Tag: Mid-Atlantic

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
Surprise! A Dozen Amazing Things to Do in Baltimore MD

Surprise! A Dozen Amazing Things to Do in Baltimore MD

Things to Do in Baltimore MD

For decades, Baltimore has been seen as the ugly stepsister to Washington DC’s Cinderella. Many people consider it less attractive, less popular, and less interesting, with less to offer tourists. In the mid-1970s, then Mayor William Donald Schaefer wanted to come up with a catchy name or slogan to help improve the city’s image. Advertising executives met to discuss the idea and one of them came up with the following statement:

Baltimore has more history and unspoiled charm tucked away in quiet corners than most American cities out in the spotlight.

From there, the city’s nickname – Charm City – was born. The advertising campaign fizzled out not long after it was started, but the name stuck. Today you will still hear people refer to Baltimore as Charm City. While it might seem like a misnomer, there are dozens of great things to do in Baltimore MD. Here are a few of my favorites.

Catch an Orioles Game (April-September)

Fans of the Baltimore Orioles are a die hard bunch. The team hasn’t won a World Series since 1983, but hope springs eternal in Charm City. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the stadium (Oriole Park at Camden Yards) is one of the most beautiful in the country.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - Catch a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Built about 25 years ago, Camden Yards was the first “retro” design stadium. Before that, major league stadiums were symmetrical multi-purpose stadiums used for both baseball and football. Now, roughly two thirds of the major league baseball teams have followed suit, and built retro parks. The great thing about watching a baseball game at Camden Yards is that there really aren’t any bad seats. You’ll have a great view of the action no matter where you are.

Visit Not One, but TWO Free Art Museums

There are two top-notch art museums in Baltimore, and both have free admission.  The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) is home to an internationally renowned collection of art that ranges from ancient Antioch mosaics to cutting-edge contemporary art. The BMA has over 95,000 works of art, including the largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse.

Things to do in Baltimore MD - The Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum both have outstanding collections and offer free admission.
The Baltimore Museum of Art features the work of many famous artists, like Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. The Walters has a priceless collection of art from many countries and time periods, including this beautiful Faberge egg.

The collection of works at the Walters Art Museum includes masterworks of ancient Egypt, Greek sculpture and Roman sarcophagi, medieval ivories, illuminated manuscripts, Renaissance bronzes, Old Master European and 19th-century paintings, Chinese ceramics and bronzes, Art Deco jewelry (including Tiffany & Lalique), and ancient Near East, Mesopotamian, or ancient Middle East items.

Mt Vernon Neighborhood

While at the Walters, spend some time exploring the neighborhood outside, which is known as Mt Vernon. Designated a National Historic Landmark District and a city Cultural District, it is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and originally was home to Baltimore’s most wealthy and fashionable families.

Architecture enthusiasts in particular will enjoy strolling through the area. It’s not uncommon to find houses that date back a century or even two. Mount Vernon boasts examples of many different types of period architecture: Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Romanesque, Chateau, Renaissance Revival, Beaux-Arts and Classical Revival.

The Washington Monument – Yes, in Baltimore!

While you’re walking around Mt Vernon, check out the original Washington Monument, which is the first U.S. heroic and civic monument dedicated to George Washington. It predates the one in Washington DC by over 30 years.

Things to do in Baltimore MD - visit the original Washington Monument, built 30+ years before the one in DC

You can climb the Monument’s 227 marble steps for a great view of the city. Open Wed.-Sun. The Monument’s gallery with interactive exhibits is free; the climb to the top $6 for adults, $4 for children.

Peabody Library

Also in the Mt Vernon area, the George Peabody Library is a must see for bibliophiles. The library’s collection dates from the founding of the Peabody Institute in 1857. In that year, George Peabody, a Massachusetts-born philanthropist, dedicated the Peabody Institute to the citizens of Baltimore in appreciation of their “kindness and hospitality.”

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - the gorgeous George Peabody Library.

The library contains five floors of ornamental cast-iron balconies, which rise dramatically to the skylight 61 feet above the floor. It houses 300,000 volumes, mainly from the 19th century, with strengths in religion, British art, architecture, topography and history; American history, biography, and literature; Romance languages and literature; history of science; and geography, exploration, and travel.

It’s such a beautiful building that it also serves as a venue for weddings and private events.

Eat in Little Italy

Baltimore’s Little Italy is an old quaint Italian neighborhood in Baltimore City that has survived and thrived for several generations. Its original residents emigrated from Italy from the mid-1800s into the early 1900s. By 1920 the neighborhood was 100% Italian. It boasts century-old row homes, family-run restaurants, bocce courts, cultural learning center, Sons of Italy lodge, and much more. Lovingly nicknamed ‘The Neighborhood,’ Little Italy is a tight-knit Italian community that today includes residents of other ethnic backgrounds as well. Have dinner at a great restaurant like Amicci’s, but don’t get too full.  You’ll want to be sure to stop by Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop for dessert!

Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry was the focus of the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Over a 27 hour period, the British fired 1,500 to 1,800 cannonballs at the fort. What’s worse, they did so from just outside the range of the fort’s cannons, so they could not be bombarded in return.

On the morning of September 14, 1814, the regular flag at Fort McHenry was replaced with a larger flag, signaling American victory over the British. The sight inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Later, the poem was set to music and become known as the “Star Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote our national anthem.

Every September, the City of Baltimore celebrates Defenders Day in honor of the Battle of Baltimore. It is the biggest celebration of the year at the Fort, with programs, events, and spectacular fireworks. But Fort McHenry is worth visiting at any time of year for its historical reenactments, exhibits about the War of 1812, and more.

The Inner Harbor

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a hub of activity. In just a few city blocks, you can unearth dinosaurs at the Maryland Science Center, get a history lesson at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, pay respects to pop culture at Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, or submerge yourself in exotic sea life at the National Aquarium. Other attractions include the American Visionary Art Museum, the Babe Ruth Museum, and the Port Discovery Children’s Museum.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - The Inner Harbor is full of unique and interesting opportunities for visitors to Charm City.

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has loads of restaurants, pubs, hotels and shops. The Water Taxi will take you from the harbor to surrounding neighborhoods, and the free Charm City Circulator provides daily bus service through several downtown routes.

Visit the National Aquarium

The National Aquarium was the crowning achievement in Baltimore’s urban renewal during the 1980s. Today, some thirty-five or so years later, it still is a favorite attraction for crowds of all ages. The National Aquarium houses several exhibits including the Upland Tropical Rain Forest, a multiple-story Atlantic Coral Reef, an open ocean shark tank, and Australia: Wild Extremes, which won the “Best Exhibit” award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2008.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - check out the National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor for a full day of fun.

The aquarium also has a 4D Immersion Theater and a marine mammal pavilion, which holds seven Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.

The National Aquarium has timed admission, so it’s wise to purchase your tickets in advance rather than at the door.

Maryland Science Center

Located not too far from the Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center was another establishment that brought tourism to the Inner Harbor area. It includes three levels of exhibits, a planetarium, an IMAX theater, and an observatory. Definitely worth a visit if you’re traveling with school aged children.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - the Maryland Science Center is a must-see for families with school age children.

The modernized hands-on exhibits include more than two dozen dinosaur skeletons, as well as physical science, space, Earth science, the human body, and blue crabs, which are native to the Chesapeake Bay.

And Speaking of Crabs…

No list of things to do in Baltimore (or most of Maryland, truth be told) would be complete without the mention of steamed blue crabs. Served with generous helpings of Old Bay seasoning, this crustacean is a tasty treat. Pick your own or, if you prefer to keep your hands clean, order a delicious crab cake. If you go to Baltimore and don’t eat crabs, that’s akin to visiting Chicago and not eating deep dish pizza, or going to Philadelphia and not getting a cheese steak. ‘Nuff said.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - Local cuisine features steamed crabs with Old Bay seasoning

So, when traveling in the mid-Atlantic region, don’t overlook Charm City. It’s a great destination!

Things to Do in Baltimore MD on Travelasmuch.com
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
The Ultimate US Road Trip: Blue Ridge Parkway

The Ultimate US Road Trip: Blue Ridge Parkway

A Tale of Two Travelers…

For Thanksgiving this year, we decided to head out of town for a break. Our destination was Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tennessee. If we had ridden solely on interstate highways, we could have arrived there in ten hours. That’s my preferred way to drive. The quicker you can reach your destination, the better – that way you have more time to go places and see things and do stuff.

Road trip Blue Ridge Parkway so you have a better view than this.
My usual view as we travel along the Interstate.

Hubs, however, is my polar opposite when it comes to driving. He can’t stand driving on big highways and prefers long, circuitous, and scenic drives instead. He had been on the Blue Ridge Parkway earlier this year with his motorcycling friends and insisted that we drive at least part of the way to Tennessee on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We knocked out about four hours of the drive the very first night and got a hotel room in Charlottesville, Virginia. As we were discussing what time we wanted to get up in the morning, my husband said to me, “Well, we need to get up early. We have 12 hours of driving to do tomorrow.”

I just about had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I was thinking that with six hours left to travel via interstates, his route would take us eight or nine hours at most. But twelve?!?!? I was so flabbergasted I could not even speak. When I recovered my ability to form sentences again, I calmly informed him that being in the car for 12 hours was neither practical nor desirable.

Fortunately, he revised his plans and pared down our road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway to a 50 mile stretch. I was quite relieved.

But First, History!

I am nothing if not a history geek. Please bear with me…

The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles long, running through the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. (If you’ve never heard of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s helpful to know that they are a section of the Appalachian Mountains.) The parkway runs from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The parkway actually continues on through Shenandoah for an additional 105 miles, but the name becomes Skyline Drive.

The original name for the route was the Appalachian Scenic Highway, and it was begun as a project in Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal. During World War II, conscientious objectors serving in the Civilian Service Program worked on the project.

Over 50 years passed before the construction of the parkway came to an end. The route has:

  • 26 tunnels constructed through the rock (1 in Virginia, 25 in North Carolina)
  • Six viaducts
  • 168 bridges
  • Elevation of 6,053 feet at its highest point (Richland Balsam – Mile Post 431)
  • No tolls/fees for usage

Our Drive

Even though I was reluctant to go from 70 mph on the interstate to 45 mph on the parkway, once we got on the parkway and started driving, I kinda fell in love with the scenery.  The roads were a bit twisty and 45 was probably the safest speed at which to travel. Some of the trees still had leaves, but most were bare.  I couldn’t help but imagine how gorgeous it must be in peak autumn foliage season (mid to late October, depending on the elevation).

Our first stop to pull over and admire the scenery was a rocky overlook with a couple of big boulders and a view of the valley below.

Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway - there are many opportunities to stop and admire the scenery.

As I looked out at the patches of green fields and the blue-purple mountains, I realized this was waaayyy better than anything I could have seen on the interstate.

If you look at this shot, you might notice a spot of blue just below and to the right of the center.  That’s a river running through the valley.

Beautiful scenery abounds on a road trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway

We drove along through the Peaks of Otter, where my husband stopped on his previous trip through the area.  (Fun fact: you can get one of those oval shaped abbreviation stickers here. It says POO for Peaks of Otter.  He totally got one the last time he was there.) We didn’t stop at Peaks of Otter, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is a lodge right there, with mountains behind it and a lake in front of it.  What a gorgeous setting!

We stopped a little farther along at another overlook. This one reminded me of Yorkshire, with the patchwork of fields decorating the valley.

Stopping at scenic overlooks while on a road trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway will provide you with many beautiful vistas.

We even got to see a dam!

Taking a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway will provide you with many interesting sights, like this dam.

If you’re traveling north or south between Virginia and North Carolina and/or visiting either the Great Smoky Mountain National Park or Shenandoah National Park, I highly recommend taking the Blue Ridge Parkway, even if only part of the way. The views were breathtaking, the weather was gorgeous, and it was a much nicer drive than I-81!

 

Traveling through Virginia and/or North Carolina? Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains and/or Shenandoah national parks? The Blue Ridge parkway is a great road trip, showing off some of the Appalachian Mountains' most beautiful scenery.
Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part II – Cape Charles

Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part II – Cape Charles

Part I of this post focused on the culinary festivals that take place on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, particularly oyster roasts in the fall.  To read that post, click here.

Virginia’s Eastern Shore – Cape Charles

Day two of our expedition to Virginia’s Eastern Shore took us way south to Cape Charles. It’s a small town (population of about 1000) situated on the western side of the peninsula, with beachfront along the Chesapeake Bay.

Driving on Virginia’s Eastern Shore is stress free and easy.  Basically, there’s one highway (US-13) that runs the length of it, north to south. The Virginia end of the peninsula is 70 miles long but only  5-12 miles wide.   So we ambled in to Port Charles, turning off of Route 13 and heading toward the beach.

Along the way we passed lots of small independent stores.  I was just itching to go shopping but Hubs wanted to see the bay first.  We got to the beach and found this great sculpture waiting for us:

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles. This LOVE sign represents the community and greets visitors to the beach.

In a state whose tourism motto is “Virginia is for Lovers,” this LOVE sign adds a unique twist because it represents Cape Charles specifically. The L is made of sea glass and seashells to represent the local community. The O is a tractor tire to represent agriculture. The V is made of kayaks to represent outdoor adventure activities and the E is made of crab pots to represent aquaculture.

Just past the sign, we saw the weathered wood of a fishing pier zigzagging out into the Chesapeake Bay.

Virginia's Eastern Shore Cape Charles public fishing pier at the beach

But before heading out to the pier, we took a quick stroll along the beach. It is truly a blessing to live on the Delmarva Peninsula because we have two very different types of coastal beaches.  First is the Atlantic to the east  with its crashing waves and the roar of the surf.  It’s beautiful and intimidating all at once. Then there’s “the bay side” which is the coastline along the Chesapeake Bay. The water there is calmer, warmer, and very different.  What struck me was how clear and calm the water along the Cape Charles beach appeared.

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles' public beach faces the Chesapeake Bay and has much calmer water.

We walked the beach a little, then headed out to the end of the fishing pier.  We saw a couple of freighter ships in the distance, and a group of a half-dozen or so pelicans closer than that.  Seeing the pelicans was a surprise – I have never seen any outside a zoo and did not even know that they lived in this area!

We left the beach and headed back up Mason Avenue, which is the main street in town. There are several shops, an art gallery, a gourmet market, and a couple of restaurants.

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles' Mason Avenue

Our first stop was a little shop called The Boardwalk, which was full of beach-themed decor items, gifts, and jewelry.  I saw SO MANY cute and/or awesome things! I probably could have done at least half of my Christmas shopping there if I’d had enough time. This pillow was one of my (many) favorites:

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles shop The Boardwalk offers beach theme gifts and decor.

Another store, which was closed at the time of our visit, had these amazing nautilus shell and stained glass creations in its window:

Virginia's Eastern Shore Cape Charles has a thriving art community.

I did a little shopping, and then it was time to head to lunch.  So we drove on over to The Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery.

Virginia's Eastern Shore - in Cape Charles, the Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery offers waterfront dining and fresh seafood.

My husband ordered a clam basket and I ordered a crab cake sandwich.  It was an unseasonably warm day for November, so we got to dine on the deck, and that was a real treat.  The menu offered a variety of seafood items.  When we asked if the clams and oysters were local, our server said yes, and pointed out that we could actually see the clam beds from where we sat on the back deck of the restaurant.

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles' Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery has seafood so fresh, you can see the clam beds from the restaurant.
(The dark stripes just beyond the rocks are the clam beds.)

After lunch, I was craving something sweet.  Ice cream, to be specific.  A Google search for ice cream in Cape Charles provided me with the name and address of Brown Dog Ice Cream.  We went over there but found it closed until spring.  A visit to their web site suggested we purchase some of their ice cream at Gull Hummock, a gourmet market about one block down from their shop.  The Gull Hummock had some very interesting and unusual flavors of Brown Dog, but ultimately we stuck with something basic – chocolate.

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles' Brown Dog Handmade Ice Ceam

It was smooth and creamy and quite delicious! We took the pint to go with two spoons.

While we were enjoying our ice cream, and before heading to our next destination, we drove around the town a little to see what we could find.  Imagine our surprise when this sight came into view:

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles is an area where cotton is grown.

In the background, the Cape Charles lighthouse.  But in the foreground – are those what I think they are?  We went closer.

Cotton plants on Virginia's Eastern Shore (Cape Charles)

Cotton plants!  Something I only associated with “the deep South” but was right next door on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  I was out of my cotton-pickin’ mind to think it couldn’t grow here.  (Hahahaha, see what I did there?)

Part III of my adventure on Virginia’s Eastern Shore will feature kayaking and a wine tasting.  Stay tuned!

 

 

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles is a tiny town with a lot to offer visitors!

 

Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part I – Culinary Festivals

Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part I – Culinary Festivals

Virginia’s Eastern Shore: Culinary Festivals?

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is probably not the first place that comes to mind as a culinary destination, even for Delmarva locals. However, if you drive to the southern end of our peninsula, you will find an area that is brimming with opportunities for foodies to enjoy. Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism arranged for me to spend a weekend wining and dining there.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much there was to do!

The Island House Oyster Roast

We received tickets to the Island House Oyster Roast, an annual event held in Wachapreague, Virginia, to benefit the Navy Seal Foundation.  This was the Oyster Roast’s sixth year, and from what I could gather, it is something that the locals really look forward to.  In fact, tickets to the event sold out in advance! It’s the first of at least six oyster roasts on Virginia’s Eastern Shore just in the month of November.

The Island House is a waterfront restaurant, and the Oyster Roast is held on its grounds/in its parking lot.  When we arrived, the first thing we noticed was the massive roasting operation taking place to the side.

The men dump a hundred or two oysters onto a big metal tray and spread them out over a fire. Then they take a burlap sack that has soaked in water and lay it on top of the oysters.  The water and the fire combine to steam cook the oysters.  When the shells start to open, they’re done. Then the guys dump them into a basket and carry them to the oyster-eating tables nearby:

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivalsisland house oyster roast wachapreague

Yeah.  Eating oysters can be kind of messy.  But the Oyster Roast had more than just roasted oysters.  Guests had the options of raw oysters, clams, and pulled pork as well.

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivals island house oyster roast clams

It was delicious!  And although the food was a big draw, there were other great aspects of this culinary festival.

First, the proceeds go to the Navy Seal Foundation.  The foundation provides “a comprehensive set of programs specifically designed to improve health and welfare, build and enhance resiliency, empower and educate families and provide critical support during times of illness, injury, loss and transition.” At one point in the evening, the widow of a Navy Seal took the stage. She spoke about the day that officers came to her door to notify her that her husband had been killed in action. Her appeal for the support of these brave men and their families was touching.

Second, and on a much lighter note, was the music! A band called The Deloreans played and they were so much fun to listen to! They played nothing but music from the 1980s, with all of the costumes and accessories to take you back in time to that wonderful decade.  They played Prince, Cyndi Lauper, Twisted Sister, Billy Idol, Michael Jackson, and so many others.  If you live in or visit the Virginia Beach area and they’re playing, go see them – they are the best!

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivals island house oyster roast wachapreague deloreans bank 80s music

In addition to the tickets that raised money for the foundation, there were some live and silent auction items also.  There were stunning art photographs, hand carved decoys, jewelry, and more.

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivals island house oyster roast wachapreague auction items benefit navy seal foundation

But my favorite had to be this jaw-dropping fire pit:

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivals island house oyster roast wachapreague mine fire pit

All in all, it was a great evening, with good food, good music, and a good cause.  What more could you ask for?

How about a good night’s sleep?

The Inn at Onancock

When we left the oyster roast, we made our obligatory stop at Walmart to buy the necessities that I had forgotten to pack.  It a eems like there is always something that doesn’t make it into my bag.  Thank goodness for Walmart and Dollar Tree! Then we were off to our overnight lodging at the Inn at Onancock.

The Inn at Onancock’s slogan is “Arrive as Guests, Leave as Friends.” I would have thought that kind of hokey if it weren’t for the fact that we met a couple at breakfast who said they have stayed at the inn several times and always come back because they feel so welcomed there. Some extenuating circumstances prevented us from getting to interact much with the innkeepers. A family emergency had called Kim away, so we only met Matt, who was very friendly and hospitable.

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivals

The rooms are gorgeously appointed in different themes (Provence, Tuscany, Far East, etc.).  We stayed in the Far East room and found the bed very comfortable. That may not sound like much, but I am like the Princess and the Pea when it comes to sleeping in a strange bed. It isn’t very often that I can say another bed was comfortable.

The innkeepers anticipated any need that their guests might have.  The hallway outside the guest rooms contained a mini fridge stocked with cold beverages, and a Keurig coffee station. In the morning, the innkeepers set up a tray outside our door with our morning beverages of choice (coffee for Hubs and diet Coke for me). I cannot over-emphasize how much I appreciated the opportunity to get some caffeine in my system before I had to go downstairs and make small talk with strangers over breakfast.  Life saver.

We missed it because we were at the oyster roast, but every evening at the Inn, they have a “Wine Down” hour – an opportunity for guests to socialize and enjoy a glass of wine together. The inn’s breakfast is delicious and filling, with a variety of delicious foods.

The inn has received rave reviews and awards, which were proudly displayed in the foyer. My only (minor) complaint about the accommodation was that the walls seemed very thin and we heard a lot of noises.  I would recommend using either earplugs or a white noise machine to help keep it quiet while you rest.

The Island House Oyster Roast takes place at the Island House restaurant in Wachapreague, Virginia every year. If you’re thinking about going, try to get your tickets early as they do tend to sell out.  Also, tickets are only available for sale at the Island House, so you will need to visit the restaurant in person to purchase them.

The Inn at Onancock is open year-round, with a total of five bedrooms with private baths.  One of the rooms (The Maine Room) is pet-friendly, so that’s the one to book if you are traveling with four-legged family members.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism bureau provided me with tickets to the event and our accommodations. However, all opinions expressed here are my own.

For Part II of our weekend adventure on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, click here.

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivals
Delaware State Fair Review

Delaware State Fair Review

Small Wonder

Even though I live in Maryland, I’m only about 10 miles from the Delaware border.  And Delaware is such a small state, it’s possible to drive from one end (Delmar) to the other (Beaver Valley) in just a little over two hours. Delaware has only three counties, and for a long time, its tourism tagline was “Small Wonder.”

But don’t let its size fool you.  Delaware has a lot of really great events – NASCAR races in Dover, Punkin Chunkin in the fall, the Rehoboth Sea Witch Festival in October, and the Delaware State Fair in late July.

The Animals

delaware state fair review cows livestock

One of my favorite things to do when my kids were younger was to go to the fair and look at all the animals that were there to compete. Horses, pigs, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens… several barns full of animals, and we could get fairly close to them.  The fact that it didn’t cost anything to see them was a big plus too.

Another free animal attraction is a fantastic petting zoo.  It’s probably the best petting zoo I’ve ever seen, with a wide variety of animals that you can feed and touch and interact with. Unfortunately, we got there kind of late and a lot of the animals were tired/inactive/asleep.  We saw two giraffes (one, in a nod to the Madagascar movie, was named Melman), some zebras, a highland cow, llama, alpaca, goats, sheep, and kangaroos.  In past years I’ve seen a zebu, a talking macaw, and some hyperactive ring-tailed lemurs. If you’ve ever referred to someone as bouncing off the walls… well, those lemurs actually did bounce off the walls of their cage! Here’s a shot of the llamas:

delaware state fair review llama alpaca petting zoo.

Or are they alpacas?  Despite having been to Peru twice, I still can’t tell the difference.  In any case, the sign said llamas, so if that’s not correct, I can blame someone else.

The Games

delaware state fair review games
Because who wouldn’t want to win a poop emoji pillow?

What’s a fair without games?  My husband is a champion Whack-a-Mole player, and almost always wins a prize.  We didn’t play this time as we were on the motorcycle and would not have had any room to carry prizes home.

(An aside:  if you arrive at the fair on a motorcycle, you get to park waaaaaay up front, near the entrance gates!)

The Rides

delaware state fair review ferris wheel

I confess, I’m really not much of a ride person.  I have a severe tendency to get motion sickness and a serious fear of heights.  So that eliminates many of the rides.  One year I did go one a water flume ride, and that was really enjoyable.  And I’ve always like the Himalaya. I would say that there is a good assortment of rides at the fair – something for everyone, even wusses like me.

The food

delaware state fair review deep fried oreos

What would a fair be without fair food?  Sure, it costs a bundle and most of it is really unhealthy, but where else can you get a plate full of deep fried Oreos like the ones in the picture?  But the deep fried fun doesn’t stop there! Here are some of the other deep fried dishes you can get:

  • Candy bars (I’m partial to Milky Way)
  • Reeses cups
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Twinkies
  • Pepper Jack cheese
  • Bubble gum, and
  • Lemonade.

No, I don’t know how you deep fry lemonade, and I wasn’t brave enough to try it.

Other fair foods include my favorite local ice cream, alligator meat (Chester’s Gators and Taters), and a doughnut burger – a cheeseburger with toppings served on two Krispy Kreme doughnuts instead of a burger bun.  Because why not?

The Music

I’m not sure why, but the Delaware State Fair gets some pretty big name bands to hold concerts there. In 2007, we saw Brad Paisley there.  He had two opening acts – one was Kellie Pickler from American Idol and the other was this chick I’d never heard of named Taylor Swift.  (We opted to walk around the fair rather than see Taylor Swift since she was a nobody. My, how times change!)

No concert for us this year, so here’s a pic I took of Brad Paisley in 2007:

delaware state fair review brad paisley

The concert lineup usually includes at least two country music artists, a Christian artist, and a comedian. There’s also a monster truck show and/or demolition derby event each year as well.

So there you have it. If you’re within driving distance of Harrington Delaware towards the end of July, check out the Delaware State Fair.  It’s a great spot for summertime fun!

Delaware State Fair Review
Embassy Tours – A Cultural Tourism Annual Event

Embassy Tours – A Cultural Tourism Annual Event

Foreign Embassy Tours

Every year at the beginning of May, Cultural Tourism DC hosts an event called “The Around the World Embassy Tour.”  I have been lucky enough to go in the past, and I went again this year.  I think it is probably one of the coolest free events I’ve ever been to, with the possible exception of the Ceremony of the Keys in London.

On May 6 of this year, 43 embassies representing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America opened their doors and invited the general public in to learn more about their culture and heritage.  The European Union embassies will follow suit and host an open house on May 13.

To give you a better idea of what it’s like, I took a lot of pictures.  Our first stop was the Embassy of Peru.

Peru

Inside, we got to see beautiful Peruvian hand crafted items, sample some Peruvian chocolate, and we got to see the ambassador’s office and conference room.  Peruvian food was available for purchase both inside and outside the embassy, including Pisco sours, empanadas, and Alfajores cookies.

embassy tours peru
Some of the handicrafts in the Peruvian embassy.

Then, outside the embassy, we experienced music and Latin dancing.

embassy tours peru dancers
The dancers outside the Peruvian embassy.

From there we walked up Massachusetts Avenue, aka Embassy Row, and marveled at the beautiful buildings now serving as embassies. The Colombian embassy was ROCKING. Loud party music and bright colorfully-clad dancers attracted everyone’s attention. It also had a line of people that went down the street and around the corner. Having already gotten a late start, we decided to visit the embassies that seemed to have little to no wait to enter. Otherwise, we would have probably only seen two!

The first one we happened upon was Indonesia.

Indonesia

I am not exaggerating when I say it’s the most beautiful house I have seen on this side of the Atlantic. When we walked in, the first thing we saw was the grand entrance.

embassy tours indonesia
The foyer of the Indonesian embassy

(I don’t know about you, but every time I see a place like this, I imagine myself in an evening gown and lots of diamonds, slowly gliding down the stairs to the tune of dramatic-yet-elegant music.  No?  I’m the only one?)

As it turns out, the building is also known as the Walsh Mansion, and it Dates to 1903. At that time, it was the most expensive residence in the city, with a construction cost of $835,000.  The original owner, a Thomas J Walsh, came to this county from Ireland without a penny to his name in 1869. Over the next 25 years, he built up a small fortune through his business pursuits, then lost nearly everything in the Panic of 1893.  In 1896, he took his family to Colorado, and purchased a mine that most thought was of no value. However, it wasn’t long before mine workers struck a massive vein of gold and silver, making Walsh a multi-millionaire.

Walsh’s daughter Evalyn married into the McLean family, which owned The Washington Post.  In 1910, her husband bought the Hope Diamond for her at a cost of $180,000 (that’s $4.6 million in today’s economy).  Over time, rumors developed that the Hope Diamond had a curse on it.  Evalyn Walsh McLean’s first son died in a car accident. Her husband ran off with another woman and eventually died in a sanitarium. The Washington Post went bankrupt, and eventually her daughter died of an overdose, and one of her grandsons died in the Vietnam war. Evalyn never believed the curse had anything to do with her misfortunes.

In 1952 the government of Indonesia purchased the mansion for use as an embassy. Thankfully, they have preserved the beauty of the historic home, including this very large and ornate organ:

embassy tours indonesia
Upper part of the massive pipe organ in the Indonesian embassy.

The pipe organ’s wind system and some of its pipes were located in the basement, making this a two-story pipe organ.  I don’t know what it sounds like, but based solely on its appearance, it is impressive!

The painted ceilings and crystal chandeliers are probably very much like they were before it became the Indonesian embassy.

Embassy tours Indonesia
A doll on the mantle in the Indonesian embassy

A small glassed in walkway connected the residence portion of the house with the offices, which were more modern.  As you enter the office area, you pass by a huge gold bird, the heraldic symbol of Indonesia.

embassy tours indonesia

Our next stop was going to be the Chilean embassy, but the line was incredibly long, so we wandered up the street a little farther and found a performer outside the Korean embassy.

Korea

Just above the heads of the people gathered around to watch, we could see a man walking a tightrope while making jokes via an interpreter. There was also this little statue:

embassy tours korea

This is a Dol Hareubang, which means Stone Grandfather.  They are from Jeju, a small volcanic island off the southern coast of Korea.  Dol Hareubang is a guardian deity, and the people of Jeju erect these statues to ward off danger and harm.

Right next door to Korea was the Kyrgyz Republic, or Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan

I’ll be honest.  I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan, other than that it’s a relatively new country.  It was a very enlightening visit.  First, I learned that Kyrgyzstan shares a border with China. As we made our way through the embassy and looked at the displays, I learned that many people of Kyrgyzstan live in yurts.  We saw scarves and slippers and multiple other woolen items, beautifully made. But their talents do not end there. I thought this painting was just adorable:

Embassy tours Kyrgyzstan

They were also offering shots of a cognac from their country. Nearby, these lovely ladies in traditional native costumes greeted and posed for everyone.

Embassy tours Kyrgyzstan

Haiti

The Haitian embassy was all about art.  Every room we entered had beautiful, brightly colored paintings done by Haitian artists. The one hanging over the fireplace was especially striking.

Embassy tours haiti

And in the back of the house, just before we stepped outside, we saw a beautiful collection of bottles covered in sequins.  Then we exited the house and stepped out onto a gorgeous patio. The biggest wall had an arrangement of metal decorations that was pretty incredible.

Embassy tours Haiti patio

There were tin lanterns hanging all over the place, with designs of dragonflies, and other small animals.

By this time the event was coming to a close, so we started walking back toward the Metro station.  On the way, we passed a stunning display outside the Guatemalan embassy.

Embassy tours Guatemala

 

The white parts were rice, and we guessed that the colored bits were dyed sawdust.  From a distance, it looked like a rug.

After that, we followed the sound of music until we happened upon the embassy of the Dominican Republic.  There were people everywhere – some were in line for food but quite a few were dancing.  It was such an awesome display of living in the moment, anyone watching couldn’t help but smile.

I cannot recommend the Around the World Embassy Tour enough. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about other cultures and see some magnificent art and architecture.  If you’re ever in D.C. on a Saturday in early May, check it out!

Beachcomber’s Paradise: Metompkin Island, Virginia

Beachcomber’s Paradise: Metompkin Island, Virginia

You Want to Do What?

I’ll be honest, when my husband told me that he wanted me to join him on a long canoe ride the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I was not too excited.  Canoeing is definitely not my kind of fun. Faced with unseasonably warm weather and a promise that I would enjoy it, I begrudgingly agreed.  We began our Saturday morning with a very long drive to the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is the third and southernmost part of the Delmarva Peninsula (Del=Delaware, Mar=Maryland, Va=Virginia). The Delmarva Peninsula has the Atlantic Ocean to its east and the Chesapeake Bay to its west.  The Virginia portion of the peninsula is so isolated from the rest of its state that I’ve often wondered if its residents feel like everyone else who calls the state home doesn’t even know they exist.

metompkin island map best seashell beaches
The Eastern Shore of Virginia – everything south of the gray dashed line.

You Want to Go Where?

We drove and drove until we reached an area called Gargatha. There is a public boat ramp at the end of Gargatha Landing Road, and that’s where the water leg of our journey would begin. It would end on Metompkin Island, which I had never heard of before.

metompkin-island-map-zoomed-in best seashell beaches
This map is the zoomed in version of the one above.  In both cases, the red pin marks Metompkin Island – our destination.

So… this is fun?

We got the canoe in the water and headed out.  The wind was blowing against us, which is pretty much my worst nightmare when I’m in a canoe.  You have to paddle twice as hard to cover the same distance in the same time.  Basically, for every two strokes, we were only advancing one. Adding to the difficulty was the fact that we kept getting pushed off course.

At one point, we ended up stuck in some tall grasses. We were so tired and frustrated that we decided to just sit there, eat our sandwiches that we had brought with us, and rest for a few minutes. Then it was time to paddle some more. We hadn’t gone much farther when I saw this:

metompkin-island-danger-sign best seashell beaches

This was most definitely not what I wanted to see, especially since there were no details offered. What danger? Dangerous for whom? Hubs assured me that it was for larger boats, not canoes or kayaks. Apparently the water isn’t very deep there.

I could hear a very loud but distant noise and we seemed to be moving toward it. It turned out to be the ocean, which meant we were close! I was so relieved to see the beach ahead of us! We pulled our canoe up on the land and went out to explore.

Surprise! It was worth going after all.

I couldn’t believe how many shells there were – the beach was absolutely littered with them!  It has to be one of the best seashell beaches in the mid-Atlantic, and certainly the best I had ever been on!

best seashell beaches metompkin island virginia

I told Hubs that I hoped I would find a piece of sea glass while we were there. Three steps later, I found myself looking at a spot of cobalt blue off to my left. It was roughly 2 inches square, part of an old glass Milk of Magnesia bottle.

Sadly, I didn’t find any other pieces of sea glass that day.  However, I hit the jackpot when it came to seashells, as you might have guessed. There were clam shells, oyster shells, whelk shells (at least two kinds), periwinkles, scallops, limpet shells, cockle shells, and sea snail shells. I also found some non-shell items like a mermaid’s purse and a whelk egg case.

Fortunately, Hubs thought to bring one of my extra big Thirty-one utility tote bags, because when I got out to the water I was running all over the place and picking up shells like a kid who had (a) never seen a beach and (b) had consumed a week’s worth of sugar. “Oooooohhh, look at this one,”  I’d yell, and hold it out for him to see. I wouldn’t even wait for a reaction before I’d start looking for more.

There were really big shells:

metompkin-island-big-shell best seashell beaches
Women’s size 9 flip flop shown for scale.

And there were tiny little ones:

metompkin-island-tiny-shell best seashell beaches

For some reason, I always said “Awwwww!” whenever I found a tiny one. Like it was a puppy or something.

After just an hour of combing the beach and gathering cool shells, our bag was full – and heavy:

metompkin island bag of shells best seashell beaches

We left it at the canoe and headed off in the opposite direction, determined to not pick up any more shells.

Well, that resolve faded faster than most New Year’s diets! By the time we spent another hour on the beach, all of our pockets were full, we were carrying some in our arms, and we had even filled an empty tortilla chip bag full of shells.  Clearly, it was time to leave. If we had stayed longer, we might not have had room in the canoe for us!

Yeah. It’s a little addictive.

I cleaned, dried, and sorted all of my new shells after I got home. Curious, I decided to count them too. I picked up close to 300 shells! Now, all I have to do is figure out what to do with them.  🙂

Not that a lack of ideas will keep me from going back. It’s at the top of my list for things to do once it gets warm again.

Metompkin Island is part of a 60 mile chain of barrier islands on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Some of the islands are not public lands, and regulations prohibit certain activities on the public ones. Check before you go.

The Enchanted Forest Reborn

The Enchanted Forest Reborn

I will never forget the times that my parents took me to The Enchanted Forest, an awesome fairy tale theme park near Baltimore. The park was full of amazing scenes from fairy tales and other stories brought to life. It was my Disney World.

Sadly, The Enchanted Forest closed in 1989. But thanks to some wonderful people with fond childhood memories and a lot of land, you and your children can kinda-sorta visit The Enchanted Forest today.

Clark’s Elioak Farm has lovingly restored many of the original items from The Enchanted Forest and put them on display for this generation of children to enjoy. The restoration continues on, so there are plenty of new attractions not covered in this post.

From the moment you arrive, the magic begins. Rapunzel leans out of her castle tower to greet you.

enchanted forest rapunzel
You can see such beloved characters as Mother Goose (which is also a toddler size sliding board):

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Mother Goose
Take a peek inside the Three Little Pigs house. You can’t see it in this photo, but there is a wolf-skin rug on the floor.

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm 3 Little Pigs
Disney immortalized Sleeping Beauty in the film of the same name, but I find this version just as enchanting. Who wouldn’t want to sleep under a golden blanket?

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Sleeping Beauty.jpg

Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub:

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Three Men in a Tub

You can catch Goldilocks in the Three Bears’ house:

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Goldilocks

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe (another sliding board):

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Old Woman in Shoe.jpg

Hey diddle diddle, the cat & the fiddle, the dish ran away with the spoon.

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Hey Diddle Diddle.jpg

And finally, Jack & the Beanstalk:

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Jack and Beanstalk.jpg
These are just some of the attractions, and as mentioned above, the proprietors are adding more every year. The site also features farm animals that children can see up close, pony rides, and a pumpkin patch in the fall. If you have young children and are near Clark’s Elioak Farm, treat them to a day there… they will love it and so will you!

Clark’s Elioak Farm is located at 10500 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, MD 21042. Telephone 410-730-4049. Hours vary by day and season, so check the web site or call when planning your visit.