Saturday, January 3, 2015

New England States: 400 Miles, 5 States Visited

Why don't they call Syracuse the "Orange City"? The old brick buildings downtown tend to have a faded orange hue to them, and the Orange play basketball, study and do other sports at the university in town. Hm....

I woke up and got going in the cool late morning air, and observing more of that slowly regressing economic optimism that describes the mid-sized cities of Upstate. This was the morning that my freaking I-Pass finally started working, 48ish hours since my purchase at the Illinois-Indiana border. Big sigh of relief there, almost the entire Northeast is riddled with tolled Interstate highways. I-90 is the one I took from the motel toward the center of town.

Syracuse's city center is an older collection of low-rise orange brick buildings that harken back to a previous generation of architecture and industry:

It's a great place to walk, and to drive slowly, unhurriedly. I had targeted Freedom of Espresso as my "best latte" attempt for the city. It didn't disappoint on the latte front, and I had one of my surprisingly rare conversations with one of the baristas about what I'd been up to.  She asked what I had planned for the day, and I mentioned I was going to drive all the way to Maine, and end up in Boston (ambitious, I know). That sparked more talk of how far I'd already come, which was over 7,000 miles and a lot of beard growing. The staggering amount of states and miles I'd covered already drew some respect from the baristas behind the counter; I was quietly pleased by this!

I had a bevy of places to get to that day: Albany (145 miles), Bennington, VT (+ 38 miles), Concord, NH (+108 miles), Kittery, Maine (+63 miles) and finally Boston (+59 miles)! Now, you're probably under the assumption that crossing that kind of distance isn't overly challenging, I'd been doing it like clockwork in other regions. Sure. But...New England is older America, and thus designed more for trains and smaller amounts of road traffic, like a lot of Europe. There are interstates, and other lower level highways, but those latter types are usually two lane country roads that intersect with people's driveways and other crossing roads. You can't just blaze hundreds of miles in a couple hours like you can out in the Far West. No sir. This amount of miles took a genuine while. 

First, I had to leave quaint downtown Syracuse and set course for the campus of Syracuse University:

Why go to the university? I have no personal connections there. But, my primary love as a sports fan is basketball, and the college team known as the Orange have been winning a lot of games in the Big East conference (now ACC dangit!) in the Carrier Dome:

Nondescript exterior, yes. Inside, it's like being in an arena of pumpkins:

Wow that's bright! Makes for a very lively environment I'd imagine. 

Where to next? A couple hours to old, old Albany. This was a golden opportunity to soak in the idyllic beauty of Upstate New York. Ahhhh:

Albany was denser than I'd expected, with two lane roads in the center of the city when other, newer cities would make do with 4+ lanes.

Albany wasn't unlike Syracuse, but with a lot more civic buildings, befitting a state capital.

Before picture time though, it was only fitting that I hit up a delicatessen (this is New Yawk after all), and wolf down some triple decker ham monstrosity that satisfied my hunger beautifully:

There was also a picture of the Empire State Building in there that was a preview of things to come further into the trip.

Albany has been around for a good while by American standards, and the architecture and tributes to battles/achievements there were testament to that age:

If you're like me, and you like some history in your life, when you think of Albany, you think of Tammany Hall and "Machine politics" and all the slimy Upstate politicians running things in New York in the late 1800's. Well, they're probably still slimy to some degree...

Fortunately, that didn't factor much into my thinking at the time, I was just strolling around the Capitol area, rattling off photos at rapid pace:

This was my close up of City Hall, not as large of a structure as you'd expect for New York's capital city:

That statue of the general looks like George Washington, doesn't it? But somehow, it's not!
At the classically designed Education building down the street, I thought this looked kinda like a shot from a luxury car commercial:

And was time to go. I hadn't even left New York State yet. I passed by this ornate church on the way out:

That was probably the best part of leaving Albany. I got caught in the 4 o'clock rush hour on I-787 along the Hudson River; that didn't improve my mood, but once I turned east on State Highway 7 to head to Vermont, I got to cross the mighty Hudson and float through the rolling hills and forests along the way:

The trees are very, very thick in Vermont, and so are the quaint old houses:

Getting thoughts of the music of Hobbiton in your head yet? Thought so...

After around an hour of trundling gently along Highway 7, I arrived in Bennington, which is as exactly "New England - Vermont" as you'd imagine it to be:

Bennington is home to South Street Cafe, a wood paneled old coffee shop that makes a buzzy Iced Latte, a welcome refresher for the early evening. From there, continuing east into New Hampshire, the landscape looked mostly like this for two hours:

Haha, greener than greenery, I know. That's Walden Pond, Walt Whitman kind of stuff. These images would make you think of the claustrophobic "Mirkwood" known as "Connecticut", but no these trees are softer, more full of life than that. The muted but smoothly colored sunset was also nice to behold over the treetops:

I didn't go into the city of Concord in New Hampshire, no time for that. I had a particular goal in mind: make it to Maine, and add it to the list of states visited! I had looked up the sunset time for Portland, Maine the previous night, and does it look like I made it with that twilight being in mid-NH? Haha, NO. No I didn't. It was unrealistic to make it all the way up the coast of Maine to Portland with any daylight left, but that didn't mean I couldn't get to the very southern tip of the state. That was another hour or so on Highway 101, to a very old place called Kittery:

Interestingly, the docks and cranes that are aglow across the bay are in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and the boats nearer to me are in Maine. I was that close to the state line. I had refueled with some expensive gasoline, and first tried to eat dinner at Warren's Lobster House, which would've made good sense seeing as how Maine is known for that kind of food. But, it was about 9 PM, and they were closed (sigh...).

My alternative was a place on Badger Island in the middle of the bay called Badger's Island Pizza. I had to skulk around some dark alleys to find it, but I plopped down in a booth there, and ordered a full sized calzone. Yes, a calzone. I was that hungry to completely bail on seafood in Maine. And this was a freakishly large calzone, being literally an entire large pepperoni pizza folded in half. I did my best to battle this small continent of cheese, bread and tomato sauce, and I still only destroyed about half of it in that sitting:

Feeling, uh, heavy in the belly, I waddled back to the car and charted a course for Boston. Once I broke the barrier of I-495 that rings the Boston area, I found myself on the windiest of highways I'd ever been on that also included open access to side parking lots and roads. Like, I'd come flying around a sweeping corner at 55mph, and somebody could easily pull out in front of me from a gas station off to the side. No on or off ramps to speak of.

At 11 PM, coming into the city itself, it started to get dicey. I've told this slightly apocryphal story to many people of how when I asked my iPhone for directions from Kittery to Boston, in those 60 miles, there were something like 22 separate steps to get there! Stranger yet, only 6 of those were getting to the Boston city limits. At least 15 were within a small slice of the center of the city. I was going to meet my good friend and co-worker Charlie Roch and an online friend of his named Mike in the Alston neighborhood west of downtown to stay at Mike's for two nights.

If only it were as easily done as said. I ended up on a section of Boston's Big Dig highway and bridge project, which has fiendishly complicated ramps and curly sections. At one point I found myself within what felt like mere feet of TD Garden where the Celtics play; it looked like I could roll down my window and touch it! Alas, I missed a turn near there and got lost in a neighborhood late at night with a crazy thirst, fatigue, and need for a restroom; And I lost my cool as well, sitting there in the car, not even knowing which direction I was facing (this was before Google put that helpful arrow on the blue dot in the Maps app).

After a little trial and error, I got back on track, forged my way through many pedestrians and cyclists in the college area of town, and met Charlie and Mike in a drugstore parking lot. Charlie hadn't seen me in a month since I left Dallas, and he yelled "WHO IS THIS BEARDED MAN?!" when he saw me. Haha it was true, I looked like a different person to him. He and Mike were kind enough to ride around in the car with me for almost 30 minutes searching for a parking spot before finally stowing it behind a nearby factory. After lugging my heavy bags several blocks and up to Mike's 5th floor apartment, I got to collapse on his sofa bed, very spent after 11 hours on the road in scenic New England. I'd covered four of New England's six states in one fell swoop, I thought that was a noteworthy accomplishment.

In keeping with this unique city, I introduce to you the rock phenomenon known as Boston (you can thank me later for enriching your life :)

Update: 10/10/15 - MAINE ROCKS

Don't let anyone tell you differently, Maine rocks! At least in October. It's like someone, perhaps God, took some of the best aspects of the Pacific Coast Highway and merged them with the quaint, homey, old school New England small town charm and slower pace of life. Today my parents and I drove north of Kittery and headed off I-95 into Kennebunk and Kennebunkport and drove lazily through collections of opulent summer cottages and sandy beaches and little shops and whatnot, culminating in the sunset over the ocean and going to Aroma Joe's for apple fritters, cider and espresso bomb coffee, mmmm...

You do you do you. Wow, it's jumped several places in my mental rankings of the states. That house in one of the pictures is the Bushes' presidential getaway compound, complete with anchor placement in honor of Bush 41:

A couple more along the coastal road:

Big nerd moment to end this update: This cottage in Kennebunkport reminds me of Shell Cottage from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. To quote the beloved Dobby, "Such a beautiful place!"