Finding shortcuts to more fun stuff around New England
With summer vacations nearly past us, we will shortly return or focus to the hustle and bustle of school days and all of your coworkers back at the office. You may be dreading kids who range from bummed to melting down as they adjust to getting up earlier and having almost 200 days to count down before their next summer. Heck, you may be ready to melt down yourself at the thought of combining that with the sports and music lessons while cramming in your errands.
We’re not here to pig pile onto this pity party, though. We here at New England Good Life believe in finding the silver linings in such situations. So we looked around and found five apps for your phones that will offer inspiration for your upcoming fall and even winter weekends. These cover a range of topics and give you a chance for quick-hit inspiration. You can look for something while walking to that meeting you don’t want to go to (look out for the wall). Or sneak a quick peek during soccer practice (don’t forget to look up periodically). The bottom line is that these can help get you through the transition, while also being useful later on.
1. Vermont Brewery Challenge
Details: this app was developed by the Vermont Brewers Association. They’re renowned in the craft beer industry. There’s a bit of a game here, as you get your passport stamped by visiting the Vermont breweries. Now, you gotta understand, it’s almost impossible to keep up with all the innovation going on across the state’s breweries. So, sure, there might be a missing beer. Also, if you try to create a contest with friends forming teams to see who can visit the most then they’ve got a time limit before you can get a new stamp. That seems like a mighty good safeguard, even if you don’t like it.
All that being said, it’s a cool app. The map makes it easy to find new places. Another part captures your experience and favorites before you forget, and it’s sufficiently up-to-date that it’s still far easier than searching the thousands of page results you’ll get when searching the google machine. This is also more convenient than carrying around a brochure and getting frustrated when you don’t have a pen. If you’re a couple of hop heads looking for as much color in your beers as in the fall foliage, it’s a winner to download.
2. Farmers markets
Details: New England’s farmers markets dot the region, especially in summer and fall. But they do exist year round. This app allows you to find the ones closest to you. You can view it in either map or list versions. It can use your location to instantly focus on your area, but you can search elsewhere if you’ll be on a weekend away. This can also be a good way to quickly add some healthy food from local farms into the mix if you’re running errands and are magically ahead of schedule. (If so, buy a lottery ticket afterwards!)
The app also includes added details, such as what types of offerings are available at the market, season and hours, payment methods, and a website link. As with anything like this, it’s impossible to be 100% current but this will save so much researching that it makes it even easier to support local farms, businesses, and craftspeople while finding some great and unique things. On a side note, this is also a nationwide app, so if you’re in Oregon craving some good, local eggs, this is still going to help you out.
Details: with fall foliage not far away and the days growing shorter, the combination can inspire you to get out for some great late-season hikes. All Trails is a national app, so it can be useful up in northern New England or the Berkshires, with their amazing foliage. But it can also be helpful closer to home. It doesn’t have mapping functions to let you string together the trails you want and which way you want to go at each intersection. But with its really large volume of common routes, there are still a ton of choices. What’s particularly helpful is the information posted by other users. If you’re hiking up in the White Mountains, for example, seeing a post from a day or two ago that notes the water crossing is dangerous can be really helpful. (pack your water wings!) But even on simpler trails, they might note a modification that’s been made to the trail or something that will be useful to you. It also graphs the elevation change for you to see where the hard parts are, rather than a total ascent or descent.
Details: sure, summer’s over. But September will still bring some warm, sunny days that let you squeeze in a final beach day or two. On a serious note, we’ve seen such a huge uptick in shark sightings with several bites and even a fatality sadly added to the mix. For anyone worried about them, this offers a chance to see what’s been spotted in the area. It’s not an elaborate app but is an easy and near-instant safety check. The details it offers give you a little more context to evaluate as well, such as whether a shark sighting was confirmed. And on a lighter note, if there’s nothing around and you have a perverse sense of humor, you can have a little fun freaking out your kid: “OK, we’re here! Oh, let me check quickly… yep. Wow. Looks like there was a shark right around here yesterday. So don’t swim out too far. Let’s go, kids!”
This app was fun for our whole family. But it also pushed my daughter, who had discovered it. She was psyched when she got (safely) past 30 mph in one particularly steep spot. This subtly helped build her confidence which, in turn, built her technique. Luckily, it didn’t inspire her so much so that she wound up like Lane Meyers skiing on one ski (a la John Cusack in Better Off Dead).
While these won’t turn the clock back to summer, nor will they revolutionize your life, they may still lead to little discoveries or activities that help you adjust to fall with some enthusiasm. And if you have your own apps that are really helpful in maximizing your weekends, drop us a line and let us know!
Wishing I could note my occupation as "cowboy" in the next census
Franconia Notch is a beautiful, rugged part of New Hampshire. The notch itself is lined with views and natural attractions, and Cannon Mountain and its ski trails loom large on the north end of it. But if visitors are willing to venture down some back roads, there’s more to be found. Franconia Notch Stables is one such place that, while off the beaten path, offers a chance to explore the area and enjoy the scenery in a different way.
Franconia Notch Stables, part of the Franconia Inn, is behind Cannon Mountain. It’s only a few minutes’ drive off of the highway. But it becomes quickly apparent that you’re in a more remote area. The Franconia Inn and adjacent stables are nestled in a little valley, surrounded by woods, mountains, and adjacent to a grass airfield. Everything has a more casual feel than the pleasant but more business-like places we sometimes run across in more hectic locales. This set things off on the right foot, as we prepared for our ride.
We’d lined up an hour-long trail ride at Franconia Notch Stables and were joining four other people. While we observed all of the horses to be well trained, each is still unique with its own personality. Accordingly, horses were matched with riders based on personalities, skills, and experience. However, prior riding experience isn’t necessary, and some riders had never been in the saddle. Also, these rides only proceed at a walking pace; no galloping to worry about for the newbie!
Setting out from the barn, the trails traversed fields, rivers, and woods. At times we were nestled in amongst the pines, and other points afforded us views of the surrounding mountains. The trails often include switchbacks, allowing the guide to easily observe the group and to offer helpful pointers.
Our guide, Abbott, was perfect for the ride. He was conversational and casual, but always observant and clearly experienced. His demeanor, obvious enjoyment of his work, and his watchful eye put some nervous riders at ease, while his conversation engaged the group.
The ride was also a great chance to allow all of us to fully engage with nature. Traveling at a slow pace, being in the woods on narrow trails, and seeing the world from atop a horse instead of in a car allowed people to see things differently. After settling into the ride, some began asking questions while others conversed with strangers, bonding over the ride. Sometimes people seemed alone with their thoughts while other times we were locked in on the task at hand, such as a river crossing. It seemed as if people’s work stress or any broader themes in their lives melted away and they could lose themselves in the trail ride, atop these beautiful animals, either proud in overcoming their nerves or happy in the purity of that moment.
We were sorry to see the ride end. But after taking a little extra time to walk through the Franconia Inn, we realized there’s plenty to enjoy with this property without having to leave: in addition to the horseback riding, there are tennis courts, a pool, Jacuzzi, restaurant, airplane rides, inviting chairs on the front porch, and in the winter the trails can be used for cross-country skiing. We resolved to come back and turn it into a weekend getaway, and are excited to have discovered a new place to explore further.
Franconia Notch Stables offers several types of rides but the most common is a one-hour group trail ride for $60 per person, offered several times each day.
Franconia Inn has a variety of rooms and packages to try to fit the type of trip you're looking for.
Having more fun with the alphabet than I ever had playing crossword puzzles
Sometimes you have those days that are pretty wide open: no long list of chores, no big plans, maybe you’re on vacation with a light itinerary for the day. We found ourselves with such a day recently when we were on vacation, and weren’t sure how to spend it. So, just like my friends and I would do as kids, we invented a game, complete with rules and everything.
The rules were simple: do whatever we wanted, but find letters that the activities correspond to. The goal was to do stuff that touched on every letter of the alphabet. Intimidating? Nope. This didn’t require doing 26 different things, just doing stuff that involved words starting with all those letters. That meant one activity could score more than one letter. Ready, set, go!
This had the potential to be a stressful challenge that could leave us feeling over-programmed. But we started with a couple of things we definitely wanted to do, a possibility or two, and an assumption we’d find other stuff along the way. We opened up a new Note on my iPhone and marked down letters and words as we went along. If things were duplicates, we didn’t worry in the moment. We figured we’d sort stuff out later in the day and see what was left to tackle.
We wound up having a blast. It was a way to frame our day. It also led us to observe things we might have otherwise missed. And it also provided its own unique laughs. For example, when we went to visit a historical society and they didn’t show up to open their building, we declared we’d been “A… abandoned!” (Sigh.)
Conversely, when we went to a local brewery to have lunch and assess what we’d accomplished and what we had left to do, we proudly realized we could declare a trifecta, as we were drinking an “I-P-A”. We spontaneously hit a flea market, and I wound up with a $2 book by one of my favorite authors, eventually needing his N for Novel. And when we thought we wouldn’t come up with an X word, we thought about using Q for Quit. However, we’d learned earlier from a tour guide about the sappy pine trees that were pervasive in our area, and discovered that Xylem is like a tree’s artery, moving the sap through the tree. That became the final letter that gave us the win.
While we played this on a vacation day, and could start the day off before dawn watching a sunrise at the beach, it can be done anywhere. If your summer trips are over and you’re out of ideas for the kids while awaiting the start of the new school year, you can go at it the same way. If you’re a couple staying home for the weekend, it might be a way to discover some new things in your neck of the woods. Our longest activities were about an hour, from our sunrise at the ocean to a tour at an historical society (not the one that didn’t open on time). By contrast, the shortest was about five minutes as we snagged some seltzer water at the Eastham Superette.
It doesn’t really matter if you finish, just as long as you have fun in the attempt. Here are our final results, to give you an idea of how random the letters were. Start to finish, we were gone for about nine hours, making it a full day but still fine.
Leaving no stone un-turned.
Sometimes, the joy of a vacation is letting go of work pressures, ignoring the lawn that needs mowing, and taking a timeout from your normal life. That certainly has its place, as you can de-stress, recharge, and return to your normal life with more enthusiasm. Sometimes, however, you can’t take that vacation. Maybe it’s the cost of a weekend away (“$300 per night for a double bed with no wifi? Aargh!”). Or maybe it’s a commitment that takes up part of the weekend (“who thought a Friday night game for a preteen was a good idea?!?!”). The bottom line is that sometimes you’re stuck locally but still with some free time and spending money available.
We recently challenged ourselves to fill an entire day without leaving the boundaries of our town. OK, granted, we have a place on Cape Cod, so this wasn’t a terribly intimidating challenge. But we constricted it further to just our quieter part of town, to see what we’d make of it, and had a self-imposed rule of focusing on the fun: no chores allowed while at home.
For me, the day started off at dawn, finding a scenic spot to watch the sun come up. It had this mindfulness aspect to it in which I was really plugged in to the sights, sounds, and smells around me. Again, I fully acknowledge that it’s not hard to be present watching the sun coming up over the ocean, so I’m not going to win any awards for perseverance on that one. But plenty of towns have mountains, bigger expanses of woods, farms, or even office parks perched on a hill that serve as lookout points to watch the sky transform from darkness to color before brightening enough as you then continue on with your day.
After returning to the house, the general game plan was put together over a second cup of coffee on the back deck. We threw some food in a cooler, tossed the beach chairs in the back of the truck, and headed off to the beach. Yeah, I know; not the most agonizing of decisions on a sunny, hot day. But so many towns have conservation areas, state forests, or some sort of green space if you want to have a picnic, go for a bike ride, or enjoy the outdoors in some way.
We spent a few hours on the beach reading, walking and searching for beach glass, watching boats motoring out of the nearby harbor, and relaxing. Then we packed up, returned home, and showered up. We’d considered a few options on the next part of the day, from browsing local small businesses to sampling craft beer from a brewer in town to looking into some of the town’s history. We settled on grabbing a drink and appetizer at some casually upscale local restaurants.
Both were friendly and engaging as they explained about making homemade bitters and the subtle perfection of directionally frozen ice. We also learned about some interesting classes they planned to offer during the next off-season.
The second pit stop was at Encore Bistro and Bar. This restaurant and pub is situated next to the Cape Playhouse and Cape Cod Museum of Art. A performance had just ended so the place was packed and energetic. While the attentive bartenders hustled to deal with the crowd, we were reminded that the playhouse is an option we don’t take much advantage of, and we've found an entertaining-looking play we plan to see next month.
Our final stop was right around the corner, at Harvest Gallery Wine Bar. Aside of their top-notch cocktails and ever-rotating wine selection, it’s a fun chance to sample several wines instead of having to commit to a single glass. They feature a wide array of musicians across genres. This might leave you singing along, as you blend in with others and pretend you’re pitch perfect. Or, you can get out on the dance floor to burn off the calories from the cheese plate or meals that are always spot-on. Artwork adorns the walls and is all for sale or a potential conversation-starter. Its friendly atmosphere staff promote conversations among strangers, such as learning about the experiences of another couple who relocated from Tennessee (tip from all of us surrounding them: never, ever relocate from the South to New England during the dead of winter). While we always enjoy this place, the pit-stop on this day reinforced to us that it stays fresh and interesting.
When the night was over, it was only a mile back to our house. We finished with more ideas for future weekends than we started with. Some of the more interesting moments weren’t the parts that were planned; they were the conversations that occurred spontaneously with the people around us, as a result of enjoying the moment instead of wishing we were doing something more exciting.
When thinking about our small town in Central Mass where we spend the majority of our time instead of a beach community in the summer, it still offers opportunities: small batch coffee in an historic building with occasional wine tastings we've never been to; a nearby farm with an array of fruit for picking; conservation trails we've never explored; and a farm stand that recently underwent a renovation and serves up local ice cream along with products from a number of local small businesses.
re-look at what was in front of us. Ultimately, it highlighted that we’re really only limited by our imagination.
So, now the challenge is yours: what can you (re)discover in your own surroundings?
Jay Bell, temporarily trading a beach and a bathing suit for a bike and a beer
Often, when people head to beach towns on summer vacation, they may have expectations of sitting by the ocean and digging their toes into the sand. But for those who enjoy being more active, sometimes there’s a craving to indulge in something physical to offset the downtime and daiquiris. Cape Cod’s Old Colony Rail Trail (OCRT) offers a chance not just for exercise, but also an opportunity to better explore the area in a way not possible by car or walking.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail is the most well-known bike path on the Cape, now stretching from Yarmouth to Wellfleet. But if you’re not an avid cyclist, the roughly-fifty mile trip is too far if you want to traverse the whole distance. The OCRT, running from Yarmouth to Chatham, is roughly half the mileage, offering a legit but shorter route.
For the OCRT, the Cape is already tourism-centric and filled with small businesses, so it’s in a good position to incorporate such an effort into its broad array of activities. It has a number of highlights along its fairly flat route, from cranberry bogs to ponds and lakes, and wooded areas to quaint parts of towns. The street crossings and pedestrians out walking with strollers or pets on leash are grounds for caution, but the crossings are well marked and the path is wide enough for multiple users. The minimal climbs also make this route less demanding, which allows more people to ride and more riders to focus on the views instead of the cranks of the pedals.
The OCRT initially is on the same route as the Cape Cod Rail Trail to Wellfleet before branching off. Along with the views, you can stop at Devil’s Purse Brewery in Dennis, First Crush Winery in Harwich, Short ‘n’ Sweet Ice Cream in South Chatham, and the Chatham airport and its Hangar B café.
At the halfway point, and before heading back, you can also lock your bikes up and stroll Chatham’s downtown, one of the better ones on the Cape. In addition to its varied stores, you can enjoy lunch at the Squire, its well-known dive bar. Or, you can grab a cold drink and a sandwich at Chatham Cookware and then sit outside on a bench and watch the crowds strolling along Main Stream. Alternatively, you can pop into Snowy Owl, tucked behind a Lily Pulitzer store along Main Street, for some small batch coffee to enjoy under the shade of a tree.
For those inclined to give this a try, the trail was recently extended westward to Station Avenue in Yarmouth. But starting at the parking area on Route 134 in Dennis is easiest. You may choose to simplify, as you have the option to rent bikes from a bike shop adjacent to that same parking lot.
Devil’s Purse Brewery is close to the parking lot and is maybe a quarter-mile off the rail trail, making it a perfect spot for near-apres ride refreshment; cyclists regularly unclip and stroll in for a flight of these varied and excellent craft beers before finishing the last five minutes of riding.
Whatever your pit stops, and however long you choose to ride or shop or people-watch, the Old Colony Rail Trail allows you to cover a lot of ground. But, you can do so casually, without sitting in traffic, and seeing some parts of the Cape you might not otherwise run across, all at a more casual pace. There’s still plenty of opportunity for downtime at the beach in the morning or afternoon. But for those who also need to burn off the prior night’s mudslides or clam chowder, or for those who are just wired to often be on the go, the Old Colony Rail Trail is a hidden gem of Cape Cod.
Good adventures start as dreams. Enthusiasm turns them into great memories.
New England adventures can accommodate any season, any timeframe, any type of group, and any budget.