In the fall of 2005 Patricia and I spent 12 days in New York and New England. It’s taken 3 months for me to get around to relating our experiences in this travelogue and for this I apologize.
Because I’ve written so often about our trips to New York, I won’t dwell on our visits to old haunts, except to the extent that it’s pertinent to my point.
Our itinerary: 1) LAX to JFK on September 21st; 2) two days in the Big Apple; 3) New York to Boston by Amtrak; 4) two days in Boston; 5) Boston to Portland, Maine by rental car; 6) 4 days in Portland; 7) Portland to New York La Guardia by Air; 8) 4 more days in New York City before returning home.
Why didn’t we just fly into Boston and spend less time on airplanes? Patricia asked me that question more than once. My major defense is that the Airfare is less if you fly in and out of the same airport. Also, we were able to leave a suitcase at our hotel in New York so we didn’t have to carry quite as much luggage onto the train. I have to admit that if I had it to do over again; I’d probably opt for the flight to Boston with 6 days on the end of the trip in New York. Live and learn.
We had two major goals on the trip: 1) We wanted to see the New York Times Sunday Book Section annual “Big Read” book fair on the first Sunday in October. (2) We wanted to visit places in New England where seven generations of Halls in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries had lived.
TRAIN: This was the first time we’ve used Amtrak as part of one of our domestic trips. Our travel agent recommended we travel in “Business Class”. If you have a reservation in the Business Class Car, you don’t have a reserved seat so get to the head of the line when your train is called. If you don’t you’ll discover every passenger has already staked out two seats, one for him or herself and one for his or her bag. Patricia and I ended up sitting apart for the first part of the trip.
There is a once a day non-stop “Bullet Train” from New York to Boston, but it arrived too early in the day for us to be able to get into our hotel. So, we took a train from Penn Station to the Boston “South” Station that made some 15 stops including New Rochelle and Port Chester, New York, Mystic and New Haven Connecticut, Providence Rhode Island and several Boston suburbs before arriving at South Station.
We enjoyed the 4 hour train ride which provides a great view of the country-side, but we suggest you bring your own lunch. There is a “dining” car which provides a can of beer for $5.00 and inedible prepackaged sandwiches for ten bucks.
One big advantage to taking the train on the East Coast is that you arrive in the center of town. The Cab ride to our hotel from the Train Station took about 3 minutes. The major disadvantage is you don’t “check” luggage, so you have to haul it with you. The days of a “Baggage Car” are long gone; you’ll have to find room for your bag at the end of your coach or in the seat next to you.
AUTOMOBILES: We rented a car from Avis in Boston and used it for the 4 days we were in Portland before turning it in at the airport. There was no drop off charge, I’m not sure why, but, that made it very convenient and relatively inexpensive.
I rent a lot of cars from Avis in my job and they’ve been mailing me coupons for years good for “one free weekend day,” which I’d never used. I decided to use a couple of these for this trip only to discover that the coupons are only good in California. You always have to read the fine print, don’t you?
PLANES: We’re United “Frequent Flyers.” I realize that United’s status in “Chapter 11” Bankruptcy has made them an “iffy” proposition, but we’ve always found the agents to be helpful and while we can’t always get exactly the flights we want to use our upgrades on, we seem to be a lot more satisfied than our friends who use American or Delta.
The LAX to JFK and return flights were on time and uneventful. Our planned one way flight from Portland to La Guardia was another matter.
Using United’s website I checked one-way fares and found the cheapest to be around $300 per person. While fiddling with the website I checked the availability of a “round trip” flight and found one for only $125. So, we booked the round trip and simply abandoned the second half of the tickets. I even thought about requesting a refund for the portion of the unused ticket, but, when I told a Flight Attendant about my plan she laughed out loud.
Another quirk you might want to keep in mind. The “United Flight” (with a United flight number), turned out to be on US Airways their “Travel Partner.” It also had a US Airways flight number. I didn’t think anything of it until we got to La Guardia and discovered that US Airways and United arrive in different terminals. Our scheduled
Airport Limo went to the wrong one.
BOSTON: While in Boston we stayed in our favorite Hotel, the Boston Harbor. It has a beautiful view and is a short walk from the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. The food and service are wonderful, and as you might expect, it costs an “arm and a leg,” particularly if you have a “Water View.”
The current downside to the Boston Harbor Hotel is it’s adjacent to the “Big Dig” the monumental engineering project aimed at putting the downtown Boston expressways underground. While it’s only a five minute walk to Faneuil Hall from the Boston Harbor, you’ll be walking through a construction zone and will end up with a thin coat of dust on your clothes and shoes. The locals claim the Big Dig will be completed by 2007, but, I’m doubtful.
THE DONOVANS: One of our reasons for going to Boston was to see our good friend Mary Donovan, (widow of my very good friend Jack), her son John, Daughter-in-Law Allie and little Jack who at age two is the spitting image of his grandfather. Allie was “great with child” and has since delivered a little granddaughter for Mary to spoil.
They met us at the hotel and we walked to nearby Rowe’s Wharf for lunch at the “Chart House.” We had a lovely visit and vowed to stay with Mary in Hilton Head one day soon.
SHOPPING IN BOSTON: The Faneuil Hall Marketplace has lots of places to shop that‘ll be familiar to you: Crate and Barrel, for example. It also has a lot of little shopping carts with tourist type merchandise and “Quincy Market” a huge food court with vendors selling all the good seafood Boston has to offer. It’s also around the corner from our favorite Irish Pub, the “Black Rose” where John Kennedy made his acceptance speech. You won’t find a better Corned Beef Sandwich anywhere.
Our favorite shopping area, however, is “Newbury Street.” Extending from the Boston Commons a mile or more, it is anchored by the venerable Ritz Carlton Hotel, a great place to have an Irish Coffee when your shopping is done.
Newbury Street has all the upscale designers, art galleries, pottery shops and antique stores. We spent an entire afternoon enjoying it.
HOW ABOUT THOSE RED SOX?: To say that New England is “bonkers” for the Red Sox is putting it mildly. In Boston, Kennebunkport, Portland and Brunswick, wherever we went, we found signs proclaiming the Red Sox “Number One.” But, for every sign or t-shirt proclaiming “I love the Sox” you’ll find twice as many that say, “I hate the Yankees” or “Yankees Suck.”
What makes this interesting is that you don’t see the same sort of adulation for the football Patriots, who after all have won two consecutive NFL Championships.
EATING IN BOSTON: We didn’t have many meals in Boston, but the ones we had were very good.
At Quincy Market we had an early dinner at the “Rustic Kitchen” where we had Hot Wings, Clam Chowder and Baked Manicotti. It was better than we expected and it’s a place you may want to stop for lunch when you explore the Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
Saturday Night we went to Hanover Street in Little Italy to the “Cantina Italiana” where authentic Italians have served Bostonians for three generations. We had Pasta Fagioli soup, Eggplant Parmesan and an Italian Cheesecake to-die-for. Our waiter, who was ‘just off the boat” from Italy wanted to tell us the Cheesecake was “Out of this world.” What he said instead was, “It’s the end of the world.” But, we got the idea, and he was right.
One meal we always eat in the hotel at the Boston Harbor is breakfast, where they serve the best “Irish Oatmeal” you’re likely to find anywhere.
ON THE ROAD TO PORTLAND: We rented a Ford Taurus, which feels like driving a tin can in comparison to my Toyota Avalon. But, it was a serviceable vehicle and didn’t give us any trouble during our four days together. We drove north on I-95 about 40 miles to Dover, New Hampshire.
Dover, located off I-95, is the site of the first English settlement in New Hampshire. One of those first settlers was Deacon John Hall my 8th Great Grandfather who arrived about 1630. Three generations of Halls were born here before the family moved off to the Portland area some 50 miles away.
We didn’t stay long in Dover, but, we were there long enough to get stuck in a Traffic Jam. We sat through the traffic light at the center of town three times before getting through. And, it was Sunday. We stopped in an Antique Store to browse and asked the proprietor about the traffic. She told us that huge numbers of people are moving to New Hampshire from Massachusetts and Maine to escape very high taxes. New Hampshire is one of the few remaining states with no income tax.
Back on the Highway we continued north to Maine. Located at the first I-95 Turnpike exit in Maine is the huge Kittery Outlet Mall. I missed the turnoff and thought I’d just go to the next exit and turn around. I discovered there isn’t another exit for more than ten miles, so we went on to Kennebunkport.
We stopped in Kennebunkport for lunch and found lots of little craft and art stores. We bought several items and had them shipped home for Christmas Gifts. A Saleslady told us that on the first weekend in December Kennebunkport has a Christmas festival called “Christmas Prelude.” Townspeople walk to the center of town singing Christmas Carols. Don’t tell the ACLU. It sounds like fun, but, bring your “long johns.”
THE SUMMER PEOPLE AND THE LEAF PEOPLE: It turns out we picked a very good time to visit Maine, the last two weeks in September. The trees haven’t “turned” yet, so the “Leaf People” haven’t arrived and the “Summer People” all go home at Labor Day. So, September is a pretty good time to get dinner reservations, but, shops have a tendency to close early without warning if business is slow.
PORTLAND AREA: We arrived in Portland on Sunday late afternoon and experienced a big disappointment when we arrived at our hotel.
We’ve had wonderful experiences in Embassy Suites Hotels around the country. In fact, when our electricity went out in Sierra Madre during the “Great Gray Davis Brownout” we moved into the Arcadia Embassy Suites until we could go back home.
But, the Embassy Suites in Portland advertised as “convenient” to the Airport is actually on the Runway and it’s not sound proof. In addition, when you walk in you’re overwhelmed by the smell of Chlorine because the pool is right off the lobby. The building was old and the furniture shabby. It was certainly not up to the standards of the Embassy Suites we’ve encountered elsewhere. So, before we even unpacked a bag, we checked out and moved to the Doubletree two miles closer to the center of town.
A suite at the Doubletree in Portland will run you less than half of the cost of a plain regular room in Boston or New York. There are a number of hotels in the “Old Port” area we thought we might try someday, but, for us the Doubletree worked out just fine.
HALL FAMILY HISTORY: After 3 generations of Halls were born in Dover, the clan moved to the Casco Bay region of Maine (or to be more accurate Massachusetts, because Maine didn’t become a state until 1820). The Hall in question was named “Hatevil” pronounced “Hate Evil” (not an uncommon name among Puritans of the day). He was a Quaker and a maker of chairs. He moved his whole brood of 10 children to the Portland area around 1750 and my 3rd Great Grandfather, Paul Hall, the eleventh child was the first Hall born in Maine. Three more generations were born there, with the last, my Grandfather Frank Hall, born in Brunswick, Maine in 1860. Around 1890 Frank pulled up stakes and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota with my grandmother, his brother and assorted in-laws. I have no idea why they left Maine. It couldn’t be the weather; St. Paul’s winters are every bit as bitter as those in Portland.
BRUNSWICK: On Monday we went to Brunswick, 20 miles north, to attend a meeting of the Brunswick Rotary Club. Rotarians are encouraged to attend other club meetings when they travel, and since Patricia is an honorary member of the Sierra Madre Rotary Club, we were both welcomed. I told them my Grandfather had been born in Brunswick and several members came up afterwards to compare roots.
The program at the Rotary Club that day was a presentation by a lawyer opposing a proposed “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” initiative which was to be on the Maine ballot. He said the problem with “Mainers” is “They have Massachusetts tastes for government services, but a Mainers’ pocket book.” So, if they wanted all the government services enjoyed in Massachusetts, they should defeat the initiative. I was waiting for someone to ask about the appetite for services in New Hampshire where they have no income tax at all, but, nobody did. Like California, large employers have been bailing out of Maine and Massachusetts in large numbers to seek business friendly environments elsewhere.
FREEPORT: It was a nice day on Tuesday so we opted to go to Freeport, famous as the home of L. L. Bean. It is perhaps less famous for being the site of the wedding of my Grandparents.
L. L. Bean, the giant outdoor clothing and camping gear retailer has a massive
“Headquarters” store open 24 hours a day in the village of Freeport. The whole downtown area of Freeport is occupied by “Outlet” stores strung up and down the main drag all in New England architectural style. In addition to the usual names (Ralph Lauren, Coach, Hanes etc) there are a number of art galleries, gift shops and restaurants. It’s very quaint and a lot more fun than the usual Outlet Mall surrounded by acres of parking lot.
PORTLAND AND THE OLD PORT: Most shopping and other activities enjoyed by tourists are located in the “Old Port” area of Portland. It’s where the vast majority of night life is, too.
We checked out the Portland Public Market and visited the Maine Historical Society located next to the home occupied by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (available for tours). Along Commercial and Fore Streets you’ll find many interesting shops and lots of pubs with names like “Nasty McSwines.”
We stopped in one called “Rosie’s Pub” for pizza and a beer while watching a Red Sox/Yankee playoff game. There were a lot of people at the bar, in the middle of the afternoon, enjoying the game. The pizza was good and the beer was cold, but, the service was a little slow as the waitress had a hard time tearing herself away from the game. Had we revealed we’re Yankee fans I fear we might have come to bodily harm.
We loved exploring the residential areas around Portland and particularly liked the little town of Falmouth just to the north of the City Limits.
EATING AROUND PORTLAND: Food in all of New England is good and Portland is no exception.
In Portland we had dinner with our friend Ida Morrison who lives nearby. She suggested we go to “DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant” which was excellent. I had Haddock Chowder and Lobster. I recommend it. Ida teaches nursing at a local college and it turned out our waitress had been her student so she took extra special care of us.
One evening in Portland we felt like Italian food and were referred by out hotel clerk to “Espos Trattoria,” a block or two down from the Doubletree. It turned out to be a meal of epic proportions, if you’ve eaten at Bucca di Beppo, you’ll know what it’s like. And, the food was excellent, except one salad and one entrée would have been enough for both of us with plenty to take home in a “doggy bag.” The sautéed calamari was “to die for.”
In Freeport we had lunch in a lovely little Italian place called the “Azure Italian Café.” I had Lobster Roll, the obligatory local dish, and now I know why they are famous for it.
THE BIG APPLE: The rest of our trip was spent in New York City where there is never any excuse for being bored.
BROADWAY SHOWS: We were scheduled to see three Broadway Shows this trip. But, one, “All Shook Up,” the Elvis Presley tribute, closed just before we arrived.
We like to buy tickets through ‘Broadway.com” so we know what we’re going to see as well as when and where we’re going to see it before we leave home. But, here’s a tip - I’ve always liked to have the ticket in my hand, so when given the option of having tickets mailed or picking them up at “Will Call” I’ve usually opted for the mails.
However, if the show is cancelled, you’ll have to deliver the tickets back to the source before getting your refund. Had my tickets been in “Will Call,” the refund would have been automatic back to my credit card. From now on I’m a “Will Call” kind of guy.
This trip we saw “Wicked.” We really liked it, but, Patricia and I both agreed it was a little too long. The music was wonderful and the singing voices, as always in New York, were spectacular. Ben Vereen and Rue McClanahan were in the cast. We recommend it.
We have friends in Sierra Madre who are ‘Hollywood ex-patriots.” Dave Ruprecht has been on T. V. for years. From “Gilligan’s Island” to “Cold Case Files” Dave has an easily recognizable voice and face. For years he was host for a game show called “Super Market Sweeps.” His wife Patty Colombo is a renowned Choreographer.
When Dave told me Patty was working on an off-Broadway show called “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” we bought tickets. It was still in “previews” when we saw it, but we enjoyed it immensely. It is very funny and the music was first rate. We think you’ll enjoy it, too.
Patty’s new project is the Broadway revival of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and we’re looking forward to seeing it on a future trip.
SUNDAY IN NEW YORK: Our Sunday in New York was a great example of why we love the place so much.
We started the day with the 10:15 Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This is the Main event for the Cathedral and the Mass is conducted by Cardinal Egan himself. It was very moving and impressive; the place was filled almost to capacity.
After mass we walked to Bryant Park at 6th Ave and 42nd Street to see the “Big Read.” Located immediately behind the New York Public Library, the park is named for William Cullen Bryant noted 19th century Poet, a New York resident. The Park was full of tents, each with an author and a stack of books, signing for lines of people waiting patiently. Authors rotate every hour, so if you spent the whole day there you’d probably end up with 200 autographed books. Several tents featured authors reading from their works. The longest line, full of kids and Moms and Dads, was for children’s author R.L. Stine.
The Book Fair, sponsored by the New York Times Book Section is an annual event.
When we were finished at the Book Fair we walked toward 5th Ave and noticed several people wearing formal clothes with broad red and white sashes. It turned out to be the annual Polish Day Parade, perhaps not as well known as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, but the participants were every bit as enthusiastic. We watched youngsters in ethnic dress perform native Polish Dances, but, decided not to wait for the main part of the parade because it was time for lunch.
We stopped at Annie Moore’s Pub on W 43rd St. across from Grand Central Station for a lovely meal and walked through Grand Central to Lexington Avenue to walk back to our hotel on 50th. We found Lexington had been closed down for a street fair in conjunction with a “Bike-a-thon” for Breast Cancer Research. We were sorry we had eaten because every possible type of food was available along with blocks and blocks of “flea market.”
We had spent the whole day in Manhattan being royally entertained and nothing had cost us a dime, except of course for lunch.
THE RADIO AND TELEVISION MUSEUM: Several friends had suggested we visit the Radio and Television Museum on west 52nd street near Rockefeller Center. There are two floors of theaters each showing continuous historic footage and a Library where you can order out just about any TV or Radio Show ever done which you can then watch in a private cubicle. Patricia and I opted to listen to “The War of the Worlds,” Orson Welles famous 1939 radio program which caused a national panic because it was so realistic. One nearby cubicle was occupied by a couple of students reviewing Watergate Era newscasts for a class project.
After we left the library, we went down a floor to one of the theaters where we watched an old George Burns and Gracie Allen sit-com.
It’s a great way to spend an afternoon for about the price of a movie ticket.
SHOPPING: We had a lot of fun shopping in New York, we always do. One day we walked up Lexington to Bloomingdales. If you’re used to California malls, you’ll never get over the size and selection available in New York Department Stores. You can spend a whole day and not visit every department.
We strolled up 57th street where there are many upscale stores and then walked over to Central Park a couple of blocks away. We strolled in the park and had lunch at “Mickey Mantles” on Central Park West. Then we went to FAO Schwartz.
FAO Schwartz, if you don’t know it, is a gigantic Toy Store. We’ve never paid much attention to it, but now that we’re grandparents we’re interested. The first floor is devoted to stuffed animals from very tiny bears to 20 foot giraffes. Upper floors have about every toy a kid ever dreamed of. They have life size piano keys on the floor which are played by dancing on the keys, by store clerks trained for the purpose; it was featured in the movie “Big.” The Baby dolls are in an area that looks like a nursery and all the clerks are dressed as OB nurses. We didn’t find much we thought would be of interest to little Andrew Scott Whitmer, but, we’ll probably go back many times before he’s old enough to vote.
Then we went back down 5th Ave stopping at Tiffany’s. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in New York, they probably don’t make it anywhere.
On another day we took a cab down to Union Square located near 15th Street and browsed in their huge open air produce market. Then we went across the street to the original Barnes and Noble Book Store, six floors of just about every book in print.
Afterwards we went across the street for lunch at the Blue Water Café, one of our favorite places to eat.
EATING IN NEW YORK: We’ve talked about our favorite restaurants in previous travelogues. This time we went to Montparnasse, San Martin, O’Neills Steak House, Ruth’s Chris Steak House among others we’ve already mentioned, all of which were as good as we remembered them. I’ll only detail two, one old friend and one new find.
I’ve written several times about Giambelli’s, our favorite Italian Restaurant on 50th near Park Ave. The food is excellent and the waiters never change, it seems even the “Bus Boys” have been there for years. Mr. Giambelli himself is there every night to greet every diner and give a long stemmed rose to every female guest. I mention it again, because on this trip Mr. Giambelli was definitely “failing.” Over 90 now, he no longer lives above the restaurant because he can’t negotiate the stairs and walking is obviously painful. Our waiter told us that he still shows up every night, but, now he retires around 7 PM.
If you get to New York be sure to go to Giambelli’s, I’m not sure how much longer it will be there. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Giambelli doesn’t will the restaurant to his employees, they are a fiercely loyal lot.
We also found a new (to us) Italian Restaurant we would recommend. La Magenette Ristorante is located on 50 th Street at 3rd Avenue. Patricia had Penne with Marinara Sauce which she said was excellent, and she’s a harsh critic of mediocre pasta sauce. I enjoyed excellent Linguini with Clam Sauce.
OUR NEW YORK HOTEL HOME: We stayed again at the Hotel San Carlos on 50th between Lexington and 3rd Ave, just a half a block from the Waldorf. We had a suite for half the price of a room at the Waldorf and the staff there is beginning to know us and make us feel really at home. I’ve detailed the many advantages of the San Carlos in previous travelogues.
A FINAL WORD: If you’ve reached this paragraph I owe you my thanks for sticking with me to the end. Patricia and I hope these travelogues are entertaining and informational for you. You’ll find them all posted on my website, Frankhall.com.