Summary of my vacation in Vermont

30 07 2017

My past week in Vermont – some highlights and observations:

  • spending time with Kristen, my friend of 30 years, just chillin’ (and briefly spending time with her husband and amazing daughter, Ash, before they flew home to Australia)
  • hot air ballooning over Lake Champlain (company: Above Reality) – highly recommended
  • swimming (and bathing) in Lake Champlain – it’s not bad once your body gets over the shock of the cold!
  • boating into Burlington for lunch and jalapeno-infused margaritas at Spot on the Dock, and to drink bubbly and watch the sun set over the lake
  • doing the Shelburne Farms and Vermont Teddy Bear Factory tours
  • eating great food with good company
  • enjoying the greenness of a Vermont summer
  • riding bikes in the summer rain (downpour, really) – not so much fun at the time, but easy to laugh about it now
  • riding bikes across a causeway to have a burger on South Hero Island in Lake Champlain
  • learning that you need good upper body strength (or a decent ladder) to get back into a ski boat from the middle of Lake Champlain
  • meeting some of Kris’ extended family and the wonderful Kirsten
  • test driving a 1999 SLK Mercedes Coupe (red, of course!)

Kris added these to my list:

Things that appear to have escaped your mind – although I don’t know how:

  • receiving a wake up call from the ballooning company 5 minutes AFTER we’re supposed to be there (Rhonda: and then getting to the launch site before they did and waiting with the mosquitoes… I forgot the summer mozzies in Vermont too — they’re everywhere!)
  • losing our Jeep to an outpouring of anti-freeze in the middle of Burlington
  • getting a loan car that resembled the get-away car for Dumb and Dumber
  • re-appropriating my Dad’s Acura into Thelma & Louise’s shopping cart
  • eating left-over pizza for breakfast for the better part of a week
  • waking up to be told the ski boat is off its mooring and floating away
  • walking into Lake Champlain fully clothed after an epic bike ride on a hot and humid day
  • realising that 30 years goes really quickly and changes very little – except your ability to climb back into a boat

For future reference: Flying to Burlington from Perth and back takes about 51 hours (in actual time in the air, not including about the same in airport and tarmac wait time). Allow two days to get there and two to get home.





Heading home from Vermont: July 2017

30 07 2017

After my 8-day stay in Vermont, which became a 7-day stay because of a cancelled flight from Washington DC to Burlington, it was time to leave for the long trek home. I eventually made it home, only 20 minutes after the scheduled arrival time, but there were a few dramas along the way.

Burlington, Vermont to Ronald Reagan National Airport, Washington DC

This 90-minute noon flight left a tad early and arrived early into DC. We had to wait for a gate. By the time we got off, the rain was bucketing down (it was also very hot, so it was very tropical). It was a small plane, so most carry-ons had to be gate checked, and every one of them was soaked coming up to the jetway. Fortunately, mine is a hard-shell carry-on, so that didn’t affect me much. Those with soft-sided bags weren’t so lucky… 2+ hour wait at Reagan Airport for the next flight, which I spent in their nice Admirals Club. Weather turned nice and sunny, with some clouds.

Reagan Airport to Dallas Fort Worth

About a 3.5 hour flight. From memory, it left on time and also arrived a tad early. As my bags had been checked through to Australia from Burlington and I’d gone through TSA screening there, I only had to get myself (airside) to Terminal D. Had a shower and waited for the 10:15pm flight in the Qantas First Class lounge (yes, I got another points upgrade to First Class for the long leg!).

Dallas Fort Worth to Sydney

About a 17-hour flight, but it ended up being close to 20 hours sitting in the plane. They loaded all the passengers, then we had an announcement from the cockpit that we were still refuelling and loading bags, then another about 15 minutes later that DFW air traffic control had grounded all flights until a big thunderstorm went by. And a big thunderstorm it was! Lots of lightning, thunder, rain. The pilot kept us updated on the situation, and kept all the power and air conditioning on so it wasn’t oppressive in the 90F heat. It was getting later and later and still we sat on the tarmac, while the lightning raged around us. The pilot was great at keeping us updated, and reported that a couple of flights had taken off in slight lulls but those pilots were reporting it as ‘pretty bad’. Our pilot told us ‘we’re not having any part of that’, and so we waited. No-one seemed perturbed by this — it was darned obvious that flying into that mess was not a safe thing to do.

I did ask one of the flight attendants about the time and how it may go over their rostered hours and what would happen then. She said the pilots only had 30 minutes left of their rostered time and if we didn’t leave soon, the flight would have to be cancelled and we’d be offloaded and put onto other flights (that meant the next night at the earliest as there’s only one flight a day from DFW, unless they shuttled some people to Los Angeles, where there’s three flights to Australia each evening). She said the flight attendants’ rostered hours could be overriden as long as 18 of the 24 attendants agreed, but not the pilots’ hours. Fortunately, we left within that 30-minute window — I guess the pilot thought the risk was worth it considering the cost to cancel the flight. The lightning was abating by then too, though it was a pretty rough ride for the first 20 minutes or so of the flight until we passed/got higher than the storm cell.

Our scheduled departure time was 10:15pm — we didn’t get away until well after 1 am. For me, that wasn’t an issue as I had a 6-hour wait at Sydney Airport (based on the original schedule), but I’m sure others missed their connecting flights on landing. We left about 3 hours late, but obviously made up some time as we arrived only 2 hours late into Sydney.

Then came the debacle known as Sydney Airport and transferring from international to domestic — what a mess that is! Anyone with a tight connection would have missed their next flight — immigration with the Smart Gates was easy, but our bags were offloaded onto the smallest carousel (have you seen what 400 people around a small luggage carousel looks like?), luggage carts were some three carousels away from where the bags came out, customs was a long line as we were competing with passengers from other recently landed flights, and then the walk across the crowded international arrivals area then outside to the other building where we could drop our bags for the connecting flight.

Fortunately, I knew where to go. Anyone arriving in Sydney for the first time would be lost as the wayfinding signage is small, and the logic of transferring isn’t explained. Add to the confusion the crowds of people waiting in the arrivals hall. Then, when you get outside, you walk along the covered veranda and to the line for transferring your bags. But there’s only one line, no matter what class you’re flying or frequent flyer status you have. It’s not until you get through that line that you get pointed to the line for your class/status for the bag drop. That’s just not good PR for Qantas’ most frequent flyers — sorting out the lines first would make more sense. After baggage drop, it’s through security and then the wait for a bus to take you across the tarmac. Yes, a bus. In the late 1990s, they did a lot of work on the airport prior to hosting the 2000 Olympics, but one thing they didn’t do, and still haven’t done, is sort out the transfer debacle from international to domestic (or vice versa). Other airports serving much smaller populations than Sydney (pop’n 4+ million) have automated trains/monorails, elevated or below-ground walkways, etc. for transferring passengers. Not Sydney. You have to catch a bus, and invariably it fills up before you can get on and you have to wait for the next one. Sure, it’s free, but it has no room for more than 10 people’s carry-on luggage, so it’s a real bun fight for space for the 50 or so people on board and their carry-on luggage. Add to that the frazzled nature of people just coming off a long flight, who are naturally anxious about making their connections. Then when you get to the domestic terminal, you have to get off the bus (a big step down) then walk up a short flight of steps in the open to get to the escalators to go into the terminal. Once you’re in the terminal there’s no-one from Qantas to help you — you’re on your own. A great welcome for visitors to Australia — NOT! And I don’t know what anyone with a mobility issue does — steps to get on and off the bus, steps at the domestic terminal, then an escalator, with no assistance. I have a friend who cannot go on escalators — what would she do with no-one to help/guide her to an alternative way to get into the terminal? There are NO signs for elevators. This transfer time can take up to an hour, so even if you have a 45-minute connection window after finishing with customs, you’d be unlikely to make it, which just makes for some very upset and angry people. My advice if you’re connecting from an international to a domestic flight at Sydney is to allow AT LEAST 2 hours between your scheduled arrival time and scheduled departure time. Even then, it could be tight, especially if there’s any hold-up (late arrival, long queues for immigration, people not moving out of the way in the duty free that you are funneled through whether you like it or not, waiting for bags, long lines for customs even if you have nothing to declare, finding your way to and negotiating the transfer process and baggage drop for domestic, getting through security, waiting for the transfer bus, dealing with others on the bus and disembarking it, finding your gate for your domestic flight, and HOPING you make it!). I allow at least 3 hours. And then I collapse into a shower at the Qantas Club or Business Lounge to refresh my batteries for the last leg.

You might wonder why I go through Sydney, and not Melbourne or Brisbane where the international and domestic terminals are next to each other — that’s because the flight to Dallas is ONLY via Sydney. Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney all fly to Los Angeles, but only Sydney has the Dallas flight. If I’m going to the midwest, the east coast, etc. then the Dallas flight is really the only option, otherwise, I have downtime in Los Angeles (or San Francisco) to catch a domestic flight.

Sydney to Perth

About a 5-hour flight. We left about 20 minutes late and weren’t able to make up that time. My husband was there to meet me, and then we had the 2-hour drive home.

No wonder I’m wrecked for a few days afterwards!

More movies watched on the flights:

  • Miss Sloane – Loved this one. Jessica Chastain is perfect in the role.
  • Loving – Another that made me want to shout at the racism; I thought Aussie actor Joel Edgerton was very wooden as Richard Loving, but maybe that’s how the real Richard was. Still worth watching.
  • The Zookeeper’s Wife – another with Jessica Chastain. I enjoyed it, if ‘enjoy’ is the right word for the subject matter.




Vermont: July 2017: Day 7

23 07 2017

My last full day in Vermont, sadly. It started with me waking up at dawn and racing down to Lake Champlain to catch the sunrise.

Sunrise over Lake Champlain, Vermont, 22 July 2017

Sunrise over Lake Champlain, Vermont, 22 July 2017

Sunrise over Lake Champlain, Vermont, 22 July 2017

Sunrise over Lake Champlain, Vermont, 22 July 2017

Shoes and shingles (water shoes [Aleader brand] for the whole family + visitors)

Shoes and shingles (water shoes [Aleader brand] for the whole family + visitors)

With matching towels, there's no argument

With matching towels, there’s no argument

 

Two of the antique quilts on my bed at the cottage

Two of the antique quilts on my bed at the cottage

That was followed by a hearty breakfast at a local diner.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

Then it was off to South Burlington to the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, where we did the tour. As a person who sews, I loved the tour and learned quite a bit about how they make their teddy bears. Based on the machines we saw, most of the sewing is done on Juki industrial sewing machines.

Bears of all sizes - the large ones look like they've had too much Christmas food and drink!

Bears of all sizes – the large ones look like they’ve had too much Christmas food and drink!

There are gray bears, black bears, blonde bears, brown bears...

There are gray bears, black bears, blonde bears, brown bears…

Political bears from the 2016 Presidential election campaign

Political bears from the 2016 Presidential election campaign

Cutters for the 20 parts that make up a finished bear

Cutters for the 20 parts that make up a finished bear

Juki industrial sewing machines

Juki industrial sewing machines

List of patients at the bear hospital

List of patients at the bear hospital

 

My friend was offered a 1999 SLK Mercedes Coupe (red, of course!) at an excellent price, so in the afternoon we took it for a test drive. It drove really well, and after some negotiation, she bought it from the seller the day after I left. A perfect car for a Vermont summer. Totally impractical for passengers (none) and luggage (minimal), but perfect for putting the top down and enjoying the fresh air on the backroads of Vermont.

Then finally, it was nearly all over, finishing with a last boat ride with the girls to see the sunset, with a bottle bubbly of course!

Goodbye sun, goodbye Vermont

Goodbye sun, goodbye Vermont

Tomorrow, I start the long trek home to Australia — Burlington to Ronald Reagan Airport at Washington DC, Reagan to Dallas Fort Worth, Dallas Fort Worth to Sydney, Sydney to Perth, and then the 2-hour drive home (yes, I’m being picked up!). That’s about 25 hours in the air, not including any airport wait time.





Vermont: July 2017: Day 6

22 07 2017

Today’s activity — biking from Porters Point through Airport Park to meet the Island Line bike path, which goes across a causeway to South Hero Island in Lake Champlain (there’s a bike ferry too that takes you around the gap in the causeway for larger boats). According to the maps, it’s about a 10- to 12-mile round trip from where we were. It’s an easy to moderate bike trail, but for someone who hasn’t ridden a bike in more than 10 years, and who’s unfit, that 10 to 12 miles in the sun in the middle of a summer’s day was a killer. But I made it.

 

Barn on South Hero Island

Barn on South Hero Island

Our destination on South Hero was The Accidental Farmer burger stand where we had the daily special burger. It was good too, but even better was the wonderful red cup of lemonade that I scoffed down as soon as we got there. After we’d had lunch, we had a Maple Creemee (soft-serve ice cream). The sizes they have are Baby, Small, and Large, and the Baby size ($1.75) was just perfect.

And then it was back on the bikes to head back to Porters Point. I struggled, especially with the hills (which were really just long low gradients for the most part, but I kept running out of puff and gears).

As soon as we got home to the bottom of our street, I dumped my bike and walked straight down the access way into the lake — fully clothed. That cool fresh water was just bliss for this overheated body!

See also information about:

  • Barn stars:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnstar
  • South Hero Island (from Wikipedia): Grand Isle, also known as South Hero Island, is the largest island in Lake Champlain, Vermont. It has a land area of 31.61 square miles (81.9 km2). The island comprises the two towns of Grand Isle and South Hero. The total population at the 2000 census was 3,651. South Hero has a strong agricultural system that combines multi-generational farming operations with newer sustainable and organic ventures. Apples continue to be a mainstay crop with multiple orchards throughout the town.
  • Island Bike Trail and causeway: http://digital.vpr.net/post/good-news-bicyclists-island-line-bike-ferry-get-bigger-boat#stream/0




Vermont: July 2017: Day 5

21 07 2017

It was a quiet day today. My friend had business to attend to, so spent the morning on the phone to her business partner in Australia. I did a bit of research for her, processed some of my photos, then started reading a book.

The weather was perfect, and I thought that reading in the large hammock strung between two trees on the front lawn would be a good idea. It was — but then it wasn’t. After negotiating getting into the hammock (I haven’t done that for decades!) without tipping myself out, I settled in. I’d been in the hammock less than a minute when the mosquitoes decided that this warm body was too delicious to resist. Despite putting on heaps of ‘natural’ insecticide, the mozzies just swarmed around me. Not biting me, but buzzing around every bit of my face and hands, and the tablet I was holding to read my e-book. They were too annoying and drove me inside within five minutes, where I settled onto a couch on the covered porch away from the mozzies and continued reading.

Hammock time

Hammock time

View of the trees above the hammock

View of the trees above the hammock

By late morning my friend had finished the call and was mostly finished with her work, so we drove into Burlington for lunch and some shopping. There are some neat little stores on Church St in the Marketplace, and we spent all our time in a few of them. She helped the local economy with her purchases! Oh, I must mention the gorgeous cocktail we had at Ken’s Pizza and Bar place — it was like a very yummy key lime pie thickshake, but with alcohol!

P1090122.JPG

We got back around 5pm, took a swim in Lake Champlain, then headed back to the cottage so she could finish her work. I edited her document for her, then went and got Chinese take-out while she made her last call to Australia about the document that had to be submitted that day.

With the sun staying up until well after 8pm, it’s easy to eat late and by the time you settle down to watch TV, it’s almost time for bed.

 





Vermont: July 2017: Day 4

20 07 2017

Woken up super early this morning with a phone call asking where we were. Seems our hot air balloon ride is RIGHT NOW! We got dressed and out the door in super quick time, driving to the launch site, which fortunately was less than 5 minutes away (normally up to 30 mins away).

We stood by as they prepared the basket and balloon for flight, then it was time four adults and the pilot to get into what seemed to be a TINY basket! (the basket is meant to hold 6, and surprisingly, we weren’t crammed in, as we expected to be just looking at it from outside). Once the balloon was mostly inflated (using huge fans), the gas burners were started to finish off the inflation, and it was time for us to get into the basket.

Next thing we knew we were off the ground! It was so seamless and unobtrusive, it was hard to believe we were on our way. Up and over the trees and buildings in front of the launch site, and then into the sunrise over Mallett’s Bay in Lake Champlain. Wow! What an experience. Except for the occasional blast of the burners, it was SOOO quiet and peaceful. No noise, no sudden movements, no motion sickness inducing moving or swaying, no sense of ‘fear of heights’, no apparent wind. I don’t do most fair rides — the carousel and perhaps a ferris wheel are my limits — and I have a fear of heights, so I was unsure how I’d cope with a balloon ride. I coped super well and enjoyed every moment, even when the pilot skimmed the lake wetting our feet, and skimmed some trees, allowing us to grab some leaves — these were very deliberate actions by him, and were well controlled, even though both made me feel a little uneasy at the time.

We headed out over Lake Champlain, getting a unique perspective of this magnificent water feature in Vermont, eventually reaching a maximum 4800 ft altitude, then heading over land, seeing farmland, forests, roads etc. and the planes taking off from Burlington International Airport in the distance (yes, the pilot radioed in his position to air traffic control!). It was a perfect day for it — clear skies, calm lake waters, rich green landscapes, etc.

 

After an hour, we’d travelled some 10 miles, and it was time to land. But where to land? The company has permission to launch and land at several sites, but today the winds took us away from those, so we found a prospective field next to a house and headed towards it. The owner had spotted us (heard the burners?) and came out and was taking photos of us. Jeff, the pilot, yelled out asking if we could land in the field. He said yes, and in we came. We were told to bend our knees and to expect two or three small bounces. We got none of that — you could hardly feel the landing at all!

After getting out of the basket, it was time for the support crew to deflate and pack up the balloon, while Jeff talked to the home owner and set up for the after-flight food and champagne. The home owner had to go off to work, so Jeff left a bottle of champers for him — seems it’s a tradition going back a couple of hundred years.

And then it was all over. We got into the support vehicle and were driven back to the meeting point where we paid for the trip, exchanged photos via phone, and  said our goodbyes. Wow — what a fabulous experience, one I’ll never forget. I highly recommend doing this — I have a fear of heights, I get motion sick, and I don’t do rides, but I could do this. I enjoyed every moment of it.

(I took heaps of photos, all of which [except for the people photos] are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/albums/72157686470421115)

So, what do you do for the rest of the day when it’s now only 8:30 am and you’ve been up experiencing Vermont as you never thought you would? You start by having home-cooked pancakes with Vermont maple syrup, of course!

Later in the day we took the boat into Burlington (about 30 mins), had a long lunch at Spot on the Dock (the place with the wonderful jalapeno-infused margaritas!), then headed back home. A quick dip in the lake (it was a hot and humid day), then it was off to share a taco meal with some of the other summer residents in this ‘family compound’, before being eaten alive by mosquitoes, and heading back to our cottage for an early night.

Our red ski boat

Our red ski boat

I slept like a log!





Vermont: July 2017: Day 3

20 07 2017

Tourist day today!

Our first stop with brunch with another friend in central Burlington, at Monarch and the Hummingbird. I had their delicious lox and bagel.

Next stop was Shelburne Farms, where we did the daily wagon tour of the property. Fascinating place — the farm barn was MASSIVE and only housed the horses (sheep and cattle were either left in the fields or went in other barns; the carriages, sleighs, etc. were in yet another barn). The current Inn (the old mansion) is huge, and housed the family (Vanderbilts and Webbs) and all its visitors.  It was a hot day, so the covering over the open-sided wagon was much appreciated.

Part of the Inn

Part of the Inn

Farm Barn

Farm Barn

Next stop was a yarn store, followed by a stop at an artists’ collective in the Burlington Arts District. My friend purchased a couple of large pieces from Conant Metal and Light, and I got a couple of small things (my stuff has to fit in a suitcase!) from the eclectic and vintage wares store there.

We finished the day with a swim in Lake Champlain.