Brownstone Boston & the New England Coast

Trip Start Sep 06, 2009
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Flag of United States  , Massachusetts
Thursday, October 15, 2009

After the damp mistiness of the countryside, we were quite looking forward to getting back to a City environment again so approached our arrival in Boston with some excitement.

We decided to go via Lake Winnepasuke – an enormous lake which has been a favourite haunt of wealthy Bostonians for decades. Beautiful New England weatherboard houses were doted here and there along it's irregular shores – seemingly all with impossibly beautiful views over water and surrounded by trees which were gently turning gold, amber and red in the autumn chill.

By the time we arrived in Boston it was already dark so had to wait to explore it more fully until the next day.  The following morning we signed ourselves up for a walking tour of Boston which we really enjoyed.  We visited the first covered market and public meeting place, Faneuil Hall, built by the Puritans and famous for being the place where the first rebellious views against punitive British taxes were aired.   We saw where the first martyrs of the revolution were shot outside the Old State House in the famous Boston Massacre – this title and publicity was a clear example of early propaganda.  We also saw the Old South Meeting House where locals met for the famously rousing debate on taxation without representation before throwing the Boston Tea Party.  We were also shown the African Meeting House and were impressed to hear about Boston's liberal past and that it was at the forefront of the anti-slavery movement. In fact there are so many historic sites in Boston that you fairly trip over them on every street you turn down.  Steve and I both felt ashamed of our sketchy knowledge of the events of those times and we have been busily trying to fill the gaps of our sadly paltry knowledge of American history ever since.

However, despite all the historic sites, it has to be said that Boston struck us as, well, slightly boring….  It’s puritan past seems to have left a bit of a mark on the city – we felt none of the buzz of New York or the lively livability of Philadelphia there.  It may have been the weather – it was fairly cold and grey for much of the time – or it may have been the buildings which predominate the city centre.  The so-called Brownstone buildings which Boston is famous for are essentially redbrick terraces and street after street after street features exactly the same material and architecture.  The puritan approach has eschewed any whimsical features such as wrought iron railings or balconies – it’s all very utilitarian.  Even the pavements are made out of the redbrick.  Most streets are planted with trees – something we normally love to see – but these trees somehow managed to add to the pervading darkness and slight gloom to the place.  There are some nice aspects to it – the waterfront is quite attractive – and there’s no doubt that there’s money there – lots of very smart shops, galleries and restaurants – but it’s all very restrained somehow. 

So it was with no great sadness that we left Boston after our 3 nights there and headed for the coast.  We decided to head North initially to explore the Maine coastline and our first stop was Portsmouth.  We loved this unassuming place – full of the most beautiful New England style houses and very prettily situated by the waterfront.  The sun also came out for us which always helps!  We then continued further up the coast, stopping at Ogunquit and then Kennebunkport – the latter being the home of the Bush family’s summer residence and we could certainly see why.  A very pretty stretch of coast with some beautiful rather stylish properties.  Plenty of evidence of old money around here!  We ended by spending the night at Portland which, by contrast, was not quite so charming and was a little bit of disappointing over-night stop.

Portland was the furthest North we had planned to go.  It was too cold – we weren’t really equipped for this weather! – so the following day we took the freeway back South and decided to head for Cape Cod.   En route we stopped at Plymouth, famous for being the place the Pilgrims landed in 1620 on the Mayflower.  We were able to see Plymouth Rock – a chunk of granite which purports to be the exact spot they landed on – and a replica of the Mayflower itself which the children enjoyed seeing. 

We stayed in Falmouth (so many names from the Old Country!) on the Southern-most point of Cape Cod and the following day we decided to drive the entire length of Cape Cod so that we could see all the sights.  We hadn’t reckoned on it being really as big as it was and it took us until 5.30 that evening to arrive in the Northernmost  town of Provincetown!  After driving through some fairly nondescript areas, we came the Cape Cod National Seashore, a large portion of the land at Cape Cod designated as a State Park, largely thanks to the efforts of John F Kennedy.

This area is beautifully unspoilt with lots of trails to explore and needless to say, we just had to take at least one trail.  We prodded our reluctant children along the path of one trail  in what was, in all fairness, bitingly cold wind at times.  We didn’t attempt a second walk….  However, we all enjoyed visiting the Headland Lighthouse about two thirds of the way up the Cape.  This lighthouse had been close to falling into the sea thanks to the erosion of the cliffs on which it perched and was literally rolled back 450 feet from the edge to it’s new location which they believe will keep it safe for another 200 years.  An amazing piece of engineering. 

We loved Provincetown – it had an interesting quirky edge to it – great looking galleries, interesting little shops and restaurants – and rather wished we had been staying there.  However, the area around Falmouth was probably more beautiful – with some lovely properties nestled amongst hills and trees with water views everywhere.  Overall, however, we were just a tad disappointed with Cape Cod.  Compared to the stunning beauty of the White Mountains and even with places such as Kennebunkport further North, we just didn’t feel it quite lived up to the hype.   However, no doubt it’s a different place in the summer – sun and blue skies do make a place so much more beautiful! – and the bitter edge to the wind was really getting to us.  We decided to head further South as fast as possible!

Next stop: Washington and Virginia.
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