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11 Aug 2007
Whose Directions to Follow: the Innkeeper's or Mapquest's?

We had an arriving family get lost on the way here last night. They should have been here in the evening but they arrived hours later, some time after 11:00 if my memory is correct.

They were exhausted and frazzled. What should have been a pleasant and relaxing evening on our garden deck, living room, or pub/game room was instead spent driving around the dark countryside, lost and frustrated.

What went wrong? We sent them directions in their email confirmation letter. But they choose to use Mapquest. After all, it always, or nearly always, worked in the past, right?

I'm going to write some more about this below but if you just want to get to the point of this article, here it is: someone, probably everyone, who lives in any area of the world has a good understanding about driving in that area. More so than a roomful of mapping software people in Dilbert cubicles in San Jose or Bombay. If you want to get somewhere, go local to get directions. They can provide helpful landmarks ("turn left at the red barn with three silos") while Mapquest and other such sites, do not.

Let's say Mapquest is perfect and knows where every address is in the USA, one of the largest and most complex countries in the world. They know everything there is to know about every street, highway, alley, driveway, and old dirt road. Would I use them? Sure. And I have. Many times. But if a local tells me how to find him, I will just use Mapquest to get me to the area and then I will switch over to the local's directions.

Let's say that there was no problem with Mapquest's directions to our inn. You would still have to follow the directions precisely. One missed landmark, or wrong turn, and you are sunk if you don't realize right away that you made a mistake.

Our guest made a wrong turn somewhere, drove into some remotely settled part of the countryside in the middle of a very dark night and drove for hours trying to figure out what went wrong. No stores or gas stations were open. They tried to use their cell phone but cell phone coverage in the mountains around here is spotty at best.

Here is another tip: if you get a decent cell phone signal in Vermont, STOP! Otherwise you will drive out of it in a minute or two. The exceptions are some larger towns like Burlington.

The underlying problem was that Mapquest told them the shortest route to take. I told them the best route to take. My directions would have added about five minutes to their trip but were far less likely to get them lost and, if they did make a wrong turn, it would be easy to re-find the correct road or to stop and ask at an all night gas station because my directions took them through a large town instead of remote countryside.

(c) 2007 Jeff Connor
posted by  grunhaus at  23:02 | permalink

11 Aug 2007
Flying JetBlue to Burlington

JetBlue flies non-stop from JFK to Burlington VT Intl. airport (BTV) four times a day. All our guests flying JetBlue have told us that their flight went well, the planes were well kept, and the personnel excellent.

Here is a link to a blog by travel writer Christopher Elliott about his recent experience on a JetBlue flight.

With the challenges of modern airline travel, this article is a useful insight into how one airline operates. If you are planning to fly to Vermont, I would suggest looking at Jet Blue.

(I have no connection to JetBlue and was not compensated in any way for this blog entry.)

(c) 2007 Jeff Connor Grunberg Haus
posted by  grunhaus at  08:37 | permalink

7 Aug 2007
Vermont Swimming Holes

Warren Falls Swimming Hole [photo Copyright 2005 by Dave Hajdasz]

This is the time of year to enjoy swimming holes. Vermont is blessed with hundreds of them. It's a popular activity for young and old. It's free of charge and free of eye burning pool chemicals.

You could strike out on your own to find a river or stream and probably find a place to enjoy by yourself. It's nearly impossible to drive anywhere in Vermont and not see a lot of streams and rivers. Just find a place to pull off and then you can sit down on a rock and dip your feet in to let the water current carry your cares away. The best swimming holes are well known to the locals in any area so you could ask around locally. But it's easy to do some research before you arrive too.

Last year I came across a great website called swimmingholes.info (or dot org - either one works) and found it an interesting read and full of helpful descriptions about great places to swim. It says it has information on 975 swimming holes in Canada and the US. I counted about 75 swimming holes in Vermont. If you use the information on the website, send the author Tom Hilegass and Dave Hajdasz an email to say thanks. They do an enormous amount of work on the website for free: mail [at] swimmingholes [dot] info (I typed to email address that way to help protect them from spammer robots.)

Note: in some of the more remote swimming holes you may find some skinny dippers. Now before you get excited, I should point out that they will probably be 50 to 60 year old hippies. Just kidding . . . about the hippie part, not the age range. Seriously, there may be a few kids and older folks who are skinny dipping if the swimming hole is well out of sight of a road. It's actually an old country tradition here in Vermont, a rural state where people who lived in the country did not have the money to spend on things like swimming suits. Most of the old folks here will tell you they did it when they were kids but not any more. If that kind of thing offends you, stick to the swimming holes near the roads.

Note: the water will most likely be clean but you should be aware that it is not a good idea to drink it. After a rain, the e.coli level can rise because the rainwater ran through a cow pasture. And if there has been a lot of rain, water levels can be high and fast. It is surprising how just a few inches of rapidly flowing water can push hard on your feet and legs. If you don't see anyone else in the water, or cars with Vermont license plates in the parking lot, or the water is running fast and muddy, it would probably be best to pass it up and come back the next day.

In addition to the swimming holes in rivers and streams, there are numerous beaches at lakes. The reservoir here in Waterbury just reopened after being drained seven years for dam repairs. It's a pretty lake and has a very nice swimming beach and picnic area right off Route 100 in Waterbury Center. A good source of information about beaches around the state is at vtliving.com website.

(c) 2007 Jeff Connor (except the photo which is Copyright 2005 by Thomas Hillegass)
posted by  grunhaus at  20:07 | permalink

31 Jul 2007
Vermont Factory Tours
Factory Tours USA is a web site which lists manufacturing facilities open to the public. The factory tours in VT page begins with Ben & Jerry's ice cream here in Waterbury. It is the number one tourist attraction in VT and last year hosted 275,000 visitors with its famous half hour tours.

Food processing is big business in Vermont, so you will find the "manufacturers" here make cider, cheese, chocolate, and beer. And naturally, because of all the trees, there are wood product manufacturers too. Take a look at the list before your travel to VT and you will probably see a manufacturer you would like to visit.

Note: this list is very good but not comprehensive. There are a number of glassblowing studios for instance, (admittedly, they are mostly one person craft studios) not just Simon Pearce as listed on the website.

(c) 2007 Jeff Connor Grunberg Haus
posted by  grunhaus at  21:28 | permalink

30 Jul 2007
Drive the Wilds of Vermont at the 4x4 Off Road School

I enjoy writing about all the things to do in Vermont including the mainstream activities such as scenic touring, hiking, canoeing, skiing, and so forth. But I also like finding out-of the-ordinary activities and out-of the-way places. This is one of those activities in one of those places:

The 4x4 Center provides an unusual driving school that teaches off road driving. They use specially prepared Land Rovers. The school's experienced staff teaches driving plus how to use all the equipment needed for off roading such as winches.

The school has access to 3000 acres of terrain "ranging from marshy woods to rocky mountainous terrain, with some desert-like conditions" added in.

There is an optional second day which has greater challenges in a remote part of Vermont where the terrain is "very uncompromising, in fact, some spots will require winching just to get through!" Both days begin at 8:30am and go until 4:30pm

How's that for significant cool factor? You can tell everyone back at work that you went off roading in Vermont. Plus, there is some practical application for improving your driving skills and increasing your understanding of and feel for vehicle dynamics and how that works to help you control a vehicle even in adverse conditions. One other important thing . . . it's a ton of fun.

The 4x4 Center is headquartered in Burlington and they also sell and service Land Rovers. See their 4x4 Center website or call them at 802-864-8565 or toll free at 800-864-9180.

(c) 2007 Jeff Connor Grunberg Haus

Advice , Unusual
posted by  grunhaus at  21:31 | permalink

28 Jul 2007
Two More of the Best Scenic Drives in Vermont
I wrote an entry June 1 about two of the best scenic drives in Vermont and I'd like to add another two, both of which are the only two toll roads in the state.

The first one, Equinox Mountain Skyline Drive is in Arlington VT, in the southwestern part of the state. Skyline Drive starts from Historic Route 7 in the village of Sunderland. The elevation here at the bottom is 600 feet and by the time you are at the top, you will have risen another 3,200 feet in the five mile drive. There are beautiful panoramas along the way and the summit is amazing. The Battenkill river and the woods below look like miniatures.

This is a winding road built back in the 1940's. With all the environmental regulations we have now, it's safe to say that another road like this will never be built in Vermont. So, it's a rare opportunity to drive a road like this.

The toll is $7 per automobile for car and driver and
$2 per passenger with children under 12 free. Motorcycles are $6 per bike and driver, $2 per passenger.

There was some discussion here back in the 50's or 60's about building a road along the main spine of the Green Mountains similar to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the south but there was too much opposition to it.

The other toll road is the Mount Mansfield Toll Road in Stowe, right off Route 108 a few miles outside the village on the way to the ski areas. It climbs to the top of Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont at nearly 4400 feet.

The climate here in the winter is very tough and you will see alpine vegetation that is thought to have survived from the ice age. In the winter, the toll road is closed to car traffic and it is a ski run at Stowe Ski Resort.

The drive takes about 20 to 30 minutes on a dirt road with a few pull-offs along the way where you can admire the view. At the top is a ranger station with a small museum with displays about alpine climate and vegetation.

Vermont's Long Trail, which runs the length of the state, north and south, goes along the ridge of Mount Mansfield. You can walk along the trail and at Frenchman's Pile, a pile of rocks marking the spot, you can see in 360 degrees. The Worcester Range in Vermont and the White Mountains are to the East, and the Adirondacks of NY are to the West. The city of Burlington and Lake Champlain look like miniatures beneath you.

The toll road was built in 1856 as the carriage road to transport guests to the Summit House Hotel. The hotel was was dismantled in 1958.

The toll is $21 per car (plus $6 per person over six people). Bicycles and motorcycles are not permitted on the road. The toll road is open daily 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., May 25 - October 14.

Looking north from the Mount Mansfield Toll Road in Stowe (photo from Wikipedia.org)

(c) 2007 Jeff Connor Grunberg Haus
posted by  grunhaus at  20:32 | permalink

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