Maine: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and Boothbay Harbor Whale & Puffin Cruise

They say you should write about what you know, and there are always adventures to be taken around home! We just happen to live in Vacationland! And I love Boothbay Harbor! Every year for the kids birthday we do an adventure. Madison turned 9 in April, but she loves the water, so we postponed her birthday adventure until we could take on the great Atlantic Ocean! One of her favorite things are Penguins. Well we don’t have those, but we do have Puffin’s. So on a whale and puffin adventure we went!

8:00 am 1st stop, donuts! When you’re off on an adventure, you should always start it with donuts!

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From Auburn it’s about 1.5 hours to Boothbay Harbor. Since it’s a long drive I opted to get a little exercise in on this trip as well. One of my all-time favorite places in Maine happens to also be in Boothbay Harbor!

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9:30 am – Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens! If you love flowers, nature, and Maine – this is the place! I have a membership and seeing the gardens through all the seasons is magical, but this time of year it is a riot of color and the kids area is whimsy and fun. We checked out the fairy houses, the bears den, the greenhouse, the story house, the coloring shed, and the little lake! Then we ventured down the trail to the waterfall and moss garden and then around the middle of the gardens to see the beautiful sculptures. If we had more time, we may have ventured further, but little legs can only go so far, and we needed to have lunch before we ventured on to our “real” trip of the day.

11:30 am – Lunch. We opted to have lunch at the gardens. Call me lazy, but it’s easy and the food is good. I had lobster! When you are this close to the coast, the lobster is good everywhere you go. But they also have “land” options for those who are a little less adventurous!

12:30 pm Stop 4 – batteries! Oops, Madison’s camera needed new batteries and thankfully they are the kind you can grab at the grocery store! We took the brief break to lather on the sunscreen which we promptly got all over the side of my car. So when I got home at 8:30 at night, my car got a bath! Thank goodness for long summer days and it still being light outside!

1:00 pm – Parking and finding our “ride”! We parked along the harbor, in hind sight I probably would have found somewhere farther away to park. $20 for the day and I think we may have taken the last spot in the lot. Sometimes convenience is worth the money though. And this time, it was good we did. We get all the way on the boat and Maddie realizes she left her camera in the car! LOL, kids…sometimes you just have to laugh. So we hurried back to the car, collected the camera and back on the boat we went.

1:30pm – departure! Don’t be late for the boat, they certainly don’t wait around! We sat on top in the open air and watched as the harbor slowly slid by. Islands and lighthouses, if you haven’t seen the Maine coast, a harbor cruise is just beautiful! But we were here for the puffins and whales! After a long cruise out into the Atlantic, we finally make it to the area where the whales have been having out! We saw a pair of humpback whales which showed off for us! (see youtube video below, but don’t judge me on my video…I’m still a beginner! )

4:00 pm – By 4 we were headed to Easter Egg Rock to check out the puffins. Take binoculars and a zoom lens because these little guys are tiny! Adorable, but tiny. Because you can’t get overly close to the island with a big boat, the puffins appear quite small. They fly in and out from the island and you still get to see them. But deciphering them from the other birds hanging out around the island can be more challenging. Next time, maybe I’ll have an even bigger lens to capture these beautiful creatures. Or I’ll see if I can’t get in with the scientists!

5:00pm – Headed back to the harbor. The ride back always seems so much shorter than the ride there. We were back in the harbor by 5:30 and headed back to the car! Since Madison doesn’t like seafood we headed out towards home in search of dinner. Although I am certain that there are turf options at all the local restaurants which serve some of the best seafood around!

6:30: Dinner at Taste of Maine. Boothbay Harbor is off of Route 1, so there are plenty of places to stop on route 1. We picked Taste of Maine because it’s easy to get to and it’s a fun family owned business that’s been there since the 70’s. I had seafood again and Madison had chicken tenders and fries. They have something for everyone including live music! After our bellies were full, we headed home completing our 12 hour day trip full of fun and adventure!

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Until the next adventure! ~ Emily

Big shout out to CAP’n Fish! What an amazing adventure! 

Eagles Mere, PA a hidden gem

Every other year my mom, sister, and I try to do a girls get-a-way. My sister has two young kids and it can be tough to get out of town. Two years ago we got on a plane and all met in St. Pete Beach. Maybe I’ll write about that sometime.  This year we decided to meet halfway between my home in NY and their home in PA. As you might guess, there isn’t a lot between here and there besides forest, small coal towns, and the home of the Little League World Series. Our first mistake was trying to go away over Mom’s birthday weekend, which happened to fall on Memorial Day Weekend this year. Everything was booked, or the prices were so high that it wasn’t even worth thinking about. None of us wanted to cook, clean, or do dishes. That meant that a cabin was probably out. We were thinking somewhere with a pool might be fun, but after the weather we had, I’m glad we passed on that requirement. After a few days and a lot of digging I came across a little gem in the middle of the Pennsylvania wilderness called Eagles Mere.

Eagles Mere was a popular mountain resort in the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s when resort vacations started to become unpopular and not economical. I love history so it looked like the perfect place to spend a couple days with my mom and sister. It was roughly halfway between us and it wouldn’t take me any longer to get to Maine from Eagles Mere as it does from home in NY. So we booked with the Crestmont, which I thought was a historic inn based on the history of the town, and we made our way to PA for a long and hopefully relaxing weekend.

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Sadly, what remains of Eagles Mere is lacking in both character and entertainment. The museum is wonderful and detailed the life of the town in the early 1900’s with 5 beautiful hotels that overlooked the lake and downtown. It had a rail train that brought people to the lake and then up to the Crestmont which, at one time, sat towering over the lake from atop the hill. After the popularity in the 20’s wained, the hotels struggled to stay open, changed hands many times, and were either destroyed by fire or dismantled, moved or demolished. Sadly, the Crestmont, was lost and now condos sit on the old hotel foundation and what is left of the Crestmont Inn lacks the view, charm, and character it once had.  Weather has prevented them from doing the ice slide for many years, and there is actually no restaurant in the downtown.  Our first night we ate at the Crestmont. The food really was good, but we had reservations for 7:30pm, per their request at check in that we make reservations. We sat for an hour and a half before we were served our dinner at 9pm.  We were in no hurry, and we had we ordered a bottle of wine, so we sat and talked till our meals arrived. However, since the service at the Crestmont was so incredibly slow, we decided to try somewhere else the next evening. Slightly outside of town there is “The Barn” which, although listed on placemats in the sweet shop, was not the easiest place to find. The food was good, no complaints there, but if you’re expecting anything more then a family diner/bar, you’ll be disappointed. On our third night in town we opted to go the opposite direction out of town and found a different restaurant/taphouse to have dinner. The food here was also good, service was not quite as slow, and again it had a family diner/bar atmosphere. I don’t know if the town of Eagles Mere could support a restaurant, I fear the people who own the beautiful estates around the lake don’t really go out for dinner. But after visiting the museum I was really wishing for some of that old world charm that used to exist in this tiny little town in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania.

To their credit, they no longer could afford to run the train around the lake and opted to change it into a 6 mile hiking trail. I would have loved to explore this trail. I understand there are some beautiful waterfalls along the trail, however, the weather did not cooperate and my poor mom fell right before coming on our little trip so she had a bum knee and ankle making hiking in the less then optimal weather a no go.

We did enjoy the sweet shop and the book store. If you like to read, the book store is a little treasure cove. We spent more time in the bookshop then anywhere else in Eagles Mere. Old and new books, history, fiction or pretty much anything else you could think of. A couple of couches in there an I might never have left! The sweet shop, being the only place in town that seemed to serve anything, was a nice little throw back. You could have lunch, coffee, and ice cream. We had coffee and ice cream and there was even a little arcade in the back if you were traveling with children.  Other than that, there was really nothing in downtown Eagles Mere.  The shops that are “suggested” when you read about Eagles Mere are all no bigger than my kitchen and I am hard pressed to understand how they stay open. One was touristy, one was artsy, and one was second hand goods. I think the “camp store” as that is what the tiny little grocery store reminded me of, must supply the lake goers and the people who own the beautiful cottages must stop at a grocery store outside of town. We saw plenty of people walking around the lake, but otherwise the “downtown” was empty.

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We attempted to find a couple of wineries while we were in town. It sounded like this would be a thing to do in Eagles Mere. We were successful in finding only one winery that was open. The other two wineries, with signs by the road, were closed. One appeared closed for good, the other was difficult to tell if it was simply closed the day we tried to visit or also closed for good. Our little driving adventure took us past most of the beautiful old homes that remain from the towns heyday and out into the surrounding countryside. Although I do believe that Eagles Mere was a beautiful place to visit in it’s day, it’s missing the charm it once had. That being said, I do think if you owned a home in this area that you vacationed with your family on the lake and enjoyed the classic charm, it might have a completely different view. However, for someone visiting Eagles Mere, it was disappointing.

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We spent most of our time in the car exploring the countryside and in our room playing Phase 10, Ticket to Ride, and Forbidden Island. It was lucky that my mom thought to mention bringing games along, as we may have found it difficult to entertain ourselves otherwise. Had the weather been nice, we may have spent a day at the lake or hiking. Had we found more wineries would would have done a wine tour. And had any of the previous hotels still remained, as an architect, I would have enjoyed exploring their hidden treasures.

As you can see above, still 3 happy faces to be away on an adventure together. I would tell people to go and visit the museum in Eagles Mere, it’s quick and well done. The train model of the town is fascinating, and a drive through town to see what’s left of the beautiful cottages is quite a nice ride. If you’re hikers, then I would definitely recommend visiting Eagles Mere. In the summer I am sure the lake is lovely. The trail around the old railroad bed would be nice and it’s close to Rickets Glenn State Park and Worlds End. If you like the wilderness, this very well might be your place. But if you’re looking for the history and a cute downtown, I have to say, I personally think they no longer exist.

Until our next adventure! ~ Cheers, Emily

Spain, Where We Stayed

We are hardly caught up on all the trips we’ve been on, but I wanted to write about Spain while it was fresh! For my 35th birthday, Frank and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to Spain.  We are pretty savvy travelers, so we weren’t too worried about the last minute trip. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to tell you all about traveling, as a 30 year old, on a last minute trip! And I do think that age is just a number, who cares how old you are! However, there are some things in my 30’s that I care about, that I never would have thought twice about in high school or even in my travels during college. So let’s get started!

First, Frank’s mom is a travel agent and she turned us on to Gate 1 Travel almost 2 years ago before we went to Costa Rica. For the most part, we like Gate 1. We had a few snags on this trip. First, the package deal on their website wasn’t actually available. Hmm…and you don’t find that out till after you’ve booked your trip and there is a little “warning” message that says “Some things need to be verified”. This kind of stuff really stresses Frank out! But I worked through it. Second, the woman who finally got in contact with us about “re-booking” different hotels did nothing but confuse me and I thought our inexpensive trip was going to go up another $1,000. Yeah, not what you want to hear about a last minute trip. When I finally called back I got an absolutely wonderful agent who went through every detail of the trip and made sure there would be no snags. So when you get the right person, they really make things wonderful. In hind sight, while I had her on the phone I should have discussed a little more about our hotels…more on that below.

Madrid: We loved this hotel! Props to Gate 1 Travel for getting this hotel right! The Sercotel Gran Hotel Conde Duque If you’re a young traveler and you like the hype of a busy hotel, this one is not for you. I’d say this hotel catered more to a business class individual. It had some old world charm which we loved, but it also had fresh water with orange slices in the hotel lobby everyday. If you’re an American and into having an actual breakfast while in Europe, this was also the best breakfast we had the whole time in Spain. That doesn’t matter as much to us, as long as the coffee is good. And even though it comes out of a machine, the coffee was good! The room was comfortable and clean, but not fancy. The service was definitely on Spanish time, but the food was good and the Cruzcampo was cold! We sat every evening in the hotel bar sipping Cruzcampo in the club chairs before heading out for a “late” dinner. More on the 9pm dinner time in a later post! But the best part was the location. It was in a quiet residential area, but just around the corner from the Metro and it was very easy to get everywhere! Maybe it was because we started in Madrid, or maybe it was because of this hotel, but Madrid was probably our favorite place on this trip. The Pros: There was character at this hotel, breakfast was good, the location was great, the staff was friendly (although on Spanish time – not a con for us, but could be for other travelers). The bed was fairly comfortable and the room was clean, even if a little dated.

Valencia: I get that this was a package deal, and I should have asked more questions about this hotel when I had to call and change the other two hotels because of last minute bookings. This, I would say, was a Gate 1 Travel failure. After talking to me on the phone and having all of our information, I wish the agent would have considered that this hotel was really geared towards school trips. I would not ever recommend the Expo Hotel   to anyone over the age of 21, or anyone who isn’t traveling as part of a group. The hotel is on the outskirts of town on the complete opposite side from the Oceanographic. The transportation system, unlike in Madrid and Barcelona, is not easy to navigate. The beds were just cots. Maybe because it was part of a package deal we did not get one of the better rooms, I’m not sure. But the room we stayed in was not updated in many years, most of which we don’t care about, however the 1970’s blankets made me feel a little ill at ease. The hotel, hallways, carpets and room were “well used”. This is just a pet peeve, but it had one of those shower curtains that attacks you when you take a shower. The shower head, handheld, had a mind of it’s own and often sprayed water all over the bathroom. The biggest down side for us: NO SAFE. Since Emily’s hobby is photography and we like to write about and document our travels, we often travel with multiple cameras, iPad, go-pro, computer and other various technology. Not having a safe means you have to cart it all around with you. And after our experience in Barcelona (see below) it just makes the idea of not having a safe really upsetting. We walked more in Valencia then we did in Madrid and Barcelona. This hotel is probably fine for school groups who were being picked up on a bus and taken to the sites around town. We would have much preferred to be in the old city in a room with a safe and a bed that didn’t belong in a hostel. The Pros: The only thing I can say that was great in this hotel was the bar. Sounds funny, but we learned that G&T’s are a thing in Spain and they make each type of gin with a different twist on flavors. The girl working the bar certainly go a workout and we had fun meeting people from Italy and Holland while hanging out in the bar for my 35th birthday.

Barcelona: Gate 1 Travel had to book a different hotel in Barcelona then the one that was supposed to be part of the package deal because the original hotel was full. That was no problem and the Gate 1 agent sent us to the Melia Barcelona Sky! I was pretty excited about this, as the hotel looks pretty awesome in the pictures and Barcelona was the whole reason I wanted to go to Spain. Well, what you can’t tell from the pictures, it’s not really in a great location. There is a little tram that goes around the block near the hotel and the metro. However, not once while we were there, did we time it right to catch the tram. So we walked, and there is not much on this street other than hotels. So after making it to the hotel from the metro we get checked in and head up to our room. Well, it turns out, there are already people staying in the room they checked us in to. Since we are upstanding individuals, we simply closed the door and went back to the lobby. But right there, that safe, oh so important! Something I never thought about when staying in a hotel. I’m sure it was an honest mistake, but yikes, anyone can key one of those magnetic cards and enter a room. We go back to the lobby, at which point there is a group trying to check in. We are tired after an extra long train ride (more on that later too) and we just want to drop our bags and get out into the city since we’ve lost 1/2 a day in Barcelona at this point. We do eventually get to the counter and they very apologetically upgrade us to a room on the top floor. It supposedly has a king size bed and a great view of the city. And here is where my critical eye as an architect jumps in. These are all knit picky things, that since the room was a free upgrade, I don’t really care about. But if you’re going to pay for these rooms on the top floor, you should know: There are vinyl tiles glued to the floor that aren’t actually glued to the floor and they are pulling up in various locations around the room. The great view of the city is somewhat blocked by the building next door which is only about 1-story lower than the Melia and has a gigantic red light on the top that shines in your window all night long. The curtain doesn’t quite cover the window all the way either. And the view is as follows, left window, covered by some kind of perforated screen, you can see through it, but you can’t really take pictures, window two – solid panel. Window 3 is the actual view, Window 4 another solid panel. Um? Why? The door to the room doesn’t close automatically behind you, so make sure you yank it closed on the way out. The elevators move quickly and can be a little vomit inducing if you have vertigo. Breakfast was the worst breakfast we had the whole time we were in Spain and the coffee was terrible. In all seriousness, it’s not that this hotel was bad per se. It just felt a little bit like they were trying at luxury and not quite achieving it. The Pros: It was the best bed we slept in while in Spain and it was defiantly clean. You could see the ocean from the hallway and the staff was very friendly. They had a security guard in the lobby so it felt safe. And if it was nice out, the pool would have been amazing. As you’ll see in the pictures though, it rained and was cold the whole time we were in Spain, so no pool dips for us.

More on our adventures in Spain in the coming weeks!