Sunday, August 10, 2008

Near-Death Experiences and Trip Advice

First, for the trip advice. For those of you who haven't stumbled upon it yet, I recommend Trip Advisor, a website that has real reviews from people who have visited all the places you want to go. I found it very helpful when booking hotels and figuring out places to eat.

Also, for this trip, I used to book one of our hotel stays. I'd never used Hotwire or Priceline before, but it worked out great. Their advertising slogan is that they get you a 4-star hotel at a 2-star price. From our experience in Boston, it's definitely true. We stayed at the luxurious Intercontinental Boston and paid about the same for that hotel that we did for a mediocre Holiday Inn in DC. The catch is that you can't specify which hotel you'd like to book. You simply give the dates and the city (or area within the city), and they book you the hotel. It worked out great for us in this trip, though. The Intercontinental is a beautiful hotel--the decor, the spa, the hip dining, the awesome bathroom with a big bathtub and a separate shower stall!! It was great.

So, now for my "near-death experience." Last Tuesday, we drove from Boston to Cape Cod (about a two-hour drive). Cape Cod is a little different than I expected it to be. It's not your typical beach-front scenery--no scenic vistas or palm trees (not that I expected palm trees)--but then suddenly from this heavily forested area the landscape opens up to the Atlantic ocean! One of the afternoons, we took a short hike and I felt like I was in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The scent of pine in the air, the pine needles at my feet. But then we went to the beach that afternoon.

On the first afternoon of our stay in Cape Cod, we--naturally--headed to the beach. It was a beautiful sunny day (unlike our second rainy day), so we took full advantage of it. The Atlantic is cold (no duh), but dang, yeah. It's really cold. About 60 degrees on a good day. So I was mainly just putting my feet in. Jacob was making me a nervous wreck because the waves were really strong, and he kept going back-first into the waves and then coughing up ocean water after every one passed over him (we finally figured out that you are supposed to swim through the waves--or something like that).

So anyway, I was basically just dipping my feet in, but then I thought that I should quit being a pansy and get in the water. How many opportunities in a lifetime do you have to be in the ocean anyway? Well, I now think I've had enough for my lifetime.

It was high tide, and the waves were really strong. I waded out about thigh-deep and then--BAM!--a wave completely took me down. All I knew was that I was rolling around underwater. I could see seaweed floating above me and felt the sand rushing into the ocean under me. (Oh, I'm getting all panicky just thinking about it.) I don't remember if I got above water after that first wave, but then--BAM--another wave hit me, sucked me under again. By this time, I thought I was a goner. Jacob was only about six feet away from me, and was lollygagging around, paying no attention to his mother DROWNING!! And, we were right in front of the lifeguards. They didn't seem to notice either. Finally, a third wave caught me. By this time, I had hauled myself up onto the shore a little bit, but the sand was still dragging me down. Finally, I got to my feet and made a beeline for my towel on the sand. I collapsed and proceeded to freeze in my soaking wet, sand-filled clothes the rest of the afternoon. Sheesh.

Jacob and Scott tell me that I was in the water only about 3 seconds. I don't quite believe them; it felt like about an hour to me. So I now call it my near death experience (NDE). I'm being a little facitious, but I don't ever remember having that feeling of raw power against me. The ocean was angry and threatening! I remember a friend telling me once that she'd had a similar experience and never liked swimming again. I think I can now relate. Jacob, however, our adrenaline junkie, loved it. The funny thing about the experience is that I must have looked like a combination of drowned rat / total idiot as I hauled myself up on the beach to my towel. What a landlubber! Oh--this picture shows me after my NDE. I was frozen, so I HAD to buy this cute sweatshirt.

So, these pictures were taken at Nauset Beach, on the Atlantic side of the Cape, near the town of Orleans.

On the rainy morning we were there, Jacob and I went over to Skaket Beach, on the harbor side of the Cape. Totally different! The water is warmer, and the beach so gradually slopes into the water that when it's low tide, you can walk out about two miles before you hit water. So we did that. Here are some pictures from that walk. This is a type of squid. It's hard to see through the water, but ew. He was kind of gross. Kids on the mudflats were also collecting little hermit crabs. We saw a spider crab and some random colorful crab arms lying around. Also--of course--lots of seagulls.

One of the interesting things about Skaket Beach at low tide is that the mud is rainbowy. It's hard to tell in these photos, but the top thin layer of sand is tan. Then just under that layer it's sort of pink, then a dark gray.

I wish we'd had more time to spend at Cape Cod. The beach was great (except for almost drowning--ha), the countryside was beautiful, the towns were charming and it is full of history. I'd definitely go back.


Yesterday morning, after an eventful trip home, we finally made it. We left Cape Cod around 8:30 a.m. on Friday, and got home around 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. Needless to say, we were tired yesterday--and still are today. We drove to Boston, turned in the rental car, and caught our train from South Station. The trip to Albany was great--relaxing, comfortable, everything a good train trip should be.

From there, things went downhill. The Albany train station was blech. Only food available was this little coffee shop with sandwiches and lukewarm soup. But at least we got to get something to eat (it was around dinnertime). The train loaded up around 7pm, and wow--I felt like I was in a herd of cattle getting on the train. There were several groups traveling together (some seniors groups, a youth group), and for some reason, Amtrak thought it was good to load them up first, which left very few seats for the rest of us. But we made it on, and even got to sit together. Many of the travelers were going all the way to Chicago, so they had a long trip in front of them.

Things started to calm down on the train around 10:30 or 11:00. Remember--we had a sleeper car on the way out to DC. This trip we were coach all the way. It's a vast difference! I did get some sleep, but felt like I woke up at every stop (although the guys tell me I was always asleep every time they looked at me). What amazed me was the group of older women that got on around 5:00 a.m. somewhere in Ohio. They were so loud! Here's this train car full of sleeping people, and these women were hooting and talking like it was broad daylight. Sheesh.

Finally, we arrived back in Waterloo to a sad sight. Our old car was still parked in the parking lot, but with three windows shattered. Apparently, some vandal had had some fun in the train parking lot. Several other cars had been damaged as well. That poor Geo. When we lived in Pittsburgh, the rear window had been smashed out at least once by some vandal. This time, the windshield had at least four blows, the passenger front window was shattered, and the rear window was shattered. Sigh. The police came by right as we got off the train, and said that someone had gone through the parking lot, smashing car windows about three nights back. Nothing inside the car had been damaged (there isn't much to steal--a radio that barely works is about it).

So we called AAA, and made it back to Fort Wayne. We jammed in the cab of the tow truck with these two tow truck drivers. It actually reminded me of some outrageous scene from a movie like Little Miss Sunshine. We were totally smashed into this cab. Except for sending out the tow truck, AAA was useless--sending us to window replacement shops that don't exist. Dumb. Finally, we ended up at a Chevrolet dealer, where the body shop will take care of the windows. So, grrr...that is not fun, but the trip overall was great.

Here's the thing about train travel that I love. I love seeing the countryside zoom past the windows. It feels more natural to travel this way. Airplane travel is awful compared to the train. In a plane, you are jammed into these tiny seats, you have absolutely NO leg room unless you happen to be less than 4 feet tall, and it's all so stressful! Train travel (at its best) avoids all of this. You can walk around, have tons of leg room, you get to see things out the window. It's great. I read most of a novel on the way back from Boston. You can get something to eat in the dining car or snack car. This photo shows somewhere in New York state. The moon is in the corner of the photo. It was a beautiful sunset.

And then, here is this gorgeous shot of Ohio farm land. Isn't it pretty? That is sunrise--just before we arrived in Waterloo.

People used to travel by train, and that is sadly obvious in a lot of places. The tracks are old, and as cities built up and moved away from the tracks, the areas by the tracks decayed. So it's often like looking in a back alleyway of the city. You see old tenement houses, burned out, graffiti-covered rowhouses. An occasional oasis of urban redevelopment pops up, and then there's another long line of brick warehouses with the glass windows broken or filmed over with decades of grime. A billboard reads, "We buy ugly houses."

Our trip from DC to Boston was especially eventful outside the train. We went through Philly, NYC, Connecticut, and then trees filled up the windows again. We left the grime and noise and clamor of the city to the scrub brushes and clapboard houses of New England. We even got a glimpse of the ocean. And a white heron. Sail boats are nestled in blue sparkly harbors. Church steeples jut into the skyline.

Overall, I loved the train. The last leg of the journey was more trying, but by then I was also ready to be home, so somewhat cranky. But I highly recommend it for the adventure of it all. Jacob was at the perfect age to take the train. Much younger and he (and we) would've been miserable. As it was, we all discovered this wonderful mode of travel and got to see some fabulous sights!

More soon on my near-death experience at Cape Cod...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Last Day

Today is the day we travel back home. We're leaving our B&B on Cape Cod in about an hour, and then driving back into Boston where we'll drop off the car and board the first train on the way home.

While on Cape Cod, we spent time at Nauset Beach. Here's sort of an interesting link for surfing on Nauset. The main part of the beach is typical (and lovely) - tan, fine sand, with little pebbles and rocks dotting the shoreline. It's just like the postcards--sand dunes filled with spiky blades of tall grass, low shrubs, instead of palm trees.

We went to the beach on Tuesday afternoon, after we arrived on the Cape. That was fun--warm and sunny. It rained ALL day on Wednesday while made us a touch grouchy, but yesterday turned out beautiful--fair and, after the clouds burned off, sunny and warm.

In the rain, Jacob and I went to Skaket Beach, on the other side of the Cape--the harbor side as opposed to the Atlantic. There, at low tide, you can walk for up to two miles out to the water since the Bay is so filled with sand eroded from the Atlantic side of the Cape. That area is called the Mudflats, where we found TONS of hermit crabs, and even saw a weird looking squid.

I have lots and lots and lots of pictures to share once we're home.

Monday, August 04, 2008


We're now in Boston, enjoying a cosmopolitan and lively city. Yesterday we did the Duck Tour of the city, so we were able to see all the "land" sights (the State House, Beacon Hill, the U.S.S. Constitution, etc.) as well as take a ride on the Charles River. On the subway yesterday, I identified at least 3 or 4 different languages being spoken around us--and that was just directly around us.

I loved seeing the Boston Public Garden, the setting of Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings. It is the official children's book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I love that the Commonwealth has an official children's book! There are bronze sculptures of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings in the park, which the toddler set thoroughly enjoyed climbing on. I even got a good photo of an real, live duck in the lagoon under the branches of a willow tree.

While there, we tried to find a letterbox, but it was too hot, crowded, and we were hungry, so we gave up on that one. We did get four in Salem's Woods after we finally were able to get hold of a car and drive to the park. That was fun. A good hike on a warm summer day.

Today is our last day in Boston. Tomorrow we'll be heading to Cape Cod.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Days 7 and 8?

I'm sort of losing track of days. I guess that's what happens when you are lucky enough to get away for two weeks!

Anyway, we are now in Salem, Mass. We got in late last night after a long-ish train ride from DC to Boston. I thought everything was arranged with the car rental from the train station, but, alas, no car rental office was open when we arrived at 7:30pm. So, we improvised, and got to our hotel here in Salem last night around 9:00ish by cab. (I am still irritated with Hertz which seemed to give misleading info on their website about a car rental site being available at the train station, but I think we have things figured out to pick up a car tomorrow. I would forego having a car altogether, but I don't think we'll really be able to get to or around Cape Cod without it.)

This morning, we headed out early-ish to see the sights of Salem (is that spelled "sites" or "sights"? I'm confused.). There are a TON of witch-y type shops, museums, etc. We got a lot of good pictures for later use. My goal was to get to the House of the Seven Gables and to see the harbor, both of which we did.

The House of the Seven Gables was thoroughly enjoyable. I totally recommend seeing this very, very old house (old by American standards). This house inspired Hawthorne to write his book about Hepzibah and the Pyncheon clan. Hawthorne's birthplace was moved to the grounds of the House too, so we got to walk through that as well.

We're staying at the Salem Inn, which is another old house (built in 1834). A journal in the sitting room of the West House (where we're staying) says that some visitors have heard ghosts (such as a baby crying in the next room--when it's empty--or a woman sniffling). People come here, it seems to me, because they want to have some sort of paranormal experience.

We walked through the Burying Ground, the oldest cemetery in Salem. The oldest gravestone we found read 1681. There is a memorial adjacent to the cemetery with the names of the 20 who were hung or died after the Salem Witch Trials. The cemetery itself is beautiful--picturesque and tucked in a quiet corner in the town. A gnarled old oak shades one corner of the graveyard.

Tomorrow it's back to Boston for a couple of days, and then we'll head to Cape Cod, where we hope to crash on the beach for 3 days straight.