Custer State Park in South Dakota

Custer State Park in South Dakota
We saw a LOT of these guys at Custer State Park in South Dakota!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mark Twain House, Hartford, CT.

We had a great time at the Mark Twain House in Hartford CT. This is an amazing and big house that Clemens lived in for about 20 years. He wrote the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn stuff here, which I thought was pretty cool.

In a nut shell, he and his family were having financial problems in 1891 so they left the country. He did eventually move back to the area, but he lived in a smaller house.

Our tour was great, we had a fun, knowledgeable tour guide too, which is a plus. The staff was very friendly and they all seemed excited about contributing to the Mark Twain legacy (the staff at the House of the Seven Gables should come here and take notes).

We took the servants entrance tour, which was a shorter tour of the working areas of the servants.

We then toured the entire house. Check out my pictures.

I do know that the house has had some financial concerns, which is sad. I think they will pull through, the Mark Twain House seems to really be a part of the area.

Portland Head Light, Maine

We did visit the Portland Head Light. Very nice light house. I can't say a lot about it, but there is plenty of info around the net. Here are some pictures.

The Scare Fest

The Scare Fest is happening in Lexington this weekend. Went last year and had a great time! I am really glad the area is getting an event like this. This is a horror/paranormal convention and they have some interesting guests. It is always great seeing personal favorites-and very friendly guys Kane Hodder (Jason), Doug Bradley (Pinhead) and Gunnar Hansen (the original Leather Face). There are many others.
Check out their great site:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gloucester, MA. Seven Seas Whale Watch

To be honest, I really had no major interest in whale watching. I assumed whale watching involved going out on a boat for a few hours, feeling a little sea sick, and maybe seeing a very brief glimpse of a whale from a distance.

I was wrong.

We made our plans to go whale watching early on. It was pretty much on our way, and Jenn had a coworker from the town of Gloucester who suggested specifically using Seven Seas Whale watch.

I guess, in all fairness, the first 45 minutes of the boat ride were uneventful. Staff on the boat made some announcements, and did a little presentation on whales, the city, etc.

I believe the crew said that the trip was pretty much a 17 mile ride out to where the whales feed. It took a little less than an hour to get to that area.

The ride was relaxing. Many people took a nap. The hum of the boat, and the endless views of water were pleasant.

I really didn't know what to expect. For the most part, I was just along for the ride.

Then, there was an announcement that 2 whales had been spotted ahead. The boat turned just a little and went up a bit. Th entire group on the boat went from relaxed and calm to excited and anxious. Everyone jumped up.

The boat was very spacious and had 2 decks, so there wasn't as much crowding as I had anticipated. There was a pretty good view for everyone.

So, before we even arrived at the feeding ground area, we had a sighting. It was cool. You could see a tail, and the side of a whale. "That was very nice" I thought to myself." I immediately felt that I had gotten my money's worth on the trip.

The crew was bold. Instead of sticking around to watch this one whale, they announced that they wanted to get to the feeding area. I think most whale watchers would have tried to milk this sighting for all it was worth. Not the Seven Seas guys. They knew their stuff. They knew that more and better sighting opportunities were up ahead.

Well, shortly after that sighting, we saw more. Three whales were around the boat at one time! You could literally be anywhere on the boat and see a whale!

A couple of personal highlights for me included just seeing their tails hang in the air, just out of the water. Another exciting moment was when one slowly swam under the boat, and we could see him under the surface of the water. I was even able to get a great picture of Jenn with a whale in the background twice!

The crew detoured a bit a couple of times to make sure we saw all we could. Even on the way back, they mentioned a sighting on the side, and they went over so everyone could check it out.

More than once crew came over to ask us about our experience and to answer questions. The informative (but by no means intrusive) crew told us about their research. At the end of our trip, they even informed all on the boat about how many whales we saw, what they did, etc. They keep stats on this. They were even able to identify some of the whales by name!

They told an amazing story from the 70s. A little older fisherman came to their research facility. He said that he had pictures of whales he had taken going back to the 30s! He asked if they would like them. They were able to identify one of the whales they had been observing in one of his photos!

I really enjoyed spending about 5 hours with the Seven Seas crew. The boat was very comfortable and uncrowded. On the first level, there were several tables and a snack bar in an inside area. In no way did the crew or the boat feel restrictive. I almost felt like I was out with some very knowledgeable friends watching whales more than being out with a professional company.

After we got back, we stopped in the gift shop. Even the nice people running the Seven Seas gift shop enthusiastically asked about our sitings!

After watching for whales, we were advised by our local informant to check out Sugar Magnolias. Any restaurant named after a Grateful Dead song is a must stop!

This place was slammed, even though the lunch rush should have been over by the time we arrived. We were able to get a table. I had a great tuna melt and some broccoli slaw. I could have eaten a gallon of the slaw. It was easy to see why the locals love this place.

We had coffee at the Lone Gull coffee house which was very pleasant too. If I lived in Gloucester, Sugar Mags and Lone Gull would be my hang outs.

The shops around town were perfect. Lots of touristy stuff, nice shirts, postcards, etc. I really hope to make it back to this town soon.

Haunted Footsteps Ghost Walk, Salem Mass.

I can't stress enough just how strange of a city Salem is, and I mean that in a very good way. Sure, it has the distinction of the whole witch trial thing in 1692. It has the very defined dark, rainy New England feel. It is bursting with oddness.

I love historical strangeness too. I love documented, official, authentic weird places.
I also appreciate odd urban legend type locations. Sure, I want to know the facts, but often legends without any proof start somewhere, and I want to hear about those too.

Salem has both. We know about the documented witch trials, ships, pirates, etc. associated with the area. This is fascinating stuff in its own right to research. Out of that, you get the other legends too.

I was told when going through the Witch Dungeon that the original jail where the "witches" were was, for some time, lost. They weren't sure where the jail was located. Well, in 1955, when digging was done in the area where the bank was being built, they stumbled on to it. Instead of trying to preserve the area or do anything historical with it, they went ahead and built the bank.

That is an often heard story in the area, and it seems to be pretty true. There are other legends in the area too. It seems that most agree that Gallows Hill is the area where the actual executions occurred, but I have heard people debate this. I have also heard other rumors about Salem and mysteries in the area. Like most any town, if you talk to locals you will hear various haunted house stories and urban legends.

We went on the "Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tour" and we got a big old dose of all of the above. Tara was our guide, and she was amazing! This was the kind of tour where you have to set and think for a few hours afterwards- there is a lot of bizarre information! We were told the tour would be about 90 minutes long. Well, Tara was very talkative. The tour went over 2 and a half hours and everyone on the tour listened to every work (I was going to make a joke about hanging on every word but then I changed my mind). It was such a great tour, I don't think anyone wanted it to end.

Our guide covered the local legends and some of the basics, but most of her knowledge was "little known" stuff. Her story telling was animated and creepy (the perfect combo). She told some truly disturbing tales. There are a number of things I am going to have to research further myself. I did not know anything about catacombs or about the local modern jail.

The Haunted Footsteps people sell a combo ticket with the Spirits Trolley Tours. The trolley can be used all day and it goes on about a 1 hour loop around the city. It is also very informative, with a bit more of a historic emphasis. With your ticket, you can get on and off of the trolley as often as you need. We ended up getting on two different trolleys through the day, and, just like with the ghost tour, our guides were informative and fun. They pointed out all of the significant sights.

Salem is just such a strange fun town. Like other cool areas with a touch of strangeness, the balance here is just a little off. It is a nice city on its own. It is comfortable and pleasant. Then, there is that knowledge in the back of your mind about its past.

Salem Mass- Henry Derby House

I think a lot of people aren't aware of just how easy and affordable staying at a bed and breakfast can be when they travel. Staying at a B&B can be a great way to get a better feel of an area, and there are many benefits over a hotel.

We stayed at the Henry Derby House on our recent trip to Salem. As travelers on a budget and on a strict schedule, we really needed to make the most of our time and expenses. Staying at this cozy B&B was a good idea on many levels.

The price to stay here was similar to many hotels in the area. There was also the added benefit having a place to stay very close to all of the attractions. Many traditional hotels are a little out of town. With the Henry Derby House, we were right in the middle of everything. There was the added bonus of parking our car when we arrived in Salem, and not worrying about it again until leaving town.

Not having to worry about your car (paying to park, remembering to feed the meter, etc.) is nice. Also, being right in the middle of all of the sites and shops was very convenient. After visiting a museum we were tired, but still had a little over an hour until our next tour. Well, we were able to go to our room at the Derby House and relax.

One of the many benefits to staying at a bed and breakfast that I love the most is the local feel you get to experience. You can go to sleep with the windows open and listen to the sounds of the area. You can take a walk around the block in the morning. You can mingle with the locals. You really are a part of that area while you are there. When staying at a hotel, you mingle with other travelers from wherever. You wake up in a generic room in a generic bed, just like the one you were in the night before, and the night before that. Sometimes that generic room is all that you need. But, if you are going to hang around a historic or interesting town for a few days, a bed and breakfast is perfect.

We had a very nice time at the Henry Derby House on this trip. The rates were comparable to some chain hotels a little bit out of the area (which again would have required more travel time and car hassle).

Peg at the Derby House seemed excited about having us and appreciative of our business. When we arrived, she was great about making sure our room was ready (even though we were significantly early). She took the time to draw out a map for us, to make suggestions, and to let us know about some other areas of interest in town. She encouraged us to call her while we were out and about if we needed anything.We did leave early in the morning, and we weren't able to take advantage of the breakfast (which would have been nicer than a continental breakfast at a chain hotel I am sure) but that was OK. I have a feeling we will be back to see Peg at the Derby House again.