Saturday, October 08, 2005

Portland!

Maine, that is. What a great city. Friendly people, great restaurants, and very, very, pretty to look at: victorian and colonial houses, and the Old Porte has real New England charm without having the kind of fake, Disneyfied look that tourist spots can get, or the rows of tacky touristy T-shirt, fudge and taffee shops that you can find in places like Salem, Newport, or Vineyard Haven.

Arrived on Wednesday evening (the 5th) for a three-day stopover on our way to our annual October trip to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, Maine. The six-hour trip straight to Bar Harbor is just too taxing, and ever since we fell in love with Portland we've made it not only a stopover but even a destination for weekend getaways or even day-trips, which is great for the Dogs because it has not one but two phenomenal fully fenced-in dog-parks -- one bigger than a football field and the other encompassing seven acres of woods, streams, trails and hills, also all fenced-in.

We arrived in thick, pea-soup fog: like something out of the Twilight Zone, the bridge over the Piscataqua from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery Maine was completely obscured in a white haze. You just had to barrell along interstate 95 hoping that the bridge really was still there. From Kittery up to Portland it was all the same: it was a strain to see the exit signs.

When we come, we stay with the dogs at Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, a very warm and friendly place, if a tad bit on the pricey side. They reserve half their rooms as permanently dog-free for those with allergies, but there are rooms available for dog-owners in every price range. We usually stay in one of the "garden rooms" on the ground floor, opening directly on the beautifully-landscaped courtyard with a view of Crescent Beach.

We always do room-service from the hotel's Audubon Room for one night, and then sample some of the other options throughout the area. This year, we had lunch on Thursday at the Dogfish Café, a raucous place for hearty food like burgers and beer, and they have great iced tea. Their special that day was Vennison Chili and it was lip-smacking good.

Our discovery Thursday night was Natasha's on Exchange St., a fusion restaurant with a very eclectic menu. I had something called the Cambodian Hot Pot -- with crispy fried balls of sushi rice -- and Lisa had duck. On Friday we finally made it for the first time to at what is considered Portland's premiere restaurant, Fore Street: I had a spit-turned Pork Loin over pickled onions -- which was way too much to eat (Lisa chopped up the remainder and fried it in butter in the room's kitchenette for breakfast the next morning. I think Lisa had duck again :-).

This year we didn't make it to Mim's -- a great organic nouveau-cuisine restaurant on Commercial St, and across the street from Fetch, one of our absolute favorite pet-stores everywhere: that's where we got our pups' Doggles and Prospero's devil-dog collar.

It would be remiss of me to fail to mention one of our primary activities while in Portland: bookstores. Portland is blessed with more than four great used bookstores, of which our favorites are Cunningham Books and Carson & Turner, and also several independent shops, including the delightful Longfellow books (with dog-treats on the counter) on Monument Way, Books Etc. on Exchange, and Nonesuch Books in South Portland. As usual, I came away with an obscenely large haul: two boxes-full will have to accompany us up to Bar Harbor. Although the proprietress of Cunningham Books is always happy to see me (yes, bookstore-owners in Portland recognize me even though I don't even live there), she admonished me for having "gotten carried away again". No, I won't ever have time in my life to read all the books I own.

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