Saturday, April 2, 2016

When You Have to Travel for Work

I am occasionally asked to travel for work.  At my job we have a volunteer list and a double secret forced list.   For some reason, one never knows where one falls on that list, even when you think you should know.  Hmmm...  Anyway, I digress.

Listen, I love to travel, but I usually like to choose the destination.  But, if you're in the professional work world, I'm sure this has happened to you.  One day you are told you are going to spend an all expense paid week in Hartford, Connecticut.  What do you do?  Well, you can't quit because then you would not be able to take that non-expensed trip to Paris.  So, you suck it up and go.  You go to Hartford on the morning that you are supposed to report.  Thank heavens' that it is only about a two-hour drive from Boston (depending on the traffic).

You've probably guessed by now that the scenario I just described happened to me.  Just last week!  I went, I worked, I photographed, and I ate some really decent meals.  While I don't really want to criticize Hartford, I would say that this not one of my favorite destinations.  Urban blight and poverty have subsumed parts of the city.  Even though I didn't always feel safe, I ventured out on the mean streets in my car with camera in bag.  I didn't always feel comfortable enough get out and photograph in some of the more challenging areas, but I got some good shots in downtown Hartford.  I also ventured out to Farmington to see historic sites dating back to the 1700s.

When I learned that I had to travel there for the week, I tried to prepare as best I could.  I scoped out restaurants, and fun things I could do after 5:00 p.m.  I only came up with dinner venues, but that's okay. (They sort of roll up the sidewalks in the downtown area).  It was only 5 days.

Anyone who knows Hartford will tell you that most of the nicer restaurants reside in West Hartford.  I was amazed at the hard, bright-lined demarcation from Hartford to West Hartford.  Passing through an impoverished area I saw women carrying their groceries down the street from the Family Dollar, police surrounding young boys, and daily survival, but when I crossed the magic line, I saw Whole Foods, Crate and Barrel and joggers in Lululemon spandex stopping at the Starbucks, or one of the many eateries for takeout.  These markers exist in every large city, but they seem starker when you are not familiar with surroundings.

So, alas, I spent most of my free time in West Hartford.  I sampled Tapas and sipped Rioja at Barcelona Bar, grazed on passable Thai food, and savored delectable Mexican food at Besito; washing it down with the best house margarita I've ever had.  I wandered into Arugula, a Middle Eastern restaurant, only to decide on the highly recommended hipster restaurant, Vinted, where the servers were too sexy to offer me a good seat (That's how I ended up in the Mexican restaurant. I left after being told that the promised table was 'on waters.' What?  Is that on trend?  After dinner water?  Too pretentious for me, in that town, so I voted with my feet!).  I rounded out the week at a quant Italian restaurant, Treva, where I feasted to  on succulent scallops and polenta as smooth as mashed potatoes.  West Hartford's restaurant scene is quite diverse.  I saw two Japanese restaurants, Irish pubs, a steakhouse and Spanish taco joint.

Someone told me that the captives from the Amistad had lived in Farmington during the trial and the period before their repatriation.  Later, this town would become a "stop" on the Underground Railroad, where many of the abolitionist families hosted runaway slaves.  In my research (Internet), I learned that the famous prep school, Miss Porter's was there, as well as other sites relating to the Amistad captives and their abolitionist hosts.  Farmington is about a twenty minute drive from Hartford.  At rush hour, up l-84 it may take a little longer.  Entering the scenic road you get a sense of how affluent this area really is.  It made West Hartford look like the banlieues of Paris.  Wow.  How the 1%'ers do live.  

It was a nice diversion and somewhere I didn't feel I'd be mugged.  I didn't check the crime statistics, but the vibe I felt at times matched the bleak and dreary weather.  The weather wasn't the culprit because the sun did shine for one half of one day.  The buildings are very old and well-kept.  Miss Porter's school was exactly what I expected.  Quaint, prim and proper.  The meticulously groomed grounds were huge, and still pretty lush on the day before spring.  Jacqueline Onassis went there.  If I had a daughter and an extra $55,000/yr., I'd be tempted.

The meat of the Amistad historical tour was inaccessible because they were on property privĂ©e.  I called ahead to Miss Porter's and to ensure that my after hours visit wouldn't ruffle feathers.  I was welcomed to visit, and the woman at the Stanley Whitman house even left me fliers.  I enjoyed photographing the colonial buildings and wondered how the Amistad  captives moved around this town and what they felt.  Google maps is a great way to locate all of the venues. They're all pretty close together.

Back in Hartford, I visited Samuel Clemens' house who was better known as Mark Twain.  It was closed before I left work at 5:00, so I walked the grounds.  Impressive architecture, beautiful grounds  next door to the Beecher-Stowe house.  The surrounding apartment houses in the neighborhood were named after Mark Twain.  

The capitol building is absolutely gorgeous with its gilded dome and impressive Eastlake Movement architecture.  I visited the inside years ago when a colleague out of the blue suggested we go and visit the then governor.  We went over, but he was out of the office.  I remember being gobsmacked at the suggestion, and even further amazed when we were actually standing in his office.  He was an old friend of my colleague, so it wasn't unusual for him.  Me, on the other hand could not march over to the State House in Boston and ask to see the governor, my old friend.  

After a long five days, my time was over there.  Thank goodness for small miracles.  It wasn't that bad, but I wouldn't really want to repeat it any time soon.  I did get to catch up with an old friend, but aside from venturing out to Farmington, that was the highlight of the trip.  

I suppose the takeaway is to try to scope out some interesting activities, do your homework on restaurants, and if you are a coffee drinker, on coffee shops.  I think the people in the Hartford branch don't drink coffee, because no-one seemed to know or care where the nearest Starbucks was or even where was an indy coffee house.  Notice I skipped mentioning lunch?  I was mildly pleased about dinner and was happy to gain some time to "sleep in" since my commute was whittled to about eight minutes.  Try to make the most of your temporary assignment to wherever.  With Netflix, the internet, and cell phones, life is much easier on the road.  Try not to alter your daily workout too much since you're eating more highly caloric meals.  And please do try to meet people, although it's hard on a Tuesday night in a Thai restaurant, and I didn't (except for that photography group I crashed on their night crawl), but try all the same.  One of the mantras of a workout DVD that I do is, "You can do anything for 60 seconds."  Well, you can do anything for one week.  It sucks, but if travel is a part of your work life, enjoy the food, enjoy the hotel and enjoy being away from your normal work location!