Thursday, 29 September 2011

USA Today (5) Camden to Acadia (George Bush, mountains and cabins)

I wasn’t a happy camper. My knee had started to give me some serious gip, my fit flops had rubbed great ulcers on my feet and I had many, many itchy mosquito bites – 23 on my right leg alone. I always knew I was tasty but this was ridiculous. However, it was a lovely morning so I didn’t stay grumpy for long. 

We had an action packed day full of things to do, so we packed away our tent and headed into Camden for breakfast. As part of the Windjammer Festival celebrations, the local Camden Rotary were cooking a pancake breakfast in the car park. For next-to-nothing you could have blueberry pancakes, sausages, maple syrup and coffee – and you could keep going back until you exploded.

My dad is a very active member of his local Rotary, so I asked the three wise men who were taking payment in their Rotary International aprons, whether I could take their photo to show him. They duly obliged, but not until one of them had disappeared and then re-emerged as George Bush! I don’t know why, but it made us all laugh.


George Bush - an active member of Camden Rotary

Community spirit.

Who would have thought sausages & maple syrup could work so well.

By now the town was overrun with Pirates, including one with a rat in a cup. ‘Ho Ho Ho, it’s a rattaccino’ he bellowed. They had come to Camden by land, sea and mobility scooter. The latter was flying the skull and cross bones and had a brass telescope lashed to the front. Maybe Long John Silver had got tired of his wooden leg?

One of the stranger things that I like to do when I am travelling is to read the graffiti in public toilets. I’ve learned many things in the past, like which girls in the Australian town of Cooma allegedly have syphilis. Well I’m happy to announce that in Camden, Harry Potter is alive and well, carving ‘The Half Blood Prince’ into the cubicle door. Of all the things in the world to write on a toilet door, it was a puzzler. Maybe it was a clue? Maybe it was a route into the Chamber of Secrets? Maybe a Basilisk lived down the toilet which was going to rear up and speak to me in parceltongue? Maybe the blueberries George Bush had given me in my pancakes were hallucinogenic?

So long Camden.

Much as we wanted to stay for the lobster crate race, we needed to head north. Acadia National Park on Mt Desert Island was calling. 

Beyond Belfast we drove through Searsport, where I really started to notice for the first time, just how much American’s love their flag - attaching them to telegraph poles to make a patriotic archway of stars and stripes for us to drive through. I was puzzled. Was I in danger of forgetting what country I was in? I’d been served blueberry pancakes for breakfast by George Bush, I was driving on the wrong side of the road and Bruce Springsteen was belting out ‘Born in the USA’ on the radio. Where else could I possibly be?

Back home in England, we might invest in some Union Jack bunting for a royal wedding or jubilee, but as soon as it’s gone up, it’s down again and stuffed in a wheelie bin. 

Even campers in America – before getting their tent out, one of the first things they often do is plant their flag, claiming their territory like Neil Armstrong on the Moon.

It was only later in our trip, when we’d been through many similar towns and villages that I realised that America is so big and so diverse, that it’s at constant risk of fragmenting. It probably needs the constant reminder of the flag, that one symbol which unifies and draws everyone together. An American friend once said to me, ‘You’re OK, you’ve been around for ages. Everybody knows who you are. We’re the new guys. We have to get our branding out.’ 

<<Car Radio - Song of the Day>>

'When I die, bury me in satin.
Lay me down on a bed of roses.  Sink me in the river – at dawn.

It was so ridiculous that I started singing along with my own version:

When I die, pop me in a track suit. Lay me down in a fiery furnace. Flush me down the toilet – at dawn ....... 

You’ve got to admit, mine is the better version!

It was still early, so we decided to venture a slight detour to the  Blue Hill peninsular and tackle climbing the ‘Blue Hill’. 

I’ve not climbed up a big thing since we almost made it up Mt Snowden in 2009. Cancer treatment kind of knocks it out of you. Last summer I couldn’t even make it back up to the car park in St. Ives without sobbing with exhaustion. But this year it’s different. ‘Bring it on’ I thought and without a suitable road to drive up, if I wanted the view there was very little alternative. It was going to be a challenge, but I was ready for it.

Or so I thought.

The first part of the climb was across a relatively steep field of pasture. I found it really hard to get into my stride and it was so hot that my eyeballs started to sweat and steamed up my sun glasses. I needed a de-mister! 

Keep up Tris.

‘Come on Alison – you can do this’ I snarled at myself, willing myself on to reach the bench at the top of the field. ‘I will get there’, I said to Tris. ‘It just might take me a little while’.


Making progress.

Tris was great. In his wedding vows he promised to encourage me to reach my goals. He certainly did that. He’d never shown much interest in photographing fungus or stalking squirrels before, but it gave us an excuse to climb the mountain slowly with lots of rests, without me feeling guilty for slowing him down. I’m not much of a mountain goat.



Interesting fungus.

Stalking red squirrels.


More interesting fungus.

Although we’d chosen to walk up the steep route, suddenly from nowhere, two cowboys appeared, crashing through the undergrowth on horseback. They didn’t stick to the path, they just went straight down the mountain. And then they were gone. Tris and I looked at each other with ‘Did you just see that?’ looks on our faces. We shook our heads in disbelief and carried on upwards. 

So close.

You could almost smell it.


I found the climb really hard, but I did it and the view from the top was worth all the effort. There beneath us was a huge fried egg lake with a forest yolk. As I went to sit on a boulder a bright, lime green snake slithered out of my way. 


I did it!
And I got up there first!

It wasn’t just the view that was glorious, it was my achievement. I’d tested myself with my toughest physical challenge so far and I’d done it. It was another step in the right direction away from the hollow shell that cancer temporarily turned me into.

On to Ellsworth for lunch - the gateway to Mt Desert Island and Acadia National Park – where we dined at The Riverside Cafe, which wasn’t actually by the side of the river at all. The waitress told us that we were ‘very welcome’ when we ordered our club sandwich and then when she asked us how it was (we did the usual ‘Oh yes, very good’) she replied, ‘kinda hard to muck up a sandwich’. 

Quick as a flash Tris was in there with ‘well Subway manage!’ Back of the net – nice one hubster!

Keen to see the riverside we went wandering, at exactly the same time as a flock of bikers appeared on their Harley's ‘easy riding’ their way down the road. In amongst ZZ-Top and their impressive collection of beards was Bono, with wrap around shades and leather trousers. He was looking for something - it looked like he still hadn't found it.

It was really odd seeing people on motorbikes without helmets. While I have been on the back of a bike in the US without a helmet (don’t tell anyone), it does turn my stomach. To me I see everyone of them as a caved in skull after a horrific road traffic accident. They look so vulnerable. Now there’s a cheery thought.

Acadia National Park on Mt Desert Island comes with rave reviews. We knew it would be a high point of our New England adventure and it didn’t disappoint. If you imagine a pair of lungs, that’s what the island looks like.
The right lung is the more populated (and touristy), where as the left lung is much gentler and less developed. The lungs are separated by a fjord, Somes Sound. This is where are next campsite was located, right on the left bronchus – 'The Quiet Side of Acadia'.

We planned to stay there for three nights, so had splashed out on a waterfront cabin, called ‘Starfish’. To call it basic is an understatement, but it had a bed and electricity and with my dodgy knee in mind, it didn’t require any crawling, which made it positively luxurious. 

After raising the Union Jack, we headed off to Southwest Harbor and found Quietside Ice Cream Shop which promised the best pie in Maine. If their fish and chips were anything to go by, then it probably was.


Our luxurious cabin called 'Starfish'.

I spent some good dollars that day. One of them was for 5 minutes under a warm shower. It’s not long to shampoo and condition but the threat of a sudden freezing deluge is one hell of an incentive. After the nightly ritual of scratching my mosquito bites and a determination for my bladder to achieve a ‘one-stop strategy’ in the night, in our little cabin, overlooking a fjord on the right bronchus of an island in New England, I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in months.




Wednesday, 28 September 2011

USA Today (4) Camden, ME (Windjammers & fireworks)

Camping in Camden! There’s nothing like waking up with the dawn, in the middle of nowhere, to the sweet serenaded of chatting birds and a game of fart tennis with your husband. 

Like the canister we’d bought the previous day from LL Bean, this was also ‘the wrong kind of gas’ and neither could be harnessed to boil our kettle for a nice up of tea. Boo! Instead, for breakfast we embraced the full blueberry experience and had blueberry thins with extra blueberry jelly. I was turning into Violet Beauregarde. 

By now I was out of Frizz Ease and seemed to be the only person in the whole campsite wielding hair straighteners, but standards must be maintained and so I persevered.

We are sailing.


As we waited for our Windjammer, 'The Schooner Surprise' to arrive, the harbour started to fill up and in anticipation of the ‘Sea Dog’ competition, dogs in neckerchiefs and fancy jackets started to promenade. They came from all quarters – but for me, a Sea Dog should come from the sea (life vest optional).


A proper Sea Dog in a doggy live vest.

The trip on The Surprise was beautiful, the sun glinting off the calm, flat sea. Glistening waves lapping around the bow of the boat, the sails flapping in the breeze and Capt. Jack balanced on at the bow of the boat telling us tales of a sea faring nature. 

Capt. Jack.

Camden Harbour.

While our windjammer adventure was not as fast or rolling as I’d expected (I had visions of the Onedin Line), it was still wonderful. Once the sail’s went up, life went at a very gentle pace. So gentle that, powered by First Mate Barb’s ginger cookies, Tris and I were allowed to steer the boat, dodging a couple of porpoises along the way.


A pair of salty old sea dogs.

Boating Bonanza.

Before reluctantly returning to shore, Capt. Jack had one more surprise up his sleeve. In recognition of our newlywed status, we were presented with some commemorative wood – taken from the deck of The Surprise when she was refurbished. It came with a certificate of authenticity which stated it had been entered onto the National Register of Historic Places. 


Authentic wood.
 
‘I don’t know whether you’ll be able to get it through customs an all to take it back home’ said Capt. Jack, ‘but it’s from us, to you.’ It was a lovely surprise.


Lunch time view.


Catalogue shot - nice shorts.

Back on land we grabbed some lunch from the supermarket and headed back to the harbour. I was just about to feed a pickled gherkin to a duck (as an experiment) when a very different Capt. Jack turned up. Capt. Jack Sparrow. The pirates had arrived. At this point just the one, but I knew there would be more on the way.

After lunch, Tris decided that just like Julie Andrews, he needed to climb every mountain. I on the other hand decided that as they’d already built a road up Mt Battie, the mountain which dwarfs Camden, I would be driving up it in the car. Hurrah for American’s and their commitment to accessibility. 

I think it’s a very positive sign that we can respect each other’s differences! So while Tris was scrambling up what was described in the guidebook as a ‘strenuous climb’ I made leisurely progress in our trusty Hyundai, pausing briefly at a STOP sign where someone – either a fan of 80’s Rock band Journey, or of the TV show ‘Glee’ had written ‘Don’t’ ........ and ‘Believing’. After the couple of years I’ve had, it was very good advice.

As I sat writing my diary and waiting for Tris to arrive, the top of Mount Battie overlooking Camden harbour entered my list of favourite places in the world. I tried to go to the edge and sit enigmatically on a boulder, but I got scared and then I got wobbly knees so retreated back up to safer ground.

My view.

Toy boats.

Beautiful blue sky, vivid sapphire ocean, a harbour packed full of miniature schooners and lush green forest fronded coastline with emerald islands. Sea eagles soared overhead while clicking grasshoppers jumped through the undergrowth. It was absolutely magnificent. Interrupted only by an old man giving a pair of hikers a local history lesson - when they clearly didn’t want to engage – but he was very persistent. I was an amused onlooker.

I found this wonderful poem by Edna St Vincent Millay, which supposedly describes her wanderings in the Camden Hills. I think it’s lovely – it makes my heart smile. 

Afternoon on the Hill by Edna St Vincent Millay

I will be the gladdest thing
            Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
            And not pick one.

I will look at the cliffs and clouds
            With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass
            And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
            Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
            And then start down!



It was getting late, and I had just about given up hope of Tris arriving. I wandered over to the tower right at the very top of the mountain, and there he was, just about to give up on me. As we stood on the top of the tower we got chatting to a couple. He had proposed to her on that very spot 30 years earlier. She’d made him wait for a while but eventually said yes. We told them that we were on honeymoon and a bit about ourselves, and agreed to meet up there again in another 30 years time.

Taken by Tris on his short cut.

Hello!

See you again in 30 years.

Tris and I stayed up the tower for ages, long after the other couple had left. We could just make Cadillac Mountain out in the distance, blue and hazy, further north in Acadia National Park. Acadia was where we were headed.

Eventually we peeled ourselves away and headed back down the hill.

<<Road kill Today>>
Porcupine and a raccoon!

Although we had our wooden gift from the crew of ‘The Surprise’, Tris got proper wood that evening – they were selling it at the campsite. Tris had aspirations of making fire and cooking dinner. It took a while, but with a bit of persuasion, swearing and the mother of all firelighters, fire was what Tris made. 


Cooking on gas (kinda).

I can see why the cowboys were so fond of cooking beans– as long as you’ve got a pan they are really easy to cook. Without a pan it’s a bit more tricky, but we were lucky, Tris had been a boy scout and had come prepared.

Sitting round our campfire, citronella candle burning to keep pesky mosquito’s at bay, supping on yet another bottle of blueberry beer, it was like a scene from Blazing Saddles


Beans - yummy (taken whilst having a rest).

With the Windjammer Festival well underway, that night we were promised fireworks, so we made our way once more back up to the top of Mt Battie. This time it was pitch black. As we sat at the top looking over the harbour, the darkness wrapped around us like a giant black cloth and in a sky full of twinkles, we saw shooting stars. Other than Vic and Bob on BBC2, I’d never seen shooting stars before.

The silence was shattered momentarily by an ice cream van which had driven up to the top of the mountain looking for custom. You have to admire that kind of work ethic.

The firework show was amazing. A full 20 minutes of exploding light launched from a barge far out at sea. It just got better and better, lighting up the whole bay and illuminating all the little boats. The crescendo went on forever, explosion after explosion, a  Jackson Pollock of colours and lights. It was so spectacular, by the time it finally finished I was exhausted – spent.

Boom!

Boom Boom!


Boom Boom Boom!

SHAKE THE ROOM!


Can you tell that we loved Camden? 

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A little update.

I just wanted to write a little update to let you know why I've been a bit quiet over the last few days - we all know I'm not a girl who stays quiet for long.

Last week was a bit of a battle with jet lag after getting back from our fantastic road trip in the US. I managed to squeeze out a few blog updates but then on Friday I was off again, this time to Berlin for the weekend. 

I was supporting some friends who were running the Berlin marathon, but also visiting with my sister who lived in Berlin during her gap year. This was before the wall came down and she hasn't been back since. It was an amazing weekend and Berlin has become one of my favourite cities - and a massive contrast to New York where I'd been the previous weekend.


I am one lucky girl - I've got a back log of great stuff to blog about - funny stories and adventures which will keep me busy.  

Sorry to Chorley Bucket fans - he will be back soon.

And just when I thought things were starting to slow down a bit I come back to a load of new, really funky Twitter followers, a request from St. Peter's College Oxford (where I went to university) to write a piece for their alumni magazine and the offer of a trip to Barcelona in January (which of course I said yes to).

If this isn't a 'Wonderful Life' then I don't know what is.

Hurrah!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

USA Today (3) – Portland to Camden (WC’s, Water, Walmart & Waitresses)

Tris knows that the way to get me up in the morning is to bring me breakfast. Sleeping in a tent was no different. Off he drove in the car to the local store to bring me French Vanilla coffee and a Danish pastry in a packet. We sat at our very own lake front picnic table in the early morning sunshine and enjoyed? a multi-coloured cereal chaser.


Yummy - and so healthy.


Whizzing our bits off on a cocktail of sugar and e-numbers, jet lag was banished as we dismantled the tent and gathered up our belongings. 

<Rant of the day>

Why is it that Americans can’t call a toilet, a toilet? Don’t they go to the toilet? Or is it just too crude a thought? Do I want a bath? Do I want a rest? No I don’t! 

And why don’t the toilet doors go all the way to the floor? Do I want to see people’s feet while they are settled on the bog?

And finally (for the moment), what’s with the self flushing toilets? I want to flush when I’m ready. I promise I won’t forget. What if I get up and then have second thoughts and sit back down again for round two. I don’t fancy having my colon sucked out. Would that be covered on my travel insurance? Self flushing toilets frighten me!

Once the tent was safely stowed, we drove round to the side of the lake and parked up. I sat in the Life Guards chair while Tris went for a swim. It was sunny and beautiful. Shoals of small shimmering green fish jumped out of the water while frisky dragonflies buzzed us and settled on pedalos moored at the water’s edge. 



The ‘No Diving, Jumping or Horseplay’ sign put the mockers on my plans for a touch of informal dressage. Other than that I felt calm and contented. I was excited for what lay ahead but was reluctant to leave. It was a winning combination....


Spoil sports.


......Until the peace was shattered by another low flying plane, so we put our next destination into Shaun the Sat Nav, drove past the ‘Children must be supervised signs’ (judging by the clientele that could apply to anyone under 50 yrs) and headed northwards.

Trucking along the freeway, with the sun roof open and Black Sabbath blaring from the radio, we soon rolled into Freeport for our compulsory visit to LL Bean Outdoor Emporium and its giant boot – apparently the biggest tourist attraction in Maine. We had a few essential camping items to procure before leaving civilization.


Bootilicious

The ratio of assistants to customers in LL Bean was significant – resplendent in their Ray Mears outfits, they were mostly called ‘Mike’. Despite having an impressive selection of check shirts, day packs and fleecy sweaters, they didn’t stock citronella candles, picnic blankets or the right kind of gas. It was clearly a shop for people who wanted to look like they went camping, but actually preferred hotels. ‘Cock-campers’ as I like to call them. 

If LL Bean was the biggest tourist attraction in Maine, it didn’t reflect well on Maine – or tourists!

Instead we decided we’d probably have more success in Walmart and set about trying to locate one. 

God will not be interrupted.


You might think that finding a Walmart would be easy. Not so – we got very lost in Brunswick. Tired and hungry we happened upon the 'Sea Dog Brewing Company' which cheered us up enormously. The brewery was located on a massive weir which following the hurricane and subsequent heavy rains was churning out a deluge of brown frothy water. It was too hot to sit outside, so we sheltered inside for a spot of lunch and tennis (on the TV – we didn’t actually get our raquets out). 

While I had an excellent salad, Tris had his first clam chowder of the trip. ‘Does it come with bread?’ he asked. ‘Oyster crackers’ replied the waiter. To me, that meant small crouton like crackers to put in your chowder. Tris’ understanding however, was that his meal was going to come with a pair of nut crackers and he’d have to fish out and open the clams himself. No wonder he looked surprised when he was presented with a small packet of salty biscuits.

<<Road kill today>>
Skunk – and we think – a beaver!

Walmart – sells everything in the world, apart from what you want. And milk – too much choice! We just wanted milk! Ordinary semi skimmed milk! The selection was overwhelming with extra vitamins, extra calcium, extra omega. We selected what we thought was the nearest thing to semi-skimmed and chose something called ‘half and half’. When we poured it on our cereals the next day, we realised it was half milk, half cream. It’s a mistake we wouldn’t be making again.

In search of citronella candles, I passed a bunch of people I think you could describe as ‘Red Necks’ buying guns and camouflage clothing which was conveniently located next to the Justin Bieber dolls and a mirror that told you, you were beautiful, when you passed it. I lingered a while!

One of the good things I’ve found on previous trips to the states, is that America makes me feel really thin. While in ‘buff’ Boston I still felt like a lard bucket, I’m pleased to report that in Maine it was business as usual. In Walmart that day, there were people – young people – so obese that the only way they could get around was by spilling over the sides of a mobility scooter. Hardly surprising when you over hear conversations like ‘When he was young, of course all he’d eat was pepperoni pizzas and chicken nuggets’!

I always find it interesting to nose into other people’s shopping carts. What does it tell us about the shopper? Well the woman in front of us had 10 packets of spot cream, a bird feeder and a pineapple. I can’t even begin to imagine that scenario.

North of Walmart and on Highway 1 to Camden, the scenery started to look a whole lot more like the Maine on the post cards. Red and white clapboard houses, bridges over huge marine inlets and Moose FM on the radio.

The campsite at Camden Hills was amazing. Our secluded plot in the forest was huge and dwarfed our little tent. We were however miles from the toilets. I resigned myself weeing behind a tree if taken short during the night.

Camden Hills campers.


As we put up our tent, we were showered with nut shells discarded by squirrels gorging themselves in the trees and cautiously observed by a nosey woodpecker. This was proper backwoods camping which called for a beer – Sea Dog Wild Blueberry (blueberries are a big thing in New England). Picture it – it was awesome.


Fruit based beer - excellent.


That evening, we went to explore Camden, booking a windjammer trip on the way for the next morning with Capt. Jack and First Mate Barb. When I told them we were on our honeymoon Capt. Jack told us it was a ‘Fine institution’ and that he’d been with his First Mate for 47 yrs.

I’d managed to time our arrival in Camden, a beautiful fishing harbour, to co-inside with the annual Windjammer Festival The programme of activity promised great things including a lobster crate race, sea dog show, a chowder challenge and even better - pirates. Our plan was to be on the water when the windjammer fleet arrived in Camden from all points along the east coast.

Beautiful Camden

For dinner we chose a restaurant overlooking the harbour. The menu looked amazing, and despite the fact that our gushing waitress Hayley couldn’t remember the specials, we chose lime swordfish with butternut squash mash and zucchini (Tris) and house salad (me). There was a fabulous selection of salads to which you could add chicken, shrimp, crab or lobster. I chose to add crab to my salad. 

Despite appearances he was enjoying his dinner.

The food was really good, but when the bill came, I noticed that we’d been charged twice for the crab. When I questioned the bill – our waitress went from nice Hayley to evil Hayley. She got right in my face and said ‘Neuwooooo, you asked for extra crab.’ 


Controversial salad.


Puzzled, I said ‘Yes, because the house salad doesn’t come with crab, so I ordered it as extra’.


‘Neuwooooooo, you asked for extra crab!’ she said again.

Did I look like a woman who needs a lot of crab?

‘Why would I order two lots of crab when I’ve never been here before and don’t know what one portion looks like?’ I asked.

She grabbed the bill back off our table and stomped off muttering ‘I’ll take it off then’.

‘Have I done something wrong? Have we had a cultural misunderstanding?’ I asked Tris. ‘I thought the customer was always right – she’s not getting a bloody tip after this’.

Hayley practically threw our revised bill at us and stomped off again. Clearly she was destined for better things and waiting tables was well beneath her. Apparently there is only one thing more insulting than not leaving a tip, and that’s leaving a small tip. On a $60 meal we left a tip of $2, which in my opinion was generous.

On the way back to the car we looked at what the weekend’s activities held in store. Tris was keen to enter the clam bake off and we were interested to read the rules of the dog competition which requested that dogs respected the personal space of the other participants.

It was pitch black when we got back to the campsite, so we lit a candle, drank more blueberry beer and watched first a ladybird and then a moth throw themselves in to the flame and die a terrible death in the hot wax. Rock ‘n’ roll baby.

On our way to the bath house, we took a wrong turn at some pink plastic flamingos and ended up lost in the forest with only a head torch to guide us. Every shadow looked like a skunk as I followed Tris, tripping over fallen trees and treading on god knows what. To make matters worse, I was in Fit Flops. On the way back to the tent, along the proper track this time, we stepped over a squashed snake. Great!


Fire to keep snakes away.

With snakes in our immediate vicinity, I really didn’t want to have to get up and go for a wee in the night. So what happens? The more you try not to think about it, the more you need one. 

Eventually I couldn’t hold out any longer so got up at about 3am. There was no way I was going to trek to the bath house again so I decided to find a tree. Now it’s a long time since I wee-ed al-fresco and I was a bit out of practice. Not only did I wee on my feet, I wee-ed all over my pyjama leg. So now I needed to get changed, but my spare clothes were in the car. In the pitch black I managed to set the car alarm off and in the process of stripping off, got severely bitten on the bottom by a swarm of mosquitoes. 

How I love camping!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

USA Today (2) - Boston to Portland (a day of epic proportions)

According to the spreadsheet, today was going to be a day of epic proportions, and when an epic day is on the cards, there is only one thing for it. It’s time to release THE WONDER WOMAN T-SHIRT!

Wonder Woman!

We were up and out early but despite my best efforts with the Frizz Ease, my hair straighteners didn’t seem to get as hot in a different time zone. I knew I was fighting a losing battle and it was just a matter of time before my head reverted back to the wild, but I made the effort anyway. Since it grew back after my treatment, it’s like a latent Afro-Caribbean gene has been released.

Even though it was early, it was hot, hot, hot – and soon so was I. I knew lobster was on the cards for dinner that evening, but much more of this heat and they would be able to recognise one of their own.

You can always tell a foreigner in the States, because they will be the one waiting dutifully for the lights to change before daring to cross the road. Adopt that plan and it will take you three times as long to get anywhere. It wasn’t long before we were slip streaming locals across the road with a ‘if a car is going to hit anyone it will hit them first’ strategy.

With that nailed it took us about 15 minutes to walk into the centre of Boston, where I found a very useful Red Coat (not the Butlins variety) to direct me to the toilet. When they shouted ‘The British are coming’ all those years ago, it was probably followed by ‘Excuse me, can you tell me where the public rest room is?’

We were directed to ‘The Thirsty Cup’ where we had a breakfast burrito and I was mistaken in my Wonder Woman t-shirt for a WWF Wrestler. I was horrified as I turned red and mumbled ‘No – I’m Wonder Woman’. It did temporarily take the shine off!

We headed for Boston Common which had statues of anyone who’d done anything in the American War of Independence. It seemed all you needed to do was to tickle a Brit in the late eighteenth century to ensure your immortality in bronze. There was a small hill described in the guidebook as a ‘high point’ with yet another memorial and a pond which was once home to abnormally large frogs, but they’d all gone back to France, so it was now full of children. And as with most open spaces in Boston, it had a corner (burying ground) dedicated to dead people of note. Boston Common was very nice, but much smaller than I was expecting.

Boston Common

Some bloke.


Memorial to something on the high ground.

Former home to abnormally large amphibians.

Across Charles Road I was much more taken with the Public Garden, which not only had a beautiful lagoon surrounded by huge trailing willows, it had a fleet of giant swan pedalos. Tris was beside himself. They must have seated at least a dozen people per swan and were powered at the back – I’m guessing by students? 

Excellent swan pedalos.

View!


It was so lovely that even the Japanese wanted their photo taken, so Tris was duly dispatched to help out.

What a good egg.

I love this picture.

Flowerus pinkus.

George who?


As we walked around the Public Garden, children fed the ducks while on the bridge a busker played ‘Someday my Prince will come’ on his saxophone. I gave Tris’ hand a squeeze, because although it took him a while, he did find me eventually. Ahhh!

If like me, you thought that The Boston Freedom Trail was an actual route walked by revolutionary 18th century Americans to sign some kind of declaration – then you’d be wrong. I had visions of Nelson Mandela in a wig and breeches striding towards freedom, not only for himself, but for his oppressed nation, shouting ‘No taxation without representation’!  

If you click on the link below you'll see a proper full size version that you can read.

The Boston Freedom Trail is actually an excellent self guided walk aimed at tourists which takes in all the sites of historical note in the city. Not that it makes it a bad thing – but I was surprised to see that The Freedom Trail was actually a line of red bricks (and sometimes a painted red line) set into the pavement. It reminded me of our neighbour’s new patio.

I'm FREEEEEEEEEEE!

Nonetheless, it very efficiently guided us via churches, burying grounds containing the remains of key protagonists and various sites of historical interest. 

State House.

Park Street Church

I see dead people - Granary Burying Ground.

Borders - RIP.

In addition to Borders (soon to be a site of historical interest) the trail takes in the site of the infamous Boston Massacre, credited as the spark which ignited the fire which was to become the American War of Independence. If you were one of the five people who were killed in the fracas, then clearly it was a big deal, but in the great scheme of massacres, it was hardly massive – but with a bit of PR spin it generated the required momentum for a revolution. 


Site of the Boston Massacre

The catalyst for said massacre seems to have been a dispute over an un-paid wig account. In my world it went something like this:

Peasant – ‘Your wig looks crap – and you haven’t paid for it’.
Peasant – ‘It makes you look like Barbara Windsor ’.
Red Coat – ‘That’s it! I have a very short fuse when it comes to taunts’.

BANG

Red Coat – ‘I told you I had a short fuse. Please don’t bleed on my stockings’.

If you don’t believe me, check it for yourself on Wikipedia!

We almost missed Faneuil Hall (pronounced Daniel – but with an F) which was camouflaged by a combination of living history interpreters in petticoats and bonnets leading guided walks for those who couldn’t follow a line of bricks in the pavement, and street dancers. I wondered whether anyone had ever thought of combining the two?
  

Man from the past.




Taken whilst having a lie down!

 


On through Quincy Market, with ‘Dick’s Last Resort’ restaurant, where the patrons were forced to wear giant paper Smurf hats with things like ‘I pee standing up’ written on them.  Followed by the holocaust memorial (I’ll come back to these later in our trip), before  ending up back into North End to worship at the shrine of Paul Revere and his legendary midnight ride - mustering militia whilst shouting ‘The British are coming’. It’s a legend that is ingrained in the story of the American Revolution. Even I’d heard of it. However, I am reliably informed by a local, that it too never actually happened. I was rocked to the core!

Paul Revere


PR's house.

PR's street.

I temporarily lost Tris in the tourist masses – despite making me look like a wrestler, at least my Wonder Woman t-shirt made me easy to pick out in a crowd. Normally Tris in his plaid shorts would also be an easy spot. However, his shorts had come to the home of plaid shorts – they were bloody everywhere I turned. Thank goodness I can recognise his little legs anywhere.

Sadly, although it was only lunch time, at that point this was all the Boston we had time for. What we’d seen, we both really liked. It was buzzy, clean, healthy and interesting and we both felt as though it would be a great place to live. As we saddled up to ship out we looked forward to coming back to Boston the following week. In the meantime however, there was a whole lot of New England to explore.

Boston Freedom Trail - job done.


Budget car rentals at Logan International Airport did their very best to up-sell us a bigger car. ‘You’re not in the UK any more – you can have a BBBBIIIGGGG car now’, said the Budget representative.  We declined, though I did have a moment of doubt. Just how small was this car I’d booked? I had visions of us trying to go camping in a SMART car. We’d be the laughing stock of the campsites. 

The car was fine – it was a 4 door Hyundai, not much smaller than my car back home and perfectly big enough. Budget – Smudget. Still, the man on the desk did manage to redeem himself by signing off with ‘Have a good trip, Wonder Woman’! I was delighted to be recognised as the super hero I undoubtedly am.

Driving out of Boston was terrifying. Before we came out, we’d downloaded the USA road systems onto our Sat Nav, Shaun. The programme was so big we’d had to park his European guts on our lap top to make space. This was the moment of truth – he now had a trillion gazillion combinations of roads to navigate us through and although we took an immediate wrong turning and ended up doing a whole extra lap of the airport, after that his soft, calming Irish tones didn’t let us down once.

Prior to setting off, I said to Tris ‘I’m apologising in advance, because I will be shouting at you in the next hour, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love you’. 

Tris seemed happy with that so off we went. 

There was no time to reacquaint myself with how to drive an automatic – or on the wrong side of the road. It was straight in at the deep end. My mouth went dry and I felt sick. ‘What lane, what lane?’ I shouted at Tris as we hit a six lane highway with cars coming at me from all angles and drivers who seemed to think that indicators were an optional accessory.

Luckily Tris is a lot calmer than me in a crisis and between him and Shaun the Sat Nav we somehow managed to muddle through via a combination of sticking to the middle lane, eye’s straight ahead trying not to panic and following the car in front at junctions.

Before long we were through the thick of it and onto the Turnpike (which means you have to pay) heading north, passing signs for Wakefield, Gloucester, Reading, Newbury, Kensington, Portsmouth, York and Buxton while being over taken by massive trucks – one of which was ‘Turbo Powered by God’, who was clearly diversifying as a result of the credit crunch?

We pulled into our first campsite 2 ½ hours later (a little behind schedule according to the spreadsheet) at Wassamki Springs near Portland in Maine. It was beautiful with sites skirting a big lake – very Dirty Dancing summer camp. Notices advertised ‘Adult bingo and adult card games’. I was intrigued.

On closer inspection, it became apparent that not only were we the only tent there, we were the only people under 70 yrs. The place was full of huge RV’s (recreational vehicles) and trailers with pensioners whizzing around in golf buggies. Some clearly lived there permanently as there was decking, outdoor lighting, fences and flags. It was an outdoor haven for men with pony tails and mullets.

What a fine erection!

Top view from our tent.

Hurrah for the great out doors.

What a fine, manly profile.


Our lake front site was lovely and like a well oiled machine we were soon back into the swing of putting up our tent. As we sat back to admire our erection with a well earned beer, waving to Uncle Jessie from the Dukes of Hazard who was sweeping up the leaves, and drinking in the tranquillity – our peace was shattered by the realisation that the campsite was in fact directly under the flight path of Portland airport – with planes flying low and directly overhead every 10 minutes. Bugger! They didn’t mention that on the web site.

After sharing a toilet cubicle with a big spider, we decided to head off to try and find us a lobster dinner, in particular 'The Lobster Shack' at Cape Elizabeth. This presented another challenge, driving in the dark, but once I’d found out how the ‘blinkin’ hell’ my lights worked, we were good to go. Although it was dark and we couldn’t see much, the lobster was damn fine. Although a little scared of it at first, the restaurant very helpfully provided useful instructions on how to break into the critter. 

Useful 8 point instructions on how to eat a lobster.

Our first full day had been accomplished to schedule and without incident. I said it was going to be a bit epic – and I wasn’t wrong was I!