Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Harpers Ferry, West Viriginia

Harpers Ferry is a town rich in history that lies in the picturesque confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia are joined.  Here, paramount pieces of American history unfold, from Civil War battles to slavery, this town provides you with a glance into our country’s past.  But Harpers Ferry appeals to more than just history buffs and is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.  The Appalachian Trail literally runs through downtown, the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers are a lure for anglers and provide a wild ride for rafters and kayakers, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park offers a beautiful setting for a walk or bike ride along a historic waterway where you are engulfed by tall trees.

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The town was named after Robert Harper who operated a ferry shuttling people and goods from one side of the Potomac River to the other.  What a clever name?  The rivers were an important conduit for moving goods and were key to operating the mills.  George Washington realized the strategic location of Harpers Ferry and chose it as the site of a U.S. Armory in the early 1800’s causing the town to swell as manufacturing related to the armory increased and the Industrial Revolution got underway.

It was at Harpers Ferry where a white man named John Brown altered America’s destiny.  In October 1859, Brown was determined to arm enslaved people and spark a revolution to end slavery.  With just a couple dozen men he stormed the armory in a lofty attempt to obtain weapons and gather an army.  While Brown and his men did capture the armory, the stand was short-lived and they were soon captured.  Brown was later tried, convicted, and hung to death in one of the country’s most famous trials.  But Browns' actions brought the divisive debate of slavery to light and propelled the nation toward civil war.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park makes up about half of the town and is a huge draw to the area.  The park is an array of restored downtown buildings, surrounding battlefields, and trails that interpret the history surrounding the area. At the park, you freely wander around picturesque streets that take you back in time.  Housed in the historic buildings are museum exhibits, films, living history actors, a blacksmith shop, general store, John Browns’ original fort, and more.  It took us two days to see the majority of the park so plan accordingly.

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After saturating ourselves with history over the course of two days, we headed to the Virginia countryside to visit a distillery and investigate the wine scene we had been hearing so much about. We stopped at Bloomery Plantation Distillery to taste and learn about artisan cordials. The attractive tasting room and distillery is housed in a refurbished 1840’s slave cabin surrounded by 12 acres of farmland that produces the raspberries, lemons, walnuts, and various other fruits that go into making their hand-crafted spirits like lemoncello, SweetShines, Chocolate Raspberry and more. While tasting you will be entertained by the passionate staff that share the cordial making process from raw fruit to bottle. The moonshine-based lemoncello was too hard to resist and it ended up walking out with us in a paper bag. We had been reading a lot about Virginia wines and found out there were some dozen or so wineries scattered around so we had to stop by at least one.

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The nearby town of Charles Town (named for George Washington’s younger brother, Charles) is a pretty little town with a picturesque main street lined with historic buildings.  We were surprised to find one of the best Mexican restaurants where we have eaten at in a long time – Ortega’s Taco Shop. Ortega’s is a family-owned little spot on the corner with a handful of tables and the best street tacos and homemade chips you will find anywhere. Their secret is simple – everything they serve is homemade and made on-site, from queso to barbacoa, you will not be disappointed.  We were there five times during our seven night stay.  And Betsy claims to not even like Mexican food but went crazy for their tacos.

Just across the river from Harpers Ferry in Maryland is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The canal (also called the “Grand Old Ditch”) was developed as a conduit transporting people and goods to the west. Ground breaking on the 184.5 - mile long canal began in 1828 with much enthusiasm and fanfare. But before construction ended in 1850 the canal was more or less obsolete as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad completed a link to the west.  Rail transportation overpowered the laboring lazy canal boats.  The canal operated until 1924 and still exists today despite sitting idle for years, suffering extensive flooding, and multiple attempts to pave it.  Today the towpath (which was used by mules assisting canal boats) is utilized by hikers, cyclists, and campers for an enjoyable recreation opportunity where history, wildlife, and geology come together.  Dotted along the canal are various visitor centers interpreting the history of the operation, importance, and innovations regarding the canal.  At various places, visitors can enjoy canal boat rides where you board reproduction boats with park rangers and get to experience what canal boat travel was like in the early to mid-1800’s.  Check out the park service video below for more information.



If you visit Harpers Ferry just know that campground options are limited. We stayed at the KOA which was definitely not a favorite campground of ours but it was literally just outside the entrance to the National Park and in a very convenient location.  We got excited when we heard there was a free wine tasting at their on-site wine house until we discovered it was super sweet fruit wines that did not fit our palates. 

History buffs will be wowed with this area. We certainly got a dose of civil war, slavery, and natural history while in the area and found plenty to do for the time we were there.











Saturday, June 9, 2018

Korean Bulgogi

Sometimes we get a craving for Asian food and this recipe is a go-to, no-brainer dinner. To be honest, there is not much authentic Asian food in Maine (much less Korean where this dish hails from). So this quick and easy dish is perfect to satisfy our cravings. I often serve this with steamed rice and snow peas (which I sauté in the same pan right after I take the pork out). This marinade is so versatile and works well with steak or chicken so feel free to use whatever protein you like. To mix it up a little, I have made this as an easy appetizer - just threaded marinated chicken thighs on skewers, grilled them and served them plain or with creamy peanut sauce.

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Ingredients

¼ pear, grated
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons grated peeled ginger
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon mirin
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 pound boneless pork loin
Sliced scallions (for garnish)

Directions

Make the marinade by mixing the pear, garlic, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, ginger, brown sugar, sesame oil, mirin, and vegetable oil in a bowl. Slice the pork very thin and add to the marinade and combine so all of the pork is coated.  Let the pork marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes or up to 8 hours.

Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Without crowding the pan, add pork and sear on one side to get caramelization. Turn meat over and cook on the other side until cooked through. Garnish with sliced scallions. Easy, right?















Sunday, May 27, 2018

State Park Respite in Virginia

After staying in busy towns, constantly being on the go and sightseeing, we like to find a place to chill out.  For us, that usually means heading to a state park or forest where we can get away from the crowds and where we can spend time hiking and end the day with a lit grill and campfire.

So we headed to the mountains.  First up was Hungry Mother State Park.  Funny name, right? I’ve been called a “hungry mother” from time to time when “hangry” takes over but why name a state park that?  So the story goes a mother and child were captured by Native Americans when they raided several settlements on the New River south of the park.  The pair eventually escaped and wandered through the wilderness eating only berries.  The mother finally collapsed and the child wandered down to the creek where help was found.  The only words the weak child could mutter were “hungry mother.”  Unfortunately, the mother was dead when the rescue party found her.  After reading that we made sure we had plenty of food as to not repeat the scenario. 

The park and campground were just what we wanted – a nice site with a big yard and patio that yielded some privacy and the pleasant sound of a rushing stream nearby.  The park is 3,300 acres with the centerpiece being a 100-acre reservoir surrounded by 17 miles of hiking trails.  We were in heaven!  Spirit was happy to return to the water for some retrieving and energetically bound through the woods with us happily in tow.  The weather cooperated one day and I spent a few hours paddle boarding on the reservoir (which I think was a foreign site as I got strange looks from locals as I paddled past them in my bathing suit while they cast their lures towards the bass hotspots).  If you come in the summer, you may have a totally different experience as we’re sure this place fills up.  We visited during a quiet time when the weather wasn’t the most conducive to “camping” which became evident from the snow falling one morning. The park has a lot going on with three camping loops, a restaurant, conference center, swim beach, watercraft rental, playgrounds, large picnic areas and rental cabins.

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Next up was Shenandoah River State Park – which is also where I started humming John Denver’s Country Roads song every time I saw the Shenandoah River.  Much to Betsy’s dismay I didn’t stop until we reached Maryland.  Again, we had a beautiful site which was plenty long enough for our big rig and car and with a super large patio. By now, we were really digging Virginia State Parks.  The park overlooks a beautiful bend in the Shenandoah River and from a high vantage point one can only imagine how spectacular it must look when flanked by autumn foliage.  The trails (24 miles in all) were great and so under utilized we hardly ever encountered anyone on our hikes.

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One day we decided to venture out of the park and found that the tiny town of Browntown was having their annual Redbud Festival.  Ironically, we didn’t see one redbud in the town but we did get to see a performance by Amazing Grace the trick mule who entertains crowds by playing basketball, smiling for the crowd, giving kisses, and other antics.  And, of course, there was the Elvis look alike who also entertained the crowd.  From there we ventured into the town of Front Royal for a beer at Pave Mint Taphouse and Grille and were planning on sticking to the beer theme by going to the Virginia Beer Museum but decided that our peaceful campsite was where we really wanted to be.

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These two parks were a great find for us having never camped at Virginia State Park campgrounds before. The sites and roads were super big-rig friendly and had there been sewer hookups we can imagine spending more nights there. If you are looking for a nice get away these two parks are worth a stop.









Saturday, May 19, 2018

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Charlottesville, Virginia is a vibrant town where the past of plantations and slavery fade into the modernism of today with the University of Virginia standing tall in the center (which Jefferson founded).  Monticello – the home of Thomas Jefferson – was the motivation for us coming to Charlottesville but it was soon apparent why this city is getting accolades and has become a big draw for tourists.  The town speaks volumes of American history (with James Madison and James Monroe homes being nearby), a vibrant almost hippy-like downtown, surrounding hillsides dotted with wineries and orchards, and off in the not-so-distant view, is the beautiful Skyline Drive of Shenandoah National Park.

Monticello was the beloved home of Thomas Jefferson who spent his adult life constructing his home, planting gardens, cultivating fields, and developing the 5,000 acres that he inherited from his father.  Monticello is among the best-documented, best-preserved, and best-studied plantations in North America due to Jefferson’s meticulous record keeping and scholarly research.  Jefferson was born and raised in the area and loved coming home to his mountain home. Monticello was years in the making and always evolving.  While Jefferson is most acclaimed as a politician, it was his interest and achievements in architecture he was most proud of.  He started working on Monticello when he was 26 and chose to build it in the Palladian style – an influence he acquired while working in Europe.

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Jefferson was a renaissance man who promoted science and scholarship as he embarked in horticulture, literature, innovation, linguistics, law, and most notable politics. Jefferson spent 33 years in public life serving as Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, Vice President and the 3rd President of the United States. Jefferson is hailed as the author of the Declaration of Independence who wrote the famed words “All men are created equal.” This phrase has been called by historians "one of the best-known sentences in the English language" containing "the most potent and consequential words in American history." And while that phrase resonates liberty, there is a paradox as Jefferson owned some 600 slaves in his lifetime, choosing to set only five of them free. Something to think about … those famous words of equality were written by a slave owner in 1775, but it wasn’t until 1964 when all legally enforced public segregation was abolished by the Civil Rights Act.

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A visit to Monticello is an all-day event. The best way to start is by viewing the 15-minute film. From there it is a short walk up to the house winding past the cemetery where he is buried and then a quick walk to the house. Viewing of the house is done by 45-minute guided timed tours which is a real plus so that you get the most out of your visit. Other aspects of the house that are available for viewing on your own are the kitchen, wine cellar, ice house and cooks room. Additional things to see are Mulberry Row – which was the center of plantation activities. Here enslaved, free, and indentured workers and craftsmen fabricated everything needed for the plantation and building construction. A stroll along this area also leads you to rustic cabins that were slave quarters. For more in-depth information on the gardens of Monticello and what it was like to be a slave there stick around for those respective guided tours which were very well-narrated and fascinating. Coming down the mountain back to the entrance there is an exhibit gallery, a very nice gift shop, and café.

Charlottesville is definitely worth a stop and we regretted not having more time to explore the surrounding area. Especially since we now know this is one of Virginia’s most prominent wine regions! Keep in mind, Orbitz ranked Charlottesville as one of the “Top 5 Destinations Every American Should Visit” so you may want to put it on your travel list.