Two Days in Northampton, Massachusetts

After the birth of our son my wife and I made a pact to incorporate more rituals into our family life. Travel factored into a lot of it. Day trips and weekends certainly, but also midweek excursions; one or two night trips that would get us out of the house without thrusting us into the […]

By Ian Aldrich

Jan 06 2012

Hungry Catepillar Northampton

The Hungry Catepillar delights the small set at the Eric Carle Museum.

Photo Credit : Ian Aldrich
After the birth of our son my wife and I made a pact to incorporate more rituals into our family life. Travel factored into a lot of it. Day trips and weekends certainly, but also midweek excursions; one or two night trips that would get us out of the house without thrusting us into the thick rush of fellow Saturday or Sunday tourists. My wife went to college at Mt. Holyoke in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and spent a considerable amount of her non-classroom hours exploring nearby Northampton. For years we’d put off visiting the city, but when it came time to pick destination for our newly created post-Christmas jaunt, we finally decided to make good on all the talk. Okay, I admit it holds a certain advantage other places can’t match. Like free built-in babysitting in the form of a sister-in-law who lives in Northampton. But other things called to us, too. The gluttony of bookshops, quirky stores, and a United Nations like gathering of restaurants. I swear, Northampton is the only place where it’s just taken for granted that yes, it is no big deal that a Tibetan restaurant is sandwiched in between a bank and a salon. You can understand the pull, right? Our visit began smack-dab in the middle of downtown at the Hotel Northampton, which first opened its doors in 1927. Our room looked out onto King Street and the nearby Calvin Theater. If you look closely you might be able to see my one-year-old son banging on the window. It’s one of his favorite hobbies. Our room’s balcony provided us with an incredible view of the hotel’s foyer. Once we settled things in our room, we bundled up again and explored the downtown. We didn’t get far before I pulled out the camera. I’d made it just a few steps in fact before I was snapping pictures of the hotel’s neighbor, the Hampshire County Courthouse. It’s hard to find fault with any city that uses the grounds around its courthouse for outdoor art. On display: the metal work of sculptor James Kitchen. From there we bounded across Main Street and stumbled upon a yarn and knitting shop called J.A. Tapper Co., which immediately caught the eye of my wife. This wall of yarn was just the tip of the iceberg. Let me put this out there: I’m not a fan of malls. I avoid them at all costs. But what compromises a “mall” in Northampton, I found to be pretty enticing. For starters, it’s not gigantic, just 30 small shops. Then there’s the atmosphere of the place. It’s right on Main Street in a historic building with creaking wood floors and restored tin ceilings. Customers await their caffeine at Rao’s Coffee & Cafe. Experienced parents remember to bring their young son’s toy bag. For newbie parents, it’s a different matter. Which is one of the reasons we ended up at A Child’s Garden. Plus, we loved the wooden toys. These were just a few favorites we discovered at A Child’s Garden. New England is ripe with meeting houses and churches packed with history. Northampton is no exception. Pulpit leaders include Jonathan Edwards, who helped spark the Great Awakening with the publication of his “Faithful Narrative.” Puritan settlers built Northampton’s first meeting house in 1655. The current building dates back to 1877. Northampton’s First Church was designed by the well known Boston architectural firm, Peabody & Stearns and is the fifth church to occupy the site. In addition to a thriving restaurant scene, Northampton offers a healthy supply of bookstore options. There’s Broadway Books and Booklink Booksellers but our favorite was Raven Used Books, a cavernous shop just off Main Street that’s stocked with Nietzsche and trashy hollywood bios. If they’d allowed it. I would have moved in. As of fan of toast and books, I found Raven’s innovative bookends to be sheer genius. Throughout our two days in Northampton, other gems emerged, too. Like… Sid Vintage. Get it? Stepping into Sid’s is a bit like going back in time. The collection of stuff found here includes a number of things you probably haven’t come across in several years. Whether that’s good or not, is in the eye of the beholder. With our sister-in-law taking charge of the child care duties, my wife and I escaped to the movies at the Pleasant Street Theatre. Which, considering we’ve been able to do this only one other time, in the last year, was a pretty big deal. For those wondering, we saw The Descendants. Well worth it, just so you know. After the movie we prolonged the night a bit with tea and croissants at the Amanouz Cafe. I admit: I was tempted. Our second full day in the area featured a short drive to Amherst for a visit to the Eric Carle Museum, whose main building is an open, sun drenched space that caters to the kid in all of us. There was plenty for my son to discover at the museum, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, who just so happens to be the star of one of his favorite books. One of the highlights of the Eric Carle Museum, in addition to the galleries, is the art room where kids and parents are free to make their own creations. Now that city living has given way to a new life in rural New Hampshire, I’ve discovered that something as mundane as getting a slice of pizza is something to celebrate. Which is the reason I hit the streets late on our second night, appetite in full force. I eventually ended up at Mimmos Pizza on Pleasant Street, which takes a lot of pride in its big slices. I wasn’t disappointed. Waddling out of Mimmo’s I didn’t quite make it in time to nearby Sweeties, which, ahem, offers quite a selection of chocolates and other candy. Is that a wall of candy? Why yes it is! The walk back to the hotel room was almost as beautiful as the giant wall of candy. Almost. Northampton’s Main Street, still donning its Christmas apparel. At the end of our second night, my wife and I were already talking about returning to Northampton again, maybe in the summer, for a second trip. And another new ritual.