Inns of Maine – The Danforth

 Classic Old Style Cozy Historic Meets Hip Asian Vibe

(NOTE: I wrote about The Danforth on Tripadvisor back after our stay in 2014. The first part of this post is taken from that, with updated info on their transformation and current look.)

Danfoth Inn frontIf you like charming old-fashioned historic inns, the Danforth in Portland fits the bill. My husband was not a big fan of historic inns so it took some convincing him to agree to try a stay.

On the fall day we arrived as we parked on the side of the brick house, the heavens decided to open up.  As I opened the car door to make a dash for it, one of staff  in an impeccability tailored suit was already beside it with a huge umbrella to escort us in! Talk about service!

We were given a full tour of the inn, learning the history of the house. Entering the attic, we climbed narrow stairs up to the cupola. I was intrigued with this space resembling a treehouse, imaging solitary escape to this little hideaway during the stay to enjoy a book or just to enjoy the view of Casco Bay. Check out the moon and stairs painted on the ceiling and a quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on one of the walls. I fell in love with charm of the wood floors, crown molding, the grand staircase and cozy fireplaces.

Even the basement has a history, having been an old speakeasy. Now it serves as a billiards room. This was the only area of the inn I didn’t like – too musty, old, dark and creepy for me.

We stayed in Arts District Room at the back of the inn – cozy homey decor and very quiet. The bed had a Cuddledown 600 fill super featherbed topper creating the experience of sleeping on a cloud! The bathroom at that time could have used some cosmetic updating but was very spacious. There are sitting rooms on each floor if you want more space to lounge, read, etc.

Danforth Pumpkin French Toast

The breakfast was fresh made and delicious. Fresh squeezed orange juice, good coffee, a freshly baked muffin and and apple amuse started things off. The pumpkin French toast was to die for and they printed out the recipe for me.

Hated to leave this tranquil place. The Danforth is great for a romantic weekend. The inn is charming, yet classy. Not appropriate for children.

 

Fast forward to today – The Danforth underwent a major renovation in 2015 to make room for an onsite restaurant (SE Asian cuisine), allowing them to qualify to become a Relais & Chateau property. The first floor common areas, Opium Lounge and Tempo Dulu Restaurant are anything but old school. Replacing the heavy wood trim and stuffed chairs are pops of purple and Asian influenced décor with a modern, bold, sometimes offbeat flair.

The grand stair case leading up to the rooms remains the same, possessing the charming architectural character of the time it was built, yet dressed in a refreshing coat of white. (Could be the perfect spot for a bride to descend on her special day. Just saying.)

The rooms still retain have much of original architectural charm and character but have been updated with white paint and modern bathrooms, giving a sleek look. The linens are still sumptuous to sink into. Service is still top notch.

Today’s Danforth is still a great place for a romantic weekend, but also a hip gathering spot to meet friends for drinks or dinner. It preserves the past while embracing Portland’s modern future.

Danforth plaque

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Maine Inns & B & B’s – James Place Inn

I love the experience of staying in an inn or B & B. Some have that wonderful cozy feel like you are staying with old friends. Others offer a chance to sleep in a historic setting while still others offer luxury and relaxation. I am especially enamoured of the inns and B & B’s that dot the countryside and small towns of New England and Maine. I have this crazy goal to stay in as many of them as possible.

I found the James Place Inn on the Internet when researching our first trip to Maine. I was looking for something different in the town of Freeport other than a generic room in a chain hotel. This B & B is located off Route 1 on a quiet residential street (11 Holbrook Street) in a beautifully restored Victorian style home that was built in 1890. Each of the 7 quest rooms (all with ensuite bath) is a different decor and color, but all possess that homey cozy feel.

James PIace Inn - Yellow RoomUnfortunately I had waited too long to make a reservation and the only room available was the Yellow Room. Located on the top floor, this light filled room, courtesy of a skylight and windows, has a queen bed and a hot tub, good to enjoy a long soak after a day of shopping. The tiny bathroom with it’s tiny shower stall was the only downside to this room. (I peeked into a couple of other rooms on the same floor and noted more spacious bathrooms.)

The James Place Inn is a favorite with many visitors who are regular guests, so booking far in advance if you desire a specific room is highly recommended and/or there is an event in Freeport during your stay. My favorite is the Pine Room with knotty pine paneled walls and a cozy fireplace that give it a true Maine flavor and romantic ambiance.

Tori and Robin Baron are delightful innkeepers and live on-site in their house behind the inn. Robin was more than wonderful helping schlep my heavy suitcase up the stairs to our room. (I really must learn to pack lighter.) He was gracious, coming to my aid when I clogged the toilet.

The breakfast is the crowning feature of this inn. Everything is homemade, some from family recipes. Upon arrival, I was lucky enough to snag a Pumpkin Scone from that morning’s breakfast which made for a nice afternoon snack. Since we were there on a Sunday, the great tradition of Maine Blueberry pancakes was served, along with a slice of delicious quiche. I also had a hefty chunk of the coffee cake which was incredibly moist and tasted like a sugar cookie. When we came back from shopping prior to checking out, I was invited into the inn’s beautiful kitchen and allowed to have another piece of this yummy coffee cake for the road. It’s little touches like this that make this inn like a good friend’s home, only better.

 

 

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How Much Are National Parks Worth To You? Pay Your Share

Acadia Carriage Rd Bridge2When the discussion arose in the media a few months back that most of the popular national parks were going to raise their park pass fees during the busy months, it struck a chord with me.

When we were in Maine in 2016, I overheard the following conversation between some other guests seated in the lobby seating area in front of a cozy fireplace of one of the more pricey hotels in Bar Harbor. The three people were looking at a map of Acadia National Park trying to decide what parts to visit. One of them said “We can go here and here as WE DO NOT HAVE TO PAY TO GET INTO THESE PARTS OF THE PARK.” I couldn’t help myself and had to object. I told them: “That is actually incorrect information. A park pass is required for all sections of the park. By not paying for a park pass, it causes the park service not to be able to have the funds to do maintenance so that things are nice, safe and to preserve it for all to use.” My remark produced stunned silence.

It is unfortunate to learn that the way these people thought about national park use is actually quite common among many visitors. They couldn’t be more wrong. In the case of Acadia, there are some ‘porous’ entry points that cause people to think that access to those areas do not require a pass. Some visitors might say ‘but my tax dollars pay for a portion of this so why do I need to pay for a pass?’ Only a small amount of the federal budget is allocated to the national park service. Not to tread too much into politics, but with the cutbacks for national park funding by the current administration, the money has to come from somewhere.

The rate hike is not to make a profit, but to cover the backlog of maintenance work to repair and maintain popular trails and sights, especially those that are the most heavily visited and see the most wear and tear.  If not, parts of favorite parks may be closed off until repairs can afford to be made. Imagine going to your favorite national park on a long awaited vacation to find that part you want to see most is closed. Disappointing? You bet.

How much is your favorite national park worth to you? To quote a famous credit card ad motto: Priceless!

My favorite park is Acadia National Park in Maine which my husband and I visit every two years or so. (I’ve also been to Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and others.) The first thing we do when we arrive on MDI is to stop at the Hulls Cove Visitors Center and purchase a week long pass. The hikes and landscape are amazing and I am refreshed after each visit there. I marvel that people like George Dorr and John D. Rockefeller Jr. were in love enough with this special place to buy the land to create this park for generations to enjoy.

There are objections that the rate hike will prevent some people from being able to enjoy national parks. I understand that, but I also see lots of these same people taking their kids to theme parks, buying expensive cellphones, etc. For low income families, there is an option. Most national parks have some free admission days each year. (Acadia scheduled 4 days during 2018, of which two days remain: September 22 National Public Lands Days and November 11: Veterans Day. For free days at other national parks, visit https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/fee-free-parks-state.htm

Senior citizens have two options that are a great deal. U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over can purchase a $80 lifetime pass, plus a $10 handling fee or a $20 annual Senior Pass (plus $10 handling fee). The pass provides entrance or access to the pass owner and accompanying passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle at federally operated recreation sites across the country. Makes it easy to spend quality time with the grandkids and introduce them to the wonders of nature. (Photo identification may be required to verify ownership.) BTW, the price for senior passes had been the same since 1994.

With a little planning, we can all pay our fair share by buying a park pass to enjoy national parks. it’s a small price to pay to experience all the beauty our national parks offer.

 

 

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Lobster, How I Love Thee. Let Me Count The Ways

When you visit Maine, most people have to eat the state’s best known food – Lobster (unless, unfortunately you happen to be allergic to shellfish). I spent some of my childhood in Maine & have fond memories of eating the delicious crustacean. Mostly, we got to eat it whenever company came to visit from “away”. We were fortunate to live in a small village in Down East Maine that enabled my Dad to drive to a nearby beach to meet the lobstermen as they came back to shore with their daily catch. It didn’t get any fresher that that. It was the early 1960’s and prices were cheap – $15/bushel for lobster, $10/bushel for crabs and $5/bushel for clams! My mother would make homemade potato salad, coleslaw, fresh corn on the cob and fresh baked rolls with homemade jam to round out the feast.

Fast forward to today. I love lobster, but know it’s not something Mainers eat every day. My husband however, is a fanatic about eating lobster anytime we visit Maine. He eats it in some form almost every day we are there. He will eat lobster in whatever form is on the menu – Lobster Benedict at breakfast, lobster mac ‘n cheese, lobster pot pie, bisque, chowder, stew, Lobster Nicoise Salad, Lobster Fried Rice, Lobster Risotto, Lobster Pizza, Lobster crepe (take a look at all these photos) –  but he seems to have a personal goal to try every lobster roll in the state.

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Lobster Roll, Red’s Eats, Wiscasset

Camden Harbor Inn Breakfast

Lobster Benedict, Camden Harbor Inn

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Lobster Benedict, La Bella Vita, Harborside Resort, Bar Harbor

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Lobster Stew, Jordan Pond House, Acadia National Park

And yet somehow, he had never experienced eating a whole boiled Maine lobster. We did try to go to two lobster pounds before going on Mount Desert Island when we made our first trip in 2013. The first one was already closed for the season and we were ignored at the second one. That night he settled for a lobster roll with all the sides and blueberry pie at West Street Cafe. (A very good deal, by the way.)

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Lobster Roll Dinner. West Street Cafe, Bar Harbor

When visiting his sister in Solon in 2016, her hubby offered to cook us a traditional Maine lobster dinner.  When the lobster was placed in front of my husband, he proceeded to pick the whole thing up and attempt to bite the tail with the shell still on! Despite gales of hysterical laughter, we did stop him from breaking a tooth. Instructions followed and he enjoyed his first whole lobster.

Alas, he still prefers lobster rolls.

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Lobster Crepes. Maine Dining Room, Harraseeket Inn, Freeport

Jordan Pond House Maine Lobster Nicoise Salad 827

Lobster Nicoise Salad, Jordan Pond House

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Lobster Benedict w/o English Muffin, Lighthouse Restaurant, Seal Harbor

 

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Lobster Fried Rice, Fresh, Camden

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Slice of Lobster Pizza, Blaze, Bar Harbor

 

 

 

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Robert’s Christmas Wonderland – Year-round Christmas in Florida

IMG_1569In case you haven’t notice, it’s December and there are only 19 shopping days left before Christmas. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are gone. If you haven’t decorated yet, have found that most of your holiday lights don’t work or need an unusual gift for IMG_1562someone on your list, it’s time to hop to it. If you live in or will be visiting the Tampa Bay area, there is the perfect place to shop for Christmas decor. Drive east on Gulf to Bay Boulevard towards the beaches and keep an eye out for the building with the Christmas tree shaped sign atop a red and white candy cane striped pole and the red, white and green striped awning. You have found Robert’s Christmas Wonderland. What a wonderland it is, featuring all things Christmas. The store is open year round, but as the holidays near, crowds come from all over including visitors from out of state and Europe, seeking that one-of-a-kind Christmas ornament or collectible. People even stop here on their way to or returning from Clearwater’s beautiful beaches. The folks at Robert’s start planning and buying Christmas items in early January of each year. Boxes of merchandise arrive in the spring and set-up begins. Even if you are here for summer, you’ll be able to get a Christmas fix, a nice respite from the heat.

There are Christmas village displays, nativity scenes, themed decorated Christmas trees, collectibles and rows of Christmas ornaments in any theme imaginable. There is even a section of Florida themed ornaments – a perfect memento of your vacation in the Sunshine state. There is so much to see that you could easily lose tract of time, so plan on at least an hour or more for your visit.

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The top not to be missed section is the Christmas Tree room. Walk through the archway of icicles and tiny white lights amid greenery into a breathtaking forest of lighted Christmas trees in every style and size, Santa figurines and stuffed forest animals (some lifesize). One can almost feel a slight chill in the air. It would take a real Scrooge not to feel the Christmas magic. You won’t find a better selection of top quality artificial trees, most of which come with a warranty.

Looking for an upside down Christmas tree that are in vogue right now? They have those too.

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IMG_1573Fancy decorating your yard like Clark Griswold to look like a scene a la Christmas Vacation? Check out the corner of the tree room to see the variety of large sized outdoor decor items, regular and themed light strings and lighted decorations. Need replacement light bulbs? No problem, they carry a variety of sizes.

Make your holiday complete with a visit to Robert’s.

TIPS: 1) If you are a Florida resident, make sure to sign up for the Preferred Customer List when paying for your purchase. Anyone who spends at least $25 or more during the past year receives money saving coupons that are good at the beginning of October. Use them and receive another coupon good in November.

2) They offer free personalization of ornaments.

 

 

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“I’d like to order the special, but please hold the side of children.”

 Banning ill-mannered children from restaurants

This morning, my local newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, published an article touting yet another restaurant announcing a ban on kids. Surprisingly, this time it’s a pizza place.

Being ‘a picky traveler”, I totally identified with this news story as well as one that hit the news earlier this year about an upscale Italian restaurant in Mooresville, North Carolina instituting a ban on children under 5 dining at their restaurant. The incident that prompted the ban involved a child using an iPad on loud volume, disturbing other patrons. The parents refused to comply with polite requests to turn down the volume or turn the device off and were asked to leave. While the ban drew some criticism from insulted parents, it has had the delightful effect of increasing the numbers of customers from 50 to 80 a night. Bravo! I would definitely dine at this restaurant if ever in the area.

I researched restaurants that ban kids and found a lot of articles and posts online. The one that appalled me the most was the one about Cuchara, an intimate Mexican restaurant in Houston, Texas, full of delicate artwork, where a child scratched the restaurant walls with a quarter, causing $1,500 in damage. Where were this kid’s parents?! Did they not notice their “little darling” was defacing the walls?! Rather than a ban, the restaurant began handing out cards with behavioral instructions to customers.

Sometimes, the banning of children from restaurants can backfire, like what happened when the Lobster Pound and Moore in Nova Scotia announced a ban on loud kids . Bad choice of words? Yes. Bad policy? No.

People think of restaurants as public, but they really aren’t. Yes, you are out in public view, but most restaurants are privately owned. People who dine out need to accept that owners have the right to make rules that benefit their business and protect their patrons’ safety and enjoyment. Imagine witnessing a 3 year old running wild in a sports bar type restaurant and almost colliding with a server with a large tray loaded with food while inches away the parents and their friends and relatives partied and drank, oblivious to the possibility of impending disaster (yes, it really happened). Something like that can make one see why a lot of people don’t like out-of-control kids in restaurants.

Just an observance, but lately there seems to be an abundance of bad parenting.  A lot of parents seem to feel they are not accountable for their own or their child’s actions. There are also parents who are too wrapped up in their own enjoyment to pay attention to their offspring, taking a break from parenting. Example: think how a person might be after drinking that third craft beer. Is that person attentive to his children and should that person also be the one driving kids home?

Seems like today’s child rearing methods are certainly different from what was the norm during my growing up years – the “Kids should be seen, not heard” generation (my father’s words). My family traveled quite a bit due to my father being in the military. When my family went to a restaurant, we kids were expected to behave and exercise the good manners we had been taught. There was no getting up from the table and no electronic devices to keep us occupied. By the age of 10, I could order a complete meal by myself. (OK, so I was not a ‘normal’ kid.)

Not all kiddie diners are disruptive. I have dined several times at Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa and never witnessed any out-of-line behavior from families gathered there to celebrate. On one occasion when my husband I dined at the uber-elegant Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian Resort at Disney World, I noticed a mature beyond her years young lady dressed in her party finery enjoying the gourmet offerings and quiet conversation with her parents. The restaurant’s website states guests ages 10 and above are invited to dine at this establishment and describes themselves as a setting of refined opulence with impeccable service and world-class culinary creations; words that do not evoke a kid-friendly atmosphere. Hotels are getting in on the ban – I know of at least one historic inn filled with priceless antiques, that doesn’t accept reservations from families with children under six years of age.

In this chaotic world, manners really still matter and speak volumes about ourselves. Parents need to take responsibility for their kids’ actions as well as their safety in public. If they don’t, they don’t have the right to complain (or sue) if they are asked to leave or are banned from an establishment.

Every issue has more than one side and parents see this type of ban as discrimination. Think of it this way – if an adult behaves badly in a restaurant or bar (drunk, disorderly, etc.), they can be thrown out of the business. If the behavior is bad enough, illegal or threatens others, they can be arrested.

Everybody is aware that parents need a night out to have fun and sometimes you want to enjoy that time with your kids. Pick an age-appropriate restaurant. I understand that young children sometimes cry or have meltdowns (Trust me on this. I’ve done childcare of other people’s kids and oh, the things I know!) If your child fits this category, take your child somewhere quiet until the child settles down or defer dining out until the child has more developed social skills. If you can afford and desire to dine at “Le Fancy Bistro” don’t be a cheapo and hire a babysitter. It’s worth every penny and your fellow diners will thank you.

Dining out can be expensive these days, especially if you are looking for “an experience” which many seek. A return to civility and respect for our fellow diners can make for an enjoyable experience for all.

Additional reading with a humorous twist: The 10 Commandments of Dining With Children 

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Inns of Maine – Camden Harbour Inn

Camden Harbor Inn entry stairs & pumpkins

After an exhilarating afternoon of sailing on Penobscot Bay or a drive up US 1, this is the first sight that greets you as you pull up to the front of the inn you are spending the night at. Some might be daunted by all the stairs. Instead, marvel at the beauty of the symmetry of all those lovely pumpkins leading to the front porch entrance of the Camden Harbour Inn. A friendly employee meets you half way up, welcoming you by name (they do that lovely sort of thing at small inns) and takes the heaviest of your bags, making you feel at home.

As you check in, you are gifted with a petite box of chocolates and a stuffed animal that is one of four sea creatures. Receiving a cute green seal, he got named Oscar, before realizing that is the first name of one of the Maison de Hotels (owner/managers).

Camden Harbour InnThis luxury Victorian inn is a Relais et Chateaux property, a collection of boutique hotels/inns located around the world that are coupled with a gourmet restaurant as part of the property. At the Camden Harbor Inn, that is the award winning Natalie’s (but more about that later in this post).

Camden Harbor Inn from schooner

Perched on a hill up Bayview Street overlooking Camden Harbor, this inn has only 20 rooms, but what exquisite rooms and suites they are. Most are decorated to the hilt in modern European style, some featuring fireplaces and soaking tubs. Of course, this kind of opulence doesn’t come cheap. (Tip: If your travel plans are flexible, check their web site for last minute special rates or sign up for email specials.)

If you’re budget conscious, but desire a little taste of this cozy inn, book the Macassar – a functional room that features a king bed with luxury linens including a Cuddledown pillow top mattress cover that will make you feel like you are sleeping on a cloud (great comfort after a day of hiking). The best feature of this room is the great views of Camden Harbor from the windows. Wake up early enough to see a magical view of the sleepy little harbor with many sailboats and windjammers docked there, shrouded in early morning mist.

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An incredibly delicious gourmet breakfast is included in the room rate and is served in the dining area of Natalie’s. Enjoy the best Lobster Benedict in Maine, along with selections of fresh baked pastries and other breakfast items served with wonderful coffee and fresh squeezed juice in a beautiful setting. When the weather is nice, breakfast can be enjoyed out on the porch.

Camden Harbor Inn Breakfast

Natalie’s is also open for dinner and features creative dishes utilizing Maine’s bounty of seafood and other locally sourced ingredients. If you love lobster, definitely order their Lobster tasting menu for a variety of ways that lobster can be prepared.

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