Well, got up bright and early Friday morning to take that 6 - 6 1/2 hour drive to Massachusetts. Luckily, this trip I had along my 80 gig ipod so the tunes were never-ending (and never-REPEATING). Counting the skipped songs, the ride took about 600 songs to get there. We stayed in a renovated carriage house in Rockport and had the top floor to ourselves. Of course, the very first thing we did upon arrival was to take a walk down the Neck and say hello to Rockport. Rockport, of course, is right on the sea and has multitudes of artists as well as shops. Following down the shop-lined main street takes one to the historic Bear Skin Neck; which goes all the way out to a land's end jetty of rocks surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on three sides. The many, many shops were open but we walked by because we were starving and it was time to drive to Ipswich for The Clam Box!
The Clam Box was featured several years ago on The Food Network and I gotta tell ya. . .the only time I'll eat fried clams is there. That's because, instead of the rubber bands they call fried clams around these parts, The Clam Box serves tender and delicious fried clams -- and a lot of them! And. . .well dammit. . .the building LOOKS like a clam box!!! We get the Mini Meal which is PLENTY for one person. You get a pile of fried clams and your choice of fries, onion rings or cole slaw. I went for the onion rings and I was in greasy heaven!
The next day we went BACK to The Clam Box again for lunch! Then it was off to Salem: The Witch City. Never-you-mind that the actual Salem Witch Trials happened in nearby Danvers and NOT in present day Salem (Danvers used to be called Salem Town); Salem, Massachusetts is Witchy Central with tons of Witch shops, the Salem Witch Museum, etc. etc. It's also filled with tons of shops as well as the historic Custom House (wherein Nathaniel Hawthorne worked and supposedly found The Scarlet Letter in a trunk in the attic) as well as The House of Seven Gables and Hawthorne's Birth House (which was moved from it's original spot to a place next to the Seven Gables). One can take a guided tour through the House of Seven Gables but, since we had done so several times before, we didn't this trip. It was to the shops for us; including Pyramid Books and the shop of Laurie Cabot: The Official Witch of Salem located on Pickering Wharf. Salem Harbour also boasts the restored clipper ship USS Friendship. However, I didn't buy anything this day because it was a record-breaking 95 degrees with 88% humidity; the baking sun and oppressive heat caused us to cut our Salem sojourn short. That evening, it was to Essex and The Village Inn for dinner where I had a delicious Atlantic Trio of Scallops, Shrimp and Haddock baked in the oven with a bread crumb topping and garlic butter sauce. Oh yeah! By that time, it had begun to rain and severe thunderstorm warnings were posting. Now, do you see that big atrium area in the middle? Well, while we were waiting in there to be seated, a bolt of lightning struck the church RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET! The loud crash was tremendous; it was the closest I've ever been to a lightning strike! I don't know whether the church had a lightning rod or not but it didn't burn down. But the fire engines passed the time until we were seated for dinner!
Of course, no night in Rockport would be complete without a stroll or two all along the main street out to Bear Skin Neck. While the shops are (mostly) closed, the night is still one of my favourite times in Rockport; the crowds are gone and only a few stragglers remain. That's when I can walk along the shopfronts and breathe in the sea air and atmosphere of Rockport. As I pass along the shop fronts, lights illuminating the darkness, I can actually relax. . .and that's something I'm usually unable to do. There's Sundays, my father's favourite Rockport ice cream emporium, where earlier that day I had a Butter Crunch cone. It's still open for those few of us ambling by. There's the Bean and Leaf Coffee Shop. And Helmut's Strudel: the best Strudel on the Neck. Of course, I think it's the ONLY strudel place in Rockport but why quibble. And in the middle of the fork in the road is the familiar red building containing The Pewter Shop. And maybe I'll turn right and talk a walk down to the pier past the Chowder House where the boats are tied up for the night -- and Motif #1, the most famous building in Rockport, can be seen across the way.
After the heat of the day, the wind off the sea is cool as I make my way to the end of Bearskin Neck to land's end. I stand right on the end where the rocks begin and listen to the waves in the darkness. It's the most calming place I've ever been. But enough communing with Rockport. . .tomorrow's Sunday. . .a Rockport Sunday. . .just like the Tom Rush song. . .and the heat is supposed to break tomorrow. So it's on back along Bear Skin Neck the way I came, up to Main Street past Tuck's Candy Factory and Toad Hall Books, left past the old church and back up to my room in the carriage house where I'll read about lighthouses and shipwrecks and legends of Cape Ann until I drift off to sleep.
Part two of the travelogue to follow. . .including another trip back to Salem, more seafood (!), a trip through Gloucester, the amazing Hammond Castle, the worst meal we've EVER had in New England, a friend who's actually renting a place on Bearskin Neck (!!) and a final farewell to Rockport coming up!