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Trip Report Pt. 3: 3-Part Report of Maine, Quebec, New Hampshire

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On our last evening in the COURTYARD HOTEL, packing to leave Quebec, we did a Channel check and heard the sad news about the death of Steve Jobs. The date of 10-5-11 in Quebec City will be etched in our memories.

After a final restful night, we awoke to a sunny, warmish day. We enjoyed our last Paillard's breakfast, our last stroll on Rue St. Jean, and a few last photos for colorful memories of Quebec. Sadly, we had to leave this charming city because our reservations for the evening were in Intervale, New Hampshire, just outside of busy North Conway. We had a 5-6 hour drive ahead of us. We programmed our "Gilda" and started on the rather unremarkable drive to the US border, with only brief stops for coffee and lunch. We expected to have a cursory stop at the border, entering at Norton, Vermont. We were the only car at the crossing, and were surprised that, in addition to checking passports and asking the normal questions, they requested our car rental agreement, had us pull our car over, and searched the inside, including the trunk. Maybe we were randomly chosen, or they are seriously guarding the border. Whatever. . .we probably lost a good twenty-thirty minutes. By now, it was late afternoon, and we were about to cross over to New Hampshire, unaware of the beauty which lay ahead. As we got into the mountains around Lancaster, the rolling vistas and dramatic color, which provided quite a contrast to what we had experienced so far, caused us to make multiple stops. We followed Rt. 2 to Gorham, and then turned south on Rt. 16, thinking we were now home free on our way to Intervale. By now, it was almost dark. However, having stayed at another Inn in Intervale on a previous visit, and knowing that our reservation for the evening was at the establishment next store, we thought that finding our place would be a "shoe-in". In the dark, road signs were almost impossible to see, but we trusted our "Gilda". We made the turn which she directed, expecting to drive about 1/2 mile to our destination. However, again, she led us on a "creative" path. . .over a winding mountain road. We began to doubt our conception of where this place was. At this point, we were tired from a long day, and just as we were debating whether to call the place, turn around, or what???, the hard-pack, twisting road came to an intersection. We made the right-hand turn which "Gilda" directed, and were extremely relieved to actually arrive at the place. . . albeit, the long way!!! Our second lesson in the wisdom of map-checking "Gilda"! Arriving exhausted and hungry at THE NEW ENGLAND INN, we were relieved to know that they had a restaurant/sports bar on the property. At that point, a pizza and beer tasted as good as a gourmet meal.

In the morning, we awoke to a beautiful blue sky, sunshine-filled, warm day, the first of three such gorgeous days. Our accommodation at the rather aged NEW ENGLAND INN was in a second floor room. . .no elevator, creaky floors, with very basic linens and other "amenities". A breakfast in the restaurant was included in the price. Although not our preferred style of accommodation, mitigating factors in our stay were the relief of having a place reserved on this busy Columbus Day Week-end, the friendliness of the personnel, and the knowledge that we would be spending most of our waking hours enjoying the beauty of the mountains in picture-perfect weather.

The advantage of staying in Intervale, or other little towns near there like Jackson or Glen, is that there are backroads to access the beauty which avoid the over-crowded, touristy town of North Conway. It's difficult for us to comprehend, but apparently a big attraction
of North Conway is the large number of outlet malls. By staying in Intervale, we never ventured into the town. We headed north on Rt. 16 to Glen, and then west on Rt. 302 to Bartlett to approach a connector mountain road called Bear Notch, from which we began to appreciate the color of the mountains and begin our trek on the famous Kancamagus Highway, locally called the "Kanc". Having witnessed the more outstanding colors farther north, we enjoyed the more subtle spectrum of colors on the "Kanc" highway, but knew that the itinerary we were following would take us into more brilliant colors. Along the "Kanc" there are a number of pull-offs and short hikes to some beautiful falls. After a few hours, we felt the call of a little restaurant, GYPSY, located in Lincoln, which we had discovered on our '08 trip. And GYPSY didn't disappoint. We'd definitely recommend it to other Fodorites. After a very satisfying lunch, we headed north on Rt. 3, through Franconia Notch, continuing north through some little towns near the Vermont border, and then east again toward Gorham, re-tracing the road which we passed near last evening near sundown. The colors were much more brilliant here, and the soft shadows of the later afternoon sun amplified the beauty. After a coffee stop in Gorham, we turned south on Rt. 16. Before long, the majestic Mount Washington Hotel at Bretton Woods stood in sharp contrast against the backdrop of the colorful mountains. The late-day sun was great for snapping a few shots of the resort. We knew we would make a return visit to this charming place. But as darkness fell, dinner was on our minds. A favorite pub, DELANEY'S, on the outskirts of North Conway, had an hour+ wait, so we drove north for a few miles to Glen and happened upon the delightful RED PARKA STEAKHOUSE & PUB where a less than fifteen-minute wait seemed very appealing. We decided to split their 22 oz. prime rib dinner. That, with a couple of good drinks, was perfect for this busy Friday evening. When we re-visit the White Mountains, we will definitely return to the RED PARKA, and would recommend it to others.

After a day filled with fantastic beauty, we were ready to head back to our inn, check out the news, check e-mail, do a bit of reading, and turn in. Another day of gorgeous weather was predicted and as we awoke in the morning, the sun and blue sky seemed to cooperate with this prediction. At breakfast, we learned that a record high was expected for today and tomorrow for these dates, usually in the low 60's, but mid-70's-80 were predicted. Being spoiled with the more brilliant colors farther north, we drove through Crawford Notch. In the midst of enjoying the fantastic beauty, there was a potentially serious accident which created some anxious minutes. A college girl , driving alone, went off the road, crashing into a telephone pole. Possibly she fell asleep? The car appeared to be totalled. She was very fortunate to emerge without apparent injury, thanks to the seat belt. A local man had immediately called for help. As we realized that the situation was under control, we felt comfortable proceeding north on our trek.

We had intended to have lunch at the Mt. Washington Hotel, but as we happened upon a gorgeous moutain lake, with a little general store conveniently located across the street, we immediately changed our plans. The calibre of the sandwiches available didn't matter because the serendipitous atmosphere more than overshadowed the menu. With such awesome weather, and the backdrop of richly-colored mountains, the elegant restaurant at the Mt. Washington Hotel could not compare with this wonderful experience by the lake in Crawford Notch. After lingering much longer than usual enjoying our picnic lunch, we did head north to the famous Mt. Washington Hotel. It's impressive that this was the site chosen for the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference of 730 delegates from the 44 Allied Nations from around the world who met and, among other things, established the International Monetary Fund. We had intended to have a drink on the large back wrap-around porch, but many others apparently had the same idea. So we proceeded to the front porch facing Mt. Washington, and spend a relaxing half-hour enjoying the view, minus a drink. It was difficult to leave the area, because the weather was perfect and the scenery was so outstanding. But wanting to avoid the dinner-hour crowds, we headed toward the little town of Jackson, happy to find the WILDCAT INN & TAVERN which had a garden behind the restaurant. It was delightful for a drink. When it was time to order dinner, there was only one other couple remaining in the garden area. Our mistake was
remaining there to order dinner, as the service was extremely slow, and the food was one degree up from cool. Lesson learned: next visit, move inside for dinner.

After dinner, with some daylight remaining, we decided to follow Thornhill Rd., that mountain backroad over which "Gilda" led us that first night as we made our way in the dark. It would have been OK, though long, if we had arrived in daylight, but after that tiring drive from Quebec, it was draining. And we did discover that our inn was, as we had thought, less than 1/2 mile off the main road, if only the turn had been made at the correct place.

Unfortunately, our visit was coming to an end. This evening we had to pack, do our airline check-in, etc. in preparation for leaving for home the following day, so we headed back to the inn. Our flight wasn't until 6 PM out of Portland, an approximate 2-hr. drive. With the gorgeous weather we were experiencing, we were motivated to get totally prepared in the evening so that we could get an early start in the morning. By 9:30, early for us, we had finished breakfast, checked out of the inn, and were on our way. We were hoping to make it to the entrance of the 8-mile road to the summit of Mt. Washington before the throngs arrived and entrance was limited. Often, even in the summer, harsh weather makes it impossible to drive up the Mt. Washington Auto Road. So we thought we were pretty lucky to have this great weather. Amazingly, by 10:00, we were entering the Auto Tour Road ($33. for a car, 2 adults, and a CD auto tour.

The drive was outstanding. Having driven over many narrow, twisting mountain roads out west, we would say that the 8-mile road is worthy of respect. It is extremely narrow at places and is unpaved for a stretch. Thankfully, from a previous experience, we were fully prepared with layers and hoodies for the extreme wind and cold temperatures as we ascended the summit. On this day, the wind was mild (up to 55 mph) and the temperature at the base was a record high of 80'. (Wind up to 287 mph have been recorded; 100 mph winds are not unusual.) On the 8-mile stretch, the climate severely changes--trees and plants become smaller and more scarce as you advance above treeline. You're in tundra. Once at the summit, there are quite a few steps to the "guest house". . .approaching 100. As expected, it was very windy, cold, and beautiful. Well worth it! At times, you really had to work to maintain your balance. We grabbed a bite to eat, and walked around the glass-enclosed structure to get an almost 360' view from the top, in the comfort of a warm building. The colors around the Mt. Washington area were astounding. What goes up must come down. So the long steps we ascended to reach the "Guest House" were now awaiting us as we made our way to our car. As we began our descent of the mountain, there were many stops, "oohs" & "ahs" and picture snapping. Upon reaching the bottom, we were eager to head to GLEN HOUSE across the street for our last lunch on their outdoor deck, with a panoramic view of the "presidential" peaks, including Mt. Washington in the distance.

Sadly, it was time to get moving for our return trip to Portland to catch our flight home. We were pulling out of the GLEN HOUSE just about 2 PM, as planned. Pulling out of the lot, we observed the eternally long line of traffic approaching the Mt. Washington Auto Road area, and were happy that we were heading north toward Gorham, away from the traffic area. At Gorham, we would pick up Rt. 2 to 26 to I 95 and arrive at the Portland Airport within two hours, as expected. En route, we talked about the '"bonus days" we had gotten by leaving home on an early morning flight and returning on a late flight. We were able to end our trip on high note with the trip to the Mt. Washington summit. And "Gilda" responded well to our last request to locate a gas station near the airport. After returning our rental car, and waiting in the surprisingly long security line at the Portland Airport, our two flights got us home by midnight. Overall, a satisfying ending to a wonderful trip!

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