Monday, May 31, 2010

Acadia National Park

Monday, May 31 - Ahhhh. It felt great to be back in a national park. Acadia is really beautiful, and it was a picture perfect day.

We started the day by driving the 27-mile Park Loop Road, which has amazing views of the coastline and rocky shore. We talked about trying to get up to watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, but we weren't quite ready to get up for the 4:52am sunrise today. We'll try again tomorrow.

Best Breakfast Ever

Monday, May 31 - As Sandy knows, I'm always in search of the perfect breakfast. We came pretty darn close today at the Cafe This Way in Bar Harbor. Awesome breakfast burrito, great oatmeal and very tasty yogurt with cinnamon and honey. The last breakfast we had that was this good was last summer at a little place called the Capitol Reef Inn & Cafe outside the Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

After breakfast and before heading into Acadia National Park, we took a quick walk around downtown Bar Harbor. Really nice, quaint town. It reminds me a lot of Harbor Springs near home in Michigan.

Which direction are we going?

Sunday, May 30 - On the way to Bar Harbor from Wiscasset we found ourselves on a road with three route numbers going three different directions. Is this possible?

Red's Eats

Sunday, May 30 - There was a big buildup to the visit to Red's Eats in Wiscasset, which is right on Route 1 by the water. First, our friend Lynn - a former Maine resident and current #1 booster - told us that we had to visit. Not only because they have the "best lobster roll in Maine," but also because our friend Wendy's uncle started it, and her cousins still run it. And, it's also featured in "Roadfood" with a "Worth Driving from Anyplace" rating. To top it off, when I told Derek, who I know through work, that I was going on a road trip through Maine, he said out of the blue, "there's this place in a little town called Wiscasset with the best lobster rolls..."

And so, it was meant to be. Everyone in the line (and we hear that there's always a line) was very friendly, and we struck up a conversation with our line neighbors about the Frontier Restaurant, another top 10 road food place in Albuquerque that we had been to last year. Margo and Joe were from Boston, and she was going to visit her daughter in Albuquerque next week. We ordered a lobster roll, fries and one of their famous Whoopie Pies, or as Sandy accidentally ordered it, a Whoopie Cushion. One of the reasons Red's lobster rolls are famous is because you get so much meat in them - over one whole lobster. This picture proves it.

Now, everyone who knows Sandy knows that she's a meat and potatoes girl, and the thought of a lobster meal is about as foreign a concept as a visit to Mars. In other words, it's such a foreign concept that it would never cross her mind, and if it was ever suggested, you'd hear a big "no, thank you." Well, as I tried to persuade, when in Rome... Or, for an analogy closer to our experience, when we were in the Southwest, we ate Mexican, so when we're in Maine, we have to at least try lobster. Ever the good sport, she agreed to a bite. And these photos document that it actually happened. (Although she didn't eat that whole piece.)

We ended up sharing a table with our new friends Joe and Margo, and had a great time sitting behind Red's by the water to eat. On our way out, we were lucky to catch Wendy's cousin Cindy, who is the owner with her sister Debbie. The whole operation is a family affair, and we also met Cindy's son Christopher, and her friend Jill. Everyone was so nice -- such a great experience. It completely lived up to all the hype. So, if you're ever near Wiscasset, you know what you need to do.

Mecca. In Maine.

Sunday, May 30 - Today marked a milestone in Sandy's life: A visit to the L.L. Bean mothership in Freeport. I think it was at the top of Sandy's list on places to go on this trip, and she was in heaven. It's also the most-visited location in Maine, so she is not alone. The whole town of Freeport has been transformed in to a quaint outlet mall, so needless to say, the credit cards were smoking...

Breakfast at Becky's

Sunday, May 30 - After a little run around Portland first thing in the morning, our next stop was widely-acclaimed -- by both friends and guidebooks -- Becky's Diner. (They also have a cute website.) The clientele is a mix of locals and tourists, and it's listed in the Road Food book with a rating of "Worth Planning a Day Around." And it was.
They had a sign posted that they are going to be closed one day next week since the Food Network was coming to film. Our server said that Guy Fieri was going to be there for his show Diner, Drive-ins and Dives. Keep your eye out for it.

Portland Old Port

Saturday, May 29 - We unloaded at the Portland Regency Hotel in the old armory, and headed out to explore the Old Port part of town. We put our name on the list to eat at a highly recommended restaurant called Fore Street, and then since we had over an hour to kill, we walked around Old Port. One of our first stops: one of our friend Lynn's old haunts: Gritty McDuff's. Sandy liked their seasonal "Vacationland" beer, probably more for the tap with the little car and camper on it than for the taste...

We then headed back to Fore Street, where we were hoping just to get a seat at the bar. We had called ahead earlier in the day to try to get a reservation, but the earliest available was at 10pm. So, we decided to try to just walk in. Since their walk-in list for the evening was full by the time we got there at 7:45, we put our name on the bar list. However, somone was looking out for us, and we actually got a table in the dining room.
A lot of their food is cooked in their wood-fired oven, which we had a good view of, since they have an open air kitchen. The dinner was amazing. I had halibut from Nova Scotia, and Sandy had local chicken. Both were fantastic. Sandy made a comment to our server about the oven being 1000 degrees, and she said yes -- it's actually 1000 degrees! No wonder we could feel it at our table. If you ever make it to Portland, you must eat at Fore Street.

Maine: 2nd New State

Saturday, May 29 - Gotta love a state that's only 18 miles long at the coast to help you feeling productive. The bridge to Maine is right on the edge of Portsmouth, NH, making it our 2nd new state in a day.

Anyone want to explain this sign that was at the Maine welcome center? It's a good rule to live by, but a sign at the rest stop?

Portsmouth in a Flash

Saturday, May 29 - All reports said that Portsmouth was a great little town, but since we were on a schedule, we had to keep our stay to only about an hour and a half. First stop: Strawbery Banke Museum - an open air museum of a few blocks of Portsmouth with preserved old buildings. We got there about 40 minutes before closing, and the nice lady taking tickets couldn't believe that we wanted to pay to enter with only a few minutes left. When she hesitated, Sandy said, "Come on, Edie, let's go!" No time to waste. I told her we're happy to support the local ecomomy, and she said, "OK!", smiled, picked up the pace, and sent us on our way. Those crazy city kids...

Several of the buildings are open to explore, with their "residents" to tell you about their daily life in the olden days. We had a nice conversation with "Mrs. Shapiro"...

We then swung through downtown Portsmouth to see the town and get a snack. Great place. Picture perfect. However, Parking in a spot with a 15-minute time limit kept us on schedule. Next time we'll have to spend a bit more time...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

New Hampshire: Best Welcome Ever

Saturday, May 29 - As our friend Chris J. - a road trip veteran - once told us, always stop at the roadside welcome center when you cross a state line. If nothing else, they usually have good maps. This was a big state for us, since it was a new state for both of us. And, the New Hampshire Welcome Center far exceeded our expectations.

We received a warm welcome from Ray, who not only gave us some great maps, but also gave us some great tips on what to see in the state. His first and very helpful tip was to take Routes 1A and 1B along the coast on our way to Portsmouth instead of taking the interstate, where there are some great views of beaches and lighthouses. We like the state route signs with the profile of the Old Man of the Mountain, who unfortuantely collapsed in 2003.

Thanks, Ray, for making our entrance to New Hampshire the best state welcome we received in our three road trips!

Back Bay in Boston

Saturday, May 29 - We definitely recommend the Back Bay Hotel, which is in the old Boston Police Department headquarters. Sandy particularly liked the Kiehl's products in the room. Great room, great location, friendly staff and very helpful concierges.

We wanted to grab a quick lunch or brunch before heading out of town. On our walk, we bumped into the marathon finish line, so we took advantage of that photo op. We walked along Newbury Street, and asked a clerk in a store which of our options she recommended. She said that the place across the street would be "wicked busy", and thought we should go to the Parish Cafe, since it was on our list. It would be definitely worth it. We actually ate there for lunch last year on Marathon weekend, because all of the sandwiches on the menu are from acclaimed/well-known/celebrity chefs. We got lucky (I think saying "wicked lucky" is probably not the right context for the word...), and got seats almost immediately at the bar.
By the way, the word of the day is "wicked." A word uniquely and entertainingly used in New England.

Morning run in Boston

Saturday, May 30 - After 3 days of driving, sightseeing and eating, it was time to get in a run along the Charles River. Got a good look of all of the great houses along Commonwealth Ave. on the way to the river.

When running along the Cambridge side of the river, I got a good shot of the famous Citgo sign with the rowers on the river. Perfect morning for a run.

Sandy went on a walk on a different route at the same time, but both of us went through the Public Gardens next to Boston Common on the way back to the hotel.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fun at The Beehive

Friday, May 28 - Our concierge at the Back Bay Hotel recommended we check out The Beehive for a drink and some live jazz. He said that it was a great hangout for "people our age." ...Hmmmm... But, OK. He was right. Good vibe with a band playing Cuban jazz.

As we were sitting a the bar, we both noticed a line of what looked like vintage food cans on a shelf along the ceiling. I didn't look that closely, but then Sandy noticed what the cans said: "Raisin Brain." "Rump Roast." "Bartlett Ears." "100% Pure Cold Blood." And the labels are pretty darn funny. It turns out that they are the work of a contempory artist from Boston by the name of Jeffu. The bio on his website says that he has "managed making a career out of playing with his food." And, you too can own some of these cans. Just go to the SuperJEFFUmarket on his website, where you can also purchase cans of Raw Nerves, Thousand Year Old Ego, and Unresolved Guilt.

Boston Dinner

Friday, May 28 - We had a great dinner at Sonsie on Newbury Street, where the entire front of the restaurant is completely open to the street, and all of the bistro tables are set up in European fashion so that everyone looks at the street. We read a couple of tips on Foursquare that you had to get the chocolate bread pudding, and it did not disappoint.

A couple of blocks down the street there was a J.P. Licks, a Boston-based ice cream shop. As you can see, Sandy was having a good time enjoying her "Cow Trax" flavor of ice cream while juggling her iPhone in order to check in to Foursquare. Despite the fun atmosphere, we decided not to get one of the frequent-buy "Cow Cards," as regular usage could lead to undesirable results...

Sewing machines on Newbury Street

Friday, May 28 - This storefront window on Newbury Street in Boston stopped us in our tracks. The entire length of the store windows of Allsaints Spitalfields clothing store was filled with vintage sewing machines. Very cool.

Entering Boston

Friday, May 28 - Rolling into town in our Chrysler 300 (more on our free-upgraded wheels from Alamo later) was a lot more relaxing than the last time I saw this sign at about mile 25 of the marathon...

On our way into town, we stopped at the Arnold Arboretum, part of Frederick Law Olmstead's Emerald Necklace string of parks throughout Boston. We took a little walk up to Peters Hill in the Arboretum, which has a nice view of the Boston skyline.

Which brings us to the word of the day: As Sandy was reading to me from the guide book about the plant life in the arboretum, she said they had "cra-BOPles". "What?" I said. "Cra-BOPles". "You mean "crab apples?" "....Uh, yes." [Cue the chuckles.] In her defense, Sandy cited the name of Bart Simpson's teacher, Mrs. Krabapple, as the source of her pronounciation. Uh, OK.

"Krabapple" was in the running to be the word of the day until we got to the top of this hill, which, we learned, wasn't just an ordinary hill 240-foot hill. It is actually a "drumlin," which is a hill formed hundreds of thousands of years ago when the glaciers melted and left a pile of debris. Interestingly, there are crabapple trees planted on the slope of the drumlin, where colonial farmers planted fruit tree orchards. (See photo below of the crabapples on the drumlin.) Thus, the winner for the word of the day is "drumlin."