Great Places – New England, USA

    Boston, Massachusetts, is an another exciting city, loaded with history and culture. Because of the presence of so many colleges and universities (Harvard, MIT, Boston University, etc), there are numerous opportunities to explore the Arts. Check out Symphony Hall, the home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and its offshoot, the Boston Pops. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is an excellent place to enjoy the visual arts.
     But, most come to Boston because of its historical significance. It was here that much of America’s early fight for freedom took place. Nowhere is this history more exemplified than on the Freedom Trail. The “Cradle of Liberty” is a self-guided walk through the early history of the United States’ fight for independence from England. The walk begins at Boston Common, but the Visitor Center, located inside the Old State House, a beautiful and significant building in its own right, is perhaps the best place to begin. Maps are available here or at the Boston Common Visitor Center, and the route is marked with a red line on the sidewalks to make it easier to follow. The total trail is approximately 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) and there are 16 sights along the way which may be seen and/or visited. Of special note are the Old North Church, where the signal for Paul Revere’s ride (“one if by land, two if by sea“) was flashed, Faneuil Hall, one of the colonists’ early meeting houses, the Old State House, the seat of Massachusetts’ government, the Bunker Hill Monument, which commemorates the famous battle, and the USS Constitution , “Old Ironsides”, which survived numerous engagements with the British Navy in the War of 1812.
     Near the Freedom Trail and worth the detour are the New England Aquarium, off Atlantic Ave, and the Boston Museum of Science, a wonderful, interactive experience, especially for children, located at Science Park, on the Charles River.
     Another popular Boston attraction, located just south of the city, is the John F Kennedy Library and Museum which pays tribute to one of America’s most popular presidents.
     A popular excursion from Boston for those desiring to become more immersed in Colonial history is to travel north to Salem, Massachusetts, where visitors are transported back in time to the 17th century, during the period of the Puritans who first settled this part of the United States. In particular, a visit to this city focuses attention on the Salem witch trials, made famous in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible. There are many venues available to the tourist which focus on different aspects of the period. Stop first at the Visitor Center for maps and information. Numerous “witch” museums entice the visitor into this mysterious culture. Most areas are accessible by walking.
     Gary’s Gem:
               1. While in Boston, have lunch at the Quincy Market, next to Faneuil Hall, a great experience since almost any type of food is available (unfortunately, places to sit while eating are difficult to come by, but try upstairs).
               2. While in Salem, stop at the House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace and the basis for the title of one of his most famous books. It is open to the public for tours.
     Waterfire, a seasonal experience which takes place in historic Providence, Rhode Island, is an unusual and memorable celebration of the rebirth of an old, Colonial city. After descending into disrepair and seediness for many years, Providence, founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, has emerged as a “renaissance city” and Waterfire is its crowning glory. The experience involves numerous braziers suspended along the waterways of the city, and piped-in music which accompanies hundreds of people walking along the rivers or sitting on benches, especially at Waterplace Park. Restaurants along the brazier route and street vendors provide sustenance; street performers provide entertainment; and there are occasionally dancing venues in the vicinity as well as free theater on certain dates during the summer. Waterfire occurs on specific dates from spring through fall and is weather-dependent, but check the website ( for a schedule.
     Not far from Providence (nothing in Rhode Island is really very far away) is the popular tourist destination of Newport, Rhode Island, once the summer playground of the very rich, families such as the Astor’s and the Vanderbilt’s. As a result, they built beautiful and expensive summer cottages (really, elaborate mansions), especially along Bellevue Avenue. Many of these chateaux have now been purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County and maintained and operated as tourist sights. There are also other 19th century mansions open to the public.
     The most popular and also some of the most opulent homes include The Breakers, Marble House, and Rosecliff.
     Touro Synagogue National Historic Site preserves the last remaining Jewish house of worship from the colonial era. It is also the oldest synagogue in the United States. The building dates back to 1763.
     Newport is an extremely pleasant city to walk, especially around the waterfront area with its many shops and restaurants. There always seems to be some sort of event going on, so that the charming and lively port city has become a year round destination.
     Gary’s Gem:
              1. For a different perspective on the mansions of Bellevue Avenue, stroll along Cliff Walk for great views of the rocky Rhode Island coastline and peeks at the backyards of some of these mansions.
              2. Take Seven-mile drive from Bellevue Ave to Thames St for an incredibly scenic look at the rocky and picturesque southern Rhode Island coast and a look at even more estates.
      Nantucket is a charming whaling island town located approximately 50 kilometers (30 miles) off the southeastern Massachusetts coast. It is accessible by ferry and by plane. The narrow, cobblestone streets and old Quaker-style homes contribute to the quaint, old-time flavor. The town is great for walking. To experience other areas of the island, bicycles and mopeds are the preferred transportation.
      Martha’s Vineyard, another island, like Nantucket, off the southeastern Massachusetts coast, is larger and also closer to the coast and, thus, more accessible than its neighbor. There are six towns on the island, connected via roads and an island bus system available from mid-May to mid-October. There are ferries to the island which can accommodate cars, however, the majority of tourists get around by foot, bus, or bicycle. Numerous beaches on the island offer opportunities for water sports. The movie, “Jaws” made the island’s beaches famous, but there is little or no danger of a repeat attack!
     The White Mountains of northern New Hampshire offer a four-season vacation area within reach of the major urban areas of the northeastern United States. There is quality skiing in the winter, mountain scenery and hiking opportunities during the rest of the year, and the fall foliage is spectacular. There are also numerous lakes and rivers to frolic in.
    Specific area activities include the following noteworthy attractions: the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, 80-passenger cars which whisk visitors to the peak of Cannon Mountain for glorious views of the area; and the Mount Washington Cog Railway or Auto Road, for a trip up to the tallest peak in New England, which, in 1934, set the world record for wind velocity on Earth (231 miles per hour or almost 400 km/hr).
    Another attraction, The Flume, is a picturesque walk through a narrow gorge cut by a mountain stream. Visitors negotiate a wooden walkway past waterfalls and pools for a distance of approximately 3 km (2 miles).
    Still other activities include a drive along the Kancamagus Highway which traverses the White Mountains area from Lincoln on the west to Conway on the east. The scenic drive of approximately 56 kilometers (35 miles) is closed in the winter, but otherwise offers spectacular vistas of the mountains of the Presidential Range, Franconia Notch, which is a picturesque pass through the mountains and which allows access to a number of sights listed in the description above, and, of course, the town of North Conway, New Hampshire, on Route 16, a quaint Nordic-like ski village which has grown up into a major tourist destination while still preserving much of its charm. It can be considered the eastern gateway to the White Mountains, but has a number of attractions of its own, including outlet shopping and a cute train ride from a station on Main Street into the surrounding valley.
     Gary’s Gem:
              1. A short walk from a parking area just south of Pinkham Notch on Route 16 brings the visitor to Glen Ellis Falls, a beautiful, thundering cascade.
             2. While in North Conway, check out Cathedral Ledge, an overlook just west of town which is a Mecca for mountain climbers and also offers a road to the top of the ledge for dramatic views of the village of North Conway and the mountains beyond. It is, of course, especially scenic in the autumn.
     Chatham, Cape Cod, Massachusetts represents a classic Cape Cod village as well as a typical New England fishing town. It is quaint and pretty, and offers many amenities. It also makes a great base of operations for an exploration of the outer cape.
     Cape Cod National Seashore extends for 65 kilometers (40 miles) along the outer Cape Cod coastline and preserves numerous beaches, lighthouses, and dunes. There are Visitor Centers in both Provincetown and Eastham which provide information about the area, films and exhibits.
     Hyannis is the largest community on Cape Cod and offers a more citified atmosphere while still preserving the architecture and ambience that is associated with this area. Along with Falmouth, Hyannis offers ferries to the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
     The Heritage Museum & Gardens, in Sandwich, has an excellent display of Americana. In particular, check out the great collection of vintage automobiles.
     Gary’s Gem:
             For maximum enjoyment of the national seashore area, walk some of the trails. In particular, the Salt Pond Nature Trail, in Eastham, is extremely informative and pleasant. However, be sure to bring mosquito repellent!
     Stowe Village, Vermont, is a quintessential New England town, with a village green around a white-steepled church, a covered bridge, a general store, etc. It is also the gateway to several major ski areas, and a shopper’s paradise. The village is pleasantly walkable and fairly crowded at certain times of the year, especially during the fall foliage season. It has the look of New England as it was years ago, but with the conveniences of today.
    About 30 miles (48 kilometers) to the west is the city of Burlington, Vermont, the home of the University of Vermont and the state’s largest city. An excursion into the city should focus on the pedestrian area of Church Street with its numerous shops and restaurants. The protruding boulders incorporated into the street give it a special charm. The other part of the city which is popular with tourists is the Lake Champlain waterfront area. There are many aquatic activities available here, for instance, a ferry to New York which runs on a regular schedule.
     Also not too far from Stowe, traveling south on Route 100, is the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory which offers tours and also contains an ice cream shop and gift shop. It is Vermont’s most popular tourist attraction. Route 100, by the way, makes an excellent scenic drive in the Autumn, when the leaves change — it runs from north to south across the entire state.
     The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield, Massachusetts, is a tribute to another of America’s sports, invented here by Dr. James Naismith in 1891. The complex was recently renovated and has become much more interactive, incorporating video and computer technology to showcase the best players of the game. A huge array of basketball memorabilia is also displayed.
     From Springfield, travel west to the Berkshire region of Western Massachusetts, a popular destination, especially for New Yorkers and New Englanders, because of its proximity and also variety of activities. US Route 7 is the major thoroughfare which links the towns of the region. Particularly significant attractions include the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, the Hancock Shaker Village, in Pittsfield, and the charming community of Williamstown, which is home to Williams College.
     Tanglewood, in Lenox, Massachusetts, is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Concerts are performed from late June to early September and the facility offers an unusual outdoor venue for classical performances. Attendees can purchase seats in the Music Shed, or lawn tickets which allow access to the grounds. Many people prefer the lawn and prepare elaborate picnics for before and after the concerts. Reservations must be made early, since it is an extremely popular attraction.
     Mystic Seaport, in Mystic, Connecticut, offers the visitor a look at the New England whaling industry in the middle 19th century. Several vintage boats of the time period can be boarded and explored while a museum displays many artifacts and provides much information about sailing and whaling.
     Gillette Castle State Park, in East Haddam Connecticut, showcases the estate of actor, William Gillette, who was famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. The castle contains interesting furnishings and unusual architecture. The grounds are also worth exploring. It is located northwest of Mystic.
     Also in the area is the lovely village of Essex, which has a Steam Train that runs most of year, and which, in the summer, connects to a boat ride up the Connecticut River — a great experience for children. Essex is particularly enchanting in December when the town displays its extensive Christmas decorations.
     Gary’s Gem:
             While at Mystic Seaport, visit nearby Mystic Village for quaint shops and restaurants, but don’t bother with the Mystic Aquarium — go to the New England Aquarium in Boston instead!
     The Southern Maine Coast contains a number of picturesque and quaint towns and villages.
     Beginning at the New Hampshire border, Kittery is more famous for its outlet shopping than its ambience, but it is extremely popular as a day trip from anywhere in Eastern New England because of the variety and quantity of shops.
    York is a community which dates to 1624 and has preserved many of the historic buildings from its past.
    Ogunquit is an adorable town for walking. Be sure to meander down to Perkins Cove and then stroll the scenic Marginal Way, a footpath along the rugged coastline. There are numerous shops and restaurants in the town, as well.
    Wells is particularly noted for its fine seven mile long beach, but it also offers many shops and restaurants.
    Kennebunkport is a charming coastal community which boasts numerous shops and restaurants in a very easy to walk and pleasant environment. It has a reputation as an artist’s haven, so a variety of arts and crafts are available here.
    Another noteworthy village is Old Orchard Beach, one of Maine’s oldest resort communities, and still a favorite, especially with Canadians on holiday. Its seven mile beach is still popular, but the area is more honky-tonk than quaint.
    At the northern end of this section of the Maine coast lies the city of Portland, which became an important center for trade and commerce for the region. Its waterfront district has been attractively restored with cobblestone streets and gas street lamps and is a pleasure to walk, while browsing the numerous shops and checking out the menus of the many restaurants.
    Portland is also the launching point for excursions into Casco Bay and the Calendar Islands, all 365 of them. It is also a departure and arrival point for ferries to Nova Scotia, Canada.
     Further north, Maine, is the Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park area, which is described in another blog (check the archives).
    Lessons Learned:
          New England is all about history, since some of the first European colonies in the new world began here, and then, the American Revolution also started here with the Boston Tea Party and the meetings among some of the early rebels. Places like Pliomoth Plantation and Sturbridge Village feed into this historical tradition.
         However, New England also comes alive as a vacationland in the Autumn, when the leaves change and work their incredible pallette on the woods and uplands. It is a magical time of the year and "leaf-peepers" flock to rural and wilderness areas to try to capture that perfect scene or that beautiful picture. Later, in the blog, I will share some of my most memorable foliage trips, since we have been testing various routes for many years.  





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