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Tag Archives: things to do in portland maine
I managed to get myself out of our warm, cozy bed this morning and into the crisp morning air for a jog. We’re in a rental out beyond town, about a mile from where the good stuff starts, so I took off in that direction. The rain was all gone, leaving nothing but puddles that flashed in the bright sunshine.
It took me nine minutes to get to the beginning of the restaurants and stores, then about fifteen minutes to go through town and out the other side. I only encountered a couple other joggers – the town was mostly empty at eight in the morning. It was windy too. I had to lean my body into the gusts to propel myself to the top of the hill on the other side of the town. I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the bay, with little white sailboats all pointing up stream, plowing against the white-capped, slate gray waters. The leaves are just starting to turn, and on the other side of the bay bursts of color trimmed the water line.
After I got back to the apartment and we took our showers, we finished off the last of the cheese from our dinner the night before and walked toward the park. “I’m not sure how good this farmers market will be,” I told Mike. “It could be pathetic, with just a couple of produce stands.”
Luckily, I was wrong. A long corridor of trucks and tents snaked its way through the park. We dodged toddlers on our way to try basil cheese curds, and I pet a friendly bull dog while Mike paid for pickled carrots. At one end they had Radio Flyers lined up to borrow, and the market goers were taking full advantage, filling them with mums and colorful pumpkins and kids. I noticed several shoppers and farmers market backpack shopping bags. These people are professionals! I, on the other hand, forgot to bring my Chico fold-up bag on vacation and had to take a plastic one. Shame, shame, shame on Alden.
We picked out one each of a half dozen apple varieties, maple sausage, honey butter, plus hand lotion in a little jar. We were limited by the fact that we don’t have any sundries like olive oil, salt, or pepper at the apartment, or else I would have picked up some squash or other fall veggies to grill.
Mike and I both woefully under packed for the cold weather. Luckily a woman was selling homemade hats and scarves, so I bought a set that looks like fall foliage. Best $27 dollars I’ve spent on this trip!
We stopped for lunch at Local 88, a low key and friendly restaurant in what looks like a big converted furniture showroom. We heard about it at least a few times from locals who said it’s a must-eat.
We checked out yet another used bookstore (this town has at least four. I guess when you have frigid weather the majority of the year you get a lot of reading done.) I found not one but two old seasonal cookbooks to add to my collection. We pawed through fun vintage wares at Allan Walker Antiques. I almost bought a so-labeled “hippie teapot” with the year 1969 carved into the bottom. It was hippie all right, with over-sized lace designs carved into it’s barrel body.
We rented bikes from Gorham Bike and Ski for three days, which was a great decision. Portland is just a little too big to walk to all of the sights. It can be done, but I estimate it would take 45 minutes from our apartment rental to the Shipyard Brewery. With the bikes we easily rode back out to the point so I could show Mike the view, then enjoyed hot cups of tea at the Hilltop Coffee shop while working on another crossword puzzle and hiding from the cold.
We took a personalized tour of the Museum of Cryptozoology. It’s a little cabinet of curiosities, the type of place you can only find in small towns, owned by a guy obsessed with the science of seeking out the animals behind the legends: Big Foot, sea serpents, giant squids, even pandas all fall under this zoological pursuit. The girl giving the tour was your typical art student: self-conscious, off-beat, and utterly charming. She even makes little Sasquatch and Sea Serpent finger puppets! Awwww.
We filled our night with a Portland Pirates hockey game with cups of Shipyard Brewery Pumpkinhead Ale, then a delicious dinner at Boda. Boda, an upscale Thai restaurant with heavy, rough-hewn tables and chairs, happens to label all their food as vegetarian, gluten-free, or both. I’m not on a gluten-free diet, but I’ve heard wonderful things. I appreciate that a restaurant would make it easier for people that way.
I ordered mulled wine to warm my fingers; Mike got cinnamon-infused bourbon. We started with lime chili sausage and fried quail eggs, then moved on to crab fried rice and duck.
Mike summed it up quite nicely, “When I’m 60 and tired, Portland could be pretty bad ass.”
It’s quiet and sweet and nice here. There’s culture and entertainment, bars, great food, a thriving art scene – really anything you could want. It’s not Brooklyn or Manhattan, no. It is the antidote to New York City, to the pretentiousness and hurry. Portland just is, enjoying stuff without always looking for the next awesome thing.
Tomorrow we plan to hit some of the other small, nerdy museums in town, and then redeem our coolness by taking tours at three or (hopefully!) more of the local breweries in town.
There’s no particular reason we picked Portland, Maine for a six day vacation. Jet Blue had a deal for round trip tickets for $140 so we bought them and here we are! Six days of nothing to do but eat, go to concerts, eat, drink microbrews, look at art, and….eat.
Portland is actually quite lovely as far as sustainability is concerned. It’s completely walkable, there is at least one restaurant sourcing locally, vintage and antique shops abound, downtown businesses are locally owned and full of flavor (except for the three plus Dunkin’ Donuts we’ve seen and, of course one Starbucks,) there’s a Saturday farmers market, and really, it just has a very un-commercial vibe going. Touristy activities include visiting art galleries, going on foodie tours, and sampling seafood. Intrigued yet?
We chose this weekend because apparently the leaves are supposed to be in full bloom. Um, we haven’t seen any of that yet. But hopefully while we’re here the leaves will do that thing where you wake up and overnight they’ve caught fire.
(Incidentally, as I write this I’m watching a Family Guy episode that makes fun of New Yorkers who come to New England to see the leaves, and how annoying we are as a group. Whoops.)
We got in late last night. I brought all my jogging clothes, but when I woke up this morning a nor’easter had moved in and was blowing the rain all over the windows. Completely unappetizing. Luckily I packed my wellies and Northface jacket. Mike, being a New Yorker, had a completely inadequate black jacket and tried to shield himself against the sideways wind with an umbrella. A guy we stopped to ask directions had the right idea; he had a bright yellow slicker and rain pants, plus boots. After some blocks the rain had soaked my leggings and spilled into my boots. The lining never did quite dry out.
We scurried towards town and found a breakfast place called Bentliff’s, which welcomed us with cups of hot tea. Two plates of orange graham and Tuscan French Toast later, we were Googling facts about the Maine gubernatorial race so we could finish a crossword puzzle in the local paper.
The rain had stopped when we left, thankfully. We walked into town to the Portland Museum of Art, and then wandered around popping into book stores, several art galleries ranging from mature oils to skater/punk graffiti art, record shops, vintage and antique shops, and a comic book store.
One place we had to stop was the Stonewall Kitchen. Inside they have a dizzying array of chutneys, salsas, maple bark, kitchen accessories and lots and lots of tasty samples. We dipped pretzels in jalapeno honey mustard, mint fudge sauce, raspberry salsa, and fig and ginger jam. Mike walked away horseradish mustard, while I bought papaya salsa and cranberry ginger dressing. Looking at the ingredients, everything seemed to be simple and whole. I can actually pronounce all the ingredients, which is always a good sign.
(PS. The lady fussed at me for taking pictures, so hopefully they don’t make me take this one down!)
The weather was still awful, so we had the town to ourselves. We had lobster rolls and Shipyard Pumpkinhead ale for a late lunch at a deserted pub, then wandered some more until the 7:30 showing of 39 Steps. We seemed to be the only ones in the theater under 55. When we got out, we realized that everyone our age was in the many bars lining the main drag. We’ll hit those later. Our priorities lay in getting a dinner at Fifty-five Five, a restaurant that serves local and seasonal foods. We sampled Vermont cheeses and warmed our hands with brandy hot toddies.
Mike ordered scallops. I had the “Autumn in New England,” a delicious salad of apples, organic baby spinach, Vermont cheddar, house-cured bacon, maple vinaigrette, and toasted pumpkin seeds.
We saw just about the whole town in our adventures today. We have four and a half more days to fill, and we’re getting worried we might run out of things to do. But the sun is supposed to shine tomorrow and I’m looking forward to the farmers market in the park.
I’ll keep you posted!