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Trip Report Maine trip report -- Rockland, Camden, Rockport, Owl's Head, Wiscasset

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Recently visited five Maine towns during a three-day stretch: Rockland, Owl's Head, Rockport, Camden, and Wiscasset. The trip report follows.

Day One. Being without a car, decided to start the day with a walk from downtown Rockland to the Owl's Head Transportation Museum. And a substantial walk it is, about 3.5 miles, the last part on a road through a preserve featuring biting flies. The museum itself was very good, featuring several old airplanes from the 1930’s and earlier, including some World War I vintage aircraft such as Fokkers and Sopwiths and a reproduction of the first Wright Brothers plane at Kitty Hawk; 19th and early 20th century motorcycles by Indian and Harley-Davidson; and 19th century boneshaker and high wheel bicycles. There were plenty of cars as well; except for a couple vintage '50s Ford Thunderbirds, most were from ca. 1900 to 1940 such as Stanley Steamers, Ford Model T's adapted and not, Packards, Rolls-Royces, and a few old prototypes such as a two-wheeled car with training wheels at the edge. Most enjoyable was a special exhibit of MGs as well as miniature cars like the Crosley and BMW Isetta rolling egg. Decided to take a taxi back to Rockland, heading first for the Maine Lighthouse Museum. Despite being fairly small, this place is crammed with lighthouse-based paraphernalia, including loads of Fresnel lenses of all sizes, buoy lanterns and gongs, foghorns, kerosene and whale-oil lanterns, life-saving station gear, china and similar artifacts from old keepers quarters, lighthouse keeper uniforms, commercial products and porcelain bearing pictures of lighthouses, historical information about the Coast Guard, and several large models of famous Maine lighthouses. Worth the visit. Ended up going to the Farnsworth Museum, a smallish but very worthy collection of paintings, sculpture, and decorative art. Most all of it has a Maine (often Rockland-based) connection of some sort, including several works by Andrew Wyeth as well as some items by Jamie Wyeth, Alex Katz, and Louise Nevelson, as well as brand-name artists such as Winslow Homer, Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper, Robert Indiana, and Fitz Henry Lane. There was also a special exhibit of N.C. Wyeth’s illustrative art from the Brandywine River Museum, but that didn't appeal to me as I’m not a fan of this type of art. A tour of the Farnsworth Homestead was most enjoyable, the long-standing residence of the museum's benefactor family --a fine Greek Revival mansion with mostly all its original rugs, curtains, wallpaper, and furniture, all in full-blown Victorian style featuring detailed workmanship and vibrant colors. The adjoining carriage house contained a vintage buggy and sleigh. Did not go to the Olson House as it's 20 miles away and only reachable by car.

Day Two. Took a taxi to nearby Camden. Had heard that this is the archetypal lovely small Maine coastal town, and the description is right on the money. There are plenty of shops, eateries, and old historic homes several of which have been turned into B&Bs. A charming small park overlooks a quaint, well-protected harbor full of boats, the park itself is filled with flowers and other greenery. Mt. Battie can be seen from several places in the town. Despite a general lack of traditional attractions, Camden is an absolute must to visit. A writer for Yankee Magazine famously declared that the two-plus mile walk between Camden and Rockport is "the most beautiful in the world." Decided to find out for myself, and it is indeed well worth doing. Walked out of Camden’s town center up Chestnut Street -- it's uphill all the way, but goes past dozens of pretty 19th century houses in various styles. As you progress, houses become more sparse and woods more prevalent. Encountered further is a cemetery, followed by fields which were filled with a special breed of cattle (Belted Galloways) and wild turkeys, before reaching Rockport center. The Center for Maine Contemporary Art is located here, an older building that presents rotating exhibits -- this time, a photography collection of works mentored by the Maine Media Workshop + College. Rockport itself has a tiny town center with shops and galleries, as well as a harbor every bit as pretty as Camden's; the latter is ringed to the south by old abandoned lime kilns that don't detract from the overall charm. Got a cab back to Rockland from here.

Day Three. Took a Concord Coach bus from Rockland to Wiscasset. While not as charming as Camden or Rockport, Wiscasset is quite pretty in its own right, loaded with large 19th century homes. Historic New England offers tours of two of these. The Nickels-Sortwell House is a gorgeous Federal-style mansion featuring plenty of showy woodwork and molding, an airy solarium out back, and Colonial Revival furnishings. The tour was excellent, detailed and informative. Nearby Castle Tucker displays an odd variant on the Federal style, with a bowed barrel-like expansion on the north and south ends and a later two-story porch add-on. The wallpaper, rugs, and furnishings are Victorian, and there's some nice stencil-style painting on the entry foyer. An excellent tour here as well. A few doors down from here is the Musical Wonder House, a Greek Revival exception to the prevailing Federal style houses on the street. The house is furnished in flowery Victorian style and loaded with music boxes of several types, very few of them being of the small, tinkly variety. The fellow giving the tour was engaging and enthusiastic, eager to demonstrate the wide range of items. Many of the music boxes were large and made of wood, using either toothed rollers or punched metal discs to produce sound. There were also Edison-style cylinder players, whistlers, player pianos, bird automatons, tiny cufflink music boxes, mosques (little music boxes that open up to reveal cigarette niches or cordial glasses), even paintings that hide music box works underneath. Since the meat of the tour is listening to these contraptions, it takes a while to experience all that's here -- about two hours -- but it's really worth it. Others may find the $20 admission daunting, but I didn't much mind it.

Food. In Rockland: had dinner at Cafe Miranda, getting tasty maple-smoked fish cakes with white beans, garlic aioli, spicy slaw, and the biggest mound of hand-cut french fries I've ever seen. Also went to Primo, a restaurant close by the border with Owl's Head where one can drop a lot of money on an entrée -- but luckily, you can also eat well (and much cheaper) at the upstairs bar, where I had an excellent tapas-sized portion of prosciutto-wrapped stuffed dates and brined fried crispy chicken with salad of roasted corn and greens. In Camden: got a cup of good (though expensive) scallop/shrimp/mussel chowder (just thick enough) at Cappy's Chowder House, an order of sturdy blueberry pancakes at an old diner-type spot called Marriner’s, and a rich pineapple-macadamia bar at Camden Deli (homemade). In Wiscasset: had dinner at Sarah's -- a decent and filling crabcake cobb salad, where the crabcake was the falling-apart type indicating plenty of crabmeat -- and lunch at Red's Eats -- their much-lauded lobster roll, which is indeed excellent, just the unadorned meat of at least one and a half lobsters offered with a side cup of mayonnaise or drawn butter, and an order of yummy fried mushrooms (be prepared for a line here).

Public transportation. Mostly not well served. The Concord Coach bus in theory serves Wiscasset, Rockland, and Camden twice daily in high season, but in actuality only has a stop convenient to the town center in Rockland. Note that stops for the other two towns are located a couple miles from the towns purportedly served, though once you reach Wiscasset center, all the attractions are located close by each other. The two Rockland museums are found in the town center, not far from where the bus lets off. Taxis or a willingness to walk seriously long distances are needed for everything else. At least there seems to be general and friendly acknowledgement among shopkeepers and the local Visitor's Center that a seasonal trolley of some sort would be a good idea.

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