New England – August/September 2016

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The Lobster Pound, Cape Neddick, Maine

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Summer 2016! Once again we spent an extended period of time (avoiding the heat and humidity of home) back up in New England. This was largely courtesy of an old friend with a condo in Gilford on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire which he generously allowed us to use at will and largely unsupervised (which was brave 😉 ) for those parts of June, July and August which weren’t filled with art shows or trips to Europe and Canada. We struggled heroically through the summer months with breakfast, lunch and various dinners on the patio overlooking the tranquil blue waters of the lake watching the yachts glide by on windier days and the speedboats career past on the calmer days. From time to time we spotted the M/S Mount Washington cruise vessel in the distance on its crossing from Meredith to Wolfeboro… and all against the scenic backdrop of the White Mountains.

Of course, Geoff was still working during the week and as my paints and easel were a good 1500 miles due south sweltering in the heat of a Floridian summer, I had little option but to pass my days exploring the lake and its environs in preparation for the Grand Tour when Geoff would finally have a free weekend at the lake in mid-August. Just in case that sounds like an easy task – be assured that the pressure is always on to mastermind a seamlessly crafted “perfect” summer weekend filled with a flawless balance of activities and suitable rest periods… fueled by the best coffee the New Hampshire Lakes Region can offer, strategic visits to a smattering of fine, artisan bakeries and purveyors of the best lobster rolls, all topped off with delectable dinner dates to be enjoyed with a sunset view over the water 🙂

As luck would have it the sun shone in a cloudless sky for said weekend and, though I say so myself, I think I managed to pull it off reasonably efficiently with a guided tour of the highlights of the lake (Meredith and its charming waterfront boardwalk, the rolling countryside and idyllic farms around Center Harbor and Moultonborough and the pretty town of Wolfeboro); including a stop to sample by far the best coffee and lemon square of the state in Cup and Crumb (somewhere in Moultonborough and almost impossible to fall upon by accident without prior knowledge of its existence from an in-depth online search and a good GPS); the best crepes of the lake at Seven Suns in Wolfeboro; absolutely the best artisanal bread and flourless chocolate cake of the entire state from Boca Bakery in Wolfeboro (required for the picnic planned for the following day 🙂 ) and various waterfront eateries which were suitably romantic until precisely 2 minutes after sunset when the mosquitoes come out to feast upon the tender flesh of their victims…

In between various periods of idling on sunbeds down at the condo beach (and eating – as above) the planned highlight of the “big” weekend was kayaking to one of the distant beaches from Meredith. Luck wasn’t entirely on my side by that stage of activities as a head-on wind picked up as we left the dock and battered us about like a cork in the ocean. In addition to the general swell and trying to paddle into the wind there were some interesting moments as the waves crashed over the end of the kayak… my end… so Geoff was nowhere near as perplexed as I was about the possible watery fate of the camera 😉 Still, eventually we landed onshore and collapsed onto the beach in the sun for a while gathering the strength to eat my carefully curated picnic 🙂 Naturally, the wind had changed direction by the time we summoned the energy to tackle the return journey and we were once again barreling through choppy waters reminiscent of the North Sea in a full frontal gale. By the time we returned to the safety of the lake condo we were fit for nothing but straightening out our shoulders from paddling for 4 hours and dozing for the remainder of the afternoon on a sunbed until it was time to head out for the final lobster roll of summer at the lake 🙂

In addition to my comprehensive efforts to research the lake and its offerings, the rest of my time was unprofitably (but well-spent) re-exploring my favorite old stomping grounds along the coast:

… the harbor, boutique stores and Breaking Grounds coffee shop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire… I might also have stopped in briefly at my longtime favorite Ceres Bakery 😉 ;

… walking the Marginal Way and pottering aimlessly in beautiful Ogunquit, Maine with it’s huge sweeping beach and sauntering through Perkins Cove watching kids dribble ice-cream onto their flip-flops and fishing boats come and go in the harbor;

… photographing (from every conceivable angle – and for the umpteenth time) the quintessentially New England (and drop-dead irresistible) lobster shack at Cape Neddick;

… re-acquainting myself with the equally cute tourist town of Kennebunkport, Maine and walking Parsons Way along the coast to the headland at Walker’s Point (also known as the Bush compound) where President number 41 has his summer home;

… there was also a return visit to York Harbor, Maine to walk the Cliff Trail and breathe in the sea air punctuated from time to time with fragrant wafts of beach rose perfume and wild flowers around every corner.

Summer in New England is a sight to behold… I would, however, still need a 6mm wetsuit to brave the frigid 64F waters of the Atlantic (on a good day) but plenty of brave souls disagree (clearly without the limitation of the thinned blood of a Floridian coursing through their veins) 😉

On the days when I wasn’t conducting valuable research for the “big” weekend at the lake (and when I simply couldn’t justify another day trip out to the coast) I spent my time spit-roasting down at the lake beach with a good novel – the smell of warm pine in the air – and a determination to maintain a modicum of fitness by swimming for 2 hours a day. It was all rather blissful – accompanied by fluorescent blue dragonflies hovering over the water and the occasional octogenarian wealthy enough to have his summer home on the lake and the wherewithal to stagger down to the waters edge and topple in without having a coronary from the cold. Quite impressive as the temperature of the lake was a rather bracing average 75F – that may sound balmy to some but to put it into perspective – the temperature of the Gulf back home is pushing 90F at this time of year (as is our pool)… so I think I deserve full marks for effort and discipline! Conversely, Geoff’s attempt to take advantage of the proximity of the sparkly clean, clear lake water a few steps from the condo was woefully inadequate… largely involving dangling a big toe, shivering and whimpering like a child 😉

Many months ago back in winter Geoff was surfing the web unbeknownst to me, as a result of which I received an excited, breathless and rather panicky phone call to say that Coldplay (a hugely famous British band – for those who may not keep up with these important trends) would be playing in Boston on their “A Head Full of Dreams” tour on the night of an art show weekend in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Rather nonplussed by the possibility of a 5am morning to set up the booth, standing all day in the sun flogging my wares and then driving 2 hours to the venue (the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough) followed by who knew how long driving back again in the early hours of Sunday morning – I wasn’t keen to make a snap decision as to whether to pay vast amounts of money for the experience. To cut a long story short, my dilly dallying lost us the tickets he wanted… he was summarily ejected from the online ticket purchasing website as the page timed out… my name was mud for an eternal 10 minutes before he was allowed back into the system… and finally we got the 2 seats next to the ones he’d lost… which probably saved my scrawny neck 😉 Anyway… despite the unbelievably long lines snaking back down the approach road to the stadium on the night of the concert and our final arrival (after 3 hours on the road and, worse, 30 minutes after the concert had already started – luckily we only missed the support singer) the concert was utterly brilliant 🙂 Incredible laser displays, confetti falling from the sky, huge balloons falling from the sky, fluorescent wristbands coordinated to change color with the on-stage activities and video screens… and to top it off the band and the rather appealing lead singer, Chris Martin, wandered over towards the end of the concert to a small stage 3 feet to our right. If I had risked having my neck broken by one of the hefty security guards (or possibly by Geoff 😉 ) I might have been able to reach out and kiss the venerable Mr Martin’s feet 😉 All in all, it was worth every penny and probably even worth the 4 hour line to get out of the venue and return to our beds…

Finally, we had to say goodbye to the lake and I headed south to Florida for 10 days (just in time for Hurricane Hermine which was a lovely welcome home 😉 ) and Geoff flew to Singapore and Vietnam for 10 days for work. We flew back in to Boston variously wind blown (me 😉 ) and severely jet lagged (Geoff) and then headed onwards to our penultimate port of call – Fort Point in sunny Boston – for the next round of shows during September. Gorgeous as always at this time of year but particularly special this visit because we were lucky enough to camp out in the spare bedroom of a very old friend who recently moved to a new apartment in Boston’s latest primo real estate boom area. Locations don’t get much better than this… walking distance to downtown, spitting distance to the fabulously scenic Harborwalk (passing piers, wharves, residential areas, tourist hotspots etc etc), close to Chinatown, Boston Common, the Italian area in North End and to Back Bay. Naturally, I was sold immediately due to its proximity to the best coffee shop in the city (Barrington on Congress) and to an impressive array of baked items at Flour Bakery and Cafe… neither more than a 3 minute walk from the apartment. I believe the reasoning behind the choice of location for Jan, at least, is the 3 minute staggering distance to Drink – apparently the best cocktail bar in the world according to those with the qualifications to pass such a judgement – specifically Jan and Geoff 😉 I can attest, however, to the superior quality of the mocktails. Thank goodness we don’t live here… a week was quite enough to break the bank surrounded, as we were, by excellent restaurants (Bar Mezzana, Menton, Row 34 etc etc), 3 visits to Drink as Geoff couldn’t stay away 😉 and opportunities to empty the piggy bank in exchange for delicious comestibles every minute of the day.

Tearing myself away from the big city for an afternoon, I left Geoff frantically tapping away on his laptop and ventured out to the coast to one of our favorite coastal towns, Rockport, Massachusetts in Cape Ann to breathe in some fresh salty sea air and realign my karma in between art shows. Gloriously touristy and tackily quaint, this beautiful fishing village is New England’s answer to Olde England’s Cornish fishing villages. Replete with art galleries, pretty coffee shops (the Bean and Leaf Cafe with its view over the inner harbor, ducks sunbathing on the tidal sands and sailing boats bobbing about in the water is a particular favorite), fishing boats, colorful buoys, artistically creative gardens, lobster pots and the piece de resistance – Motif #1 – a bright red fishing shack in the middle of the harbor – it is an artists dream 🙂

And so on to Washington, DC for a week for Geoff to work before the last of the September shows.

It was cloudy and miserable nearly all week in DC so, whilst Geoff was busy in the office at Tysons Corner blissfully unaware of the inclement weather, I decided to explore further afield. I couldn’t wait to get out of  the vast nightmarish miles of shopping malls (I managed 2 minutes in the acclaimed Galleria before I gave up the will to live and retreated to the safety of the hotel 😉 ), away from the stresses of the 24 hour stationary traffic and the spaghetti junction conglomeration of metro rail stations and fly overs –  which pretty much sums up Tysons Corner for me in one damning sentence 😉

Still, maybe I shouldn’t have got my hopes up as far as I did with a trip south to revered historic Fredericksburg, Virginia. Many people obviously love it! Perhaps if I were a US colonial and/or civil war history buff I’m sure I would have found it infinitely more interesting. I have no doubt that it is a great educational day out for families who enjoy a trip down pre-memory lane in “living museums” where the guides dress in period costume and act, look and speak the part for the mid-1700’s. For MY part, however, having choked my way through the dust of the roadworks being conducted on the main thoroughfare, Caroline Street, and then near poisoned myself, firstly, on one of the worst latte’s ever to pass my lips and secondly, endured a less than memorable corn chowder for lunch with a side of stale focaccia, I huffed my way unenthusiastically around town with its very many scruffy-looking antique malls ignoring all of the probably good advice from the twinkly-eyed septuagenarian volunteer at the (undeniably) very helpful tourist office. Concluding that the town was really a little bit grubby and in need of some extra TLC in parts (to say nothing of a decent coffee shop 😉 ) I called it a day by early afternoon knowing that the insanely busy traffic around DC would start building up if I left it any longer and an otherwise 1 hour journey would inevitably become a soul destroying 3 hour crawl up the I95 and around the I495 clogged with millions of commuters. So perhaps I am being grossly unfair and should give Fredericksburg another shot and perhaps I might try to be a little less apathetic next time. No doubt some sunshine and a little less humidity would have enhanced its attributes. Maybe I would even bite the bullet with a highly recommended tour of George Washington’s sister’s house… amongst other highlights… or Hugh Mercer’s Apothecary (one of his patients being the venerable GW’s mother, Mary). I was told that I could visit and ask for the good doctor but that I would inevitably be informed that he was out and would return shortly… in the meantime, however, if I were happy to discuss my ailment I could look forward to a remedy fitting for the age… perhaps a course of leeches or a quick thrust of the lancet, some snakeroot or maybe a crab claw. And these are of course some of the very many reasons that I am constantly grateful that I was born in 1966 and not in 1766 😉

… and then finally the sun shone upon the righteous in the beautiful historic state capital of Maryland – Annapolis – one of Americas most romantic main street towns located on the Severn River and the Chesapeake Bay. And all was right with the world once again 🙂 OK, it’s very touristy (in addition to being the home of the US Naval Academy) but it’s also very quaint, distinctly more refined than Fredericksburg with a popular harbor liberally decorated with beautiful boat people. The white dome of the State Capitol is an impressive backdrop for the peaceful residential streets of colonial and brownstone gems which are ornate and immaculately maintained… albeit that you do have to have your wits about you if you aren’t going to end up face down in your artisanal ice-cream having failed to successfully navigate the dips and troughs of the cobblestone sidewalks – presumably left untouched for historic preservation purposes since 1649 😉

We braved the stationary traffic one evening to go in to Georgetown (my very favorite part of DC) and wandered along the Potomac River to The Washington Harbor – chock-full with buzzing bars and restaurants in a semi-circular building centred around a fountain entertaining the tourists with its rotating colored lights. Great people watching and fab cocktails 🙂

So in the end, at least I could finally leave DC and the states of Virginia and Maryland behind me with a smile on my partially sun kissed face before our penultimate show in New York and another transatlantic flight back to Europe 🙂

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