The rest of the Eastern seaboard…

Our plan was to go to Washington DC to see the town but more importantly visit my friend Rajeev who I worked with at the Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal over 35 years ago. We kept in touch for many years then lost each other… then Facebook. He left Canada with his family about 30 years ago to take on the role of Hilton Executive Chef outside Washington in the Pentagon area. Once we were set up in our RV site, we set the GPS to Rajeev’s address and had a fantastic evening with him and Sarita, his wife.  We laughed and chatted like no time had passed. Alas, that was the only time we could get together as his hotel had some big VIP events which required him to work a lot and we only had a few days. Sadly, we took no pictures.

Our campground was called Fairfax Lake Park and we were there for 4 nights.

It is just 2 miles from the metro that goes into Washington DC so we bought a 3 day metro pass and hopped on and off for three days.

The subway stations were impressive and many had funny names.

Albert and I walked all over that city. We walked the Mall. This is not a shopping mall. It is a massive greenspace with the Lincoln Memorial at one end and Generals Lee and Grant at the Capitol buildings at the other. There are lake sized reflecting pools along the way. Flanking the Mall are the White House, the Smithsonian Museums and the memorials of the wars including Korea, Vietnam, World Wars and Civil Wars.

We saw the Lincoln Memorial with the two famous speeches on the walls that he gave while President.

Hard to believe he was a Republican but that was then… It seems times have certainly deteriorated in that respect. In fact, we had a look in the Trump Hotel, and left some gold deposits in the gold accented restrooms. We didn’t bother using the entrance for the Presidential suite off to the side. The hotel is quite spectacular as it was an old post office that was remodeled. 

The Martin Luther King Jr memorial was very modern and refreshing in comparison with the European style statues and fountains that line the parks. He emerges from a giant rock or mountain of granite surrounded by 14 of his quotes in the square. Very inspiring. He was a mountain of a man.

To the side of the mall are many of the Smithsonian museums. All are free. We visited the American Museum of History and saw Edith and Archie Bunkers’s chairs, Julia Child’s kitchen, Dorothee’s ruby slippers, the Batmobile, Mohammed Ali’s red boxing gloves, and the muppet chef!! Ork de Bork Bork!!

Washington has many beautiful buildings and of course lots of history that we learn in our text books. Most of it forgotten.  Impressive buildings were the train station, the irish pub with all the police logos from all over the world, the FBI headquarters that became iconic with Ephrem Zimbalist Jr as the head of the TV show “The FBI”. My career has usually considered the FBI the Food and Beverage Institute just like the CIA is the Culinary Institute of America. These spy vs spy things are for the birds.

The day we went to the Pentagon, we just hopped on the metro and got off at Pentagon stop. We knew there would be security, but really you couldn’t even go anywhere outside of the parking lot unless you had an official tour or some other sort of clearance. We stopped to look at a bird house along the sidewalk. It was from Canada to help the population of Purple Martins, so we acted like this was the reason we were there, and feeling that this was some weird sort of Canadian joke. We thought it was funny anyway.

Speaking of Canada, we went to see the embassy and sat in the iconic Red Adirondack chairs that grace all our national parks and gave a shout out to west coast aboriginal artist Bill Reid,  and our friend Doug Zilkie who assisted Bill when his Parkinson’s was so severe he could not do the finishing work on the Spirit of the Haida Gwaii. There are just two of these bronzes, one at Vancouver Airport in the International wing and one at the Canadian Embassy. We have seen both. The Vancouver one looks green like jade (the Jade Canoe) and the Washington one is outside and is black (the Black Canoe). One more that I have seen is the original plaster casting in the Canadian Museum of History, in Ottawa. We went inside the building and were allowed only to use the WIFI and see the art gallery which was completely underwhelming with a few cartoons by Lynn Johnston, of “For Better Or Worse” fame.

We considered going into the Smithsonian space museum, natural history, American Indian, Holocaust, and so many others but we also wanted to see the outside stuff and get some biking in at the park where we were camped. The Fairfax Lake park and surrounding areas around DC are very hilly and there are no straight roads. There is a fantastic transit system plus a long bikeway that joins the many surrounding communities together. This park is filled with mountain biking trails, walking and hiking trails. With spectacular fall colours and dry conditions, we poked through the well-maintained trails. With the cover of leaves over some of the rocky bits, I just relaxed and let my bike do all its own navigating. Good thing, because if I had seen some of the chunky rocks on the trail, I may have had more reservations with the speed we were traveling through them. Only fell once!! On a narrow trail that dropped off to the right. So, I tipped over to the right and watched my big heavy bike sail over me. Sigh. 

We packed up and headed for Richmond, Virginia where I was catching a flight home and Albert was continuing on to the Blue Ridge Mountains near Roanoke in the western side of Virginia near the Shenandoah mountains. Albert dropped me off at a hotel near the airport so I could get my early flights home. Even though I am newly “retired”, I am still involved with Skills Canada and BC will host the national competition in June 2020. Since that is my province, I am tasked with chairing the organization of our cooking competition and the planning meeting was at the end of October. It was good to see my folks, Alberts family, our son, a few friends, get the car insurance organized, and have a bit of time on Vancouver Island. The meeting went smoothly, and I came back to Virginia ten days later with a terrible cold and itching to get on the road again. While I was away Albert found his own adventures throughout the mountains in Virginia….(Albert’s tale to be in the next post. Guns, lost, heavy metal, bike crashes and injuries… it’s all there…)

Albert picked me up at the Richmond Airport at midnight. I left my voice in Vancouver so telling him everything at a time of day that is not my best conversationally was difficult then add the voice thing. We drove back to Pocahontas State park where he had set up our campsite earlier in the day.

He told me some of his adventures (related above) and I slept like a log for 10 hours. (add story of grocery store that has a bar in the center of it – men drink while women shop).

We stayed 2 more nights at Pocahontas as there were some good trail systems near and in the park. All the parks that we stayed at had the evidence of great family camping. They had pools with great slides and water features, tennis courts and wonderful trails for hiking and biking. Pools were emptied and deserted but the campers were still in the parks. When Albert was biking without me while I was at the coast, he had a big fall that hurt his hand and busted his dropper post on his bike seat. So while we were riding we found a bike store for some repairs. Great opportunity to catch up on blog writing. We found a library and completed another entry. The next day after picking up the bike we hit the open road. I was hoping to be healthy soon.

We were off towards Savannah. Usually we drive 3-5 hours a day and Savannah, Georgia was over 6 hours from Southern Virginia where we were camped so we found a Harvest Host winery to stop for the night. We stayed at Cartersville Winery in a small place called Timmonsville, South Carolina. We tasted his wine made with muscatel grape. Can’t say it was a favourite but we bought a bottle of white. Wine in the south is sweet with high acid, and while interesting, it is not a wine that we find easy to swallow. When he asked what kind of wine we like, and we said “dry”, he said “good luck”, and we proceeded to taste his driest offering and continued on to the sweeter ones after that. A tasting was $5 and it came with a small plastic stemless wine glass. We each tasted the wine, so he charged us twice. I couldn’t finish the small sweet pours he gave us. He was super nice, had a big BBQ camping area beside the winery and we parked there. Nice and level, and two other campers beside us. These people had booked their stays through a website membership called “BoondockersWelcome” where people can list their property and service available (electric, water, nothing) and campers can stay for free for up to a few days or a week. It is a nice way to meet travelers or to meet locals if you are traveling. We met a retired couple from Ontario that was staying a few days and another young couple from Florida who were considering becoming full timers (people like us who live in their RV’s full time) so they were trying out the lifestyle for a few months first. Turns out the young couple had a few things in common with us. He said he was a chef who grew up in Montreal apprenticing at the Queen Elizabeth hotel at least 10 years after I left there. He worked with the tyrant French chef who took over with the brigade change that followed the management change. The QE was a Hilton hotel for 25 years, the contract ended, and CN hotels took it over. They owned it. Years later all the CN and CP hotels amalgamated to become the Fairmont chain that circles the globe.  I never asked this fellows name. Why? Because he was one of those opinionated, apparently well trained, prima donna chefs. I am sure he was probably a good cook but there was no way he was going to let a “nobody chef” like me get close.  He boasted about $500 bottles of wine, working with Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse and being involved with the Bocuse D’Or. He had never heard of Robert Sulatyky, Canada’s highest scoring Bocuse competitor, and Bocuse Team USA mentor alongside chef Thomas Keller. He did acknowledge that Thomas Keller is famous for running a respectful calm kitchen and that being a tyrant is not necessarily helping the industry. He said he had his CMC, was teaching Certified Master Chef classes with the Miami University or College or perhaps it was the Culinary Institute. Apparently, the largest university/college in Florida. He said he set it up. Ugh. His wife/girlfriend hailed from Holland originally, and was level 4 WSET and had great knowledge of the Wine Spirits side of the equation. She was super friendly, and like many front of house people, was able to skillfully keep a gentle tone to all of the conversations we were having. He did share a nice bottle of Bordeaux with the 6 of us that he claimed to have some involvement in as an importer. The Ontario couple barely got a word in. You meet all kinds of people on the road. Maybe his story was legit but he wasn’t giving us all the facts. Perhaps he will read this blog and let us know how important he is… really…

The next morning, we headed for Savanna Oaks RV park just outside of Savannah. This little RV park was shaded by all those sleepy Live Oak trees dripping with moss that you read about in Harlequin romances. Well that’s how I remember hearing of them as a teenager. We had heard about it as a great southern city to see the old South lifestyle and the downtown with its stately manors and paddle-wheelers that still ply the waters of the Savannah River for enthusiastic tourists.

Savannah is now a sleepy historic city with a wealth of cotton history in strategically located old buildings along the river, a fantastic candy store and the Live Oak and moss that define the flora of the south. This is not a town for people in a wheelchair. There are stairs, cobblestones, uneven sidewalks and roots of the big Live Oak trees pushing up what was a level walkway 50 years before. But it is beautiful, friendly, sleepy and calm. There are quirky shops and award-winning southern BBQ. We had to do some tasting. We tried out Wiley’s Championship BBQ. Pretty good and our first indulgence of that local food genre.

While we were in Savannah the town was setting up for the Savannah Food and Wine Festival, which by all rights you would think we would want to go to, but we didn’t. What??!! It was expensive plus 30% US/CAD exchange. We had just gone out for BBQ and we were happy shopping in the local grocery store for typical stuff that the locals cook and enjoying it at our trailer. We spent one day at the beach on Tybee Island as it was recommended for biking. But when we got there it was more of a cute little seaside tourist town with big beaches, empty streets, happy hours and wetlands. The lighthouse was interesting. We rode around and made our way back to camp and the laundry room at the RV park. Exciting!!

After Savannah we headed towards Louisiana turning right at Jacksonville, Florida and starting on our way west. This was the first time we were headed towards home. The transformation from the Washington unionist history to The South and its history of economics built on the Slave populations that grew the cotton, rice, sugar and everything else that sustained a plantation system was remarkable. On the way towards Jacksonville we stopped at the Hofwyl-Broadfield rice plantation that is a state historic site in Georgia. But it no longer has rice growing for many reasons including proximity to the ocean and hurricane storm surges that ruin the rice and the wetlands for growing rice.  The descriptions of the horrible tolls it took on its slaves is incomprehensible. We took the tour of the old house, cattle shed and slave quarters.  The tour guide was very adamant that we understand the horrible conditions the slaves endured. This plantation was also not an easy place for the owners either which spoke largely to the immensely horrible conditions of its unpaid workers. It was a very modest plantation and the last of the line of five generations of owners passed it to the State when she died in 1973. 

That night we opted to say at another Harvest Host in a community called Live Oak, Florida. It was a few miles off the I-10 highway that traverses the Southern USA. It travels from Jacksonville, Florida to Santa Monica, California and was to become our friend for the next couple of months. The Gan-Eden farm raises goats, turkeys, ducks, sheep, geese and farm dogs who would guard the animals. We had a tour of the farm, bought some goat meat, chicken, jellies, vinegars and pesto.

We bade farewell the next day and headed for Big Lagoon State Park just outside of Pensacola, Florida. We were heading into bayou gator territory…

Heading South

We arrived back in Montreal after a one nighter in New York en route from Barcelona.

It was Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and we were ready to get our woollies on and bring on the fall colours. Leaving the warm Mediterranean and arriving in Montreal wasn’t too bad. At night it was a bit frosty but our trusty trailer has a great heater and not much real estate to heat.

 We moved back into our wonderful waterfront campground on the south shore facing Montreal and proceeded to get ready to go south. We managed to pay a few final visits to our favourite markets, Jean Talon and Atwater, a few rides along the St Lawrence, the ’76 Olympics site and the Route Verte bikeways.

We were staying at the marina in Longueuil again but this time there were not as many campers. In fact, the huge marina parking lot that was empty all summer, save for the thousands of seagulls, was full of pleasure boats that were “on the hard” for the winter. The yacht club next door had hired a crane for the weekend and was pulling boats out there too. And Port de Plaisance was ready to hibernate until next year after we left.

Elly and Taylor were busy with their theatre careers and we were itching to go south. We celebrated a lovely thanksgiving dinner with their good friends (the roller derby aficionados from an earlier post) and their big family. It was very nice to be in a family setting for that holiday atmosphere and we were very thankful for Leora’s family’s hospitality. And that cranberry sauce. Tangy. Cranberries left whole so they exploded with each bite. Memorable.

On October 15 we headed across the border.  We chose to go due south in an effort to get away from all things winter as soon as possible. We drove down the New York state side of Lake Champlain. Lake Champlain is a long expansive lake that borders Quebec, New York and Vermont. Years ago, when I worked in Montreal, I went wind surfing on Lake Champlain. I went in one direction with the wind and the rental company had to come save me. Not sure if I had crossed any borders. Ha!! Driving the highway south, we couldn’t help but yelp at every bend in the road when another, rolling hill, or glassy lake reflected the scarlet red sumac, persimmon maple forest yellow aspen and sprinkling of evergreens that balanced the autumn colours. With a baseline of grasses and vertical tree lines in grey, cream, ochre and black.  I tried painting while driving. Nope. 

Crossing the border at this time in history can be a roll of the dice. This was our third crossing into the US in half as many months so we were unsure if there would be any oddities and weird screening questions. We had just heard of a Canadian couple, retired, that had been denied entry because they said they were going to volunteer at a music festival. They were not allowed back in for 5 years. Contemplating a snowy return drive through the Rockies and huge winds across the prairies if our plans were to change was the lesser of our goals. In anticipation we stayed emotionless yet friendly. The border guard asked us if we had any fruit or vegetables, how long we were staying, and we disclosed.  We told him truthfully, “half an eggplant, some spinach and an apple”,  and we were on our way to BC for the end of February 2020. “Have a great trip.” he said, and that was it!! Yay!! We weren’t going to be hung out to dry like other poor souls that had, for no apparent reason, been turned back. Quota? Who know?s…We had heard some miserable stories but it wasn’t our time. Thankfully, they didn’t want our Gin-ventory!!!

Driving the highway from Canada south is like relearning history lessons we had as kids. I remember hearing about the Adirondack mountains and here we were, driving through them. I do miss my Adirondack chairs!! Just outside of the town of Ghent was a AAA office so we stocked up on maps and guidebooks and proceeded to our first farm parking lot stay in the US. We stayed at a Harvest Host location called Love Apple Farm. This was our first HH in the USA and they were overly welcoming. Members of Harvest Host have an online access to thousands of listings of free overnight places to stay. We looked at our route, checked to see what HH listings were near the route and chose this farm because they had a farm store where we could provision the trailer since we had nothing to cross the border. We have found that the hosts are more than happy for you to choose their location as it is, more often than not, off the beaten path and travelers don’t generally find them save for these listings.  Along with some apples, we bought their home-grown vegetables, local sausages, milk, eggs and fresh sour cherry pie made from the fruit they had harvested earlier in the summer. We didn’t book any RV campgrounds until we got to Virginia just outside of Washington DC so Harvest Host onenight stays were the best choice without having to go into a truckstop, Walmart or similar, or a noisy highway rest stop. While we were having our dinner, a hot air balloon flew by. So cool. 

Earlier we found a website with top 10 mountain biking areas on the Eastern seaboard. Albert found a few places to go in Virginia for later when I was to return home to BC for the week after DC. While passing through the Catskills Albert remembered there was good biking nearby so I loaded it on the Google maps and off we went. The trail systems that Albert had read about in the Catskills were in an area known as Round Top. We made a little detour up into the mountains and turned left on Hearts Content Road (what a road name!!) and found a place to unhook the trailer and get the bikes out.

This end of the road location had a chalet shaped summer resort with pool, waterslides, tennis, mini golf, and access to these wonderful trails. We had a great hour or so on a bunch of trails with some amazing lookouts and the gorgeous fall colours. We packed up, the rains came, and we were off.

Our next Harvest Host was another orchard called Wrights Farm in a place called Modena. My second trip to Modena in 2019 (first one was Modena, Italy in March!!). We wished it wasn’t dumping rain so hard. We would have wandered in the orchards. Getting wet isn’t the issue; getting dry is. In a small environment of the trailer, moisture is not welcome. The farm had a full field set up for Harvest host and boondock camping. On the weekends they had a craft brewery open with food, music and their farm store had tons of apples, preserves, squashes and the best “Cider doughnut” we had ever tasted. We were glad we only bought one… each.  Imagine a cinnamon cake doughnut that uses fresh apple juice to moisten the flour. OMG! We spoke to the host/farmer and she said her daughter was a skier and had spent time in Whistler training with her team. 

The next day the rain held off and we had booked a Harvest Host in Kutztowne, Pennsylvania. When we stopped at the Pennsylvania information centre the staffer told us about the Yeungling brewery in Pottsville. It was the oldest brewery in the USA having survived prohibition by trading booze production for ice cream production until more clear headed souls rescinded the draconian practice of prohibition. It was a bit of a detour and we missed the brewery tour but the town was in itself a museum. The family tree shows the last 4 in the family line. All women! Each successive generation is not just given the reigns and the responsibility. They have to buy in. The old man put this in the rules of ownership.

The stately heritage homes from a prosperous coal mining era had seen some better days, the town seemed to be disintegrating, and the roads and sidewalks were dangerously uneven…not accessible…but the brewery was pristine. Pottsville is near a town called Hershey.  Yeungling made a Hershey Chocolate porter, on tap that was like dipping a chocolate bar into a Guinness. It was surprisingly quite good although not bottled or canned, so we couldn’t bring any home to share at Christmas!!

We finished up and headed to the Saucony Brewpub – Gastropub that was our Harvest Host stay for the night. We decided on dining in their in their restaurant. Patronizing these businesses is important to us and sometimes it is a bit more expensive than we hoped. This was the case here. Add 30% to the bill plus a tip and it is definitely more than a campsite. The food was ok, and the beer was ok, but didn’t scream have another, so we finished up and went home; a few steps away. Apparently “Gastro” Pub is an ambiguous restaurant niche.

Next day we were headed for Washington DC and as we were coming to Gettysburg, we realized this was a place we had to stop. This is where the famous Lincoln speech, the Gettysburg Address, was delivered. Dim and hazy memory knew this but what I had certainly not retained was that Gettysburg is where the civil war battle of Gettysburg turned the fate of the war from separating (Confederate – South) to staying in the Union. An overly simplified history lesson once again.

The town of Gettysburg is truly a monument to the civil war, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and all the stories that came with these leaders. The lands surrounding the town have been preserved as a military park with tours, interpretive driving route and a modern museum with a theatre, displays and the cyclorama. The cyclorama, a massive 360° circular oil on canvas painting that depicted the battle. It was researched and painted by French artist Paul Philippoteaux and his team in 1883. It traveled throughout the area on display for years, then in disrepair it was stored. The restoration effort seemed to be the catalyst that built the museum to house it properly. It came alive with narration, music, lights focussing on individual battles around the screen, plus a 3-dimensional foreground with narration on the points in the screen.

It was very impressive and well worth the stop, and the museum staff were very knowledgeable letting us know there were many Canadians who fought in the American Civil war. Apparently, Lincoln offered $300 to sign up with the Union army. 

It is impossible to take a photo of this so imagine being surrounded with the pained scenes of the American civil war while it has theatrical lighting and sound to drop you into the battle of Gettysburg.

Overwhelmed, we got in the truck, and headed to our campsite at Fairfax Lake Campground just outside of Washington DC, the Smithsonian, Julia Child’s kitchen and my old friend Rajeev, and only another hour to go.