Destination

Shapleigh, Portland, and Freeport, Maine (August 2019)

TL;DR

  • Stay
    • AC Hotel by Marriott Boston North, The Shops at Station Landing, 95 Station Landing, Medford, MA 02155
      • Just a one night crash-pad, but very comfortable and the staff was incredibly welcoming to all three of us (they even had a pack and play for us – though it had not arrived by the time we checked in)
    • My brother-in-law’s uncle’s cabin by Silver Lake, Shapleigh, ME 04076
      • Sorry, this place is not open for the general public. But I highly recommend you look into Airbnbs or if you know anyone with a cabin in Maine!
  • Eat/Drink
    • Donut Villa Diner, Townline Plaza, 1 Highland Ave, Malden, MA 02148
      • Don’t get here late or they’ll be out of a lot of the good stuff. That said, we still managed to pick up a couple Peanut Butter and Jelly donuts amongst others.
    • Pine Tree Seafood & Produce Co., 655 US-1, Scarborough, ME 04074
      • Want an amazing Lobster Roll? Congrats. This place is awesome. I didn’t make a point of trying ten places and I’m not suggesting this is the end-all, be-all joint. It’s just delicious. And well worth stopping at for a roll.
    • Empire Chinese Kitchen, 575 Congress St, Portland, ME 04101
      • The best chow fun I’ve had outside San Francisco or New York – just outstanding. Also great peking duck buns and pork buns – not to be missed!
    • Maine Craft Distilling, 7 Mill St, Freeport, ME 04032
      • While we didn’t actually get to go here, this place came super highly recommended.
  • See/Do
    • L.L.Bean Flagship Store, 95 Main St, Freeport, ME 04032
      • Boots. Camping gear. Embroidered bags. Drink bottles. I mean there seriously is a lot of stuff here. And if you’re a fan of their items, it’s worth a trip! Worst-case scenario, there’s plenty of other shopping here and an ice cream shop to chill out at.

Trip Background

My wife’s sister’s in-laws (did you get that?) are from the Boston area and often spend time on Silver Lake, in Maine. When they started planning their regular getaway to Maine, Casey (my sister-in-law) pinged my wife Caitlin and asked her if we’d have any interest in seeing them in Maine. Given that Casey and her family live on the Big Island of Hawaii, any chance to see them without crossing an ocean is always a great one. So we looked into prices of flights and cars – and when she mentioned we might be able to stay with them for free, we bought the tickets that day!

Day 1 (August 15, 2019) – Transit to Boston

Our plan was to fly from Chicago to Boston, spend the night, then drive onward to Maine the next day to meet up with the family. This was our third time flying with our son, the first having been a cross country flight to Hawaii to see my sister-in-law and her family two months earlier and the second having been a flight to Las Vegas a month before so he could meet my cousins (and their kids).

This trip actually taught us a couple of valuable lessons as it was the first time we drove to and parts at the airport. We drove our car from her apartment in uptown to the Park N Fly at Midway airport and to our surprise, parking there was SUPER easy. We had a lot of gear, including the car seat, stroller, and all his baby equipment – and the bus driver who took us from the Park N Fly lot to Midway helped us get our expedition-like gear onto and off of the bus. The other lesson was around how our son would react to his latest big adventure – and from flight to car, he was super chill. Maybe we’re just lucky!

Day 2 (August 16, 2019) – Donuts, Driving, and Arriving

Waking up on our first full day in Boston, we knew we needed some lunch before we drove up to Shapleigh, ME. We just happened to find a little donut shop called Donut Villa Diner, based on a Yelp search. We knew we needed some snacks for the road trip ahead of us and decided that donuts are a great way to start any day.

After finishing our ham and eggs and waffles (and buying a half dozen donuts for the road), we decided to take a long winding route along the back roads of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. We were pleasantly surprise to find that the journey was easy and calm and the sunny end of summer weather made the ride comfortable. Upon arriving at our cabin (house?), which took us longer than we expected because it was slightly off the map, we unloaded our car and settled into the beautiful view of the lake. The rest of the day was spent reconnecting with my sister-in-law and her family, her sister-in-law and their kids, and a couple of other family members who stopped by to visit.

It’s a little bit hard to describe the tranquility of a Maine beach or lake house. Admittedly,  there were some young hooligans (I can’t believe I just said young hooligans) partying in a house just down the beach. But by and large they were super respectful and not crazy loud late at night – so I didn’t have to go all “get off my lawn” kind of grouchy. The peacefulness of the water, the trees, and the sand made for some wonderful bonfire opportunities — and the time to sit and read out on the deck plus getting some real sleep was just lovely.

Napping with Cooper

Day 3 (August 17, 2019) – Relaxing Day by the Lake

Day three began early. Like 5:30 AM early. And just have a look at that sunrise on the lake to understand what I actually meant. It was really quite lovely to see the lake so still and the blue skies and clouds reflecting upon the tranquil water. I went back to sleep until noon while my wife and sister-in-law caught up on life over morning coffee.

The rest of the day really defined a true getaway. A casual lunch, sitting and catching up with the family, and reading patiently were all that we did the rest of the day – and I was perfectly happy to have little to do.

Day 4 (August 18, 2019) – Adventure into Portland and Freeport

Okay okay so I talk about relaxing, but let me acknowledge that day four in Maine was exactly what I was hoping we would get to do. Although I enjoy decompressing and relaxing as much as anyone, I really enjoy being able to explore a place for what it’s known for.

We began by driving northeast in pursuit of a proper Maine lobster roll. And we got it at Pine Tree Seafood & Produce Co. I kid you not when I tell you this was a delightful meal. A soft fluffy hot dog bun filled with the freshest lobster you can imagine covered in butter is certainly not a healthy option. Oh and we also had clam chowder. Minus five points on the healthy. But the goal of coming here was not to live a healthy lifestyle for the day. It was to find an enjoyable dish and boy did we ever.

Our journey continued towards Portland, which I came to learn is NOT the state capital (sorry, Augusta). We took a recommendation from a friend and stopped at Empire Chinese Kitchen for a Chinese lunch, and to my surprise, this was the hidden gem of our trip. Some of you know that I’m from San Francisco and I grew up right next to San Francisco’s Chinatown. This means my standards for Chinese food are as high as anyone else and I use one dish to compare every Chinese American restaurant – no, make that every Chinese restaurant anywhere in the world, that I go to (see my post from Dublin, Ireland, in which I found good beef chow fun as well).

Empire Chinese Kitchen’s Beef Chow Fun (aka Beef and Broad Noodles0

That dish is beef chow fun. An iconic dish that you’ll find on virtually every Chinese American restaurant menu (IF they know what they’re doing and IF the locals demands it). This dish consists of fluffy white rice noodles stir-fried to a light brown hue and is cooked with some combination of beef, beans sprouts, and other vegetables. For me, this dish both a hearty, spirit-rejuvenating dish and a reminder of home. It’s not in every restaurant because these noodles need to be fresh (unlike chow mein) and its presence (or lack thereof) usually tells me what kind of Chinese restaurant I am going into. I don’t say this lightly but I would put the chow fun at Empire Chinese kitchen up against the best chow fun I’ve had in San Francisco or New York. PERIOD. Although they do call it “beef and broad noodles,” which I find odd.

I kid you not. The noodles were chewy and delicious. The flavor was authentic and convincing. And if you go here, be sure to try the pork buns. Or the Peking duck buns. While we enjoyed our lunch, another baby in the restaurant befriended Cooper and only served to put us in a fantastic mood for the rest of our day. Afterwards, we decided to explore downtown Portland for a little while, stopping in a few boutiques to browse gifts for friends and little curios.

Our next destination took us to a place that I’ve been thinking about for years but never had a chance to go. And that is the L.L.Bean Flagship Store. I have been receiving L.L. Bean catalog’s for as far back as I can remember and I own a couple pairs of L.L. Bean snow boots since I now live just outside Chicago. This store is bigger than you can possibly imagine. Multiple levels showcase all the products that you can imagine in their catalog and SK some that probably don’t. In addition you can also look into the L.L. Bean Home store for some cool furnishings and really wonder what your life would be like if you had a ton of money to completely re-decorate the interior of your home.

For a small break during our browsing and shopping fest, we got ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s before we headed back to the cabin.

Day 5 (August 19, 2019) – Time to Head Home

For our last day in Maine, we had breakfast with the family and then packed up our gear for the drive back to the Boston airport. Although the journey itself was not particularly interesting (and in fact it was very gray due to a large rainstorm), we did have a funny thing happened to us both at Logan airport and back home ads at midway airport.

The first is that our then four month old son Cooper displayed his first inclination toward solid food.

And the second has to do with the chaotic luggage seen at midway airport upon our arrival. Someone at Midway decided it was a good idea to drop three flights worth of luggage all onto the same carousel. And this is what happens when you take four planes worth of bags and drop it onto one luggage carousel.

What happens when you drop four flights’ worth of bags onto a single carousel

Final Thoughts

Prior to this trip, what did I know of Maine? Lobster? It’s way northeast of everything I’m familiar with? “Remember the Maine!”? Seems odd, but I admit I didn’t know much. Not about the people, the culture, nor the physical state itself. I had a sense that the state wasn’t diverse, wasn’t densely populated, and was not known for the typical tourist attractions or industries that might have drawn me there sooner. A few random Google and wikipedia searches only confirmed some of my initial biases or preconceptions, such as “As of 2010, Maine was also the most rural state in the Union, with only 38.7% of the state’s population living within urban areas.” (source: wikipedia)

But the state really surprised me in our short trip. It was an enjoyable summer getaway that I wish I’d done sooner. It’s more proof that you can find a Chinese restaurant anywhere in America, and to borrow and mangle a line from the 2007 Disney/Pixar film Ratatouille, “Not everyone can open a great Chinese restaurant, but a great Chinese restaurant can be anywhere.”

That, for me, is more than enough of a reason to come back to Maine – or for you to visit it a first time.

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