Photo: Bob LoCicero/Shutterstock

Dear Travelers to Burlington, Vermont: Please Don’t Come Until You’ve Understood These 11 Things

by Pamela Hunt Aug 12, 2016

1. You almost needed a passport to visit Vermont.

The Vermont Republic was a sovereign nation from 1777 until 1791, when it joined the Union as the 14th state. The fledgling country minted its own currency, established a postal service, and even abolished slavery, 88 years before the 13th Amendment declared it illegal. Though most Vermonters have been content since joining the original colonies, a small secessionist movement arose after 9/11 to establish the Second Vermont Republic. But don’t expect a new stamp in your passport just yet…

2. We don’t have billboards.

Billboards have been illegal since 1968 — and our advertising zoning is pretty strict, so don’t bother looking for your hotel’s signboard. The sign may be there somewhere, but it’s not going to be very big. So just enjoy your unrestricted view of our natural beauty with your destination confidently entered into your Garmin or phone.

3. Some people like to let it all hang out.

Public nudity is totally within the confines of the law here, as long as you don’t do anything lewd or disrobe in public — you’ll have to leave your house naked, if that’s your thing. If you’re in town on the final day of classes at the University of Vermont each semester, you’ll get an eyeful. Since 1996, the biannual Naked Bike Ride has made its way through the campus and into the downtown, leading onlookers and riders alike to ponder the benefits of bicycle shorts.

4. We sometimes speak in code.

Vermont has its share of region-specific lingo. As a visitor, you might be called a flatlander if you want to see sugaring during stick season. And, jeezum crow, woodchucks know we don’t have any peepers during mud season. (Translation: The locals realize you’re not from Vermont if you want to watch someone boil sap into maple syrup in November. And for goodness sake, real Vermonters know tourists don’t come to see autumn leaves in the spring.)

5. You probably won’t run into #43 here.

Both during and since his presidency, George W. Bush has not stepped foot in Vermont. Despite Burlington’s left-leaning reputation — Bernie was our socialist mayor for eight years, after all — a conservative element does exist statewide. However, Dubya probably won’t plan a trip here any time soon: He’s welcome to visit Burlington, but he’ll find the towns of Brattleboro and Marlboro have an active arrest warrant for him and Dick Cheney for crimes against the US Constitution. It’s probably not enforceable, but why take the chance?

6. We’re one of best places in North America to find abundant marine life.

Fossilized marine life, that is. But Vermont is a couple hundred miles from the ocean, right? Well, it is today, but 480 million years ago, Vermont was covered by a tropical sea in which creatures of all shapes and sizes thrived. The Chazy Reef — and what remains of the animals that lived in it — once stretched 1,000 miles from Quebec all the way to Tennessee, and the best place to find these ancient cephalopods and gastropods is at the Goodsell Ridge Preserve and Fisk Quarry in Isle La Motte, north of Burlington. Our state marine fossil is a 12,500-year-old beluga whale that was discovered in 1849 during railroad construction, but that’s from an entirely separate era when Vermont was covered by a completely different ocean.

7. Ben and Jerry’s isn’t the only ice cream game in town.

Sure the middle-aged hippie duo are still quite popular, but ask locals for the best cold and sweet treat and they’ll point you to the nearest creemee stand. What’s better known outside the Green Mountain State as “soft-serve,” the black raspberry–maple swirl tastes like summer to us. Chocolate jimmies (sprinkles) are optional.

8. Burlington is an international city.

Vermont is not the most diverse state in the nation. (It’s not the least, either, but not by much.) However, the Queen City has welcomed refugees from all corners of the world. As you stroll through town, you’ll hear a mélange of languages, from Serbo-Croatian and Nepalese to the more common French-Canadian of our neighbors to the north. These new Burlingtonians have shared their cuisine and culture through cooking classes, music and dance performances, and ethnic markets. Who doesn’t love a hot Nepalese momo (dumpling) at the farmers market?

<h2<9. We’re serious about our alcohol.

Vermont has more microbreweries per capita than any other state, and several of them are within walking distance of each other in Burlington. The ubiquitous East Coast/Vermont IPAs abound, but those in the know seek out the slightly funky flagship saison at Foam Brewers, the robust Old Monty Barleywine at Queen City Brewery, or Bob White, the tart Belgian witbier from Zero Gravity. If you’re watching your gluten intake, Citizen Cider has just the thing for you. Or, if you’re looking for something stronger, Mad River Distillers might tempt you with a tasting. With all this inebriating brew available, it’s amazing that any of us have the energy for all the outdoor activities we’re famous for!

10. We love our tall tales.

Vermont consistently ranks among the top states for quality education, but you’re likely to hear some conversations that might make you doubt the veracity of this achievement. One of Burlington’s favorite cryptozoological residents is Champ, the supposed plesiosaur who calls Lake Champlain home. Though evidence for his or her existence is spotty, true believers are out there. Perhaps they convene with the Bigfoot hunters who roam the woods south of Burlington, searching for an eight-foot-tall apeman. More believable are the claimed sightings of mountain lions, or catamounts, as the creature is known in these parts. These cats lived in New England at one time, but the last lion was killed in 1881 and now resides as a stuffed exhibit at the Vermont Historical Society in Montpelier. Could they be back? It’s probably more likely than running across Champ while kayaking.

11. We’re not all farmers.

It’s hard to believe, what with all the farmland visible along the highway and the rock-star status we’ve bestowed on those who produce our food, but Vermonters are also deep into high-tech. Whether manufacturing semiconductor chips, designing web-based applications, or pioneering the latest medical procedures, local technology talent has grown at an astronomical rate. The Burlington Generator, a makerspace for artists, tinkers, and inventors, opened in 2013 and is already moving to a larger facility. Who knows what they’ll create — the next Burton snowboard or and environmentally friendly line of products, à la Seventh Generation, two of our home-grown companies.

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