THE THING ABOUT ROAD TRIPS..........
Is that you can have many different experiences in a very short period of time. And like pre-GPS drivers on a road trip, this blog entry takes many wrong turns and travels down a lot of dead end routes before getting to the point.
I sit now in the supremely cool Kimpton Nine Zero on Tremont Street in Boston, having just said goodbye to my sister, Phyl. Yesterday, we bundled sister Marcia into a taxi cab, sent her off to the airport, and went on a late night stroll around Boston Common, which resulted in a tussle between us, an older gentleman, a rat, and a laughing woman, sleeping rough. It would take ages to describe that scene, so suffice to say there was a lot of queasy screaming from both the two of us and the gentleman. The rat was in a quiet frenzy while the haunting laughter from the woman both scared and shamed me.
But my story has gotten ahead of me.
It has been a busy four days. My sisters flew in to Boston to meet me on Thursday evening and I immediately dragged them over to the Long Wharf for dinner at Dick's. Mostly I just wanted to take a picture of them in condom hats. After a somewhat 'fried' array of starters, we wandered (being kind to myself here as I got us really lost) over to the Little Italy area of Boston to the world famous Mike's Pastry for cannoli.
Phyl has an absolute love of Italy and loved the frenetic energy of the bakery, even that late at night. Marcia and I concentrated on not oozing cannoli juice all over our shoes. Our Dick's dinner was pretty carb-heavy so a sampling of flavours was all we could manage from the massive pastry treats. The remainders were saved for our road trip snackages.
Friday morning we jumped, along with our bags and cannoli, into the rental car and headed north up the I93 toward Vermont to see the changing of the leaves. Our plan was to first stop and enjoy the irony of the highway road stop, at the border of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, that houses a massive liquor store.
Liquor stores #66 and #67, oppose each other on I93 near Hooksett, NH and have become tourist destinations in their own right. Breaking Bourbon, a lifestyle alcohol magazine, has voted New Hampshire the number three state in the union for selling bourbon. It helps that New Hampshire has a zero percent alcohol tax.
The rest stops also have a jovially designed outside-in village type look, and very clean bathrooms. In fact you could say this is one stop shopping for road trippers. Bathrooms, coffee, fast food, souvenirs and, erm, alcohol, obviously for when the car motor stops for the nights.
Moving right along.....
Our next stop was Woodstock, Vermont. Woodstock VT is a very lovely village, no where near where we were going. But it's super pretty and worth a visit. We stopped for a stroll and bathroom break, then got back into the car and drove around the town square about three times trying to decide what to do for lunch. Once we determined what direction we were going in, we serendipitously drove past the deli we were eyeing and ran in for sandwiches. These were the best sandwiches ever, even though the woman behind the counter looked at us like we were hookers at a prayer meeting. We saved one sandwich to have with our cannoli later.
Still battling to get out of Woodstock, VT and back on the road to Stowe, Marcia the driver, used the parking lot of the Farmhouse Pottery store to change directions...again. We had to pretend that the stop was intentional as Phyl is smugly good at directions. It is here that I will mention that Phyl sometimes finds it hard to hear, so we counted on her not hearing our conspiring.
Making the wrong turn for the fourth time turned out to be a blessing as the shop was filled with absolutely beautiful ceramics and textiles. I fell in love with the ceramic Christmas trees and would have bought them on the spot except I didn't have my glasses and misread the price tag.
Finally we arrive in Waterbury, Vermont, which is the home of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory. I have been many times as this is not far from where my children went to summer camp at Hosmer Point in Craftsbury, and my sisters were intrigued.
Ben and Jerry's Factory is an amazing little place. There is a tour of the factory where you observe the process of ice cream making from glass windows and get a history lesson in how Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started their company with $500 in a converted petrol station. There is a gift shop where I once bought a, again ironic (it was ironic then, sadly not so much now), 'Body by Ben and Jerry's' T-shirt, and a full service Scoop Shop that serves up all of the flavours that you can't always get in the shops, in the original style conceived by the Ben and Jerry themselves.
But the best part of Ben & Jerry's by far is the flavour cemetery. Faithful readers of this blog (Celia, I know you are out there) will know that for some reason everywhere I go, I happen upon pet cemeteries. Here in Vermont, it is not the pets, but the flavours they need to bury. The graveyard lets you see all of the flavours that came and no one bought. With names like, 'Cow Power', 'Wavy Gravy' and 'Turtle Soup', it is an easy guess how some of those flavours would wind up buried. Sadly, Emily's favourite flavour, 'Mission Marzipan' only lasted one summer, and failed to make the graveyard. CEO Joestein Solheim, if you happen to read this entry, Emily is still very upset by this omission!
You can look on the Ben & Jerry's website for the full list of the 'dearly de-pinted'.
We queued up at the Scoop Shop because the line was relatively short. The queue gives you time to decide, out of the gabillion flavour combinations, which ice cream you would like. I had my heart set on a flavour I had years ago that had potato chips in it. This must be heading for the graveyard because I found no trace of this flavour at all. As this is my year of doing strange things, I randomly picked a flavour that would never enter into my head per usual.
Marcia: I don't like ice cream
Phyl: I don't know what to get
Me: I'm getting Bourbon Brown Butter on a jimmy-covered cone
Phyl: What? (remember that sometimes Phyl has a little trouble hearing)
Marcia: I don't like ice cream but I am going to get Caramel Swirl
Me: Can't you buy that in the store?
Phyl: I'm getting Coconuts for Caramel Core
Me: That sounds good. I like coconut
Marcia: What are you getting?
Me: Bourbon Brown Butter on a jimmy-covered cone
Me: Bourbon Brown Butter on a jimmy-covered cone. This time I affected the accent of, say Jeffery Beauregard Sessions, or at the very least Kate McKinnon doing an impression of Jeff Sessions, and therefore anyone doing an impression of anyone super-southern.
Phyl turning to Marcia: What did she say?
Marcia as Scarlett O'Hara, Blake Shelton or maybe even Dolly Parton: "Bourbon Brown Butter on a jimmy-covered cone."
Me: "Bourbon Brown Butter on a jimmy-covered cone." Doing my best impression of Frank Underwood from House of Cards, unless you prefer your accents without sexual assault, in which case I created a sound doppelgänger of Pensatucky from Orange is the New Black.
By the time we reached the order window, we had repeated the order to ourselves, with such increasing Southernity and volume that I am pretty sure we offended at least 50% of the other people in the queue.
My flavour was, of course the best, followed by the coconut and then the caramel swirl. The last one was a bit hard to taste though, because Marcia, who doesn't like ice cream, had finished hers before we even got to the parking lot.
Back in the car. The cannoli and sandwich would have to wait. On to our final destination; the Stowe Mountain Lodge in Stowe, Vermont.
I have long longed to stay in this hotel, but as I have always been just passing through Stowe, I stayed at places on the other end of the price spectrum. This hotel is nestled near the base of Mt. Mansfield near Smuggler's Notch and is a stunning place no matter which season you find yourself there. Mt. Mansfield is the highest peak in the Green Mountain Range. Smuggler's Notch, which drains the Brewster River, is the dividing point between the Green Mountains and Spruce Peak and the Sterling Range. The valley gets its name from Thomas Jefferson and his attempts to limit trade with Great Britain and Canada during the Napoleonic War and The Embargo Act of 1804.
Mt. Mansfield is a popular outdoor activity destination. There are many hiking trails, including the Long Trail. The mountain must, though I cannot see it, look like a face, because the trail takes you from the 'Nose' to the 'Chin' of the mountain. There are many expert ski trails, including the 'Front Four' and cross-country trails as well.
Opened in 2008, Stowe Mountain Lodge is a picturesque ski-in ski-out Vermont-Alpine Village lodge. There are 300 rooms and suites, condos, town homes, cabins and a private members collection of suites. The Solstice Restaurant offers fine dining, where the Hourglass Lounges offers drinks and a bar menu. The burgers are meant to be the best in town. There is also a pantry shop and a coffee shop and something called 'The Skinny Pancake.' Also, a taco truck parked on the green, assuming for the exceptionally hip ski set..
The grounds hold a golf course with a golf academy, an arts centre, an activity centre with climbing walls for the kids, ski shop, outdoor pool, and a spa and wellness centre (see spa reviews) and a gondola to take you from the hotel to the base of the slopes. The staff is knowledgable and extremely friendly. While buying our morning cappuccino's at the Beanery, I had a very long conversation with the barista about a lodge on the glaciers of Patagonia. She's convinced me that this is where I need to venture next.
Our suite was a beautiful collection of two en-suite rooms with an upstairs en-suite master room. We also had a kitchen-dining-breakfast, and a living area with a plasma and gas fireplace. There was also the nice touch of a washer/dryer, which I am sure if very handy in the ski season! We were pretty much blown away with the beauty of our suite and of the natural beauty it overlooked.
We arrived at valet parking and were so overwhelmed with the scenery that we forgot the cannoli and turkey sandwich in the car. Convinced that the valet would, even though this place was super posh, steal the turkey sandwich because it was so damned good, we dressed for dinner at the Solstice.
The Solstice has a tidy menu of artisanal cuisine, a knowledgable sommelier and a pretty fine cocktail menu! The prices are not for the faint of heart, but there is value there. In honour of 'The Year of Doing Weird Stuff', I ordered delicious, crab-filled lotus flowers tempura, dipped in squid ink. Marcia, who is really not too keen on doing weird stuff, chased down her flower nibble with her vodka and coke and declined to take another bite. She later admitted that she did enjoyed it, but was concerned because, according to Squidward on Spongebob Squarepants, squids ink out of their noses, and she thought that the ink was a bit like snot. I pointed out that squids don't really have noses,and followed this up with Google research that, I am sure, bankrupted my long-distance data bundle.
Tired, sated and satisfied, we returned to our, 'this is really too nice for us' suite and hit the pillows to prepare for another day.
To be continued