Canada Trip #4 – Roadside Burlington

We managed to fit a bit of Roadside America into the day and a half we spent in Vermont.  When we returned to Burlington post-hike, we went off to see the World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet.  It is apparently 38 feet tall and actually comprises dozens of filing cabinets stacked on top of each other, some with their drawers open.  It was constructed as a sculpture in the early 2000s and I am not sure what it is supposed to be communicating – relentless bureaucracy possibly – but I just like finding random things when we are travelling and I like that people feel compelled to create even when the outcome is something a bit bonkers.

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Which segues neatly into the final tourist destination of that day: a small troop of Flying Monkeys atop the roofs of buildings in central Burlington.  As long time readers of my blog(s) will know, I love the Flying Monkeys from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ – largely because they terrified me as a wee girl – so obviously I had to ensure that I saw these simian sculptures.  They were very easy to spot.  There were a few silhouetted against the sunny sky on top of one buildings roof and another couple clambering on the roof of another building.  I did not manage to get great photos of them but the kids and I enjoyed seeing them.

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The first thing we did the following morning was head out to see Burlington’s Earth Clock.  This is a sundial, compass, and calendar built into the grass of a local park.  The time markers have the look of neolithic standing stones and the idea is that a person standing in the centre acts as the gnomon so that the shadow can accurately tell the time.  We found it was a wee bit off but it is entirely possible that was user error.

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Our final stop in Burlington was the Lake Champlain Chocolate Factory.  Our youngest son is a chocaholic so this was really part of our itinerary for him.  The tour involved a very informative talk, during which we could feel and smell ingredients and enjoy some samples, while also watching workers in the factory make some of the handcrafted chocolates that the company sells.  It was an enjoyable diversion and put us in a good mood for another day of driving.

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Central Burlington, incidentally, is a pretty cool place.  I liked its atmosphere a lot and there was certainly plenty to see and do in the area so I made a mental note to consider Burlington for a future mini-break.

Canada Trip #2 – Ben & Jerry’s and other Food

Before we crossed the border into Canada, we spent a couple of days pootling around in Vermont.  This enabled the boys to claim a new state.  My plan had been to take the boys to Shelburne Museum, an incredible, vast, eclectic and eccentric museum.  I had absolutely adored that museum when I visited back in 2001 but we agreed the kids probably wouldn’t find it had the same impact since we visited the similarly bonkers House on the Rock last year.  Shelburne Museum would have absorbed the entire day so abandoning that plan freed up time to do a lot more exploring.  A lot of the first day in the Burlington area was food-based – but don’t worry because we definitely earned our calories.

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First up was Ben & Jerry’s.  Mr Pict had been when he was a kid and before it was an ice cream empire and the kids and I had never been before.  I anticipated a small factory tour and a lot of brand merchandising but thank goodness we turned up early enough to get on the first tour of the day because that place is crazy.  It’s like a small theme park.  By the time we were taken off on our factory tour, the reception and shop area was packed with people like herring in a barrel.  It was ridiculous.

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The tour itself was efficient but interesting.  Sadly no ice cream was being produced because some part was getting replaced but we got to see the machinery and have the process explained to us, including the ways in which Ben & Jerry’s is different from its competitors.  It helped that our tour guide was an amusing nerd and it also helped that we got to sample a scoop of ice cream at the conclusion.  Extra samples meant that our youngest son lucked out and was given two samples.

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After the tour, we wandered around in the “Flavor Graveyard”, the way in which the company memorialises flavours that it has tried out on the general public and then permanently withdrawn.  We had learned that there are other flavours that get withdrawn and then make a comeback.  Those are called zombie flavours.

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That area of Vermont is also known for its cheese and cider so, much later in the afternoon, we went off to sample and buy some of both.  First up was the Cold Hollow Cider Mill.  While cider and apples were certainly the running theme of the store, there were lots of other products for sale too so we had a good pootle about but we kept our focus on the cider.  We watched a video about the company’s history of cider production and got to sample some.  I am generally not a massive fan of non-alcoholic cider or apple juice but it was ice cold and refreshing and just what I needed at that point in the day.  The kids were peckish so they chose a snack each.  Two of them chose hot dogs that had been steamed in cider, one chose an apple cider doughnut filled with cream, and the youngest bought four miniature fruit pies.

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Then we popped into the Cabot cheese farm store.  I am lactose intolerant so had to keep my sampling to a minimum but the boys and Mr Pict had fun taste testing all of the available cheeses and I tried some delicious mustard that I decided to buy and bring home with me as an edible souvenir.

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Dinner that evening was fast food of the local variety.  Al’s Food Frys is apparently a local Burlington institution so we decided to give it a try.  I must admit that the use of “Frys” instead of “Fries” made me all manner of twitchy and fast food is not my favourite way to eat but it is fun to try something new and specific to an area.  I must admit that the fries (not frys) were pretty delicious, really potatoey and with fluffy insides but crisp on the outside.  Those who had burgers said they were scrummy and my 12 year old loved the flavour of coating on the fried chicken he ordered.

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Day two of our trip was definitely about “travelling on our stomachs”.

Canada Trip #1 – Hyde Park

Last year’s road trip (which saw us drive from the Philly ‘burbs to a corner of Montana and back) was a stretch for our tolerance of each other’s company in the confines of the car and the ratio of miles in a car to miles covered by foot.  We, therefore, curbed our ambitions this year and decided to try a different pace of vacation.  In comparison to our previous family road trips, our plans were extremely modest: Quebec, Montreal, and Lake Charleston, Ontario.

The first day of our trip took us through upstate New York.  Determined to achieve at least one thing beyond getting from A to B, we decided to stop off at Hyde Park, the Hudson Valley home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  This is the site of FDR’s presidential library and of Springwood, his family home.  Although the property was older, it had been owned by Roosevelt’s father since the 1860s and had been expanded and extended over the decades.  Roosevelt was born there in 1882 and, when Roosevelt married Eleanor in 1905, they moved into his boyhood home.  They lived and raised their family there and continued to visit even after FDR became president and the White House became their primary digs.

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We kept our visit to perambulating in the grounds as the kids were not enthused by the prospect of a tour of the house.  I acquiesced because I had visited previously and had vivid memories of the house and the presidential library.  It was not until the end of our visit, however, that Mr Pict revealed that he thought he had never been there before.  He seriously had zero memory of ever having visited.  I started rattling off details of the interiors and finally something stirred in his memory banks and he recollected that he had at least been there.  Therefore, we probably should have forced the kids to submit to a tour.

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As you may recall, I have a new domestic travel bucket list which is to visit every presidential gravesite.  I love to visit cemeteries, I am keen on history, and I am enthusiastic about travel (trifecta!) so I think it’s an eminently sensible ambition.  I have a good few checked off already and had obviously previously visited this particular grave but I want my husband and kids to “opt in” to my scheme so I was happy to have the opportunity to see the grave of my favourite US President and First Lady.

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After departing Hyde Park, we had no plans beyond getting to Burlington, Vermont. We were by then thinking of food.  Our road trips often involve thoughts of food because we are always either famished or indulging.  We seem to have no mode between.  I, therefore, foolishly googled best places to eat in Burlington and, after a family discussion, booked a table for early evening.  In doing so, I utterly jinxed us.  Almost instantly, our journey went off-piste.  We had no signal for GPS and no map operating at the detail required for our cross-country hypotenuse.  We must have taken a wrong turn but, when we double-backed, we couldn’t identify the road we should have taken, so we triple-backed and forged on.  And then we realised that we had no choice but to cross Lake Champlain by ferry.  We crossed near Fort Ticonderoga on a chain ferry that could thankfully take enough cars that we made it onto the next available crossing.  Still, it set us back.

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Thankfully, when we got back into phone reception, the restaurant was willing and able to push our booking back to accommodate our late arrival.  This was just as well because Mr Pict and the Pictlings were salivating for barbecue food and would have been despondent about a change of dinner venue.  The restaurant was Bluebird Barbecue in Burlington.  We ate in a screened in porch area that was lovely in the early evening air after a day inside a stuffy car.  Barbecue is not really my thing so I cannot judge the quality but my carnivorous husband was happy, my oldest son got to try out the fusion of barbecue and ramen, and I was happy because I had an absolutely delicious lavender flavoured mocktail.  It was a great way to end the first day of our road trip.

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