A New England Vacation
Happy Fall, folks! John and I returned home earlier this week from a two-week road trip vacation. We hadn’t been on a two-week vacation in five years! The last time we took a vacation this long was in September 2016, to Wyoming and Colorado (which was a fantastic trip). This time around, we planned a road trip to avoid flying during this never-ending pandemic.
Our Pandemic Travel Precautions
Although we weren’t flying, I was still nervous about the safety of traveling for an extended period of time. I’ve been very COVID-cautious and have stayed home probably 90% of the time during the pandemic. We’re both fully vaccinated, but I take immunosuppressive medication so we wanted to be as safe as possible. We wore masks every time we set foot indoors, whether at a rest stop, in a hotel lobby, or a souvenir shop. We masked up even when masks weren’t required (which they weren’t, in a lot of places).
Many of the restrooms I used only had air dryers, so I let my hands air dry. Like…do I want to use something that’s going to forcefully blow germy, poopy air on my hands? NO THX. When we went out to eat we exclusively dined outdoors. And I packed rapid COVID tests, just in case either of us began to experience symptoms (spoiler alert: we didn’t).
Part One of Three
I’m breaking my vacation recap up into three blog posts, because after two weeks, there’s a whole lot to share! This first chunk will focus on our time in Connecticut and Portland, Maine. Then in the next two posts we’ll move on to our week in Bar Harbor, Maine. As always with my travel posts, there will be MANY photos. I took around 500 and it was so hard to narrow down my favorites for these posts!
On day one of our trip, I drove the entire way up to Old Saybrook, Connecticut. The drive took about seven hours, including stops. It’s been so long since I drove that many hours in one day! We arrived right around check in time at Saybrook Point Resort & Marina.
The hotel and its environs were beautiful, and we had our first vacation date night outdoors on the patio at the hotel’s restaurant, Fresh Salt. I had a delicious housemade veggie burger and John got the first of his many New England clam chowders of the trip. I wish I liked seafood. New England is well known for its chowder and lobster, but I hate the taste of anything that comes out of the water. Bleh.
We strolled along the marina a bit after dinner, and it was a little chilly but so refreshing after the hot, swampy DC summer.
It’s weird being on vacation during a pandemic and not feeling comfortable spending time indoors outside of your hotel room. Typically after dinner we would grab a drink at the hotel bar, but we didn’t feel okay doing that. So we got a glass of wine to go from the bar and took it up to our room. Fortunately we had a balcony, so we sat out there overlooking the marina and chatted until it was time to wrap it up and get some rest.
The next morning we ate breakfast in our room, which we had ordered using the doorknob card that some hotels offer, allowing you to pre-select your breakfast. Then we drove about 30 minutes to Mystic, Connecticut, because John had bought us tickets to Mystic Aquarium.
The aquarium currently requires advance purchase of timed tickets, and they limit attendee capacity. Masks are also required in all indoor areas. I was nervous about going to an indoor attraction for the first time since the pandemic began, but I brought two masks to wear in the indoor exhibits. Doing an activity on our first real morning of the vacation was very much ripping off the band-aid for me. But we love visiting aquariums and neither of us had been to this one before, so we couldn’t skip it while we were in the area!
We arrived right when the aquarium opened and tackled the indoor exhibits first, while they were sparsely attended. My double masking actually made me feel pretty comfortable being inside. The aquarium had some amazing jellyfish tanks! Jellies are always one of my favorites at aquariums:
We got to touch some small sharks and stingrays in the touch tanks, too. The rays are soooo soft but also kinda slimy. Once more people started showing up inside, we headed outside and saw the beluga whales:
We wandered the aquarium’s boardwalk and spotted some frogs and turtles, and went to see the penguins being fed. After a short visit to the gift shop where I picked out some souvenirs, we headed across the street to Olde Mystick Village, which I had on my list of places I wanted to visit.
Ye Olde Moneys Spendinge
I wasn’t sure if I’d feel comfortable with indoor shopping. But it was a rainy day and the village was pretty empty, so that put me more at ease. Many of the shops required masks (like the toy store below), and some left their doors open for air flow, like magical wellness shop Becca Rose. I can’t resist a store that sells crystals and tarot cards and candles, so I ended up buying myself a few treats.
Here I am with the giant gnome outside Bestemors, a really cute Scandinavian gift shop with TONS of fun goodies. I bought a few things there…it was tough not to grab all the imported candy at the register. 😛
The village’s main draw for me, which I had seen online, was the Cloak and Wand…a wizarding and witchcraft shop. The place is super cute and has all kinds of fun Harry Potter items, including wands, of course. And I loved this display of creepy dolls (plus a Ouija board) in the back room:
After shopping at a few places, we got coffee and donuts from Deviant, and we sat outside enjoying our treats. Then we headed back to the hotel to rest.
That evening was very rainy, so we didn’t really have the option to eat outdoors. Instead, we ordered takeout from TJ’s Pizza and ate in our room while watching Mean Girls on TV. I ate a bunch of pizza on our trip, and I think TJs was the best of the bunch! Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of it.
The hotel had a list of games you could check out from the front desk, so after dinner and the movie we borrowed Battleship and Sorry, drank wine, and played the games in our room before calling it a night.
Onward to Maine!
The next morning was our final one in Old Saybrook. We ate delicious bacon, egg, and cheese bagels in our room and hit the road for our next destination: Portland, Maine. We went there for a couple nights for a funeral a few years ago, but neither of us had visited Portland aside from that short trip.
Rather than taking the straightforward route recommended by Google Maps, we decided to take a more scenic route and ended up discovering an adorable coastal community. We first stopped off in York Village, Maine, where John grabbed a burger and I got a coffee to keep me going. Apparently, York is one of Maine’s oldest cities, originally settled in 1624 by the Abenaki. The village is a short drive from the York Beach, and once we hit the water we pulled over to admire the view:
Here I am enjoying the perfect weather and the sound of the crashing waves:
From there we drove along York Beach, and I was so taken with it that I forgot to snap photos. I’ve never seen a place like this before. There were long strips of rocky beach to our right; tons of cute inns and beach cottages dotted the opposite side of the road. At the northern border of the beaches were gorgeous rocky cliffs. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, you can check out some beach photos at visitMaine.net.
Once we reached the downtown part of York Beach, it felt like we had traveled back in time to a 1930’s or 1940’s seaside town. Like a tiny version of Atlantic City, minus the casinos and giant hotels. The place was such a fun discovery on our drive, and now we want to take a trip there someday.
The Other Portlandia
Once we arrived in Portland we checked in to our Airbnb, a home all to ourselves in the West End neighborhood. The place was cute and had the prettiest wallpaper in its tiny, under-the-stairs Harry Potter powder room:
The house also had a piano, which I’m not convinced isn’t haunted. We didn’t have any creepy experiences in the house, but this piano 100% looks like it would have a spirit attachment. 😛
That night, we strolled over to the downtown area in search of a non-crowded place to eat dinner outside. A lot of spots looked pretty busy, so we settled on Tiqa, a pan-Mediterranean restaurant on the ground floor of the Courtyard Marriott. We enjoyed a nice outdoor dinner, sharing several small plates. Oddly, the hummus was served warm and the pita bread was served cold. But I did love the baba ghanoush and marinated gigante beans.
The drive up to Portland hadn’t been as long as our first day of driving, but spending hours in a car is still tiring. So after dinner we walked back to the Airbnb and played some games in the dining room before going to bed.
Lighthouse Viewing on 9/11
The next morning was the 20th anniversary of 9/11. It felt odd to be vacationing on a major anniversary of such a momentous event in our history. I had noticed the day prior that a lot of the flags on our drive up were at half mast to mark the occasion. That morning, we got up and ordered takeout breakfast sandwiches from OhNo Cafe, which was a five minute walk from our Airbnb. The place was recommended in the Airbnb host’s restaurant guide, and the sandwiches did not disappoint.
After breakfast, we headed to Fort Williams Park in South Portland to see the Portland Head Light—Maine’s oldest lighthouse. This was one of the most picturesque spots on a trip filled with picturesque vistas:
I can’t get over how beautiful the cliffs and ocean are in Maine. And the weather was absolutely perfect again!
John stayed at the park to walk around, and I returned to the Airbnb to chill and shower. Then I picked him up and we took a stroll back to downtown Portland to explore. The city was pretty busy, so although I wanted to do a little shopping, I decided against it. That afternoon we rested at the Airbnb, and our friend who moved to Portland last year came over for dinner. We ordered in pizza and cocktails from Tipo and hung out in the back yard for hours. It’s so nice to catch up with friends in person!
Chilling in Portland
The following morning, I got up and picked up coffee from OhNo, which I had alongside leftover pizza. I do love pizza for breakfast. 😀 John went out to the Cliff Walk in Scarborough, which our friend had recommended. He loved it! I’m a little sad that I didn’t go, but I stayed behind and rested because I had kinda hit a wall. I felt sapped of energy from socializing (I’m pretty out of practice) and also missed being at home with our cats. John also went to a local beach in the afternoon, but I continued to rest.
That evening, we went downtown and picked up panini from Duckfat, which a friend of mine had recommended. I got the Caprese, which was so good!
On our final morning in Portland, I had leftover panini and John went downtown to grab coffee with our friend before we left town. We said goodbye to our cute Airbnb, which had served us well, and hit the road for Bar Harbor. We decided to take a more scenic route again, which took us through a lot of rural areas. On the drive up, we stopped in Camden, a quaint town on Penobscot Bay:
I grabbed a delicious s’mores ice cream from Camden Cone and John got lunch from a small food stand by the marina. The weather, again, was perfection. Before setting out for the final stretch of the drive, I treated myself to a much-needed espresso from Zoot Coffee. And with that, I’ll end this recap of the first six days of our vacation! Stay tuned for a recap of the next leg of our trip, coming soon…