This year the finance conference Robert usually goes to was being held in Montebello, Quebec. When I heard that, and located it on the map, we decided to plan a Vermont/Montreal vacation around the conference. The conference would be Sunday to Wednesday, so we decided to drive up to Vermont on Friday. Since Robert’s grandmother was still in a rehab hospital for a fall she’d taken recently, she offered to let us borrow her car for the trip. We accepted, and took off early Friday morning in her 1995 Toyota Avalon (top-of-the-line at the time, and still in mint condition except for some peeling paint, with only 20,000 miles on it). We’d picked up the car the night before, and then Friday morning we were all packed and ready to go. By 9:00 we were on the road from Boston, driving north.
Our first stop was the new NECCO (New England Confectionary Company) Factory just north of Logan Airport; we pass it often on our way to Robert’s grandmother’s house for weekend visits, but the factory store is only open Monday to Friday. Although there are no factory tours (safety, the terse candy store operator told us), we got to revel in Sky Bars (Robert’s favorite--a diversified candy bar with separate vanilla, caramel, peanut, and fudge sections) and Mary Janes and walnut caramels and so-called Canadian Mints (we grabbed a package for the conference). We then stopped off at the rehab facility in Salem to visit with his grandmother and encourage her in her physical therapy before heading out. She forced us to take her morning banana with us for the car trip--in part, generosity, but in part, I’m sure, because she despises bananas.
Our next stop was only a short detour from the highway in New Hampshire, we thought, but we ended up following (a few very small and erratic) signs and (complicated, long, and twisty) directions for about fifteen minutes, past farms and a rural airport that oddly had a very large plane, until we finally reached the yogurt-makers. We arrived half an hour before a new tour was going to start; they waived the fee because the machines were in a cleaning cycle now, so no one was going to actually see yogurt being made for another hour or so. Since the machines were only running with water anyway, we decided to join the current tour already in progress.
“So, everyone probably asks you this,” I said to our tour guide, “but do cows ever eat yogurt?”
After assuring me that no, people usually actually don’t ask that, she explained that at nearly every stage of the yogurt-making process, samples are removed for testing to make sure they conform to standards; the large amount of waste produced by the samples, as well as any sub-par batches discarded because of too-high bacteria counts or too-low temperatures, are then put in giant buckets and sold or given away to local farmers as pig feed.
“We have one farmer who gets the pig feed for his chickens,” she said. “He says that the girls--his two cows--are usually very mild-mannered, except when he feeds the chickens our yogurt, and then they’re right in the middle of the chickens grabbing for it. So yes, at least a few cows eat our yogurt.”
That was a very satisfying answer, to be sure. Also on the tour, we learned that the yogurt is stamped with a sell-by date fifty days after it’s being processed; the tour guide herself said, though, that those dates are not exact, and that as long as when you open the yogurt after the date, it doesn’t actually look moldy or curdled and it doesn’t actually smell like sour milk, then it’s perfectly fine to eat.
At the end of the tour, we had samples, and even though we eat Stonyfield Farm yogurt regularly at home, the samples here were so close to the beginning of their fifty-day shelf-life that we swore they tasted creamier and, in Robert’s words, “less yogurty.”
Since I’d planned to include hiking/nature walk stops as well as food-related and factory-store stops, our first such stop occurred in the Lake Sunapee region of New Hampshire. I’d read about the trail out into this bog, which was formed by glacial meltwater and various kinds of algae, and after missing the turn-off and then having to double-back, we finally located the actual spot. Robert pointed out, too late, as we were driving away, that we would have done the Internet information pool a service by taking a photo of the turn-off as it appears from the road and posting it here, since there’s absolutely no way to see the sign or little map until you’ve actually turned off the road and parked your car.
I changed from my Birks into a pair of Teva kayaking sneakers, my all-purpose summer hiking shoe/sneaker, great in water, puddles, or rain, and great on rocks and uneven ground. Thus equipped, we ventured onto the trail. With the trail constantly formed by two side-by-side boards, it’s pretty hard to get lost here--and that’s really my idea of hiking. We followed all but one of the loops out, because it was so fascinating to see the ground cover move next to you, to feel the boards sink an inch or so under you, and to know that it would be absolutely impossible to venture off the trail even a foot or so for that perfect wildflower or that ideal camera angle. Robert loved the very long pole which appeared to be sticking out of the bog only a foot or so when we arrived; you’re supposed to pull the pole out, then gently put it back, to convince yourself of the depth of the bogwater even right next to the trail. Here’s Robert holding the pole once he pulled it out most of the way, but not entirely (he admitted it was getting mildly heavy). Okay, now I believe that the bog really is twenty feet deep. Some parts of the trail were scarier than others, as in places the boards were very hard to see, submerged as they were under an inch or mud and murk. Still, we made it safely out and back, and it was definitely something neat to see. The picture of me shows me wobbling a little on the trail.
I buy King Arthur Bread Flour in regular supermarkets all the time, and I often order hard-to-find ingredients and pan-sizes from their catalogue, so I jumped at the chance to visit their one and only store just a 10-minute detour north of White River Junction, just over the Vermont-New Hampshire border. I got to stock up on anything I needed that wouldn’t be unhappy sitting in the trunk for a week--so, though that meant no chocolate, rye flour, coarse cornmeal, chocolate extract, harvest grain blends, clearance-sale purple non-pareils (marked down to $.52 from $2.99 a package! I’m sure I can find a use for them sometime), and an on-sale flower-cookie-on-a-stick pan all ended up joining us for the rest of our trip. Robert was happy by the stop because, after the banana and our constant nibbling on the random organic snacks I’d bought for the journey, he wanted something more to eat, and he was able to get a decent raspberry croissant from their bakery.
After a quick nearby stop for gas, we decided to drive pretty much straight to Burlington. We’d been to the cider places and to Ben and Jerry’s, so we didn't plan on stopping around Waterbury for those detours this time around. It was around 4:50, I think, in the afternoon, and it was beautiful weather and we were happy and not in a particular hurry. we planned on going to a harry potter event in burlington in the evening, so were weren't in a rush, just kind of driving along chatting and enjoying the afternoon, not sure where we'd stop for dinner or a motel, exactly, but sure we'd find something and not too worried about it. We played "bog or not?" as we rode along, and we really enjoyed the scenery. Around 10:00 that night, we settled into our Burlington Sheraton hotel room.
Even before breakfast (at Friendly's--it was all that was near the hotel) we went to a bookstore to pick up our new Harry Potter novel. We started reading it together before breakfast--I finished it on Monday (slow, I know, but there were lots of other things to do! We were on vacation, after all!) and Robert finished it on Wednesday, with me reading it again over his shoulder. After breakfast and a tour of the Burlington International Airport (home of the most logical of airport codes, BIA), we drove over to the Lake Champlain Chocolate Factory Store near the water to sample chocolates (I loved their chai truffle) and watch them being made. We then headed into the Lake Champlain islands.
Hyde Log Cabin is supposedly the oldest continually inhabited log cabin in the country. Robert reflected that since marrying me, he's been to a lot of log cabins and a fair number of one-room schools (we always take a picture of him sitting at the school desk). Compared to the others, though, he said this log cabin looked positively spacious and luxurious.
Another stop on the Vermont Cheese Trail: we bought goat cheese, very good and herby, as well as locally-made Vermont sodas (green apple was crisp and clear), from an outdoor fridge where you leave your money in a jar in the fridge. We bought chocolates (tasty cheese-filled truffles), but we declined the locally-raised, organic, grain-fed beef and pork because we had nowhere to cook it that evening. Eating our cheese with some organic pumpernickel cracker-sticks, we wandered over to look at the farm's animals and enjoy the slightly cooler lake weather. There were goats, some of whom liked to stand on table-like things (big farm equipment spools), chickens, roosters who crowed even though it was 3:00 in the afternoon, and alpacas (just for interest, obviously). Robert got up close to the animals, but I didn't. Below you see his shots of animals from up close, and then a shot of me (he spun around to take it) from where I stand far off in the distance, away from those marauding chickens.
We crossed the border from a random tiny road in Vermont, after we saw a sign that said simply: "New York [arrow left] Canada [arrow right." Terse, but appropriate. We had a nice view of a fort across Lake Champlain as we crossed the river before the border.
In Montreal we stayed at a Travelodge downtown. The beds were hard, the pillows flat, the service mediocre, the rooms tiny, but 1) the rooms were cheap, 2) the location was very convenient, 3) free high-speed wireless Internet access was included for both of our computers, 4) the water pressure was very good. We wandered out for a progressive dinner with several stops.
Stop 1: Poutine at McDonald’s: (french fries, fresh squeaky cheese curds, and hot gravy over all). Sure, McDonald's isn't the best version around, but it's not terrible, either, and we demolished it--witness the before and after.
Stop 2: Random Frozen Yogurt from a place on St. Catherine's
Stop 3: Dragon’s Beard Sweets in Chinatown (wonderful noodle-y dough with sugar and peanuts--fascinating, and very different from anything we've ever had)
Stop 4: Beijing Restaurant in Chinatown (we ate steamed oysters and black cod). When the check came, we did our famous "THAT's not how high tax is! They must be overcharging us and including a tip" no-tip maneuver. I guess we can't go back to that restaurant: tax IS that high here.
Very respectable dim sum. We tried to meet up with Bob and Howard, but it didn't work.
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Created: 7/25/05. Last Modified: 8/7/05.