Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bewitched in Salem

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I (Steven) was looking forward to staying in Salem for a number of reasons. The first was its proximity to Gloucester, the fishing town made famous by a disastrous weather event back in 1991. The Perfect Storm, as it was known, inspired a book and a film of the same name. The story of the hapless crew of the sword boat Andrea Gail is epic and moving. Man against nature, love lost, it's all there.

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The movie poster depicting the final dramatic moments of the Andrea Gail.

Another reason I was excited about Salem was to learn more about the infamous Witch Trials of 1692. Honestly, my knowledge of those events was limited to folklore and legend. The only image I had in my mind was of people being burned at the stake. I have since learned that no one was actually burned, hanging was the preferred punishment for those found guilty but, either way, the whole affair was tragic.

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An artist’s rendering of how people perceived those accused of witchery in Salem.

Finally, having easy access to Boston City either via the nearby ferry or by car made this location particularly attractive.

So with all of that in mind, we arrived in Winter Island State Park for eight days. We had to split our stay between two campsites because of availability issues. The first 4 days would be in site 12 and the rest of our time was next door in site 13. Each site had a great view of both the harbor and the Happy Meal-sized Fort Pickering Lighthouse.

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We had a wonderful view of the marina from our campsite.

Also nearby is the remains of Fort Pickering itself. I took a walk to see what it was all about and found weekenders on the grounds with big blankets spread out, eating, drinking and generally having a good ole time. With kids and dogs on the loose, this wasn't your typical historical landmark. In fact, every available grass patch and rock was occupied by people out for a quick tan.

From a photography standpoint, lighthouses are my thing here on the east coast and, although the lighthouse by the campground was pretty small, it was perfectly positioned for the moonrise and the sunrise.

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Moonrise over Winter Island.

First up, we decided to travel to Boston via ferry. The ride was scenic and informative and it was a lovely sunny day as we stepped foot in the city. It's easy to get lost and walk around aimlessly in a place this big so we decided to take one of the bus tours right out of the gate to get our bearings. The tour lasted just under two hours and our driver was quite entertaining. After the tour, we went in search of lunch at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, a huge shopping center with food vendors as far as the eye could see. Boston is a beautiful town and some of the architecture reminded me of the older parts of Dublin.

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Arriving in Boston after a fun ride on the ferry from Salem.

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Home of the Boston Red Sox: Fenway Park! We didn’t have time to visit so just a drive-by shot on the bus.

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Trying to figure out which tees to buy as gifts. This was the best shot we got of the Cheers sight, lol!

There was no way to see it all in the short time we were in the area, but we did manage to squeeze in a return trip but this time we drove into the city. We actually needed to do something while Scoopy was getting a professional wash. Our goal in Boston was to visit Eataly, a sprawling Itallian-themed gourmet food store with a variety of restaurants integrating nicely into the shopping experience. Linda was in her element here. It wasn't her first visit to Eataly, she first discovered its wonders in New York City. It's hard to describe the sheer scale of the place and the food displays are breathtaking. We spent a few hours there and then headed back to camp with our swag in tow.

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Scoopy stayed behind for a wash while we went back to Boston for the day.

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Eataly of Boston.

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Boston is such a wonderful city to explore and we had fantastic weather during our return visit.

When we visited Gloucester, I was surprised how "modern" it is. Having seen The Perfect Storm, I guess I was expecting something a little grittier and basic. There is a beautiful walk looking out at the water that leads into town. On the way are two impressive memorials, one for the wives of fishermen, depicted by a woman looking out at sea with two young children. The other memorial sports a sculpture of a fisherman in a dramatic pose steering the wheel of a boat. The number of deaths related to stormy seas in this region is staggering. Over 10,000 have lost their lives from this town alone over the years.

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Down by the waterfront in Gloucester.

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The members of the Andrea Gail who perished and the “Crows Nest” where loved ones waited for news of their fate.

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We went into the Crows Nest for a couple of drinks and to admire the photos on the wall.

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The bartender let us peruse a photo album of the cast and crew of The Perfect Storm during its production.

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Who hasn’t had fish sticks from the Gorton’s Fisherman??

Nowadays, Gloucester is a vibrant community with over 60 restaurants as well as galleries and theaters. We found a great little hole in the wall restaurant called the Causeway. We loved it so much, we went there twice for some delicious seafood. The first time we ordered onion rings to start and then an order of fish and chips each. Holy cow, the meals were HUGE!! Although we managed to finish most of our lunch, our bellies were still full by nightfall. For our second visit, we were a little wiser. This time we split a meal of swordfish in honor of the crew of the Andrea Gail.

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Good eats at the Causeway in Gloucester. Loosen your belt or split your meal, the portions are huge!!

This whole coastal region makes up what’s known as Cape Ann. It’s about 30 miles northeast of Boston and marks the northern limit of Massachusetts Bay. Cape Ann includes the city of Gloucester and the towns of Essex, Manchester-by-the-Sea and Rockport.

Rockport was a standout for us and it is big on scenery and character. We spent a little time walking down a street full of quaint gift shops and restaurants. Usually when we see these kinds of places, we tend to avoid them because they are full of the same old mass-produced “stuff”. Not so in Rockport. It has a distinctly different feel to it and the quality of the jewelry and knick knacks is better than most.

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Just up the road from Gloucester is the beautiful little town of Rockport.

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Rockport had some really quaint stores to browse.

We had such a great time with our friend Tammy Williams back in Littleton, NH, that we decided to meet up in Salem seeing as we were again crossing paths. After taking the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour, we felt well educated about the rich history of the town. The guide touched upon the history of the early settlements, the witch trials and the story of the famed House of the Seven Gables. When we got off the bus, we walked around the town at our own pace. We had a lovely lunch at the old Hawthorne Hotel and then we were off for a tour of the House of the Seven Gables. For me, what makes or breaks a place like this is the tour guide and we had a great one. I felt like I was inside a PBS documentary listening to the well-informed narrative while gliding in and out of the old rooms and secret passageways. Well worth the visit for us.

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Setting out with Tammy on Hop On, Hop Off bus tour in Salem.

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It’s all fun and games until you get it in The Bunghole. The store owner did some great photo-bombing!

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The house of the Seven Gables and the beautiful surrounding flower garden.

A visit to Salem would be incomplete, of course, without learning about the witch trials. Many businesses have cashed in on these events in the most tacky ways you can imagine. There are images everywhere of old hags with pointy noses and wart-infested faces on broomsticks. Having said that, there were also some unexpectedly pleasant surprises. The Witch Museum's presentation of the trials was a little corny but the message was powerful. One of the display walls demonstrated how our prejudices have not changed much since 1692, they've just found new guises. The museum could have settled on the whole witch thing and been done but they went out of their way to educate visitors about these prejudices and also to clarify the modern "witch religion" of Wicca. As it turns out, it has much more to do with being in harmony with nature and almost nothing to do with the stereotypes of primitive pagan rituals.

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Tammy is so much fun to be with and a wealth of knowledge about the area. We had a great time together.

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Elizabeth Montgomery is immortalized in the center of town for her popular TV show “Bewtiched”!

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One of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials.

On another day, I took the opportunity to see a reenactment of the witch trials by one of the local theater companies in a production called Cry Innocent! There was a certain comedy in the presentation but they also managed to bring a fine focus on the frightening ignorance of the time. So with a little research, it's possible to wade through the kitsch (although that can be fun on its own level) and discover some authenticity.

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The cast of Cry Innocent! in Salem.

We have already decided our trip here was too short and we must return. Cape Ann is just a fabulous area. Each town has its own character and rugged beauty and, despite the activity of all the boaters and weekenders at our spot in Winter Island State Park, it was a peaceful place and central to everything we could have wanted.

NEXT UP: Visitors from Dublin!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Beautiful Rhode Island

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We seem to have hit a lull in our east coast travels. I mean, it can't all be exciting and awesome, right? We'd been having a pretty amazing trip right up until we found ourselves stranded on the side of the highway on our way to New Hampshire. And if you've read our last couple of blog entries, you'll know that our time in New Hampshire and Vermont were mostly taken up with repair appointments. And then there was that boring week at Normandy Farms . . . .

All that changed, though, the minute we arrived in Rhode Island. Who knew? Honestly, we were there just to get our map sticker. A couple of months earlier we had somehow managed to snag a week at one of the most popular campgrounds in the state, Fisherman's Memorial State Park in Narragansett. This place had been completely booked for weeks every time I tried to get reservations there, then one day -POOF! - a full week had opened up and I snagged it! This location turned out to be quite fortuitous as it put us in the perfect spot to take advantage of all there is to see.

Before we could get there, however, we had one final appointment for Scoopy. You may recall that her chassis did not get serviced while we were at Koach Kare in Concord, NH. So we made that appointment at a Spartan authorized facility in North Kingstown, RI.

The night before her service we arrived at the "yard" where we were told we could stay. But for multiple reasons we decided to move on. About three miles away we found the best Walmart we have ever stayed at! We parked overlooking beautiful landscape and next to a gorgeous pond filled with the sounds of frogs and crickets and lots of other pond-dwelling things. It was quite peaceful.

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We delivered Scoopy early the next morning and took off for the day. You know, I keep forgetting that RVs share many of the same parts as big trucks. And those facilities don't really cater to us snowflake RVers who sometimes like to have a safe place to stay the night and with hookups, if that's not too much trouble. A comfortable lounge to sit in while we wait would be perfect too and maybe some free Wifi. Haha, nope! Not this place! In fact, not any place we've been to on the East Coast! But really, as long as they get the job done and done properly, we can manage.

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Back in the shop again!! Scoopy be all “Are you guys mad at me??” Not quite the spa setting she is used to.

So off we went to poke around Rhode Island and it was then we realized that we had arrived at a gorgeous place with lots to see and do. We had no problem filling the time during Scoopy's appointment, although it did take longer than usual due to lower staffing on Mondays.

With her chassis serviced and a couple of issues investigated and deemed "fine", Scoopy was finally given a clean bill of health! Wuhoo! We are free to roam about the country without worry, at least until something else breaks. For now, though, we're golden!

The Fishermen's Memorial State Park has four RV sections, of which only two are really good for big rigs. The problem is that many of the sites are completely and utterly unlevel. When booking you really can't know that and when you only have one site to choose from, you take what you can get and hold your breath! Our site wasn't the worst one but we lived a week at a downward slant. We did try to level somewhat, but any more effort on our part would have popped out our front window. Or shattered it, one or the other. 

Just down the road from the campsite, Steven was thrilled to find photography mecca. The Judith Point Light was one of his favorite places to visit from sunrise to sunset.

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Different perspectives on the same subject – Point Judith Light, just minutes from our campground.

I have been waiting to get to the coast to have some lobster and just two miles from our park was the very cute and authentic fishing village of Galilee. It was here that I had my first "twin lobster" dinner! So delicious! We also had a date night at a local restaurant and the next day took the ferry to Block Island where we had our first lobster rolls!

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Date night with Manhattans in Galilee!

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Twin lobster dinner – before and after.

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No rest for the weary. A fishing boat sets out as the sun sets in Galilee.

Block Island reminds me of San Juan Island in Washington state. The little town has the same vibe as Friday Harbor except there is no lobster in the latter that I know of. We rented a moped for two and took off to visit the sites, specifically two lighthouses. I drove, of course, and as we were screaming down the highway at 25 MPH, the little engine just quit. Within 10 minutes the company brought us a new one and we were on our way again! We had a really fun day on Block Island!

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Views of Galilee Harbor from the ferry on our way to Block Island.

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What’s the first thing we did in Block Island? That’s right, we had our first lobster rolls!

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Block Island Southeast and Block Island North lighthouses.

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Waiting for our moped replacement and dramatic skies on the way back to Galilee.

When Scoopy was at her chassis appointment, we drove to Newport. I have to say, of all the places we've been, Newport is at the top for scenic beauty. We didn't have time to visit but we vowed to return and tour the famous mansions. The Newport Mansions, many overlooking the ocean, were built by America's richest families in the era known as the gilded age (1870-1900). They are huge, ornate and built to impress and they were typically occupied only for a few weeks each summer.

The Preservation Society of Newport County now owns and oversees a majority of the homes and handles the upkeep and tours. They offer a fabulous deal for visitors. For the same price of touring two individually, you can tour five mansions! And, your ticket is good until it's been scanned five times, so you can use it over multiple days. It is exhausting touring each home, some of them are 30,000 square feet INSIDE and then there's the gorgeous properties! We made it through three but by the time we got to the fourth one, we basically did a drive-by shooting and off we went! I guess if we return one day we can still visit two more!

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Visiting the mansions, it’s easy to get separated. Steven is saying, “Where’d she go?”

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We toured The Breakers, Marble House and Rosecliff. We drove by Chateau sur Mer. Beautiful!

Rhode Island surprised us. We thoroughly enjoyed our week there and it's one of the places we hope to return!

NEXT UP:  Bewitched in Salem