Maine and Boston via the Acela

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We're just back from our annual Maine trip. It was kind of warm, even up in the mountains. I think next year we might have to go to Labrador in order to escape the summer heat of the northeastern United States. (Of course, this week, now that we're home, the temperatures up at the cabin are in the 60s. Go figure.)

I had booked on Acela 2152, leaving Baltimore at 6:30 AM. We arrived at the station a little before 6, and everything seemed to be running on time. Then a quick look at the asm.transitdocs tracker 10 minutes of so after 6 showed that the 2152 was still sitting in Washington. It was still sitting in Washington by 6:15, which was concerning, given that it's only a 30 minute ride to Baltimore. Then the delay was posted on the board. In the end it arrived about 20 minutes late, and more or less stayed that way all the way to Boston.

We had booked First Class on points. We had good professional service, but the current menu choices weren't my favorites, though the meals were perfectly fine. My wife enjoyed the scenery along Long Island Sound in Connecticut. We were stopped about 10 minutes in Kingston, RI for some reason that wasn't fully explained, and, as mentioned, arrived at South Station about 20 minutes behind schedule.

When arriving in Boston on Acela First Class, you have to remember that the car is the las car of the train, which means that you get to walk the whole length of the train down the platform to get to the station. This we did in the 90+ degree heat. Then when we entered the station, we found that the air conditioning wasn't working! This was not a good beginning to our trip. Now, it was time to get our rental car. This saga has been dealt with here:


so there's really no need to repeat the tale. Needless to say, we were finally in our rental 2018 Subaru Crosstrek and out of the airport. Our destination was Manchester, NH, where we were going to spend the night and pick up our daughter, who was flying in the next day. Google maps shoed that the Big Dig and Zakim Bridge were totally jammed (it was Friday afternoon, bur early in the afternoon), so we decided to take a scenic drive that involved a tour of Revere Beach, Nahant, Lynn, and finally back on to I-95 to drive over to I-93 and then up to Manchester. It was a little early as we approached Manchester, so I suggested we check out the LL Bean outlet in Concord, not too far up the road. That as a major mistake, as I-93 was backed up for several miles. We got off at the rest area for a pit stop and to buy a couple of things at the New Hampshire State liquor store, but when we finally made it to the next exit, we had enough, got off, made a u-turn, and went right back south to Manchester and our hotel.
This was nothing special, a Doubletree in the downtown with a stratospheric price tag, like all the lodgings in New England during the summer. We went to a Japanese restaurant across the street -- my wife had salmon teryiaki, I had the sushi plate. Then we went back to the hotel and watched Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives until bedtime. Some of the specialties of these joints looked pretty tasty, but the portions are so large, I got heartburn just watching the show.

Well, that's it for day one. More to come.
 
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The next morning, we were up, grabbed a quick breakfast at Dunkin, packed up, checked out, and went to the Manchester Airport. What a pleasant surprise after our experience at Logan. No traffic to speak of, and the hourly lot is right next to the terminal entrance at $3.00 for the first half hour. We timed it great, our daughter's flight just came in, we got her baggage, and were out in about 20 minutes. The only confusing things are the two traffic circles with some ambiguous signage, but we had no problem with that. Also interesting that the entrance road passes under one of the taxiways. For sure, if I lived on the north side of Boston, I'd be using this as my primary airport. Of course, there are no overseas flights, and I suspect very limited, if any. nonstop transcontinental flights.

We had decided to have lunch in Portland, so off we went on NH 101 to connect us to the coast. When we hit I-95, we also hit the Saturday morning traffic. It was stop and go until a few miles into Maine. I'm not sure what causes the slowdown, as there wasn't any obvious blockage at the place where the traffic cleared. Onje can see why Massachusetts and Maine are so hot to fund the Downeaster, though from the volume of traffic, they'll need more than 5 round trips a day to make a dent in the snarled-up highways. I think part of the problem is that once you get to Maine, you really need a car to get around. Perhaps they need to be offering rail/rental car packages with convenient transfers to and from the train stations.

When we got to downtown Portland, it wasn't too bad finding street parking. We had wanted to eat at Duckfat, a well-known joint famous from their poutine and Belgian style frites fried in duck fat. However, the line and the wait was long, so we settled for our old reliable next door, the Eastender, which specializes in small plates and cocktails. No booze for me, as I still had 3 hours of driving ahead, my wife had the fish and chips, my daughter had a "grilled salad," and I had their deluxe smashburger with a root beer float. A very good root beer float, by the way, made with homemade ice cream.

After that, the usual 3 hour drive up through Auburn and Farmington to Rangeley. As we left Farmington, the sky started getting grey and the wind picked up. By the time we got to Rangeley, it was in the 60s and a bit blustery. We stopped at the IGA to buy food, trying to be very careful about what we bought, as we weren't going to be able to drive away with leftovers this year. Then, we were off for the last 12-mile drive to the camp, which was waiting for us in tip-top condition.

This cool evening was about the last of the typical cool New England summer mountain weather that we experience for the rest of our trip. More to come.
 
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Our week in Maine was fine, though it was a bit warmer and more humid than usual, with temperatures getting into the upper 80s. We had some rain one day, which just happened to be when I took a trip to Upper Dam to do some fly fishing in the world-famous Upper Dam Pool. (No, I didn't catch any fish.) That rain didn't seem to cool things down much. The cabin isn't air conditioned, and it would get a bit warm inside during the day, though we did run a large box fan in the upstairs window to give ourselves good air flow. The only upside was that the sun warmed up the lake, the water of which was at 75 F rather than the usual 68 - 70 F that I dealt with in early July. This was quite refreshing for swimming, and we were in the water twice a day on most days.

We went out to eat a bit more than we usually do, as we didn't want to have too much food on hand, because what we didn't eat got thrown out, as we were taking the train home. Our options were more limited than we last remembered, as some places have closed down over the past 2 years, and it seems like the summer crowds are at prepandemic -- or more -- levels. One place we went to was definitely off its usual game. We had to wait quite a while to get seated, and we could see empty tables unbussed. The staff was working its tail off, but you could see they were understaffed. We had a very nice meal at the Bald Mountain Camps in a classic old-style rustic dining room with a lake view. I had a thick slice of prime rib that was enough meat to feed the whole family.

All too soon it was time to leave. We had to get our daughter to the Manchester Airport at about 10:50 AM for her flight, so we left well before 7:00 AM and started driving through the New Hampshire North Country. We had breakfast at a Dunkin Donuts in Berlin, NH, one of the better DDs I've been in, with a sharp staff and a nice seating area. Even though it was still in the 70s, it was starting to warm up, and the air conditioning was appreciated. From there we skirted the Presidential Range, where it was starting to cloud up, then on to I-93 through Franconia Notch, which is always a pretty spectacular drive. South of Franconia Notch, the clouds lifted, it got sunny and hot, and the speed limit was 70 mph. This mean that we were way ahead of schedule, so we stopped in Concord (NH), the state capitol, and walked around a bit, even though it was really starting to get hot. Finally, back on the road for the short drive to the Manchester Airport. After we dropped off our daughter, we drove back up to Concord to check out the LL Bean outlet that we missed on the drive up due to the traffic jam. We didn't find anything, so back in the car and on to Boston...

Oh, and about an hour after we dropped her off, our daughter called and said that her flight had been delayed. Apparently, the plane hadn't arrived in Manchester yet. But compared to a lot of air travelers this summer, it wasn't that bad, as the plane finally came in, and she arrived back at BWI only about a half hour behind schedule.

to be continued.
 
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A quick drive back to Boston, no traffic until just as we got to the Zakim Bridge. Fortunately, we got off at the first exit inside the Big Dig, Government Center, to the Fitzgerald Surface Road, a right on State, which turned into Court, then a left on to Tremont, and another left on to School St, right to our hotel, the Omni Parker House. We pulled over, and the efficient bell staff took our bags on a trolley,, while we walked in and prepared to check in. Uh-oh, our room wasn't ready. Well, no problem, really. My wife volunteered to sit in the lobby and await the room, while I went back outside to return the car to Logan Airport. At least this time we wouldn't be schlepping luggage on various shuttles and other public transportation.

Despite downtown Boston's twisted lack of street plan, it wasn't that hard to get to the Callahan Tunnel and Logan Airport. Furthermore, the rental car return was one of the first exits, so I didn't have to deal too much with the traffic maze. I stopped and filled at tank at the conveniently, if overpriced, on-site gas station, and then drove right up to the Hertz rental car return. All I had to do was leave the key in the car and walk away. The receipt arrived minutes later in my email. Easiest rental car return I've ever had. Through my insurance company, I am a Hertz Gold member, and it was worth it, as we didn't have to wait in any lines to pick up the car in the first place, we were just told to go to "row A" and pick any car parked there. I'll have to start using Hertz more often, though for picking up cars at South Station, Enterprise works much better. I hope they get their act together by the next time I ride the train up to Boston and need a rental car. Although, come to think of it, I could take the SL3, get off at the Airport T station, and have a quick shuttle ride over to the rental car center.

After dropping the car, I found that the one-way traffic pattern in front of the rental car meant that I would have to take a shuttle bus tour of all of Logan Airport to get back to the Airport T station, which is practically right next door to the rental car center. I could have taken the shuttle back to Terminal and gotten on the SL1 bus for free back to South Station with a free transfer to the Red Line to Park and my hotel, but the traffic in the Ted Willimas tunnel was bumper to bumper (the Sumner Tunnel is closed for rebuilding on the weekends), and I really wasn't interested in breathing diesel exhaust sitting in a traffic jam. Thus, I opted for the 10-minute walk though Memorial Park, despite the bright sun and 98-degree temperature.

It was a quick Blue Line T ride (at least there haven't been any major incidents on the Blue Line so far) back to State, where I emerged from the underground in front of the Old State House, site of the Boston Massacre in 1770. It was a couple of blocks to the hotel, though I first stopped at a Walgreens to buy a bottle of water to rehydrate myself and break a $20 bill so I'd have some small bills to tip the bellman.

When I returned to the wonderfully air-conditioned lobby, my wife told me that our room was still not ready. OK, maybe we had arrived a bit early in the afternoon, but this was getting a bit unreasonable. So we went back to the front desk and rattled the cage of the desk clerk (politely, of course), who found a manager, and after a bit of a discussion, upgraded us to a suite. OK, it was a pretty small suite, and it was located in a far wing and with a couple of steps in the hall, but it was an honest to God suite with a Name (the Henry Knox Suite", and it was a $250 a night free upgrade over our already high room rate. We just breezed up on our own, and the friendly and efficient bellman came bay a bit later with our luggage. I do have to say that the bellman service here was very efficient and worth the tips we gave. I don't usually use a bellman when I travel on my own, but then I don't have that much stuff, and I usually don't drive up to a downtown hotel and have to shuffle luggage, check-in and parking.

The suite had a sitting room with faded furniture of vaguely Regency/Empire style. The bedroom was small, but that might have been due to the King bed. The bathroom was a bit old-fashioned with a pedestal sink and a tiled stall shower, but the plumbing worked fine. Most importantly, the air conditioning was fully functional, though the temperature was turned higher in the halls.

Given the beastly heat outside, the temptation was to just stay in the air-conditioned room. But what would be the point of spending the time and money for a couple of days in Boston without seeing Boston. Thus we thought about what to do next.
to be continued
 
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We went outside and walked the block down to Washington St. There we found a McDonald's where we had a late lunch. Then we walked up to Downtown Crossing, where we went to Macy's (I think the former Jordan March building), where my wife found a nice new handbag. At least the store was air conditioned. We made our way back to the room, and it was time for a siesta, as it was too hot for anything else.

When we started thinking about dinner, we decided why not try Italian in the North End. We found the Trattoria Il Panino, which had menu items acceptable to both of us, and we made a reservations. While Hanover St. is maybe only a 10 or 15 minute walk from the hotel, no way we were doing that in the heat, so we called an Uber. Hoy cow, it was over $20 for the ride, and I think maybe we could have walked it faster if it weren't so hot out. We had a nice dinner. I had the Paccheri al Ragu (past with meat stew in tomato sauce), my wife had the Ravioli di Ricotta, and we shared a Caprese salad. They also make a good negroni. It was good food, they claim the pasta is homemade. After dinner, we walked Hanover St. a bit to get a feel for the scene, but were interrupted by a fairly heavy thunderstorm. We were able to avoid most of the rain by standing under an awning, but finally it was time to go. We checked Uber, and it seems that the drivers don't want to mess around driving on Hanover St, and given that 2 of the lanes of the street have been taken over for sidewalk dining, I can't blame them. Thus we had to make our way to through the now lighter, but not altogether gone, rain to Cross St. There we found another $20+ Uber ride, and it was back to the Parker House for the evening.

The next morning, after breakfast, we considered what we could do in the insane heat. Ah, I though. Art, Museum, that's air-conditioned. So we headed to Downtown Crossing, the closest T station to where we had breakfast, and descending into the depths. The plan was to ride the Red line one stop to Par, and then ride the Green Line E train to the Museum of Fine Arts stop. When we finally got to the platform at Park St., we saw the signs that said the E train service was suspended until August 21 and we could take a bus as the alternative. No way I'm standing in the hot sun at a bus stop my wife said, so up and out of the station and a 1 block walk back to the hotel where we sat in the cool lobby and figured out what to do.

How about a harbor cruise I said, it's always cooler on the water. So we walked a block over to Government Center and took the Blue Line to Aquarium. The line at the ticket booth was long, but that was easily avoided by booking the tickets online. Then we found the right place on the dock for boarding and sat out in the hot sun for maybe 20 minutes to a half hour. (So maybe we should have sucked it up and taken the bus to the Museum of Fine Arts.) The gate attendant was friendly though, and we enjoyed talking to her. Plus, we were first in line and first on the boat. The first thing I did when we got inside was find the bar and immediately buy 2 bottles of nice ice-cold water before the line for service got too long.

The cruise was nice, scenic and informative, even if a bit pricey. Unfortunately, the main cabin, while shaded form the sun was not air conditioned, and while the breezes on the outside decks made the temperature almost pleasant, there was absolutely no shade. We learned the whole sordid history about how Boston Harbor had been almost totally filled in and how it was rescued from being an open sewer and trash dump and put into a condition that tourists might actually consider it a good idea to take a harbor cruise. We got a nice sail-by of Old Ironsides (USS Constitution), too.

After the cruise, we thought we'd find some lunch at Quincy Market, but it was incredibly crowded and nothing seemed to appeal to us. In fact, I was generally struck by how many people were out and about in downtown Boston, both on a Sunday afternoon, and a Monday, and in the awful heat. Finding nothing, we slowly made our way back to the Parker House. It turns out that the main dining room isn't serving dinner there right now (I suspect staffing issues), but they were serving lunch. So even though it was pretty expensive, that's where we had lunch. At least we didn't have to go back out into the heat.

This was about 2 PM by now, and it was a very quiet place. It was the old-style formal hotel dining room with a very attentive waiter. We were served the famous Parker House rolls (invented here). Then my wife got scrod (no snickering back there in the peanut gallery!) and I got a braised short ribs. Both were very good. For dessert we shared the original Boston Cream Pie (also invented here and now the official state dessert of Massachusetts). It was good, but I think it was the most expensive lunch I've ever had. After that, it was time to return to the Henry Knox Suite for another siesta.

As dinner time came, we really weren't that hungry, but we realized we needed to eat something if we didn't want to be really hungry at bedtime. So we found that just a couple of doors down the street was the Beantown Pub, whose tagline is "the only pub in the world where you can drink a cold Sam Adams' while viewing a cold Sam Adams." This is because if you get a table by the front window, you can look across the street to the Granary Burying Ground and se the grave of the famous revolutionary patriot Sam Adams. We got such a table, and, indeed, I drank my cold Sam Adams' while viewing a cold Sam Adams, even in the middle of a heat wave. I had the Haddock Bites, which were very good, my wife had a Caesar Salad ((if I remember correctly.) Back to the hotel, where we retired in preparation for our Acela journey home the next day.
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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Nice trip and report!😊

I've always thought that Boston was Over Priced, especially the Hotels and the Food( and tickets to Fenway Park!).

But it is a Historic City with much to see and do when the Weather is nice!

I'd much rather spend time in New York,Philly and DC( which I know you have
since you live close to all three on the NEC.
 
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All right, time to finish up this trip report. I've got a couple more rail tales this August to tell about.

Our final day of vacation. We woke, not too early, considering our train home left at 11:05 AM. Being reluctant to brave the intensifying heat, we found that breakfast sandwiches, pastries, and coffee were available at the coffee shop/souvenir shop just off the hotel lobby, so we got breakfast there and headed back to the room to eat it. Then we called the desk and asked for the bellman, who came up pretty quickly, whisked our bags off to the freight elevator and allowed us to breeze on down to the lobby. There, we called an Uber to take us to South Station. The efficient bellman brought our bags out to the curb at School Street, and before long, our ride arrived. It was a quick ride to South Station, again, the fare was about $20, but it was a longer trip than our previous one to the North End. We soon arrived, and the driver helped us with our bags, and then we were free to roll them into the station.

And what did we find there? No air conditioning! Again. This was almost a week and a half since our arrival, you would think that they'd get something like that repaired. We can't even blame Amtrak for this, as the station is owned by MBTA, though maybe with their subway trains catching on fire and such, management might be a bit distracted.

There was no redcap at the entrance to the Metropolitan Lounge. I went over to the information desk and asked. The woman behind the desk went out to see where the redcap went. Pretty soon thereafter, a redcap hustled up. Either he had been helping a passenger or taking a restroom break. Either way, it shows the staffing shortages. He took our bags and stored them behind the locked door to the lounge. He spoke feelingly about the lack of air conditioning in the station and recommended that we complain to Amtrak. I hope he complained to the union. He's the one who's working there day after day. We just had to endure it until we got on the train. He also warned us that the air conditioning wasn't working in the Metropolitan Lounge, either. Now that's a low blow to inflict on the First Class passengers. However, it was a bit cooler up in the lounge and the lounge attendant directed us to a comfortable seat under an air vent that was reasonably tolerable for the hour or so we waited there.

Finally, it was boarding time. The redcap came into the lounge and collected us and we found he was hauling stuff for a bunch of passengers on this Acela. We walked out to the platform where the train was waiting. Because the First Class car is at the far end of the platform, he had to take care of seating the business class passengers first, but he told us to just walk forward to our car, find out seat and he's bring our luggage. Which he did.

We easily found our seats, as our enterprising First Class attendant had written seat checks with each passenger's name. We soon settled in and the train left for Back Bay on time. After Back Bay, our attendant informed us that his partner was not working that day, presumably for some urgent reason, and that he was going to take care of us alone and give the the First Class service that we paid for. And, despite working alone, he pretty much did that. He was a pretty young guy, and if he was one of the new Amtrak hires, maybe things are looking up on the OBS front. The only quibble I had was that later in the trip, when I ordered a Scotch (they were out of Bourbon), the pour was not as generous as it was from the old timers. I guess as a newbie, we was following the rules more closely. And it's a quibble, because if I really wanted to get drunk, I'm sure he would have brought me another drink.

We worked out way down the scenic Connecticut coast and then through the dreaded Metro-North 40 mph "High Speed Rail" territory, but thanks to the genius of schedule padding, we arrived at New York Penn Station right on time. However, we left New York about 9 minutes late because of some sort of plumbing problem (the conductor called it a "flood") in the café car. After we left Newark, we never really got up to speed. My GPS was showing them dawdling along at 95-98 mph. I can only surmise that it was due to heat restrictions. Thus we arrived at Philadelphia late and never made up the time. We ended up getting into Baltimore about 25 minutes behind schedule. One thing that was odd, though, was that when we got into Maryland, we speeded up a bit, and my GPS was showing us running along at 125 mph in the usual places. And it seemed like it was just as hot in Maryland as it was in New Jersey. Go figure.

Upon arrival, we called up and Uber, and were rewarded with a driver who was using a Tesla 3. It was kind of interesting riding in one. The trunk had enough room to hold out bags, despite the sports car styling, and it was a pretty nice ride home. And that was our vacation. Now we just need a couple of weeks to recover from it. :)
 
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