August 28, 2003

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.

Posted by peterme at 06:26 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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.

Posted by peterme at 09:39 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 27, 2003

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.

Posted by peterme at 09:44 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 26, 2003

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).

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

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

A detail from a different window.

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...

My new best friend, a giant tin of maple syrup

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

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...

Posted by peterme at 11:10 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 25, 2003

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.

Posted by peterme at 10:55 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

More Pics from Ottawa

Indulge my narcissism!

Gettin' my Canadian Patriotism On

Houses of Parliament in the background.

Posted by peterme at 10:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack


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