A Curious Sense of Diversity: Martha’s Vineyard

When I used to think of the quintessential New England, I automatically thought of lobster rolls, ‘Hahvahd Yahd’, and Tom Brady. Now, I think of Martha’s Vineyard.

Martha’s Vineyard is the premier vacation hot spot for primarily white, Vineyard Vines wearing middle and upper class folks. At just a 40-minute ferry ride away from mainland, the Vineyard affords these people a classy getaway for relatively cheap – a round-trip totals to $17 (that’s if the BMW is left in the garage). Upon further research via the Washington Post, Oak Bluffs – the part of the island my friends and I were headed to – is known as the “Black Hamptons”, a mecca for the “Black Elite”. I would reserve my judgment for the trip.

Don’t let the cheap ferry price fool you. Everywhere else on the island might as well have had “tourist trap” tacked onto their doors.  A scoop of ice cream will set you back $5 (plus tax). A margarita, mixed sans tequila, will set you back even further at $13. A ten-minute taxi ride will cost you upwards of $30.

Naturally, we scoped out the free options.

Among our limited options, we stumbled upon the famous gingerbread cottages. Not to be confused with actual gingerbread houses, the neighborhood seemed to be simply one cottage duplicated many, many times. On closer look, each house had its own personality and distinctive characteristics. One was covered in an atrocious bubblegum pink while another was painted in soft purple. Yet another house was painted in contrasting navy and burgundy tones. Even more odd: the houses were named. From “The Millers” to “La Vie en Rose”, each name complimented the eclectic style in which the individual house was designed.

Upon leaving the neighborhood, I had the distinct feeling that I had just taken a turn around Whoville.

Or perhaps a ghost town. It was eerie to walk amongst the cottages. We did see the residents here and there, but for the most part, the houses stood empty. They seemed to be from another era. One thing that really stuck out was the conformity among the houses. Despite the range of colors, the cottages were all the same. It was a little disconcerting, frankly.

We eventually made our way across the island to a little lighthouse. My friends and I were dropped off in front of Harbor View Hotel. Here, I found my imagined stereotype come to life. Here were the upper middle class vacationers with varying degrees of tans. Here were the houses with impeccably cured lawns.

The rocky shores that greeted us as we first docked on the island were in direct contrast with this manicured picture. Families of all walks of life lounged around the shore in the former while in the latter, the people, proudly sporting their Vineyard Vines polos and caps, were the ones we jokingly scoffed at.

We made our way back to our original place in Oak Bluffs, a place we felt more comfortable in. Besides, the $5 entrance fee to the lighthouse barely taller than the hotel served as an effective barrier on the other side of the island.

People, from the rapid Spanish speaking family to the nuclear Indian family to the straight out of Fourth of July couple, crowded the nearby grass and sand. The mix of languages and people was fascinating, something I had not expected from a place called Martha’s Vineyard.

Bottom line: as we too lounged near the rocky shores of Oak Bluffs, it was clear to me that perhaps I was wrong in judging the Vineyard too soon. Yes, it definitely had my imagined stereotypes, but it also had a growing rich (and dare I say, diverse) culture. That’s how I’ve also come to see New England and so yes, for me, the quintessential New England is Martha’s Vineyard.


Escaping the monotony: A trip to Martha’s Vineyard

To escape the humdrum of the city, five friends and I decided to pile into a car and make our way down to the ever popular vacation spot: Martha’s Vineyard, home to Vineyard Vines and the movie “Jaws”.

We arrived in Cape Cod around 10 a.m. – an early start for most people in the group. Not early enough, apparently, as a tired-looking Napoleon Dynamite told us at the first parking lot we visited. He directed us down the long, winding roads to a second parking lot. This one was massive, bigger than the size of a football field. We parked at the complete other end of the lot among the rows and rows of cars.

Luckily, there was a shuttle transporting visitors to the main ferry area. Among the visitors were families, groups of friends (like ourselves), and couples. Some were carrying suitcases and large duffle bags, a testament to the popularity of this particular vacation spot.

Once at the ferry area, we each bought round-trip tickets and waited our turn in line to get on the ferry. From our view, the ferry looked massive with a giant cargo hold. First, the cars were loaded one by one. Then came the bikes. Then came the people.

The ride was short at 40 minutes, but we took the time to walk the deck and watch the water lap against the rapidly-moving ferry. The white blended in with the turquoise which blended in to the deep blue, making for a beautiful view to the island.

We started our day the way the best days start: with food. We ended up at the highly recommended Offshore Ale Company. Instead of the regular free bread or free chips, this restaurant’s fare was peanuts. The restaurant surprisingly encouraged its guests to throw the shells on the ground – an altogether messy novelty.

After a filling lunch, my friends and I made our way to the famous gingerbread cottages. No, the cottages weren’t actually made of gingerbread but the reasoning behind the name was quickly apparent on first glance. They seemed to be the same house duplicated throughout the neighborhood, but as we walked around, we realized that each had its own distinctive characteristics. Each had a different color scheme – one was covered in atrocious bubblegum pink pink, another soft purple, and another in contrasting navy and burgundy tones. Oddly enough, the houses were also named. From “The Millers” to “La Vie en Rose”, each name complimented the eclectic style in which the individual house was designed.

Upon leaving the neighborhood, I had the distinct feeling that I had just taken a turn around Whoville.

We then made a group decision to head towards one of the lighthouses. Upon plugging the place into Google Maps, we were shocked to discover that our options were either a 10-minute drive or an hour and a half walk. For the sake of our already-tanned skin and sanity, we decided to flag a taxi down to the other side of the island.

After piling out of the taxi, we spotted the rather underwhelming lighthouse. With a hefty $5 entrance fee, we were hesitant about going up a lighthouse that was barely taller than some of the houses on the island. My friends and I eventually decided to lounge in the shade of the lighthouse, blasting the tunes of Vanessa Carlton and Drake into the afternoon.


Marseilles: Leave the Tourist in You Behind

Marseilles, despite its attractive location in southern France, is not the type of place you choose for idyllic vacation spot – especially if you can’t speak a lick of French.

The city’s buildings are obscured with graffiti while the streets are littered with trash. The people are loud, rowdy even. Shrewd as they are, they know the stench of tourist and seem to gravitate away from it.

Not all is as it seems.

Make the effort of a simple greeting – “bonjour” – and you’ll quite literally see a frown turn upside down. There’s nothing like a tourist willing to make an effort and blend in to the locals. This effort is not unrewarded. The graffiti, previously seen as filth, holds more meaning than you thought possible.

If you’re willing to truly live like the locals and “brave” the public transportation, even more surprises await.

An hour out of the heart of Marseilles resides the Calanques – their equivalent of a national park. It’s really a game of “pick your own adventure”. You’ll choose Sugiton, no doubt. It’s the path of least resistance with the greatest reward.

Prepare yourself: you’re going to be walking into a literal postcard.

Any dread at the thought of having an uphill hike on the way back dissipates as you take in the sheer beauty of the Calanque de Sugiton. The rock formations create a small inlet leading to a small natural beach, perfect for a picnic lunch. A packed meal of chicken salad becomes five star cuisine because with this scenery, how could it not be?

Later, back in the heart of the city, you reflect on Marseilles. It still is not the ideal vacation spot. When night falls, the city feels unsafe. The people blend into the poorly-lit streets and your heart pounds because you are a tourist in a relatively unknown city – a woman at that. Still, even as you buzz into the hostel that you call home for the weekend, you feel a sense of respect for the resilience the city has.

Marseilles commands you to shed your comfort – Yelp only gave this restaurant three stars…let’s keep walking? – in exchange for experiencing the city like a local, even if it’s only for a day or two.