Is it already Wednesday?
As much as I love long weekends, they really mess up my perception of the rest of the week. On Labor Day, I forgot to cancel an appointment I had made because I kept thinking "I'll do it on Monday when I get back to work."
Labor Day weekend will always be special for me.
Bryan and I got married over Labor Day weekend thirteen (!) years ago. We purposely picked that date partly because we wanted to always have a long weekend to celebrate. We haven't always traveled, but in the past thirteen years, we've managed to visit a few places, such as Freeport Maine, Sonoma Valley, Acadia National Park, Las Vegas, and even biking the Minuteman Trail (hee, hee, that's just to Lexington, MA for ice cream!).
If you haven't noticed by now, this summer has been an exploration of all things local. Instead of jet-setting around the world to visit different exotic places, I've stayed put in New England (with just one exception), exploring Cape Cod, Cape Ann, and Portland, Maine.
For our anniversary, we decided to add one more local destination to the mix: we spent a weekend in the Berkshires attending concerts at Tanglewood (the Boston Symphony's summer home), as well as exploring this beautiful area in the western part of Massachusetts.
The Berkshires are about two and a half hours from Boston and from New York, assuming no traffic. It's a super popular destination during the fall because of its stunning foliage. Even over Labor Day weekend, I could already see the leaves starting to change color.
There are several mountains out west, including Mt. Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts. If we had more time, I would have loved to explore some of those hiking trails (or conquer the summit!). Perhaps I'll aim to go back during peak foliage season, when the hills are vibrant with color.
The entire area is beautiful. In some ways, it reminds me of wine country in California. Instead of rolling vineyards, there are rolling hills lush with trees, which I'm sure are blazing with color during the fall.
The quintessential thing to do in the area is to enjoy a picnic on the grounds of Tanglewood, either before and/or during a concert.
We picked up some salumi, smoked chicken, fancy cheeses, bread, and salads from NeJaime's Wine Cellars (right in downtown Lenox just a couple miles from Tanglewood) to create a lovely (and hassle-free) picnic lunch. The folks a Nejaime's were super friendly and were very willing to help us assemble our "picnic", such as cutting up our salumi for us, giving us free paper plates and plastic silverware, and helping us select the perfect spread of cheeses (great choices, by the way!).
Tanglewood sells lawn tickets for as little as $11 and the lawn tickets are actually free for children under 17 (four free tickets for every adult ticket purchased). With a lawn ticket you can enjoy your picnic, read a book, sip wine (!), and do other silent activities while enjoying phenomenal live music from the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The grounds open at 4PM, and it's wise to get there as early as possible to stake out a good area for picnicking, to avoid traffic, and to get a better parking spot. We showed up at 4:30PM and already hit a bit of traffic driving into the parking lot.
Instead of picnicking while watching the concert, you could do what we did: enjoy the picnic before the concert and then head inside the Shed, a large, open-air concert hall (pictured behind Bryan) for the concert.
You need to buy tickets for the Shed, and the prices vary depending on who's playing and how good the seats are, much like a regular concert hall.
The first night we enjoyed a fantastic performance by Josh Groban and the Boston Pops.
Aside from having an insanely powerful (and versatile!) voice, Josh Groban is also a talented drummer, which really surprised me. He sang all sorts of songs, from his own compositions and Broadway musical numbers to Italian classical pieces and tributes to other people. Most poignantly, his encore song was "Smile" in honor of Robin Williams.
This was the final concert of the season for the Boston Pops. Above, you can see Keith Lockhart, the beloved conductor, along with several of the instrumentalists.
The following day, we had another picnic. This time, we arrived right at 12PM to enjoy lunch before our 2:30 PM concert.
This time we stopped by Guido's Fresh Market in the morning before heading out to the grounds. Guido's is a bit farther from Tanglewood (about 5 miles), though it was right next to our hotel. If you are able to drive out there, I would highly recommend going there for your picnic needs. It's a larger, gourmet supermarket with an emphasis on fresh, local, and organic produce. They also have a coffee bar as well as a juice bar. Bryan absolutely loved his juice, which contained beets, ginger, chili peppers, and apples.
Guido's was originally founded by two Italian brothers - a culinary institute graduate and a builder. They started out as a produce stand 30+ years ago and have grown to what they are today. I fell in love with the variety of items they sold at that market, including a lot of local organic produce, a large variety of cheese, and tons of different artisanal products.
We got a bunch of items, including a raw kale salad, quinoa salad, phenomenal Farm Girl Farms organic cherry tomatoes, and mesclun greens from Equinox Farms. Everything was really good. The tomatoes were definitely our favorite.
We enjoyed a great concert by Tony Bennett, who had an admirable amount of energy for someone who just turned eighty-eight (!). We were blown away by his stamina, and it was especially cute to see him sing a couple songs with his youngest daughter, Antonia Bennett.
The band was super talented, and it really inspired me to play more music. I wanted to learn more jazz piano, vocal technique, you name it . . .
We were fortunate. Moments after the concert ended, the skies opened up and it rained for the next several hours. We hid away in a restaurant and enjoyed a lovely dinner at Nudel in Lenox (more on that in a future post!).
On our final day in the Berkshires, we headed into Stockbridge to visit Naumkeag, a summer "cottage" of the rich and powerful Choate family. Similar yet different from the mansions in Newport, Naumkeag is a glimpse back into the life of a family from a different time.
It was informative to take the 45-minute guided tour of the house, which we really enjoyed. Afterwards, you can spend as much time as you want roaming around the gardens. The trustees are currently in the middle of a 3 million dollar renovation of the grounds. There are some parts that are already done, while others are still yet to be updated. It's still beautiful, regardless.
It was getting late, and we wanted some time at home, so we headed out of the area after enjoying a nice and simple lunch at Once Upon a Table in Stockbridge. Thankfully, there was little traffic on the way home, and we made it back in decent time.
It was a quick weekend, and we wanted to make it relaxing, so we didn't rush to cram in a million activities. That's one nice thing about the Berkshires - you don't feel that sense of urgency. We saw a few concerts, had several picnics, and just enjoyed being outside, soaking in the last of summer.
Disclaimer: Parts of this itinerary were set up for me by the Berkshire Visitor's Bureau. The tickets to Tanglewood performances were provided by the BSO. Guido's Fresh Market provided the picnic ingredients, and Namkeag provided tickets to the property. I paid for all the rest of our meals as well as cost of transportation and lodging.
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