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Crossing a checkpoint and ending an adventure

Written by Emmy on 23 October 2012

We woke up with the sun on Sunday morning and discovered why we were the only people staying in the woods of Fundy: fall comes early. We snuggled into our sleeping bags for a bit longer before emerging into the morning fog. Originally we had planned to hang around, make some coffee and have breakfast straight from the backpacks, but the chill overtook us, and so we quickly packed up and made our way back to the parking lot and to Adrienne.

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We started driving south, back past Saint John and then through long passes of rural New Brunswick with spectacularly well-paved stretches of highway. We came to a southern tip of Canada and boarded a ferry, the first of the day. We were planning to take the boat to Deer Island, where we would take another ferry, this one from Deer Island to Campobello Island. Campobello, the summer home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is home to an international park, co-managed by the U.S. and Canadian parks services. The island is actually part of Canada, but during the months when the ferry is not running, is only accessible by a U.S.-controlled bridge. It’s a bit of a brainteaser.

But given the season of our trip, we boarded the first of our two ferries for the day and hit the open seas.

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While on board the ship, I aimed to recreated what Chaz now claims was his favorite snack of America Part 1: Trader Joe’s multigrain crackers, sliced asiago and a spicy dip; in this case, it was the leftover spicy chicken salad. In keeping with tradition, I pulled out a cutting board and knife while the vehicle was moving. I like a little adventure.

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IMG_1865We arrived on Deer Island, which, as part of New Brunswick, has all its signage displayed in English and French. Because of the prevailing religious traditions and the fact that it was Sunday, we found very little to see or do on the sleepy island. We hadn’t planned to do much, truthfully, but were at the whims of the dual ferry schedules. So we meandered our way from one end of the island to the other, pausing to check out what is rumored to be the largest lobster pound in the world, and ending up at the largest whirlpool in the northern hemisphere.

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The lobster pound was uninspiring, but the whirlpool was very cool. The somewhat mesmerizing rush of the currents was captivating enough that we nearly missed our ferry, ending up last in line of the cars waiting to board a boat that looked like it hadn’t been replaced in about three decades, give or take.

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Seriously, the boat was really old. So old that the steering part detached from the car part. The ocean was looking awfully cold, but despite its creaky parts, the ferry ferried us across safely.

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We docked at Campobello and drove to the interior of the park, where we were directed to photo opportunities and to the house that FDR spent his summers in. We walked through an interesting exhibit about the history of friendship between the U.S. and Canada. I was most excited to see that friendship manifest in an international stamp for my parks passport.

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We weren’t interested in waiting for someone to come show us around, so we took the self-guided version of the FDR house tour, pausing of course, in the kitchen.

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We drove around the island a bit, but without planning to take a hike or bike ride, there wasn’t much to tour; we stopped at a few rocky overlooks to gaze out on the water and identify distant land masses. I was more amused by the traffic signs that pointed to “U.S.A.”

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After cruising around for a bit, we selected the only completely empty picnic spot and overlooking the water, emptied the contents of our cooler onto a table – of course using a Delta blanket as the picnic cloth. Using a couple different containers of already-ready ingredients, I whipped up sandwiches of turkey, grilled eggplant, and red pepper and feta spread.

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Once we had finished our sandwiches and packed back in all the cooking implements, we loaded the car and made haste toward the tip of Campobello. We made the requisite lighthouse visit before approaching the bridge to the other side.

We were briefly reprimanded at customs. Evidently, limes cannot cross the border between Maine and Canada because of some weird soil disease; we think the border attendant just needed a spritz for his drink. (This was not my first time being stopped at a border crossing for a citrus infraction, but this stop was a little less alarming.) We entered the U.S. into Lubec, Maine, the easternmost town in the country. The town itself didn’t have much going on, but we made a pit stop at West Quoddy Head lighthouse, noted for being the easternmost point in the country.

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IMG_1998Now able to say we’d dangled out feet over the eastern edge of the modern world (or, you know, something dramatic like that), we headed a bit south to the entrance to Cutler Coast. Cutler is an area of land preserved and maintained by the state of Maine, but in a much more rugged way than the national parks. Cutler’s waterfront campsites are first come, first serve, and you claim them by logging your name into a guestbook at the trailhead. But when we found a completely packed parking lot and a fairly empty guestbook, we were a bit confused. If we chanced it and found the campsites totally full, we would have to turn back – a challenging feat given threatening rainclouds, vanishing daylight (ok, it was 3 p.m.) and a relatively lengthy hike (almost 10 miles to do the full loop past the campsite and back to the lot). But if we gave up and found the campsites empty, it would have been hugely disappointing. So we decided to hedge our bets, assume most of the parked cars belonged to day hikers and charge forward. The only people who had signed the guestbook were a pair from New York, Adam and Jake, who we kept calling for as we hiked through the brush, assuming that they would take us in under their wing if all else failed.

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IMG_2015The hike took us almost immediately down to the water, where we could see several bits of Canada off in the distance. But mostly, we were just surrounded by the very vast ocean – a truly beautiful site. We could feel bits of rain beginning to fall from the sky, but luckily had brought layers and the majority of the trail weaved through trees, providing cover. The only catch was that the state of Maine seemed content to let the wild run wild and so maintains their trails a bit less than the NPS, leading to overgrown brush. I think that might explain the mosquito bites I later discovered in somewhat inexplicable places.

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As we hiked, we could hear a dim noise in the distance, growing louder and louder. Chaz was convinced it was an owl, but I was determined to prove it was mechanical. We had to round several craggy corners and summit many slippery rocks, but eventually, a lighthouse came into distant view. To keep myself entertained, I yelled back to it every time it yelled hi to us.

After the yelling, beeping and raining went on for a while, we found ourselves at the first campsite, where a woman was standing guard. We kept walking until we came to the second site, where we found Adam and Jake, setting up fancy hammocks in the trees. Excited as we had been to make friends, we abandoned the cause, and like Goldilocks, tried out the third campsite, which was just right. We set up shop and I began to prepare our gourmet dinner, beginning with a cocktail hour of G+Ts (yes, we had managed to import them), cheese, crackers, sliced veggies, and Annie’s bunnies.

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Dinner was going to be a fancy home-cooked affair, which required a series of spices. In lieu of bringing spice jars with us, we had mixed Thai spices in a ziplock bag, to which we added peppers, celery, scallions, cashews and spiced chicken sausage.

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As we dined, we enjoyed the bright, glowing sunset over the water. We could still see our lighthouse friend blinking and beeping in the distance.

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IMG_2146We awoke the next morning, rolled up our sort-of soggy tent and hiked the five or so miles back to the parking lot, which was significantly less full than it had been the prior afternoon. We started the drive back south, where we encountered a rather strange site – several towers looming in the near distance. Ever the journalists, we got closer to investigate, stopping just short of the “Property of the federal government” and “No trespassing” signs. We later uncovered that we had happened upon the VLF Transmitter Cutler, which provides one-way low-transmission communications with U.S. submarines. Having completed our journalistic mission of the morning, we picked up the scenic Route 1 and a bit of speed, making our way back down past the turnoff for MDI and toward new pastures. As soon as we regained cell service, I was hot on the pursuit of little-known and well-regarded lobster rolls, figuring I should get one more in before leaving the state. Our other major planned stop was to be Freeport, Maine, birthplace of L.L. Bean. Our attempt to stop at the famous Red’s in Wiscasset, Maine proved a bit fruitless when we encountered its 30 minute line. The food did look good from a distance. Just after Freeport we stopped at Cindy’s Lobster Rolls, which had been hyped on the internet for its lobster roll (what I was most excited about) and its fried clams (which Chaz had requested as a final item).

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IMG_2165We had a little fun at the kitschy roadside stand while we waited, but at 2 p.m. or so, we were among the stand’s only patrons and so our lobster roll, clams and mix of french fries arrived quite quickly. We dug into our seafood, hob-nobbed with Cindy’s eclectic owner and after not too long, hopped back into the car for the less scenic portion of our day’s drive.

From Cindy’s, we left behind the scenic highways of Maine and merged onto 95, making our way south through traffic-filled New Hampshire. But with shocking expediency, we found ourselves back in Boston. We undertook the great feat of unloading the car, making quite a mess of Chaz’s sidewalk in the process. We hadn’t been back in the urban world for long before Chaz walked me to the train, where I boarded my New York-bound Amtrak, and he walked back across alone. It had been nearly a year since we had bid each other farewell from our last road trip adventure, as we ran to our separate gates in the Detroit airport. We were older (definitely), wiser (debatable), and heading home to our grown-up lives and real person jobs. But really, we’re still the same people as when the checkpoint began. We’ve still got backpacks full of unnecessary electronics, eyes bigger than our stomachs, and a sense of adventure tuned to the open road ahead.

Icy cold water and red hot lobsters

Written by Emmy on 26 September 2012

Monday morning began early for half the group, as Ben, Chaz and I set off to conquer the Precipice Trail in the post-dawn sunlight. Precipice was advertised as a very steep ascent; parts of the trail are comprised of iron rungs stuck into rock, requiring you to hoist your full body weight up while sort of dangling in the air. We can’t say we weren’t warned.

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Truthfully, it wasn’t that scary. (I’d put it at comparable to Angels Landing and far less terrifying than the final moments of our Half Dome ascent, which I use as my barometer for holy-crap-I’m-nervous statements.) We gained height quickly thanks to the vertical ladders and iron bars, and before long our parked car was like a tiny ant on the ground below.

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By the time we reached the summit, the sun was already blinding overhead, making us all very glad for our crack-of-dawn departure time. The views both along the way and from the very top were positively stunning.

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After scrambling down a more rock-based and less iron-rung-reliant trail, we arrived back at the car and headed home to pick up the rest of the troops. The five of us and Chaz’s mother Liz set out for the Great Head trail for an oceanfront jaunt and the moment of the trip I was most excited about.

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We had been discussing the need to brand ourselves for quite some time, and in advance of the trip to Maine, I finally took the plunge and designed our 120 T-shirts. A note about this group: We were all, to some degree or another, friends before we took on the newspaper reins in early 2010. But while serving in our role and in the subsequent semester, we formed a bond that I have to believe is truly unique. It has its roots and its heart in our shared commitment to spending time at The Herald when we could have been in a million other places, though it has come to stand for far, far more than that at this point.

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Our shirts did inspire a bit of amusing confusion, as passersby inquired as to why we all had the same number on our backs. Call us a less-than-standard sports team.

From our perch atop Great Head, we could see Sand Beach, one of the island’s most popular sunbathing and dip-your-toes-in-the-ocean settings. We looked down on it from up above, but decided to bypass it in favor of installing ourselves somewhere quieter.

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IMG_0141We set up shop on rocks and picnic blankets (thanks Delta!) at Little Hunters Beach, a quiet alcove where we were the only picnickers in sight. We dined on sandwiches of turkey, avocado, muenster and spicy honey mustard, a checkpoint picnic lunch favorite.

We did dip our toes into the ocean, largely for the shock effect. The last time I visited Acadia, I was 14 and on a trip with my sleepaway camp. We visited Sand Beach and standing in a line, walked into the ocean. The wager was simple: last person standing would be exempt from cleaning the bunk (or something similarly lucrative). I made it to the final five, but surrendered when I lost the feeling in my toes and emerged with them slightly purple in color.

The water this time around was just about as cold as I remembered, but we braved it briefly as a group.

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Given our inability to get further than ankle deep, we relocated back to our personal swimming pond and lounged about in the significantly warmer water. We learned that despite being, in some senses, a professional swimmer, Joanna is terrified of touching the bottom. Thankfully Seth was willing enough to hold her upright. (And really, Chaz and I lost at a competitive game of chicken fight to the pair completely out of courtesy to Joanna’s fears; I’m less worried about hitting the bottom of the pond.)

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We returned to the house and began cocktail hour a bit early in anticipation of an early dinner to follow. The selection of noshes was quite generous, including 120’s absolute favorite, and fresh summer rolls from the cleverly named Chow Maine. Joanna had infused gin with cardamom in preparation for the trip up north and we splashed it into our drinks for a bit of fancy flair.

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We had one minor mishap during our otherwise calm and relaxed cocktail hour.

After cocktail hour, we squeezed ourselves into one car and made our way to Thurston’s Lobster Pound, a noted lobster shack poised right above the water.

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We walked up to the restaurant and took a quick look at the menu before walking in. Basically our options boiled (no pun intended) down to what size the lobsters would be.

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Hi friends!!

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With our sea beasts boiling in their pots, we picked out a picnic table on the roofed-in patio and settled down with crab dip and crackers and a pitcher of Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale. We switched tables a few times, concerned there wouldn’t be enough room for us and all of our clawed friends. But we finally committed to a table and before not too long, received a tray full of bright red lobsters, ready for the taking. I could barely contain my excitement.

 

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Because we had a few novices at the table, Liz provided an instructional lesson on how best to handle the whole lobster.

For some, her lesson created great success.

The before: 

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…and the after: 

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What was most exciting (or rather, a bit alarming) about the whole experience was Seth’s display. Seth has been a vegetarian for as long as I’ve known him, but a fresh Maine lobster left even him weak in the knees. Growing up as a Long Island lobster eater, I’m all about getting every last morsel out of the thing. Seth really did a number on his, extracting more meat than I think I knew possible.

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It was messy. It was aggressive. It was delicious.

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IMG_0456We returned home, covered in a combination of lobster juices and lemon juice to mask the lobster juice smell. Back at home, Liz produced a triple berry pie that she had picked up at the farmer’s market down the road that morning. Well, when in Rome…

With pie and port in hand, we decided to play a round of Celebrity, a game I learned from a good friend in college. The competition was fierce, but after a couple surprise moves by Liz, she, Chaz and I triumphed over our competitors, who sat watching in awe. (Or something like that.)

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Another wonderful day.

Long days of summer

Written by Chaz on 16 September 2012

IMG_6947After sleeping late yet again, I woke up to another breakfast of a Swedish sandwich and coffee and sat out reading for a bit. Torbjörn and I then set out on bicycles to the nearby town of Bergshamra, where there is a small grocery store, to pick up some food. It was a gorgeous day for a ride, and our route took us through a farm, down to the water to a marina and into town.

I learned at the ICA grocery store in Bergshamra that you can order alcohol that is otherwise only sold at Systembolaget and have it sent to a rural grocery store, so that alcohol is available in places too sparsely populated for a Systembolaget store. I guess that’s more convenient, and it just goes to show the level of dedication to keeping the monopoly and making it workable.

Arriving home, we walked down to the beach for a quick dip in the Baltic under the broad blue sky.

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After swimming, I sat out on the porch and shelled shrimp for dinner before making some more headway in my book. Dinner was pasta with shrimp, salad, and white wine, followed by a dessert of rhubarb pie with vanilla sauce and ice cream, and of course coffee.

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The light was so nice after dinner that we did a quick photo shoot to remember the trip by, and then, still not wanting to go inside, we took a very long walk down to another bay, where the sun’s last rays were especially beautiful.

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We woke relatively early on Sunday and immediately headed for the dock, where an early swim was especially cold and thus very quick. We cleaned up and had a very relaxing breakfast all together on the porch, with smörgåsar with spicy tomato-ginger marmalade, cereal, filmjölk, coffee, and orange juice.

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Anna, Karin and Nils had to return to Stockholm that afternoon, so we made a trip of taking them to the bus in Norrtälje. We walked around town a little bit and looked in at Akeba, a neat furniture and home goods store.

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We had a fika at Tre Praliner, where we had actually eaten three years earlier when my mother visited Sweden. We sat out on the deck with kanelbullar, chokladbollar and coffee.

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IMG_7034After our fika, we drove over to the bus station with more than enough time for their bus to Stockholm, and sure enough, as we walked up to the platform with 15 minutes to spare, the bus was pulling up. But as we chatted and said a long goodbye, the bus pulled away! It turned out that the buses actually leave for Stockholm every 15 minutes, so we had been looking at the bus before theirs. Another bus came along shortly, we repeated our goodbyes, and they were on their way.

Erik, Torbjörn and I drove over to Coop, the grocery store, where we recycled various things into several bins: plastic, metal, paper, colored glass and uncolored glass. A large sign proclaimed that light bulbs could not be recycled there, and believe it or not, we actually did have a light bulb to recycle. The whole thing felt like a scene out of Portlandia, one of our favorite showsthis scene, to be specific.

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After yet another grocery self-scanning experience, we drove back to Lögla, where we had a relaxing afternoon, reading on the porch and taking a long swim at the beach. We began making dinner, for which we had big ambitions.

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Round one of dinner, a salmon vegetable stir-fry with rice, was excellent, and very attractive in the cooking process.

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Round two came a bit later: chorizo with korvbröd, senap (Swedish mustard), ketchup, rostadlök (the Swedish fried onions), grilled halloumi, and beer. It was excellent in a very different way from the stir-fry.

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After dinner, we took one last long walk around Lögla. Throughout the trip, I had been remarking on how much the Stockholm archipelago reminded me of Maine, my favorite place in the world, and how my Swedish family ought to come visit us there. As we looked over the water at the sunset, Torbjörn turned me and said with a knowing smile, “Very Maine, right?”

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The next morning, we woke up very early and set off for Arlanda airport, where I said goodbye to Torbjörn and Erik, pledging that we would see each other again very soon. As I made my way through airport check-in, and security, and into the departure lounge, speaking Swedish at every step, I realized how far my Swedish language skills had come, and how much further even they had developed on my 10-day trip — not just in vocabulary or grammar but also in just feeling comfortable using it. I picked up a Stockholm newspaper in the airport, which appropriately enough contained a story about Providence. I also seized the opportunity to have one last Swedish breakfast.

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My flight took me through Amsterdam, where I saw a Lego model of the Amsterdam airport and enjoyed one of my favorite beers in its homeland.

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Yet another wonderful time in Sweden. The next one can’t come soon enough.

Sun and water

Written by Chaz on 19 August 2012

The next morning, after sleeping very late again, Erik and I made our way back to the pendeltåg and rode it downtown, where we found a beautiful city bathed in fine weather.

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We walked down toward Kungsträdgården and spent a few minutes exploring NK, an enormous department store where we met up with Erik’s friend Patrik and walked across Gamla Stan to Södermalm. We turned left along Katarinavägen and watched the many enormous ferries down below. It was a truly beautiful day, and the view across the water was stunning.

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Meeting Koppen, another of Erik’s friends, we walked down a long staircase to Stockholm’s photography museum, which sits on the water’s edge. We ordered beers from the museum’s adorable cafe, outside overlooking the sea. Sitting on the shore, overlooking the city and sipping pale ale was one of the most memorable moments of my trip.

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We parted ways with Koppen and Patrik and took the tunnelbana back downtown, where we walked up to Hötorget to have dinner at a Scandinavian restaurant called Pyttirian in the Kungshallen food hall. I ordered pytt i panna, a traditional Swedish dish whose name means “little pieces in a pan.” It could have passed as a breakfast dish in America, though it was heartier and more savory: a hash of diced meat, onions and potatoes, with a fried egg, cucumber and pickled beets. Erik opted for a smörrebröd, a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich, of Brie cheese, bacon and sundried tomato. Both were very good, and different from other things I’ve had. Even though I spent four months in Sweden, I didn’t do a very good job of exploring the local cuisine.

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We had planned to meet up with Patrik again after dinner to sit outside and enjoy the Swedish evening sun with a few beers. In order to do that, we needed to get a few beers. And, of course, there’s only one store in Sweden that sells normal-strength beer: the state-run alcohol monopoly Systembolaget. And when you’re trying to buy alcohol at a reasonable after-dinner hour, nearly every Systembolaget has already closed its doors. Every evening, the Systembolaget across from the train station in central Stockholm, which has slightly longer hours than most, becomes one of the few stores in the entire country that will sell you alcohol. And very likely, you aren’t the only Swede who would like something to drink.

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Not only was there a long line both inside and outside the Systembolaget, but the scene inside was one of the most unruly and chaotic I have ever seen in Sweden. Apparently the bunch of Swedes who shop for booze at the very last minute in the last place in the country selling it are not among Sweden’s most rule-following. We selected a few beers, waited in the long line to pay and made our way out just before closing time.

We met Patrik again and walked over to Skeppsholmen, a small island in central Stockholm that has a bunch of green space and the city’s modern art museum. The island is one of my favorite places in Stockholm for its views from every side, and we picked a nice patch of grass to sit and enjoy the sun. We stayed until nearly eleven, when the light finally began to fade.

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Erik and I returned to Spånga shortly thereafter and again enjoyed a long night’s sleep.

A little bit of love

Written by Emmy on 12 July 2012

Lest we leave you to believe all that happened when a group of ex-editors hit Boston was a well-documented drinking session, there was much much more.

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After our session at drink, we took in a quick movie followed by a very long dinner. Never a group to pass up a good ethnic meal, we headed to Addis Red Sea.

IMG_0195In my favorite movie, “When Harry Met Sally,” Harry tries to make a joke about a relatively bad date he had gone on:

“We’re sitting and we’re talking at this Ethiopian restaurant that she wanted to go to. And I was making jokes, you know like, “Hey I didn’t know that they had food in Ethiopia? This will be a quick meal. I’ll order two empty plates and we can leave.”

Our experience at Addis Red Sea: less quick. Though the food was delicious — a big plate of spicy and savory meats and vegetables on top of injera — I think they had to go back to Ethiopia to collect the ingredients. Several hours later, we emerged.

The next morning we combined two of our collective favorites — more omelets and a store full of books — with a bookstore cafe brunch. Just what the blog was missing: more images of breakfast eggs.

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I don’t want to give the misimpression that all we did on our weekend together was eat food; it’s just that it’s hard to photograph friendship and we favor photography on this blog. But jokes aside, it was a fantastic weekend and while we had a blast traipsing around Boston, we really could have been anywhere. After spending so much time trapped in a newsroom and so many additional hours together by choice, there is very little that this scrappy group could not enjoy doing together.

IMG_0200Note: This wine was named for a brigade of Chilean revolutionaries; we have appropriately adopted it as our own

The crew trickled out over the course of the afternoon, heading back to points south. I held out for a midnight train to Georgia (really, for a 5am train to New York, but same idea). Chaz and I still had one activity to get in. Can you guess? An authentic Thai dinner.

We headed out to Brookline to Khao Sarn, which our best internet sources claimed would be the best around. We walked in at nearly 9 p.m. and found ourselves to be essentially the only diners present. That on its own might have been disconcerting, but there were a couple delightful surprises on the menu.

Yes. Hello, betel.

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Okay, it wasn’t actually betel, but spinach leaves, a substitute that is more easily acquired in America. It nevertheless evoked our sidewalk picnic in Bangkok. The other appetizers were delicious, even if they did not cause such heartfelt nostalgia for the checkpoint. We sampled a spicy, crunchy papaya salad and a very refreshing summer roll.

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As we walked ourselves down memory lane, we were also blown away to see khao soi grace the menu. Many of Thailand’s wonderful dishes have made it firmly to the United States. Pad thai is nothing if not an American staple at this point. Khao soi, on the other hand, has not made quite the same exodus from its homeland. The spicy broth, filled with crunchy egg noodles and tangy vegetables, is a staple of Northern Thailand’s cuisine and we ate quite a bit of it up in Chiang Mai. It tasted spectacularly familiar. We also sampled a mango Thai curry, spicy and fruity all at once.

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The spice and authentic leaves made for the proper condiments on top of a lovely weekend.

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Put a bird on New York

Written by Chaz on 6 May 2012

As has been discussed extensively before, Emmy and I think the show Portlandia is pretty great. It’s clever, funny and catchy. But one of the biggest reasons we love it is the relationship between the two actors who star in the show, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. It’s very clear that they’re best friends who are having a really good time making something together.

“We would email a link [of our sketch-comedy videos] to our friends, but they were mostly for us. It was very understated and silly, and we were just sort of reveling in the absurd.” — Carrie Brownstein to NPR

Reveling in the absurd mostly for our own selves is essentially what Emmy and I do on this blog, so we naturally feel some kinship to Fred and Carrie, who, even though we’ve never met them, feel like our really good friends. So when Fred and Carrie announced that they were taking Portlandia on tour, I immediately emailed Emmy and told her to get tickets for the New York show, promising that I would find a way to be there.

We actually attended two Portlandia events in one day. The first was a panel discussion with Fred and Carrie at the Paley Center for Media. I had never heard of the center, but it seemed like a pretty neat media organization.

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The moderator left a lot to be desired — she didn’t really get the pair talking about anything that mattered, and considering that we were at a center for media, it seemed like a missed opportunity to ask searching questions about their contribution to pop culture. But we were still in awe of being in their presence, and during the question and answer session at the end, Emmy asked them a question that we have frequently pondered ourselves: What makes your friendship different from other friendships you have? Carrie called it the hardest question they have ever gotten.

Seeing the two of them in person was just about everything we had imagined it would be. And the afternoon event was just an appetizer, to use a technical food-blog term.

After the panel, we walked over to Pure Thai Cookhouse, which Emmy and I had visited once before when it had a different name thanks to a recommendation from our most reliable source for everything under the sun. At first, we just ordered curry puffs and a papaya salad with salted blue crab, because we were just having a snack, really. But we were still a bit peckish afterwards, and we were intrigued by the sound of pad kee moa with calamari.

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Though the curry puffs were state of the art, both of the other two dishes were lackluster. This doesn’t speak very well of our food blogger credentials, but we were literally unable to figure out how to eat the crab in the papaya salad, and the texture of the calamari was just a bit off for our taste in the noodle dish.

We retreated to Emmy’s apartment to rest up for our evening, and took the subway down to the Bowery Ballroom for Fred and Carrie’s evening performance. It was, essentially, a live version of their sketch comedy television show — they joked, they sang, they told stories, and they were all around awesome.

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Fred and Carrie also welcomed Kyle MacLachlan, who played Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks and plays the mayor of Portland on Portlandia, and jammed out on the Portland theme song that the Portlandia version of themselves wrote at the mayor’s behest.

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And they dressed up as two of our favorites characters from the show — feminist bookstore owners Toni and Candace, who are more exclusive than inclusive in their attempts to create a safe space for women. At this point, we were just about losing ourselves with delight.

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But perhaps the moment most relevant to us came during a slideshow of old pictures of themselves, including an adorable one of the two of them. They talk a lot about how they live on opposite sides of the country, Carrie in Portland and Fred in New York, so they need a project to keep them together. This resonates a lot with us.

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In short, seeing Fred and Carrie in person didn’t do anything to dispel the idea that we know them really well without knowing them at all.

After the show, we met up with some friends before heading home, still giddy about our day in Portland in New York.

Feliz cumpleaños, Chaz

Written by Emmy on 21 December 2011

As I once mentioned in the early days of Absurdity Checkpoint, I believe birthdays to be very important. And though I could not be in Boston for the actual day of, I journeyed up north in order to take part in at least the celebratory portion of Chaz’s 23rd.

I arrived on Saturday afternoon in time for some last-minute party planning efforts and, of course, dinner at a neighborhood Thai/Vietnamese restaurant. As is apparently tradition with a checkpoint birthday dinner, little photographic evidence survived. (Monochromatic dishes in a dark restaurant just don’t pop well on a cellphone camera.) We celebrated afterward with Diana and many of Chaz’s new Boston friends.

My visit was brief, but there was obviously as much food stuffed in as possible. Sunday’s main event was brunch. We went to Masa, a southwestern restaurant not far from Chaz’s apartment that I had been to with friends the year prior and remembered as being quite excellent. There was a wait to be seated, as is often the case with a Sunday brunch expedition, and so we had coffees at the bar. At the peak brunch hour of 1 p.m., Masa was packed entirely with twenty-somethings just like us.

By the time we were seated, we were both feeling ravenous and so quickly devoured the homemade cornbread, served with three different spreads — apricot and habanera jam, molasses honey butter, and cranberry and chipotle jam.

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Chaz had the stuffed Mexican omelet, filled with fresh veggies and cheese.

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I ordered the “ultimate” breakfast burrito with black beans, veggies, cheese, chorizo and eggs. Much to Chaz’s chagrin, I ordered it with egg whites.

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We powered through our meal so that we would have time to take a tour of Chaz’s office before I set off on my train back to New York. The trip, though very brief, gave me a quick glimpse into Chaz’s new grown-up life. This was the checkpoint’s first reunion since we bid farewell in the Detroit airport and so much had happened in the few short months since. Since the checkpoint began, we’ve gone from college kids to carefree summer adventurers to “professional,” working “adults.” But the moral of the (still-evolving) story is that we’re still best friends, despite the daily separation of about 225 miles. And so the checkpoint lives on — one adventure at a time.

Final destination

Written by Emmy on 7 October 2011

After our picnic, we bid farewell to the Grand Canyon and hit the open road.

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Although the Grand Canyon was our last real destination, the remote North Rim is a bit far from all commercial airports. Since we planned to fly out of Phoenix in the early afternoon the next day, we had decided that we would get a bit closer to reduce pre-flight rush. So we drove the deserted highways of Arizona and made our way to the first real city beyond the canyon, Flagstaff.

Along the way, we passed mesa after mesa, cactus after cactus, and very few other cars. These are the roads that 75 miles per hour speed limits and cruise control were made for.

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The only real landmarks along the way were two national monuments, neither of which I had ever heard of before picking up the area map. Contained within the same 35-mile loop detour off the highway, the Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument are definitely removed. Wupatki, where we stopped for an emergency bathroom visit and a NPS passport stamp, is considered a sacred place among many Native American tribes. Sunset Crater, where we arrived after the visitor center had already closed, was formed by several volcanos back when Arizona was a more fiery place.

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We pulled into Flagstaff with storm clouds looming overhead. I had read all about a hotel in historic downtown Flagstaff and so reserved us a room. The Weatherford Hotel was definitely unconventional. I think there were more barstools than rooms in the establishment. Flagstaff lived its heyday in the 1800s during westward expansion. The town was christened on the country’s centennial — how it came to be named after the pole hoisting the stars and stripes. The Weatherford was a relic from that era, which meant that it lacked some more modern amenities. But upon arrival, all we really needed was a long shower to wash the canyon off of ourselves.

After washing up, we headed to Beaver Street Brewery, a restaurant highly recommended by all of our usual sources. We ordered a couple of the local brewery’s wares and tried to stick to local fare as well. We started with the thus appropriately named Arizona quesadillas, which were filled with chicken and served with sides of fresh guacamole and salsa.

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We asked our waiter what he liked best and he recommended any of the flatbread pizzas and one of the house platters. We had already decided he was pretty awesome, so we followed his directions to a tee. We split a southwestern chicken pizza, which was topped with a chicken, tons of veggies and a cilantro pesto (take that, cilantro haters — even if you might not be able to help yourselves). We also had the shrimp taco platter, which we both thought was phenomenal.

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After dinner, we strolled past the Flagstaff train station and decided to check it out. Amtrak was my primary mode of transit between home and Brown, so I became quite accustomed to delays on the Northeast Regional line. But we’re talking 15 to 30 minute delays. Apparently on the western lines, like the one that runs through Flagstaff, delays of one, two, ten hours are basically par for the course. Without an agenda for the rest of the night, we decided to sit on a bench and wait with the angsty passengers of the evening Southwest Chief.

IMG_6345While we were waiting, we must have seen ten giant freight trains roll through. Flagstaff sits on the highly trafficked Los Angeles to Chicago route of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, more commonly known by its acronym, BNSF. I’m not sure I have ever seen so many large aggressive freight trains before. We discussed the politics of transcontinental trains until the Chief finally arrived about an hour after schedule. We waited till the train had departed the station and then we retired for the evening. However, the freight didn’t stop just because we did. The trains ran all night, which was a bit more disruptive than our prior few nights under the stars had been. Price of capitalism?

We woke up in the morning and undertook our largest challenge to date. More strenuous than Half Dome, more tiring than the Grand Canyon, completed on less coffee than Angels Landing: unpacking, cleaning and repacking Dorothy. We managed to do quite a number on her in two weeks. If you happen to rent a black Dodge Grand Caravan in Phoenix anytime soon, just don’t open the stow ’n go compartments.

Before leaving Flagstaff, we managed to sneak in a quick and authentic breakfast at MartAnne’s Burrito Palace. Chaz ordered based upon the restaurant’s name and had a breakfast burrito.

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I followed their tagline — “the house that chilaquiles built” — and went with the traditional Mexican dish of scrambled eggs, tortillas, cheese and green salsa. Both portions were enormous and came with beans, rice, potatoes, lettuce and tomato, and tortillas. Breakfast was delicious, and I’m not sure I ate another full meal for the rest of the day.

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After finishing breakfast, we powered south to Phoenix. Over the course of the drive, we dropped almost 7,000 feet in elevation, a shocking accomplishment considering it never looked like we left the desert. We stopped briefly for gas and then pulled up in front of the Delta terminal at Sky Harbor International Airport. We couldn’t both bring Dorothy back, much as we would have liked to bid her a teary farewell together, because of the sheer amount of luggage we had. So Chaz took our girl home while I babysat what can only be dubbed a mountain of baggage.

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The final count on Dorothy’s odometer was 2,417.3 miles — a fairly awesome feat for two weeks. (Never mind that we flew more miles than that just to get to our starting point.) From the windows of our minivan we had seen deserts and the ocean, packed freeways and empty country roads, mountains and vast flat expanses. We had eaten (and spilled) countless meals in her confines, possibly broken a GPS system we never asked for in the first place, and listened to the same classic songs on infinite repeat. (And happily, we managed all this without damaging the car or earning a single traffic or parking ticket.) But now it was time to board our plane back east.

We flew together to Detroit, where another journey once began and others are likely still to come. “You don’t get to be silver without going to a hub a few times,” Chaz said, when I pointed out this symmetry. And so we hugged goodbye and ran to our separate planes, ending yet another fantastic voyage for the checkpoint.