Vacationing in Midcoast Maine
“So where are you staying?” the woman on the other side of the Avis counter asked as she processed our car rental. My husband and I had just arrived in Portland, Maine after a red-eye from San Diego followed by a botched connecting flight in Philadelphia. We were more than ready for our vacation to begin.
“Thomaston,” we replied in unison.
“Ah, well. You must know someone there, then,” she said, as if we wouldn’t have considered visiting that particular area of the Midcoast for any other reason. I imagine when you rent cars at the airport all day, you become an expert on where the most popular areas of a given region might be.
“Yes we do know someone, actually,” my husband said, explaining we had a vacation rental not too far from where our friends lived and that we were just going to relax for the week.
It bears mentioning here that we rarely relax when we’re on vacation. In fact, we’ve had people explain that what we do is travel; there is a planned route, and we stay a night or three in one location before moving on to the next. What was unique about this trip is that it would be only the second time we’ve stayed in one place for the entirety of a vacation. The first time was a trip to Cape Cod about 12 years ago. On second thought, we did stay in Washington D.C. for an entire week the first time we vacationed there, but it’s not the norm.
As much as I’ve suggested to my husband that I have always wanted to stay in one place on our vacations, to perhaps rent a cabin near the water so we can relax, it’s taken many years for us to get to this point. We were both looking forward to unpacking only once, and waking each morning in the same place for seven days.
“It looks like you’ve got a mid-sized car reserved,” the rental car lady continued, glasses pulled from where they’d been perched on her head to peer at the monitor.
I nodded, particularly proud of the fact I managed to use one of the AARP discounts I’ve ignored for seven years to reserve a car for under $200 for the week. Bargain.
“You know we’ve got some very nice cars out there right now.” She looked over the top of her glasses directly at my husband.
I knew what was coming because I noticed those options when I made the reservation.
“We’ve got a brand new Camaro — black.” She glanced in my direction and winked.
I nudged my husband who gave a sigh just short of exasperation before asking how much. When he looked at me, I shrugged and he pulled a credit card from his wallet.
“You’re on vacation!” she said, smiling as she made the necessary adjustments to our contract.
In no time, we were on our way, wedged into the cockpit of the sleek mid-life crisis mobile and headed north on US 1 for a week of good food and even better company.
I’ll let you decide whether we achieved what we set out to accomplish, and more importantly, whether the only reason anyone would stay in this area of Maine is because they “knew someone.”
If I’ve learned anything from our years traveling, it’s that the very best places are those others seem not to take time to discover because they’re off the beaten path.
We like to stay in vacation rentals when we plan to be somewhere three days or more because it’s usually less expensive than a hotel room, and it gives me the option to cook if I feel like it.
We were glad to find a house situated on the Weskeag River in South Thomaston, about 10 minutes south of Rockland.
We both decided we could get used to living here considering the backyard view. We never tired of it, the wildly fluctuating tides keeping us busy with the high/low schedule. The two decks were well used in the morning for breakfast and wine in the afternoon.
It was easy to pretend it doesn’t rage with a fury during winter since we’ll never experience one, but I will always wonder. If the unusual bend in the trees was any indication of just how blustery the weather can be, I have to admit that neither of us would have an easy time of adapting to life there.
“What goes on a classic lobster roll?” I asked our friends on the way to McLoons Lobster Shack on the island of Spruce Head.
“Butter. Fresh drawn butter.”
Go figure. I’d seen so many mayonnaise laden recipes over the years I wasn’t sure whether the lobster could actually be tasted. If I’m eating lobster, that is what I expect to taste.
We agreed they were pretty perfect, and the steamers, cooked directly over coals, sublime. The Maine Root Ginger Brew and “official soft drink of Maine,” Moxie, were a refreshing accompaniment, so the Cape Cod chips were given a pass for not being local.
We made it to Owls Head Lighthouse before the sunset that evening. It was a perfect way to celebrate the beginning of our week in Maine.
Our friend is a farmer — the farmer behind Headacre Farm near Rockland. We feel pretty special that she allowed us to work with her one day as she was preparing for market day the next.
I have never been one to shy away from hard work, so expected to have to use some elbow grease that day. Instead, I sorted and bunched beautiful kale while listening to classical music in a setting perfect enough for summer events under strings of white lights. It was lovely.
What else is there in Rockland? The Strand, an historic theater which has been renovated and now hosts more than currently running feature films. The film I wanted to see was showing on July 4th, and although rain threatened to cancel the evening’s fireworks, there was not a chance I would be able to go. It’s first on my list to visit when we return.
You can take a windjammer cruise on one of the schooners moored at Rockland’s Northend Shipyard. No, we didn’t do that, either, but it sounds like a fabulous experience. I’ve added it to my next time list as well.
The “Jerry Style Fries” are fabulous — practically a meal all on their own.
You have to see the Elvis restroom — a wonder whether you’re an Elvis fan or not.
We also shopped along the main street looking at antiques and browsing through the gift shops. We explored a bit from one side street to another, mostly looking at buildings. We also took in the Farnsworth Art Museum so I could see some of Andrew Wyeth’s work. He is one of my favorite American artists. Alas, we were not permitted to take photos of anything other than this old ship carving. Think what you will.
If you happen to know a lovely person because you both blogged about food for a while, then you agree to finally meet while admiring the scenery at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, about an hour’s drive south of Thomaston and half way to Portland. We spent several hours there snapping photos of the flowers, talking about ourselves, our lives, and generally getting to know one another. It wasn’t enough time, but it doesn’t take me long to know when someone just clicks. Such a very memorable day.
My sister and her husband drove up from Virginia to camp near Camden and so they joined our friends and us for a steamed lobster dinner complete with with produce we bought from farm stands along the way. The weather wasn’t exactly cooperative — in fact a hurricane was headed up the coast, but it didn’t put a damper on our evening. The company was great, and the lobster delicious — after those of us new to deconstructing one so we could actually eat it received a demonstration from an expert. The evening was official after I was christened with green juice which shot across the table in my direction. Not quite as elegant as a champagne bottle, but still.
If you’re in the Midcoast area, then Camden is a place you should visit. It’s a quaint, busy town with a pretty harbor and lots of great shops to peruse and old houses to admire while you walk. Have an ice cream cone, feed the ducks, and buy a few trinkets to take home so you can remember your trip. It’s a perfect place for that.
We had to stop at Owls Head one more time since we had only been able to watch the sunset the first time.
We also visited Marshall Point Lighthouse on an even more foggy day. It’s near Port Clyde, about a 20-minute drive from South Thomaston.
One of the reasons I rented the home we stayed in is because the owner advertised we would have use of kayaks. Considering the house sat right on the river, we had plans to make use of those kayaks. When we arrived, he seemed surprised — even nervous about our willingness to push off, and so made sure we were aware of the tides and other safety items. My sister and husband rented kayaks and we all launched at a time scrutinized by my calculating husband to be perfect.
The water was frigid, but what a peaceful time we had paddling along. Very enjoyable.
The last night of our stay was July 4th. My husband has always wanted to experience a small town Independence Day parade and with our farmer friend hosting, guaranteeing front row seats and tasty eats following, our trip was made perfect.
If you’re buried in snow right now, I hope this is a reminder that summer and its warmth is not far away.