Traveling in the time of COVID – A Rainy Day Driving to Acadia is Better Than a Sunny Day Almost Anywhere Else

Another day of rain should have been depressing, but today it was tolerable as we were on our way to Mount Desert Island and Acadia. We stopped in Ellsworth for an early lunch at Helen’s. Due to the pandemic, seating capacity was reduced and we had to wait for a table. A cup of Lobster Stew for me and Poutine and Seafood Chowder for my husband along with some of their fresh baked bread helped restore us from the chill and rain. Even better were slices of two of Helen’s always delicious homemade pie – Wild Maine Blueberry and Egg Custard.

There is no feeling better in the world to me than what is felt when one drives over the Trenton Bridge onto Mount Desert Island. I can feel it in my soul as we leave the world behind. We stopped at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to buy our America The Beautiful Senior pass (yes, finally old enough!) only to find out that due to the pandemic, they had closed earlier at 2pm.

Fortunately a call to the Saltair Inn, our “home” for the week, netted us early check-in. Masked, we lugged our suitcases and other stuff up a grand staircase, then a set of tiny narrow former servants quarters stairs to safety of our 3rd floor Cadillac Suite. Even though there were now gale force winds whipping the waters in the harbor and bay and the sky is gray, the view from our room was spectacular. The Cadillac Suite is spacious with the the king bed looking out over the back lawn sloping down to the shore and a sitting room all painted in a deep ocean blue. The bathroom is spacious as well with both a clawfoot tub and separate tiled shower.

A few hours later, the rain departed, the sky cleared and the sun came out. We missed the spectacular rainbow over the harbor as we chose to visit the shops on Main Street. Stopping at Sherman’s Books is always a must. While my husband browsed, I went outside to enjoy the weather. We strolled up to stop in at Bark Harbor and Cool As A Moose. Mask wearing is required to enter all shops and while walking the crowded downtown area.

We were able to get seated earlier than our reservation time at the West Street Café. Thank goodness for reservations, very much needed during this time due to reduced capacity in keeping with the state’s and CDC recommended social distancing guidelines. This was the last day this restaurant would be open for the season; closing earlier than normal because of the pandemic which has made it hard to find enough staffing. This is my husband’s favorite restaurant in Bar Harbor. He always gets the Seaside Sandwich special – a cup of clam chowder, lobster roll, fries, cole slaw and a slice of Wild Maine Blueberry pie ala mode. I chose the Seafood Medley, but was told they were out of some of the ingredients. I settled for a Cesar Salad and calamari appetizer. I went to the restroom and was dismayed at how others had left the countertop all wet. I wiped the counter down and happened to run into the manager on my way back to the table. I joked with him about cleaning the Ladies Room. He seemed genuinely stunned that someone would take the time to do such a think. After chatting a bit about how the pandemic had affected the restaurant, he asked what I had ordered and I related about not being able to get the Seafood Medley but totally understood as it was their last night/end of a tough season. Imagine my surprise when the food arrived the Seafood Medley was included with a Baked Potato & Cesar Salad. Sometimes it just goes to show doing a nice deed can have its reward. The entrée was delicious especially the buttery Ritz cracker topping which I am a sucker for.

We walked back to the inn in the dark. The town was quiet and settling down for the night. I left the blinds open so I could look at the stars as I went to sleep.

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Traveling in the time of COVID-19 – Rainy Lighthouse Day

Today’s goal is to go to the Marshall Point Lighthouse, preferably in time to set up for sunset photos. Sadly the weather is not cooperating. After a drive on back country roads, we decided to have lunch in Rockland. Our first choice, Café Miranda, which I had read so much about, was only open starting at 4:30pm, my guess in response to the pandemic as many restaurants were operating with reduced hours or limited by inability to get enough staff. I remembered the Atlantic Baking Company from a prior trip in the area so we walked over there. It was around 1pm, so most of the pre-made sandwiches were gone. I selected a turkey sandwich out of the case and got a hot Chai Latte to ward off the chill. My hubby ordered a Korean BBQ pulled pork sandwich at the counter. This is an amazing bakery so definitely had to get some goodies. So many choices including a variety of fresh baked breads and desserts make it hard to choose. The colorful macaroons caught my eye as well as some gluten free baked goods. Being an apricot fanatic, I chose a couple of apricot macaroons to enjoy with my lunch and a gluten free apricot crumb bar to go. I ate the bar two days later and it was still amazingly moist and delicious.

We called the Hartstone Inn where we would be staying that night, but at 2:30pm, were told it was too early to check in. There seemed to be a break in the rain so we headed to Marshall Point Lighthouse. We started by searching for the Tenants Harbor Lighthouse but never found it as it is offshore. We discovered a lovely inn – “The East Wind Inn”, a historic seaside inn located in Tenants Harbor on the St. George peninsula. Looks like a place we need to stay on a future trip. We continued driving using GPS which lead us to a narrow road. Stone gate posts mark the entrance to the lighthouse area. Since it was an ugly overcast day, there was only one other car in the parking lot. Yay! I love when I have places to myself. It also meant I didn’t bother wearing a mask.

The museum in the keeper’s house was closed, probably due to COVID. It was low tide leaving the rocky coast exposed. Even though I would have loved to have taken some photos of the lighthouse from that vantage point looking up, I felt the rocks were a bit too wet to risk going down there. It was fairly windy and cold with some fog offshore. I spotted a sailboat barely visible through the fog and wondered who would be out sailing in this weather. The sailboat never came in range of the lighthouse which would have made for a really nice photo. When it began to drizzle again and more people starting showing up, it was time to leave. Will have to return when the weather is better.

We headed into Camden to the Hartstone Inn. After parking in the tiny parking lot in back, we rang the bell, but no one answered. Other guests were now lining up in the tiny vestibule and outside on the steps in the rain. Growing impatient that no one came to greet us, I went in and went to the bar to check in. The drizzle turns into a downpour making moving items from car to room a somewhat difficult and wet operation.

We are in the “Loft” room at the back of the inn on the second floor. Not really a loft, but it did have a skylight over the bed and a fireplace. I noticed the bedspread was not the same color as in the photo on their website. Since the room had a slight musty odor, possibly due to one of the windows being left open, we ran the a/c to air it out.

We went down for happy hour which I was a bit surprised they were holding due to tight spaces making it hard to social distance. The free hors d’oeuvres were made with pork so I could not eat them. After enjoying a glass of prosecco, we were taken to our table for dinner. Dinner is open to anyone not just guests. It is very popular due to the amazing food, so reservations are highly recommended. At the onset of the pandemic, the inn offered take-out and local customers made it a total success, allowing the inn to survive.

My husband ordered a Peaks IPA since he loves Maine craft beer. The starter was grilled hearts of romaine. I had never had them this way and they were absolutely delicious. My husband had Salmon Nicoise while I ordered the Duck with gluten free pasta. Normally this is not made with gluten free pasta, but the server went back to the kitchen and asked and they did have gluten free pasta on hand. The onions in this dish were amazing – perfectly sweated, soft and sweet. It also contained some of those flavorful Maine tomatoes. Capping off the meal, desserts were Bananas Foster Crème Brule & Chocolate Pecan Pie with vanilla ice cream.

In the morning, we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast which started off with an apple muffin, which was like a mini Bundt cake and a glass of their own blend of strawberry pineapple juice. Breakfast entrees were a molded Bananas Foster French Toast and Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon. Fueled for the day, we set off for Acadia on Mount Desert Island.

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Traveling in the Time of COVID – Visiting Family and A Scenic Drive

The next destination we headed to was Solon, Maine to visit with my husband’s sister. I hear you asking “Where is Solon? Good question. Have you ever heard of Skowhegan, Maine? If so, Solon is north of there if you keep driving on 201 long enough and if once you have left the town behind and in the country (some would say the middle of nowhere) you would swear you were lost or at the very least going the wrong way. Trust me, you aren’t.

BTW, if you have time to stop in Skowhegan and it’s time to eat (and heck, even if it’s not time to eat!), plan for stops at one of the following local businesses:

  • Ken’s Restaurant for some of the best fried chicken anywhere.
  • The Bankery – A local bakery that was built in an old bank. Worth stopping in for fresh baked bread, pie, cookies and pastries to take along for the ride or as a hostess gift to curry favor when visiting friends/relatives who are kind enough to let you bunk with them for a night or two.
  • Giffords Ice Cream Stand – I have heard so much about this ice cream. Unfortunately, each time we have been to Skowhegan, this little stand isn’t open. Fortunately, SIL bought some home to eat with fresh baked pie. Still want a cone.
  • The Old Mill Pub – Take in the beautiful view of the dam that spans the Kennebec River. Enjoy their incredibly tasty pub menu in a cozy old building of brick & wood. They have a good selection of craft beers from around the state of Maine and some local to Skowhegan. The maple chipotle wings are to die for!

As we drive up the gravel drive to my sister-in-law’s log cabin style house, two grouse step out in front of the car. I stop to let them cross safely. We enjoy a lunch of homemade tomato basil soup and salad. It is a joy to be here enjoying the peace and quiet and to fill one’s lungs with the wonderful clean scent of the surrounding pine forest. We take a tour of the garden which supplies vegetables and fruits for meals and canning for the winter months.

My SIL whipped up a batch of pumpkin muffins as we catch up on family happenings. These muffins are made with coconut oil and about the most delicious I have ever had. Dinner is baked chicken smothered in onions and cheese with roasted veggies from the garden.

The next day, we drive up 201, also known as the Old Canada Road Scenic By-way, in search of a scenic overlook my SIL’s partner has told us about. We barely turn off the narrow lane onto another country road, when I spot a tiny Yorkie and no one around. Being the dog lover that I am and knowing that small dogs are at the bottom of the food chain in wooded Maine, I get out and scoop the dog up prepared to take it back to my SIL to see if she knows who it belongs to. Just then, a man comes out looking for his dog. Annie is safely returned to her owner.

There is a lot to see on the Old Canada Road. There’s Wyman Lake just north of Bingham, a great spot for fishing and boating. There’s an overlook where Benedict Arnold made part of this interconnected network of waterways famous during the Revolutionary War when he led a tough band of soldiers up the Kennebec and Dead rivers in flat bottom boats called bateaux, to lay siege to the French settlement at Quebec. Be on the lookout for Million Dollar Birdhouse Wall right on the side of the road near Moscow with it’s hundreds of birdhouses of many themes left by visitors. (It is called the Million Dollar Birdhouse Wall because it is said that it cost the State of Maine over $1 million dollars to build this retaining wall along the roadway that abuts the Kennebec River.)

Take the time to turn off on Moxie Pond Road for a worthwhile side trip to hike down to see Moxie Falls, especially spectacular with heavy water flow after snow melt or heavy rain or surrounded by colorful foliage in the Falls. If you are into whitewater rafting, there are places to book tours on the Kennebec River. This day, I pulled over when I saw a pond off to the side of the road near Moscow and enjoyed a few minutes taking photos of the ducks swimming there.

We drove for a long while wondering where the Attean Overlook was. Suddenly, you come up over a rise and there it is; the view literally taking your breath away. Even on a overcast day, you can see up to 10 mountains and some lakes. The mountains can be hazy and blue at times, then the sun passes over lighting up the vista. I have found out that there is a short hiking trail there which we will have to try next time. There are a few picnic tables and a building with a toilet.

We continued on to the small town of Jackman. It was moose hunting season, which is a big deal in these parts. We saw a dead moose by the side of the road before getting to Attean, obviously hit by a car (sad). In Jackman, there was a crowd gathered in a local restaurant parking lot looking at someone’s latest moose kill on a flat trailer. The only other thing found of interest in Jackman on this trip was the old railroad station, a symbol of a time long gone.

We turned onto Route 6 headed to Greenville. This is the country and forest with a few scattered houses along the way. We had originally planned to stay in Greenville for part of this trip, but the pandemic forced a change in our plans. We stopped at the golf course to see where we would have take the shuttle to go over to hike Mount Kineo. I stared at the mountain that for now I couldn’t get to. It was closed for the season. It was hard finding a place for a late lunch as a lot of places were closed. Ended up at the Dockside Inn and Tavern. Food was just ok, but the place has a really great view of Moosehead Lake.

Back at the house while waiting for our lobster dinner to finish cooking, we got a treat that many people come to Maine for – three deer came out just beyond the fence in the lower field to graze. My SIL thinks they may be grandmother, mother and a daughter. Got off a few frames before the breeze shifted carrying my scent and spooking the youngest one that ran back into the woods. Still wonderful that we got to see them. After dinner, we sat outside in the growing darkness around the firepit that warded off the night chill, admiring the stars in an area with little light pollution. We finished the evening in yummy style with peach pie (with peaches from their tree) topped with Gilford Ice Cream. It’s experiences like this that make you know why they say “Maine – The Way Life Should Be.”

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Traveling During COVID-19 – Freeport, Maine

Upon landing in Portland, Maine, we headed to Freeport, Maine, often our first stop during our Maine trips due to close proximity to the airport, just a short drive up 295. It’s a great little town to head to after a long day of flying. We have stayed there four out of the five times we have been to Maine since 2013.

As we headed to Freeport, we were looking forward to the warmth and coziness of the Harraseeket Inn. We have stayed here at least 3 times and dined on 2 other trips when we didn’t stay here. It is my husband’s favorite inn in Maine. They always have a roaring fire going in several fireplaces – the lobby fireplace, the living room and both restaurants. On this especially dreary, cool and rainy day, we are so happy to be in Maine and gratefully pulled into the parking lot, thinking of those warm welcoming fires. I went to check in alone, leaving hubby in the car. It was strangely quiet compared to past visits when the lobby was bustling with other guests, This time no one lingering in the lobby or heading out to the shops. Even the afternoon tea which is included if you book with the inn directly, had been cancelled. After I got my room key, I headed down the hall to the Broad Arrow Tavern where we had a reservation for dinner. We had eaten little that day so were quite hungry. I was able to change our reservation to 1.5 hours earlier. I was assured that they had received my request for a gluten free pasta entrée and ready to make it.

Beautiful Fall Floral Arrangement for our Anniversary

Upon entering our lovely good sized room with a view over the back lawn and parking area, I was touched to see that the staff had thoughtfully given us a beautiful fall flower arrangement to mark our 25th wedding anniversary. The flowers came from the lovely gardens that surround the inn. Despite the rain and travel weariness, we headed out to the shops. The room was incredibly clean which it always is at this inn even without a pandemic. If a guest needed something like extra towels or toilet paper, to limit staff entering the room, items could be picked up out of a large antique wooden truck in the lobby.

There is a lot to recommend a stop in Freeport. With lots of famous brand outlet stores, the biggest draw is the LL Bean flagship store. Once known for being opening 24 hours, the pandemic has caused reduced hours, roped off areas, closed coffee bar, mask wearing and social distancing. An employee was at the door to monitor the number of people entering and leaving and checking masks. The store was not busy this fall afternoon. We looked around for a bit. I love to check out their clearance section as I have been able to find some bargains on past trips. I was not lucky this time, so I just did my return and we went on to LL Bean Outlet across the street. It was quite a bit busier there. I also did my must stop at the Talbots outlet. It was sad to observe that a lot of other stores and eateries were closed (including Wicked Whoopies) when normally it would having been teeming with shoppers.

The rain was falling hard now and even with umbrellas, we were getting soaked so headed back to the hotel. After a change of clothes, we went down to the Broad Arrow for dinner. A lot of tables had been removed, making for a lot of space between tables. The meal was wonderful – I started with a Baby Lettuce Wedge Salad. The tomatoes in this salad were bursting with incredible flavor. For my entrée, the chef prepared a gluten free version of their Lobster Fettuccine in Lemon cream sauce especially for me. It is a rare treat to eat pasta in a restaurant as I can’t eat regular wheat pasta. This dish contained more of those marvelous tomatoes as well as plenty of sweet Maine lobster. As if I couldn’t be any happier, their featured gluten free pie that evening was my favorite – pumpkin! It came with vanilla ice cream.

We retreated to our room for a little reading and to watch Jeopardy! followed by a good night’s rest. Another change due to the pandemic, was the inn no longer did their famous breakfast buffet. Selections were very limited. I couldn’t even get a bowl of oatmeal that I like to eat on a cool fall day. I had to settle for scrambled eggs and bacon as I did not care for their daily special which I think were chocolate chip pancakes which were not gluten free. I also missed not being able to have some of their wonderful pumpkin bread.

After photographing the wonderful fall flowers and plants around the inn, it was time to get on the road to other adventures awaiting us in Maine.

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Travel During COVID-19 Pandemic

Yikes! It’s been a while since I have had time to write anything on this blog – more than 2.5 years! That’s what having a regular full time job will do to a person – give a steady income but suck up most of your time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has similarly sucked the life out of most people’s travel. First, it was lockdowns and shelter in place. Some of us worked from home, while sadly, others los their jobs or like me, got hours cut. Once people were allowed to venture out again, many places limited where travelers could go based on where come they lived (think virus hot zones) and many states required lengthy quarantines and/or negative test results only days before departure. There were numerous stories reporting blant violators as well as what I like to refer to as “escapees” – those who decamped either temorarily or permanently from hot zones hoping to escape “those COVID people” (yes, I actually heard an interview where a woman moving from NYC uttered those words!) There was also the outright fear of traveling and the risk of possibly being exposed to someone carrying the virus or yourself being an unwitting carrier to loved ones.

In some cases, business travelers were still required to travel to do their jobs. As summer came upon us, some of us got itchy and decided to take the risk to travel anyway. I was one of them.

We started booking accommodations for our 25th wedding anniversary trip to enjoy fall foliage in Maine, blissfully unaware of what was to come….

When the lockdown came in March, I thought this would be over in plenty of time for our trip in September. Then things started to unravel. I work for a non-profit that holds a big fundraiser in early April. The event was postponed until mid-September – the same week as we originally planned to be on our trip! I got approval to move my vacation to October & started rebooking the accommodations. All the innkeepers were very understanding & flexible. One accommodation had to be cancelled outright as they were not open in October.

Due to low cases, Maine has very strict requirements for travel to their state – 14 day quarantine or negative test result within 72 hours. During the coming months, Maine’s governor would add states ok to travel from free of the requirements, but Florida where we live was never one of those states. At this point, I went ahead and booked our flights using miles on Southwest (which was still keeping middle seats empty) but refrained from booking any more accommodations until the end of the summer just in case things got worse with the pandemic.

At the end of July, my hours were cut back at work. At that point, I thought we would have to cancel our trip since this affected our budget. I literally wanted to cry. My husband encouraged me to wait and see how things went and make a final decision at the end of August. I did cancel one accommadation due to cost and that businesses were shutting down in that area early due to less visitors.

Growing cases made it look like we would have to consider cancelling the trip again. I held out hope we would be able to make this trip since it marked such an important milestone for us. After Labor Day, we made the decision that we were going on this trip. I booked two more inns and again every innkeeper was understanding and graciously assured me of flexible cancellation policies.

The other frustrating thing about this trip was the airline’s cancelling or consolidating of flights. As soon as I would get one change corrected, another portion of our flight got changed. I finally resigned myself that while our return flight had us coming home later than we would have liked, we were not wasting time with unnecessarily long layovers on the outbound flights.

I spent the next few weeks gathering supplies of disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, purchasing quality masks, etc. for our protection. I even purchased face shields, which my husband refused to wear. Tampa International Airport was the first in the nation to offer onsite COVID tests (both rapid result & the longer one that take at least 48 hours), I took that as a sign we would be able to take this trip after all. We took our flight itineraries to the airport and got the rapid test. We were both negative. It was an easy process with only a bit of a wait for other passengers who were leaving that day. Just to be sure, I also got the other test with the longer wait done at a local pharmacy to be within the 72 hour time requirement. The negative results were conveniently texted to my phone the day before we departed.

I am somewhat of a germophobe in the best of times, so this pandemic has sent me into overdrive cleaning mode. I was careful not to touch surfaces unless I was gloved and disinfected every surface in the plane we might touch. It looked like I was the only one doing this much sanitizing. I had to tell my husband several times to be careful of what he touched. We kept our masks on and tried our best to distance ourselves from other passengers. I even sprayed down our checked luggage upon arrival.

Due to the early hour, there were few people in the Tampa airport. It was busier when we arrived at BWI. I observed a few cases of freakish daring or outright defiant behavior by other passengers – I did see a couple people trying to skirt correct mask wearing – one female passenger was wearing a screen printed mask of thin mesh. She was made to change it for a proper one upon boarding. One man with a big nose would move his mask until he saw the flight attendant coming up the aisle. He would cover his nose, only to move it back down after they passed by. Despite announcements to the contrary, when the plane landed, people still jumped up to grab their carry-ons and deplane. We waited until most others had left to deplane. Some people would rip their masks off as soon as they were off the plane, totally disregarding that they were still indoors with a lot of people.

We had a wonderful time driving around Maine and hiking in Acadia. Many times we were alone on trails so we didn’t have to wear masks outdoors, allowing for enjoyed the fresh air.  We did carry them in our pockets or packs and put them on or stepped off the trail when encountering others. The only time I got a little freaked out was one day when I was photographing waves at Schoodic and some people kept coming up almost right on top of me to see what I was taking pictures of. Imagine their surprise when I would turn around or look up to answer their questions and they would see that I didn’t have a mask on (fogs the viewfinder) and the shocked looks I got.

Due to the pandemic and less business, some restaurants and activities closed down early. Even the restaurants that remained open, did so with reduced capacity. I had the foresight to make dinner reservations five out of the seven nights we were in Bar Harbor. The other two dinners we did take out, calling our orders in and driving to the restaurant where I dropped my husband at the curb to pick up our food while I drove around the block so as not to block traffic. 

The only time we encountered unsanitary conditions was the final night in Portland at a Hampton Inn. I found at least four filthy areas of our room which was evidence this property was not sanitizing as advertised.

On our return flights, we had a layover in Baltimore. After eating, as we were leaving the restaurant, there was a man sitting at a table grinning at me. At first I thought he was flirting, then it dawned on me. I had grown so used to rarely wearing a mask while in Maine, that I had forgotten to put mine back on after the meal.

We were witness to a violent encounter at the next gate, when a male passenger refused to wear a mask to board. A lot of screaming. profanity, chasing a gate agent and a combination of six security personnel and police over 30 minutes finally got the offender removed from the gate area.

I was so glad we were able to take this special trip. Now that I have my vaccine, I look forward to traveling again soon.

In the weeks to come, I will posting more detailed stories on where we visited and ate, so sure to check back.

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Inns of Maine – The Danforth

 Classic Old Style Cozy Historic Meets Hip Asian Vibe

(NOTE: I wrote about The Danforth on Tripadvisor back after our stay in 2014. The first part of this post is taken from that, with updated info on their transformation and current look.)

Danfoth Inn frontIf you like charming old-fashioned historic inns, the Danforth in Portland fits the bill. My husband was not a big fan of historic inns so it took some convincing him to agree to try a stay.

On the fall day we arrived as we parked on the side of the brick house, the heavens decided to open up.  As I opened the car door to make a dash for it, one of staff  in an impeccability tailored suit was already beside it with a huge umbrella to escort us in! Talk about service!

We were given a full tour of the inn, learning the history of the house. Entering the attic, we climbed narrow stairs up to the cupola. I was intrigued with this space resembling a treehouse, imaging solitary escape to this little hideaway during the stay to enjoy a book or just to enjoy the view of Casco Bay. Check out the moon and stairs painted on the ceiling and a quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on one of the walls. I fell in love with charm of the wood floors, crown molding, the grand staircase and cozy fireplaces.

Even the basement has a history, having been an old speakeasy. Now it serves as a billiards room. This was the only area of the inn I didn’t like – too musty, old, dark and creepy for me.

We stayed in Arts District Room at the back of the inn – cozy homey decor and very quiet. The bed had a Cuddledown 600 fill super featherbed topper creating the experience of sleeping on a cloud! The bathroom at that time could have used some cosmetic updating but was very spacious. There are sitting rooms on each floor if you want more space to lounge, read, etc.

Danforth Pumpkin French Toast

The breakfast was fresh made and delicious. Fresh squeezed orange juice, good coffee, a freshly baked muffin and apple amuse started things off. The pumpkin French toast was to die for and they printed out the recipe for me.

Hated to leave this tranquil place. The Danforth is great for a romantic weekend. The inn is charming, yet classy. Not appropriate for children.

 

Fast forward to today – The Danforth underwent a major renovation in 2015 to make room for an onsite restaurant (SE Asian cuisine), allowing them to qualify to become a Relais & Chateau property. The first floor common areas, Opium Lounge and Tempo Dulu Restaurant are anything but old school. Replacing the heavy wood trim and stuffed chairs are pops of purple and Asian influenced décor with a modern, bold, sometimes offbeat flair.

The grand stair case leading up to the rooms remains the same, possessing the charming architectural character of the time it was built, yet dressed in a refreshing coat of white. (Could be the perfect spot for a bride to descend on her special day. Just saying.)

The rooms still retain have much of original architectural charm and character but have been updated with white paint and modern bathrooms, giving a sleek look. The linens are still sumptuous to sink into. Service is still top notch.

Today’s Danforth is still a great place for a romantic weekend, but also a hip gathering spot to meet friends for drinks or dinner. It preserves the past while embracing Portland’s modern future.

Danforth plaque

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Maine Inns & B & B’s – James Place Inn

I love the experience of staying in an inn or B & B. Some have that wonderful cozy feel like you are staying with old friends. Others offer a chance to sleep in a historic setting while still others offer luxury and relaxation. I am especially enamoured of the inns and B & B’s that dot the countryside and small towns of New England and Maine. I have this crazy goal to stay in as many of them as possible.

I found the James Place Inn on the Internet when researching our first trip to Maine. I was looking for something different in the town of Freeport other than a generic room in a chain hotel. This B & B is located off Route 1 on a quiet residential street (11 Holbrook Street) in a beautifully restored Victorian style home that was built in 1890. Each of the 7 quest rooms (all with ensuite bath) is a different decor and color, but all possess that homey cozy feel.

James PIace Inn - Yellow RoomUnfortunately I had waited too long to make a reservation and the only room available was the Yellow Room. Located on the top floor, this light filled room, courtesy of a skylight and windows, has a queen bed and a hot tub, good to enjoy a long soak after a day of shopping. The tiny bathroom with it’s tiny shower stall was the only downside to this room. (I peeked into a couple of other rooms on the same floor and noted more spacious bathrooms.)

The James Place Inn is a favorite with many visitors who are regular guests, so booking far in advance if you desire a specific room is highly recommended and/or there is an event in Freeport during your stay. My favorite is the Pine Room with knotty pine paneled walls and a cozy fireplace that give it a true Maine flavor and romantic ambiance.

Tori and Robin Baron are delightful innkeepers and live on-site in their house behind the inn. Robin was more than wonderful helping schlep my heavy suitcase up the stairs to our room. (I really must learn to pack lighter.) He was gracious, coming to my aid when I clogged the toilet.

The breakfast is the crowning feature of this inn. Everything is homemade, some from family recipes. Upon arrival, I was lucky enough to snag a Pumpkin Scone from that morning’s breakfast which made for a nice afternoon snack. Since we were there on a Sunday, the great tradition of Maine Blueberry pancakes was served, along with a slice of delicious quiche. I also had a hefty chunk of the coffee cake which was incredibly moist and tasted like a sugar cookie. When we came back from shopping prior to checking out, I was invited into the inn’s beautiful kitchen and allowed to have another piece of this yummy coffee cake for the road. It’s little touches like this that make this inn like a good friend’s home, only better.

 

 

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How Much Are National Parks Worth To You? Pay Your Share

Acadia Carriage Rd Bridge2When the discussion arose in the media a few months back that most of the popular national parks were going to raise their park pass fees during the busy months, it struck a chord with me.

When we were in Maine in 2016, I overheard the following conversation between some other guests seated in the lobby seating area in front of a cozy fireplace of one of the more pricey hotels in Bar Harbor. The three people were looking at a map of Acadia National Park trying to decide what parts to visit. One of them said “We can go here and here as WE DO NOT HAVE TO PAY TO GET INTO THESE PARTS OF THE PARK.” I couldn’t help myself and had to object. I told them: “That is actually incorrect information. A park pass is required for all sections of the park. By not paying for a park pass, it causes the park service not to be able to have the funds to do maintenance so that things are nice, safe and to preserve it for all to use.” My remark produced stunned silence.

It is unfortunate to learn that the way these people thought about national park use is actually quite common among many visitors. They couldn’t be more wrong. In the case of Acadia, there are some ‘porous’ entry points that cause people to think that access to those areas do not require a pass. Some visitors might say ‘but my tax dollars pay for a portion of this so why do I need to pay for a pass?’ Only a small amount of the federal budget is allocated to the national park service. Not to tread too much into politics, but with the cutbacks for national park funding by the current administration, the money has to come from somewhere.

The rate hike is not to make a profit, but to cover the backlog of maintenance work to repair and maintain popular trails and sights, especially those that are the most heavily visited and see the most wear and tear.  If not, parts of favorite parks may be closed off until repairs can afford to be made. Imagine going to your favorite national park on a long awaited vacation to find that part you want to see most is closed. Disappointing? You bet.

How much is your favorite national park worth to you? To quote a famous credit card ad motto: Priceless!

My favorite park is Acadia National Park in Maine which my husband and I visit every two years or so. (I’ve also been to Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and others.) The first thing we do when we arrive on MDI is to stop at the Hulls Cove Visitors Center and purchase a week long pass. The hikes and landscape are amazing and I am refreshed after each visit there. I marvel that people like George Dorr and John D. Rockefeller Jr. were in love enough with this special place to buy the land to create this park for generations to enjoy.

There are objections that the rate hike will prevent some people from being able to enjoy national parks. I understand that, but I also see lots of these same people taking their kids to theme parks, buying expensive cellphones, etc. For low income families, there is an option. Most national parks have some free admission days each year. (Acadia scheduled 4 days during 2018, of which two days remain: September 22 National Public Lands Days and November 11: Veterans Day. For free days at other national parks, visit https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/fee-free-parks-state.htm

Senior citizens have two options that are a great deal. U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over can purchase a $80 lifetime pass, plus a $10 handling fee or a $20 annual Senior Pass (plus $10 handling fee). The pass provides entrance or access to the pass owner and accompanying passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle at federally operated recreation sites across the country. Makes it easy to spend quality time with the grandkids and introduce them to the wonders of nature. (Photo identification may be required to verify ownership.) BTW, the price for senior passes had been the same since 1994.

With a little planning, we can all pay our fair share by buying a park pass to enjoy national parks. it’s a small price to pay to experience all the beauty our national parks offer.

 

 

Posted in Acadia National Park, Hiking | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Lobster, How I Love Thee. Let Me Count The Ways

When you visit Maine, most people have to eat the state’s best known food – Lobster (unless, unfortunately you happen to be allergic to shellfish). I spent some of my childhood in Maine & have fond memories of eating the delicious crustacean. Mostly, we got to eat it whenever company came to visit from “away”. We were fortunate to live in a small village in Down East Maine that enabled my Dad to drive to a nearby beach to meet the lobstermen as they came back to shore with their daily catch. It didn’t get any fresher that that. It was the early 1960’s and prices were cheap – $15/bushel for lobster, $10/bushel for crabs and $5/bushel for clams! My mother would make homemade potato salad, coleslaw, fresh corn on the cob and fresh baked rolls with homemade jam to round out the feast.

Fast forward to today. I love lobster, but know it’s not something Mainers eat every day. My husband however, is a fanatic about eating lobster anytime we visit Maine. He eats it in some form almost every day we are there. He will eat lobster in whatever form is on the menu – Lobster Benedict at breakfast, lobster mac ‘n cheese, lobster pot pie, bisque, chowder, stew, Lobster Nicoise Salad, Lobster Fried Rice, Lobster Risotto, Lobster Pizza, Lobster crepe (take a look at all these photos) –  but he seems to have a personal goal to try every lobster roll in the state.

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Lobster Roll, Red’s Eats, Wiscasset

Camden Harbor Inn Breakfast

Lobster Benedict, Camden Harbor Inn

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Lobster Benedict, La Bella Vita, Harborside Resort, Bar Harbor

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Lobster Stew, Jordan Pond House, Acadia National Park

And yet somehow, he had never experienced eating a whole boiled Maine lobster. We did try to go to two lobster pounds before going on Mount Desert Island when we made our first trip in 2013. The first one was already closed for the season and we were ignored at the second one. That night he settled for a lobster roll with all the sides and blueberry pie at West Street Cafe. (A very good deal, by the way.)

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Lobster Roll Dinner. West Street Cafe, Bar Harbor

When visiting his sister in Solon in 2016, her hubby offered to cook us a traditional Maine lobster dinner.  When the lobster was placed in front of my husband, he proceeded to pick the whole thing up and attempt to bite the tail with the shell still on! Despite gales of hysterical laughter, we did stop him from breaking a tooth. Instructions followed and he enjoyed his first whole lobster.

Alas, he still prefers lobster rolls.

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Lobster Crepes. Maine Dining Room, Harraseeket Inn, Freeport

Jordan Pond House Maine Lobster Nicoise Salad 827

Lobster Nicoise Salad, Jordan Pond House

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Lobster Benedict w/o English Muffin, Lighthouse Restaurant, Seal Harbor

 

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Lobster Fried Rice, Fresh, Camden

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Slice of Lobster Pizza, Blaze, Bar Harbor

 

 

 

Posted in Dining, Maine | 2 Comments

Robert’s Christmas Wonderland – Year-round Christmas in Florida

IMG_1569In case you haven’t notice, it’s December and there are only 19 shopping days left before Christmas. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are gone. If you haven’t decorated yet, have found that most of your holiday lights don’t work or need an unusual gift for IMG_1562someone on your list, it’s time to hop to it. If you live in or will be visiting the Tampa Bay area, there is the perfect place to shop for Christmas decor. Drive east on Gulf to Bay Boulevard towards the beaches and keep an eye out for the building with the Christmas tree shaped sign atop a red and white candy cane striped pole and the red, white and green striped awning. You have found Robert’s Christmas Wonderland. What a wonderland it is, featuring all things Christmas. The store is open year round, but as the holidays near, crowds come from all over including visitors from out of state and Europe, seeking that one-of-a-kind Christmas ornament or collectible. People even stop here on their way to or returning from Clearwater’s beautiful beaches. The folks at Robert’s start planning and buying Christmas items in early January of each year. Boxes of merchandise arrive in the spring and set-up begins. Even if you are here for summer, you’ll be able to get a Christmas fix, a nice respite from the heat.

There are Christmas village displays, nativity scenes, themed decorated Christmas trees, collectibles and rows of Christmas ornaments in any theme imaginable. There is even a section of Florida themed ornaments – a perfect memento of your vacation in the Sunshine state. There is so much to see that you could easily lose tract of time, so plan on at least an hour or more for your visit.

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The top not to be missed section is the Christmas Tree room. Walk through the archway of icicles and tiny white lights amid greenery into a breathtaking forest of lighted Christmas trees in every style and size, Santa figurines and stuffed forest animals (some lifesize). One can almost feel a slight chill in the air. It would take a real Scrooge not to feel the Christmas magic. You won’t find a better selection of top quality artificial trees, most of which come with a warranty.

Looking for an upside down Christmas tree that are in vogue right now? They have those too.

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IMG_1573Fancy decorating your yard like Clark Griswold to look like a scene a la Christmas Vacation? Check out the corner of the tree room to see the variety of large sized outdoor decor items, regular and themed light strings and lighted decorations. Need replacement light bulbs? No problem, they carry a variety of sizes.

Make your holiday complete with a visit to Robert’s.

TIPS: 1) If you are a Florida resident, make sure to sign up for the Preferred Customer List when paying for your purchase. Anyone who spends at least $25 or more during the past year receives money saving coupons that are good at the beginning of October. Use them and receive another coupon good in November.

2) They offer free personalization of ornaments.

 

 

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