Up (and Down) the Downeast Coast to Camden, Maine

After deciding to pass on the tempting exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art, it was time to leave Portland Maine. We followed the route we had taken many times before when we lived in Boston. And, since things change slowly on the Maine coast, we did most of the same things we have done on previous trips. First came a very brief, mandatory stop at L.L. Bean. Even though we didn’t buy anything, it is always interesting to see what they have.

Wiscasset Maine and Red’s Eats

Our drive continued through the ever-charming town of Wiscasset.

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And then there is another reason why we go to Wiscasset…..for another mandatory stop at Red’s Eats for its legendary naked lobster roll.As discussed in one of our previous blog on Red’s, the wait at the road-side shack is intolerable (an hour to an hour and a half to order and another 15 or 20 minutes the get your food) and the price is steep ($23.95 this trip) at mid-summer lunchtime–and that is on a low-traffic weekday!. By the time you add the time to eat, it’s a two-hour proposition. But it’s worth it.

In addition to the ambience of the run-down shack and the cheap plastic tables and chairs (if you can score one at all), you also get a view of the traffic back-up attributable to many people looking to park and others just trying to figure out why all those silly people are standing in line. Seriously, however, the view of the town and the river are nice. And don’t forget the lobster. Every roll is guaranteed to be stuffed with more lobster than you get in a single lobster. And I’m not talking about a puny one-pounder. It is probably about equivalent to the meat of a 1.5- pound beast on a buttered, toasted roll. And you choose how you want to eat it–with butter, mayo or as it is. And with none of the work of getting a whole lobster. And then there’s just the bragging rights of saying you just ate at Red’s.

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Not that one of these lobster rolls per person is not enough, but we couldn’t resist one other thing on the menu. We had only one order of fried clams this trip and they weren’t the best. We decided that we needed to supplement our lobster rolls with some fried clams. Although the fried clams at Red’s weren’t bad, they are no comparison to our previous ten+ stops at the Kennebunkport Clam Shack (for which we will have to wait two days until we reached there on this trip). And if two huge lobster rolls and fried clams weren’t enough, Red’s also plied people waiting in line with tastes of blueberry frappe made with home-made Round Top ice cream. After tasting a sample, we couldn’t resist and had to order one. All yummy.

Pemaquid Point

We then took a detour down to New Harbor, a pretty lobstering town and to Pemaquid Point, a rugged granite headland with a pretty lighthouse (and also the source of some of the state’s best oysters, including all those we had the previous night at Portland’s Eventide Oyster Company. It is a very pretty area, although somewhat anticlimactic after Nova Scotia’s Peggy’s Cove.

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Rockland to Camden

Then on to art hub of the central Maine coast, the renewed city of Rockland, with its museum (the Farnsworth Museum and Wyeth Center which is dedicated to the art of three generations of the local artist family, N.C., Andrew and James Wyeth). Then walks through two of our favorite Rockland galleries, Dowling Walsh and Harbor Square.

The next stop was Camden Maine, our base for the next day and a half. We checked into our Inn, the Hawthorn Inn, at which we had never stayed. The inn is a lovely Victorian with a convenient location, a backyard breakfast and entertainment area and very friendly, very good service. The place was very clean and friendly with large comfortable rooms and excellent breakfast. Blueberry pancakes one day and salmon/eggs/benedict another day.. We stayed in the Carolina room. The only issue we had was that the outside lights were aimed at our room and the shades/curtains were not blackout. It always looked like it was daylight during the night. Also part of the bathroom window did not have a shade so the light came into the bedroom from there. If lights bother you, ask for another room. But stay there is you can.

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Since we were spending most of our time in the area outside the city (Rockland and especially a day on Monhegan Island–see our separate blog on Monhegan Island), our time in Camden was limited to a few (as always) pretty walks.

Unfortunately, what comes up must also come down. After a few days in Maine, it was time to return to urban reality with a drive to Boston. Although there are more than enough spots to stop on the way down, we had time for only two: one to a museum that we had long planned to visit, but to which we had not previously gotten. The second was for lunch at our second must-stop lunch Maine lunch stand.

Bowdoin College Art Museum

Bowdoin College Art Museum in Brunswick has an impressive permanent collection highlighted by a number of Gilbert Stewart portraits (including President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison) and works by Georgia O’Keefe and Edward Hopper and prints by George Bellows (including Dempsey through the Ropes) and Thomas Hart Benton. The especially impressive temporary exhibition, “Night Vision: Nocturnes in American Art, 1860-1960” explores how changing portrayals of subjects in limited light (from dawn to dusk) served as a catalyst for modern art. The exhibition includes oils, prints and photographs from dozens of world-class artists including Frederick Remington, James MacNeil Whistler, Georgia O’Keefe, Joseph Stiglitz and Ansel Adams (including his famous Half Dome and Moonrise, Hernandez New Mexico photos).

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Kennebunkport

Our final Maine stop of this trip was in Kennebunkport, for a pilgrimage to what had been our all-time favorite fried clam haven, the Kennebunkport Clam Shack.–at least until this visit. Although as popular as ever, they have apparently decided to reduce costs by buying much smaller clams which lack the juice and the flavor of large belly clams. And to make things worse, the clams were overcooked. We really should have refused them, but it looked like any replacements would still not be the juicy belly clams that we so liked. Although the onion rings were okay (although by no means memorable), nothing could compensate for our disappoint with the clams. At least the towns of Kennebec and Kennebunkport are pretty, as is the scenic Bush family compound on Walker Point. I think this will be the last time we stop there.

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We had also planned a stop in the seaside town of Ogunquit for a stroll along the always lovely Cliff Walk. Unfortunately, we ran out of time. Another stop which will have to await our next Maine visit.

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