Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Asheville, NC

We planned on stopping only one night in the Asheville area on the way to Great Smokies National Park. A soaked camper van and wet forecast combined with a delicious food scene, a plethora of bookstores and Jason's two upcoming 7am-12pm meetings requiring good cell coverage and wi-fi, coaxed us to stay in a hotel for a couple of nights there checking it out. Asheville is hip little foodie town surrounded by the easy-to-access Smoky Mountains so it was not a hardship to spend some extra time there. Each day we took the Blue Ridge Parkway with its spectacular views, found a trail, went for a hike, and returned in time for a delicious dinner ranging from new Southern food at Tupelo Honey, to fancy Mexican at Limones, French food, Thai, and coffee in a cozy, British double-decker bus.  We can definitely understand why it made Outside magazine's list of best places to live.  

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cape Hatteras

On the outer banks of North Carolina lies Cape Hatteras, a narrow sandbar of land that extends thirty miles offshore. After passing through Kitty Hawk where we marveled over the tiny sand dune that served as the launching pad for the Wright Brothers and the birth of the airplane, we drove out onto the Cape Hatteras National Seashore where it is so narrow at times that we could see both shores as we drove down the road. Our campground, with its unique, outer-banks water (brackish with chlorine overtones and just a hint of fish, delightful!) flowing from our spicket, had mostly been spared by Irene, but large swaths of it remained closed for repairs. The KOA just a 1/4 mile down the beach had pretty much been obliterated, its cabins and mini golf (apparently southern campers love mini golf) course stood in a pile of rubble on the side of the road. Upon discovering that the gear stashed under our solar panel was wet from the downpours we had experienced in Maine a month ago, I spent half a day scrubbing the mold from everywhere it grew before hitting the beach where we spent two days creatively gathering sand into the various crevices of our bodies under the glorious sunshine, sand-castle building, penguin-sliding, whole-body launching, body-part burying, beach combing, sand-stabbing, sun-basking, wave-watching, sand-drawing, crab-finding, skate-egg-purse-dissecting, we pretty much covered it all. We even got to pet a shark before a fisherman threw him back into the sea. On night three we changed to a campground attended by a sad woman who told us how Irene scared away all of the tourists and  devestated the economy, looking very desperate for us to stay there. We had the entire campground to ourselves so we picked a site that backed up to a canal and settled in for the night. After playing a game of Race for Galaxy and eating popcorn as we listened to light raindrops hit the camper van, we went to bed. The rain steadily increased to what I can only describe as torrential downpour or maybe high-powered car wash. The rain and wind pounded Sylvia from all sides completely soaking her through and through as lighting lit up the sky and the thunder shook her. Isaac said that one thunder was so big that the pop-top's sides inflated as he rocked from side to side. At 2am Jason and I stepped out of the camper van into water that was over our ankles. Standing in the lake that had recently been our campground, lightning flashes illuminating water in every direction, we seriously wondered if we were about to be washed into the sea. After I gathered up our flip-flops that had floated away, we quickly decided to move the camper van to higher ground. The boys thought it was quite the adventure to ride in the pop-top through campground/lake in the middle of the night. As Jason and I laid there listening to water drip onto his sleeping bag and to the pummeling rain outside, we easily imagined the camper van floating away off this narrow, low-lying sandbar and how we were basically in the middle of the ocean. We both longed for a more appropriate vehicle for this environment, like a sailboat. I spent the morning wading through puddles to the laundry room, drying sleeping bags, pillows, sheets, and towels. With more severe rainstorms in the forcast for the following night, we packed up after visiting the fog-bound and appropriately creepy Graveyard of the Sea Museum, and headed back to mainland North Carolina where less scary forecasts for mere tornados awaited. Driving through alternating fields of cotton, farmland, and forests, we found a safe spot in the middle of the state that was out of the path of the dreadful weather. As I scrubbed and tried to dry out the carpet from the camper van at our new campsite Isaac said, "Don't worry mom, we don't have all three M's, only mold and mildew, no moss yet."

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg is an 18th century town that was painstakingly preserved by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and is the largest living history museum in the country, second largest in the world, as the sweet 18th century-looking lady told us. We visited on a gorgeous fall day where we wandered through the streets and visited old shops watching processes from the past come alive. We saw a printing press, book binding, an apothecary shop, jewelry-making, an old farmstead with tobacco drying in the barn, corn cobs in various shucked states, an eighteenth century feast laid out complete with a roasted pig's head, and a fife and drum parade. At the end of the day we followed actors through the village as we watched a re-enactment of events that took place at the beginning of the Revolutiony War in Williamsburg. We watched as tensions rose between opposing opinions which almost resulted in a good old-fashioned tar-and-feathering, we watched the militia form, lovers bidding each other farewell, slaves being offered their freedom to fight if their owners supported the king's cause, and a dramatic ending including the reading of the Declaration of Independence, which all Virginians surrounding us had memorized, and climaxing in cannon and musket fire. 

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Great Grandma Grace

A trip to the East Coast wouldn't be complete without a trip to our nation's capital, would it? We spent a memorable week acquiring the swine flu there two years ago and had seen a lot of the sights already. Our main reason for visiting was that Great Grandma Grace lives there so we wanted to drop in to spend some time with her. After spending a day and night in Annapolis where we looked at a Hinckley 43, a boat that we may love, we headed north to Washington DC where the boys and I spent the day at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History before meeting Grandma for dinner. The boys were mesmerized as we walked through prehistoric fossils of trilobites of every size, brachiopods, and ancient sea creatures including the predecessor to whales, as they anxiously awaited our arrival in the ice age, where we saw giant sloths (they weren't kidding when they named them GIANT sloths, they were as big as elephants), wooly mammoths, and mastodons. They stood next to Lucy, gazed at the Hope Diamond, Aaron delighted in the different shapes and sizes of owls, and Isaac carried on a conversation with one of the Smithsonian workers that I thought might never end as they shared ideas and learned from one another. The Smithsonian guy was so excited to be talking with a kid that had such intelligent thoughts I thought he might never let us go. Each time we tried to continue through the museum, he would say, "Wait! Just one more thing...." His parting words to Isaac were, "Keep up the good work, you're going to win the Nobel Prize someday. Maybe some day you will be president!" as I beamed with pride in the background. The next day we spent a lovely afternoon in Grandma Grace's apartment where we shared a delicious lunch and warm conversation, Isaac performed card tricks, Aaron showed drawings, we shared this blog, and we got to see her photos and hear family stories. Thank you, Grace, for a wonderful afternoon. We are looking forward to our next visit with you. 

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chesapeake Bay

The day before we left Montana on this crazy trip, we bought the boys bows and arrows at their big Robin Hood class. Optimistically, we stored them in the camper van hoping that maybe we would get a chance to shoot them along the way. Ten weeks later, at an empty campground overlooking Chesapeake Bay, where the night before we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset as we sipped on a coffee mug of red wine and nibbled on stinky cheese, I must admit here that we have developed an affinity for the red wine and stinky cheese combo which seems a little odd given the vehicle we are driving and the number of days between showers we are achieving, we asked the fishin-huntin-weapon-lovin-rural-Maryland men running the campground if we could please have their permission to vigorously fire the bows and arrows. They whole-heartedly agreed to let the boys fling arrows to their hearts content, one of them chuckling how he, "couldn't wait to hear what his wife was gonna say." Thus the boys spent the better part of the day on a bluff overlooking the bay shooting as many holes in a Nature's Way Organic Peanut Butter Cookie box, and the occasional innocent tree, as they possibly could sacrificing two arrows to the grass-gods along the way.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Aircraft carriers, subs, and copper statues

A most useful tip from a friend brought to our attention that there is an air and space museum with an aircraft carrier and submarine located on the Hudson River. It was unanimous that this was a must-see, so on day two, after spending the morning with an ex-Time-magazine-exec-that-the-economy-downgraded-to-AP-staff-in-a-cubicle checking out his sailboat, we wandered around the decks of the U.S.S Intrepid, a WWII aircraft carrier. The boys crawled on huge guns, marveled at the size of the anchor chains, winches and lines, read about the Intrepid's history, and carefully checked out each fighter plane. It was a definite hit. Many thanks for the heads-up. On the way back to our home-sweet-parking-lot, we hopped off to catch a glimpse of Greenwich Village and a bite to eat before turning our sleepy heads in.

The next day, after a morning walk along the water and lunch at our new favorite taqueria, we set out for the Statue of Liberty. Due to trains and roads being closed along the way, we arrived at the ferry station much later than we had hoped and had to bypass Ellis Island (big bummer) and were only able to visit Liberty Island. It was so strange (pretty much applies to the whole visit to NYC) watching the statue getting closer and closer, finally seeing her in person for the first time. (Prepare for stream of consciousness.....) That's the thing that is so weird about our visit to NYC. Growing up we have grown accustomed to these iconic sites and finally seeing them for real is nuts. In our imaginations the were always larger than life and in real life they are still larger than life. Maybe it is because we had never really planned (in fact it was my desire to not drive the camper van here....never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would be crazy enough to drive the camper van to NYC) on actually stopping here so we were not mentally prepared. Whew, I digress! Onto the Statue of Liberty where the boys, I am proud to say, added another Junior Ranger badge to their collection. As you might guess from the earlier build-up, Lady Liberty was very impressive with her eight foot long fingers and masterfully molded lines. To celebrate her 125th birthday last Friday, they closed her down for a year-long renovation so no trip to the top for us. To top things off, we were treated to a fabulous sunset on the ferry ride back and a very strange, very squashed (seven people in your typical New York taxi) taxi ride back.

I can't end without mentioning the people. I have heard all kinds of things about New Yorkers.....that they are loud, obnoxious, rude, mean. I have to say our experience has been the exact opposite. People have been kind and helpful everywhere we have gone. We watch how strangers politely interact with each other on the subway. Things like, "excuse me, do you mind if I sit down here," when there is an empty seat, "yo, lady! You want dis seat?" when some tough guy sits down, quick apologies for accidental bumps on crowded streets, people asking if we need help when we are standing on the street with a map, and Jason reports that the staff in the emergency room in Jersey City were very nice and friendly. We have really enjoyed the company of New Yorkers this visit. 

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

New York, New York

When we told my mom about our plans for our crazy trip she thought we were insane to be camping down the East Coast. I rebutted, "C'mon mom, it's not like we are going to be camping in New York City." Mom, I have to admit to you here.....we are camping in New York City. Ok, really it's Jersey City, right across the Hudson River from Manhattan with spectacular views of the skyline that seem beyond surreal to us. We can literally see the Statue of Liberty from our parking lot campsite.

We arrived here after spending two nights in the Hamptons at Hither Hills State Park where the boys spent hours playing in the sand and I soaked up the sun and the sound of the pounding waves on the empty beach while sadly, Jason worked in the camper van. My guilt meter is high, but it was a much-needed day of rest and chilling for the boys and I.

On our first day in NYC, after weaving through the onslaught of tourist sharks trying to con us into spending almost $200 to go up into the Empire State Building so that we could avoid the "long lines", we waltzed into the Empire State Building and made it through, line-free, to the top. As you can imagine, Aaron was delighted by the view, as were the rest of us. Our next stop was Macy's because my dad said there was the world's biggest pipe organ and we had to check it out. After riding the cool old wooden escalator up nine floors, I finally asked someone where it was. Her response was, "A what? I don't even know what that is," before she hurried off to ask someone else. She came back informing me that they used to have one but they removed it years ago. Oh well, we tried Dad. Onto Times Square. All I can say is holy cow, this place is crazy. Crowded, flashy, advertisey, mesmerizing to those of us who do not watch television...it was like an all-out television advertisement assault....must go out and buy things.....  We sat on the stairs overlooking the square, eating our delicious, hole-in-the-wall, New York pizza, taking it all in. It was quite the experience. On the way back to the train we stopped at Bryant Park and watched the happy people ice-skating.

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