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Archive for the ‘Massachusetts’ Category

In transit

(and not sic this time, we hope). Just time for a cursory report from Boston Logan Airport as we sit here waiting for Flight AA4619 to JFK. We got here around 11am after dropping the car off (Hertz are astonishingly efficient at checking the cars back in – they are waiting ready with a scanner, you empty the car and hand over the keys, then the cars pass through a 16-station car-wash and who knows what else; quite a production line).

Earlier this morning we had a small breakfast of cereal at the motel – none of us feeling especially hungry – and then went to see the animals again. The girls were each handed a young rabbit to hold for a while, and then they fed the goats with Applejacks (cereal). Afterwards there was time for a paddle in the pool as the morning warmed up.

For the first time in this trip we are paying for internet access – we thought it worthwhile because it’s getting on for a six-hour wait at the airport and there isn’t much to entertain the girls here (the newsagents have nothing for the littlies or the slightly less-littlies). So they have been playing games on the Disney Channel website to pass the time, while we have been able to check emails, etc.

It’s a long haul ahead of us; we get to New York at 7pm before flying out again at quarter to midnight… (wish us luck!) – we then arrive in Lima at 6.30 tomorrow morning and wait around in the airport until 3.50pm for our final 1½-hour flight down to Arequipa. Good thing we’re going to be collected and driven to our Hostal, or so we hope.

Once again, we’d like to thank you for all your feedback; we seem to be getting between 50 and 80 page views per day, so please do introduce yourself if you haven’t left a comment before…

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And so we approach the end of our first week away. Walking back from the beach as the shadows lengthen after a near-perfect afternoon and that twinge of ‘I shall not pass this way again’; we realise (like Mrs Ramsay in To the Lighthouse) that it is now in the past.

I fully expected ‘moving on’ to be easier with the prospect of another ten months of travelling ahead of us, but it’s not. Perhaps the trip is going to be more a collection of short stories than one huge doorstop of a novel.

A certain pressure to capture the essence of the Massachusetts South Shore while we are still here, and maybe this Plymouth church comes close:
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We flashed our ‘combo’ tickets for Mayflower II only to see a ‘Free Entrance’ sign up (“first time in fifty years”, we were assured) – but at least the actors were more convincing than yesterday, especially the captain (who could well have been English, for all that I could tell). This replica ship also sailed across from England in 1957 and she is still seaworthy.
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Back home for a late morning snack, a chance for the girls to catch up on their diaries/scrapbooks and then sandwiches and hot dogs for lunch before heading for a long, lazy afternoon by the sea.

Hannah and I alternated between swimming/floating in the comparatively chilly waters and warming up again in the sun’s rays, with plenty of time for piling up sand-mountains and channelling meandering rivers leading to small but perfectly-formed deltas where the water drained from the wet sand as the tide receded. (No oxbow lakes, though.)

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We dragged ourselves away some time after 5pm. At the top of the beach steps we sat on ‘our’ bench to tip the silica from our sandals and the man from the house with the squirrels on the corner of our street recognised us and offered to take our picture.
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Then back to our house.
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A fridge-clearance supper of meatballs, pasta and sauce and then some packing (but so much less frantic than our UK departure preparations a week ago).

We head off tomorrow via Mystic, CT (got to have a pizza there…), Danbury, Port Jervis and Allentown for Lancaster, PA. Should be around eight hours’ driving in all, and we’ll stop overnight at a motel somewhere to break the journey.

We don’t know if we’ll have internet access for a while (probably not a very Amish thing), so this blog may continue in fits and starts. However, we are most grateful for all the feedback we have received; it’s nice to know that you’re out there reading this!

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Cod English

Sure enough, today was pretty cool (meteorologically speaking). We stopped for cash (I resorted to walking into a drive-thru ATM) and filled up with gasoline for the first time. Three special steps:

  • Step 1: insert credit card into machine
  • Step 2: fill car with gas
  • Step 3: replace nozzle and drive off

[This is a parody of the alarming/depressing Special Agent Oso on Disney Channel in which a stuffed bear comes to the rescue of children who don’t know how to build a sandcastle/pick strawberries/press wild flowers. I’m not exaggerating. Apparently there is a big market for this sort of thing – which is rather sad…]

Anyway, Step 1 failed, and then we somehow crashed the computer in the petrol/gas pump. A passing gas pump engineer came over to reboot it, then gave up and asked us to go to a different pump (we had already pre-paid for our fuel in the shop).

The lady on the till was not sympathetic; apparently we had picked up the nozzle when the machine said ‘pick up nozzle’ rather than waiting for her to tell us to do so over a tannoy system. I was also expected to guess the value of gas that would fill up the tank. You are charged for this in advance, and then you are meant to claim a refund at the end if you use less. All so complicated!

Eventually we drove off, and the one good thing to come out of this was the knowledge that a full tank of gas costs less than $30 (£20); it won’t be the driving that breaks the bank, it’ll be the ice creams – see later.

A little further up the road we found the entrance to Plimoth Plantation, the 17th century theme park. $74 later, we stepped back in time nearly 400 years as we visited a Wampanoag homesite and then a 1627 English Village.

Wampanoag cooking (rabbit on the spit, fish wrapped in clay parcels).
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At work in the fields.
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Blacksmith making nails.
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1627 Plimoth street.
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Two recently-arrived pilgrims.
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Some thoughts:

  • not great on educational materials for children (in other parts of the US I gather they are brilliant at providing worksheets, etc., to keep younger minds engaged),
  • a little uncomfortable at highly-skilled artisans in the Crafts Center having to endure the same endlessly-repeated clueless questions from Joe Public,
  • the 17th-century English vocabulary and accents largely unconvincing, but quaint enough for the average American citizen, I suppose,
  • the curiously self-defeating request that in your conversations with Native staff you ‘avoid questions or comments that are based on stereotypes, such as saying “How” for a greeting, or addressing Native staff as “squaw” or “chief”‘.

But worth the visit (especially since the tickets include admission to the Mayflower replica in Plymouth) and it’ll all help the girls’ project work. We debated whether to buy anything there (as we’ll have to lug it around the world, and even one item a week per child mounts up to a horrendous 88 souvenirs to carry). In the end we compromised on a couple of books – one about life on board the Mayflower, and another about the daily routine of a nine-year-old settler girl – and we’ll send these home before we fly to Peru.

Oh yes, those Dippin’ Dots ice creams for an excruciating $3.50 a tub. They may well consist of ice cream beads instantly frozen in liquid nitrogen and have been invented by a microbiologist, but $14 is a few hundred miles of gas round here.

After stumbling upon the dressing-up room – children only – on the way out (see photo above) we returned to 2009 and drove on to Plymouth. The girls wanted to make a bead bracelet and necklace, and later we sampled the local chocolate; far superior to Hershey’s but not in the Belgian league. It was in this chocolate shop that the simple act of my tendering the correct change educed a surprised “awesome!” in response.

We have now spent close to $500 (£300) in our first five full days here, excluding accommodation and car rental (which were pre-paid). Maybe a quarter of that has gone on admission charges, the same again on eating out, drinks, snacks, treats and ice creams, another $200 on food and sundries. And just $25 on gas. It’s more than we budgeted (an optimistic £100/day for everything), but we hope we’ll save later on in other countries.

Initial impressions of some of the gear we have packed:

  • Laptop/netbook – huge amount of use, not only for emails, blogging and uploading photos, but also for incredibly cheap phone calls home via Skype, checking weather forecasts, admission times and prices, research for school work, etc. Even when we don’t have an internet connection, it’ll be used for writing blogs off-line and for reading pdf travel guides.
  • Digital cameras – in regular use, but the camcorder has seen far less action. Perhaps this will change later in the trip when things get more exotic!
  • Clothes – regular washes mean that our limited wardrobe is sufficient to keep us going, and we haven’t touched the cold/wet-weather stuff yet.
  • FairFX prepaid currency card – such a good exchange rate for US dollars, and only a $2 charge to use a cashpoint machine (i.e. 1% for my withdrawals). I have avoided using any of my other debit/credit cards so far.
  • TomTom sat nav – wonderful! Replaces no end of unwieldy maps/atlases and does the job accurately and simply. How can they squeeze every address in the USA into a chip the size of a postage stamp?
  • Head torches – big disappointment. Two of the four head band clips broke in transit, one torch has failed and the others accidentally switch on far too easily while they are packed in a rucksack (a slide switch would be so much better than a press switch).

Last full day here tomorrow; the plan is Mayflower followed by a lazy afternoon on the beach – there are two big travel days coming up.

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Lobster & lobster

The weather forecast this morning on the local news channel promised a cold front moving down across New England during the course of today, bringing thunderstorms followed by blessed relief from this Massachusetts mugginess. So tomorrow and the day after should be far more pleasant for walking around Plimoth Plantation, but what to do today?

To avoid the storms, Cape Cod appeared our best bet; it would be the last region to get the front. So we set up the Sat Nav and hit the highway down through Sandwich, Barnstable [sic] and Yarmouth. Our first stop, Nickerson State Park, a pleasant enough spot for a hike or a bike round a lake. We began with Little Cliff Pond Trail (see the pictures below).
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These four photos are courtesy of the girls, who were busily snapping away at every fungus, log and skunk that we passed. (Well, okay, we didn’t come across any skunk but they are to be found here.)

Then to a beach by one of the eight ‘kettle lakes’ in the Park (these were formed 10,000 years ago by retreating glaciers and are kept topped up by local rainwater alone; no streams feed into them). Hannah relished the chance of another swim and the rest of us splashed around in the shallows until hunger got the better of us.

We dried off and did our best to eradicate the sand from between toes, then headed into nearby Orleans to have our first proper meal out. We stopped at Hearth ‘n’ Kettle, a regional chain serving good fresh seafood; I was tempted by Lobster & Lobster – a pot of lobster chowder (soup) followed by two lobster sliders (rolls) – and it was a delish dish (especially the chowder, which really brought out the full flavour). Kirsten went for seafood cakes (with scallops, shrimp and crab) while the girls played safe with chicken/ meatball sliders (around $50 all in). But we were so full that we had to pass on the rather appealing desserts we saw on other tables. Our body clocks may have acclimatised to the USA, but not our stomachs…

With the weather still overcast and humid, we found Nauset Beach on the eastern coast facing the wrath of the Atlantic. Sure enough, heavy waves pounded a steeply-shelving shore and few were brave enough to swim. Ellen and I contented ourselves with playing chicken with the water’s edge, sprinting up the sand every time a large breaker threatened to wet our feet.

We had spotted the Three Sisters lighthouses on the map further up the peninsula, and we drove to have a look. Only a brief glimpse as we cruised past (no parking permitted), and what stunted runts they are; not your lofty and imposing red and white tower but a row of upturned clapboard yogurt-pots a surprisingly long way inland (no wonder they needed three of them all together). [A little research has since yielded the fact that they were designed to be picked up and moved inland as the shoreline eroded, so I shouldn’t be so rude about them; they are highly practical.]

Back down and across to the sheltered west coast beach of Skaket, and what a contrast to Nauset. The tide was out and it was a ten-minute walk across sand bars to get anywhere near the scarcely-rippling sea, and then the floor was far too gently shelving to get deep enough to swim. We did find a Hermit crab, though. So Daddy Bear’s beach is too rough, Mummy Bear’s beach is too shallow, but Baby Bear’s beach (back home at Manomet) is just right…

We got the girls back in the car with the warning of approaching thunderstorms and began the hour-long drive back to our house. A few spots of rain, but still nothing to break the close night air as I write approaching 11pm.  We’ll hope for some respite tomorrow.

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Back to school

A home day today. A couple of miles down the road to our local supermarket and Dollar Tree store (like PoundLand but 40% cheaper) to stock up with the odd meal and exercise books for the girls. The supermarket even has an automatic water spray to keep the salad vegetables nice and fresh, even though the air conditioning keeps things pleasantly cool inside. We found chips (fries), chicken but no English-style sausages; they are all hot-dog variants. (We’re slowly working up the exotic menu scale towards lobster, guinea-pig, witchetty grubs and scorpions…)

We spent the rest of the morning on our local beach. Warm enough to venture a bit further into the water, and both Kirsten and Hannah enjoyed a swim in the shallows. This is the idyllic childhood beach holiday that you seldom find in Europe now; an uncrowded, clean, safe and secluded beach with gentle waves, little wind, just enough sun and exactly the right sort of sand for your bucket-and-spade creations.
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Our first live catch, but we had better options for lunch…
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However, one illusion was shattered today; all these houses with picturesque clapboard cladding and white picket fences around here – well, most of it is plastic/uPVC. I suppose it would be nowadays, especially on the coast, but it had simply not crossed my mind.
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So why ‘Back to school’? Well, we found durable exercise books for the girls this morning and they then couldn’t wait to get started. So after tea we sat down outside the back of our house under a sunshade and they began their USA projects with great enthusiasm (it will no doubt wear off in time).
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How many stripes on the US flag? Well, let’s go round to the front and look at the flag across the road (most houses have one). And how are you going to make sure you do 50 stars? Five rows of ten is good maths, even if it isn’t the exact layout.
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The Stars and Stripes
It has 50 stars and 13 stripes. Each star stands for a state. This may sound weird but you’re not allowed to let the flag touch the ground and at night you have to light it up and it’s all true but weird. If it touches the ground you have to burn it (that’s not true but people say it). You are meant to burn it if it gets old and tatty.

The last lesson of the day was a slightly more sobering one. Hannah and Ellen asked for their sun hats and sunglassses, and we couldn’t locate the latter. A big search of the house ensued, and then we wondered if we have left them on the beach. An evening mission to the shore which also proved fruitless made us realise how careful we’ll have to be with our few possessions this year (I nearly lost Ellen’s fleece twice on the day we flew out). Sunglasses are easy to replace, but it was more that we couldn’t work out how we could have lost them – no sudden revelation ‘we left them on the train’ or suchlike. Next time it might be their cameras, their passports.

The sunglasses turned up later in a bag, but one glasses case is still inexplicably missing, and it bothers us more than perhaps it ought to.

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Taking the T to Boston

Broken sleep during these overwarm nights; it’s a choice between the close heat and the noise of the window-mounted air conditioning unit. Even so, we were rested enough to rise around 7am, giving ample time to get ready for our day in Boston.

We set off around 8.30am for Braintree by car, passing Plymouth, Hanover and Weymouth en route. This bizarre alternative universe of familiar place names continues to amuse, with our relatively local Chilmark and Tisbury being relocated to the island of Martha’s Vineyard. And as for the peculiar moniker of Nameloc Heights – is this some Native American word, or (more prosaically) could some bloke called Coleman be responsible?

Anyway, we found one of the few remaining spaces in the vast multi-storey car park by Braintree Station and made our way to the platform to take the ‘T” to Boston (this is what they call the local subway system, apparently with not the slightest intention of irony). Pretty ancient rolling stock, old-fashioned by London standards, but perhaps more standing room for the rush hour.

The ubiquitous free paper scattered around the seats; the article about how to keep your pet’s teeth sparkling white particularly caught my attention and made me realise that yes, we’re in the USA now… (Should I ask what they recommend for my goldfish?)

We surfaced at South Station and fully expected clear signs to the nearby Children’s Museum (we knew it was only three blocks away), or at least a map showing its location. But no, of course not. A passer-by with a push-chair didn’t know either, and directed us to a counter selling trolley ride tickets but also dispensing tourist information. Sharp right, then left at the river, then right and head for the giant milk bottle. Simple.

Each fuelled by a semi-banana, we strolled towards the forty-foot dairy liquid (actually a snack bar). Entrance to the museum cost us $42 (£26), one of the less pricy tourist options in the area (count on over $100 for whale-watching, etc.).

The  place was heaving with colour-coded groups of holiday camp kids who would descend like locusts upon a room and render futile any attempt to access the activities on offer. How shall I put it? Very assertive in their behaviour; while our girls would give others some courtesy space when taking turns, they would be right in there without a moment’s hesitation. (A bit like the lad living next door to our holiday house who is so domineering in his requests that our girls come out and play that they now really have no wish to do so at all.)

But we chose our moments carefully and played with giant bubbles
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decorated Japanese head-bands
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sat in Mr Ratburn’s class (children’s TV programme Arthur)
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built wooden towers
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explored an old Japanese house (Boston is twinned with Kyoto)
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improvised games on assorted shades of paving stones
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and climbed a vast array of suspended curvy boards.
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We alternated between getting too chilly inside the Museum and sweltering outside, and eventually called it a day made our way along the waterfront to the harbour. A long sit down for the girls while I scoured central Boston sniffing out an ATM that wouldn’t slap too many surcharges on my FairFX card, and then some of the best ice cream in Boston (allegedly) from Emack & Bolio’s to refuel our legs for the walk back to the T station.

Back home by train and car without incident, quick sandwiches for supper and then the Disney Channel on TV for the girls to flop in front of. I’ll end up being more in the know about Hannah Montana and The Wizards of Waverly Place than I ever intended.

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Paddling and pilgrims

We woke up around 6am, not a bad adjustment to our new time zone, and giving us a nice long first full day. A familiar breakfast of watermelon, cereal and strawberry jam sandwiches set us up for an early explore down to the nearby Manomet Beach Shores, just what the girls needed after such a protracted day of travelling yesterday.

A quick paddle in the chilly Atlantic
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and some major engineering works
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with all this sand to ourselves on an August weekend!
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Starfish and crabs on the shoreline, and the girls’ burgeoning collection of pretty stones/shells/feathers, etc. There’ll be some ruthless editing before we move on to the next country, though.

Back to base for lunch and a bit of down time. Then up the road to nearby Plymouth to see the Rock and the replica Mayflower. ‘1620? That’s nearly as old as our house.’ (At least they didn’t substitute ‘daddy’ for ‘house’.)

A handful of leaflets from the Tourist Office; we’ll probably try to visit Plimoth (sic) Plantation open-air museum – complete with Wiltshire sheep and a recreation of a 1627 English village. Also on the shortlist are a drive down through Cape Cod and a day in Boston, but we don’t want to pack too much in and wear ourselves out; this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Maybe Boston tomorrow; there’s an excellent Children’s Museum as well as the Freedom Trail, and it’s going to be slightly less hot than the rest of the week (up to a sweltering 32°C). We’ll park in Braintree and take the train – I don’t fancy getting lost again just yet.

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