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Baltimore Bookstores

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

I visited two new bookstores in Baltimore last week. Both these shops have been open about a year or so, but I never knew about them until my recent trip.

First was Clayton’s Fine Books & Cafe on N. Charles St., which a former co-worker mentioned to me. The website does not do this place justice. Next time you’re in town, skip the tourist-cluttered Barnes and Noble at Power Plant Live and instead head to this quaint bookstore cafe that serves breakfast, lunch and free wireless too! It beats the B&N/Starbucks atmosphere anyday, and for $2.42 I enjoyed a small house blend coffee and large chocolate dipped biscotti big enough for two.

The second place I spontaneously visited was The Book Escape, on Light St. in Federal Hill, right behind the Science Center. It used to be a different bookstore, I can’t recall the name right now, but recently changed ownership. The shop is packed tightly with mostly used books and not a lot of seating, but is cozy and convenient to the harbor. I made a cheap $3 impulse buy here, but I’m not sure if the book I purchased will make the cut when packing for Europe.

While I’m on the topic, I might as well mention two of my all-time favorite Baltimore bookstores: Atomic Books and Breathe Books. I frequented both these shops when I lived in Charm City, two fabulous niche bookstores located just blocks from each other on The Avenue in Hampden, a vibrant and colorful retail/dining district just north of downtown Baltimore.

All four of these bookstores are must-sees for booklovers visiting Baltimore. Come to think of it, I’ll have to mention this to Larry over at Bookstore Tourism when he returns from hiatus. I think Baltimore is a fantastic candidate for a bookstore tour; there are several other great indy shops I’ve left out right now, as well as The Book Thing.

I’m thinking about all of this tonight because I’m beginning to gather a list of bookstores and libraries in Europe that I hope to visit through the course of my travels this year. (If you have any favorites, please share them in the comments.) I’ve decided to try and keep track of the ones I visit: I’ll keep one list in my handwritten journal, and an online version via delicious. We’ll see how it goes…

Checking In from Charm City

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

I just finished a cup of yummy beef vegetable soup at Metropolitan Coffee House and Wine Bar on South Charles Street in Federal Hill. My pal CJ and I ate here last night too, when I discovered that they have free wireless access, so I’m back now with my laptop for a quick hour or so of work/email catch-up. I used to live right down the street from this place, when it used to be One World Cafe. It’s funny being back in B-more without a place to call home. I don’t live here anymore, but in reality I have plenty of homes here, because I have so many gracious friends and family that have offered their couches, day-beds and futons. And fabulous food too — lots of great chili, salads, burgers, eggs (scrambled well), pudding pie and double-stuffed oreos!

My hosts have been awesome and it’s been so great to have quality downtime to enjoy each others company, and talk travel plans. I realized today that everyone I’m staying with this week in Baltimore are folks I’ll next see in Europe: CJ will meet me in Spain in March for two months of travel, in June I’ll meet up with T & J in Germany for exciting World Cup action, and then I’ll see my bro and Jo in Tuscany in July. Kinda cool to spend time with them now, before all our travels. And so nice to have comfortable places to stay here that make visiting Baltimore feel like visiting my second home.

This afternoon I’ll visit my former co-workers at their new downtown offices, and try and catch up with one or two more folks before heading back to NYC tomorrow.

Back to B-more

Saturday, January 14th, 2006

This week went fast. I made good progress in the gear department, did some important banking prep, and got ahead as much as I could with my writing work. Mom and I got in another fabu walk yesterday, even though it was dreary and foggy at the lake. Afterwards we had a nice dinner out at Del Arte and enjoyed our leftovers for lunch today, in between errands and Saturday morning chatting…

I’m now getting ready to head out on this cold, rainy, gross day…with my new backpack in tow! This should be interesting, but I’ve got to test things out for when I’m abroad…which is only a month away now. Wow… So, I’m off to Manhattan via bus, trekking the pack on the subway to the Upper East Side, then to the Adventure Travel Expo at Javits tomorrow, then on a Greyhound to Baltimore, where I’ll visit my bro and as many friends as I can from Monday to Friday. I’m pretty sure I’ve secured a car ride back to NY on Friday, but the next two days will be quite a mini-adventure — me, my pack, public transport and a slushy, soggy mess. Fun stuff!

Farewell, Charm City

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

I’m lying on the floor of my empty apartment, about to shut down the computer, take out the trash and stuff some final items in my Dad’s car before leaving Baltimore for good. At least for now…who knows what the future has in store. But Baltimore has been oh so good to me, and I love it so and will miss it dearly…and now I’m getting choked up so I’ll stop…there has been a lot of that in the past 24 hours.

Mike and Jo have been an incredible help and support in these final hours…Mike even came by on his lunch break today to help me tie a table and chair to the roof of the station wagon. And last night they gave me the most amazing gift — a small photo album with pixs of every place I lived, worked and played in Baltimore over the past seven years…it is the coolest gift ever. I’ll treasure it, and all the memories it holds, always.

I’ll sign off from B-more with the quote that appeared in my inbox this morning, my Zen Quote of the Day. I like the last sentence best:

Thus we see that the all important thing is not killing or giving life, drinking or not drinking, living in the town or the country, being lucky or unlucky, winning or losing. It is how we win, how we lose, how we live or die, finally, how we choose. We walk, and our religion is shown (even to the dullest and most insensitive person), in how we walk. Living in this world means choosing and the way we choose to walk is infallibly and perfectly expressed in the walk itself.

~ R. H. Blyth

Peace and so long, Hon.

So Much

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

I’ve got so much I want to write here, but I can’t seem to find the time to get any of it organized into manageable pieces to post. There’s been little time to process all that is happening. There are a zillion moments I want to remember about everything that’s been going on, but I’ve been writing most of it in my handwritten journal for now, where I can be sloppy, spell things wrong and doodle in the margins.

Things may be even quieter here for the next few weeks, until I’ve got more specific plans in place for my 2006 travel adventure. In the meantime, I’ve got to move out of Baltimore by this Wednesday, drive all my stuff to NY in dad’s wagon, then board a plane bound for Portland on Thursday night, where I’ve got a full slate of fun stuff planned for the long weekend. I’ll return to NY on a red eye next Sunday, so by this time next week I’ll finally begin to settle in with my folks, who have been so amazingly supportive through all this movement of mine. There is no way I’d be where I am right now without their constant love and understanding of this nomadic phase I am entering. There are just so many who have been gracious and simply awesome recently…

I’ve really got so much to be thankful for — I don’t even know how or where to begin. My family has been incredible the past few weeks especially — making delicious home cooked meals, lending a hand with transporting boxes & furniture and often going out of the way to do so, gathering friends for farewells, letting me borrow their cars — plus an endless list of assistance with assorted odds and ends. Hands down, my brothers simply ROCK. I am the luckiest sister alive to have two extremely thoughtful brothers, who are also funny as heck and so very smart. My cousins, aunts and uncles, colleagues and friends have all been so wonderful too — words of support, hugs and laughs, offers of couches to crash on, and assistance with travel gear purchases, like helping me buy that darn digital camera I need!!!

I’m so grateful and touched by this outpouring of everything. My words of thanks don’t end with the holiday…especially this year.

Balt Amour

Monday, November 21st, 2005

I’ve spent a fair amount of time with my brother & sister-in-law these past few days, and it has meant the world to me. Mike moved to Baltimore a few years after me, and has really made this city his home, and this neighborhood his community. And it has been so wonderful to be able to enjoy it with him in these final days. He and I did a bunch of stuff this weekend. I also got to share two homecooked meals with him and Joanna this week. On Saturday night, he and Jo made homemade pizzas and an awesome zucchini eggplant casserole. Tonight he prepared a Mom Amabile original: pork chops with carrots, onions and the secret marinade, along with the original egg noodles (and minus the applesauce, of course). Mike has always been a great cook, but this husband thing has certainly domesticated him in wonderful ways that my stomach and I fully benefited from this weekend. He’s also ruthless at Yahtzee, but the three of us had a great time while playing a fun few rounds tonight while listening to Broadway showtunes and Stevie Wonder. We let him win, of course.

Juror #9

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2005

After living in Baltimore City for seven years, I was unsure why I’d never been called for jury duty. Probably because I lived at four different city addresses in that time. But they finally caught up with me, right before getting ready to leave town, and I was summoned to report today.

It was an interesting experience — I had flashbacks to my college polisci days, and got a much-needed refresher on our judicial system. Before doing roll call in the morning, they show a video with Perry Mason clips and a timeline outlining the history of judicial procedure, beginning with ancient Greece, and then European “trial by ordeal” practices like this: tie a man’s hands with rope and put him in the water — if he drowns, he is guilty. Done.

Things have gotten a bit more complicated since then…It was a loooooooong day.

My summons number was 265, and right before lunch I got called to a jury selection. I had a feeling I was going to get picked. I was right. After lunch, and numerous rounds of questioning with the judge, I was one of the first to go up in front of the attorneys, for a murder trial. I was selected as juror #9. My heart was racing for some reason, excited/nervous/worried that I really had to be at work tomorrow. But then, after all 12 jurors were picked, the judge asked the attorneys if they were satisfied with the final jury before them, and the lawyer for the defendant replied, “No your honor, strike juror #9.”

Just like that, he axed me and I was asked to step down. Someone suggested that maybe there were already too many white females on the jury — there were two others with me, but why was I the one they didn’t want anymore? Who knows, no biggie, but it was fascinating to watch it all unfold. As much as I was curious to see what would happen next, I really couldn’t afford to miss work tomorrow. But I am glad I was able to fulfill my civic duty before leaving town.

I was shocked that they give each juror $15 (!!) for lunch/transportation, I thought that was a nice amount, maybe too much? I did get to finish a book today, one I had started back in early September, so that was a major accomplishment. It was nice to be away from email/cell phone for an entire day, and a pleasant surprise to be able to eat lunch outside too.

Farewell Family

Tuesday, November 1st, 2005

My colleagues threw me a farewell party this evening. Great food, wine, a really nice gathering. They gave me a beautiful Hopkins desk clock and a cool Bawlmer Hon tee.

So yes, I teared up, when my boss said that “family is important to me.” It is, and as much as I joke about moving home, I can’t wait to curl up on the couch at my parents, cook dinner for them, watch movies, just veg out and be there with them for the holidays…and not have to worry about traffic on 95 and the long drive back after holiday breaks.

The tears will really flow on Friday, I know it. They are welling up right now actually, as I write this. I’m truly lucky and blessed for the good folks I’ve met and great lessons I’ve learned the past four years working here. It is absolutely the right time for me to make a change, to follow my heart, but I know that going home to one family in New York, I am leaving several others here in Baltimore.

Oh, and the word is out — Some folks at the office have found the blog, and more will discover it soon. It’s okay, I’m not hiding anything…I just figured I’d wait till my last day to send everyone the link and fill them in on my part-time writing gigs. I didn’t think anyone would really be Googling my name, but silly me! Where I work, we all make a living Googling people’s names, so it was bound to happen eventually. If you are visiting from Hopkins, say hi, don’t be shy…

Tricks & Treats, Trinkets & Trash

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

Another weekend comes to a close with a cup of tea and a sweet Halloween snack – I just treated myself to a pair of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

I spent a good portion of today catching up with friends on the phone. October has been a bit haunting on the relationship front, with some weird feelings and tricky situations that had me second-guessing myself. But today’s conversations and chats were good for clearing the air, and understanding where everyone is at in their lives right now.

I also had a chance to speak with my godmother this evening and hear about her recent trip to Italy. Aunt C lived in Florence for over ten years, has many friends there, and is married to an Italian, so I’ll be turning to her for assistance on planning the Dolce Vita leg of my trip.

Yesterday I tackled the simplification process again, tearing apart the kitchen and my bedroom — clothes, shoes, utensils and tupperware — what do I really need to keep? I’ve now got two huge bags for Goodwill and a large pile of kitchen stuff to donate. I also came across some special mementos that I’ve been holding on to because they remind me of places I’ve been. But nostalgia takes up space, so I decided that I had to part with these travel trinkets from the past:

– The empty special edition bottle of Kahlua (in the shape of an ancient Aztec) from my Project Mexico trip to Tijuana in Jan 1996; I remember Bob helped me snag it, but I don’t recall who drank its’ contents….

– The heavy knit wool Quill’s Irish sweater I bought in Cork, Ireland in August 1996; the one I never wear.

– The first bottle of Dos Equis that I drank when we arrived in Cancun in spring 1995; It was still full of sand from the beach, with a Fat Tuesdays necklace wrapped around it.

– The wooden plaque we painted on our Appalachian Spring Break Outreach community service trip to Ivanhoe, Virginia in 1994.

– My faded green Loyola athletic shorts, so worn that the Greyhound logo is completely gone.

I threw these items away, but have mentioned them here, so I’ll remember what these dust-collectors symbolized — special travels and memories from the early years. The rest of the weekend was filled with writing for Gadling, a quick walk, laundry, a little bit of cooking and some travel planning for my trip to New York next week.

Tomorrow is day one of my last week of work. There are more trinkets to bring home from my cube, and plenty to trash there this week. I already brought home my diploma and some photos. Last week I was treated to dinner with some co-workers and a happy hour with my department, and there are a few more on tap for this week. Things are moving at a nice pace and I look forward to enjoying this last week with my colleagues.

Gearing Up

Sunday, October 23rd, 2005

This was the most intense travel planning weekend I’ve has thus far. Things are beginning to gain momentum and fall into place. Progress made since Friday includes:

– I read through all my old Budget Travel and (now defunct) Big World mags. I clipped important tips and articles — the rest got chucked. I still have to read through my Transitions Abroad backlog, but I will hold on to them, as I know they will still be useful to me a year or two from now.

– I joined WWOOF Italy and will probably get an independent membership too, but I’ll wait a bit longer to decide about that.

– I spent a ton of time reading up on the budget airlines in Europe. This is a huge change from when I planned my last trip to Europe ten years ago…this was not a booming industry back then and there is lots to learn. I have to study up on the latest rail options too, so I can begin to decide which of these transport modes (or what combo of both, plus bus) will be used along the way.

– I mapped out a first draft of a 6-month (!!) itinerary for backpacking through Europe, split evenly between eastern and western European countries. I studied up on which countries use the Euro and which are part of the Schengen treaty — this has been a particularly challenging task, as I was not aware of the 15 Schengen countries until a few weeks ago, and it def put a slight wrinkle in my original plan…but I will make it work!

– I reviewed this preliminary itinerary with my friend CJ, who will probably join me for 3 months of the trip. I welcome this traveling buddy (a good friend who has never been to Europe and does not want to do it solo) but it does present some additional planning that needs to be sorted out soon. We should have our timelines worked out by the beginning of November, so I can actively work on booking my flight and first hostel. She will most likely join me in Spain after I have a few weeks on my own first. Looks like departure for me will be late Jan or first week of Feb at the latest. More on that in the coming weeks…

– CJ and I went backpack browsing this afternoon, to REI and EMS (why do all the gear stores have acronym names?) We both have our eye on this Venus pack for women but I’m going to visit Campmor in a few weeks and see if I can find something cheaper. I bought a pair of Tevas (similar to this) that were marked down, but I think I might be able to get them cheaper at Campmor, so I’ll investigate that too. Deciding what size bag to take will be one of the tougher decisions I make…I really want as small a pack as possible, but know I don’t want to cut myself too short on storage. We shall see.

A productive planning weekend comes to a close, and I am beat…but getting really excited too. It is happening! I’ll now turn my energies to writing and work (two more weeks at the office) and I’ll begin packing up more boxes of stuff to donate or store elsewhere.