Life’s a witch in Boston and Salem

Life’s a witch in Boston and Salem

Today I’m soaring across a regional patchwork of green and brown, although for a while we’ve been cruising over a vast inland body of water. Judging by the route map I’m thinking we may currently be flying by Lake Michigan. We’re headed for a stopover in Denver, then on to San Francisco. The last time I flew a similar route was about ten years ago, from the west coast into Chicago. Unfortunately we’re not stopping in the ‘Windy City’ this time around, although perhaps we’ll fly across it so I can wave hello. Instead we’re on a route from Boston and excited to have finally ticked one more American city ‘to do’ off the bucket list.

Visiting Boston and Salem, Massachusetts

Regardless of drizzly weather, the city of Boston (one of America’s first big and important cities), to us had a lovely feel; a nice vibe with very friendly talkative locals, rich and influential history, and a bounty of exploration options. In fact, three days wasn’t nearly enough time in the region – just so much to see! Even aside from the city itself, there’s Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, numerous New England excursions, The Hamptons (playground to the wealthy – Revenge, anybody?), Rhode Island and Harvard University on Boston’s outskirts.

Boston is a popular US ‘walking city’, and much of the centre is accessible by foot. We chose a combination of walking, trolley tour, and public transport (using a weekly pass – called a ‘Charlie’ ticket – approx US $15) to make our way between famous landmarks including America’s first public park opened in 1634, Boston Common; School Street and the site of the very first public school in America (established by Puritans in 1635), and along The Freedom Trail – a 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that leads to 16 nationally significant historic sites. Each stop along the Trail showcases an authentic American treasure, often with importance relating to the American Revolution. We dropped by the Cheers Boston (yep, the original 80s series’ pub!), and wandered along the city’s waterfront, through Chinatown and colourful markets.

Ask a local what the best free, fun things to do are, and they’ll suggest ideas like keeping an eye out for television or movie filming, visiting Boston’s Italian quarter on Hanover Street to sample authentic Bostonian fare; or instead of paying for a tour to a well-known (ie. expensive) beach-front hotspot, utilise the convenient ‘T’ (metro system) and take a train to a seaside town like Rockport, or to the fascinating and ‘bewitching’ town of Salem – ‘witch’ is exactly where we travelled on our chosen day-trip from the city.

Saturday was appropriately grey as we ventured up the coast towards Salem, a small city founded in 1626 and critical to America’s east coast because of its strong military and shipping history (along with witches of course, but we’ll get to that soon enough). Little kids were all decked-out in their wet-weather wellies, dogs out for a rainy weekend walk, and townsfolk dressed as, you guessed it, witches, ghosts and other Halloween-esque characters.

Salem – it’s the city renowned for the witch trials of 1692, upon which many books, plays and films, in particular The Crucible, are based. Throughout October everyone gets into the ‘spirit’ of Halloween, and I must admit to battling an overpowering urge to purchase ‘lucky’ trinkets, fancy-dress costumes, tickets to psychic readings, magic sparkly things, and dancing witch dolls (complete with straw broom and striped-socks) from the many celebratory ghoulish shops around town.

Jest aside, we did visit the memorial for those accused throughout the hysteria of Massachusetts’ infamous witch trials. Unlike regions of Europe where in some cases this type of frenzy lasted for many years, witch trials only remained for a year in these parts – but they were renowned. Today the stories stand as a lesson of tolerance. The memorials are surrounded by engraved fragments of final pleas of innocence: the missing words are to symbolise the sad fact that in the end no one was listening.

We’d recommend a ride on one of Salem’s trolley tours which takes visitors around town to interesting sites. One of these is Winter Island, a popular camping ground formerly the site of Boston’s last public execution when a young boy was hanged for stealing a horse. Another is Dead Horse Beach, a terrifying place where many people and horses who drew fire-carriages perished in a shocking fire. The horses were taken out to sea and ‘buried’ at low tide, but then floated back up again at high tide – bones are still found today, a hundred years on. We viewed the famous witch museums, extraordinary ‘old town’ areas where homes are engraved with the year they were built – oldest homes we saw dated back to early 1700s; House of the Seven Gables, the oldest surviving original home connected with the witch trials, is appropriately painted all-black.

Salem was home to America’s first billionaire, as well as to the founder of Harvard Law, and America’s oldest candy company, Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, which was developed by Mary Spencer – an incredibly poor mum who started the candy business as a way to take care of her children. Long story short, it worked and she became very very successful. Oh, and incidentally she is also a direct descendent of Lady Diana Spencer, aka Princess Di.

Another interesting Salem fact is that it’s the town where the Parker brothers (Parker Bros.) developed games like Monopoly and Clue, and in fact it was their company that kept this region afloat during the Great Depression earlier in the 1900s. They employed most of the townsfolk at that time and paid using Monopoly money when there wasn’t any real money to go around. The town businesses accepted Monopoly money when times were tough, which kept the economic wheels turning. Amazing, don’t you think?

As in all supernatural tales, the sign of ‘3’ appeared out of nowhere. I arrived in town, we met a dog named Sarah and then promptly happened across poor Sarah Good’s memorial (she was one of those famously accused of witchcraft); I’m the third Sarah – am still unsure as to whether all this is a good sign or bad omen, but nothing has seemed out of the ordinary, so far…


S x

The gentle isle Prince Edward Island

The gentle isle Prince Edward Island

Anne-of-green-gables-anne-of-green-gables-600586_640_480_800x600I’m presently sitting on a remote beach somewhere on Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada, waiting for sunset so I can take photos as the light goes down across the far reaches of the world.

If I was to set sail on the ocean in front of me I’d be heading back towards the UK, which might otherwise be a bitter-sweet thought, but given that the experience on PEI has been sublime I simply can’t be anything other than at peace.

I had waited my whole life to come here. Like many, it’s the appeal of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (image from the tv-movie starring Megan Follows, pictured above) that drew me to this far away land, but I’ve also always perceived Prince Edward Island to be some kind of heaven: and as the wind gently echoes across the green fields, quaint colourful homes and sparkling ocean I am pleased to share that I was right.

The Gentle Isle, Prince Edward Island

It wasn’t looking so good to start with though. I’ve been planning this pilgrimage for a while and each turn to get here since leaving London was plagued with one problem or another. We missed the summer season by one week, and consequently quite a few of the shuttles and bus services that would have made the journey on and off the island simple are closed for another six months.

The longer I investigated journeys in and out, the higher travel costs became. Note to prospective travellers – PEI is absolutely worth the trip, but organise yourself early and book flights in and out of Charlottetown to avoid any hassle.

The complications continued to the very end when our train from Montreal was delayed by two hours overnight causing us to miss the last connecting bus to the island, and then the following day there was a delay with our transport on arrival into the island thus drastically reducing our limited window of exploration time. I was quite distressed by this point, really feeling like I wasn’t meant to get here – what could go wrong next?

Gentle Isle Prince Edward Island

Fortunately the bad luck subsided, and I’m here! The weather has been stunning, accommodation in our little cabin at the Anne Shirley Motel & Cottages fabulous, locals friendly and helpful, and the island itself simply stunning. Prince Edward Island is much bigger than I had expected. It’s a vast space of land consisting of rugged beach front, rivers, lakes, bays, lighthouses, pastoral land, small white churches with tall steeples, deep-sea fishing boats, and scattered townships and cities including the capital where we landed initially, Charlottetown.

PEI, The Gentle Isle

Regardless of it being larger than I had imagined, the maritime province is still the smallest in Canada, but it is significant as being the ‘birthplace of Confederation’. This is marked by the famous (and loooong) Confederation Bridge which links PEI with Moncton in New Brunswick, the place where we were stranded the evening before arrival.

Pockets of civilisation were founded throughout the area from the 1700s, and it’s obvious from where founding fathers (whether by original land discovery or through spoils of war) hailed – examples of township names include New London, New Glasgow, Cornwall, Kensington, Stratford, Greenwich, IIe Saint Jean and Irishtown.

Visiting Green Gables was obviously a highlight. It’s straight out of a storybook! What I didn’t realise is that the building is historical, not just a film set. In real life (back in the 1800s), the farm was the home of the Macneill’s, cousins to the famous author L.M Montgomery. She grew up nearby with her grandparents but was always inspired by Green Gables and the surrounding woodlands which she named Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Wood, as depicted in the fictional Anne of Green Gables series.

The gentle isle: Prince Edward Island

Green Gables is just one of many beautiful examples of quaint homes and gardens across Prince Edward Island though. When driving around it is easy to be captivated by the scenery, but the houses are just as striking! Gorgeous triangular roofed homes – colourful, well-kept with beautiful gardens, huge farm barns, and often matching dog houses out in the large back yards. In fact, my initial impression of the island was that it is so picturesque that it’s almost like a country version of the Desperate Housewives set! Similar architectural styles exist whether located in the ‘middle’ of the island across sprawling green countryside surrounded by cows, sheep, horses and dogs, or on waterfront property bordered by boats bobbing in the breeze.

The locals are simply divine too, with several going out of their way to help, guide and chat to us. The folks at Anne Shirley’s Motel were more than helpful, and today we even met a real life Anne Shirley, a lovely lady who was indeed named after Montgomery’s character, and who in the 50s used to own a hair salon and visitors used to ask for her autograph – cute!

Prince Edward Island is the magical land I’d always imagined it to be, perhaps thanks to L.M Montgomery, or Maud as she liked to be called, and her vivid descriptions of her truly beautiful homeland that she wrote about all those years ago. Over the past day and a half on PEI we’ve met two lovely people who both said their lifelong dream was to visit our home, Australia, all the way across the other side of the globe. They said they probably won’t get to travel the distance though, which makes me sad for them, but also makes me realise that I am very lucky to have been able to see this place − so far away but always on my mind. I’m very lucky and grateful indeed.

Gentle Isle Prince Edward Island

Getting to PEI:
Try Air Canada, ViaRail and Acadian Bus Lines. Read more here

Anne Shirley Motel & Cottages

Getting around:
You’ll need a map of the island and a car – we hired from Enterprise Car rental (Charlottetown) Alternatively, there are cycle lanes surrounding the island so hire a bike and go exploring.

It’s customary to try a ‘Lobster supper’ on Prince Edward Island, and some of the best are allegedly located in New Glasgow.

**More useful information at

If you have visited Prince Edward Island, please do drop a line in the comments and let me know if you loved it as much as I did x

I adore it in this part of the world.


Like a little culture with that coffee? Travel in Quebec

Like a little culture with that coffee? Travel in Quebec


We’ve just come from the charming province of Quebec where we were based in Montreal, but took a day-tour to beautiful old Quebec City.

Montreal is colourful and artistic, known for its majestic churches, the Olympic Stadium, fun festivals, vast underground shopping city (for when the weather is a little nippy (that is, literally freezing!), and as being home to Cirque du Soleil. It is also the world’s second largest French-speaking city!

In fact, I didn’t really feel like I was in Canada in Montreal! We were told that Montreal is somewhat like the ‘Melbourne’ of Canada, and I think that’s true if you’re taking into account the city’s prevalent art and music scene. It’s a little older than Melbourne though (obviously), and one of the city’s coolest hotspots is actually its most aged: The ‘Old Town’, filled with fabulous old (French) architecture, quaint pubs, and Poutine shops.

Oh, and Poutine – well let me just tell you this is one of my new favourite things – fries, cheese and gravy – oh my! Travel in Quebec is divine!
Quebec and Montreal

I quite liked Montreal for its ‘interesting’ factor: There are dozens of amazing museums here, covering everything from contemporary to fine arts, ancient history, artefacts, dance and modern history – whatever you can think of really. We were lucky enough to test-run an economical City Museums Pass which entitles the holder to unlimited entry to all museums, public transport and special offers. A steal if you’re in the city! Our pick of such attractions would be the Biodome – an environmentally regulated indoor menagerie of plants and animals – including monkeys!

We were also lucky enough to strike the city during a celebration dubbed PopFest, which just so happened to culminate in a massive (I’m talking 80,000 revellers in the street outside our hotel) free street party/concert – full sound, stages, lighting, food and drink stands, port-a-loos and headlining act, the hugely popular Canadian group, Arcade Fire, on Thursday night. Amazing!

Travel in Quebec and Montreal

We didn’t rave on ‘til the crack of dawn with the locals though, because on Friday we were up bright and early, set for our adventure to historic Quebec City where history and modernity coexist harmoniously. I’d seen this place once, live on Channel 9 (Australia) when the breakfast show broadcast live from Quebec for a week. Ever since I’ve been keen to see it for myself. Turns out the sweet fairytale-esque town was actually falling into disrepair a few decades ago, but following the discovery of some very old, very important artefacts under a cathedral in the city centre, money was spent to restore the buildings to their former romantic state.

Now visitors can roam the winding roads and along the waterfront, admiring old homes and shops (some streets inspired by the English, the rest French), inspecting local artwork (a prominent industry here) and huge outdoor murals, and enjoying some local cuisine in between shopping up a storm on locally-made products. Quebec City again adds to the aforementioned ‘interesting’ factor in that its primary industries are tourism, government, agriculture and what they call the ‘economy of knowledge’. In fact, the region is renowned worldwide for offering the foremost research and technology into areas like psychology, oncology, infectious diseases, aerospace sciences and even the study of actuary!

Travel in Quebec and Montreal

I was somewhat expecting a little more of ‘Europe’ in Quebec, especially Quebec City, but the intriguing thing is that the city is a true mixture of its historical influences. Like Montreal, Quebec City was settled and raised by the English, French, Scottish and Irish. It’s a culture mash-up of grand proportions – a place where there is a Changing of the Guard ceremony that is commanded in French, and a grand statue of Joan of Arc stands within proper English gardens! Some streets look English; some French.

Quebec City is alluring to the traveller’s imagination, having been lovingly and carefully restored to look as it did several hundred years ago, and the fact that French is being spoken all around simply adds to the thrill. Montreal itself is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, with much of the inner city being cleaned up, rebuilt and remodelled (one nice example is that of a new cultural centre which is presently being built near The Marriott on Saint Catherine Street).

All in all, an interesting ‘Canadian’ experience – unexpected in a way, because I really didn’t feel like I was in Canada – the one I’m familiar with anyway; fascinating nonetheless, to see how this only-French-speaking region in North America (and one of the earliest settlements on this continent) has evolved over the past few centuries.

Loved our travel in Quebec, but now we’re off to PEI (yay!)

We adore Canada and believe it’s one of the most countries places in the world.


By Sarah Blinco


Adios expat explorers | time in Europe with Expat Explore tours

Adios expat explorers | time in Europe with Expat Explore tours

Once upon a time, in lands far far away, travellers from Australia, New Zealand, UK, America, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, South Africa, Thailand, Malaysia prepared for the Europe trip of a lifetime: 14 countries across 26 days – 2011 being the first year Expat Explore has offered such an itinerary, and our journey just the second on this route!

Reasonably timid at first, we politely greeted each other by the coach at Expat Explore’s Canada Water (London) meeting spot in early August. So much ahead − travel discoveries and many new friends who by now are comfortable around each other – dirty jokes, no make-up and singing presently part of our daily repertoire.

We’re back on the ferry that runs between Calais and Dover, where we met Sarah and Amy for the first time, strangers, but now we are friends.

Expat Explore in Europe

Amanda and Phil, and Evan and Leann now cross back to the UK as engaged couples! Phil, Rose, Brad, Alex, Cassie and Ash head back to resume life as Aussie expats in the UK. Amy’s off to live in Paris for a year; sadly mother and daughter teams Lindsay and Shawna, and Grace and Caroline part ways again to live in separate countries. Davin will meet up again with his lovely sister, Sarah, who was on the first half of our trip, while Will and Ann continue through Europe for a little while longer before moving back to NZ. Hector may meet up with fellow Espanol-speaker Julio (who left alongside Sarah in Rome) for a drink in London. Tash and Frank will continue to travel for a while, like us. Sapna and her lovely family will get back to life and work in Johannesburg, and Isaac (our birthday boy yesterday) is heading up to Scotland for a week to party with some old friends.

It was extremely sad to say goodbye to our fellow travellers this morning who were staying in Paris for varying reasons, and especially to farewell Ali, our tour guide who has given us so much over the past 26-days – information, inspiration, friendship and leadership.

time in Europe with Expat Explore tours

We’re all unsure about how to resume a normal routine after this, but as with everything in life, we’ll just get on with it. Thank God for Facebook and its ease of staying in touch!

Last night we each said goodbye to the experience in our own way: Tash, Frank, Evan and Leann among a few others spent some time down by the Eiffel Tower with wine, sparklers and cameras, of course. Will and Ann met up with some local mates, cruised around Paris and took a moment to pay tribute to Diana at the spot where she passed – would you believe yesterday evening marked the 14th year anniversary of her tragic death.

A crew of us went out in the Latin Quarter to indulge in ‘happy hour’ cocktails at the ‘sexy time’ Latin Quarter lounge bar and the fabulous pub/club/karaoke spot diagonally opposite Notre Dame Cathedral, Bar St Michel for singing and dancing.

Paris is divine and I’m glad to have had another chance to explore its beautiful boulevards and especially to have had another look at (and inside) one of my favourite buildings in the world, Notre Dame Cathedral. Of course everyone’s day included different sites, and much of the group explored as one during two walking tours of the city. A fitting final day and night on what has been a truly fabulous trip which we initially embarked upon for the sake of ‘travel’, but which I’d also recommend for the surprise element – the people, friends, that you meet and bond with along the way.

To Ali, Steve our lovely, professional coach driver, and all the group who I may or may not have mentioned in this particular post, it’s been brilliant, and just as each place we have visited has its own charm, you all have your own gorgeous personalities and have each contributed in your own way to make the experience extra special.  We hope to see you all again online and in person soon.

Travel safe and thanks for the memories x

time in Europe with Expat Explore tours

PS if you are in Paris and located near the Jaures metro stop (as we were), be sure to indulge in a meal at Les Delices d’Amour (3 Avenue Jen Jaures 75019). I told them I’d give them a ‘shout out’ (hi guys!), but I think the fact we ate there four times in 24 hours is testament to how good the food is (and inexpensive too). The line out the door at lunchtime somewhat resembles that of The Soup Nazi’s on Seinfeld so don’t miss out if you’re in the neighbourhood.

time in Europe with Expat Explore tours

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By Sarah Blinco
Travel through Rome with Expat Explore

Travel through Rome with Expat Explore

It’s late afternoon, I’m happily fed (thanks to Ali, our fabulous Expat Explore tour guide who made a delicious pot of pasta for anyone who happened to wander by her chalet); champagne is chilling in the freezer and it’s time now to reflect on our wonderful experience in Rome.

We’ve spent three nights and two days in this incredible city and it’s definitely a place I’d like to come back to because there are just so many areas to be explored. Yesterday I did in fact throw my coin into the Trevi Fountain (or ‘The Fontana di Trevi’), right hand over left shoulder – because as legend has it, this means I will return to Rome one day.

Rome, Italy

Travel through Rome with Expat Explore

We’ve been staying at a terrific little place called Camping Village Roma which offers tent and caravan facilities, as well as cabins and chalets which made up our Expat Explore accommodation. The complex features a restaurant, bar and pool area as well as laundry facilities and supermarkets, but the best part about it is that the chalets are positioned in such a way that we’re essentially ‘neighbours’ with our coach-mates. Consequently, afternoons and evenings are spent together by the pool and on our front decks enjoying dinner, drinks and laughs. Some, of course, enjoy later nights than others, but what happens on tour stays on tour, you know…

As with all of our stops on this Expat Explore adventure, we were introduced to the city via a walking tour which took us by famous landmarks including The Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Venezia as well as the grand Il Vittoriano building which dominates its precinct; plus the awe inspiring ‘symbol of Rome’, the Colosseum, originally nicknamed as such because of its ‘colossal size’.

Travel through Rome

We learned that during World War II the Pope ‘struck a deal’ with ‘both sides’ which meant that the city of Rome was left out of any major battles, and so the ancient centre remained undisturbed throughout this turbulent time. I’ve also discovered that the construction of new train lines takes years to complete because of artifacts which are continuously unearthed! The buildings and ruins in Rome must be seen to be believed. Evidently this society was industrious, intelligent and ambitious and the remains of its fascinating civilisation leave so many interesting clues as to how our predecessors lived here.

Today we had several options: a trip back in time to Pompeii, a guided tour to a whole other country within the walls of Rome – The Vatican City; or the option we pursued, which was further ‘free time’ to explore the city.

Travel through Rome

I’d read about a popular meeting place called Piazzo Novano which is accessible via a ‘number 40 express’ bus from Termini train station. We found the stop without too much hassle, but actually had no idea where to get off. After about 15-minutes drive in a very hot, sweaty and crowded bus, we decided to jump off at a point where it looked like something exciting was going on. Turned out we were right near the enchanting Castel Sant Angelo on the banks of the river Tiber.

We explored this area for a while and followed our city map across the delightful Ponte Sant Angelo Bridge a few minutes up the road (and through some very romantic, and importantly, uncrowded Roman streets) to discover Piazzo Navona! On a sightseeing roll, we strolled through back streets towards the Pantheon, where we stopped at a quaint local restaurant, Pantharei, tucked subtly down a side street away from all the crowds. Here, for just €7 each, we enjoyed a buffet of local Italian vegetarian dishes which proved to be substantial, delicious and healthy.

We meandered towards the imposing Il Vittoriano which today we entered and discovered it’s fantastic for a brilliant view of the city. There’s also a free, interesting cultural and military ‘museum’ to browse. Before home we popped back over to the ever-impressive Colosseum. On the way ‘home’ to our campsite we also alighted at Ottaviana and walked around the outskirts of The Vatican City. The line to get in was looooong but it was nice to be able to see the elegant architecture and art, and there is nice shopping in the area too.

Travel through Rome

The city is contemporary and engaging; easy to navigate by foot and public transport (which is actually quite inexpensive, in my opinion), although the tiring August heat has hindered our adventures in a small way. If you’re visiting, keep a map handy at all times and just see where you end up! Also be wary of entertainers on trains and anyone dressed up in Gladiator attire – while they are amusing, they are most definitely after some of your purse change, so don’t assume anything is for free.

I must comment on the spectacular trip into Rome, which is such a worthwhile experience by road. We cruised through gorgeous green Italian countryside, over mountainous ranges, by grape vines and sunflowers, in and out of tunnels, and past little towns dotted in the valleys below, cliff-side castles and houses of orange shades perched on the hills above. Can’t wait to see what Florence offers next!

Travel tip (thanks Frank from Cairns): Trying to cool alcohol quickly in the freezer? Wrap bottles in a wet towel before freezing – they’ll chill faster!

Expat Explorers: Basically everyone did something different but fun today – add your comments, suggestions and tips for other travellers to enjoy.

By Sarah Blinco | View our travel galleries on Flickr