restored taftsville bridge, vermont

rediscovering new england (trip report, part 3)

in the first two parts of this series, i have revealed a few things. in part 1, we learned that megan had another life as a horse trainer. in part 2, she revealed the dirty secret that she is part texan.

here is the revelation for part 3: many years ago, i was a resident of boston and worked at the museum of fine arts. what is the reason for my extended residence in beantown? well, that is another story for another time, and probably one i’ll need a beer to tell you about. so you can buy me a beer if you want to hear it.

nevermind. the purpose of this post: trip recap!

new england was, in fact, the actual reason for our trip to america this year. the, if you will, holiday portion of the trip.

restored taftsville bridge, vermont
perfect autumn holiday! taftsville covered bridge, vermont

we landed in boston pretty late, but luckily it is a compact little city and easy to get around on the T (boston’s subway system). it being, perhaps surprisingly, one of the more expensive cities in the US for accommodation, we’d opted to book a few airbnb properties rather than overpay for a mediocre hotel.

the thing about new england is, it is small. and it fills up! and i had not planned properly! i would urge you, if planning a trip to that part of the world, to book accommodation well in advance. especially if you are going to be there during prime leaf peeping and baseball season, such as we were.

our airbnb property – a dark little studio in the up-and-coming jamaica plain neighbourhood with a very odd shower-in-the-entryway setup – was not the best one i’ve stayed in, but considering the savings and last-minute booking, we were pretty pleased. it was just a short hop 10-15 minutes into downtown boston on the T.


boston common
boston common on a perfect autumn day.

boston was, as i remembered it, incredible. people were friendlier than i remember them being, perhaps owing to the fact that years ago, it was my first foray into big city life. it was also more compact, more maneuverable than i remember. and the bars were fantastic. we spent three days hopping from beer pub to beer pub, sampling the finest ales of the region, interspersed here and there with some art (museum of fine arts, which has had an incredible upgrade since the days when i used to spend my lunch hour staring at mummies and early 19th century furniture) and lots of ambling. boston is a great city for flaneuring.


leaf peeping along vermont's route 100
leaf peeping along vermont’s route 100

october 2nd marked bill’s and my fourth wedding anniversary, so we hired a car and got down to the business of serious leaf peeping, a peculiar term americans have for driving around and gawking at autumn colour. a stop on the way out of town at walden pond, where henry david thoreau wrote his eponymous dissertation on a life removed from modern trappings, proved a lovely walk and entry into the wilds of new england.

we made our way further north and onto route 100, the classic north-south thoroughfare through vermont that provides incredible leaf peeping as it winds along riversides and over covered bridges in between perfectly groomed, steepled new england towns.

the lincoln inn, woodstock, vt
autumn anniversary treat: the lincoln inn

arriving at our lodging for the night was like stepping into an autumn dream. sat on a perfect patch of grass overlooking the ottauquechee river, the lincoln inn is a white clapboard house with gables galore and perfect windows for peeping out onto leafy landscaped countryside. the proprietress knew it was our anniversary and greeted us by name, and we enjoyed a tasty (if perhaps overpriced) dinner and lots (and lots) of red wine.


notre-dame basilica of montreal
notre-dame basilica of montreal

some of my friends think i have a ‘thing’ about canada. i don’t, really. i have several canadian friends who i count among the nicest, most open-minded and interesting people i know. but sometimes…in mixed company…when i’ve had a few drinks…i like to make the odd joke about canada. it’s more because the jokes are right there, and canada makes a fun and easy target for a bit of ribbing.

the honest truth is, though, i’ve spent no time in canada at all.

it was an object of much amusement for my best friend that, when bill and i first started dating, he had a copy of lonely planet’s canada book set and ready for an adventure. we’ve always wanted to go and see what the fuss is about, particularly montreal, which i’ve been assured on a number of occasions and by a number of people i really trust, is one of the coolest cities, like, ever.

it’s not far from boston – about 5-6 hours if you drive straight through – and there are a number of overland border crossings where you pass across your passports as if you were at a drive-up bank. no trouble at all.

vices et versa montreal
vices et versa – fab montreal beer pub.

but here’s where i admit that montreal did not wow me. this is not to say that we had a bad time, because we had a really good time! mostly thanks to the genius of one, jane atkin, prior resident and connoisseur of great food and great beer, who gave me amazing suggestions.

these two things were, in my mind, montreal’s two greatest strengths. it is a foodie town and it is a beer-lover’s town. it is also an ugly, mid-century north american city with a lot of heinous towers and huge wide roads – not at all what i imagined would be a quaint, cobblestoned former french colony. also, montrealers seemed to frown a lot, which has not been my experience with most canadians. but i digress, as i am at risk of stereotyping and generalising.

montreal tower
an honest view: montreal’s mid-century architecture.

the good things? wow, the food scene! also, practically every restaurant we went to had a BYO policy, and there is plenty of great, cheap french wine to be found in the shops. also, the shops! some of the most beautifully arranged grocers with such colourful and diverse arrays of produce and bread, gleaming under perfect soft lighting. a farmer’s market, right in the metro station!  and so many good beer bars we came away happy and a little bloated.

jean-talon market montreal
beautiful produce at the jean-talon market.

i would also like to very briefly gripe about the road system in quebec, because it is awful. they have their own style of road signage that conforms to no international standard i’ve ever come across and is, frankly, impossible to understand. they also sent buses down the left lane of one three-lane side of a very scary, very narrow, very high bridge, only separated from oncoming traffic by tiny orange cones. seriously what the fuck.

i came away with the feeling montreal, like some of the best cities in the world (for example, dublin!) is a place to live, but for me not a place that can really be understood during a three-day visit.

back to boston

a cold day at salisbury beach.
a cold day at salisbury beach.

we took a different route back to boston, through new hampshire this time (another state for bill to tick off having visited) and met up with an old friend of mine for coffee on the way. once again, my late-minute planning had struck a hard place, there being essentially nothing in boston for our price range. so i decided, hey, let’s pick somewhere on the north shore of massachusetts and enjoy some rocky coast! we ended up in salisbury beach with a bit of an airbnb horror story, but not one i’ll relay here (again, buy me a coffee if you want to hear it) because i don’t want to put off future airbnbers and this was a once-off.

around the corner from our apartment was one of the most famous clam shacks in new england: brown’s. this particular clam shack is like a kind of grimy old wonderful clapboard restaurant situated right on the marshes of salisbury beach – something straight out of 1960s new england holidayville. there are huge tanks of lobsters right there in the main front room and pretty much everything you order comes out deep fried. they also have a BYO policy, so we picked up some delicious craft ales at the local petrol station (i love america for some things, and being able to buy amazing booze in a petrol station is one of them) and tucked into clams, scallops and chips, oh my.

brown's seafood shack
lobster tanks at brown’s.

the final couple of days in boston were spent flaneuring, sampling ales, doing a bit of necessary america shopping and eating a lot of dunkin donuts breakfast bagel sandwiches. we met bill’s old college buddy from dublin in the infamous L street tavern, known for being featured in the film good will hunting. south boston, which was once one of the city’s roughest areas and full of working class irish, is now more gentrified, but the L street still draws in a local crew of punters, who that evening were having a rousting time watching what else, but baseball? (spoiler: the boston red sox won the world series a few weeks after we were there, so it was a big year for them).

we also took a day trip to salem, a town north of boston that is widely known as the setting for the salem witch trials of 1692. it was also once one of the most prosperous towns in the new world and a huge shipping port. it also has the house of the seven gables, which inspired nathaniel hawthorne’s gothic novel by the same name. but around this time of year, it tends to go a little nuts for halloween, with loads of witchy and ghosty decoration and plenty of autumn leaves.

halloween decor in salem.
best halloween decor i’ve ever seen.

conclusions? i am not sure i came to any real conclusions. perhaps the main one is that, while i love america, i am still so happy to not live there and that shall continue for the foreseeable future. oh, and america has some of the best beer in the world right now, but more on that to come over on brew travel.

read part 1: rediscovering my home of enchantment
read part 2: rediscovering the lone start state

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