Friday, September 26, 2014

Home Sweet Black Mountain

We departed Boston bright and early, knowing we had a lengthy day on the road and we wanted to get in as much discovery as possible before hitting our landing point for the evening. The Flex was loaded and pointed towards the sea for our first trek to Rhode Island and all on our set timetable, insert happy dance here! Seriously, for or us these days this is a big accomplishment, especially since I have become accustomed to the laissez faire attitude on our journey and generally find myself moving much slower than I anticipated. I know, I have become that person you need to deceive by telling them the party starts sixty minutes prior to the official time. At one point I would mock these people and now I have come to value the aspect of living and being in the moment, and I must say it is quite nice here, I don’t know what took me so long to succumb.
Mystic
Newport, home of the social elite was our first stop, taking a moment to stare in awe at the opulence of the chateaus of the rich and powerful. I felt like I was a world away and had just stepped out of the pages of “The Great Gatsby,” a tad envious, but at the same time the grandeur of these places seemed tinged with sadness. I don’t know if that is because the vast size or that they just seemed cold and appeared to lack that cozy “home” vibe. Many of these historic mansions were built during the American Gilded Age, 1865-1914, some are open for tours, some still occupied and some rumored to be haunted; all exuded a lush extravagance and I wish we would have had time to tour a few before moving on to our next destination, but alas, we arrived before opening hours. We did however take some time to stop on  Ocean Drive, breath in the seaside air and listen to the crashing waves before loading back up and hitting the road for Mystic, CT.

Bascule Drawbridge
Mystic is a town that screams nautical from the very second you drive in to the historic downtown; the maritime feel consuming you as you drive over the Bascule Drawbridge and park along its shop lined streets. Our stop came at a perfect time, ready for a coffee re-fill, a nice walk to stretch our legs and to witness this counterweight bridge lift and lower to let boats pass through the channel on their way out to sea. Our only regret was arriving too early for lunch at the famous Mystic Pizza, but we did however manage a fresh bag of kettle corn from a local shop that was gone within an hour of being back on the road.

Monticello and it's picture on the nickel
Between stops and detours we had hit eight states (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) and we had been on the road for close to twelve hours. By the time we had hit our resting place in Charlottesville, VA we were ready to crash and burn. We rose with the sun and went out for a run, breakfast and one last stopping point before heading to our final destination in Black Mountain, NC.

Thomas Jefferson's resting place at Monticello
Our quick stopping point was to visit that famous home that has had its mark on the reverse of the nickel since 1938, Thomas Jefferson’s retirement estate, Monticello. We arrived early, before the crowds had set in and virtually had the place to ourselves, giving us plenty of unobstructed photographs and time to take in the serenity of the views overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. We took our time, walking the trail up to the home, passing by the resting place of Thomas Jefferson and his descendants, the slave quarters and then looked upon the beauty of a home. Before leaving we stopped by the gardens and vineyards, all still producing from the original plants in Jefferson’s time. A few of the tour guides stopped to visit with us, admiring Miss Ethel’s adorable factor, and we learned that Monticello works with no-kill animal shelters, adopting dogs to live on the property and to roam free during hours they are closed to the public. If you ever find yourself in this area, Monticello makes for a great history lesson and is definitely worth the stop.

Gardens at Monticello
Two days on the road and we finally had arrived at our resting place for September, just outside of Asheville, NC in the quaint town of Black Mountain. As you pull up to our adorable Red Cottage, the first thing you notice is the picket white fence, then the rocking chairs that adorn the lovely front porch; imagine our delight and hurry to unpack so that we could pour a glass of wine, sit out front and begin to thoroughly enjoy the view of those majestic Blue Ridge Mountains while rocking away. This porch has a serenity about it, I start my day out here with my morning cup of coffee and end it at night with a glass of wine, listening to the birds by day and the sound of crickets by night, all adding to the allure and charm of this home.

Sunflowers at Monticello
Our place here has been a real retreat for us, being in the country, surrounded by mountains again and something all three of us needed after spending five months experiencing city life. There is a peaceful silence about this place, a calming essence, or we could just be succumbing to the healing vortexes and that vibrational energy that resides in these ancient mountains. I feel like our spirits have renewed and we have been loving the opportunity to just get out and embrace the harmonic energy of Mother Nature again.
Lake Tomahawk
Not only do we have all this amazing electromagnetic energy going on around us, but we have the cutest and coziest home to stay in and the hosts have not let any detail go. The home has everything one could need: to cook, to relax and the love and hard work that has gone into this place definitely shows. Our hosts are the real deal, kind and friendly, oh and beyond fabulous; they continue to make sure we are taken care of and have completely spoiled us. In fact upon our arrival, we were greeted with wine, coffee, snacks, fresh produce and all the makings for a breakfast the following morning; did I mention they have thought of every detail! Their kindness and generosity has been beyond appreciated and I am contemplating never leaving!


Spoiled by our hosts, and this is just a portion of it. :)
Ethel has also taken to this place, she loves having a yard again, to sniff around and play without the restraint of a leash. I do have to say it has been wonderful to just open the door when she needs to go out and getting to forego the process of putting on the harness and leash, then searching for a grassy patch like we did in the city! Ethel’s favorite is Lake Tomahawk and taking a stroll around the lake, chasing ducks, meeting new friends and getting all her wiggles out. I have also fallen in love with our daily strolls here and many of times I have make it a midpoint for my runs, just so I can soak in the view and the calmness of the place, it almost makes me forget I am running, almost.

Our Adorable Black Mt. Home
We have been here for a bit now and have been out on so many adventures that I can’t wait to share with you, but for now, here she is, our little Red Cottage:










Thursday, September 18, 2014

Beantown

When we weren't hitting the road for day trips we were either walking across the bridge to the North End or hopping the ferry to Long Wharf to experience as much of Boston as we could. Our time in Boston was our shortest leg of our trip thus far, three weeks, and to say we felt a bit rushed is an understatement. Fortunately Boston is a city that we have spent time in before, so the typical tourist clich├ęs we've done before. Crossing off Cheers and the Freedom trail from our list of must do’s was pretty easy since we've “been there, done that,” it gave us more time to focus on getting to know the neighborhoods and taking part in community events, exploring the real Boston.

Square in the North End
Now the Freedom Trail as I mentioned in a previous post was right outside our front door and although it wasn't part of our agenda, we couldn't avoid running into it, so we got to wave hello to many of history’s famous places on a daily basis and some days being so close to tourist central proved more difficult than others. Those days included my morning runs when I’d chance upon the Freedom trail, where I felt like I was playing “Frogger” with tourists, but hey, I looked like a savvy local and I got really good at navigating and recommending places to stop for coffee. Plus, constantly seeing historical landmarks is pretty impressive; especially on the days that they take the U.S.S. Constitution out of her slip for a quick sail, which by the way, requires a lot of effort by the Navy and the Boston PD, and seeing such an old ship at full mast is phenomenal!

The Freedom Trail
Some days were mellow and just involved us strolling the cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill or the North End, stopping and sitting for coffee and a pastry in the community square, or perusing the local shops and sitting back and taking the time to visit with some boisterous natives. Other days, perfection was offered up by just popping a squat in Boston’s Public Garden and watching the Swan Boats pedal by or getting lost for hours at Brattle BookShop; running my fingers across books wrapped in plastic, books older than my great grandparents, and just letting the smell of wisdom and the written word envelop me. Days like this, while casual, were blissful and full of cherished memories.

Beacon Hill
Then there some days, you stumble upon Fisherman’s Feast, a festival that has been occurring annually in the North End since 1910.  This is a gala that dates back to the 16th century and the tradition was brought over by the devoted fisherman from Sicily. Their ancestors still honoring the Madonna del Soccorso by throwing her a party every year while she sits at its center after being moved from her home at the Fisherman’s Club. She is gallantly carried by those faithful to her where she sits witness to the festivities at a chapel at epicenter for the four day celebration. Tom and I witnessed this time honored homage as they returned the Madonna to her resting home for the year - the fireworks, the streamers and the prayers in her honor in return for her blessings of help and protection; a wonderful sight and one of those gems we will relish having witnessed.

Madonna del Soccorso
Other days, we wore our tourist caps and would visit revered Universities, hoping the mass brain power would some way rub off; as if just being in the presence of the genius would in turn, by association increase our IQ. Perusing Harvard’s Old Yard, touching the foot of the bronzed John Harvard for good luck and immediately regretting the decision and wishing I had brought baby wipes with me - but hey, I do feel lucky so it must have worked even with the plethora of germs we may have contracted.
John Harvard
Overall, Boston was too short a stay. It is a city unique and full of its own captivating charms, a city that we will greatly miss, especially those crisp evenings and our strolls along the harbor. It was one of the harder ones to bid adieu to and one we look forward to returning to soon. In the meantime here are some more photos from our time there and hopefully they'll hold us all over. 

USS Constitution
Swan Boats in the Public Garden

Boston Sunset
Bunker Hill
Brattle Books




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Coast and an Island

We really wanted to make an extended stopover in Portland, Maine a part of our agenda for the East Coast, unfortunately the flight schedules and costs for Tom to get to San Antonio didn't work in our favor and it had to be axed. However, being in Boston and so close we couldn't resist the temptation to zip up for a fun filled day trip to this eclectic and vibrant city, and of course, knowing us, we had quite a few exploratory pit stops along the way.


First stop was Rockport, MA for what can only be described as a breakfast of champions at Roy Moore Lobster. Tom’s face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning as he bit into his lobster roll, lobster as fresh as you can get it, as in just off the boat that morning, something that can only be likened to biting into lobster flavored butter. Even Miss Ethel was spoiled as the chef brought her out bites of fresh smoked salmon, perfect start for all, getting us geared up for our day pack full of adventures. We sat out on the back deck in a slight sprinkle of rain, devouring breakfast and looking out over the bay, taking in the ambiance of what a true fisherman’s wharf looks like; lobster cages lining the docks, fishing boats parked along the deck and men hauling in their fresh morning catches, all just making the experience of this town all the more captivating.

View from Roy Moore Lobster
Rockport is more than I ever envisioned. The village is picturesque; charming shops sandwiched between narrow streets and the sea, locals out for their morning run and gathering together for quick morning hello’s with their neighbor. Down the road at the center of town, lies a park, where the farmers were setting up their produce for the weekend farmers market, all adding to its allure. I can easily see why this town attracts so many visitors and those making their weekend escape from Boston.


Stomachs full, we hopped back in the car and headed towards Portsmouth, NH to check out Fort Constitution and the lovely PortsmouthLighthouse. Fort Constitution sits adjacent to a U.S. Coast Guard Station, in fact you literally walk through the Coast Guard compound to access this historic site, following a red line as your guide, so no one gets’ lost or worse, mistaken as a threat. Once inside the fort, you are again free to roam at your own will, reading plaques and learning the history of a place that has been defending our country since 1631, and I was bewildered to think that we have fortresses guarding us against sea bound threats dating back that far or ever for that matter. The entire concept seemed so European and sea side Castle like to me, the idea of this in America was a surprise and fun learning experience about our countries history.  

Portsmouth Lighthouse
Just outside of Fort Constitution sits the stunning Portsmouth Lighthouse. The morning fog hadn't quite dissipated and the white from the lighthouse just seemed to pop among the mist coming off the water, which in turn made for some great photos. Now the lighthouse itself was closed so my photo ops came at me climbing down into a fort window, and me hanging out the side to get the shots; a precarious situation, but dammit, I need to capture the moment! Sometimes I think Tom should follow me with a camera just to photograph the positions I put myself into to get the shot, now that would make a pretty entertaining Instagram page.

Portland Dock
Our detours complete we were officially Portland bound. We rolled into the historic downtown and took time to walk, shop and eat ice-cream, taking in all the magic and ocean breeze two humans and one dog could handle. The people-watching in Portland was my favorite, I could have sat for hours, completely mesmerized by that burly fisherman look meets hippy flare that every local there seemed to sport; trying to determine if a person was just coming in off a boat after months at sea or heading off to a local drum circle was quite the conundrum; the two energies were fused together like the twins of zodiac sign, Gemini. Needless to say, the people seemed really cool and like those we’d like to grab a drink with, if only we had the time.


Portland Head Light
We made one more stop before turning around and heading back to Boston and that was at the Portland Head Light, Maine’s oldest and one of the world’s most photographed lighthouses. This lighthouse is in Fort Williams Park creating this scene that just beckons you to relax and then we realized this would have been the perfect spot to sit down with a blanket, a picnic basket and a bottle of wine. This is a place you could easily spend hours; just caught up in trails, or lounging away listening to the ocean wave’s crash while lying in a blanket of grass. But alas, it was getting late and Boston was calling and homeward bound we had to head.


Heading north would not be the end of our coastal adventures, we still had one magical island to visit; a place where swag and charm collide creating an idyllic fairy-tale setting. The three of us hopped on the ferry from Cape Cod bright and early one Saturday and set sail for this illustrious place, this isle called Nantucket! We were immediately met by Heather and her friend, Malissa, as we exited the boat and readily made our way down the cobblestone streets to the Prince’s holiday retreat.

Brant Point Lighthouse
Willy, Heather’s husband, was kind and courageous enough to take on the task of dog sitting the high maintenance Miss Ethel while we snuck out for a guided bike tour with Heather and Malissa. First stop though was suiting Tom up with Nantucket Reds and a welcome mudslide before heading over to the bike shop to pick up our bikes and my favorite, getting to see this island through Heather’s eyes, a tour I was truly looking forward to since I know how much she loves this place. Heather weaved us in and out of enchanting neighborhoods, cottages big and small lining the streets and the sea. Quarter-boards dawning the name of the homes which immediately piqued my interest; I wanted to know the story behind the name of the home and how it came to be. I immediately burst into thought about what Tom and I would name our next home when we settle down again, but know this, it will have a quarter-board; I was that intrigued and in love with the idea. Our bike tour took us to the beautiful Brant PointLighthouse. The sand warm on my feet, seashells that glittered in the sand and the view of the lighthouse and the marina, it was a place I could have easily just spent the day. If only I could control time.


We headed back to the Prince retreat to bid our adieus as we set out for some family time, dinner and the boat trip back home. We took a nice stroll down the streets, talking with the locals; I am always so amazed at the conversations that strike up because you have a dog and the people you meet because of it. Two men stand out, both prior humans to dachshunds; one an oysterman and the other, well, his family has been on the island forever as he put it. Meeting with the locals just adds more appeal to this place and I can truly see why it is a destination of not only the wealthy, but for all of us day trippers as well.


Once back on the boat and on our way out to sea, we watched as the sun made its last dance across the water, twinkling across the ocean as it made its descent and off in the distance we could hear the faint sound of the Boston Pops playing at an outdoor concert on the beach. All making for a perfect send off to one of the most captivating places I've ever been. Nantucket we will be back!