Portland, Maine: Shockingly Awesome

Portland waterfront from a commuter ferry.

We were not super excited about visiting Portland, Maine.  In fact, we only planned a stop there because it was in between Fundy National Park in New Brunswick and home in Pennsylvania.  For some reason that I failed to understand, we scheduled three nights there–but then canceled the last one early on in the trip, thinking we’d prefer to split up the 8 hour drive home with a crummy motel somewhere in Connecticut.

A wine bar in the morning sun.

Four hours into our first full day in the city, we walked into a brand new hotel and booked an extra night.  Halfway through an amazing culinary tour of the city, my husband began grilling the tour guide on winter weather and…the school system.  Whenever he asks about a school system, I know what he’s thinking.  He’s thinking I love it so much that I want to move here permanently.  Honestly, at the end of day one, even I was looking at real estate listings in office windows.

We visited many places on our road trip that we’d like to visit again–in fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find a location to which I’d not want to return (though I may forever be done with Peggy’s Cove in the pouring rain!) But Portland is the kind of place that I don’t just want to visit–I, too, could see us living there.  It’s the only city I’ve loved that much since visiting Vancouver in 2006–and Maine is on the correct coast.

Why?  The food, for one.  According to our tour guide, Portland has more restaurants per capita than any American city excepting San Francisco (I’m going to need to visit San Francisco asap!)  And the restaurants are not just impressive in quantity–they are also surprisingly high in quality.  There’s a huge local foods movement in Portland, which is impressive given the rather odd climate–cold and salt air don’t really make the most ideal growing conditions.

Local much?

But even so, Portland restaurant menus are filled with items boasting local veggies, fish, honey, and even micro brews.  The Wednesday morning Farmer’s market was so crowded–and the rest of the city so dead–that I really believed that everyone living in the city was somehow excused from work to go stock up on bok choy and sunflowers.

We actually chose to stay an additional night in Portland just to have dinner one more time.  I kid you not.  And don’t worry–I took lots of food photos–specific restaurant review posts to come!

Fort Williams Park

Of course, man cannot live on bread alone–even if it is amazingly fresh artisan bread served with local sheep’s milk cheese and fresh honey.  Fortunately, Portland has several other things going for it–the arts scene, the pub scene, the fantastic location, and the people.  Walking down Congress street on a Thursday night,

My husband enjoying Gritty McDuff's Pub.

doors were propped open to art galleries and poetry readings–with standing room only.  One could choose from any number of great pubs with more brews on tap than I’ve ever seen in one place–and of course most of these pubs also serve pretty darn good food, too.  I actually ordered a glass of strawberry mead that was on tap.  If you get sick of all of the amazing food and beverages and poetry, it’s a short, traffic-free drive to a number of beautiful parks, some boasting lighthouses and rocky coastline.  A quick commuter ferry takes you out into the Casco Bay towards the quaint and timeless Calendar Islands.  And the people are nicer than any other people I’ve ever met–aside from Canadians, of course.

Are we going to move to Portland?  Probably not.  But my husband still has a shortcut to Portland weather on his phone.  He occasionally looks at it and informs me that ‘it’s not much colder up there right now’.  Good to know, dear.  Good to know.


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