North Adams, 2006

Cris and I did our Valentine's Day / President's Day getaway to North Adams, MA this year, booking a room at Blackinton Manor and gallivanting around galleries and art museums.

Friday Feb 17/06

I had gone to the doctor to get an explanation of some abdominal pain that had started the night before, intending to come home and pack and work remotely a bit, but they kept me for long tests and I didn't get out until 2pm. I thought I'd have lots of time to race home via bike and pack at least, but as I got on my bike the dreaded flap flap flap sound came to my ears. I had a flat, and on the rear wheel, too. I couldn't get a hold of Cris at either number, so I ended up walking my bike home, taking half an hour. I was not in a good mood after all that, but I started throwing clothes and toiletries into my suitecase in a mad rush to try and avoid leaving too late and running into traffic. We got out of the driveway at 3:20, and ran into a couple of slow downs on I90 west. Rubberneckers and rush hour mostly. The last bit of the drive was directly into the setting sun, but at least I'd calmed down a bit by then and talked through my irritation at the doctors and nurses (they sent me to the blood lab for a draw, and the old woman there was horrible) and was able to appreciate the scenery. We stopped for water at a service center, and I saw a guy getting out of his truck and settling his white parrot on the dashboard before heading in. A trucker had the engine cover of his rig open and was standing on bits of the engine to clean the windshield, but at one point the wind caught it and it started to swing closed on him. Luckily, as I watched in horror, he noticed it and was able to catch it and throw it back with his arm instead of having it hit him in the neck. The winds were horribly high the whole way, Cris was fighting to keep the car on the road, and we saw a Uhaul cube van in the ditch by itself where we assumed it got blown. We turned off the highway at Lee, close to the NY border (exit 2, in fact), and made our way north on a series of smaller roads, passing through Pittsfield and then Williamstown at 7pm, from where I called to let them know we were coming as we were due at the inn at 7pm for supper. Minutes later we passed the sign for North Adams and made our turn off of 2. They were in the kitchen as we came in, and offered to help us bring our stuff in, but we were able to get the suitcases etc in okay. The hostess, Laura, led us to the parlour-music room and left us to refresh ourselves as she set up our dinner.

The room is great, three french doors leading to a tiny wrought iron balcony, looking out over the mountains. There's a giant four poster bed, and an electric fire in front of the fire place. The bathroom is an addition, with a double sized jacuzzi tub and windows all around (with light blue curtains to match the darker blue ones in the main room). The ceilings are high and the accent pieces are tasteful (a plaster relief of dancing nyphs decorates the fire place, and all the lamps have crackly glass stems), stopping just before hitting overwrought Victorian.

We came out into the dining room, and were served a light supper of soup and salad, with a brownie and an apple pie slice for dessert (they had obtained all our food preferences beforehand, so there were no walnuts in sight). W also had a carafe of fruity pinot blanc (I think) to wash it all down with, and a tea caddy from which I selected a bag, and a carafe of coffee for Cris.

After dinner we retired, getting an early night after a tough week, and starting our relaxing get away for real.

Saturday Feb 18/06

We woke up at around 8, but had asked for breakfast at 9, so we lazed about in bed for a while. We sat at a different table than last night, and had a selection of yoghurt and cereal to start with. I had a very crunchy serving of grape nuts with yoghurt and put the fruit bowl on it as well, and couldn't hear Cris when he talked to me while I was chewing. The pineapple bread pudding was quite sweet (I tried a forkful of Cris's), Lots of tea, water and juice and we were stuffed. As we were finishing up, a couple came down to eat and joined us at our table. They talked about coming up from Washington in the windstorm yesterday and coming for the 10th anniversary of their friend's restaurant (Mezze). We talked about our plans to go hiking, and they shuddered dramatically - the snow hit as we were eating and stopped as we did, leaving a covering on the ground. We put on our layers and packed up the water and apples and headed out. We drove over to the Clark in Willamstown and found the pet grave markers that started the Pasture trail. We walked through the marked path in the woods, and then out into the pasture, with a flattened path through the snow (and cut back brambles) and some dog prints to guide us up the field. We came out at the top and then came back down on the path through the woods again.

Then we threw the pack into the car and went into the Clark to look at the paintings and sculptures. Free admission, and lots of gorgeous stuff. They had the 50 favourites marked, most of them I agreed with but some were missing. :) The paper trail exhibit had terms that linked the works on paper one to another, like adam and eve in a garden, then a garden with sculptures in the next. But we were burned out a bit and didn't read every single one. They had Munch's Madonna in there, and Degas sketches, it was quite neat.

Then back in the car to North Adams for lunch, at Gideon's Luncheon and Nitery, with rock star parking right outside the door. It was chilly in there, I kept my coat on while eating, and regretted getting the ice tea instead of the hot. Pressed grilled veggie sandwich and a molten chocolate cake for dessert were really good. The decor was neat, the bar was all black wood with red painted walls behind it, open glass shelves holding the alcohol. Triangular openings were above our heads in the enclosed booth. There was a somewhat disturbing Lifetime movie on the tv above the bar, I wish it hadn't been showing. We paged through the hiking trails book and decided to try something easy on Mt. Greylock.

We drove up toward the peak on Notch Rd but it was closed off after a certain point. We picked up a trail map, and then backtracked through North Adams to Adams and a different trail head. We parked in a gravel lot with a few other cars, and backtracked to the nature trail, re-passing a guy in a big blue truck, smoking a cigar and hanging out with his dog in the cab, driving slowly back and forth along the road. We followed a cross country skiing trail around a couple of ponds. We came up close to the steeper trails and then skirted around the hill and ran across a few really old abandoned ski lifts (took pictures). Back to the car via a slightly more direct route, keeping our sense of direction, and found that all the cars had gone while we were out, and we hadn't seen anyone on the trails.

We were chilly by then and it was getting close to 4, so we headed back to the inn. We had some time to warm up and then had some wine and cheese during the happy hour, sitting and reading in the living room. The older couple headed out to Mezze, having nabbed a reservation when someone cancelled. We headed out a bit later to North Adams and the Gramercy Bistro - we'd called for a reservation the night before as we were warned that a lot of Williams College students were out and about - it was Parent's weekend or something.

We were seated right away, there was a big table that was taking pictures and being a bit loud, but we were tucked in the window and behind the door drafts so it wasn't too bad. The service was quite slow though, they didn't seem to have enough staff on for a full house. We got a small dish of olives, and bread pieces with olive oil with good salt and pepper. I had the roasted squash soup and seared scallops, Cris had a really sea food heavy paella. We shared a bottle of wine (well, I had a glass, er a half glass - we took the bottle with us when we left as it wasn't done) and creme brule for dessert. They specialise in local and organic produce, and the quality of the food reflected that.

Very chilly, about -10C, and we rushed back to the hotel. I had a bath to warm up and we were asleep early again, by 11pm.

Sunday Feb 19/06

Woke up at 8 and went out for breakfast a bit early. Had a long talk with the older couple, Joanne and Lou, about travel via hostels and family history in other countries (they went to Italy in October). They're neat. :) We thought we'd run out to the Rockwell museum first, as it opened at 10, but it's an hour away, so we're typing stuff up and watching Olympic curling - sounds like they've got Canadian commentators. :) Will head out to Mass MoCA and then the Williams College gallery that we were told about. Have to call Andy to sort out dinner as well for tonight.

I called Andy and then called the Wheatleigh to make reservations for 7pm. Cris and I headed to North Adams and parked in the Mass MoCA lot, then wound our way through the old paint factory buildings to the entrance. The admission was discounted a bit due to them starting to tear down the "Being Animal" exhibit. The coat check (similar to the Clark, was just an unattended rack where we could hang up our coats) was in the basement, following signs through low ceilinged big rooms (it would make a neat night club). The whole place is very neat, lots of exposed hardware, and the admissions desk was on a huge lever with a huge spring going up to the ceiling from one end. We could see the canal enclosing the river from one of the windows. The Leipzig paintings didn't do much for me, though I liked the persian influenced drawings where they looked like they were made with a spirograph to make the little tiny leaves that formed a wire frame to make an image (by Kamrooz Aram). The large paintings in the next room were neat, very wicker like in the imagery, with lots of perspective, some wrong, and one covered bridge where the slats were showing the outside greenery through it.

Upstairs the Being Animal exhibit was very disturbing, with a mother and "cubs" looking like a cross between animals and humans. The frog sounds were overwhelming and could be heard throughout the space. The amusement park exhibit was a bit confusing, just old rides set up and moving very very slowly in a huge darkened room. The infrared camera and display in the end room was interactive but not as neat as it could have been. We came out to a nice and chilly day and walked over the Brewhaha next to the Gramercy Bistro and had hot drinks and a warm snack, checking the menu at the Wheatleigh via their internet connection. Called Andy back and then adjusted our reservation to the Library room, as the prix fix was a bit more dear than we really wanted to go, and the menu in the Library shared most of the elements but we could put them together as we wished. We drove into Williamstown and browsed through Water St. books for a while, waiting for the Williams art museum to open at 1. Very reminiscent of the set up at the Harvard Book Store - high dark wood shelves, lots of breadth but not a lot of depth. I saw some cards there with images from children's books (the caterpillar, some kung fu kids stylised) that I hope to go back and grab.

We spotted the eyes on the hill outside the art gallery this time, they're huge metal eyeballs (and were lit up blue when we passed by that night!). Free admission, and some neat stuff in there, two floors of nooks and crannies, bronzes (a neat Remington), very detailed paintings of old court clothes, and then upstairs was the more contemporary stuff, one on the images of pain that I skipped, some transgressive paintings of muslim images mixed with hermaphrodites, and contemporary Chinese works (the four photos, before and after of two groups of people, with the missing faces in the after ones, were the most affecting).

Then we dithered, thinking we'd drive to Lennox or Lee early, bringing dinner clothes, or getting a spa treatment, but no appointments were available, so we settled in for some relaxation. Turned out that the B&B didn't do the wine and cheese on Sundays, just Saturdays, though they offered some to us. Sat and read in the living room for the last little bit before we had to leave at 6 to drive to Lennox. The drive took about 45 mins, and then the last 15 were to find the Wheatleigh (off of 183 on Hawthorne Rd). It's an impressive country manor house in Italian palazzo style with wings enclosing a circular drive surrounding a large stone fountain. Andy and Carrie were waiting for us in the lobby, and we joined them for cocktails (the mojito that I had wasn't very strong, though I felt a bit light headed when I got up). The staff let us sip and chat way past our reservation time, and then gently led us to our table. Service was great, the only slip was that they poured out the wrong water in my glass (we just had them switch it to Carrie's). We had appetizers (mussels in a very lovely broth, a bit spicy), and main courses (wild striped bass on a bed of mashes parsnips), and sides (garlic whipped potatoes) and shared - Carrie got yummy chickpea fries, and Andy the fried sunchokes (roots like potatoes) and chatted like mad. We were able to fit in dessert as well, but it was a challenge. :) I had the cheeseplate, with five selections, I gave away my parmesan to Cris but really enjoyed the other softer cheeses. They'd lined up our bottles of water on the buffer table between us and the four diners next to us on the hall side of the banquette.

The drive back was sleepy for me (I had had a big glass of the Rioja), but quick, and we went straight to sleep at midnight.

Monday Feb 20/06

We woke up just before 8, threw clothes on and went out for breakfast, having the table to ourselves for most of it. Omelettes this morning, mine was a feta and tomato and basil, and toast. The fruit cup had the mango cut into smaller pieces this time. :) She also gave us pumpkin bread, hot from the oven. As we were finishing up our tea and coffee, the two women who'd arrived the night before came and sat down at our table as well for their breakfast, and proceeded to talk fairly loudly to each other and made it really awkward as they were ignoring us. We really lucked out getting along so well with our weekend inn companions. We slipped away soon after, packed our stuff and then checked out. Cris' nose had started running and he was sneezing a lot, and it got worse throughout the day.

We got everything in the car, and he said he was fine to drive, so we headed back south at around 9:30am. The Water St. bookstore had opened at 9:30 so we stopped in and I was able to get the two cards that I wanted, as well as picking up a copy of "The Bridge to Terabitha", as I'd spotted it on the Newbury winners shelf yesterday. Then it was off to Lennox and the Norman Rockwell museum. The parking lot was quite crowded, and so was the main exhibit hall, as they were giving a tour as we got there. The Dinotopia painting exhibit had just opened downstairs, so there were lots of families with kids wandering about. We avoided the gallery talk and took in the National Geographic paintings section first - lots of really cool illustrations and commemorations of important events. Then we went through the Rockwell stuff, I hadn't realised that he'd been such a mover in the civil rights fight. The no swimming one with the boys running away was luminous in person. I liked the paintings best that had explanations and history next to them, rather than just the title and year. The Dinotopia prints were great, I have to read the books for sure now.

We were both hungry before we went in at around 11, so we headed into downtown Stockbridge to get food, casing the joints before settling on the cafe Once Upon a Table, tucked back in the mews behind the Red Lion Inn. After two gourmet suppers this weekend, it was just competent, but decent none the less. The four top of old ladies next to us was an interesting mix, one was definitely young at heart, one was hard of hearing, one had a decidedly German accent, the other was quiet.

We stopped in at a store to get kleenex and did a quick browse in a book store as well (Cris found the Cheese Primer), and then we continued on down 103 or 102 to the Lee Prime Outlet mall, as Cris wanted to get some new jeans. We'd stopped on the road at the Different Drummer kitchen store and despite being harshly tempted by some good deals on cast iron tea pots, we escaped with only a bendable cutting board.

We started off getting him socks, and then stuff in the Farberware store (I got cheap silicon mitts, he got a stock pot top), and then I dragged him into the London Fog store, where I found a lined trenchcoat for stupidly discounted, to replace my falling apart and no longer water resistant military coat. We dropped stuff at the car and then went over to the Gap for the jeans we originally came for.

I took over the driving after Lee, taking us all along I90 back to Newton, where we stopped in at Whole Foods to get soup ingredients and stuff for the next batch of granola. Home again, unpacking and eating and reading and sorting out bills. Now I have to go and fix my bike's flat tire so I can ride it to work again tomorrow. Later this week I'm back off to the Albany area for work, at least I'm familiar with the route.


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