We didn’t have as much time as needed to explore Portland properly but what we saw of it, we enjoyed. After staying with a friend in Cousin’s Island, we drove on a bright sunny morning through the pretty village of Yarmouth (with lots of old clapboard houses labeled with historic plaques) to the Eastern Promenade, a park with a broad grassy lawn and walkway overlooking Casco Bay. Lovely way to start the day. We enjoyed both the harbor views and the beautiful old homes across the street, as well as a community garden in full blossom.
For lunch, we met old friends from Des Moines who now live in Brunswick in the cool Old Port area at a sandwich shop called The Works Bakery Cafe – nothing fancy or special, compared to the many other notable restaurants in town but we gathered less to eat than to catch up after not seeing each other for many years. Our friend Jon’s architecture office is around the block above the popular Bard Coffee. Dirck had to leave earlier than I did for the airport (we took different flights – long story) so I got to wander around, equipped with NYTimes travel stories on Portland. Lots of fun shops to explore including the Salt Cellar, Rough and Tumble (gorgeous leather purposes made in Maine) and restaurants/food shops including Holy Donut, which was down to one donut by the time I got there around 3 p.m.
Fortunately I decided to leave early for the airport to catch my 6 p.m. flight thru Newark. Arriving around 4 p.m. I found out that my flight was delayed 2 hours, which meant I wouldn’t make my connection. No worries. There was no line at the United counter and the young guy behind the counter seemed ready for my request (even though he was wearing a vest that suggested his regular job was steering planes on and off the tarmac). He rebooked me on a flight leaving at 4:50 p.m. to Chicago – with 2.5 hour layover. I’d get home about an hour earlier than my original 11:50 p.m. When I got to Chicago at about 6:30, I saw there was a 7:30 flight to DSM as well as the 9:35 flight I was booked on. I walked over to the 7:30 flight desk and got on that flight instead. So I actually got to DSM at about 8:45 p.m. — much earlier than expected and at about the same time that Dirck’s flight on American (via Philly, which left at 3:30 p.m. from Portland) arrived. Not sure I’ve ever had that good an experience…it helped that I didn’t have any luggage (dirck took my suitcase and checked it since I couldn’t lift it, due to my broken arm) and I was rerouted.
We had a very nautical day in Maine – on our drive back to Portland from Camden, starting with a visit to the Pemaquid Point Light House — the one that was noteworthy enough to land on Maine’s state quarter. We took the long, scenic road from Damariscotta, which went along the coast although you’d never know it. We were surrounded by trees. It was a tight squeeze climbing up the few steps inside the lighthouse with my broken arm but worth it for the view. We could see all the say to Monhegan Island, ten miles away, which we were told is unusual.
buying Treats in Wiscasset
In Wiscasset, we got some cheese and homemade bagels and pretzels at Treats, a bakery/food store in an old building on the main street (not far from where people were lined up outside Red’s) and had a picnic overlooking the water on the dock of the modest (by yacht club standards) Wiscassett Yacht Club.
We arrived in Portland in time to take the 2:45 Casco Bay Mail Ferry which goes to several islands and offers a great view back at the city of Portland. It was bit overcast and drizzled a little but a good ride, although we’re a bit spoiled after our Norway fjord ferry rides. On the way to stay with our friend Lisa from Wichita, we stopped near the ferry terminal at Standard Bakery to pick up some goodies for dinner. Lisa lives in Cousin’s Island, technically in Yarmouth, and we had a lovely reunion (after 30 plus years). She walked us over to her beach at sunset and then cooked us lobsters (plopped wriggling into hot water) with corn on the cob.
We have eaten very well in Rockland at two very different places. Last night we went to the well known farm-to-table Restaurant Primo, run by chef Melissa Kelly. Very good thing we booked ahead because every room in the old house that the restaurant is located in was full of diners.
We soon found out why. I didn’t think I liked raw oysters until we mistakenly ordered them at Primo. Three were in a light sauce made with wild blueberries. Not sweet or heavy. The second three were fried in a crunchy corn meal (I think) batter, also delicious. We also had cheese-stuffed zucchini blossoms and two very different but equally delicious entrees – Saltimbocca
(pork pounded thin, cooked and served atop mashed potatoes and cooked greens in a delicious brown sauce) and seared local tuna served with two sauces, a green pesto and red sauce. (Red pepper?) Dessert was a float with espresso poured atop vanilla and chocolate gelato served with homemade light and sugared donuts. Too delicious. Excellent service, homey ambiance and we went to say hi to the chef in the kitchen (she’s a friend of Dirck’s sister, a Boston food writer.) Next time we will book a little earlier than 8 pm so we can tour the farm and gardens behind the restaurant in the day light.
Dinner tonight was totally different, at Claws, a popular (for good reason) lobster shack where we ordered at the window and got a goofy plastic lobster with our order number on it. We ate a tray full of seafood – lobster bisque, lobster roll, drunken mussels in a garlicky broth – all excellent and fresh tasting, eaten on a deck with picnic tables and portable heaters. And a lovely view of the harbor.
This morning, we followed our Airbnb hosts recommendation and drove to Latte Beach in Camden and then walked the back way to Rockport and back. Turned out to be six miles. Lovely scenery, walking on Bay View Road past gorgeous old and new mansions set on the water, then past an old farm with white-belted cattle and then to a pretty “children’s” open air chapel.
Rockport was very quiet and pretty. After a picnic of Maine blue cheese and bread, we drove to Belfast and walked down the Main Street with old red brick buildings, popping into cute little shops. Very fun day.
I am glad it rained this morning because it led us to drive backroads through the wood about an hour west to Waterville where we thoroughly enjoyed the Colby College Art Museum, Maine’s largest art museum with a really nice collection of American art from flat folk art portraits to abstract Jackson Pollack, plus rooms full of giant portraits by Alex Katz (who lives in nearby Lincolnville, I happened to read last week in a New Yorker profile.)
It was fun to ride on narrow winding roads thru the wood past the occasional shingled farmhouse, organic farm stand, brightly painted hippie VW van, charming general store and world famous restaurant (The virtually hidden Lost Kitchen in the out-of-the-way village of Freedom, Me.)
We also made sure to stop 15 miles south in the little town of Liberty, Me. at John’s Ice cream, which was as good as we’d heard. Nearby, the fog and mist from the rain was rising above Lake George and the surrounding hills, making the place look like a Hudson River School painting or one like we saw at the Colby museum…
We ate a light lunch earlier at a tiny Lebanese place in downtown Waterville, a town with that quixotic feel of a faded factory town with a fancy private college. Back in Camden, we finally walked around the town which has lots of interesting shops and boutiques in well-tended old buildings. The harbor is full of boats, from small pleasure boats to tall schooners. We learned that our Airbnb hosts used to make their living taking tourists out into Penobscot Bay on their 50 foot sailboat (which they also sailed to the Caribbean). I am so glad we came to Camden in particular and mid coast Maine in general.
Dinner was at a superb Thai place in Camden called Long Grain. Imagine your typical Thai dishes, then think of those dishes made with the best ingredients possible – the best meat, vegetables, homemade noodles, rice: that was what this place managed to do.
Mystery solved. I think. The picturesque seaside town in Maine that was known for its photography program -that we stumbled upon some 35 years ago – appears to be Rockport. It definitely wasn’t Rockland, which is bigger. We had an easy drive up the coast from Boston. About 3.5 hours to Camden but we stopped en route, first in Freeport where we dodged the hordes of shoppers at LL Bean and a whole lot more and got a takeaway lamb deli sandwich at Bow Street Market (which our Maine transplant friend Lisa recommended) then onto Brunswick where we did a quick drive by Bowdoin College and a cool old building downtown that’s used as an arts center.
In Rockland, we parked near the harbor at a long breakwater with gorgeous views of the bay and a white sailboat out in the blue water. But it is made of slabs of granite with large deep gaps in between and after a short distance, I chickened out and we walked back. I am still a little shaky walking with my recovering broken arm and last thing I need is to fall. We took a lovely back way to Rockport where I had my ah ha! Moment and then another back road through the woods past gorgeous houses overlooking the water and fields with “white-belted” black cows (that have a white band around their middles). Downtown Camden looks charming — our Airbnb definitely is.
We found our host tending to spectacular dahlias (my favorite) in the little garden in front of our sweet one room wood cottage (the birds nest). Inside it’s decorated with nice little touches, a pretty quilt and curtains and little tasteful prints. I am sitting on a cushioned Glider on our red brick patio with table. It’s chilly but clear skies (for now) and I definitely need to get a sweater or sweatshirt. So happy to be here.
Da Lobster looks more like a lobster shack you’d find on the Maine coast than a sandwich shop on Chicago’s Gold Coast – but that’s the point. The place sells lobster rolls and New England clam shower and other slightly less Yankie versions of the lobster roll including Greek (with tzatziki and cukes), Indian (with yellow curry, mango chutney, potato-paneer salad) and Texan (grilled and cheesy) versions. I see no signs of Asian Carp roll on the menu. Da Lobster is at 12 East Cedar Street, which happens to be in my aunt’s neighborhood so I’ll take a look see when I’m there later this month.