Burlington, Vermont

We visited Burlington, Vermont on the coldest days of the winter. And from what we’ve heard those cold temperatures were rare even for Vermont standards. It was like we hit the lottery of the coldest days. Yay. Despite the chill, we managed to survive and enjoy ourselves in this town on the shores of Lake Champlain.

We drove north on Wednesday, the first day of the year (Happy New Year!), and we made it to Burlington in four hours. We kept the driving speed low, and we had to stop a couple of times to clear the windshield, as the Golf’s washer nozzles weren’t working–they were either frozen, or the pump had died. The mountains we were driving through were covered with snow. The sky was pale blue with interesting cloud formations. And it was cold, about -1F by the time we reached Burlington.

H. had kept the place we were staying a surprise for me; he kept saying that it was sort of a Motel 7, as in “a slightly better version of a Motel 6”. Of course he was joking, as he has excellent taste (I mean, seriously, look who he is dating *cough, cough*), and he booked us a room at this amazing bed and breakfast called Made Inn Vermont (okay, the name is not that amazing, but anyway…). The place was beautifully decorated in a whimsical way, free of floral patterns and other decor associated with your typical inn. Our room was pretty big, and it featured a record player with a decent record collection, a guitar and a ukulele, books, a black wall where you could create your own chalk art and LED lights around the bed.

We spent a little bit of time at the inn, there were so many cool things to see and explore. Everything was tastefully put together. I really liked the art on the walls, made by the owner’s daughter: acrylic/ink drawings with a screen over them which gave them a ghostly character, same with the monochrome grey/black framed rectangulars along the hallway by the staircase. Slightly spooky and dark. The common sitting room downstairs was beautiful and it was connected to the breakfast area. Linda, the owner (who by the way also decorated the inn) offered us sangria, Heady Toppers and other snacks, which was nice.

We braved the -1F, feels like -19F temperatures and walked the couple of blocks to Church Street, a pedestrian way lined with stores and restaurants. Since it was New Year’s Day most places were closed. But we did check out the record store, the book store and another store selling all things Vermont. We had tea at Dobra Tea (I had the excellent herbal tea made from local herbs). We then went to dinner at Leunig’s, a French bistro and had an amazing meal. We drank some Glug, their warm holiday punch, which was perfect for the cold weather. I had the salmon with the roasted beet risotto, and H. had the macadamia and yuzo crusted mahi mahi. Both were delicious, and when H. asked the waitress for the recipe for the mahi mahi, she responded with a curt “we don’t give out our recipes”. Oh, well. Leunig’s was one of the dining recommendations from my friend Ryan who grew up in Burlington, so thanks Ryan.

Walking back to the inn in the cold was not pleasant. I was alright overall, but it was difficult to breathe in the cold air. And despite the two pairs of socks and tights, my toes were numb by the time we reached the inn. Our room was warm and cozy, and we chilled out listening to records, despite the owner’s repeated reminder about the available HBO on our TV (I don’t watch TV when I’m home, I am definitely not going to watch TV when I am on vacation).

The second day in Burlington was even colder than the first. Everything outside looked frozen. We had a delicious breakfast to fortify us for the day. We wanted to explore around despite the -11F, feels like -32F temperature. The original plan was to go skiing, but we wouldn’t enjoy it in this chill. We drove to Shelburne Bay Park, and walked for a little bit around in the woods, but it was impossible to stay outside in the brutal wind for longer than 10 minutes.  I sort of liked the look of the frozen bay, looking desolate and devoid of any sound.

We went to Shelburne Farms and our visit was limited to the store, where we sampled cheeses, jams and mustard. I bought the clothbound cheddar and the smoked cheddar, as well as a delicious strawberry rhubarb jam, a spicy honey mustard and maple syrup, all locally produced at the farm. Then we checked out the Shelburne Museum, where only one gallery was open. Since we were the only guests the guide graciously gave us a tour and talked about the exhibits, which included old signs, carriages, doll houses, toys and paintings. The most interesting thing to me was the pentimento effect on one of Browere’s paintings about the adventures of Rip van Winkle: you can see the faded form of the girl behind the dog, pretty neat.

And then it was beer tasting time! Our first stop was Fiddlehead Beer Company, a small and new brewery, where we tasted their three beers, the AltBier, and their two IPAs. Although I am not a big fan of IPAs, especially in the winter, I liked all their beers, and bought some AltBier for myself. After that we headed to Magic Hat, which of course is a much larger brewing company. We took the tour and then tasted some of their beers.  There were a couple of more breweries along the way we could have stopped at, but we were pretty tired. For dinner we went to Trattoria Delia, yes, exactly, an Italian restaurant, that had a beautiful fireplace, and stone and wood interior. By the end of the day I felt like I had gained ten pounds, as we were seemingly eating and drinking the whole day. But then again, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  Thus concluded our second day in Vermont, which also happened to be my birthday. Nice to know I can handle extremely cold temperatures, although being from the Mediterranean I am certainly not designed for them.

And just like that the next day came and it was time to head home. Another good breakfast at the inn, another bloody cold day outside. We drove along Lake Champlain, where we witnessed the pretty neat effect of steaming fog. A little bit more driving around Burlington and the University of Vermont. Then we hit the I-89 south, and that was it, so long Burlington, Vermont. You are beautiful and interesting. We shall be back, some time in the Spring or the Summer when everything around us will be green instead of frozen, and when we can stay outdoors for longer than ten minutes at a time. Au revoir.

(See here for more photos from my trip to Vermont.)

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The blizzard of 2013

The blizzard of 2013 was not technically a blizzard, but it was certainly a big snowstorm with strong winds and 26″ of accumulated snow — in Cambridge at least. (It wasn’t a blizzard because the wind and visibility criteria were not met. “By definition, a blizzard occurs when the following happens: winds reach a sustained speed or frequent gusts of 35 miles per hour at the same time the visibility is at or less than one-quarter mile due to snow or blowing snow.”)

Even before the first snow flake fell we knew it was going to be a big storm. TV, radio, on-line media was going crazy about the storm. And when it comes to weather events I just get sucked into the hype. I normally do not watch much TV, but when there is a storm coming up I can’t get enough of the weather forecasts. I mean, all of the weather forecasts, on every channel, non-stop. But in the end Harvey Leonard on Channel 5 is my trusted weather source. What I didn’t really get into was the name Nemo: I guess the Weather Channel started a thing where they name snowstorms, and this one was named Nemo. Hurricanes do have official names, but to me unofficially starting naming snow storms is a little too much.

The forecast was calling for the storm to start around noon on Friday, so the office closed at 11 a.m. I went to Whole Foods to get a couple of things, and it was so busy, it looked like a Market Basket wannabe. It started snowing lightly on Friday afternoon and intensified on Friday night into Saturday morning. In addition to the standard snow emergency procedures that go with a forecast of 2-foot snow accumulation, the Governor of Massachusetts issued a travel ban starting 4 pm on Friday, virtually banning all travel from all the roads in the State. The ban was largely heeded, and anyone breaking the ban would be subject to $500 fine and up to a year in prison, we were told. Travel ban aside,  I had to go from North Cambridge to Spring Hill in Somerville and back, and I had to drive. So I drove. The streets were eerily quiet, the empty streets coated with snow. I saw people cross country skiing and a few people walking around. Driving down Highland Ave I found a deserted street, with flashing lights of police cruisers and plows, and a couple of lone figures trying to walk against the wind. Thankfully I wasn’t stopped by the police. And even if I were, I had prepared a list of excuses to get away with it.

The winds picked up late Friday night and the snow was coming down heavier. When I got up on Saturday morning everything looked blanketed with snow. Mass. Ave and the bike path were completely covered by seemingly deep snow. It was bright and beautiful. People were walking and cross country skiing along the bike path.

The travel ban was still in effect until Saturday 4 p.m. When I went out for a walk in the afternoon it was quite nice to see people enjoying the snow, kids having a blast. Seven Hills Park at the Davis Square T stop turned into a snowmen park. No cars on the roads meant people on the roads. Walking on the street was much easier than walking on the sidewalks which were pretty much still covered by almost two feet of snow.

The wind drifts created 4 feet high piles at some places. Walking on Highland Ave you could see people had started digging their cars out, cars completely covered with at least a foot of snow. Some side streets looked like they hadn’t been plowed at all. Even where the streets were plowed, the travel lane width was reduced. And trying to clear the snow off sidewalks, driveways and cars did not get any easier as there was no room to put the snow.

I finally made it to Spring Hill in Somerville with my right hand almost frozen. I helped shovel a sidewalk and driveway, and actually that was my first time shoveling.  The snow was light, but still my shoulders and upper back got really sore. And that made me appreciate the fact that my car is parked in a parking garage and the sidewalk around my building is shoveled by a crew.

Later in the evening I walked to Harvard Square, and it was quite something to walk around the quiet city. Everything looked beautiful covered in fresh white snow. But what I enjoyed the most was the silence. Walking everywhere made me think of our ancestors, who at some point in our history did just that, they walked everywhere.

On Sunday things slowly started to return to normal. More plowing, more shoveling, more digging out. Mountains of snow in every intersection made driving and walking dangerous, and you could see dump trucks hauling snow away. It is now raining, so the snow is getting heavier. Most catch basins are under feet of snow, and the streets are already looking messy. This week is supposed to be rather warm and there will be some snow melt, but I wonder how long it will take for the last of the 26″ of snow to go away.

HONK! Festival 2011

This past weekend HONK! invaded Somerville. It was the once-a-year crazy scene with awesome brass and marching bands flooding Davis Square. It was the time of the year when young and old glow joy. HONK! is the festival of activist street bands, and the crowd is invited to participate and show support for the message. What is the message? You can read it here, but by just looking around I could see support for democracy, peace, sharing, the environment. It’s also about participating in the fun, and that’s not really a tough one to do.

It was fun wandering around. By the end of the day Saturday the square was overcome with the smells of HONK!: sweat, multiple varieties of body odor, pot. And then Sunday was the great parade when the bands joined by various groups, march down Mass Ave from Davis Square in Somerville to Harvard Square in Cambridge. You see policemen, Mayors, cross-dressers, people on stilts, people-wheels (you know, like a hamster-wheel but with people instead of hamsters). You see weird, you see crazy, but it is all fun and it is all good. HONK! is just another thing that make me love my neighborhood.

I took some photographs, you can see the full set here.

Hey Look!

It only took me four months to post these Chihuly photos on flickr! Back in May, I visited the Dale Chihuly exhibition ‘Through The Looking Glass’ at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was big, flashy, loud and glassy. And sometimes it was impressive. You would go in, look around, take photos, exit through the gift shop, spend money on Chihuly-approved merchandise. I did all the above with the exception of spending money. I took some photos with my other than the iPhone camera, you know, a real camera, and in typical fashion I procrastinated seemingly forever to review, edit and upload them.

So, yes, now that the exhibition is over, a month after the chaotic last days when the lines stretched all around the museum block and people waited for hours to see it, now that no one cares anymore, I have posted the photos on flickr (you can click here for the slideshow). Here are some of my favorites:

May 21, 2011: The Rapture Snubbed Us, The PorchFest Rocked Us

Saturday May 21, 2011 was supposed to be Judgement Day. The day when the world as we know it was going to end. But it didn’t. The Rapture completely snubbed Harold Camping’s prediction. We woke up on that day happy to see that is was, in fact, a glorious day. After a week of cloudy and rainy weather we were ready to have our faces and bodies warmed up by the sun. At some point I thought that the Rapture might have happened indeed and I ended up in Heaven: the gorgeous weather and the hot shirtless guys running around were a proof of my transition. Alas, I was still bound by gravity and my own imperfections.

And that was alright. That same day PorchFest was going on around Somerville. PorchFest is a decentralized celebration where musicians play on porches. Turns out there are lots of musicians residing in Somerville, which meant that there were many little parties happening all over the city. The weather was perfect and the ideal way to check out as many porches as possible must have been to bike around the city.  Due to a late start I didn’t visit many venues, but reading the bands/musicians named I decided I had to check out The Rapture Day Ramblers. How aptly named for the day! They were playing on a porch across the street from the Nave Gallery. When we got there they had just starting playing a lovely unplugged set of bluegrass music. People starting coming by to listen. Interesting crowd, families with young children, hipsters, bikers. The guy next to me sat cross-legged on the sidewalk. He was wearing a bow-tie, button down shirt, bermuda shorts, boat shoes, and sported a modified fauxhawk. At some point he took a beer bottle and a glass out of his messenger bag and started drinking. I got a little jealous. Another guy was wearing a ‘Worcester: Paris of the Eighties’ T-shirt. The scene in Somerville was definitely rocking the Rapture.

FAST Light at MIT

This past weekend of May 7 and 8 the MIT campus in Cambridge and the Charles River got illuminated by many quirky art installations. It was FAST Light, the finale of the three-month-long festival of Art + Science + Technology at MIT.  On Sunday I walked around the campus, enjoyed the scene and the neat art pieces,  and took some photos.

Liquid Archive

voltaDom

Light Drift

String Tunnels


Low Resolution

Oh, the evolution of the image quality through the history of photography: We started in low resolution and monochrome. Then we strove for higher resolutions and color. We went from cameras obscura to film to digital. We created heavy lenses with complex glass systems. We wanted more megapixels, we came to despise the grainy image, we wanted it to be crystal clear.

Then we became overcome with nostalgia of the grainy image. We went back to shooting film. Then we realized our cell phones took low resolution photos. We became obsessed with the faux-vintage look. We used and abused camera phone applications that give that certain look to our photos, we couldn’t get enough of applying the preset filters. We still want our phones to come with cameras with more megapixels to capture clear images, only to reject the clarity in editing and post-production. We killed image clarity with Hipstamatic and Instagram.

The evolution trajectory in image resolution has been from low to high to low-or-high. Clarity and image sharpness are a choice now, which, of course, is a very good thing. Sometimes I do like my photographic images to have a retro look. I like them to be low resolution and almost look like paintings. Sometimes I like things blurry, I like things looking dreamy. In these days that everything seems loud and big and intrusive, I sometimes prefer things to be implied, I prefer things to be subtle.