Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Week 12, Part 2: Vermont & Niagara Falls

I've always wanted to visit Vermont, but we only had time to visit the Southern portion. We simply ran out of time. But also, I've been growing weary and felt less motivated to sightsee. I'd been ready, since our last visit to New York City, to hunker down and find a sense of rest and routine. Still, I knew I was lucky for this chance to see the country and didn't want to forego the plans. Vermont, even without the fall colors or snow, was postcard-beautiful. As was New Hampshire, the state we drove through on our way to Vermont. We stopped for lunch at a lovely little college town in New Hampshire--Keene--and ate, surprisingly, some of the best Mexican food I've ever had for lunch. It had a vital bustling Main Street, marked with another pointy-steepled church. The weather was starting to turn cold and even crossing the street to the car, we felt underdressed for what was the beginning of winter.

View from Joshua's Retreat

We arrived in Vermont after dark, at this lovely Airbnb apartment called Joshua's Retreat. Joshua's Retreat is part of a historic farmhouse in Shaftsbury, just up the road from Robert Frost's Stone House and Museum. Our host, Kevin, had the wood stove going for us when we got there, and I thought, "I may just sit in this living room for the next two days and write." Then I thought, how and when can I return here for a writing retreat. Woodstove, fully stocked kitchen, warm cozy bed--I was ready to take up residency.
East Dorset, VT

East Dorset, VT

But I did leave the house to see the country side the next day--we drove North to Manchester and then to Dorset and East Dorset. Manchester is kind of like Napa without the wineries, lots of shops and outlet stores and I wondered what everyone there did for a living. We spend a lot of time wandering a general store in Dorset that had been around since the 1800s and had some foodstuffs, hardware, tourist items, warm clothes, and various other items you never knew you needed--like my new ladybug ski cap and mittens set.

We were happy to eat supper in--a rare treat on the road (we had a vegetable feast)--and to read in big chairs by the wood stove until bedtime. The next day, we took a swing down by the Robert Frost house, which was closed for the winter and under renovation, but is pictured here:

Robert Frost House and Museum
Then we went back to East Dorset for a bit of a tour of the historic buildings and such.

Then, we drove through the country side of Vermont and through small towns in New York state, having lunch in Cambridge, a tiny town where my friend Genevieve grew up. It was easy enough to get to from where we were in Vermont and I was somewhat curious.

We slowly made our way to East Syracuse, where we stayed at a lovely hotel that included full kitchens as well as full dinners and breakfasts. The next day, after lunch in Syracuse at a place our friend Melinda, who grew up in Syracuse, recommended, we were on the road for Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Larry lived on the American side of Niagara Falls when he was a toddler and had been fairly recently. I hadn't been since I went one summer with my grandparents who drove me there from the Detroit area while I spent part of a summer with them. I remembered it being a magical visit and had left with all kinds of romantic ideas about coming back for my honeymoon, which strikes me as hilarious, since I was just twelve at the time. But I asked Larry if we could spend a couple days there so I could revisit whatever magic had entered my heart when I was there before.

Niagara Falls are magical and awesome. We went and saw them lit up at night. Their enormity quieted my mind. Like most big tourist areas we've been to, there was a long strip of ridiculous tourist things -- like Ripley's Believe it or Not and Dinosaur Miniature Golf. The Skywheel--a giant ferris wheel--marked the skyline.

Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls, Ontario
Niagara Falls 
The next day, we bought an inexpensive package deal that included a really silly video and experience called "Niagara's Fury" that tried (and failed) to explain and have you experience the making of the falls throughout history. But the other two stops on the package made it well worth the 20 bucks each we spent. We went behind the falls and saw the water streaming through these open windows cut into the rock. Then sort of just stood on a landing from a side view, looking at the falls from below and the side of them.

Then we took the city bus to the Butterfly Conservatory where there's over 2000 butterflies, 40 varieties total, fluttering around, sometimes landing on sightseers. It was nice and toasty warm in the tropical environment, a nice change from the morning where there was a light dusting of snow. As awesome and quiet-inducing as the falls are, the butterfly enclosure was similarly inspiring.

The trip to Niagara Falls definitely made me aware that there's something larger than me designing this world. I felt small and held at the same time, which I guess is what I must've felt when I was twelve--like in the turmoil of my upbringing and the awkwardness of puberty, I was going to be alright because someone was making beautiful things in the world.

This was the last of our sightseeing for awhile. We'd head to Buffalo to pick up one of Larry's sister's and take her to Michigan, where we'd spend Thanksgiving week with another of his sisters and her family. After this week, we'll go to Chicago and house and dog sit for a month. We hope to get an intimate look of that city while we're there, and also lean into some routine and rhythm.

We wish all of you who have been following our journey a lovely Thanksgiving. Thanks for being along for the ride.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Week 11, Part 2; Week 12, Part 1: Maine

Larry and I were both especially excited to go to Maine. Larry lived there during first grade and his father grew up there. I'd been to Portland in 2004 or 2005 and loved it. Portland, ME is on my Craigslist-search loop. That's when I stay up late at night searching for jobs and places to live that are far away and wherever I'm not. We spent four nights at the Howard Johnson's on the outskirts of Portland, and though it wasn't the best of accommodations, it was cheap and clean with easy access to the places we wanted to see.

We drove up the Maine coast on a small highway. The sign welcoming us to Maine read:

Most of the coastal businesses were closed for the summer, and as has been the trend across the country, many of these summer homes were for sale. We stopped at a small beach that seemed to be a dog beach. Then we stopped at a beautiful lighthouse, where we saw cars with license plates from all over--as far away as Texas.

Then we continued up to Portland. I honestly can't remember what we did that first night. We may have stayed in, watched "You've Got Mail" and I may have written the Massachusetts blog. Things are starting to get a little blurry. Travel is taking its toll and I need a lot more rest than the average person. We're starting to talk back to the voice on our phone GPS when we travel and even have small conflicts about "her." We normally use my phone for GPS and I've taken to getting a little protective of her. Every now and then, she gets a little bit behind which is frustrating, but she's doing the best she can, I say.

On that note, I'm sure a question many of you have is how Larry and I are getting along. We got a lot of comments about that before we left town--what will you do when you have an argument, wow, that will be a big test of your relationship, etc. We weren't worried because we get along so well--and we've continued to. But the thing I didn't count on was how much being witnessed all day every day would start to get a bit on my nerves. There is no where to hide my glaring character defects, which are ample. When I'm alone, I don't have to see them as closely because no one is there to see them. That's the hardest part of being around someone all the time. Having to look at myself so closely. It's also a privilege, getting to see and work on these areas of my life, and getting to know Larry so close up. I can safely say I like him even more than when we started the trip, which was plenty.

For some reason, in Portland, there's pieces from the Berlin Wall
Portland, ME
Waterfront, Portland, ME
A woman went around town feeding feral cats
Portland, ME
The first day in Maine, we simply went into Portland, walked around the downtown waterfront area--pretty touristy but down to earth, full of brick lined streets and walkways. We spent each morning at Standard Baking Company, in a big brick building, a place that's been written up in the New York Times, sitting and watching the many employees interact and having coffee and a pastry, talking about how this might be our last pastry. Any day now, we're going off flour and sugar again.

I did most of my Christmas shopping in Portland, which was fun. There's a great bookstore, Longfellow's, which I remember from when I was there before. Though it rained one day we were there, the weather was again unseasonably warm. We usually ended our days with a meal from the salad bar at Whole Foods (our antidote to morning pastries), eavesdropping on people sitting next to us--talking about contact improv dance or the play at Southern Maine University we would see while we were there.

Guilford, ME
Guildford, ME
Guilford, ME
Since we've gotten an addiction to seeing theater and the only thing going in town was "The Cripple of Innishmaan" at Southern Maine University, in Gorham. The play was by Academy Award-winning playwright Martin McDonagh (he wrote "In Bruges") and well-acted by the young students.

The second day we were in town we went to Guilford, where Larry's dad was born. It was a gray rainy day and the drive was gorgeous. Larry was delighted to find a plaque in town honoring all the veterans of war that included his dad's name.

Veteran's Plaque

Guilford, ME
Guilford, ME
Guilford, ME
Guilford, ME
Guilford, ME
Then we went to Bangor, where Larry went to first grade. Larry thinks this might've been the church school where he went to first grade:

We had lunch in Bangor before going to take fan photos in front of Stephen King's house at the top of the town. I loved Bangor, smaller and--like much of New England, full of lots of pointy old steeple churches.

Stephen King's House
Back in our hotel, we watched a movie.

The next day, we went and did a bit more shopping in Portland--and then drove to Freeport, to see the giant boot at the LL Bean and to shop a bit for winter clothes.

One more morning at Standard Baking Company and soaking up the beautiful waterfront town of Portland, buying t-shirts for my sister and me that say, I "heart" ME, and t-shirts Sweetie Pie the baker (my alter-ego) can't do without from the bakery:

Now, we head onward, to Vermont.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Week 11, Part 1: Massachusetts

When we booked a room in Plymouth, Massachusetts, we weren't thinking about the Pilgrims. We just wanted to find an inexpensive Airbnb room that would be within close driving distance of both Cape Cod and Boston. But we were delighted to find ourselves in the beautiful town of Plymouth and to wind our way down the backroads of town to a little secluded property where we stayed in a basement apartment for three nights. Lorna was our host and her house and gardens were beautiful. We were seeing the last of the fall leaves and parked every day under a bright red maple tree. Every morning we'd come out and there'd be a flush of leaves on our truck. We even had a few tucked under the windshield wipers that rode with us to Maine. I think there's still a tiny one clipped under the right wiper now.

View out our apartment, Plymouth
When we opened the door and explored the apartment, I was thrilled by a Chagall print in the hallway--he's my favorite artist. Then in the sitting room was a mandolin (Lorna left me a tuner later and I fooled around with it a little bit.) I'd been threatening to take up mandolin since we saw "The Broken Circle Breakdown" -- and had, a few years ago, taken one mandolin lesson. There was also a print of Titania from "Midsummer Night's Dream," a role I played about a year and a half ago.

That night, at Lorna's recommendation, we went to a local pub for dinner. Larry wandered into the back of the place to see if there was music and saw it set up as a small theater. It was a Monday night, but they were putting on an early show of four one-act plays. Since we'd gotten hooked on going to live theater in New York City, we decided to eat our dinners quickly and pop into the back for the plays. The quality was mixed, but when they were good, they were very good--and we had a good laugh in the end at the comedic works and performances. Before we drove back to the house, we drove down to the waterfront, where the Mayflower II sat, along with Plymouth Rock, which you couldn't see because it was in a tiny enclosed cage. We decided we'd see it another day.

Mayflower II
The next morning, we woke up to our first snow! I love snow and feel like a little girl whenever I see it and ran out into the yard in my pajamas to take it in. We decided to spend the day driving to Provincetown.

One thing I love to do is to go to cities in their off-seasons--I went to New Orleans in August and now Provincetown in the snow. It was mostly closed for the season, but we found a place called the Squealing Pig to get some fish and chips before walking around the nearly deserted town. I thought of my friend, Monica Wesolowska, who had a writing residency at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center for 11 months some years ago, and wondered how many of the the folks strolling around town might be up and coming writers on residency through the fall and winter. I thought of Anthony Bourdain, whose Kitchen Confidential I just read half of and who got his start cooking in Provincetown. A strange little town. My guess is I'd hate it in the summer. I tend to hate throngs of tourists, even lately I'm adding to those numbers wherever I go.

Provincetown Alley

Provincetown, Pilgrim Monument

That night, we went to hear a rockabilly band play at another local restaurant in Plymouth and visited a bit with our host, Lorna. It was a fun night.

The first day we were in town, at a coffee house, we met a local woman whose senior class had dynamited Plymouth Rock on Senior Skip day when she was in high school. She said their class was responsible for the fence around the rock. We were looking forward to seeing the crack they'd made along with some of the older buildings and landmarks. We had no idea that the whole Plymouth Rock thing was more a symbol than a proven thing. It wasn't mentioned in any writings until the 1700's which, unless it was passed down through oral histories, makes it a suspicious story of what the Pilgrims first stepped on.

Notice the crack

Our walk around town was really beautiful. We loved the old buildings and reconstructed mill wheel, the old church and the beautiful cemetery. It was just a lovely town full of history. I have pretty complicated feelings about the history of this country but I still loved the beauty of the town and last of the fall leaves coming down as yesterday's storm had cleared up and the sun was now out offering a late fall day.

Oldest building in Plymouth, early 1600s

The next day, we took a drive to Boston, about an hour away from Plymouth. Neither of us had been to Massachusetts (except Larry was born Wareham but his family left before his first birthday), and this whole trip was way too brief. My mom was born in Massachusetts and I would love to come back to visit her hometown.

We started our day in Boston with a visit to Fenway Park, where we had lunch at the Bleacher Bar, which was the old batting cage at the park. Larry loves baseball and we will come back to Boston for a longer visit, during baseball season!

Then we walked around Boston Common and the Gardens and around the Beacon Hill area. People seemed friendly. The squirrels were also super friendly:

George Washington statue
Beacon Hill neighborhood
Boston Gardens
Beacon Hill neighborhood 
Older Church, Boston
We finished out the night in Boston seeing a movie, "The Dallas Buyers Club," a movie that I'd been really looking forward to seeing and that is really close to my heart. I loved it even if it rattled me quite a bit. We went back to Plymouth for an early night's sleep so we could leave the next day for Maine.