A destination that compels visitors to return again and again is a rare treasure. For me, those places tend to be big cities like New York or Paris that offer miles and miles of seemingly endless exploration. You can imagine my surprise then, when Portsmouth, New Hampshire weaseled its way onto my “must go again” list.
It didn’t just make the list, it forced me to make good on the promise to return. So much so, that I have visited at least once a year since my first stop there three years ago. Portsmouth offers a wonderful mix of natural beauty, history, amazing people and cute shops and restaurants worthy of spending hours exploring.
Other than the cars, doesn’t the photograph of downtown look like it was snapped decades ago? The people in Portsmouth do an excellent job of preserving the city’s historical sites and charm.
As much as I rant about safety (and high heel) issues related to cobblestone sidewalks, it seems fitting in this city, positioned among the colonial buildings. Moreover, the cobblestone is well maintained, instead of gapping and creating a dangerous obstacle course like certain other cities (ahem, ahem D.C.).
Quirky public art tucked in unexpected places adds modern whimsy without ruining the city’s historic charm.
The pleasant sights almost made me forget about the beastly weather outdoors. Almost. Oh, did I fail to mention a Nor’easter blew through during the two days I visited? Yep. The temperature stayed a few degrees above freezing so there was no snow, just whipping rain that felt like freezing pins and needles. The number of times the gale force winds turned my umbrella inside out could have been a drinking game. “Dude, one shot every time that idiot’s umbrella flips and leaves her drenched!” The frat boys would have been very, very drunk playing that game.
That’s right, I ventured out into the madness, despite the hotel’s power going out twice that morning from the wind. Thank goodness for emergency generators. But I figured the weather in Portsmouth already foiled my plans once this year, and I wasn’t going to let it win again. I piled on every layer I had brought along and fully intended to buy more at the local shops if necessary. With that, I held my head high and headed out to get a coffee at my go-to downtown shop, Breaking New Grounds.
The rain intensified to a deluge immediately upon my stepping out of the shop with coffee in one hand and umbrella in the other. The woman behind me squealed and determined she’d be better off inside… with the seven other people who made exactly the same decision when the skies broke loose. Fool that I am, I forged on.
Because the weather was so gloomy and the wind stripped many trees of their colorful leaves before I could take photos, I’m going to cheat a little and post a couple of previously taken summer photos. Summer visits really are what made me fall in love with Portsmouth. The waterfront serves as one of the city’s major draws. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, lies on one side of the Piscataqua River and Kittery, Maine, on the other. In one word: gorgeous.
While visiting on a random weekend in June 2012, it turned out the Market Square Day Festival was taking place. Upon seeing the crowded streets, a slow-forming, Grinch-like smile spread across my face and I started doing a dorky dance. I love festivals. Especially those where maple syrup flows as freely as water.
Anyway, back to the recent trip. If experiencing such crappy weather is necessary, at least doing it at Halloween makes it more tolerable. What better to go with gray, cold, windy weather than pumpkinheads positioned throughout town? Sure, the winds felled some of them, but those that remained held up their spindly arms as if to say, “Oh yeah? Nice try, suckah!”
No dreary Halloween excursion would be complete without a good cemetery. My hands were frozen chunks crammed deeply into my pockets, and my feet felt ready to shatter right off, but Old North Cemetery proved too strong a draw. It’s one of Portsmouth’s many sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Wandering around looking at the names and dates was fascinating. The earliest burials at Old North Cemetery date to 1751. I found interesting inhabitants such as Gov. John Langdon, who signed the Constitution, and Gen. William Whipple, who signed the Declaration of Independence. Also of interest is Prince Whipple, one of Gen. Whipple’s slaves who was freed on his wedding day in 1781 and became an esteemed member of society in New Hampshire.
Let’s ignore for a moment that walking on the cemetery’s rain-soaked earth may not have been the best idea at that time. My life flashed in front of my eyes in this general area, when my foot started sinking and I envisioned a horrible death by falling into an occupied grave.
Of course, the scare didn’t stop me for long; I recovered my composure and stepped more gingerly while continuing through the cemetery.
After all that traversing in the unpleasant elements, sometimes it’s nice to get inside a place like British Beer Company to huddle near the fire with a pumpkin beer. Granted, the place is only about a year old and not historic, and the fireplace is gas and not wood. Not exactly authentic Portsmouth. But look, sometimes beggars can’t be choosers and a woman’s gotta get her butt into some warmth, OK??!!
What does fall in Portsmouth means to me? Appreciating the beauty, people and history despite the abysmal weather. It means lots of delicious food, maple syrup and dark beers, preferably in front of a fireplace. Let me show you how this works out in a loosely constructed math equation:
+good food=more comfortable
And there you have it. Everything you need to transform a fall day from terrible to magical in five minutes can be found in plentiful supply in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Lather, rinse, repeat.