When we were looking into arrangements for our Vermont ski trip, how to get to the mountain was (unsurprisingly) a key consideration. As often seems to be the case, driving seemed to be the most financially economical option, despite it being nearly an 800 mile round trip, so we rented a car and allocated a day for travelling in each direction. So far, not all that interesting, but actually we had quite a nice time en route.
The first excitement was the realisation that the journey would take us into 6 states – from New Jersey we passed over the southern part of New York, then crossed Connecticut and Massachusetts before following the Vermont-New Hampshire border almost all the way to Canada. Tom spent a considerable amount of time planning a slightly different route for the journeys there and back, with nice-looking towns to stop in and appropriate restaurants identified along the way.
All told, it took us 10 hours to get up to our hotel, and a little over 12.5 hours to get home again. The northern trip went almost exactly according to plan, but heading south was made slower by a variety of minor snafus – a snowstorm, difficulty finding parking, our intended lunch restaurant having a 1.5 hour wait for tables (we went elsewhere), and Tom forgetting that it would be dark around 4pm so planning a scenic route on backroads through Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown (those woods are VERY creepy in the dark, I can tell you!) – so instead of getting home with time to get a load of groceries before we returned the car, I ended up running from the carpark to the rental desk to get the keys back before they closed.
To pass the time on boring stretches of interstate I had intended to get some audiobooks out of the library, but forgot, so we listened to a lot of interesting music on idiosyncratic local radio stations instead, which was quite fun. Disco-style remixes of 1990s hits seem to be popular in Massachusetts, whilst Connecticut seems to be all about the country music, but we heard my absolute favourite in Vermont: a version of a classic rock ballad (the name of which sadly eludes me, but you’d totally know it if you heard it) with the addition of an enthusiastic bongo track.
Mostly so I don’t forget where we went, what follows is just a few brief impressions of the places we visited.
I was not a huge fan of Hartford, CT. For a start it had a roundabout, the first one I’ve had to negotiate in the ‘wrong’ direction, which was surprisingly tricky, though fortunately we were the only vehicle on it at the time. The centre of town was a rather depressing mix of old and modern buildings, which reminded me quite strongly of unimpressive British cities like Southampton.
Brattleboro, VT, is a charming little town, with cute winding streets, and we could both have happily spent more time there (maybe next trip…). We had a brief walk around, then ate epic burgers for lunch in an excellent brewpub which apparently spanned the VT/NH border.
Having heard various friends singing the praises of Stowe, VT, and because most of our driving north through Vermont was done in the dark, we decided to begin our homeward journey along the local roads. The scenery was fantastic – a light covering of snow set the forests and peaks off to great effect, and made a nice contrast to the brightly-painted barns and houses along the way. Stowe did indeed look very nice as we passed through – quaint old-looking buildings and nice-looking shops and restaurants lined the streets.
Both being big fans of the stuff, we thought it might be nice to pay a visit to a maple syrup farm, particularly given that Vermont is a major producer of that lovely liquid. Just outside Stowe, Tom had spotted the Nebraska Knoll Sugar Farm, and so we headed off into the hinterlands to seek them out. Their directions took us up a winding snow-covered track into the woods (which I was not at all happy about), but in the end it was fine, and we reached the sugar farm without incident.
Slightly disappointingly, this was just a cabin with some information and photos about how they produce their syrup, samples of their three different varieties, and a small shop, so we stayed just long enough to try the samples and purchase a quart of our favourite, before heading back down the track and on our way again.
Hanover, NH, was selected as a stopping place purely on the basis that Bill Bryson lived there for a while and his descriptions made it sound like a pleasant place to visit. It was indeed quite charming, although we nearly didn’t stop as it was almost impossible to find a parking space anywhere near the centre of town.
Our initial target in Bernardston, MA, was the rather wonderfully-named Kringle Candle Company, as they have an excellent-sounding restaurant, but when we arrived we discovered that they had a 1.5 hour wait for tables and it was already past 14:30, so we found another place to eat nearby. The town itself was also interesting, with large-ish houses, mainly clapboard, scattered loosely along either side of the roads in generous plots of land – probably nothing unusual for the area but quite different to anything we’d seen before.
Rather to my surprise I found the long stretches of driving much less tiresome than I was expecting, although I still turn into a zombie just before the 3 hour mark and have to be fed coffee until I revive. I’m not sure whether drivers are generally nicer here, if the slightly slower speeds are a good thing (limits were 55-65 mph most of the way), or if I’m just getting better at dealing with this stuff, but even the busy multi-lane stretches with far too many signs all over the place weren’t too horrendous. And apart from one particularly silly joining-then-immediately-leaving-the-interstate incident we managed to stay on track for most of the way, as Tom’s navigational skills improve every time, although we may yet bite the bullet and invest in a satnav.
I have all kinds of ideas for other roadtrips I’d like us to do, and it would be very useful to have another driver in the car – 2015 is apparently going to be the year that Tom finally gets his driving license, so we’ll see how that goes…!