It was a typical morning and I appreciated Jessica stopping by Dunkin Donuts and picking me up a coffee and breakfast sandwich. Eventually we left, drove to the ferry, and boarded the 1 hour catamaran ride. They’re a little bit pricey – $68 round trip – but it’s well worth it if you want to see the island. The ride was enjoyable -it reminded me of the San Juan Ferry off of Seattle, except that the water was extraordinarily rough (we were warned). Our ferry went to the town of Vineyard Haven, one of five or six towns spread out around the island. Some of the ferries go to other cities, but this was most convenient for us. It was a very overcast day, with rain threatening. That could be a good thing (smaller crowds) or a bad thing (walking around all wet).
I had a pretty good idea of what it would be like to visit an island like MV, having visited several island communities around Seattle…so the layout wasn’t really a surprise. Near the ferry dock was a downtown area — a small grid of streets and a cluster of restaurants and artsy, boutique shops. One thing I didn’t imagine was the gridlock of cars on those streets. I don’t know whether the cars belonged to residents or visitors, but I’d highly recommend skipping the car and taking the bus that goes from town to town. I don’t remember exactly but the speed limit must be 15 mph or less, with all of the pedestrians on the sidewalks and spilling over into the street. It wasn’t noticeably too crowded, to me anyway. Just more crowded that I imagined. For those who know the reference, I pictured Friday Harbor, WA. The downtown area in MV was actually much smaller than that, and the streets were significantly more congested. Although, to be fair, I have only been to Friday Harbor on weekdays and this was a Saturday, so you might need to ignore that whole comparison I just made.
We walked through a couple blocks of the town – the three of us, plus a double stroller. The sidewalks seemed pretty narrow, but I digress. There were several cute shops, including the requisite independent bookstore that is in every tourist town. I ended up walking through there later in the day. Our plan was basically to explore, have a relaxing day, and also check out an adjacent town called Oak Bluffs. We needed the bus for that, but first decided to get lunch. Actually, we didn’t need the bus – we could have walked about 3 miles. But in the interest of using our time wisely, we opted for the bus. We were planning to leave on the 5:15pm ferry and it was just after noon.
We came across a restaurant that was oceanside, but a little bit off the main road. The Blue Canoe Waterfront Grill wasn’t crowded, but it was highly rated on tripadvisor and yelp, and there was a lot of space in the dining room for us all to fit comfortably and for us to have a view of the ocean. The daily special was a lobster roll, with (what’s new?) french fries. But the special came with a beer included, so I figured I should try it since I was almost out of New England and hadn’t tried lobster yet. This lobster roll was stuffed with meat, and I tried a local blueberry ale.
Every so often, we’d ask our young waiter a question about the city – he’s obviously used to tourists dining in the restaurant. One thing I remember him saying is that most of the employment on the island is service-related. It really is a retreat for the wealthy, a place for summer cottages, and a place to rent a home for a week or two. In fact, President Obama is there this weekend. I’m glad I’m nowhere near that mess. I see what an inconvenience it is for the Los Angeles area whenever he flies here. Anyway, the cost of living on MV is 60% above the national average and home prices are 96% above – almost double. But the average weekly wage on MV is only 25% above the national average.
After lunch, we went about trying to locate the bus stop and got different answers from the three people we asked. Along our journey, we passed a lot where someone is building a boat. Ultimately, we ended up back at the ferry dock which is where the main bus depot is. We took the bus for a 15 minute ride to Oak Bluffs, a town which seems just as crowded with tourists as Vineyard Haven – where we were earlier. We just walked around a little bit, first going to a semi-famous donut shop and then we walked toward a curious area we had heard of – a “campground” with ornately decorated homes. We found this area and found it quite odd. It is a neighborhood of hundreds of homes – each looking somewhat Victorian, ornate, and almost like a gingerbread house.
Apparently this area used to be a religious retreat because there is some kind of religious facility, a sermon hall or something like that, at the center of the neighborhood. It reminded me of some kind of cult compound until I read the history of it online – that there used to be tents, of which various Methodist churches and congregations around the US owned one. They would hold group retreats there, and then gradually permanent structures were built, then slowly the strict religious use seemed to dissipate. I think there still is some though many houses can be rented out for vacations if I understand correctly.
I grabbed a postcard, we found a bus, we went back to Vineyard Haven, each of us had some time to look in shops so I went to the bookstore, and then it was ferry time. Again, it was an extremely rough ferry ride, which is odd because catamarans are more stable and the company website touts our ferry as the smoothest one that goes to MV because it goes through protected water. Whatever. I did decide I wanted some adventure so I made my way to the outside upper deck, trying hard to stay standing and not fall overboard on the way there. I sat up on the top deck in my rain jacket with spray from the waves drenching me. I actually enjoyed it.
Once we got back, we ordered takeout from a local Thai restaurant. It was pretty good. What would the evening be without mimosas to go with the Thai food? Around this time, Jessica and Jeff offered that I could keep staying there as long as I wanted, and since I still didn’t have any set plans, other than my flight home 3 days later, my two day stop in lovely Newport, Rhode Island became three.