Monday, June 14, 2010

Vox Clamantis in Deserto: Days 8 and 9

Day 8: Acadia National Park, ME
We woke to nice weather on Wednesday, and decided to finally use my hiking boots and hike up Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain in Acadia at 1,528 feet. We'd planned to go the less strenuous route up the North Ridge trail, a four-mile hike. You can also do a seven-mile loop up the South Ridge, which is meant to be a little more strenuous, but apparently has gorgeous views. Unfortunately, we didn't really look too deeply into where these trails started, and accidentally drove up to the summit instead. Yes, we actually accidentally drove up a mountain. Go us. Once we got up there, it seemed silly to drive back down just to walk up to the top again, so we walked around a bit and enjoyed the views, which are gorgeous. Cadillac Mountain is apparently the first place you can see the sunrise in the United States, and so a lot of people (including Jenna Bush, who got engaged there) hike up in the dark to see that. Even in mid-morning it was crowded, but we managed to find a quiet place to sit anyway.

Having driven up what we'd hoped would be our big hike for the week (Mt. Katahdin, which was our original big hike, ended up seeming to far-off and complicated for our trip, which ended up being shorter than we originally anticipated), we decided to take a shorter hike up Pemetic Mountain (1,248 ft), and somehow managed to climb up The Triad instead. At 646 ft, the hike was just as long, but with far less spectacular views. It was, however, a very quiet and tranquil place with stacked rocks, and that's always lovely.

We decided to reward ourselves with a nice pizza lunch at Lompoc Cafe, which, of course, doesn't serve pizza until dinner. They did, however, have amazing sandwiches (I had the most delightful sandwich of ham, greens and cherry sauce on biscuits, and Roger had a falafel burger) and deliciously fresh fries, in addition to a great atmosphere and bocci ball. Yes, bocci ball. I'd seriously recommend this place if you're in town. It's not the traditional tourist fare we kept seeing, so I doubt it's the place to go if you want a lobster roll, but the food was fresh and good, and the variety was awesome. For the record, if they'd been serving pizza, my choice would have been the caramelized onion, mushroom and arugula.

After some very last minute souvenir shopping (blueberry jam for my parents, a pair of earrings for me, saltwater taffy for Roger's dad and brother), we headed back to the campground, where we biked for a while. I am still terrible at and terrified by biking. I'm hoping it will get better, and I'm confident that I can now handle the bike path, but good gosh. You're just not supposed to move so fast without an airbag. We made a campfire, roasted some hot dogs, tried our first whoopie pie, and enjoyed our last evening in Maine.

Day 9: Rockland, ME
When we awoke on Thursday, the clouds were just starting to roll in, and we were able to pack everything up without anything getting too soaked. Given the lovely situation we'd had in Scarborough, we were grateful that the rain didn't start to fall until we were tying up the bikes, but it proved to be another day of rain, and when we heard that the rain was coming up from Rhode Island, our chosen destination for Thursday and Friday after we'd realized there would be no relaxing on the beach in Maine, we decided to cut our losses and head home without visiting the country's smallest state. It is, after all, only a two hour drive from New York, so we'll be back there later this summer when we know the sun will be out.

Since we were leaving four days earlier than originally planned, we stopped in for breakfast at Cafe This Way, which has decorated with books, an aesthetic I can totally get. I really enjoyed my eggs benedict (with tomato, spinach and artichoke hearts in place of Canadian bacon), but Roger so disliked his breakfast burrito (one of the restaurant's classic dishes, called Kit's Burrito), that he wouldn't even tell me what was wrong with it because it made him "gag to think about it."

We headed down Route 1, back to Rockland, to see the Farnsworth Art Museum, which houses a large collection of Andrew Wyeth works, all of which are incredible. The museum is small and accessible, which I love, and many of the pieces are interesting without being overwhelming. I especially liked the Farnsworth Homestead, a historic house attached to the museum, and a display on hooked rugs, in addition to the studies they had up by Wyeth. Additionally, the museum runs the Olson House, the home featured in "Christina's World," Wyeth's most famous piece. Unfortunately, we arrived just minutes after the house was closed for the day, and so while we saw the outside, we didn't have a chance to explore inside. Admission is $10, and there is certainly enough to do to make a visit worthwhile, but if you're following our Route 1-based itinerary, make sure to do this trip after Freeport and before Camden.

We continued down Route 1 to Red's Eats, which also closed minutes before we arrived, and we ended up stopping at the Maine Heritage Village. Shockingly enough, the food there was actually very good, and was certainly cheaper than any of the lobster we'd eaten previously. (One thing I will note: we never found good clam chowder in Maine. The lobster was always fresh and sweet, but the clam chowder was routinely watery, and if there's one thing clam chowder shouldn't be, it's thin.) While waiting for the food to arrive, I wandered around the shops in the little tourist trap, and sampled their jams, which were pretty good. Overall, the shop was a lot of country-store type things that I never buy, and while I normally wouldn't have stopped in to a place like that, I'm glad we did. It was really nice to have lobster for our final meal in Maine, and even nicer not to pay an enormous sum for it. Also, since we were already in Vacationland and pretending to be tourists from the 1960s, why not go to the extra mile and stop in a kitschy tourist-trap or two?

Then it was back on the road, and Roger drove us safely back to New York for three more days of work-free bliss. Overall, I'd say this was one of the better vacations I've ever taken. During the trip, I managed to do things I'd never done before, including figure out directions entirely from a map for over a week, camp outside and cook food over a fire, and eat lobster every other day. I'm not really an outdoorsy person, but I've been trying to connect in someway to something bigger than myself, and in a million little ways, I think this was the trip that really solidified my place in that way.
I don't know how much of that was Maine and how much of it was traveling in a new way, but this trip was lovely, and there wasn't a moment on it when I wasn't feeling deeply happy.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Vox Clamantis in Deserto: Day 6 and 7

Day 6: Bar Harbor, ME
After our uneventful and rainy Sunday, we woke on Monday to clear skies and the promise of better weather for the rest of the week. We left the Robbins Motel for our campsite, the Mt. Desert Campground, and set up the tent on one of the lovely platforms. A little secret about camping is that if you get a platform, even when it rains, you don't get soaked. The campground, founded in 1958, was only $1 cheaper than the Robbins Motel at $31 a night (for a platform in off-season), but it's right on the ocean and is really a lovely spot.

We had a lovely breakfast at Jeannie's Breakfast, a little spot right in the middle of Bar Harbor. I ordered the blueberry pancakes, which were crisp and sweet, and tasted wonderful with the strawberry-rhubarb jam that was already on the table. One of my favorite things about breakfast in New England is the rate at which real maple syrup appears with it. My next door neighbor, Emily, always had real maple syrup in her very old house, and so it's always reminded me of breakfast at her house and also of a bygone era. Lovely.

After breakfast, we wandered around town for a while longer. It's mostly tourist shops and adorable restaurants, but it's much more pleasant to walk around when it isn't pouring. When the tide rolled out, around noon, we took the opportunity to walk across an exposed sandbar to Bar Island, part of Acadia National Park. As someone who loves the sea, but never paid much attention to tides, I was amazed at the concept of walking to an island. We strolled along the bar and took in the view of the town from a different perspective, which was lovely. Once we made it to Bar Island, we took up a trail to the summit of the island. The trail was very short, probably less than half a mile total, and it led to a great view of Bar Harbor. The experience was a ton of fun, and something really different from anything I'd ever tried. You can check out the tide schedule in the Acadia Weekly, and I'd definitely recommend trying it if you're ever in the area.
In the afternoon, we went for ice cream at Ben & Bill's Chocolate Emporium, which is a fabulous candy store with all sorts of treats. We sampled the lobster ice cream, which was an interesting mix of salty and sweet, but settled on blueberry (Roger) and Moose Droppings (me), both of which tasted great and were served in heaping helpings. We sat on a bench in Grant Park and watched the boats for a while, and took the Shore Walk, a flat little stroll along the ocean. I guess I've been less impressed by the shore in Maine than in other places. Because the coast line is so jagged, the waves are nearly nonexistant, and while that would make for nice swimming in a warmer area, in Maine, the water is so cold that it just seemed silly.

For dinner, we went to Poor Boy's Gourmet on the recommendation of the man who booked our kayaking tour. The recommendation felt suspect, since he had a menu and coupon in the shop, but we checked out the menus at a few other places, and it seemed to be nice enough. I had the lobster "poor boy," lobster in a cream sherry sauce over pasta, which was good, if a little rich, and Roger had the stuffed haddock, which was much lighter.

Day 7: Acadia National Park, ME
On Tuesday morning, we grabbed coffee at the Opera House, an internet cafe in town. The coffee was very expensive (and so was the internet, which we didn't use), but the vibe of the place was very cool, and it seemed like a nice place to grab a maple latte and sit for an evening. If you're just looking for coffee-to-go, there are better and cheaper options (like Cafe This Way or Our New England Country Store, which also has a great selection of jams and kitchenwares).

We spent the rest of the morning hiking in Acadia, which is a gorgeous national park. I'm really into our national parks, and I've only properly been to four of them (counting Acadia), so this was a nice experience for me. We took the trail around Jordan Pond, which is mostly flat (with some semi-rugged terrain) and at only 3.2 miles, makes a nice walk with some scenic vistas. The pond serves as a watersource, so no swimming is allowed, but you can boat on it, and it's quite beautiful.

We split a hamburger at the Thirsty Whale for a light lunch. We were incredibly impressed by this, because instead of being huffy about splitting a meal, the restaurant actually served us each half a hamburger and a portion of fries on two separate plates. If their low prices and good food weren't enough, this earned them my unending appreciation instantly. Then, we headed over to National Park Sea Kayak Tours to start our kayaking adventure.

Let me preface this by saying that the only other time I've ever been in a kayak was in Hawaii when I was ten-years-old. My seven-year-old sister was also in the kayak, and while I presume they gave us some direction, essentially they threw us into the Pacific Ocean and hoped for the best. We paddled our little hearts out and, not knowing how to steer, ended up in the middle of a malia race. After multiple warnings from my mother about deadly man-of-war jellyfish, we were already paranoid, when we saw a buoy covered in seaweed, my sister started crying, and eventually my father swam all the way out into the ocean and dragged us back to the shore.

Anyway, fourteen years later, Roger and I found ourselves in matching windbreakers on the Maine coast, with directions from Brian, our tourguide, on how to kayak. I, of course, stopped listening after learning how to paddle, and couldn't figure out how to steer (foot peddles, apparently) until we were well underway. It turned out great for the most part, and we paddled around Folly Island and John Island to Dogfish Cove. Along the way, we saw a few porpoises breaching, which was fantastic. Apparently a few seals were also popping their heads up, but Roger and I didn't catch any of those. After a brief break on Dogfish Cove, Roger took over steering, and did a much better job of it than me. We paddled back to Bartlett's Cove through some very choppy water and a rainstorm (rain seems to be the thematic tie-in for this trip).

We ended with some sun and a nice drive back before heading to the campground to roast hot dogs. For a moment, the wet wood seemed to have us bested, but we prevailed, and our fire stayed strong even through yet another rainstorm. Let's recap this very active day: hiking, kayaking, roasting hot dogs over an open fire. Very wilderness aesthetic, if I do say so myself.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Vox Clamantis in Deserto: Day 4 and 5

Day 4: Freeport and Camden, ME
We awoke on Saturday morning to discover the weather had changed from drizzling to pouring. After taking the tent down in the rain, we put everything sopping into my car (also sopping), and headed to Freeport to keep dry and check out the L.L. Bean flagship store. (It was, after all, the L.L. Bean catalogue that started my wilderness aesthetic a few months ago.) Roger took over the driving, so I enjoyed the scenery a little. We both like Route 1, but can't possibly imagine standing in traffic in it, which is what we've heard happens everyday in the summer.

We strolled around the L.L. Bean "campus" for a bit. The campus is made up of the retail store, the home store, the hunting & fishing store, and the bike & boat store, along with a little park in the middle and an outlet store off to the side. Our first stop was the home store, which is what I mainly like from the Bean. Their outdoors stuff seems fine to me, but I don't know much about outdoors stuff, and their clothing is a little old-looking for me. I do love their moccasins, though. When we arrived at the flagship store, I was pretty unimpressed by the pond in the middle (for some reason I'd pictured a massive water feature in which you could test out the fishing gear), but really enjoyed the old L.L. Bean products that were featured in glass cases. Roger bought a pair of aviator sunglasses (totally hot), and I tried on, but didn't purchase, rain skimmers.

After bumping into someone from Roger's college, we went to a few other stores, and I bought a cheap sweater from Abercrombie & Fitch before we grabbed lunch at Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster Company. Roger, having already had a lobster roll, said, "it was good." I found it also to be very good. The lobster here is very sweet, and these rolls were quite good. It was very foggy (though it had stopped full on raining), but we had a lovely view of the water and some gorgeous boats. If you go, keep in mind it's BYOB, so you can bring a good beer yourself and enjoy the view.

After the morning of shopping, we headed up to Camden. We considered staying in a cheap motel, but ended up driving through the town to see if there was a closer place. We pulled in at the Whitehall Inn, which was miraculously affordable and gorgeous. The inn once hosted Edna St. Vincent Millay, whom I've recently started to love, so that was a very happy coincidence, and the lobby and rooms were lovely. There are antique telephones in all the rooms, and a very good breakfast (blueberry pancakes and a ton of other choices) was included. With the wonderful hot showers and the lush linens, we were pretty much sold on the inn and can wholeheartedly recommend it. In fact, at breakfast, we saw our friend Christie's parents at the inn, celebrating their 25th anniversary. It was a super nice place.

Camden itself was also nice, and we took a short bike ride from the inn down there. Turns out I hate bike riding, at least when going downhill or in traffic. Still, we made it down and strolled around, sitting and watching some of the boats come in. After heading back to the room and taking care of the bikes, we went to Cappy's Chowder House. We'd read good reviews, but didn't find it to be anything too special, so if I were you, I'd try something else. We grabbed some ice cream at the Camden Cone, which was very good, before heading back for some much needed sleep.

Day 5: Bar Harbor, ME
We spent most of today getting to Bar Harbor. We didn't stop in any of the myriad of antique shops along Route 1, but did stop in at a weathervane and cupola store called the Weathervane Factory, which had some amazing little decorations, including some flying pig ones that I love. We checked in at the cheapest motel we could find to avoid the rain (tomorrow, honest, we'll start camping again), and stopped in at a discount store to get some windbreakers to keep out the rain a little. I'm not sure how I feel about having matching windbreakers. I will remember my raincoat on trips from now on. On the way in to town, we stopped at Bar Harbor Cellars, a winery that, unlike any of the others I've visited, doesn't grow their own grapes. The wines we tried were all fine, and their fruit wines were particularly fruity, but nothing seemed worth buying except for these interesting goji berry & pistachio crackers they had that were hyperexpensive at $7.50 for a sleeve.

Then we headed into Bar Harbor, where we mostly hopped in and out of shops to try and keep dry. We checked out the Bar Harbor Whale Museum, which is small and probably only worth checking out if you really love whales or if it's pouring. We did another tasting at the Bar Harbor Brewing Company, which we didn't love, although their stout was drinkable for me, who hates stout. We had drinks and dinner at the Thirsty Whale, because their sign was adorable, and it turned out to be a great idea. It was very affordable, and the food was pretty good.

Tomorrow, the weather is meant to clear and we'll be able to do some more of the outdoor activities we were planning. We're also hoping to return to camping and dry out the tent a bit. Thank goodness, because Maine in the rain isn't very much fun unless you're at an adorable B&B, which right now, we definitely are not.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Vox Clamantis in Deserto: Day 3 (Portland, ME)

We spent the entirety of today enjoying more of Portland, this time in warm, sunny weather, which made it much more appealing. Though we're leaving tomorrow morning, this is definitely a city I'd like to keep exploring. It has all the appeal of a large city with small town charm, and without the overwhelming masses (though I can imagine this changes in the high tourist season). It seems to be a really young, conscious place, and I could really see myself living here one day.

We woke up fairly early, but spent some time getting the tent in order before heading out around 9:45am. Our first stop was the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow childhood home, an amazing 18th century brick house on Congress Street. Our docent was Darlene, and since it was just the two of us with her, we were able to ask a lot of questions and have a really detailed tour. The house is fantastic, and if you're at all interested in historic homes, you should definitely check it out. I'm used to seeing Victorian-era homes, but this one, decorated as it would have been in the early 19th century, was really startling in its use of pattern and texture. The wallpaper, carpeting (and floor-cloth, a painted canvas floor covering I'd never seen before today) and trimming all clash in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible. Tickets are $8 for adults, and you can get 2-for-1 admission using the coupon here.

After the tour, we headed down to the Eastern Promenade. We strolled along a tiny bit of the two-mile path, and then settled down on the harbor to watch the water, which was surprisingly blue for being on the New England coast. We headed over to Shipyard Brewery for a tasting and tour of the brewery. On Tuesday nights, they run a full brewery tour, but during the week, you can stop in for a quick look at the bottling process before tasting all of their current beers. I think if you're interested in beer, the full tour would probably be really great, but the short one was a nice enough way to spend a half-hour, and the tasting was a lot of fun.

We enjoyed a late lunch at Gilbert's Chowder House. Their chowder (I had the clam and Roger had the seafood) was pretty good and came in enormous portions. My only real complaint is that the bread-bowls were made of pretty low-quality bread. They stayed together fine, but I like a really sturdy sourdough, and this wasn't it. I should note, though, that their lobster rolls looked incredibly good, and much better than Portland Lobster Company's. They were a little cheaper, too.

After lunch and some souvenir shopping (Christmas ornament of this trip: Santa Claus and a puffin riding on a humpback whale. Roger picked it.), we walked around town enjoying the Portland Art Walk. The first Friday of every month, galleries and studios host open houses, and this one drew a really big crowd, which was fantastic to see and experience. We stopped in at a ton of little galleries, but some of the highlights were the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies (an interesting photography show on average people), the Maine Historical Society (another interesting photography show on average people, this time mostly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with a great opening that included hipster mustaches), and the Maine College of Art (the MFA thesis show).

We also stopped in at the Green Hand Bookshop, which was amazing and completely revitalized my belief in not only independent bookstores but also in literary community, and the Portland Museum of Art, which has an interesting and interdisciplinary show on Objects of Wonder and also the McLellen House, which is from around the same time as the Longfellow House, but isn't furnished. On our way back to the campsite (the Wild Duck Adult Campground, if you're interested), we stopped at Happy Garden, a Chinese take-out place in Scarborough. We ordered just fried rice and egg rolls, and we were absolutely surprised by the amazing quality of the egg rolls. With fresh vegetables and homemade duck sauce, the egg rolls were perfectly crisp and a joy to eat. Not the most traditional of Maine foods, I suspect, but if you're in the mood for a really good egg roll, definitely stop by this little gem on Route 1.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Vox Clamantis in Deserto: Days 1 & 2

After deciding not to go to Peru, Alaska, the Caribbean, the Pacific Northwest or Scandinavia, Roger and I decided to try our hand at living out the wilderness aesthetic I've cultivated since January with a camping trip around New England. I really don't know how long we'll last in the great outdoors, but I'll try to avoid comparisons to Robert Falcon Scott and write mainly on the things we've enjoyed, leaving out details of our sopping tent and mosquito bites.

Day 1: Hanover, NH
After agonizing over overpacking, we left New York around eight in the morning and made the four-hour journey to Hanover, NH, home of Dartmouth College and the Hood Museum of Art. Opened in 1985, the museum has a large collection of African Art, and focuses heavily on education. I enjoyed our visit a lot, though Roger says he was so focused on the presentation of the objects that he couldn't focus on the art itself. Their temporary exhibit, Susan Meiselas: In History, focuses on the photo-journalism of a Sarah Lawrence grad, and is up until June 20th. If you find yourself in the New Hampshire area, I would definitely recommend checking it out, as the museum is free, and the show is very interesting. Roger was concerned about the ethics not only of taking the pictures, but also of the way they were displayed, and I'd love to hear other thoughts. I personally rarely have qualms about the ethics of photo-journalism, but I can certainly see that perspective, and the exhibit treats the pictures very much as journalism and art, with both repetition and framing. Overall, the set up of the museum is great, and some of the art is compelling.

After, we walked around Dartmouth's campus, searching for a home. I've heard wonderful things about the Hanover Inn, and if the point of the trip wasn't to save some money, we would probably have stayed there. It looked gorgeous and it's absolutely in the center of town. Still, we had planned on camping (until we got lazy and didn't want to set up the tent for just one night), and so decided to stay at the more affordable Chieftain Inn. The fact that it shares a name with our high school's newspaper and that the motel was decorated in the school's colors had nothing to do with our choice, but it was a nice coincidence anyway. The motel price ($99, save a 10% AAA discount) included breakfast, cable, canoe rental and some remarkably nice bath products. Also, we didn't have to sleep in the rain. After a leisurely canoe ride on the Connecticut River, we headed back into town to wander and get dinner.

We were lucky enough to have arrived on a Wednesday, when Hanover has their weekly farmer's market (if you're a regular reader, you may or may not have noticed that, like historic homes, markets are one of my favorite places to visit). We picked up some strawberries from Four Corner's Farm to nibble on as we wandered around town. Perfectly ripe and incredibly sweet, I can easily say that these are the best strawberries I have ever tasted. I usually don't like strawberries very much, and I now know that's because I've never had good strawberries before. Also, I sort of love the wooden quart baskets they came in. Also had some nice lemonade from McGurran Bee Farm, and I wish I'd tried some of their creme honey.

After, we wandered around the campus, which is gorgeous and made us wish we'd gone to Dartmouth (not really; you don't see Sarah Lawrence putting up any shows by Dartmouth alums!), and also strangely filled with students even in June. The town of Hanover was also lovely, with some very cute shops, a variety of restaurants, and a surprising amount of spots to sit and people-watch. At the twitter-suggestion of the Dartmouth News (and J.J., who I'm pretty sure hasn't been to Hanover, but who is always willing to lend a hand), we ate at Molly's, which was great. The menu is pretty similar to most chain-restaurants, but the food is much better. I really enjoyed my macaroni and cheese, and Roger liked his turkey burger. Their bread and butter was fantastic, and the waitress was really great. Also, their to-go box was compostable, so they win major points in my book.

Overall, I'm not sure if you could spend more than a weekend in Hanover unless you were also planning a few day trips or going to college there, but the town is gorgeous in the same way that Philadelphia is, and there's definitely enough to enjoy for a relaxing weekend.

Day 2: Portland, M
We made the three-hour trip to Portland this morning. It was raining and much colder than yesterday, which made us want to stop in at one of the million or so motels on Route 1, but since we already had reservations at a campground and since we're trying to save money and since maybe this means we can stay at a fancy B&B on our last night, we pitched our tent in the rain and blew up some air mattresses to keep our sleeping bags dry and drove into the city to explore. A note: we'd planned to stop at Kennebunkport, but given that it was raining and I didn't really know where I was going and Roger doesn't love rich people, we decided to skip. Another time, when we have a yacht, maybe.

I really enjoy Portland, and could actually see myself living here one day. Maybe. It's a small city, which actually has the same vibe as Reykjavik: sort of rugged-trendy with a foggy breeze and some hip restaurants and galleries. After driving around fairly lost, we found the visitor's center, where a really nice woman who is also a docent gave us a map and directions to the Portland Museum of Art, which we didn't actually explore, since it was closing in an hour. Instead, we wandered and got our bearings, stopping in at Yes Books, which has some fantastic Saturday Evening Post covers and a wide collection of books. Roger picked up some art books, and we stopped by the Henry Longfellow House, which was also closing.

We passed through some shops and galleries and made a plan for tomorrow before stopping in at the Portland Lobster Company for dinner. Strangely enough, I didn't really look up where to eat in Portland, so it was more or less a crapshoot, but it turned out to be pretty good. The clam chowder was much, much too thin, but the clam cakes were tasty, and the whole lobster I ordered was very fresh and sweet. Of the lobster roll, Roger says, "it was good." We ate on the pier under a heated tent, which was quite nice, and at the picnic table, I wasn't too conscious about tearing apart the crustacean. Magically, reading the "how to eat a lobster" directions printed on my platter actually helped. The restaurant also had some nice local beers, and we saw some locals (one family with their college-age daughter and one possibly homeless woman) eating there, so that's always good.

After a brief and fruitless search for ice cream, we headed back to the tent, where we have wifi and from where I am updating. In the hopes of keeping this post upbeat, I won't discuss camping and there will be no further posts until tomorrow morning.