Sunday, November 24, 2013

MARTHA'S VINEYARD AND HER PAINTED LADIES



Map of our "Islands of New England" tour courtesy of Collette Vacations

Martha’s Vineyard. Even the name conjures up a certain amount of awe and wonder. Isn’t this THE vacation spot for super stars and Presidents? This iconic place has been on my wish list since I had a wish list! Finally, I would find out for myself why it has had such a mesmerizing attraction on the rich and famous.

I’d always thought the island had such an interesting name. But, who is Martha and what is so special about her vineyard? I knew it couldn’t be Martha Stewart even though her name is synonymous with the place!  My questions led me to the internet where I learned that the island was first discovered by Norsemen 1,000 years ago. Obviously inspired by the thick tangle of berry and grape vines that covered the island, they named it “Vineland”. The man who gave it its permanent name in 1602, Bartholomew Gosnold, equally impressed by the naturally growing vines, personalized  “vineyard” with his mother’s name, Martha. So there it is—mystery solved! However, the name isn’t the only thing that makes Martha’s Vineyard very unique.

Only seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts, it’s a short ferry ride to the island. Even though the weather had turned blustery and overcast, I ignored the toasty cabins choosing to hang over the railings and watch the Cape Cod coastline fade from view. With my pink windbreaker whipping around my face and a hot cup of black coffee warming my hands, I enjoyed every bumpy wave like a kid on Christmas. I paid for it with a bad hair day, but it was so worth it!


Oak Bluffs

As we approached the island, the first thing I saw was a row of elegant Victorian mansions facing out toward the ocean like flowers to the sun. I love old Vics and looked forward to getting a closer view, but I would soon be surprised to know that they represented just a taste of things to come!
Martha's Painted Ladies

Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association

Our bus had accompanied us below decks on the ferry, and as soon as we docked at the town of Oak Bluffs, Josef carefully maneuvered it down the ramp and we set out for a much anticipated day on the island. We soon stopped at what I can only describe as a Victorian fairyland: rows and rows of little cottages each looking as if it had been made of gingerbread, icing and candy. It was candy to me. Eye Candy! I could hardly suppress the impulse to rudely elbow my way off the bus so that I could start taking pictures! But before I even had the chance to take the lens cap off my camera, our no-nonsense local guide herded us toward a nearby park and into a very large metal tent. After instructing us to sit on chairs she explained had originally been purchased for 29 cents from the Sears Catalog, she began her presentation:


“Welcome to the Oak Bluff’s Tabernacle! Since its beginnings, Martha’s Vineyard has been dedicated to religious freedom and racial tolerance and what you see around you is a community based on those principles. This site has hosted religious camp meetings since 1835. It started out with a gathering of 300 people who brought their tents and settled in for a few days of preaching. It became a yearly event and as attendance grew over the years, they built this metal structure in 1878 which has now been in continuous use for 135 years!

  The Tabernacle is located in the central park area surrounded by quaint gingerbread cottages.

Many of the faithful eventually framed in their tents making permanent summer cottages. Then, thanks to the invention of the band saw in the Victorian age, the families personalized them with gingerbread molding transforming each one into a unique expression of its owner."

 View of some of the cottages across from the Tabernacle.

A Victorian Fairyland!

She finished by saying, “At the end of the summer, everyone celebrates ‘Illumination Night’ to say goodbye for the season. All 350 cottages are lit with candles and lanterns at the same time. As you can imagine, the effect is enchanting! People come from all over the island to see it.”

Freed at last, I set out to exhaust my camera battery on these little jewels!

 Lanterns for sale for Illumination Night.

We drove on to Edgartown for lunch then browsed the upscale shops and roamed the centuries old streets.  Again, as in Newport, I felt the presence of the Kennedy family spirit everywhere I looked: from the church where JFK worshiped and the store where he bought his cigars, to the courthouse where Ted Kennedy was tried for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne after the tragic accident in nearby Chappaquiddick.

 Beautiful downtown Edgartown!

Then back on the bus, we headed out for a tour of the island. As we drove by miles of sparkling lakes and quiet landscapes lush with grasses, vines and tall stately trees, I came to understand why this beautiful island is so appealing, especially to the rich. First, since it can only be accessed by plane or boat there are never any large crowds around. And secondly, once away from the small villages there is little that obstructs the natural beauty since the large estates are carefully tucked out of sight behind thick foliage. Wealthy residents must relish the privacy and isolation and the utter peace of the place surrounded only by a community of their peers. 

 Hey Martha! Is this your yacht with the mini helicopter or Oprah's?

Next time: Nantucket, Queen of the Islands

Suggested reading: Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. This is an excellent historical novel about the founding of Martha’s Vineyard and the unique relationship between Thomas Mayhew, who purchased the island, and the resident Wampanoag Indians. He respected the native people and their land rights and his son dedicated his life to them as a Christian missionary. The novel centers on Caleb, one of the first Native Americans to attend and graduate from Harvard.

Watch the Video of the trip!


Friday, November 15, 2013

RELIVING THE FIRST THANKSGIVING AT PLIMOTH PLANTATION

Map of our "Islands of New England" tour courtesy of Collette Vacations

Visiting the Mayflower, Plimoth Plantation, and a cranberry bog!  

The fourth day of our “Islands of New England” tour began with a dazzling fall morning. Leaving Providence behind, we headed toward the coast to Plymouth, Massachusetts to see a replica of the Mayflower and visit Plimoth Plantation, an authentic recreation of the Mayflower colonists’ settlement in the 1600’s. But first, we took a slight detour to visit a cranberry bog, which turned out to be an unexpected pleasure!

Pass the cranberry relish!

The Massachusetts wetlands are perfectly suited for growing cranberries, and consequently, produce much of our nation’s supply. We drove by miles and miles of cranberry fields on our way to visit a working cranberry farm glimpsing only a few clumps of red berries here and there since it was still early in the season. Josef, our driver, slowed down when he saw a small sign that read “The Flax Pond” and eased our massive bus off the highway onto the rough dirt road. We bumped and swayed over its uneven surface for about a mile until an old rusty truck and weathered barn came into view. He carefully maneuvered the bus around the front of the barn and parked by a great expanse of low growing green plants. No doubt about it, we were on a real farm. 


 
Jack Angley, the grower, welcomed each of us with a firm handshake and a smile as we piled out of the bus. Jack looked to be in his 60’s, his face weathered and sun baked, his hands toughened and thick from years of hard farm work. When he took my hand in his, I felt an instant connection, almost as if I had been given a rare glimpse into the man’s soul. I knew him because I know people like him in my own family: salt of the earth, compassionate, proud and very passionate about his land and the work that he does.

As we all gathered around him, he said, “I’ve owned and farmed this land now for 46 years.  I have 100 acres in all,” he said with a sweep of his hand,”about 35 acres are in cranberries. This is a ‘dry’ cranberry farm, meaning that we don’t flood the fields to harvest them." He went on to explain that he uses special machines that sort of pick the berries off the plants because the cranberries are sold fresh. Berries that are water harvested are sold as canned or processed products.
  


Leading us into the barn, Jack pointed to the Ocean Spray sign nailed onto its weathered boards. He explained that Ocean Spray is a grower co-op with 800 members of which he and his farm are part. The barn, part shop and part museum, brimmed with cranberry products of every description: cranberry teas, honey, soaps, candles, candies, all with enticing scents.



 
 Across the room from the shop area sat an antique cranberry sorter. I sat down with Jack so he could show me how it worked. The job consists of picking out berries that are too green off of a rapidly moving conveyer belt and throwing them into a sack. It didn’t take me long to realize that I couldn’t spend too much time scrutinizing each berry or I would get woefully behind. The scene quickly turned into a perfect imitation of Lucy and Ethel’s day at the chocolate factory as I started to stuff raw cranberries in my mouth and down my sweater. Whoa, were they sour!  I thought my mouth would be permanently puckered! To see the scene on film, click on:  Sharing Barbara’s Story, Islands of New England


Leaving the Angley farm reluctantly behind, the bus ambled back up the dirt road and we drove on to Plymouth and the Plimoth Plantation. (Plimoth is the original spelling and the word “plantation” is synonymous with settlement or colony.)  The Plantation is a non-profit “living museum”, created by educators and historians in order to illustrate history in action. This is my second time visiting the museum, and it is a place I never get tired of seeing.

 
  Plimoth Plantation with the ocean in the background.

Strolling though Plimoth Plantation is truly like stepping into a time machine and emerging in the 17th century. Great attention to detail has been made to recreate the village that the passengers of the Mayflower established in 1620. Everything has been hand made by artisans and craftsmen using tools from that time--from the thatched roof dwellings to the farming equipment on down to the woven baskets and eating utensils. Add in a few farm animals and the setting is complete: chickens peck nonchalantly underfoot while sheep doze in pens beside bountiful vegetable gardens.

 

The “residents” are authentically dressed docents who go about the business of “living” in the village—splitting logs or cooking over open fires in the houses. I enjoyed asking them questions because they answered just as they would have in that time period. It’s marvelous how they stay in character, looking at me blankly if I mention anything that didn’t exist back then. They are all very believable and it isn’t long before I’m playing along, gossiping with “Goody Brewster” about “Goody White” and her errant chickens.


 Splitting logs

 Corn grown on Plimoth Plantation

The First Thanksgiving and the Wampanoag People

If it weren’t for the native Wampanoag people, the new settlers probably would not have survived. Half of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower died the first year from disease. Thanks to the Wampanoag, who taught them new farming techniques and survival skills, the remaining settlers thrived. They shared their first harvest in 1621 with the native people who brought deer meat and wild turkeys and the celebration lasted three days.   We now refer to this potluck binge-fest as Thanksgiving!

The nearby Wampanoag village at Plimoth Plantation also has authentically dressed docents; however the docents are Indian descendants who speak to us in modern English. They don’t pretend to be in character and take the time to educate the visitor to the Wampanoag way of life during the 1600’s.



The Mayflower II

Just down the road from the Plantation floats a full scale replica of the Mayflower. Named The Mayflower II, it was built in Plymouth, England and sailed to the US in 1957. I think everyone who sees the ship is always amazed at how small it is, especially when they start to look around and realize that 102 passengers were packed in a shallow cramped area called the “’tween deck’. And not all of that was even theirs. A spacious Captain’s quarters took up a large portion of the stern leaving even less space for them.

 The Mayflower II, a beautiful replica of the original ship.

I can’t imagine what a brutal crossing that must have been. First of all, the Mayflower left England late in the season, sailing on water broiling with huge waves stirred up by howling storms. Three months of this, squashed together with pregnant mothers, fretful children and everyone seasick, must have been beyond horrible. Miraculously, most survived the journey and the rest as they say, is history.

 Imagine that this is your only view for three months!

The famous Plymouth Rock is about a block away from the Mayflower II. Protected by a large concrete and iron barrier, what remains of the rock can be seen at the water’s edge. Apparently it has been greatly diminished by tourists over the years that have chipped pieces off of it for souvenirs. Interestingly, it isn’t even the spot where the Mayflower landed, but it’s probably close. Besides, it makes a nice symbolic landmark.


 
 Plymouth Rock is down below at the water line.

  The famous Plymouth Rock, what's left of it!

Back on the bus heading to our new base camp in Hyannis, Cape Cod, I had time to reflect about all we had seen and realized that our day had all the ingredients of that first Thanksgiving complete with the cranberry relish!

Watch the Video of the trip!

Next week: Martha's Vineyard!



Thursday, November 7, 2013

BOSTON AND THE FREEDOM TRAIL



Map of our "Islands of New England" tour courtesy of Collette Vacations 

History Made Real

It’s day number three of our “Islands of New England” tour and we’re headed for Boston.

Wait a minute. Is Boston an island? Well, technically no. However, the town was founded on land originally attached to the mainland by such a small isthmus (called The Boston Neck) that it might as well have been an island. General George Washington and his troops easily trapped the British on it in 1776 by blasting an impressive number of cannon at them from the mainland. The British fleet finally gave up, deserting Boston to sail on down to New York giving the Rebels and important victory. Today, Boston is more firmly attached to the mainland due to landfill, “The Neck” having gotten much thicker over the years.

It's hard to turn around in Boston Proper without an iconic reminder of what an important role Boston played in the early days of our fight for independence from Britain. Events like the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s “midnight ride”, the battles of Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, the Boston Massacre, and many other defining milestones of the American Revolution occurred around Boston. When I was in school, these were just dry facts from a distant time, but when I stand in the same space where these historic events took place, the “facts” become vividly real to me. It is why I love to travel. It opens up all new worlds for me and I always come home with an insatiable curiosity to know more.

 Paul Revere's statue with the Old North Church steeple in the background.

"One if by land, and two if by sea…"

Our first stop in Boston was just such a place, the Old North Church. Here we met Leslie, our Boston guide for the day, who began our tour by reminding us of the significance of the church. “I’m sure everyone remembers Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride?  Tradition has it that he galloped here on the night of April 18, 1775 to send a signal to alert the Colonial militia that not only were the British invading but how. The signal required Robert Newman, sexton of the church and Sons of Liberty Capt. Pulling to scramble up eight stories of this steeple, the tallest in Boston, to briefly shine two large lanterns. Using two lights instead of one signaled that the British were coming to Lexington and Concord by sea across the Charles River and not by land. This fateful warning became a turning point in the colonies struggle for independence." 


 Old North Church built in 1723, the oldest church in the city, is still in use.


Exiting the front of the church, Leslie led us across Salem Street to follow the Freedom Trail. Along the way she explained, “The Freedom Trail was created in 1951 to save sixteen important landmarks of the American Revolution. They include The Old North Church we just saw, Paul Revere’s home, The Old State House (where the Boston Massacre took place), Faneuil Hall and the USS Constitution. We will see many of them today. This red brick line we’re walking along is part of the three mile walking trail that leads from one historic site to the next.”

(A narrated guided tour along the Freedom Trail should be a must on every visitor’s agenda. Just think of all that rich entertaining history in a short three mile walk!

We continued to walk uphill on Hall Street towards Copps Hill Burial Ground, another Freedom Trail site. Perched on one of the highest hills in Boston, it has a grand view of the harbor. Because of its vantage point, the British army used it to blast  their cannons at Charlestown across the Charles River during the battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Many famous Americans are buried here including Robert Newman, the Old North Church Sexton and the builder of the USS Constitution, Edmund Hartt.

 















Across from the cemetery is the narrowest house in Boston, only ten feet wide. Leslie told us that it was built to spite a brother and block his view of the harbor. Gee whiz. Couldn't he have just short-sheeted his bed or something?

Back on the bus, I had the “cat bird” seat next to Leslie while Josef drove us through the streets of Boston for an overview of the city. Erudite but soft spoken, I later learned that only the first few rows were able to hear her witty narration and asides while I felt like I’d gotten a private tour. At least she was a definite step up from the last tour guide I had in Boston a few years ago. That lady spoke like a New England flounder fisherman and had chin hairs so long even John Adams would have been envious.

 Josef, our zany driver, parked briefly by the wharf, jumped out of the bus and
"borrowed" this whopper to show us what a Boston lobster looks like.
That's about a $100 meal without the butter! (Notice his Boston "duck" tie.)

We had spectacular weather on that sunny Sunday afternoon and it seemed that all of Boston came outside to enjoy it. We passed many spacious parks filled with picnickers, joggers, families playing with their children and street fairs. It felt like a friendly, alive place; a town you wouldn’t mind calling home. I liked the energy I felt. I liked how the historic landmarks co-existed with modern buildings, together forming a vital part of the city like a multi-generational family.  We drove passed “Cheers” where “everybody knows your name”. And, you know, I could believe it!

We also drove by Harvard University and the students looked like students everywhere, young, serious and full of potential. We gawked at the towering structure of Fenway Park as we passed; little knowing that history would soon be made there in a few weeks by the Red Sox winning the World Series! 

 The real "Cheers" made famous by the TV show of the same name.

Ye Old Union Oyster House

For lunch, we stopped downtown at Quincy Market in the heart of old Boston. A few of us had lunch at the “Oldest Restaurant in Boston”—the Ye Old Union Oyster House. They’ve preserved the original Colonial d├ęcor so well, I felt like I would run into Ben Franklin at any moment! 



I love how they spelled "chowder" the way it
is pronounced in Boston: "chowdah"!


.
They let me hold one of their live lobsters!



After a hearty stick-to-your-ribs lunch of Boston Baked Beans, cornbread and molasses pudding (a yummy Colonial classic),  I wandered around the market area that has been in continuous use for several centuries. In Faneuil Hall, I browsed through stalls selling handmade craft items and tourist trinkets. Its first floor has always contained shops while the second floor is reserved for town meetings.


An important meeting place all through the early history of our nation, some of our greatest leaders, men like John  and Samuel Adams, Ben Franklin and Paul Revere, met on the second floor to shape the direction of our nation's fight for independence.






The owners of these beautiful dogs graciously had them pose for our cameras. They too enjoyed the nice Sunday afternoon in Boston.

Surrounded by modern skyscrapers, The Old State House down the street is the site of the infamous Boston Massacre.The Declaration of Independence was later read from the balcony shortly after it was signed.


 The sign says it best:

"On March 5, 1770, in the street before you, nine British soldiers were confronted by an angry mob.

"The soldiers did fire without orders and killed five of his Majesty's good subjects...How fatal are the effects of posting a standing army among free people!"  Samuel Adams











The site of the Boston Massacre
in front of the Old State House. The Freedom Trail is on the left.







USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”

 The USS Constitution. Paul Revere contributed to her construction.
 She looks as regal and indestructible as the day she launched into the 
waters of Boston 216 years ago.

Of all the sites we saw in Boston, I enjoyed our last stop the most—the USS Constitution. Anchored at the Charlestown Navy Yard, it is the nation’s and the world’s oldest commissioned warship. She is taken out at least once a year by the Navy in order to keep her commission, and what a treat that must be--to see her in full sail! Built and launched in Boston in 1797, her bolts and copper sheathing were provided by none other than Paul Revere!  She gained her reputation as “Old Ironsides” in the War of 1812 when British cannon balls bounced off her sides like rubber balls as if she were made of iron instead of wood.

Old Ironsides carried an impressive 54 cannons.







Nancy! Is it really you?

In order to see Old Ironsides, visitors have to submit to a security screening similar to airport security except you can keep your shoes on. After buying my ticket, I put all my belongings in a plastic bin and dutifully walked through the scanning machine. As I headed over to the conveyer belt to pick up my stuff, a young security guard ran over to me and gushed, “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like Nancy Reagan? Really, you do, just like her! Beautiful, just beautiful!” Well, I was flattered of course, but Nancy Reagan? I mean, how about Audrey Hepburn or someone like that? Anyway, I’ll let you be the judge. Do I really look like Nancy Reagan?? I guess it could be worse. I could look like Ronnie.


  Picture courtesy of Google Images. 
                                                                                                 
Watch the Video of the trip!


Next time: Plimoth Plantation, Cranberry Bogs and the Mayflower!