Maine – My Way

Greetings! I’m glad you found The Maine Diaries! If you want to experience the joys of New England, and specifically the coast of Maine, this is a good guide.

I started The Maine Diaries because I’ve love traveling the Maine coast and want to share my experiences with you.  They are based on my 25 road trips that started in 1994.  My traveling partner – and my partner in life – is my spouse, Joseph Eagle.

On my trips, I leave from West Chester PA (a western suburbs of Philadelphia). The destination is always the same: the area of coastal Maine known as Downeast, on Mt. Desert Island – the largest island off the coast of Maine – and home to Bar Harbor and the breathtaking Acadia National Park.

The road trip Downeast (from Philadelphia), is 10-13 hours, depending on how often you stop. I’ve done it in a one-day drive, and it’s doable. But it’s long with usually at least two traffic bottlenecks (usually in CT and MA). So if you can do an overnight along the way, do it. You’ll enjoy the ride – and the trip – more. However, if you do, don’t just stop at some no-tell-motel. Pick a place to explore and make it fun. Along the coast, there are unlimited places to have an adventure. Many of those places are mentioned, and some detailed, in The Maine Diaries.

The Drive

How I make the trip  is driving straight through PA, NJ, NY, and CT (all places close enough that I can explore another time in a weekend getaway).  Then I meander through Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and once in Maine, along the coast through southern Maine, Portland/Casco Bay, and Mid-coast to get to my Downeast destination. You can easily follow the areas on a map.

After years of trying different routes north, Joseph and I found the best – and least stressful – way is the PA Turnpike to Garden State Parkway around NYC and over the TappanZee/Cuomo Bridge, to the Merritt Parkway and I84 in CT, to I90E (Mass Turnpike), 495N (around Boston) to I95N through NH into Maine.

Side Trips and Overnights

Massachusetts

  • Sturbridge/Walden Pond: This is where I typically stop for a meal. Old Sturbridge Village is a “living history museum” and worth seeing one time. Also along the way, as you drive east toward Boston, you could stop at Walden Pond. It’s a townie park now and, on a nice day, crowded with bathers. However, if you’re a fan of Henry David Thoreau there is a small area that would interest you. If not a fan, don’t bother.
  • Boston: You can do an overnight in Boston. but there’s so much history to see and cool things to do in the town, it’s worth a couple overnights, or a trip on its own. On my way to Maine, I like to go just a bit further north until I stop for the overnight.
  • Salem MA: This town is about 5 hours from Bar Harbor. I only stop here if I’m also doing a second overnight in Portland ME. I love a stop here, and have done it a few times. It’s a cute town – lots of witchy stuff to see. I’d pass on most of the touristy “witch trial” stuff. Three fabulous things do for an overnight, presuming you get there in mid-late afternoon:
    • The House of the Seven Gables tour. So interesting! It’s worth reading some – or all – of the book in which Hawthorne describes some of the historical buildings that still exist today.
    • Ghost Tour. There is also a ghost tour presented by a true warlock who is more focused on history than ghosts. He’s fabulous!
      • He took us past the old jail (now condos) and the Monopoly Houses (Parker Brothers games were born in Salem)
    • The Peabody Essex Museum is nice on its own, but the “don’t miss” thing to see at the PEM is the authentic Chinese house. Built in 1800 – bought in China, dismantled there and reassembled here. It’s fascinating to see and the videos of the moving process are something to see.
    • Hotels: I’ve stayed at the historic Hawthorne Hotel on a B&B deal. It was OK, pricey with tiny rooms – but worth taking a look and having a drink in the Tavern and breakfast was good. I loved the Salem Inn. When I was there it included wine and cheese at 5pm, which we enjoyed in the quaint and quiet courtyard, and breakfast. And a ghost…which Joseph and I named Catherine.
    • Marblehead: About 10″ from the town, this is a beautiful port with lots of American Revolution history
  • Cape Anne: Everybody knows Cape Cod in the south, but the northern Cape Anne is home to Rockport, with one of the most painted buildings in the country (“Motif#1”). If you go, enjoy the scenery and the seafood…but don’t miss The Paper House

New Hampshire – about 4-4.5 hours from Bar Harbor

  • Portsmouth is a cool little city. It has some history, a good nightlife, and is easy to walk. The town is very cute during the day, has some historical sections, and the couple bars are hopping – we especially like the Irish Bar.
  • The NH Liquor Store is a good stop for reasonably priced alcohol before going into Maine. It’s an easy on-off from 95. It’s much like Total Wine in DE.

Southern Maine – Lots of cute little beach towns, including…

  • Kittery. From Portsmouth or the liquor, you’re about 10 minutes from the bridge into ME – first town is Kittery. Lots of outlets but pretty much like what we have here. What is worth a stop is When Pigs Fly Bread. It’s a place to get food and drink and, attached to the bar, is the mothership for the best-ever breads. Lots to sample, sweet and savory. I usually bring many loaves home but – since covid – have ordered my favs. In 2020, when I couldn’t vacation in Maine, one of my friends (who owns property nearby) brought bread back for me. But I missed it so much that I had a bunch of loaves sent to me.
  • Ogunquit has awesome scenery. You can grab a bite to eat here during the day and then take the walking path, which meanders along a hill overlooking the ocean – and worth the walk. Also look for Perkins Cove because it is a romantic little place with stores and cafes – small but nice. I can recommend 2 good restaurants: Pizza Napoli, owned by my friends, Robert and Michael, and Roberto’s – where they hang out when not at their own place.
  • Kennebunkport is a quiet town which boasts the Bush compound – which you can only see from a distance
  • Old Orchard Beach may be the most popular family town for summer visitors. It reminded me of Ocean City NJ – and a bit too busy for me. However, if you want a lot of family-friendly activity, it could be your favorite place.

Portland/Casco Bay

  • About an hour north of Kittery and Ogunquit is Portland. This town is a great overnight and even worth a few days. Portland is a major city – but not like Philly and much smaller and very walkable. When I first went to Portland, much of the downtown (Old Port) was a burned-out place, and a little scary. Not anymore. By 2019 it was all small shops and cool bars – and The Holy Donut – another foody place not to be missed. Amazing potato donuts (I don’t much care for either donuts or potatoes, but these potato donuts are dream-worthy!)
    • Where to Stay
      • Uptown – Congress Street is the main drag for traditional stores and there’s lots of activity. I’ve stayed at the Westin and my favorite thing is watching the sunset and having drinks at the rooftop bar. I also loved the small eateries up, down, and around Congress Street.
      • Old Port – I’ve also stayed downtown by the waterfront, e.g. at a Marriott. Both the area and the hotel are just OK – and, I think, a lot more expensive; I like uptown better for its location.
      • Scarborough is just outside of the city and an easy drive into Portland. It has several chain hotels, and less expensive in cash/easier to  exchange points during high season. However, make your reservation early to get your best deal.
    • What To Do
      • There are many things to do in Portland and, during  the summer months, lots of events. So check local listings and the local Patch to find them. Here are some good standards that, if you are only doing an overnight or weekend, your best bets:
        • Portland Art Museum there – decent but not someplace I would visit again.
        • The Victoria Manson is a historical house that was slated for demolition and saved by a history-focused group. It’s been lovingly restored. I’ve seen a couple times – worth it if you like that kind of thing.
        • Portland Headlight is one big place not to be missed. It’s a beautiful lighthouse in a peaceful coastal setting – and the park is a good place to walk, see the sites, take pix, and suck in some of that good Main salt air.
        • Becky’s Diner on Commercial Street is THE place for breakfast. You’re likely to wait 30-60 minutes to get in, but it’s good diner food and real Maine atmosphere…and at an average price.
        • The Holy Donut has a couple locations and, even though I don’t care much for potatoes or donuts, I crave these!
        • The Portland Observatory is on the northern end of the peninsula. It’s a civil engineering feat and the the last historic maritime signal station. It’s a great stop if you have a couple hours. If you time is right, you can visit here and then get something to eat in Munjoy Hill.
        • Walk! During the day, consider walking around the city of Portland. It has several funky neighborhoods that are interesting to observe on foot. I like seeing very old buildings on Congress Street. Also, the intersection of Congress, Free, and High Streets is a bustling place – and, at night – is an amazingly cool visual treat.
        • Enjoy the vibrant Night Life. There are lots of cool places but they turn over fast, so check Yelp or Trip Advisor to see what’s
    • Most of the restaurants have average offerings, but good ones. There are some interesting upscale places in Munjoy Hill section on the northeast section of the peninsula.
    • The Trader Joe’s in Portland carries a large selection of locally brewed beers. Rising Tide is Joseph’s favorite (Portland-made) beer, but he likes to try others too.

Leaving Portland, going north – on the highway I295 – you can stop in Freeport, Home of LL Bean. If you’re a fan, you can get some discounts there. There are some cute shops and also a small When Pigs Fly bread store and a Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. However, unless you have a purpose for going, it’s not a “must do” stop.

If you want to drive straight through from Portland to Bar Harbor, you can take I295 north toward Augusta and then pick up I95 at Gardiner into Bangor (where Stephen Kind lives) before going east to Bar Harbor. That drive is about 3 hours.

OR, if you want to meander up in coast, you can take I295 out of Portland and get onto scenic Rt. 1, which takes you through the small towns. I like doing that on the way to Bar Harbor, through tiny towns on Rts 1 and 3, in the way into Ellsworth – the county seat and the city closest to Bar Harbor (and where all the regular grocery stores, Walmart, etc. are). Personally I like doing it on the way up but, on the way back (and because I’m ready to get home) Joseph and I go the more direct route, driving west from Bar Harbor to Bangor and then south on I95 out of Maine.

IF YOU GO SCENIC RT 1: There are lots of little towns along the way – some more interesting than others – but each one having its own special charm. Here are some I’ve been to and visit from time to time:

  • Wiscasset: Off the beaten path, is Wiscasset – home of Red’s Eat – internationally lauded for its lobster rolls. It’s literally a shack in the center of town. Expect to wait in line about an hour to order at the window and another 20” from the time you order until you get your food. If you go between lunch and dinner (around 2-3pm) it’s faster – hardly a line. Either way, if you love lobster roll, it’s the best around. FYI: if you’re with someone who isn’t a fish person…Joseph doesn’t eat it and gets a sirloin steak sandwich.  Both are wicked good!
    • Don’t let the time in line stop you. If you’re friendly, you’re likely to meet some interesting people and have some cool conversations. However, it’s sunny – so wear your hat to guard from too much sun.
  • Boothbay Harbor – about 20 minutes from Wiscasset, this is a quaint coastal town of lighthouses and the longest wooden footbridge in the country. It’s also where the old-time musical Carousel was filmed
  • Monhegan Island: Between Freeport and Wiscasset, and off the coast, is Monhegan Island. This is a magical place where several of the Wyeth family own or have owned houses there. I believe Jaime still do and still paints there. You have to plan this trip in advance – and it makes sense to stay at a B&B overnight – because you can only get to the island by mail ferry, leaving from Port Clyde at 7am, and you return the same way in late afternoon.
    • It’s an adventure if you go, and worth the extra effort. Don’t forget to visit the iconic Port Clyde Lighthouse.
  • Damariscotta: Just past Wiscasset is Damariscotta. This little town is worth stopping in for a short stay…because it’s sooooo Maine. And it’s the home of the original RENY’s – the funky department store you see all over Maine.
  • If you are staying on the coastal road, you’ll practically run right into Rockland, Rockport, and Camden.
    • Rockland is a sweet little town and home to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse (which you can only get to by foot – 3/4 mile one way) and the Farnsworth Art Museum, which houses both local artists and many famous Wyeth family paintings.
    • Just north of Rockland is Rockport, a beautiful harbor town.
    • Same with Camden jut up the road – “jewel of the coast” – with lots of big boats and yachts. You could visit both of those in a day. And, while in Camden, you could go to Camden Hills State Park and take a hike up Mount Battie for some ama zing views of Penobscot Bay.
  • Continuing north you’ll pass through towns like Belfast, Stonington, Deer Isle, and Blue Hill.
    • Blue Hill is called the considered the gateway to Acadia. If you read Charlotte’s Web as a kid…Blue Hill was the home of EB white, who wrote Charlotte’s web. If you go there around Labor Day, you can go to the Blue Hill Fair – and don’t be surprised if you feel like you just walked into Charlotte’s Web…because you are! White fashioned the county fair in his book after the Blue Hill Fair. I didn’t know that when I went to the fair the first time. Still, I noticed how much it reminded me of the book. It was a year or two later that I learned it was White’s hometown – that’s how good his descriptive writing was!
      • If you go to the fair, you’re very likely to see Wilbur there – though Charlotte sees to stay out of site whenever I’ve gone.
  • As you get closer to Bar Harbor, you’ll pass through Bucksport.  This is the place that boasts (what I think) is the scariest bridge ever: The Penobscot Narrows Bridge – one of only 3 such bridges in the country. I don’t drive over it – I drove over the rickety old one, but this one is too much for me. Fortunately it doesn’t bother Joseph. However, there are two things you can enjoy around here:
    • Penobscot Narrows Observatory: This is the tallest bridge observatory in the world. Visitors can go inside the observatory and to the top – and it’s very cool to be there and see the river and adjoining town from almost (I think) a half-mile up.
    • On the same side of the river as the observatory is Fort Knox – and interesting military compound leftover from the Civil War. It’s worth seeing once – and it isn’t very expensive to visit.
    • Just over the bridge is Verona Island – a good place to stop and have a picnic by the Penobscot River.
  • About another half-hour drive and you are in the town of Ellsworth – the county seat and the town that serves Mt. Desert Island.
    • There’s a lot of history here, including the Woodlawn Museum, once owned by wealthy captain who created much of Ellsworth’s trade one hundred or more years ago, and the Ellsworth Bird Sanctuary.
    • Ellsworth features a lot of entrepreneurs, artists, and a few restaurants. My go-to is the Riverside Café but I’ve also enjoyed dinner at the Irish bar (Finn’s Irish Pub). Joseph loves visiting the British me-too pub (Airline Brewing Company). The first time we went they didn’t serve more that picky snacks, but now they have a menu – including bangers and mash and even pasties. Being there is like being in the UK.
    • Ellsworth is also where the main grocery shopping is with a few major grocery stores and Walmart are.

Bar Harbor is east of Ellsworth. BUT, if you go north from Ellsworth, you’ll pass the Schoodic Peninsula and be heading toward Canada – and how you travel if you want to hike Mount Katahdin. I’ve never done it, but I have explored the little towns along the way, including the Quoddy Lighthouse and Campobello, former summer home of FDR.

From Ellsworth, drive about 30” onto Mt. Desert Island. There are 3 main harbors on Mt. Desert:

  • Bar Harbor, touristy but quaint with the largest number of stores and restaurants
  • Southwest Harbor, small and with a slightly upper middle-class vibe
  • Northeast Harbor, where you’ll see the yachts and could even run into a Rockefeller, Dick Wolf, or Martha Stewart.
  • There are other, smaller places, like Pretty Marsh, but unless you know someone there or have something to do there, it’s not a good use of time – but it’s also where some of the best seasonal restaurants can be found. It’s hard to say which ones because those island restaurants can be gangbusters one summer and gone the next.

The primary thing on Mt. Desert is the spectacular Acadia National Park. It’s filled with breathtaking beauty, and more hikes than you can imagine, as well as carriage trails that go through the prettiest parts of the park.

  • Start at the Visitor center and get a park pass. You may have to make a reservation to get into the park – and the rangers will tell you.
  • Drive the Ocean Drive to get a feel for the park. You’ll drive through or past places like Thunder Hole.  You can get out and walk a little bit or a lot.
  • Plan to go up to Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak – and the first place the sun comes up on the east coast.
    • You can hike up the mountain and I’ve done it a couple times – and that’s fun. It’s more fun to hike up the mountain and walk back on the road (but be careful).
    • Drive up the mountain for either sunrise or sunset – two of the best things to do in Acadia.
      • When you go for sunset, go early. Lots of people go, so it gets crowded. One year there was someone who got freaked out by the height and drove about 5mph, and we missed the sunset
      • Once I took friends, who was visiting for the day, up to Cadillac and there was a man on the mountain playing bagpipes…it was amazing!
  • Many of the hikes start of the Jordan Pond House, so it’s hub and gets busy. Get there early for parking. Two good hikes from that hub are the
    • Jordan Pond Path (goes around the pond – takes about 2 hours). Half the path is a flat path and the other is through the woods and over boulders – dress with appropriate foot gear. From Jordan Pond House, I like starting on the left side because it’s the more challenging part. Halfway around, at the base of “The Bubbles” the path flattens out.
    • Jordan Stream Path
      • This is the opposite direction from the Pond and through the woods to Seal Harbor. The return in on a lovely carriage road
    • Popovers at Jordan Pond House are a must – out in the backyard looking at The Bubbles – a good way to end either hike
  • Two other favorite hike are:
    • Ocean Path, which starts  at Sand Beach and is relatively easy – no big boulders to climb over – with amazing views all along. I like doing this one in late afternoon because that’s when it’s the least crowded. I bring a snack to eat at the end of the way out while enjoying the lowering sun. The way back to Sand Beach is during sunset and the changing colors makes the trek even better.
    • Connors Nubble, not as easy one going up the mountain – but not real strenuous. Then, when you come down the mountain, you end up on a flat carriage trail.

Night Life: Don’t expect a lot of nightlife in Bar Harbor. But if you hike all day, that might not matter. If I finish a hike in the latter part of the day, I enjoy having a drink at happy hour in one of the many outdoor bars. The restaurants are good. I like Havana, Café This Way, Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast and the Black Friar.

Where to stay: I stay at Windward Cottages – and they are the best! They are housekeeping cottages overlooking Clarks Cove. Owner Ollie Wenger does everything to make sure you have a good stay. Also, I like that all the harbors are about 15” from the cottage. And some of the good eating places are outside of Bar harbor areas…like Mothers Kitchen for lunches (across the street from the cottage), Burning Tree, The Common Good (popovers) and Red Sky (Southwest), Beal’s Lobster Pound, and XYZ.

2019 Epilogue 

Windward Cottages

Settling back into “real life” after a relaxing couple of weeks away. I was surprised when I got an email from Ollie at Windward Cottages. The subject line said “left in cottage.” Hmmm….Joseph and I always do a “last sweep” of closets  and drawers, so I thought “what could we possibly have left?” 

When I opened up the email, I saw “undergarments” and cringed. I know I took the last shower, so whatever was left was mine. I hoped I just left socks. I know they technically aren’t undergarments, but I was red-faced enough. Too embarrassed to call Ollie myself, I asked Joseph to do it. 

The next day, Joseph called Ollie from work. When he came home, he had a devilishly sheepish look on his face. I cringed again. “Did you talk to Ollie?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, and burst out laughing. 

Fortunately, I didn’t leave dirty underwear. Unfortunately, what I left was my sports bra. Now, dear readers, I’m a big girl, so my everyday bras are big to begin with. But my sports bra, complete with everything structural that holds my everythings in and up while hiking, is huge!!!  I just wanted to crawl under the chair and stay there until the red in my face became at least a nice shade of pink.  

I didn’t, of course. And Ollie put my bra in the mail. Embarrassing? Yes! A funny end to vacation and a good story? Yes and yes!

Already missing Ollie and our Windward Cottages cottage…

 Beating Dorian 

All week I watched the path of hurricane Dorian. I wondered if we would get stuck in the hurricane – or it’s aftermath – on our way home. We didn’t. Leaving yesterday was smart. We had perfect weather from Bar Harbor all the way down the coast. By today the coast of Maine, including Downeast, was engulfed in the hurricane on its way to Canada. 

We lucked out with perfect sunshine-filled New England weather all the way home. 

We left Amesbury, and stopped in Newburyport to get bread. I wanted to make it a quick stop and then go to Salem. Joseph talked me out of it – and I’m glad he did…for two reasons: 

1 – We got home at 8:45 – and that was late enough. Adding a stop in Salem would have gotten us home much later, and probably cranky. 

2 – Since we weren’t going to Salem, we walked around and I stopped at Clays – where I found a fabulous jacket for $100. Almost as good as being at a Dillards sale! 

The ride home was fine until NY  where one woman nearly slid into the side of my car. It was like she was planning to change lanes and didn’t see me until the last safe second.  And there were kids in the car! I was driving and it scared the crap outta me. That was one. 

The second time, still while I was driving on the Garden State Parkway, some young woman didn’t bother to yield while merging. I almost ran into her back end. But here’s the weird thing: once on the parkway, she slide across lanes to the turning lane for the rest stop. That didn’t make sense to come onto the parkway just to get off. 

However, we got home safely, unpacked the car, and put away any food. Then we enjoyed a drink while watching a movie about George Burns, including his relationship with Gracie Allen. 

Another good vacation! 

Exchanging a “Last Hike” for Popovers

Joseph and I thought about a “last hike” in the early morning but opted for Common Good, the soup kitchen in Southwest Harbor. The soup kitchen takes care of Mainers who need food, especially during the winter months. I see the same volunteers each year, and some new faces. They are dedicated, and the community is equally dedicated in its support.  

We had a couple of popovers and I had a little oatmeal. There was an old guy playing guitar when we sat down and I think he thought he was doing practice in his living room. I don’t know if it could have been worse. OK, maybe if he was louder. But then he left and another guy started and he wasn’t very loud either, but at least he was playing actual tunes. 

Back at the cottages, we stopped in to talk to Ollie and made our reservation for next year. Then it was back to the cottage to shower and pack. We left the cottage around noon. We picked up a Grandpa Jack sandwich Mother’s Kitchen and drove to nearby Thompson’s Island to eat it – dragging out our 2019 MDI departure just a little longer.  

Then it was onto Bangor and I95. The weather was beautiful and the trip was easy. Joseph drove to Bangor and I picked it up from there.  

We stopped over in Portland to get a few donuts from The Holy Donut (I wasn’t kidding – I’m obsessed with them). Then it was onto Ogunquit to meet Robert for dinner at Roberto’s. It was so funny when we got there before Robert and sat at the reserved table (which we were told was Robert’s go-to table – yes, he’s a regular, even though he owns Pizza Napoli down the road – and it’s very good. Suddenly, thinking we were wrongly taking the reserved table, everyone from the owner to the server was on top of us. They kept asking “are you with Robert and Michael?” Yes, we assured them. However, until Robert got there, I don’t think they trusted us. It was funny. So when Robert finally got there, everyone – from owner to server – teased up about trying to steal Robert’s reservation. 

Michael couldn’t join us for a medical reason and that was a little disappointing but…what can you do. I liked talking with Robert about everything from vacation in Maine to politics.   

We finished dinner and headed to our overnight at the Fairfield Inn in Amesbury MA. Goodbye Maine – see you in 2020… 🙁 

The Big One 

A View from Jordan Pond Path Hike

Today is our last full day in Maine. That means two things: The last hike and the “special” dinner.  

For the hike we chose my favorite: The Jordan Pond. This one travels the entire 3.5 miles shoreline of the Jordan Pond. Joseph and I usually start on right (western) side because it’s a little tedious – easier to do when we have more energy. It starts like a nice walk along the shore but then the “boardwalk” starts. The boardwalk (two or three side-by-side planks) is designed to keep walkers off the marshy sections and preserve the ecology. A few years ago the boardwalk was relatively short and fairly low to the ground. Now the boardwalk is longer and higher. As a result, the hiker’s focus in on not falling off the boardwalk instead of enjoying the amazing scenery. 

This year the boardwalk ended with a sign that goes away from the pond and into the forest for a considerable distance. So, for about 10 minutes, we walked on soft needles and over tree roots. Then we were back on the path – just in time for the boulders. I think Joseph really likes this part the most. It’s a challenging trek over the huge boulders.

This year we watched a guy leapfrogging from boulder to boulder to get to one that was like an island in the water – all for a good photo. His friends were harassing him for doing it and he was teasing them into joining him – they weren’t buying it.  

I jumped into the conversation, telling him I thought he was impressive. His friends laughed and one of them said, “Yeah – stick around to see how he gets back!” I laughed and responded, “I think I will because I’m wondering how he’s doing it!”  

The guys took their friend’s picture and, amazingly, he leapfrogged back to shore. One thing I was thinking is that, as he got to the last one on the shoreline, all his guys stood in place and watched. Not one of the guys moved. If it was girls, I think they’d be there to catch her – just in case. I thought it was curiously funny. 

A little later we met a couple, about our age, who was walking the opposite way from us. They wanted to know if there was a trail that would enable them hike up to the carriage road above and avoid the boulders and boardwalk. As far as we know, there isn’t. 

?

That’s one of the things about hiking here (and, I guess, anywhere). You can get lost or make a mistake and then you’re stuck. We’ve done it. Once we took a wrong path that ended up at a different parking lot. Another time we unexpectedly took a path that ended up going to Dorr Mt – the 2nd highest in the park. That wasn’t the bad part. The bad part was that we didn’t go back the same way and ended up on a path that we weren’t sure was a path. It was late in the day and I was scared that the sun would set and we would be lost in the park…and stuck there overnight. 

Stuff happens on hiking trails and there is often no cell service. Hiking is not for the faint of heart! 

I don’t know what happened to them but Joseph and I continued on the path. The second half of the path is a well-traveled flat walk on a gravel path. The views of the pond – especially during the days when the sun is shining brightly. During those days and during midday hours, the sun dances on the pond creating the most amazingly beautiful picture. 

The hike took us about 2 hours. When it was over, we broke from precedent. Joseph and I usually get popovers at Jordan Pond House, but it was too crowded. Instead, we drove to the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor. A half-sandwich and 2 popovers later, we drove back to the cottage. When we got there, first we took a little time to clean out the kitchen cabinets, the first step in our packing-to-go-home process.  

Our dinner reservations weren’t until 8, so we watched some TV. Actually, I found a copy of Must Watch Dogs in the cottage office. Knowing how that is one of the most hated romantic movies, I watched try to figure out why. I couldn’t. The script is dopey, but the performances are good. And I like John Cusack. So it wasn’t an Academy Award winner, but it was a cute movie featuring actual older people who are dating and dealing with previously married angst. 

Our “last night” dinner was at Red Sky in Southwest Harbor. They were having staffing issues (a common problem here) but did their best to accommodate and serve us. As a result, we were understanding and patient. We had a good table and had plenty to talk about while waiting for someone to take our drink order: Joseph got a beer and I had a limoncello something – good but a little too sweet for a second one.  

Joseph had seak and I had peekytoe crabcakes – which were mostly crab and perfectly seasoned; they were totally worth the cost. So was the vanilla and peach cake I had for dessert – glad I ordered that instead of the gingerbread cake Joseph got. 

Great end of vacation day! 

Green Eggs and Sam with George

Steps that once led to Doerr House

We’re starting to think about home – both sad to see our vacation ending and glad to be back in our own beds. 

After yesterday’s long hike, we opted for a much shorter and easier trek to Compass Point. It’s the site where George Doerr’s family had a “cottage” in late 1800. The place was razed in the 1950’s but the long set of steps to the harbor and some of the foundation still remain.

Some of the Original Foundation

We went to Café This Way for breakfast. I had Green Eggs and Sam – an omelet with spinach, artichokes, calamite olives and feta. Sometimes you get an omelet like that and you can barely see the goodies and it’s only sprinkled with cheese. Not this one! I could taste every one of the ingredients and the cheese was chunky. So good! 

Green Eggs and Sam

We walked around Bar Harbor, but it was packed with vacationers and cruise people, so we didn’t stay long. We went back to the cottage, watched the last of Big Little Lies, ate sloppy joe casserole for dinner and just relaxed. Good day and night! 

Only a Few Days Left

Along the Ocean Path

I cannot believe it’s Tuesday of the 2nd week here. It’s going too fast!

This morning I saw Ollie and asked about his openings before and after our two weeks – thinking maybe we can add another week in 2020. I think what’s happened is that Joseph and I have certain hikes we like to do every year. And then there are new hikes we want to explore and things that pop up (like the Design House and the FlashInThePan musicians).  So, when new things come up – and some are just here for the season, or less – we pass on some “standards” to make space for the new. Then we miss the old ones. So maybe we need three weeks… 

Today we did our most ambitious hike yet – the Ocean Path. It’s Joseph’s favorite. The path starts at Sand Beach, for almost two miles. It mostly follows the Park Loop Road, meanders through a forest and above the shoreline – for fabulous views all the way. It ends at the Otter Cliffs, where Joseph and I usually stop for water and a snack before heading back. 

View of a Porcupine Islands from Ocean Path

It’s not a hard hike, but it is tedious in spots and does require some climbing over boulders. And it’s long – for almost two miles each way.  

Because it’s so pretty, it’s popular with many visitors with kids and the cruise people – at least for about ¾ of a mile to Thunder Hole. So it’s very crowded and not too pleasance. So for the past few years, we’ve been doing this in late afternoon. We usually get to Otter Cliffs around sunset and return in the afterglow. 

This year we changed it up and decided to go in the early morning. It was a little crowded – we got the last parking lot parking space. By the return trip, the last leg before returning to the car was crowded with a lot of cruise people. By then, for us, it wasn’t bad – especially since all Joseph and I wanted by then was food and rest.  

We headed into Bar Harbor and we were too late for breakfast. So we ended up going to Mother’s Kitchen and getting a Grandpa Jack sandwich (meatloaf on sourdough bread). When we ordered, I could tell Joseph was starving and ordered a scone, a brownie, and two cookies. I presumed they were for dessert, but he ate them on picnic benches while waiting for our food. He didn’t eat alone either – the fruit and nuts we had on the Ocean Path didn’t fill either of us up. Happily for me, I didn’t much like either the scone or the brownie, so I just tasted them and split the cookies – some of the best ones I’ve had in a long time! Sascha does a fabulous business in the little shack, and for good reason. Her cooking is some of the best on the island. 

After lunch we just relaxed, delving into our second binge-watch of vacation, Big Little Lies. I wasn’t sure if we’d like it, but as Joseph said, it’s “intriguing.” 

We left at 6 to pick up Ollie for dinner. We headed into Ellsworth and Finn’s. I had the Fish and Chips, and we split a slice of blueberry pie for dessert. Both good, but spending time with Ollie is special.  

Ollie’s new friend, whom he met on a Road Scholar trip, is coming into town. I was hoping to meet her, but she’s coming in on Friday night. We’re leaving Friday afternoon and will be in Amesbury MA on Friday night. 

We asked Ollie if it was a “serious” relationship. He seems to like it the way it is because he has someone to talk to and travel with and that’s good for him at this point. He doesn’t want to move to CA and she’s not moving to ME. So this seems to be working for both of them. 

Something else Ollie told us the other night. She’s the same age as he is. That makes a  difference – and for a reason, I’d never considered. He said that “when you’ve sat next to the bed and held your wife’s hand while she was dying…” Since he’s done that twice, he has no interest in doing it a third time. I guess that makes sense to want to be with someone who will outlive you. 

The other thing he said, something his brother told him, and the reason he’s doing so much travel in the off-season: “There isn’t much time between ‘I can’ and ‘I can’t’.” Something for Joseph and I to consider! 

We got back to the cottage and watched two more episodes of Big Little Lies. We’d been discussing where we would have our last MDI dinner and decided on Red Sky in Southwest Harbor. I was a favorite of Susan Howard but we’ve never been. Susan died unexpectedly at the end of last year. She was on our mind this year. Joseph made a reservation for Thursday at 8. Then we headed for bed. 

Design House/Flash in the Pan

Dining on the Veranda
Bar Harbor Show House

It was supposed to rain today so we didn’t plan a hike. Instead, we planned a trip to the new Bar Harbor Historical Society’s new home – currently being used as the fundraiser design house LaRochelle. What a history!  Built in 1903, right on the bold coast in Bar Harbor, it was a residence for many years, including during (and surviving) the famous Bar Harbor Fire in 1947. In 1972 it was donated to the Seacoast Mission, an organization that serves the many isolated coastal and island communities. When they moved to Northeast Harbor, the house was bought by the Bar Harbor Historical Society. The BHHS turned it into a one-season show house to help pay for and make repairs to the property before moving into it. The rooms looked amazing! https://mainehomes.com/larochelle/

I  could have stayed there all afternoon – and practically did! Sitting on the back porch. seeing gardens originally designed by Beatrix

Bar Harbor Historical Society, 2017

Ferrand, and imagining what it must have been like to live there was fun. When I come back, I’ll be curious to see what the BHHS has done with it. Their current home is in the old Catholic convent, once the residence of St. Catherine Drexel, whose family summered in Bar Harbor. Her sister had the convent built so Catherine could visit her and her family.

We left there, went to Havana so Joseph could get one last Havana burger and beer at this place. I had some cheese thing that I shared with Joseph as an appetizer. It was freezing, so I had an earl grey instead of a cocktail.  

We got back to the cottage and I defrosted a pork chop leftover before leaving for Schoodic and the “FlashInAPan” band event. Donna Debs told us about the group. Initially, it was to be an open-air event, but with the imminent threat of rain, the band decided to move it indoors to Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor. I was glad – It’s cold here and the rain made it a little bitter. Indoors suited me!

Flask in the Pan

What an unexpected treat this band was! Whodathunk there would ever be a group that played steed drums? But there they were – about 15 locals, ranging in age from teens to retirees – making joyful noise and encouraging everyone to join in by dancing…and plenty did so, including me and Joseph and Donna and her spouse, Ray. They played for about 90 minutes and it was clear that the audience knew and loved the group. I was amazed to see all ages of people dancing – from toddlers to older folks – and so many dancing alone – and with happy abandon. I was reminded of that quote “Dance like no one is watching” – because they did! 

The Design House and the steel drum band were both something different. It was an unusual Mt. Desert day, but a good one! https://www.wabi.tv/content/news/Designers-transform-historic-seaside-home-in-Bar-Harbor-512653671.html 

Jordan Stream Path

Joseph and I eased into the day. Ollie stopped over and asked us if we wanted to go lobstering with him; he was leaving in about a half-hour.  I wanted to go, but was still in my pajamas, Sunday morning style and not moving too fast. So I passed. A little while later I watched Ollie leaving the shore, taking the motorboat out to the lobster boat, boarding, and disappearing into the beautiful blue horizon.  

About an hour later, still in my pjs, I watched Ollie returning. It would have been a nice afternoon, but I just couldn’t make it happen for me. In fact, I was moving so slow that, by the time I was ready to leave the cottage, Ollie was already getting back! 

Joseph and I decided to take hike – choosing the Jordan Stream – a little traveled but very pleasant trip through the forest following the Jordan Stream. We picked it because the island swells with travelers, so the roads and most of the trails are packed. 

Jordan Stream starts, as many hikes and carriage trails do, at the Jordan Pond house – a go-to place for many of the Labor Day weekend vacationers. Since it’s a hub, and since a cruise ship was docking in the morning, we knew Jordan Pond would be exceptionally crowded.

Uninterested in being part of the crazy “find a parking space” hassle, Joseph and I took Ollie’s suggestion and went to the Hull’s Cove Visitors Center. There we picked up an Island Explorer bus that did the driving for us. It was a good idea – except that I white-knuckled it all the way. Not that the ride was bad or the driver reckless – they weren’t. But I’m not good about heights and the bus is tall enough to see way over the stone barriers that keep visitors from falling off the road and down the mountain. So I was very aware of how high I was and how deep the valleys were below me. 

Still, I refused to close my eyes – just because I feel like it’s unhealthy to cater to that weaknessJoseph later told me he knew I was nervous because I was squeezing the crap out of his hand. Good thing he isn’t doing any massages this week!   

When we got to Jordan Pond, the place was packed! I was glad we just got dropped off the bus. I had to use the bathroom and there were a half-dozen women in front of me. And I overheard the reservation person tell another visitor that it would be 65 minutes to get a table for popovers. Ugh! 

Once we headed to the path behind the building, it was like we were the only ones there. Well…we were! During our two-hour hike, we only saw five people and four dogs – and a couple horseback riders on the carriage trail above the stream. It was a perfect day for walking a dog along the path.  

The Jordan Stream Path has always been a favorite, but the national park service has made changes that has altered our view of it. At first I thought the changes were good – more “boardwalks” over marshy areas that made sections easier and more pleasant. But about 2/3 of the way, there were some changes. It seems that whoever is making decisions about the paths are honoring the ecology and not the visitors – people with probably awesome book smarts and little common sense.  

As a result, the NPS folk rerouted the path away from the stream and more into the forest. As a result, it was longer, harder – walking over lots and lots of exposed tree roots – less safe, and way less scenic. At one point Joseph fell getting off one of the boardwalks. I was behind him and watched him go down – half on the boardwalk and half on the ground. Even though he was wearing jeans, he scrapped his leg pretty badWhen the love for the ecology overshadows the love for and safety of the people enjoying the ecology, it’s a problem.   

Usually we walk past the stream to the harbor and then take the carriage trail back. We didn’t do that today. Because it took us longer, and because we couldn’t get an answer to the “how late are the buses running” question, Joseph was afraid we’d miss the bus back to the visitors center. And he wanted to take care of his leg. So, when we got to Bryce Harbor, Joseph flagged down a bus heading to the next stop, Seal Harbor. I was glad – Seal Harbor was about a half-mile down the road. There was no other way to get there except walking on the road. For as crowded as the park was today, I wasn’t looking forward to it. 

The bus was empty when we got on, but by the time the driver made the last stop, there was standing room only…close standing room. We passed by entrance to Cadillac Mountain entrance and I saw flashing lights and park guards in the street. It looked like there had been an accident. There wasn’t – it was just too crowded on Cadillac and the NPS wasn’t allowing anyone else to go up the mountain. First time I ever saw that happen! 

We finally got dropped of at the Visitor’s Center. We were going to the Walgreens in Ellsworth for first aid supplies so we went “the long way” on route 3. We usually take back roads on the island but at least once a trip we do this just to see what’s going on there. 

Today, as we passed the Best Western on Rt3, I remembered the year we stayed at Eden Village and drove to Camden for the day. We stopped in Belfast on the way back to Bar Harbor and our car, a blue Caravan, broke down. It still ran, but the headlights stopped working. We drove all the way back to Bar Harbor with no lights. It was the grace of God that we weren’t in an accident. The freakiest part was that the car died just as we pulled into the gas station in the village. We took a cab back to cottage, and it cost us a small fortune. 

The next day we asked the owner of the cottage to drive us into the village. He refused. I was so angry I told Joseph we would have to walk. He had no idea how far it was (neither did I). We started walking…along the highway! We got as far as the Best Western and stopped there to find out how much further it was to Bar Harbor. When she heard our story, she called her spouse. Turns out he worked at the post office and was going into work. He gave us a ride. The mechanic at the gas station was awesome. He fixed the car and didn’t overcharge. In the years afterward, whenever I passed his shop, I’d ask God to bless him. I’m thinking he sold it a few years later to a bank. I hope they paid him well for it. We never stayed at Eden Village again. 

So today I thought I’d see how far we walked that morning. I was shocked to track 2.8 miles between the Best Western and Eden Village. It was about another 3-5 miles to the gas station. What were we thinking? And how blessed were we that year?!? 

 In Ellsworth we got the supplies we needed and headed back to the cottage. I would have stayed there, BUT there was word that the Northern Lights would be visible. So we ate some spaghetti and then headed to Seawall. 

It was almost 10pm when we found a parking area that was dark and suitable. We weren’t the only ones there looking for the celestial treat. It could have been awesome, but it wasn’t. After a couple hours, one-by-one each of the cars left. Die-hards, Joseph and I were the last to leave – cold and disappointed – around midnight. 

What a day!  

Sunset on Schoodic 

This is one of my favorite days – the Schoodic Peninsula trip. It focused on going to Mass at the tiny but oh-so-charming St. Margaret C hurch on Grindstone Neck in Winter Harbor Maine. Only open for one hour a week during the summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This  Saturday is the last service of the season. 

We started the morning with breakfast at The Riverside Café in Ellsworth. My Mexican Benedict was really good and I split it with Joseph, who ordered the frittata – which wasn’t as good…too bland…some hot sauce helped. 

Next, we did our laundry and, while it was in the wash, walked across the parking lot to visit the Maine-famous Reny’s department store – a unique store that sells everything from shoes and clothes to food and toys. You can just about anything at Reny’s – and we bought napkins and water. 

Once the laundry was finished, we headed north to the Schoodic Peninsula. We drove first to Frazer Point, a peaceful park where Joseph and I once took TaiChi lessons. It’s still one of the prettiest places on Schoodic, though not as famous or as visited as Schoodic Point (and I like that!). 

The Point was next, but we didn’t stay there long. We opted instead to poke around Prospect Harbor, where we stayed for 5 years, and the old naval station.  

Prospect Harbor is pretty much the same. I couldn’t find the house of Marie and Herb Kunkle, a former acquaintance who first told us about Prospect Harbor. I wondered if it was their house for sale because (1) they’re in their 90’s now and probably not traveling the same as they did 15 years ago and (2) Peter Drinkwater’s sign was pointing to Whitten Road, where their house is. However, I didn’t find the house for sale, and time was starting to get short. 

Sunset on Schoodic

Next, we headed to the old Naval Station and Rockefeller Hall. This place was once a “secret” Naval base where those stationed there got training in things – like cryptology. It was decommissioned about 15 years ago and I’ve driven through the huge property. It was the first time I got to see what’s inside Rockefeller Hall, now a museum honoring the work and service of the military men who served there.  

Today it was open, and Joseph and I were excited to go into it. It’s not an extensive museum – maybe because everything was considered secret, but it was interesting enough to jiggle my curiosity about what really went on there – and how it’s impacting my life today. 

Because of that stop, we didn’t have time to take one of my favorites – a walk along the prettiest part of the road that follows the ocean, including the beautiful Blueberry Hill.  

Instead, we headed into Winter Harbor where we took a few minutes to check in on Peter Drinkwater’s 5&10 – another old-fashioned place that makes me think of what life was like in the 1940’s. Peter also runs a real estate company, and his name is on signs everywhere.

St.Margaret’s
Grindstone Neck, ME

Then it was off to St. Margaret’s where the 4pm mass is – to me – special. The priest who offers the mass is an old guy, a retired school principal, living at St. Joseph’s in Ellsworth. He’s a brash kind of guy and doesn’t stand on ceremony. When he started to process down the aisle, he couldn’t pick a song anybody knew….twiceFinally, he hit on a song everyone knew the tune of, and, with the song books, we could sing. I laughed when he waited for the gifts to be brought to the altar. He checked his watch – and I wondered if he had some dinner arrangement in Ellsworth so he wanted to get through the mass. I was convinced of it when he gave a very short sermon.  

After mass we helped close the place up for the winter – something Joseph and I have been doing for several years. The “mover and shaker” of the Saturday Mass is Rose, a school teacher. She made me laugh when she told me she recognized me when she looked up while doing one of the readings. She knew she’d have help closing up. 

Surprisingly, after both mass and close-up, we were back in the car before 5pm. Fast! 

We headed to Birch Harbor and the Pickled Wrinkle for a drink and dinner – Haddock bit appetizers, salad, and pizza. Then it was back to Frazer Point

Sunset on Schoodic overlooking distant Bar Harbor

for sunset. We didn’t actually stay there but, instead, drove down the road and pulled over to catch a beautiful sunset with a pink, swirly-cloud afterglow. 

From there we headed back to the cottage, taking the Mud Creek backroad to avoid the holiday traffic in Ellsworth. We had a drink, watched a little tv, and then headed for bed. 

Vacation is half over!