I'm a Southerner who visited Portland, Maine, for the first time in March.
The weather was cold and the roads were icy, so I'd like to return in the warmer months.
I was excited to sample the local lobster, which was delicious but pricier than I anticipated.
As an Alabaman exploring Maine for the first time, I felt like I was on the other side of the world.
Before I visited New England, I didn't know a lot about the region.
I grew up in the South and always associated the Northeastern states with impassioned sports fans and mouthwatering lobster.
Since my fiancée and I were temporarily living in Vermont in March, we decided to take a road trip to Portland, Maine, and experience it for ourselves.
These were the things that surprised me the most about our trip.
Portland's roads are very narrow, and driving so close to other cars can be a stressful experience.
The South has its fair share of traffic — just visit downtown Atlanta to see it for yourself. However, driving in Portland is an entirely different ball game.
Many roads are narrow, with cars parked on either side. Passing by oncoming traffic in our Dodge Challenger felt like threading a needle. At one point, we were so close to the passing cars that I could've probably reached out my window and touched them.
I still have yet to understand the rhyme or reason behind the city layout. The roads felt more like scribbles than grids, and some intersections conjoined five or six busy roads.
I almost got into one wreck, but luckily I salvaged the situation in time. Still, several locals honked at me as I struggled to make sense of the roads.
Winter weather can lead to treacherous driving conditions, so visitors should take precautions.
Many tourists visit Maine during summer to enjoy the outdoors, but we happened to be there in the late winter.
Between the layer of ice covering the road and the hilly terrain, the conditions weren't ideal for navigating in our rear-wheel drive car. I was white-knuckled a lot of the time I gripped the steering wheel.
We never got stuck or trapped, but there were some harrowing moments. We also almost had to delay our departure due to an inbound snow storm.
Lobster is less expensive than it is in other places, but it's still not cheap.
Growing up in the South, I formed a deep appreciation for fresh seafood.
I could eat shrimp and crawfish any day of the week. So, I was excited to travel to Maine and sample the famous local cuisine.
Though the lobster is less expensive than it is in other parts of the country, it's by no means cheap. The lobster roll that I bought from The Highroller Lobster Co. cost around $24, which seemed to be standard for the area.
Even though the seafood I sampled was pricey, it was delicious.
Portland's brewery scene makes it a great destination for beer drinkers.
The city also has its very own speakeasy called Lincolns.
If you look for a pair of red double doors on Market Street, you'll find stairs and a bookcase that lead to a cool bar where every item costs $5.
My fiancée and I felt completely safe exploring the city, even at night.
I often have my guard up when I travel to new cities. When I was in Portland, I didn't feel that same sense of unease. It helps that Maine is one of the safest states in the US.
We didn't feel like we were in any danger, even when we strolled through quiet residential areas at night and took moonlit walks on the beach.
Like any city, Portland still has crime. However, it seemed like a family-friendly, safe city during our trip.
Portland feels like the perfect combination of city and small-town living.
Portland, which has a population of around 68,000 people, feels like a unique combination of an urban area and a small town.
The historic section downtown has tall buildings that overlook the water, but as you drive south, the city opens up and becomes more sprawling. It feels more like a town, with shopping centers and more residential areas.
Chilly temperatures don't keep people from exploring the outdoors.
Portland has plenty of beaches and parks. In fact, walking through the historic downtown district and exploring the coast are some of the best ways to see the city.
We saw a lot of people posing by cliffsides and collecting pebbles that washed ashore, undeterred by the frigid temperatures.
Even when the weather dropped below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, people were still out and about for a stroll or a tour. Overall, people seemed to have active lifestyles there.
Maine's lighthouses are even more stunning in person than they are on postcards.
To many outsiders, Maine is known for two things: lobsters and lighthouses.
Because of their price tags, the lobsters weren't a complete home run, but I'm pleased to report that the lighthouses lived up to the hype. They attract tourists from across the country, and with good reason.
There are several in the city, but the one most popular is the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth. Centered against a rocky cliff, it looks like it came straight out of a postcard.
Even though we visited on an overcast day, we were blown away by its beauty. Pictures don't do the landmark justice.
The city is so pet-friendly that we regretted leaving our dog at home.
I didn't realize how pet-friendly Portland is before we arrived. It made me wish that we brought along my dog, Judy, who stayed behind with my parents.
We saw many people walking their dogs on the beaches. The dogs were thrilled to be in nature, but it meant we had to dodge feces in the sand.
Many of Portland's businesses also allowed pets indoors. After all, there's nothing like enjoying a beer at the local brewery with a dog by your side.
Overall, I would say Portland is worth the visit, even in the winter. I hope to experience it in the summer next time.
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