Oxford, England

I made a good choice when I decided on Oxford when choosing an English city to visit. I love history and Oxford is filled with it. Stories about “old boys” (as the grads are called). Buildings that are hundreds of years old. Not just the “colleges” (the various entities that make up the university) but churches, houses, cemeteries … the majority of buildings in the center city it seems are very, very old. The university buildings (some dating back to the 13th century) are the show pieces, of course. Huge buildings made of the golden stone of the nearby Cotswolds and decorated with sculpture, the colleges are the place where students live, dine and study. In a “college town” we would expect shops, bars, restaurants and they are here in vast numbers. But Oxford isn’t just about history – it’s about the future too. There are some very striking new buildings as well as the old. I titled the picture above “Three Centuries” because it shows an old building in the background, a 20th century British phone booth (now nearly obsolete) and 21st century bikes which are found by the thousands all over town.

This church named for St. Giles was built in the 1200s and is still serving its parish today.

I was intrigued by this lane, leading to a very old building and surrounded by two others.

I wandered for hours but didn’t take very many pictures.  The weather was cloudy most of the day and there were crowds of tourists surrounding everything I wanted to “shoot” – or so it seemed. I’m posting a few and hoping for good ones tomorrow.

This painting of St. Catherine by Vittore Crivelli, painted in the 1490s, is beautifully done.

I stopped briefly at the Ashmolean Museum. I particularly like the painting shown above.

Tonight I had dinner in a pizza & pasta restaurant called (what else?) Mama Mia’s. Lots of young families there.  A dozen 11-year-old boys were celebrating a birthday. I was there when the cake made its appearance and they all sang: “Hoppy berthday to yew, Ollie!” That’s how it sounded to my American ears anyway. We had a British friend who liked to tell us that England and the U.S. were two countries separated by a common language. It sometimes seems that way!

Libbie

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The Towns of Marshfield and Duxbury, Massachusetts

Marshfield is a collection of villages. It’s a beach town – but only in a couple of those villages. It inherited – but not officially – a piece of Scituate. One village called Marshfield Hills is an old, charming place centered around a small store cum post office. The Marshfield fair is the equivalent of a county fair for the South Shore, and everyone goes there, at least on fireworks night.

Scituate and Marshfield are separated by the North River. The picture above is the scene near the mouth of the river. One part of Scituate, called Humarock beach, is only reachable via Marshfield. In 1898 a gale moved the mouth of the river over night from the south side of Humarock to the north. Although it makes perfect sense to incorporate Humarock into Marshfield, so far it hasn’t happened.

This classic old home in Marshfield Hills serves as the home of the historical society.

Wikipedia says, “Native Americans lived in Marshfield for thousands of years before the white settlers came. These people included members of the Wampanoag Tribe of the Algonquin nation and members of the Massachusetts Tribe. Evidence of Native American habitation extending back to 9,000 to 10,000 B.C. has been found extensively in the area.” This is true of all the South Shore towns. Like the other towns, Marshfield’s first white settlers were transplants from Plymouth. It was first established as a separate settlement in 1632. It became a town in 1640.  There’s an extensive Wikipedia article about the history of Marshfield here.

Daniel Webster lived in Marshfield in his later years and died there.  Steve Tyler and two other  members of the rock band Aerosmith have live in Marshfield. (Steve Tyler came into my store once, and I had no idea who he was, but my son was very excited about it!) Steve Carell and his wife Nancy live there (according to the web).

Duxbury is the southernmost town of the South Shore and is adjacent to Plymouth. A number of the best known members of the original Pilgrim party that settled Plymouth later lived in what is now Duxbury, among them John Alden (whose house survives) and Myles Standish, who is said to have named the town. There is a very large, very old cemetery adjacent to the first church in Duxbury named the Mayflower Cemetery. Members of the Alden family and other original pilgrim settlers of Plymouth are buried there.

The original church in Duxbury is, of course, long gone but this replacement has been standing for nearly 200 years. The graves of early members of the Alden family are marked by stones facing the church.

The old Boston Post road, now known as Route 3A, runs through the center of Duxbury. It’s the site of three impressive white buildings: the first church, the old town hall (now a meeting hall) and the newer town hall.

Duxbury is a wealthy Boston suburb today.  It’s always been a well-to-do community and many large, colonial era homes are found there today.  They were built by merchant whose ships sailed the world, creating great wealth for their owners, some of whom became ship builders – by 1840 there were twenty shipyards in Duxbury.

A miles long beach extends as a peninsula along Duxbury’s shore.  It’s reached by a long wooden bridge. It’s one of the most popular beaches in Massachusetts.

This concludes our virtual tour of the South Shore. I hope someone will be inspired by these posts to drive the slow road through these beautiful towns while making the trip from Boston to Plymouth and Cape Cod. If you do (or if you have) I’d love to read your thoughts about it in the comments section below.

Libbie

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Scituate, Massachusetts

I love the small New England town called Scituate – pronounced Sit-chew-it, said very quickly).  It was home to my family during the years when our sons were growing up. Looking back, I think I probably didn’t appreciate it then as much as I do now. We moved away nearly 20 years ago and I don’t return often, but recently I spent a week there and enjoyed every moment.

Scituate lies at the corner of the Atlantic Ocean and the North River. It is exposed to the worst Nor-Easters (bad storms) because it’s on the southern point of the large “C” formed by Boston Harbor. You may have seen it on television – the Weather Channel seems to always post a reporter in Scituate when a big storm threatens New England. Some of the storms have been very destructive and occasionally deadly.

The 18th century Cudworth house and barn (shown here) are part of the Scituate Historical Society’s property and are open often for touring. They abut the town green and are across the road from the Unitarian church, Scituate’s first church.

Scituate was settled not long after Plymouth. It’s famous “Six Men of Kent” England arrived in the 1620s and settled near Satuit Brook, which gave its name to the town. Satuit is a Wampanoag Indian word meaning “cold stream” – the water here is chilly indeed! The town became a legal entity in 1636 and is said to be the second oldest town in Plymouth Colony.

A typical old but updated home in Scituate. The tumbledown stone wall, like the one in the foreground, is commonly found throughout the town.

Once called the “Irish Riviera” Scituate in the late 20th century was home to many large Irish Catholic families. One British newspaper called it the “most Irish town in America.” It’s a small town with a year-round population around 18,000. Geographically it seems larger because it’s spread over several miles. Gently rolling hills are laced by very old roads with names such as “Country Way.” The town is graced by many homes that date from the 1700s and 1800s. The oldest house in town, built in the 17th century, has housed an excellent restaurant called the Barker Tavern for many years.

Scituate is lined with beaches. The best, shown here, is probably Minot beach in North Scituate. Great for sunbathing but the water is icy! Minot light is shown in the distance.

There are two principal commercial areas. The larger one lies at the water’s edge and so is referred to as “Scituate Harbor.” There are several good restaurants there as well as a good small hotel. The northern end of town has its own small business district with a number of shops and eateries. There are two lighthouses. Scituate Light is on the beach at the entrance to the town harbor while Minot Light stands on a rock in the ocean about where Scituate meets Cohasset.

Commercial fishing was one of Scituate’s main industries for centuries. The picturesque fish pier still serves a small number of fishermen.

 

Today Scituate is a mix of new and old. Many new streets have been created to accommodate large new homes.  In recent years the commuter train from Boston was rebuilt (the original having been closed in the 1950s). One rail line now ends in Scituate. It’s brought new residents and increased real estate prices.

The beach areas are lined with old summer cottages that have been “winterized.” Many of them are available for rent and made a good base from which to explore the South Shore, Boston and Plymouth. I found a good place to stay on AirBnB.

We have one more stop to make on our South Shore tour: Marshfield and Duxbury are next.

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The Towns of Hingham and Cohasset, Massachusetts

Hingham is the furthest north of the South Shore towns and Cohasset is just to its south. Both of these beautiful places have long been upscale residential neighborhoods for Boston commuters. Riding a ferry to work in Boston is a great way to begin the day.

The main road through Hingham (shown above) has been called “the most beautiful Main Street in America.” A carefully managed row of 18th and 19th century homes and churches line both sides of the street for several miles.

Hingham’s best known landmark is the Old Ship Church created in 1681 by shipwrights. It’s name comes from the interior roof beams which look much like a ship’s hull. It is the oldest church in America to be continuously used for worship.

Abraham Lincoln’s ancestors made their first American home in Hingham. The town fathers long ago erected a statue of the president as a memorial and a reminder.

The home of Samuel Lincoln, the president’s ancestor and one of the original founders of Hingham, was built in 1649.  It is well preserved and remains someone’s home.

The town of Cohasset is just to the southeast of Hingham. A small town in a perfect location near the sea, it has been an enclave of the well-to-do for many years. The center of the town is a classic, oval New England green, lined by old white houses as well as two churches, the town offices and a meeting hall. The historical society is housed nearby, assuring that the modern era doesn’t creep into the village center.

Not far from the town green a charming mercantile block provides good food and other services to the community. The Red Lion Inn proudly proclaims its founding in 1704. Across the street a charming bakery/café called French Memories is celebrating its 25th anniversary.  Either of these is a good choice for lunch as you make your way south along the Atlantic shore.

Minot Light seen from the beach in Cohasset.

Cohasset has a long shoreline. For more than a century large mansions have lined Jerusalem Road and Atlantic Avenue overlooking a white sand beach. Originally summer homes for Boston’s elite, today these grand houses still stand proudly above the sea. At the north end of the beach there’s a cluster of small, once-affordable beach houses.

In my next post I’ll tell you about my home town in this beautiful region, Scituate.

Have you been to Boston’s South Shore?  Have you lived there?  Do you miss it as much I always have?  Please leave a comment below.

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Boston’s South Shore

Between Boston and Plymouth, along the Atlantic shore, lie historic small towns that are among the oldest towns in America. Visitors to New England often miss these towns as the hurry from Boston to Cape Cod. If one day you find yourself driving south from Boston, choose the old colonial road now called Route 3A rather than the faster highway (Route 3). You’ll pass through five ancient towns founded in the early 1600s by the first white New Englanders. Each of the towns faces the Atlantic ocean making them both historic villages and beach towns. These towns are (from north to south) Hingham, Cohasset, Scituate, Marshfield and Duxbury.

Cohasset has the most perfect New England town green. Shown here are the town hall and the town’s old assembly hall. Just out of view is one of the two old churches on the green.

Situated on gently rolling terrain, the locations of hundreds of early American houses, these towns are worth exploring on any trip to Massachusetts. The first Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth in 1620. Once their community was established other brave settlers followed. They cleared the forests along the coast and built tiny homes. (A visit to Plimoth Plantation provides a good demonstration of the lives of the first New Englanders.) Scituate claims to be the first town after Plymouth. There six men from County Kent in England were the first to arrive and to claim plots of land for themselves and their families.  The official date of town incorporation was the date the first church was established. In Scituate that’s 1636. Duxbury, home to some famous pilgrim families such as the Aldens, may in fact be older, as a sign on the church there says it was founded in 1634.

This old house in Scituate bears a sign that says it was built by an early resident named Job Vinal in 1783.

None of those earliest home survive today. Built of wood with wooden foundations, they quickly rotted away. There are, however, many houses that date from the 1700s and 1800s. The oldest of these are simple story-and-a-half homes with huge fireplaces, two rooms down and an attic for hay storage and sleeping children. Most of these homes have been expanded over the years.

This is the historical society’s headquarters in Cohasset. Each town has a society housed in one of its oldest buildings.

Active historical societies in all these towns welcome visitors. Each town’s historians are found in some of the regions oldest buildings. Genealogists with New England roots may discover ancestors here. When a friend from Texas visited us 20 years ago, we found the grave of one of her ancestors in Scituate. Very old cemeteries are found in all of these towns.

For the next few days I’ll be sharing photos and brief histories of the five towns along the South Shore. I had fun photographing these towns during my recent visit there.

Tip: Some of these towns have long been summer towns, beach towns for Boston families. Renting a beach house in this area or an AirBnB room and a rental car is the best way to discover this area.

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Return to Fruit Hill

My delightful summer in Ireland has begun!  I arrived on Sunday morning, managed to collect a rental car and drive it safely for 2+ hours to the farm near the town of New Ross, Ireland that I consider my second home. On the way I spent more than a week in my old home town of Scituate Massachusetts. (I’ll tell you about that in my next post.) Most of my week in Scituate was spent in unseasonably cold, wet weather and I seem to have brought it with me.  This morning the sun is shining but I’ve been very chilled during my first two days in Ireland.

I have rented a small cottage for the summer. This building, which may date to the 1600s, was the kitchen on the old farm. The highlight is the chimney wall. As is the entire building, the wall is made of local stone but it’s the enormous chimney that is so remarkable. I can literally stand in the fireplace. To the left I’ve found the remains of the ancient bread oven. When the present owners restored this building and made it a rental cottage they had a loft built over the kitchen which is where I sleep. I climb a steep staircase to a room where even I (at 5’ tall) can stand only in the center. I crawl into a very comfortable queen size bed and there I’ve been sleeping very well.  I’ll post pictures of the cottage below.

Last year I spent six weeks on this ancient farm. While I was here I made three new friends. Susan, the mistress of Fruit Hill, has always been kind and accommodating to me. We have emailed often, beginning before we’d ever met. Susan works very hard to maintain her three rental cottages and an enormous, ancient house which is her family’s home.

My other Irish friends are Mary, a horticulturalist who is on the staff at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum, and her colleague Jerry, also on the staff at JFK. They were much more than helpful to me last year when I spent many days at JFK Arboretum. I was delighted to find Mary there yesterday and to quickly catch up with her. I’d lost her email address after I left last summer and the letter I wrote to her never reached her so we have plenty of catching up to do. I was happy to find Jerry there today. All three of my Irish friends are a fine examples of the friendliness of the Irish people.

There are many reasons why I love Ireland: the beauty of the landscape, all rolling green hills here in the Southeast; nature’s care for this cool northern island, shown by the lush plants, both wild and domesticated, which grow and bloom everywhere; the mildness of the weather – no 97 degree days for me this summer!  But most of all I come here for the kindness of the Irish people, from clerks in the supermarket to the guides at every tourist site to my new friends who became my friends almost instantly. I am very happy to return to Ireland.

Now, some news: last week while in Scituate I was able to spend time with my grandsons who are now young men in their mid-20s, and with two of my step-sons who live in Maine and Rhode Island. I rarely see my family because I’ve moved south so I really enjoyed being with them. While I was there my grandson, Chris, proposed to his lady, Amanda, and she accepted! There’ll be a wedding to work into my plans for next year. And yesterday, my step-daughter, Patti, became a grandmother for the second time, when her son’s wife, Jenna, gave birth to a baby girl literally in their Honda in the parking lot of the hospital. I’ve already seen a photo of beautiful baby Clare. She’s going to be just a gorgeous as her big brother Aaron, who is just now turning two.

My plan for connecting to the Internet is being foiled by the two foot thick stone walls of my cottage. One project for today is finding a way to make my hot-spot work here. I’m able to receive email on my phone, so I hope you will write to me while I solve this problem.

Please travel with me (vicariously) through the next three months in emerald Ireland. It’s going to be fun!

Libbie

Some photos of my little ancient cottage, my home for the summer ahead.

The main room of my cottage with the enormous ancient chimney wall.

A view of the kitchen and the stairs to the loft.

Even I (only 5′ tall) can barely stand in this attic loft.

 

The view from the kitchen window

 

Posted in Ireland, Southeast Ireland | 1 Comment

Europe? Go Now!

perfect-frenchman

If you have ever wanted to go to – or return to – Europe, this is the year to go! It’s not just that the cost of going there is lower than it’s been in years. New airlines and lower numbers of tourists means better offers than we’ve seen for 15 years or more. Here are some of the reasons to go soon:

The dollar has gained value against both the British pound and the euro. Today exchange rates are reflecting the run up of the American stock markets. The euro is trading around US$1.05 today down from rates in the high US$1.40’s during the recession years. The British pound has fallen from a high of about US$2.00 in 2009 to around $1.22 recently.

New low-cost airlines are causing “legacy” carriers to lower the cost of their flights drastically. Norwegian Airlines and a new airline called “WOW” are the latest entries in this price war. My personal example: this week I purchased a round trip ticket from Boston to Dublin departing June 3 and returning September 1 from Aer Lingus for $555. Today American Airlines has a fare as low as $706 for the same flight. A tip for people flying outside Europe: Ryan Air is a low-cost Irish airline that flies from Dublin to every major destination in Europe (and many smaller cities). When planning your trip consider flying to Dublin and continuing to your final destination via Ryan Air.

Some destinations in Europe – Paris especially – are experiencing sharp declines in the numbers of tourists. The number of foreign visitors to Paris dropped by 1.6 million in 2016 due to acts of terrorism. London and the UK seemed to pick up some of those visitors; tourism there rose to an all-time high, up 3% in 2016. Of course, there’s a great deal more to Europe than Paris and London! The euro-zone includes all of western Europe except Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Personally I don’t let terrorists change my life – the chances of that happening anywhere are miniscule. But if that worries you, explore smaller cities and the countryside in Europe. You’ll discover life as it’s truly lived.

Declining tourist numbers are causing the cost of hotels to be lowered. Hostels welcome guests of all ages and many new and much more luxurious hostels are popping up everywhere. AirBnB and similar companies allow you to cut the cost of overnight accommodations to a fraction of the cost of a hotel. Or to enjoy an entire apartment or house for the price of a hotel room and live like a native! (The price of hotels in London is astronomical; here’s a link to an article in today’s news listing several hotels with rooms under £125 night – some are much less.)

One last good reason to go this year: the European Union is considering a change that will require Americans to purchase a visa to enter Europe. Now you can go everywhere except Russia without one and stay up to 90 days (180 days in the U.K.) Read about the EU’s recent action here.

Nothing I have ever experienced has been more enjoyable or more rewarding than traveling around Europe. It is the place where our culture was born. For several millennia extraordinary artifacts have been created and preserved. Most North Americans descend from thousands of European people. Go find your heritage! You’ll love it!

Libbie

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