Nantucket: The Grey Lady in Spring

If you stay at school for spring break and get sick of Cambridge, there's a great place you can go far away from Boston without using a car--the elbow-shaped island of Nantucket.

Take the Red Line to South Station and from there catch a Plymouth and Brockton bus to Hyannis, summer retreat of the Kennedy family. From Hyannis, ride on the Steamship Authority's ferry to Nantucket. All this costs just $50, and it only takes four hours to get there.

If you want to skip the ferry, you can fly from Hyannis for around $50 on one of a handful of small airlines which service Nantucket. Round-trip flights from Boston are also available at a significantly higher price.

Nantucket, which sits off Cape Cod a few miles beyond Martha's Vineyard (its would-be rival), is a great place for students trips during spring break. Because it's not the island's peak season yet, prices for food and lodging are relatively inexpensive. (They're a ripoff in the summertime.)

And while you can't go swimming at the white-sand beaches yet, many of the island's museums and historical attractions are open for business.

Just walking the historic town area is a treat in itself. Grab a turkey sandwich at Henry's (right near the ferry dock) and wander the cobblestone streets which wind narrow ways dotted with wooden houses with widows' walks. Stop for coffee at Cafe Espresso on Main Street or dodge into The Hub, the town's newsstand, to grab a copy of an island newspaper.

The Brotherhood, on Broad Street, is also a local lunch hot spot. Try the specials. (I had the three-layered chili and it was fantastic.)

Center Street (once called Petticoat Lane because all its businesses were run by women whose husbands were off hunting whales in the Pacific) is home to many wonderful art galleries, among them the Sailor's Valentine Gallery, which specializes in "art brut," or outsider art.

On the corner of Center and Broad is the Jared Coffin House, a wonderful old red brick inn renovated in 1963. Jared's features a delicious fresh seafood buffet on Sunday evenings.

Toward the water is the Old South Wharf, featuring specialty shops that sell everything from miniature porcelain dolls to specialty print shops.

Much lies outside of town, too. Bikes are cheap to rent at one of the many cycle shops downtown, and mopeds are common as well. Once on wheels, head out to Something Natural, a bread and sandwich shop which sells exquisite baked goods. (Be sure to sample the Portuguese bread, also carried at the island supermarkets.)

If you follow the Makadet Road out of town, it will take you all the way to one of the island's farthest ends. You can branch off half way and head to the Dionis Beach or continue on the rest of the way.

The road eventually ends at Madaket, a small village at the islands west-most end. The houses are mostly grey-shingled salt-box homes, no more than 25 feet high.

Other destinations out of town include the popular Surfside Beach, which is crowded on the weekends. The Sankaty Head Light, an historic lighthouse, and the Life Saving Museum are also island attractions worth seeing.

At Nantucket's east-most point is the town of Siasconset (called 'Sconset by all the locals). This is really a small town within the larger town of Nantucket. Artists and literati are often seen here. Street painters can also be spotted out in front of the bookstore or around the small post office which marks the way to the beach.

For night life, the best bet is to go to the White Elephant Hotel, just two blocks off Broad Street on the water, to hear the piano player. In the summer, musicians Jim Badger has islanders and tourists alike rolling with his music and wit.

Out of town there are a few clubs. The best is The Box, on Dave Street across from the Finast supermarket (21 and over only, please). The Muse on Athletic Ave. also features live music.

One more thing, though--there's a pretty good chance it will be rainy or foggy when you visit. It's rainy and foggy for most of March on Nantucket. (That's why the island is called "the grey lady" by some.) So bring your rain gear and good cheer. Hey, it may be raining, but you're in Nantucket, not Cambridge. Enjoy the escape.