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Trip Report Maine trip report -- Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park

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Made a recent visit to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, and here's the trip report. Have not been here in many years, and it was enjoyable to return to explore the area more fully.

Day One. Decided to explore the museum-like attractions in Bar Harbor itself. Spent the early part of the morning admiring the harbor from Agamont Park, a compact and lovely sloping green area with a small bandstand, a little garden trellis, lots of flowers, and several benches from which to enjoy the view. Next, strolled along the Shore Path, a half-mile gravel walkway along the water that affords more viewpoints as well as glimpses of large seaside inns and a few big mansions. A huge boulder sits moored about halfway along, left behind by a receding glacier thousands of years ago. Walked back to the Village Green a few blocks away from Agamont Park to catch one of the free shuttle buses that run this time of year in this part of Mount Desert Island, and headed off to College of the Atlantic north of the town center. The campus itself is reasonably attractive despite containing many recent-vintage buildings, with a boat dock, an old mansion called The Turrets, plenty of trees and shrubs, and two small museums. One of the last is the George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History, a small place best for kids with a touch tank and several small dioramas of local fauna, the other the Ethel H. Blum Art Gallery, a tiny space that shows rotating exhibits, often by artists with a connection to the school. At the Blum this time were works by alumni David Vickery (painter) and Blakeney Sanford (sculptor). Neither were essential, but at least they were free. Took the bus back into town and walked to the Bar Harbor Historic Society’s collection. Located on the first floor of an old convent building, it's similar to many of the small historic collections found in many Cape Cod towns -- lots of old photos (people, buildings, ships, etc.), kitchen gadgets, vintage camera equipment, old milk bottles from dairies closed long ago, china, glassware, Civil War memorabilia, artifacts from old hotels, trophy cups, and several large notebooks with information about a devastating 1947 fire that flattened a good bit of the island's forests and buildings. The best of these attractions is the Abbe Museum, which documents the history and customs of the local Wabanaki tribes. Included are collections of archaeological dig finds such as arrowheads, bone tools, and pottery shards; a tribe history timeline; basket making information; information about the intermingling of Native Americans and African-Americans; and information about Wabanaki guides who took white outdoorsmen of the 19th and 20th century out on hunting trips for moose and such (including canoes, snowshoes, and camping gear on display).

Day Two. Explored several of the highlights of Acadia National Park, and being without a car, began with a narrated bus tour. Stop one was Thunder Hole, a carved rock formation into which the sea flows and recedes. On a good day when the sea is rough, you can hear a roaring sound -- not today, though. The viewpoint would have to suffice. Stop two was Jordan Pond House, from whose upper porch was a nice view of this body of water and a pair of mountain peaks called The Bubbles. Stop three, and the primary reason to take this tour since the park shuttle buses don't go here, is the summit of Cadillac Mountain. Since it was a clear day, the view was splendid. After getting back, decided to see some of the stops the bus tour didn't reach, using the free park shuttle buses. The Sieur de Mont Spring area contains a small spring encased by a little glassed-in pavilion, a re-created birchbark wigwam, and a small outpost of the Abbe Museum, this last containing a good number of arrowheads and other artifacts (this is in fact the original incarnation of the museum, the one in town being built later to handle the overflow). Nearby via a short trail is a picturesque small pond called The Tarn, gradually choking with grass and surrounded by hillsides. Sand Beach is a rarity in this part Maine, and was very popular today despite the freezing cold water. Still further down was Otter Cliffs, another good viewpoint located towards the southeastern tip of the island -- most of the people seen here were rock climbers with full gear, seemingly intent on scaling the cliffs in one direction or another (not for me).

Food. Folks at Chowhound tend to be unimpressed with the food in this town, though it's possible to do okay with a little care and luck. Jordan's Restaurant is essentially a down-home diner serving breakfast and lunch; a lobster roll here was quite good (lobster meat and mayonnaise) accompanied by a fine tangy coleslaw and excellent potato salad that suggested hints of mustard and egg. Tried blueberry pancakes at two breakfast places. Those at Jeannie's were plenty good enough, with a sturdy spongy consistency and solid blueberry flavor, and putting their homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam on them was a plus. But the ones at Cafe This Way were special, light and airy, full of berries, and accompanied by real maple syrup. Good dinners were found at Rupununi’s (a pub-like place that dished up a tasty Atlantic charbroiled salmon plate in a teriyaki-type sauce accompanied by rice and fresh green beans) and Casa on Cottage (a Mexican spot far better than the usual Tex-Mex, offering very good chicken mole with refried beans and rice as well as an excellent vegan enchilada). Tried ice cream in a couple spots, and the best was a surprisingly vibrant blueberry soft-serve at CJ’s. Two attempts to try eating at the Lompoc Cafe ended unsuccessfully, the first time finding the place wide open but seemingly unstaffed and otherwise empty, the second time encountering unpleasant attitude from the bartender when trying to order a cup of chowder at the bar -- avoid.

Public transportation. Give them a high score here for the most part. Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, and some other parts of Mt. Desert Island are well served in high season by an extensive free bus system. And while it's a long ride up here from the Boston area, one can take a bus all the way up to Bangor, then (if you time it right) use a local bus to reach Bar Harbor from here. Two caveats on the latter, though -- the Bar Harbor/Bangor connection only runs twice a week (and further not on holiday Mondays) and buses used can range from okay to severely, unpleasantly filthy.

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