Trip Report - Laura and Lee's Excellent Autumn Adventure

Friday, October 11

Here we are, in Marion, Massachussetts. We've already had our first peek at the fall colors, on our approach into the Pittsburgh airport, where we caught our connecting flight to Providence. Even from the air, the different yellows, golds, and reds coloring the trees were beautiful.

Walt and Barb were there to meet us, and we collected our bags and drove back to Marion - munching El Indio's tortilla chips along the way.

Kona was very happy to see us. We all went out for a walk (even though it was dark, you can still walk the streets in Marion without fear!)


Saturday

Kind of a late morning (early morning?) for the California crew...but once we got moving, we headed towards W. Carver for King Richard's Renaissance Faire. Got caught in the local version of a traffic jam, since the Cranberry Festival, the Edaville Railroad, and the Faire were all in the same general area.

The Faire was fun - we saw a joust - our two knights were Sir Othello and Sir Thomas of Kent, who were competing against Sir Geoffrey and another guy. They didn't actually joust against each other, instead they demonstrated their skill at knocking a dummy over, picking up rings on their lances (I actually thought that the squires holding the rings were the brave ones), and slashing with a sword.

We also watched the Singing Executioners - Smee and Blogg. They got the audience to sing the chorus to "It's a dumb song after all". (Sung, of course, to the tune of "It's a Small World". I'm fairly sure that Disney wouldn't approve.) They offered to behead a member of the audience, but they decided they couldn't execute someone who was having so much fun being executed.

Lee thought about buying a grey woolen cloak - which looked quite nice on him, but decided there just wasn't much call for that in Southern California...It would have made quite a fashion statement, though.

We saw lots of people in costume - lots of wenches (who looked pretty cold with all of that bare bosom showing - it was a sunny day, but not all that warm!), and a man and his son dressed as Scotsmen - both wearing kilts (he had the legs for it, too!), and then there were these two barbarians, with the huge furry hats with horns, and one was carrying a mace with a skull on the end - and nails through the skull. They looked pretty dangerous.

The Faire was quite crowded - much more so than when Walt and Barb had been there several weeks earlier. But the weather was about the best it had been, too.


Sunday

This was an exciting day - we went to the Cranberry Festival! The same general area as the Faire, only this time we got an earlier start, and didn't get caught in the W. Carver traffic jam.

Did you know that 42% of the world's cranberries are grown in Massachussetts? And that cranberries are grown in sandy bogs - they are low-lying plants, kind of like heather? The majority are harvested "wet" - which they do by flooding the bogs, then beating the bushes to loosen the ripe berries, which float to the surface, and then they corral the floating berries and vacuum them up into the cranberry trucks. Those are the berries that are used for juice, cranberry sauce, etc. - the ones that you find in packages in the stores are harvested dry with a sort of mechanical rake.

We got to try cranberry-peach juice, and bog frogs (which is a turtle, except that it has two dried cranberries for eyes), and chocolate covered cranberries and cranberry muffins. There was a craft festival going on, too, which had some interesting (non-cranberry) things.

After we had Cranberry festival'ed, we drove to nearby Myles Standish State Forest and took a walk through the forest around the lake. The leaves were beautiful - we saw maple leaves of many different colors, as well as oak and some others that we couldn't identify.


Monday

Walt and Barb both had Columbus Day off (in the East, Columbus Day seems to be a holiday for everyone - not just schools and government and banks), and so we all went to Old Sturbridge Village. This is an authentic 1830s New England village, and somewhat like Williamsburg, in that the inhabitants work and act like people did in the 1800s.

Almost all of the buildings date from that time period, and were moved to Sturbridge from other places in New England. Where they have had to build and repair things, they have done it in the style of the time using the tools of the time. Most of it is in amazingly good shape - in that age things were built to last.

Lee and I went there the last time we were here, and Walt and Barb had been before also, but we still found it fascinating, and learned things that we hadn't before. We got there at 11:00 and stayed until it closed at 5:00, but we still didn't see everything!

We especially enjoyed talking to the shoemaker - but he wouldn't tell us any bawdy stories (shoemakers were generally young men working together in a room - so of course there were lots of off-color jokes and pranks going on), but he told us we should ask the cooper - we never had a chance to do so, though.

The lawyer was fun - lawyers in those days seemed much nicer. Although the law was much stricter - he told us that he could be jailed for picking and eating the Parson's raspberries that were growing right outside his window. He also told us how "pen knives" got their names - that's what people used to sharpen their goose quill pens!

When we went to the bank later, we found that the lawyer was also the bank manager! We looked at him kind of funny and he told us that we had seen his twin over in the law office (he didn't say evil twin, but we knew what he meant!)

All in all, it was a nice place to visit - but I wouldn't want to live then!


Tuesday

We drove into Boston with Walt, since he had to work that day, and got stuck in a huge traffic jam caused by a jackknifed semi a couple of hours earlier. You know, driving around Boston really makes you appreciate CalTrans - in Boston the big freeway interchange in the middle of town has been under construction for many years - with no signs that it will ever finish. And they think nothing of closing a lane or two in the middle of the day - never mind what that will do to the flow of traffic. None of this working nights and weekends stuff to minimize the impact on traffic!

Anyway, Walt oriented us and sent us off by ourselves into the big city...the first thing we did was go find Marie Lamb, an Internet friend of mine, whom I had never met, and have lunch at the Cambridge Brewery. I had a wonderful turkey sandich with smoked gouda, watercress and mango chutney - sounds bizarre, but it was really good! Lee tried both of their special beers - a rye beer, and a pumpkin beer.

We enjoyed visiting with Marie, who is just as nice in person as she is in email, and she gave us some suggestions of places to go, and we were off again - we took a walk around the MIT campus, had a cafe mocha and hot chocolate at the Student Center, and then went to the MIT Museum. They had a neat hologram exhibit, and an exhibit of these really cool intersecting geometric figures.

We met Walt back at his company and then headed over to the Internet Expo at the Convention Center, where his company had an exhibit, and he was supposed to work in the booth for a while. Their product is called Phantom, and it's a 3 degree of freedom haptic interface - it allows you to feel something rather than merely see it. So the idea of "reach out and touch someone" on the Internet is actually possible. Lee suggested that they should focus on the area of tele-dildonics...which seems to be what everyone thinks of when they tell you that one of their software products is called "WebTouch". Really, it does have other uses, too - Walt is especially interested in exploring its uses in aiding the blind.

Anyway, after hanging out at the Convention Center for a while (we tried to win a jacket from SGI, and since you had to be present to win we thought we had a pretty good chance, but the first name they pulled was a guy who had just dropped it in the box - they obviously didn't mix them up) we made our way back down to Marion...

After dinner we tuned into the Presidential Debate just in time to see a guy who works in my branch ask Dole the famous "how can you say smoking isn't addicting" question...Go Oscar!

But that was as much of the debate as we saw. And more than we really wanted to.


Wednesday

After being busy since we got here, this was a "relax and do nothing" day. For us at least - Barb still had to work, and Walt was working from home (telecommuting is a wonderful thing).

Lee entertained Kona, and later in the morning the three of us took Kona for a walk.

At lunchtime Walt gave us directions and his car keys (brave man) and sent us over to the Cape to go kidnap Barb for lunch. She works at Imetrix, Inc., and they build underwater sensory systems and teleoperated underwater vehicles. We saw the underwater vehicle they build, and demos of some of the work they have done, and saw Barb's cubicle - she even has a flying pig in it! (Not to mention a bowl of M&Ms.)

Had another interesting sandwich for lunch - the people back east seem to have much more "California Cuisine" types of sandwiches than we do! It was really good - turkey, marinated tomatoes, and basil paste. We stopped by the post office so that I could get some more postcard stamps - that was very important - and then Barb drove us to a place where we could look out on the ocean (actually Buzzard's Bay).

Then we drove her back to work and we drove home - though we made a couple of stops to see if Lee could find any Dr. Pepper or Sharp's. No to both - Dr. Pepper evidently isn't a very popular soft drink back here! And their non-alcoholic beer preference seems to be O'Douls rather than Sharp's. Ah well.

It was a very strenous afternoon of reading. I managed to finish The Silver Gryphon (I had finished the Mage Storms trilogy and White Gryphon earlier on the trip), and got started on "Debt of Honor". Don't think I will finish that one on this trip!


Thursday

We went back into Boston with Walt again - no jackknifed semis this morning, though, so traffic was a lot better.

After a quick stop at Marie's office (she works at MIT) to say "hi", we caught the "T" (Boston's light rail system) at Kendall Square (near MIT, about 4 blocks from Walt's office) and rode it to Harvard Square. We walked around Hahvad and Hahvad Yahd for a while - saw a lot more students than we saw around MIT, which was interesting. I'm not sure what that means, though.

After lunch (where we sat near this crazy woman who was having a conversation with someone who wasn't there, and then told the (black) guy who was sweeping and cleaning up tables that a bunch of black guys were after her) we escaped Hahvad and took the "T" over to Boston Common.

We got a map and started walking the Freedom Trail, which takes you on a walking tour of a bunch of historical sites around Boston.

But first...I passed a squirrel in Boston Common, and wanted to get a picture of him...got out my camera and he turned and started to move away. I said "Wait!", and he turned around, struck a wonderful pose, I took my picture and he went along his way. Lee couldn't believe that the squirrel had actually posed for me - just goes to show that they have very smart and cooperative squirrels in Boston!

First stop on the Freedom Trail was the Shaw Memorial - to commemorate the movie "Glory". No, wait, it's to commemorate Matthew Broderick...no that's not it either. Oh well, you get the idea.

After some other stops like the State Capital building, we came to a cemetary where people like Paul Revere are buried. There's a huge "Franklin" memorial here - to commemorate the fact that Ben Franklin is actually buried in Philadephia. (Really it's a memorial to other members of Franklin's family.)

Then it was on to other stops downtown - including a Borders cafe and bookstore. That isn't actually a stop on the Freedom Trail, but the trail goes right by it...Lee had a cafe mocha, which was not as good as Starbucks (nothing seems to be), and then we continued on, towards the North End, which is where Paul Revere's house is.

As with many stops along the Freedom Trail, this one was also undergoing some renovation - the painters were scraping it and preparing it to paint.

The North End is the Italian section, and we passed a lot of Italian restaurants, groceries, and bakeries - and lots of Italian residents who were sitting around watching all of the tourists go by - that seems to be a way to pass the time.

The next stop was the Old North Church. "One if by land, two if by sea", remember? And the forgotten man in history is the young 20-something sexton of the church, Robert Newman, who actually hung the lanterns in the church tower so that the colonial militia would know where to assemble to attack the British. This was a rather dangerous task for him - the British Army was patrolling the streets of Boston, and would have looked rather askance at his action (I think they call it "treason"). So, after hanging the lanterns he slipped out the back window of the church - and unfortunately slipped out of the history books, too. Or at least Longfellow didn't write any poems about him. Doesn't seem quite fair somehow - Paul Revere gets a poem and cookware named after him, and Robert Newman doesn't even get a footnote.

Then we made our way down to the harbor, to the USS Constitution. The last time we were here it was undergoing renovation, and was in dry-dock, surrounded by scaffolding, with the masts down. It looks much better now that it is back in the water, with the masts and rigging back on it. We didn't take the tour, since we had done that before (and there was a line).

The final stop on the Freedom Trail is the Bunker Hill Memorial - which is actually on Breed's Hill, since the Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed's Hill. Just one of those pesky little historical details.

We climbed the 294 steps to the top of the Memorial, huff, puff. There was a nice view from the top, since it was a beautiful day. There are no open windows up there, and it was pretty warm and smelled of "sweaty tourist who just climbed 294 steps" so we didn't stay long - it was much easier going down 294 steps than it was coming up.

From there we walked to the nearest "T" stop (which was actually on the Green line, instead of the Red line - we'd only been on the Red line before!), and then changed trains at Park St., and got back on the Red line so that we could meet Walt back at his office.

We got the tour of Sensable Technologies, and played with some of their software, before getting in the car to drive back...even street traffic in Boston is No Fun, and it took a long time to get to the freeway, but once we did, traffic was ok.

Driving around Boston is interesting - certainly much different from here. You don't make eye contact, and you don't yield to anyone. And you want to stay out of the right lane until you have to make a right turn - because everybody double parks in the right lane.

And though I haven't seen any in Boston, they have these things called "rotaries" - a big circle with roads heading off in all different directions. You can get stuck going around and around in a rotary...

But I digress.

Since we were leaving for Vermont the next morning, Lee and I packed up all of our stuff (since we were planning to head straight to the airport from Vermont, and not back to Walt and Barb's first).


Friday

The forecast was for rain that afternoon, and rain on Saturday, but it was sunny in the morning - but kept getting grayer as we headed further west and north. Chilly, too.

We stopped on an overpass overlooking a river - beautiful trees on both sides.

It only took about 3 hours to get into Vermont, and then another half hour to get to our lunch spot - the Old Tavern in Grafton. We had a wonderful lunch, followed by some maple pecan pie. Then drove to the Grafton cheese factory, where they make real Vermont Cheddar (among other things), but by then it was about 4:00 on a Friday, and there wasn't anything going on.

There was a covered bridge on the property so we walked through that (you can't go to Vermont and not go through a covered bridge!), and walked into the field hoping to see some cows - but they were gone. We're not sure where. Actually we have a theory - we kept seeing all of these huge white plastic-covered rolls in the fields, and so we think that maybe that's how they store cows for the winter...

So we drove down the road towards Windham Hill Inn, our home for the next two nights. Lee had left the reservation confirmations and directions at home (which he tried to blame on me) and Walt had printed a bunch of stuff from Windham Hill's web page - but managed not to get the directions - but we found it with no problems anyway.

It's a beautiful Inn, sitting on the top of a hill, with cleared fields around it, so you have a lovely view of the surrounding area. There's four miles of hiking trails on the property, through the fields, into the woods, and down by the stream. The Inn was built in the 1820s, and all of the rooms have wood floors, with antique furnishings - Walt and Barb had a four-poster bed in theirs, while ours had a windowseat that looked out on the field and surrounding hills. Many of the rooms are named after members of the Lawrence family, who owned the property (which was a farm) until the late 1950s. Walt and Barb were in the "May Lawrence Room". We were in "La Bas", though we don't know what that has to do with the Lawrence family....

While very elegant, it's also very comfortable and cozy, with a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere.

The Inn has a resident cat, an orange tabby named Henry, who is laid back, but doesn't really like to be petted and messed with too much, and who also likes to go in the dining room while the guests are eating - even though he knows he's not allowed to.

There are two dogs - Ginger, the older one, hangs out at the owners' house next door, so isn't around much, but then there's Tyler, who's about 6 months old, and is usually somewhere outside the Inn. Both Ginger and Tyler are golden retrievers.

After checking in, we took a walk along one of the trails, which took us down a steep hill (the map wasn't kidding about the steep part) through the autumn woods to the stream. Even in the overcast, the colors of the leaves were gorgeous. One thing that was interesting was where you went from an area of deciduous trees to an area of evergreens the temperature dropped - guess the decomposing leaves were providing some heat?

It was getting dark by the time we got back - just in time for the bar to open. We snacked on crackers and cheese and mineral water, while talking to Vicky, one of the innkeepers (who was also the bartender and front desk clerk). The Inn had been filled to capacity (all 18 rooms) every night for 5 weeks straight, and they were looking forward to Sunday, the end of "foliage season", when only three rooms were going to be occupied! They were all getting punchy and tired after being so busy. But the service was still great, and everyone was very pleasant.

Anyway, since we'd had a big (late) lunch, we didn't want to do the Inn's 6 course gourmet dinner that night, so we asked and were told that the local Dam Diner was good. We had passed it on the way in - it looked like a dive, and the name "Dam Diner and Laundromat" wasn't very encouraging, but the innkeeper said it was homestyle food, and very good. And she was right. It's obviously a place the locals go, because when we walked in it seemed like all conversation stopped, and you could see people thinking "tourists". But the food was very good, and no one tried to shoot us for being tourists.

Diner and laundromat...I guess it's an interesting idea - you can do your laundry while you're eating!


Saturday

Breakfast began serving at 8:00, and we were the first ones down to the dining room - so we got to score the best table - in the corner overlooking the "Frog Pond". The homemade scones were yummy, as was the rest of breakfast.

Grigs, one of the owners, came by and introduced himself, and told us a good place to go hiking, so after breakfast, we headed to Jamaica State Park. (Why there's a Jamaica State Park in Vermont, I have no idea.) He assured us that, though the weather was overcast, it wasn't supposed to rain until Sunday, but we took our rain gear anyways - since taking it always guarantees that you won't need it. (Besides, I had Lee, my own personal pack mule, to carry it for me.)

The park was closed for the season, and we were the only ones there - at least at first - we passed a lot of people as we went back, and the parking area was full.

The trail went along the river along an old railbed - it was very wide, and with the trees overhead, it seemed like the corridor went along forever.

Eventually we came to the Hamilton Falls trail, and hiked up to the falls. Lee and Walt, of course, had to see how close they could get to the top of the falls - despite the sign saying that there had been 10 deaths there.

Some of the areas we walked through were rather eerily bright - the light through the yellow leaves bathed the area in artificial sunlight. Or maybe it was just the leaves giving back the summer sunlight.

After our hike it was off to the Stratton Arts Festival. This was an artsy-fartsy festival with weird paintings and sculptures and not much that was really crafty. Some of the people walking around seemed to be the New York types and were getting much more out of it than I did...

Then we went back down the hill to the Annual Pumpkin Festival in Townshend. This was a fun local event - they had costume contests and pony rides and stuff for the kids, but some kind of interesting craft things, too. And we got to try some Spicy Pumpkin soup - sounds weird, but it was very good (and we were also hungry and cold). There were some really good brownies, too.

Then we stopped at Mary Meyer - a stuffed toy factory outlet. (All of the rooms at the Inn had Mary Meyer stuffed animals in them - Walt and Barb had a pair of floppy dogs, and we had a lion and a leopard.) It was a dangerous place - Lee and I got a wolf for him, and a Siamese cat for me. We also got a small stuffed pink flamingo for Walt and Barb - pink flamingos being the universal sign of hospitality, don't you know. (They had a pair of plastic pink flamingos that they used to put out in the yard in Hawaii when guests were coming - to the chagrin of their landscaper. The flamingos had moved to Massachussetts with them, and Barb had gotten them out and had them in the front hallway when we arrived - Walt wouldn't let her put them out on the lawn.)

Finally it was back to the Inn, and a short walk through the fields before getting ready for our elegant 6 course meal.

We had the first dinner reservation, so again we got the corner table in the "Frog Pond Dining Room".

Dinner was wonderful. And most elegant - the food was all garnished and arrayed beautifully - sometimes it was a shame to eat it! We were all pleasantly stuffed by the end. Rather a long process too - it took almost two hours.

We retired to one of the common rooms, where there had been a neat puzzle laid out earlier in the day. Someone had put it away, so I got it back out. It was a custom puzzle - a collage with a picture of the Inn, and many of the pieces were custom shapes - like the words "Happy" and "Birthday", a cross country skier, an acorn, a maple leaf, etc. Lee and I got intrigued...and finished it about three hours later. Walt and Barb had gone up to bed a couple of hours earlier!


Sunday

Our room was on the third floor, with an aluminum roof, so we heard the rain begin at about 2 a.m.

Again, we were the first people down for breakfast, and got our customary corner table. The rain was still coming down. It just doesn't rain steady for hours and hours in California!

We decided it would be a great day to just sit inside and read and watch the rain, but unfortunately, we had a plane to catch, so didn't have that option.

We were reluctant to leave such a nice place, but packed our bags and checked out anyway. We stopped along the way to stock up on Vermont maple syrup and other treats to take home, but mostly just made the drive back to Providence and the airport.

Lee had called to verify that our flight hadn't been delayed because of the weather, but we still had a few tense moments once we got to the waiting area - they had just diverted an incoming flight to Hartford because it was too sloppy to land, and our flight hadn't landed yet, and was circling.

Fortunately the weather cleared and our plane left only about 20 minutes late - we had plenty of time to make our connecting flight in Philadelphia. Lee had gotten us first class upgrades for the Philadelphia- San Diego flight - it was very nice to have the larger seating area and to be pampered for that 5 1/2 hours. The movie was "Multiplicity" with Michael Keaton and Andie McDowell - kind of cute, but not great.

We actually arrived in San Diego 15 minutes early, and Gary came to pick us up. The cats were very happy to see us - the kittens came running when they heard our voices, and the big cats weren't far behind. They didn't even do their "You left me so I'm going to ignore you" act. They didn't appear to have done too much damage while were were gone... they had knocked almost everything that was on top of the refrigerator off, and had knocked some of the mail off the table, but otherwise things were ok.

And that's it for Laura and Lee's Excellent Autumn Adventure!