Tag Archives: USA

Cape Cod II – Setting Fourth

Tuesday 4 July 2023 – My first-ever Fourth of July in the USA! We had two activities to look forward to, the first of which was Chatham town’s 4th July Parade. The Sheas had kindly offered to bring seats for us and told us where and when to meet them on Main Street.

At first, the auguries were not too positive. It rained very hard at about 0830, and the visibility as we walked from the hotel was not something that was too encouraging. Some people, it was also clear, had other priorities.

However, foggy or not, the rain appeared to be in abeyance as we approached the town and we got our first inkling of the atmosphere of the day.

It was clear that people had been out very early, or late yesterday, or possibly both, putting chairs out to reserve a place.

Some had even planned for the earlier rain.

It’s a remarkable and lovely characteristic of the town’s celebration that no-one apparently stole or moved any chairs. I can’t see that happening in the UK. Generally, as we headed to our agreed meeting place, the feeling in the air was of extreme geniality, with people wishing each other “Happy Fourth!” and generally having a good time.

Many had made a special effort to dress for the day.

We met the Sheas a few minutes before the parade was due to start at 0930, and settled ourselves down to watch.

It was spectacular!

For about an hour, all sorts of groups of people, floats, vehicles and bands walked past. If you’ve 45 minutes to spare, you can watch it all here – though content is blocked in Russia, in the unlikely event you’re there at the moment.

There were some great old cars,


local organisations and society branches,

and, generally, much exuberant behaviour.

It was clear that a huge effort had gone into spiffing up floats and vehicles. Some of the trucks were huge and really beautifully polished up for the day.

All in all, it was a lovely experience, even if it was celebrating the fact that the USA had given us Brits a beating some 240 years ago.

The rain even held off for almost all of the parade, which was good of it. Afterwards we went to the Squire Tavern (one of the businesses which had made a contribution to the parade), where the place was simply soggy with atmosphere.

John pointed out one of the quirks of the place, which is its collection of licence plates, sent in by devotees who want their contributions on view for all to see.

Rather than repeat the excesses of two days ago, we cut and ran after a single drink and headed back to the hotel, to regroup for our second activity of the day – whale watching. For this we had to head to Barnstable, some 15 miles away, and board, along with many other revellers, a pretty substantial boat.

Just after we boarded, the heavens opened

which made me rather pessimistic about what the evening might hold. But, dammit, we’d paid for the ticket so we were jolly well going to stick with it.

The plan was that we would spend an hour or so getting from Barnstable past Provincetown harbour (which is right in the palm of the hand if you think of Cape Cod as an arm with a crooked elbow) and out into more open waters to look for whales. The lass who was doing the commentary pointed out that there was no way to detect where they were; we had to rely on luck and the skipper. Also, as we sped along, it was clear that, well, it wasn’t clear; visibility was dreadful. I therefore set my expectations really low and indulged in a bit of sporadic conversation with the people who were sharing our table.

The great thing about low expectations is that they are easily exceeded. After less then an hour, the word began to spread around that whales had been spotted. But, given the poor visibility and also my previous whale-watching experiences (where humpbacks typically were visible in the distance, best seen with binoculars or a long telephoto lens), I initially though that it wouldn’t be worth even bothering to take a look.

I’m glad that I changed my mind on that one.

If you have eight minutes to spare, take a look at what unfolded:

For those of you without the luxury of even that short time, here’s a summary.

When I did go for a look, there were actually a couple of humpback whales – a mother and her calf – close to the boat.

They were much closer than I’d ever been to a (live, swimming, not at Sea World) whale before.

Initially, they did little more than lazily swim around and occasionally surface to breathe (giving us a chance, being downwind at one point, to experience the true horror of whalitosis). But after a while, we got a brilliant display of tail waving, fin slapping and – most dramatic of all, of course – breaching.

It was spectacular – we were truly lucky to have such a great display, and so close to the boat. The skipper did really well to get close to the whales without disturbing them so that they continued to disport themselves; it even looked like the mother was waving to us with a fin at times.

After such an inauspicious start, the whale watching turned out to be a splendid experience, made all the more satisfactory because I got some decent video from it, because, as everyone knows, if you can’t share photos or videos, it didn’t happen.

The weather by this stage had cheered up a little

So it looked like we might also enjoy the final piece of the day’s entertainment – the firework display at Provincetown harbour, which we would watch from the water.

Sadly, the weather had other ideas about that, particularly as it started.

The fog did lift a little as the display continued

But then its own smoke started to obscure it.

So the July 4th fireworks were not as spectacular as we might have hoped (frankly we do just as good a job every November in Chobham). But that couldn’t diminish the pleasure we felt at having had such a rewarding experience watching whales at play. By the time we got back to the hotel it was really very late, but we’d had a great Fourth Of July.

I’m actually writing this at home, completing the Cape Cod story after a nice farewell lunch with the Sheas, grinding our way to Boston airport and flying back to the UK. It’s been a really excellent few days in Cape Cod – meeting new/old friends, experiencing the charm of Chatham and re-acquainting myself with the highs and lows of Gunpowder Gin.

We rarely revisit anywhere on our travels, on the basis that there are always fresh and new places to seek out, experience and (in my case) photograph). The Azores has been one exception, and I rather think that Cape Cod might be another. We both feel that there’s a lot more to explore in those 339 square miles.

So that is all for New England. After some three-and-a-half excellent weeks there, we now have to prepare for our next adventure, which starts in just over a month. Come back some time soon after August 12 to find out what that will be, won’t you?

Cape Cod I – Chatham House Rules

Monday 3 July 2023 – After an excellent fortnight spent with the in-laws in New Hampshire, we decamped to Cape Cod for a couple of days of R&R before flying home.  In theory, it’s a journey of some three hours. In practice – five hours.  Cape Cod (the name, coined in 1602, is the ninth oldest English place-name in the USA) is actually an island, separated from the mainland by a river, and there are just two bridges across on to it, so one can expect there to be some congestion.  What we hadn’t really internalised was the date and its likely consequences.  We were travelling on Saturday 1st July, and one of the biggest holidays of the American year was the following Tuesday, meaning that standard procedure was for people to take the Monday off, thereby giving them a nice long weekend.  A sufficiently large number of these folk had obviously said to themselves, “I know! We’ll go to Cape Cod for the holidays!”.

We eventually arrived to our hotel, the Chatham Bars Inn – Chatham is a town right on the elbow of Cape Cod, and its distance from the Sagamore bridge came as something of a surprise to me. I hadn’t really grasped the scale of Cape Cod – I had thought it to be a small peninsula but it actually covers 339 square miles and Chatham is some 35 miles away from the Sagamore bridge.

We drew up outside the hotel and one of the many greeters milling about outside the place asked us what name the booking was under.  Since Jane had done all the organising of this trip (same as all our trips, since she’s terrifically good at it) she gave her name, but the chap looked puzzled when he couldn’t find it.  For some reason the booking had become in my name, which was a puzzle.  But we did at least have a booking, so we made our way to our room, which was only a short drive away – Chatham Bars Inn is actually a resort, with many different bits of accommodation and facilities spread over quite an area.

It was latish, so we decided just have a room service meal before turning in.  Delightfully, the room had a kettle and two large mugs, so we added cold milk to the room service order and we were able to relax with a cup of Twining’s finest Earl Grey tea, which we’d thought to bring with us.  Regrettably, we hadn’t thought to bring gin or tonic with us, so the nice fridge in the room was to be used only to keep the milk cold.

Before we had set out to the USA on this trip, we (i.e. Jane) had only arranged one excursion for our time here, of which more in due course.  However, whilst whooping it up with the family in New Hampshire, Jane had reconnected with someone she had met at her sister-in-law’s wedding and hadn’t seen for the forty years since then – a chap called John Shea.  It turned out that he and his wife, Lynn, had a house in Chatham, and so we had made an informal arrangement to meet them whilst we were in Cape Cod.  The informal arrangement became a formal decision to meet at the hotel’s Beach House Grill for lunch on the Sunday, so off we went at the agreed time, to find it was very crowded and very busy –

and the wait for a table was likely to be 45 minutes. There was nothing for it then but to order ourselves a drink whilst we awaited our table and the Sheas.  Both turned up pretty much simultaneously after only about 15 minutes, so we sat down to a pleasant lunch and continued the process of catching up with the intervening 40 years. It was a delightful lunch, but after that, things went careering off at an unexpected tangent, and it was entirely – entirely – the fault of this man.

He is called Patrick and he works behind the bar at the Beach House Grill. It became clear from their familiarity with all the bar staff that the Sheas were good and loyal customers of this particular bar, and so Patrick made sure that we were very well served. Very well served.  It just seemed like a good idea to keep having another drink when he suggested it.  As for the rest of the day, recollection became a little hazy, but we did a lot of laughing as well as a lot of drinking before finally escaping from the Devil Patrick Gin Vortex and heading for bed.

When we surfaced this morning, we had suffered remarkably little damage beyond a spectacular bar bill, so the day lay before us awaiting our pleasure.  So we went for a walk. Obviously.

Before we set out we fortified ourselves with a good breakfast, during which I got an insight into how rich people and American service interact.  I wanted to order an omelette, which would be cooked for me as I waited.  The omelette chef was busy cooking a couple of omelettes for other people.  When he’d finished one, he offered it to the chap who’d ordered it – who turned it down because it wasn’t egg whites only and was a bit runnier than he liked.  Had I been in that situation, I would have done the Very British Problems thing of being too embarrassed to make a fuss and just eaten the damn’ thing anyway.  But he was American, this was a five-star hotel and so he said that it wasn’t what he wanted.  The chef binned it with a swiftness that quite startled me and started cooking another one, which the chap eventually decided was what he wanted.

It is clear that the Chatham Bars Inn is quite the operation and had geared itself up to provide fun and frolics throughout the July 4th holiday weekend.

One of today’s entertainments was a carnival, so we thought we’d look in on it, since our planned walking route went past its location.

There were lots of fun things for kids to do and it seemed reasonably popular and well-organised.  But there was no bar, so we decided to get on with our walk. Only joking; I really didn’t feel like having any alcohol after the excesses of yesterday.

We ended up walking some seven miles around the area, which is achingly pretty.

There are some lovely-looking houses along the route,

with some quirky details

and much evidence of preparing for July 4th.

We passed Chatham Lighthouse

Stage Harbour, with boats as far as the eye could see

and eventually wound our way back through Chatham town, which is, you guessed it, also achingly pretty.

It has a fine array of stores, some of which are really rather niche.

A park in the town called Gould Park was hosting an art exhibition, imaginatively entitled Art In The Park, which had a distinctive theme

and some wonderful work.

It was possible, should you wish, to bid for any of these items with the proceeds going towards “making Chatham a wonderful and fun place in which to live, do business, stay and visit, shop, and enjoy all the attractions of this great town.”

We headed back to the hotel to complete our walk

with just one diversion to look at the commercial fishing pier, where we bumped into the Sheas again, which was a pleasant surprise.  This gave us a chance to make further arrangements for The Big Day tomorrow – Chatham’s Fourth of July Parade.  The plan is that we will join them to watch the parade.  Since they know the area, they will know where to pitch up; and they might even have seats for us, which will be splendid.  This will be the first Fourth I’ve ever experienced and I must say I’m looking forward to  it.  I will, of course, report further in these very pages, so keep your eyes peeled to see how we got on.

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was pretty nearly time for an early dinner, which we took in the hotel’s Veranda, with a lovely view

and some very traditional American advertising tactics.

After dinner, we passed another bar where people were taking advantage of the good weather

and were being entertained by a guitar-playing singer and his accompanist,

who it appears had fashioned a percussion instrument out of an old speaker cabinet.

Thus ended the day, and so we have a Fourth Of July to look forward to tomorrow, with a parade and another excursion (as I type this, it sounds like someone is having a bit of firework practice for the morrow). To find out about that, you’ll have to come back and Read All About it tomorrow. Or possibly the day after…..

Three days in Boston

Tuesday 13 to Thursday 15 June 2023 – Both Jane and I have visited Boston before, but some three decades ago, and then, in my case, for a very short visit. Although short, it established Boston as one of my favourite American cities.  It’s compact enough to explore on foot, has considerable charm and, of course, a huge place in the history of the United States of America. (As an Englishman, I’m not bitter. Not at all. No, really.)

So we were both interested to visit and revisit the city, and it turns out that three days is a good length of time to spend exploring all the parts that are within walking distance of the centre.  One could actually spend more time there and still find new and interesting things to see and to do, but three days is all we had. So, we went for a walk. Obviously. Well, several walks, covering about 30 miles in total.

One of the great charms of the place is its architecture. It’s full of handsome and historic buildings, such as the state capitol, Massachusetts State House, one of the oldest state capitols in use,

and the Old State House.

The balcony is  where the Declaration of Independence was first read, on July 18, 1776, by Colonel Thomas Crafts. The declaration is read out every year on July 4th from the same spot.

Elsewhere, there are other fine buildings

with fine exteriors and, indeed, interiors.  Possibly the finest of these was something we saw courtesy of a photo tour, an offering from https://photowalks.com/  – the courtyard and interior of the Boston Public Library.

The library is on Copley Square, which offers various points of interest, at least to me.  The Old South Church pictured above is a wonderful building – Victorian Gothic with some inspiration from Venice. Its interior is a good match, too.

It features a wonderful display of stained glass.

The other significant church on Copley Square is Trinity Church.

Above is a photo of it reflected in the glassware that sheaths the Hancock Tower – still Boston’s tallest building, even after nearly 50 years – more of which later.  The church itself gives an opportunity for some nerdish photographical musing.  I took a photo with my Nikon Z6 and also with my Samsung Galaxy phone. The picture is towards the light, which makes it tricky to capture, as it’s very high-contrast.

The Nikon version is processed from a RAW image, which theoretically gives the best chance to get a top quality final version. Corrected verticals aside, the Samsung image is direct from the phone.  It’s a great demonstration of how advanced computational photography is becoming, as it’s coped very gracefully with a high-contrast situation and presented a very attractive image.

Anyway, we went inside.  This church also has a striking interior.

and another very fine display of stained glass.

The Hancock Tower gave me an opportunity to try to recreate a photo that I had taken on my previous visit in 1990.  Back then, the Hancock Tower was relatively new, having been completed in 1976.  That is, eventually completed in 1976, after teething problems which delayed it by five years.  One of the tower’s USPs is that it’s sheathed entirely in blue glass.  Therein lies a tale, because during construction several of the huge (500-lb, 4ft x 11ft) panes of glass actually fell from the building, and all 10,344 panes had to be replaced.  I bet the insurers were livid. More details can be found in the tower’s Wiki entry.

It’s always been A Thing to take a photo of the tower using reflection to create the illusion of the edge of the tower disappearing.  So Jane and I spent a non-trivial amount of time loitering on the pavement whilst we waited for the sun to shine and the bloody buses and other traffic to get out of the way to enable a second shot to compare with the one from 1990.  Here are the two versions, side by side.

I was a little luckier with the weather three decades ago, but it was a fun experiment to try again – and the new photo shows some of the development that has gone on in central Boston over the years.

Copley Square is at the periphery of an area of Boston called Back Bay, which is actually land reclaimed from the Charles River. It borders another area called Beacon Hill.  Both areas have a great deal of charm, and we spent much time, both on the photo tour and on other occasions, walking around these pleasant bits of Boston.

The whole area, basically south of the Charles River, is a pleasure to walk around, with riverside scenes,

and miscellaneous other vignettes.

The other main thing we had to in this area was to visit View Boston, a chance to ascend the 52 stories of the Prudential Building and see the city from the top floor. As you can imagine, there are some great views.

The day we visited was billed as the opening day of View Boston and we were very excited to be able to pay for the privilege of going to the top of the Prudential Center.  However, it was sparsely attended, which we hadn’t expected, and when I proudly shared some photos on social media, various friends mentioned that they, too, had seen the exact same views, so the occasion wasn’t as exclusive as I had thought.  However, View Boston did have a couple of treats for us.  One was a cocktail in the 50th floor cocktail bar, enhanced somewhat by the availability of Gunpowder Gin; and the other was a very impressive 3D model, which is brought to life with projected illuminations of various sorts, illustrating the days, or the seasons, or other features of the city, such as the Boston Marathon or the success of the Red Sox.

If you refer back to the map at the top of this post (you don’t have to – I’ll explain here), you’ll see that although we spent a fair proportion of our mileage around Back Bay and Beacon Hill, we did venture further afield.

One of the Things One Simply Must Do Whilst In Boston is, of course, to walk the Freedom Trail. a 2.5-mile path past a collection of museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, a ship, and historic markers that tell the story of the American Revolution. It’s marked out in the pavements, typically as a narrow line of bricks. It starts at the Massachusetts State House (which gives the opportunity for a schoolboy snigger),

runs through Boston Common

passes the Old State House (see above) and the Old City Hall

and ends at the Bunker Hill memorial obelisk.  On the way, one can learn about Paul Revere and his famous (indeed, revered) ride (and see his house), see Benjamin Franklin’s final resting place, and hear other famous names associated with the War of Independence, such as Samuel Adams.  No, not that Samuel Adams, he of the excellent local beer, but his son, who was an excellent political activist – a founding father of the United States, no less – but a rotten businessman, as the brewery went bust under his stewardship.

Walking the path, past streets of interesting-looking houses,

on the way to Bunker Hill, we passed USS Constitution,

which is nicknamed “Old Ironsides” despite the hull being constructed of wood, because an incoming cannonball bounced off. Entry is free and one can go below decks which is interesting and slightly challenging for anyone over about 5′ 9″.

We also diverted a little to take a look inside the Liberty Hotel.

The interesting part of the hotel is housed in the slight forbidding-looking grey building, which used to be the city prison, hence the ironic naming of it as the Liberty Hotel, and enabling the management to have bars inside it called “Clink” and “Alibi”.  The atrium is very ritzy.

Tempting as it was to stop for a drink, we pressed on and actually had a coffee in the very pleasant Beacon Hill Books and Café, which, like the Liberty Hotel atrium, was a recommendation from Saba, who runs the Photo Tour we did.

The other area of Boston we explored was around the seaport and harbour, which is a worthwhile expedition, leading as it does past some interesting sights.

We walked past what was clearly an artwork, but which wasn’t immediately engaging.

It’s by David von Schlegell and is called “Untitled Landscape”, which doesn’t give much of a clue, and consists of four large pieces of stainless steel facing each other at obtuse angles. Schlegell (I quote someone else’s blurb here) “intended to create objects of such a scale that could relate buildings, bridges, and other large objects”. Go figure.

However, I accidentally took a mobile phone photo of it directly from the side and all of a sudden

it was rather more interesting.

In our peregrinations around the city we saw a lot more, as it’s a very rewarding place to walk around.  But I didn’t want to inflict nearly 600 photos on you, so I hope this distillation gives you a good feeling for the parts of the city we covered, even if it’s not comprehensive.

I’m writing this from the depths of the New Hampshire countryside (seriously – if out walking we have been advised to stick to the roads, because Bears) and when we move on from here we’ll head to Cape Cod, a place I’ve heard much about but never visited.  If you keep your eye on these pages, you can follow us and I hope to see you again in due course.