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Trip Report Northern New England Road Trip: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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My wife went west to visit her mother, so on Sept 14, my sister and I left Boston on a road trip to visit the St Gaudens Memorial in Cornish, NH, explore the upper Connecticut River valley, drive into Canada, then follow VT 100 down the length of Vermont.

Lessons learned:
(1) nothing describable as color until the Connecticut Lakes and then only very early color. We didn't expect any, but for those planning a trip, I can confirm that we saw nothing to ooh and ah over the second week in September, and we went as far north as Montreal.
(2) this was to be a four day trip, but we absolutely could not find anywhere to stay in the Stowe-Montpelier area of Vermont on a Saturday night despite the best efforts of a wonderful motel clerk who called everyone. No leaf peepers yet, but homecomings, conventions, football games, and concerts had filled everything. Weekdays probably would have been okay but you absolutely cannot depend on finding a place without a reservation on a weekend at least through Columbus Day.
(3) Mobile phone connections in much of the North Country are unreliable, so if you depend on one to use as a GPS or search for restaurants and attractions, you may be out of luck. And once you cross into Canada, you go on to expensive international roaming charges. My sister had gotten explicit directions from Sprint to ennable her phone for Canada (and paid a fee) but couldn't make it work, despite being a sophisticated user.
(4) In Quebec, all the signs are in French, though some highway signs are bilingual. Speed limits are in kilometers. Kms are probably on your speedometer, but they may be lightly printed. Practic in advance. Parking meters accepted US quarters, though they are set back from the kerb so snowplows can do their work. Look next to the building fronts.

The Good: the St Gaudens Memorial and the Connecticut River valley are beautiful. We got good maps and followed roads as close as possible to the river, seeing many covered bridges and tiny, classic towns, some prosperous, some not. There was almost no traffic. Our route was NH12A from Cornish to West Lebanon, NH10 through Hanover to River Road, River Road to NH135 and NH135 to Littleton, where we spent the night. River Road is not paved all the way through, but the surface is excellent on the short unpaved portion. Next day we followed 135, then US 3 to the Canadian border past the Connecticut Lakes. The border crossing is remote and reminded me of the crossing from Croatia into Montenegro.

In Littleton, after about 250 miles, we stayed at the Littleton Motel, the oldest (1947) in NH, little cabins complete with dark knotty pine paneling and tiny bathrooms. But it was scrupulously clean with a lovely staff, comfortable beds, and a microwave and refrigerator. Across the street was the Littleton Diner, featured in Yankee Magazine. It is famous for pancakes, though we had their fabulous home-made corned beef hash with a side of home-made baked beans. Driving is hard work, so when in New England . . . .

We were lucky enough to have dramatic clouds all day, hiding the mountain summits but creating wonderful light and shadow everywhere. There was a bit of rain and fog near the Quebec border.

Our big suprise in the North Country was Lancaster, NH, a lovely iconic NE town with a Carpenter Gothic Episcopal Church and beautifully expanded Carnegie Library next to the town green. We were ready to move in after visiting the Farmers' Market. Clearly many retirees, but nothing twee.

In Canada, we let the GPS get us to Magog. It took us down Provincial routes, not all paved, and mercifully dumped us onto a freeway to bypass Sherbrooke on our way to Magog. We had lunch in Magog, which is a bit twee, at a boulangerie/bistro. We knew we were out of the US when my sister could have brandade de morue and I a duck gizzard salad (salade des gesiers) for lunch and the children's menu at another restaurant featured escargot for the little ones.

We entered Vermont at the junction of the 55 freeway and I-91. We waited in line for about 25 minutes but our own examination was cursory. We had our passports, were asked when and where we entered Canada, and were asked if we had anything to declare. There is a handy Vermont welcome station just after the border where we stopped for toilets, maps, brochures, and free Green Mountain coffee.

It was our plan to drive down VT 100, which we picked up at its beginning just west of Newport. The road was everything I hoped, though it is much wilder below I-89. This part is iconic dairy farms and small villages. We never did figure out why some were prosperous and some looked ready to close down. Cows and cow smells were universal!

We noticed more and more British sports cars on the road, mostly MG's and Triumphs, but plenty of Jaguars and a few Sprites. As we got closer to Stow, we saw more and more signs welcoming the "British Invasion." Shoulder season events like this are great for business owners, but they left us with no room at the Inn, so we made our epic drive back to Boston. Something like 12 hours behind the wheel that day, fourteen hours on the road total. An exhausting ending to a day driving through lovely country. I am going back to Southern Vermont with my wife in a couple of weeks, so I can pick up some of the country along the river that I missed with my sister, and she and I can do it all another time!

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