Armchair Travels With Books I Have Loved

Winter Weather

Edgar Allen Poe Statue, Boston, MA January 27, 2015

It’s Tuesday night, January 27, 2015, and it’s still snowing in the Boston area.

There’s a traffic ban in many Massachusetts counties.  The South Shore and the Cape have been slammed – homes knocked off their foundation, frozen raging sea water flooding streets, massive power outages.  There are 700+ plows out in Boston, removing  23.3″ (and counting) of white matter. And there’s more coming at the end of the week, apparently.

Some will escape the harsh vicissitudes of our New England winter by plane, but some of us will journey in our imaginations only, aided by a good book.



Seamus at Newtonville Books, Newton Centre

I wish Marianne liked to read more.  I’m not sure why she doesn’t, although I know that it is hard for her to get a “just right” book at her reading level.  There’s also the issue of concentration and short-term memory white-outs.

Reading is, however, one of MY favorite (and least-expensive) escapes. It’s one that is taken from the comfort of my coziest chair (the blue one) with a cup of just-the-way-I-like-it tea and my trusty dog Seamus curled up as close to me as he can get.  By book, I can travel far for one hour, and I can go home without a backwards glance if I have a change of mind.

I also like lists.  So here’s one of the books I’ve read recently that I most highly recommend for the purposes of teleportation.  I only include books I’ve read within the last year (in parentheses, I list the setting so you can choose where you travel).  If you want to see my reviews, you can check out my Shelfari bookshelf (see Joanne M).


-Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood (pre-WW2 Berlin)

-Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Iceland)

-Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Norway)

-Two Old Women by Velma Wallis (Alaska)

-The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O’Brien (Dublin, Ireland)

-Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Iowa)

-The Romantics by Pankaj Mishra (Benares, India)

-Wild by Cheryl Strayed (Pacific Crest Trail, CA)

-An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine (Beirut, Lebanon)


-Following Atticus by Tom Ryan (the White Mountains of New Hampshire)


-The Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore (Boston, MA, in the Revolutionary-War era)

-Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson (England)

-The City of Djinns by William Dalrymple (Delhi, India)

IMG_2975I am the queen of the inter-library loan system (books, movies, audio- and e-books), but I also like to support my local bookstore. For me, that means a trip to Newtonville Books. Wheelchair-accessible; friendly, knowledgeable staff; stimulating author events; great paperback selection for adults, teens and middle schoolers. And they keep dog biscuits for my dog Seamus (open door policy for on-leash hounds). What’s not to love here?

Looking for more ideas to create your own reading lists?  Sites like The GuardianIndie Bound (for new books), and NPR’s Best Books of 2014 can provide good ideas.

Do you have some titles that evoke a particular place for you?  If you send them to me, I can create a shared reading list for those stationary travel times.  And if you live in New England, I hope you weather this storm in safety and comfort, with a good book in hand.


NYC: Focus On Chelsea For Accessibility And Less Stress


The High Line Hotel, NYC

Central Park, the Top of the Rock, Times Square, Museum Mile, a Broadway show, St. Patrick’s Cathedral:  a quintessential New York City trip to some.   I offer you here an itinerary for a slightly less touristy – but no less iconic – NYC experience that is much friendlier to the slow walker or wheelchair user.

Consider booking a room at The High Line Hotel;  a fairly new hotel built on the site of the former dormitory for the General Theological Seminary in Chelsea, New York City.  The developers retained the feel of the Gothic Revival structure and to me, it’s just beautiful. The price can be right too, from the low $300’s per night (up to mid $500’s).



Intelligentsia runs a fantastic espresso bar in the lobby of the hotel with really, really nice baristas, and there’s plenty of indoor and outdoor seating (if you don’t mind rubbing shoulders with a preponderance of small dogs). The good news is that you too can bring your dog (even if it’s not a service dog) for a sleepover if you so desire. There are a few downsides:

– There is only one ADA room, and the back outside courtyard (which beckons invitingly, were it warm outside) is not accessible. (There is another courtyard with cafe tables in the front of the building, and this one is accessible.)

-The bed in our room was tucked into an alcove in the room, and there isn’t enough room for a transfer. I didn’t see the ADA room, but you’d want to make sure there is clearance around the bed.IMG_3617

– The lighting in the room is too dim, especially in the bathroom. The manager responded to my trip advisor review saying that the lights are on dimmers;  I knew that and still think the lighting is poor.  The bathroom sink area has very little counter space;  I’d check to find out what the ADA bathroom looks like.


Chelsea, NYC


The Morgan Library and Museum, NYC

Something I love about the Chelsea neighborhood:  the sidewalks in this part of midtown are wide, great for walkers and wheelchairs.  I walked for hours both in this neighborhood and then uptown to The Morgan Library and Museum (an accessible museum) on Madison Avenue, and every street I hit had clear curb cuts and pedestrian walk lights.  You could theoretically walk or roll as far as the theater district from here (but probably not much further unless you had many hours and good weather).

Need some other ideas to while away your weekend?  Let’s start with food:  Across the street from The High Line Hotel  is a great breakfast (and more) place, the Tenth Avenue Cookshop, which is nicely accessible from the street.  Wide aisles and good spacing between some tables, as well as an ADA bathroom.


Chelsea Market, NYC

Nearby is the Chelsea Market, a restored factory, chock-a-block with accessible stores and eateries. The biggest problem here is that some of the stores (the bookstore) and diners (Friedman’s) have squeezed too much into their space.  It’s also all a little precious, but I can be convinced to overlook that for a small price (like those free samples the Fat Witch Bakery doles out).   Droobing (a 3D photo booth) alone would be a reason to go to the Chelsea Market (and the Droob stall is accessible!) – that and some people-watching from tables scattered through the main area. It’s all indoors and there is a big public bathroom area (with an ADA stall).


Clement Clark Moore Park, NYC

And then you could walk or roll around for hours to work up your next appetite.  Right next door to our hotel, The High Line Hotel, is an accessible park, the Clement Clark Moore Park (he of “Twas The Night Before Christmas” fame);  the grounds of the seminary and the hotel once belonged to the Moore apple orchard estate.  Photos show a big swath of land and a grand country house;  hard to imagine that here, now, in the midst of the all the concrete, storefronts and traffic.  I hear that there is a reading of “Twas The Night Before Christmas” in the park on the last Sunday of Advent each year.


View from the High Line, NYC

The Hudson River Park is a great outdoor destination, with about 500 acres of space along the west side of Manhattan.  The piers in the Chelsea neighborhoods are all accessible according to this site.  Another place for views is along the High Line, a converted freight line that now serves as public space, runs overhead. See this map for accessible entrances to the High Line.  The park is 1.45 miles long and runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street.

The Hotel Chelsea, on West 23rd Street, is being renovated and will open in 2015.  Built around 1883, it’s a landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Dylan Thomas died here, Sid Vicious’ girlfriend was found stabbed to death here, and it’s been home to Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Brendan Behan, Mark Twain and others.  This iconic hotel is worth a sidewalk viewing, at least it’s open to the public.

Since the mid 1990’s, many art galleries have re-located to Chelsea (many from Soho).  There are several performance venues (Irish Repertory Theater, Joyce Theater and The Kitchen), although, interestingly, none of these performance venues listed any kind of information for the wheelchair-user.  The Irish Repertory Theater is accessible but needs advance notice (call the box office) to put out a ramp at the front door.  The Kitchen is completely accessible. The Joyce Theater is also accessible.


Greenwich, NYC

History lovers take note: Chelsea features prominently in the Manhattan Project and WWII.  “In the early 1940s, tons of uranium for the Manhattan Project were stored in the Baker & Williams Warehouse at 513-519 West 20th St.  The uranium was removed and decontaminated only in the late 1980s or early 1990s…” (Wikipedia).  For more info on the development of the atomic bomb and uranium stored in Manhattan, see this New York Times article.

And do check out a copy from the library of Up In The Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell, that veteran New Yorker, if you plan on staying midtown and venturing downtown.  Mitchell wrote for The New Yorker from 1938 to 1996, and his book chronicles (mainly eccentric) people in a place (on the margins) that is rapidly vanishing to gentrification.  His characters and the streets they frequent will inform your downtown trip for sure.


Downtown Manhattan

Read This, Skip That: Adams National Historical Park, MA


copy of Ben Franklin’s woodcut representing the American colonies cut into 8 pieces

John Adams left quite a legacy.  Our second president devoted his working life to the ideals of democracy, and his descendants (including their wives and daughters) carried on his work as diplomats, politicians, writers, and historians.

The birthplace of John Adams and John Quincy Adams (6th president) are the first stops on the Adams National Historical Park tour, which leaves by trolley from the national park visitor center on 1250 Hancock Street – but beware, it’s surprisingly hard to find the entrance.DSC03335The visitor center has one accessible entrance from Hancock Street and although small, has an informative 30-minute documentary (and an accessible bathroom).   The trolley is not wheelchair- accessible (despite the fact that it says it is in the National Park Service (NPS) brochure);  arrangements can be made in advance with the park rangers to follow in your car.  The two birthplace homes were built in the late 1600’s and are not accessible to power wheelchairs.  Rangers can make accommodations by ramp for small (really, really small) manual chairs or walkers.DSC03341

DSC03357“Peace field” is the third house on the tour;  John and Abigail Adams purchased this farm, not far from their old homesteads, and retired here to farm their 75 acres.  Six acres, a brightly-flowering garden (with original box hedge!) and a genteel home remain; but only the barn is power-chair accessible.  It might be worth taking in some programs at the barn just to soak in the ambiance of the estate;  even now, with the city of Quincy growing, bustling and motoring on all sides, there is a sense of escape once you enter through the gates.DSC03346

Marianne took a pass on this tour, and I would encourage other power-wheeclhair users to do the same. The homes are doorways to another time, and the Revolutionary War era comes to life within their walls but the late 1600’s were not a wheelchair-friendly time in architecture.  I’d suggest watching the HBO documentary “John Adams” (starring Laura Linney) or reading David McCullough’s historical novel, John Adams for a dose of the Adams family in the comfort of your own home.


The NPS does much that it can to accommodate the needs of wheelchair-users. I do not expect the government to retrofit these antique saltbox houses – an amendment which would substantially change the nature of the historic places – to accommodate power chairs.  To see the cramped nature of the few rooms, the low and dark doorway lintels, the utter simplicity of furnishings, and the cracks through the uninsulated walls is to begin to imagine what it was like to raise a family, carve out a life, and imagine a revolution.

I do expect the City of Boston to create ADA-conforming ramps and curb cuts to sidewalks, even in historic neighborhoods of Boston.  (See Laura McTaggart’s Cognoscenti article here on challenges by historic committees to pedestrian accessibility.)  It is the 21st century, and bicycles, skateboards, baby carriages, wheelchairs, walkers and canes all travel these streets now on their normal course of daily life.  To take a page from the revolutionaries:  don’t tread on our rights!

Travails of a Wheelchair-Traveller, or, Can We Come In?

IMG_4186Transcript from a real conversation: Me:  “Hi, my daughter uses an electric wheelchair, so I’m calling to find out if your building is wheelchair-accessible.” Proprietor: “Oh yes, we are definitely wheelchair-accessible.  No problem.” Me: “Great, see you tomorrow.” Next day, at the building: Me at the front door which has a full step up into a questionably-narrow doorway, “Hi, can you tell me where your accessible entry is?” Proprietor, “This is it!  See, there’s only one step up!!  Can I help you lift the wheelchair?” Speechless me, “Ummm…..” And it doesn’t get any better online or in travel books either.  For example, I recently bought Fodor’s Northern California 2014.  There was not one single entry about wheelchair accessibility.  A search in the index under “wheelchairs,” “disability,” or “accessibility” proved fruitless.  Many hotels neglect to put any information about wheelchair-accessible rooms, and I find that restaurant websites can be even more negligent. IMG_2936Hence, the birth of my blog and perhaps, of a new (to me) review site called Able Road.  I hope Yelp! buys it and incorporates the information.   Able Road allows you to rate all manner of challenges to accessibility, including path of travel (internal), counters/bars/registers, and evacuation information.  Yes, it’s good to know if there’s ADA parking and accessible bathrooms, but it makes for a truly pleasant dining or hotel experience if the internal path of travel is uncrowded and if you can access the hotel counter or register.   I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone trying to ascertain the layout of our potential destination, but with Able Road, everything I need to know is available at a glance. (By the way, I just joined Able Road as a member, and you can read a review that TravelByWheelchair wrote for Laurelhurst Market, in Portland OR.)

Reading in Situ: My Top Picks for Good Reads Set in WY and UT

My friend Anne, an intrepid reader and traveller and fellow-gatherer of information, introduced me to the concept of reading books set in or about the area to which you are traveling.  I think it’s a brilliant idea.  Some of the joy of travel for me is the anticipation, and reading books set in my destination whets my appetite.  Solving the puzzle of travel (how to get where you want to go as inexpensively and/or as efficiently as possible, or even just how to see and do all you want to see and do in a constrained time frame) is equally fun and challenging for me;  to that end, immersing myself in non-fiction and travel guides is part of the process.  Last but not least, I am avid, but amateur and frankly forgetful, history- and geography- lover….reading books “set in place” before, during and after my trip cements some of the information for me.

My recommendations for books to read set in Wyoming and Utah are as follows:

  • Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer explores how fundamentalist Mormonism grew as an offshoot of Mormonism, emphasizing/exploiting the call to violence and personal vengeance that imbued the early founders’ call to faith.  Krakauer goes back and forth between the early founders, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and a horrifying murder in the 1980’s by the fundamentalist Lafferty Brothers.  The New York Times has a review of the book.
  • The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff, is a mystery that unfolds with regard to a fictional murder in Mesaland, UT,  the home of the First Latter Day Saints, a fundamentalist sect that practices polygamy.  It parallels a book written by Brigham Young’s 19th wife, who successfully divorced him and was at least partly responsible for convincing President Grant to sign a bill outlawing polygamy.  Ebershoff’s website has more information about the book.
  • Beyond the Hundredth Meridian by Wallace Stegner is a biography of John Wesley Powell, who first descended the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869 and is credited with mapping the formerly uncharted Grand Canyon and contiguous areas.  The New York Review of Books has a review of the book.  
  • Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner; I read this a very long time ago, and it didn’t resonate with me the way that Crossing to Safety did.  The book’s protagonist is a historian, a divorced amputee who uses a wheelchair, writing about his frontier-traveling grandparents.
  • The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle (ok, really set in western CO but it COULD be WY); raw, throbbing and brutal – yet redemptive – coming-of-age story set on a horse farm in western Colorado.  The protagonist is a middle-school age girl who grabs your heart, despite her awkward (and at times awful) choices.   See Aryn Kyle’s website for more information on this book and others.

Travel guides I used as a resource for this trip:

Additional online resources: