It's been officially one year since our trip to Kenya and I still haven't finished blogging about it. Clearly I shouldn't quit my day job and become a travel blogger! We switched it up this year, and we recently got back from a road trip that took us from St. Louis, up through New England, over to Michigan, and back home. This time last year, even before heading to Kenya, the wheels were already spinning on where I wanted to go in 2018. Those who know me well know my travel schedule is generally planed out, at least loosely, 12-18 months in advanced! A summer trip to New England had been on my mind and we also seriously considered a trip to Germany, Austria, and Hungry for over the winter, but while in Africa we met so many people who commented on the beauty and vastness of the United States that it stirred something in me to want to do a longer trip here in the U.S. Since money and vacation leave do not grow on trees, we decided to nix a big international trip this year and stay "local". I've always loved New England, even before my obsession with wanting to be a Gilmore Girl. I looked at colleges up east and always dreamed of living there one today. Although fall seems like the quintessential time to visit, something about summer was calling to me (which is good since Chris has no fall break). I envisioned a slower pace trip, where we could really relax, spend time together outdoors. I had dreams of lobster rolls, homemade ice cream, and lots of time spent hiking, biking, and by the ocean. I learned from our Italy trip that I do best when I can spend at least 3 nights in the same location. After running the numbers on flights, car rentals, bike and bike rack rentals, we quickly decided road tripping it in our Subaru, with our bikes, was the way to go. Although I always prefer to fly, I actually really enjoyed our road trip. I think the key to our success was we were never rushed and we broke up our drives really nicely. We were gone a total of 17 days and I plan to break up the trip into two posts. So grab your drink of choice and settle in for post #1!
We left St. Louis around 5 am and drove straight through to Indianapolis, where we stopped for a sit down breakfast. Indy is 4 hours from St. Louis and in eastern time, so it really helped to knock that part of our drive out early. From Indy we drove on another 2.5 hours to Columbus, Ohio, where we stopped at a local coffee shop for a small break, then drove another 2.5 hours onto Youngstown, Ohio where we were stopping for the night. We pulled in pretty early, around 4 pm, and were able to rest and then head out to dinner. The next day we had planned to stop for breakfast after a couple hours of driving but ended up essentially driving across all of Pennsylvania and into New York and then Connecticut where we stopped for lunch. This took us about 7 hours. After our stop for lunch we only had about an hour up to our hotel in Hartford/Windsor, CT. Our first stop on the trip was Cape Cod and stopping in Hartford worked out perfectly because I have family in the area who we were able to see. It was an amazing kickoff for our trip because they prepared us a beautiful, traditional, New England lobster dinner and even sent us off with a New England gift bag full of local New England products (coffee, syrup, beer, wine)!
The next day we got up and leisurely made our way down to Cape Cod. The drive from Hartford was a little under 3 hours. Once there, we pulled off the main highway that takes you up the cape, and opted for the more scenic local route. Since we couldn't check in until 3 pm we took our time winding up the cape and exploring some of the other towns. Even at one point stopping to check out a visitor center, and hopping on our bikes for a quick couple mile ride over to the ocean. I really loved our time in Cape Cod, more so than I expected to. We chose to stay in Provincetown (P-town) which is at the tip of the cape. I literally selected it only because I knew the main whale watching cruise departed from P-town and I happened to stumble across a great AirBnB with a fantastic price. P-town is located at the northernmost tip of Cape Cod and was the site of the Mayflower landing. It's an adorable seaside, resort town, with cute shops, art galleries, and restaurants along it's main street- Commercial street. It's incredibly LGBT friendly and from what we learned has always been a LGBT vacation destination. It was pretty calm while we were there but I could see it being much liveier later in the summer. There are also some fantastic feminist shops! TIP: I booked our lodging early February for our May/June trip and at that point I would estimate that only 10-15% (at best) of the inventory was left. Book early, probably 6-12 months out!
We had initially planned to spend a day visiting other towns on the cape or taking the ferry out to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, but once we got to P-town and met with the owner of our rental, we quickly changed plans and just spent our entire 3 days there. In hindsight, I am so thankful we ended up staying in P-town. It has such a relaxed atmosphere with a very open and unpretentious vibe. We really enjoyed slowing down our pace and exploring all it had to offer. Our days started early, usually involved a bike ride, followed by lunch, a drink, ice cream, and an afternoon nap. The town is pretty small and our AirBnB was dead smack in the center of town, which made for easy exploring. I will say that Chris and I have declared Memorial Day through the first week in June the BEST time to be in New England. Their schools aren't out yet for the summer so you benefit from lower costs, fewer crowds, and the ability to eat dinner where ever you want without reservations. This of course comes at the cost of not everything being up and running yet, or at least not daily, but the trade off is worth it. Tip: the streets are narrow and even in the low crowds they are difficult to navigate with a car. Parking is limited and unless your rental/inn specifically mentions there is parking, plan on paying for a lot at least a few blocks away from where you're staying. We ended up in a lot not too far away. When we arrived we were lucky enough to park in a small lot across the street to unload our luggage, and then when we checked out, we left early enough in the morning we just pulled our car up in the alley. I can't imagine how insane parking would be though in the height of tourist season. Also, even if you're not near the water, be prepared for your vehicle to be covered in sand when you leave.
After 3 nights in P-town we headed north to Portsmouth, NH. Again, I'm a broken a record, but we heard horror stories of traffic in and out of the cape, but we had none of it. Again, perfect timing. We pulled into Portsmouth by 11 am. Initially, my plan had been to stay one night in Portland, ME (we went to Portland, Oregon back in October and I thought it would be cool to stay in both Portlands) however I'm so glad I listened to everyone who advised me to stay in Portsmouth. My only regret was we didn't have a few days. The town is just beautiful. We biked, relaxed, shopped, and I went to yoga. I'm thankful we had this stop over to break up our drive up to Mount Desert Island.
|WHERE WE STAYED|
Hampton Inn, Youngstown, Ohio: nothing special but the hotel appeared recently updated and was conveniently located right off the highway. I would stay there again if I ever needed lodging right off of I-80 in Ohio.
Hyatt House, Hartford, CT: my least favorite place we stayed. The rooms are built for extended stays, so they're rather large and have kitchens. Our particular room smelled of curry. Which, I love Indian food, but it wasn't the particular smell I wanted for our hotel room.
Air BnB, Provincetown, MA: our little Air BnB was great. You could NOT beat the price or the location. It was located above the Purple Feather Cafe on Commercial street which is the main drag, we were literally in the middle of all the action (something to keep in my mind if your easily bothered by noise). The owner was so nice. He left us a gift card for his cafe (which we wisely used on his house made gelato) and our first night in town he sat down with us in his cafe not only telling us all about the area and history of P-town but excellent biking and hiking recommendations. The only "con" per se was there was no air conditioning. Luckily for us, the weather was in the upper 50s at night so we slept with the windows open and it felt great.
Hampton Inn, Portsmouth, NH: Chris and I both agreed, this was by far the NICEST Hampton Inn we have ever stayed at. The location was excellent and the hotel was only a few years old. The rooms were clean and large. All of the employees were friendly and helpful, and the lobby was beautiful.
|WHERE WE ATE|
King's of Newtown, Newtown, CT: we pulled off the highway in Newtown for lunch and I'm so glad we did. To get to Kings, you have to come about 15 minutes off the highway but it's worth it. On the outside, it doesn't look like much and the service by the hostess wasn't great (though maybe that's just Connecticut) however the food was delicious. You could get breakfast, burgers, seafood - lots of options! I had a house-made Maryland Crab Cake sandwich on Bocco bread, it was one of my favorite sandwiches from the whole trip. Despite the rudeness by the front staff, our waitress was super friendly.
Sesuit Harbor Cafe, Dennis, MA: after exhaustive research of trying every lobster roll we could over our two weeks, Chris and I declared Sesuit Harbor Cafe the winners of best lobster roll - sorry, Maine! The lobster roll was out of this world tasty, as was the tuna sandwich we ordered which melted in our mouths. You can't beat the location. It's away from everything touristy and right on the harbor. While we were there, we read you could even make reservations to have your lunch out on one of the lobster boats. Tip: it's cash only (as most lobster shacks are) but they do have an ATM.
The Mews Restaurant, Provincetown, MA: The Mews was recommended to us as one of the "best" restaurants in Provincetown. We made recommendations 4 weeks out as advised, in the end they weren't needed because we were early enough in the season but by everything we heard if you're traveling here mid June or onward, definitely make reservations a few weeks out. The Mews has two levels, a more casual upper level with live music and a lower level that's beach level. We were seated at a table by the window with a great view. The food was good and the seafood was fresh but I wasn't blown away. The ambiance and presentation of the food was a little dated. I wouldn't particularly recommend it, but I wouldn't discourage one from eating here either.
Far Land Provisions, Provincetown, MA: Far Land Provisions is a small market located off the main drag that also serves sandwiches for breakfast and lunch. Most of the restaurants that do serve breakfast in P-town don't open until 9am or 10am, and honestly appeared as though they likely served sub-par food (Chicago and St. Louis has spoiled us in the breakfast department). Luckily, we ventured here early our first morning to get a breakfast sandwich before our whale watching trip and we ended up coming back here every morning for a sandwich, coffee, and the newspaper. It was obvious all the mornings we were there that we were the only tourists in there. So either very few make it there, or they just go much later in the morning.
The Canteen, Provincetown, MA: we LOVED the Canteen. My only regret is we didn't just come back the second day for lunch also. We had the fish tacos and roasted brussels sprouts in fish sauce - SO good. The ambiance was great also, we ate out back on picnic tables in the sand while watching the water.
The Squealing Pig, Provincetown, MA: we ventured here for a late diner after our Sand Dunes tour. It was recommended to us for their burgers. We both thought it was good but not great. It fit the bill for that evening as it was conveniently located across from our Air BnB and just "easy". I'd probably go back but I wouldn't particularity recommend it.
Tin Pan Alley, Provincetown, MA: wouldn't go back, wouldn't recommend it. Slow and terrible service, mediocre and over priced food.
Patio American Grill, Provincetown, MA: Patio was located directly next door to our AirBnB. We passed it multiple times a day, always opting to eat somewhere with a water view and assuming this was a giant tourist trap. On our last night in town we had a list of probably 5 restaurants we wanted to try however they were all closed (trade off for visiting midweek before the main tourist season). We ended up next door at the Patio and I'm SO glad we did. It was a chilly evening, but the Patio had aptly thought of everything you needed to still enjoy your dinner on the Patio including heaters at the tables, candles, and blankets! I was in heaven. To top it off the food and service were great. Chris and I both thought the vibe was reminiscent of a cafe we ate at in CInque Terre, Italy.
Earth Eagle Brewings, Portsmouth, NH: we grabbed a quick lunch here while waiting for our room at the hotel. I thought the food was good however Chris wasn't a huge fan of any of the beers he tasted.
Walkers Maine, Cape Neddick, ME: Walkers Maine is a MUST for anyone visiting Portsmouth. As the name suggests, it's not actually in Portsmouth but located about 20 minutes north in Cape Neddick, Maine. I actually read about Walkers Maine a few months before our trip when the Wall Street Journal profiled a few restaurants/chefs who were redefining "farm-to-table" by overseeing the growing themselves. I immediately booked a reservation and like many things on this trip, rationalized it by saying, "it's for our anniversary". The chef/owners of Walkers grow their fruits and vegetables organically on their nearby 15-acre farm, which has been in their family for six generations. The also keep a herd of goats to clear and fertilize their fields and use the milk to make fresh cheese and ice cream for the restaurant. Everything we ate was utterly delicious. The service was impeccable, and just about everyone we came in contact with at the restaurant wished us a Happy Anniversary. Beyond the amazing food, the restaurant it self was gorgeous and felt almost like you were dining in someone's home. The tables inside surrounded a large stone fire place that was flanked with couches as if it was someone's living room. Even the bathrooms were to die for.
|WHAT WE DID|
Dolphin Fleet Whale Watching, Provincetown, MA: When researching New England, spots in Maine and P-town pop up as recommended spots for whale watching. Fin and humpback whales are common in the area, they even breed there in Cape Cod bay. Minke, Right, and Pilot whales along with dolphins and seals are also in the area. We saw mostly humpback and a few Minke on our ride. We saw around 15 humpbacks and 4 minke whales, which we later heard was a "low" number compared to normal. So, although they can't guarantee sightings, I think you almost always see whales. The best part was we saw a couple 3-4 month old babies. From all my research, and by talking to other people on the boat, this company is known for being one of the best whale watching tours period. Not just in New England. I met one couple from Norway who has been Whale Watching all over the world and said Dolphin Fleet is their second favorite company. They run 3 tours a day, we went out on their earliest, and again, being just ahead of tourist season only had a half full boat. TIP: at the end your offered to purchase a video of the highlights, unless your tour has seen just something incredible that you didn't catch on camera skip it. We purchased the video, it comes a few weeks after your trip to be downloaded on the computer. I personally thought I edit and put together better videos and I've made a grand total of 3 in my life.
Cape Cod National Seashore, Provincetown, MA: a must do. We biked two different trails in the national seashore. Our favorite was the Province Lands Bike Trail. We biked through town, out on the "highway", to the trail. Which was fine because it was early and the roads weren't crowded but I could see if being difficult for novice bikers during the main tourist season. We stopped at the Visitor Center along our bike ride to refill water, use the bathroom, and walk around. They had a great viewing deck and put on a movie for us about how the cape was formed after the ice ages. We biked out to Herring Cove beach and attempted a 2 mile hike in the sand to reach the lighthouse, but that was a complete failure because a) it was high tide b) endangered sea birds were nesting so large sections of the beach were blocked off. Biking through the sand dunes however was one of the favorite parts of our trip. The bike path was excellently maintained and extremely well marked warning you of potential dangers (water over the trail, sand, etc.)
Art Dune Tours, Provincetown, MA: I had initially wanted to do the Sunrise photography tour, however the tour would only run if there were a minimum of 4 people, and being early in the season it didn't make. At the last minute, we decided to call in and get tickets for their sunset tour. As our luck would have it the other two people who had signed up didn't show and we ended up with a private tour. Our guide was hilarious and we had the best time driving through and learning about the Sand Dunes. We sat for an hour on the beach and watched an entire sunset. It was BYOP and we enjoyed a bottle of Pinot Noir that we brought home from our Oregon trip last fall. The customer service we received from Arts was also fantastic. I can't recommend them enough. The sand dunes are unique to the area and P-town, I think the tour is worth the money just to spend time out there.
Breakwater, Provincetown, MA: super fun hike recommended to us by the owner of our Air BnB. We went at low tide (which you should) and had so much fun exploring all the creatures we could see. It's a little over a mile but once you get to the other side you can extend it a few miles out to the lighthouse, though be on the lookout for poison ivy. While we were in town there were two shipwrecks out on the breakwater from recent storms, which was cool to see. TIP: need to be aware of low and hide tide, tourists have been stranded out there needing rescue by boat. Wear good shoes because the rocks/boulders are uneven.
Yogasmith, Portsmouth, NH: Yogasmith was right in the center of downtown Portsmouth, about a 5 minute walk from our hotel. The studio had big bright windows and exposed brick. The class I took was just okay, but yoga can be so subjective and varies greatly by the teacher. I was just thrilled to fit in a class and couldn't beat the price of $5!
Newcastle Loop, Portsmouth, NH: after chatting with the valet guy at our hotel we lucked into an excellent biking recommendation from him. He said if we were only able to fit in one ride while in Portsmouth, we should do the Newcastle loop. The loop plus the distance to/from our hotel was just under 8 miles. It was incredibly scenic, I was kicking myself for not purchasing a go-pro for this trip because I would of loved to have this entire ride (and others) on film! It had everything from water and harbor views to ideallic streets and beautiful homes. TIP: there were no bike lanes and often the streets were just two lanes without a shoulder. Be prepared to ride aggressively and take the lane if you need to.