This is going to be a completely impossible job. How hard is it to set down in words every moment, every nuance, every memory of ten full days of life? Have you ever tried it? It’s tough. But I feel like I need to make an attempt. Because this was possibly the best visit home I’ve ever had.
So, there’s not much to say about Thursday the 15th. We got up at an inhuman hour (3:30), the shuttle picked us up right on time, the flight left on time, the layover in Ohio was tolerable (as was the beer cheese soup I had at one of the restaurants in the terminal). The flight arrived in Boston on-time (5:15 pm), and we acquired the Enterprise shuttle to the rental lot with relative ease. We scored a Camaro, which at first blush seemed wicked cool, then proved to be annoying and uncomfortable throughout the trip. So! Bill won’t be begging for one of those any time soon.
We took a slightly wrong turn getting out of Boston Logan, but got straightened around easily enough. Not that it mattered much, time-wise, because we were stuck square in the middle of rush hour traffic. Bad timing. All the friggin’ TOLLS we had to pay didn’t improve things, either. The roads finally cleared when we were nearly to New Hampshire. We pulled off briefly for the required stop at the State Line Liquor Store (no sales tax!) and grabbed a bottle of Gentleman Jack (for my uncle). The place is altogether too convenient to the highway.
The bridge over the Piscataqua river crossing from Portsmouth NH over into Maine is always a moment I treasure. One of these days I’m going to take a picture of that bridge, and that “Welcome to Maine” sign. In the meantime, enjoy this one by James Lee on Flickr Creative Commons:
We found the Eastland Park Hotel quite easily, since it’s one of the tallest buildings in the Portland skyline, adorned with a big, bright red neon sign proclaiming the name of the hotel. It’s in the uptown Arts District area of the city, away from the Old Port and the waterfront where we stayed the last time we were in town. Only a fifteen minute walk from the Old Port, but through a rough-ish (by Maine standards) area of town that we didn’t want to traverse at night.
Anyway. The hotel was quite nice, and we were situated on the thirteenth floor, with only the roof-top bar, the “Top of the East”, above us.
We off-loaded our luggage and parked the car in the adjacent parking garage (at a “discounted” rate of $17.10 per day), then sat in the lounge in the hotel lobby. We had dinner (a great salad with steak and FANTASTIC fresh cukes for me, ribeye for Bill) and sipped on beers while I acquired and perused a city map. Then we decided to check out the Top of the East bar, as we’d been given coupons for free drinks for each night of our stay.
The bar offeres a nearly 360 degree view of the entire city – Back Cove to the west, Portland Harbor to the southeast, and Casco Bay to the northeast, plus the entirety of the Commercial District, Arts District, and Old Port. The West End historic residences were immediately to (wait for it) the west, and the hospital I was born in dominates a nearby street. As we sat and looked across Portland Harbor, we could see the Portland Head Light, across the harbor in Cape Elizabeth, winking away every four seconds. Yes, we counted. We watched the Casco Bay Bridge raise and lower a few times as it let marine traffic through.
We could have (and did, on a couple of occasions) sat there for hours, watching the city bustle away.
The bed in our room was hard as bricks, and the pillows even harder, if that’s possible. That’s pretty much the only complaint we had about the place, though.
Friday the 16th we got up at a decent hour and had breakfast in the hotel lounge (free coupons!). We took a stroll down to the Old Port, just to see how long it would take us to “get there from here”. Fifteen minutes and we were standing in front of J’s Oyster.
We hiked it back up to our hotel, and got the car out of the garage. Armed with the Maine Atlas & Gazetteer, we took my old commute down Washington Street where it turns into Route 100, into Gray and Route 115, which lead us to Yarmouth. Which is when we decided that we would NOT be attending the Yarmouth Clam Festival after all. The town was a zoo, the weather was close to ninety, and both parking AND shade would be a nightmare to find. That decision made, with little disappointment I might add, we eventually made it to the ever-popular Route 1, and headed north up the coast.
We turned down the finger leading to Harpswell, making our leisurely way down to the point. The road was crowded in with trees, trees, and more trees. I just soaked up all the green. Every now and then the trees would thin a little, and we could see glimpses of water on either side of us. Presently the trees cleared out, and we were in the midst of tiny little fishing villages straight out of “Message in a Bottle”, or really any other movie that takes place in coastal Maine. The houses either crowded up right next to the road, or sat far back away, in the middle of a field or right on the water. It was a steely gray day, with the sky just about matching the color of the ocean. As we cruised slowly through the little villages, folks working in their yards would turn to watch us pass – some waved, some of them clearly wondered what a couple of flatlanders (with “Mass-hole” license plates to boot) were doing in their neck of the woods. There was deep pride of ownership demonstrated everywhere – flower beds, freshly painted fences, carefully tended lawns. American flags and those colonial looking windowsill draperies adorned nearly every home. Every little town sported a grange, town hall, Methodist or Episcopalian or Baptist church advertising a chowder or baked bean supper.
We got to the end of the road – literally, for the ocean was right in front of us – and turned around. On the way back Bill stopped the car at the side of the road so I could get the shot you see above. It was a very tiny road, with absolutely no traffic at all. A single car came along as I got out of the car, and I paused to let them pass before I realized they were pausing to let me cross. I grinned at them and waved, and the driver waved back before going on his way.
Small town manners. I miss ’em.
We headed back up the finger, through Cooks Corner, then down again toward Bailey Island. It could have been the exact same road as the one we traversed down Harpswell way, so ubiquitous are those little coastal villages. We crossed over onto Bailey Island (it’s accessed by a very short, rickety bridge – they’re rebuilding the more modern one), headed down to the point to see what we could see, then turned and made a beeline to Cooks Lobster House.
Glory glory glory.
Our visit coincided with a lull in the usual bustling activity of the place, and we got a great booth right up against the windows. I got my first lobster roll of the trip, Bill ordered the baked haddock. And we therein began a tradition – we WILL be going back there every time we visit from now on. I can’t believe I never took Bill down there before. Won’t be making that mistake again!
Up the finger again, and down the next one towards Phippsburg, and Popham Beach. We arrived just before high tide really hit. The beach was rapidly shrinking and patrons were scrambling to move their belongings away from the encroaching water.
At low tide a person can walk all the way out to the island you see in this picture, and collect sand dollars and sea glass. Bill and I took the kids out there back in ’99 when we all stayed with Grandma. Anyway, we spent an amused hour watching their frantic activities, then grabbed the 495 in Brunswick to make a quick trip back to Portland. We crashed for about an hour, then got ourselves together for an evening in the Old Port. We hailed a cab from the hotel for the short ride down to the waterfront, and got dropped off on Commercial Street. We strolled up to Wharf Street and checked out a handful of establishments before settling on dinner at Havana South.
We were seated at a great table on the patio, though we had to endure the hooting and hollering coming from a private party across the way at 51 Wharf. Bill ordered the ribeye, I ordered the scallops, and we amused ourselves snapping photos as we waited.
Bill, I’m sorry to say, did not enjoy his steak. The chef paired it with some strange sort of chocolate sauce, of all things, and rather unappetizing greens. I felt bad, since my scallops were excellent. Still, we had a great time people watching and enjoying the fresh night air. After finishing dinner, we headed up to Fore Street and grabbed a couple of seats at the bar at Gritty’s. I stepped outside for a few minutes to call my cousin Laurel and make plans for Sunday. Then I made myself comfortable at the bar, where Bill and I had a couple of beers, a ton of laughs, and departed at around midnight in an excellent frame of mind. We grabbed a cab back to the hotel, went up to the Top for a final cocktail, and went back to our room to crash… and whatnot.
Oof. I’ve spent hours on this entry. Clearly, this recapping business is going to take some time.