Reflecting on New England
As my refined smorgasbord of lobster, quaint towns, beautiful coastlines, rolling mountains and the extremely rich has come to an end, this is an opportunity to reflect upon this special part of North America. On this journey, we visited all six states of New England. Each with its own particular identity, yet collectively united by history, geography and identity.
New Englanders are fiercely patriotic Americans. Flags adorn town after town, yet the region often stands in opposition to trends elsewhere in the country.
There are subtle accent variances but certainly a distinctive regional accent. It would be excessive to consider the accent beautiful, but it is their own and I continuously find New Englanders to be friendly and inviting.
This entire region is defined by glaciation. The highest peak – Mount Washington stands a mere 6500 feet. Water is abundant and New England’s coastline is simply magnificent.
In terms of tourism, the region is probably best known for its Fall colours, but on this spring trip, we enjoyed beauty around every corner.
The journey began, as it should, in Boston.
Beantown as Boston is affectionately known is the oldest large city in the United States. It is typically multicultural, but the largest ethnic group remains Irish.
Boston is educated, it is encircled by universities including Harvard and MIT. It is also sports-crazy. The classic American sports of baseball, football and hockey dominate, but for runners, the Boston Marathon is famous and competitive.
Boston is surprisingly small and walkable. Indeed walking is often appealing due to serious traffic conditions. Most of the traffic was moved underground at the cost of billions during the famous Big Dig, yet the surrounding highways are frequently clogged.
We left the Quincy Market area on an extremely hot Monday. Temperatures reached 97f (40c). Heading north towards to New Hampshire and Maine, we made a quick visit to Salem, Mass.
Best remembered for its 17th century witch trials, Salem is one of the most important historic ports on the eastern US.
Salem is now a popular tourist destination and competes with New Orleans for the biggest Halloween celebrations, drawing Goth types from around the country.
Reflecting more seriously upon the trials, historian George Lincoln Burr surmised; “the Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered.” The trials had more to do with petty revenge and false accusations than the so-called supernatural. This has helped to shape the innocent until proven guilty foundation of American law.
It is not a long drive from Boston to New Hampshire. The ‘Live Free or Die’ State is a boozy affair. State-run liquor outlets dot the small state and are strategically located along the interstates.
New Hampshire’s coastline is small and we carried on to Maine and the resort towns of Ogunquit and Kennebunkport (Where the senior George Bush has a home).
The entire coastline of Maine is worth visiting. Furthermore, the entire coastline of New England is magical. Both colonial and pre-colonial history is maritime and New Englanders have a strong relationship to water. By the time I reached Bar Harbour and Acadia National Park further up Maine’s rocky coast, I had enjoyed three lobster rolls and four bowls of lobster bisque. That was enough lobster for a while.
Following next is Portland which is Maine’s largest city and most important port. The city is small and very attractive. Just a little further up the road is Freeport, where outdoorsy L.L. Bean is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Read about Bar Harbour & Acadia here.
Looping back through the interior of Maine, the springtime mosquitos came out for a bite. This is lumber country and the economy has been depressed for years. Nevertheless, the rolling landscape is attractive and the inland towns remain quintessentially New England.
Winters are very quiet and snowy. Spring and summer intensely green and fall – well fall is all about the colours.
On this trip, we overnighted in the resort town of Bethel.
The Bethel Inn is a lovely hotel backing onto a golf course. This was a big hit. In classic New England style, the owner greeted us upon arrival. I think the Bethel area (on the Maine side of the White Mountains) would be well worth a few days exploring.
Driving back into New Hampshire we spent a rainy day exploring the White Mountains. This is an area I have come to know well in autumn. Spring is intensely green, less crowded, but you would definitely require bug spray.
As distances are not huge, we zigzagged through the mountain valleys and made our way to artsy Littleton – with the longest candy-counter in the world! From Littleton, we carried onto tiny Bath, home to the ‘Oldest General Store in the USA.’
We then crossed into Vermont – the Green Mountain State.
The only landlocked New England State is Vermont. It is the second smallest state in the USA by population (Wyoming is the smallest), it has the smallest capital city (Montpelier) and was the first independent state to voluntarily join the USA – making it the 14th. Theoretically it can also separate.
Vermont is green and refined. It avoids chain shops and restaurants and is home to Bernie Sanders – one of the few elected self-identified socialists in the country.
We stayed at beautiful Lake Morey for a night of music. The following morning we travelled south to Woodstock, VT (the music festival was in Woodstock, NY). I suppose ‘charming’ and ‘quaint’ are the appropriate terms for most of Vermont.
Noteworthy to remember to try Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream when in the Green Mountain State – it comes from Stowe!
Crossing south into Western Massachusetts, we visited ultra-liberal Northampton. This famously progressive university city feels busy after Vermont, although it is walkable and interesting.
Continuing south, we crossed into Connecticut.
Still in New England, Connecticut is economically tied to New York City and is home to many many major insurance companies. While arguably the wealthiest state in the Union, its capitol, Hartford, is distinctly not rich.
There is a lot to unpack in this conversation, I do recommend Hartford for its food, the State Capitol building and absolutely Mark Twain’s House! One of the very best museums I have visited.
After leaving Hartford, we travelled south and east to the 6th and smallest New England State – Rhode Island & Providence Plantations.
Boasting the longest name of any state, RI was founded upon religious freedom and transformed into a centre of 19th century opulence.
Newport was long home to the America’s Cup yacht race where the super rich were defeated by the mega-rich.
Newport is worth visiting. The coastal architecture is impressive and the city breathes American history, including the oldest Synagogue in the country. George Washington himself welcomed the congregation! I ate delicious swordfish with old friends (thanks for dinner 🙂 ).
From RI the natural destination in Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. The Cape, formed by sediment from the last ice age, has been a popular holiday destination for centuries. It looks like a flexed arm with Hyannis on the bottom, Chatham at the elbow and Provincetown on the fist. The Island of Martha’s Vineyard with its 6 tiny municipalities floats off the southern coast.
Just inland is Plymouth, where the Pilgrims came to pray and settle in 1620. Churches remain ubiquitous throughout New England.
The Cape area warrants several days. Providing traffic cooperates (rarely the case), Plymouth and the Cape is just over an hour from Boston. This was the Kennedy family’s playground. Make sure to visit the JFK memorial (and his library back in Boston).
In addition, a trip out to P-town (Provincetown) at the end of the Cape is a particularly gay affair. This liberal outpost is festooned with rainbow flags. The community is warm, welcoming and fun. We caught some of the Portuguese festival on this trip.
I also found an excellent art gallery supporting work from Cuba. Make sure to visit!
New England is a special area of the United States. It is deeply historical, educated and culturally vibrant. Each state has its own energy and attitude, yet New Englanders collectively managed to mix state, regional and national pride with a warm and generally open hospitality.
It is not a cheap place to travel – one of the reasons a tour offers outstanding value.
Spring – summer was a very pleasing time to visit New England. Weather is changeable, and hot days can be too humid for me, but with abundant beaches and good infrastructure, everything is comfortable.
I look forward to returning in the fall!