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Monday, September 5, 2011

New England Travel Thoughts

I can hardly wait until The Big E New England States Fair, running Sept. 16-Oct. 2 at the Eastern States Exposition Grounds in West Springfield, Mass. Love the midway, animal exhibitions, parades, musical entertainment and comfort food vendors... Was driving up Route 495 in Hopkinton, Mass., the other day and already saw some leaves changing color. Scary thought, as it seemed like Memorial Day Weekend was just a few weeks ago. I'm looking forward to the peak colors, though, later this month and in October (depending on location in New England)...To answer the age old argument -- which is better for pizza in Boston, Santarpio's or Pizzeria Regina? The answer is "yes!"... Coastal Newburyport, Mass., has a near perfect downtown. The choice of stores, restaurants, the water views, brick sidewalks, historic old buildings and homes make for an ideal, walkable central district... Come to think of it, though, coastal Portsmouth, N.H., is just as nice and a great way to spend some time visiting New England. Portsmouth has a boatload of cultural activities going on near or at the waterfront and Market Square locations, as well as offering lots of locally-owned shops and restaurants. The harbor here is  really beautiful... If I had to choose a Massachusetts town that maintains a quintessential classic New England small town feeling, it would be West Brookfield. The town common is amazing, the surrounding old "front porch" homes so beautiful and the people quite friendly. For a meal, go to the historic Salem Cross Inn on Route 9, just outside the downtown, for tasty New England fare as well as some very nice local ambiance... If you like lodging with waterfront views without the hefty price tag, I would recommend the Katahdin Inn in York Beach, Maine (Ocean Ave. Ext., at Short Sands Beach). I don't know how owners Bob and Rae do it, but the prices are half of what some other similar lodging establishments charge for just being on the water... I think many New England towns have become either generic-looking or overgrown, but Hanover, N.H., remains just as nice as ever. Fantastic, little downtown and with Dartmouth College to add a lot of tree-lined campus appeal... I could watch the Mystic Drawbridge in downtown Mystic, Conn., go up and down all day, only to be interrupted, of course, by some delicious homemade ice cream at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream. I always get the lemon chocolate kiss... Speaking of ice cream, the landmark Kimball Farm in Westford, Mass. , is as good as ever. Had a delicious ginger snap molasses ice cream the other night and was it ever good! The place has expanded over the years with two fantastic mini golf courses, an animal area, batting cages, bumper boats, an "outdoor seafood shack and grill," country store and arcade games. It's all so fun and not tacky at all -- everything seems to fit in nicely to make for a great morning or afternoon itinerary... One of the highlights of the summer was dining on lobster and lobster rolls at around $10.00 a dish a Markey's Lobster Pool in Seabrook, N.H. (Route 286, just off Route 1A). How they keep the prices down, I don't know but I'd certainly recommend going there is you love lobster and low prices. Of course, the market value changes the prices, but we've always found the dining bill to be quite low. The outdoor waterfront dining is a real plus, too... I love the Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury, Vt. (3600 Waterbury-Stowe Rd.). Cold Hollow makes apple cider the old-fashioned way with a rack and cloth press built in the 1920s. The taste is amazing! Cold Hollow is not just a cider place, however. They have a bakery (including delicious homemade donuts), Green Mountain Coffee, Vermont-made wines and a toy store. This always makes a pleasant fall foliage season destination... The Raven's Nest in Walpole, Mass. (998 Main St.), is what I'd call a "major league" restaurant.  Mark and Maura McCauliffe have gone through painstaking efforts to make the Raven's Nest look like an Irish pub (Mark is from Ireland). The bricks on one dining room wall were even hand-painted one-by-one! It's a ultra cozy place with fabulous contemporary cuisine and upscale pub fare, lots of draft beer selections, open air windows, an outdoor patio, seven plasma televisions to watch the game, and a nice fireplace for the winter. My favorite dishes: the baked mac and cheese, Shepherd's Pie, fillet of salmon with a soy ginger glaze, and the pesto chicken sandwich. Everything about The Raven's Nest just looks and feels right. Love this place; every hometown should have a downtown restaurant like this... All country stores that I have been to in Vermont are worth a trip, but my favorite is still the Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt. (right in the heart of the quaint downtown). The place is huge and full of everything you could ever want in a country store. They haven't gone "Hollywood" either, keeping the authentic feel well intact... We started this post with a mention about a local fair, and we'll end it that way, too: the Topsfield Fair will be held this year from Sept. 30 to Oct. 10 at the Topsfield Fairgrounds in Topsfield, Mass. Not as large as The Big E, it's still worth a trip. The Topfield Fair is the oldest agricultural fair in the United States has a wonderful mix of agricultural exhibits and presentations, a good midway area, and entertainment (Phil Vassar, Sean Kingston and Ayla Brown are a few of the scheduled performers this year)... That's about if for now. Come back soon as we'll post some more New England travel thoughts not too far down the road!
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