Places We’ve Seen

Places We’ve Seen

It’s important to us to get out of our motorhome and out of the campgrounds and see some of the sights in the area. One of the questions we always ask ourselves is, “Why is this place here?” And we don’t leave until we get a satisfactory answer. If it’s a populated area, it’s usually because of transportation or natural resources. If it’s a natural wonder, it’s usually because of geological forces from long ago.

Below is a list of some of the places we’ve seen since going full-time, listed in chronological order.


Canal Walk - Richmond VA

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

It was the last nice day of our stay at Pocahontas State Park. The weather forecast was calling for cold and rainy days ahead. David had some things to do around “home”, so I drove into Richmond on my own. I had read about the downtown Canal Walk and thought it would be fun to take some pictures.

I parked at the west end of the Canal Walk, which was close to the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge. I had to check out this bridge which hangs under the Robert E. Lee Bridge which is part of U.S. Route 301. This pedestrian bridge crosses over a section of the James River to small Belle Isle in the middle of the river. The walk over the bridge was interesting and traffic was not as loud as you might imagine. The river below is only 5 feet deep, rocky, and beautiful.

After walking the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge, I continued along the Canal Walk, which runs along the James River. There were many small bridges spanning the canal, making it possible to cross over and walk along either side. I noticed many downtown employees having lunch or otherwise taking advantage of the pretty area. The Canal Walk has access points at nearly every block between 5th and 17th streets.

Not far from the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge is the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge, which is another (newer) pedestrian bridge. This one spans the entire James River. I walked halfway across and then back, and headed home.

There were signs and quotes along the Canal Walk that illustrated the important roll Richmond played in the Civil War. It was worth a day of exploring.


Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg VA

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

We spent a couple of warm sunny days walking through Colonial Williamsburg, which is a 301-acre living history museum in the historic district in the modern city of Williamsburg VA. It includes some restored original buildings from the 18th century when the city was the capital of Colonial Virginia, along with reconstructions built mostly in the 1930s through the efforts of Rev Goodwin of Bruton Parish Church along with financial help from John D Rockefeller Jr and his wife Abby.

Colonial Williamsburg is one of the largest history projects in the nation and a major tourist attraction. It is part of the Historic Triangle of Virginia, which includes Jamestown and Yorktown. The three towns are linked by the Colonial Parkway, which is quite scenic, much of it running along the York River.

Colonial Williamsburg is unusual for having been constructed in a somewhat rundown section of a town during the Depression whose then current inhabitants and post-Colonial-era buildings were removed. In their place is a Colonial-era printing shop, a shoemaker’s shop, blacksmith, cabinetmaker, gunsmith, taverns, etc., as well as an impressive Episcopal church, the Capitol building, and the Governor’s Palace. Costumed employees work and dress as people did in that era. Horse-drawn buggies are everywhere.

Surviving colonial structures have been restored as close as possible to their 18th-century appearance. Many of the missing colonial structures were reconstructed on their original sites based on historical documents. The result is quite effective, and we did feel like we were visiting an important colonial city. The effect was heightened somewhat since we had recently visited the home of Thomas Jefferson. He was the last governor of the Colony of Virginia, and was instrumental in moving the capital from Williamsburg to Richmond at the start of the American Revolution.

Back when the restoration project was being planned, the city wisely insisted on maintaining control over the streets and sidewalks in the historic area. So unlike other living history museums, Colonial Williamsburg allows anyone to walk through the historic district free of charge, at any hour of the day.

However, you have to pay for entrance to the shops and museums. We chose to explore for free. Automobiles are restricted from the historic area, but there is free parking in the Visitors Center just a few blocks away with shuttles running back and forth.

The first day we went was on the Saturday before Halloween. The weekly Farmer’s Market was in full swing in the Market Square section. It was a great venue with a lot of vendors and live music. We returned a few days later to explore the rest of the historic area. All in all, it was a pleasant way to see the city and take in some history.


Monticello - Charlottesville VA

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦+

Monticello is the home of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was a very impressive guy. We all know that he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, but did you know he was only 33 when he wrote it? After writing the Declaration, he spent the next 33 years in public life. During the American Revolution, he served as a member of Congress, as Governor of Virginia, and as Minister to France. Afterward, he became America’s first Secretary of State under George Washington, its second Vice-President under John Adams, and was elected its third President.

Somehow, he also found the time to become a master architect, horticulturist, mechanic, surveyor, mathematician, and musician. And he spoke several languages. He was a prolific letter writer and record keeper. As a result of Jefferson’s meticulous record keeping and more than 50 years of scholarly research, Monticello is among the best-documented, best-preserved, and best-studied plantations in the country.

Monticello was the center of Jefferson’s world. It is situated on the summit of an 850-foot high peak in the Southwest Mountains near Charlottesville. The name Monticello is derived from the Italian for “little mount”. Jefferson inherited the initial 5,000 acres from his father and began designing and building Monticello at age 26. He designed every aspect of Monticello, constructing and modifying its buildings and landscape over a period of 40 years. It was always a work in progress.

We were looking forward to our visit to Monticello, and we weren’t disappointed. The 360-degree views from the hilltop alone were worth the price of admission. We spent most of the afternoon walking the grounds, but we also took a 45-minute guided tour of the inside of the first floor of the house.

In the main entry hall, a huge map of the Louisiana Territory is prominently hung on the wall, along with various artifacts brought back by Lewis and Clark. Jefferson was an inventor, and many of his inventions were on display throughout the rest of the home, including his Great Clock that indicated the time and day of the week, his “polygraph” that connected to his writing instrument thus making a second copy of the letter or document he was writing, and his innovative dumbwaiters that rose through the wine cellar’s ceiling and into both sides of the mantelpiece in the dining room above. 

We finished the day by walking past the family graveyard where Jefferson is buried. He wrote his own epitaph, which says, “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson • Author of the Declaration of American Independence and of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and Father of the University of Virginia.” Though remembered for so much, these were his three proudest accomplishments.

Monticello provided us with a wonderful glimpse into the life of one of history’s great figures. Jefferson was an extraordinary man, and his home is a singular place. As Americans, we are deeply grateful for both. 

Website: Monticello


Shenandoah National Park - Front Royal VA

RATING: ♦♦♦

Shenandoah National Park encompasses part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Virginia. The park is long and narrow, with the winding Shenandoah River and broad Shenandoah Valley on the west side, and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont on the east.

The park is best known for the Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that runs the entire length of the park along the ridge of the mountains. The drive is particularly popular in the fall when the leaves are changing colors.

On the day we were there, the traffic was fairly heavy. It was the third week of October, which is supposed to be peak leaf peeping time. But sadly, we saw very little color. There was a general sense of disappointment in the air.

We only drove the northernmost section, which was about 35 miles from Front Royal to Thornton Gap. The truth is that while the drive is certainly scenic, we found it a bit boring. This is similar to our experience driving the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Virginia. It’s a long slow drive (25-35 MPH) through the trees with overlooks every few miles, the view from each one much the same as the last.

If the leaves had been turning color, it would have made all the difference. Our neighbor at the campground comes this same week every year to see the leaves. He said that this year the foliage is about two weeks behind. He was disappointed, too.

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Big Pocono and the Delaware Water Gap - Monroe County PA

RATING: ♦♦♦♦+

From the Scotrun RV park, we took a second day trip up to Big Pocono State Park to see some more of the fall foliage. This is the highest point in the entire Pocono Mountains at 1,978 feet above sea level and has spectacular views.

At the upper elevations, the fall colors were beautiful. Unfortunately, it was not a clear day when we were up there, so we weren’t able to get any photos that showed just how beautiful it all was.

The Scotrun RV park is also near the Delaware Water Gap, where the Delaware River cuts through a large ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. Besides being wonderfully scenic, the gap is historically significant because it provided a vital passage for early travelers through the mountains.

The Delaware River runs through the Gap at an elevation of 280 feet above sea level while the mountains on either side are over 1,500 feet above sea level. It makes for a quite dramatic scene. The sides of the Gap are so steep that until the railroads came the only way through the Gap was by water. Roads didn’t come until much later.

The Delaware River forms the boundary between Pennsylvania and New Jersey and runs through the Gap. Today, I-80 passes through the Gap and across the river. The bridge over the river is actually part of the Appalachian Trail. We saw lots of hikers who were either beginning or ending their hike, and some who were crossing the river to continue back up the other side. You have to admire them.


New England Car Trip

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦+

As we planned our fall route, we didn’t think we’d have time to visit states east of New York before we’d have to head south for the winter. But then we decided to park the moho at a centrally located campground and just take the car throughout New England. Much faster and more nimble. We may not come up this way again, so this was our chance, and we’re so glad we took it! New England is everything we thought it would be. Our preferred methods of sightseeing are trolley and boat tours, and we took many. We saw historic fishing ports and the lively city of Boston. We wish we had taken more photos of the wonderful seafood we ate day after day. We also wish we would have had more time to explore. We loved this part of the country. This is a summary of our trip with links to the posts we wrote for each city we visited.

Portland Maine

Portland is crowded down to the waterfront; the old brick streets are narrow and go every which way and are full of cars and pedestrians. It is a working port, with container ships and cruise ships side by side. We had a lunch of fish tacos on the waterfront before taking a trolley tour out to the Portland Head Lighthouse, and then returned to the city for some shopping and dinner. Portland

Kennebunkport Maine

Who would have ever heard of Kennebunkport if it hadn’t been for President George H W Bush? This is his summer home, and it’s no wonder a person who could have anywhere for a summer home would choose this place. It is very compact, very cute, very upscale, and is now very crowded with tourists. We had the best lobster bisque and lobster rolls for lunch before taking a short trolley tour of the city. Kennebunkport

Portsmouth new hampshire

If there was one town we could go back to, it would be Portsmouth. We definitely didn’t plan enough time for this city. There are so many unique shops and restaurants along the narrow city streets. We had heard that Strawbery Banke was the place to visit while in town, so we spent a few hours there after our lunch of crab chowder and fish and chips on the waterfront. Portsmouth

boston massachusetts

Boston was amazing. Like all large cities, it was busy, crowded, and noisy. In order to see it all in one day, we took an Old Town Trolley Tour. We had taken Old Town Trolley in San Diego and Nashville, so we knew what to expect. The drivers are good tour guides. It’s a great way to learn about a city’s history, it’s architecture, it’s people, and it’s special places to visit. We can get off and on the trolleys throughout the day, visiting the places we want to see. This particular tour included a cruise of the harbor. We had lunch at Joe’s American Bar and Grill at the harbor. Boston

mystic connecticut

Becky’s sister Judy said we had to visit Mystic Connecticut, so we fit it into our plan. It was absolutely our favorite place! The small town is on the Mystic River, and is the site of the Mystic Seaport, the nation’s largest maritime museum. Most of the museum is outdoors, and is notable for its collection of historic sailing ships and boats. An entire 19th-century seafaring village has been re-created along the shoreline. We especially enjoyed a presentation of what it would have been like to work aboard a whaling vessel in the 1800’s. Lunch? We ate at the S&P Oyster Co Restaurant where the Seafood White Bean Chili and the Wood Grilled Ground Steak Burger with Vermont White Cheddar Cheese were delicious. Mystic

newport rhode island

We arrived in Newport in the late morning. It was foggy, but we booked a trolley tour hoping it would clear up. Except for about an hour in the early afternoon, it stayed foggy all day. We took a walk behind the mansions that line the ocean cliffs. There were high waves in the ocean due to the remnants of Hurricane Jose. It was a nice walk that would have been spectacular if the sky had been clear. One interesting note to those of us who are familiar with Commodore Perry: He was born in Newport and is buried here. There is a monument to him in a downtown park. Newport


Trolley Tour and Cliff Walk - Newport RI

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

It was foggy as we drove into Newport, and it remained foggy all day. We took our usual trolley tour of the town and surrounding area, but it was hard to see anything. Our driver kept reassuring us that there were beautiful views out there! We just couldn’t see them.

After our tour, we had a wonderful lunch at The Mooring Restaurant on Newport’s waterfront, then walked around the wharf shopping area and into town. The fog had lifted for about an hour or so, and we got a glimpse of how pretty Newport is.

We visited the Oliver Hazard Perry memorial in downtown Newport. Perry was born in nearby South Kingstown RI, on the west side of Narragansett Bay. Perry was the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.

It was interesting to see him memorialized here in Rhode Island. We think of him as belonging to the Toledo area, specifically to our former hometown of Perrysburg! But no, he is from Rhode Island. He actually died in Trinidad, and his remains were brought back and buried in Newport.

We then drove out to see the summer “cottages” of the rich and famous. Newport is built on a number of islands. While the Newport harbor faces the protected side of the main island, the cottages are along the rugged ocean shoreline on the opposite side.

You have to be very rich to call a 70 room mansion a “cottage”, and these people were rich: Astors, Vanderbilts, silver barons, and real estate tycoons. Visitors can tour the biggest mansion, The Breakers, for $25 per person. But that seemed a bit pricey for non-rich folks like us. So we decided to take the Newport Cliff Walk instead, since it was free.

The Cliff Walk is one of the top attractions in Newport. It is a 3.5-mile public access walkway that borders the shore line between the mansions and the sea. It has been designated a National Recreation Trail.

It connects many of Newport’s most famous gilded mansions, such as Beechwood,Rosecliff,Marble House,The Breakers,Ochre Court, andRough Point. Most of the Cliff Walk is paved and usually offers beautiful vistas along winding pathways if there’s little or no fog.

But by time we started the Cliff Walk, the fog was so heavy that it was nearly impossible to see the waves below or the mansions above. But we continued along the way until we reached the back side of The Breakers.

Even through the fog, The Breakers is a magnificent sight. It is the crown jewel of the Newport mansions. Built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, a member of the wealthy Vanderbilt family, it is now owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County. Seeing it up close made us wish we had opted to take the mansion tour after all, but by then it was too late in the day. Would definitely be something to come back to see.


Mystic Seaport - Mystic CT

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

While our motorhome was in the shop in Windsor Locks CT, we drove down to Mystic CT. Sister Judy had said this was a must-see in New England.

The small town is on the Mystic River, and is the site of the Mystic Seaport, the nation’s largest maritime museum. The town’s location on the river gave it easy access to Long Island Sound between New York and Boston, making it a leading seaport and shipbuilding area.

The town’s most dominant feature is the Mystic River Bascule Bridge, which crosses the river in the center of the village. A bascule bridge (sometimes referred to as a drawbridge) is a moveable bridge with a counterweight that continuously balances a span throughout its upward swing to provide clearance for boat traffic. The word “bascule” comes from the French term for balance scale, which employs the same principle. Because the bridge is open to foot traffic as well as automobile, it was possible to view the bridge mechanism up close. It is quite ingenious.

The Mystic River seemed aptly named. On the days we were there, the river was quite misty and somewhat mysterious. But according to the Mystic River Historical Society, the name “Mystic” actually is derived from the Pequot term “missi-tuk”, describing a large river whose waters are driven into waves by tides or wind. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful river with a wonderful name.

We stayed three nights at the Hyatt Place Mystic, which was very nice, reasonably priced, and included free breakfast.

On our first day after exploring the city, we had a late lunch at the S&P Oyster Co Restaurant upon the recommendation of a local. It turned out to be an excellent choice. It was right on the river next to the bridge in a beautiful garden setting. And the food was great, adding to our string of delightful dining experiences in New England. Becky had Seafood White Bean Chili, and David had a Wood Grilled Ground Steak Burger with Vermont White Cheddar Cheese. Delicious!

The next day we visited Mystic Seaport, whose full name is Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea. Most of the museum is outdoors, and is notable for its collection of historic sailing ships and boats. There is also an extensive shipyard that does restoration of historic vessels for the museum as well as for other organizations. Currently, they are restoring the Mayflower II in time for the 400th anniversary of the landing of the original Mayflower at Plymouth Colony in 1620.

The centerpiece of the historic vessel collection is the Charles W. Morgan, a whaling ship which was active in whaling for 80 years. She is the only surviving wooden whaler from 2,700 historical whalers that operated in the United States whaling fleet. On her deck are huge try pots used to render blubber into whale oil. She came to Mystic Seaport in 1941 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

In addition to the floating exhibits, an entire 19th-century seafaring village has been re-created along the shoreline. It captures what a village like Mystic would have been like in the 1800s. The village consists of more than 60 historic buildings, most of them rare commercial structures moved to the 19-acre site and meticulously restored.

There are guides throughout who explained what life was like then. We especially enjoyed the presentation of what it would have been like to be part of the whaling crew aboard the Morgan. The village contains nearly all the types of general and specialized trades associated with building and operating a sailing fleet. They include a chandlery, sail loft, ropewalk, cooperage, shipping agent’s office, printing office, bank, and others.

Each building is used both to show the original activity and to display multiple examples of objects sold or constructed; for instance, the nautical instrumentshop displayssextants, nautical timepieces, and the like. Demonstrations at the cooperage show how casks are assembled.

Additional buildings house more exhibits. One is a  1⁄128th scale model of the entire Mystic River area circa 1870, complete down to the outhouse behind every residence. The model is 40 feet long.

We spent the entire day at the Seaport, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and still didn’t see everything. In many ways, it was the highpoint of our time in New England.


Boston City and Harbor Tours - Boston MA

RATING: ♦♦♦+

We knew we had to see Boston on our whirlwind tour of New England, but after our expensive parking experience in Portland, we also knew we didn’t want to drive into the city. Our hotel was in Waltham, about 30 minutes outside of town and close to a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (also known as The T) rail station, so we took that. It was an easy and relatively cheap way into the city.

Upon arriving downtown, we looked for the Old Town Trolley Tour station. Trolley tours are our preferred method of exploring a city, and we have taken Old Town Trolley in San Diego and Nashville, so we knew what to expect in Boston. The drivers are good tour guides. It’s a great way to learn about a city’s history, it’s architecture, it’s people, and it’s special places to visit. We can get off and on the trolleys throughout the day, visiting the places we want to see.

Boston is very large and crazy busy. Everywhere we looked, we saw buildings and roads being constructed or repaired. There was scaffolding everywhere. Our first impression was that Boston is noisy and not very clean. On the plus side, the city park of Boston Common is centrally located and easily accessible for a nice break from the hustle and bustle. We also spent time at the pretty Public Garden, a large park adjacent to Boston Common, and took a walk through Christopher Columbus Park on our way to Joe’s American Bar & Grill for lunch.

Joe’s is located on Boston Harbor and has beautiful view of the water. Once again, we had a delicious meal. We found that New England really does have wonderful fresh seafood, and we are getting spoiled with the good eats.

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Our trolley tour included a tour of Boston Harbor by boat. So after lunch, we boarded our boat for our harbor cruise. It was a spectacularly beautiful sunny Sunday, and the city looked amazing from the water. We saw the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) that was build in Boston and launched in 1797. On the other side of the harbor, we saw airplanes coming in for a landing at Logan Airport.

Several cruise ships were in port, including the Queen Mary II, which is huge. There was also a spectacular yacht called the Mayan Queen, owned by Mexican multi-billionaireAlberto Baillères. There were lots of ordinary boats, mostly small sailboats, out on the harbor as well, all enjoying one last glorious summer day before fall sets in.

We’re glad we had the opportunity to visit Boston, but probably won’t do it again. If I had to choose only one New England city to revisit, it would be Portland.


Trolley Tour - Kennebunkport ME

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

After leaving Portland ME, we headed south to Kennebunkport. The town is located across the Kennebunk River from the town of Kennebunk. Kennebunk is several times larger than Kennebunkport, but Kennebunkport is more famous, because it is the location of the Bush family’s summer estate.

Aside from the bridge crossing the Kennebunk River, is was hard for us to know which town we were in. They are both charming and very picturesque. Both towns have been tourist destinations for centuries, but came to prominence when George H W Bush became president.

We knew we were only going to be in town for a few hours as this was a stopover on our way to Boston. We arrived just in time for lunch, and chose Federal Jack’s Restaurant because it overlooked the harbor. We had a delicious meal of Maine Lobster Bisque and Classic Lobster Rolls. Excellent!

We then took a short trolley tour of both towns, where we were able to get a pretty good look at Walkers Point and the summer home of President Bush. Kennebunkport has a reputation as a summer haven for the upper class and is one of the wealthiest communities in the state of Maine. It is a lovely little town.

After the tour we walked around a bit more, and then headed off to Boston.


City Tour - Portland ME

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

After spending the day in Portsmouth NH, we drove up to Portland ME, where we stayed for two nights at the Fireside Inn. We were pleasantly surprised to find Portland to be a vibrant and bustling city. Unknown to us, Portland is a stopover for cruise ships from New York, Montreal, and England. There were a lot of tourists in town.

The city is crowded down to the waterfront; the old brick streets are narrow and go every which way. Cars and pedestrians were accommodating and respectful in the small spaces. Parking is expensive. It was not unusual to see cars double parked (legally) in some places. We were able to find a space for $5/hour, and we were happy to have it.

We started our day with brunch at Becky’s Diner on the waterfront, which is very popular with locals and visitors alike. We each had the special for the day, fish tacos, which like most of the seafood we ate in New England was very fresh and wonderful. We forgot to take pictures.

We then took a trolley tour around town, which included a drive past a monument to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was born in Portland in 1807, and a side trip to the Portland Head Lighthouse. The waves along the shoreline were high because of Hurricane Jose, even though it was hundreds of miles offshore.

After the trolley tour, we walked around the old port area and downtown section. We found a fun store called Lisa Marie’s Made in Maine, where Becky bought earrings for herself and we bought sister Debbie a purple sea glass necklace, a late birthday gift.

The day ended with us dining at David’s Restaurant in Monument Square. As soon as we saw it, we felt obligated to eat there since we had begun the day at Becky’s Diner. But David’s Restaurant had more than a pretty name. Our dinner was excellent. David had Asian BBQ Pulled Pork and Becky had Mediterranean Bruschetta. Again, no pictures of our fabulous food.

A lot of the joy of traveling comes from having special experiences and great meals in unexpected places. And Portland is one of those places. We both loved this city and wish we had allowed for more time there.

From Portland we headed south to spend the next day in Kennebunkport.


Strawbery Banke - Portsmouth NH

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

We left our motorhome at Sturbridge, and drove the car to the New England coast. We arrived in Portsmouth NH at lunchtime, so our first order of business was to find a place to park in the busy downtown, and then look for a restaurant. The city streets and alleys are narrow, with unique shops and stores lining the sidewalks. It didn’t take long for us to come to the River House Restaurant, which turned out to be on the waterfront. We had the best clam chowder you could imagine, along with wonderful fish and chips. 

Then we headed out for a walk to the Strawbery Banke Museum. Our walk took us along the harbor, through Prescott Park and Trial Gardens.

Strawbery Banke is an outdoor history museum located in a historic district of Portsmouth. It is the oldest neighborhood in New Hampshire to be settled by Europeans, and the earliest neighborhood remaining in the city. It features more than 37 restored buildings built between the 17th and 19th centuries. The neighborhood’s history goes back to 1630, and it is named after the wild berries growing along the bank of Piscataqua River. Spelling had changed a bit since those early days.

While it was interesting to experience how early settlers lived in old Portsmouth, we believe it would be better to visit Strawbery Banke during the summer months when there would be more activities and demonstrations going on. The museum was pretty sleepy during our visit. Next stop – Portland.


Bennington Battle Monument - Bennington VT

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

From Arrowhead Marina and RV Park, we took a day trip to Bennington VT. The town is home to the Bennington Battle Monument, which is the tallest human-made structure in the state of Vermont. The monument honors the Battle of Bennington, which took place during the Revolutionary War.

On August 16, 1777, Gen. John Stark’s 1,500-strong New Hampshire Militia defeated 800 German (Hessian) mercenaries, local Loyalists, Canadians and Indians under the command of German Lt. Col. Friedrich Baum.

German reinforcements under the command of Lt. Col. Heinrich von Breymann looked set to reverse the outcome, but were prevented by the arrival of Seth Warner’s Green Mountain Boys, the Vermont militia founded by Ethan Allen.

In 1891, theBennington Battle Monumentwas opened to commemorate the victory. The monument is a 306-foot-high (93m) stoneobeliskthat is the tallest human-made structure in Vermont. It is a popular tourist attraction. An elevator takes visitors to the observation town. From there we could see the town of Bennington as well as parts of three states: Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York.

The general area around the town is mostly rolling hills with lots of forest. The hillsides were beginning to turn color when we drove through. There were colorful moose statues throughout the town. We are from Toledo OH where there are similar frog statues.

Definitely worth the day trip.


Lake George Jazz Festival - Lake George NY

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

From Arrowhead Marina and RV Park, we took a day trip to Lake George NY., which is both a lake and a town on the lake. The lake is nicknamed the “Queen of American Lakes”, which reportedly is what Thomas Jefferson called it when he visited.

It’s is a 32 mile long, narrow mountain lake located at the southeast base of the Adirondack Mountains, in the northeastern portion of Upstate New York. It drains all the way northward into Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River.

The lake is situated along the historical natural path between the valleys of the Hudson and St. Lawrence Rivers, and so lies on the direct land route between Albany, New York and Montreal, Canada used by the early settlers and the Native Americans long before that.

Because of its strategic importance, it was the site of Fort William Henry. The fort was an important battle site during the French and Indian War just prior to the American Revolution. The fort was destroyed during the war, but has since been reconstructed. The fort figures prominently in James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, The Last of the Mohicans.

The area around Lake George has been a favorite vacation spot for centuries. The lake shore has many large and beautiful mansions, which were summer homes for the rich folks from New York City. Although the year-round population of the Lake George region is relatively small, the summertime population can swell to over 50,000 residents. We were there in mid-September, so the crowds weren’t too bad.

We went to Lake George initially to attend the second day of a two-day long Jazz Festival, but the music wasn’t much to our liking. So we took a lake cruise and did some sightseeing instead. Glad we did. Really beautiful area.


Wine Tasting - Finger Lakes Area NY

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

The Finger Lakes is a group of 11 long, narrow, roughly north–south lakes in Central Upstate New York. This region is a popular tourist destination, as well as a major wine growing area, rivaling the Napa Valley in California.

According to Wikipedia, “Because of the lakes’ great depth, they provide a lake effect to the lush vineyards that flank their shores. Retaining residual summer warmth in the winter, and winter’s cold in the spring, the grapes are protected from disastrous spring frost during shoot growth, and early frost before the harvest. The main grape varieties grown are Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot noir, Cabernet Franc, Vidal blanc, Seyval blanc, and many Vitis labrusca (American native) varieties or cultivars.”

Over 100 wineries and vineyards are located around Seneca, Cayuga, Canandaigua, Keuka, Conesus, and Hemlock Lakes. Numerous wineries are open to visitors. Wineries are a growth industry of the region, contributing through their production and by attracting visitors. We only visited two of them: Bully Hill and Pleasant Valley.

Bully Hill was especially nice and included a free tour. We had yummy lunch on their spectacular deck. Pleasant Valley gets honorable mention because the wine tasting was free. Bully Hill charged $1.00 a sip.

Interestingly, we found out from our guide that these two wineries had a complicated history. The site of Bully Hill was originally owned by the Taylor Wine Company, and was started back in 1860 by the Taylor family. They moved their operation to the site of Pleasant Valley in 1920. In the 1950s, the company become publicly traded on the NYSE. In 1970, some members of the Taylor family left their positions at the Taylor Wine Company and started their own winery at the original site on Bully Hill.

In 1977, Taylor Wine Company was taken over by Coca Cola, and sued the Taylor family at Bully Hill for trademark infringement for mentioning the Taylor family name on the label. The Taylor family lost their legal struggle against Coke, but won the battle for public opinion. Coke eventually sold the company to Seagram, which sold it to others. Today, the Taylor Wine Company is no longer in business, though the Pleasant Valley Winery continues under different ownership.

We also visited the town of Watkins Glen, which is on Seneca Lake. We had planned to visit the state park. However, it was not accessible when we arrived because the town of Watkins Glen was having a Vintage Grand Prix auto race. Traffic was nuts. We planned to return later in the week to hike into the park, but the weather didn’t cooperate. A major disappointment.


Chautauqua Lake Rest Area - Bemus Point NY

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

We take our time traveling, and often stop at rest areas along the highway to take a moment to relax and maybe grab a bit out of the refrigerator. So we’re pretty familiar with rest areas.

Most are simply functional. A few are specially designated as state welcome centers and provide tourist information. Some even have an information desk.

When we crossed from Pennsylvania into New York on I-86, we pulled into the Chautauqua Lake Rest Area and were blown away. The rest area is on a high bluff called Bemus Point that overlooks the lake below. The view is breathtaking.

The building is a beautiful and spacious Victorian style facility. This is the western-most rest area and information center in New York and was our first look at the state. It gave us a very favorable impression on New York.

The Chautauqua Lake Rest Area is staffed daily and year-round, using a combination of staff and volunteers. There’s a rather extensive display inside that provides historical and cultural information about the area.

On the hillside surrounding the building, there are benches and picnic tables overlooking the lake. One the day we were there, several other couples were enjoying the view too. We were all astonished to have found such a gorgeous spot to spend a few minutes off the highway. No one was eager to get back on.


Covered Bridges - Ashtabula County OH

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

While at Kenisee Lake, we took a day trip to view the many covered bridges in the area. Most of them cross the Ashtabula River as it meanders down to Lake Erie. We had heard about the covered bridges in this part of Ohio. Very pretty.

Ashtabula County, which is in the upper northeast corner of the state, has made a concerted effort to preserve the old bridges and to even build new ones. Home to 19 covered bridges, Ashtabula County calls itself the “Covered Bridge Capital”. It is the home to the longest and shortest covered bridges in America!

Definitely worth the trip.


Ferry to Put-in-Bay OH

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

Put-in-Bay is a village located on South Bass Island in Lake Erie on the north coast of Ohio, a few miles from the Canadian border. The full-time population is between 100 and 150. The village is a popular summer resort and recreational destination with several hotels and many restaurants and bars. Ferry and airline services connect the community with the mainland.

We took the speedy Jet Express catamaran ferry from Sandusky, which made a quick stop at Cedar Point and another at Kelly’s Island, before docking at Put-in-Bay. Our visit capped a summer of exploring some key locations during the War of 1812, which included Fort Meigs, Prophetstown, and related locations in Cincinnati. We didn’t intend to have a theme for our summer travels, it just happened.

The bay played a significant role in the war as the location of the squadron of U.S. naval commanderOliver Hazard Perry, who sailed from the port on September 10, 1813 to engage aBritishsquadron just north of the island in theBattle of Lake Erie.

Nine vessels of the United States Navy defeated and captured six vessels of the British Royal Navy. It is the only time in history, before or since, that an entire squadron of the British navy was completely defeated. This ensured American control of the lake for the rest of the war, which in turn allowed the Americans to recover Detroit, win the Battle of the Thames in Canada, and break the Indian confederation of Tecumseh. It was one of the biggest naval battles of the War of 1812.

Oliver Hazard Perry was one of three national heroes of the war, along with Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison. Most Americans at the time credited these three with saving the country. (Our former home town of Perrysburg OH is named after Perry.) Sadly, Perry died of yellow fever in 1819 while on a naval expedition to negotiate an anti-piracy agreement with Venezuelan President Simón Bolívar. Jackson and Harrison both survived their military service and each in turn went on to be elected President of the United States.

At the 100th anniversary of this pivotal naval victory, the United States began construction of an impressive tower on South Bass Island to commemorate Perry’s victory over Britain and to celebrate America’s long-standing peace since the war with England and their former colony, Canada.

Construction of the monument, officially called Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, was completed in 1915. It is 352 feet tall and made up of 78 layers of pink granite, topped with an eleven ton bronze urn.

There is an elevator and stairway to an observatory at the top of the tower. Its height makes it the highest open-air observatory operated by the U.S. National Park Service. However on the day we visited, the monument and the observatory were closed for renovations.

Fortunately, there is a wonderful visitor’s center in front of the monument which provides a vivid description of the battle with scale models and explains it’s significance to American and Canadian history.

Over 2 million people annually visit the little town of Put-in-Bay. Some come to visit the memorial, but most come to party. Nicknamed the “Key West of the North”, Put-in-Bay offers lots of nightlife with live musical entertainment, strolling barbershop singers, bagpipers, steel drums, and lots of golf carts zipping around town. It actually reminds me more of Catalina Island than Key West. But basically, it’s a great place to have a good time, which we did, while including a bit of history in the process.

Website: https://www.putinbay.com/


Fort Meigs - Perrysburg OH

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

Fort Meigs was a United States fortification used during the War of 1812. The site is on a bluff overlooking the Maumee River rapids and is located in the modern day city of Perrysburg in northwest Ohio. The fort was built under the command of General William Henry Harrison and served a pivotal role in the War. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

The War of 1812 is an interesting period in American history. While battles were fought from Upper Canada to New Orleans, much of the war was conducted along the border between Canada and the United States on and around the Great Lakes.

The primary area in dispute was the Northwest Territory, which was the land between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, and included what became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

The Northwest Territory was ceded to the Americans by the British at the conclusion of the American Revolution. Ohio was the first state carved from the Territory in 1803. But the British were slow to leave the Territory, and saw it in their interest to prevent the Americans from occupying it.

American leaders suspected British agents of aiding the Indian resistance movement which was led by the Shawnee chief Tecumseh. From 1806 to 1811, Tecumseh sought to unite the Northwest Indian tribes against American expansion into their lands.

In 1811 William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Indiana Territory, led an expedition to disperse Tecumseh’s followers. At the Battle of Tippecanoe in Prophetstown near the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers, he managed to stave off an Indian attack on his camp. Upon reaching Tecumseh’s village, he reported the discovery of a cache of supplies and arms from the British agents in Canada.

On June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed an Act of Congress formally declaring war on Great Britain. Harrison was promoted to Major General, and ordered Fort Meigs to be built on the Maumee River in Ohio.

The Maumee Riverwas seen by both sides as having great strategic importance because itprovided a vital water passage from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico by way of a short portage connecting the Maumee River to the Wabash River to the Ohio River and then to the Mississippi River.

Ground was broken for the fort on February 2, 1813 in the middle of a bitter cold winter. The walls were constructed using logs cut to a 15-foot length, partially buried in the ground, then protected by a steep earthen slope thrown against the logs to strengthen them against bombardment. An embankment against the interior side provided a parapet. When completed, the fort was the largest wooden walled fortification in North America. At it’s peak, the fort was home to 2,800 soldiers.

The fort protected the interior of northwest Ohio and eastern Indiana from British invasion. It guarded the rapids of the Maumee River and acted as a counterbalance to the British Fort Miami that was across the river slightly downstream. (“Maumee” is a variation of “Miami”. The Miami were one of the Ohio Indian tribes, and lent their name not only to the Maumee River, but also to the Miami River in southeast Ohio. To add to the confusion, there is a Miami River in southeast Florida, which is named after the Mayaimi Indians who were no relation to the Miami Indians of Ohio. Hence, Miami University in Ohio and University of Miami in Florida.)

The British saw the fort as a serious threat to their control of the Great Lakes and Canada, and were intent on destroying it. They laid siege to the fort twice during the war with support from Tecumseh’s Confederacy. On the worst day of fighting, over 600 Americans were killed. But the British failed to capture the fort, and eventually retreated back to Detroit and Canada.

The original Fort Meigs was torn down shortly after the second siege and was rebuilt on a smaller scale. Instead of a full fort, it served as a supply depot till the end of the war. With this second fort built, the American army marched north towards Canada, leaving 100 Ohio militiamen behind to guard it.

This supply depot stood till the end of the war, but was then abandoned by the American army. Sometime after the war, it burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances.

The fort was reconstructed in the 1970s by the Ohio Historical Society. Beginning in 2000, the Society tore down the aging stockade and rebuilt it with new hand-hewn timbers. Workers also repaired the fort’s seven blockhouses, five artillery batteries and a quartermaster’s warehouse.

Each year, battle re-enactments are held portraying the events of the siege of Fort Meigs in May 1813, complete with American and British infantry and artillery. This event is held on Memorial Day weekend and is followed on Monday by a ceremony commemorating the fallen soldiers.

The Visitor Center features 3,000 square feet of exhibits on Ohio’s role in the War of 1812. The museum exhibit, Legacy of Freedom: Fort Meigs and the War of 1812, focuses on the themes of era, conflict, understanding and remembrance. These sections place the War of 1812 into the context of the times and explain Fort Meigs’ role in this pivotal conflict.

Becky and I lived in Perrysburg for many years, and went to the fort to view the fireworks display on the Fourth of July. But we never visited the museum. I’m glad we finally did. Perrysburg, by the way, is named after Commodore Perry, who defeated the British navy at the Battle of Lake Erie, effectively ending the War of 1812. Another interesting fact is that Perrysburg is one of only two cities founded by an Act of Congress, the other being Washington DC.

We found the museum as interesting as the reconstructed fort. When we were kids, our families used to picnic on the grounds. This was before the fort was reconstructed. I remember rolling down the grassy embankments with my cousins. In the winter, we’d come here to go sledding down the bluff toward the frozen river. It was great fun then, and it’s great fun now.

Website: http://www.fortmeigs.org/


Three Days in Cincinnati OH

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

In June, we stayed at two Thousand Trails campgrounds that were each about 40 miles away from Cincinnati but from opposite directions: Indian Lakes to the west, and Wilmington to the east. During that time, we took three day trips to explore the city.

Cincinnati is located on the Ohio River, and was founded in 1788. It’s home to the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, and the Cincinnati Bengals football team. Both stadiums are located on the waterfront.

At the time Cincinnati was first settled, Ohio was not yet a state. Because the city was northwest of the Ohio River, it was technically part of the Northwest Territory, which America had recently won from Britain as part of the 1783 Treaty of Paris at the end of the War of Independence . Ohio didn’t become a state until 15 years later in 1803.

Originally called “Losantiville,” Arthur St. Clair, then governor of the Northwest Territory, changed the name of the young settlement to “Cincinnati” in honor of the Society of the Cincinnati, which was made up of Revolutionary War officers, of which he was a member.

Statue of Cincinnatus

The Society still exists today, and is named in honor of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, who left his farm in 460 BC to accept a term as chief military leader in Ancient Rome to meet a war emergency. When the war was won, he returned power to the Senate and went back to plowing his fields. The members of the Society saw themselves doing much the same thing.

The Society was very prestigious following the Revolutionary War. George Washington was elected the first President General of the Society, and served from 1783 until his death in 1799. The second President General was Alexander Hamilton. Its members have included notable military and political leaders, including 23 signers of the United States Constitution. Many U.S. presidents have been members, most recently George H. W. Bush.

Because it was the first major American city founded after the American Revolution as well as the first major inland city in the country, Cincinnati is sometimes thought of as the first purely “American” city. During the first half of the 19th century, it was one of the fastest growing cities in the country.

Cincinnati is a working city, and as such is not really a tourist destination. However, we found a number of interesting places to see. Much of the charm of the city is the result of thecivic pride held byits early citizens, especially those who had fought in the Revolutionary War. The sense of optimism is quite apparent.

Spring Grove Cemetery

Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretumis a 733 acre garden cemetery and arboretum located at 4521 Spring Grove Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio. It is the second largest cemetery in the United States.

The cemetery dates from 1844, when members of the Cincinnati Horticultural Society formed a cemetery association. The numerous springs and groves in the area provided the name “Spring Grove”. The cemetery was formally chartered in January, 1845. The first burial took place in September.

In 1855, Adolph Strauch, a renowned landscape architect, was hired to beautify the grounds. His sense and layout of the “garden cemetery”, made of lakes, trees, and shrubs, is what visitors today still see. In 2007, the cemetery was designated a National Historic Landmark. The Spring Grove Cemetery Chapel is listed separately on the National Register of Historic Places.

We took a self guided walking tour on Tuesday evening, because every Tuesday during June, July, and August, the cemetery closes off its 45 miles of paved roadways to automobiles and makes them available for bicycling, baby strollers, walking, jogging, etc. from 6:00 to 8:00 pm.

Perhaps the one word that best describes the cemetery is “audacious.” It’s hard to imagine any city in America today setting aside 733 acres of prime real estate as a place to commemorate it’s most honored citizens among beautiful lakes and fountains.

Findlay Market

Findlay Market is located in the historic Over-the-Rhine district. Founded in 1842, it is Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market. The Findlay Market Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. It is the last remaining of the nine public markets that once served Cincinnati.

The story of the Findlay Market is another fine example of early Cincinnati’s civic pride. The land was donated by the estate of General James Findlay, who was an early Cincinnati settler and civic leader.

He built a log store near the Ohio River in 1793 and, a year or two later, moved operations to a larger general merchandise store around the corner from the original site. He was among the early entrepreneurs and land speculators who both fueled and profited from young Cincinnati’s rapid growth.

Findlay served as Mayor of Cincinnati in 1805-06 and 1810-11. He and twenty-four other citizens established a public library in Cincinnati in 1802. At the outbreak of the War of 1812 against Britain, he commanded a regiment near Detroit, and was awarded the rank of Major General.

America foughtthe War of 1812 for several reasons, but primarily to finally gain full control of the Northwest Territory, which they had “won” from Britain in the Treaty of 1783. During the War, Findlaybuilt a fort near what later became Findlay, Ohio, and was taken prisoner by British troops.

Following the war, he was elected to the U.S. Congress and served as a Major General of the Ohio State Militia’s First Division. Findlay served in Congress with his brothers William and John, one of only two times in American history that three siblings served simultaneously.

With profits from his successful retail business, James Findlay purchased large tracts of wooded land immediately north of the Cincinnati city line. Hoping to develop the area, Findlay recorded a town plat in 1833, which included a location for a farmers market and general store.

General James Findlay died in 1835 before the market and store could be built. His widow, Jane Irwin Findlay, remained a prominent citizen of Cincinnati. In 1840, she moved briefly to the White House in Washington, D.C. where she assisted her niece, Jane Irwin, President William Henry Harrison’s daughter in law.

The newly elected President had asked Mrs. Irwin to stand in as the nation’s official First Lady because his wife was too ill to accompany him to Washington. The assignment proved short lived because President Harrison himself died of an illness in 1841 shortly after taking office. Mrs. Findlay returned to Cincinnati, where she died in 1851. She and General James Findlay are buried in Spring Grove Cemetery.

After her death, executors of the Findlay estate donated the parcel identified as a market on the town plat to the City of Cincinnati, stipulating that it be used to build a public market named for and commemorating General Findlay.

Today, Findlay Market has more than 40 indoor merchants selling meat, fish, poultry, produce, flowers, cheese, deli, and ethnic foods.On Saturdays and Sundays from March to December, the Market hosts a farmers’ market and other outdoor vendors, street performers, and special events.

We went on Saturday morning. It was crowded, but fun. We very much enjoyed the sights and sounds as well as a fine meal from one of the outdoor food vendors.

The Belle of Cincinnati

One of the best ways to see Cincinnati is by water along the Ohio River. We took an afternoon cruise on the Belle of Cincinnati river boat, which actually launches from Newport, KY on the opposite side of the river.

The riverboat cruise comes with or without dinning. We opted for the sightseeing only cruise for $23.00 each. The lunch cruise is $40.00 and the dinner cruise is $55.00.

We went mid-week on a sunny afternoon. The boat started downriver, crossing under the John A Roebling Suspension Bridge. The bridge was designed by John A Roebling, and at the time was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It was built during the Civil War, and completed in 1866. The bridge resembles in many ways the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, which Roebling’s son, Washington Roebling, went on to build 30 years later.

After passing under the historic bridge, we turned around and went upstream for several miles, before returning back to port. For most of the trip, our captain played river songs on the banjo (not sure if it was live or recorded) and provided historic commentary of this beautiful river city.

We were glad to see that modern day Cincinnati still has some of the civic pride of earlier generations. Along with the two Kentucky cities on the opposite shore, it makes good use of its riverfront. The two most dominant structures on the Ohio side are the Reds baseball stadium, Great American Ball Park, and the Bengals football stadium, Paul Brown Stadium.

Between the two stadiums is The Banks project, which includes apartments, retail, restaurants, and offices, and stretches from Great American Ball Park to Paul Brown Stadium. The Smale Riverfront Park has been developed along with The Banks, and is Cincinnati’s newest park. From the riverboat, we could see lots of activity at the park, which is a long grassy area between the buildings and the riverfront. It looked very inviting.

We also visited Washington Park which is just a few blocks in from the river near Findlay Market. The parks and the market show that Downtown Cincinnati is alive and well.


Touring Nashville - Nashville TN

RATING:

Since we were in Nashville for the Nashville Boogie festival, we decided to take a guided tour of the city on the Old Town Trolley the following day. The trolley stops at 15 sites around town, and we could get off and on whenever we wanted throughout the day for one price of $34 each. The drivers are knowledgeable about the city and the attractions. Old Town Trolley operates in many other cities across the country, including San Diego, where we lived for 12 years. We would always take the trolley there when we had visitors. It’s an easy way to see a city.

We started our tour in the honky tonk district downtown. We had a great lunch at the Wildhorse Saloon, and then did some window shopping along Broadway as we headed toward the pedestrian bridge to walk across the Cumberland River. The bridge was a wonderful break from the crazy busy downtown sidewalks. It is nice and wide, plenty of room for everybody. We had awesome views of the city on one side and Nissan Stadium on the other, with the river below.

We are not big country music fans, so when we got back on the trolley we decided to let the guide tell us about places such as the Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame, but get off and explore only those sites that interested us the most.

We spent over an hour at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. I wanted to see the 95-Bell Carillon that plays a portion of the Tennessee Waltz every quarter hour and the entire waltz on the hour. It also plays other songs by well-known artists associated with Nashville. When we were there, it played Love Me Tender by the King. In addition to the carillon, the park has a really cool 200-foot long granite map of the state embedded in the ground. We took a picture that shows the map with the Tennessee State Capitol on a high hill in the background.

We spent another hour or so at the Parthenon at Centennial Park, which was something that David especially wanted to see. The Nashville Parthenon is the world’s only 1-to-1 replica of the original temple to the goddess Athena that was built in 438 B.C. This replica was built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. It’s an impressive structure from the outside, but what blew our minds was the 42-foot high gilded statue of Athena inside the temple. The statue was started in 1990 and completed in 1998. Athena gives visitors the impression of truly being inside an ancient temple. It’s the largest piece of indoor sculpture in the western world.

Nashville is an exciting city with too much to do in one day. If we had it to do over, we would have skipped the Boogie Vintage Festival and bought a two-day pass on the trolley.


Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center - White Springs FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

The Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center is part of the Stephen Foster State Park where we spent two nights in the campground. 

The center has a museum and carillon tower that house exhibits and dioramas depicting scenes from some of Stephen Foster’s songs. The carillon tower is normally scheduled to play several times throughout the day, but unfortunately, it had been struck by lightening and was not working when we were there.

There are miles of multipurpose trails for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding. You can rent canoes or kayaks for use on the river. Although, poor Florida is going through a terrible drought and the river is currently very low and slow moving.

The park was quiet during our stay, but music festivals are held here throughout the year. Their annual Florida Folk Festival is held over Memorial Day weekend. This will be their 65th annual event, with over 300 performers. Sounds like fun!


Sponge Docks - Tarpon Springs FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

It was a beautiful day for a drive over to the Gulf to visit the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. We started our day with lunch at Rusty Bellies waterfront restaurant, then headed out to learn about sponges.

The Sponge Docks area is filled with gift shops, all competing for business. Everyone we met seemed to know everything there was to know about sponges, and they wanted us to buy from them. But even with the sales pressure, it was not an unpleasant experience. We learned a lot about the local sponge industry. I ended up buying a small “sea wool” sponge, which had been cut from a much larger sponge.

Tarpon Springs was initially developed as a winter destination for wealthy northerners, but it was soon discovered that money could be made from harvesting the sponges growing in the Gulf. A thriving sponge industry developed and was firmly established by 1890.

Over the next few years, experienced divers from Greece were brought to the area to increase harvests. A large Greek community sprang up, and today, Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the US. The town is now famous not only for the world’s finest sponges, but for some great Greek restaurants, markets, and bakeries.

We would come back to Tarpon Springs and probably will next year. It’s such an interesting place. The food was great, the shops had unique gifts, there were street musicians and artists. I took a few photos of bicycles that were decorated by a local artist and placed around on the streets a few years ago, making the already charming town a little more so.

Fun facts:  A sponge is the skeleton of an aquatic animal, not a plant. Some sponges can pump 10,000 times their own size (volume) in water in one day. Some sponges are thought to live over 100 years.

Website: Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks


Having Fun at The Villages, FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

Would you like to live in a community with clean streets, safe neighborhoods, ample shopping, plenty of parking, lots of open space, and nightly live free entertainment outdoors in the town square? Such a place does exist. It’s called The Villages, which is south of Ocala and northwest of Orlando.

We discovered The Villages by accident on our first RV trip to Florida in Spring 2016. At first, our reaction was negative. It was like “what are all these people doing living in Disneyland?” So many of the commercial buildings are new but made to look old. There are golf courses everywhere, and most residents buzz around on golf carts.

There are three main sections, each with its own town square. Each square has live music every day between 5 and 9 pm (Happy Hour is from 5 to 6). Each square also hosts farmer’s markets, craft and art exhibits, and they have a community center with too many activities to mention.

  • Spanish Springs – built like a Spanish mission.
  • Lake Sumter Landings –  built like a New England fishing village.
  • Brownwood Station – built like a 150 year cattle ranch.

The Villages is a 55+ community. According the the Census Bureau, the median age was 66. And the place is booming! In 2000 the population was just 8,333. By 2016, the population had ballooned to 157,000. It’s been the fastest growing community in America for the past four years.

We have come to love The Villages. It’s so much fun. Safe fun, for old people. How cool is that! I guess it’s all about timing. 2016 is the same year I turned 65 and Becky turned 62. In other words, we fit right in.

Website: The Villages


Castillo de San Marcos - St Augustine FL

Rating: ♦♦♦♦♦

We spent the day in St. Augustine, which was founded in 1565. It is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement within the borders of the continental United States. We very much enjoyed our walk through the streets of the historic downtown section. There’s also a trolley tour for those who don’t want to walk. And the visitor’s center was definitely worth a stop.

The main attraction is the Castillo de San Marcos. It is a large stone fort built by the Spanish when they controlled the area. For a structure that was built in 1672, it is in exceptionally good shape. The fort is made of coquina (Spanish for small shells), which is ancient shells that have bonded together to form a type of stone similar to limestone. The stone is soft, so enemy canon balls would be absorbed into the wall, as if it was a nerf fort. The stone is also fire resistant, unlike a typical wooden fort. Basically, it was impenetrable to enemy attack.

The ranger at the fort gave a good history lesson on the fort and the town of St. Augustine. We plan to go back as there was too much to see and do in one day.


Silver Springs State Park - Silver Springs FL

RATING: ♦♦♦+

The jewel of Silver Springs State Park is a group of springs feeding the Silver River at the edge of the Ocala National Forest. The Springs bubble up from the Florida aquifer to form the largest artesian spring in the world.

Though now a state park, Silver Springs is Florida’s oldest tourist attraction, renowned for the Glass Bottom Boat tours begun in 1871. Tourists have flocked to see the naturally crystal-clear waters for centuries.

Our guide pointed out the ruins of a sunken rowboat partly preserved at the bottom of one of the springs. We could see it quite clearly. State archaeologists believe it was part of the Hernando de Soto expedition in 1539.

Scientific studies of the Springs’ artifacts and wildlife weren’t conducted until 1993. That year the state bought the underlying land, but private operators continued to conduct the concessions. 

The state also established a  59 site campground next to the main springs area that is quite popular. We originally planned to stay there, but they were full. So we went to the nearby Salt Springs Recreation Area instead.

The boat rides have continued to operate, and open an unique window to the area’s aquatic life. We saw alligators and turtles, catfish and mullet, and birds such as cormorants, great blue herons, great egrets, ibis, and limpkin.

Silver Springs has been the site of many Hollywood films, including a number of Tarzan films as well as the Sea Hunt television series. Perhaps the oddest site we saw was a group of  three large stone statues of Greek gods at the bottom of the main spring. They were used in a James Bond movie.

In 2013, the State of Florida took over full management of the entire springs area. They combined it with the existing Silver River State Park and campground to create the new Silver Springs State Park.

So even though Silver Springs is a now state park, it still has a strong tourist attraction feel to it that can be a bit jarring. But the natural beauty is undeniable. In 1971 it was designated as a National Natural Landmark.


Disney Springs - Orlando FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

We spent several weeks camping close to Orlando, and we felt we wanted to experience Disney without spending a small fortune. The theme parks are so expensive now, and we’ve been to them many times in the past.

Disney Springs (formerly called Downtown Disney) is the perfect way to get the feel of a Disney park without the cost. There are shops, restaurants and bars, stage shows, a carousel, even a hot air balloon ride. The night life is lively and fun, with kid-friendly dancing and live performers throughout the town. There is so much to do here that we came back a second day. 

After exploring the streets of Disney Springs, we hopped on a boat and cruised over to several Disney resorts, and the next day took a bus to a couple more We really enjoyed the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Got up close and personal with a family of giraffes.

Disney makes it easy and fun to get from one of their properties to another, and the transportation is all free. 


Sandy Bottoms Beach Restaurant - Amelia Island GA

RATING: ♦♦♦+

David was getting over a bad cold while we were at Jacksonville/St. Marys KOA, but we were able to get out for a drive along the coast. We had lunch at this beachside restaurant. Nothing fancy, but it was nice to have a beer and put our toes in the warm sand.

Sandy Bottoms


Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge - Folkston GA

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

This place was a long hour’s drive from our campground, and the weather was cold and dreary, but we thoroughly enjoyed our day here. The highlight was a boat tour through the swamp. We don’t typically call a swamp beautiful, but the Okefenokee is beautiful. Our boat route was lined with native plants, along with cypress trees draped in Spanish moss.

We saw a lot of alligators, of course, and many turtles. And we were lucky that half our boat was filled with an Audubon Society bird watching group! They spotted owls, hawks, herons, kingfishers, warblers, woodpeckers, and other birds. When someone spied an unusual bird, up would come the cameras with their big lenses and they would snap, snap, snap, then compare their photos. They were especially excited to see something called a bittern. (Even I got a pretty good picture of that.) Their enthusiasm was contagious, and we learned much about birds of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Our tour guide was interesting and knowledgeable as well. 😉


Old Salem - Winston Salem NC

RATING: ♦♦♦

Old Salem is a town that has been preserved and restored as a way for people to learn about and experience the lives of the Moravian Church community that settled the area.

There are the usual shops and restaurants, but we also saw exhibits of historic trades that were practiced years ago, including a gunsmith, potter, and tailor.

Website: Old Salem


SS Badger Ferry - Ludington MI

RATING: TBD

How cool is this? You can drive US Hwy 10 from east to west across Michigan until you get to Ludington. Then you can drive your vehicle (car, van, semi-truck!, motorhome!) onto the SS Badger Ferry and continue west across the lake until you get to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Then you drive off and continue on US Hwy 10. The route is designated as part of US Hwy 10.

Crossing time is 4 hours. Fare for a motorhome is $5.95/ft one way, plus the fare for passengers, $59 each adult. That would be $356 for us. The ferry has been operating since 1952. It operates from May to October.

We did not take the trip this time, but only watched as the ferry came into port and the vehicles and people disembarked. This would be a great shortcut if we were in a rush to get to Wisconsin.


Mears State Park - Pentwater MI

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

This was another wonderful Lake Michigan beach. Gotta say, they are the absolute best! Mears State Park is located alongside the tiny village of Pentwater (pop 857). For such a small town, this place was filled with shops, outdoor restaurants, art galleries, etc. It was a surprising gem!


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore - Empire MI

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

Whoa, this is cool! We were there on a day that one would call perfect. Beautiful blue sky and warm sunshine sparkling off fabulous Lake Michigan. We were only able to spend one day at the park, but would come back again in a heartbeat. There’s so much to see and do, both in the park and in the surrounding area.

The highlight of our visit was the views from the overlook at the top of the dunes. We heeded the warnings to NOT go to the bottom of the sand hill. Even though it’s just a few minutes down, it a grueling 2 hour trek back up. Quote from the NPS.gov website:  “Climbing to the top of the Dune Climb is strenuous but rewarding, so be sure to evaluate your physical abilities before you start.” We evaluated and decided not to go. It was fabulous to see from the top though.

Update: January 2017, National Geographic named Sleeping Bear Dunes one of the 21 best beaches in the world.

Website: Sleeping Bear Dunes


Charlevoix MI

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

Charlevoix deserves it’s own post. It calls itself “the Beautiful”, and it is. Charlevoix  is situated on a little river and small lake that connects Lake Michigan with Lake Charlevoix.

The town is surrounded by water and boats, and boasts a truly beautiful downtown. The beach on Lake Michigan is great for kite flying. We enjoyed a summer evening concert at the waterfront amphitheater. Even their public library was amazing for a small town this size (pop 2,513). This is the sort of town that makes me marvel that people live here.


Mammoth Cave National Park - Cave City KY

RATING: ♦♦♦

Mammoth Cave is easily accessible, just off I-65 in central Kentucky. Our Thousand Trails campground (Diamond Caverns) was located on the road leading to the national park, so we explored the park a few times during our stay in the area.

You can choose a cave tour according to your needs. There are easy, moderate, and strenuous tours. We took the moderate Domes and Dripstones Tour which was a fine way to get underground and experience the caves, but I’m wondering if one of the other tours might have been more interesting. This one was basically 2 hours of walking in the dark, with a few highlighted areas, but not that much to see. In all fairness, two of the most popular tours were closed for repairs. So our choices were limited.

Maybe we’re just not cave people. You can hike the above-ground trails on your own, or pay for a guided tour where you learn about the topography and plant and animal life. I enjoyed the short Heritage Walk Tour where the ranger told stories of the early Mammoth Cave Estate and the old cemetery.