Every day for the past few weeks has started the same for us; over breakfast, High Five has asked us if we were going to ride a train today. We were all pleased to answer him with a big “Yes!” this morning as we set out to ride the rails at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum. We loved the hands-on feel of the museum, and soon we were in costume conducting trains, punching tickets, and perfecting our Morse Code. Of course, the real highlight came when we boarded the train to take a short ride along the Portland waterfront. While most of us on the train winced and covered our ears every time the steam whistle bellowed, High Five just laughed and clapped for more.
After the ride ended, we took a short walk along the Eastern Promenade pedestrian/bike trail to check out the Maine Comic Arts Festival at the Maine State Pier. Although it was quite crowded, we slowly made away around to the different vendors to check out the latest in comics, artwork, and graphic novels. This also gave us an opportunity to meet the authors and artists themselves. We spent a lot of time admiring the work of Joe Quinones, an artist for Marvel Comics who displayed some awesome prints of Star Wars characters. As tempted as we were to buy our favorite prints we stayed strong knowing that the Mazda5 is very short on space. However, we did buy a few educational zines from artist Gynn Stella of Dandelion Studios, who we had the pleasure to meet on the train ride just an hour before.
There is so much we will miss about Maine as we head out later this week for our summer in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. It is comforting to know, however, that as we eventually make our way out West to continue our pattern of short-term rentals and full-time travel, we will have a head start on getting to know the locals.
Note: Five Spice and Five String celebrated their anniversary yesterday by renting a golf cart and exploring Long Island (Maine), just off the coast from Portland. Five Ball and Five of Hearts share below their thoughts about the day.
Riding on the back of the golf cart was really fun. It was a new experience and we’re really glad that we tried it.
High Five was pretty crazy and funny driving the car. He loves to drive cars and did really well on the golf cart if he could pretend to drive while we were at the different places.
We were playing “Throw the Hermit Crabs Back into the Ocean”. It was a lot of fun when Mom chased us around and we chased her. It was a great way to play on the beach. We had seen hermit crabs on another day on the beach with our grandmother.
It was a lot of fun climbing the rocks. There were some really flat rocks and lots of seaweed. I have always loved climbing rocks and caving.
Mom and Dad were excited for their anniversary and to rent a golf cart out on an island. Dad insisted that I take this picture on the rock for their anniversary picture.
Mom had looked up at the sky and saw clouds called mares’ tails. The next time I looked up the clouds were very puffy. But then they changed quickly and it was really cloudy.
The boys were asleep on Mom. I needed something to do, so Dad decided we would go off and explore. He Turkey Trotted me across the beach. On the way back we saw a path into the sand dunes and followed it. He finally found a tree and put me up in the tree. When we came back we told Mom all about it and showed her the picture.
Our Mom found this pretty red house on the next island over (Cliff Island).
We were looking out over the ocean.
My dad was excited for this license plate because on the last island we went to (Peaks Island) we had found the last license plate we needed for our license plate bingo (Montana). This plate is a bonus one not found on our bingo board. We couldn’t believe we found it on another island!
Before we had to return our golf cart, we decided to explore a conversation trail we had passed earlier. Mom had scouted ahead, and discovered a pond. We did not expect to find so much nature off of this one trail.
We tried to feed this frog sticks and grass, and he liked it. We thought it might eat grass, but according to Mom they like flies. It still is a mystery to us whether they would eat the grass or would like flies instead.
We saw how the beavers chewed wood with their teeth and made it into a home.
On a frosty fall morning, we set off to explore an accessible island just outside of Portland, Maine. Located at the mouth of the Presumpscot River, the 100 acre Mackworth Island was once used by the Wabanaki people for both its abundant natural resources and its prime location along a major trade route. After the arrival of Europeans, the island eventually became the property of the Baxter family of Maine governors. Today it is public land and the home of the Baxter School for the Deaf.
It took a while for the sun to warm things up, so we stayed bundled up as we started the level, 1.5 mile trail around the island. We were excited to find many swinging benches thoughtfully placed at scenic vistas, and we took advantage of the first one we found for a picnic lunch.
With the sun fully out and our stomachs full, we took the next long staircase we found down to the water. We explored the tide pools left at low tide and identified some familiar places across the water, including Peaks Island. Wandering along we soon came to a massive pier, which was used during the Civil War when the island hosted Camp Berry.
The best surprise of all came farther down the trial where we noticed countless, small structures in an open part of the forest. We had entered the Mackworth Island Community Village, a place for visitors to build fairy homes. Being no strangers to fairy homes ourselves, we were eager to do our part to help the village grow.
From there the path looped back to the parking lot, and it was time for us to go. Driving home, we could still feel a little bit of the fairy dust remain from our outing on Mackworth Island.
Now that Columbus Day has passed and the tourist season in Maine is over until the spring, it is an ideal time to explore the islands dotting Casco Bay. Daily service still runs throughout the winter on the Casco Bay Lines ferries, yet the price and crowds are significantly lower than during the summer. Before the temperature drops too much, we took a day to explore Peaks Island, just a 20 minute ferry ride from downtown Portland. Planning our trip on a Sunday, we were able to find free on-street parking close to the ferry terminal allowing us to avoid the pricey garage all together.
After picking up a few snacks at Hannigan’s Island Market, we headed to the Elementary School for a picnic and some down time. The kids had a blast exploring the many play structures, but we were also eager to explore the public beach farther down on Island Avenue. With a promise to return to the playground on the way back, we headed down the hill to the near-deserted beach, passing along the way a truck with the final state we needed to finish our license plate bingo game.
The quarter-mile beach had some great views of Portland as well as the nearby Diamond Islands. The biggest hit though was the beached dock taken out of the water for the winter. Not only did it provide a great spot for a snack, it also served as a makeshift runway for the younger fives as they barreled down the ramp and launched themselves in the air.
All in all, a ferry trip to an island in Casco Bay makes for a wonderful yet manageable adventure. With more islands to explore farther out on the line, we’re sure to be heading out again soon.
After spending most of our summer as perpetual tourists it has been odd to fall back into a predictable routine living in an area that we are mostly familiar with. In some ways we love the predictability of doing laundry in our own private washing machine and sleeping under a roof that probably won’t leak. However, we have come to miss spending most of a day outside, having picnics and exploring new and interesting places. Craving the spirit of adventure we decided not to return home yesterday after an early morning appointment and opted instead to follow in our old tourist footsteps.
Being a gorgeous fall day we decided to follow suit with many other tourists and head to the Portland Head Lighthouse in Fort Williams Park. Even though the city of Portland originally got its name from the lighthouse the park is actually in the town of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. While us older Fives are very familiar with the park we had never brought the kids to Fort Williams and were eager to share this spectacular destination at the mouth of Casco Bay.
Fort Williams park (now owned by Cape Elizabeth) offers 90 acres of walking trails, ball fields, and a look back at historic harbor defenses. Many people venture to the park just to see Portland Head Light which is the oldest light house in Maine and definitely one of the most widely photographed. However, we love Fort Williams for being a perfect picnic destination. From our picnic table high atop a hill near one of the old defensive batteries we had an amazing view out over Casco Bay. You can’t beat sitting in the sun eating lunch while watching the boats sail into the bay and the waves crash on Ram Island. We even had the pleasure of watching a schooner come about so quickly that we could see its keel for many minutes as the strong winds filled its sails and pushed it far to one side.
After watching the boats, finishing our picnic and flying a kite we took the opportunity to read about the defensive history of the fort and check out some of the remaining military buildings. While we didn’t venture down to the very crowded lighthouse our visit was enough to remind us how much we enjoy being tourists and how wonderful a break from the everyday routine can be.