One week, two countries, four states, six hundred bucks
Most of our day was a history tour. That’s pretty much inevitable when you visit a place like Boston or Philly. Since I grew up in the latter, and had heard countless American Revolution related tours, I decided to let Tim and Eirik, my British and Norwegian travel companions take the lead in giving the history lessons along with the tour.
We decided to make the Freedom Trail our first mission. Since we were forecasted for some rain, we figured it would be best to try and do that while the sky was still devoid of raindrops. The Trail begins at the Boston Commons and runs through a beautiful park up to the gold domed State House. It was a great park, first of all, and we got to see some buildings where, as Eirik put it, people spent a lot of time discussing important matters.
The Freedom Trail is a pretty good way to see Boston, since it’ll take you to the Old North Church, the Revere House, and almost every other site- including the sobering Holocaust Memorial. It also runs up by North, South, and Quincy Markets. The essence of the Freedom Trail is following a long red line on the ground, but it happens to run right by some pretty important and attractive things.
One such item was the Old City Hall, adjacent to the Boston Cemetery. The cemetery acts as the resting grounds to Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Ben Franklin’s parents, as well as the victims of the Boston Massacre. Speaking of that, we also passed the location where that happened.
True to the Spirit of the Revolution, Holly bought some tea, while I inundated Tim with all the Boston Tea Party memorabilla I could.
We kept going along the red line on the ground. After first visiting a historical bookshop and discoveringtheir collection of cool, outdated, and horribly inaccurate maps- where Borneo is roughly the size of Australia, we kept going into a neat little tavern district. We ate across from the Bell in Hand Tavern at the Green Dragon. The two are respectively known for being the oldest tavern in the United States and for being a favourite of Jefferson, Revere and others as they met over drinks to discuss the foundations of the principles of the Revolution. I tried their Green Dragon Brew which was an extremely light beer that had the aftertaste of an herbal tea. It was quite good. We all shared a plate of spinach-artichoke dip and pita chips. Group trips are fun with all the sharing that can go down.
Our red line took us across the Charleston Bridge until we had to part ways. We ventured, using Boston’s difficult to follow maps, towards Bunker Hill Community College to use their T line. Then we went from community college to Harvard.
We made our way to the Boylston area, for a walk down the strip with a lot of important shops, the Boston Public Library, the Prudential Tower, and some other attractions. The Apple Store, which Holly had hoped to see was closed. We ended up going towards Berklee College of Music and visiting my friend from high school, Tommy, who plays guitar over there. We were pretty tired at this point but it was nice to just relax as he played us music.
We left Boston this morning with our eyes set on New Hampshire, but first we discovered our route would take us right through Salem, Massachusetts. Yes, the Salem famous for all that witch-related activity.
The weather was cold and windy, so much that we had to stop the car in order to clear the street of trash cans and recycling bins that the wind had blown in our way. Everyone in this city used to blame everything on witches, but really, it’s just very, very windy.
New England happens to be the origin to some prominent writers. Thoreau, King, Kerouac, and Hawthorne to name a small but very diverse selection. Speaking of Hawthorne, our first stop was his former home- the House of Seven Gables. The place was very scenic, and we didn’t even see much of the inside. Instead we went to the gardens out back, where every direction offered a lot of photo opportunities. A green lawn, the tips of New England style houses, and the waterfront served as wonderful backdrops. When we discovered an old boat-half on display, it immediately turned into the perfect stage to film a music video. Not too long after that, we went into a maritime mini-display and discovered a box full of costumes, so we had to redo that video which will hopefully be soon appearing as an advertisement for Salem tourism.
Live free or die. New Hampshire state motto. It makes sense when you consider how we ran into nearly 20 Dunkin Donuts shops along the way to Manchester.
After we found our hotel, we explored downtown Manchester for a while which was quite an interesting locale. We also took some pictures at a scenic creek just behind our hotel. We made our way to the Currier Art Museum and took some quick pictures in the surrounding area, since the museum itself was closed.
Afterwards, we soon found our way to a park across from the Zimmerman House. Lexington Park. It was 0C outside, but somehow we managed to play in the park for what may have been hours.
Just across from the park we discovered Puritan Ice Cream and Puritan Back Room. Puritan happens to be one of New Hampshire’s favourite restaurants and a favourite of Adam Sandler. I ordered some stuff you can’t find just anywhere. I got a bison burger, and for desert, a couple scoops of baklava ice cream. We also got the crew to sing happy birthday to Raquel and compliment us with a dessert.
Here’s what I knew about Vermont before visiting:
They were the yin to New Hampshire’s yang- at least in terms of physical shape. Other than that, I expected them to be quite similar. It’s the place to be if you’re into maple syrup.
They’re the second least populated state.
I left Vermont knowing a lot more than that. But the big thing I left knowing was that Vermont was one cool state.
We were able to rent an amazing guesthouse in the suburb of Waterbury, Vermont. We scored an incredible deal, thanks to being a team of five people who share things and thanks to Air BnB, my new favourite method of finding a place to stay when travelling unlikely locations. We stayed in the guesthouse of someone named John, which was right by his house and only somewhat attached. In order to get there it was a bit of a drive into the woods- and even off of the paved road for a little bit. However, it was in a very beautiful location, with a gorgeous lake right in the back.
I’ve always wanted to visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory, as well as the Jelly Belly factory, and it was great to be able to cross one of those off of my list. I’m kind of a Ben & Jerry’s fan. For a small price, we were able to hop on one of the tours that goes around the factory once every half hour. It was all very Willy Wonka-esque. We got to see the production process and hear the story behind the making of Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack flavour, which just might be my favourite. Seriously, the chips in ice cream actually works very well.
The third part of the tour, however, was the best part. The free sample. We got to try some “Good Karmaple” ice cream- a flavour that had only ever been tasted by one group before us.
I also got to place suggestions for future flavours. These are things I always think about, but when I actually had my chance it was hard to come up with flavours on the spot. I managed to bust out a few, though, so if Ben & Jerry’s “Banana Pancakes” or “Spiced Chai” ever pop up on your shelves, you’re welcome. Seriously, if they go forward with Good Karmaple, could there be a better pairing than Banana Pancakes?
After the tour we ordered some exclusive flavours from their scoop shop.
As if Ben & Jerry’s wasn’t enough, Montpelier was where Vermont truly brought out it’s charm. Most of the town is either brick or an old painted wood style reminiscent of most of New England. There were plenty of awesome and quaint looking churches, and the main roads were all lined up with antique shops and everything.
You can tell it was a good place because whenever I go to what I consider a good place, I catch myself fantasizing about what it would be like to live there.
Montpelier is a state capital, but it’s an oddity as the only state capital to not have a McDonald’s or a Starbucks. What they did have, were quirky, local, mom and pop shops all over the place. I spent a good amount of time at Rivendell Books, a quirky, creaky floored bookshop where Raquel and I found the perfect travel themed book: Eric Weiner’s Geography of Bliss, which I really look forward to reading. We also swung by antique shops for Tim to get oddball souveniers, and even an old record shop- which apparently housed all of Montpelier’s hipster population. The thing had a built in vintage shop which was honestly quite cool.
One other thing about Montpelier that you absolutely must know- it is one of the best food cities I have ever visited. You would never know, it’s such a well kept secret. In fact, Montpelier hosts the New England Culinary Institute, so most of the local flavours are connected to the school. If you’ve had a meal here, you’d understand why there’s no McDonald’s. The food here is held to high standard. We were recommended to try La Brioche, managed by NECI, but they closed early, as most of this region does. Instead we wound up at The Skinny Pancake, which will always be a very well remembered trip. I kept thinking, “wow, if I actually lived here, I would eat at this place all the time.” The place was a quirky shop that made unusual and unique crêpes, both sweet and savory. I ordered a crêpe containing sausage, cheddar, apples, and maple syrup. I also got to try some of the night’s special- a braised lamb crêpe complete with a red wine sauce and a strawberry sauce.
So much good food.
While eating at The Skinny Pancake, I kept hearing people of my vintage talking about“returning home,” in reference to Vermont. It really was something else to picture that area as home. Surrounded by nature. A surprisingly younger population. Smaller. Quieter. But quirky and with things to do- especially if you like outdoors adventures or books. When the intellectual conversation about arranged marriages broke out behind me, the city felt so cool and the people so interesting.
We went back to Waterbury that night, and it started snowing. We woke up to a bit of snowfall on the ground. The lake hadn’t frozen, though. Within five minutes of waking up, Tim and I were outside in the snow. Then we ran into the lake, for just a little bit.
Absolutely freezing. So worth it.
Montréal was probably the part of this trip I was looking forward to most. That and Ben & Jerry’s. After Montpelier was such a pleasant surprise, I couldn’t wait for Canada.
When we arrived, it was alternating between snow and rain, but I always say that’s just part of a more authentic experience. We checked into the Hostel Montréal Central, which is one of the top hostels in all of Canada- and it was one of the better ones I’ve stayed in. We immediately went out into town to go see what we could find.
We spent most of the afternoon walking around the area of Old Montréal. It’s really a great area, not too far from the port. The streets are mostly cobblestone, with older buildings alongside them. We were able to find ourselves a nice little French restaurant called Les 3Brasseurs. We ordered beers and crème brulee.
Another cool thing about Montréal is that it is probably the most prepared city in case of a zombie outbreak. In order to defend themselves from the winter’s cold, Montréal has a very extensive network of underground walkways and shops. It closely resembles a mall, but it actually links points all across town. Legitimately, Montréal has an alternate underground city.
After dinner we ventured our way there and had a walk around the underground.
Our walk underground led us to an ice skating rink and that allowed us to complete our dream of ice skating in Montréal. We were all able to rent skates for a very decent price- especially on two-for-one night, and spend some time making our way around a fairly small rink. I hadn’t been skating in years, but I did alright for myself. I only managed to eat it once, when trying to do some fancy stuff that was a little too ambitious. None of us were experienced skaters, although the Scandinavian did come out of Eirik as he started taking tips and following after the rink’s expert.
We returned to our hostel afterwards and watched a guitarist perform acoustic night. He dedicated songs to us based on where we were from. Tim’s England was represented by his cover of Here Comes The Sun. My California was embodied by Bob Marley’s Smoke Two Joints. We wondered what song he would play for Norway when it was Eirik’s turn. Disappointingly, it was Wonderwall.
The next day we made it to Mount Royal (possibly how Montréal got its name. I never looked that one up, but it would make sense.) We tried swinging by an Apple Store on our way there, but the fact that Rue St. Catherine was divided into East and West resulted in us getting hopelessly lost around Montréal’s gay district.
The mountain sits at the northern end of the city’s centre, and it’s big draw is the Parc du Mont Royal, a very large and nature filled park that surrounds it. It’s really a gorgeous place, and there wasn’t any part of that park that I didn’t enjoy. To our benefit, it had been lightly snowing that day, so most of our walk there was accompanied by friendly snowflakes. Montréal style brownstones made the perfect visual companion until we got to an even better pairing- the snow and the park. The mountain was a mild climb, but a challenging one when you’ve spent most of the past few days in a car. We definitely did do a lot of walking on that day.
Following this walk, we headed back towards the city. As one might imagine, the walk made us quite hungry, so we swung by Schwartz’s, a famous local kosher deli. They were particularly known for their smoked meat sandwich and we got a recommendation from one of Tim’s friends. Turns out they’re also a favourite of Celine Dion and Hank Aaron. The food was basic, but pretty good.
From there we split up. Raquel and Holly went on search of Holly’s home, aka the Apple Store, while my Euros and I went to the Montréal Biodome. While waiting for the girls to rejoin us so we could meet up, we loitered around the area and saw what all the nearby buildings had to offer. One was a very nice and modern cinemaplex. The other was an Olympic training center, which made sense being right next to the stadium. The girls got there and we took some photos in front of Olympic Tower, but none of us really felt like mustering up the cash to go inside.
The remainder of our plans were kind of ambiguous, but there was one thing we wanted to do and that was to try poutine- a local delicacy. I heard a lot about poutine, but as fancy as it sounds, it’s really just fries with cubes of mozzerella on top doused with a gravy. It turns out, though, that it’s really good.
Following this little snack break, we went on a walk down at the Montréal port and Science Center. This portion is located on the water, and although it was very cold, we enjoyed taking a nice, relaxed walk alongside it. We ended up stationed at the bonfire of a nice looking restaurant and hung out there for a while like nomads.
THE KANCAMAGUS HIGHWAY
It didn’t take all that long before we were making our way across the border back into the U.S. It was a pretty painless process, and we were quickly across the line and back into our own country. Just one thing I usually take for granted.
Northwest Vermont boasts the Hero Islands, two very quirky islands, without much in terms of development. We crossed many isolated, antiquated looking houses, and some dilapidated barns, on these two, very spread out, odd shaped islands. In running into the high school for these two islands, we wondered what it might have been like to grow up in this environment. Boring and dull, perhaps, but it also seems like the perfect setting for a film or a novel of sorts. The mysterious Hero Islands of Vermont, which looked even more mystical in the suspended grey fog.
Soon enough, we were back in the heart of Vermont. We crossed Burlington, the largest city, and headed towards my more favourite city, the odd and endearing Montpelier. Soon enough the signs on the freeway got more and more familiar. Waterbury. Middlesex. Then destination Montpelier. Being perfectly around lunchtime, we decided to stop in town to grab a bite.
As the home of the New England Culinary Institute, it makes sense that Montpelier is an amazing foodie town. My experience the last time at the Skinny Pancake was a foodie’s dream. Seriously. That last time we tried to eat at La Brioche, a café actually operated by NECI, but unfortunately they were closed.
The Kancamagus Highway might be one of America’s most scenic drives. It runs you right through the winding woods of New Hampshire, and if you go when it’s winter, but not miserable, you’re in for a very beautiful drive. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’d be beautiful in the fall as well.
Anyways, it got too beautiful that we had to pull over. Thanks to Tim’s handy USA guide book, we made our way through some trees and discovered Beaver Trail, a nice little path that went to the mountains and around some lakes. At most other times of the year, you can tell this would make some good hiking. However, since it was March, we were treated to some frozen lakes and snowball fights.
We lingered there a while, taking photos and enjoying life. Soon enough we got back on the road, and headed east with no more stops planned. Indeed, we took no more stops. In just a little bit, we crossed our fourth state line of the day. We were in Maine.
After we got to Maine, we didn’t take much longer to get to Portland, where the night promised even more events. That is a whole other story in and of itself, however. For now, two countries and four states in one day will have to make do.
In the evening of the 30th of March, having driven from Canada, across three and a half states, we finally crossed into Maine and drove to Portland. The “other” Portland. I hope that doesn’t offend anyone who hails from Portland, Maine. I realize you guys came before Portland, Oregon. But I happened to get to Portland, Oregon first, by one month. Thus you will always be “the other Portland.” Sorry. At least I’m aware of the existence of another Portland. That isn’t always a given.
Well the truth is, Portland, Oregon got its name because of a historical connection to this southern city of Maine. That is one of the few facts I knew about Portland before I arrived. The only other thing I knew was that they had the Sea Dogs, a minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
Despite it being quite late in the day, and rather freezing, we decided to drive to downtown Portland and have a walk around. Portland carried the distinct style of red brick shops lining smaller, cozier streets, which would be recognizable in a number of smaller, older, East Coast areas. Portland was no exception, as it had quite a few eclectic shops and pubs lining the streets, as red brick buildings bordered both sides.
One thing nice and lovely about Portland is that it is right along the coast, and downtown Portland is bordered on one side by docks and harbors that open out into the Atlantic. Most of our early wandering was confined to the Old Port area which boasted quite a few unique shops and restaurants.
A thing that caught me by surprise in Portland, giving it’s size and reputation for little crime, was the presence of police. Lots and lots of cops. Everywhere. Driving into the city, one entire neighborhood had been blocked off by five or six cop cars, and the street was lined with the infamous yellow police tape. It looked like some major crime had just gone down on that street.
What’s the matter? I thought. This was supposed to be Portland, Maine!
Soon enough, we discovered the reason for all the police activity.
In a theatre, not too far from the taped of neighborhood was a very important public figure. He came to make a public appearance in front of supporters, and while he had a lot of those, he also had a lot of haters and opponents. Considering how influential this figure is, it was quite the treat for a town like Portland to get him to appear at a local theatre.
Snoop Dogg was in town on tour.
And across from him was somebody else who shared that description.
The POTUS came by in fundraising efforts and entertained people at the Maine Children’s Art Museum. Not too surprisingly, the Occupy protestors situated themselves across from the president, sharing space with Snoop’s fans. A street preacher made the cross street his stage, directing his words towards the Snoop fans.
Ironically, it was around one year before that I was in Santiago, Chile around the same time as Obama. It’s like a weird romantic comedy, but not.
For dinner, we had the essential- Maine Lobster. Except because we’re super-poor college students, we split a couple lobster orders among the four of us. Eirik was allergic and sat this one out. Our conversation that night was one of the trip’s most ridiculous, laughing over each other’s mistranslations over plates of lobster and breaded cod.
The very next day, we headed quickly over to the Portland Head Light. The famous Maine lighthouse looked solemnly serene in the dense fog. We got to take pictures and view it from the rocky coastline, which was a very beautiful area. We ventured out onto the rocky coast for a good hour, just watching waves crash and roll. There was a lot of climbing involved.
The following day, we went back to Boston to fly back to the West Coast.
This whole trip, really, was far from ordinary. I travelled with a great group. I enjoyed getting to know everyone more, and getting to befriend Eirik. I now know three random Norwegian phrases. I love to spend time with people, and one of the best ways I know how to do that is through travel. It was a Spring Break well spent.