And All Is Well Because You’re Here – Cape Cod

The wheels of the borrowed stroller had barely hit the cobblestones before the clanging of the bell caught our attention.

Looking across the crowded street, I met his eyes, twinkling from underneath his wide-brimmed hat. He clicked his buckled shoes together, clanged his bell three times, tossed his cape over his shoulder, and cried out in our direction: “AND ALL IS WELL BECAUSE YOU’RE HERE!”

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If you’ve never had life affirmations shouted at you from a pilgrim decked out in his Sunday best, have you really even lived? That alone might be worth the trip to Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Situated at lands’ end on Cape Cod, Provincetown is a quirky mix of history, culture, colorful characters, and sassy charm.

Think Key West meets Savannah, but in the most New England way.

Between the shops, restaurants, farmers market, and monuments, there was more than enough for us to do in an afternoon. We only had a few hours, so we walked the harbor and saw replicas of historical sailing vessels, ferries unloading boatfuls of weekenders from Boston, and whale watching tours departing for guaranteed sightseeing.

Commemorating the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620, Provincetown will celebrate the 400th anniversary next year. So, we gave into peer pressure and a few brave souls conquered the 116 steps and 60 ramps to climb Pilgrim Monument. They were rewarded with incredible views of the cape and the Atlantic Ocean.

From the packed streets of Provincetown, we drove a few miles down the road to Race Point Beach. The entire Atlantic coastline of Cape Cod has been preserved as a national park. The Cape Cod National Seashore is massive and completely full of unspoiled beauty.

(Tip: If you have a 4th-grader, you can get a pass that will grant you year-long free access to all parks within the U.S. National Park Service. Click here for more info and to print your pass! https://everykidinapark.gov/get-your-pass/)

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We climbed over the dunes and staked our claim on a few square feet of sand. The kids were mid-dash to the water, when I spotted the purple flag waving high above the lifeguard stand.

“STOP!”

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I wasn’t entirely sure what the flag meant, but the menacing outline of a shark against the purple background called for a google search at the very least. Sure enough, the flag warned beachgoers that Great Whites were in the area. A few of the more, um, stubborn people went for a swim anyway and gave us the best laugh when a seal surfaced right behind them. They practically walked on water trying to make it to shore.

We had a wonderful time. Cape Cod might be the most quintessential New England experience. Shingled cottages, charming towns, waving sea oats, bonfires on the beach, clambakes. Cape Cod has it all.

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No matter what’s going on back home or whatever stress you’re carrying on your shoulders, it all falls away when you make it to the cape. You don’t have to take my word for it. Take it from the life-affirming pilgrim.

All is well because you’re here!

Plymouth Rocks

IMG_3300The sunlight filtered through the trees, creating a kaleidoscope of shadows on the trail. Our footsteps were hushed by the dirt path, and the only other sounds were the songs of both bird and man carried on the breeze. I didn’t understand the words of either, but I wanted to hear more of both.

As we drew closer to the music, other sounds began to stand out. The giggles of children, the rhythm of tools, the crackle of a cooking fire. The trail delivered us from the forest and into an apparent time portal. We stepped into the clearing and found ourselves in a 17th century Wampanoag homesite. IMG_3290
This is the magic of Plimoth Plantation. You step through the gates and into history. You are in it. You can see it, taste it, smell it, and talk with those living it. The goal is to “illuminate the past and inspire the future.”

 

The staff welcoming you to the riverside Wampanoag homesite are not role-players. They are all members of local Native Nations and very graciously share their heritage with visitors. You’ll learn all about the traditions, customs, and everyday life of the people who’ve lived in this region for thousands of years.

 

As you continue down the path, you’ll come to the 17th Century English Village built along Plymouth Harbor. Painstakingly recreated homes and gardens line the village street. The people you’ll meet have adopted the names, histories, and viewpoints of actual Plymouth residents. You can observe, you can participate, you can ask questions. It’s truly the most immersive living history we’ve ever known.

 

 

Just down the street from Plimoth Plantation, you’ll find the harbor dotted with anchored boats, a shady park dotted with gift shops, and the star of the show–Plymouth Rock. If not for the beautiful columned structure, security guard, and chiseled 1620, it might look like any other boulder. And if we’re being historically accurate, it could very well be any other boulder. But I’m still glad to have stood there and looked down as the tide came in.

 

If you’re hungry, I’ve got an idea for you. Before heading to the Plantation, we headed to the beach for lunch. Sandy’s at Plymouth Beach offered fantastic casual meals and an even more amazing view. It’s an open air restaurant overlooking Plymouth Beach. We had some great seafood sandwiches and the kids meals came in a keepsake sand pail with attached shovel. Because genius.

 

Even though Plymouth is mostly known for all things Pilgrim, you can certainly find other things to see. Check websites like See Plymouth and Visit Massachusetts for more ideas.

IMG_3304Plymouth opens the door to a completely new understanding of history. But there’s even more fun to be had! Come for the pilgrims, stay for the beach! Either way, Plymouth Rocks.

Taking a Bite of the Big Apple on a Budget

IMG_2635The air seems to hang differently in Manhattan. Maybe it’s the collective weight of all the dreams and plans and goals put out into the universe from generations of those stubbornly determined souls with the fortitude to make their way to this concrete jungle island.

It changes you. This air filled with the intensity of driven purpose. It makes you consider your own life. Those dreams you put up on the shelf long ago. Spend an hour walking the streets in New York City and you’ll be blowing the dust off your dreams in no time.

I will be forever grateful to have shared New York with my kids. I never expected to be able to swing it. But we did and I’ll tell you how we saw NYC on a (super) tight budget.

Public Transit
We saved money on parking and tolls (and therapy to deal with the trauma of driving through the city) by taking the train. The trip took a bit longer than if we had driven, but we were able to take in amazing scenery, leisurely drink our coffee, and there may have been some donuts involved. The best part is that the train took us right into Grand Central Station, which is unbelievably beautiful. You should really put it on your list of places to see. Those soaring blue ceilings with the constellations painted on them, the huge arched windows, the stone walls–it’s almost cathedral-like.

9/11 Memorial
The last time I had been in NYC, I had spent much of my visit at the World Trade Center. Our high school chorus was staying in the Marriott there and we even rehearsed on the 108th floor of one of the towers. Seeing those towers come down just a few years later changed me in ways I’m still discovering. While we decided the 9/11 Museum might be a little too heavy for our kids, we definitely did not want to miss a chance to share the significance of that day and what it meant for us as a nation. We focused on the courage and heroism of that day and how we came together. It was very important to us to visit the 9/11 memorial. While tickets are required for the museum, the memorial is free.

The Statue of Liberty
While there are plenty of tour companies competing to be the one to ferry your family over to Lady Liberty, we didn’t have room in the budget for five tickets. Thanks to the Staten Island Ferry, we didn’t have to miss the chance to see one of the most iconic New York City sights. The ferry is completely free and crosses the Upper Bay from Manhattan to Staten Island. It just so happens to also give you a great view of the Statue of Liberty as you go. Try to find a spot on the right side of the boat as you leave Manhattan and the left side as you return.

The American Museum of Natural History
You could easily spend several days at this museum that inspired the box office hit franchise, Night at the Museum, and you still wouldn’t see it all. There are countless fascinating exhibits and there is surely something for everyone. You can purchase tickets online for a set price, but if you have the patience to wait in line, you can “pay what you wish” to see this incredible museum. Our favorites were the African and North American mammals (I hope this is the only place we’re ever locking eyes with lions and grizzly bears) and the Ocean Wonders. Nothing makes you feel quite as small as standing under the blue whale suspended in the air above you.

Central Park
Just across the street from the American Museum of Natural History is Central Park. An oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle, this is a fantastic spot to slow your pace. We visited the zoo where the sea lions made us laugh, the penguins were charming, and we got to feed sheep, goats, and llamas. Then we fed ourselves by finding a hot dog vendor and a bench and we spent a few minutes just absorbing the world around us. People, pups, horse-drawn carriages, artists, musicians all make this one of the best spots to just sit and breathe in that dream-laden NYC air.

Times Square and Broadway
This might be the most energetic spot in the city. The sidewalks become ocean tides carrying people this way and that. It’s easy to get caught in the flow. The neon lights turn night to day and it’s hard to know which direction to look first. If you’re hoping to see a show (and I don’t just mean the guy dressed as Elmo fighting Thor), but you’re not sure you can fit it into your budget, make sure you head down to Times Square first. The Theater Development Fund operates a TKTS Discount Booth where you can find last minute deals to experience the arts on Broadway and Off-Broadway. Tickets are usually 20-50% off regular prices.

IMG_6301Meals
This could easily end up being the biggest bite out of your Big Apple budget. We found prices to be much more reasonable further away from your typical tourist areas. We really enjoyed finding the local hole-in-the-wall delis to get that traditional NYC food. We were also not too proud to hit up the street vendors. I completely admit we didn’t plan well for our meals. As evidenced by the hangry meltdown in the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. (And I’m not referring to the kids.) You live, you learn. There were many dining opportunities left on the table (hardy har har), so we’ll just have to plan to return soon!

Hotels
There are exactly seven hundred million hotels in NYC. Check Groupon. Check discount travel sites. Just make sure you read the reviews. (Always, always, always read the reviews.) Try to find a great deal in a part of the city that you want to spend most of your time exploring. But if that’s not possible, there’s most likely a subway stop super close to where you need to be.

Top of the Rock
This, my friends. This was our biggest splurge and it was worth every single penny. Most people choose to get a sky-high view from the Empire State Building, but here’s why I went a different way. I wanted to see the Empire State Building as part of the skyline. Top of the Rock makes it super streamlined. You book your tickets ahead of time and you choose a time slot. You’re basically making a reservation. Which cuts way down the time spent waiting in line, and it cuts way down on the number of people sharing the observation deck. My biggest tip? Pay the little bit extra to get your reservation during sunset. The city takes on a gorgeous glow and the lights begin to twinkle and it feels as if anything is possible in this city.

IMG_6370New York, New York. There’s truly nowhere else like it on the planet. It might seem impossible, but you really can see it on a budget. And if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere!