Traveling is a happy little pastime of mine. Especially when it means the open road. Nothing beats it, nothing. It’s the path to peacefulness and equanimity, to clear thinking and perspective, it’s both familiar and new, and I needed some of all of that. So my husband and I recently spent 12 days on the old persons proverbial New England fall foliage tour. I spent a few weeks researching routes, small towns, peak foliage, restaurants, inns, hotels, lodges. What I didn’t research was any type of activity because driving down the road and getting out to take a walk along a roadside path, or make my way inside the cute diner, was basically the only activity I wanted, so this might not be the road trip for everyone but for those who think that sounds good here are the highlights.
Portland Maine-Great little airport, easy access to rental car and we were on the road. We explored downtown Portland and found our way to a sweet little place called the Eventide Oyster Company, sat outside on some worn brown stools and a small built to the side of the building table, it was chilly and fall was definitely in the air, hallelujah. We ordered the dashi chowder and the lobstah roll which was on the most doughy yummy banh mi type roll, there was a side of homemade potato chips with a spicy little dip. All good, really good, but the potato chips they were special…I mean all potato chips are special, what’s not to like, but these were perfectly sliced and fried and seasoned and then that little dip, I have no clue what was in it but it was my new friend.
After I said goodbye to my new friend we got in the car and headed up Highway 1 towards Camden Maine, but on the way we traveled through some precious towns. One was Wiscasset, where according to everyone in the long line waiting was the home to the best lobster roll in Maine at Red’s. I’d already had my quota of lobster for the day, darn it, but what I saw coming out of that little shack with the American flag looked pretty tasty. The quantities of lobster were overflowing the plates, with some drawn butter to dip your sandwich into(how can that be wrong?)Supposedly there is a pretty fierce feud with Red’s across the street competitor. Probably worth another trip just to find out. After a visit with a store shop owner we planned our next stop for one of Maine’s famous lighthouses, Pemaquid Point. The drive there was through little villages and gorgeous foliage, we weren’t always sure we were going in the right direction, but we figured head towards the water and we will find something. The setting was beautiful rocky Maine with a white painted brick lighthouse and surrounding buildings that welcomed us as we entered the facility. In a few short hours we had experienced quintessential Maine in all her glory.
Our hotel for two nights was the Relais and Chateaux Camden Harbour Inn. We stayed in the Batavia room. The bed was like a little cloud. The Inn was very nice, it’s a little funky in that the rooms are modern and there is a modern vibe inside, but it’s so well maintained and the restaurant is delicious. The darling porch basically begs for you to sit and rock away some hours with a glass of wine in your hand, seriously begs, like you can’t ignore it, you have to give in just to get it to stop begging. After a good nights sleep we were headed out again. This time to one of the most beautiful National Parks we have, Acadia National Park. Make it a destination. It’s breathtaking, with gorgeous trails that meander along lakes, and beaches with granite boulders and pine trees nearby. Take the Park Loop Road and stop at Sand Beach and Jordan Pond, and everything else you have time for, but especially make time for Cadillac Mountain home to the nation’s first sunrise in the fall and winter, the views are incredible. And there is something precious about standing in the place where the sun first touches our shores.
After a day of excursions we made our way to another charming town, Rockland where we had dinner at Primo. A great restaurant with a fun bar upstairs where we ended up eating. It’s really a farm to table restaurant in that there is a farm on the premises, where they get so much of their supply for their menu, everything was fresh and delicious. I had the little gem salad which was sooooo good. So much of the menu changes, that what I had wouldn’t be on there again but if it was you should get it, the most delicious gnocchi I’ve ever had with bites of the fresh chicken tossed in an incredible broth. YUM. So after all of that back to our little INN for another nights sleep in the clouds. Before we left Camden we walked to the harbour and then to Maine Street USA for breakfast at Boynton-Mackay. Great little breakfast spot with homemade cinnamon donuts(if you can get there in time) and other great items. We ended up sitting next to the landlord and had a chance to visit about Camden and the surrounding areas, the growth and innovations and what it’s like to live in small town USA. I was ready to sign up.
After our visit in Camden we were on the road again, this time to New Hampshire but first the amazing Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshires Route 112. It is the place where nature comes right to you. Turnouts dot this 56 mile stretch of beauty. Tourists are found at Lower Falls climbing through the huge boulders that create the little waterfalls within the clear rocky streams. It’s an incredibly accessible swathe of gorgeousness. People from around the world were exploring, soaking up the intense colors of the fall leaves, taking selfies and panoramas. Trying to capture some of the gloriousness and take it with them. Who could blame them, it was like we were walking inside of a photograph or postcard. We stopped to take a well worn path into the woods towards Sabbaday Falls. The forest floor was covered in leaves of reds, and deep pinks, golds and yellows, it was carpeted by nature in the most spectacular way. Going west the traffic was fine, but going east we noticed a few little hiccups with some bumper to bumper traffic, so happy we were headed west and on up to Breton Woods, New Hampshire and The Omni Mount Washington Resort. So a funny story about this place…my husband who is well read, well informed, really smart, interested in many things especially the financial world was thrilled to be at this historic hotel because it was the site of the Breton Woods Conference in 1944 where the International Monetary Fund was established(you knew that didn’t you?) and John Maynard Keynes was in attendance. We found the chair Mr. Keynes sat in and like a kid my husband sat in it too. All was right with the world. This hotel was kind of like a worn version of the Boardwalk Hotel in Disneyworld. Big common rooms with a fireplace roaring, large porches with rockers looking out on the White Mountains and adirondack chairs dotting the green space. . Oh yeah, and a wedding reception was taking place. It was a perfect one night stop.
I was excited about our next stop. In my research I usually find a few things I’m the most excited about, who knows why but I build up in my mind that some places are going to be really special. Not to brag, but I’m usually right. I research a lot, reviews, pictures, newspaper articles, Facebook posts, google random stuff whatever it takes to get a little better insight into where I might be headed. Down Home Restaurant in Vermont’s capitol Montpelier was even better than I expected. To start with its address is 100 Main Street, I mean that just tells you right there, it was on the corner so there was great light inside and the design was perfect; a counter that also served as a bar where dressed up with everything bloody marys were being poured by a happy friendly waitress/bartender. It’s a breakfast/lunch place but now serves dinner on the weekends. There is a long communal table right in the middle as you walk in with other small tables on the perimeter. I keep thinking how fun on a friday or saturday night to have a couple of well executed cocktails like brandy milk punch and sit down at the communal table and order some fried chicken and cheese grits. It’s like you are going to your grandmas house and seeing your cousins and getting your fill of love for the week. If you are within a days drive, so let’s say Chicago, you should make it your mission to go, heck even a two or three day drive you should go. There is a lot to be said about Montpelier Vermont, but that’ll have to do for now.
Just down the road from Montpelier is a little know place called Waterbury, Vermont in it is a very well known place called Ben and Jerry’s probably the most famous export from this pretty little unpopulated state. So even on a dreary chilly day I felt like I had to have some ice cream, it would almost be wrong if I didn’t so I waited in line with 100 of my newest best friends while we listened to a blue grass band(where was I?) I ended up with one of their more political options, I mean I’m there in Vermont with Ben and Jerry so I chose Empower Mint( a flavor to benefit democracy, feeling patriotic) ok, honestly I chose it because it’s peppermint ice cream with fudge brownie chunks and fudge swirls and I’ve never seen it in the grocery store. I did good. We scooped up their cherry garcia t-shirt for my Grateful Dead loving husband to give to our son and headed west to Lake Placid Lodge, but not before we crossed Lake Champlain in the Lake Champlain Ferry, landing in Essex New York.
Lake Placid Lodge, what a beautiful location and facility. Another Relais & Chateaux . Our room was the St. Regis room located in the main lodge right off the little lobby. We had a wonderful view of the lake with a nice little balcony furnished with two chairs. On warmer days it would have been just the right spot. Each room is furnished somewhat differently, I’m not sure what the others are like, but ours was perfect. The decor was just right. Like Ralph Lauren stopped by to do his spot on blend of rustic and chic. So thoughtfully done with two relaxed chairs and ottoman perched in front of the fireplace, lots of storage space, an incredible comfortable bed, a bathroom with a soaking tub, shower and heated floors ahhhhhhhhh, heaven. Unless heaven includes a tv and then you’ll be disappointed. No tvs, I get it they want you to explore and read and talk to each other…..I would do that anyway–how could you not in a place like this but I would also like to wake up and watch Morning Joe and I would have preferred to watch the debate on a big tv rather than my computer. I would not characterize myself as a Philistine, but if wanting a tv in my luxury hotel room makes me one then call me Phyllis the Philistine. Other than that, this place was magic! Maggie’s Pub was cozy with a billiard table in the middle and a menu that was delicious and fun. We had the marinated olives and the cheese board just to get going, and the best french martini I’ve ever had. The next day we traveled into town grabbed a bite to eat at the Big Mountain Deli and Creperie(can’t go wrong with that combo) then on to the sites of the Olympic Villages, we took the gondola up White Face Mountain Ski Resort where there were incredible views of Lake Placid and we kind of felt like maybe we could have skied there, maybe. We walked through the venue where the Miracle on Ice took place and soaked up a little of that magic. We made our way to the Ski Jumping Venue and said yep absolutely no way that either one of us would ever even considering anything close to flying through the air, even from the more wimpy(haha) 1932 version. People who do that might be from another planet, but how cool are they? It didn’t keep us from standing on the medals stand and waiving to each other, accepting our pretend medals and thinking highly of ourselves. With all that pretend activity we worked up a thirst, so headed back to Lake Placid Lodge where we grabbed a glass of wine and a beer and made our way down to the lake where red adirondack chairs(we were actually in the adirondacks so yeah, perfect) surrounded a blazing fire. Pure bliss. Like at that moment thinking life on this planet is incredibly great and beautiful and how did I get here and get so lucky. Dinner that night was in the Artisans restaurant where there is a tasting menu with locally sourced offerings, another delicious meal on our little sojourn. We woke up to fog on the lake and an amazing breakfast in Artisans to get us ready for our next trip on the road.
The next day on the road was beautiful taking in lots of upstate New York small towns, some more prosperous looking than others, but all sweet and surrounded by so much beauty, there were lakes everywhere. Each lake was calm and clear and looked like a great place to while away the hours on a little canoe. We stopped and watched a seaplane take off from one of the lakes. Probably a cute family finishing up a successful fishing trip(I’ve always got a story going on) This was a great day to just to wander through the incredible foliage and the country roads, we passed by apple orchards, some where you could pick your own apples. God bless America. We were on our way to Cooperstown. Baseball Ray Baseball. It felt kind of like we were heading towards nostalgia, and there was a reason for that, we were, but kind of the sad part of nostalgia, the part that is wistful and yearning. We pulled in to our hotel, Otesaga Inn a grande dame of a place, old, stately and historic; young men were throwing the baseball around in the front lawn(did they stage this for every arriving guest?) We checked in and our bellman arrived. 70 years old, doubling as the concierge. I was kind of pinching myself, I felt like I might have done a little time traveling. Our bellman showed us up to our cozy little attic suite. It felt like I was visiting a yankee grandmothers house, tidy, clean, tasteful, sensible but not too fancy or big for it’s britches. Our bellman’s family had owned the grocery store and he had been born and raised in Cooperstown, but his sons had moved to Florida where the job market was better. Cooperstown dairy farms were no longer viable and most of the jobs were medical related. Small town America, it struggles. The Baseball Hall of Fame is on main street next to lots of baseball bat stores and forlorn looking shops, a CVS that seems misplaced and a couple of upscale restaurants. We ate dinner at wonderful Italian restaurant Toscana, it looked a lot like some of the little restaurants in NYC in the west village and was just as good. They had a chalkboard full of specials but we stuck with their menu items, delicious bruschetta, caesar salad , pasta carbonara and chicken and eggplant parmesan. We visited with the cute couple next to us who were taking turns visiting locations of personal interest, him the Baseball Hall of Fame, her antique stores in another New York town. You could tell he had done a little time travel that day at the Hall of Fame, he was practically starry eyed about his visit. My husband was excited for the next day where he would spend 3 full hours wandering through. I let him go by himself while I caught up on emails and such. I don’t know what happens in there that makes grown men come out looking like little boys, but something special. My husband said”It made me miss baseball”. He’s been watching it every time he gets the chance, ever since that visit. I’ll be honest about Cooperstown, it’s almost a haunting kind of memory, like none of the other places we visited. It’s the place that I remember the most vividly but mostly because of the melancholy I felt there. It felt in the fall of it’s life. Beautiful, serene, but not in it’s heyday, just like baseball. But maybe like so many visiting The Baseball Hall of Fame and yearn for a sport civilized and thoughtful, people will yearn for towns like Cooperstown and make them come alive again.
Heading from New York to Connecticut and two more nights on the country roads, we found our way to an oasis of a burger shop called Sundaes in Roxbury, New York. It was a combo between old fashioned hamburgers, blue plate specials, shakes and waitresses taking your order on I-Pads. Everything was so good and fresh, homemade buns for the burgers, what else can you ask for? And they liked our accent. Every trip back east they ask me where I’m from. I alway ask them “Where do you think I’m from” No one ever says Oklahoma…they say Georgia a lot, North Carolina…funny. Found our way to Salisbury, Connecticut right on the edge of the Berkshires. The White Hart Inn was a stop for the night. I LOVED this place. This little Connecticut town was basically one small street but with a great grocery store a couple of coffee shops and our little Inn at the town green. It was beautifully refurbished and our room overlooked the front lawn with a corn hole game and some gorgeousness in the fall leaves. I would stop here again because the accommodations were so great. The Taproom, located at the Inn, was where we had dinner. I’m not sure exactly what’s going on there, I think there is another restaurant that only exists on the weekends, but not even sure about that. What we had was good and it was a fun little atmosphere. There is a boarding school close by, Hotchkiss, and this restaurant was a place where parents visiting might be bringing their kids for dinner on a visit. Got to listen to the mom next to me talk about getting into college…so happy I’m passed that stage. And ps, Meryl Streep lives in Salisbury. Just sayin’
Up and at em on our final day on the country roads, we stopped for coffee and muffins on the cute little Main Street in Salisbury at Sweet Williams Bakery, sat outside and watched cars go by. Another beautiful fall day to head to Manchester, Vermont, our last stop on this New England journey. From the northwest part of Connecticut we made our way through western Massachusetts and the Berkshires, small towns where James Taylor occasionally shacks up, winding roads and falling leaves. We landed in Manchester on a rainy day found our way to the “Best Mexican Restaurant” north of NYC and got ourselves some tacos at Cilantro. Good not best, but good. We wandered around at some of the outlet stores, like Kate Spade and Theory, got a little shopping done and headed to our final white clapboard country inn, except this was maybe a little more substantial than the others. This was a Kimpton Hotel, called the Taconic, new and beautiful with a great restaurant, a big porch and rocking chairs set within rolling hills. Picture perfect. Our room had a fireplace and great bathroom with a modern stand alone tub. The Copper Grouse, their restaurant was such a fun festive energetic place. The bar was within the restaurant, so gave the whole place a nice vibe. Mind you, it wasn’t huge or anything, just the perfect size. I had the pumpkin sage ravioli, a great little fall dish. After dinner we sat outside on the porch for a bit, they provide blankets if you need them(how great is that), and soaked up the last part of the trip. We got a tip from one of the salesgirls in town that before we left this part of the country we needed to stop by The Vermont Country Store, so we made our way in that direction. It’s a little tourist destination but darling and fun anyway. It’s filled with all sorts of old fashioned and new fashioned items, pajamas, cooking items, potions for what ails ya, fudge, cheese, sweaters, toasters and their catalog is a throwback to the first catalogs. There are things in there that you would swear they haven’t made since 1965 like the Kit Kat Clock or the Coby Cassette Recorder. If you need a little throwback to the good old days, just open up one of their catalogs and it will come rushing in.
Our road trip was ending up in the big city with our daughter, so although we were leaving the country roads behind we had something even better at the next stop.
If you think there is a road calling your name make your way to it, find out where it leads and who you are at the end of it.-ASB