It’s been a long time since we did a Travel Take Two installment, so I thought I’d bring this series back to life with a look at our last summer’s vacation, a road trip from D.C. to Maine and back with stops all along the way.
Destination: Cape Cod, MA; Burlington, VT; Northeast Kingdom, VT; Kancamagus Higway, NH; Bar Harbor & Acadia, ME; Portland, ME; Boston, MA; NYC.
Date: August 10-20, 2007
Travel Partners: Just the two of us
1. Vermont. We both loved pretty much everything about Vermont. It was hands-down the prettiest state we traveled to, and just driving across it was a treat. But our stops really made it stand out. Burlington was a nice city to stroll around, ever so walkable and picturesque. Lake Champlain and its islands (more later) were awesome. Who doesn’t love Ben & Jerry’s? The tour of the plant was comical, the flavor graveyard was highly amusing, and the fact that their samples are actually substantial is a real plus. And finally, the Northeast Kingdom. First of all, how can you not love a place with a name like that? And secondly, how much more beautiful can a place be? Honest to God town greens, gorgeous glacial lakes, lovely B&Bs, great homegrown food—I was ready to move there.
2. Baseball in Massachusetts. We practically planned the trip around baseball, so it’s a good thing that at least most of the baseball was well worth it. Our two baseball experiences in Massachusetts were excellent and reminders of the way the game is supposed to be played. On Cape Cod, we were able to watch a playoff game of the Cape Cod League, the league in which the best college baseball players in the country play each summer. In Boston, we made it to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox. In both places, the atmosphere was excellent. Though many of the guys in the Cape Cod League will one day be seeing paychecks with many, many zeros on them, there was no pretension. Fans–large numbers of them–gathered at school fields, setting up lawn chairs and spreading out blankets to cheer on their teams, while the players put on displays on immense talent and then bantered with the crowd, handing out high fives or selling raffle tickets when they weren’t playing. Fenway is classic for good reason. The seats are tiny and the paint is peeling off of them, but no one cares. The stadium has atmosphere, an aura. And the fans are all too busy standing and cheering to worry about the state of their seat. Even though I’m not a Red Sox fan, it was an exhilarating experience.
3. The Great Outdoors. Now I have to admit that even though I’d been to much of the Northeast before, I hadn’t ever really equated it with great natural beauty. I’m not sure why, since it’s in fact, a great place for those who love nature. There’s a reason so many artists flocked to the Cape Cod National Seashore; it’s picture perfect. Vermont, as I mentioned before, is one glorious sight after another. The Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire (probably my least favorite of the states we visited) offers lovely waterfall after lovely waterfall. And how do you even sum up Acadia? It’s a wonderland of peaks and seashore, tidal pools, and evergreens.
1. Lobster. What trip to Maine would be complete without at least one lobster dinner? Not ours, although maybe it should have been. Our trip to a lobster pound was less than a highlight. It didn’t take long for us both to decide that we didn’t really see what the big deal about lobster was. It was fine, sure, but not great, and it was so much damn work to eat. Then we made the fatal mistake of opening our lobsters all the way up. Seeing the green stuff in the middle was enough to make us both lose our appetites…and almost our dinners. Yuck. I’d rather just have steak, thanks.
2. Yankee Stadium. ESPN’s made Yankee Stadium, a.k.a. “The House the Ruth Built,” into a year-long story, and everyone rates it as a classic, but we both found it to be a yawn. It felt pretty generic to us, and lacked the intimacy and excitement of Fenway. The stands were only about half full, and even though it was an afternoon game, I literally had a hard time staying awake. I guess I’m glad we got to see it before it gets torn down, but eh, I was less than impressed.
3. The L.L. Bean Store. For some reason, every time we told anyone that Portland was one of our stops, they asked if we were going to the L.L. Bean Store. So we added it to the list, figuring it must be a big deal. I have to say we were underwhelmed. Sure it was big and sure I can shop there around the clock, but it didn’t have any great deals or any fancy gear that you can’t find elsewhere. I guess maybe once it was something, but now everything’s big and open all the time, so I guess we’re just jaded. Plus all those outlets around town and the crazed herds of female shoppers had me a little freaked out.
1. On that very rare occasion, the too-good-to-be-true deal is actually true. A hotel room in Manhattan for $20? Yeah, right. You can’t get a hotel anywhere for that. But oh yeah, we did. And no, this wasn’t a room in a brothel; it was in fact a room in a nice hotel right next to the United Nations with a huge marble bathroom, super comfy bed, and a light control panel that I had so much fun playing with. The hotel, which had just reopened after a renovation offered a very small number of rooms for $19.17 in honor of the year the hotel first opened. We happened to be one of the lucky few to actually score the deal.
2. Sometimes the best places are the ones the guidebooks barely mention. One of our very favorite stops—the Lake Champlain Islands—was mentioned in the Lonely Planet as a mere afterthought. If I’d been the one writing the guidebook, it would have gotten a couple of pages at least. The island are small, given, but they’re idyllic and oh so fun to explore. We visited an orchard, wine tasted at a vineyard, stopped to photograph hundreds of colorful bird houses that qualified as art in my opinion, bought goat cheese and then petted the goats that produced it, lusted over perfectly situated inns, had a picnic on the lakeshore, shopped at a general store true to its name, and just leisurely explored this tiny parcel of paradise. Along the same lines, other things that stand out on our trip—dinner at a tiny breakfast counter named Tooky’s in some tiny New Hampshire town, buying blueberries from a roadside stand in Maine—are things we stumbled across, not planned for.
3. On a trip where you’re spending a lot of time on the go, you need to add in a day every now and then to just do nothing. If you read the list of places we visited and then the amount of time we were gone, you’ll realize this was a crazy trip. We knew it would be that way; we were looking for a sample platter of everything the region had to offer; not a five-course meal. But as prepared for it as we were, by the time we got to Portland, Maine, we were exhausted. So rather than tour around, we had sushi and called it an early night. I guess on one hand, you could call it a wasted day; I have no real clue what Portland is like. But on the other hand, that one day off revitalized us and we were able to hit Boston and NYC with gusto. We’ll consider it a worthwhile sacrifice. Sorry, Portland.
4. Let yourself like a place that you’re convinced you’ll hate. Jeff was certain he wouldn’t like NYC—too big, too crowded, too everything—and he really had no interest in staying beyond the time it took to see a game at Yankee Stadium. But being the deal lover he is, he couldn’t pass up our fabulous hotel find, so we got to enjoy a day in the city, and by the end of that day he was a convert. Instead of looking for all the things he knew he wouldn’t like, he opened his mind to the city and found that there was a lot to love. I think I’ve even got him on board with my belief that it would be really cool to live in NYC for one year.
5. Don’t forget about your own backyard. Every year that we lived here, we said we’d do this road trip, but we never actually got around to it. Instead we jetted off to the Grand Canyon or Hawaii, Belize or Germany. It was so close and so easy, that we kept putting it off, feeling as if it would always be there. It took a realization that last summer might be our last in D.C. (turned out we were off by one year) to get us out and exploring the part of the country closest to us. Too often while we’re planning great international adventures, we forget that there’s a lot of cool stuff right here in our own country, in our own region.