What! No lobster?
Lobster didn’t dominate my dinner tables in Portland, Maine, three nights in June. Certainly is a famous local food, and plentiful, but chefs and cooks and eating-out neighborhood people were serving up all sorts of other specialties too and that’s what I wanted to try.
Chunky chowder with seafood from Casco Bay at Eve’s Garden in the Harbor Hotel. Asparagus bisque there too. Wild Maine mussels in star anise cream.
Baked beans and brown bread topped with a basted egg at the locals-gather-here Front Room on Congress Street. Ginger mint tea at the foot sanctuary.
Maine blueberries in muffins and pancakes and handfuls. So many chefs and food artisans, brewers and spirit makers that Portland devotes an October festival to Maine food and wine.
For a culinary holiday, consider “Harvest on the Harbor” Oct. 21 – 23.
Small markets downtown with breads and bakery goodies, fresh fruit, cheeses and wines nestled in among the houses, shops, museums, and gardens along easy-to-walk streets.
Easy city I think Portland is to plan a picnic, especially if you like to relax in beautiful gardens.
Summer flowers are everywhere, gigantic lush peonies and pansies in every hue. These folks rejoice in the light and warmth of their short warm-weather season.
Practical, right-to-the-point pleasant people: that’s who I found in Portland plus two small Maine towns.
A windjammer sailing adventure triggered the trip north so discovering Rockland, Camden and the Maine gateway city Portland became a bonus.
Portland propelled me to Europe on an easy afternoon walk with architecture reminiscent of a British countryside city center.
Modern buildings too and volunteer Bob King in the Observatory Museum urged me to visit the just-renovated public library, including the Maine sculptors exhibit.
Can’t say that’s advice I hear often but his info about the last maritime signal tower in America was so interesting I trusted him.
Makes sense that cities with deep ports but no view of the open ocean needed a way to signal the ships and Portland’s 1807 tower survived.
Privately owned until given to the city in 1937 and renovated in 1939 as a WPA project, the Observatory Museum it is today gives visitors with good stair-climbing legs a view all the way to the White Mountains of Vermont.
Water matters in Portland with Casco Bay to the east, the deep-water estuary to the Fore River on the west and the bustling Portland Harbor anchoring the south.
This is the real deal, a working harbor. Sure, shops and eating places too, but the mood is productive and that can mean hearty coffee and fresh seafood.
I stayed in the handsome Harbor Hotel with easy waterfront access and launching points for a variety of walking tours—my own or the guided kind.
My travel buddy Syd Blackmarr and I strolled a lot, starting with breakfast at the Casco Bay end of Congress Street, wanting to poke our noses in every interesting spot.
Second day we discovered Norm Forgey with Maine Day Trip and hopped in his comfy car to learn more about what we had seen and what we missed and absorb some of his abundant “Maine is so interesting” knowledge.
That works in Portland and all around the state because Forgey likes day trips and likes personalizing them to particular interests.
A favorite day journey of his connects the Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper paintings in the Portland Museum of Art with houses on the rocky Maine coast where the artists actually lived and painted.
Maine artists are abundant in this museum, famous as Hopper, Homer, the Wyeth family, Robert Indiana, Mary Cassatt and Louise Nevelson plus some not-known-to-me Mainers with interesting works.
The Portland Museum of Art recently acquired Winslow Homer’s studio at Prouts Neck, 12 miles south of the city, and they’re restoring it as it was during his life, 1836 – 1910.
What a pleasure to actually see those crashing waves on the rocky Maine coast and see his paintings of them. Homer is credited with transforming American coastal painting.
I travel to transform myself.
Ulysses S. Grant is in this museum too, a taller-than-life sculpture intended for the U. S. Capitol but rejected saying he looked too battle weary.
How could he not?
Lots of people were in the Museum of Art, just like in the library. Local people I think, appreciating community. For me, that makes travel better, being in the places that reflect and intrigue the ones who live there.
Right next door is the Children’s Museum, bursting with energy and happy families. Syd and I hightailed it to the top floor for the Camera Obscura, a popular 15th century device that actually dates back to 500 BC.
Louisa Donelson, Children’s Museum visitor guide, says it’s one of only a handful in the U.S. and certainly my first.
I’d read about Camera Obscura in “Girl with the Pearl Earring,” a tale about artist Jan Vermeer but never thought I’d use one. Portland’s distinctive that way.
Here’s the deal: best panorama view of the city in a room without windows. A real image appears through a small hole or lens into a darkened chamber.
Vermeer used one to paint his portraits. Portland Children’s Museum uses it to show the city scenes outside and teach all kinds of architecture, photography, optics, city planning and other lessons.
I simply liked it.
Wish I’d gotten in the Museum of African Culture on Brown Street, but showed up too late—intriguing art in the windows indicating feminine spirit traditions: mothers and grandmothers, queens and queen mothers, princesses, the feminine ocean.
Much of what I found and admired is on Congress and Free streets, basically parallel, and only two blocks north of my Harbor Hotel. Portland is a sensible walking city.
Soakology, however, my wonderful walking-by-it discovery, isn’t on any street. Number 30 City Center is the address and it’s a pedestrian walkway, no cars on this short stretch.
Who doesn’t need a foot sanctuary, even without knowing such a place exists? Hope I stumble across another one in my journeys.
Teahouse on the first floor, familiar and exotic brews, chilled, steamed and steeped. Soups and cheeses too, plus chocolates and cookies so stay awhile upstairs.
Downstairs, the lights dim, and in front of every overstuffed chair and sofa are enormous ceramic pots, generous for my size tens. Some comfy chairs are tucked away in curtained corners for those shy about their feet. Men and women.
Healing massage at Soakology, not nail polish. Omega 3 and flax seed. Seaweed and spirulina mud. Neem and date seed. Deep lavender. Maine woods remedy.
Ayurvedic assessment and massage too, the ancient healing art of India.
Longfellow Book Store is next door, one of many bookstores in this lively city with its popular library.
Longfellow himself is in evidence too with tours of his childhood home on, you guessed, it Congress Street. Fantastic gardens out back, another good Portland picnic spot with comfortable benches. Even if history tours aren’t your cup of tea, I’d recommend a Portland visit for the gardens adjoining so many historic churches, museums and homes.
Might take a book of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poems to read in the garden. “Evangeline” I remembered and tour guide James Horrigan taught me something new.
“Nathaniel Hawthorne had the idea for the epic poem about the Acadian people in Nova Scotia moving to New France, now Louisiana, and he told his friend Longfellow.
“Longfellow wrote it himself and gained almost-instant fame,” Horrigan said.
Some friend, I grumbled to myself.
The Wadsworth-Longfellow House is decorated with original furnishings and family memorabilia, not always the norm on historic home tours.
Victoria Mansion, also walkable in the opposite direction from Harbor Hotel, is filled with 90 percent of its original contents.
That means 1860 in an Italian villa style for multi-millionaires Ruggles Sylvester and Olive Morse. Lavish just begins to describe this place.
Follow Portland’s curves and angles, wide streets, promenades and water overlooks and stop often to taste the local cuisine.
Talk to people too. Mainers respond happily, sharing information and acting interested in their visitors.
Don’t really know what I expected on my first visit to Maine but it felt just right, like Maine should.
What! No lobster?
Embrace glorious stories with a visit to LaGrange, Ga.
Guess who cooked my lunch on a jaunt to LaGrange, Georgia? The great-great grandson of the legendary town philanthropist, that’s who.
Explore the edges Mississippi Gulf Coast
Stick to the edges if you need a way to narrow your vacation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Biloxi’s in the middle, and plenty of fun, but consider Bay Saint Louis for science, the scenic byway to space and a dynamic, resilient little town.
St. Augustine: Abounding with excellence suiting every taste
Full moon is the time I’m going back to St. Augustine, even though any time seems the right choice for this romantic Florida city of many moods.
Mississippi Gulf Coast
First in a series.
Second in a series about Wichita, Kansas
Wichita is welcoming: Discover art and history surrounding fine flavors
Opinionated but harboring no agenda. Honest, not jaded. If that’s a community of people in America today, sounds like a place I want to visit.
Deven’s day at Disney...and Sea World too
My buddy, Deven Davis, had never been to Orlando, and had always wanted to go. As all of you know I love Orlando and the theme parks.
So with that in mind, I began planning for a trip to Orlando back in May and June with Deven’s mom, Melissa. We timed it so we could go on Deven’s fall break from school.
Bethlehem, Pa. — Dynamic music and history in the Lehigh Valley
Talk about time travel. Just the word – Bethlehem – conjures up images of a baby in a manger and modern-day Israel.
Forrest Hills: A mountain resort devoted to relaxing
Hot morning tea on the covered porch of a cottage in the forest, watching deer and birds, sensing the changing seasons. Each season. Four of ‘em up here.
Sound good as an antidote to forever busy days?
Maine: Lobster any way you want it
My wife, Kris, and I caught a Kelly Tours motor coach from Savannah recently for a week-long visit to Maine. Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College has a variety of trips available this fall including excursions to New York City, Branson and the California coast. See all your ABAC travel opportunities at www.abac.edu/travel.
Here is a day-by-day account of our journey to Maine. Meanwhile, pass me another lobster.
- More Explore Headlines
- Embrace glorious stories with a visit to LaGrange, Ga.