by Willem Lange
EAST MONTPELIER – A few weeks ago my traveling companion, Bea, and I decided on a long holiday weekend together here in Vermont. There was little question in our minds that Thor, the god of weather, would interfere as usual. Still, the thought of a peaceful two days by the window watching the snow and (for her) getting away from meeting agendas and Zoom conferences would be a great little vacation.
Then I had a brilliant idea: Why not spend Saturday night in a different country? There is one – the second-largest in the world, in fact – just north of Vermont. And why not spend it at an elegant inn just north of the border, about two hours from Montpelier, where my wife and I used to go to celebrate occasions? I sent the URL address to Bea and got an enthusiastic response. So I tackled the web page (always a risky endeavor for a geezer with a wood-fired computer) and secured a room. I ignored as best I could the five dollar signs that accompanied its rating. It was what the hell, all will be well – I hoped.
But about a week ago I tripped over my ice creepers and fractured my right elbow. Surgery to put it back together and install hardware to keep it that way is scheduled two days from this writing. A splint and a large, firm wrapping keep it pretty well immobilized. I can drive, shop for groceries, take a shower (with a trash bag taped over my arm), and even tie my shoes. Still, it is a broken arm – the arm that I always use with my cane, and now can’t; so walking on the inevitable ice would be more than usually problematic. The question naturally arose: Do we go to Quebec or cancel? In order to preserve the considerable deposit on the room, any cancellation had to be made no less than 48 hours before arrival time.
We decided to go for it. There was nothing I’d be doing there that I wouldn’t be here. Less, in fact. No cooking or going out to eat. So on Saturday a little after noon we headed leisurely north on dry roads under gloomy skies and in a very short time passed the height of land to north-flowing rivers, struck Interstate 91, and passed the sign at the 45th parallel that inadvertently commemorates the famous blunders of the British surveying party tasked with marking it: The border station is about a half-mile beyond it.
Passports and a short, pleasant chat with the Canadian border agent, and we were off on the short run to the well-marked exit for Manoir Hovey. An even shorter run and we were entering the parking lot, busy with arriving guests. A valet appeared, showed me where to leave my car, and assured me our bags and coats would be waiting in our room. Amazing! But it was only the first of an unbroken string of extraordinary accommodations we were about to experience. We descended a long set of outdoor stairs (the Manoir is busy building a new spa near its entrance), which I had to negotiate sideways. I gave my left hand to a valet at the bottom, who escorted me across the ice to the entrance.
Check-in was swift and in French (Bea speaks it), and Laure, the clerk, came out to show us to our room. Uh-oh. Up a set of stairs without a left-hand rail. I shook my head, and within seconds Laure had found us another room, in spite of the full house, this one on the main floor. (She also found us a 7:30 dinner reservation in a schedule that showed none) A gas-fired fireplace blazed brightly on the hearth of our new room, and French doors looked out on Lake Massawipi.
We had a drink in the library, where Bea got into a Scrabble game with a couple from Vermont. At our appointed time, we were escorted to our table by the window, where a waitress explained the menu and the sommelier showed up to ask us our pleasure. We deferred the decision until after we’d decided on dinner. She had duck breast, and I had lamb; so it was a lovely red. Dessert and decaf espresso for her, and gratefully back to our room.
Breakfast – more like brunch – was equally delightful. Our waitress asked me how I wanted my eggs. “Over easy,” I said, “and I’ll bet he can’t keep the edges from browning.” She smiled and said she’d mention it, and it was obvious, when they came, that she had.
At checkout, we simply left our bags and coats in our room. They reappeared, without our seeing how or when, neatly stowed in the back of the car – which magically waited right in front of the hotel door, instead of in the parking lot above. They’d seen me struggling the night before and brought it down.
“You know,” Bea said as we drove out through the gates to the snowy roads of Quebec, “some places you go, they charge a lot and don’t deliver. This one was incredible, worth every penny.” I have a feeling we may be back in the spring when I again have two arms and the gardens are blossoming.