Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 17, 2017
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The coast is clear

Roam the Massachusetts shore from Boston's historic district to Cape Cod's sand dunes

The invitation to my best friend's wedding in Springfield, Massachusetts was just the ticket. Here was a chance to celebrate a happy occasion and give myself a gift as well. Having never been to the state, I would take the opportunity to explore. The map showed kilometre after kilometre of protected shoreline, so inviting for two-wheeled travel. I decided to pack my bike.

After previous trips through the American Southwest, where National Rifle Association billboards pepper the interstates, Massachusetts seems almost Canadian by comparison. After all, the sitting senator, John Kerry, plays hockey, the taxes are high and the temperature in May never gets past the upper teens. My assessment was confirmed when I spotted a CBC bumper sticker on a sedan carrying Massachusetts plates.

The jewel in this history-filled state, Boston, places a unique emphasis on preserving the past. The city even has a National Park right in its downtown core. Seven of the sites in the Boston National Historical Park have been linked as part of the Freedom Trail, a tourist path which highlights the role the city played in the American Revolution.

I took advantage of the park service's free guided tour. The ranger's anecdotes brought history and colour to each locale, unfortunately, we only made it to 1850 before a torrential rainfall ended our tour.

The Old State House, where the Declaration of Independence was read to Bostonians, is beautifully preserved. Faneuil Hall -- which at first glance I took to be a tourist trap filled with overpriced gift shops -- houses a fascinating museum with exquisite art pieces chronicling important battles in the push towards independence.

For me the highlight of the Freedom Trail was the USS Constitution. Moored across the Charles River in Charleston, it is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. Take the time to line up for the tour. You'll get to see the ship's interior and be entertained by stories of its many battles. My tour guide was under the misapprehension (as are many Americans) that the US won the War of 1812 against Canada, something which my high-school textbooks would challenge.

Also in Charleston, the Beacon Hill Monument is a popular tourist stop. However, if you plan to climb to the top, do it for the challenge rather than the view through a tiny barred window.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Of course, the preservation of Boston's significant buildings extends beyond the political and military sites. Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox since 1912, is baseball's oldest ball park. Since it is also one of the smallest, and the Red Sox have a fanatically loyal fan base, acquiring tickets can be difficult.

Purchasing tickets well in advance is one option. But a limited number of seats also go on sale two hours before game time. Lining up for rush seats is not only the best way to get affordable tickets (Red Sox games are the most expensive in baseball), but also gives you an opportunity to meet and mingle with some of the most passionate fans on the continent. Ticket buyers generally congregate by mid-afternoon for an evening game, armed with lawn chairs, newspapers, portable radios and enough provisions to last them until the Red Sox next win a World Series (their last victory was in 1919).

As a Torontonian I am accustomed to dozing through ball games in a half-empty concrete structure as people gossip on their cell phones. In Fenway Park, I was surrounded by fans who hung on every pitch. The scent of fresh-mown grass, hot dogs and beer that permeated the air showed me what an authentic American baseball experience really is. So many of the fans had replica Red Sox jerseys with "Yankees Suck" printed on the back, that you would think Mr. Suck was the team's star player. After the game, the streets surrounding Fenway Park filled with musicians and vendors, taking on a carnival atmosphere.

 

The city of Cambridge is Boston's smaller, liberal sister. You only have to glance at the posters recruiting for Greenpeace or urging voters to register with the Democratic Party to know where its politics lie. Cambridge is very bicycle-friendly and boasts bicycle-only right lanes -- in Boston, taxi drivers will do their best to demonstrate that they own that lane.

At the heart of Cambridge is Harvard University. One of the oldest universities on the continent, its architecture chronicles influences from colonial to contemporary times. I was told that student-led tours take you through the campus' tumultuous history. Unfortunately, when I visited, they were cancelled since the students were navigating their tumultuous exam schedules. To add to my disappointment, entry into many of the buildings, including the famous libraries, is off limits to visitors. I did enjoy the atmosphere in Harvard Square which has served for decades as a meeting place for buskers, chess players and student demonstrations.

Cape Crusade
The little hook of land jutting out from the mainland, Cape Cod is an environmental wonder. Consisting of marshlands, forests and desserts, it provides a habitat for many types of wildlife. The Cape Cod National Seashore runs 65 kilometres along the coast and offers some of the finest beaches about an hour's drive from Boston.

Provincetown, located on the end of the peninsula, is the cultural centre of Cape Cod. Originally a largely Portuguese fishing town, it has been reborn as one of the most popular gay and lesbian summer vacation destinations in the United States. The main street teems with shops, small art galleries and patio restaurants. A burgeoning nightlife features numerous bars, concerts and shows, mostly geared towards gay and lesbian vacationers.

Walking out to the pier, I got a glimpse of the Provincetown of old -- a few fishing boats returning with the daily catch. Whale-watching trips here are popular. Some will go as so far as to guarantee a whale sighting, although not even that fact persuaded me to part with 20 American dollars.

Biking around the Cape Cod Peninsula, I encountered breathtaking scenery. Herring Cove Beach offers kilometres of beautiful shoreline and some marshland. The bike trail veers inland into the forest leading to the Province Lands visitors centre, where tours are offered. From the centre, I had an excellent view of the sand dunes. The shacks where legendary authors Tennessee Williams and Norman Mailer lived and wrote could be seen on the horizon.

I continued to Race Point Beach at the extreme tip of Cape Cod. As I rested with my bike and gazed at the horizon across the Atlantic Ocean, the highways, trails and beaches of this trip all seemed to meet and end at my feet. There was nowhere else to go but across the water.

I drove to Wood's Hole to catch a ferry to Martha's Vineyard, an island home to artisans and fishermen, that is seething with tourists during the summer months.

The BonGo coffee shop (tel: 508-693-1347) was my first stop after disembarking in Vineyard Haven. It has a distinctive bohemian feel and also doubles as a gallery. When I was there, an artist was exhibiting photographs of Madonna, which were taken when she was starting out, struggling for recognition in New York City and still fully clothed. The café bulletin board is covered with postings of artistic, literary and musical events and can be helpful in planning your visit. Over in Edgartown, the Hot Tin Roof (tel: 508-693-1137), owned by Carly Simon, brings well-known musical and comedy acts to the island.

I found the area to be ideal for cyclists. Paved and level bicycle paths connect most sites, including the beautiful beaches. South Beach is lovely and so secluded that I managed to plow through an entire novel while relaxing there. I had been told that the water was slightly warmer than elsewhere on the island -- although in May it seemed forbiddingly cold.

I headed to the village of Menemsha, an ideal place to escape the tourists and explore the island's fishing heritage. Boats line the harbour, and it's common to see a catch being brought in only to appear a little later on a nearby plate. Many shops and restaurants offer fresh lobster, hearty clam chowder and scallops.

In one eatery, I was told by a long-time cottager that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had owned a property near Menemsha. He said that when she was terminally ill, she told her caregiver that what she would miss most were the sunsets there. After watching dusk fall along the beach, it was easy to agree with her.

 

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