Traveling in the Time of COVID – In Over My Head! – Hiking Great Head Trail

We awoke to the sight of distance sea fog across the bay. The weather had all the makings for perfect day for hiking – sunny with temps in the high 50’s. After a hearty breakfast of Maine wild blueberry pancakes, we were off to hike Great Head Trail. We had missed doing this hike when we were visiting Acadia back in October 2018 due to cold temps in the 30’s and high wind.

Salt Air’s version of Maine Wild Blueberry Pancakes

We took Schooner Head Road and stopped at the overlook to photograph Egg Rock Lighthouse just offshore. A lobster boat cruising by added to the scene.

Egg Rock as viewed from Schooner Head Overlook

We parked at the Satterlee parking lot rather than at Sand Beach to cut out walking across the beach to get to this trail. The parking lot is small but we arrived early enough to get a spot easily. I was concerned the number of cars would mean crowds on the trail, but that turned out not to be the case. This is another trail that is popular with locals so we witnessed people coming and going frequently. As we entered the trail, I admonished a teenager for breaking pine cones off a tree and told him about No Trace Left Behind. I will never understand why people feel they have to take a “souvenir” especially of a living thing.

I noticed something I had not seen on previous visits – clothes hanging from tree branches; first a visor, then a hoodie. I found it this is a thing(!) – lost clothing is hung where those passing can see it just in case the hiker returns looking for their lost item. It looks odd and disconcerting to me, but I get it.

Where the path splits, we see most people going left, so we chose to go right. There were spots of beautiful fall foliage and we are lucky enough to see 1) a chipmunk who pauses for a moment to allow for a photo and 2) watch a squirrel climb a tree by the trail where he precedes to peel bark off and shreds it, my guess is to add to his nest.

We continue to walk this portion, which is level and easy, blissfully unaware of what is to come. We take a side path which ends up down near the marsh and stream at Sand Beach. The tide is coming in but there is just enough dry area to allow walking to the beach and then to go to the trail head. We admire Beehive before starting up the granite steps. Being out of shape, I find climbing these steep stairs a bit strenuous. At the top is a round stone wheel – perhaps from an old mill.

Once we are back up on the trail, we take a right and walk a short distance were something stops us cold – a boulder scramble. No way was I going to be able to my fat 60+ year old body with bad knees up that thing! At this point, we decide to head back to the car as we are in need of a restroom break and lunch.

While we didn’t have trouble finding a parking space at Sand Beach, there were so many cars parked out on the loop road it looked almost like summer crowds, which was surprising.

We drove to Jordan Pond House, where again we had no trouble finding a parking space as the lot was only about 2/3 full. As we walked the path up from the lot, we saw more lost clothing.

Due to the pandemic, all table service was cancelled for the season and service reduced to standing in line to get to a window to place your order. We had heard horror stories about long waits, but the line was not long and moved quickly. Most people seemed to be settling for quick take times like muffins, yogurt and fruits. We ordered the lobster stew, a veggie wrap and a popover with strawberry jam and hot blueberry tea and water to drink. If the order required something cooked such as ours did, when the order is ready, it is placed on a table just inside the door of the restaurant and you are notified to pick it up, allowing for social distancing and ease of the reduced staff. We chose to sit at a table inside by the fireplace to eat. There were a few tables spaced very far apart making the place look closed. While we ate, I saw people come in looking very confused as to why there were so few diners. One family even sat down at a table and waited for a server (there were none). They finally got up and left.

The food quality this time was another victim of the pandemic – it was not as tasty as previous times we had eaten there. It lessened the experience due to eating off of paper plates and cups instead of real plates. The lobster stew was not as flavorful and the popover was underbaked and raw inside. I missed enjoying their fabulous ice cream in a sundae with wildflower honey.

We decided to return to Great Head and hike the other side of the trail. Again, we were in for quite an experience. At first, we missed the split and walked the same direction as we had in the morning (counter-clockwise). As luck would have it that was not a bad mistake. We ran into a Facebook friend of mine with her husband and dog Louie. Louie is a cocker spaniel who is an experienced hiker. Once we realized we were going the wrong way, as we doubled back, my husband walked on ahead as I stopped to photograph fungi growing on the trees. I happened to look down through the trees to what I thought was a meadow down below the trail. (I was later to realize this is the grassy meadow was just below Bee Hive.) I saw pointed ears! I was really hoping it was a deer. As I watched through my telephoto lens, the animal raised its head. It looked like a German Shepherd. It stood up and the fur was red but it was way too large to be a fox. It was an Eastern Red Coyote! Yikes! Glad it was far away. It did turn its head in my direction and I was pretty sure he could smell my scent. I did get off about four shots before he walked away. Wow! What an experience and how exciting that I was the only one who saw it at the moment.

We start to go clockwise on the trail (left side closest to ocean). This section starts out level and then there are boardwalks, granite steps and root steps with some incline but still easy to walk. This section goes through beautiful green forest with the water out to the left which can be seen through portions of the tree. So pleasant to hear the waves crashing. We watch a woodpecker pecking away at a fallen tree. Only a couple guys pass us on the trail so it is pure bliss.

The trail gets steeper. Right below the summit, we encounter a granite section that I am not sure I can climb up. I did not come all this way to quit now, so somehow I find foot holds and get up to the summit. Saw the ruins of the old teahouse. The view out over the water is gorgeous, but sadly I am too tired too really enjoy it.

As I sit on a good size boulder to rest and catch my breathe,. I wonder how did women in the olden days do this wearing dresses and heeled button up boots?!

A young guy and his girlfriend come up from the other direction. He has long legs and makes it look easy. At first he thinks we should go back down the way we came, but then thinks the way he came up is do-able, though he warns of boulder scrambles. Having never hiked this trail, I accept his advice and assistance down the first two boulder sections.

At this point I want to say if you are an inexperienced hiker, overweight and have bad knees – NEVER EVER ACCEPT THE UNKNOWN no matter what someone says. Trust your gut. I think what drove me to go down the way most people go up was wanting to see the view of Sand Beach from up here.

We come to a section that appeared to have no natural way down – no obvious foot holds. I cry as it looks high and no safe way to just jump down to flatter ground below. My husband goes down first and coaxing me, I climb down backwards figuring what you can’t see is less scary. We encounter more boulder scrambles, some of which are lateral (didn’t required climbing), but by this time it’s mid-afternoon and we’ve been out all day, I’m getting tired and my right Achilles tendon and calf are aching. I pick my way carefully through fields of granite and low plants. Hikers are coming up the other direction – families with kids including one Ugg wearing pre-teen on her phone looking totally disinterested in the spectacular beauty around her and a couple dogs – all who made it look so easy. I come to another boulder scramble to go down and I freak out as the fear of heights and falling gripe me, reducing me to panic and tears. Even two guys who look more overweight than I are climbing up with ease and one helps others up. There is a little tree growing out of a small crevice but I do not want to use it for grip should I damage it. I begin to think I am an idiot and that I might end up spending the night here on Great Head. I know it would be pretty cold when the sun goes down. I tell my husband he should just leave me up there. Finally an older lady comes along on her way up and says “Just slide on your rear!” which works. I was totally amazed that the tan hiking pants I was wearing were not torn or dirty from sliding. It is a pant I am glad to recommend (Baleaf, available on Amazon).

My husband keeps asking other hikers how far the parking lot is which annoys me. Despite the pain I am in, when I see the view of Sand Beach below, I stop and without getting too close to the edge of the cliff, get a couple of photos. This at least made it worth it. So much for a moderate hike!

I was so sore when we reached the car, I made hubby drive back to the inn where I shower and crawl into bed. I have even lost my appetite.

Looking back on this experience, I can say I do feel a sense of accomplishment at completing this hike. It made me realize I need to get more exercise, loss some weight and better know trail difficulty before undertaking it. Save the most difficult hike for near the end of your trip, so if you experience pain or worse, an injury, it doesn’t ruin the rest of your trip. Was all the pain worth it? Oh, yea!

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Traveling in the Time of COVID – Hiking the Old Pond Rail Trail

After a tasty lunch at the Pickled Wrinkled, we felt we had a short hike left in us for the day. I surprised my husband who loves anything related to trains, announcing we would be hiking the Old Pond Rail Trail in Hancock. The surprise turned out to be partly mine as we had some difficulty finding the trail head. We drove a ways down Point Road looking for it. It didn’t help that the sign marking the parking lot is turned to parallel the road rather than facing drivers as they approach. We were about to give up when it dawned us that it was across from the Hancock Town Hall. We parked there as the tiny lot at the trail head, which could hold maybe 5 – 6 cars, was full. We saw some locals walking their dogs and a family doing a photo shoot on this beautiful fall day and knew this was going to be a good trail. Following a section of the old Maine Shoreline Railroad bed, this trail winds through cool green forests with some deciduous trees. My husband was ecstatic to see remnants of the old concrete train platform and old rail tracks disappearing into the forest. It was a piece of forgotten history. Numerous old wood railroad ties are every few feet across the trail. These rails also act to keep the trail for walkers, making it too rugged for cycling. Most of our hike we were alone. We walked as far as the old trestle bridge. This area is supposed to be good for bird watching, but we only saw a couple of seagulls. Once a family left, we were alone to enjoy the peaceful beauty of our surroundings. Since the sun was starting to set, we headed back to our car. We figured we had done almost half the 3-mile length so we definitely plan to do the rest on a future visit. We might try the other access to the trail – a second parking lot at the western entrance to the trail, on Old Route 1, via Kilkenny Cove, a property acquired by Crabtree Neck Land Trust, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and Frenchman Bay Conservancy.

Quiet shady trail with fall foliage.

We headed back to our inn in Bar Harbor and cleaned up for dinner at The Reading Room at the Bar Harbor Inn. We were lucky to be seated at a table by the window. Even though it was already dark, we could see the dock for the Margaret Todd. The gangplank was pulled up and the ship was already gone, an early ending as another casualty of the pandemic. We had hoped to take the sunset cruise, but that would have to wait for another visit.

Surprising the restaurant was packed and busier then on previous visits. My husband started out with Gazpacho topped with a scoop of lemon “gelato”. He followed with Bouillabaisse made with fresh Maine seafood while I had lamb chops. Unfortunately, the Duchesse potatoes served with the lamb were cold and absent of the cheese mentioned on the menu., The huge serving of grilled asparagus made up for it. We finished with yummy Bourbon Brown Sugar Pecan Pie and Blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream for dessert. I recommend trying their version of blueberry pie as the top crust is dusted with sugar making for a textural difference in taste.

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Traveling in the Time of COVID – Acadia’s Schoodic Peninsula

After days of on and off rain, today dawns sunny and beautiful. We go down to breakfast and are earlier enough to get a table near the windows. I watch people crossing back across the sand bar from Bar Island as the tide is coming back in; parts of which are already covered with water. At 8:56am, the tide will be high. This show never gets old to watch.

The first course is “cairns” made of pineapple and strawberries, garnished with raspberries and topped with a banana slice that is has a broiled brown sugar top.

The main course is a delicious quiche with caramelized onions and is served with broiled tomatoes with a parmesan topping and Canadian Bacon. Everything is scratch made in the sunny kitchen by innkeepers/owners Kristi and Matt.

Our first stop is the Hulls Cove Visitors Center to buy our Senior Lifetime America The Beautiful National Park pass. As we drive towards Schoodic, I stop to take photographs of Little Island Cove. I first saw this island back in 2013 and have never forgotten it. The foliage and water were really good in this area that day.

Little Island
Sea Smoke on Frenchman Bay

Arriving at Schoodic, it was nice to drive in unlike in 2013 when it was closed along with most of Acadia due to the government shutdown. This is a one-way route so one must be aware to look for the pull offs to see various spots along the way. If you miss something, you will have to drive all the way through, exit and return using Route 186. This route is very popular with cyclists, so drivers must share the road with them and use due care. At the first pull-off, you can experience a small area of the rocky coast line. There were some spirited college kids horsing around and taking selfies. I used the time to photograph the Winter Harbor Lighthouse on Marks Island across the water. The lighthouse is easily visible, but even better with a telephoto lens or binoculars. I also spied a little water cascade to my left that was probably a result of the past days rain.

Continuing on, we drove past Big Moose Island which is accessible at low tide to walk to. Since it was high tide and I couldn’t figure out where to pull off the road enough, we went on to Schoodic Point where there is an expanse of rocky shore line to walk out on. Watch your step and be cautious about getting too close to the edge. As I was scouting out where to set up for some wave photography, I observed a young father drop off the main cliff edge to a lower ledge only to be followed by his young son, who looked to be no more than six. It was a scary few moments as I watched them, with my heart in my throat, willing them not to fall in the water. People have fallen in and drowned at these cliffs. (Note to self: Next time I see something like this I really must hit the record button as still shoots would not have told the story as well.)

Sunny Day at Schoodic Point cliffs

It was a gorgeous day with the sun shimmering on the water and I could have stayed there for hours. While I was photographing incoming waves people would come up behind me getting a little too close for my comfort to see what I was looking at. When I would turn around, they would have shocked looks on their faces upon seeing I was not wearing a mask! Masks were not required when outdoors at this time as long as social distancing was practiced. I was trying to stay away from people, but others were not reciprocating. I am open to answering people’s questions, but keeping an adequate safe distance at this time would have been nice. Since this is such a large area of rocky cliffs, there is room for a good amount of people without being on top of each other. Since the waves pretty tame that day and weren’t the high crashing kind I was looking to photograph, we drove on. Wished I’d have been able to come over during the past days when it was raining and wind was high.

Due to COVID restrictions, the bathrooms were closed at Schoodic Point so we had to drive back to the Schoodic Institute to use the only one open. This required exiting the loop road. On the way out I spotted a tiny shack which made me laugh. This sign on the shack read “Schoodic Sushi!”

Schoodic Institute is an amazing facility. The institute partners with the national park to providing a site to work on “the development of new techniques to involve the public in science and conservation, scientific research of importance to the Park, provide professional development for teachers, and help train a new generation of stewards who will help conserve the park’s natural and cultural treasures.”

The campus has several buildings such as Rockefeller Hall used for meetings and classes, a dining hall and apartments and cabins for groups and scientists and researchers to stay in while at the institute. For more information on the Schoodic Institute visit their web site – https://schoodicinstitute.org/

I had planned to eat lunch at The Pickled Wrinkle, but due to the pandemic they had shorter hours and did not open up until 2pm. Kinda of late for lunch, but no other choices except at small store across the street. When I got out of the car to read the sign, I could hear the kitchen workers prepping for lunch inside.

I used the time waiting for the restaurant to open by driving down the road a short distance to photograph the Prospect Harbor Lighthouse. This lighthouse belongs to the U.S. Navy and is only open to military personal (active and retired) who can book stays in the keeper’s house. No one else was in this little hidden fishing village located on the southeastern part of the Gouldsboro Peninsula. As I stood as close as was safe on the dock, a working lobster boat made a quick stop. The only other “visitors” we saw were a couple of cyclists along the road back to the restaurant.

We were among the first to get in line and order. The dining room was closed (due to the pandemic) so orders were taken at a window and then eaten at picnic tables outside. The gross thing was the bathroom was a very filthy porta-potty with nowhere to wash hands. Good thing I packed sanitizing hand wipes.

Fortunately the quality of the food made up for it. I enjoyed a fresh handpicked crab roll with sweet potato fries. I love crab but hate the work to get the meat so it was nice to have someone else do the hard work for a change. I listened in on a conversation of 2 local men, one who worked at the restaurant. The restaurant had been very busy in spite of the pandemic and state mandate limiting out of state visitors. This place is a favorite with the locals as well and he mentioned that folks had been staying late many evenings. Glad to see a local business doing well. Mainers know how to survive despite tough times.

Fueled up, we were ready for our next hike. Continue to Part 2 – Hiking A Rail Trail.

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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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