Yesterday, as we got closer to home, the Little Man said to us, not for the first time since we left Maine, “I don’t want to go home, I want to stay.” I smiled at him and said, “The sign of a really good vacation is that you don’t want it to end.” I think that is true. There are some vacations you come back from and are glad to be back at home, sleeping in your own bed with familiar sounds and surrounding. But there are other vacations in which the thought of being back home fills you with a nameless dread. It means the vacation is over. You head back to work or school. The old routines start up again.
I think we had a wonderful vacation, our second annual summer vacation up in Maine. Here is what we did on our vacation.
Driving to Maine
We started out on our 2-day drive to Maine on Friday, June 28, at about 11 am. Our plan was to drive to a hotel just north of Hartford, Connecticut, spend the night there, and finish our drive to Maine the following day. All told, we did pretty good. We made good time through Maryland, hitting just a little traffic in Delaware and had mostly smooth sailing through New Jersey. The biggest question became one of which route we would take as we got closer to New York. Would we go through the city, or around it? We opted to cross the George Washington Bridge and then head up I-87 to the Hutch and finally up I-684 to I-84. This worked out well. There was no real traffic crossing the bridge, and as we rode along on the Hutch, I realized that we were within a mile of my sister’s house. So we stopped for a bathroom break and the kids got to stretch their legs for a while and play with their cousins. The rest of the ride was smooth, and we arrived at our hotel around 8 pm.
We had dinner at a restaurant next to the hotel, an Italian place, and I had the best pasta bolognese I’ve ever had. It was amazing. It was heaping in my plate and I worked furiously to eat as much of it as I could manage. I think I ended up doing a pretty good job.
The next morning, we hit the road and we arrived in Castine, Maine at about 3 pm. My cousins live in Castine and they have a wonderful cottage next to their house in which we’ve stayed these last two summers. The weather was overcast and rainy when we arrived and the fog was pretty heavy. We saw my cousins and then began unpacking and settling in. After two days of driving we were all ready to be off the road for a while.
The State of Maine
The Maine Maritime Academy is located in Castine, and each year, around this time, their training flagship, The State of Maine, returns to the town dock with its students after they’ve been away on a training trip. Everyone in town comes to the dock to greet the return of this ship and we went as well. This year, it was foggy when the ship returned home, although the sun worked desperately to burn through. It made for some interesting, eerie visuals as the ship emerged from the fog.
After the ship docked and the sun had started to burn through, we walked through the west side of town to the Dice Head Lighthouse, which was open for tours. The Little Man and I climbed to the top, followed by Kelly and the Little Miss. The sun hadn’t completely burned through, but it was still a nice view of the surrounding area.
My daily walking suffered while on vacation. I had been walking in excess of 7 miles a day, but on vacation, that dropped dramatically, despite Castine being a very walkable town. I was lucky if I walked more than a mile or two. But hey, I was on vacation. And I did try. As soon as I woke up each morning, I’d head out, rain or shine, and try to walk a lap or two around the town. Some mornings were foggy, but other mornings, especially later in the week, were quite beautiful. I walked out of the cottage one morning to find a bright sunrise.
The sun was already high in the sky, as you can see. I’d awaken in the middle of the night to see the sky already growing light. I looked at the clock once and saw it was 3:50 am. An hour later, the sun was on the horizon. Other times, I left earlier or the clouds lingered longer, making for darker, but equally beautiful views as I walked down Water street.
I listened to audio books as I walked, and waved to people who I passed. Everyone waves in Castine. Everyone says hello and stops to chat. It’s part of what I love about that town.
Nervous Nellies Jams and Jellies
Last year, my cousins told us about this interesting little place called Nervous Nellies Jams and Jellies and we went there. We liked it so much that on Monday, we returned there. It is a little difficult to describe if you’ve never been there. Ostensibly, they sell wonderful jams and jellies (we picked up a few jars), but the property is full of wonderfully weird artwork made out of what is really just a bunch of junk. There is an old Western style town. Inside one of the establishments in this western town, I came across this odd and wonderful typewriter:
But even this doesn’t give you the full flavor of what they have there. I took a panorama picture from within a “castle” constructed in the woods on the property. There are knights sitting at a table and other odd things and I think this gives you a much better idea of the kind of oddities you find at Nervous Nellies.
We All Float Down Here
None of us had ever been to Bangor and we knew there was a nice Children’s Museum there. We’d originally planned to go on Monday, but the museum was closed on Monday (we went to Nervous Nellie’s instead). On Tuesday, we drove to Bangor in a slowly gathering rain.
The fictional town of Derry in Stephen King’s books is based somewhat on Bangor and so I felt a kind of odd sensation walking through the town. We parked downtown and walked to the Maine Discovery Museum, which was three floors of fun for the kids. I think the kids had a blast there. Two of the exhibits really captured their attention more than any others. The first was a kind of waterway in which you could place toy boats and watch how they floated down the river through various obstacles. At one point, the Little Man was floating a boat down this river and the image I saw reminded me of the opening of Stephen King’s It, where little George Denbrough is floating his paper boat through the rain-soaked streets of Derry, until he comes across a clown in down in the drain.
Upstairs, almost directly above the water, was a kind of life-sized boat that kids could climb around in. The boat contained empty cardboard boxes with various countries stamped on them. It had a crane they could operate and a chute for off-loading the boxes. The Little Man and the friends he quickly made seemed to play endlessly as stevedores, first unloading the boxes from the boat, then loading up again just as quickly. They repeated this again and again, and it was so much fun to watch them all. You could tell they were having a wonderful time.
After the museum, we had lunch at a pub down the street and then headed back toward Castine, where it seemed, a small hole in the clouds had formed and blue sky was peeking through from behind.
The first several days in Maine were cloudy, overcast and rainy. But beginning Tuesday afternoon, the weather started to change. That was just as well for we had planned to head to Acadia National Park on Wednesday and hoped to spend some time at the beach.
Sand Beach and Bah Hahbah
The weather cooperated. It more than cooperated, in fact. After days of hiding behind the clouds, the sun seemed fierce and hot. It blazed.
Acadia National Park was about a 90 minute drive from Castine. We arrived to find Sand Beach busy, as we expected, but I did a better job of parking close to the beach this year than last year. We also stayed at the beach longer than last year and the kids, once again, seemed to have a good time.
The water was bonechillingly cold, but that did not stop the Little Man, who ran into and out of those icy waves for 45 minutes without seeming to feel the cold. The beach was beautiful and the sun was hot. People were out in force.
Even after they kids grew tired of the water, they had the sand to keep them occupied. They’d brought sand toys along with them this time and played together, which is always delightful to see. The Little Man seemed to take charge and make sure the Little Miss, more than two years his junior, had a good time.
After leaving Sand Beach and ridding ourselves of what seemed to be a ton of sand, we headed into Bar Harbor and wandered the streets there, eating ice cream and dipping in and out of the shops. Everyone, it seemed, decided to go into town that day, perhaps because it was the first summerlike weather all week. The town was full of people, most of whom were tourists, like us, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.
An Old New England Town?
One of the (many) wonderful things about small New England towns (or any small town) is their controversies. One such controversy currently working its way through Castine has to do with how long the town has been settled. When you drive into Castine, you see a sign welcoming you and informing visitors and natives alike that the town was settled in 1613. That would make this year the 400th anniversary of when the town was settled, right?
Well, maybe not. It seems that some historians have argued that there is no evidence for settlement at that early date. The arguments have dived into what it means to “settle” a town, and there will even be a town meeting on the issue later this week. In the meantime, over by the town dock, there was this sign, announcing the upcoming meeting:
I love the “unsettled 2013” sign that someone put up.
Fourth of July in Castine, Maine
My experience has been that the smaller the town in which you celebrate America’s Independence Day, the better the celebration. When I lived in L.A. there were mass fireworks, but no real small-town celebrations. How could there be in a city of millions. In Castine, however, the town celebrates all day long.
July 4th turned out to be a hot day from the moment the sun rose. At 10 am, there was a children’s parade and all of the children in the town (along with their parents) got to participate. The Little Man and Little Miss were among them.
We lined up and paraded around the town square, down Court Street and then back again. The kids dressed up in costumes. It was blazingly hot, but a lot of fun. Afterward, there were all kinds of treats on the town square, hot dogs, lemonade, cotton candy, watermelon. There were games like sack races and tug-of-war. It was a blast. The morning festivities ended with a ride on the fire engines. The Little Man and I sat on the top of one of the fire trucks and road around the town waving at passersby who waved back at us.
In the afternoon, the town band was going to perform. Both of my cousins are in the Castine Town Band and we went to the square at 3pm to watch and listen. People sat all around the green, spreading blankets, waving flags and listening to the kind of music you would expect to hear on the Fourth of July. (Although, the band also played “Basin Street Blues” which is one of my favorites.) It felt as if we had been thrown back in time to some earlier era.
In addition to the band, there were also fifers and drummers and they played several songs, all of which, it seemed, the Little Man knew from school.
The Little Man did not end up napping that afternoon. In part this was because there was too much excitement, and in part it was because when we went for his nap earlier, he slipped and hit his head, which kind of spoiled his napping mood. But he ended up napping around dinner time (burgers and hot dogs and potato salad, etc.) which was good. He got some rest in before the fireworks.
The fireworks took place at the town dock. They wowed the Little Man, but they frightened the Little Miss.
When they were all over, we walked back to the house in darkness, watching fireworks bloom from behind the hills on the far side of the river. We slept well that night. Then next morning, we started our drive home.
We stopped in Mystic, Connecticut and spent a full day at the seaport and aquarium. It was another blazingly hot day. I think the kids enjoyed the seaport more than the aquarium. I enjoyed both. It had been more than 30 years since I’d been there.
We made it home yesterday at about 3pm after packing a lot into our 8 days. When it was all over and we were back in the house, I felt exactly as the Little Man did. I didn’t want to be home yet, I didn’t want our vacation to be over.
I take that to mean we had a really excellent vacation.