When most people “from away” think of Maine, they tend to picture widen open spaces of rolling hills and potato farms, or thick forests of evergreens. They may think of lumbering moose with their comical faces, or Bar Harbor, teaming with tourists and cruise boats through the summers. I was one of those people “from away,” and when I first arrived, I thought I have moved to a wilderness. Fortunately for me, I was hired at a job in what turned out to be one of most quintessential Maine towns I have yet to discover in my four years in this gorgeous state: Belfast.
Belfast is a quiet town, like something straight from an Andrew Wyeth painting. It’s built on a hill that rolls gently downward toward the ocean, a glittering bay speckled with sailboats and dingeys that gently bob up and down on the incoming tide. For such a small town, Belfast boasts a wealth of art, good food, and even a plethora locally brewed beer. The co-op has a plethora of local, organic produce, gluten-free breads, and “green” products, a treasure trove for the healthy-minded. I have frequented the restaurants of Belfast, and there is more variety than I’ve seen in larger towns, from Italian pastas and authentic wood fire pizzas, to sports bar fare, to a strictly vegetarian establishment, and one of the best breakfast diners I’ve had the opportunity to experience. There’s also Three Tides, with smaller servings (perfect for a snack, or for sharing with friends) and a beer garden right against the water. This is one of my favorite summertime spots, oyster shells crunching beneath my feet, listening to bocce balls cracking against each other, and watching the occasional Thursday night movie on their projector screen.
Besides incredible food, Belfast also has a host of unique shops and establishments. One of my favorites is The Colonial, a movie theater that was once an actual theater. The lower level gallery even has an old stage and curtains, and I was fortunate enough to secure much-coveted tickets to the opening night of “Star Wars VII” in that very gallery and attend a women’s only showing of “Wonder Woman”. On the roof of The Colonial, a colorful elephant watches over the city, just another example of Belfast’s quirk and charm. Along Maine St. are multiple boutiques, antique shops, and even a candy store with incredible chocolates and treats. I especially love Coyote Moon; the back section of the small store is filled with seaglass wind chimes that make the sweetest clinking sounds, and Indian wedding bells on long colorful strands that chime at even the gentlest touch.
For being such a small town, Belfast has plenty of events to keep its citizens and visitors entertained. I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Harborfest, the Celtic Fest, the annual street party, and the summer Art Walk. Every Thursday night in the summer, there is live music down by the water, drawing people out to spread their blankets and have a picnic or just bask in the music and sunlight wafting over them. Instead of shooting off fireworks at the Fourth of July, Belfast saves its firepower for the Celtic Festival, a nice chance to see fireworks later in the summer.
But despite all the food, and shops, and art, my very favorite part of Belfast is the Harbor Walk. Stretching from the Boathouse to the Footbridge, the Harbor Walk is the perfect place to truly experience Belfast, a place where you can take a quiet stroll and breathe in the ocean air: salty, a little fishy, but refreshing. On hot summer nights, this is the place to be. It’s usually not busy, which is a shame considering it should be more used. You’ll run into the occasional friendly dog who would probably press his cold, wet nose against you, or a just as friendly pedestrian, who never fails to say hello or at least give an incline of the head in greeting. Those people “from away” always talk about Northerners being rude and aggressively, but clearly they haven’t been north of Boston. In Belfast, everyone is a neighbor.
If you’ve lost touch with the charms of Maine, I recommend a day trip to Belfast. There is plenty to keep you busy, food to keep you full, and views to remind you why you’ll never leave Maine. Take a moment and sit on one of the many benches along the Harbor Walk and breathe in that fresh air, letting the salt cleanse your lungs. Maybe even kick off your shoes and stand in the frigid ocean, allowing the little waves to lap at your ankles (but not for too long, the ocean is seriously always freezing). Wrap up your day with a beer at Three Tides or Rollies, or ice cream at the Wild Cow Creamery with its bright purple awnings. Let Belfast help you slow down and remember the charm and beauty of Maine.