Lately Life’s Been the Same, I Found this Comfortable Place

I’ve let quite a thick layer of dust accumulate on this blog, I’m afraid. To start with, I’m writing primarily to myself and my three faithful readers, so there’s a slight supply and demand issue. Secondly, the last time I blogged, it was a four-part series through Europe, and it’s hard to top that. But, in the advent of #WayBackWednesday, #ThrowbackThursday, #FlashbackFriday, and Facebook’s “On this Day” reminders, I became keenly aware that last year at this time, I was vacationing in Maine (with a small taste of New Hampshire for good measure).

I loved my time in Maine. ADORED my time in Maine. I’ve thought back on that trip wistfully a number of times in the last year, somewhat surprised at how much it’s stuck with me. Since I have no immediate plans to return, I thought it would be a good time to relive it by trying to write a recap a year after the fact.

You know how all my trips begin – with a sleepless night of anxious anticipation. This one was no different, as I had an early flight from Richmond to Boston, where I picked up a rental car and drove hard for the coast. I had booked my first two nights in Rockland, so I made my first stop in Sohier Park (Nubble Lighthouse) to make sure my route wasn’t overly ambitious.

By this time, I was starving, so I proceeded nearby to the Cape Neddick Lobster Pound for lunch.

The restaurant wasn’t inside the building above, but in a somewhat classier (but less photogenic) space across the gravel lot. I couldn’t bring myself to try lobster again just yet (I’d disliked it on the first attempt years earlier), especially when one of the house specialties was an Indian dish. I was too hungry to take chances! I did encounter a new food, though – something so unfamiliar to me that I actually flagged my waitress down to ask her what they were. These are fiddleheads:

Lunch was delicious and fueled me for more driving and sight-seeing. The route to the next lighthouse on my list took me through the cute town of Kennebunkport, where I did some quick drive-by touristing.

Another hour took me to the Cape Elizabeth Light.

I’ve never been particularly fascinated by lighthouses, but the “when in Rome” mindset applies greatly to lighthouses in Maine, so they were my natural markers for tourist attractions. My first “wow” moment came when I reached the Portland Head Light. The sky had gotten bluer and the clouds were fluffy white, and the Portland Head Light was everything that I wanted a lighthouse in Maine to be. Namely, picture perfect!

Portland Head Light is situated in a massive park, so there is plenty to see if you want to spend half the day or more walking around there.

When you’re driving up the coast of Maine, it becomes quite clear why there are so many lighthouses, because the jagged coastline calls for them. I spent a lot of time weaving back and forth along the coast, trying to stick to the most scenic route possible.

My last beacon of the day was Permaquid Point, which also featured a nice park (albeit a much smaller one than in Portland).

By the time I got back on the road, I was an hour away from Rockland and the sleepless night was catching up with me. I was also getting hungry again. I’d been told to stop for ice cream at Dorman’s Dairy Dream, but I realized I wouldn’t be able to eat ice cream and then eat dinner, so I made an executive decision to eat ice cream FOR dinner instead.

GREAT decision!

The room I booked was then only a few miles away, and though it was still very much light outside, I knew once I got there, I wouldn’t be going back out again that day.

When I started planning my trip, I knew I was going to spend 3 nights in Bar Harbor, but I couldn’t decide where to spend my first two. Rockland, Rockport, and Camden were the most popular options along the coast, and my research indicated that Camden was the hot spot for tourists and Rockport was the less-touristy-but-close-to-Camden option for something more low-key. I kept being drawn back to Rockland by the Berry Manor Inn. It looked amazing online and had great reviews, including having been chosen as the best B&B in America. It was pricy, especially on my own, but I desperately wanted to stay there so I rationalized my choice since it was a good halfway point between the sights I wanted to see in St. George to the South and Camden to the North, as well as places in between.

I’m so glad I let my inner cheapskate lose the fight, because the Berry Manor Inn is my favorite place I’ve stayed EVER. I loved it and I still daydream about going back there.

My room was massive and lavish – the shower had TWO showerheads coming at you from opposite directions, for goodness’ sake. I could’ve held a dance party in all the extra floor space, and there was even a fireplace. Heaven on earth.

And, for the pièce de résistance, there were fresh-baked homemade pies in the kitchen ALL THE TIME for you to eat at your leisure, and ice cream in the freezer to go with it.

I literally checked in, unpacked, took a shower, and went in my pajamas and slippers down to the kitchen and helped myself to a slice each of blueberry and raspberry pie. (I don’t like cherries, so I left that one behind.) Then, I went back up to my room with my plate of pie and sat in my newly-turned-down bed and ate it.

Having enjoyed such a lovely, early evening in, I had no excuse for not waking up to drive over to the Rockland Breakwater Light for the 4:51am sunrise. Actually, it’s not possible to drive to the lighthouse, since it’s 1 mile out into the ocean at the end of a breakwater made of granite rocks. At high tide, this path is underwater, but at sunrise that day, the tide was on its way down. After parking and walking out to the water, I sat on the breakwater and waited for the sun.

The sun didn’t disappoint.

Even though it was early June, I had dressed in layers fearing the cold ocean air that I’d read about in discussions of this very lighthouse trek. I was grateful for the fleece leggings under my corduroy pants when I was sitting on granite rocks that had recently been underwater, but once I started my journey toward the lighthouse, I got hot in a hurry!

A mile walk is not at all daunting, especially at the ocean as the sun rises, but I underestimated the extra energy and concentration required to walk a mile over uneven granite rocks, being careful to step over large cracks in the rock and dodge still-wet-and-slippery rocks. It’s probably the slowest mile I’ve ever walked. About halfway out, I looked around and contemplated the fact that I hadn’t seen another human all morning, and wondered if anyone would really see me if I stopped and took my pants off. I decided that it would’ve been a bigger pain to carry them than to wear them and be hot, so I took off the extra shirt and jacket and tied those around my waist for the rest of the walk.

Distance perception was tricky, too, since I mostly had to look down to watch my step, and when I’d look ahead, I was always sure I was almost there, but the path kept stretching out ahead.

Once I finally reached the lighthouse, I turned around to look back down the path to the shoreline.

I climbed up onto the lighthouse and perched on a bench to rest and take in the spoils of victory – the scenery, the breeze, and the bliss of having the world to myself.

By the time I decided to walk back to shore, the early morning dog-walkers were making their way out to the lighthouse. I bet if you walked the path every day, you’d get a rhythm and eventually learn where to step without even having to look down. This little excursion will be at the top of my list of things to do again whenever I make it back.

It was nearly breakfast time at the B&B by the time I got back, so I had time to make myself look presentable and “start” my day, a mere 4 hours after waking up. I had a big to-do list for the day!

I decided to drive to the southern-most point on my list and work my way up, so my first order of business was driving through St. George to Port Clyde to see the Marshall Point Lighthouse, a favorite of my friends Colin and Lana, who have made it an annual trip. You’ll also recognize this from Forrest Gump.

My next stop was Owl’s Head, where I had plans to see the lighthouse and check out the Transportation Museum. I don’t like museums in general, but I read rave reviews on this one and thought I should at least check it out. They knew how to lure me in with this beauty in the entryway!

A true aficionado could’ve spent all day wandering this massive museum, I’m sure, but I covered it all in a little over an hour, including a stop in the mechanics shop to talk about some of the favorites I’d seen and inquire as to what became of those old brands. It’s definitely worth a visit!

From there, I popped over to the Owl’s Head Lighthouse, which is also the only lighthouse I went inside during my trip.

I was ravenous by this time, and it was finally time for me to try lobster. I’d been recommended Waterman’s Beach Lobster, but it hadn’t opened for the season yet. I’d written down McLoon’s Lobster Shack as a backup, and then had it heartily recommended to me by the folks running my B&B. To get there, I had to drive out along the causeway onto Sprucehead Island. I think there were more people at McLoon’s than were on the whole rest of the island, but that’s a good sign when it comes to dining. I waited in line and ordered up a lobster roll, chips, and a drink.

I sat down to share a picnic table by the water with some strangers and took a bite of my roll. Guess what? It wasn’t just a fluke. I hate lobster. Whether it comes from Red Lobster in Virginia or I watch them pull it out of the water and cook it in a renowned Maine lobster shack, I hate, hate, HATE lobster.

So, I gave it away to the strangers who’d already finished their lunch but still looked at me like I was Oprah handing out new cars when I gave them my unwanted lobster. Then I promptly hit the road with my potato chips and drink because I had to pee (and they only had porta potties) and I was nearing the point of hunger where I start to feel sick.

Luckily, I already had a backup plan for lunch, albeit half an hour away in Rockport. I made it and ordered up some trademark fried fish from the Graffam Bros Seafood Shack and parked myself back at a picnic table for lunch, except this time I ate most of it.

Proceeding north, I waded into the heavy traffic of tourist-laden Camden and found one of the few free parking lots that I’d looked up online, but it was full, so I did some circling until I found a street space where I could parallel park at a meter. I was already thanking heaven and earth that I’d ignored everyone who’d suggested I stay in Camden.

There was a car show going on, so I strolled through that, criss-crossed the streets of town, then walked down to the harbor.

I saw as much of Camden as I cared to see in about an hour. I’m sure there’s more to it and I know there’s fine dining and such, but it just wasn’t what I was looking for. I did enjoy driving through the High Street Historic District on my way up to Mt. Battie, though. From atop the mountain, I could see the Camden harbor, and with the help of binoculars, even the Rockland Breakwater Light where I’d begun my day, but the path was mostly underwater.

I waited until I got back to Rockland to grab a bite of dinner. The streets of Rockland were very quiet compared to the mobs in Camden, but still very quaint. Having had some real food for dinner, I was happy to return to my glorious B&B for another early night in, eating pie in bed.

I also took the opportunity to participate in an adorable practice at Berry Manor Inn. Each room has its own journal that sits on the nightstand, and guests are welcome to leave entries in it or to read what others had written before.

I perused the book and added my own mark:

The next morning was somewhat dreary, so it was a good excuse to enjoy my room a little longer before I had to leave it behind. After breakfast (the breakfasts here were SO good, to add to all the other perfections of the place), I said my goodbyes and hit the road for Bar Harbor, making two quick stops on my way out of town – the Maine State Prison Showroom, and the Dorman’s Dairy Dream for another round. After all, doesn’t everyone stop at an outdoor ice cream stand in the rain at 11am?

I had planned a detour to the adorable town of Bayside on Lana’s recommendation, and I had to figure out a way to game the GPS system ahead of time in order to take me there. I gave my GPS a false destination that would clue me in to the back road I wanted to turn on, and then I had to switch to the old-fashioned method of using my brain and a map. Since it was cloudy and rainy, I thought about skipping the side trip altogether, but decided I couldn’t let a bit of rain stop my plans.

I still got to see some great views on my drive, and even touches of blue sky periodically, such as when I pulled over to snap this:

The rain gave me a reprieve when I finally reached Bayside, so I was able to park and stroll around this adorable little village that was out of time. This is where you go to vacation if you want to forget the world exists and pretend you live in a simpler era.

I had to pull over in the rain one more time en route to Bar Harbor to snap some photos of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. Pictures don’t really do justice to the scale of this thing. After photographing it, I proceeded to drive across it.

My only regret from my Maine trip is that I did my B&Bs in the opposite order than what I should have. The Berry Manor Inn is the Shangri La of bed and breakfasts, so I was still longing for it even when I checked in at the utterly delightful Yellow House in Bar Harbor. I’d say it’s the quintessential B&B experience.

My room was precious, and I know this is crazy, but my favorite thing about it was that it had a hallway. My own room with my own hallway to connect to my own (enormous) bathroom. It probably had a similar square-footage to my room in Rockland, but it was fun to feel like I had three distinct rooms. Plus, the floor creaked a bit in the hallway when I’d stroll over to the bathroom, and (again, I’m eccentric) I found it darling.

The sky had darkened quite a bit as I unpacked, so I sat in the armchair of my room, put my feet up on the stool, and rested while listening to the storm outside. As it began to taper off, I called my friend Cheryl in (more) northern Maine to solidify plans for her to drive down the next morning to join me for some sight-seeing.

Once it seemed that the rain had stopped, I had to nudge myself a bit to get outside and do some exploring around the town. I decided to walk down to the harbor and take the Shore Path around the island.

And of course I had to stake out one of Bar Harbor’s beloved ice cream spots on my way back through town:

I woke up to another dreary day, but enjoyed breakfast in the dining room and then bundled up enough to sit in a rocking chair on the porch and read some Thoreau like a lady of leisure until Cheryl arrived.

She came ready for adventure, so after playing catch-up, we walked down to the land bar just after low tide had uncovered it, meaning we had about 2 hours to walk across to Bar Island, hike to the top, and get back across without getting stranded by the returning tide.

I was greatly distracted on the hike up by the pretty purple flowers growing on Bar Island. Cheryl is an excellent photographer, so she didn’t begrudge me any of my photo stops.

We both like to take pictures, but you could not accuse us of being good at taking pictures of ourselves. This photo of us at the top of Bar Island cracks me up.

Even with the dreariness, we were able to look across to Bar Harbor and I enjoyed observing the Shore Path that I’d walked the night before.

Having completed our walk before the rain started up again, we hopped in the car and drove out Acadia National Park to have lunch at the Jordan Pond House, along with their famous popovers. Lunch was delicious, but we were missing the view from our window seat due to the rain. C’est la vie!

After lunch, we went to see the Asticou Azalea Garden and the Thuya Garden, which are side-by-side. We had to don our ponchos for this activity, but were otherwise undeterred. The rain also meant we had the gardens to ourselves.

We ended our day with a nighttime walk around town and dinner, and I convinced Cheryl to stay the night and sight-see with me again the next day in better weather.

The next morning was so lovely, in fact, that our breakfast had been set up on the porch outside. Yes, I was drinking orange juice and hot tea and Diet Coke with breakfast. That is B&B life.

Having stuffed ourselves with a delicious breakfast, we walked some of it off around town hitting some of the sights on my list, starting with St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church.

And, subsequently, the Jesup Memorial Library:

Then, Cheryl took me out to see one of her favorite lighthouses, Bass Harbor. We got a little bit of “rock climbing” in to get the best pictures.

With the wind of a beautiful day in our sails, we made our way toward Acadia National Park, with one more Cheryl-inspired detour to a nice viewpoint for Eagle Lake:

Once we got into Acadia, the first stop had to be Cadillac Mountain. More on the views from here later!

Continuing our way around the Park Loop Road, we pulled over at each stopping point to check out the views or take a walk, including joining the throng of folks listening to the ocean roar into Thunder Hole.

We also took the opportunity to walk to the view from the Jordan Pond House that we’d missed due to rain the previous day.

Once again, my fervor for exploring was interrupted by my lack of planning for food, and breakfast had long since worn off, so we high-tailed it back into town and enjoyed the best meal (besides breakfast) of my entire trip at Galyn’s. I had the crab cakes.

Then, we set sail on a windjammer for a sunset cruise!

There was even a bit of unexpected scenery. (Like you wouldn’t have done the same thing.)

And the anticipated scenery (i.e. the sunset) was just as lovely.

But all good things must come to an end, so we sailed back to the dock.

I convinced Cheryl that she needed some ice cream before getting on the road for home, but I was unprepared for the horror I encountered at the ice cream shop. TOO FAR, MAINE!

The forecast for the next morning looked to be a return to the cloudy, rainy weather I’d seen before, but it was also my last morning in Bar Harbor before departing for New Hampshire, so it was now or never for the much ballyhooed Cadillac Mountain sunrise – the first sunrise in the continental U.S.

So, I set my alarm for an excruciating 3:30am, woke up, checked the forecast which still said rain, and desperately wanted to just go back to sleep. But, I decided I could at least get up and look out the window first. So, I looked out the first window – complete cloud cover. The second window showed a hint of clear skies. I was sleepy and doubtful, but ultimately knew I couldn’t live with the what-if. So, I dressed in multiple layers in the dark, grabbed my keys and stumbled outside (as quietly as I could) and started the 30-minute drive up the mountain. My tiny Ford Fiesta rental had struggled to get up the mountain on the first trip, made more difficult by the slow traffic ahead. Luckily, at such an early hour in the morning, I was able to get a clear path to the top, so I went as fast as I safely could up the curvy mountain and the car didn’t even have to hiccup.

The wind was STRONG and COLD at the top. I was freezing, but I pressed on and walked around looking for a good view of the horizon without any other people in view. Then I huddled between some rocks to get a break from the gale-force winds and waited. The skies in the east were fairly cloudy, but not abysmal. I tried to avoid glancing north at the big black cloud pushing in.

And whaddaya know? The dark cloud held off, the sun rose, and it was magnificent.

I watched it for a while before figuring it was time to head back down the mountain. I was encouraged in that respect by my nearly frozen nose.

Yet, I found myself stopping at two different places on the way down to admire the view a little more.

I was really glad that I’d pressed on and gotten up for the journey. And when I got back to the Yellow House, there was no one stirring, so what do you think I did? Yep. Climbed right back in bed. Slept until it was breakfast time.

I got on the road for New Hampshire after breakfast with a 5-hour trek ahead of me. I had to pull over when I got to the state line to document my first foray into a new state.

And you know they never put up the big welcome sign right at the state line, so I had to pull over just a bit down the road to get this one, too:

Here’s my first taste of NH scenery, which actually looked a lot like Virginia scenery (which is absolutely a compliment):

Much later in the drive, I passed this sign, laughed excessively for about another mile down the road before deciding that I had to go back and take a picture. Not sure why it cracked me up so much, but it did and still does.

Ultimately, I arrived at my final B&B of the trip – the Lighthouse Inn. I stayed in a room they’d named the “Portland Head Light,” which really brought the trip full circle.

I felt too tired for much of anything upon arrival, but I was also hungry, so I forced myself to go out and explore the docks around Meredith Bay before grabbing a bite. At the urging of my B&B owner, I took the time to step into Mill Falls, a hotel resort. It was worth checking out, a combination of rustic and elegant.

I only spent a little over an hour walking around the town and found some dinner, then kept up the week-long tradition of retiring early. I had been oddly anxious about Maine being “too relaxing” for me. I recognize how insane that sounds, but I was afraid I’d get bored and therefore not be able to appreciate the leisure time. In actuality, I felt great about it!

The next morning, I wandered to the dining area / family room for a delicious breakfast and then sat and read in the room for a while until my friend Karen arrived from Boston. She was hungry when she arrived, so after unpacking and doing some catching up, we took another recommendation (and the proffered coupon) from our host and went to Hart’s Turkey Farm for lunch. They advertise “Thanksgiving year-round!” so really, why would you NOT go eat there?

Our visit was also timed with Bike Week in Laconia, NH, so on our way to lunch, we saw precious few cars compared to the rows and rows and rows of motorcycles everywhere, creating quite a bit of traffic in a seemingly-otherwise quiet town.

Lunch was splendid, and we followed it up with a disco nap for Karen, and more reading in the rocking chair for me until it was time for the main event, The Avett Brothers’ concert at the Meadowbrook Pavilion. I’d purchased a ticket on a whim without a plan in mind, but the more I thought about it, the more I decided it would make a great vacation and a great excuse to finally visit Maine and New Hampshire. It was sweetened even further when my friend Karen said she wanted to join me, so I sold my solo ticket and got us a pair.

We arrived at the show early and patrolled the parking lot searching for our Avett Facebook friends. It didn’t take long for us to be surrounded by squeals and hugs as everyone was excited to meet in person after being united online.

We also took the opportunity to sign this traveling banner representing the great “Nation” of Avett fans.

The party in the parking lot was enough to make the whole trip worthwhile, but we figured since we were there already, we might as well go ahead inside to see the show. (Ha!)

John Prine was the opener, and it was pretty great to seeing a true legend perform!

We sang and danced like crazy – the delightful kind of crazy and not the loony bin kind of crazy, but it was a very fine line given our state of exuberant bliss. The Brothers also played Paranoia in Bb Major, which Karen and I consider to be “our song,” and hearing those first chords and the utter mayhem that ensued will go down as one of my most memorable concert moments of all time. In fact, I can’t hear it come on at a show without looking beside me just to see if she’s there! (Luckily, we got our second chance to experience this song together in April of this year in Worcester, MA!)

We ran around excitedly greeting even more friends after the show was over, many of whom were headed out of town on their way to the band’s next destination. The next destination for Karen and I was bed!

We made one last tourist stop the next day before heading back to Boston, visiting the nearby mountaintop estate aptly named “Castle in the Clouds.”

The driveway was so long that we were actually given a map with scenic stops to enjoy on our way up to the visitor center, including a short hike to a waterfall and an overlook point.

From the Visitor Center, we boarded a bus to the top and explored the home, inside and out. Both were impressive, but my camera definitely liked the exterior more.

After that, all that was left was a drive back to Boston, a night to laugh and reminisce about the fun we had, and the return back home.

This glorious trip got me hooked on Maine and also alleviated that 200-mile-radius limit when perusing the concert calendar. I’d call that a win-win. I can’t wait to do it all again.


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