Not only have I spent a significant amount of time in New England but I lived in the Boston area for over a decade. During that chapter of my life, We Blog the World didn’t exist nor was I writing about travel. That said, my memories are fresh and vivid, from fun cultural and social events to getting lost in nature.
We headed back East this summer and were able to return to my favorite haunts. How much have they changed? Truthfully, I was surprised at how little had changed. Let’s start with Boston itself. Sure, there’s less construction (and disruption) than when I lived there; however, other road work continues. We arrived late at night, so jumping on Storrow Drive to head out to an AirBNB in Waltham was fairly stress-free (and quick) but returning to Logan was a bit of a challenge due to the current work on the Sumner Tunnel. My staple route along the Charles River was a familiar one, so much so that I was on auto-pilot for most of the trip.
Quite frankly, writing this article, after very little travel during the quieter years of Covid, feels more “foreign” than visiting my old stomping grounds, which include Newton, Watertown, Cambridge, Somerville, Jamaica Plain, Walden Pond, Rockport, Gloucester, and Cape Cod (not necessarily in that order).
Oh yeah, and let’s not forget Belmont where I lived for a stint . . . a long one. That drive-by was a bit emotional as memory after memory came pouring through, including the time my ex and I watched the squirrels from our bedroom window running along the fence and strategized how we could deter them from mucking about in our tomato plants. The barbecues, backyard book group gatherings, cooking up a storm in our loud apricot ginger kitchen, and shoveling the driveway every winter. The new owners (renters?) planted a vegetable garden in the front and amidst squash, lettuce and peppers, a few tall and sprightly sunflowers greeted me from the sidewalk.
There was no time to visit Nantucket this time around; however, read about our trip 8 years ago and be sure to see the breathtaking summer sunflowers we encountered during a bike ride. If you do head to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, a few gems worth exploring in Cape Cod on your way include Chatham, Truro and Wellfleet.
We returned to Gloucester’s Rocky Neck and went down memory lane (see our journey many years ago which we took in by bike). Honestly, if you compare the photos, you’ll see plenty of similarities: the quirkiness of the shops, the creative flare of the artists’ exterior studio facades, the vibrant flowers in front of the stained-colored buildings and galleries. The weathered look from chipped paint on front houses, bikes, boats and cafe doors. It was much quieter than I remembered.
The main addition to our experience this year was a melancholy story shared by artisan Stephen Laptierre, whose paintings took over the largest gallery space in the Art Colony. Artisans are truly the breath of Rocky Neck. There’s a history here and locals are rightfully proud of that history, one which has drawn artists and musicians alike to set up foot on her soil for years.
Artists have had a hard time sustaining their studios with costs soaring and less tourists coming through. No doubt, part of it can be attributed to the Covid years which affected so many shop owners, restaurants and cafes. That said, it sounded like the issue went much deeper as we listened to Stephen’s insights. He lives in his studio, so the rent for his gallery is combined with his cost to live—it’s the very same space he lays his head to rest every night. Below, Anthony looks on as he shares story after story, including the meanings behind each of the paintings. What a riveting ride and yet I sensed a deep sadness, as if we were on the brink of an end to a truly special era.
His studio was certainly eclectic and paintings lined every single wall, from ceiling to floor on all sides, including the hallway leading out to an external wooden stairway that took you down to the main street. Off to the left was a sink, stove and tea kettle and there was a couch somewhere in the midst of it all if I recall. And a desk.
It’s not all art in Rocky Neck but the galleries are what most draw people to visit. There’s also the raw and authentic ambiance of sailing life all around you, dock after dock, boat after boat . . . This unique treasure is located on a rocky peninsula tucked away within Gloucester’s working harbor.
Rocky Neck isn’t all there is to Gloucester. There are several quaint neighborhoods including a few shopping areas which I love to stroll. Who doesn’t love cafes, antique stores and old fashioned boutiques in New England? If you don’t, then I’d argue you might not gel with New England. After all, it’s the connection to all things ancient (at least by American standards) that bring people to the Northeast. Since Anthony and I grew up in the region, it was like going home: the home we grew up knowing through its unique smells, tastes and sights.
A stone’s throw from Gloucester lies Rockport, and it tends to be tradition to visit whenever I’m in the area. Maybe the draw is Rockport’s familiar toffee and ice cream shops, or the pewter store I know so well. Or perhaps its the countless fun times I’ve had along its pedestrian walkway and the dozens of lobsters I’ve eaten there, inside and out. One of the most infamous picturesque views in New England can be found in Rockport although some Maine natives might argue with me on that one.
As many times as I’ve been to Rockport, I had never set foot in the church on the left along Broadway. I never had a reason to; however, this time we ventured into St. Mary’s Episcopal Church out of curiosity. I had forgotten how much I love old churches and cathedrals; it’s one of the things that make meandering through old European towns so interesting. They tell a story: a region or city’s culture. Its history. Belief systems are baked into their walls and stained glass windows. They remain alive through the energy they emit as you look on.
Included in the stained-glass windows at St. Mary’s is a communion roll originally intended for a side chapel, which presents a collage of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) parables. A sanctuary candle constantly burns and there’s an altar designed to be the aumbry where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.
There are quite a few art galleries to take in, notably Don Gorvett, Jeffrey Marshall, North Shore Arts Association, Marilyn Swift, Cripple Cove Studios, Michalak Fine Art, Stefan Mierz Fine Art Studio, Ruth Mordecai, and Judythe Evans Meagher among numerous others.
Rockport probably isn’t the best place to get lobster in the area, largely because it’s more expensive than heading a little further north along Route 1. There are plenty of places to get seafood, either sitting down or grabbing a cuppa New England creamy chowder to go. At the very end of Bearskin Neck (#68 to be precise), you’ll find My Place by the Sea and it didn’t look like it changed at all since the last time we had a romantic meal on their deck roughly eight years ago. We were planning to repeat the experience but it was closed, so we headed to Fleur Cuisine Harborside on the wharf instead. The ambiance was lovely; however, the food was only good, not great and the service was bit disappointing.
Another favorite spot is Floating Lotus. In years gone past, we used to attend their sound baths on the top floor. Owners are husband and wife team Justin and Karin, who do a great job at curating unique items. Mostly from Asia, these fair trade items range from jewelry and tapestries, to singing bowls, clothes and statues. On this visit, Anthony walked out with a beautiful labradorite ring we were both immediately drawn to. They hold sound experiences in their Bearskin Neck location and larger spiritually-minded events at their Gloucester location along Main Street.
Roughly eight years ago, we spent about a month touring various parts of New England, most of it spent in Massachusetts. Be sure to see our write-up on Salem where we landed by accident. We were surprised by how much fun we had there. If you love history, are dazzled by spirituality or the occult, the American home of witches will be sure to whet your appetite. Sadly, we weren’t able to meet up with Lori Bruno, likely the most renowned witch in Salem if not the country.
She touts herself as a Hereditary High Priestess and Elder of the Sicilian Strega line of the Craft of the Wise, founder and Head Mother of Our Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose Church. We were able to catch her by phone and her voice brought us back to yesteryear and the visions we had of our time with her in her mystical shop Magika on Federal Street. With a connection to Egypt as well, she is a descendant of Gohar–al–Siculi, a General in the Fataniid Empire, who in A.D. 969 was sent by the caliph of Baghdad to conquer Egypt. According to her, this he did and then went on to found Cairo. Below is a shot taken with Lori in her store.
We spent several days in Salem on our last visit, so took in some of the witch tours (by day and night), segway-ed our way through town, walked the cemeteries by night, ate fabulous food (yum – Finz Seafood & Grill) and experienced a few hotels. We also managed to get out on a boat, a schooner and more. The weather didn’t cooperate this time around as we were greeted by torrential rainfall upon arrival. The sustaining drizzly skies drove us into the massive block long Witch City Consignment Shop by accident. When you’re running for cover, any open store will do. Located on Essex Street, it was just mystical and mesmerizing enough to keep us busy for a few hours while waiting for the rain to subside. We left with two boxes of goodies, all of which we shipped home. If this is your “thing,” you might also want to note other shops worth visiting, such as Hex Old World Witchery, The Cauldron Black Enchanted Shop and the HausWitch Home & Healing.
A walk through Boston’s historical district and Quincy Market was a great way to spend our final afternoon in this old American city. After all, Anthony had never been to this part of the city and I was curious to see how things had changed. And of course I ached to buy something in their infamous food hall. On the way, we took a leisurely stroll along the waterfront, taking in the sites and beauty.
A panoramic view of the harbor and waterfront area in historical Boston.
Heading toward Quincy Market along the water. The light is absolutely stunning at dusk.
Below, a little meandering through Quincy Market Food Hall.
Okay, so I got carried away by the dessert color.
Then we headed to the North End for dinner and coffee, starting at Naples-influenced Ristorante Saraceno, perfect for Anthony’s heritage and preference for southern Italian dishes. It’s a staple — not the best Italian food in the world, but it’s GOOD and the ambiance is epic.
Below, a couple of the mains . . .
Then there’s Francesca’s along the same main drag and only a stone’s throw from Seraceno.
Although locals may argue that there are other cafes that trump the cappuccino at Caffe Vittoria, it remains one of my favorite spots, largely because of the memories of my youth. All those late nights drinking coffee after long work nights. And to top it off, very little has changed about the place. In other words, it is as I remembered. The ambiance. The tables, chairs, coffee, desserts, lighting — all of it.
Sometimes, you’ve just got to indulge your inner child and relive the tastes, smells and experiences of yesteryear just because. Thankfully our friends indulged us every step of the way.
Although I wrote earlier that so many things felt similar walking on old roads, stopping in shops of old and re-visiting favorite restaurants and cafes, it wasn’t the same, largely because I’m not the same. That said, it brought me great joy to drink and dine again in some of my old neighborhoods. Somerville’s Dali is still alive and kicking. A Spanish Tapas Bar just outside Cambridge’s border, it was the perfect spot to gather twenty or so old friends from my time living in the area.
While the tapas are still heavenly, it’s the ambiance that brings me back again and again. They still deliver on that unique old-world experience fifteen years later.
New Hampshire’s Coast
Once you cross over into New Hampshire, there’s plenty to see inland, which include great hikes and weekend getaways, but we just love the coast. This past trip only allowed for southern New Hampshire adventures due to time constraints; however, we used to drive up Route 1 often from Boston, exploring the small towns along the coast and we did the same for much of Maine as well.
Like Maine, there are plenty of lobster shacks, but the trendier town of Portsmouth not only offers modern culinary spots to dine but has great architecture. Further south just over the Massachusetts border is Newburyport where I spent a lot of time in my thirties. On this trip, we stayed with friends in Hampton and went out to dinner nightly, visiting their favorite eateries—what a treat. Scroll below for a few of those memorable experiences.
During the day, we walked up and down the beaches, collecting seaweed, rocks and shells for my various art projects like I always do when I travel. You can dine in or purchase clams, oysters, lobster, crab and other seafood to cook at home.
There’s not much to this artsy little town just over the Maine border, but we went primary to drink and eat. And look at art of course. It’s a lovely stroll down the main drag and there are some wonderful walks and hikes nearby.
Drinking & Dining
If you want a more casual experience simply to get your “lobster fix” in southern NH, a few options include Brown’s Lobster Pound (we had one picnic table style before heading out of town) and Markey’s Lobster Pool, both in Seabrook, Al’s Seafood in North Hampton, Smitty’s State Pier Lobster Pound in Hampton, Ray’s Seafood in Rye and Lobster Boat Restaurant in Litchfield, the latter of which is a known spot for old-school seafood and pasta.
Below, my lobster order before and after.
While I had to succumb to two roadside lobster meals, we also wanted to try a few elegant and tasteful dining spots and our local foodie friends Gail and Steve were the perfect hosts.
First, we ventured to Black Trumpet in Portsmouth which offers a seasonal, eclectic menu with gluten free, vegetarian, vegan and nut free options to boot. They offer a fabulous Cheese and Charcuterie Plate or you can opt for their Shrimp Ceviche Tostada with Cucumber-Nasturtium Pico to kick off your meal. Anthony and I had to try the Tea-Smoked Duck Breast with Beet-Noodle Seaweed Salad and Black Garlic Nigella Emulsion. Simply put, it was to die for.
Main course options include a Brandade Crusted Halibut with Succotash, Swiss Chard, Marinated Tomatoes and Zucchini Sauce, a Soy-Brined Iberico Pork Loin with Buckwheat Noodles, Bok Choy, Umeboshi Plum Puree and Tempura Scallions and a Pan-Fried Zucchini Feta Cake with Mushrooms, Local Greens, Beet Yogurt and Orange Blossom Honey. (Note the Asian influence)
Desserts were equally divine, with Chocolate and Cherry Clafoutis and Spiced Mascarpone and Cherry Syrup, and White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Shaved Enna Chocolate and Nilla Water Crumbs all on the menu. And how about this one? Sweetheart Beet and Plum Swiss Roll with Mascarpone Buttercream and Maple Creme Anglaise? Can you say Heavenly three times after a few cocktails and any of these scrumptious sweets?
For cocktails, a must visit is the ever so unique bar in Kittery Maine called The Wallingford Dram.
Let’s just say that every one of their cocktails had us at hello. Unusual mixes include the following (they were too amazing not to post in detail):
- A Fist in the Mouth of Time: Bourbon, Smoke, Fernet, Coffee Brandy, Bitters, Lavender
- We Are Still Us: Buttered Hay Washed Brandy, Black Pepper, Cumin and Orange Curacao with Egg White and Lemon
- Victims of Late Success: Bourbon, Aperol, Mango, Pine, Preserved Lemon, Coco Blast, Nogori Sake (yes, really), Seltzer and Mint
- Jupiter Jazz: Jalapeno-infused Mezcal, Amaro Montenegro, Passionfruit, Lemon, Orgeat, Szechuan Peppercorns
- By Witchcraft: Cranberry Infused Gin, Dry Curacao, Lime, Cassia, Creme De Violette (perfect for the region)
- Tankgirl: Tequila, Aperol, Cherry Heering, Lemon, Orgeat, Pineapple and African Birdseye Chili
- High Priestess: Raspberry-Hisbiscus Gin, Blackberry, Lime, Dry Curacao, Chocolate Bitters and Egg White (gotta love the name)
- Dame Shrub: Gin, Rosemary Pear Shrub, Lemon, Ginger, Main Hemlock, Seltzer
- A Secret Garden Highball: Earl Grey Tea Vodka, House Bitter Lemon Soda
- Boat Cowboy: Tequila, Boubon, Allspice Dram, Pineapple Gomme, Birds Eye Chilli and Bitters
- Northsea Lineman: Rye with Islay Scotch, Maraschino, Pune e Mes, Bitters and Salt
- Leatherman: Bourbon, Carpano Antica, Lapsang Souchong Liqueur and Bitters (Anthony had two – hey, we weren’t driving)
- Something for Timmy: Olive Oil Washed Bourbon, Green Chartreuse and Bitters
- Eddy and the Bridge: Strawberries, Peychaud’s Bitters, Pineapple Gomme, Tequila, Guajilo Pepper, Lemon, Seltzer and Thai Basil
Wow right? I could go on but you get the idea. Highly creative, diverse and unusual. We could have sat there all night.
Also in Kittery Maine is Anneke Jans, which is also an unusual find for the area. Start your night with cocktails at The Walllingford Dram and then walk over to Anneke Jans for dinner. They offer European-influenced American dinners, small plates and drinks in a snazzy, cosmopolitan setting.
We started off with Oysters and Mussels because how could you not if they’re on the menu? The chef prepares their Maine mussels with bacon, onions, white wine, cream, and Great Hill blue cheese. Yum, right?
Other scrumptious bites at this magical spot include Lobster Salad with Green Corn Relish and Avocado Mousse, Grilled Scallops with Succatosh, Sweet Corn Soubise, Citrus and Leeks, their Scottish Salmon with Mango Quinoa Salad, Shiitake Mushrooms, Bok Choy and Miso Ginger Glaze, and Steak Frites with Romesco.
Mass Pike to Upstate New York (Side Trip)
I call this section a side trip since the Adirondacks are not technically considered New England, although the small towns in upstate New York are very similar to most of the towns I’ve visited in Maine (especially Maine), NH and Vermont with only minor nuances. We grew up in the Adirondacks so there are plenty of articles to read and pictures to absorb. I wanted to point to 5 Highlights to this particular trip.
1. Exploring the Great Sacandaga Lake by Boat
Rent a boat and get out on the Sacandaga Lake at the base of the Adirondack Mountains. There are restaurants where you can dock and have lunch on a gorgeous sunny afternoon (only works from June until August)
2. Art Trails in August
Each summer, Fulton County has a weekend Art Walk and we lucked out this year as we were in town for it. Throughout Mayfield, Gloversville, Northville, Edinburg, Wells and Broadalbin, you can visit artists’ galleries, some of which are in their homes.
Our favorite artist picks this year include Alexandra Higgins whose medium is largely oil and acrylics on canvas and sculptor, Robyn Isabella whose medium is largely working with copper and mosaic tiles (she technically wasn’t in this year’s Art Walk but she’s my sister, so she gets a call out since her work is amaaaazing), Landscape oil painter Marion Kratky and Michele Johnsen, who specializes in Driftwood Art.
Below is Mosaic Art by Robyn Valentine.
Galleries ranged from garages, homes, and barns to co-ops, traditional office buildings and beyond.
For more information, check out the Sacandaga Valley Arts Network and the SVAN Arts Center – they’re svanarts on Facebook and based in Northville NY. Below are a few shots I took alongside the road near Gloversville New York.
3. Lenox Massachusetts is a fun place to explore if you’re heading to upstate New York. Be sure to stop by the traditional and ever-so historical Red Lion Inn. Sit on the porch, order some biscuits, a cheese plate and a massive pot of tea. We browsed some of the cute shops along the main drag of Lenox for an hour or so before grabbing some drinks and meeting an old friend.
Below, just outside The Red Lion Inn in Lenox.
4. Coxsackie New York. There’s not much here, but a nice lunch spot is Yanni’s Restaurant along the river where I managed to catch up with an old high school friend and his wife.
We only visited a handful of antique shops in Northville and Gloversville this year. On our way back to Boston, we spent more time than we anticipated in a Ballston Spa Antique Emporium. A few hours actually. Yes, really. The place is fabulous and if you love traditional (old) original paintings, they have a ton of options adorning nearly every wall. We left with some art, a large wooden horse head and a ceramic bowl I couldn’t leave behind. Needless to say, traveling home was a bit of a challenge but we made it without one thing breaking. Thank God for bubble wrap.
So much more can be said about our trip back East. Restaurants and cafes were left out, details missed, nature walks and riveting conversations omitted. More pictures were taken. More bread was broken. More memories were made. For me anyway, America’s Great Northeast is always worth the journey. Thanks for the sweetness of it all.