Being landlocked never agreed with me. Lakes are nice but they don't have the smell, bounties, or leather-skinned skippers in big rubber pants. The salty blue blankets that connect the continents are vast and still somewhat unexplored, which makes oceans all the more intriguing.
Some may find the briny scent of ocean a little potent, but when I smell saltwater I immediately think of how wonderful crustaceans taste when steamed in that very same brackish water.
Being a mother of four little ones leaves little time for the one-on-one that children so desparately need. And that need, if unmet, triggers all sorts of unsavory behavior. And it's not just girls that are the drama queens. I get it from all four at once, so much so that you'd think they were coordinating meltdowns, perfectly executing them in thirty-minute intervals.
So when the opportunity arose (thank you frequent flyer miles!) and a room I've been eyeballing from afar had two seats and a bed available, I ran it by the boss then promptly booked a quick weekend away with the first in line and most unreasonable: Our tween. I took her to my favorite place on the East Coast, Down East Maine.
There are many reasons to love the state of Maine. The first one is obvious to anyone who's ever flown out of Bangor International Airport...you can get from rental car return, through security, and to your gate in just under ten minutes. Yes, there is such a magical place. And get this--everyone who works there smiles and means it.
If you are a deployed member of the armed forces, there will be thankful people there to greet you when you get home (tired and hungry) from Afghanistan or Iraq. In 2010, "Maine Greeters"
welcomed home their millionth service member.
When you first leave the airport, you will undoubtedly notice how courteous the other drivers are. This is outright suspicious behavior by East Coast standards. Driving up 95 is a torment until you cross from New Hampshire into Maine. Speaking of New Hampshire, my rental car was tagged there and half of Maine stopped me to ask where in New Hampshire I was from. For the first time in my life, I was embarrassed to be from expensive, angry, liberal, Maryland. (Maryland isn't actually bad at all unless compared with Maine).
Then there's the abundance of seafood restaurants and I know good seafood. I was crabbing before I was out of diapers. Very few folks have had truly fresh, well prepared ocean critters. This is an empirically sound estimation illustrated by the 700+ thriving Red Lobster restaurants serving lobster bisque made from langoustine
, not lobster. Yet nobody noticed.
The scenery in Down East Maine has no equal. There are hundreds of small islands to explore by boat and mountainous backdrops to hike. Trademark blue toadstool-sized sanctuaries dot the various bays and sounds offer the most soothing, restful palette that one perpetually sleepy mother of four could ever want.
Best part? When you do sleep, one can open all the windows and feel a cool breeze as you swaddle yourself in blankets and inhale the clean...then smile when your husband calls around lunchtime, lamenting the 100 degree temps in Maryland with 80% humidity. Little did he know, you were dangling your legs over a pier in 76 degrees, stuffing your face with local Maine crab and drinking iced tea (or a local beer).
Maine is a quirky state with leaders who possess a stout personal constitution. Her current governor, Paul LaPage
, recently challenged a critic accusing him of racism, to a duel. LaPage is a Republican, but I saw more Gary Johnson bumperstickers, banners, and Libertarian signs in Maine, then for Hillary Clinton. That was perhaps the most exciting part of my trip. I had heard of the Libertarian species but hadn't considered the party a genuine contender until last weekend. I was also driving a rental with New Hampshire plates. Coincidence?
There are too many wonderful things to mention about Maine in one post, so I'll end it with the fact that native Maine dwellers are hard-working burly folks with adorable accents and warm, laid back attitudes. They do the speed limit, trust you until they learn not to, and extend a handshake to both open and close a deal.
A few suggestions for your trip to Down East Maine (go now!):
Lodging- Try HomeAway.com or Airbnb. My favorite little place is in West Brooksville called Tapley Farm
. For $125 a night you get a cozy two-floor apartment, complete privacy, and two on-site beaches to comb or upgrade to a large free-standing cottage and bring the kiddos, in-laws, and pooches.
is a little hamlet with fantastic shops, galleries, a co-op grocer, distillery, Black Dinah chocolates, and a public beach/ boat launch that makes for the best lunch spot i've ever encountered. Paddleboard or kayak the glassy waters of the inlet then get a great lobster roll at "The Fishnet" down the street. After lunch, visit the world renowned Wooden Boat School
in nearby Brooklin. I met a long-retired Frenchman over a lobster roll who was in town for two weeks to learn to build wooden boats with age-old techniques.
For dinner, meet the chowder that changed my life. It's Maine Seafood Chowder at Fisherman's Friend in Stonington
, the village that launched a thousand seascape paintings. I've never had such delicious seafood soup in my entire life. Enough said.
The best coffee I had in Maine was also in Stonington, at a roaster called "44". Try the "Royal Tar" pour over coffee. It was ridiculous. They also have homemade sweets that would have found a home in my belly had not it been for the somewhat metabolized shellfish already bubbling in there.
For a great spot to watch the boats come in try the village of Castine, a lovely cliff-side town of revolution-era homes and the home-base for the Maine Maritime Academy
. Dennett's Wharf
has the best waterside patio and a decent Haddock sandwich, although people mostly go there for oysters, beer, and atmosphere. Also be sure to make an appointment to watch local woodturner, Temple Blackwood
, make magic from curled wood--then grab a (whole, delicious!) mixed berry pie at Windmill Hill
market for dessert.
I guess I need to mention Mount Desert Island here. Acadia National Park is indeed beautiful, fun to hike, bike, and shopping in Bar Harbor is a paradise for someone like my mudder-in-law who loves to buy stuff. But beyond a fun Christmas store, a notable tea proveyer, and a great gallery
, the best part about the island is the wild blueberry pancakes at Mainly Meat
at Dreamwood Hill. They were epic. I've never woofed down a pancake like that in my life and here's the last bite (that I thought about the entire rest of the day):
Off-season pricing began last week and fall is the best time to go to Down East Maine. Southwest has specials flying into Portland, Maine, requiring a couple hour's drive to reach Blue Hill, or fly directly into Bangor on Delta.