Brian’s Travel Spot: From Boston to Portland by Bus

My Concord Coach Lines bus waiting at the gate at Boston's South Station Bus Terminal before taking me up to Portland, Maine.Welcome to the third and final instalment of this mini Travel Spot series about my impromptu trip to Washington DC back in November, itself part of my wider month-long trip to America. Part one covered my journey to Washington Union Station on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional 65 sleeper service, travelling overnight from Boston South Station. The second part, meanwhile, was all about my first time on the Acela service, travelling from New Haven back to Boston South Station. That just left the small matter of getting back to Portland from Boston, the subject of today’s post.

In an ideal world, I’d have completed the journey by train, taking Amtrak’s Downeaster from North Station. However, as much as I like travelling by train, the Downeaster is not very convenient compared to the bus. Although the same price (a very reasonable $24), the Downeaster runs once every three hours, compared to the bus’s hourly schedule. Plus, while the bus leaves from South Station, where I’d just arrived, to catch the train, I’d have to get myself over to North Station (admittedly a short tube ride or a 25-minute walk through the city centre, but an unnecessary additional step). So, the bus it was.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak Northeast Regional 65

Amtrak Locomotive 629, a Siemens Sprinter ACS-64, which was at the front of Northeast Regional 65 at Washington DC's Union Station.I had expected to spend most of my month-long trip to the USA at the end of last year in Maine with Amanda. However, the death of a close friend necessitated a weekend there-and-back trip to Washington DC for the funeral. The obvious choice was to fly, but a combination of factors, including my dislike of flying internally in the US, plus a lack of (reasonably priced) direct flights, led to me taking the train, by far my preferred option anyway.

Initially, I looked at travelling down on Saturday (the funeral was on Sunday morning) but that would have involved spending all day on the train (from Boston, the quickest service, the Acela, takes seven hours, while the regular Northeast Regional takes eight hours). While exploring my options, I noticed the Northeast Regional 65, a train which leaves Boston at 21:30 on Saturday night, arriving in Washington DC’s Union Station at 06:30 on Sunday morning. That would give me plenty of time to get to the funeral, as well as avoiding an overnight stay in the DC area. And, as a final bonus, it meant I could spend Saturday with Amanda. So, the Amtrak Northeast Regional 65 it was.

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Peregrine Espresso, Eastern Market (COVID-19)

A lovely cappuccino from Peregrine Espresso, Easterm Market, served in my HuskeeCup.Although I’ve been through Washington DC a few times on the train, I rarely visit the city itself. So, when I took the sleeper down from Boston during last month’s USA trip, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity. I didn’t have long, so made a beeline for Peregrine Espresso’s Eastern Market location on Pennsylvania Avenue, a half-an-hour stroll from Washington Union Station past the US Capitol.

Peregrine Espresso occupies a small unit with a wide, glass front and a generous outdoor seating area which is actually on 7th Street, just around the corner from Pennsylvania Avenue. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s currently takeaway service only (so don’t forget to bring your own cup), although you’re welcome to sit outside with your coffee. In more normal times, there’s more seating inside, but this has been cleared away to provide plenty of space for customers who are queuing to order/waiting to collect their coffee.

Talking of which, Peregrine Espresso serves a concise espresso-based menu with a batch brew option, all the coffee roasted by Small Planes Coffee, owned by founders, Ryan and Jill Jensen. There’s also a selection of tea, plus a range of cakes and pastries.

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Little Woodfords (COVID-19)

The front of Little Woodfords on Congress Street in Portland, Maine, proudly flying its Progress Pride flag.I’ve been a fan of Little Woodfords in Portland, Maine, ever since I first visited in the summer of 2019. I was therefore rather worried when I heard, in July 2020, that it was forced to move from its original location in Woodfords Corner to a much smaller spot on Congress Street in downtown Portland. Fortunately, while this has meant an inevitable change of character, the friendly, inclusive welcome of the original, plus the awesome coffee from Vermont’s Vivid Coffee Roasters, remains as Amanda and I discovered on our visit last month.

The offering is much as it was as before, with a single option on espresso, batch brew and flash brew (a pour-over over ice, akin to a Japanese iced coffee). The coffee changes on a seasonal basis, and there’s also tea, hot cocoa and several latte-based specials. If you’re hungry, there’s a small, vegetarian/vegan breakfast menu, with various toppings on bagels/biscuits. While Little Woodfords has a small indoor seating (standing?) area at the front, it’s currently takeout-only due to COVID-19, although you’re welcome to sit outside, where you’ll find a bench out front, with a couple of picnic tables down the side, which catch the afternoon sun.

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Frontside Coffee Roasters

An espresso, made with a naturally-processed Ethiopia Sidamo, and served in a classic blue cup at Frontside Coffee Roasters.Today’s Coffee Spot was a chance discovery that Amanda and I made following a short hike at Diana’s Baths, a beauty spot in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Amanda spotted Frontside Coffee Roasters as we drove through North Conway on our way there, so we decided to call in on our way back, expecting nothing more than somewhere warm to have a late lunch. Instead we found a wonderful coffee shop, roasting and serving some exceptional single-origin coffees.

Frontside has been in its current location on White Mountain Highway, the main drag through North Conway, for ten years, although it’s been in existence in one form or another for over twenty. Occupying a large, corner plot, there’s a small parking lot at the back (behind which is the roastery) while there’s a large outdoor seating area off to the right with plenty more seating inside.

All the coffee is roasted in-house with two options on espresso (one blend, one single-origin), another blend on batch brew, plus two single-origins on pour-over. Naturally, all the beans are available to buy in retail bags. If you’re hungry, Frontside offers a selection of breakfast biscuits, a range of bagels and plenty of cake.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Returning from Boston in Premium Economy

My travelling coffee kit at the British Airways Lounge in Boston Logan Airport, Terminal E. Back row, from left to right: my Frank Green ceramic cup, Knock AerGrind hand grinder and Espro TravelPress. The tub holds a pre-weighed dose of beans.Welcome the last leg of my trip to Atlanta (Georgia) and Portland (Maine), which included an unexpected weekend round-trip to Washington DC. Today’s Travel Spot covers my return to the UK last weekend, flying World Traveller Plus (aka Premium Economy) with British Airways. Having arrived in Atlanta almost four weeks earlier, I continued my USA tradition of (hardly ever) flying to/from the same airport by returning from Boston Logan.

This post starts with my pre-flight preparations (an essential part of travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic). Even though the rules changed mid-trip (due to the omicron variant), things were nowhere near as onerous as when I flew out, when the process was sufficiently complex that I dedicated an entire Travel Spot to the experience.

The remainder of the post is more traditional, covering the journey to the airport, the airport itself, and my flight. In the last few years, I’ve taken the early morning flight from Boston (either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic), but that disappeared from the schedules at the start of the pandemic.  Instead, I flew back overnight in World Traveller Plus, my first overnight economy flight since 2017, when I flew from Chicago to Manchester with American Airlines.

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La Colombe, South Station

A cortado, made with the Sun Peak, a Guatemalan single-origin, and served in a glass at La Colombe, South Station in Boston.Over the years, I’ve become very familiar with La Colombe, the roastery/coffee shop chain from Philadelphia, having visited its coffee shops there, in New York City, Washington DC and Chicago. I’m also very familiar with Boston, having made many trips there, albeit mostly in the early years of the Coffee Spot (or before). However, it’s been over five years since my last major visit to Boston, in February 2016, which explains why I’ve never visited either of the city’s two La Colombe locations.

I was able to rectify this oversight on my latest trip to America, when, on my way back to Portland (Maine) from Washington DC, I had a couple of hours to kill at Boston’s South Station, where you’ll find La Colombe on the other side of Atlantic Avenue, directly opposite the entrance to the bus terminal. Off the foyer of a modern office building, it’s a large, spacious coffee shop with its own street entrance. The classic La Colombe offering sees two options on espresso, another two on batch-brew and two more on pour-over. There’s also a range of in-house teas and draft lattes and, if you’re hungry, cakes and items from the grab-and-go fridge.

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Speckled Ax, Thames (COVID-19)

A lovely cappuccino, made with the Honduras El Cedro, a honey processed coffee, served in a classic white cup at Speckled Ax, Thames Street in Portland, Main.On my first trip to Portland, in June 2015, Speckled Ax was one of three coffee shop/roasters that I visited (the others being Tandem Coffee and Bard). Back then, Speckled Ax just had a single coffee shop on Congress Street, but in early 2020, two new locations opened, a coffee bar on Walton Street (attached to a new roastery) and a large café on the waterfront at Thames Street.

I’d planned to visit Portland in March 2020, but sadly the COVID-19 pandemic ruled that out, preventing me from returning for another 18 months. However, the travel restrictions were eased in November 2021, and I was finally able to return to America and to Portland, where I paid a long overdue visit to the new Thames location.

Speckled Ax occupies a spacious ground floor unit with views across Thames Street to the harbour. At the time of writing, the space is effectively split into two, with a takeaway section to the right, while the seating is at the front on the left. There’s a limited coffee menu (which still manages to offer two espresso options and two on batch brew filter), while the kitchen provides a concise breakfast and lunch menu.

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Alma Coffee Roastery

A lovely cappuccino, made with the medium-roast Soulmate from the family farm in Honduras, roasted and served in my HuskeeCup at Alma Coffee Roastry in Canton, Georgia.Exactly three weeks ago today, Amanda and I set off to drive from Atlanta, Georgia to Portland, Maine, a three-day journey that would take us through some lovely scenery along sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, before we got there, we stopped at Alma Coffee Roastery, a chance discovery which we made while planning the route. It’s on Holly Springs Parkway, which runs parallel to I-575, connecting Woodstock in the south and Canton to the north.

The roastery, which doubles as a coffee shop, is just off the parkway on the left as you drive north, with clear signage and plenty of parking, although there’s no public transport access. A generous outdoor seating area stands in front of the roastery, while inside, a neat coffee shop with a handful of tables occupies the right-hand side of the large roastery building.

Alma Coffee specialises in Honduran coffee, much of it from the owners’ family farms. You can buy any of the roastery’s output in retail bags, while Soulmate, a medium-roast washed coffee, is available through a concise espresso-based menu, along with various iced versions. Alma Coffee only serves in disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Atlanta in Premium Economy

Making coffee on the plane (again), this time with my Frank Green ceramic cup, Espro TravelPress and Knock Aergrind.Welcome the second instalment of my Travel Spot covering my current trip to Atlanta, Georgia, and Portland, Maine, which began on Monday last week when I flew to Atlanta, travelling in World Traveller Plus (premium economy to you and me) with British Airways. Coincidentally, this (8th November) was the very first day that the USA eased its restrictions, finally allowing vaccinated passengers from around 30 countries, including the UK, to travel to America. As a result, I dedicated the first post in this series to all the procedures I had to go through and all the (electronic) paperwork I had to fill out before I could take my flight.

This post is more traditional, covering my flight out, which departed from London Heathrow in mid-afternoon, arriving in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport in the early evening. This is the third time that I’ve flown to/from Hartsfield-Jackson, having made a pair of visits at the start of 2020, one enroute from Phoenix to Portland (Maine) and the second when I flew from Atlanta to Chicago in March 2020. However, this is the first time that I’ve flown into Terminal I, which handles all Atlanta’s international flights, my previous three flights all being internal.

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