Boston, New York City and Road Trip to Ohio – September/October 2017

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Chrysler Building, New York City

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Late summer 2017 was certainly more eventful than anticipated!

When we left Florida at the beginning of September and headed north again after re-stocking paintings for the remaining art shows we were effectively evacuating from Hurricane Irma – although we didn’t realize it at the time! We drove straight through the remnants of Hurricane Harvey in constant blinding waves of rain for almost the entire 16 hour trip to Washington, DC. Less than 12 hours after leaving Florida we found that our home on the western Gulf Coast, our local towns of Sarasota and Venice, our feline kids and all of our worldly possessions were now directly in the projected path of Hurricane Irma. For several days beforehand the weather authorities had been telling us that she would veer up the east coast.

Suddenly, things were looking far worse than expected. Coordinating the evacuation of the furry kids and the shoring up of our home from 1500 miles away in Connecticut (and even worse, expecting to return to a significantly flatter Florida and an entirely different shaped waterfront town than the one we had left but a few hours beforehand) was challenging and thoroughly exhausting, to put it mildly! Irma was a historically huge, once in a lifetime event. She was the strongest, largest and most catastrophic hurricane in the Atlantic since 2005 and had already totally devastated many Caribbean islands before she turned her unwelcome attentions to our home state. We were very apprehensive.

It is understandable then, that it took a good few days to decompress from the after effects of stress and utter panic once she had been and gone and done her thing over the west coast. We spent our anniversary, September 10th, (D Day for Florida) at an art show glued to our cell phones watching her approach into the Keys and then her second landfall in Marco Island and Naples just south of us. The slowest day of our lives waiting for “Irmageddon” (as she came to be unaffectionately known) and the anticipated time of impact (sometime around 8pm that evening) passed with us frantically texting, messaging and calling between neighbors and our friend (holed up in our hastily hurricane-shuttered cave dwelling with water supplies, provisions for a week, her son, a friend, her cat, dog and all of her worldly possessions which she had moved from her mobile home to the relative safety of our home). On the other side of the Atlantic our equally frantic family back in England were similarly glued to their TV’s and laptops. They also spent the day reporting in to us with a running commentary of predictions, wind speeds, trajectories and damage sustained as reported by CNN and the weather stations. We watched from afar the final preparatory comings and goings at home and then as the wind started to pick up on our video security system – until all went blank and the power went down. All this (including a very half-hearted attendance at the art show) up until the point of no return when she finally touched down over our development, certainly took its toll. I think we both aged 10 years in 4 days 😉 I have no hesitation in describing September 10th, 2017 as the single most stressful day of our fortunately, relatively sheltered and disaster-free lives to date.

Irma is a 4 letter word I never want to hear again. Albeit, by some miracle, the sum total of her destruction for us personally was shearing a small shrub in 2 which our gardeners subsequently wedged upright and stomped back into the ground and is now as good as new 😉 Quite incredible.

It brought back memories of the only other hurricane to make landfall in our part of Florida since we moved there. Hurricane Wilma came to visit 12 years ago only a month after we had relocated to the sun from New England. Again, she was supposed to make landfall directly into the Sarasota area only to turn south overnight and pay a visit to Naples instead. The following morning we found an oleander tree lying with its flowers face down in the mulch. Geoff propped it up and stomped it back into the soil where it still thrives today. They say that the Sarasota/Venice area is protected by Native American blessings. I don’t want to tempt fate but we certainly seem to get lucky right at the last moment when the chips are down.

So you’ll understand it took a few days for our respective blood pressures to drop back to a normal functioning range – something slightly less than imminent heart attack level 😉

Luckily, we were due to head straight from the show in Connecticut to an old friend to visit him for a few days at his swish apartment in Seaport, Boston mere steps from Geoff’s favorite bar, Drink. Here, we celebrated with an interesting selection of cocktails for which Drink is renowned. From my point of view, the location of Jan’s apartment is more than perfect because it is mere steps from Flour Bakery (not so good for my waistline – but I highly recommend the carrot cake) and, more importantly, our favorite view of the Boston skyline at Seaport’s section of Harborwalk.

Harborwalk runs for 43 miles and connects various waterfront neighborhoods passing piers, wharves and beaches along the Massachusetts shoreline. I didn’t have to walk the whole 43 miles to decompress, thankfully. It only took a couple of good-paced hikes along the waterfront to blow the cobwebs out of my ears. Whilst Geoff had Jan and the bartenders of Drink to assist with his post-hurricane recovery – I had Roxane, a friend from New Hampshire, who came down to spend a day with me wandering through the city. I found myself skillfully maneuvered through the back streets of the North End (Little Italy) until we found ourselves outside the front door of her favorite Boston bakery, Mike’s Pastry. I have to say that it was so skillful a maneuver that it brought to mind a wily cat weaving around ones feet and legs until you find yourself standing unexpectedly facing the fridge door.

Here, I was encouraged (against my better judgment) to sample one of their world-famous Florentine Cannolis. As we sat in the shade on the waterfront shooting the breeze, covered in sticky ricotta and chocolate chips, I discovered the restorative power of one of Mike’s cannolis 🙂 Aside from her radiant company, of course, I should have known that Roxane would have the ultimate culinary post-hurricane stress cure 😉

Whilst Geoff was busily at work checking out the swanky new office in Seaport, I took the train out of the city and re-visited my favorite Massachusetts coastal town, Rockport. By the time I had pottered through the quaintness of Bearskin Neck, photographed Motif #1 and it’s colorful buoys for the umpteenth time and made an obligatory coffee and cake stop in Bean and Leaf at my usual table (overlooking the boats in White Wharf), I had resumed normal operations and all was good with the world again.

After the show in Alexandria, VA the following weekend we scooted north again to New York City for the intervening week before the Armonk, NY show. It was unseasonably warm and humid due to the impact of Hurricane Jose pushing a front into the northeast which somewhat curtailed normal NYC activities… I think 3 hurricanes affecting our typically uneventful and pleasant fall flitting between home and the northeastern art show circuit is quite enough for another 12 years!

To make up for our otherwise thoroughly miserable anniversary on September 10th, I managed to persuade Geoff to buy tickets for Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. This was no mean feat. It has taken 15 years of relentless nagging (since we last saw it in Boston) to persuade him to go again! He moaned and griped and threatened to be bored to death until the first actors started to sing whereupon he gasped, grabbed my hand and didn’t let go until the curtain fell. It was utterly brilliant and worthy of all the Broadway hype and the lofty ticket prices 🙂

Subsequently, defying the elevated temperatures (courtesy of Jose), I glided through some of my favorite parts of NYC (Bryant Park with its beautiful flower garden and fountain overseen by the fabulous black and gilded American Radiator Building; the High Line (the 1.5 mile-long elevated park and greenway created on a former New York Central Railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan); Times Square at night – in all of its garish neon glory; North Little Italy and East Village) all whilst humming the tune to The Music of the Night for the next 2 days 🙂

Expanding our horizons further out of Manhattan we walked the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn Bridge Park for the millionth time (a rite of passage for any newbie tourist to NYC). Given the heat and humidity we were beginning to regret not having taken the 7 minute East River Ferry ride from Pier 11/Wall Street instead. The purpose of our trip was to head into deepest, darkest Brooklyn in search of street art. A long and circuitous cab ride then took us into the slightly seedy post-industrial area of Bushwick, Brooklyn. 5 Pointz in Long Island City (before its tragic destruction) was once the street art mecca of NYC. The Bushwick Collective is now the new graffiti centre of NYC. Founded in 2012 it is a constantly evolving showcase of world-renowned and local talent. It was worth the contorted journey to get there but the grimy L subway line back from Jefferson to Union Square was by far the quickest and easiest route back into Manhattan. The L line also came with the added benefit of some extremely fit, healthy and muscular young black and latino men (known as “the Showtime Kids” and reputedly from the projects) performing their versions of pole dancing, flinging their legs around the carriage not 6 inches away from me. Far more entertaining than a boring cab ride with an uncommunicative Uber driver!

A quick trip home for a few days followed by another art show and then Geoff had to fly off to Dallas for work. As I didn’t fancy being holed up in an airport conference centre with him for a week, I got the far better deal and hit the open road criss-crossing the Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania countrysides en route to visit old friends who had recently moved to Ohio.

It was a trip of many firsts (and two notable first AND lasts 😉 ).

1. I am renowned for plotting, planning and carefully scheduling arrival and departure times around tea and coffee stops, meals and visits to specific restaurants. I rarely leave anything to chance. I had located suitable stops along the way so that I could visit Frederick, Maryland (and it’s very fine Tea Emporium in Shab Row) and then a few hours later stop for lunch at Cafe Connections in a small town called Ligonier in Pennsylvania. Cafe Connections was the only vegan friendly cafe my extensive research had revealed anywhere within a 50 mile detour of my cross-country route (and frankly I was amazed I had found anything at all!). I was certainly not anticipating, however, that I would find myself unexpectedly traversing a mountain pass on a single lane carriageway following a truck traveling at 15 mph uphill for hours through the Allegheny Mountains, all for a $7 vegan lunch. That was definitely a first. Luckily the food was worth the 2 hour detour 😉 As an aside, Ligonier, PA is immaculate but somewhat bijou. I walked from one end of the main street to the other in less than 3 minutes… and that included loitering in the park for 2 of those minutes to admire the bandstand. The vegan cafe was excellent and I would very probably make the same circuitous trip to reach it again 🙂

2. My second first came the following day. Once safely in Ohio and in the tender care of Don and Sue, Don and I headed into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to see the waterfalls and kick some fall leaves. Here, in the Visitor Centre gift shop, I ate a Buckeye for the first time. Actually, I ate 4. They were delicious. Don encouraged me… it was a moment of weakness 🙂 I will most definitely (and did) succumb again…

3. Having explored the highways, byways, pathways and waterfalls of the Cuyahoga Valley, Don persuaded me very much against my will to try out my third first. He took me to The Winking Lizard in Peninsula for lunch. Apparently the options for watering holes in and close to the park are few and far between. This is a sports bar replete with bikers, slot machines, banks of noisy TVs and everything is deeply fried. This is not my natural environment. In the entrance to the bar there was a giant green lizard lounging idly in a glass case for the entertainment of the clientele 😦 I was tempted to break it free of it’s cage so that we could escape together and run off into the woods. Aside from the company, of course, it was a gastronomic experience to be endured rather than enjoyed. Unsurprisingly, there were no vegan and precious few vegetarian options. I knew this would be the case even as we were parking up outside. Thanks Don… perfect choice amigo 😉

4. The following day we headed south via Medina to visit its attractive 19th century historic district and for a caffeine fix. I narrowly escaped another first – attempting to eat a giant plate sized cookie in one sitting. Don was fixating upon a particularly huge one as we waited in line to place our order. I withstood the psychological pressure from him to buy one and compromised instead on sharing a far more respectably sized cookie. Poor Don… I am sure he was very disappointed but I was simply protecting his waistline from what I knew lay ahead later that day.

5. We were off to explore the rolling hills and farmsteads of Ohio Amish Country in search of autumnal scenery to photograph. I think we would both have liked to take some time marveling at the skills of the furniture craftsmen en route but, ultimately, our trip turned into an exploratory food fest instead. It was grey and drizzly most of the day so we did the best we could with our photography until late morning when we found ourselves taking refuge in the bakery section of a farm which had been my plan all along 🙂 Even though I knew I would probably regret it, I was wholly responsible for this scheduled stop at Herschberger Farm and Bakery in Millersburg. Don was like a kid in a sweet shop and chose another giant cookie (as if he hadn’t had enough cookie dough for one day). It was at least an inch deep with a ½ inch thick layer of fluorescent orange icing which was intended to resemble a pumpkin. I mumbled that it barely looked fit for human consumption but the moral high ground I was attempting to take was weakened considerably when a newly prepared tray of Buckeyes emerged from the kitchen. Anyway, the reason we were there in the first place was because I had read about their legendary Dutch Apple Pie. In almost 20 years in the US (12 of those years living in the close proximity of another Amish community in Sarasota) I have never had a slice of Dutch Apple Pie. Don found the largest one he could carry and that evening, back at the ranch, I experienced another first. It was divine.

6. Which is more than I can say for the second of my “first and lasts” for this road trip – lunch at the Dutch Family-style Berlin Farmstead Restaurant, Millersburg. I was getting nervous even as we waited in the crowded lobby for a table. There were squeezy plastic bottles of peanut butter for sale. I idly checked out the ingredients. After the first 98% of listed ingredients (constituting any and all variations of high fructose corn syrup and some miscellaneous chemicals and colorants) I spotted marshmallow (really?) and then finally the lowly peanut, almost as an after thought. I wasn’t going to be tempted to try that, however adventurous I was feeling. For the record, Don subsequently braved it and squeezed it onto his “homestyle bread”. One bite and he practically recoiled in revulsion. I was glad I hadn’t been tempted. In order to entertain their (mainly very elderly) guests there was also a film with captions of each riveting step of the production of their self-proclaimed legendary mashed potato on the TV in the waiting area to which many of our fellow lunch diners were avidly glued. So glazed over were some of their expressions that I wasn’t sure if they had fallen asleep with their eyes open, had coronaries from too many previous trips to the dessert bar or just died of boredom. Alternatively, entertainment may just be hard to come by in these parts…

We finally made it the table. I had already spotted that the salad bar wasn’t going to take the edge off the chilly day (and in any event who on earth eats luminously colored lumps of Jello with salad?) so I scoured the menu long and hard before I found anything comestible which didn’t originate in some way from a deceased farm animal. Our server looked quite perplexed when I mentioned that I didn’t eat meat and eventually I had to settle on 3 side dishes – mashed potato (no gravy because that contained turkey or bacon or some other poor creature), creamed corn (which was an unusual shade of yellowish grey) and a product I naively thought might be at least reasonably healthy called zucchini fritters. I had imagined thick, round slices of zucchini with a light batter. I was delivered half a plate of deeply fried twig thin strips of food product which didn’t resemble zucchini in any shape or form. Not quite what I had in mind.

Not to be too critical given the food options available in this part of the countryside, but it really came as no surprise to me at all that the average size of our fellow diners was pushing 400 pounds. Family-style Dutch Country dining clearly isn’t for me – and I’m certain it isn’t for Geoff 😉 It was a first and most definitely, a last.

It was wonderful to spend time with Don and Sue in their new home, albeit briefly. I drove contentedly back through the countryside to Washington, DC (fueled by a bag of Buckeyes) to collect Geoff from the airport before we finished up the art show season in Bethesda, Maryland.

My trip out to Ohio (also a first, by the way) was the perfect way to end our final days up north before heading south to the sunshine state again 🙂




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