Thursday, July 1, 2010

Grams and Grandad's Summer Vacation - Plymouth & Cape Cod

Grams and Grandad are on what I call a "fabulous" vacation this summer, courtesy of Southwest Rewards and Hilton Honors.  We are in the Boston area for the week.  The culmination of our trip will be Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on July 4th.  We've watched it on television for years and every year I've said "we really need to go see this in person."  So this year, here we are.

We left Corpus Christi at 9 Tuesday morning and made the 3+ hour drive to Nick's house in Northeast Houston.  We parked our car there and he took us to lunch and dropped us off at Hobby Airport for our 3:40 flight. 

The Southwest Rewards program gives you free flights for traveling on Southwest Airlines.  If you fly Southwest, you really must join their rewards program.  This is one of the perks of Grandad working in Houston.  The tickets cost us $10 each.  The downside is that they restrict which flights you can take.  The closer to a holiday you want to travel, the more difficult it is to book the trip.  That's the explanation for our "late in the day" trip. 

We flew from Houston to New Orleans where we were delayed more than 30 minutes.  The explanation given by the pilot is that a thunderstorm had just moved through the airport so traffic was backed-up getting to the gate.  We sat on the tarmac for more than 30 minutes waiting to pull up to a gate.  We later heard from another airline employee that the delay had actually been because Vice President Biden had been leaving the New Orleans airport after a trip to the Gulf Coast regarding the oil spill.  I suspect it was probably a little of both. We did not have to change planes in New Orleans, but we were able to move to an exit row which gives Grandad (who is 6'5" tall) a little more leg room. 

From New Orleans we flew to Baltimore where we should have had 50 minutes to make the connecting flight that would bring us to Boston Logan. We arrived at gate B2 and had less than 5 minutes to sprint to gate A11 to catch our flight.  We made it with a couple of minutes to spare and were again able to get the exit row seats.  Southwest even held the flight long enough to make sure our luggage was on board.  The sacrifice we made to the weather and VP Biden was the time we had for dinner.  We arrived in Boston around 11:30 p.m. having had no dinner.  Needless to say, all the airport food outlets were closed.  By the time we claimed our luggage, caught a shuttle to the car rental agency, picked up our car, and drove to the hotel, it was 1:30 a.m.

We did not go completely hungry, we had snacks.  Grams always travels with snacks.  Thanks to a Facebook posting from a friend who spent five hours last weekend on an airplane tarmac, I had plenty with me this time.  My carry-on had beef jerky, protein bars, and mixed nuts.  And when we checked into the hotel, the night clerk gave us breakfast bars, apples and bottled water. 

Our hotel rooms are rewards stays from Hilton Honors.  The first two nights are being spent outside of Boston in the Worcester, Massachusetts in a Hampton Inn.  Tomorrow, we'll be be moving to the Homewood Suites Cambridge/Arlington. 

When we checked in last night we were exhausted and cold.  Temperatures last night and tonight have been in the 50s.  I was dressed for South Texas when we arrived and was literally shivering by the time we got to our room.  When we walked into the room, we found the thermostat set on 60 degrees.  It didn't warm up until sometime around 5 this morning. 

We slept until about 9 this morning, had our free breakfast at the hotel and headed for Cape Cod.  It's about a 90-minute drive from our hotel, but the weather was cool, there wasn't much traffic and the scenery is beautiful. 

Our first stop was Plymouth where we stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts to use the bathroom.  We split a cake donut and asked for directions to the tourist information center.  The young lady at the counter was very helpful and gave us very good directions and the following advice "When you park your car, be sure to put a quarter in the parking meter or they'll give you a ticket."

She talked exactly like Julianne Moore's character with the exaggerated Boston dialect on 30 Rock.  It sounded more like "When yah pahk yah cah, be shuh to put a quahtah in he pahkin meteh or they'll give you a ticket."  It was good advice; we saw several cars with parking tickets on the windshield. 

We enjoyed the lady at the visitor's center.  She was extremely knowledgeable and very helpful.  I thought for sure she must be a retired history teacher, but she said that she had learned everything she knows about the area just from listening to other people over the years. 

On her recommendation, we paid $10 each for a shuttle tour of Plymouth which turned out to be interesting. The driver/tour guide also sported his very own Boston accent and was probably the worst tour guide in the history of tour guides. He told us several times that he didn't have his notes with him or he would tell us about one place or another. There were 10-12 stops on the tour where other passengers would have gotten on and off the trolley. But we were the only two passengers for all but one leg of the trip. The guide would point out a place and tell a story about it.  But he drove so fast, that by the time he finished his story we would have already passed the next place of interest.  The fact that we had already passed a place did not deter him from launching into his story about the place that we had already missed. After a while it was hilarious. But is was fun anyway and we saw many things we wouldn't have found on our own.
Salem is absolutely beautiful. There are blooming flowers everywhere, including the most beautiful hydrangeas I have ever seen. The water is sparkling and I love the Cape Cod architecture. It's amazing to see buildings that were built in the 1600s and 1700s and everywhere you turn there are historical monuments and markers.

We had a delicious late lunch at the Blue Blinds Bakery.  We split a Bread and Cheese Plate and a bowl of Potato Soup.  They were so nice that they split the soup into two small bowls for us and served each with a generous slice of Sun-Dried Tomato Bread.  The entire meal was absolutely delicious and cost about $10.  As we were leaving, we bought two macaroons, a ginger snap, and an oatmeal raisin cookie to take with us.  The ginger snap was the best I've ever eaten.  The cookies were large enough to share.  We haven't eaten the oatmeal raisin cookie yet, but I'm sure it will be delicious. 

After our lunch we drove to Hyannis and looked around.  Wow, there are some gorgeous estates up there.  We also drove a little way down the coast and just looked around.   That included a drive through the village of Sandwich which is the home of the Sandwich Glass Works.  If you're ever on Cape Cod you should definitely put it on your itenerary.  It doesn't take long to get there if you're in Plymouth, it's the next town over.  Sandwich is the oldest incorporated town on Cape Cod.  My Mom collected "Sandwich Glass" but I never really knew what that meant.  The glass works is not there any more, but there is a museum with glass-blowing demonstrations and a lovely little museum shop.  It's one of the most picturesque villages I've ever seen.  Absolutely gorgeous, and slightly off the beaten path.

We arrived back at the hotel around 8 o'clock and ordered a pizza from a local place called Blue Jeans Pizza.  It arrived quickly and had a hand-tossed thin crust and was topped with pepperoni, meatballs, Italian sausage, onion, green peppers, mushrooms, tomato sauce and blend of cheeses.  It was better than our usual chain-store pizza and we enjoyed just relaxing for a while.

A few things I've noticed since we got to Massachusetts.  The first thing is how many Dunkin' Donuts they have.  They are as ubiquitous here as Starbucks are in other places.  Locals tell us they like Dunkin' Donuts coffee better than Starbucks.  If it's better, I may never know, because there's a Starbucks right next door to my hotel and, to quote an old cigarette commercial "I'd rather fight than switch."  The second thing I've noticed is that drivers actually stop for pedestrians in crosswalks here.  Kudos to Massachusetts drivers!

The most amazing thing so far is how good the air smelled everywhere we went on Cape Cod ... think of all things fresh ... flowers, evergreens, salt air, and some other mysterious quality that I can't quite put my finger on. The aroma is enticing, bewitching, and intoxicating.  I think I would stay just for that wonderful aroma.

Tomorrow, we're heading to Salem. I would like to visit Concord and Lexington if time allows.  I'm pretty sure lobster is on tomorrow's menu, but we'll see what looks interesting as the day goes by. 

I heard from a friend that Corpus Christi had six inches of rain today along with significant coastal flooding.  Hurricane Alex made landfall tonight in northern Mexico.  I hope that damage is minimal and everyone in the path of this storm is safe.  I'm not sorry that we're missing all the excitement, but it's odd to be out of the loop.  I miss Dale Nelson's "every hour on the hour" updates.

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