The sea & the mountains: New England does not disappoint
Ahead of my big Balkans adventure, I went visiting family and friends last week. I spent the weekend in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, visiting my sister and her children, and then Monday and Tuesday up in the White Mountains in and around North Conway to visit two very dear friends. I was once again reminded of how lucky we are in New England. Such a tiny little region has a gorgeous coast and breathtaking old mountains (and also lakes!).
I took these trips for the people—we could have sat inside the entire time staring at the floor, and I would have a wonderful time—but since both of these areas are easy day trips/overnights from Boston, and well worth the visit, I thought that I would share some highlights beyond the great conversation, laughs, and community. I’ve included maps below.
The Sea: Cape Ann
Between the pandemic and construction on the MBTA Commuter Rail Rockport line, I didn’t get out to see my sister and her family at her place for the better part of three years. I hadn’t been to Good Harbor Beach, one of my very favorite beaches, in even longer. I remedied both last weekend, spending a perfect afternoon splashing about in a late-summer warm ocean with my nephew and nieces. So much of this summer has been about reconnecting with things I used to love about summer, and this wonderful visit was tonic to my soul.
Gloucester’s super-cute downtown
We also walked around Gloucester’s super cute, historic downtown on Saturday, stopping in at the glorious Bananas vintage shop. I’d missed all the fantastic vintage clothing, barware, and jewelry displayed with such flair in a tiny little shop. As far as I’m concerned, this place is a must. After Bananas, we strolled through goodlinens studio, the housewares shop of my dreams. If my life wasn’t what it is right now, I’d have spent all my money.
After the beach, we headed into Rockport, all sandy and sunned. Our first stop was Tuck’s Candy & Gifts for old-fashioned salt-water taffy and contributions to the Sugar Club, which I am a co-founder, along with my nephew (the nieces are now enthusiastic members). Sufficiently sweetened, we then walked down Bearskin neck. I snapped a photo or ten of the famous red shack (aka Motif #1).
We then stopped in Rusty & Ingrid Art & Supply, the beautiful shop my sister manages. If you’re looking for water colors, restored film cameras, or really good pencils, this is the place. That it’s in the cutest little seaside building you’ve ever seen only makes it better. Making our way toward the end of Bearskin Neck and views of the sea, my sister saw an artist she knows. Morgan Dyer has a tiny little gallery filled with wonder. Her paint pooling works in oranges and blues are simply stunning.
Drinks & donuts
On the way back from taking in the views of the sea, my sister stopped in Sea & Cellar for a bottle of natural wine to go with our dinner (if you can get her to cook for you, do it). After dinner, we headed back into downtown Gloucester for drinks and so much laughter at the Howard Blackburn (full disclosure—my sister manages this place, too, but I would love it anyway). The bartender, Noah, makes a mean Manhattan.
A lazy Sunday morning with my sister and the kids with old-fashioned donuts from Jim’s (oh, I missed them) before heading to my parents’ house capped off the absolutely perfect weekend visit.
Adventures in the White Mountains
My friends bought a cabin up in Madison, New Hampshire, minutes from North Conway, a few years ago as both a place to getaway and as an investment, and this is the first time I got to go and visit them there. My aunt and uncle had a camp when I was a kid; my friends’ A-frame is way better (oh, and you can Airbnb it when they aren’t there). However, they have a cat, and I’m allergic, so I slept in their “glamping” tent in the yard. It’s been so long since I’ve heard only the sounds of crickets (and owls!). So peaceful.
We mostly ate at the cabin, as one of my friends cooks, as they say, with gas. After dinner, we talked around the firepit, and all was well with the world.
It had been ages since I’d been up around North Conway, so we headed into town, stopping first at nearby Cathedral Ledge State Park. I am not a hiker, and if you aren’t, either, never ye fret. You can drive up. Your ears will pop before you take in the lovely views at the top (the ledge itself is also impressive).
We popped into a few shops in North Conway (it was super hot, so we didn’t stay too long), the highlight for me being Zeb’s General Store. Zeb’s is kitschy and fun and loaded with penny candy (sadly, it costs more than that now) and memorabilia.
I got a snap of the train station on our way out of town.
Rocky Gorge and the Kancamagus Highway
New England is no slouch in the natural beauty department, and the Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountain National Forest is one of the jewels. We didn’t venture too far up it, but instead stopped at Rocky Gorge Scenic Area to have a little dip in the Swift River.
After wading through the rocky bottom (I’d recommend water shoes if you really wanted to scamper in there) and finding a river-smoothed rock to sit on in view of the mountains, the steam from the hot day left my body. Normally that river is absolutely freezing, but that afternoon it was just warm enough to linger. My friends and I talked (and laughed—somehow Welcome Back Kotter came up), and before we knew it, an hour and a half had passed. The heat of the day a memory, we drove back to their house totally relaxed.
I’ll remember that sit in the river, talking and laughing with my dear friends for years to come.
Again, my purpose in taking these trips was to see my dear ones, not New England’s splendor, but these are some cool places, so here are maps in case you find yourself in the area!