Castine, Maine

Castine, Maine

One of the best things about my job is the way it lets me see new places in New England with not just ease, but encouragement. Earlier this summer, I journeyed the Maine mid-coast for some story research and blogging opportunities, and was lucky enough to spend the night in lovely, historic Castine, Maine.

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Washington Square Park Arch NYC

New York City 2015 | 10 Photos

Early last Friday, John and I packed up the car and headed to New York City for the weekend. Normally when I say that, what I really mean is Brooklyn, because that’s where a good chunk of our best friends and John’s brother relocated to (what felt like) en-masse five years ago, but this time our destination was truly Manhattan proper.

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budapest opera house ceiling

Eastern European Adventure | Budapest

The final stop on my trip was Budapest, the capital city of Hungary. Cut down the middle by the Danube River, the city consists of hilly Buda on the west bank and flat Pest on the east, and is often described as “the Paris of the east.” The city has a unique atmosphere that’s the result of its own independent spirit plus the contributions from its Roman, Turkish, and Austrian-influenced past.

If I’m being honest, I have to say that, while I liked Budapest, I did find it to be  the most unfriendly of the places I visited, but at least I managed to get through my visit without falling down (unless dropping your camera down a flight of concrete stairs counts). I should also note that the biggest tourist attraction in Budapest are its Turkish-style thermal baths, and (I am ashamed to say) I missed seeing them! Sometimes there’s just not enough time for it all.

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Eastern European Adventure | Krakow

At this rate, I won’t be done recapping this trip for another few months, but if you’re still reading, that means you’ll likely bear with me. The holidays, binge-watching BBC series on Netflix, and my job (which includes a lot of blogging) might have prevented me from getting these out before the year ended, but get them out I shall!

Let’s move on to my favorite city of the bunch – beautiful Krakow, Poland. I feel a little bad saying I preferred it over Prague, which I also loved, but there was just something about Krakow’s compact quaintness and the Polish people who charmed me to the core, starting with its beautiful main market square.

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The train platform at Birkeneau.

Eastern European Adventure | Auschwitz-Birkenau

Leaving the Czech Republic behind, we crossed into southern Poland and made our way towards Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest and perhaps best known of the Nazi concentration and death camps. From its beginnings in 1940 as a detention center for political prisoners, the camp grew from one site to many, where it’s estimated that at least 1.1 million prisoners died — around 90 percent of them Jewish. Today, the Polish government operates the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum at the site.

As you’d imagine, visiting Auschwitz is a powerful, emotional, and thought-provoking experience that feels almost uncomfortable to describe from my 2014 lapsed-Catholic American perch, so I’m not going to try. Instead, I’m just going to share what I saw and learned.

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Kutná Hora Bone Church

Eastern European Adventure | Kutna Hora Bone Church and Olomouc

On my final morning in Prague I met up with the tour group that I’d be with for the remainder of my trip. We were a large group (maybe 35) composed mostly of Australians and New Zealanders, and while I was hoping to find some nice people to chat with on the bus and at our group dinners, I ended up meeting some truly lovely people who I want to keep in touch with thanks to the magic of the internet — just a terrific group! What luck!

Our first stop after leaving Prague was Sedlec Ossuary, a small Roman Catholic chapel located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutna Hora. It might have looked unassuming from the outside…

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prague charles bridge night

Eastern European Adventure | Prague

Sometime last spring I decided to stop whining about wanting to go on a “big trip” and booked something. From the moment I chose the beauty and history of Eastern Europe to the moment my flight was booked took about 12 hours. I knew I would have a few days alone in Prague, and then meet up with a tour group that would head east into Krakow, Poland and then down into Budapest, Hungary with plenty of stops along the way, but beyond that, planning was minimal. I bought a few books, because that’s part of the fun, but despite thorough readings and one active Pinterest board I just couldn’t make anything stick in my head. I’d find myself wondering “Which city has the baths again? Which one came out of WWII mostly unscathed? Which one serves a lot of pork knuckle?” (FYI – the answer to that last question is basically “All of them”) but I couldn’t connect the fact with the city. Finally, I just gave up and dedicated myself to assembling a monochromatic wardrobe and researching which pocket point-and-shoot camera to buy. FYI this ended up being a Canon  Powershot S110 — ain’t no way I was going to lug a DSLR around for 2 weeks.

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Nantucket Visit

Visiting Nantucket feels like going back in time, but only if you took a moment first to strap on a pair of dock sliders and tie a sweater around your shoulders.  It’s definitely “that kind of place”, but if you took a moment to learn about the island’s past, you might be more inclined to pick up a harpoon.

I’ll get to that in a minute.

Nantucket is, quite simply, absolutely beautiful.  It is the only place in the country that is an island, a county, and a town.  Time seems to have passed by its nearly 50 square miles south of Cape Cod.  The entire island is considered a historic district, and contains one of the highest concentrations of pre-Civil War structures in the nation. 

John and I spent a few days there last week, and during our brief visit the island lived up to its nickname of “The Grey Lady.”  It was foggy and overcast the whole time, but since the rain held off I will not complain.

We stayed at the lovely downtown Jared Coffin House.

We left the car at home and stuck to our feet and maps.

Meals were plentiful, tasty and no frills.  Emphasis on breakfast.  Please note that I now order maple walnut ice cream.  Getting ready to turn the big 3-0 in August means veering towards “mature” ice cream flavors.

We rented bicycles.  With baskets.

And headed out to Madaket Beach.

Nantucket was considered the “Whaling Capital of the World” from 1800 to 1840, when there were as many as 88 Nantucket whaling ships sailing around the globe. 

We visited Nantucket’s top-notch Whaling Museum with a sperm whale weathervane on the roof, and a skeleton of a sperm whale that died off the coast of the island in 1998.  Check out the wall of sad historical harpoons underneath the bones.  We watched a 40-minute presentation entitled “The Whale Hunt” – and I have to say, despite the fact that I get emotional when I see a bug caught in a spider’s web, it was so well-done and so interesting.  For such a tiny place, Nantucket championed the whaling industry, and you can’t go more than a few feet on the island today without seeing the image of a whale on a sign or sweatshirt.

The museum also has a whole display case of scrimshaw pie-crimpers!  To read more about the museum and the story of how they got the whale bones on display, check out this article.

Reds and greys  are prevalent around downtown Nantucket.

You know I love a good thrift store, so I was very excited to learn that the downtown Nantucket Hospital Thrift Shop was opening for the season while I was there.  You might not think the annual opening of a thrift store would be a big deal (I didn’t, especially not on well-off Nantucket) but the line was down the street!  Despite the tight quarters inside (spanning three floors of an old house, including a basement with very low ceilings) I managed to pick up a good amount of loot, including some kitchen wares – my favorite!

I got a green Tupperware pickle storage container, some Pyrex prep bowls and a small bowl in the Wheat pattern, along with a vintage pie server.  Grand total?  $4.00. 

I also picked up some cookbooks, scarves, and 1950’s Christmas ornaments. 

It was a lovely few days.  Many of the bartenders (always the best people for info) told us to come back in late September when the weather is gorgeous, the crowds are light, and the island hosts a Restaurant Week!  Perhaps this would be a fun group weekend?  Weigh in, fellow local food bloggers!

I should also note that this trip included seeing Bill Belichick eating a cheeseburger.  I was pretty impressed that John recognized his voice before he even looked up to confirm his identity.  Sports!