Not unlike a salmon fighting its way upstream to return to the place where it was born, I go through considerable effort to make an annual pilgrimage to my native New England in October to experience the most wonderful time of year to be there: fall foliage season. Typically lasting from mid-September to mid or late October, the change in the foliage that occurs in the northeastern USA is an event that attracts tourists from all over the world and until I can manage to live back there permanently, I will continue to travel back for at least a few days to experience the show.
Prices in New England are obscenely expensive at this time of the year. In order to save $300 on a mere 5 day long car rental, I took a bus and a train from Boston’s Logan Airport to downtown Providence, RI where I picked up the same model car from the same rental company that would have been so much higher if collected at Logan. Insanely inconvenient, but $300 can buy a lot of pumpkin pancakes, fresh apples, cider donuts and lobster rolls! And I had a great conversation with a crusty elderly veteran from Rhode Island, who kept me entertained for much of the 45 minute ride.
My first stop after picking up my car was PVD Donuts, a relatively new gourmet donut shop in Providence that features a staggering array of complex and sophisticated flavors. Keeping with the time of year, I got a pumpkin cream donut to tide me over for the ride to Massachusetts to pick up my friend Joyce and head north for an overnight trip to New Hampshire. This is the beauty of New England; you can literally drive through all six of the New England states in a single day with very little effort and each one has its own unique atmosphere and personality.
Devastated to find that the restaurant we’d only recently discovered and had planned to go to for dinner, Harold Square in Londonderry, had closed its doors permanently, we headed to Manchester for hearty Italian food at Fratelli’s. I had to laugh, because the serving of homemade rigatoni with meatballs and tomato sauce, which was delicious, could have fed an Italian family of 4 back in the homeland.
The next day we headed to Lincoln, a sort-of “gateway” to New Hampshire’s White Mountain Region, where we had a hearty breakfast at Flapjacks, a family run restaurant serving up amazing pumpkin pancakes, real maple syrup, authentic baked beans, and delicious sausage and bacon. If I lived nearby I’d weigh a lot more than I do now!
It was a perfect fall day, with temperatures in the low 60s and generally blue skies punctuated by gorgeous puffy-white and ominous gray-black clouds. We drove the famous scenic byway called the Kancamagus Highway, which was clogged with a whole lot of other leaf-peepers jockeying for parking spaces at the many scenic overlooks. Snow squalls dusted the higher mountain peaks, while the smaller mountains and valleys below were shimmering in golds, oranges, and reds, creating a photographer’s dream. The smell of wood fires and wet leaves filled the air, and at the end of a beautiful day, we had a little informal and early Thanksgiving dinner at Hart’s Turkey Farm restaurant in Meredith.
Back in Massachusetts the next day, I joined two of my cousins and their extended families for a reunion over brunch, and then picked up some crispy MacIntosh apples and a peach-blueberry-cherry pie from a wonderful farm stand and visited my friends the McKinneys for a good old fashioned clam boil, complete with stuffed quahogs, steamed clams, potatoes, onions, sausage and hot dogs, followed by the delicious pie. I enjoyed the ride, passing many cranberry bogs ready for harvest, and visiting one of my favorite beaches on the south coast.
On Monday I drove up into western Massachusetts to treat myself to the amazing pancakes and syrup served up at Gould’s Maple Sugar House in Shelburne Falls. This place is only open for a few months of the year, and can often be mobbed, but at 1PM on a weekday, I had my pick of tables and soon found myself devouring what I think are some of the best pancakes I’ve had anywhere, hands down. Unfortunately it was a very wet and gray day, and the foliage in the area and up into southern Vermont was not nearly as far along as it had been in New Hampshire, but I still managed to snap some nice photos, returning to Rhode Island that evening for a dinner of broiled scallops.
On my last day of the trip, I was back in Massachusetts for the day. I went out with my friend Maggi for a mixed seafood lunch at a Portuguese restaurant called Antonio’s in my home town of New Bedford, followed by some homemade ice cream at a local creamery in the nearby town of Acushnet. Later in the day I picked up my friend Carol and we headed to Quincy, just south of Boston. We dined on fresh, fat lobster rolls and the delicious fries served up at Tony’s Clam Shack, which closes for the season at the end of October, so we savored every bite, hoping the memory would hold us over till next spring. Iy was the perfect New England supper.
I am always filled with mixed emotions at the end of a visit “home” to New England. I am so happy to be back there, and to spend time with family and life-long friends, but then I go into a horrible depression when it’s time to get on the plane and fly back to California. I spoke to a couple of seatmates on my flight, one from Maine and the other from New Hampshire, and one of them comforted me a bit with the comment that, “There is something special about New England and no matter where you go or whether you move away, it stays in your soul.” I couldn’t have agreed with her more.