Salem, Massachusetts

Today I had the opportunity to join my youngest 2 on their school field trip to Salem, Massachusetts.

I have wanted to visit for years.  I have visited once in my past.  Seventeen years ago and I made the mistake of visiting this town on Halloween.   With it’s mystical past and history of witches, you can imagine how busy and insane it was!  I vowed to go back one day and explore the history and museums properly.   Well, 17 years, almost to the day, I made it!

It was a 7th grade field trip (12-13 year olds) and they are studying the history in social studies.   As the twins were due to visit, I jumped at the chance to chaperone with the group.

Its about a 2 hour drive to Salem from our town in Maine and on a Wednesday morning, traffic is pretty clear.   Salem is on the north shore of Boston so you can avoid city traffic pretty easily if heading southbound!

The field trip didn’t really allow for a lot of exploring on foot but we did hit 3 museums so enough to get a taste of the history that fills the town.

First stop was the House of Seven Gables.   Admittedly, I didn’t really know anything about this history so it was all new to me.

The House of Seven Gables is the house that is featured in the said book by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  It’s one of the historic properties in the city and as it seems, features 7 gables 🙂


The house was constructed in 1668, so before the time of the Salem Witch trials, and over a number of years, the house was built onto as the families wealth grew…..resulting in the 7 gables!

Nathaniel Hawthorne never lived in the home but as an adult, her heard stories about the house from his cousin.  The house was lovingly restored from the 1900’s and detail in the book was actually added in to reflect some of the storytelling.  The kids got a real kick out of being able to take the secret staircases to alternate floors/ rooms.    The tour guide was quite informative around some of the artifacts that were displayed but the tour was pretty quick at around 30 minutes.

Next door to the House of Seven Gables is the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne.   To be clear, his home was not always on this site but was moved to its new location in 1958.   It originally was about 5 blocks away.   A number of historic homes in Salem were moved to one site to support the ease of preservation of historic properties.


It was a another nice historic home to tour but not as long as the gabled house.

Not to be overlooked are the grounds these homes are on.   Water front and beautiful to look out from.   While the sun was shining, it was chilly so we didn’t hang around for long.  I can imagine in the summer time, much more time could be spent enjoying the view and gardens to these homes.


Stop number 2 for the day was the Salem Witch Museum.   This was a 10 minute walk from the Seven Gabled House and as I found, Salem is small enough to navigate around on foot quite easily.


I was really looking forward to the Witch Museum as this was the history that was fascinating to me!  I was surprised that the Witch history just marked a brief history n time for Sale.  1692 was the year the witch trials took place and didn’t go beyond this year.   A good thing as you learn more about what happened, but I had thought it was a longer chunk of time!  All in all, 20 people lost their lives during this period.   Many more spent time in prison, awaiting trial before they could be freed when an end was called to the hysteria.    The museum tells the story of how the witch focus began, to the people involved, the trials that ensued and those that lost their lives.    The story telling is done through life size stage sets with narration as the story is told around the room.  It’s an old exhibit but it’s unique and definitely more engaging than a typical museum type exhibit.  The museum then moves onto information around witches, myths and witchcraft today.


To wrap up our day, we took a short walk to the Salem Dungeons.   This is located in an old church and the museum tour actually consists of a short play – beginning with narration around the with trials again and then a brief demonstration/play of actual courtroom dialog from the trials.   Very interesting and great to highlight to the kids how admission of guilt came about during this period.

For me, the most interesting part of the museum were the dungeons.   Not the actual site of the dungeons that were used to hold ‘witches’ before trial.  These were sadly destroyed some time ago.  This replica though is to size and reflects the conditions of how the ‘witches’ were kept for months on end.   Its just a quick walk thorough the dungeons but interesting nonetheless.


We managed just the 3 museums but it was a great taster to the city.  There is more to explore, including the Peabody Essex Museum with a massive collection of global art and artifacts, including a rebuilt Qing-era Chinese house!   Maybe next time!

Mt. Megunticook – Camden State Park

We’ve had a beautiful mild Fall this year and even into mid October we are still in shorts some days!   Crazy as we’ve had snow in October in years past.   I won’t complain though as I’m not a fan of the winter and in Maine it’s a very long season.  This year I’m hopefully it’s going to be shorter than usual!

For the first weekend in months we had a free day.  Kids soccer has taken up most of the Fall weekends.

We opted to take a drive up to Camden Maine for hike up Mt Megunticook.   We did this hike around 6 years ago and really enjoyed it.  I’d always wanted to go back and today we did.

The drive is just 1.5 hours from Freeport Maine.  Heading up the coast on US Route 1 to midcoast Maine.   The drive is scenic in places and being Fall, lots of lovely foliage to take in along the way.

Camden itself is beautiful.  Nestled in Penobscot Bay, it’s a wealthy midcoast town with a beautiful harbor and quaint main street.   A tourist destination but with it being somewhat off season not too busy and many of the beautiful shops still open.

We headed straight to Camden Hills State Park where trail access to Mt Megunticook is.   The park offers a wide array of amenities with many hikes.  Camping is still open and the park was busy!

Mt Megunticook has an elevation of 1385feet.  The highest elevation in the park.   It’s a 3.5 mile round trip and I’d say we spent around 3 hours on the walk.  Note the Camden Hills State Park website states the trail is 1 mile and takes an hour.  On the trail, it is marked as 1.8 miles….

It’s an easy/ moderate hike – rocky and rooty throughout.   Our ageing dog (9.5 Golden Retriever) managed it but he will certainly sleep well tonight 🙂

While we reached the summit, its not really necessary.  Just before the summit is ‘ocean lookout’  at 1300ft.  That’s the best place to stop, take in the view before you head back down.  Views of Camden town, the harbor and neighboring Mt Battie and the auto road to the top.


The summit is a little further up but has no view.  We followed the same route up and down but the map does show some alternate paths to take if you want to change things up!


After reaching the base car park, we headed into Camden town for a stroll and treats.  We stopped in at Camden Deli which I highly recommend!  The treats we delicious and great coffee!  We strolled to the harbor to see the sun setting.  So serene and pretty…


After a lovely day, we got back on the road South….

Radio City Rockettes, NYC

So a New Years resolution was to blog more often…clearly I’m not doing well on that front 🙂

A little overdue but as we still have snow on the ground in Maine, it still feels like winter and resembles Christmas time so better late than never!

For New Year, we headed on a short trip to NYC.  I hope to blog more about what we did but dedicating this post to the Rockettes.

The kids Christmas presents were tickets to see the famous Christmas show in NYC.  Quintessentially American and full of holiday spirit.   We typically opt for  ‘experience’ over ‘stuff’ for Christmas and so we thought this would be a great and unique event to add to their experiences.

Tickets are inexpensive to this show.   We had excellent seats and the tickets were in the region of $60pp.   Not super cheap but affordable.  There are also tickets much lower in cost and some much higher in cost.  I was pleased with our choice and honestly, I don’t think there are many (if any) bad seats at Radio City.

We saw the show on Jan 1st.  While still keeping the holiday spirit alive, the show is geared heavily to Christmas….seeing it post Christmas is really the only downside.  It would have been much more magical in the lead up to the big day!

We had plumped for a matinee showing.  Allowing us the best part of the day to explore, see a show and head out for a nice dinner.  The show is only 1.5 hours long and there is NO interval so you are very much in and then out.  BUT the 1.5 hours is packed with singing and dancing and really is quite magical throughout.   The Rockettes did a large number of iconic routines so you really did get your moneys worth of entertainment.



As we finished up the performance and headed out of the theatre, night was drawing in and we were treated with the magical lights of NYC and Radio City.   A lovely way to finish out the show and stroll back to our hotel!


Radio City Music hall at Night

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

This last weekend, certain States in the USA were lucky enough to have a 3 day weekend.  Monday was Presidents Day – so a public Holiday or Maine and New Hampshire at the very least.

Presidents Day this year was met with some reluctance…with the state of the US Presidency and many rejecting Mr Trump as their president, folks seemed to take the day off but not really embracing the roots of the day.

For us, we opted to get out and about and explore a little.  Something we did a lot of in England but not so much since being back in the US.   So, after 50 inches of snow over the last week, Monday – the sun came out and we were ready to roll.

We headed to New Hampshire.  A State South and West of Maine.   When we first moved to the USA, NH is where we initially settled and even now, we consider it as our US ‘home’. For us, Portsmouth NH is just one hour drive from our current hometown in Maine so an easy straight run down the highway.   NH, the Granite State, is a funny state in that it has just 17 miles of coastline as its sandwiched between Maine and Massachusetts.  But those 17 miles are beautiful to explore and very scenic.  This general area of NH is generally known as the Seacoast.

Portsmouth is a major town in the Seacoast area.  Established in 1623, Portsmouth claims to be the nation’s third-oldest city and there is certainly history a plenty here with many of the old houses clearly marked as places of historical interest together with many museums such as Strawberry Banke and Moffatt Ladd House and Gardens.

For this trip, we wanted to be outdoors so we headed to a couple of coastal areas to stroll with the dog and take in the sea air.

First stop was Newcastle Beach/ Great Island Common.  Newcastle being a tiny coastal town connected to Portsmouth.  They have a small Beach/ park (32 acres)which is usually full during the summer months.  This weekend though, just a few families were strolling through and taking in the view.


Cute artist/ frame to take photos with


Kids being ‘painted’


Newcastle Park


Views from the park


Dog enjoying his walk


Happy dog


View of Beach


Views out into the ocean

Its only a small park so then we headed up to Odiorne State Park – just a few more miles down the coast.  A pretty drive along the coast and we always love looking at the palatial hpuses along the way!  This is another lovely coastal park and explored a number of trails.  Snow was pretty deep in places but we pushed our way through and had a snowball fight in the process.    This State Park is also connected to the Seacoast Science Center.  We haven’t visited there in years but in the past, its been a great place to take the kids.  Likely still aimed at 3-10 year olds with hands on activities such as shellfish touch tanks etc.


Trails at Odiorne State Park


Trails at Odiorne State Park

After a few hours of walking, the kids were ready for food.  We headed back into downtown Portsmouth to check out the huge array of restaurants in town – from casual to fine dining, there is something for everyone and some are highly rated.

We opted for the Friendly Toast.  Its been in the town for many years and its a place we used to frequent when we lived nearby.  We thought it would be fun for the kids as it has a great Breakfast (all day) and lunch menu together with fun quirky decor that makes the place really casual and relaxed.

Between us, we selected items from both the Breakfast and lunch ments – yum!

After lunch, we opted to hit the town and browse the shops.  A great range of shops downtown ranging from high end to affordable fashions, jewelry and locally made products.  Also it has 2 great toy stores for the kids to browse in!


Section of Downtown Portsmouth

All in all – a great day to get out, shake off that New England Winter cabin fever and relax!



White Mountains, New Hampshire

Thought I would share a few photos from our flying visit to the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

We were there to pick up pour eldest daughter attending Nordic Ski Camp.  We were picking her up early so we could head onto Boston/ NYC for New Years.   Thankfully, its not too much of a hardship to travel to NH as it really is quite beautiful.

She was ski training around the base of Mount Washington.  A place known for its extreme weather on the peak…massively cold in the winter (-47F) and can be a bit breezy (231mph).  These are extreme records set over the years but impressive none the less.   We so happened to arrive the day after a large storm hit.  A ground level, about 18″ had fallen so it beautifies the area – nice and bright and clean….however, still a little chilly and breezy!

We stayed in Gorham.  Not a lot there really but it offered the best proximity for pick up the next day.  We stayed at Town and Country Inn…Not a lot to say here except its a motel and nothing fancy…i am not sure the website is the most accurate representation of where we stayed!   We only need a place for a night.   Rooms was large but cold….wind howling through the gaps around the door 😦   Dated in decor and no frills.  Younger two enjoyed the pool and steam room and it was ok for just a night.   Most people tend to head to Conway when visiting the area.  Lovely town, tourist scenic railway trips, lots of activities and family orientated.   Most definitely worth a visit if you are there.  North Conway offers outlet shopping should you fancy that.

We rarely head this way in the winter.  Its geared for downhill skiing and we tend not to do much of that.  Many people visit this are in the Fall and take a tour of the Kancamagus Highway – offering views of the mountain foliage.  We have done this in the past and can highly recommend it.

For now, we were afforded spectacular winter views….here are a few!



First Night, Boston


To ring in 2017, we opted to do something a little more special.   Coupled with the fact eldest daughter was at ski camp and we had gifted the kids a trip to NYC for Jan 1st, we built-in a stop in Boston to experience their First Night celebrations.   We’ve heard a lot in the past about First Night in Boston and over the years, many cities have adopted similar types of events.

We headed to Boston from the NH White Mountains.  We needed to pick up the big girl from camp.  She was exhausted so we knew we would be taking the afternoon and evening pretty easy.

Arriving in Boston was straight forward and we had taken the advice from the First Night website to book ahead for parking.   We used Spothero.  What a fantastic service.  Typically in Boston, parking is ridiculously expensive (well to us, the out-of-towners that don’t know the hidden parking havens).   We pre-booked a space with Spothero…..ridiculously cheap, next to the event we were attending and a guaranteed space.  Valet parking to boot. With the app now loaded onto my phone, I’ll definitely be using them again!

We parked up and headed straight into Copley Square/ Boston Public Library.   First Night Boston is now 100% funded so there is no need to purchase ‘buttons’ any more.  Despite this, and the absolute bitter cold, navigating the area and really understanding what to do and where to go was a bit of a headache and a tad confusing for first timers like us.

The Public Library is a great building dating back to 1828  and as we hadn’t been inside before we headed there.  Sadly, many events were full or closing so after a quick rest room break we ventured back outside.

Copley Square offered stages and singing events together with street food and similar things.   I found this area less appealing and it may have been due to the fact that it was well below freezing with a howling wind!

Other events were happening around the city but due to the time we arrived, they were winding down.

To pass time until the parade, we headed to Newbury Street.   We strolled the street and went into a few stores.  It’s a pricey street but we enjoyed looking 🙂

We hadn’t booked a restaurant for dinner and with the crowds, getting a table was impossible so we made the decision to eat after parade and fireworks!

The advertised parade ran the route of Boylston – Copley Square to Boston Common.  We managed to get a fairly decent vantage point and waited for the parade to start.  Boston is a highly Patriotic city and we enjoyed the likes of colonial marching bands and drummers. There was also the usual nod to Firefighters and the Chinese population of the city.   The parade was smaller and not quite as grand as we anticipated so it was over pretty quickly.  We joined onto the back of the parade and headed towards to Common for the fireworks.


Redcoats marching and playing


Chinese dragons


Flag bearers

First Night offers 2 sets of fireworks.  Early show at 7pm for families and a later 12 midnight show for all the party goers.  With 3 kids in tow, we opted for the 7pm show.  7pm just so happens to be midnight in England so it seemed appropriate for us to celebrate New Year along with London and the rest of the UK. The fireworks are by far the highlight of First Night.   At Boston Common, there really isn’t a bad vantage point and the fireworks were excellent….worth the wait (my photos wont do them justice)!


Fireworks at Boston Common


Fireworks at Boston Common


Fireworks at Boston Common

After fireworks were done, we headed back to the Prudential Center for dinner.  Earlier we has spied a Wagamamas in there that we decided would be good for dinner…and also close to the car/ parking.

With full bellies we headed back on the road onto Connecticut.  We were staying overnight in CT to then take the train into NYC on New Years Day.  A big surprise was in store for the kids!   As midnight rolled in on NYE, we were in an elevator of a Hyatt in CT….so glad we got to celebrate a few hours earlier in Boston!




Lights Aglow, Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay

Thought I’d share some festive photos of a recent trip to Maine Botanical Gardens to visit their Holiday Light display – Lights Aglow.

Maine Botanical Gardens are a stunning collection of gardens covering 270 acres of coastal land.  It is a relatively new addition to Maine, opening in 2007 and has become a very popular attraction to both locals and visitors.   We first visited in 2006 as it was under construction but didn’t actually visit properly until 2014.   We were blown away with the beauty of the gardens and promptly purchased an annual family pass.  We have visited every season and its worth it!  This is the first time we have made a Winter visit. Mostly in part to the Lights Aglow exhibit only opened last winter – while we were living in England.

So we headed to the Gardens for the light show we had heard a lot about.

If planning to attend, plan in advance.  Buy tickets online as it gets very crowded.  This year they seem to be doing a good job with crowd control.  Additionally, parking seemed straightforward even as we had opted not to take the shuttle bus.

Tickets are inexpensive.  $36 for a family of 5 (purchased in advance).   Great value in comparison to other events around the holiday period.


Trying to stay warm!

The display boasts over 360,000 lights together with specially crafted fairy houses for the kids to view, a model railway display, warming stations with hot chocolate and some hot food trucks.  Additionally, there is a restaurant and gift shop.


Lights Aglow

The lights were very impressive.   The event has many paths leading through parts of the gardens so you can see the lights from many vantage points.  While the lights were a plenty and very pretty, i think for my slightly older kids, it wasnt so exciting.   Plenty of little ones running about though having fun.   Additionally, we happened to have tickets for the first bitterly cold night of the season.   It was well be low the freezing mark and it certainly affected our visit…..It was just too cold to truly take it all in.  A shame really as we could have spent more time there getting a little more festive.


Number of fairy houses on display

With the crowds this is attracting, the chances of getting a table in the restaurant were slim so we opted for food trucks and ate inside at a warming station.  As I said, it was cold so eating was a challenge as you really need to get indoors!


Play areas also lit up


Lights Aglow

Not to be overlooked on our evening out is the actual town of Boothbay Harbor.  In some respects, the lights in the town are more impressive that the ones at Lights Aglow.   Our drive in to Boothbay (from the South) was equally impressive.   We understand that this year, the town had a competition on for best lights (at home), with lights sold at cost to local folk encouraging them to particpate.  So for the few miles leading up to Boothbay and the town itself, there is a complete additional light show to be had.  This was huge fun as the lights were very inventive.  It was a christmassy version of Blackpool 🙂

So with that said, Lights Aglow was a good, low cost Festive experience.   As you need to book ahead to secure entry, its hard to work with the weather but my suggestion is to go before the cold really sets in.  Since then, temps have dropped to -23C of which would be miserable (and dangerous) to be out in.    Make sure you take time to head into the town too.  Even if it just to drive around and view the lights.  They are equally as good and make the town look beautiful.

I made the mistake of telling the kids we had some light up reindeer somewhere in the basement….they were aghast they had never seen them (they not been out for 10+ years).  We’ve since dragged them out and they sit on the porch…..they are not worth a drive by….but Boothbay is 🙂

Lights AGlow runs to Dec 31st Thurs-Sun only!  Enjoy!


Tumbledown Mountain


One thing Maine is loved for is the plethora of mountains to hike.   As you head North, there are plenty to choose from.   As the Fall is coming to a close, and mother nature gave us a reminder with 12″ of snow in the mountains this week, we opted to get outside for possibly the last hike this year.

We headed to Tumbledown Mountain.  Just near the town of Weld.

As we headed North, we began to notice a temperature drop…hoping we were going to be warm as we walked!   The access road to the trail is closed as of Nov 1st for the winter so we were just in time but another reminder that old man winter is too close for comfort!

The mountain itself is not huge.  An elevation of 3068ft (935m) but the views are gorgeous and worth the climb.   A novelty to the mountain is the pond that is almost at the summit. I’ve heard that in the summer, those that make the climb reward themselves with a swim in the pond.  Not for us today though.  By the time we reached the top, it was bitterly cold.  Before we reached the top, we encountered snow…more as we gained elevation.  Made for a challenging ascent and subsequent descent.


The trail is very rocky…initially easily passable but soon became boulders and streams. Steep ascent and strenuous climb.  The kids took it in their stride but glad we didn’t take the dog…it would have been too much for his ageing joints….almost too much for mine!


We tackled only the Brook Trail.  The easiest but still classed as moderate.  I would agree…some banged up knees as we scrambled up to the pond.   The pond is at 1600ft elevation from our starting point.  Not quite the top but due to the length of climb and 5 kids in tow, we opted not to go further.   We stopped for a snack and to enjoy the view before we took the trail back down.



Lake en route to the summit

Cadbury World

Playing a little catch up here but thought I would post about a day trip I did with the kids before we left the UK.

As a true Brit, I am a chocoholic.  It’s a problem.  My whole family is addicted and the British definitely have a weakness for it.  Cadburys is our chocolate of choice.  Having lived in the US, we’ve struggled with brands such as Hersheys…a chocolate made from sour milk.  The Americans I would say, are less of chocolate people but more candy and sweet treats such as donuts to satisfy their sweet tooth.

Anyway, I had promised a trip to Cadbury World for the kids.  A day surrounded by our favorite chocolate…!  What could go wrong?

What a disappointment!   While I was fully aware this was NOT a tour of the factory, the entire experience was dull and tired.

First off, its most definitely geared to kids ages 2-7.  The ‘Tour’ was old and felt tired.  Antiquated in parts and then just a very long walk around the outskirts of the packaging plant.   The make your own chocolate was a small paper cup of melted chocolate with a couple of toppings thrown in….and so on.  Just disappointment at each turn.


making your own chocolate

There was a ‘ride’ that looked like it was from the 1970’s and a new 4D cinema experience.  This was fun but it felt it was just 3 minutes long.


On the tour

Costumed characters looked bored and it all seemed a bit awkward.


Characters at Cadbury World

In my research before we went, I was excited to learn more about the town of Bourneville.  The town created by Cadbury to house the factory and workers.  Some great history.  Cadbury created a town, housing, recreational facilities and more to care for the well being of all those that worked for him.  As he was a Quaker, no pubs were established and to this day, there are still no pubs in the town.  There is a small museum detailing this history as part of the tour.  This was the most interesting aspect of the day (well for me anyway).  In past years, they would include a map of the Bourneville campus allowing you to walk around to view and appreciate this history here.  This year, they have removed the map from their tour pamphlet (I asked a member of staff to dig a map out for me).  With this and how poor the day was, I couldn’t help think that perhaps this tour is winding down, soon to close?.   As we know, Cadbury was bought out by Kraft.  The sense of family pride is no longer there and sadly the experience screamed of corporate, waiting for another necessary budget cut.

Were the kids disappointed?  Yes. Would we go again?  No.  Can you get a much better deal on Cadburys at the Co-op?  Yep!


Fall in Maine

So we are lucky to live in a beautiful part of the world.  New England is beautiful in places and its famed for its Fall season and its stunning foliage.

This year is a particularly good year and the colors are spectacular.  We’ve taken a number of walks and today we ventured up Bradbury Mountain Sate park to take in the view.  Hope you enjoy as much as we did!


I used a little filter here to pop the color but not too far from the truth



No filter.  The water tower you can see is actually where our home is situated.


Splendid color – no filter!