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Nantucket - Nature, History and Lobster

Choosing the location for our next adventure is always a challenge as we spin the globe contemplating all the places we would like to visit. Eventually, something appears that draws us to a particular location. In this case, a family event bringing us to New York City in late August cemented the launching point for our next escapade.

As my thoughts wandered to European locations within easy reach of the Big Apple, my husband asked, “What about exploring the northeast coast?”

"The U.S. northeast coast?" I responded with a surprised look. Honestly, traveling within the United States rarely crossed my mind.

“Yes, the U.S.,” he said. “We’ve never spent much time in the northeast, and this would be a perfect time of the year for it.”

I think I love international travel because it always presents new challenges. Unfamiliar languages, different customs, and complex modes of transportation, all take a great deal of planning to be well executed. The thought of traveling in the U.S. seemed, well, so boring.

But eventually, I acquiesced and agreed to a fall New England adventure.

So, after a whirlwind weekend in New York City, we boarded a plane to Nantucket with very little pre-planning and even fewer expectations, on my part at least.

The morning we arrived was gray and misty. As our plane descended below the clouds, I glanced out the window and was surprised to see an island emerging like a dark green jewel surrounded by soft, brown edges. As we drew closer, I saw the landscape dotted with white lighthouses and sailboats bobbing in the coves surrounding the island. On our final approach, the historic downtown area appeared with charming old buildings and cobblestone streets. I must say, I was captivated by the first impression.

Our first personal interaction was with a cabbie who drove us to our home for the week. He had such a thick New England accent that I thought for a moment we had overshot the island and landed in Ireland instead. This was getting more interesting by the second.

As we drove around the island, I was struck that nearly all the homes were clad in the same wood cedar shingles, faded to a natural gray. "Well, this is certainly a homogeneous community," I thought. I later found out that Nantucket has strict architectural guidelines requiring this particular exterior. But each home's individuality was not lost. They were all adorned with overflowing flower boxes, like adding fancy earrings to compliment the simple black dress.

As the mist and fog lifted our adventures began.

The next week was filled with soaking in the natural beauty, learning the rich history of the island and of course, sampling the local culinary dishes.

Here of some of the highlights.

The 14-mile-long island of Nantucket is generally flat topography with very little elevation change. However, the landscape is rich in biodiversity, including windswept dunes along the ocean, marshy wetlands, large open areas with low brush and wildflowers, and some inland forested areas filled with pines and oaks. We spent hours hiking through trails and down sandy roads to long stretches of deserted beautiful beaches. Along the way, we admired the incredible changing landscape and caught glimpses of the wildlife inhabiting the island.

One of my favorite hikes was along the Sconset Bluff Walk. The path starts in the small village of Sconset and follows along the bluffs overlooking the ocean for about a mile to the north through the backyards of some of the island's most exclusive real estate. It’s hard to imagine you are not trespassing on private property as you walk past homeowners relaxing on their back porches. This lovely stroll was made possible by William Flagg, a developer in the late 1800s who embedded a perpetual public access clause into the deeds of the properties he sold along the bluffs. Thank you, Mr. Flagg. You were a visionary long before your time.

But there was more to Nantucket than its natural beauty.

The history of this small island is quite robust and is well chronicled at the Whaling Museum in downtown Nantucket.

Nantucket was at one time the global hub for whaling, providing significant quantities of sperm whale oil for heating and candles in the 18th and 19th centuries. The industry was the engine for Nantucket to become the 3rd largest city in Massachusetts in the 1830s.

The industry was ultimately replaced by petroleum, but its legacy deeply defines the island.

The museum not only creatively captures the rise and fall of the whaling industry, but also graphicly captures other landmarks in the island’s history such as the devasting fire that destroyed a great portion of the downtown in the 1850s.

You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy the Whaling Museum. It’s a must-see for any visitor to the island.

And of course, lest we forget about the delicious culinary delights.

Downtown Nantucket is filled with quaint restaurants and shops lining the cobblestone streets and wharf front.

Our favorite downtown restaurant was a chic bistro called Or, the Whale (a reference to Herman Melville’s other title for Moby Dick.) In a town surrounded

by seafood, the bartender’s recommendation was the Spicy Rice Cakes, with a menu description highlighting eggplant ragu. We have learned to go with the bartender's recommendation in the past, but seriously? “Trust me”, he said. It turned out that the name and description completely undersold the dish.

My husband and I scraped the bowl clean and debated about ordering a second serving and he doesn’t really like eggplant! If you go to Nantucket, try the Spicy Rice Cakes at Or, The Whale. Trust me!

If you are looking for a restaurant in town with a great view and good seafood, check out Galley Beach. It’s a hopping place for an upscale lunch or dinner just steps away from the ocean.

For a romantic dinner, look no further than the Wauwinet Inn. The Wauwinet Inn is the oldest hotel on the island and has been serving guests since 1875. It is located on a remote point of the island overlooking Nantucket Bay. Dining on the deck, and watching the sunset, is truly a special experience. Though the location is not on the island’s shuttle route, they do provide a private shuttle from downtown and, during good weather, a sunset sail from their sister property in town, the White Elephant.

Best of all, Nantucket also kicked off my search for the best lobster roll in New England. I had never eaten a lobster roll before but it was love at first bite. The delicious delicacy hailed from the Lobster Trap food truck at Cisco Brewers about 10 minutes outside of downtown. Cisco is more than just a brewery; it offers wine and spirits and hosts a variety of premium food trucks featuring fresh seafood and brick-oven pizzas. They often have live music. With its great good and laid-back vibe, it was a perfect way to spend an afternoon in the countryside.

Even the simple act of arriving and departing from Nantucket can be an adventure. We arrived by plane but departed to our next destination by ferry. The ferry ride gives you yet another unique perspective of the island shoreline as well as the neighboring island of Martha’s Vineyard. You can also easily pop over to the Vineyard for an afternoon day trip.

Getting around on the island was quite easy throughout our stay, courtesy of a very efficient and inexpensive shuttle service that runs throughout most of the island. I would highly recommend using the shuttle as renting a car is prohibitively expensive and taxis are very pricey as well.

Our week on Nantucket flew by. So, was it boring? Far from it!

It was the catalyst for me to reflect on my feelings about travel. Travel, for me, is ultimately about personal growth, and expanding my intellectual and emotional boundaries through experiences. My week on Nantucket made me realize that you can accomplish that anyplace in the world if you open your mind and heart. Knowledge doesn’t always need to be hard-earned through crazy train adventures and misguided hikes leading you toward the local prisons in foreign lands.

Sometimes “easy” is the best way to truly take in your surroundings and process the knowledge that you are seeking.


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