Monday, August 30, 2010

Exploring and Enjoying Vermont

It's been a while since our last post.  We've wanted to get online to post, but we need a computer to do so.  Vermont has perhaps the lowest per capita supply of chain motels in the country, and the mom-and-pop motels and B&Bs we've stayed at for the last three weeks just don't have computers sitting out in a lobby.  The next choice is libraries, but we usually arrive in town about the time the library closes for the day, and in any event we're not exactly in a literary mood just after climbing off the bike.  We spent a week at Lake Willoughby and thought, great, we'll go to the library in either of the two towns 8 miles away, only to find that they were on M-W-F schedules, and the only days that worked for us to go there were Tuesday and Thursday. 

Today however is a shorter day and we've found a library open at the town we scheduled as a lunch stop, so today we'll catch up on our first week and a half in Vermont, and next blog entry -- whenever we can find another library -- we'll tell you about wonderful Lake Willoughby.

We left you in Albany, and heading north we encountered this dad-and-son tandem team on a blazing 7-day ride from Boston to Albany and back -- about 400 hilly miles on the route they described.  Since they were going in the opposite direction, we exchanged route info, and a good thing it was for us.  They told us about a bridge that was out and the extra 6 or 7 miles they had to do following the detour signs.  Jeff got on Google Maps and found a better detour for us that added less than a mile and put us on virtually traffic-free roads for another dozen miles 'til we caught up with the "official" detour turnoff.

On the second day out of Albany we entered Vermont, and in some ways another world.  There's something about Vermont that really appeals to us, and hopefully some of our photos will help bring it out.  We'll start with the Sudbury Meeting House, a Congregational Church upstairs and town hall on the ground floor.  The separation of church and state is a wooden floor in this town!

Our next destination was Middlebury.  We passed Middlebury College, and it looked quite attractive as we glided by on the bike, but our focus was on the town.  In the heart of town is the old mill falls, and close by the Marble Works.  The buildings, most of them made of scrap blocks of marble, now house various shops, and on Saturday a Farmers Market sets up next door. 

We were very impressed with "Aime les fleurs" and the mushroom tartlet that tasted as good as it looks.  The husband turned out to be an avid cyclist who has gone coast-to-coast by bike five times, two more than Louise and Jeff combined!

This being a Vermont town, of course there had to be a Civil War monument and a Congregational Church on prominent corners of the town common.  On the edge of town was a Morgan Horse Farm with this impressive barn, and just past the covered bridge was On the Creek B&B in an 1827 home and run by Zelia and Gary, who cooked some great breakfasts and made us feel very much at home.  

They also helped us find some good hiking on our off-the-bike day, including an hour-long walk in the woods that brought us to this swing bridge over Otter Creek.

Back on the road we enjoyed views of working farms on quiet side roads, with the Adirondack Mountains of New York in the hazy distance.  An old graveyard provided some more of the iconography of Vermont.

We lucked out on weather.  Our route was almost straight north along the west edge of Vermont, and for two days a storm system channeled the wind northward at 12-20 mph ahead of the rain.  Once we stopped for almost an hour to let a thunderstorm move through (and, providentially, fill up on a few cups of that delicious Green Mountain Coffee), otherwise we enjoyed tail winds that cyclists usually only enjoy in their dreams.

On that northward route, we passed quickly through Burlington on the Burlington Bike Path along Lake Champlain, alternating between tunnels of trees and views of the lake. 

Our destination was North Hero, a small town on an island in the middle of Lake Champlain 15 miles from the Canadian border.  The country store we walked to for coffee is called Hero's Welcome.  After a quiet day recharging the batteries --  we only walked five miles, which for us is a pretty restful "rest day" -- we headed back to Burlington on yet more quiet roads along Lake Champlain.  A few blocks of Church Street are set up as a pedestrian mall, and this one was better than most, and absolutely jammed with folks quite literally dining out.

We had one more special destination between us and our week at Lake Willoughby: Montpelier-Barre, although along the way we stumbled onto this historic round church in the small town of Richmond VT.  It's actually 12-sided, but the corners inside were smoothed to give an impression of roundness.  It's almost exactly as it looked when it was built 198 years ago, although it's now used only for the occasional concert or other event, not for worship services.

Montpelier and Barre are separate cities just five miles apart, the former the state capital, the other the home of the granite industry in Vermont.  And of course that's Barre Grey Granite in the State Capitol Building.

We visited the Rock of Ages Quarry in Barre one day, and it's an impressive little hole in the ground!  In case you're wondering about that Staircase to Nowhere in the second photo, the story is that they recently decided not to quarry any more of that rock face, so they're gradually removing the emergency exit route that they bolted on some time ago.  So long as the power doesn't go out, the workers do enter and exit the quarry the same way the stone leaves, on the end of a cable swung in place and lowered by those large booms.  Since we were there on a Saturday it was pretty quiet, otherwise it's a humming little place with full employment. 

The main product of this quarry is gravestones, and at the current rate of use, they estimate they have about 2,600 years of granite left, give or take a few decades.

Now fill a town with people quarrying granite and carving granite gravestones, and you're going to have an interesting cemetery.  The Hope Cemetery on the edge of Barre is one of the most intriguing anywhere.  We spent an hour admiring some of the more unusual stones, such as Mr. Bettini's favorite easy chair, the grave of Mr. Conti who was accidentally killed by an Anarchist outside the Socialist Labor Hall in Barre (the town has a most unusual political history . . .), and the resting place -- in granite twin beds -- of Mr. and Mrs. Halvosa.  Well, of Mr. H. and the first Mrs. H.  We couldn't find a description of the 2nd Mrs. H's opinion of his taste in funerary art, but her grave is in another state, not Barre Vermont, if that tells you anything. 

In the 1930s the granite industry finally installed safety equipment and processes to eliminate granite dust in the quarry and carving plant, and granite workers finally stopped dying an early and painful death of silicosis.  Mr. Brusa, however, wanted his grave to reflect his final days of suffering from this disease.  Finally, there was Mr. Laquerra, who lived to race cars.  He didn't die in one -- a snowmobile did that job -- but his family decided to memorialize his passion in Barre Grey Granite.

Well, enough about death, now for the opposite!  We are happy to announce the birth on August 5th of our 4th grandchild, Cedro!   His proud parents are Louise's son Brian and his wife Ardith.  We're headed out to Santa Monica CA for the month of December to have some serious "face time" with the newest member of our family, and will no doubt have a few more photos to brag on then.

We've just finished our week at Lake Willoughby, but will leave that for the next blog entry.  Talk to you then.

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