Number 1: Celebrate random (/awesome) holidays often

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It’s National Wine Day today, so I’m celebrating appropriately – with a bottle of Seyval Blanc from one of the wineries that Pete and I visited on our trip to the Farm Coast last weekend, Coastal Vineyards.

Number 7: Ride my bike to Nut Island on a beautiful day

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It’s on my life list to visit all of the Boston Harbor Islands (NPS site, more informative site), which is going to be tricky as there are 34 of them and less than half are open to the public. I’m still trying to figure out how to solve that problem, but in the meantime I’m trying to hit up at least one new-to-me BHI each year. Last year I made it to Long Island (not open to the public!), the year before I dragged Pete and a friend out to World’s End, and the year before that was when I first discovered the Harbor Islands with a visit to George’s Island while we had friends visiting from out of town. This year I’m hoping to add more than one island to me visited list, so I started easy with a bike ride to Nut Island.
I told you guys earlier, I’m riding the heck out of my bike! Nut Island is about 6 miles from home, depending on how you go. I was planning on a route that seemed like a compromise between scenic and direct…and brought me past Starbucks, because I hadn’t yet decided if I wanted an iced chai to kick off my ride or not. ;) I mostly followed that route, aside from missing a turn somewhere and then just guessing at turns – at one point leading me down a super fun hill (internal monologue: “weeeeee! This is going to be AWESOME, I’m gonna go SO FAST flying down this hill!”) that led to a dead end (internal monologue: “craaaaaaaaap! This is going to be SUCKY, I’m gonna go SO SLOW back up that hill!”), but that mistake was easily corrected and I was back to roads whose name I recognized soon enough. Then there was another giant hill. At which point I hopped off my bike and walked it, I’m sure significantly faster than I could have pedaled up it! Finally, on the other side of that hill, was that big, brown, National Park Service sign telling me I’d made it!
web_2012_05_12_NutIsland_6Nut Island is one of a handful of harbor islands that is no longer an island. It’s been joined to the mainland for some time now, and is home to a sewage screening facility. You can read more about that here, including a paragraph which I’m going to start quoting whenever people question my refusal to swim at Wollaston Beach: “The old Nut Island primary plant, which had been in service since 1952, has been demolished, ending more than 100 years of waste water discharges to the shallow waters of Quincy Bay.”
Nut Island isn’t huge, but it is beautiful. There are a number of trails for walking, running, or biking. There is a pier for fishing. There are benches with amazing views to the Boston skyline, Quincy’s adorable Hough’s Neck neighborhood, and a number of the other harbor islands. There are also stairs that lead down to a very rocky beach, where you won’t want to swim (see above) but you can easily spend a lot of time skipping rocks and searching for sea glass and shells. Or, if you’re the crusty old man I saw, you can spend a lot of time hiding amid the rocks tanning yourself while chain smoking. Small island, plenty to do! I was kicking myself for not having packed a snack and my Kindle so that I could lie in the sun and read for a bit before heading home. I was also kicking myself for not having packed lunch so I could enjoy a mini-picnic!
web_2012_05_12_NutIsland_8In fact, that’s what I think you should do! You can drive to get there, by the way, you don’t have to ride your bike. ;) Pack yourself a picnic lunch and a good book, and head to Nut Island. Don’t pack dessert, because rumor has it that Ginger Betty’s is pretty amazing and you’re going to pass right by it, so just stop in there to pick up dessert on your way. After you park, walk up the hill a bit to the big, grassy, open area with a great view of Downtown Boston, throw down your blanket, and enjoy your picnic lunch (and dessert). Maybe read a bit, maybe nap a bit, and then once you’re ready for a stroll drop your picnic leftovers at the car and head along the trails until you find the stairs down to the water. Practice skipping rocks, find a few pieces of sea glass and a few teeny tiny sea shells to take home as mementos. Then go home, happy to have found such a beautiful little slice of nature hidden in Quincy, of all places.

**You can see a few more photos I took while I was there over on Flickr

Number 4: Attend a live taping of Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!

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I have more laugh out loud moments while listening to Wait Wait than I do watching any show on TV (possible exception: Big Bang Theory), so I’ve been thinking that it would be fun to visit Chicago sometime when we’re already in that neck of the woods visiting Pete’s family. Because we’re planning a trip out there in June, I went to the Wait Wait ticket site and it turned out that they were going to be in Boston…and tickets were going on sale a few days later. I put it on my calendar, recruited friends to go with me, and then stalked the ticketing page for days until I was able to snag four seats. And then I waited approximately forever for April 12th to get here.

You guys! This was so fun that it makes me want to move to Chicago so I can go every week. You should make it a point to a) listen to the show as often as possible, and b) attend a live taping. There is so much that is edited out of the show that is equally hilarious. After two hours of watching them tape, my cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing so much. It was so awesome.

For all my DC Metro family and friends, they’ll be taping in Bethesda on Thursday, June 7th. Go here and read about tickets, and then be sure to buy some and go!

Number 3: Visit the Harvard Museum of Natural History

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This has long been on my list of things to do, especially as I hear over and over again about the glass flowers exhibit (see below). Perhaps the most appealing part of this “To Do” was that I knew I would be able to do it for a discount, if not free, since I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to love it but was starting to feel like I had to go already.

FYI: the HMNH participates in the Bank of America Museums on Us program – which means free admission to the museum during the first full weekend of the month when you show them your Bank of America debit or credit card – and also gives a small discount on admission if you show them your plastic Charlie Card. They have free admission for Massachusetts residents on Sundays between 9am and noon, as well as Wednesdays from 3-5pm between September and May. See what I’m saying? You should never pay full price to get into this museum.

Harvard Museum of Natural History 4Now that I’ve filled you in on my miserly ways, let’s talk about the actual museum! I went straight to the glass flowers….partly because they were the main objective of my visit, and partly because they’re immediately in front of you when you walk up the stairs to the floor the exhibits are on. The room is darkened in order to help preserve the flowers, and there were at least two docents walking around and answering questions. They offered up a magnifying glass that had a little built in flashlight to some visitors, as well. I’m pretty sure this exhibit is better if you get your hands on one of those magnifying glasses. I was immediately struck by the realization that while I knew this was a museum about nature and not art, I was totally expecting something very artistic, and that is NOT what this is (duh). It’s very cool – it’s amazing workmanship and I’m pretty sure that if you are interested in gardening or flowers you could easily spend a lot of time in this exhibit. I, however, am interested in neither gardening or flowers, and so I wandered the aisles amazed that these things I was looking at weren’t real, but rather were made of glass. It’s honestly unbelievable, you look in the display cases and think you’re looking at a somehow perfectly preserved live specimen. I really wish they had more information on the actual making of the glass flowers, but I get how that’s not really the point so I should just shut up and move on. ;) The flowers are organized alphabetically by their Latin names (pretty sure there’s a scientific term for that and I don’t know what it is) and I would have loved to see them organized in a way that’s more approachable to the general public – by native region maybe? I think that would be much cooler.

I moved from the glass flowers into the mineral hall, which was a mistake. Minerals are pretty and cool to look at, but I felt like there wasn’t really much in the way of education going on in there. I found plenty of pretty and/or cool things to look at, I just had no idea what they were most of the time. After the mineral hall is an exhibit on climate change, and then you turn a corner to the Peabody Museum…which is separate but not? It is all archeology/anthropology I believe, and I decided to skip it this time around.

Harvard Museum of Natural History 1Here’s what I should have done from the start: turn left at the top of the stairs. This is where all the stuff you expect from the museum of nature-y things are: fossils, specimen in jars, taxidermy animals, skeletons! And it’s the best part, in my opinion (also sometimes the freakiest part, as there were at least three occasions where I turned around from something interesting and innocent and was faced with live snakes, taxidermy snakes, or snakes in a jar…and of course I freaked out and walked away as quickly as I could without looking like a freak). I thought the exhibit on color in nature was super interesting (see natural variations within a species exemplified by the shells in the big photo above). 

The whole time I was at the museum I was thinking about if I would go back, or under what circumstances I would go back. In the end, I realized that I was mostly disappointed in the flowers and the minerals because they had little in the way of actual education worked in with the exhibit – they were there to look at, almost more of a “look at us! We’re Harvard and we have the most extensive collection or meteorites/minerals/glass flowers in the world!” and geared towards people who will walk into those exhibits and know exactly what they’re looking at. The rest of the museum seemed to be a much better mix of education/straight up display, and those were the parts I liked – the climate change exhibit, the evolution exhibit, the color exhibit. The rooms of taxidermy animals and skeletons were also cool, even though they were also missing the addition of any significant educational tools.

Do I just expect too much? Should I just be going to museums and looking without expecting much in the way of education? Maybe I just don’t get how museums are supposed to work.

Number 8: Get a burger at Mr. Bartley’s

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…and be disappointed.

Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage in Harvard Square is widely known as “the best burger in Boston”, probably due to the abundance of acclaim in both local (Boston Globe, Improper Bostonian, etc…) and national (Esquire, New York Times, Gourmet) press. I made the mistake of reading a number of reviews on Yelp, where Bartley’s has only a 3.5 star rating, and I may have been biased from reading them before I visited.

The place is packed, all of the time. They are also closed on Sundays (and often on holidays as well) and for a few weeks at a time for vacations, which used to be posted on their website but don’t appear to be anymore. These two things are the sole reason that I haven’t had a burger here before – it wasn’t for lack of trying. In the past I’ve either rocked up on President’s/Columbus/some holiday Day and learned that they were closed, or the line has been halfway down the block and I was too hungry to wait. This time I learned the key to avoiding the line: eat alone (or in my case, in the company of the very funny Mindy Kalig, via Kindle). Eating alone (and possibly in a pair) means you can sit at the four person bar, and the seats there turnover much faster than the tables. They are just as crowded as the tables, though, so don’t think that this approach will earn you any more personal space while you eat.

It turns out that the appeal of this place is the variety on the menu, not the quality of the food. There are dozens of topping combinations available, with amusing names and tag lines for each, although who knows why those toppings earned that name. I got the Joe Kennedy III – topped with grilled mushroom and cheddar cheese. The grilled mushrooms were charred, which pretty much ruined the entire burger (which was a true medium, but tasted charred because of the mushrooms). The fries are reminiscent of the fries that BK put out in the lat 90’s – remember when they were all “our new crispier fries!” and it wasn’t really that the fries were fried crispier, they just had some weird coating on them that made the exterior crispy while the inside of the fry was just as mushy? That’s what these fries were like. The bun was nothing special.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not worth it to stand in line here. You’re better off walking the two and a half blocks to Flat Patties if you find yourself in Harvard Square and wanting a burger…even if there isn’t a line at Mr. Bartley’s.

Is it weird that I was sad to have been so disappointed?