HOME EXCHANGE IN MASSACHUSSETS – by Bonnie Elliott

 

Bonnie lives in Queensland, Australia, and takes every opportunity to see the world, using home exchange for “immersion” in the local scene, and for budget-balancing. When she and her husband Graham travel, they also pursue their interests in antique china and craft beer.

When you’ve done the “big five” (no, I don’t mean shooting animals in Africa) and visited London, New York, Paris, Rome and Sydney – and you could argue a few more in there – it’s time to consider the rest, and probably the best, of the world.

Every country is composed of a multitude of little places, the little towns and villages where the real people live, which are no less attention-grabbing than the cities. We’ve used our membership of various home exchange organisations to sample life as it is lived without the glitz. Sure, we still like to spend a few days savouring the delights of big city life, so we do that for a few days – but then on to the real holiday!

In 2018, we began our trip by flying to New York, but the real destination for that part was New England. We were too early for the famous Fall Colours, so we experienced the height of Summer – temperatures generally in the 30s Celsius – while the trees were a solid mass of green leaf, the skies were clear blue, and the water was warm enough to swim.

We picked up our hire car at JFK and headed across Long Island to connect with the highway north. Lots of other people were headed that way too, so it was a slow trip, but very leafy and green and pleasant. We planned to visit Newport, Rhode Island on the way, but didn’t have time after the very slow traffic. We stopped for lunch at the pretty town of Milford, Connecticut – first lobster meal of the trip!

 Milford, Connecticut

About 8pm (it should have been a 4-5 hour drive, but somehow it had taken twice that) we arrived at our home exchange in the historic and picturesque town of Marblehead, on the coast north of Boston, Massachusetts

For the next week we had a little apartment which is part of the house, and the photo below was our view (including our car). The weather was very warm end-of-summer, similar to our summer weather at home in Queensland.

Marblehead MA, is a pretty town with buildings dating back to the 1600s – before Captain Cook was even born. Our house, though, was more modern, and overlooked a bay sprinkled with small rocky islands.

Our first day, Saturday, we checked out the town and found the important things – like the craft brewery, the antique shop, and the waterfront restaurants with the ever-present lobster.

The historic buildings in town are well preserved, and many have a plaque showing the year it was built, and the first owner (or two)

Sunday we drove north past Salem (more later), to Essex – billed as the Antiques Capital of America – total fizzer, I didn’t see a single thing I was tempted to buy! We had lunch (not lobster again!) at Woodmans famous lobster and clam place. No, I couldn’t eat it all.

I don’t recall ever seeing lobster served deep-fried in Australia, so it was a new cultural experience – that’s why we travel! It was good, but my tastebuds weren’t really tuned to the batter-and-lobster taste. Or the accompanying mountain of battered onion rings. But there was a lot of it!

We then drove around the very pretty – and pretty crowded – Cape Ann, on the last day of summer vacation. Crawling traffic, nowhere to park, so it was difficult to admire the scenery or the pretty towns. I had that “can’t wait for summer to be over” feeling.

On Monday we circled the island which sits off Marblehead, covered in mansions on leafy streets, with an unattractive but functional lighthouse we could see from our side of the bay. The island is reached via a long causeway road, which fails to keep out foreigners from this very ritzy place. Kind of Great Gatsby-ish. Large marina nearby for the yachts.

Several films have been made in Marblehead – such as The Good Son, Home Before Dark, The Witches of Eastwick, Hocus Pocus ….. are you catching the sinister vibe here?

Then we went to Salem, to check out the witchy history. There’s a whole tourist industry built on the grim past, but we managed to avoid the wax museum and haunted houses and candlelit spook walks, and spent some time walking in the cemetery and the nearby memorials. We’ve all heard the stories of the witch trials and the awful proceedings, but it’s still quite confronting to view a memorial stone noting that someone was hanged or burned or pressed to death, after being found guilty of being a witch. I hope we’ve moved on.

I ponder in the Salem cemetery

The very next day I found myself sitting at a waterfront table at Newport, Rhode Island, with my lobster salad and glass of Sauv Blanc, having the worst day of my life …..

View from my lunch spot in Newport.  Such First World problems we have. Here’s how it happened:

We wanted to visit Nantucket
For a tick on the list in the bucket
First day traffic was a joke
Next day boat engine broke
So we won’t be visiting … (choose your own ending)

According to google and the gps, it was about 1 hr 40 mins from our home exchange to Hyannis, where the ferry to Nantucket leaves from. Apparently that doesn’t account for the gridlocked traffic around Boston, because it actually took three hours. But we’d allowed extra time, so we still would have made it – if the car park wasn’t full and the next one was a shuttle-ride away! As it turned out, we would have missed the ferry by about five minutes.

America’s Cup Inn at Newport – typical of the buildings here

 

So we went to Newport instead, and planned to go to Nantucket the next day.

There were a few places on our list in the area, so we’d booked in to a motel on Cape Cod for the night – Newport was on the plan for day two, so we switched. It was a hot day – predicted between 35 and 38°C. After lunch and a look around in Newport, we drove back to Cape Cod and settled in to our cool motel room for a while (that was a lot of driving!)

For dinner we drove right to the tip of Cape Cod, to Provincetown – best described as “quirky” – and had a nice outdoor dinner in the cool of the evening while we watched the passing parade of interesting people.

Provincetown has a very tall spire which looks just like the bell tower in Siena in Italy. But any other resemblance to Italy escaped our attention.

Bright and early next morning we were on the road for the half-hour, relatively traffic-free drive to Hyannis. We weren’t going to miss that ferry today! We got to the car park before it filled up. We got our tickets for the ferry and we were about the first ones in the waiting room for the 11 am ferry. We went out and lined up for boarding as all the incoming passengers got off. Then we waited. Then at 11 am they announced that the ferry wasn’t going because of “mechanical problems”, so we lined up at the ticket office for a refund (didn’t have time to go on the next one three hours later) and started the drive home. Refer to choose-your-own-ending for the limerick.

Because we now had some discretionary time, we called in at Plymouth and saw the rock, and found a Brewery Pub for lunch, which was conveniently located between two antique shops.

Plymouth, of course, was the landing place of the Mayflower, so it holds a special place in American history. We were keen to see the famous Plymouth Rock – and astounded to see how small it is! However, it is housed in a lovely colonnaded structure by the waterfront, with people-proof fencing.

There’s also a substantial rock wall with jagged rocks on top, all along the oceanfront at Plymouth. I don’t know who built it or paid for it, but it’s probably to stop any more of those English pilgrims coming in.

Back at our home exchange at Marblehead, we had only one more night before setting off north to Maine to our next home exchange.