Photo’s are here or you can just click on the photograph above.
Summer and fall in New England and the mid-Atlantic is not one we’ll forget in a hurry. Partially spent in an uncharacteristically hot and humid Boston – either side of various art shows throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic – and partially spent dodging Hurricane Ian in the tranquil Pennsylvania countryside miles away from the action.
Making the first journey north of the season in early July we detoured to one of my favorite New England towns for the night. As we’ve long since abandoned the Mystic Art Festival in mid-August it was only reasonable that said detour took us to the excellent Sift Bakery (it would have been rude not to have stopped by!).
The first show was in Wickford, Rhode Island where we hung out with our best yankee amigos, Don and Sue. We ate surprisingly good pizza at Italian Besos Bistro in East Greenwich and fish and chips (washed down with the odd cocktail or two) overlooking the marina at Blu on the Water. Next stop – Seaport in Boston to visit our old friend Jan from our days in New Hampshire.
Home for 10 days and then we were off again back on the art show circuit treadmill in Newburyport, Massachusetts. This is the smallest art show on our circuit – originally run by the local amateur art association. Newburyport is one of New England’s most beautiful coastal towns. Best of all, we were back with our best friends again – the margaritas were a-flowing at The Black Cow for 2 nights followed by a traditional evening stroll along the harbor walk with the local families and tourists alike enjoying the balmy evening weather. The final night we ate at Michaels Harborside watching the sun set over the boats moored on the Merrimack River … happy days! For anyone looking for a good, quick, healthy lunch spot for take-out in Newburyport try The Juicery on State Street which is an excellent alternative since the sad COVID-related demise of vegan-friendly The Purple Onion.
The weather was even more unpredictable in Boston this July and August than usual. During our final two weeks (either side of the two weekend show in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware in August) Boston endured the extremes of either searing heat (topping a feel factor of 106/7°F) or rain – except for two days! The upside of any trip to Boston is, of course, the plethora of excellent restaurants. Old favorites include Sportello, Bar Mezzana and Chickadee. It wouldn’t be possible to spend any time in Seaport without hanging out for coffee and pastries or lunch at Tatte. There are several branches over the city but this is my favorite for ambiance and location.
The first day of good weather for a trip outside of the city and I headed to the coastal town of Rockport in Cape Ann. An easy train ride from North Station, I love Rockport. As you get further away from the industrial suburbs of Boston the scenery improves. There are marshes blooming with white water lilies and small tidal harbors with fishing boats bobbing about in the waters or marooned in the mud waiting for high tide to come and rescue them. Cape Ann is an idyllic rocky peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean about 30 miles north of Boston. Rockport is a quintessentially lovely New England fishing village – colorful, touristy and picturesque with kayaks and fishing vessels moored in the harbor. It has art studios, pretty cafes and lobster shacks but the town is most famous for the red-painted fishing shack known as Motif #1 on Bradley Wharf. Built in the 1840’s it soon became one of the most popular subjects for local painters as the town grew as an artists colony. You can kayak the waters surrounding the headlands; wander through the art galleries of Bearskin Neck; grab coffee and drink it at a table overlooking the small harbor at Bean and Leaf; paddle at the beach; sample the famous lobster rolls at Roy Moore Lobster Company; admire the views from the rocky Headland trail and meander further north along the trail to Old Garden Beach (a quiet beach frequented more by locals than tourists); or (with additional transport) hike out at Halibut Point State Park.
This year I was hoping to expand my horizons and take a day trip to Provincetown on Cape Cod by fast ferry from Seaport in Boston. Each day I would scour the weather forecast for the best time to go but I couldn’t face the projected tropical heatwave temperatures (hotter than Florida!) nor the alternatively predicted thunderstorms and subsequent roiling Atlantic waves so I gave up on that plan and decided to set my sights on an easier goal.
A 60 minute train ride from North Station on the Rockport line to the fishing town of Gloucester sounded like a far more appealing option. Even better, the overnight thunderstorm after the hottest of the heatwaves dropped the temperature to a sunny, autumnal 78°F!
Whilst I was scouring the North Station train schedule Geoff was at Boston airport waiting to catch an early flight to New York City to see the band Blondie. Geoff has waited 40 years to see Blondie and he was very excited. As I was locking the door behind me, a very miserable Geoff called me to say he’d had one foot over the threshold of the plane and had received a text out of the blue that the concert had been canceled at the last minute. Shabby timing but just enough for the airline company to take pity on him and let him turn around before boarding. They refunded his plane ticket (which was very charitable of them in the circumstances) and he made it back to the apartment with minutes to spare to take the afternoon off and join me on the Cape Ann coast.
Who needs a boring ol’ Blondie concert when you can hang out with the blonde missus instead?
What more could you want than to cruise Gloucester harbor on the ferry shuttle between downtown and the cute, colorful artists colony at Rocky Neck in a sunny 78°F? What better could follow such a mini-cruise than imbibing jalapeño margaritas on the sunny deck at Seaport Grille overlooking the water? Or sampling the best lobster roll in town at said Seaport Grille with an excellent ice-cream chaser at Holy Cow … To be fair we started the day somewhat healthier with a freshly-pressed juice from Shore Nutrition but it went rapidly downhill thereafter as ‘vacation days’ tend to …
And if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, as we were, (and even better, if you are an avid watcher of American TV – which we are not) you might get to see the filming of an episode of a National Geographic documentary called Wicked Tuna. Of course we had never heard of it but our fellow passengers were considerably more enthused to see the hauling of a 400 pound tuna out of the famous sports fishing boat Hot Tuna. Gloucester is, of course, not a stranger to filming since it played host to George Clooney and cast during the filming of The Perfect Storm about the fated final voyage of Gloucester-based commercial sword fishing vessel The Andrea Gail.
As a side-note, Geoff finally managed to see Blondie in Nashville, TN a couple of weeks later. The glamorous (albeit now positively ancient) Ms Debbie Harry saw him singing his heart out in the front row. She came over to him, held his hand for a moment and commented that he must have been following her for a very long time because he knew all the words to the songs. I thought he might never wash that hand again 😊
Time to head south to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware which still fails to appeal for any reason other than exhibiting at the art festival. Salt Air restaurant remains the best in town and an evening stroll down to the crowded and chaotic Boardwalk for a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean is best enjoyed with one of Royal Treat’s chocolate peanut butter ice-creams dripping down your fingers. Big Fish Grill is a good choice for seafood lovers and the best Indian restaurant in the area is undoubtedly Raas in Lewes. Housed in a beautiful, renovated blue-painted Victorian with a wrap-around porch, Raas oozes up-scale Indian dining. The charismatic chef GG always stops by to see that you are enjoying his food and to check up on your choices from his menu. Naturally, we always make excellent choices as confirmed by the approving nod of GG’s pony-tailed head 😉. The Station on Kings (bakery/coffee shop) was our go-to for breakfast and take out salad and quiche for lunch … any excuse to partake of its various delicacies even though it was miles in the wrong direction! SEED Eatery, in a strip mall on the Coastal highway, is also excellent for take-out salads and tiny vegan cheesecakes (despite their elevated price tags).
After the show we drove home 1,000 miles to take a breather back in the sunshine state, recoup some energy and re-stock the van since I’d all but sold out of paintings over the 4 shows in July and August. Fully loaded, we drove 1,100 miles back north 4 weeks later to unseasonably warm weather for the Rittenhouse Square Art Festival in Philadelphia. No trip to Philadelphia would be complete without gorging in as many of its fine restaurants as possible. We never leave Philly lighter in our step so it’s undoubtedly a positive that we only visit the city once a year 😉 It’s an odd place. We’re not city people at the best of times as we struggle with the noise and the dirt, the trash and the horrendous traffic. And that’s just Rittenhouse Square – the upscale epicenter of the city where multi-multi-millionaires live in apartments and penthouses surrounding the park which itself is leafy home to many of the cities homeless people. The juxtaposition of extravagant wealth and abject poverty in Philly is notable. Outside of the Square – in the city centre and further afield – things deteriorate rapidly. Crime is rife and it’s far from a user-friendly city for anyone with a car or artist’s van. Still, we took full advantage of its restaurants as we always do and found a new one to add to the list of old favorites (JJ Thai, Thanal India and Metropolitan Bakery for emergency show-food supplies). The Love, just off the Square was so good we went twice. Lovely on a warm autumnal evening to sit on the street sipping cocktails and to watch the weird world of the city go by. Geoff also managed to get to see Echo & the Bunnymen on the Friday night, so he was very happy indeed! 😊
A quick flight home from Philly airport for 10 days to relax before our return flight to collect our van and drive to New York for the penultimate show of the season turned out to be somewhat less relaxing than anticipated thanks to mother nature.
Five days after our return home, on September 23rd, our attention was drawn to a small tropical storm brewing in the Caribbean. We watched with concern at its projected path as it gathered speed into a hurricane and passed close to the Cayman Islands. The vague and rapidly fluctuating forecast left us in little doubt that we would have at least tropical storm weather to tackle within a few days and that we had very little time to decide whether to jump ship and catch an earlier flight north or possibly miss our critical Thursday morning flight back for the NY show – one of the biggest of the year.
Things tend to move apace when there’s a hurricane in the forecast. The only flights we could get quickly within 36 hours (departing early Monday) before heavy thunderstorms were forecast for Tampa were $2,000 in addition to the price of the 2 we already had which were non-refundable even in these circumstances. There’s nothing like price-gouging from the airlines in a potential looming crisis to add insult to injury …
Still, when we left (with some mounting trepidation and time only for some minor preventative protection measures) Hurricane Ian was suddenly heading at full pelt towards Tampa Bay an hour north of us. On Tuesday morning it passed over Cuba as a Category 3 leaving the island without any power whatsoever. Mere hours later and the projections were somewhat more dire – no longer the utter devastation forecast to hit Tampa Bay (100 years since its last hurricane) – but suddenly a projected Category 5 as it churned over our beautiful warm Gulf waters with a hit directly projected over our local beach – Nokomis beach – and then through our town and over our development a few miles from the coast.
Things looked particularly dire for Southwest Florida and our part of it, in particular. We lived through Wilma in October 2005 (a challenging start to our lives in Florida – a mere matter of weeks after we moved there) and 12 years later through Irma which, by all accounts, was going to change the face of Southwest Florida for years to come. It took years to recover from the stress of watching that gigantic monster pummel its way across the Caribbean, flattening islands we knew and loved as a Category 5, and finally hitting south of us in Cudjoe Key as a Category 4 and through Marco Island and Naples in September 2017. We evacuated last minute then too from Irma to drive north to Connecticut through the torrential rain and thunderstorms in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey which had just a few days beforehand hit Texas and Louisiana. Again, back in 2017 we were heading north to make it to an art festival in New England but, when we left, we didn’t expect our home or our towns to make it through Irma unscathed. Ultimately, she veered away from us at the last moment and headed further inland. No power or water for a week for a local family who had hunkered down at our house (since they lived in a mandatory evacuation zone). When we finally got home a few weeks later only one shrub in the front garden had been uprooted … we stamped it back into the soil where it continued to thrive but it still took a significant emotional and psychological toll.
Now we were facing hurricane number 3 in our 17 years in Florida (not bad given the propensity of hurricanes to make landfall in Florida) but this one suddenly looked exactly like the Armageddon we were expecting, but didn’t get, with Irma.
Having arrived in Philly on Monday morning we retrieved the van and holed up 1,000 miles from the action back at home in the bucolic Pennsylvania countryside of Lancaster County. We stayed in a surprisingly modern hotel called Rock Lititz Hotel in one of my favorite towns in Amish country. It is heavily music-themed and is set in the campus of Rock Lititz – an incongruous location in a small rural town in the middle of nowhere for several huge music studios where bands and their design teams create and build stage sets for major music venue performances (Geoff was in his element!).
We may well have been sleeping next door to Beyonce or Justin Bieber but, frankly, by Tuesday night I wouldn’t have cared less.
In between panicking and scouring the news, radar and weather charts and the endless conflicting projections I took to the countryside in search of tranquility and some form of normality outside of impending mass destruction.
The Amish countryside is very pretty (ignoring the abhorrent factory farms which also dot the landscape). Rolling hills, white painted Amish farms, farm stands filled with pumpkins and green and yellow striped gourds, huge pots of rusty orange, magenta and yellow chrysanthemums, and freshly picked flowers. The tall tobacco plants had already been harvested and farmers and their families were busy cutting corn. I visited old favorites – Lititz (the most upmarket town in the area), Intercourse (a stop at the incredibly touristy but colorful Kitchen Kettle Village is mandatory for stocking up on homemade pickles), Bird in Hand (to sample a piece of shoofly pie at Bird in Hand Bakery and to remind myself, yet again, that I don’t really like it 😉), Strasburg and Ephrata.
None of that, nor the sunshine bathing the countryside, nor the puffy white clouds casting moving shadows over the fields, could distract me from the looming threat of Ian.
By Wednesday late morning we were at the hotel waiting for the inevitable as Ian gathered strength. There is little in life to compare with watching a Category 5 hurricane hurtle towards your home and the pretty towns and beautiful beaches you love knowing with almost absolute certainty that life will be very different in a few hours – one way or another. Even if you and your property survive relatively unscathed, life changes after each of these catastrophic weather events.
We remained in constant contact with our 82 year old neighbors Guenther and Evelyn who were pet-sitting our new kitty. Unbelievably we went through Irma with the same neighbors who took our 2 (ancient and now deceased) kitties into their home for a week during Irma and her aftermath. Until 2 days before we had to evacuate for Irma we had never even met the quiet German couple with the immaculate garden 2 doors down who gave a home to our furry kids for a week. Hurricanes bring out the strangest generosities in people faced with joint adversities. Strangers nonetheless they cared for our kitties when our pet sitter had to move into our house with her family and 2 cats and a dog to ride out the storm.
And here we were again 5 years later with the same neighbors sorting out our unexpected problems for us – moving last minute potential projectiles and, unbelievably, half way through Ian, Guenther drove 2 doors down to our house to check that we didn’t have water coming in the front door (as they had) and that Zoey was OK. Zoey was sleeping peacefully as 145 mph winds circled and battered our house for 8 hours.
For hours we messaged neighbors, my brother back home in England and friends in the US together with friends at ground zero in North Port trying to keep them informed as to which way the eye was heading once it made landfall just shy of Category 5 strength. Landfall was perilously close-by in Cayo Costa and Boca Grande island (our southern boating playground areas). We lost neither power nor water and in some ways it might have been better not to have seen it play out from a helpless 1,000 miles away via our security system cameras.
Late into the evening we received another text from our hardy German neighbors who set out to battle the street flooding and report back (despite our protestations not to leave the house for any reason). Some pool cage screens had disappeared into the ether but Zoey continued to sleep peacefully 😉
Friends and neighbors were thoroughly traumatized – as were we (albeit from a long distance) – there had been extensive roof damage, trees uprooted in their thousands, flooding marooning people in their homes in Venice and pool cages broken in half sitting on top of homes. Friends reported 145 mph winds for 10 hours without reprieve listening to tiles being ripped from their roof and huge pine trees on their property crashing to the ground around them. And yet, despite the subsequent localized flooding, the overflowing of the Myakka River onto the interstate 2 miles away from our home we were all lucky compared to families in Fort Myers Beach, Punta Gorda, Cape Coral, Naples and Englewood and the massive unprecedented destruction sustained in the barrier islands of Captiva, Sanibel, Boca Grande and Cayo Costa.
We were blissfully unaware, in our safe haven far north, that the preserve ponds we all love which surround our homes, bringing amazing bird life and families of deer and exotic wildlife into our daily lives, were creeping ever closer to the houses in our development. At the last moment they receded … one more blessing …
We had some minor roof damage and the garden probably won’t look quite the same for the next 17 years as it did pre-Ian but some of it will recover in time … Florida and its residents are remarkably resilient.
Before heading home to survey the wreckage of our development first hand we spent the weekend at the show in Armonk, New York (great to see artist friends and, in some cases, swap damage stories since many of us live in southwest Florida). On a lighter note – the best restaurant by far in Armonk is an Indian – Indi-Q.
We spent the intervening week in Tysons Corner, Virginia close to Washington DC. Geoff was working in the office and I was kicking around waiting for the last art show of the fall season in Bethesda, Maryland. Three days out of four of dismal, drizzly, freezing DC weather did nothing to lighten my mood.
On the fourth day the sun shone and it was a perfectly beautiful autumnal 78°F. Where to head other than into the countryside towards the Blue Ridge Mountains?! I chose the tiny village of Washington, Virginia in the foothills of the mountains. Confusingly the village is also known as Little Washington – which would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that there is actually a place called Little Washington in Virginia just south of Leesburg. Thankfully google maps knew where I wanted to go when I added Patty O’s Cafe and Bakery to the search otherwise I’d have driven off in entirely the wrong direction! En-route I passed wineries and farmland edged with white picket fences and I saw glimpses of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. The village is immaculately well preserved. The Inn at little Washington is at the epicenter of the action and is not only breathtakingly chocolate-box pretty – especially decorated in all of the paraphernalia of fall – chrysanthemums and gourds – it is also very famous. Celebrities come from far and wide to dine here or marry in its grounds. It is owned by renowned chef Patrick O’Connell who has won just about every accolade possible for both the Inn and his restaurant – AAA Five Diamond, the Forbes Five Star restaurant award and he has 3 Michelin Stars. No wonder his Tasting Menu runs at $328 per person plus tax and service. If the restaurant is out of your budget he also runs Patty O’s Cafe and Bakery. On such a lovely autumnal day it was a delight to sit outside in the sunshine sipping coffee and sampling some of Patty’s baked offerings. I didn’t burn too many calories wandering the peaceful streets of the tiny village dotted with gift shops and art galleries. Well worth the drive. I stopped en-route back to Tysons Corner in Old Town, Warrenton which is a typical well-maintained main street community in the middle of nowhere. It must be popular locally (and on the tourist trail) because there were an inexplicable number of restaurants and cafes lining Main Street. Claire’s at the Depot is known as the best in town if you’re passing en route to the mountains!
Founding Farmers restaurant in Tysons Corner is ever popular and remains one of the top places to dine in the Tysons Corner area. I attempted to de-stress post-hurricane with a HydraFacial and an hour of pummeling at Moon Spa in McLean, Virginia. I think the Chinese masseuse was struggling to effectively batter the stress out of my shoulders (really she would have needed a jackhammer 😉) but she did give it her all! I would definitely return.
Final stop of the fall schedule for the last of the shows in the northeast – Bethesda, Maryland. Favorite cafe – Tatte (same chain as in Boston – equally excellent) and runner-up is Paul French Bakery (except for his chocolate almond croissants which far surpass most this side of the Atlantic). Favorite restaurant and cocktails of this trip – Black’s Bar and Kitchen – with Barrel and Crow lagging behind by some margin. Best of all though, we started the art show season in July with our best yankee amigos and ended it in Bethesda with our best yankee amigos … doesn’t get much better than that!
Categories: Armonk, Bethesda, Bird-in-Hand, Boston, Delaware, East Greenwich, Ephrata, Gloucester, Intercourse, Lancaster County, Lewes, Lititz, Little Washington, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mystic, Nashville, New England, New York, Newburyport, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Rehoboth Beach, Rhode Island, Rockport, Strasburg, Tennessee, Travel, Wickford
It looks like you and Geoff have had a great time. Very jealous. Still I wouldn’t give up my English countryside view from my house. Hope you are both well and rested and looking forward to Thanksgiving. Take care. Love to you both.
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Good to hear from you and hope you are keeping well? x
Hi. We are all well thank you. Glad it is a lot cooler. The sun was nice but the heat was overwhelming. Sorry for not replying earlier but life is a little hectic as we have recently lost Brian’s dad at the age of 95. Having to deal with all the things that come with that.
My son, daughter-in-law and children stayed in Claremont near Tampa for 4 weeks in summer hols. Usual Disney hols and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Keep well and stay safe.
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Sorry to hear about Brian’s dad. Be well too x
It was such a pleasure to meet you both in Armonk . I really do enjoy your emails and love to see and hear about your travels. I hope you have some wonderful downtime at home to create and relax . We would love it if our paths crossed again soon.
Sharon , Paul and Blue
We should get together when we’re both back in the Sunshine State – it would be fun! In Mexico at the moment! Hope you’re managing to sort out the damage from Ian …