Tuesday, June 27, 2006

They Call Me The Wanderer, Part III: Salem

My parents decided to drive me up to Boston for my internship this summer. They then used this trip as an excuse for a vacation, since we have never spent time in New England. So, I spent a quick weekend in Salem Massachusetts with my parents, arriving on a Saturday night and leaving Monday morning. I was a bit worried that the entire weekend would be filled with Witch Hysteria Tourist Traps, but luckily my parents and I were almost equally uninterested in that hocus-pocus mumbo-jumbo.

We started Sunday with breakfast at Red's Sandwich Shop, known for its cheap prices and tasty food. The restaurant occupies the location of the former Old London Tea House, which dates back to the 1700's. From the giant crowd clamoring for tables, they lived up to their reputation of "where the locals meet to eat in Salem". The reputation of good food was also well deserved--we came back on Monday too. I heartily approve of pancakes the size of my head.

Very full, we took a trolley tour around the rather small town. I was surprised that the trolley managed to fit through all the narrow brick-lined streets of the city. The tour went past the major landmarks as the tour guides spilled information on the city's history and attractions. After once around the city, I was ready to declare my disdain for the New England accent. My mom actually asked me at one point during our tour "You don't think you'll pick up this accent over the summer, do you?" seeming very concerned that I might. When considering accents, I think I'm glad I grew up in the Midwest.

The tour made a stop at the Winter Island Marine Park, which provided an attractive view of the coast. The weather--clouds and rain all day--made it a bit less picturesque, though.

We also wandered around Salem's harbor a bit, specifically the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Above is The Friendship, a full-sized replica of a 1797 merchant ship.

I enjoyed seeing the coast; it's something I'm not very familiar with. I also found the history interesting. I was never really aware of how important Salem's harbor had once been, or how much the sea trade influenced the city structure and lifestyle. Neighborhoods were established based on their proximity to the sea. Shipyard workers and sailors lived in small, tight-packed neighborhoods on the shore, while wealthy ship captains and merchants lived further inland in more posh areas.

There were, of course, several other things along Salem's shores in addition to the neighborhoods with houses only a few inches apart. The Customs House, which once housed officials in charge of regulating goods traveling in and out of the harbor, appropriately overlooks the shores. Nathaniel Hawthorne was once employed there. The West India Goods Store is also situated right along the harbor. Deemed a Salem Maritime Historic Site, it has sadly been renovated into, essentially, a fancy gift shop. Though they did have some delightful smelling teas, it's a bit disappointing that more effort wasn't taken to preserve the history of the 18th century store.

A short walk from the harbor ports is The House of Seven Gables. The house, whose history inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne's book of the same name, is over 300 years old. The estate has changed hands several times, but the most recent owners have turned it into a museum. Our tour included extensive explanations of the house's history, it's decor, and renovation efforts.

Though I've never read The House of Seven Gables, I found the tour very interesting. The house has taken a pretty extensive beating over the years. Several additions were made to the house as the original family's wealth grew. A later owner, however, found the style too traditional and removed many of the gables to achieve a trendier Federal-style exterior. They also remodeled the interior in a Georgian style, adding very lavish, impressive wood paneling throughout the house. [Sadly, no pictures were allowed inside.] Finally, the gables were added back on during restoration. Ridiculous additions, such as a secret staircase--that may be the smallest staircase intended for people I have ever seen--were also made to better fit the house to Hawthorne's book. I suppose you do what's necessary to attract tourists. It definitely works--the estate is the second most visited home in America (the first being Graceland). It's a marvel that the house is still standing, let alone looking as well as it does.

My favorite area of Salem was Chestnut Street. Billed as "the most architecturally beautiful streets in America," the street was one of the first established communities in America. It was home to many of Salem's most successful merchants and sea captains during the harbor's golden era. Now the majority of the homes are still used for residences. Only a few have been reserved for tours and so on. We weren't able to tour any of the homes, but I really wish we had. I am very curious about what these are like on the inside. I just can't imagine having a house that old.

Chestnut Street is dominated by Federal architecture. The symmetry held so dear in this style is echoed throughout the street, which is part of why it is so visually appealing.

One indicator of the neighborhood's age is the appearance of "funeral doors" on many of the houses. Wakes were traditionally held in the home of the deceased. This naturally requires fitting the coffin inside the front door. Since coffins are wide and standard doors were not, homes had these "funeral doors". The smaller panel (left) can be opened when necessary to fit wide objects. Convenient for moving furniture and dead bodies in and out.

The other unique door found on the street is the "gossip door". The two front doorways of this condo-like home have a small door between them. When closed, it provides a bit of privacy from your very close neighbors. But when feeling the need to gossip, the door can be opened to let the neighbors converse. Perhaps evidence of women architects?

Though I loved wandering Chestnut Street, I think this is my favorite picture from Salem. Pamplemousse [pronounced something like pomp-le-mousse], which means grapefruit, is my favorite French word. [You can probably guess my favorite French phrase.] I didn't even go in this store, but I love its name and sign. It did seem like a rather neat shop, too.

The architecture and interesting history of Salem made for a very pleasant visit. We did end up going to one Witch museum. I suppose a trip there wouldn't be complete without seeing something on witches. But one was all I needed. The hysteria itself is an interesting historical phenomenon, but the museum played up the stereotypical conceptions of witches with talk of The Devil and Evil too much for my tastes. Needless to say, I'm glad our trip was no where near Halloween.

Monday, June 19, 2006

They Call Me The Wanderer, Part II: Boone

While visiting in North Carolina recently, I requested that we venture out to the mountains. I quite like looking at the scenery, and mountains provide quite the change of pace for a flatlander such as myself. I spent my entire childhood and young adult life in The Prairie State, after all.

So, we went to Boone, North Carolina. It is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains near the northwestern tip of the state. Quite fittingly, it is home to Appalachian State University, which can be seen in the background here. I found it very interesting to see a city stuck right in the middle of the mountains. It really makes for an interesting mix; shops and businesses with scenic trees and mountains in the background. In the majority of places I've been (especially the Midwest), you're either in "town" or the "country". Where I grew up, people actually said "I'm going to go in to town, do you want anything while I'm there"! But Boone seems like both at the same time.

The town also manages to be both quaint and modern at the same time. They have a General Store that's been running since 1883, selling everything from clothing to candy. As seen in the picture, they have an impressive selection of candy. And that picture only shows a portion of it all. I've never seen so much candy in a non-specialty store before. [Surprisingly, I resisted buying any.]

These types of stores are mixed in with college-kid friendly shops like Espresso News/Mosaic Books and hipster music stores. We went to Espresso News and had some tasty coffee while browsing their extensive magazine selection, and then went up to the book store to look around. We overheard an amusing group of college-aged girls complaining about club bouncers. [Apparently they aren't very good at doing math to determine if someone is of age, and it's a HUGE problem. I was completely unaware.]

The funkiness of Boone was clear to me when we went into Grapevine Music, a new and used music store. In addition to having a lot of great music, this sign was posted inside. It reads:
"We accept new and used vinyl
- CA$H or CREDIT -
Kenny Loggins
The 5th Dimension
Sndtrk to Godspell
Gordon Lightfoot
Carly Simon
Barbra Streisand
Seals & Crofts
Dan Fogelberg
Neil Diamond
Chuck Mangione
Jackson Browne
*We will take some Billy Joel and Elton John -BUT WE'RE NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT-*"

Even though I'm a full-blown Yankee, the music snob in me felt at home. I am beyond amused that they were overwhelmed with enough music they didn't like/want to make a sign banning the artists.

Though Boone is very scenic, we also wanted to see more of the Appalachian Mountains. So, we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a bit, stopping to take pictures along the way. The National Park Service maintained highway winds through the mountains with overlooks, camping grounds and a few hiking trails along the way. It is a nice laid back, beautiful drive.

The highway is also quite an engineering marvel. I can't imagine building these roads so high up in the mountains.

As we climbed further, we encountered some residences, which prompted me to say: "People actually live up here?" And that prompted laughs at my obvious Midwesterness.

Both needing to go to the bathroom and wanting a change from the driving, we stopped at Linville Falls. After a short hike on a reasonable trail, we reached a lovely overlook of the falls prime for picture taking:

I'm not always the happiest of hikers, but when it pays off in a view like this, it's quite worth it.

Boone served as a good introduction to the mountains. An interesting town, and beautiful scenery.

Monday, June 12, 2006

They Call Me The Wanderer, Part I: Greensboro

In the past few weeks, I've been doing my fair share of traveling. And, like any tourist, I've done a lot of picture taking. I've finally settled down in one place for a while, so I suppose it's time to share some of these photos.

The first trip was to Greensboro, North Carolina. I'm undeniably a Yankee through-and-through, but there is a very interesting Southern Charm to North Carolina that I find very appealing. Some of it might be my enjoyment of spending time with my significant other, who is the reason I've spent any time at all down yonder. But that's certainly not all of the attraction. The country-side is gorgeous, and the cities have an interesting combination of history and modern funkiness. The people are friendly, and say y'all (which, I must admit, makes far more sense than the northern 'you guys'). The south often gets a bad rap, which I'm not so sure it fully deserves. I only wish it weren't so damn hot.

Anyways, on to some pictures. I did a decent amount of wandering around Greensboro's downtown area. Elm Street (pictured left) has lots of restaurants and shops and such. One particular favorite is The Green Bean (pictured right), with its interesting live music and tasty coffee. We happened to catch the first part of a Klezmer band performance during our visit. The Sinai Mountain Ramblers had the coffee house pretty hopping when we left, but I've heard that they can get even more raucous as the show goes on. I suppose I'll have to find out for myself at some point.

Probably the most interesting and photograph-generating portion of my visit to Greensboro was taking a tour of the historic College Hill Neighborhood, given by Preservation Greensboro Incorporated. The tour highlighted some of the unique features of the neighborhood, especially the architecture. As the first established neighborhood in Greensboro, dating back to the mid 1800's, it has a very wide range of architectural styles represented throughout.

One of the main architectural styles represented on College Hill is Victorian--more specifically, Queen Anne style. This prim-and-proper house is a prime example, with its spindle columns, detailed trims, and wrap-around porch. When I was younger, I always wanted to live a Victorian style house with hardwood floors--I was probably one of the only little girls who picked out a specific architectural style for their dream home--but now I find them a bit too fussy. When done well, though, they can be quite appealing.

This far less busy Victorian house was probably my favorite of the tour. I'm not sure just why, but I'm a sucker for a beautiful porch, and this one--which wraps around nearly the entire house--is delightful.

One thing that struck me during the tour was the interesting way such an old neighborhood has slowly been modernized. Being a historic district, much care is taken to preserve the homes of College Hill. But, people will of course want modern conveniences. Some of these renovations and additions make an odd juxtaposition of old and new, as seen in these shots. That satellite dish looks just a bit out of place with the Victorian home it belongs to. I found it very amusing.

The other most prominent architectural style on College Hill is Craftsman. I'm not especially familiar with Craftsman architecture, but what I've seen I quite enjoy. I might like to have a bungalow at some point, and not just to say that I own a bungalow. The houses are simple and to the point, without looking too plain.

In many of the houses, their style and materials were influenced by the occupations of the first owners. This house was owned by a stone mason, and featured some very impressive stone work that you don't see too often anymore. Just look at that circular detail on the walkway! Obviously, this was motivated in part by money--it's cheap for a stone mason to get stone. But I think it really adds a more personal, individual touch to the home that you don't see as much nowadays.

The other feature of Craftsman architecture that I find very appealing is the tendency to use materials specific to the area. This house's columns and surrounding landscaping were built using milk quartz, which is found in abundance in the Greensboro area, making it ideal for Craftsman designers.

An old neighborhood such as this also faces interesting challenges of finding new uses for old buildings no longer needed for their original purposes. This home was once the College Hill neighborhood's fire station. I really wish I could look inside this one. I'm very curious as to how well the inside was adapted to domestic life. It makes for a very intriguing looking house.

College Hill itself is situated in a very nice area, overlooking downtown. Some of the houses have this lovely view of the Greensboro downtown.

And to conclude this monstrosity of a post, I have a few great shots that don't really fit in with anything else.

This adorable little tyke was sitting on her porch with her father when the tour came around. She seemed very intrigued by us, though a bit shy about watching.

For some reason, I really enjoy giant old trees. They just seem so elegant. With all of the vines, this one looks especially graceful.

And that (whew!) is a sampling of my trip to Greensboro. Soon to come in this several part series: Boone, North Carolina; Salem, Massachusetts; Boston, Massachusetts.

Post Script: I apologize for the less than ideal layouts. Blogger's picture posting is a bit frustrating to use, and Picsa's Hello! program (which I love), doesn't have a Mac version. If anyone knows a Blogger and Mac compatible photo hosting program, do share.

Friday, June 02, 2006

It's Hard Being a Pimp

I have been checking CuteOverload a lot lately. The cuteness can be a bit overwhelming at times--I nearly always end up aww-ing out loud (aol-ing, perhaps?). This evening, however, there was a post that inspired more laughing than cooing, and I found it too hilarious not to share.

That G.P. is one impressive little guy. It had to take some real smarts and ambition to break out of his cage and into the adjacent cage containing 24 ladies. And it must have taken some ridiculous horniness to, upon arrival, "romance" all of them. That'll do, pig!

The fact that the lucky guy slept for 2 whole days afterwards just goes to show that it's hard out there for a pimp. Of course, the guinea pig pimp might have it a bit easier than his human counterpart--he won't have to pay child support for the 43 children he fathered in his one night of passion.

Update: I have been further informed by The Definitive Source that this story is a bit old, and that there's even more hilarity not mentioned on CuteOverload. According to the BBC, this lusty guinea pig got a lot of fame for his one night stands, getting his own website AND a lifetime membership to London's Stringfellows Club. Sooty here may have upstaged GP the Guinea Pig for most famous guinea pig! Definitely a bit less wholesome, though.