New England, Old Haunts
Years ago, a father and son spent two summers by the lake in New Hampshire. Now they're back for the foliage and a near-vertical train ride you shouldn’t miss.
When I was a kid in the 1970s, my family visited our friends the Stewarts a couple of years in a row at their house on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. The lake was paradise for a young boy—my days were filled with swimming, sailing, and trips to the ice cream shop. My dad's most enduring memory of those trips is not nearly as idyllic. He was standing in the Stewarts' sailboat one summer when the boom came loose and smacked him in the face, breaking his nose. The silver lining: At least when we got home, the doctor didn't have to break his nose again—it set straight on its own.
Thirty years later, my dad, also named Tom, and I are revisiting some of our favorite spots from those summers, including Lake Winnipesaukee—although we definitely won't be doing any sailing this time around. After flying into Portland, Maine, from our respective homes, we drive south to Portsmouth and grab a bite to eat atGilley's PM Lunch, a food stand from the 1940s. Despite the fact that the rusted truck at the front end looks like it's seen better days, the clam chowder, burgers, and extra-crispy French fries are excellent.
Heading northwest, we make a detour in Barrington to taste the cheeses atCalef's Country Store, an almost-too-cute shop dating back to 1869 with a wide front porch and old wooden floors. Most of the store's cheddars are aged for one to three years, with the exception of the "four-year-old cheese," named after a block of cheese that got lost in the cellar and accidentally aged for that long. Just as I'm about to make a purchase, I realize that the cheeses probably won't age as well in the trunk of my car for four days. Luckily, Calef's ships; I decide to place my order when I get back to New York.
New Hampshire is filled with touristy places like Calef's that seem as though they've been around forever. But one of my favorite childhood haunts is long gone. After we search the town of Wolfeboro for the Hansel and Gretel Shop, where my sisters and I used to try to win prizes by catching plastic goldfish in a pond, a local tells me that it was actually located in nearby Melvin Village and closed years ago. It's just as well. I might have looked silly holding one of the miniature rods as an adult.
Dad and I check in toThe Lake Motel, an old-fashioned inn with a huge backyard and private beach on Crescent Lake right next to Lake Winnipesaukee. Then we hurry over toCastle in the Clouds, a historic mountaintop estate, before it closes. The house was built in 1914 for Thomas Plant, a millionaire shoe manufacturer, and it has a lot of really unusual details, like indoor fire hydrants and a central vacuuming system. The views are also incredible, which makes the property a popular spot for weddings. A ceremony is happening while we're there, but we're not dressed well enough to crash it. Besides, my dad has better manners than to do that.
The Lake Motel
280 S. Main St., Wolfeboro, 888/569-1110, thelakemotel.com, from $89
Gilley's PM Lunch
175 Fleet St., Portsmouth, 603/431-6343, gilleyspmlunch.com, burger $2.50
Castle in the Clouds
Rte. 171, Moultonborough, 603/476-5900, castleintheclouds.org, $10
Calef's Country Store
Rtes. 9 and 125, Barrington, 800/462-2118, calefs.com
Now that he is retired, Dad has a motto: "Every day is Saturday except Sunday." This weekend, even Sunday is a Saturday because I have no idea where to find a church here. Instead, we opt for two breakfasts. First, we stop at theYum Yum Shop, where Dad and Mr. Stewart used to go for raspberry tarts. Although the store has moved since the '70s, it still sells them. "I think maybe they were better before," Dad says after biting into a tart.
Having admired Lake Winnipesaukee for two days, Dad and I are anxious to get out on the water, so we buy tickets for a ride on one of theMount Washington Cruises. The ship is enormous—it's 230 feet long and carries more than 1,000 people on four decks—but the views of the fall foliage are even more impressive. The colors of the leaves are nearly at their peak, making us glad we picked October to visit.
Back on land, I'm finally able to feel like a kid again at an arcade near the dock,Half Moon Amusement Arcades. We're too late in the season for the bumper cars, but I happily while away some time playing old-school video games like Paperboy. I don't abandon Dad for long, though. I used to be good at these games (I swear!), but I'm not anymore. My quarters are gone in a flash.