New England – planning for a visit

A gaggle of geese at sunset on Lake Champlain

The importance of choosing the right season

There’s a saying in New England: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a while.” New England covers a relatively small area of the United States, and in that limited space it goes from sea level at the coast to 6,288 feet at the top of Mount Washington, creating the topography to encourage frequent weather changes.

The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) station at the summit has earned the title of “one of the planets most extreme (weather) places”.

Satisfying your interests

Where your plans take you will be determined by your interests. They can cover just about any topic imaginable from the history of American shipbuilding, covering great wooden whalers to present day nuclear submarines, or individual and team sports ranging from spelunking to polo and everything in between.  Museums and libraries abound.  The concentration of boarding schools and colleges attracts many families looking for educational opportunities for their children. Graduate schools such as the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont have turned out chefs now working in some of the world’s finest restaurants.

No buds showing - 4/15/11 in Vermont

No buds showing - 4/15/11 in Vermont

Each region features its own version of clam chowder, lobster specialties, and good old apple pie. Remember Johnny Appleseed, from Leominster, Massachusetts?  But those are only part of New England’s culinary offerings. The western section’s relatively protected shoreline offered rich soil fed by the many rivers emptying into Long Island Sound. This attracted early immigrants who could find work in the woolen mills and tobacco farms dotting the valleys.  With them came old world recipes, many from Portugal, Italy, and Ireland for starters. As time went on, factories in the burgeoning cities attracted workers from Hungary, Poland, Italy and other eastern European countries.

 

Eventually, the area became home to people from the Middle East and Asia, completing the circle and making New England a truly eclectic gourmet travel destination.

As Vermont developed its granite quarry industry, master carvers arrived from Scotland, Poland and Italy, bringing with them family members to carry on the craft. A visit to Barre to see the quarries and the nearby Hope Cemetery is informative, memorable and great for children.

Picking your routes

Roadwork - a sign of spring. Buds beginning to swell.

Roadwork - a sign of spring. Buds beginning to swell.

To be found in the western section of New England:

Winter – famous ski areas such as Mad River (“Ski it if you can”); Stowe, Sugarbush, Killington, and many smaller local areas, ideal for family skiing.
Spring – mud and sugaring. Stop off when you see smoke rising from small buildings roadside. Most owners will sell you syrup on the spot. It is graded by color – “Fancy” is the lightest and most expensive. “Dark Amber” has the heartiest flavor and is the one sold mostly in markets and online, and served in restaurants. There are several grades in between.
Summer – summer stock theater; challenging golf courses – Woodstock’s par 69 course has the Kedron River snaking through it and requires 12 crossings. Horseback riding; boating; hiking; rock climbing; spelunking; music festivals (Tanglewood in the Berkshires, etc).
Fall – colorful leaf peeping; apple festivals; fairs of all kinds; 4-H shows; expositions.
Tours all year – farms; bicycle; inns; B&B tours and more.
Theater; music; art and craft festivals; concerts.

These will be covered by topic and territory soon, with links to specific sites. This is an introduction to visiting New England.

A direct North-South route

Three hours south of Burlington, we see forsythia.

Entering Vermont from the Canadian border, the most direct way is to follow I-89 diagonally across the state from Burlington, past the capital Montpelier, on down to White River Junction. Here you pick up Interstate 91 south, pass Brattleboro and drive on into Massachusetts. This section will take about two and a half hours, give-or-take depending on food and fuel stops.

Tip: Massachusetts’ gas prices are lower than Connecticut’s because of state taxes, so a convenient place to stop is Greenfield at exit 26; the I-91 traffic circle. Take U.S.-2 west. At the first light, you’ll find McDonald’s and directly across the street, Irving Gas. It’s a busy area, so the traffic light will be very welcome!

From Greenfield, continue on down I-91 to Hartford. It is here that many choices present themselves. Take I-84 west if you are visiting the Fairfield County area, including Danbury, New Canaan, Stamford, and Ridgefield. Several roads lead to the shore from this road, such as US-8 at Waterbury, and US-7 at Danbury.

Blossoms galore in Connecticut

Continue south on I-91 to reach New Haven and surrounding towns such as Stratford, Fairfield and Bridgeport. Otherwise, to head to Saybrook, Mystic and other Long Island Sound harbors, leave I-91 at Hartford and take any of the roads fanning out to the shore. My advice is to Google Map the directions first, print out both the map and the text, then enter the details into your GPS.  Hearing the alerts for turning points is invaluable, especially for the sharp left one exiting I-91 onto CT-2.

A general “heads up” for traveling along the New England shore, especially in Connecticut:
The shore follows Long Island Sound which runs east and west, therefore, I-95 runs east and west in this area, and that is why Yankees talk about “down east” when referring to travel to Maine. The simplest way to visualize this is to take a look at New Haven on a map. I-91 runs due north from the shore. I-95 is perpendicular to it where they meet. But don’t worry about being confused because the highway signs tell you it’s I-95 north regardless. Just keep the sun over your right shoulder and you’ll be fine.

Home at last - to the tune of tulips.

Related websites

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Mount Washington Observatory
New England Culinary Institute
The story of Johnny Appleseed
Vermont Event Calendar – current
Event Calendar for the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts
Connecticut Event Calendar – current
Google Map – Burlington to New London; 277 miles

Links to related Striped Pot articles

Barre’s Granite quarries – Rock of Ages
The inspirational monuments of Hope Cemetery

Photos: © Gail Hunter – The top photo, view from Appletree Point across Lake Champlain towards the Adirondacks was taken in 2010-All other photos were taken in April 2011 with a Flip camera spaced approximately an hour apart to compare the amount of budding and bloom.

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