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Massachusetts, USA: Boston and Cape Cod 🇺🇸

It’s so frustrating to miss a flight! My head had already checked into our next destination and Geoff and I were beyond excited to be going to Boston for the first time. Unfortunately traffic jams out of Garner had us stranded in Raleigh-Durham airport from 8am. This was followed by a further flight delay due to foul weather conditions that had developed over Boston. 😭 A bit perplexing for people who arguably live in the best climate in the world and are irreparably spoilt with consistently clear blue skies. We eventually only flew at 15h30, disappointed to miss a full day in the capital of Massachusetts!

Boston was deliciously cool and overcast with intermittent showers when we landed. We took the T-subway to Government Centre. Our hotel, the “Omni Parker House” was close by and we endured dragging our suitcases around the streets, grateful that it was only drizzling! Omni Parker House is a beautiful historic building hailing from 1855. Old-fashioned decor and ornate chandeliers adorn the plush corridors. Some of its famous guests include poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and author Charles Dickens. Actor John Wilkes Booth stayed there April 5–6, 1865, eight days before assassinating Abraham Lincoln. JFK made his very first public speech at this venue (at age 7) and also proposed to his future wife, Jackie Bouvier in the restaurant. We were following in the footsteps of fame and notoriety.

Our room was charming, neat and cosy and we settled in for a 2-night stay. We were due to meet Tom and Karin (Steve’s sister) at the iconic pub featured in the TV series “Cheers!” It is located in the Quincy Market. 

We enjoyed a brisk stroll through the streets of Boston, fortunate again that it was drizzling a bit but not too rainy. Quincy Market had a fantastic vibe, seeming to attract both locals and tourists with its interesting shops, appealing souvenir wagons and an enormous, drool-worthy food court.

Karin and Tom suggested we stroll past the harbour towards Little Italy. Located in the North End of Boston, Little Italy, is an intricate maze of small streets with some of the city’s oldest buildings in a 1-square-mile waterfront community. It has the distinction of being the city’s oldest residential community, because Europeans have continuously inhabited since it was colonised in the 1630s. We passed lots of welcoming pubs and taverns. Karin had a recommendation for a great restaurant from a friend. Because they live about an hour and a half from central Boston, they weren’t 100% familiar with the city. Karin stopped to ask a local in the street where thought we should eat and he recommended the very same place and pointed us in the right direction! It turned out to be an excellent decision. I had lobster ravioli and Geoff had the veal. We enjoyed a carafe of the house red wine. Karin and Tom are really easy to talk to and share a mutual distaste for parenthood! They are also foodies like us. We were so touched that they travelled so far to meet us (related by marriage, but essentially strangers).  After dinner they insisted that the meal would only be complete if we had cannolis for dessert. This is a crisp biscuity pastry filled with flavoured cream cheese and was so delicious! We stopped off for cappachinos at a quaint little coffee shop. Karin and Tom took the T home and we strolled back to our hotel.

Lyn had introduced us to Bruegger’s Bagels in Garner and we gravitated to our local one for breakfast (cream cheese and salmon bagel with onion, tomato and capers) and of course Starbucks for coffee. As you do. 🇺🇸

We decided to walk the “Freedom Trail” which is a 4km route that links many of the city’s historical places. We began with the Boston Common and Public Gardens, passed important state building, churches and burial grounds. We paused to admire statues and historic monuments and locations along the way. It’s a beautiful city with lovingly maintained buildings and gardens and some cosy looking restaurants and unusual shops. We had fun taking pictures along the route.

One of the more entertaining installations is called “Fishing Frogs” These two pieces depict enormous frogs sitting on boxes (cooler boxes?) next to the Frog Pond at Boston Common. One frog holds a fishing pole and has a can of worms near his feet. The second frog sits with his head resting on his hand. 🐸 

We visited the USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides. She is a three-masted, wooden-hulled heavy frigate of the US Navy and is the world’s oldest ship of any type still afloat.

We learnt lots about American history – about the Landing of the Mayflower, the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre and hero Paul Revere.

Boston Tea Party, (December 16, 1773), incident in which 342 chests of tea belonging to the British East India Company were thrown from ships into Boston Harbor by American patriots disguised as Mohawk Indians. The Americans were protesting both a tax on tea (taxation without representation) and the perceived monopoly of the East India Company. This event was important because it fuelled the tension that had already begun between Britain and America.

The Boston Massacre was a deadly riot that occurred on March 5, 1770, on King Street in Boston. It began as a street brawl between American colonists and a lone British soldier, but quickly escalated to a chaotic, bloody slaughter. The conflict energised anti-British sentiment and paved the way for the American Revolution.

Paul Revere is best known as the Boston silversmith immortalised in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem describing the Patriot’s midnight ride to warn about a British attack.

 

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!

For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Back at Quincy Market we lunched on creamy traditional Clam Chowder and a lobster roll. This could well become an addiction! We had some freshly-made lemonade. We strolled back through the Boston Common admiring the beautifully tended gardens of tulips and watched the squirrels playing in beneath the trees. Spring is definitely in the air. There is also a peaceful lake with ducks. 

Another absorbing sculpture is a series of ducklings following their Mama. Make Way for Ducklings is a children’s story book written and illustrated by Rober McCloskey.  It was first published in 1941. The book’s popularity led to the construction of the mother duck and her eight ducklings, by artist Nancy Schön in the Public Garden which is a popular destination for children and adults alike. A neighborhood tradition is to dress the ducklings in seasonal attire:  Santa hats, Easter bonnets and Halloween costumes. 🦆 

Heading back from Boston sea port, we came across The Partisans, which is a haunting sculpture of emaciated, exhausted horsemen riding worn-out horses. The Partisans was created by Polish sculptor, Andrzej Pitynski, as a tribute to guerrilla freedom fighters everywhere. Pitynski was born in 1947 to Polish parents who were partisans. The sculpture reminds us all that the defence of freedom is never ending.😢

Late afternoon it was getting cooler and so we decided to explore the shopping district. Newbury street is the most fashionable shopping area. The 19th century brownstone buildings are home to hundreds of retail locations and eateries. (Brownstones are town houses found in the New York City and Boston real estate markets. These lavish and elegant properties can also be found across New England and other urban areas. Known for their reddish-brownish brick exteriors, Boston brownstones offer a combination of fine home and apartment living.)

Because of Newbury street’s numerous upscale boutiques and shops, it has earned a reputation as one of the most expensive streets in the world. So despite not having completed a single course there, I bought a Harvard T shirt (sorry Dad, I know you wouldn’t approve!) and then we got lost in a Barnes and Noble bookstore for the rest of the afternoon.

Italian hot dogs for supper and another stroll through the city, but everything was closing up so we retreated to our cosy hotel and relaxed and watched tv before falling asleep for our last night in Boston.

 

The next phase of our journey involved a 2-hour coach ride to Falmouth in Cape Cod. Cape Cod is the hook-shaped peninsula that is a popular summer resort area, the most famous being Hyannis (where the Kennedys had their holiday home) and the resort islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard nestle in the bay.

From the Bonanza bus depot we took a taxi to our guest house. It turned out to be less than 500m and $2 away 😅

We had booked into The Palmer Inn which is a romantic, Victorian guest house where we had our own comfortable suite ($139 per night including breakfast.) We dropped our bags and immediately hired bicycles and went for a cycle on the Shining Sea Bikeway.

 

The Shining Sea Bikeway (SSB) was named for a line in the song America The Beautiful, written by Falmouth native Katharine Lee Bates. It follows the original route of the railroad that used to run through North and West Falmouth, around Woods Hole and into Falmouth Station. In the early 1970’s the Town of Falmouth purchased the right of way, tore up the tracks and officially opened the Bikeway in 1975.

It was an easy ride as it was nice and level and so pretty, hugging the shoreline and traversing cranberry bogs. We stopped frequently to take pictures. 🚲 

We felt highly invigorated and got back to our cosy home and in a nod to the prevalent colonialism, we enjoyed a cup of tea and some delicious home made brownies. Not to be distracted from the subject of food by a mere brownie or two, we perused the available menus to decide where to have dinner. We were overwhelmed by the choice on offer and noted that things were a little pricier in this part of the world. ($20 for a main dish) While we were relaxing, our host lit a fire and we got so toasty that it was hard to drag ourselves out again. We chose the Quarter Deck. We dressed up warmly and walked into Falmouth. It’s a very pretty village with fascinating speciality shops.

Quarterdeck is a quaint wooden gastropub with friendly waitresses and a bustling crowd of guests. It was just the perfect atmosphere. We sat at the bar to wait for a table and enjoyed a carafe of wine. The restaurant is designed to feel exactly like you are below deck on an old sailing vessel. There is real timber everywhere, the bar carved from big logs. I had lobster ravioli (again!) and a crab cake to start. Geoff went for a chargrilled pork chop, which he declared as erring on the “char” side, but very tasty. The weather had set in a bit and we were pleased to make it home to our dry nest without getting soaked.

Breakfast was a delicious menu of fruit, bacon, scrambled egg and juice. We wandered into Falmouth despite a persistent drizzle and found our rain jackets to be up to the challenge. We browsed the little shops that we had seen the previous evening, our favourite being a cute pet shop with the coolest dog accessories!

We asked the Dog shop people to call us a cab to the British Beer Company as it was about 5-6 miles away. The pub is right on the shore line and more exposed to the howling wind and blustering rain. It was pleasure to escape into the cosy pub environment. We ordered fish ’n chips and a turkey and cranberry pie, washed down with a couple of Millers.

After lunch we decided to walk off our lunch and struck bravely out onto the coastal road. The wind and driving rain eased when we turned away from the sea. We had a nice long, but very wet walk home and were suitably exhausted! Nothing else to do but cuddle up in bed and watch tv.

Nobska Lighthouse is a Falmouth icon on Nobska Road. The beacon of light has been shining since 1829 and is an essential part of the history and community of the Cape Cod town. 

Our dinner plans were thwarted by severe weather. By 7h30 pm it was howling and pouring. We made do with nuts, chocolate and coffee.

By Sunday morning the weather had eased considerably and after a delicious brekkie of sweet praline toast with sausages, we made the call to take a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard. We took the Woodshole ferry and at the terminal is was raining steadily. Upon arriving at Martha’s Vineyard, we bought tickets for the bus shuttle which allows you to hop on-and-off all day for $6.

 

We first visited Edgartown via Vineyard Haven rd. It’s a pretty town famous for the whaling sea captain’s houses. Most things were closed, being Sunday and we trudged around getting damp, although we luckily weren’t cold. 

We marvelled at the way the houses are built of wood. Seems so impractical in all this dampness!

There are some places where the weather can make or break your holiday. If the sky’s not clear and the sun’s not shining, it can feel like you’ve wasted a weekend away. Fortunately Martha’s Vineyard is not one of those places. There’s something special about experiencing that archetypical New England misty, grey sky hanging over the island’s iconic marshes, or digging into a lobster roll which we did at Linda Jean’s together with a steaming hot mug of chocolate and a hefty slice of key lime pie. We watched the gentle rain and listened to the soundtrack of seagulls and boats coming in to dock. After lunch we wandered through the picturesque streets with their exquisite signage.

There is no doubt that this island is for the wealthy people.  The houses were straight out of a fairytale book with their little turrets and gingerbread walls and intriguing colour schemes.

Next we caught the bus to West Tisbury. Not much was happening there except for a general store showing a picture of Bill Clinton visiting it. We had a 40 minute wait for a bus. I was suffering from an aching back and we had to find some pain killers. Luckily it was warm on the bus and we headed to the next picturesque destination.

The Aquinnah Cliffs is one of Martha’s Vineyard’s most-famous sights featuring richly-coloured, epic clay cliffs, which were carved by glaciers millions of years ago. Miles of wild beach but we didn’t explore much further other than viewing the lovely lighthouse. We’d worked out that the next bus was the last one that would meet the ferry home and were determined not to get ourselves stranded!

The historic Gay Head lighthouse has been guiding shipping traffic through the hazardous waters off the cliffs since 1799. (Recently, after decades of cliff erosion, the structure was found to be on the verge of toppling into the Atlantic Ocean and in 2013 made the list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. A local nonprofit was formed to save the lighthouse and, after a two-year engineering project to move it farther inland to safety, the lighthouse reopened August 2015 to the public.)

Back in Falmouth, we picked up some deli subs for dinner (pastrami and mustard for Geoff with a crazy amount of meat! and Chicken, cranberry and walnut for me) We had an Australian merlot. (Yellowtail – which is a bit like a South Africa Tall Horse 😂). I was so glad to fall into bed and sleep as my neck and back were in agony.

Monday was our departure day and it broke with no real plans on our part so we had to decide between going to Provincetown (where the Pilgrims first disembarked from the Mayflower) or hiring a car and heading off to explore the country, or perhaps going to Nantucket Island.

Mayflower was an English ship that transported a group of English families, known today as the Pilgrim Fathers, from England to the “New World” in 1620. After a gruelling 10 weeks at sea, Mayflower, with 102 passengers and a crew of about 30, reached America, dropping anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in November 1620. Arriving in at this time of the year, they had to survive unprepared through a harsh winter. As a result, only half of the original Pilgrims survived the first winter at Plymouth. Without the help of local Indigenous peoples to teach them food gathering and other survival skills, all of the colonists might have perished. The following year, those (roughly half) who survived, celebrated the colony’s first fall harvest along with 90 Native American people, an occasion declared centuries later as the first American Thanksgiving 🦃.

After a breakfast of salmon quiche and cinnamon toast we strolled into town to find out more transport information. We liked the idea of hiring a car and heading to P Town (no more schlepping luggage and relatively cheap at $40 per day) but decided that Nantucket was calling! We phoned around and found an Inn that could accommodate us for two nights. We schlepped luggage to the terminal and caught the bus to Hyannis (arriving at midday) and schlepped again to the ferry port. Our suitcase wheels are taking strain, as are our backs!

What a nice clean harbour. We sat and read and caught up on travel notes until the 2pm trip on the “Flying Cloud” ($55 for us both). The trip only took an hour but we managed to snooze in any case and arrived there around 3pm. It was chilly and overcast.

As we were wont to do, we dragged our luggage 3 minutes to the Inn on Seven Sea street. Nice and cosy with a friendly hostess and lots of other people also checking in! Our room is charming with a four-poster bed and lots of space to spread out all our luggage!

Naturally we were starving so we set off to find lunch. I was craving clam chowder but it was disappointing to find out that most restaurants are still closed for the off-season and those that do open, definitely don’t so on a Monday! To add insult to injury, the prices are even steeper here ($25 for a main course). Eventually we grabbed a clam chowder at Arnos, to stave off the hunger pangs while we looked for Real Food. We found an ad for Foooods Pizza and decided to go there for dinner. A bit of a walk, but much needed exercise for two people who unashamedly wolfed down two enormous and delicious pizzas. A rather chilly walk home (with me complaining at every step about aches and pains) while admiring the charming village. At home we had choc-chip cookies and coffee.

Our inn is one of the old whaling captains’ homes and we were able to climb up onto the “Widow’s Walk” and look out from the roof. Its amazing to be so high up and we were just able to catch the setting sun.

The “Widow’s Walk” is an interesting architectural features of many of the houses. Once occupied by well-to-do captains, governors and physicians, the historic homes along the sea have been thoughtfully preserved, with placards beside the door to indicate the year in which they were built. Upon the roofs of many of these 19th century homes is a rectangular platform, bound by a low fence and known as the widow’s walk. These viewing platforms were said to have been used by the wives of mariners, who anxiously awaited their husbands’ return to port, anxiously pacing and staring hopefully out to sea. The platforms were especially popular during the height of the whaling industry, when sailors were often at sea for months or even years.

More than 25 miles off the coast of Massachusetts and only 14 miles long, Nantucket is, as Herman Melville wrote in Moby-Dick, “away off shore.” But what makes Nantucket truly different is its past. For a relatively brief period during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, this lonely crescent of sand at the edge of the Atlantic was the whaling capital of the world and one of the wealthiest communities in America. It is also a community that sustained one of the bloodiest businesses the world has ever known. Herman Melville chose Nantucket to represent the port of the Pequod in Moby-Dick.

 

According to Smithsonian magazine, by 1760, the Nantucketers had virtually exterminated the local whale population. Death was a fact of life all too familiar among Nantucketers. For a whaleman and his family, it was a punishing regimen: two to three years away, three to four months at home. With their men absent for so long, Nantucket’s women were obliged not only to raise the children but also to oversee many of the island’s businesses. In 1810 there were 472 fatherless children on Nantucket, while nearly a quarter of the women over the age of 23 (the average age of marriage) had lost their husbands to the sea. During a typical voyage, a Nantucket whaleship might kill and process 40 to 50 whales. 

“In the early 19th century a typical whaleship had a crew of 21 men, 18 of whom were divided into three whaleboat crews of six men each. The 25-foot whaleboat was lightly built of cedar planks and powered by five long oars, with an officer standing at the steering oar on the stern. The trick was to row as close as possible to their prey so that the man at the bow could hurl his harpoon into the whale’s glistening black flank. More often than not the panicked creature hurtled off in a desperate rush, and the men found themselves in the midst of a “Nantucket sleigh ride.” For the uninitiated, it was both exhilarating and terrifying to be pulled along at a speed that approached as much as 20 miles an hour, the small open boat slapping against the waves with such force that the nails sometimes started from the planks at the bow and stern.” 🐳 

Tuesday was a lovely sunny day although the air was roughly 11 C. We enjoyed a communal breakfast with the other guest and one couple told us about hiring a jeep and driving down the beach to experience some of the more remote scenery and wildlife. This plan really appealed and we secured our little red jeep for $99 plus insurance. 🚗 We were enormously pleased with ourselves. No more walking and lots to explore! Our rental guy was helpful in providing a map and pointing out the most important highlights.

The first thing we did was to head towards Great Point Lighthouse, also known as Nantucket Lighthouse, which sits at the end of a seven-mile-long strip of sand at the northern tip of Nantucket, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. We had to stop and let our tyres down to 15lbs and switch to 4WD mode. Then we whooshed along miles of pristine and abandoned beach flanked by a sparkling and gentle ocean. We couldn’t believe our luck with the weather too. We took the top off our vehicle and and just revelled in being young, free and outdoors!

We stopped to take pictures of the huge fat seagulls and the stunning views. The emerging Great Point lighthouse was the highlight of our day!

 

By the late 1700s, this passage was one of the busiest areas on the East Coast, mostly due to the thriving whaling industry, but hidden shoals and strong, unpredictable currents made the thoroughfare a difficult challenge for mariners. In 1816 a fire of suspicious origin destroyed the original wooden tower. It was determined at the time that it was purposely set alight. It was rebuilt in 1818 from stone. Despite the new lighthouse, a journal kept at Great Point Lighthouse between 1863 and 1890 shows forty-three shipwrecks during that twenty-seven-year period. Great Point Lighthouse was automated during the 1950s.  On March 29, 1984 a hurricane-force storm toppled the lighthouse and cut through the barrier beach, leaving the remains of the tower on an island. The new tower, built of reinforced concrete with a rubblestone exterior that includes some material from the 1818 tower, was dedicated on September 7, 1986 with Senator Kennedy raising a flag, smashing a bottle of champagne against the lighthouse, and declaring “Great Point is alive and well again.”

We watched some seals frolicking in the waves and baking their brains in the sun. Just delightful! We headed southwards to Siasconset. What glorious homes – straight from a movie. We also saw another lovely striped red and white lighthouse at Sankaty, and later the pretty Brant Point lighthouse (America’s second oldest lighthouse!) 

 

At this stage we were starving again and we zooted back to town for sandwiches at Steamboat Wharf for sarmies and clam chowder. What a glorious clear day! We wandered around in the sunshine and did some shopping at yet another gorgeous Pet Shop called “Cold Noses”. Very cute!

Back home we watched a video on whaling to learn a little about the primary focus of Nantucket in its early days of colonial settlement. We wandered up to the Widow’s Walk again and enjoyed the bright sunshine after so many days of rain. We decided to head out for another drive and this time went west to catch the sunset.

We came across what is claimed to be The Oldest House in Nantucket, known as the Jethro Coffin House. It was built in 1686. We also visited the historic Old Mill, a windmill built in 1746.  It is the oldest functioning mill in the United States. We headed out towards Madaket. The wind was blowing quite heavily but it was beautifully desolate with some grand homes. Moving on, we drove to Eel Point. We had to do a little off-road 4×4-ing, but couldn’t do it justice as once we let our tyres down, we won’t be able to pump them up again.

Some domestic chores were tackled that evening, like filling the car with gas as we are leaving at sparrows. We did our washing at the local laundromat and we ordered a takeaway pizza (to be eaten for breakfast the next day lol!) For dinner we went to Vincent’s Italian restaurant and indulged in a gorgonzola salad with pear, walnuts and cranberries. We had spaghetti with meatballs and Butternut ravioli with caramelised onion and sage butter. So rich, but delicious! Thoroughly overfed we walked home, watched a movie and went to sleep.

At 5:30 the alarm had us hurtling out of bed and into the shower. Geoff dropped me (and our luggage) at the ferry and returned the Jeep to the rental place. He then walked back to the wharf. We managed to sleep most of the 2 hour ferry ride back to the boat station. 

And just like that our Massachusetts adventure was over… We certainly packed it in and loved every minute of the part of the East coast. Next stop New York City!

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