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Playing tourist

May 15, 2013
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The warm weather is here. We've had more sun this spring than I can recall in recently memory. It's gorgeous, with cool breezes and minimal rain. And the tourists really haven't started getting out yet. All this makes for an ideal opportunity for those of us who stick around all year to get out there and enjoy what our fine state has to offer before it gets too crowded.

When I'm doing a stay-cation I like to stay within a two-hour drive from my home base. So it worked out great when I had an interview in Camden last week. As many of you know, Camden is a tourist Mecca. And for good reason - but since it's still a couple weeks before Memorial Day weekend, the flood of tourists hasn't taken over yet. This meant I could follow Route 1 and 3 all the way back to my neighborhood, looking at the towns with a tourist's appreciation, but without bad traffic.

Camden

Camden is a coastal town, famous for the tall ship tours. They tend to run around several hundreds of dollars per person (the cheapest running over $400 per person). 

Now, I'm a simple soul. I really like taking a book, grabbing a park bench and soaking my fiction as I soak up some sun. But not everyone wants to sink their nose in a book. With ample parking all over town, you should really take a walk around the downtown, enjoy a view of the harbor or go window shopping.

I enjoyed a late lunch at Cappy's, indulging in their creamy lobster bisque, which is served in charming enameled mugs with a homemade biscuit and large oyster crackers that you crush in your hand before plopping them in your stew. The waitress, who probably could have sold me the Narrows Bridge if she told me it came with whipped cream, sweet-talked me into what she called a 'frozen lemon merengue pie.' Let me explain this pie: it was mostly delicious vanilla ice cream nestled in a pecan crust, with a thin layer of lemon custard topped by a caramelized merengue. It was unearthly. The pie is made at Cappy's bakery, along with all their baked goods. 

Camden is also the gateway into Rockland and Rockport, which have fantastic coastal views, incredible art galleries, shopping, eating and more. You are right there. You should go.

Rain check

So, it's raining. It's pouring. So what? There's the Camden Opera House, which features a wide array of live performances. There are art galleries, museums - and the shops I mentioned? You can go inside. Plus, there are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat.

Belfast

I drove back through Lincolnville Beach and Northport. I took a detour and headed for the waterfront of Belfast. Yes, I have a thing for harbor views, but who doesn't?

Belfast is one of those great downtowns that really has something for everyone, whether you're looking for some fine artisan jewelry (hit up Coyote Moon) or want some interesting games, both familiar and new (All About Games). There's plenty of restaurants for every taste, not to mention art galleries and eccentric shops.

One of the coolest things to do, especially if you're a history buff, is to take the 'Museum in the Streets' self-guided walking tour.

Belfast is home of the Belfast Maskers, who perform amateur live theatre. You can catch one of their shows.

Fleamarket paradise

In addition to its charming downtown, Searsport has a wonderful collection of antique shops, junk barns and, best of all, flea markets. Stalls literally line the streets as you drive down the road. It was a little too early for them to have set up shop, but soon. Very soon.

And even if they aren't open, there are plenty of other venues to check out second-hand wares, vintage clothing and more. Maine is peppered with such wonderful shops (Bangor has several).

Bucksport, Prospect and Verona Island

One of the biggest sights in the area has to be the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. Visible from far off, there are several places to get a gander at it. But it's also has a way for you to drink in the view from on high, really, really high by taking a trip to the top of the observatory.

Once you come down from on high, you can stay and enjoy the sights at Fort Knox or wander the paved walkways in Bucksport. 

Bar Harbor

Mount Desert Island is a beautiful tourist destination, again for good reason. Hitting the shops in the vibrant down town during the summer is certainly fun (finding parking may be less fun, but it does exist).

At the gateway to Acadia, outdoor adventures abound. Boat cruises, whale watches, kayak trips pretty much all manner of fun times. There are shops and restaurants galore. You will be hard pressed to be bored in this town.

If you get a chance, check out Reel Pizza Cinerama, where you can enjoy good cinema and good food at the same time. Ben and Bills Chocolate Emporium, home of the famous Lobster Ice Cream (which really is quite good, once you wrap your mind around it). Yes, I shop around my stomach's schedule.

But one of the best things about being a tourist in a place where you aren't all that far from home is that you can come back again and again. Each time will help you find new treasures or tasty treats. 

Whoa, whoa, what about Bangor and Ellsworth?!

Home sweet home, right? All of my gentle readers who live in these wonderful hubs can tell us in the comments the best places to explore, eat and gaze at. We don't often look at our homes through a tourist's eyes, but if you wanted someone to see just one place in either of these towns, where would you tell them to go?

Leave us a comment, let us know what you think!

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