Sunday, August 27, 2006

We had a wonderful vacation to Vermont. It was our first time there since my father-in-law's house there was sold two years ago. The new place we stayed was great. We had the entire first floor of a two story house. It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a beautiful kitchen and a comfortable living/dining area. There was a TV, but no satellite or cable so we were limited to watching some DVD's we brought along. Not that this was a bad thing; we also left the laptop at home and it was nice to be unplugged for a few days.

We did lots of really fun stuff. Here are some of the more notable:

Montshire Museum of Science: This is our number one rainy day activity while we're in Vermont. The Montshire is a first class science museum set on 110 acres right on the Connecticut River. There are lots of great exhibits. My favorite was a display on the engineering and preservation of covered bridges, which are pretty common in Vermont. The kids seemed to be most interested in the soap bubbles and the insects.

We followed this up with lunch at Molly's Restaurant in Hanover, NH, right by Dartmouth College. It was a good place. In fact, we only had one bad meal all week, which I'll get to later. The weather still wasn't great, so we went to see Zoom, a movie about a team of young superheroes starring Tim Allen, Courtney Cox, Chevy Chase and Rip Torn. The movie was OK and the kids enjoyed it, but I wouldn't exactly go running out of my way to see it again.

Vermont Institute of Natural Science: VINS is a nature center in Quechee that focuses on the preservation and study of raptors: owls, hawks and such. They have a demonstration of the birds which is both entertaining and informative, and some displays of birds who were either injured or are otherwise unable to live in the wild. One example was a bird who had been illegally adopted by a person. It now doesn't know how to relate to other birds either thinks it's a human or thinks we're all birds. They also have some beautiful nature trails. We took a hike on one that ran along the Ottaquechee River.

Shelburne Farms: This is another one of our old favorites. It's an old farm that was built by the wealthy Dr. William Seward in the late 19th century using the latest scientific farming methods. Kids get to interact with the animals, milk cows, chase chickens and feed the goats. J. and R., both animal lovers, had a blast. Toward the end of the day, one of the kids who works as a hired hand took them around to help do his chores. They also specialize in cheese, made on the premises all the way from milking the cow to selling blocks of the stuff in the gift shop.

Vermont Lake Monsters: Formerly known as the Vermont Expos, the team got a name change this season after their parent club headed south for DC. The opponent for this evening was the Tri-City ValleyCats, an Astros affiliate. Both teams play in the short-season Class A NY-Penn League, which consists mostly of players who were picked out of high school or college in the June draft. We hadn't been to Burlington to see a game since before the kids came home.

The game itself was entertaining enough, although the Lake Monsters came out on the wrong end of a 6-1 decision. Tri-Cities Jimmy Van Ostrand hit a grand slam home run in the top of the 5th inning to break a 1-1 tie and the Valley Cats never looked back.

I was a bit disappointed in the Lake Monsters home park, Centennial Field. Although the sight lines are wonderful (the picture here was taken from our seats) and the park is intimate enough, it looks rather worn. Paint on many of the seats was peeling, and the concourse area behind the grandstand could use some work as well. The grandstand was built in 1922 and the ballpark was renovated in the '90s when the Expos moved in, but it would be nice if the team and the University of Vermont (which also plays at Centennial) would make more of an effort to keep the ballpark up.

Ben & Jerry's factory tour: This is another old favorite, and it never disappoints. We drove up to the Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury to take the tour. The first part is a short film which talks about the company's history and social mission, all the way up to the takeover by Unilever a few years ago. The second stop is a hall overlooking the factory floor, where you get to see them making ice cream and your guide explains such mysteries of the universe as how the chunks don't all sink to the bottom of the pint container (it has to do with the temperature the ice cream is kept at). The final stop is the best; the tasting room. After all, what is an ice cream factory tour if you don't eat any ice cream?

After leaving Ben & Jerry's we took the scenic route home down Route 100. We stopped into the Little River Hot Glass studio where the kids watched the two artists creating various glass creations. It was pretty fascinating, plus they had a friendly dog for when attention spans started to lag. The kids had the opportunity to feed the dog who, interestingly enough, eats carrots. We grabbed dinner at Jay's Restaurant in Waitsfield, a very kid friendly place with good food and local beers on tap (I sampled the Long Trail Blackberry Wheat).

One of the things I love about Vermont is taking these little backroad detours and seeing the countryside. You are able to absorb a lot more about a place if you are traveling through the towns and farms than if you are whizzing by on the interstate.

We did eat out a lot during the week. The Three Stallion Inn in Randolph was so good we went twice, on our first and last nights in Vermont. This is a place that A. and I discovered years ago and had the best steak tips I have ever eaten. Unfortunately, they are no longer on the menu. I had felt that the quality had suffered a bit in our last couple of years in Vermont. Someone else must have noticed because the restaurant was back to it's old standards, if not even better. The food and service were excellent, and the kids were treated very well, down to their own "salads", a cup of carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes. It's a bit pricey, but not much more than going to the Outback and the experience is just worlds different.

We had some other good meals: The Sauce Bistro in Shelburne had one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. Dana's Restaurant in Quechee is good roadfood in a friendly atmosphere. And, of course, I couldn't leave Vermont without a visit to my all-time favorite breakfast place, Eaton's Sugarhouse in Royalton.

In fact, we only had one bad experience in our totally non-chain dining for the week. That was the Peavine Restaurant in Stockbridge. This place opened a few years ago as an ultra-kid friendly place, with computers for the kids to play with, a model train running around the dining room and a "Treasure Chest" filled with toys that the kids could pick from on the way out. The food and service were pretty good, too.

This trip, however, was awful. The service was extremely slow. It took forever to get our dinners. Promised bread never arrived. A two-man band was playing classic rock. They weren't bad, but they were too loud for the size of the room. The food was still pretty decent, but it took so long to arrive we really just wanted to eat and get out of there at that point. I'm not sure whether we would ever go back there again.

Finally, we did spend a fair amount of time just hanging around the house. The kids and I took the canoe out on Silver Lake a couple of times and paddled around. It was a lot of fun, although my shoulders were feeling the impact of the unaccustomed rowing.

The kids also took to fishing, surprisingly enough. I never had any interest in fishing, as I find it unspeakably boring. There were some fishing poles in the house, so we let them fish off the dock behind the house. They had a great time and even caught what must be the first "lobster" ever found in Silver Lake. They threw the lobster back and (fortunately) didn't catch anything else.

When the house was sold, we talked about how it would open us up to try new places to vacation in the summer. What we discovered after this week is just how much we all love Vermont. We're already talking about going back next year, so I guess Barnard is just where we belong.


At 7:41 PM, Blogger The Hey said...

Glad you guys had fun.

So did you go visit the old house and see if it's either still there or any work done on it?


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