Thursday, November 1, 2012

As the leaves fall.

The truth is, the Cruise tag line, Fall Foliage, really misses the mark. Being in this region to catch the perfect moment that all the leaves change is almost impossible. Days before we boarded the Emerald Princess, we were being prepared by friends and family, who either live in the region, or had just returned from there, that if we would see the leaves at all, we would likely only see them underfoot.

Luckily, all of these ports of call are so full of rugged natural beauty and historically defining American, Canadian, French and British History, that the fall foliage is just a pretty backdrop if you manage to catch it just right. And in fact, to catch the fall colours, you have to be here in October, which is often a bad time of the year to appreciate the other great stuff this region has to offer — because it is frik’n freezing!! Not to mention the possibility of being on a huge ship in a churning sea as Hurricane Sandy approaches!

But I digress.

Our first port of call was Newport Rhode Island. After doing some research, we focused on three aspects of the town, and the region that were the most impressive.

Firstly, Newport has one of the highest concentrations of colonial homes in all of the United States. Secondly it boasts a breathtaking cliff walk, following the eastern shore for 3.5 miles. The trail combines the natural beauty of the Newport shoreline with the City’s impressive architectural history. A two for one experience! From the trail, you can view several of the restored Colonial homes. The experience was truly awe-inspiring. The juxtaposition of the roaring waves crashing against the ragged shoreline — with the perfect calm of the rolling manicured lawns and enormous mansions seemingly growing out of them — takes your breath away.

I also learned that there is a fairly significant Jewish connection to this port. In 1658 a group of Jews fleeing the inquisition in Spain and Portugal were allowed to settle in Newport. The Newport congregation, now referred to as Congregation Jeshuat Israel, is the second oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, and they still pray in the oldest standing synagogue in the United States, Touro Synagogue.

From Newport we headed for Boston MA. In Boston, every step tells a story. The Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile, brick-lined route leads you through 16 historically significant sites, where you can explore museums and meeting houses, churches, and burying grounds that shine a light on many of the brave people that helped shape a nation. We took a walking tour with a park ranger that covered only a small part of the trail, including a visit to the home of Paul Revere, which is the oldest building in downtown Boston.

Paul Revere
Samuel Adams

John Hancock
I won’t go into all of the people and places and battles in Boston that have helped shape US history, but next time you order a Samuel Adams beer, go to a tea party or ask someone for his John Hancock, remember it all originated here.

Bar Harbor (or Bah Hahbah), the land without r’s, but with plenty of clam choudah and blueberry pie, is the home of the 41,000-acre Acadia National Park — one of the smallest National Parks in the US but also one of the most heavily visited. And no wonder — the park offers incredible mountain, sea, lake, cliff and coastline vistas, as well as an estimated 125 miles of trails, exclusively for hiking and biking.

Marc's mountain bike and the gorgeous carriage road

My set of wheels!

The bike rental shops called out to Marc and Oli’s Trolley tour called out to me. Marc set out on two wheels to cover a good portion of the forty-five miles of rustic carriage roads, (developed by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr.) that wind around the mountains and valleys of Acadia National Park. I on the other hand sat comfortably in Oli’s Trolley discovering the park and learning about the “summer people”. I was kind of shocked to learn that this quiet town had the reputation as a playground for the rich and famous. In the late 1800's, frequent visitors (the summer people) — such as the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Vanderbilts and Fords built massive “cottages” that they used only during the summer months. Apparently, their justification was that they were sick of staying in hotels! Imagine!

Fall Foliage!

Like Newport Rhode Island, Bar Harbor Maine offers visitors opportunities to experience both awesome nature, and the quiet town’s opulent past. Many of the cottages (so called) have been converted into hotels or bed and breakfasts. And, while the rich and famous are long gone, everyone can enjoy the outrageous stories the friendly locals are more than happy to share!

When our ship set sail from Bar Harbor, we were on our way out of US waters towards the Canadian shores of Saint John, New Brunswick.