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                                  skateboarding dog, Manly Beach, Australia
Welcome to the online home of travel columnist Donald D. Groff, who has dispensed advice  and stories since 1988 in such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Newark Star-Ledger, The Kansas City Star, Newsday, Salon, Condé Nast Traveler, Consumer Reports Travel Letter, The Boston Globe, and Endless Vacation magazine.




 Just back from . . . 
Photos ©Donald D. Groff except as otherwise credited

Maine 
A schooner, a beach, lobster & a moose

Romping through Maine in August fills one's soul like the wind fills the sails of the schooner Margaret Todd sailing from Bar Harbor. In early August 2003, coastal Maine complained of unseasonably wet and humid weather, but it eased by mid-month and visitors leaped headlong into this outdoor fantasyland. The recreation menu at Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island is unrivaled: hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing, cliff climbing, nature study, horse-drawn wagons, frolicking on Sand Beach. At meal time, lobster weighs heavily on the collective psyche, and restaurants provide sympathetic counseling.  Off trail, Bar Harbor is full of pleasant surprises, including the Opera House Internet Cafe, possibly the most soothing cyber cafe atmosphere on the planet. 

Aboard the Margaret Todd

The 151-foot, four-masted schooner tours Frenchman Bay with a Park Service ranger who speaks of nature and history. Carol at first was disappointed because the boat was motoring, but eventually the engine was cut, the sails filled, and a smile spread over her face. 2003 adult fare for a two-hour tour:  $29.50.
heave-ho.jpg (11606 bytes)todd-sails.jpg (10849 bytes)

 

Acadia National Park's sandy playground
Fickle weather, a tradition

Sand Beach, the park's biggest and most popular beach, draws visitors -- and swimmers -- even when it's fogged in, as it was on Aug. 10,sand-beach-from-beehive.jpg (28099 bytes) 2003.  The cries of children and gulls cutting through the fog give the beach a mysterious appeal.  Three days later the same beach was all sunshine, giving one-day visitors a whole different story to take home. 

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Lobster, lobster, lobster

Each order is numbered and placed in its own net sack.

Lobster traps / Photo by Carol Clark

Route 3 leading to Mount Desert Island is home to several lobster "pounds," eateries where the crustacean is king. 

How ordering can make you crabby 
Among the best-known of these businesses is the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, an informal place serving delicious lobsters and its own brand of chaos. To the staff and regulars the ordering protocol all makes perfect sense, but newcomers arriving at peak periods need not look for any "the customer comes first" placards here.
 Based on a Saturday evening visit (closing time: 7:30 p.m.)  here's how it works. On entering the small and jam-packed ordering area, you are drawn to the line leading to the cash register. If you are lucky, another guest will advise you to go first to the right, where a sign says "order lobsters here."  (One might think that sign is for fish market service; one would be wrong.) 
An employee will ask what size lobster you want ("average" is 1 1/2 pounds), pull one kicking from a cooler, weigh it, scrawl a number on its back, write the number on a blackboard, and instruct you to give that number to the cashier when you finally make it through the other line. While you wait to order other meal items, the sole cashier will be calling out the numbers of earlier orders that are ready, hence you get to see other people not even in line go ahead of you while the line seems not to be moving at all.
 If you're ordering clams, chowder or other dishes -- and no lobster -- you will get the distinct impression you are a second-class citizen here, as others' numbers come up while you stand helplessly. When I spoke this thought aloud to Carol, the cashier overheard me and snappily denied that was true. But I am sure it has been some time since she walked in the moccasins of a new customer. 
 If you are lucky enough to reach the cashier before your lobster is ready, you'll get a second chance to wait while your other dishes are prepared. No worries -- you'll be called on the loudspeaker for those, too. At the cash register you'll also discover that the lemonade listed for $1.50 on the blackboard is actually canned lemonade in the same cooler as the other soft drinks.
Once you've assembled all your meal components and carried them to the outside picnic tables, don't overlook the sign announcing that there is no busing service. It also instructs you to dump your shells and other residue into the  provided trash can and walk your tray and any implements back to the serving counter near the cashier.  This is not a seafood place that gives you moist towelettes.

 


Above, the outside dining area. Below, steaming seawater.









 It has a hose attached to the side of the shack, but a sign warns customers that it is not to be used. Inside we found a sink, cold water only, with no paper towels. 
Many will excuse this inattention to niceties, chalking it up to local "charm." It's authentic, unpretentious, they might say, like a boisterous deli. Please. The emperor has no clothes. And it may be rough-hewn, but it's not cheap.
In the hour and 15 minutes or so we were there, the restaurant served at least a hundred people, probably with an average tab per person of $20 or $25.  During the wait, everyone near us had the same thought: This place is raking it in. The prevailing attitude was that we were there to have a good time, and everyone was looking forward to the meal. But there also was a "we're not having that good a time while we're waiting to have a good time" temperament.
Perhaps the pound could borrow a page from the airlines and post someone at the door to greet the unindoctrinated.
May a lobster pinch me when that happens.

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Moose mania

 Day breaks on Lake Webb, near Weld, in Maine's Western Mountains region.

  
Kawanhee Inn offers rooms in the main lodge and cabins on the hillside and lake front.

Kawanhee Inn on Lake Webb
If midnight is the witching hour, 6 a.m. must be the moosing hour. It was for us on an overnight stay at the Kawanhee Inn, a picture-perfect lodge whose cabins are occupied  each summer by returning regulars. A handful of rooms are available in the main building and we lucked into one of them at the front desk. At 5:30 the next morning, innkeeper Sturges Butler lightly rapped on our door then outfitted us with paddles and life vests, and soon we were gliding through the mists as sunlight peeked over the hills. We marveled at the quietude, broken only by keening loons, then just off the shoreline in the distance we spotted a bulky figure. An adult female moose stood chest deep in the water, feeding on water lilies. We watched, then continued paddling. When we returned 20 minutes later she was still there, sometimes dipping into deeper water, swimming, munching audibly. When we got back to the lodge with our photos, Sturges was delighted. He had been sending people out there for a long time, he said. But no one had actually come back saying they saw one.

Other destinations: 
  Georgia kangaroos; California; Flight 93 memorial; Atlanta; Nicaragua; London

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          Last updated: 01/30/2005