I'm a Florida native, so I was born with high standards for beaches and coastline.
So, when I recently spent a week in Belfast, Maine, I was skeptical of what exactly this northern beach town would be like.
So, you ask, what was it like?
Foggy mornings, a sea full of ships, sunny, bright afternoons and lots and lotssss of seafood.
I was pleasantly surprised. Maine was exactly what I needed. It was a vacation where I actually - gasp - relaxed.
We went sailing or kayaking in the mornings, napped in the hammocks, took the monsters (my family's two german shepherds) for walks along the water, laid out in the afternoon and read, and ventured into town in the evenings for dinners at Darby's, movies at the kitschy cinema, or community concerts and gallery openings.
The beach was veryyyy different from what I'm used to. No sandy white beaches here! It was rocky, jagged and a bit slippery from all the seaweed and moss, making those "long sunset walks on the beach" more challenging. Though I appreciated the challenge-- it became a sort of sport for me to hike from solid rock to solid rock without slipping and breaking myself.
Adding to the challenge was the fact that at certain points during the day (aka High Tide), we had no beach! Early in the week I had found a sweet spot to perch my beach lounger each afternoon and then one day, as I coerced my brother to be my cabana boy and carry the chair down to the shore for me, realized that there was no "beach" for me to go to. The steps lead right into the lapping water. Eh, the cute little yard worked out just as well for afternoon reading and sunbathing.
The good, the bad and the ugly of Belfast and Maine in general:
- I could do without the Crocs. Everyone wears them...in every color. Why? Why do you do it to yourselves? Can someone explain this phenomenon to me?
- Lobster rolls are delicious, yet sort of over-hyped and overpriced. I waited on line for over an hour at Red's, the famous lobster hut, in the hot baking sun for one of their renowned lobster rolls. Was it really over a whole lobster's worth of meat (as they claim) on a roll and absolutely amazing? Yes. Was it worth my profuse sweating and the grouchy, frustrated attitude I acquired while waiting? I'm still deciding.
- No matter how "green" New York thinks we are, New England is better. Everyone is so concerned and attentive about the environment. Belfast is home to a Co-op organic and local grocery store that sells raw milk and other interesting finds. BTW, I have no idea how raw milk is made or why it's raw. I wanted to try it but chickened out/forgot.
They also have a shop aptly named, The Green Store. They sell everything and anything green. My mom forgot her toothbrush and seeing as there was no standard pharmacy right in town, she brought a "green" toothbrush there. Who knew they made those??
- I've found that most beach towns up and down the Atlantic Coast have a sleepy sort of attitude, and not much goes on (excluding the prime party beaches of course, like Belmar). Belfast was an exception. There were things going on every day and night in this little town. Bike races, Art Walks, movie premieres, concerts...those Maine folks know how to enjoy a summer. Then again, it's probably because their poor winter lasts for like six months of the year...nooo thank you.
In the end, I think one of the things I appreciated most about Belfast was that it was genuine. You could feel the community vibe pulsing throughout the town, and the locals appreciate tourists but don't thrive on them. Multiple shop owners and people about town would strike up conversations with us, and each time the same point came up: Belfast, unlike Camden (their larger and more touristy neighbor), does not have a direct exit off of the interstate. Meaning there are no huge signs and arrows pointing the herds to town as in Camden. You can still appreciate the true town in Belfast without the tourism/marketing/phony pop-up ventures that only serve to stereotype destinations and overcharge unknowing visitors.
As much as I'd like to see the world, it's also important to see your own country. I'm really glad I got to experience Maine...next on the U.S. tour list for me should be Arizona, California and all those other states that look the same in the middle. Kiddinggg.