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Trip Report Antiquing and leaf peeping - the TR

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My friend T came to visit with the goals of seeing fall foliage and finding great antiques, and the visit was a success (even if the weather was mostly lousy!).

On Day 1 we set off from the Boston suburbs with Portland, Maine, as our destination. T wanted to make a stop in Salem for sites related to the Witch Trials, so we first went to the neighboring town of Danvers (the site of much of the Witch Hysteria, including the original accusations, and also part of Salem in 1692). We visited the memorial to the victims of the hysteria and the Rebecca Nurse homestead (she was one of the victims; the buildings were closed, but we had a look around the property).

Then it was over to Salem. We drove around a bit so T could see some of the grand homes of people involved in the shipping trade in the 1700/1800s; ran by the House of the Seven Gables (but did not go in); and stopped at Salem’s hysteria victims memorial. T and I agreed that it was far too abstract and not nearly as fitting as the one in Danvers. We also walked through the adjoining cemetery before heading up the road to Essex to hit the antique shops there.

This trip really proved the fickle nature of antiquing. T thoroughly enjoyed Essex last year and found quite a few good deals there. This year, however, none of his favorite places from last year seemed to have what he was looking for. We continued on to Ipswich and Rowley (stopping for ice cream at White Farms on the border between them), where T did pick up a few things. From there it was on to Maine and as much of Route 1 as we could manage before the stores closed. Again, the pickings were a disappointment to T compared to last year.

T was hoping to eat at La Pizzeria in Ogunquit, a big hit last year, but it was only about 5:30 when drove past it, too early for dinner. We drove on up the coast, taking Route 9 through Kennebunkport and Biddeford Pool before it got dark. We stopped in Biddeford (back on Route 1) to ask about local pizza places. The guy of whom we inquired asked if we wanted “greasy Greek pizza”. When we said no, he directed us to either Spinners (for thin crust) or TJ’s. We tried Spinners first, but it appeared to be a take-out only place (although it was connected to the dining room of a Chinese restaurant). Then it was off to TJ’s, with friendly staff and 50’s diner décor. The pizza we ordered, however, turned out to be REALLY greasy and a big disappointment. As T said, “If this is the non-greasy pizza, I would hate to see the greasy ones!”

From there it was on to Portland and the Marriott Courtyard in South Portland for the night. It was pretty confusing trying to find it coming in on Route 1. In fact, we finally had to stop at the Marriott near the Maine Mall to get directions, as we could not figure out how to get to it. But the room was large and the beds were comfortable, and they had an indoor pool and hot tub (and we were the only people in the pool area when we went down there). The bathroom was oddly configured, however. There is no sink in the room – just in the bathroom – and the way the tub was designed, the shower curtain did not go all the way to the end if it. No water got on the floor, but it did mean that when someone is in the shower, no one else can come in to use the sink – there was a mirror on the back of the bathroom door, and you could see well into the shower if you looked into the mirror on the door (and well into the bathroom if you looked into the mirror from the shower). Like I said, very strange design.

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    The Courtyard does not have a complimentary breakfast, so I picked up a bagel at a grocery store (T is not a breakfast eater unless it is included with the room). Then we headed up to Brunswick to the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum on the campus of Bowdoin College. This was one of the trip highlights! Both Peary and MacMillan were Bowdoin alumni, as were several other Arctic explorers. Because 2009 marks the 100th anniversary of Peary’s discovery (or purported discovery, depending on your point of view) of the North Pole, there is a special exhibit on commemorating it (through some time in 2010).

    Sadly, the museum gets very few visitors. The exhibit is really done well, too – it has artifacts from Peary’s travels, archival audio and video, and displays on the native peoples and Peary’s family (his wife was with him part of the time, and his daughter was born in Greenland in 1893). I highly recommend it! The Bowdoin campus is beautiful, too, and worth strolling around. They even have free guided tours several times a day. Among its other famous alums are Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Franklin Pierce.

    Brunswick also turned out to be T’s most fertile antiquing grounds. Cabot Mill and Day’s Antiques were T’s favorites and the sources of several purchases. There was also a farmer’s market in the park across from Day’s while we were there, although we did not visit it. And downtown Brunswick is quite charming – Maine Street (note the “e”!) is one of the widest streets in New England.

    Because T enjoyed Brunswick so much, we were much later leaving than we had planned. We had hotel reservations in Concord, NH, and had intended to go there via the White Mountains to see fall foliage. We ended up getting only to Fryeburg, ME (with stops in Yarmouth at Gurley Antiques and at the covered bridge down an unpaved road outside Fryeburg – both of them big hits with T). At that point it was getting dark, so rather than drive the Kancamagus Highway (with all its twists and turns and possibilities of hitting a moose) we headed down through the New Hampshire Lakes Region.

    We were getting hungry, but places to eat seemed elusive. We ended up stopping at the Yankee Smokehouse in West Ossipee. T lives in barbecue country, and I used to live there – and “Yankee barbecue” generally is something of an oxymoron. Both of us were disappointed with our meals. I thought the sliced pork in my sandwich was greasy and not too flavorful, but at least the fries (steak fries!) were good. T wished he had gotten a sandwich instead of the two-meat meal he selected – it did not look very appealing to me, I must say.

    We finally got to Concord around 10 PM and checked into the Holiday Inn. It was not as nice as the Courtyard in South Portland (older décor, smaller room, no fridge, SMALL beds), but it was not as bad as reviews on Tripadvisor made it sound. It also had a pool and hot tub (both of which T used, although I did not – he said the hot tub was not as hot as the one at the Courtyard), plus it had a sauna as well (which the Courtyard didn’t, and which looked nice). T reported that, again, there was no one down there but him.

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    Day 1 had been overcast, while Day 2 was bright and sunny. Day 3, however, had the worst weather of the trip. It rained, or at least misted, most of the day. We set out to see covered bridges around Concord after deciding a trip up to Franconia Notch and the Flume Gorge probably would not be much fun in the rain. The best of the NH bridges that we saw was in Henniker (“the only Henniker in the world!”), although it was not as pretty as the one at Fryeburg. It managed to take us twice as long as we expected to see them (thanks in large part to my poor sense of where they actually were!), but getting lost did result in a stop at a farm stand for some apples (and, in T’s case, an end-of-season peach he pronounced delicious) - because the Holiday Inn also does not have a complimentary breakfast.

    Then it was back to Concord to check out an antiques mall there, and on to Route 4, New Hampshire’s “Antiques Alley”. Day 3 turned out to be a bust on the antiques front. T bought only one thing all day, at the last place we stopped – which was not one of the places listed in the Route 4 brochure (by the way, in case you were curious, I spent all of $1 on antiques the entire trip, for an old bottle. I was enjoying just being the host and driver.). We did see some nice scenery on the drive, although it would have been prettier had it not been raining.

    Because we were not yet to Portsmouth, we decided to go back to Massachusetts on back roads rather than taking I-95. This was more scenic, and it led us into Amesbury. T wanted some good pizza, so I called a friend for recommendations, and he suggested Flatbreads. There was a big crowd there, so T and I put our names on the waiting list and walked around downtown Amesbury for about half an hour to kill time. It was interesting, and worth a return visit in the daylight. Back at Flatbreads we finally got seated about 7:30 (having waited for a table for nearly an hour). The pizza was not bad, but it was not the kind T had been hoping for – Flatbreads is more an organic/gourmet place, and T had wanted a “local place” (the kind that usually has a name like “[Insert Town Name Here] House of Pizza”, and of course there turned out to be an Amesbury House of Pizza nearby!).

    We made up for it by going to Hodgie’s for ice cream. It was as good as friends had told me, and servings are HUGE. There are 5 sizes, and the smallest of them is more than enough for most adults. Unfortunately, Hodgie’s closes for the winter on October 12, so unless I hurry back I will have to wait until at least next April to return there.

    So, thank you dfrostnh and jaya for your suggestions on the trip. It was fun despite the disappointments, and I’m sure T will be back for another visit next year. In the meantime, I need to get out and enjoy the scenery some more before the all-too-long winter arrives!

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    sorry Rt 4 was a bust. I wonder if due to the economy shops don't have as much inventory as usual. Suggestion for next trip, visit Chowhound for advice on where to eat ahead of time. I want to go to Portland just to have lunch at Duck Fat. Next time you look for bridges, you might look for the stone arch bridges in Hillsboro, next door to Henniker.
    Hillsboro Center and Washington NH are charming villages.
    BTW we thought the pizza at the Concord Holiday Inn's Nonni's restaurant was pretty good. Nonni's is actually a local Hillsboro restaurant that is branching out. But Vinnie's at the other end of Main St is usually the best pizza winner each year and has been around forever.

    Color is great right now in the Concord NH area. I'm surprised that last night's paper said it wasn't quite peak in the mountains. I guess wrong every year thinking color will be early due to all the early changes in swamp maples etc.

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    You didn't miss anything by missing the Amesbury House of Pizza - very mundane. Flatbreads is way better even though I know its not a lot of people's taste. Its hard to get the kind of pizza that you're thinking of in the Amesbury/Newburys area. I've lived here for 25 years and am still searching.

    Glad you enjoyed Hodgies - its hard to believe that a "quarter kiddie" size is almost too big for an adult but its true.

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    We actually didn't eat in either Portland or Concord, because we weren't around them at mealtimes (except breakfast). Because of the antiquing, we just played it by ear - there was no way to tell where we would be when we got hungry because there was no way to tell how long we would spend at a given stop. In fact, our route changed several times to accommodate the weather and time of day and T's interests - going through the Lakes Region in the dark was not part of the original agenda! I'll have to file away your recommendations for future trips up the road.


    Thanks for the review on AHoP. I have a few favorite pizza places in the area where I live on the North Shore (at least one of which is a "House of Pizza"), but I guess that is no guarantee of quality! I thought Flatbreads was OK, but not quite as flavorful as I had hoped.

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    dfrost, I tried to send you a PM but it appears Fodors doesn't have a messaging system so I have to send it publicly. Sorry because I don't want to bash the Route 4 Antiques Alley between Concord and Durham but...

    Wife and I decided to drive Antiques Alley this past week on a day off. I have to say I was very disappointed and am not in any rush to suggest it to other people. The antiques places were OK (some were closed but it is post-high season) although we didn't find anything. My issue was with the drive.

    Route 4 is not a pleasant drive at all (midweek afternoon). In many spots the road is one lane in each direction but apparently 45-50 mph is too slow. People were tailgating me, one threw his hands up in the air frustrated with my speed, 18 wheelers flying by are nerve-wracking, and a real challenge to cross traffic to pull into shops on the other side of the road. Not exactly conducive to following a map to the shops.

    If we drove the 60 mph traffic wanted to move, we would have blown past most of the shops and had to dangerously try and find a way to turn around.

    I guess enjoyable is not a word to describe this drive. Even if I am on a mission to "antique".

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    rlfox, I usually only drive rt 4 on weekends, most recently late Sunday afternoon/early evening earlier this month when there is not much traffic (at least in November). The speed limit is 50 in many sections except the densely populated areas. The area of the antique shops should be 35. This is our route of choice when heading to Maine pulling a travel trailer and then it is usually a weekday, late morning. When we return from Maine it is usually a Sunday and we like to pull into Hilton Park on Great Bay for a lunch break. DH reminded me that Rt 4 is a commuter route and would be a problem during commuting hours. It has been my preferred route to the coast for many years esp the section from Durham to Rt 16 and on the return trip the chance to stop at Johnson's Dairy Bar in Northwood.
    I'm sorry you had a nerve-wracking drive. I'm going to ask a friend who lives just off Rt 4 in the town next to Northwood if there are times of day that she would recommend avoiding due to traffic. On my last trip to Seabrook I drove Rt 101 in the am for speed since it's a limited access hwy but returned on Rt 4. Guess so far Antique Alley in Northwood is a dud for antiquing according to recent Fodorite experience (we usually only go to the used book store).

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    When we were through there in early October, there was an awful accident right in front of an antique store we were visiting. I heard it but did not see the crash. One car rear-ended another, and the impact was strong enough that it knocked the car that was hit all the way off the road. (I was puzzled when I looked out the shop window and saw only one car, with the front mashed in).

    From what I understand, the first car was stopped to turn left and the second car was going way too fast and plowed into it. Evidently such accidents are not uncommon.

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    I will have to amend my recommendations for Rt4. Basically it will remain my preferred east/west route to the coast. The only other choice is Rt 101 which is a limited access hwy. For umpty ump years we seem to have been lucky and have not encountered traffic problems. When traveling to Portsmouth, the section from Durham to Dover Pt and then rt 16 over the Great Bay bridges will always be one of my favorite NH drives. Returning from the coast, Johnson's Dairy Bar is The Place to stop for ice cream. Just a bit off Rt 4 in Epsom is Valley Artisans, one of the few handcraft coops in the state. In Northwood in addition to the antique shops and old book store, there is Piece Time Puzzles, a shop dedicated to jig saw puzzles.
    I remembered that DDIL's best friend from hs lives in the vicinity of the antique shops and her husband is a selectman. I asked him for his view on Rt 4 traffic. He said he has long been concerned about the amount and speed of traffic on this section of Rt 4. At one time a bypass was considered. Rt 101 was expected to take the traffic burden off Rt 4 but it hasn't been enough. The selectman still recommends a bypass.
    So, I guess until the antique shops bring in better inventory or a bypass is constructed, Rt 4 might not be worth the risk. Unfortunately, until the past few years when large gas station/convenience stores were built in the Northwood/Epsom area, this road hasn't changed much since the 1960s. Now you can find a few fast food places at the traffic circles in Epsom and Lee. There aren't any major strip malls. There's still a lot of trees and undeveloped sections.

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