New Scotland?

Good Morning!

Technically, my vacation ended today. Which I am celebrating by getting up at 6 to write before a workday that ends at 8pm. But I have coffee in my Maine mug, and yesterday was a hot and steamy day in Milwaukee, so it’s basically the same thing, right? Probably.

We woke up on the misty fifth morning of vacation in a whole new world. The evening before had been pitch dark and foggy, so beyond some blurry headlights and the outline of our B&B, I had no real concept of what we would see. My first impression was that the room was startling in how comfortable and well decorated it was. I always try to add one “fancy” stay to my travels, as I usually go for the cheapest safe option. Ye Olde Argyler Lodge of Argyle, NS exceeded every expectation. A four-poster bed, an equally comfortable daybed for Best Friend; vaulted ceilings, and a rain shower.

As if that weren’t enough, the crown jewel of the space was the enormous window overlooking Lobster Bay. The sun was just rising (something is wrong with me, where I cannot sleep in on vacation – far too excited to see new things, I guess). I looked out the window to see the water at a perfect flat calm. Not a single ripple. No wind either, and pure silence. Imagine the silence of South Dakota, with the addition of forest and sea. We were in some other place.

My travel style is always seeking a balance of exploration and restoration – which is why I’ll seek out pubs with crazy traditional music, and spend hours in museums or cemeteries. Action and silence. Portland had been action – exploring, sweating, talking to lots of folks. Nova Scotia was the source of silence. It was also, finally, thankfully, about 30 degrees cooler than it had been in the States. As the sun rose, the breeze picked up slightly, and I think the temperature topped out around 75. With C, it’s hard to tell what’s really going on out there.

We eventually got up, got dressed, and headed down for breakfast. I was reminded of a college-era trip to Wales where they greet you and then tell you what’s for breakfast – on this day it was a lovely omelette with other lovely things and fresh orange juice. Fantastic coffee. After breakfast, we took our coffee to the porch and watched a few boats head out of the bay. THINGS I LEARNED: Fishing is done in the winter – especially for lobster, they shed in summer and are not good. A good fisherman makes the bulk of his money in the first six weeks of the season, and you almost never see him except he comes home to shower and head out again. A lobster over 2lbs is hard to eat and you need tools to cut the shells. The more you know.

At this point, the universe decided we’d had enough peace. The hostess came out to ask if we had plans for the day. We asked what was in walking distance, and she was like “…nothing…you don’t even have bikes?” Nope. In my defense, the website suggested that there were lots of options for recreation – and did not suggest that the closest was 10 miles away and that we would need a vehicle. Oops. We actually weren’t really bothered by this (there was a hiking trail nearby and we had books and stuff). So I asked, “when do you serve lunch or dinner?” “We don’t….the dining room is only open on the weekend.” Huh. That definitely is not clearly stated on the website. It’s becoming clear that we are here until the shuttle pics us up in 24 hours, with no more food until breakfast, and no way to get food for ourselves. Hilarious. Still not that bothered, but this is clearly a huge problem for our hosts.

They checked in with us all day to see if we were ok, connected us with some other guests who did have a car to take a ride into Pubnico, the nearby town, for the Acadian Heritage Festival. These ladies were hilarious and welcoming, but the festival was…cute. And small. And over when we got there. We saw some really lovely quilts, and signed the guestbook…and headed back. Around 6pm the room phone rang with an offer to give us a ride back into “town” for dinner at the Red Cap. I actually think that all the miscommunication was worth it because it led us to this spot.

Tiny, unassuming restaurant that also offers a few hotel rooms. We arrived at 7:50, and though it technically closed at 8, there was no rush, no break in the friendly service. The food was amazing (possibly slightly flavored with relief over actually eating dinner). Scallops and oysters from the nearby bays. Lovely local wine. Coconut cream pie for dessert. Medium coffee, but not a big deal. Really lovely service – I have to say, as I work my way through my thirties, I increasingly appreciate when people refer to Best Friend and I as “you girls”. This is totally tied up with my South Dakota life, and it still makes me smile. We ate everything possible and then wandered outside to wait for our ride back.

The stillness was augmented by the huge bright moon, which I fully failed to take an accurate picture of. The whole landscape was lit up, and the water of the bay was shining in the light. Fireflies abounded. Crickets and frogs sang. The peace had returned.

A day in a series of images. Travel is never not an adventure.

One more morning in Maine

…ok I didn’t forget – in fact, I think to myself almost hourly “now, there’s a thought for the blog”. WordPress needs an app-like feature for those of us hopping in and out of wifi range. So, now I’m about five days behind in documenting the Grand Adventure. In my defense, I’ve written several Yelp reviews, instagram captions, and text messages, so I’m obeying my birthday resolution to “write every day”. Anyway, I digress.

The last day of the Grand Adventure: Maine dawned cool and cloudy. It was a travel day for Best Friend and I – headed to Canada that afternoon! In the morning, she had some work to catch up on, so I headed out on foot to see what’s shaking on a Sunday morning in Portland. Turns out, it’s a lot – temporarily free of the heat wave, but with highs projected to reach 90 again, the Eastern Promenade was in full effect. I walked up the hill to get coffee (Hilltop, I miss you already), and saw, in no particular order: yoga, dog walking, basketball, little league, soccer, and countless joggers. Rain moved in briefly, but did not interrupt the exercise rituals happening all through the park.

For myself, I walked up to Hilltop, got another excellent cup of Jamaican coffee, and took my ham and brie sandwich to go. With the sun peeking through, I sat down on a dry-ish bench to enjoy a final look at the mist rising off the bay. If I had this view, I would be late to work every single day. I could not move off the bench until the sailboats were in full view and my coffee cup long empty. Dang, Maine. I’ll have to try a sunrise trek down to the lakeshore back home and see if I see a similar effect.

Back up at the apartment, Best Friend was done working, so we headed out for breakfast. It being Sunday morning, everywhere had a wait so we would up at the strangely empty “Lolita Venoteca”. Empty to the point that the staff seemed surprised to see us. We sat outside and enjoyed an array of breakfast tapas (fantastic coffee, medium food). Before heading back to get packed up – Sunday was ferry day!

We scurried around getting the apartment ready for check out and hopped in an Uber to the ferry terminal (so close! If it hadn’t been so hot, we could have walked it). We got to the terminal and sat. And sat. The CAT ferry is newly back in commission after several years hiatus (US vs Canada in: “Who Pays For This Boat, Eh?!”). With one crossing per day, we arrived early so there could be no mistake…on this day, we needn’t have bothered. It turns out, there was a customs hold on an entering passenger, which delayed boarding by over an hour. An hour spent in a hot, airless holding space. Where the vending machine was out of everything except Diet Pepsi. Ugh.

Eventually we were shuttled to the boat and boarded – and instantly all was forgiven. I love ferries. Every since Scotland pushed my perspective on what this can be, I would prefer to travel by ferry everywhere. Huge plushy couches for resting. Movies on screens. Scallops for dinner. Ice cream. A little travel desk to ask your random questions about Canadian travel. Plus, an outside area where you can go if you are brave (more on that in a sec). I loved every second of this crossing. Not the least because the “factoid” presented by our captain was that we had made our crossing in record time. 4.5 hours! Considering that it wasn’t too long ago that the same crossing took nearly 22 hours, I think we were all suitably impressed. Best Friend worked some and napped some. I read some and explored the boat – which prior to its current incarnation, was a Hawaiian cruise ship and a hospital ship after the Haitian earthquake. All of the signage still says “Mahalo”.

We arrived in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia around 10pm, in a flat calm and a thick fog. The fog horn had been going throughout the final 30 minutes of the voyage. When they led us all down to the “disembarkation” area, the fog was rolling in and filling the hold. Everyone was quiet, as we waited for the dock to be lowered. We crossed, passed through customs and were on our way! We were fortunate that our cab was still able to pick us up, despite arriving hours later than planned. George, of A to B Taxi service, drove us the 24km to Argyle, while sharing fishing stories (some funny, some vague “you’d have to be there – to know how it could be in winter…I’ve seen some things) and navigating the fog with ease.

We arrived at Ye Olde Argyler Lodge – the next adventure about to begin!

IMG_9079 Lovely, lovely Promenade, with sunlight peeking through.

The sailboat stayed alongside for an impressive length of time. These two lighthouses were the final farewell from the States before they were lost to view.

Me on the outside deck of the ferry ^

  1. Hell no, this is nuts! (Back pressed against the wall, instantly dizzy and unable to move).
  2. 3 ish minutes later. Ok, maybe can peel self off wall and take two steps so that can take better pictures.
  3. Tentatively approach rail and place one hand. Still on ship. Possibly this is not so bad.

Am now mesmerized and spend 30 minutes taking 1 million pictures of sunset, water, spray, and generally enjoying the view. Success!

IMG_9098 (1)Waiting to leave the boat, looking out into the foggy, silent darkness.

IMG_9100 (2)Why is Canadian money so pretty? And clear in parts? Dang, y’all.

Rainy Saturdays Mean One Thing

Time to eat everything in sight! After two days of it really being too hot to eat much, Saturday was a prime opportunity to explore the street scene in Portland without the risk of spontaneous combustion.

We started with a journey to the Deering Woods area of Portland – a neighborhood of big old homes and bigger, older trees oddly reminiscent of Glasgow’s West End neighborhood. We headed for brunch at a place called “Hot Suppa” (that name should have been a flag – more on that momentarily). There was an hour’s wait so we walked down to the Portland Farmer’s Market in nearby Deering Park.

An absolutely lovely market – small, like the one in my own neighborhood. Interestingly, they had most of the tents set up crossing the paths – so you could shop each vendor while staying undercover (it was quite overcast). There were far more greens, blueberries, and other cooler weather crops than at my market. I tasted some excellent goat cheese and made a few other local purchases (the kitchen of the AirBNB wasn’t really set up to cook – there was a LOT more stuff I could have bought). My favorite was the apple cider stand, with a large board stating “We love to discover new apples! Please send the location of any random trees that you’d be willing to have us pick!”. Something about that just made me smile.

We completed our exploration just in time to head back to Hot Suppa. This was a recommendation from our AirBNB host, and it was cajun-themed. Given all of this I went in with some fairly high expectations. It was some of the strangest service and food I have ever experienced. The space was tiny, but comfortable, except for the the fact that the server couldn’t seem to set anything down without slamming it – SLAM, the water bottle. SLAM the glasses, SLAM the coffee cups. Doubly strange because she was perfectly soft spoken and pleasant in all of the other ways. The food was also bizarre (more in my Yelp review). Apparently there is a way of making eggs and omelettes that is “French style” that produces a bizarrely smooth and textureless egg experience. So not the best start.

Following, we walked through the neighborhood, headed for the Old Port, perusing a “lobster pound” (this is where they keep all the lobsters for sale – they can live in there for months and apparently it’s kind of good for them because the water is guaranteed clear – the more you know) consignment stores, old book stores, and my favorite – the Old Port Candy shop, where we did out best to clean them out of salt water taffy! So good, plus the “free sample” of fudge was a 1/4 pound chunk! Winning all around.

The rain came back at this point, so we ducked into the Nickelodeon theatre to catch a matinee – totally great retro moviegoing experience which was a great way to bring the afternoon to a close. Pizza from Otto’s for dinner (recommend the chicken/sriracha/avocado), and a foggy meander back up the hill – enjoying the novelty of shivering!

IMG_9066I didn’t buy this, but I REALLY want to read it.

Portland is just so mellow, and the perfect blend of activity and quiet. The contrast of the bay and the hills; the sea breezes and the sea gull cries; it’s really a perfect vacation city when what you really need is to not do too much of anything at all.

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People in the dang way – bit look at that sky. 🙂

Portland in August

is HOT. Ok, so it was record breaking temperatures, and so not totally normal. But dang, guys! It was hot. Heat Index of 102 degrees hot. Here are things you can appreciate about being in a Maine heatwave.

  1. No one will ever complain, ever. That ingrained New England stoicism runs deep. The whole world is melting, zero buildings have a/c and people are just soldiering on about their business.
  2. It’s cooler by the water. It’s cooler on the windward side of islands out in the water. Portland is surrounded by 365 islands, so you can take your pick – get yo self out on the water and your whole outlook improves.
  3. Ice cream, ice cream, ice cream. Available on every block, and always the only real antidote you need.

So, keeping all this in mind – there was only one thing to do! Best Friend arrived late Thursday night, and was totally game to re-do everything I had done before. We went to Peaks, of course!

We skipped the bikes (too hot) and rented a golf cart for a few hours – the fastest route to the seaside. We climbed way out onto the rocky coast and watched the sailboats head out with the tide. It was probably 20 degrees cooler there. Ice cream happened again, and we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the pier and watching people swim and boat around, before heading back into the swelter of the city.

As we sailed back on the ferry, the sky was darkening – it looked like we were about to get a break from the heat, so after a quick stop for cool drinks, we hopped in an Uber back to the apartment, arriving moments before the downpour began!

That night was a FEAST. We settled on Ri Ru Irish Pub and stuffed ourselves with fresh local seafood. Then we headed over to Vena’s Fizz Lounge for some amazing craft cocktails. The temperature on the street had dropped at least 30 degrees, bringing the joyful summer atmosphere back to Portland. It was a great day, and an amazing night!

 

Grand Adventure 2016! Portland Part 1

Through work travel, I have been to over 40 states in the US. Thus, when I start planning my more epic escapes, I usually don’t even bother to look in my home country. Except this time. Maine has always been on a list of places I’d like to visit – land of lighthouses, boats, accents, and salt water taffy? Sold. I’m a fairly nervous driver in a new place, and so I usually look for spots I can explore largely on foot. Portland, Maine seemed to fit that bill nicely. Work chaos meant that the daily itinerary is a little more unclear than usual, but I am confident in my ability to let the combination of exploration and impulse decide my course.

Arrived late on a Wednesday night to a world bathed in fog.

IMG_8974So foggy my phone camera wouldn’t even focus on the world around me. Uber ride to the AirBNB (sharing economy for the win!) was super easy, and everyone I spoke to was incredibly friendly and welcoming. I didn’t form much of an impression on the ride as it was pitch dark, and again, foggy, but I was pretty happy to be here and for the Grand Adventure to begin!

In the morning, I realized that the ocean was literally across the street from my little apartment – still fog obscured but the morning was bright and it was lifting fast. I headed off down the Eastern Promenade in search of that critical life-giving substance, coffee.

IMG_8981Score! Hilltop Coffee (um, Portland has MASSIVE hills. I was unprepared) had Jamaican Coffee and ham and brie sandwiches, among other things that looked and smelled like heaven. 40s classics and ceiling fans meant that I’d found my work spot for the morning. Pure bliss. I also needed to start spending some time thinking about the next two phases of the Grand Adventure, and this was the ideal opportunity.

After my hour spent settling into vacation mindset, I needed a destination. With rain in the forecast for the rest of the week, and the heat and humidity mounting quickly, I set my course for Peaks Island.

Beautiful details on the homes in my temporary East End neighborhood. Me on the ferry to Peaks with the Portland skyline in the background (my selfie face has two settings – intense concentration and “don’t drop your phone off a boat”) Also show, the approach to the boat landing at Peaks.

It was about to be the second-hottest day of the year in Portland, and I was about to discover that air conditioning is not really a thing here (be careful what you wish for, I guess) especially in the rustic atmosphere of the Island. My first impulse was to walk the paths and explore the Island on foot, and I made it about 3/4 of a mile before I turned back and rented a bike for a few hours. The air was moving on the windward side, so that’s where I headed.

Breathtaking ocean views. Rock formations that look like wood, but are actually ancient seafloor thrown up by a massive earthquake, and gorgeous cabins tucked away from the world. This is pure paradise. Also, this house – looks like a lighthouse, has massive windows and looks out on the ocean. Add this to the list of places to look if I ever run away from home. (It’s nearly 3,000 per week to rent, though, so…)

I also stopped by the 5th Maine Regiment museum to enjoy their shaded patio and watch the tide roll in. I got into conversation with the two docent ladies and may or may not have agreed to write a book about the Civil War (it was a long and interesting conversation). I realized that the bike was due back soon, so I headed back around the way. Peaks Island is only 4 miles around so it was no problem. Dropped off the bike, missed the ferry back, got some ice cream and settled on the pier to watch the water taxis come and go. Also to watch crazy local kids dive into the frigid water from the end of the pier. Grand Adventure nonwithstanding, there’s just some stuff I’d never do.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Annnd…I’m back!

This blogging thing though – is my perennial New Year’s fail, but I’m trying again.

In the interim, since the Great Escape of 2014, the following travel has happened, and will be updated in the future:

  • Myriad boring work trips (will not be featured – planes, chain hotels, conference rooms)
  • NYC take 652 (approx), September 2015 – special Brooklyn edition
  • Dominican Republic, January 2016 – in which I try a new kind of travel
  • Big Powderhorn and Michigan UP, January 2016 – skiing, snowshoeing and polar vortexing
  • Door County and Washington Island, July 2016 – in which I sleep outside and live (camping)

All to be illustrated and shared beginning in September of this year. In the meantime, the makers of “Great Escape 2014” bring you…

“Grand Adventure 2016!” In which we explore Portland, Maine; Yarmouth and Halifax, Nova Scotia; and as much of Prince Edward Island as a person with determination and a rental car can fit into four days.

So buckle up – or, as many boats are involved, batten down those hatches for the ride!
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2014: So, that happened

Whew! Made it. Back in November I made a small, interim resolution to be positive during the holidays this year. Typically, I fall victim to the same combination of stress, frustration, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and general ennui that afflicts many people this time of year. Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the result of my attempts to stay mindful, to be thankful, and to avoid those destructive mental habits. I think that this was exactly what was needed to close out 2014 – a year of extremes, to be sure.

This time last year, Milwaukee was in the grips of the first of (3, maybe?) polar vortices, and I had been in the house for close to eight straight days at that point. I had also received a series of work-related phone calls that were challenging any optimism I might have started the year with. January was a mass of uncertainty. February-April were fairly quiet, though with an every encroaching sense that big changes were perpetually on the horizon at the office. I’m seeing, at this point, a certain tendency to over-focus on work dynamics – ask me one personal think that happened at this point. I’ve literally got nothing.

May brought a brief respite – it always does, with five days in the open air, with amazing people, and physically very far away from the stress of daily life. South Dakota, you never disappoint me.

The most beautiful mornings.

The most beautiful mornings.

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The greatest possible breakfast.

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One of my favorite places to sit.

My former backyard.

My former backyard.

So that was a definite high point – added to the fact that this year did not include – 1) flight delays, 2) rental car issues, 3) a death defying blizzard drive through Minnesota. So a win, all the way around.

June-September brought more changes, more upheaval, but more good things too. Made it through my 5th induction and my 9th birthday celebrated at institute. And celebrated fall with my great escape adventure to New York City, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, and Galway. Magical, restorative, and exactly what was needed after the previous nine months of suspense. I spent the first week of Winter Break going back through pictures – and found a few I had already nearly forgotten about. To be fair, I took over 2,000 pictures during those weeks – many were not keepers, but here are a few favorites from Ireland.

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Dublin. Still bearing bullett holes from the 1916 Easter Rising.

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Dublin

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Trinity College

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October brought Halloween, apples, pumpkins, and one more trip back to NYC. Saw Whoopi Goldberg in the Halloween parade, so I probably need to stop saying that I’ve never seen a celebrity in the city.

The holiday months passed in a relatively peaceful blur – I made the thanksgiving dinner this year, with support from my mom. And no photos happened because I completely forgot while trying to time everything right. I think it went ok though – looking forward to next year already! Christmas came – I got a tree this year, and am very thankful that I did – the lights against the 4pm darkness kept me sane, I think. Spent the big days with family – Stuard Christmas, and Christmas Eve/Day with Mom and Brother and pets. Finished the year thinking of family, being thankful for gifts and blessings – and going to bed early with a new novel on NYE (glad enough to leave the days of freezing in a tiny dress and trying to organize a cab FAR behind me. I like being clear headed and healthy on New Year’s Day).

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The first, and apparently the last snowfall of 2014 – back in mid November.

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Visiting the Becker/Lien side family farm outside DeForest.

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Decorating the tree. Classics are always classics.

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Posing dogs in front of trees without knocking over trees while catching dogs looking at the camera is…tricky.

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I think I made these 4 separate times, for 4 different parties – crowds were pleased, generally speaking.

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And of course, lefse. It’s not the holidays without lefse.

So far, 2015 has brought me toast with strawberry/champagne jam, a cleaned and organized home office, and a new home project begun! Happy New Year, everyone!