How About this Travel Idea: Books & Coffee


One of the joys of visiting the tiny, hilly, curving streets of Boothbay Harbor is the breathtaking view over the harbor. Unlike many of the Eastern Seaboard harbors, where the water, even on the best days, retains grayish hues, Boothbay Harbor overlooks true blue ocean canvas.

Getting there is half the fun – provided you don’t expect to drive 65 mph to do so. The Maine Turnpike is 495 – and that’s not the one you want. You want 295 – I’m not quite sure what the nickname is for that one – until you get to Brunswick. Maine recently renumbered all its exits – if you stop and ask for directions, the locals will give you the old numbers, so don’t pay attention to exit number. Look for Routes and towns.

Travel Idea - Boothbay Harbor Maine

Since I have family in W. Gray, instead of heading south to Portland pick up 295 in order to head north, I take Rt. 115 to Yarmouth and pick up 295 at Yarmouth. Take 295 North to Brunswick. The roads are bad in Brunswick – make sure you’ve got pressure filled in your tires before you go there. But once you navigate through Brunswick, take Route 1 towards Bath.

Bath is a beautiful, historic ship-building town and well worth inclusion in your books & coffee travel idea, but if you’ve got Boothbay Harbor on your mind, keep going. You’ll drive over a lovely bridge with a stunning view of the water and both shores. Drive on. You’ll take the Rt. 27 South turn-off near Wiscasset, wander through gently curving roads, down the hill into Wiscasset past Red’s (which has a line around the block every day), drive over the narrow bridge, and ride through Edgcomb with its funky little cemeteries and pottery galleries, through Boothbay to Boothbay Harbor.

Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor are now separate entities. They argued and split a good many years ago, although if you ask why, you get vague looks and scratched heads. The most prevalent rumor is it was over water rights.

Boothbay Harbor itself is at the tip of the peninsula. The streets are narrow and winding. Most streets are one way. And there is one way to get into town and one way to get out of it. Parking is tricky – there are some small municipal areas in which to park (too small to be called “lots’, in my opinion). There are some parallel parking spots on the streets, if you’re lucky enough to find them. If you’re staying at a local inn, they usually provide parking for their guests.

Once you’ve arrived and you meander along the streets peeking in the stores full of things you don’t need but are fun to buy anyway, there are two “musts” for your visit on the books & coffee travel idea adventure.

Spend some time, quench your thirst and have a snack at the new Townsend Avenue Coffee and Wine Bar, on Townsend Avenue right next to Grover’s Hardware. They have parking behind the house. And a house it is. Nicknamed “everybody’s living room”, this used to be a funeral home. Don’t worry – no ghosts or other nasties wander these halls, although the special elevator used to raise and lower the coffins still sits on the back porch. Inside, the lovely décor and comfortable furniture make it a welcome stop to read the paper, meet with friends, or contemplate as much or as little as you wish. They serve coffees, teas, wine, sandwiches, salads, fondues and sweets, with high quality at a reasonable price. It’s owned and operated by Lyle Jones and Tod McKim, two Broadway veterans who chucked their life in New York for the beauty of Boothbay Harbor. The Coffeehouse itself is worth the drive. I’m often teased with “You drove all the way to Maine for a cup of coffee?”

Yes, I did and you know Books and Coffee are a travel idea worth considering.

The other gem of Boothbay Harbor is the Used Book Store. It is run by the Friends of Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library and is housed in an actual house next to the library itself. The library stands on a hill near the center of Boothbay Harbor – the views across the water are lovely. The Used Book Store has several large, long shelves on its porch, filled to bursting with volumes for sale. Price: 10 cents each. And there’s a small container attached to the door in which to set your dimes, should you crave a book in the middle of the night. I’ve never seen anyone walk away without paying, and I hope I never do.

Inside, it’s light and lovely, with simple wooden shelves filled with books. The prices are excellent – I found several paperbacks for 50 cents each, in very good condition, a hardcover oversized edition of Literary England also for 50 cents, and a book filled with a century’s worth of photographs of Scotland for one dollar. On the visit I made to the store in July of 2005, I bought 19 books for a total of $10, mostly books I can use in the research of my new novel. Money goes to support the library – a cause I’m always happy to assist. (Hyde House, right behind the Library, which is on the corner of Oak and McKown).

Boothbay Harbor is a place to spend an hour or to spend a week. The quality of light alone as it shifts across the water during the course of the day is enough to keep you entertained.

As you can see the books & coffee travel idea is quite interesting if you are a coffee and book lover.

USA Travel Idea: The French Quarter of New Orleans

At age 33, I’d never been to New Orleans.  In hindsight, it kinda seems like a bit of a tragegy.

I was heading down from Alaska to Washington D.C. for my 15 year high school reunion.  My wife and I figured that as long as we were making the big trip south (about 10 hours of air travel), we might as well poke around the neighborhood to see where else we might want to go (the neighborhood, in this case, being the lower-48 states!).  A 7 day cruise out of Galveston, Texas and then a climactic couple of days in the French Quarter of New Orleans seem like a first class travel idea.

If you’re ever worried that visiting New Orleans on a weekday or non-holiday might not be raucous enough for you– think again.  At least, think again if you are used to Anchorage, Alaska (population 350k or so).  We were visiting for a Tuesday-Thursday in April– and it rained the whole time (just about).  Still, the french quarter seemed chock full of music, drinking, and assorted revelry.  Enough so that the idea of being in French Quarter during Mardi Gras is a little scary.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Where to Stay:  After doing a fair bit of research on where to stay, we settled on The Frenchman 417 Frenchmen Street | New Orleans, Louisiana 70116, Tel: (888) 365-2775, which presented a lot like the French Quarter as a whole does– funky, friendly, comfy, and a little rough around the edges.  It has a tiny little garden swimming pool and jacuzzi, spacious rooms old rooms filled with antique furniture, fresh croissants and chicory-coffee in the morning, and delightful service.  They have a variety of rooms, ranging from $49 a night in the low season to $299 a night during “special events”.  The hotel offers a small amount of secure parking for a small fee (I think $7 a day sounds right), but in hindsight I would’ve ditched the rental car– you just don’t need it in the French Quarter.
What to Do: Unlike a lot of other destinations we’ve visited, New Orleans doesn’t seem particularly activity-centric.  The chief activity of the French Quarter appears to be wandering around– and strangely, it doesn’t get old.  Remember that we were there on three weeknights– and the French Quarter STILL seemed like it was jumping.  Wandering down the main streets (Bourbon St.,Decatur,  etc) is a riot of assorted delightful sins–  bars, strip clubs, world-famous culinary destinations, and a sleazy open-air market all make for interesting people-watching.  Walking down the main drags is a feast for the ears as you wander in and out of range of the noisy New Orleans establishments (a lot of it live, some of it canned).  We heard all flavors of jazz, blues and rock.

Even for a pair of non-partying-types, the “rules of the road” in New Orleans were energizing.  Virtually all of the bars serve their drinks in enormous plastic cups– and it’s assumed you will wander from bar to bar with your alcoholic beverages.  At night, they block off the main roads to allow for more foot traffic, the majority of which is generally carrying some flavor of booze or another.  I was delighted to find that there are tiny little booze-to-go spots– businesses who don’t even bother to offer you music or a place to sit down.  Just a big fast-food-style backlit menu full of assorted alcohol-to-go concoctions.

One activity we did decide to indulge in was The New Orleans Ghost Tour 504-628-1722.  If I hadn’t read such good things about it, I would’ve been suspicious.  I called the reservation line and never did get a call back.  A little internet research yielded that the tours started at Flanagan’s Pub (625 St. Philip Street), so we figured we’d just show up shortly before one of the tours was scheduled to depart and see if we could tag along.  When we asked the bartender, she thumbed us towards a scuzzy little ticket booth in the back, and we bought a pair of tickets for the next tour ($19 per ticket).  The tour was a walking tour led by Phillip, a flamboyant local with an obvious enthusiasm for the paranormal.  Phillip led us around the French quarter (even in New Orleans, a weirdo going on about ghosts leading 15 or so people around draws a few stares) and described the histories of a dozen or so ghosts.  It was a nice opportunity to walk around some more, drink an enormous Hurricane (the local drink), and hear about some of the local history/mythology.

Much of what there is to do in New Orleans (to me) seems centered on eating, which leads me to…

Where to Eat: My wife and I are foodies– that is to say, no matter where we go we make an attempt to find the most exceptional/interesting local food we can. This certainly doesn’t mean that we only eat at the fanciest establishments.  New Orleans is home of several of the most famous restaurants in the world, however– so it seemed a shame not to hit at least a few of the fancy places.

For our big dinner out, we had a rough time deciding.  We read that Galatoire’s (209 Bourbon Street,) (504) 525-2021 had just been named the best overall restaurant in the United States by the James Beard Foundation, so it seemed like a good bet.  We almost weren’t able to eat there.  Galatoire’s is a true white-tablecloth establishment and requires a jacket be worn for dinner and shorts are not allowed.  It obviously isn’t uncommon for people to show up sans jacket– so they graciously offered me one.  Don’t think for a moment that this means Galatoire’s is stuffy– other than appearance of staff and diners, it was delightfully casual.  Every time a birthday cake came out, the whole restaurant (staff and customers) roared out a drunken rendition of Happy Birthday.  Late in the evening, a young fellow was caught one one knee proposing by his waiter who loudly shouted out the good news to cheers from the whole place.  Our waiter (with a 5 o’clock shadow but wearing a smart tuxedo) said “All the way from Alaska?  That’s a long fucking trip.” to us, and when we were leaving said, “Um– you left some wine– you guys want it in a plastic cup?”.  Sooooo, yeah– it was the most laid back fancy restaurant I’ve been in.

The dinner menu at Galatoire’s was strange– a bit low in terms of description, and a bit free form in terms of food.  You were literally able to combine your own meats, fishes, sauces, toppings, side dishes, etc.  I’m very used to fancy chefs telling me exactly what I get on my plate (and usually artfully combining things for an exceptional plate of food).  I settled on artichoke hearts topped with crab meat and a spicy hollandaise, and my wife had a local whitefish, also topped with crab meat, and a lemon white wine sauce.  We shared the banana-bread pudding with Whiskey sauce for dessert.   All-in-all, I’d certainly put it in my top 5 culinary experiences.

If you’re on a travel budget, I’d recommend ignoring it (your budget!) and grabbing at least one fancy meal while in New Orleans– there are just too many world class restaurants to ignore.  If you are on a tight budget that simply can’t be broken, there are a gazillion great dining experiences to be had.  New Orleans has a fabulous tradition of low-budget food.

  • Beignets (Acadian doughnuts) and Chicory coffee at the famous Cafe Du Monde (800 Decatur Street),
  • muffulettas at the Central Grocery (923 Decatur St, don’t go at prime lunch time unless you want to stand in line).  The muffuletta starts with a whole loaf of round Italian bread, which is stuffed to overflowing with Italian meats and cheeses, then topped with a rich olive salad.
  • Po Boys (Uglesich’s, 1238 Baronne Street, 15 minutes from Canal St (504) 523-8571
  • Deep Fried Pickles
  • Boiled Crawfish (you can get ’em just about anywhere)

Special Considerations:  New Orleans is dirty.  If you want an immaculate destination, this isn’t for you.  When I say dirty– I don’t just mean stinky and covered with dirt (though it’s a little stinky and there is plenty of trash).  Walking down Bourbon Street is NOT a wholesome experience.  New Orleans folk seem to revel in their own naughtiness.  If I’d bothered to count, I’m sure I would’ve counted more than a dozen strip clubs, one of which promised “Live S-e-X Acts!” and had some improbably graphic photos all over the front of their establishment.  Larry Flynt (publisher of Hustler) has two clubs on Bourbon– his standard “Hustler Club” and his “Barely Legal” club.  Unlike many destinations, there isn’t a “Red-light” district that you can avoid– if you decide that you don’t want to see strip clubs, you’ll have to avoid the French Quarter entirely.

Top 10 Travel Ideas for Chicago

When visiting Chicago, IL, the birthplace of skyscrapers, there are thousands of places that tourists can visit. Many of these aren’t worth the money that it costs to get to them. So while spending a week touring Chicago with Masako, a friend from Japan, I narrowed down the list to the top ten sites to visit while in the Windy City.

Like the millions of people who visit Chicago annually, I would start with…

The Sears Tower, 233 South Wacker Drive. The bird’s-eye view of the city from the Skydeck 1353 feet above the streets is truly amazing. According to the Sears Tower web site, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois can all be seen from the Skydeck on a clear day. It was perfectly clear when Masako and I visited, and I can’t guarantee that we saw any state other than Illinois. But it does give a perspective of the city that you can’t get any other way. The price may seem steep at $11.95, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to truly feel like you are on top of the world… or at least on top of the city.

travel idea sears tower chicagoThe skyline from Lake Michigan. There are dozens of cruises that tourists can choose to take, ranging from one-hour tours to three-hour dinner cruises. All of these will offer you a wonderful opportunity to view the skyline as you float by. Narrated tours will point out the unique architecture and tell stories about the city. I have fond memories of cruises on Lake Michigan from my childhood, and they were all enjoyable. However, Masako and I found the Shoreline Sightseeing Water Taxi to be just as enjoyable. For $6, you can hop on this boat and enjoy a view of the city as you ride from the Shedd Aquarium to Navy Pier. You can also ride the taxi from Navy Pier to the Sears Tower and see the architecture from the Chicago River. Masako and I opted to buy the $12 all-day pass and ride the boats back and forth between all three locations. The ride isn’t narrated, but it is cost-effective and lets you see the city inside and out.

budget travel idea lake michigan sunsetThe skyline at night. There are many different ways to see the skyline, and throughout the week Masako and I tried several different ones. You can take one of the cruises mentioned in #2, but why spend $30 or more when you could see this for free? If you are in the city with your significant other, you may opt to view it while walking along the lakefront. There are several different paths along Lake Shore Drive that allow you to see all of the skyscrapers glittering in the night.

Navy Pier. One of the most recognizable features of the Pier is its Ferris Wheel. Even though it’s only about one-tenth the height of the Skydeck, it seems high because of the lake winds blowing through your hair and the clear view of the Pier below you. At night, the wheel is lit up marvelously, shining over the entire Pier. Masako and I enjoyed the ride, even though I am afraid of heights. There is no reason to pass it up! After riding the Wheel, you can enjoy some of the other attractions, including a carousel, miniature golf, a climbing wall, a swing ride, a funhouse maze, and an IMAX theater. If attractions aren’t your taste, you can enjoy the dozens of shops inside of the Pier. City gear, jewelry, and teddy bears are abundant in the stores and on the vendor carts.

the navy pier harbour is an excellent travel idea
Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park. If you have ever watched Married with Children, you will recognize this beautiful fountain in a heartbeat. Even if you’ve seen the water shoot out of animals’ mouths and felt the sprays as the wind blows your way during the day, you still haven’t seen anything. The real show is at night, watching the water shoot over one hundred feet in the air and seeing every inch of the fountain light up with brilliant colors. This is a must-see for everyone, from the thrifty tourist to the wealthy businessperson.

Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive. The aquarium offers the opportunity to see hundreds of varieties of exotic and local fish and various other sea life, including whales, dolphins, penguins, frogs, and otters. Unless you have a fear of water, you will find something that you enjoy at the aquarium. The only problem with the Shedd is that it is one of the costlier attractions on this list. If you want to visit all parts of the aquarium, you will have to fork up $23 for admission. If you do this, you should make it worth your money and plan to spend several hours there. I also recommend eating in the food court. You can pay an arm and a leg to eat there, or you can bring your own food in. It doesn’t matter which you do; you will still get to enjoy the gorgeous view.

Shedd Aquarium is a great travel idea
The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive. One of the best aspects of this museum is its variety of exhibits. You will be able to see dinosaur skeletons, gems and minerals, Egyptian artifacts, examples of lifestyles from around the world, a variety of artwork, and animals from every continent, all underneath one gigantic roof. Everyone will discover a favorite area of this museum. You can enjoy most of the museum for $19; however, if you’re spending that much, you may want to splurge and pay the full $25 to have complete access to all exhibits.

Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark Street. While this zoo isn’t horribly unique when compared to other zoos, it does offer a day of adventure for the low price of nothing. If you’re in the Windy City with your family, the price itself must be tempting. But once you get there, you will get caught up in the excitement. It goes beyond lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Enjoy a variety of mammals, birds, and reptiles, and don’t forget a visit to the Children’s Zoo, a favorite of the young and the young at heart alike. If you’d like to continue with an inexpensive Chicago trip, why not pay $1.75 for a day of fun on…

Another great travel idea in Chicago - Lincoln Park ZooThe El. The elevated train system runs throughout the city and offers a cost-efficient way to travel from one tourist attraction to the next. What most people forget is that the El is a tourist attraction in and of itself. You will get many unique views of the city while speeding through buildings on one of the many trains. Masako and I enjoyed watching buildings speed past so close that we could have touched them if there weren’t windows almost as much as we enjoyed watching the city get larger through the windows of the Orange Line train. Buy a 2-day pass for $9 and enjoy seeing hundreds of sights while riding every train running through the city. As you’re riding, you may notice several Asian buildings near the Cermak-Chinatown stop on the Red Line. Hop off and visit…

Chinatown, near Cermak Road and State Street. Some people visit this area to enjoy the architecture, while others stop by to taste the authentic meals. Masako and I swung by to do a little shopping. There are some wonderful deals on both food and souvenirs. Regardless of why you visit, you will enjoy this area. It gives the semblance of visiting an Asian village without leaving the city- just consider it an international trip without the international airfare. If you’ve ever questioned the authenticity of Chinatown, Masako shot it down. She said that while she was there, she felt right at home because it reminded her so much of Asia.

While there are many more sights throughout the Windy City that you may enjoy, these ten will help make your visit worthwhile and memorable.

Travel Ideas on The Pacific Coast Highway

Making a trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, South California makes for an interesting and exciting travel idea.

Be sure to fill your tank with enough gas to drive somewhere in the neighborhood of seventy miles. The stations in or near Oxnard close early some nights. Drive north, starting in Los Angeles and you’ll see Santa Monica, Pacific Pallisades, Malibu — millionaire’s homes and Pepperdine University. The lesser-known jewel of this adventure is an excursion I like to call midnight trips to Oxnard. This is the perfect adventurous little jaunt that can be finished in two hours or so.

santa monica california beach holiday
At least once a week I head out by the water for a forty-mile drive to strawberry country. Once past the lights and other indications of civilization it’s simply windy roads and a cool moonlight ocean panorama perfect for romance in the truest sublime sense. What’s most wonderful about this trip is the cost — there isn’t anything to pay for aside from a few gallons of gasoline. If you stay in Los Angeles, it’s worth taking a couple hours one night.

Zuma Beach and Point Mugu are two beaches you’ll pass worth stopping at for a minute or more. Near the area, you’ll start to see fog, another spectacular aspect of the trip. The fog isn’t thick enough to cause the drive the be treacherous, just enough to remind you of the desolation on this particular stretch.

Watch for wild animals crossing the road while you drive. More than once, they’ve been scared onto the road and stunned by my headlights. If you’re lucky you’ll see a beachside coyote stalking by his lonesome.

On good nights, the moon will be out and shining over the Pacific. Moonlight reflected in the ocean is indescribably beautiful, especially in a quiet area such as this. With no traffic or city lights around, this view can be stared at in its most pristine form for hours. The moon lights up the road as much as needed for wonderful driving conditions. If you bring a companion, be sure to tell a ghost story.

Once in Oxnard, turn off on any street and open the windows to enjoy the smell of strawberry fields. Oxnard is farming land, where there is little activity after dark – again, perfect for driving.

If continuing north interests you, there is much more coastland to see. San Luis Obispo is just a ways up, all of Santa Barbara County is worth perusing. One caveat: do not venture into Big Sur at night. High up in the mountains, the roads turn dangerous quickly. The once charming fog becomes impenetrable, the turning of the roads become all the windier for sixty-some miles.

Driving back will be worth it as well. The same views you enjoyed on the trip there will be out the opposite window. Upon returning to L.A. you’ll feel energized no matter what hour it is.