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Leaf Peepers

Many months ago my sister, Phoebe, mentioned that she and her wife, Nancy, were thinking of a trek through New England to look at leaves. Something closer than a European trek like we’ve done in the past. Nancy’s mom isn’t doing all that great right now and she didn’t want to put a continent and an ocean between her and mom. Makes perfect sense. We hadn’t been north of Manchester, NH in years, so we jumped at the idea. Then my brother, Mike and his wife Debbie said they wanted to come. Then my sister Eileen and her husband, Mike. My sister, Arlene, is moving and couldn’t swing it and driving around looking at leaves would be my sister Judy’s version of the seventh level of hell. Four out of the six kids and spouses were committed.

We probably should all be committed. But that’s another story for another day…

The original idea was to just drive around and go where we wanted to go and stop for the night where we wanted to stop. That works with 2. It even works with 4. It doesn’t work with 8. I started looking at places to visit and places to stay. The new idea was to spend a couple of nights in several locations and to branch out and visit places on the way to the next spot as well as visit places in the various vicinities.

Mr Google and HomeAway became my new friends.

Emails flew ‘cross country and folks started adding sites they’d like to see, things they wanted to do… A plan was formed. Instead of travelling through all of the northern states, we’d spend a couple of days in Boston and then concentrate on New Hampshire and Maine.

 

 

Day 1 – We had originally planned to fly up to Boston, coordinate arrival times, and meet the siblings at Logan Airport. Alas, I had some ear issues and wasn’t all that thrilled about flying. Besides, I really do hate airports, nowadays.  So… we decided Amtrak was the way to go. And since it was a vacation, we justified spending the extra bucks and taking the Acela. When I was making the original reservations, Penn Station in New York was doing a lot of track work in preparation for the new Penn Station across the street at the old Post Office building. The Acela was the only train running from Philadelphia to Boston that didn’t require getting off and changing trains. It is really such a civilised way to travel.

We arrived in Boston later than we planned, and jumped on the Silver Line bus to the airport to meet up with everyone. Mike and Phoebe both rented SUV’s for the trek, so we all met up at the Car Rental and headed to Salem for our first house – a 5 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath home just blocks from the T Commuter Rail and all the tourist sites – and a block from a liquor store. We drove up Rt 1a, met up with the owner, one group headed to the store for alcohol and the rest called for pizza. We were going to head out for dinner but decided pizza and shots was a better way to start the trip.

The guy at the store saw Victor’s camera and said take my picture. Here it is…

Lots of eating, drinking, and laughter. We made it to bed before neighbors had to call the police.

Day 2 – One of the benefits of having lived in Boston for many years is having friends in Boston! I met Dorrie back in 1981 when we both worked at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge.

Dorrie currently lives in Salem – behind The Witch’s House and mere blocks from where we rented. Day 2 was Debbie’s birthday and Mike and Debbie’s Anniversary. We wanted to do something fun for the occasions and since we’re all baseball fans thought a Red Sox game at Fenway Park would be a treat. It was, but more on that, later…

We woke up, pulled ourselves together, met Dorrie at the T stop and headed into town on the Commuter Rail line.  The end of the line is North Station, so we headed off to the Holocaust Memorial, then into Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, and down to the harbor to take the boat out to the USS Constitution.

The Holocaust Memorial is one of the most moving experiences a person can experience. It is beautiful and powerful in its simplicity.

It’s also a reminder that we still have to speak up. We can never be silent. Ever.

It is truly a moving and remarkable place.

Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market have morphed considerably since I lived in Boston. We didn’t hang out there long – it was off to catch a boat to see Old Ironsides. We got to the dock just as the boat was pulling out, so it was off to the outdoor bar. We shocked the young bartender by ordering 8 shots of tequila, numerous beers, wine, etc. It was still morning… But what the hell… vacation.

Shots consumed, it was off to the USS Constitution. Brother Mike had been to see it before, but it had been closed due to a government shutdown. I had been out there, as well, and still marvel at how small the ship actually is. Of course, I was stationed on an aircraft carrier. Perspective in all things… It is a commissioned ship in the US Navy, manned by actual naval personnel. It is a really difficult post to get assigned to. I didn’t even try when I was a swabbie…

We headed back to Quincy Market and lunch at Ned Devine’s. The space once was Ames Plow where yours truly got plowed more than a couple of times. I was living in East Boston and a buddy and I would hitch hike through the Callahan Tunnel at night after the T had stopped running. Sweet youth… The Plow was there for 40 years. I’m surprised it closed.

From Ned Devine’s we headed into the North End. The trip over there has sure changed. The Central Artery once separated the North End from Quincy Market and you had to cross the road leading into the tunnel to get there. That’s all gone now that the Big Dig is completed and everything is underground. It took me a while to get my bearings. But I did…

Lots of history, here. From the Old North Church of “one if by land and two if by sea” fame to streets and buildings that are just where they were in the founding days. Lots of colorful characters dressed in period costumes and playing roles of colonials. From colonials back to Hanover Street and Mike’s Pastries.

I mean… ya gotta get cannoli… Mike’s is pretty famous for their cannoli.

Armed with packets and parcels, we headed back to North Station to catch the Green Line to Fenway. We were meeting more friends, Deb and Ben, at the Royal Rooter’s Club. The Boston T is a great way to get around. The oldest subway in the country – and parts of it show it. It can be miserable and hot at times, but it gets you where you need to be.

Being the outgoing and friendly group we are, we struck up conversations with some other folks, including a guy who was dropping off a German exchange student at the ballpark. He said outside food was not allowed at Fenway – prompting BIL Mike to hide his box of cannoli outside on the way to the park, planning on getting it on the way back. BTW… somewhere along the line a “Fenway” stop was built to take the pressure off the Kenmore stop. We took it not realizing it is about a million miles from Fenway Park.

We finally made it to the park and looked for Gate B to meet Deb and Ben. After our million mile walk, we had to completely circle the park to find the gate. It’s the original “you can’t get there from here…” In hindsight, had we taken the T to Kenmore, we would have walked right up to Gate B. Go figure.

But when we did find it, a great experience awaited us! Through a fairly nondescript door, The Royal Rooter Club is an exclusive season ticket holder enclave loaded to the rafters with Red Sox memorabilia. Deb was able to get us in.

If you’re a baseball fan, there’s nothing finer… We had a fun meal and then out to our seats. I had a roommate in Boston who was Regional Sales Director for Seagram’s. We would occasionally get the Seagram’s seats that were third row at the on deck circle. They also included access to the Seagram’s Club Room somewhere upstairs. We saw more than a couple of games with one eye closed.

Red Sox fans are a unique breed even among baseball fans. Louder and more boisterous than most you’ll ever see. The guy in front of me was a classic example. Loud, fun, and with a wife who was a rabid Yankees fan. They were a hoot. A few rows in front of them was a guy who missed most of the game just getting up to buy beer. But when he was there, his screaming trying to get the section to chant with him was hysterical. He was crushed when no one would join in.

The Sox lost the game big-time. It was a massacre. But a good time was had by all. We all headed for the exit and some of the folks decided the walk back to the T was way further than they wanted to walk. Heck with Mike’s cannoli. It’s Uber Time. Trying to get a vehicle near Fenway when 37,000 people are blocking the streets is not easy, but… we somehow persevered. The first car took 4 and we headed to North Station. The second car took 5 – it wasn’t designed for that many, but the remaining folks weren’t getting out. Clown Car Central. Mike never did get to retrieve his hidden cannoli. We figure either a homeless person or a squirrel was the happy recipient.

We missed the train by mere seconds and settled into North Station to await the last train – an hour away – when it was determined that another Uber would be $70 to Salem. Times two.

The last train out of town is always the most fun. There had been a Roger Waters/Pink Floyd concert at the Garden and it was a colorful ride back to Salem!

The two guys behind us looked like serial killers and more than a few folks had consumed mood-altering substances. It was a hoot of a trip. Definitely not the Quiet Car. But we made it back and settled into our beds to gain the energy for another fun day.

Day 3 – Our final full day in Boston started with a trek to Trader Joe’s and Dunkin Donuts. Lots of wine, liquor, and snacks. And donuts. Can’t forget the donuts. We finally pulled ourselves together to meet up with Dorrie for a Salem tour.

Naturally, we had to start with the Witches House – but it was closed. Naturally. Notice those beautiful blue skies. The weather was perfect.

Time to meander through Salem, with Dorrie as our guide. We met up with a few local characters and had a grand time.

Dorrie’s son, Jordan, joined us for lunch and our tour of the House of the Seven Gables.

Jordan was supposed to meet us at the game the night before but ended up having to work. Fun fact: Victor and I took him to his first Sox game.

Off to the House of the Seven Gables…

Were it not for Nathaniel Hawthorne, this would be just another house in town… Actually, it wouldn’t even be recognizable. It had been remodeled extensively until it was bought and brought back to it’s seven-gabled glory. My parents visited Boston back in ’83 and we did the tour. Hasn’t changed much. But it is an interesting site.

We never did get to the Witches House. It was time to head back to the house for drinks and dinner. We were meeting up later for a Night Time Salem Tour.

Now… if you’ve never done a night time Salem tour – and I hadn’t – be prepared for hoots and hollers. It was one of the most tongue-in-cheek experiences, ever. It was fun! Our tour guide was dressed as a cat – of course – and led us on a merry tour of all the murders, mayhems, and spooky things that have gone on in Salem for the past 300 years. It really was a hoot.

There are the obligatory grave yards…

And spooky windows, strange happenings, and unexplainable shenanigans… Did I mention that it was a hoot?!?

But all good things must come to an end… We headed back to the house for cocktails and conversation until midnight. We would have stayed up later but we were heading to New Hampshire in the morning.

Day 4 – Woke up to Thunderstorm – kaBOOM. Off to New Hampshire. We made a quick drive up to Manchester and showed everyone the park where we were married in 2010.

That is the gazebo where we were wed. The park is right along the river. From the park we retraced our steps to the pub where we had our wedding reception. The Shaskeen.

It’s a fun and welcoming place in every sense of the words. More shots of Jameson’s and a great lunch. The bartender, Amy, was still there from our last visit – she had given us Shaskeen rugby shirts – and remembered us. We had a great time – and great food.

From there it was off to our house up by Lake Winnipesaukee.

Four bedrooms, three and a half baths… and views to die for. We drew lots to see who would get which rooms and settled in just long enough to get into town and meet our friends Marlene and Pat. Marl was the woman who married us in that gazebo… We had a great dinner at a little place in Alton, NH.

At least I think we had a great dinner. We were talking so much I don’t even remember the food. Soon, the natives started getting restless and we said our goodbyes and headed back to the house for a quiet evening. Well… quiet for us, anyway…

It was cards, jokes, more shots, and plotting the next day…

Day 5 – We woke to the silence of the country. It was glorious. The views were unbelievable and the air crisp and fresh. Not a lot of color – it had been too warm for major leaf-changing – but spectacular scenery, nonetheless.

Today was covered bridges and a drive around the lake. The lake is huge with miles and miles of coastline, resort towns, boating, fishing… a summer paradise. We were pulling in at the end of the season. The weather was still summer-like but the shops were closing.

We stopped at Wolfeboro for lunch at a restaurant right on the water. As Victor was backing up to take this picture, he knocked a light off the railing where it crashed into the parking lot, below. C’est la vie…

We shopped, bought t-shirts and more Christmas ornaments – because one can never have too many of either – and headed out to see covered bridges.

I have to admit that I don’t quite see the allure of covered bridges. I mean… they’re kinda cool to look at, but… they’re just bridges built covered to keep the weather from destroying the structure. We have one a couple of miles from our house. That being said, the design of this one was pretty cool.

We headed back to the house and grilled burgers and dogs. There might have been a few drinks involved, as well.

Day 6 – North of the Notch and into Maine.

We’ve heard our friend, Marlene talking about heading north of the notch for more years than I can remember.  I was time to see just where the notch was! I was thinking that I had driven through there several times on treks up to Montreal when I lived in Boston, but… nope. Different route. I was a notch novice! First stop, the Flume.

The Flume Gorge is a natural gorge at the base of Mt Liberty. Pretty cool.

From here, we headed east into Maine.

We travelled on a lot of unpaved roads to get to our next spot. Rustic doesn’t begin to describe it. But what a beautiful setting.

Camp Mollocket has been around for 90 years – and, in places, it looks it. At first glance, one might think it was the inspiration for the Bates Motel. We were totally isolated at this spot. No internet, no TV, no cell phones… But what a beautiful setting, right on Shagg Pond.

Huge stone fireplace – and we needed it. We ran out of propane.

We had brought our homemade pasta sauce and some rigatoni with us and Victor cooked dinner our first night here. Garlic bread, salad… and plenty of drinks.

We may be roughing it, but we eat well, dammit!

The building has 7 or 8 bedrooms – some with twin beds, and at least 4 with doubles. They are all decorated by type of flower. We were in the Primrose Room. Not sure which room this was.

Rustic in a really charming way. A bit too cutsie in one respect, but it fit the surroundings.

Day 7 – Camp Mollocket. Woke up to a chilly house. Lots of wood in the fireplace. Called the maintenance man and had a propane delivery by 4pm. Cute as a button delivery guy. Fun, friendly… He reminded me of my old roommate, Michael, who was from Livermore Falls, Maine – not far from Woodstock. Same cute smile.

It was perfect weather and we took advantage of it! Sunning on the dock, out on the pond in the boats, and just sitting under a tree reading. Total relaxation.

Here’s Mike out in the canoe.

Eileen and Phoebe made delicious beef stew for dinner with biscuits.

It was great. The perfect meal in a rustic setting.

As funky as this place was, it was the perfect spot for a few days of total relaxation.

Day 8 – Seal Harbor, ME. Drove from Woodstock to the ocean. Another excellent house in Seal Harbor, Maine.

A couple of the houses had some distinctly better rooms than others, so we just numbered the rooms, put the numbers in a hat, and drew them. We were the last to draw and the top floor was what was left! The view from our bedroom was pretty nice…

The house was on 3 acres with lots to see. The family settled in and Victor and I headed out to dinner on our own. The town is pretty much closing for the season and we had a really quiet meal – just a few others in the place. I had an excellent seafood chowder and fried seafood plate. Victor went for clam chowder and stuffed shrimp. Both were really good. The waitress was a youngster who had 17 more days before being set free. We brought back desserts – white chocolate cheesecake and apple berry pie. We watched TV, played cards, and did what we do best… nothing.

 

Day 9 – Acadia and Bar Harbor.  We entered the park at Seal Harbor and meandered through and up to Cadillac Mountain. The views are breathtaking from there. I had been to Acadia twice before – once in May and once in October. Both times the weather was wet, drizzly, and windy with pretty big swells crashing onto the rocks. This trip was amazing. Blue skies and blue blue ocean. Just amazing. You could see forever.

We headed out to Bar Harbor for food, drink, and shopping. We had lunch at Jalapenos – a pretty good Mexican place for being so far from Mexico. More than a few pitchers of margaritas were consumed. A shot or two, as well.  There was a cruise ship in town so the place was hopping for this late in the season. We did our best to support the local economy and headed back into the park.

Next stop was Thunder Hole – a rock formation that makes a huge thunderous clap when the ocean rolls in. Today, the ocean was calmer than that last time I was there, but the thunder clap was still loud.

We all had dinner at same restaurant as last night. Where last night everything was excellent, tonight it was meh. The chowders were still excellent, but the veal oscar was tough, the food just mediocre. The funniest part was the drinks. Our young waitress was not a bartender by any stretch of the imagination. Three of the girls ordered dirty martinis and I’m not sure what it was that came out, but they sure as hell weren’t  martinis. They were all different-looking, as well. They couldn’t drink them. So… a few more different drinks were ordered. After dinner we opted for Sambuca. The poor girl didn’t know what it was or how to serve it. We helped her out and still left a really good tip. Back to the house for more desserts and loads of laughs.

Day 10 – Back to Boston. We had two things to do today before checking into our hotel – An LL Bean run and lunch at the Muddy Rudder in Yarmouth. We did lunch first – no sense shopping on an empty stomach, ya know. Our waitress a hoot. An old-time waitress who knew how to dish it and take it. We laughed and laughed the entire meal. Mike Reidy finally got his lobster, too!

Lunch consumed and we were ready to shop. Up to LL Bean. I bought a new robe, shorts, and actual pajamas. I’ve been wearing PJ bottoms and sweatshirts or tshirts forever. I now have a matching set! Bring on Winter. We were in and out in 30 minutes.

Gone is the huge display of products they had refunded over the years – and gone was my nightshirt that was once displayed. Many years ago when i lived at Tahoe, I bought a nightshirt mailorder from LL Bean. Probably around 1976. I had that thing for years, I’d wear it, throw it in a corner, step on it, wash it, bleach it, add, stir, repeat. It was mere threads some time in the early ’90s when I took a trip back to Boston. I brought it with me because Dorrie, Susan, and I had planned to go to LL Bean and I was bringing it along as a lark to show them how long I had had it.

We rented a Town Car and had a ball. When we got there, Susan said that I should just return it since they had a return policy that would pretty much cover anything. I wouldn’t do it, so she took it up to the counter and started complaining about how it had worn out. I was mortified.

The poor girl at the desk didn’t even know what it was. She called over a supervisor who looked at it and said. “This used to be a nightshirt, I think it was Campbell Plaid. The material used to be flannel. Give her another one.” And off she went. I got a new nightshirt.

The place has changed dramatically since I was last there. The old building is gone and a huge complex is in its place. They were having a 20% off sale, music in the courtyard, and everyone was having a good time. I bought Mike a cannoli to replace the ones lost in Boston.

In under an hour, we were back on the road and headed for the Hampton Inn in Revere.

We spoke with the lady at the desk and she recommended an Italian place a couple blocks away – D’Amelio’s Off The Boat Seafood Restaurant. EXCELLENT food.

I started off with a panko crusted polenta cake, on top of marinara, with wild mushrooms, and truffle moliterno cheese.

I then went for a flatbread… Fig and Proscuitto – Black mission fig jam, prosciutto, baby arugula, and balsamic glaze.

That piece in the corner was Victor’s Lobster flatbread. OMG! Good. I think I may be making the fig prosciutto flatbread for Thanksgiving.

Everyone had a great meal. And then it was back to the hotel for teary goodbyes.

I’ve been known to cry at 7-Up commercials but there’s something about saying goodbye to my siblings that gets me every time. It doesn’t help that they’re the same way. We fight it and laugh at it as the tears trickle down. It’s just the way it is, and, to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Day 11 – Early up and to the airport with Phoebe and Nancy. We checked the car in and the agent drove us right to our T stop and the girls to their gate. Great service. and just a few more tears.

We took the Silver line to South Station and up to Club Acela.

The woman at the Club recommended we call a Red Cap for our luggage. It’s not usually our style, but she said we would get pre-boarding, so we went for it. He brought our luggage right to our seats on a sold out train so we got our pick of seats in the Quiet Car. Sweet, indeed.

It was a really great trip. I wish Arlene and Judy could have been there with us, but while they weren’t there in person, they were there in spirit. The other two downsides of the trip were we weren’t able to get into Vermont to see our friend, Ruth in Brattleboro and we couldn’t reach my old roommate, Dusty, who lives in Watertown. There just aren’t enough hours…

And speaking of spirits… I think I drank more in these 10 days than I have in the past 30 years. I never went overboard or anything, but it seems as if there was always some occasion where a shot of Jameson or tequila was called for. A seriously good non-hungover time was had by all.

I’m ready to do it, again!

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