Friends In High Places

With all deference to Garth Brooks who earned multi-generational wealth singing about friends in low places (I have a few of those too), it also pays to have at least a few in high places.  When my bride informed me that for our X anniversary (insert very large, very round number of your choice here) she yearned to visit the great state of Maine, I confess I had the dazed look of a lonely slice of pizza sitting on the counter, ordered but not picked up.

Exotic foreign itineraries I can plan in my sleep . . . and often do . . . but like a lot of folks in the travel business, I am a lot less comfortable with the good old US of A.  And last time I checked, Maine was still part of the US, if just barely so, clinging by her icy fingertips just  south of something called New Brunswick, where I suppose they make all those bowling balls.

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The image is a skiff sailing through heavy fog.  Either that or I forgot to wipe off the camera lens.

Somehow I managed to shake the dust off a couple of little gray cells and remembered that I had a former travel agent colleague named Steve Hewins who, along with his wife Kathy, lives in Portland (luckily the one I needed . . . the one in Maine).  In point of fact, he now runs a restaurant and inn keepers association.   So I shamelessly paraded my ignorance and asked him what is the best way to see Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine in a week.  He quite correctly pointed out that, lacking an AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter (which you may be surprised to learn I don’t currently have in my garage), I was asking the impossible.  I rephrased the question to ask how much could I reasonably expect to see in a week.

He laid out an itinerary that began by flying to Burlington, Vermont, renting a car, driving pretty much due east (as due as you can do on winding New England roads), landing in Bar Harbor, Maine where we would be forced to make a course correction or start taking on sea water (see Bass Harbor Light House below) and working our way south down the coast to Portland, our departure city for home.   This plan turned out be a perfect confluence of lack of time and lack of money.

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For those with a stomach for hearing about someone else’s vacation, I will recount the trip in sequential, and possibly excruciating, order.   Feel free to drop off and fly directly home at any point.

Whoever said getting there is half the fun obviously has never flown with inclement weather.  Both our flights to Burlington and from Portland home had their share of stress, delays and frustration.  It was all weather related so American Airlines deserves none of the blame.  They did all they could to make the experience bearable and, in fact, shortly after returning home I found a voucher for my wife and bonus AAdvantage miles for me.  Thank you AA!

When we finally arrived in Burlington, exhausted and covered in road film, we had three nice surprises in a row.  Upon check in at the Alamo car rental desk, they didn’t have the nondescript car we had booked and informed us they would just have to give us an Infinity QX30 for the week at the same price.   We graciously accepted without a fuss.  Then we arrived at the Homewood Suites which exceeded out expectations.  Finally, there was a great little Italian restaurant called Pulcinella’s directly across the street.  It is amazing how a delicious lasagna and a couple of glasses of classic Chianti can improve your outlook.   Considering at one point we were nearly certain we weren’t going to even make it to Burlington on the same day,  the 18 hour marathon ended on a quite cheery note.

The following morning, feeling well rested, we drove to the nearby quaint village of Stowe.   First stop was the Trapp Family Lodge where the Trapp Family Singers settled after escaping the Nazis in their native Austria.  If you have no idea who the von Trapps were or what I am talking about, go back and watch The Sound of Music a couple of times and, if that doesn’t work, try yodeling to clear your head.

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After a delicious lunch in the Whip Bar & Grill back in Stowe, we headed back to Burlington to take a cruise on Lake Champlain whose shores touch Vermont, New York and even Quebec.  DSC03978This is no modest lake in size.  It is 107 miles long and 14 miles across at its widest part.  We decided to forego a 250 mile jog around the lake and instead took one of the many tourist boats that ply those waters.

The two hour cruise offered food, an open bar and fascinating commentary about the historic significance of the lake in  Revolutionary America.  I was very impressed that the Spirit of Ethan Allen had invested in a state of the art sound system that made listening a pleasure.  Below is a picture of a small lighthouse that guards one end of the harbor.

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Per Steve’s suggestion (a recurring theme during this trip), we ended our day on Church Street, a very cool pedestrian area of downtown Burlington lined with shops and restaurants.  We dined at Leunig’s Bistro and Cafe where the table arrangement invites . . .  OK requires . . .  making new friends.  Being sociable folks ourselves, we didn’t mind listening to  the life story of the waitress and the couples on either side of us even if their dreary lives were nowhere nearly as fascinating as ours.

This will have to conclude the first part of our journey but should you have the inclination, not to mention fortitude, to return to this site, you will learn all about Ben & Jerry’s (not to be confused with Tom & Jerry), the documented wildest weather anywhere in the United States and even how to roll a Lobster (which somehow sounds a trifle  prurient).   Until next time, “Live Free or Die” as we newly minted New Hampshirites like to say.

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