Hyannis, Cape Cod, USA: where?

When I think about leaving New York and going somewhere else, the first item I look for is my passport. Why do I know more about Thailand than the USA?

Hyannis, Cape Cod, USA: where?

When I think about leaving New York and going somewhere else, the first item I look for is my passport. Why do I know more about Thailand than the USA? Why do I envy people living in Bangkok who fly to Phuket and Krebi for the weekend when, within a few hours of New York City, I can find fabulous beaches, luxury yachts, and lots of history?

Historic significance
Hyannis has been a vacation center since the 19th century when President Ulysses S. Grant strolled along the Hyannis Harbor and a few years later, President Grover Cleveland visited. In 1925, Joseph P. Kennedy and his wife Rose started the Kennedy-Hyannis tradition by reserving a private beach-front cottage in Hyannisport. Over the years, the property has been enlarged and now, thanks to architect Frank Paine, it now has 14 rooms, 9 baths, and a motion picture theater. In the 1960s, the area made front page news thanks to the leisure-time habits of President John F. Kennedy and the rest of his immediate family and friends.

Geographically challenged
I am on my way to Cape Cod. Yes, I know it is in Massachusetts; however, I did not know that Cape Cod is a 413-square-mile peninsula of fields, forests, dunes, marshland, and beaches located off the Massachusetts coast. It was not until I called the 800 operator for the Peter Pan bus line and was asked, “Where on the Cape to you want to go?” OMG! There are 10 possible bus stops along the Cape.

Now was the time to open googlemaps and take a quick US geography lesson.

Getting to Hyannis
I love choices! I can get to the Cape by air (US Air, United, and American from NY), train (Amtrak), and bus (Peter Pan). Weighing my options, I discovered more bad news then good news: airport traffic in 2008 was 120,904, indicating a decline of almost 1,500 visitors since 2007. One reason for the downturn may be the fact that air to Hyannis is expensive ($$$). In addition, there is the cost of getting to/from the airport, the hassles associated with getting through an airport, and then, if the weather is not perfect, not getting out of the airport. What about the train? Getting to and through Penn Station is not a day at the beach, and the train stops in Providence, Rhode Island, and requires a bus or cab to the bus station. The last option became the only option: BUS.

Peter Pan
I recently learned that there has been an increase in bus usage over the past few years because travelers want to save money. In a megabus.com study, 83 percent said that the low fare allowed increased frequent travel. Other survey responders indicated that bus travel was preferred over driving, and busses were preferred over trains and airlines.

These are many of the same reasons I am now on a bus: comfortable seats, free Internet Wi-Fi access, polite drivers, and (more or less) on-time departures and arrivals. Airports and airlines are like a bad movie you stupidly see time and again; train travel is expensive and for many destinations – inconvenient. My round trip Peter Pan bus ticket from NY to Hyannis – only US$100 (ordered online). The bus departs from NY Port Authority Bus Terminal at 7:30 am and arrives in Providence, Rhode Island, at 1:30 pm, continuing on to Hyannis with a 2:20 pm arrival time at the Hyannis Bus Terminal.

Enterprise: does not pick you up
There are no car rental desks at the bus depot (this would make life too easy), and even though Enterprise advertises, “We will pick you up,” – they do not pickup (or drop off) at the bus depot. To get to car rental locations plan on a US$5.00 cab ride to the Barnstable Airport where visitors find kiosks for Enterprise as well as Budget, Avis, and Hertz. I reserved Enterprise by phone – so proceeded to pick up my car.

Much to my surprise, the price quoted and confirmed by telephone was not the price on the contract. The manager, anxious to get a higher fee, made many excuses for the difference in the price quoted and the price offered. As the dialogue escalated to an argument and eager to get out of the airport and on my way, I reluctantly agreed to the new price and the insurance, which made the car almost as expensive as if I were driving in mid-town Manhattan. The fact that I was off-season and business was slow, did not make a difference. If I did not want the car, the manager was willing to cancel the reservation and I could go somewhere else. To add insult to injury, the car available (the only car available) was not clean – “Our water is not working” – and there was no interest in cleaning the cars’ interior. The attitude: take it or leave it.

No more Enterprise rentals for this traveler!

Where to stay
There are many charming parts to Cape Cod, and a major one is the opportunity to stay at a period Bed and Breakfast (B&B). Many are converted homes that are chock-full of authentic antiques where guests sit on chairs and sleep in beds with pedigrees that date back to the discovery of Plymouth Rock.

For antique lovers, the B&B treat is The Beechwood Inn, a 19th century Victorian home located a few minutes beyond Barnstable’s historic district. A teeny-tiny sign alerts tourists that there is warmth and charm hidden behind the massive trees. Turn at the sign onto a graveled driveway and be ready for a warm welcome from Ken Traugot, the owner and Innkeeper. Chef Debra charms guests with her secret recipe quiche and fresh fruit in the morning, with pots and pots of fresh filtered coffee – creating the perfect way to start a day of sightseeing.

Looking back
For those of us who remember the early Kennedy years, a visit to the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum is a nostalgic trip. Kennedy memories run from the excitement and energy of his candidacy to the optimism of his election and presidency, to the sadness of his death – and these moments are vividly captured in photographs, videos, and family artifacts that remind us of what “could have been.”

After an hour of lurching through this epoch, I needed a breath of fresh air to clear away the sadness of the Kennedy Museum and took a short walk to the waterfront, watched the boats and ferries in the Hyannis Harbor, and meandered up a few steps to the Cape Cod Maritime Museum. From boat building, maritime festivals and artifacts, plus shipwrecks and children’s programs, this small building holds wonderful treasures for sailors and those who love the sea. To get a real feel of what it would be like to put out to sea with the Kennedys in Hyannis, make a reservation (US$25) for a sail on the Sarah (May – October).

Going forward
There is no better place to think about today and tomorrow than the Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory and taking the tour (complimentary). What adds joy to this visit is the opportunity to sample (and purchase) any/all of varieties of chips (i.e., buttermilk ranch with minced green onions, parmesan and roasted garlic, sweet mesquite barbecue.)

Depending on the season, this area is a magnet for bird watching, fishing (a spring and summer haven for scallops with calamari and oysters in the fall), sailing, kayaking, wind surfing, kite boarding, and surf-boarding during July and August, with bike riding and golf popular in the spring and fall.

There are so many charming dining, sandwich, and drinking spots throughout the area that visitors can easily add pounds without even noticing. On the Main Street in Barnstable, the Dolphin is a popular dining spot. This is not a venue for calorie and carb counters. The delicious spread for warm bread is loaded with cream whipped into submission – yummy! (And where is the closest gym?)

Welcome to the cape
Many of the B&Bs, restaurants, and other local attractions are entrepreneurial enterprises with owners originally from New York, New Jersey, and many other parts of the world. As this enterprising group enters the “golden years,” some are introducing professional managers that have received their education at Cape Cod Community College. While most of the students are from Massachusetts, the presence of a hospitality/culinary arts program signals visitors that local business leaders are focusing on the future of the travel and tourism industry and anxious to provide an educated workforce for the thriving businesses. Graduates of the college work in the local industry during the busy summer months and graduates often stay to enjoy a unique quality of life.

Our role in tourism
Reflecting the decline in travel worldwide, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce notes a 3 percent decline in occupancy between 2007 and 2008. The numbers (as of September) for 2009 don’t look much better. One of the issues Cape tourism should address is the matter of signage. There are no signs – anywhere – making it very difficult for visitors to find the waterfront, museums, restaurants, art galleries, whatever. Travelers should make sure they have a GPS system in their car or a local friend to act as navigator for your explorations.

With a new focus on staycations, Cape Cod is a perfect way to support local businesses while having a wonderful time. Get on a bus (Gus) and head to Cape Cod for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. Visitors may find a little snow, but the cultural options more than make up for the chill. Many of the best B&Bs are open and discounted for the season. The restaurants, art galleries, and other shops are open (some with limited hours); however, outdoor hiking trails are in perfect shape for seeing a beautiful part of the world and many theatrical and musical performances are scheduled. Additional information may be found through the Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce, phone: 508 877 HYANNIS.

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