snaps episode 05: portland, maine
Kevin and I took a weekend trip to Maine for our anniversary, mostly because neither of us had ever really thought much about Maine. It was an amazing weekend and Portland was an amazing little city. Naturally gorgeous, incredible seafood, and the absolute nicest people; it exceeded all of my expectations. One of the most remarkable things about all of these photos is that they are minimally retouched...the sunset is actually that beautiful.
The drive up was nightmarishly long—nine hours (Google told us five and a half) through five states: New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine—but somehow not awful. Admittedly, this was partly because our rental car was a Cadillac. It felt surreal to drive one. We were amazed by every little thing, from the pressure-sensitive dashboard sliders to the sleek leather interior. But it was also just a really pleasant car to drive; I’ve never liked how sensitive BMWs are and they intimidate me to this day, but this one had thrillingly quick acceleration and handled as smooth as butter, which felt great on the open roads.
But the scenery itself was worth the drive—it was stunningly beautiful. Once you’re out of the city, you’re treated to open roads and a big expanse of plush blue sky, pathways shaded by wild groves of trees, and clear lakes.
The first thing we did after we checked in was head to the Portland Head Lighthouse, which my younger sister pointed out is the lighthouse from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It used to be a military base, but now it’s a popular landmark and Maine’s oldest lighthouse (of its 65 total!).
And it was...unreal. Just completely breathtaking. It looked like a postcard or a stock photo, it was that picturesque.
“This is rude to every other state,” Kevin declared as we watched the waves spilling over the rocks. The water was constantly moving, even when it wasn’t caught in a wave; I suppose this is because it’s the very edge of the ocean and it meets resistance from the rocks and the shape of the coast. To me, it looked alive, like it was being electrified, dancing in little staccato peaks before tumbling forward in a wave.
We went to Central Provisions on the waterfront across the bay for dinner. The wait for the restaurant was an hour and a half, but Kevin was smart enough to ask if there was a bar, and there was! Just around the corner, tucked away, with dim lighting and glass bottles lining the walls. We were seated next to a lovely woman from West Virginia, who maintains an apartment in Maine because her son works in Maine. We didn’t even get her name, but she was quick to instruct us to order the cod cheek tempura, which Kevin did (and it nearly brought him to tears; it was so good) and to inform us that Portland, Maine was Bon Appétit’s 2018 Restaurant City of the Year, beating out cities like New York and Chicago. I now regret not finding that list earlier, because there are so many places I want to try. I’ll have to settle for visiting again someday, and next time I will be better prepared. I had a great little tuna tartare with cucumber and roe and rice puffs, and it was so tender and fresh and delicious; it tasted as though it had been plucked from the sea moments before.
The woman was very nice, and was content with watching the bartender prepare her several Manhattans, which he did with great care, muddling the sugar and bitters together with a wooden pestle and stirring in the liquor with a flourish.
The next morning, we got a quick lunch at Gilbert’s Chowder House. The clam chowder was good, but the real delight was in finding fried clams on the menu, which I haven’t had in years but remind me of my childhood, because we used to get a big bucket of them at Seaport Village to share.
We took a ferry to Peak’s Island, a tiny little island off the coast that’s home to only 1,000 residents. I think we both thought, as we skimmed along the jewel-blue water, I could get used to this.
There’s not a lot to do on the island—it’s only 3.7 miles around the whole thing—but enjoy the view, so that’s what we did. We rented bikes and rode around, taking in the coastline and the quaint little houses. One of the more curious (but cute) idiosyncrasies was that residents appeared to have named their houses: Geneva Lodge, Heartsong, One Fish Two Fish. It felt very small town and very New England. It reminded me of Long Beach Island, where my mom’s family spent their summers as children, or even Coronado Island, where my family and I had once rented a surrey and spent an afternoon pedaling around.
One thing we noticed about Maine is that everyone is so kind. Just genuinely conversational and very, very nice. And much less conservative than I expected. We were prepared to be met with a lot of funny looks, because we don’t really look like we’re a couple (I have been catcalled while walking down the street with him next to me), but everyone was so sweet and welcoming that we rarely felt out of place.
We had selected Eventide Oyster Co. for dinner, at the suggestion of many travel blogs, but there was an hour and a half wait, so to kill time we went to The Porthole, a little waterfront bar that was shaking with the energy of the Friday night crowd. It reminded me of the house parties on Del Playa—live music, cheap beer, and people dancing on the balcony overlooking the water.
At one point, the band played “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and everyone in the bar was singing and dancing along to it, and that was an experience for sure.
And Eventide was worth the wait, because it was the best seafood I’ve ever had in my life: pillowy rolls piled with crab and brown butter lobster (which may have changed my opinion about lobster, if all of it tasted like that), fresh tuna crudo, and a warm and chewy chocolate-chip cookie ice cream sandwich for dessert. The oysters were plucked from a little ice shelf right at the bar, and expertly prepared right in front of us,
The next day, we ate at The Highroller Lobster Co. for lunch, which had one of the most truly ridiculous foods I’ve ever seen—a lobster taco in a shell made of fried cheese. It was delicious, of course, because how could it not be?
We spent a lazy couple of hours at East End Beach, playing Bananagrams, reading a little bit (I’m working on Intimations by Alexandra Kleeman and it’s wonderfully absurd), and skipping rocks over the gentle tide. It was a dog-friendly beach and there were so many of them, all happily running around the shore and paddling through the waves. We made friends with one, an adorable German Shepherd mix named Jade, who was particularly sweet and followed us around, hoping to catch the rocks we were tossing into the water and running up and down the shore with us
We went to Scales for dinner, where I had a handsome skillet of rather sandy steamer clams, and we watched the sun set fire to the water from the giant bay windows lining the restaurant.
The next morning, we woke up at dawn to watch the sun rise over the Portland Head Lighthouse. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and I say that as a fairly well-traveled person. It’s insane that this is right in our backyard and that it looks like this every morning.
On our way out of Portland, we got breakfast at a little diner crammed into an old-fashioned railcar. It was delicious and homey and the perfect way to end our trip.
It was a surreal weekend. I’m so in awe of this state, and I have so many more places I want to explore on my next trip here.
To Kevin—words cannot express how much I appreciate you. Thanks for putting up with me for a whole year. You make me laugh harder than anyone I’ve ever known and have one of the most interesting minds I’ve ever known; this year has been full of nothing but pure joy. You are the kindest and most compassionate soul, and I’m so lucky to have you as my partner in life. It’s been a wild adventure from our very first non-date date back in Santa Barbara and I can’t wait to see where we go next.
We’ll be back, Portland! Te amamos.