Have you ever felt like the University of Massachusetts and Amherst were sucking your soul dry? Between the 900 pages of the “Odyssey” you have to read in order to write a paper due in three hours, six mid-semester exams testing you on things you did not even learn about, the ridiculous Facebook updates that your roommate is passive-aggressively writing about your living habits, and your parents calling you every 10 minutes because they looked up your less than perfect grades on SPIRE – it sometimes feel like this heaven on earth we call college is a hellhole.
At this point in the semester, no matter who you are, you need a break – a chance for a little soul rejuvenation – just enough to get you to the summer unscathed by the virulent turmoil of college. But chances are you also don’t have too much time for travel. Here are the top six places to escape the craziness of Amherst without having to even leave town.
1) Cushman Market
When stressful moments strike, eating is almost always an immediate reaction, so you may as well consume some of the best and freshest food you can find in town. Cushman Market, tucked in a cozy nook off Pine Street in North Amherst, is a quirky café and general store that will remind you that friendly communities do exist. The menu contains unique recipes that are inspired by your favorite comfort foods. Don’t fret, picky eaters. Cushman has a well-rounded menu that can satisfy anyone. If you are really struggling with UMass problems, try the Challah French Toast. Or try a refreshing twist on a hot beverage with the Hot Coco-fee, a half coffee and half hot chocolate dream, during one of the café’s Sunday morning local jazz sessions.
2) Mill River Recreation Area
Sometimes a little fresh air can refresh your thought process and prevent an imminent meltdown. Mill River Park in North Amherst is only a walk, bike ride or bus away from campus. It is a quiet place to unwind and shoot some hoops without the guys from the second floor crowding the court. It’s also a place to become an outdoor ‘appreciation-alist.’ The well-groomed path winds its way along the river, which, at this time of the year, gently flows over hundreds of river stones, creating the most enchanting ambient noise for some subconscious soul-soothing far more effective than any $19.99 Brookstone spa mix. After the 15-minute walk to the end, dip your toes at the bottom of the waterfall spilling over the Puffer’s Pond dam, or take a right up the road to go for a refreshingly cool swim.
3) Nation Yiddish Library
Not even sure what Yiddish is? It doesn’t matter, at least for these purposes. Even those without the slightest interest in Judaic studies or the Yiddish language can appreciate the library and museum on the Hampshire College campus. Before even entering the fabulously architected library, take a seat on the benches perfectly situated for optimal views of the surrounding mountain range and soon-to be flowering trees. Once inside, browse the history of the language or the dozens of bookshelves lined with original copies of novels written in the Yiddish language from around the world dating back dozens of years. If you enjoy hands-on learning, the library gives visitors an opportunity to practice some written Yiddish.
4) West Amherst Cemetery
Don’t have a car or an understanding of the bus schedule and want to avoid anyone resembling a UMass student? Take a stroll behind the Baku’s African Cuisine and Zanna’s plaza to the West Amherst Cemetery. Starting to sound a little creepy? It isn’t! The cemetery, founded in 1737 – just 10 years after the first English settlers decided to make the Amherst area a permanent home – is the final resting place for British soldiers and, most notably, famed poet Emily Dickinson. Although you will occasionally catch a few local teenagers sneaking a smoke behind the picturesque tombstones, you will be able to collect your thoughts without interruption. Seeing history lay before you is a good reminder that living in the 21st century is really not that bad. The best time to visit is in the evening as the sun is settling, giving the whimsically overgrown grass a golden glow.
5) Durfee Conservatory
Some of us do not have the time and energy to leave campus. When social, academic or actual life tragedies strike, and the tears start to well up as you walk through campus, duck into the Durfee Conservatory across from University Health Services. Mostly unknown to an oblivious student population, the 19th-century style green house is an inviting sanctuary, both for unique plant life and for your emotional health. Take a walk through the climate-themed rooms, like the cactus room or the fruit tree room, with an extended pit stop in the middle room. As the largest portion in the series of connected green houses, the middle room is an oasis filled with exotic palm trees and intriguing orchids. Clear your head while watching koi swim beneath lily pads from the small wooden bridge straddling the modest pond that graces the center of the room, or stretch out on a bench and breathe in the comfortingly musky air. The most coveted hiding post is a small stone slab bench tucked among the stalks of a miniature bamboo grove accompanied by a Japanese-inspired flickering candle. Just 10 minutes in the conservatory will remind you of the simple things in life.
6) Amherst Cinema
Sometimes college feels like high school, and sometimes you come to a point when you wish you were 27 with a job and a stable social life. Amherst Cinema will make you feel so sophisticated that it might leave you with a lasting air of maturity that will deter you from continuing that Twitter war with your dorm neighbor. Luckily, the venue has naturally created its own orb of classiness that has warded off most teenagers and ill-spirited persons that might judge you for flying solo. Treat yourself to a gourmet cupcake and a glass of white wine, and enjoy a thought-provoking documentary or some hidden gem of an indie film that will let you get lost in your own imagination.
Lindsey Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lindseys_list.