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NANTUCKET IS PICTURESQUE -- AND PRICEY

There are two necessities for those seeking rest and relaxation on Nantucket Island during the summer months: a well-stuffed billfold and a generous amount of patience.

It is a quaint place, this island 30 miles off the Massachusetts coast, and there is plenty to do. Cobblestone streets are lined with houses built when George Washington was a tyke. The "downtown" area is filled with gift shops, restaurants, clothing stores and art galleries.

There is a nine-hole public golf course and public tennis courts. There are 80 miles of generally clean shore line, numerous public beaches and enough untouched grassland and cranberry bogs to distract one's attention from the condominium developments that are blemishing the landscape.

Quaint.

But quaint, these days, comes at a price and attracts a crowd.

Downtown is a feast for window shoppers. A stroll would be more leisurely, however, were sidewalks wider and pedestrians less plentiful. The combination of the two makes for more bodily contact than in the average hockey game.

The problem is exacerbated by an excess of vehicles. Although the round-trip ferry fee for autos is $84, the charge apparently discourages few. Consequently, crossing a downtown street is an adventure, and bicycle riders qualify as the island's bravest inhabitants.

Bicycles are the most thrifty form of transport on the 50-square-mile island. Rental fee is $9 daily for a three-speed bike, $12 for a 10-speed. For the less athletic, mopeds can be had for $25 daily.

Thrift is a necessity, as virtually nothing is inexpensive. Expect to pay anywhere from 25 to 100 percent more for goods, services and meals here than on the mainland.

Dining can be problematic for those on a modest budget. The word "Nantucket" may evoke visions of cozy chowder shacks and sawdust-floored pubs where old salts abound, but -- sadly -- such visions exist in the mind only.

The operative culinary word here is gourmet. Expensive restaurants are as plentiful as seashells. Most of the dining is a la carte, with the average price of an entree about $25. A few consecutive nights of this puts a strain on all but the most Trumpish of budgets.

An oasis of culinary reason was found at the Quaker House, which -- owing either to the sect's thrift or altruism -- offered four-course dinners from $11 to $17.

There are a multitude of bed-and-breakfast places within walking distance of downtown. Most of them are precious wooden cottages more than a century old. Rooms with private bath run about $90. Coffee and muffins are the standard breakfast fare.

There are two movie houses -- one repertory, one showing first-run Hollywood films (unless, as is sometimes the case, the plane bearing the movie from Boston is grounded by fog). There are two theaters, with the Actors Theatre staging credible versions of familiar plays.

Best bet for the budget-conscious who are intrigued by the history of this once-great whaling port are the walking tours. Guidebooks direct one along maze-like streets lined with wooden cottages and churches, many dating to the 18th century. Notable sights are the Whaling Museum, home to an 18-foot whale jaw, and the Jethro Coffin House, built in 1686.

Peace on Nantucket is most easily found on the beaches. Although some are within walking distance of downtown, the better public ones are a few miles distant. Surfside is three miles from downtown, with bathroom facilities. Madaket, on the west end, also has bathroom facilities. Lifeguards usually are on duty and sometimes are needed; the undertow can be fierce.

Recommended for the adventurous are the unnamed "pocket" beaches dotting the southeastern coast. Accessible only by dirt road, they are clean, sparsely populated and backed by cliffs.

At Nantucket's eastern end is the town of Siasconset, or -- as the natives refer to it -- 'Sconset. Here, 10 miles from downtown, one finds the slower-paced, more idyllic side of Nantucket.

Downtown 'Sconset is a single crossroad, flanked by a Norman Rockwell-ish post office. 'Sconseteers think it a crisis when a resident paints his front door an "unapproved" color. Debates rage over plans to extend the bike path into the town center.

The beach is long, wide and fairly empty. Unfortunately, bathers often are subjected to what locals call "the red tide" -- an influx of reddish seaweed that colors the water and coats whomever ventures into it.

Nantucket is an island of many charms, most of which have been well-publicized. Suffice it to say that the concerns of the locals about overdevelopment and overpopulation are justified.

Perhaps, as one resident suggested, the best time to visit Nantucket is during the Christmas season. Then, the crowds have thinned, a blanket of snow often lies on the cobblestones and the dearth of tourists forces prices to a reasonable level.

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