Sunday, December 31, 2017

Crossing A Major Bucket List Destination Off My List in 2018

It's no secret that Josh and I love the Northeast, especially coastal destinations. We've made it a point to explore as much of this little corner of the world as we can. And as much as we love traveling and want to start to see the rest of the world (we've never even been to Europe), with all these amazing places to visit within four hours from us, it makes it hard to go anywhere else.

It's not the Northeast or a coastal town, but the first major vacation Josh and I took together was Mexico. We've been twice, and our first excursion was Cozumel and the second, the Maya Riviera, staying at all-inclusives both times. We had an absolute blast - there's no vacation quite like laying around at a pool or an ocean all day, and day-drinking right after breakfast because everyone else is. And as much fun as the all-inclusives were, we did venture off our resort grounds quite a bit to experience as much of the culture as we could. We even successfully ordered a meal in Spanish one time (which, for me, was tough seeing as though I never took Spanish classes, so I considered it quite an achievement). We also took the collectivo, got lost on rural streets on our way to a destination, walked through a crocodile pit and swam with the dolphins (of which we have no pictures for the most part because we refused to pay the exorbitant fee for them). We also explored the beauty of Tulum, which was an amazing experience in and of itself.

The first long weekend getaway we took together was Vermont at a quaint little B&B near Manchester, shortly after we moved in together in 2005. We've since gone back to explore Dover, where we honeymooned, Shelburne, Stowe and Burlington. We even celebrated Josh's 30th birthday in Vermont with friends and family, so it has extra special memories attached to it. We've loved every little place we've been to in Vermont and often go back when we need a getaway without distractions. I've done a blog post about the Shelburne/Burlington/Stowe area here. And I'm excited this winter to explore the Woodstock, VT area, since Josh's Christmas present to me was a pottery class at Farmhouse Pottery.

We've explored a small portion of Maine, starting with Portland and Cape Elizabeth, ventured up to Bar Harbor to hike and camp in Acadia, and then landed in Kennebunkport before coming home. Maine is absolutely incredible and I kind of envy those who live there and get to experience these destinations regularly.

Block Island was an amazing little getaway with beautiful scenery that made us feel like we were a million miles away from the rest of the world. We always say we want to go back because it was a truly perfect vacation. We biked all around the island, walked deserted streets at night and were able to completely unwind from everyday life. You can read our recap here.

And of course, there's Cape Cod and the islands: Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Everyone who knows us knows our love for the Cape runs deep. It's our happy place. It's where we feel relaxed, but also invigorated and quintessentially New England. This is the place we travel to the most for so many reasons, and I'll stop there because I could go on and on. You can find my ultimate Cape Cod travel guide here, our Martha's Vineyard recap here, my love letter to Nantucket here, and my Nantucket Christmas Stroll Recap here.

We've also adventured to Salem, MA during the month of October, and took a side trip to Rockport, MA for an afternoon, which was so beautiful. In Salem, we went to a psychic just to say that we had done it, and you know what he said? He saw a lot of land in our future. We thought he was way off base, but we ended up buying a house with 25 acres which wasn't something we were looking to do. In Rockport, we found a spot where one of my favorite romantic comedies was filmed (hint, stars Betty White with a certain Deadpool) and Josh took my picture there. The only copy we have of it now is an old, low-res Instagram photo. I was so excited to go see this spot, but the little town, also where parts of the movie were filmed, was so lovely. I want to go back and spend a weekend here.

There are a lot of places on my travel bucket list that span the entire world, with Italy, Greece and the French Polynesia being my top three. London and the UK being Josh's biggest bucket list destinations. And our 2018 travel plans probably don't seem that exciting to most people, but for me, it's kind of a dream come true.

In July, we plan to take a road trip through Maine, with a final destination of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

You see, I grew up daydreaming of Prince Edward Island. I read all the Anne of Green Gables books and loved the characters and the descriptions of the Canadian coastlines (I think my love of coastal destinations began here). My mom, sister and I always had a date to watch Avonlea every week on our couch together (My mom still talks about how cute Gus Pike was). When I had sleepovers at my grandma's house, she would rent the Anne of Green Gables movies for us to watch together. She would make popcorn from her air popper, put together her pull out couch bed for me, and she'd always go to sleep before the movie ended, and let me me stay up late watching the rest of it. All of these things were huge parts of my life in the very best way.

When we were talking about our anniversary trip for next September (it'll be 9 years married for us!), we threw around a lot of ideas (many included going back to a few of the above destinations), and our goal was to keep it drivable so that we could save on airfare and continue to stay on-budget for our bathroom reno. Maine kept coming up because we loved it so much, but Josh just came out and said, "Maybe we should just go to Prince Edward Island, too." And I almost peed my pants.

We originally planned on going in September because, well, you don't mess around with our July Cape Cod summer vacation. But, after a lot of consideration and research, we decided to flip our vacations. PEI is further north, and we worried that water temperatures would be a little too cool in mid-September. One thing we knew we really wanted to explore were the PEI beaches. On top of that, we've always wanted to explore the Cape during off season. When we went to Martha's Vineyard in September for a few days, the water and air temperatures were still warm, but it was far less crowded. So, it was an easy solution for us to just flip the two vacations.

The Itinerary
We had to do a lot of research to plan out this trip, and honestly, we're still in research mode. We plan to drive the whole way, and really wanted to make the most of every destination while still visiting as many places as possible. We plan to drive up through Maine, stopping to camp in our tent for a night in Acadia National Park, which we did during our last trip to Maine and loved it. The next morning, we may try to see the sun rise at the top of Cadillac Mountain again if the weather allows (that experience was so amazing the first time around, so doing it again would be such a treat). Then, we'll depart for PEI. We're staying on the island for four nights, and then heading to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to either camp for two nights or find a cheap AirBnB. On our journey back home, we plan to stop at the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, and then camp for a night somewhere in New Brunswick (exact area TBD, may depend on how tired we are). The next morning, head to Kennebunkport for two nights in an AirBnB or hotel, and then make our final journey home. It'll be about a total of 10 days, and we're packing a lot in, but, we're so excited about it. Long car drives and adventures like this are some of our favorite ways to spend quality time together (until I get weird and stir crazy in the car and Josh can't wait for me to pass out in the passenger seat so he has peace and quiet).

The more I researched, the more I desperately wanted to make it up to Newfoundland, especially to do some glacier sight seeing. I fell in love with the scenery I was seeing in pictures online, but didn't realize how far away it is from PEI - I mean, it's really up there, closer to Greenland (which, by the way, is also on my travel list). So, we had to table that destination for a while, and maybe someday, we'll make it up there to see both Greenland and Newfoundland. I may be crossing one destination off my list, but I totally added a new one to it.

If anyone's interested, here are my top 15 travel destinations, in order of priority, and not including this trip:

1. Italy (Tuscany, specifically)
2. Greece
3. French Polynesia
4. California/Pacific Northwest Coast/Napa (we'd do it all in one trip)
5. African Safari/Benguerra Island
6. Australia/New Zealand/Rottnest Island (to see the quokkas!)
7. Greenland/Newfoundland
8. The Grand Canyon
9. Glacier National Park
10. Hawaii
11. Croatia
12. The Maldives
13. Machu Picchu
14. Iceland
15. Galapagos Islands

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Nantucket Christmas Stroll

This was the trip that almost didn't happen! We booked our inn months ago, and in the chaos of trying to finish our guest room and clean up the house for the holidays, we just kept putting off booking ferry tickets for our excursion to Nantucket for the Christmas Stroll. When we visit Nantucket in the summer, we usually book our ferry 1-2 days prior because want to go on a day with nice weather, so that was also always in the back of our minds. Oh, we have time, we kept saying.

So then, about 9 days before our trip, we finally dedicated time to book our ferry ride, and I kid you not, every ferry was sold out.

We couldn't believe it.

We called all the ferry lines, asked if they had any suggestions. We looked at other ways to get on the island (flights were insanely expensive, not even sure why we looked into it). And finally, after two days of having no luck, we just decided we'd go to the Cape and make the best of everything it had to offer since our inn was non-refundable at this point. The ferry lines told us that sometimes people cancel, and to just keep checking the site, but I was pretty convinced Nantucket wasn't meant to be this year. Sometimes, a ferry out to the island would become available, but no ferry back, and we couldn't risk being on standby and getting stranded on the island (especially because it's pretty expensive).

Then, a few days before leaving, Josh was stalking the Hyline website, and someone cancelled their ticket. He booked us for the 9 a.m. ferry out, and we were able to get a ferry back at 4:40. And so, we were back on track.

We arrived at the Hyline terminal in Hyannis an hour before our ferry departed because we were that excited. We were the second people in line to board, and Josh thought I was crazy for jumping in line in the freezing cold when there was a perfectly good (and warm) sitting area in the terminal. We waited in the line, outside, for 40 minutes, and I was glad I did because the ferry was packed and the line to board got pretty long. We had our pick of any seats on the ferry, so it paid off.

We didn't really know what to expect for this excursion. I tried to do a lot of research, but it didn't really amount to much. The Nantucket Christmas Stroll has a website, which lists all the fairs and activities for each day, and it was a little helpful, but in the end, we really had no idea what we were doing. So we made our own itinerary.

As soon as we got off the ferry, we headed to Brant Point Lighthouse. I really wanted to see the big wreath they put on the lighthouse, and was determined to get a picture of us in front of it. I love Brant Point - it's the first thing you can see on the island when your ferry approaches, and the last thing you see as your ferry departs for the mainland. And it just makes me so happy.

On our way to the lighthouse, though, we crossed a bridge to see the little boat with the Christmas tree inside. This little boat is kind of famous to those familiar with the island - paintings of it were sold around the town when we were there, and it's photographed a ton. I don't really know the story behind it, or if there's even a story or who owns it, but it was on my list of things to see. And guys, it was pretty darn cute. Everyone that walked by stopped to see it, and everyone was smiling. It's such a small little thing, but it seemed to brighten so many people's day, including mine.

After the lighthouse, we meandered back toward town so we could visit the Whaling Museum. For the Stroll, they decorate tons of trees to display in the museum, and you also have access to the exhibits inside, which we had never visited. It was $20 per person, but it was well worth it. All the trees were decorated by community members and local business, and they were so heartwarming to take in. I took photos of some of my favorite trees, and posted them below. The museum itself was also really entertaining and interesting. It even had a rooftop observation area with a great view of the island, and we had never even known that it was there.

Inside the Whaling Museum.
Display inside the Whaling Museum.

View from the top of the Whaling Museum building.

The rest of the day, we just kind of went wherever we felt like it. We didn't make any lunch reservations because we weren't sure what restaurants would be open for the Stroll, and we were glad we didn't because we ended up snacking from food vendors all day. Right at the wharf when you exit the ferry, they had food tents which were run by the community, and usually benefited a school or an organization. They offered clam chowder, chili, home-baked goodies, hot cocoa, popcorn, etc. I got chowder, a few cookies and a hot cocoa. We also stopped by a bakery and Josh got squash soup and I got a gingerbread cookie. One of the sandwich places we like, Fresh, was open just for the Stroll with a special menu of comfort food. We got a grilled cheese, and it was seriously one of the most amazing grilled cheeses we've ever had. We split it, and we kind of wished we had gotten our own because it was that good. And then finally, I stumbled across an oyster vendor down by the wharf off to the side, and got some amazingly fresh oysters for $5. I'm honestly still thinking about them.

Seeing the town decked out for Christmas was just so amazing. All the main streets in town were lined with Christmas trees, and each storefront decorated them with a theme. The main road was blocked off to cars, so you could wander in the street to take it all in. All the stores re-opened for the weekend, and most of them put a lot of care into their window displays, which were so fun to walk by and take in. There were only a few stores that didn't seem to really put a lot of effort into their Stroll displays, and you could tell they literally just opened their doors for the weekend because they barely had anything, and it was picked over from the summer season. A lot of stores were also doing sales to clear inventory before they officially closed for the winter.

This whole street was blocked off to cars, so we were able to walk in it whenever we wanted.

One of my favorite store-front trees.

I was all googley-eyed over these dished at the Lion's Paw homewares store.

I loved the clamshells strung through the cedar garland on this table in Nantucket Looms.

One of the big events is the arrival of Santa on the island. As two, child-free adults, this wasn't exactly top of our priority list, so we weren't planning on seeing it. But, we just so happened to be coming out of a store when he was driving down the road, so I was able to grab a quick picture. It was actually kind of cute.

A lot of stores were serving drinks, many with alcohol mixed in, too! One store in particular was offering traditional Swedish Glogg, and Josh was pretty excited about it. It was really tasty, I will admit.

My general thoughts and observations from the day
Guys, this was really fun. I don't think it's something we'll do every year because for us, it's a little bit of a hike to get there and we really have to make it an entire weekend trip. But every now and then for a festive getaway, it was really, really delightful. I would definitely recommend it if you have the time and are looking for a Christmasy destination.

The weather really helped. It was sunny and mid-40s the whole afternoon, and there was barely any wind. I imagine that if it had rained, it would definitely make the day a little less enjoyable. The only thing that could have made it better is if it snowed.

One thing that surprised me was how crowded it was. In the summers during peak season, it's never been as crowded as it was during the Stroll. Granted, it was a one-weekend event, and we were there on Saturday, but I wasn't expecting the crowds we experienced. The ferries were full without any empty seats, and there were times we couldn't even walk into some of the stores because they were so packed. Our innkeeper warned us that the Stroll had become really popular over the years and that it draws quite the crowd, so we were prepared for it ahead of time, and it didn't ruin our time there.

If you're going for the day, you don't really need a reservation if you like to graze on food from vendors. We were sufficiently full the whole day, and we literally just snacked from different places, sampling things as we strolled along. It was perfect. Many of the restaurants looked full with crowds waiting outside, so if you want to eat at a restaurant for lunch or dinner, I would recommend making reservations ahead of time.

The Stroll offers quite a few craft fairs throughout the weekend. We attended a few, and found them to be lovely. The book fair was actually kind of sad (in the basement of a building with a few tables of books). The craft fairs had some really nice vendors, but just not anything we were shopping for, unfortunately. We didn't end up getting anything from the craft fairs, but many of them were located right in town, and I would recommend taking a peek.

If we had more time, we would have wanted to venture out to Cisco Brewery. They had shuttles going there from town, and it would have been easy to do. But since we had to head to our ferry by 4:15 to make sure we got a seat together, we were short on time. But just know that if this is something you wanted to do, you can definitely get there without having a car on the island.

Budget time to just wander. Part of the fun for us was just wandering the streets and seeing all the decorations. It was nice to escape the crowds every now and then and venture to the side streets and see the houses glowing with lights, and seeing the perfectly decorated window boxes and seaside-themed wreaths.
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