On the Road With Doris & Ez

We're going on a road trip!!!! Could be three weeks could be three years, we'll see. Read below to see where we are now.....

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Massachusetts and Maine Coastlines - August 2007

Our next destination was Salisbury, Massachusetts on the Atlantic coast. Ez and I both read 1776 - the great history of the Revolutionary War by David McCullough – so it’s cool to see some of the places mentioned in the book. Many of these small coastal towns were here long before the Revolution, so while we used to get excited if we saw a pre-1860 home, now we’re seeing buildings from the 1600’s! The historic parts of towns like Gloucester, Newburyport, and Salem look much like they did, with doorsteps that open right out onto the narrow streets.

You may have guessed that I’m a cemetery buff (I love reading the memorials to the long-dead people whose lives were so different from our own), so I found these ancient headstones fascinating. The skulls look pretty morbid, but they were a common element in many of the cemeteries we saw.

We checked out some historic sites - like the fort where 400 brave American patriots overwhelmed the six British soldiers in residence and walked off with all the powder and ammunition. We spent an afternoon walking around old Salem, which has at least 10 tourist sites based on the witch trials of 1692. The “museum” we visited featured illuminated wax museum scenes and narration describing the events – cheesy but interesting.

But the highlight of this part of the country is the seacoast. Every little village looks like a perfect picture postcard with sailboats and fishing vessels bobbing in the bay. There are lots of great shops and lots of opportunities to indulge in our search for the best lobster – from lobster risotto to lobster rolls to fresh, whole lobster served with butter and corn on the cob. Yay!

So we thought Massachusetts was really cool, but we LOVED Maine! It has to be one of our top five fave places on this trip! The coastline is rugged and picturesque, the towns look like movie sets, and the people talk cool. Every day we explored the little roads along Penobscot Bay and oohed and aahed over the scenery. One afternoon we checked out a country fair in the small town of Union. Although we missed out on the free blueberry pie (damn!), we strolled the agricultural tents to see the chickens, sheep and cows and learned all about Moxie, the traditional soda pop of Maine.

Our home base was in Thomaston, Maine. In 1840, three of the seven millionaires in the U. S. lived here – so there are lots of lovely, historic homes. This is Montpelier, home to Revolutionary War hero General Henry Knox. He built this home after he retired from the government and lived here until he died of complications from choking on a chicken bone.

A favorite way to enjoy fresh lobster is to stop at one of the casual restaurants where you BYOB, pick our your lobster, and sit at picnic tables on the deck. So we did that. But one evening we bought three live lobsters from a roadside stand, borrowed a big pot from the RV park and cooked up our own meal on the grill. After an hour on the flame we still hadn’t achieved boiling water, so we borrowed a propane cooker from a neighbor and within a few minutes we were cooking – literally. What a great meal, and one of the highlights of our trip!

Leaving Maine marked a bittersweet moment. While we look forward to what we’ll see in the next couple of months, this marked our turnaround point. From now on, we’re headed back to Phoenix. We’ll miss scenes like this, but there’s still more to come.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Gettysburg, the Big Apple and New England - August 2007

I’ll bet you remember studying about the Civil War and the battle at Gettysburg. (Maybe you’re like me and had to memorize the Gettysburg Address.) But this doesn’t really help you get your head around what happened on those three days in July in 1863 when over 44,000 men were killed or wounded. We took a driving tour of the battlefield and tried to picture the troop movements on the current landscape - which looks much as it did then. The fields and farmhouses are still there, no condos have been built on the hill called Little Round Top, and the same clump of trees still stands where Pickett’s Charge almost breached the Union lines. It’s very peaceful and bucolic today, with only the 1300 monuments that have been erected across the battlefield to remind you of the carnage. I took a horseback tour of the battleground to get a closer view of the countryside but it’s only the cemetery that gives you the sense of how many men died here.

From Gettysburg we drove on to Florida, New York, about 20 miles outside of New York City. The Hudson River Valley is beautiful country, very green with picturesque small towns and neat little farms with red barns and silos. We signed up to take a van tour into the big city to see the sights. (Al, our tour guide, has been married for 40 years to a former Rockette - and has he picture to prove it!) Unfortunately, this was the day when an actual tornado hit Brooklyn and it rained so hard it flooded the subway system. As a result, our one-hour drive into the city took three excruciating hours. We still got to see all the required tourist highlights including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Ground Zero, and Rockefeller Center. I guess we’re not big city people though, because when our tour guide let us out to wander around for 45 minutes in the theatre district, we took one look around at the buildings and crowds and retreated to the nearest Planet Hollywood for a drink! And that was enough of NYC for us!

We felt much more at home on the coast of Connecticut. Ez was stationed in Groton at the submarine base during his Navy days, so we visited some of his old haunts and toured the nuclear submarine Nautilus. Then we drove a short way down the coast to the town of Mystic. Not only is it a charming old seaport town with great historic homes, it’s also the home of Mystic Pizza! And guess what? They make great pizza – so we ate there two days in a row!

We also spent an afternoon exploring Mystic Seaport, the New England seaport equivalent of Williamsburg. We toured a couple of historic sailing ships including the last wooden whaleship in the world. These youngsters were part of a group of about 30 getting ready to take their small sailboats out for a lesson. We watched them chase each other around the marker buoys with only a few upsets. Mystic Seaport also features a recreated 19th-century seafaring village complete with stores, taverns, a chandlery, a print shop, and a cooperage. And like Williamsburg, docents in period costumes are available to tell you about their field and answer questions. We’re suckers for this historical stuff, so it was a great day.

From Connecticut we moved on to Hatfield, Massachusetts to visit Mike and Florence, friends we met on the road. They’re spending the summer as work campers at an RV dealership and arranged a spot for us to stay for a few days. This area is home for them, so we enjoyed letting them show us around. This is the best time of year in Massachusetts and the gardens are at their absolute peak. We also visited the famous Yankee Candle factory which is like the Vegas casino of candle shops – so big you can get lost and never find your way out!

Now we’re off to the Massachusetts coast and then to Maine. Ez wants to get his share of fresh lobster before we leave this beautiful part of the country.

Friday, August 03, 2007

North Carolina, Virginia, Washington D.C. - July 2007

There’s so much history in this part of the country that it just blows your mind! Driving down the road, the historical markers go by in a blur. At some point, something significant happened at every bend in the road. You’d like to stop and read every one, but it’s just not possible.

In Fayetteville, we saw our first Confederate cemetery. In addition to the small, identical white headstones that marked most of the graves, we saw a monument to commemorate seven brothers who were all killed or wounded during the Civil War. Beaufort, North Carolina is a historic city with lots of houses (like this one) dating to before the Civil War. The tour we took included one house that dated back to the 1700’s and another that was the home of a Confederate spy. It was interesting to compare the building techniques, decoration and the lifestyles of the people from those different eras.

Another fascinating feature of the North Carolina countryside is the small family cemeteries we saw along the roadsides. They might contain anywhere from five to 30 monuments, many of them obviously very old. Here’s one we spotted in the middle of a cornfield on the road to our RV park near Elizabeth City. Outside the chain link fence were three or four other graves that were untended and overgrown with brambles and weeds. Slaves? The black sheep of the family? We could only guess.

I’d looked forward to seeing the Outer Banks along the North Carolina coast, so we headed off one Saturday on a day trip. Instead of lonely, windswept dunes, we saw miles of the wall-to-wall beach houses and condos that have sprung up along so much of the coast. I checked out a real estate magazine and noted that the listings included how many rows back the property was from the water. First row = good (and expensive!); fifth row = not so good (but you still can’t afford it!). This house was remarkable only because it looks like it won’t survive the next big storm – first row, but not a good investment!

Our next stop – Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia – was one of the highlights of our trip. For less than we paid for a one-day visit to Epcot (what a waste!) we had three days to explore Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown – three great historical sites. Williamsburg is a large area of the city with both original and restored structures. You can wander down streets that look much as they did in colonial times, stopping to visit an apothecary shop, a wigmaker, the blacksmith shop, and others. At each location you’ll find a craftsman in vintage attire ready to demonstrate and explain how illnesses were treated, what’s involved in making a wig, or how clothing was made by hand. At the courthouse, we acted as justices in a demonstration of a colonial trial. When we visited one of the taverns, an actor recounted the news of the day and explained which town leaders were active in pressing for independence. No crowds (even in high season), very few lines, and the kids we saw really enjoyed it! Colonial costumes were available for rent, so we saw lots of children in tri-corn hats and long dresses.

At Yorktown we drove around the battleground where General Cornwallis finally surrendered. In the town we saw colonial era homes with cannonballs embedded in their walls. (Look closely between the windows to see the cannonball!) Very impressive, but we learned later that some of them were placed there after the Revolutionary War – it was kind of a fad at the time to show that your house had survived the battle!

The Jamestown site includes replicas of the fort, the Indian settlement as it looked at that time, and the three sailing ships that brought the settlers to the first permanent English settlement in America. Again, costumed guides were available to explain the layout of the ships, how the Indians lived, or how to shoot a muzzle loader rifle. If you ever have the opportunity to treat your kids or grandkids to this experience, do it!

Our next stop was the nation’s capital. There’s so much to see in Washington, D.C., it’s pretty overwhelming. We took a bus tour of the city and saw all of the requisite sights – the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, Arlington Cemetery, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, U S Capitol Building, and more. This gave us “the lay of the land” so we felt more confident taking the Metro to town the next day to see a couple of the Smithsonian Museums and Ford’s Theatre.
My favorite part of our DC visit however was Mt Vernon, home of George Washington. In pictures, the Father of Our Country always looks pretty dour and stiff. Not so! He was a real man’s man! A veteran of hand-to-hand combat in the French and Indian War, an accomplished horseman, a successful farmer and entrepreneur, and quite the good dancer. The home is lovely too, and Mt. Vernon provides a realistic (and fascinating) picture of life on a working farm from that era.

We sometimes joke and say that visiting all of these fabulous places around the country is our job. Well, some days it does start to feel like work. It’s all been a little overwhelming, and while we’re looking forward to our next stop in Gettysburg, we’re starting to think about what happens after this. We find ourselves spending time in the appliance department at Home Depot, looking at house plans on the internet, and buying design magazines in the grocery store. I think the nesting instinct is starting to kick in. I guess we’ll be doing more of that when we get back to Phoenix in the fall. Stay tuned though for the rest of our trip to New York City and New England.