I never really knew what to expect from Boston, but whatever I did it exceeded my expectations. We did a lot of walking and sightseeing around the city, which is something that I think is so great about it--there’s plenty of buildings and history to be seen that won’t cost you any money and entertain you for hours. After a few suggestions from our farm hosts and friends, we ended up at the Quincy Market, which is in Faneuil Hall. It is packed with little food vendors selling everything from amazing looking pastries, delicious smelling Japanese food and of course, New England favorites such as clam chowder and lobster rolls. When you go outside you end up on a bustling cobblestone street with little stores lining it, and when you look around you realize that there are tables everywhere with people eating and playing board games, as well as pool tables and ping pong tables. They hire performers to be at their two main entrances, ranging from singers to magicians throughout the day. We could have really been there for hours! We were getting hungry, so we thought it was only fitting that we get some New England favorites--and due to being on a budget (and because lobster roll sandwiches are ridiculously priced), we opted for a crabmeat roll sandwich and clam chowder from “Boston Chowda”--where else?! And I’ll be honest, I’m not much into seafood, but this was absolutely delicious. After doing a bit more wandering, we ended up in Chinatown, and then heading off to visit Harvard.
One thing I noticed about Boston is that the people are incredibly nice. Like--everywhere! This is the first place we’ve been that I could see myself actually living--not to say we’d end up there ever, but it was really just an enjoyable and pretty place to be.
Somehow our trip has turned into the Ivy League tour of America, visiting Yale, Brown and now Harvard--but I guess it’s because a lot of those schools are on older campuses with these big beautiful buildings! Also, college towns tend to be pretty cool. Harvard was our favorite so far, with beautiful buildings that unfortunately were closed. We really wanted to spend some time in their Library but that was closed too. Instead we walked around and took pictures, and pretended we were smart with all the incoming freshmen that were touring the campus.
From there we headed on over to our campsite at Camp Nihan in Saugus, MA-- it was once an old Boy Scouts camp. They still have a few cabins, and only 3 tent camping sites, which is pretty nice because you’re very secluded. We didn’t get there until around 7:30 so it got dark fast from there, but we made dinner in the dark anyway, trying out our new camp stove. We made chicken with couscous, potatoes, peppers and onions with a yellow curry sauce! In the dark (and it was awesome)! We got to sleep in Penny for real for the first time! We slept on the bottom part a few times before, one being the most uncomfortably hot experience ever, but this time we got to pop the top up, unzip the side windows and cozy up with our blankets in the breeze. It was awesome.
The next morning we got up and headed back to Boston to go to a fully Italian Mass at St Leonards in Bostons North End. The church was built in 1891 to serve the first Italian parish in the United States, which had about 20,000 Italian immigrant parishioners at the time. Neither of us speak a word of Italian, but you can follow along if you know the order of a Catholic mass. We really enjoyed the mass and the beautiful interior of the church. After words, we walked around the North End a bit, spent some time in The Thinking Cup, found a few outdoor markets, made some sandwiches in Penny, and gave in to our cravings for cannolis. Everywhere we looked people had Mike's Pastry boxes, so we had to see for ourselves. Mikes was literally packed out the door with at least 50 customers, in no real order, trying to get to the front to place an order. They have about (I’m guessing) 15 different kinds of cannolis, along with dozens of other INCREDIBLE looking pastries. We got a pistachio flavored cannoli, which was lovely, as expected. We walked around a bit more and then headed back to the campsite for the night.
The next day we decided to head over to Salem, MA, where we explored the town shops, walked to the lighthouse, and spent some time in a coffee shop called Jaho. We found a nighttime walking tour of Salem on Groupon, so we decided to try that out so we could get a real feel of the area..and a place like Salem is best seen at night, we think.
When we go to Boston the day before, Penny had started to act a little funny. The idle was very inconsistent and she felt like she was misfiring at lower rpm’s and coming very close to stalling at lights. Of course this started happening in the rain, so we found a Walmart with a covered parking lot. We pulled in and John spent some time looking into the problem, but wasn't really getting anywhere. Often a Vanagon problem comes with quite a list of possible causes, and we weren't so sure we’d be able to find the problem and fix it in a parking lot somewhere. We did a little research and called a shop in Boston who came highly recommended, but of course he was fully booked until the middle of October. We knew we were due at the next farm in a few days, so we decided to look for a shop in southern Maine, near where we would be staying, and just try to get there. We found a shop in Portland who could get us in towards the end of the next week, so we decided to just get to Maine, thinking if all else failed, we could always drop the van off at the shop and figure out a ride to the farm.
One of the challenges that we knew we were going to be dealing with is the van itself. For the most part Penny has been running fantastically--we try not to drive for extended periods of time and understand that depending on certain conditions, she could be temperamental. Of course John and I were getting worried when she started having problems, because pretty much our whole trip revolves around the van as our source of transportation and our home. It was getting hard to enjoy ourselves, especially in Salem, knowing that something could potentially end our trip much sooner than we had planned for. When you're driving a 30 year old vehicle with 245,000 miles, that requires very specific parts and mechanics with Vanagon experience (and hopefully lots of it), the reality is that anything can pop up at any time and cost you thousands of dollars. Thats just the reality of our situation, and with that being said, we wouldn't trade it for anything.
We came up with our plan to head to Maine the next day, after getting one more night of sleep at our camp ground. The next morning we started Penny up and realized that she was running on only 3 cylinders--a clue! Previously she was only misfiring randomly, but now she was just sitting there idling on 3 cylinders. We pulled everything out of the back and pulled off the engine cover. John started to pull the spark plug wires one by one to see which cylinder wasn't firing, and in doing so, realized that the whole distributer cap wasn't sitting flush. Thats it! We kinda figured it’d just be something as simple as that, but couldn't help but worry it was something bigger. We got everything tightened back up securely and she’s been perfect since. The biggest thing we learned during that time is that our trip could literally end today and we wouldn’t necessarily see it coming--so we have to enjoy ourselves as much as possible and not spend a whole day bummed out and worrying about the van.
Maine is a state we’ve both been looking forward to, and it has not disappointed yet! The first place we visited was the Portland Head Light, which is a big lighthouse with all of these crazy rocks around it. When we arrived it was ridiculously foggy, you could almost barely even see the lighthouse, but not even a half hour later it all disappeared, the skies were blue and the temperature got about 10 degrees warmer. We stayed there for a while and then moseyed our way to the town of Portland. We ended up staying there for about 3 full days and I’m really glad we had the chance! Portland is pretty much the best parts of a beach town, Boston and our home, West Chester, PA. They had just enough interesting shops to keep you busy for a full day, some cute coffee and tea shops and a slew of restaurants. The first day we were there we went to a lot of the shops and spent a lot of time in Bard coffee. The days that we spent in Portland we slept in the nearby Cabela’s parking lot, which again, isn’t glamorous, but it was definitely more comfortable than a truck stop!
Our second day in Portland we went to the Victoria Mansion which was built in 1860 as a summer home for Ruggles Sylvester Morse. It is completely over the top and opulent. It was covered from floor to ceiling in ornate paintings, fabrics, furniture and floors. It was totally ridiculous and beautiful, but unfortunately we weren’t able to take pictures inside, so the best I can do is give you a link to their website here. After we visited that we went to Dobra Tea shop, which is a small chain of tea rooms, with over 100 varieties of tea and a few tasty snacks. We spent some more time exploring, and then went to a coffee shop called Arabica (we like to go to these places to get some photo editing, writing and thank you notes done). After spending a few more hours in there we went back to Cabela’s for the night. On Thursday we got some breakfast and walked down to the water with our friends in the area, Jill, Geoff and their baby Haven. They took us to Standard Baking Co. for coffee and pastries, to Vena’s Fizz House for some handcrafted soda, and The Holy Donut. The Holy Donut’s are actually made from Maine mashed potatoes and taste a little like funnel cake--they were the best doughnuts we’ve ever had. After another day of coffee shop hopping and hanging around, we decided to go to Duckfat for dinner as a last hoorah before our next farm adventure. We had their famous (and amazing, and most delicious, and salivation-worthy) french fries, tomato fennel soup with grilled cheese croutons, and a duck panini. It was incredible--and so worth every cent.
That night there was a latte art competition at Bard coffee. When we saw the sign earlier in the week we knew we were definitely going to have to go and John would have to compete. He’s competed in about 3 or 4 at home for his coffee shop Philter, and the last one he did, he won! Needless to say, John was the only one from Pennsylvania there--and I think they thought it was pretty cool that he was a part of it! He lost in the 3rd round to Bard’s manager, who ended up winning the whole thing in the next round, so it was ok. I think he represented Philter well (obviously wearing his Philter shirt). It was definitely a great opportunity to get to know some people in the area and get ourselves more involved in the town we were visiting! One guy overheard that we were on a road trip and was like “wait, do you have that VW camper out there?? We saw that earlier, thats awesome!” Penny’s famous!
On Friday we decided to head over to Freeport, ME because it is only about 20 minutes away from the farm we would be staying at. Also, the L.L.Bean headquarters and flagship store is there so we just had to go and wear our Bean boots (in 90 degree weather) like dorks to take a picture with the giant Bean boot. We explored the town a little bit, which is mostly outlets, and spent some time in Coffee By Design, which is located in the lower level of L.L.Bean’s flagship store. We wanted to see some good ol’ Maine nature, so we went to Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, and explored the trails and rocks they had for us. There was a small island across from the coast which we could actually walk to because it was low tide. Low tide here isnt what we’re used to in New Jersey, where we usually go to the beach. Here the coast is all rocks, so at low tide you can walk through the shore line that has been shaped for years by the waves. It was a pretty cool experience, and we found so many little hermit crabs and snails! We made dinner for ourselves in Penny with some fresh ground pork, some Swiss Chard we had just bought from a farmer’s market, leftover potatoes and couscous with a sauce made with peanut butter, orange juice, soy sauce, sesame seed oil and some curry sauce we had. It was quite a van meal, if I do say so myself! That night we headed over to our next farm, which is where we are now, in Pownal, ME at Tir na nOg farm. It’s amazing here so far, but I won’t be talking about that until our next blog post. Pray for cool weather!