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Small town wanderings and big city eating: a day trip to Portsmouth

Small town wanderings and big city eating: a day trip to Portsmouth

Just one day after Lia and I visited Portsmouth, New Hampshire, we found this article circulating Twitter: Is Portmouth the USA's Best Small Town? What can I say? We bring the party.

We'd taken a weekend trip to Lia's hometown of Nashua -- about 45 minutes north of Boston -- to visit her grandparents on their 65th wedding anniversary. Neither of us can even contemplate what 65 years of life would be like, let alone what 65 years of being with somebody must be like. Impressive, nevertheless.

After almost 3 years of being together, Lia's mum finally showed me photos of super young Lia. She wasn't very embarrassed though. She was a pretty cute kid with an awesome bowl cut. Here's a photo of her skiing in shorts, because New Hampshire, and a surprisingly great photo of the Old Man of the Mountain before he crumbled. 

After almost 3 years of being together, Lia's mum finally showed me photos of super young Lia. She wasn't very embarrassed though. She was a pretty cute kid with an awesome bowl cut. Here's a photo of her skiing in shorts, because New Hampshire, and a surprisingly great photo of the Old Man of the Mountain before he crumbled. 

With President's Day giving us Monday off, we stayed overnight and borrowed her mum's car to make the hour drive to the coastal town of Portsmouth.

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As the article suggests, Portsmouth is New Hampshire's quaint little cultural underdog, filled with brilliant breweries, outstanding food, and a gorgeous little downtown that reminded me of plenty of small English high streets. 

Our first stop was at Book and Bar, to grab a quick drink and plan our route. It's a tiny town, but we only had 4 hours before we needed to leave to catch our bus. It's a book store / coffee shop with a license to sell beers, and we sampled a little of everything over the course of the afternoon. 

One of the main attractions to Portsmouth is the preserved historical neighbourhood of houses, called Strawbery Banke. During the warmer months, people in costume take you around, and act out what you could've expected from the colonial era. 

It was not a warm part of the year, so the tours weren't running. But Lia had been to Portsmouth many times growing up, had visited with her mum just last year, and combined with her love of facts, she played an excellent tour guide.  

Most of the restored houses have renovated apartments in the top floor, she says, so they can rent them out and make some money.

This is her favourite building, she said. It's more modern, from the 1940's, complete with wartime rations inside. Plus she's a sucker for good typography.

There was a popular ice rink on the edge of the village.

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And we nosied around the house behind it.

And Lia really like the closed, but rather witchy, greenhouse in the back. 

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Our little route through the houses spat us out right on the waterfront. The weather was surprisingly temperate, despite being in the low 30's, which made it bearable to stand around taking some photos. 

I liked our shadows being cast down on the rocks by the strong sun, and the water changing from clear to deep blue was beautiful.

We followed around the waterfront, and found tugboats we'd read about online all docked up, huddled against the coastal winter winds. 

Then I made her pose for a photo, because I want to get better at portrait photography and she's the cutest subject in the world.

We found a restaurant called Black Trumpet she'd eaten at before and loved, but it was only open for dinner. The ice cream place ranked as the best in the town was next door, and also closed. What kind of New England town doesn't have high quality ice cream available 365?

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There was, however, a lovely vintage menswear and antiques store on the same block. A close second to ice cream, if ever there was one.

The store was called Old As Adam, and was run by a charming young gent who lived above the shop. He had the ponderous voice of somebody who sold antiques.

We each bought a little trinket for our keychains, but Lia came as close as I've seen anybody come to pulling off driving glasses. 

We strolled back into the high street area in search of some grub, but unable to resist some good kitchenware, we were simultaneously sidetracked and tortured by Le Creuset colanders hanging in the window of Le Roux kitchen. Lia bought a pair of ramekins, and I began making my middle class dream a reality by purchasing my very own Le Creuset mug. 

We debated lunching at some fancy places, but Book and Bar was calling me back to try their food and a cider I'd seen on tap. A brief rant directed toward the lady hogging a four person table at a popular cafe at lunchtime on a public holiday: if somebody asks if they can join you, don't ask if they're planning on talking, because you're "doing work." Despite all the books, this is not a library, it's a bookstore and an eatery. Stop being a cow.

Full of good food, good drinks, and hardback knowledge, we headed back to the car to make our bus out of Nashua.

Portsmouth, we'll be back when it's warm.

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