Lobster, Rain & Lighthouses

Craving somewhere new and a change of scenery, I took a short trip to Portland, Maine last weekend.

What struck me the most about the city (especially from the drive from the airport and in the Arts District), it how much it reminded me of many other cities in the USA, which I was not expecting. I could easily be in Jersey City or even west Philly. I had some preconceived notions of more of a nautical flavor. However, once I trekked into Old Port (aka the tourist part of the City), I got the feel I was expecting, quaint shops, cobblestone streets, lots of restaurants and the harbor.

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I walked leisurely through Old Port, took a tour bus through the city and visited one of their famous lighthouses, ate some lobster rolls, had a beer and decompressed.

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Special facts about Maine I never knew: It was one of the stops on the underground railroad taking slaves from the South to freedom in Canada and there are many markers around the city noting the stops. Blueberry is Maine’s biggest agricultural crop, followed by potato (who knew). Portland, by legislation, banned big national retailers from downtown in order to maintain the special feel of the City and to foster small businesses. So apart from 3 Starbucks, an Urban Outfitters, a CVS and maybe 2 Dunkin Donunts, I did not see any of the usual suspects like Gap (how refreshing).

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Portland is also a restaurant mecca fighting Philly hard for the spot as top gastro city. Every block has at least 1 great restaurant.

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I also got additional proof that no matter where you are in the world you will always find a Jamaican. I have never failed to see one in any city worldwide and Maine was no different.

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On my second day, I took a culinary walking tour through Old Port and as a non-foodie, I was surprisingly in heaven. It rained, no poured, all day but that did not damper the spirits of the tour. If you ever are in Portland, please do the Maine Foodie Tours. Our guide, Pat, was knowledgeable, engaging and fun.

We visited several establishments and sampled lobster, mead wine (made from honey as Maine has a lot of bees to pollenate all those blueberries), ales, a fantastic espresso balsamic vinegar with fruit, Cabot cheeses, potato donuts, chocolates, scones and other items I am sure I am forgetting. Also had an awesome experience at a fish market including learning how to measure lobsters.

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Before going to the airport the next day, I took the opportunity to visit the Portland Art Museum which was showcasing the brilliant work of Richard Estes. Then the sun came out for the first time during my visit, on my drive to the airport. My only regret about my trip was that I didn’t  get an opportunity to explore the country side and soak in more of the local flavor of the city.

I left energized but yearning for more travel experiences.