Sunday, October 7, 2007
The flight from Orlando was uneventful, although the lines at security were the longest I’ve seen, stretching all the way across the Hyatt lobby. I hadn’t been in Logan Airport’s Delta terminal recently, which is really nice. There’s even a Fudruckers.
I was, frankly, shocked at the sight of the hotel, the Omni Parker House. It is surrounded by scaffolding. That’s the view outside the window, too. It’s amazing to me that Tauck would book clients in here under the best of circumstances, let along during a major renovation.
The hotel was built in 1855 and is the oldest continuously operating hotel in America. Unfortunately, 1855 was before the invention of the Internet or the electrical outlet, both of which have yet to arrive in my room. The only flat surface is the night stand, which has on it:
- all the non-refrigerated offerings of the mini bar
- hotel directory
- clock radio
- tv remote
- coffee pot
- advertising for other fine hotels in this chain (isn’t this the same chain I hated in New Haven?)
The walls are paper thin, and aside from very expensive linens and a nice lobby, it’s difficult to see any appeal. When Dani and I were here in Boston on her college tour we stayed at the Charles Hotel next to Harvard, which is cheaper and much more comfortable.
After unpacking, I met Pamela Collins, my friend from Australia, in the bar for a drink and to get caught up. It was great to see her again after a year and a half, our last outing being the cruise in Hawaii.
The Tauck welcome dinner gave us an opportunity to meet our fellow travelers, who are an interesting demographic. I’m probably the youngest by a fair margin. Most seem well traveled. Of the 43-person group, six or eight are from the UK, and about ten are from California. The balance are from around the US, including the Carolinas, Mississippi, Texas, Colorado and Wyoming.
Our tour director is Nancy Rowe, who does Alaska in the summer, and New England in the fall. Clearly she must have seniority. The rest of the year she’s a substitute sixth grade teacher, so she’s good at supervising both the young and old.
The food at dinner was banquet fare. It began with gravy-like clam chowder. The beef was a nice cut but ruined with a weird sauce that tasted a bit of mentholatum. A jumbo shrimp that accompanied it was very chlorinated and tired. The hotel’s claim to fame is that Parker House rolls and Boston Cream Pie were invented here, and both were okay.
With no Internet, the iPhone came in really handy for responding to my students’ postings while listening to every word of the neighbor’s soft conversation. I hope my typing isn’t keeping anyone awake.
Boston / Cambridge
Monday, October 8, 2007
After a fairly appalling “Boston Benedict” (heavy corned beef hash on fried, sweet brown bread with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce) we headed out into the rain for a tour of Boston. We drove a circuitous enough route that we passed Emerson College three times. I found that I was surprisingly familiar with the city after my trip here with Dani to visit colleges in August. One college we didn’t visit then was Harvard, which was our first stop. Fortunately the rain had pretty much stopped by the time we reached the campus. We received a presentation by an energetic sophomore girl, Asli, whose parents were from Somalia (although she was from Michigan). The school is a lot like Yale, and although there is no theater major, I was interested to hear that they have a lot of drama classes, and she knows several students who plan to be actors.
Our second stop was back in Boston, at the Old North Church, where the lanterns in the Paul Revere story were hung. Up the hill was Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, an old graveyard.
We left the bus at an open air (read: tourist) market and walked a few blocks back to the hotel, stopping at Borders for coffee.
After an afternoon nap we took a taxi back to Cambridge for a nice dinner at Sandrine’s, an Alsatian/French restaurant Dani and I discovered in August, where I spent most of the meal explaining the plot of Wicked to Pamela. She’s very patient.
Lexington / Concord / Salem
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Contrary to predictions, Tuesday dawned bright and clear. We took a short drive west to where the first skirmish of the America Revolution occurred, and then followed Paul Revere’s ride on toward Concord, where the first battle occurred. Both are small towns with parks and monuments that commemorate the events. An amazing number of famous authors also come from Lexington.
All along today’s route we passed colonial era houses, and even some dating back to the mid 1600s.
A thirty mile drive northeast brought us to the coast, and the town of Salem. Having already been well-schooled in the history of the witch trials during Dani’s appearance in The Crucible, Pamela and I chose to spend our time walking around the town. It’s essentially a square mile of tourist shops selling witch paraphernalia. There are also some cute old houses. We had lunch at a restaurant on the pier called Victoria Station, which I think is a survivor of the 1970s chain.
We then drove out of Massachusetts and along the entire coast of New Hampshire. This didn’t take long, since it’s only 18 miles long. It became increasingly rocky as we approach New Hampshire’s only port, Portsmouth, where we are spending the night a a Sheraton. The large rooms, desks and Internet are a welcome relief after the Omni Parker House.
Congress Avenue is the main street, and is about four blocks of tourist shops. We found a couple of good book stores (due to the town being to small for a Borders or Barnes Noble to open and put them out of business).
We dined on lobster at the hotel with four delightful couples from our tour group, two from Fresno, one from San Francisco, and one from the UK. We had a really nice time. By the time I retired it was beginning to rain.
Coastal Maine / White Mountains
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
It was overcast all day, but except for an occasional sprinkle, the rain held off. Heading up the coast we immediately crossed the bridge into Maine.
Our first stop was the lighthouse at Cape Neddick. It sits on a rocky point connected to land only by a cable and suspended bucket. As with all of Maine’s lighthouses, it is now fully automated.
An hour to the north we arrived in Portland, Maine’s largest city (although only about 65,00 people live here). We were divided into three groups. (I was a cod. ) Pamela had a bit of a sore throat, so she decided to do some shopping while the rest of us cods went out on the lobster boat Lucky Catch. Captain Tom was very informative and entertaining. He’s been lobstering since he was fourteen — although he should be an actor. This time of year he does tour groups in the harbor, but during the rest of the year he works the waters about 8 miles off the coast.
We went to two different spots and pulled up two traps at each location, which got us three lobsters (one of which was too small to keep) and an assortment of crabs that we threw back. The lobsters must be within certain length limits, measured along the carapace. The limits put them between about 1-1/4 and 4-1/2 pounds. The smallest keepers are about seven years old. Females with eggs have a tail fin notched and are thrown back. Notched lobsters are then protected, and must always be thrown back in the future, even if they don’t have eggs. This way the breeders grow large. Similarly, the maximum size limit (in Maine, anyway) assures a population of large males for breeding purposes.
After a fairly pointless interpretive walk around the block we had lunch at a fish and chips place, did a bit more shopping, and then headed west back into New Hampshire.
We stopped briefly at Crystal Lake (an impromptu stop because of the colors) and then at the Swift River Bridge, a covered bridge built in 1869 and now bypassed by a concrete overpass.
Shortly before 5pm we arrived at the White Mountain Hotel and Resort, the exterior of which looks a lot like Wawona on the approach to Yosemite. But it’s nicer on the inside. In fact, the valley we’re in has a granite outcropping of the same glaciated structure as Yosemite Valley.
Pamela and I had a lovely dinner by ourselves, and then sat through part of a talk by a local naturalist before the early morning caught up with us.
White Mountains/ Green Mountains
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Not rainy, but very gloomy, with a low ceiling.
After some pancakes with delicious cinnamon butter, we set out over the Crawford Notch and Franconia Notch (those are passes, for you westerners), where the rock profile of the Old Man of the Mountain stood until 2003. It’s now a guy called “Cliff”! We couldn’t see it anyway, because of the low cloud cover. Nor was Mount Washington, New England’s tallest peak, visible. Although Mt. Washington is only a bit over 6000 feet high, it has the world’s worst weather, with winds clocked as high as 234 miles per hour.
We stopped for a walk at the Basin, a waterfall into a rocky. . . well, basin. It was an excellent walk, with brilliant colors. We just wished the sun would come out so we could really appreciate them.
We also stopped at Bath, a charming little (really little) town with fours shops all owned by Michael, a Rock musician from California. One of the shops is the oldest continuously operating general store in America.
On to Hanover for a drive through Dartmouth — literally. Route 10 goes right through the quad! What a beautiful town and campus (they’re sort of the same thing, since students outnumber residents). We had lunch at a hotel that faces the quad.
Crossing in to Vermont we stopped at the dramatic Quechee Gorge, a very deep and scenic ravine that was alive with color. Just beyond was the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, where we saw a really interesting raptor show, featuring a falcon, hawk, owl and even a turkey vulture.
A hour’s drive brought us to our hotel for the next two nights, The Hawk Inn and Mountain Resort. It is situated in the middle of 1299 acres, and has less than 50 rooms, all occupied by two Tauck tour groups. After a nice wine and cheese reception we went to their tavern restaurant for an excellent dinner. A steady rain settled in during the night.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Last night’s rain had stopped by morning, taking some — but not nearly all — of the leaves with it. We retraced our path back to Woodstock, Vermont for a visit to the Billings Farm and Museum. The farm is a working farm with dairy cows, sheep and chickens. It was established by one of America’s first conservation minded individuals, and later donated to the public by the Rockefellers. There were a lot of great museum exhibits about the history of farming in the early 20th century. An 1890s house built for the foreman has been completely restored and furnished, and is actually quite technologically advanced (for 1890) and rather comfortable, even by today’s standards.
We then made the short walk into downtown Woodstock where Pamela did a bit of shopping, and we had a relaxing lunch at Bentley’s restaurant. Afterward we walked over to the Woodstock Inn, a very nice hotel, and relaxed in the library while waiting for the bus. It started to rain again but only lasted a short time.
Much of the group then visited the home of Calvin Coolidge, and a maple sugar shack. I’ve been thinking about getting Pamela’s cold for a couple of days and the cold air seemed an unwise environment for her (much improved) bronchitis, so we opted to get out of the cold and went back to the hotel along with a dozen other fellow travelers.
A stiff breeze came up in the afternoon, and stripped more of the leaves. Then, at 5pm, the sun came out and I literally ran up the mountain behind the hotel and madly snapped pictures. Although a lot of the color was gone, the light made a huge difference.
We had dinner with six of the more gregarious members of our group and then hit the sack.
Berkshires / Stockbridge
Saturday, October 13, 2007
We awoke to the season’s first frost, and a crisp, clear day with bright sunshine. What a difference it made in the colors! Our first stop was Weston, Vermont, home of the Vermont Country Store. The women shopped and the men took photographs of the very scenic little town.
We also stopped at the grave of Robert Frost in the churchyard of Old First Church in Bennington, Vermont. He’s still dead.
An hour’s drive brought us to Williamstown, where we had lunch at the Williams Inn. Williams College is a scenic campus that forms the center of this town.
Another hour of driving took us south back into Massachusetts, for a visit to Stockbridge, home of the Norman Rockwell Museum. Perched high on a hill next to the first gilded age “cottage” constructed in the Berkshires, the museum was much more interesting than I was expecting. It’s quite remarkable to look at Rockwell’s familiar works close up. No matter how closely I peered at these moderately sized oil paintings, it always seemed there was more detail. Downstairs is a collection of his 322 Saturday Evening Post covers. His studio has also been preserved, moved to a separate building on the grounds, and set up exactly as it was the day he died.
We drove back to Williamstown via a corner of New York, and our driver, Jim, who lives on Lake Champlain and is married to a former Rockette, gave us quite a witty dissertation on all the best points of the state.
Along the way we passed the Shaker village. The Shakers were a religious group who invented a number of furniture types (and other things such as the straight broom), but now there are only seven members left. This is probably due to the fact that one of their religious tenets is celibacy. Note to self: when founding a religion, incorporate wild debauchery.
Our hotel for the night is The Orchards, by far the nicest accommodation of the trip. My room is huge, and decorated like the rooms at the Waldorf Astoria. A farewell reception in the lounge offered an open bar, and dinner in the dining room was superb. The menu prices were amazingly low, with a wonderful filet mignon in a wine reduction and its accompaniments going for $25. Of course, it was all included. Reflecting on the week, I think I’ve bought one dinner, two lunches and two bottles of wine. Everything else has been included in the Tauck price, even tips. Definitely a good deal.
Deerfield and West Podunk (honest!)
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Today was cooler, and breezy. We departed from Williamstown through the Pioneer Valley of the Connecticut River, stopping at Deerfield, a cute little town with lots of colonial era houses.
For lunch we stopped at the Salem Cross Inn at West Podunk. It’s a sprawling complex with some rooms that date back to 1705. It is named for both the Salem family (who began restoring it in 1962 and still operate it) and the “Salem Cross,” an anti-witch sign engraved on the original house’s still-intact door handle.
The building has many dining rooms, most of which were filled with tour groups, so I wasn’t expecting much. But they served the best prime rib I have ever tasted, along with excellent clam chowder and homemade rolls of many different types. Dessert was a wonderful tart apple pie with hand made whipped cream. This was the second best meal of the trip, and a wonderful surprise.
By 3 pm we were at the Logan airport, where I said goodbye to Pamela and the group, and caught my 6:30 flight home to Orlando. It was a very nice group of people, and we had a lot of fun sharing meals and experiences with all of them.
As with all Tauck Tours, this one was well thought out, and the fact that everything was included is always great. Our tour director, Nancy Rowe, seemed particularly concerned with everyone’s welfare, and the driver, Jim Tom, was very entertaining (even if he does need a last name). This itinerary is perhaps a bit less exciting than most, and is dependent upon the trees, which cooperated, and the weather, which was mixed.