Wherever the Music Takes Us, Kitten…

I’ll warn you now…..this is going to be a packed post.  I’m going to try to tell you all about our trip to Maine in one sitting – a big undertaking, but one that will give you all the highlights about where we stayed, what we did and – most importantly – where/what we ate!

My last post was about the beginning of the trip – the first part of Day 1.  But it didn’t give you any insight into the end of Day 1; so I will start there and continue through the end of the trip!

Day 1 (halfway through):

  • after we picked up Jeff in Nanuet we hit the road and made our way to Darien, CT and dinner at Estia’s Back Porch Cafe.  The decor at Estia’s is funky and comfortable and the food is DELISH.  Nate ordered French Onion Soup and a side  of French Fries – he was obviously in a French mood!  Jeff, wanting to recreate the superb meal we had at Estia’s Little Kitchen in Long Island last summer, ordered fish tacos.  And I ordered the MTK Tuna “Burger” that came with a side of spicy Asian slaw.  I didn’t taste anyone else’s food; but I was incredibly happy with my choice.  My sandwich was served on a toasted English muffin and included an enormous tuna steak, crusted with sesame seeds and cooked to a perfect medium rare.  It was so big that Jeff had to finish it for me, which I’m sure didn’t disappoint him.  The spicy Asian slaw was the perfect accompaniment to my sandwich.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • After dinner we drove to and checked into the Hyatt House in Shelton, CT.  Because we were full and it was on the early side, we needed a walk.  So after a few minutes of settling into our room (which included a bathroom, bedroom and a living room/kitchenette combo with a pull out sofa), we got back into the car for a short drive to the campus of Yale.  We walked around campus and New Haven for about 2 hours – happy to stretch our legs and digest a bit.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • My dad has often joked that Jeff needs to eat approximately every 15 minutes, so it wasn’t surprising to me when he wanted to pick up a pizza at Frank Pepe’s on the way back to the hotel.  His reasoning – “I only had fish tacos at Estia’s.”  Clearly he had forgotten about eating half of my sandwich!  But I love his enthusiasm and couldn’t turn him down.  So he went into Frank Pepe’s while Nate and I stayed with the car.  I tasted the pizza, which was lukewarm by the time we got back to the room.  I’d definitely be interested in trying the wood-fired pizza at Frank Pepe’s when it’s right out of the oven – based upon the coolish taste I had, I’ll bet it would be amazing!  After our quick “snack” we dropped into bed with a plan to be on the road between 8:00 and 9:00 am.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 2:

  • Although I am usually hassled for sleeping late, I was up and ready to go by 7:30.  We had a quick breakfast at the hotel and got on the road.
  • We drove through Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire (for about 5 minutes) and finally arrived in Maine around noon.  Our first stop, Bissell Brothers Brewery.  Don’t worry, we weren’t corrupting a minor – Jeff just wanted to get some beer to bring back to PA to share with his BFF, Craig.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • After a short stop at BBB, we made our way to hotel (The Hyatt Place – downtown Portland) and, although our room wasn’t quite ready, we dropped off our bags and made our way to Commercial Street to wander through Portland.  We strolled through some shops, made a stop at Harbor Fish Market to order some fish to pick up on Tuesday before leaving Maine, and a stop at Nine Stones Spa for me to pick up my birthday gift from my mom and dad.  Thanks for the Kai perfume, Mimi and Pop-Pop!!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • Next we walked to the Portland Fire Department to see if Nate, a volunteer fire fighter, could get a shirt for his collection.  He struck out on the shirt, but was able to talk with the chief and see the FD.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • In need of a reprieve from the heat, we made a stop at The Thirsty Pig for a beverage and a nosh.  Our bellies were getting hungry, but we didn’t want to ruin our appetites for dinner at Fore Street.
  • After a quick snack, we checked into the hotel, showered, changed, relaxed and walked to Fore Street on Fore Street for dinner.  We were a few minutes early for our reservation so we started with a drink in the bar…..Nate had a fizzy blueberry juice, Jeff a Manhatten and me a glass of Albarino.  After being shown to our table and taking a quick look at the menu, we ordered appetizers.  Nate had a salad of mixed greens with a yummy vinaigrette and over the top croutons made from homemade bread crisped to perfection.  Jeff had Wood-Fired Pork Belly with Allium Hush Puppies, Horseradish Mayo and Sunflower Shoots.  I had the dish of the night – Jet Star Tomato Tart with Herbed Goat Cheese & Butter Pastry.  We shared our appetizers with one another, ooh’ing and aah’ing as we ate.  Although I could happily have stopped after my appetizer, I just had to listen to all the recommendations I received from students to try the Wood-Fired Mussels with Garlic Almond Butter – so I ordered those for my entrée.  Nate ordered the Marinated Natural Half Chicken with Duck Fat Fried Sourdough and Wilted Greens, which we all agreed was incredible and still talked about days later.  And Jeff ordered Garlic Scape, Sweet Corn and Ricotta Salata Ravioli with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Smoked Squash, which he billed as very good but not excellent.  He has since told me, “I was jealous of Nate’s chicken to be quite honest with you.”  Because our meals had been so good, we had to try dessert.  Jeff ordered the Mini Ice Cream Sandwich with Hazelnut Coffee Ice Cream and Nate and I shared the Chocolate Custard Tart with Raspberry Coulis and Basil Ginger Ice Cream.  The tart was incredibly rich – just what you’d want when you have a chocolate craving – and the ice cream was a wonderfully interesting combination of basil-y freshness and gingery warmth.  It was a darn-near-perfect meal – the food was inventive and delicious and our waitress was friendly and attentive.  The only thing that bothered me was that our waiter in the bar used phrases like “what are WE having to drink” and “OUR table’s not ready yet.”  That’s just too touchy-feely and a bit condescending for my taste.  But, as Frasier and Niles would say, the only thing better than a perfect meal is a perfect meal with one tiny flaw you can pick at all night!!!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • After dinner we set out for a walk to aid digestion, but decided to cut it short when it began to rain.  We hit the hay in preparation for another early morning – the start of our kayak/camping trip.

Day 3:

  • After a quick breakfast at the hotel and a quick checkout, we loaded the car, stopped for Jeff’s beloved ice block, made a quick stop for fizzy juice at Bow Street Market and made our way – with much enthusiasm – to LL Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School for the start of our kayak/camping trip.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • We met our guides – Ros and Pete – and our fellow islanders for the weekend, including (I apologize if I spell any names incorrectly):
    • 4 members of a family having a boys weekend – Terry, Bryan, Kiegan and Brendan
    • a couple from the Allentown area (near where I grew up) – Andrew and Angie
    • a couple from New Brunswick – Andre & Johanna
    • three brave women flying solo – Lorri, Ennie & Laurel
  • Including Jeff, Nate and I we made a group of 16 who would partner up and paddle tandem for the weekend
  • We had our orientation, packing session, lunch-making, lessons, stretching and finally headed to the dock to embark on our adventure.
  • After leaving Flying Point we paddled around Sister Island, Upper Goose, and Lower Goose and finally made our way to camp on The Goslings.
  • We chose our campsites, set up tents and “the restroom” and began exploring the island while we waited for dinner.  We had wine/beer/fizzy juices and got to know our travelling companions.  Then we sat down to a yummy lobster and steak dinner – Nate’s first lobster experience.  Except for someone touching his food – he seemed to enjoy it!
  • After dinner, the dishes were done and we trickled, one-by-one, to the beach for sunset and dessert – Pete’s specialty – Pineapple Upside Down ?Pudding?  It was supposed to be a cake baked in a cast iron Dutch oven; however the mix was gluten-free, which if you’re not used to it, can mess up your camp cooking skills!!!!  However it tasted great and less-than-firm-texture didn’t stop anyone from eating it! Of course, having it served at sunset on your own private island didn’t hurt either!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • Then one-by-one we trickled off to bed – tired from the sun, the wind, the paddling and the early start.

Day 4:

  • Jeff and Nate (and perhaps others) got up early to watch the sunrise.  Except for the pics Jeff shared with me I missed it, but was glad for a little disco nap.  As those who know me might expect, sleeping without air conditioning isn’t my thing.  Combine that with Jeff’s snoring and it’s a recipe for not much sleep.
  • The blueberry pancakes Ros and Pete made fueled us for a long day of paddling.  After breakfast we did the dishes, played some cards, had a little island time, packed our lunches and got ourselves prepared to hit the water.
  • It was a hot, but gorgeous day for paddling.  We left the Goslings, paddled around Little Whaleboat and then made our way across the channel to Whaleboat, where we stopped for lunch.  After lunch we polled the group and decided to paddle all the way around Whaleboat, which is a long, beautiful paddle!  For our hard work, we were treated to an eagle sighting and Nate got some great pics of it!!! After conquering Whaleboat, we took it easy paddling back to the Goslings.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • Somewhere along the line, some of the group members started playing cards – Golf – while others hiked the island, hung out on the beach, got to know one another, swam or napped.  Dinner – chicken fajitas – was served, dishes were done, sunset was watched on the beach, brownies were eaten “in the kitchen” and one-by-one we trickled to bed – exhausted from a hot day in the sun paddling our little hearts out!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 5:

  • It was a dark and stormy morning…..well it was!  So dark and stormy that we were instructed to batten down the hatches and stay in our tents until the storm blew over.  After the wind and rain subsided briefly, we broke down our tents, packed our equipment and personal belongings and headed to “the kitchen.”  Pete and Ros served coffee (hallelujah) and began making breakfast.  Some of us played cards while we waited.  Others enjoyed the beach and a swim for the last time on this trip and others sipped their coffee.  Somewhere along the line it started to pour again so we all tried our best to fit under the tarp and stay dry.
  • After breakfast, still riding the storm out, the dishes got done, cards got played (and soaked), camp was packed up and we all readied ourselves for our paddle.  We wanted to be ready to jump  into our boats and paddle like crazy once the rain stopped so that we could make it back to Flying Point before the rain began again.
  • Once the rain ceased, the last step before leaving the island was to dismantle “the restroom.”  That done we all headed for the beach, quickly packing our boats and getting into the water.  By the time everyone was settled and on the bay, the sun was shining brightly so Pete and Ros decided we didn’t have to rush back to Flying Point.  We would keep our eye on the sky and paddle as much as we were able.  We left the Goslings and headed between Upper and Lower Goose Island, then toward William’s Island, detouring around Sow & Pigs to Pettingill for a brief stop, and back around William’s Island to see the eagle’s nest. Finally, we headed back toward Flying Point – the weather still cooperating.  As everyone else was making their way into the dock, Jeff and I stayed further out with Ros and, in the quiet, were able to see a seal pop up very near to us.  He was so close we could see his whiskers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • Just as we were pulling up to the dock at Flying Point, Jeff and I got a terrific surprise!  Kevin, one of our guides from last year’s trip, was paddling near the dock.  We had hoped to meet up with him at the Bath Fire & Rescue, where he works; but weren’t able to make the timing work.  So being able to talk with him for even a few moments was a gift.
  • The folks on the dock who helped us out of the water waited patiently as we caught up with Kevin for a few minutes.  Then we unloaded our kayak, made our way up the dock and back to the Outdoor Discovery School, turned in our borrowed equipment, had our team debrief and ate a quick lunch for the few folks who weren’t rushing to get on the road to home.
  • Finally, happily exhausted and ready for a shower, Jeff, Nate and I began our short trek to The Embassy Suites in South Portland – our home for the next two nights.

While I thought I could get through the whole trip in one post, I am tired from reliving the first part of our grand adventure.  If I got any of the paddling routes wrong, I hope Ros or Pete will correct me in the comments below.  When you’re doing the paddle you think you’ll remember; however we were able to cover so much “ground” (and frankly, I just turned 48 so the memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be) that I may have gotten some of it wrong.

I will catch up on the end of Day 5 and finish our adventure through Day 8 in my next post!  Thanks for reading!!!!!

The Best Vacation Ever – Part II

To recap Part I:

  • LLLLLOOOOONNNNNGGGGG car ride
  • Brief panic about accommodations
  • Street sign for Fayette Corners Road oddly located
  • Tired dogs
  • Oasis
  • Bee stings
  • Benadryl
  • Hattie’s Chowder House in Hallowell, ME

On to Part II:

“August 4, 2003

Today was so relaxing.  We drove to Echo Lake and the boys swam until they could barely more anymore.  I sat on a rock listening to the water and learning how to use the new camera (which explains all the pictures of the water and rocks in various degrees of focus).  We also met Tucker – a very fuzzy chocolate lab who wanted to stay and play with us in the water rather than continue on his walk with his owners.

Echo Lake

Lucky Dog What a Great Swimmer

Rocks

After dropping off the boys, Jeff and I toured the garden.  It is huge, lush and surrounded by a hand-crafted fence overflowing with Morning Glory.  We couldn’t believe the abundance and were surprised to see some VERY large pumpkins – SCARY large!!!

 

I tried to go into the hen-house to conquer my fears, but adrenaline got the best of me and I hightailed it out of there.

Hen House

Next we walked up to Home Nest Farm to visit the animals.  We met two horses and a llama. We watched them eat for a while, laughing at the “table manners” of the llama – he ate with gusto!!!  Then we walked in the opposite direction on Ellis road for about an hour to stretch our legs before going grocery shopping.

Eating with Gusto

Chip

 

I must admit, grocery shopping on vacation is much more appealing than doing so at home.  It helps to be in a nice store link Hannaford – the next best thing to Wegman’s. [Keep in mind this is before we had a Wegman’s in Central PA and before it went downhill.] We did a small tour of the outskirts of Augusta and then stopped at Sonny’s Seafood to pick up our dinner – fresh Maine corn on the cob and three live lobsters!

Sonny's Sign

Sonny's

Back at Cornerstone Cottage, Jeff started dinner and I showered and got directly into my pajamas.  What could be better than a salad with greens picked fresh from the garden, fresh corn and sweet, succulent lobster?  Eating all this in your pajamas – OF COURSE!!!”

Although the trip was over 10 years ago, it feels like it was just yesterday.  Going back through the journal is bringing back some wonderful memories!

Have you ever been to Maine?  Tell me about your experience!

The Best Vacation Ever – Part I

I was at church last night with a wonderful group of women I’ve been journeying with for the last several weeks.  We were practicing silence and guided prayer, which I will leave to others much more knowledgeable than I to document.  What I want to write about is where the practices led me.

We were to go, in our minds, to a safe place. The place that came to me was a cottage where Jeff and I stayed when we took a trip to Maine for our 10th wedding anniversary.  It was an absolute oasis where we spent two utterly relaxing weeks.

So this morning I pulled out the photo album from the trip and as I was paging through it I realized that without even knowing it, I was blogging on that trip.  OK, back then we called it journaling; but you know, tomAto / tomAHto!

Although the cottage is no longer available for rent; many of the restaurants are still in business and worth reading about if you’re taking a trip to Maine!  So I am going to share the trip with you in installments!

August 3, 2003

We’re sitting down to a delicious breakfast of homemade muffins, fresh fruit and the freshest eggs I think I have ever eaten.  They are from the hen-house, which is a stone’s throw from our door and which Lucky loves to visit each time he can escape.

 

[Lucky was a wonderfully crazy Golden Retriever with many issues! You’ll read a lot about him and his “brother” Dakota over the next several days.]

 

This breakfast and the beauty of our surroundings eases the “pain” of yesterday…

 

We got up at 3:11 a.m., showered, packed the car and got on the road by 4:46 in an effort to beat the traffic.  Ha!!! The car ride began with the boys [dogs] walking around the back of the SUV and being generally uncomfortable. At our first stop in Lebanon (yes, we didn’t make it very far) I got in the back to lie down with them thinking it would calm the savage beast. It worked for Dakota – he snuggled up next to me and slept.  Unfortunately Lucky continued to pace like an expectant father in the maternity ward.

 

Once back on the road, we sailed through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (which was very interesting) and stopped once in Connecticut.  We attempted to get a Super Duper Weenie in Fairfield (Exit 24 of I-95), but arrived to find a “CLOSED” sign in the window.  It was, however, a great place to take Jeff’s picture and to potty the guys.

 

Super Duper Weenie

Back in the car we headed for Massachusetts.  Once on Route 84 we were in the midst of what we affectionately refer to as the Mass. Turnpike Toll-Booth Parking Lot.  Apparently stopping for 30 minutes to an hour at each toll-booth is a common practice on summer weekends in New England. [Remember, the trip was before the wide-spread use of EZPass]. Let’s just say the second “half” of the trip was L-O-N-G!!!

 

At exit 3 in Maine we became impatient and decided that seeing the back roads would be a nice change from highway driving – or more accurately – “highway sitting.”  Jeff got out the atlas and found our alternate route – Route 202 – which is the one exception to the atlas scale.  For all other routes, the scale is one inch equals five miles.  On Route 202, one inch equals 100 miles – or so it seemed.  At first we didn’t let it get us down because we had visions of passing clam shacks and beautiful Maine scenery.

 

Our visions were slightly skewed – either that or we were driving through the Bronx again!  We passed what seemed like hundreds of pizza joints and literally no seafood restaurants (unless you count the lobster roll at McDonald’s).

 

We also came to realize that several other vacationers to Maine had gotten sick of driving on Route 202, stopped, got out of their cars, slapped ‘FOR SALE’ signs in the front windows and began walking to dinner at a pizza joint.

 

Cars weren’t the only things for sale on the roadside.  We could have bought snowmobiles, trailers, homes, fruit, a tractor-trailer for $8,500, and of course pizza.

 

We were surprised when we passed the most run-down trailer park from the ’50’s.  Where were the New England style houses?  And towns….forget it….on the map, heavily populated areas are shown in orange.  Well, heavily populated areas have approximately 3 homes.  In one “orange” town we saw the most people we had seen since we began our trek on Route 202 – it was what appeared to be a family reunion of 15 of the most frightening people we have ever seen.

 

Finally, we were nearing our destination – Kents Hill / Fayette.  We started to relax and to look for Fayette Corners Road.

 

I think it is important to point out here that we are on a trip celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary.  Much like a day from our honeymoon trip where we drove around aimlessly through Falmouth, MA looking for Aunt Mitzi and Uncle John, our spirits began dampening when we realized that either Fayette Corners Road does not exist or it is not marked.  We also began to fear that Cornerstone “Cottage” would be an old, leaky Air Stream trailer with no electricity or running water.

 

Dakota and Lucky were so antsy – and who could blame them?  Except for a few rest stops to potty and stretch our legs, we had been in the car nearing 13 hours.  During the trip, Lucky only laid down one time for 10 minutes – by the 13th hour he looked utterly exhausted – his eyelids were drooping and he could barely hold his head up – luckily he was resting it on the cooler.

 

We pressed on though, and after driving the same stretch of road several times and ultimately asking some locals for directions, found Fayette Corners Road.  Interestingly enough, there is a street sign – the only problem is that it is 1/4 mile AFTER you turn onto the road!

 

We easily found Baldwin Hill Road and Ellis Road – our final turn.  Expecting the absolute worst, we saw a beautifully carved rock announcing our arrival at Cornerstone Cottage.  We turned into the drive and all our fears melted away like cotton candy in the rain.

 

Cornerstone Sign

Wildflowers were growing around the beautifully planted garden and the hens welcomed us with a rousing melody.  The sound of gravel crunching under our tires began to seem as relaxing as a mountain stream gently trickling with cool water.  We were “home.”

 

Cornerstone's Garden

The Hens and The Cottage

The Cottage

Eric came out to greet us and show us around.  As we walked into Cornerstone Cottage, we began to notice the fine craftsmanship in the house – however, every time we have walked in since, we have noticed something else.  I think the most obvious touch is the “spiral” stairs that still have tree bark on the faces.  It is so warm and comfortable here.

 

Inside the Cottage

Ahhhhhhhhhh.  That is the sound of our stress melting away.

 

We wandered through the cottage looking at the details and settling in.  Then we headed for the beautiful deck, which of course was hand crafted.

 

While having a lazy conversation with Eric, Jeff began to do what looked like some sort of tribal dance.  This stirred up Dakota, who ran over to participate.  The next thing I knew, they had both been stung by bees.

 

The Deck with the BeeseWhile I calmed Jeff and Dakota, Eric headed under the deck to investigate and found a hornet’s nest, which he said he would dispose of after dark.

 

Bellies empty, we parted company with Eric to begin our quest for lobster.  We went inside where Dakota promptly threw up three times.

 

This initiated a call to the vet in Pennsylvania to make sure he wasn’t having a reaction to the bee sting, which prompted our search for Benadryl.

 

The four of us got back in the car (yes, we swore we would not get back in the car for at least 24 hours) and headed for Hallowell, stopping at the Fayette Country Store on the way for some relief for Dakota.

 

The scenery seemed to magically change.  ON the way to Cornerstone Cottage we were seeing the worst, but now that we had relaxed a bit, we were seeing the best.

 

And the best site of all was Hattie’s Chowder House – our choice for the evening and an entry in Jeff’s “little black book.

 

In Search of Lobster

Not wanting to leave Dakota alone, we ordered our food to go.  We each ordered a lobster roll and we shared some of Hattie’s famous lobster stew and clam chowder.  Sitting on some poorly lit steps in an alley-way, we had an incredible meal.

 

It was difficult to decide which soup was better – just when you thought you had made up your mind, your mouth was teased by the flavors of the other.  I still haven’t decided.

 

We threw away our trash and, with sticky hands, headed back to Cornerstone Cottage for the best night’s sleep in pitch darkness.”

Stay tuned for the next installment of The Best Vacation Ever!!!

In the meantime, what was your “best vacation ever?”