New England, Old Habits

“Go back to sleep”, I mumbled to Gabriel across the drab motel room. “I can’t”, he shot back while tossing in his bed. “Neither can I”, added Jules. After glancing at the neon numbers of the alarm clock, I complained that it wasn’t even four in the morning. “You guys are killing our tactic to get rid of jet lag early on!”. A mere two turns of the watch later, the strategy was officially pronounced dead. By five, we were sitting at a coffee place on the outskirts of Boston, scheming about what to do next.

Having abandoned The Plan in Italy, we had only loose thoughts about what to do over the next ten days. One idea was to ‘do what the locals do’. Out of the eclectic collection of chairs strewn around the coffee place, only our three were taken, so we were perhaps not off to the best start. Everybody else was standing, impatiently fidgeting with their phones while waiting for their names to be called up.

“Kate!”, the barista goes, and a nurse wearing pale violet scrubs sprung to the counter and picked up her chai tea. Barry, the next patron, ordered a frappuccino, a beverage choice in stark contrast with his steel toed construction boots. Josh, sporting a crooked tie and hints of pillow hair, did not appear able to venture into the office without his double-shot expresso.

“I bet Josh works in Downtown Boston”, hypothesised Jules, “let’s trail him and start our exploration of New England at its heart”. He was in too much of a hurry for our easy-going pace, but we eventually followed suit. Once into the car and onto the highway, it became clear why Josh was frenzied. Morning traffic crammed all four lanes, dictating a slow crawl into the city.

Once finally there, we hastily ditched the car at the first chance. It was a beautiful summer morning, with the sun not yet looming over our heads and the temperature still several notches away from scorching. We leisurely roamed the streets, trying our best not to get in the way of those dashing between appointments.

By mid-afternoon, jet lag was again nipping at our heels. We plopped onto a park bench and watched Gabriel feeding his apple slices to a squirrel. “Can’t it bite and transmit rabies?”, I asked. “Which one, Gabriel or the squirrel?”, retorted Jules1.

While I weighted those odds, a young woman sat on the opposite end of our bench. “How’s it going”, she said, adjusting her headphones. Mistaking her politeness for an invitation to chat, we replied to the rhetorical question. “Oh, fine, but we’re a bit tired from the hustle and bustle of the city. Say, what do you Bostonians do for fun?”. Following no more than a hint of hesitation, she took off her headphones and pondered for a bit. “I like Cape Cod”, she said. “It’s cooler in the summer, and full of small towns and big beaches”.

The next day, yanked again to action by the time difference, we headed to Cape Cod. Despite the early hour, we soon found ourselves again stuck in traffic, together with thousands of others looking to spend a day out of the city. Finally, after hundreds of ‘are-we-there-yet’ from Gabriel and a few from Jules, we cleared the narrow bridge that opens to the “bended arm of Massachusetts”.

The journey had been somewhat of a pain, but the destination was as beautiful as the young woman had painted it. “How can we enjoy these coastlines without the hassle of traffic?”, mused Jules. At lunch, we again probed the locals. This time the victim was a kid working a summer job at a pizza place. “How are you folks doing today”, he offered in the way of an introduction. “Glad you asked. You know, we’re great, but wouldn’t mind spending less time driving around”, I started. “Where can we find a nice off-the-beaten-path spot?”, added Jules. The kid, halfway through distributing the menus, paused and scratched a full head of curly hair. “Everything about a day’s worth of driving from Boston will be packed”, he said, “but the coastline further up north should be less crowded”.

After notifying Gabriel that we would most definitely not order one pizza of each kind so he could decide which one he liked best, we took out a map and examined New England’s long coastline. “Let’s turn this trip into a road trip”, said Jules, excitingly. “Yeah, let’s go all the way up to Canada!”, I added. Gabriel, still complaining about being restricted to a single pizza, did not chime in. In the mingling of anticipation and surliness, the irony of driving 700 miles to avoid being stuck in a car eluded us.

“Welcome to New Hampshire” announced the GPS, followed by an equally friendly “welcome to Maine” twenty minutes later. As Boston shrunk in the rear-view mirror, expressways spilled onto freeways, and freeways trickled to coastal roads. The number of lanes dwindled, and we enjoyed longer and longer stretches of road devoid of fellow travellers. Two thirds of our group was ecstatic. Gabriel, who had been keeping himself busy by counting red cars, was less so.

We hugged the jagged coastline as tightly as we could, stopping whenever there was something that caught our eye. Terns, sparrows, robins, cormorants, and geese. Chipmunks hiding from falcons, less fortunate fish caught by puffins and ospreys. Flocks of gulls following fishing boats. Sandy beaches and rocky cliffs, lighthouses and forts. Paths lined by wild carrots, coneflowers, and lilies. Hikes through red maples and American beeches, hides and seeks behind rocks and boulders. Lakes and reservoirs, channels and dams. Coffees on Main Streets, ice-creams on Water Streets.

Time flied, and we soon arrived to Lubec, US’ easternmost town. The morning was foggy, but we could see half of a bridge plunging forward. “Where does it go?”, asked Gabriel. “To Canada”, I told him, to which he quickly retorted with an enthusiastic “let’s go!”.

The rental car was only insured for the US, so we instead walked across the bridge. “After so much driving to get here, walking this last stretch reminds me of my grandmother”, I recollected. “Following two giant slices of chocolate cake, she would put sweetener instead of sugar in her coffee”.

Precisely at the middle of the bridge, a plaque marked the boundary line between the two countries. The railings on both sides had ever-so-slightly different colours: greenish blue on the American side and blueish green on the Canadian half. Once on the other side, the subtle differences continued. The French information booklets at the border control and the speed limits posted in kilometres felt oddly comforting.

There is no land link between Campobello Island and mainland Canada, so the area is sparsely populated. With no one in sight, we sat next to the Mulholland Point Lighthouse and looked across the narrows back to Lubec, which was starting to come out of the fog. “We seemed to have slipped back into our old habit of seeking solitude”, Jules thought out loud while looking at Gabriel, who was peeking at fishing boats through a set of binoculars.  He appeared content in his current predicament.

“Does he enjoy this type of travelling because it’s the only one he knows?”, continued Jules. “Would he prefer to be around more people? Perhaps in the same spot every summer, so he could meet old friends?”. Without anything intelligent to contribute, I told Jules “not to overthink it, as by his teens he will inescapably deem everything we say as cringe-worthy, respond to all our plans with an eye-roll, and do the exact opposite of whatever we propose”.


1 In the US, small rodents are not known to transmit rabies to humans. However, racoons, skunks, and foxes, can.

You can find high resolution versions of these photographs (and many others that did not fit this text) here, under a Creative Commons license (meaning you can use them freely but are required to credit the author).

26 thoughts on “New England, Old Habits

  1. I love this post. Fun for me to read, being from the Boston area. So glad to hear you made it to Cape Cod and to Maine. Hats off to you. Sound like quite the trip. Enjoying your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Very much enjoying Valencia, Spain. I’ve always appreciated the European pace of life. & being in Europe puts so many destinations that I have always wanted to visit within easy reach. So far, so good

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah, Valencia is great, we’ve been meaning to go back to photograph Calatrava’s City of Arts and Science. I hope you get a chance to visit Portugal as well!

        – Verne


  2. Nice to catch up with you again, though I’m not sure if I missed something? Boston by way of Italy 🇮🇹? Not sure how I ended up here myself. 10 minutes ago I was thinking about Tras-os-Montes 🤔
    Anyway, all’s well that ends well, even if you didn’t show me Boston harbour. 💗

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I cannot fathom setting out on a vacation without a detailed plan in hand, or at least in husband’s head. It suited me, because I was the support staff and not responsible for anything but keeping everything on an even keel. I would have adored a few days of careless wandering, but it would have sent him to the loony bin.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the title of this post, I love your photos (as always!), and I love that you asked the locals for recommendations of places to see — although I very much like to plan everything in advance, sometimes the most memorable places are those I find out only after asking a local. Nice to know you’ve started doing intercontinental travels again!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. June to August is when many parts of Indonesia are in dry season — in my opinion ideal for photography. I reckon you’ve been to Bali during your round-the-world trip several years ago. This time around, why not see Java? But honestly it’s hard to choose one or two islands only because it’s such a vast archipelago. It really comes down to how much time you have.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Ahh, to do what the locals do, in the USA. So brave. And then you end up searching for solitude, and found some borderline wildlife. That bird looks quite wild. Also, clearly I have a geography problem. I’d think that between Boston and Canada there was the entire New York and some other stuff. Hm…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We saw quite a few deer as well, but they were much less willing to pose for photographs than the geese!

      I won’t make fun of your New England geography problem, if you promise to do the same thing next time I mix up Slovenia and Slovakia 🙂

      – Verne

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Nice travelogue. Being a west coaster that’s never been to New England, it never occurred to me that Boston was that close to Maine – Maine has always struck me as being the great frozen north. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Portland, Maine is actually a couple of degrees south of Portland, Oregon. I’d like to visit the NE some day.

    Nice job on the drone photography. I haven’t done much travel or photography with mine yet, and it seems like many of the places I’d like to fly it are no fly zones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dave! The east-side Portland is nice, we’re hoping to visit the west-side one soon.

      There’s indeed a growing number of no-fly zones, didn’t even try to fly in Boston. In any case, I found the experience of flying a drone in the US more enjoyable than in Europe: the certification process is clearer, the range is higher (less strict RF caps), and the map shows air-traffic in real-time.

      – Verne

      Liked by 1 person

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