2013: the best bits

Annual Review 2013

2013 was my first year of retirement so you would think that I would have had more time for blogging. Not so! I’m shocked to find that my last post here was back in October, and I am still no nearer my original aim of using this blog to write up past travel adventures. My excuse is that retirement has been very busy – I’m not going out to work everyday, but I have got involved in many new projects which take up my energies. I think some blogging resolutions for 2014 are called for, but in the meantime, here are my highlights of 2013.


Our spring holiday this year was to Amsterdam, our favourite city since we honeymooned there in 1981. In the summer we toured New England and, for the second year in a row, our autumn holiday was dictated by Leonard Cohen’s tour schedule: Dublin. You can see what I wrote about those (quite a lot) by following the links. At the beginning of the year, I was also good at writing up days out in Scotland; less so towards the end – I have a stack of photographs waiting to go on the blog. Resolution number 1: run through these in a short series of Scottish Snapshots. Resolution number 2: blog more regularly – it’s much easier to do when the memories are fresh.

Can I name a highlight for 2013? Difficult, but I did enjoy visiting Hildene in Vermont and would dearly love to have this view at the end of my garden.

Hildene, Manchester VT
Hildene, Manchester VT

Glasgow restaurants

In last year’s review, I toyed with the notion of reviewing restaurants, or at least writing a post on The Great Glasgow Curry. Hmm, given that I’m not keeping up with the travel posts I think I’ll abandon those ideas. However, I do like to emphasise what a great collection of restaurants Glasgow has – this year we ate out, by my calculations, 58 times in 38 different places. In 2011 and 2012, our most common choices of cuisine were Italian, Indian and Chinese but this year Chinese has been kicked out of the top three by “Modern Scottish”. I’m not sure how I would define that, and maybe some of the restaurants I classed that way wouldn’t agree, but I think it’s something like using local ingredients with influences from European (or beyond) cooking styles. (One of my favourites, which does proudly proclaim itself as Scottish, is Ingram Wynd.) Many other nationalities were also represented in our dining choices, including Greek, Turkish, French and Spanish – the latter including our find of the year, Malaga Tapas which knocks spots off the competition. It’s off our usual beaten track (West End and City Centre) but is worth going a bit further afield for. Curry’s still my favourite food though!


Not being tied to the 9-to-5 has its cultural advantages. A new pleasure this year has been attending A Play, a Pie and a Pint, which is exactly as described in the title and a lovely way to spend a couple of hours at lunchtime. In December, it morphs into A Play a Pie and a Panto, which follows all the pantomime traditions but is definitely not for children (too rude and sweary!) This year we attended the last performance, after which they auctioned off some of the props and costumes for charity. Is it significant for this year’s Independence Referendum that a cut-out figure of Alex Salmond raised about ten times more than one of Alistair Darling? And no-one in the room was prepared to bid for the mural of the royal family.

I also got to do lots of bookish things that I wouldn’t have time for previously such as volunteering at Aye Write! (Glasgow’s Book Festival), joining a book group and attending events at the wondrous Glasgow Women’s Library (where I also volunteer.)

Other than that, we have done the usual mix of exhibitions, theatre, film, dance and, above all, music. The classical highlight was the Dunedin Consort’s performance of The Messiah which took place in Kelvingrove Museum. We’ve been to concerts there before and it’s a great venue – the music just soars. Looking over the list of 15 or so gigs we went to, I’m struggling to find anything new – they were mostly old favourites such as Lene Lovich, last seen by me in Leeds University Union c1979, Alison Moyet, Nick Cave and Billy Bragg. However, in a year with a Leonard Cohen concert in it, there can only be one cultural highlight for me.


So what of 2014? In last year’s review I made the following resolutions:

  • Keep active and find useful things to do, whether paid or voluntary. Yes, I’ve done that.
  • Keep writing in the hope of improving, and organising the presentation of that writing better. I planned to rationalise my online presence, but I still have four blogs and it’s still too many. I’ve already made a couple of resolutions above about writing more often. I’ll add to that – Resolution number 3: get back to the original purpose of this blog to record, mainly for my own benefit, previous travels – perhaps the A-Z Challenge in April would help with that? I’ll need to start soon though – lots of old photos to look out.
  • Keep travelling and enjoying myself! Goes without saying!

A happy 2014 to everyone.

Going home* from New England

After the disappointing weather in Acadia, it was great to finish on a high with a gloriously sunny day in Portland followed by similar weather for our journey back to Boston. AND our final B&B, Chadwick, was just as good as the rest.



You can just see Scot, the owner, in the black in the daytime picture.

A day in Portland wasn’t really enough, but we made the most of it. Portland Museum of Art was very near where we stayed and we spent the morning there. We were very impressed. For the third time this trip, we came across the passion of one rich individual, in this case William S Paley, part of whose collection formed a special exhibition. Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Degas – I could go on but find it difficult to imagine how one person could own all of these. The regular collections were excellent too, with American artists such as Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper and the Wyeths well represented, plus others whom I hadn’t heard of and whose names I meant to remember but, shamefully, haven’t. Linked to the museum at the back was the McLellan House of 1801 which has has been restored internally (but not furnished).


We had lunch in the café before emerging into the sunshine for the rest of the day. The Old Port area and the Eastern Promenade are wonderful for whiling away the time and (ahem) the city’s large number of microbreweries provides suitable sustenance. The beer may have been one reason why the photographer (not me) was nearly run over getting this shot.


Our flight on the final day wasn’t until late evening, so we had plenty of time to explore on the way. We didn’t leave the Portland area until early afternoon, visiting Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth and Prouts Neck where we had a lovely lunch in the Black Point Inn.




We spent the afternoon in Portsmouth, just over the border into New Hampshire. Settled in 1623, this town was originally known as Strawbery Banke (sic) because of the abundance of wild strawberries along the Piscataqua River. Today, the name remains in an outdoor museum around the (filled in) Puddle Dock. Astonishingly, this area was lived in till the 1950s when it was cleared for redevelopment. Fortunately, some of the buildings were saved and provide an illuminating social history from Colonial times until (almost for me) living memory. This was a 1940s shop, yet many of the brands and labels are familiar.



And that was it! A quick journey down the I95, hand back the Jeep and two flights home. Foreign travels over till next year then…..apart from the trip to Dublin in September to see – guess who?

*Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

(Leonard Cohen)

Acadia National Park

A few days ago, we drove from the mountains to the sea through countryside which was unexceptional except in name. We passed through Paris, Poland, China, Palermo and Belfast! Eventually, we arrived at our target, Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island, our base for visiting Acadia National Park.

Acadia is mostly, but not exclusively, on Mount Desert and Mount Desert mostly, but not exclusively, consists of Acadia. Confused? Not to worry; I only point this out to excuse myself, because I’ve called this post Acadia National Park but not everything I write about is necessarily in it. Acadia was intended to be the highlight of our trip, but the weather didn’t play ball and two out of three days were very wet. Still, we’re from Glasgow, we know how to handle a bit of rain, don’t we? Hmm, just look at this!


This was Day 1 when the rain was torrential without let-up. Day 2 dawned sunny and bright and that didn’t let up either. We had a wonderful time walking coastal trails and came back with about 90 pictures. Here are just a few.





Day 3 dawned sunny and we decided on a mountain hike, but by the time we started it was drizzling and by the time we finished we were soaked again! Beech Mountain has four paths up and down and we had thought of doing a figure of eight using them all, which would have meant climbing the summit twice (it’s only 839 feet, I haven’t turned into Superwoman). However, the weather prompted us to find an easier route back to the car. Views from the top were limited, even from the old fire-tower.




The rain slackened off in the afternoon and we spent time exploring the pretty villages of Southwest Harbor and Northeast Harbor. Bar Harbor itself is also pretty, with a definite feel of seaside-resort to one end. We’re back to Victoriana in the Primrose Inn, where everything has been thought of up to Kindles pre-loaded with the NY Times and sat-navs programmed to take you to local beauty spots.


I was also delighted to discover that Bar Harbor has an entirely vegetarian, or rather vegan, restaurant, the first of our trip. It was an unusual pleasure for me to have the pick of the menu. Eden briefly moved into top place in my New England restaurant chart, but was surpassed tonight by Havana, an American restaurant with Latin American overtones. On the other hand, if I ate at Havana again I would need to have the same dish whereas it would take me 10 days or so to work my way through the menu at Eden. Tough choices….

Tomorrow, we turn south and head down the Maine coast towards Boston for our flight home on Wednesday. We have a couple of nights in Portland en route, but it really feels now as if we are going home.

Maine rains again

But not much. We woke to a beautiful day in Bethel, so set off for Grafton Notch again to do some of the hiking that we had deemed it too wet for the previous day. As we drove upwards, the clouds grew thicker and when we got out at the trailhead it was raining lightly. We had decided to climb 900 feet to Table Rock to start with – this hike has two choices, a steep route and a more moderate path, so you can make it a loop walk. We chose to go up the steep route (because I feel safer climbing than descending) which was described in the information leaflet we had as “boulder strewn”. It certainly was. What the leaflet didn’t mention was that you had to climb over many very large boulders and scramble between them. Rock climbing if you ask me – occasionally, I needed a helping hand to pull me up and, once, a firm shove from behind. I was particularly despondent when we met two young men coming down who told us that the route got more challenging ahead, and I almost decided to turn back. Fortunately we didn’t because they were wrong – we were over the worst and the views from the top were lovely, despite the low cloud. Here we are enjoying our triumph.



Going down the easier route was fine, but I didn’t feel like any more stiff climbs so we left the park (with the sun reappearing as we drove) and stopped at Step Falls, just outside it. We climbed (gently) as far as you could go without trespassing on private land and sat for a while enjoying the view.



Thus ended our stay in Bethel – just one last word about its restaurants though. For a very small town it has a wide selection and we ate our best meal of the holiday (so far) here in 22 Broad Street. Tomorrow, it’s on to the coast. The forecast is dry – until Friday. I wonder what there is to do in Bar Harbor in the rain?

In Maine it’s mainly raining…

At least over Bethel today. There’s not much to do indoors here, so off we went out into it – in the car. This was planned as a hiking section of the holiday, but the rain was so unrelenting we decided on a driving tour with lots of short stops. Coffee and lunch are always good! However, we did stretch our legs at a couple of points in Grafton Notch State Park. I have loads of pictures of pretty waterfalls from everywhere we’ve been so far, but haven’t posted them because they all look much the same. These ones are a little different, accessorised by zipped up fleece and umberella.


Our B&B host, Carol, had recommended this route as a good one for seeing moose. As we have been everywhere else, we were disappointed. Perhaps this creature is the only one we will meet!


We’ve struck it lucky with our B&B again – or, rather, my planning and research has been superb. Bethel Hill is a much more modern house -1970s – than the Victoriana we have slept in so far, and has been extensively remodelled by the current owners. We love it!



As I type, it is almost time to go in search of dinner, and the sun has come out. Tomorrow is another day – if the weather holds, we’ll go back to Grafton Notch and do some proper hiking.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire – another state for my tally, although the addition actually happened over a week ago when we crossed through it on the way from Boston to Vermont. That time, we stopped for a hike in Rhododendron State Park (no need for explanations!) This time, we stopped in Littleton, an old mill town to the north of the White Mountains.


I discovered that Littleton was the birthplace of Eleanor H Porter, author of Pollyanna, and the public library (no keeping me away from those places) had a statue of the eponymous heroine outside.


The picture of me emulating her pose shall remain private! Pollyanna is actually my earliest film memory – the 1960 version with Hayley Mills. I had to be carried out screaming when she fell out of the tree (though I would only have been three at the time, so it was excusable). The film was on TV a few months ago – I confess to watching it, and that I have now downloaded the novel which has become my latest holiday reading. No mentions of second childhoods please.

We chose another lovely B&B Inn for our three nights in New Hampshire, in Lincoln on the southern edge of the White Mountains. At the Red Sleigh the owners are very hands on, rather than managing staff as in the other Inns we have visited – Loretta and Bill couldn’t have been more welcoming.


We spent some time hiking the trails in the nearby Franconia Notch State Park. There are beautiful (and cooling) waterfalls and cascades on and around the Pemigewasset River, the Basin and Flume Gorge. At the latter, we also notched up a couple more covered bridges.



My favourite visit, though, was to Castle in the Clouds, also known as the Lucknow Estate, on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. The Arts and Crafts style house was built without nails and had all mod cons for the time – brine-cooled refrigerator, central vacuum system and several “needle” showers (which were not considered suitable for females who were advised not to shower without the advice of a physician). The owner, Tom Plant, spent $7m building this mountaintop mansion in 1913-14. A shoe-maker, he made his fortune with a lucky wager and bought the factory he worked in before retiring in his 50s with a new wife half his age. Unfortunately, his gambles didn’t continue to pay – he invested in Imperial Russia just before the revolution and then in the stock market in the 1920s. He lived till his 80s having remortgaged the estate, but died penniless, the estate was auctioned off and his wife, Olive, returned to her family. She didn’t seem very happy – copies of some of her letters were on display and she sounded quite lonely with nothing to do in her isolated home except garden and look after her husband. Maybe it was worth it for the view?



After touring the house, we walked a two mile trail which took you up to a viewpoint over it, the lake and the mountains beyond.


So just one stopover in New Hampshire. We’ll need to cross its short coastal section next week on our way back to Boston, but for now we’ve moved on to Maine via the Kancamagus Highway which had very pretty places to stop. Here we are at Falls Pond.


As you can possibly see, the very hot weather has broken. The forecast for Maine is rain!

Northern Vermont

We didn’t quite get Burlington right. I’m sure we chose it because of its location on the shores of Lake Champlain (on the boundary of Vermont and New York State) but, aside from an after-dinner stroll when it was too dark to see much, we made no use of the water at all. For this I blame Shelburne Museum. Shelburne is on the way in to Burlington – it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins – so we thought we’d “do” the museum on our travel day. We arrived at 2pm and left when it closed at 5. Tickets are good for two days so we thought we’d finish it off the next morning – and left in late afternoon again! What was so good about it that we stayed a day and a half?

Shelburne is an outdoor museum with 37 buildings in 45 acres of parkland. What we hadn’t realised was that not only were the buildings historic (either moved from elsewhere or replicas), they were full of an amazing variety of exhibits – about 80,000 in total. The museum was founded in the 1950s by Electra Havemeyer Webb whose wealth must have been immense. The collections include paintings (several by both Monet and Degas to give you an idea of the quality), carriages, folk art, quilts, circus figures, furniture – and that’s just a few off the top of my head. The weirdest item though was the steamboat Ticonderoga which sailed Lake Champlain from 1906 until 1953 and which now sits in the middle of a lawn. We watched a video of how it was moved there – an immense feat of engineering which took months. As one guide said, Electra was not a lady who ever had to ask how much things cost, just how they could be done. Here’s the “Ti” in all its glory:





On our second day, we went up Mount Mansfield (4395 ft). Oh, ok, this is another one you can drive most of the way along a road which doubles as a ski run in winter. However, it was still a mile and a half from the parking lot to the summit, and although the height gained was a puny 600 feet it was very rocky and quite a scramble. I look pleased to have arrived.


We enjoyed our stay in the Willard Street Inn, a Victorian house with a lovely solarium as its breakfast room.



Burlington itself was an attractive 5 college town – our Inn was next to Champlain College and the University of Vermont was just up the hill. They both had very handsome, historical campuses which I’d liked to have explored given more time. The State Capital, Montpelier, had a similar “studenty” feel, although it’s much smaller – in fact, with a population of 8000 it’s the smallest capital in the US. We stopped for a walk around on our way out of the state, having first made sure we could pronounce the name. I knew it wouldn’t be the French way, but guessed Montpel-EER, whereas it’s actually MontPEELier. Being small hasn’t stopped it from having an impressive, gold-domed Statehouse though.


After we left Montpelier, we soon crossed the Connecticut River, which is the boundary with New Hampshire, heading for the White Mountains.

Southern Vermont

After a few days in Boston, we headed from the hustle and bustle of the city to the rather more peaceful Vermont. This was a new state to add to my tally – although I’ve been to New England before, it was to the states south of Boston. I won’t give up till I’ve visited them all!

We planned two stops, Manchester in the South and Burlington in the North. It’s really strange driving around all these places with British names which are nothing like the originals at home (then suddenly, just to confuse you, a road sign to somewhere called Peru appears).The Inn at Manchester, where we spent three nights, was both beautiful and comfortable:


Just on the edge of Manchester is Hildene, summer home of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert, which was the highlight of our visit to this area. It’s now owned by the Friends of Hildene who do a wonderful job of looking after it. It’s one of the best presentations of a historic home that I’ve seen – I really did feel that the family had just popped out and would be back any minute. Pictures inside weren’t allowed – but just look at the gardens! Who could tire of these views?



Equinox Mountain is just outside Manchester. From its 3848 ft summit, there are panoramic views across four states – but, ok I confess, you can drive up it:


However, we did the short hike to Lookout Rock at the top, so we weren’t totally lazy. We also spent some time in the visitor centre which is, unusually, owned by the Carthusian Order who have a monastery at the base of the mountain.

A few miles south of Manchester is Bennington. Passing through North Bennington, we found their annual outdoor sculpture show was on. The old Railroad Station (now the town offices) was festooned with strange hangings and a man was still waiting for his train.





Across the street were more sculptures and a shack which had been seriously yarn bombed. I love the imagination that goes into these things!



Further on, in Old Bennington, we visited the monument to the Revolutionary War Battle of Bennington (1777) – the British lost but we liked the monument anyway.


From Bennington, we looped back to Manchester via Jamaica State Park – another unexpected name – where we did a six-mile hike up to Hamilton Falls and back. We also drove through our first covered bridge – so they aren’t just something from Bridges of Madison County then!


Next stop – Burlington.


A couple of days in Boston can only scratch the surface! We were staying in the Copley Square Hotel so spent the first day wandering round that area. It might be a bit of a busman’s holiday for me, but I felt that Boston Public Library wasn’t to be missed. It’s a work of art in its own right, built round a beautiful courtyard with water feature:


I’ve written about it and posted more photos on my library blog.

There are two beautiful churches near the library, Old South and Trinity. The latter has an amazing collection of stained glass windows by various artists including (below) Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.


I liked some of the quirky statuary around Copley Square and the nearby Public Garden: the Hare and the Tortoise (related to the Marathon), Make Way for Ducklings, polished by generations of children climbing on them, and Washington with his eccentric apparel. In Glasgow, it would be a traffic cone.




Slightly further away was the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This falls into the same category as Glasgow’s Burrell and the Frick in New York – the collections of one enormously rich patron of the arts. The difference here is that the collector was a woman, a very talented and imaginative one. Isabella (1840-1924) hired an architect for the museum, which opened in 1903, but insisted that it be built to her own specifications. She also directed how the exhibits should be arranged, and they remain as she left them to this day. Photographs weren’t allowed, but I took this picture of the internal courtyard before I knew that. It’s a wonderful place and well worth a visit.


On our second day, we crossed the river to Cambridge and wandered round Harvard. The heart of the University is Harvard Yard, presided over by John Harvard himself:


He has a very shiny foot because visitors rub it for some reason – we refrained because we had read that it was also a challenge for students to urinate on it! Just outside the yard is the Memorial Hall commemorating Harvard men who died in the Unionist cause:


Further out on campus, we also liked the quirky decorative brickwork on this building – and the rhinoceros.



After Harvard we hopped on the “T” back into Boston and spent some time wandering down by the harbour.


Copley Square was a great place to stay with plenty of restaurants nearby, interesting sights within walking distance and good transport links for exploring further. A wonderful start to our New England holiday.