On leaving Stowe it was a relatively quick traverse across the top of Vermont through misty valleys, more colourful terrain and many small villages and townships. Saint Johnsbury was looking like a contender for a mid-morning coffee stop, but discovering a very sleepy Main Street didn’t reveal much other than some beautiful municipal buildings and places of worship.
Half an hour down the highway, after crossing from Vermont into New Hampshire, was where I was distracted by signage indicating one of the state’s most spectacular rides. The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway. I’m always up for a bit of vertigo so why not jump into a cable car and be whisked almost 620 metres up a mountain? The views are spectacular, to say the least, overlooking Echo Lake and the mountains of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, New York and Canada.
A visit to the mountains wouldn’t be complete without a trek around Flume Gorge, just 20 minutes from Cannon Mountain. Purchasing the Discovery Pass for $28 gives visitors entry to the gorge as well as the Cannon Mountain tramway – something we learned when we arrived at The Flume visitors centre. When both attractions incur a $15 entry fee we figured a $2 saving wasn’t much of an incentive to buy the pass. And the lady at the Flume visitors centre wasn’t budging with my $2 refund proposal. Coffee money, you know?
The 250 metre granite gorge can be walked via a raised wooden deck, past cascading waterfalls and through a 20 metre moss and fern-covered passage. An optional 3 kilometre loop can also be taken through the forest; one that I highly recommend as most of the vacationers at the Flume were happy with seeing the gorge and nothing else. That means less people on the trails disrupting the serenity.
A few kilometres down the highway is the small ski town of Lincoln – the days lunch location. The eating options are fairly limited in this mountain town, so rather than walk the highway with empty stomachs in search of the best place in town, Black Mtn Burger Co it was.
The menu at this cosy strip mall eatery is all about beer, sandwiches, burgers and a whole lot of stuff from the deep fryer. Speaking of fried – how’s this for an artery-clogger. Fried mac n’ cheese balls (5.5) with marinara sauce. I’ve got to say, I was in love with these golden little nuggets. Who cares that I’d already gained 5 kilograms since landing in America and that food like this was the cause. Eat like the locals, right?
The better half seemed content with his open-faced blackened chicken sandwich (6.5) and my “real western buffalo” bison burger (9) was actually pretty impressive. By default the burger comes with regular fries but for an additional $1.25 you can substitute them with onion rings, baked beans or sweet potato waffle fries. Beans would have been nice but I remembered how sugary beans are in this part of the world, so waffle fries it was.
Black Mountain Burger Co. – 264 Main Street, Lincoln
Cutting east through the rugged White Mountain National Forest brought us to North Conway, our next overnight stop. The town itself lacks the charm of many places we’d been through due to it being sprawled along the busy highway. Strip malls, outlet stores and tourist-centric shops that make for a rather soulless place.
Once we checked into our overnight abode – the Eastern Slope Inn Resort – it was a hasty walk down the road to a coffee shop that was well-spotted when we drove into town. Frontside Grind took care of our coffee needs with some seriously good espresso and even breakfast the following day, with a decent selection of bagels.
Once we were done with our coffees I sat down outside the café to change the lens on my camera to get a shot of the façade.
And then this happened.
A very strange internal clunk and my camera decided to pack it in. A dreaded ERR message displayed in the screen and after changing memory cards, fiddling with the battery and cleaning the lens sensors, my camera was declared deceased. All it did was make a clunk every time I hit the shutter release button. That was it. No more photos on a trip that was still far from being over.
Without a camera repair shop in town all I could do was deal with the death of my camera and the nausea I was feeling (yes, call me dramatic), and basically slump into a meltdown for the next day or so.
Frontside Grind – 2697 White Mountain Highway, North Conway
The three hour drive from North Conway to our next base was a bit of a haze. Yes the scenery was beautiful, but I didn’t care because I couldn’t photograph it. We arrived at Camden on the gorgeous Maine coastline, checked into the Hartstone Inn and took a wander around this stunning seaside village. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect so it was lunch down on the docks at The Waterfront restaurant. Camera-less, mind you.
The café that saw us the most was Zoot Coffee, a friendly little place that prides itself on the organic “always” vegetarian quiches, soups and salads it makes in-house. We may not have tried the food but the coffee is pretty damn special. For the couple of days we spent in Camden we became instant regulars; even going as far as introducing the coffee maker to a piccolo latté, something she seemed chuffed in learning about and making for us on our few visits.
I did ask her about any camera shops in town but sadly there were none.
Zoot Coffee – 31 Elm Street, Camden
We decided to stop into the information centre down on the waterfront to see if they knew of a neighbouring town that may have a shop that did speedy camera repairs. The incredibly helpful lady made several phone calls and discovered the Walmart in nearby Rockland was selling off its stock due to some kind of redevelopment. There was light at the end of my morose tunnel and before we knew it we were walking out of Walmart with a new Nikon D3200. Crisis averted.
Around 60 lighthouses dot the Maine coastline and the first one we saw was this one on the Rockland breakwater. Getting there involves a 1.3 kilometre walk along the granite breakwater to the light keepers’ house located in the middle of the harbour. A definite must-see for any lighthouse-spotter.
Back at the Hartstone Inn, our home for the night in their “Tally Ho” room, we couldn’t pass-up the afternoon $5 cocktails that came with a canapé. Their signature key lime martini is one of the best cocktails I’ve tried and canapé of polenta cake topped with Maine lobster and tapenade was enough to keep me reordering the cocktail. A vicious circle.
One of Camden’s acclaimed restaurants also happens to be at the inn, dishing up fine food sourced from local waters and local farms. Seafood was a clear go-to for me on any New England menu so it was a given that I start with the chef’s crustacean creation (19.75) – a medley of chilled lobster, Maine crab on frittata and a shrimp salad in a lettuce cup.
I continued with a pan-roasted Maine lobster (27.5) served over julienned zucchini, jasmine rice and doused in a luscious rosemary cream sauce. Some beautiful fresh flavours and slight richness from the sauce.
The pork saltimbocca (24.75) also went down a treat; leaving just enough room for a couple of desserts. A fresh-out-of-the-oven peach cobbler and a delicate chocolate hazelnut soufflé with Frangelico crème anglaise.
Thanks to staying in a B&B we already had breakfast taken care of. A rather sugar-filled breakfast that started with trifle of banana cake, yoghurt and berries followed by blueberry almond pancakes with a rasher of intense cumin-spiced bacon.
With our luggage already in the boot of the rental it was a leisurely couple of coffees at Zoot before hitting the road and heading north of Camden.
Hartstone Inn – 41 Elm Street, Camden