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May 16, 2013

TRAVELIN' MAINE(RS): Step back in history with a trip to the Maine Maritime Museum

George and Linda Smith

Breakfast or lunch at Mae's Café in Bath and a visit to the Maine Maritime Museum make a great day trip.

George

Mae's amazed us. In Bath last winter for a column about the Bath Inn and Solo Bistro restaurant, we stayed an extra day when a blizzard rolled in on Saturday night. Mae's was within walking distance of the inn, so we hiked through the snow drifts to get there for Sunday lunch. And despite the storm, it was packed. We had to wait for a table.

The dining room is light and cheery, with walls full of bright artwork on sale by local artists. There's even a shelf of books to keep the kids occupied. The extensive menu of breakfast and lunch items ranges far and wide and includes eight Eggs Benedict choices, crab melt croissant sandwiches, quiche, quesadillas, seafood and steak. It was tough walking by the bakery (where the cinnamon and pecan sticky buns were calling my name) to get to the dining room.

Service here is super friendly. A Shipyard IPA was quickly delivered to our table as I gazed out the window at the swirling snow, mouth watering while perusing the menu. My eyes stopped at the corned beef Reuben, just $9.95. The first bite was heavenly, the toast crunchy, the corned beef thinly sliced and lean, the coleslaw superb. While the service here is fast, this is not fast food.

At a nearby table, one patron enjoyed breakfast while his partner had lunch. Linda and I settled in, unhurried, blessed by a day with nothing on the schedule.

The previous day had been packed with activities. Our visit to the Maine Maritime Museum was the highlight for me. We planned a two-hour visit and it was not nearly enough time to experience it all. It's hard to believe this was my first-ever visit here.

From the Tugboat Pilot House (a hands-on experience sure to entrance the kids) to the astonishing works of art and sculpture, this place is a treasure -- and a treasure-filled experience. My favorite piece was the Merrymeeting Bay gunning float, constructed in 1879 for duck hunting and used for 150 years for sculling up close to the ducks by the Albert Wood family. First used in Merrymeeting Bay, it later found its way to both Rangeley and Moosehead Lakes.

Our history comes alive here. The "Away From It All" display tells the story of the late 1800s when people began visiting Maine to fish, yacht and relax. A photo of three guys fly fishing could have been taken on any of the state's then-remote trout ponds. The photos of seaside resorts and "summer houses" are stunning.

I learned that 12,000 Mainers built 234 Liberty ships at a South Portland shipyard during World War II. Did you know that? I saw huge mackerel jigs, attached to hand lines studded with huge sinkers, and imagined how tough it must have been to fish with those. Eventually they gave way to purse seines.

Throughout the museum are items that made their way to Maine from all over the world, from scrimshaw to whale's teeth. The Java collection is particularly interesting. The woodcarving display, accompanied by a special songs by Maine's own Gordon Bok, was unique and special.

Linda

A visit to the Maine Maritime Museum gives a vivid picture of Maine long ago. An entire room focuses on Maine's connection to the trade industry. As you pass through this room you will hear audio recordings and see videos that transport you back to that era. Learn about our connection to the spice and cotton industry, and find out about the exportation of Maine products like lumber, granite and lime. It is incredibly well done and there's a lot to be learned here. I found it to be similar to a trip to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. This is not just for tourists ... take some time to learn more about our Maine heritage.

Every kind of vessel is here. I'd never learned about destroyers, steam ships, naval vessels or merchant ships, so I was fascinated. You may find yourself spending the better part of a morning or afternoon here -- or even a whole day. And it would take many such trips to see all that is in this huge museum. Many people buy an annual pass that includes unlimited visits. When I found out that school groups come here, I was a bit jealous. This must be a very rich learning experience for children.

I loved the exhibit of "Mariners' Words." The four-sided display showcased the many English sayings we use that are derived from an "Ocean of Words." It was "chock-a-block" full of information. You'll have to visit to see how those words relate to the sea.

Take time at the museum to sit and enjoy your surroundings. I highly recommend searching out the sunny space at the back with plenty of seating, and enjoying the view of the Kennebec River while soaking up the sunshine.

I loved the feel of Mae's. Many windows lend lots of natural light, and this is mixed with a pleasing taupe and white color scheme, making this restaurant very welcoming. Add bookshelves with interesting reading, great coffee, good food, and you have the perfect spot to linger while unobtrusive violin music softly plays in the background.

We saw people sitting alone and reading, and many parties that had come to meet friends and family. You can get breakfast anytime, so if one of you wants lunch and one of you wants breakfast, it's no problem.

I had a great hot pastrami sandwich served on a bulky roll. Crispy chips, pickle and tasty coleslaw made this worth a hike in a blizzard.

Barely an hour away, Bath is now on our favorites list. From terrific performances at the Chocolate Church, to the comfort of the Bath Inn, to the fine dining at Solo Bistro, to the delicious food and friendly service at Mae's, this is a place we hope to get back to soon. And guess what? The Maritime Museum is right on the way to nearby Popham Beach!

IF YOU GO

Mae’s Café
ADDRESS: 60 Center St., Bath (just off U.S. Route 1)
ON THE WEB: maescafeandbakery.com
PHONE: 442-8577
HOURS: Open seven days a week from 8 a.m. -3 p.m.
Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.
An outdoor deck is available in the summer.
   
Maine Maritime Museum
ADDRESS: 243 Washington St., Bath
ON THE WEB: MaineMaritimeMuseum.org
PHONE: 443-1316

Bath Visitor Information Center
ON THE WEB: VISITBATH.COM
PHONE: 443-1513
The city hosts many special summer events. Heritage Days, billed as “Bath’s biggest party” includes the “largest 4th of July parade in Maine.” Sounds like fun! So do the free outdoor concerts at the Gazebo in Library Park held on Tuesday and Friday evenings in late June through August. The commercial district includes a lot of unique shops. And you can ride around the city in a trolley for just $1.

Sea Dog Brewing Company
ADDRESS: Old Bowdoin Mill, Topsham
ON THE WEB: www.seadogbrewing.com
PHONE: 725-0162
HOURS: Open for lunch and dinner Monday-Thursday and Sunday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., with the pub remaining open until 1 a.m. Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. -2 p.m.

Visit George's website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.





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