Day Five: Rockport, Me – North Conway, NH

Samoset sunrise

Samoset sunrise

Miles travelled
154

Where we stayed
Such a ridiculous change from last night – Comfort Inn and Suites at North Conway.  We wanted somewhere to stay to break up out long drive to Vermont, and the Comfort Inn was reasonably priced.

Where we ate
Dunkin Donuts in Lewiston, ME for lunch – we shared a grilled cheese sandwich.
Burger King for dinner.  The shame.  I’m sure there are plenty of nice places to eat in North Conway, but we really couldn’t be bothered to find them!

Photos
Day Five

Once again, we caught the beautiful sunrise and watched it from our balcony at Samoset.  It was amazing and it felt like we literally had to force ourselves to leave the room.  I could have stayed here forever.

We knew we had a longer drive today so we set off relatively early.  We thought about getting breakfast, but we were so full from last night that we couldn’t face it. But before we started on the trek, we drove down the road to visit Camden Hills State Park.  We had no idea if it would be open or not – a combination of the government shutdown and it being out of season – but we were assured by the front desk staff at the hotel that it would be.  And fortunately, it was!  We drove to the top of Mount Battie and the views were stunning.

Camden Hills

Penobscot Bay

We had a bit of a wander about, thought about going for a hike but realised we were up a very high mountain, and managed to spot Rockland Harbor light (which was the lighthouse by our hotel).  We spent about an hour here before driving back down and onwards to New Hampshire.  I felt a little bit sad as we were saying goodbye to the ocean for a few days, but I knew we would see it again.

Maine is a big old state and it felt like an age to cross it!  We stopped at a gas station in Lewiston – we had a copy of The Next Exit in the car which was so useful when finding places to stop so we knew what was at each exit and chose one had a Dunkin Donuts.  Well, pretty much every exit had a Dunkin Donuts because they were everywhere but the Lewiston one was about halfway.

Our cheesy lunch eaten, we spent another hour and a half on the road and parked up at Settler’s Green Outlet Village.  Now I love outlet shopping, but Settler’s Green left me a bit cold – I much preferred Freeport, ME.  It was really spacious and quite pretty, with mountains surrounding it, but I just didn’t like the shops.  That said, I did buy four t-shirts in Old Navy, but that was mainly down to necessity as I was going to run at out clothes at some point!

We went over to the Comfort Inn and checked in.  I got excited as there was a pirate mini-golf at the hotel, but it was closed!!  Gutted.

Mini-golf

Pirate Mini-Golf!

The room we had was quite big with a separate sitting room and it was perfectly decent, but my goodness I missed Samoset!  We hung out in the hotel room for a couple of hours so Husband could refresh from the 3 hour drive, watching Ellen and the news.

Not really wanting to think about dinner options, we drove down the White Mountain Highway and stopped at the first place we found, which happened to be a Burger King.  A Burger King with a fire pit in the middle of it – a little odd!  We filled up on free refills (Cherry Dr Pepper – YUM!) and got back in time for two hours of Dancing with the Stars.

Today was possibly our most chilled out day, but I think we needed this to recharge our batteries.  I went to sleep, very excited about tomorrow…

Day Four: Boothbay Harbor, ME – Rockland, ME – Rockport, ME

Miles travelled
45

Where we stayed
The Samoset Resort, Rockport, Maine.  Oh my goodness, this hotel was like a dream

Where we ate
Coffee and a chocolate/pumpkin scone from Rock City in Rockland – a great coffee shop!
La Bella Vista at Samoset for dinner.  I had chicken and pesto pizza which had an AMAZING crust, followed by wild Maine blueberry pie.  Husband did the full three courses, with calamari to start, chicken fettuccini for main and a ridiculously massive portion of tiramisu for desert.

Photos
Day Four

We woke up minutes before sunrise and watched it from our balcony at Brown’s Wharf Inn.  It was a really magical start to what was probably one of my favourite days of the trip.  We trotted down to breakfast, where I was excited to find a waffle station – hell yeah!  As I walked back to our table, hot waffle in hand, I noticed we were the youngest people in the room by far, which led Husband and I to the conclusion that we are way old before our time.  But who cares about that when there are waffles!

All checked out and with a packed car, we drove up (then down) to Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.  We explored the grounds, the rocks, and the beach that lay in the shadow of this gorgeous lighthouse and museum, and were a little disappointed to discover the lighthouse itself was closed to tours (damn you, off season!) but we still spent a good couple of hours there.

We then drove to Thomaston, ME, and found the extraordinary Maine State Prison Showroom (parking is at the back of the building).  Filled with “over 600 crafted products”, we spent ages in here buying gifts and stuff for our house.  It sounds weird, and it’s quite difficult to picture, but the quality of work being sold here was phenomenal.  Toys, furniture, jewellery boxes, bird houses – all made by prisoners at the Maine State prison.  I could honestly have spent hundreds of dollars in here, but I really don’t think I could have fit a massive wooden coffee table in my suitcase.  I think it’s nice that the inmates are taught new skills and given the opportunity to earn a wage.

Maine State Prison

Maine State Prison Showroom

A couple of miles down the road, we stopped at Rockland, ME.  We conveniently stopped next to the Maine Lighthouse Museum so thought we’d give it a visit.  It was a lovely way to spend an hour or two.  Urgently needing coffee, we walked around the corner on to Main Street to discover a HUGE queue outside the local theater for Wizard of Oz.  Pretty much every shop in town had an adorable Wizard of Oz window drawing and there was an exhibition of Oz at the Farnsworth Art Museum – all coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the film.  It was great to sit in the Rock City coffee shop watching everyone happily queue, many people in costume.  I really loved Rockland.

Our last stop of the day, and the location of our hotel, the Samoset Resort which was HEAVEN.  A balcony overlooking the Rockland Harbor Light and breakwater, huge bed, huge bath which was more like a soaking tub, and fancy toiletries.  My kind of place.  After furiously photographing the view, we decided to actually look at the subject of the view close-up, and walked down to the breakwater.  I got really nervous as it was literally just a bunch of rocks into the middle of the bay – gorgeous, but I was convinced I was going to trip over and fall into the sea.  It was totally worth it though and I would have regretted not doing it.  0.8 miles into the bay, with a lighthouse on the end (which again was closed – bum!) and largely quite peaceful.

Rockland breaker

Rockland Breakwater

On the way back to our room, we booked a table for dinner at La Bella Vista restaurant and got chatting to one of the waiters who had spent some time in the UK.  When we came down to dinner (after a glorious soak in the bath) we were sat in his section, and we chatted away all night about why he prefers the UK, what we love about the USA, and the differences between the two countries.  After an incredible meal, he thanked us for making his night (awww!) and we shuffled back up to our amazing room.

I managed to catch Revenge (my guilty pleasure show) and made myself comfortable as I watched the tribulations of Emily Thorne.  American TV always seems much better when I watch it in America, goodness knows why as the bloody programmes are 75% adverts!!

Day Three: Wolfeboro, NH – Portland, ME – Boothbay Harbor, ME

Railroad crossing

Maine Narrow Gauge Railway

Miles travelled
121

Where we stayed
Brown’s Wharf Inn, Boothbay Harbor, Maine on their last night for 2013!

Where we ate
Starbucks for Lunch.
Kaler’s in Boothbay Harbor for dinner, again on the last night of the season.  I had chicken tenders with fries and onion rings, Husband had fried lobster and potato skins, direct from the tank on their decking!  Plus, some pumpkin beer which came in a glass rimmed with cinnamon and sugar – this was a revelation!!

Photos
Day Three

Again, another early start for us as we still weren’t quite on American time, but we puttered about until 9 when we left for Maine.  Our first stop was Portland – Maine‘s largest city and home to one-third of Maine’s population (so says Wikipedia).  We stopped at the mall first of all, hoping it would be better than Salem’s mall, and fortunately it was!  We took a quick look around the shops, geeking out over Hunger Games keyrings in Best Buy and touching all the pretty make-up in Sephora.  Actually, that was mainly me. We had a quick Starbucks brunch, and I was stupidly pleased that it had the La Boulange range – the warmed morning bun would become a firm favourite during the trip.

Retail therapy over, we drove into Portland town, parked in a big multi-storey, and then walked down the the harbor.  We looked in the touristy shops along the dock, and it was super busy as I think a cruise ship had just come in.  Walking a bit further on, we found the Maine Narrow Gauge Railway and immediately went over to the museum to get our tickets.  We didn’t have to wait too long for the train to arrive, and then we enjoyed a lovely trip along the waterfront through Fort Allen Park.  We stopped just before the bridge at the mouth of Back Cove and had a walkabout the area for a few minutes.  We decided to ride back in the caboose (yeah, I didn’t know what a caboose was either).

After a bit of souvenir shopping and another wander around Portland, we jumped back in the car and carried on our journey up the coast.  We stopped at Freeport, ME as we were curious about the famous LL Bean flagship store which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – it has only closed twice since 1951.  I really wanted some of their fishing boots, but I don’t think I could have justified buying boots that don’t go with any of my clothes (although I am regretting that decision now…)  Husband went on a mini-spree for himself and got a complete new outfit, and I was happy to just help him shop.

LL Bean

LL Bean’s big shoe

The whole of Freeport is full of outlet shops, so my mother would love it, and it had a really nice energy to it.  I was already shopped out from our trip to the mall that morning so didn’t buy anything here but the potential was there!

Back in the car, and up (then down) to our final destination for the day – Boothbay Harbor, ME.  We didn’t realise when we booked that it was literally the last day of the season, and although the town was quiet, we still received a great welcome from the receptionist at Brown’s Wharf Inn.  We got a few recommendations for dinner from her, and then made out way up to our corner room.  It had two double beds (or queen beds?  I get confused by American bed sizes) and a brilliant corner balcony.

Boothbay Harbor

Our view from Brown’s Wharf Inn

We watched the sun go down, and then walked the 15 minutes into town (across the foot bridge over the bay) to Kaler’s – one of the restaurants recommended to us.  It was so good, and we had so much food!  You could go on the deck to see the lobsters in their tank, and despite the fact it was the last day of the season, there was a great atmosphere and we really enjoyed our evening.

We walked back through the town, wishing we’d been there earlier in the season to see all the shops and pubs open and full of tourists, but it was still a lovely walk.  Our usual evening routine followed of bath, TV (How I Met Your Mother series 2 finale = tears from me) and bed.  In hindsight, the double bed was not big enough for both of us to sleep comfortably and we should have had one each, but we’d know for next time.

End of the holiday!

Road Trip

Our long awaited road trip around New England has sadly come to an end, and we are exhausted but really happy with the last two weeks.  I will admit to being nervous about how things were going to go, as neither Husband nor I have ever driven abroad, and we did suddenly realise that spending hours every day trapped in a car together might be a quick route to madness, but we survived (and barely argued at all – hurrah!)

Many more posts are forthcoming, mainly because if i don’t write everything down I will forget, but for now, some random observations:

  • For 80% of the time, driving was absolute bliss.  We could drive for ages without seeing another soul, and the roads were so wide and smooth (on the whole).  Our Tom Tom GPS was great, but took us down some odd routes sometimes.  So many places had free parking after 6pm, and even during the day (take note, UK towns!) so it all felt very easy to go out in the evening for dinner and a walkabout.  I think going back to driving in the UK will be a bit of a culture shock.
  • Signposts were a bit patchy.  At times, there were so many that you couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on,  but mostly, they were pretty much non-existent.  I think we’re so used to having everything pointed out to us, that we freaked out when exits weren’t signposted in time or at all, or when the signs showing the route along a highway vanished.
  • Americans are terrible at using indicators.  Sometimes no indication, sometimes indicating at the wrong junction, sometimes using hazard lights as indicators (those ones freaked us out – “OMG, why have you switched your hazards on?  Are you stopping?  No, you’re just turning”).  And so many of the cars don’t have orange indicators at the rear of the car which took a heck of a long time to get used to!
  • Related to this – roundabouts/rotaries/traffic circles.  Holy crap, these were terrifying.  I don’t have any issues over here with roundabouts, but the American ones were just insane.  For a start, there are clear signs saying YIELD TO TRAFFIC ON ROTARY but that doesn’t stop people from randomly shooting out in front of others.  There’s barely any indicating so goodness knows where people are going, and there is no lane management at all.  We thought rotaries would be easier to work out than crossroads, but nooooo.  They were not.
  • It’s really rough being a pedestrian in some of the big towns.  Whilst the turn right on a red rule worked great when we were driving, it wasn’t too great when we were at the crossing trying to cross the road on a walk symbol.  We were never too sure if the car was going to stop for us!  The sidewalks in a lot of areas were terrible as well, with random bits of street furniture dotted around the place and broken paving slabs.  I can’t count how many times I tripped.  It was also quite off-putting how close people walked behind you.  Just before we got to the last bit of our trip, I sprained my ankle (yes, I am clumsy) so couldn’t walk that quickly.  Instead of walking passed me, people would just stick so close behind me that I really thought they were pickpocketing!  So many times, I physically stopped to make people go passed.  So frustrating – I really felt my personal space was being intruded on so many occasions.

This sounds like I hated it, but I didn’t at all.  There were so few things we had issue with, and I would go back in a heartbeat.  But more of those details in my next posts.

It’s not a road trip. It’s a covert operation.

Trip planning

A few months ago, Husband decided we were going on a road trip this year.  Completely out of the blue – I got home from work and there were books about New England on the coffee table that he’d randomly bought on a lunchtime bookshop binge.  Excitedly, I got to work and had our entire route planned before he finished saying “I wonder if there are any Cheesecake Factories in Massachusetts”.

We got the big map out again on bank holiday Monday and started to finalise our plans (using a spreadsheet on the TV – ever the data nerds).  We’ve already paid for three nights at the Revere Boston Common as we found a good deal, so all we had to do it come up with what we’re going to do for the rest of the two weeks.  Hopefully something along the lines of the following:

Rockport, MA
We land in Boston and drive straight out to Rockport.  It’s only about an hour away, so we’re starting off slow.  We might do Salem, MA on the way (or maybe the day after depending on how tired the flight has made us).  Being a witch obsessed teen has made me somewhat fascinated by Salem.

Wolfeboro, NH
I can’t wait to see Lake Winnipesaukee.  Looks beautiful.

Boothbay Harbor, ME
If we have time, we’d love to do a boat trip out to Monhegan Island as well.

Camden, ME
We debated about whether to go to Augusta or to Camden, but decided on Camden in the end.  It looks such a great town, and we’re looking forward to taking a trip to Camden Hills Park.

Conway, NH
Admittedly, there apparently isn’t much here other than an outlet village (which is enough of a draw for me), but it’s we’re we’ve decided to stop here before going across the White Mountains and the Kancamagus Highway.

Burlington, VT
Conveniently near the Ben & Jerry’s factory and The Alchemist Brewery.  Fun for everyone!

Bennington, VT
We’re not sure on whether we’ll stay here, but we need somewhere halfway between Burlington and our next stop.  And I have to visit the Yankee Candle flagship store.  Stop laughing.

Foxwoods, CT
I’m aware that Foxwoods isn’t a town, but it is the 2nd largest casino in the USA.  Those two statements don’t really have a connection.  FOXWOODS!

Hyannis, MA
We’ve had to go a bit of a weird route because hotel rooms were too expensive for the nights we had planned to stay there.  Hyannis is the start of our mini Cape Cod adventure.

Provincetown, MA
Right at the tip of Cape Cod.  It’ll be nice to get back to being by the sea again after all that inland driving!

Providence, RI
We’re planning on doing a tour of Brown University.  I always wanted to go there when I was younger.  I hope they don’t mind random British university Administrators hopping on their tours.

Boston, MA
And this is where we end our trip, taking a detour to Plymouth, MA on the way from Providence.  So far, I have planned on visiting the Flour Bakery, going on a Harvard tour and seeing some art.  There’s an exhibition on American modernist photographers at the MFA which looks exciting.  We’ll probably be exhausted by the time we get here, but hopefully we can stay awake for the last three days.

I think we’re decided on which hotels we’re going to stay at – largely independent places, but the odd chain has sneaked in.  We’re not planning on spending a huge amount each night, but I think some places might test our budget a little.  Trip Advisor has been a saviour in the planning, as has Trivago – I’ve seen many a hotel that I thought was out of our budget, but Trivago has managed to find us a good deal.

Plotting the towns on a map, we are just driving in a big square, and might be missing out on some amazing towns in the middle so if you have any suggestions, let me know!

Now I just need to wait another 4 months (or so) for our trip to come around.  This summer is going to be hard!

(Oh, btw, it’s not really a covert operation.  That’s just me quoting Buffy).