Autumn in New England is a unique experience. The forested hills stretching up to the Canadian border become awash with the most amazing displays of colour as the leaves turn from green to vivid yellows, reds and gold.
We arrived into the bustling small city of Burlington on the Lake Champlain ferry. The most vibrant city in Vermont was buzzing with restaurants and bars in the evening, and craft and farmers markets in the downtown during the day.
For a couple of days we followed small country roads through the most quaintly picturesque villages you could ever hope to see, occasionally stopping to wander some shops or old town squares. The towns were invariably spotless, with pretty weatherboard homes set in large gardens. We came across some very large tourist-centred rural stores, selling everything from maple syrup and crafts to restrained New England fashions and wooden toys. Our favourite was one where food samples – breads, olive oils, syrups, cheeses and chocolates – were unlimited and free!
Many of the local communities had placed ‘straw’ people – model scarecrows neatly attired in dresses or shirts and hats – around their towns, which was a little odd, but was apparently to welcome the harvest festival. The townsfolk were still very connected to their rural area.
And all the while we were travelling, round each bend and over each hill, through these beautifully breathtaking colours.
Vermont was wonderful and relaxing, and we were quite lucky with the weather. As we hit New Hampshire, the clouds descended and a light drizzle set in. Thus we were unfortunately unable to take the steam cog railway up to the highest peak in the eastern US, Mount Washington. Instead we contented ourselves with an afternoon (and particularly agreeable lunch) at the Mount Washington Hotel at Breton Woods, a huge alpine Swiss-style chalet resort hotel – built at the turn of the last century and oozing Agatha Christie like charm. You half expected Hercule Poirot to walk into one of the numerous large dining rooms or lounges, past the roaring open fire, and proceed to tell us all who had killed the Major and made it look like an accident.
(Incidentally, the modern world would be entirely different without the hotel, or at least the famous 1944 conference held there which set the framework for the post-war economy, including the formation of the IMF.)
From New Hampshire more stunning scenery – this time the White Mountains – accompanied our journey into Maine, and across to our last National Park at Arcadia, on the far north-east coast of America. The weather came good again – it was sunny, hot and still as we spent a few days lapping up the glorious coastal scenery. Arcadia NP sits on a large two-part island, just off the rocky Maine coast. Its main town is Bar Harbor, once an escape for the wildly rich, that now hosts thousands of tourists and cruise ships, but hasn’t quite lost all its charm. Around it sits the unspoilt beauty of the park – navigated by a gentle one-way road system. The skies were an intense blue, and we whiled away some lazy days exploring the rocky edge, watching the sun sparkle on the deep water.
A leisurely few days’ drive along the coast took us though countless chocolate-box fishing villages, small towns, and lighthouses proudly sitting atop bluffs and headlands along the way. Eventually we found ourselves in, along with Philly, one of the two most historic cities in the country. For it was here where the Revolutionary War really kicked off, here where the locals tipped tea into the harbour to protest British taxes, here where the Brits shot unarmed protestors… Boston also boasts the oldest public park in the US, and from there one can follow a marked trail across the city that takes in all the important sites – including ancient graves, the old Naval base, and the infamous church where the rebels lit a lantern to warn the Patriots over the water in Cambridge that the British were coming.
Cambridge, now a suburb of greater Boston, is home to the surprisingly underwhelming Harvard University. We had a look around, unsuccessfully attempting to look like we might belong there. Though I am sure the teaching is top draw, I think we have seen more impressive American University campuses.
Boston itself is pleasant enough – modern skyscrapers dominate the skyline, but there are still narrow cobbled streets, old markets and classical looking squares and buildings around the downtown. It was while sitting outside a shop on one of the older avenues lined with expensive stores (nothing but the best for KL), that we got chatting to a local couple who insisted we spend the evening with them bar-hopping around town, culminating in a visit to the Top of the Hub, which enjoys a 360° panorama of the city from the 52nd floor of the Prudential Building. It was a great night – one of the best we had in the whole trip – as we met an eclectic mix of Bostonians. We watched the lights of the city as darkness fell, then Boston gradually faded into the gathering low clouds below.