Boston Day 2

We woke to find it overcast and raining. After H and I had breakfast I decided to drop off the car early as the parking costs $51 per day and the airport is close by so it made sense to rather get rid of the car and take Ubers to the airport. The airport is only 10 minutes from where we are staying (it is one of those cities where the airport is very close to the city centre). M came with me to fill up the car and then drop it off.

After we got back to the hotel we walked to one of the stops on the Old Town Trolley tour. We couldn’t find the first stop we were aiming for and so went to the second which we knew we would be able to find because it was the Cheers bar (where everyone knows your name). The trolley arrived shortly after we got there and we jumped on and took it until we got to Boston harbor (which is where it starts) and there we jumped off to walk around a little and get some lunch (which we did at Panera again). S got his clam chowder in a bread bowl (one of things he wanted to do before he left).

After lunch we got back on the trolley again. Boston feels like quite a strange city to me as it seems that everything is all over the place. I had hoped the trolley tour would give me a better sense of the city but all it did was confirm everything is a bit all over the place! H, C and I finished the tour and got off and went back to the hotel for the balance of the afternoon. I had woken up at 4am so an afternoon nap seemed mandatory. The other 4 stayed on the trolley until a few more stops which was near the shopping district as they wanted to do some final shopping. They all returned at different times to the hotel – S was first followed by K and then M&O came last (they caught an Uber as it was raining quite hard when they returned).

We went for our last supper together at Tip Tap Room. The restaurant was fuller than the previous night (I guess it was because it was Friday night) but we still managed to get a table. The service was much slower though and the food didn’t seem to be as good as the previous day (maybe again the number of people in the restaurant). After dinner we walked up Charles Street. It is a very quaint street near the hotel with antique shops, restaurants etc – most with signs with pictures of what the sell. It was done like that to help those who couldn’t read (which shows you that it is one of the older parts of Boston). We went to go get ice creams from JP Licks. Everyone except M (who has been very disciplined about his eating on holiday) had an ice cream and then we headed back to the hotel.

It was S, M, O & K’s last day in the US as they start to fly back this AM. In fact as I type this they are more than half their way through the flight back to London and should land in just over 2 hours time.

Until tomorrow …

P, M (for coming with me to drop off the car), H, S, C, O & K

Boston

We spent the morning in Portland. My ex-colleague (D) runs a Christian charity called The Root Cellar. They aim to help people in need and their current main focus is helping asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Angola. These people have flown to South America and then walked (usually from places like Ecuador) through central America and into the US. They come officially seeking asylum and most of them are qualified people who have been driven from their countries. D said many of them are journalists who had written negative pieces on the government and then were persecuted for what they wrote.

D took me on a tour of their facilities in Portland. They have a youth centre which they use to provide aftercare after school everyday of the week (from 3-5pm) and in the summer holidays they are open 2 days a week, a baby centre to help mothers with newborns including providing diapers and clothing, a fully equipped dental clinic which they only charge $10 for an appointment and then nothing further, a kitchen which they use to provide meals and a hall which they use to distribute clothing also twice a week. It was interesting seeing what they are doing. They also have the right focus in that they aren’t simply handing out charity – everything has to be paid for in some small way. For instance, everyone wanting to get clothes must pay $3 to get a large bag which they can then fill with their clothing needs. It was clothing distribution day and it opens at 10:30am and already at 9am there was a line of people of about 30 people waiting to get in.

They also provide classes for the asylum seekers including language classes. They work alongside other charities too and one of them use their facilities to do basic ‘Welcome to US’ classes. These cover things like how to supermarkets work, when do you call 911, how banking works etc. It was really interesting to see and hear what they are doing. There aim is to show the love of Christ through being welcoming and showing compassion. There ultimate aim is to “seek to see God’s Kingdom come and His will be done in our neighborhoods as it is in heaven.”

While I was doing that, the rest were having breakfast and walking around Portland. I also had a work conference call that I had to participate in back at the hotel. H came back very impressed with how beautiful Portland is. We then headed south to Boston. As check in was only at 4pm we took the more scenic route following Route 1 and driving through some smaller towns including Kennebunkport (where the Bush’s have a residence – we didn’t visit because we didn’t want to impose). We stopped for lunch at Kennebunk. Another stop in New Hampshire (NH has about a 15 mile part of coastline between Maine and Massachusetts) to allow S to buy some tax-free stuff from Walmart and then on to Boston.

We arrived in Boston just after 5pm. We had dinner in the nearby neighbourhood at a place called Tip Tap Room. Steak ‘tips’ seem to be a Boston thing and in case you’re wondering what they are – here is a description:
“Steak tips are a kind of Boston specialty you find at take-out joints and pubs all over the city. Steak tips come from the thin but fatty-rich sirloin flap, typically a chewy, second-rate cut of meat. So the beef is cut into chunks, marinated to flavor and tenderize the beef, then grilled over a hot fire.”

It turns out the place we ended up (simply because it was near the hotel actually) is one of the top places in Boston for eating Steak Tips. 3 of our party actually had Lamb Tips (but basically the same concept), one had Wild Boar, one Steak Tips, one an antelope burger and one an antelope filet. Everyone seemed to enjoy it as there were suggestions we should go back again tonight. The only problem with the place is that it was very loud and I could not hear anyone from the other end of the table. It was then back to the hotel and shortly afterwards H & I were in bed and asleep!

Until tomorrow …

P, H, S, M, C, O & K

Portland, Maine

As the drive down to Portland was under 2 hours, we checked out at the latest possible time which was 11am. One of my ex-colleagues (D) from the US had invited us to join him on his boat on Sebago Lake. He suggested we go for lunch at a place nearby called Bob’s Seafood before we joined him on the boat. It was an informal lunch type place with the majority of the seafood fried (not my first choice of ways to eat seafood). I wouldn’t rate it as the best place we have eaten.

After lunch we met D at the boatyard where he was waiting for us with the boat ready to launch. We changed into our costumes (well most of us anyway) and then headed out onto the lake. It is a MASSIVE lake – 47 square miles of lake and has an average depth of over 100ft. It is the main water supply for the Portland area and the water is so clean that no purification is used on it at all. It is meant to be the cleanest water in all US (according D at least).

There is an island in the middle of the lake called Frye’s Island. It was named after a guy who was been chased by native Indians (not sure if that is the politically correct term or not … sorry if it isn’t) and when he got to the edge he jumped off a rock (now called Frye’s Leap) and swam across the lake onto the island to escape them. The island is totally surrounded by the lake and the only way to get onto it is by ferry. People on inhabit the island during the summer as the lake freezes over in the winter (which is an incredible thought given how big it is). D said that they do ice fishing on the lake in winter and drive trucks onto the ice to do it! The lake is very popular in the US and some famous people include John Travolta & Demi Moore who have houses on the lakeside.

We went to a spot across the lake which had a bald eagle’s nest on the shore. We could see that the nest included a few chicks and we had a great view of an adult fly right over the boat as it came back in to land. We got anchored the boat and had a swim in the lake for about an hour. The water is absolutely clear (you can see the bottom) and was incredibly warm (around mid 70s). We were absolutely amazed that the lake could freeze over given how warm it was already by early July. H, S & C swam out to a yacht that was moored nearby and back (M gave up half way as he realised how tired he was and reckoned he might not make it there and back – I didn’t bother to try even!). Nothing quite like floating in the water drinking a beer.

By the time we headed back to the boatyard the wind had picked up considerably and so it was a little more choppy heading back and a little more wet from the spray. It was a great afternoon on the lake and boat and we all really enjoyed it. Very pleased we took D up on his offer. He has a very nice boat!

We then headed to Portland to check in at our hotel (about 40 minute drive) and arrived just after 5pm. We are staying at the Hilton Garden Inn which is in the Waterfront area of downtown Portland. Portland (while it is the biggest city in Maine) is (in my view) a really pretty city especially the downtown area where we are staying. H wasn’t initially impressed but when we got to the hotel and then walked to find a restaurant her view changed as I think she now endorses my view of Portland.

We had dinner at Solo Italiano which was a really top class restaurant. The chef is Italian and the menu is changed daily. Everything is freshly made and it was probably some of the best pasta I have ever eaten. I had linguine with seafood and a number of the others had duck lasagna. We all ended up having desert as well (which were equally as good). It is obviously well known in Portland because William Dafoe was there eating (H googled later and found an article saying he has a home nearby). So we were definitely eating a classy establishment and we could tell the difference between that and some of our other meals.

It was a good day … until tomorrow …

P (because I suggested the restaurant and also suggested we do a stop in Portland), C (because she found the hotel – good position and really nice big rooms – including the ladies each having their own beds), H, M, O, K, S (because he though cannoli were a type of pasta … somewhat confused with cannelloni)

Boothbay Harbor Day 3

After breakfast H, C and I went for a walk around the town and did some shopping. I gave up after about 20 minutes and headed back to the hotel. On my way back I passed the rest of them who had decided to get a kayak and go out on the ocean for morning. They got double canoes which is always a test of relationships! They went out to one of the islands with a lighthouse and apparently also saw an eagle and its nest. It took them about 1.5 hours. I managed to get a shot of the two of them from our hotel balcony when they were paddling back in.

We spent the afternoon just relaxing in our lounge or on the balcony. We went to the store to get some of the dinner items and had a drink at the cocktail deck of the hotel late afternoon. At 6:30pm M, O and I went back to the store to get lobster for dinner. I had read online that the supermarket would also steam the lobsters for you and it was the cheapest and best way to eat lobster. They were right. It took 30 minutes and by the time we got back to the hotel the lobster were still hot. H & K didn’t want lobster so they had pork sausages and were finished eating about 30 minutes before I was finally done! It is definitely a slower dinner when you have to crack the shell before getting your food. It was really good lobster though and much better than the restaurant for less than half the price.

Bananagrams after dinner and we eventually kicked them out of our room at around 10pm.

Until tomorrow …
P, H, S, M, C, O & K

Boothbay Harbor Day 2

This is going to be a short blog because basically we did nothing yesterday. Why do you need to when you’re on holiday with the view we have right now? After breakfast we did some laundry as there is a laundromat at the hotel which made it easy for us to finally wash some clothes (hopefully to get us through the balance of the trip). We then went to the local supermarket (Hannafords – only one in town) to buy some food for lunch for the next 2 days and also to buy prawns and pasta so we could make prawn pasta for dinner. By this point half the day was gone and it was lunchtime already.

View from our room

In the afternoon, some people did some work, some had a nap, some went shopping, some did wedding planning, some watched the boats go by. It is easy to pass time doing nothing in a harbor area. I saw the fisherman go out yesterday morning with their lobster pots, we watched the boat tours going out to the Islands, some people just taking their boats out for pleasure. The tide has also been fascinating to see. There is a 3 meter difference between low and high tide. I reckon in many places in the world that level of tidal difference would have dramatic effects but here everything is simply built to allow for it. It is incredible what things can fascinate you when you’re doing nothing!

Lots of Words with Friends being played at the moment. I think I have 10 different games running – some with the people here and some with people elsewhere in the world. Everyone here except S is playing it now.

As I said, a short blog … Until tomorrow

P, HMO (they made supper), S, C, K

Boothbay Harbor

We left Lincoln yesterday morning at around 10am with the plan to travel via Mt.Washington and then on to Maine and Boothbay Harbor where we have booked for the next 3 nights. As I mentioned in a previous blog you can self-drive up Mt.Washington but it is a fairly steep road. When we got to the entrance the guy asked us how many people we had and then said there is a weight limit for driving up in a van. We had to pull over and give him our weights and the estimated weight of our luggage. He then added it up and converted it into lbs and told us we were over by 300 lbs. We would needed to have gotten rid of all the luggage and one person. Neither were possible and so we had to skip it unfortunately. H was pleased as soon as she heard there was a weight limit and steep road she was not wanting to go up.

We headed on to Maine and toward Boothbay Harbor. The drive was very pretty – there is a lot of water in Maine even inland. There is something about trees and water that makes it very attractive. We did a quick stop for lunch and then we headed on to Boothbay and arrived at about 3:30pm.

H & I have been to Boothbay Harbor a few times and we know how beautiful it is. I am useless with dates but H says we were last here in Sept 2003 when the kids would have been 8, 6 and almost 4. None of them can remember it so they were very surprised by how beautiful and peaceful it is too. We had booked to stay at the same place we stayed last time – Tug Boat Inn (thanks to my Dad for remembering the name so we could book). H & I have the Crows Nest Suite (has a kitchen and lounge) which overlooks the bay and the others have rooms overlooking the yacht basin. Our view is stunning and you can sit on the porch and watch the boats going in and out. We had drinks on the deck. The barman made a cocktail for O which he said if she didn’t like we didn’t have to pay for. Unfortunately she did like it. He had her turn her back and not watch when he added egg white to it!

We had dinner last night at Fisherman’s Wharf which also overlooks the harbor and bay. We have also eaten there previously. It seems everyone eats really early here as the restaurants open at 5pm and most are closed by 9pm. It is really strange for us as we generally eat at 7:30pm when on holiday but have to pull it slightly earlier to ensure the kitchen isn’t closed! 3 of us had lobster for dinner – the traditional way with potato and corn on cob with drawn butter. It was very good!

After dinner we bought ice creams from the local ice cream place nearby. The single scoops are the biggest I have ever seen and half the price what we paid in NY for half the size. Really good value for money. We did a short walk around the town while eating the ice creams but it was pretty cold and some of the ladies were shivering so we headed back to our hotel. The temperature is much cooler here. It is mid 20s during the day but at night (and even now while I type this) it is pretty cool (I am wearing a jersey) at around 17 degrees C at the moment.

Yes that is a single scoop!

Until tomorrow …

P, O (for eating lobster the proper way), C (for suggesting Panera Bread for lunch), H, S, M & K (for trying to take a photo of me going under the banister … fortunately she never got it)

North Conway

We had breakfast at the motel (included in the rate). It was the same ‘disposable’ breakfast you get elsewhere except it included scrambled eggs. Most of us had a waffle for breakfast again but I think we are getting to the end of eating unhealthy breakfasts. I’m particularly missing fruit which seems to have gone awol since Kentucky.

We headed into North Conway to do some outlet shopping. There is no sales tax (or VAT) in New Hampshire which makes it a popular place for outlet shopping. North Conway has a mall called Settlers Green which is a strip mall of 75 stores including brands such as Gap, Banana Republic, Nike, JCrew, Timberland etc. The pricing is very cheap even for us – if I lived in the USA I would only but at these outlet malls. It I a number of formal shirts again and everyone (except M&S who walked to Walmart instead) bought something.

It was very hot and humid yesterday and just walking a short distance between stores was strenuous. We had to go fetch M&S from Walmart as they couldn’t face walking back. We then drove to the other side of town and found a place for lunch. The others got out in the main road to find a place to eat and M and I went to find a parking in a side road. We saw a spot, I drove slightly past it so I could reverse park in and was 1/3rd into the spot when a guy turns from the other side of the road and tries to pull in as well. He then incredibly gets out of his car (he had a disabled sticker) and tells me he wants this spot and I can go park elsewhere down the road. What makes it even more incredible is that there was an open spot on the other side of the road which he just turned across from. He then has the cheek to say I better move on because I’m blocking traffic. Absolutely incredible. I had a few choice things to say (like ‘clearly you’re mentally disabled’) but I restrained myself and let him have the spot and drove across the road and parked in the spot he should have taken.

We had planned to go to Attitash (you can do an Alpine toboggan run there) but it was so hot and some of us weren’t feeling great so we headed back to Lincoln instead. It is just about an hours drive back to Lincoln and around 20 minutes to go the heavens opened in a massive thunderstorm. It was a torrential downpour and driving was not easy.

The boys did manage to find baseball gloves yesterday – they have been looking for some since about day 2 so they could throw the baseballs to each other (without breaking their hands) that they bought in Kentucky.

We went for dinner at the Common Man in Lincoln. We had tried to book but they said they don’t take bookings but they would put us on the waiting list so that we would be on the top when we arrived. They were full when we arrived but we had less than a 5 minute wait to get a table (they were telling other people 45 minutes at that point). Everyone seemed to enjoy their food and we were back at the motel at around 930pm. Not a great night’s sleep last night since 3 kids decided to play basketball right outside our room until past midnight!

Until tomorrow…

P (I deserve first spot for my restraint and driving in that rain), M (for not punching the guy as well), S (he went back to car to check it was locked because after the drama neither M or I could remember whether we had locked it), H, C, K & O

You won’t believe what we saw!

We left Island Pond at about 10am yesterday and headed to New Hampshire on the road suggested by the staff of the restaurant. We never found the moose spotting place but we did see a moose right on the side of the road and S just said “And there it is”. Next thing I knew I was slamming on the brakes to avoid hitting said moose. It then dived across the road, almost slipping on the tar surface before jumping over the railway line and dashing into the trees. We were all stunned and pleased we never hit the thing.

Spot the moose!

We continued to New Hampshire aiming for the White Mountain area and passed Mt Washington. It is the highest peak in NE USA at 6288ft and incredibly it still has snow on it at this time of the year. You can drive up it but there was a long line of cars waiting to go up so we gave it a skip and drove on to Jackson and then to North Conway. The traffic in North Conway was terrible and it took us forever to get through the town and back again. We stopped for lunch at Burger King (2nd fast food hamburger for O on this trip).

After seeing the traffic we figured we better start finding accommodation. We started with places in Jackson (because it was a really pretty town) but after H tried 5 or so places without success, we figured maybe North Conway would be better but struggled there too. K eventually found a place in Lincoln (about 35 miles away) and we managed to get rooms for next 2 nights. It is one of those places that looks nicer in the pictures than it really is in real life. It is called Woodwards Resort. At least the rooms are clean and the beds are OK. Noise levels not so much though. We have a dog staying in the room above and we can hear it yapping and running around. The aircon is so noisy H couldn’t complain about any snoring I might have done because there is no way anyone can hear anything over that rattle (except the dog running around upstairs which seems to make it through the rattle).

Finding a place for dinner last night also turned into a challenge. After trying about 6-7 places and being told that that the wait ranged from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, we ended up eating in pizzeria where we could find seat. Tonight we definitely will book a restaurant – lesson learnt!

On the way back to the motel though we did see a wolf running down the side of the road. That just about means we have covered all the wildlife we wanted to see – fox, black bear, moose & wolf!

Until tomorrow ….

P, H (for all the phoning she did yesterday), S (for running in to all restaurants and for spotting moose), K (for finding us accommodation), M, C & O

Independence Day

We had a slightly later start to the day as we knew we had accommodation already sorted for the night as we weren’t moving on from Island Pond. On the recommendation of the waitress from the restaurant, we headed to Jay Peak. It came up because Michael asked her where we can see moose around here and she told us she usually sees them at Jay Peak. She also said it was beautiful.

It is a ski resort and obviously the winter is prime time there but in the summer people hike up to the peak or you can take a tram (cable car) to the top. We took the later option. It takes 6.5 minutes to get to the top which is at 3800ft (about 300ft above Table Mountain). It was a clear day so we had 360 degree views over Vermont. It is very close to the Canadian border so we could see into Canada as well. After the mandatory photos were taken we headed back down and had some lunch in one of the resort restaurants and then headed back to Island Pond. The afternoon was spent relaxing. H, S & C all had a ‘float’ in the lake though H got out promptly when a school of fish came close by (worried they might be snapping fish!).

We went for dinner at the same restaurant in Westmore. It was very empty as it seems most people stay at home on July 4 rather than go out for meals. The food was as good as the previous night. We got onto the subject of seeing moose again and our waitress said the other waitress knew where we should go. She came over and told us that their is a moose lookout on the way to New Hampshire (which is where we are going today). The only other guests in the restaurant came over when they left and wished us well in our ‘moose hunting’ and said they had seen moose numerous times from the spot the waitress suggested. So now our hopes are up!

It is a great example of American service and customer care. They really feel like they want to go the extra mile for you. They will never likely see us again in their lives and yet they are trying their best to make it a good experience for us. It makes it such a pleasurable experience being a tourist here.

It was getting dark on the way back from dinner and people had started to send up fireworks. Pretty much the whole way back we could hear or see fireworks being shot into the sky. When we got back to the motel, some of the people were setting off fireworks around the lake. One was especially close to us and they seemed to have a significant stock of fireworks so we stayed outside and watched them set off their fireworks for about 30 minutes and eventually came inside at around 10pm and call it a night. You could still hear fireworks being set off occasionally after that too. It seemed like a good way to finish off July 4.

Until tomorrow …

P, C (because she told us that she never found the accommodation online but actually found it in a magazine we had picked up from the travel center – how unique is that in this digital world!), H, S, M, K & O

Island Pond

We planned to leave Burlington slightly earlier yesterday so that we could give ourselves enough time to find a nicer place for accommodation for the next 2 nights. We were concerned that given today is 4 July (Independence Day) we may struggle to find accommodation. We headed to NE Vermont which is described as the ‘Northeast Kingdom’ (named by Governor George Aiken in 1940s because he just loved the area and its people and he was a politician and I am sure it helped get their votes too!). Our plan was to go to Lake Willoughby and a town called Westmore as there seemed to be plenty of accommodation options on the lake.

On route we passed the original Ben & Jerry’s factory (at Waterbury) and so we had to stop. It was tea time and so we felt ice cream at tea time was appropriate. They do a factory tour but we noticed that while the tour was operating, the factory itself wasn’t producing yesterday so we decided to give it a skip and rather just eat the ice cream. They have a flavour graveyard where all the ‘retired’ flavours have gravestones and a little poem explaining why they are no longer in existence. It was a fun little interlude on our journey north.

When we arrived (around midday), we drove through the town once before deciding on our order of preference to check accommodation. S then went in and asked about availability. He did that for 4 or 5 places but unfortunately none of them had availability. C had found online a motel in a town called Island Pond called Lakefront Inn & Motel and so we decided to call them and check availability. While H was doing that, K spotted a black bear in the forest area and it had 2 cubs with it as well. We discovered later that it is not common to see bears and so we really were happy to have seen them (unfortunately no photos though as they were too far in the wooded area and were quite shy). H did get us accommodation though and that is how we ended up in Island Pond.

H described the town as a ‘frontier’ town and it really does look like that. The motel is on the lake (Island Pond though it really isn’t a pond!) and it has it’s own jetty. C was first into the water (though it is pretty cold in my view). They (SMC) bought tubes from the Dollar store and they all just floated around the lake for a good part of the afternoon. The rest of us sat on the shore sunbathing (or least the 3 other ladies did that).

There is only one restaurant in the town so we headed there for dinner but when we went in there was already a line of people waiting. So we decided to go to Westmore where we had seen another restaurant at one of the places we wanted to stay called Gil’s Bar and Grill. We decided to call to see if they had space (as it is about 20 minutes drive partly on gravel roads) and fortunately they did. It was so good a dinner that we asked midway through dinner whether we could book again for tonight. Our waitress was from the area and she told us where we should go today (and we are planning to do that). It was also from her that we discovered that bear sightings are not that common and moose sightings even less so. We even ended up engaging with the chef on moose sightings in the end. The food was also very good (I had scallops and they might have been the best I have ever had).

It really has struck us (again) that Americans are very service orientated. They really do make an effort and come across as friendly and helpful. For example, even when we couldn’t get accommodation at some of the places they were quick to offer some other suggestions for us to try. Even the deli (where I went to buy coffee this AM) has this service mentality. The guy making the bagels this morning noticed I was waiting at cashier to pay and he just stopped doing what he was doing to ensure I didn’t have to wait for the cashier to return. In SA you would have just had to wait

The weather is pretty mild at the moment. The evening and early morning (I have already been out for coffee this AM) are cool (currently 16 C) but during the day it gets up to high 20s (and today it is meant to get to 30 C). It is a lot cooler and less humid than NY and a lot more pleasant.

Until tomorrow

P, H (for phoning for accommodation and dinner), S (for going in so many times to ask including a walk down and up a steep slope for one of them), K (because she should have been higher yesterday and I forgot about it and for spotting the black bears – she can come to a game park with us for her spotting skills), C (for finding the accommodation online), M (for navigating) and O. (There was a lot of argument in the car yesterday about the order for today because everyone … except one … felt they had done something noteworthy!)