Seattle: An Urban Hiker’s Paradise

Seattle, the home of 90’s grunge, Starbucks Coffee, ‘flying’ fish and plenty of rain, has become a booming metropolis that hits the top of travelers lists year after year. And how can you blame them? Seattle offers a bit of everything—from high end seafood to museums, breweries and easy access to some of the country’s highest peaks, travelers can create an itinerary guaranteed for a trip of a lifetime.

So where do you start when planning a visit to Seattle? For hikers, I advise splitting your time between the city and the nearby national parks, but make sure to hit the following spots in the city.

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Pike’s Market Inventory

Pike’s Place Market

You’ve seen the videos of fishmongers tossing large fish across their booth in front of large crowds, but seeing the spectacle first hand is wildly different. Even for the travelers who try to avoid big tourist traps, it’s hard to find an excuse to skip Pike’s. With fruit stands selling Rainier cherries and fish markets wafting that amazing ‘freshly caught’ scent, you don’t have to buy anything to get the full experience (although we recommend saving Pike’s for a lunch stop, just to buy up some of the pre-made goodies). Head to the far end towards the docks for gift shopping, with handmade jewelry and t-shirts for everyone on your list. And don’t forget to visit the original Starbucks location across the street.

BONUS STOP: If you’re an art nerd like us, be sure to visit the Seattle Art Museum. With a vast collection of Pacific Northwest totems and other sculptures, it’s a brilliant way to escape the inevitable rain of the city and learn a little about the culture of the area. If the sun is shining, take a detour over to the art museum’s satellite Olympic Sculpture Park for a more modern experience.

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Despite Seattle’s reputation as a rainy city, July through October is a perfect time to catch blue skies.

Space Needle

Another bucket list item that travelers shouldn’t miss when visiting Seattle, this iconic and extraterrestrial looking tower has become a symbol of the city (Although, first timers may expect a much larger and more prominent structure that can be seen from every point of the city. That is actually more true to Mt. Rainier in the distance.). For photographers, skip the long and expensive line up to the top of the Space Needle and instead head up to the Sky View Observatory. Or, experience the landmark from the ground, walking through the Space Needle Park complex, which includes stops at the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, the Museum of Pop Culture (which includes memorabilia from Nirvana and other Seattle musicians) and the Seattle Children’s Museum.

 

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Gas Works Park looking east.

Gas Works Park

 

If it’s parks with great views you’re looking for, be sure to add the Gas Works Park to your list. Located across Lake Union, this former site of the Seattle Gas Light Company offers spectacular views of the city with a steampunk-esque gas plant in the foreground. It’s a great spot for a picnic or some wandering, and lets you enjoy the city without stress of crowded streets.

Capitol Hill

Like many cities, Seattle boasts an array of neighborhoods surrounding the city center, each with their own charm. One of the more popular neighborhoods is Capitol Hill, east of downtown, at the tip of Lake Union. This area is perfect for those looking for some nightlife entertainment, with plenty of restaurants, bars, and a vibrant LGBTQ scene. Make a stop over to Volunteer Park and climb the historic water tower for more breathtaking views of the city.

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The Fremont Troll is a must-see when visiting Seattle

Fremont

Seattle is a bit quirky, and there’s no better example of such quirks than in the northern neighborhood of Fremont. Here you can see popular public art like the controversial sculpture of Vladimir Lenin, or take a photo with the Fremont Troll, an 18-foot tall sculpture of a troll under the bridge. Enjoy shopping and dining in the neighborhood center, or watch the ships go by on the canal.

Ballard

Northwest of Fremont is another quirky section of Seattle. Ballard, a fishing community, boasts its Scandinavian roots at the Nordic Heritage Museum, which tells the story of the community. And if you’re looking for some beach time, head down to the coast and relax at the Golden Gardens Park.

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Ballard Docks

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Hikers break in Olympic National Park

Get Outside

While you can easily spend a week exploring everything that Seattle has to offer, we recommend taking some time to rent a car and drive out to one of the many National Parks. Whether you’re looking for a day hike, or a multi-day backpacking trek, you’ll easily be able to find everything you need in a few hours drive. From the city, you can see the snowcapped peaks of Mt. Rainier to the south, or Mt. Baker to the north, which can both be easily reached in a day trip. Or, take a drive east to explore the North Cascades, or take the ferry west to the Olympic peninsula and spend a few days at Olympic National Park. We guarantee by the time your vacation is up, you’ll be eagerly planning another visit.

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A Perfect Walk Through Paris

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Sunrise over Marais.

John Baxer’s ‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World’ paints a gorgeous visual of some of his favorite neighborhoods in Paris. In each chapter, mixed with snapshot tales of his life living on the Left Bank, he captures the true wonder of experiencing this city—on foot. As an urban hiker, I’m no stranger to street wandering in new cities, but when considering my most beautiful walk, it was hard to pick just one.

A more recent favorite walk though took place on a Saturday, and finally adjusted to the time zone, I was up early and feeling refreshed from a week of heavy train travel. Unlike most of my trip so far, this day was set aside simply for wandering—I had no tours booked, just a list of must-sees and a plan to knock off as many as I could in one day.

A travel tip—if you are an early riser (or more so, become and early riser!), plan to visit one of your must-see spots first, right when it opens. Not only will this give you ample time to see everything, but because you are there first you are gifted with smaller crowds, and many times, especially in museums, you get to experience parts all by yourself.

img_6435.jpgSuch was the case on this perfect walk, where I arrived in Paris’ Marais district just as the morning sun was rising over the buildings. Most stores were still closed, leaving me to wander the pastel streets alone, arriving at the Musee Picasso in time for opening. Here, you can view thousands of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs from the Spanish artist’s life. The building itself is a work of art as well, providing brilliant curves and corners that frame the galleries, offering a glimpse into the life of its former owners.

Leaving the museum, life on the streets of Marais had started to emerge—storefronts were opening for the day, cafes were bustling with patrons, families heading out for the day’s activities. It was October, and while still warm in the sun, I was desperate for a thicker sweater as I passed in and out of cooler buildings. Luckily, Marais offers adorable boutiques for the more shopping-centric travelers, and I was able to find exactly what I was looking for—chic, warm, but not too overpriced.

I’ve written before about the different characters the Right and Left Banks of Paris have. My morning was spent mostly along the Right Bank, starting with the more traditional Marais, then quickly turning to modern as I came upon the Pompidou Centre. The lively square is open to the public, but on this day was also playing home to the long line of tourists trying to get into the Modern Art museum inside. While intrigued by the architecture of Renzo Piano, the museum itself wasn’t high on my list and with such a long line (even with my Museum Pass), it was not worth my time. This is the beauty of solo travel, and one of my favorite things—you can change your list regularly, and make decisions on where to go and what to see easily, without compromise.

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It is difficult to fit the whole Pompidou Centre in one shot!

From the Pompidou Centre, I turned towards Rue de Rivoli, which as a former New Yorker, I could only compare to Herald Square. The streets are grungy, with modern superstores and chains like H&M and pop up stands selling sunglasses and scarves lining the sidewalks. It’s a fun experience, but unless you are there to shop, it doesn’t offer too much for travelers. Realizing this, I opened my trusty map and found that just a block over was the bank of the Seine, and headed that way, onto the Jardins des Touleries and Musee de Orangerie.

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One of eight full length Water Lily paintings by Monet at the Musee de Orangerie. 

It was my love of the film ‘Midnight in Paris’ that drew me to the Musee de Orangerie. Smaller than the Louvre or Orsay just down the street, this museum really has one (very) big highlight—Monet’s Water Lilies. While Monet was known for painting the same landscapes over and over (at different points of the day to capture light, atmosphere, etc.) it is his many series of water lilies that he is most known for. The eight canvasses housed at the Orangerie span two rooms, and are some of Monet’s largest. A fun fact—Monet painted these later in life when he was nearly blind, yet still captures the impressionist portrayal of the subject as he has done time and again. You experience the paintings at two perspectives—first, standing up close, where you can marvel at the intricacies of Monet’s brushstrokes, of the layers of blues and greens and yellows that swirl together to create a seemingly abstract picture, then, stepping back, you watch the colors merge together to create the landscape. Once you take your time to explore these paintings, head to the other rooms for glimpses at works by Cezanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso and more.

My walk continued through the National Assembly, where I desperately tried to find an open café for lunch. This area, which I am sure is busy on weekdays, was a near ghost town on a Saturday. It reminds me now, of my advice to plan your urban hikes around neighborhoods and times of day, so when you are ready to eat, you don’t find yourself in an area with minimal options (on weekends, look for popular shopping areas where lunch spots will more likely be open).

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Rodin’s Le Cathedral

Once I managed to grab a bite to eat, I headed to the Musee Rodin, located in the 7th arrondissement. This museum was created in a former home of Rodin, with his authentic sculptures displayed within the house, and replicas placed throughout the property gardens. Here, you can see his famous The Thinker, The Kiss, as well as many studies for his Gates of Hell. Of the thousands of pieces on display (including some works by other artists, ie. Van Gogh), my favorite was Le Cathedral, two hands twisted together to create a pointed arch, mirroring the design of many of Paris’ gothic cathedrals.

Earlier, I mentioned the Paris Museum Pass. If you plan to spend more than two days exploring the museums and monuments in Paris, this is a wonderful steal. It does require a bit of planning, as once you activate your pass you can use it only for consecutive days—two, four or six. I purchased the two-day pass, so tried to cram in as many museums as possible, which proves easy when the pass gets you free admission to over 50 of Paris’ best spots. And, it gives you a chance to see museums you may have not considered. It was thanks to this museum pass that I was able to stop over to the Hotel des Invalids, a lavish church and former veteran’s hospital that now towers over the tomb of Napoleon—even in death he is over the top with décor.

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Even in death, Napoleon loves to make a statement.

 

According to my cell phone’s tracker, I walked about 12 miles this day. By 4 p.m. or so, I had hit most of this already, and while too early for dinner, I was in need of a place to sit and rest. My Rick Steves guidebook mentioned visiting the Rue Cler, a small, pedestrian-only street famous for its markets. Here, you can see shellfish, fruits, cheeses and meats, all on display for residents and tourists alike, looking for some of the most delicious samples Paris has to offer. While I didn’t buy anything, I sampled a few slices of cheese before a rainstorm started. Not bothered by the raindrops, the cafes along this street activated their awnings over the outdoor seats, beckoning me inside for a glass of wine, providing me with the perfect ending to my most beautiful walk in Paris.

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Seafood for sale on Rue Cler.

Rainy Day Guide to Boston’s Museums

Some days, we get rain. It’s a natural cycle, but for travelers looking to get the most out of their trip, a rainy day can thwart their plans. There are some ways to plan ahead, of course—keeping an eye on the forecast is always an obvious option—but sometimes a quick storm rolls through and forces you off the urban trail for a few hours. I try to save my shopping or museum browsing for such days when I know the weather won’t be ideal, so to at least get the most out of my trip.

The same goes for rainy days in my own home city of Boston. While I love to use my weekends for exploring, rainy days are a perfect excuse to get my miles indoors with an added dash of culture. Boston offers a variety of museums for all interests, but I’ve rounded up some of my favorites to help plan your trip:

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Van Gogh at the MFA

The Museum of Fine Arts Boston is a favorite to explore. Classically curated to offer a variety of permanent exhibits from the arts of Africa, Asia and Oceana, to ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian wings, American painting and sculpture, and European works spanning the Middle Ages, to the Renaissance, to French Impressionism. Travelers can easily spend a full day wandering this museum, but be sure to catch some of the highlights—the Sargent Galleries on the second floor; Monet, Degas and Van Gogh; mummies; Georgia O’Keefe; Buddhist Temples; the bust of Augustus; and so much more.

If it’s Contemporary Art you are looking for, head down to the booming Seaport District to explore the Institute of Contemporary Art. While the views of Boston Harbor are reason enough to stop here, the museum’s rotating exhibits offer commentary on some of today’s biggest issues, from environmental to social justice—it’s always an eye-opening experience!

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The empty frame of where Rembrandt’s work once hung, stolen from the Gardner Museum in 1990.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum tells two stories—first, it is a story of a wealthy Boston socialite and her collection of art, and second, a story of one of the most famous (and unsolved) art thefts in the world. The Gardner Museum is located just down the street from the MFA, in the former home of Isabela Stewart Gardner. Here, you can browse her own personal collection of art, which includes some of Europe’s greatest artists, along with furniture, gardens and more. Of course, the most famous room is the Dutch Room, where on March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers broke in and stole priceless works including Rembrandt’s ‘Sea of Galilee’ and Vermeer’s ‘The Concert.’ And because of Gardner’s strict instructions, the empty frames of these stolen works still hang in the room, a constant reminder of the search.

If art isn’t your thing, head over to Boston’s popular Museum of Science, which offers fun, interactive exhibits for all ages. Whether it’s space exploration, animals and ecosystems, or electric currents, this museum will offer you and your kids a perfect solution to any rainy day. (I highly recommend catching the Lightning show).

If it’s history that’s your thing (and you’ve already walked the Freedom Trail), I recommend the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Here, you’ll see permanent exhibits highlighting the life and work of the former president, plus objects from his tenure in the White House, Robert Kennedy’s time as Attorney General, and highlights from Jacqueline Kennedy’s life. The library also hosts special exhibits related to JFK, the Kennedy family, and other significant leaders from Massachusetts.

Maybe this one is just for the Instagram shot, but the three-story stained glass globe at the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library is fun pit stop on your trip to Boston. Take some time to explore the room and stick around for the presentation, ‘A World of Ideas.’

 

Montmartre: In the Footsteps of the Artists

It was my sister who first introduced me to Vincent Van Gogh. I forget if it was from her art class, or something at school that first lit that spark of interest, but the result became a fascination with this man and his famed stylistic works. It was his story that drew me to Montmartre, although I’m not sure I realized it right away. See, as an art history student, obsessed with the works of great impressionists, the Parisian art scene was something I was familiar with, but had never fully experienced. Montmartre, with its history of outdoor cafes that welcomed the heroes of my studies, was a point of pilgrimage I desperately needed to see.

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Montmartre is perfect for wandering, with its adorable side streets and staircases scattered throughout. 

As Paris’ 18th arrondissement, Montmartre lies at the top of the city’s northern hills. Today, it is a popular tourist destination, haunted by the memories of the city’s most famed artists. It was the first stop on my trip to Paris in 2017. Jetlagged but energized, I emerged from the Pigalle Metro station, passing under the iconic Art Deco sign, and onto the street. The refurbished Moulin Rouge greeted me with its glowing windmill while neighborhood merchants, with their fruit and cheeses on display, opened their doors to greet the day’s customers. It was a fairytale come true, of modern daily life meshing with the history of the stone streets.

What appealed to the artists that called Montmartre home was the outdoor café scene, where they could argue art and literature over a cheap bottle of wine late into the evening. Combine that with the cheap rent, and suddenly this northern arrondissement becomes a hub for struggling artists. At the turn of the 20th century, Montmartre became the center of the bohemian and cabaret club scenes, which today still attracts tourists to the windmill landmarks scattered around the neighborhood. Some famed cabarets are long gone—Rodolphe Salis’ Le Chat Noir may no longer stand, but its famed poster by Theophile Steinlen is seen everywhere, on cups, platters, towels, postcards, whatever a tourist may want to bring home.

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La Bonne Franquette and the adjacent Le Consulat were popular destinations for artists to stay late and talk art over wine.

You can still see the famous Moulin de la Galette, a café immortalized now by Renoir in his panting Bal du moulin de la Galette. Van Gogh’s apartment during the brief time he lived in Paris is marked with a plaque (although Van Gogh famously hated his time in Paris, the city loves to boast his residency with informational displays scattered around the center of the neighborhood). Restaurants Le Bonne Franquette and Le Consulat, set across the alley from each other, claim their role as regular haunts of artists and writers including Pablo Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Claude Monet, Ernest Hemingway, and more.

The most picturesque of the café scene in Montmartre though is the little pink La Maison Rose, at the corner of Rue de l’Abreuvoir and Rue des Salues. It’s a perfect stop as you wander the streets of the arrondissement for a snack or cup of coffee.

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Possibly the most famous cafe in Montmartre, La Maison Rose stands out on the stone streets of city.

Montmartre’s biggest lure for tourists is the Sacre Coeur, rising high above the city. From most vantage points in Paris, whether you are climbing the stairs of the Eiffel Tower or walking along the Seine, you can look to the north and see the ovular dome of this church. The easiest way to get to the church from the Abbesses Metro stop is to take the funicular, but for the urban hikers, I recommend walking the steep staircases up the hill, where you are rewarded with a perfect view of Paris’ skyline.

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The landmark of Montmartre, you can see the domes of Sacre Coeur all over Paris.

Montmartre can be as extreme or relaxing as you want it to be, but with any trip to Paris, it is a stop you must make. Be sure to take the time to wander along the small side streets, take in the lifestyle of the merchants and the café owners, stop to talk to the artists selling paintings in the Place du Tertre, but most important, take some time to sit at a café and watch the world go by—may it inspire your next creative project.