Welcome to my Guest Post series…My Favorite Family Vacation Destination. I’m so excited to share with you other traveler’s favorite destinations.
Traci from The Letter T blog is here today! She is awesome. Although I’ve never met her in person I feel like I know her. It could be that we seem to have all the same teenage “likes” starting with Duran Duran. You must read her post when she met John Taylor – yes, in person! It’s more likely though, she is funny. You’ll see, check out her favorite destination below.
We knew our annual trip to Cape Cod was about a week away when, each year, my dad would stop sleeping and start warning us to stay away from anyone who exhibited the faintest sign of impending illness. It is hard to see why I became a hypochondriac.
But we weren’t officially on vacation until about two hours into the ride, when our beloved Z-100 started fading behind us. At that point, the voice of a mysterious Frenchman would start drifting from the car’s cassette player.
My mom, sister, Jamie, and I would hear static followed by a message like this: Zees eez le capitaine. Vee air en huh-route to le Cape Cod and air ay-stimated time of ay-rrival zair eez feev pm. Zair vill be NUH fighting in le back seat.
He sounded so familiar… but where in suburban New Jersey would we have encountered a French military officer? Since when did BMWs come with captains? And wouldn’t they be German? What the WHAT? Only when he reported that Cape Cod had sunk into the ocean and we were now headed for Carteret – an un-scenic destination 15 miles from our house – did we realize that our father was obviously leading a double life.
When we crossed over the Bourne Bridge onto Cape Cod, Jamie and I would do “the cape thing.” This complicated piece of performance art involved one of us slowly stretching our arm out while making a circular hand motion, as if unfurling a cape, and the other saying, “THEcape.” Given our roots, we probably should have learned the word for “cape” in French.
We stayed at the same oceanfront motel every year, in Dennis Port. It wasn’t fancy, but it was clean. Everything about it smelled musty in a good way, and saltwatery. Faux wood paneling graced the walls of the rooms, which were carpeted in avocado green. The bath mats were paper and printed with a cartoony map of Cape Cod. Absorbent and informative! On the beds, a busy sunflower pattern made it look like someone had puked all over the quilts, a fact that came in handy on the traumatic night of August 28, 1982.
A typical day would begin for us at the Wee Packet, a diner-esque restaurant around the corner from the motel. Sometimes after breakfast, there were full-day excursions via ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. (I guess this helped Le Capitaine get back to his seafaring roots.) Once a trip, we’d visit the horseshoe crabs at the Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole. Other times, we would spend the morning exploring nearby towns like Chatham, Orleans and Provincetown. We’d wander in and out of galleries and local stores.
Examples of memorable vacation purchases: artsy silver earrings for my mom. Macramé bracelets with black and white beads that spelled our names – the right way! – for Jamie and me. Embarrassing tourist t-shirts (“Even Crabs Love Nantucket!”) for my dad. Paintings by indigenous artists. Shoelaces with little blue whales on them. Soft, bulbous-faced dolls wearing skirts that were actually … wait for it … CHANGE PURSES!
In the afternoons, after sandwiches from our favorite deli – the Mason Jar – we would relax on the beach or at the pool. In our dorky youth, Jamie and I built sand castles and sat on the wet part of the sand waiting for the tide to come in and splash us.
In the later years, we’d slather on the baby oil, spray the Sun-In (ideal for jet black Jewish hair) and bake in the sun whilst listening to mix tapes on our Walkmen.
Occasionally, we’d do a sisterly lap around the courtyard, hoping to catch a glimpse inside someone else’s room. Why this was so appealing, I cannot tell you. But to this day we both remember the thrill of spotting a ginormous stuffed smurf on a stranger’s bed.
For dinner, there were one or two more upscale places but just about everything was casual and lively. Ideal for people whose alter-egos were, say, French capitaines, the restaurants all had names containing a nautical reference, body of water, and/or aquatic creature. Swan River. Brach’s Landing. The Ebb Tide. The Ocean House. We Scrod You! (I’m kidding.) Rusty anchors, knotted ropes, ship steering wheels, and mounted fish/crustaceans comprised the decor. I definitely saw a few restrooms labeled “Buoys” and “Gulls.”
Our favorite eatery was Thompson’s Clam Bar in Harwich Port. Wood floors, vinyl checked tablecloths, lobster bibs. We sat overlooking the harbor and laughing about the funny names people had given the boats docked there. While we ate corn bread with reckless abandon, we talked about what we would name our own theoretical boats.
The food at Thompson’s was simple but delicious. It was the first place I ever ate shrimp (fried, of course, with cocktail sauce). It was the first time I saw anyone eat clam bellies. (Repulsive, if you must know.) And it was the first time I can remember eating in total peace. Maybe it was too loud in there for us to hear each other complain or whine, but dinners there were unusually devoid of bickering. Thompson’s was just a Happy Place.
In fact, other than the aforementioned Great Barf Incident of 1982 (I blame it on being served “vaniller” instead of “vanilla” ice cream), I can’t think of any childhood trauma that occurred on these trips. If you know me, you know how much that says.
Last January, I went back to Dennis Port with my husband. The motel was still standing, but closed until spring. We could see into the rooms from the windows though, and everything looked exactly as it had the last time we stayed there.
Same gray New England shingles. Same faux wood panels. Same avocado green carpet. (No sign of the gigantic smurf.) It was hard to imagine that I had once considered it the best hotel in the entire universe. But on the other hand, I still did.
Told you, funny! I was just remembering that my family and I took a road trip to Cape Cod one year. I’m wondering if Traci and I crossed paths back then??!!
Either way, a fun post. Thanks, Traci.