On a weekend trip up north, my boyfriend and I stopped at a busy diner in Nashua, New Hampshire for lunch. Realizing that we were from out of town, the server asked us where we were headed. When we told her that we were destined for Vermont and more specifically Burlington, her eyelids raised with excitement on the word “Vermont” and then fell with “Burlington.” The server is from the Eastern part of Vermont, “God’s country,” she called it. The woman spoke energetically about the beauty of her home region, but then closed off slightly as she rattled off a few truisms about Burlington, the state’s largest city. Although Vermont is small (less than 10,000 sq miles), this older woman has never made it so far west as Burlington.
There is so much to say about Burlington, Vermont. Apparently, “God’s country” is a term used to describe sparsely populated lands with expansive nature. When considering Vermont’s lush forests and green mountains, this grandiose moniker rings true. However, unlike the eastern regions of the state from which our server hails, Burlington is a happening, little oasis filled with a buzzing student population, seasonal tourists, and year-round residents.
Circling back to our New Hampshire server at the diner, I’m wondering if Burlington gets a bad rap in her neck of the woods. Burlington is probably not representative of Vermont just like New York City is not a real microcosm for America. Here are a few ways in which Burlington probably stands out:
Burlington is home to the University of Vermont and its progressive-liberal energy permeates the city. On a Friday night, the restaurants and pubs were filled with students (we overheard more than one conversation concerning campus life) and youthful energy. Additionally, over the weekend of our visit, Vermont hosted a Juneteenth celebration in the public park with musicians, vendors, and speakers. Moreover, many of the stores and cafes have worldly and social justice sorts of vibes with signs in multiple languages and stickers claiming “LOVE > FEAR,” for example. Similarly, even the street graffiti is inclusive with “Black Lives Matter” and other slogans appearing regularly on the sides of buildings.
Burlington sits on the beautiful, placid Lake Champlain. Here, one can swim, charter a boat, paddle, fish, or even just enjoy the views. With a beautiful lake comes tourists as well as boat people. For this reason, Burlington is Vermont’s most touristy area, which perhaps gives it a more cosmopolitan feel than the surrounding parts.
Who doesn’t get excited about vacation food? Although Burlington sits right on Lake Champlain, this city is not a great destination for seafood. Instead, Burlington is home to an eclectic mix of restaurants and boasts cuisines from the Middle East and Mediterranean, as well as more typical Mexican and Asian places with also a sprinkling of upscale American eateries. Most noticeably, Burlington is quite vegan-friendly. Sometimes at restaurants, vegetarians get stuck with the sole non-meat item on the menu. However, here “impossible” meat is often available, as well as specialty vegetable dishes and vegan-friendly proteins like tofu and seitan.
If anything, Burlington is distinct! Look out for Part 2 of this post for some other Burlington perks and quirks.