Day 38: Wednesday 19th April
I didn’t know a lot about Portland, Maine before I went there, except that there’s a song about it, but to be honest we just wanted to go somewhere in Maine because the pictures of windswept beaches and little whitewashed villages looked pretty, and we wanted to eat some lobster and clam chowder and do some whale-watching.
The final one of these hopes was dashed when I realised that it was far too early in the season for whale-watching – the whale-watching season in New England doesn’t really start until Memorial Day weekend (the last weekend in May for those not in the know), or at the very earliest mid-May. So we were about a month too early. Given the circumstances, we decided to leave the whales for another trip or another part of the US (you can also spot whales from the west coast).
A word of advice if you’re thinking of travelling to New England – there seem to be three main visiting seasons: summer, winter, and autumn. Summer you can go whale-watching and boating and to the beach; winter you can go skiing or snowboarding; and autumn is a popular time because apparently there’s nothing like a New England fall – the trees are supposed to be a stunning riot of colour.
So spring is a kind of in-between time when there’s not a lot going on – it’s too late for skiing, but it’s not warm enough for the summer activities yet. This was the first time in the trip that we hadn’t timed something quite right – we’d been in Austin for SXSW and Adriene’s once a month yoga class, Washington DC for the cherry blossom festival, Boston for the world-famous Boston Marathon, and we got to New York on the first day of spring sunshine. But once we got this far north, we realised our luck had run out. (In fairness to us, it’s quite hard to plan a three month trip on the scale that we did and covering such a distance, making sure that you get everywhere at the absolute optimum time. I think we did a pretty good job on the most part but it’s probably impossible to do it for every place.)
It was cold and rainy when we arrived, and since I didn’t feel like doing much and it was my birthday, I felt I was entitled to do nothing but eat loads of lobster. So we headed for DiMillo’s On The Water, which was actually pretty classy and I felt a bit underdressed for it. I ordered a bunch of lobster and clam chowder and ate like a king. The lobster was pretty pricey – around $30 or $40 – but what the heck, it was my birthday. I also had to be taught how to eat it by the server because it’s a bit of a complicated process, but it all added to the fun, and it was delicious.
Day 39: Thursday 20th April
It was still cold and rainy, still too early for whales, the weather was too bad to really go wandering along any windswept beaches or take any boats to little offshore islands, we had been on the road for five weeks and it had been pretty much go-go-go the whole time. Given these facts, we thought we were deserving of a little break and that perhaps it was time to have a lazy day (I was also still milking the fact that it was my birthday and I should therefore be allowed to do whatever I wanted, including being lazy). As a side note, I think when you’re planning a long trip like this of several months, it’s important to remember that you will get tired and want breaks, so remember to build rest days into your trip! We did and we were very grateful for it.
We spent the day updating the blog, skyping friends and family, doing admin, and napping. I briefly went out for a run but made the fatal mistake of trying to run up a hill and thereby incapacitating myself for the rest of the session. I was hoping for a nice view from the top of the hill but it was this:
I also saw a dog and a graveyard:
That was about it. In the evening we went out to Andy’s Old Port Pub, where they had some great live music playing. Andy was very nice, and since I obviously hadn’t had my fill of lobster the night before, I had some posh lobster mac and cheese.
Day 40: Friday 21st April
Kancamagus Highway, NH, and Montpelier, VT
We left Maine and headed for the Kancamagus Highway because I had read it was a beautiful scenic drive. The Kancamagus Highway is 34 miles long, stretching from Conway to Lincoln, and goes through the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. This was in fact only our second scenic drive of the trip, the first being the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, so I was quite excited to see some pretty nature after all the highways and cities we’d been driving through.
What I wasn’t expecting was the snow – our first snow of the trip! The Kancamagus Highway was its very own little Winter Wonderland. There were only little bits here and there at first, but then we pulled into one of the stops and I got out and did a little happy winter dance when I saw this:
This place is called the Rocky Gorge, and has apparently been a favourite stop for tourists since the Civil War, when the White Mountains became more accessible to tourists due to the opening of a railroad from Boston. There were a lot of other things I would have liked to do and see in the White Mountain National Forest had the weather been a bit better, but like I said, we didn’t time this bit of the trip quite right – there was still quite a lot of snow in places making some of the sights inaccessible, and it was raining. But for anyone planning a trip to the White Mountain National Forest, go later than we did (May or June at the earliest) and you can take the Cog Railway (it opens late April – from what I can tell 24th April, so we were just a couple of days too early) or take your car on the Auto Road to the top of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern United States. There’s also a bunch of gorges, waterfalls and boulder caves there.
From Lincoln we continued on to Montpelier in Vermont, where we had an Airbnb booked for the night. Our host wasn’t in when we arrived, but he had left the door open for us – very trusting not to lock your door, but I guess it’s just that kind of place – a small town in New England where you don’t need to lock your door because you don’t need to worry about anyone robbing you.
A few words about Vermont – it’s known for being very environmentally conscious. According to a Forbes article (admittedly from 2007 but I don’t think much has changed) Vermont is the number 1 greenest state in the US, and they seem to be pretty proud of this claim to fame. So we were excited to go somewhere that cares about the environment, what with all the recycling we’d been carting round with us in the car for weeks, unable to bear throwing it away.
We cooked some dinner – only the second time we’ve managed to cook on this trip – and had a quiet night in watching Gilmore Girls and Little Miss Sunshine (because Gwynnie had never seen it – shock horror!)
Day 41: Saturday 22nd April
Ben & Jerry’s Factory, Waterbury, VT
In the morning we had an interesting chat with our Airbnb host in the living room and hit the road around 11am to go to the Ben & Jerry’s Factory near Waterbury, which was only about a 20 minute drive away.
The Ben & Jerry’s Factory is open from 10am – 6pm (last tour leaves at 5pm), and you can’t book the tours in advance, so you’re better off getting there earlier in the day in the busy summer months. However, at the time we arrived (late April) we were able to get on the first available tour leaving in a few minutes’ time. The cost of the tour is only $4 and you get a free ice cream sample, which seems very reasonable to me in this money-grubbing world!
The tour is very informal – it starts off with a fun little video about how Ben & Jerry’s got started, when Ben and Jerry, two young hippy students from New York, set up a little ice cream shop in Vermont which took off and became known all over the world. The ending of the video is kind of sad though, because actually Ben and Jerry don’t own the company anymore – they got bought out (or sold out) to Unilever. So that’s a bit depressing. But apparently the company still sticks to its roots of being an ethical, environmentally conscious company that puts people before profits – it has some information about this when you first walk in.
After the video they briefly explain to you how the ice cream is made as you walk round the factory – if you come on the right day and time you can actually see the ice cream being made, but on the day we were there they were only cleaning because they’d just finished a big batch of ice cream. The tour finishes with the all important ice cream sample. You only get one but there were a couple of seconds available – we had to restrain ourselves from fighting off the kids to be the ones to get the extras.
After our little taster we had a hankering for some more ice cream so we went and bought some from the little shop they have there, and then went to visit the flavour graveyard, where all the doomed ice cream flavours that didn’t make it in the big harsh world are buried. They have little gravestones for them with funny little epitaphs like these ones:
Then we drove on to Stowe, another little town in Vermont that we had heard was cute, but because the weather was still a bit grizzly and drizzly we didn’t stop, decided we had really better come back to New England in the summer or the fall, and drove on to Montreal.