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The Real New Jersey
Where Estrogen Rules!

Maureen LittleJohn, Toronto freelance journalist, is equally at home reporting on travel destinations as she is about covering the food, wine and music scenes.

Blue collars, tough guys, and the working-class hymns of home boys Bruce Springsteen, John Bon Jovi and Tom Waits are what I used to think of when New Jersey was mentioned. I was really shocked when I found that "Joi-see," as the natives pronounce it, actually lives up to its license-plate moniker "The Garden State."

Imagine! Sixty-three per cent of the state is farmland and forest, there are over 800 sq. km of mountains, lakes and inland waters and, over 200 km of beach.

I travelled to Jersey in May, and I'd advise visiting around this time since spring comes early to the state. After landing in Newark and doing a quick tour of Atlantic City, I headed out to the Pinelands, where a profusion of blossoms did much to warm my chilled Canadian bones.

Nature was definitely calling me here. For my first adventure, I chose a canoe ride along the Batsto River. Quietly dipping my paddle into the cool waters, I saw many a red belly turtle out catching rays on fallen trees (and was told pickerel were swimming beneath the boat--didn't see any, though). Canoes can be rented for about $35 per day. The rental company chauffeured me via a bumpy jeep ride to a point on the river to start, and picked me up a couple of miles downstream two hours later.

After my day of canoeing, I opted for another favorite leisure activity--shopping. New Jersey has great bargains and no clothing tax, so even with the exchange rate for Canadian journey women, it's possible to get a deal. The next day, I hit Liberty Village Factory Outlet in Flemington and prowled through the Anne Klein, Perry Ellis, Royal Doulton and Jones New York stores. While still in shopping mode, I noticed many an antique shop, especially in the towns of Lambertville, Milford, New Hope, Chester and Belvedere. Unfortunately there was not enough time to see them all. I reached Milford just as everything was closing. However, next to shopping, eating is always my next best choice. I spied a beautifully restored Victorian building with a plaque proclaiming it to be The Ship's Inn, cc. 1860.

Owned and operated by Ann Hall and her husband, The Ship's Inn was originally a bakery, then an ice cream parlor, then a popular town tavern and bowling alley. Now it's New Jersey's first brew pub and people come from miles around to bask in the Hall's hospitality and sample items from the British-meets-American menu. I had a cranberry-topped brie cheese round, wrapped in pastry. Delicious. Attempting to burn off at least some of the cholesterol, I took a walk around the corner and discovered a real B&B gem. Meticulously restored, Chestnut Hill was selected by The Discerning Traveler as a "romantic hideaway." I got the royal tour, including the teddy-bear festooned third floor room. Next trip it will be a must.

New Jersey is chock-a-block with picturesque little towns. In Clinton, I stumbled upon the annual Cherry Blossom Walk (every May, around the 4-5th) where the little main street was literally carpeted with tender pink blossoms. Shops of collectibles lined the streets and at one end of town sat the impossibly pretty Red Mill, one of the most photographed mills in the U.S.

Last on my New Jersey agenda was Princeton, which abounds in the architectural style known as Gothic Collegiate. Not only the location of Albert Einstein's (as well as Brooke Shields') alma mater, it is home to Drumthwacket, the Governor's Mansion. Built in 1835, Drumthwacket became Governor Christine Whitman's official residence in 1981.

Entering the front hall of this sprawling, white pillared, plantation-style mansion (open to the public for tours every Wednesday afternoon), I was greeted by a portrait of Whitman's infamous distant relative "Old Uncle Josh," who, the guide informed me, was hung for grand larceny. Inside, I saw Whitman's Chippendale chairs, silver bowls and candelabras, as well as photos of her husband, two children and three Scottie dogs--Coors, Brie and Julie. Grand yet homey, the residence featured one touch that summed up my new-found impression of the state--nestling on a wing chair was a small pillow bearing the neatly stitched words "Relax, There's A Woman On The Job."

The Garden State
Notes and Numbers
New Jersey Travel & Tourism: (609) 292-2470
New Jersey website: http://www.state.nj.us
New Jersey Travel Guide: 1-800-JERSEY 7, ext. 7010
Bel Haven Canoe Rentals: (609) 965-2206
Chestnut Hill B&B, Milford: (908) 995-9761
Factory Outlet Shopping: Liberty Village, Clinton: (908) 782-8550
Drumthwacket, Princeton: (609) 683-0057
The Ship Inn, Milford: 1-800-NJ#1ALES


 

 

 

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