Travel in the days before the internet was much more of an adventure than it is today. Now, you can just click on a website and make an informed decision about whether you want to stay at a hotel. You see the entire hotel, view pictures of the rooms, the grounds, the sign on the door. The works. You know exactly what you’re getting.
But in the olden days, for you youngsters in the audience, we had to use books.
For our honeymoon, John and I decided to do a tour of New England country inns, with one stop at a really fancy hotel in Quebec City, Canada. So we got a book entitled Country Inns of New England, and poured over it for a month choosing just the right places for a memorable trip.
Our route took us to stops in Connecticut , Vermont and New Hampshire, up to the north and across the border into Canada where we spent several days in Quebec City, before driving down to Maine, and then home and back to real life.
The inns listed in the book were great. Quaint. Romantic. Historic. We made reservations in town in Connecticut where we had a lovely room in a converted mansion that had an amazing restaurant. In Vermont , we booked a room at the West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vermont. The entry in the book promised a lovely Vermont farmhouse on a mountainside with lovely hiking trails around it. It didn’t disappoint.
Strangely, there weren’t a whole lot of Inns listed in the book for our next destination, one night in northwestern New Hampshire.
The only listing that looked appealing was one for the Moose Inn,* which billed itself as a traditional country inn in a converted carriage house. But the entry didn’t expand upon it like the other descriptions did. So I called to inquire.
“Good evening,” I said, with John sitting next to me. “I’m considering making a reservation at your Inn. Can you please tell me a little bit about it. We’d be coming as part of our honeymoon.”
I held the receiver between John and I so he could hear through the earpiece. (Historical note: that’s what we did before speakerphones.)
“Well, sure,” he said. “First of all, my name is George. The Moose Inn is a converted carriage house. The best way to describe it is as sort of Newhart-y.”
“Newhart-y?” John and I both said.
“Yeah, you know, the show,” George said. “With Bob Newhart. He owns a country inn in the show.”
“Oh, yeah.” I said picturing the front desk with the staircase behind it. I’d only watched the show a few times. (Tom Poston irritates me beyond belief.)
“Oh, yeah,” said John.
“The interior is mostly pine paneling. There is a large common area that contains the reception desk, with comfortable chairs, book cases, and antiques galore. The most outstanding feature though is the ceiling. It just goes on and on, right up to the roof. There is a balcony on three sides, and the rooms are located off those balconies. There are only six rooms, so it’s quite intimate.”
“Do the rooms have private bathrooms?”
“Yes they do.”
“How much are the rooms?” We were going to be there at the beginning of leaf-peeping season, late September. The rate in the book seemed like a typo.
“$35.00 a night.”
John and I looked at each other. The price in the book wasn’t a typo. And the inn sounded lovely. Could it be cheap too?
“Well,” said John, “it’s right where we want to go. It’s only one night. Let’s book it.”
So we did.
After a lovely stay in our second stop in southern Vermont, we decided to drive up to the Moose Inn through New Hampshire. Neither of us had spent much time in that state. It was time to see what it was all about, and how it compared to Vermont, which we both loved.
So we waved good-by to the perfectly manicured villages of Vermont, the white church steeples, the town greens surrounded by perfectly kept white houses with black shutters that reflected the sun. We crossed the bridge into New Hampshire.
On the map, Vermont and New Hampshire look like complete opposite halves of a rectangle, divided by the Connecticut River. Vermont is narrow from west to east in the south, and New Hampshire is wide. As you travel north, Vermont widens out and New Hampshire narrows. Politically, they are opposites, too. Vermont is very liberal; New Hampshire, not. In fact, the two states are opposites in many ways. You really can tell just by looking at the map:
Anyway, we left Vermont, drove across the bridge over the Connecticut River and found ourselves in a very different world. Gone were the white steeples, the town greens and the glistening 200 year old homes that lined them.
Even on a sunny day like the one we had, we found New Hampshire gray.
As a social experiment, we decided to modify our route. Instead of just staying in New Hampshire as planned, we crossed back and forth between the two states at every bridge we found (including a couple of covered ones). We wanted to see if it was just the one town, or if there was a pattern.
Each time we entered it, Vermont glistened. When going east across a bridge we’d find ourselves back in gray New Hampshire. Run down. Unkempt. The roads, not well supported by state taxes (of which there are practically none) were poor quality, rutted. Road signs were battered, missing, or hidden behind trees and shrubs. Houses sagged. Common space was not apparent, parkland not plentiful, obvious, or in the middle of town.
And so when we arrived at the Moose Inn, we should have been prepared for it. But we weren’t.
Because it turned out that it wasn’t the Moose Inn, it was the Moose Lodge Inn and Motel. There was a large part that was obviously the carriage house, but there was also a wing with Holiday Inn-like motel rooms in a wing just stuck onto the carriage house. Worse, there were six tacky individual cabins lined up along side of it. In front sat those tacky 50s-style lawn chairs that were 30 years either side of being cool.
John and I looked at each other’s gaping mouths. How quaint. How lovely. How romantic.
We waited until we’d stopped laughing, dried our eyes, parked and went inside.
We were relieved to find that inside the carriage house part was actually quite nice. The main room was lovely, immense. A grandfather clock stood next to the check in desk, which was, as described on the phone by George, very Newhart-y.
The center of the room was gorgeous – the ceiling soared to the roof as described. The balconies above were well kept and quite pretty with lovely railings, the doors to the rooms visible. At the back of the room, George noted the restaurant where we could have dinner and breakfast.
So in spite of the lodge and motel part, it was quite pretty. And did I mention it was cheap?
George took my suitcase, John took his, and we went up a steep staircase to the balcony above. George opened the door to our room, placed my suitcase inside across the room. I followed, with John behind me.
Walking across the room, it felt as if someone had somehow invisibly adjusted the incline on a treadmill. As we crossed the room, we were walking uphill. Up a steep hill. Inside. The slope of the wide pine floor was so significant that John’s suitcase, which was extremely modern for the day and actually had wheels, slid several inches back downhill towards the door.
Being me, I immediately checked out the bathroom and noticed that our “private” bathroom had an open door into the next room.
“Ummm, George,” I said. “We reserved a room with a private bathroom.”
“Oh, no problem.” He said. And he walked through the bathroom to the door, threw a bolt across the door and said “Private!” with a smile.
I looked at him.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Nobody’s staying in that room anyway. If you have any questions, need anything, or want to stop downstairs for a glass of wine, please head on down. Now you folks enjoy your stay.” George closed the door behind him.
We looked around. In spite of the slope of the floor, the room was quite pretty. There were two antique dressers, with mirrors that had been gazed into for at least a hundred years. There were delicate spindle night tables on each side of the bed. The wood pieces were all covered in lace doilies that took me back to my grandparents home.
Then there was the bed. It had a metal headboard and footboard. It too was antique.
Unfortunately, the bedsprings were antique too. John sat on the bed, and it let off a sound like a cat being spun around the room by its tail. The sound echoed around the room, and likely around the inside of the common area in the Inn. John shifted his weight, and the bed screeched again. He breathed in, and again the bedsprings screamed. He exhaled and the bedsprings did too. Much more loudly.
Did I mention that we were on our honeymoon?
Inside the bathroom were towels that said “Holiday Inn.” And hanging from the shower curtain bar was a plastic clip with a pad of paper, about 3 feet X 2 feet. Each paper sheet had a map of New Hampshire, with dots on it indicating points of interest throughout the state — a larger version of a child’s place mat at IHOP. At the bottom it said:
YOUR PERSONAL BATHMAT
“Look,” I said to John laughing. “I’m glad nobody else is gonna use mine!”
Back downstairs for dinner in the restaurant found us in a nice dining room. It, like much of the Inn, had pine paneling, which made me think of the house I grew up in. The food was very much like my mother’s home cooking too. (My mom had a limited repertoire, too.)
The menu had a wine list printed at the bottom:
WE PROUDLY SERVE
We were alone in the dining room, except for George, who served as our waiter. I think he might have been the cook, too.
Back upstairs for bed after dinner, the bed continued to groan, screech, moan. It made a huge racket when we breathed, when we laughed, when we, well, you know. Did I mention it was our honeymoon?
I slept on the uphill side of the bed. In the middle of the night, I got up to go to the bathroom, sending my new husband spiraling downhill. He had been asleep, and woke abruptly just in time to catch himself before plunging off onto the floor where he would have continued to roll crashing into the dresser.
In the morning, we had breakfast in the dining room, with George as our waiter again. We saw no sign of anyone else in the Inn. Nor did there seem to be any patrons in the motel part or in the little huts out back. Just us.
We wandered around the area a bit. As the town was not listed on our bathmat, we really didn’t know what there was to do in town. It turned out that omitting that particular town from the bathmat listing interesting places to visit in the state was not an oversight.
We left after lunch to head on up to Quebec City, where we stayed in The Château Frontenac a wonderful, posh hotel built in the late 1800s as one of a group of railway hotels in Canada. It is an amazing hotel – beautiful, elegant with a fabulous restaurant.
We had a room at the top of the turret in the center of this picture. They upgrade you there if you tell them it’s your honeymoon. We ate fabulous food prepared by a top Canadian chef. We didn’t drink Reunite.
But you know what? When we look back on our honeymoon, it is the Moose Inn that we talk about most. I think it taught us to roll with whatever life was offering, but to hold on tight to each other and laugh.
It also taught us to choose our mattress and box-springs carefully.
* John and I dubbed it the Moose Inn Lodge and Motel, that is not it’s real name. I drafted this post using the place’s actual name. But I Googled it and found that it is still in business, and it has a website. Interestingly, there are no pictures on the website.