Eastern Travel, August 15-17: Adirondack Museum, Ephrata, and, Okay, We’re Done

By the 15th, which was also the 15th day of our travels, we were getting pretty tired of traveling. Knowing we only had a couple days left, it was difficult for us to feel adventurous.

On our way out of the Adirondacks, we had to stop at the Adirondack Museum, which presents the history and culture of the area in a massive complex. It’s expensive ($14), but it’s also hard to spend less than three hours there.

Among other things taking place, there was a yard-spinning demonstration, at which Stacy learned how to make a felt ball.

Starting the felt ball
You start with a mass of yarn…

And after some dunking in water and rolling, you end up with a ball of felt…

Finishing the felt ball

Stacy asked the leader of the demonstration, “So then what do you do with this?” And she replied, “That’s it. You’ve made a felt ball. You’re done.” Which seemed like a lot of work for little pay off.

Elsewhere at the museum we saw this remarkably patriotic fire engine…
Patriotic fire engine
The symbolism makes the mind reel!

And the cafe looks out over Blue Mountain Lake…
Peter looking over Blue Mountain Lake

After the museum, we high-tailed it through the rest of the park, and then through the rest of New York State, and into Pennsylvania. We ended up in Reading, PA, eating dinner at the Ugly Oyster while calling nearby motels for lodging. Finding a motel room was remarkably difficult — they were all full up, or only had smoking rooms available. We located one about 10 miles on, for $70. (When are lodging spaces going to learn to increase the number of non-smoking rooms? I’ve never heard of one filling up their smoking availability. And what is it with depressed towns like Sycamore, NY and Reading, PA having no lodging? Who is staying in these places? Anyway.)

The following day we headed to the Ephrata Cloister, an historic site remembering a community of German Anabaptists who lead a quasi-monastic pastoral life (to whit: the members of the community slept on slabs of wood 15 inches wide. And their pillows? Blocks of wood. And they woke up every night at midnight for two hours of service. And in an effort to more closely emulate God, who didn’t sleep and didn’t eat, they slept and ate as little as possible. It’s not surprising that the community didn’t last very long.) It’s a classic intentional community (the subject of Stacy’s research), and we spent a fair amount of time poking around, until the rain washed us away.

Ephrata Garb
Our tour guide at the cloister was dressed in the garb of the original inhabitants.

Ephrata was our last bit of real traveling. We headed into Baltimore for lunch, and then onto D.C.to just relax for a day before Stacy had to go back and I had to start work. The afternoon and evening were a relaxing mix of of wandering, shopping, and eating with friends.

Outside the AVAMOutside the AVAM, one of North America’s best museums.

The following morning, we had a low-key breakfast at Firehook, ate sample fruits and cheeses at the Dupont Circle farmer’s market, and then Stacy dropped me off at The Watergate (yep, that Watergate), and the traveling was pretty much over.

As is this chronicle of the trip. At least, for now.

Eastern Travel, August 14-15: Long Lake, NY

From Burlington, we headed straight for Adirondack State Park in New York. We drove through Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, both of which were annoyingly worked up tourist destinations. We continued onto Long Lake, where I had stayed about 5 years ago, and got ourselves a reasonably-priced room at the Adirondack Hotel.

Long Lake is both a town and lake (so named because it’s 14 miles long and 1 mile wide). Though catering to out-of-town visitors, it’s not overly developed the way the other Adirondack towns appeared.

The big event for our stay in Long Lake was climbing the summit of Blue Mountain, a peak about 10 miles south of the city. There’s a trail for getting up there, a hike which is 2 miles long. It’s also remarkably steep towards the end, and requires climbing angled rock faces. A fire lookout post offers amazing views to those who complete the ascent.

The View from the Top
The tallest peak for miles.

Stacy at the Summit
Proof that we were actually there.

Walking down the lookout
Walking down the fire lookout stairs.

We dined that night in the hotel’s well-appointed dining room. It was while we were waiting for our table, and getting a drink at the bar, we learned that much of the northeast was blacked out, particularly in the state of New York. Which surprised us, as there was plenty of electricity in Long Lake. We were lucky, it turned out — other Adirondack towns were without power.

Dinner was good, and I had to admire eating at a restaurant where, when you order an entree, it comes with salad and sides. We chatted with our remarkably fit waittress, Jessie, whom, it turns out, is the seventh generation of a family that helped found Long Lake long ago. I reeled at the thought of a family staying in one place for that many generations in North America — it’s probably more common back east; I don’t think it’s plausible for we westerners.

For dessert, we walked to Long Lake’s main intersection, which has not one, not two, but three places you can get ice cream — Stewart’s, Hoss’s Coner (get it?), and Custard’s Last Stand (get it?). We ended up at Custard’s, from which I got an unmemorable cone, and Stacy got a glacier — soft serve poured into a Slush Puppie. Stacy made sure the thank the gods for this creation.

(I may not have mentioned it earlier… Stacy is a slavish consumer of slush drinks — Slurpees, slush puppies, granitas, etc. It seems to be a Canadian thing — I’ve since learned that Winnipeg is the Slurpee Drinking Capital of the World. Slurpee-drinking is like Oreos- or Reeses-eating. There are proper ways to do it, methods for ensuring maximal enjoyment. To whit–as you get about half way through your Slurpee (which you’re drinking while you’re driving), tap it on your knee to help it settle before imbibing further. One of Stacy’s favorite drinks on this trip was an Apple Cider slurpee we got after we toured Ben and Jerry’s — she raved about it for miles.)

The following morning we headed out of Long Lake. We stopped to get some coffee at Hoss’, where we saw them putting out the bear.

Rolling out the Bear
Grrowl.

We then visited “Buttermilk Falls,” seemingly a must-view for any visitors to the area.

Stacy at Buttermilk FallsLess “falls”, more “slopes.”

As you can see from the picture, they’re less “falls” than rapids. I don’t understand the deal that is made about them.

Having fulfilled our visitors’ obligation, we continued on our journey. . .

Eastern Travel, August 12-14: The Great State of Vermont

On this trip, we first went through Vermont on the 10th, cutting through the upper-right hand corner, hitting St. Johnsbury and Dog Mountain and some tasty maple treats. The delight we experienced then was a prelude to our return to Vermont on the 12th. We began on the eastern Border, in White River Junction, and made our way to the northwestern border, in Burlington.

Driving Through Vermont
This isn’t quite the route we took. We avoided interstates as much as was reasonably possible, so we actually went more north from White River Junction, and then cut left to Montpelier.

Rural Vermont is beautiful to drive through. It was foggy/cloudy/rainy, and this lead to one of my favorite natural sights — wisps of cloud suspended amidst hills and mountains. It reminds me of those Chinese landscapes.
Taken from: http://www.thegalleryofchina.com/landscapepainting3.html

One thing you notice when driving through rural Vermont is a distinct lack of poverty. Houses have new cars, little children playsets, tended gardens. Another thing you notice are buildings plastered with the sign “TAKE BACK VERMONT”, which made me wonder, “From whom?” From what I was told by a Vermonter later, it’s from whomever it is who allowed civil unions among gays. Or maybe the gays themselves. Probably all those do-gooder lefties.

Montpelier is Vermont’s impossibly charming state capitol.

Stacy and the Capitol

We ditched the car behind the visitor information center (it seems you can park there indefinitely) and walked around the downtown, filled with bookstores, foodie cafes, shoe stores, and the Main Street Grill, a restaurant that’s part of the New England Culinary Institute — which means good food at cheaper-than-normal prices, since it’s all part of their learnin’. My trout meal was delicious — the only drawback was too many capers, a problem I’m willing to have considering what kind of food fare I expected on this trip.

Leaving Montpelier, we headed for the one place we knew we were going before this trip began, the Ben and Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury, Vermont. We got there about 2pm. We headed straight for the ticket counter, where a monitor greeted us with this information:

Waiting in line

Which made sense, considering the hundreds of people (mostly families) milling around. So, we had over an hour to kill. Sadly, I could help myself:

Thank god it wasn't below freezing

I also paid my respects to dearly departed flavors…

(Snif)

Our time came, and we went on the tour. It takes 30 minutes, and has three parts — a 10 minute video on the history of Ben and Jerry’s and their hippie social ideals for businesses, 10 minutes of looking at the factory floor (no pictures!), and 10 minutes tasting two flavors. Which means you really only get 10 minutes of actually seeing ice cream get made (a little disappointing).

After the tour, we headed onto Burlington. We had pegged it for two reasons: it’s Vermont’s largest city (40,000 residents!), and it had a hostel (cheap lodging!). Arriving in town, we headed straight for Mrs. Farrell’s Home Hostel. Which is a hostel. In Mrs. Farrell’s home. We stayed in the basement. Nancy (Mrs. Farrell) was there to greet and situate us. She seems to be one who takes in strays — along with hostelers, she was frequently visited by local youths who seemed a tad wayward.

One of the perqs of her hostel are bicycles that anyone can take. Burlington is a very bike-friendly town. We got on a couple of bikes and headed on the path along Lake Champlain towards downtown. We ate good Italian at Three Tomatoes, and wandered around aimlessly on the pedestrian mall.

The following morning, we decided to stay another day. Ahh, being without an itinerary. We did laundry (somehow, both Stacy and I had managed to pack for over 2 weeks with just carry-on luggage), and then headed to Lake Champlain to rent a kayak and take a little tour. Thankfully, kayaking proved much drier than our canoeing experience, though the hot sun did get to be a bit much after a while.

Secret cove!
We set in for lunch at an empty cove.

Roast beef with extra mayo.
Nothing fortifies like roast beef with extra mayo.

Returning our boat, I satisfied my caffeine fix in town, we took a nap, and then returned to downtown to see CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS at the local arthouse. (Delightful when a town of 40,000 can support an art-house cinema with four screens.)

Dinner was surprisingly decent Thai (I walked in quite skeptical), which was followed by a drink at what turned out to be a stoner bar. We never did mix it up with any locals, really.

The following morning we headed out, stopping by at Penny Cluse for breakfast before leaving town. The meal was delightful — it reminded me a lot of my second favorite San Francisco breakfast place, Boogaloo’s. The eggs were sumptuous, the french toast crispy and tasty, and the home fries perfectly seasoned.

More of everything, please
More of everything, please.

And with that, we were on our way, soon to leave Vermont for New York and the Adirondacks.

It’s weird. I don’t know exactly what it was, but we really loved Vermont. The scenery is gorgeous. The towns seem filled with educated, savvy, worldly folks (this is judged by the commercial establishments that serve them). There is plenty to see and do. It was odd how it seemed to be night and day between it and New Hampshire. All I could imagine is that New Hampshire’s “Don’t Tread On Me” libertarian philosophy has lead to a rather depressed state, whereas Vermont’s more liberal social-welfare orientation means that things get taken care of and it’s a nice place to be. But then, I’m a socialist crank, so of course I’d believe that.

One big problem with Vermont: the coffee. Everywhere you go, it’s Green Mountain roasters, which turns out to be a mediocre (though drinkable) brew.

Eastern Travel, August 11-12: Through New Hampshire

From Portland, we headed south to get a sense of what the Atlantic coast is like. In this part of Maine, it’s a depressing collection of motels and gift shops. We pretty much couldn’t stand it, so we got out of there ASAP, and returned to the road. We headed west, directing our car toward White River Junction, Vermont, where there was a hostel we could spend the night.

It was a big driving day, with one break at the Canterbury Shaker Village. Stacy studies intentional communities, and Shakers loom large in that area of interest. If the Shaker Village is historically accurate, than what I took away from the expeirence is that Shakers were master chiselers, a the tour was something like $14, and there was a lot of emphasis placed on acquiring “Shaker” goods that cost too much money.

We really didn’t care for New Hampshire, so we were happy to cross the border into White River Junction, and check in at the Hotel Coolidge, which offers hostel-style rooms for those who want to travel cheap, and who don’t mind sleeping fitfully, because it’s either a) too hot or b) too loud (as the rain dances on the corrugated metal right outside your window.

We made it up and over to Hanover, NH for the evening. Hanover is home to Dartmouth College, so we figured there’d be decent eats and something to do. Which there was. We had a decent meal at Molly’s Balloon, and wandered around, browsing in bookstores, and getting good coffee at the Dirt Cowboy, the only place for hundreds of miles that roasts their own coffee. Newspaper articles taped up around the coffeehouse detailed how the Dirt Cowboy has fought off Starbucks, which tried to buy out their space, which made me enjoy the coffee all the more.

All of this just proved to be a prelude for what became the heart of our journey, visiting Vermont.

American Candor

Last night, I saw AMERICAN SPLENDOR. The movie is getting the ravest reviews of any flick out there. Critics are falling over themselves discussing the delightfully mundane subject matter, the clever mix of live-action and comic book styles, the acting work of Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis.

Now, it is a good flick. Not a great one, but a good one. And there are definitely some clever interweavings of the fictionalized Harvey Pekar with video of the real deal. And the acting compels, as does the film’s willingness to bask in the mundane.

But it’s not the savior of cinema that some seem to have made it out to be. I suspect that critics are falling over themselves praising it largely because it is different from the standard fare, even the standard indie fare. Sadly, narrative film has been stuck in “realism” , an attempt to not mess with the audiences’ suspension of disbelief by giving them nothing to suggest that they’re just watching a movie. Even fantasy films are mired in realism, doing everything they can to make you think that what is happening on the screen is “really” happening for the characters.

Not that there’s anything wrong with realism, but it’s only one method of presentation. AMERICAN SPLENDOR mixes realist cinema with comic book imagery that helps us get inside the actors’ heads, and then with documentary footage of Harvey, his wife Joyce, and his friend Toby. And it should be applauded for such juxtapositions, though it’s hardly revolutionary.

Perhaps this film will succeed, and encourage other filmmakers to break free from the constraints of mimicing reality, and exploit the medium of film for its potential for expression in a variety of forms, be it realism, documentary, surrealism, allegory, whathaveyou. Maybe the burgeoning digital video movement can encourage such experimentation (though I fear it will largely be for the sake of navelgazing, but that’s another matter. I don’t know why I’m so crotchety tonight.)

Anyway, see the film, and enjoy it.

Eastern Travel, August 10-11: onto Portland, ME

After Montreal, our trip took a decidedly existential turn. Apart from needing to be in Washington, D.C. by August 17th, we had no specific plans. We knew we wanted to see Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, all the way to the Coast. We knew we wanted to visit the Ben and Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury, Vermont. And we desired some time in the Adirondacks to get our nature on.

Leaving Montreal, we looked at our map, and said, “Let’s go to Maine.”

The journey proved more fun than the destination.

We re-entered the U.S. in Vermont, driving down through St. Johnsbury (known as “St. Jay” to locals). We stopped for a meal at the St. Jay Diner (good egg salad sandwich), and noticed in some local pamphlet that there was a “Dog party” happening on “Dog Mountain.” Stacy is a total suck for dogs, so we headed out there to see what was going on.

Dog Mountain is the creation of the artist Stephen Huneck. It’s main feature is the Dog Chapel, which honors canids both alive and dead. The Dog Party is a yearly event on Dog Mountain, where folks drive up, bring their dogs, and celebrate. It’s definitely a day of joy and play, even when the weather proves inclement (as it did this day).

peterme_chapel.jpg
That’s me in front of the Dog Chapel. You can also see my developing food baby.

stained_glass_whole.jpg
The Dog Chapel features stained glass windows celebrating qualities of our canid friends.

stained_glass_detail.jpg
A detail from a different window.

stacy_dogpark_view.jpg
Climbing up the hill, you’re rewarded with a remarkable view of the countryside. It was raining, so we didn’t stand around for long.

Leaving Dog Mountain, we continued east. We stopped briefly at Maple Grove Farms, one of Vermont’s three thousand roadside maple purveyors. Sadly, there were no tours that day (being a Sunday), but the gift store was open, and many maple products were purchase. Mmmmm… pure maple candy…

peterme_maple.jpg
My new best friend, a giant tin of maple syrup

St. Johnsbury also features perhaps the most pedestrian historical marker in the United States:
marker_scale.jpg

We then drove through New Hampshire and into Maine. Our timing was such that we simply headed straight for Portland.

It turns out that, at least in the summer, Portland is a very expensive place to stay. Our Motel 6 room cost $79, and it was among the shabbier Motel 6′s I’ve ever stayed in.

Portland is a fine enough town. The waterfront area, with the shops and restaurants, is a little over-touristy for me, but there are spots where the locals go.

It’s a remarkably food-oriented town. Lots of nice restaurants (we ate at Walter’s, and had a good cuisine-y meal), a foody grocery store (Portland Greengrocer), and a yuppie-friendly public market.

Apart from eating, though, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot for visitors to do. So we made our way back west…

Eastern Travel, August 8-10: Montreal

After Ottawa, we took the two hour drive to Montreal. Some recollections.

Lodging: Angellica Blue Bed and Breakfast. We stayed in the Arctic Room (which was often referred to as the “Artic” room), which remained blissfully cool while the city was warm and muggy. The breakfasts were uniformly delightful (French Toast with caramel was particularly scrumptious). It’s location was pretty good — fairly central to Rue St. Denis, Old Montreal, and the museums on Ste. Catherine. The only drawback was that we were a block from Ste. Catherine — and a particularly grungy spot.

Streets: From what I can tell, Montreal is largely defined by its large thoroughfares.

We stayed closest to Rue Ste. Catherine. In our neighborhood, the street is filled with sex shops, cheap food, and lots of dirt. Very much not that archetypal “clean and bland” we’ve come to associate with our neighbors to the north. As you head West, the street gets nicer, though it turns into an outdoor mall the likes of which you see all over North America — large chain clothing and accessiories stores. Not particularly engrossing.

Rue St. Laurent was quite a bit nicer. Chock full of eateries and nightclubs. We didn’t end up doing much on this street, though.

We found ourselves returning to Rue St. Denis for food, shopping, and the like. Lots of boutiques, places to drink coffee, eat food, that kind of thing. Though busy, it was always manageable (unlike Ste Catherine).

Sights: Two of my favorite Montreal experiences were museums. Our first museum in the city was the Canadian Centre for Architecture. The building’s interiors are flat out gorgeous — a luscious use of space and form, and some beautiful wood walls. The main show currently on display is “Traces of India,” which demonstrates how the British colonizers utilized representation to create a history and culture of India that didn’t actually exist, but proved politically desirable. A remarkably rich and thoughtful explication of a thesis, I was struck by the thought that you’d likely never see anything quite so explicitly intellectual in a major American museum.

Our second museum was the Pointe-à-Callière, devoted to archaeology and history, and one of the highlights of the entire trip. The museum is located on a historical prominence in Montreal, a point which jutted into the St. Lawrence, and this was one of the first places settled after European contact. The heart of the museum is the _in situ_ archaeological dig which all attendees walk through, revealing some 400 years of history underground, annotated by a host of exhibitions, kiosks, and tour guides. Even if you’re not specifically interested in the history of Montreal (which I’m not), walking through the jagged remains of successive building foundations is a remarkable experience.

We also wandered around Old Montreal and the Piers, but they were pretty lame and touristy.

Food: We ate pretty well in Montreal. Every morning we had our delightful B&B breakfasts. Lunch was very much an on-the-go experience. Our first dinner was at Khyber Pass, an Afghan restaurant off St. Denis. Good. Filling. Many Montreal restaurants serve no alcohol, so many Montreal corner stores advertise “COLD WINE” (actually, “VINS FROID”) which you can bring into the restaurants.

Our second dinner we ate at a French bistro called Cafe Soleil (I think, though I can’t find it on Google) on Rue St. Denis. Eating outside, I enjoyed a decent Steak Frites, while Stacy had many many many moules. Not worth going back to, but it wasn’t bad or anything. Though I think our waitress kind of feared serving Anglophones.

Other Impressions: I’d love to revisit. See some more of the touristy stuff (Olympic Park, Botanic Gardens). More important, though, would be to see where the locals go. I suspect they wander St. Laurent and St. Denis, but we seemed to be surrounded by tourists. I’d love to find a more locals-oriented neighborhood. I always hold up San Francisco’s Mission District as the kind of spot I’d like to find elsewhere — busy, commercial, culturally intriguing, with food, booze, coffee, and where the residents go when they go out.

For reasons I do not recall, we pretty much took no photos of Montreal.

Eastern Travel, August 5-8: Ottawa

Stacy’s brother, Michael, lives in Ottawa. Stacy’s brother is less than a year older than she, so the two were close buddies growing up. Among other things, I’ve learned that he got her to play Dungeons and Dragons. So she still refers to her “bag of holding.”

Particularly for Americans, Ottawa is not a place to visit without a good reason. It’s a perfectly nice city, and if you have a reason to go there, you can find things to do — but unless you’re a Canadian curious about your country’s heritage, there’s nothing about the city worth drawing travelers.

Ottawa epitomizes that Canadian quality of being clean and bland.

If you do find yourself in Ottawa, the most interesting thing to do is to head to the Bytown Market and wander around. In that area, we had some tasty Indian cuisine at Haveli, and tempura and sushi at [xxxx].

We also had surprisingly good food at a local Middle Eastern chain called “Mango’s”. Cheap, tasty shawarma.

I got a haircut for CAN$11, which is about $8-9 American. Not bad, since I typically pay $20 American.

We canoed on the Rideau River. It was a perfectly fine idea, but about an hour into our tour, it proceeded to rain. Hard. Very hard. Like, you’re soaked through-and-through after a minute of being in it.

Some pictures. They’re blurred because they were taken through the plastic bag that was protecting the camera.
Yep, Still Raining
We find some shelter under a tree

Doesn't she look happy?
Stacy expresses her feelings

Of course, our stay here wasn’t about the city, it was about being with Michael and Lara, his fiance. And that, of course, was great. Michael showed us his spear (he’s in the SCA). He knew exactly where all the “Sev”s (7-11 stores) in Ottawa were, so as to soothe Stacy’s Slurpee cravings. (I read somewhere that Canadian’s consume more Slurpee’s per capita than anyone else.) He and Lara prepared a tasty noodle meal, our only home-cooked food on the entire trip. He revelled in the terrible jokes and puns which seem to be a key aspect of their father’s influence.

So, of course, we look forward to returning.

Eastern Travel, August 4-5: Baltimore to Syracuse

A long day of driving, as we high-tailed it to Ottawa.

Syracuse: surprisingly uninteresting city. The university has no life around it, the downtown is a dessicated husk, with all the attention seeming to go to malls in the city’s perimeter. Also, finding lodging on a Monday night was surprisingly difficult. (Lesson learned: plan ahead!)