Our Own Kind of Fun, Day One

I squeezed in a seven mile run before finishing up some work and packing my overnight bag.  My hubby was still glued to his computer trying to wrap up some work of his own when I came in from my run, not packed, either.  Planning a romantic getaway is easy, but actually getting out of the house is hard.  Once we get going, though, we completely surrender to exploring and having our own kind of fun.  For us, this is the restart of the old days, the days I refer to as B.C.— that is, Before Children.

We arrived in time for the 3 p.m. check-in at the Hilton Garden Hotel in Portland, ME, then enjoyed a very late lunch at Passage to India, choosing from the vegan selections and practically rolling out the door, stuffed with cauliflower pakoras, vegetable samosas, pumpkin soup, and salty mango pickle.  With a little more than 24 hours to spend alone together and explore this tiny Maine city, we plunged in head-first.

We ventured into shops and galleries in the area known as “Old Port”, ooh-ing and ah-ing over local artisan clocks, cutting boards, pottery and glass.  We found shops packed with Indian imports, reeking of patchouli, strewn with statues of Indian gods.   There were upscale clothing stores, the windows dressed with gorgeous dresses, coats, and sweaters, situated next door to vintage clothing shops and thrift shops sporting bargains for any budget.  There were lots of tattoo parlors, perhaps more tattoo parlors than hair salons.  Along the waterfront where we were staying, the cobbled sidewalks were lined with tourist gift shops filled with ‘made in Maine”  merchandise.   For every shop, there were at least two restaurants.

Part of this little pre-Valentine’s Day getaway was about exploring vegan restaurants.  Portland seems to be a mecca for them—some restaurants are exclusively vegan, but almost all the restaurants we investigated offer vegan options.  We researched before we left, madly  Googling to plan where we would eat.  We chose ahead, but decided to keep our minds open in case we came across something that looked spectacular but was not available to check out online.  I was especially excited to try Green Elephant, completely vegan and with an extensive, intriguing menu.  We definitely wanted to return to Nara, not in walking distance, but worth the short drive over to the airport.  A previous trip revealed vegan sushi like nowhere else other than my own kitchen.  We could not wait to go back and try it again, ready for the delicious sweet potato tempura rolls, the tofu dumplings, and their special house blend tea, a mixture of corn and barley— refreshing, naturally sweet, and a perfect foil for tamari and wasabi.

We visited the Portland Museum of Art, free to the public on Friday evenings.  On the way, we watched a snowboard and ski jump demonstration set up right in the middle of one of the city squares.  A huge crowd gathered around a brightly lit ski jump, and dozens of young men took their turns at flying down the short slope, then lightly landing on rails and grinding their snowboards or skis.  They executed perfect 360s and 540s, flips, and jumps, landing softly at the bottom in a shallow pile of snow.  We craned our necks to see as many tricksters as we could, then pressed on in the bitter cold to the museum.  Clean, bright, and filled with beautiful statues and paintings, this museum, though small, was worth the cold night hike.  We walked around together, hand in hand, gazing at works by Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, N. C. Wyeth and Vincent Van Gogh.  Modern and classical pieces hung side by side and we compared and contrasted, dreaming about which pieces we would like to have in our home.

We left the museum, shivered our way back to the hotel, and drove to Nara.  We were not disappointed.  We were served a Bento box style appetizer, on the house, of little bites.  Sweet and spicy pickled cucumber, roasted potato drizzled with a sauce reminiscent of hoisin, marinated bean sprouts, fish cake and zucchini tempura, (fish cake for the hubby), and lightly steamed broccoli preceded crispy hot, lightly fried tofu dumplings

Crispy Fried Tofu Dumplings

Sweet Potato, brocolli, and asparagus maki; marinated tofu inside out maki

and tangy-spicy Kim-Chi.  Then, kappa maki (Japanese gourd, sweet and chewy), tempura maki with sweet potato, broccoli, and asparagus, and marinated tofu maki, also sweet, with slender slices of tofu marinated in a sweet and tangy sauce, inside out, and garnished with black sesame seeds.  We ordered a large sake, but the tea was so delicious I barely touched the warm, dry rice brew.

Back at the hotel, live music was on my hubby’s mind.  While he checked out the local Phoenix to see where we might go, I closed my eyes for a power nap.  By the time he decided on a venue, I was recharged with my second wind.  We went to Bull Feeney’s, an Irish pub with a live band on the second floor and hung out for an hour listening to a pretty terrible band ruin a lot of great classic rock.  Fun, though.  Lots of locals getting drunk and doing their best to groove to the band’s ineffectual attempts at the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith.

We returned to our hotel and made it an especially good end of the evening, celebrating our early Valentine’s Day like the honeymooners we are at heart.  We fell asleep wrapped together, free from our real-life responsibilities, dreaming of the next day and our upcoming visit to Green Elephant.

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