There is a sweet spot every fall when the leaves seem to change color overnight. Green becomes yellow, and yellow eventually falls away forever, only to be replaced by new green. Even when change is gradual, it can sometimes sneak up on us. I decided it wouldn’t sneak up on me this year.
In an attempt to capture this sweet moment when green becomes yellow in the trees (and green becomes yellow in my life), I took one photo a day for ten days, all from the same spot before 10am. It’s harder to capture this moment when life changes a little, but at least we can watch it happen in the trees. Also, this is a good reminder to everyone that it’s ok to fall… Sometimes, falling is pretty beautiful isn’t it? Enjoy.
It’s funny how these things work. A year and a half ago, I was a travel writer with not a single science course under my belt. Nine college-level courses, a whole lot of hard work, some incredible new friends, and plenty of fun-sacrificing later, I’m hitting the “Submit” button on my grad school applications, the first of which is due Monday. What happens from here is somewhat beyond my control, but getting here… Well, I (somehow) did that (and it feels pretty cool!).
A little girl enjoys dancing in her pretty dress before a thunderstorm hits. Old Town Quito, Ecuador.
The thing about being a post-bacc pre-med student is, you’re generally older than most of the other students. But, what does that really mean? You look pretty much the same (for better or worse), your science is a little rustier, you’re less competitive with everyone around you, and you’re more sure of who you are, where you’ve been and where you’re going. In some ways, you have much less to prove, and in other ways — much more.
I guess I just wanted to write a quick post to acknowledge this moment, because I have friends on every side of it (and some here, in their own similar moment, with me). I spent my early- to mid-twenties soul searching to get to this place where I just knew what I wanted. (If you’ve read this blog before 2011 at all, you know what I’m talking about!) The idea of “knowing ” — not just temporary “maybes” — was a lot more intimidating than I ever imagined it would be. Those first twenty-something birthdays out of college had my optimism mud-wrestling my expectations. Nothing was turning out how I expected, and every time I got close to touching what I wanted, it seemed to disappear right in front of me. The story I thought I was writing for myself had to be completely erased and re-written. For the first time ever, I had no idea what words to put on the first page. At some point, I would have to learn a whole new language to be able to write at all.
Street, man, walking uphill. Old Town Quito, Ecuador.
The fact that I am here hitting send, clicking submit, actually fulfilling all the pre-requisites required to apply to Doctor-level graduate school programs after beginning with NONE really is a reminder to me, and hopefully to you too, that anything (or, well, many things) really is (are) possible if you are willing to work your ass off for them. I know we’ve all heard this before, but look — it’s for real!
My journey certainly continues, with even more academic mountains (actually, mountain ranges) to climb. I guess at this point, I leave the sherpa behind and trek through the rest on my own. I just hope that, if nothing else, at least one person out there has been following this journey of mine and realizes that if I can do this, so can they. The scariest thing for me has never been failing; it’s always been not going for it. That said, going for it can be pretty freakin’ weird and terrifying at times, let me just be honest here. I’ve felt totally uncomfortable at many points along the way, but now… I’ve found my little spot in the big science couch, and I’m slowly sinking into it, asking grad school to pass me the remote.
Walking to an incredible brunch behind a cute little Ecuadorian woman. Tumbaco, Ecuador.
Right now, even though applications are WAY more intense than I ever imagined, I’m just so thrilled and excited about where this might take me next. It’s still scary — so much is uncertain, as it always has been. In a way, I can’t believe I’m really here. It’s like traveling, when the plane lands and a trip you’ve anticipated so long has both ended and just begun… Suddenly, you smell a new smell, you hear a new language being spoken, and no matter how exhausted you are from the flight, you know that, in a new way, it feels like anything is possible.
Paramo Hike. Papallacta, Ecuador.
Everything about this process has been intimidating — from the amount of school required to the amount of money (oh god, let’s just skip that conversation), and of course the amount of science everyone ELSE knows compared to me. I’ve never been in such a constantly competitive environment (well, besides my entire childhood… HA! Just kidding just kidding. One-of-five-kids Syndrome strike again!). But I’m telling you: nothing — NOTHING — feels better than being sure. It took my entire twenties to get here, so forgive me if I give myself a high-five.
Lying out on top of the catamaran, watching birds fly overhead as the boat cruised from one Galapagos Island to the next… One of those moments when life just feels right, and you never forget it. A picture tries to capture the feeling of freedom… Galapagos, Ecuador.
Maybe — even after so many world travels, and soul searching around the globe — it took me way longer than I ever expected to feel sure about where I want to go, and maybe I’m the oldest kid in the classroom these days… But I’m here now, and despite everything I’ve learned, I’m still learning. The plane has finally touched-down on the runway. I’m not fully in that new place just yet — the door is still shut, but the flight is over, and the next adventure is closer than ever.
Last night, as the temperature dropped just past comfortable and I read my Anatomy & Physiology textbook in bed, I realized that it was time. I walked over to the window, contemplated the need for another set of hands, decided I could do it by myself, and I removed my AC unit. This moment is always bittersweet, as it represents The End (of summer, at least). By now we all know how I feel about summer…
Sea Lion basking in the sun. Galapagos, Ecuador.
It wouldn’t be right for me to let summer go without acknowledging a few more of the places that made this summer post-Physics so sweet. And it’s not just the places; it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with here in Cambridge/Boston. I feel like I’ve made some really great new friends, and I’m kind of loving it. But who wants to read about that? BORING!
Praying in a church in Salta. Salta, Argentina.
SWEET CHEEKS Q: Let’s start with Sweet Cheeks Q. It was mid-August, and my roommates and I had yet to do a roommate dinner. Having an in-the-know food editor roommate has its perks in moments like this. Considering that it was already August and I had yet to consume anything drenched in BBQ sauce, I was delighted when she suggested this happenin’ spot (which, for those who don’t know, is owned by Tiffani Faison — the tough red-head from Boston who appeared in “Top Chef,” Season 1 — and almost won). Also, for those who don’t know, I was the PR Intern for Food & Wine (and Travel + Leisure) magazine when they were filming the first season of “Top Chef.” I helped when the PR team was media-training “Top Chef” judge, Gail Simmons and hung out with her quite a bit (she was awesome, btw). So anyways, yes, I was excited about this meal (can you tell yet?!). Fortunately, Sweet Cheeks Q delivered on all fronts.
I will start where every dining experience begins — the bread. Before delving into the stack of fried okra (which I’ll get to in a second), four oversized, warm biscuits arrived with a sprinkle of sugar and a dish of what I thought was butter. As soon as I put the first bite in my mouth, I was blown away. No, this was not just butter. This was HONEY butter. And holy crap, was it DELICIOUS! Tiffani, you had me at honey butter…
But then it kept going. We ordered the fried okra, which couldn’t have been cooked better, as well as a few solid Southern-inspired cocktails. By the time dinner arrived, I was already pretty satisfied… And then I tried the pulled chicken. Look, I’ve had my share of pulled chicken. It doesn’t sound very special, but let me tell ya — this was the BEST pulled chicken I have ever had. In fact, I’m not sure how you can make a better pulled chicken. It was smokey, salty (but not too salty), tender, soft, and straight-forward — no sauce slapped all over it, no anything-else sprinkled throughout it — just delicious, mouth-watering, well-made pulled chicken. Other notable standouts were the pork belly, the pulled pork, and the Cita’s Broccoli. I’ll forgive her for the brisket being a little dry because, when even the cole slaw is good, you know you’ve got a winner.
Eye contact with an Alpaca. Cotopaxi, Ecuador.
THE FRIENDLY TOAST: On a more casual note, let’s talk about brunch. In NYC, going to brunch isn’t a matter of IF but a question of WHERE? It is one of my absolute favorite things, yet brunch seems to be under-appreciated here in Boston. Sure, maybe it’s unnecessary to spend money on pancakes and eggs when they are so easy to make at home, but what better way to start a Saturday or Sunday than with BOTH, plus a side of friendship?! Well, The Friendly Toast had all the brunch items I could have wanted (pancakes, fruit, waffles, bagels (!!), eggs). The vibe is different from my usual NYC brunch spots — there were more tattoos, and it was sort of like a funky diner colliding with a hipster cafe, plus lots of kids. Our server was very friendly (like the toast!), and everything tasted just like I needed it too — with no surprises and no gimmicks. Brunch spot: found!
Baby. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
The rest of the places I want to mention — like Hawthorne’s, the classy bar-in-a-hotel (that had a zebra print couch, and represented a different Boston “scene” than I had experienced until then), where I got to taste some really special cocktails, or Yenching which, at the opposite end of the spectrum, was my first Cambridge Chinese restaurant, and surprisingly satisfying — will just have to slip under the radar for now.
Guy hanging out. Old Town Quito, Ecuador.
As fun as all these restaurants have been, one of my favorite things about being in Boston is spending time in people’s homes, and cooking together — something I did much less of in NYC, where the size of a kitchen was inversely proportional to the cost of having it.
One of my favorite nights thus far was spent at a new friend’s home in the North End. W invited me to his and his wife’s place for dinner, where we began by drinking whiskey sodas and wine while devouring the most incredible cheeses I’ve had in a long time (North End — I’m coming back for more!). But hang on… the night really began with a thunderstorm — and not just your average thunderstorm. This bad boy was RIDICULOUS. Low and behold — I did not have an umbrella. I arrived at W’s house soaked to the bone — the kind of wet that squishes when you walk and leaves soggy footprints behind you. While this may seem miserable, I was quickly given a pair of W’s finest sweatpants, as well as a sweatshirt. This “dinner party” became a sweatpants and pasta-making party very quickly, and ya know what? It couldn’t have been better. We spent the next few hours laughing while kneading and drying pasta dough. Meanwhile W — who is Italian (shocked?) — made an incredible pasta sauce. We finished things off with some homemade almond biscotti. Although I could barely move at the end of the night, sometimes getting home around 2am after a home cooked meal (in someone else’s sweatpants) is better than any nice restaurant experience.
Makin’ pasta in the North End. Boston, MA.
What I like about being in Boston is that life doesn’t revolve around where you go to eat and what neighborhood you grab drinks in. Not that NYC is all about that (please, I am NOT hating on NYC — I LOVE NYC! So there), but my life here in Boston has been much more about the people I’ve met than the places I’ve been. As much as I love going to new restaurants and new bars, and experiencing new neighborhoods (and yes, I am loving the explorations! Keep the restaurants coming!), what I like even more is the new people with whom I’m exploring all these places…
My Kansan friend just got back from a dream trip to Tanzania and Kenya. Listening to her describe her trip made me feel like a recovering cocaine addict listening to someone describe the intricacies of a recent high. I’m painfully jealous, and yearning for an adventure.
For the first time in years, I’ve had to live through my friends’ trips as I keep my mind focused on science and school. When I moved back from Ecuador, I went off my travel addiction cold-turkey — it hasn’t been easy. As we caught up and she told me all about the colorful textiles she saw, the giraffes she fed, and fun facts about the size of an elephant’s reproductive organs, she also mentioned a moment she had while visiting Serengeti National Park. It’s a moment I know all too well, but have gone too long without…
As she stood, looking over the landscape of the Serengeti, impossibly far away from home, she found herself suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. It was one of those experiences that comes unexpectedly while traveling, when an intense, pure sense of appreciation for the world just hits you like a charging rhino, and everything around you becomes insanely beautiful. In these moments, you just feel lucky. Grateful. Small in a great big, mysterious world. If you’ve ever traveled and had one of these moments, you know what I’m talking about. I miss that feeling. I crave that feeling. It is, all bundled up into one moment, what traveling is all about.
Sunset in Serengeti. Tanzania. Photo by MJ.
With less than a week before my 29th birthday, I realize that this was the first year of my life (at least since I’ve been able to walk) during which I did not even board an airplane. Yes, folks, Travels with Tavel has not left the country in over a year and it doesn’t feel right at all. I don’t even want to admit it, but it’s true. I almost feel ashamed, like I haven’t been true to a major piece of who I am. But, I know this is a temporary withdrawal. Needless to say, my wanderlust meter is binging loudly, and something’s gotta give. (My “Places” Board on Pinterest is NOT helping!) I don’t think my soul can take this much wanderlust for much longer! So, what am I going to do about it?
The bus I took from Tumbaco, Ecuador to Quito, Ecuador, hours before ending up in the hospital with a parasite. Trust me: with the stomach ache I had that day, this was NOT an ideal form of transportation!
Well, I don’t have many options. My funds are low, applications are due soon, and my priorities have matured in such a way that I feel guilty even contemplating throwing the money down for a travel escape — but is the guilt that much greater than the wanderlust? Nope. Never!
Wild horses with Cotopaxi Volcano in the background. Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador.
Luckily, there is one form of escapism that I can afford right now, and that’s daydreaming. For $0.00 I can take a day-trip anywhere in the world… in my mind. Trust me, I know this will only get me so far (technically, 0 miles away from where I am now), but I’ll take it.
29 won’t be like 28. I WILL go somewhere – mark my words. Right now, I’m trying to weigh my options and figure out where — if I can only afford one trip in two years — WHERE I should go. How does one choose?! My soul is craving the usual spots I’ve been craving for years — Southern Spain, Morocco, Thailand, Tanzania — but life always influences the wanderlust list, and new people, friends’ Facebook photo albums, or random conversations often lead to new travel cravings. Suddenly, I find myself craving the Czech Republic, Croatia, Bosnia, Turkey and Kenya more than ever before.
Wildebeests. Tanzania. Photo by MJ.
So, I need your help. If you are experiencing wanderlust right now (and I KNOW you are!), please share your wanderlust list. Where, if anywhere in the world, would you want to go right now? If you want to suggest a place for me to go, or recommend a place you’ve been, please do so as a comment. This blog might be all I have for a few more months, so wherever it is you want to go, please take TwT with you.
It was time to leave the city. A slight coolness in the air coupled with the constant threat of drizzle kept bikinis and towels at bay, but M, M and I were headed on a little North Shore adventure, and a little rain couldn’t stop us. In fact, it was a quintessential New England day — unapologetically overcast, a bit dreary, but promising, nonetheless.
Lobster Traps. North Shore, MA.
Despite living in Somerville for a couple months now, I had yet to feel the rugged charm of the New England coast. It’s still summer afterall, and honestly, I couldn’t stand the wait anymore. Luckily, a friend suggested a little day-trip adventure to the North Shore (the “Nahth Shahr” — does that sound like a Boston accent when you say it? Well, SORRY, I tried…).
Boats. North Shore, MA.
The day would begin with a lovely ride out to Essex, where we would kick things off with the most New England-y summer-y thing I can think of: fried seafood, lobster, blueberry beer, and Chardonnay at Woodman’s — an old school North Shore restaurant that began with Lawrence “Chubby” Woodman’s fried clams in 1916. When we arrived, we pulled into a parking lot beside a little creek, where people quietly kayaked by, and the sky stayed safely on the brink of not-raining. As we rounded the entrance of the restaurant, my big plan to devour obscene amounts of fried seafood was quickly replaced with my summer bucket-list goal: lobstah. Tough life, I know.
Fried Seafood, Chardonnay, and Lobstah. Essex, MA.
I chose my little lobster, grabbed a bib, a dish of butter, and some packets of wet-wipes, and headed into the restaurant. It was only slightly after noon, but our plates were stacked high with lobster, onion rings, fried clams, fried shrimp, and fried lots-of-other-stuff I couldn’t exactly identify. It felt like we were in the restaurant of a ship, docked at the shore, eating amongst the North Shore’s LL Bean-clad locals as well as the ship’s staff. Sure, I didn’t feel like I looked the same, dressed the same, or ate the same way as the rest of ’em, but a plastic cup of chardonnay and a sip or two of Sea Dog’s Blueberry Wheat beer brought me back to the Bowdoin days in Brunswick, ME, where I always felt oddly at home. Maybe it’s my partially New England blood… Honestly, between the company, the food, and the in-your-face-New-Englandness of the place, I couldn’t have been happier.
Sitting by the Creek. Essex, MA.
Once you stuff your face with that much seafood, it is important to sit like a fat piece of lard on a wooden bench by a creek. So, that is what we did. The glow of summer’s first lobster, and of course the chardonnay, had me in a happy and light summery place. In fact, I was happy as… a clam. Har har. (GET IT?! Too obvious, huh?)
Steps. Rockport, MA.
The day continued with a trip to the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, which had a beautiful courtyard and exhibits that stuck to the theme of the day: you guessed it — The North Shore. If you’ve never gone to a museum slightly tipsy, you should try it. Just don’t touch anything… And try not to giggle too much. (Oops.)
Sculpture. Cape Ann Museum courtyard.
It was a matter of time before the sky gave in, and rain drops escorted us along our walk through the adorable coastal town of Rockport which, over a hundred years ago, was used primarily as a source of timber for ship building (as well as fishing, obviously), but is now bustling with strudel, fudge, bikini, jewelry, and pretty adorable one-of-a-kind ice cream shops.
Doggy in a Window. Rockport, MA.
It felt appropriate to be in my black, Gortex rain jacket as we strolled through the town, to a pier where we spent a good 45 minutes or so just savoring the sea, the boats, and the jagged rocks sprawled out beneath us like a bunch of still, bathing sealions.
Boats. Rockport Harbor. Rockport, MA.
The day was satisfying in a way that cannot be planned; good people, hearty local food, and the rugged mix of fishermen and wealthy New England vacationers swirled me into a North Shore swoon that took me as far away as I needed to be for the day, despite barely having gone anywhere.
Sun Setting in Rockport, MA.
Every now and then, when you travel (it could be near, it could be far), something happens that reminds you to appreciate the people you’re with, the day you’ve just had, and the moment you’re all in. Just when we thought a good day was ending, as we drove away from Rockport, we caught a quick glimpse of a rainbow springing out from behind a cemetery.
Yes. A fucking RAINBOW. So, M — our lovely driver and the mastermind behind this trip did something that I think most people wouldn’t do. Without discussing it, he made a very quick decision to pull over onto the side of the road, and stop the car. One by one, we got out, ran a bit carelessly across the road, stood beside the brick wall to the cemetery and looked at the large, beautiful rainbow that streamed mysteriously out from behind the trees.
Rainbow. Rockport, MA.
Sometimes, these things just happen; people click, places and timing click, everything stops. And when they do, you’ve just got to pull over and look at the f-ing rainbow that forms. Because it’s beautiful, isn’t it?
Since finishing summer classes last week, I have been trying to balance my desire to completely veg out and have daily Madmen marathons with getting my grad school applications started… and exploring the restaurants, bars and cafes of Cambridge as a free woman (OBVI— it’s still me over here, people — even if I know a thing or two about quantum physics now).
Looking up. Somerville, MA.
For better or worse, my urge to be productive always beats out the urge to be lazy, but a gal can TRY once in a while (I’ve found it doesn’t take much). I’ve already made a lot of additions to the very elaborate grad school application spreadsheet I’ve been maintaining, and I may or may not have written a rough draft of my personal statement essay in one burst of inspiration (now that I finally know the topic). I’ve registered for fall classes and labs, run around town rushing health insurance documents out before quickly approaching deadlines, and I’m working on volunteer, or even potential paid PT Aide positions for the fall. I guess getting some free time these days doesn’t directly translate into “vacation,” but there is something to be said for having the time to catch up on all the OTHER stuff we have to do to stay organized. Of course, there is a lot more to do — it’s called being an adult, and you all know what that’s like — but the best complement to hard work is easy fun. Lots of it. That’s how I feel about THAT.
Luckily, I have some great friends who have been treating me very well and introducing me to new places to celebrate being free, or just enjoy the simple things about summer (sitting outside in the afternoon with a Hefeweizen, strolling by the river, impromptu oysters, and sangria…). It’s time to pause and acknowledge a few more of these places, and add them to my TwT Boston list. [Warning: I have discovered Instagram (I was slow to warm up to it), and I’m not afraid to use it…]
EMMA’S: There was something special about this place from the moment we first walked in. I’m not sure if it was the Indie-vibe, the dim lighting, or the extremely friendly host (who even moved us to a better table after seating us at one, acknowledging his own preference for the second table and aiming to please two already content customers). The cozy spot is like a hug from a best friend; you get the comfort of delicious thin crust pizza (with the usual spattering of toppings to choose from — and even some unusual options, such as dried cranberries, artichoke hearts and sweet potatoes), accompanied by the edge of a good sangria. Meanwhile, the kind of music that breeds nostalgia plays just loud enough in the background, making one of the colorful chairs an easy place to get comfortable. Emma’s is a great low-key date spot, but it could also be the dinner sanctuary that you run to in the middle of a cold winter, when you want a badass pizza and a good glass of red wine before turning in for the night and watching movies. Pencil me in for many more visits and slices as the temperature in this town slowly drops. I’m not sure who Emma is, but I think we should be friends.
FLOUR BAKERY: Before leaving New York, I wondered outloud where I might find a good bakery in Cambridge. My friend looked at me and said one word: Flour. The name remained a distant fantasy, as I found less and less time and more and more need to treat myself to something yummy during the nonstop cyclone of physics work. At long last, I got to go there today, and I haven’t stopped thinking about my breakfast since. While not in the most scenic spot (I went to the one between Kendall and Central Squares), the cafe itself is just right for a constantly coming-and-going ground. I tried the breakfast sandwich — a surprisingly artistic souffle-like square egg on a delicious homemade roll, with just the right amount of dijon mustard, arugula, and a slice of tomato. I opted for bacon (it always seems to win the ham vs bacon battle) and even the bacon was a standout on its own. But the constant dilemma of savory vs sweet had me in a pickle, so I decided to share (I promise!) the seductive sticky bun as well. It may have just been the best sticky bun I have ever had. Somewhere between that egg sandwich, the bacon and the sticky bun, I found myself lost in a perfect breakfast. I guess all I can do now is go back and sample everything else on the menu, one delicious treat at a time… Who’s coming with me?!
Breakfast at Flour Bakery. Cambridge, MA.
THE CHARLES RIVER: For me, “The Charles” has always been synonymous with “rowing.” Rowing rowing rowing, Head of the Charles, and rowing. Most of my trips to Boston during college were to cheer on the Bowdoin crew as it raced (and sometimes won) “the world’s largest 2-day rowing event,” according to the HOCR website. But only recently did I have the opportunity to walk beside it as afternoon and evening slowly blended together. Seeing sailboats and the river in a slightly different light, in a slightly different mood, with a slightly different life made me appreciate it in a whole new way. For me, nothing does it like summertime strolls by the water… And maybe a little booze wouldn’t stop this moment from getting even better.
Boats int he summer. Charles River. Cambridge, MA.
As you can see, I’ve gotten some stuff done, and I’ve purposefully NOT gotten some stuff done in the past week. We talked a lot about balance in physics this summer — from the constant forces acting upon an object in static equilibrium, to the force of microscopic photons bouncing electrons off of things (ok, so I may know a little more about this than it sounds like I do, but you don’t strike me as the physics-loving crowd…). What I hope to accomplish with the last few weeks of summer — my entire summer, in a sense — is just more of the same; I want to be productive, but also be completely and totally, beautifully, wonderfully unproductive once in a while. Is that too much to ask?
In life, it seems we must always choose between savory and sweet, or try to balance the two. And then sometimes, we don’t get to choose at all.
(This song has been stuck in my head since my last workout…It is just the right amount of angry.)
Ahh, the finish line. We all know it in one form or another. The finish line is where the pain gets swallowed up by something beautiful. It is where hard work makes sense, where anything — no matter how painful — becomes worth it. The finish line is where suffering can be temporarily forgotten and quickly condensed into something tangible and complete. It is where a feeling of accomplishment erases the endless and sometimes frustrating path it took to get there.
Steps. Somerville, MA.
Crossing the finish line is the sweet culmination of so many hours, days, weeks of determination. A line as thin as thread can be the barrier between two worlds of emotion. Finishing is the moment when nothing else matters but giving those last steps, strokes, pedals, spins, twists, pushes, and landings everything you’ve got. The finish line is the justification for all the blood, sweat and tears you put into something; it is the medal everyone earns just for trying, for pushing oneself hard enough to get there in the first place. When you are one step away from that line, there is nothing else in the world — no gold, no bronze, no As, no C+s, no questions, no what ifs, no should haves, would haves, could haves… There is just you and that line, and of course, the other side of it.
Do Not Something… Old Town Quito, Ecuador.
I’m on that other side now. What I thought would be a sprint turned out to be a marathon. There’s been something almost poetic about spending the last couple weeks of my 7-Week Intensive Physics course sweating it out alongside all those beautiful Olympian, sacrificing nights out with friends, last-minute trips to get ice cream, and all the bliss of summer. I definitely don’t get a medal for anything I’m doing, but man does it feel good just to finish.
Another academic mountain has been climbed. Another challenge, faced. It might not be the kind of mountain that looks pretty in pictures, but Physics is my mountain now, and I am finally standing on top of it, looking around at the view, acknowledging the burn and sacrifice it took to get here. What can I say? This was probably the hardest academic venture I have ever taken on and now it is behind me. I am exhausted. I am relieved. I am DONE. We all know how that feels…
Argentinean girl in my tram, on the way up to the top of Pichincha, overlooking the city of Quito (15,500 ft above sea level — halfway to cruising altitude in an airplane).
Pretty fucking awesome.
Now, back to real life! I have restaurants, museums, beaches and bars to explore, friends to see, books to read, sun rays to absorb, and Olympic finals to watch. For the last 7 weeks, I’ve had to give up just about every form of fun I know in order to pursue a bigger dream. It may have felt like torture at times, but the struggle to get here makes crossing the finish line, and all that is here, on the other side, that much more wonderful.
I’ll get back to exploring Boston and silly blogging later. For now, allow me to just stop, catch my breath, and savor the burn of a hard race. It’s only a matter of time before the fight to cross this finish line is forgotten and replaced with a new one.
Also, while I’m relating life to the Olympics, how about you enjoy one of my favorite Olympic stories (the Kerri Strug story), for inspiration. I remember watching this happen. I eventually got to meet Kerri Strug at Chelsea Piers in NYC, where I was practicing gymnastics myself. I always hated the vault (I was an uneven parallel bars girl — that was my jam). This story gets me every time…
As I wake up for yet another physics-filled day, I can’t help but fantasize about making a break for it, and running/flying/getting away from all the incredibly hard work… The easy route is always tempting, but it’s never as thrilling (right… RIGHT?! Now is when you convince me this is true…). My creative spirit feels a little like a caged bird, or a plant that flowers in summer but has to be kept in the basement this year. My brain is mush, I’m exhausted, and I’m just about to hit the halfway point in the most intense course I’ve ever taken (and I complained last year? HA!).
View. Sint Maarten. Netherlands Antilles.
But don’t worry! I’m used to dealing with this urge to escape every now and then. It’s in my blood. While I must be patient, I’m so looking forward to getting my time back to play with as I wish. (Only 4 weeks to go!) But just because I’m stuck in physics molasses (don’t get me started on drag forces…), that doesn’t mean my mind has to stay completely still. That’s the thing about wanderlust…
Horse statue. Rome, Italy.
A few years ago, we put together what has now become a pretty out-dated list of “Ultimate Travel Songs.” So, as a pleasant distraction for me and a fun opportunity for you, it is time to refresh this list with new music! I will now request that you — once again — provide me with a list of your CURRENT favorite travel songs. Again, this is not about judging people’s musical sensibilities; it is escapism through sound, wanderlust through music, a chance to get that excited little flutter in your heart that you (I?) get when you realize you’re headed somewhere foreign, and it feels like anything is possible. It’s that feeling on an airplane, when you take out your headphones because the captain announces you’re about to make the descent — the long trip somewhere is over, and you’re almost there. It’s that energy you get when you’re in a car with friends about to pull up to your first beach vacation of the summer and music is blasting through the speakers. It’s that stream of steady sound that accompanies you as you walk to work everyday, contemplating your next vacation, your love life, your hopes and dreams…
Prayers outside a shrine. Tokyo, Japan.
OK ok, you get the idea. Now don’t be shy!
Lantern in Sultan’s bathroom. Topkapi Palace. Istanbul, Turkey.
Please leave, as a comment, a list of 1 to 5 songs (with title and artist) that form the soundtrack for some sort of getaway — whether it is a getaway in your mind while you sit for another day in your sub-zero office chair wondering how to get out, an actual playlist you would play on your way to a perfect beach weekend, or a song that you listen to during a long flight to that new country you’ve been anticipating for years…
Guard outside Topkapi Palace. Istanbul, Turkey.
Once I have a decent list, I will add it to my “Music” tab with YouTube videos for every song. If you don’t do this for yourself, do it for me! I need new music, I need to daydream, and I need TwT to take me away from science, at least for a little while…
The lawnmower roars next door as a sweet, grassy summer breeze floats through my bedroom. It’s all becoming home, more and more each day, and my daily explorations of the neighborhood and all its surrounding Squares (Porter, Davis, Harvard, Union, Inman) is beginning to pay off.
I wouldn’t exactly call myself a local just yet, but I’m beginning to shed some of my New York skin. For example, I try not to walk around with my usual “don’t fuck with me” face (feel free to ask to see this some day, it’s obviously really intimidating though, so consider yourself warned). I smile at strangers sometimes. I even whisper the words “slow down” to myself when I’m walking (sometimes).
Life moves at a very different pace in this town (oops, I mean city – sorry Somerville/Cambridge!) and, even though I’m used to a much faster pace, I think I’m beginning to catch up in this land of less intensity.
By now I’ve discovered some promising little Somerville spots, which I’d like to share with you before the Physics storm hits (yes, this would be “the calm”). Here is a short list of 5 places that have made me smile in one way or another, so far.
Statue in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Union Square Farmers Market – Sure, in NYC I had the (dare I say “real?”) Union Square Farmer’s Market… so I can’t exactly say this is a first. But these farmer’s markets are very different. I always dreamed of living somewhere where I could walk to a farmer’s market every Saturday and stock up on freshly baked breads, excessive amounts of leafy greens, and things I never cook with, such as rhubarb, just because I can. Now, this weekly outing will become a part of my life. Yes, there are great sources of fresh, local produce in NYC. But, for better or worse, my Saturday mornings usually led me to some delicious brunch spot instead. Having a weekly farmer’s market within walking distance is my little country fantasy coming to life! (YES, I know I am not in the “country” — give me a little more credit, people!) The Union Square Farmer’s Market might not be very big (by NYC standards), but I can still buy overpriced bags of spinach, wild flowers, or local strawberries, and end up with way more than I need for the week. Maybe a Saturday morning trip to the farmer’s market will begin to replace my intense Saturday brunch tradition. When in Somerville…
Casa B– The first night I met one of my roommates, she and her Romanian boyfriend took me to Casa B. Casa B is everything I never thought I’d find “just down the street.” This newish, trendy restaurant is an interesting contrast to the somewhat off-beat little neighborhood (Union Square) full of Brazilians and Koreans. But the Latin-flare tapas restaurant quickly won me over when I walked inside; it was a modern and sleek upstairs, with fresh white tables and stylish details, but more sultry and seductive downstairs — although still comfortable enough for a gathering of friends. I was immediately satisfied with its delicious orangey sangria and a summery fava bean spread, which we generously applied to plantain chips and devoured alongside a revolving selection of tapas (the most memorable of which was the tabla de ceviches and a special vegetarian dish full of fresh, local legumes and wasabi-yuca). The place earned bonus points for having kalimotxo — a very common and popular drink in Barcelona, which consists of red wine, Coca Cola, and a splash of grenadine. While the bill added up (as it always does when ordering tapas), I’d come back here the next time I have something to celebrate… Or, just because.
3 Little Figs – One of my favorite treats is an adorable cafe. This little spot is as cute as its name. While I have yet to sample its salads, sandwiches and baked goods (I know, I know… how can I even put it on the list already!?), I did sample its chai — and it passed with flying colors. Not to mention, the staff was friendly, the ambience was happy, sunny, and bright — perfect for hanging out alone or meeting a friend for coffee, and I love that it is small enough that you know you’re somewhere precious, but available enough that I can people-watch out the big glass windows (the very few people who pass by) from a solid high chair, with my chai at my side, and my physics textbook in front of me. An hour of sitting will bring in just enough customers that I am neither distracted, nor bored. And the lighthearted vibe ensures that — even if I’m studying — I’ll be happy.
Bloc 11 – This is “that cafe” that I always want to have nearby — the one with the good coffee, the hipster on his Macbook in the corner (ok, maybe that’s not a requirement), and a mean salad (I already have a favorite — the Wisteria, which consists of hard boiled egg, pear, caramelized onion, dried cranberries and almonds topped with blue cheese and a pomegranate vinaigrette). Bloc 11 is going to be one of my regular spots for studying, or meeting a friend for an iced tea. That, I can promise.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – OK fine, this is in Boston not directly in Somerville, but it is going on the list anyway because I can’t NOT mention it. When my roommate described The Gardner Museum, she gave me a good idea of what to expect. It was enough to get me to go, without ever having heard of it (but apparently everyone else has). The second I walked in, it hit every love-of-humanities-and-art chord in my science-filled soul that I didn’t even know I was looking to hit. The museum is absolutely wonderful; the Moorish architecture, the impressive collection of Italian art… It’s truly a remarkable place, and I felt temporarily transported to Venice and Southern Spain while I wandered the many rooms of the palace (yep, I said palace). Built in the home of the New York City-turned Bostonian socialite, Isabella Stewart Gardner, it houses her private collection of art – and a very eclectic one at that. There is plenty more to say about the museum and the art, and probably Isabella, but I’d rather you check it out for yourself. This is going to be the museum I recommend to everyone who visits me in Boston from now on. You might as well put it on your itinerary.
Side view of El Morro, in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
OK, I need to dash out in the sun. Since it feels like Brazil weather out there, here’s a little music to get you in the sweaty, Brazilian summer mood. Eat a mango, play this song, and keep the AC off — we wait all year for this heat, so no complaining! Happy summer, everyone!
This morning marks my second morning here in Beantown, and I have to say: so far so good! Despite the four flash thunderstorms since I arrived (one so powerful I think it was right above the house!), it’s been a really nice 41 hours. I definitely feel like I’m in another world than I am used to. Waking up at 5am to the loud bird songs and going to sleep to crickets is not exactly the “white noise” I’m used to in Manhattan, but I slept like a little angel these past two nights (until 5am at least) — and I look forward to more of that!
Living in Somerville makes me feel a little like I’m in the suburbs, or at least in some up-and-coming area of Queens. I’m a little farther away from public transportation than I am used to (a 15 minute walk up/downhill), but at least there is public transportation at all. There is a whole network of buses that I’ll eventually have to figure out, but I’ll get to that. Honestly, I like accidental exercise so adding a 15 minute walk uphill everyday makes me happy. I mean, whose ass doesn’t need a hill once in a while?
Rainstorm over Quito. View from my apartment in Quito, Ecuador..
I always seem to end up on the top of a hill when I move. If not on top of an actual hill, then on the top floor of a walk-up apartment. In Quito, which is built into a valley, my street — Guanguiltagua (pronounced “wanwuiltawua” if you want to sound more like a local Quiteno) was two streets down from the outter-most ring of streets. Think of the city as a circular stadium or arena, and my street was the second-to-last row of seats all the way at the top (btw, do you know that the word “arena” comes from the latin word “harena” — “arena” is Spanish for “sand” — which referred to a fine sand that was good at absorbing blood and used to fill the floor of stadiums like the Colosseum in Rome? BOOM. Now you do!). The nice thing about living way up at the top of the city was the incredible view, and getting to watch the daily rain or hail storm approach from the southern end of the city, or watching the sunset over the Andes mountains. It was a stunning, daily show, and I will never forget the beauty that I saw while living high in the mountains of South America. There were so many days when I would just sit in my living room watching the weather pass through the mountains like some sort of constantly changing parade…
But back to Boston. Unlike the hill in Quito, which was a straight-up ascent at 9,400 feet and left many of my visitors huffing and puffing through the thin air, this hill I now live on is short and sweet, but definitely noticeable. I have to say — I didn’t expect Somerville to be as pretty as it is. Sure, it helps that June is a favorable month to live in a quieter area (let’s not talk about Boston winter yet). But really — the houses are adorable; no two are exactly the same, each is a slightly different color, with unique details/accents that are special to a girl who has been surrounded by too many buildings lately. Maybe I’m giving Somerville too much credit, because I’m new and everything is a little exciting and different, but I really am excited to be here and try this whole house-thing out.
Sunset over Quito. View from my apartment in Quito, Ecuador. Real life colors — nothing altered/enhanced.
Yes, I have never lived in an actual house (long-term). I’m not used to having a backyard, and despite the two beautiful days that have gone by, I have yet to do more than stare at the backyard and smile knowing that I have it. But today I hope to actually go out there and enjoy it, maybe for a stretch before/after my run around the neighborhood. Maybe to help my new roommate with the gardening she plans to do this morning…
Butterfly. Dutchess County, NY.
Of course, it has only been one full day here, so this post is just a net to quickly capture that first impression before it escapes. I can’t believe I live here now. I can’t believe that after a thunderstorm, I get to hear frogs croaking, and after a long day, I get to walk through a peaceful neighborhood without getting caught up in the tangled energy of many other people’s rat races. I love NYC, I really do. And yes, I’m a city girl. I like being able to order Tibetan food at 11pm if I wanted, or wander into a gallery because it’s on my way home from the gym. I’m used to being able to grab a bagel at the 24-hr deli downstairs if I need it, and choose any type of food I feel like and have it in my mouth within an hour. But this “almost-that” is worth trying. This slightly calmer environment is worth sampling, before the roughness of NYC and all that comes with it makes me forget the alternatives.
Right now, as I type, bells from a nearby church are playing “Amazing Grace.” An American flag waves next to the house next door. There are Virgin Mary statuettes in front of many of the homes on my street. The next door neighbors sit on the front steps of their house, smoking cigarettes while one guy sips a Red Bull, their Boston accents thick and proud. The birds have calmed down since 5am. The frogs are quiet, for now. And I am sipping my coffee at my new desk, thinking… I like it here.
Rachel Tavel, DPT, CSCS, is a published travel writer turned Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). She earned her BA in Spanish and Archaeology from Bowdoin College and her DPT from NYU.
After Bowdoin, Tavel interned at American Express Publishing, where she worked with Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Executive Travel, Departures, and Centurion magazines.
In 2007, she co-authored the Frommer's guidebook, "MTV Best of Mexico" (Wiley Publishing, 2007), for which she wrote the Acapulco, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, and Taxco chapters.
From late 2006 to early 2010, Tavel served as the editor of an independent school's annual magazine. In addition, she worked as an editor and writer for the VIVA Travel Guides to Argentina, Quito and Guatemala. Her photography has been published in Everywhere magazine and the VIVA Guides to Quito and Argentina.
After a six-month stint working as a staff writer for VIVA Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, Tavel returned to the US to fulfill the 10 pre-med pre-requisites (at NYU and Harvard Extension School) to apply to Doctor of Physical Therapy programs.
In 2013, Tavel was admitted to NYU's Doctor of Physical Therapy program. She graduated in 2016. While there, Tavel became a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and earned her certification in basic mat Pilates.
In addition to working as a physical therapist, Tavel contributes to various blogs about health/fitness/wellness, including the Huffington Post and Bustle.com. [See "Tavel Links" for more information.]
Last but not least, Tavel is writing a travel memoir about her adventures as a twenty-something career-changer... Stay tuned!
In the World:
Argentina, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Nevis, Portugal, Spain, St. Kitt's, St. Maarten, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA, Vatican City.
In the US:
Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina,Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia.