New Jersey isn’t quite up there with Rome, Tokyo, or Paris when it comes to hot travel destinations, and many initial reactions to the state include mutterings about a certain television show and a generous dose of skepticism. Before I was enlightened, I’m sorry to say, I wrinkled my nose with the rest of them. However, my first trip to New Jersey was utterly dazzling, and the “Garden State” managed to capture my heart while I was busy eating berries.
At the height of July, and in desperate need of a break from New York City, I impulsively decided to visit my friend Ali, who lives a little ways out from Princeton, New Jersey. She picked me up at the train station, and found an exhausted and rather wild-eyed guest (I have yet to master traveling with grace). Thankfully, as we drove down winding little roads towards her house, I felt my body relax for the first time in weeks, aided by the fresh breeze knotting up my hair.
I’ve seen green. But this – this was an emerald paradise, so bright and cool and bursting with chlorophyll that I could hardly stand to look. I managed, of course, but not before sticking my face out the window and breathing in deep breaths of liquid sunshine. We passed farms fenced by hedgerows, old churches in gorgeous condition, and best of all, produce-laden farm stands. It seemed every windy driveway had a folding table, a scribbled out sign, and piles of whatever surplus vegetables were coming out of the garden. A tin box or plastic cup received your cash, many with the cheerful command to “make your own change”. Perhaps it was the stark break from life in New York City, but something about those stands renewed my faith in the fate of humankind. Or maybe it was the blackberries.
We stopped to peruse a few, where I picked up a bag of heirloom tomatoes (still the best I’ve ever tasted) and a generous amount of blackberry cartons. This produce would have been spoiled by heat or fussy preparation, so the blackberries were promptly devoured in the car, and the tomatoes sliced and simply dressed with olive oil and coarse salt later.
To be honest, I would have been perfectly happy if the day had ended there. But it gloriously went on and on and on. We made a short hike to a breathtaking lookout over the Delaware, swam in the river’s cool, clear water, and glimpsed too many deer and chipmunks to count. We watched fireworks in New Hope, Pennsylvania (New Jersey’s equally stunning neighbor), and caught a play in the community theatre. We walked for hours through colorful streets peppered with outdoor dining and strung up twinkling lights.
I was sorry to leave, and even sorrier I had waited so long to visit. The scenery alone makes a visit worth it, and can only be improved by the welcoming towns, perfect weather, and abundant fresh food. If summer is this gorgeous, I can hardly imagine autumn among the lush forests and low stone walls. I suppose that means another visit is in order!
Photos courtesy of Amy Feiereisel.
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