Friday, August 31, 2007

Peddock's Island

I went out Wednesday to visit Peddock's Island in Boston Harbor. Peddock's isn't the biggest island in the harbor in terms of area, but it has the longest shoreline. You could easily spend hours wandering the rocky beaches and exploring the island's very diverse topography.

The first sight you'll notice when you get off the boat is a boarded-up church near the docks. Except for the boards and the worn paint, the church looks as if it was transplanted from the rolling hills of Vermont. The church served Fort Andrews, which was built at the turn of the 20th century. The fort was abandoned after World War II, and there are numerous dilapidated brick buildings on the east head of the islands that are fenced off from the public. Probably the most notable use of Fort Andrews was that it housed Italian prisoners of war during the Second World War. Definitely an odd connection you wouldn't expect and one that's more interesting when you notice that the shape of Peddock's is fairly similar to Italy.

What gives Peddock's its unique character among the 34 islands, though, is its collection of summer cottages and islanders. Most of the summer cottages, which lack running water and electricity, are located in the middle part of the island. Follow the central visitor path from the Fort and it will bring you past the cottages. Some of the cottages are in tough shape, abandoned and falling apart. But you're also struck by the bright yellows, blues, reds, greens, and pinks (yes, pink) used to paint the well-kept cottages. And some of these "cottages" are bigger than I would have thought. Some are more like summer beach homes with porches, decks, patio furniture, and grills. (The outhouses, though, let you know you're not on the Cape.) The history of the cottages is as colorful as their paint jobs. The antecedents of some cottages date to the 1890s when Portuguese fishermen floated (yes, floated) their houses to the island after being forced to move from Long Island. There are stories of bootleggers during prohibition and many generations grew up on the island.

After you pass the Middle Head, keep going on the visitors path to the West Head. Soon the pathway takes you through a denser overgrowth. The pathway suddenly becomes a tunnel as you are enveloped by the green canopy. It's a pretty impressive sight.

Unfortunately, the public ferry to Peddock's only runs through Labor Day, but there are a few days left and the weather is supposed to be great. One piece of advice: show up at the dock at least 15 minutes early to catch the ferry off the island since it has a tendency to show early or confirm pickup with the ferry operator.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Like you needed any more proof

Confirmation in yesterday's Boston Globe about just how baseball crazy Bostonians are. In an article in the business section about the expansion of travel site Farecast's price predictions from airfares to hotels, the Globe ran a graphic about the service's inclusion of New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago. So you might expect to get some stock photos of the New York skyline, the Hollywood sign or beaches with palm trees, the Space Needle, and the Chicago skyline. Not in Boston. You got pictures of Monument Park in Yankee Stadium, the view from behind the outfield stands in Dodger Stadium, the field at Safeco, and the marquee at Wrigley Field. Speaking of traveling to see baseball games, good article from The Sports Guy on ESPN from his trip to the friendly confines of Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay (St. Pete, technically) for a Sox game. We're off to do that next month.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Scenes from a Canadian Voyage de Route (Road Trip)

Got back last week from a night up in Maine and three nights in Quebec City. There always seems to be some complication you least need when you can't speak the language. This trip it was a flat tire on our car we discovered on our middle day up there. So instead of heading to the shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre, we spent a nice afternoon in the Quebec suburbs trying to bridge the language gap searching for auto mechanics and Good Year dealers to get a new tire. But we still had a good time. Just as when as I was a kid, it was fun to walk on top of the walls of the old city. Quebec still has the scent of horses from the carriage rides. This time I toured the Chateau Frontenac and the Quebec Parliament, which was a first for me. And the road trip's always fun:

Survey says... It's when you're on a road trip that you discover the benefits of satellite radio. So since I don't have it, it was a bit interesting trying to find suitable radio entertainment driving through the deep woods of Maine before the French radio stations kicked in to leave me completely at a loss. Driving out of Portland, the best option was 87.7 on the FM dial, which carries the same frequency of Channel 6 on the TV. Since Portland has a Channel 6, we listened to Family Feud but it really loses something when you can't see the answers on the board.

Maybe Grimace is on the loose, too... When we were driving back to the States from Canada, we had to make the requisite stop at Border Patrol. It's always interesting the questions you get asked. Going into Canada, they seemed most concerned about bringing in alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. Coming back into the U.S., they wanted to know if we had bought anything in Canada that we were bringing in. Since we bought no souvenirs (not that Quebec doesn't have beaucoup opportunities to do so), the only thing we had was the bacon cheeseburger (hamburger wasn't an option, interestingly) I got at McDonald's 20 minutes before and hadn't eaten yet. I always prefer to follow the full disclosure policy in front of federal agents, so I said all I had bought was the hamburger. I thought he was making small talk when he asked if I polished it off. (It was around lunch time.) When I said I hadn't, he let me know that I couldn't bring it into the U.S. although I could pull over and eat it. Choosing not to do that, I tossed it. I imagine it's a beef regulation rather than any concern that the Hamburgler is plotting against any Burger King targets in the U.S.

I hear the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are gone, too... On the way back, we stopped at the former site of the Old Man of the Mountain in New Hampshire. The Old Man was the state's symbol, showing up on license plates and road signs. In May 2003, the Old Man suddenly and unexpectedly collapsed. So I was curious what has become of the site. We pulled into the parking lot and there were a few other cars there (probably a few more than I expected), but there was no notice that the Old Man had actually left the building, so to speak. The museum was shuttered, but the notice said it was because it was under construction. Not until you made the five-minute walk down to Profile Lake did you notice there is no man and find a sign explaining what happened that day in May. I guess there's a memorial that is now in the works, but if you didn't know the Man is gone, be forewarned before visiting the site.

By the way, if you are traveling to Canada, the country has done away with any refund of the GST it charges. That's too bad, since the federal and Quebec provincial taxes were pretty steep. And since the Canadian "looney" is now on par with the dollar, don't expect any deals.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Chateau Frontenac

The Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City is reportedly the most photographed hotel in the world. I'm doing my part to contribute:

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Maine State House

Bonjour from Quebec. We made the drive up from Freeport yesterday and arrived here late afternoon. On our ride up, we stopped in Augusta. It was my first time there, and the last of the New England state capitals I've visited.

As opposed to some state capitals that seem to be under lockdown, the Maine State House was very open and inviting, even down to the rocking chairs on the large portico on the front of the building. We were able to walk in, sign the guest book, and wander the halls of the building. We were able to explore the House and the Senate chambers. It's a very democratic building. When the Senate is in session, some visitors are able to sit right on the floor along the back wall rather than being relegated only to the gallery upstairs. The governor's office is a little tough to spot since the doorway is understated. The little sign outside the open door that says "Room 236 Office of the Governor" is the only clue you get as to the occupant. Downstairs are dioramas depicting Maine wildlife such as moose, deer, beavers, and bears. And each of the animals have names. Gus and Mabel are the bears and Butch and Gladys are the beavers. The attached picture is a view from below the lofty dome of the State House.

Off to explore Quebec today while pondering why Internet is always free at low-budget motels and always costs money at the most expensive hotels.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Portland Sea Dogs

We went to our first Portland Sea Dogs game last night at Hadlock Field. Even though it's August, it felt more like football weather, at least to us. There were fans keeping warm under blankets, but plenty of people still ate their Sea Dog Biscuits (ice cream sandwiches that are like Chipwiches).

Given the weather in Portland, it's probably a good idea that the Sea Dogs are no longer an affiliate of the Florida Marlins. They are the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, and the design of Hadlock Field certainly takes its inspiration from Fenway Park. Left field is dominated by the "Maine Monster," a nearly identical recreation of the Green Monster. Both walls are 37 feet high, but the Maine Monster is 315 feet down the line not 310, it's not as long, and it's made of wood. No one got a hit off the Monster last night, so we couldn't see how the bounces off the wall may differ. There's a miniature Citgo sign and Coke bottle on top of the wall for more Fenway flavor. But before you think you're in Boston, the giant L.L. Bean boot in right field gives you the proper local Maine flavor.

Hadlock is truly a neighborhood ballpark. More so than Fenway. It's next to the local gym and ice arena and across the street from triple deckers. Last night was Brandon Moss bobblehead night. We showed up right before gates opened, and as we walked by the triple deckers, we saw a long line snaking all around the block. Hundreds of people were waiting 90 minutes before the gates opened to get in-- and this is for a minor league game! (The free bobblehead was the real draw, though. Surprisingly, there were still some left when we got in the park.) Last night's game was a sellout-- another thing in common with Fenway.

We're leaving Freeport and its outlets behind today and heading north through Augusta and moose country to Quebec City.

Friday, August 17, 2007

If it's called Castle Island, why can I drive there?

This is one of Boston's most perplexing questions. Well, at one time Castle Island was, indeed, an island out in Boston Harbor. (Henry Pelham's map from the Revolutionary War era shows the island sitting off Dorchester Neck, which is now South Boston.) Just as much of present-day Boston was created by filling in parts of Boston Harbor and the Charles River, Castle Island was eventually connected to the mainland in the 1930s after successful landmaking efforts. Deer Island and Nut Island, part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, also retain their monikers even though they are also now peninsulas.
Castle Island gained its name as a result of the fortifications that were built there by the Puritans and John Winthrop as early as 1634, making it the oldest continually fortified site in the country. The fort would eventually be called Fort William after the king of England. (You'll notice on Pelham's map that it's called Fort William and Mary.) After the British were driven out of Boston in March 1776, the fort fell into the patriots' hands. President John Adams rededicated the fort as Fort Independence and today it is on the National Historic Register of Places. During the summer, tours of the fort are available each weekend day between 12 and 3, and the fort is open for twilight walks between 7 p.m. and dusk.

Today, Castle Island is a popular recreation area for the city residents. And in a real rarity in Boston, there are hundreds of free parking spots. You'll find people sitting in their cars enjoying the view or eating lunch, older men from the neighborhood talking about the Red Sox or their retirement investments, children on scooters and bikes, fishermen casting their lines. There is a sailing center and lifeguarded beach on Pleasure Bay, which is encircled by a long causeway. The causeway looks like a bygone remnant from the days when city residents would spend the afternoon strolling on the promenade and escaping the heat of their crowded neighborhoods. That's for good reason, since the landscape design for Castle Island and adjacent Marine Park is based on the original plans of Frederick Law Olmsted, who wanted this land to be the end of his Emerald Necklace and a place where weary workers could enjoy the salubrious salt breezes of the harbor.

These days, the smell of the salt water combines with the scent of fried food coming from Sullivan's, a South Boston institution. It will make you glad you can drive right up to Castle Island.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

North Shore, South Shore, Never the Twain Shall Meet

It’s amazing how common it is for people to travel the world but never set foot in places that are right in their backyard. That dynamic is certainly at play in the Boston area. I know many people who grew up on the North Shore who rarely visit the South Shore and vice versa. (Yes, I’m overlooking MetroWest. Maybe you guys can straddle the two worlds. I’m not sure.) It’s like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer ventures into uncharted territory in downtown Manhattan from uptown since he’s having a “long-distance” relationship.

I grew up on the North Shore, and there might as well be places on the South Shore that might as well be in Mongolia based on the numbers of times I’ve visited. I’ve been to Reykjavik, but never Randolph. Tokyo? Yes. Plymouth? No. Kangaroo Island? Yes. Martha’s Vineyard? No. Hull? Might as well be h-e-double hockey sticks. (I went to Cape Cod once when I was a kid, but that was one of those nightmare family trips. Haven’t been back since.)

Furnace Book Parkway. Fore River Bridge. The Braintree Split. These are just some far-off places I always hear about on the morning traffic reports. Well, last week I made a trip down to Nut Island and World’s End (which is where it might as well have been for a North Shore boy) for the Boston Harbor Islands book. I drove through Quincy, Weymouth, and Hingham. Crossed over Furnace Book Parkway and Fore River Bridge for the first time. Now I can put some places to the names!

The culture shock wasn’t nearly as bad as I had feared. I may take a trip back there in a few years. After all, the Pilgrims made it to Plymouth from England. Guess the trip down Route 3 wouldn’t be that bad.

Monday, August 13, 2007


When we were touring around Australia last year, we kept seeing signs for "wagamama." Considering where we were, I thought it was another Aussie place with an Aboriginal name--like Woolloomooloo or Uluru. Turns out, though, that wagamama is a British-based restaurant chain inspired by Japanese noodle bars. Leave it to me, I wasn't adventurous enough to actually hit a noodle bar in Tokyo or Osaka, but after seeing it in Australia, I was suddenly fired up, probably since the menu was in English. We didn't get to go in Australia, but I was happy when wagamama opened its first U.S. restaurant in Boston at Quincy Market.

The weather was nice last Thursday, and we wanted to sit outside, so we gave wagamama a try. It wasn't too crowded, but most of the outside seats were filled up. The seats are similar to long picnic tables, so we were put across from each other at the end of one of the tables. Another couple was at the other end with two seats in between, which eventually got filled up. If you're looking for some privacy with your meal, this may not be the place for you.

Most of the items on the menu are noodle dishes, which include either soba (thin) noodles or udon (thick) noodles. I had the teriyaki steak soba, slices of steak over thin noodles. According to The Boston Globe, wagamama added this item to the menu for the Boston location, and I'm glad they did because it was excellent. As a side dish (don't call them appetizers, presumably because they come with the meal and not bef0re) the tori kara age (deep-fried chicken prepared with soy sauce) was really good, too. Beer choices were a blend of Boston and Japan, with Asahi (available in a 22 oz. bottle), Kirin, and Sam Adams.

The waitstaff places orders on a handheld computer so that it gets to the kitchen ASAP. The food is served quickly also. While the computers are high-tech, the waitstaff use a decidedly low-tech method— chalk on the table— to note the numbers that correspond to your orders, so that the food is delivered to the right location.

According to their web site, today is opening day for wagamama's Harvard Square location, so you may want to check them out there as well.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Fanatic: 10 Things All Sports Fans Should Do Before They Die

If you're a die-hard sports fan, at some point you've had to have watched the Super Bowl, Masters, Final Four, Wimbledon, or any other of the world's greatest sporting events on television and dreamt of seeing them in person to experience the spectacle, hear the roar of the crowd, and see the world's best athletes compete on the grandest stages in sports. Well, Jim Gorant, a senior editor and writer at Sports Illustrated, did just that over the course of one year, and he writes about his experiences in a new book, Fanatic: 10 Things All Sports Fans Should Do Before They Die. If you're looking for a good summer read, check it out.

In addition to the four events I mentioned at the top, Gorant's list of must-do sporting experiences includes the Daytona 500, Kentucky Derby, games at Wrigley Field and Lambeau Field, Ohio State-Michigan football, and Opening Day at Fenway Park (saving the best for last!). The Super Bowl is the first event on the list and comes across as a bit of a sterile experience as most of the focus is on the parties leading up to the game and the crowd is pretty corporate. Not that surprising since that's always been the rap on the Super Bowl. The crowd is anything but corporate at the second event, the Daytona 500, and the passion of the fans begins to come out in the book in that chapter in beyond.

I enjoyed the vivid picture that Gorant paints of his Wimbledon experience, wandering the grounds and sitting on the outside courts, along with his commentary on the British attitudes toward attending the event, in particular the long queues for day passes. He writes: "There's something you have to love about socialism. Unlike the scalpers...outside Augusta National, where it was every man for himself and the only criteria for success were money and bargaining skill, the Brits have instituted a scalping welfare system. If you're willing to wait in line and you've got your sixteen pounds, you've got as good a shot as anyone else. With all these people queued up, any self-respecting American would be tempted to take his day pass to the last guy in line and resell it for twenty-five pounds, but that doesn't seem to be happening here."

In particular, I liked reading about the final four events: Ohio State-Michigan and the games at Wrigley, Lambeau, and Fenway. The passion of the fans really comes out in those chapters since each of those events were tied to particular sports teams. In some ways, it seemed like these regular season games were more enjoyable than the championship games at the Super Bowl and Final Four.

The last chapter covers Opening Day at Fenway in 2006. (Let it be noted that each year I've gone to Opening Day (2004), the Red Sox have won the World Series. Now that I've written that, it doesn't bode well for the rest of this year, so if it holds true again, let that serve as an enticement to offer up some tix next year.) Gorant, although we should forgive him for copping to be a Yankees fan, covers all the bases of the Fenway experience right from the opening of the chapter as he shoves on the Green Line that comes rattling into Copley Station to his description of the rows of fans in the Monster seats ("looking like volunteers at a telethon.")

It would take a lot to make me deal with the airlines this summer, but Fanatic definitely has me pining to hit the road to soak in the sun in the Wrigley bleachers, bundle up in Green Bay, or sip a mint julep in Louisville. For now, I'll have to be content with my tickets to Fenway next week.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Patriots Training Camp

The mercury hit 95 degrees yesterday, which naturally got me thinking of football. Many sports fans look forward to the start of spring training as a sure sign that warmer temperatures are around the corner. Pitchers and catchers serve the same function as Punxsutawney Phil.

I can't stand the 3 H's of summer (hazy, hot, and humid). Ninety-five degree days have me pining for the cool, crisp days of autumn, so the opening of football training camps are a benchmark for me that there's probably six more weeks of summer.

So I headed down to Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium yesterday to catch the afternoon session, the second of the day for the team. It was my second time there in less than a week since I went to last weekend's New England Country Music Festival with Erin (you can take the girl out of honky tonk, but...). There is construction all around the stadium as Patriot Place is being built. During yesterday's session, the crowd was coming in for the Revolution soccer game, so needless to say traffic wasn't an issue, but parking could be interesting for the Pats games this year.

For most of the time I was there, the offense was running plays against the defense, starting in the shadows of the goalposts and moving the ball down the field. There were three different squads that would change up every five to ten minutes or so. It was fun to watch. Not much tackling, but still the QBs were throwing, running backs were taking handoffs. And the players were definitely into it. Tom Brady was even jawing with the referees on some calls. Brady looked in good form with some nice touch passes and solid catches from the new receiving corps.

Parking was free. That was the good news. The bad was that, just as some of the Pats looked to be in mid-season form, so were the concession prices. I was a little surprised when I was told my bottle of beer would cost $7.50. Yikes. Still, it was a good time. The training camp schedule is on the Patriots web site. I've got more photos from training camp on Shutterfly.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Liberty Hotel Article

One of Boston's newest hotels is also going to be one of its most unique. The Liberty Hotel is going to open soon in the renovated Charles Street Jail. I've got an article on The Liberty Hotel in the August issue of GO, the inflight magazine for AirTran Airways. You can read it here on the GO web site.