Monday, July 27, 2009

Travel: Vermont / New Hampshire, day 3

Day three found us slowly moving about... that French toast was good, but it takes a couple more cups of coffee to work through it to my bloodstream so I can get on with the day. Since I wasn't about to make them give me another pot "to go" and we just "happened" to be down the road from Green Mountain Coffee, we all thought it was a good idea to visit them... okay, so they were already on the agenda, but given the time of day, it totally made sense. They have some interesting business ideas and some great ethics. I will suggest "Stone-like" variations to the powers that be.

Further down the road was a visit to Cold Hollow Cider Mill. Since we had gotten a small sample of their cider while at the Grunberg Haus, we were anticipating their famous cider and apparently even more famous cider donuts. We got free samples and savored every drop. This stuff completely blows away anything I have ever (yeah, "eh-ver") had in Julian. It's $13 a gallon, and about $12 to ship it home, but I'm still considering getting some around the holidays. The donuts were good, but not as good as the cider itself (in my opinion).

From there, it was back on the road to get to our next stop, with a little side trek through Montpelier. Don't blink or you might miss the nation's smallest state capital! It was during this leg of the road trip when I developed a little used skill: something I now like to call "kung-fu photography"! Simply put, you find yourself in a situation where you know a good picture can be had if you could somehow separate yourself from whatever it is you're doing and shoot the photo, say, blindly out the window while you're concentrating on driving. Everyone in the car is saying "wow" and "look at that" and you're stuck with few options: look and risk crashing; pull over and lose time toward the next destination; handing the camera to someone else and not get "wow" photos, or put the camera in your own hand, point it where you think the "wow" is, and shoot, hoping to look at the photos later. So far, I've even started using the technique in other situations. Yes, that's a "kung-fu photo" to the right. Maybe my name for the technique is bad, but how good is your kung-fu (photography)? :)

The Cabot Creamery was next on the itinerary, so we jumped on the road once again. Like the other factories, this one has lots of stainless steel tubing and big tanks. The difference was the "cooking" troughs. They heat the milk and other ingredients in the troughs and it is mixed. When done, it is dumped out of the tough into an augered pipe that moves the cheese to the press where it is formed into a somewhat large block (or round) of cheese. Most cheese they make is supposed to be eaten before a relatively short time has passed, but some is aged for up to two years (and cave aged for much longer). We threw down some cash and picked up some cheeses for a lunch "on the road" in the White Mountains.

The White Mountains of New Hampshire are... well... green, but the Green Mountains are in Vermont, so I guess they had to come up with some name. Whatever the name, they are gorgeous! Even more spectacular was the Flume Gorge at Franconia Notch! I'm familiar with "flume" when it is used to refer to logging, but I never really thought about other uses. Now I can see where they got the name (thought I don't know which usage came first). Since we arrived late, we took the bus up to the "base station", bypassing a quarter of our hike, but driving through one of New Hampshire's oldest covered bridges (by trip's end, we had crossed four and saw two others). The hike to the flume was quick and the cantilevered walkway through the flume itself was a little dicey in spots (while watching a 5 year old), but I'd do it again without hesitation. The flume and surrounding woods were breathtaking. Aside from the falls at the top, I really liked the countless trees growing atop boulders with their roots stretching across them to the ground. It was like a forest on another world!

We had dinner that night at the Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery. As usual, I got the sampler tray of beers. (I'll have to fill in the details soon). The food, beer, drink, service, and atmosphere were all good.

Back at the hotel, that night's beverage was a 750-ml bottle of Farnum Hill Extra-Dry Cider I split with Andie. Very good cider, with some funky smells and notes. Perhaps there is some bret in thier cider.

(I'll probably update this entry with some more information, but for now... mmm... sleep)
(I'll also deal with my feelings about toll roads in a more appropriate entry... but I don't hate them quite as much as I first did.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Travel: Vermont / New Hampshire, days 1 & 2

[Please keep this in mind while reading... as of posting, I have taken over 450 photos (and some short videos) attempting to capture the various interesting and cool things we've seen.]

What a wild ride this vacation has been. The first day was spent travelling... no big surprise there, as we're in Vermont and New Hampshire (with a house/cat sitter of sorts back home keeping things cared for... thanks Gary). We got delayed by a rain storm while we were sitting the tarmack at JFK. "This is the captain. We've got about 25-30 planes ahead of us waiting to take off. We'll be here for a while as we wait for our turn." We finally arrived in Burlington about an hour and a half (or more) late. Throwing our luggage in the rental car, we dashed south to our hotel and then to dinner at Lake View House. I also grabbed a pint of Switchback Unfiltered Pale to go with the grilled-cheese panini dinner (dinner and beer were both quite good). I also took the car on a quick detour to see where Magic Hat Brewing Co. was located for the next day... about four blocks away from our hotel.

Day two, I dropped Andie and Ethan off at the waterfront in Burlington so I could spend an hour or so at Magic Hat. I got quite the tour and tasting (thanks Matt!). That brewery is worth the visit if you like beer and are in the area. Even if you can't go on a guided tour, you can walk up to the brewery overlook to get an idea of what is going on. Their attitude and way of doing things is awesome... they are cutting their own path, but are definitely cool like Stone. (I'll have to create a Flickr account just to share the best photos.)

Leaving Magic Hat just before Andie called (good timing there), I got on the main thoroughfare and arrived at the Burlington waterfront just in time to join her and Ethan for a luncheon cruise on Lake Champlain. (food: meh, beer: FYB). Andie and Ethan shared the photos of the places they visited while I was at the brewery... we'd have to visit the highlights after the cruse! Ethan had spotted a statue of Champ, the region's lake monster. Andie had found the gorgeous downtown area. The cruise itself was quite picturesque and informative; as we gazed at the amazing landscape around us, the boat's "disembaudio" told us about the historical significance of the lake.

After docking, we hit the streets in search of all the cool things Andie and Ethan had found, including our "ritual" Christmas ornament souveniers we purchase on all vacations. The square (with a clever name that escapes me at the moment) was filled with cool shops, great architecture, and a busker every half block or so. Musicans, singers, bluegrass punks, and even "that guy" performing as the one man band (he wasn't bad... but the bluegrass punks were really good, even if I am biased)

Once we were "done with" downtown Burlington, we set our four-wheeled mule* for Ethan Allen's Homestead Museum. It was a quick sidetrek worth the few bucks we spent. It's good to see a bit of our history while on vacation, and each day this trip was no exception. Like most of the buildings we are seeing during this trip, the architecture is amazing, given the period and a geek's love for history. Like all vacationing, I get inspired by this and take reference photos, or simply photos to help me recapture the moment (if I can help it, without anyone but family in them, if that much at times (meant in the best way)).

We had another stop for the day, so after wandering around Ethan Allen's farmstead, we made a beeline for some sweet nectar of another kind: ice cream. Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory & Tour was on our list! The tour was photo-less and like most food manufacturing these days--filled with stainless steel pipes and tanks. The cool part (pun intended) was the ice cream tasing at the end. The flavor presented to us was Oatmeal Raisen Cookie Dough. Awesome! Well, awesome if you like all the things that would go into the cookie, including the cinnamon ice cream. In the adjacent store, they were also serving a flavor that was in the "Flavor Graveyard", which had me guessing a bit. The most intersting flavor in the graveyard (in my opinion and that of several other visitors) was "Economic Crunch" from the late '80s. I say, let's bring it back... but perhaps it should be somewhat bitter. Maybe just a little.

We found our lodging at the Grunberg Haus, a wonderful bed and breakfast not too far away. The innkeepers were nice, the food was good, and the building was filled with character. I took numerous reference photos, as this was the quintisential D&D style inn to me, complete with the extremely warped floor requiring "sea legs" to safely find your way from one room to another. We stayed on the third floor, with the balcony seen in this photo. The deck wrapped around the second floor and was accessible from the rooms or from a couple of precarious "stairways" that looked more like ladders. Simply wonderful. Speaking of wonderful, if you like custard-style French toast, they serve a good dish of it. That night, we ate at Arvad's Grill & Pub (good food, good beer) as the wait at the Alchemy Brewery & Pub was at least 45 minutes (and it was already 7:30pm). It was a surprising pleasure to have a beer-geek waitress who knew everything about the beer they server (as well as that at Alchemy a few doors down, plus all the awesome craft beers available in nearby liquor stores.

Beer that night was Otter Creek Imperial Series Russian Imperial Stout. It was decent, though the mouthfeel was a little thin... but I'm spoiled by Stone's IRS.

* A note about our car. It's a Pontiac G6. I'm unimpressed to say the least. Not only do we keep hearing about the great deeds of the Subaru Outback in this region, but we have to hear about it while driving this "clunker". First, the door locks are not even slightly intuitive. When I pull the handle from the inside, don't keep me locked in! The lights and radio are the same. Why do the lights sometimes automatically turn on during broad daylight, but turn off when it gets dark? Why do I have to turn on the crappy Monsoon radio and switch it to XM1 every time I start the car. Why does it lose traction when the traction control is turned on? Reverse is gutless and the car always rolls backwards down a hill if you take your foot off the brake... and it's an automatic! This car, I hates it more than toll roads precious (see next post). It is made of concetrated suck. Give me a crappy PT Cruiser (a previous junky vacation rental) over this thing any day!