.”  It works, I promise! Although I found we really didn't need it in Quebec, French Canadians are so quick to switch once they see you are processing what they are saying, they don’t make you struggle a bit to comprehend, they just automatically adjust, which was very refreshing.
Ethel Enjoying the Grass
We checked into the Omni, in Montreal, just down the hill from Mont Royal and were ready to explore and experience all that this city had to offer. We started of course with what was in sight, so up the hill we climbed to take in the cityscape and get a general layout of the land. Once down from our trek and checking with the concierge about our dining options which had to include Miss Ethel, we noticed the Jazz Festival was in full bloom. Since it was outdoors at a local park we thought we would join in; the concierge confirming it was at a dog friendly park, but once we arrived at the gates we were shot down with “no pets”, which meant Ethel got her way, as she was ready for bed. Tom and I were a little disappointed since we were looking forward to popping a squat on the grass and taking in some smooth tunes.
Down by the Tracks in Old Montreal
Looking back, not being allowed access to the concert was probably a good thing, since we were up with the sun and off to Quebec City to explore for the day, a bit of a drive, but so worth it. Quebec City really is like jumping into France: the scenery, the sounds, the architecture and the food, ah heaven! We spent the day strolling the streets taking in everything we possibly could, trying to relish as much of this city as we could in one day. Getting lost in the neighborhood streets, sitting for a glass of wine and just soaking up the little moments that I miss most about Europe, plus people watching the tourists is a pastime favorite. Even Ethel had fun, Quebec City was by far the most pet friendly city we experienced during our month stay in Canada, chilling with us in the cafés, even she seemed to be swept away by the easy going atmosphere, or just picking up on Tom and I’s relaxed vibe.

Before heading back to Montreal we made a quick pit stop at Montmorency Falls for a bit of a nature hike mixed with a mild shower from the falls, waking us up from our food coma in order to make the drive back. The falls gorgeous, the stairway daunting and all worth the expenditure of energy in order to get those endorphin's flowing again.

Staircase Leading Down to Bottom of Falls
We had one more day in Montreal before heading back to Toronto, so we took to Mont Royal again, walking around to the cemetery and over to the Saint Joseph Oratory. My pictures of this place do not even do it justice; the basilica’s copper dome is the highest point in Montreal, and the second largest in the world, only Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome being larger. Getting up to the doors of the main entrance is no small test, one must climb more than 280 stairs, or as we witnessed, some faithful members can choose to take the separate staircase of 99 steps by climbing on their knees, stopping to pray on each step.
St. Joseph Oratory

Before hitting the road, we stopped in Old Montreal for a cappuccino, perusing the streets and stopping by the Notre-Dame Basilica to listen to the bells as they rang for their Sunday afternoon service. Feeling nostalgic and not quite ready to hit the road back to Toronto, we turned towards the river, stopping for gelato, and taking everything else we could possible commit to memory, relishing the moments and thinking about how fortunate we are to be on this journey.