By chance and by choice, much of my travel consists of short stays in diverse locations. Especially when I travel for work, I rarely have more than a few hours for exploration in a given city, but I’ve found that even that can be enough to learn about and enjoy a location. Recently, I found myself with about five hours to myself in Portland, Maine.
Given my limited time frame and general ignorance about Portland, I read up on it on travelwiki.org quickly to get a sense of what I might want to see. Between the wiki and a helpful (and free) map from an information booth, I learned that there are two main districts of Portland of interest to tourists: the Old Port, and the Arts District. Both are quite walkable and I found it fairly easy to navigate. The Old Port has a multide of restaurants and boutiques, including numerous places to find souvenirs and upscale shopping opportunities. The Arts District contains a handful of galleries, the Portland Museum of Art, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House (childhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), and a peculiar attraction I never expected to run across.
While walking through the Arts District, I made a fortuitous discovery: the Museum of Cryptozoology, located a back room of The Green Hand bookstore. For an admission fee of $5, I received a personalized tour of the museum’s exhibits from the curator, Loren Coleman. Loren has been researching “hidden animals” like Bigfoot, the chupacabra, and sea serpents since the late 60’s, and displays his collection of documentation (articles, photos, etc.) in the museum, as well as exhibits about historical examples of animals which were believed to be folktales before they were known to science (such as the Okapi), and memorabilia relating to cryptozoology, including TV and movie props & costumes. I was delighted to stumble across such a quirky collection with such an earnest caretaker, and enjoyed my tour of the two-room (well, more like one and a half room) museum.
Emerging from the museum, I set out back towards the port. Along the way I ran across Victoria Mansion, a mid 19th-century home considered a national landmark. Visitors are only allowed into the house as part of a guided tour, which starts every 45 minutes during open hours (see website for details). Admission was $15, which seemed reasonable, but I was pretty hungry by this point and opted to continue back towards the port to find lunch.
Having heard about Maine’s sea food and blueberries all my life, I felt I had little choice but to dine on them for lunch. Earlier in the day, when disembarking the cruise ship, I had noted that there were many restaurants close to the docks that offered traditional New England fare (as opposed to the restaurants further from the docks, which tended towards the more exotic or contemporary). I headed back to Commercial Street, which runs along the port, and after inspecting a handful of menus posted outside of restaurant doors, decided upon the Dry Wharf Restaurant & Tavern. I chose them for their prices (reasonable), offerings (plain, no-nonsense pub food), and appearance (charmingly small-town and nautical). I can’t complain about the results. My Maine crab roll consisted of a toasted bun wrapped around the sweetest, freshest crab meat I’ve ever had, shredded finely and combined with a little mayo and seasoning. The blueberry pie was sublime. I was visiting in late September, towards the end of blueberry season, which I suspect contributed to the quality of the dessert overall, but the crust was also lovely (slightly crumbly, slightly flaky, an excellent compliment to the filling). Paired with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, it was the perfect end to the meal.
After my meal I didn’t have a lot of time left in Portland, so I did some quick shopping for gifts & souvenirs. There is an abundance of gift shops & the like in the immediate vicinity of the port. I picked up a few trinkets to remember my stay, but I didn’t need them; Portland is one of my all-time favorite one-day visits, and if you find yourself in the neighborhood (or state, or region…) I recommend checking it out.
If you’d like to visit the same places I did in Portland, here’s a list of addresses to get you started:
Maine Historical Society (for tour tickets for the adjacent Wadsworth-Longfellow House)
489 Congress Street
International Cryptozoology Museum
661 Congress St.
109 Danforth Street
Dry Dock Restaurant & Tavern
84 Commercial St.