Sail Away: Revitalized New Bedford Mass Has Much to be Proud of
By Jamie Kimmel
New Bedford Massachusetts is a city full of artists, and also home to America’s #1 fishing fleet.
While many other cities along the coasts have seen their waterfronts gentrified and condo-ized, in this old city, scores of workers still go down to the sea and there are working fishing vessels parked next to ferries and an old schooner.
My friend and I had the chance to visit New Bedford for the weekend in July 2014. As soon as we arrived, I was reminded of Salem, MA.
The small brick alleys, quaint local shops, museums, and the nearby ocean are probably what’s causing the memories for me. The atmosphere is relaxed and the city smells like fresh fish and salty ocean air.
Our first stop was the New Bedford Whaling Museum. We had quite a colorful tour guide, Larry and we learned a lot from him.
He was very personable and seemed to know just about everything there is to know about New Bedford’s history.
Tia Maria’s European Café
Our next stop was a café literally right behind the museum. It was lunchtime at Tia Maria’s featuring Portuguese dishes. The first thing I noticed once we were seated was a small “living room” in the back of the restaurant.
I spoke with the owner, Jessica, about that and she explained when she took over the café, she wanted to maintain some of the atmosphere the loyal customers were used to (like a Wi-Fi coffee house/lounge) and the Portuguese traditionally have two living rooms. One is only used for special occasions to show off when having company over.
As for the food, Cliff ordered Mozambique Chicken which was quite delicious! When conversing with Jessica, she told us some of the ingredients for the sauce were beer, garlic, parsley and a variety of other things.
I ordered the Portuguese burger which came with cheese and a special sauce made of ketchup and onions (my favorite!).
It was yummy but filled up my corset-strapped stomach (I couldn’t go to a whaling town without paying tribute to the whaling industry!).
Tia Maria’s also offers wifi that many visiting boaters take advantage of either out front on cafe tables or inside in the living room. They are open for dinner on weekends and daily from 7-3.
Harbor Tour with Whaling City Expeditions
After some downtime at the hotel (which we later found out from the Harbor Tour was built just two years ago), Cliff and I walked to Pier 3 for our boat tour featuring Captain Steve. I’d never seen so many boats in my life.
Many of them were large, traditional-looking ships that were privately owned. A good handful of these boats are owned by a 70-something resident and local legend named Carlos Raphael. He migrated to New Bedford from the Azores in 1968 and owns over 30 fishing vessels and employs some 300 people. He loves to fish.
Fishing vessels in New Bedford harbor. Despite not being a whaling town anymore (considering commercial whaling is now banned) New Bedford makes about $100 million in fishing alone. There are 350 fishing boats in the harbor.
There are areas of the harbor designated by the state of Massachusetts for fishing only so they can’t be bought by corporations for construction thus destroying New Bedford’s main economic resource once again.
Steve told us about the nearby Acushnet River that was originally the name of a Native American, Chief Acushnet. However the name of the River is second hand and actually was named after a whaling ship that happened to have an occupant by the name of Herman Melville (wink, wink.)
The harbor is about a 55-minute boat ride from Martha’s Vineyard and has a few small islands within it. Palmer Island is home to one of the oldest lighthouses that is still active.
Just a hop away is Fort Taber that was built just before the Civil War. I was able to see cannons left over on the top of the hill. We also got to see some large brick buildings that formerly housed the textile mills.
The second part of the tour took us to the harbor of Fairhaven. We learned that Henry Huttleston Rogers was responsible for building some schools, a Unitarian church and a library for the town.
He was quite a generous man that got mad rich off the oil business and decided to give back to his community.
Later that evening we had dinner hosted by Spicy Lime.
What this snug restaurant lacks in décor it makes up for in delicious Thai food! I was surprised at how low their prices are. I almost feel they are undercharging for what they serve.
The neighborhood isn’t impressive but the food and hospitality more than make up for it.
I met the owner, Lita, who is from Thailand. She said some of the more popular items are her curry meals and the fried chicken. She sent over some complimentary lettuce chicken lettuce wraps with crushed peanuts and peanut sauce.
We split an appetizer of Crab Rangoon and some Fried Rice appetizer that consisted of chicken, pineapple, raisins, carrots, cashews, peas and maybe a few other vegetables. The food from start to finish was fantastic! I can’t express enough how good the service is and how delicious Spicy Lime’s cuisine is!
Reaching New Heights
Shortly after breakfast the next day we headed to Carabiner’s Climbing and Fitness Center for our first-ever indoor rock climbing session. Our instructor was a 20 yr old student named Britt who was very patient with both of us (even after my boyfriend decided to be extra ballsy and climb the more difficult wall and as a result sustained a minor injury and I was irrationally petrified of flying off the wall, over the balcony and staircase to land on the bottom floor).
I’m terrified of heights but it got easier and much less nerve-racking the more times I did it. I even made it to the top (after much convincing by Britt and Cliff).
A tip I learned from Britt is to use my hands to hold onto the brackets/nubs/whatever they’re called to steady myself and push more with my thighs.
She said my arms can give out faster if I use them to pull myself up more than my legs. After following her advice, I started to get kind of good at it. It was a bit rough on my hands but other than that, I survived. No—I conquered!
After our lesson, we talked with Britt about the facility were told that Carabiner’s used to be the tallest indoor rock-climbing facility in the country. Now it’s the tallest in New England!
They said the summer is the slow season since many of their climbers are students from nearby Bridgewater and UMass Dartmouth. In fact, the colleges pay for the students to go rock climbing on Wednesdays while school is in session.
In addition to weekly college nights, Carabiner’s offers a summer camp program and several other fitness classes (yoga, pole dancing, Capoeira, boot camp, and a few martial arts, etc.) Cliff and I both had our interests piqued when hearing that.
Rock climbing alone was a new and fun experience for both of us but the other fitness classes are even more reason to visit this place. The best part is the first class is free!
We went back near the harbor to grab some drinks and settled upon the Waterfront Grille. I was in the mood for something filling so I ordered mashed potatoes and Cliff convinced me to try some New England clam chowder.
Guess I can’t call myself a true New Englander until I’ve eaten that. When I first tasted it, the chowder was delicious! I told Cliff he could have my mashed potatoes ‘cause this basically tasted like buttered mashed potato soup with some mixed vegetables.
Another Attraction: The Zoo
A great place to visit in case of a rainy day is the Buttonwood Park Zoo. This is considered one of the finest small zoos in the country, and you can meet bears, lions, otters, eagles, and seals. There are also elephants and a section devoted to rare breeds of farm animals. 425 Hawthorn Street 508-991-6178.
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Jamie Kimmel is a freelance writer from New Hampshire.
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