Travel Essentials: Provincetown, Massachusetts
What strikes me first is how tall she is. Dressed in a pink jumpsuit with white lace, this drag queen is doing her best to steady herself on a bicycle, negotiating the pedestrian road along with the three-foot foam hat towering above her head. She stops only twice: once to regain her balance, and again to have her picture taken.
Provincetown isn’t your typical seaside destination. Sure, it has everything you’d come to love and expect from the Cape – ocean, beach, sand dunes (all picturesque) – but it’s also the quirkiest and most cosmopolitan of fishing villages.
My boyfriend Greg and I are strolling down Commercial Street, P-town’s main stretch of restaurants, bars and shops. We’ve only just arrived but already feel as if we’ve stumbled upon a carnival at the end of the world. People dine on crowded patios decorated with flowers and ornamental dragonflies made out of repurposed butter knives. Music streams out from raucous piano bars, and a young man with a wide smile hands us a flyer for his musical comedy show that kicks off in a half hour.
“It’s a tiny community with a sophisticated mind,” a local shopkeeper tells me the next day, when I ask about Provincetown’s ubiquitous eccentricity. And in a town of just over 3,500 people, it’s easy to spot the stars. Walk along Commercial Street and you might see filmmaker John Waters zip past on his bicycle (he summers here), or find comedian Scott Thompson greeting audiences outside the venue of his one-man show. At the Art House or any of the other theatres around town, you can catch Broadway and comedy legends like Andrea Martin, Adam Pascal, Margaret Cho and Charo. And just when you think you might have missed the bigwigs, there’s always one more around the corner (Randy Roberts does an incredible Cher).
Following a seafood feast at the Lobster Pot, where even the locals compete for tables, Greg and I take our bikes out for a night spin down MacMillan Pier in search of a different kind of star. My ride is a Schwinn beach cruiser, black and shapely, with white-rimmed tires and red handlebars that nicely match my Converse sneakers. Silently, we glide along the renovated rows of wood planks, past the trawlers and sport-fishing boats that eagerly await their morning trips.
In several hours this place will be bustling again with travellers disembarking from the Boston ferry and people heading out on whale-watching excursions. But now, at midnight, it’s still. There’s a full moon and the tide is high. Huddled around the lampposts, some families have gathered to fish off the pier. Greg and I watch as they pull squid after squid up from the luminescent water. How different it looks from the delicious pesto calamari we sopped up with bread just an hour ago.
From here, near the end of the wharf, I look back toward the Pilgrim Monument, a stone sceptre standing tall and bright in the centre of town. This is the best of both worlds, I think – the sand, the sea, the spectacle, the stage.
I hop back on my bike to rejoin the parade.
Air Canada offers the most non-stop flights from Canada to Boston. From there, Provincetown is a pleasant drive away.