The drive to the car ferry that will take us from Orient Point, New York to New London, Connecticut was an easy 45-minute drive, all the way east on Long Island. We spied the Atlantic Ocean – the first ocean we’ve seen since leaving LA, 3 weeks ago.
We were booked on the 10am ferry but we arrived early, and the 9am ferry was just about to leave, so we got on board that one instead. The 80-minute ride was a breeze, if a little rocky. We got to the other side, to New London. Yet another historic town, with buildings dating back to the 1700s. We didn’t linger here, and instead hit the road to head towards Boston, but taking a side route to go via Jamestown, Newport and Plymouth. Jamestown was first up, after heading across a long bridge. It’s on an island, and it looks like a fairly wealthy area, judging by the houses and huge motor yachts at the marina.
After a walk around the town, we headed on towards Newport, across an even larger bridge – this one with a $4 toll to get over. It was pretty impressive though, and almost on par with the Auckland Harbour Bridge. We didn’t actually stop in Newport, it’s a city and we prefer small towns. Plymouth was up next, and one of our destinations on the list was to see the Plymouth Rock. This is apparently the rock that the first boat load of pilgrims landed on, in the USA – or I guess, New England. I say apparently, because there is some discussion around it actually being “the” rock. Reports say it was 121 years (!) before someone said, and I paraphrase, “I’m pretty sure that’s the rock they landed on”.
After an obligatory photo, it was a walk around Plymouth township itself. For people from New Zealand, it’s quite incredible to walk past houses – some that are pretty run down but still in use – with plaques above the door with years like 1755, or 1738. Mind blowing stuff. We also checked out the Pilgrim’s Hall Museum, $12 each to get in and nicely done. They say this is the oldest building that’s a museum in the USA, having been built in 1824.
Looking at Google Maps, it was still over an hour to get to our Air BNB in Boston, so we walked back to the car, and hit the road again. It seems roads in New England are just as bad as everywhere else in the USA – the car got hammered, sometimes skittering in its lane, the potholes were so bad. Some serious repairs need to be made!
We made it to Boston, after battling the horrible traffic. Every car was crawling along, and as usual no one used their indicators to change lanes, which made for a stressful drive. Today we managed to get through four states: New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
It was a car-free day today, as we’d been warned about parking costs in Boston, and also the traffic adding to that. Instead, we Ubered to the local train station, and bought a one-way ticket each ($2.90), with trains running every 5 minutes at that time of the day. We were in the centre of Boston in 15 minutes, so much less stress than driving. The ‘T’ trains, are the oldest in the USA, having been commissioned in 1897. Yup, you read that right, 1897. They say they are unreliable, but we had no issues. Still better than driving.
Our first thing for the day was a Segway tour. We’ve done these before in the USA, and they are a great way to see lots of a city in a short time. Luckily for us, there was just the two of us and our tour guide – perfect. We got a really personal tour of Boston, moving around the city quickly to lots of the historical places, including of course the Boston Tea Museum, where it’s close to where they actually threw the tea into the harbour. We’d come to visit it later, after our tour. Zipping around the streets some more, our guide, Andy, gave us a good run down on the revolution, telling us juicy stories along the way, and pointing out historical landmarks where events actually happened, hundreds of years ago.
After the Segway tour, we headed up-town, and did a visit at the old State House. This was built in 1795, and for $12 you can wander through and check out the stories and artefacts. Every July 4th, they still read out the Declaration of Independence from the balcony. Bostonians are obviously very proud of the part they played in the revolution, and rightly so.
We thought we’d head to the Boston Tea Party Museum, but then checked out the price: Over US$28 each to get in. It doesn’t look that big, and we decide to hold on to our money and give it a miss. That’s just a little too high to be worthwhile, for us anyway.
After some lunch, we headed off to do our next tour, this one a 2-hour walking tour of the murders and mysteries of Boston Beacon Hill Crime Tour, with our guide, David. There is no doubt David is a story teller, as he nailed every one that he delivered to our group of 25 people. We stayed close to Beacon Hill, so the actual walking part was only a mile and a half, but it was enough for him to fill with stories about the sordid past of Boston.
Next up was dinner time, and what better place than Cheers. Okay, not the actual Cheers bar from the TV programme, but the bar that they based Cheers on. This place must be a gold mine for the owner – it was packed on this Tuesday night, with people downstairs and up. There’s lots of photos of the Cheers actors in the actual bar, as well as a whole shop full of Cheers stuff to buy.
Last event for the day was another walking tour, this one with Megan from Haunted Boston Ghost Tours as our guide. This was definitely a more R18 rated tour, and again we had about 25 people joining along. It went on for 2 hours, as Megan gave us story after story of more murders and intrigue. Some of them were new to us, and others were variations of the ones we got from David, but it will still great. Each story was delivered with passion, with a theatrical angle. We’d recommend this tour, if you want to get the juicier stories of Boston.
That was it for the day, 10pm and we were pretty stuffed, so it was an Uber back to our Air BNB.
Today, we’d be driving slowly to the town of Danvers, in Massachusetts. We wanted to stay in Salam itself, but the accommodation costs there are ridiculous. Danvers is just 20 minutes from Salem, so saving hundreds of US$ a night was worthwhile.
Leaving Boston, we headed up to Westford to catch up with a friend for breakfast, at Paul’s Diner. We’d never been to Paul’s, but at 10am it was packed, and we had to wait for a seat. That was a good sign. Once we did eat, we can see why the locals love it – great food, and good coffee.
From Westford, we went on to the small town of Concord, to take a look around. We are walking past buildings still in use today, that were built in the 1700s. Incredible. Concord was a key town in the War of Independence as the site of the first battle, and we felt the need to come back here one day and take a better look around.
We were driving along, about to head out of Concord, when my wife spied a sign for Orchard House – home of Louisa May Alcott, who wrote the book, Little Women. Apparently she wrote the book in the actual house, and you can only visit by joining a guided tour. We got our tickets and waited, and then got taken around each room, with different guides explaining each room, how they lived, and how it related to Louisa. The house itself was built around 1650, with rooms added on after that, but it’s mostly intact and original, and you can only imagine how many people have been through the place in the last almost 400 years.
Time to hit the road, and in 30 minutes we were checked in at Danvers. Later in the afternoon, we headed towards Salem, as we have a ghost tour on tonight, but we stopped at The Cheesecake Factory for dinner, because The Big Bang Theory.
The ghost tour was good, but there were over 30 people in our group, so it made it hard to hear the tour guide now and then. And then we saw another tour group, with over 60 people in it – crazy. Our guide tells us that there’s 30,000 people living in Salem, and in October every year they get a million visitors in that one month. The tour itself was entertaining, covering off not just the Salem Witch Trials but all the other dark stories of the town’s past. It was interesting that in Salem, they hanged less than 20 people, and yet in the state of Connecticut, they hanged over 500 – but Salem gets all the visitors. The town puts it down to the old TV programme, Bewitched. Apparently there was a studio fire in LA before they filmed the last few episodes, and one of the production team seemed to remember something witchy in Salem (on the other side of the country!) centuries before. So they filmed those episodes in Salem, and that gave the town the tourism push.
And boy, have they embraced that push. There are shops selling witchy stuff everywhere, people walking around in clothes from the 1700s, people doing séances in their shops day and night, palm and tarot readings every ten feet. Well, it felt like it anyway. It does have a nice vibe though, and one of the main historic streets (Essex Street) is closed off to general traffic, which makes it a more pleasant place.
We headed back into Salem township and wandered through the town, waiting for our first walking tour to start. This was another good tour, with an engaging guide who even threw some singing into the 2-hour walk. All the time we’re walking, we can see other walking tour groups from other companies doing the same thing, as well as ‘trolley’ buses driving around, full of tourists like us. The town is pumping, but it is October and as mentioned, that’s this town’s crazy period.
After the tour, we went and visited the Witch Dungeon Museum, which gives you a guided tour on how things went with the witch trials. This started off with some actors playing out a trial, and apparently their script between an accused woman and her accuser is the actual transcript from the original court trail. It does go to show you just how easy it was to accuse someone of being a witch. Some people accused their neighbours, just so they could then take their land and possessions once they’d been hanged. Husbands accused wives because they wanted to be rid of them. In simple terms, the general consensus was that since the town was run by Puritans, kids got bored. The Puritan religion meant that kids couldn’t speak unless spoken to, and everything was restricted. So the minister’s daughter got bored, started acting crazy just to try and express herself, and someone said she was a witch. Then it was all on, as the craze grew and grew. It was only when the governor’s wife was accused of being a witch, that the governor said something like, “that’s it, it stops now”, and it stopped instantly.
Our last event for the day was a murder-mystery dinner at a local, historic hotel (built in 1924) – the Hawthorne Hotel. This was based on the game, Cluedo (that Americans call simply ‘Clue’). Both my wife and I are rookies at this, and it showed. There were ten tables of punters, with ten people to a table. The actors playing the part of the Colonel, etc did extremely well, and the whole event was carried out professionally. It was a fun night, and we got to have some good discussions with others at our table, who were all American. We definitely won the award for farthest travelled, and all were impressed with our long drive from LA to get to Salem.
We’re going to Portland today, or somewhere around there. We’re not actually sure where we’ll stop for the night, as we have the luxury of a spare night. We’re due in Bangor, Maine tomorrow but today is a cruisy one.
We headed north to Maine, but stop in the town of Portland for the night. On the way, we pass through New Hampshire for a short time, as we make our way up the east coast. It’s a Friday, so the hotel adds a surcharge onto the cost, and we pay the most we’ve paid yet for a hotel – US$169 plus taxes. Argh America – taxes are added to everything, and are never simply included in the cost.
Nearing the end of our driving days now, sadly, as we head north for the last time to go to Bangor, Maine.
We headed away from Portland on to Highway 1 instead of the interstate, as it’s a much more scenic route, and generally follows the coastline north. Our first stop today was in the town of Brunswick, for coffee and a wander around the town on foot. I know I keep saying it, but I’m blown away when there’s dozens of building that are on a town’s main street – or any street- and there from the 1700s or 1800s. Brunswick is no different, and it’s so cool to walk around a town like this, imaging what it was like two centuries ago.
Post coffee fix, we hit the road again, passing trees that were changing colours almost as we went; reds, pinks, purples, oranges, yellows – it felt like all colours were being represented by the autumn leaves. We’d been wanting to visit New England in the Fall for this very reason, and it’s not overstated: if you are coming to New England, come in the Fall. It’s incredible, and any photos do not show what it’s truly like.
Hunger pains hit, and we cruised into the town of Wiscasset. We’d had clam chowder in Boston, now it was time for a famed lobster roll. Basically, it’s lobster in a bread roll, but a Maine tradition. We stopped and went onto the wharf, where there was a caravan selling lobster. We assumed that meant it would be fresh.
First warning sign: cash only.
Second warning sign: a lobster roll is $22.95 plus tax
Third warning sign: a large French fries is $4.25 plus tax
We should have known this place was a tourist trap. We were going to buy two lobster rolls but not at that rate. Luckily the girl serving said they were ‘quite big’ so I thought one to share plus a large fries to share would be plenty. This is America, after all. Then we picked up our order – the roll was a six-inch bread roll, with some lobster jammed in it. The sign says they use a whole lobster (”and then some!”), but it wasn’t a whole lobster, unless it was a baby. The fries came out in a tiny cardboard container. This might cost a dollar at a diner, but here? That’s $4.25 plus tax, thanks.
The lobster was okay, but we didn’t get the feeling it was fresh at all. Lesson learnt, never again. Yeah, right.
Heading out of a town where we felt ripped off, we followed Highway 1 until we got to the town of Rockland, for a coffee break. Another nice, friendly town with lots of old buildings. We didn’t spend too long here, but it had a good vibe to it.
While heading towards Bangor, we started ringing to book accommodation. Up until now, all we do is rock up into a town and find a hotel, unless it’s a town like Boston or Philly, where you know you have to book in advance. Hotel after hotel in Bangor? Full. Apparently this is a double-whammy weekend; it’s Columbus Day on Monday, and this weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, so lots of Canadians head south for some reason. And where do they all head to? Bangor, of course.
We tried calling other towns we’d be passing through – all full. Closer and closer we got to Bangor, and in the end we pulled over. There’s not enough room to sleep in a Corvette. In desperation, we called lots more hotels, and finally found one that had a room – at US$379 for the night (plus taxes, of course). Ouch. With no other options, we booked the room. If we want to stay tomorrow night? The rate is now $167. Shame on you, Marriot Hotels – scamming people an extra US$200 for a night, just because you can. Believe me, we’ll be checking out as late as possible to get our money’s worth.
A lazy day.