Maine: Closed for the Season?

a closed sign on a road

On the Maine Road

In April this year, I took a trip to the USA. I took two completely different routes: the Fast Lane and the Maine Road.  Three weeks in New York, a city that’s always open and humming, book-ended a five day road trip to Maine, which I discovered, was mostly “closed-for-the-season”.

My plan for Maine was to take in few hikes in Acadia National Park,  do some serious lighthouse spotting and sample authentic lobster rolls in their natural setting. I knew it would be a bit chilly but that didn’t matter after all, spring had sprung!

It should have twigged as I was tried to book accommodation. Most of the AirBnB listings said they were unavailable for the dates I was trying to book. I naively thought they must be just be very busy. I kept scrolling until I found someone taking bookings.  I ignored the small print; “We re-open on April 14th”  I would be there from April 7 – April 11th. A few days shouldn’t make that much difference? Should it?

some peeblesin the foreground and a small lighthouse in the background
Kittery Point – Whaleback Light

Being from the mild subtropics, I didn’t understand how comprehensively closed everything in Maine would be. The larger cities of Portsmouth and Portland were business as usual, but the small beach-side towns in between, were in fact, “closed” except for the local grocers and a few cafes. In the end, this only added to the appeal of an impossibly “Pinterest” worthy coastline which I enjoyed without crowds. My loves for quiet hiking, quaint architecture and lighthouses were well served.  The iconic lobster roll, on the other hand, was well and truly off the menu as a summer only delicacy.

Day 1: New York, New York to Kittery, Maine. (454 km)

Picking up the rental car from Laguardia Airport on a Saturday morning was a good idea. I missed the weekday traffic heading out of the city and I got a better deal compared to getting it in Manhattan. I caught the M60 bus  bus from Harlem and then the free shuttle bus from the airport concourse to the rental car office.

Once on the road, it was a compromise between the scenic coastal route and getting to Kittery before dark.  I headed east through Connecticut and Rhode Island, turned North on the I395 at New London up to Worcester, Massachusetts, then through New Hampshire and finally Kittery, Maine.

Six states in less than a day! Trying doing that in Australia!

My first attempt to photograph a lighthouse was foiled by a gated estate! I could see the Old Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse on the headland, but couldn’t figure out how to get to it as it was surrounded by private homes and a large golf course with big warning signs!

Old Saybrook
Old Saybrook

The tiny town of Kittery, on the New Hampshire-Maine border is the oldest town in Maine. Already around 5 pm by the time I arrived, I just managed to snag photos of the sun setting behind a bridge that looked just like the Sydney Harbour Bridge (the Piscataqua River Bridge).  My accommodation for the night, a  stylish AirBnB was right on the banks of the Piscataqua River.  I chose to stay on the Kittery side because it was considerably cheaper than the Portsmouth side. An easy stroll across the Memorial Bridge took me into the commercial heart of Portsmouth within a few minutes so no harm done by saving money. I wandered around the quiet streets, looking for food and settled on Fat Belly’s Bar and Grill because it looked friendly and cosy. Turns out they make a mean veggie burger and serve nice cold wheat beer!

Day 2: Kittery to Mt Desert (360 km)

The next morning I headed out for the Whaleback Lighthouse on Kittery Point and  discovered it must be the chicken’s day off!

4 turkeys crossing a road
Chickens Day off?
Slow sign
Good advice – Kittery

My first attempt at a lobster roll was at Lobster Cove, York.

“No, honey” the waitress said, “NOT at this time of year!” Eyes rolling as if I should have known better. No lobster in Lobster Cove?

Empty car parks with massive capacity and tourist shops with boarded windows made it obvious that this town was used to big crowds. I was one of the few who braved the weak spring sunshine and the stiff wind that held squawking gulls in one spot, despite their flapping wings.

Meh…I am not much into shopping and the scenery was still open, so I was happy!

The Nubble Lighthouse at Cape Neddick was resplendent and Ogunquit quaint beyond belief with adirondack chairs chained to scenic spots. The main inconvenience? Closed shops = closed public toilets!

2 blue adirondack chairs near the ocean
Nice view!
a small white cottage and lighthouse
Nubble Light -Cape Neddick

As I headed further north the piles of deep snow became more frequent and I kept my jacket-gloves-scarf-hat combo at the ready.

Old Orchard Beach reminded me of an aging, overblown gigolo with its fairground, ferris wheel and tall-legged wooden pier. The temperature reminded me of Antarctica!

Once again – no lobster roll.

“No Ma’am” pffffft… “only in the summer!”

I made good with half a sandwich and soup. I’d been in America long enough to know a ½ sandwich would be enough!

I picked up groceries for my two night stay on Mt Desert Island and settled in for a frosty night in a old colonial cabin right on the edge of the Acadia National Park.

Day 3: Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor.

Another early start had  me crunching along the snow covered carriageway, past logs dripping in icicles and the rustling of turkeys hidden somewhere in the scrub. Acadia National Park had been described to me as one of the most beautiful parks in America but it was here that my (wilful) ignorance of the seasonal closures proved to be  the most inconvenient.

The Park has a loop road, the majority of  which was closed. I was restricted to a few limited sections. This did not deter me from a long walk around Eagle Lake after jumping a low fence. I had a lingering guilt  that I had not paid the entrance fee suspecting I should have, to someone,  somewhere, even though the booths were closed. I half expected to find my wheels clamped when I got back to the car.

It was sunny and  -6ºC. I was well dressed with thermals, fleecy hiking pants, a merino wool jumper, goose down jacket, woolly socks, two pairs of gloves, scarf, balaclava and beanie.

A woman in thick winter clothing sitting on a fence surrounded by snow
Rugged up in Acadia National Park

This Aussie knew there was no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes! I picked my way through the snow like the Michelin Man,  feeling a tad overdressed when some locals walked past in three less layers than me. After three hours walking around Eagle Lake, I headed into the town of Bar Harbor for lunch. This time I was determined to find the now elusive lobster roll. Haven’t they heard of a freezer up here? Five cafes and another hour later, I settled for – you guessed it – soup and ½ a sandwich.

Day Four: Bar Harbor to Portland. (260 km)

Today was the day for “THE lighthouse”. The Bass Point Light which perches on craggy, often snow covered rocks with frozen waterfalls bedecking the plinth on which it sits. On attempt No 1 I found the carpark alright, but couldn’t find a path down to the rocks below. I figured that you could only reach it by boat. The boat tours, were of course, “closed for the season”. Never mind, I thought,  next time I’m in Maine! I headed off to a nearby town for a warming coffee at Sips Cafe. I told the cafe owner about my predicament and she kindly explained where the path was:

“From the car park, look to your left.  Find the dirt path hidden behind the toilets and follow it down as far as you can go.”

At attempt No 2, THE lighthouse mission was accomplished. Tick!  Another photography subject off the bucket list!

a small light house high up on a rocky ledge
Bass Point Lighthouse

Next, another hike took me around Wonderland followed by the Jordan Pond Shore Trail (Acadia NP) before hightailing it back to Portland for the sunset. Low clouds and a pink sky gave a perfect backdrop for the Portland Head Light at Cape Elizabeth

a white lighthouse on a stony headland with pink sky
The Portland Head Light

My night’s lodging, an AirBnB in Preble Street, was a large, rambling early 20thC  Eastlake and Stick style home, with six bedrooms, several bathrooms,  a pool room, a music room, a huge kitchen and at least three cats. The owner had texted me from Mexico, with the code to open the door and insisted I make myself at home. So I did; by having  a good (but respectful) poke around looking at all the art and artifacts which covered nearly every surface. After a busy day walking and driving I was happy to snuggle up and read a book I had found on the shelf  eating Italian take away with one of the super friendly cats on my lap.   By this time, I had abandoned the idea of lobster entirely and was extolling the virtues of AirBnB via Facebook to my friends back in Oz.

Day 5: Portland to New York.

With a late flight out, I had all day to take in Portland and started off with a self-guided architectural walking tour around the Weston Boulevard neighbourhood before heading downtown to check out the Art Gallery.

Portland, Maine is a town full of beards and while apparently not as Hipster (with a capital H) as Portland, Oregon it certainly had a small h hipster feel to it. The Sisters Gourmet Deli, a case in point. Fabulous food with modern (retro) styling.

Three more lighthouses, the Bug Lighthouse, the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse and the Ram Island Ledge Light finished things off nicely before I headed out to the airport for my flight back to New York.

You’ll be pleased to know, I finally got a lobster roll.  A mini one; as part of High Tea at the Plaza Hotel in New York. It was OK but I’m kinda glad it was only mini sized!

Over-rated; lobster, if you ask me…

As it turns out, the “season” re-opens mid-April, so perhaps it would have been better if I had gone a week later when the Park was fully open. But then I would have missed the ice and snow and the beaches which I shared with those squawking, stationary gulls.  

A large red carved wooden model of a lobster holds an ice cream
Closest I got to eating lobster – Bar Harbor

If I won the lottery.

a photo showing several lottery tickets

I have a confession to make.

I am a gambler.

I spend $AUD18 a week buying Lotto, Powerball and lottery tickets. Every week, when I go to the newsagent to check my tickets, I have that little knot of hope sitting in my belly. Maybe this time?

The $18 per week is the sum total of my gambling vice. I figure I can afford it and it’s a bit of fun so I don’t feel too guilty.  I can justify it easily. I take a packed lunch to work every day. I don’t buy coffee every day. If I did, that would be  $19 per week for the coffee alone! See! The lottery tickets are a bargain!

I have, of course, spent more than I have won. My daughter tells me I buy lottery tickets because of my working class background. Apparently, rich people don’t buy lottery tickets. They gamble in more respectable ways like the stock market or horse racing.

I don’t want to win a lot. $3 or 4 million would be plenty! I certainly don’t want to win one of those super Powerball prizes of $30 million or more! Of course, if I did, I wouldn’t be handing it back, but I don’t need it.

I don’t want to live an extravagant life. You know from my previous blog posts that I try not to be a thoughtless consumer. I just want to be able to quit the day job so I can write, travel and take photos!

I don’t want a buy a mansion with a pool or a pool room for that matter. I don’t want a Maserati. I don’t want to fly first class.  (Hang on a minute, maybe that’s one thing I do want!)

I want to win just enough to pay off my current mortgage, buy a small investment property that I could rent out as a source of reliable income and then have enough spending money leftover for a relatively comfortable and creative life. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

a handwritten note calcualtedhow much I need to win in the lottery.
How much do you need?

Let’s see: with the mortgage out of the way and keeping my living standard at its current level; with a life expectancy of 30 more years, allowing for two overseas trips per year, a new car in 10 years, and a bit of a contingency fund for new appliances and furniture when the current ones wear out or break – how much do I need? A few calculations later and not allowing for inflation or interest earned, I figure I need $2.8 million. Therefore,  $3-4 million is an appropriate goal.

I just need to win!

EASY!

 

Don’t worry, IF I did win the big one, I have it all worked out. I will buy a number of properties that I would rent to lower income families for a very moderate rate. These people would be strugglers. The people Australians call “Battlers”. Honest, hardworking folk who are being left behind in this current housing market.  There would be a catch to their lower rent, however. They would need to agree to volunteer for a community organisation for a negotiated number of hours per week. The time would be dependent on their other responsibilities but they would need to have a regular commitment to being a volunteer. They would do good. They would feel good.  I would feel good! I would need to hire some people to make this happen because I would be too busy writing, travelling and taking photos!

…. and I’d take my mum on a cruise! A long one!

A row of deck chairs. I am lying on one of them
Welcome Cruislings

Fingers crossed!

Wollongong Snapshot: Wollongong Botanic Gardens

Being a tourist in your own town has its advantages. It’s quick, inexpensive and you don’t need much planning.  I took myself off to the Wollongong Botanic Gardens on a glorious spring day in search of colourful flowers and interesting textures. I was not disappointed!

A large kookaburra sitting on a rock
Plenty of bird life to be found in the gardens

It seems like ages since I have been out for the express purpose of taking photos.  The  Gardens are one of my favourite places for a close-to-home photo safari.

The Gardens are across the road from the University of Wollongong, but it’s best to park in Murphy’s Avenue, Gwynneville.  (click here for a map of the area) Because it is right near the Uni, parking can be a bit tricky during Semester time. There is a small designated parking area in the gardens itself. (Enter on Murphy’s Road)

A black metal scultpure of a man in a baseball hat with is arms crossed
Sculptures adorn the lawns

The Gardens are free and a fabulous place for a picnic. There are limited BBQ Facilities near the entrance. An “all-abilities” children’s’ playground with a big sandpit, climbing web and maze will keep kids occupied for ages. The design ensures that is accessible for everyone including those with limited mobility.

Spring flowers in the Wollongong Botanic Gardens-35
Well organised picnickers nab the best spots!

In summer, you can take along your family,  bean bags, cushions and a picnic dinner and catch a movie on a big outdoor screen as the sun sets and the birds twitter in the trees.   Not all movies are suitable for kids but many are, so best to check the program here Sunset Cinema first.

The highlights for me are the Dryland Gardens (good all year)  and the rose garden (you need to pick the season). In spring, of course, you will find the garden in full bloom. Since most trees in Australia are evergreen and our Autumn’s are not very cold, there is not much leaf colour  as you would find in colder climes.

If you wanted to make a full day of it take a packed lunch,  include a walk around the Uni which has pleasant grounds and have a peek at Glennifer Brae, the stately home of the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music, both within an easy stroll from the Garden itself..

There are  guided tours run by the Friends of the Botanic Gardens and there are various gardening workshops advertised on the website.

Spring flowers in the Wollongong Botanic Gardens-25

These photos were taken on September 30th and while its  officially been spring for a whole month the weather was only just starting to warm up.

Spring flowers in the Wollongong Botanic Gardens-10

I have edited some as black and white to emphasise the textures; especially in the cactus.

Spring flowers in the Wollongong Botanic Gardens-5

These photos were all taken with my Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 and edited in Lightroom. Some frames where further edited using Nik software or Jixipix.

I hope you enjoy them!

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Travel values

a red watercan nailed to a white fence

I read an article about how the rise of the global tourist is killing Europe. It described how locals are being isolated and alienated in their own cities as bus loads of tourists arrive with their selfie sticks and cameras. Fresh off the cruise boat they don’t spend much, but they strip the place of its ambiance like a horde of locusts.

Am I a travel locust?

It was a slap in the face that I could not ignore.

A painterly photo of vineyards set in hills.
Winter vineyards in drought

It made me sad to think I could be part of a global problem, after all I have Do Iceland on my bucket list! Am I going to make it harder for the inhabitants? Will they get kicked out of their homes so I can rent a place on AirBnB? Will I be welcome? I have always felt that my tourist dollars were welcome. But at what cost? Sure I add to the local economy, but if it means the locals are unable to enjoy the amenity of their own home to the extent described by this article; I don’t want to be a part of that!

It got me thinking about my “travel values” and my “value as a traveller”. I generally travel solo although I have joined in on small group tours run by the likes of Intrepid and Peregrine. My impact must be lower than a cruise boat which docks with 2500 passengers for a few hours. It must; mustn’t it? I try not to exploit the locals by acting like the rich tourist who barters over the equivalent of 50 cents. That makes me an ethical traveller? Doesn’t it?

A cartoon person with one eye is painted on an old abandoned building.
Abandoned house

It’s time to examine my travel values. Here is an interview with my right shoulder guy (Reggie)  and my left shoulder guy (Louie)

Why do you want to travel Louie? To experience new things and to learn about the world. To increase my knowledge of and therefore acceptance for, people different to myself. To decrease the boundaries between myself and “the other”.

Is that the only reason: Ok so there is a little bit of one-up-manship in there too. Also a bit of vanity publishing as evidenced by this blog. Listen Reggie we want to be famous! This is our fledgling side hustle here!

We don’t have to fly somewhere on a jet and add to carbon emissions to experience something new? That’s true. Perhaps we  don’t. But we have our reputation as a budding photographer to consider here Reggie.

Ahh yes maybe? But Australia is an amazing place! Can’t you take fabulous photos here too? Yes we could but to travel for two weeks around Australia would cost us as much as four weeks in Asia and….

See there you go you are a hypocrite! It’s all about money!  NO! It’s not! I want to be a mindful, thoughtful, considerate, intelligent traveller….

Yeah sure sure you do!

But I actually do.

A green oil drum sits on top of a tree stump and is used as a mailbox.
Roadside mail box on the Mudgee Road

What ARE my travel values?

  1. To do no harm
  2. To meet and talk to the people who live in a place as people not as photo opportunities.
  3. To pay a fair price, not the lowest price.
  4. To take time in one place. Quality not quantity of adventures.
  5. To be active. Walk more, fly/drive less.
  6. To add value by taking less than I give.
  7. To get to know places well.
  8. To make friends.
  9. To reciprocate.
  10. To be a good ambassador for my own culture/country.

My travel slate is clear for 2019 at this point in time. With a serious drought affecting all of my own home state, I think I might make it a year to travel local and see more of this Wide Brown Land. My dollar will do more good here than abroad.

A road sign warning of kangaroos has been altered to show the kangaroo skiing.
Road tripping!

 

Israel – A final encounter.

By now you’ll know I am a bit of an experimenter! I am trying to find the best software to turn some of my photo books into flipbooks for viewing online. This one is from Yumpu. This is the free version. It was really easy to do but the view is very small and I don’t see a way of making it bigger. At present you can’t read the text in the stories but they are in this blog.

I had trouble loading it from my phone.

Sometimes this link works and sometimes it doesn’t! Not much of an experiment was it!

Yumpu fullscreen version

https://www.yumpu.com/s/17ZbnjNa3Dy0YtVR

I’d be pleased to know if any of you have found a better solution.

These photos were taken in January 2018 and are subject to copyright.

Delayed flight leads to writing bonanza

I got an email from Korean Airlines to tell me my flight the next day was going to be delayed by two hours. It was nice that they let me know. It was late on Boxing Day – a public holiday in Australia. Even though I knew the limo company would be closed, I sent them an email “just in case”  to  try and change the time of my airport transfer pick up. Thankfully, they got back to me and we agreed on a new time. Then I got another email from KAL to say the flight was going to be another two hours late. I didn’t want to muck the limo people around with another change so I just resigned myself to the fact that I would be at the airport SUPER early! My pick up would be eight hours before the flight. The transfer company has a policy of getting you to the airport 3 hours ahead of time because of the vagaries of Sydney traffic. It normally takes an hour to get to the airport and then check in, immigration clearance and the security check might use up another hour. I was looking at 6 hours to waste airside before boarding. Sigh!

I stepped out of the minibus and sniffed the air. I love that first whiff of AvGas when you are close to the airport. Apart from the fact you have suitcases in tow, and a passport in your hand, it’s proof you are going somewhere. The heady kerosene-like odour that tells you the tarmac and turbulence are not too far away.

The second clue you are travelling is the queue. As a seasoned traveller (LOL) I sometimes get impatient in these queues and run an internal commentary. Come on people!! You know you need photo ID to get your boarding pass. Get it out of your wallet before you get to the counter.You’ve just been standing in a line for the last 30 minutes watching everyone else hand over their ID. We could be saving about 50 seconds per transaction here if people were ready. What? Repacking your bags NOW? FFS you had all morning to weigh them.

Breathe Robyn! Breathe! You are going on holidays! Just grab a coffee, sit back and watch the people go by.

People watching

The first person to catch my attention is a ¾ age man (you know – older than middle age but not yet old) in his hipster aqua shorts with pineapple print. Then a Russian (judging by the language – Baltic at least) with the close to pornographic photo of two women being ….ah…. friendly… on the front of his t-shirt. I wonder how he got through immigration with that on? The brash, very well dressed Yanks float past in their matching boat shoes, white fedoras and navy jackets.  No doubt on their way to the first class lounge. The mums with toddlers asleep on their shoulders trying to kick their bags along.  They’ve invented trolleys love… I think to myself.

All this, backgrounded by Mariah Carey singing Christmas carols.

I move on, walk around for a while and then get another coffee. I am waiting for my phone to recharge after plugging in to one of the new charging stations that are everywhere in the airport now. No need to sit on the floor and unplug the drinks machine these days. I quickly switch back into people-watching mode. A young woman in front of me is talking on her phone, wearing  earphones,  her free hands are waving wildly in their air. Whoever is on the other end is clearly keeping her amused and she laughs and giggles. So sweet to watch. The young fellow to the right of me is using his phone as a mirror and is picking his zits…Ewwwwwww.

areoplanes through a round window

My phone has 2% to full charge and I still have three more hours to wait.

I listen to the announcements and wonder what happens to those  who are called out as the last people to board? They must have checked in? Did they change their mind and decide not to go? Was there some sort of family tragedy which kept them from flying out? Where they in the car accident that had caused the traffic jam 5 km out of the airport?

More people watching!

There are two African-American guys standing in the line at McDonalds. One has a big guitar like keyboard around his neck and the other has big gold chains, short spiky dreadlocks and gold reflective sunglasses on. They look like they should be famous. Perhaps they are just wankers. A Muslim man walks past with 4 daughters – so many weddings to pay for!

At  noon I decide it’s close enough to beer o’clock and buy a glass of wine which turns into two and hallelujah – it’s time to board.

All in all, the waste of time was productive. I wrote three blog posts. Researched part of a family history I wanted to write and made up character arcs for some of the interesting people who have walked by. Who knows, perhaps I even featured in another bored traveller’s diary.

View across Sydeny airport toward the city

Canada – just like Australia but with mountains and bears

Shot from the lake looking up at a huge waterfall.

I have just finished watching Series 2 of the Handmaids’ Tale.  While the show itself is fantastic, if not a little bleak, I wonder if it was made by the Canadian Tourist Bureau. It certainly highlights some of the good political and social features of Canada! What is doesn’t show us is the beauty.

In 2016 I did a solo travel adventure to Canada. I flew into Vancouver and drove from there to Calgary and then flew over to the east coast visiting Toronto and Ottawa. As an Old Chook travelling alone, I would really recommend it as a safe and fun destination with plenty to see and do.

I have put together this short photo essay on Adobe Spark Page. It’s an experimental post to see how blending these two platforms works. Clicking on the picture will take you to an Adobe page. Then scroll through to look at the photos.

Why would any (sensible) Australian ever want to go to Canada?

Go west Old Chook!

Move over Max and Priscilla  – the Old Chook is coming to town! To Broken Hill that is, one of the richest mining areas in Australia.

As of a few days ago, I have accepted a one year secondment to work in Broken Hill commencing in January 2019.

 

Broken Hill is in far west NSW and was the location for Mad Max 2 (aka Road Warrior), and Priscilla – Queen of the Desert. It creates the desolate moody background for  lots of other movies like Mission Impossible 2. Even though I have only been there for one short visit, I have a soft spot for Broken Hill. It was the original Old Chook’s first destination (see this post )

Photo 26-04-13 18 53 42 (1)

Being 1,100 km northwest of my current home, the landscape is very different and almost alien. The sandy beach of my home town will be replaced by sandy desert. Summer temperatures hover at 40oC and above for days on end. The winter is mild and it’s always dry.

Screenshot 2018-06-29 20.31.14
In Australian we say “that’sabloodylongwayaway”

It’s still a few months away but I am already getting excited. I don’t know anyone who lives there, I don’t know where I will live (yet) and I am leaving behind family and friends.  My friends are calling me brave, but to my mind this is a “safe” adventure. It has limits. It’s only a year, my old job will be waiting for me when I get back and I won’t be any worse off financially. I have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

“If you always do what you always did you will always get what you’ve always got”

Photo 27-04-13 8 20 00

I am looking forward to

  • stargazing with a totally dark night sky and doing some astrophotography.
  • Watching the sun rise and set on a horizon that is so vast you can see the curvature of the earth.
  • Getting to know the locals and
  • Stretching my own comfortable life.

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Over the next few months I will be getting ready to go. There will be lots of planning. No doubt there will be spreadsheets!  Plenty of spreadsheets.

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I will chronicle my progress  here and share this Old Chook’s  adventures in the outback! I hope you’ll enjoy the virtual journey.

The images here are from a road trip I took to Broken Hill in 2013.

This excerpt comes from a newsreel made back in 1953