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 132013
 

Everyone loves a day at the beach, but, very few people enjoy sitting in traffic for hours to get there.  Summer weekends in Boston find many families waiting in traffic on their way to the sunny beaches of Cape Cod or the North Shore – a fun day can quickly turn into an ordeal.  Families on vacation or college tours in Boston often miss out on seeing the Cape because of worries about how long the trip will take.

Veterans Beach in Hyannis, Cape Cod

Veterans Beach in Hyannis, Cape Cod

For many years, the only public transportation options from Boston to the Cape have been buses (which also get stuck in traffic) or boats.  This year, however, families that want to visit Cape Cod without a car have a new choice: the Cape Cod Flyer train service from Boston to Hyannis, the gateway to Cape Cod.  After a 25 year absence, it is great to have train service available to the Cape from downtown Boston.

The Cape Cod Flyer runs from Boston’s South Station to Hyannis on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings with return trips available Friday, Saturday and Sunday  evenings between Memorial Day and September 2nd.  Trains to Hyannis will also run the evening of Wednesday July 3.  The roundtrip fare is $35.  Kids age 5 and under and pets travel for free.   Free Wi-Fi is available on board.  Bikes can also come along for no charge.  The schedule allows for weekend getaways or day trips.  Intermediate stops are also made at Braintree, Middleborough and Buzzard’s Bay.

The ride lasts about two hours and 15 minutes, which is probably less time that it would take to drive on a Friday night or in Saturday morning beach traffic.  Upon arrival at Hyannis, free shuttles will make connections to the HyLine Cruises dock for ferries to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, as well as fishing boats and Harbor Cruises.  Connections to other ferries can also be made from the Buzzard’s Bay stop.   Bus service to most of the rest of the Cape originates at the Hyannis Transportation Center where the train arrives.

Hyannis Channel Point

Hyannis Channel Point

If you are making a daytrip or a quick weekend getaway, plan to stay in Hyannis where there is lots to do with kids, teens and tweens.  We recommend bringing bikes or taking advantage of the free Main Street Shuttle .  It is less than a 2 mile bike ride from the Transportation Center to the Hyannis Veterans Beach or the Kalmus Park Beach.   The Shuttle makes connections to hotels and shopping easy.   Daily and weekly bike rentals are available at the Bike Zone.  And of course, taxi  cabs are always available.

Besides the beach, Hyannis is a hub for all sorts of activities and family fun.  Whale watches depart from Barnstable with   Hyannis Whale Watch Cruises. For pirate fans, the Sea Gypsy takes kids ages 3-10 on a swashbuckling treasure hunting voyage around Hyannis Harbor.   Helen H Deep Sea Tours in Hyannis caters to families with a range of custom charter fishing operations as well as its Kids Sea-Fari tour led by marine naturalists.  Cape Code Duckmobile tours leave from Hyannis as well.

Afterwards, walk and shop in the Hyannis Main Street area which boasts more than a half dozen ice cream and candy shops.  The Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory tour is another must do! The teens love those chips.   There are plenty of family friendly hotels in and around downtown Hyannis so it makes a great base camp for exploring the Cape for a day or weekend without a car.  If you take the Cape Cod Flyer, let us know what you think!

 Photos courtesy Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism


Feb 042013
 

The recently renovated 364 room Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore, and the adjacent 65,000 square foot CoCo Key Boston North Shore Water Park, are centrally located for families with teens and tweens who want to explore both the City of Boston and classic New England destinations such as the historic witch city of Salem, the beaches and conservation areas of Cape Ann, the whale watches and nautical history of Gloucester, or the quaint artistic village of Rockport.  Families visiting nearby Merrimack College or boarding schools such as Phillips Andover will also find the Doubletree to be a convenient base camp.   The hotel is within a 30 minute (non-rush hour) drive of downtown Boston and most North Shore destinations.

A fully renovated room at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore

A fully renovated room at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore

We recently had the opportunity to stay at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore, and to enjoy CoCo Key, and were impressed with both the friendliness of the staff and the quality of the renovations.  We stayed in a standard queen double room, but the hotel also offers 40 family suites that feature a king size bed plus two youth beds.

All rooms include granite counter bathrooms, TVs, complimentary internet access and the famous Doubletree freshly baked cookies.  The hotel has its own Starbucks as well as the Tradewinds restaurant and lounge which serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Additional quick food options are available inside the CoCo Key water park.

The Atlantis Health Club pool at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore

The Atlantis Health Club pool at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore

In addition to the water park, which requires its own entrance fee, guests have free access to the Atlantis Health Club pool, cardio, and weight training facilities which are located inside the hotel.  A spa and business center round out the amenities.  The teens enjoyed the lazy river and water slides at CoCo Key but were also thrilled with the Atlantis Health Club, particularly the indoor pool and hot tub which they had nearly to themselves on a winter’s Saturday afternoon.

The hotel offers a number of family friendly discount packages that include water park access.  The hotel ballroom is also popular for receptions and events.  As a result, it is no surprise that the hotel is busy on the weekends.  If you plan to eat dinner at the hotel it is wise to make reservations, particularly if you have a larger group.  We enjoyed the pub style menu at the Tradewinds Lounge on Saturday night. We opted for burgers, sandwiches and salads after a busy afternoon at the water park but full entrees are also available on the menu.  Like all the hotel staff, our server was friendly and helpful even though it was a hectic evening.  The hotel is located just minutes from many other chain and local restaurants located along Route 1 if you want other dining options.

Dinner at the Tradewinds Lounge at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore

Dinner at the Tradewinds Lounge at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore

If your family travels bring you to Boston, or the idea of a weekend at Massachusett’s largest indoor water park sounds like a good time, the renovated Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore offers a comfortable, family friendly base camps with lots of activities, dining options and friendly service.

We want to thank the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore and CoCo Key for hosting our recent complimentary overnight visit to the hotel and water park.  The opinions in this review are solely our own.

Jan 272013
 

The 65,000 square foot CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore is a pretty impressive sight when you first walk through the doors. CoCo Key is the largest indoor water park in Massachusetts and any time it is open the park is a beehive of activity as kids, tweens and teens make the most of the park’s brightly colored slides, sprays, pools and water features.

CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore main water slide and spray area

CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore main water slide and spray area

Located in Danvers MA, just 19 miles north of Boston and adjacent to the 364 room Doubletree by Hilton Boston North Shore hotel, CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore includes multi-level water slides, spray decks, bucket dumps, water actvities, four-story high enclosed tube slides, a lazy river, and a wading pool for younger kids.   The action never stops as the kids scamper from one splashy activity to the next.

The stairs for the big slides tower over the rest of the CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore

The stairs for the big slides tower over the rest of the CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore

One of the best parts of visiting CoCo Key during the winter is that no matter what the weather is like outside, its is a near perfect 84 degrees inside.  It was well below freezing when we were there but the climate controls were working perfectly.  A quick serve restaurant and a bar overlooking the action offer refreshments for kids and adults (the margaritas looked pretty chill).  The water features are surrounded by plenty of tables to act as base camp for the day.  And if the kids need a break from the water, the arcade is well stocked with video games and prizes for all ages.

All ages get into the scene at the CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore

All ages get into the scene at the CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore

The park caters to families with kids ages 2-12, although families with slightly older teens and tweens can definitely enjoy CoCo Key as part of a family stay at the hotel.  On our recent visit to the Doubletree by Hilton Boston North Shore , our 16 year old teen and a friend were found enjoying the lazy river and the big tube slides before heading off for an hour at the arcade and an extended visit to the hotel pool, hot tub and workout area.  They said the Water Park was fun for a few hours and would be a great place to spend time hanging out with younger siblings during a family vacation to explore Boston and the surrounding North Shore towns including Salem, Rockport and Gloucester.

CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore is popular with kids, teens and tweens

The arcade at the CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore is popular with kids, teens and tweens

For local residents, day passes, half day passes and season tickets are available.  CoCo Key is also a popular destination for birthday parties and group outings.  Be warned that it can get crowded on weekends, particularly in the middle part of the day.  Hotel guests can avoid the crowds by visiting in the evening hours – the Water Park stays open until 9 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and many school vacation days.

For hotel guests, family discount packages can mean a fun affordable weekend getaway or provide built-in evening entertainment when using the Doubletree as a base camp for visiting Boston and the North Shore.  However, if booking a hotel stay, be aware that the Water Park is often closed on non-holiday Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Book by January 31st for a discount on an overnight visit during the mid-February Massachusetts school vacation week.  The Ultimate Waterpark  Package includes CoCo Key access, arcade game cards, breakfast and overnight accommodations.  The hotel has recently renovated a number of rooms to create family suites located near the Water Park.

All and all, a day or a weekend at CoCo Key is a great way to get a break from New England’s cold winter weather while spending some fun time with family and friends.

We want to thank CoCo Key and the Doubletree by Hilton Boston North Shore for hosting our recent complimentary overnight visit to the hotel and water park.  The opinions in this review are solely our own.

 

Oct 202012
 

Parents’ Weekends are often the first chance that parents of college freshman have to catch up with their student since they said goodbye on drop-off day.  By now, your student has made friends, found his way around campus, and settled into social routines that seem to involve staying up all night and sleeping until noon on the weekends.  As a result, many parents find themselves with time on their hands on Saturday morning of Parents Weekend.  During our recent trip to #1 Son’s Parents’ Weekend at UMass Amherst, mom and dad killed some time by exploring the Pioneer Valley and small towns near Amherst.  We visited just before peak fall foliage colors were unflured, but our ramblings still offered some stunning views both on campus and off.

Foliage in front the UMass University Club - the oldest house on campus

Foliage in front the UMass University Club – the oldest house on campus

If you plan to visit central Massachusetts and the Amherst area for leaf peeping, college shopping or just to take a break from the Massachusetts Turnpike, we recommend taking a couple hours to explore Amherst and the surrounding small towns such as North Leverett, Montague, Sunderland and Wendell.  There are plenty of public lands open for hiking in the area including Wendell State Forest and the Mount Holyoke Range State Park.  Be aware that the state provides little to no services in most of the parks and forests in this area so bring plenty of food and water if you want to make a day of it.

We started our tour visiting the vibrant Amherst downtown.  Just a few blocks outside the main shopping district the Emily Dickinson Museum offers a tranquil location with fine examples of mid-19th century architecture and lots of fall foliage.

The grounds of the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst MA

The grounds of the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst MA

Heading North out of town we passed many farms hurrying to get ready for winter.  We saw cornfields, horses and at least one goat farm in the area.

The vibrant downtown of Amherst quickly changes to farmland and forests heading north

The vibrant downtown of Amherst quickly changes to farmland and forests heading north

We headed towards the  town of Montague, home to several small villages including Turners Falls, which is listed on the National Historic Register for its collection of waterpowered mill buildings.  We never actually made it there as we stopped to look at an old Lumber Mill in North Leverett and then decided to follow the turnoff for Wendell State Park.

Old Lumber Mill in North Leverett, MA

Old Lumber Mill in North Leverett, MA

Little did we know that our GPS thought a little back country overland adventure was in order as it routed us onto a dirt road that turned into a 4 wheel drive track complete with major boulders and mud pits along the way.

Our GPS routed us over some interesting backroads near Wendell State Forest

Our GPS routed us over some interesting backroads near Wendell State Forest

Our SUV took it in stride and we eventually reconnected with pavement and were able to navigate back to Route 63.

Off the grid near Millers Falls and Montague MA

Off the grid near Millers Falls and Montague MA

By that point, we decided #1 Son might be thinking of waking up so we headed back to UMass to meet him for lunch.  We were somewhat surprised at how quickly the area around Amherst changes from suburban to rural.  The number and diversity of the small towns, trails and historic sites was another unexpected bonus of our morning ramble around the Pioneer Valley.

If you visit Amherst with your teen to check out one or more of the five colleges in the area try to take a couple of hours to get off the beaten track if you can.  The Pioneer Valley is spectacular any time of the year.

Aug 062012
 
Boston's Charles River and Longfellow Bridge viewed from a Duck

Boston’s Charles River and Longfellow Bridge

The City of Boston reports that 35 colleges are located inside the city limits and they collectively enroll over 150,000 students.  Add in students from universities in nearby Cambridge, Medford, and Waltham and you pretty quickly surpass 250,000 students.   While about a third of undergrads will move into dorms, most of the grad students and the rest of the undergrads settle into rental apartments and houses.  These students arrive from all over the world, many with parents and siblings coming along for the trip.  Most arrive the last week of August or the first week or two of September. Virtually every lease in the city runs from September 1 to August 31.

For parents bringing their student to move into Boston for the first time, our major piece of advice is to avoid September 1 if at all possible.  The urban colleges have dorm move-in down to a science and will provide detailed instructions as well as volunteers to help things run smoothly.  However, move in for rentals can be a bit of a frenzy with the side streets that are home to student apartments and triple deckers becoming impossible to navigate as they fill with U-hauls, SUVs, teens and parents.  As the day goes on, the sidewalks fill with discarded furniture and packing materials.   Northeastern University, located in the middle of a densely populated student area, doesn’t even allow freshmen to move in on September 1st because things get so crazy.

Bring a sense of humor and plan for a busy day getting your teen installed in their new accommodations.  Beyond that, recognize that the most important thing you may do that day is to give your student a heartfelt yet cheerful good-bye and let them go on their way to make new friends and get settle at school.

Make sure to get your tickets to Fenway early

Fenway Park, a Boston icon

For parents  that find themselves in town for a post-move in afternoon or evening, don’t mope in the hotel room missing your teen.  Rather, get out and explore some of Boston’s best neighborhoods and attractions.  Here are five ideas to get you started:

  • Grab some last minute tickets to a game at Fenway Park.  The Red Sox have not had a great year, which means that for the first time in a decade last minute seats are available at the park.  Season ticket holders show up trying to sell their seats at the “No Scalping” zone where Red Sox employees mediate price negotiations.  The Fenway Park ticket office often has limited seats for sale near game time and the ticket agencies located near the Park have been flooded with quality seats if you want to pay a little extra.  The scalpers are also out en masse but we don’t recommend using their services.  The Red Sox have home stands August 21-27 and September 7-13.
  • Take a Walk.  History buffs may have visited the Freedom Trail on prior visits, but don’t miss the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the Walk to the Sea or the Emerald Necklace.  A farmer’s market is in residence on the Greenway every Tuesday and Thursday until mid-November.
  • Explore the the bike paths along the Charles River near Boston University – they run for miles through Cambridge and beyond.  Boston’s bike sharing program known as The Hubway makes it easy.  A one day pass is $5 which includes the first 30 minutes of riding.  It is $2 for an additional  half hour, with usage fees increasing the longer you rent.  The Hubway is constantly expanding its network of rental stations so it should be easy to fine one near where you are staying.
  • Go out for a nice, quiet adult dinner!  Boston’s South End, Beacon Hill, and Back Bay are home to a wide range of restaurants.  We find that the Open Table reservation system is a great way to discover a hidden gem, read reviews and make a reservation.  Mistral, Abe & Louie’s, Hamersleys and many more will serve up a memorable feast.
  • Take in a live show.  The BosTix agency offers discount live performance tickets for a range of shows.  They have walk up kiosks in the Back Bay and at Faneuil Hall.  Tickets can also be ordered online.  If you have never seen Blue Man Group, now is your chance.

Boston has a reputation of being a great city for students, and it is.  But, its not such a bad place for parent’s to enjoy themselves as well.  We hope you have a great time.  And remember, the fact that your teen decided to come to school in Boston means you will have lots of excuses to come back and explore even more.


Clark University: First Impressions

 Posted by on April 24, 2011  Comments Off
Apr 242011
 

Clark University Quad on the first warm day of Spring

     After a winter of thinking deep thoughts and researching academic options, we are starting again to visit possible colleges for #1 Son.  Clark University, in Worcester, MA caught our eye on a recent early Spring visit.  Although the school’s location in Worcester’s gritty Main South area is less than perfect, the obvious enthusiasm that “Clarkies” have for their school is noticeable.

      With 2,200 undergrads and about 800 graduate students, Clark bills itself as the country’s smallest liberal arts research university.   The school is particularly well known for its programs in psychology and geography.  It has also made a name for itself by offering students who maintain a B+/A- average the opportunity to complete one of serveral fifth year Master’s programs tuition free!  Mom and Dad like this option.

The Library/Commons building is a busy place at Clark

    Everywhere we went on campus we saw students actively working either together in groups, or on their own.  The students at Clark were clearly energized by their studies.

     #1 Son took advantage of the opportunity to sit in on a class and have lunch with a student.   We also attended a Q&A session with the admission staff and current students and of course, took the tour. 

     The students we spoke to were an eclectic bunch who seemed particularly interested in international affairs and social entrepreneurship.  They obviously care about the world around them and enjoy the diverse campus culture.   Many students participate in service learning programs locally in Worcester and abroad via interships and overseas study programs.  After college plans ranged from business, to graduate school, to work for non-governmental organizations around the world.

Wright Hall freshman dorm room

      Clark is a Division III school for athletics but we got the sense that sports are not a big part of the campus culture.  As far as we could tell there are no fraternities.   Campus housing is available for four years.  

     Our tour included a visit to the recently renovated Wright Hall which features a number of lounges and even networked group study rooms with large screens for working collaboratively.   We thought the standard freshman doubles were a tad larger than many we have seen.

     The compact campus is highly walkable.  We were told the grounds crew did a great job keeping up with the 90+ inches of snow that fell there this past winter. (A normal winter sees more like 67 inches so this is definitely a school for teens who like winter).

Wright Hall

     Overall, Clark has a lot of what #1 Son is looking for in a college – small class sizes, an engaged  student body, an active campus where most kids are around on the weekends, and the opportunity to combine political science and business.   The geography program also caught his eye.  This isn’t a major he has thought about up until now but the opportunity  to focus on community development and environmental issues and work with world recognized researchers is something he wants to explore further.  The journey continues, but Clark is looking like it will be on the list come fall.