After a day and a half in Acadia that included a hike at Jordan Pool Pond this morning, we then departed to grab a quick cheesecake at Momo’s Cheesecake in the town of Ellsworth.
The remarkable thing is not only that this amazing piece of work is $5.50 a slice, but that you can pay on the honor code — there isn’t a single employee here to take your order; you simply pay by dropping off your cash in a box and take whatever you paid for!
Furthermore at a nearby farm, we found this “honor system” to be the continually running theme in this part of Maine.
We then headed onwards for a quick fast food lunch in empty Augusta, Maine.
Then along the long 6 hour drive to Vermont, I finally drove for the first time in 11 years! At the time of writing, we’re still alive!
Once we arrived at Burlington at 8pm, we made a beeline to #1 stop on everyone’s list here: a stroll through Church Street Marketplace.
A perfect balance of historic buildings, public performances, and modern trappings can keep a visitor here busy all day!
Although the original Ben & Jerry’s location is only a block away on College Street and Saint Paul’s (now currently an empty lot with a plaque commemorating the original location), this is the closest you’ll get to the OG:
There’s also a Ben & Jerry’s factory about an hour east from Burlington (complete with a Flavor Graveyard!) but sadly it was closed for the weekend for this trip.
And if you’re willing to venture a bit farther from Church Street Marketplace, check out the waterfront to Lake Champlain a few minutes away.
As we checked into our lodgings at the Hilton DoubleTree in Burlington, we noticed another casualty of COVID-19: their famous chocolate chip cookies were no longer offerred. They also made us sign another certificate of compliance related to the concerns of the virus spreading everywhere else around the country.
The next morning we got some coffee and stopped by for a second at the World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet.
Then we drove south and picked some strawberries for $3 a pint at Fat Belly Farm:
I also got bit by a bee for the first time (no allergic reaction, don’t worry) here:
Then with another hour’s drive south, we enjoyed a thorough free cheese and maple syrup tasting at Sugarbush Farms, also part of the Vermont Cheese Trail.
Here you can visit their sugar house where they evaporate the maple water into syrup, all from the 9000 trees that they tap on their farmlands.
They’ll helpfully warn you to steer clear of imitations!
There’s also a pleasant “maple hill” walk that takes around 10 minutes so you can see all the maple trees from where they tap. Find the hidden chapel in the woods where people can book for weddings.
Finally on our final stretch home, we stopped once at Flayvors of Cook Farm in Amherst, MA (on the last minute recommendation of one of my friends and monsooners Victoria Lu from the Antigua & Barbuda trip!):
Remarkably the mask culture completely shifted when we entered Massachusetts; it went from “masks appreciated” in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, to “masks required” that we also saw in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York.
The great thing about Flayvors of Cook Farm is that you can eat ice cream staring at the very source where they came from:
Driving onwards home, by 8:30pm we returned full circle back to Frank Pepe’s in New Haven. We noticed that the indoor dining we had seen 6 days ago when we began this trip now have been rolled back and they were back to doing pickups only. Thanks to my friend and monsooner, Alfred Yeung (of numerous trip/monsoons), he helpfully was able to order ahead a classic tomato pie + mozzarella for us!
After a quick catch up with him (he had done the exact same trip that we did for the weekend up to Providence, RI), we returned to NYC, dropping off out car at 11pm in what seemed to look like a scene from an apocalyptic movie: Countless cars with their hazard lights on stretching around both corners of the street.
I figure this was from all the pent-up demand of July 4th weekenders dropping off their vehicles at the only 24/7 open Avis in this part of the city!
But we did it — 1 week of responsible travel in the era of COVID-19!
- At time of posting in Burlington, VT, it was 20 °C -
Humidity: 71% | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly sunny
After 2 days in Portland and beginning at noon we drove up the 3 hours towards Acadia National Park, a 47,000-acre situated primarily on Maine’s Mount Desert Island.
About a 20 minutes’ drive north of Portland, we stopped for a quick lunch at the “Famous L.L. Bean Boot.”
At around 3pm and before reaching the outskirts of Acadia, we took a 45 minute detour to the southwest point for a photogenic shot of 19th century The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.
Nobody tells you this but after a 5 minute hike from the parking lot and down a flight of wooden stairs, you need to also venture onto the precarious rocks to get the viewpoint everyone raves about.
We then headed into Acadia proper on Mount Desert Island where by 4pm we showed our park pass (which you can purchase beforehand online) at the gate and continued onto the summit of Cadillac Mountain.
This is the highest peak in the Northeast and the first place to view sunrise in the United States from October 7 through March 6.
From the parking lot you can take an easy scenic half-mile hike around the summit.
You can also easily detour out from the summit loop for adjacent hikes.
Then we drove back from the summit onto the scenic drive along the 27 mile long Park Loop Road.
Jutting out from this road are also countless non-vehicular carriage paths that you can detour off for bike and horseback rides.
Midway through the loop we parked at Jordan Pond House Restaurant, a historic place to stop for tea and lunch in Acadia.
And from there you can hike the serene 3.5 miles around Jordan Pond, which took us about 1-2 hours the next morning.
Back on Park Loop Road and on our way from Jordan Pond we then stopped at Thunder Hole, a natural rock inlet which physics cause waves to crash with the sound of thunder.
There are times posted everyday when to show up for the biggest and loudest-sounding waves.
After a full loop around Acadia with its numerous detours, we finally checked in at our lodgings at Atlantic Eyrie Lodge, located in the quaint bayside town of Bar Harbor.
Just walking here and you can get a feel for the small town vibes that have been emblematic of the New England character. It’s also a wonderful place for sunset….
…and for moonrise.
- At time of posting in Acadia National Park, it was 16 °C -
Humidity: 96% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy
After nearly 3 days in Rhode Island, we head onwards to my first time ever setting foot in Maine.
While the COVID rates here have remained low like the rest of the Northeast, they’re not quite containing it as well as NYC, CT or Rhode Island…
But luckily for us when we arrived at our hotel in downtown Portland, the AC Marriott, we found out that TODAY would be their first day reopening after a 1-2 month lockdown. This meant our room definitely would be clear of COVID-19 as nobody had stayed there for more than enough time for a lonely virus to die off on any surfaces (usually 3 days).
When you check in, they make you check off and sign this on the honor code (they don’t check for your results otherwise):
After 10 minutes settling in, we walked out to explore Portland, beginning with a 15 minute walk to the Portland Observatory (closed due to COVID):
We then walked 10 minutes towards the water and the majestic scenery of the Eastern Promenade:
It’s a dog paradise still at East End Beach:
Weaving along the coast back to downtown Portland, we came across a series of abandoned railroad carriages:
Once back in downtown Portland, we strolled around the charming cobblestone-lined paths of Old Port, a quaint historic tourist district that before the pandemic also had functioned as a hip nightlife hot spot for locals.
As of the time of positing the traditional seafood spots by the waterfront have just begun reopening for outdoor and partial indoor dining.
When restaurants like Scales was too full, we managed to get seats at the last minute at DiMillo’s On The Water.
When in Maine…
…you do it right…
…and I definitely do it right.
The next morning we wandered past Old Port into the more modern Downtown Portland where I sampled some of my favorite espresso so far at Speckled Axe.
In the area and under better circumstances (aka if there were no pandemics), you can visit the magnificent interiors of Portland Museum of Art…
…and Victoria Mansion, one of the most historic homes of the 19th century.
We then headed back to Old Port for an outdoor seaside lunch at Gilbert’s Chowder House:
…and we followed up with Duckfat‘s famous fried donuts served with caramel dipping sauce.
Heading out of Portland at 2pm, we drove 10 minutes to Bug Light Park, named after its tiny 24 foot tower that has a direct view of Portland Harbor.
The much larger and historic (and Maine’s oldest) Portland Head Lighthouse, built in 1791 and located within the 90-acre Fort Williams Park, is another 10 minutes’ drive south.
After a 20 minute cliff walk at the park, we drove back to Portland and showed up about an hour late to our online reservation (whoops!) we had made for a tandem kayak at Portland Paddle.
Luckily for us in the era of COVID they honored our reservations as demand here still remains low.
We spent about an hour kayaking in the bay, going as far out west as an abandoned railroad bridge by I-295 and as east to Pomroy Rock.
Another thunderstorm then arrived in the evening, so we sat that out back in our hotel before compelling ourselves to walk in the rain for our 8pm reservations at Scales.
Remember the Baked Alaska we had 3 years ago at Eleven Madison Park and 10 months ago in Greenland? We had it again here!
But this has been the running theme of Portland thus far:
Finally on day 3 of our time in Portland, we decided to finally honor all the recommendations for us to try The Holy Donut the next morning, especially their Vegan Fresh Lemon, Vegan Chocolate Caramel, and Maple Bacon potato donuts.
And I’m glad we did, physically distanced lines outside and all.
This is a great send off for the road as we now drive up the 3 hours north to Acadia National Park!
- At time of posting in Portland, ME, it was 16 °C -
Humidity: 66% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: thunderstorms
I’ve been posting regularly for weeks about what’s going on in and outside of NYC regarding COVID-related ups and downs, but after 3 months sheltering in place I feel it’s time for me peek above these fences and see for myself.
My dreams (already crazy & turbulent because of a lockdown…that’s a widespread thing apparently!) have also become even more vivid as of late, taking me back yearning to cross unknown deserts again.
So with nearly everyone I know in NYC already traveling, no ER shifts scheduled for the week, and a COVID-resistant cross country road-trip planned for this August, I’m compelled to take my life of monsooning into pandemic trial mode and research how domestic trips may remain safe and as responsible as possible, without negatively affecting other communities (as our previous monsoons have always been).
Because if our next wave happens to be now or our annual flu season mid-October, I want to make sure I’ve fully recharged by then and made the most out of our reprieve in NYC (…but you better stay <1% positive for COVID when I return!)…that is, before the inevitable happens.
So I head northeast this week outside the 50-mile radius of a bubble I’ve been holed up in for far too long, and I look forward to what dreams may come. I look forward to never letting my dreams be dreams.
This Monday at 10am, we first made a quick stop in Elmhurst, Queens to check in on my grandmother: This is what a COVID survivor looks like.
At 11:30am we then drove for about an hour and half north from Queens into Connecticut, which currently is less than 2% positive for COVID and one of the only 2-3 states in the country at the time of posting with continually decreasing rates of infection. Didn’t feel too unsafe leaving NYC.
Whenever I visit Connecticut, I always make a quick pit stop at my favorite Szechuan joint, Lao Sze Chuan in Milford.
If you’re ever there, make sure you order my personal favorite, the Chef’s Special Fried Chili Chicken:
And if you’re a vegetarian, mix in some rice with their Ma Po Tofu:
New Haven, CT
After half an hour in Milford, we then drove another 20 minutes northeast towards New Haven, where we stopped by at Frank Pepe PIzzeria, which was profiled on the first episode of David Chang’s Netflix show “Ugly Delicious.”
I realize that pizza has become a running theme when we also ate the “#1 best pizza in the world” at Savoy (also profiled in the same episode on “Ugly Delicious”) 2 summers ago in Tokyo.
And just as Brooklyn boasts its own unique style of pizza, so does New Haven: Compared to NYC, a “plain” New Haven pizza, or a “tomato pie,” is described to have a doughier, slightly thicker crust with oregano, tomato sauce, and grated pecorino romano cheese.
But Frank Pepe didn’t just invent New Haven pizza, it also became legendary for its white clam pizza:
Totally full at this point, we walked off our double lunch at the serene campus grounds of Yale University.
As the campus is now completely devoid of life because of COVID cancelling all summer classes, we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. There was not a single other soul here.
One of my favorite stories here when I was visiting colleges was that its architects reportedly poured acid down the walls of its buildings to make it look older and thus compete with the buildings at Harvard.
See if you can find the Women’s Table sculpture, conceived by architect Maya Lin (who also designed the Vietnam War Memorial in DC). Each number corresponds to the number of women enrolled at Yale University every year.
After a 30 minute stroll, we then took our final 2 hour drive of the day into Rhode Island, currently also with <2% positive rate for COVID-19 and one of two other states in the country with continually declining rates.
Once in Providence, we quickly checked into our first digs at affordable and yet boutique The Dean Hotel.
What do I think about hotel rooms in the era of COVID? Pick the right one and they’re by and large safer as they’re expected to be sanitized more often and thoroughly than private homes, especially in the era of COVID. After all, nobody wants that negative Yelp review and hardly anyone has been traveling anyway the past 3 months!
For me and my personal risk tolerance, they’re also way safer than any of the ERs I’ve been working in the past 3 months when I had a lack of PPE…
After a half an hour freshening up, we rendezvous’ed with my friends Lei and Maria (both of whom came on my monsoon to The Balkans 3 summers ago) who just so happened to be in Rhode Island the same days we were!
We first walked 10 minutes west to Federal Hill with an al fresco dinner at Il Massimo.
After dinner, we walked along Canal Walk by the water.
Crossing over to the east side of Providence, we gazed up at the hills that led to Brown University‘s campus.
We decided to stick to the water instead, walking south while taking in the magic of Providence’s skyline at night.
We walked all the way south to the water before reaching Plant City (where we returned the next night for dinner with my partner’s own high school friend Victoria!), a cutting edge plant-based (vegan) food hall/emporium.
I got the Pizzaiola, made with roasted cauliflower, tomato, and pepperoncini:
…and the Cacio E Pepe, made with almond parmesan with black pepper cashew cream.
From Plant City you can loop around along the new 28 million dollar Providence City Bridge Road:
“Is it always this empty? Or is it COVID?”
“It’s always this empty.”
Our night tour ended at the Providence Performing Arts Center, a famed 1920s theater that still hosts (at least until COVID) Broadway shows, plays, concerts, musicals & other performances.
Curious thing, there are bunny rabbits EVERYWHERE here:
The next morning we got coffee at Bolt Coffee next to our hotel and enjoyed more of charming Downtown Providence by day:
Newport, Rhode Island
After having our fill of Providence, we drove south 45 minutes to Newport, Rhode Island:
Meeting up with Maria, we went on the famous Cliff Walk and admired the majesty of the American Gilded Age with its jaw-dropping “summer cottages” facing the sea.
My favorites begin with Ochre Court, part of the Salve Regina University campus (where one of our monsooners from Egypt and co-worker at Mount Sinai Brooklyn, Grace Kelly, attended!)
The Young Building is next to Ochre Court, also part of the Salve Regina University campus.
The grandest of them all would be The Breakers, which once belonged to The Vanderbilts. I remember visiting 8 years ago on the way back after attending Lei and Maria’s wedding in Providence.
After nearly an hour walking along the cliffs, we quickly peeked at the gentrified shops in Newtown and grabbed a legendary lemon slush at Del’s:
Couldn’t help this one:
With a deluge approaching, we got back into our cars and drove past Easton Beach towards Bristol, aka, the “most patriotic town in America” for being home to the the oldest parade in America (their July 4th’s).
And did it rain by the time we reached Bristol 30 minutes later.
We took shelter with a late lunch at Thames Waterside Bar & Grill before returning to Providence and grabbing our aforementioned dinner at Plant City with Victoria.
On our third day, we checked out and met with Victoria for breakfast at the legendary Seven Star Bakery (especially known for its almond croissants) and walked around the area before pondering the equally legendary ice cream at 3 Sisters.
As it began to pour again, we quickly said our goodbyes and drove back downtown to finish up our last bit of sightseeing in the city. Luckily the skies began to clear over the Rhode Island State House:
Then as the sun returned, we ordered some of my favorite falafel at East Side Pockets for lunch before strolling along the empty Brown University campus on the east side of Providence.
If you venture a little westwards, you can get views over downtown Providence from Prospect Terrace:
With Rhode Island in the books, we now head up to my first time in Maine!
- At time of posting in Providence, Rhode Island, it was 20 °C -
Humidity: 90% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: thunderstorms