Salem, MA

By my recent posts, it’s fairly obvious I took a roadtrip from CT to MA, specifically: Salem, MA. I never have made a bucket list, but if I did, Salem would be on it. Everyone knows Salem and the Salem Witch Trials, but not many have been to the village/city that hosted one of America’s darkest periods in history. Through this post I want to comment on the history, the town, and the culture that has enveloped the city. As well as some of the sites I saw that were awesome!

Salem, MA is 30 minutes north of Boston; you can get there by ferry or by car. There’s quite a few hotels to stay at, but I stayed at a conference hotel outside of town (in Beverley MA) and it was lovely. The Wylie Inn is hidden in a suburban neighborhood and was affordable with its own private beach. I would highly recommend it.

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There’s quite a few things to see in Salem, and it’s interesting how they are separated by type: historical versus cultural. Clearly, the entire purpose of traveling to the town is based on the 17th Century witch trials, so there are quite a few museums. Unfortunately, many of them are tour-led, meaning a docent guides you through the museum. You are thus on their time-table, covering topics that they are introducing, and spending time where they want you to spend time. I like to think I am a smart person, so when I approach a museum, I enjoy to think about what I want to see, what information I want to gather, and what I want to learn more about. I hate when people talk AT me. Thus, I am not a huge fan of museums that are dependent on docents, such as the “Salem Witch Museum.” Keep this in mind if and when you go.

Speaking of being toured around, one of the most fulfilling things I could have done in Salem was to take a tour of the historic area. “Bewitched After Dark Walking Tour” was rated the top tour in the Salem area on TripAdvisor, so I bought a ticket for $20. There was about 40 of us ranging in ages from babies to senior citizens. Our guide had a tremendous amount of knowledge on the area and really focused his discussion to the Salem Cemetery and Salem Witch Memorial, which really provided a myopic view of the historical facts of the time period. This is probably the wisest $20 I could have spent in the city. The memorial is extremely touching, and even though the tour spent about 45-60 minutes in the memorial, I went back during the day to walk through it again. The memorial has 20 stones that look like benches, each with an inscribed name of an accused witch, the date of execution, and how they were executed. This is a very touching memorial, and really drives the point home, since the memorial looks directly upon the cemetery of the accusers.

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Now on to the cultural aspects of Salem. Witches draw the most interesting crowds. I could clearly see this in the Salem Walking Mall that’s a small shopping district filled with shops of eclectic material and products. Interesting too is that some shops have tarot card readers and “spirit rooms” where seances can be done. This brings some interesting people to the city ranging from hippies to ghost marauders seeking conversations with their relatives. This may be “fun” for some but it is odd for those of us who want to enjoy the history of the city.

The other thing that you HAVE to do while in Salem is go to the House of Seven Gables. You must pay $13 to gain access to the grounds which includes a variety of historic homes, a tour of the House of 7 Gables, and a quaint garden. The tour of the house is well-worth the cost of the tour, and it only takes 35 minutes, which is not bad. The House was built by cousins of Nathaniel Hawthorne. The tour guide walks through all rooms of the house, how they are decorated, and what historically happened in each room. You also gain access to a secret staircase that was installed after Hawthorne wrote his book; this was to incorporate fictional pieces into the actual house. Very cool!! The garden of the grounds is beautiful and sits on the harbor, so on a bright sunny day is a lovely place to sit and have lunch. The grounds also contain Hawthorne’s birthplace, which was relocated from another part of Salem. The grounds are a bit off the beaten path, but just google it and find its place, it’s super lovely.

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All in all, it was a good trip and I really enjoyed all the eclectic aspects of the town. Now that I’ve seen it, I have invested in the current novel by Pulitzer winner Stacy Schiff entitled The Witches. This describes the history, in full detail, of the Witch trials. I will follow up with a blog post about this book. The town is lovely, I went on bright sunny days, and I bought a few memorabilia. Anyway, go if you get a chance; you could probably see everything that is worthwhile in a full day. There’s not that many things to see in more than 36 hours, but go if you are in the New England area!

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Sturbridge Village, MA

On my roadtrip from CT to Salem, MA I wanted to see as much of New England as I could. Thus, I took one route up north then east (I-91 to the Mass Pike), and another south then west (through Rhode Island). The latter route is chronicle in my post about Mystic Seaport, a bit longer but I saw a lot more scenery. My first route went directly north to Sturbridge, MA in central MA. I stopped at the historic village called Sturbridge Village to cut my trip in two equal pieces.

Sturbridge Village, similar to the Mystic Seaport, is compared to Colonial Williamsburg because it is the self-guided village of New England. It has farms, animals, houses, and meeting centers that were restored from the time of the American Revolution up until the Civil War.  I was very lucky to go on a day that was bright and sunny but wasn’t too hot, which made the experience really enjoyable. The town is quite large with a huge green in the center of town, pictured below:

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The Village also is set along the coast of a river and spans a sort of forest. If you go, wear comfortable and hiking-suitable shoes. The roads around the houses and buildings are 100% rock, and some of the village is up a hill through dirt and routes with embedded tree roots. Each house has a designated tour guide, and even though everything is self-guided, the tour guides are very knowledgeable. All houses are opened to the public and you can access most corners of each building. The house below that was built in the 17th century, allowed you to go throughout the first AND second floor, with each room decorated in period pieces. It was really lovely.

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The village also had live renditions of a soldier shooting his rifle (it was SO loud). There was also a huge museum of clocks, anywhere from large grandfather clocks to small wall clocks. The entire collection was quite impressive, too bad they wouldn’t allow photography. I could have spent a few more hours on the grounds, but because I was in a hurry to continue my road-trip I had to cut my visit short. If I was younger, I would have loved visiting this place. It’s off the beaten path, and not too easy to get to, but neither is Colonial Williamsburg, so if you’re in the neighborhood, I would definitely go.

Mystic Seaport, CT

In my travels returning from Salem, MA to CT I thought I would stop by the little town of Mystic, CT. It’s right over the border from RI (again, coming back from MA) so it was a rather quick drive (about 1hr from New Haven, CT).

Mystic, CT, is known for its Aquarium, its seaport, and the film “Mystic Pizza,” you know, the one that made Julia Roberts a star. Anyway, returning to the city: it’s off the beaten path. You exit I-95 into a forest, drive past a gas station, a little more forest, then the coastline. About 5 minutes away is the Mystic Seaport which is one of the main selling points for the city.

Mystic Seaport is compared to Sturbridge Village and Colonial Williamsburg. There’s a rather large charge to gain access to the facility ($26), but it is rather large with a lot of property and places to visit. I think the neatest aspect of the seaport in comparison to the other two sites almost everyone compares it to, is that it IS right on the coast so you can have access to ships. Ships such as this one:

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Fortunately, I went on a beautiful clear day (as you can see in the photo). I can’t imagine this place in the cold, or even worse, in the blistering heat. There’s not very many places to sit and shading to enjoy outside without scalding. Another downside, is that in the comparison to Williamsburg and Sturbridge, the seaport doesn’t have as many activities for families and things to see as the other places. I went to the Drugstore and spoke to the representative there, and that was really enjoyable and she was quite knowledgeable on the material, however, that’s the only thing I was interested in. There’s also only three places to eat, one for “quick food” and that didn’t have the best selection. I DID eat BOMB New Enlgand Clam Chowder here that was made in house and it was amazing! The other two places were sit-down, which for a family or a single person is not optimal.

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If you are taking the I-95 from NYC to Boston (even though I would partly not recommend this route for that trip), I think mystic is a quaint place to stop. I want to go back and enjoy the Mystic Village for its shopping is supposed to be eclectic. Also the Mystic Aquarium is supposed to be very cool (even though I’m not a huge fan of aquariums). Anyway, if you are in the neighborhood, stop on by!

New Haven, CT

Washington, DC has been my home for the past 4.5 years. It was exceptionally rocky since graduate school is, well, rocky. During those years, I have done quite a few of the touristy things in DC. Lets get real though, how many times can one person see the monuments? Alternatively, I have done quite a few more non-touristy things. I would recommend the Kennedy Center for any show (ballet, musical, etc.).

So, DC was great, but I’ve moved on. For how much I loved the city, it has so many bad memories for me, I was happy to leave it far behind. I literally honked and waved as we got on the freeway on the road to New Haven, CT.

New Haven is quite the city. If you don’t know, it’s the home for Yale University. And that’s kind of the only reason to visit. There’s different sections of the university: medical campus, old campus, and science campus to name a few. Most people’s personal favorite is the old campus. Old campus is a few blocks and contains all of the colleges that most (if not all) Yale undergraduates live in. These buildings are old, like centuries old. There is one college, in particular, that the builders cracked windows in the shape of a “Y.” Literally, they cracked Y’s into the windows. My personal favorite is Sterling Memorial Library. The stained glass windows, the huge reading room, the large entryway hall, all are amazing to see.

Other than the university, it’s an interesting New England city. Safety is a large problem. The city does not have the safest track record. I have been told not to walk the streets at night, always take the Yale Shuttle, and don’t walk anywhere but close to campus. These are serious concerns of New Haven downtown. As you travel outside of New Haven downtown there’s quite cute neighborhoods of older houses. Very sweet. Then again, there are pockets of cute neighborhoods that are kind of “icky.”

I will comment that there’s a lovely Sailors and Soldiers Memorial that sits on a bluff overlooking all of New Haven. It’s so high up that, on a clear day, you can see Long Island across the Long Island sound. The view is spectacular! I would highly recommend this sight. New Haven, you better treat me well (especially in the winter)!

Lindau, Germany

A few of my posts have mentioned my travels to Germany, but I haven’t mentioned where in Germany I went. Lindau is a small island in the south west of Germany on Lake Constance (Bodensee in German). It borders Switzerland, Austria, and (obviously) is in German territory. The island is about 1.5 in cross section so you can walk the entire length of the island in 20 minutes. There are two bridges onto the island: train and car. Obviously, because it is on a lake, you can access it via ship.

The buildings on Lindau are cute and colorful. The streets are all cobblestone (very little of the island is paved, even the cars drive on cobblestone). It was first described to me as the Myrtle Beach of Germany where many Germans go to vacation. I can totally see this for there’s lots of shopping and daily activities for families. There are sections of the lake in which you can go swimming (I did not) and many of the locals did. Moreover, sailing is huge there for the Bodensee is a huge expansive lake with lots of space for sailing and stuff. The locals on the island were fairly nice. Many were classic curt Germans, but if you were looking and it seemed like you were shopping they were pretty nice. I mastered the look of fear in my eyes when they spoke to me in German and I had no idea what they were saying. Many spoke English or at least enough English to communicate necessities.

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Shopping district of Lindau. The bottom is a jewelry shop.

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Outlooking onto the Bodensee towards the Swiss Alps from Lighthouse on Lindau.

I enjoyed lots of food on the island too! Because it’s so close to Italy, not only is there a lot of Italian shops with Italian brands, there’s also a ton of pizza shops. I ate at this one place twice, actually, and the pizzas were thin crusted and so delish. Now that I think back on it, I ate a calzone my last night in Lindau and OMG so good! I also had some traditional German food. My first meal on the island at a small German restaurant was Schnitzel, not fried. The chicken piece was topped with chopped bell peppers marinated in paprika and chili spices. It was served with french fries, which was a little weird but whatever. The other dish that I enjoyed was a veal piece covered in a horseradish cream sauce and served with delicious boiled baby potatoes. Many of the days, food was provided at the conference venue so we did not have to go hunt a restaurant down on the island. The caterers offered a meat dish (beef stroganoff, chicken legs, etc.) and a vegetarian dish (gnocchi, vegetable strudel, etc.). I was pretty impressed with the array of vegetarian dishes and their tastiness. Not often do you get great vegetarian dishes served.

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Veal in horseradish sauce and golden potatoes.

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Three flavored ice cream.

My last full day on Lindau was spent on a boat traveling to a neighboring Island Mainau. Even though it was 95 degrees out and disgustingly hot, the island was so beautiful. I really enjoyed all of the gardens and flowers that were in full bloom. The island is owned by Count Bernadotte, the conference organizer. The entrance fee to come to Mainau island is the main financial backing provided to the conference I attended. Now, his humble palace has its own church that has beautiful granite everywhere and has 360 degree views of the surrounding Bodensee. Just magnificance. I wouldn’t mind living there!

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Mainau Gardens

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Count Bernadotte’s palace.

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Count Bernadotte’s gardens.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time on Lindau. The wine was great and cheap, the city was clean and lovely, and the people were pleasant. I’m not sure I would go back, perhaps if I was in the area, but there are so many other great little towns like Lindau in the world, I want to explore them first. I definitely recommend visiting. The city is pricey, again its a vacation destination, but still there aren’t many places like it!

St. Louis, MO

While it is fresh in my mind, I am going to compose this post about the city of St. Louis, MO (note how I did not use a descriptor).

Oh, where to begin? Wait, I know! Ten minutes after getting off the plane at Lambert Airport my colleague and I walked to the metro station. Yes, you have to walk through a parking garage without walkways to the metro station. Then, we boarded the metro trains, which were clean and did not smell (unlike NYC). The first 2 stops were fine, then the third began the interesting tale of our travels into the city. A whole bunch of individuals boarded the train and this guy broke out his wad of cash containing mostly $20s, but also $100s. He then started betting train goers on a card game. Queue shakedown warnings. I finally got to the metro station that I needed in downtown St. Louis and it was pretty empty, but by then I was fearing for my life. So, I speed-walked 5 blocks to my hotel: Hyatt at the Arch. The hotel was overall pretty nice, and I had a lovely view of the Arch.

I arrived on a Sunday so many of the usual restaurants in the area were not open. Thank the Lord for Starbucks in my hotel, allowing me to have a coffee in the afternoon so I could make it all the way to the convention center. Hyatt is about six blocks away from the convention center, and while the walk wasn’t too terrible, it didn’t feel too safe, especially to walk at night as a single, young female. Once at the convention center, I felt very comfortable for the center was pretty safe and clean.

The conference that I attended was a full week long and probably my biggest complaint about the downtown area was that there really weren’t many places for a quick bite to eat. I found some lovely places however that were not fast food, but you could easily grab and go. I didn’t discover Stefano’s (right across the street from the convention center) until my last day at the conference. It had a variety of Italian fare, from sandwiches to Italian pasta dishes, and gourmet salads. I had an Italian panino that had provolone, banana peppers, lettuces, and three different types of Italian meats over a warm French baguette. It also came with a side salad. All for $7.50. OMG, this had to be the best place out of everywhere I ate in the city.

On to the tourist places of St. Louis. Wait…what tourist places?! Seriously, there is only the Arch, and of course there is a whole bunch of construction being conducted on the arch. I went up to my hotel’s 18th floor to get a full view of the Arch and its grounds and of course it was a bloody mess. The ground everywhere was all dug up and looked ugly. The traditional way down to the arch was blocked so visitors had to take a detour. Across the street from my hotel was the old Courthouse, which was very pretty inside. I spoke to a tour guide and she said that that dome was the “practice run” for the Capitol dome in Washington, DC. Fun Fact! That was probably my favorite part of the visit. Other than that however, there was very little to do. The St. Louis Cardinals stadium was a few blocks from my hotel and they did play while I was in town, but I couldn’t go. I should have! It felt like St. Louis is a huge sports city and not very cultural. The tour guide I mentioned above said that there was a lot to do that was cultural, you just need a car to drive to these places unfortunately.

I guess, after five days of visiting the city, I was not exactly wowed. If you have a car and want to see the Arch, I would say that the city is decent to stop in for like a day. Any longer than that would just be boring. Not sure I would ever go back. Been there, done that. Didn’t leave a complete sour taste in my mouth, it was just bleh. If you have had a different experience than myself, please leave a comment for I am willing to give the city the benefit of the doubt, but out of all the places that the conference has been held, I find this the most boring.

Historic Triangle, VA

As an American, it’s always very interesting to go and see where the country was founded, how life was like back in Revolutionary times, and where our freedom was fought for. All of those themes are covered in the Historic Triangle region of Virginia: Williamsburg, Jamestowne, and Yorktown. Jamestowne was where John Smith landed with his crew and built Jamestown fort (also where Pocahontas lived). Williamsburg (Colonial Williamsburg to be exact) is where there is an entire town preserved with how life was like during the American Revolution and houses the evolution of British rule to American. Yorktown is the site of the battlefield where the Americans conquered the British, thus separating ourselves from Britain. In all honesty, three days was not enough to see the sites in these three areas of the Historic Triangle, but we got the main themes!

First off, let me rave about the hotel that we stayed at: The Historic Powhatan. It was glorious. We got upgraded to a two bedroom, two bathroom condo from a one bedroom, which was a great way to start the trip. Additionally, this condo was grander than my apartment. Lets just say we could have stayed for weeks! There are pools, lakes, historic parts of the property, a coffee house, a few restaurants, and mini golf! So much to do, so many places to see. Just glorious, and highly recommended.

On to Colonial Williamsburg, a place I have been two twice now, is awesome each and every time. One expects it to be a bit corny like Disneyland for a major portion of it is driven to engage children to be interested in the time era. It’s very far from that. The entire premise consists of two main streets that are lined with a variety of era houses that have been restored, but are the real size and shape of their original establishments. They also house the specialist that originally owned them. For example, there’s an apothecary, milliner, printshop, silversmith, and carpenter to name a few. You can go into these houses and interact with the specialist themselves. The printer, for example, was a younger guy who was showing us how they made copies, from the type of ink and paper, to how they compiled all the letters into a line and set the type point and breaks and spaces. It was really fabulous! You’d think that every day to describe the same process to tourists you’d get many unhappy folks, but all of the individuals we came in contact with were rather jovial and interested in the work that they do (and spreading knowledge to others of their craft). Some areas of Colonial Williamsburg is not accessible unless you go on a tour. These tours are led by employees dressed in time period costumes (every employee of williamsburg is, honestly) and speak in the cadence of their time. We took a tour of the Governor’s Palace which was pretty fascinating (I already did it 5 years ago so it wasn’t nearly as fascinating as it was the first time). What I don’t remember is exiting into the Governor’s Gardens. Oddly enough, this had to be my favorite part of the experience, for it was so beautiful! I really can’t say any more than that.
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Right outside of Colonial Williamsburg is an area called Merchants Square which has dining and shopping. I could spend hours in this little area of the city for it has so much from different cafes, restaurants and shops. If you go, you must go to two places: Peanut Shop and The Christmas shop. These are my favorites and have so many things that you will be in awe. **There are samples at the peanut shop, but be warned, you can drop some serious cash**

Across from Merchants Square is the second oldest university in the US: William & Mary. Very cute university, much larger than St. John’s and quite frankly more picturesque. They were gearing up for commencement since we went the weekend of graduation. I wish that we went a bit earlier, because a school is not its usual self without student presents. A school comes to life with its pupils, and to see a school established in 1693 to be alive with academics and students would have really been great to see, but oh well. There’ll be a next time.

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On to Jamestowne. I will preface this with saying that I have been here before five years ago, yet surprisingly so much has changed! Many of the huge statues commemorating the first settlement, John Smith, and Pocahontas, have not changed. But the archaeology has! Since I was there, they have unearthed the exact spot of the church that was in the settlement, the same church the John Rolfe married Pocahontas! Additionally, archaeologists were hard at work excavating one other site outside of the boundaries of the settlement. This was really quite neat! The area does not have too much to offer, other than a few statues, excavation sites, and a small but great museum. Yet, its natural beauty is definitely worth the trip. You have to walk over this bridge of swamp in order to get to the site of the settlement. When you do this, you cannot help thinking of how it was for John Smith and his crew to land at an area so disgusting and hard to make a life. It really is very awe-inspiring.

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The last place that we visited was Yorktown. This had even less than Jamestowne, but really if you are near by you have to go see it. There are two main areas that you have to go see: the battlefield that outlines where the British and Americans fought and won the War, as well as the huge obelisk structure that was placed at Yorktown commemorating the defeat of the British. As you walk from the battlefield to where the statue stands you walk on Main Street where there are still historic houses standing today. I guess they never taught me in AP US History that Yorktown was a small town where there were houses, families, and stores. Who would’ve known? We kept walking along Main Street, for we wanted to get down to the area that’s also called Yorktown, but the modern version. Along the way we saw many historic sites, and one in particular was an old church that had a graveyard. A nice usher welcomed us and said that one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was buried there, so we went and saw his grave. How many times does that happen in your lifetime?! We finally got down to the waterfront and this is a great little place where there are shops, families, and small eateries. We had a light, delicious lunch at a small cafe and then boarded the trolley to go back to our car. The last thing we did in Yorktown was see a live cannon demonstration. Boy was it loud!!! But, so cool!

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In the end, the trip was really worth the time, money, and sweat (yes, it was hot). I think children should definitely take the opportunity to go to the Historic Triangle area especially when they are concurrently learning about American History. I grew up in CA so none of what I learned really pertained to me or was tangible. “Oh yah, that battle.” But when you actually see the battlefield or where John Smith stepped off the ship onto soil, it puts things into perspective.