Maine’s Coastal Charmers

If this is what comes to mind when someone says, “Maine,” you will not be disappointed because it really is this beautiful!

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(photo courtesy of the Pentagoet Inn)

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Hiking near Blue Hill, Maine—lots of blueberries! (photo courtesy of the Pentagoet Inn)

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You will see lots of classic old sailboats in Maine (photo courtesy of the Pentagoet Inn)

Based on articles in my file, my husband’s multiple sailing trips along Maine’s coast, and our trip a couple of years ago, following are Maine’s most charming coastal towns:

Castine

MOST perfect! Historic, not touristy, peaceful small town, with beautiful houses, situated on the tip of a peninsula overlooking Penobscot Bay. The best introduction to the village of Castine is to read the history and then to follow the self-guided walking tour in the “Welcome to Castine” brochure, which describes historic sites and homes, and anecdotes about early citizens. It’s fun, easy and relaxing…oh, and a bit educational to boot!

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Castine’s history is amazing!

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Having lunch in Castine (photo courtesy of The Castine Inn)

STAY in Castine

  • Castine Inn–What could be more welcoming than the Castine Inn’s front porch, below?! Built in 1898, one block from the harbor, wraparound porch, gardens,  and its own pub. 19 rooms with private baths
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The Castine Inn (photo courtesy of The Castine Inn)

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room at Castine Inn

Blue Hill

Lovely, lovely!

STAY in Blue Hill

  • Blue Hill Inn–Such a classically pretty inn! The bedrooms look every bit as nice, so check out BHI’s website for photos. Located on an acre of land in the center of the village of Blue Hill and a block from the head of Blue Hill Bay, the inn, built in 1835, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
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Blue Hill Inn—oh, those rhododendrons!

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Blue Hill Inn’s parlor

EAT in Blue Hill:

  • Wonderful Restaurant: Arborvine
  • Excellent Carry-out: Blue Hill Co-op
  • Kitsch-at-its-best diner: Fish Net (no web site, of course!)
  • The Boatyard Grill: It’s a fun one! (no web site for this one, either)
  • Blue Hill Country Club: The house we rented came with use of this private club, whose upscale casualness charmed us, so you might want to see if your club has reciprocity with the BHCC, which has golf, tennis, etc.
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photo courtesy of the Wooden Boat School

Stonington

Perfectly charming! Stonington is one of the few working fishing villages left in Maine and boasts one of New England’s largest fishing fleets (lobstering, fishing, urchining, scalloping, clamming and musseling). Stonington sits on the southernmost tip of Deer Isle, with lovely panoramic views of fir-dense islands. What to do in Stonington and Deer Isle: hiking, kayaking, tennis, golf, bird watching, jogging, biking, and fishing.

STAY in Stonington

  • Inn on the Harbor-This is not a fancy place BUT it is perched right on the edge of lovely Stonington Harbor, has a great view of the Penobscot Bay islands, and was built in the 1880’s. It is a bed and breakfast, with 13 simply furnished rooms, 10 of which face the sea, and a spacious flower-covered deck extending out into the harbor. Several rooms have wood burning fireplaces and/or private decks; all with private baths.
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Inn on the Harbor

SEE THE SIGHTS in Stonington

  • The Inn on the Harbor’s innkeepers will introduce you to Captain Walt Reed, who takes 1 to 4 passengers aboard his 21′ vessel to explore around the islands, see lighthouses, seals, and water birds. He will let you create your own tour, including the timing thereof. Stonington harbor is the departure point for daily cruises (by the Isle au Haut Boat Company) around the islands and to Isle au Haut, part of Acadia National Park, which offers hiking trails, rugged beaches and gorgeous sea vistas.

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EAT in Stonington

  • Aragosta–Breaking news: My cousins just visited Stonington and highly recommend this farm-to-table dining overlooking Stonington’s beautiful harbor.
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photo courtesy of Aragosta

SEE THE SIGHTS

In nearby small, sweet Brooklin, Maine (setting of E.B.White’s  “Charlotte’s Web”):

  • Brooklin Inn:  has a good restaurant
  • Brooklin Boat Yard, where E.B. White’s grandson builds beautiful, classic boats
  • Wooden Boat School: great gift shop (selling boat models and books) & gorgeous location on a 64-acre campus on the water where you can learn to make your own wooden boat
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photo courtesy of the Wooden Boat School

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regatta as seen from the shores of the Wooden Boat School

SEE THE SIGHTS

A little farther afield:

Miscellaneous well-rated hotels in Maine:

  • Whitehall (Camden)–My cousins-with-good-taste recently returned from Camden and, while they agree with my sailor husband’s description of the town (“not bad, a little touristy”), they loved this hotel. And you will see why when you go to its website. Here are some photos to whet your appetite:
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Whitehall (photo courtesy of Lark Hotels)

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Whitehall (photo courtesy of Lark Hotels)

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Whitehall (photo courtesy of Lark Hotels)

  •  Camden Harbour Inn–This is a Relais & Chateaux but as we all know, the hotels in that group are only guaranteed to be great in France. Outside of France, sometimes they’re great, sometimes not. The CHI’s website looked okay, with only a few hints of tackiness.
  • The White Barn Inn (Kennebunkport)–This is the only hotel in Maine recommended by Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who have good taste. Here’s what they say, “Set on a prime plot of Atlantic coastline, The White Barn Inn hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine, captures the region’s nautical spirit without resorting to sailor stripes and ship-inspired design. The airy riverfront cabins and 19th-century guesthouse often include dual-sided fireplaces, marble bathrooms and antique furniture. As for the namesake barn, it’s home to a local-centric restaurant, which serves some of the best food in all of New England.” Based on a few articles I have read, I worry that Kennebunkport might be touristy, though I haven’t been there.

From  Andrew Harper‘s always-helpful website (April 2016):

“Contrary to popular belief, not all of the Maine shoreline is rocky. Many of the beaches in the southern part of the state offer sandy shores.’Goose Rocks Beach is one of the best beaches in Maine, and quite possibly in all of New England,’ says Justin Grimes of Hidden Pond. ‘It’s protected by two small islands that shelter the bay and make it especially great for swimming.’ In case you think it’s too cold, Al Black of The White Barn Inn says water temperatures are typically pleasant from late June through early September. Plus, you get two-for-one in Kennebunkport: From the coast, drive a mere mile inland and you’re in the thick of the forest.”

AVOID BECAUSE PACKED WITH TOURISTS: Bar Harbor

AVOID BECAUSE STRIP-SHOPPING CENTER CENTRAL: Freeport

Reading companions to get into the Maine spirit: any E.B. White books, but especially E.B. White’s “One Man’s Meat” (witty essays on daily life at his Maine farm on Allen Cove, between Blue Hill and Brooklin) and, should you want to re-live your childhood, “Charlotte’s Web,” part of which is set in Brooklin

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photo courtesy of the Wooden Boat School

-posted June 2016

Old Florida: Apalachicola

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photo by John Solomon

Fly, rent a convertible, take a spin around Old Florida! No highways, no big cities, no depressing strip shopping centers in Old Florida…just character and authenticity.

Apalachicola 

Apalachicola sits on water that looks like the shrimping scenes in “Forrest Gump.” It is a small, off-the-radar town at the confluence of the Apalachicola River and Bay. We’re talking big, wide expanses of undeveloped water with marshes. On the Florida panhandle, believe it or not.

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photo by John Solomon

The buildings along Apalachicola’s waterfront look rundown at first glance.

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photo by John Solomon

But closer inspection reveals an interesting mix of commercial seafood shacks, two-story brick buildings at various stages of renovation, a small park, some docked boats and a couple of restaurants—all facing lovely views of peaceful water and marshes with graceful birds swooping in and out. An occasional shrimp boat ghosts by. Most of the town’s buildings are historic. It is a quiet place with a hint of its heyday as one of the largest ports on the Gulf of Mexico in the 1800s. Today, the town closes up at 8 p.m.

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Downtown Apalachicola

STAY

  • Houseboats at River Watch: Karen Hoff rents three nice houseboats on a nightly basis via VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner). We stayed on Southern Comfort (property # 586285), docked on the Apalachicola River in town. Spotless, plenty of room for two people, full kitchen, heat, TV, two “land-worthy” bathrooms (i.e., no funky boat plumbing) and knock-your-socks-off views. Every now and then, a shrimping boat passed 30 feet from our deck! Great experience … like having your own boat but more comfortable and with better views, as you sit almost flush with the water versus several feet above it. FYI: The boat doesn’t go anywhere. It is just docked.
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Houseboats at River Watch

  • The Consulate (76 Water Street): Across from the small, riverfront park sits The Consulate. This place is a deal! It consists of four suites on the second floor (no elevator, 22 steps) but worth lugging up your suitcases because the two river-facing suites (Ambassador & Consul) are huge, attractively decorated (despite the unflattering photos on its website), full kitchen, washer/dryer, clean and reasonably priced. PLUS! Each has a very large balcony overlooking the lovely Apalachicola River. And, The Consulate has a fascinating history.
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The Consulate, photo by John Solomon

SHOP IT!

  • Richard Bickel Gallery  (81 Market St.): Stunning, stunning, black-and-white photographs of life in/around Apalachicola, mostly on the water, plus a smattering of photos taken by Mr. Bickel around the world. Lovely!
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photo by Richard Bickel

  • Forgotten Coast Used & Out of Print Books (236 Water Street): Good location, good selection of books, knowledgeable and friendly owner. A pleasure!
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photo by John Solomon

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

No gourmet restaurants here, just lots of fabulously fresh oysters, shrimp, grouper, etc. Wander and taste …

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photo by John Solomon

  • Bowery Station Bar: This looks like a biker bar from the outside—but go on in. They often feature good, live music, host clientele of all ages and close at 8:00. Hardly threatening and lots of fun.
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photo by John Solomon

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SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Apalachicola Historic Walking Tour: Take the self-guided walking tour, if you’re curious about all the old buildings; the town was laid out in the first half of the 19th century. Pick up the brochure at the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce (122 Commerce St.).
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photo by John Solomon

  • Charming, beautiful houses: Stroll through the neighborhood between Bay Street and Avenue D and between Market Street and 14th Street, where most but not all of the fine, old houses are located—polar opposite of “downtown” Apalachicola’s rough (but not scary) edges.ApalachicolaHouse2
  • Apalachicola Maritime Museum: Pay a short visit because this little museum provides a decent summary of Apalachicola’s maritime history, boat rentals and tours.
  • Camp Gordon Johnston Museum: (The local bookstore owner in Apalachicola says this museum is a good one! We did not have time to go here but plan to do so next time.) Located nearby in Carrabelle, Florida, the museum’s role is to preserve the heritage of the men who trained at the this camp during World War II. Opened in 1942 , Camp Gordon Johnston trained a quarter of a million men before closing in June of 1946.
  • Kick Back: The very best thing to do in Apalachicola is to watch the river traffic from your deck on your houseboat or at the Consulate! You’ll see a few shrimpers and pleasure boats, plus pelicans, cormorants, ducks, etc.: the birds outnumber boats by far.

OF NOTE: We have visited Apalachicola twice, both times in the winter. It may be busier or more crowded in the summer but I can’t imagine it would ever be unpleasantly so. I recommend 3 nights.

-posted April 2016

Savannah on my Mind…

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STAY

  • Hamilton-Turner Inn (330 Abercorn St.)–Built on 1873 with very high ceilings and some lovely architectural details, the H-T Inn is well-located on beautiful and quiet Lafayette Square in the heart of the historic district. Good breakfasts, plus cakes and cookies throughout the day, plus cheese/crackers/wine at cocktail hour, plus port after 8 pm. Mostly pretty décor.
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Hamilton-Turner Inn

  • The Brice (601 E. Bay Lane at Houston St.)–If staying in an old house on one of Savannah’s squares is not your thing, stay at The Brice. It is a Kimpton Hotel—and decorated stylishly, as expected—& near (not on) the waterfront, which is touristy-tacky though historic and active.

OF NOTE: The Ballastone Inn and the Mansion on Forsyth Park get lots of positive press but the former is not on a square and the latter has faux-Greek statues out front & is located on large park versus small, charming square.

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

  • The Grey (109 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.)–in a revamped Greyhound bus station with fabulously renovated art deco architecture, great food (its chef worked at NYC’s acclaimed Prune restau for years), good service, excellent staff…and it’s full of life.
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The Grey (photo by Quentin Bacon)

  • Collins Quarter (151 Bull St.)–fun ambience, good music (not live, except on occasional Sundays), attractive décor (candlelight, gorgeous flowers, exposed brick, big windows), excellent food, warm & friendly staff, and a service-oriented owner.

View More: http://joshmorehousephotography.pass.us/cq

SHOP IT!

  • E. Shaver Bookseller (326 Bull Street at Madison Square)–a DREAM of a bookstore with knowledgeable staff, a small tea room, beautiful books in a beautiful location! Reminds me of the charming bookstores of London.

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  • Satchel (4 E. Liberty St. at Bull)–beautiful leather goods (mostly purses) designed and produced on the premises by SCAD students and alums, seven of whom were sewing away when I was there…no barrier between store front and workshop, and if you would prefer your chosen purse in a different color, the staff offers an array from which to choose. I am still lusting after a bag I saw there…matter of fact, that one in the photo looks pretty great!
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Satchel creation (photo by Izzy Hudgins)

  • SCAD Shop (340 Bull St.)–creative, artistic jewelry, paintings, stationery, etc. made by some of the 12,000 SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) students in Savannah

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SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Town Squares–Walk (or take a pedi-cab) the historic district’s 26 squares, filled with live oaks dripping with Spanish moss…nothing finer than looking at the GORGEOUS old houses in and around the squares.
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Owens-Thomas House

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  • SCAD Museum (601 Turner Blvd.)–beautiful architecture (American Institute of Architects award-winning) meets world-class exhibits (contemporary art, plus some fashion)

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  • Ships of the Sea Museum (41 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.)–If you like ship models, those displayed here are excellent; if you don’t, the pre-Civil War house in which they’re exhibited is fun to see and has an interesting history.
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photo by Attic Fire

  • Bonaventure Cemetery — If you’ve read, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” which I loved, you will want to visit Bonaventure Cemetery. Even if you haven’t, it’s a wonderfully evocative place…Spanish moss, romantic tombstones, very Southern.

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DAY TRIP

Tybee Island–A very pretty, 20-min drive from Savannah’s historic district, Tybee Island is a beach town-that-time-forgot meets a-little-bit-of-kitsch. No pretense or McMansions here; instead, think small, 1950s beach cottages on small lots. Gidget would be right at home here. Tybee is an little barrier island w/a fun feel on the Atlantic Ocean, so bring your beach wear.

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BONUS: If you’re a history buff, check out well-preserved Fort Pulaksi National Park on the drive back. FP  has informative docents, exhibits and signage.

Reading companion: To get you in that Savannah state of mind, read, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

-posted April 2016

 

 

 

Old Florida: Gasparilla

Gasparilla water

The second you cross the bridge over the wide-water-views onto Gasparilla Island, you will be happy. Gorgeous Bermuda-blue water, relaxed vibe, small town, more golf carts than cars, though GI is not golf-centric. The preponderance of carts are populated by a human driver and a canine passenger…charmante! Most of the houses here are in Old Florida cottage style, pristinely-renovated, and none over two-stories tall. Lots of “financial wherewithal” here but almost no ugly McMansions. Also, no crime, as reported to me by two, long-time residents. Soooo relaxing!

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STAY

  • Gasparilla Inn: beautifully decorated (if you like happy colors, shells and lots of tropical references, which OF COURSE you do!), immaculately landscaped, expensive and worth it. Here’s the façade (below):
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Interior of Gasparilla Inn

  •  The Innlet: less expensive (by more than half) affiliate property of the Gasparilla Inn. The reason its less is twofold: (1) The décor is simple & not as stylish as the GI & (2) It is farther away from the center of Boca Grande, but not by much. While I have only viewed the rooms on the website, I have seen the outside in person, which is neat and cheery.
  • Rent a house via Parsley-Baldwin Realty (1-800-741-3074) in the historic district, where they’re prettier and the walk into town is short.

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • The beach–long walks on white sand, good shelling, no building over two stories, really low-key
  • The town…the only town…on Gasparilla Island is called Boca Grande. It is tiny, quiet and very cute w/charming houses. Walk down Banyan Street to see the 100-year old Banyan trees–so evocative!
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Banyan Street, between Gilchrest and Park

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One of several beautiful houses on Banyan Street, between Park and Gilchrist

  • Bike the trail that runs the length of the island (more interesting riding around town and south) and to the two lighthouses at the south end, especially Port Boca Grande Lighthouse (circa 1890) & its museum.
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Port Boca Grande Lighthouse

  • Boating/fishing: Boca Grande is known as the “tarpon capital of the world!”
  • Boca Grande Historical Society Museum : very small but interesting.
  • Golf: four courses.
  • The Boca Grande Community Center offers good lectures, yoga, and a small fitness room. During the week we were there, the CEO of the National Geographic and a railroad history expert spoke. In addition, a recorded performance of the Broadway play “War Horse” was being shown in its auditorium.
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Boca Grande Community Center

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

  •  The Gasparilla Inn (500 Palm Ave.): pretty, old-fashioned dining room with sophisticated tropical décor. Food is good. Go to the Inn’s attractive bar for your pre-prandial libations!
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Gasparilla Inn

  • The Temptation: very good food and Old Florida ambience, friendly bar and two adjacent dining rooms. The best DR is the front one, with uplighting on its blue walls painted with old Florida scenes=retro and transporting. It is waaaay more fun than this photo conveys!
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The Temptation’s interior

  • 3rd Street Café (Third St. & E. Railroad Ave.): Sometimes excellent and other times unremarkable food here, but I like it a lot. Eat in the outdoor courtyard with its pretty banana leaf/palm tree garden, up-lit dramatically. It has a small attractive bar and good service.
  • South Beach Bar & Grille (777 Gulf Blvd.): GREAT place to watch the sunset. This is a simple, non-fancy restaurant on the beach all by its lonesome…no competition and no need for it. Go to the bar, buy your drink, and toddle on out to the Adirondack chairs as you watch the sun go down. Very peaceful!
  • Gasparilla Island’s signature cocktail is the Hummer, made with vanilla ice cream, Kahlua and Rum. It is not listed on all drinks menus but ask the bartenders. They’ll know!

SHOP IT

  • The Palm on Park (444 4th St.): Lilly! Need I say more?
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The Palm on the  Park

  • Grapevine Gourmet & Gift Shop (321 Park Avenue): excellent carry out cocktail food, PLUS really attractive ceramic dip-bowl-attached-to-plates, like Lilly Pulitzer would’ve used to serve Fritos and onion dip.
  • The Inn Boutique (at Gasparilla Inn) has a good selection of pastel beach dresses, tops and pretty jewelry (e.g., Meg Carter)
  • The Gasparilla Inn hosts frequent trunk shows open to guests and non-guests, alike.
  • The Patio Shop at Fugates (4th St. & Park Ave.)–is chocked full of cheery resort wear and cheery staff to match.
  • Newlin’s (446 4th St.)–upscale carry out (one entrée per day is made and residents reserve them in advance; when I was there, they offered chicken pot pie, coq au vin, shrimp and grits) plus attractive dish ware for purchase.
golf carting in Boca Grande

Of Note: This is a happy, fun place. The natives are friendly. It is small. Few street lights at night and few cars, too. It can be dark walking back from dinner but that makes it easier to peer into the cozily lit-up houses (so MANY attractive tropical-cottage-style houses). No crime here, so the darkness is not spooky. If you like a go-go pace, this is not for you. We spent two, relaxing weeks here, never bored.

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-posted February 2016