Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Wide Appeal of Guido's Italian-American Restaurant in Walpole, MA

Article and photo by Eric H.

Everyone likes Guido's Italian-American Restaurant in Walpole, MA, and many even love it.

Ask virtually anyone in the Norfolk County area who has been to Guido's and they'll tell you nothing but good things. During these tough economic times, who wouldn't love mounds of delicious Italian food (except those on a diet) and fresh, homemade pizzas at low prices? Add a local, hometown personal touch with friendly, attentive service and a personable host named Mike and you have a homey, family-oriented place to dine away from home. To sweeten the experience, Guido's also features a dessert display case with Boston North-End quality sweets made from scratch, including cannolis, apple strudel, eclairs, cream puffs, lemon merangue pie, and chocolate chip cookies. Guido's also offers a good children's menu and, for adults, a good variety of beers and wines.

Guido's has a rather plain design -- kind of like a Friendly's with chandeliers (and no counter), but it's this type of atmosphere that lends further dining appeal. The minute you step into this modest dining room, you know you won't get any "attitude" like "I'm better than you" waitresses," "hand-rubbed" this and "encrusted and infused" that, and prices that require a second mortgage. Going to Guido's is ultimately like going to a big family outing where everyone seems to know each other.

When Guido's comes up in dining conversation, the response is always good. That a good cross-section of people enjoy eating at Guido's is true testimony to its wide appeal as an affordable dining spot with some excellent Italian-American food.

Recommended dishes:
Pasta fasule
Chicken soup
Clam chowder
Caesar Salad
Baked eggplant and veal parmigiana
Gnocchi with meatballs
Chicken and broccoli alfredo
Lasagne with meat sauce
baked stuffed haddock
Thin crust pizza
Sicilian-style pizza

Guido's Italian-American Restaurant
683 Main St.
The Market Place at 1A
Walpole, MA
Tel. (508) 660-1533
Second location: 218 Dedham Street in Norfolk, MA. Tel. (508) 384-5122

Monday, December 1, 2008

Visiting Quaint Wayland Square in Providence, RI

Article and Photo by Eric H.

Rodney Dangerfield -- God Bless your soul -- take notice: Wayland Square, a pleasant section in Providence, RI, gets no respect.

While the busy, funky, eclectic and sometimes cloying, precious College Hill caters to Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design college students, Wayland Square resides, almost silently, a few blocks down. And while Providence Place, Federal Hill and Waterplace Park bring in the tourists and local crowds, Wayland Square quite modestly avoids the limelight of Providence's lively renaissance. This avoidance happens with good reason: it's hard to have a Renaissance when your traditional-oriented neighborhood has maintained itself well through the years.

Largely a wealthy residential area on the "East Side," Wayland Square looks more like a quaint village than part of a bustling city. Tree-lined and quiet, Wayland Square has a few restaurants (including the excellent Rufful's for breakfast and lunch, and the Red Stripe for upscale but casual New American dining), book stores, a toy shop, antiques shops, boutiques, and art and interior design stores. Combined with elegant apartments and grand 18th and 19th century Colonial homes, Wayland Square is a true hidden travel gem. If you're in the Providence area, make sure to give Wayland Square the respect it deserves by visiting this classic old New England neighborhood with some very modern, yet understated leanings.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Inn at Woodstock Hill Offers the Quintessential New England Travel Getaway

Article by Eric H.

All this talk about bail-outs and recessions just makes one want to bail out to a peaceful travel destination to get away from all this ugly, elitist-driven financial madness. We couldn't think of a better place to temporarily escape than the Inn at Woodstock Hill in Woodstock, Conn.

The tell-tale sign that The Inn at Woodstock Hill is an ideal getaway is that it's located in the northeast area of Connecticut called the "Quiet Corner." The Inn at Woodstock Hill delivers on this appealing moniker, majestically residing in its 1816 Federal/Georgian presence on a hill surrounded by higher rolling hills, some of the prettiest large old Colonial homes you'll ever see, and a peaceful aura that simply forces relaxation. Woodstock is indeed a worthy extension of the Inn at Woodstock Hill (or, vice versa). Void of any unctuous strip malls, hostile commuting traffic, or other "Anytown USA" trappings (why do we call this civilization?), Woodstock's idea of rapid development is watching the apples grow in the fall, accumulating pure white snow piling up in the winter, multiplying plant life in the spring, and more chances to walk the "real New England" in the summer.

The Inn at Woodstock Hill is a visual delight. Just looking at the grand interior archways, quaint sitting rooms and elegant wide, red-carpeted staircase further validates the need to be in a place like The Inn at Woodstock Hill -- more reminiscent of a gentler previous era than the socially, economically and politically volatile times we live in.

The real clincher that you've landed in an instantly-beloved destination centers around the 22 individually-unique guest rooms. Some features you might find -- depending upon the room you get -- are high ceilings, fireplaces, big windows overlooking beautiful country scenery, and antique furnishings. The combination of old-world features sure feels great, more fulfilling than society's love affair with cell phones, palm pilots, and other socially distracting gadgets. Here, at the Inn at Woodstock Hill, you learn how to connect with the real world where simplicity, conversation, and scenic splendor rule the day.

The Inn at Woodstock Hill also features wonderful dining -- a Sunday brunch, lunch (Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and dinners (Mon. - Sat., 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Sun. 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.) with a creative flair. Some amazing dishes include slowly-roasted Long Island duck a L'Orange, Filet Mignon "Madagascar" with roasted peppers, garlic cloves and bodelaise and Thai stir-friend shrimp and sea scallops. The restaurant also has some fresh mized greens, salad, a terrific seafood chowder, and an extensive wine list. With dim lighting, fireplaces, and attention service within historical rooms, this dining experience just adds to the romantic yet casual, friendly experience at the Inn at Woodstock Hill.

The lavation of stresses is quite easy to accomplish for even the most intense workaholic, here at the Inn at Woodstock Hill. After all, there's really no better "relaxation remedy" than to slow down, breathe in fresh air, and enjoy the countryside. The Inn at Woodstock Hill will bail you out from our modern-day ways of life, each and everytime. It's a bail-out travel plan, in the best sense!

The Inn at Woodstock Hill, 94 Plaine Hill Road
Woodstock, CT 06281-2912
Phone: (860) 928-0528

Make reservation at the Inn at Woodstock Hill

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gee, Wally, Medfield is Sure a Neat Town!

Article and Photo by Eric H.

Medfield, MA, about a half hour southwest of Boston, has a classic Leave it to Beaver look with sunny, tree-lined streets, a downtown right out of the 1950s, and friendly neighbors (and some of the best public schools in the state). While Medfield features some very large old and newer homes, the overall feel is more working class. People we've met from Medfield don't try to impress us that they live in Medfield, just that they really enjoy the town. You won't see a lot of people here walking around in top hats and monocles!

The downtown sets the tone for Medfield -- informal, pleasant and old-fashioned. Lord's Department Store brings back the days of Woolworths's and even features an luncheonette called Coffee Sensations. Park Street Books, Friendly's Ice Cream, Casabella Pizza. Noon Hill Grill (excellent for lunch and dinner restaurant in a restored train station), Master's Touch store for home remodeling, and some hair salons, an old school barber shop and banks are just a few of the services that keep the town center quite busy. Off the main drag on North St., there's Zebra's (an upscale restaurant serving New American cuisine) Honey's Cafe and Bakery for baked goods and breakfast and lunch, Medfield Seafoods for wonderful take-out seafood, and Thai World for some of the freshest Thai food in the Boston area. Add a church with a tall white steeple, a gazebo and town green, ancient town hall building and inviting brick public library and you have a small town with a true New England look.

The side streets off Main Street feature some beautiful old Colonial and Victorian homes, as well as a swimming pond and playground on Green St. Farms grace the outskirts of town, as well as ponds, brooks and streams. You'd never know you were so close to Boston. Maybe that's what makes Medfield such an appealing place -- sort of an oasis in the middle of a rapidly growing suburban area. Wally and Beaver could have been very happy living here!

If You're Looking for a Great Diner, You'll Love Dave's Diner in Middleboro, MA

Article and Photo by Eric H.

We recently reviewed Dave's Diner in Middleboro, MA, at the VisitingNewEngland.com Local Yokel Dining Guide. With its chrome, neon, counter and stools and full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, we feel this would be a great place for families, diner aficionados and virtually everyone else who likes a good home-cooked meal within a classic diner setting in southeastern Massachusetts. Read the Dave's Diner review here

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Is Malden The Best Place to Raise a Family?

Article by Eric H.
Recently, BusinessWeek Magazine named Malden as the best place to raise a family in Massachusetts with communities having populations of more than 50,000 people.

This well-intended but controversial article just goes to show that there is a difference between collecting data and actually living in the city -- or seeing first-hand through the years what Malden is really like.

Malden, with a population of around 56,000, is actually not a bad place, but certainly not the community many of us would want to raise a family. This is not to denigrate Malden for its has many virtues like some nice neighborhoods, affordability, proximity to Boston and a good variety of restaurants. The article praised the school system, but the story is different if you look at the stats on GreatSchools.net. There is disparity between the stats and parent/student rankings for Malden on this Web Site, but in our opinion, both need to be taken into account to potentiate finding the best school system for your child. Wouldn't it be better to have both: good stats and parent/students rankings? Better yet, if you have children then make an appointment with a public school rep in Malden to get a first-hand account of what they have to offer.

If, however, you want a better-regarded school system, lower crime, a downtown that is more established and interesting, amenities, affordability, and fewer sketchy neighborhoods, then why not choose Arlington (more pricey, but with some relatively affordable areas), North Attleborough, or Franklin? These towns have smaller populations, but still offer many services (Franklin even has Dean College!) in close-knit, small town settings.

Many of us don't care whether a city or town has a population of 50,000 or more. We would be happy to drop that population 10,000, 20,000 or even more, if it meant that community had similar-type services to Malden. Why relegate your search to a certain number of people in town? Once you're in a town, you're not going to be able to tell the difference between, say, 42,000 and 50,000 people! What you could feel impacted by, however, is that there were 268 violent crimes and 1,418 property in Malden, according to state data from 2006. You could do better in the towns mentioned above in regards to safety. In fact, check out Malden as compared to Arlington in different categories of crime in the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs Violent Crime Review (as well as several other highly populated state communities participating in this study). Again, stats don't mean everything but we feel it would be responsible journalism to point out stats that extend upon the BusinessWeek article.

While we applaud BusinessWeekly Magazine for putting a decent city in the spotlight, we just feel that the morale of this story is that no one town should be singled out as "the best," based largely on stats. While this approach might inform readers on a worthy community, it could also raise false expectations. Personally, I don't like the under performing downtown in Malden and really don't get a warm, fuzzy and safe feeling in certain areas of the city. If you're looking for a place to live, go check out Malden and then places like the aforementioned Arlington, North Attleborough, Franklin, or perhaps Weymouth, Norwood, Plymouth and Melrose. I know for us, we would choose any of those communities over Malden -- not because we're snobs but for the very reason that the term "best" means something different for each person.

Life is not a database. While stats do serve a valuable purpose, we prefer to visit communities and talk with people who know a bit about these towns and cities before forming a judgement. Go to a coffee shop, talk with the police, chat with residents at a town event and create your own research team that centers on asking questions and employing the art of conversation with people who live in a given community. We believe that is the best way to choose a place to live!

Let me know your thoughts, readers!

Monday, November 10, 2008

How to Visit More Than New England 40 New England Travel Attractions in One Day

Article by Eric H., Photo of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Courtesy of MOTT

If you're planning on visiting New England, we recommend you check out the 40-plus travel and vacation attractions listed in the VisitingNewEngland.com "Best New England Family Vacation Attractions" article. Far from a faceless, generic, "we'll -pay-you-to-write-something-good-about-us" online informerical, we've combined personal reviews with word-of-mouth feedback from our neighbors and friends from all over New England. The article will be significantly updated from this point on, but, for now, you'll just have to do with what we feel are some of New England's best attractions for the family during the winter, spring, summer and fall!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

New England Town of the Day: Plymouth, MA

Article and photos by Eric H.

In a rare portrayal of arrogance and pettiness, I stayed away from Plymouth, MA, for many years. The rationale was quite elitist and, actually, quite pathetic:

It's too close to home. Therefore, it can't be any good!

I heard that there's crime there. Why, other towns around here don't have crime!

Who wants to travel an hour to see a silly rock (Plymouth Rock) that's one-third the size of its original presence --thanks to chucklehead tourists chipping the rock for their own take-home souvenirs? We have many rocks in our backyard and in the heads of some of our state politicians!

No one goes there anymore, it's too crowded! (coining a classic Yogi Berra line)

Surely, there are better things to do like watching a Munsters Marathon on TV Land!

Yes, the above statements are more designed to humor you, but, in reality, I was never too crazy about Plymouth. For a while, the downtown seemed run down, crime did rise during this time, and it just seemed like there were better coastal travel destinations -- like Newburyport, MA, Portsmouth, NH, York , Maine and Block Island, RI. Returning to Plymouth yesterday for a day trip, however, opened my eyes to a place I can hardly wait to return. The downtown is absolutely thriving with a colorful array of traditional stores, boutiques, galleries, restaurants, cafes and, of course, historical attractions around the corner.

Turning that collective corner off Main Street will bring you to Plymouth Harbor, where you will find the 11-acre Pilgrim Memorial State Park featuring scenic harbor views and landmark travel attractions like the aforementioned Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II -- an impressive replica of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America. Also at the downtown waterfront are nice-looking "water view" restaurants like Isaac's (very, very good seafood!) and the East Coast Grille.

Looking around the waterfront area, my heart warmed up when finding the John Alden Gift Shop. This old-fashioned, long-time operating store brought back such nice memories of going to this shop a few times as a child in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The old-school gift shop exterior look is intact, which made me feel very young again! And, wow, it is ever amazing that John Alden had the foresight as a Pilgrim to open a gift shop -- what a brilliant Pilgrim (please note I am just kidding).

Although Plymouth has a population of 58,000 (and growing), it really feels like a smaller town with its quaint downtown, spread out waterfront and outlying rural areas -- inlcuding the Long Pond area that might be my ticket to finally learning how to fish!

So, my interest in Plymouth has gone from about zero to 60 in about one second. It might sound strange, but the rushed elementary school field trips to Plymouth and the dull textbook history lessons (William Bradford was a Pilgrim...he rode on a ship) might have dulled my ambitions to visit Plymouth as a younger person. Now, I am fully re-energized to explore more of Plymouth, including the following:

Plimoth Plantation, an indoor and outdoor museum portraying Plymouth as it was in the 17th Century (this means lots of information on Pilgrims)

The Pilgrim Hall Museum that showcases a collection of Pilgrim possessions

The Jenny Grist Mill, a 1636 living history museum offering a tour of this famous grist mill

The nearby Edaville Railroad in Carver, MA, a personal favorite childhood attraction that has come back to life (after being closed) as an amusement park featuring train rides

Sometime, we'll come back to stay at the newly renovated John Carver Inn (it looks so grand and has a perfect downtown location). eat at the East Coast Grille for a nice seafood dinner, and reconnect with this famous New England tourist destination that slipped away from us for many years. It's time to return to "America's Hometown!"

For New Englanders Who Have A Sweet Tooth...

Article and photo (Country Kitchen, Walpole, MA) by Eric H.

The impending holiday seasons bring about an enhanced craving for anything sweet, especially cookies, pies and cakes. As for the rest of the season, well, people will always find a reason to eat something sugar-related.

While we know that the best route to health is through eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, we also know the reality that there's a place in our hearts (although not always doing that part of our body well) for a special treat. Balance is the key and as long as you don't have a medical situation, an occasional sugary treat can be quite enjoyable. Here in New England, we have reviewed several of the best places to buy a special treat in our In Search of a Sweet New England at VisitingNewengland.com. Here, you'll find delightful bakeries, chocolate factories and other sweet-smelling places where they offer chocolates, ice cream, donuts, candies and other sugary concoctions. At the bottom of the article, you'll find a virtual online bakery from David's Cookies (not-based in New England, but very special indeed!) where you can purchase a special treat!.

Enjoy this "sweet" article!

Friday, November 7, 2008

New England Town of the Day: Norwood, MA

Article and Photo by Eric H.

There's an affectionate old, local joke that once you live in Norwood, MA, you never leave. The reasoning behind this "townie" tradition makes perfect sense, given Norwood has always offered a sense of place with its close-knit neighborhoods, good schools, proximity to Boston and Providence, and lots of town activities going on in this southwest suburban Boston town of about 29,000 people.

One of the big draws in Norwood, MA, is its thriving downtown -- perhaps the best mid-sized town center in suburban Boston. Becoming something of a "restaurant row," with an amazing diversity of dining spots, Norwood also features many local Mom and Pop stores that collectively allow you to do all of your shopping downtown. Although the type of businesses are becoming more modern with boutiques and galleries, there's still a sense of yesteryear with Brenner's Childrens Shop for clothing, old school dining spots like the Lewis Restaurant and Grille, Norwood Town Square Diner and Mug n' Muffin, the Norwood Sport Center for candlepin bowling, and the Learning Well for school supplies. There's also the Fiddlehead Theater -- a renovated movie theater -- that features award-winning theater productions!

The aesthetics of the downtown are really nice, too, with a beautiful town common with a gazebo, stunningly beautiful old, large town buildings and churches, nice sidewalks for strolling and shops generally sprucing up their exteriors to augment Norwood's community pride. Right now, the downtown is all lit up with white Christmas lights and the largest town common tree transforming into a Christmas tree. During the summer, concerts on the town common represent and validate Norwood's myriad community events and activities.

The rest of Norwood is also tremendous, although South Norwood could use a face lift -- but even this section is full of community spirit and relative safety despite a sketchy look. Otherwise, you'll find pleasant, tree-lined streets with homes that meet every budget that can afford the Boston area. The yards are generally not big, but these pleasant neighborhoods still offer a "Leave It To Beaver" look that will make you feel right at home.

Back to the restaurant scene, we recommend the Mint Cafe for Thai, Japanese, and Korean cuisine, The Old Colonial Cafe for steak, seafood and chicken, Napper Tandy's for pub food and drinks, and Abbodanza II for authentic Italian cuisine and its take-out pizza section.

You won't read about Norwood in your basic travel guide, as it is a suburb rather than a vacation destination. That doesn't mean Norwood isn't worth visiting, however, as some of life's best experiences come in suburban packages for "locals" like us. Yes, Norwood isn't exactly Newport, RI, but in terms of residential suburbs, this is one of Boston's best. It's why many people never leave this proud town!

The Local Yokel New England Dining Guide

Article and photo (1761 Old Mill restaurant, Westminster, MA) by Eric H.

Our readers at VisitingNewEngland.com had more of a hunger for an enhanced dining reviews pages, so we recently upgraded with a more navigation-friendly restaurant section called the Local Yokel New England Dining Guide. We think you'll like the new look with a featured restaurant (currently Don's Diner, of Plainville, MA) near the top of the page, all the personal restaurant review links intact and a nice variety of restaurant and food-related ads on the right -- including one of our favorite restaurants, Vello's, of Westwood, MA.

We hope you find this updated page appetizing, and try one of the restaurants mentioned -- places that make New England so special in regards to its dining.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

New England Town of the Day: Marion, MA

Article and Photo by Eric H.

Marion, MA, doesn't receive a lot of press, but it certainly manages to pull us into its quintessentially coastal New England presence.

This sleepy, little town of approximately 5,000 people in southeastern Massachusetts combines the neatly manicured look of Tabor Academy (a private school serving grades 9-12) with refreshing seacoast living. Many residents own older Colonial homes with white picket fences and American flags proudly on display, while enjoying local swimming and other recreational activities at scenic Sippican Harbor. Marion, by the way, shares the Buzzards Bay coastline that extends to nearby Cape Cod.

Marion is refreshingly laid-back. There's not much going on in town, although the Marion Country Store still thrives, and there's a network of beautiful tree-lined streets leading from the downtown.

Visiting Marion is like taking a trip back in time. It's not considered a vacation destination, but rather a residential community that we encourage you to visit as, perhaps, part of a day trip. Thankfully, the town planners have kept this hidden gem pretty much intact for us to enjoy as a true slice of coastal New England.

Best Pizza in the Boston Area

Article and photo by Eric H.

Pizza might not sound very "New England," but that doesn't mean us lifelong locals can't enjoy a slice or five.

We recently updated our "Best Pizza in the Greater Boston Area" section on VisitingNewEngland.com, including personal reviews as well as reader feedback. We have included our favorite Italian and Greek-style pizzas -- some local landmarks like Santarpio's in East Boston and Pizzeria Regina in the North End of Boston and some hidden gems like Leo's Pizzeria in Walpole and Poopsie's in Pembroke (with a name like that, the pizza better be good).

Feel free to submit your favorite Boston area pizza places and we'll consider it for publication!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

New England Town of the Day: Meredith, NH

Article and Photo by Eric H.

The true testimony to a vacation destination is whether it would also make a great town to live. How many vacation destinations fit that bill, given so many travel spots have been ruined by phony, slick makeovers and overdevelopment that deplete the authenticity of a community?

Meredith, located on beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee at the foothills of the White Mountains, is a real community with its unspoiled scenic lake views, a nice old-fashioned downtown with several local shops and restaurants, a pleasant mix of well-kept new and old homes, places to walk by the lake, and an overall peaceful sense of place. Besides the established downtown section is the historic Mills Falls Marketplace, an early linen mill which was properly restored (translated: not tacky or pretentious!) to feature 19 unique specialty shops, galleries and restaurants -- and the charming The Inn at Mills Falls hotel. There's also the Annalee Outlet Store, at 50 Reservoir Rd., that should please those who love this line of dolls!

Meredith combines that classic New England small-town feel with lots of things to do, including swimming at Waukewan Town Beach, boating via access at Waukewan St., walking at the Waukewan Highland (three miles leading to a pond), and area winter skiing (Gunstock Mountain with 49 trails and eight lifts in nearby Gilford, NH), ice skating, snowshoeing, ice fishing, ice sailing, snowmobiling, sledding, and cross country skiing. Merdith's location is also ideal, close enough to all the attractions in the White Mountains. In addition, the nearby towns of Bristol, Center Harbor, Holderness, Moultonborough, Sandwich and Wolfeboro, are filled with small-town New England charm and countless lake views -- certainly worth a day trip diversion from Meredith. If you like a honky-tonk summer destination, Weirs Beach is close by and features amusement arcades and a public beach.

Charming inns (including) and several restaurants add more personality to this already wonderful community. Our favorite restaurant here is Hart's Turkey Farm, in business since 1954 -- an old-school, landmark dining spot for delicious turkey dinners.

Meredith just feels right, whether it's for a day trip, extended vacation or for those interested in moving to a beautiful New England small town. This special community certainly comes to mind when recommending to travelers a quintessential New England place to stay. There's plenty to do here, although I could just sit by the tranquil lake dock all day, do nothing, and be happy!

Visit the Meredith Chamber of Commerce Web Site for more information on Meredith.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Additional Perspectives on Patriot Place, Foxborough, MA

Article and photos by Eric H.

Patriot Place, at Gillette Stadium (home of the New England Patriots) in Foxborough, MA, continues it rapid development, en route to becoming a major destination for shopping, entertainment and commercial uses.

Traveling here once a week to eagerly monitor its progress, I am constantly amazed at how quickly Patriot Place is growing as it seems like it went from an empty parcel of land to an established shopping plaza in virtually no time. Stores and restaurants seem to be opening every week! The "look" is marvelous with attractive walkways and buildings, juxtaposed against the stunning state-of-the-art Gillette Stadium. Patiriot Place already has a strong presence with stores like Reebok, Victoria's Secret, Bass Pro Shops, Aeropostale and restaurants like Red Robin, CBS Scene, Skipjack, Davio's and Blue Fin Lounge. Baskin Robbins recently opened a more colorful version of its storied ice cream chain here!

Recently, The Hall at Patriot Place opened with its interactive exhibits and New England Patriots memorabilia. I can hardly wait to visit this wonderful concept for its entertaining and educational presentations.

By next spring, Patriot Place should be well on its way to being completed that includes a 150-room hotel, a medical center, and 70 shops, restaurants, and entertainment options.

Stay tuned, and I'll be updating you frequently on The Weekly New England Travel and Vacation Gazette on what's happening at Patriot Place from a personal perspective.

Visit the Patriot Place Web Site for more information.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

New England Town of the Day: Somesville, Maine

Article and Photos (from Port In a Storm Book Store in Somesville) by Eric H.

Not to be confused with the more urbane Somerville, MA, Somesville, Maine, isn't even officially a town: it's part of the municipality of Mt. Desert Island! Regardless of its designation, Somesville sure looks like a real New England coastal town with its quaint look enhanced by amazing views of Somes Sound, mountains, inlets and other rural scenery that remain unspoiled. There's not much to do in Somesville except take in the views and visit the wonderful Port In A Storm Book Store -- one of the best examples of a successful, friendly independent book store that we've found in New England. Of course, it helps to have those great water views (including a waterfall) within a stone's throw of the book store. Port In A Storm is up to date on many of the latest books, but offers an especially impressive selection of books about Maine.

Acadia National Park is the real draw within Mt. Desert Island with its stunning views of the ocean and mountains, but make sure to include Somesville as part of your travel plans here. Its unassuming qualities might just rank up there with the best memories during your Acadia National Park vacation.

Warming Up to a New England Winter Vacation

Article and Photo (of Downtown Walpole, MA) by Eric H.

Now that fall foliage has pretty much ended in New England, the carousel of New England seasons will soon give way to winter with its blanket of white snow gracing our character-filled cities, towns and villages, as well as downhill skiing, cross country skiing, and cold weather events and attractions to warm your heart. We have just started a New England Winter Vacation Guide at VisitingNewEngland.com that offers many ideas for those in search of a New England vacation. Much of it centers on skiing and ski lodging at this point, but there's also a good amount of information on two New England winter vacation destinations that go well beyond their reputations for fine skiing: the Mt. Washington, NH, area and Stowe, VT. You'll also find some great Maine events, as well as links to Christmas shopping in New England and why it's good to visit New England in the winter. Enjoy, and drop us a line to let us know your favorite New England winter travel destinations!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New England Town of the Day: Foxboro, MA

Article and photo by Eric H.

The hundreds of thousands of people who visit Foxboro (also spelled Foxborough), MA, yearly for a New England Patriots football game or shopping and entertainment at the adjoining, soon-to-be-completed Patriot Place might not even know that there's a real, live town here. Foxboro, a town of about 16,000 about 25 miles southwest of Boston, is true "small town America," blessed with a quaint downtown, a large circular village green with gazebo, historic homes and churches, an old-time Aubuchon Hardware store, the "townie" Commons Cafe, the Orpheum Theater for local plays, and many nice little stores. On the outskirts, you'll find Normandy Farms Campground, and quiet neighborhoods with well-kept ranches, Colonials and Victorians. The tree-lined streets, leading off the town center, several well-regarded public schools, brand new police and fire stations, and an ambitious plan to renovate old state buildings into commercial and residential space further validate Foxboro as a town with a look of the past and an eye for the future. In your New England travel, we recommend checking Foxboro out beyond the football stadium, if you happen to be in the area!

New England's Hearty Appetite for the Phantom Gourmet

Article and photo (Salem Cross Inn, West Brookfield, MA) by Eric H.

For those of you with a hearty appetite and who are constantly searching for the best New England restaurants, we recommend visiting the Phantom Gourmet, watching its show on Channel 38 Boston (Saturdays 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m.) and listening on WTKK 96.9 FM Boston radio on Saturday from 4-7 p.m. (it's amazing how they can be in two places at the same time!). With hungry businessmen and food critics Andelman brothers Dave and Dan running the show with a mysterious, unknown restaurant reviewer named the "Phantom Gourmet," this well-known dining review business is best known for its lively, brutally frank and humorous television descriptions of local restaurants in the best Boston accents or "I'll try my best not to have a Boston accent" voices. The Andelman brothers, sons of local legendary sports talk show host Eddie Andelman, really love their junk food, but still manage to have the "Phantom Gourmet" review all types of restaurants. In addition, with food and beer fests gracing Boston, selling a Phantom Gourmet "Boston's Best Restaurants" book, and promoting their dining review business, the Phantom Gourmet has really become household names in the Boston area.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New England Town of the Day: Oxford, MA

Article and photo by Eric H.

The Main Street of Oxford, MA, features just about everything that is good about a traditional New England small town: a wide tree-shaded street with great sidewalks, grand old Colonial and Victorian homes with cozy front porches, tall white steeple churches, a classic old library, a park and town common, and a diner. The diner, Carl's, offering some of the hugest breakfasts we've ever seen, really showcases the close-knit feel of Oxford as everyone seems to know each other (the owners of this place are a riot, just short of making the comedy circuit). The rest of the town isn't quite up to the downtown's standard, but it's, nevertheless, quite an attractive town just minutes from Worcester in central Massachusetts. If you're in the Worcester area during your travel, we recommend stopping by this town that quite well represents the spirit of a small, quintessential New England town.

New England-Based Businesses Offering Unique and Familiar Christmas Gifts

Article by Eric H.
It's not even Halloween yet, but let's admit it: the Christmas/holiday shopping season showed signs of evolving after Labor Day in some stores. And reality is that we are less than two months away from the holiday season -- we all know how quickly two months can pass.

I have researched some New England businesses that offer high quality merchandise for the whole family. You can view some of these businesses and their Christmas and holiday gift ideas at VisitingNewEngland.com. Businesses include the Vermont Teddy Bear Company of Shelburne, VT; Stonewall Kitchen of York, Maine; and Cambridge Soundworks. We have also included Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, and Boston Celtics holiday gift suggestions, including apparel and accessories, automotive gifts, baby gifts, books, 2009 calendars, DVDs, office products, and toys and games. Additionally, we have found New England travel discount passes to Boston attractions, tours and museums, as well as a ski pass that will save you money -- great during these tough economic times.

There's even the famous PajamaGram gift line. Did you know that they are owned by the Vermont Teddy Bear Company?

In advance, Merry Christmas and enjoy shopping!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

New England Town of the Day: Sandwich, MA

Article and photo by Eric H.

Sandwich, MA, pleasantly combines two of the best elements of New England: the quaint white steeple church, tree-lined, Colonial home downtown look and the seaside charm of New England. Proving that you don't have to drive too far through Cape Cod to get the true essence of this legendary vacation destination, Sandwich, the oldest town on Cape Cod incorporated in 1639, is just minutes from the Sagamore Bridge -- connecting mainland Massachusetts with Cape Cod. Sandwich offers a great deal of scenery and attractions for its residents and vacationers: ocean beaches, a pretty harbor, a bike and walking trail along the Cape Cod Canal, and quintessential inns and restaurants including the renowned Daniel Webster Inn and Restaurant, golf, boating opportunities and gift shops. Developed without being overdeveloped, Sandwich is one of our favorite Cape Cod destinations as it is the "real deal" -- not the hokey, cheesy Cape Cod that is becoming more dominant these days. Sandwich, on the other hand, is just Cape Cod being Cape Cod!

Friday, October 24, 2008

New England Town of the Day: Barrington, RI

Article and photo by Eric H.

Barrington, RI, doesn't get the press that nearby Newport and Bristol receive, but that doesn't mean it's any less of a idyllic New England coastal town. Primarily an upscale residential community, Barrington features plenty of splendid water views with the Warren River on the east and the Narragansett Bay on the west and south. Barrington is also located on the East Bay Bike Path, spanning 14 miles from Providence to Bristol with many water views. Although the downtown isn't as clearly defined as Newport or Bristol, it, nevertheless, has a pleasant look with historic, tree-shaded town buildings, boutiques, a book store and a few restaurants. Barrington's location is terrific, close to Providence and Newport making it an ideal, scenic place to live, or travel as part of a day trip. The water views are the real draw here, bringing you into a true coastal New England town, thus proving that you don't have to religiously follow the travel guides to find the best of New England.

In Search of the Best Maine Blueberry Pie

Article by Eric H., Photo Courtesy of HiddenBoston.com

I love blueberries. They are packed with antioxidants, taste great and, better yet, transform into something more magical in the form of a pie. Here in New England, we are not exactly bereft of great-tasting blueberry pie. The blueberries often come straight from the source, Maine, creating the foundation for locals to practice the art and science of making the perfect Maine blueberry pie.

Out of all the great tasting wild blueberry pies in New England, I find the best to be at the Maine Diner in Wells, Maine. Served with some delicious vanilla ice cream, this version of a sweet New England dish mixes the perfect crust with wild Maine blueberries and just the right amount of sugar.

The Maine Diner is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and features other Maine/New England specialties like lobster pie, clam chowder, seafood chowder, Maine crab meat roll, chicken pot pie, and a delicious roast turkey dinner.

Always call ahead to make sure the Maine Diner has its delicious blueberry pie on the menu the day you decide to travel to this deservedly famous Maine roadside dining landmark.

Maine Diner, 2265 Post Rd., Route 1, Wells, ME. Tel. 207.646.4441

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New England Town of the Day: Essex, CT

Article and photo by Eric H.

Perhaps best epitomizing the quaintness of a small Connecticut Colonial seaport town, Essex is a true visual delight with its idyllic location on the Connecticut River. Tucked away in south central Connecticut, Essex boasts a picturesque marina, beautiful town park with gazebo, quintessential historic New England lodging at the landmark Griswold Inn, and 14 miles of sidewalks leading you past historic homes and interesting little shops and restaurants.

Author Norman Crampton mentioned Essex as one of America's best small towns in his 1995 book, ''The 100 Best Small Towns in America.'' One look at Essex and you'll know exactly what he's talking about!

Additional resources:
VisitingNewEngland.com Article on Essex
Essex Tourism Web Site
Hotels Near Essex

Bath, Maine, Getting Ready for the Holiday Season

Intro by Eric H., Bath holiday event info, courtesy of VisitMaine.com

We've written before in The Weekly New England Travel and Vacation Blog about Bath, Maine, as a wonderful, coastal mid-Maine travel and vacation destination. A truly authentic small Maine city with a vibrant, historical downtown, travelers often think of Bath as a summer travel spot, given its proximity to beaches and all the great benefits that come with it -- seafood restaurants, lodging with a water view, and refreshing ocean breezes. The reality is, however, that places like Bath thrive year-round as a residential community -- and, surprise, a place to visit even during the colder months.

A good case in point is the holiday season. We recently received information from VisitMaine.com on a special holiday event to be held in Bath:

Bath's Old Fashioned Christmas Turns Green

The city of Bath's Old Fashioned Christmas celebration is living up to its name and getting greener in 2008.

The month-long event in Bath's downtown kicks off November 29 with the Jingle Bell Walk from Library Park to city hall. The walk is open to the public and replaces the traditional rolling parade of decorated floats pulled by pick-up trucks. At city hall children can help Santa Claus with the lighting of the city tree, and carolers will sing songs of the season.

Area businesses will display elaborately decorated balsam trees during the Festival of Trees at the Maine Maritime Museum, December 2. This year's decorating theme is "Christmas treats." There will also be maritime crafts, storytelling and music.

On Friday's from November 20 through December 19, the Bath Trolley Company will offer evening caroling trolley rides through the city. Enjoy the scenery of dressed up storefronts while singing along with carolers.

The popular Candy Cane Train, a favorite for children, will run between Bath and Wiscasset on December 13 and 14. The 90 minute round-trip ride with Santa Claus and his elves, storytelling, hot chocolate and cookies is a memorable treat.

Bath's downtown businesses will offer special sales and services like gift wrapping and store registries during the month of December. Fun events like cooking and candy making demonstrations and wine tastings will also take place. Wreaths and Christmas trees will be for sale in the city.

The festivities will conclude on December 31 with singing, refreshments and the
ringing of the 1802 Paul Revere bell at city hall. For more information about Old Fashioned Christmas in Bath go to www.visitbath.com or call 207-442-7291.

To learn more about events and activities happening in Maine this winter, log on to www.visitmaine.com.

The Pleasant Pocket of Small Towns in Norfolk County, MA

Article and photo by Eric H.

As the Boston, MA, suburbs move toward a more overcrowded, unfriendly, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality, there is a pocket of towns southwest of Boston that remain generally more laid-back, quaint and friendly.

The towns of Walpole, Norfolk, Millis, Medfield, Medway, Wrentham and Franklin comprise a series of close-knit Norfolk County communities that include pretty village greens, meandering country roads leading from the town centers, road side farm stands, loads of community events, scenic ponds and lakes, and real estate prices generally lower than some other areas around Boston. The crime rates in Norfolk County are low and the schools are amongst the best in the United States, according to Forbes Magazine.

It's especially nice to go out to breakfast or to the local supermarket, and meet people you know. After a few years of being involved in these communities, it's rare to go out and not see a familiar face.

In the western suburbs where I used to live, the feeling has become less friendly, more narcissistic and overcrowded, in my opinion. This is a general observation, not an indictment on the great people that live in the western suburbs. It just seems a bit less close-knit than in some of the towns where I resided.

Norfolk County has a perfect location, within commuting distance to Providence, RI< and Boston, MA. One of its towns, Foxborough, is becoming a destination with Patriot Place at Gillette Stadium (home of the New England Patriots). Patriot Place is an already spectacular outdoor shopping and entertainment complex with several restaurants, a movie theater and the amazing Bass Pro Shops. Tonight, The Cafe 31 Baskin Robbins celebrates its grand opening by sampling Baskin-Robbins treats with 20 percent of the proceeds from Thursday night through Saturday to be donated between Foxborough High School and Sharon High School.

Although the development of Patriot Place has resulted in Route 1 Foxborough becoming a busy major New England attraction, Norfolk County remains generally quaint, full of historic preservation and with a nice mix of pleasant suburbia and rural lands. It's really a great place to consider moving to -- these small towns will quickly welcome you to the neighborhood and where the townsfolk encourage newcomers to get involved with their beloved communities.

Capturing the New England Flavor: Wolfeboro Station, NH

Article and photo by Eric H.

Wolfeboro, NH, is truly a special vacation or day trip treat, with several nice downtown stores and restaurants, and the amazing views of the eastern shores of Lake Winnipesaukee and the mountains framing this idyllic, little town. With all the great lake and mountain views, however, I keep coming back to the Wolfeboro Station building as this town's greatest representation of New England's character. Sort of like a Victorian-looking train station building, Wolfeboro Station now houses the Wolfeboro Chamber of Commerce. What a nice place for them to work, and for us to view as tourists always looking for the "true New England." Next time you're in Wolfeboro, make sure to stop by this personality-filled building and receive some tourist information and tips from the Chamber at 32 Central St., just a block off Main St.

The Storrow Pond Trail at Hale Reservation, Westwood, MA

Article and photo by Eric H.

We're always looking for the best hidden, not-too-taxing New England hiking gems, and we'd have to put the Storrow Pond Trail at Hale Reservation in Westwood, MA, in that category. Starting at Hale's main entrance, the wide trails, complemented by some pretty slopes, take you by some truly beautiful views of Storrow and Noanet Ponds. If you didn't know it, you'd think you were in New Hampshire, not minutes from overcrowded Routed 109 and 128! Just follow the blue blazes and you've got yourself one of metro Boston's nicest hikes, as well as a decent workout at this scenic 1,200 acre reservation.

Hale Reservation
80 Carby St.
Westwood, MA
Tel. 781-326-1770

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Old-Fashioned Fall Fun at The Big Apple Farm in Wrentham, MA

Article and photo by Eric H.

The Big Apple Farm, located in the tiny Sheldonville section of Wrentham, MA, serves as an old-fashioned working American farm in business since 1950 and a rural community travel attraction on over 200 serene acres.

We consider The Big Apple Farm the best local farm in the southwest Boston suburbs, a salt-of-the-earth destination that favors authenticity over tourist trap cheesiness. For starters, there's seasonal fruit picking, including apples in the fall (all picked over for the 2008 season, unfortunately), raspberry picking in July and blueberry picking in July and August. For those looking for something a bit more sweet, the Big Apple Farm's bakery and donut-making facility turns out some fantastic baked goods, most notably the cider donuts, hand-dipped candy and caramel apples, apple crisp, blueberry muffins and homemade pies (including blueberry, strawberry rhubarb, pumpkin and Boston cream). There's even an ice cream stand with a cozy, adjacent indoor porch overlooking the peaceful Big Apple fields. The 20-plus flavors of ice cream -- courtesy of the local, legendary Richardson's of Middletown, MA -- includes current special "fall" flavors like apple crisp and pumpkin!

The produce section can be limited, depending on crop abundance and the time of the day, but what The Big Apple offers is fresh-from-the-field fruits and vegetables that put supermarket produce to shame. We've tasted some wonderful cucumbers, green peppers, onions, cauliflower, lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, corn, eggplant, raspberries and blueberries. The list of fruits and veggies goes way beyond what we've sampled, however with 28 types of vegetables and 24 varieties of apples. It's a virtual wonderland for those in search of local produce, but we recommend calling for current inventory before traveling to the Big Apple. The farm stand also features locally produced honey, maple syrup, fudge, Vermont cheese, candies, jams, jellies and preserves.

The apple grader is a fascinating Big Apple attraction. Visitors can view the whole process on a platform overlooking the machines sorting the apples by weight onto bagging tables. The apples then land in a washing machine, and through a conveyor belt leading to a dryer, and a polisher. The apples then drop into cups that end up in the appropriate grading table that is in their weight range. Workers then sort the apples by "firsts" and "seconds," then into bags, and onto the farm stand shelves.

Current fall events at The Big Apple include hayrides, and a well-developed pumpkin patch. It's a beautiful time of the year to visit the Big Apple as each visit seems like the prototype of what an autumn local farm visit should be like -- a friendly, inviting place with the sweet smell of apples in the air, seasonal events, local foods, and nice countryside with foliage.

New York City might be famous as "The Big Apple," but in our New England neck of the woods, the Big Apple Farm satisfies us just fine!

The Big Apple
207 Arnold St
Wrentham, Ma
Tel. 508-384-3055

Friday, October 17, 2008

Small-Town Feel with Great Downtown Near Boston?

Article and photos (top to bottom: Walpole, Newburyport, Walpole and North Attleborough) by Eric H.

I received the following e-mail from a reader interested in moving to a vibrant, small town within an hour to Boston, MA (we'd appreciate your reader feedback on this posting):

I hope you can help. My husband and I love New England and want to call it home. We recently visited Northampton and love the small town feel with the eclectic mix of old and young; however, we need to be a little closer to Boston Airport (within an hour). Can you recommend a small town that has the same feel as Northhampton and would also be suitable for raising a three and six year old and a quaint "Main Street" without the chain restaurants, etc.?

While it's entirely possible to find a small town with character and a quaint Main Street close to Boston, I'm not aware on any suburbs that have the eclectic mix of old and young within a college town setting (Northampton is home to the esteemed Smith College). Northampton also has more affordable housing, if that's an issue, so here are a few suggestions of nice towns within an hour of Boston that won't break the bank (please feel free to respond to our choices or to post your own "best place to live" near Boston):

Newburyport -- A restored historic, coastal North Shore downtown with brick sidewalks and buildings accommodating a great diversity of traditional and modern shops and restaurants. Newburyport features splendid old homes around its downtown and plenty of ranches on the perimeter of this unique-looking community. It's a small city, but has a population of approximately 17,000.

Melrose -- Located about seven miles north of Boston, Melrose is a small city with a population of 28,000 that has the unusual feature of not being touched by any major highways. Yet, it's so close to the "Hub of the Universe!" Melrose has a remarkable concentration of Victorian homes, as well as a thriving semi-quaint Victorian downtown, great parks and recreational fields, and a nexus to the pristine, unspoiled Middlesex Fells Reservation. Melrose has some areas of high density population, but for the most part, you can purchase a home with some space between you and your neighbor. We've heard good things about the schools and the culture in town -- there's even a Melrose Symphony Orchestra!

Arlington -- What was once a town with seemingly just pizza shops and banks has transformed into a restaurant-rich, eclectic community with a great school system and vibrant downtown. Actually, Arlington seems to have three sections that could serve as thriving downtowns -- the town center, Arlington Heights and East Arlington. You'll find grand, old homes in the Jason Heights district near the center, a mix of middle and upper class neighborhoods in Arlington Heights, and more of a working-class two-family home presence in East Arlington. There's also the old-fashioned Capitol Movie Theater in East Arlington, lending a real community feel to this section of Arlington. Although six miles from Boston, the crime rate is very low for a town of 42,000. Scenic Spy Pond completes the landscape in this compact, but densely populated town that is about eight square miles.

Walpole -- The downtown has some empty storefronts, but I woudn't let that sway you from looking at this attractive, quaint- looking town of 23,000 and about 25 miles southwest of downtown Boston. Located right on the commuter rail, Walpole has a close-knit friendly, community-oriented feel, and loads of recreational activities, events and parades for the adults and children. Walpole doesn't feel like a town of 23,000, as the population is spread out within 22 square miles. There's a true suburban, semi-rural feeling to the town where everyone seems to know each other. Regarding the downtown, this could potentially be one of suburban Boston's best as there are three open town common-like parcels: one that hosts concerts during the summer, another with a tree lighting ceremony in December and the other soon to be dedicated to a local fallen Soldier, 1st Lt. Andrew Bacevich. That area will feature a dedication plaque and water fountain. With the spaciousness of the center, a locally-owned drug store, a bakery, two arts and crafts studios, two dance schools, an old-time barber shop, several restaurants (including three Irish pubs) and stores that sell yarn, antiques, home furnishings, flowers, and wedding merchandise, Walpole already has the makings of a great downtown. Common St., right off the center feature some of metro Boston's grandest old homes and North Walpole has a lot of open land. In North Walpole, Adams Farm -- open to the public -- features more than 365 acres of town-owned land, hundreds of conservation land acres adjoining the property, and land owned by the New England Forestry Foundation and the Norfolk County Agricultural School. In East Walpole, Bird Park is a suburban treasure offering 89 acres of walking paths, trails and granite bridges, ponds, streams, tree groves and rolling meadows. East Walpole is a sort of like a village of its own with a variety store, restaurant, bakery, pizza place, hair salons, its own post office and churches.

Schools are fine in Walpole -- especially at the elementary and high school levels -- and offer two choices for high school: Walpole High School and the aforementioned Norfolk County Agricultural School offering students curriculum in animal and marine Science (veterinarian science, canine grooming and obedience, marine science, dairy and livestock management and equine studies), plant and environmental Science (floral design, urban forestry, landscaping, environmental technology, ornamental gardening and natural resources), and diesel and mechanical technology (diesel and heavy equipment operation and repair, construction, welding and small engine repair).

Wakefield -- About 12 miles north of Boston, this community of about 25,000 borders Melrose and features some of its characteristics of small-town life mixed with more densely populated areas. The downtown is OK, but doesn't offer as much variety as Melrose. Still, it's not a bad downtown. What Wakefield does have right off the town center, however, is beautiful Lake Quannapowitt. This beautiful lake features four miles of walking paths, a nice town green and park, a playground and general lake scenery that you just don't find around Boston. Wakefield is in a great location -- not only close to Boston but within a half hour to wonderful North Shore communities like Rockport, Gloucester, Ipswich (home of the great Crane's Beach), Essex, Marblehead, Salem (known for its witch history) and the aforementioned Newburyport.

North Attleborough -- You can have it all in North Attleborough: a quaint active, tree-lined downtown, farm land near the Plainville and Cumberland, RI, borders, shopping galore along Route 1 (featuring the terrific Emerald Square Mall, excellent public schools, a great school sports program, and a well-developed YMCA with just about every recreational activity you could imagine. There's Falls Pond for swimming, and downtown pools free to residents to North Attleborough -- right next to a beautiful town common with gazebo and lots of seasonal events. World War I Memorial Park features playgrounds, picnic tables, plenty of trails for hiking and an animal area with goats, cows, sheep, pigs and llamas. At the Memorial Park, there's "Julia's Playground," dedicated to Julia Cekala who died of hemorrhagic pancreatitis after celebrating her 9th birthday. At the playground, you'll find a beautiful butterfly garden, archway, wishing well, fire tower slide, butterfly fountain, butterfly benches and perennial flower plantings.

North Attleborough -- with a population around 29,000 -- feels like a city in some parts, a small town in others, and a rural destination, but most importantly, it feels like a town with lots of community pride, close-knit neighborhoods and a vision for the future. With the involved North Atttleborough and Plainville Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Associates of North Attleborough helping build a better downtown, and myriad other community organizations, this medium-sized town near the great city of Providence, RI, really seems like the epitome of civic pride. What's most telling is that all the people we've talked with from North Attleborough love their town and wouldn't want to live anywhere else!

We especially love the downtown with Shirley's Fine Chocolates for a great variety of chocolates and Mackie's for a heart breakfast, lunch and dinner -- they also have an ice cream parlor!

A Truly Bad Art Museum in Dedham, MA

Article and photos by Eric H.

The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) in Dedham, MA, certainly doesn't practice any false advertising when stating its mission: "Art too bad to be ignored."

Located in a dingy basement in the Dedham Community Theater just outside the restroom, this community-based, private institution founded in 1993 is "dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms and in all its glory," as stated on the MOBA Web Site. MOBA even sells a book of its bad art, as well as producing a newsletter!

Most of the art work, created by unknown amateurs, has been retrieved from dusty attics, thrift stores, yard sales and trash cans. I recently took a very brief tour of the museum, silently gasping in horror at some of the horrific art work. With no staff present for my 10-minute visit, the most stunningly putrid piece of art work I saw was "On the Shore at Sunset." The description reads, "'Two bathers' frantic calls for help go unnoticed as another life and death drama unfolds between the identically colored crab and cat. The artist added real sand into the paint to give the beach a realistic texture and to indicate that the surf was dangerously rough."

Leaving the Dedham Community Theater nauseated from the art work and subtle basement mold smell, I decided that I would never again return to this weird New England travel attraction but that night I changed mind. Who knows, I thought, maybe there will be a rotation of even worse art work. That would be worth a return visit indeed!

The Museum of Bad Art
Basement of Dedham Communitiy Theatre
580 High St.
Dedham MA
Tel. 781-444-6757

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Return to Franconia State Park in New Hampshire

Article and photos by Eric H.

On a recent trip to Northeast Kingdom Vermont, we drove through one of New England's most beautiful regions, Franconia State Park in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The mountain scenery and fall foliage colors were beautiful, as always, but the brief visit brought back equally beautiful memories of spending time here as a child.

I remember my Mom and Dad taking us with great frequency to Franconia State Park during the 1960s and 1970s. In the back seat of our phony-paneled wood Ford LTD station wagon, we recorded our voices on a $59.00 Hitachi cassette recorder with a fading phony wood panel and a powerful built-in mike that picked up the road noise more significantly than our voices. With WFEA radio 1370 AM playing the greatest hits of the 1960s and 1970s on the analog car radio and an occasional ABC Contemporary Radio newscast, we shouted over all the musical and road noise-- documenting each landmark of our day or extended weekend trip.

Often, the journey is as exciting as the destination, but in this case, the destination slightly edged the journey. How could it not with attractions like the Flume, the Basin, Echo Lake Beach and the eight miles of scenic highway between the high, dramatic, larger-than-life peaks of the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges? Also sweetening the pot was a ride back to North Woodstock where we feasted on BBQ chicken and blueberry pie at the Longhorn Palace restaurant, and watching the trained bear show at Clark's Trading Post.

We enjoyed everything about Franconia State Park with perhaps the exception of the Old Man of the Mountain, a series of five granite cliff ledges. Some people said one of the ledges looked like the profile of a face, but to me it looked like just another piece of granite. The Old Man of the Mountain collapsed in 2003, bringing some people to tears on the nightly newscast!

Everything else on our recent visit remained intact, as nature does not go out of business. The Flume is a natural granite gorge extending 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty and towering granite walls rising to a height of 90 ft. The Basin features a pleasing waterfall and a 20 ft. diameter pothole. Echo Lake Beach is one of New Hampshire's most beautiful lakes -- 28 acres of water serenity and framed by the slopes of Cannon Mountain and the Franconia and Kinsman Ranges.

In my early 30s, I hiked Cannon Mountain and found one of the most amazing scenic attractions: Lonesome Lake. Located about 2,760 ft. up Cannon Mountain (about a 45 minute hike), the view of the Franconia Range across a clear glacial tarn were simply spectacular, and no doubt, still remain that way. Lonesome Lake, seemingly in the middle of a mountain, kept the flame alive in regards to my love for the Franconia Notch area.

Nearly 15 years later, this brief return to Franconia inspired future plans to come back to this simply beautiful area of New Hampshire. After all, there's an eternal connection to the White Mountains, its fresh air, fun attractions, and scenery that created fond memories from yesteryear and, surely, travel plans for the future.

Visit the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation for more information on Franconia State Park.

Maine Fall Foliage Updates

Colorful fall foliage leaf peeping opportunities still exist in Maine, most notably in southern Maine and all coastal locations over the next several days, according to the Department of Conservation's final fall foliage report of the season. We recommend viewing the map in this post to see current conditions and to visit MaineFoliage.com for continuous updates -- or VisitMaine.com for the latest events and activities for your Maine vacation.

Two key events coming up are:
Blue Hill's 3rd Annual Foliage Food and Wine Festival, Oct. 16-19 http://www.bluehillpeninsula.org/
The City of Hallowell's annual Fall Festival, Oct. 17-19 http://www.hallowell.org/

Both events are located in regions with peak foliage, at this writing, thus, enhancing great events even more!

Boston Area Country Store Evokes Memories of Vermont

Article and photo by Eric H.

The Old Country Store and Emporium in West Mansfield Village, MA, looks like someone took a village from Vermont, put it on a flatbed truck and brought it to the Boston suburbs.

Located in a Vermont-like neighborhood with old Colonial and country homes, a peaceful-looking modest old church, tree-lined streets, and a solitude occasionally interrupted by a rushing train, the Old Country Store and Emporium becomes even "more Vermont" upon entering this 175-year-old, continuously-running country store. The original store, with its worn, hardwood floors, 19th century mood lighting, post-and-beam ceilings, and an unidentifiable mix of country store aromas, immediately creates a scene actually better than some country stores in Vermont by packing what seems like every favorite, heartwarming country store item into its large-sized rooms. There's an antique candy counter with hard-to-find candies, an area artfully dedicated to fudge and other delicious chocolates, a provisions section with homemade peanut butter, Vermont cheddar cheese, fresh ground coffee, a pickle barrel, jams, jellies and maple products, unique teas and, of course, Vermont Common Crackers. The original store also offers touches of 21st century merchandise like a wide variety of Webkinz dolls, sure to delight the kids.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Old Country Store, however, is the "Emporium," with its old, restored, operational player pianos, restored soda fountain and apothecary shop, barber shop items, home fragrances, toys, vintage furniture reproductions and curios, grandfather clocks, cranberry glass, fine pewter, forged brass candlesticks, and floor lamps. There's even a cozy, dimly-lit upstairs attic with furniture for the bedroom, including one of the best displays of rocking chairs we have ever seen in our lifetime of frequent furniture shopping.

Meandering rooms, fully aligned with the old country store look, thankfully, seem to go on forever -- we can never quite get enough of this place. The "Grain Shed" features houseware and kitchen merchandise. The hardware section extends this trip back in time with wrought iron hardware designed locally, door knockers and other relevant merchandise. There's even an "old country store lamplighter" who can fix your old lamps and skillfully turn a jug, vase or bottle into a lamp! Where else in this big box store, modern world can you find such ingenuity?

The Stove Room houses fireplace grates, screens and hearth accessories, while the "Old Sharon Box" offers "woodenware, stoneware, mugs and cast iron products from the foundry and forge."

As if this greatest hits of country store items wasn't enough, the Old Country Store and Emporium also features a separate building called Firehouse Candles, housing an amaazing array of candles and accessories from Yankee Candle and Colonial Candle of Cape Cod.

The Old Country Store and Emporium makes for a great New England travel retail attraction in a location where you certainly wouldn't expect a country store. Once in West Mansfield Village and the Country Store, it's hard to tell the difference between this location -- ironically, right off hectic Routes 95 and 495 -- and a peaceful setting in Vermont. For us, it feels like the quickest 20 minute drive from the Boston area to Vermont!

Old Country Store and Emporium
26 Otis St.
Mansfield, MA
Tel. 508-339-8128

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Travel Idea for a New England Fall Sunday Afternoon

Article and photos by Eric H.

Bird Park, in Walpole, MA, offers 89 acres of walking paths, trails and granite bridges, ponds, streams, tree groves and rolling meadows. It's easily one of eastern Massachusetts' most beautiful parks, courtesy of its dedicated, prideful owners, The Trustees of Reservations.

This well-maintained, special East Walpole destination also features a nice playground for the kids, as well as tennis and basketball courts. Fall time at Bird Park enhances this great travel destination even more with its brilliant red, yellow, orange and gold leaves. There are pockets of beautiful foliage now, but the next few weeks should bring even more.

After an afternoon in the park, take a short walk to 204 Washington St. (Tel. 508 660-1400, open at 4:30 p.m., and bordering Bird Park), a friendly, spacious, family-oriented neighborhood restaurant and bar, known mostly by only Walpole residents. It's a nice place for a good steak, roast turkey dinner (Sunday special), Italian-American veal and chicken dishes, some berry cobbler and a nice mug of beer or perhaps in my case, hot chocolate.

A walk in the park and a nice Sunday restaurant meal is indeed a nice way to spend a simple, informal fall day in the Boston suburbs!

Bird Park is located on Washington Street in Walpole, MA. Tel. (508) 669-6136.

Stars Restaurant Shines at Hingham Harbor

Article and photo by Eric H.

Every community should have a restaurant like Star's on Hingham Harbor in Hingham, MA, located about 20 miles south of Boston.

Friendly, cozy, and reasonably priced, this dining spot with views of Hingham Harbor serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a creative streak. Always going the extra mile, the Shepherd's Pie, as an example, isn't just ground beef, mashed potatoes and corn: there's also a herb tomato demi glaze and Parmesan crust. The baked mac and cheese features a four-cheese sauce and bread crumbs. The cod is potato encrusted with grilled seasonal vegetables and a roasted tomato-herb vinaigrette.

For those who love food without a twist, Star's comes through quite including favorite American dishes like burgers, a great clam chowder, chicken pot pie, lobster rolls, grilled salmon, and a delicious grilled tenderloin medallions with asparagus, onions and real mashed potatoes.

Stars presents huge portions, but if you have room for dessert, there's the amazing cookie-baked brownies served with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, caramel sauce and whipped cream.

The atmosphere is just fine with red walls, blue wood and multi-colored lights around the dining room and bar areas (with sports playing on the televisions) -- and with some views of Hingham Harbor. The restaurant appears to appeal to all walks of life, as evidenced by the BMWS and tiny Kia sedans out front and the investment banker and shaggy people-type customers inside.

Stars really shines with its contemporary-to-traditional diner food, and we can hardly wait to return for a hearty breakfast!

Stars on Hingham Harbor
3 Otis St.
(Route 3A)
Hingham, MA
Tel. (781) 749-320



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