Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mainly Maine


We flew to Boston (LAX-ATL-BOS) for Chip Lockwood’s wedding to Meg Greenberg. But since we were flying to one of the furthest continental US places from Edwards, we decided to drive further north for a visit to Acadia National Park (actually about the furthest you can get from Edwards).

Our intentions were mixed. First, Maine was Jeff’s 50th state. Second, the Maine coast was recommended by friends Dan & Bethany. Third, since we have a National Park pass, going to Acadia National Park now effectively saved us the $20 entry fee.

Upon arrival, Elizabeth’s bag was lost by Delta & our Hertz rental car did not have a functional power outlet. Delta found the bag the next morning, but Lulu at Hertz insisted that their “compact” and “economy” cars have deactivated power plugs. “You have to upgrade to the next class to get a working plug.” That’s like saying they unhooked the windshield wipers and that you need to pay extra to use them. It was a lie to pacify us – but corporate was shocked to hear that and mailed us $50 Hertz bucks.

Our first night, we stayed in Boston with the incredibly gracious Joe & Beth Friel. They even let us do laundry on our first day of the trip (so Elizabeth had something to wear back to the airport to pick up her bag).

New car & bag in hand, we ventured north. Our first stop was at the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site. No kidding one of the neatest places in suburban Boston. They actually have a working iron mill with water wheel & blacksmith shop. Sadly, no entrance fee, but we did get a passport stamp. Our next stop was Salem, MA to check out all the buzz about witches. The visitor’s center at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site rightfully plays down the witch trial history of Salem. Down the street, however, the Salem Witch Museum will take your money and dramatize the events. Plan a couple of hours in Salem to see the video at the visitor’s center, meander through town and visit the historic ships.

Further up the coast, we dropped into Kennebunkport to take a peak at the George H. W. Bush estate (off Ocean Avenue) before a great dinner at the Sea Dog Brewery in Brunwsick ME. They have a nightly $10 dinner special. The pork loin dinner was top-notch. We spent the night at the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

In the morning, we toured the Maine Maritime Museum (call ahead and make a reservation for the Bath Iron Works shipyard tour). For lunch, we stopped at the iconic red & white striped Red’s Eats in Wiscasset ME for a lobster roll. Be prepared to stand in line and pay $14.99 for about a pound and a half of lobster on a bun. Yum! But please don’t play tourist and order non-standard items. Go here for lobster rolls – not for burgers. One of the best-preserved forts in the country is Fort Knox State Historic Park (the other one) in Frankfort ME. It’s $5 and has good views of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge.

Our two-day drive up the Maine coast was idyllic. Yet when we got to Bar Harbor ME (gateway to Acadia), we found an equally amazing time! Our lodging for 3 nights was at the Castlemaine Inn B&B in the “Secret Room.” There was a 10% military discount there. The Secret Room looked like an attic turned into a guest room. It was cramped and very bright in the mornings. But the inn was lovely and the innkeepers nice (albeit strange). Upon checkout, we asked them to put this line on their website, “The Secret Room is for ‘early risers.’”

Bar Harbor is touristy (cruise ships tender there), especially so in the summer months. We were told that the town all but closes up during the colder months. Solid eats can be found at Rosalie’s Pizzeria (casual), Mache Bistro (date night) and the Downeast Deli (lunch sandwiches). Hit up CJ’s Big Dipper for homemade blueberry softserve. We had it 3 days in a row. It’s that good.

Acadia is a national park you could spend months exploring. It’s not huge like parks out west, nor does it have anything spectacularly unique (geysers, canyons, etc). But Acadia has a particular charm. Rockefeller and others bought up the land on and around Mount Desert Island and donated it to the US government. Then Rockefeller built carriage roads throughout the park (and 1 loop road). You can learn more about Rockafeller and Acadia here.

We took a carriage tour (as Mr. Rockefeller intended the park to be seen) through the park’s contracted carrier, Carriages of Acadia ($24.50 pp for 2 hr bridge tour). We then had tea and popovers on the lawn at Jordan Pond House ($8.50). Reservations are very much required for both. We saw folks at both establishments being turned away.

Rent bikes and meander around the miles and miles of carriage roads, or hike them. Check out LuLu’s Lobster Boat Ride (not the Hertz employee). We chose to take the park service’s Baker Island Cruise (4+ hrs). It’s a boat ride to an island 3 miles off shore so you get to see the picturesque Acadia coastline. Then you board a skiff and make a landing on the island for a ranger-led hike. It was $43/pp and worth every bit. Pack jackets, water and lunch.

While the park hosts some evening ranger programs, we really enjoyed going to ImprovAcadia (15 Cottage St, $15). Expect a small-town comedy show in a cramped space with only one bartender – but also expect hilarity! Again - Reservations are Recommended.

This trip was great up until this point. But what I’m about to tell you makes this trip truly unique. Only at low tide (check local paper for tide table), Mount Desert Island connects to deserted Bar Island via a sand bar. You can hike across (or drive across) this sand bar and go for a hike on Bar Island. Time it well so you don’t get stuck on Bar Island for 10 hours. I don’t know of anywhere else in America where you can do this. It was very neat.

En route back to Massachusetts for the Lockwood wedding, we stopped at the DeLorme Headquarters in Yarmouth, ME. Eartha is there – the world’s largest rotating globe, nicknamed Eartha. We had lunch at a place called Big G’s in Winslow, ME. Mary recommended the place and it was a great sandwich dive. Jeff ordered the Dudley-Do-Right and Elizabeth got the Jane Fonda. Order the half. You still won’t leave hungry.

We made our way to Kittery Maine to visit Dan’s parents. First, Dan’s mom gave us a tour of historic Strawberry Banke. (Think small scale Williamsburg.) Later, Dan’s parents took us on a local tour, where we got to see the Nubble lighthouse. You’ve undoubtedly seen photos in a calendar or advertisement. After the overnight with Dan’s parents, we toured Fort Foster and Fort McLary before heading back into Massachusetts.

Joe and Beth Friel met us at Lowell National Park (again, no fee) to learn about the garment industry and industrial America. We took the park service’s engineering innovation canal tour. For $8, you start at the visitor’s center and take a trolley to a canal. There you get on a flat-bottomed boat and troll around the canals. And check this out, you actually go up in a lock and then back down later. You don’t need to visit the Panama Canal to ride a lock! We learned how the Merrimack River was tamed to provide waterwheel power for dozens of mills. Be sure to visit the Boott Cotton Mills Museum too ($6) where you’ll see old, working looms. The displays will teach you how fabric is made. Lowell is a fabulously well done National Historical Park. If we had more time, we would have visited the New England Quilt Museum.

After dinner at a local Legal Seafood and a night at Hanscom AFB, we went canoeing with the Friels. Our 5-mile canoe trip ended at the Old North Bridge in Concord (Minuteman National Historical Park). They too have a visitor’s center with a passport stamp. Beth & Elizabeth packed us an amazing picnic and we spread out our blanket and enjoyed the August afternoon.

Chip & Meg’s wedding was the crowning day to a fantastic trip. Their wedding was held at the Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts. Their reception (on the lawn) was very classy and the band kept us dancing for hours. Elizabeth even had the chance to spend some time with a good friend from high school we haven’t seen since our wedding two years ago.

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