Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Vermont Adventures Days 7 & 8

Wednesday, June 28 was a day that I looked forward to since sometime in the winter when I was planning this trip.  It was Llama Trek Day!

When I was doing my trip planning, I did a Google search for Llamas Vermont, and I found the
Northern Vermont Llama Company.  When I learned that they actually take people on walks with llamas, I was IN!

Cousin and I were both looking forward to this, and it might have ended up being our favorite event of the entire vacation!  We watched the weather forecast every day with fingers crossed!  We probably would have gone unless it was storming.  We did get rained on a little at the end.  As you can see in these photos, there were nasty storm clouds aloft, but we lucked out and the sun was out for most of our trek.  Here are the 5 llamas and 1 alpaca that were to be our pack animals for the next 3 hours:

The event starts from the parking lot at the Smuggler's Notch Resort.  Getting to the resort was interesting - we had to follow Rt. 108 north past the Gondola ride at the base of Mt. Mansfield, uphill and around a lot of twists of a  narrow road - appropriately called "the notch".  Parts are so narrow there are no lines down the middle, and it isn't wide enough for 2 vehicles, and it is hard to tell if there is another vehicle coming around the next bend.  I would NOT want to do it in the winter when the pavement is slippery!  My cousin was a brave driver and got us there safely!  

When we arrived, Lindsay was starting the process of getting the saddles and packs on each animal.  She was incredibly organized!  It was obvious she'd done this before!  Between loading things on the animals, she was also welcoming the other hikers and getting paperwork completed.  

I selected Riley to be our llama guide.  This is Riley:

Cousin and I took turns leading him - sort of like walking a dog on a leash.  Before we started out, Lindsay gave us some instructions:

  • Only pet their necks and don't touch their heads or butts.  
  • Try to be calm and quiet around them - no yelling or rowdy behavior.
  • Don't let the animals snack on the way - just pull them away from whatever munchies they are heading towards  (Riley loved to grab low hanging tree branches as we walked!)
Lindsay led us past the resort and up a hill into the woods.  The path was rocky and muddy in places.  There had been quite a bit of rain in the few days before this trek.  In retrospect, if I had known how steep the trail was going to be in places I would have declined to go because I would not have thought I could do it, but once I was in the middle of it, I couldn't back out, so I persevered.   It was rough and I was exhausted at times, but I survived.  Now I remember it as being a unique and rewarding experience, and the strenuous climb isn't what stands out in my mind.

We took breaks on the way up.  There was a break where the animals could snack, and another break where the animals could relieve themselves.  (There was actually a small area where they all did their business, off of the trail.)  We took another break for people to use the restroom.  Eventually, we did a lunch break.  We came to a small clearing along a stream.   Lindsay unloaded all the animals, and moved them to a side area where they got tied to trees.  Then Lindsay opened up all the packs and set up lunch.  She had a portable table which she covered with a nice cloth and some lace.  She even had a llama napkin holder!  Then she brought out food: a variety of fruits, cookies and muffins, beverages, and she closed with little Ben & Jerry ice cream cups.  What a treat!  I would guess that our lunch break was about 20-30 min maybe.  

Once she packed up and started back, she told us that 90% of the hike was before lunch and was mostly uphill.  After lunch was only about 10% of the actual hiking and was mostly downhill.  
We returned to the parking lot in just under 3 hours and said goodbye to our new animal friends and Lindsay.  She gave us each little baggies of fiber from our llama companions.  Over all, the experience was rewarding, and we both listed it high on our favorite activities list. 

That must be it for Day 7, you say!  Oh Goodness, NO!  We drove back to the lodge where I hurried to change my clothes and get cleaned up so I could go on adventure #2!

I had signed up to take a pastry class at the Austrian Tea and Tap Room, just down the road from the lodge.  This is one of the many Lodge Activities that guests can sign up for.  I turned myself around in less than 30 min and took the lodge shuttle van to the Tea Room.  WHEW!

This small restaurant used to be the house of Johannes, Lynne, Kristina and Sam von Trapp.  The kitchen is responsible for many of the pastries offered at all the von Trapp restaurants.  If I had to work in that kitchen, I think I would spend a lot of my time gazing out of the huge windows looking at the amazing view.  

This restaurant itself is just a sort of sandwich shop and bakery for small meals.  Cousin and I ate there one day for lunch.  

There were 9 of us signed up for this class taught by 2 young women who are professional pastry chefs.  When we arrived, we each picked a station where were found a black apron and a mixing bowl filled with some yummy ingredients.  We were also given a packet containing 3 recipes.  

For the next 2.5 hours, we were guided and instructed in the creations of 3 pastries.  It was a little confusing because we would do 1 task for one item and then while that was chilling or baking, we would work on a task for another item.  It was sort of hard to keep track of what went with what.  Looking back on it, it makes sense, but at the time it was a little confusing.  

There was also an item that we watched the chef prepare because it involved cooking and then mixing some dough, but there weren't 9 burners and 9 mixers for all of us, so we watched her, and when the dough was ready, she divided it among all of us.  (I think that was the Cream Puff dough.)

  • Galette Dough - a fancy name for a tart.  We made 4 small pastries and filled two with fruit and made 2 savory (I filled mine with cheese, spinach, asparagus and roasted cauliflower).  
  • Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars - a 5x7 foil pan with a base crumble of oats, flour, brown sugar and butter, a layer of fruit (you could use just about any fruit), and then a crumble layer on top
  • Cream Puffs - small, one bite - we filled them with lemon filling or chocolate.  

I went home with a bag of yummy treats that I was able to share with all my cousins!  I truly enjoyed this experience. I learned how to use pastry bags and learned some tricks about rolling out dough.  Did you know you should always roll from the center out, and then turn the dough and roll from center out?  If you try rolling the entire piece of dough from one side to the other, "it confuses the dough".  Seriously?  Wow - who knew!  

We had dinner that night at The Bistro at 10 Acres which was the closest restaurant to the lodge that wasn't part of the 2500 acre von Trapp farm.  I enjoyed a lovely salad that included craisins, pumpkin seeds and pickled veggies, and a delicious chicken entree.  I skipped the decadent dessert this night and went back and ate my own pastries!  

WHEW! Over 11,000 steps for this day!  I slept VERY well!  

Thursday, June 29, Cousin and I checked out of our magical vacation oasis and headed back to New Hampshire.  On the way home, we stopped once again in Quechee to go to a huge antique mall that is right off the highway.  In addition to the antique mall, we got to shop in a llama/alpaca shop, and eat lunch in a cool diner filled with antique radios.  

What an amazing trip this was.  I will enjoy my memories of this forever, and I KNOW I will be going back to Vermont sometime.  I really want to visit there during the peak tree-color season of October - something to look forward to when I retire.  

Thanks for reading about my adventures and looking at my photos!  

:) Amy

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Vermont Adventures Day 6b

On Tuesday the 27th, after we finished our cow/chicken/garden adventure, we had an hour or so to rest up, and then we began our 2nd Resort Sponsored Activity of the day.  This was the Von Trapp History Activity.

This began as a lecture in the urt next to the outdoor activity center.  (Both the building and the urt can be seen from our window):

It turned out that our guide for this activity was the same guide from "Meet the Herd" - Bob Stafford, who happens to be the resort's activities director, seen below in the black shirt:

During his presentation, Bob explained much of the back story of the family before what was documented in The Sound of Music.  Much of the movie is basically true, but there were some "hollywood" liberties taken.  Here are some facts:

  • The father of Georg von Trapp was a naval officer in the Austrian-Hungarian Navy in the 1800s.  He "saved" a battleship and all its sailors during a big storm by directing the ship to be grounded on a sandbar.  For this amazing brainstorm he was "knighted" by the country's leaders.  This is when the 'von' was added to the family's name.  The family then may carry that distinction forever.  (They still do!)
    • Side note:  When the family moved to the US in the '40s and started singing publicly, they found it better to leave the 'von' off of their name so it didn't sound so German because we were fighting the Germans at the time!  So, you will see them advertised at The Trapp Family Singers.
  • Georg von Trapp (first name pronounced "Gay - org") was also an important naval officer.  During WWI, he did a lot to build and improve the submarine division of the A-H navy.  He was also "knighted" by being given the title of "Baron" - which also allowed his wife to be a Baroness.  
  • Georg's first wife, Agatha Whitehead, had 7 of their 10 children (who had different names in real life than in the movie).  She died of Scarlet Fever in 1922 after 11 years of marriage to him.  Here is a photo of Georg with his first wife, Agatha:

  • The novice nun, Maria, was actually hired for a year to be a tutor to one if Georg's daughters (also named Maria) because she had missed a lot of school from having Scarlet Fever herself. 
  • Unlike in the movie, Georg and Maria were not in love with each other.  The children played Matchmaker when Maria's year was almost up because they wanted her to stay.  Because Georg had promised Agatha on her deathbed that he would remarry "for the children", he took this as a sign that Maria was the right woman to marry.  She then went to the Reverend Mother for advice and the RM gave her consent and told her to marry Georg.  Maria later stated that she married Georg because she loved the children.  
  • Georg was 25 years older than Maria.  They continued to live in Austria for 11 years after they got married.  They had 3 children - 2 born in Austria, and the last was born here (Maria was pregnant when they came to the US.) This last child, Johannes, is currently the head of the family in Stowe, Vermont. 
  • The family didn't leave Austria by walking over the Alps.  They left by train and went to Italy where Georg was a citizen.  From there, they came to the US by ship, sponsored by a US promoter of their music.  They came through Ellis Island in 1938 and initially settled in Pennsylvania.
  • The family didn't leave during a singing competition, they left right before they were supposed to perform at Hilter's birthday party - where he had requested they perform.  (There was no hiding at the convent or help from the nuns.)
There is a great deal of information online about the family as it currently exists.  Here are some interesting links:

Here is a 2016 photo of the Stowe family that was hanging on the wall in the living room by our hotel room:

Lynne and Kristina were at the Family History Activity that we attended, and I was fortunate to get to talk with Kristina as she signed a copy of my book.  (You can see Lynne with Bob in the urt photo above.)  Kristina's husband Walter Frame also works for the resort, and their two daughters attend the public middle and high schools in Stowe.  

I saw Sam and Johannes eating breakfast together in the dining room at least 2 of the mornings I was there, and we saw Sam, Becky. and Wolfie at the restaurant where we had dinner on this night (more about that later).  Also, Becky is currently pregnant so there will be another little von Trapp in the near future.  

The Family History Activity involved 3 phases - Phase 1 was the back story told by Bob at the urt.  Phase 2 was a short walk to the family cemetery where both Georg and Maria are buried together, and many of the children are buried.  (Georg died in 1947 and Maria died in 1987).  Here is their shared grave:

Phase 3 of the Activity was a documentary that featured Maria in her last trip back to Austria in 1984.  This documentary is only available at the Lodge - it is not available to the public.  It is interesting to note that the family did not benefit financially from the profits of the Broadway or movie productions of The Sound of Music because Maria had previously sold the rights to their story to a German production company for $9000.  The family lived a very quiet and somewhat normal life in Stowe until the story became famous around 1960ish.  After that, their famous name was both a benefit and a curse at times.  

I could go on about this story for another hour.  If you want to hear more, let me know, and I will be happy to give you even more information.  There are also many books available about the family.  

On this evening, we decided to have dinner at the new Bierhall.  In 2015, the von Trapp Resort opened their own state-of-the-art brewery for beer and an accompanying restaurant.  We went to the building at 6 and attended a brewery tour - led by.... Bob!   - and then stayed there for dinner.  

The brewery tour was very interesting.  All of the equipment is stainless steel and came from Germany (complete with German workers installing it all).  We learned that there are artesian springs on the property which happen to be great for beer manufacturing!  They do cold-brewing which is best for lagers (whereas warm brewing is better for ales - who knew!)  Although the service was a little slow in the restaurant, the food was great, and we were happy with our choice of this for dinner.

What a fabulous "von Trapp" day this was for us.  We both enjoyed all of the activities.  I can't recommend this Lodge experience enough, especially for any of you who are fans of The Sound of Music.  This place is absolutely magical.  It is quiet, restful, beautifully maintained, and the staff bends over backward to take great care of their guests.  You are really made to feel like you are in someone's home - not in a generic hotel.  

Ok - a little more to come .... hang in there with me!  


Monday, July 10, 2017

Vermont Adventures Day 6a

Tuesday, June 27 was a total Von Trapp Day, and we both really enjoyed it!

Our adventures began with a Resort Sponsored activity called "Meet the Herd".  Everyone gathered at the Outdoor Center which was just next to the resort at our end of the building - so a short walk for us - and a guide first told us about the herd of cattle that the Von Trapps raise.  After some introductory information, we took a short walk (less than a mile) to the pasture where many of them were currently hanging out.  It happened to be the closest pasture to the building, so that was less of a walk for us.

When the Von Trapps bought this farm in 1941, it was a struggling dairy farm.  They worked the dairy farm business for awhile, but it interfered with them traveling to sing because dairy cows have to be milked twice a day.  They sold that herd and decided to invest in beef cattle instead, and they got a breed they were familiar with from Europe - Scottish Highland Cattle.


I learned so many things about this cattle breed!  It was fascinating!  Here is a short list:

  • Pictured above are the 1 bull in this herd of 68 (the darker one) and the dominant female (the blonde with the horns).  [Internet note:  I just read online that a group of Highland cattle are actually called a "fold" rather than a herd.  Our guide called them a herd.]
  • They are distinctive for their long hair.  They actually have a double coat.  They have a long oily outer coat which protects them from the rain/snow, and a downy undercoat which provides warmth because they are a lean breed.  Because of this, they are best suited to cooler climates and are not really heat-tolerant in warm climates.  This is perfect for Vermont winters because they do not need barns.  They live outside all year!  
  • In this herd, the females keep their horns because they need to use them to defend their young from coyote attacks.   The male's horns are removed because they can get a little overly aggressive.  (Go Figure!)
  • Every herd/fold has a pecking order.  In this group, the dominant females are the blonde individuals.  Our guide explained that because the blonde coloring is in the minority, they stand out as more unique and therefore more vulnerable to predators, so they have to be more aggressive to protect themselves.  He also indicated that this might also be true with other animals - albino animals or any animal that varies in color greatly from its companions needs to be more aggressive for self-protection - he used Moby Dick, the great WHITE whale, as an example.  (How many years have I been an English teacher, and I never heard anyone explain that before??!)
  • Most of the females in this herd are a warm brown color:

  • We got to see this year's babies and 2 year olds.  Typically, the calves stay with their mothers for 2 years before the males are sold.  They start showing their horns at around a year old.  Our guide said the calves can be playful with each other, sort of like puppies.  He also said that the adults will head-butt each other in a non-violent way, partly as a show of dominance, or to move someone off a tasty plot of land where someone wants to munch.  

  • We actually got to be "cattle herders" because one little guy had slipped under the electric fence.  We (about 30 of us in the group) surrounded him and started moving closer, and he took the hint and went back into the pasture with Mom and his buddies:  

In the course of telling us about the cattle, our guide Bob also told us about the chickens they have on the farm.  LOTS of chickens - enough that they collect about 20 doz eggs a day for all their pastries and scrambled eggs on the breakfast buffet.   As we were walking back toward the lodge from the cow pasture, we saw the chicken coup and decided to take a closer look.  Here is some of what we observed:

First, here is the 1 boy in the group - Mr. Rooster:

Most of this "brood" are Rhode Island Reds.  Our guide didn't know the names of the other ones.  They were a little vocal as we watched them.  

Our guide also told us an interesting story - Gross-out warning - skip this paragraph if you are easily grossed out.   When they move the cattle from one pasture to the next (which they do every couple of days), they move the chicken coup into where the cows just were.  The chickens pick the fly larvae out of the cow dung so when they use the dung for fertilizer, they don't have as many flies to deal with.  Interesting, huh?!

Ok - moving on....  On the way back from the chicken coup we wandered through the gardens - veggies and flowers.  O M G - sooooo very lovely!  Peonies were at their peak while we were there.  (Ours here in Central Ohio were done by the end of May.) 

We also could see the top of Mt. Mansfield from the pasture:

This morning adventure was just the first of several for the day.  Stay tuned for more coming in the next entry!


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Vermont Adventures Day 5

Monday, June 26 - our first full day in Stowe - began with a lovely breakfast buffet in the dining room.  I enjoyed this luxury every day we were there.  Every day the buffet had a lovely variety of fresh fruits  and cheeses, as well as pastries, sausage, bacon, eggs, potatoes, french toast or pancakes and a collection of cereals with various topping options.  It was quite a feast!

One of the enjoyable things about our room in the lodge was its location.  We were in Room #305.  This room was at one time the room of the caretake of Maria Von Trapp, and so it is located right next to the room that was her apartment in her later years (now it is suite #300).  These rooms are in an isolated wing of the lodge with their own living room, complete with a huge fireplace.  Because this wing of the lodge is built into the hill behind the lodge, it is also on ground level in the back, so we were able to easily go outside without having to take the long walk to the central elevator and go through the lobby.  No one was staying in suite 300 while we were there, and there were no rooms above us, so this was VERY quiet and private.

Here are some photos of our room, it's view, and the accompanying living room:


One of the many great things about the lodge, and especially our private living room, was that there were many photos on the walls of the Von Trapp family.  Here is a portrait of Maria Von Trapp and one of her with her husband the Baron Georg Von Trapp (first name is pronounced "Gay-Org"):


I will be talking more about the family history in a later blog entry.  

On this Monday, we decided to venture out into Stowe to ride the Gondola to the top of Mt. Mansfield, so that was our big adventure of the day.  The ride each way was about 12 minutes.  It wasn't crowded, so we had our own Gondola car to ourselves.  It is a very peaceful ride!  The cars are not very big - with ski equipment, it would be tight!  Here are a few photos of that experience:

Mt. Mansfield is the highest peak in Vermont, topping out at 4393'.  Even taking the gondola up, we really weren't on the tippy-top.  People do make the hike/climb up from where we stopped, but that wasn't for us!  Because we were on the east side of the mountain, we were looking east and on a clear day it is possible to see Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.  

The tree line is usually around 5000' (high enough up that the trees don't grow), and since Mt. Mansfield isn't that high, there are trees on top, which is one of the things that makes this the "Green Mountain State" because the mountains are totally green all over.  In New Hampshire, the tallest peak of Mt. Washington is 6289' and since that is above the tree line, the top of the mountain is "bald" and white because it is rock.  Hence you have The White Mountains in New Hampshire.  I figured all that out on this trip - AMAZING! 

We had a lovely lunch in Cliff House, with a super view, did some shopping in the souvenir shop and then headed back down.  

Our afternoon was spent reading on the patio, enjoying the fresh mountain air.  Temps were very comfy while we were there.  50s at night and in the morning and then 60s during the day.  No humidity.  Most of the time there were high clouds, but they didn't really impede the view at all.  

Dinner this night was at a restaurant called Michael's on the Hill. I started with corn soup - thinner than chowder and tasted like cream corn.  Then, I had salmon on a bed of risotto with beats and onions.  I ate every bite!  Desert was a lovely lemon custard with blueberries on top.  A lovely evening!  

Join me for more tales of Stowe adventures in the next few entries!