Having gone to school in the area, I find myself returning to this magical place over and over and over again. The drive from Boston is an obstacle. After a day of work, choosing to aim your car towards the 93 North parking lot exhibits not just a lack of judgment, but a sort of nonchalant disregard for your personal sanity.
But the carrot at the end of the stick is Burlington. A place where your friends await, good food and beer pours into the streets, and a big shiny, beautiful lake sits at the bottom of it all.
Then there are the mountains. When mountains frame you're every moment, it's a not so subtle reminder that you are experiencing life in a beautiful place. The air is fresh. The people are weird with energy and new ideas, and there is a feeling of satisfaction, of being part of such an amazing community, even if just for a visit.
Even the highway feels different. As I drove up, my blood started releasing and shoveling out all the gunk and stagnant repressed energy from the work week. The possibility of an adventure was arriving closer and closer with each minute passed and every mile taken.
There are no rusted out bridges on 89, and somehow the greenery in the median strip appears unforced, giving the highway a not so highwayish type of feeling.
Still, it's a ride from Boston, a ways, as they say.
Not next door but rather up the street, down the hill, up and over the rock wall, and to the left a bit. At the end of the journey, there is a friend waiting with a good drink and some kind words.
Even the rest stops appear to blend in as welcoming outposts rather than dingy structures put up years ago with urine-caked floors and no one to pick up the trash.
In the center of town, in the middle of it all, is Church Street. A pedestrian only treasure built with cobblestones, lined with street lamps, and tagged with all sorts of shops and eateries.
Here is the epicenter of the culture that seems to carefully expand outwards in all directions.
New bars, breweries, and restaurants slowly pop up here and there. The area is littered with art; it seems to penetrate the entire city.
A large stack of file cabinets sits just off a road, shooting up into the sky and leaving you wondering just what the hell happened there. There's a farmer's market behind Church where unique and eager vendors, proud of their businesses, are happy to share smiles with a crowd that includes young and old, dogs, babies, more dogs, and also tons of dogs.
This is a place where people meet, and with so many places seeing their downtowns eliminated, giving way to more strip malls and giant stores, having a place to meet feels really good.
Parks and green grass line the shore of Lake Champlain. Some larger than others, large enough to host festivals, music, life. Other spaces host small alcoves of peace, where you can sit, lay, and remain in awe of the lake and mountains.
Cider is falling from the sky. Cats are meowing in every window sill. Backpackers are commuting through the Long Trail. Sailors are navigating their way through the nooks of the lake. Subaru's parade through the streets as a testament to the elegant but rugged lifestyle. Bumper stickers tell you what you need to know. Music is blaring and loud and coming from every which way you can point an ear.
One of the great things about Church Street is the street food. After a late night of sweating and dancing at Nectar's or singing karaoke at JP's, you can take your hunger to the street vendors where you can consume all sorts of food before you tuck yourself away to bed.
You will not go hungry in this town. You will not go without good drink. You might get fat and drunk if you're not careful, or maybe just because it's fun.
On a recent trip, a couple of native friends offered to take us on a hike. Which, is another great thing about Burlington, it's not far from anywhere you can imagine. Making a memory is easy and usually right down the road.
After a scenic drive through Mallet's Bay and Colchester. we ended up at the Notch to take a hike up to Sterling Pond.
A misty rain blended with some very light snow, lining the road and our hair with a wet coat. In the fog, this place with trees, and brooks, and hikers let us go back to nature for a bit, even if just as traveling tourists.
The route was steep and slippery at first. I wondered if it would be safe to come back down. My fiance, fleet of foot, led the way with a confidence that politely reminded me not to be a baby. Something about hiking up rocks and dirt in the forest with a group of friends is very comforting. We said hello to fellow hikers. Some with poles. Many with dogs. Little children leaped down the rocks.
We navigated bravely through a few sketchy spots. And then, there it was, a great little majestical pond sitting beneath the fog. Pictures confirmed that it was indeed an incredibly breathtaking scene.
We confirmed that a good time was had, secured, and experienced by all. Happy and alive we scampered back down the trail, eager to fill up our bellies with food, ready for the next thing, content.
Burlington is a funky and passionate town that claims no identity but that of the people who live there. It's a home away from home that I know is being very well taken care of. A part of me will always miss living there, but the other part knows I never really left, nor do I want to.
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