Keep on the Sunny Side

After our initial panic about arriving too late to be checked in, we were so happy just to have a place to land. When we finally rolled into the Castlemaine Inn it was well past 11:00pm. We were so completely exhausted, I didn’t give a hoot what the place looked like. In the harsh light of day I was able to assess the situation, and the situation was floral. Very, very floral.  Decorative Waverley wallpaper can look lovely on an accent wall, but this pattern was everywhere!

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It started in the lobby…

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…continued to the sitting room…

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Oh my Lord, it got the couch too!

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…Guys, it followed us into the bedroom.

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Is there no escape???

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HELP MEEEE!!!!!

I thought I was a B&B person, but now I think I’m more partial to “Boutique Hotels”, like the Great George or  the Inn at Park Spring where we stayed in Portland a couple years back. Yes, there’s a bed and a meal in the morning as prescribed, but these rooms had a clean, hotel-style feel. There were crisp, fresh linens, updated fixtures all housed in a cozy atmosphere with personal service. This old Bed and Breakfast was just plain tired. It succumbed all the stereotypes associated with B&Bs. The accommodations were akin to the spare bedroom in your great- auntie’s house. It was clean enough but the old bedspread, thin pillows, and threadbare carpet didn’t quite cut it. Thankfully, there wasn’t a shared bathroom!

We slept in as long as the too soft mattress would allow and wandered out to the lobby for some coffee. Here’s where things turned around a bit. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning so we settled outside for breakfast.

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The sun soaked front porch.

A very friendly young lady let us know that homemade blueberry pancakes were being served up this morning. Yes, please.

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Coffee and OJ al fresco.

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This makes up for all the florals and cat pillows.

We gathered our belongings and set about discovering Bar Harbor. Longtime readers of my rambling musings may recall that Jeff and I have been to Maine dozens of times, but most of our visits are straight up to see the folks and straight back down. So, this is the first time we’ve been to Bar Harbor or Acadia National Park for that matter. We didn’t have a ton of time, or we may have gone on more of a hike, (who am I kidding?) but we were able to take a leisurely stroll along the Shore Path.

We had a bit of a hard time with the GPS. It kept bringing us to a residential street instead of a public parking area. Turns out, the residents allow easement to visitors, although there very well could have been a lot that we never found.

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Thanks, generous land owners!

The vistas from this path were breathtaking! Here’s just a few of the bazillion pictures I took.

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Rocky shores.

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Wait up! I’m photographing here!

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Here’s an example of the homes along the shore. This one’s for sale.

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I’ll take it!

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No Sir!

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Balance Rock.

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You can read all about it.

We thought this would be a good opportunity to use the time delay on the camera for a lovely portrait.

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Here’s how it went.

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Selfie it is!

Let’s get back to that view, shall we?

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Along with the private homes there are several hotels facing this gorgeous ocean vista.

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I could stand to have my morning coffee up there.

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We popped in and used the facilities and sat on the porch for a bit.

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View from the adirondack chairs.

I had researched where to have our lunch while in Bar Harbor and this was the place! Chairs and tables set up to go…tomorrow.

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D’oh.

Time to regroup. Let’s put on our thinking caps in this darling park at the top of the hill.

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We really weren’t that hungry yet anyway, those pancakes were hanging on. We decided to take a walk about and check out the shops.

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It’s too early for ice cream, Mr. Lobster, but thanks.

While there were a lot of shops and pubs open, the whole of downtown was feverishly preparing for the official Memorial Day kick off to summer.

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Lot’s of sprucing up going on.

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Don’t touch.

We dipped into a shop that had a sparkling display of stained glass sun catchers.

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Kaleidoscopic.

We were barely through the threshold when we spied the prices of these delicate disks. One of the saucer size sun catchers was over $600!!!

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No sudden movements.

While we were in there, ever so briefly, the owner was working with some customers  so he mustn’t have seen me snap these pictures. I’m pretty sure of this, because when I looked up the name of the shop, I found absolutely scathing reviews of the place and the gruff owner. There’s no photography allowed in the store and it seems the owner spends most of his day barking at potential customers that this is the case. The reviews are pretty hilarious.  Here’s just a sampling:

“I stopped on the sidewalk to take a picture of the shop, which is crammed unbelievably full of sun catchers. The ornery old shop keeper hustled out the door to fuss at me for taking a picture IN PUBLIC. We looked around and spent exactly zero thanks to his attitude. “-Arthur W.

“Very, very rude person that owns this store. I went in and tried to answer a text today while in there and he chased me out of there thinking I was about to take a picture while I had to intentions of it. He must keep the world’s secrets in there since he is so paranoid. Honestly no wonder his store is so full of stuff, he must never sell anything due to his rudeness.”Genevieve B.

“Wow! You want a repulsive experience to put a dark shadow on an otherwise brilliant day? Stop into this shop. The anger and hatred seeps from every corner of this shop. Pass by and stay happy. Stephen King: stop by, there’s a horror book to be written with this shop as inspiration. May I suggest Little Glass Shoppe of Horrors?”Steven H.

The place is called Suncatchers, so if you’re in the neighborhood, say “Hi!”and snap a few pictures. It should go just fine.

Up Next: We find a place for lunch and roll on into the last gig of the International Tour!!!

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Every Mile A Memory

We made our way back east to our lovely hotel. We were thinking of stopping by a pub for a quick one to commemorate the day, but we also had to watch the time because would be playing a show in just a couple hours. We thought better of it and continued on to the  Great George when Lo and behold, there was a cocktail hour going on where they serve beer and wine, gratis!

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Notice the label? Yup Gahan House Brew!

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I was in a wine kinda place.

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So relaxing.

This was a perfect set up for bringing on a nap. We were rested and ready for our first International gig!

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It was this close. Walking distance.

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Boom! We’re here.

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Taps a plenty

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The place was pretty full for off season.

We had a pretty great show. We met several folks who were adamant about us coming back here and strongly advised visiting other provinces in Canada. One gent was there from beginning to end, singing along and making us feel very welcomed and appreciated. All it takes is one person who’s all-in to make the night.

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Said fellow took the pic. He was a wee bit drunk.

 

Sadly, the next morning we would be checking out of our hotel. We enjoyed our stay here so much!

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If only we could have stayed long enough to see the tulips bloom!

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Back in the USA!

We were pretty hungry for some lunch now that we were back in the USA.  I was hoping to find a nice outdoor restaurant for seafood of some sort on a sunlit patio. We spotted a place right over the border, but it wasn’t open for the season yet. Sad trombones!  This was a casualty of traveling pre-Memorial Day.  We drove on for quite a long time with zero prospects for food when we came upon this joint:

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It was open.

This place was pretty dang funny. The menu consisted of literally everything under the sun.

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Turkish? You got it. Pierogies? you bet. Fajitas, no problemo. Manicotti? Molto Bene!

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The decor was as eclectic as the menu.

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Thrift store chic.

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It’s Christmas year round at the Nook and Cranny.

The host/owner/cook/dishwasher/waiter was quite enthusiastic. He made sure that we “liked” the place on Facebook before we even ordered.  We got a couple sammiches. They were fine. Notice how the potato chips were artfully spread out as to fully cover the plate in one thin layer. Classy.

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Chicken Parm sandwich. Suspect pickle.

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Some sort of Chicken Sweet Chili situation.

I may have griped a bit about settling for this just okay lunch, but it turned out to be a good call. There was literally NOTHING for the remainder of our hours long journey to the next gig on our International Tour in Birch Harbor, Maine.

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Go ahead and guess what the name means.

Though we had booked our next stay at Bar Harbor, this show was about an hour north. This little fishing village had none of the tourist trappings of other seaside towns. This place was strictly locals. When we arrived it was DEAD.  We were so tired from the long drive that I mused that being sent away might not be such a bad thing.

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Hello, folk!

We met the owner, Sarah. She was a sweetheart to invite us to play, knowing nothing about us. She was a wonderful host as well. We asked if she would prefer if we start a bit later, after more people arrived.  She was fine with that and suggested we belly up to the bar for a beer.

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The start of a good evening.

So, if you haven’t Googled “pickled wrinkle” yet for fear of what you may find being NSFW, here’s the story:

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Pretty cool, huh?

And it’s not just a story, they have them at the ready for the brave souls who want to give them a try. I concurred that they were survival food. Jeff really liked them though.

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We tried ’em.

This story about this titular sea snail, really embodied the place. The Pickled Wrinkle stays open all year, through the tough coastal Maine winters, providing sustenance to the surrounding families.  Tonight was the first “Rib Eye Night” of the year. Locally sourced prime meat is the star. They bring out the Weber and do all the grilling outdoors.  Man, it smelled heavenly.

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Chef/ Co-owner/ Husband of Sarah manning the grill.

 

Our concerns about it not being busy enough for music were unfounded. In fact, the locals had all already called in their “ribeye” orders days in advance because it’s such a popular event. As people trickled in, they piled into tables together and moved about, chatting with friends and neighbors. It became clear that this small, tight knit community was something special. On our breaks we talked with lots of folks including a lifelong lobster and fishermen. He looked as if his skin was made of elephant hide, he was so sun and wind burnt. He was still wearing his waders. We talked a bit about the challenges of keeping ahead in such a difficult industry. It’s a tough living up here.

We finished our show and we were warmly received. Next, we were treated to dinner. We asked Sarah what to try, in addition to the ribeye of course, and she suggested the seafood stew.

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More of a chowder, but packed with all manner of tender seafood. Delish!

This ribeye was the tastiest cut of beef I can ever recall enjoying. Perfectly seasoned and laced with cheeky, melt-away fat. It was gorgeous!

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A thing of beauty.

We were completely burnt at the conclusion of this night, but we still had an hour’s drive ahead of us. We had a moment of panic when I remembered that this stay was at a Bed and Breakfast. I hadn’t even considered that there may not be anyone there to check us in. I looked at my phone and there were two missed calls from them. Oh no.  To add to the evening’s stress, we almost immediately came upon an accident. A woman had just hit a deer seconds before we approached. Jeff checked on her. She was fine but her passenger, her mother wasn’t, and not because of the accident. They were on the way to hospital because her mom was having severe back pain! We stayed long enough for the first responders to arrive and said a prayer for them. I finally got in touch with the inn keeper and there were no worries, the keys would be waiting for us in an undisclosed location when we arrived.

Whew, what a long day! I’m too tired to even start with the B&B. Let’s just say, I never knew how much floral you could stuff into one room.

NEXT UP: BAH HAHBAH

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Prince Edward Island is Heaven to Me

Today we would be carrying out a mission. The whole reason we planned this trip was to bring my dad back home. We had been on the island for a good twenty four  hours and had been wowed by the gorgeous vistas. The ride over to the West side of Prince Edward Island, however proved to be, by far, the most resplendent.  The potato fields were newly plowed, showcasing the stunning red clay soil.

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Breathtaking

 

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It just keeps getting more gorgeous.

 

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Rolling hills

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Close up, potatoes to be added later.

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This is just the sort of scene I remembered from my childhood visits.

After a bit of searching, I was able to connect with a cousin of mine Claudette, who knew and loved my dad very much. I thought she still lived in the Island, but not so. They moved over to Nova Scotia, but kept their family home in O’Leary, PEI for visits during the summer. She and her daughter Heather were sweet enough to make the four hour drive over to meet us and be a part of our farewell.

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Getting closer

I remember sitting on this porch with my Nana and her sister, Aunt Lila, prepping green beans from the garden for dinner.

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Aunt Lila’s house.

We gathered in this sweet house and chatted for a bit, looking over old family albums and enjoying some snacks. Soon it was time to make our way to West Point.

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So hospitable

The one key feature of this area is this Iconic Lighthouse. Honestly, there’s really nothing else here. No tourist trap, saltwater taffy, tee-shirt type stores. No trendy restaurants, nothing. Just beautiful red sand beaches and this here lighthouse.

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Iconic

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The hard winter shown on the windswept sand dunes.

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The only other souls on the beach.

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Driftwood

 

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Sharing stories with my cousins.

 

It was time to say goodbye.

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Dad and his beloved, Annette.

This was something I needed to do on my own. We prayed together and then I made my way down to the ocean. It was solemn, beautiful and so very fitting. I know dad was smiling the whole time. I kept thinking, “I can’t wait to tell dad we went to West Point”. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone.

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Jeff wandered around a bit snapping pictures while we ladies were still talking. He came back with this shot of an old boat that I remembered from my childhood. It must have been here for at least fifty years!

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Looks like a painting!

We said our goodbyes to Claudette and Heather. Although they were pretty much strangers to Jeff and I, it was so much more meaningful having people there who knew Dad and loved him. I was so very glad they made this trip to be with us for this parting.

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Soul sisters

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Until we meet again!

A couple more looks back at the beach…

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Break wall.

 

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PEI has made an impression on this man.

This place was woven into my heart as a child, but this visit has secured my love for PEI. I’m so happy that Jeff fell hard for it too. We will surely be back at some point. To send you off, I’ll leave you with this ditty my Dad used to sing to me about the splendid Prince Edward Island.

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Where am I Going?

After a recuperative overnight at the Chateau Saint John, we were ready to make the next leg of our journey to Prince Edward Island. The vistas became more and more scenic as we moved northward.

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Inescapable roadside selfie.

When we crossed the border the day before we were confronted with an unanticipated problem, cell service. Jeff had traveled internationally many times, so his work phone was always covered. This time, not so much. His phone was knocked off because it was a personal trip. My phone was still online, however the data charges were wracking up so fast I received a warning that I was above a hundred bucks within thirty minutes after crossing the border. Oh, Canada! We straightened things out before we left Saint John but we still needed to use data sparingly for the remainder of our visit.  Because of this, we had to limit our GPS usage. This was not much of an issue until we decided to hop off the highway for some lunch. Here’s the thing; the signs that indicate food or gas off the expressway are a bit subjective in these rural areas. We got pretty turned around and could not only not find food, we couldn’t find our way back to the main road.

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Holy Crap, we’re totally lost.

We fired up my phone’s GPS to get ourselves unstuck, but were perplexed by the series of rural, roundabout roads we were directed towards. Honestly, I was getting pretty nervous. There were no signs of civilization anywhere…and then it occurred to us. Because I’m a wimp who doesn’t like to drive on the highway, my phone was set to “avoid freeways”. D’oh! We had been making our way across Canada via logging roads!!! We can laugh about it now, right?

The last time I ventured over toPrince Edward Island there was only one way to get there and that was the ferry. Now one can boot on over the Confederate Bridge. This is so much faster than the pervious manner of transport but I wasn’t super thrilled about driving for eight miles over the deep, dark scary ocean.

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Don’t break down, don’t break down, don’t….

 

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Land!!!!!

We quickly made our way to Charlottetown where we would be staying for two nights. I was torn between several hotels in the area but landed on the Great George. I’m so glad decided to stay here. The location couldn’t have been more perfect! We parked in the lot and were able to walk to all our destinations.

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The Great George Main House

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Multiple Houses

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Stately common room.

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Warm Fireplace

The room was more countrified than some of the others I’d seen online, but clean and cheerful none the less.

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Double bed. Ok.

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Coffee Service

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More product for my overnight bag

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A nice bath

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St. Dunstan’s Basilica right across from our room.

My diligent research (opening up Tripadvisor and typing “where to eat in Charlottletown”) yielded this result:

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Claddagh Oyster House; THE place to eat according to the masses.

The Oyster House wasn’t open until 5:00, but don’t cry for us Argentina, because the pub upstairs was pouring beer and serving Dollar Oysters.

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Don’t mind if I do.

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Small bar, friendly folks.

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I love foods you can eat by the dozen.

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This is the owner, Liam. I took it on the sly…

We stayed and chatted with some locals as well as Liam. We still had a bit of time before the dining room downstairs opened so we decided to take a walk where Jeff set about accosting and being accosted by the statuary around town.

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Two gents discussing the Confederacy.

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Watcha got back there?

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Gimme it!

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This guy’s dang curious about the Iphone.

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Fresh!!!

Things were pretty quiet around town, due the the fact that it was about a month out from tourist season here. The little ice cream shops and tee-shirt stores were still closed up tight. It made for a pleasant walk though.

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Boats yet to arrive

The downtown area is comprised of old brick front buildings that surely housed some former factory industries, though tourism had been the major force for the economy as far back and the nineteenth century. Charlottetown claims to be the “Cradle of the Confederacy”. Being from the states, I really knew nothing about what this meant. I’ll spare you the history lesson but you can learn more HERE.

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Electronic Arts video games sign can be spotted up top.

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I love the look of this brick and stone building. Reminds me of Savannah.

We decided to make a quick stop before dinner over to the Gahan House. More about this later, but we would be playing a show here the following evening and wanted to check it out ahead of time.

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Gahan House.

We didn’t know it when we approached the Pub about playing here, but this brew pub is a part of the award winning Prince Edward Island Brewing Company.

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Of course there’s Edison lights.

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Growlers!

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Educational what not.

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On site Brewery. This supplies the Pub only,

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Guess who’s mug was plastered all around the place!

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We had to partake now!

The time was upon us to sup. The look of the Claddagh Oyster House was completely different from the upstairs pub.

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Decorative water feature.

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Brick walls were adorned with modern artwork and fixtures.

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No Edison lights.

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We started with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc

I hadn’t really scoured the menu at home but, because of the name, I just assumed it would be good ole Irish pub grub. The menu was far more sophisticated. We had no idea what we were in for. I’ll tell y’all right now, this was one of the finest meals we’ve enjoyed in a number of years.

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The prices are Canadian dollars, very reasonable.

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Cheddar biscuits, not unlike Red Lobster. Hey, no judging.

 

We started with a foi gras tart. This was simply exquisite. Perfectly balanced between the buttery richness of the foi and the smoke of the chicken with just the right amount of acid. One for the books!

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Salt Cured Foie Gras Tart – Smoked Chicken, Bechamel, Pickled Shallots, Truffle & Balsamic

Next, another appetizer. There were three of these divine cakes. I forgot about my journalistic responsibilities, I was so excited! These as well were delectable.

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Crispy Fried Crab & Lobster Cakes – Celeriac Salad, Onion, Aioli & Tobiko Roe

Our server helped us to settle on the main course. This was no easy task. The menu  was filled with locally sourced ingredients and intriguing sounding components. We decided on the halibut. Depending on the time of year, this can be a portioned filet, but in the early spring they are serving whole baby halibut. This was one on the most amazingly simple yet luscious dishes I’ve ever enjoyed. A cloud of yummy sounds is surely still hanging over the building.

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A wee bit of lemon.

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Look at this baby!

The bacon lardons weren’t just thrown on the top, the whole fish was basted in this rich smoky fat. It flavored the whole fish.  The accompaniments were fantastic as well; colcannon potatoes. I had heard of these but never had them. So tasty! I’ve looked up recipes but nothing seems to match the flavors here. The potatoes were bright and almost lemony, perhaps parsnips were mashed along with the kale and carrots?

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Colcannon Potatoes. A revelation.

The squeamish may want to skip the next photo….

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Fish never stood a chance.

Jeff totally floored me and ordered dessert without the slightest consultation. I thought I knew the man. I’ve only had sticky toffee pudding once before and it was waaaaaaay too sweet. This was not the least bit treacly.

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‘Original’ Sticky Date Pudding – A MUST try!! Served with whiskey sauce, creme Anglaise and French vanilla ice cream.

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Whisky balanced it all out.

Whew! What a meal. It’s a good thing the Claddagh is a good ten hour ride away from us or I’d daily be mainlining colcannon potatoes! We turned in early because we would have a very long day ahead of us.  The Great George must have thought we were looking a bit peaked cause they had fresh chocolate chip cookies waiting for us.

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Man, I love Canada.

Up next: What we made the journey for…

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Going North

When we lost my dad last February, we almost immediately planned this trip. Dad was born and raised on Prince Edward Island. Though he moved to Boston as a teenager, he returned many, many times to his beloved PEI.  It seemed only fitting that we bring him and his late wife back to the place they held so dear. I hadn’t been to the Island since I was a kid, and Jeff had never been. I was a bit nervous that my memories of the glorious landscapes and red sand beaches may have been a bit distorted by childhood nostalgia, but I had nothing to be concerned about. It was just stunning. More on that later. We wanted to take our time, stopping for overnights in several key locations. We also decided, because we are a bit touched, to book a show while we were up north. One show turned into three. This was a whirlwind adventure filled with emotions, incredible scenery and of course, lots of food and drink! Our first leg of the trip was pretty short. We couldn’t help but stop in Portland Maine for a nosh.

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OTTO Pizzeria

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In case you missed it.

This place had been on our list of to dos on our overnight a couple years ago. You can’t eat everywhere, you know. We tried.  We didn’t know it at the time, but OTTO is technically a chain restaurant with locations in Massachusetts and Maine, four in Portland alone! This spot was teeny tiny.

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The extent of the bar.

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This is not the current menu, the bartender set me straight right away.

This bôite was the first of many on our travels to feature Edison Bulb light fixtures.  I’m not going to classify this trend as exclusively hipster, but if the filament fits…

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You know the bartender had a 1920s full beard too.

Our hirsute bartender was very enthusiastic and steered us toward trying the mashed potato pizza. We were intrigued. We each went for a slice while we decided on another full pie. This was surprisingly light for a carb on carb endeavor. Loved it!

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Mashed Potato, Bacon & Scallion slice

When the next round came, I thought for sure we’d be bring half on the road. Not so, it went down a treat.

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Spicy Pulled Pork with Scallion

We definitely had enough sustenance to make it to the border now.

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Not the best weather, but not the worst.

Fast forward six hours and BOOM! we’re in Canada! Going across the border was a bit nerve wracking even though we are upstanding citizens and all. I’m glad they didn’t ask many questions like, “Are you playing any unsanctioned gigs here?” or “Are you transporting the ashes of any loved ones?” cause then I’d have to fess up.

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Welcome to New Brunswick. It’s not as blurry in real life.

We had reached our destination for the evening. We would be staying the night in Saint John, but first we needed some dinner. Just a reminder, six hours had passed.  I had researched where one should eat in the city and Saint John Ale House seemed to be that place. We plugged it into the GPS, but when the kind lady said we had arrived at our destination, we couldn’t seem to find it. I rang the place up and discovered that it was inside a small shopping plaza.  This was our first experience with Canadian hospitality. The host stood outside the restaurant and waited for us, to be sure we found the place. Amazing! He lead us to a reserved table and chatted us up for a bit.

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Your table is ready, American tourists.

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This may have also been a tip off for us.

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Beer menu

 

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Cutely themed napkins.

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Oh look, Edison lights!

This is how the sausage is made, people.

Our server was a doll and brought us samples of local beers and cider to try before we made a decision.

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Mr. Jones had a cider! I thought I knew him. I had an IPA.

We settled on a couple of appetizers to start. The wings were scrumptious. I have to say, the carrots may have stole the show. Next we needed to try the local Bay of Fundy scallops with Dulse, which is seaweed. I didn’t know either.

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Salt & Pepper Wings, Pickled carrots, hot sauce, ranch

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Bacon Maple Scallops “Fundy, NB”; smoked bacon, cocktail sauce, dulse

The host came around again to make sure we were enjoying everything and then brought us out a bonus dish. He must have known we were game for anything. The chef may have been punking us with this melange of items, but we loved it. Raisins and herring? Who knew?

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Pickled Herring with Cream cheese and Herring Roe, Mustard and Raisin Bagel Chips.

We had already ordered the Dip or we could have been done. We soldiered through.

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Crab & Spinach Dip “Shippagan, NB”; rock crab, spinach, cream cheese, crispy pitas, parmesan

I didn’t see these glorious cured meats until we were exiting the Ale House. Why didn’t we order the charcuterie???

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Our host mentioned there was live music at the lounge downstairs. We were just shy of exhausted but couldn’t resist stopping in for one and hearing the local talent. This kid was so good! I wish I remembered his name. The only negative of the night was the extremely weak and expensive pour of whisky we endured at the bar. You win some…

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Thank you, young man.

Time to make our way to Chateau Saint John. I chose it merely for the location and the price, so we were taken aback by how lovely the place was.

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Nicely appointed lobby.

 

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Clean, spacious, comfortable.

 

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Mirrors upon mirrors.

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More product for my ditty bag.

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Café

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This is where I’d write my great american novel.

We had great night’s sleep. We’ll need it for the day ahead of us. No phone service and no GPS equals a nail-biting north woods adventure!

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Escape Route

Christmastime for our family has become less about stuff and more about experiences. For the past few years I have done my best to plan an outing of sorts that had the potential to  surprise and delight our now young adult children. Some have been more successful than others.  I was running through ideas for this year’s activity when I heard a podcast review of something call an “Escape Game”. I was completely unaware of this phenomenon. Apparently, there are escape rooms dotted about the country, usually in cities,  where you pay someone to lock in a room for an hour with the slim chance that you can figure out a series of puzzles and clues which will allow you to well, escape. I was intrigued. I did some research and discovered two such rooms in the Boston area. One, which had the puzzle type elements I had previously mentioned and another, which has the horrifyingly intense addition of a chained up zombie which looms closer and closer as the clock runs out.  We passed on that one, thanks. I don’t need that kind of pressure.

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No pictures allowed in the rooms. Just the lobby.

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Some tools to limber up the noggin.

I won’t keep you in suspense. We didn’t make it out. We got down to the last task but we really needed another ten minutes, at least, to figure it out. They do a really good job with these puzzles and clues. They are certainly solvable, but clever enough to make it a real challenge. If you’re on the wrong track you may simply get stuck even though they do throw you some hints from time to time. Here’s a few words of advice: The room holds up to ten people. We were a party of five so we expected to work with another team, but they never showed. I was happy because I wasn’t keen on being with a bunch of strangers, but it became clear that having more people will help get through the clues faster. Second, it’s super dark in there. You are asked not to take pictures, but you can keep your phone and use it for a flashlight, thank goodness. All in all it was a fun time and worth the price of admission. I think we’re making good memories here. We’ll find out when the kids write their memoirs.

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Can’t win ’em all..even with TWO engineers in the group!

Next on the agenda was dinner. Unlike previous years when I was numero uno in charge, my daughter Meghan piped up and chose the restaurant for our feast, Boston Chops. This bistro can be found on a list of 50 Boston Bucket list restuarants, specifically for the 18 oz. Bone-In Ribeye Steak. Sounded great to me!

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Boston Chops

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Slick Bar

I hastily took a few pictures, (see above) but in an effort to not embarrass my family too much, I refrained from taking  photos of the dining room. Instead I lifted one from the ‘net.

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This’ll do.

The atmosphere of this upscale steakhouse was well, a bit uneven. The design was beautifully simple and elegant with a bit of a masculine touch which was perfectly appropriate.  However, there were a few oddities which I’ll touch on here and there.

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Unique table presentation.

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You know everyone tries this on as a wrist cuff.

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Sturdy, attractive silverware.

Here’s an example of something that didn’t belong: the laminated menu. Granted, the offerings probably stay pretty constant here so they might not need to print up new menus frequently, but a plastic, placemat-style menu just did not match the caliber of the restaurant or the prices therein.

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Shall I have the $135 Chateaubriand or the Grand Slam Breakfast?

We started out with a cocktail which was extraordinary. I couldn’t find the description online, but suffice it to say it’s a blend of rye, ginger beer and pure golden sunshine. I can’t remember the last time I experienced such a well balanced aperitif.

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Well done, Mr. Mixologist.

Instead of a basket of bread, we were each presented with a heavenly, warm, eggy popover.

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Delightfully cute presentation.

Whilst we await our appetizers I’ll take a moment to mention another quirky element at Boston Chops, the music. With the mature, upscale surroundings one would expect to hear some jazzy piano or Ole’ Blue Eyes emanating from the sound system. Instead, they played loud, drubbing club beats. It was quite obnoxious and did not suit the room at all. We coyly asked if they might switch it up but our server said he’d been listening to this, ahem, music every day for years. Guess it ain’t gonna change.

On to the food!  I will tell you right now that there was literally nothing about the food we experienced that was fell short of expectation. We started with a selection from the “Rarely Celebrated” section of the menu, where you can sample things such as tongue, heart, cheeks and oxtail. We went with the Bone Marrow. It was superb!

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Roasted Bone Marrow: Gremolata | Onion Broth | Grilled Bread

Next, Jeff asked for a dozen of the oysters of the day. They very nicely split them onto two serving plates for easier sharing. Bravo!

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One of the plates of Oysters. Fresh and sweet.

Lastly, it was highly recommended by Meghan that we get the Pork Belly Mac and Cheese. It sounded so good we got two. It’s a bit of a misnomer because the pork belly element was just a small cube nestled on the top, not  incorporated all throughout. That being said, it was slap your mamma delicious! Not heavy or greasy, just perfectly balanced cheesiness.

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So flippin’ good!

Now for the mains. This is where your bill for the evening will turn from a bit pricey to the “take out a second mortgage” range.  This is a high end steak house and as is standard in such places, the cuts of beef are prime aged, served a là carte and quite expensive. The side dishes are just as much the star of show here! The portions are generous enough that table mates could easily share two or three.

Without further ado…

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18 oz  Prime Bone-In Rib Eye. Humina Humina.

This was Mr. Jones’ dinner. I had a taste, you better believe it and it was absolutely scrumptious! Perfectly seasoned and spot on medium-rare temperature as requested.

Now, the sides…

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Duck Fat Fingerlings with Lardons

Oh my. These potatoes were gorgeous, with huge chunks of spiced bacon lardons. Amazing. The brussels sprouts below were also “au canard” or cooked in duck fat, but they buried the lead on the menu because…more bacon!

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Brussels Sprouts Au Canard

In addition to the prime a là carte steaks, there are composed plates to choose from. I decided on the bone-in filet. The beef was not quite as mind blowing as the ribeye, but spectacular none the less. I have to say, ranking everything on the plate, I would put those mushrooms number one. Holy Umami! However, I was reaching my limit by this point.

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10 oz Bone-In Tenderloin- Potato & Goat Cheese Croquette | Asparagus | Béarnaise | Mushrooms

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Left- overs made a great breakfast in the morning.

Before we wrap up I’ll share the last quirky thing about this Bistro. The super weird art work in the bathrooms.

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whah????

Let’s take a minute to break this down. Here we have three super-hot chicks, along with one douchey dude (seemingly ogling on of the ladies’ bozooms) and a somewhat androgynous (fellow?) in the back, out for an evening at Boston Chops. No problem. Upon closer inspection you’ll notice that they haven’t eaten anything due to the rolled-up, signature napkins still nestled in their leather cuffs. Despite their empty bellies, they’ve seemingly polished off  TWO bottles of champagne along with approximately  TWENTY shots !!! What the H-E- double hockey sticks is going on here? Is this what they’re going after with the club music?  Do they want people to think of this place as a classy restaurant or a sleazy Las Vegas night club?

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Umm…

Snarky critiques aside, this was an absolutely tremendous meal with service that was friendly, yet formal, which is just what you’d expect from a place of this pedigree.  We had a fantastic evening and I’d certainly keep this place in mind for a special night in town. Maybe next year, after we attempt to escape the Zombie Room, we’ll try the brains…

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Boston Rose

We were about a week overdue in celebrating Jeff’s birthday. Our summer music schedule was delightfully full this year. The bulk of our shows were in Boston which meant a lot of travel, traffic and occasional colorful language from Mr. Jones, so I was surprised when he suggested we head into the North End for his birthday dinner. Where parking would be an unknown factor for this jaunt, we decided to make use of the public transit. We are not very MBTA savvy, but luckily our city girl daughter is a train ninja so she talked us through it. Speaking of our girl, we took a quick trip over to the Back Bay for a visit and a little wireless network help from Dad.

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The girl’s street. Pretty sweet. That’s a poem.

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Late summer planters showing their glory.

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Slumming it on the stoop, waiting for Meg.

With the network back online we headed on to the North End. For those of you who aren’t from around these parts, this is the famed area of Boston where one can partake in all sorts of authentic (after navigating around the tourist traps) Italian food and culture. Nearby you’ll also find the historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace and just steps from there, The New England Aquarium as well as Rowes Wharf. This is all navigable via pedestrian friendly walkways and dotted with beautiful green spaces and seating areas.

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Rose Kennedy Greenway

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Splash Fountains.

This is no longer the “Gritty Boston” of my youth. This beautiful, tourist friendly space is the result of the infamous “Big Dig” project. The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in the US, and was plagued by escalating costs, scheduling  delays, leaks, design flaws, charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials, criminal arrests, and even one death. The main objective was to ease traffic on Route 93. My friends, traffic here is just as bad if not worse than before this bloated project! However, this green space coupled with the ability to traverse the city by foot with ease has made such a huge improvement! Twenty billion dollars well spent!

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A stark before and after comparison.

Now, on to the food! We started in the heart of the North End, Hanover Street.

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This way!

We decided to have a “progressive meal” rather than spend the whole evening in one place. I hadn’t done any research ahead of time so we just wandered around until we found someplace interesting. We did a check with Yelp first, of course! There can be some real clunkers, even on Hanover Street, believe me. Long time readers of this blog may recall a pretty humorous visit to a certain eatery a few years back. Do yourself a favor and read the latest reviews HERE. They are high-larious.

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Our old haunt. Classy as ever!

Our first stop was Assaggio. The dining room was pretty much empty, but so was every other place we passed. The festivals had just ended so I figured that was the reason. Turns out, it was because we were eating as early as senior citizens. It got quite busy as the night wore on.

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I’m not sure what’s happening here, but I bet they had a lot of wine first.

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A nice oil presentation

 

Cherubs were a theme…

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I neglected to mention that it was pretty dang hot on this day, around ninety degrees, so we started out light. We ordered a couple of glasses of chilled Pinot Grigio (not pictured) and a nice cold appetizer.

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Hot Italian Stuffed Cherry Peppers with Provolone Cheese and Prosciutto

This was just as advertised. Tasty, but no heavy lifting for the chef.  The next course, however was exceptional. The menu simply lists them as Crab Cakes, no further description.

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Crab Cakes

These two morsels were indeed small, but certainly house made and packed with lump crab and very little filling. Putting the dish over the top was the lobster sauce accompaniment. This bisque-like sauce was luscious! Upon further consumption we discovered plump pieces of claw and tail meat as well. We soon ran out of crab cakes to dip in the sauce so we implemented the bread to finish it off. Heck, I would have dipped my flip flop in the stuff!

With our appetizer course finished we set back out to wander the streets in search of pasta! We enjoyed the sights along the way.

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The Old North Church

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A fine milliner was crafting chapeaus inside.

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About 30,000 anise cookies in the window.

We recognized this place from a previous visit. That time there was a line around the corner and we didn’t get in. We hoped it bode well for the quality of the food and took a chance on L’Osteria for our next course.

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Beautiful Plantings!

The dining room, again, was empty. I still hadn’t gotten the hint that it was simply early. I thought we’d have the whole North End to ourselves all night.

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Emptee!!!

When it comes to pasta, even the best italian restaurants tend to only have a few fresh varieties with the rest being dried. I really wanted some fresh pasta on this visit. I asked the server to help navigate our choices hoping that they indeed made their own and that we wouldn’t have to down our wine and move on. Luckily they featured a fresh, hand formed tortellini.

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“L’Osteria” means The Tavern. It has nothing to do with oysters, I quickly learned.

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Tortellini con Panna

This is exactly what I hoped for!!! Tender pasta rolled out perfectly thin, stuffed with a dreamy ricotta filling and tossed in an impossibly light cream sauce. Madonn‘ these were good!

We needed a bit of a respite before the meat course. We wandered back to the greenway to sit a people watch.

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We watched this dad…

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…try and catch this girl, without getting wet.

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The girl was winning at this game.

During our rest, we took to social media to choose our next venue. We got a whole slew of suggestions from our foodie friends, so it was tough to decide. Someone recommended Dolce Vita and to “ask for Franco”. We were intrigued…

We arrived just in time  to witness a boisterous chorus of Italian songs led by the afore mentioned Franco himself!

The place was packed, but we there were two seats open at the bar we were able to snag.

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The busboy lobbed the napkins from behind us which landed perfectly fanned out and upright. That’s skill.

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This wine was…okay.

I nosed around a bit whilst waiting for the powder room. Turns out Franco is a bit of a local celebrity. The was a “wall of fame” featuring the man with various stars.

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Bam! It’s Emeril!

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We just finished watching the complete series of The Shield. Vic Mackey is one bad dude.

The goal here was to have a really good steak. They had a NY strip on the menu that seemed pretty straight forward. We had the choice of pasta or salad. I decided not to double up on carbs and just have salad.

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This was indeed, just a salad.

The steak was a bit of a let down. It had a fair amount of gristle, but that was not the biggest sin. It had absolutely no seasoning whatsoever. There was no salt or pepper on the table, which could have been an oversight, but more likely because the food is supposed to be properly seasoned by the chef. It wasn’t.

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This steak was blah-zoh.

This stop turned out to be more about theater than dinner. We had a great time without a doubt.

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Look for this shot on the Wall Of Fame!

No visit to the North End would be complete without a stop into Mike’s Pastry for cannoli.

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Accept no substitute.

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It was pretty darn crowded, but they handle orders with military precision.

The offerings go beyond cannoli though I can’t even imagine getting anything else.

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Gelato, if you please.

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Assorted pastries.

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I did see these “Lobster Tails” are on the list of 50 Boston foods you must try before you die. I may have to revise my cannoli stance.

We had our treats boxed up to-go to be enjoyed back home along with a glass of cheap bourbon, as you do. We took a stroll through the Boston Harbor Hotel before hitting the train.

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This was officially a busman’s holiday. Look it up, kids.

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One of the last “Blues Barge” concerts.

A perfect way to end the evening. It was so much more fun to bop around town, rather than staying at one place for the whole time.

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Our charges made it home safely!

The city of Boston has come such a long way! It was an absolute pleasure to spend our night off enjoying a place that is usually all about work for us.

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Rock Lobster

It had been many moons since Jeff and I had been to a legit concert. When I was a kid, I went out to see anyone who rolled through town! That was back when concert tickets were fifteen bucks and I didn’t have irrational anxiety about being in the midst of 10,000 people and suddenly needing to exit.  Today, even if Zombie Elvis himself were to make an appearance at the Boston Garden, I’d pass on it. As luck would have it, one of Jeff’s favorite singer-song writers,  Martin Sexton was playing in (sort of ) nearby Rockport at a delightful venue. We decided to take the night off and procured our tickets.

Rockport is about two hours from home. We went back and forth about staying over but ended up making it just a day trip. I knew very little about this tiny hamlet before our visit. Turns out, it’s A-dorable! There were historic buildings and cute store fronts everywhere!

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Art Assoiciation

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Example of said art.

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Cedar shakes are so friendly looking!

I had been longing for a quality lobster roll since the summer solstice.  I had a terribly disappointing one in Providence if you recall, so I thought this place would be a great opportunity for a do-over!

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I wasn’t looking for fancy, just tasty!

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The view boasted about on the menu. Sadly, not from our table. “Excuse me folks, I need a picture. I’m a blogger!”

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An unfiltered beer for him, an IPA for the lady..

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Chowder to start.

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Properly dressed.

The lobster rolls were gorgeous. Served on a grilled roll, though not as buttery and golden as I would have preferred, it was stuffed with tender claws and tail meat, and that’s all. The mayo was on the side, to be added as little or as liberally as one would like. The only thing lacking was a lemon wedge for the win!

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One with fries…

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…one with coleslaw.

After our delectable lunch, we had an hour or so to poke around this seaside treasure. There seemed to be an ice cream shop around every corner. I was hoping to get a cone when the show let out, but after asking a couple places how late they were open, it was clear that this town rolls up the side walks as soon as the sun goes down. As of this dateline I STILL have not had an ice cream this summer.

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Someday.

There were summer cottages tucked in among the shops. They all  seemed to be in competition to have the cutest plantings and flower boxes. There were no losers here!

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This was the sister restaurant to the place we had lunch. Only take out here.

The most spectacular part of Rockport is the gorgeous ocean views! I’ll let you scroll through without my needless commentary.

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Speaking of the views here. Remember when I said that the venue where we would be seeing the show was delightful? Well, here it is, the Victorian building in the middle! The whole back wall of the concert hall is glass and looks out onto the stunning atlantic!

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Could I BE more excited?

I neglected to take a photo from across the street so that you could see the facade. Let’s see if the internet let’s me borrow one.

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Will it stick?

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A close up.

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A rendering of the building I snapped in the Ladies’.

You can read all about the Shalin Lu Performance Center HERE. I will tell you that despite looking like an antique facility, this hall was built from the ground up in 2010. The performance center was designed to be an absolutely perfect listening room which also provides the most fabulous views over the harbor! We arrived with just enough time to enjoy a glass of wine upstairs in the reception hall before heading down to our seats.

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Schmoozing with the beautiful people.

Some views from the reception room:

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We made our way down to the auditorium. This space was not only elegant in design but also achieved absolute perfection for  acoustic listening.

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Anxiously waiting for the curtain to be pulled back!

So. Here’s what happened. Martin Sexton was absolutely fantastic! His opening act, the  Brothers McCann simply blew us away with their harmonies. They were great entertainers. The show was awesome!!! However, there was a great big fat elephant that sat in the room the whole night. THEY NEVER OPENED THE CURTAIN!  My friends, I know this is not life and death, it’s just a view of the  stinkin’ sunset, but it really put a damper on the evening. All the promotional materials advertised the perfect marriage of music and atmosphere. Half of that equation was sorely missing. My understanding is that it’s the artist makes the call on whether or not the curtain is drawn. Perhaps the decision is made on the basis that the view may become a distraction. I can tell you this: I was distracted! It was due to my anxiety about whether or not they were ever going to open the dang curtain!

My heart was set on seeing this view:

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Stolen from their own website.

We had a fantastic time taking in the quaint visages of Rockport. Being able to enjoy some exquisite music was just what what the doctor ordered for us, in the middle of our summer madness. We will be on the look out for other  artists playing at the Shalin Liu Performance Center. Now, my expectations will be better managed about the curtain. But I’ll still mope about it if it’s not open!

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From The Vine Came the Grape

It was time to check out of our charming room at the Whaler’s Inn. We thought we might pop back into the Seaport or the Aquarium (the tickets are good for two days, FYI) but neither of us were up … Continue reading

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Get Lost In This Aquarium

This gallery contains 12 photos.

Today we would making our way to the Mystic Aquarium. Honestly, I went back and forth about visiting this attraction. We have a wiz-bang aquarium in Boston that we visited just a couple years back, so my yearning to “walk … Continue reading

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