Dear New Hampshire, we barely delved into your beauty and depth! Booking this trip a few weeks before, we intended to drive to the White Mountains to smell alpine air, let the girls stretch out with more room, and hike a bit. But we were surprised to find ourselves surrounded by the most pleasant vacation atmosphere everywhere we went. We are stalwarts of Maine trips, accustomed to claims of “Vacationland!” on every roadside sign. So humble, gorgeous New Hampshire with cheerful Hi-Way roadside diners and 40s of beer for sale at gas stations, surprised us.
There were adorable clusters of cottages (1/2) with stone chimneys and miniature yards draped around kettle ponds. The ponds were stocked with paddle boats and lazy canoes. The restaurants had a view of the mountains and the trip advisor reviews, scanned quickly on my phone, said things like “dated, but the pool is heated year round and the food is excellent.”
I was further entranced by the boy howdy tourist attractions sprinkled about the White Mountains. There are railroads everywhere. Some of them serve lunch and ice cream. Others’ climb steep mountains. There is a place called Storyland, a land celebrating stories of the untrademarked variety.
Everyone we met was boisterously friendly, each practically shouting “Hi!” when we passed them on the trails. A restaurant had taped up a sign that read “30 minute wait for food.” This sign was visible the moment you walked in. Were Boston to follow this trend you would see “30 minute wait for water,” and “30 minute wait for acknowledgement” signs tacked up everywhere. Because we’d fallen for the faux-treehouse vibe and this endearing sign upon crossing the threshold of the building, we ordered anyway and had a delicious meal 30 minutes later. As we left, I noted that a new sign had replaced the old one: “40 minute wait for food.”
hiking a 3.5 mile Mount Pemigewasset round trip.
The three-year-old found an 1000 piece puzzle of a Victorian Christmas scene involving unfurled red ribbons with messages written in a German-style font, framed above and below by a sky and snowy field that were exactly the same color. She spread this across the table and spent thirty minutes twice a day furrowing over the pieces, perhaps matching one or two together by the end the hour. “Who can help me with the puzzle,” she asked us many times. “Mom, will you help me?” Our Little Red Hen, except she never did get her vindictive loaf to have for herself. We would take turns sitting with her, managing to piece a few more bits together before the toddler climbed up to sit on our lap and swept them to the floor like dead flies.
“Maybe we’ll get one for home” I said when we had to put the fragments away at the end of the weekend, “only with a more fun picture.”
“No, I want a Christmas one just like this,” she said.
The road up Mount Washington is privately owned and not managed by the National Parks system. This was very curious, and it was not well run. The line to get in was slow, though once you got to the front you realized that genial grandfatherly types were running it, and forgave them the wait instantly. Gravel had washed off the edges of the already narrow road, and the observation center at the top was rundown and clearly over-stretched. There is an option to send a postcard from their post office, a charming idea, but all the postcards for sale are ugly with almost no photos of the mountain itself. The design of the observation deck felt like a soviet-90s buildout. After sharing two toasted hot chocolates (the weird way industrial chocolate powder burns to taste like peanut butter), we sat outside where there was one weary sign about the scenery.
There is one thing they do that is perfectly done: the red and blue bumper sticker that is included with every single price of admittance: This Car Climbed Mount Washington.
Driving back to the rental, we noted that savvy New Hampshirites had flocked to places named things like The Basin and Land of Many Uses. We resolved to do the same next time. As we drove through the trees I could see merry babbling creeks through the trees. To be there on an 80 degree day and poke creek pebbles around with your toes must be heaven. Hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail would also be amazing. And maybe someday seeing one of the huts! (if you want to fall deeply in love with the White Mountains from afar, follow btonevibes.)
Lux is beginning to read on her own. I’d brought up an early reader with a silly plot that we love, Moose Goes to School, and it was special passing moment to get to watch her read it over and over again to herself on the couch. Vacation at its best!
We watched Hello, Dolly twice. I memorized most of the songs as a kid, unbeknownst to the girls and Joe until the movie started, and I did not hesitate to sing along. I had totally forgotten this connection, but the five-year-old immediately recognized the music from the movie Wall-E replays in the evenings on his makeshift projector. The girls fell hard for Dolly. “Everyone knows Dolly,” they whispered as Barbra Streisand danced around the restaurant. “That looks terrible on him and really good on her,” speaking of the feather boa Dolly wickedly drapes on her distracted love interest. “That looks like something Dolly would wear,” they remarked once back in Boston as we walked past a hat shop.
Everyone got spider bites and there were ticks of course and strange hiking blisters. Buoyed with vacation spirit beforehand, I bought delicious strawberry artisan marshmallows that melted right off the sticks at the first sign of toasting and thus had to be plied carefully onto the graham cracker, at which point the girls declared them “too sticky,” and asked for the “the normal ones.”