Visiting Vermont (Burlington)
September 29, 2013 6:17 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to visit a friend in Westfield, Vermont, which is up near the border, and then another friend in Montreal, but I'm having a hard time figuring out the logistics.

Here is (was?) my plan:

Fly from San Francisco to Burlington
Rent a car
Drive rental car to cheapish motel and stay the night
Drive to Westfield,VT and stay with Friend A for 2 nights.
Drive to Montreal and stay with Friend B for 2 nights.
Drive from Montreal to Burlington, turn in rental car, and fly home.

I'm having a hell of a time pulling it off for a reasonable amount of money, mostly because flights coming in from the west coast get there late in the evening (after 9:30 pm) and it SEEMS like most things shut down early in Burlington- reviews suggest that even car rental places that say they're open late don't always bother.

If I'm getting in so late, I should stay one night in Burlington Friend A's place is a convent and they turn in by 8:30pm.

It's already complicated because it's much cheaper and the times are more convenient if I buy a ticket from the west coast from Delta but the ticket home from US Airways.

1) Any suggestions about making this easier?
2) Is it time for a travel agent to get involved? Would that help?
3) Can craigslist help with things like getting a ride that late at night or finding a cheap place to stay?
4) Is it okay to take a rental car across the border? I haven't been to Canada since 1991, when a drivers license was good enough. I will bring a passport but is there anything else I should know?

Any suggestions welcome. I have really ventured to the east coast before, except a weekend in Chapel Hill and one in Ft. Lauderdale, and it feels very ... foreign.
posted by small_ruminant to Travel & Transportation around Vermont (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Dumb questions: Have you checked flying into Montreal? This is probably almost certainly expensive, but stranger things have happened. Have you checked the irritating options in the Bay Area, like out of SFO and into San Jose? (Those always seem to be cheapest, perhaps because San Jose's hard to get to from many places.)

It's a haul, but Manchester, NH is also an option, especially if you're staying the night before going to Westfield. Or even Boston.

I've crossed the border on I-89 only once. Getting into Canada took much longer than I expected (like an hour), given that the border crossing seemed proportionally less crowded that Port Huron/Sarnia or Detroit/Windsor. You get asked if you have any guns or mace (and whatever else is prohibited in Canada), where you live, what you're doing in Canada, etc. I came back into the US on Greyhound. The US officials seemed kind of baffled that people who didn't live on the east coast were returning via that border crossing, despite the fact people fly to/from Burlington as an alternative to Montreal all the time.

You might want to try tracking down the phone number of the car rental place in the Burlington airport and asking them straight out if they'd be open. I can totally see any business located in the Burlington airport deciding to shut early just because. It's kind of a comical airport. If two planes land at roughly the same time, they assign each flight to a baggage carousel (there are two), but the bags come out in a jumble, some on each carousel, as they seem to drive to one plane, grab some bags, drive to the other, get some more and then chuck them on whatever carousel.
posted by hoyland at 6:36 PM on September 29, 2013

I'm not seeing the flight issue - a quick glance at Kayak shows that as long as you're willing to take a flight first thing from SFO (0700ish) you can easily make it to BTV by 1700. Fares for this are running around $332 which seems reasonable (speaking as someone whose flights to that area usually are considerably higher, and I'm coming from a much closer major hub).

I'd go for one of those and move from there. Talk to the rental care company to make sure they know you're coming, Burlington is the kind of place that relationships mean a lot. If you call they'll leave a stickie note (or whatever) to remind whoever is on not to leave early because small-ruminant is going to be picking up the Kia Rio.

Have fun! This (right now) is the perfect time to visit.
posted by stewiethegreat at 6:40 PM on September 29, 2013

4) Is it okay to take a rental car across the border? I haven't been to Canada since 1991, when a drivers license was good enough. I will bring a passport but is there anything else I should know?

I haven't rented a car near Canada in a while, but the rental agreement will say if you can drive it into Canada. Make sure before you leave you let them know if it isn't spelled out in the contract. You might have to pay more but you have Canadian insurance in case something goes wrong.
posted by birdherder at 6:41 PM on September 29, 2013

Response by poster: Stewie, the days I need to go, those flights aren't available, or they're far more expensive, like $450 per leg.

Thanks for the suggestion to fly in to Montreal. I will investigate.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:39 PM on September 29, 2013

Nthing going through Montreal...but I don't know what kind of questioning you'll get as a Usaian driving a car with Canadian plates.

On my recent trip through upstate NY I made 2 day trips into Canada. At the Ogdensburg-Prescott crossing I was held for half an hour on the Canadian side while my car and smartphone were searched. Coming back all I had to do was pop my trunk and was then waved through.When I drove from Plattsburgh to a historical site in QC the woman at the Canadian border spent a few minutes looking at my trunk, then let me go. For some reason the GPS on my phone told me to go back a different way and the guy at the US border gave me the third degree.

When I made a day trip to Campobello I had to pop my trunk going in and out, for one to Dresden ON via Sarnia I was briefly questioned.
posted by brujita at 10:24 PM on September 29, 2013

I've driven a rental car from the US into Canada - crossing into Quebec on a small rural road in NE Vermont and back into the US on I-89. I didn't have a problem, but I did declare that I was going to Canada when I picked up the car (in fact, I'm pretty sure the rental agent asked if I was going into Canada).

I'll second the idea of potentially flying into Manchester, NH. It may seem far away on a map, but everything in New England is closer than it appears. You could get from Manchester to I-91, go north into Canada, and then west on Canada 10 into Montreal.
posted by tmharris65 at 2:35 AM on September 30, 2013

Best answer: To save money I would probably walk from the airport to a local hotel (Ethan Allen inn about 0.5 mile away) and then rent the car the next day (probably from rent-a-wreck just down the road from Ethan allen also less than a mile walk to the airport.

Travel agent? I wouldn't bother with orbitz you could book a multiple carrier ticket if you want, but I am guessing it would be more expensive than just picking the most convient overall.

It wouldn't surprise me for number 3 that some people that live near the airport would be on airBnB, and if not they should.

I have driven a rental car into Canada on at least three occasions, just tell them and it should be fine.

Burlington airport is very small but if I had to chose a small airport to fly to it would be BTV. Free wifi and no charge for the carts and just a general more relaxed flying experience means it is worth it.
posted by koolkat at 2:53 AM on September 30, 2013

I would fly into Montreal, rent a car here and drive to Westfield. If you encounter problems with taking a Canadian car rental into the US, you could fly into Montreal then take a Greyhound bus to Montpelier, for example, which is a 4 hour ride, rent a car there and drive to Westfield, which is less than 2 hours away according to Google Maps.

Flying into Montreal will eliminate the whole arriving when everything is closed thing. The downside is that flights to/from California are more expensive going to/coming from Montreal than Burlington.
posted by ohmy at 7:50 AM on September 30, 2013

You could also try flying to Plattsburgh (it might be cheaper). It would entail a longer drive to Westfield (about 25 miles more), but then Plattsburgh is much closer to Montreal than Burlington. As for a place to stay, I'd check AirBnB.
posted by bluefrog at 9:48 AM on September 30, 2013

Response by poster: It looks like what I will need to do is take the red eye the night before into Burlington. It will get me there, wrecked, at 9am, thus saving me the cost and hassle of a hotel room. However, it's good to know about the Ethan Allen (I thought that was a furniture company) and the rent-a-wreck, which I will probably use. (Montreal is a couple hundred more, and Plattsburg doesn't seem to be working out, unfortunately.)

The big companies have SUCH a lock on the SEO! I couldn't even find the rent-a-wreck online. The company I DID find (Majestic?) doesn't do weekends or evening pick-ups from the airport. (That is so funny to me! Weekends? Really?)

Anyway, I'll have all day Friday to check out the flying monkeys that were featured here a few months ago and then wend my way north to the convent.

There seems to be no getting around the two-different-airline thing, unless I want to hop all over the country with layovers. So I'll be getting the extra search these times, I'm guessing, since I hear one way tickets do that.

Any food in Burlington you'd recommend? What is east coast food?

Also, what is this area called? Is it part of New England?
posted by small_ruminant at 11:18 AM on September 30, 2013

Response by poster: Turns out Rent-a-wreck isn't any cheaper. I think they're doing things wrong. I need a Rent-a-Beater.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:24 AM on September 30, 2013

Any food in Burlington you'd recommend? What is east coast food?

Also, what is this area called? Is it part of New England?

Yes, it’s New England. Good seafood. I like the Shanty on the shore of Lake Champlain. (Although their “Lobster Roll” is actually lobster salad. The real thing comes on a toasted split-top hotdog bun with butter, not mayo.)
posted by editorgrrl at 11:51 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

How could I forget the Ben & Jerry’s factory in nearby Waterbury, VT?!
posted by editorgrrl at 12:11 PM on September 30, 2013

Al's French Frys in S Burlington was named as one of America's Classics by the James Beard Foundation.
posted by brujita at 12:52 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

New England food:

Year round turkey dinner.
Pot roast
Baked beans
Creamy clam chowder
Cheddar Cheese
Lobster and cod in the coastal areas....
posted by brujita at 12:56 PM on September 30, 2013

I'm not an expert on Burlington restaurants but A Single Pebble has some great stuff (mock eel!), but if you're coming from San Francisco it might be foolish to get Chinese food in Vermont. I've heard good things about the decidedly un-rustic Farmhouse Tap and Grill, which features local ingredients.

Hen of the Wood in Waterbury features local fare made with great care, served in an old grist mill (get reservations early). Waterbury is also home to The Alchemist brewery, if world-glass IPAs are your thing.

Along those same lines, the "best brewery in the world" is only 35 miles from Westfield, VT.

Closer to the airport, Al's French Fries (mentioned above) is most likely walkable from the Ethan Allen Inn or other nearby hotel. This is strictly old time fast food, but the hand-cut fries are quite good.
posted by baseballpajamas at 2:36 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If money is a consideration, and it sounds like it is, definitely go to Al's as brujita suggests. Fine diner-like food at dirt cheap prices. If you want to treat yourself to good food using locally sourced ingredients (and AMAZING beers) go to Farmhouse Tap & Grill on Bank street in downtown Burlington.

If you have the time, and prefer to spend a little gas over a hotel room, swing down to Tunbridge and look us up. We have many small ruminants here on our farm ;)

Waterbury does not equal Burlington. In fact, it is quite out of the way if one is going to Montreal. Plus, (sorry everyone in every Vermont thread ever) but there is no difference between the B&J ice cream in Waterbury and the ice cream at your local convenience store. If you go to Waterbury do it for the Alchemist cannery and Heady Topper (it too is overrated, but you can't get it anywhere outside of Vermont), not B&Js.
posted by terrapin at 2:46 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Woohoo! I'm all booked! And I can't wait to try out some food :)

terrapin, I hope it works out that we can have a little meetup! That sounds like a great, and unexpected side trip.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:59 PM on September 30, 2013

Go to the Cold Hollow Cider Mill and get cider donuts if you can.
posted by brujita at 7:18 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Misery Loves Co. is the best food in Burlington right now (err, technically Winooski I guess).
posted by rossmeissl at 7:41 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I fly back to VT twice a year (usually) and always stop at Bove's for a dinner or lunch. Great italian food that will certainly not break the bank. You might also run into Bernie Sanders there. I know I have at least three times. Quick tip don't bother getting spaghetti with meat sauce because it is just a mashed up meat ball in their normal sauce. If you want a nice meaty sauce spend the extra dime and get the meatballs and mash them up yourself. Al's is also highly recommended for a nice greasy spoon place. Their fries are still fried in beef dripping.
posted by koolkat at 1:17 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

And meetup is scheduled!
posted by terrapin at 4:56 AM on October 18, 2013

Response by poster: Reporting back:

I'm glad I took the red eye because walking to the Ethan Allen would not have have been pleasant after dark, with its limited sidewalks, and lots of baggage. Add rain and .... just no.

The Burlington airport is very cool. It has a good crepe place in it with a full bar & local beers and they don't charge more than outside the airport so far as I can tell. Also the airport has a breast feeding station, which is nice, and rocking chairs, which is awesome. I'm pretty sure it was the only place I saw anyone who wasn't white (the airport cleaning staff, including a breathtakingly gorgeous person of indeterminate sex who was washing the windows & who looked to be Eritrean or something.)

I used Thrifty rental car and they have unlimited mileage and didn't care that I was taking it over the border. Would use again.

I had Al's French Fries and it was a perfectly nice hamburger stand but they were not particularly spectacular.

Bring your own tea if you're a tea drinker. Seriously. I would have killed for a fucking Starbucks even. The only tea I finally found was out in the middle of nowhere (between Westfield & the border) and involved handpicked varietal tea that required a special steeping process. The owners of that shop I think said they were from Ashland, Oregon and were the sniffiest people I met, despite being young. They were obviously throwing pearls before swine because all I wanted to know was "does have caffeine? Lots of caffeine?" There is also a tea shop in Burlington that sells loose leaf Chinese teas. If you just want a pot of Irish Breakfast you're going to end up with Lipton and lukewarm coffee pot water, if that.

Phoenix Books on Bank Street in Burlington is a great bookstore.

If you miss April Cornell, their flagship store (and one of their 5 remaining stores, apparently) is on Battery in Burlington. They have an outlet store in the basement.

Vermont is super rural and most of it looks like a model train set, with a fairly standardized collection of white houses, red barns, trees of similar heights, and grain silos with rounded tops.

I had a very good pizza at American Flatbread has a pretty good thin crust pizza.

Terrapin & Turtlegirl took me out for some very good pizza in Bethel, at the Cockadoodle.

Montpelier is super cute- very Frenchy looking and apartments and shops are right on and even over the river, which you can do when everything is granite and not inclined to erode into the water every 18 months.

Nearly everyone I met in Vermont was quite nice (except the weird lady- I think she was the boss- at Montpelier's Coffee Corner who stared at me intently throughout breakfast for no discernable reason). Montpelier also has a couple of good bookstores. I only went into Rivendell, because I had spent quite enough already by the time I left there.

Vermont has a LOT of fresh water. Obscene amounts of fresh water. Apparently things were a little dry when I got there, but not by California standards.

Vermont has a LOT of churches with very pointy spires. Vermont loves Vermont cooking and heirloom veggies and the sort of thing we around here in the SF Bay Area call urban homesteading only in Vermont it's not urban.

Montpelier & Burlington both have very cool houses and old architecture.

jessamyn is even better looking in person than in her pictures. And smaller.

If you have any questions, just ask.

I am very grateful to terrapin & turtlegirl for their generous hospitality!
posted by small_ruminant at 4:53 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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