Tag: Dining Out

A Local’s Guide to Salisbury Maryland, Home of the National Folk Festival 

A Local’s Guide to Salisbury Maryland, Home of the National Folk Festival 

A Local’s Guide to Salisbury Maryland

The National Folk Festival will be held in my home town of Salisbury Maryland the weekend of September 7-9, 2018. What’s more, it will be held here the next two years as well. So here’s your guide to Salisbury, Maryland, written by someone who has lived here for nearly 25 years!

Locals Guide to Salisbury Maryland (vintage postcard)
By Tichnor Brothers, Publisher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About Salisbury

With a population of some 30,000, it’s the largest city on the Eastern Shore and the No. 1 fastest growing city in Maryland, according to city officials. Founded in 1732 and incorporated in 1854, it also is the county seat for Wicomico. The area offers the ideal mix of an urban center, nestled within a scenic rural region, centrally located to three major metropolitan areas (Baltimore, Washington DC, and Philadelphia). I’ve lived here since 1995, and I can’t imagine ever leaving to live someplace else.

The National Folk Festival

Free events are great, and the National Folk Festival is no exception. If you’re like me, you might think that a “folk” festival will be geared toward aging hippies who want to sit around and listen to mellow music. Not so! Folk does not mean folk music! The National Folk Festival is a celebration of the roots, richness and variety of American culture.

The three day event will feature musical performances and dancing by over 350 performers from all over the world. To name just a few:

Demonstrations specific to the state of Maryland will also be available, including preparation of traditional Maryland foods (crab cakes, muskrat, scrapple, Smith Island cake), decoy carving, and a demonstration by Pocomoke Native Americans on making dugout canoes.

Whether you’re here for the National Folk Festival or for some other reason, there is plenty to see and do in Salisbury. Here are my recommendations for visitors…

Where to Eat

For the best thin crust pizza in town, head to Lombardis (315 Civic Ave; 410-749-0522). The decor isn’t much, but the wait staff are friendly and if you have kids with you, they will love the giant mural of cartoon characters and superheroes in the back dining room. Also, did I mention how good their pizza is?

Who doesn’t love ice cream? A Chincoteague Virginia favorite, Island Creamery, recently opened a shop in Salisbury (306 Dogwood Dr, 410-831-3103). With traditional favorites and unusual flavors like Cantaloupe and Wallops Rocket Fuel (chocolate with cinnamon and chili pepper), there’s something for everyone.

Back Street Grill (401 Snow Hill Road, 410-548-1588) offers a build-your-own sandwich menu and some of the tastiest salads in town. My favorite sandwich is the Back Street Deluxe: turkey and ham with cheddar and pineapple on a croissant, heated. So yummy! They also offer great specials on weeknights, like tacos for $1.25 each on Mondays and $5 burgers on Wednesdays.

Market Street Inn (130 W Market St, 410-742-4145) is an upscale restaurant located on the Wicomico (pronounced why-COMic-oh) River.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Market Street Inn offers guests riverside dining and drinks.

In addition to gourmet fare, they have outdoor seating, which offers a great view of the riverfront. if you’re lucky, you might even see a Great Blue Heron while you’re there.

Brew River (502 W Main St, 410-677-6757) is a popular restaurant located on the Wicomico River. They have great dinner specials, with half price prime rib on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 2-for-1 crab cakes on Thursdays. The restaurant also features an outside dock bar that is one of the most happening nightlife spots in town. If you go, be sure to grab a coconut muffin from the bread basket – they’re delicious!

Rise Up Coffee Roasters is a local favorite. Go to their College Avenue location (105 East College Ave., 443-358-5248) to get breakfast or lunch, or just hang out for a while. Alternatively, you can hit the Riverside Drive drive through (529 Rivderside Drive, 410-202-2500) if you’re on the go. They only roast certified organic and fair trade coffee, so you can feel good about caffeinating here. But even if you’re not a coffee person, it’s worth a stop: the frozen hot chocolate is A-MAZ-ING!

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Bordeleau Vineyard & Winery features a beautiful estate with a well-stocked tasting room.
Bordeleau Vineyard & Winery

Bordeleau Vineyard & Winery in the neighboring village of Eden (3155 Noble Farm Rd, Eden, 410-677-3334) offers both white and red wines on a beautiful estate (above) that often serves as a wedding venue.The Bordeleau tasting room is open Wednesday through Sunday and is a comfy, welcoming place to sample their vino.

Acorn Market (150 W Market St, 410-334-2222) offers breakfast and lunch in a relaxed atmosphere. They offer a selection of freshly made to order sandwiches and salads, and some of the  most scrumptious baked goods you will find. I especially love their sweet potato biscuits.  You won’t be able to get dinner here, though, as they close at 3:00 pm each day.

Classic Cakes (1305 S Division St #8, 410-860-5300) makes Smith Island cakes. If you’ve never heard of such a thing, you are in for a treat! Maryland’s official state dessert is a nine-layer (yes, NINE!) yellow cake with chocolate ganache type frosting.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Try the official state dessert. a nine-layer Smith Island Cake.

That’s the traditional version. But Classic Cakes has taken it up a few notches and made many delicious varieties: cookies and cream, Reese’s cup, coconut pineapple, banana, red velvet, and many more. I like the classic and the banana best. They also sell cupcakes but don’t let that tempt you… the cake is way better, and they even sell it by the slice.

Where to Stay

Salisbury isn’t different from other cities in this regard. There’s a selection of hotels from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 stars. If location is important to you, then you can’t do much better than LaQuinta, which is right next to the city’s Riverwalk Park and newly constructed amphitheater. Downtown bars, restaurants and shopping are a quick 10-15 minute walk, and a bank next door to the hotel has an ATM, should you need one.

If Airbnb is more your thing, there are quite a few properties to choose from in Salisbury, from single rooms to riverfront lofts. Just make sure before booking that the property is in Salisbury and not a nearby town like Crisfield or Pocomoke. Those towns, while technically nearby, would add 30-45 minutes of driving to your outings. Book an Airbnb through this link and you will receive a $40 credit!

Finally, if you’re a camping kind of family, I’m sorry to say that there aren’t any campgrounds in Salisbury. The town of Berlin has several camping options, however, and is about 30 minutes away by car.

Where to Shop

If you’re into country decor, Salisbury is your Mecca. The Country House (805 E Main St, 410-749-1959). Set aside at least half a day to look through their items, as the store is huge – 48,000 square feet – and no space is wasted.  They carry all sorts of wonderful items, from curtains to floral to apparel and seasonal items too.

Angello’s Unique Gifts is a great spot to browse, and it’s located right next to the Acorn Market (150 W Market St, 443-358-5152), so you can stop by after lunch. This is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir of your visit, or a gift for someone who is hard to shop for. They even do embroidery to personalize your purchase.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Dana Simson offers whimsical ceramic creations at Chesapeake East.
Some of Dana Simson’s ceramics.

If you’re into quirky and colorful handmade ceramic pieces, you must go to Chesapeake East (501 W Main St, 410-546-1534). From dinnerware to decorative items, artist Dana Simson creates whimsical pieces that will make you smile. In addition, she also sells stationery, paintings, and prints.

What to Do

If you’re coming to Salisbury for a special event like the National Folk Festival or the 100 mile Seagull Century bike race, you might want to stay an extra day or two and check out some of the other things our little city has to offer. For instance:

The Salisbury Zoo (755 S Park Dr, open daily 9:00 to 4:30) is a 12-acre zoological park that has offered free admission ever since it first opened in 1954. The zoo is home to 100 animals, most of which are native to North and South America. The zoo is an absolute gem and one of the things that make Salisbury a great place to live and visit.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: The Salisbury Zoo is a great place to visit... and it's free!
The alligator at the Salisbury Zoo is all smiles.

At one end of the zoo, children will absolutely love the playground known as Ben’s Red Swings. The playground was created to honor the memory of Ben Layton, a local boy who died of leukemia at age 4. Ben wished that when he got to heaven he would get red wings because red was his favorite color, and that was the inspiration for the name of the playground. The playground was largely funded and built by community volunteers, and it is a real treasure to the children who live here. If you’re visiting with your family, be sure to let them burn off some energy at Ben’s Red Swings.

Another way to let the kids (and adventurous adults) burn off some energy is to take them to Altitude Trampoline Park (30174 Foskey Ln, 410-896-2219) in the neighboring town of Delmar, Maryland. In addition to over 24,000 square feet of indoor trampolines, there is also a Foam Pit, Dodgeball Arena, Kid’s Arena, Aeroball and Laser Maze. Hours of fun! Rates range from $15-$20 for one to two hours of jumping fun.

Salisbury is home to a minor league baseball team, the Delmarva Shorebirds. The season will have ended before the National Folk Festival takes place, but if you’re visiting between April and August, consider spending an evening at the ballpark. Many games conclude with a great fireworks show, and there are often special events and giveaways as well. Tickets range from $2 to $13.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art

The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art (909 S Schumaker Dr, 410-742-4988) has been recognized by USA Today as one of the 10 best places in the U.S. to view American folk art. Operated by Salisbury University, it showcases the contributions of artists who have carved birds both as tools for the hunt and as objects of artistic enjoyment. The museum regularly offers children’s programs and hosts community events at its beautiful waterfront location.

Finally, for garden enthusiasts, the campus of Salisbury University was recognized by the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta as an arboretum in 1988. The campus features over 2,000 species of plant life, including magnolia, rhododendron, viburnum, Japanese maple, bald cypress, and Crape myrtle. Notable areas of interest – and great Instagram spots – on campus include the pergola near the University Commons, the Holloway Hall courtyard garden, the Bellavance Honors Center’s Japanese garden, the Link of Nations, and the Miller Alumni Garden.

Beaches

There are at least a half dozen beaches within an hour’s drive of Salisbury. They each have their own distinct vibe, and their own pros and cons. I’ll outline the three closest ones below.

The Cove (Cove Rd, Bivalve MD – about 30 minutes from Salisbury) is the perfect beach for families with young children. It is a sheltered cove off of the Chesapeake Bay. The water is shallow, warm, and has very little current, so it’s great for toddlers and preschoolers. Older kids and childless adults, on the other hand, will probably be pretty bored at this beach.

Assateague has two sections – the Assateague Island National Seashore (7206 National Seashore Lane, Berlin, 410-641-1441), and Maryland;’s Assateague State Park (6915 Stephen Decatur Highway, Berlin, 410-641-2120).  It takes about 45 minutes from Salisbury to reach either of them. Both charge a small entrance fee. You will be able to see the famous wild Assateague ponies at both.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: The beach at nearby Assateague Island offers visitors a look at the wild ponies who have lived there for centuries.

Both offer ocean and bayfront beaches. Both allow pets in designated areas. You can camp at both, and both have bike trails. The biggest difference is that the state side has a restaurant/concession stand and gift shop, whereas the federal side does not provide any opportunities for you to spend money once you pay for admission. I prefer the federal side as it tends to be less crowded, and I almost always see the ponies when we go there.

Ocean City (paid parking at the Hugh T Cropper inlet parking lot – 809 S Atlantic Ave, Ocean City – about 45 minutes from Salisbury). Quite the opposite of Assateague, Ocean City has plenty of places for you to part with your cash.  In addition to a stunning oceanfront beach with crashing waves, there is a 2.5 mile long boardwalk lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, hotels, and arcades. Be sure to get Thrasher’s fries while you’re there. It’s a must!

A Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland

In Conclusion

I hope you will find this guide to Salisbury Maryland useful. I love this town, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. If you visit, I’m sure you will agree!  Do you have any other suggestions to add? Did you try any of the places I recommended here? If so, leave a comment and tell me about it!

Happy traveling!

A Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland - Home of the National Folk Festival
Quirky Delmarva Festivals You Can’t Miss

Quirky Delmarva Festivals You Can’t Miss

Delmarva Festivals You Need to See to Believe

Within 80 miles of my home, there are several annual festivals that locals love. But if I’m being honest, people who are visiting here probably think they’re weird. Delmarva festivals – those on the peninsula of Delaware and the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia – provide quirky and traditional fun for locals and visitors alike. Here are some of the more unusual ones.

The National Hard Crab Derby

Claim to Fame: Crab Races
How Many Years Held: 70
Location: Crisfield, Maryland
Date: Labor Day Weekend, September
Average Attendance: ?

Delmarva Festivals: The National Hard Crab Derby takes place in Crisfield, Maryland over Labor Day weekend.
Photo via Flickr by Benjamin Wilson US

Every Labor Day weekend, people from all over the Mid-Atlantic region visit Maryland’s southernmost town to see some 400 blue crabs compete in one of the most celebrated crustacean events in America, the National Hard Crab Derby. It all started decades ago, when local watermen brought their feistiest live crabs to race in the street in front of the post office. That strange small town event has grown into a full fledged weekend-long festival!

Other events over the course of the festival week include a beauty pageant (the winner is crowned Miss Crustacean), a carnival, crab cooking and picking contests, live music, a boat docking contest and a skiff race. The event concludes with fireworks on Sunday night.

Apple Scrapple Festival – Bridgeville, Delaware (Oct)

Claim to Fame: Scrapple
How Many Years Held: 26
Location: Bridgeville, Delaware
Date: Second Weekend of October
Average Attendance: over 25,000

If you’ve never had Scrapple, you might be wondering what it is. Well, put as delicately as possible, it contains everything left from the pig after bacon, ham, pork chops, etc. are taken. Which is to say that it’s made of scraps… hence the name.

The pig scraps are boiled until falling apart, then finely cut up. The meat is combined with cornmeal and flour along with spices including sage, black pepper, thyme, and savory, then formed into loaves. Once cooled, you can cut off half-inch slices and fry them in butter until golden brown.

Delmarva Festivals: Head to the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville DE the second weekend of October for a celebration of this unique pork product.
A classic Scrapple sandwich. CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Personally, I can’t get past the fact that Scrapple’s main ingredient is offal, but most folks around here don’t have a problem with that and swear that it’s delicious. You will see Scrapple typically served as a breakfast sandwich on plain white bread. This is definitely a regional delicacy – Scrapple’s popularity doesn’t extend much beyond the mid-Atlantic states. The two most popular brands of Scrapple in this area are Habersett and RAPA, and both are located in the tiny town of Bridgeville, Delaware.

In addition to Bridgeville’s Scrapple industry, the Apple Scrapple festival celebrates apples, particularly those grown by local farm TS Smith & Son.

Festivities begin at 4:00 pm on Friday evening with the carnival, food court and street dance. Things start up again on Saturday morning with an all you can eat Scrapple breakfast from 7:00 to 11:00 am. The rest of the day is filled with carnival rides, kids’ games, Scrapple sling, Scrapple carving, live entertainment, a ladies’ skillet tossing contest, and more.

Crawfish Boil & Muskrat Stew Fest

Claim to Fame: Muskrat Cuisine
How Many Years Held: 7
Location: Cambridge, Maryland
Date: February
Average Attendance: 700-1000

Delmarva Festivals: Louisiana meets Maryland at the Crawfish Boil and Muskrat Stew Fest in Cambridge Maryland every February.

The Crawfish Boil & Muskrat Stew Fest is an outdoor event combining two distinctive cuisines: Louisiana Crawfish and Dorchester County muskrat. Yes, muskrat. Many people in this part of the country consider it good eating.

As the name implies, this festival is all about the food. Festival goers will find such delicacies as muskrat stew, smoked muskrat, muskrat gravy fries, and muskrat chili dogs. A variety of crawfish dishes are also available, as are raw oysters, burgers, and hot dogs. The festival also features a Muskrat Leg Eating Contest.

Live entertainment from a blues band generates a party atmosphere and keeps the fun going long after you’ve had your fill.

National Outdoor Show

Claim to Fame: Fun for Hunters & Trappers
How Many Years Held: 73
Location: Church Creek, Maryland
Date: February
Average Attendance: ?

Delmarva Festivals: In Dorchester County, Maryland, the muskrat is the centerpiece of the National Outdoor Show.
Illustration of Muskrat via Flickr by Boston Public Library

Dorchester County, Maryland is Muskrat Country: the heartland of sportsmen, trappers, watermen and wildlife. The National Outdoor Show aims to “share the unique spirit and character of the area’s hard working people, who keep one foot in a technologically savvy world, and the other stuck deep in our traditional old school ways.”

The event opens on a Friday evening with a pageant to name Miss Outdoors, followed by the world championship muskrat skinning semi-finals. Festivties continue on Saturday with Little Miss and Little Mister Outdoors, a game cooking demo, police K-9 demo, duck and goose calling contests, championship muskrat skinning finals, and more. A PBS documentary, Muskrat Lovely, featured the National Outdoor Show because of its focus on muskrats.

Chestertown Tea Party

Claim to Fame: historical reenactment of tax rebellion
How Many Years Held: 42
Location: Chestertown, Maryland
Date: Memorial Day Weekend, May
Average Attendance: 15,000

This tea party is not about frilly dresses and big hats. It commemorates the other kind of tea party – you know, like the famous one in Boston. When the citizens of Chestertown learned that the British had closed the port of Boston in retaliation for Bostonians dumping tea into the harbor, they issued The Chestertown Resolves. The Resolves stated that it was illegal to import, sell, or consume tea.

According to local lore, on May 23, 1774, the citizens of Chestertown gathered at the town center, marched down High Street to the brigantine Geddes, and tossed her cargo of tea into the Chester River. Every Memorial Day weekend, Chestertown residents not only celebrate the event, they reenact it.

Delmarva Festivals: Celebrating the rebels of the American Revolution at the Chestertown Tea Party.
Image courtesy of Chestertown Tea Party Festival

The festival opens on the Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend with a street party. Food trucks, live music, and games provide a fun but laid back atmosphere before the festival shifts into high gear on Saturday. A large colonial parade down High Street, featuring numerous fife and drum bands as well as marching Colonial and British reenactors, serves as the highlight of Saturday’s activities.

Throughout Saturday, visitors can enjoy walking tours of the historic district, demonstrations of colonial crafts, more than 100 craft vendors, children’s activities, local foods, a wine village and a wide array of musical entertainers. The festival concludes Sunday afternoon in the park with local wine and craft beer tastings, more entertainment, crafts and food. Sunday’s main event is the popular Raft Race. Teams compete to keep their home-made raft afloat for as long as possible in hopes of winning the coveted Tea Cup.

Chincoteague Pony Swim

Delmarva Festivals: The Chincoteague Pony Swim takes place every year in mid-July.
By United States Coast Guard, PA2 Christopher Evanson –  Link

Claim to Fame: feral horses are herded up and sold at auction
How Many Years Held: 93
Location: Chincoteague, Virginia
Date: mid-July
Average Attendance: 40,000

The pony swim has taken place since 1925 to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, but its roots date back to the 17th century. The event grew in popularity after its mention in the classic children’s book, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.

The Saturday-Monday before the swim, volunteers (known as “Saltwater Cowboys”) round up the 150 or so feral horses and 60-70 spring foals that inhabit Assateague Island and take them to a central pen. Then, on Tuesday, veterinarians examine them to make sure they are healthy.

Wednesday is pony swim day. The Saltwater Cowboys guide the ponies to Chincoteague Island by having them swim across the Assateague Channel. This is done at “slack tide” – a period of about 30 minutes between tides, when there is no current. As a result, it is the easiest time for the ponies to make the swim.

After the swim, the ponies rest. Then the Saltwater Cowboys “parade” the ponies down Main Street to the carnival grounds in preparation for an auction the following morning.

The auction serves two purposes. First, it helps control the size of the herd, keeping it from growing too large. In order to keep the herd at a sustainable size, most of the foals are sold at the auction. A few select foals, however, are buybacks, auctioned with the stipulation that they will be donated back to the Fire Company, then returned to Assateague Island.

Secondly, the auction is a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, who uses proceeds to provide veterinary care for the ponies throughout the year.

Conclusion

I hope you have a better idea of what this part of the mid-Atlantic is like based on our traditional festivals. Better yet, I hope you’ll attend one or more of them!  Please comment below if you’ve attended any of these, or tell me about the quirky festivals in your area!

Delmarva Festivals: A guide to some of the Mid-Atlantic's quirkiest events.
Top Ten Places to See in Uruguay

Top Ten Places to See in Uruguay

Why Uruguay?

I’ve had an interest in Uruguay since my college days, when I represented Uruguay in a model OAS. In doing my research on the small South American country, I discovered it was an often overlooked but quite extraordinary country. Its neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, get all the attention (and tourism), but Uruguay has quite a lot to offer its visitors. Here’s my Uruguay Top Ten list:

1. Montevideo

No visit to Uruguay would be complete without spending some time in its vibrant capital city. Take a stroll along La Rambla, the ten mile promenade that separates the city proper from the sea. While you’re doing that, cross over La Rambla and spend some time enjoying one of the city’s beautiful beaches.

Uruguay Top Ten: No visit to Montevideo would be complete without strolling along La Rambla.
Photo of La Rambla & beach in Montevideo via Flickr by Andre S Ribeiro

If history and architecture interest you, go to Plaza Independencia and from there explore the older part of the city. Be sure to look for the old city walls and gate! And for more on Montevideo history – as well as outstanding views over the city – be sure to visit Fortaleza del Cerro a military fortress-turned-museum located at the highest point of the city.

2. Hot Springs Near Salto

The Guaraní Aquifer, one of the largest groundwater reservoirs in the world, is located in northwestern Uruguay near the city of Salto. In Uruguay, this water system has temperatures ranging between 100º and 115°.

As a result of their high mineral content, the hot springs are ideal for relaxing baths and also digestive remedies. The area has capitalized upon this by improving infrastructure and supporting the development of many hot spring resorts.

Uruguay Top Ten: The Hot Springs near Salto make for a relaxing swim.
Photo of Termas del Arapey via Flickr by todo tiempo pasado fue mejor 

After enjoying the water, stroll through Salto, which is the second most populated city in Uruguay. The downtown area is full of historic monuments, shops, interesting architecture, and cafes. Other attractions in Salto include a zoo, a water park, and a riverside walking path.

3. La Mano en la Arena

This literally translates to A Hand in the Sand.  And that’s exactly what it is. Located on the popular Punta del Este beach (see below), it is a sculpture of five fingers emerging from the sand.

Uruguay Top Ten: See the hand in the sand at the popular Punta del Este beach.
Photo of La Mano By CoolcaesarOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal made the sculpture in the summer of 1982. He sought to make a sculpture of a hand “drowning” as a warning to swimmers. In fact, the sculpture is also known as Monumento al Ahogado (Monument to the Drowning Man). The artist made three replicas of the sculpture – one is in the Atacama Desert in Chile, one is in Madrid, and the third is in Venice.

4. Casapueblo

Casapueblo is a sprawling, vivid white estate near Punta del Este. Originally, Casapueblo served as a a summer house and workshop of the Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. Today, the building houses a museum, an art gallery, a cafeteria and a hotel.

Uruguay Top Ten: Casapueblo is an artist's former home with a stunningly unique design.
Photo of Casapueblo via Flickr by pviojo

Built of whitewashed cement and stucco, the building may remind you of the architecture seen in Santorini, Greece. The artist said that he drew inspiration from the nest of the Hornero, a South American bird known for building mud nests with chambers inside them. It has thirteen floors with terraces facing the waters of the Atlantic ocean. The construction has a staggered shape that allows better more/views of the ocean.

5. Museo del Gaucho y la Moneda

Two museums sharing a three story rococo mansion in Montevideo – what more could you ask for? The Museo del Gaucho contains exhibits about South America’s version of what we call a cowboy – el gaucho.

Uruguay Top Ten: Be sure to visit the Museo del Gaucho in Montevideo.
Photo of two gauchos via Flickr by Vince Alongi

Here you’ll find items from the gauchos’ everyday life, from traditional garb to the detailed silver work on the cups used for drinking mate. The second museum (la Moneda) deals with coin, and contains many examples of ancient South American and European coins.

6. Mercado del Puerto

I love shopping in Latin American markets, where the selection is vast, the colors are vibrant, and the prices are negotiable.

Uruguay Top Ten: Mercado del Puerto is a must for shopping and steakhouses.
Photo of Mercado del Puerto via Flickr by El Coleccionista de Instantes

At Montevideo’s Mercado del Puerto, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, you will find everything you can imagine – souvenirs, antiques, leather goods, hand crafted items, and of course, delicious meats. Be sure to eat at one of the steak houses there.  You will not be disappointed!

7. Colonia del Sacramento

Colonia del Sacramento is a small city in southwestern Uruguay. Founded in 1680, the town’s historic quarter was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. As you might expect in a city this old, visitors are able to walk through cobblestone streets to the Plaza Mayor.

Uruguay Top Ten: The City Gate at Colonia del Sacramento, founded in 1680.
Photo of the city gate and wooden drawbridge at Colonia del Sacramento by User:HalloweenHJB, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Many points of interest can be explored from there, including the city gate and wooden drawbridge, lighthouse and convent ruins, two museums, and the Basilica of the Holy Sacrament, built in 1808.

8. Punta del Este

Punta del Este is a tremendously popular tourist destination, with over 1 million visitors annually. It has been given several comparative nicknames, including “the Monaco of the South”, “The Pearl of the Atlantic”, “the Hamptons of South America”, and “the St. Tropez of South America.” In addition to the Punta del Este sites on this list (La Mano and Casapueblo), there are a few other attractions worth checking out when you visit.

Uruguay Top Ten: The pirate exhibit at the Museum of the Sea in Punta del Este.
Photo of pirate exhibit at the Museo del Mar in Punta del Este by FedaroOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

One particular attraction that I would recommend is the Museo del Mar (Museum of the Sea), which contains over 5,000 specimens of marine animals, including whale skeletons, sea urchins, starfish and turtle shells. In addition, there are exhibits about beach attire and habits of the early 20th century, navigational tools, and famous pirates.

9. Punta del Diablo

Don’t let the name fool you, Punta del Diablo is a heavenly place to visit! This little village is very popular and growing more so every year. It has a temperate climate (70°-80° in the summer; 50°-60° in the winter), great views of the ocean, and stunning beaches.

Uruguay Top Ten: Punta del Diablo offers visitors wide expanses of beach for recreation.
Photo of the beach at Punto del Diablo via Flickr by Vince Alongi.

In addition to the beaches, where locals and visitors are often seen in the summer gathered around fires playing guitars and singing songs, Punto del Diablo has other points of interest. Parque Nacional Santa Teresa (Saint Teresa National Park) offers 60 km of hiking trails and the potential for a whale sightings along the shore during summer. Another popular attraction is the Centro de Tortugas Marinas (Center for Sea Turtles). It is located near a popular foraging site for sea turtles, the waters off the beaches of Barra del Chuy to Punta del Diablo.

10. Wine Tasting in the Canelones Region

Uruguay’s wine industry began in the 1870s when Tannat was introduced by Basque immigrants. Since then, Tannat has become Uruguay’s signature varietal, producing rich, full-bodied red wines with dark fruit and spice aromas and flavors.

Uruguay Top Ten: Uruguay has many wineries in the Canelones region.

The wine is food friendly and traditionally paired with beef and lamb as well as pastas and strong cheeses. Named for its high tannin content, Tannat has been found to be the healthiest of red wines due to its high antioxidant and resveratrol levels which can aid in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. (See? Wine is good for you!)

There are at least a dozen wineries in this region, all fairly close to each other, so it would be easy to visit several and learn more about the wines produced in this part of South America.

And Just for Fun:

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Uruguay

  1. Uruguay is a socially progressive country. It was the first nation in Latin America to establish a welfare state, the first in the world to provide every child in school with a free laptop and wifi access (2009), and the first in the world to legalize the production, sale and use of marijuana (2013).
  2. Although marijuana is legal in Uruguay, it is illegal for a non-Uruguayan to purchase marijuana there.
  3. In the 2018 Global Peace Index, Uruguay ranked as the 37th safest country in the world – the second highest ranking country in South America.  (By comparison, the USA’s rank is 121 and the UK’s is 57.)
  4. Cows outnumber people in Uruguay by a margin of four to one.
  5. Uruguay is the only county in South America that lies completely outside the tropics.
  6. Uruguay’s national anthem clocks in at over five minutes, making it the longest in the world.
  7. Less than half the population of Uruguay is Catholic, making it the least religious country in South America. Many of the Catholic holidays have different names in Uruguay. Christmas is Family Day, Holy Week (Easter) is called Tourism Week, and so on.
  8. Uruguay was home to the “World’s Poorest President,” José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano. Mujica served as President from 2010 to 2015, and earned the nickname because of his humble way of life. He donated about 90% of his income as President to charity, refused to live in the Presidential Palace, and drove a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
  9. The unofficial national motto of Uruguay dates back to the 19th century and is still repeated today: “Because here nobody is better than anybody else.”
  10. The Rio de la Plata, which forms part of Uruguay’s border with Argentina, is the widest river in the world, with a width of 140 miles at its mouth.
URUGUAY TOP TEN: The ten best destinations in Uruguay that should be on  your bucket list.
Weekend in Chicago Itinerary – 48 Hours in the Windy City

Weekend in Chicago Itinerary – 48 Hours in the Windy City

What Can You See in Chicago in Two Days?

As it turns out, you can see quite a bit. We went to Chicago for my birthday last fall because it was a place I had always been interested in seeing but had never actually visited. Unfortunately, my birthday always falls the week before a major event at work that I am partially responsible for, so my trip couldn’t last much longer than a weekend.

We were able to squeeze quite a lot into just two days of touring. So whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or you want to extend a flight layover by a couple of days, you can see the city too.  Here’s our itinerary.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary – Day One

First Stop: Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago, a large and impressive building that contains both art school and museum. It was first built in 1893 as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Two huge bronze lions flank the main entrance, where banners also hang to announce the latest exhibits.  The Institute has expanded several times over the years, most recently with the addition of a modern art wing in 2009. That expansion brought the size of the Art Institute to almost 1 million square feet, making it the second largest art museum in the USA. (The first is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)

Normally, art museums aren’t high on my list of places to visit, but having read The 68 Rooms with my daughter a few years ago, I really wanted to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms in person.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago
One of the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. This is a shoebox sized rendition of an English cottage kitchen of the Queen Anne period (1702-1714). The blue plates are roughly the size of a dime.

I enjoyed that exhibit, for certain, but there were so many other wonderful things in the museum that I would definitely classify it as a must see in Chicago. They had a great exhibit on glass paperweights, which included this beauty:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - the Art Institute of Chicago has a beautiful collection of glass paperweights on its lower level.

Naturally, Hubs and I were drawn to the medieval and renaissance armor.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - the Art Institute of Chicago is a great place to visit, and includes a variety of exhibits, including one on arms and armor.

And there were some famous paintings there as well, like A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to visit the Art Institute of Chicago and see Georges Seurat's famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

and Andy Warhol’s rendition of the Mona Lisa:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to look for Andy Warhol's Four Mona Lisas at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Next Stop: River Cruise and/or Lincoln Park Zoo

We spent a big chunk of time at the Art Institute & Gallery. Afterwards, we explored the riverfront area and toyed with the idea of taking a sightseeing or architecture cruise. This would certainly be a good thing to do if you enjoy water tours and/or architecture. My daughter hates going on boats, however, so we did not.

Instead, we went to the north end of the city and explored Lincoln Park Zoo. Like the zoo in my home town, this zoo does not charge admission for visitors. Plus, they have polar bears, which are one of my favorite animals ever.

Unfortunately, we visited in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave with temperatures over 95 degrees. In late September! The animals were every bit as miserable as we were, and the polar bears looked shell-shocked. I felt so bad for them!

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Lincoln Park Zoo has free admission ... and polar bears!

That being said, the zoo was in a beautiful park setting and I would definitely like to visit it again in cooler weather.

Dinner: Pizza Pot Pie

Within walking distance of Lincoln Park Zoo, there is a restaurant called the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company. History buffs will appreciate that it’s located across the street from the site of the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre. Foodies will love the Pizza Pot Pie, their signature dish. It is full of cheesy goodness.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Dinner at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company is a must. Try the pizza pot pie!

How good was it? Well, I devoted an entire blog post to it.  It was also the first Chicago post I wrote when I returned. I had the pizza pot pie eight months ago and I still have days where I think I’d love to have it again. Yummm.

Tip:  Be at the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company when they open for dinner at 4:00 pm. It’s small and fills up quickly. Besides, you’ll want to have enough time to walk off some of those calories before dessert…

Next Stop: Millennium Park

I hadn’t intended to go to Millennium Park around sunset… it just worked out that way because we got out of dinner early. As it turns out, sunset is a pretty cool time to approach the park, because you can get a photo like this:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Arriving at Millennium Park late in the day provides some great photo opportunities.

Yeah, I know it’s a little off-center. I would have had to fight off at least four people with tripods in order to get a better spot.

But that’s not the reason we went to Millennium Park, obviously. We went to see “The Bean,” which is actually an art installation called Cloud Gate. This is one of those things that if you don’t do it, you’ll end up regretting it after you’ve left. It’s iconic, and you pretty much have to see it.  Besides which, it’s really cool.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to stop by Millennium Park to see Cloud Gate (better known as "The Bean").

The mom in me wants to know how it stays so clean and shiny.  Clearly, it’s not made out of the same stuff as my kitchen sink.

The photo above is the end of the Bean.  The sides have an indentation big enough to pass through it.  When you do, be sure to look up. You might not be sure what you’re looking at, because it’s almost psychedelic.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Walk inside the center of the Bean at Millennium Park and be sure to look up!

Explore the rest of the park too… it has many other great things to see in addition to the Bean!

Dessert: Smallcakes Smash

If you saved room for dessert, head on over to Smallcakes for a cupcake, ice cream, or the most decadent dessert in town. (You might want to take a couple of people to share it with you.)

Now, Smallcakes is a national chain, not a uniquely Chicago business.  However, it’s worth a visit because of their signature, over-the-top dessert called the Smallcakes Smash.

Choose a cupcake and one or two flavors of ice cream. There are at least a dozen of each to choose from.  Then, sit back and watch as they construct the “Smash” before your very eyes.

A scoop of ice cream goes in the bottom of the cup, followed by the bottom half of the cupcake. A second scoop of ice cream tops that, followed by some whipped cream and syrup in a complementary flavor. Then the whole concoction is topped with the remainder of the cupcake. It is a masterpiece!  Behold!

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Get a Smallcakes Smash at Smallcakes!

I recommend sharing one with a friend. It’s a lot for just one person!

Chicago Weekend Itinerary – Day Two

First Stop: Chicago Tribune Tower

In the morning, we walked over to see the Chicago Tribune Tower which is in the heart of downtown Chicago. Normally, I wouldn’t make a special trip to see just a building, but the Tribune Tower is a building like no other. Pieces of famous landmarks and buildings from all over the world are embedded in its walls.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary: Look for fragments of world landmarks at the Chicago Tribune Tower.

And I don’t mean a dozen or so… I mean almost 150. It was great fun to stand there looking for these special stones – we saw pieces of Westminster Abbey, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China, to name just a few.

Next Stop: Museum of Science & Industry (with Kids)

If you don’t have children with you, you might not enjoy the Museum of Science & Industry all that much. We only went because I’ve had a bit of an obsession with Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle for over 15 years, and it happens to be on display at Science & Industry. Otherwise, I would have found a different activity, such as the Field Museum, or one of those river cruises, or something else.

That being said, the Fairy Castle did not disappoint.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Families will enjoy a visit to the Museum of Science & Industry, home to Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle

I circled it three times and was constantly finding new details each time I looked inside the rooms. An audio recording plays while you are going around the castle, and it’s worth listening to, because it has some very interesting details. The castle is full of authentic items, some of them hundreds of years old. Other items are not as old, but are just as valuable, like the miniature chair that is made of platinum and diamonds.

We looked at a few other exhibits after the fairy castle, including one on bicycle design that Hubs found very interesting, and a mirror maze. But we still had more to see and do, so we didn’t stay too long.

Next Stop: Street Art & Lunch in Logan Square

Street art makes for great photo opportunities. I found out that there was a “Greetings from Chicago” style postcard mural and knew we had to get our pictures in front of it, so that was where we headed next.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - snap a pic with the Greetings from Chicago mural as your backdrop.

The mural is located at 2226 N Milwaukee Ave, in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.  Nearby, we saw another great series of paintings titled “Never Give Up” on the side of a family dollar store.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - There are all types of street art to amuse and inspire you in Logan Square.

It had the stories of five famous people who had, at various points in their lives, encountered setbacks and failures. Despite those challenges, they went on to achieve great success.  It was a good reminder to hang in there when the going gets tough.

Logan Square is a racially diverse and artistic neighborhood with lots of beautiful architecture, great restaurants, and street art. Unlike some city neighborhoods I’ve visited, Logan Square seemed to have a strong sense of community. There are many great restaurants, bars, churches, and local is the key word when describing many aspects of the scene. Ingredients are sourced locally at restaurants; bars serve local craft brews; galleries showcase local artists; and concerts and street fests promote local, upstart bands.

There is no shortage of good restaurants in the Logan Square area, and in a wide variety of ethnic cuisines as well. We had lunch at the Logan Bar & Grill, which had an amazing outdoor seating area. I almost forgot that it was insanely hot while we enjoyed our burgers.

Feeling refreshed and at least a little rested (not to mention re-hydrated!), we got an Uber to take us to…

Next Stop: The Tower Formerly Known as Sears

As you may have read in my blog post about the Willis Tower, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of going to the top to see the views. But eventually I did make the decision to do it, because I figured it was another one of those iconic Chicago things, like The Bean.

I wish I had paid attention to the time when we first went in to see how long we waiting in line before actually making it to the Skydeck. It was at least an hour. It felt like two. Let’s split the difference and call it ninety minutes, waiting in line, moving at a snail’s pace through the basement of one of the most famous buildings in America.

By the time we got to the Skydeck, the sun was beginning to drop in the sky, and the Golden Hour was upon us.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Catch the view from the (Sears) Willis Tower Skydeck.

With the setting sun behind us, the shadows of the skyscrapers were cast across the city and the lake. It was stunning! Suddenly, I didn’t resent that two hour 90 minute wait quite as much.

Dinner: Deep Dish Pizza

You can’t leave Chicago without eating deep dish pizza at least once, right? Well, there is apparently some debate as to who has the best deep dish in Chicago. I’m not a big fan of deep dish style pizza, so I didn’t put a lot of effort into choosing a restaurant for this meal. The first place I saw a recommendation for was the lucky winner: Gino’s East.

I don’t know if Gino’s East has the best pizza, but it’s probably got the most fun atmosphere. The entire restaurant has been covered in graffiti from past customers.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Make one meal a deep dish pizza, the city's signature dish. Gino's East is one of the best, and has an interior that is completely covered in graffiti.

Our server was great as he welcomed us and explained the different options. When the food arrived, we dug in and managed to finish the whole thing, thanks to his recommendations on what size we needed.Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Deep Dish pizza is the Windy City's signature dish.

However, that being said, do be careful when ordering a deep dish pizza.  Because it is so thick, eating one slice is equivalent to eating two or three slices of regular pizza. I saw a lot of tourists walking around Chicago carrying pizza boxes because they didn’t take this into consideration. It’s much better to order the right size and not have to worry about leftovers.

Next Stop: Strolling the Magnificent Mile

After dinner we walked along the area of Michigan Avenue known as The Magnificent Mile. (Can you hear that in any voice but Oprah’s? I can’t.) There are loads of shops along this stretch of road, most of which I cannot afford. Still, it makes for good window shopping and people watching.

Between there and our hotel, we stopped at Eataly, which I’ve always been curious about but have never had an opportunity to visit. Then we returned to the hotel to pack our bags for the next morning, when we would wish a fond farewell to the city of Chicago. It was our first visit there, but we all agreed that we didn’t want it to be our last.

Summary Infographic:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary in list form

Chicago Weekend Itinerary at Travel As Much
Ocean City Maryland’s Best Boardwalk Food

Ocean City Maryland’s Best Boardwalk Food

A Summer Tradition

Having grown up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, I have gone to Ocean City in the summertime as long as I can remember. There are so many great things to do there, from swimming and sunbathing to “walking the boards” and sampling all of the delicious foods sold along the boardwalk. Some of my favorites include chocolate covered strawberries from Candy Kitchen, Dolle’s salt water taffy, Dough Roller pizza, and caramel popcorn from Fisher’s. They’re all outstanding! But only one treat can claim the title of Ocean City Maryland’s Best Boardwalk Food – Thrashers french fries.

About Thrashers

The story of these tasty fries begins in 1929, when J.T. Thrasher proposed a unique business concept for the seaside community. He wanted to have a food stand that sold one product, and one product only: the French fry. With just one product for sale, he had to excel. Only the best would do.

Thrasher focused on three things: quality ingredients, hard work, and above all, attention to the perfection of each cup of fries. He discovered that the perfect French fries had to come from perfect potatoes, which meant buying potatoes from different regions at different times of the year.

I’ve heard many rumors about why Thrasher’s fries are so much better than others. Does Thrasher’s brine their potatos before frying? Do they fry in peanut oil? Do they fry their potatoes twice instead of just once? Speculation abounds!  Whatever their secret (and it is very much a secret!), Thrasher’s fries have been a local favorite through five generations and eighty years. And all that time without any deviation from original procedures or original recipes!

Get Your Fries & Eat ‘Em Right

Now, fair warning: in the height of the summer season, you may have to wait in a considerable line when you go to Thrasher’s. I’ve actually seen as many as 20 or 30 people in a line for these famous fries. In fact, if you happen to be walking past and by some miracle there is no line, go ahead and get some fries just on general principle.

When you get up to the counter, you can order one of three sizes  (16 oz, 32 oz and 53 oz). Yes, that’s right: the smallest serving you can buy is a pound. Regardless what size you order, you will receive your fries in a paper tub.

Ocean City Maryland's Best Boardwalk Food - Thrasher's French Fries

When you are handed your fries, do not make the mistake of asking for ketchup. They don’t have ketchup at Thrasher’s and they probably never will. These fries are not meant to be eaten with ketchup.

Instead, should you desire a condiment, you will find apple cider vinegar at the end of the counter. Sprinkle or pour it on, depending how much you like vinegar. Then maybe add some extra salt if you like salty fries.

Now you are ready to dig in to this golden delicious goodness:

Ocean City Maryland's Best Boardwalk Food - Thrasher's French Fries

If you’ve never had boardwalk style fries before, you may think that some of them are burnt because of the dark brown coloring. They are not. Some will be as crispy as a potato chip and others (particularly if you were heavy handed with the vinegar) will be almost soggy. But they will all be delicious.

Leftovers?

If your eyes are bigger than your stomach and you ordered way more fries than you can eat, don’t worry.  These guys love Thrasher’s almost as much as the locals do.

Ocean City Maryland's Best Boardwalk Food - Thrasher's French Fries. Even the seagulls love them!

That swarm of seagulls is fairly typical when you’re holding a tub of Thrasher’s. One time my husband and I had just gotten a tub of fries when a seagull swooped by, plucking a French fry right out of Hubs’ hand!  Thankfully, most of the seagulls are not that bold. If you don’t feed them, they will eventually lose interest and fly away.

Have you had Thrasher’s fries before? What did you think of them? Let me know below!

Header image via Flickr by m01229

Ocean City Maryland's Best Boardwalk Food
The Frozen Farmer: Bridgeville Delaware Farm Creameries

The Frozen Farmer: Bridgeville Delaware Farm Creameries

If You Lived There, You’d Be Home.

The tiny town of Bridgeville, Delaware sees a lot of traffic heading to and from the Delaware beaches (Rehoboth, Dewey, Bethany, etc.). So much so, in fact, that their slogan is, “If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home NOW.” Capitalizing on the high volume of thru traffic, the town is home to not one, but two Delaware farm creameries selling homemade ice cream. The first is Vanderwende’s, which I absolutely love. The second is newer, opening just a couple of years ago. It’s called The Frozen Farmer, and it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re visiting the Delaware beaches.

Delaware Farm Creameries – More Than Just Ice Cream

From the road, the Frozen Farmer looks like a large farm shop/produce stand. It’s red and eye-catching, neatly maintained and definitely welcoming. It’s an adjunct business of Evans Farms, a third generation, 2000 acre farm that grows produce for multiple local restaurants and grocery stores. It is not a dairy farm, but they use milkbase purchased from a local dairy. The other ingredients often come straight from the fields at Evans farms.

The outside of the shop has several tables and chairs, and a bench for children that looks like a cow. Colorful blooms brighten the entrance and make you feel like you’re on a friend’s front porch, about to go inside to visit.

Delaware farm creameries - The Frozen Farmer in Bridgeville DE

Stepping inside, you see that the interior is every bit as bright and welcoming as the exterior is.

Delaware farm creameries - The Frozen Farmer in Bridgeville DE

And for children, they even have this little play area:

Delaware farm creameries - children's play area at The Frozen Farmer in Bridgeville DE

There is limited seating inside the store, but most of the seats are outside. Still, who would be able to resist sitting at this cool table?

Delaware farm creameries - Tractor table at The Frozen Farmer in Bridgeville DE

 

Flavors & Sizes

The menu was artfully displayed with all the information customers would need.

Delaware farm creameries - Menu at The Frozen Farmer in Bridgeville DE

Yes, those prices are for real! Two scoops will only cost you $3. Sweet deal, huh? (Sorry for the pun… couldn’t resist.)

Nice Cream? What’s That?

In addition to traditional ice cream and sorbets, the Frozen Farmer also sells “nice cream,” a product that tastes like traditional ice cream, but with less fat and more locally grown fruit for added nutritional content. It’s an ice cream-sorbet blend.

I wish I could tell you that I tried the nice cream in an effort to be more health-conscious. Alas, I did not.

Delaware farm creameries - Sweet & Salty ice cream at The Frozen Farmer in Bridgeville DE

This is two scoops of Sweet & Salty, a smooth and creamy ice cream with bits of chocolate and pretzels in it. It was an unseasonably warm evening, so it melted quickly. Normally I eat my ice cream quickly enough that it doesn’t have a chance to melt! 😉

The Inevitable Comparison

So, how does The Frozen Farmer compare to Vanderwendes? Well, I still think Vanderwendes has the best ice cream around. But The Frozen Farmer is more child-friendly. So if you’re traveling with young ones, I would definitely recommend stopping at The Frozen Farmer.

The Frozen Farmer is located at 9843 Seashore Highway in Bridgeville, Delaware.

Delaware Farm Creameries - the best scoops in Bridgeville
What you REALLY need to know about traveling to Iceland

What you REALLY need to know about traveling to Iceland

Planning is the Key.

I tend to do so much research before I take a trip, I almost feel as though I’ve already been there before I even arrive. So, needless to say, I studied up quite a bit on Iceland before we went there last month. I read all the blog posts, looked at all the pictures, and watched a few YouTube videos. In hindsight, I can say that there are seven things that did not pop up much in my pre-travel research. But they definitely should have, because they turned out to be absolutely vital. Here are the seven things you need to know about traveling to Iceland that other bloggers aren’t telling you.

#1 – Crampons are essential for winter hikes.

While this may sound like a medieval torture instrument for women, it is not. A crampon is a gadget made of stretchy rubber and metal spikes. You pull the crampon to fit over your shoes, with the spikes on the sole. This allows you to walk on compressed snow and/or ice without slipping. We did a 45 minute hike up a mountain and would have definitely been on our backsides a couple of times if we had not put our crampons on.

Click on image to view this item on Amazon.com

They aren’t expensive ($10-$15 a pair), and they’re worth every penny. I broke my tailbone due to a winter fall about 15 years ago. It was incredibly painful and virtually untreatable. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

#2 – You need to have a reusable shopping bag.

Iceland is a more environmentally conscious country than the US.  They do not put every little thing you purchase in a plastic bag.  They don’t put the big things in plastic bags, either. So if you are trying to save money and are buying food at a grocery store (more on that below), you will need a reusable shopping bag to carry your things out of the store.

If you do not have a reusable bag and you need to use the store’s  plastic bags, you will be charged for them. Most stores have free courtesy bags available at most places, but they are small and very thin/prone to tearing.

I like this highly rated reusable bag on Amazon:

This bag holds up to 42 pounds, but folds up small enough to fit in your pocket. (Click to see more details.)

#3 – Iceland may be the most expensive country in the world.

To be fair, a few bloggers did mention that Iceland was expensive. I kind of shrugged it off. I’ve been to the UK, with their 20% value added tax (VAT). It isn’t ideal, but for a week, it’s bearable.

However, Iceland is so ridiculously expensive, it makes the UK look like a third world country.

For starters, they also have a VAT, and theirs is 24%. But their prices are outrageously high to begin with.  Here are a few examples:

  • a burger in a table service restaurant: $25
  • a bottle of beer: $11
  • a gallon of gas: $9

And items for tourists are even more marked up.  We saw beanies for $90 and dollar-store quality souvenir keychains for $6. I bought a souvenir Christmas ornament and it was $25. All of my other souvenirs were photos.

Needless to say, a lot of our meals in Iceland consisted of yogurt and granola. I didn’t mind the yogurt (called skyr) as it’s absolutely delicious and comes in a great variety of flavors.  But even that, after a while, got old.

#4 – Eastern Iceland is a great place to explore.

This almost ignored corner of the island nation was probably my favorite part. It was so peaceful and beautiful, zigzagging around the fjords. It didn’t hurt that we were there just as the sun was starting to go down.

What you need to know about Iceland - Eastern Iceland is one of the most beautiful areas of the country.

Also, we were driving through this area of Iceland when Hubs spotted a reindeer off to the side of the road. I slowed down so we could get a better look. But, when I looked back at the road again, another reindeer was standing in the middle of the road, staring me down. I slammed on the brakes, causing all sorts of exclamations from Hubs and our daughter. I was dumbfounded and just stared at him, which is why I don’t have a cool reindeer-in-the-middle-of-the-road photo to share. For his part, he looked pretty unimpressed with us, and meandered off to join his friend.

Then we spotted a third reindeer, this time on my side of the road. As I took his picture, he immediately pawed at the ground as if he wanted to charge at us. That was my cue to leave.

what you need to know about Iceland - there are reindeer!

It was also in this area of Iceland that we were able to see the Northern Lights.

#5 – You can take the Internet with you wherever you go.

Iceland is nothing if not a beautiful place to photograph. And as a travel blogger, I try to post on my Instagram account every day. But with the sparsest population of any country in Europe, Iceland cafes with free wifi were few and far between.

The solution was a portable 4G wifi hot spot, which cost us $9 per day. It was small enough to fit in our pocket when we were out of the car, and it gave us internet access 24/7.

It couldn’t have been easier – I reserved and paid for the wifi online at the Trawire website and printed out the confirmation. When we arrived at the airport, we picked it up on our way out.  Then, when we were leaving to come back home, we just dropped it in the mailbox at the airport. So easy! Highly recommend if anyone in your party is an internet junkie and/or needs to check email often while in Iceland.

#6 – Don’t choose “fill up” at the gas pump

When we got a text message alert that Hubs’ debit card had racked up a couple of $250-ish charges, we were a little panicked. The charges were from gas stations and while I know that gas is expensive in Iceland (see above), I also knew $250 was excessive for gas.

what you need to know about iceland - don't choose "fill up" at the gas pump if paying with a debit card.
Photo via Flickr by Helgi Haldorsson

Fortunately, Google saved the day. I was able to find out that being charged these high amounts was standard procedure when you choose the “fill up” option at the pump and you’re paying with a debit card. It’s like the pre-authorizations that they do here, but because you’re in a different country it takes a lot longer for it to clear. It will go away after 2-3 days.. but if your account isn’t well-funded, that could be an issue. To avoid this problem, only use a credit card for gas purchases, not a debit card. Alternatively, you can select a set amount rather than a fill up at the pump.

#7 – You might not be able to continue watching your favorite shows on Netflix.

Because I knew we would have internet access while we were in Iceland, I didn’t bother with downloading any shows on Netflix. When we got there, I looked for the show I had been watching the week before we left and it wasn’t listed. First I panicked, then I Googled.

Turns out that there are licensing restrictions in Iceland that make some shows unavailable to view via Netflix. if there is something you are pretty sure you will want to watch while you’re there, it might be a good idea to download it.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Are there any that you would add? Leave a comment below!

Here's what you need to know about Iceland before you go - seven important things that aren't usually mentioned in blog posts about Iceland travel.
Infographic: A Weekend in Canterbury, Kent

Infographic: A Weekend in Canterbury, Kent

A Weekend in Canterbury

Made famous by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales over 600 years ago, this Kentish town is still thriving and has plenty to offer weekend visitors. Just two hours away from London, it makes the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. From UNESCO World Heritage sites to a Bollywood style dance class, a weekend in Canterbury has something for everyone to enjoy.

How to spend a weekend in Canterbury Kent, England.

Washington DC’s Best Pubs

Washington DC’s Best Pubs

Drum roll, please!

These are the best pubs in Washington, DC.  And as luck would have it, there are exactly seven… so you can try one each night for a week!

The seven best pubs in Washington DC
The seven best pubs in Washington DC
Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part III – Paddle & Pour

Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part III – Paddle & Pour

Paddle Your Glass Off

I’ve been to wine tastings before. I’ve been kayaking before. But I have never kayaked to a wine tasting. I never even knew you could do such a thing. But you can, and I did!

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism office arranged for me to go on Southeast Expeditions‘ Paddle Your Glass Off tour. We drove the short distance from Cape Charles to a tiny village on the bay appropriately named Bayford. It was a beautiful day for November – nearly 70 degrees, and the water of the Nassawadox Creek was calm and still. Perfect kayaking conditions!

The waterman's wharf at Bayford, on Virginia's Eastern Shore

Dave from Southeast Expeditions was there when we arrived. He has over 15 years of experience as a  professional guide and expedition leader. But more than that, he’s knowledgeable about the area and very easy to have a conversation with. We chatted with Dave for a little bit, and once everyone had arrived, we set about starting our expedition.

Dave offered us a brief “paddling clinic” to teach us how to hold the paddles, how to steer the kayak, and so on. This was incredibly helpful for someone like me, who has only kayaked once before and needed some pointers.

We paddled for about 45 minutes south toward Church Creek. The Southeast Expeditions web site says that they always see wildlife on this expedition, and they were right – a beautiful blue heron took off from the marshes and flew right past us. (Sadly, no photo as it caught me by surprise and my camera was stowed. I had already learned that sudden movements tend to make the kayak wobble a lot and feel like it’s about to tip over. I’m not a fan.)

We chatted with the other kayakers and with Dave as we paddled and the 45 minutes passed quickly. Before I knew it, we were pulling our kayaks up onto the shores of Chatham Vineyards, which is the only winery on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore will give you many opportunities to see wildlife and explore waterways.

As we walked up from the creek and our landing site, we saw a gorgeous Federalist style house in the distance. Dave told us that we were looking at the main entrance/front of the home because when it was built, visitors would come via the water. The rear of the house faced what is now the road. Now, however, the front and the back of the house look pretty much the same, with a symmetric design and columns gracing the main door.  Here’s the view from the road.

The Chatham estate, a working farm for four centuries and now a vineyard & winery. Just one of the many places you can discover when you go kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore

The land at Chatham was patented in 1640, and the house dates to 1818. Major Scarborough Pitts built the house and named it for William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, who was a friend of the American Revolution. Chatham Farm has been a working farm for four centuries!

There are 20 acres of grapevines at Chatham vineyards. We were there so late in the season that no grapes remained on the vines, but we did at least get to see the plants.

Only vines, no grapes. Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore to Chatham Vineyard & Winery.

As we walked from the vineyard to the winery, Dave told us about the owner, John, and how he had studied wine-making techniques and the science behind the production. He’s a second generation winegrower, and he has also made numerous trips to Europe to continue learning about his craft.

Just before we reached the winery, we met Chester, a happy-go-lucky Labrador retriever who greeted us with a great deal of enthusiasm and let us shower him with affection for a few minutes. Then it was time to get down to business, sampling the wine made on this very property.

We entered the winery and saw lots of oak barrels, some wine-related merchandise, and a lovely woman behind a bar area who was eager to talk about the wines and answer our questions. It was interesting to learn that the grapes are grown in soil with a high mineral content. The mineral content came from a meteor strike at the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore some 35 million years ago.

I know almost nothing about wine. I just feel the need to say that upfront. If you are a wine aficionado, please keep that in mind when I express my opinions below. Descriptions are straight from the Chatham website because to me, wine tastes like wine.

The first sample was of the Church Creek steel-fermented Chardonnay. As the name implies, the wine undergoes its fermentation  in steel tanks. This wine has won several awards (including being in the top 100 out of something like 12,000), but I preferred the oak Chardonnay, which was the second one we tasted. Again, as the name implies, the oak chardonnay is fermented in oak barrels.

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore can take you to a myriad of places, including the Chatham Vineyards & Winery.

The steel has notes of honeysuckle, pineapple, and mineral elements on the nose. Its palette is pristine, with ripe, sweet stone fruit tangerine acidity, and just a hint of grapefruit. The oak, on the other hand, has a round mouth feel with a creamy texture. The result is a pleasing combination of ripe pear and apple, notes of clove and lemon zest with fresh acidity.

Then we moved on to the Rosé, which was a 50-50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It was a dry Rosé, with notes of raspberry and white peach.

The Merlot, which takes over 18 months to age, is a well-balanced wine full of cherry and black currant, with a soft tannic structure. Hints of brown spice linger on the palate.

The Cabernet Franc is a blend that is 82% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot. This wine is lush and ripe with prominent berry flavors of raspberry, cherry and a touch of cranberry.

The Vintner’s Blend is hand-selected by the owner, and differs every year. The blend we tried, from 2016, consisted of 30% Petit Verdot, 25% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Cabernet Franc. Blend offers fresh acidity and bright fruit flavors of cherry and black current. Coffee bean, chocolate and spice, too, make-up the flavor profile of this blend. I quite liked this one and it was probably my favorite of them all.

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore can lead to many fun adventures - including a wine tasting at Chatham Winery

The final sample was a Red Dessert Wine.  It had 3% residual sugar as a result of leaving the fruit on the vine to dehydrate slightly. With hazelnut, spice, tobacco and notes of dried fruit, this wine lingers on the palette. It was Hubs’ favorite.

After the tasting, we sat at some tables overlooking the vineyard and enjoyed a cheese and bread platter. I was kind of hungry and ate a slice of the olive bread before I thought to take a picture… sorry!

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Kayaking to Chatham Winery

It was delicious! And just the right thing to enjoy after wine.

We had a bit of a snafu with the timing on this trip. We had all forgotten that we “fell back” for the end of daylight savings time the previous night. So even though our clocks said that it was nearly 5:00, the sun was setting fast and it was as dark as it would have been at 6:00 the night before. The prospect of kayaking back in the dark didn’t sounds like much fun. But before we could fret about it, John, the owner of the winery, loaded everyone up in his van and took us back to our vehicles. That was so nice of him!

The price for the Paddle Your Glass Off expedition includes a free bottle of wine for every two kayakers.  Hubs picked the dessert wine, which we hope to enjoy at home soon.

This was an excellent end to a wonderful day of adventure. I cannot say enough nice things about Southeast Expeditions and Chatham Vineyards. Everyone was so welcoming and hospitable! The scenery was lovely and the wine was first class. If you’re in the area and you want to experience kayaking on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, I highly recommend taking the Paddle Your Glass Off tour from Southeast Expeditions!

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism bureau provided me with tickets for Paddle Your Glass off. However, all opinions expressed here are my own. 

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore - Travelasmuch.com