Welcome to the Cape
I have now been coming to New England and Cape Cod on tour for four years, so just for fun I have just done a ‘Cape Cod Only’ tour.
The Cape is interesting and deeply historic, in a New World sort of way. It is also really beautiful.
It is little wonder to me why the Cape is so popular with people from the large urban centres – particularly Boston and New York. The Cape is quite heavily populated (or heavily settled in local vernacular), yet it is intensely treed and there are no high-rises whatsoever. Old England meets maples.
The Cape starts around Plymouth (as in 1620 pilgrims Plymouth), but to me I am not really on the Cape until I have crossed over the 1914 canal that physically separates the peninsula from mainland Massachusetts.
A map of the Cape is easy to imagine. It is New England flexing its left arm! A broad upper arm (home to Falmouth, Hyannis and Sandwich), the elbow is Chatham and the fist is funky Provincetown (P’town). Posh Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket (there once was a man…) are just off the south shore.
In terms of European settlement, the Cape is old, but geographically it is very young. In simple terms, it poured off the coast at the end of the last ice age over 10,000 years ago. Roughly the same time and cause of Niagara Falls!
The early economy of the Cape was tough. Most town were whaling oriented – decimating whale populations in order to light the street of major cities. Now whale watching is popular and the animals are recovering. This is clearly more pleasant.
Even though one can find a comprehensive road system, fast food and even a mall on the Cape, most of the townships are architecturally protected and all the money that flows in from wealthy parts of the Northeast USA, means houses are beautiful. Greyish Cedar shingle sidings define the style and the light, wooded style is special.
Martha’s Vineyard has some of the funnest endemic architecture. If you cannot afford a night or two on the island (and it is pricey), day trips are easy from Falmouth and the crossing is only 40 minutes.
Every town on the island is interesting, but Oak Bluffs is my favourite. The beaches are nice, the water clear, and the cottage / gingerbread house style of building is really captivating. Additionally and importantly, Oak Bluffs became a popular holiday destination for African Americans who carved out a holiday destination during the strict times of segregation. They could not stay in the regular hotels, so built their own! All this history is far too recent to be acceptable.
If at all possible, always make the effort to drive to the end the Cape. P’town is fascinating. The pilgrims stopped here, before continuing on to Plymouth and there is a large tower in memory of the landing. Then Portuguese migrants (many from the Azores and Cape Verde) settling and expanded the fishing industry.
But P’town is more than a charming fishing village. It was the first artist’s colony in the United States and statistically has the highest population of Gays and Lesbians. One stat suggests 163 households per 1000 are same sex. How do the old fishing families feel about this? Just fine! Everyone gets along.
Gay, straight or however, people flock to P’town for the art galleries. On my first visit I was thrilled to find Galeria Cubana. A real life art gallery featuring actual Cuban artists who still live in Cuba. How is this legal? It is cultural – and the gallery navigates the complicated process in order to offer these significant works.
The owner has become a a friend and we even took a group to Cuba last February.
The Cape is appealing culturally and aesthetically. For this mountain kid, it is a little too flat, but the beaches are beautiful and the people friendly and much more relaxed than in the big cities. Food is predictable maritime / New England and on every visit my first meal is either lobster bisque or a lobster roll.
There are far too many eating establishments to name, but I will give a shout out to the Squires Pub in Chatham – I have eaten there many times on day trips, and everyone always loves it!
The Cape is really only an hours drive from Boston – but count two more hours all the way out to P’town. Rhode Island (the smallest state with the longest name; ‘Rhode Island and Providence Plantations’) is even closer!