Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Leaf-Peeping in New England (part 1)

I’d been wanting to take this tour for years. It was Caravan’s bus tour of New England. The leaves would be at their peak; I’d kept track in 2012 and made notes on the 2013 calendar. I cleared out the memory on my cameras, made sure I had extra camera batteries (thank goodness), and caught my flight, despite the fact that it had been changed to a much earlier one. I’d hoped I’d be able to sleep in at least on the first day of my vacay. It turned out that I wouldn’t be able to do that until I returned home.

I’ve been deathly afraid of flying, and have been trying to improve my attitude. Slowly things have gotten better, and this time there was hardly a glitch. I still can’t look out the windows, but I don’t go into meltdown and it’s been years since I squeezed a seat arm until it broke. During this Delta trip I got an EXTRA two packs of those delicious Biscoff cookies they serve, oh boy! (recipes here and here)

So I arrived in Boston around 10 AM, which was 2 hours earlier than I’d originally planned; time to check in to the Logan Hilton and hit the subway. The Hilton had a free shuttle to the subway. Boston’s subway has long stretches where metal screeches upon metal until you think you’ll scream. At one stop, an older lady got on with two adorable dachshunds. She pulled them onto the seat beside her, and people came forward to get cell pics of the cuties. Remind me to bring Purell and Clorox wipes next time I ride. The subway ticket machines (located in the underground part. For above-ground locations, you have to board the back cars and pay next to the conductor) are flanked by two burly men who help the newbies figure out what’s what. I managed quite nicely on my own, thank you, unlike Washington, DC’s confusing fare setup. $5 got me to the Museum of Fine Art and back. That’s route GreenE.

Wow. The MFA. It has a really confusing map. Frankly, I don’t think the map is correct, because every third room I had to stop someone to ask where I was, and I’m pretty good at maps. Since it had been a long time since breakfast and that Biscoff, I began in the large central courtyard and the in-house restaurant. Nice panini! Rotten tea. High prices. (But overall not too bad, as I’d gotten free admission because—surprise!—presenting one’s Bank of America debit card to pay for admission on the first Saturday of the month or somesuch means that BoA will pay your admission. How about that?)

The ancient Egypt collection was fascinating, if dry in places. Ar ar. There was an interesting exhibit from Iranian women photographers, but the Sargent display in the rotunda was disappointing. However, I did find a marvelous book of his watercolors in the store, which is tied into the show that will be there, well, starting the week that I’m writing this. I bought that online when I got back, as the paperback version must have weighed about twenty pounds alone. Tough to pack. ($9 to ship.) (Just got the UPS notice it’ll be delivered tomorrow. Oh boy! The pictures are gorgeous and so bold!)

Anyway, some fine artwork there and of course I high-tailed it to mainly the Impressionism section. They had a Van Gogh or two that was lovely. (Of course.)

Back to the Hilton with no stop at the aquarium; time was running short. I’d Googled Logan airport and there were a few high-rated restaurants there, but apparently they’re behind security. (I couldn’t find them on the way out because they were in different buildings.) So it was the Hilton for dinner (fairly nice, but too expensive for what you got; bad tea again), and then upstairs to attend the first meeting for our tour group.

Our group at the Calvin Coolidge place. I'm 5th from the left way in the back. Sunglasses peeking out.
We met Brandon, our tour leader, and Keith, our driver (I have one note that says his name was Dwight, yet I could swear Brandon kept calling him "Keith." If I'm wrong, Dwight, I apologize!!!), and received our final instructions. Caravan now offers 14 New England tours a week during peak leaf season, so that meant we had an Evil Double Bus shadowing us.  (They were the AG Autumn Gold group as opposed to us, the FC Fall Color.) We alternated our schedules daily so as not to arrive places the same time they did. (At one stop Evil Bus got the worse hotel. Ha ha! They had the people who signed up later than us.) As would happen every day, we were told times for when breakfast in the hotel opened, when our luggage was due to be set outside our doors for pickup, and when we were expected to have our butts in our bus seats.

Brandon told a chilling story about the one time he left someone behind. He counts everyone at least three times before the bus leaves. That time he’d counted, but while his back was turned a woman had gotten off to take one final shot. The bus took off without her.

In the side mirrors, they spotted her running and stopped. Brandon apologized profusely, but the woman clammed up in fury at being left behind. Finally he begged her to tell him what he could do so she wouldn’t be angry with him. “I’m not angry at you. I’m furious at my husband!”

That’s right, her husband had let the bus take off without her in the seat beside him.

So Brandon counted us every chance he got, and I got in the habit of getting up at 5:15 every day. I was never late for the bus, though once it came very close.

Our first day was touring Boston, for which we got a local guide. We zipped around in circles and, what with the overcast and drizzle, I became extremely disoriented. We must have gone by the Common five times. I did mention to the guide at one stop that I’d written a book where one scene took place at a former Boston hotel that had been the site of a horrific fire in relatively recent times. I couldn’t remember the name of the place (the Hotel Vendome), but described the street it was on. He pointed out what he guessed it was, but I thought I’d recognized a building about three minutes earlier from Google streetview that I’d done my research from. Thrilling to see the area in person!

We saw Paul Revere’s church (the one where they hung the lanterns), and were reminded that Paul came into things late and was stopped before he got too far. But he had a good publicist, unlike the others who made it through. Rest stop was in a very large food court downtown (the block had a comics shop), and though I wasn’t hungry (danger, danger, Will Robinson!) I joined the others and got a little nosh for second breakfast. It was an éclair, but instead of chocolate and a top pastry layer, its thick custard held three pieces of fruit. Healthy!

At every stop most of the group searched for places to buy fudge. (Also “adult beverages.”) That’s right. I don’t get it. The only good fudge is stuff you make yourself, off the back of the Hershey’s cocoa tin. (And even then you use Nestle’s for best results.) But they were persuasive and by mid-trip I’d bought a slice of fudge. It wasn’t very good.

After Boston we toodled off to Concord and Lexington. There were nice visitor centers and a green, colorful with autumn foliage, to admire. At Lexington the historic bridge where the “shot heard round the world” was fired, was closed to the public due to the government shutdown. (Thank goodness we weren’t on the Western Parks tour [Grand Canyon, etc.], where EVERYTHING was closed! Caravan scrambled to turn that into a Mystery Tour and refunded the money for anyone who didn’t want to operate that way.) The bus turned a couple of corners and we saw the bridge from a distance. It’s a nice wooden bridge. A few people on the bus loudly complained that we couldn’t stop, like it was the driver’s fault. Jerks.

Plymouth, Mass. Our lunch stop was far too short, and there were legitimate complaints about that. For the rest of the trip we had adequate time, or maybe we learned not to order so much food. I know my lunch (at a recommended café) was fairly meh, with an awful clam chowder. But from there we strolled to see the Rock, which was just a rock, and a pieced-together one at that. And very possibly not the correct one at all, to judge from what Wiki has to say. Anyway, someone has etched “1620” on it and placed an ostentatious neo-Classical foofarah over it. Big deal. I was much more impressed with the pole in the water at Jamestown that marked the edge of the fort there (1607, folks), and the guide there pointing out into the river, saying that 20 feet farther was likely the landing point.

Plymouth also has a mockup of the Mayflower that is NOT federally protected, because it was open. Though the day was overcast, I got a lot of good pictures of boats in the harbor. You see, I was taking pictures to make paintings this winter. New England has scads of picturesque boats. (I’m trying to find places in NC with similar sights, but so far have only found marinas wintering expensive yachts.) Unfortunately, the view outside my hotel window in Hyannis that night was not so picturesque.

The next day we hopped onto a 45-minute ferry—a huge affair that could take loads of buses and trucks and cars in its hold—to Martha’s Vineyard. Talk about a charming location! The bus drove around a bit, then dropped us off for lunch, shopping & sightseeing. After a lovely, wubbly lunch at a lovely, wubbly café (I gave them five stars on Trip Advisor!), the sky fell in. After about 20 minutes the rain stopped, but I’d been walking down some charming little streets and hadn’t been able to find cover. Good thing I was not only wearing a hooded raincoat but my wide-brimmed painting hat. Not an aesthetic pairing, but useful. My things dried out about two days later.

We’d learned that due to a recent storm, Chappaquiddick (or “Teddy K’s Downfall”) was now a separate island from Martha’s Vineyard, and a ferry that took about 2 minutes ran to it. I wandered down an alleyway that I noticed was filled with a line of cars. It was for said ferry. I was too hazy to notice Chappetc. in the near distance, darn it. Then it was back on the bus, over to the next town, and dropped off (more harbor pics!) until time for the ferry back. A lot of us wound up sitting on benches (getting sunburns under the now-blue sky), either watching the sea or staring blankly with Vacation Brain into the distance. Vacation Brain usually hit around 2:00 each day, when you reached your limit on touring.

The next day we wandered around Rhode Island because there’s not much of Rhode Island to wander around in. It’s a pretty state, and everything’s near one beach or another. A local guide joined us for Newport, a gorgeous little Navy town that also has all kinds of mansions in it. We toured The Breakers, a Vanderbilt affair in which the term “conspicuous consumption” was first coined. Holy moly. I took notes, and have now reworked my back yard to mirror theirs. You like?

Next came Mystic, CT, where we drove past Mystic Pizza (no, I’ve never seen the movie) and saw a living museum of a waterfront community. There I spoke to a lady in a horse carriage, conducting tours (no takers at the time). She’s also an artist, and we encouraged each other. Nice lady. So-so “living museum,” but maybe if someone were into such it would have been more interesting. There were two high school-age teams of rowers there, and for a while I thought they’d get on the water to practice, but they were just fiddling with their VERY long boats and practicing working in unison on getting them from the mainland to the dock, and then almost into the water without crashing into anyone. Then my camera battery died, and they decided they’d done enough. Good timing!

I had planned to take laundry across the street from the hotel (of COURSE I’d researched beforehand!), but Brandon assured me that the next night would be much better, machine-wise. Instead I set out for a decent meal. There was a fancy steak place a block away, but I wasn’t dressed for it. Instead I aimed for “Go Fish,” a friendly-sounding family-type kind of place.

Nope, it was a high-class joint. I decided what the heck, splurge on vacay. Besides, there were only a couple of people in the huge joint, and I could slink into a dark corner. The food arrived, looking like it was ready for its own Food Network Magazine cover shoot. Wow! Fancy-wancy. But icky-wicky, it was utterly bland. And I had to send the tea back. What is it with Yankees and iced tea? It’s not a difficult beverage to concoct. Why do they have to boil it or add peach flavoring to it or let it sit until it turns rancid or brew it where coffee has been? Anyway, I gave them a poor-ish review on Trip Advisor, and THEN noticed that everyone else on the site had done the same. Why don’t I read these things before I go?

The next day we traveled north to the Norman Rockwell museum in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. (Yes, we were back in Mass.) You know, I didn’t used to like his work at all, but now that I’m beginning to see what angle he was coming from, I kind of enjoy it. He was like the brilliant Mort Drucker or even Daumier, only operating in different venues. Satire and social commentary, that was him.

I’d seen the huge show at the NC Museum of Art a year ago, and it seems that had more to it than this museum. However, I was there for the studio, which I photographed and paced off. I asked questions, and the guy there absolutely ignored me while answering others’ questions. Hm.

Rockwell’s middle (?) son has a wing in the museum to show his modern art. Yawn. But the guy also collects toys, particularly action figures. Marvel was well-represented, with a few DC characters. The guard there and I couldn’t spot any Wonder Womans. Rrr…

Somewhere along the line we wandered into New York state, just to say that we had hit it as a special addition to the tour, but also so we could catch the right roads to come back into Vermont to catch a monument to the Green Mountain Boys (Revolutionary War, remember?) that was kinda meh, but had public restrooms and a souvenir shack, yay. Also, a fiberglas moose — one of those animals that so many cities have where they have artists decorate different ones. A lot of folks had their picture taken next to Mr. Moose.

Then it was off to Plymouth again. Wait, this one was in Vermont, Calvin Coolidge’s birthplace. Brandon played a short DVD bio to prepare us for it. I noticed that the video was all about how Cal had grown up and become governor, where he did some important things. It didn’t mention much at all about him being prez, other than that his father (who really didn’t have the authority, as he was just a notary or some such) swore him into office in the middle of the night when news of Harding’s death reached them.

The only thing I ever really heard about Silent Cal was the joke about him attending a White House dinner. The woman guest to his side said, “I have a bet going that I can get you to say five words.” “You lose,” he told her, and returned to his meal.

But the birthplace had lovely autumnal views, with the hills rising all around the farm. I think there was a fudge shop, but don’t quote me on that. There were lots of apple trees, and here, more than any other stop, there were zillions of rotting apples lying on the ground. When you walked around, you had a tendency to get rotten apple stuck to your shoe soles.

I got this Woodstock gentleman to pose for me. "Don't look at the camera!" I commanded, and he didn't. This was an extra shot. Woodstock is CRAWLING with tourists. I got a lot of good people shots.
It’s all starting to get hazy to me, and some of these stops are out of order. We stopped in Woodstock, VT, which is just about the cutest, most New England-y town you could ever imagine. Shopping! Lunch! It even had a covered bridge, though its bridge had been re-built in the Sixties. I had lunch at a place where they served excellent tea and promised them I’d review them very well. (Oops, must remember to do so.) The tour director from the Evil Bus sat a few seats down from me at the bar, and we listened to a semi-crazy lady who had no version of an Indoor Voice talk about some of the wild and wacky things she’d done. Evil Director told me that their tour, AG, stood for “awesome group,” unlike our group. Boo! We made up for it later that afternoon, when our bus passed Evil Bus. Our people made rude gestures at them, and we could see Evil Bus Director shaking his fist at us. Fun.

I checked out a library book sale (danger! danger!) because the library had a john (they encourage the public to make a donation if they were going to use it, which I did and did) and emerged from the building with a book. Evanovich. Smokin’ Seventeen. Blech. I’d sworn off buying one of her books ever again, but at least she didn’t get any profits from me. I needed a book so I wouldn’t finish the Lois McMaster Bujold book I was halfway through, and was saving for the plane home. (Turns out I still haven't finished that, as I finished SS on the trip home.)

We had one food rule on the bus: We could bring in anything we wanted except ice cream. Ice cream got messy. It seemed a shame to leave Vermont, which seems to have an ice cream place on every corner, without some, so on the way back to the bus I stopped at a creamery and ordered a SMALL milkshake. "Milkshake?" the girl behind the counter asked me, puzzled. "Oh, you mean a frappé." (And she pronounced it "frap.") So she made me a malted milk one. Small. "Whoops, made too much," she told me as she handed me a very large covered cup. Bravely, I did manage to drink it all over the next half hour on the bus. (I'd kind of hidden the cup as I boarded.) Tasted like a chocolate shake to me. One with high butterfat content. Mm!

Not the Vermont Country Store, but down and around and up a hill from it.
Where else? Oh yes, the Vermont Country Store (you likely have one of their catalogs in your mail box) has a bunch of public toilets at their large store in Weston, VT, so all the tour buses make a stop there. The staff come on the buses when they’re about to leave and hand out catalogs, maple candies, and rum cookies. I didn’t get a rum cookie, but the lady said they had a liquid center and MAN! did the bus reek of rum as everyone was chowing down! What marketing. Put in big bathrooms if your store sits along a lonely stretch of road, and the crowds will come. (I shopped at the store across the street.)

Quechee Gorge (VT) had a couple souvenir stands, public restrooms (you’re getting that these are important, yes?), bus parking, and a FABULOUS view of the gorge. I have some very narrow canvases that are going to be painted with views of this, if I can figure out how to do it right. It’s going to call for a lot of abstraction, since there were gorgeous rocks everywhere.

Tomorrow: THRILL to the rush to get to the bus! FEEL the death pangs of the poor lobster! PAY for airport parking!

1 comment:

Lynn Lawler said...

Nice recipe. Thanks for sharing. It is so nice to meet you here. I love the pictures on your website.