Thursday, September 14, 2017

Avoiding Irma and Checking off the Bucket List

So after a three year hiatus from travel blogging, I was able to put the work down and do a little story for you during this vacation. I hope you enjoy! 

We usually take a vacation in the Fall around the time of our anniversary, so this year was no different. We discussed many options, and almost always decide we need a relaxing week away at the beach somewhere between South Carolina and Florida. This year, the threat of Hurricane Irma sent us north, with threats of severe storms and winds as far north as East Tennessee. We are always last minute planners, based on where the weather looks good on the 7 to 10 day forecast. This time, the only place in the country that seemed interesting (within driving distance) was  New England. This is a trip we've wanted to make for a long time, but it's usually cold when decide to hit the road - and I don't do cold. This time, though, the weather was going to be unusually warm in the northeast, so we decided to wing it and just left home on a Saturday morning, heading north. We were about 30 minutes from home when I discovered my clothes that were hanging in the doorway were not in the car with us, just the ones in my suitcase. Oh well, a week of t-shirts worked out pretty well, but I may have been the most casual tourist New England has seen in a while.

Day 1:

We started our day at where else - McDonalds  - because they have the best coffee and a bacon,egg, and cheese biscuit will provide enough fuel (and oil) to get you across the country. We got a late start, so we will have to catch Cracker Barrel on the way back. We met a nice older (than us) couple driving a Miata from Florida. They were volunteers with the Southern Baptist Relief efforts who were originally headed to Texas to help with childcare, but were waiting for further instructions to possibly go back and serve in their own hometown. We miss our Miata. 

Our first stop was in Natural Bridge, Virginia. A whole town named for a bridge seems rather odd, until you see why. This place is amazing. A couple of tips: 1) take good shoes (one lady was walking out limping in heels and her husband was planning her ice pack). Yes, she was still wearing the shoes.  2) unless you are in excellent physical shape, take those stairs back up slowly. Stop to enjoy the trees and the creek, because at the top I though I was going to have an asthma attack.

Tonight, we stopped in Winchester, Virgina. I loved this little town square with the violinist, the shops, restaurants and even a church or two just across the street from the George Washington Hotel, where we snagged a good last minute deal from

If you use this link to book your next hotel room, we will both get $25!

Day 2:

We headed out after Jay had breakfast at the hotel (too early for me). Next destination: Philadelphia. Getting to Philly was not fun. First, the lady at OnStar giving us directions was more geographically challenged than I am. We asked for directions to Philladelphia and she wanted to know if it was in the state of Pittsburgh. Uh, no. Last I checked Pittsburgh was still just a city. There were a lot of toll roads and not much information for those of us who have never had to deal with tolls before. For example, in Harrisonburg (I think), we went through a toll stop and no one was there, so we just drove on through. At the next stop, we took the lane that said CASH ONLY and the guy asked us for our ticket. We said what ticket? He said how did you get here? We told him our route and he said "where you from?" We said Tennessee, and he said "Pittsburgh?" What is it with Pittsburgh today?!! I'm not even a Steelers fan, y'all.

Once we made it into Philly, we drove around looking for parking and there was plenty, but this is where it started to get pricey. Parking was $3 per hour minimum, and we had no idea how long we wanted to walk around or if we were going to need to get back in the car to see what we wanted to see. We parked and walked down to the market and had (what else) a Philly Cheesesteak. It was probably one of the best I've had, but not THE best. It was around $20 for one sandwich and drink that we shared.

WE walked around and saw the Liberty Bell, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the burial place of Thomas Jefferson and few other interesting sites. Some required tickets and we were too late in the day to get in.

From here, we drove on out to Atlantic City, which wasn't that far. We drove around the town before deciding to check out the Tropicana Casino. They had some good rates, but we waited too long and missed them; this town was so dirty that we didn't even go out to the boardwalk that is so famous. Lots of sketchy-looking people around. The casino was beautiful inside and there were several contestants there who were in the Miss America pageant held in the convention center there. We did have one of the best meals of the week at PF Changs.

We also discovered it's against the law in Jersey to pump your own gas, so we gladly let someone else do it. Jay didn't particularly want to give them our credit card, so we paid with cash. Once you get onto the interstates in NJ, you'll find the rest areas are now called Service Centers. They actually make a lot of money at these places, no doubt, and you don't have to leave the highway to find fast food or gas. They were all very clean. We found these in NY and CT as well. Rhode Island's rest areas were more like ours, but lacked a lot of TLC. They appear to be deserted and many close after 4 p.m. We spent the night in some hotel in ? I'm not sure but it was nothing to write home about. We did not like the streets here, though, because you can't turn left to get to something on the other side of the highway, like a hotel or a restaurant; you have to turn right to turn left. Make sense? Nope. This is when I said "Now I know why the f-word is so popular in the north." 

We did pass through the outskirts of NYC on 9/11 during the memorial service. Never forget. 

Day 3:

After all the running around and uncertainty of Day 2, I decided Day 3 would be where we land for the rest of the trip. Once we were around NYC, the travel went fairly quickly. I found a room on Martha's Vineyard at a decent price because it's the off season there and booked a room. I had no idea all the cost and the hassle this would be, but it's one of those places we always wanted to go, so here we are. Once we drove through RI, we entered MA and drove out to Cape Cod to a beautiful little town called Falmouth, recommended by a friend. Here, we put our car on a ferry and went on over to the island of Martha's Vineyard. Cost was $85 each way. It took about 45 minutes to travel by ferry. There is also the option of leaving your car at the ferry and just going without it. I'd recommend this for anyone traveling there by car, because we didn't move our car all week.

We arrived at MV around 6 in the evening and checked in at the Summercamp Hotel. Although it's nothing like it is depicted on their website, I'd recommend it for a long weekend or a 3 day stay. Being here for 4 nights made us a little claustrophobic. The rooms are very cute, enough room for two people, but the chairs are not very comfortable. We spent a lot of time on the front porch of the hotel, which is nice.

There is a street that runs right in front of the hotel (which I'd call more of an Inn than a hotel), and a beautiful harbor to watch the boats from your window or from the porch. Most of the day there's not much traffic, but it's fairly noisy with the windows open.

The area we are in is very cute, full of colorful "Gingerbread Houses." More on that later.

Day 4:

After a good night's sleep, we were rested up and ready to explore. We walked up the street and hopped on a bus to take us from Oak Bluffs (the town we are in) to the next town over, Edgartown. 

This town was highly recommended by friends, and did not disappoint. Here, we walked around and took pictures of the beautiful New England homes, did a little shopping, some more eating, and then headed back on the bus. It was $2.50 each way per person. Not bad.

Day 5:

We did a lot of walking on this trip. I can see now why New Englanders are slimmer than southerners. It's not because they don't fry their food, and don't let them tell you otherwise. We haven't found broiled seafood on anyone's menu here. I'm sure it's out there, just the luck of the draw for us. It's partly because they can walk to a lot of places in these small towns (as well as big cities) that helps them stay healthier. Many don't own cars, they just walk, bike, take the bus, the ferry, or the train wherever they need to go.

Today, we took a tour of the entire island, which lasted 3 hours. Yes, a 3 hour tour. In a van, no worries. The guide was a young recent graduate of U Mass and wasn't very familiar with the area, so it was a little disappointing on that end, but the scenery was well worth the trip.

Tonight, we went to see a movie just across the street, in a retro movie theater. So much fun. The movie was good, also - men and women alike would enjoy it if you like a good murder mystery. It's called Wind River.

Day 6:

Slept late, walked around the area where we are staying, referred to as the Camp Ground. This place is packed with Gingerbread Cottages, surrounding Wesleyan Park, where services were held in tents back in the late 1800s. The tents eventually became the original "tiny houses" and there are 300 of them, all painted and styled differently. These are privately owned, but the Methodist church still owns the land they sit on. You can snag one of these for about $600,000 more or less. I did find a one room "condo" here for just under $200,000.

After a lunch at Biscuits, we decided we'd better work some of it off, so we rode bikes around Oak Bluffs until I hit a speed bump too hard and knocked the basket off my bike. I was afraid something else might fall off of it (like me) so we finished up and came back for a nap.

Oh yeah, Jaws was filmed here, and they show the movie quite often. 

Today, we must decide what we are doing the next three days. They tell us we can't get off the island until 7 p.m. tomorrow because we didn't reserve a spot for our car on the ferry ahead of time. I have heard you just show up and they usually can get you on one of the next ones, so let's hope so, otherwise it will be a long day. We are hoping to use up our last day exploring some of the smaller towns around the Cape before we have to head back, because it's about 16 hours, which means at least 20 for us because we like to stop often.  Maine will have to wait until next year. 

Things you will not see on Martha's Vineyard:

1. McDonalds

2. Walmart

3. Starbucks

4. Panhandlers

5. Southerners 

6. Camouflage clothing

7. Vineyards

Summercamp Hotel at night. I'd choose the big room in the tower or room 101 with the private porch if given a choice (and if I won the lottery). 

And ...we're off! We were able to get on the first ferry out, even though the first ticket available was for 12 hours later. Thank the Lord for that! When you're done, you're done!

For those of you who are interested in what we ate: we tried several places and only two meals were noteworthy: the award-winning clam chowder from the MV Chowder Company - the salmon and the wedge salad were also very delicious. We both agree that our most favorite meal was the carbonara from Jimmy Seas Italian restaurant. They serve each dish in the pan it's made in. We shared and still had more than we could eat. This was my last big meal before starting my diet. When I left home I had 20 pounds to lose. It's probably 25 now! 

Travel tips:

Take food, its expensive to eat there. The average sandwich is about $17.

Leave your car at the ferry parking lot, you won't need it. That will save you over $100.00.

Be aware that photos posted by hotels are deceiving. Waterfront may not be what you'd consider "waterfront."

Ride a bike.

T-shirts fit in just fine.

Don't expect the food to be as good as Charleston or Savannah, or your mom's. 

So our overall impression of Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod? We are both glad we were able to make the trip, but it's now marked off the bucket list and we can move on with our lives. Nothing compares to a week of relaxation on a South Carolina, Georgia, or Florida beach in an oceanfront room with a balcony, but sometimes we just need to see the world around us.