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Volvo Ocean Race, Newport

Like Newport isn’t fun enough, this year the city had the distinct honor of being a stopover for the prestigious Volvo Ocean Race.   The race covers 39k nautical miles and circumnavigates the globe over nine months.   The Race Village was open for about a week mid-May, and then the boats were on to Portugal.  The boats are relatively tiny – can you imagine crossing the ocean in this??

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The day I was there was gloomy and cool; much as I love a warm sunny day in Newport sometimes you just gotta work around other people’s schedules.   Once I looked at my pictures I realized how much bright color was on display….maybe it was the contrast with the gray day?

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This gloomy day morphed into a foggy low-key evening:

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The Volvo Race is currently in Portugal, then onto their next stopover in Lorient, France.  They’ll have a quick pit stop at The Hague, Netherlands, and the race will end in Gothenburg, Sweden at the end of June.  You can download the app to follow the race here.

Sugaring Off Season (or mud season for the pessimists)

Maple sugar season – when sugarhouses all over the northeast come to life – is my favorite sign of spring.  It generally runs from late February through mid April, when longer, warmer days cause the sap to run.  Making syrup really hasn’t changed, it’s still a very manual process….buckets hung from trees to gather the sap, wood fires to boil the sap in rural shacks.  It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup; remember that the next time you balk at the price of real syrup.   I’m pretty sure the ingredient list for Aunt Jemima is just high fructose corn syrup and one melted brown crayon for color.

An old-fashioned tradition that has thankfully survived is seasonal pancake breakfasts right in the sugarhouse.  I had several on my short list, and narrowed it down to Williams Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts for a couple of reasons:  it was a bit closer than a few of the others, and also seemed the least likely to have a wait.  I’d really like to get to Gould’s one of these days, but a wait of up to two hours is possible.  Since it was already a two hour drive, and my backroading turned it into a three hour drive, I wanted to get right down to pancake-eating when I arrived.

From Worcester I took 122 north, a two lane road through the rural towns of Barre and Petersham before linking up with Route 2 (The Mohawk Trail).  Once out of Worcester the route quickly turns wooded and pretty and looks much like New Hampshire.  Around Petersham you skirt the northern border of The Quabbin Reservoir, at about 40 square miles the largest inland body of water in Mass and the main source of water for Boston.  Its creation in the 1930s caused the destruction of four towns; cemeteries and town memorials were moved and even today you can drive down roads that once led to these towns but now dead end at the reservoir.

During maple season, if you are driving in the rural northeast and see a rough wood building with steam coming out of it they’re probably making maple syrup.

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All you need to know now is….is this a pancake making sugarhouse or a non-pancake making sugarhouse?  Out of the car and we breathe in the smell of woodsmoke.  Inside the rustic post & beam building are rows of picnic tables and a counter where you place your order.  I stuck with the basics, really good (hot, fresh & light) pancakes, their own maple syrup, and a side of bacon to cut the sweetness.  Nothing about the experience is remotely fancy:  paper plates, the tables are shared, and you pick up your food when your number is called.  And that’s good.  Fancy would be wrong here.  I grabbed a bottle of Grade B (deep color, robust flavor) on my way out the door.  Typing this makes me want pancakes for dinner tonight!

I made a quick pitstop in Historic Deerfield for a few pictures.  This sign gives a brief history.

Old Deerfield Sign

The village today is an outdoor history museum comprised of twelve historic buildings, eleven of which are on their original sites.   There’s also an inn with a full service restaurant.  The house below was a beautiful bright robin’s egg blue but it’s not as evident in the photo, because of the competing blue sky.

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Dwight 1754 Springfield

I plan to get back to the Pioneer Valley when the weather warms up some more.  I have a list of places I’d like to visit in this Jauntful guide.  There’s so much to do here once you start looking around.