Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Destination: Cape Cod

Destination: Cape Cod
We spent the first night of the trip in Bedford, PA.  There, we found a tavern/Bed & Breakfast that was built in the 1760s: the Jean Bonnet Tavern.  This building has seen a lot of American history including meetings of Pennsylvania farmers who were upset about the tax on whiskey.  This was the Whiskey Rebellion and in 1794 George Washington sent troops here to quell the rebellion.  Like the thousands of travelers who have visited this tavern in the past 255 years, we enjoyed a meal of local foods accompanied by locally brewed ale.  You can’t get much better than that!

Jean Bonnet’s is said to be haunted and of course that intrigued us.  We had heard about their Ghost Book so we asked to see it.  It’s filled with photos of orbs, apparitions and stories of mysterious happenings.  Unfortunately, we didn’t witness anything strange, but we plan to come back and spend a night in the B&B.  Can’t wait!

The next morning we traveled backroads through Pennsylvania to Gettysburg.  We started our visit at the Visitor’s Center for a very moving video that relates the events leading up to the Civil War and then provides details about the Battle of Gettysburg.  This video really brings it home.  Afterwards, we were whisked up to the Cyclorama, a 360 degree painting painted in 1894.  The cyclorama is over 40 feet tall, over 370 feet in circumference and depicts Pickett’s Charge.  There is a narrative, special lighting and full sized artifacts that help tell the story of this failed charge and the men who fought in it.  During the viewing you almost forget that it’s a painting and you get really immersed into the battle!

Near Little Round Top
We spent a few more hours visiting the Gettysburg National Cemetery and several of the battle sites including Little Round Top.  You could spend hours or days here and not see it all, but it was time to continue our travels.

The next two days were spent with our “D.C.” friends, Margaret and Pete.  With them we geocached in Delaware (finishing up our counties, there!) and visiting the Eastern Shore.  The Eastern Shore is the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay which has villages and ports scattered throughout.  We stopped for lunch at the Crab Claw in a charming little town called St. Michael’s.  There, overlooking the harbor, I got my first seafood dining lesson of the trip.  

I really really wanted to have a plate of steamed crabs.  (If nothing else I wanted to post of pic of them for a Melissa “Ewwww”!)  However, I learned two things: 1. Twelve crabs are a lot of work to eat and probably won’t fill me.  2. Twelve crabs cost $63!!!  I’m all about trying new foods, but that’s a bit too much even for me!  I settled for two softshell crabs, which are the same crabs but which have molted their shells.  Biting off and chewing on the legs takes some getting used to, but it’s good stuff!

Next up was New York City.  We took a different route this time, crossing from New Jersey onto Staten Island then onto Long Island and Brooklyn via the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  This route gave us incredible vistas of Manhattan and at last we got to cross the iconic Verrazano Bridge!  Mona was driving during this part of the route so I really got to soak it all in.  What a thrill!!!

Then we took the Belt Parkway to Coney Island.  Coney Island!!! How many times have we heard about this legendary boardwalk?  How many TV shows and movies talk about it?!  Turning off the parkway into Coney Island felt like turning into a state fairground with rides and food stands everywhere, except these rides and stands are along busy New York Streets.  Another minor difference is that unlike a state fair, there are no livestock barns here.  Maybe they show up during prime season? :-)
On the Boardwalk!

It didn’t take us long to find a parking spot near our next stop: Nathan’s Famous!  Mind you, this is the original Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand which opened in 1916.  We got in one of the 15 or so lines and quickly got our chili dogs and fries.  Then we headed outside to eat our dogs on Nathan’s patio.  Yum!  The dogs were so totally worth it! 

We then wandered up and down the boardwalk, gawking at all the rides and enjoying the beautiful beach scenery.  It was about 65 degrees and on a mid-May Thursday so there were only a few hundred people around so we had the boardwalk virtually to ourselves.  I can only imagine what Coney Island is like on a mid-summer weekend!

Time to move on, so we headed further down the Belt Parkway and then north on the Van Wyck through Queens, the Bronx and finally to White Plains.  There we stayed in a hotel right in the city center.  The hotel reminded us so much of our old loft that we hated to leave.

The next day we continued to work our way east through Connecticut, making sure to find a
Mystic River Bascule Bridge
geocache in every county in the state.  We ended up, by plan, in Mystic, Connecticut where we revisited the restaurant where three years ago Mona starting loving oysters.  It was like a family reunion as she greeted her old friends: the Ninigrets, the Pemaquids and of course the Noanks.  We even had Noanks for dessert!

Next up was Rhode Island, where we also found a cache in every county.  That makes for three states on this trip in which we’ve found a cache in every county.  Woot!  Okay, that may not mean much to you but for these two geeks this is an accomplishment!

Finally, we were in Cape Cod, the primary target of this trip.  We quickly found our resort hotel, dropped off our bags and headed out for seafood at the closest harbor: Hyannis, the Kennedy’s old playground.  Here there are almost too many seafood restaurants to choose from but our growling stomachs quickly led us to the Black Cat Harbor Shack.  There we sated ourselves with oysters and lobster…..ahhh….we’re finally in Cape Cod.  Time for a nap!

Whales!  Whales!  Whales!  Cape Cod is well known for its rich whaling history so first on our list
was a whale-watching expedition.  We boarded a ship, three times bigger than our Monterey vessel, and headed out into the Atlantic.  All was well for about the first half hour but then we hit fog.  Lots of dense fog all around us.  We were resigned to no whale sightings because you couldn’t see more than 100 feet from the boat; looked like we’d be coming back for a raincheck ride. 

But wait, there at 1:00 (Think of the boat as a large clock face.  The front of the boat is 12:00.  Slightly to the right is 1:00, etc.) was a solitary blow…a humpback gliding along beside us in the fog.  He was huge and looked like a submarine coming to surface!  We traveled along with him for a ways,  watching him dive and surface, and then suddenly he was gone.  We then resigned ourselves to seeing only one whale and getting no raincheck ride.

The huge fin of a humpback getting ready
to slap the water.  Eery in the fog!
The captain decided to take drastic measures to help find another whale.  He turned everything off and everyone on board was asked to be silent so we might hear whales.  Seriously? There we were in the north Altantic drifting about in the heavy fog.  You could hear the waves slapping against the boat and you could see nothing in the pea soup fog.  Suddenly, the on-board naturalist whispered through the PA that she could hear something at 11:00…just over there!  We all peered into the foggy mist and there were two humpbacks on the surface, lazily slapping their fins on the water and seemingly waiting for us to come by and watch their play.  The two kept at it for easily ten minutes when a third whale dropped by to see what was up.  Totally awesome!!!  Now, we weren’t resigned at all; instead, we had a wonderful new encounter to add to our list of whale memories!

We celebrated our whaling encounter with what else?  Seafood of course!  We headed back to Hyannis to Spanky’s Clam Shack.  There I got a bit of an education on language on the Cape.

It started when I ordered a stuffed Quahog pronouncing it as any normal midwesterner would “Kay-hog”.  (Or you might have said, “kwa-hog”.  Either would be correct in my mind.)  However, our server, Judy, seemed puzzled with my order until she brightened up and said, “Oh, you must mean “Ko-hog” right?”  Hmmm….I guessed that’s what I wanted so I said yes.  Turns out a stuffed Quahog (remember the “Qu” sound is "k" and the “a” is pronounced like a long “o” and hog is “hog”)…a stuffed Quahog is a large clamshell stuffed with diced clam and a spicy stuffing.  Total yum regardless of how it’s pronounced!

I then learned about “Whole Belly Fried Clams” (pronounced “Hole bel-lee fry-ed clams”).  Turns out that all the clam strips that I’ve consumed over the years are not sliced strips of clam.  Oh no, they are clam necks.  I guess the marketing whizzes figured that us midwestern folks would balk at eating deep-fried clam necks so they renamed them clam strips.  Clever! Anyway, this is what Judy told us and I haven’t checked it out on Snopes yet.  

Whole Bellied Fried Clams (and fries)
Nonetheless, Judy convinced me to try the whole belly clams.  They came out kind of looking like clam strips, but with a little round ball attached to each one.  Hmmm….  I popped one into my mouth.  The first chew was like a normal clam strip…a little rubbery clam taste with a hint of the breading and saltiness.  Then I bit into the round ball.  It kind of popped, but not, and then a soft almost gooey texture of warm clamminess spread throughout my mouth.  OMG, Yum!!!  I finished the whole plate!

Oh yeah, Mona had something to eat, too…um, shrimp I think.

Monday we decided to drive the Upper Cape and do some exploring.  Cape Cod was formed by glaciers and is essentially a dumping ground for all the rocks and detritus churned up by the glaciers as they moved south.  When the glaciers stopped their southern travels they dropped everything right here.  That left a lot of boulders just strewn everywhere along with lots of ponds created when huge ice chunks came to rest and melt.  All that glacial turmoil ended up creating beautiful scenery for us to enjoy.  Thanks glaciers!

Another key element of the scenery around here is what the colonials did once they landed here back in Pilgrim times.  Since there were so many trees and so little clay they ended up with a wood-based society.  Everything was built of wood, houses, ships, docks…everything.  They ended up clear-cutting all the trees that had been here.  Therefore, there are no old forests here and erosion has created sand dunes where there were no dunes before.  The result is still beauty but it’s sobering to see the effect of man on the ecosystem here.  (I won’t even begin to discuss the huge whale kills nor the lobstering and fishing that depleted so many of the natural resources here.  I’ll save that subject for another time.)

Highland Light
Anyway, we’re driving the Upper Cape enjoying the incredible scenery and visiting lighthouse after lighthouse along the way.  These lighthouses date back to 1797 when George Washington ordered the first one built on the Cape.  They had a variety of configurations and they were built in singles, pairs or threes, to help sailors better determine their location along the Cape.  We saw seven lighthouses and climbed up to the top of one, the Highland Light.  

At the top of the Highland Light
The Highland Light is the oldest lighthouse on the Cape and was authorized by Washington in 1797.  The light was initially provided by burning whale oil, then a six foot tall Fresnel lense using kersone, and now by a fist-size halogen lamp assembly.  Amazingly, this 420 ton lighthouse was moved 450 feet in 1996 to save it from coastal erosion.  They moved it as-as and it’s said that it moved so slowly that it was like watching grass grow.  Still an incredible feat!

We also visited the Old Cove Burial Ground where three of the original Mayflower Pilgrims are interred.  There were lots of gravestones with dates going all the way back to 1660.  Here we also saw lots of stones with the same flying skull engravings that we saw in old cemeteries in Maine.  Interesting!
Flying Skull Grave Stone

Further down the road was a windmill built in Plymouth in 1680 and moved to the Cape in 1770.  Who knew Colonials could move structures like that?!  

Another new experience for us was seeing cranberry bogs.  The bogs are in glacial ponds which filled up with plant residue over millennia creating peat and peat bogs.  The peat is leveled, dikes are built to create fields and then farmers place a layer of a few inches of sand in which the cranberries are planted.  The crop is harvested by flooding the diked area with about 18 inches of water.  Then huge egg-beater like machines churn up the water making the ripe berries separate from the vines.  I would love to come back and watch the harvest!

There is so much to see and do on Cape Cod and we’ve only just begun!  For now, I think we’ll go and get a hamburger.  NOT!

Traveling Tips

This trip we used the free hotel stays earned through the Choice Hotels promotion that we utilized on our California trip.  This included staying for free in a deluxe hotel in downtown White Plains.  Our favorite price is "free"!
My "Ko-hog"

Other than our friends' house and our final destination, we didn't plan where we were staying.  As we drove we'd talk about an interesting place to stay and would use Choice Hotel's iPhone App to find a hotel in our target area.  Then we used TripAdvisor's mobile app to read reviews about the hotels and nearby dining.

Learn the local pronunciations!  “Ko-hog”  “Chow-dah” “Lob-stah” etc.  It just makes dining so much easier!  

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