Southern Coastal Maine
We arose early to the sounds of heavy rains sweeping across the area.Hopefully the weather front would lead us across the State and not follow us.The N.Y. State Thruway, in a rain storm, can be like driving in a car wash for several hours. After packing our car and closing up the house, we set off Eastward along the N.Y. State Thruway. The rolling farmlands and bucolic pastoral scenery along the Thruway is as familiar to us as our own backyard from our many trips across the state.The scenery doesn’t change perceptibly until you approach Utica and the Mohawk Valley.From there, the hills get steeper and the scenery more varied as you approach the State’s capital in Albany and draw near the banks of the Hudson River. The traffic was heavy with vacationers, but manageable, as we swept South along U.S. # 87 at Albany and connected with the Mass Pike in Western Massachusetts. There, the wooded hills and sharp angular upheavals of limestone announced the Berkshire Mountains and our arrival into New England. Norman Rockwell’s Museum in Stockbridge and the venerable Red Lion Inn are favorites of ours in this region.
The Mass Pike was similarly clogged with families on the run from home as we slogged our way across Massachusetts, past Worcester and exited onto to U.S. # 495. This highway would take us North and East to Rte# 95, the principal North/South artery along the East Coast.
On Rte.# 95 North,we got off at exit # 7, the entrance to South Portland, Maine. We had been on the road for 9 hrs. and were fast tiring.It was muggy and 86 degrees. Portland had been awash in a rainstorm only a few hours before our arrival. As luck would have it, the Best Western “Merry Manor,” where we had reservations for Wed. and Thurs. had no room for us. I couldn’t even manage the stale old joke about accepting room in a stable.(Joseph & Mary). So, we set off along the two lane Rte#1 through Portland. Portland had undergone a significant revitalization recently and was now a portrait of solid looking, colonial-era red brick structures. But, more about that later. We followed Rte # 1 along the curving and attractive Casco Bay for about twenty miles North, to the outlet city and home of L.L.Bean, Freeport Maine.
It was just past 5 P.M. and the streets of Freeport were laden with vacationers from all up and down the East Coast. We had to be conscious of the Maine pedestrian law that gives walkers the right of way to cross streets in the designated cross walks. Some few out of state tourists, apparently unaware of the law, drew the ire and raised fists of pedestrians when they failed to cede the right of way. We reversed course along Rte #1 and found a fairly modern and available berth in the “Super 8” motel chain just outside of town. The tab was a reasonable. We unloaded our gear and lazed for a time amidst the air conditioned bubble of the motel.
After a brief rest, we drove into Freeport and wandered its busy streets.We first payed homage to the mother of all outlet stores, the three story wonder and 24 hour a day shopping palace of L.L. Bean. Next, we walked along the streets and noted the many fine colonial B&B’s just outside of Town.The tariff at these fine Inns is expensive.
We noted the Dexter, Mikasa, Cole Hahn, Dansk and other name brand outlets in our brief scouting of the Town.We were fast tiring.We retreated to our motel with some Merlot, cheese and fruits to relax and read for a few hours before retiring(“The Second Saladin”-Stephen Hunter).It had been a long day and we were as tired as stale crackers.Morpheus summoned us quickly.
We were up by six A.M.,roused by the building whir of traffic on Rte # 95. The highway was not far outside our window. We showered and set out by 7A.M.. Few businesses in Freeport were open this early except for L.L. Bean.We browsed there amidst the three stories of casual clothing,outdoor and sporting gear and the many interesting extras that L.L. Bean has to offer. It is more than just a store for some, it is a way of life.We were too early for Bean’s coffee bar(opens at 8A.M), so we drifted down the street to Friendly’s Restaurant. There, we laid into a large breakfast of Omelettes, potatoes and toast like lumberjacks who had missed a meal. It was very good and a bargain.
It was already warm and humid out at 8 A.M.. The thermometer was headed for 85 degrees today. We were happy that we had gotten a head
start on the shopping hordes. We walked up and down the Main street visiting the many outlet stores. Jones of New York, Timberland, Brooks Brothers, J.Crew, Nautica, London Fog and many other stores provided us with a varied array of clothing bargains.The “Mangy Moose” is the cutest gift store we visited.It features “chocolate Moose droppings” and other novelty items. Ten years ago this town was extraordinary, the concept of outlet malls had not caught to any degree. Now many of these outlets are available throughout the northeast, so Freeport is not as much a novelty. LL Bean is the major attraction here and one can certainly find anything in the line of outdoor gear. As for the other stores, they are pretty similar to what one can find in the Niagara Falls, Geneva and other outlet malls. Finally, I managed to drag Mary away(kicking and screaming) from the shops, promising to return again on the morrow. The enthusiastic waves of bargain seekers were now rolling into the town like a series of multi colored, oddly dressed and over-weight Atlantic seals.
We retrieved our car from a parking area that had a catchy, woodsy name and decide to explore the coastal area nearby. A short drive brought us to “Woods Neck State Park.” We parked and walked through a stand of pines to find the rocky coast of Maine.The shoreline here is a peculiar type of fractured basalt that is weathered in appearance. It looks like petrified wood. We edged along the rocks and observed the different types of marine life that live in the narrow band of shoreline defined by the average nine foot rise from high to low tides. The sun was shining as we sat there admiring the trees and boats just off shore.Two novice kayakers paddled idly by. It was an L.L. Bean tourist moment and we were happy to be here. From the Park, we saddled up and drove 50 miles North along Rte#1 & then Rte#27 South.That took us on into Booth Bay Harbor, an upscale tourist enclave tucked into an inlet on the Maine Coast.
We wandered amidst the jumble of gift shops like “Mostly Maine” and admired the scenic beauty of this very busy town. Curious,we walked into an old bowling alley and arcade that was still using ten pins and small balls.It looked like a period shot from an old movie. At the “Fisherman’s Wharf”, we sat down to a nice lunch of clam chowder and tuna sandwiches. We watched and admired the various boats of all types motor by us in the crowded harbor.
After lunch, we walked across the pedestrian bridge that spans the harbor and observed the many and varied types of boats and the nautical settings that make the harbor so attractive.The “Booth Bay Inn” and other resorts are fairly large complexes along the shore here. By three P.M.,the heat and the tourists had gotten to us. We returned to our car and retraced our route South along Rte # 1. We passed through the massive ship building center of Bath and crossed another substantial bridge across the Bay, before returning to Freeport. There, just outside of town, I gave in and we stopped one more time at an outlet complex to browse the Rebok, Golf Day and other brand name stores.Then we retired to our motel for a glass of wine and an air conditioned conversation with Ozzie Nelson(nap).
At 7 P.M. we ventured forth for dinner, hoping to find something in the nearby town of Yarmouth. The town looked pleasant enough,but only a few places were open and they were awash with diners.We drove through town and across the causeway to Cousin’s Island. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were within virtual spitting distance of Chebeague Island.
Back along U.S.#1, we stopped at a venerable and colorful roadside restaurant called “Cindy’s.” The owners were just closing up for the night, but agreed to feed us. We had a taste of fish soup and a wonderful Lobster roll for under $20. The owner sat and chatted with us for a few minutes.He had been in business he said, for over forty years, providing good food to generations of tourists.As we finished our meal, he asked us to wait a minute and brought out some home made Molasses cookies for us to take with us. This guy is a businessman and his Lobster rolls are delicious.
It was a nice night out and we were reluctant to turn in.We drove into Freeport and walked the now emptying streets. We found an open coffee shop above the “North Face” clothing store and had some flavored coffee as we reviewed our varied activities for the day. Tiring, we returned to our palace along the highway,read for a while and surrendered to the sandman.
Wed.-July 22- Freeport,Maine.
We arose very early,showered and checked out by 7A.M. Then, we got on Rte# 95 South and drove the thirty miles South to the Old Orchard Beach exit where we got off and found the imposing “Maine Mall” complex. We found a “Mister Bagel” shop and stopped for some very good flavored coffee and bagels.
From Mister Bagel, we drove a few miles to a beautiful golf course by the name of Sable Oaks. We signed up to walk nine holes and were paired with a Father and son team(John & David) from Boston.The course is hilly and heavily wooded, with several creeks running across the fairways. It had rained the day before and the Maine State Bird( The Mosquito) was everywhere in abundance.(ouch!) We played middling well in the face of the rising heat and humidity of a very sticky day. After nine holes we bade goodbye to John and Dave and stopped in the clubhouse for some refreshing iced tea.Today was going to be a bear. I was already sweat soaked from the exertion and heat.
From Sable Oaks, we drove South on U.S.#1 and across Rte # 98 to “Old Orchard Beach.” The cottages, motels and condos here are packed together in a crowded linear array of touristry. We drove the several mile length of the beach road before pulling into a small side street to park and take a walk along the beach. The beach itself is impressive.Stretching several miles along a curved arc of Casco bay, it was packed with sun tanning tourists, colorful umbrellas and beach blankets. We doffed our shoes and walked along the beach for a time. The 10 foot tidal drop made the shore both a severely slanting and difficult walking surface. As we walked amidst the sunbathers and cool surf, I could hear the heavy patois of the Quebequois.The area has long been a favorite of many French Canadians. We sat for a time in the sun and heat and admired the rollers crashing upon the shore and the crowds of children playing in the surf before retreating reluctantly to the air conditioned bubble of our car.
At the center of this beach road enclave, a large pier runs out into the ocean. Along and all around it are a jumble of food and gift shops.We parked nearby and decided to surrender to a persistent urge for a particularly delicious New England delicacy, whole fried clams. We found a shop and ordered a pint of whole fried clams and an order of onion rings .We sat there eating and relishing these greasy delicacies. The temperature was approaching 94 degrees and it was hot. We walked out onto the pier and watched the hordes of shark bait as they waded into the cool and frothy surf.The ocean temperature was a refreshing 60 degrees.
We retrieved our car and headed North along U.S.#1 and Rte.#77 to the scenic coastal vista and light house of Point Elizabeth. The breeze was cooler here and the panorama of sea and sun and sky is a visual feast. Winslow Homer painted his many seascapes at nearby Prout’s Neck and I began to see where his inspiration had come from. We watched the many boats and trawlers pass us by as we wandered along the fractured layers of basalt that serve as a coastline.The gulls drifted gracefully above us on the air currents and the algae and moss sparkled bright green from their recent submersion in seawater at high tide. The white spume of the crashing rollers sent children scurrying with squeals of laughter as the tide rolled inexorably on in. We had a leisurely cup of coffee, at the restaurant atop the point, and enjoyed the living tableau of seascape unfolding before us. We counted ourselves lucky to be alive and here with each other on such a beautiful day
From Point Elizabeth, we returned along Rte#77 and U.S.#1 North to South Portland where we checked into our room at the Best Western “Merry Manor” Inn. We had a nice sized and air conditioned suite. We unpacked our gear and luxuriated in the freon comfort. After a time, we went down to the pool and lolled amidst the gaggle of children in the cool blanket of the pool. Back in the room, we had a glass of merlot and sought a one hour conversation with Mr.Nelson(nap).
By 7 P.M. we were refreshed and ready to explore the newly restored “Old Port” area of Portland. It was still 85 degrees,hot and sultry out. Portland’s waterfront was only ten minutes away. We found a convenient parking ramp, in the old port area, and walked for a time amidst the restored red brick buildings. There are a large number of drinking establishments and several trendy patio-style restaurants here. We walked further to the shore and came upon a dilapidated row of seafood restaurants with outdoor patios. They looked shabby enough to have some great sea food. We picked out “Boone’s” and settled in for some crab rolls,clam chowder and a few iced Michalob beers. It was very good. After dinner, we walked again through the old port area and retrieved our car from the ramp.A short ride along Commerce Street and South on U.S.#1 brought us back to our Hotel in South Portland. It had been a long and busy day and we were dog tired. We read for a while and then slept like mummies in air conditioned comfort.
Thurs,-7/24 South Portland, Maine.
We were up early and had tea in our room, as we watched the morning news shows. Freshly showered,we were ready for another day as the “Griswald’s on Vacation.” At 9A.M.,we drove North along U.S.# 1 to Portland’s “downtown center.” We parked our car at a ramp on Spring Street and walked along Congress St., past the Portland Museum of Art. It had been designed by I.M.Pei’s firm, and is a graceful 3 story structure with modest and flowing lines. The banners out front trumpeted the touring impressionist collection now on exhibit. We looked forward to viewing the collection and the many wonderful paintings by Winslow Homer that make up the Museum’s permanent collection. It was early still so we headed across Congress to Temple and then down Temple St. to the “old port” area. It too was just yawning awake. It was in the 70’s,cloudy and cool with the promise of rain.
We sought out a friendly coffee shop and found one across from the Casco Bay Ferry terminal. After coffee, we walked across to the Ferry terminal and purchased two tickets for tomorrow’s 10A.M. Ferry to Chebeague Island.We watched for a time as one of the Ferries loaded passengers and freight before setting out. We had done this numerous times before on other islands and ports and never ceased to be fascinated by the unfolding and interesting drama of people and commerce.
Walking back through the Old Port area, we espied a tired looking eatery by the name of “Big Mama’s.” It was a must for breakfast.We weren’t disappointed.We laid into some delicious omelettes,with home fries,toast and a gallon of coffee. From Mama’s,we wandered browsing shops until the rain drops caught up with us. In that our rain gear and umbrellas were nice and safe in our car,we adjudged it judicious to head up the hill towards the art gallery. The rain got heavier as we walked and we sought shelter for a time in Portland’s City Hall. Then, we gave up the possibility of remaining dry and continued on across Congress St. to the Portland Museum of Art.
We entered this graceful structure.The Impressionist collection on the first floor proved to be of middling quality. There were a number of interesting works by Matisse, Renoir and the other classic impressionists, even an intelligible painting by Munch. It was the second floor permanent collection that drew our attention.A score or so of paintings by Winslow Homer left us in awe of the man’s talent. And it was not just the traditional far-distant seascape oils that most people associate with him.There are delicate renderings of maids in seaside England, a wonderful oil of two soldiers entitled”Brierwood Pipe” and a number of studies of oarsmen that would have done justice to Thomas Eakins, a personal favorite of mine. “Sunset at Casco” is also a beautiful Homer and now a new favorite of mine. A few works by John Singer Sargent also interested us as representative of the best of his style.
One anonymous work,(to me) of a Grant Wood style woman with a crystal shadow, especially intrigued me. I was unable to discern its provenance except for the cryptic signature “Magritte.” We really enjoyed the collection and the beauty of the gallery. In the basement of the museum we stopped for some flavored coffee and chocolate chip cookies ($5)and relaxed as our sodden clothes dried upon us. The gift shop proved interesting and Mary bought several Winslow Homer renderings in miniature. We viewed again and enjoyed the Impressionist collection. It never ceases to amaze me how many works of this genre we have not seen in all of the many galleries that we have visited. From the Museum, we retrieved our car and headed across Spring St. to U.S.#1 and South to Rte.#77 where we drove to the Portland Head Light. It was cloudy and the promise of rain was in the air.
At the Portland Head Light, we walked around and admired the quaint, red, gingerbread-style Light Keepers house and enjoyed the flowing seascape all around us. A small message had been painted on the rocks nearby.”Mary McGuire shipwrecked here on Christmas Day,1888.” I wonder what that is all about?The whole promontory surrounding the Light has been set aside as a State Park for people to admire the ocean from the headland. It is the former sight of a coastal fortification, Fort Williams.The rains came again as everyone scurried for their cars .
From the Portland Head Light, we drove over to Point Elizabeth to again drink in the seascape from this agreeable vantage point. I could stand upon the headland like this and watch the sea endlessly. It never ceases to hold my attention and fascination. The rains came again. We surrendered to the inevitable and headed back to the ranch. We stopped along the way, at a CVS in Point Elizabeth, to load up on repellent for the Main State Bird and then returned to the Hotel to write up my notes,have a glass of merlot and relax from a “Day with the Griswald’s.”
After a brief respite, we ventured forth at 6 P.M. and drove again to the Old Port Area in Portland looking for some place interesting for dinner.Nothing caught our attention, so we retraced our drive and decided to explore the Maine Mall. It was awash with urchins and their parents looking for a place out of the rain.It has a Macy’s, a Filene’s, a.Penney’s and a bevy of other chain stores.We bought some special coffee for the weekend, in a Hickory Farms store, and then decided to bail out of this teen haven.
Most of the restaurants around the Mall were packed to the gunnels, so we headed South on U.S.#1. Near Scarboro, we found a delightful Italian Restaurant named “Anjon’s.” I had some wonderful calamari with linguine and some great Chianti.Mary vouched for the Shrimp Primavera as well.The place is a keeper and the tab was reasonable. I was glad that we had found it. Tiring from the day, we returned to the Merry Manor and began to pack for our trip to Chebeague Island tomorrow. We read for a time and surrendered to tired eyes.
We were up and about early. We finished packing, checked out of the motel and then stopped by the Mister Bagel store at the Maine Mall, where we had flavored coffee and bagels. We picked up a dozen for the weekend. Next, we drove into Portland and parked in the secure Casco Bay Line Ramp. We were early so we ambled along the waterfront and again admired the condos, restaurants and working vessels of the Port.
At the Ferry, we watched in wonder as workers loaded cargo onto the Island Queen. Bottled water, ficus and fir trees, construction materials and every imaginable staple were loaded aboard this durable ferry. The line of passengers waiting to board was getting longer too. It looked like an evacuation scene from the Shanghai docks during W.W.II
Finally , a little behind schedule, the 10A.M. ferry ponderously inched from her berth and we began the journey down Casco Bay. We observed working trawlers, sleek pleasure boats and every imaginable type of craft afloat in the harbor. As the Portland skyline receded, we began to enjoy the sea air and sunshine of the bay. The brightly colored lobster buoys were strewn about the surface like an undulating carpet of colorful wildflowers. Are there really that many crustaceans on the sea bottom? Bill Mead later told us that every licensed lobsterman was entitled to 1200 traps.
We stopped at several of the Islands like a commuter bus on water. The shores and bluffs of each island’s periphery are lined with upscale Summer homes.The stop at Big Diamond Island seemed to take forever as the crew unloaded much of the foodstuffs for the 4 star restaurant there. Long Island and the others were briefer stops. Two hours later we arrived at the raised wooden ferry dock of Great Chebeague Island.
As the ferry nudged alongside her mooring and the crewperson slung the hawser around the bollard, we could see Bill and Marie Meade waiting for us on the docks. We had last seen Bill and Marie in Newark Airport when we were returning from our tour of Italy. We had met Bill and Marie in the Milan airport and become fast friends with them during the two weeks that we all toured and enjoyed Italy. We had had a lot of fun together and were looking forward to seeing them again.
Joseph Xavier Martin