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Destination Recreation: Montpelier to Brattleboro by Train 

click to enlarge Maverick and Gabriela at the Brattleboro train station - BRETT STANCIU
  • Brett Stanciu
  • Maverick and Gabriela at the Brattleboro train station

Four summers ago, my family traveled by train from Albany, N.Y., to Santa Fe, N.M., and home again. With more than two-and-a-half days of travel — one way — that's a heck of a long journey. But I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Traveling by train eliminates the When are we going to get there? backseat complaining of car travel and provides the opportunity to relax and take in the passing scenery.

In July, I purchased round-trip Amtrak tickets from Montpelier to Brattleboro for a day trip with my 13-year-old daughter, Gabriela, and her friend, Maverick. Downtown Brattleboro boasts an eclectic mix of art galleries, independent bookshops, record stores and the sprawling sporting goods store, Sam's Outdoor Outfitters (74 Main St.), which opened in 1932 as an Army & Navy surplus store. Eating options range from chicken salad sandwiches and almond biscotti at Amy's Bakery Arts Café (113 Main St.) to gourmet pizza with toppings like thick-cut bacon and crispy onions and barbecue plates at the casual restaurant Hazel (75 Elliot St.).

On the morning of our trip, Gabriela and Maverick packed turkey sandwiches, water bottles and a deck of UNO cards for the ride. The train departed Montpelier's Amtrak station (297 Junction Rd.) at 10:25 a.m. — an ideal time for kids on a laid-back summer schedule. I brought my laptop so I could use the train's WiFi to work on the approximately 2.5-hour ride, while the girls checked out the snack car and chatted with the friendly conductor.

click to enlarge Gabriela enjoys ice cream at Blueberry Haus - BRETT STANCIU
  • Brett Stanciu
  • Gabriela enjoys ice cream at Blueberry Haus

At 1 p.m., the train pulled into the downtown Brattleboro station (10 Vernon Rd.). With nothing more on our agenda than exploring, we wandered along the main drag and into an antique shop, Twice Upon a Time (63 Main St.), where the girls admired vintage tulle dresses, a Smith Corona electric typewriter like the one my dad used when I was a kid, and political campaign buttons preserved in plastic. Beside the "Ford/Dole" and "Perot for President" buttons, the girls pointed out a more familiar one: "Bernie 2016."

To beat the afternoon heat, we stopped in at Blueberry Haus (19 Elliot St.) for homemade ice cream — Chocolate Cocoa Cookie Crumble for Gabriela and Gold Digger, caramel ice cream studded with bits of Heath bar, for Maverick — scooped generously into freshly baked waffle cones rimmed with dark chocolate and rainbow sprinkles. While the girls enjoyed their cones, I checked out the store's gift shop, which includes women's clothing, soaps and baby items.

click to enlarge Maverick browses at Everyone's Book - BRETT STANCIU
  • Brett Stanciu
  • Maverick browses at Everyone's Book

Next door is Everyone's Books (25 Elliot St.), a Brattleboro literary fixture. Two peace and anti-nuclear activists — Nancy Braus and Rich Geidel — opened the shop in 1984, stocking literary and political material often not available in mainstream bookstores. The couple still owns the shop, which has a large children's collection. The girls lingered there, while I browsed the jam-packed nonfiction shelves.

Just a few blocks over, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (10 Vernon St.) — housed in the town's original train station — offers free admission on Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m. One current exhibit, "Best of Springs, Sprockets & Pulleys" features the work of artist and inventor Steve Gerberich through September 24. The girls were mesmerized by Gerberich's unique, motorized creations, which combine barn-sale finds and everyday objects — like a wooden cow with brass bugles for ears — and move, whiz and whir when viewers press buttons.

click to enlarge Maverick and Gabriela explore the Brattleboro Museum - BRETT STANCIU
  • Brett Stanciu
  • Maverick and Gabriela explore the Brattleboro Museum

With time to spare before our 4:56 p.m. departure, we decided to check out the supermarket-sized Brattleboro Food Co-op (2 Main St.). We relaxed on the store's shady patio beneath blossoming trumpet vines, snacking on local raspberries and Thai spring rolls while people-watching.

Riding Amtrak offers both a taste of the past — Laura and Mary in the Little House books traveled by train, not just covered wagon — and the chance for rural Vermont kids to experience public transportation. The trip also satisfied my hunger for a fun full-day excursion with a little culture mixed in — free from driving stress.

While waiting for the return train, I leaned against the station's stone wall, listening to Maverick and Gabriela as they plotted their dream cross-country train trip — just the two of them — a few years down the line.

Ride the Rails

Round-trip Amtrak tickets from Montpelier to Brattleboro start at $36 per adult. Tickets are half price for children ages 2-12 and free for children under 2. The Vermonter runs daily from St. Albans to Washington, D.C., with Vermont stops in Essex Junction, Waterbury, Montpelier, Randolph, White River Junction, Windsor, Bellows Falls and Brattleboro. Buy tickets in advance at amtrak.com.

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