On Sunday we woke up to our first full day of vacation. Our plan was to get an early start and see some sights. After sampling some local beers the night before, I was ready for a big breakfast. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the words hungry and hungover both start with the first four letters.
I love using yelp.com to discover places that we might not normally find, especially in an unfamiliar city. We found two breakfast restaurants within walking distance with good reviews and set out to the one that was just around the corner from our hotel. Much to our dismay, it was closed. We instead headed to the other restaurant, Marcy’s Diner, which incidentally had garnered some nationwide attention last year when its owner yelled at some crying kid and the parents took offense. Mr. Maid promised not to throw any tantrums, so I figured we would be safe. Lo and behold, it was closed too! Why would two restaurants known for breakfast and brunch be closed on a Sunday – and Father’s Day no less?!
Feeling like we were letting our early start go to waste, we went back to the hotel and ate a dismal, overpriced buffet breakfast. We like to experience as many local restaurants as we can on our trips, so this was a bit disappointing. We missed out on grilled blueberry muffins and a chance to see someone make a little kid cry. I’m kidding – please don’t send me hate mail.
Sufficiently fed and caffeinated, we jumped in the car and headed south across the Casco Bay Bridge, through South Portland to the town of Cape Elizabeth. The road was lined with huge, gorgeous homes – mansions, really – with lush green lawns and impeccably kept gardens. Our destination was Portland Head Light. This iconic lighthouse is probably one of the most photographed places on the Maine coast. Completed in 1791 it is the oldest lighthouse in Maine, commissioned by none other than George Washington. After seeing only the harbor so far, this was our first taste of the crashing waves of Maine’s coast.
The Portland Head Light is situated in Fort Williams Park, a worthy destination in its own right. Originally an army base, Fort Williams was part the Harbor Defenses of Portland. You can read about it here. On this Father’s Day it was filled with families picnicking, flying kites, or just sitting in the sun. Although the cool ocean breezes gave us goosebumps, the nearly 80 degree temperatures were unseasonably warm for the native Mainers. (I was a bit disappointed that they do not call themselves Mainiacs.)
Next, we headed back downtown, deciding to check out another historical landmark, the Portland Observatory, built in 1807. As I’ve said before, we like to walk a lot, so since it was a beautiful sunny day, we parked the car back at the hotel and walked the 1.2 miles. You’d think that we’d be smart enough to realize that the walk to a tower, built in a neighborhood called Munjoy Hill, and whose purpose is to overlook the harbor would be uphill all the way. Luckily, the trek was worth it. This 86 foot octagonal maritime signal tower is the only one of its kind left in the United States and offers impressive views of the city and the harbor. I was able to snap a few pictures, even though I’m not a fan of heights and standing too close to the edge made me queasy.
Just a block away from the Observatory is Eastern Cemetery, established in 1668 and the final resting place of many notable naval officers and several eighteenth and nineteenth century congressmen.
Hungry from our hike up Munjoy Hill, we once again turned to yelp.com to find somewhere for lunch. We chose a quirky little place that was obviously once a gas station. It had a bit of a sketchy vibe, but the food was decent, the beer was cold, and the service was friendly.
On the much less strenuous walk back downtown, we decided that since it was still early in the afternoon, we’d drive the 20 miles to Freeport, Maine. Freeport is the home of the flagship store of L.L. Bean. Mr. Maid was less than enthusiastic, but after years of dragging me kicking and screaming through every Bass Pro Shop and Cabellas store across the country, he didn’t have a leg to stand on. I know many people, women in particular, that approach shopping like a sport or a hobby. I am not one of those people. I usually shop out of necessity rather than for fun, so he really didn’t mind indulging me.
This store – or campus – consists of five different buildings and is open 24/7, 365 days a year. It is really an impressive place. The staff was exceptionally friendly and helpful, and there were some great sales. Having realized in the past 24 hours that I had underestimated the cool winds off the Atlantic when packing, and temperatures at our ultimate destination of Bar Harbor were forecasted to be even cooler, I was thrilled to find two nice pairs of jeans and a sweater on clearance, and a denim jacket that I had eyed in the catalog at home. Had I not wanted to use them on my trip, the store offers free shipping of any purchases – which I think is a really great service.
Besides L.L. Bean, Freeport is the home of many other shopping outlets. As I said, I am not much of a shopper and many of the same stores can be found near my home. We skipped them all – I just never saw the point of spending my valuable vacation time shopping for things that I could buy at home.
After our long day of sightseeing and retail tourism, we were more than ready to get back to our hotel. We chose The Little Tap House, right near our hotel for our last dinner in Portland. This time, yelp.com did not disappoint. It was a cozy little space with exposed brick and rich wood décor.
Several of the reviews mentioned their poutine. Mr. Maid had never heard of poutine. After all, we do live in the Midwest, not exactly known for “exotic” or unusual cuisine. I’m not sure I would know what it was either if I didn’t read cookbooks and wasn’t obsessed with Food Network shows. For the uninitiated, poutine is a dish from Quebec and really isn’t very exotic at all. It is basically a plate of French fries with beef gravy and cheese.
The poutine at The Little Tap House was heavenly. We ordered it as an appetizer to share. The French fries were thin and crisp. Rather than simple gravy, they were topped with tender, juicy braised beef in a rich, savory gravy – almost like pot roast. Crumbled Vermont white cheddar was sprinkled on top. Mr. Maid, who had been skeptical, was an immediate convert, eating more than his share. The rest of the meal was lovely too.
After our busy day, a delicious meal, and a few glasses of wine for me and beer for Mr. Maid, we were more than ready to call it a night. The next day would be a long one as we embarked on the next leg of our journey – Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.
Thank you Portland, Maine. Your history, culture, food, and people have been so welcoming. We hope we can visit again.
Watch for my next post where we take this show on the road – up the incredible coast of Maine!