Leaf-peeping in Vermont: An expert's guide
It's leaf-peeping season!
We asked Moon Vermont co-author Michael Blanding to let us in on some tips for having a great time in the Green Mountain State.
What are some great websites for planning a trip?
The Vermont Department of Tourism has an excellent foliage page on its Web site, vermontvacation.com, which has up-to-date information on the quality of the leaves as well as lodging. Another great foliage site is run by Yankee Magazine, yankeefoliage.com. It features an interactive map updated with reports from readers, and a leaf blog by Jeff "Foliage" Folger, one of the most prolific foliage photographers in New England. Also, www.foliage-vermont.com has an active forum in which readers give updates on color in their areas.
When and where can you see the best color?
The general rule of thumb for Vermont is that the color starts getting good in mid-September, and the show is over by late October.
All that said, you should know that trying to predict when the color will be absolutely perfect is a loser's game, and frankly not necessary. Being overly preoccupied with chasing the elusive "peak" of foliage is a great way to spoil a trip—and takes away from all of the other things that make a fall weekend in Vermont so magical: harvest festivals, farm-stands, fresh-pressed apple cider, and sunny days of crisp mountain air.
The geographical variety of the state means there is a wide variation in color in different areas at the same time—and at any time you can find good color just by driving an hour north or south or heading up into the mountains (or down into the valley) depending on where you are. Finally, this season is already shaping up to be an unpredictable one because of all of the rain that we got in August—the trees are expected to hold onto their leaves a little longer, making late October still perfectly viable for some peak color in some areas.
The only essential piece of advice is: book now! Most lodgings are already full-up for Columbus Day Weekend (Oct 12-13), though because of the economy, it's not as difficult this year to still find space in mid-week and even in the first and third weekends of October. When making bookings, you'll have the most luck in the Northeast Kingdom—where color is well underway by mid-September. Later in the season, try basing yourself in the southeast corner of the state, either in the Brattleboro area or the Okemo Valley, which tend to have more available lodging than the middle and north-central areas.
What would a best-of-Vermont tour look like?
We actually have just such an itinerary in our book (forgive the shameless plug). Our perfect two-week tour (adjust as necessary) starts with two days in artsy Brattleboro in the southeastern corner of the state, taking in the monthly Gallery Walk and the Brattleboro Museum; continues north to visit the Grafton Village Cheese Company in Grafton, the Vermont Country Store in Weston, and Billings Farm in Woodstock; then heads deep into one of our favorite areas, the Mad River Valley, which has some of the most quintessential Vermont scenery in the state, and is a perfect area for hiking or canoeing.
From there, it's north to tour the Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury and go skiing in Stowe (or ride the tramway to the top of Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in the state); then up to Lake Champlain to visit the maritime museum, aquarium, and historic sites in the big city of Burlington; and down the valley to the college town of Middlebury and the nearby sites dedicated to poet Robert Frost. Finally, you finish out the circle 'round the state by driving south to see the maple museum and covered bridges outside Rutland, and the historic sites in Bennington, before heading back to Brattleboro, full of cheddar cheese, maple syrup, and happy memories.
Sometimes, during the height of tourism season, some of the main highways and roadways can get crowded, making the experience of driving in Vermont a bit stressful. Do you have any advice about going to less-well known destinations and yet having just as magical an experience?
As I mentioned, the Northeast Kingdom is always a safe bet for getting away from the crowds. But there are a couple of other areas that are less remote yet that, for some reason, don't draw the same number of tourists—whether because they don't have any obvious "sites" or ski mountains that have put them on the map as destinations. One of the state's best-kept secrets is the area known as the "Southwestern Lakes Region," along the New York border west of Route 7. Lake St. Catherine is one of the prettiest in the state, and the surrounding countryside is just classic rural Vermont, with country stores and churches at every turn.
Another area that tends to see less traffic is the "Vermont Piedmont" area, along known as the northern part of the "Upper Valley"—a hilly area in the east central part of the state centering around Fairlee and Corinth. Like other parts of Vermont, this area has seen a resurgence in agro-tourism, with all kinds of specialty farms and sugarhouses; and Route 5 along the Connecticut River is a classic fall foliage route.
Lodging is generally marked-up during the height of tourist season. Any creative suggestions for saving money on hotels or inns?
Foliage season sees big spikes in rates in Vermont, and you won't find any dirt cheap lodgings anywhere. But in fact, fall is not nearly as busy as winter ski season. Outside of Columbus Day weekend and the weekend on either side of it, lodgings are still competing for tourists, and you can find relatively cheap motel rooms if you are willing to book mid-week or slightly outside of peak foliage time (for example, late September or late October).
Vermont's emphasis on local businesses means that there are still many independent motels that work hard to undercut the chains and where you can still find a room under $100 in high season. Try around (but not in) ski resorts, for example around Killington, Stowe, and West Dover (Mt. Snow). Rutland is also a good city to look for less expensive rates—and it is perfectly located to jump off to the northern and southern sections of the Green Mountain State Forest, Middlebury, Manchester, and other attractions. Last but not least, two of our personal favorite "value" lodgings: the Old Red Mill in Wilmington (oldredmill.com), a friendly lodge with clean and comfortable rooms in the south-central part of the state; and the Latchis Hotel (latchis.com) in Brattleboro, which just went through a renovation of its 1930s Art Deco building and has an attached movie theater with discounted admission for hotel guests—but still offers $95 rooms in foliage season.
Skiing. What's the most common mistake out-of-state visitors make when planning ski trips to Vermont?
The biggest mistake people make is the head right to the "biggest" mountains with the biggest names—especially Killington, Sugarbush, and Mount Snow. While those mountains have earned their reputation for some of the most exciting and difficult terrain in the northeast, and its understandably tempting to want to test yourself against them, they can also be a frustrating exercise in standing around in lift lines or spending half the day trying to make it across a bewildering trail map for those one or two perfect runs.
Meanwhile, there are many mountains in Vermont that will more than test your skiing ability and offer a much more satisfying overall skiing experience—especially if you are not all about the double-diamonds. Mountains like Burke Mountain and Jay Peak, both in the Northeast Kingdom, are virtually deserted in winter, and both boast lots of natural powder. Mad River Glen, just up the valley from Sugarbush, has a cult following among skiers for its uncompromising terrain full of rocks, moguls, and glades, with a full half of its trails for experts. On the other side of the spectrum, families would do better to leave the big mountains behind and head to Smugglers Notch or Ascutney, which offer a range of terrain for all abilities as well as excellent kids programs. Finally, in a welcome contrast to the sometimes impersonal "mega-resort" feeling of Mt. Snow and Killington, Stowe Mountain has kept it real, with an authentic village full of real people and businesses that make the time off the mountain just as enjoyable as the time on it.
Tell us about your guidebook.
Thankfully we hit the ground running when we produced the first edition of Moon Vermont because we had recently completed Moon New England (another shameless plug!) the year before. So we were able to use some of the material from that book to form the basis for this one. As we started spending more time in Vermont, however, it quickly became clear to us that this was its own place with its own unique sensibility that was influenced by the rest of New England, but also stood proudly apart from it. Capturing that unique quality was the challenge and pleasure of writing the book.
Personally, I feel proud that we took time to highlight the kinds of things that visitors to Vermont are truly looking for (even if they may not be aware of it): farm tours and farm stays, restaurants using organic or local ingredients, quirky country stores, and family sugarhouses alongside the more "obvious" attractions like Ben & Jerry's and Killington. Along the way, we fell in love with parts of the state that aren't as familiar to tourists—and weren't as familiar to us either—such as the Mad River Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. We truly hope that readers enjoy exploring them with us!
Interview with Rolf Potts on his new book and on the "tourist" versus "traveler" debate
Mind the gap! That's the sign passengers see at London Metro stations, warning them to watch for the space between the platform and the subway car. But "mind the gap" is also a good advice for Americans traveling anywhere overseas. The gap, in this case, is between your expectation of what a foreign country will be like and the reality. No American travel writer has written as much—and as cleverly—about this gap between expectations and reality as Rolf Potts. Potts has written a new book, Marco Polo Didn't Go There (Traveler's Tales, $15). It collects many of his award-winning travel articles, which cover his attempt to crash the Thai set of a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, to go native in the Australian Outback, and to look at the Egyptian Pyramids in a fresh light. Reading the book is like meeting a backpacker who charms you for hours at a bar in Cairo or Bangkok with his tales of the road, told in a self-deprecating style. You want to buy him another round so that he'll keep on entertaining you. A great thing about seeing Potts's best work from the past decade collected together in one place is to see his avante-garde writing techniques. One of his articles, for instance, is written entirely in the second person, as in "Your two dollar hotel is just down the road...Your room is bare, but you like its ascetic vibe." One of the issues touched on in the book is whether there's a difference between "tourists" and "travelers." Sometimes Rolf seems to draw a distinction between them. On page 8 he quotes a backpacker in Thailand who said, "Tourists leave home to escape the world, while travelers leave home to experience the world. Tourists...are merely doing the hokey-pokey: putting their right foot in and taking their right foot out; calling themselves world travelers but experiencing very little." Rolf argues instead that "regardless of one's budget, itinerary and choice of luggage—the act of travel is still, at its essence, a consumer experience." But then, on page 25, Rolf seems to change his mind when he describes how, during his second attempt to infiltrate the filming location in Thailand for "The Beach", he landed a job as an extra: "On my first night of work, 21st Century Fox's handlers divided all the extras into two groups: "tourists" and "travelers."...The production assistants simply made their decisions on the basis of fashion. That is, if you had dreads or wore a sarong or sported tattoos or clutched a set of bongos, you were grouped together with the "travelers." If you kept your hair short and wore nice clothes or had a reasonably neat appearance, you spent your on-camera time as a "tourist." Though my suntan was lacking at the time, I made the cut as a "traveler" on the basis of my hair (which was longish) and clothing (which, while not suitably ethnic, was a bit tattered....Despite such reductive methodology, I'll admit I felt a small flush of pride as I took my place in the extras' tent with the other "travelers." Just like being picked first for a game of kindergarten kickball, I had proof that I had made the cut: I was a member of the elite." I recently interviewed Rolf by e-mail to discuss this and other questions raised by his book. Sean: Do you believe there is a difference between a tourist and a traveler, and if so, what is it? Rolf: At the most essential level, there is no difference between travelers and tourists. I touch on this in my first book, Vagabonding, where I write, "The tourist/traveler distinction has largely degenerated into a cliquish sort of fashion dichotomy: Instead of seeking the challenges that mindful travel requires, we can simply point to a few stereotypical 'tourists', make some jokes at their expense, and consider ourselves 'travelers' by default." Perhaps the most vivid illustration of this dichotomy in my new book comes in chapter 11, where I lay out how my Burmese barber in Thailand was probably the greatest adventure traveler I've ever known — and how all of his adventures were less a matter of bravado than staying alive and feeding his family. I wrote: "Does this all mean that we, as First World wanderers, should feel guilty every time we pack our bags and take a journey? I don't think so. But it certainly can't hurt to retain a sense of perspective as we indulge ourselves in haughty little pissing contests over who qualifies as a 'traveler' instead of a 'tourist.'" As for the endnotes to chapter 1, I was being ironic when I claimed that being chosen as a "traveler" by the producers of "The Beach" made me "a member of the elite." Obviously their selection criterion—choosing people on the basis of their looks—was ridiculously reductive. The childish flush of pride came from the fact that they considered me hip enough to be one of the cool kids. This had more to do with junior-high lunch-table vanity than a serious analysis of travelers and tourists. Sean: Backpackers have a bad reputation in some circles for being party-going layabouts who do not engage with the local culture. On page 173 of your new book, you serve up an impassioned defense of backpackers: "Outside of the predictable traveler ghettos (which aren't as insipid as press accounts let on), independent travelers distinguish themselves by their willingness to travel solo, to go slowly, to embrace the unexpected and break out from the comfort-economy that isolates more well-heeled vacationers and ex-pats. Sure, backpackers are themselves a manifestation of mass tourism—and they have their own self-satisfied clichés—but they are generally going through a more life-affecting process than one would find on a standard travel holiday. My experience at the Sultan [Hotel in Cairo] is a good example...Most of us studied Arabic and learned the rhythms of the neighborhood around Orabi Square; we attended Sunni mosques and Coptic churches; we lingered in tea shops and made Egyptian friends....Along with a stint as an expatriate, there are few other activities that—if approached mindfully—can sharpen the senses and tweak the perspective of someone who intends to leave home and experience the world." Is the real issue whether a person is "mindful" as they travel, not what his or her luggage or budget is? Rolf: I completely agree that meaningful travel experiences aren't tied to your budget or your luggage. In the endnotes to chapter 10 I was just defending backpackers against the media-driven notion that they're all oblivious, self-absorbed, cheapskate stoners. Naturally, backpackers have their own dumb prejudices and pretensions. Anthropologists have actually gone in and studied backpacker communities and found that when backpackers are hanging out together, they most often tell lies about two things: the amount of time they spend with local people, and how little money they've spent. Every social milieu, it would seem, has status games. In defending backpackers, I wanted to point out how it's a great rite of passage for travelers, especially young travelers. Many of the elements of mindful travel—going slow, utilizing local economies, getting off the beaten path, etc.—are intrinsic to backpacker ideals. I'm not saying you have to travel like a backpacker your whole life, but it is a good way to learn the value of slow travel. I'm not big on declaring one type of traveler better than another. Much of my first book, Vagabonding, is dedicated to debunking the social pretensions of travel. The value of travel doesn't come in comparison to other people, but in terms of how it enhances your own life in any number of ways. Sean: I'm going to continue to ask questions you probably won't be asked elsewhere during your "virtual book tour." What's an example from your book—if any—where you confront someone who feels smug about being well-traveled? Rolf: I don't know that I've ever personally confronted anyone for being smug about how much they've traveled. Why go to the trouble of getting upset just because someone is bragging about being well-traveled? It's like getting upset at someone because they brag about having a lot of money, or being good at tennis, or having gone to Harvard. Who cares? Let people keep their pretensions. In general, I think traveler "pissing contests"—regardless of whether they take place in a hostel lounge or an Explorer's Club banquet—are just kind of annoying, and I elect not to participate. One general piece of advice I might offer is to not get defensive when someone is talking about their travels. So your next-door neighbor went to Guyana and he wants to tell you all about it—is he showing off or just channeling the excitement of his journey? Odds are it's the latter—and if you reflexively judge him as a travel snob just because he went someplace exotic and enjoyed it, then you're the one who's being a jerk. In a way, returned travelers and new parents have a lot in common. They're both excited about what just happened, and they both tend to overestimate people's interest in it. So, just as it's polite to look at photos of that wrinkled little infant and ask some friendly questions, it can't hurt to take a little interest when someone tells you they've just been someplace interesting and off-the-beaten path. In all likelihood they're not showing off; it's just on their mind, and they want to share their excitement. Sean: We've all heard people return from trips overseas and say that their time abroad made them more appreciative of the U.S. Should we believe them when they say that? Given mass media and college educations, do we really need to travel to another continent to learn that America is a privileged country? Rolf: I think it's perfectly normal to come back from your travels with a better appreciation for the United States—just as Brazilians come home with a better appreciation for Brazil and Egyptians come home with a better appreciation for Egypt. One of the joys of travel is that it allows you to see and appreciate your home in a whole new way—not just in the economic sense but in the cultural and communal sense as well. Sure, education and mass media can make us aware of the differences between the U.S. and the rest of the world on an intellectual level, but travel brings it home on a gut level. I'm not just talking about extreme differences like wealth versus poverty; I'm talking about the whole myriad of differences, from social mores to individualism to religious freedom. It's one thing to ponder, say, the joy of shopping at Whole Foods, but it's another thing to come home and shop at Whole Foods after a month of getting food from poorly stocked kiosks in Moldavia. It's one thing to think about the hygienic value your nice hot shower, but it's another thing to enjoy a hot shower after a month in India, where people have to bribe local officials to get proper plumbing. You can intellectualize the joys of making out with your girlfriend on a park bench, but you appreciate this activity more vividly after having been in Saudi Arabia, where such public affection would attract the wrath of the religious police. It makes perfect sense that you better understand the freedoms and comforts of home after you've been to places where you literally can't enjoy those freedoms and comforts. It's one thing to read about, but another thing to experience it. I mean, come on. When someone eats an Argentine steak are you going to scold them for saying it tastes good because you'd already confirmed this sensory information from other sources? When you get kicked in the nuts do you refrain from howling in pain because this is universally accepted as an unpleasant experience? Of course not, when you experience something in a visceral way it's natural to let other people know about it. MORE You can follow the rest of Rolf Potts' virtual book tour online, or see him in person at one of 20 cities nationwide as he celebrates the release of Marco Polo Didn't Go There (Travelers' Tales, 2008). We encourage you to ask for the book at your favorite local bookstore or Amazon.com, and follow Rolf's tour diary at Gadling starting Sept 29th. Tomorrow's virtual book tour stop will be at BootsnAll.com. To read yesterday's tour stop, go to The 4-Hour Workweek. You can also ask Rolf questions at World Hum.
What happens to business travelers when their company is gone?
Last week's London Times looked at a worrisome and at least theoretically possible scenario: What happens to business travelers whose companies dissolve before they have a chance to return home? Employees of Lehman Brothers, which declared bankruptcy last week, may have found themselves in that very situation. The Times points out that, of course, most business travelers would have airline tickets to get themselves home, so they wouldn't be stranded. But settling the bill at that pricey business-class hotel could get a little sticky. As one specialist in travel law puts it, "I'm sure most hotels would demand a card imprint from the individual as security for payment" if a company has gone under. "I think it would be practically difficult for the individual traveler to demand that the hotel honor its agreement with the corporate [entity]—when it knows it will not be paid." It sounds as if the best option is to try hard to avoiding finding yourself in that situation altogether…
Southeast Asia: $3 for a no-frills hotel room
Similar to low-cost, transportation companies like Megabus, Asian budget chain Tune Hotels uses a "demand-based pricing system," where early online bookers can get rooms for as little as $3 a night (room prices vary for walk-ins, but run about $25). The first property opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in spring of 2007, followed by an outpost in Kota Kinabalu (in Sabah, a state on the island of Borneo in East Malaysia) this year. In December, five more hotels debut in Malaysia, including in Penang and Kuching. The hotels have the bright colors of giant billboards. Rooms are spartan to say the least and guests pay only for what they use. That means there are additional charges (about $1.50 each) for towels, toiletries, hair dryers, in-room wi-fi (it's free in the lobby), and A/C (though all rooms come with a standard fan). There's no meeting room, pool, gym, or spa. Forget room service or minibars. And while the chain experimented with in-room televisions in Borneo, its spokesperson told us that future hotel rooms will be without TV or radio. The company prides itself on offering comfortable beds and power showers: "The mantra is a great sleep, great shower, in great locations within hotels that are clean and provide great security on site," said chief executive officer Mark Lankester. Construction is underway for approximately 30 other sites across Southeast Asia and the company hopes to have 100 hotels in Asia over the next few years with locations in Bali, the Philippines, and Thailand. Stay Tuned. What do you think of this concept? Would you stay in a Tune Hotel?
Flight Attendants’ Tips for Sleeping Well on a Plane
This article was written by Sid Lipsey and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel. It’s one of the most unfair things about flying—other than being charged a fee to check a single bag (We won’t be getting over that one anytime soon, airlines.): Some passengers are able to fall asleep before takeoff and snooze soundly until the plane lands, while others struggle to get even a moment of shut-eye. “Everyone wants to get some rest on the airplane,” says flight attendant Betty Thesky, author of Betty In the Sky With a Suitcase: Hilarious Stories of Air Travel by the World’s Favorite Flight Attendant. "But crowded airplanes, small seats, and crying babies don’t always dovetail with restful slumber.“ Flight attendants witness first-hand passengers’ struggles to sleep on planes. Thesky says some sleep-deprived passengers have gone so far as to ask her for sleeping pills (as if a pill cart comes down the aisle right behind the beverage cart). Related: Secrets of the Skies: Flight Attendants and Pilots Tell All "I was flying back from Hawaii and a woman rang her flight attendant call bell and told me, ‘I called ahead and told reservations that I needed to sleep on this flight and they said I would be able to sleep,’” says Thesky. Apparently the passenger thought her sleep reservation entitled her to a bigger seat or a bed. “I told her that every single person on the airplane wants to sleep,” Thesky says, “and the reservations operator probably got a good chuckle when you called in with your 'sleep request.’” Thesky tells of another passenger who had an even stranger request straight fromThe Twilight Zone. “Once, an odd-looking guy at the window seat asked me if he could go and sleep out on the wing,” she remembers. "He then explained that it said in the in-flight magazine that you could sleep on the wing.” Not only did the flight crew reject his request — because,of course!!!! — they moved him out of his exit row seat. Apparently, someone who asks to sleep on the plane’s wing may not be all that reliable in an emergency. But Thesky does offer a word in the passenger’s defense. “As I retold the story to a coworker she said, 'Oh, there is an ad in the in-flight magazine with a cartoon of a passenger sleeping on the wing,’” she remembers. “So at least he had some reference to his wacky request!" But funny stories aside, flight attendants have unique insight into what works, and what doesn’t, in the quest to get some mile-high shuteye. Here are their best tips. Adjust your expectations The first rule of successful in-flight sleeping: Don’t go into a flight expecting to sleep. "Passengers will often have unrealistic expectations on a all night flight,” Thesky says. “They think, 'I’ll sleep on the plane and be ready to hit the ground running’ when they land at their destination many time zones away.” Such a mentality is a recipe for a sleepless flight. “Putting pressure on yourself will almost guarantee that you won’t dose off,” Thesky says. She suggests trying a little reverse psychology on yourself and adjusting your sleep expectations. “It’s easy to fall asleep when you’re supposed to stay awake, like in a boring classroom or at jury duty,” she says, “so set a plan that you’renotgoing to sleep on the flight and instead catch up on all the movies you haven’t seen. You just may wake up as the wheels are coming down.” Related: Everything You Need to Know About Sleeping on the Plane and Beating Jet Lag Get a window seat A window seat gives you a nice flat surface on which to rest your head. But flight attendant Lauren McLaughlin has turned this no-brainer into a science: “On most of our planes I look for the indent in the window,” she says of her efforts to find a window seat most conducive to sleeping. “If the window indent is an inch or two in front of the seat, it’s the best place for your head to lean into." Of course, when you book a flight online, it’s impossible to tell which seat has the magic sleep-maximizing indentation. Hey, SeatGuru, you guys need to get on this! Dress for sleep success Good airplane sleeping can be a matter of what you wear. "On long flights it helps to have on comfortable clothing and loose-fitting shoes,” says Southwest Airlines flight attendant Emily Witkop. “Due to pressurization, our bodies swell and it can be uncomfortable if you aren’t used to it." Witkop raves about a flight she took where first-class passengers were given pajamas and slippers, which is sometimes the case on international flights. "Genius!,” she says. “Just don’t wear your personal pajamas on the plane if you are over five years old. That is poor traveling etiquette and people will not disregard your just-rolled-out-of-bed look." Related: British Airways Testing 'Happiness Blanket’ to Help You Sleep Better on Flights Get the right gear There’s a reason many airport shops are filled with airplane sleeping gear. Many passengers swear by it. Says Witkop, "The travel pillow, eye mask, and earbuds/headphone combo usually works well on short flights.” Flight attendant Michelle Lazzaro also has her sleep gear preferences. “If I really tried [to sleep on a plane] I would first of all have one of those really plush eye masks like the Tempur-Pedic,” she says, “and a neck pillow so my head doesn’t fall from side to side!” Eating and drinking the right things “If its a long flight bring a chamomile tea bag,” suggests another flight attendant. (The crew can provide the hot water and cup.) You might also want to take a second look at the in-flight snacks, some of which might make you feel too uncomfortable to sleep. “Avoiding salty snacks can reduce some bloating,” says Witkop. Wear sunglasses at night Pulling a Corey Hart might help protect you from chatty seatmates who seek to foil your sleeping plans. “If you want to be left alone, wear sunglasses,” says Lindsay. “Some people want to chat with their neighbor, so it’s the one time I suggest wearing sunglasses indoors. Any other time is just rude.” Big headphones also tend to have the same effect. And whatever you do… “Just don’t put your feet up on the bulkhead,” says Lauren McLaughlin. The last thing the people around you need are your feet in smelling distance as they’re trying to sleep, because the only thing worse than not sleeping yourself is preventing a fellow passenger from sleeping. . Plus, it’s just bad manners. Remember, the sleep gods may be mercurial and fleeting with their generosity to weary travelers. But they also believe in karma. WATCH: A Broad Abroad: Flying Singapore Airlines First Class For an Hour Ruined My Life