Labor - And A Whole Lot More

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be . . . .
About Dick Meister
Labor Articles
Public Affairs Articles
Sports Articles
Travel Articles
Other Articles

Nineteen stops in 28 days. I know it sounds like a nightmarish exercise in the "if it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" style of travel. But my wife Gerry and I did it on a trip through New England and Atlantic Canada -- and surprise! We enjoyed ourselves immensely. Turns out it's a terrific way to sample the region's considerable beauty, charm and cultural riches.

We flew into Boston from our home in San Francisco, then headed off with no set itinerary through the lush summer greenery that lined roadways wherever we strayed, first stop the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum overlooking Dorchester Bay. Exceptional architecture, exceptional setting, exceptional multi-media exhibits that took us step-by-step through JFK's extraordinary life.

Then it was down the road to Seekonk, a good base for day trips to Providence and Newport across the nearby Rhode Island border. Stayed at a chain motel, as we did at all but a few stops -- much the best choice for the impromptu traveler. The price is right, you can usually check in sans reservations and can be sure of clean, comfortable and familiar accommodations.

A neo-classical state capitol, all white Grecian marble, stands high and handsome in Providence. Brown University, atop another hill, is the very embodiment of the Ivy League, surrounded by restored 17th and 18th century homes and streets dense with maple trees. Lots of brick and -- what else? -- ivy.

Brown's very nice to look at, but for visiting we chose the Rhode Island School of Design down the hill. Its art collection is superb.

Newport, of course, is where the Vanderbilts, Astors and other fabulously wealthy magnates of the Industrial Revolution erected their incredibly opulent showcase mansions. They truly must be seen to be believed.

Mystic Seaport, another tourist favorite, is just down the road in Connecticut. It's surely one of the best re-created villages we've visited in four decades of worldwide travel. The village, on a broad sweeping bayfront jutting out into the Mystic River, looks and feels much as it must have in the 19th century, when it was a booming port.

From there, we headed off to New Haven and two world-class museums -- the sleekly contemporary Yale Center for British Art and the Yale University Art Gallery, housed in a grand Gothic structure built in 1832.

Next, Hartford, site of Connecticut's splendidly restored state capitol. It's as it was when opened in 1878, shiny new and Victorian. Much beauty as well in the even older Wadsworth Atheneum downtown, another major art gallery.

Author Mark Twain's 19-room Victorian mansion outside town was well worth a visit, as was the much smaller home next door where Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and 29 other novels.

Yet another nicely restored state capitol to wander through off the Interstate in Montpelier, Vermont. Then, suddenly, Quebec: The signs along the road and elsewhere in French; distances calculated in kilometres; gasoline pumped by the litre; the provincial flag, white fleur-de-lis on blue, on show everywhere.

Much flat, fertile farmland; frequent small towns and villages, a central church steeple rising above each and every one, and roadside galleries filled with the art of the province's many highly skilled woodcarvers.

Walked the streets of Sherbrooke, then Levis, Quebec City, Riviere-du-Loup and Rimouski, the mellifluous sounds of French all around us, eating nothing but excellent French meals. We felt as if we were in far away places with strange sounding names, and it felt good.

Also discovered several unusual attractions, among them Le Vieux Moulin, a "hydromellerie" in Ste. Flavie-sur-mer that produces a dozen varieties of honey and honey wine, all eagerly offered for visitor tasting.

The Jardins de Metis, between the broad St. Lawrence and Metis Rivers a few kilometres away, is legitimately billed as one of the world's most beautiful gardens. We spent more than an hour strolling virtually alone among the 2,000 or so species and varieties of plants laid out in formal and natural settings.

Spent even more time touring the carefully restored Acadian Historical Village in Caraquet, just across the border in New Brunswick, almost as French a province as Quebec in some areas. The village was established in 1758 as the capital of the French-speaking area of eastern Canada then known as Acadia.

Bright new museums elsewhere along the road through the province told in colorful detail the story of the mining and fishing industries that long have driven the New Brunswick economy.

Soon we crossed over the Confederation Bridge into another province, Prince Edward Island. Few places can match its colorful beauty: bright blue sea, brilliant green low rolling hills and small tidy farms above, interspersed with dense forests, the blue and green contrasting sharply with the distinctly reddish soil. Large clusters of wild purple, pink and white lupin brighten the roadside.

Nearly one-fourth of the island's 135,000 people live in the capital, Charlottetown. The Confederation Centre downtown is particularly impressive -- three indoor theaters and an outdoor amphitheater, public library, art gallery, museum and gift shops.

Ours was a three-night stand in Charlottetown, enough time to at least superficially explore virtually the entire uncrowded island and such unusual attractions as the International Fox Museum and Hall of Fame in Summerside. It was time enough, in any case, to experience the laid-back, low key pastoral nature which gives Prince Edward Island the feel of a friendly small town more concerned with appreciating yesterday and enjoying today than scrambling for future rewards.

We left the island via ferry for the rugged terrain of Cape Breton in neighboring Nova Scotia, as British (and Scottish) a province as Quebec is French -- place names such as Loch Lomond and Aberdeen, for instance, a Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts, widely displayed portraits of Queen Elizabeth.

Once, however, it was part of French Canada. We found fascinating evidence of that in the massive, partially restored 18th century fortress of Louisbourg. Although it was the most formidable French military base on the Atlantic Coast, it ultimately proved no match for invading British forces.

As fascinating was the National Historic Site devoted to the astoundingly creative life of Scotland native Alexander Graham Bell. It's a large museum on the edge of a bay across from the rambling summer home in the resort town of Baddock where the inventor did much of his experimenting, filled with proof of his genius. There are telephones, of course, but also examples and explanations of his pioneering work in aeronautics, marine engineering, genetics, medical science and other fields.

From there it was back to New Brunswick and another celebrated summer home, that of former President Franklin Roosevelt on strikingly beautiful Campobello Island off the coast of Maine. An international park operated jointly by the United States and Canada occupies most of the area, its centerpiece the Roosevelt family's 34-room "cottage."

He's 31 feet tall and weighs 1 1/2 tons. He's Paul Bunyan and he stands across the border in Bangor, Maine -- a symbol, it says on the base of the wooden statue, of the glory days in the 1880s when Bangor was "the lumber capital of the world." Pretty town dating from colonial times, as what doesn't in New England.

Maine's state museum in Augusta is unquestionably one of the largest and very best of its kind. A dozen large sections showed us in thorough and colorful detail much of what there is to know about the territory from prehistoric times until now.

It was brilliantly green all the way down through Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts -- to shop-till-you-drop Freeport, to the exceptional art museums in Portland and Ogunquit, the four-dozen houses dating from 1695 to 1920 in the unusual Strawberry Banke museum in downtown Portsmouth, the block after block of abandoned brick buildings in Manchester that had housed thriving textile mills, Salem's witch trial shlock. Then, finally, Boston and home.

Copyright Dick Meister