Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vacation Journal Part 1

Boston, Saugus, Salem, Rockland, Niagara (July/August 2009)

~ 12 day trip, crazy cabs, neked dreams, whales, sailboats, history and falls, we had it all ~

Day 1 ~ The flight and dinner cruise

Instead of a limousine car, this time Dad ordered a limousine bus (recommendation by Greg), because the limousine car doesn't have much room in the trunk and last time we went to the airport via car, we ended up with suitcases at our feet and on the seats. What can I say? My family likes to pack for a trip.

At the airport, we went inside and stood in LONG line (at 4am, we couldn’t believe it was that long!). Then we see Roda pointing to a "First Class" sign for check in. They went to that line and I said, "No, no. This is the line." R&R corrected me and I thought, "They're joking!" until I looked at the ticket receipts Dad printed up for us. Woah! First Class. No kidding! This would be my second time First Class and Greg's first time. Dad was able to get the upgrade because last minute the prices dropped considerably and they had six seats available. Woo Hoo!

First Class, it's not just about the plane, it's about the lines and the luggage. There was a quick line for check in as well as for security and I wondered why our luggage had an extra bright yellow sticker added "Priority First Class." I mean, what would they do differently with the luggage?? Come to find out ~ that's the luggage they unload first, so you are out of the baggage claim - Fast! N.I.C.E.

The First Class seats were so comfy. We were seated first but we didn't have seats together. I was at the very end of the First Class section and the lady next to me very kindly exchanged seats with Greg when he asked if she wouldn't mind changing locations for him to sit next to his wife. Awww. The breakfast choice was omelet or cereal. By the time they got to our seats, the flight attendant advised that they no longer had omelets? What? First Class oppsy on that. Ah well. Greg ordered cereal and said, "MMMM... it's fresh." I had to laugh. We didn't realize all the orders came with fruit, yogurt, biscuits, bananas and these cute little salt and pepper shakers and white linen and real silverware.

Roda was sweet and sent her omelet order to us, saying that she and Rob could split their breakfast and this way, we could split the omelet order as well (which, came with not just an omelet, but a spinach quiche, ham and sausage, as well as the fruit, etc.)

We arrived in Logan Airport, Boston, Massachusetts. Dad rented a 12-passenger van and Greg took out his GPS. Ok, I've been to New York City and I know it's crazy driving there. But Boston has NYC beat - hands down! It's INSANE! And if the drivers aren't insane - I mean, to the point that you really do put your life on the line driving on those roads - then the roads themselves are ridiculous. At one point Greg missed a tollbooth and had to back up the van to get to the booth. Greg said, "Sorry, we're from New Orleans." The toll booth guy asked us if we needed directions to the Radisson.

Greg, (MALE), replied, "No, I have my GPS." The toll booth guy replied, "I'll be seeing you in 20 minutes then!"

We all gave a nervous laugh as we tried to decipher his meaning ~ we were going the wrong way? we would get lost? What exactly did his comment mean..... and then, we found out. GPS doesn't work in a tunnel.

"The Big Dig" ~ Because Bostonians don't like bridges – (bridges take away from the skyline) - they went underground instead. It's not like it's one big tunnel. It's a whole lot of different tunnels and at the end of each tunnel, you can go left, right and straight. (We found out from the our last tour guide, Bill, that if the stripe on the tunnel wall is Blue - that means you are under water and if the stripe is brown, you are under land.)

The GPS signal gets lost in the tunnel and when you come out of the tunnel, it takes a few seconds to pick up a signal again on the GPS. So, while you wait for the GPS to locate you, you have to take a guess right, left or straight and by the time the GPS has hooked up with you again - dang if you aren't going through ANOTHER tunnel! It was insane, I tell you.

Now, couple all that with some of the rudest, craziest, cut you off from the right side to make a left in front of you drivers. It was... hair raising.

Oh and .... first time Greg driving with Mom and Dad at the helm. They were saying, "But Greg the GPS said this" and trying to say, "But do we go here." and "I think we should stop for directions.." Greg wanted to pull what little hair he had left right out. He said, "Aleta, you are going to be my co-pilot. There are too many people giving directions." I thought he did an excellent job. I know I couldn't have managed that drive.

Our Radisson accommodations were comfy rooms, good location to many attractions within walking distance - oh Thank God! Walking. I'll walk to my heart's content and stay away from the streets.

The first night in Boston, we took a dinner cruise boat called "Spirit of Boston." It gave us a sunset tour along the waters. Elegantly decorated tables and a dance floor, as well as a buffet meal. The family rated the food a little low, but me ~ well, I never have high expectations for food on vacation. Rarely do I find a place that is as good as New Orleans when it comes to dining. I enjoyed the dancing and entertainment and loved going outside to take pictures of the area. Mom and Dad even got on the dance floor - yeah, they still have the moves!

On the way back to the hotel, we took a cab. Only, we couldn't all (6 of us) get in the same cab, so we took two cabs. Greg, Mom and I were in one and we saw that the other cab went a different way to the hotel. I strongly believe that the cab driver took us the longer route, a VERY long route, through several tunnels (Dad, R&R didn't go through tunnels via their cab) so he could charge a higher fare. We got into a huge traffic jam in the tunnel, with no AC, it was hot and humid and smelling the exhaust fumes,

Dad called Mom to find out where we were, because they left after us and were already at the hotel! Our cab driver was ticked, because Greg commented about the other cab taking a faster, different route. The rest of the way back, our driver went nuts. He started saying we didn't have to pay for the ride and I guess after nearly getting us hit two times, we shouldn't have paid. Greg didn't pay the full amount, just the amount that Dad said he paid for their ride (difference of 8 dollars versus 25 which our cab would have charged).

Go ahead and ask me if we took another cab ride in Boston after that - noooooooooooooooo. (Though, for those of you who are brave enough to do anything other than WALK in that city - Greg found out the name of the organization that regulates the cab drivers. He was prepared to flash such information in front of the next cab driver if we had to...)

Day Two – Jane’s Boston Tour and The Jersey Boys musical

The second day of vacation began with a personal tour guide. Jane Sciacca, author of three history books for children and president of the Wayland Historical Society and was a guide at the National Park, was our tour guide - what an absolute treat! She picked us up in her vehicle and drove (calmly) and even did a great job of parallel parking (I say this, because she said her husband wouldn't believe the perfect job she did with the parking).

When Greg mentioned to Jane about the crazy Bostonian drivers, she replied, "I have a theory about that. This is the place where we had to fight for our independence. We went against the rules back then, those years ago and Bostonians carry on that tradition with their driving now. There are no rules." 'Nuff said.

I'll say this ~ if you go to Boston, hire Jane as your tour guide. She catered the tour to what we wanted to see and oh my gosh, filled the trip with oodles of historical information. Our first destination was Paul Revere's house. Greg and I both appreciated the humble home and 18th century construction (built about 1680) with mostly original furnishings. It was a small home and I thought, "He had16 children?"

Jane did correct something most people comment on, "Paul Revere never said, "The British are coming!" He said, "The Regulars are out!" After all, they were all British."

She continued, "Most people believe it all started because of taxes. But the colonies already had taxes for specific items and reasons and governed themselves. The colonies were organized and structured and then the British wanted to tax to pull in needed money. It wasn't taxes per se that upset the colonies, because they had taxes. It was the feeling of someone taking control when Britain placed their own taxes in order to generate money." In essence, we fought for freedom of control and the ability to become independent, not for the simple reason of "taxes."

Paul Revere talked with the leaders of the community and they came up with the "one if by land, two if by sea" warning system. Jane explained, "there was only one route to get to the area by land and two ways if they came by sea."

Revere set up the system - signal lanterns would be placed in the belfry of the Old North Church. If two lanterns were hung, the British would be crossing the Charles by boat. If one lantern, the attack would be via land route. Paul Revere, who was not a member of Old North, knew it well because he had been a bell-ringer there as a 15 year old boy. He knew that lanterns shining from the steeple of the tallest building in Boston at the time would clearly be seen on the other side of the harbor.

When Revere knew the British were coming by sea, off he went on his legendary ride. Because of Paul Revere, the British completely lost the element of surprise.

I read this funny bit of information, when Revere needed to muffle the sound of the oars of his boat, because the Somerset (British man-of-war) was anchored right there in the harbor... Revere had to row right by them and if the British heard the oars, he would be captured. Revere didn't bring along pieces of cloth to wrap the oars and muffle the sound. One of the men with Revere went to his girlfriend's house and requested her petticoat! And so, there you go, beneath the woman’s petticoat quiet they went.

Paul Revere did not actually light the lanterns himself. Robert Newman, the church sexton/caretaker, agreed to help. Around 10pm that evening, April 18, 1775, Newman entered through the front doors of the church, went up the stairs to the balcony and slipped through the doorway. From there he climbed the 14-story steeple in complete darkness and when he reached the very top, he lit and briefly held up two lanterns in the window. He probably only held the lanterns for less than a minute, but long enough to be seen not only by the patriots but also by the British troops. Newman escaped arrest by going down the center aisle and escaping through the window to the right of the altar, which is called the "Newman" window in his memory.

I should add at this point that the next place we went to was the Old North Church, built in 1723. Immediately upon entering, we noticed something strange. There aren't pews. There are boxes that section off areas. They are called "box pews." A family would go into the box, with a foot heater to keep warm. Greg and I walked around, feeling the peace yet... also... wow, the history and can you imagine the energy and tension and passion if those walls could speak, just knowing what was about to happen those years and years ago.

Jane then took us to the Boston Public Library/Museum. She showed us the "before" Boston, which was more like an island with just a sliver of land going to the mainland and thus making the "one by land" warning more concrete in our minds. Versus the Boston of today, with land filled in. She said that the way to know if it's "old" Boston is that it will be hilly and if it's "new" Boston, the ground is flat. How funny, but good tip!

She also said that a lot of the tourist want to be brought to the place of the famous "Tea Party" (where 90,000 pounds of tea where tossed into the water as a defiance). Ah, but it is most disappointing to them when it's not water but land that she brings them to as the area of the Tea Party is all filled in now.

Lunch was a bit of history too at the Warren Tavern. The British as a means to punish the colonies burned Charles Town. But instead of creating fear, it gave the colonies even more reason for anger and passion to fight. I mention this, because the Warren Tavern was in Charles Town and was burned. It was the first building to be restored after the fire. Paul Revere named it after his friend, Warren, who died in the battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Imagine how this tavern was the hub of gossip and news and important to the community as a network of communication. I couldn't find much about Warren, but thought this was interesting: "The Prime Minister of Great Britain, described Warren to King George as "the greatest incendiary in North America". Warren by his nature, was not a radical, and it was only after years of failure in attempting closer ties between Great Britain and the colonies that he began his work to build a separate nation."

At this point, we took a break away from history and drove down Beacon Hill. John Kerry has 4 homes, one of which is on Beacon Hill. It’s more like a townhouse and went for 4.6 million dollars. Million dollars for a Townhouse? AND…. people will, on average, pay 130,000 for a PARKING PLACE. (The record sale of a parking place was 300,000.) That’s ludicrous. It’s a parking place along the road and the person has to move the vehicle out of the parking area if it’s snowing, so the snow machines can pass through. (Crazy Bostonians, I tell you!)

Back to history ~ Jane took us to the National Park, which was celebrating the 50th Anniversary, claiming, "Honoring the Past; Inspiring the Future" (reference to the Minute Man)

She took us to the Battle Road, it's a path taken by the retreating British Soldiers back to Boston after the initial shots of the American Revolutionary War were fired at the North Bridge in Concord. The National Park preserved 5.5 miles of the path and passes a lot of farmland and buildings. You could feel the need of the farmers, the desire to protect their families and crops and homes. One of the buildings we stopped had a presentation going on and we listened in on the lady as she demonstrated the firing of a musket. Not like the easy and quick weapons of today's world. The lady wore Colonial attire and explained while she demonstrated. I thought it was cool.

From there, we went to the bridge ~ where the first shots were fired, making the phrase, "The shot heard around the world." From "Concord Hymn" (1837)

"By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard 'round the world."

On the side where the British came from, there is a monument and on the other side of the bridge, a monument for the Minute Man. There were two casualties on both sides when the guns went off. On roads where homes and farmland where a way of life, where families needed protecting, more and more, the colonist joined rank and drove the British back. At the bridge, I was feeling the peace and beauty of the place. Greg said, "I can understand the desire to fight for this." He was feeling the energy and what it must have been like, the determination and need.

I must say this ~ reading about it in a textbook, not nearly the experience as being there. There, where the events actually occurred a few hundred years ago ~ so much more the feel of what happened.

Our next stop was the visitor's center, which hosted a theater show that lasted about 20 minutes. It tied everything together, putting the sequence into a timeline with a map that lit up to pinpoint locations as it was being narrated. The film ended with a quote from one of the colonist about how it was a changed time, where we are enemies where once, a generation ago, we were brothers. This made me feel sad, because it was British against British, there is that bond there and to have broken and uprooted by colonies who wanted independence and to be self-sufficient ~ America was built on that, with a passion that drives deep. Yes, it made me sad, but yet, I ever grateful.

And that... was just day 2 of our vacation, but what a way to bring us to Boston and bring us history. Thank you, Jane!

You would think that would be the end of day two, not so ~ that night, we walked through Boston's theater district, bustling with activity and saw the musical performance, "Jersey Boys." It sang through the story of Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons, showing how the inspiration for some of the songs came to life. People cheered and clapped for just about all of the songs, because wow - the singers did a fantastic job. "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" - I swear, I was ready to get up and dance. The energy was in the air! But honestly, it wasn't just a musical, just a concert, it was a story that was told about life and relationships and friendships. Greg said afterwards, "I really wasn't expecting much of the performance, but I really, really enjoyed it!"

And afterwards, yes, we are still on day two... we went to the restaurant recommendation by Jane. When we told her we were thinking about going to S&W (Smith and Wollensky) she immediately said, "Oh no, don't go there. There's a much better restaurant in town." What, there's someone who can beat S&W? We had to try it out, but I didn't have high hopes. I was SO WRONG. McCormick and Schmick’s rocks - it is a high-end restaurant that S&W can't hold a candle to. We were given a private room for our party and the food was out of this world good! I'd go back there in a heartbeat!

(This is part one of the vacation journal. I will post part two and part three in the next few days. Greg told me, “Blog posts shouldn’t be more than three paragraphs max.” Hope you made it this far!)


Kavi said...

Thats a wonderful account ! And very inspiring...

I must myself get to Boston sometime. The first class tickets, i must manage by myself though !!


Gary Rith Pottery Blog said...

TRUE, that: Boston driving is rude and impossible, and New Orleans food is the best :)

♥ Boomer ♥ said...

What a vacation!!!! Awesome, Aleta!

*Akilah Sakai* said...

Now that's what I call an unforgettable vacation!

Aleta, you did a fantastic job on this. We're all getting a FUN history lesson, which is cool. I'll admit I'd forgotten certain things from Social Studies over the years.

Looking forward to the next 2.

*Akilah Sakai* said...

Now that's what I call an unforgettable vacation!

Aleta, you did a fantastic job on this. We're all getting a FUN history lesson, which is cool. I'll admit I'd forgotten certain things from Social Studies over the years.

Looking forward to the next 2.

Rush said...

cool travelogue..u guys look like rockstars in the Spirit of Boston picture..great family photo.
Great history every place u look into..i want more pictures in part 2..waiting anxiously :)

Joanna Jenkins said...

Aleta, It sounds like a fabulous trip so far! can't wait for the rest.

I'd love to see "Jersey Boys". Frankie Vallie brings back so many memories :-)


carma said...

Made it to the end. I had to stop for a snack break in between ;-)

How about that shifty cab driver???

Debbie said...

Sounds like a great trip and quite the adventure.
Dropped by from SITS.

Debbie said...

Sounds like a great trip and quite the adventure.
Dropped by from SITS.

Mari said...

What a wonderful trip. It started off great too - first class! I've never been there and don't see it happening in the near future!

Morgan said...

Sounds like you had a fab vaca, can't wait to read about the rest!

Thanks for stopping by my digs today!

The Forscheins said...

What a great vacation Aleta! The north-east is so pretty!! I love the pictures too. Now to await part II......

Sucharita Sarkar said...

You have had so much fun! the account and the pictures were great!

Grace said...

good for you for keeping a record of your adventure! my thoughts: i've never seen a limo bus, boston is in a seemingly permanent state of disarray, and war re-enactments are frickin awesome. i'm looking forward to the next part!

Lilly said...

I did make it this far and enjoyed every word. So you are back from your vacation already - excuse my comment on your latest post. Flying first class, well done to your Dad! I have not been to Boston but my daughter has. And I would really like to go see the Jersey Boys - I love a lot of those songs... you could be a travel writer Aleta. I would like to go there for a visit now I have read this. Look forward to the next instalments. Tell Greg he was game to drive in those conditions - if he can manage that perhaps he could drive in Asia - that will be his next challenge...insane it is. Mind you Italy was insane as well.

Ranger Jane said...

So glad that you enjoyed the tour and Jersey Boys. I was wondering how you liked the show.