Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Favorite Runs: Paul Stock Nature Trail

Tucked away in the northeast corner of the wild open spaces of the state of Wyoming, there is a little town.  It's little by rest-of-world standards; for Wyoming, it's a pretty decent size.

It was born in the late 1800s and named in tribute to arguably its most famous resident ever, the American frontier legend William "Buffalo Bill" Cody.

Cody, Wyoming is Cowboy Country.  It sits on the edge of the Absaroka Range of the Rocky Mountains, and guards the eastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  It holds a rodeo nightly during the summer months, and is an embarkation point for hunters in the fall and winter.  It's got high plains dotted with sage and cattle, a sulphur-smelling river that carves its way through a canyon marking the edge of town, and mountain sentinels looming on the horizon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Taj Mahal: A Moment of Quiet and Solitude in India

India is a country of color.  Traditional clothing favors vibrant hues, especially for women.  Cherry red, fire orange, peacock blue, emerald green, and sunshine yellow collide in a chaos of scarves and saris.  Buildings tend to be grey, brown, and red because of the stone and earth available to use for construction.  Yellow and green tuk-tuks dart through the streams of modern vehicles.  Food is spiced to shades of yellow and red, and markets abound with sandy-looking mountains of colorful precious flavors like saffron and cumin.  Plants bloom in every available space, providing a backdrop of green even in the most crowded, dusty cities.

India is also dirty.  Many roads are not paved, and a smog of pollution and dust permeates much of the country.  Animals freely roam the streets, even in the most metropolitan and modern of cities.  That's just the way it is for this densely populated country, but it creates a sheen of shabby sameness over the riot of colors that is India.

Against this backdrop of crowds, chaos, grime, and hues, the Taj Mahal is a shock to behold.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry in Kyiv!

Food: one of the basic requirements for sustaining life.  Yet finding it when you're traveling can be a challenge.  It's intimidating to venture into restaurants when you're new to a country, especially if you don't speak the language.  And it takes practice to enjoy eating alone.  It's no wonder that, when faced with the prospect of taking on both of those challenges at the same time, you'd rather skip the eating thing altogether.

But if you do that when you're in a new place, you miss out on a major portion of the experience of being there!  Half of the fun of traveling is trying new foods in all their local glory, or passing judgment on the new place's attempt to recreate your hometown favorites.  But you have to get yourself through the door and to a table first.

Don't worry, I've got your back.  I find its easier when I've got recommendations from someone I know.  I've already helped you find the best BBQ in Montgomery and best cannoli in Boston.  You can plan a pub crawl or an ice cream crawl in Boston, or a city-wide noms tour of deliciousness in Portland or Charlottetown, PEI.  So tracking down some tasty options in Kyiv?  Piece of paska!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Air Force Marathon in Review

Although I didn't know it at the time, this quest started back in 2009 when I ran my first marathon.

Then there was a two year break before marathon two.  Since I still didn't know I was on a quest, I did a third marathon a year later that in no way contributed to the successful completion of the quest.

It was only on the fourth, and coolest, marathon that I realized there was a quest: run a marathon on each of the seven continents.  As my dad pointed out, Antarctica is the most difficult continent to check off.  It only makes sense to carry on and hit the remaining four!

But it appears that I've stalled.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The CZ Book Club: 2015 Part I

The first six months of 2015 have been a doozy!  I racked up 38,3500 miles on airplanes and over 50 hours sitting in airports, which was the primary reason I managed to tear though so many books.  There were some interesting unplanned themes too .... India, Afghanistan, and Alaska popped up several times, along with the Russian fairy tale Snegurochka.  Several novels, spanning the globe, examined the complex relationships between family members.  There was a lot of the insecurity of being an immigrant transplanted to a completely alien culture.  And there will pretty much always be at least one book with a horse or two prancing around.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Snapshot of the American Southwest

A good travel story usually involves something unexpected and crazy and sometimes dangerous or scary that chucks a wrench into your otherwise perfect plans. For example, losing your keys on top of the tallest mountain in New England, but not realizing said keys have been lost until you're back at the trailhead four-ish hours and five-ish steep miles later. Or flying to Glasgow while not realizing the city has two airports and your overnight hotel reservation is not by the airport where you arrived.  Or getting stuck in a huge storm that extends your visit to Antarctica from a brief four days to ten life-changing days.

But sometimes, nothing ridiculous happens. Every now and again, I find myself on a trip that's kind of like kayaking on the creek back home. It's fun and beautiful and I thoroughly enjoy myself. The water is calm (and navigable!) and sometimes there are cool birds.  After a while, I head back to the pier, take my kayak out of the water, and go home with pleasantly sore muscles and happy memories. At no point does the creek turn into a fury of rapids at the edge of the precipice that marks an unexpected thirty foot waterfall smashing onto giant boulders in a cloud of foam and mist.

And that is okay!

In March, I took a brief roadtrip through the American Southwest which was basically a good ole kayak outing with no waterfall. Literally...I was in the desert, after all. My flights were on time, the airlines did not lose my luggage, my rental car did not break down, I did not get lost (not once! whaaaaat!), nothing poisonous tried to bite me, I never ran out of water, I didn't get an atrocious sunburn, everything I ate agreed with my stomach .... NOTHING CRAZY HAPPENED.

In a way, my mini-roadtrip was memorable simply because it was such smooth sailing. Let's be honest--it's not often that absolutely nothing goes wrong. But here's where I get to the second part of my kayak analogy--the bit about sore muscles and happy memories--because even though I don't have a cliff-hanging tale to convince you to keep reading, I saw at least one mind-blowingly amazing place and it was a trip worth sharing!  And bonus for you, you'll still have fingernails by the end of this post.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Lviv in 24 Hours

"..... where you can't swing a cat without hitting a medieval church."

I'm sitting here not writing and clicking around on Facebook instead, and I see this description used by my friend for her weekend exploring the Golden Ring around Moscow.  How appropriate!  Thanks, lady, for letting me borrow your words.  It's a perfect description of Lviv as well!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Favorite Runs: Holosiivskyi Park

I knew there was no way I would make it out of the park without getting lost, so I tried to plan for it.  Yes, that is correct, I planned to get lost.  Trust me, it makes sense.

The first challenge was that I was going for a run.  I really, really do not enjoy running with a backpack, which meant I was restricted to the two pockets in my shell.  My city maps depicted my destination as a blob of green, so I knew they wouldn't be much use anyway.  I printed a screenshot from Google maps, folded it in fourths, and hoped that would be good enough.  I grabbed emergency cash, my cell phone (which naturally wouldn't connect to the network and was therefore completely useless as a map), and of course my small camera.

The second challenge was that I was going to a very large woodland park with limited road access, but lots of trails.  I've seen places like this before, though.  In addition to the "marked" trails, there are loads and loads of offshoots that could be from animals, or could be run-off gulleys after a storm but look suspiciously like paths when its dry, or were tamped down by people who like shortcuts.  For a stranger like me, these extra trails just make life very confusing.  That's how I get lost.

I'm okay with getting lost though.  It's happened before.  Mwenzie and I once drove to Harold Parker State Forest for an easy 5k trail run.  13 miles and 2.5 hours later, we finally rediscovered where we'd parked the car.

Also, I was tired of running on the unforgiving cement slabs that equal sidewalks and roads in Kyiv.  My legs were angry with me, and I was looking forward to a chance to run more than five miles without navigating through traffic.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Pripyat: Visiting Chernobyl's Ghost City

"What I remember most about the hours we spent in Pripyat is the sound and feel of walking on broken glass."

Thanks a lot, National Geographic, for writing one of my strongest impressions of the experience six months before I even had the experience.

The shattered window panes that adorn the interior floors of Pripyat's abandoned buildings emit a distinctive crunching underfoot, and it's a feeling akin to walking on small pieces of gravel, albeit a shade smoother.  Pause and listen to other tourists moving through a different room or the floor above, and the glass takes on a distinctly musical, tinkling sound.

But there is something besides glass covering the floor in many rooms.  It feels soft underfoot, with a slight give and an occasional slip as it rearranges against the pressure of my shoe.  My soul cringes with each step, and I feel slimy, like I am defiling a precious object meant to be lovingly cherished rather than carelessly thrown on the dusty ground.

Books.  Piles of books, with spines broken and pages fluttering sadly in the silent breeze.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Chernobyl: Where Nuclear Tourism Meets Wildlife Tourism

I should have thought about what I expected to find before I got there.  A barren, rocky wasteland wholly unsupportive of any form of life, with curls of steam rising ominously from the ground?  People wearing space suits as protection from the radiation?  Squirrels with eight tails and cerulean fur? 

I didn't think about it.  I've made up those graphic options in the last five minutes.  But I know that what I did find wasn't what I was expecting, despite how ill-defined those expectations may have been.

After all, Chernobyl is the site of the worst nuclear disaster of the 20th century.  Hundreds died as an immediate result, thousands still suffer long-term effects, and hundreds of thousands were forced into unwanted new lives as all human inhabitants within thirty kilometers in any direction from the plant were evacuated and relocated.  A thriving young city, less than twenty years old and with a population of almost 500,000 people, became a ghost town in a matter of hours, and remains so to this day.

Nuclear radiation wreaks havoc on the human body.  It's not exactly easy on animals either, but give Mother Nature a little time, and she'll always prove that she's far more resilient than we are.  The thirty kilometer evacuated area around the plant became the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a permanent fixture banning humans from living in the area and thereby a de facto wildlife preserve, which gave Mother Nature a leg up with her recovery.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Funkiest Theater in Massachusetts

Alright, I know I haven't been to every theater in Massachusetts, so perhaps that title is a bit of hyperbole.  But as soon as you set foot in the Somerville Theater, you know that it's at least in the running, regardless of what quirky small-town theaters you've experienced!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Why I Love Mainers, or The Day I Learned to Snowmobile

Canada: the land of snow.  And therefore, Canada: the land of snowmobiles.  In fact, the eastern provinces of Canada are absolutely covered with massive networks of fantastic snowmobile trails.  There are riding clubs everywhere, and heck, the snowmobile was even born in Canada!  (Well, technically it was a Michiganer who got the patent in Canada ... but that's neither here nor there.)

I figured that the Maritimes were within reach, so it would be easy to find a great snowmobile adventure before my last east coast winter melted away.  I started calling around.  Halifax, where can I rent a snowmobile?  PEI, got anything for me?  You've got trails that circumnavigate the island/province, there must be options!  No?  St. John's?  Fredericton?

Canada, how could you let me down like this!

Snowmobiling may be super popular, but you have to own your toy to be able to enjoy.  First timer?  Want to rent one and see what it's like?  TOO BAD.

There was nowhere in eastern Canada within a 12 hour drive of Boston where I could rent a snowmobile for a day.  This meant two things.  First, my Canadian friends would not be able to join me for the fun, so I'd be going solo.  Second, my drive would be a lot shorter.

Because fortunately not only is snowmobiling the winter pastime of Canada, but it's also the winter pastime of Maine!  (And New Hampshire and Vermont, and New York too I'm sure, but I went to Maine.)

 Even better, I found a place where I could rent a cabin for the night and bring the pups!  Sold. We hopped in the truck and headed north.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Shelby Tour of Portland

Most travelers I know agree that the absolute best way to experience a new place is with a local.  For one thing, it saves you, the newbie, a lot of time usually wasted on figuring out logistical details like how to buy train tickets or where to park.  But the main wonderful thing about locals is that they know all the good secret spots.  They know the tourist spots too, and will tell you which ones are worth it, but then they can guide you into the real experience of wherever it is that you're visiting.

If you don't have a friendly local tour guide waiting anxiously for your arrival so they can show you all their favorite places, never fear.  There is still a second option-- a distance local tour guide!

Eh, you say?  What I mean by that is-- find a local who isn't there anymore and get them to tell you everything they know!  Or even better, if technology allows, text them constantly while you're in their old stomping grounds and they can guide you virtually.

This worked out beautifully for us when we visited Portland, Oregon.  Sure, we had brochures and we'd done some preparatory research on the interwebs.  But the key to our Portland experience was my phone, which connected me to my friend Shelby.  Shelby is a native Portlandian who now resides elsewhere in America because work made him move.  I emailed him before our trip and laid out the ground rules: one day in Portland.  He sent me some ideas, which was great, and of course as soon as we rolled into town, I started sending texts to say thanks for the suggestions and also to rub it in that we were in Portland and he wasn't.  Because we're friends like that.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The CZ Book Club: 2014 Part II

2014!  Where did you go?  How are you already nothing more than a memory??

Ah well, that means it's time for the second part of the 2014 CZ Book Club.  Prepare yourself for extreme randomness.