Travel 2022: From history to seafood, a taste of New England on Cape Cod

The boardwalk to Gray’s Beach in Yarmouth. - Michael Coleman
The boardwalk to Gray’s Beach in Yarmouth. - Michael Coleman

SUMMER TRAVEL 2022 Like so many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic had restricted our travel, and left us longing for the open road and a change of scenery.

In the case of myself and my son, Mike, the longing was for some ocean breezes and the taste of fresh seafood. We chose Cape Cod because it’s relatively close to the Capital Region and is surrounded by the Atlantic ocean.

In early August 2021, with COVID numbers declining, we hit the road. For some reason I had a longing for fresh oysters and Mike, who at that time was between jobs, had lobster roll on his mind. The drive to the Cape takes about four hours and change. We took Mike’s Honda Civic with my E-Z Pass on the dashboard.

We both love history and literature. A goal of our trip was to take a fast ferry from the Cape to the island of Nantucket some 30 miles off the coast. Nantucket was a major whaling port in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and is now a popular tourist destination. Herman Melville talked about Nantucket’s whaling dominance in the 1820s and 1830s in his masterpiece “Moby-Dick.”

I also had the playwright Eugene O’Neill on my mind.

Provincetown, at the tip of the Cape, was a haven for artists and writers from about 1900 into the 1930s. The Provincetown Players was a new community theater then and launched O’Neill’s career with his play “Bound East for Cardiff,” about a dying sailor on a tramp steamer.

We found a reasonably-priced motel as a base of operations. Holiday Hill Inn and Suites on Main Street (Route 28) in Dennis Port is about halfway out the Cape. The aging motel was clean with a nice pool and rates of less than $100 per night.

After we moved in our bags, we set out to see the ocean on a cloudy, mild day. We ended up at Gray’s Beach and boardwalk in Yarmouth about eight miles from the motel. The Gray’s boardwalk has ample free parking. The quarter-mile-long boardwalk takes you out through saltwater marshland with lots of seabirds around, as well as great blue herons and white egrets.

The tide was out when we got there. You could see clams and oysters in some of the drained waterways. After driving around Dennis Port and getting our bearings, we had dinner at Original Seafood Restaurant on Main Street just a mile or two from the motel: lobster roll for Mike and a fried haddock dinner for me.

NANTUCKET
The next day was overcast with light rain predicted. We were up early because we had to drive to the Hyannis terminal of Hy-Line Cruises and board the fast ferry to Nantucket. The ferry is the Gray Lady (also the nickname for Nantucket) and is modern, with food and beverages available. Round-trip tickets were $80 per person.
The rain held off during the trip, and it was exciting and refreshing to sit on the uncovered back deck. The smell of the ocean was wonderful. Watching other ships and smaller boats in the area was interesting.

The 30-mile trip takes an hour. As we neared the island, the Brant Point Light became visible and we were soon pulling into the Hy-Line terminal. As you get off the ferry you are in downtown Nantucket, with cobblestone streets in many places. The town and county of Nantucket are a total of 105.3 square miles — 47.8 square miles of land and 57.5 square miles of water.

The island was occupied by the Native American Nehantucket tribe (Algonquan-speaking people) before settlers from Europe arrived in the 1640s. The Wampanoag Indians were already whaling from small boats launched from the shore. They would tow the killed whales to the beach for processing.

By the late 1700s and early 1800s, English settlers were venturing farther and farther out into the ocean in larger ships to kill whales for their whale oil, an extremely valuable commodity back then.

The story of the whaling industry is told in dramatic fashion at the Nantucket Whaling Museum at 12 Broad St., operated by the Nantucket Historical Association. Tickets are $23 per person and $20 for senior citizens.

It had started to rain, so we spent two hours in the museum enjoying every minute as we studied the excellent displays.

The museum tickets also allow visitors to tour several historic captains’ homes in the downtown district. When the rain let up, we walked the downtown district and toured the old homes, including the gorgeous Coffin home and Hadwen House.

Herman Melville in his book “Moby-Dick” said of the 1830s Nantucket whaling dominance: “Two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer’s. For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires.”

The “Moby-Dick” characters Ahab and Starbuck are both from Nantucket. The tragedy that inspired Melville to write his novel was the final voyage of the Nantucket whaler Essex, which was struck by a whale and sank.

The homes and shops in Nantucket are beautiful. The flower gardens surrounding the homes are magnificent. But the real estate is pricey. The average sale price for a single-family home was $2.3 million in 2018, and probably much more in 2022. A good source of information about Nantucket can be found at the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce’s website, www.nantucketchamber.org.

There are many restaurants in the downtown district. We had lunch in a high-end eatery downtown. We ordered six oysters to share, at $2.50 per oyster, and lobster bisque. We had a much more reasonable dinner at The Tavern near the ferry terminal. Even in mid-week there were lots of tourists downtown. The island’s year-round population is listed at 14,255, but during the summer tourist season it increases to roughly 50,000, according to the chamber.

The ride back to Cape Cod that evening was pleasant. We probably walked about six miles during our visit to the island. Visitors can also rent bicycles to tour the outer stretches of the island.

PROVINCETOWN
The next day we visited Provincetown. Our idea was to rent bikes there and ride along the National Seashore trails through the sand dunes. But the weather changed our plans, with rain starting to fall soon after we arrived. The drive from Dennis Port to Provincetown at the northern tip of the Cape takes about 45 minutes.

The Pilgrims arrived at Provincetown in 1620. The 252-foot-tall granite Pilgrim Monument dedicated to that event dominates the view. For $20, you can purchase tickets to the monument that also include entry to the Provincetown Museum. We slowly climbed the circular stairway in the monument, looking out well-placed windows to see the harbor and surrounding area.

After our one-hour climb, with the rain coming down harder, we headed for the museum, a modern, well-designed display of the area’s history. Back at the turn of the 20th century and into the 1930s, Provincetown was a haven for artists and writers. We purchased a book about playwright Eugene O’Neill’s time in Provincetown. He came to Provincetown in 1916 and wrote plays produced by the Provincetown Players, a community theater that launched many careers, including O’Neill’s.

The book explained that O’Neill liked writing and living in Provincetown because, back in the teens and early 1920s, it was a “dry” community that didn’t sell alcohol. He was far from his favorite bars in Greenwich Village that he was known to visit often when living in New York City.

After spending a couple of enjoyable hours in the museum, we tried to find a restaurant my late wife’s nephew had owned in Provincetown some years ago called Tropical Joe’s. By that time, the wind had picked up and the rain was coming down sideways. We couldn’t find the restaurant and decided to head back to Dennis Port.

We stopped for an early dinner at Moby Dick’s restaurant on Route 6 in Wellfleet. This reasonably priced eatery served the famous Wellfleet oysters. We each had half a dozen.

On the last day of our four-day visit, the sun finally came out and the sky was a cloudless blue. We were able to head for the beaches.

We drove out to the ocean and found, even at 9 in the morning, many of the beach parking lots were full. We kept trying different spots and eventually found ample parking at Corporation Beach off Route 6A in Dennis.

You have to pay for parking, but the beach has restrooms and a food stand serving decent beach fare. We took our beach chairs down and set them up. By 10 a.m., more and more people began arriving. It was fun to watch all the activity and take a walk along the soft, sandy beach and out to a nearby pier.

We spent about two hours swimming and walking. We had put on sunscreen, thank goodness, because the sun coming off the ocean in August really bakes you.

Then it was time to leave. On our way out of Dennis, we stopped at the Seaside Design Studio and Shop at 776 Main St. We found some gifts for my granddaughters and grandson. Mike found a gift for the person taking care of his 20-year-old cat.

As we drove home, we were already talking about returning to the Cape in 2022 and taking a fast ferry to Martha’s Vineyard to explore that island as we had Nantucket.

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Categories: Life and Arts, Summer Travel 2022

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