Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Vacation, Baby, Vacation! 

K. and I spent the five days preceding the Toronto Film Festival in on Bar Harbor, Maine. It was a great vacation and we’ve been enjoying our memories of it ever since.

Vince Vaughn’s character in Swingers is known for the phrase “Vegas, baby, Vegas!” It refers to all the great things he’s going to do there. He’s going to have fun. He’s going to break rules. Well, for us married, non-gambling, non-carousing types, the cheer might as well be, “Vacation, baby, vacation!” Vacation is where you do all the fun things you like to do. And even if they don't work out perfectly, in the stressless, anti-gravity zone of vacation, they can still be great.

For us that generally means lots of leisurely strolling, lovely views, good food and art. Based on that premise, Bar Harbor was a bit hit with us.

Vacation Planning, K-Style
As Toronto was the impetus for our vacation and we decided to take some time in front of that to do a lengthier trip of some sort, K's original idea of going to Bar Harbor was predicated on the idea that Mt. Desert is roughly parallel with Toronto, geographically speaking. So she thought we'd fly up to Bar Harbor (Bangor, really) and then across to Toronto. She's a serious optimizer, so progress must always be made in the predetermined direction of your final destination.

While we were still in this phase of planning, a further enticement tilted the scales towards Bar Harbor when we chanced upon a New York Times "36 hours" column via tripadvisor.com that bewitched K.

You see the Times piece mentioned a place called Reel Pizza Cinerama, a movie theatre that serves gourmet pizza. Its description mentioned couch seating and a bingo board that alerts patrons silently that their order is ready. Ooooooh.

You might wish to ask, "Can't you just do that at home?" Well, yes. And you might then remember the chronology of our vacation and note, "And weren't you going to a FILM FESTIVAL in just a few days anyway?" And we'd have to agree that you are - again - correct. We're just a little goofy, ok? We like movies. We like pizza. We like couches. There's no other defense forthcoming.

In any case, hypnotized by the Reel Pizza Cinerama concept we continued our Bar Harbor research and learned about the wonders of Acadia National Park. Acadia sounded like the perfect national park for couch potatoes. Lots of beautiful, relatively easy hikes. (A national park famous for a popover restaurant, for chrissakes.)

We set about trying to figure out where we should stay. Somewhere along the way, we became aware of The Bayview. A helpful visitor had posted a review on tripadvisor complete with photos. It looked quite promising.

Finally having committed our hearts, we began to look into booking our travel. Funny thing that. So yes, you could say that Bar Harbor is on the way to Toronto in that both are far north of The City. But when you go to book flights, it turns out that - as they say in various jokes - "Yah can't get theah from heah." You have to fly NYC to Maine. Maine back south to Boston. And Boston to Toronto. Oops.

Given that from an airtime standpoint it wasn't much of a hassle, we ignored our original premise and we went.

Bar Harbor Proper
We arrived at The Bayviewto fresh cookies. A recent hotel trend in the last few years that we enjoy and encourage. It was dark, so we had no idea what the view was like. When the sun came up, we were thrilled. The hotel is right on Frenchman's Bay and every single room faces the water. It is a terrific view. (This is the view from our room.)

We decided to spend our first day exploring the town of Bar Harbor. We located Reel Pizza Cinerama and checked the movie schedule. Natch. And we noodled around. As K. says, "Bar Harbor is a dopey little town in many ways. Lots of junky shops."

Which is true. There are a few art galleries, however. And me, being me, insisted that we enter nearly all of them. Good thing we did.

In the Cygnet Gallery, we met Ryan. Cygnet turns out to be a side venture of the Swan Agency, a local realtor, and Ryan is Swan's newest hire. As he is settling in, he is also working in the gallery. Ryan turned out to be a goldmine.

In addition to having an adorable dog that K. immediately adopted, Ryan has been wandering around the globe for eight years as an itinerant extreme sportsman. So he's hiked every last trail in Acadia and knows more about the park than anyone who works there.

He is also the sort of connector and maven who has learned pretty much all there is to know about the island. He was able to tell us what trails to do (given our sordid, slothful lifestyle), what restaurants to each in and generally everything we needed to know about the lay of the land.

We went back to visit Ryan several times on our stay, reported in on our successes, hung out...and, of course, bought a lovely little oil painting by Holly Ready. (My theory was that I was going to take it to work for my office, but K. became enamored of it and it's ended up on the walls at home.)

Annals of Acadia: Our Poor Sense of Direction Induces Unnecessary Exercise

After having dedicated the first day completely to being in town, we spent large parts of our subsequent days hiking in Acadia and returning to town for dinners.

We did a number of the recommended Acadia activities. We hiked along the shoreline around Thunder Hole (the hole itself being a non-event, as Ryan had warned us) and across Sand Beach to the Great Head Trail.

The Great Head Trail was our first serious hike and our navigational skills completely betrayed us. Minutes from the end of our adventure, we strayed from the Trail to skitter out to one of many cliff views. We knew we were close to the end because the trail is a circuit and we were facing Sand Beach where the trail began. On our cut back into the trail, however, we accidentally crossed paths and ended up somehow totally reversing our direction and doubling the length of our hike!

We hiked the Jordan Pond Trail - which is pretty easy, gorgeous and by far K's favorite trail. And no wonder as our hike there ended perfectly: with popovers at sunset at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant; sitting at a table on the lawn along the pond's shore.

We also walked the Eagle Lake Trail, which is very rocky and not for the weak of ankle. I felt terrible for the older folks we saw on the trail coming in the other direction. I’m sure had no idea what they were in for.

Another directional miscalculation extended our Eagle Lake adventure by several miles, but it was fun. We ended up hiking up onto one of the Bubble Trails which connects to the Eagle Lake Trail - where I snapped this 360 degree plus panorama.

Finally, no trip to Acadia is complete without a sunrise and a sunset on Cadillac Mountain. This is where the sun first rises on the eastern shore of the U.S. and it's a stunning view. After getting up for the sunrise, we decided to go back and do a sunset, too. Well worth it. Can’t you tell by our glowing faces?

Northeast Harbor: Gardens & Acquisitions
We ventured over to the town of Northeast Harbor, which is much smaller than Bar Harbor and thankfully without the touristy t-shirt shops.

Just before we left Northeast Harbor, we chanced into the two lovely gardens that we would absolutely have passed on were it not for a strange and garrulous clerk in the town bookstore. After she had been burbling on nearly schizophrenically for a good eight minutes, I thought my head might explode. We desperately tried to pry ourselves away. As she finally acknowledged our need to leave her presence she unexpectedly blurted out that there were too terrific hidden gardens we needed to see before we left. We weren’t sure if she was trustworthy as a tour guide, but thought there would be no harm in confirming a) their existence and b) whether they were worth seeing.

The first garden was the Asticou Garden and the other was the Thuya Garden. Asticou is a Japanese style garden with lovely details like this stone path through a stream. Thuya is also lovely little gem of a garden and it has some great views out over the harbor.

I have a thing for dragonflies. And at each of these little pastoral hideaways, I encountered a dragonfly of a different hue. The one in the Asticou was tiny, trim and had lovely blue eyes. The Thuya was heavier set and bright red. Both were kind enough to pose for my nifty, new Nikon.

Also in Northeastern Harbor, we discovered the Shaw Gallery. In addition to snagging some ear bling, the discovery of this store also led (after days of mulling) to our second painting purchase of the vacation. (Honestly, that’s an all time vacation record. I love buying art, but two in one vacation was really a fluke. I have to say that or K. will kill me.) It's a gorgeous piece by David Vickery (a rising Mohegan Island painter) which is very appropriately themed based on our time spent worshipping Maine sunrises and sunsets and which is now prominently situated in our living room.

Food & Flicks
Dining around Bar Harbor is pretty good. It's chock full of restaurants, given its size. Although a number of them seem overrated. I found the well reviewed Cafe Bluefish, for instance to be big on homey ambiance and a real dud on service and very disappointing in terms of the food itself. The same was true of the famed brunch at 2Cats. Hands down the best restaurant we found was Havana. Great food, great ambiance and - for those who imbibe - a great wine list. The other place worth noting for brunch is Cafe This Way.

By now, you're wondering what happened to Reel Pizza Cinerama. Seems like we did an awful lot of hiking, eating and purchasing, right? Well, we did finally make it to a flick at Reel Pizza. The movie was pretty good (The Beautiful Country) and the BBQ chicken pizza was also pretty good, although the BBQ sauce was sweeter than I like it. But did that slow me down? Nope. Not for one second. Vacation, baby, vacation!
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