Portland, Maine 2018

Hello! It’s me! I’m back again with a blog post! I’ve quite missed writing, but over the past months I’ve found myself to have quite a lack of focus for pretty much anything, which has been troubling in more ways than one. I thought I would ease myself back into blogging by chatting about the trip to Portland, Maine I went on nearly a year ago with my buddy Kristen (aka @kristen_m_young over on ye olde Twitter). I’ve been feeling antsy and wanting to travel with no real opportunities to do so for a little while, and I’m hoping that writing this trip up will ease my restlessness at least a little.

This trip came about when my boss let me schedule a week off of work in September. I considered just doing a staycation, but decided instead to try actually going somewhere. So I hit up my college buddy Kristen and asked if I could come visit her in Massachusetts during that time. I thought I’d maybe explore the area where she lives during times she was at work and then we could hang while she was free — I never want to be a burden and didn’t want her to feel obligated to entertain me. I was pleasantly surprised when she responded by basically saying, “I can take time off that week too! Do you want to travel somewhere? Maybe Portland?” She had been there very briefly a couple of years before and while I had been to Maine on a family trip when I was in high school we skipped over Portland to visit relatives further north. It was set to be a fresh fun adventure for both of us!  

When September rolled around I first spent the better part of a day driving up to Kristen’s town and then the next day we set off for Maine. We stayed at the Portland Ramada. Not #spon, obviously, but I’m mentioning it by name because it turned out to actually be a nice place to stay. It’s a small drive from the actual downtown area and is surrounded by strip malls (some of which contain some…questionable…businesses, see picture below), but it was in our price range, it was clean, the staff we interacted with were nice, the attached restaurants were surprisingly decent, and it has a large pool and a gym. (Kristen used the gym every day, so the quality of it must have been fine.)

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Yes, that is a strip club sign that says “midget wrestling.” And yes, it -was- the first thing I noticed after parking the car at the hotel, lol.

Neither of us had done very much research about the area before we set out, so after checking in we rested for a little bit and looked up local hotspots on our phones before heading into the Old Port section of downtown Portland. Several websites had recommended this area as one with a ton of little shops to poke through and restaurants to choose from. This is an area that we would accidentally keep returning to on our little walking adventures in the city throughout the weekend, but we liked it there so that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

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I fell in love outside of a tourist trap store full of nautical stuff (aka, my jam).

 

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There’s some cobblestone roads and a lot of old exposed brick all over the Old Port area.

But something that excited me a lot was the actual port itself because, as I like to put it, this bitch loves a water feature. 

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We almost had dinner at the restaurant on this big boat, but decided it was too expensive.

We had dinner at a restaurant called J’s Oyster that was very small and tucked away near the end of the pier area, but it was absolutely packed so we knew it had to be good. It had a local dive kind of feel, but not in a shady way. I had lobster because, well, not having lobster in Maine would be like not getting a bagel from a mom and pop shop if you visited New Jersey! The food was pretty good — we were overall pleased with our dinner choice.

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Having looked up more tourism stuff when we got back to the hotel, we decided that our big goal on our second day would be to go on a tour of a famous old house called Victoria Mansion. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but it was fascinating to get a look inside such an old home. Much of the house still needs restoring, but a lot of the trompe l’oeil painting on the walls was still very impressive and I loved the library.

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Kind of bland on the outside, but fascinating inside, I promise!

After that we strolled through downtown for awhile. Kristen is a book lover, so she made sure we popped into a few different independent bookstores along the way. I don’t know any of their names, but we went to several. It’s definitely a good town for supporting local business! We also stopped for some excellent potato doughnuts along the way when we accidentally wound up at the Old Port. They were more dense than regular doughnuts, but still very nice. There was quite a line in the store too — I’m not sure if they’re locally popular or popular with tourists or both, but this place is apparently a popular choice.

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Kristen in front of the doughnut shop!

We eventually found a comic shop that Kristen knew about called Coast City Comics. I don’t really feel comfortable in comic shops because I don’t know shit about comics and I feel self-conscious that the (usually all male) employees can somehow tell and are judging me. (Why should I care? I don’t know, but I do, oops.) When I found a bunch of pinball machines in the back, I was instantly at ease while Kristen browsed the comics.

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I love pinball even though I’m usually terrible at it. I loved this machine based on one of my favorite bad movies (and actually had some good luck with it)!

 

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“I love me a good theater marquee,” said the blogger who chose her college largely because of a very old neon theater marquee in the downtown area.

For dinner that night we tried the restaurant inside our hotel, partly because we had been given coupons at check in, partly because we were curious about it. It wasn’t bad, despite this weird ominous sign on the way there!

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On day three we pursued a crazy ambitious plan from a guide we found on a Portland tourism website. Maine has tons of lighthouses and apparently Portland has six(!) within easy driving distance of the city/each other. This is a separate post, because six lighthouses would be a lot to cover in this already super long write up! But here is a preview picture of Kristen looking at one of those lighthouses from afar to whet your whistle for nautical adventure. 

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After this big adventure we popped into downtown to grab lunch (in, you guessed it, the Old Port area) and then went back to the hotel to try out the pool and hot tub. I’d never been in a hot tub before and it was so hot it felt like my skin/blood were tingling! Between swimming in the pool and relaxing in the hot tub I found nearly a dozen lost hotel room keycards, lol. Dinner was lowkey — we went to the Chipotle near the hotel and picked out ice cream at the nearby grocery store.

On the way back down to Kristen’s house the next day, we stopped off in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, another waterfront New England town full of old looking brick and cute little shops. I’m probably wrong about this, but I have this general impression of New Jersey as a place that really doesn’t give a crap about most of its cool old buildings and just wants to tear them down to build luxury apartment complexes for people who work in NYC (or maybe that’s just my area?) so I’m super jealous of New England’s respect for its old stuff.

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It’s also home to a kitschy looking little diner Kristen loves called The Friendly Toast. I don’t remember what I ate and I’m a terrible millenial for not memorializing it with a photo, but I remember the food was good! 

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Photo taken by Kristen because all this cool stuff was hanging out behind me.

Once we arrived in Massachusetts I spent one final night on Kristen’s sofa. This last night of my trip is actually one of the overall highlights for me because Kristen and I went to dinner with Kristen’s sibling and another local friend that Kristen and I went to college with. I rarely get to see or talk to either of them, so hanging out with them was a real treat! We drove out to this tiny beach area nearby and had a pretty good dinner in a bar before walking across the street to get ice cream. There was fog coming in off the sea and the area was basically deserted apart from the people at the bar. We spent a good chunk of time just chatting outside, catching up and having a laugh, and I dunno, it was just really nice! It really made me wish I could see them more and hang out like that all the time. But, alas, geography. (Why do we not yet have the power of teleportation? Or at least an equivalent of the Japanese Shinkansen for the United States so I can see all the people I love more often?)

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A car that I guess just lives outside the ice cream place forever.

And that was sadly the end of my trip. The next day I had to get up and make the long drive home. As if to rub in the fact how much of a bummer it was to return to my daily life, and in contrast to my smooth ride north, I got caught in a major traffic snafu near NYC just an hour or so from home and added a whole extra hour to my trip because of it. 

Someday I will get to have fun travels again, but until then I will always have my memories of this trip to Maine with Kristen.

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When I parked in the driveway at home, I took a picture of my odometer, which I hadn’t reset for the whole trip — in all, my travel to, from, and in New England on this trip put just over 800 miles on my car!

If you want to read about our visit to six lighthouses in one day on the last full day of our trip, you can click here!

I hope you’re all doing well.

 

Another Year Older

One day shortly before Christmas I got in the elevator at my job and in that weirdly lit mirrored space, I noticed something unusual sprouting out of the front of my hairline. I looked at myself closely in one of the mirrored walls. ‘Is that…a grey hair…?’ It was kind of hard to tell. After years of dying my hair different shades of copper, I’d dyed it brown in the fall with the aim letting my light brown/dark blonde hair grow in and not dying it anymore (or at the very least, not for a very long time). But my natural shade is cool toned and I had mistaken strands of my roots for grey in the past, so I wasn’t sure if this was an early morning hallucination or the real deal. I didn’t dwell on it too much.

But one morning a few weeks later when I stood back up after leaning over the sink to wash my face the bathroom light hit my hair a certain way and there was no mistaking it — I had a grey hair. I often hear my coworkers complaining about their grey hairs, but I felt an odd little spark of excitement. It felt like a weird validation and proof of the struggles I’ve experienced.

Plus, I was kind of hoping to develop a cool grey streak like Claire Saffitz from Bon Appetit! (If her streak is somehow not real, please do not burst my bubble, lol.)

My single grey hair showed up at quite a timely point as well, just before my 28th birthday at the end of January. Some people might feel quite bad about getting close to 30 and in some senses I do, but mainly just because I don’t feel like I’m as far along in my so-called adult life as I think I should be. (For instance, if this is your first time here, I still live with my mom.) As far as the actual process of my body aging, who gives a damn?

This year my birthday lasted for basically a whole week! The party was kicked off the Sunday before with a little gathering with my friends. We had pizza and cake and watched the bluray I bought a while ago of the Takarazuka Revue’s most recent production of the musical Elisabeth, which is based on the life of an Austrian empress popularly known as Sisi. It’s in Japanese with no English subtitles, but I know Sisi’s real life history and found translations of the songs so I was able to explain what was happening as we went along. It honestly felt like the most selfish, self indulgent thing I had ever asked from my friends (“for my birthday I want you to listen to me talk about history and this weird musical for 2.5 hours”). But my friends said they enjoyed it so that made me feel better! I wish I could post a clip, but Takarazuka have mysteriously taken all the promo clips for it down from their YouTube channel unfortunately. 

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Friendly’s grocery store ice cream cake is required birthday food, even in the dead of winter, true story!

My family’s tradition is to stick three candles in birthday cakes, so I was surprised when my friend put in eight (because I’m 28). The HAP on the cake is partly a “the cake was too small to write much” joke and also an inside joke based on our school district’s name for its Gifted and Talented program, which most of us were in back in the day. (Aka: most of us have some kind of self-esteem issue because of it, lol.)

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My cubicle is right next to this little snack area. Please do not ask how many doughnuts I ate on this day.

My birthday continued into my work week. My office has six people born in January so the other secretaries decided to combine mine with someone born the previous week — they set it on Monday to kind of split the difference between me and the other birthday person. Whenever it’s someone’s birthday people bring in snacks to share, and we had a pretty nice spread! It’s Valentine’s season, so the the doughnuts were heart shaped, which I thought was really cute!

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My office is a fan of Bavarian creme doughnuts if you can’t tell from the fact that four are in this box (and I think there were even more before I snapped this).

My coworkers jokingly wished me happy birthday until my actual birthday rolled around on Thursday. And our newest secretary gave me a little gift!  No one’s ever given me a gift for my birthday at work before. She only started at the beginning of January and we really don’t know each other well yet, so this little angel coin was a sweet surprise. I’m not really religious, but I can appreciate the vibe of something like this.

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Thursday was my actual birthday. Often in the past my family winds up having pizza or something at home on the person’s actual birthday and then all the same people go out to dinner on Friday evening. But this year I told my mom I didn’t want that. I said that we only needed to celebrate my birthday once, because it would be back to back and also because it just makes me feel a little weird to be the center of prolonged attention. Maybe it’s a middle child thing? So anyway, I didn’t expect much of anything on my actual birthday, but my mom made macaroni and cheese and a cherry crumble and it was very nice.

Also on my birthday my goods from inki-drop’s Starwhal Kickstarter unexpectedly arrived! It was kind of like a gift from the universe. Everything is very cute, and the soft things (Mama Starwhal and the pouch) are exceptionally soft! I’ve already incorporated the pins into my pin frames!

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This is a pouch that a whole PS Vita can fit inside!

So then on Friday, to wrap up my birthday week, we went out to our favorite local Italian restaurant. My aunt stopped by our house beforehand and lemme tell ya, she is the queen of birthday cards. She always finds the loudest, most hilarious ones. 

She also gives scratchcards to everyone on their birthdays and on my birthday last year I became the family record holder, winning $40. This year all I got was a new ticket.

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I have a funny story from dinner that I already shared on my Twitter, but I want to immortalize it here as well. The restaurant was having two parties that night, so they put us in this upstairs room that allows them to do regular dinner service for people when they’re also having multiple parties. We had just ordered and were chatting when suddenly from downstairs came the sound of bagpipes! It only lasted about a minute and stopped as abruptly as it had started. My family naturally burst into laughter and started joking about how they should have the piper come up and play me happy birthday! We asked our waitress what was happening and it turned out it was a police officer’s retirement party. Regardless, it’s a birthday memory that I’m unlikely to forget, lol!

I was lucky to receive some neat gifts from my friends and family (tabletop games! a Dragon Age lore book! a cute reusable shopping bag, Pusheen magnets, and a book about pins! and more!). I’d like to close this post off by sharing a just one gift photo — I present to you, a ceramic Harry Potter goblet!

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One might jokingly refer to this as a pimp cup, lol. This was a find of my aunt’s. I could probably use it for drinking, but I’m too afraid to break it. The dragon makes displaying anything inside of it kind of awkward. I tried to put a small Ron plush I have inside and it just didn’t work. But in the alternate universe where I make enough money to move out on my own, I think this could be good for placing next to the door so I can put my keys in it! For now, I’m displaying it on top of my dresser.

And that’s all I have to say about my birthday week!

I hope you’re all doing well. I’ll be back with another post soon!