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Friday, January 30, 2009

What Massachusetts Towns Remind You of Small-Town America?

Article and Photo (of Lord's Department Store, Medfield, MA) by Eric H.

I recently started a thread on City-Data.com asking readers "What Massachusetts Town Reminds You Most of Small-Town America?"

As we see elements of New England become supersized with big box stores, faceless strip malls -- and preservation taking a back seat -- we can thank certain communities for maintaining their small-town, local flavor. A small town feeling might include, for example, a 1940s/50s looks with tree-lined streets, old-fashioned values and a historic downtown area with, maybe, a diner, hardware store, ice cream shop, and an overall traditional, family-oriented feel. In another words, the town might have a "Leave it to Beaver" look.

What would be your idea of an idyllic, traditional small town in Massachusetts? I'll start the discussion here with Medfield. Its downtown features a department store with luncheonette (Lords), a historic old-fashioned library and Town Hall, tall white steepled church, an independently-run book store, a park area with Gazebo, and a bakery (Honey's). The streets leading from the downtown feature attractive, tree-lined streets with Colonials and Victorians, a swimming pond, and even farms. Visiting Medfield is certainly a nice way to return to yesteryear -- and it's only about a 35-minute drive from this southwest suburb to Boston!

Vermont Northeast Kingdom Winter Carnival, Feb. 6-8

Our good friends from the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing sent us yesterday a list of some really great sounding events in February 2009. One event that stands out, from our perspective, is the Island Pond Winter Carnival, Feb 6-8, in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Events include a snow sculpture competition, ice skating, bon fire, children's' fishing derby, a snowshoe excursion up Bluff Mountain, sled racing and more. For specific times and locations for this special weekend, visit . For a comprehensive listing of events, log onto www.VermontVacation.com.

A Hotel Resource for Metro Boston Business Travelers

VisitingNewEngland.com recently added a Metro Boston Hotel Guide For Business Travelers. In the guide, we offer many business traveler-friendly hotels at the lowest available rate.

Knowing that corporate, non-profit and governmental employees frequently do business in Boston and the highly developed suburban Boston industrial and corporate parks, we have created links to myriad towns and cities in this region. So while you'll find a great list of hotels in Boston, you'll also find lodging by the technology belts in Waltham and Burlington-Woburn, as well as in towns and cities like Attleboro, Braintree, Franklin, the Hanscom Air Force Base area, Taunton and Worcester. We have also created a list of extended stay hotels in the Boston area. Extended stay hotels often provide a kitchen area and a host of other convenient amenities, that create the proverbial "home away from home!"

If you know of someone traveling to Boston on business, we'd appreciate you spreading the word about our Hotel Guide.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pleasantly Surprised by Lee, MA, in the Berkshire Mountains

Article and Photo by Eric H.

Coming back from our favorite destination of Cooperstown, NY, is always difficult. It's hard to leave the picture-perfect, tree-lined Main Street filled with shops, restaurants and grand, old historic homes and inns. The nine-mile long Otsego Lake, the rolling hills and all the other splendid surrounding rural scenery is breathtaking. Of course, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, The Farmers' Museum and Fenimore Art Museum are wonderful cultural resources, so rare to find in such a rural community of this size.

In the past, we always stopped on the way back home in West Springfield, MA, for a bite to eat, but then, much to our dismay, we found that the Ivanhoe restaurant closed its doors. Not that the typical urban/suburban offerings of West Springfield could ever replace Cooperstown, but eating at this friendly restaurant with delicious food always provided a pleasant, end-of-the-vacation tradition.

Last month on our way back from Cooperstown, we stopped in Lee, MA, one of the first exits in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. Only a few minutes off the highway, we were stunned at what we saw upon approaching the downtown: kind of a replica of Cooperstown's Main Street with nice, little local shops, plenty of pleasant looking dining options, American flags proudly displayed all over the place, and a sense of great historical preservation in the buildings and homes. Anchored by the quaint Morgan House Inn and Restaurant and followed up by a great slice of small town downtown Americana, Lee is a place we'll surely call a new tradition upon returning from Cooperstown. We found a terrific dining spot called Panayiotis' Grill & Pizzeria‎, a small, modern yet family-friendly Greek-American restaurant where I had an amazing pesto and shrimp pizza. Panayiotis has just about everything under the sun of on the menu including steaks, seafood, salads, soups and grilled Greek specialties. The atmosphere was warm and inviting inside and the view out on old Main Street lent a nice hometown feeling.

Lee is located in the heart of the Berkshires, next to many attractions and destinations in Stockbridge (the place Norman Rockwell made famous), another great American downtown in Great Barrington, Lenox (home of Tanglewood), an on-the-mend Pittsfield and North Adams (where the Mass Museum of Modern Art is located).

So for now, Lee is more than a name brand of jeans and a flaky pitcher who toiled for the Boston Red Sox in the 1970s. We're looking forward to exploring more of this neat-looking town with a downtown that's as nice looking as any we've seen in New England. And almost on par with Cooperstown!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thank-you, Curt Schilling

This is a thank-you letter to Curt Schilling.

Curt, although I do not personally know you, I want to thank you for everything you've done while spending time in the Boston, Mass., area. While some people focus on your strong opinions, I choose to center on your humanity, your mission to help others in need, your support of our brave men and women Soldiers, to fully potentiate your baseball skills with 100 percent effort, and your daily presence as a lifelong student of baseball, history and, most importantly, life in general. Unlike many people who feel that you can stop learning once graduating school, it seems like you have become smarter and wiser every day. We can hear it in your wise and passionate perspectives on just about anything from world politics to the politics in baseball -- and the articulation to effectively communicate the given subject matter (including some informative and entertaining entries on your blog, 38 Pitches.

Unlike some pampered, prima donna athletes who care about the money first, you seem to have connected so well to us New Englanders through candid media interviews and important work in the community. We live in the next town over from you and have heard from neighbors how much of a "regular guy" you are -- a person with a big smile, good listening skills, a kind word to say and a helping hand. One of our friends told us that you were so pleasant to others when watching July 4th fireworks one year in Walpole, Mass. We have heard other examples of your decency that are so much appreciated by "Red Sox and New England Nation." You unselfishly supported that Medfield, MA, family in need on "Extreme Home Makeover," and your work to fight against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gerhig's Disease) through Curt's Pitch For ALS speaks volumes about your priorities in life.

Boston can be a nasty town -- with a sector of the media contributing greatly to that dubious, self-centered cause -- but you have chosen to recognize and celebrate the Boston sports fan, the New England resident, and to carry on the magic of our National Pastime, which has sadly become somewhat tainted by financial greed and cheating through the years.

You received a lot of credit for that bloody sock incident -- and what a effort you put in to help us win the 2004 World Series -- but your dedication to the game goes well beyond that. It was an honor seeing you pitch every time out -- you weren't given the best athletic skills, but, boy, did you make the most out of them. We hard-working New Englanders with a traditionally strong work ethic appreciate the effort!

Best wishes in your future endeavors. We wish you could stay in New England, but you know what's best for you and your family. Your presence created a lot of memories that we New Englanders can take with us, forever -- including seeing the Red Sox finally becoming World Series Champions after years of suffering. Thank-you again for being such an integral part of our beloved baseball team and region!

Best regards,
Eric H.
Editor and Publisher
VisitingNewEngland.com
CooperstownForKids.com
VisitingCooperstown.com
The Weekly New England Travel and Vacation Gazette

Editor's note: So, you might be ultimately asking , what's a thank-you letter to Curt Schilling doing in a New England Travel Blog? Well, we also like to focus on the people who make New England so special. You'll be seeing a lot more focus on this type of writing, as New England is not just a place of places and things. The people, ultimately, make it a special place!

A Hidden Restaurant in Medfield, MA

Article by Eric H.

Basil restaurant, in Medfield, MA, meets all the requirements of those looking for an affordable upscale quality restaurant, a hidden New England dining gem, and a conversation vehicle where you can show off your vast knowledge of restaurants no one else knows about.

Located in a modest Medfield neighborhood just behind the town center, Basil, at first inspection, looks like, perhaps just another home in the neighborhood until you look in the windows and realize (1) either this is a very big family sitting down to dinner or (2) perhaps this is a catering hall. Although Basil does catering, the reality is that this is a top-notch restaurant with chef and owner Thomas McGue turning out some really great Italian and American dishes from the innovative to the familiar during lunch and especially dinner.

Whether it's the the fresh salads (they make an incredible Caesar) and homemade soups (ditto on the New England clam chowder), handmade pasta (butternut squash ravioli, yum!), or wonderful main entrees in the steak, fish and seafood categories, Basil is one of our favorite "date places." The atmosphere is subdued, but friendly, and features a large salt water fish tank as well as a cozy bar/pub area in the back. The two floors of dining space are quite comfortable with nice carpeting, dim lighting and enough space between you and other customers. The only complaint (and it's a minor one) is the somewhat cloying, unctious smooth jazz music that has me conjuring up awful images of Yanni in my head.

All that jazz, however, takes a back seat to the quality of the food: it's simply amazing. Our favorite dishes: the veal, chicken and shrimp marsala (this is one dish, not three separate), slow roasted duckling with orange marmalade sauce, sauteeed spiach and tri colored peppers, and the tender delicious pork tenderloin marinated with rosemary, garlic and peppercorn. We recently had an amazing haddock dish that left us saying, "Who needs to go to the best seafood restaurants when you have a place like Basil?"

If you have room for dessert, we heartily recommend the chocolate lava cake and the toll house cookie pie. These aren't your basic chain restaurant sweets that look so good on the menu, but so putrid in the taste buds. These desserts are clearly made by a culinary genius, like an artist creating a masterpiece -- you can taste it in the fresh, real ingedients and see it in the elegant presentation.

Another great aspect about Basil is that its prices really haven't gone up over the past several years. It used to seem expensive when things were less expensive in the good old days, but now in tough economic times, Basil is a bargain. They even have a "lighter fare" menu to keep the prices -- and calories -- down even more. Kudos to Basil for making upscale dining so affordable and just as delicious as all the fine dining places you see hyped in the mainstream media dining reviews and advertisements. It just goes to show, you never know what gems you'll find in a neighborhood behind a suburban downtown.

Basil
43 Frairy Street
Medfield, MA
1-508-359-4400

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