WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 25
There is an admirable “new can still look old and classy” style on the Travel & Tourism side of Maine. It is largely and East Coast thing, as I remember from my years in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Washington, DC, but is also uniquely New England. And that is – even the Comfort Inn and Quality Inn chains look like fancy hotels. They have “cute cottages” and Cape Code style shingled walls. They have very pointy A-frame entryways, nice awnings, and Colonial style columns. This is quite the novelty for the Native Californian, where most structures wear the age or era when it was built right on its sleeve. I like it that in New England and many East Coast locales, one can tell something is newer, but it doesn’t look too much different from 200 year old buildings just a few hundred yards away. Stay classy, New England!
On Wednesday morning, we decided to return to Acadia National Park by bike. The friendly folks at Acadia Bike Rentals in Downtown Bar Harbor gave us a solid $30/all day ride faire per bike, with helmet included, and solid directions to and from the right Park entrances to use and the best way back to the shop. From there, Erin and I grabbed some (really good) sandwiches from the Independent Café for later, and found a shuttle with a large bike wrack to take into the park. We did this upon realizing it would save us about 1.5 miles of an uphill ride just to get into the beautiful environs of Acadia. Why not save our energy, right? One of the things Acadia National is famous for is its miles and miles of finely graveled “Carriage Roads,” meant specifically for hikers and bikers (and, presumably, carriages if any are around?). This made our choice of hybrid-wheeled bicycles a perfect fit for the terrain.
We enjoyed a lengthy course that took us around 3 beautiful bodies of water – Eagle Lake, (which is actually smaller than) Jordan Pond, and finally Bubble Pond on our way back to the park entrance (This may be another East Coast thing – but I’ve never known “Ponds” to be as big or bigger than lakes the way they are here in Maine). This collection of pictures are shots around each of these beautiful locations. We lunched on the top deck of the Jordan Pond House, a perfect waystation in the middle of the park for a meal, a gift shop, and much needed restrooms.
We returned to town in just under 4 hours, which we learned earned us a $12 rebate on our bike rentals! Feeling tired from only our second real bike ride in 2 years (See Vancouver Travel Blogs from 2017), we returned to the Regency for a nap. After a little renewal, we returned to town and committed to the Souvenir T-shirts and Sweatshirts we agreed to limit ourselves to on this trip. Erin then discovered for us – as she is always so good at doing – where we should dine for the night. The Side Street Café was an impressive restaurant and quite busy given it didn’t have ideal “location, location, location.” It was literally down a small side street on the north side of downtown Bar Harbor. But apparently word had gotten out as it was packed and had the solid reviews to match, including from me and Erin. We enjoyed some tasty crab cakes before both selecting salads. I’ve always maintained a crab cake doesn’t have to be toasted or fried hard on the outside and be soft on the inside. These were consistent through and through, allowing an even heat and therefore even taste over the breadth of the crab cake. If you disagree, I dare you to challenge me in the “comments” section.
We enjoyed one of our more interesting conversations with our server, Michael, who was a young man in his 20s originally from North Carolina. We finally started asking folks if they lived here year-round, and we found many of them did so. When we asked Michael, “What do you do for the late fall and winter once folks stop coming and temperatures drop below zero?” Without missing a beat, he said “I go ice skating.” We had a laugh, and I think even he realized his quick conviction over ice skating did sound a bit incomplete. He also continues to work at the restaurant, which stays open (indoors only) to serve the roughly 5,000 locals on the island that remain through the winter. … more on this “year rounder” question to come.
From there, still tired from our day, we returned to the hotel to retire for the evening. We seemed to land the perfect shuttle driver on this particular trip, as he challenged the full house shuttle with a couple of Pirate Riddles. You read that right. The one I remember was, “What is a Pirate’s favorite letter?” … we all, almost in unison, answered with “RRRRRrrrrrr.” But nope, he said – “A Pirate loves the C.” Oy. Dad’s everywhere celebrated. Back in the comfort of Room 156, we took in a little Trump Impeachment(-worthy) news before enjoying the season premiere of long-time favorite Modern Family. We stayed up to catch the pilot episode of “Stumptown,” Cobie Smulder’s (Robin from How I Met Your Mother, Agent Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D.) new drama about a former military intelligence officer turned hard-living P.I. in Portland, OR. She’s like a female Jack Reacher. It didn’t disappoint, and think I may become a series regular. It also stars New Girl favorite and all around cool funny-guy Jake Johnson as her bar owner best friend and Michael Ealy’s dreamy eyes. Night-Night!
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2019
Having conquered a good chunk of Acadia National Park (we’d checked off 3 of the 9 “Best Things to Do in Acadia National Park” [and we didn’t even want to do them all]), we decided to hit the road early and see a good portion of the rest of Mount Desert Island that sits OUTSIDE of both Acadia National and Bar Harbor. We traveled west where we heard there was a butterfly sanctuary and beautiful gardens in support of these underrated pollinators. On our drive, we finally saw 2 deer cross the road about 500 yards in front of us. At last – critters! While at “Charlotte Rhoades Park & Butterfly Garden,” we interacted a great deal with the volunteers they rely on to manage and curate the grounds and breed the butterflies. One of them even allowed us to help her release a couple of additional butterflies that had just hatched yesterday. She allowed me to hold a male Monarch in my hands until I carried him to a nearby flower, where he perched himself only to quickly launch his first flight in what I hope will be a long (butterfly) life.
Feeling we had healed nature, we took in some of the town of Southwest Harbor, where the residents boast they live on the “Quiet Side of the Island,” which speaks to their lifestyle preference almost as much as a put-down to Bar Harbor residents I suppose. Southwest Harbor’s downtown was very cute and very “small town,” and the woman who spoke with us at the visitor’s center was incredibly knowledgeable about various points at and around Southwest Harbor and the west side of Mount Desert Island. Even the volunteers that populate many attractions in the prized section of Maine struck me as consummate professionals who really cared about what we thought of their part of the world.
Before lunch, we were encouraged by the visitor’s center to take an easy but scenic hike to Wonderland, a gorgeous rocky beach surrounded by beautiful forestry, which you can see in both the picture featuring me as well as the one with Erin smiling beautifully. With the rocky shoal, the crisp, clean air, it really represents quintessential Maine. From there, we traveled just a few miles back to Seawall, where there is a terrific campground on the east side of the highway and a scenic picnic area to the west. We enjoyed a nice sandwich, today’s prepared by Sawyer’s Market in downtown Southwest Harbor. My turkey sandwich featured REAL non-processed turkey, but the real difference maker was the cranberry sauce. After lunch, we walked down to a large tidepool, which featured dozens of sea snails and some plant growth. But alas… no crabs or other critters. Still, amazing and far more nature and sea life than I ever seem to get at home. And I live in a beach city.
We made our way north and then south around Somes Sound to Northeast Harbor, which, if you look on a map, isn’t really far at all from Southwest Harbor. There’s simply no bridge across the Sound. There, we experienced Asticou Gardens, an incredibly peaceful and beautiful Japanese Garden… because when one things Maine, you have to think Japanese Garden. But why not, really? Anyway, I hope you enjoy the pictures of the sand garden and beautiful lily pad and foliage.
We returned to town, and by that I mean downtown Bar Harbor, where we looked for gifts for family. We also checked out a couple of bars where we could refresh with some water and ambiance. We started out at The Barnacle, a tiny… I mean TINY bar with about 12 seats. Erin had some sort of Blueberry Lemonade with Vodka, and I had some pure, clean and clear tap water with lemon – Maine’s finest! And friends, it tasted as if impurities don’t exist. The bartender – a fully bearded hipster – answered our “year-round?” question by saying he’s an 11 month a year Mainer. This January, he’s visiting his brother in Savannah for about 10 days and then spending 3 weeks in Europe before returning to Bar Harbor. His line of the afternoon: “I know most year-round locals in town, what they drink, and at what time they drink.” … It sounds like a lame brag until I realize I have no equivalent talent whatsoever. Bravo, beard boy. Next up was Leary’s Irish Pub, where we enjoyed some calamari that was infused with garlic or something spicy we couldn’t figure out. But it worked! A perfect appetizer to lead into our 4:30PM dinner, where I felt like we were competing with the residents of Del Boca Vista for the early bird specials. But we hiked today, traveled all over the place, ate at unconventional times … we were hungry, OK?! Erin and I didn’t catch the name of our server at Leary’s, but she was a very cool, attractive young woman in her 20s with body art only on her left arm, and who grew up in the area. When asked the “are you year-round?” question, she said, “I used to be, but now I leave.” This fall/winter, she’ll be traveling around southeast Asia. Last fall/winter, it was Guatemala. This woman lives life without much fear.
Appetizer down, we walked around town shops a bit more before landing at a recommended restaurant, Peekytoe Provisions, which was just as much seafood store as restaurant. In fact, I would say it was more store and less restaurant than Santa Monica Seafood, if that’s a helpful touchstone to any reader? Erin had and absolutely loved the lobster bisque and crab cakes, which I sampled. The lobster bisque was definitely better than the Regency hotel’s, and the crab cakes somehow topped those at the Side Street Café. The difference? Less “stuff” packed in, more crab! I had a 6 oz lobster dinner soaking in butter, and it was delicious as if I had died and gone to sea food heaven. The lobster was chewy but not too much so – flaky enough to go down easy after a few bites. And the butter!? …c’mon.
Having filled 2 days activity into 1 by 5:15PM, we returned to the Regency to pack a bit before our exodus tomorrow, and catch up with Impeachment hearing news, and later NBC’s new Thursday night lineup. The Bradley Whitford choir show is funny with plenty of zany small town characters, and The Good Place returned tonight for it’s final season. If you aren’t watching or haven’t caught up with the first 3 seasons (only 13 half-our episodes each), then you are dead to me and have no appreciation for completely original scripted programming. For shame!!
Tomorrow… we make our way back to Portland – and our much-anticipated rendezvous with the Larry Henry family – by way of the coastal roads, where we’ll stop in several classically cute towns with plenty of antiquing for the PBS people.