It is a brilliant crisp autumn day. The clouds linger overhead, moving without purpose, a slow jaunt across the cerulean sky. They billow like cotton balls taped to a child’s diorama. Leaves still cling to the trees late in the year, and they have just began their transformation into the brilliant fireworks show which explodes across New England. Reds and yellows, oranges and brown, the world will soon undergo a transformation, but for now, we are left with a crisp air and a warm sun, as the few crimson leaves pop on the trees. This beautiful weather lingers over Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and reminds us of the impending chill which will soon descend upon the land this winter, but for now, we will cherish fall in New England.
6.) Portsmouth, New Hampshire
New Hampshire, that state known to tourists as one large, state-run liquor store. With no sales tax, cheap prices, and a great selection of alcohol, this has prompted many a non-resident to cross state lines and purchase more than enough alcohol to last a few months. But there are other reasons to visit this state, and the city of Portsmouth is one of them. So from whatever direction you are coming from, zip off I-95 before the Maine border, and enjoy a weekend along the sea, in this hip historical town.
Sweaters and flannel shirts, blue jeans and corduroys, autumn morphs into splendid weather, with a chill in the air and the bright sun hanging overhead. Cool breezes and sharp winds blow dried leaves turbulently through the Portsmouth Farmer’s Market, located on the City Hall Lot at 1 Junkins Avenue, set against the shores of the South Mill Pond. At the entrance of the market sits a drummer, his colorful set of drums decorated with a quirkiness as he pounds a beat to music playing on his boombox.This market offers much to the shopper having not just produce, but an assortment of goods. Beautiful handmade jewelry is sold in multiple booths, made from leather, brass, silver, and other materials. Throwback Brewery sells their craft brews at this weekend event, while multiple orchards sell their apples along with hard cider—the perfect sweetest tasting of libations on a cold autumn night huddled around the campfire. Among the many farms which sell their fruits and vegetables, meats and mushrooms, there is something else which is a gem at this market, which sets it apart from any other I have had the pleasure of ambling around. Set amongst all the booths at this market, is Bucovina Cuisines, a Ukrainian Kitchen, a treasure to be found. The aromas wafting from this booth are tantalizing, and instantly drew me to their cuisine. Whatever you order, you will not be disappointed. I liken the food closest to Polish, and many of the items sold are; such as the golompki and pelmeni. Buy a few dishes and take them home to reheat later, or walk down to the water, and sit on the green, as the fluffy clouds languidly drift overhead.
Only after a quick walk across the bridge which straddles South Mill Pond, you will find yourself in downtown Portsmouth, the heart of this seventeenth century American seaport. You can imagine the tall masts and full billowing sails looming over the brick buildings, while the church steeples competed with these vessels of commerce, each reaching to the heavens for their own reasons. The old brick buildings line the streets, and their character imbues this urban environment with a feel of colonial New England. If you are a tourist of history, find your way down to 125 Court Street to the African Burying Ground Monument. This beautifully created monument gives an informative history of how this location came about. If you are looking for a more immersive exhibit wind your way along the narrow streets to Strawbery Banke open air museum. This area of the city boasts more than forty restored buildings which span the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. With multiple buildings open to the public, you get to imagine how life would have been in this seaport long ago. Check out their website to look for events, such as Fairy House days or the New Hampshire Fall Festival.
To find a place to eat was a little trying. Not for a lack of options, but trying to find somewhere that was not packed to the gills. The New Hampshire Brewing Company, with their pub fare and good brews, is always a favorite. The large restaurant is a great place to kick back with an ale at the end of the day, and mull over life with a malty brew. Only a block away, is Bow Street, which winds along the river—although the view is obscured by brick buildings—and is home to many restaurants which have decks and patios sitting over the water. If you are in the mood to sit outside, with the water swiftly passing by as the tide ebbs and flows, then this is the street for you. We ate at the River House and sat out on the deck, hanging over the river. We were pleased with the service, the atmosphere was nice, and the food was great. I am sure there are many other good restaurants in Portsmouth, my one recommendation to you, is check the menu. This city has become gentrified to an extent, and as a result, things can be pricey. I asked a local shop owner where the locals eat, and got a plethora of responses, so don’t be afraid to ask around and take the suggestions of those who know this city.
Gentrification does strange things to cities, and as a result, we see boutiques, quirky art shops, artisanal goods, and breweries popping up. Portsmouth is no different and this process has not changed the look of the city, but instead given the tourist more options. This city seems to find the happy balance between history and tourism, restaurants and boutique shops. Quirkiness always precedes gentrification, and Portsmouth still has this side. From art galleries to farmers markets, the Portsmouth Art Museum to theater and movies in Prescott Park, Portsmouth has achieved a hipness for which many strive.
So the next time you are driving down Interstate 95, and decide to stop at the New Hampshire Liquor store, take a day or two, and wander around the historic streets of Portsmouth. Enjoy the sites, take in a cultural event, and have a drink on the wharf while watching the sea traffic float on by. You won’t be disappointed.