For starters, the weather for Friday’s outing didn’t look very promising. Prepared with rain gear that turned out to be unnecessary, the road trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire was run in some of the very limited sunshine we have seen lately. Riding down Route 1 from where I picked it up in Scarborough turned out to be a mistake. Big mistake. Huge. Before I go on with the story, let me explain what this is all about.
Earlier this year my friend Brian came up with the idea of taking trips to places within 50 miles of home and posting about them. We got to hear about Concord, NH on Tax Day (Tea Party and all – though wasn’t the original about taxation without representation, not disagreeing with your democratically elected representatives and having a hissy? But I digress, as usual) and Pawtucket, Rhode Island (or, as it’s pronounced in some locales, “Rho Disland”) as road trips #1 and #2. Several weeks had passed since Brian’s last post about another road trip, and it had been a long time since we really did anything together, so I suggested finding a location roughly equidistant to which we could go (ideally at the same time) and post about. Thus, the road trip to Portsmouth was born.
As unpredictable (except for the clouds, rain, drizzle, and fog that has beset this area for the last several weeks, almost without any relief) as the weather has been lately, I didn’t expect much from last Friday. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise and I didn’t need the rain gear I had rushed out and bought Thursday afternoon. Riding down on the motorcycle added another layer or two of complication, but I was glad not to have to actually wear the rain gear – maybe having it was enough to keep the rain at bay.
Having decent weather with rain gear dutifully stowed in one of the side cases wasn’t enough to protect me from summer traffic on Route 1 in Maine, though. Good grief! Do all of you have to drive perpetually 40 miles an hour, regardless of the speed limit, higher or lower? Because of construction I got bumped from Route 1 to Route 9, and not being able to see the screen of my GPS through the plastic window of my new tank bag (goes perfectly with the rain gear, dontcha know) I relied on my memory to guide me. Nuh-uh. Not a good idea.
Now running about half an hour behind, I gave in and made my way to the Maine Turnpike, called Brian, apologized for my bad planning, and took the highway the rest of the way to Portsmouth. I lucked out and got a parking space in the public lot I identified before our trip. Brian hadn’t been so lucky, but we met up at one of the shops in Portsmouth’s revitalized historic downtown. Wandering around Market Street, Pleasant Street, and Bow Street we found a sign for the Portsmouth Museum of Fine Arts. Never knew Portsmouth had a museum of fine arts, I said. Turns out, at least officially, they didn’t, not until Saturday. Missed it by that much. To prove we had been there, Brian took photos of the sign announcing the grand opening on June 27, which made the woman working at the front desk nervous. No doubt the sight of a couple of mismatched middle-aged guys set off some kind of homeland security alarm (Brian can be very threatening in his straw fedora, after all).
Shortly after trying to visit the museum that wasn’t (yet), we figured it was time for lunch. There were several choices, of which I noticed the Portsmouth Brewing Company, Me & Ollie’s, and a couple of cafés before we came to Muddy River Smokehouse BBQ on Congress Street. Brian ordered an appetizer of fried pickles and I countered with fowl balls (read about them here). While I’m not what you would call a true BBQ cognoscenti I really enjoy slow-smoked brisket and BBQ sausages, so that’s what I went with (mini restaurant review follows) as a two-item platter. The brisket had good smokiness and was tender, though I might have liked to have the brisket plain and sauced it myself – that way I could assess the smoke and the sauce separately, but oh well. The sausages – I couldn’t be 100% sure whether they were two different kinds – were likewise well-smoked but not overdone. The accompaniments were typical – cole slaw with celery seed that tasted freshly made, baked beans (a little sweet for my taste), and moist (but not heavy) cornbread.
Duly fortified, Brian and I left the Muddy River Smokehouse and happened upon the John Paul Jones House. It looked promising, and was, though not for the reasons you might think. Jones only boarded at the house while waiting for the ships Ranger and America at the nearby Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The house, preserved by the Portsmouth Historical Society and supposedly the only building associated with John Paul Jones still in existence, hosts exhibits of 18th- and 19th-century samplers and an extensive record of the negotiation of the Treaty of Portsmouth.
The treaty exhibit has timelines, documents, and artifacts, even a short silent newsreel, all relating to the meeting of Russian, Japanese, and American diplomats in Portsmouth in August 1905 to end the Russo-Japanese War. This is an event I knew little about, and had no idea such an exhibit would be tucked away in something called the “John Paul Jones House.” But so it was, and I learned a lot more than I ever thought there was to know about the Treaty of Portsmouth, the Russo-Japanese War, and the extensively documented diplomatic efforts. Actually, the exhibit is even more about the details of the negotiations than the resulting treaty. I just wish I had taken a picture of, or taken more information about a graphic that showed the different tracks and movements of the negotiations.
After wandering around a little more we decided we had probed the extent, though not all, of the shops and restaurants in the center of Portsmouth’s historic downtown, we found a little refreshment at The Works. Each having other places we needed to be I took the Route 1 Memorial Bridge back across the Piscataqua River to Kittery and the way home.