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!



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