Readuponit: Travel and voracious reading

Max Hartshorne, travel website editor, sharing some of the stuff I read, hear and see with you. Updated every day. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Approaching Vineyard Haven harbor on Martha's Vineyard.

Approaching Vineyard Haven harbor on Martha’s Vineyard.

Nantucket's organic flower and produce market.

Nantucket’s organic flower and produce market.

Lobsta Bake! cooked on a grill with seaweed.

Lobsta Bake! cooked on a grill with seaweed.

Mark Alan Lovewell sings sea chanties aboard ship.

Mark Alan Lovewell of Vineyard Haven sings sea chanties aboard ship.

Cocktails, wine and beer flow freely aboard the MV Grand Caribe.

Cocktails, wine and beer flow freely aboard the MV Grand Caribe.

Old New Bedford from the third floor of the city's wonderful whaling museum.

Old New Bedford from the third floor of the city’s wonderful whaling museum.

On whaling ships in the 1800s, captain’s wives often accompanied their husbands on the years-long journeys around Cape Horn, and there was a special flag that was flown to indicate a woman was aboard the ship. When another whaling ship passed, if they too were flying this pennant, the ships would rendezvous and the ladies would get together for what was known as a ‘gam.’ A ‘gamming chair’ was lowered from one ship to the other to allow the women to be transferred to the other’s ship, and the fine china they brought on board would be used for their tea and dinners together.

This is the just one of the many fascinating tidbits we learned today at New Bedford’s Whaling Museum. It’s a three-story building that contains a half-scale replica of a whaling ship, several full size hanging whale skeletons, and thousands of artifacts like harpoons, bottles of whale oil, and whaling skiffs used in this, New England’s most lucrative business of the 1800s.

What I especially like about this museum is how wide the range of information that is given about current protections of whales, their breeding, habitats and physiology, and the many details, photos, and even movies, you can see about the lives of those men who spent years in crowded ships barely making a living. But the exhibits don’t only focus on the men who killed these beloved ocean mammals but on the animals themselves.

This excursion was our daily activity on this fantastic cruise about the M/V Grande Caribe, part of a fleet of small ships owned by Blount Small Ship Adventures. The company in Warren RI also makes its own ships, and we have met several couples who are on their 8th and 9th cruise with Blount because they had so much fun each time they cruised.

The ships are small–only 88 passengers, and about 17 crew members. There is no charge to use the wifi, no lotteries and scratch games they’re trying to sell you, and the daily excursions are all priced fairly. The food is hearty, delicious and varied. And most of all, every member of the staff we’ve met has been friendly, engaging and interested in helping out any way they can.

But even more enjoyable have been the people who choose to sail on a cruise like this. To a person they have been interesting, well-educated, open minded, non-complaining and best of all, a whole lot of fun to spend time with. Blount really does it right, and this being my first cruise, I am delighted to be here and glad we have a few more ports to visit before we say goodbye.

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A Few Days at Sea, with New Friends in Familiar Places

by Max Hartshorne on July 20, 2014

We have been at sea since Friday afternoon, and as I sit here we are docked at Vineyard Haven. It’s just about four am, and as has become my shipboard custom, I’m awake and in the big salon of the Grand Caribe after a bout of insomnia. Sleeping on a boat isn’t like sleeping anywhere else, there is an inherent aspect of claustrophobia that sends me out of my cabin every night in the wee hours. Mary  slumbers peacefully, but I toss and turn and have to escape.  Later, I will return and complete my brief night of sleep.

These past few days have been wonderful, however, far exceeding our expectations. We began by a night time visit to Cuttyhunk, walking down the ramp onto the dark of the island and taking a walk to see a few highlights, simply the road that went to the fishing dock, as golf carts motored back and forth. Then we sat on the ferry dock and watched the movie Jaws with a small crowd of locals. In the distance we could see people around a campfire on the beach. The ship departed at 2 am, and the next morning we awoke in Nantucket Harbor.

Nantucket is beautiful in the morning, and at this time of year the yacht harbor was full of mega-yachts and we anchored far out and took tenders to come to shore. With some of the friends we’ve made on board, we took a bus out to Cisco Brewery where there was a huge crowd of people young and old listening to a live band and hoisting pints. We have met so many people we like in the space of just a few days, as often happens when you travel in tight quarters and get the chance to have meals together where the details of your lives spill out and you find similarities and past histories are shared.

We had a Captain’s party in the big top floor lounge, with a bar full of top shelf liquors and hors d’oeuvres like shrimp and mushroom caps. I got a chance to ask the captain, Mike Kiernan, about why he chose to live in Medellin, Colombia. He said he and his wife love it there and during their four-month-long vacation, she preferred to stay there than to come visit the US. I love people’s stories like this, and this ship is full of them.

We’ve met two couples here who told us this is their eighth voyage with Blount Small Ship Adventures. I can see why, as these little ships are intimate, the routes taken are unique (how about sailing from Rhode Island to Chicago via the Erie Canal?) and the staff treats everyone very well, with great food and interesting off boat excursions.

Today we will take the Martha’s Vineyard tour, another touristy jaunt that always yields interesting information, camaraderie and laughs. I plan to take our new friends to our favorite island place, Menemsha, and sit outside of Larsen’s seafood to slurp oysters and chomp down a lobster overlooking the water.

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Watching the Honda Dealership Get Demolished in ‘Hamp

by Max Hartshorne on July 18, 2014

Demolishing the old Honda dealership on King St.

Demolishing the old Honda dealership on King St.

The controversial railcrew housing on the tracks near Market St.

The controversial railcrew housing on the tracks near Market St.

Today my travels brought me down to Northampton and as I drove down King St on my way home, I swung into Foster-Farrar so I could get a better look at the demolition taking place at the former Northampton Honda.  There have been so many times we drove past this hulking ugly weed-strewn building and asked ourselves why the heck it was still standing.

The city apparently agreed, and they have forced the owner, Mr Lia, to pay to have it demolished. Today the excavators were taking bites out of the back of the building and soon, it will all be gone. There is so far no word on what will replace the ugly structure, but they sure have a gigantic parking lot. Perhaps the biggest parking lot of any abandoned building in the city.

After watching the men take bites out of the dilapidated building, I walked back to the railroad tracks where a long set of traincars were parked.  This is the controversial rail crew housing train. I met a man gliding down the bike path on a motorized wheelchair who told me that the workers do it all at night–and they were all asleep inside those railcars as we walked by.

I also saw that they had an old Norfolk Southern Railways dining car, perhaps this is where the crew gets to eat. Maybe they even has the fancy old china that used to be used on transcontinental trains. One of the rail crew cars had a satellite dish stuck to the back.

I have never been more excited about a project than I am about this new rail service expansion. I am very curious to see how they will take those very long pieces of steel rail that now sit beside the existing track. Workers in Deerfield told me a few weeks ago that these very long rails will form a continuous track, so there won’t be any more of the familiar clickety-clack you would hear on a normal track.

The commuter service is the most exciting development. But Tim Brennan told me that there is still no funding to pay for the operations of the commuter service, they only have the trains (a gift from the MBTA) which they are refurbishing. Brennan was pretty confident that the funding would come through, and that even if it’s run at a loss for a while, the state realizes the real value of having commuter rail service between Springfield and Greenfield, so they will find a way to fund it.

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The Grand Caribe in port.We’re in the thick of summer, but thankfully, we haven’t gotten into the mugginess and terrible sleeping weather that lies ahead of all of us. I just watched my neighbors walking by, holding a leash and being pulled along by their black mongrel. One of the middle-aged men was shirtless, the other wore a skimpy tank top. Nobody has ever asked to see that, have they? Oh well, they’re good neighbors and so we’ll let it all go for the sake of peace.

I ran today, better than I’ve run in months. Along my usual track that takes me up our dead-end street, then across through the woods, and then down along Rte 116 until I cross the Connecticut river. I never walked once, and this is a first. I am too easy on my runner self–so this time I soldiered on, running and running all the way to the Sunderland crossroads and then to Millstone. No walks. That felt good, I managed just under 11 minutes a mile, which would never win any race but is a personal best. Coming home sweat-soaked is all I am in this for.

It’s another short week, I am getting lots and lots of work done because I have to. On Friday Mary and I will drive to Warren Rhode Island and board our tiny cruise ship, the MS Grand Caribe. There will be 79 other passengers aboard, and 17 crew, for our week-long cruise up the coast. First stop is Cuttyhunk, then Martha’s Vineyard, then Nantucket, then New Bedford and then Newport. We’ve signed up for all of the totally touristy day trips that the ship offers, and I can’t wait to see what it’s like to see all of these familiar places from the harbor, not from the street. The cruiseline is Blount Small Ship Adventures, during the winter these same boats ply Caribbean waters.

Another summer, just got some sweet corn and blueberries from Atlas Farm. The neighbors were mowing their lawn, and it made me look at mine and think, “another thing do to before I leave.”

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Green River Festival Only Gets Better, Even in the Rain

July 14, 2014

Tweet       Another Green River Festival is in the history books, and this one was a great one, different in some ways, but the same in how it captured the essense of summer in the Pioneer Valley. Monte from WRSI said that from the stage, so much of what we all love about [...]

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“The How and the Why” Answers Questions I Never Asked

July 9, 2014

Tweet Tonight I went to see the latest New Century Theatre production at Smith College, “The How and the Why,” by Sarah Treem. It’s a serious play about a mother and daughter who come together for a biology conference and find similarities in their adult lives after the mom gave her daughter up for adoption [...]

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