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Wednesday
Aug242011

Citizen Of The World: Portland, Maine

When we decided to do our North by Northeast road trip last month, I knew it had to include a stop in Maine. I've been bottling up a long-distance obsession with the masthead of the New England states for far too long. Everything from the stories of reclusive writers throwing potluck suppers at the Rockefeller Gardens, watching the sunset that looks like a dripping cone of orange sorbet from the Acadia Mountains, the lush landscape that looks like a painting left out to dry, had me pining for the place. I had to go. I realized the magic of Maine I had sketched in my mind would probably prove to be nothing more than folk lore. 

And yet.

It swelled into something so much more.

When we crossed the state line into Maine I felt everything in me loosen. The tightness that builds in your chest from living a fast-paced city life snapped and evaporated away. I felt like it was just me in a land of a thousand trees. There are hollowed out caverns in my mind that will forever be filled with the imperfect perfections of Maine's honey holes - craggy coastlines, the smell of salt in the air, goose-pimply deep, dark blue water, landscape stacked with trees and trails.

I stood on rocks jutting out to sea and did nothing. But breathe.

Our first stop for lunch probably broke some cardinal Maine rule. We ate Mexican. I couldn't resist the gas station turned taco stand, El Rayo Taqueria. It was super rad {try the cheese quesadillas, golden jet pineapple & papas fritas - delish!}. Confession: We ate there three times. The place had such an independant spirit, which pretty much oozed of Maine. A state that feels like it marches to the beat of it's own drum. 

And while it may have been our first supper {and lunch} we atoned our Mexican-eating sins by making sure our last supper consisted of lots of lobstah! We ate our weight in seafood at The Lobster Shack at Two Lights. At least Greg did. I'm not too sure what CJ thought of what he insisted on calling "the big shrimp."

Our first full day in Portland we decided to take a ferry ride to Peak's Island. On the ride over we passed by islands with not a soul in sight and others with just one or two houses doting the landscape. Wouldn't it be so enchanting to have such a secluded spot to escape to each summer? Candle light clam bake on the beach for two, please.

When we got to the island we had no plans. No itinerary. No list of things to do. It was the type of day and adventure that had to organically unfold. 

And it did.

The island's perimeter is only four miles around, so we poked into Brad & Wyatt's Bike Shop to rent a few rusty sets of wheels and set out to bike around it. The shop is so nifty, if the father and son team aren't around to rent you a bike, you can just take one and leave your money in the mailbox on the honor system. Neat!

The ride was so peaceful and calming. The roads passed by little cottages that looked like gingerbread houses. We parked our bikes alongside still pools of water that seemed to appear out of nowhere in bends surrounded by ancient trees. You would swear if you closed your eyes or turned your back it would all disappear. We skipped stones and watched sailboats flutter around the water like packs of tissue-paper butterflies. We stopped in a rickety hole-in-the-wall for the best lobster roll. We ate cotton-candy ice cream on benches bellyed up to the ocean. 

One of my favorite things about the trip was every night around 6 p.m. we would pack up some cheese and bread and wine and head for Crescent Beach to have a sunset picnic. The formula for any good vacation is simple. Sand + book = perfect. So I would sprawl out on the sand with Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan {fitting, no?}, while Greg and CJ played tag and looked for blue seashells.

I loved how all the locals also descended upon the sandy shores at this time, too. Everyone would be huddled under cozy sweaters, laughing and drinking wine. Kids flew kites and a few families had little lobster bakes going. It felt so cozy. A slice of life culminating together in the most wonderful of ways.

Living in Florida for six years, I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to northeast beaches, but my heart would sing every time we arrived to this beach. The sand felt cold under my toes and when we walked the shoreline it felt smooth, clean and polished. I wanted to pitch a tent and spend the night, awaiting the arrival of the soupy, pea-green fog to come marching across the water.

Of course you can't say you've stepped foot in Maine if a) you don't eat lobstah, b) you don't slurp down some chowdah and c) you don't take the time to explore the lighthouses. After checking off the first two items, we decided to complete the trifecta and wallow around the Portland Head Light. It was beautiful and I couldn't help but to imagine all the secrets the all-seeing eye atop the lighthouse had seen during it's time keeping watch of the coast. Walking around the dusty trails we even stumbled upon the site of an old shipwreck. Jeepers!

Aside from spending time marveling at the scenery, I also took time to spend, well, money. The streets weaving like fish hooks around the water are jammed with store after store of unique finds. I especially loved the Public Market House, an old 1800s warehouse building, with vendors hawking tasty cheeses, craft-brewed beer and other locavore items. 

When we packed up our car to venture home, I felt a little pang of sadness that my rendevous with Maine was temporary. I was transcient, a replaceable fixture, in no way connected to this seaside place. 

Well.

Until next year, that is. 

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