Maine Stays A Fast Plane Trip Leaves You As Happy As A Clam

Posted: October 09, 1988

It was an impulse, a craving, a wild and crazy idea.

If we got up very, very early Saturday morning, Larry and I could hop a plane and be in Portland, Maine, by 10 a.m.

A weekend of steamers and lobsters, fresh salt breezes and cool, forested lakes was just that close.

And so it was that at 5 a.m. on a recent Saturday, the alarm clock went off, and so did we. With a rosy-fingered dawn, our odyssey to Maine had begun.

At 6:40 a.m., on schedule, our plane took off from Philadelphia with just enough time for a cup of coffee and a Danish before landing in Boston at 7:30.

The notion of spending two hours in an airport waiting for a connecting flight could be enough to take the blush off any destination. But Logan Aiport showcases some amazing artworks that help while away the time.

There's the mesmerizing mirrored wall that refracts passers-by into dozens of copies of themselves. We spent a delightful 20 minutes or so snapping artsy photographs of each other and watching people's reactions to their own images as they walked by.

Across the waiting room, a huge sculpture in pink and lime green moved in perpetual motion, with rubber balls rolling and bouncing through a series of chutes and channels. Along the way, the balls set off a gentle pinging of bells, chimes, pans and xylophones, before silently rising up a miniature elevator to start the symphonic roller coaster all over again.

Then there were the live lobsters swimming in the tanks at the take-home shop run by the famous Boston fish restaurant Legal Sea Foods. Even the airport's gift shop - packed with lobster-motif T-shirts, crocks of Boston

baked beans and pine sachets - makes for fine browsing.

At 9:25 a.m., our connecting flight took off and at 10:02 we stepped off in Portland, a rental car awaiting us. Most of our Philadelphia friends were still probably dawdling over breakfast, but we were already hungering for lunch.

We headed to the Old Port Exchange, Portland's own rehabbed version of Baltimore's Harborplace or Boston's Faneuil Hall. Here, fishing boats and sleek speedboats share the harbor, and landlubbers can walk past historic shipping buildings that blend in with the newer architecture of shops housing exquisite art galleries, trendy toy stores and chic boutiques.

FLOATING RESTAURANT

Our stomachs had been watching the clock for a while, and at last it was 11:30 a.m., about the earliest we felt we could respectably order lunch. We followed the suggestion of the friendly clerk who had rented us the car and

went to DiMillo's, a floating restaurant, a ship moored permanently at the waterfront. A wedding party was monopolizing the top deck, and a fair number of other folks were diving into the seafood down below.

We quickly worked our way through a creamy New England fish chowder; a tall pail of steamers - those tiny, thin-shelled clams with long black necks - served with a dish of clarified butter, and a luncheon special ($5.95) of linguine with plump, fresh clams you can't get from a can.

As the seafood kept coming, so did the visual feast out in the harbor, with boats of all shapes and sizes pulling in and out.

We could well have spent our weekend in Portland - eating fresh fish, maybe taking a sunset cruise onto Casco Bay, checking out the Andrew Wyeth collection at the Portland Museum of Art and visiting the childhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Or, like contented clams, we could have explored the coast - 10 miles north to the outlet city of Freeport (headquarters of L.L. Bean), a bit farther to Brunswick (home of Bowdoin College) and then to the vacation mecca of Boothbay Harbor.

OR KENNEBUNKPORT

We also might have pointed south 20 miles toward Kennebunkport, lately on the map as George Bush's summer retreat.

Instead, we headed inland in the direction of murmuring pines and hemlocks, as well as the maples and oaks that make for spectacular autumn vistas.

This part of the state is anchored by Sebago Lake and dotted with dozens of other smaller lakes and ponds set against the backdrop of New Hampshire's White Mountains, themselves just a half-hour away.

And although the experience is definitely quaint and not cutesy Maine, it's easy to feel transported far beyond when driving through towns with such names as Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Naples, Mexico and Paris. In summer, they are the mailing addresses of summer camps; in fall, they're a place to see the annual spectacle of russets, crimsons and golds.

Nearby is Fryeburg, home of Hopalong Cassidy-creator Clarence E. Mulford, whose collection of miniature covered wagons and big buffalo guns is on display in the local library. (The town is also famed for its huge agricultural fair, usually the first week in October.)

At 5 p.m., weary from our wanderings, we began the quest that can make or

break a weekend: where to spend the night.

BUT 'NO VACANCY'

That Saturday afternoon, as we headed down Route 302 into the resort town of Bridgton, only the trees were more prevalent than the "No Vacancy" signs.

Just as the sun was setting, we found a glimmer of hope at a small bed-and- breakfast.

Alas, it, too, was full, the innkeeper said, apologizing for not having put out his sign.

"Do you know anyone else who might have a room?" we plaintively asked him, near desperation by now and feeling no compunction about leaning on New England hospitality.

"Hang on. I'll call down the road."

Within minutes we were at Tom's Homestead 1821, suddenly exulting in the luck of one of those happy travel discoveries.

Refugees from New Jersey, Tom and Karen Doviak are among that indefatigable breed of innkeeper/restaurateurs who work ceaselessly. Or, as Tom puts it, "I take off a few hours here and there."

The reason we'd found a room (one of two above the restaurant) was that the Doviaks had just finished catering a wedding for 100 people, had yet to set up for their regular dinner crowd and were so exhausted that Tom had decided not to rent any rooms that night. Fortunately, it was Karen who had answered the phone and agreed to take us in.

For $45, we landed a quilt-covered double bed in a charming room and a breakfast so enormous it carried us through the day. (We counted six fruits in the salad, and there were orange juice, eggs, sausages, homemade apple muffins and rich, dark coffee.)

Although the restaurant closes for the season today, the inn stays open year-round.

Had we realized Saturday night what breakfast the next morning would bring, we might not have stuffed ourselves at dinner at the nearby Tarry-A-While resort, run by Hans and Barbara Jenni, who say they have the only Swiss restaurant in Maine.

The rosti - a type of home fries cooked in a pan like a gigantic pancake - were amazingly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. There was the traditional Wiener schnitzel as well as raclette, the famed Swiss version of fondue, served with potatoes and pickles and washed down with 16-ounce bottles of Grolsch beer.

For dessert, the Jennis fly in a renowned Swiss specialty - Engadiner nusstorte - a thick shortbread type of cake with moist nut-and-honey filling that hails from the Engadine section of the Alps.

Dinner totaled $45 - but you'll have to wait until Tarry-A-While reopens next June to repeat our alpine extravaganza.

Sunday, of necessity, started out early. If we didn't catch our 2:20 p.m. flight back from Portland, we wouldn't turn into pumpkins but we might become paupers - the later flights back to Philadelphia would cost us $100 more apiece.

We had time to see Stearns Pond near Bridgton, which in summer resonates with music played by the talented young campers at Camp Encore/Coda. But we could not stop to eat ice cream along the shores of the lovely Lake Sebago or rent a boat and fish for salmon.

Hey, this was just a weekend getaway.

As we landed in Boston and pondered the scheduled 2 1/2-hour layover, it suddenly dawned on us that we still had not had our lobster. How could we possibly go home without one?

Wait. There was still time. We ran off to catch the free airport shuttle to the subway and two stops, 20 minutes and 60 cents apiece later we were at the Aquarium stop and Faneuil Hall.

Most of Boston, it seemed, was browsing, eating and shopping in the crowded boutiques and stalls of this famed nouveau market, and for a precious hour we soaked up the colors and the aromas.

From one of the numerous food stalls, we shared a freshly steamed lobster, corn on the cob and coleslaw ($8.95).

We were still savoring it all long after 6:45 p.m., when our plane had landed back in Philadelphia.

*

Although summer air fare from Philadelphia to Portland dipped as low as $108 round-trip (on Delta), currently the lowest rates run $144 round trip on USAir. Check the airline for restrictions and penalties.

Car rentals in Portland are about $38 a day, unlimited mileage, and 5 percent cheaper for AAA members renting from Hertz or Avis.

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