A Travellerspoint blog

North from NYC: Central and Northern Vermont


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Our Airbnb in Bridgewater, Vermont was one of the more unusual places we've stayed. There hadn't been anything available in Woodstock, the main town in the area, so I picked the closest house about ten miles east. The road the house was on turned out to be a steep and winding gravel drive that led up the mountainside directly off the highway. I was a little nervous about the weight of our car with its occupants but the minivan navigated the slope without any difficulty. The house was a lodge-style building whose bottom floor was being renovated, and we had the entire upper floor to ourselves. There wasn't another house in sight, only trees. The interior was decent except for the fact that electricity was only working on one side of the house. Apparently the contractors had done something to disrupt the power supply to the other side while doing the renovations below.
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After dropping off our bags, we headed straight for the Quechee Gorge. A receding glacier cut this canyon into the earth thirteen thousand years ago, and now it's one of the most impressive natural sights in New England. We parked outside the little cluster of tourist shops on the far side of the gorge that calls itself Quechee Gorge Village and walked back to the bridge on Route 4 for the views.
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We took a short walk down one of the trails to the bottom of the gorge, but decided not to overdo it considering we had a dinner reservation not too far off. The kids enjoyed the chance to stretch their legs and see some nature. Back at Quechee Gorge Village we checked out the souvenirs and tasted some liqueurs that were made locally from maple syrup and black currants.
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The next morning we had a classic New England breakfast at Mon Vert Cafe in Woodstock before heading over to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. Despite its intimidating name, VINS is a very friendly outdoor raptor rehabilitation center with extensive nature trails. We had an hour to kill before the next raptor show so we explored one of the shorter trails, which was still a good workout for the kids. They made enough noise that we were guaranteed not to see any wildlife larger than a beetle.
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The kids weren't enthralled with the raptor show, although I enjoyed the rare opportunity to see these beautiful and powerful birds up close. The kids preferred the part at the end where they got to handle the disassembled parts of the birds that ultimately hadn't made it.
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In the afternoon we took the kids to Billings Farm, a working dairy farm with plenty of large animals as well as an impressive museum of American farming. Unsurprisingly, the kids were most impressed by the ongoing bodily functions of the cows and the corresponding odors.
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The next morning we stopped briefly at Simon Pearce, a boutique glassblowing studio and restaurant on the bank of the Ottauquechee River. The site was once a mill, and until recently the furnaces operated using hydroelectric power generated by the original dam and waterfall. The restaurant is perched over the waterfall with a view of a classic Vermont covered bridge.
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On the way out of the Quechee area we visited the Montshire Museum of Science, which had enough exhibits and activities to keep kids entertained for hours. We only planned a short stop but the kids were having so much fun that we ended up staying most of the afternoon.
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En route to Burlington we crossed the Lincoln Gap Road , which traverses the Green Mountain range. It has a reputation for being the most scenic of the roads that pass through the mountains, but honestly there wasn't much to see from the road itself although it was a pleasant winding drive. The best time to drive the road is probably in September and early October when the leaves are changing and before the road closes for the winter season. I was amazed by the number of houses on the gap and wondered how their inhabitants survive through the winter when the snow piles up and the road is closed. I learned later that the road is only closed to non-residents and is actually plowed regularly.

Burlington is a pretty small city but after the tiny towns we'd visited over the last few days it seemed positively cosmopolitan. We passed the attractive, sprawling campus of the University of Vermont and arrived in the Old North End. Our Airbnb was the upper level of a fairly nondescript two-story house with an outdoor staircase.
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It was Cleo's actual birthday and we decided to mark the occasion at Burlington's best known restaurant Hen of the Wood. We'd already had her birthday party in Miami before we left, but those kids' parties are so frenetic there was no opportunity for us to sit back and reflect on everything that had changed in the six years since she was born. We had a good meal in the cheerful bistro, although there wasn't anything on the menu that was particularly unique. It was nice to have a little time to focus on Cleo while her exasperating little brothers were at the Airbnb with their Grandma.

We had a full slate of activities for our day in Burlington. After a classic Vermont blueberry pancake brunch we drove half an hour to Waterbury for the semi-obligatory Ben and Jerry's tour. As I expected, it was underwhelming although the kids had fun. The highlight for me was making the tour guide squirm by asking if there were any plans for a Donald Trump-themed flavor. Perhaps Orange Cheesecake?
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Next up was Shelburne Farms, our second farm in three days. The visit began with a wagon ride across a surreal landscape of tightly cropped grass dotted with cylindrical hay bales. The main building looked more like a Gothic castle than a farm.
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There was a lot more hands on activity for the kids at Shelburne Farms than at the farm in Woodstock. There were donkeys to brush, chickens to feed, and plenty of old farm equipment in the spacious barn.
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We had to rush back to Burlington to drop off Spenser with Grandma, as he was too young for our afternoon sailboat cruise on Lake Champlain. The Friend Ship was operated by the Whistling Man Schooner Company, although technically it was a sloop rather than a schooner because it had only one mast. The friendly captain gave Ian a quizzical look and asked us how old he was. I couldn't remember what the minimum age had been when I'd booked, so I quickly said he was five before Cleo could answer, even though he was still a couple of months short of his fifth birthday. Cleo gave me a quizzical glance and I looked daggers at her, and fortunately she had the presence of mind to keep her mouth closed. The captain said something to the effect of Ian just making the age limit and we set off.

We spent the next two hours enjoying a peaceful sail on Lake Champlain, enjoying the banter and interesting stories of our captain. I learned that rather than flowing south into the Hudson River, Lake Champlain actually drains into the St. Lawrence river which takes an unusual northerly course to the Atlantic. The kids clambered up onto the roof of the cabin and I watched them nervously expecting them to be chucked into the ocean by a sudden swing of the boom, but fortunately they kept their heads down and made it back to the dock with us. Sad to say, there were no sightings of Champ, Lake Champlain's answer to the Loch Ness monster.
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We went straight to dinner at a surprisingly good Moroccan restaurant at the southern end of pedestrianized Church Street. After dinner we slowly walked the four blocks north to the Unitarian church that gives the street its name, taking in a colorful array of street performers, local characters, and sculpture.
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We couldn't bring Grandma into Canada because of visa issues so we'd arranged a hotel for her in Plattsburgh, NY for the three days the rest of us would be in Montreal. The Plattsburgh stop gave us a reason to cross Lake Champlain via South Hero island, the most heavily settled of the three populated Lake Champlain islands. Most Americans aren't aware of the existence of these unusual, remote lake islands but aside from their rural charm they also have great historical importance as Revolutionary War battlegrounds. We had a very enjoyable drive over the causeway to the island and then through empty country roads to Snow Farm, a vineyard and winery at the southwestern corner of the island. Just before we reached the island, we noticed colorful birdhouses starting to appear on the trees on the inland side of the road. More and more appeared and eventually we passed a thicket where it seemed like there was a birdhouse attached to every single tree. We stopped the car for a closer inspection and saw the little wood was also populated with very lifelike dinosaur models. We drove on further and eventually found a sign explaining the reason for the birdhouses, along with an array of birdhouses for sale via an honor system. We didn't get a good picture of the birdhouse forest, so I scraped one from the New York Times.
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We were the only visitors at the winery, but we were attended to very pleasantly and enjoyed a tasting flight. I was a little confused as the grape varietals listed for the red wines had completely unfamiliar names such as Baco Noir and Catawba. Later I learned that they are hybrids which are grown to make wine pretty much exclusively in the northeastern US and Canada. The splendid isolation of the little winery and vineyard on that overcast day in the Lake Champlain islands is one of my best memories from the trip.
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We took the car ferry from South Hero to Plattsburgh and dropped Grandma off at her hotel with three days of food supplies. We didn't have much in the way of expectations for lunch in Plattsburgh, but TripAdvisor led us to Anthony's, a surprisingly upscale and authentic French bistro where we had one of the best restaurant meals of the trip. During our lunch, Cleo asked me why I'd told the boat captain that Ian was five when he was still only four. That led to a very frank discussion about how sometimes people do lie when they're sure that no one will be hurt because of it. I used the example of when your friend asks you if you like her new dress, and you say that you do even though you think it's ugly. As we were finishing our lunch, an elderly lady came over to the table and told us she overheard our conversation with Cleo. Here we go, I thought, preparing myself for a stern New England lecture on child-rearing. But as it turned out, the woman wanted to tell us she was a retired schoolteacher and strongly approved of the way we taught Cleo about life's little realities. Go figure.

We paid our compliments to the chef and piled back into the car, excited for our next stop in Montréal.

Posted by zzlangerhans 06:32 Archived in USA Tagged vermont quechee_gorge woodstock burlington mad_river_valley Comments (0)

North from NYC: Central Massachusetts and Southern Vermont


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I've only written about our United States traveling when it was part of a round-the-world journey, but the fact is we enjoy taking road trips in the US and have done quite a number since we started having kids. Now that I've prioritized travel blogging a little more perhaps I'll go back and write up some of the road trips we've done in the Pacific Northwest, Upper Midwest, Deep South, and Texas. I'll start with the most recent because it's the freshest in my mind. The impetus here was our annual trip to New York City, our favorite destination in the world. When I thought about interesting places to combine with NYC, Vermont immediately came to mind. I hadn't been there since I was a kid, but the state is well-known for its beauty, great cuisine, and variety of activities. Once I started studying the map, I realized how close the northern part of Vermont was to Montreal and soon our trip expanded from one week to two and the NYC part of it shrunk to three days. There's just too much world out there to see to waste time in places we've already been, even the greatest city in the world.

Our arrival in New York was surprisingly painful, considering our flight was less than three hours. A choppy descent got everyone rattled, and then we had to take two shuttle buses to the rental car agency due to the neverending construction at La Guardia airport. The airport shuttle was particularly horrible, a stuttering and smoggy half hour to cover about three miles. Fortunately the minivan pickup went smoothly and we were on the road by seven. I'd decided to leave NYC for the final part of the trip, mainly due to the timing of things we wanted to do in Vermont but also to leave our most highly anticipated stop for the end. Finishing a trip with an anticlimax is no fun. Instead we decided to drive to Massachusetts from the airport to be ready to kick off our vacation in Old Sturbridge Village the next morning. I had high hopes of stopping for a good dinner somewhere in Connecticut but the family was exhausted and a little nauseous so we ended up snacking at a rest stop convenience store instead. The Airbnb in Massachusetts was a nice surprise, a cozy and beautifully-furnished colonial-style home on a quiet suburban street.
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After an ample breakfast at a diner in Southbridge, we drove a few miles to Old Sturbridge Village. I still had vague memories of a field trip there from my grade school years, and I figured it would be an original experience for the kids. If we were really lucky, they might actually learn something. We arrived early enough to be ahead of the summer camp groups, but it seemed like the little town hadn't really woken up yet. There weren't that many actors around, and some of the ones who were didn't seem ready to demonstrate their 19th century skills. I remembered it from my childhood as more of a bustling town, but I easily could have been thinking of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia instead. It was still a pleasant place to walk around for a few hours, and the kids enjoyed the flintlock rifle demonstration.
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We stopped briefly at Dinosaur Footprints Reservation near Holyoke, Massachusetts. The small park is adjacent to Route 5 and it only takes a few minutes to reach the ancient tracks left there millions of years ago. We didn't build up the kids' expectations, otherwise they probably would have been disappointed by the shallow, weathered impressions in the rocks. Honestly, if I had walked through the area without knowing the footprints were there I probably would have missed them. Fortunately, the kids are still young enough that I can still excite them by leaping around and imitating a dinosaur tromping merrily across the landscape. Cleo was curious how the dinosaurs crossed the highway, and was flabbergasted when I explained that when these footprints were made there were no highways, no cars, and no people.
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The next stop on our northward route was the town of Shelburne Falls, which had a couple of unusual scenic attractions. The Bridge of Flowers was created all the way back in 1929, which is an amazing lifespan for a landscaping project. The peaceful path across the bridge lined on either side with beautiful plants and flowers is a testimony to humanity's endless power of creativity. It's unfortunate that we haven't found a way in this country to reclaim more of the industrial eyesores that dot the landscape.
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Just a few blocks from the Bridge of Flowers is a geological formation known as Glacial Potholes. It's a big hunk of metamorphic rock filled with holes and depressions of various sizes that were formed thousands of years ago. Interestingly, the potholes aren't directly related to glacial activity but rather to erosion by water currents. We missed the turnoff to the overlook so we didn't see the potholes themselves, although there are lots of pictures in the link. Instead we found ourselves down at the riverbank with views of Salmon Falls, which descends into the pothole area, and the little hydroelectric plant that generates some of the electric power for the area.
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Not long after that we crossed the border into Vermont and rolled into Brattleboro. Usually we don't meet the hosts at our Airbnbs since we prefer the flexibility of checking in and out whenever we want, but this was one of those rare cases where we got a personal welcome. Our apartment was on the third floor, and our hosts lived below us on the second. On the first floor they ran an art gallery and a catering business. We settled in and then headed to dinner at Three Stones, a local restaurant that served highly-recommended traditional Mayan cuisine. Even at six PM, we had to have our dinner at the bar but the delicious food was well worth the minor inconvenience.
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We began the next day at the Brattleboro Farmers Market, which was our main reason for stopping in the town overnight. It was a good-sized farmers market with a wide variety of prepared dishes, artisanal foods, and crafts. It was our first experience with the wide variety of Vermont cheeses and the multiplicity of products that can be made from maple syrup, including liqueur. There was a huge sandbox as well to keep the kids out of our hair while we examined every stall.
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Just outside Brattleboro is the Robb Family Farm, which was established more than a hundred years ago and is currently operated by the fifth generation of descendants. The farm currently focuses almost exclusively on producing maple syrup without many of the recent technological advances that have spurred output but, in their opinion, at the expense of quality. The patriarch of the family guided us around the operation, from the tanks that receive the sap directly from taps in the maple trees to their shiny new evaporator.
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Next stop was Grafton Village Cheese, an enormous cheese store where they manufacture a large variety of their own cheddars. There's an observation deck for the cheesemaking operation but there wasn't much happening on a Saturday. The kids were fascinated by the free samples and I kept having to chase them around the store to make sure they were using the toothpicks instead of grabbing the cheese with their fingers. We bought some blue cheese and a couple of different kinds of cheddar. The shop felt like a temple dedicated to the worship of cheese.
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On the way out of Brattleboro for good we stopped at a casual restaurant where the West River flows into the larger Connecticut River. The food and mojitos were forgettable, but there was a nice view of the little lake created by the confluence. Someone had installed a sculpture of a sea monster in the middle of the lake that twisted slightly in the wind and appeared to be moving against the current, and for a while we had the kids thinking it was the real thing.
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A few miles north of Brattleboro we stopped in the famously quaint town of Newfane to admire the two hundred year old buildings in the village center. A lady saw me taking photographs in the green and handed me a pamphlet explaining the history of each building. Vermont is like that.
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Our last stopover of the day was the beloved tourist trap Vermont Country Store in Weston. Aside from the vast array of Vermont food products and locally made clothing and crafts, there was a large selection of old-fashioned games that fascinated the kids. They spent a good ten minutes just trying out the Whoopee Cushions.
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Thanks to our early start on the day it was still early in the evening when we reached Woodstock, our overnight destination in central Vermont.

Posted by zzlangerhans 06:56 Archived in USA Tagged vermont massachusetts weston brattleboro sturbridge newfane shelburne_falls Comments (0)

Around the World 2017: Odense and trip conclusion


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On a cursory inspection of the map of Denmark, the island of Funen (Fyn to Danes) might not appear to be an island at all. The Little Belt strait that separates Funen from the mainland is barely a kilometer wide for most of its length. On closer inspection, rounded Funen looks a little like a soccer ball being kicked between the mainland father and his son Zealand. We had chosen Odense as the last city for the trip mainly because it was close to the midpoint between Aarhus and Copenhagen, but it also had the advantage of having a famous zoo. We arrived in Odense in time to have a few hours at the zoo before it closed, so we made it our first stop. There was a diverse selection of animals that were in very natural enclosures yet were still easily visible. One of our favorites was the manatee, a testimony to the amazing power of natural selection to fill environmental niches. There was a pretty cool playground for the kids as well.
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We had planned on visiting Bazar Fyn, another Middle Eastern mall, for dinner after the zoo but unfortunately the opening hours didn't coincide with what I had researched. Instead we made our way to central Odense but found most restaurants closed on a Sunday evening. Eventually we settled on a gourmet burger restaurant and ate as well as we could, considering there was nothing on the menu whatsoever except burgers and sides. Our Airbnb proved to be a disappointment as well. It was on a second floor that could only be accessed by a ladder-like staircase, so I had to haul up our bags and then the kids one by one. Once inside, we locked and barricaded the door to prevent any chance of the kids wandering back out and falling down the ladder. We also discovered that almost none of the lights worked and the host had only provided us with one stained dish towel for the shower.

In the morning we headed to the pedestrianized center for brunch. We soaked up that familiar Scandinavian atmosphere of cobblestone squares walled by rows of dissimilar townhouses and countless sidewalk cafes. Unfortunately, a large area in the very center of the old town was undergoing some extensive reconstruction and was completely dug up and blocked off.
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Slightly away from the center we found a pretty residential street that led us to the Hans Christian Andersen House. Outside the small museum dedicated to Denmark's most famous author was an outdoor theater with a castle-like stage next to a shallow pond. People had started to gather on a grassy embankment in front of the stage. We were just in time to see a beautifully-performed play incorporating several of the famous fables. After the play, the characters came out and mingled with the audience. Naturally, Cleo's favorite was the princess from "The Princess and the Pea".
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It was time to say goodbye to our last new city of the trip, but fortunately Denmark had one last amazing castle for us to see before our return to Miami. Egeskov Slot is also on the island of Fyn, half an hour south of Odense. We had seen several beautiful castles in Denmark but this 16th century creation was the closest thing to a fairytale that we'd seen since Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. The surrounding moat was filled with lily pads and carpets of bright green algae. The castle itself was just part of a huge complex including the gardens, an extensive collection of vintage automobiles and airplanes, and an adventure playground for kids.
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The gardens provided quite a workout as we herded the kids along the paths through the rolling landscape. In one area the hedges were trimmed into the shape of squirrels, peacocks, and spirals that Cleo immediately identified as poop.
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We skipped the interior of the castle and spent our remaining time in the play area, where the older kids tried out the canopy walk and the zipline.
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We arrived back in Copenhagen in time for dinner on the patio of a Thai restaurant in the center of town. The meal was good enough to help us forget our misadventure with Thai food in Gothenburg.
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We'd selected an Airbnb in the southern district of Amager, close to the airport, to avoid any risk of traffic on the way to our flight home the next morning. I still had to drop off the rental car in Malmö as there wouldn't be any time to do it in the morning. We settled in to our last Airbnb and I took off at about nine fifteen to return the car. I was under a little time pressure because the rental agency had told me their garage would be closing at ten. I filled up the car in Amager and then headed for the Øresund Bridge for the last time. Just as I approached the bridge, my heart sank as I realized I had neglected to bring my passport. Even though Denmark and Sweden are both in the EU and theoretically passports shouldn't be necessary to cross the border, they had checked ours the first time we entered Malmö from the bridge. I believe the policy has something to do with attempts to stem the flow of Asian and African migrants. I only had a few seconds to decide what to do. Returning to the Airbnb to get my passport would lose me half an hour and eliminate any chance of getting to the auto rental agency in time. If I got turned back at the border, I'd lose an hour and also the fifty Euro toll. I'm not sure how my thought process went in the end, but I decided to go for it and took the bridge. I spent the entire time on the span trying to gauge my chances of making it through. I paid the toll and nervously approached the checkpoint. A female agent asked for my passport and I told her I'd forgotten it, and handed her my driver's license. She frowned and told me she'd have to check in the office, and I waited in my car for what seemed an interminable length of time. Finally she reappeared and told me they'd let me through, but next time to bring my passport. That was a huge relief. Returning to Copenhagen at that point would have been a terrible way to end the trip. I raced to the rental agency but the checkpoint episode had delayed my arrival until a few minutes after ten. They'd given me a passcode to use to get into the garage but it didn't work on the only keypad I could find. In the end I parked the car at the curb just outside their office. I still had to walk to the Malmö train station, take the train to the Copenhagen airport, and then a taxi back to the Airbnb. It was almost midnight when I was finally able to get to bed.

The following morning we had one final hurdle which was getting from the Airbnb to the airport. Uber had been banished from Denmark earlier that year. I had attempted to reserve a taxi on a local app I had downloaded the previous night but based on prior experience with European taxi apps I didn't have much confidence. I had also figured out the bus route, but it required a two block walk to the stop as well as a change of buses. Around seven in the morning we brought all our bags to the curb hoping to flag down a taxi on the street, but we hardly saw any cars at all at that early hour. Just as we were about to start schlepping all our belongings to the bus stop, a taxi suddenly pulled over. It turned out to be the one I'd reserved from the app. It was a tight fit since the app didn't have any option for requesting a larger vehicle, but we packed everything in and got to the airport in plenty of time for our flight.
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This had been our longest and most ambitious trip ever, but we made it through again without any significant adverse events. Looking back a year later, the most memorable parts were the night markets in Taipei and Shenyang, Copenhagen, and the Norwegian fjords. I can't think of anywhere we went that wasn't worthwhile, and the time allocation was perfect. Enjoying such a long trip gave me the confidence to plan our longest European road trip yet, a five week Odyssey through Iberia and Southwest France that begins two weeks from today.

Posted by zzlangerhans 05:04 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

Around the World 2017: Aarhus


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Now that we were back in Denmark, I could feel the circle of our road trip beginning to close. However, I knew that there was still a lot for us to see and do over the last three days of the trip and I wanted to end things on a high note. We'd already seen Denmark's most famous and international city, but our route back would take us through the next three largest cities in the country. I was curious to see if these lesser lights had their own distinct identity or if they were just miniature versions of Copenhagen.

I had already cleared a late arrival in Aarhus with our Airbnb host, so we decided to stop for dinner in Aalborg. We arrived just as dusk was settling in and didn't really have time to drive around the city. We headed for the center of town hoping to find a historic old neighborhood but instead found a gloomy and mostly deserted area that seemed more like a red light district. What little activity there was seemed to be centered around the numerous Irish pubs in the area. TripAdvisor guided me to an Italian restaurant nearby that seemed like a good prospect. I parked the car and went in by myself to scope the restaurant out. We've learned from experience that we can't always tell from a TripAdvisor listing if a restaurant is right for us. Sometimes the place turns out to be more high end than we expected, sometimes it's overcrowded, sometimes they have tall tables and barstools. It's no fun getting all the kids out of their car seats, walking a block or more to a restaurant, and then figuring out we aren;t going to be eating there.

In this case the restaurant seemed to be fine. It was pleasant but not stuffy, half-empty, with a decent selection of Italian food. I confirmed with the owner that they had room for five and retrieved everyone from the car. Things started to go sour pretty much as soon as we sat down. The kids had their iPads and a waiter immediately came over to grumble that we were disturbing the other diners, well before anyone could possibly have complained. Now I'm as considerate as anyone of the restaurant experience, and we're very careful with the kids to make sure we don't spoil anyone else's peace of mind while they eat. Part of that process is letting them have their iPads so they won't play with the cutlery, fight with each other, blow out the candles, or do any of the million other annoying things that small children normally do when they get taken to a restaurant. We're very conscientious about the volume too, and make sure the kids adjust it to the lowest level that they're able to hear. That's usually well below the ambient noise level in the restaurant, so the only people being disturbed at that point are the ones who just hate to see kids. Well, tough luck.

We had a table well away from anyone else, and the noise level in the restaurant was pretty high. I looked around and none of the other tables were paying us the slightest bit of attention. It was clear that the only displeasure was coming from the owner and the staff. I guess they felt that iPads didn't belong in the best Italian restaurant in Aalborg's red light district. The waiter was fairly nasty about it as well. I think he told us "This isn't a McDonald's". Now, if we weren't already on track to arrive at our Airbnb well after ten PM or if there was anywhere else to eat nearby other than Irish pubs, we would have cheerfully walked out at that point. As it was, I much preferred to get dinner over with and get back on the road. I smiled and asked the waiter if he'd prefer us to put all the iPads away. He had the sense to recognize what the alternative was, shook his head and took our order. The kids couldn't have behaved better. They were as quiet as mice until the food came, then we put their iPads away and they ate very peacefully. I think the staff was actually a little abashed by the end of the meal. We turned down dessert and Ronald McDonald held the door open for us on the way out. "You're the rudest person I've ever met," Mei Ling snarled at him as we exited. She takes these kinds of things personally.

So that was Aalborg. Not the greatest stop, but at least we were full and we could just fall into bed once we got to Aarhus. A little over an hour later, I was rummaging in the dark in a planter outside our Airbnb for the house key. There was a bad moment when I thought it wasn't there and then my iPhone flashlight caught a glint. Opening an apartment door never felt so good.

I was excited to get going the next morning, as I had a list of markets to visit. The first was the Saturday farmers market on Ingerslevs Boulevard, just a short walk from our apartment. There was a good mix of prepared food, produce, and crafts that took care of breakfast and kept us occupied for an hour.
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When we retrieved the car I encountered a bank of large bins I initially thought were for recycling. On closer inspection I saw they were for donating clothes which are then sold, with the revenues earmarked for aid programs in Africa. Sounds nifty, but when I had time to research it a little I found the program is actually somewhat controversial. Is Scandinavia an altruistic paradise, or is it a haven for exploiters of human goodwill? It's funny how things are often not at all how they seem on the surface.
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On the western outskirts of Aarhus is Bazar Vest, a large shopping center mainly devoted to Middle Eastern and South Asian goods. It was good to get our mulitcultural fix, but overall the atmosphere was a little gloomy and sterile compared to real Asian markets. When I took a picture of Mei Ling in the food court area, I noticed there was a guy next to her bent forward in his chair showing his butt crack. Gross. He sat up but as soon as he saw me taking another picture he bent over again. Either he really didn't want his face to be seen, or he really wanted his butt crack to be seen.
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We got a quick bite to eat and stocked up on fruit at a Middle Eastern supermarket. On the way out we passed a barber shop, which was great because I love getting my hair cut when we're traveling. It's one of those experiences that always seems to bring me closer to the experience of actually living in the country I'm visiting. This time was no exception. My barber was from Kuwait and his coworker was from Ethiopia. We had a interesting discussion about their native countries and what it's like for them living in Denmark. I got a great haircut and Ian got to be an airplane.

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We decided to continue onward out of town to Rosenholm Slot. The 16th century Renaissance castle is majestic and beautifully preserved. We were the only visitors when we arrived so we didn't have the heart to turn down the tour, although we weren't particularly interested in the interior.
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Back in Aarhus we parked near the train station and walked into the downtown pedestrian zone. Our first stop was Aarhus Central Food Market, which seemed rather low energy compared to others we'd visited in Scandinavia. Or perhaps we just weren't hungry. Across the street was a pretty little Catholic Church.
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We continued north along Søndergade pedestrian street until we crossed the bridge over the Aarhus River. On the other side were the Aarhus Cathedral and the Aarhus Theatre. Just south of the cathedral in Bishop's Square there was a jazz festival and people were relaxing outside and listening to the music.
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The narrow river was lined with crowded cafes, and we followed the river bank under the bridge to the sounds of a party. Just after we found the band playing outside a cafe, the singer launched into a killer version of "What a Wonderful World".
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Our last stop of the day was Aarhus Street Food, another food hall a short walk from the pedestrian zone. The place was similar to the Copenhagen version if just a bit smaller, and it also had a play area for the kids. At this point we were used to the food court style of eating and we collected an assortment of dishes quite efficiently. The informal setting was quite a relief after our stressful experience the previous night.
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The next morning we had another delicious Scandinavian breakfast and then took a walk around a quaint older neighborhood we had seen from the car. We found a park with a great view of the rainbow panorama walkway atop the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum.
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On the way out of Aarhus we encountered a strange sight from the coastal road. A crane appeared to be hoisting a waterlogged small car out of the North Sea. Even though the car was in my sight for just a few seconds, some thing didn't sit right about what I was seeing. The car was suspended motionless in the air, yet water continuously gushed from its undercarriage. How much water could fit in one small car? At the first opportunity, I made a U-turn and doubled back to the crane on the side of the road closer to the shore. Soon it became clear that we had not stumbled on the scene of a bizarre accident. A quick Google search revealed that we were actually looking at an abstract sculpture, part of a program of art installations along that stretch of coastal road.
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Not much further, the road disappeared into a forested area and eventually brought us to Moesgård Strand, a scenic beach within the forest. A group of Danish kids in waders were milling around a rock jetty with nets. They didn't seem to be catching anything, but further up on the beach I saw a woman stirring a large pot. It turned out to be crab soup, but it wasn't ready to be tasted yet. They offered to rent us some waders and nets but the sky was overcast and the water looked quite cold, so we opted to drive on to Odense instead.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 05:57 Archived in Denmark Tagged aarhus aalborg Comments (0)

Around the World 2017: Stavanger and Kristiansand


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Stavanger is the third largest city in Norway but the population is less than a quarter million, which would make it an inconsequential small town in most other countries. We definitely got more of the small town feel when we arrived. Our Airbnb was perfect for us: clean, spacious, and simple. As with Bergen, most of the action was around the small harbor. The old town was adjacent to the harbor, on a little peninsula jutting out into the North Sea. We had a good dinner at 26 North, in the Radisson Blu hotel, the night we arrived. We were lucky to get a table in the busy restaurant without a reservation, even though it was mid-week.

The next morning, we walked back down to the harbor area and found a miniature version of the wharf market in Bergen, except without the seafood stalls. All the seafood was in the market restaurant, but it seemed like a weak cousin of Fjellskål in Bergen so we gave it a pass. We checked out the small produce market nearby and then ate at a ramen shop at a shopping mall on the far side of the peninsula.
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We had a little time to kill before our Lysefjord boat tour, so when we came across a cool playground called Geoparken we let the kids go crazy for an hour. All the playground equipment is made from discarded parts of oil rigs. It's not as dangerous as it sounds, hopefully!
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The Lysefjord cruise was a lot shorter and simpler than the Norway in a Nutshell tour, but I found it more scenic and enjoyable. Lysefjord's cliffs are breathtaking, jagged walls of granite that plunge directly into the sea. It was less overcast than it had been on our Sognefjord cruise as well, which made the water much more blue and reflective.
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Some of the other highlights of the cruise were an interaction with friendly and hungry mountain goats, a waterfall close enough to soak us with spray, and a fjord's-eye view of Preikestolen. This rock "pulpit" which juts from the top of a high cliff is one of the signature rock formations of the Norwegian fjords. People hike up there in huge numbers in the summer months, but I can't even look at pictures of it without feeling sick to my stomach. I've seen videos of kids playing on the rock and even eating lunch with their legs hanging over the edge, but the thought of my own kids being up there is unimaginable. Fortunately, falls from Preikestolen and other popular formations like Trolltunga are extremely rare, with far fewer deaths than have occurred at American sites such as Half Dome.
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On our return we found the wharf area in full swing, with outdoor cafes full of customers despite the chill. The source of the crowd was clear, a huge cruise ship docked a few yards away. A fully-kitted rock band played on a stage next to the water's edge. We climbed the hill behind the wharf to the Valberg Tower, an old watch tower that once was the highest vantage point in Stavanger.

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We wandered back through the largely pedestrianized old town to the Ethiopian restaurant we had selected, which proved to be one of the better Ethiopian meals we've had. According to the owner, there's a good-sized Ethiopian community in Stavanger.
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The next morning we took one last walk down to the harbor and the old town. This time we got a closer look at Stavanger's Byparken. Like most of Norway's parks, it had its share of whimsical touches. Then it was time for a quick lunch and the three hour drive to our last destination in Norway.
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We only had two reasons to be in Kristiansand. The first was that it was the departure point for our ferry back to Denmark the next day. The second was Dyreparken, a combination amusement park and zoo that has a lot of positive commentary in guidebooks and online. We try and mix the things we want to do with stuff that will make the kids happy and help them remember the trips. Watching our kids have fun is a good memory for us as well. We arrived at the park at around four in the afternoon, which gave us three hours before it closed. We paid the rather brutal general admission prices, foregoing the waterpark which required a separate ticket. There were only a few rides that were free with admission, and they weren't particularly exciting although naturally our kids wanted to try all of them. We eventually got them away from the rides and walked to Kardemomme by, a miniature town based on a popular Norwegian children's book. There didn't seem to be much to that place either, except for a little train that did a quick circuit of the town.
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We ended up having to rush a little bit through the zoo, which was a pleasant arrangement of boardwalks through large outdoor exhibits. It was good not to have to see animals in cages, but of course the downside to that presentation is that many animals couldn't be spotted at all. On the way out of the park we found people standing in a long line for a luge ride that we'd missed earlier. Despite the line we managed to get a ride for each of the kids. The luge seemed quite fast and the track left the ground completely in sections which would have made for an interesting video, but unfortunately I wasn't wearing my video sunglasses for the ride.

We located our Airbnb with some difficulty, and found the owner hadn't left us any towels or bed linens. The bedrooms were in the basement that could only be accessed via a ladder descending from an unprotected hole in the ground floor. Not ideal. We drove to downtown Kristiansand and found ourselves dinner at a mediocre tapas restaurant. The downtown pedestrian area was different from the other Norwegian cities we'd visited in that it wasn't focused on a wharf. We encountered the first neoclassical McDonald's I've seen as well as an energetic outdoor concert. Unfortunately, the security wouldn't let us into the concert with the kids but we were still able to enjoy the band from outside.
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We followed what seemed to be the main street and eventually encountered a small park with a beautiful square fountain and grassy embankments for the kids to roll around on. Once they'd tired themselves out it was time to bring another busy day to an end. When we got back to the Airbnb, we immediately hustled the kids down to the basement to neutralize the hole-in-the-floor hazard. Fortunately the mattresses were clean so the lack of sheets didn't present too much of a problem.
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The ferry to Denmark didn't leave until late afternoon so we had a few hours to see Kristiansand in the day time. The historic quarter of town is Posebyen, the only neighborhood to survive a huge fire in 1892. Unlike the historic quarters of Bergen and Stavanger, Posebyen is very quiet and residential. We strolled up and down the main pedestrian street, and Spenser did his best impression of a chess piece. For lunch, we found a Mexican restaurant close to the train station which had a very unique interior decor.
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I was a little nervous about the three hour ferry ride to Denmark after our experience returning to Sicily from Malta, but the ride was smooth and there was a play area which occupied the kids. Cleo got a kick out of some Norwegian cartoon characters that were patrolling the ferry, although we had no idea who they were.
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We arrived on schedule at Hirsthals, in the far north of Denmark, but our day wasn't close to over. We still had to find dinner and get to Aarhus, two hours away.

Posted by zzlangerhans 08:31 Archived in Norway Tagged stavanger kristiansand dyreparken Comments (0)

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