Chasing Fall Colors

Sunset view from Simon Pearce restaurant

Our trip was coming to an end. We were sad to leave Emergo Farm, but happy to be on our way to see Lisa and Jon’s son, Alec, at Dartmouth. Lisa arrived in time to attend a workshop at 1 p.m. while Todd, Jon and I met Alec at Molly’s in Hanover, NH. The restaurant was packed with parents and alumni in town for Homecoming. We established ourselves at the bar. When I asked the semi-surly bartender if he liked the roasted tomato soup, he replied, “I don’t do soup.”

Alec’s dorm room turned out to have a view of the best fall colors we saw on our trip. The historic building was modern and renovated, but it still had period dormer windows and fireplaces. Alec displayed family photos on the mantel.

After checking in at the historic Norwich Inn (est. 1797), just across the Connecticut River from Hanover, we drove to in Quechee, VT for dinner at Simon Pearce. Just as we were seated, a hot air balloon rose from the still river below, filling the window with bright stripes. While my beet salad was uninspiring, the crispy duck was worth traveling for. We were hardly the only people from Dartmouth who had found the restaurant. Behind us a group of university officials were entertaining Alan Alda for dinner, who was in town as part of his initiative to promote communicating about science.

Hot air balloon Quechee VT

A highlight of our visit was attending the bonfire, a Dartmouth freshman tradition that is always held on homecoming weekend. We parked and walked to the quad where a crowd had gathered to see the spectacle. Imagine a giant Jenga game. Instead of finger-length rectangular wood pieces, giant square-cornered logs were piled several stories high, topped with “2017,” the year the freshman class should graduate.

Freshmen gathered around the perimeter of the pyre as it was lit, then began running circles around it. The class was supposed to run 217 laps, plus one for good measure. I’m sure they were sober. A sea of Dartmouth green whirled past us in the heat of the blaze.

Dartmouth Bonfire Courtesy Jon Steele

Dartmouth Bonfire Courtesy Jon Steele

The next day, while Jon was out taking pictures, Todd and I set out from the inn to walk (in Todd’s case, run) up colorful Willey Road.  We then visited King Arthur Flour just down the road – missable – and caught an afternoon screening of “Gravity,” the movie featuring Sandra Bullock. Incredible. Lisa and I perused a few of her favorite boutiques including The Pink Alligator.

For our last full day, on Sunday, we drove to Woodstock and immediately understood why this Woodstock is considered one of the premier destinations in New England. Centered around the elipses-shaped Green are historic homes that have in many cases been converted into galleries, boutiques and restaurants. We took our time photographing the Middle Covered Bridge over the Ottauquechee River and split according to our interests.  (Lisa and I visited Phlox and 37 Central Clothiers, among other boutiques.)

With most of the town restaurants packed to overflowing with long waits, we were fortunate to find an outside table at Mon Vert Café where we enjoyed their excellent, locally sourced paninis and soups.

Our farewell dinner was at the elegant Pine Restaurant at Hanover Inn – sophisticated food and great company, with several of Alec’s friends in tow.

Like many travel experiences, our Fall Foliage outing provided some life lessons. Everywhere we went, people lamented that they had just missed peak. Innkeepers told us it came early and “you should have been here last weekend!” The posts on foliage forums grew ever more frantic as leaf peepers zoomed down country byways in search of pleasing scenes. The poorer weather slowed us down some, but it also made us relax. We spent more time with innkeepers John and Nancy Bonenfant in New Hampshire and Lori Webster in Vermont than we would have if the colors had been perfect. The less we worried about seeing fall colors at their prime, the better our experience.

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