Although Tomer has been living in the States for a couple of years, we have only met a few times briefly and not alone. So we decided to use the long weekend to see a part of the country he hasn’t before seen: the southern coast of Maine.
I have known Tomer since he was my Tae Kwon Do student in Israel at age 8, but at 17 he insisted that we convert our relationship from teacher/student to friends and that’s how it has been ever since. Now he is doing a prestigious post-doc at the National Institute of Health in D.C. and in a year he will be taking up a professorship at Haifa University.
He flies in on Friday and we set out on Saturday, driving up 95 until the first tourist info rest-stop, where we switch to Route 1 to drive along the shore, making my obligatory stop at Leeward Landing Thrift Store where I only find a good book and a couple of greeting cards. Last time I was there was in the summer with my London friend Sue O’Sullivan. Then I bought a stunning but stained pink silk jacket because Sue knew how to eradicate the stain. Tomer stayed in the car playing with his iPhone. He does not lust after objects. He used up all his shopping hormone when much younger.
This is such a strangely mild winter with the trees in an uncharac-
teristically long period of nakedness – wearing neither their leaves nor their snow couture. So when we thought about destinations, I opposed the mountains. Everything flora looks emaciated and brittle, washed out and weak.
But the coast of Maine is gorgeous no matter what the weather with its lumbering black rocks, blue water, and mix of pebbly or sandy beaches. We are aiming for Ogunquit via the coastal route, but stop at Stonewall Kitchens (photo on left), on the recommendation of my friend Stephanie, for coffee and a scone. Known for their jams, we spend a bit too much time at their tasting tables trying to choose among the sour cherry, the seedless raspberry, and their classic blueberry preserves.
We stop at none of the wonderful historic sites of York, like the old Gaol, because it is winter and most tourist sites are shut. It is the coast we long for and by following the Shore Road we are treated to some rocky delights. Our longest stop is at the Nubble Lighthouse, reputed to be the most photographed lighthouse in Maine (photo at left). There is something about the tumble of huge, dark Maine rocks that reminds me of the Irish coast. The seas are calm throughout our weekend so instead of the thrilling white water of stormy days we have the bluest, placid calm. It is an acceptable trade-off.
We climb around the rocks at Nubble to ensure some dramatic photographs, and stop on our way out to get a shot together at a Christmas tree (photo on left) constructed from lobster traps, teddy bears and red ribbons. I’ve never seen a xmas tree I admired more.
In Ogunquit we stay in a spacious double-queen room at The Admiral’s Inn. Other than a glitch in their wireless provision and some young people partying in the halls at all hours, it is a clean, friendly and reasonable accommodation. Many Ogunquit restaurants are closed, but a 10-minute stroll through town leads us to one with a triple menu: bar food, restaurant food, and a bistro menu which seems to be a cheaper alternative with smaller portions – i.e. the kind of portions you would get elsewhere in the world, and quite appropriate for travelers who don’t want doggie bags.
The morning is clear and cold and we pull down coats over our sweatshirts and set off to the Marginal Way, as people have been doing for 85 years. Is there a more splendid walk? The sun is so strong we could’ve come out with a layer or two less. Not a single cloud dulls the perfection of the sea. It is high tide so the water-covered rocks below add a shadow effect to the blue while the wet rough black rocks lining the shore shine with particular drama. There are 39 benches along the way with bronze plaques representing a loving memorial gesture and we stop to see the especially precious views at rest.
It’s a magic mile from Ogunquit to Perkins Cove, where we are planning to have a coffee, but the usual, immediate establishments are closed for the season and we walk deep into the Cove to find the one café open in winter. While it costs us $13 for two hot drinks and a croissant, we get to use the bathroom – a privilege not to be treated lightly during winter in this area. At first we sit outside (photo at left) over the Cove, but that becomes too chilly so we huddle inside in the warmth.
Back at the hotel the well-meaning clerk spends an inordinate amount of our time wrestling with Google maps to give us an insider’s little-known seaside route between Ogunquit and Portland, our next Maine destination. At a certain point, surely well past the 30-minute mark, I have an ominous feeling that I’m going to be standing here so long that I miss signing up for Medicare next year and I say, “I’m going to the car,” and do so. Eventually Tomer joins me with a print-out, but the route turns out to be a torturous exploration of ranch-home suburbs that are closer to the sea than, say, Rt. 95, but not close enough to actually see water. Another hour or so of my life down the drain and I insist that we just get on a road that will actually take us to Portland.
Tomer got us a great deal at the waterfront Hilton, but they don’t let you into the room until 4:00 and they make you pay $15 to park your car, not to mention tips to the person who parks it and the person who returns it to you – from the lot about three feet away from the door. We go for a walk in the historic district, but my feet are mounting a severe rebellion. We already did the whole Marginal Way and back, they complain, what’s with pounding these city streets just hours later? It might not be so painful if, in fact, we actually find the supposedly exciting exhibition we are looking for, but alas, we don’t.
The brightest moment of the afternoon is running into very dear Boston friends of mine Gail and Donna. (I was best man at their wedding.) They are, it transpires, on their annual winter getaway to Portland. However, they are in a rush to catch the three-hour ferry around the islands and we promise to meet up for dinner.
Once we all assemble in the lobby, we stroll to a massive ship restaurant that is a further walk than my feet consent to, only to be told that we have a 75 minute wait to get seated. Gail and Tomer volunteer to return back up the street to see if what turns out to be a seafood greasy spoon has a free table and they do. So Donna and I make our way back towards the hotel to join them at Gilbert’s Chowder House where we are served on flimsy paper plates and given the cheapest plastic cutlery to deal with our food. Tomer’s lobster is decidedly insulted by its paper setting (photo at left). The waitress is sweet, the company unparalleled, and the antacid plentiful.
Monday morning Tomer, Gail, and Donna are as one about having the $12 breakfast at the Hilton. (Of course it’s over $15 what with the taxes and whatnot.) I personally want a scone from the lovely bakery next door, but the majority rules. To ensure that we get our money’s worth, the first thing I do is secret a couple of bagels in my bag for lunch, along with butter, cream cheese, a couple of fruits, and a muffin. Then I get started on eating a pig-farm’s worth of bacon, piles of fruit salad, pancakes, toast, scrambled eggs and hot water, into which I drop my own tea bags.
My stomach and I spend the rest of the morning in the room while Tomer walks and swims. We check out, hide our bags in their baggage room, and tootle over for a lovely 45-minute Casco Bay ferry ride to and from Peaks Island (above), the closest one to Portland. It is a utilitarian vessel into the middle of which vehicles are loaded (photo at left), while we people sit in two tatty long side-rooms above. Tomer and I spend the trip to the island out on the deck. It’s a cool diversion for just $4.30 for him and half that for senior fare.
Our last tourist moment is a side trip to Fort Williams Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, also the most photographed lighthouse in Maine, we are told. Apparently the lighthouses in Maine attract the cameras. This lighthouse is, in fact, astoundingly beautiful and in a setting to rival the Marginal Way. It was built in 1787 and is surrounded by 90 acres of park. We arrive during the last hour of light and so the cold is prohibitive, but the former Keepers' Quarters – now a museum that is closed for winter – is an architectural pearl and the lighthouse itself a perfect specimen. It is just the visual to wrap up our trip to the southern Maine coast.
All photos by Tomer Shechner