Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Renaissance?

     With Halloween close by and some free time due to multiple weeekend obligations monopolizing only one day, we had decided to take a leisurely drive through the Amish countryside and visit an out of sorts land protected by a castle.  We dared the time travel to fuedal Pennsylvania and the Renaissance Faire in Manheim.  It would be our first such journey and it would prove most interesting.
     In the rolling farmlands of Lancaster County lies The Shire.  It is filled with shops and "taverns" and strange folk.  The food and the wares and the folks wearing the wares made for an exceptional day of people-watching.  To be quite honest, I could easily spend plenty of hours just sitting and enjoying a pint and a turkey leg and watching the people in this unique place.  There were plainly dressed families meandering happily.  There were serious characters dripping in authenticity and somewhat less authentic players trying to look the part.  There were plump bar wenches pushing their corsets to the limit and poofy skirts and plenty of exposed flesh.  There were fairies and women with horse hoof shoes.  Steampunks somehow found their way here as did pirates and barbarians.  What a strange melting pot of costume-clad time-hoppers.
     And this is where the happiness dwindles.  We, as a family, enjoy reenactments, historical places come-to-life, Gettysburg, Williamsburg, Ticonderoga, Fort Lee.  We have traveled to many.  This place lacked all of that.  The paid actors were authentic enough and took their trades seriously but the whole community seemed mired in selling to a crowd not truly invested in the charade.  Many of the replica weapons were plastic or wooden or cheaply fashioned.  The pirates wore Halloween costume plastic boot covers and phony hats.  Faux fur was everywhere.  Only the women's costume shops carried quality items and they came at a premium.  The rest was a confusing mash up of everything role-playing; blown glass, sterling silver, pixie dust, leather shops, dragons, sea-faring merchandise, elves and dwarves, centaurs and witches and the persistent steampunk (of which I will credit with the best effort).
     I grew up with a paperback in my hand, reading the adventures of Conan and Merlin and King Arthur, Bilbo Baggins and Gandolf, and other more obscure characters popular amongst the "nerdier" set.  I have troves of vintage Dungeons and Dragons material and a closet full of fantasy art by Boris and Frazetta.  My comic book collection is nothing to take lightly and reference books on medieval weapons and torture and architecture line many of my shelves.  No truly self-respecting geek would be caught in this Shire or caught in such shabby garb.  I have perused many custom kinfe shows shoulder to shoulder with history buffs and reenactors looking for that perfect piece to complete their outfit, not a costume at all, and none of those were here.  This cosplay nonsense has diluted the accuracy of everything, including history.  I essentially paid for my family to walk around a mall shrouded in a corset and robe.  My kids loved it.
     I escaped back to reality 15 minutes down the road in the perfect Halloween brewpub, Springhouse.  The place was swathed in fake blood and zombies and cobwebs.  Fake rats hid in the bathrooms that seemed to be having lighting issues, lots of red flickering bulbs.  There was Braaiins for Zombies Pumpkin Ale, Blood Turning Black Porter, and Spinal Remains Stout.  All fitting brews and insanely delicious.  We dined on a wonderfully Kraken-like grilled octopus and pulled pork and poutine.  The motif and food and beer were all playful but extremely well done.  They definitely understand the season.  And the decorations definitely kept the costumes at bay.
     We will definitely return to Springhouse but will probably bypass the Shire for more realistic renditions of history (or fantasy).

Monday, October 17, 2016

Chasing Summits

     It was a year ago that we visited.  I wrote about it back then as a destination to revisit.  The summer ski slopes of Stowe, the winding, twisting roads of Smugglers Notch, and the peak of Mount Mansfield.  A year ago we turned back as the afternoon caught up to us and my wife's body betrayed her, lungs heaving, legs burning.  We vowed we would return.  The mountain has haunted us for all that time, daring us, taunting us, always calling.
     Again, as in our previous road trip to Vermont this year, our time would be abbreviated but we knew what to expect and what needed to be done.  We would arrive at night to ensure an early start and also a good night's sleep, along with a hearty dinner to fuel our hike.  Prohibition Pig was more than expected, a wonderful BBQ menu of locally-sourced everything paired with some of the finest local beer and cider.  The feast brought the contented sleep that only a full belly could and dreams filled with happy dinner plates would follow.
     The morning breeze welcomed us to Smugglers Notch and we collected some geocahces as we waited for the mountain road to open.  This area is an outdoor mecca even during the summer months, with bouldering, hiking, biking of all sorts, kayaking, and canoeing, all in large supply.  The quick searches for geocaches with their mini-hikes served as a warm-up for the morning's goal.  And, so, we were ready.
     The road to the upper parking lot was the same.  The trail keeper's house was still the same.  The trail signs were still the same.  But, quickly, the trail had become different.  Within 20 minutes, the landscape had changed.  My wife could not believe that in such a short amount of time we had covered the section of mountain from last year and were on our way to the summit of the mountain.  There were some scrambles and some narrow ridges and some steep walking.  There was bugs and breezes and sun and clouds and views in every direction.  We had lunch above Stowe and looked out at Canada and Lake Champlain.  We had reached this summit and then left it behind.  A filling mid-afternoon Reuben, fresh cider to celebrate, and a stop for Vermont cheddar would complete our day.
     Our journey home would have us visit the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, a place of joy my kids have not visited since they were in strollers and the tour never disappoints.  It would swing us by Dakin Farms and a bag full of smoked snacks for the miles pointing south.  A few more waypoints would steer us on to the highway and the happy snores of a successful trip.  It was short.  It was sweet.  It was filling for the body and the soul.  It was another trip to remember but it was also a trip to reflect on.
     A year ago we had left the mountain and headed home, somewhat defeated.  My youngest daughter vowed to return at some point, with or without us, and hike to the top.  She pleaded with her mother to be better prepared the next time or, perhaps, stay in the car so that my daughter would not be forced to turn back.  Months later my wife returned, 60 pounds lighter and determined to achieve the summit with her daughter.  This was more than a morning hike, it was a year-long journey which has seemingly transformed into a longer quest.  Upon that summit my daughter and my wife talked of reaching other summits on other mountains in other states.  Some we are already planning to visit while others may well take a lifetime to reach.  But this one little mountain with a short hike has already left its mark.  I am proud of my daughter for being so resolute and so motivational.  I am proud of my wife for being so determined.  They are both an inspiration.
     And so we begin to chase the next summit.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


     The weekend would be cut short because of the selfish meanderings of an aging employee that feels entitled way beyond his contributions.  Years of service may garner respect and tolerance but it does not allow for a complete divergence from basic workplace standards and the rules of conduct must still be followed.  Yet even in his disciplinary sanction, he found a way to make the workplace uncomfortable for everyone around him.  And thus my extended weekend that had been planned for some months would have to be abbreviated in order to cover another's suspension.
     Undaunted by the situation we began our journey on a Sunday and quickly left the stress and drama somewhere on the highway behind us.  Fort Ticonderoga in upstate NY was our original destination.  The hours of operation would not coincide with our new schedule but we could still catch a glimpse of the historic structure and scout other waypoints along the road for a future sojourn to this area.  Besides the road to the fort would lead us to a wonderful little ferry crossing of Lake Champlain, a shortcut into Vermont and the Green Mountains, just a few short miles from Middlebury.  The ferry ride was worth the miles, was worth a note as a road attraction, was the perfect landmark to leave work behind and embrace the peace of the landscape.
     We came to Middlebury because it held a hotel, several restaurants, and easy ferry access to Fort Ticonderoga while also allowing easy access to Route 7 and a way south toward home at the end of our weekend.  What we found was a quaint town with a beautiful college campus, the home of Woodchuck Cider, celebrating 25 years of turning apples into some of the most inventive, tasty adult beverages, and unexpected dining experiences.  Two Brothers Tavern seemed like any other neighborhood tavern from the outside, but inside, the food appeared to be the role models for culinary magazines.  The candied bacon served by the bucket on Sundays should be either outlawed or given its own holiday, and is way too addictive to merely try just one.  The beer list was wonderfully local and allowed for sampling all the greatness Vermont has become known for in the craft beer scene.  It also helps that there are several cideries and breweries within a stone's throw.  DropIn Brewing was one of those tiny local breweries and it was conveniently situated right across the road from our hotel.  It was the epitome of a microbrewery, just beer and only a few on tap to travel, and it offered a "grumbler" never before seen, a full gallon of fresh beverage to go, and home it would go, full of fresh IPA.
     Route 7 would lead us south toward home but not before winding its way past a few roadside stands holding maple everything and other tastes of Vermont life.  It would cross over into Massachusetts and lead us to Mount Greylock.  We could not pass up an opportunity to bag the highest peak in the state.  The best part of a road trip is finding the off beat, the interesting, the peculiar, along the way.  A side trip is always just a slight turn away and Mount Greylock was worth that turn.  The view from the peak may not be the same as some of the neighboring peaks but it was the perfect view to return perspective to a jaded eye.  Just a few short hours, barely two days, can reset the mind, revive the body, and return sanity to work life.  Time spent in a car on the road with family should never be short changed, especially when it is rewarded with great food, quality libations, and the wonder and beauty of nature.