Sunday, October 29, 2017

A "walking tour" in Vermont...well, that sounds intriguing...

Having never been to Vermont before, the idea of a 4-day adventure walking 8-10 miles per day between Bed & Breakfast Inns (B&Bs) sounded intriguing.  This was scheduled to coincide with the changing of Fall colors, and as some may know, timing that is a bit like trying to time the stock market…sometimes you win, but sometimes not.  In our case I think we were total winners!  The balance between having great weather and timing the “peak” (as the locals and weathercasters seem to refer to it) was just perfect, and over the course of the time we were there, the colors became increasingly varied and vibrant, all the while the weather was sunny with afternoon temperatures in the high 60s and low-to-mid 70s.

First a bit about the logistics and how this was structured…  Several B&Bs partnered together to provide a combination of hospitality (what they’re typically known for), transportation (of luggage mostly, but occasionally people), and route planning.  Each B&B provided dinner, breakfast, snacks for the hike, and a detailed map with directions (sometimes with street names, sometimes with physical descriptions of navigational markers.  The hikes themselves were on dirt backroads for the most part, with occasional short jaunts on the shoulders of paved highways into and out of towns (I think the largest town we visited had a population approaching 3000).  Once you headed off in the morning, the innkeepers took your luggage to the next inn where it would be waiting for you that afternoon when you check in there.

Each day, and each B&B provides a uniquely different experience, all of which were extremely positive and wonderful.  Unlike chain hotels where everything is identical and predictable (and for the most part devoid of personality), these B&Bs were structures with varied pasts, dramatically different stylings and esthetics, and a different culinary experience very personal to the innkeepers and their interests.  All innkeepers were husband-wife teams, and each presented different strengths and priorities when it came to their hospitality experience—some were more food-oriented, others more amenity-oriented, and others more homey/hospitality-oriented.  All of the food we had was excellent.  One of the innkeepers was from Japan, with a lineage of chefs in her family going back to when they cooked for the Emperor of Japan.  Our dinner was traditional Japanese faire, cooked to order, and easily the most authentic and surprisingly unique meal we had.  Another innkeeper had a brother who owned his own bakery…you can guess what sorts of things were available for desert and breakfast!

Enough about the comforts of home and the exquisite cuisine…what about the walking?  That too was a surprisingly pleasant and enjoyable experience.  The terrain was varied with uphill and downhills, but for the most part was simple walking through the backroads of rural Vermont.  The landscape varied from thick forests to open meadows, numerous streams and ponds, and the occasional country home.  These homes were occasionally modest, but more often than not they were spectacular structures with ornate and detailed craftsmanship.  Most of the homes looked timeless, but there were also some very modern and impressively designed buildings.  Each day’s hike took 4-5 hours and provided extended opportunities for quiet conversation, contemplation, and restful departures from the normal routines back home.  This was all about slowing down, taking notice, and drinking in the beauty of what around us.  Anyone with normal fitness could easily manage this walking tour.

One quick story about the homes… we were nearing the end of one of our walks, we past a home with a fairly long driveway and an open front yard area.  An elderly man yelled out that we only had a short distance to go.  He then asked where we were all from.  Not being able to hear the yelling back and forth, he started up the driveway towards us, and we started down the driveway from the road toward him.  We met in the middle and sat on his rock wall and chatted for a while.  He had a beer in his hand and offered us cold beers too, and he really meant it!  We chatted with him for a while and concluded that one of his past-times must be to stand out in front of his home about this same time each day in order to engage with the walking-tour participants that go by his property.  It was a great experience and indicative of the friendliness of everyone we encountered during our trip.

Separate from, and in addition to the walking tour, we had time to drive around and see some of the sites in the area as we traveled to and from the airports (we flew into Vermont, but flew home out of New Hampshire).  New England is known for, among other things, covered bridges, and we saw a number of them.  In fact these are numbered and there are people who have made a point of seeing every one of them much like some people try to visit every state in the union.  These bridges were each unique in their own way, and quite interesting to stop and look at--especially for someone from Southern California that doesn’t get to experience these historic treasures on a regular basis.  Similarly, old barns and structures along the way also provided great opportunities to create photographs…the older and crustier the better! 

Another wonderful aspect of this trip was visiting the small towns…VERY small in some cases.  It was almost as if these quaint environments were created as part of some Hollywood-themed amusement, but what made each town so great was their authenticity and the historic provenance each had.  Again, for someone from the Southern California metropolis, this experience was at the other end of the spectrum—and very much appreciated for being so.

I’ve tried to give you my best sense of this extraordinary experience condensed down into a brief synopsis.  If you’ve been to New England, particularly in the Fall, then you know all too well the magic that is there—and which I think explains why so many people live there and tolerate the harsh winters.  But if you haven’t visited, like I hadn’t, it’s really a place you must see and enjoy on a personal level yourself.

If you’d like to see my photographs full-screen and/or order print enlargements, visit my website gallery—

I always appreciate comments and feedback so feel free to share.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

It's Time I Tell You About Montreal...

I know, sounds like a click-bait subject line… Our culture is increasing shaped by social media and to get attention among the caucophony of daily communications, using click-bait has become almost ubiquitous.  Anyway, guess what happened in Montreal?  (see, I just can’t help myself!!)

The only time I’ve been to Canada was at the tail end of an Alaskan cruise a few years ago.  In that instance we spend a couple days in Vancouver, no where near long enough to do it justice, but long enough to walk through Stanley Park, and then take a ferry ride over to Vancouver Island and tour the Butchart Gardens and the area around the Empress Hotel.  I thoroughly enjoyed what we experienced there and knew that returning to Canada was something I’d be very much be interested in doing…

So when it was suggested that we load the front-end of a trip to Vermont to see the Fall colors with a trip to Montreal for several days, I was all in!  Driving to Montreal from Vermont (which we flew in to) was easy, and at least while we were in Vermont was also very scenic.  The border crossing into Canada was remarkably simple and quiet.  The border facility had several lanes, but only one was open, and given the fact that there were only 3 or 4 cars in line, it was all that was needed to be open.   A quick check of passports and some routine questions about destination and purpose, and we were on our way.

Montreal is the most populous municipality in the province of Quebec and the second-most populous in Canada. Originally called Ville-Marie, or "City of Mary”, it is named after Mount Royal, the triple-peaked hill in the heart of the city. The city is on the Island of Montreal--didn’t know Montreal was on an island?  neither did I…  In 2016 the city had a population of 1,704,694, but the metropolitan area has a population of over 4 million. French is the city's official language and is the language spoken at home by 49.8% of the population of the city, followed by English at 22.8% and 18.3% other languages.  Montreal is the second-largest primarily French-speaking city in the world, after Paris.  No matter where we went, we were able to speak English without any problem—tourism was obviously a huge industry from what we saw.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention before going too far,  that a city as large, old, and culturally diverse as Montreal cannot be adequately visited in only three days.  So my “summary” of the experience is really that, a summary of a whirlwind experience in this fabulous city.  Most of our travel involved walking since we stayed very close to the downtown (“Old Montreal”), but we also took their Metro, which is a rubber-tired, underground rapid transit system and the main form of public transport in the city.  And of course we took the HopOn-HopOff bus which is a “must-ride” option when available because it typically gives you a quick overview of many of the key sites to come back and visit.  There was of course also the option of a horse-drawn carriage for those seeking a slower, more romantic pace.

Easily one of the highlights of Montreal is it’s many spectacular churches and basilicas.  Below is The Notre-Dame Basilica.  Its main construction work took place between 1824 and 1829.  On its completion, the church was the largest in North America. It remained the largest in North America for over fifty years.  The interior of the basilica was overwhelming in grandeur and inspiration, with its deep blue vaulted ceiling decorated with golden stars, intricate wooden carvings, stained glass windows, and a 32-foot pipe organ with 7000 individual pipes, four keyboards, 92 stops.

Beyond the incredible architecture in the city, the museums, shops, and restaurants were too numerous to count, or to highlight here.  Suffice it to say we never got bored, nor ever went hungry!  One of our days was spent at Montreal’s Botanical Gardens.  This facility not only included fabulous gardens, but also an Insectarium, as well as Montreal’s Biodome.  This entire complex was adjacent to the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, the first Olympics event awarded to Canada (they’ve subsequently hosted the Winter games in 1988 and 2010 in Calgary and Vancouver respectively).

So I think I need to stop here before I can no longer refer to this as a summary of our visit to Montreal.  To see more photographs, and to read some of the details of the different landmarks, just head over to my website’s Montreal gallery  
( ) where you’ll also be able to order enlargements, prints, notecards, etc. if you’re so inclined.  

And of course I’d highly recommend you consider a trip to Montreal if you haven’t already had the good fortune to visit there—it’s a spectacular place!