Last month, I turned 39 and my husband, Bill, treated me to a birthday vacation. The location of the trip was originally supposed to be a mystery, but it didn’t take long before I figured out where we were going. I had wanted to go to the beach and my husband wanted to escape hot weather. We live on the east coast and didn’t want to spend all day on an airplane, only to have to recover from jet lag. Neither of us had ever been to Maine or anywhere else in New England. And airfares to Portland, Maine from Raleigh, North Carolina were quite reasonable. It was only natural that we’d venture north to celebrate the last year of my 30s and beat the oppressive North Carolina heat.
It was hot and steamy in Raleigh when we boarded our U.S. Airways flight heading north. We would have a brief stop in Philadelphia before we headed onward to Maine’s largest city. I was dazzled by the gorgeous Atlantic coastline I could easily see from the window seat on our flight as we descended toward Portland. When we landed, I noticed it was at least twenty degrees cooler and there was a delightful aroma of salt in the air. After fetching our bags at the delightfully uncrowded airport and renting a car, we were on our way south to Old Orchard Beach.
Old Orchard Beach
Because I had been eager to hit the beach, Bill arranged for us to spend three nights at the Old Orchard Beach Inn. This historic inn features quaint furnishings, garden porches, and a great location just one block from the seaside. I caught a glimpse of the ocean from from the window in our large room and the hallways of the inn had a very pleasant aroma of blueberries. Indeed, at the included breakfast every morning, some kind of fresh fruit bread was offered, as well as fruit, cereal, boiled eggs, and a variety of breads. The proprietors at this inn are very friendly and eager to offer suggestions on good places to eat.
Our first night, we met a couple of old friends who live in Maine and the four of us went to Rising Tide Restaurant, a cute little place right on the water in nearby Scarborough, Maine. The Rising Tide Restaurant is what some might call a “hole in the wall”. It’s nothing fancy, but its location is excellent and it’s a fine place to get whole fresh lobster. My very first night in Maine, I ordered my very first lobster. It arrived in all its crustaceous glory, deep red and garnished with drawn butter. I washed it down with a tasty Shipyard beer and some great company.
Later, we walked down to the beach, where the carnival atmosphere was in full swing. A small amusement park complete with games, rides, psychics, and carnival food, was in full swing. We wandered around the Midway, listening to the delighted screams of the many teenagers who were enjoying the rides. There was a time not too long ago when I would have happily joined in. Right next to the amusement park is the Old Orchard Beach Pier, where there are restaurants, clubs, and a few gift shops.
We spent three lovely days at Old Orchard Beach and spent my birthday actually sitting on the beach, enjoying the sun and the ice cold water! I did manage to get in the ocean up to my chest, but it was a little chilly for swimming. Be sure to bring your sunscreen if you visit. Bill forgot to put some on his feet and got quite a sunburn.
Old Orchard Beach is also a great place to people watch. One afternoon, we were treated to the sight of three talented teenaged guys doing street dancing next to the carnival. They were pretty good and fun to watch!
We didn’t want to spend all our time sitting on the beach, so we took some day trips. I noticed that my husband was in need of some new shorts, so we took a trip to Freeport, Maine, where L.L. Bean is headquartered. We spent some time wandering through the huge outlet store and successfully found some new clothes for my hubby. Afterwards, we walked through Freeport, checking out the many outlet stores and finally stopping for lunch at the Mediterranean Grill. Although my official birthday meal was the next night, I like to think of our lunch at the Mediterranean Grill as the real celebration. This restaurant is run by a Turkish family and serves delicious authentic Turkish cuisine. If you’re inclined to have dessert, I highly recommend indulging at the Mediterranean Grill. The proprietor gifted us with a huge piece of chocolate mousse cake that put a big smile on my face.
Cape Elizabeth, Maine
June 20th was my birthday, so we decided to go out to a nice restaurant to celebrate. We chose Sea Glass, a restaurant at Inn By The Sea. Since the weather was nice, we ate outside; however, it was actually really chilly! I actually wished for a sweater as I enjoyed a five course lobster tasting meal. Inn By The Sea is a lovely property that appeared to be very family friendly. The view from the restaurant is gorgeous.
Kennebunkport, Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts
We moved to the Embassy Suites in Portland, Maine for our next three nights. Portland is only about a twenty minute drive from Old Orchard Beach, but the vibe is completely different. Because we had some time to kill between checking out of our Old Orchard Beach lodging and checking into our Portland lodging, we decided to take a little joyride. Because neither Bill nor I had ever been to New England before, we decided to take a little joyride. We got on Route 1 and drove south, taking in the beautiful scenery and quaint towns along the way. Somewhere along the way, we ended up taking a trip to Kennebunkport, which is the adorable town where George Bush Sr. has his summer home. Yes, we actually did pass Mr. Bush’s well-guarded compound and got a few pictures from afar.
After a lunch stop in Kennebunkport, we headed south. At one point, I looked up and noticed that the road signs looked different. I then realized that we had crossed into New Hampshire. It wasn’t too much longer before we were in Massachusetts! We didn’t do a lot of sightseeing, but I have to admit it was kind of cool to cross three states off the list of places I had never been before.
Bill and I had a marvelous time in Portland, starting with a sumptuous dinner at The Grill Room. After Bill and I enjoyed dinner, we walked outside to a street musician who was playing the bagpipes. I was shocked to hear him playing “Highland Cathedral”, the music I marched down the aisle to on the day Bill and I got married. I turned to Bill and told him that this was a sign that we needed to book our anniversary trip to Scotland in November 2012!
The next day, we parked at a garage in Portland’s Harbor area, then took a walk through the city. We stopped at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house, where we enjoyed a very informative tour led by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide. Afterwards, my back was hurting, so we headed through the arts district until we found Soakology. I reviewed our visit to Soakology on Associated Content, but let me just write here that stopping there probably saved the day! My back was so sore that I wasn’t wanting to do much more walking. After a long soak in healing herbs and hot water, my back was almost as good as new!
By the time we were finished with Soakology, the temperature had dropped significantly. We stopped for lunch at David’s Restaurant, enjoyed a light repast, then strolled to a movie theater where we saw Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight In Paris. The film was a real treat, especially for my husband, who never gets to go to the movies anymore. It seemed like the perfect movie to see right after visiting Longfellow’s house, since it was all about a guy who runs into art and literary figures in 1920s era Paris. Our visit to Portland would not have been complete without a small cup of chowder, which we enjoyed before we went back to our hotel.
Boothbay Harbor, Maine
We actually went to Boothbay Harbor twice, first to check it out and second to visit the aquarium. Boothbay Harbor’s Aquarium is very small, but it does boast a very rare blue lobster. It was worth visiting just for that purpose. We didn’t have any kids with us, but I suspect that young children have a blast at Boothbay Harbor’s aquarium, since there are several exhibits that allow them to touch the sea creatures that live there.
I had heard some great things about Camden, Maine, so I was determined to stop there before it was time to go back to North Carolina. Camden is a charming town located about an hour from Portland. The town is quaint and loaded with art galleries, gift shops, and restaurants surrounding a very quaint harbor. We easily found parking and wandered around beautiful Camden, watching the boats sail in and out of the harbor.
After I picked up some beautiful new pottery that was created in Maine, Bill and I went back to Portland and enjoyed the manager’s reception at the Embassy Suites. I wouldn’t normally get too excited about the manager’s reception, but it ended up being a good time. I think that’s because we were at an airport hotel, where most people are in transit to one place or another. Let’s just say that Bill and I met some interesting people and it was fascinating to people watch and eavesdrop.
Our flights home
We flew home on Continental. Most flights were delayed because the weather was rainy and there were some problems on the eastern seaboard. I needed a sweater because it was so chilly. We ran into a couple that had been at the manager’s reception with us at the Embassy Suites. They were on their way to California. Since we had very nearly taken our trip to California, I was suddenly glad we went to Maine. Their flight was as delayed as ours was.
We stopped in Newark, where we killed some time at Vino Volo, a very cool wine bar. Sadly, that was where the coolness ended, since we had some issues getting out of Newark. And when we landed in North Carolina later, it was sweltering again!
Our week in Maine was so refreshing and we had a wonderful time. I wish we could have stayed a little longer, if not to see more sights, then to enjoy the cooler temperatures. I would not hesitate to visit Maine again, but next time, I would stay in a couple of the cute towns north of Portland.