I often find that my most memorable vacation experiences are "created" rather than "planned". The real adventure happens as soon as I step outside my own expectations and allow my curiosity to travel alongside my sense of logic. This is how, many years ago, I became acquainted with a long-time favorite "magical travel partner", Richard, whom I recently met up with in Woodstock, Vermont for a weekend road trip. I use the term "magical travel partner" because whenever we travel together, we always remain open to less conventional opportunities and, as a result, magic always happens.
Prior to leaving for Vermont, one of my friends offered a suggestion that piqued my "Indiana Jones" sense of adventure: Somewhere in the woodlands surrounding Woodstock lies an ancient stone chamber, with a mysterious stone circle similar to those found in England. It was purported to be a old sacred site, although during my friend's high school days, its purpose seemed to be nothing more than a popular hangout for kids who liked to "make out" in the tall grasses.
I wanted to find this site, and Richard was definitely up to the challenge. Precise information proved to be hard to come by, however, and the stone chamber began to take on legendary proportions as we asked around and received only vague directions. Everyone had heard of it, a few had been there as kids, but no one could quite remember exactly where it was. We were on a mission by now. We just HAD to find this place. It's raining slightly. We don't care. We're having fun.
Rural country stores are always a wealth of local information and the one we stopped in provided us with the best directions so far. The staff was eager to share what they knew as we stocked up on their generously stuffed, homemade sandwiches for lunch and then took off up a dirt road.
Following a hand-drawn map, we turned onto an even smaller dirt road and stopped abruptly - the land all around was clearly marked: Posted - No Hunting or Trespassing. My heart dropped. "Curiosity" and "logic" were now at odds inside my head. But Richard is an eternal optimist. "We've come this far," he rationalized, "and we're not going to hurt anything, so let's just go in a little ways". I agreed, comforted by the fact the Richard is an excellent driver and could quickly slam the car into reverse and hightail it out of there at the hint of an angry farmer with a shotgun.
We proceeded cautiously down the wooded road.... and like a vision emerging from the mists, our elusive stone chamber came into view. We suddenly felt like we were in the middle of a primeval English forest as we left the car to walk up the short, narrow path to the open doorway. Gray skies and a slight rain enhanced the mysteriousness of the site, and we noticed that the ground surrounding the chamber was covered with a strange sort of trailing ivy. If we were in a Hollywood movie, the ivy would've come to life and wrapped around our ankles, pulling us into the Underworld........ Despite our now-rampant imaginations, we proceeded into the open chamber which was dimly lit by a small rectangular opening in the ceiling. It was a small structure, but we were able to stand up inside, with plenty of headroom to spare. There was no indication that anyone had ever been there before us – no empty beer bottles or soda cans from former visitors.
We walked around the site, exploring the stone fence that surrounded it and discovering crumbling foundations that looked much less ancient than the chamber. We never found any evidence of a stone circle, and I must admit that we did not test to see whether or not the tall grasses in the surrounding fields were indeed an aphrodisiac (it was raining, after all!), but I did feel a slight sense of being in an altered time and space....just my imagination?
In any case, we satisfied our curiosity just as it began to rain harder and we drove back to our B & B with a small sense of accomplishment. Whatever we did the rest of the weekend no longer mattered. We came, we saw, we conquered.
There is apparently a more expansive “sacred” site somewhere deeper in the woodlands, complete with standing stones, cairns and more stone chambers. Another adventure just waiting to happen!
Mangowood Restaurant at the Lincoln Inn, Woodstock, VT
This delightful restaurant is a "carnival for the mouth" as well as the eye. Chef Tan takes locally grown Vermont ingredients, adds exotic Asian spices and creates such delectables as Slow Braised Duck and Coconut Risotto Cake as well as their House Special - Crispy Whole Fish with Light Ginger Scallion Sauce (which arrives looking more like an edible sculpture). As an artist, I found myself taking a few moments to enjoy the visual feast before taking my first bite. Exceptional dining in an intimate Vermont inn.
Back Behind Saloon & Smokehouse, Killington, VT
Since my traveling companion is a Brit, I knew I'd better come up with at least one decent pub on this trip, and that's how I discovered this delightful "saloon" in Killington. The Back Behind is what they call a "gastro-pub" in England - rather than traditional pub fare, they serve a more gastronomical menu in addition to the best ribs around since they also own the smokehouse and smoke all their meats. The owner, Conrad Zendzian, assured me we wouldn't be disappointed and he was right. Laid-back with an upscale menu, this place was perfect for our first meal in Vermont as we enjoyed fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs, sampled their selection of microbrews (including Long Trail which is made at the brewery right up the road in Bridgewater) and spent hours getting caught up on each other's lives. We ended the evening back in downtown Woodstock with a leisurely stroll under the lamplights, soaking up the charm of "The Prettiest Small Town in America".
White Raven Drum Works, Bridgewater, VT
On my way to Woodstock for this weekend road trip, I just had to stop at one of my favorite artist's galleries: White Raven Drums in Bridgewater. Entering Kai Mayberger's gallery is like stepping inside an African drum as the building is constructed in the round. The dark interior is illuminated to showcase Kai's native American flutes, drums and dijeridus, expertly carved from local and exotic woods. I'm a flutist and a big fan of his wood flutes – they have an incredibly warm, full tone. You can sense the influences of his background in ecology, shamanism, sculpture and woodworking in all his instruments.
- FOOD & ART
Simon Pearce, Quechee, VT
Imagine entering a glassblowing studio, watching highly-trained artisans creating wine glasses and water pitchers right before your eyes. You then wander over to a pottery studio to see coffee cups and dinner plates "hand thrown" on the potter's wheel. You make your way upstairs for lunch, overlooking the Ottauquechee River and are pleasantly surprised to see these same wine glasses, pitchers, plates and mugs used throughout your dining experience. After your meal, you enter the immense retail store where you can purchase the glassware and pottery made on site. Welcome to Simon Pearce. This place appeals to me as an artist, because people get to see just how long it takes to create a hand-made object, giving them a better understanding of why the price is so much higher than for a mass-produced item. The restaurant serves the finest food in the region as almost all their ingredients are from local produce farms, dairies, coffee roasters, chicken, lamb and beef growers, maple producers, breweries - they even serve two kinds of Vermont vodka! (Make dinner reservations at least 2 days in advance as they book quickly on summer weekends). Although not as intimate as the Mangowood Restaurant due to the sheer crowds, most people come for the dining experience alone.
- BED & BREAKFAST
The Deer Brook Inn, Woodstock, VT
This exceptional B & B sets the tone for a rewarding vacation experience. Located a few miles just outside Woodstock, this beautifully restored 1820 Colonial home is the perfect rural retreat and owners George DeFina and David Kanal are the ultimate hosts. I became an immediate fan when I noticed original artwork on all the walls, and David informs me that they are avid collectors of local art and take the time to learn about their favorite artists. What I especially love about this B & B is the candlelight breakfast served every morning. The table is impeccably set and a sumptuous meal is made from scratch, even the muffins and blueberry pancakes. Baked omelets with feta cheese are made with care using fresh, organic eggs from the neighbors' chickens. Bottomless cups of coffee (or tea) are graciously served while George and David regale us with fascinating stories, and encourage us to share our own as well. (Ask David about his "brushes with celebrities"!) The Deer Brook Inn draws a clientele from around the world, so the morning conversations are colorful and stimulating. It's the first time I've actually spent almost 2 hours for breakfast in a B & B. George and David also encourage their guests to "make themselves at home", so when Richard and I returned from an afternoon hike up Mount Tom, we were delighted to find a Scrabble board at the Inn so we could indulge ourselves by playing outside on the stone patio while we recharged our batteries.
Primitive camping in the Adirondacks - and how a visual artist is inspired by nature.
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