Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Trip Home

Monday 21st November.
Well, here we are, finally on that last day. It is astonishing how quickly it’s come round, yet we’ve packed an amazing amount in to these five weeks. In fact, it’s hard to recall the details. So many wonderful memories crowded together that they tend to run into each other!
The day started well in two respects; the first being that it was a bright day, although a bitter wind outside brought the temperature down to freezing. The second being that the local Classical radio station, which had greeted us yesterday with wedding music for the anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip, today played the overture to “Yeoman of the Guard” – M’s absolute favourite G&S. Not long after that, they played the overture to “Pirates” – not one of M’s favourites but always nice to hear music from the motherland, especially G&S!
We declined breakfast at the AirBnB as our charming waiter at brunch yesterday had recommended a local establishment called “Zeke’s Place” as the best local breakfast location that would be open on a Monday. So, after leaving our B&B, we drove down the coast past a very rough looking sea to East Gloucester.
We found Zeke’s to be warm, friendly and very busy.
The menu was excellent. The chef, whose name is Michael, came to add to the “Specials” board. The new item was “Bubble and Squeek” – so M’s mind was immediately made up! However, M did point out to Michael that it should be spelt “Squeak” and he laughingly corrected his mistake! She then described her mother’s recipe to him.
When the food arrived, M declared it to be as good as her Mum’s (if a bit more spicy).
R had a more traditional (American) dish of pancakes, bacon and maple syrup and declared that to be excellent too.
 Having thanked the staff for an excellent breakfast, we made our way back towards Boston’s Logan Airport via the scenic coast road.
By just after mid-day, we had returned the car to the rental company. R pointed out that the rear indicator light wasn’t working and it seemed that the front discs were warped as the car juddered under light braking. The man checking the car asked how many miles it had done, to which R replied about 27,000. “Oh! We normally scrap these after 25,000 miles because they start to fall apart”, was the comment! Not a good advert for the manufacturer!
We sat in the airport, which was warm and comfortable, with internet, and a café close by, until the Virgin Check-In opened, then checked our bags and went through security.
On the flight out, we had flown on an Airbus 340 but, going back, it was a very new Boeing 787 “Dreamliner”. As ever, it was very comfortable and the service and food were excellent.
Neither of us slept particularly well or for very long – but we arrived on time, the luggage arrived after only a short wait and the taxi driver from Belfry Cars was there to greet us.
And so we arrived home after five spectacular weeks, full of happy memories. When we look back on it all, it feels like a five-week sensational rollercoaster ride with - as R points out - all of the "ups" and none of the "dips".  What an utterly amazing, wonderful time we had!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Our Last Full Day in the US.

Sunday 20th November.
It rained overnight, but fortunately it had stopped by morning. The weather was much colder today with a strong wind blowing off the sea. 
M was surprised and delighted that the local classical music station played a piece in honour of The Queen and Prince Philip's sixty-ninth wedding anniversary today. They played Grieg's "Wedding Day at Troldhaugen". Very appropriate, and one of the pieces that we had at our wedding!
After a rather cheerless breakfast (our hostess is away for the weekend so we were on our own), we set off to drive round the "island" that is Rockport and Gloucester. The latter is a sheltered deep water inlet and, as such, was the first port established in New England in 1623, just three years after the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth. One major difference, however, was that Gloucester and later Boston were settled by Puritans or non-religious adventurers who had no interest in working with the Indians but just considered them to be ignorant savages. While the original Pilgrims of the Reformed Church lived in peace with the Indians for fifty years, the Puritans' attitude and their relentless pressure to seize the Indians' land eventually led to King Philip's War from 1675 to 1678 when the Indians revolted but were effectively wiped out or sold into slavery. A shameful story.
Having driven round the island, we set off to the Rockport seafront, know as Bear Skin Neck, in search of brunch. Yesterday, by chance we had come across a small restaurant right at the end of the street overlooking the sea. It looked really nice and M had gone in to check that they opened on Sunday morning. She had received such a warm welcome that we had resolved to return this morning. It was called "Our Place by the Sea" and, as soon as we walked in, we were recognised and again warmly welcomed. Being Sunday, and a very cold one at that, there were very few people about and for most of the time we had the place, and the four staff, to ourselves.
The food was superb. The restaurant specialises in seafood and M had an excellent clam chowder followed by a seafood omelette while R had a more traditional eggs benedict.
Afterwards, in no hurry to leave, we had a lovely conversation with the staff. As we were the only guests, they were in no hurry either! Eventually, we bade them a fond farewell and went back out into the cold wind.
The town next to Gloucester is Manchester-by-the-Sea, which the guide books recommended as being full of small shops that open all year (about half the shops here are closed for the season now). So, we drove to Manchester but were rather disappointed to find that there were very few shops and not a coffee shop or tea room in sight. Instead, we saw a very new and large hotel called the Beaufort so we went in and had coffee and tea sitting at their bar overlooking the ocean. The sea was running very high and the wind was whipping up the waves, which were crashing onto the breakwaters causing tall plumes of spray. We did, however, find a small beach so that we could get close to the ocean without getting wet.
So we are now back in our B&B and trying to get ourselves organised for our return trip tomorrow evening.

Lexington and Rockport

Saturday 19th November.
The day dawned misty. It was only when we saw Renee's house and garden in daylight that we realised that it backs on to a huge lake. They call it a "pond"!
It really is very lovely, and over breakfast we watched in fascination as the most gorgeous birds came to the feeders outside the kitchen window; in particular a Red Cardinal, a bird so bright red that it looks like it should be in a tropical bird house. Sadly, it refused to sit still for a photograph but M did manage to snap a passing woodpecker. We also saw Chickadees and Titmice.
Breakfast was a banquet! Renee had made a large dish of home made muffin and we also had her home made granola with yoghurt and honey. Delicious!
Shortly after, Renee left with her two daughters to do a walk, which Renee was leading. We left soon after, having said goodbye to Rosie and Oscar, and headed north towards Boston. We stopped at the eastern end of the Cap Cod Canal, but the visitors' centre was closed for the season. We watched two large tugs going along the canal; we would have liked to walk alongside the canal, but there was a very cold wind coming off the sea so we decided not to tarry. That is the canal in the background.
By now the sun had come out and we drove north under a clear sky. R used to live in Lexington, so we made a detour to relive happy memories of his time there. We first visited the centre of Lexington, the site of the "shot heard round the world", the first skirmish in the War of Independence.
As we were getting hungry, we had a coffee and cake in a nearby artisan bakery run by a Japanese family. The cakes were mouth wateringly good!
We went on to "Trodden Path", where R used to live. The house had not changed much but the trees on the turning circle in front of the house had grown considerably!
We found Rochport to be a delightful seaside town and a lot of people were about, even out of season. Our Airbnb is in "Railroad Avenue", just a few minutes from the centre of town - and there is another cat called "Dewey", one of the largest cats we have met!

Cape Cod and Provincetown

Friday 18th November.
This weekend, Plymouth is having its annual pre-Thanksgiving parade. One of the marching bands was staying in the hotel and, quite late last evening, someone was practising rhythms on a snare drum in the room above us. M thought it was someone on a cycle machine, so ignored it!
Today, we decided to drive down to Cape Cod to see the canal which was opened in 1914 to provide a short cut that avoided the treacherous south coast of Cape Cod, and to visit the Wampanoag Museum in Mashpee to learn more about the local Indian tribe.
The Cape Cod Canal effectively turns the Cape into an island and there are only two road bridges across it connecting the Cape to the mainland. We drove across one and could see that the canal is comparable in size to the Manchester Ship Canal, designed for large ships, except that it has no locks and is all at sea level.
We drove on to Mashpee, where we went in to the Wampanoag Museum. It is a small house and we were the only visitors. We were shown around by a very knowledgeable young lady called Courtney, whose tribal name means "Spirit of the First Light". Wampanoag means "People of the First Light" as they were the furthest east tribe, closest to the sunrise, in this part of New England. Behind the house, they had a "Wetu" long house similar to the one at the Plantation.
Courtney was a mine of information on the Wampanoag and their history. For many years, to speak their language was illegal, but recently there has been a revival and now tribal children speak their language at home and even at school.
M, who had been studying the map, suggested that we should drive to the very end of the Cape, thinking that it was about five miles away. In fact it is fifty miles each way - she blamed this on the fact that the map was very small scale! 
However, it was well worth the drive as it was a lovely trip and the trees in particular were beautiful. Many had shed their leaves but there were still enough reds, yellows and golds to make a lovely colourful display. At the far end of the Cape is the little town of Provincetown, which is a delight. New England style houses clustered in a charming manner around the harbour - it was somewhere that one felt one could comfortably live.
Provincetown has two major claims to fame, the first being that it was the first landfall of the Mayflower on 11th November 1620. The ship anchored in the sheltered bay because the stormy weather from the south prevented them from going any further south towards their original destination of Viginia. 
The second is that, before going ashore, they wrote up a set of rules by which everyone agreed to govern themselves and, in particular, to prevent dissent between those of the Reformed Church and others not of their faith. It was known as the "Mayflower Compact" and it was the first written framework of government established in what is now the United States.
The Mayflower stayed off Provincetown until she finally moved to Plymouth at the end of December and the Pilgrims started to set up the village there.
To commemorate these events, Provincetown built a "small" granite monument 252ft high.
We climbed to the top, where we had a splendid view of the harbour and, we were told, from which you can see Boston on a clear day.
Our drive back to Mashpee, where we had booked a B&B, was in the dark. It was our very first "Airbnb" and we were welcomed by Renee, the owner, and introduced to her two cats, Rosie and Oscar. It was only after talking to Renee that we understood why few American households have cats - there are too many predators lurking around for it to be safe for cats to wander around freely on their own.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Plimoth Plantation.

Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th November.
We both slept very well and awoke to a much brighter day, yesterday's heavy rain had given way to a pretty, if rather cloudy, morning.
Our hotel is on an attractive bay just south of Plymouth and the view from our room and the sounds of the ocean provided a delightful start to the day.
Plimoth Plantation is opposite the hotel in the trees and it was just a five minute drive to get to the car park and entrance. The recreated village uses the most common spelling of the name found in the many original accounts written by the Pilgrims themselves.  It is 30 years since R was here last and he has always wanted to come back and to bring M to see it, particularly given how much we have enjoyed volunteering as Tudors at Mary Arden's Farm - where we are about 60 years older than the Mayflower Pligrims!
We started in the Indian Village, which has grown a great deal since R last visited. The Plantation now classifies itself as a truly bi-cultural facility with almost equal emphasis given to the Wampanoag Tribe, who were here before the Pilgrims and who helped them considerably. Massasoit, their leader, even entered into a mutual alliance with the Pilgrims that lasted for 50 years. The individuals in the Wampanoag Village were all members of the tribe in traditional dress but they talked of modern things as well as their traditions and history. The Indian here was demonstrating how to hollow out a log with fire to make a canoe.
The 17th century Plantation Village is a recreation of the village as it was in 1624. At the top of the hill is the fort, which also served as a meeting place, and the street leads down towards the water. The original Pilgrims kept good records, so the layout of the houses, and who lived in each one, was recorded and has been recreated faithfully. In many of the houses one can find individuals who "are" the individual and who know their background, where they came from, all about their voyage across the Atlantic, their lives since they arrived - but nothing after 1624.
We spent time talking to a number of the "Pilgrims" including Master Myles Standish, the Captain of the Militia, Mistress Bridget Fuller and a servant girl called just Christina, who told us that we did not have to address her as "Mistress", as she was not married. They were all brilliant at explaining their backgrounds, the history of the Plantation (up to 1624) and their current circumstances; they never stepped out of character. They were also incredibly patient, and they needed to be; that day there were 1,250 school children visiting, and each child had a script of questions to which they had to find the answers. So the poor "Pilgrims" were asked the same questions over and over again by each group as they trouped through each house! They did try to educate the children a bit too, such as teaching them how to bow when they entered a house (below) and that you should introduce yourself before asking somebody their name.
We were disappointed to learn that the replica "Mayflower", built in England in 1957 and sailed across the Atlantic to Plymouth, had been removed two weeks before to start a three year renovation programme to get it into tip-top condition for the four hundred year celebration in 2020. Very sad that we missed it, but the Plantation also has a recreated grist mill, and we visited that after leaving the Plantation. The mill stones are driven by a water wheel and they still grind corn (maize) every weekend. The Mill is on the site of the first mill to be built in Plymouth, the original having burnt down in the last century. When we arrived, the top stone had been lifted for maintenance but we still had an interesting tour thanks to the guides who were there.
We had decided to spend a second day at the Plantation and so decided to join as members because the membership was much less than two days' entry fee. An extremely helpful lady in the souvenir shop credited our day tickets and sold us a membership and then told us that membership entitled us to a one time 30% discount on things bought in the souvenir shops. As we had bought several things in the Plantation shop, she very kindly credited all our purchases and then recharged us at 30% less. So, the membership effectively paid for itself!
On Thursday morning, we had to change hotel rooms as we had decided to stay an extra night and our original room was pre-booked. The new room was literally next door, so it didn't take us long to move our things.
We knew that the Plantation was expecting 1,400 school children today so we decided to go to spend some time in Plymouth first in the hopes that by lunchtime the children would either be leaving or having their lunch. We started by visiting Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims are reputed to have stepped ashore for the first time.
Leading up from Plymouth Rock is Leyden Street, named after the Dutch town where many of the members of the Reformed Church took refuge and were welcomed before they decided to move to the New World. The street used to be known as First Street and runs along the central street of the original Pilgrim village. As we walked up the street, we saw plaques on each of the houses indicating whose house had originally been built on the site. It was fascinating to recognise the same locations as are reproduced in Plimoth Plantation three miles down the road.
Returning to the recreated Plantation, our strategy to avoid most of the school children worked well. We first spent some time talking to a very knowledgeable young lady in the Wampanoag "Wetu" long-house, which is covered in oak bark. It was fascinating to see how they used the materials available to them so effectively and how they adjusted to the seasons.
Yesterday, we had spent some time talking to Mistress Alice Bradford, who had arrived in 1623 on the ship "Anne". We went back again today and spent a lot of time talking to her as she cooked a rabbit for dinner. We talked to her, as far as we could, about our Tudor experience at Mary Arden's and how things had changed in the "last" 60 years. She never quite came out of character but, when there were just the three of us there, she did indicate that all the Pilgrims are full time because of the amount of research they have to do and the amount they have to learn about their own character and the life of the colony. She also said that she spends the winter cleaning and repairing all their clothes, along with another lady. She was so very knowledgeable that it would also have been very interesting to talk to her out of character, but we still had some good laughs about the interactions with the visitors.
As the light faded, the Plantation became even more atmospheric. In the end, there was just the two of us and the "Pilgrims" left in the village. Looking across towards the water, you could believe that you had travelled back to a very similar sunset in 1624.
Eventually we bade farewell to the Pligrims and left the village as they closed the gates behind us. What an outstanding place!

On to Boston

Tuesday 15th November.
An early start, checking that we had packed everything and not left anything behind. M is still mourning the nightie that she left in Austin.
We were so pleased that Elizabeth was back from her night shift in time for us to say farewell. She and David have been such wonderful hosts and we shall miss them dreadfully.
David drove us to the airport, which is only a quarter of an hour away. He very kindly parked the car and came in with us to make sure that we were all checked in safely. It was hard saying goodbye, but hopefully R may come out again some time in the New Year.
Our flight to Boston was full, so much so that the airline was asking for volunteers to delay - but we declined the offer as there is only one flight a day on this route.
SLC has two control towers, so we waved to both of them as we knew that Steve was watching us and, hopefully, watching out for us. Despite being number six for takeoff, we managed to get off quickly and safely. Thank you Steve!
To our delight, our 737 climbed out over Antelope Island and we were able to distinguish both the Ranch and the old Homestead that we had seen last month.
After that, it was Rocky Mountains for mile after mile followed by the irrigation circles of the mid-west. R watched "Star Wars - The Force Awakens" with M watching over his shoulder for the scenes shot with the Lake District in the background, all the while M listened to music on the Bose headphones.
Boston airport is huge, so it took us about an hour to get our bags and then transfer to the Rental Car Centre on the edge of the airport to get our rental car. It was dark and pouring with rain - what a change from the arid desert of SLC! The traffic in Boston is always bad, but tonight it was even worse than normal. What with the dark, the rain, the unfamiliar roads and the gridlocked traffic, what should have been a 45 minute drive to Plymouth took two and a half hours!
Eventually we arrived at the hotel just south of Plymouth and checked in. R went to move the car closer to the room, while M went to the room to open it up. Luckily, she got a bit lost and found that behind the hotel there were not only more rooms, but also the Atlantic Ocean right next to the patio. So she went back in to reception and managed to change our room from the front (facing the road) to the back (overlooking the ocean).
So, we went to sleep to the delightful sound of the ocean washing up against the shore outside our window. Magic!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Our Last Full Day in SLC

Monday 14th November.
R had heroically offered to cook a "smiley breakfast" for the four of us and, soon after, Elizabeth retired to bed, exhausted after her long night shift, and David left for work.
That left us to address the inevitable and unenviable task of packing! Can't keep putting it off. We did as much as we could before going off to join David for lunch. On the way, we stopped at the Post Office, where the clerk was amused at M's inability to cope with US coinage!
We called in to David's office, only to discover that he wasn't there. While chatting with his colleagues, we received a text suggesting that we meet at "Eva's Bakery", so we made our way to that splendid establishment, only to find that he wasn't there yet either. He arrived eventually and we had a quick lunch with him.
On our way back to the car park, M was amused to see a gentleman wearing a black T-shirt with only two words writ large on the front - "F**k Tr*mp!" (Only without the asterisks). That seems to be a popular sentiment here. It is amazing that nearly half the electorate voted for him and yet everyone, without exception, seems to be horrified at the outcome.
We have been invited to dinner at David's friend Steve's tonight, so we went home to start preparing a ratatouille dish to take with us as our contribution to the evening, which turned out to be great fun. 
Steve lives in an area of SLC overlooking the city and his house is very welcoming. We took Riley with us and, in a moment of inattention, she scoffed all the salami off the platter of cheese, biscuits and salami that Steve had prepared. David explained to her that she had been very naughty and she certainly looked guilty - but not particularly unhappy. Anyway, the ratatouille and the wine were both excellent, as were the cheese, biscuits and replacement salami, none of which Riley got to eat.
Just a delightful evening. Steve's an air traffic controller at Salt Lake City International Airport and will be on duty tomorrow morning shepherding our aircraft from the gate to the runway and he promised to look out for us.
And so we returned to David's house by the light of the full "Super Moon", although we are not sure how much difference a couple of hundred miles closer makes to a quarter of a million miles. Perhaps TV commentators have special eyesight?
And so to bed on our last night in SLC - it has been a really wonderful four weeks.