Category Archives: Travels

The tornado of ’08

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Wild weather is uncommon in New Hampshire, but in July of 2008 a tornado came to call. We heard the warnings issued from the weather service and I remember a good number of my co-workers lined up at our second-floor office windows eager to get a glimpse of it coming across the lake. I assured them that if a tornado did appear, I would be heading for the basement. My mother didn’t raise no dummies.

We didn’t see it that day, but it did tear a path through the towns of Deerfield, Epsom, Northwood, Pittsfield, Barnstead, Alton, New Durham, Wolfeboro, Ossipee, Effingham and Freedom … fifty miles in roughly eighty minutes. Something like 200 homes were damaged and one person was killed. I remember driving past some of the destruction in the days afterward, and it was amazing – a swath of huge trees knocked over like dominoes. I’d never seen anything like it.

Fast-forward to 2015, and a random post on Instagram. It showed a house that had been damaged in the tornado, now abandoned and almost overgrown. When I asked where it was located I was told it was nearby … and my curiosity level instantly doubled. I had to find it.

So on a clear, crisp, nearly perfect autumn day last month I set out on my mission. It really wasn’t that difficult … turns out most people around here know of it, or at least the people I work with whose business are houses. This house used to be very visible from the road, but these days the drive leading into it is almost overgrown. The property wasn’t posted, alleviating my fears of trespassing, and there was only a chain across what used to be the driveway. I parked on the side of the road and walked in.

My Instagram friend who had posted the initial photos that piqued my interest had also mentioned that it was surrounded by brambles and bear tracks. Now, the thought of bears wasn’t going to stop me, but I did keep an eye out for large black furry things. Wading through knee-deep weeds toward an abandoned house set waaaay back off the road inspires thoughts like this. It was a little unsettling. I kept going.

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Then … there it was, a beautiful old Colonial with classic lines, great proportions and 12-over-12 windows. Nature had nearly taken over. Through the Instagram post I’d learned that the entire back side of the house was gone, but from my angle it still seemed mostly intact. The side door was ajar. Everything seemed relatively straight. The windows were intact but the one closest to me was missing its glass. And …. it offered a glimpse of the reason why I came.

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Inside, the walls were covered with murals. It is estimated that hundreds of early murals lie undiscovered under wallpaper in New England. The painting of wall murals began about 1800 and continued until 1850, when mass-produced wallpaper became available and the desire for paint-decorated walls waned. Though some of the plaster here had come away from the lath, the vivid colors still jumped out into the room. The paintings looked as if they represented faraway places, with buildings that looked like temples and exotic trees. What a shame that these will likely disintegrate with the rest of the house; I took photos as best I could to document them, but they don’t do them justice. It made me sad to think that they, and this once-beautiful house, might be gone after the next hard winter.

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If I hadn’t been alone I might have ventured further, but the brush kept me from doing so. If anyone out there knows more about this place, or if anything can be done to save these paintings, please comment. As for me, I’m just happy I got to see it. Even if nature reclaims this house, I know what was once there.



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September brings the annual steamboat meet to the Lakes Region. My husband and I discovered this years ago quite by accident, and over the years we heard about it sporadically. But it seems to have grown in popularity and this year the event made the local news. I had missed it in the past and did not want to make that same mistake this year.

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The steamboat meet lasts for about a week and includes a boat race and a parade; it is the largest event of its kind in the country. This year it drew around 50 boats and, judging from the number of cars in the parking lot, many people from all around the region. Who doesn’t love a steamboat?

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I had meant to make just a quick stop here to get a few photos. But I am easily sucked into this sort of thing … the whole scene was fascinating, with the smell of woodsmoke and steam in the air and the sound of those whistles. The boats seemed to be everywhere – many tied up along the shore, but just as many coming and going and I could see them out in the distance, coming around the backside of an island or passing one another with that haunting whistle and a wave. I loved it. There were people there with cameras, so I was not alone in what I was doing. We stood on shore and admired the sights, sounds and smell of the boats.

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About the time I should have been leaving to attend to my other chores I heard, “Do you want to go for a ride?” I looked around at the people standing nearby and I think I said, “…what?” The captain of the boat in front of us was offering a ride! Let’s see … I had a long list of things to do that day, I was already behind schedule, I had planned on being home by noon. I climbed into the boat.

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As we pulled away from the dock the captain told a little about the mechanics of a steam engine, none of which I understood. I only know that the soft chukka-chukka-chukka sound coming from it was wonderful. Once we picked up steam – literally – the sound changed to a lovely soft whir. Other than that, it was complete quiet.

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We were out for over an hour. Lake Winnipesaukee, in this area, is shallow. Winding our way through narrow passages we found ourselves in a little cove, everything a brilliant green, and then and there I fell in love with Green’s Basin. The power boaters can have the deep, fast water – I’ll take this any day: small islands, quiet water, rocky outcrops, kayakers, green hills rising behind it all. It was stunning.

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I never imagined I would ever get to ride in a steamboat. All I could think about was that my husband would have loved it. By the time I left vintage cars were starting to arrive, including a Stanley Steamer. I wanted to stay all day. You can bet I’ll be back again next year for this wonderful, unusual, New Hampshire-unique event … and I’ll stay for the parade!

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Following my own advice to “explore just outside your front door,” last week was devoted to poking around the peninsulas of mid-coast Maine. Hitting what’s been the best weather of the year so far, it’s easy to love this area … sunshine or not. But sunshine we had and I’m here to report on one of my favorite places anywhere.

I learned about Bayside years ago, when my husband and I traveled the coast and happened to hear about it from a local. It isn’t marked on the main road; we were simply advised to turn at the Mexican restaurant and follow the road to the water. We did, we followed, we discovered. This is a charming little piece of the history of Maine.

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Bayside was founded in 1849 by the Methodist Episcopal Church in Maine.  The first purchase of land was only 25 acres; the intent of the church was to have a summer recreational area where they could gather once a year for worship and spend time socially in this beautiful area of Penobscot Bay.  And for 25 years these pioneer churchmen and farmers pitched their tents under the oaks and birches and worshipped God with sermons, songs and old fashioned religious fervor.

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As years passed, the tents gradually gave way to wooden cottages, the first being built in 1869.  In 1875 the Wesleyan Grove House was built, launching the campground to its fate as a summer resort in addition to its religious mission. Building lots were being sold at prices from $5 to $15 and more acreage was being purchased all the time. By the end of 1879, 40 cottages had been built – ultimately over 300 cottages were constructed and most of them are still here today.

By the 1880s Bayside was in full swing as a summer resort.  Steamships came from as far away as Boston.  One report mentions as many as seven steamers coming to the landing dock (still here today) in a single day.  The report goes on to say that “250 Hampden belles and their beaux came down Tuesday on the steamer Clifford.”  Bayside was the place to be!

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In the 1890’s more cottages had been built along with several retail shops to handle the needs of hundreds of visitors.  This was the era of clam bakes, picnics, hay rides, firemen’s musters, band concerts and excursions.  The first hotel had burned down but a new and larger one was put up.  Even a bowling alley was constructed, along with parks, a ball field, and tennis courts.

The glory of the late 1800’s is no longer present in Bayside, but the character of that old community still lies in the architecture and the people who come here year after year.  Many cottages have been owned by the same families for generations and there is a strong community involvement by those owners to keep Bayside as a place preserved in time.

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While wandering the quiet, narrow roads we met a man walking his dog who described his experience living here. In 1989 he bought his cottage for $5800; today it’s worth approximately $400,000 even though it’s on a 60×60′ lot. The original structure had a basement that was hand-dug, the cottage wide open, and you had to go outside for a toilet, but it had a wonderful old parlor stove, double mantel, and nice woodwork. Over the years he and his wife fixed it up; talking to us he lamented the taxes and the snowplow driver (who he claimed hated Bayside) but did show pride in the fact that his cottage was one of the nicest.

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What Bayside offers today are walks along the shore roads, with loons swimming nearby and the occasional seal looking for breakfast. Sailboats moored on the bay offer a beautiful backdrop to the island in the distance and Blue Hill on the horizon.  On clear days the mountains of Acadia are the distant shadows. Come here to hunt for beach glass. Swing on the swingset. Admire the charming architecture and clever cottage names (“Sqeezed Inn”). Sleep. Rest. Restore. Bayside is rare, untouched, and safe and sound in the 21st century.

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Let’s forget for a moment that it’s been the coldest winter in recent memory. Let’s also ignore the weatherman, who has that awful “s” word again in the forecast for next week. Instead, let’s concentrate on today … sunny, blue skies, and above freezing!! It was a day just made to enjoy, and after all the below-zero weather we’ve had to endure as recently as, well, yesterday, I’m guessing most of New Hampshire ventured out somewhere today. It has been a long time coming.

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Our chosen destination on this late winter day was North Conway. An hour north from where I live, it lies in the Mount Washington Valley and is prime ski territory. In fact, it has been called “the birthplace of American skiing” and the large number of ski areas and condos here might back up that claim. The out-of-state license plates in town far outnumbered the locals. We had lunch, went next door to the vintage five-and-ten store, and then crossed the street and visited what I consider the most fascinating part of this town … the train station.

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In 1872 the Portsmouth, Great Falls & Conway Railroad extended their service to North Conway. The beautiful Second Empire depot was built here in 1874 to meet the demand, and it continued into the next century. In 1932 “snow trains” began carrying skiers north, a sport that grew with the development of ski lifts.

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With the rise of the automobile, the train declined. The railroad, then part of Boston & Maine, abandoned passenger service to the area in 1961, and freight service in 1972. From there, though, the Conway Scenic Railroad was born and continues today, and the station is listed on the National Register.

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Interestingly enough, my horoscope this morning read “You need to spend more time with people today — so open your door, head out somewhere public or just trek on down to the train station and mingle.”  Train station, I thought? What train station?

I could have spent much more time here, but the breeze was cold and we had other things to do. So we hopped in the car, turned up the heater, and ventured a little further north into the village of Jackson, where there are some lovely covered bridges, and then through Intervale – over the bumpy frost-heave-y roads with the sun in our eyes and a renewed thirst for exploration. Always paying attention to road names in New England, my favorite today was “Yellow Brick Road.”

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“Have you ever been down the West Side Road?” my friend asked. I didn’t think so, so we found it. It winds along through the valley, along the Saco River and past Echo Lake State Park, both of which were under a thick cover of snow. We came across a “bear crossing” sign, enormous old farms, and a beautiful inn called “The Farm by the River.” Honestly, if I was looking for a place to stay in New Hampshire, this would be high on my list.

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We were taken at first by the beauty of the house and outbuildings, then we noticed that there were horses and sleighs in the driveway – so we made a quick left with the car. This is a beautiful old (1786) home that rambles on back toward the barn and stables, with fields all around and the mountains in the distance. At first I thought they were hitching up the horses, but apparently they had just finished a ride and were putting things away. Even so, we lingered for awhile and took photos; no one seemed to mind.

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We wound up our little day-trip by heading down a favorite backroad toward home. This road meanders past Pea Porridge Pond, our favorite blueberry-picking spot, the beautiful white church in Eaton, a ski area where Wolfeboro grade-schoolers come to learn the sport, and the patriotically named town of Freedom. Not bad for a warm (it’s all relative!), sloppy, muddy, icy, blindingly blazingly beautiful March day in New Hampshire.

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Conway Scenic Railroad:

The Farm by the River:


<div style=’text-align:center;font-size:11px;font-family:arial;font-weight:normal;margin:10px;padding:0;line-height:normal’><a href=’; style=’border:none’><img src=’; style=’width:102px;height:20px;border:none;margin:0;padding:0′><br>Center Conway on Dwellable</a></div>


Blueberry days

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On this sunshine-perfect August day my friend Judy and I decided to go on a hunting expedition. Two years ago she had stumbled across a farm advertising pick-your-own, and she’d gotten some currants. I’d been bugging her ever since about finding this place again, because the sauce she’d made from those currants was heavenly. I wanted currants of my own.

So we ditched the office and set out to find currants or, at the very least, blueberries. We knew the farm was in Eaton, New Hampshire, just a mile or so from the Maine border. Although we’d looked before and hadn’t found it, we reasoned that this time of year they would surely have a sign out. We turned off the main road at the Eaton town beach (which has a beautiful view of the little village) and headed north on the Brownfield Road.

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We drove and drove, and Judy insisted that the road we were looking for had two words in it … so we turned up several, with no luck. One took us high up on a rise, with a little gazebo at the top and gorgeous views of the New Hampshire hills, and dead-ended into a driveway.  A little embarrassed, we asked the residents if they knew of the farm; she said go back down the road, turn right, and look for the signs.

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And indeed there was a sign – BerryKnoll Farm, on Old Portland Road (two words in the road name!). Turning in, we followed a long dirt road that opened up into a lovely setting with a shingled house on the left and fields of berries on the right; stone walls divided the space. Except for birds, it was complete quiet.

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A table was set up near the parking area; this farm operates on the honor system, and the items on the table included a book with recipes for all the berries offered here, a sign detailing where to pick and how to write a check, berry boxes, an Indiana Jones plastic bucket (I am not sure of the purpose of this) and a berry box with a rock holding down a stack of money. Honesty prevails here on the Maine border.

We did meet the owner, Mr. Sorenson, and he said currants are out of season. Disappointed, we vowed to come back in July of next year, and instead focused on blueberries – of which there were many, many bushes. Blueberries were $4 for a quart. He steered us to a patch that he thought we might like, hoping to get 3 quarts each.

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I have never seen blueberry bushes this size – they were almost as tall as we were – and they were loaded. They looked like bunches of purple grapes! (This man has a master’s degree in horticulture, and it shows.) I couldn’t get over it. I picked a quart of berries standing in one spot. They were so ripe, it was raining blueberries from the overripe ones dropping to the ground. I kept taking pictures. They were beautiful and they were plentiful!

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Once we’d picked our fill, we wandered the grounds a bit. We visited the row of currants that we hope to pick next year. We looked at the headstone of the previous owners of the property buried here (you can do this in New Hampshire). And we admired the daylilies, phlox, grapes and rows of raspberries nearby … with a backdrop of the shingled house, garage, and saphouse. Mr. Sorenson also has 80+ taps on his sugar maples, and raises bees on a back lot. Along with being a county commissioner, this is one talented man.

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Our boxes of blueberries were safely stowed on the floor of Judy’s Subaru and we headed back home. When we once again reached the Eaton town beach, we noticed a small sign that read, “Blueberries, 1-1/2 miles.” If only we’d seen that 2 hours earlier … but then, would the afternoon been as much fun?

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Probably not.


Planning for Périgord Noir

P1010430 (Large)As summer kicks into high gear here in the Lakes Region – with hordes of out-of-state visitors tying up downtown traffic, ice cream stands doing booming business, and thunderstorms rattling the windows – thoughts are starting to turn to my own vacation plans. In not-too-many weeks we will again make the now-familiar journey to southwestern France, an area in the Aquitaine region known as the Dordogne.

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A little confusingly, it is also known as Périgord – in ancient times it was home to four tribes, and in their language the word for “four tribes” was “petrocore”. The word eventually morphed into Périgord, of which there are still four in the Dordogne: Périgord Vert (Green Périgord) is an area of green valleys with many rivers and streams; Périgord Blanc (White Périgord) boasts limestone plateaus; Périgord Pourpre (Purple Périgord) is a wine region; and Périgord Noir (Black Périgord) takes its name from its woods of oak and pine. Our home base is in the Périgord Noir.

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I cannot get enough of this place. It is a photographer’s paradise and a step back in time … waaay back. A favorite town is Issigeac, a medieval village enclosed by circular walls and explored via narrow roads that wind, snail-like, to a central square. In the heart of this labyrinth are wonderfully preserved 14th- and 15th-century houses, some with architecture that is peculiar to this town.

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Another town high on my list is Monpazier; in contrast, this town’s streets are perfectly quadrilateral. Originally all of its houses were exactly the same size and separated from each other by narrow alleys to prevent the spread of fire. The 700-year-old market hall is still in daily use. I am a big fan of the stone archways here.

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I wonder if the locals ever get tired of looking at all this ancient beauty? I suppose we’re all guilty, somewhat, of taking our surroundings for granted, wherever we may be. This must be especially hard to do, though, in Périgord Noir!

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So while tourists reign in Wolfeboro (and this is not a bad thing) and locals know to take back roads if they want to get anywhere quickly, my own vacation planning is starting to take shape. I enjoy being a tourist, although I try not to look (or, in some cases, act) like one – rather, we try to experience each place as if we lived there. Local food and wines … outdoor markets … slowing down enough to enjoy the scenery. It’s easy to get used to laid-back, sun-baked medieval France. The harder part is choosing what little piece of it to bring back home with you.

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Weekend in Paris

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While a weekend in Paris may be perfectly normal if you already live in Europe, for a girl in central New Hampshire, USA, it seems exotic.  It’s a movie, or a book, or the poster in my office, but not something you just up and do over Memorial Day weekend.  However, last week I did just that.

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I should mention that when someone invites you to spend the weekend in Paris it’s tough to turn it down.  Life is short.  Opportunity knocks.  Go for it.  I ran the cliches through my head and then got my suitcase … after all, it says right here on my blog that I can be packed and ready to go by tomorrow morning.  I didn’t want to appear insincere, as someone evidently has been reading the fine print.

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Notre Dame

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So, Saturday and Tuesday were both travel days, but Sunday and Monday were pure Paris.  We walked for miles under sunny skies, stopping only for coffee or lunch at a cafe – sitting outdoors, of course.  We visited the Champ de Mars and my favorite landmark, the Eiffel Tower, and on to Pont Alexander and les Invalides.  There was a stage set up there and a large number of security people, and we wondered what it was for.  Soon after that we found out – there was a protest march against France’s new gay marriage law, winding through the streets of Paris and filling the Invalides esplanade late in the afternoon.  Finding ourselves right in the middle of it, and a very large police presence, we observed for a while and then moved on.  We learned later that it was estimated to be 150,000 people there.

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Dinner was within view of the Eiffel Tower.  We wondered what it must be like to live with a view like that – and what it must cost.  The surrounding buildings were beautiful, with the ornate windows and iron railings that you see all over the city.  Does one ever get tired of the view?  “Jacques, close the drapes … that
$%&# tower is twinkling again and keeping me awake!”

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This way to Tour Eiffel

This way to Tour Eiffel

We rode the Batobus, a flat-bottomed boat that you can hop on or off at any one of the eight stops it makes, and walked through Luxembourg Garden.  At 10 pm on Monday night, when we figured the lines would be shorter, we took the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower and watched Paris sparkle in the darkness. At 11:00 the Tower itself lit up with 20,000 little lights and twinkled out over the city for ten minutes.

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Weekends don’t get much better than this.

Bridge railing covered with locks ... lovers come here to attach their lock and throw the key in the Seine

Bridge railing covered with locks … lovers come here to attach their lock and throw the key in the Seine

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As Wednesday, and reality, set back in, I was tired.  My feet hurt from walking.  The cats were chiding me for only getting fed once a day instead of two.  Would I ever travel 7500 miles round trip again for just two days in a beautiful city?

Café menu

Café menu

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Just try me.  I can be packed and ready to go by morning.