Saturday, June 07, 2008

Exploring Portland

[Maryanne]There were so many things I considered doing in Portland, but the weather (cold, dull and drizzly much of the time) and chores limited my play time here. I would have liked to take the “Duck Tour”, that I kept bumping into as the boat/bus passed by my boat every day, and went from road to water at the marina we stayed at (Portland Yacht Services). I also (briefly) considered the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum, which was set in the same grounds as my Marina and had a 30 minute train ride around the peninsular – all for $2 adult fee… But I missed these things.

There were also SO MANY restaurants I had to choose from, and I wanted to try them all: from the famous / tourist lure of Di Millo’s Floating Restaurant; along with a host of breakfast cafes frequented by the local fishermen; Great Italian and pizza places; African restaurants, health food, etc.. For some reason Portland is FULL of Japanese restaurants (not my favorite) – but pick a food type and you can probably find it in walking distance of our marina! Portland is FULL of non-chain restaurants. But I had a dilemma. I didn’t want to blow my food budget without Kyle getting chance to share in it – So I limited myself to a select few restaurants:

Little Lad’s Vegan restaurant: where I had a help yourself buffet for under $4 – great food served by great people in a café/bakery type environment. I added desert to that and recommend you try the “nice cream” if you go!
Di Millo’s: which just had a great write up in the Continental in flight magazine (and also served free food at happy hour! For $2 beers and great soup / nibbles AND an amazing location on a boat with beautiful wood and nautical trim). Outside of happy hour, this place would be WAY out of my budget!
The Porthole Restaurant – a café style restaurant on one of the busy fishermen’s wharfs – Here I had an all you can eat fish fry for under $6, along with a cup of tea ($1). Great setting and food, (it is really nice inside, especially when you compare it to the rough outside appearance) but I had a Bit*h of server who soured the experience more than a little.
The Flatbread Company (Organic Pizza restaurant) – where Kyle and I sat near the wood fired pizza oven with a view of the river, on furniture made from reclaimed timber – and the food was GREAT!

Aside from eating, I walked the streets and got a feel for the place. After a while, I purchased a couple of self guided walking tours of the area. Portland was pretty much destroyed by fire several times, so the oldest of the buildings are really 1850’s but it seems that after the last fire, Portland really bounced back, and many of the buildings of this era are pretty impressive. I had hoped to go in to the Customs House, which I had read was just stunning inside, but this is closed to the public. Many of the streets are still cobbled, or at least have cobbles revealed under the worn out asphalt. The wharf/docks are ram-shackled with planking sidewalks still in some cases. I was amused to see an attorney office on one of the wharves, with customer parking on (rotting) wooden decks over the water – with a sign saying “Park at your own Risk”. I did take a guided tour of The Victorian Mansion a beautiful house built as a summer home for a Maine Native who had made it big in the New Orleans hotel business.

Many of the restaurants AND grocery stores are all organic in Portland; people walk around with their babies in baby-slings, or cycle with “kid additions” attached; people go jogging at lunch time; and rollerblading with their dogs in the evening. It is a healthy kind-a place. There are heaps of outdoor stores (including the famous native LL Bean); even 2nd hand sport stores larger than the “new” ones I was used to in Norfolk. Organic, Reclaimed and Recycled are being “lived” here.

Of course Portland also has an active lobster and fishing industry.. I wandered into a couple of different small fish markets / fish stores and was transfixed… Pushed back to a world of yesteryear – small rooms crammed with lobster tanks, displays of fresh seafood on ice. I purchased scallops (my favorite seafood) at one, and asked to take pictures; completely unfazed, Sarah volunteered to pose with a huge lobster for me.

Portland is full of certain types of stores – Yarn stores for example (maybe it is something to do with the long winters). There are also a host of second hand book stores which I was resisting until my last full day. What a boost to the morale to be told how I must be intelligent, interesting, and “deep” since only those kind of people shop in second hand book stores.. (Apparently people who shop only for new books are generally shallow in their thinking /knowledge, and just following the trends, those shopping in 2nd hand books stores are more liberal/green and generally “nicer people”). Luckily I didn’t get too proud as earlier in the week I had joined in the pub quiz at a local Irish bar – and in 6 rounds of 10 questions failed to get any that everyone else didn’t know… (example, 2 countries share a border with 13 others: China and Russia; What country is next sharing a border with 10 other countries….; I didn’t even get the right continent)

All in all, as usual pictures really don’t do it justice. As much as I love the place, I’m still not sure I would want to spend the winters here when snow and cold are a daily fact of life.

Oh and on one rainy day, I went to the local movie theatre, and watched a great fun documentary – “Young at Heart”.. I recommend it to any one feeling old!

The Marina we stayed at was more expensive than we had hoped, and could probably do with some TLC (and repair!), the ferries passing constantly caused some interesting wakes which ensured I ‘rose early every day, But the staff were just amazing… They all looked after me and asked after me; they were happy to chat and offered help with anything and everything. One even gave me a lobster (alive, put in my dingy as a parting gift) – so Lobster dinner tonight! So thanks to everyone at Portland Yacht Services

Next major stop: Bangor!


kate said...

What a cool sounding city! I love the idea of wandering in and out of places to get the feel of where you are staying. The food and atmosphere you describe sound wonderful! But oh dear - I wish I could've bought David Sedaris' new book (When You Are Engulfed in Flames) in a 2nd hand book store since I enjoy thinking of myself as deep and interesting. But I will try to embrace the idea that coveting his newest book instead makes me a shallow and blatant consumer. I will recycle it when I finish reading it, however. :)

Sarah said...

This is so my kind of place eating drinking and relaxing sounds just wonderful!

Mommy Carla said...

Well, I always knew I was shallow. Now it's confirmed. Sigh. I guess it's too late in my life to conduct a major overhaul. Do you have any idea how far I would have to drive to find a 2nd hand bookstore around here? And think of the awful carbon footprint from doing so!
Seriously, Portland sounds like a cozy, friendly and liberal place. So nice to know there are some out there!