Archive for August, 2007|Monthly archive page

Harvard, MIT, Wasps, and Tapas – Gloucester/Boston/Cambridge, MA

skyline 

We’ve been camping near Gloucester, Massachusetts at the Cape Ann Campground for about a week.   When we left Bar Harbor it was about 60 degrees and by the time we pulled into the campground it was pushing 90 (I know, I know, you all have suffered through this for weeks).  We weren’t used to it, so we turned on the A/C and waited out the heat for a couple of days before venturing out to see Boston.

The campground is a large heavily wooded family-owned campground in the “oldest fishing village in the United States”. It has been so dry here that the campground recommended we set out some sugar water to entice the bees away from bothering us. The closest thing we had was mango orange juice neither of us liked. Here’s the first day’s result – the woods near us are now littered with dead flying insects (those not eaten by the flies).  Some of these are white-faced hornets and none of them are honey bees, so the owner said we were doing a great service for the other campers.  One chipmunk jumped up on the picnic table to see what all the fuss was about – he was stung and was not so happy.

Once the heat lifted we caught the local commuter train into Boston.  The first time we went in we decided to take one of those trolley tours around the city with multiple stops so that we could hop on and off, and the one we picked came with a 45 minute harbor tour.  The first driver we had was great – he was having a rough day, with a fire in one area he was supposed to drive through, construction traffic slowdowns, and a water main break in another, so we really caught a sarcastic attitude.  We heard how Sam Adams exaggerated the true story of the “Boston Massacre” – which was actually a few militia firing on a few agitators who were throwing rocks.  We learned about the historic buildings, saw the burial grounds of many early settlers and patriots, and heard entertaining stories about a series of architectural/building issues with the Hancock building (designed by I. M. Pei).  We jumped off to take the harbor tour.  It was a pleasant 45 minute tour of Boston Harbor’s fishing piers, condominum developments, and the Charlestown Navy Yard (the USS Constitution is there).  During the boat tour of Boston Harbor we got to see a Coast Guard boat, complete with machine gun in the bow, zoom toward another boat in the harbor.

After the boat tour we walked through Beacon Hill.  As we hesitated at a corner to decide where to go, a resident stopped, recognized us to be tourists (I think the camera and fanny packs gives us away) and suggested we walk to Louisburg Square – where John Kerry lives.  It is a very quiet isolated street with a green park in the middle.  We didn’t see him, though.  Beacon Hill has brick sidewalks heaving with tree roots and lots of shade from those trees.  Old beautiful buildings.

We’ve visited Boston twice since we’ve been here – once touring historic Boston and Boston Harbor, and the second time taking a tour of Harvard and walking around MIT.   This photo of Harvard is of the Dining Hall, which has the world’s largest collection of non-religious stained glass windows.  The guide for our Harvard tour was studying film and economics and made a point (several times) of comparing the “math” folks vs. the “creative” folks (everyone else).  Chris could relate but I got my dander up.  That’s why I snapped this photo once we thought we were near MIT – I don’t even know if it’s part of the campus but by golly I think whoever designed this was both creative and knew a lot about math.

After we walked around we went out to dinner at a local tapas restaurant named Cuchi Cuchi.  The food was great and the decor was outstanding.  For those unacquainted with tapas, they are small plates of appetizer-sized portions that are meant to be shared among the table (similar to ordering dim sum in a Chinese restaurant).  This restaurant, recommended by my niece Allison (who has lived in Washington DC, Boston, and NYC), served tapas dishes from several cultures.  We had Seafood-Stuffed Avocado (including 1/2 a broiled lobster tail), Scallops Provencale, Deep-Fried Artichoke Hearts, and North African Basmati Rice with Grilled Vegetables.  For dessert we had tiramisu and a “cornucopia” of fresh fruit and whipped cream.  Yum, yum, yum.

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Bah Hahbah – and Acadia National Park

windjammer

After we left Lunenburg we spent a night in Kejimkijik Park, which was very quiet and wooded.  While deciding whether to stay and bike around another day, we sketched out our return trip with a potential schedule and realized we’d need 3 hard days of driving to get from the middle of Nova Scotia into Maine.  We checked into the CAT (a ferry shaped like a catamaran that can travel from Yarmouth, NS to Bar Harbor, Maine in 3 hours by going 45 mph across the Bay of Fundy) and quickly signed up for the following afternoon.  The CAT is so streamlined that a tour bus had to back onto it – there’s only one entrance/exit and it’s too narrow for a tour bus to circle around.  We made one more trip to the laundry before we boarded, stifled yawns while other passengers ooh’ed and aah’ed over whales and dolphins during the ferry crossing, Chris nearly had a throw-down with a tour group from Eastern Pennsylvania (they were eating Klondike ice cream bars over my head and one woman was repeating everything she said twice and talking non-stop), and then we were back in the States.  The customs guys asked if we had any weapons and we (honestly) said our pepper spray had already been confiscated on the way into Canada.  They asked if we had knives and we assumed all the kitchen ones didn’t count.

We had two primary missions for our stay in Bar Harbor.  1:  to be in one place long enough for Laura to (overnight) ship us another batch of paper mail, and 2: to find a “good” salon to get Chris a haircut.  Chris has been coloring her hair for many years and was in the process of letting the natural color grow out (salt and pepper) – it was just at that stage where she had about an inch of roots and about 2-3 inches of red.  While I was willing to hack off all the red, I knew I wouldn’t leave her with much of a feminine style and she gets pretty traumatized over change. The stylist was also willing to give Chris two thin eyebrows instead of one thick one.  She had them trimmed in PEI but they had left them too thick.  I think she started to realize her eyebrows resembled Andy Rooney’s. 

As we pulled away from the ferry pier and drove toward the campground, we saw cars pulling over to gawk at the Windjammer Cruise ship above – so I took a photo.  As it turns out, that’s the only photo we have of this stop in our excursion.

We enjoyed walking and eating around Bar Harbor itself – a small very tourist-oriented town.  It comes alive between April and October, but the rest of the year most of the businesses shut down.  The rest of Mount Desert Island we also enjoyed touring – small fishing villages or tourist stops that close up during the winter.  We drove through Acadia Park several times while criss-crossing the island, but so much of our attention was on getting things done and deciding whether this was a place we’d want to live full-time.  It’s still a maybe, although the fact that there is so little life over the winter may take it back out of the running.  There is Jackson Lab on the island – a well-known bioengineering laboratory – but employees there often can’t take the winters and can’t wait to leave (according to a local realtor we talked to).  We noted some other small Maine towns on the coast as we drove south that would probably suit us better.

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia – Planned European Colonial Settlement

lunenburg cool house

 After we left Halifax, we spent a day in Lunenburg – a small coastal city about an hour south of Halifax.  It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site because it was a “planned European Colonial Settlement.” The architects of the town utilized a set of European recommendations in urban planning popular in the 1750s – the interesting part is that the plan calls for perpendicular north/south and east/west streets, and Lunenburg is set on a hilly harborside.  It’s still a beautiful town with fantastic home architecture and plenty of artsy shops and sailboats.  Across the harbor is a lovely golf course and neighborhood. Lunenburg is filled with bed and breakfast establishments, a testament to its cozy and warm atmosphere. 

The town was known for shipbuilding and produced the Bluenose, a working fishing schooner that won an international race.  Now there’s the Bluenose II, also a working fishing schooner, on which training of young sailors takes place.  We saw one of the sailors hanging from a line on the mast, waxing it.  There’s a fishing museum we toured, and two working fishing boats to go through, complete with standard food list for a 10-day fishing expedition.  Guides on the boats had gone out on them to fish, and reported there really wasn’t much time to sleep on the bunks if the fishing was good.  The craftmenship of boat building is still alive in Lunenburg. We were fortunate enough to run our hands along the side of a boat being built by hand.

The house above is a typical cool house found in Lunenburg –  they are all older houses built in the 1700s and 1800s.  The original settlers came from Germany, France, and England.  The original Anglican church, built originally in the 1750s, burned and had to be rebuilt about 5 years ago.  The original pastor had to preach in all three languages.

This house caught my eye because the front door is below street level:

 door under street level  

This one caught Chris’s eye because it’s such a bright orange color:

  orange house  

This one caught my eye becaue the blue door almost matched the color of the sky:

  blue door   

This one is interesting because of the black detail on the otherwise pastel pink house and white trim: pink house  

And this is just a shot of the pastels on the inclined street – although if you look closely you can note the small doors at street level.

  pastels

This was just a particularly pretty window box arrangement:

window box

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifax Garden

Halifax is the largest city in Nova Scotia.  The shot above is from the Public Gardens in Halifax, which dates back from the 1750s.  It is full of flowers, music, walking paths, benches and people.  There is a grandstand with seating for about 75-100, a coffee shop and an ice cream store.

I was a bit under the weather the day we toured Halifax, so we spent just a day there – Chris caught a photo of Thomas the tugboat in the harbor.  We toured the Citadel, a fort the English built to protect Nova Scotia’s mainland from the French (who occupied Cape Breton) and later used to protect Canada from American Pirateers.  Here’s a shot of Halifax harbor from the Citadel – the fort is unusual (in my experience with forts) in that it is covered in sod like the Viking huts in Newfoundland were.  It was actually rebuilt four times, larger and higher.  Here’s a warning sign about climbing up and falling off.

Our favorite time in Halifax was definitely touring the Public Garden.  It’s heavily used and a very comfortable place to be on a Sunday afternoon in the city.  Here are several cool flower photos: 

 dahlia 1  dahlia 2       flowers

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Cape Breton Highlands view

Cape Breton is an island in the northern part of Nova Scotia.  We landed at the North Sydney ferry terminal, stayed at the Harris Point KOA, and then headed west toward Cape Breton Highlands via the Cabot Trail.  This is a view of the northwestern coastline of Cape Breton from the “Skyline” trail that leads to one of the points overlooking the St. Lawrence Bay.

The approach to Cape Breton Highlands goes through an area of Nova Scotia steeped in Celtic culture.  Even the location signs by the side of the road have a Gaelic translation, and there is a Gaelic college for learning traditional crafts.  Cabot Trail leads past coves with small beaches (Ingonish Beach) and up and down steep and winding roads (Smoky Mountain).  There are plenty of stopping points along the trail so that people can appreciate what they are able to see while driving.  Green Cove has beautiful pink rocks within the coastline, with stripes where lava had filled cracks in the rocks thousands of years ago.  The trail goes in and out of Cape Breton National Park – so we had an opportunity to stop at a local bakery (the Clucking Hen) for some fantastic bread, cookies, and date blondie bars.

We drove across the Cape Breton Highlands portion of the park, noting where we wanted to hike the following day.  We stayed in a campground within the park.  We got up EARLY (for us, arriving at the trail head at 8am) the next morning and hiked the 3 hours in and out of the Skyline trail.  The trail in was relatively easy (gravel or boardwalk, and level);  the trail out was rutted and uneven.  There were a few latrines for desperate hikers.  When we arrived at the trail head there were only two other cars in the parking lot, and we never saw them;  as we left we were passing people every couple of minutes and there were at least 50 cars parked there.  It was cool and gloomy, with threatening weather, but we enjoyed the hike nevertheless.

One of my favorite photos is a boat being hauled up that curvy mountainous roadway.  It has a lead car with a “Wide Load” sign but – I would have been frightened to meet that boat going around one of the curves in the RV.  The trail winds over the top of the mountain and down a boardwalk toward the coast.  Chris was worried about falling, so I had to continue to tease her about the heights.  The trail was constructed so that it cannot be seen from the road below.

After we finished hiking, we left the Cape Breton area and drove down near Halifax, which is where we are now.  It has rained for two days and the campground has WiFi, which has enabled us to do a bit of grocery shopping and catch up on our blog posting.  Tomorrow we plan to tour Halifax and Lunenburg.

Newfoundland Retrospective

Mother in Law Entrance

What can we say about a culture where so many houses are built with a front door that never gets a deck or stairs to enter it?  One local says he calls them “Mother-in-Law Entrances”.  The truth is – they always use the side door, that goes directly into the kitchen.  Who cares if the front door is only occasionally used as a large window?

Newfoundland is raw, rugged, and uncivilized in a very positive sense.  They do what’s important.  They often leave a ladder on the roof so it’s easier to get up there to get the snow off.  They rarely bother with a “grass” lawn, although they’ll certainly decorate up their yards with whatever is available (painted buoys, rocks, antlers).  They can’t really afford to re-paint their houses every year, which (from the looks of them) would be required to keep them well maintained.  They need lots of firewood.  We saw one old school bus that had been recycled as a storage bin for firewood.  The only industry in most of the province is fishing, and they are small independent fishermen.  We saw one man chopping the heads off fish with a chopping knife.  We saw one man with a pitchfork, loading hay onto a flatbed wagon.

They’re concerned that people from outside are buying up property there to build summer houses, and that the island will become too much of a tourist destination.  That’s so against the grain of a year-round cycle of planning and community, with a focus on using their natural resources to survive, that it just doesn’t fit into their culture.  On the other hand – all their fruit and most of their vegetables are imported from the U.S.  I’m not sure where their beef and poultry come from.  They have bakeries for bread and rolls, and fresh seafood – and the meat from moose and caribou.  They have a problem with moose the way we have a problem with deer in Ohio – there are just too many and no natural predators.  The moose are dangerous and are destroying the environment other animals depend on.

All the Newfies we met were open, friendly, and unassuming.  If we were stopped off the road they just went around us.  They waved.  They’d stop and talk for a while.  They welcomed the Americans who stayed there on 9/11/2001 because their flights had been grounded.

But with the exception of St. John’s, they are so thinly distributed and have such poor natural resources that it’s scary to think they’ll survive much longer without some change.  The small fishing villages – can they really survive without having an inflow of people to work them?

As soon as we arrived in Nova Scotia the changes were dramatic.  Houses and boats looked newer.  People honked if you were in their way.  There were lots of cars on the roads.  We wouldn’t have noticed it quite so much if we hadn’t come from Newfoundland.

Southern Coastline – Whales, Caribou, and Gannets

trepassey bay

We drove through the “Irish Loop” south of St. John’s and around to the southern coastline of Newfoundland.  Folks within the “Irish Loop” have a brogue so thick that we could hardly understand them at all.  The land there was rolling hills and there were a few gardens and farms.

On the southern coast we found plateaus with bogs – here is where there are several wildlife reserves, more whales can be seen, and where caribou are more often spotted.  We stayed overnight at the end of a gravel road that was about 5 miles long (to the lighthouse).  We checked with the retired lighthouse keeper (who lives at the house there, since they no longer require a fulltime lighthouse keeper).  He pointed us to where we could pick some “bakeapples” (a Newfie berry we had already tasted – pretty tart).  We saw several whales off the coast.

The next day we drove to a peninsula (St. Shotts) where there had been a lot of shipwrecks.  It was so foggy and spooky we turned around and didn’t go to the end.  As we returned, we saw a small herd of caribou.

We ventured on to St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve.  It is at the end of another peninsula, and has a large colony of several birds, including gannets (6-foot wingspans).  The primary attraction there is Bird Rock, which when seen from a distance looks like someone took a can of paint and poured it on top of a rock (with buzzing insects around it).  As you get closer, you realize just how many birds there are.

Yes, it was interesting – but the smell.  I couldn’t wait to leave.

Thankfully we couldn’t stay at St. Mary’s as we had intended (no overnight parking) so we had to continue on.  It had already been a long day, and from here we started to experience very hilly roads with lots of damage from the Tropical Storm that forced that first ferry ride to detour.  Chris uttered a few words that cannot be repeated as she deftly avoided potholes, pulled over to let faster traffic pass, and encouraged the RV to pull up gravel inclines (at times).  We ended up happily pulling into yet another gravel shoreline area, with another RV from Florida.

The following day we drove about an hour to the area where the ferry leaves for Nova Scotia.  Along the way we were treated to a unique yard decoration

We were scheduled to check in for the 15 hour ferry ride at 11:30pm, and the ferry was to leave at 12:30am.  We had very little additional driving to do, so we did all the laundry and checked in early for the ferry – around 3:00pm.  They were opening at 5:00pm to start checkin, so we just parked and chilled in the parking lot.  About 4:00pm I received a call on my cell phone announcing that the ferry’s departure was delayed – until 7:00am the following morning with a 4:00am start of checkin.  Since we were tired, had done all we had planned to do (and were a bit of a drive from any new adventures) we decided just to overnight in the parking lot there (which was OK with the ferry company only because of the delay).  We purchased our tickets at 5pm, got our tires sprayed with insecticide, and parked in our assigned line.  We set the alarm for 4:00am (thinking that would give us about an hour before boarding might start), and sure enough there were announcements over the loud speakers starting around 4:00am, but we didn’t board until around 6:15, and then sailed at 7:00. 

Five movies, three cups of coffee, and two ice cream cones later we arrived in Nova Scotia around 8:30pm, zoomed to the nearest KOA campground where we had stayed before, and slept like logs.

St. John’s – Where the Young Folks Go

St Johns Harbor

From Twillingate  we drove to St. John’s, the largest city within Newfoundland and where most of the young people move to live and work.  There’s a University there where several of the parks summer hires go to college.  The photo above is taken from Signal Hill, which overlooks the harbor entrance.  Here’s a photo of St. John itself – just through the inlet shown above.  It is a working harbor.  We drove the RV up to Signal Hill, through town and out again.  We were amazed it could make it up and down these hills.  We certainly got a few looks.  We even met a real Newfoundland dog on Signal Hill.

The drive from Twillingate to St. John’s was horrendous.  Pouring, blowing rain so thick Chris had to stop a couple of times to wait it out.  We drove over a road that definitely needed some repair.  And she started grinding her teeth when the fuel needle dipped below the E point.  I had reassured her that there would be diesel available “in the next town” one town too many.  In her own style, she was mad at herself for letting me talk her into it.  I was thrilled when a restaurant waitress told us we would find diesel “just a couple of miles down the road” once we finally turned off.  It was more than a couple of miles – but we rewarded her by going back to eat there (and doing some attitude adjustment) after we filled up.

Needless to say, once we arrived at St. John’s to find “Pippy Park” all booked we were happy to park in their “overflow” lot with no services (picture a large gravel lot with RVs parked wherever they’ll fit – that’s what it was).  We had no energy the next day and read our books, taking another day off from touring.  We stayed in the overflow lot again the next night and then continued on our way.

Twillingate – Whales and Icebergs

North Twillingate

After leaving the western coast of NL we drove up to Twillingate, near the tip of a peninsula off the northern coast.  This photo was taken from a lookout at North Twillingate (the end of the road as you drive up the peninsula – where the lighthouse is!).  We slept in the parking lot by the lighthouse that night.

The area is beautiful and known for whale and iceberg sightings.  We were lucky enough to arrive in the area just in time to catch a whale watch boat tour on a beautiful afternoon.  The whales were active, and we saw a mother and her calf swimming together at one point.  Here’s my best whale tail shot.  Later on we passed a restaurant with a lake, boat and fake fisherman, with a fake whale tail sticking out of the water.

We met some interesting people, and ran into some folks we had seen earlier – it has been interesting that throughout this trip (at least within PEI/Nova Scotia/Newfoundland) we have run into people over and over again.  We even saw a “caravan” of Airstreams from Texas – a set of RVs that travel together and pay someone money to make all the travel arrangements.  We saw them later, and they had almost reserved an entire large campground!  Some other full-timers we met from Illinois just shook their heads at the notion of not having the freedom to spend as much time as two people could agree to spend at each stage of the trip.  They said they were camped with them and could hear complaints from each campsite ranging from “wish we had more time here” to “glad we’re moving on”.

One of the folks we saw at a local Walmart overnight told us that an iceberg had washed ashore (flown into a harbor where it was slowly melting) nearby.  An enterprising fisherman had been taking people out in his boat to see it for free (he would need a permit to charge them for the trip – but was glad to take tips.)  By the time we drove back down through the town, we saw that his wife had made several signs pointing to the “best view of the iceberg” from the main road, and his son had carved off several small pieces that he was giving away.  While we were chatting with him we heard a loud “crack” that the guy originally thought was the iceberg making noise, but it turned out to be another fisherman whacking the heads off the fish he had caught that day.  We heard from him (as we had heard from others) how overfished  NL shores were from foreign shipping boats, and that the limits imposed by Canada on the size of the catch per boat trip was difficult.  He fished for seals, mackeral, cod, crabs, and squid.  Chris bit her tongue rather than admit she’d been a proud member of Greenpeace since she was 10.  Here’s a photo of the iceberg pieces in the cove, by the time we got there…yes, we have two pieces in the freezer of the RV.

Western Brook Pond – Newfie Freshwater Fjord

Western Brook Pond from Trail

After we drove back down from L’Anse aux Meadows we went back to the Gros Morne Park area and took the Boat Tour of Western Brook Pond.  The Pond is actually a freshwater lake, but it was carved from glaciers and was previously a fjord.  The lake is ultraoligotrophic – meaning devoid of oxygen and nutrients, very pure.

The lake is fed from runoff from the mountains around it – the Long Range Mountains, which are the most northern part of the Appalachian Mountain Range.  It empties into the Western Brook River, but empties so slowly that it only refreshes the water in the lake every 15 years.

There are waterfalls and billion-year-old rocks;  paths that caribou still use to go up to the plateau each year to mate.  Here is a picture of a bowl carved from a glacier at the side of the fjord.  At the innermost point in the fjord, two wilderness backpackers got off the boat and waved as we left them there to walk 5-7 days out the back of the valley.

On the drive up and back we saw an eagle, some moose, and several very small gardens by the side of the road.  There is so little arable land in western Newfoundland that I guess people just plant where they can.  We also saw that several of the utility poles need support in the boggy soil – so they build support  using rocks.

One night we stayed in the parking lot of a Community Development center on the coast.  The wind was so strong that Chris re-parked the RV twice to move closer to the building for a wind-block, and then reversed the direction of the RV so the vent flaps wouldn’t fly off the top.