Saturday, December 8, 2012

Boston, Massachusetts

You know how I said we absolutely love Massachusetts? Boston is another of the major factors in that love affair. Ron had been to Boston as a child and his only strong recollection of the trip was of throwing boxes of “tea” overboard from the decks of the USS Constitution, so most of our trip was pretty new to him too.

We were really lucky to be able to spend the entire day out in port. Even so, there wasn’t a fraction of enough time to do everything that we wanted to. We started the day by heading downtown to Quincy Market where we poked around a little bit and then picked up the Freedom Trail near its midsection. We crossed the street to the site of the Boston Massacre which occurred in 1770, and went onward to The Granary Burying Ground where lies Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and Mother Goose, and then to the Old South Meeting House, Boston Commons, and many more locations along the way. Everywhere we turned there was something interesting of historic or pop significance. I was gleefully overwhelmed by the adventure and was almost sad when our stomachs refused to carry on with us without first being fed.

We find the greatest places to eat. This is not accidental. We’re very, very cheap…*ahem*… I mean frugal, and if we’re going to spend money to eat off of the ship, it’s going to be impressively delicious or incredibly unique in some way. We do our homework, and are rarely disappointed. In Boston, our options were plentiful but we decided on Sam Lagrassa’s. I don’t know if we have ever been as utterly besotted with a food item as we were with the sandwich we ordered from this place. It was divine. Pastrami, coleslaw, and mustard between two unbelievably soft slices of rye bread. Gah!!! It was one of the very best things either of us has ever eaten. Like totally to die for. It came with French Fries that were super crispy and delicious. I loved them and I rarely like French Fries. We almost didn’t have too much of an expectation for this place because it was on Guy Fiari’s Food Network Show, Diner’s Drive-Ins, and Dives, and often places that get a lot of television coverage get overrun with tourists and then the quality disappears. We’re pretty careful about reading reviews and articles from other places (like Yelp! And Trip Advisor, and Lonely Planet etc) to see if one of Guy’s picks is worth our time. This is our second “Dive” and we’re two for two successes. Outstanding! You simply must put it on your list.

After all that amazing history and the incredible lunch, we felt like we should try something a little different so we took the Charlie (or the T) to Jamaica Plains to check out the Sam Adams Factory. We love a good factory tour though neither of us has ever cared too much for Sam Adams beer. The tour was interesting and we had fun sampling dried barley and wheat kernels before we were ushered into the tasting room for 4 free samples of Sam Adams micro-brew. If you don’t know, micro-brew is different than craft beer. Micro-brew is made in smaller batches than those in the large brewing companies, but craft beer has to meet certain specifications. A Craft brewery is, according to the American Brewer's Association, a "small, independent and traditional", and gives a production size of less than 6,000,000 US beer barrels a year and can not be more than 24% owned by another alcoholic beverage company that is not itself a craft brewery. A Micorbrewery simply produces a limited amount of beer per year.We’re more fans of craft beer than micro-brew. As we sipped our tiny brews, we noted that the beer fresh from the brewery was remarkably better than anything we’ve ever had in a bottle or on tap back home. It was really impressive how different the tastes are! We noticed that a couple years ago when we toured the Coors Factory in Golden Colorado, but Coors is still Coors. Sam Adams almost tasted like a different beer. We later got to sample some Boston Brick Red which is only served on tap in Boston. You can’t get it anywhere outside of Beantown. Ron liked it more than I did. It had a tart cherry finish to it that just isn’t my style. But we’re both glad we got to experience something so local.

And that was all we had time for in Boston. It was a lot to fit in for one day but I was ready to keep on going if only the ship weren’t leaving. There is so much left to do. It’s another one of those places we can’t wait to get back to. There aren’t many of those on our list, but Massachusetts certainly stole our hearts.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Towel Animal Takeover

This is a little delayed in being posted, but it was so much fun that I just had to share! One day during the re positioning cruise, the cabin stewards either got incredibly bored or very creative...or both. Here's a few pictures of the result. 

Gloucester, Massachusetts

Well, I have to say that Massachusetts as a whole has become one of our favorite states. We have been enamored with it from the moment we set foot on the shore. Maybe even before. I’ll start with Gloucester because we were there on several occasions. First off, I need to give you a short lecture in diction. This will probably hurt your head.

Gloucester is pronounced Gloss-ter. I cannot explain this. I’m very sorry. I blame the British. If you happen to be from Gloucester, then it’s pronounced Gloss-tah. In fact, anything that ends in “-er” is pronounced “ah.” Lobstah. Cowdah. And so on. So there you go. Now you know how to fit in.

The tender ride into the port in Gloucester is loooooong. If the water is calm, it’s easily a half an hour or more. If it’s choppy, forget it. You’re giving up a good part of your day just getting back and forth. Luckily, most of our days in were nice and clear.

The first day in Gloucester we met a bunch of friends at the port and walked down to Cape Ann Brewing Company to try out the famed Fisherman’s Ale. Ron and I shared a sampler flight of 6 of their beers. There were so many to choose from. We really, really liked all of them and I think it was tough to choose a favorite for Ron. I’ll always choose an IPA if its available so finding my favorite was easy. But I also really liked their Imperial Pumpkin Stout, though a little went a long way for me. This was probably one of our favorite beer tasting experiences ever and definitely our favorite of this contract. The atmosphere was also part of the experience. The brewery also had a restaurant and a huge outdoor patio overlooking the water. The main room was filled with casual wooden picnic benches and every seat both inside and out was full with a laid back crowd. Such a nice time!

On the way back we stopped to check out the local Fish Box Derby which is Gloucester’s version of a Soap Box Derby. Two kids at a time whizzed down the hill in front of the Gorton’s Headquarters (you're singing the theme song in your head now, right?) in homemade derby cars all painted and decorated creatively. The street was lined with hay bales and the locals lined the entire length of the street. It was so fun! Having grown up in Southern California, Ron and I never experienced that kind of small town activity so we always get really excited to see that kind of community fun.

On another day in Gloucester, we walked up and down Main Street to see all of the shops and restaurants. We spent some time in a kitchy little coffee shop to catch up on some WiFi time and then stopped to split a deli sandwich from Virgilio's Italian Bakery  which is rumored to have some of the best subs around. It was pretty good and I’m glad we tried it, but it wasn’t anything special. One of my favorite sub sandwiches of all time is still anything from D.W.’s Subs on Kellogg Dr. in Anaheim, CA.  I’m probably a little bit biased because it was one of the only places we could walk to from my high school, but dang I love those things! Anyone I’ve ever introduced to the place seems to agree with me though, so I know it can’t all be in my head. But I digress, a sandwich that was not made on the ship is always a good sandwich, so we walked away happy. Later we decided to head down to the Fisherman’s Memorial which is the statue of the fisherman that is featured in the beginning of the George Clooney movie, The Perfect Storm.  

Gloucester is one of those places that made me feel a sense of home from the very first time we visited. I loved just walking down the streets, even in the residential or fishing areas just to check things out and absorb the feeling of the place. It’s a really great, quaint fishing town with plenty of character. There’s not so much to do that it attracts throngs of tourists, but enough to do, so even after four visits, we never got bored. Something about it is just nice. I can’t wait to go back…one day.

Newport, Rhode Island

Newport was another one of those ports where we weren’t able to spend a lot of time in but it is also a place I think I would enjoy more in late summer than in mid-fall. The tender ride is on the longer side but it takes you through a beautiful trail of sailboats and buoys bobbing on the wake. It’s very nice. There’s plenty of shopping and no shortage of wonderful places to eat. The first time we go off the ship in Newport we met up with Brian for lunch. Newport has a wide array of raw bars and we indulged in a plate full of oysters and a cup of clam chowder. Perfection! Then Ron and I walked around town a while (there’s a theme here I think) and then headed back to the ship.

The next time we hit Newport we shared a cab with three of our friends and headed to Coastal Extreme Brewing Company. If you’re a Mike Rowe fan (as am I, *swoon*) then you may have seen this place on Dirty Jobs (Not something we watch regularly but we'll be finding this episode on You Tube for sure). His shirt is on the wall. I considered distracting the employees, grabbing it, and running away but I didn’t want Ron to have to bail me out of jail. Coastal Extreme was also on The Food Network show Drinking Made Easy. Clearly their publicist is a genius.

Mike Rowe's Shirt!

There is a weird thing that happens when you live on a ship. Your sense of time and day is distorted. Maybe it’s because reality is pretty much suspended for months at a time. But of the five of us, not a one among us thought about the fact that we were rolling up to a brewery at 11:15AM. Not only is that a totally inappropriate time to start drinking beer, but they weren’t even open until noon. Duh. So we stood around for 45 minutes taking advantage of the fact that we were in a US port and our phones were functional, and making fun of ourselves for being such “ship people.” Good work guys. The tasting was pretty cool though, and we really enjoyed the 5 samples of micro-brew they gave us. Definitely on the list of better beers we’ve tried.

The last time we were supposed to be able to go into Newport, the beginnings of Hurricane Sandy prevented us from making it in and our last day in New England sadly became another sea day. More on that story later. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bar Harbor, Maine

I love, love, love Bar Harbor! It is such a great place. There is so much to do and see and taste and smell and experience. I could spend a month there and never get bored.

The first time we stopped in Bar Harbor we walked up and down Main Street popping in and out of all the little stores. I don’t tend to be a shopper and I rarely if ever feel compelled to buy anything that isn’t almost entirely practical, but I wanted to buy like, everything I saw. I practiced serious restraint and walked away without doing any damage to our bank account. Phew!

One afternoon we went to Stewman’s By The Bay and split a 3lb lobster for lunch. Before you gasp and wonder how much HAL must be paying us to be able to afford a lobster the size of large breed puppy, lobster was really cheap this year. Apparently something killed off one of lobster’s natural predators resulting in an abundance of lobster this year. Fine by me! We got such a kick out of shucking our treat and enjoying every last bit of it. I found it amusing that the lobster claws were literally the same size as my own hand! Oh, and Maine lobster is something special for sure. It tastes so different than anything I’ve ever had at home. Yum!

One of the sad things about Bar Harbor is that we were DYING to go to Acadia National Park and each week our trip there had to be postponed due to one thing or another that needed attention on the ship. Finally during our last stop there, we finally had enough time to get out there and head to the park. All geared up and ready for a good hike followed by a popover and blueberry iced tea from the Jordan Pond House, we headed out to catch the shuttle bus into the park…only to discover that they had stopped running the busses a week before. There was no way to get to the park from where we docked in town without having private transportation. I was so heartbroken that I teared up in public. Not my MO. So now Acadia is on the top of the list of camping vacations in our near future. But we made the best of the rest of the day and took the opportunity to walk around town one more time and to play in the beautiful fall leaves. 

Canada: Prince Edward Island

For those of you who have known me for any length of time, you already know why this port was the crown jewel of the contract for me. I give you fair warning, if you don’t know what I’m talking about right now, this is going to be the most boring blog ever for you. Feel free to skip it because I’m about to geek out - big time.

That’s right, PEI is the setting for Anne of Green Gables!!! I couldn’t love a literary character more than Anne Shirley, with all of her drama and imagination and penchant for big words. I think most people I’ve talked to know Anne from the movies, and while I’ll always favor the book in any circumstance, this is the one anomaly I can think of in which the movies are just as good as the books. But I’m going to disappoint you a little now. Are you ready? OK. The movies weren’t filmed on PEI but rather in Ontario, Canada. Are you disappointed? I was too for a second, but I got over it really quickly when we took off in our fancy rental car (OMG you guys! The cup holders had a button you could press to either warm or cool your drink!) and started driving towards the other side of the island. I was smitten with the island before we even got to the “Anne House.” It reminded me in many ways of Lancaster, PA with its winding roads lined with farms and fields and dotted with tractors and cows and sheep. Patches of trees on fire with fall colors lit up the sides of hills and surrounded lakes (of shining waters – ha). The roads are empty and wide and you feel this sense of freedom and peace as you drive over the crests of hills and around bends full of trees reaching out their arms in a display of red and yellow and orange. 

We stopped at a little beach with dunes that reminded me of a scene in one of the movies where Anne is standing on the shore, her hair blowing in the breeze and her head off in the clouds as usual, when a gust of wind catches the manuscript she is holding and blows it all over the beach. Of course, as I walked along with my toes in the red sand that PEI is known for, I looked just like Anne did…in my head. As my own mind wandered through the pages of L.M. Montgomery’s novels that have been permanently ingrained in my mind, Ron stood back and allowed me to sink blissfully into my dorky literary gleefulness. 

We arrived at the Anne House before the droves of tour buses got in and had the whole area practically to ourselves. It was perfect! We toured the home and farm that belonged to L.M. Montgomery’s uncle and inspired the setting for the Anne series. We also got to walk through the Haunted Wood where Anne twisted her ankle walking home with Diana Barry and then created so many scary images in her own mind that she caused herself to pass out while Diana ran for help. And later I got to walk down Lover’s Lane with my very own Gilbert Blythe. Good thing that awful Josie Pye wasn’t around! 

Lover's Lane
 On our way out we stopped by the gift shop and snagged a bottle of raspberry cordial. Thankfully it was truly raspberry cordial and not Marilla’s currant wine that got Diana drunk and caused Mrs. Barry to forbid her to see Anne ever again.

Ok, ok, ok, I’ll give you a break from my little nerd-fest here. But seriously, this was an absolute dream come true for me. There are very few places I have left to go and even fewer that are “life-long” dreams. If I have learned nothing else the past few years, I have learned that what you build up in your mind about a place is usually much more wonderful than the place itself, so when PEI did not let me down, even a little, I was delighted. It couldn’t have been better.

Anyhow, after we (sadly) said farewell to L.M. Montgomery’s imagination, we were starving and decided to stop off for "land lunch" and this really unbelievably amazing ice cream from a place called Cow’s. We couldn’t find a subway so we stopped at Boom Burger instead. It’s exactly like 5 Guys except they have a poutine option for the French fries. If you don’t know this already, poutine is a uniquely Canadian concoction of salty brown gravy poured over cheese curds and French fries. I’ll try just about anything but I was hesitant with the poutine. It just didn’t sound that good to me (if you know me, you know I generally snub junk food). I stand corrected. Poutine is awesome! You must give it a try once in this lifetime. After lunch we headed over to Cow’s and split a scoop of ice cream. If it weren’t for the fact that we just ate burgers, we probably would’ve gotten three scoops each. This stuff is so delicious. I don’t know what they do to get their ice cream so smooth and creamy, but whatever it is, all other ice cream companies should take a lesson. Plus they put something in some of their flavors that they call Moo Crunch and I’m pretty sure it’s exactly what heaven tastes like. It’s ridiculous. 

So all of that was our last day on PEI. I wrote about it first because I was just that excited over it. We had been to the island a few other times before we had the chance to get out to do the whole Anne thing, but mostly we just walked around Charlottetown, found some wifi, peeked in the little shops, and enjoyed the coastal air. Oh and of course we got PEI muscles for lunch once. You just can’t go to the island and not get muscles. It’s their thing, ans they are really, really good when they’re that fresh.

I guess you can tell that I really loved this port. If you’ve ever wanted to go, I highly recommend it!

Canada: Quebec City, Quebec

 Quebec, is an amazing city! There is so much to do and see, a ton of history, strong French influence, stunning buildings, lovely rambling walkways made of cobblestone, fantastic restaurants, character and charm flows through the veins of this place. I really missed out on a lot of breathtaking picture opportunities because it was incredibly cold when we were there. I did get a few good shots in though. Here are some of my favorites.

 We were only in Quebec twice but we had a double overnighter there both times so we spent a total of six days in Quebec. The first time we were there we mostly just walked around the town. We also took a ride in the funicular to catch one of the best views of the ship and the city that I have ever seen in a port town. Really breathtaking. Of course I didn’t have my camera with me...but I got this cell phone shot of the funicular. Not quite as exciting…

The next time we were in Quebec we went on a date night to L’Oncle Antoine because we heard the French Onion Soup was divine. The restaurant itself is small and dimly lit. The building is very old and the inside is made of entirely exposed brick. The low ceilings are rounded and gives the place a warm, cozy atmosphere. I wish I had photos to share with you because truly, it was just incredible. We each ordered the legendary onion soup and were blown away. It was so good! We enjoyed our quiet time off the ship together and took the opportunity to walk through some of the less crowded areas of town to just enjoy each others’ company away from the usual madness of daily life.

Later, we went out with some of our ship friends (Brian & Jen) and explored some areas a little further away from the ship. We discovered a micro-brewery on the other side of town and wandered in to check it out. It was dark, warm, loud, rustic, and crowded. We jammed ourselves into a rickety table near the door and ordered a sampler of their beers to share between the four of us. Brian is Canadian and likes Canadian beers, often taking the opportunity to make fun of US beers. We think he’s just jealous that we make way better beer than Canada. But even Brian didn’t really like the micro-brew from this place, so we finished up and moved along. The rest of the night was spent wandering in and out of various clubs and bars along the main street in town. My favorite was a funky little place with an industrial theme that handed out marshmallows on skewers and then lit a well full of alcohol on fire so that a short burning flame raced along the bar and stayed lit just long enough to toast the outside of the marshmallows. It was so cool to see, and it made the room smell so sweet! At the end of the night we found an Irish pub with live music and met up with a few more people from the ship and enjoyed the band until they closed down and kicked us out. That might make us sound either very cool or very silly for being our age and still closing down the bars, but I can assure you none of us are cool enough to pull of a wild club scene nor were any of us channeling our inner-21-year-olds, but simply, when you live on a ship and you have the opportunity to avoid the ship for an extended period of time, you will take that opportunity every time no matter where you are or what venue is available to you. Just so happens that the bars were open and the coffee shops are not. You take what you get.

And that’s Quebec City!