USA: East full of easy promise

By Pamela Wade

We stationery fetishists are never off-duty. Even the attractions of downtown Manhattan will not deflect us from the quest for new delights in pens, paper and plastic. So when I spotted a branch of Staples, it didn't matter that the WTC site was just a block away, the designer chaos of Century 21 across the road, Brooklyn Bridge within walking distance and the Wall Street bull gleaming nearby in the sun: I was in there.

And that's where I found the big red button with "easy" written across it in raised white type, begging to be pressed. So I did, triggering a warm brown American voice that said in a pleased tone, "That was easy!" It turned out to be the theme for the whole trip.

Getting to New York had already been easy, now that Air Tahiti Nui flies there direct through Papeete for three months of the year.

Getting around turned out to be the same: streets on a grid pattern are child's play and even the subway is simple. Manhattan is so compact that the icons are practically on top of each other: emerge from Macy's, the worlds biggest department store, and there's the Empire State straight ahead, Times Square to the left and the Flatiron Building on the right: all you have to do is follow your nose.

With only a couple of days to see the city, I had thought the pressure would be on but, instead found myself in a kind of zen state, happy to accept that whatever I did, wherever I went, it would be an authentic New York experience, whether it was disappearing under a mountain of crepe paper at a performance of the Blue Man Group, sitting next to an Orthodox Jew in hat and overcoat at a shoe-shine stand, or hanging out with a couple of bored FDNY guys lounging on the bumper of Engine 14.

Forget New Orleans: the real Big Easy is the Big Apple.

Getting away was also simple. I crossed the road from the Hotel Pennsylvania, stepped on to Amtrak's high-speed Acela service to Boston and sat back for a smooth, quiet three-hour trip: like flying, but with scenery and leg room.

"She does 150 (240km/h) on the straight," said the conductor proudly, who with his huge bushy beard would have looked more at home in striped dungarees pulling the whistle of a steam engine.

She certainly got us to Boston on time and a taxi took us to our B&B. Okay, maybe this bit wasn't as easy as it could have been: you really shouldn't have to ask three taxi drivers before you find one who knows where to find a city street.

From our three-storey terraced brick B&B in a quiet square, where Peter lives with Poultry, an indoor cat (except when they go together to Florida for their annual holiday), we walked under trees past a park into an elegant shopping street and through another park with swan boats on the pond.

There we found the red-painted Freedom Trail line on the footpath, which took us past almost everything worth seeing, so that was easy too - although the hop-on, hop-off buses would have been easier still.

I liked Boston instantly: after the neck-breaking verticality of New York and the bustle on the streets, this is a city scaled for civilised people who have time to talk over a pavement coffee. It's also conspicuously old, founded in 1630, so there are cobbled lanes, snaggle-toothed graveyards and quantities of stone and brick public buildings erected in a time when beauty was as important as function.

And everywhere there are trees, softening the edges and filtering the light. I would live there tomorrow.

Unfairly, when Bostonians feel the need for a change of scene they have even more beauty at their disposal, whichever direction they go.

First I went east, hopping in a tiny Cessna over to the tip of Cape Cod, where I collected a rental car and meandered down the peninsula just like that (easy).

Windswept sand dunes, biscuit-brown beaches, little towns of painted wooden houses with turrets and dinky gardens, lobster, clam chowder and red-striped lighthouses: what's not to like?

The whole place is absurdly pretty, but Nantucket takes the cake: silver cedar houses with sperm whale weathervanes on their shingled roofs, cobbled streets with just enough weeds between the pavers not to seem too twee, busy little harbour, interesting shops, classic lighthouses and 350 years of lively history.

There is so much more to this island than a rude limerick.

A Massachusetts circuit has to take in the Berkshire Hills, so next I headed west along the turnpike and a few hours later, dazzled by the endless stretch of October-brilliant foliage, fetched up at Stockbridge.

Within easy reach was the Clark Art Museum, dripping with Renoirs, Monets and Manets, and the studio and museum of local Norman Rockwell, displaying his sentimental yet irresistible paintings.

There were the stately homes of Naumkeag and The Mount, proof that affluence and good taste are not mutually exclusive, with their glorious gardens framing views to the rolling hills where oak, chestnut and hickory did their best with their autumn colour, but had to cede sovereignty to the sugar maples.

There was the fascinating Shaker Village at Hancock, where the founders, who believed in celibacy, were inspired designers and engineers but failed to see the fatal flaw in their philosophy.

Uninhabited now, it is open instead as an absorbing museum.

Linking all these points of interest were miles of beautiful trees reaching over little towns of neat clapboard houses, their steps and porches decorated for Halloween with pumpkins and chrysanthemums.

Having a great time there was easy. The only hard part was leaving to come home again.

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GETTING THERE
Air Tahiti Nui offers the only direct flights to New York, via Tahiti, with fares from $2699 including all taxes. This service only operates in June, July and August and at other times flights go via Los Angeles. See www.airtahitinui.co.nz.

From New York take the train to Boston (see www.amtrak.com); hire a car from Enterprise (www.enterprise.com); or fly to Cape Cod with Cape Air (www.flycapeair.com).

WHERE TO STAY
The Hotel Pennsylvania in New York is comfortable and literally across the road from Amtrak's Penn Station (and Macy's department store): www.hotelpenn.com.

In Boston, Rutland Square House is quaint, comfortable and conveniently situated (www.rutlandsquarebandb.com). On Cape Cod, Acworth Inn near Barnstable is pleasant and welcoming (www.acworthinn.com). In the Berkshires, choose between Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort for non-fussy accommodation with activities on site (www.jiminypeak.com) or The Porches in North Adams for its unique restored décor and fabulous beds: www.porches.com.

MORE INFORMATION
Contact tourism Massachusetts at www.usamass.com.

Pamela Wade was a guest of Tourism Massachusetts and flew courtesy of Air Tahiti Nui.

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