I don’t know if it was the intro in Gilmore Girls that had me dream of experiencing Autumn in New England or if my fascination came with my high school studies of the 13 colonies, or perhaps it was when I in 9th grade watched The Cider House Rules in English Class. No matter what, I have had a long standing dream of exploring New England in the fall. In fact my dream is the reason that our trip to New York takes place in the first two weeks of October.
Back in July, I’d spent a lot of time figuring out how we might get to see the 2016 peak. Neither of us have a driver’s license, and on TripAdvisor we were warned against any attempt at reaching the New England states without a car. This is not a part of the world where public transport has made any advancement. I found so many beautiful little hamlets to explore or trails to walk, but all of them demanded that we drive there by car.
I was close to giving up when I finally made a break through. And for all you European city dwellers out there who are dreaming of seeing a piece of New England, here is what we did.
Online I’d found VT Trans Lines as probably the only public bus line through Vermont. It has two routes, one north- south and one east – west. Then I compared all the stops to lists of beautiful New England towns and quickly came across Woodstock, VT. Apart from being a beautiful town, Woodstock also offered a small national park with walking trails close to the centre. In addition, I’d found an AirBnb listing smack down in the middle of town. From there I’d found all the long distance bus lines I could and discovered that to the east of Woodstock and also on the VT line lies the larger town of Hanover, New Hampshire. The town which lies at the Connecticut River on the border of New Hampshire and Vermont is home to the private Ivy League University Dartmouth. This offered a few more transportation options than for the rest of the area and I quickly found that the daily east-west bus line of VT Trans Lines matched perfectly with the daily Dartmouth Coach from New York City to Hanover. I’d found a way to reach Woodstock through Hanover. Hanover itself sounded like an interesting town and after an AirBnb search I came up with a listing in Norwich, Vermont – a small village one mile from Hanover on the Vermont side of Connecticut River. The great thing here was that Hanover and the surrounding area offered free transportation through Advanced Transit which also drove to Norwich. Take that pessimistic TripAdvisors!
Now all that was left was worrying about how one bus being late might get us stuck somewhere.
On the road again…
On Tuesday morning we arrived early for the Dartmouth Coach stop at 42nd street. As we needed to load up on cash in case we needed it in the New England outback, I send my boyfriend to find an ATM. Not 30 seconds after he’d run off, several women in the line started telling me different scary stories about how the bus waited for no one and that it would leave at exactly 8.30. It didn’t help when the bus arrived making the women even more anxious on my behalf. Fortunately, I’ve learned that my boyfriend always makes it on time, but their fretting really didn’t help on my already fragile nerves.
But as I knew he would he made it back in plenty of time. And we could enter a little piece of bus heaven together. Now unlike Greyhound or for that sake Norwegian Air Shuttle, the Dartmouth Coach line from New York to Hanover is absolute luxury. I think they called it executive seating, but whatever it was called, there was space for even the tallest biggest person in these seats. My problem was that it was almost to large a seat, making me slowly disappear. The bus offered Wi-Fi and the option of a movie, but what really blew me apart from the great seating was the coffee and snack bar in the back of the bus. We really hadn’t needed to buy breakfast before departure.
It took us two hours to get out of New York City, but as soon as we’d left New Haven in the rear view mirror, the driver quickly caught up, while we enjoyed the beautiful landscape we passed by. Reaching Hanover, we spent an hour and a half soaking in the autumn sun in front of Hanover Inn while waiting for the VT Trans Lines bus. When it came it was merely a minivan and we had to stuff our bags in to the seats in the back.
Half an hour later as it was turning late afternoon the bus dropped us off at a parking lot just outside Woodstock.
We soon found our accommodation and the local tourist information where we were advised on visiting Billings Farm and the joining National Park. With plans for the following day, we walked through the very charming town of Woodstock Vermont. And it was everything I’d imagined. A covered wooden bridge, a green, wood churches, lots of trees and cute little stores catering to locals and visitors, alike. We walked around for a bit as the sun slowly disappeared. We managed a few visits to local shops including the very charming FH Gillingham and sons general Store with old wooden planks on the floor and an atmosphere as if we’d stepped back in time to the 19th centuries wild west.
I couldn’t help drawing comparisons to Stars Hollow while we enjoyed Woodstock. I imagined that Woodstock would have its own Taylor Doosey who’d bring up demands for Halloween decoration at the mandatory town meetings. The decorations in town and in front of the shops was simply too well maintained that only a perfectionist like Taylor would be behind it. At least he would love Woodstock.
The only thing that seemed to be missing in town was a Luke’s Diner. Instead we were recommended Bentley’s Restaurant where once again we were treated to Butternuts’ Cup Squash. We ordered lamb chops but were a bit disappointed when it didn’t include bones with marrow. But it tasted great nonetheless.
A Day in Marsh – Billings – Rockefeller National Historical Park
Early the next day we set out to Billings Farm and the National Park. Before leaving town, we went to the General Store for sandwiches, but quickly discovered that they offered nothing in terms of plastic wrapped industrial sandwiches. Rather they suggested us to visit The Village Butcher next door.
And once again we were greeted with another perfect example of Taylor Doosey’s dream town. The Village Butcher sold much more than merely meet, including maple syrup, cakes and fudge as well as some really great sandwiches, which we got wrapped up for our trip into the wild.
We decided to focus on the National Park rather than the farm and a tour of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller mansion. We have enough old houses back home. We’d come for the nature. Before setting off we were informed that at 2 o’clock there would be the option for joining a ranger for a tour of the park. It is a small park and at 13.30 we’d been through most of the main trails apart from the northern and southern summits because we’d somehow missed the entry to the trails.
It is a very beautiful and peaceful place and just what the doctor ordered after a week in New York. However it was far from as red as I’d imagined even though we’d hit peak.
We managed to return in time for a tour with a ranger and decided to join if by chance the tour would go by the northern or southern summits. It soon became apparent that we were the only visitors who wanted to join a guided ranger tour that day. Our ranger guide was an elder and very kind woman who originally heralded from Wales, but had lived 28 years in the US. Despite having planned a less trying tour that day she agreed to take us to the Southern Summit. It was pretty cool to have our own ranger with us. She told us about places that animals might hide, or which had been used by the natives as sleeping spaces in olden days. She told us that the reason the red colour was not more dominant was the deforestation of the area back in the 19th century after which the Billings, Marsh and Rockefeller families planted a variety of trees including Norwegian Spruce. This meant that the maple tree was not as widely represented here as in other parts of New England.
She also read us a few poems on our trip all of which perfectly matched the warm autumn day.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, Mountain Interval, 1916
By the time we reached the summit it was late afternoon. Here we were joined by a British family as our ranger told us the story of why leaves turn red in the autumn. She ended our tour with the beautiful view from the Southern Summit with another Robert Frost poem.
After thanking the ranger, we headed off to a few more areas of interest, enjoying the late afternoon. Though it might not have been as red as I had dreamt it to be, it was still beautiful and I am still thrilled that we were so lucky with the weather.
We walked back to town by a trail which zigzagged for ages ending up in Faulkner Park. We only managed to reach town after dark and completely spent. But we’d managed to get a complete day from walking around the beautiful Marsh – Billings – Rockefeller National Historical Park. So far I’ve been mighty pleased with my visit to New England though I have also already decided to return one day to explore other parts of the region.
Goodbye Woodstock, I hope to see you again some day
I take it back. There is a Luke’s Diner in Woodstock Vermont. It is a bit more frazzled and unkempt and instead of Luke you’ll find a group of grey haired waitresses running the morning crowd, but it is definitely worthy to be categorised as a Luke’s Diner. Mountain Creamery is placed on Central Street along with pretty much everything. The place is packed full with middle-aged American couples touring autumn coloured Vermont as well as locals at the bar chatting with the waitresses about everyday stuff.
Coffee and waffles at Mountain Creamery was the perfect ending to an amazing stay in Woodstock Vermont.
By 11.30 we were standing with our luggage at the parking area outside of town waiting for our drive back to Hanover.
We arrived in Norwich early afternoon and had plans to see Hannover. Unfortunately, the rain arrived at the same time as us, and the “short” mile into Hannover turned into a shower. We ended up checking out all the various items one could buy with the Dartmouth logo. It is truly a business of its own with several major stores in town selling everything from t-shirts and jumpers to key-chains, notebooks and cups – and that is only the more standardised items. There were Halloween and Christmas ornaments and cushions and throws. This is so far from the one lousy t-shirt you can buy from a university in Denmark. In fact, Danish universities only produce such t-shirts because overseas exchange students have requested them. I suppose the very fact that you pay immense amounts to go to university in the US already makes it a very commercial institution, whereas in Denmark the universities up until a few years ago never thought about branding themselves.
Our visit to Hannover was brief and it seemed to take us longer to find our way home since we ended up on the brown line as it went all the way to the other end, paused for fifteen minutes before making its way back to Hannover and onwards to Norwich.
And off course as we drove in to Norwich the sky cleared and the sun showed itself. but we were tired and wet, so we headed to the general store to shop a few sandwiches before returning to our host’s house. The general store in Norwich is called Dan and Whit’s and is something of a local celebrity. partly because it is massive and seems to stock everything, and partly because it has one of the best slogans in the business:
If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!
After perusing for ages, we bought a few sandwiches and sodas and made our way home.
We were headed back to New York in the early afternoon, and had planned to spend the first couple of hours of the day exploring Norwich. Fortunately, the day offered a clear blue sky. We set out to find a bit of breakfast first, and ended up asking for directions to The Square Café at Norwich Inn. As they assisted us in finding our way around the very small hamlet, we grabbed a brochure about historic sites in Norwich. An absolutely brilliant brochure.
Norwich is a tiny place. Nothing more than a main street with houses on each side. The place has likely never had any significant impact on world or US history, but the history-loving locals had made a small brochure which told the history of every house on the street – many of which were from the 18th and 19th century. So after a muffin and a coffee at The Square Café which itself was in one of the historical buildings, we walked up and down the main street, pointing out and reading about each house. We passed the village green where the local school was out for recess and had another stop at Dan and Whit’s, on this overall charming walk.
While Norwich might just be one in a million small towns in rural US, I am very happy that we got to see it and that the weather was so great.
By midday we took the brown line back to Hannover catching the luxury bus back to New York and our visit to the Upper West Side and Brooklyn.