Friday, August 3, 2012

Vermont - days 2 through 8

Day 2

We had breakfast at Henry House Sunday and Monday. Nancy fixes a hot breakfast only on the weekends, so we had French toast on Sunday. On Monday we had a choice of bagels, English muffins, fruit, cereal, etc., and she brought us some cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven.

The French toast was really good. Better than Trader Joe’s frozen.  

We visited a couple of sites in the Bennington area.  The first was the Bennington Battle Monument, a tower reminiscent of the Washington Monument, but shorter. For a fee, you can take an elevator to a viewing station a couple of hundred feet up, and have a view of three states (VT, MA, NY). The monument memorializes a Revolutionary War battle where militia mainly from New Hampshire, but also from Massachusetts and Vermont defeated two detachments of Burgoyne’s (British) army. The battle was actually in New York, about ten miles away, but the British target was a store of weapons and food at the monument’s location. It’s pretty cool for history buffs.  
View from 200' up

View of most of the monument (305' tall)

The second site was the Bennington Museum, a small but eclectic collection of historical artifacts, one old car, a lot of Rockwell Kent paintings, and a whole wing dedicated to the work of Grandma Moses (no photography allowed there).

Toy train
Surgical Instruments (!)

The Wasp - made in Vermont
Rockwell Kent painting
Rockwell Kent Painting

The afternoon we spent wandering around Bennington, just gawking at how green everything is. We even went to the Covered Bridge Museum, and saw a video describing the terrible flooding in 1927 that wiped out so many covered bridges.  The video is out of date, because it doesn’t mention anything about Hurricane Irene in 2011 and all the damage it caused.

North Fork of Long Island Wine
I was concerned, as always, about finding a place for dinner where Jody could have something vegetarian, and I had noticed a place the night before when we were looking for Kevin’s, and checked it out on the web. The place is called Pangaea, and it’s in North Bennington. It has a restaurant (closed Sunday) and a lounge (open every day). We reserved a table and ended up having a wonderful meal in an outdoor setting. This place is really good. The menu had items marked with a little carrot, which were vegetarian, and items marked with a little tomato to indicate they could be made vegetarian on request. They even had some wine from the north fork of Long Island, where I spent a lot of my summers growing up. It was quite good. 

Incredible ravioli
I had a ravioli stuffed with boar and brie and served with a balsamic reduction. It was incredible. Our waitress told us the staff drooled every time they put it on the menu.

Day 3

The next stop for us was Stowe, and we had a pretty long drive to get there. Google maps wanted us to head over to I-89, but we decided to stay on VT 100, which skirts along the edge of part of the Green Mountain National Forest. There was very little traffic on this road, and it is incredibly scenic. We did see some very sad remnants of the destruction caused by Hurricane Irene, which sat over Vermont in 2011 as a tropical storm and dumped prodigious amounts of rain, causing some serious flash flooding.

VT 100 took us to Waterbury, where we stopped for lunch. The meal itself was unremarkable, but what was interesting is that nearly all the customers were speaking French. We saw a number of cars with Quebec license plates parked nearby.  After lunch we went to Montpelier, where I showed my wife where I stayed when working there, and where the company is located. The company has a building which is really too large for Vermont.

We also visited the Vermont State House, and just wandered in at the right time to take a tour of the building. 

Vermont State House
Constitution chair
The tour was very interesting, and the building is extremely well taken care of.  It is pretty tiny for a state capitol but it has a lot of interesting artwork and in the governor’s office there’s a chair called the Constitution Chair, named not after the U.S. Constitution, but the USS Constitution, or Old Ironsides, where the wood for the chair originated. 

We had dinner that night at a place in the Stowe resort called Crop Bistro. It had started to rain just as we left, and was pouring when we got there. The Bistro was just okay – I had a haddock dish which was kind of strange – baked fish on top of some soupy vegetables. The restaurant itself had no tablecloths but steel-top tables and lots and lots of echoing noise.  

Day 4

The next day it was still a little rainy in the morning, but cooler. We decided to see if we could find a boat ride on Lake Champlain. And I showed my wife how easy it is to completely miss the Burlington Airport, which is as poorly signed as anything in the world. We had no problem finding the boat ride, and a helpful lady in the parking lot suggested we go see the aquarium while we were waiting. The aquarium, called ECHO Lake Aquarium andScience Center, was inundated with young folk, summer campers, and the exhibits seemed mostly of interest to that age group.

We took the noon cruise on the Spirit of Ethan Allen, which included lunch. The lunch and the cruise were both pretty good. There’s a narration that tells you what you are looking at, and the ride was very smooth. There is a lot of history on that lake, and it’s fun to hear about how the British fired cannon balls at a rock, in the fog, thinking it was an American ship. It’s hard to sink an island. 

That evening we had dinner at Hen of the Wood, a small restaurant but one of the harder to book dining spots in Vermont. This place is hard to find, tucked away on a cross street to Vermont 100 just north of I-89, in a building with no indication as to what it is. Our table was in a very dark room.  The service was very good, and the waiter was quick to make recommendations. 

Hen of the Wood - cheese plate
We split a cheese plate for an appetizer.

Hen of the Wood - short ribs
I had one of the nightly specials, short ribs.  

while Jody had a goat cheese gnocchi dish.
Goat cheese gnocchi - Hen of the Wood

We split a bottle of Vermont red – it was drinkable, but it was a bit harsh.  
Yes that really is Vermont wine

All in all it was an excellent evening. After we were finished, we poked our heads out to see the spectacular outdoor seating they have.  

Back yard of Hen of the Wood

Day 5

From Stowe we headed north and east, to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. We were visiting an old family friend, Paul Gruhler, an artist whose works have been shown all around the world. Paul has a house in Craftsbury Common, although it might actually be in East Craftsbury, on an unpaved road surrounded by mostly nothing but green. Paul was not confident that we could find his house, so he met us in Craftsbury at the general store. 

Craftsbury General Store & Post Office

Paul gave us a quick tour of Craftsbury Common (the actual town) and then brought us to his house, which looks small from the road but is actually quite large, and well decorated with his own and others’ art works. Later, Paul fixed us dinner as his lady friend came over to visit. That night I had my first good night of sleep in Vermont.

Sweater in July!
Paul's house
Paul and Jody at Craftsbury Common
Day 6

The day was dull and raining. Paul fixed breakfast, which we ate on a protected porch. Vermonters go outside in the summer, no matter what! Later we decided on taking an excursion to Canada – Paul had a good lunch place scoped out. So we drove about 40 minutes or so and crossed into Canada. We had our passports, and had to check in with the Canadian border people. Lunch was at a place called Le Tomifobia – I am not making up the name. I tried to research the name – there is a town by the same name – but did not come up with anything.  At any rate, the people working there speak French and a little English, and we enjoyed crepes similar to what we get in France, except, this being North America, just a little bigger. 

Garden at Le Tomifobia

Salmon crepe

The restaurant is in a town called Beebe Plain, which extends both sides of the international border. One interesting thing was a gas station on the U.S. side, with six or eight pumps, all being used by cars from Quebec. Evidently, fuel is 30% more expensive on the Canadian side of the border. The restrictions on border crossings since September 11 have had a devastating economic effect on this area. People used to be able to move easily across the border for shopping or dining, but now access is restricted to controlled entry points, and delays are common.

That evening we attended a concert at the Historic Hardwick Town House, of chamber music, played with marvelous talent and enthusiasm by some well-traveled performers. Prior to the concert, we had dinner in a wildly eclectic restaurant in Hardwick called Claire’s, and after dinner we poked around in a railroad museum while waiting for the concert.  But the surprise of the evening was when my old friend from college, Jack Sumberg, appeared. I had not seen him since maybe 1970 or so. He looked old, but recognizable. So we took some time to try to catch up – as if it were possible to catch up 42 years – but it was enjoyable. I had spoken to Jack a couple of times, but it was only coincidence that led me to mention his name to Paul, only to find out he lived nearby.  

First time since 1970?

Day 7

After blueberry pancakes (with a little cayenne pepper) at Chez Paul, we reluctantly left the Northeast Kingdom on our way to Woodstock, VT, although we didn’t ever really get that far. 

Blueberry pancakes at Chez Paul
Our first visit was to the L.L.Bean store in West Lebanon, N.H. We knew the exit from the interstate, but finding the store was a chore, and when we got there it was really just a tiny subset of what you find in Freeport.  In fact, I called it ‘L’ instead of L.L. Bean. From there we went to the Quechee Gorge, a canyon cut away by glacial activity many years ago.  The Ottauquechee River runs through it today. The gorge, and the waterfall from the dam at the top of the gorge, are very impressive, and the park alongside is beautiful. We spent an hour or two wandering up and down, and taking photos.  I understand there are occasions where someone slips and falls into the gorge or into the stream, and I was concerned about a family whose dog was getting close to the main current, but the dog clambered out with no problem.

Lowest part of the Gorge

Some white water

Jody with the dam in the background

We ate lunch in a place called the Quechee Diner, and the less said about it the better. We also visited the Cabot store next to the diner, where they had some tasty Cabot cheese samples available. We learned that Cabot cheese is sold in Trader Joe and in the Walmart stores that carry food.

By this time we were getting used to finding things without signs or good directions, and we managed to find our next B&B, called Apple Hill Inn. This place was definitely a step up in class (and in price) from our prior B&B’s, in a large house with elegant interior spaces. We had a king size bed, and a huge room, with everything new and immaculate. There was sufficient cross-ventilation, which was important because the thermometer had been creeping up again.  

Apple Hill host
Apple Hill Inn

Day 8

The owner of Apple Hill Inn fixed us a very nice breakfast of pancakes with pears and almonds. Breakfast was not until 8:30 AM, which is kind of late, but there was coffee available from 7 AM. We had a flight out of Bradley International at 6 PM, so we had plenty of time – it was about a 140 mile drive – two hours in Texas, somewhat more in New England. We stopped a couple of times.  The first stop was at the Vermont Country Store in Rockingham, VT.  This store has lots of older stuff that you don’t see in the stores any more, such as Tab (diet soda)., and lots of knick knacks and other treasures  from the area. They were giving away a lot of munchies of different kinds, which is always welcome.  I would say the Vermont Country Store is worth one (01) visit.  

But the real, unspoken, purpose of our trip was to come home with two delicacies that are widely available in the Northeast but not available anywhere else.  These are Thomas’ Toast ‘r Cakes and Sandwich Size Thomas’ English Muffins. So as we traveled south on I-91 we were trying to figure out where there would be a town big enough for a supermarket. Our efforts were hampered by an absolutely torrential downpour that made I-91 nearly impassable. The last time I drove that road, the same thing happened, so I’m not planning to go there again, ever.

We found a promising exit somewhere north of Springfield, and after some driving around we found a Stop & Shop.  We went to the bread section, and took all their Toast ‘r Cakes, and all the sandwich size muffins except an ‘Everything’. We left them with nothing but Everything.

After that we had a relatively uneventful drive to the airport, and after security we stopped in the Black Bear Saloon in the airport, where, sort of a final farewell, they screwed up Jody’s order, giving her chicken in her quesadilla instead of cheese. Fortunately, we had plenty of time.

It continued to rain off and on through our departure.  We got home to 100 degrees at DFW airport, and we sure haven’t seen any rain since! 

We had a good time in Vermont. It's beyond green, and it could hardly be more different from Texas. There is so little traffic, and everything is slower paced and people take more time with you. It was very entertaining.  I don't know if we'll ever go back, but if we do, we won't commit to so much driving and try to focus on one area. 

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