Winter has got to be my least favorite season. Without the sparkle of the holidays, it’s a period filled with slush, freezing winds, and limited daylight. Sickness seems unavoidable, whether I’m at home or work. And the constant chill (which you longtime locals might be used to by now, but not me!), makes me want to stay inside, curled up under blankets, until buds begin blooming.
But instead of letting the drab of the winter blahs consume me altogether, I take this time of year as an opportunity to see new places and try new things. As a newcomer to Portland, I’ve made it my mission to explore the city, and banish the winter demon that implores I waste away the season from the unexciting comforts of my apartment. I suggest you do the same, and rediscover these great spots.
Take a trip around the world....through tea
There’s nothing like a nice hot cup of tea to warm your soul (and hands) on the coldest winter days. I’m a big-mug kinda gal myself. But recently, I learned that I've been doing it wrong with the whole store-bought tea bag thing. I popped into Dobra Tea, and sifted through hundreds of options in their highly informative “tea journal.” Although serving as the menu for customers, the “tea journal” doubled as a mini-textbook on tea, with photos and descriptions detailing the six main types of tea and the exotic regions of the world they’re harvested from: India, China, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Nepal, and Argentina. Staff at Dobra have been to these exotic places, and have brought back an impressive amount of expertise, and overwhelming passion for the ancient beverage.
Feeling drawn to the description of the masala chai tea — which highlighted its spicy flavors of fennel, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger — I rang the tiny bell on my table and placed my order. What came to me after a few minutes was nothing short of a mug full of warming, intriguing goodness.
What’s great about tea is that it serves a number of purposes, whether it’s giving the body a caffeine kick, boosting the immune system, increasing metabolism, curing a cold, or calming the mind. Numerous benefits at the cost of zero calories, unless you add a bit of honey and cream.
Dobra Tea House is a quaint escape for those that are looking to get adventurous with their hot beverages. The tea house also boasts a welcoming atmosphere that encourages the visitors to purge away any stress or anxiety.
“Tea is a beverage that invites you to slow down and savor the present,” said Ray Marcotte, owner/manager of the Dobra Tea House. “…it contains theanine, a mind-calming amino acid that is not found in coffee.”
Stop in and take advantage of all the benefits tea has to offer. Your body will thank you.
| Dobra Tea | 89 Exchange St., Portland | 10:00 am to 7:00 pm
Or if you prefer the bean...
Known for their house-roasted artisanal coffee, Coffee By Design coffee shops are required recharge spots during these cold winter months. I've quickly learned they're where the locals go. There are five main locations here in Portland, but I’ve also encountered their signature brews in other cafes and markets. CBD has been a staple in Portland for over a decade now, but as a newcomer, I’ve just discovered them. I don’t think I need to try any new coffee shops after getting hooked on their robust, smooth and slightly fruity “Rebel Blend.” (Afterwards, I would learn that a portion of sales of CBD's Rebel Blend go to support art projects in Maine, so double win!)
Some of the baked goods offered at CBD's Congress St. cafe.
But another big reason locals and newcomers like me are drawn to places like CBD is because of its atmosphere. Especially in their flagship cafe on Diamond Street, where latte artists switch on steam wands, right alongside the folks that are roasting and processing the beans in an adjacent facility that’s visible to customers. Its oddly satisfying to see parts of the coffee process, while waiting for your cup. The baristas working are friendly, fast and informative. Several seating options (from bar seats, tables and lounge chairs) are available, and eye-catching art hangs on the walls. They offer free Wi-Fi to their customers, which also makes it an excellent place to get some work done if you’re in need of a fresh environment. They strive to be a safe space for all people (they publicly supported last week’s Women’s March, yay!) and ethically source their coffee beans, which propels them to the top of my list of respectable coffee-shops. Sorry, Starbucks. Your new cascara latte can’t beat the feeling of a responsibly sourced cup of java.
| Coffee By Design | 1 Diamond St., Portland | 7:30 am to 5:00 pm
Take advantage of free learning
Too many people forget what a great place the library can be.
With a Portland Public Library card, you have access to hundreds of books, DVDs, games, and computers. Their giant glass windows invite the sun to shower you with warmth as you crack open a book freshly plucked from the shelf. But they offer so much more than books and computers; they offer a community.
“We consider ourselves the third place [after home and work],” said executive director, Sarah Campbell. “People like being in the presence of other people, but you can choose how much you want to interact.”
Their beautiful glass windows were installed in 2010 to continue encouraging the connection of the community. Those on the inside can easily look out and observe the happenings in Monument Square such as the farmer’s market on Wednesdays and the First Friday Art Walks. And in the same way, they create an inviting appearance for those passing by.
The library is accessible from home as well. They provide numerous online resources that allow you to learn anything from a new language to fixing the motor on your snow blower.
Be sure to check their website or Facebook page to see upcoming events as well. I’m excited for the Maker Fair that will be happening in April. There is also talk of a big event coming in the fall to celebrate the library’s 150th birthday, but we have yet to discover what exciting details that event will entail.
| Portland Public Library | 5 Monument Way, Portland | Mon-Thurs. 7:00 am to 7:00 pm
Indulge in some much-needed self-care
Winter’s the best time for a first-time spa experience. Often times life carries with it heavy mental and physical challenges, and often times we’re too busy to take the time to properly care of ourselves.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed lately, hit the pause button at Soakology Portland. There you’ll get pampered with a foot soak. Now I know what you’re thinking; you don’t need one. But trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
If you’ve got personal space issues, know that you don’t have to get covered in sticky oils or even have a stranger give you a rub down. You can just relax and enjoy the present moment. While you soak, you could read a book, get an optional massage, choose from their list of over 100 teas, order a beverage or a snack, whatever your little heart desires.
| Soakology Portland | 511 Congress St., Portland | 11:00 am to 7:00 pm
Photo By: Amy Flowers
Get your blood pumping
Any type of exercise is great. It releases endorphins which help to boost positive feelings, and reduce anxiety and depression. David Yearwood, owner and instructor at the Portland Yoga Studio, believes that learning a new physical activity, like yoga, is a great way to shake off the winter doldrums.
Yoga’s a great form of exercise for people of all ages, regardless of their level of physical fitness. I’ve practiced yoga for several years now. I’d by no means consider myself an expert, but it’s a continual learning experience. Certain practices help build up strength, while others are more about relaxation and detox, which focuses more on the connection of breath to the movement. “Doing moving and breathing practices just open your body up, open your nervous system up,” said David. “It freshens your nervous system up and your circulation gets moving.” Breathing and moving are involuntary actions and can easily be done without thought. But it’s amazing how much better I feel after a practice of moving and breathing mindfully. Sometimes just laying out on my mat focusing on my breathing is incredibly calming, and rids any negative tension.
The Portland Yoga studio teaches a unique form of yoga called Iyengar. This form includes a number of different techniques including vinyasa flows, slow practices, gentle practices, and a little bit of aerial. Instructors break each pose down, teaching their students how to move safe and effectively. Within the studio are numerous props which provide the yogi with options as to how to approach certain poses, whether they’re looking for a new way to hold a position or need a little extra support. So whether you’re a beginner or an advanced yogi, let frustrations of the winter blues fall away on the mat. Stop by for a single class or sign up for one of their numerous package deals. You can check online to find a class that best fits your schedule.
| Portland Yoga Studio | 616 Congress St., Portland | 9:00 am to 5:00 pm | class times vary
Get creative with a buzz on
Simply put, Muse Paintbar is a laidback place where you can sip on wine and test your artistic skills with real tools: paint and canvas. Pour a glass, choose which painting you’d like to recreate, and get to work! Some of the portraits, however, can seem a little intimidating and nearly impossible to imitate, and I’m speaking from experience. The instructors break down the paintings, focusing on one small area at a time. By the end of it, a completed masterpiece, one that looks almost as good as the original, sits before you. It’s an incredibly satisfying feeling. “Being in an energetic, creative environment lifts people's spirits and they often leave with a smile on their face, feeling accomplished,” said Sara Rosenfield, Muse’s marketing and PR director. Take this depressing time of year and flip it to encourage yourself to try something new and get your creative juices flowing.
| Muse Paintbar | 245 Commercial St., Portland | https://www.musepaintbar.com/
It’s about time you learned how to dance
During this time of year our bodies stiffen up. It’s cold outside, and we spend most of the day at work. So when we get free time, we’re instantly inclined to retort back to our default state: couch zombie.
But maybe you can reserve one night a week where you reject your lazy habits? Dancing might be the innovative way for you to get the cardio you need. If so, check out Casco Bay Movers, a studio that encourages you “dance away the winter.”
“When you have a bad day you can come here and dance it out,” said company manager, Angie Harrison. “When you’re moving you feel better about yourself, generating energy and good vibes.” This studio offers lessons in ballet, tap, hip hop, jazz and even provide workshops. This time of year is especially great for this studio. They create master classes which differ from the usual classes, helping keep things exciting and fresh. “They keep individuals energized and bring new vibes.” The studio offers beginner classes as well as advanced. There’s no registration fee so just go and dance your little heart out.
| Casco Bay Movers | 517, Forest Ave., Portland | 9:00 am to 8:00 pm