Woah. It’s been awhile since I wrote. Well a few things have happened since I last wrote, but most importantly – my dad’s final radiation treatment is in two days! Let’s hope he kicked cancer’s ass this time, eh?
Back to the leaf peeping. Did you know that was a popular phrase in New England? I sure as heck didn’t. That was until I arrived in Vermont in October to take a road trip with my friend to see the fall colors. Aka leaf peeping. “Oh you’re here for leaf peeping?” “It’s peak leaf peeping season.”(this was the weather guy on TV) “Be careful hiking, a lot of leaf peepers get hurt out here.”
I don’t know if New Englanders are slightly perverse, or don’t understand the humor in using peeping in this way. It made taking in the fall foliage feel a bit dirty. Yet, after a few days we were embracing this term too.
Let’s go back to the beginning shall we?
I decided that I needed to go to VT, NH and ME this year to finally complete the Lower 48. I didn’t care if I did it alone, I was going. And I was going to go during the peak fall colors season – early-to-mid October. My friend Sophia decided she needed to get out of Dodge (aka Buffalo, NY) and join me. But why stop at those three states? We tacked on Montreal and Boston to the trip too, since both were about 2 hours from the destinations in VT and ME.
We rented a fabulous AirBnB near McGill University and spent the entire day walking around the city, enjoying the sights and the delicious foods. We also made a stop at a cat cafe – my first time attending one. I’m not a cat person, but it was pretty cute and the cupcakes were delicious! Of course we stopped for poutine, a delicacy we’ve had many times in MN, but never in it’s home province of Quebec. Hippi Poutine was delicious, and the owner’s humor and accent were delectable. Plus, they had board games and Soph had never played Battleship. After a pitcher of sangria, and a huge helping of poutine, we said au revoir and continued on to Old Montreal.
Between the cobblestone streets and French all around, it’s easy to get lost in this city’s beauty and feel as though you’re in Europe. After many hours and many miles of walking, we decided to find dinner. Lola Rosa Cafe is a quaint vegetarian restaurant near McGill’s campus. There are no reservations, so you just show up and wait in line for a table. It was worth the wait! The food was incredibly fresh and the dessert was so decadent I could die, but that’s not even the best part. Every table has drawers in it filled with notes from people around the world who’ve eaten at your very same table. We enjoyed reading the ones we could while we ate dinner. In the morning we found a Hinnawi Bros. Bagels Cafe at the recommendation of a fellow traveler. Who knew Montreal had their own stamp on bagels? They’re like a cross-breed between bagels and pretzels, and every bit as tasty as both!
After devouring our bagels, we went to the bus station to head south to Vermont. I had read quite a bit while planning this trip, and found that taking a bus across the border may be more inconvenient than the train but far better than renting a car and driving. A train was not going to work for our next destination, so we took a Greyhound and found it to be a pleasant ride. The countryside of Quebec was quite beautiful to watch out the windows, with the colors starting to show as we neared the United States border.
Upon arrival in Burlington, we rented a car and decided to go to Shelburne Farms. The same traveler who recommended the bagels had mentioned the farms, and given that she nailed it with the bagels – we trusted her fully!
This place was glorious! Back in its prime, this working farm was owned by the Vanderbilt Family. There’s a hotel, restaurant, bar, store, bakery, cheesemaking shop (you bet your ass these two girls from MN bought some damn fine cheese too), woodshop… and probably a lot more that I’m forgetting. It’s worth every penny of the entry charge to go to this beautiful piece of history on the southern shore of Lake Champlain. Plus, WE GOT TO BOTTLE FEED A BABY COW!!! Oh. Fer. Cute.
And then after all of that, we drove away and came across this pit stop. be still my heart…
We’d been in Vermont for approximately 4 hours (tops) at this point, and I was so in love with New England already. We happened upon a great farm-to-table restaurant while walking along Church Street Marketplace, aptly named the Farmhouse Tap & Grill. Holy guacamole the entire meal (and the beers) were the best meal yet! I know, I know…every meal has been the best meal – but I swear, each day of this trip was like a party in my mouth! And then our server pointed us in the direction of a unique watering hole named Light Club Lamp Shop. While there were no lamps for sale at this live music venue, lamps they were a plenty!
In the morning, we found the Earth Clock on the shore of Lake Champlain before finding the World’s Tallest File Cabinet. You just keep being you, Vermont, and never change your strange! After a photo shoot at the cabinet, we went into downtown to explore the farmer’s market and get a Maple Latte at Onyx Tonics. This may be one of the best lattes I’ve ever tasted, and the barista informed me that the maple was from a farm nearby and the milk was from a different farm in town. It doesn’t get fresher than that!
We started to head east, following the recommendation of my company’s owner to stop at Camel’s Hump along our route to New Hampshire. We attempted to hike to the top, but weather forced us to cut the hike short. It was wet, cold, and the ungroomed paths were very slippery – as Sophia learned the hard way and took a fall on some rocks. We had also been told by many hikers coming downhill that the view at the top was only fog. Knowing this, and knowing that the Ben & Jerry’s Factory was nearby – we made the smart decision to get back in the car and continue on. We had ice cream to sample.
I’m not sure about you, but I love Ben & Jerry’s. Not only do they make a great product, they give back to their community and fight for their beliefs. I knew this going in to the tour, but learned so much more about them that just wowed me! What a great company and a great example for how you can stay true to your roots, even after becoming a HUGE success. Kudos to those two dudes for never straying from their dreams, political activism and morals. Also, they made a stellar factory experience that includes my favorite touristy-stop ever – The Flavor Graveyard. Thank you, sirs.
Because we didn’t have enough sugar yet, we stopped to have cider and cider donuts at Cold Hollow Cider Mill up the street. When in Rome, right? BTW, we hadn’t even seen the fall colors yet. This trip was STACKED.
We crossed into New Hampshire at night, and had to stop at the state sign for a photo opp. Live Free or Die. That’s one helluva state slogan, NH. We weren’t sure if we should keep driving or just stay in Vermont where we knew we’d be safe with Bernie Sanders, Ben, Jerry and all the weirdos and beardos who call VT home. Nevertheless, we persisted.
Given that it was night time, we had no idea what to expect of the landscape. We knew we were heading into the White Mountains, as we were staying at a hostel that was connected to the Appalachian Trail. We checked in to the Notch Hostel, then grabbed some beers and settled in to the living room to enjoy conversations with fellow travelers. This hostel was really well kept, the owner was incredibly helpful in planning our next day of hiking/exploring, and the other travelers were fabulous to stay with. We were lucky and I would definitely consider staying here again, should I come back to the area. In the morning we woke up, and drove a hiker to the Lincoln Woods trailhead, where we spent the next hour or so walking in the rain and enjoying our first views of the brightest fall colors we’d ever seen.
We had no idea what was to come, but these were the most vibrant trees we’d seen so far. In fact, in Vermont we had even said that if we didn’t see the colors because the season was off this year – that was okay, the trip had been fun anyway. Seriously. We were so unprepared for what we were about to see.
One of the greatest things about NH is that it’s basically one big State Park. We paid our fees, and were set to head east on the Kancamagus Highway. We had rain, fog, wind and cold temps – but we both agreed, that was just what we expected for fall weather! And we were lucky that we didn’t encounter snow. The highway is a beautiful, scenic road through the mountains. The further we climbed in elevation, the more colors we were seeing. Purples, peaches, pinks, were just some of the colors I’d never seen before in fall colors. We were leaf peeping, and we were love.ing.it. When we came across this view, we both got teary-eyed…
Pictures will never do this justice, but you can imagine the sea of colors in front of us. It was remarkable. We both remarked (then said JINX) “I feel like I’m actually in a painting.” No joke. As we continued on the Kanc, we found many sights along the way to stop and explore (weather permitting).
We came to Conway, NH and made a decision to see what other sites we could find. A quick Google search led us to Diana’s Baths, a unique waterfall and former sawmill area leftover from the 1800’s. There were still remnants of the mill and homestead, but the waterfalls and pools are the main attraction.
The sunshine came out, and we felt energized! On the way to Diana’s Baths we saw a sign for a place called Echo Lake and decided to find it again on our way back to the highway. It was a serene lake, with very few visitors. Since the rain had let up, we decided to take a stroll around the lake. The solitude and the silence were a nice respite from the bustling parks we’d been visiting all day.
We continued to Maine, the final of the 48 contiguous states that I had to visit. I felt so many emotions when we crossed the state line, remembering so many of the journeys I’ve had crossing other state lines in the past. My parents had started this adventure, bringing us in their van, camping all over the United States. Then I worked on the Tailgate Tour which led 26,000 miles driven. Ever since, I’d slowly been knocking states off one trip at a time. I feel so lucky to have seen so much of this country, and I cannot wait to get to Alaska and Hawaii to complete all 50 states!
The weather was finally on our side, so when we saw a sign for an apple orchard Sophia took a sharp (possibly illegal, definitely unsafe) turn to find it. Many a winding country road later, we showed up at Brackett’s Apple Orchard. This family has been farming apples in the US since before we were the US. No joke. They’re the oldest known apple farmers in the country! And we just went to it on a whim, following a hand-painted sign on the side of the road. I love when things like this happen.
We rode the train, picked some apples and practiced our aim on the apple slingshot. We still had quite a long drive ahead, so we continued onward toward Portland. Until I saw a beautiful scene from the passenger side, and forced Soph to pull yet another unsafe and potentially illegal maneuver to get back to it. And holy Haiti, it was worth it.
When we finally made it to Portland, we checked in to our hotel and immediately hit the hot tub. We’d been cold and wet for a few days now, and we were ready to feel our fingers and toes again. While I don’t eat seafood, I had known that if I went to Maine with someone they would need to eat lobster. I’m not an idiot, nor am I an a-hole, so we went to Portland Lobster Company. I almost threw up a few times as Sophia ate her lobster, but she repaid me in dessert and martinis at Bar of Chocolate nearby. And for the record, I think that may be my new favorite bar name.
A coworker of Soph’s had told her to find The Holy Donut, where they made donuts from potatoes. Yet another thing I never knew existed! We had to find it, and even though the line was about a block long, we stood in the rain to get our donuts. Naturally, we bought four. We took turns tasting them each and providing our reviews like we were the critic for the Times. But cotdammit, you best believe those were the greatest things I’ve tasted since the last time I said that!! This sugar bender resulted in the purchase of a lobster claw pen, a selfie video, and a lot of laughter – all while Soph watched in silence and awe.
And of course, it was cold and raining again. We scheduled a route to see 5-6 light houses along the coast on our way to Boston. Due to weather, we only made it to 3 – and you could only see 2 of them.
Since the fog was getting intense, we changed our plans and rerouted to Salem. We started by visiting the Witch Trials Memorial and various tourist attractions nearby. At the recommendation of a friend, we wound up at the Gallows Hill Theater where we watched a production about the Witch Trials and then took a Ghost Trolley Tour. I love cheesy tourist attractions, and I love being scared – so this was a really fun experience for me! Also, I love any town that has an easy-to-follow trail to historic sites around town. Salem was a surprisingly beautiful and fun town, and we were happy that our trip sent us to this bewitching city.
I had to make at least one pun about witches.
We ate yet another amazing meal, this time at Rockafellas, then hit the road to Boston. I had selected a hotel near Harvard, both to save money and to add Harvard of the sites to visit while in town. I’ve been to Boston a handful of times, yet never made it to that part of the city. We stopped for a highly recommended Golden Crema and breakfast sandwich at the Crema Cafe in Harvard Square. YUM.
While I’ve been to the Beantown before, Sophia hadn’t. And I love the history, so I was happy to oblige her with a walk along the Freedom Trail. Of course, we also added stops at Cheers and Mike’s Pastry, because we’re human beings and we like beer and cannoli. We also found a great little pizza shop in the North End called Bencotto, because Giacomo’s wasn’t open yet and we she needed to try Italian food in the North End before we flew home.
I’m so grateful that through the years and the distance (first me in Chicago, now Sophia in Buffalo), that we have remained such good friends. Traveling with people can be an eye-opening and potentially friendship-ending experience. The moment the trip was done, we were already talking about the next one. I feel so lucky to have friends who want to see the world too, and who want to see it in a similar fashion that I do. Until the next one… ❤