Travels for Two in a Green Ford Escort #18: Summertime in the New Hampshire Woods and a Maine Fourth of July

Summertime in the New Hampshire Woods and a Maine Fourth of July

We left New Jersey in the first few days of July and headed up I-95 through New England. It was an area full of Ivy League campuses and we were going to pass more of them than we would have imagined was possible: Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale and Brown. New England has had particularly strong ties for us: Deb went to college in Providence, Rhode Island; we had traveled through the northern states on vacations; and we were married near Stonington, Rhode Island. During this part of our trip we planned to relax, share some sightseeing and visit several friends who lived in the area.

We drove north on the interstate for nearly a day, planning to start as close to top of the highway as we could and slowly drive down to see other areas. By late afternoon we found ourselves crossing into Maine over a beautiful river and quaint, green bridge. Maine is the land of lobster, and we found it for sale throughout cheap roadside stands called lobster pounds and even in lobster rolls at McDonald’s. Appropriately, our first Maine dinner was Lobster Fradiavolo for two in Portland. We paired it with a bottle of wine and a green salad, eating luxuriously for nearly an hour and a half and walking the docks when we were through.

The next day we drove up the Maine Coast, leaving the interstate for Route 1 and its expected fishing harbors, greenery and small towns. The drive took longer than expected – many of the small towns were impossible to pass through without stopping. We had lunch at a small harborside restaurant and followed it with a walk through town where we passed small shops, bookstores, an antique seller and a large white church. It was an area Martha Stewart would have felt at home in and Mainers seemed proud of what they had. In one town we even saw a collection of lobster statues perched in strategic public spots. To the residents, these statues were the equals of pig statues in Cincinnati, fish statues in Key West or donkey and elephant statues in Washington D.C. Sponsored by local businesses, they represent something that is a key part of the area’s culture with a substantial dose of civic pride and a whimsical sense of humor.

We stayed that night in a small Maine motel, distinguished from motels in other areas by its long row of immaculately clean rooms, short cut grassy lawns and a set of small, individually standing bungalows nearby. Many of these motels feature a public porch, screened in due to the heavy infestation of mosquitoes and black flies that descends on the state every summer. We felt our share of insects and did our best to take advantage of the screened in areas where we could. Even as we ate another inexpensive lobster dinner later that night, we stayed inside depriving ourselves of a view of the tanks and cookeries in order to avoid the insects.

Our third day in Maine found us camping for the fourth of July in Bar Harbor, outside of Acadia National Park. It was an ideal place to spend Independence Day. We went into town for the holiday, where we were lucky enough to catch a seafood festival, with childrens’ games, antique sales and even lobster races sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club. We cheered as the lobsters moved past each other in long, narrow tanks stacked three feet high. Later we walked to the wharf where we watched schooners sail past and a man flying a long-tailed kite over the water. The wharfs and narrow seaport streets eventually led us to a winding path on a cliff overlooking the ocean, past a few large mansions and a small park.

We had just as much fun on our trip to Acadia National Park as we had in town. We stayed in the car most of the time to avoid the heat but took a loop drive that wound past cliffs, pines and beaches. From our vantage point the views from this park seemed more like the Pacific Northwest than any of the other places we’d seen on our trip. On our last night there, we drove a loop road to Acadia’s lighthouse for sunset. It is one of the most famous in the area and featured on our national parks pass. As we used the pass throughout our trip we’d looked at it and always said that somewhere we’d be standing in front of the real thing. When we looked at the lighthouse from the craggy cliffs leading up to it like steps, we realized we’d reached another milestone on our trip not unlike our stop in Winslow, Arizona.

Following Maine, our next destination was a visit to Deb’s sister Kathy in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. Locals don’t exaggerate when they complain about Boston traffic and Jeff had a tough time navigating the highways and crossroads needed to get in and out of the city. Although part of the drive took us through some scenic landmarks including Copley Square and a Charles River drive, it was difficult for him to look at anywhere but the road signs, construction barriers and other cars. Once we got to Kathy’s we were able to relax. We went to Harvard Square for some tapas and sangria, where Deb was amazed at the run-down condition of the area since she’d been there last. It seems that the recent Boston construction had taken a remarkable toll on the interior neighborhoods.

Backtracking a bit, we next headed to New Hampshire for a few days of rest and relaxation in a friend’s small house on the Dartmouth campus. The campus, perched in the middle of the New Hampshire woods, was beautiful. It had sweeping green lawns, long, even sidewalks and old-fashioned white and brick campus buildings placed throughout the area. As it was summer, things were hot and quiet with the exception of early morning birds and periodic maintenance projects happening to some of the buildings. The building where we were staying was being painted and if we left at the wrong time of the day we’d have to step around ladders and over thick paint cloths strewn by the doorways.

Our only true New Hampshire sightseeing happened as we left. On our return south we stopped at Robert Frost Farm in Derry, a pretty, white farmhouse kept in tribute to the poet. The estate featured signed, framed copies of some of his poetry in the barn and an outdoor walk passing by some of the objects he wrote about. We looked at flowers, trees and the stone wall he famously transformed into the “mending wall”. Having just come from Dartmouth, where Frost spent some time, we were almost walking in his footsteps and felt privileged to see the direct inspirations for some of his poems.

From New Hampshire we drove to Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Our first afternoon was spent with friends: another Deb, Laura Jane and David. We relaxed on Laura Jane and David’s front porch with wines and cheeses. At one point David led us on a tour of the house, an authentic Arts and Crafts style building. From that day we seemed to see the arts and crafts influence of natural woods, open windows, uncovered ceilings and built-in fixtures of other buildings we looked at in Rhode Island. Later that night we relaxed in the loft apartment of another friend,Cara, sitting in her livingroom, enjoying a view of the small Rhode Island town she lived in. Later we explored the area, enjoying traditional Rhode Island food, including clam cakes – one of Deb’s favorite foods.

Before leaving New England entirely, we had one more stop to make in southern Rhode Island. At the bottom of the state and the top of Connecticut was the church we married in and the places we had gone with family during that weekend. We ate lunch at a waterside restaurant Jeff had found with his family, and then navigated to the church just a few short blocks away. We took pictures and stood for a few minutes at the end of the front walk, almost in awe of where we were. It was hard for us to believe that just a year and a half earlier we were married in this spot, in the snow with church bells ringing overhead. We had no idea what the immediate future would hold and that eventually, it would lead us to our travels. We held hands for a long time quietly, and then eventually put the camera back in its case got into the car to resume our drive. From here it was off to New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, back across more miles of the interstate.