If this is our May travels, we must be in Connecticut! Or something like that….we’ve covered so many states since then – we have to check our memories to see where we were early in the month!
The majority of our time spent in that corner of Connecticut was visiting with Larry’s family. Larry’s mother’s favorite pastime is shopping, so we took her to her favorite haunts several times. Of course, we’d work up an appetite doing that, so we stopped once at the Olive Garden, another time getting a ‘grinder’ (New Englandese for a hoagie) fix at Nardelli’s.
Brian and Bonnie hosted a family cookout at their home one Saturday. We provided the hot dogs and burgers and others brought salads and desserts and drinks. One evening, Brian and Bonnie came out to visit with us at Branch Brook – we got pizzas to go from Hometown Pizza but ate at the Tillotson Inn.
The night before we left Thomaston, Louie and Anne picked us up to enjoy supper together at Fratelli’s Pizzeria – good food but even better company. We made plans to see them when they are at Klondike Camp Resort in Otis, Massachusetts, our next destination.
But first, a little about some of the other things we saw and did while in the Thomaston area. The Barker Character Comic and Cartoon Museum, located in Cheshire, provided a couple of hours of entertainment and ‘do you remember’ moments one Saturday afternoon. The museum houses Herb and Gloria Barker’s private collection of comic strip, cartoon, western, TV and advertising memorabilia that is guaranteed to bring out the child in you. The Barkers “felt that the everyday items of childhood had a value for future generations, bringing back memories or expressing a child’s life through the ordinary toys, lunchboxes, games and tools of common usage.” There are over 80,000 items packed into this museum, including 1000 lunch boxes, 3000 Popeye items and 500 vintage wind-up tin toys. They have the largest California Raisins collection, thanks to the Raisins’ creator Will Vinton partnering with Herb Barker. Along with the Raisins, they are the official museum for Celebriducks and Gumby. They also have a huge Pez display. Even the grounds surrounding the museum are fun to stroll around – they are decorated with life-sized cartoon cutouts with a large cartoon mural painted on the side of a nearby building. Best part – the museum is free! Check their website for current operating hours. At this time, Saturday is the only day they are open to the public.
One Sunday afternoon, we took a drive to see the daffodil fields at Laurel Ridge Farm in nearby Northfield. We missed seeing the peak of the blooming season by a few days but it was still impressive to see ten acres of daffodils, jonquils and narcissi growing wild around a peaceful pond, bordered by rock walls and rock stair steps.
A popular pastime with RVers is geocaching – we were a little late jumping on that bandwagon. Caches are hidden throughout the world, with GPS coordinates marking their locations. The cache can be in almost any sized container and may house a bunch of trinkets, souvenirs, or whatever other geocachers have decided to leave. By logging onto to www.geocaching.com, you can key in the zip code of your location to see if there are any nearby caches. If so, you download the information to your laptop, which then downloads the coordinates into your handheld GPS (we have a Garmin eTrex.) The website will often include hints on what to look for when you get close to the cache, which is usually well hidden or disguised. You can also read comments from those that have already found the cache.
Geocaching is a fun way to learn about an area that you normally don’t read in a guidebook plus get in some exercise at the same time. Our first cache was in Thomaston, at the Ancient Cemetery. This was a multi-stage cache. The first set of coordinates leads you to a small cache that contains the coordinates for the next (and in this case) final cache. We learned that the Ancient Cemetery used to be located where the Thomaston Town Hall now stands. Because of construction of the new town hall in 1883, the remains of the dead were unearthed and relocated to Hillside Cemetery, in the portion now known as Ancient Cemetery. We saw several dozen very old gravestones off a dirt path covered in pine needles. There is a lone headstone, several feet away from the others, which is marked “TA” on the top. Speculation is that is contains the grave of a witch -- anyone accused of witchcraft could not be buried on hallowed ground. Whether that’s true or not – it makes a good story.
Larry found several caches in Black Rock State Park, just across the street from where we were staying at Branch Brook Campground. He managed to find three or so in the area during a couple of hikes in that area.
We visited Larry’s Aunt Blossom at the Hewitt Health and Rehab Center in Shelton – she had recently been moved there after health problems necessitated more care than she could get at home. We are glad we got to see her then because sadly, she took a turn for the worse a week later, was admitted to the hospital, and died two days later.
Just before we left Thomaston, Karen and Galen came by for an overnight stop on their way to a music festival in Rhode Island. It was good to see them after almost two months since we parted in South Carolina. We’ll meet up with them in a couple of weeks when we start our Maritimes adventure together.
Hanging around the campground were a few characters that waddled up to visit with us for handouts – a trio of Mallard ducks that we nicknamed Manny, Moe and Jack. They enjoyed snacking on hands full of Shelley’s dry dog food.
Time to move to our RV site at Klondike Camping Resort in Otis, Massachusetts. We bought a site at this resort last fall, so this will be the first time we use it. We’d made a quick trip one Sunday afternoon when we first got to Connecticut to scope out any potential problems getting into the site. Brothers Brian and Ray and their families were with us that afternoon. They will take turns using our site when we aren’t there so our outing that day also familiarized them with how to get there. The guys helped move a platform deck out of the way to give us a clearer shot when we backed up. The roads throughout the resort are hard-packed gravel and even after all the recent rain, they were pretty solid.
When we got there with the truck/RV combo, the fun began when we started backing into the site. It’s sharply downhill and angled, adequate room for us but we knew we may have to jockey back and forth to get the rig where we wanted it. What we didn’t count on was that the site entrance, although firm enough for the truck itself, wasn’t solid enough to be going up and down that little crest of a hill multiple times, while still connected to the RV.
The entrance had fresh gravel put down last fall when the former owner cut the tree down and landscaped the entrance for us, and because of the rain, the slope wasn’t as solid as the road. When Larry pulled forward to get us in a better position, the truck wheels started sinking into the fresher gravel, spinning, and sliding. And to make it more challenging, the weight of the RV, because it was already downhill, started to pull the truck down with it in a direction we didn't want to go. Thankfully, the brakes on the truck and RV held. Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull forward and we couldn’t go backwards – the deck was now in the way, even thought it was standing on end. We realized we needed help. Two neighbors came by, one of whom went to notify Fran, the Klondike association's president, who is there on weekends, that we needed help. Gary, another neighbor, had seen us drive by, came by and offered his help. Between Gary and Fran, they helped us move the deck even more out of the way than Larry, Ray and Brian had done a couple of weeks ago. Then with Lucille watching the rear and one side, Fran on one side and Gary in the front, we guided Larry slowly down the hill to where we ended up on a level area, happy with where we were now parked. Gary was standing by with a tow chain and a four-wheel drive truck to give the truck a boost if it wanted to slide again.
We aged ten years that first hour. And what a way to meet your neighbors and make an impression! But our two weeks plus at Klondike were magical. For the most part, we had the place to ourselves. Our site is surrounded by hemlock and yellow birch trees with lots of jack-in-the-pulpits, purple trilliums and other forest plants part of our landscaping. Larry moved the woodpile back further to give us more clearance getting in and out; we bought a metal fire-ring and enjoyed several campfires, cooking hot dogs and s’mores over the fire. Life is good.
We took several walks to the clubhouse and back, checking out the book exchange, watching the pool being readied for Klondike’s season kick-off on Memorial Day weekend, meeting some of our neighbors. The first weekend we were there, Brian and Bonnie, daughter Cindy and her husband Steve came up. Brian and Bonnie spent the evening with us – we all had a great time. The following weekend, Ray and Tracy and daughters Katie and Jessie came up. Ray prepared pizzas cooked on the grill – they were scrumptious.
Louie and Anne, who introduced us to Klondike, came up to their site for the weekends. They graciously offered to host our cookout the day that Brian and family were up – it had started to rain just around suppertime. They’ve got a screened in porch large enough to accommodate all of us – what friends!
When Fran learned that Larry was retired Army, he asked him to participate in the Memorial Day parades held in nearby Sandisfield in the morning and Otis in the afternoon. Klondike is a major participator and supporter of both parades but especially the one in Otis. Lucille joined Louie and Anne to watch the Otis parade – very much a small town parade but we got to see the marchers three times. They marched south for a while, returned to march north past the viewers again, stopped at a war memorial where Fran gave a speech, then marched across the street to the cemetery where taps was played and guns were fired off.
Klondike offers fabulous breakfasts during their season (Memorial Day through Labor Day) – we enjoyed one that Sunday. What a feast for only $4 and it was all you can eat. One time through the line was enough for us. They hosted a hot dog/burger cookout that night, which we also attended. We met Louie and Anne for both the breakfast and supper cookout, sharing a table and enjoying the sunshine as we ate our meals on the patio surrounding the pool. Klondikers like to eat – our kind of folks!
Speaking of the pool, it was finished in time for that weekend, drawing 120,000 gallons of water from three wells. The water temperature was a chilly 59 degrees but that didn’t stop some of the children from jumping in – brrrrrrr……
While in the Otis area, Larry downloaded a few nearby geocaches. There are three on a trail named Bob’s Way in Monterey. The trail is named in memory of Bob Theriot, one of Berkshire County’s great conservationists. He preserved over 4,500 acres in the county and gifted this property to the Berkshire Natural Resources Council for public recreation and wildlife habitat (we spotted a heron rookery near a pond.) There were three caches on this trail that we found. Another one we did was the Tyringham Cobble, in Tyringham. A cobble is a rocky trail with this particular one starting off in a cow pasture, slowly climbing to a beautiful overlook, and then looping back down another trail back to the pasture. Very scenic and quite a workout. The Appalachian Trail merges with the cobble for about 100 yards – we walked the AT! Well, at least a portion of it.
Not too far from there is the Berkshire Fish Hatchery – the only hatchery sponsored by the Fish and Wildlife Federation that is totally staffed by volunteers. We got a tour of the facilities when we stopped by, seeing several tanks of young salmon and trout. We’d read that they hire Workampers and we were curious as to the work involved and the RV site they provide. From what they told us, the work sounds ideal – hours and responsibilities are minimal and flexible and the site is a 50 amp full hookup. The only downside is that it’s in a valley and there currently is no cell phone coverage.
All too soon it was time to leave our site at Klondike. Louie and Anne invited us for a going-away breakfast of steak and eggs – how decadent, a first for the four of us. We enjoyed the steak and eggs along with kielbasa, toast, potatoes and fresh strawberries sitting outside overlooking the pond – what a beautiful view and a wonderful sendoff.
We hit the road, heading for West Thompson, Connecticut, for a few days’ stay at the Corps of Engineer campground there. Karen and Galen pulled in shortly after we got set up – we’ll be traveling together for the next several months.
Our primary reason for choosing West Thompson was to visit Boston, about 60 miles away. After talking to the campground hosts, they recommended we take either a train or bus into Boston rather than drive in ourselves. We drove to Worcester, Massachusetts, hopped a bus into Boston, and were there about an hour later, thankful after seeing the traffic and congestion that we took the hosts’ suggestion. Around the corner from South Station (the downtown bus and train terminal), we took an Old Town Trolley Tour so we could listen to our drivers’ talks as well as get on and off where we chose. Our first stop was at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Faneuil Hall is now filled with boutique shops – we didn’t go in. Not too far from there is the Holocaust Memorial – six impressive tall clear towers that are etched with the numbers of the Concentration camp victims – very thought provoking. Along the path on which the towers are located are quotes from survivors, again very thought provoking.
Part of the Marketplace is devoted to a food court, located in a long sprawling building. Food vendors are on either side of this building – from seafood to ice cream to Chinese to Mexican to burgers – if you can’t find something to eat there, you’re probably not hungry. The food court is referred to as the Taste of Boston. We enjoyed lunch there before getting back on the trolley.
The next stop was Old North Church, the church made famous by Paul Revere’s ride warning of the British invasion after spotting the lantern signal from the church’s steeple. Especially interesting was reading about the doorway through which the lantern bearer passed after signaling – it was cemented over for some reason and wasn’t discovered till 1989 – what a find that must have been. Up the hill from the church is Copps Hill Burying Ground, Boston’s second oldest burying ground, established in 1660. On the way back to the trolley stop, we walked by Paul Revere’s house but opted not to go in.
We hopped back on the trolley to get to the next stop – the beautiful wooden ship, USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”. The Constitution was commissioned in 1797, just three years after President George Washington established the U.S. Navy to protect our merchant ships, and thus, our economy and American citizens. In 1803, it blockaded the port of Tripoli and bombarded fortifications and gunboats. The ship was back in service during the War of 1812. The British ship, HMS Guerriere, had pursued the Constitution in May of 1812. A month later, The USS Constitution spotted the Guerriere on the horizon and made for her, with all sails set. The Guerriere began firing on the Constitution while it was still far astern but the U.S. ship bore down on the enemy in silence. Not until it was nearly abreast did they fire onto the British ship, cutting down her mast and much of the rigging. Cannon shot from the HMS Guerriere made almost no impression on the outside planking of the U.S. ship. An unknown sailor shouted, “Her sides are made of iron!” – thus the Constitution’s nickname. Her last battle was in 1815 but later she was deployed for a variety of uses, including patrolling the coast of Africa searching for illegal slave traders. In 1897, JFK’s grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, spearheaded action to return the USS Constitution back to Boston, the ship’s birthplace. She is still seaworthy, having last sailed during her 200th birthday in 1997. Today, she is our Navy’s ambassador to the public.
A few factoids about the ship: length 204 feet; speed 13+ knots; crew, during 1812, 450-500; crew today – 50-80 active duty U.S. Navy sailors. She is currently undergoing some renovation but she is still quite impressive.
We got back on the trolley, staying on through the remainder of the loop, seeing Boston Commons, Trinity Church, Bunker Hill, Christian Science Plaza, Fenway Park, the original “Cheers” bar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Square, and many other attractions. Our driver, Bear, told us the story of the molasses tank that froze one January, with the contents spilling from the tank, killing twenty-one people. His comment: “Imagine trying to tell the survivors that the victims couldn’t outrun molasses in January” – boo, hiss…
We’ll have to return to Boston again to spend more time seeing what we missed. It was time to head back – again we were glad we weren’t driving – we encountered rush hour traffic on our way home.
While we were at West Thompson, we went in search of a couple of caches, which involved walking around the lake, approximately five miles. The first was a multi-cache – we had to find two caches leading us to the final cache. One cache was near the far side of the lake – Karen found that one. Whoever did the multi-cache was creative – they hid the coordinates in the first one in a wooden snake hanging from a tree; the 2nd in a wooden lizard, also hanging from a tree.
Time to get on the road – eventual destination – New Brunswick, the first of the Atlantic Provinces we’ll be visiting over the next several months. We overnighted in Freeport, Maine, home of LL Bean. We enjoyed walking around the shops, spending money on whoopie pies (our favorite was the maple), ‘lobsta’ rolls, and stuff – we had to pay for our free parking, right?
Our next destination was Herring Cove Provincial Park on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, noted as being the location of FDR’s summer cottage. We thought the easiest way was taking U.S. 1/1A out of Bangor but we found the roads to be in horrible condition, especially from Ellsworth on east. They appeared to be worse than the roads in Alaska! We found out afterwards we should have taken Route 9 out of Bangor and gone as far east as possible before dropping down to U.S. 1 – lesson learned.
We crossed into Canada from Lubec, Maine, the easternmost point in the U.S. Crossing wasn’t a problem at all. It was a short trip from the border to the provincial park - we soon got set up at our sites at Herring Cove. Because it’s still early, we practically had the place to ourselves. We’re looking forward to exploring the area over the several days we’ll be here, including some of the trails surrounding us.
The 31st of May is always a special day for us – it’s our wedding anniversary – we celebrated 37 years this year. Who’da thunk back in 1971 that we’d be traveling fulltime! We started off the day by touring the cottage at Roosevelt Campobello International Park – 34 rooms that Franklin and Eleanor, their five children (four boys and a girl) and guests enjoyed during several summers. From 1883, when FDR was just one year old, till he was stricken by polio in 1921, he spent his summers on this island. His return twelve years later was delayed not by polio but because of his active involvement in politics.
We were here in June of 2004 but enjoyed touring the cottage and the grounds again. We hiked the Friar’s Head Trail, which showcases a large outcropping of rock better seen at low tide. The tide was still going out so we saw it partially exposed from the beach walk at the cottage but not from the trail.
There are only three restaurants open on the island this early in the year. We chose Sweet Time Bakery and Café for our anniversary lunch and enjoyed some wonderful haddock fish and chips. Dessert was good too. From there, we drove to the East Quoddy Lighthouse, which is only accessible during low tide. (Over the next month or so, we’ll be seeing the impressive tides of the Bay of Fundy from different locations.) To access the lighthouse, you descend one set of steep metal stairs, negotiate across some slippery seaweed covered rocks, then walk on the ocean bed (small rocks) to ascend another steep metal staircase, walk across the top of a huge rock covered with trees and grass, then descend another metal staircase and up a final set of stairs. It was starting to rain at this point and we were getting wet and cold, so we only made it as far as the huge rock before turning around – we’ll try another day.
May quickly came to an end – we covered a lot of ground since the beginning of the month.
Coming up: Visiting Lubec, Maine; crossing into New Brunswick’s mainland at Calais, Maine; Saint John and Fundy National Park in New Brunswick; Prince Edward Island; onto Nova Scotia.