New England in the fall
Two weeks in New England in the fall is not the worst story assignment I ever got. In addition to doing 12 interviews and assisting with 12 photo shoots, I had the opportunity to sightsee in my favorite part of the country.
Flying into Boston, I started and ended my travels in Massachusetts. Boston is a fabulous city filled with history, attractions, and fun neighborhoods to explore. I walked along the Freedom Trail (with such sights as the Old North Church and Faneuil Hall), to the Public Garden, Boston Common, the North End (with its seemingly endless Italian eateries), and the waterfront.
The Public Garden especially makes me smile because of the children’s book Make Way for Ducklings – they even have duckling sculptures upon which parents sit their toddlers for way-too-cute photos.
From Boston, I traveled to Maine, which may just be my favorite state. From scenic Camden and Bar Harbor to the tiny fishing ports of Bass Harbor and Stonington to the awe-inspiring Acadia National Park, Maine is one huge gorgeous coastline in the fall. Although the weather was not always the best, it was great fun photographing the fishing boats and sailboats, rocky coastline, and sprawling vistas. There were seagulls, cormorants, and loons; lobster traps and buoys; rich, fall color; crashing waves, and placid inland lakes.
The locations of my two stories were on the coast, the first on Bailey Island, just north of Portland as the crow flies (a little further if you drive a car there). The island, easily accessible by a small bridge, is surrounded by Casco Bay. There are a lot of summer homes on Bailey Island, and a few lobster pounds.
We did a photo shoot with a shore platter (lobsters, corn on the cob, and steamers, a.k.a. clams.) That plate was a work of art, even though it made me sad. The second story was just up the coast a bit on Little Deer Isle, a picturesque and non-touristy setting with rocky beaches and the adorable Pumpkin Island lighthouse.
Despite my unwillingness to eat seafood, I found much to eat in this lobster-laden state. I ate a grilled-cheese-with-tomato sandwich, egg salad on a lobster-roll bun (delicious), pizza, an awesome main-dish salad, and pecan pie.
I saw a huge, orange harvest moon rise over the ocean on my first night in Bar Harbor. I gasped when I saw it – the reflection in the water made it too perfect to be real. I watched it from the balcony of my room at the Bar Harbor Inn, a historic oceanfront resort. The next morning, the splendor repeated itself in a pink-and-orange blazing sunrise. I took many photos…all of them out of focus.
The highlight of my Maine visit was Acadia National Park and its surrounding port towns. I spent parts of two glorious days there, taking the Park Loop Road, driving to the top of Cadillac Mountain and walking its perimeter, walking on Sand Beach, hiking a carriage road. I visited Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor – both fishing villages that are not nearly so far away from each other as they appear on the map. I went through Somesville to see its tidy, white curved bridge. I went to Bass Harbor for its postcard-famous lighthouse but fell in love with the town for its no-nonsense, working-fisherman culture and its picturesque harbor.
I could have spent days and days and days in Acadia, but I had to move on.
I didn’t spend too much time in New Hampshire, and it was raining most of the time I was there, so I didn’t really give the state a fair shake. The highlight was a drive up the Mount Washington Auto Road near North Conway, a spectacular and hair-raising adventure up a road built in 1861 (though I can’t imagine how they did it.) At 6,145 feet, Mount Washington is certainly not the tallest mountain in the U.S., but it’s said to have the worst weather: a combination of high wind, fog, rain, snow, and something called rime ice. In 1934, Mount Washington Observatory scientists measured a wind gust of 231 mph, which remains the highest wind speed ever documented. I was up there to do a story on one of the meteorologists who works at the observatory, and I spent enough time with him in the wind (relatively light, compared with 231 mph) and rain that I was thoroughly miserable. But the views coming back down the mountain, once the fog cleared a bit, were truly spectacular and I consider myself lucky for having visited the place (and also grateful for not having driven the car myself).
I wanted to visit Franconia Notch and drive the Kancamagus Highway from Conway to Lincoln, through the White Mountains, but the afternoon was already getting dark and it was still raining. So I took the direct route to my overnight town of Littleton.
Another highlight of New Hampshire was the town of Hanover, the home of Dartmouth College, one of the prettiest college campuses in the country. The trees were just ablaze with color the afternoon I was there.
Vermont was a mixed bag. I encountered more leaf-peeping tourists in Vermont than any other state. The charming ski town of Stowe (above) had been turned into a Branson-esque nightmare, with Highways 100 and 108 converging into a literal gridlock on the town’s main street. Just down the road, hundreds of tourists were packed into the parking lot for the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. The crush of humanity required a traffic cop. I am not making this up. As soon as I could get off Hwy 100 and on to back roads (some gravel), I encountered red barns, fuzzy cows, covered bridges, wild turkeys, pumpkin patches, a waterfall, and room to breathe.
I stayed in Stowe at an unfortunate motel called the Season’s Pass. My room literally did not have a proper door with a doorknob on it, and the carpet was so gross I couldn’t stand to walk on it with my bare feet. I was glad to bolt out of there the next morning. (Unfortunately, the night’s stay was pre-paid, non-refundable. Now I see why.) I did have two nice meals in Stowe, however: an evening meal at Frida’s Taqueria and Grill (with great guacamole, salsas, and sangria) and breakfast the next morning at Black Cap Coffee (excellent coffee and pastries).
Another tourist crunch came in Smuggler’s Notch, a state park / ski resort that was breathtakingly beautiful and in full peak color when we drove through but so packed with other cars that it was impossible to park/pull off the road/enjoy the view/take a hike. So it was beautiful, but disappointing.
I visited Burlington, a small metropolitan city, bordered by Lake Champlain and home to the University of Vermont. I was there on a Saturday and it was raining and there were way too many people there, making it hard to find a parking space, lunch spot, etc. I spent most of my time in Burlington doing laundry, but I did meet some friends for coffee and dessert later in the day, which redeemed the visit. I really did love Burlington when I visited before; the day I was there this time just wasn’t the best day to be there. Next time I go, I want to be sure to give myself time to visit the Shelbourne Museum and Farms just south of town and enjoy more of Burlington’s restaurants and shops.
The next day was not rainy, and that made all the difference. I spent a truly magical day in the Woodstock area: dining, shopping, and (of course) working. My story subjects took me to the Billings Farm and Museum, a delightful living history farm mixed with working dairy farm. I was there during a fall family weekend event, which would normally signal to me Too Many Kids, but this place was really great. It has beautiful animals (cows, sheep, horses), barns, exhibits, and an 1890 farmhouse. Special activities included games, demonstrations, food, and plenty of hands-on activities such as making apple cider and building a split-rail fence. The weather was glorious, all the kids looked like they just stepped out of an L.L. Bean catalog, and it was just darn fun.
I’ll mention one more tourist trap in Vermont, and then I’ll shut up. Quechee Gorge, just east of Woodstock, is (according to my guide book) “a mile-long, 165-foot-deep, glacier-sculpted chasm” that has unfortunately attracted the likes of souvenir stands and tour-bus-parking lots. I kept expecting Elvis impersonators to pop out. Way to ruin a natural treasure.
The time I spent in Rhode Island was nearly all for work. I stayed the night in Providence and ate a good meal at a restaurant called Cuban Revolution. I briefly visited Newport but did not stay long enough to view the mansions nor enjoy the waterfront. Such is life on the road. We crossed a few cool bridges and saw some small harbors and took a walk at Brown University. And then we left.
I completed my circle tour of New England back where we began it: Massachusetts. We spent one the night between alumni meetings on Cape Cod, which was mostly shuttered for the winter. It was raining, cool, and windy most of the time I was there, but I still enjoyed seeing the beaches and trying to imagine what they must look like in July. Most of the beach parking lots charge $15-20, but in October you can drive right in, and you have the whole beach to yourself.
I stayed in Chatham, which was the nicest town I saw in Cape Cod: touristy, yes, but sophisticated and charming. I stayed at the Hawthorne Motel, and although the proprietor was creepy and the place mostly empty, it had a very nice view of the water and had its own beach.
My last day was spent in Boston, in the rain, and all we did was work. I should mention that Massachusetts was State No. 23 on our 50-state tour, and we experienced the worst driving on Cape Cod and in Boston. Lots of road rage, scary rotaries, people driving too fast, people (like us) not knowing where they’re going, bad street signs, no grid to follow, crazy tunnels, etc. etc. etc. It’s surprising the rental car came out of the experience unscathed.