Okay, so this wasn’t actually my first stop in the US, but I’ve been doing so much back-tracking here that keeping things in chronological order doesn’t really make sense anymore. After enduring the extremity of NYC (made a lot more enjoyable by having beers with some wonderful people) I jumped aboard a train bound for Burlington, Vermont. Burlington is a wonderful little town that likes to pretend it’s a city, because it’s not like anywhere else in Vermont is going to try and take that title from it. It’s a contender for my favourite place I’ve been so far, and would be firmly on my ‘places I could live’ list if it was always summertime.
The train ride from New York to Vermont is wonderful. The first section is nothing to brag about but it all gets very scenic as soon as the rails get past Connecticut. I was expecting Vermont to be gorgeous but I had no idea western Massachusetts was so pretty. It’s a long ride, but most of it is just cruising up through wonderful sections of forest and past beautiful rivers that look like prime swimming locations. Occasionally the train will pass through a small rural town, but that’s about as far as any sort of urban sprawl goes here. The tracks stay away from the main roads for the most part, so the ride feels very much like you’re out in the wilderness, but of course you’re not, you’re on a nice comfy train with big soft seats and free WiFi. Talk about luxury sightseeing. The train doesn’t go right into Burlington itself, but the public transport is cheap and it’s easy to catch a bus into town, even late at night.
Burlington is Vermont’s biggest city, which says a lot more about what most of Vermont is like than the size of Burlington. It clocks in at around 43,000 people. So yeah, more of a town really. It’s a beautiful little town though, and for its size, Burlington’s a pretty happening place. Church Street, the main shopping area, is a gorgeous little brick pedestrian mall filled with bars, interesting stores, food carts and buskers. I get the feeling it’s always a fairly lively place but I’m around right on festival season so there’s always interesting street performances going on top of everything else. My favourite is a guy called the Piano Juggler who plays a specially made keyboard by bouncing juggling balls on top of the large keys. His songs range from classical pieces to Led Zeppelin. An awesome little diversion while wandering the streets.
One festival isn’t quite enough for Burlington, so the same day that street performers are taking over Church Street, there’s a Dragon Boat Festival down at the waterfront. I don’t know the first thing about dragon boats but it’s a fun atmosphere just wandering around in the crowd. It’s a wonderful sunny day to be out on the water and the excitement in the air is contagious even though I don’t really know what’s going on. Some of the team names are fantastic as well. I’m cheering for Blazing Paddles.
On a side note, this probably seems like an odd thing to mention, but the main supermarket in town is amazing. It’s a great little cooperative full of organic produce, fresh local bread, hummus, big cartons of carrot juice and other wonderful treasures. There’s also a food court area where you can fill up a carton with whatever tasty meals they have on offer. I didn’t try any of these as I was already sorted for dinner but they all looked pretty decent. Absolute hippy heaven.
The nights are no less lively. Burlington has a pretty decent live music scene for its size. Church Street always has plenty going on but my favourite place was Nectar’s on Main Street which has live music everyday of the week. I catch two really cool bands while I’m there. Eastbound Jesus are a tight bluegrass outfit from upstate New York that draw a crowd from all over and have the room kicking up their heels from the first song. The crowd here is a wonderful mixed bag, all ages mingling together to enjoy the show. The locals are a friendly bunch that seem to really love where they live. I get high-fives from numerous people for liking Burlington better than NYC.
Another night brings in Elephant Wrecking Ball, a wonderfully odd funk trio from Brooklyn. The front man is a great trombone player who has somehow hooked his trombone up to a wah-wah pedal. They’re too chilled out to have the dance floor heaving but that’s not really what they’re about. Their sheer absurdity is amazing, they strike me as the types to get kicked out of jazz school for being too weird. Completely different to the bluegrass night but just as enjoyable in their own way.
All of this liveliness is great fun, but of course Burlington wouldn’t be Burlington without Vermont’s stunning natural beauty. It’s situated right on the shores of Lake Champlain with stunning views of the Adirondacks across the water. There’s a shared pedestrian and cycleway that runs for 7.5 km along the lake. It’s my favourite cycle I’ve ever done, but I’ll talk more about that later. It also makes for a lovely stroll along the lakeside. There’s lots of beautiful trees, little boats out in the harbour, and cool nautical themes carved into random rocks along the path. The days are long and hot at the moment and there are lots of nice places for a swim after I get tired of walking or cycling. The nice thing about the lake as opposed to swimming in the sea, is the water isn’t icy but it never gets too warm to be refreshing, no matter how hot the day is.
The proximity to the lake makes for some awesome weather patterns as well. There are always really cool clouds about and there are frequent mini thunderstorms that pass through. The general weather forecast while I’m there tends to be bright and sunny with heavy rain and thunder and lightening for about half an hour. This annoys some people no doubt, but I love the little thunderstorms. They’re short-lived and bring a wonderful electricity into the air that always puts a smile on my face, even when they catch me out in the rain.
Burlington isn’t quite as saturated in the lovely trees as the rest of Vermont but it’s still wonderfully green for a city. One thing that I love about the whole state is the variety of different greens in the trees. It’s different to anywhere else I’ve been. The shades in the trees range from deep dark greens to bright almost yellow leaves, and that’s just the ones that haven’t started changing color. It’s still summer but a few of the trees are already starting to turn. They’re few and far between but the little pockets of orange and red are pretty little teasers of things to come. I’d love to come back here in the fall sometime and see the colors take the place over. It must be a spectacular sight.
Listening to: For the Ride – Eastbound Jesus