Tag: On the Water

Iceland’s Diamond Circle: A Northern Iceland Itinerary

Iceland’s Diamond Circle: A Northern Iceland Itinerary

Iceland’s Diamond Circle

A Lesser Known Tourist Route

A search for things to do in Iceland will inevitably return pages of posts about Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. Far more information than you need, and most of it incredibly redundant. (This is why I chose not to write about the Golden Circle, and wrote about what you need to know about Iceland that other bloggers aren’t telling you instead.) Today, seven months after my trip to Iceland, I discovered something else that most people don’t write about: Iceland’s Diamond Circle. How I wish I had found out about this earlier!

Map of Iceland's Diamond Circle

My loss is your gain. Here’s what you need to know about all of the stops on northern Iceland’s Diamond Circle:

Húsavík

The town of Húsavík has a population of about 2,100 people. It is situated on the eastern side of Iceland’s northern coast, and is known as the whale watching capital of Iceland.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Whale watching is one of the main activities for tourists in Husavik.
Husavik is the whale watching capital of Iceland.

The town even has a whale museum, which offers visitors exhibits on North Atlantic whale species, the whaling industry, and whale habitat and ecology. It also serves as a center for whale research and data collection.

Húsavík has two other museums as well. The Exploration Museum highlights the history of human exploration. The museum grounds contain a monument honoring the Apollo astronauts who trained in that area of Iceland during the 1960s. The Húsavík Museum centers its exhibits on culture and biology, with exhibits that include a stuffed polar bear that floated over to Iceland on an iceberg in 1969.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: The wood timber church in Husavik was built in 1907
Með Andreas Tille – eigin skrá, CC BY-SA 4.0

Húsavikurkirkja, the church in Húsavík shown above, is a wooden beauty that you should see if you are visiting the town. It was built in 1907 and is in the center of the town, facing the harbor.

Godafoss

Although I hadn’t come across the Diamond Circle in my research, I still managed to find one of the sites on the route. Godafoss is massive, and impressive. Visitors will have no difficulty imagining how they came to call it Waterfall of the Gods.

Iceland's Diamond Circle - Godafoss is just a slight detour off of the circle, but still a must-see in any weather!
My panoramic shot of Godafoss in February.

 

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Godafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods
Godafoss, as seen from above in warmer weather. (Source)

There’s a story about how, around 999 or 1000 AD, lawspeaker Thorgeir Ljósvetningagodi made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. To symbolize his parting with the old Norse religion and adoption of Christianity, he threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall. Most historians believe this to be a more modern story and not a true origin of the name. But still, it’s a great story, isn’t it?

Ásbyrgi Canyon (aka Shelter of the Gods)

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Asbyrgi Canyon is peaceful and a magical setting known as Shelter of the Gods.
Image via Flickr by Bods.

About 25 miles east of Husavik, there is a large horseshoe shaped depression in the land. According to Norse mythology, the rock formation of Asbyrgi was formed by the hoofprint of Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse. Scientists, on the other hand, speculate that it was most likely formed by catastrophic glacial flooding of a river 8-10,000 years ago, and then again 3,000 years ago. Sleipnir must have been a very big horse (as would befit Odin, right?), because the cliffs are some 300 feet high. The canyon is over two miles long, and 2/3 mile wide. It’s a magical place, and local lore has it that Iceland’s elves live in the cracks there.

Lake Myvatn

Lake Myvatn is the fourth largest lake in Iceland. It’s name is Icelandic for “Lake of Midges.” Not Tootsie Roll Midgees (alas!), but midges. That is, flies. If you heard that Iceland is heavenly because there are no mosquitoes there, you heard correctly. But unfortunately, no mosquitoes does not equal no insects, and if you think you needn’t fear summertime bug bites in this island country, you’re wrong.

However, don’t let that deter you from visiting Lake Myvatn. The scenery at the lake and in the surrounding area is stunning. The lake is in a very active geothermal area of Iceland, so one of the most popular things to do (other than admiring the gorgeous scenery) is the Myvatn Nature Baths. There, you can take a dip in the naturally hot waters of the lagoon, enjoy a steam bath, or both. Afterwards, you can enjoy a meal at the on-site restaurant.

Myvatn is also a popular spot for birdwatching, as there are more species of duck there than any other spot in the world. And Game of Thrones fans can explore the area to find Mance Rayder’s wildling camp (Dimmuborgir – see below) and the cave where Jon and Ygritte shared an evening together (Grjótagjá cave).

Iceland's Diamond Circle: The Myvatn Lake area has a unique geological feature known as pseudo craters
Aerial view of a pseudo crater at Lake Myvatn. (source)

Skútustadagígar in the Myvatn area also has something called pseudo-craters or rootless cones. They’re volcanic landforms that look like craters, but never had an actual eruption of lava. The craters are formed by steam explosions.

Dettifoss Waterfall

Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, with an average water flow of 633 cubic feet per second.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe.
Image via Flickr by Michael Voelker

The falls are 330 feet wide and 144 feet high. Unfortunately, the roads that are closest to this site are closed during the winter, so it’s likely you will only be able to see this waterfall if you are visiting in the summer months.

Expanding the Circle

Iceland's Diamond Circle - expanded route with additional sites.

If you have more time, and you want to pepper your travels around Iceland’s Diamond Circle with additional sites, here are a few that you can easily add:

Dark Castles (Dimmuborgir)

Dimmuborgir consist of huge lava rock formations which make you feel like you stepped into another world. It’s no surprise that this place was the Games of Thrones setting for Mance Rayder’s wildling camp.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Dimmuborgir lava formations create an alien looking landscape that was featured in Game of Thrones.
Photo via Flickr by µµ

The formation of these extraordinary lava cliffs and pillars is caused by lava ponds. Hot lava streamed over ponds, trapping the water underneath. Steam issued through vents in the lava pools and formed these pillars, which then remained standing even after the crust around them had gone away.

NB:  The rocks are brittle and fragile, so for your safety and out of respect for the beauty of Icelandplease do not attempt to climb on them.

Eider Falls (Æðafossar)

Eider Falls is very close (about 6 miles) from Húsavík. It isn’t a very big waterfall, but it is very picturesque, and it’s worth a stop. Just make sure you have good driving directions on how to get there. I’ve heard it’s a bit difficult to find, and there are few road signs to guide you.

The Echo Rocks (Hljodaklettar)

The “echo rocks” or Hljódaklettar, are basalt columns lying in several different directions. Because of their haphazard arrangement, they create unique formations and arched caves that make eerie echoes and reverberations. You may also see basalt rosettes, which are developed when the lava stream forming the columns cools from all sides simultaneously. You can see one, possibly two, in the photo below.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: A basalt rosette is one of the unique formations you can see at Hljóðaklettar
Photo via Flickr by Sveinn Erlendsson

From the parking lot, there are two marked hiking paths. One (a path marked in blue) is a 1 km easy stroll that will take roughly 30 minutes, while the other (marked red) is a challenging circle around the area that takes about 2 hours to complete.

Laugar

Another hot spot of geothermal activity (pun fully intended), Laugar’s claim to fame is its swimming pool. Surrounded by rolling hills, the pool at Laugar is over 80 feet long with a temperature around 85°F.  In addition to the swimming pool, visitors to Laugar can enjoy two spacious hot tubs, a kids’ wading area, and a fitness center. It is a quiet and peaceful area with a beautiful view south the valley.

Get Out There and Explore

Like no other place I’ve visited, Iceland is the ideal country to just drive around and explore. Itineraries like these help, but don’t be afraid to wander elsewhere too (provided that weather and road conditions are favorable, that is). have you visited any of these sites? Let me know in the contents below!

Iceland's Diamond Circle - Northern Iceland Itinerary
Far less known than the Golden Circle, Iceland’s Diamond Circle provides just as many wonderful sights – with fewer tourists. #iceland #diamondcircle #northerniceland #icelanditineraries
A Local’s Guide to Salisbury Maryland, Home of the National Folk Festival 

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

A Local’s Guide to Salisbury Maryland

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

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

About Salisbury

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

The National Folk Festival

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

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

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

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

Where to Eat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Stay

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

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

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

Where to Shop

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

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

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

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

What to Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland

In Conclusion

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

Happy traveling!

A Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland - Home of the National Folk Festival
Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part III – Paddle & Pour

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

Paddle Your Glass Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Kayaking to Chatham Winery

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

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

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

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

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

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore - Travelasmuch.com
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!

 

Janes Island State Park – Crisfield MD

Janes Island State Park – Crisfield MD

Trying to find some great Maryland getaways?

I’ve lived on Maryland’s Eastern Shore most of my life, and until last week, I had never been to Janes Island State Park in Crisfield. I was pleasantly surprised by what this park had to offer.

We went there with the plan to canoe out to the beach. Thankfully, it was an unseasonably warm day for mid-November. It turned out to be a great afternoon, so I thought I would share the top five things that impressed me most about the park.

1. The waterway.

It’s called Daugherty Creek, but it looks more like a river. It’s quite wide; certainly much bigger than I expected for a creek. The water is calm and smooth, as you can see below. As we were about to leave and head home, the sun was setting. I snapped this picture to show the beautiful colors of the sky and the calmness of the water. There is NO filter on this picture – just nature at its loveliest!

maryland getaways janes island crisfield sunset.jpg

2. The marsh.

On either side of the creek, and around the beach, you will see wispy tall grasses that mark the marsh lands. Sometimes there were so many “layers” it seemed to go on forever: water, marsh, water, marsh, water, marsh.

maryland getaways janes-island-marsh crisfield

It was in one of these marshy areas that my daughter noticed the presence of a Great Blue Heron just ten feet away from us. I quickly fumbled for my phone to take a picture and just managed to catch him as he took off in flight. That was a very cool moment.

janes island great blue heron maryland getaways crisfield

3. The facilities.

We didn’t take advantage of them that day, but I noticed that there were some nice facilities there at Janes Island. The park includes a conference center, full service cabins, campsites specifically designated for youth groups, boat ramp, water trails, and more. The cabins and conference center will be renovated in 2017, so that may limit their ability.

4. The beach/the island.

Janes Island is about one mile from the park’s boat ramp. We canoed straight there (see the dark blue line on the map below).

janes-island-map maryland getaways crisfield

Now granted, it was November, but we had the beach all to ourselves and it seemed to go on for miles!  The only sign that anyone had been there before us were these footprints in the sand:

janes-island-md-bird-tracks maryland getaways crisfield

We had our dog, Kingston, with us, so I took off his leash and let him run around like a maniac. (And he absolutely loved it!) We spent some time walking on the beach, soaking up the sunshine, and looking for interesting shells/driftwood.

janes-island-md-sunny-beach maryland getaways crisfield

Even on this side of the land, the water (Tangier Sound) was relatively calm.

5. The boating opportunities.

Canoe, kayak, or powerboat… all can enjoy the water at Janes Island and everything that it offers. From exploring 30 miles of water trails to fishing to bird watching – all are easily enjoyed from this state park with its waterfront location.

Kingston says you should definitely check it out!

janes island md maryland getaways crisfield

Janes Island State Park is located at 26280 Alfred Lawson Drive in Crisfield, MD 21817. Telephone 410-968-1565. Opening hours vary by season; park closes at sunset daily.

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Why Wales?

I have wanted to go to Wales ever since I saw Hugh Grant’s movie The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain. In fact, the trip that I’ll be taking next month originally started out as an England & Wales combined trip. Unfortunately, time constraints prevented us from doing both, and Hubs was pretty adamant that he wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall.  So Wales is pretty high on the list of future vacations.

I did a lot of research about Wales back when I thought we would be able to do both. Here are the top ten things I can’t wait to see when I go to Wales.

1. Hay-on-Wye.  This tiny village (population 1600) is known as a book town. In fact, it’s the world’s largest second hand & antiquarian book center. You’ll find book stores on every corner and you’ll even see unmanned shelves of books with an honor system for customers. The largest of the “honesty shops” is a row of shelves lining the castle wall.  Castle + books = I could spend days there!

wales top ten hay on why castle bookshop

2. The Straining Tower at Lake Vyrnwy.  It looks much more romantic than it actually is. Its purpose is to filter or strain out material in the water with a fine metal mesh, before the water flows along the aqueduct to Liverpool. The tower rises 104 feet above water, and is topped with a pointed copper-clad roof with a light green patina.

wales top ten straining tower lake vyrnwy

3.  Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.  The town with the longest name in Britain – 58 letters! (Oddly enough, it is not the longest name in the world, though; that honor belongs to a place in New Zealand.) The name, translated from Welsh, means “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave.” I just want to go get our picture taken under the name sign and buy a souvenir tee shirt.

wales top ten longest town name

4. Castell Coch.  This Gothic Revival Castle was built in the late 19th century as a country residence.  It is often referred to as a fairy tale castle because of its round towers.  And while the exterior of the castle appears medieval, the interior is high Victorian.

wales top ten castell coch

5. The Doctor Who Experience.  You get to see what it’s like to be inside the TARDIS, for goodness’ sake.  What else could you want?

UPDATE:  The Doctor Who Experience is no longer open. 🙁

wales top ten Doctor Who Experience

6. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  You can ride a boat or walk across the aqueduct, which is the highest and longest in Great Britain.  It is 126 feet high and 336 yards long.  From what I’ve read, the views from there are outstanding.

wales top ten Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

7.  Tintern Abbey.  Thanks to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, Abbey ruins are all over the British Isles.  I’ve seen photos of many different abbey ruins, and I think Tintern has one of the loveliest sites.

wales top ten Tintern Abbey

8. Pembrokeshire.  This area of Wales reminds me so much of Cornwall (my happy place). There are many beautiful beaches and small harbor towns.

wales top ten Pembrokeshire

9. Skomer Island.  It is the world’s largest puffin colony.  And, as if that weren’t enough, there are also stone circles and the remains of prehistoric houses.

wales top ten skomer puffin

10. Gladstone’s Library.  It’s a residential library, possibly the only one in the world. Bibliophiles like me can look at books all day, go to sleep when we can’t hold our eyes open any longer, then wake up and look at books again.  Yay!  As an added plus, the room rates are some of the cheapest I’ve seen in the UK.

wales top ten Gladstone's Libary

So, there you have it: my next European adventure, already planned.  I can’t wait to see these Wales top ten places in person!

 

Bucket List: The Marble Caves of Chile

Bucket List: The Marble Caves of Chile

In the Patagonia region of South America, there is a sizable lake stretching across the Argentina-Chile border.  In Chile, that lake is called General Carrera Lake.  In Argentina, it is called Lake Buenos Aires.

The lake, formed by melting glaciers, is incredibly blue.  Combine that with the stunning marble cliffs and caves, and it’s a must see.

Apparently, marble is slightly soluble in water.  Over thousands of years, the lake water seeped into small cracks in the marble cliffs, the cracks grew larger and larger until a system of caves was formed.

marble Caves 3.jpg

There are also two marble islands in the lake.  One is called Marble Cathedral, and the other (smaller) one is Marble Chapel.

marble chapel

Beautiful, isn’t it?  This is one of the places that I hope to someday see in person.

If you plan a trip to see the Marble Caves of Chile, here’s what you need to know:

  • Boats can be rented in the nearby town Puerto Tranquilo so you can get an up-close view of the caves.
  • The water level is lower in early spring (early autumn if you’re in the northern hemisphere), and the caves have a more natural hue (brown/gray).
  • In summer (winter for northern hemisphere folks), the water level is higher and the caves are more reflective, giving the marble an eerie blue appearance.
  • Don’t delay.  The area is in danger because a company by the name of Hydroaisen is seeking to build a dam on the Baker River (water from General Carrera Lake flows to the ocean via the Baker River).  The transfer of the energy to the cities would require a construction of new high-tension power lines and one such line is planned next to Marble Caves.

Marble Caves.png

Lost River Cave, KY

Lost River Cave, KY

Kentucky – or at least the area around Bowling Green – is has a lot of caves. We knew we would pretty much have to visit one while we were there, but were more than a little intimidated by the size of Mammoth Cave National Park. We decided to visit Lost River cave instead, which offered tours of a cave by boat. It seemed unique and sounded like it could be fun.

sign 2

We made the right choice! The cave and the area surrounding it have a great history. On our cave tour, we learned that the river has four exposed blue holes. One of these was the cause of the Lost River being listed by Ripley’s Believe it or Not as the “Shortest, deepest river in the world.” Plumb bobs indicated that the blue hole was 427 feet deep, while the river itself is only 350 feet long. However, the measurements were faulty. The blue hole is linked to a further underground river, and the plumb bobs that were dropped in to measure the depth were swept away rather than hanging straight. The real depth of the blue hole is only ten feet.

We started our tour at the cave entrance, where a dam built in 1872 still stands.

dam & waiting area 2.jpg

cave entrance 2

After a brief introduction, we were led to the boat that would take us into the cave:

boat 2

At one point, we had to duck a little because the water was high and the cave ceiling was low. Our guide was practically laying across the back end of the boat and guiding us through the narrow opening.

low overhead 2.jpg

The cave was damp and dark, as you would expect a cave to be. I don’t really remember much about the cave itself, except that sailing into it on a boat was pretty cool.

The guide spoke a little about the cave’s history during the Civil War, including the fact that it was under the control of first the Confederates, and then Union soldiers. The Union soldiers, in fact, used the location as a camp, and soldiers names and ranks have been found written inside the cave.

Shortly after the end of the Civil War (1868), there was a bank robbery in Russellville, Kentucky. Jesse James and his gang were believed to have been responsible. It is widely believed that Jesse James hid out in the cave to escape capture by law enforcement following the robbery.

But what fascinated me the most was that the cave had been used as a nightclub! Known as the Cavern Nite Club, the venue was popular because of its cool temperatures. In 1939, Billboard Magazine named the Cavern Nite Club as the only air-conditioned nightclub in the U.S.

By the 1960s, nightclubs were a thing of the past. People were entertained at home by way of television and radio. Additionally, an interstate highway was built in the area, pulling traffic away from the site of the cave. And the advent of air conditioning meant that people were less likely to be drawn to the naturally cool environment of the cave. For several decades, the area fell into ruin and became a dumping site. Thankfully, a group of concerned citizens formed a non-profit group in 1990 to bring the site back to its original state. Three years later, Lost River Cave was opened to the public.

Today, there is still a big area suitable for dancing, with a large chandelier overhead. It is a popular (and unique) wedding venue.

dance floor 2.jpg

After our tour, which lasted about 45 minutes, we visited the butterfly garden, which is another attraction at the Lost River Cave property, and did a little gem mining. The gift shop was very nice with a wide variety of souvenir items. All in all, it was a very enjoyable excursion and I recommend it, especially for families.

Lost River Cave is located at 2818 Nashville Road, Bowling Green, KY 42101. Telephone 270-393-0077. Hours vary by season.

Cruising Lake Champlain

Cruising Lake Champlain

We did not have an abundance of activities planned for our Vermont trip last fall, so we picked up a handful of brochures in the hotel lobby when we arrived and proceeded to sort through them. I had picked up the Spirit of Ethan Allen Lake Champlain cruise brochure because I am inexplicably drawn to water even though I can’t swim at all. Also, my husband has this thing for boats and trains.

Even so, I was skeptical as to whether I really wanted to do the cruise. But I opened the brochure anyway, and started reading about it. There, right in print, was the name of our town.  It turns out that the boat had been built just down the river from us. At that point, we pretty much had to go on the cruise.

We booked tickets for a lunch cruise, and showed up on a little early. That gave us a chance to explore the Burlington waterfront, which is just beautiful. It isn’t often (at least where I’m from) that you get to look out at a vast expanse of dark blue water and also see mountains in the distance.

rsz_champlain_cruise_20

The buffet lunch was mediocre, but the scenery was beautiful and the narration was fascinating. We were also lucky in that it was a gorgeous day.

rsz_champlain_cruise_16

rsz_champlain_cruise_15

During one part of the narration, we got a mini-geology lesson when we saw some rocky areas that actually had older layers of rock on top of younger ones. This is known as a “thrust fault.” I can’t explain it in a nutshell, but if rock formations are your thing, just click on that link to read all about thrust faults on Wikipedia. I can, however, provide a picture:

rsz_champlain_cruise_4

The darker stone on the bottom is shale (younger) and the lighter stone on top is something called dolostone (older).

As we approached a large rock jutting out of the water, we were told that it was called “Rock Dunder.” The site is sacred to the Abenaki Native Americans because it is said to be known as the location of Odzihozo (The Creator).

Odzihozo, while laying down, created the Green Mountains by pushing to one side and created the Adirondack Mountains by pushing to the opposite side. Odzihozo now had legs (mountains) but he still could not stand up so he reached out with his arms and his fingers gouged out river channels in the earth. He shaped legs and feet and when he stood up, he left a hole in the earth. Water flowed into this hole, creating Lake Champlain. Abenakis call Lake Champlain Bitawbagok (The Waters Between), framed as it is on both sides by mountains. Odzihozo was so pleased with his creation that he changed himself into a rock (Rock Dunder) so he could admire his handiwork.  And really, who could blame him?

rsz_1champlain_cruise_7

The Spirit of Ethan Allen cruises depart from the Burlington Boathouse, located at 1 College Street, Burlington VT  05401.  Telephone 802-862-8300.  

Riding the Soo Locks

Riding the Soo Locks

The Soo Locks are located on the St. Marys River between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. An average of 10,000 ships pass through the locks each year. My husband has a thing for alternative methods of transportation (trains, ferry boats, and the like), so I thought it would be neat to take a little cruise through the locks.

boat

The boat entered the first lock, and the gates started closing behind us. I confess, I have a tiny bit of claustrophobia, and this made me uncomfortable as I felt a bit trapped.

gates 3

Fortunately, though, the water slowly rose, and we rose with it.

gates 8.JPG

(Same gate, although we are a little farther away from it in this shot.)

We did this a couple of times and then enjoyed a little tour of the surrounding area. The highlight for me was probably going under the International Bridge that connected the US and Canada.

international bridge 2

It’s weird to realize that there is one country to your left, and a different country to your right. Another exciting moment was when we came very close to this huge freighter ship.  (I looked it up later and discovered that it was 767 feet long. Not hard to believe – as we passed by it, I didn’t think we would ever see the end!)

passing freighter

As we came back to port at Sault Ste Marie, we got a better look at this big old hydroelectric power plant.

power house 4

I love those lighthouses in the brick work! But even more impressive is that this plant was built in 1902 and it is still operating today – 114 years later!

It was a relaxing way to see the area from a different perspective. And, as my husband would say, now we can say we’ve been through canal locks!  🙂

Soo Locks Boat Tours run rain or shine, seven days a week, from May 15 to October 15. The boats are located off of East Portage Avenue in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. Telephone (800) 432-6301