October 19 -20
With just a five-hour drive to Portsmouth, we knew we could dawdle a bit and yet still have time there to do a bit of sightseeing, leaving our visit to Margaret’s until the day after our arrival. We checked into the Best Western Plus The Inn at Hampton, a few miles south of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
After unpacking for our two-night stay, we jumped back in the car and drove the short distance out to the shoreline, with expansive views up and down the coast.
We’d long been looking forward to a visit to the Smuttynose Brewery here and planned to eat dinner in their highly regarded restaurant, arriving there to discover that the food facility was closed and all we would get is a couple of their very good beers. We spent some time on our phones checking out our options, one being the Old Salt Inn at Lamie’s Inn just down the street from the Best Western, but their beer selection appeared to be a bit pedestrian and so we took a chance and instead dropped in at WHYM Craft Pub & Brewery, itself just a few blocks north of our stay.
For the first time in many months, we grabbed two seats at the bar and immediately found ourselves in entertaining exchanges with the bartender as we ordered a Night Shift Phone Home peanut butter porter for Joanna and WHYM’s The Eights New England dry hopped double IPA, for me to accompany one of the best appetizers we’ve ever encountered, the Caulifritter (curried cauliflower cake, sweet corn relish, curry aioli, Little Leaf Farm greens, pickled red onion, poppy vinaigrette, and Spiceology jalapeno salt), a taste explosion that only got better as we ate it.
Next up we split a Shaved Smoked Brisket Steak ‘n Cheese (brisket, seared peppers and onions, Vermont cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, garlic aioli, piantedosi (a local baking company) sub roll and frites) along with a Glow and Plunder Imperial IPA to finish our night of drinking. Too full to consider dessert, we bade farewell to our friendly barkeep and settled the tab at $92, not cheap but well worth the money spent. As we’ve stated many times in the past about places like this, if we lived in the area, we’d be regulars.
The next day, we arranged to see Margaret later in the afternoon so we could get in some bike riding and a touristy pursuit or two beforehand and thus, on bright sunny day with just a hint of chill in the air, we took off on a 17-mile ride that found us out at the coast again. It was an easy ride, almost all of it flat and we hit the shoreline and went as far north as we could go before we had to commit to a much longer ride, turning around and retracing our steps to return to the Best Western and get cleaned up for our afternoon out.
Our first stop was a recommendation of Margaret’s, that is to get a lobster roll, which we did at Al’s Seafood, on Route 1 on the way to Portsmouth. We parked in front, and approached the outdoor window, where one orders, odd because you can eat inside; this was likely due to the staffing shortages restaurants around the country are experiencing. We ordered one lobster roll, a diet coke and an iced tea and found a booth inside.
The plate arrived, accompanied by some very good French fries and we laid into the sandwich (OK, it’s a roll) with gusto, only to wonder what all the hullabaloo was about. I don’t eat a lot of lobster, I mean it’s good and all, but I’d much rather have a nice piece of fish, a filet of some sort, nicely prepared. This was chock full of nice pieces of lobster in a mayonnaise kind of sauce, but it was just, bland. And at $23 just for the roll, something you really must want to eat to order it.
None-the-less, we polished it off and set out for our next stop, Strawbery Banke, again recommended by Margaret. This is an outdoor history museum, opened as a museum in 1965, located in the oldest neighborhood in New Hampshire to be settled by Europeans, and the earliest neighborhood remaining in the present-day city of Portsmouth. It features more than 37 restored buildings built between the 17th and 19th centuries in the Colonial, Georgian, and Federal style architectures. The buildings once clustered around a waterway known as Puddle Dock, which was filled in around 1900. Today the former waterway appears as a large open space.
The neighborhood’s history goes back to 1630, when Captain Walter Neale chose the area to build a settlement, naming it after the wild berries growing along the Piscataqua River. Strawbery Banke existed as a neighborhood for a little over three centuries from 1630 to the late 1950s and the neighborhood’s buildings were saved from urban renewal by the efforts of a large group of historic preservationists.
Like Old Salem in Winston Salem and Williamsburg in Virginia, during its season from June to October, seventeen of its historic houses are open to the public as furnished historic interiors. Presentations are made by staff who interpret the history and lifestyles of each house and how it reflects the social changes of its time. In some houses, costumed role players portray characters from different. periods. In others, historical interpreters educate visitors about the history. Hearth cooking, weaving, basket weaving, and coopering demonstrations and tours are offered daily during the program season.
Our timing was bad as we’d just missed the end of the season but could enjoy walking around the exteriors of the houses and reading from the handout we picked up outside the information center (which was also closed). Thus, we were able to gain some insight into the homes, who’d owned them and the role they had played throughout the years. We walked all of the property and soon left as it was about time to head to Margaret’s senior living facility for our scheduled visit.
Many of you might ask who is Margaret and why were we visiting? By the end of the late 1980’s I’d hit a wall at ASUCLA as its accountant and was contemplating leaving to go to school full time to get my MBA. We considered doing so in Sacramento at the Cal State University there as the cost of living was low enough that we could live on Joanna’s income (I’d get some part time gig) and push through the program in two years.
That came to an end when Margaret approached me at the copy machine one day and said a new position would post soon and that I should take a hard look at it, as it might appeal to me. And long story short, I would go to work for her as the Division Manager of Student Government Accounting and begin what would be my true career path, one that would end twenty-five years later upon retiring at UNC Charlotte (although I would go back there twice to work for months at a time in interim management positions). Margaret mentored me, smoothed my rough edges, helped me hone my writing capabilities, and guided me through the initial stages of becoming a competent supervisor.
And I’m not the only person whose life she touched in this fashion and so this chance to see her once again was something we’d been looking forward to for months. We would spend a couple of hours with her and share a bottle of champagne, getting caught up on her life as she navigates life in her 90’s, a tribute to healthy living and good genes. It soon came time to take our leave, which we did with a touch of sadness as we can’t be sure when we will next see her.
We gassed up the car on the way back to the Best Western and hungry, stopped in at a Chipotle for dinner, a custom burrito just what the doctor ordered after several days of eating out in restaurants. Our visit to Portsmouth had been a blessing, particularly as Margaret’s facility had lifted their lockdown a few short days before our arrival. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Oh, and I did eventually get that MBA, but is a story for another day.
Best Western Plus The Inn at Hampton: https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotels-in-hampton/best-western-plus-the-inn-at-hampton/propertyCode.30026.html
Smuttynose Brewing: https://smuttynose.com/
WHYM Craft Pub & Brewery: https://whym.beer/
Al’s Seafood: http://alsseafoodnh.com/
Strawbery Banke: https://www.strawberybanke.org/