Friday, April 30, 2010

America's Home Town . . .

A mere 20 minute ride from my home is one of the most historic towns in the country, Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Located forty miles south of Boston, Plymouth is known as “America’s Home Town”, the place where the Pilgrims first set foot in the New World. Well, this is technically not true – but the myth seems to linger! The Pilgrims set out from England in search of a better way of life, and after months of grueling travel on the Mayflower in unimaginable conditions, they made landfall in November, 1620 . . . in Provincetown, Massachusetts. After exploring the Provincetown area and several other sites on Cape Cod, they eventually landed in Plymouth Harbor in December, 1620. Although it is said that they first stepped ashore onto Plymouth Rock, there is no factual evidence to support this claim.

Plymouth is a large town (the largest area-wise in Massachusetts) with a lovely downtown area and water front.  There is so much to see in this historic town that I could go on for hours!

Statue of William Bradford in Pilgrim Memorial Park

By far the most famous landmark in this town if Plymouth Rock. This poor rock has been moved many times since its supposed identification.  It was originally located at the waterfront, was moved to Plymouth Center (it broke in two during the move), then was moved to Pilgrim Hall, and finally to the location where it sits today, under a granite monument right on the water in Pilgrim Memorial State Park

Plymouth Rock, at high tide

Monument around Plymouth Rock

Located steps from Plymouth Rock is the Mayflower II, replica of the original ship that brought the Pilgrims in 1620. It is open for tours, but beware - if you have any kind of claustrophobia, I would settle for viewing it from the outside – it is very tight in the lower decks.  If you do venture on board, try to imagine sailing on her with 100 other people through rough seas for 66 days – it is incomprehensible!

The Mayflower II from Pilgrim Memorial Park

The Mayflower II from Plymouth Town Pier

As a booming tourist location, there are many hotels, motels and inns to choose from. One of the most popular in the area is the John Carver Inn. A large hotel with many different types of rooms (including suites with fireplaces), a Pilgrim themed pool, and the Beach Plum Spa, it is a favorite with tourists and locals alike. The restaurant in the John Carver is the Hearth n' Kettle, a personal favorite of mine – don’t expect glamorous, fine dining - but the portions are large and the food is always good!

The Pilgrim Cove pool at the John Carver Inn

If a quick lunch is what you are looking for, I recommend Pebbles on the waterfront (my youngest son’s favorite place to eat!); they serve burgers, fried seafood and ice cream.  Pebbles is located directly across the street from the Mayflower II.
Pebble's Restaurant

When it comes to dining, you can find any kind of cuisine you fancy in Plymouth - Mexican, Indian, Italian, and of course, local seafood.  One of the longest operating establishments in Plymouth is Ernie's Restaurant on Court Street, which has been in business for over 65 years. With a menu ranging from sandwiches, seafood and hearty entrees like pot roast and turkey (how could you come to Plymouth and not eat a turkey dinner?) there is something for everyone. 


After a long day of sightseeing, take a break and enjoy some nightlife at The Cabby Shack.  Located directly on the waterfront, it has become a popular hangout for tourists and natives over the past few years. The Cabby Shack offers entertainment nightly including trivia nights, dueling pianos and local bands.  Its recent claim to fame that it was featured on the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” – their clam chowder is supposedly delish (I plan on testing this theory one day next week for lunch).

The Cabby Shack

During the upcoming summer season, make a trip to Plymouth for history, food and ocean views! Visit their website and plan a historical getaway!

P.S. - It was bleak and rainy the day I visited - which is why some of the photos are so dark!  I recommend visiting on a warm, sunny day!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Bucket List . . .

I have a friend who talks about completing items on her "bucket list" (some people call it a "life list" which sounds a little nicer); this has inspired me to write my own list of things that I absolutely must complete in my lifetime. 

Here they are, in no specific order:

1.  Drive cross country:  Although I am not a camper, I would love to rent an RV and drive from coast to coast with no time limit, allowing time to stop for anything I would like to see, including obscure attractions like the World's Largest Ball of Twine in Darwin, Minnesota!

Photo courtesy of

2.  Spin around on the hill in the opening scene of "The Sound of Music":  Being a huge fan of the movie, I've wanted to do this for over 40 years.  After doing a some research, it seems that the hill is called the Mellweg , and it actually located in the town of Schellenger, Liechtenstein, about six miles from Salzburg, Austria.

3.  Traverse the Panama Canal on a ship:  Many cruise companies offer this trip now so finding one would not be the problem, but it is a very lengthy trip, with the average number of days per trip being fourteen.  This one may have to wait until retirement!

4.   Go under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Queen Mary 2Because it involves two of my favorite things, ocean liners and New York City, I eagerly look forward doing this.  I would like to make this trip at night, preferably at the beginning of a voyage, when the lights of the city, the bridge and the Statue of Liberty are sparkling.  The QM2's funnel clears the bridge with a clearance of only 13 feet during high tide; being on the top deck would offer some spectacular views!

5.  Spend my 50th birthday in Paris:  Only five more years until this much anticipated milestone!  Since my birthday is on a major holiday, it is going to be difficult, but even if I have to go alone, I will wake up on the morning of my 50th in the City of Light, and will enjoy my birthday dinner at The Jules Verne Restaurant located inside the Tour Eiffel.

6.  Cross the International Date Line:  The International Date Line is an imaginary line on the surface of the Earth opposite the Prime Meridian where the date changes as one travels east or west across it.  Crossing the the International Date line going east causes 24 hours being subtracted, so the date is repeated; the opposite happens going west (a day is added). The exact number of hours depends on the time zones.


7.  Complete a triathlon:  There are so many of them held, I'm sure I will be able to find one that fits my specifications.  I am trying to start small by training to run a 5K (although I haven't actually completed one yet).  Although I know it is physically challenging, the part that scares me about a triathlon is the swimming; I am a strong swimmer, but most triathlons involve swimming in the ocean, which I have a fear of.

8.  Spend Thanksgiving in New York City and see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade:  Although the parade itself is very crowded, I want to rent an apartment in NYC for Thanksgiving week, shop and cook the holiday dinner there, and spend the night before the parade wandering through where they line up the parade and watch them blow up the large balloons.

9.  Visit Normandy, France:  Many Americans lost their lives here on Omaha Beach during WWII; the American cemetery there is said to be beautiful and inspirational.  Hopefully, I will have the boys with me on this trip so they can appreciate this time in history and see first hand the sacrifices that were made for our freedom.

10.  Visit Norway and see the Northern Lights:  Norway is high on my list of the places I want to visit - the fjords, the mountains, the small villages - it looks breathtaking.  To visit during the time when the Northern Lights are visible would be a bonus.  It would be so interesting to experience daylight for almost 24 hours - wouldn't it be great to play golf at 11:00 PM?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Queen Mary 2 . . .

As a long-time fan of ocean liners, I thought I would share some photos of the largest liner currently traveling the seas, Cunard's Queen Mary 2. 

As QM2 is an ocean liner (not a cruise ship), she was designed with a high freeboard (the height between the waterline and upper deck of the ship) to withstand rough seas and adverse conditions encountered in the open ocean, and has a large facilities to store fuel and supplies.  Launched in 2004, QM2 was built to cross the Atlantic ocean and travel the world; she has a maximum speed of 29.62 knots (34.09 mph) and a cruising speed of 26 knots (30 mph).  QM2 is driven by four propeller "pods" which are actually outside of the hull of the ship.  The two forward pods are fixed in place while the aft pods are able to turn 360 degrees in order to steer - she does not need a rudder and can fully maneuver in port without the aid of a tug.

A closeup view of the propeller pods

Equipped with over 1,300 cabins, she was built with many more balconies than her predecessor, the Queen Elizabeth 2; the Queen Mary 2 has 955 balconies, QE2 had only 32.  The demand for balcony cabins has increased in the past decade - everyone wants a balcony (myself included!).  She is a "post-panamax" ship, meaning she is too large to travel through the Panama Canal; she must circumnavigate South America in order to cross between the Atlantic and Pacific.  As Queen Mary 2 is too large to dock in many ports, passengers are ferried to and from the ship in built tenders, which can also be used as lifeboats.

Queen Mary 2 comes to the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal in Boston a few times a year, and we always make the trip see her.  In 2008, we saw her in person for the first time - she arrived on a sunny, Sunday morning and we were able to see her approach from the outer harbor.

The boys were amazed by her size - the only other passenger ship they had seen prior to 2008 was QE2.  We look forward to seeing her again this summer when she visits on July 4th!
Seeing her for the first time - May, 2008

Visiting on July 4, 2009 (while wearing their "I Love QE2" badges!)

I look forward to someday standing on QM2's top deck, sipping a glass of champagne while traveling under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge at the beginning of a transatlantic voyage!

Here is a video of the first time the boys saw her in Boston Harbor:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

thirtysomething . . .

In the never ending quest to find something to watch on TV, I am constantly searching Hulu and Netflix for episodes of shows that were my past favorites.  One day last week I came across the series "thirtysomething" from the late 80s on Netflix.  Since I remembered loving the show when it ran in primetime, I decided to give it a chance.

After watching two episodes, I found myself questioning why I would have liked it in 1987.  At the time I was a twenty-something, still living at home, no marriage prospects (and wasn't looking for any), no kids - what common ground could I have possibly found with "thirtysomething"?  I have no idea.  Perhaps it was the glimpse into what I thought married life would be?  Watching it now, I still think it was an interesting show; but I can relate to it much more now than I could then.  Other than the female lead, I am happy to say that the other characters in the show don't resemble anyone in my immediate circle of friends or family.  The character of Hope, feeling insignificant after leaving her corporate job to be stay-at-home mom (yes, I can relate to that), the character of Michael, the hard working spouse devoting most of him time and energy to his job, the friends - Nancy and Elliot - who are a step ahead of Hope and Michael with their children being a little older,  and their marriage already suffering from the effects of Elliot's infidelity, and the childless characters, who don't understanding anything that Hope and Michael are going through, and really don't seem to want to.

The funny thing that I noticed in these episodes was how "80s" they were.  From Hope's friend's shoulder-padded business suits, to the country duck motifs in one of the homes - it all seemed so dated.  One of the funny changes from now to then that I noticed happened in Michael's office.  He was showing his partner, Elliot, a report of some kind and it was printed on the old alternating green and white lined computer paper with the holes along both edges; they probably had the Wang Word Processors with the 12-inch floppy discs too!

If you are a child of the 80s and find yourself with some extra time some evening, rent a few back episodes of "thirtysomething" to experience some great television drama, and to revisited some 80s memories.  And since so many of the old shows out there to be revisited - don't be surprised to see a few more appear as blog topics!  Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Costa Atlantica . . .

Spring is here - time for passenger ships to return to the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal in Boston.  Although none compare to my favorite, QE2, I still like to make a visit to see them up close.  This past Sunday the Costa Atlantica came to port.

In learning a little about her, I found out that ships are categorized.  The Atlantica is a "spirit" class ship, and was built in the Panamax form, meaning that she fits the dimension specifications to fit through the Panama Canal.  Built in 1999 in Helsinki, Finland at the Kvaerner Masa-Yards for the Costa Line, she was put in service in July, 2000.  Costa Cruise Lines was founded in 1924 in Genoa, Italy.  It currently operates 14 ships that sail under the Italian flag, but it is currently owned by Carnival Cruises who acquired it in 2000 (one of the eleven cruise companies that are run by Carnival).

The Atlantica is 960 feet long with beam of 106 feet; she has passenger capacity of about 2,200.  As her top speed is only 22 knots, she is a cruising vessel that visits the Mediterranean, Europe, North America, South America and the Middle East.  All the decks on this ship were named after movies made by the famous Italian director, Federico Fellini, and include "La Dolce Vita" and "La Strada".

The Costa Cruise website has a unique option along with viewing the ships' location via their bow webcams; it features a Google Maps function, which allows you to see the ships location at any time and track their progress to the various ports they are visiting.

As I can tend to be a little single-minded when it comes to ships, I had never visited Costa's website to research their cruises.  They offer some great voyages at reasonable prices - visit their website and start planning your next getaway!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sandy Hook . . .

Every summer we make the trek to the New Jersey Shore for a week of sun, beach going and "boardwalking".  Last year we made a day trip to Sandy Hook, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area ("GNRA").  The GNRA covers 26,607 acres in four separate areas:  Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, New York and the area we visited in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Sandy Hook is a 7-mile long barrier island that contains three beaches (with one of the beaches being "clothing optional"), a lighthouse, Fort Hancock (a former Army fort which was built to defend the entrance to New York Harbor and was in use from 1874 until 1974), and a fully-operational base for the U.S. Coast Guard.  It is ideal for nature lovers as it is home to many species of birds, and is intertwined with paths that are ideal for walking and biking.
Gun battery at Fort Hancock

Because of its strategic location, Sandy Hook Lighthouse was built to help ships entering New York Harbor.  Built in 1764, it is one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the United States, and has survived the elements and a brief occupation by the British during the Revolutionary War.  It stands 85 feet and is almost one and a half miles (2.4 km) inland from the tip. Sandy Hook Lighthouse is part of the Sandy Hook Unit of  Gateway National Recreation Area.  It was declared a National Historic Landmark on the 200th anniversary of its first lighting. 

Outside view of the lighthouse and keeper's cottage

Climbing to the top of the lighthouse

The light itself was automated in 1962 and is currently operated by the National Park Service.  On a clear night, the light is visible from 19 miles out to sea.  The day we visited we got a rare treat as the light was inoperable.  Something had gone wrong with it the previous evening, the staff was waiting for a specialized repair crew to come in from New York City to repair it; we were able to closely view its inner workings.

The lighthouse building was restored in 2000, and is filled with exhibits about the history of the light.  Tours are available with a park ranger; as the lighthouse is small it is rather tight quarters at the top but the view is worth it!

View toward Gunnison Beach (clothing optional beach)

The one downside to Sandy Hook was the swimming.  The beaches are large, well-kept and offer stunning views of the ocean and the shipping lanes into New York Harbor.  Because of their close proximity to a large urban area, the water was not as clean as we would have liked; but the surf was high and the kids thought it was great (my husband was less than enthusiastic about it - and I didn't even go in).  There are large bathhouses complete with bathroom and shower facilities (very clean) and a large snack bar.

If you find yourself in New Jersey on a warm summer day, plan a visit to Sandy Hook to view the lighthouse and the other historic venues.  We were fortunate to be able to visit on a weekday - on weekends the parking lots fill quickly, and because it is a barrier island there is only one road in and out, which can create serious traffic jams in the summer months!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Water Has Subsided . . .

On this beautiful day, I decided to go out and re-photograph some of the locations where the flooding occurred two weeks ago to record the changes.  One or two local roads are still flooded, but life has returned to normal for most.  After this experience, there are still many people who will cringe when they hear raindrops falling on their rooftops.

Here are the photos:

Oliver Mill - March 15th

Oliver Mill - April 14th

Oliver Mill - March 29th

Oliver Mill - April 14th

Taunton River - March 16th

Taunton River - April 14th

 Summer Street, Bridgwater - March 16th

Summer Street, Bridgewater - April 14th

Hopefully we will never experience flooding and devastation like that ever again.  It is such a relief that spring is finally here!  It's too bad that the flowering plants and trees can't stay in bloom forever!