Slice of Summer Heaven in Vermont

Vermont is well known for winter sports, but a summer visit can be even more enjoyable.

Howard Johnson's - Not That Bad!

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Ellum Enopee on November 8, 2003

When I was about ten years old, my dad took my sister, her best friend, and I to lunch at Howard Johnson’s. I had long found the bright orange roof a source of fascination; a momentary roadside distraction on long car trips. What could possibly lie within that was deserving of such a noticeable exterior?

The lunch was undoubtedly a last-minute whim of my father’s, but for me, it was an opportunity to satisfy my long-simmering curiosity. Inside, we found a largely ordinary restaurant with one noteworthy exception; they sold salt-water taffy. Now, at the time I considered myself an aficionado of candy and an expert on all things sucrose-filled. I had never seen salt water taffy before and the name, as well as the homely packaging, intrigued me. Looking back on this long-ago afternoon, I suppose we must have been on a weekend trip of some sort; perhaps to Atlantic City or some other ocean-side resort. Certainly no candy store in Manhattan would have sold boxes of taffy-–and definitely not taffy made with salt water. I was not leaving until I had tried it.

Luck, as it turns out, was to shine on me that day. My father, absent-mindedly browsing through menus and lists of specials on the table while we girls chatted about girl stuff, discovered a flyer upon which was spelled out in colorful print "Is it your birthday? Let us know!" My sister’s birthday was not for another four months, but when the waitress came to take our order, he barefacedly informed her that we were celebrating a birthday that day-–and pointed to the astonished 8-year-old across the table. Her eyes widened and she exchanged shocked, then conspiratorial looks with her friend.

Lunch came–-unremarkable grilled cheese sandwiches if memory serves-–and afterward, a free ice cream sundae served by a singing wait staff. We were sent on our way with an entire box of salt water taffy as a gift, and for the next three years, until we moved to a new apartment, we got a birthday card from Howard Johnsons four months early.

Which brings me to the point of this journal; if you’re short on cash and didn’t have your heart set on a cozy B&B or a chic hotel, Howard Johnson’s on Shelburne Road (close to downtown Burlington, but even closer to the Shelburne Museum) is not bad at all. Clean rooms, friendly staff, free parking, and affordable prices make the Shelburne HoJos an unremarkable, but convenient place to hang your hat. Just don’t tell them it’s your birthday.

Howard Johnson's - Not That Bad!
1720 Shelburne Road
Burlington, Vermont, 05403
(802) 860-6000

Gillian's Restaurant

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Ellum Enopee on November 8, 2003

It doesn’t get much homier than Gillian’s, where lace half-curtains float in the windows and "home made Vermont breakfast" is served until noon. Wood slatted booths create cozy dining nooks, while brown and white checked tablecloths and stencils on the walls leave little doubt that you’re in a friendly, family kind of place.

We tried reading through the menu, but could barely keep our attention on the brunch items listed there. Beyond our table was the dessert display case-–full of home made treats like apple pie, mixed berry streusel, and muffins in every size and shape. We promised each other not to order too much, so we’d have room for dessert.

This turned out to be a broken promise. We stuffed our faces with creative breakfast items like the "All Scrambled Up", which comes in three styles: Zorba the Greek, South of the Border, and South of France. Only the South of France version comes with Vermont cheddar cheese though! Fluffy buttermilk pancakes came topped with Vermont Maple Syrup. We entertained ourselves between bites by reading off the supply of Trivial Pursuit cards located in a box on each table. I was delighted to learn that Anne Murray’s "You Needed Me" was Ron and Nancy Reagan’s favorite song!

A few off-notes made this culinary symphony less than a magnum opus. Our waiter was borderline rude when he pointed out that Gillian’s is pronounced with a soft G (like Jillian), and the table behind us-– ull of teachers from a local grade school--started out amusing, but eventually grew annoying, as their impromptu teacher’s conference slash gripe fest got increasingly louder.

These minor inconveniences were soon forgotten, as we turned our eyes back to the dessert case. We couldn’t resist dessert despite our jumbo-sized entrees. We split an apricot bar and a chocolate brownie tart. The tart wasn’t bad, but the apricot bar was to die for! It had a flaky crust and a rich complex flavor that I suspect contained some sort of liquor. Delicious.

Gillian's Restaurant
97 Falls Road
Burlington, Vermont, 05482
(802) 985-2830

Shelburne Museum

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Ellum Enopee on November 8, 2003

I’ve been to museums in New York, London, Paris, Cairo, Amsterdam, and Los Angeles, but I have never seen one quite like (or quite as expensive as) the Shelburne Museum. It’s the largest museum in Vermont, and statistics don’t lie, right? 39 buildings/structures, 44 acres of grounds, 400 bushes and trees, 150,000 objets d’art-–and on the day we visited, about 1,000 girl scouts in little brown vests festooned with patches and pins. Yes, it was a girl scouts convention, and the museum had opened early just for the girls in brown.

Shelburne Museum takes a unique view of what is and isn’t museum-worthy. It’s an interactive cross-section of Americana, taken through time. Boats, entire buildings, even a covered bridge have been painstakingly transported to the grounds from locations in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York. These structures are then filled--with period furniture in some cases, with craftspeople working on projects with period tools, or in some cases, interesting artifacts that just don’t fit anywhere else. A 125-foot circus parade made of miniature figurines, for example, occupies the entire length of a circular barn. While the craftsmanship was nothing special, the parade is a fascinating look at the culture of a bygone era.

The historic "Stencil House", circa 1804, could have been the residence of one of Martha Stewart’s ancestors. Elaborate stenciled walls form the backdrop for hand made painted furniture, including a clock around whose face someone has accidentally painted numbers going from I to XIII. Oops!

The 1800 Blacksmith shop is a great place to watch a demonstration in progress. Just keep your hands and toes away from the fire and the red-hot pokers in it.

Although the Apothecary Shop was built for the museum in 1959, its contents are as authentic as they are fascinating. See how pills were made, what powders and salves were prescribed, and admire the fiendishly complex cash register.

One of my favorite sites was the Railroad Station, where a private rail car was on display. Unfortunately this luxuriously appointed car was closed to the public at the time. Oddly, the museum had stationed a docent outside it anyway. He had been standing outside the closed exhibit for several hours and was pretty grumpy by the time we met him. Grudgingly, he explained that wealthy city-dwellers used to have their own private cars hooked up to a public locomotive for trips up North. Some had private railway stations built near their summer homes so they could disembark and finish their trips by horse and carriage.

These few sites are just a sampling of what you and your family can visit at the Shelburne Museum. The old Jail, steamboat Ticonderoga, working Sawmill with waterwheel, and Lake Champlain Lighthouse are just a few of the other exhibitions we visited-–and we only saw about half of it!

Hours of Operation

$10 adults/$5 kids
Select buildings open only

$17.50 adults/$8.75 kids
All buildings open

Shelburne Museum
5555 Shelburne Rd
Shelburne, Vermont, 05482
(802) 985-3346

Highlights of Our Road Trip

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Ellum Enopee on November 9, 2003

Woodstock, Vermont is nothing like Woodstock, New York. No hippies past or present, and no rock bands. It’s an historic town, with a proud village green lined with well-preserved, beautiful brick buildings. Just outside of town is the Charles Shackleton Furniture and Miranda Thomas Pottery gallery. We were there for the furniture, having seen Shackleton’s work in Manhattan and spent many years coveting his gorgeous cherry four-poster beds, elegant breakfronts, and other glorious but expensive items. We were disappointed, although not surprised, to find that they’re just as costly in Vermont as in the city. Miranda Thomas is Shackleton’s wife – her work is less expensive, but less interesting in my opinion. The gallery is striking, set in an old mill building in Bridgewater, Vermont (just north of Woodstock on route 4). Open windows in the gallery reveal glimpses into the workshop, where busy young apprentices plane boards and measure carefully.

In town, we found an equal to Shackleton: Clear Lake Furniture, a smaller shop located in Ludlow but with a storefront in Woodstock. Less traditional and more daring, their handiwork was easily the equal of Shackleton’s, and slightly less costly. Even more intriguing, they use 17th-century techniques to build their useable art. Impressive!

Woodstock also hosts Gillingham’s General Store, which claims to be the oldest General Store in the world, and the Vermont Raptor Center, where you can get up close and person with rehabilitated owls and hawks who are unable to fend for themselves in the wild.

We also spent time in nearby Burlington, a busy college town that boasts extensive shopping and dining opportunities. We feasted on spicy delicacies at The India House on Colchester Avenue (beware: there isn’t much in the way of parking there!) and wandered around town, window-shopping with the UVM students and their parents. That got old fast, though, so we hopped in the car and headed north toward Lake Champlain. It was a short drive north of town on I89 to exit 17, where we headed west on Route 2, crossing the Lamoille River (a white-water destination for avid canoers from my childhood summer camp) and then crossing over part of Lake Champlain via bridge onto Grand Isle. Grand Isle is a massive island in the midst of the Lake. It is dotted with summer residences and rental properties – most were not yet open for business when we visited. Perhaps that is why we were lucky enough to spot an enormous red fox hunting for his lunch alongside the road. We pulled over and put our new digital camera to the test, capturing an embarrassing number of photos – but one money shot of a leaping fox with mouse in mouth! (See below.) Lake Champlain was a beautiful drive and a highlight of our trip.

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