Rockland Maine

A Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture in Rockland Maine
A Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture in Rockland Maine

Among the small coastal towns of Maine, Rockland stands apart as the “business town” for the region. Although its year-round population is a tiny 7600, its core is a small city. Today its 19th century mercantile buildings contain unique shops and restaurants. Rockland’s  centerpiece is the Farnsworth Museum, an art museum housed in a number of traditional old buildings. A former Methodist church has become a principle gallery, home to the work of three generations of the Wyeth family.  It is concentrated on art created by N.C . Wyeth, his son Andrew, and Andrew’s son James Wyeth. Andrew Wyeth is particularly known for his connection to the coast of Maine. A special exhibition “The Wyeths, Maine and the Sea” is on display through December 31, 2014.

During my visit I enjoyed finding the 12-foot-tall “Love Wall” by Robert Indiana, one of many expressions the artist has created based on his famous squared “LOVE” graphic.

For the traveler there’s much to explore in Rockland and nearby towns.  The Maine Lighthouse Museum is one of several destinations in the area for those interested in history. The others are the Owls Head Transportation Museum, the Historical Society of Rockland County, the Penobscot Marine Museum, and the General Henry Knox Museum. Ride a ferry 12 miles out to sea to Vinalhaven or North Vinal islands, enjoying the spectacular coast views en route. Within 25 miles of Rockland there are three state parks with gentle walks and more challenging hikes. The shops and galleries of Rockland provide opportunities to find unique souvenirs, reminders of lovely summer days along the central coast of the great state of Maine.

Events:

In July Rockland hosts one of the most respected Blues Festivals in America: www.northatlanticbluesfestival.com.

A summer event for many years, the Maine Lobster Festival is held in Rockland annually. Featuring Maine lobsters, waterfront activities, maritime demonstrations, Maine arts and crafts, ship tours, harbor cruises, live entertainment, and of course a parade. www.mainelobsterfestival.com

Links:

A site filled with helpful information about the Camden-Rockland area: http://www.mainedreamvacation.com/

The Farnsworth Museum: http://farnsworthmuseum.org/

National Geographic named Rockland one of its “100 Best Adventure Towns” – read more about that here: http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/weekend-getaways/maine/rockland-travel

Here’s a link to the Maine Ferry Service’s Vinal Haven page:
http://www.maine.gov/mdot/msfs/vinalhaven.htm

The sculpture (shown above) taken on the grounds of the Farnsworth Museum is Robert Indiana’s LoveWall, created about 1967.

 

 

The Coast of Maine

Camden, Maine
The coast of Maine at Camden.

Penobscot Bay.  Those words conjure images (or memories) of sweet summer days in Maine. Giant fir trees on rocky shores. Cool mornings, sunny days spent exploring the coastline by kayak, bike or car. Charming small towns, some made for tourists, some simply home to authentic Mainers whose families have lived here for centuries. Off shore islands, lobster pounds, classic old houses — summer living at its best. Small towns and villages scattered up the coast. Come with me now on a ride up Route 1 to discover some of my favorite places and some special events to be found only on the Coast of Maine.

Kennebunkport  Famous as the vacation home of President George Bush the first, Kennebunkport has drawn summer visitors for many years.  A week-long vacation there once caused us to move to New England shortly afterward. It was a move we never regretted. Consider visiting Kennebunkport in December for its “Christmas Prelude” festivities. It’s an event so special that caused HGTV to name Kennebunkport one of the Top Ten Christmas Towns in America.

Portland  The waterfront area of Portland is filled with note-worthy restaurants and unique shops making it a fun place to spend a day or longer.  Located a short distance off-shore one of my favorite places, Peaks Island, is an easy ferry ride away. Here you’ll feel like you’ve turned the clock back about 50 years (or more).

Brunswick is less than an hour north of Portland (adjacent to Freeport and you know what that means!). An historic town filled with large 19th century homes, Brunswick is the site of Bowdoin College. It was once home to Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Union Army hero of the Battle of Gettysburg who became president of Bowdoin College. His home is now an interesting museum.  Brunswick hosts the annual Saltwater Celtic Music Festival which will be held October 3-5, 2014. You’ll find lobster everywhere in Maine, but for a true Downeast experience, take time for a drive out to Bailey’s Island and Cook’s Lobster House.

Wiscasset  As you continue north on Route 1 you’ll pass through the waterside village of Wiscasset which calls itself the “prettiest village in Maine” – a claim that’s probably true.  Stop to meander, poke your head into antique shops, and grab a bite to eat at Red’s Eats – listed by “Road Food” for its 5-star lobster roll.

Boothbay Harbor  Always my favorite waterfront town, Boothbay Harbor stands out in a lineup of charming places. Click the link above to find a photo collection that may explain why. For two fun-filled days each June windjammers sail into Boothbay Harbor for the annual Windjammer Days Festival that’s been a tradition here for nearly 50 years.

Continuing up the coast you’ll come to Rockland and Camden which will be the subjects of my next two posts.

Rockport, located between Rockland and Camden, has long attracted artists and boaters and those who simply want to enjoy life quietly. Follow the road down the peninsula on the northeast corner of Rockport to Hog Cove, Salt Ledge and Beauchamp Point at the end of a very beautiful fir-tree-lined road.  Pure Maine!

Above Camden the towns are a bit farther apart.  From Lincolnville you can take a ferry to Isleboro and Seal Harbor.  After Northport and Kelly’s Cove you’ll come to the city of Belfast. The largest city along the Coast above Portland, the annual Harbor Fest and National Boat Building Contest provides much fun to visitors each August.

Searsport is an old sea captain’s town possessed of two things I really like: the Penobscot Marine Museum (with of long lists of interesting activities) and one of the most delightful bookstores anywhere, Left Bank Books.  Searsport is also a good place for antique shopping, although you’ll find antiques for sale all along the coast of Maine.

Continuing north, make a right turn after Bucksport for Castine, another bit of history you can experience today.  These little towns will remind you of a time when life was slower and perhaps make you just a bit envious of the people who live here year round.

Mount Dessert Island is home to two famous places: Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. While you are certain to enjoy both of these, take time to discover Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Bass Harbor.  Catch a ferry out to the Cranberry Islands just off shore.  Find more information here.http://www.cranberryisles.com/ferries.html.

If you continue driving north you’ll find yourself at the border with New Brunswick. The top of Maine isn’t on the Atlantic coast but it continues to delight travelers with its forests and small towns to explore.

The State of Maine’s tourist brochure provides 185 pages of tips, events, descriptions and ads. It’s available for downloading here. If you prefer they will mail you one on paper.   A long list of events held throughout the state can be found here. Tourism is very important to Maine – you will find a warm welcome wherever you go.

Travel & Leisure’s website just posted a slide show of the “Ten Best Lobster Shacks in Maine.”

P.S. Arthur Frommer is in love with the coast of Maine.  This week his blog is about his vacation there.  Read it here.

Ile de Ré

Ile de Re
The harbor at La Flotte

On a day in late May that couldn’t have been more perfect my French friend Francine and I strolled down a lane of white-washed cottages where hollyhocks bloomed at every door. We were walking toward the center of La Flotte, one of several villages on the island of Ile de Ré on the west coast of France.  Once there we enjoyed lunch on a patio overlooking the marina.  We shopped in antique stores and gift shops that offer hand-crafted items.  We photographed the marina and – perhaps most memorably – we ate delicious, made-on-the spot ice cream.

Later we drove around the entire island in Francine’s Peugeot. (Most people would probably prefer to tour by bicycle.)  We visited some of the other nine villages on the island.  In the port village of Ars-en-Ré we saw the church tower famous for being painted black and white , a well-known landmark for sailors. We stopped at the Phare des Baleines (Lighthouse of the Whales). We didn’t climb the 257 stairs to the top of this, the second oldest lighthouse in France, but you can. We didn’t have time to stop at The Parc de l’Arche de Noé  (Noah’s Ark), home to many birds including Amazonian parrots, flamingos and to other animals such as monkeys and the aquarium’s fish. As we departed the island we stopped to admire the fortress of Saint Martin built by the famous French military engineer Vauban in the second half of the 17th century.  It stands as formidably against the tides today as it did more than 300 years ago.

Ile de Ré is extremely popular with French people making it very expensive and crowded in July and August. If you visit in May or June, September or October, you are likely to enjoy beautiful days in lovely uncrowded villages and on long, open beaches. The island is linked to the mainland near La Rochelle by a modern toll bridge.  Stay for a week if you can. Rent a cottage and rent bikes for a truly French experience.

And if you go to La Flotte for ice cream, be sure to try the salted caramel!

Practicalities:

It seems everything you need to know can be found on the excellent, English language website of the Ile de Ré tourist office: http://www.holidays-iledere.co.uk/.

For more information:

To learn more about western France see my page about Poitou-Charentes by clicking here.

36 Hours in Ile de Ré from a British newspaper: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destination/france/78874/36-Hours-In…-Ile-de-Re.html

See dozens of beautiful images of the island at Pinterest’s Ile de Ré page here: http://www.pinterest.com/nicbellvacances/my-ile-de-r%C3%A9-island-france/

La Rochelle, France

A 1762 painting of the sunset over La Rochelle harbor by Claude Joseph Vernet. (See my note below.)

A brilliant orange sky stretched across the western horizon, illuminating the harbor and the pair of ancient towers that guard its entrance. The spectacular sunset had surprised me as I walked from the train station in old La Rochelle to my hotel. Old stone buildings – the towers, the lighthouses, the waterfront buildings – all became golden as the sun “put itself to bed” to use the charming French expression “se coucher.” Families walked along the promenade that borders the small harbor.  Some tourists snapped pictures while others enjoyed the view with another glass of wine from one of many sidewalk cafés facing the Atlantic. It was an evening to remember.

A 15th century clock tower overlooks the harbor and acts as the gateway to the town lying to its east. There visitors to La Rochelle will find ancient arcaded streets stretching for blocks. Once used by merchants to showcase their wares (which sadly often included enslaved people) today the shops behind the arcades are filled with fashionable boutiques and restaurants. The hotel de ville (city hall), one of the most beautiful in France, is now being restored following a recent fire. Behind it visitors will find a daily outdoor market as well as a beautiful old iron and brick market hall.  More modern attractions include an aquarium and a natural history museum as well as a museum displaying the town’s maritime history and arts.

La Rochelle is located directly on the Atlantic shore, precisely in the middle of “the hexagon” that is France.  The Poitou-Charentes region in which it is located is often missed by visitors from other countries although Atlantic beach towns like La Rochelle are very popular with the French.  Visitors interested in finding new areas of France to explore will be delighted by the vineyards, the marshes, the beaches and the history of this region that comprised much of ancient Aquitaine.

Practical Information:

Tips for visitors:  La Rochelle and surrounding beach towns are very crowded in July and August.  As with most of France, May and June, September and October are the ideal months for visitors.

La Rochelle is easily reached by train and car.  It makes a great base for exploring western France, an area filled with remnants of the Romans, with ancient monastery churches, with many interesting old villages to explore.  La Rochelle is a very interesting place to visit for those traveling with children.

To learn more about western France, see my Poitou-Charentes page by clicking here,

Accommodations:

Two Ibis hotels are very well located and quite inexpensive, particularly on weekends.

Links:

The official city tourism site has loads of information about the city of La Rochelle: http://www.holidays-la-rochelle.co.uk/

Virtual Tourist’s page for La Rochelle includes many photos and a list of activities to consider: http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Europe/France/Poitou_Charentes/La_Rochelle-114350/Things_To_Do-La_Rochelle-TG-C-1.html

Following my recent week in La Rochelle a camera disaster left me with no photos to share with you. The painting shown above is courtesy of Wikimedia. Find the painting here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:LaRochelleHarbour1762.jpg.  A photograph of a sunset in La Rochelle like the one I saw can be found here: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/31406906

Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, All on a Small Budget

Perast Montenegro

I’m beginning this blog because I want to tell travelers about some of the little-known places I’ve found and enjoyed. And it’s my plan to use it as I plan my own future adventures.  Most importantly, I hope by offering suggestions about how to travel to special places on a reasonable budget I’ll encourage some would-be travelers to get up and go!

In the preceding post I mentioned the 11-month tour of Europe that my husband and I enjoyed once. We traveled from Ireland to Russia, from Norway to Italy. We traveled by cruise ship, train, ferry and we put 22,000 miles on a pair of rental cars. While we saw the major cities of Europe most of the time we stayed in rental cottages in small villages where we could (very briefly) feel that we were part of those ancient communities. We made new friends, encountered many helpful, welcoming people and enjoyed one another’s company more than we ever had.  That trip changed my life in countless ways.

It is the very act of becoming – however briefly – a part of the fabric of the places you visit that inspires a traveler to keep going.  I hope that by telling you about some of the places I’ve loved I will inspire you to find special, little-known places to explore.  And I really hope you and others will use the comments section of this blog to share your memories and plans with us. I would love for this blog to become a place for asking questions while you plan your journeys and for answering questions about places you’ve enjoyed.

Who Am I?

Genoa

I’m retiring!  I’ve been working for the past several years as an independent travel agent and occasional tour guide. That’s enabled me to travel to Alaska, to Canada, through the Panama Canal and to much of Europe as well as to great American cities such as Seattle and Charleston. It’s been fun but I’m an original Boomer. The time has come to pursue my own interests — interests such as developing this blog.

At the age of 18 I traveled from Ohio to the California coast in a ‘62 Ford with my new husband. I’ll never forget places with exotic names like Tucumcari – or the mechanic in Barstow who convinced two kids that they’d die crossing the dessert if they didn’t buy new tires from him! Life’s lessons learned. My life’s travels begun.

Since then I’ve lived in many places: California (three times), Texas (twice), Massachusetts (for a long time), Maine (not long enough), Ohio (which has always been “home”), New Jersey (where I married for the second time) and for two years during the Vietnam War in Okinawa (where my son was born).  I’ve traveled to 46 of the US states and to many countries of Europe. Now I live in Eastern North Carolina and travel as often as possible.

Suitcases, Mom and Me

My mother said the first thing I ever did was pack a suitcase.  I was two years old when someone gave me a tiny valise intended for doll clothes.  I still remember it: a little gray box around 12 inches square.  Mom said I would pack it endlessly with things to take on my imaginary trips.  It seems I was born with a love of travel.

When I was 14 Mom gave me a very stylish white Samsonite “train case” for Christmas. It was the beginning of a set of four pieces of matched luggage that I would own by the time I graduated from high school.  Mom used S&H Green Stamps, saved all year, to purchase that luggage for me.  (Those stamps, popular in the 1960s, each stamp representing ten cents spent, were one way homemakers had of “earning” money for their own use.)  That luggage traveled with me through a too-early marriage to California and Texas and Okinawa.  Although I no longer use it, I still have it.

In 1943, when she boarded a train in Charleston, West Virginia to meet and marry my sailor father in Ames, Iowa, my mother brought along the suitcase shown at the top of this blog.  During World War 2 she used it each time she traveled to meet my dad: for a few weeks in Iowa, in New Orleans, in Brooklyn.  I’ve carried Mom’s suitcase with me through several moves.  My mother died much too early of a terrible disease that slowly took her from us, and I treasure the few things she left us that were important to her.  When I brought her old suitcase down from the attic to photograph it for this blog I found it contained a wadded up nest of my old doll clothes.