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Urban Adventures: New England's Cities

Urban Adventures: New England’s Cities
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Far too often, writers compare the pastoral landscape of New England to a Currier and Ives print. Stand on the edge of the Charles River on either the Boston or the Cambridge side, however, and you can’t help thinking of Thomas Eakins’s paintings of rowers in the 1870s. The Charles is still a quintessential 19th-century scene: Crew teams from Harvard and Boston University paddle by, joined by all those individual scullers who yearn for yesteryear, when they, too, were in some collegiate rowing club. The best vantage point is from the Cambridge side, on the bend of the river between the Western Avenue and Eliot bridges.

By all means, head down to the docks and join in the fun. Rent a kayak from Charles River Canoe & Kayak (617-965-5110;; from $14 per hour) and paddle alongside the crew teams. If you want to give the one-person shell a go and you have some experience sculling, contact the company’s Newton branch (781-891-6575). If you’re brand-new to the sport, call Cygnet Rowing (617-876-8653;; this private club offers “learn to row” weekend packages for the general public ($300 for nine hours of instruction).

Be forewarned: Learning to scull isn’t easy. Both oars have to be together at all times or the boat quickly tips to the left or right. You must push off with your legs and scoot back as you propel the oars forward. Once you get into a rhythm, though, your cares will be forgotten as you quickly skim across the Charles. Folks who use the rowing machine at the local gym know what a great workout sculling is for the whole body. It’s far superior when you’re cruising along a river in the heart of Boston.

Hartford, CT: Walking

Why eat indoors at one of Hartford’s shopping malls when you can dine alfresco atop a ridge? The slight uphill climb to Farmington Mountain, just outside the city limits, is part of Connecticut’s extensive network of blue-blazed hiking trails, weaving through forests of maple, oak, and birch across relatively flat terrain, making for perfect noontime walks.

Pack a sandwich and park your car on the south side of Route 6, 0.9 miles east of Route 10. Then head across the road and start walking the Metacomet Trail. Towering hemlocks stand tall at the trail’s edge as you make your way up a 250-foot-high ridge of Farmington Mountain. Within 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll be looking down at the reservoir and quarry below. You have the best view money can’t buy.

Manchester, NH: Bike Trail

You can thank a small group of locals in southwestern Wisconsin for creating an outdoor trend that has become a focal point of urban renewal across America. In the early 1960s, these out-of-the-box thinkers decided to do something creative with their stretch of abandoned railroad by reinventing it as a recreational path for bikers and walkers. Folks in New Hampshire have followed suit by taking a section of the Boston & Maine network and creating the state’s longest rail trail, the 25-mile Rockingham Recreational Trail, which runs east of Manchester to the town of Newfields, about 12 miles from the coast. ATVs and other motorized vehicles are allowed, so the best time to avoid the hum is on a weekday.

To reach the trail’s western start in Manchester, take Exit 1 off Route 101 East; then head south on Route 28, proceed around a rotary, and turn left into a parking lot at Lake Massabesic.

Starting here, the gravel trail follows the shoreline of the lake. At the five-mile mark, you’ll venture through the first of three short tunnels, the path becoming more secluded as you make your way toward Onway Lake. Pass through a narrow granite corridor and then another tunnel before arriving at the town of Raymond, the halfway point. This is a good place to have a snack before continuing onward or turning back.

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