Tag: Dining Out

From Yuck to Yay! Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery

From Yuck to Yay! Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery

We recently visited Williamsburg, Virginia on an extended weekend. I’ve been to Williamsburg before, so for this trip, we were looking for something new to do. A friend suggested a wine tasting at Williamsburg Winery, and that sounded like fun, so we reserved our spots.

NB: I did not tell anyone at the winery that I was a travel blogger, nor did I receive any compensation or promotional consideration. This is my review of my experience, 100% honest.

The History of Williamsburg Winery

Situated just south of the city of Williamsburg, on a plot of land with rolling hills and verdant pastures, lies Williamsburg Winery. In a previous life, the property was a farm initially called “Archer’s Hope” after Gabriel Archer. Mr. Archer was the second in command on the Discovery, one of the three ships that brought English settlers to the area in 1607.

Surveying the North coast of the James River, Captain Archer had identified the site of the farm as his preferred spot for the landing. Captain John Smith overruled him feeling that the adjacent island would provide a more defendable site. In later years, Archer was a fierce critic of Captain John Smith and other leaders, even at one point calling for Smith’s execution.

In a nod to his connection with the land, Williamsburg Winery has named one of their wines after Archer: the Gabriel Archer Reserve. Also on the winery grounds, you can enjoy a meal at the Gabriel Archer Tavern, which offers gourmet fare at reasonable prices.

The Tour of Williamsburg Winery

We had a wonderful tour guide named (I believe) Jack, who had retired from his primary profession and worked part-time as a tour guide for the winery. It was easy to see that he enjoyed what he did, although he joked that he only did the tours as a way to give his wife a break from him being at home all the time.

Jack showed us some of the grapevines and talked about planting and harvesting techniques. He taught us about vertical shoot positioning – where the two main shoots or branches of the grapevine are spread out horizontally to the left and right of the stem to form a T. All other shoots grow up vertically from that point.

wine tasting at williamsburg winery - vertical shoot positioning of the grapevines

He told us that in the United States, Virginia is ranked #5 when it comes to wines (after California, Washington, Oregon, and New York).

Jack also explained the differences between how red wines and white wines are made. White grapes go straight to press, and the wine is made in steel tanks from the juice of the grapes. Red grapes are put in tanks and heated to 85 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3-7 days. This process, known as maceration, gives us the flavor, color, and the tannins that come from the grape skins.

Jack also showed us some large concrete eggs that reminded me a little too much of Mork from Ork. (Nanu Nanu. RIP, Robin Williams.) You can see examples of concrete wine eggs here. The shape of the vessel promotes constant movement, which gives the wine a richer flavor. Also, because concrete is somewhat porous, low levels of oxygen can enter through the walls of the egg and improve the flavor of the wine.

And of course, we got to tour the cellar, where we saw row after row of oak barrels. The wine ages in these barrels, and inevitably draws some of its flavor from the wood. The hints of vanilla and notes of spice that you see listed in a wine’s description? They come from the barrel.

wine tasting at williamsburg winery - oak barrels hold red wine in the cellar

Barrels, we learned, are quite expensive, and can only be used for a maximum of 4-5 years. With each use of an oak barrel, it loses some of its ability to add to the flavor of the wine. The amount of oxygen that transports through the wood of the barrel also diminishes over time.

The Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery

Finally, it was time to try some of the wines that we had learned so much about. We had booked the Reserve Tasting, which was a selection of nine different wines (3 white, 5 red, and 1 dessert), served with four types of cheese: Brie, Manchego, Maple Smoked Cheddar, and Stilton.

the reserve wine tasting at williamsburg winery included a selection of cheeses which complemented the wines

If, like me, you are rather inexperienced at wine tastings and/or every time you’ve tried wine you’ve thought, “Yuck. Why do people like this stuff so much?” then I’m going to let you in on a secret. A little bit of cheese can make a world of difference. Seriously!

Jack explained that when pairing wines with cheese, it is best to pair the milder tasting wines with milder cheeses, and strongly flavored wines with stronger cheeses. You do not want the wine to overpower the cheese, or vice versa.

Pouring red wine at a wine tasting at Williamsburg Winery

With each wine he poured, I took a small sip, and to be honest, I didn’t care for the wine very much. Then I took a bite of cheese, followed by another sip. That second sip of wine was amazing! This happened every single time, without exception.

They gave us a cheat sheet that listed the wines we were tasting, with descriptions of each and prices on the back. We sampled:

  • Wessex Hundred Viognier – 2018
  • Virginia Petit Manseng – 2018
  • Wessex Hundred Chardonnay – 2018
  • Merlot Reserve – 2017
  • Virginia Trianon (77% Cabernet Franc, 23% Petit Verdot) – 2017
  • Gabriel Archer Reserve (40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Petit Verdot, 20% Merlot) – 2017
  • Petit Verdot Reserve – 2017
  • Adagio (37% Tannat, 33% Petit Verdot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon) – 2017
  • Petit Fleur (515 Vidal Blanc, 25% Muscat, 24% Traminette) – 2018

My favorites were the first three (all white wines), the Merlot, and the Petit Fleur dessert wine because I tend to enjoy sweeter, not-so-dry wines.

The descriptions on the cheat sheet included phrases like “approachable” tannins, earthy character, and “well structured” oak. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what any of that means. But what I can tell you is that the Petit Fleur almost single handedly turned me into a wine aficionado. When I raised the glass to my nose and smelled the Petit Fleur, I said that it smelled like a summer meadow – sunshine and flowers. I enjoyed smelling it as much as I enjoyed drinking it!

In Summary

The Reserve Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery was a great experience! I learned so much about winemaking and discovered that I really can enjoy wine. Even a dry red wine! I’m so glad that we went – it’s really opened up a new world of possibilities for me where wine is concerned!

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One of the Most Unusual Things to Do in Madrid

One of the Most Unusual Things to Do in Madrid

As strange as it may seem, one of the most unusual things to do in Madrid is to buy cookies at a local convent. Now, that may not sound unusual in and of itself, but trust me, it’s definitely one of the odder experiences I’ve had while traveling!

On our first night in Madrid, after we ate dinner at the Mercado San Miguel, we decided to explore the area. When we came upon the Monasterio del Corpus Christi, I remembered reading in a travel book that the nuns there sell cookies. But they do it in a top secret manner because they are not supposed to have contact with outsiders.

Getting In

When you arrive at the monastery, you will need to press a special doorbell to gain admittance. It’s fairly easy to miss the doorbell. For that matter, the whole monastery is pretty nondescript… you really have to be looking for it in order to find it.

Unusual things to do in Madrid - the doorbell that gives you access to the Monasterio del Corpus Christi

Once admitted into the monastery, you travel down a winding path to a small dark room.

The Transaction

A sign posted on the wall tells you what types of cookies you can buy:

Unusual Things to Do in Madrid - Buying Cookies at the Monasterio del Corpus Christi

Next to the sign you’ll see a little cubbyhole in the wall that houses a divided turntable. You have to tell the nuns what type of cookies you want and whether you want a kilo or a half kilo. (Note: not all of the varieties listed will be available.) Then place your money on the turntable and watch as it moves to the other side of the wall where you cannot see it.

A few minutes later, the turntable moves back to your side of the wall and voila! A box of cookies now sits where you placed your money.

Unusual Things to Do in Madrid - Tea Cookies from Monasterio del Corpus Christi

I ordered the tea cookies. They were kind of bland, and very expensive but pretty, and very fun to buy.

Unusual Things to Do in Madrid - Tea Cookies baked by the nuns at Monasterio del Corpus Christi

The Experience

It doesn’t always happen, but this time I actually had the forethought to record the experience for you! Take a look:

My Recommendation

It’s not about the cookies as much as it is about having a unique experience that very few places can offer. So, if you’re looking for unusual things to do in Madrid, this clandestine cookie shop should definitely be on your list!

The Monasterio del Corpus Christi sells cookies from 9:30-1:00 and 4:30-6:30 each day. It is located close to the Mercado de San Miguel, at Plaza del Conde de Miranda, 3. If you go, let me know what you thought of the experience!

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The Best Place to Eat in Madrid

The Best Place to Eat in Madrid

Hello! I am just back from a ten day visit to Madrid, Toledo, Avila and Segovia, Spain. My friend and I spent several days exploring the capital city, and we found ourselves going back to the Mercado San Miguel to eat over and over. So I thought I would share a little about it with you, and what makes it the best place to eat in Madrid.

The Best Place to Eat in Madrid is Convenient

The Mercado San Miguel is located just outside Madrid’s Plaza Mayor. This made it very convenient to get to, centrally located near so many other attractions. Especially convenient for us, since we were staying at an Airbnb on Plaza Mayor. Jet lag can be especially brutal when flying to Europe from the US, and we crashed hard after checking in. A few hours later, we woke up semi-rested and absolutely starving. The Mercado San Miguel was the first place we went.

But even if you aren’t staying at Plaza Mayor, the Mercado is conveniently located – just a five minute walk from the Ópera Metro station (Lines 2 & 5) or a ten minute walk from the Sol Metro station (Lines 1, 2, & 3). Its location is one major reason why it’s the best place to eat in Madrid.

The hours are convenient as well. Most days the Mercado San Miguel is open from 10:00 am until midnight (until 1:00 am Friday and Saturday nights). So during the afternoon dead zone when many stores are closed (roughly 2-5 pm), you can take a break and pop in to the Mercado for a quick bite or a leisurely couple of drinks.

The Best Place to Eat in Madrid Offers a Variety of Food & Drink

At first glance, the Mercado San Miguel is a big food court like you would see at an American shopping mall. Multiple vendors, each selling a different type of food, and a central seating area.

But it’s so much more than that.

From the mundane to the exotic, there is something for everyone at the Mercado San Miguel: Sangria. Italian. Vegetarian. Beer. Pastries. Seafood. Wine. Spanish. Vermouth. Mexican.

Whatever you want, you can find it at Mercado San Miguel!

The Best Place to Eat in Madrid is Affordable

The best place to eat in Madrid is affordable

Whether you’re in the mood for a snack, or you want a full meal, you can eat at Mercado San Miguel without breaking the bank. Sample a few things until you find what you like, or just dive right in and order what you want… it won’t cost a lot either way. Here are a few sample prices from my recent visit:

  • Croquetas/Croquettes – yummy, gooey fried cheese with or without bits of meat mixed in – €1.50 each.
  • Empanadas in all sorts of varieties, savory and sweet – €3.25 each.
  • Subs made with famous Iberian jamon (ham, but not like we think of it) – €6.

The Best Place to Eat in Madrid is a Great Place to Meet People

Best Place to Eat in Madrid is a Great Place to Meet People

I visited the Mercado San Miguel several times while I was in Madrid, and at all different times of day. Not once was it anything but packed with people. I shared a table with a group of German tourists enjoying tapas, met a fellow Baltimore Ravens fan who was looking for the taco stand, and talked with a trio of Italian ladies who had really enjoyed their sangria. 😉

Appreciation of good food is a common denominator that transcends language or culture. So there really is no better place in Madrid to meet people than the Mercado San Miguel. And no better circumstances than to do so while enjoying delicious food. And maybe a sangria.

Croquettes and Sangria at the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid

One Other Thing You Should Know

When you order food at Mercado San Miguel, keep your receipt! If you use the rest room while you’re there and you don’t have your receipt, you will need to pay for access to the toilets.

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A Murder Mystery Train Ride in Lancaster County PA

A Murder Mystery Train Ride in Lancaster County PA

On a recent trip to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, we booked tickets for a Murder Mystery dinner. On a train. Because who can resist having dinner on a train? My companions for this murder mystery train ride were my daughter, the other girls in her Girl Scouts troop, and five or six Girl Scout moms. We had a blast!

But First, the History (of course!)

We arrived early enough that we got to look around a bit and learn about the place. I discovered that the Strasburg Railroad is the oldest continuously operating railroad in the western hemisphere! It opened in 1832, and today it is considered a heritage railroad. It has the United States’ only operational wooden dining car on which visitors may dine while riding. 

Back in the 1820s, canals were becoming the most efficient and popular method of land transportation. And southeastern Pennsylvania was on the verge of being shut out of the pipeline as most goods were moved through Baltimore instead of Philadelphia via the Susquehanna Canal. The few goods that did go to Philadelphia traveled via wagon through the small town of Strasburg.

In 1831, Philadelphia tried to reclaim its status as a transportation hub by opening the Philadelphia and Columbia railroad. Unfortunately for Strasburg, the new railroad would have bypassed their town completely and, as a result, harmed them financially. A group of businessmen decided to petition the state for the opportunity to build a connecting railroad from Strasburg to the Philadelphia and Columbia.

And thus, the Strasburg Railroad was born. The railroad only measures 4.5 miles long. Typically, you can travel round trip on the railroad in about 45 minutes for special excursions, like the one we went on.

The Setting

From the moment you leave the parking lot and step onto the platform at the Strasburg Railroad, it feels as though you have gone back in time.

Going back in time on a murder mystery train ride

What’s really interesting is that the Strasburg Rail Road is a real, operating steam railroad. Steam locomotives pull the Strasburg Rail Road trains, and passengers ride in authentically restored, turn-of-the-century wooden rail cars.

The Meal

In all honesty, I tend to expect the worst when it comes to doing something that includes a meal. In my experience, dinner included experiences tend to be less than mediocre. Happily, that was not the case on Strasburg’s Murder Mystery Train Ride. It was both palatable and substantial. Their menu:

  • Salad
  • Choice of entrée – Chicken Marsala, Broiled Cajun Tilapia Filet, Prime Rib, or Vegetarian Chef’s Choice
  • Seasoned potatoes
  • Vegetable of the day
  • Dessert – Choice of Cheesecake, Shoo Fly Pie, Apple Pie or Chocolate Cake
  • Lemonade or water (additional beverage options available for purchase)

The Drama

The murder mystery play was “The Choir Sang Murder!” by Act I Productions. The plot: Strasburg Rail Road is hosting a concert for its dinner guests, featuring The Strasburg Choir. The menu looks wonderful, but it was never meant to include murder! When the choir’s heavy-handed director is bumped off during the ride – in front of the guests – someone has hit a sour note! From the twisted mind of Debi Irene Wahl, this fun murder mystery sings madness, harmonizes murder, and serves up some serious discord!

Salad and program from The Choir Sang Murder, a murder mystery train ride at the Strasburg Rail Road.

No one in our group had ever been on an experience like this. We had no idea what to expect. So when three young ladies clad in choir robes came pushing and shoving their way into the dining car, arguing loudly, we were a bit surprised.

The first was Max, the choir treasurer who has a tendency to get in financial trouble. Then there was Carol, the Choir Director’s sister-in-law, who may have had some self-serving motives. And the third was George, a surly goth girl who had begrudgingly joined the choir as part of her court-ordered community service.

The girls squabbled among themselves for a few minutes, and during that time we learned of their suspicious pasts. Most of their character faults seemed to center around mishandling of finances. It almost seemed that this would be a mystery regarding a theft, not a murder.

Then Tillie, the Choir Director, entered our car. She was everything you might expect from a choir director – loud, theatrical, and in charge. She brought the protestations of the three singers to a halt. Dialogue ensued, there was a bit of a scuffle, and the next thing we knew, Tillie was dead. Oh, Tillie, we hardly knew ya!

Who was to blame for Tillie’s sudden demise? Thankfully, the conductor was on the case. He came to investigate, asking us passengers what we saw, and providing us with some background information as well.

The conductor, who led the investigation on the murder mystery train ride in Lancaster County PA

The End (No Spoilers!)

You would think that a bunch of middle and high school girls would be too cool to get into a small scale dramatic production like the murder mystery train ride.

But you’d be wrong.

When it came time to declare who we thought the murderer was, these girls were soooo into it! They compared theories and argued with each other (sometimes vehemently). I couldn’t believe how much they enjoyed themselves! My daughter nearly wrote an entire thesis when she was filling out her “whodunit” form.

Some guests get carried away when casting  their vote for who the murderer is.
(potential spoilers concealed)

As a bonus, everyone who guessed the correct answer was entered in a drawing for a prize.

Recommendation

This was a really fun outing with the girls! I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much if I had been riding with just adults. But for family fun that’s not your usual activity, I highly recommend the murder mystery train ride and dinner at Strasburg Rail Road!

(pinnable image) Murder Mystery Train Ride at Strasburg Rail Road in Lancaster County PA
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 once again be held in my home town of Salisbury Maryland the weekend of September 6-8, 2019. What’s more, it will be held here next year 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 Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the No. 1 fastest growing city in the state, 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:

The Sea Gull Century

Every year in early October, Salisbury University holds a nationally acclaimed bicycling event, beginning and ending on its campus. The event takes bicycle riders on a tour of the Eastern Shore and offers two routes (100 kilometers or 100 miles).

Guide to Salisbury Maryland - Sea Gull Century is a 100 mile bicycle ride held in October.

Riders will enjoy highlights such as live music, food and the National Seashore of Assateague Island where they will see wild ponies, sandy beaches, coastal marshes and maritime forest. All riders returning from the ride are welcomed back with a lively lawn party!

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

Where to Eat

For some of 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.

If you like your pizza to be a little more gourmet, then Mojos (213 E Main St., 443-944-9507) is the place to go. Their brick oven pizzas are amazingly tasty, and they offer some interesting topping combinations for their specials. They even have a pickle pizza! Their totally yummy cheese pizza is just $5 on Monday evenings – the same night that they have an entertaining live trivia game starting at 8:00 pm.

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 all of the 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.

I’ve never had a dish here that was anything less than spectacular. 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 their drive through location (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.

The Brick Room (116 N Division St, 443-358-5092) is a quaint little bar with a comfy outdoor seating area.

Salisbury MD local's guide - enjoy a drink on The Brick Room's patio

For a real treat, go up to the bar and order an old fashioned. Watching them make it, you will be impressed by how much art goes into making the classic cocktail.

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, and would provide you with fewer things to do/places to eat. Book an Airbnb through this link and you will receive a discount on your stay!

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, as it is home to 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 (100 E Main St, 443-358-5152) is a great spot to browse. 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, built, and maintained 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 the little ones 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 April thru 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
Ocean View, Delaware – Where You Can Enjoy Dinner on a Train

Ocean View, Delaware – Where You Can Enjoy Dinner on a Train

As previously mentioned here, my husband loves trains. Not in the sense of being a collector/builder of model railroads. The idea of traveling by train just fascinates him. And we’ve done it a few times as a result. So for Valentine’s Day this year, I suggested that we check out a restaurant called The Salted Rim in Ocean View, Delaware. The Salted Rim frequently has themed dinners in their restored rail cars… and I just knew Hubs would love to have dinner on a train!

Delaware?

Yes, Delaware! Don’t say that you would never go there, because the fact of the matter is that there are loads of beautiful beaches in the First State. The Atlantic coastline offers a variety of destinations, from Lewes and Rehoboth to Dewey, Bethany and Fenwick. All have their own special niche, and all are 30 minutes or less from Ocean View.

The Salted Rim

The Salted Rim in Ocean View Delaware offers themed dinner on a train events that are fun for the whole family.

So, if you’re visiting the Delaware beaches, you should definitely check out The Salted Rim. Before I tell you about their wonderful dinner on a train events, you should know that they offer a lot more. Happy Hour specials on drinks and food run Sunday-Friday from 11-7 PM and 3-7 PM on Saturday.

Here are the ongoing daily specials (as of this writing – they are subject to change):

  • MONDAY – All you can eat tacos 4-9 PM, plus Bingo at 6 PM
  • TUESDAY – Karaoke starting at 8 PM
  • WEDNESDAY – Domestic beers $2.50, Mingo (music bingo) at 7 PM
  • THURSDAY – Fried Grouper Sandwich $5.99 11 AM-4PM, Trivia at 7 PM
  • FRIDAY – 2 Shrimp Tacos for $5.99 11 AM-4PM, DJ providing music

Their menu is as diverse as the entertainment. From seafood to Mexican fare, plus a great selection of appetizers, burgers, and sandwiches, the food is fresh and tasty. The service at the Salted Rim is also excellent.

Dinner on a Train

There are two train cars located adjacent to the restaurant proper. Their themed events offer a breakfast or dinner buffet, depending on the time. The breakfast offers guests scrambled eggs, pancakes, chocolate chip pancakes, French toast, breakfast potatoes, sausage, ham, and rolls. The lunch/dinner option includes salad, mac & cheese, scalloped potatoes, tater tots, chicken nuggets (I’m told they are very similar to Chick-fil-A nuggets!), corn, BBQ chicken legs, pasta & marinara sauce, fresh fish in Lemon Butter, and dinner rolls.

Prices are $12.99 for children ages 1-7, $17.99 for children ages 8-12, and $26.99 for ages 13 and up.

Frozen

Young guests are invited to dress up as their favorite princess or other character (or just come in their pajamas) and enter the magical, frozen world of Elsa, Anna and Olaf.

"Frozen" princesses Elsa & Anna  are the stars of the Frozen theme dinner on a train at the Salted Rim in Ocean View DE

Inside the rail cars, decorated for the event in shades of white and blue and an abundance of snowflakes, guests can watch the movie on a large screen television and enjoy the buffet meal. There will be a special visit from the Princesses as guests sing-a-long to their favorite songs from the movie.

Polar Express

Decorated for Christmas - guests can experience a Polar Express dinner on a train during the holidays at the Salted Room in Ocean View DE

Offered around the holidays, the Salted Rim’s Polar Express meal is a must for any young fans of the movie or book. Just like the kids in the story, they should attend in their pajamas! Many families use the occasion to take photos with the decorated trains in the background, and then use the photo for their Christmas card greetings.

Upon arrival, guests check in with Mrs. Claus, who issues golden tickets to the diners. Then, when the train is ready to board, Mrs. Claus will make the announcement and all families will walk a short distance down the deck to the train entrance.

The Conductor punches the tickets of guests on the Salted Rim's Polar Express dinner on a train in Ocean View DE

At the entrance to the train car, Mr. Conductor greets the guests and punches the golden tickets just like in the movie. Then guests meet the Elves, who are the servers, and they escort to your assigned seat. After all guests are seated, the buffet dinner begins.

Once everyone has their food, the movie begins. During the rousing hot chocolate scene in the movie, the guests receive hot chocolate and cookies. After that, families are free to just sit back and enjoy the movie.

At a certain point, the Elves pause the movie to announce a special visitor. Direct from the North Pole, it’s Santa Claus! Santa visits with each child, asks them what they want for Christmas, and gives them a special gift. He poses for pictures with the children, and the Elves are happy to help if the whole family wants to be in the picture with Santa.

The movie resumes after Santa’s visit and everyone claps as the movie ends! It is truly magical! They even have a mailbox for children to mail their letters to Santa!

Harry Potter

The latest offering from the Salted Rim is dinner on a train that might resemble the Hogwarts Express. Guests can arrive in Hogwarts uniform or other costume (optional). The may also bring their wands, but broomsticks must park in the front of the train.

Harry Potter fans can enjoy a Hogwarts theme dinner on a train at the Salted Rim in Ocean View DE

In this magical world, guests are sorted into Gyffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff as you watch one of the eight Harry Potter movies. Pick your favorite, then sit back and watch Harry, Ron and Hermoine learn how to battle the evil forces of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Movies will be shown on large screen TV’s in authentic train cars decorated in true Harry Potter style.

You will enjoy a first course of a garden salad served family style to your table, an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet and a butter beer cupcake dessert served by Hogwarts characters.

Holiday Specials

The Salted Rim also offers fine dining specials for holiday meals. Hubs and I went there for Valentine’s Day dinner this year, and it was a great experience!

Hearts and roses and rhinestones adornted the rail cars:

The Salted Rim offers guests the opportunity to celebrate holidays by having a romantic dinner on a train.
Couples can enjoy a Valentine's Dinner on a train at the Salted Rim in Ocean View, Delaware.

I don’t know if you can see it in the photo above, but they had some special Valentine’s Day drink specials on the menu. They all sounded really good, but the one that really caught my eye was “Love at First Bite,” which was described as a “strawberry rattle snake margarita.” I love margaritas, and I love strawberry margaritas. So I ordered it.

Isn’t it pretty? Well, let me tell you – looks can be deceiving! My mouth burned from the very first sip, because I neglected to ask what the rattlesnake reference was for. After the initial sip, when I realized that the rim was coated in Old Bay seasoning, I drank the rest through a straw in an effort to cool the burning sensation on my lips and tongue. Big mistake. It turns out that the tequila used in this particular margarita was infused with some really hot pepper. I can’t remember if it was jalapeno or habanero – either way, it was too much for me! But then again, I think Chipotle is too spicy. Your mileage may vary.

Needless to say, that’s the last time I will order a drink without finding out what’s in it! Fortunately, the food was much more to my liking. I ordered Chicken Chesapeake and Hubs had Grouper stuffed with crab imperial, both served with some yummy mashed potatoes and a vegetable. Then we split a creamy, decadent Bailey’s Irish Cream cheesecake for dessert.

It was a great evening, and we couldn’t have been more pleased. The next time you’re in the Delaware beaches area, make sure you check out the Salted Rim and see if you can have dinner on a train!

NOTE: I have not received any compensation for this article. My husband and I paid for our own meals.

The Best Place for Lunch in Easton, Maryland

The Best Place for Lunch in Easton, Maryland

Back before Christmas, I met a friend in Easton, Maryland to spend the afternoon catching up. It was a welcome time of relaxation in an otherwise hectic December. We enjoyed some coffee, strolled through the town admiring the various shops and historic buildings, and then we decided to have some lunch.

We stopped at a place called Sunflowers and Greens, and it was nothing short of amazing. What follows is my review of the restaurant. To be clear, I walked in off the street with no knowledge of the restaurant. I paid for my meal and received no compensation for this review.

The Best Lunch in Easton Maryland - Sunflowers & Greens

The Best Lunch in Easton Maryland

When we walked in, an employee promptly greeted us and asked if we had been there before. When we replied that we had not, she took a few moments and showed us around, explaining how the restaurant operated and what sort of foods they offered. The warm welcome we received was a breath of fresh air in a day when customer service is a dying art.

The Salads

While the restaurant offers soups and sandwiches, the real star of the menu is their salads. The blurb on their web site says it best: their salads contain “the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients… composed to each guest’s specification”. All salads come with handcrafted dressings and a piece of traditional sourdough bread.

Best Lunch in Easton Maryland - Signature Salads at Sunflowers and Greens.

I ordered the Poached Pear Salad (pears are my very favorite fruit), which is one of the chef’s signature salads on the menu. It consisted of garden greens & baby spinach, maple roasted Cheshire pork loin, poached pear, roasted pecans, Vermont Creamery goat cheese, honey balsamic vinaigrette.

As soon as I placed my order, the folks behind the counter got to work. It was interesting to watch them preparing the salad because they made it with their (gloved) hands. They placed all of the salad components in a large wooden bowl and hand mixed them. It seemed really strange at first. However, I realized it was probably a far more efficient method than using an awkward pair of tongs to do the job!

Best Lunch in Easton Maryland - poached pear salad at Sunflowers & Greens

I have to say, it was quite possibly the best salad I have ever eaten! The slice of bread that came with the salad was scrumptious. We could tell that it had been baked fresh that day.

Customers who don’t find the signature salads appealing can create their own custom salad by specifying which ingredients they want. (But trust me, you really need to try that Poached Pear Salad!) You can’t go wrong with their fresh ingredients, procured from a number of local and artisanal sources and is organic whenever possible. Working with the finest purveyors of meat, poultry and fish, Sunflowers & Greens serves select cuts of Wagyu and Prime Beef, Russ & Daughters’ smoked salmon and antibiotic and hormone free poultry.

If You Go

Sunflowers & Greens is located at 11 Federal Street in Easton, Maryland. The menu changes daily, but you can see the daily menu on their website.

There is not a lot of room for customers who wish to dine in, and I would imagine that they are very busy on weekdays around noon, when nearby office workers stop in for lunch. I would recommend going before noon or after 1:30 to minimize wait time.

The best lunch in Easton Maryland is at Sunflowers and Greens on Federal Street.

Most Decadent Desserts: Crazy Shakes at Black Tap

Most Decadent Desserts: Crazy Shakes at Black Tap

I love having special treats for special occasions, so I am constantly in search of the most decadent desserts. When I treated my daughter to a trip to NYC for her sixteenth birthday party this past June, we intended to celebrate by getting Crazy Shakes at Black Tap. Sadly, our time between other activities was in short segments that would not have sufficed. We went to Black Tap twice and both times the line was so long outside the door that we would not have gotten inside and ordered in time to move on to the next activity. So when we went to NYC again this month, we were determined to get those Crazy Shakes.

Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer

I know, their name doesn’t even mention their Crazy Shakes. But trust me, these Insta-worthy, most decadent desserts are what’s drawing the crowds to their three New York locations. (They also have a location inside The Venetian in Las Vegas, and one in Singapore. More restaurants will soon be opening in Downtown Disney Anaheim and NYC’s Herald Square.) We dined at their midtown Manhattan location (136 W 55th St).

There’s no doubt about it – Black Tap is a fun place to eat. The decor is a cross between old fashioned soda fountain, 1980s retro, and street art grafitti. Our booth was next to this bit of artwork:

Decadent Desserts (and Decor) at Black Tap in NYC

Also, the music was awesome!  Just the right mix of my old 1980s favorites and some more modern songs. All of it was upbeat… the kind of music that you find yourself bopping along to in your seat even if you haven’t heard the song before.

The Burgers

They describe their restaurants as a new take on the classic burger joint. The menu is fairly simplistic at first glance – offering burgers, salads, fries, and shakes. But when you look a little more closely, you realize that these are not your average run-of-the-mill burgers. Black Tap’s “Greg Norman” burger won the People’s Choice Award three years in a row at the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s annual Burger Bash. Ranging from $16 to $20 per burger, you can choose from the classic All-American, a falafel or vegan burger, pizza burger, or a Carolina BBQ pulled pork burger.

We decided that for the four of us (Hubs and my daughters friend were also there) would split two burgers and two crazy shakes. We did this not only to save money, but also to keep us from leaving there looking like engorged ticks and feeling even worse. I selected the Bison Burger (bison burger, fresh mozzarella, pesto mayo, arugula, shaved Parmesan, roasted tomatoes, $19), and my daughter chose the Pizza Burger (prime burger, zesty tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, shaved Parmesan, $17). Both came with a side of fries.

The burgers and the fries were very good. I’d never eaten bison before, but it honestly didn’t taste much different to me than a beef burger would have.

The Crazy Shakes

Black Tap serves classic milkshakes ($9) in nine different flavors, from standard chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, to the more exotic caramel, Nutella, and coffee. But it’s the Crazy Shakes ($15) that grab the glory.

The Most Decadent Desserts: Crazy Shakes at Black Tap in NYC

If these Crazy Shakes aren’t the most decadent desserts you’ve ever seen, then please tell me what is!

On the left is the Cookie Shake: vanilla frosted rim with cookie crumbles topped with a ‘cookiewich’, crumbled cookies, chocolate chips, whipped cream & chocolate drizzle. And that’s on top of a vanilla milkshake! On the right is the Cookie & Creme Supreme: vanilla frosted rim with crushed Oreos topped with a ‘cookies ’n cream’ sandwich, crumbled Oreo, whipped cream & chocolate drizzle, served on top of a cookies & creme milkshake.

Here’s a closer look at each one.

Most Decadent Desserts - the Cookie Crazy Shake at Black Tap in NYC

Most Decadent Desserts - the Cookie & Cream Supreme Crazy Shake at Black Tap in NYC

And when the description mentions a frosted rim, they don’t mean it in the sense of frosted glass, or a coating of sugar. No, they mean frosted as in cake frosting. So essentially you have a milkshake with a couple tablespoons of cake frosting, cookies, an ice cream sandwich, and whipped cream. Thank goodness they don’t publish calorie counts on the menu!!

Other Crazy Shakes at the midtown Manhattan location include:

  • Sweet & Salty (peanut butter/chocolate/pretzel)
  • Cotton Candy (strawberry shake with cotton candy and other candies)
  • Sour Power (black cherry shake with sour candies)
  • Brooklyn Blackout (chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate)
  • Bam Bam (Fruity Pebbles, Pop Tart, candy)
  • Cake Shake (cake batter shake with a slice of cake and lots of sprinkles)

Honesty, you can’t go wrong here. It was difficult (but obviously very necessary) to pick just one!

If You Go

Get there plenty early, because lines do form outside the restaurant (even when it’s ridiculously cold outside, as it was when we were there). You may have to wait about an hour for a table, possibly more in nicer weather.

Consider sharing an entree and/or dessert with a friend, so as not to overdo. You don’t want to end your euphoric dining experience feeling like you’re going to be ill.

 

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.