We've finished all our traveling now, so I wanted to update you all on our adventures. I have so much I want to tell you that I had to split it up into two segments.
Music and Theater
When I last blogged, we were on our way to Louisville, Kentucky, for the Southern Gospel Music Convention. We spent three days in Louisville and had a great time --every evening from 6pm to midnight there was group after group singing their hearts out, and doing an incredible job! We probably saw over 40 different groups. It was awesome.
We were home for about a week (during which time Michael continued to rip wallpaper off!), then we headed up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to the Sight and Sound Theater. We were staying only one night there, so we decided to just drive the Bug up. The weather was nice, so we were able to put the top down and enjoy the drive.
We drove up on my birthday and got to Lancaster in time for dinner. When we asked the hotel guy where we should go, he quickly said the Shady Maple Smorgasbord (a guy in line behind us agreed). He said that it was about a 40-minute drive, but well worth it. He added that on your birthday, you get a free dinner, so that cinched the deal! ;-) When we got there, we couldn't believe how big this place was! It was a big convention center, gift shop, restaurant -- I'm not sure what else may have been there -- and it was very grand. The restaurant was a buffet, and they did it up right. That night was seafood night, and they had everything you could think of -- shrimp, scallops, salmon, catfish, you name it. The buffet line was about 200 feet long (really!) and was loaded for bare. Needless to say, we left there miserable, but what a way to go! ;-)
The next day we went to a noon matinee at the Theater. This theater is incredible!
It's a first-class operation that produces original Christian plays. It seats thousands of people (!), and there's about 300 feet of stage -- 200 feet along the front and about 50 feet on each side. The stage was lavishly furnished and was truly a sight to behold. The play that we saw was called "In The Beginning," and there were some amazing special effects, as you could imagine. I've wanted to go ever since I heard of this Theater (about 10 years ago), so I'm glad to have finally had the opportunity. I would highly recommend it to anyone.
Getting Ready for New England
We intended to wait a couple of weeks before going up into New England, like maybe into the first week of October. However, I had subscribed to a couple of blogs from folks up there who do fall foliage reports, and a couple had indicated that the fall colors were already coming in. So we decided to leave a few days earlier (it's nice to have such flexibility!).
We had given some thought to what this trip would look like -- lots of winding country roads, suddenly appearing roadside stands, not a lot of campgrounds, not knowing where we would be at the end of any given day -- so we decided to drive the Bug again on this trip and stay in motels. It proved to be a good decision, not just for those reasons I just stated, but also expense-wise. My Bug gets about 26-27 mpg, while the pickup with the camper gets about 12, plus the price of fuel for my car runs around $2.69/gal vs. $3.10 for diesel for the pickup. The fuel savings alone more than paid for the motel rooms.
We started up through Virginia and decided to take the alternate route of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This parkway runs along a big ridge (hence the name!) and goes up to aboe 3500 feet. You can see valley on both sides. It was great "convertible driving", so we put the top down and put in some groovy tunes, like the Footloose soundtrack and the Beach Boys (yeah, I know, I'm dating myself).
After several miles of swerving back and forth, we jumped back on the freeway and ended up spending the night in Parsippany, New Jersey (I love that name) -- it's only about 20 miles west of New York City. The next morning we headed out to drive up the Hudson Valley. We drove along the Hudson River (which is very wide) and drove through a lot of quaint little suburbs like Nyack and Haverstraw. I was struck by the fact that one doesn't have to go very far from NYC to live in the suburbs and have a "regular" house. There were a lot of cool old cemeteries along the way, which is something I found on this entire trip. And here's an interesting factoid -- I saw several fire stations called a "hose company."
Historic West Point
About 40 miles up the road, we stopped at West Point Academy. It was beautiful and classic and steeped in history and tradition, and it had an extraordinary view overlooking the Hudson River. We had to ride a bus into the campus, after showing our ID, and a tour guide took us around and explained everything. I was surprised at how much security was in place. Afterward, we went into the West Point Museum, which was also very interesting.
I didn't realize that the original Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington was there. Also in there were Washington's pistols, stuff belonging to MacArthur and Eisenhower, and much more. I didn't so much get the feel that I was looking at U.S. military stuff as much as U.S. history.
We ate lunch in Marlboro, New York, at a little Greek diner. We had just eaten in one also the day before in Parsippany, and as the trip progressed, we realized they're everywhere. This isn't a chain or anything, and they're not even owned by the same person. This is just an "eastern thing" -- a diner owned by a Greek family, with lots of good food, and lots of chrome. This isn't the kind of chrome diner like you'd imagine one from the 50's looking like, but chrome installed with the intent to look classy. Also, everything you order comes with cole slaw and a pickle spear. It was an interesting cultural thing that I hadn't seen before, and as the trip progressed, we felt very comfortable stopping when we saw one of these diners.
Observations and Experiences
As we continued up the Hudson Valley, we saw lots of pumpkin and apple stands (again, something that we would see all through the northeast). At one point going up the road, we found ourselves in some clogged traffic, then three different ambulances passed us. As we finally got the the accident site, we saw a couple of smashed cars. But one of them had either driven into or was pushed into a roadside stand, and there were pumpkins and apples and mums thrown everywhere. It looked like something you would see in a movie, when someone has a dramatic crash.
Here's something that I found funny. When we got to the town of Ulster, we saw a bowling alley called the "Hoe Bowl." Sorry to be tacky, but my first thought was, "Yeah, you should see the women that go in there!" (OK, just thought I'd share). ;-)
Just north of Schenectady (I love that name too), we ran into a torrential thunder storm -- the rain was coming down in buckets and we could hardly see. We had planned to go a little farther, but we decided that maybe we should go ahead and just find a place for the night. We went into a gas station to fill up, and of course, I had to go to the restroom. While I was in there, the lights went out (that was exciting -- not!). I hurried up at that point when someone was yelling "Everyone out!" They had lost all power -- to the lights and gas pumps -- and just wanted everyone out. It affected the entire street. I haven't seen a storm like that since we lived in Texas.
The next morning, everything was clear, and we headed north. I wanted to take a detour through Pottersville and Schroon Lake. Our son Matt went to Word of Life Bible Institute there about ten years ago, and I had never seen it, so I thought better late than never. We got off the highway at Pottersville for breakfast, and asked the waitress where WOL was -- she didn't know. I thought, oh well, we'll see it or a sign to it, so we started driving north toward Schroon Lake. We saw the WOL Ranch, the WOL Island, and the WOL Inn, but we never did see the actual school. Finally, on up the road at the Inn, I asked someone where the school was, and she said it was about ten miles back (very close to the restaurant). UGH! We didn't want to drive all the way back, so I never go to see it. But at least I saw what the area looked like, where my boy spent a year of his life.
We drove over to the historic town of Ticonderoga so we could drive north along Lake Champlain (which was huge). Here are some random observations as we continued north: we saw several apple orchards, with trees full of deep red apples; we saw lots of pine trees which were right next to marshes -- kind of an interesting phenomenon, I thought; we passed several logging trucks; there were again lots of old cemeteries; and in the little town of Port Henry, I saw a building with two doors -- over one door it said Walt's Propane, and over the other Walt's Used Cars (I thought that was funny); we also passed through the little town of Wadham, and their city limit sign said "Wadham!" -- although after driving through it, I couldn't really see what the "!" was about. ;-)
We got to the Canadian border. Fortunately, I had remembered to bring our passports because you need to have them now to get into Canada (or Mexico). We then drove the few miles up to Montreal. Since we were just winging it on motel rooms, we were lucky to find a little inexpensive motel outside of Montreal. The room reminded me of some we saw in Europe, very different from most American motels. I hadn't realized that the city of Montreal is entirely on an island, surrounded by the St. Lawrence River. There are just a series of bridges to get into the city. The thing I DID realize is that, being in Quebec, this place was definitely French. But I thought that, being a Canadian border town, they would have a lot of signs, etc. in both French and English. No. Everything was just in French -- I really felt like we were in France again. It was fine though, since I speak and read French, but it was just a surprise. We found out, after talking to a waiter, that it's a provincial law that everything just be in French. They are FIERCELY concerned about the preservation of the French language there.
We rode the subway into Montreal (there was a station not far from our motel), and just started walking around. There were some pretty old churches and other buildings. Also downtown, they have block after block of underground shopping -- -perfect for those bone-chilling winter days. We stopped and ate at a little garden terrace restaurant, and had the best crepes ever! Outside the restaurant there was a guy playing the accordion for tips.
Like I said, I felt like I was in France again. After that, we jumped on the subway and rode over to the Olympics Plaza (remember, the Summer Olympics was there in 1976). They have now converted much of that area into an indoor zoo (we didn't go in, though).
Then we walked from there to the Botanical Garden. This was the best part of Montreal. They have the best Botanical Garden I've ever seen. I'm not sure how many acres are there, but it seems to go on forever. I read that it's one of the largest in the world. It's definitely a treasure.
Back to the Good Ol' U.S.A.
We left Montreal by a different route. We went east, then south, so we could enter the U.S. by way of Vermont. Again, we had to show our passports, and I will say that the interrogation was much more fierce coming into the U.S. than into Canada. The gal even wanted to search our trunk. (Do we really look like terrorists??). Oh well. I'm glad that they're paying special attention to these things, at least.
We drove down the other side of Lake Champlain, through Burlington, then down through Vermont's capital city, Montpelier (remember that name from 5th grade geography??).
It was a very quaint little town of about 8,000 people sitting in the Green Mountains. I guess I'd never thought of a state capital consisting of so few people. I was wondering how they had enough population to fill all the government jobs. It was about 57 degrees, but we put the top down and our jackets on, and enjoyed the drive through the Green Mountains.
I saw a sign outside of Montpelier (and several throughout the trip) designating that the area was a Moose Crossing, but darn it, I never did see a moose!
Already in New Hampshire
After driving through the mountains, we entered New Hampshire (you go from state to state pretty quickly up there). We had lunch in Littleton out on a deck overlooking a river, next door to an old grist mill. It was very pretty. After that we passed through the town of Bethlehem. I noticed on their sign that they were established on December 25, 1799. I wondered whether the town name was a last minute decision based on the date, or whether they had planned it that way from the beginning.
We drove through the forests of the White Mountains in northern New Hampshire and saw all the colors you could imagine -- orange, purple, yellow, red, green -- but the most striking feature we saw were mile after mile of white-barked birch trees. Out in the west, you might see three birch trees in someone's yard, but I've never seen that many at one time. Imagine the contrast of the white bark against all those colored leaves. I saw so many pretty scenes, although it was usually difficult on those curvy mountain roads (and with the other cars) to just stop and take a picture. I got a lot of pictures (which you can see on my photosite), but I really didn't get a good picture of these beautiful birches. :-(
We passed by Mt. Washington, the highest point in New Hampshire at 6288 feet. There were several ski runs along the way. We also came upon a little apple cider roadside establishment where we just HAD to stop for some cider donuts (I had read that that was a MUST while visiting New England). And yes, they were as good as they sound. We bought some coffee and traveled through the colors eating our donuts, all with the top down and our jackets on (ok, and the heater on by that point). That was definitely an AHHHH moment!
Again, we were through the north part of New Hampshire pretty quickly, then we entered into Maine. We drove for miles along a very picturesque stream, and then headed for Portland, Maine. OK, what's the one thing you have to do when you go to Maine?? Yep, eat some Maine lobster! (Hmmm, do you notice a trend here? Scenery and food?? Oh well, works for me!!) ;-)
We went down on the waterfront in Portland, and I saw a couple walking toward us. I asked them if they were from that area, and they said yes, so I asked them where the best place was to get the real meal deal. We didn't want fancy, just good. So they directed us to this little "joint" (yes, that's the best word for it). They happened to have a special on two whole lobsters, with all the fixin's, so that was just perfect. And yes, they brought out the whole thing, head, guts and all. Excuse me, it's not called the "guts", it's called the "tamale". Many people eat that green mushy stuff, so I thought I would try it. After all, I like tamales, right? One taste, and I decided to pass. But we did enjoy ripping apart and eating the rest of those little critters!
The next day, we drove over to the little town of Freeport. We went there because that's the location of the flagship store of L. L. Bean, but the whole downtown area has been transformed into this trendy little shopping area. The L. L. Bean was huge, as would be expected. Michael wanted to buy a new hat, but he had to pass on this furry LLB one.
So we went down the street and he bought one from the "Mangy Moose." We ate lunch in Freeport, and had some seafood chowder (or should I say "chowdah") and also a lobster roll (also a must-have in New England --basically a lobster meat sandwich). Yum!!
Let's Do It One More Time
Now we were going to "ribbon" back across the states, so we headed back toward New Hampshire, this time across the southern part of the state. We took a detour out of the cute little town of Portsmouth, and drove along the beach for a while. Of course, the Atlantic Ocean was very calm -- hardly a wave.
There were both old and new mansions all along the beach, but instead of them being directly on the beach like it is often in the West, they were on the other side of the road from the beach. That makes for a better drive!
Here's an observation -- we never saw a Wal-Mart until Manchester, New Hampshire. Interesting! I guess they're NOT everywhere after all!
We headed across the state to the little college town of Keene. Very cute. They had a Borders there, so Michael was able to use his gift card that he got for Christmas and bought four new Blues CD's. They made for a nice addition to the trip.
After staying the night in Brattlesboro, Vermont, on the east side of the state, we headed over to Bennington, which is on the west side of the state (yes, that sounds like a long drive, but on the southern end, the state is only about 40 miles wide!). I'd always wanted to see Bennington College, since I remembered that for years they were the most expensive college in the country (I found out that right now they're only the 7th most expensive, at over $46,000 a year). I wanted to see what that looked like -- yet I left still not knowing. I was not impressed, and I can't figure out why they were so expensive. Hmm, unsolved mystery. I guess some people just have extra money they need to get rid of.
(To be continued in Part II....)