I had previously passed through Portland, Maine's airport, and driven by en route to vacations further north. I have lived in New England for a decade, but I am a native of the Pacific NW, so my perspective may differ from that of the average New Englander.
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My husband was invited to give a lecture in the Portland area, and I opted to come along for the ride. It is an easy 2 hour drive from the Boston area. In spite of some road construction on the 295 freeway entering the city proper, we encountered hardly any traffic worth noting as we made our way to the city center. What a refreshing change of pace from the logjam that is our SUBURBAN Boston traffic!
We stayed at the Regency Hotel in the building that was originally Portland's armory. This nicely converted building has lots of original charm, but offered a fairly high level of modern amenities and comforts. (It offers room service, a full spa on site, a fitness center, a proper sit down restaurant, valet parking, etc.)
Our hosts took us to dinner at the Back Bay Restaurant. It was, admittedly, in a "transitional" neighborhood, as the optimists like to say. The food, however, was fantastic. I had enough foodie experiences during my Portland visit to say it is very possible to eat VERY well in Maine!
My husband took the car when he went to give his talk, so I spent my day on foot wandering the city. I had researched attractions before I went, and easily entertained myself for seven hours. (I plan to take my family back and visit this city again to see things I didn't get to.)
Going by foot from the Regency, I walked over the the Victoria Mansion and enjoyed a guided tour of this historic home. It has been somewhat restored, but it is obvious, as a visitor from a bigger city, that a lot more could be done with this lovely structure.
Next, I hit the Cryptozoology Museum in its new location. This was an interesting visit if you are curious about "mythical" creatures. I was most intrigued by those which were once thought imaginary (giant panda, etc.) but have since been proven real.
I walked along a very nicely developed area of shops and cafes, past a Children's Museum (but I was sans kids) and lots of intriguing shops. After this point, I saw what the negative reviewer from NYC must have experienced--past the City Hall, I did find some of the neighborhood environs a little dodgy. I found a great little pizza place with a very eclectic-posh interior done up with salvaged grand piano parts. The food was great and the atmosphere relaxed and friendly.
I walked on, through worsening streets, to my goal--the coffee roaster billowing smoke as the beans were being done right then, and the Portland Mead Works next door. Again, foodies delight! You can find really cool, really delicious locally made specialties in Maine.
I should've turned back, but I discovered the housing projects as I made my way down to a fiber and weaving shop I'd learned about online. Sadly, they were kind of busy with a class, so I browsed a little, but left quickly when I saw that no one had the time or inclination to help me.
The return trip was UP the hill through the sketchy neighborhood, which was the least enjoyable part of my day. After 6-8 miles of walking and with a bag full of mead bottles over my arm, I was wiped out. I sat down to catch my breath on a bench at a bus stop once I'd come back to the main street where I felt more comfortable pulling out my iPad to look up a taxi service. A cab happened by, so I caught a lift to meet my husband at the appointed place.
The cab driver was polite and friendly, if a bit casual and not much to look at.
All in all, I found this city very comfortable, and more reminiscent of the free-spirited environment where I grew up in the "other" Portland (Oregon.) There certainly were SOME polished places, but the overall vibe was more funky and real. I'm a suburban mother, not a hipster, so don't think I'm coming from an uber-cool place when I compliment Portland, Maine.
Best Time to Travel Here: Jun - Aug