June 14-17, 2017

copyright Jay Ducharme 2017

Karen and I set out for our yearly trip to Ogunquit, Maine, early on Wednesday.  This was our "decompression" vacation, mainly to relax by the ocean.  Once again, we stayed at the Norseman, a set of hotel buildings right on the beach.  We arrived there at about noon, and our room wasn't ready but the clerk said they would call my mobile number when it was ready.  They gave us our parking slip which we put in our car window.  The weather was delightful, with sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s.  It was a perfect day to be outside.

The first order of business was to get something to eat, and Karen knew exactly what she wanted.  So we set off on foot for the Marginal Way en route to Perkins Cove.  The twisting narrow path along the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic ocean was one of our favorite walking spots.  Bountiful clusters of sea roses lined the way along with every manner of invasive plant species.  The town of Ogunquit had begun the removal of all the invasive plants and started re-landscaping with native flowers and shrubs.  As we walked, we could see a large sailboat in the distance gradually making its way toward the Cove.  We also passed a curious looking boulder that gave the appearance of a sleepy bison

We paused occasionally to sit on one of the many benches by the cliff's edge and gaze peacefully at the water rolling in.  We had no particular time schedule to meet.  But Karen did have her mind on her objective.  The 1.5 mile walk  concluded as we entered the Cove by the busy Oarweed restaurant.  Across the street at Barnacle Billie's, a crowd was gathering.  But Karen and I pressed on down the Cove to her favorite place, The Lobster Shack.  She could already taste the thick juicy lobster roll.  When we arrived, the waiting line stretched out the door and into the parking lot.  The employee at the door suggested going next door to a brand new restaurant that just opened, The Trap.  She said it was owned by the same family and had the same food.  So we headed over to the empty-looking building.  A woman enthusiastically greeted us at the door.  The thing I loved about The Lobster Trap was its really good veggie burger.  No such luck at the Trap, though.  We ordered at the counter, as we would have done at the Shack.  They did have a lobster roll for Karen.   I chose their ahi sandwich.  We were guided toward a seat outdoors in the back, which we were told had a beautiful view of the ocean.  It was a small patio where two other people were seated.  The view was of a small part of the Cove's inlet, mostly piles of stone.  They brought our drinks, a lemonade for me and the usual Diet Coke for Karen.  Meanwhile more people arrived and filled up most of the empty tables.  The other people who arrived after us got served first, which I thought was odd.  I didn't think our meals would take that long to prepare.

After about twenty minutes, our food arrived.  By the look of the restaurant interior, the fancy plates and the presentation of the servings, it was obvious that the Trap was trying to be an upscale version of the Shack.  Both our sandwiches were served on stylish black ceramic dishes with seasoned pasta instead of potato chips, plus homemade pickle chips.  My sandwich was absurdly thick, seeming to be half of an ahi tuna that was pan-seared.  It had a slightly smoky flavor and was served on a bun with arugula and garnished with a wasabi dressing.  It was really tasty.  The pasta was good as well.  The pickles surprised me; they were the best pickle chips I've ever tasted.  Karen liked her lobster roll, but had her heart set on the Shack.  She preferred its more rustic setting.  As expected, it wasn't exactly cheap to eat anywhere at the Cove; our light meal came to just under $50.

As we were eating, some elderly couples at tables next to us were talking excitedly about former President George H.W. Bush.  Apparently that was who owned the big sailboat we saw earlier.  The Bush family lived in Kennebunkport a short distance away and would occasionally sail into the Cove to eat.  They were at Barnacle Billie's.  That was why we saw the crowd of people there.

After our meal we wandered through the little shops dotting the area and afterward headed back toward Barnacle Billie's.  The crowd had thinned and we were able to glimpse the former President and his family sitting at the corner of the restaurant's deck.  We then continued down Shore Road, past all the little shops and sprawling seaside hotels, until we came to another of our favorite eateries, Sweet Pea's.  We each ordered the blueberry pie ice cream, which was a perfect end to our mealtime.  It was lusciously creamy, thick with blueberries and chunks of pie crust.

We followed the shortcut behind Shore Road next to Sweet Pea's that led back over to the causeway where the Norseman was.  I still hadn't received a phone call, so  we headed out onto the beach.  It was a little windy, but the air was warm and, unusually, so was the water.  Maybe that was because Maine had just come off of a heat wave.  The sand was like velvet under our feet.  Karen gravitated toward the sparkling water and let it splash around her legs.  Since we were there during the off-season, the beach had very few people in sight.

After about an hour, we rinsed off our feet at the nearby beach house.  We arrived back at the Norseman about 3:00.  I still hadn't heard from them.  When I approached the desk, the clerk said they had called me.  But my phone hadn't received any calls.  The clerk off-handedly said, "I guess we had the wrong number."  At any rate, our second-floor room was ready and we brought all our belongings up.  We had stayed at the Skipper's Deck and I thought we were in the same building.  But it turned out we were in the building next door, the Sundowner.  We liked our room last year, but this year our room was even better!  We still had the same ocean view from the sliding door out onto the deck.  But the room itself was larger and more modern, as was the bathroom and walk-in shower.

After unpacking and getting settled, we took a walk back into town.  We passed over the causeway as the tide was coming back in.  The water was a brilliant emerald green.  The downtown area was bustling, with busy restaurants and lots of shoppers (and lots of traffic too).  The main intersection at Shore Road and Route 1 was a congested tangle with four roads converging at different angles.  We stopped into the eclectic Village Food Market, which always had interesting selections, and made notes for future reference of what we liked.  We browsed through the nearby pastry and candy shops and then headed back to the beach for one last stroll before sunset.  The gulls were out in force, soaring overhead, looking for food.  We took in the peaceful scene then went back to our room for the night with the sound of the rolling waves lulling us off to sleep.

The next morning we were greeted with the sight of the sun rising over the seemingly endless Atlantic.  Our room included free breakfast at the hotel's eatery, Splash.  So we availed ourselves of that opportunity.  It was a little after seven in the morning and there wasn't a lot of activity yet.  We were seated on the restaurant's deck overlooking the beach.  It was another beautiful sunny day, slightly cooler than the day before.  We gave the waitress our coupon and she brought over special guest menus with a fairly limited selection (mostly eggs, sausage and bacon).  We asked if we could substitute home fries for the meat, and she told us that wasn't allowed but that we could pay for home fries.   So Karen got an omelet and I got two blueberry pancakes, and we added the home fries.  I asked for a large orange juice as well and was brought a small plastic cup of juice.  If that was their large, I probably would have needed a magnifying glass to be able to see their small one.  While we were waiting to get our food, Karen asked if I'd like to make a trip up Route 1 to Funtown in Saco.  So we planned for a visit.  The breakfast finally arrived and was okay.  The home fries were small cubes that tasted somewhat like potatoes.  The pancakes were good.  Karen liked her omelet.

With full stomachs, we got in the car and drove north along Route 1.  There were a couple of stores we wanted to stop at:  Harbor Flags, where we got spinners for our yard, and a shop Karen had just read about, Nature's Gifts.  Since it was still early in the morning, most of the businesses were still asleep.  We passed Congdon's Donuts, one of our favorite eateries, and it was mobbed with people.  We drove along through the upscale community of Kennebunk with its immaculately manicured streets and fancy shops, and then passed through the depressed community of Biddeford.  The contrast couldn't have been starker, with run-down looking buildings and streets in need of maintenance.  It had the increasingly common appearance of a New England factory town (with even a section called Factory Island) where business had simply dried up (ironic since the town was surrounded by the Saco River and its tributaries) and they had yet to find a new purpose for the community.

The streets of Biddeford relented to the heavily commercialized highway leading into Saco, with its seemingly unending rows of chain stores and restaurants.  Within a short time after that, we had arrived at the entrance to Funtown.  The waterpark area had continued to expand, though when we were there it hadn't yet opened for the season.  Parking was still free and we found the lot nearly empty as we drove in.  There was only one other car there, but lots of school buses were pulling in for class outings.  Because it was the off-season, admission was only $20.  That was a good bargain.  Everything was operating except the waterpark.  We got our tickets and waited for the gates open.  The park's intense wood coaster, Excalibur, visible from the parking lot, was running through its test cycles.

While we were waiting at the gates, one of the attendents was admiring the Excalibur shirt I was wearing.  The park no longer sold much ride-specific merchandise like that.  The shop next to Excalibur that once sold knight armor and plenty of Excalibur-themed gifts had been converted into a generic gift shop.  I was glad I had gotten their coaster souvenirs when I did.

By 10:00 a long line of school kids had formed behind us.  The park opened and we walked through the gates, swamped by the stream of kids running past.  We took our time walking toward the far back of the park to Excalibur.  Outside of the ever-expanding waterpark area, there hadn't been a lot of changes.  The park's landscaping was still outstanding.  They had added a picturesque display of two colorful dragon statues near the entrance.  The vast expanse of picnic pavilions to the right had been converted into an area called Dock 60 that was being promoted with the simple subtitle "craft beer and eatery".  Given that the majority of the park was for children, I was surprised to see a beer garden.  But I guess the adults needed something to do.

We continued on over the wood ramps (which were starting to show their age) and toward the Camelot bridge leading to Excalibur.  We walked up the sloping path toward the large castle that served as the coaster's station.  Just before the entrance, the line was split up into three different queues: front seat, back seat and all other seats.  Naturally, we headed for the front.  The station was nearly empty and we boarded the next train and buckled ourselves into the thickly padded seats.  Most of the structure was invisible from the midway, sheltered by a forest.  We climbed the long lift hill.  At the top, the track curved slightly to the left and then we plunged down the surprisingly long and steep drop.  We flew up to the second hill, turned right then flew down the next drop.  The rest of the ride was a non-stop blur of confusing twists and turns, all with some of the strongest lateral forces I've ever experienced on a coaster.  The turns had very little banking, tossing us from one side of the train to the other.  We were thankful the seats were thickly padded.  There were a few bunny hops along the course, but Excalibur was mostly about disorienting changes of directions.  We returned to the station breathless.

I was still amazed that this little park had such a world-class coaster.  It was just intense enough to thrill guests, but it wasn't punishing.  And it was a pretty long ride.  Excalibur was the crown jewel of the park and made Funtown a priority for any coaster enthusiast to visit.

After that we queued up for the Thunder Falls Log Flume.  For some reason (probably because of the small plot of land it occupies) this has the tightest turns of any log flume I've ridden, with the boats slamming into the sides of the concrete trough as they try to negotiate the corners.  But other than that, it's a pleasant ride with a pretty wet splashdown at the end.

Next door was one of the park's two antique car rides, this one simply called the Antique Cars.  It was a short but enjoyable excursion.  We then wandered toward the south end of the park where the majority of shops and kiddie rides were.  There used to be an alleyway filled with game booths.  On our last visit that alley had been blocked off.  This year it was reopened and now featured a kiddie carousel as its centerpiece, with only a few game booths remaining.

We crossed over the bridge leading to the northeast section of the park.  We could hear the Stinson band organ of the Classic Carousel.  On several previous visits, the organ was badly in need of maintenance.  But on this visit, it sounded great!  We took a merry spin on the ride's menagerie animals.  I sat on the unique blue creature that was part seahorse, part dragon and part horse.   From there we walked next door to the Barney Oldfield Roadsters, the park's other antique car ride that circled alongside a busy go-cart track, and took a brief spin on that.  Nearby was Balloon Race, a Ferris wheel that for some reason we had never ridden.  So we queued up for that (and were the only passengers for that ride).  The ride wasn't very tall, so it didn't offer the panoramic views of standard Ferris wheels.  But it did offer a long ride, with about a half-dozen circuits in one direction and then a half-dozen more in the other direction.

We next walked through the colorful area of the park that housed Dragon's Descent, the park's drop tower.  It was the only attraction in that area and yet it was also one of the best-themed areas in the park.  There were new lanterns hanging overhead, converging above a landscaping display where different colored flower were arranged into the yin/yang symbol

Karen was getting hungry, so we headed over to the Hungry Bear for some French fries.   Unfortunately, the line was really long and it didn't seem to be moving very quickly.  The one other concession that sold French fries was next to the Antique Cars and apparently only sold fries doused with black pepper, which didn't appeal to Karen.  Instead we entered the nearby Heritage Gifts shop.  As usual it was filled with all sorts of ornate merchandise, from scallop plates to wind chimes to sweatshirts.  Karen spotted a new Excalibur magnet, so I got one of those.  And after a few hours in the park, we decided to head out.

We do like Funtown/Splashtown.  It still wasn't a park where we would spend an entire day, but the off-season rate was reasonable for a short visit.  Years back, we could easily spend an hour on their wonderful miniature golf course.  But that was removed to accomodate the ever-expanding waterpark.  Even so, Funtown remained a beautiful park and Excalibur was still a fantastic ride.

For a late lunch, Karen was determined to make it back to the Lobster Shack.  We parked back at our hotel and then set out on foot for Perkin's Cove.  There was a smaller line this time and we had to wait only a few minutes to be seated.  They were having a special, so Karen ordered her much-coveted lobster roll with a cup of fresh clam chowder, plus a shrimp cocktail.  I ordered their black-bean-and-spinach veggie burger plus a corn-on-the-cob and we sat down at our table in close quarters with dozens of other diners.   Within a few minutes, our meals arrived.  Karen wasted no time digging in to her lobster roll.  The meals also came with chips and the restaurant's delicious home-made cole slaw.  The corn-on-the-cob was done to perfection: crisp, juicy and sweet.  The veggie burger was terrific.  Karen loved the clam chowder.  It was a very satisfying meal.

We walked back via Shore Road and paid another visit to Sweet Pea's for our blueberry pie ice cream treat.  We took our usual shortcut back toward the hotel.  Karen noticed a large group of people heading out from the inlet, practicing surfing on longboards.  There were also numerous people fishing.  We strolled for miles along the quiet beach as high tide gradually approached.   Then we retired for the evening.  We hated to leave the beach on such a perfect day; the forecast for the next few days was for rain.  Fortunately, we had the slider in our room which allowed the ocean to remain with us even though we were indoors.

As expected, we awoke on Friday morning to heavily overcast skies.  But fortunately the rains hadn't come.  We took another walk along the beach with only the seagulls for company.  This was going to be our shopping day.  So first we headed off to one of our favorite spots for breakfast, arriving at Congdon's Donuts in Wells at about 7:30, beating the daily rush.  Their donut counter was busy, though, and they had already run out of some varieties.  Karen ordered a baker's dozen for later and we put the box in our car, then headed back in for breakfast.  I had been eating so much on this trip that I scaled back a little and ordered the "junior" pancakes and some home fries.  Congdon's also offered fresh-squeezed orange juice, so I ordered that as well.  I passed on the real maple syrup though; at $3 for about two tablespoons, it wasn't worth it.   The pancakes were good; the home fries were terrific; the orange juice was like eating an orange.  That was the best breakfast we had had in a long time.  When we got back into the car, of course, it was time for dessert.

We then drove north to Nature's Gifts, but when we arrived we discovered it wouldn't be open until 11:00.  So we drove back past Congdon's and over to Harbor Flags.  We had gotten some really nice wood spinners there in the past.  One was a cardinal and the other a seagull.  They sold a blue jay, and that what we stopped by to get.  Unfortunately, they had sold the last one a few days before.  I found an interesting fabric carousel spinner that I purchased.  We chatted with the friendly proprietor for a while before heading back to Ogunquit.

One place we were curious about was the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, off of Shore Road.  So we drove over to it.  The white low-slung building was inconspicuous, blending in with its extensive green frontage bisected by a pond and dotted with modern scuptures.   Next to the entrance was a fascinating metal sculpture by John Dirks of St. Francis of Assisi surrounded by birds.  It was also a fountain that produced a soothing trickling sound.

We paid the modest $10 entry fee and were given stickers for our jackets.  Then we were free to wander about the museum.  There were several exhibit halls.  We started on the left and worked our way around clockwise.  Many of the exhibits were by New England artists, some native to Maine.  There was a section about Ogunquit from the early 1900s.  A fascinating exhibit covered the relationship between Henry Strater and Ernest Hemingway.  My favorite was a large collection of work by Dahlov Ipcar.  It contrasted the drawings she made as a child with her later poltically-charged portraits.

Once we had finished exploring the galleries, we ventured outside.  There were several large whimsical animal scuptures by Bernard Langlais.  A giant aluminum piece titled Luna stood overlooking the ocean.  And there were fascinatingly graceful twisted stone sculptures by Gary Haven Smith.  We spent over an hour there in quiet contemplation.

Then we headed back to the Norseman and spent some more time walking along the beach.  It was just about lunch time and Karen knew where she wanted to go.  Rather than walk (in case of a downpour), we drove to Perkin's Cove and parked in the big lot there.  It was $4 an hour, which was reasonable.  So we pre-paid for an hour of parking and walked over to -- you guessed it -- the Lobster Shack.  When we got there, Karen noticed several parking spaces right there that were free, with a two hour limit.  I guess that will be good to know for next time....

There was no wait this time; we walked right in and placed our order.  Karen got her usual.  I got a tuna roll, along with that delicious corn.  When we finished our meal, it had begun to rain lightly.  We stopped by some nearby shops.  One, Perkins Cove Pottery, had some unusual and sonorous wind chimes.  So Karen picked out a few

By that point, Nature's Gifts was open.  So we drove back out toward Kennebunk until we came to the tiny shop.  It had an amusing sign out front of a squirrel in disguise, begging for food.  The store had lots of unique and attractive items, from dishware featuring colorful birds to feeders to bat houses.  Karen found a few items she liked and I got a hummingbird feeder that supposedly was one of the best on the market.

After that it began raining harder.  We drove back to our hotel room.  The rain was pounding at the slider and wind was whipping up whitecaps on the ocean.  We watched the scene as dusk gradually came, bringing our last peaceful night in Ogunquit.  The next morning we packed up, said goodbye to the seagulls and traveled back home.

Maine had become one of our most anticipated yearly vacations.  It was always the most relaxing trip because we never really had an agenda.  We were free to make plans on the spot and act on them at our leisure.  Or we could just spend time quietly walking on the beach, letting all the cares of our lives wash away with the waves.  And to me, that really is what vacations are all about.

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