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Variety in Vermont

We draw closer to Lone Rock Point, the ultimate destination of our two-mile journey, as the sun drops precipitously in the sky. We pass two beavers slapping their tails madly on the water. J. howls with laughter, saying he's never seen beavers on the lake before, which means that either they're very lost or very industrious. "Usually they stick to places they can dam up," he says.

Grandiose urban planning aside, you can't blame the beavers for being here, since the real show is about to begin. J. rests his paddle across the kayak, leans back, and suggests we do the same. And that's it. We sit for a good 20 minutes and just watch. The clouds shift, the heavenly light bounces off the water, my mind empties. No burgers are grilling now—it's only us and the sunset.

We don't wait for the sun to drop completely behind the Adirondacks, because we still have some distance to cover before dark. Once we reach the shore, Joanna and I head off to dinner, now famished, reflecting on our experience. To say that it was a "religious" one would be an exaggeration, Jesus rays or no, but it's about as close as I've ever gotten. Consider me converted.
BACK OF BEYOND EXPEDITION, 802/860-9500; sunset paddle $25 per person.

Church Street Marketplace
At the heart of Burlington's downtown, the Church Street Marketplace—a four-block-long brick-paved pedestrian mall—has a forget-your-troubles vibe. It's not without chain stores, but you somehow don't mind trying on Banana Republic chinos in the shadow of the Unitarian Church, a relic of 1816 New England that sits at the promenade's north end.

Let's say you got to the country store near your B&B just after it closed. Apple Mountain (30 Church St.; 802/658-6452) is a fine stand-in, then, with its spread of souvenirs, gifts, and specialty foods. The store also has a section dedicated to Vermont artist Woody Jackson, and even if you haven't heard of him, you've seen his work: the cows on the Ben & Jerry's cartons are his. In these parts, he's done for Holsteins what William Wegman did for weimaraners.

Local crafts are sold in numerous locations around town, but two of the best shops are right here. At Frog Hollow (85 Church St.; 802/863-6458), every item was either painted, sculpted, carved, or stitched by a Vermont artisan. Two doors down is Symmetree (89 Church St.; 802/658-1441), a good source for couches, tables, lamps, and clocks of any ilk.

The independent Crow Bookshop (14 Church St.; 802/862-0848) gets it right with creaky wooden floors and a wide selection of used books; nature lovers flock to the wall full of Peterson's Field Guides. Another good spot is North Country Books (2 Church St.; 802/862-6413)—it may look like an elementary school library, but its impressive collection of early-20th-century editions includes the complete works of Twain and Dickens.

To refuel, stop for a drink at the Liquid Energy Café (57 Church St.; 802/860-7666), a high-tech juice bar with lots of chrome, industrial metal floors, and free Internet connections. It offers more than 60 soups on a rotating basis (from chilled melon to Senegalese chicken-peanut).

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