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Archive for the ‘Vermont’ Category

Rockwell in the rain

Another washout day in the Green Mountains. Still, what did we expect? That’s why they’re the Green Mountains (similarly with the Lake District). So this morning we didn’t see much beyond the view from the balcony.
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Fortunately, the rain eased off after lunch and the radar plot looked clear for an hour or two so we took the opportunity to drive down the road to nearby Gifford Woods State Park for an easy (or so we thought) one-mile walk.

We followed the Kent Pond Trail (marked by yellow rectangles on the trees) through woodland,IMG_2137

skirting the frequent boggy bits in the path.
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The girls avidly collected the brown/red/yellow/green fallen maple leaves for their scrapbooks
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and enjoyed leaping the many rivulets that crossed our route.
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Initially the girls had wanted to stay in and watch television, but once they were out they had a great time. Despite only being a mile-long trail, we took nearly an hour to get round, what with the ups, downs, mud obstacles and water jumps. And we all emerged reasonably clean…

A little up the hill from Rutland, a couple of miles from the bottom, we have kept passing the Norman Rockwell Museum, Vermont (as opposed to the bigger one in Massachusetts). Today I popped down while the girls went for a final swim here.
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It has few original paintings, but a vast collection of magazine covers, advertisements and other prints by Rockwell, along with printed and audio commentaries. I spent an hour browsing just some of the exhibits (there is simply too much to take in) and making notes – a pocket-sized notebook is another essential RTW item (I have used mine for sketching hiking maps, keeping track of money, jotting addresses, noting curiosities, etc.)

Rockwell made use of photography to a large extent to base his illustrations upon, hence the high level of detail – but long exposure times were still necessary in the early days of his career and he would sometimes sit for his own pictures if the model couldn’t keep the pose for long enough. (There was also one story of a duck that wouldn’t stay still, so the owner nailed its feet to a board.)

His career spanned an astonishing 67 years, from 1911 to 1978, and he demonstrated an impressive technical proficiency right from the start. Apart from his Saturday Evening Post covers, he produced adverts for Shredded Wheat, Grape Nuts and brake pads as well as endorsing many other products – including wine. Not any particular type of wine, just wine as a beverage that Americans might like to consider drinking instead of their usual tipple….

There was an interesting analysis of his Four Freedoms posters, including a first draft of his Freedom of Speech (final version below).
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His preliminary sketch was drawn from a higher viewpoint (rather than looking up at the speaker, who also had his mouth closed originally), and the central figure had a zipped jacket and a buttoned shirt – which are unusually reversed in the final version. Rockwell included himself at the back on the left.

His April Fool illustrations are fun – he supposedly included 57 mistakes in this one, but readers claimed to have found twice as many.
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His more recent work was unfamiliar to me, such as his near-photographic likenesses of presidential candidates and his pictures of the Apollo 11 team.

I am left with the impression that Rockwell was the art world’s Leroy Anderson (US composer of light music, of whom he was a near contemporary). Prolific and highly accomplished, producing highly accessible work which was/is immensely popular with the public, but sadly never sufficiently innovative to impress the critics. And both lived and worked in New England. [Thanks to Google, I now discover that I am not the first to have noted this parallel – ah well… it’s hard to be original!]

(Kirsten) – I am pleased that Tim found time to visit the museum as he commented on it several times when we drove past. 

Meanwhile the girls and I were feeling quite warm after our walk, so we decided to visit the pool one last time.  The pool was the busiest it had been since we arrived.  One younger couple relaxing on the loungers and three generations of one family.  The girls only wanted to go in the hot tub and carry on with their imaginary game of playing cafés where everything had a “fish & chips” flavour (including drinks) and ice creams were topped with water.  When I ordered a glass of wine I was asked if I wanted it hot or cold – “I can warm it up in the microwave” – Ellen said. 

The other family had a little inflatable boat with a net bottom (as opposed to a plastic one) and they offered it to the girls to have a play with.  At first they were both hesitant and unsure, but once they figured out how to get in they had a whale of a time.  It only lasted 5 minutes as they were getting cold and headed back to the warmth of the hot tubs.

The girls then decided that the area between the two hot tubs was a stage and they both performed a lovely song (Hayley Westenra for Hannah and Abba for Ellen) – they carried on singing holding their pretend microphones all the way to the changing rooms!

We spent a good hour in the pool and left feeling nice and warm, but a little hungry, so went back to our house for an afternoon snack of left over whoopie pie, cookie and shoofly pie.

Back home for our final evening in Killington; baked potatoes and – yes! no! – Bumblebee Tuna mayonnaise. The power of advertising… (though to my knowledge, never illustrated by Rockwell – and the jingle was certainly not composed by Anderson).

Now for our increasingly-familiar routine of packing up and moving on – see you in New Hampshire.

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Rutland Weekend Television

(I’ve been saving that one up…) Yes, they do have a local TV station just for this mountain resort of Killington and the nearby town of Rutland, and it repeats the same programmes every day, as far as we can tell. Tourist guides to nearby trails to hike or bike, adverts for assorted bars and restaurants (“here you can drop your peanut shells on the floor; in fact they encourage it”; “Happy Hour from 3 to 6 – free chicken wings!”).

As for us, another ‘slow news’ day. We began with good intentions, getting ourselves dressed, fed and out of the door to meet for a guided hike at 9am by Bill’s Country Store. We made it in time, and waited. And waited. A few other cars turned up, but then they drove off again – just a rendezvous with friends. So perhaps the poor forecast led to the walk being cancelled.

Incidentally, we tried home-made waffles for breakfast – they go well with maple syrup. A packet mix, I’m afraid, but it let us try out the provided electric waffle-maker.
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After the non-existent walk, we sloped off to the pool again – the hot tubs were only luke warm today, though. Outside, the grey clouds delivered their promised rain, a pattern that continued for most of the day.

Since it was not good outdoor weather, we thought we’d treat ourselves to a nice fattening frozen treat. We started with a ham sandwich at home, then drove down to the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop in Rutland for dessert. (This instead of the three-hour return drive to the B & J factory – despite what Stephen Fry implied in his series where he drove a taxi through all 50 states, mere mortals are not permitted to turn up at the factory and invent a new flavour combination.)

Kirsten’s Brownie Sludge Funday (or some such),
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Tim’s Banana Split, served in a boat-shaped dish (and it took me all day-o to finish it),
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Hannah tackling her cookie dough waffle cone with great seriousness
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And Ellen enjoying her not-so-hot tub.
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We pumped up the car’s tyres and struggled back up the hill to our condo. where we flopped out for a while. (It’s true about the tyres – a warning light came on suggesting they were under-inflated, although this may be a consequence of today’s cooler weather.) I wonder what would have happened had we ordered the Vermonster; “20 scoops of ice cream, hot fudge, banana, cookies, brownies, and all of your favorite toppings”?

Tomorrow is our last full day here, and it would be nice to have the weather to get out and see a bit more of the countryside. But we should count our blessings – Pennsylvania has just been hit by heavy storms and several beaches on Cape Cod are currently closed while Hurricane Bill passes by.

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End of the holiday

(But we’re not coming home just yet.) What I mean is, everything we have done up to this point would have squeezed into a standard three-week summer holiday, the girls would have missed no school and I would have resumed work as normal. So it’s only from this point onward that we’re entering the territory of long-term round-the-world travel.

Are we ready for it? Well, so far so good, and rest days such as today (more heavy rain and thunderstorms) will be essential – and easier to permit ourselves – if we are to keep going for 44 weeks rather than three. We made use of our ‘down time’ to get our first week’s accommodation in Peru sorted out, and it puts our minds at rest to know that we have somewhere to stay every night through to mid-October.

This morning we spent time in the swimming pool, initially with the whole place to ourselves, and the hot tubs were working at last! Other than that, we caught up with the washing, played cards, watched television, checked weather forecasts, made a lasagna, drank Canada Dry, made a bed-linen tent in the living room, researched possible stops/attractions on the way from here to Maine, played with the vintage 1978 ‘Simon’ electronic game we found in a cupboard, wished the girls’ cousin Mathias a happy birthday via Skype…
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On a different tack, and for the record, here are a few points we have noted during our first three weeks in the USA:

  • They BOGO rather than BOGOF in shops.
  • Washing machines are top-loaders and tend to be hidden away in closets.
  • No washing powder; liquid detergent instead.
  • You don’t grill something in the cooker, you broil it.
  • All kitchen appliances are extra-wide, and many microwaves have preset buttons for ‘pizza’, ‘popcorn’, etc.
  • “Have a good one” is the standard valediction (never yet “have a nice day”).
  • Single-ply loo paper everywhere – triple-ply is a rare luxury.
  • No electric kettles, but a whistler on the hob. Coffee makers as standard, however.
  • You have to pre-pay for your petrol, but it’s so cheap!
  • Shaun the Sheep is by far the best program(me) on Disney Channel.
  • “Way to go” and “Awesome” (pronounced “ah-some”) are ubiquitous.
  • Drive-thru banks (not just the ATM, but full teller service).
  • “Handicapped” rather than “Disabled”.
  • Very few facilities for recycling, certainly not linked in with rubbish/trash collection.

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Appalachian Spring

is what they should have called that trampoline/bungee thingy that Hannah went on yesterday (and again today)…

As a matter of fact, we walked a tiny fragment of the Appalachian Trail this morning – probably about half a mile. It begins with a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk to the mighty-sounding Thundering Falls
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passing through some lovely countryside on the way.
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We soon reached the waterfall – and despite yesterday’s rainstorms there was scarcely a trickle to be seen; the bulk of the flow was diverted through a hydro-electric station powering Killington.

We continued for a while on a more representative section of the trail, climbing an uneven and rocky path through woodland.
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At the top we reached a dirt road, whereupon we retraced our steps, stopping on the boardwalk for the girls to do some sketching. Hannah went for an artistic but literal interpretation of what she saw, while Ellen’s imagination added torrents to the dry waterfall and fish to the apiscine (?) stream.

We stopped off at our expensive local grocery store for supplements to today’s lunch and supper (slices of fresh pizza and sausages). We also refueled (the car and ourselves) and rested for an hour. Then back to Pico Mountain Adventure Center to redeem our rainchecks – once we had established that no storms were brewing.

Hannah wanted to try the alpine slide and I accompanied her; we took the first run slowly to get used to things, but the second and third times we picked up more speed – and she loved it! The chairlift up and the run down take about 15 minutes, and we squeezed in two final goes before they closed at 5pm.
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Meanwhile, Ellen was keen to practise her mini-golf; she has taken to it remarkably well, with several under par scores despite the usual windmills, hills and tunnels as obstacles.

Half way through the afternoon a large group of children (no, not a group of large children) descended on the Center and the queue for the alpine slide was permanently and depressingly long. We decided to make use of our passes and drive seven miles up the road to take the gondola up to Killington Peak, the highest mountain in the area at 4,235 feet (indeed, it is the second-highest peak in the Green Mountains). [And those sloping canals are a marvel of American engineering…]

We took fleeces, anticipating a slight chill to the air up there, or at least a stiff breeze, but the temperature was comfortable, in the low 70s (everything is in Fahrenheit over here). We scrambled up another rocky pathy to the summit, to be rewarded with far-reaching views (over five states, it is said).
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Blasted tree
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and blasted exposure (it wasn’t this dim and grim, but the picture is quite atmospheric…)
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Then back to a less busy Adventure Center for the last half hour of opening time. Another day without swimming, but we’ll make up for that during our remaining days here (especially if we get more rain).

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Blue Chance Dallas

A slightly slower start to the day and for some reason I was still feeling a little out of breath.  I think Tim was joking when he said it was the altitude! 

Anyway, after a good breakfast of two slices of toast with Vermont maple syrup I’m ready for today’s plan.  We’re off to the Pico Adventure Center just down the road where Hannah & Ellen will go on a pony ride and I might try the one-hour trail.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I sat on a horse so I was feeling pretty nervous.  Our trail guide was called Travis and there were three other people in my group, none of them had much experience with horses, which made me feel a little better.  But then Travis and the two stable girls started discussing which horse would be good for me and they took a while to decide.  I ended up with a dark grey horse which looked slightly blue-ish from a distance, hence his name “Blue”.

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Just before getting on the horse I was told he was quite lazy and liked to stop whenever he felt nibbly.  Great!  A five-second briefing on how to steer the horse and we were off.  Blue and I were put right behind the guide so he could give me some clear instructions when I needed them and keep a close eye on my steering skills.  We set off going up the hill and were told to keep the horses away from the grass as there was a dip which they wouldn’t be able to see… until it’s too late.  I was impressed with Blue’s patience and tolerance but was sure he must be thinking “Oh no, this one has no experience at all!  And why does she keep steering me away from that luscious green grass?”

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Halfway up the hill we came across some tree fellers and Travis decided to keep the horses away from them as they wouldn’t like the noise.  This meant steering Blue sharp left, but I managed alright.  We had only gone for half an hour, so Travis told us that because we were all doing so well, we were going up on a slightly different route he uses for more advanced riders.  Oh great!  This route was along some slippery mud and between some lovely green vegetation.  So not only did I have to make sure Blue didn’t stop for a nibble I  also had to think about whether to lean forward (when going uphill) or backward (when going downhill), whether to hold the reins tighter so that he couldn’t eat, or let go of the reins slightly so that he could see where he was going (and also spot the tasty grass!).  On top of that my legs were starting to ache and shake a little.  Riding a horse is far from relaxing and your body does start to ache – right now I’m actually sitting on a cushion as my bottom is slightly sore.

At about 11am we arrived back at the stables, if it weren’t for the pains and aches I would have loved to ride for longer.  As we got nearer the stables I was thinking of riding up to the steps again (the ones I used for getting on the horse) to help me get off the horse.  But oh no, no such luck!  Travis shouted “Both legs out of the stirrups, swing one leg over the horse and jump off” – I managed, but did feel a little wobbly afterwards.
 
I enjoyed horse riding so much that maybe when we’re back in Market Lavington I might consider taking riding lessons – we’ll see, let’s find out first if I’m still sore tomorrow…

After the horses were back in the stable, it was the girls’ turn to go riding.  They had been very much looking forward to it.  They put their helmets on and waited patiently for the stable girls to get their horses ready.  Hannah’s horse “Chance” came out first and Hannah got on quite easily using the steps.  Then “Dallas” came out and Ellen got on.  What I couldn’t understand was why Ellen’s horse was bigger than Hannah’s – until afterwards Ellen told us that Dallas was the oldest horse in the stable and maybe he was the gentlest (Tim thought that maybe because he’s the oldest he gets the lighter children on his back).  Hannah sat up straight, feet in the stirrups, Ellen couldn’t reach the stirrups at all and at one point I thought she was going to slide off, but she got upright again.  Both girls truly enjoyed their 15 minute trot near the stables – big smiles from the saddle – and have already asked several times if they could do it again.

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After they dismounted safely (they were allowed to use the steps!), we sat on the bench looking at the photos I had taken.  Then one of the stable girls came out carrying two used horse shoes, Hannah was given Chance’s and Ellen Dallas’s.  Now that really did make the girls’ day – what a special souvenir!

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Taking a raincheck

I must own up to a slight frisson this afternoon when we did that very American thing and took a raincheck. Not just the figurative ‘let’s do it another time instead’ variety, but a real paper voucher entitling the bearer to return to the Pico Mountain Adventure Center another day because of the huge thunderstorm that closed down all of its activities this afternoon.

The forecast promised 0% chance of precipitation today, and although (because) it was cooler and cloudier than recent days we returned to the PMAC after this morning’s equestrian activities and a quick lunch at home. You get a slightly reduced rate if you buy an afternoon ticket as opposed to the all-day variety (still nearly $80 even so) and Hannah got stuck straight in by shinning up the climbing wall a good 20 feet and then trying out the trampoline/bungee contraption (see below).
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Meanwhile, Kirsten and Ellen took the chairlift 600 feet up the hillside to do the alpine slide/toboggan thingy. Once Hannah had finished bouncing, we decided that she and I would do the toboggan while Kirsten and Ellen began a game of mini-golf. However, I was a little disappointed to see that the chairlift was now closed (I hadn’t yet taken part in any activity today), so we all went for the golf instead. Except that everyone who couldn’t take the chairlift was now golfing – so we started at hole 10…

By hole 11 it was drizzling. By hole 18 it had upped its game to a deluge, which (along with rumbles of thunder) drove us under cover to the ticket office and shop. Everything had closed down by now, and when another family who had driven for an hour to get here pleaded to be permitted to mini-golf in the storm, they were advised that walking around with three-foot metal poles was probably not the wisest thing to do…

We saw several families handing in their tickets, possibly for some kind of refund, so we queued up to see what the situation was. Full-day ticket holders – tough. You had had enough time to have your fun, even if your day was curtailed by 2½ hours. But half-day tickets (e.g. ours) would be exchanged for a ‘Summer Courtesy Voucher’ valid until October 18th this year, i.e. the renowned raincheck.

So we’ll keep a weather eye on the radar plots on wunderground.com and hope for a clear afternoon some time in the next four days.

I now find I have an automatic mental six-segment pie chart ticking off the time we have left in each of our rental properties; two days to get the feel of the place and the next four to pack in the other things we want to do – this week, maybe a local hike, a gondola ride up to Killington Peak and a trip to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory 65 miles to the north, as well as more swimming.

Is time passing more slowly on this trip? No, the days don’t drag, but they are packed full of memorable experiences; events of two weeks past seem an age ago because so much has happened since then. But I don’t know how we’ll manage to pack such a big, big world into a space as small as a human head…

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Price Chopper

That’s the rather alarming name (complete with a big red axe logo) of a chain of grocery stores around here. We popped down to Rutland this morning and risked our necks there, although in the event the prices seemed more Waitrose than Lidl ($3.49 for a box of plain biscuits, $5.39 for an average pack of ham).

Hannah chose this box of cupcakes for their visual impact, but at tea time she discovered she didn’t like the day-glo icing – ‘it tastes like play-dough’. As the Amish say, the outside world promises much, but seldom delivers…

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We returned to our ski condo (a wise abbreviation of condominium) stopping off at the Pico (say ‘pike-oh’) Mountain Adventure Center to find out about pony rides, climbing walls, power jumps (sort of bungee trampoline) and alpine slides. Could be fun if the weather cools as promised from tomorrow onwards.

By the way, here are some pictures of our home for the week. We are occupying the top-right quarter, and the rest of it appears to be empty.
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The grounds, looking across towards the tennis courts and spa complex (with indoor swimming pool).
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The downstairs kitchen/diner/living room
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and the girls’ own floor (with balcony).
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We are very comfortable here, with the lack of air conditioning being the only drawback in this ‘hasn’t been this hot for years’ weather which is following us wherever we go; at least we have ceiling fans. I’m sure the heating is great in the ski season (there’s a real log fire)…

We had a salady sandwichy lunch at home before mooching across to the cool of the pool; for at least a couple of hours we alternated between water and sun-lounger, and we had the place to ourselves for the bulk of the time. Just one lady from North Carolina came along – she and her husband came up to Killington to get away from the heat… (and for the golf).

Then back for tea – those disappointing cupcakes and a fraction of our stockpile of Shoo-fly Pie.

Supper at home was sweetcorn (costing the grand sum of $1 for all of us – okay, that price got chopped) and then chicken breast – but with added glucose syrup; not nice. Why do they have to put sugar in everything over here? Wholemeal bread, shredded wheat – sweet cheeses, where will it all end?

Just a little financial update for those keen to know (e.g. families planning a similar trip) – at the end of our 18th day in the USA, our average daily costs are:

  • Accommodation £73
  • Car rental £21
  • All other living costs (food, petrol, entrance fees, meals out, etc.) £46
  • TOTAL: £140, or £35 per person

[These figures exclude flights and also the purchase of souvenir items. Exchange rate is around $1.63 to £1.00]

Yes, you could cut the accommodation figure to nearer £40 if you were happy to live in motels, but then you would lose out on the savings to be made by self-catering (as well as a lot of comfort, security and privacy).

We originally budgeted for £100/day, incorrectly assuming that accommodation would not cost more than £50. Prices are inflated because it is peak holiday season here, but even so I am pleasantly surprised that our daily living costs are only £11.50 per person – this includes quite a few meals out (typically from $30 to $50 a time) and hefty entrance fees (from $30 up to $74, often around $50).

We are now relying on everywhere else on our itinerary being less expensive than the USA…

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