‘Selfie’ Tourism and How to Hike Wisely in the White Mountains

35518697_10212425852901487_245329652933984256_n

New Hampshire offers plenty of awesome photo opps, but be sure you are ready to tackle the big ones first.

Recently, I came across the term ‘Selfie Tourism,’ a phenomenon that has immensely affected travel industry in both a positive and negative way. It was used in a video on social media, where loggers in Costa Rica chopped down a tree to capture a sleeping sloth and sell it into the tourism trade for ignorant travelers to snuggle up with in front of the camera. Not only was it horrifying to watch this poor creature fall hundreds of feet from the trees, but knowing that sloths, with a slower heart rate than most mammals, could die if startled by too much commotion in an environment where they are issued out for photographs.

 

Not only has this ‘Selfie Tourism’ threatened wildlife, but it is also inviting a new group of ignorant travelers to visit the more out-of-reach places without proper research. In the outdoor recreation community, whether you are hiking, backpacking, boating, climbing, or other, it is understood that these activities require some experience and skill. Instead, for those travelers who show up ‘for the photo,’ we’re seeing first time hikers attempting advanced trails, resulting in more emergency rescues than we’ve seen in previous years.

Let’s consider the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a popular vacation destination for New Englanders in both the summer and winter. Over the past few years, hiking trails in the region have seen double and even triple the number of visitors. Local forest rangers are working overtime to manage traffic and parking, and the once quiet summits are starting to see some bigger crowds. Many trails can be hiked in a day—the Franconia Ridge, possibly the most popular loop hike in the Whites, is a long but rewarding hike that can still have intermediate to advanced hikers home by dinner. But for those looking for specific locations, such as the coveted Bondcliff summit (which offers an awesome photo opportunity) or Mount Washington (New England’s highest peak), most amateur hikers don’t realize how strenuous the trails are, and realize while on the trail that they may be in trouble. That is the perfect recipe to call in the rescue crews.

By no means do I discourage travelers to head out into the wilderness for the lofty photo goals (I myself love sharing pictures from my adventures, just look at our Instagram page!). Instead, I urge you to prepare ahead of time—with simple training, safety checks, and consulting a professional, you can avoid disaster and get the most out of your trip. While we can adjust the following to various parts of the world, let’s instead focus on how to best prepare for a hike in New Hampshire so you can have that amazing experience safely.

 

37737602_10212661043541106_1868724589564002304_n

The AMC has high huts where hikers can stay overnight an break up their hike into two or more days. Reservations include a bed, dinner and breakfast, plus some incredible views!

Do Your Research

 

This seems redundant, but it is so important if you plan to hike the White Mountains. When looking at a peak you would like to conquer, consider the following: mileage, elevation gain (this is not the elevation of the summit, but instead the total elevation you will have to climb on the hike), terrain, and weather. Be sure to pack a map of the trail, as well as a compass (and learn how to use them!). You can pick up a White Mountain Guide through the Appalachian Mountain Club, which provides all of this information, and can give you a better idea of what to expect. Another great resource is through New England Waterfalls, which gives a chart comparing difficulty to how great the view is—perfect for beginners to choose their first 4,000-footer! Mountain Forecasts is a great resource as well for checking temperature, wind, and precipitation at the summit of each mountain, which you will need to know before you set out on the trail.

Know Your Limits and Build Up to the Big Summit

This relates to tip number one—once you research the hike you plan to do, you can then decide if you are ready. If you are beginner and you want to hike a difficult hike, I suggest trying a few easier hikes first and work your way up to the big one (like running, you can’t just start at a marathon, you need time to train). There are numerous clubs and meetups that bring beginner hikers together and help instruct you through the basics of hiking, so when the time comes to attempt your goal you are confident and ready for it. And, when looking at the mileage, if it seems like a lot for one day, look for campsites or huts to stay overnight and turn it into a backpacking trip!

37635830_10212661042061069_3215702844137013248_n

View of the Franconia Ridge from the summit of Mount Garfield

Pack with an Attitude of Caution

A word of advice: Always pack essentials for any scenario you might encounter. At minimum, make sure you have plenty of water (two liters for a day hike, three if it’s in the summer), food, warm layers (it gets cold at the top, even in July and August), and a first aid kit. I always go with the attitude that if you have to ask, the answer is probably ‘yes.’ And if you are backpacking, be sure to make sure you pack enough water (or have opportunities to refill), and have an option for bear protection (provided bear boxes, bring your bear bag, stay in a cozy hut). A don’t forget your lucky hat!

 

Know When to Turn Back

 

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. You might be more tired than expected (which can be a recipe for injury), or the weather may change quickly, or maybe you are running out of daylight and can’t make the peak. Whatever the case, don’t ever be ashamed if you have to turn back—safety come first when hiking, and if you can’t make your goal that day, don’t worry, the mountains aren’t going anywhere and you can try again when you are ready.

21271150_10210355868073160_7621975196475690916_n

They look cute, but these gray jays will steal your food!

Leave No Trace

Crowded trails means more wear and tear on the environment. For the case of preservation, hikers should practice the art of “Leave No Trace.” This includes everything from staying on the marked trails, to carrying out all the trash you bring in (including apple cores or banana peels, as those are not native to the White Mountains and could harm the ecosystem). And please, as tempting as it may be, do not feed the animals (especially those pesky gray jays!).

Consult an Expert

When in doubt, ask. You can consult with White Mountains National Forest rangers, or stop by the White Mountain National Forest Visitor Center to chat with some local experts about what you need to do ahead of your hike.

Have Fun

Clearly the most important part of hiking. At no point should the experience be bad—sure, you might be sore after a day on the trail, but you trade that with the feeling of accomplishment and plenty of memories. And of course, a nice photo that you can be proud to show off. 😀

20229143_10210040997721598_5794453688683065612_n

Sometimes hiking requires a team.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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:

IMG_8177

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!

IMG_3058

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.’

 

Boston Wanderings: Your Guide to Our Favorite Spots Off the Freedom Trail

IMG_4692

Heading west through the Boston Common.

Corner any local in Boston and ask them what you should do on your visit to this city, we guarantee 9 out of 10 times the Freedom Trail will be a part of their answer. That’s because when it comes to Boston, the city has made a name for itself in walking tours. But for those visitors who want to get a nice walk in with a little less history, we’ve put together a route that hits all the best spots.

 

TIP: Boston’s streets are old, so there are two things to remember when you hike. First, when it comes to shoes, choose function over fashion—you’ll be walking along stone, brick, and cobbled streets, so a comfortable pair of shoes will get you a lot farther (I’ve lost a few good pairs to these streets before). And second, make sure you have a map and/or GPS on your phone—Boston streets are winding and can get confusing at times, so without some guidance you might end up walking in circles.

North End: We start our non-Freedom Trail walk on the Freedom Trail (ok, yes we admit that is a bit confusing). While this historic neighborhood is home to some of the top Revolutionary sites in the city, it is also home to some of the most delicious food. Take a moment to wander through the Old North Church, and onto Hanover Street, where you can pick up some snacks for later—cheese, charcuterie, cannoli, they’ve got it all! (Note: This is home to the famed Mike’s Pastry. We try to get there early to beat the lines, but you can stop by at any time to get your Italian bakery fix if you’re ok waiting in line.)

Faneuil Hall and the North End Park: Over the years, Boston has made more of an effort to increase its green spaces in the city. One such example is the North End Park, which has become a staple for both locals and visitors in the summer months. Here, you can lay out a blanket and have a picnic (stop by the Boston Public Market for other food options), play in the water fountains, or sit at one of the tables and read before continuing on. Just south of the park you’ll find one of Boston’s top attractions—Faneuil Hall. Here, you can shop, eat, grab a snack, or just wander through and catch a street performance.

IMG_4330

The Massachusetts State House lights up at night.

The Boston Common: Climb the stairs past Boston’s concrete City Hall (a product of 1960’s geometric design and often described as one of the ‘Ugliest Buildings in America’), and turn left onto Tremont street. Follow the curve until you reach a large open green space. This spot, known as Boston’s Common, has existed since colonial times and was once grazing land for Boston’s livestock. Look north to spot the gold-domed State House, the hub of Massachusetts’ government, and continue west past the Frog Pond, which in summer months is a swimming spot for children, and in the winter transforms into a fun ice skating rink.

TIP: Before you walk through here, read up on the famously obese squirrels—they are adorable!

 

IMG_3962

Beacon Hill: North of the Common, one of our favorite areas to walk is Beacon Hill. Here, you’ll see the true historic beauty of Boston’s architecture, with brick streets and brownstone homes lit by picturesque street lamps—you feel like you’re taking a step back in time. Wandering through here doesn’t take long, but it’s a must-see for architecture and history nerds.

 

Boston Public Garden: From Beacon Hill, turn left onto Charles Street heading back towards the Public Garden. One of our favorite stops is the Make Way for Ducklings statue, commemorating the 1941 illustrated book by Robert McCloskey about a family of ducks that trekked through the city in the most adorable way. If you’re looking for real ducks, head over to the pond and watch the swans and ducks swim around, or if it’s the right season, take a ride around the pond on one of Boston’s swan boats.

Newbury Street and Copley Square: By now you’ve walked a few miles through historic Boston, so you’ll be in need of some refreshments. Wander down Newbury Street for a taste of high end shopping plus a selection of restaurants. One street over is Boylston, which brings you to the heart of Copley Square and some of our favorite Boston Landmarks—Trinity Church, Boston Public Library, the Prudential Center—there’s plenty to do in that space.

TIP: When on Boylston Street, be sure to look for the Boston Marathon Finish Line (in front of Marathon Sports), but be careful of cars when snapping photos!

Namaste, with Architecture

classes-image-mudsopz0vi72gi1rsoq5jccykxk9ca83k1k34igm0o

The studio, looking out at Boston’s Copley Square. (Credit: Vega Vitality Boston)

After months of settling in to my new life in Massachusetts, I found a wonderful yoga studio on Boylston Street overlooking Copley Square. The studio is on the top floor, level with the rooftop of the Trinity Episcopal Church, with large, clear windows offering a view of the church and the reflective 200 Clarendon Tower (also, more commonly, known as the John Hancock Tower). This juxtaposition of a sleek, modern skyscraper against the Richardsonian Romanesque peaks of the church, is a soothing image to look out to while you hold your tree pose for 30 seconds.

I’m a firm believer in the practice of calming your mind by looking out at something beautiful. It’s been discussed that staring out at the horizon can actually lower stress and anxiety, and by being outside and being active, we can live a happier and healthier life. Like many young professionals, my weekday schedule can be hectic—between meetings, sitting at my desk, writing for hours on end, and commuting home (I alternate between the train and driving the 2+ hours one way each day into Boston), having the time to be outside to clear my head becomes an occasional activity.

In a perfect world, I would have time to hike every day, but that isn’t so much of a realistic goal. When I lived in New York, I would trade in my subway commute with a walk, using the city streets as my own hiking trail. I would pass some of my favorite landmarks, enjoying the architecture and design of the city, all while getting the exercise I needed.

I should add an aside here—exercise, for me at least, is first a method of easing my anxiety. Dealing with the basic stresses of each day, my mind has a tendency to wander, and most of the time towards the negative. By creating time for myself to move, get my heart pumping, and stepping away from my phone, I’ve found a guaranteed method to lower my stress and turn my focus towards the positive—holding poses, pushing myself to do that one extra mile, pausing at the end of a hike to enjoy the view—it all helps calm me. The physical benefits of exercise are just a bonus.

So when I relocated to Boston earlier this year, my new challenge was to find a way to balance my work life, my commute, my social life, and still find time to move. My walks seemed more distant as I started following a set train schedule, and the longer I lingered in the city, the longer it would take for me to get home. I was spending too much time cramped up on a train, and I could feel myself slipping.

That is what led me to this yoga studio—I realized that while walking in Boston may not provide me the same relaxation as walking in New York did (I know, weirdest sentence ever, but walking in cities really does calm me), there were other ways to achieve it. I realized that the best thing for me was to follow a strict schedule, something that could help me set aside a specific amount of time each day to exercise.

ClassPass was my answer—through this service, paying the equivalent of a monthly gym membership, I am able to attend classes of all types and at a variety of studios before getting on my train to go home. I register ahead of time, and can do anything from yoga, to boxing, to cycling, and come out on the other side feeling stronger and at peace with my day. Instead of sitting on the train stressing over minor anxieties and letting them grow, now I would focus on the high I felt from my class, and what other activities I need to get done before the end of the week.

This week was when I finally made the connection I needed. In New York, I had the element of a view, something to look at while I cleared my mind. Walking the streets of the city always gave me that, but many of the studios I visit now are windowless, so I can only focus on the activity at hand. That’s why this moment at my yoga studio was so poignant, because as I looked out, I saw the beautiful image of modern mixed with stone, of the old against the new, of architecture, and it felt like home.

I’ve realized in my travels, that these are the moments that make your journey feel real, that when you feel that emotion of comfort mixed with awe, it can really enhance the experience. I keep a notebook on me at all times and record these moments—climbing to the top of a mountain in New Hampshire, sitting on the steps along the Trevi Fountain—making notes to remember those little moments of peace in the chaos of the city.

Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.

Progress at the Gardner Museum?

Another push was made in finding the lost paintings. I’m talking, of course, about the $500 million worth of stolen paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA—you know, that famously unsolved art theft from 1990.

A little recap for those who don’t know the story (meaning you’re not from Massachusetts and/or don’t obsess over stories about art crimes): during the early morning of March 18, 1990, two men dressed as Boston police officers entered the security entrance of the museum, tied up the security guards, and stole 13 works of art including three Rembrandts, five Degas, Manet’s Chez Torini and Vermeer’s The Concert (I should note that while Vermeer is one of Europe’s most famous and praised painters, he only produced 34 known paintings in his lifetime, making his work particularly rare). The heist has remained unsolved even today, and has inspired numerous books (fiction and non-fiction), articles, documentaries and other films centered on the investigation. Everyone has his or her own theories on the heist at this point, and if you’re like me, your world kind of stops every time you see ‘Gardner Museum’ pop up in news headlines.

03142009_14gardner1

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum leaves the empty frames of its stolen paintings in the galleries—a reminder of the 1990 theft.

Even though we haven’t actually found the paintings yet, the story resurfaces every few months when the FBI has updates. Today, The Boston Globe announced that they believe that aging mobster Robert Gentile knows the location of the paintings. The article says that while he denies it, Gentile had attempted to sell the paintings for $500,000 a piece to an undercover FBI agent, however the deal was not completed because Gentile was indicted on charges of selling a gun to a convicted felon. The Globe stated that Gentile’s connection to the paintings resurfaced during a hearing in court this week over gun charges against him.

It seems that to make this information public would mean that the FBI had a good handle on everything, but knowing how traditional reporting works, I’m wondering if the mere mention of the Gardner Heist during Gentile’s hearing in court led The Boston Globe to reopen all of their old information—kind of a ‘Hey, it’s been 26 years, but we haven’t lost hope yet!” It makes sense—the story in itself is fascinating, and there are so many people who have a personal attachment to seeing the mystery finally solved.

I, personally, still think that Boston’s Whitey Bulger was somehow involved. The mystery seemed to have stalled for years until Bulger was captured in 2011 after disappearing 16 years before (It’s at this moment that I will openly admit my obsession to Boston crime stories). Think about it though—Bulger was the biggest, most feared mobster in Boston. Then he disappears in 1995—five years after the Gardener Heist! This is all speculation, of course, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Bulger were connected in some way. Maybe he wasn’t the mastermind behind the theft, but I’m sure he knew who was, and when he was finally captured, he could easily offer up that information in a deal in court. Drop a few charges in exchange for the names of those currently in possession of the artwork.

Really what this all comes down to is my hope to one day see those paintings. In 1990, I had no idea who Vermeer or Rembrandt were. But years of studying and gawking at these masters’ work, along with my dedication to reading every bit of literature surrounding the theft, has only made me desperate to see an end to this story—I would love nothing more than to learn where these paintings have hid for the last 26 years, and to see them safely returned to the empty frames that still haunt the Gardner Museum’s galleries.