Homes Fit for Hansel and Gretel on Martha’s Vineyard

Homes Fit for Hansel and Gretel on Martha’s Vineyard

Ever wanted to live in a gingerbread house?  The Cottage City neighbourhood in Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard gives you an entire gingerbread neighbourhood.  Hansel & Gretel wouldn’t have known where to start.

cottage city porch

Cottage City dates back to the 19th century when Methodists gathered together each summer for religious meetings.  After the first meeting in 1835, the same families would return each year and pitch their tents.  Eventually by the 1870’s, the tents gave way to little cottages packed in together around a central wooden structure, The Tabernacle, which held community events.

tabernacle sign

The cottages were not only decorated with elaborate scrollwork, porches etc but also were brightly painted.   This architectural style, called “Carpenter’s Gothic”, makes the houses look like something out of a fairy tale.

cottage city

Added to the sensory overload, are the profusion of colourful flowers spilling out of window boxes, hanging baskets and gardens.   And, let’s not forget all the adornments around the houses – seashells, wind chimes, signs, garden gnomes etc.  One house even has a miniature dollhouse replica of itself set out on its porch.  A minimalist would probably have a fit of the vapors within 5 minutes of entering the neighbourhood.

Around 300 cottages have survived to the present.  In 2005, the grounds and buildings were named a National Historic Landmark which will help preserve them for years to come.  Many cottages have been owned by the same family for generations.  They do come up occasionally for sale or rent. The prices are exorbitant considering the cottages are minuscule.  So, what price history you ask?  Apparently, averaging about $2000/week.


Cottage City, however, never feels like a museum.  The residents sit on their porches and their children play in the gardens.  I’d find it difficult to be constantly gawked at but they seem to take it in their stride.

drinks on the porch

Cottage City has its own summer event in August, Grand Illumination Night, when the residents hang brightly coloured Chinese and Japanese lanterns from their porches.  This event started over a 100 years ago as a way to mark the visit of the Governor of Massachusetts.  It became more popular every year thereafter.  Initially, the Cottage City residents disliked this secular event which didn’t jive with their conservative religious tendencies.

photo: MVCMA

photo: MVCMA

Prior to the lanterns being turned on in unison in the dark, people hang around eating and drinking.  The residents are lucky to have porches on which to sit while visitors bring picnic blankets.

pre-lighting lanterns

The variety of lanterns is amazing – old, new, floral, patriotic etc.   The lanterns are up for the night only and get returned to storage the next day.  One homeowner told us packing and unpacking her lanterns took 3 days.  We had a lot of fun spotting new and different lanterns.  Of the hundreds of lanterns, I did not see one repeat!  Some of the lanterns are incredibly fragile because, traditionally, the lanterns were included in a house sale.

The Vineyard Haven band plays old favourites for the crowd before and during Illumination Night.  Our children sang to the songs for The Sound of Music even though they were really tired and way past their bedtime.


The Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association also run a small museum on the grounds which is very informative.

My children loved Illumination Night.  They got to stay up past bedtime and made a game of who could spot the next cool lantern.  The event is crowded but very family friendly.  Even without Illumination Night, I think Cottage City is worth seeing.  It’s a testament to a bygone way of life of prayer meetings, community sing-alongs and leisurely chats with your neighbours on the porch.


Road Trip USA:  Martha’s Vineyard

Road Trip USA: Martha’s Vineyard

When many people think of Martha’s Vineyard, they automatically think of it as a celebrity vacation spot.  Yes, lots of rich and famous people spend their summer vacation here, among them the Obamas.  The Vineyard, however, is so much more than the occasional celebrity that passes through.

Edgartown harbor fisheye lens

Edgartown harbor fisheye lens

My children love their summers in the Vineyard.  They are outdoors and active all the time — biking, hiking, swimming, body boarding, kayaking, fishing, playing tennis etc.  On the beach, they love collecting shells, searching for moon jellies, building sand castles, digging tunnels and skipping stones.

The farms provide edutainment such as horseback riding and  berry picking.  Unlike our London house, our Vineyard home has a large yard where they can play with water guns, skipping ropes etc.

collecting shells

collecting shells

Every year, our house is full of friends and family who come to visit.  Living abroad for so long, we spend summers catching up with our American friends.  Renowned American broadcaster, Mike Wallace sums it up for me:

“Even as I talk, I can see it and smell it and feel it.  It’s a special, insular, quiet, healing, glorious place.  And year after year after year, you not only see your kids and your grandchildren grow, but you see everybody else’s kids, the same people, grow.  There is a strange continuity to life in the Vineyard.”

I love the feeling that nothing really changes on the Vineyard.  It’s a comfortable feeling to return here every summer, like slipping into a worn sweatshirt.  Life in the real world is unpredictable — our summers, thankfully, aren’t.

family in a canoe

family in a canoe

Full-time residents work hard to make sure that change is kept to the minimum.  The island has no chain stores, no malls and no traffic lights.  Many people still grumble about a rotary (roundabout) installed last year.

I feel occasionally that I have stepped back into 1950’s America – a kinder, gentler place where people cycle to the shops, roads are not congested, houses and cars are left unlocked and America is sure of its place in the world.  Although my children think I am ‘ancient’, I am not actually old enough to have experienced the 1950’s.   I expect this carefully maintained sense of nostalgia is probably as artificial as a Disney theme park.

Edgartown Main Street

Edgartown Main Street

I know the continuity in lifestyle can be frustrating for the younger Islanders – my babysitter grew up on the Island and finds it beyond boring.  She admits, though, that she will probably bring her children back for the idyllic summers.

The Vineyard is able to maintain itself apart from the mainland because you can only get on the island by air or by ferry.  In the summer, flights and ferries get booked up quickly.  If you want to bring a car onto the island, you need to plan well in advance.

Steamship Authority ferry

Steamship Authority ferry

For an idyllic reality-show version of Vineyard life, check out ABC Family’s reality show, The Vineyard.  The show follows a group of attractive, straight-from- Abercrombie-casting, college students working at the ubiquitous Black Dog stores and food establishments.  The show, itself, is fairly standard, somewhat anodyne, reality-fare (the tangled love lives of the participants).  The scenery, however, is spectacular.

Menemsha Harbour

Menemsha Harbour

Islanders are used to the occasional celebrity sighting.  The rich and famous seem to mingle into the crowd.  We were standing in line behind the Obama girls in this tiny over-crowded ice cream store three years ago.  The Secret Service agents, who were getting restless, asked at the counter if the girls could jump the queue.  We were astounded when they were politely refused.  The servers later told us that they have seen a number of famous people and no one gets special service.


The Vineyard is also one of the most racially integrated places in the United States.  Historically, the Island has welcomed African-Americans both as land-owners and vacationers dating back to pre-Revolutionary times.  Check out this New York Times article New York Times for a brief review.   I like that my rainbow family fits right in.

jumping off a boat

jumping off a boat

Like many other families, our family comes to the Vineyard for sunshine, rest and relaxation.  As a child, I remember feeling summer was endless.  Each lazy, hot day of messing around with my friends and cousins merged into another.  I hope my children have the same feeling about their summers.  It’s nice to feel that the more things change, the more the stay the same.


Love, Loss and the Edgartown Lighthouse

Love, Loss and the Edgartown Lighthouse

The picturesque Edgartown Lighthouse stands in the harbour to the pretty whaling town of Edgartown in Martha’s Vineyard, an island located off the coast of Massachusetts.  Across from the lighthouse, you can see the sometimes-island of Chappaquiddick (known locally as Chappy).  On occasion when the Atlantic Ocean feels benevolent, a sandbar connects Chappy to Edgartown embracing Katama Bay in a gentle hug of expensive waterfront homes.  Like a lot of historic lighthouses, the Edgartown Lighthouse fell into disrepair over the years. Today it stands proudly again and around its base, a children’s memorial pays tribute to children whose lives have been cut tragically short.

The Edgartown Lighthouse, Martha’s Vineyard

The Edgartown Lighthouse in the harbour of Katama Bay. Photo credit: Eli in Martha’s Vineyard for Flytographer

The Edgartown Lighthouse

The Edgartown Lighthouse peninsula is located on a small sandy beach which is an easy walk from Edgartown itself.  Scrub, beach plum bushes and seashells speckle the beach as the sand winds down to the shore.

Although Martha’s Vineyard has prettier beaches, we often walk to Edgartown Lighthouse on non-beach weather days.  Between watching the boats come in and out of the harbour and skimming stones in the water, this beach is perfect to while away a few hours with restless children.

The Edgartown Lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard

The path leading down to The Edgartown Lighthouse and Lighthouse Beach
Photo Credit: Eli in Martha’s Vineyard for Flytographer

The Edgartown Lighthouse, Martha’s Vineyard

Clambering over the rocks is always fun.
Photo credit: Eli in Martha’s Vineyard for Flytographer

The Children’s Memorial

Maintained by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, the base of the Edgartown Lighthouse serves as a children’s memorial for children of residents (both seasonal and permanent) who have passed away.

Each child’s name is carved into a granite stone placed parallel to the shoreline. A lighthouse serves as a beacon to safe harbour.  The hope is that our lost children have found safe harbour wherever they are.

A plaque contains lines of a poem written at a memorial service for the first child whose name is engraved at the Lighthouse – Ricky Harrington who died in a car crash at just 16 years old in 1996.  His grief-stricken father spearheaded the effort to create a children’s memorial at the Edgartown Lighthouse.

Of the several hundred memorial stones at the base of the Edgartown Lighthouse, the one stone we seek out every summer contains the name of our youngest son.  Having died at the age of 5 weeks, he did not live long enough to experience the glorious freedom of a Vineyard summer.

The Edgartown Lighthouse in Martha’s Vineyard

My daughter placing wildflowers on our son’s memorial stone.
Photo credit: Eli in Martha’s Vineyard for Flytographer

I know, however, he would have loved his summers in the Vineyard as much as his older brother and sister do.

If I close my eyes, I can see him skipping along Lighthouse beach.  It’s pretty easy to do since he looked exactly like my older son – my dark hair and eyes, his father’s stubborn chin and a milky Earl Grey tea skin colour that is a blend of both of us.

I don’t picture it very often – that way lies madness.

Martha’s Vineyard Beach

My twins when they were 2 years old could spend hours on the beach at Martha’s Vineyard.

My children have been spending the summer in Martha’s Vineyard since they were two years old.  The Edgartown Lighthouse has become an indelible part of their childhood memories.

We have lived and travelled in so many places around the world.  Martha’s Vineyard, however, anchors our family and the Edgartown Lighthouse is our beacon guiding us home.  After all, home is where the heart is.

The Edgartown Lighthouse in Martha’s Vineyard

A game of catch on Lighthouse Beach.
Photo credit: Eli in Martha’s Vineyard for Flytographer

The Photo Shoot

When I learned that I had won a Flytographer photo shoot after donating to Passports with a Purpose earlier this year, I knew I wanted to do the family photo shoot in Martha’s Vineyard.  We chose the Edgartown Lighthouse in order to honour the memory of our missing family member.

The Edgartown Lighthouse, Martha’s Vineyard

A walk along the path to the Edgartown Lighthouse
Photo credit: Eli in Martha’s Vineyard for Flytographer

Passports with a Purpose is an organisation that runs an annual fundraiser where travel bloggers and organisations unite to donate prizes.  The public donates money which earns them a chance to win one of the prizes.  The prizes tend to be very cool – they range from stays at assorted hotels to travel gear, for example.

[NB: Passports with a Purpose is no longer running].

With the money donated, PwP funds a different project every year, for example, in 2015, they raised $20,000 to buy e-readers for libraries in Kenya and in 2013, they raised over $80,000 to build 2 schools in Mali.  I’ve donated for several years now but this year was the first time I won anything.

Flytographer coordinates getting people a professional photoshoot in locations around the world.  With over 180 locations, chances are that they work with a professional photographer somewhere you are going to vacation. I know people who have had photoshoots with them in London and Paris.

Usually I am the person taking photos which means I’m not in them.  I confess that I am the photography geek in our family so I wouldn’t be happy with anyone else taking them anyway.  It was nice having a professional take the photos and know we were in good hands. And, our Christmas card photos are done for this year in July! Hurrah! I am feeling so super-organised.

The Edgartown Lighthouse in Martha’s vineyard

The photoshoot at the Lighthouse with Eli Dagostino for Flytographer.

Our photographer on the island was Eli Dagostino who has an office in the nearby town of Vineyard Haven.  He was great with the kids and we had a fun, relaxing shoot.

I’ve never done a family photo shoot (mostly because I’m not very organised) but I am now considering having an annual family photo.  As we all know, kids grow up too fast and time passes too son.

Edgartown Lighthouse in Martha’s Vineyard

The Edgartown Lighthouse in Katama Harbour.

Useful Information

The Edgartown Lighthouse is open on the weekends from May through October and daily during the peak tourist months of July and August.

Why I Prefer A Hotel Stay versus Airbnb Accommodation

Why I Prefer A Hotel Stay versus Airbnb Accommodation

Everyone seems to be having a love affair with Airbnb.  This sharing economy company is a rapidly growing Big Deal in the travel industry. I seem to be swimming against the tide. Given a choice between a hotel stay and an Airbnb home, I will pick a hotel every time.  Why do I prefer a hotel stay versus Airbnb accommodation?  In a word, services.  In a sentence:  I am high maintenance.

why i prefer hotels to airbnb

Our Airbnb Experiences

When Airbnb came out as this global phenomenon, we thought we would try it out.

The first time we stayed at an Airbnb, the apartment in Amsterdam was listed as child-friendly.  It simply was not.  You got up to the loft area using a concrete, spiral staircase and no banisters.  The bathroom was connected to the master bedroom with a walkway which had gaping holes and minimal banisters.  Surely, the design could not have met EU building regulations! Although my children slept on a futon on the ground floor, going up to the bathroom at the top of the staircase was a bit of a death trap for young children.

The second time we stayed at an Airbnb was during Carnival in Rio De Janeiro.  There were 11 of us – 2 sets of parents, a nanny and a 6 children. Not only would a hotel cost more but also provide limited space for such a large group. We thought an apartment would allow the children a living room to play together as well as a kitchen to make simple kids’ meals.

hotels versus airbnb

The fabulous view of the ocean from the Airbnb

The large penthouse apartment we chose had an amazing location one block from the beach in Ipanema. The photos of the listing made it seem nicer than it was.  For example, you couldn’t tell there were ants in the kitchen or that there were exposed electrical wires everywhere (even in the bathroom).  The photos indicated they were ‘verified’ but clearly that occurred when the furniture was different and the place was sparkling clean and new.

my basic airbnb

Pretty basic accommodation for $6000/week

The locations of the two Airbnb’s we have stayed in have been fantastic.  You can, however, get good hotels with great locations.

Proponents of Airbnb like to say their stays are more authentic to the place being visited than staying at a large hotel chain.  Yet, I can also get a similar personal and local stay with a small boutique hotel like Hotel Touring in Bologna where I stayed recently.

In another part of Brasil we stayed at the Caraca Nature Reserve which provided accommodation in a former monastery.  The accommodation was pretty spartan and the rooms had lots of religious paraphernalia.  Then again, what did you expect from a monastery!?  Our expectations were confirmed by Tripadvisor reviews.  We had a fabulous time hiking and exploring the area and found the monastery beautiful in its faded glory.


I enjoy the additional amenities that come with a hotel.  We did cobble together the amenities we wanted for Rio but it took a lot more effort.

Hotel Breakfasts

There’s nothing like a good hotel breakfast buffet to start the day when you are travelling.  When we stayed at the Airbnb in Rio, we went every morning to the Ceasar Park Hotel for a fabulous breakfast buffet.

hotels versus airbnb

A great hotel buffet

Spa Services

I also enjoy using the spa services of a hotel and my children like to splash about in the pool at the end of a day of sightseeing.  In Rio, I found a beachside masseuse who gave me a fabulous massage.  The children just played and swam in the ocean.  Was it fine?  Sure.  Was it convenient? No.

Why I prefer Hotels to Airbnb

The pool at the Santa Teresa Hotel in Rio

Concierge Services

We also use the concierge at hotels to book our restaurants and give their suggestions. Once again, in Rio we used the Ceasar Park concierge. I guess we were there so much that they must’ve thought we stayed there. When my daughter looked sickly at one dinner, the helpful restaurant manager asked if we wanted him to call a doctor. It helped that my friends had stayed there before when they had visited Rio and knew the hotel well.

why i prefer hotels to airbnb

The handy list of recommended blocos courtesy of the Ceasar Park concierge.

We also used Marco Bransford, our private tour guide, to book restaurants and taxis on our behalf.  Having worked as a head concierge in a top Rio hotel before he became a tour guide, he knew exactly what to do.

Cleaning Services

I like having my room cleaned everyday at a hotel, especially the bathroom when we share with children.  We hired a cleaner to come twice during our Airbnb stay but it was not same clean that you get at a hotel.  For example, there was sand everywhere from the kids’ trips to the beach.

I really did not like my whole bathroom experience at the Airbnb in Rio.  We found out that you can’t flush toilet paper in Brasilian homes and offices because the sewer system is antiquated.  The pipes in the sewers aren’t large enough to accommodate toilet paper.  So people put used toilet paper in the trash bin. Ugh. The smell.

I didn’t know this about unique Brasilian problem because I stayed at the fabulous Hotel das Cataratas in Iguassu Falls last time I was in the country.  The hotels must use macerators to deal with paper waste because I definitely was not told I couldn’t flush paper down the toilet at the Hotel das Cataratas.

Room Furnishings

I am too old to live in an apartment that is barely furnished with a futon for a bed.  I despise scratchy towels, cheap sheets and lumpy pillows.  I like small details like reading lights by the side of the bed and furniture that doesn’t scream IKEA.  I am happy to pay extra for a more comfortable accommodation experience.

Restaurants and Bars

Sometimes when the children are tired from sightseeing, we like having the option of just going down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. One day after a long hot day touring with Marco, we went to the Ceasar Park (surprise!) for dinner. Likewise, if we want to sit in the lounge and order drinks from the bar either before or after dinner, we don’t have to take our children out of the hotel.  We can enjoy a quiet drink and conversation in a smoke-free environment.

why I prefer hotels to airbnb

The bar area at the Santa Theresa hotel used to be the old slave quarters of the farmhouse.

The Lack of Quality Control of Airbnb

I don’t actually have anything against staying in private accommodation.  I thought our One Fine Stay experience in New York City was great.  On the other hand, with companies like One Fine Stay, there is a vetting process of the homes and you know what you are getting.

hotel vs airbnb

The grande dame of Rio hotels, the Copacabana Palace

Prior to owning our summer home in Martha’s Vineyard, we use to rent homes on the island. We used a reputable rental agency and, once again, had a great experience because we knew exactly what we were getting. Of course, rental agencies have a vested interest in providing attractive photos.  On the other hand, as impartial third parties, any reputable rental agency will provide you with accurate information.

The lack of quality control at Airbnb’s really bothers me.  You are relying on the owner to provide accurate information.  The only thing you can really check is the Airbnb’s location.  Hence, both times the rental locations were the best part of our experience.

hotel vs airbnb

We had a fabulous location one block from Ipanema beach.

We have had friends with similar experiences.  One friend who was visiting London with her family left her Airbnb because it was so dodgy.  She moved into the spare bedroom of one of her friends.  In an ideal world, she would have not imposed on anyone else which is why she picked an Airbnb in the first place.

What happens if you don’t have friends in the city with a spare bedroom?  Another friend took her family to a hotel in New York City because the Airbnb was not as advertised.  Of course, finding a last minute hotel room for a family of 5 proved expensive.

I expect we are part of the small minority that does not think Airbnb is the best thing since sliced bread.  On the other hand, I think Airbnb is good for the industry.  It has shaken things up and stopped hotels from becoming complacent. An Airbnb may not be the accommodation option of choice for us, but it will help improve what we can expect from hotels!

What are your preferences in terms of a hotel stay versus Airbnb?

This post is linked up with Travel Photo Thursday and The Weekly Postcard.


Travel Notes & Beyond
It’s Morning Glory in Edgartown Anytime

It’s Morning Glory in Edgartown Anytime

Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown is a bit of an institution on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  Although billed as a humble farm stand, Morning Glory has the reputation and faithful clientele that would make any high-end gourmet food store proud.

Morning Glory farm farm stand

The barn/farm stand

The farm was started in 1975 on land owned by the Athearn family who have lived on the Vineyard since the 19th century.  Starting off with a farm stand, by 2010 business was thriving enough that a newly-built barn replaced the original structure.  They farm over 120 acres over several sites on the island.  The farm produces a wide variety of crops, herbs and cut flowers.

Morning Glory flowers

Rustic chic flowers

We are lucky we live near Morning Glory Farm and stop by the farm stand often.  I am in the habit of getting their ice tea and a muffin for breakfast after I drop my children off at horse-riding camp nearby. My favourite are the corn muffins followed closely by the peach muffins (in case you are wondering).

Martha’s Vineyard is such a small island that the farm where my children take their riding lessons is located near some of the Athearn family land in West Tisbury.  The horse farm sends off its manure to fertilise the Morning Glory farm crops.

The farm stand’s zucchini bread is deservedly famous for being delicious.  You can find the zucchini bread recipe here at Cape Cod Magazine if you feel inclined to try it out.  I heard grumbling in line in front of me the other day when one woman was complaining to another that the zucchini bread was not as good as it used to be.  Definitely, first world problems.

Morning Glory farm stand

Branded merchandise and books

I thought the best way to introduce Morning Glory Farm to you was with a vlog. It’ll give you a short tour of the farm stand and all the delicious products inside.


Morning Glory Farm is located on the corner of Meshacket Road and the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road.  It is open 7 days a week.

Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown in Martha's Vineyard sells the best farm fresh produce on the island