Portland, Maine was cold. Not just cold, but frigid, make your bones ache cold. Sunny, pretty blue sky, but hard to see through the icicles hanging from your eyelashes. Turns out, a day or so ago, we had missed forty degree weather, rain, melting snow, premature grass hesitantly peeking out. Then, an uncommonly fierce cold snap hit, right around the time we flew in.
Came with us or because of us, I cannot say, but clearly, my ego will not allow it to be anything but related to our arrival! We muscled through nonetheless and ventured blindly into the town.
We didn't really have a goal in mind; we couldn't check into our hotel for a while and we knew nothing about the place, so we just blundered around randomly! We drove between looming old buildings, stained with time, and cruised along high streets above the bay, lined with houses that, in Pocatello, would each have been an item of wonder and admiration. Here, though still admirable, to be sure, these houses were commonplace! Three and four story plaqces with rambling gables and shuffling towers. Thick pillars and stained glass. Needless to say, we wanted to break in to each, just to wander around.
Eventually, we found ourselves in the Old Port district, attempting to get into a visitor's center closed for the season. Denied, we drove a few blocks and parked, intending to walk along the street and look at the shops. That quickly turned into speed walking along the sidewalk, ducking into the shops in an attempt to find any shred of warmth available before our noses fell off. We even stopped into a relator. Sure, we'll be looking for a place eventually, but really, the next building was across the street and some distance away.
We ate at Gilbert's for lunch, our first meal in Maine. We had the fish and chips special and a bowl of clam chowder. Great food. The fish was fresh and very delicate and moist, the fries were thick, hot and served with malt vinegar and the chowder may be the best we've found in our travels so far. The service was good too, and the restaurant was liberally decorated with old photos and goofy knick knacks. The only downside was having to run five blocks back to the car to feed the meter.
After lunch, we drove around again, got lost a bit, got lost some more, found some of it, lost that, finally finding our superb and completely awesome hotel, The Inn At St. Johns. This hotel is Portland's longest running lodging house, standing three stories high and originally built to service the train yards nearby. Now it's close to the hospital and a few little restaurants and still has a lot of old world charms.
Colorful wallpaper, decorative chandeliers, punched tin roofs, everything about it made us happy and a bit jealous. The inn is totally old school, most have detached baths and while they have some modern amenities, like wifi and mini fridges, you still get the feeling of being in another time. We would have stayed there for a long, long time if we could have afforded it. (Although the bed was far too hard, and made me feel like a rusted spring in the morning...)
If you do think of staying at the Inn, and I think everyone should, do be forewarned, there is no elevator and the only way up to your rooms is by ascending a very steep, long staircase to the second floor. There's no messing around with this puppy. By the time I was done manhandling my oversized luggage up, I felt like I'd dislocated a shoulder and that the stairs had begun leaning backwards, looming over me like something out of a Tim Burton film.
For dinner, we dined across the street, after an aborted attempt to walk to what I'd thought was a nearby Rite Aid for kleenex. (Turns out, the drug store was about 6 blocks further along. Good thing we turned back!) The Pizza Villa was a hoot. Funny waitresses giving me sass and awesome lamb sausage pizza, meatball subs and soda for less than twenty bones. Approved! Then we headed back across the street and hit the sack.