live free or die!

So, I know I haven’t updated in a couple weeks. And it’s not for lack of traveling. You know, sometimes, in the midst of living internationally, I forget how many things there are to discover right here in my own backyard. And since I hadn’t seen my good friend Jinnel in a long time (too long!), I decided to take a trip to see her…and New Hampshire…and Boston…and…

Well, anyway, it was only three days, but it was fantastic. It was a part of the country I’ve never been to before, and the leaves were already changing colors and blanketing the surrounding mountains in vivid hues of red and gold. Everything in New Hampshire was just as I like it: no traffic, just trees, trees and hills and sky and two-laned pavement, as far as the eye can see. Of course, even New Hampshire isn’t immune to the chain-store epidemic that’s hit our country, so I still saw my fair share of Wal-Marts and Walgreens. But I also saw places like the Cutting Shop, a place that just had a sign outside that read “Deer-Bear-Moose Cutting” (or some other large animals, I forget which) next to two gigantic meat hooks. There was also the sign that warned us, as we headed into the White Mountains, “Brake for Moose – It Could Save Your Life! HUNDREDS OF COLLISIONS!” Welcome to New Hampshire.

Maybe Concord (pronounced “Conquered,” because that’s how they like it up in good ol’ NH) isn’t the hotspot for nightlife and boozing, but it was really peaceful, and the air was clear, and everybody wasn’t in a hurry, and when you looked up into the sky at night, you could actually see stars.

Since just being in New Hampshire wasn’t enough nature for me, we ventured into the White Mountain National Park to see if we could brake for some moose. But there were none. Instead we encountered huge tour groups from China and Pakistan, license plates from all over (though we were the farthest), unexpected rain and severe cloudiness which made our Scenic Lookout attempts all but useless. We stopped anyway, to peer over the precipices and wonder how many mountains we might be able to see had they not been veiled in a mist of fog.

At the end of the White Mountain highway (excuse me, the Kancamagus Highway, affectionately pronounced “Kunkamungus” by Jinnel and I), we found apple cider, fresh apples, and the town of Conway (not to be confused with sister towns Passaconway and North Conway). It was small, quaint, and typically American. There was a train station complete with old trains and telegraph office, a main street with flags adorning every doorway, and of course, a general store.

Concord, NH’s biggest city, wasn’t much different. Its biggest attraction was the State House, with a museum that features a plethora of possible reproductions of artifacts that may at some time possibly have been historical…we think. But it was picturesquely whitewashed, and the sky was blue, and the trees were pretty, and I took an afternoon tour of the town’s various coffeeshops, which were surprisingly cute and cozy.

Boston, however, was something different altogether.

Even getting to Boston was a challenge, as our very unhelpful GPS system seemed to constantly lead us in any direction but that in which we wanted to go, and then sound vaguely annoyed with us as it tried to recalculate our location. Once we got there, though, it was worth it. Our first experience was the least typical – we found ourselves at Santarpio’s Pizza, a tiny, dingy place covered with portraits of Mike Tyson and with a line out the door even at 4:00pm (a door guarded heavily by a large man with slicked-back hair and gold chains that I swear is the poster child for the Mafia). The clientele (and the staff) were all VERY no-nonsense, die-hard Red Sox fan Bostonians (with an accent to prove it), and there were only three items on the menu: pizza, lamb, and sausage. The pizza was great, and I’m pretty sure we were served by Santarpio himself.

Our other experiences in Boston were also just as…unique. We made the mistake(okay, I made the mistake) of reserving what seemed like a very nice double hotel room over the phone for $75 a night. The price should have tipped me off, but I figured we just needed a place to stay, not a luxurious getaway.

What we later found out was that we needed to get away from this place. It was called the Farrington Inn (sounds quaint, right?), and it was located on a dark street in a really shady neighborhood. Upon arriving at the front door, we were greeted by a ROTARY phone, and when we dialed the number posted on the wall, we were instructed to enter the parlor and sit on the green couch. When we got into the parlor, I noticed that there were several chairs in the room, and wondered what would happen if we sat on one of those. The parlor was, in a word, creepy. Creepy is the only way to describe it. It was dark and dim, with a deer head mounted above a cold fireplace and a clock that didn’t work. The deer head looked ancient. There were also old portraits on the wall, the kind that looked like the eyes would follow you if you walked by. The rest of it just seemed sad and creepy, and even the bright pamphlets in the information box offered information about faraway Maui and Florida, but strangely, nothing about Boston. I told Jinnel I was sure the place was going to be haunted. Still, we agreed to see the room, because we didn’t need luxury, just a place to sleep. The room turned out to be in the house next door, up a long dark stairway that looked anything but friendly. The room was alright…it had two beds, as we’d requested, and a small kitchenette. There were two doors, one of which we assumed to lead to the bathroom. We were wrong. One led to a closet, and the other was locked. The man explained that the bathroom was down the hall. Jinnel and I looked at each other hesitantly…then we saw the six separate locks on the doorframe. And that’s when we decided to leave.

We spent the rest of the night at the comfortable and well-lit Best Western, where we wouldn’t have to worry about things coming out of doors and closets to eat us in the night. We went dancing, and drinking, and to visit my cousin. We saw Cambridge (home of Harvard) and felt smart as we walked down the street. In the morning, we walked the Freedom Trail past Paul Revere’s grave, through Boston Common, and along some other historic sites. We wandered through Fanueil Hall, the crazy crowded market, and took pictures with a Revolutionary we saw on the street. It was a quick visit, but we got to see a lot of the city in passing. When Jinnel had to leave and go back to work, I visited a tea shop and had amazing tea and a scone the likes of which I haven’t tasted since I was in Scotland. Then I wandered down Newbury Street, wondering at the amazingly restored buildings and ivy-covered brick walls, wrought-iron gates and perfectly manicured gardens, terrace cafes and tiny boutiques with wonderful things in the windows. It was sad to have to leave.

Still, I was happy to have gotten to see another part of this enormous country of mine, and to eat Maine blueberries and Vermont maple syrup (though I missed out on the lobster and clam chowder…I’m still remembering the clam chowder cooking disaster that landed me in the bathroom for three days). Also, I have some plans for travel that may be coming up pretty soon, so check back here every so often for details. And, in case you thought I forgot, here are pictures of lovely New England (I only had one morning in Boston and three days total, so I know there’s still a lot more to see!) Enjoy, and remember, live free or die!