Aug 222013
 

With roughly 3,500 miles of tidal coastline, Maine has long been home to large fishing and commercial shipping fleets.  The Bath Ironworks , founded in 1884, continues to build some of the world’s most advanced naval vessels.   In today’s harbors, pleasure craft dock side by side with windjammers and lobster boats.  The state’s dozens of harbors have long been guarded by scores of lighthouses since Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park was activated in 1791 on the orders of George Washington.  Today, 63 lighthouses survive.  Some have been decommissioned and the rest have been automated with the keeper’s houses and grounds often donated or leased to local governments or non-profits.

Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park is Maine's oldest lighthouse.

Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park is Maine’s oldest lighthouse.

During our recent visit to Maine’s mid-coast we had the opportunity to visit four of these beautiful buildings, and appreciated how much comfort they must have brought to mariners seeing their lights shining out to sea on rainy and foggy nights.  Each lighthouse has its own history and story.  If you plan a family vacation with kids, teens or tweens be sure to plan in visits to one or more of these living pieces of history.   Portland Head Light is an easy daytrip from Boston or a nice stop to break up a ride north.  The grounds are expansive with plenty of picnic tables but bring your own lunch as there is no snack bar.  History buffs will enjoy visiting the historic fort and naval defense fortifications that were active until 1963.

Further North, Pemaquid Point Lighthouse erected in 1835 and the keeper’s house built in 1937, overlook  a spectacular rocky shoreline that is open to the public and maintained as part of the Town of Bristol’s Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park.  While the lighthouse itself is still owned by the Coast Guard, the keeper’s house now houses the fascinating volunteer-run Fishermen’s Museum.  When the lighthouse is open there is often a line to walk the stairs to the top of the tower.  Be sure to spend some time scrambling on the rocks as well.

Pemaquid Point Light House

Pemaquid Point Light House

Farther north the towns of Owls Head and Rockland offer more lighthouse viewing activities.  The Owls Head light is maintained by the Friends of Rockland Harbor Lights which leases it from the US Coast Guard.   The  surrounding land, including a classic rocky pocket beach, is open to the public as part of Owls Head State Park.   Built in 1825 it guards the entrance of Rockland Harbor on Western Penobscot Bay.    This lighthouse holds many stories — there are rumored to be not one, but two resident ghosts.  Many tales have been told about mysterious footprints appearing after rain or snow.  We didn’t see any during our visit however, although it had rained earlier in the day.

Owls Head Light

Owls Head Light

On the other side of Rockland Harbor, an almost mile long breakwater extends into the Harbor.  Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse sits at the end of the breakwater.  The light is still active and maintained by the US Coast Guard, however, the keeper’s house is boarded up and looks pretty forlorn.  We enjoyed the hiking the breakwater and then got views from the water from aboard the Schooner Isaac Evans during our windjammer.  The Friends of Rockland Lights have an ongoing fundraising and renovation program underway to restore the site to its former glory.

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse seen from the water

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse seen from the water

No trip to Maine is really complete without visiting a lighthouse.  We encourage your family to visit as many as you can!


Aug 182013
 

Maine’s historic windjammer fleet offers adventurous families a rustic but affordable unplugged outdoor summer vacation.  Most ships and schooners in the fleet offer overnight trips lasting from one to seven nights.  These trips feature majestic views of Maine’s coastline, unexpected interactions with seals and dolphins, and introduction to life at sea with limited modern conveniences or personal space.  Each trip is different depending on the boat, the weather and the duration of the voyage.  Passengers are often asked to help out with important tasks like raising and lowering the sails and anchor, but the crew takes care of the cooking and cleaning.

Two masted schooners and other windjammers are a common sight along the mid-coast of Maine, this one was seen from the deck of the Schooner Isaac H Evans

Two masted schooners and other windjammers are a common sight along the mid-coast of Maine, this one was seen from the deck of the Schooner Isaac H Evans

Our recent overnight sail aboard the 127 year old  Schooner Isaac H Evans, based in Rockland, ME, offered an 18-hour view of life aboard these beautiful vessels.   Our Friday afternoon departure in the pouring rain underscored the fact that these ships sail in all weather – no refunds offered if you don’t like the conditions.   Because of the truly dreadful weather the first evening we sailed just a short distance out of Rockland Harbor to a protected inlet off the coast of nearby Rockport, ME.  After weighing anchor and dropping the sails our intrepid crew raised a tarp that provided some protection from the elements and provided a semi-dry spot for a delightful onboard lobster and champagne dinner party.   We particularly enjoyed the unlimited soft shell lobster and the easy clean-up — just throw the used up shells overboard!

Cooking Lobster on the Schooner Isaac E Evans

Cooking Lobster on the Schooner Isaac E Evans

The next morning, in typical New England fashion, the skies had totally cleared and breakfast was served on deck (as are all the meals) – cooked over the ship’s wood stove which seemed to be in constant use, whether it was perking coffee, baking muffins or preparing eggs, bacon and hash browns.  Our morning sail across the Bay on our return to Rockland was very pleasant in the sunshine.

Tarps helped to provide a dry spot during our rainy sail aboard Maine windjammer Schooner Isaac H Evans

Tarps helped to provide a dry spot during our rainy sail aboard Maine windjammer Schooner Isaac H Evans

We enjoyed meeting our 20 fellow travelers from New York, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Washington DC.  Our passenger list included about a half dozen kids and younger tweens ages 6 to 12, but no teenagers.  Given the weather, during the first hours of the trip many of the adults retreated to the very limited space below decks while the kids seems happy watching the action in the rain.  Unfortunately, since the Schooner is the real deal, originally built for hauling oysters along the New Jersey and Delaware shoreline, it tended to leak in the rain – resulting in a couple of the very small sleeping rooms getting fairly wet.  This in turn made for less than perfect sleeping conditions since the ship doesn’t carry extra bedding.  Once  you leave dock, whatever is on board is all you have to work with.  Leaks got plugged with disposable diapers and duct tape!

Raising the sails on the Schooner Isaac H Evans

Raising the sails on the Schooner Isaac H Evans

Each sleeping room consisted of either a small double mattress platform bed, or two small bunks plus a tiny sink and about 4 square feet of floor space.  There is basically no storage room except for small spaces next to the bed.  While it was damp but usable for a single overnight our advice to anyone going for multiple nights it to back as lightly as possible.  The two heads (aka bathrooms) consist of marine flush toilets that are only accessible via the main deck so bring a flashlight if you might need to visit them at night.  One of the heads is also equipped with a hand shower. The crew kept them very clean.  There are lights and electricity onboard, including small reading lights in each cabin.

Windswept coast near Rockland ME seen from the deck of the Schooner Isaac H Evans

Windswept coast near Rockland ME seen from the deck of the Schooner Isaac H Evans

Our trip lasted just one night, and obviously the conditions were not perfect.  The Captain and her crew worked hard to make everyone as comfortable as possible and maintained a positive attitude.  For families that  like the outdoors, enjoy sharing small spaces with a few dozen “new friends”, and have well behaved kids who can easily entertain themselves, this kind of trip could be relaxing and relatively affordable since almost everything is included except expenses for stops ashore on the longer trips.  For others, this kind of vacation might quickly become boring once the novelty wears off or the weather turns cloudy.  If you go, definitely bring rain gear, suntan lotion, sunglasses, a hat, a sense of humor and a willingness to be flexible.

In the final analysis, the crew was great and the ship was authentic while the weather and scenery were pure New England.  However, we decided we are really landlubbers who enjoy vacations featuring a lot more room and creature comforts than a 19th century sailing vessel can provide.

Disclosure: We paid for this trip ourselves and the crew did not know we would be doing a review


Historic Salem, MA: Where Witches Meet the China Trade

 Posted by on August 6, 2013  Comments Off
Aug 062013
 

Salem, Massachusetts is filled with centuries of history and merits a well planned stop on family vacations that include exploring the beaches and towns north of Boston.  The historic city was founded in 1626 and was a major maritime center for centuries,  The city was also the site of the infamous Salem witch trials in 1692 that resulted in more than 150 men and women  being accused of selling their souls to the devil and 20 being put to death for their crimes.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, Salem grew to be the sixth largest city in the country, and the richest per capita by 1790, due in large part to its highly successful maritime trade with Europe, the West Indies, China, Africa and Russia.  Many fine buildings remain from this era overlooking the seaport.

The Salem Maritime National Historic site is home to the Friendship of Salem

The Salem Maritime National Historic site is home to the Friendship of Salem

Novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, the son of a sea captain, was born on July 4th, 1804.  While working in the Custom House overlooking the port, he  wrote his novel The Scarlet Letter.  The nearby House of the Seven Gables Settlement site includes Hawthorne’s birthplace and is open to the public.   Although a major fire destroyed hundreds of buildings in 1914, enough historic buildings survive to provide a sense of Salem in its seafaring heyday.

The Custom House where Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter overlooks historic Salem harbor

The Custom House where Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter overlooks historic Salem harbor

Simultaneous with efforts to preserve its past, Salem has invested in its downtown and wharf areas to create a pedestrian friendly retail area anchored by a world class museum and Pickering Wharf, home to some of the city’s best seafood restaurants.  The 9 acre Salem Maritime National Historic Site preserves some of the original buildings and wharves and is home to the 1797 Friendship of Salem, a full size replica of  a three-masted, square-rigged, 342-ton vessel known as a “East Indiaman,” that was used extensively in the China Trade.

Historic masthead  on display at Salem's Peabody Essex Museum

Historic masthead on display at Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum

Many artifacts brought home by the sea captains are on display at the city’s state of the art Peabody Essex Museum.    This city’s darker past is also well remembered by the worthwhile Salem Witch Trials Memorial and a seemingly endless array of witch museums, stores, and shows – most of which come off as decidedly campy tourist traps that we generally try to avoid.   The city’s fascination with the supernatural is evidenced by the number of citizens and visitors who are seriously committed to the study and practice of  witchcraft including the Witches League for Public Awareness which has the goal of dispelling  misconceptions surrounding Witchcraft and Wicca by working with schools, government agencies, and the media.

The streets of downtown Salem are line with witchcraft related shops

The streets of downtown Salem are line with witchcraft related shops

If your family is interested in maritime history be sure to plan ahead to make sure the sights you want to explore are open and make reservations for tours of the Friendship and some of the historic buildings.  Government funding cutbacks have shortened some viewing hours and curtailed some activities. Sites like the Custom House and the Friendship are only open to scheduled tours which we unfortunately missed.

We visited on a Sunday afternoon but started with the exhibits at the Peabody Essex only to find that by the time we made it over to the maritime site most everything was closed.  The museum is undergoing renovations so not all of its collection is on exhibit at present.  The Chinese House is worth the extra admission fee for an up close view of how traditional Chinese families lived.  Your Museum ticket also provides entry to several historic homes located near the main museum building.

Watch out for ghouls on the prowl in Salem!

Watch out for ghouls on the prowl in Salem!

Beyond the history, you will usually find modern day witches and ghouls on the streets encouraging you to browse in a myriad of shops related to witchcraft.  The people watching is always fun in this eclectic city.  We ate dinner at family friendly  Finz at Pickering Wharf and enjoyed the helpful service, the great seafood and the wharf-side views before heading home.  It was a fun day but would have been a little better if we had done our research ahead of time instead of winging it at the last minute.  If you visit Salem, let us know what you think.


Jun 112012
 

After spending several days amid the beauty of Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, we almost skipped the side trip to Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, located about an hour’s drive outside of Las Vegas.  We are glad we decided to take the turnoff at Exit #75 off Interstate 15 and spend a couple of hours among this park’s red sandstone formations.

Welcome to Nevada's Valley of Fire

Welcome to Nevada's Valley of Fire

The park’s 42,000 acres include about 10 miles of paved roads that provide access to a number of highly eroded and unusual features formed from shifting sand dunes millions of years ago.  There is an interpretive visitor center with bathrooms available, but food and water are limited so plan to bring a picnic lunch and make an afternoon of it.

Elephant Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Elephant Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

The park also houses petroglyphs from when the Anasazi people lived in the area.  Be sure to climb the metal stairs at Atlatl Rock to get a good view.

Petroglphys at Atlatl Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Petroglphys at Atlatl Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Remnants of a Civilian Conservation Corps work site from the 1930s can be found down a side turnoff.

Civilian Conservation Corps cabins in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Civilian Conservation Corps cabins in Nevada's Valley of Fire

In mid-April the temperatures approached 90 degrees and the limited available shade was very welcome.  We arrived at the time that many of the wildflowers were blooming along the sides of the roads and trails, adding some color to the bright red landscape.   Even the park’s hardy lizards and ground squirrels were out and about.

Lizard taking in the April sun in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Lizard taking in the April sun in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and water when you visit here.  Unless you really like it hot, the park is probably best visited during the winter, spring or fall as summertime highs easily top 120 degrees on many days.

Shade is limited in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Shade is limited in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Camp sites are available as are day use picnic areas.  Lake Mead is nearby but we didn’t get that far this visit.  We had to hit the road to get to Las Vegas in time for the Cirque du Soleil show “O” which features a dozens of swimmers cavorting in a 1.5 million gallon pool – talk about a contrast with the arid Valley of Fire!

The road to Nevada's Valley of Fire

The road to Nevada's Valley of Fire

We hope you enjoyed these photos, we will link them to the next Delicious Baby Photo Friday.


Mar 052012
 

When visiting Rome, old and new art and architecture are constantly juxtaposed with one another.  This is a city where the Modern Art Museum features art from the last two centuries and the age of buildings is measured is millenia.   No where is the contrast between old and older more apparent than during a visit to the Colosseum.  Completed in the year 80 AD, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever constructed by the ancient Roman Empire and is an engineering marvel.  #1 Son described it as the biggest, oldest man made building he has ever seen.

The exterior of Rome's Colosseum

The exterior of Rome's Colosseum

Yet, despite its age, the Colosseum is surrounded by modern roads, cars, and of course, tourists!    #1 Son’s school group used the Roma Pass which for 30 euros covered city transportation for three days and free admission for two museums or sites including the Colosseum.   After the first two uses, Roma Pass gives the holder a reduced admission price at other museums and sites, exhibitions, and events.  Waits for access to the Colosseum can extend as long as two hours in the hot Italian sun but on a chilly February day the site was relatively empty.

The last of Rome's unusual February 2012 snow storm melting at the Colosseum

The last of Rome's unusual February 2012 snow storm melting at the Colosseum

Looking through the photos #1 Son brought back from his class’s visit to the Colosseum we are amazed that a structure this large was built without the types of heavy machinery available today.   The ampthitheatre was built to hold 50,000 spectators.  It is over 600 feet long and over 150 feet high.    The outer wall, much of which is no longer in tact due to earthquakes, is believed to have used over 100,000 cubic meters of travertine stone and was held together by 300 tons of iron clamps since mortar had not yet been developed.

The Colosseum has seating for 50,000 spectators

The Colosseum has seating for 50,000 spectators

The Colosseum was home to Rome’s violent gladiator contests, mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on mythology.  It was in active use for hundreds of years.

View overlooking the Colosseum arena floor

View overlooking the Colosseum arena floor

The main arena area measures 272 ft by 157 ft.  It originally had a wood floor that covered a maze-like underground zone known as the hypogeum, which was made up of a two-level network of tunnels and cages where gladiators and animals were held before the contests.  A series of tunnels connected this underground world to the outside so performers and animals could enter the site without being seen by the waiting crowds.

The Colosseum hypogeum contained cages for gladiators and animals

The Colosseum hypogeum contained cages for gladiators and animals

Over the years the Colosseum has been badly damaged by earthquakes, looters, acid rain and car exhaust.  The site is under constant restoration as the city battles to preserve this important piece of history for the centuries to come.

Restoration is ongoing at Rome's Colosseum

Restoration is ongoing at Rome's Colosseum

Clearly the Colosseum is a “Must Do” on any trip to Rome.  Of couse, it is so big it is hard to miss.  If you visit with your teen or tween let us know what they think.

Like these photos? Hop on over to the Delicious Baby Photo Friday Page for more family travel photos!


Aug 172011
 

Many visitors motor straight through Soldotna, Alaska on their way to Homer and the other  picturesque fishing hamlets along the Kenai Peninsula’s western coast.  We were in town to go fishing and bear viewing but with a little time to kill we decided to stop by the Soldotna Homestead Museum at 461 Centennial Park Road near the Soldotna Visitor Center.  The visit ended up being a highlight of our week in Alaska with the teens.

Don't miss the Soldotna Homestead Museum

The museum consists of about a half dozen historical structures moved from various locations on the Peninsula.  Most were built in log cabin fashion although we learned that there were several different techniques, as each cabin took a different approach to constructing corners.   The buildings include a school, a community hall and several homesteader cabins.

Typical Alaskan Homesteader cabin at the Soldotna Homestead Museum

Rustic is the only way to describe how the homesteaders lived while they worked the land to earn a patent on their 40 acres.  The Museum’s map of the original homestead plots showed how the early birds got the best access to water while the later arrivals had to haul theirs in.

Wood stoves were the order of the day

Coming from New England, the teens were surprised to learn that homesteading in this part of Alaska lasted until the mid 1950s.  As a result, the artifacts on display included many items they might have found in their grandparent’s basements such as canning jars and vintage cookware.  Some were a bit more unusual like the  dentist drill powered by a foot pedal and a wood stove made from an oil drum.  The native animal and bird taxidermy collection was fun too!

Stuffed owl on display at the Soldotna Homestead Museum

One of our favorite buildings was the one room schoolhouse, which reminded Camera Guy of his youth in Central Vermont.

One room homesteader school house

We thought the 1950s metal lunch boxes and the Dick and Jane reading books were a nice touch!

Soldotna Homestead Museum school room

The highlight of the visit, however, was the opportunity to talk with the two wonderful historical society members who were staffing the museum that day.  Their parents had been homesteaders and these ladies brought to life the days before the main highway through town was paved and recalled the excitement of Alaska gaining statehood. The teens thought is was cool, but  Mom and Dad had a hard time believing hardy Alaskan homesteaders were raising families in log cabins off the grid at the same time we were watching cartoons on black and white TVs!

The Museum does not have a web site and is only open May to September but be sure to stop by if you are in the area for a glimpse at a unique slice of 20th century Americana.


May 132011
 

     The best way to experience New York City is to walk it.  One of more recent additions to the city’s walking scene is the lower West Side’s High Line park, located on a former elevated rail spur that runs through the  Meatpacking District.  

Take a walk along New York City's High Line

     Opened in 1934 to replace the West Side’s street level rail line, aka Death Alley, the High Line was unique in that it traveled down the center of the blocks, right through factories and warehouses where freight could be loaded and unloaded easily and securely.  Today the walking park runs right through the Chelsea Market building.

Hardy urban native plants keep the High Line green

     The line was dismantled and abandoned in pieces through the 1960s and 1970s with the last train carrying 3 cars of frozen turkeys in 1980.  The remaining 1.45 length of track was gradually taken over by tough urban grasses, plants and trees during the 1990s.  In the late 1990s a group of local advocates for open spaces raised awareness and built support for the city to turn it into a public park.  

A view of the Hudson River from the High Line

     The first third of the restored park opened for use in 2009.   The next section is scheduled to open in June 2011.   From the first day the park has been a hit with city dwellers and visitors alike.  

Enjoy the shade on the High Line

     The concrete path winds along the elevated walkway leaving lots of room for the plants as well as places to sit and enjoy the views down side streets.   There is even an urban outdoor theater carved out of what was a trestle over 10th Avenue.

Urban theater on the High Line

      #1 Son took these pictures while he and his classmates explored the  the High Line as part of their field trip to New York City.   We are pretty sure it looked and smelled a lot better than it did back in the industrial era they studied in school! Visit here if you want to see more of his New York City photos.

     Looking for other great places to walk in New York City?  Check out past posts on walks through Central Park, over the Brooklyn Bridge and down Broadway.

    And finally, we’d like you to know we shared these photos with the Delicious Baby Photo Friday page – stop over there to see lots more fun family travel images.

New York City Things To Do on raveable