How do you winter?

There are two sides to winter in New England: Winter in the city is a grim mosaic of grey snowbanks and brown slush and salt-stained boots on sanity-strained commuters. Winter in the country? That’s an entirely different story, full of mountain vistas, snow-dusted trees, and endless stretches of fresh, white powder. At the beginning of February, Sean and I escaped the bleak streets of Boston for the snowy paradise of eastern Vermont. We found a rustic, one-room cabin on AirBnB (hand-built by a friendly fellow transplant to these colder climes) and spent a weekend tucked away like a couple of mountain recluses.

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We arrived late on Friday night to a fire roaring in the wood-burning stove—the only real heat source in the place—and promptly unpacked our homemade marshmallows and assorted candy and started roasting. (Reese’s s’mores. Alleluia, amen.)

When we woke up on Saturday, our fire had gone out, and the interior temperature had plummeted to a frosty 40 degrees. It took three hours, three kindling-seeking missions, a handful of swears, and a little bit of female ingenuity (what can I say? I watch a lot of movies was a Girl Scout) before we finally got the fire going again. But once we did, our little hideaway became the perfect cozy retreat.

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There was a wind chill advisory that morning, so I refused to go outside until the threat of immediate and inescapable frostbite had passed. But once it was safe, we strapped on the snowshoes provided by our host and trudged through the 150 undisturbed acres behind the cabin. (For about an hour. Until my baby toes started to hurt so badly that I was convinced I was going to lose them to gangrene. Note to self: wear proper winter boots next time.)

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We devoted the entire rest of the day to lazing around inside. We didn’t watch T.V. (there wasn’t one); we didn’t stream Netflix (no wi-fi, either); and we didn’t wash our hair (the five gallon tank supplied just enough water in the unheated bathroom for a cursory underarm scrub). What we did instead was play Trivial Pursuit while Iron and Wine and Feist tunes hummed in the background; show off our “considerable” “musical” “talents” (ahem) on the guitar we found inside; curl up under blankets and chat about our future plans; eat chipotle Gouda and fig goat cheese in our sweats and wool socks; and listen for coyotes as we drifted off to sleep in our lofted bedroom.

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Mr. and Mrs. Leaf Peeper

Sean and I are big fans of traveling in lieu of gift-giving for our anniversary: two years ago we visited D.C., and last year we hopped across the pond for a couple of weeks in Paris and London. But this year, between moving and enrolling in grad school and starting new jobs, we didn’t really have the time or the funds for a big getaway.

But hey! We live in New England now — there are a million and half things to do up here, and each one of them is a quick car ride away. And, as luck would have it, New England’s (arguably) most popular attraction coincides pretty perfectly with our anniversary. So this year we opted to celebrate 1095 days of wedded bliss with a weekend-long fall foliage tour.

Preparations for this trip (as for seemingly all our New England getaways) were extraordinarily light. We picked a couple of routes to explore (Route 100 in Vermont and the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire), booked an affordable hotel, Googled a few notable stops along the way, and set off.
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The weather on Saturday was…not ideal for leaf peeping in Vermont. Thick fog obscured our views of harvest-colored mountains, and the spitting rain (mixed with the occasional torrential downpour) made it darn near impossible to get out and admire the scenery. But in a way, the wet, chilly weather added to the ambiance.
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Plus, tromping through puddles on a chilly day wearing wellies and flannel is juuuuust about as autumnal as it gets. And we found plenty of ways to escape the rain and still have an authentic Vermont experience.

We realized as soon as we crossed the state line that, in addition to rolling pastures and adorable alpine ski resorts, “authentic Vermont experience” also includes no cellphone reception. We had to rely on some very old-school road trip resources — like street signs and other people — to find things to do:

  • We spotted a sign for a winery and veered off-route at the last minute to sample robust reds and local cheeses.
  • We got an awesome restaurant recommendation from a couple at the winery and spent two hours at the bar drinking Vermont-brewed pumpkin beer (with the New-England-style rim!) and watching the Texas A&M game.
  • We found the exit for the popular Vermont Country Store and perused flannel pajamas and rows and rows of maple products.

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By the time we got to our hotel — a ski lodge with a Saint Bernard motif — the sun was setting and the rain had picked up. So we snagged Scrabble from the hotel’s game closet, popped open a bottle of Cab and sliced up the cheese we’d procured from the winery, turned on ESPN, and settled in for a cozy night of triple word scores and college football upsets.

The weather was decidedly nicer on Sunday, so we set off early for New Hampshire’s White Mountains. But not before stopping at a working maple sugar shack/diner for breakfast.
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Just 20 minutes after we’d stuff ourselves full of pancakes, we spotted the Longtrail Brewery and went in for a flight. (Someday we should all get together and argue about IPAs. Me against the rest of the world — unless someone else out there with a delicate palate wants to join the resistance.)
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Our last stop before we made it to the mountains was Woodstock, Vermont. Not one, not two, but THREE people recommended that we stop there, and I’m so glad we did! Sean suspects that every single movie that’s ever been set in New England in autumn has been filmed there. Seriously: quaint shops, leaf-speckled streets, a town square — it was idyllic. Not to mention, it had these:IMG_3611_e
We made it to the Kancamagus Highway in the early afternoon, and the conditions were absolutely perfect for some spectacular views:IMG_3649_eIMG_3645_e
Once upon a time, I wanted to be the kind of person who owned a summer home on the Maine coast. After this trip, I’d like to amend that slightly: summer beach house in Maine, winter ranch in Texas, and fall cabin in Vermont.