Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An old inn in Vermont, some reminiscenses

[update - now with some photos]

The most interesting and talked about experiences are rarely the best.  This might be unfortunate, but in a sense it is these experiences that make you realize what is really good and enjoyable in life.  So, this is kind of a rant, but I am not exaggerating here, this place was really over the top...

So, PP and I headed to Vermont last week.  We had decided to stay for the first nights at an old inn that his uncle and aunt had stayed at over 30 years ago.  This inn will remain nameless in this story, but I will tell you it is not far from Marlboro College near Brattleboro in southern Vermont.  It has a nice website, but very few online reviews, so it is hard to know what to expect, but the price was the usual for a stay of this kind.  I booked two nights, and we went on to Vermont...

the inn
We arrived at the old inn from the 1700s, and it turns out to be in a great location, a quiet place with a pond in the back. We were met by the very old widowed inn keeper who told us where our room was and informed us that in this place there are no locks on the doors and that everything is safe and there has been no thefts in 30+ years in this place.  OK, we go along with it and go up to our room on the second floor.  Before getting to your room you pass through a very old musky-dusty-smelly living room with 1960/70 style sofas, bookshelves with leather bound classics, and some miscellaneous mixed furniture.  It reminded me both of an old hotel in Uzbekistan, old youth hostels in Sweden, and old libraries.  Nothing wrong with that, but not what I had expected, especially not the smell and 70s flair to things.
living room

Our room was big and airy with nice windows in two directions.  The bathroom was attached to our room and minuscule, but private (well, the open window is right above the front door and anybody can hear you pee and flush... but it is the countryside and an old building, so that is OK.)  But, the bathroom door has no latch so it swings open by itself when you sit on the toilet - it really had no latch at all and it seemed to never have had one since there was no sign of a latch hook on the painted molding around the door. No latch for 30+ years?  The door to the bedroom from the hallway could be closed and latched but had no lock, but even more disturbing was that you couldn't lock the door from the inside with a secure hook.  I really like to be able to sleep in peace, and not worry about some drunk or confused person stepping into my bedroom while I am sleeping at 3 AM, especially not during a hot summer night.  Apparently this was not a concern of the inn keeper.  I am glad I wasn't sleeping alone...

OK, there is more.  There was no AC, which I understand in a old house like this, but it was a heat wave and only a small old fan was provided.  There were water glasses, but at least one was unwashed (some green stuff on the edge, what can that be?), in the room.  The wooden mantel around the fireplace (not in use) looked like it has been compressed and broken in an earth quake (how? and why not fixed?).  An orange-yellow shag rug (think 1974 color choice) was laying around and under the bed and smelled bad... obviously a clear case of 'can't be cleaned properly for the last couple of decades'.

An old painting print was hanging on the wall and it appears that neither the print nor the paper surrounding the print were acid free - all browned with age.  The wall paper, who knows how old, was not quaint and cute, but water stained.  Ceiling had cobwebs, as did the bathroom, and the wall around the tiny sink (which has loose faucets) had spots from previous people's tooth paste spit. Ick!  The bath rug was frayed in the edges and reminded me of the towels we have relegated to our basement to mop up flood waters with.  This is not what I expected to get for $100+ a night.  But wait, there is more!

During the night we realize that there is a door with an nearly inch-wide gap at the bottom near the bed in our room to another rental room  so we can see the light in that room and we clearly hear the excessant snoring of another guest.  We try to stop the sound and light by stuffing a big comforter and blanket on the floor in front of that door.  Our bed is small to be in such a giant room, and HARD.  What happened to providing a nice thin top mattress so that people don't have to sleep directly on what feels like the box spring?

Morning and shower time... the shower stall is miniscule and the inside of the shower is covered in cedar planks, I think. Vinyl shower curtain is too short; water splashes on the floor outside the shower.  It is hard to wash your hair when you hit the wall with your elbows.  It is even harder when you realize that no shampoo has been provided...  Hmpf.  I use the soap (and buy shampoo at the store later in the day).  The towels are threadbare and old, look like leftovers from the 1970s.  When PP dries himself off, one of the towels rips along the edge, that is how badly worn it was.  Come on, new towels of acceptable quality can be gotten at Target or IKEA at very reasonable prices, so why the replacement wait at this inn?

the dining room
OK, breakfast.  The place is apparently famous for great food.  We sit down in the little dining room, dark and musky with curtains that needed to see a wash 20 years ago, and eventually are asked what we would like for breakfast.  Fruit (berries, melons or pineapple are the choices), coffee or tea, and then either eggs, waffles or pancakes with bacon.  I go for the berries, pineapple, and then blueberry pancakes.  I get the berries... looks OK, but after a while I bite into a moldy raspberry.  Not great.  I hate mold.  I can taste it a mile away, and this was really moldy for real.  Then I got my pancakes, nicely arranged - a handful of small blueberry pancakes arranged in a line on a plate.  Melted butter and warm syrup came with them, so I poured some of the syrup on.  Hmm, how can you under-cook blueberry pancakes that are only about 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) in diameter?  I don't know, but these were still runny in the center.
the kitchen
I felt bad for the old lady that tried to run this place after her husband's death a few years ago, but I really can't accept bad food and dirty rooms, not when I pay $$$ for it.  After all, this is not post-Soviet Uzbekistan, this is Vermont in USA.  Cracked plates, a kitchen with the dirtiest and messiest areas I have ever seen and full of things on every flat service gave me goosebumps regarding the lack of hygiene. I wonder if the Department of Health in Vermont has inspected her kitchen.  I have a hunch it will not pass... Oh, and the breakfast was $10 on top of the room cost, so this is not a bed AND BREAKFAST as I thought.

Oh, I didn't tell you, when I went to bed a dead moth fell out from under the cover.  There was a mouse hole in the corner of the floor molding, nice mice!  Just a few months of attention and the throwout of the 30-40 years old stuff and a clean-up of the rest would have made this place into a new wonderful place.
the living room
So, were there no good things?  Sure there were.  The location is beautiful, and the place has so much potential, it just needs a lot of attention and upgrades (which it needed decades ago).  I like old simple things, but I can't stand dirt and mold. I really wanted to love this place, but I couldn't, but I can see it turn into a fantastic place in the future...

books everywhere

It felt like a place stuck in the past, with grandfather's books that accumulate mold instead of eager fingers that turn pages, and lampshades stained by fly spit and dust rats.  I love old books, and books in general, and this was one of the best things with this place - there were good and interesting books everywhere, ready to be picked up and read.  I read Roadside Geology of Vermont and New Hampshire for two nights and learned a lot about how geologically similar that area is to Sweden.  But that is a small positive thing in the big negative impression of this place.

So, in conclusion, I hope you don't need to stay at this place until it is under different management.  I am sure the inn keeper is doing her best under her own circumstances, but this is not a way to run an inn/bed and breakfast. When you charge a fee the customer is supposed to get the value for that cost, and you should want to get your customers back and take the effort to give them a nice wonderful stay. 

(When it came time to paying the bill the owner had forgot I had sent her a deposit and also added a service fee of 10%, which I was told when I asked about it that "I had to add it since people don't tip the staff enough, but you can take it off".  Maybe that says it all...)

another room for rent, not ours

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Favorite summer food: chopped salad

This is just great, simple food.  CHOPPED SALAD!  Add a vinaigrette and you are all set for lunch.  The dark red cubes are salami, if you were wondering. No recipe needed, just chop and arrange, then add dressing and serve. It will mix well on your plate and in your stomach during hot summer days.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

In the rainforest, on a mountain side, down towards some magnificent waterfalls, on the side of an ancient (but active) volcano named Poa, in the central highlands of Costa Rica, on the eastern slope of the Central American mountain ridge, facing the Caribbean, but still miles and miles from the coast, there is a small wonderful place called La Paz Waterfall Gardens. There is a small hotel at this place too,  the Peace Lodge, looking out over the deep valley and the rainforest tree tops.   This is obviously a place designed to pull in ecotourists, but I loved the small scale, down to earth, and simplicity of this place.  I could easily spend a few days here and be happy!

We arrived by bus at the top of the mountain side, where the Peace Lodge is, and started our slow walk on well-maintained steps and paths down towards the aviary and butterfly houses, restaurant, and waterfalls. This is also a wildlife refuge, where animals that have been illegally captured or held as pets can live out their lives, if they can't be released into the wild again.  

La Paz Waterfall Gardens
This is the view from the Peace Lodge, and you can see the aviary to the lower left. The purple flowers are bougainvilleas, with gingers in the foreground and tree ferns lower down.  A short time after we arrived it started to rain, which is very appropriate for the rainy season in a rain forest, and I was very grateful for bringing both a rain jacket AND an umbrella.  Lots of photos could be taken without a wet camera...

wild ginger
This wild ginger has a funny name, Ker-Gawler (Hedychium gardnerianum). It is not from Costa Rica but an import from Himalayas.

in the aviary - a duck
Inside the giant aviary tent where birds flew free and were nearly tame.

Hello. I am a toucan.

The butterfly house will get its own blog post :)  After checking out the birds, the monkeys, the butterflies, and then passed by the hummingbird feeders in rain (which didn't stop the hummingbirds from visiting the feeders), it was time for lunch. (I bypassed the snake house, I don't care much for those cold blooded animals.) Buffet lunch of traditional Costa Rican food, and it was the best food I have ever had in Costa Rica.  Rice and beans (of course), tortillas, curry beef, chicken in Costa Rican BBQ sauce (not overly sweet), salsa, vegetables, salad, pork chili, mmmm, fresh fruit, and lots of other good stuff... no food in Costa Rica is spicy, but it is tasty!  I forgot to take a photo of the food, sorry!

very fast hummingbirds (sorry about the bad quality, it was dark and rainy)
This place has 24 hummingbird species, the most of any place in the world.  They come right up to you if you stand still by the feeders.  Flying jewels, that is what they are!

view from the restaurant
The view from the restaurant.  I loved it!

epiphytic abundance in the trees
The trees were full of epiphytes. True rainforest style, indeed! It rained too, a lot.

jaguar legsThe 'Big Cat' house was kind of sad.  They can't let these animals out in the wild, but they seem so lonely.  Here are the back feet of the jaguar, which was much lower and stronger than I expected.  I wonder if you hear the cats at night if you stay at the Peace Lodge...

Do you see the ozelot?  It is incredibly quick! Check out the paws!
The ozelot was not a lot bigger than our biggest house cat, but incredibly quick.  No way you could get a good photo of it.  But the paws are in focus, kind of! :)

rain forest in the rain
And then, after passing the frog house, the farmer's house (and tasting fresh cheese), we hiked down towards the waterfalls into the rainforest... in the rain, of course.

the largest waterfall, 120 feet (37 meters) (photoshopped)
The 120 feet (37 meter tall) waterfall, one of at least 4 waterfalls along the trail.  OK, OK, this is a little photoshopped in the colors because the low light in the rain made it an imperfect photo to begin with... please forgive me.

rain forest in the rain
The rainforest in the rain... looking out over the valley.  I really, really want to come back here. And that time, I want to sit and look at hummingbirds for hours. They are truly amazing.

More photos from this place here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Night Lights

The last night in Costa Rica I went up on the hotel roof, on the 5th floor, and looked out into the Central Valley around the city of San Jose.  It was so black, and with little dots of lights here and there.

the regular view from the hotel roof
Then I turned on the camera in night mode (very long exposure, no flash) and realized that you can make totally new images from a scene like that by fooling around a little bit.  So, here are some of my abstractions from that night.  (More photos like this here on Flickr.)

'flying east' 
 'flying east'
'a lonely snake, away from the flock' 
'lonely snake, away from the flock'
'sea horses' 
'sea horses'