We took Betty out for dinner on Sunday night, and she suggested going to Stowe, the huge ski resort area on the other side of the mountain from her place. This is called "driving through The Notch," a narrow mountain pass, from which Smuggler's Notch gets its name. The road is completely closed in winter - and jammed with tourists in autumn.
Neither of us had ever done this before. It was a spectacular winding drive through dense forest. As you near Stowe, a tall, white steeple comes into view: it's the archetypal Vermont postcard. It's actually the church that you always see in photographs.
At dinner, somehow the subject of the Shelburne Museum came up. When I used to visit Allan in Vermont, we were always supposed to go to this Museum but somehow never did, even though it was minutes from where he lived. Then he moved to New York and I forgot all about it. When Betty mentioned it, I realized this was our opportunity. Since I never seemed to be able to plan this, a brief, spontaneous visit the next morning would be perfect.
Shelburne Museum is part craft museum, part New England cultural history and part historic village. It's on a big piece of land, dozens of buildings spread out over several acres. One admission fee is good for two days, which is really smart, as that would be the perfect way to see everything without going into complete numbing overload.
For us, a couple of hours focusing on a few things was perfect. Our highlights were some amazing quilts, a demo of various old printing presses, and a 19th Century Vermont train and train station. We also saw a miniature wooden circus, carved by an obsessed man with a penknife, and made a brief visit to a 19th Century general store. A big attraction for kids is the restored steamboat Ticonderoga, the last of its kind.
The whole museum is beautifully done, not kitschy, not theme-park-y. No one is dressed in period costume or speaks in pretentious pseudo-archaic language. It's just some very good preservation and education, and an opportunity to think about a world that preceded ours. I recommend it.
From there, as planned, we drove down Route 7, the scenic route that stretches from the Quebec border to Connecticut's Long Island Sound. On a tip from Betty, we stopped for lunch at Rosie's, outside Middlebury: perfect, delicious comfort food. If you find yourself in this area, and you like things like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, go here.
Route 7 is picture-book New England the whole way down. I find it so refreshing - such a relief - to be away from advertising and chain stores, to see scenery that looks like a specific region, not Everywhere, North America. We drove through villages and college towns, and lots and lots of farmland. Driving back and forth from Betty's to Ray's to Mary's was all farmland, too. Corn and cows, corn and cows. Vegetables for sale, maple syrup everywhere, more corn, more cows. Silos, barns, churches, town squares.
Vermont is smart to try to control development. I know it's a difficult balance, but if Vermont doesn't look like Vermont, who will ever go to see it?
We're usually only in the Burlington or Stowe area. This was the first time I had ever driven north-south through the whole state, and may have been the first time Allan did, too, although it's his home state. It was beautiful.