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It’s been an odd summer for me because of the trip to Africa plopped down in the middle of July. Between prepping for the trip, being away, and re-entering, there hasn’t been a lot of what I think of as summer.

So now I’m trying to grab a little of that old Cape Cod magic before summer is gone.

The other day, I took the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard with my friends Mary Ellen and Susie. It wasn’t a day trip – more like a half-day trip. But still, it was fun.

Our destination was Oak Bluffs and Illumination Night – an annual festival where all the gingerbread cottages that surround the old campground are lit up with paper lanterns. I’d never seen it, though I’ve read about its magic in books. (Check out Illumination Night, a novel by Alice Hoffman.)

While waiting for darkness to descend and the lanterns to come on, we had a wonderful dinner at the Red Cat Café in Oak Bluffs. (World’s best roasted brussel sprouts!) At the table next to us were two women visiting from Dubai, who told us that we absolutely must get donuts from Back Door Donuts after dinner. The apple fritters, they said, were TO DIE FOR!

They explained that the shop sells pretty conventional baked goods out of the storefront during the day, but at 7 p.m. every night after the shop closes, they open the back door to the parking lot and begin to sell truly amazing donuts, right out of hot oil, to a waiting crowd. Even the Obamas were known to stop by when they were on the island.

“Try to get there early,” they warned. “There will be a line.”

And indeed there was! Though it was not yet 7:00, several hundred people were already queued up, waiting. A festive, chatty mood animated the crowd. The folks ahead of us in line were flabbergasted to hear that Susie had never, ever eaten a donut before. NEVER?  Nope, never. This seemed like a pretty good place to start! We speculated whether apple fritters counted, and whether we might be able to cage a few free donuts, given the historic moment.

Ixnay to that idea, but the apple fritters were as delicious as advertised, a perfect blend of hot sugary crispness and grease.

The illumination part of the evening was less successful. It was the tradition to precede the lantern-lighting with a hearty, patriotic sing-along in the Tabernacle that anchors the campground. The singing went on and on and on till we finally had to bolt for the shuttle bus, lest we miss the last ferry back to the mainland. Never did see the lights.

Better luck next year!

The other day, a friend mentioned that she sometimes takes the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and back without getting off the boat, just for the pleasure of being on the water.

This got me thinking. I tend to regard going to the Vineyard as a big production, involving advanced planning and expensive reservations for both car and lodging. But why? It’s only $15 round-trip without a car, and the boat ride takes barely half an hour.

So last Saturday that’s where we went. But unlike my friend, we got off the boat.

The first thing we did after arriving in Vineyard Haven was to walk to ArtCliff Diner for lunch. Sitting at the counter, I had a sandwich of pulled pork and spicy coleslaw on a toasted chiabata that had me practically moaning, it was so good.

Then, because the Vineyard Film festival was going on, we caught a 2:00 showing of the documentary Babies.

Then we spent a couple of hours poking around in shops and bookstores.

As the sun started to set, we sat on the porch at Zephrus Grill, enjoying sangria and calamari salad.

And finally we caught the boat back. We were home by 9:30.

Doesn’t that sound like the perfect day trip?

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