Friday, November 14, 2014

New State Visited: Vermont (and New Hampshire) Road Trip

Our equinox has been at the shop lately.  It needs some routine 125,000 mile maintenance.  We have driven that thing a lot.  Which I think is the perfect segue into this catch-up post from a few months ago.  

So, going back about three months ago to August, we took a summer trip around New Hampshire and Vermont.  On our list of states to visit (Brian has about 10 left, I have 17 left, and the boys have 32 and 34 left), Vermont has remained unvisited despite going close by several times. When Brian had a conference scheduled in Massachusetts, we decided it would be the perfect chance to explore (I won't say vacation, as road trips with two kids under five are never vacations) Vermont and New Hampshire.

Even though these are very popular fall and even winter destinations, it was still pretty packed up there in the summer time.  And it felt like fall.  It was pretty chilly out the whole time. 

Here's a recap:
Before we left Massachusettes, we checked out a few places near the conference site.  One was the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden in Springfield, MA.  This neat little gem is located between a library and several other museums, which must make it a favorite spot for locals with little ones.   For my boys, who are all Seuss lovers or are in the making to be one, the larger than life size sculptures were pretty awesome.  You can find sculptures of Dr. Seuss, the Cat in the Hat, Horton, Thing One, Thing Two, Sally, Thidwick, the Grinch, Max, the Lorax, and Yertle.

Keeping with the theme of children's literature, our other stop in Massachusetts was the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  This is a fairly new museum, opened in 2002, celebrating the art of picture books, especially that of Eric Carle.  The admission price is a little steep ($22.50 for a family of four) for a quick visit, but I'd bet it's a good idea to get a membership if you live nearby, as they seem to have many special events.  There wasn't anything special going on when we visited, but the adults enjoyed the gallery exhibits, and the kids enjoyed exploring the library and creating in the art lab.  Theo also liked the Hungry Caterpillar themed scavenger hunt that went throughout the museum.  And I did love the gift shop, which had a huge selection of the best books for children and accessories to go with them.

After we grabbed a picnic lunch at the Atkins Farm Country Market (highly recommended), we finally headed north.  We drove through many interesting little college towns, and had a lot of discussions with Theodore when he learned that there are some colleges only for girls.  He is so funny about his college plans (currently, he's taking Eli and Maci with him) We finally crossed the Vermont state line, and we stopped at a very nice rest area to grab literature for the area.  There were so many maps, brochures, and guides that it was almost overwhelming.  Vermont has a lot of good stuff.  Since we had a reservation for a room in Stowe, we headed that way, enjoying the scenery along the drive.

We next stopped at the flagship store of King Arthur Flour, one of my favorite companies in VT, and I enjoyed shopping, peaking at their bakery, and explaining grinding wheat to Theodore.  And the samples!  We got to try a couple different things and they were delicious.

Eventually we made it to our hotel, in the quaint town of Stowe.  Normally a ski destination, it was still pretty packed for summer and had a festival or two going on.  We stayed at a rustic ski lodge that night.

For our next day in Vermont, we started the morning with a hike down to Bingham Falls at Smuggler's Notch State Park.  Not too strenuous for the boys, but with a big payoff at the half-way point, this was a good destination for our little hikers.

Afterward, we drove a bit throughout the park to check out the mountain views as well.  Stowe is packed full of neat little shops and places to eat, we could have stayed longer, but we headed on down the road.  We started toward the Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury, stopping at Ziemke Glass Blowing Studio along the way.  I originally did not think it was a great place to stop (two boys and lots of glass) but they loved watching the artist blow glass and Theodore had a million questions about the process.  And they didn't break anything.

Since it was feeling like fall anyway, we stopped by the nearby Cold Hollow Cider Mill and explored their store.  They had some information about how cider was made, and Theodore loved watching their little automatic donut maker.  We purchased a few items (including the donuts) and the boys each got a free frozen cider pop.  We enjoyed our treats while swinging in their rocking picnic tables, which the boys loved as well.  The luncheonette across the way was advertising wine tastings, so I popped in and was delighted to be treated to a Woodchuck cider tasting.  They are one of my favorite cideries, and are apparently located in Vermont!  They don't have a tasting room at their cidery yet, so this was the next best thing and I enjoyed learning about and tasting more of their flavors. 

Next, we headed to Ben & Jerry's factory, and learned a bit about the company, had some ice cream while waiting for our tour, and eventually toured the factory itself ($4 a piece for adults, kids are free).  I'm not a huge B & J fan (I prefer Edy's, frankly) but love seeing the history of iconic brands and seeing who food factories work.  They also had a great playground for the boys to run around and stretch their legs while Brian and I checked out the retired flavors in the flavor graveyard.

We then kept on toward the western edge of the state, stopping for supper at a local diner and driving all the way to Burlington.  This was a neat town, just south of Montreal and bordering Lake Champlain.  This location gave it a very unique feel, unlike any other city I've been to.  We spent some time checking out the area, and walking along the lake (in a light rain).

We then used some of the boys sleeping time to droie back across the state east to New Hampshire, stopping for the night at a rest stop since we neglected to reserve a room early enough and there was NOTHING available.  Anywhere.  This is kind of typical for us though (we are too fluid in our travels), we're totally okay sleeping in the car if we have to. 

We woke up to a beautiful, sunny day, with plans to drive up the Mt. Washington Auto Road.  This is the tallest mountain in our half of the US, and is known for having horribly erratic weather.  I almost chickened out, but Brian was confident he could drive up and down the road carefully.  The weather at the peak definitely lived up to it's reputation for our trip.  It was freezing at the top, and we could barely see a thing within the clouds.  We did finally find our way into the museum, toured the exhibits, and got some warm drinks.

Once we were halfway down we could actually see again, so we snapped a quick picture on a pull off.

The White Mountain National Forest that surrounds the mountain was (expectantly) sparsely populated, but once we headed south we began hitting many quaint New England towns along the way.  We passed up some great looking restaurants that were either too packed or not open for lunch, and stopped at McGrath's Tavern for a tasty lunch.  We kept on exploring New Hampshire, making some small stops along the way.  It was beautiful, which views like this right along the road.
Eventually we stopped at Keene, New Hampshire for the night.  Since we had saved money on not staying at a hotel the night before, we splurged for dinner at the Elm City Brewing Company.  We dined al fresco, which is pretty much always preferable with our loud boys, and it was a great meal.  We then swam at the hotel and rested up before the long drive home.

Being in New England, we did drive through as many covered bridges as we could.  This was one of the last, Thompson Bridge.  The boys were fascinated by them.  And, this concluded our adventure.  Definitely a beautiful place to visit in any season.  Maybe one day I'll become a skier and we can get back up there in the winter.

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