In which Pete is dragged on a fall foliage tour around New England
Most people take home souvenirs from their travels, some little trinket or other to remember their vacation by. We’re doing that, too, but not in the way we expected. Forget postcards or t-shirts: on this trip, we’re collecting weird heckles. In Vietnam most people would shout “Hello” at us as we walked by, except on one memorable occasion when a kid on a bike shouted, “Eff you!” On our first day in Boston we got heckled, too... for walking. “Get a car, losers!” yelled the teenage twit who could stand to lose a pound or twenty himself. (No wonder the Western world’s experiencing an obesity epidemic if this is the attitude people have!) And, as it happens, we did hire a car (more on that later), but while we were in the city we didn’t really see the point in having one. See, we have these things called legs, and, unlike certain Teenage Twits, we’re not afraid to use ‘em!
This part of our trip involved rather more moving around than usual. Boston was our base, but we also had a look at New Hampshire and Vermont. But before I get into all that, I have a complaint:
Massachusetts is blooming cold in autumn, and after two days of shivering we were forced to buy coats. That is so not right! I haven’t worn a jacket in eight months and I only have one sweater with me. We were supposed to be chasing the sun around the world... I guess we’re doing it wrong.
Me and my new coat. Also note my ironic sweatshirt, from Oxford University (*). It is ironic because a) I did not go to Oxford, and b) I once applied to Cambridge in a misguided attempt to get a place on one of their postgraduate courses, but the interview went so badly I expected them to hand me my rejection letter on the way out. This also had another consequence in that I went to Edinburgh University instead, and met Pete on my first day there. See, if only I’d been smarter, Pete wouldn’t have had to put up with me for the last fifteen years (or, as he says, “Fifteen long, hard years!”)
(*) BTW, the only reason I own this jumper at all is because I lost my old one at Heathrow, and this was the only replacement I could find in the half hour or so we had left before we had to board our plane.
Lousy weather aside, we did have a fantastic time in New England. The first and last parts of our stay were spent in Boston, the capital of Massachusetts, and one of the oldest cities in America. We liked it immediately, and I think that is in large part because it is a university town; they always seem to have a pleasant atmosphere. We spent many happy hours just wandering around, soaking up the sights on Boston Common, Beacon Hill, and the Charles River Bridge.
If you’re looking for some unusual attractions in the area, we found three that stood out:
This is an enormous hollow ball made of glass, with all the countries of the Earth displayed on the inside of the globe. Through the centre runs a bridge, where observers stand. The map itself is a little out of date, showing the world as it was in 1935, so if you look for Thailand or Vietnam, you won’t find ‘em.
This description from curiousexpeditions.org sums it up perfectly:
It is a singular experience. Nowhere else on earth can you see, well, earth. Not like this at least; earth the way it really looks, without distortion. As you walk down along the walkway, bathed in a soft blue light from the back-lit stained-glass surrounding you everything sounds strange; you can hear your own breathing as if it was someone else right up against your ear.
We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, sadly, but you can see what I’m talking about by clicking here.
The ‘Cheers’ bar
Anybody who watched Cheers during the 80’s is likely to recognise this sign:
Formerly the Bull and Finch, this bar on Beacon Street was used for all the exterior shots in the show.
We used to watch it, too, and in a fit of nostalgia we decided to drop by the pub and try to relive our misspent youths. These things rarely work out as planned, however. At the start of this trip, Pete and I declared our intention to drink our way around the world. Sadly it hasn’t worked out that way for me - health issues mean that I’m hardly drinking at all lately, much to my disappointment – but I made an exception on this occasion. I mean, I couldn’t visit Cheers and not have a beer, could I? It wouldn’t be right.
Tomb was something of a surprise, as we’d never experienced anything like this before. It was advertised as an interactive multimedia adventure with an Egyptian theme, which really didn’t tell us much, but we thought we’d head on over there anyway and see what all the fuss was about.
Without giving too much away, you are taken into an Egyptian tomb which has recently been discovered in Boston. (I bet not too many archeologists thought to look there, eh?) The last person to enter the chamber was never seen again, so it is up to you to find out what happened to him. Once inside you are set a series of challenges by a very grumpy pharaoh; the tasks get harder as you move through the rooms. You are accompanied at all times by a guide, who is there to give tips and encouragement, and to stop fights breaking out between family members who can’t agree on the best way to solve a puzzle. (Apparently we were one of the more cooperative teams our guide had seen!) Anyway, we managed to make the old pharaoh happy, and he let us out eventually. We thought it was an amusing way to spend an hour.
So, Boston was great, but that wasn’t the reason I nagged to visit New England.
I have wanted to go on a fall foliage tour ever since I saw it on some cheesy flick umpteen years ago. I’ve long since forgotten the title of that movie, but I remember how gorgeous the scenery looked, and I wanted to go see it for myself. You might have gathered, if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, that I like trees and nature and stuff. Pete wasn’t so keen - hence the title of this entry - but he said the same thing about seeing cherry blossoms in Japan and ended up enjoying himself, so I told him to quit whinging, hire a car and drive! (He did as he was told, too. I’ve got him well-trained...)
But before we went in search of colourful leaves, there was one other stop I wanted to make, in Salem. Salem, for those of you who don’t know, was the centre of witchcraft hysteria back in 1692-‘93. I loved Arthur Miller’s version of the story, as told in The Crucible, and I wanted to visit the museum.
It wasn’t quite what I’d expected. Instead of walking around looking at exhibits, you sit in a large room, which is decorated with a series of wax mannequins, and listen to a presentation. The tale of the witchcraft trials is narrated, while the relevant section of the diorama is highlighted at the appropriate time. To be honest, this arrangement has received a lot of criticism. Some people see it as low-tech and cheesy, while others complain that you can’t see everything without constantly switching seats. While both of these objections are valid, I still enjoyed hearing the history again. Over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned during the height of the hysteria, and 19 of those prisoners were hanged... and all because of bunch of young girls with overactive imaginations!
Our timing was perfect for visiting Salem. Halloween starts early in America; even though it was still only the first week in October, many people had already put up their Halloween decorations. I must admit, I loved it! All those quaint clapboard houses with pumpkins and scarecrows on the front porch looked so good!
We decided to get into the spirit of things by going to a haunted house. There were plenty to choose from, and I reckon we stumbled upon one of the better shows, ‘cos ours was in 3-D! The effects were brilliant, and the actors were scary. (There was one lady dressed as some kind of white witch who kept jumping out at us who managed to make me jump every single time. What a way to make a living: running around, shouting “Boo!” at people and cackling. I think I’ve finally found my dream job! Where do I apply?)
But enough of the silliness. Salem, much as I loved it, was not the point of the trip; this was:
I think we were very, very lucky with our timing. We spent one day driving along the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, one of the more popular spots for us ‘leaf-peepers’, and the scenery was perfect: lots of leaves on the trees and a wide variety of vivid colours. During the night there was a storm. We drove along "the Kanc." again the following morning on the way to Vermont, and it looked totally different. Many of the trees had lost their leaves, so there were large patches of grey where the branches were visible, and the colours themselves seemed muted. We noticed the same thing in Vermont, where the foliage was obviously past its peak.
It was a lovely way to spend a few days, driving through these quaint little towns with clapboard houses, going for walks, admiring the scenery and taking photos. I just wish the pictures could do it justice – I recommend seeing it for yourselves, if you get the chance!