It seems that every trip I've taken in my life has had a purpose. So far. The one from which I just returned was stimulated by the desire of Ed Lohoski to take "The Cat" ferry from Maine to Nova Scotia. He said that they are bombarded by TV ads extolling the glories of this trip and, besides, it sounded like fun.
So, I arranged my annual vacation to start with that excursion. I flew to Boston (from which I would be returning), took the comfortable C&J shuttle up to Portsmouth, NH, and was met there by Ed, who lives not far from there in southern Maine.
There was time for a walk, so we walked along the beach Marginal Way in Oguncuit, ME to work up an appetite, then had a fine Maine dinner before retiring early in preparation for pick-up by Susan Meffert, who drove from her York home while fast asleep to cart the three of us to the waiting Cat in Portland. It looks like a fair distance, on the map, but as I've always noticed, with three people in the car, the time went by in a couple minutes.
The plan was to ride car-free to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, rent a car, and then drive to several places in the next couple days. That was the plan.
The trip over was pleasant enough. It is reported to take five hours, but I didn't bother to confirm this. The sea was calm, but the ship certainly does move around on top of the water. Seated, you hardly notice it, but when you try to walk you discover "movement outside yourself." Mostly, folks just read or socialize or—in some cases—play in the casino. The casino turns to just be a set of slot machines, and few folks were tempted. I threw a $20 bill's worth of tokens at one machine, and it took until the return trip to achieve the goal of contributing to the coffers of the Cat folks. We had a nice breakfast on board (no luxury cruise, this, but it was fine).
Docking at Yarmouth turned out to be a bit like arriving in Shannon, Ireland. You know that this is not the center of whatever makes the country rich and famous. In general, Nova Scotia would not prove to be the source of Canada's wealth, but for that reason, I suppose, we were all the more welcome. Ed and Susan had planned various stops around the Yarmouth area, so we checked into our motel, and then set out looking for lighthouses and the like. A nice restaurant in the area had been scouted out before our arrival, and we ended up having more than a couple meals there over the next three days. It was also a good reminder that we were on vacation, and if we felt like sitting there talking or looking out over the sea, that was our choice.
The next day, we set off on a leisurely trip along the coast (no place in Nova Scotia is far from the sea, so "along the coast" isn't really necessary) planning to end in Halifax for the day but with plenty of stops at cute former fishing towns along the way. The most impressive was Lunenburg, which is home to a fine two-masted schooner called Bluenose II (Bluenose I is on the Canadian dime).
But it was important to make one discovery before we got too far along. Our rental car was equipped with XM satellite radio, and our many hours in the car were greatly enhanced by both the discovery of XM28 (Broadway musicals) and the fact that all three of us appreciate this kind of music. A young woman at work told me she would have committed suicide after about a half-hour, but we're older and actually enjoyed it.
Our finest lighthouse stop was Peggy's Cove, wherever that is. It was raining lightly as we arrived, but then turned torrential after a few minutes. We raced into the gift shop and—lo and behold—there were Sou'westers, the wonderful rain gear that the East Coast is so famous for (and needful of). We stocked up, and left happy puppies. We would end up using this garb more than once again, and it hangs proudly in my closet right now waiting for the next downpour.
We reached Digby for lunch. The other two have a thing for clams, and Digby clams are supposed to be the best in the world (we went to a lot of places that claimed "best in the world"). I had halibut. We then went a fair distance to Halifax, a very cute city that reminded me a great deal of Seattle, although I suppose it didn't have Seattle's depth once you left the harbor area. We stayed at a wonderful Marriott there, and Susan and I felt we had hit the jackpot. "Do we have to leave?" she asked early on.
After a pleasant but somewhat wet walk (it had begun to rain again), we stopped for a Happy Hour moment at the lovely O'Carrolls pub, and when that moment became an hour or so, moved over into their dining room for dinner. As we were waiting for our orders, we saw our pub waitress go racing out on the sidewalk, and we all smiled and waved out our dinner window as she passed by. Then we realized that she was looking for Susan, who had left her purse in the pub. I'm going to use that scene in the movie version of this trip.
The next morning, we had a decision to make. The weather hadn't been all that bad (Hurricane Hanna was the reason for the rain we'd been experiencing), but would it affect our return trip from Yarmouth to Portland? Nah, we decided, and we set off back to not so lovely Yarmouth. "Do we have to leave?" asked Susan for the nth time.
We made it back to Yarmouth only to be told that, no, the ferry had been cancelled, and we'd be stuck in Nova Scotia for another day. Not only that but the return ferry didn't go to Portland, it went to Bar Harbor, much further north in Maine than Portland. Fine with me, I'm always game for an adventure, but it was kind of a downer because we'd just left the place we'd rather be stuck in, and it was too far away to return. Eventually, we decided to camp in lovely Lunenburg for the evening, and made our way back there. You see? XM28 got quite a workout. There, we found fine ocean-viewing rooms, and also had an unexpected Italian dinner at the classiest restaurant of our trip. Right there in down-to-earth Lunenburg. The trip back to Yarmouth was peaceful, and the ferry was ready to go.
Our only concern was how to get from Bar Harbor to Portland, where Susan's car was parked (we hoped). The ferry arrived too late to rent a car, but The Cat folks took care of us, and chartered a bus to take us. That was quite a trip, and the bus was nearly full. Fortunately, it was full of folks from Portland, because the bus driver needed some help getting to the ferry terminal, and about 20 healthy voices guided him in his need. We arrived about midnight, which meant a 1 am return to various houses in lower Maine. But a great trip.
The next day, Ed convinced his sister Bernadine that her Mercedes needed some exercise, and he drove me to my next stop—Holyoke, Massachusetts. I thought I'd seen luxury before, but I hadn't seen seen luxury before. This car did everything but drive itself.
I last visited Lora and Tom Barrett in 2001, just as I prepared to set off for Ireland. At that time, their Holyoke house was undergoing rennovation, but we spent most of the time at their place on Cape Cod. Now, the Holyoke house is in extra-fine shape, and the neighborhood is like one in which you expect Jimmy Stewart to come walking along muttering "Aw shucks." Tom and I did a pizza at a local spot (much of the East Coast has heavy Italian influence), and then the three of us talked the rest of the evening away. The next day, Tom and I did some local touring, visiting Natural Bridge and other spots. It was early Fall, and although the leaves hadn't started to turn, summer was on the wane and the weather was lovely. It was also the time of year for some fine corn, which Lora prepared for a fine home-cooked, dining room dinner that evening.
The next day, Tom drove me to what I guess were The Berkshires. That's what the map says, but I don't remember any mountains. Of course, mountains on the East Coast are what we call 'hills' or 'mounds' back on the West Coast. But I got to visit many towns that I've heard about for years but never thought I'd see. We went to Pittsfield and Greenfield and North Adams and Lanesboro and—the most famous—Stockbridge. Stockbridge appears to be the only town in Massachusetts with a population of greater than 1,000 that doesn't have a university, but it makes up for it by being a residential community for people with cash. The trickle-down effect might be limited to fine well-groomed lawns, but I'll take that. We lunched at Michael's, just down the street from Alice's Restaurant (for you oldies out there), and then Tom remembered that there are two other attractions. Did I want to see the Norman Rockwell museum (yes, I did)? That had moved to much, much larger quarters, and at least for anyone around my age, is well worth the short trip to the outskirts of town. A fine museum, documenting a fine artist/illustrator and the time of our country's history in which he lived. The paintings are even more impressive than as covers on The Saturday Evening Post, but unlike so many paintings depend not upon the execution of brush strokes but on the ideas they so clearly represent.
The second local excursion involved a visit to the studio and home of Daniel Chester French. I'd never heard of this guy, but Tom knew that he had created the Lincoln Memorial, which remains for me the most moving such edifice in my current city of residence, the city of memorials. The estate is called Chesterwood, and it's gorgeous, as I hope my photos suggest. Probably little visited, but if you're going to make a visit to the Berkshires, do add it to your list.
That night, we dined at the faculty club of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Lora teaches there once a week, but it is apparently open to everyone now. We were the only dinner guests, so I can see why the seating policy has been relaxed. A fine meal, so dine there when you're next in Amherst.
One other thing that French sculpted (although I don't see mention of this in his Wikipedia article) were a couple doors on the Boston Public Library. It just so happened that Lora and Tom drove me to Boston the next day, so we made a trip to the Public Library (nearly as grand as the Library of Congress in my current home town). I photographed the doors, and then remembered that John Singer Sargent, a favorite artist, painted some murals in the same library. We thought we were looking at them, as we entered the library, but I see now that we were seeing murals from other artists, and that the Sargent murals are in another room. Next visit.
A good friend from an earlier job works in Boston but lives in East Taunton, so I joined her on the train back home and spent the weekend with her family. But first, I took advantage of the fact that Wenli works just one block from the famous home of the American League Boston Red Sox—Fenway Park. I walked over before she got off work, and took some pictures. And bought baseballs for the kids.
The kids have grown significantly in the couple years since I last saw them, and Cindy is now 8 while brother Eric is 3 and a half. They're great kids, and it's wonderful to see them in their Massachusetts home. Cindy is one of two children from her school to be selected for a "gifted and talented" program that incorporates kids from some other schools, and although her intelligence is remarkable, it's especially impressive when you realize that she was already five years old when she moved here from China.
We went out a bit, and the highlight of that was the first bowling experience for the Chinese! Well, for me too in a way. Turns out, this place does "duck pins," which are smaller than the pins with which I grew up, and the ball used is much smaller and has no holes. I suppose it was better for the kids, and there were certainly quite a few around. An old guy (almost my age) guessed (corrrectly) that I'm from California, since I didn't know about duck pins, but I've watched bowling on TV (and stayed awake til the end—I think), and those pins and balls were always like the ones I knew. Whatever. We certainly had fun.
In my memory, the Gu family spent most of its time preparing meals, for which I was the primary beneficiary. Both Wenli and her husband, Weiqiang, are excellent cooks, and I had several Shanghai-style meals with the family. And I watched a lot of cartoons with Eric. We were the only ones who seemed to really appreciate Porky Pig. I gave up after one viewing, but Eric hung in there for several repeats.
When the weather cooperated, we walked around the neighborhood, which is distinctly family-oriented. I haven't seen that many kids in one place since I was that age, myself.
On Monday morning, Wenli and I took the train back to Boston, she to work and me to the "Silver Line," which turns out to be a bus to Logan Airport. A very easy end to a fine vacation, and one packed with lots of wonderful memories.