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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:

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…


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.

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed Burlington. A very good friend of mine lived up there for many years so I got to visit a few times (he’s now in Middlebury, VT). Isn’t the Penny Cluse a wonderful place? That’s where my good friend had his wedding reception. It was also the second Ben & Jerry’s shop (after the garage).

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