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.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Admiring the Beauty, History and Food in the Catskills Region of New York

About two hours outside of New York City in the southeastern part of the state lies the Catskill Mountains.  The Catskills region of New York has long been a destination for travelers with its rolling hills, lush valleys, pleasant streams, and tumbling waterfalls.  From its first hotel built in the 1820’s to the free spirited 1960’s, folks eager to escape bustling dirty cities flocked here in search of fresh clean air and to commune with nature and appreciate the natural beauty.

A large portion of the Catskill Region is protected lands meaning there is plenty of rustic beauty and room for hiking, fishing (fun fact: the region is where fly fishing first began), biking, and more.  The area was coined "a land of streams" because of the plentiful and magnificent waterfalls, nearly 150 in all.  One of the most popular is the Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill Forest Preserve.  A short hike takes you to the top of falls which is the tallest two-tiered waterfall in New York State rolling in at 260 feet.  We visited in spring so the falls were at their tumbling splendor.  The most impressive view is just a mile or so away at the bottom where cascading cold water dazzles you with a thundering roar and refreshing spray before it continues on through a shady ravine.  

We thoroughly enjoyed the hiking in the Catskill Forest Preserve and loved the wide range of trails with varying lengths and degrees of difficulty.  One morning we made the pleasant walk to the site of the Catskill Mountain House.  This splendid old hotel was built in 1824 and became America’s first grand resort hotel and was visited by three U.S. Presidents and the elite wealthy of the day.  

Nothing remains of the old hotel but from where it stood you get an amazing view of the expansive Hudson Valley and River.  When here, you can easily imagine how guests must have loved this lap of luxury as they lounged around soaking up the sun and fabulous views.

Interestingly, the many hotels and vacation resorts located in the Catskills today are notable in American cultural history for their role in the development of modern stand-up comedy.  Comedians such as Rodney Dangerfield, Jackie Mason, and Don Rickles all got their start performing in Catskill hotels.

Another man’s name that has ties to the Catskills is Rip Van Winkle.  Rip Van Winkle is a short story about a Dutch-American villager in colonial America who left home to go hunting and ended up falling asleep in the Catskill Mountains and wakes up 20 years later, having missed the American Revolution.  Ironically, the author Washington Irving (who also wrote the Legend of Sleepy Hollow) had never been to the Catskills before.  You will find Rip celebrated everywhere and in every fashion as in needlepoint belts, pillows, cookies, and a brewery named after him. 

The hiking and scenery in the Hudson Valley were great but we actually came here for another reason.  To Eat!  We have been making it a point to eat at 2019 James Beard Award nominated restaurants on our way from Florida to Maine and an artsy funky restaurant caught our eyes and was the real reason we were in the area.  Lil’ Debs Oasis is a colorful establishment, to say the least, that pumps out some fun cocktails and delicious food by two amazing chefs that have a loyal following.  

The menu is small but constantly changing and appealing.  Betsy settled on the traditional dish gambas al ajillo (shrimp) with garlic, chili, lime and rice and I ordered the mojo chicken with creamy and refreshing green and yellow salsas complimented with hearty rice and beans.  The diners next to us ordered the yucca “fries” with salsa verde appetizer and we must have been starring at them a little too long because they asked us if we wanted some and passed the plate our way.  Thanks nice people.  When the kitchen closes at 10 pm this place becomes lively as the drag show (also known as Queer Performance Night) starts and the tiny restaurant becomes even smaller as the crowds flood in.

One thing we love about the Hudson Valley are all the little towns that have their own charm and allure.  Lil Deb’s Oasis is located in the town of Hudson so we decided to go early and walk around the town which is quite pretty.  Oddly, we were there on a Wednesday around 5 pm and most of the businesses were closed.  Seems Wednesday is when town merchants decide to take the day off. 

Another day we ventured down to the little town of Saugerties where a lighthouse was calling us.  Plan on visiting this lighthouse around low tide as the path is along the riverbank otherwise you will be borrowing a pair of boots to get there (which you can do).  

The lighthouse was built in 1869 and still stands proudly as a living part of the Hudson Valley’s maritime history and in its more recent role as a bed and breakfast.  Yep, for $250/night you can sleep and roam where lighthouse keepers resided for years.  If you are interested in staying overnight book early as this place is popular and the next available opening wasn’t for six months.  Another option is to pack a picnic and enjoy the outside seating area behind the lighthouse where you can watch boats and birds come and go in a pleasant setting.

There certainly is a lot to explore in the Hudson Valley and we have really liked our stay each time we’ve been there.  Years back we stayed farther south and found it rich in history, beautiful in scenery, and a great food and drink destination.  So if you are looking for a nice quiet mountain getaway give the Catskills a try. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

RV Park Review - Delaware Seashore State Park (Bethany Beach, Delaware)

The really great aspect of Delaware Seashore State Park is your close proximity to the water.  The park is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian River, and Indian River Bay.  The park has two separate campgrounds divided by the Indian River Inlet.  We stayed at the southern campground but both are similar with regards to the hook-ups, sites, and proximity to the water.  Both campgrounds are wide open with no shade.  Pads are paved but patios and area between sites is sandy with a little bit of grass.  If you don’t like sand, this is not the place for you.  We were there in April so it wasn’t very crowded and temperatures were cool so we didn’t mind the lack of shade. 

Some campsites are open year-round and can accommodate various camping units from tents to 45’ RVs offering back-ins and pull thrus.  Roads are fairly narrow and paved campsites barely fit big rigs as we had just a few feet to spare but were able to park the car in the sand/grass so it was not a problem.  Most campsites have 30- and 50-amp electric, and water and sewer hook-ups.  There are also no hook-up and tent sites. 

There are bathhouses with free showers scattered throughout the park and laundry facilities.  Since we were there in the off-season only one bathhouse was open.  There are no fire pits at your site but two community fire pits are located on the outskirts of the campground.  Our over the air antenna picked up a dozen or so television channels and we had no problem getting cell or internet service with our Verizon phone.  Full hook-up sites range from $30 - $55/night depending on if you are a resident and what day of the week you are there.  No hook-up sites are available from $25 - $50/night and tent sites range from $20 - $35/night.  We inquired about a senior discount and received it after a phone call to them.  

The south campground is about a half mile from the ocean access where there are two full-service restaurants (which were both closed when we were there).  The beach is wide and great for walking on and dogs are permitted during certain times of the year. 

If you like to fish this is a great place for surf fishing in the Atlantic and bank fishing in the Inlet River.  If you have personal watercraft, there is access to the marsh and bay directly from the park.  Near the north campground is a full-service marina with a bait and tackle shop, fish and seafood sales, and a short hiking trail. 

Just up the road is the Indian River Life Saving Station with a visitor center, museum and gift shop.  Continue on up to the road and you will pass through the small town of Dewey Beach.  Keep going another mile or so and you enter Rehoboth Beach where you will find everything you need (and don’t need).  Rehoboth Beach is a typical beach town with everything from t-shirts to taffy and a mile-long boardwalk.  If you are a beer lover there are plenty of breweries to choose from ranging from the smaller craft breweries like the Dewey Beer Company to the larger producer Dogfish Head. 

Another camping option nearby is Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes.  Click here for our review of that campground.  

Saturday, April 27, 2019

RV Park Review – Cape Henlopen State Park (Lewes, Delaware)

This is a great state park with nice campground and lots to do within the parks' 7,000-acre boundary.  And, we do mean LOTS!  Yes, there are the standard 13 miles of hiking and biking trails but there are also basketball courts, disc golf, boat launch with kayak rental, ranger-led programs, a nature center, food concessions, camp store, playgrounds, fishing pier (with a bait and tackle shop), and miles of Atlantic Ocean beachfront to enjoy.  The property was historically a military instillation (the largest one on the east coast during WWII) so there are many bunkers, observation towers, and other structures some of which are museums open to the public.

The newly renovated campground has 162 RV/tent campsites with 50/30/20 amp electric, fire rings and picnic tables.  There are also rental cabins for those who do not have camping gear.  Sites range in length from a 15’ back-in to a 105’ pull thru and are paved as are the roads.  Not all sites are level so this may be a problem for some and the availability of big-rig friendly sites is limited.  Roads are fairly tight and there is a one-way traffic flow to alleviate congestion so you’ll have to be patient if you are behind someone who is backing into their site.  We were able to get plenty of antenna over the air television stations but those with satellite may have trouble with the shade trees.  Our Verizon phone and internet service worked great.  The showers and bathhouses were clean but were heavily used since no campsites have sewer and there are a number of tenters.

Reservations can be made online and you can book a site for up to 14 days.  For the dates we were interested in there was only one site available and it was an ADA site.  I called the park and asked if being disabled was a requirement for occupying an ADA identified site and they said no so we were able to book it.   We really could not figure out why it was classified as ADA in the first place but were glad to get the reservation since only 13 of the 162 campsites can accommodate an RV 40' and over.  

Camping in state parks does not mean they are at the bargain basement price and this was no exception.  Depending on season, residency, and site the nightly costs range from $20 (for a tent in off-season) to $59 (for a water/electric site in peak season). 

There is plenty to do in the area.  Lewes is a charming town with a few museums and historic buildings and a great restaurant Heirloom.  The nearby town of Rehoboth is a beachy town that is fun to stroll the streets and mile long boardwalk.  Rehoboth is quite a bit larger than Lewes with more shopping, restaurants, and activities and numerous breweries. 

We really liked this campground for a number of reasons – our site was nice, there are plenty of hiking trails, you can walk to the beach, and it is close to downtown Lewes and things to do.  The only downsides would be the cost which was $47/night and that there was no sewer but we would definitely stay here again.     

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Delaware Shore and a James Beard Restaurant Calling

It had been just a few weeks since we left the Florida Panhandle and we were having coastal withdrawal.  It was time to get back to the ocean where salty air filled our souls and sand crunched under our feet.  Can you believe it, just a few weeks inland was our threshold? 

It was not just the saltwater and sand that lured us to the Delaware shore but there was a James Beard nominated restaurant (Heirloom) on our radar that fit perfectly into our foodie trail plans up the east coast.  And Delaware was a state we have never been to before so we really wanted to check it out.  

Rehoboth, Bethany, Dewey, Lewes – these are all Delaware beach towns that attract city dwellers from Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Baltimore who want to chill out by the beach and stroll a boardwalk eating taffy.  We camped at Delaware Seashore State Park (SP) for the first part of our stay and then moved 15 miles north to Cape Henlopen SP for the last few days.  Both parks are very different. Delaware Seashore is completely open and treeless and situated very close to the ocean along the Inlet River.  If you like to fish, hangout at the beach, or paddle this is a great place to stay.  The campground offers full hook-up sites and was not very crowded when we were there; but, it is probably packed in the summer.  Had the weather been warmer and less windy we would have paddled in the marsh and back bay to explore the natural side of the area.  The beach was wide and a beautiful place to walk Spirit (dogs are allowed on the beach during certain times of the year).  Across the Inlet River is a hiking trail that winds through the marsh and a wooded peninsula which was great for a short walk and there is a restored Life Saving Station nearby.

Cape Henlopen SP is set under tall pine trees with plenty of shade and lots to do.  Cape Henlopen has a lot of activities to offer as it is an old WWII fortification with museums, nature center, ranger-led programs, events, disc golf, hiking and biking trails, playgrounds, and much more.  The park has a super cool free bike program where you can borrow one for up to two hours to explore the park.  The newly renovated campground has 160 RV/tents sites (with 50/30 amp and water but no sewer) and rental cabins.  Big-rig owners will need to plan ahead as there are not many sites that fit longer RVs.  The only available site I found for the weekend was an ADA site which I was able to book as the office said you do not have to be disabled to book an ADA site. 

We liked both campgrounds but Henlopen was our favorite and wished we had more time to explore the park.  Even if you don’t stay here, it is worth a visit – especially with kids – but be aware there is a $10/day admission fee for non-residents which we didn't have to pay because it is included in the camping fee.    

The town of Rehoboth is a beachy town with an active downtown and inviting one mile-long boardwalk where your senses are awakened by the sounds of amusements, the smell of Threshers French fries, and plenty of souvenir shops to commemorate your visit.  What would a beach boardwalk be without saltwater taffy, buttery caramel corn, and creamy fudge?   Dolle’s Candyland has been making sweet confections since 1910 and it is hard to pass this place up.  The subtle smell of sweet sugar makes this place a “must visit” attraction along the boardwalk.  If you like breweries, there are quite a few to choose from some being small batch operations up to the large-scale brewery Dogfish Head.

Some American history trivia we learned on this trip was that Delaware is our nations’ “first state” and Lewes is the nations’ “first town” settled by the Dutch in 1631.  The town of Lewes is a totally different vibe than the southern towns of Rehoboth, Dewey, and Bethany.  Lewes has a more, let’s just say … sophisticated feel with its beautifully preserved historic buildings, green spaces, and museums.  We were there during the towns' annual Tulip Celebration where they honor their towns' Dutch heritage by painting the town with over 20,000 tulips representing 100 different varieties.  For history buffs, there are plenty of historic buildings to view, the Zwaanendael Museum which houses changing and permanent exhibits about the area, and the Lightship Overfalls – one of the last lightships that functioned on the East Coast.

Now let’s address the predominant reason we came to Lewes and this area and that was to eat at Heirloom.  The Executive Chef – Matthew Kern was nominated as a James Beard 2019 Semi-Finalist for Best Chef – Mid-Atlantic and he works magic at the restaurant.  The restaurant is set in a beautifully refurbished late 1800s Victorian mansion that gives a warm and homey feel.  When we first walked in we were struck by the attention to detail with the fresh flowers and country-style plates on beautifully set wooden tables in an open and airy setting.  

The menu is seasonally-driven and offers wonderful choices that caused us grief as decision making did not come easy.  We needed wine and a cocktail to help get through this conundrum we were in.  As I sipped the most amazing combination of smoky mescal, tequila, luxardo maraschino, fresh lime juice, torn basil & a black pepper syrup I knew we were in the right place.  The freshly made bread and flavored whipped butter served in adorable little glass jars was a wonderful touch and helped curb our hunger pangs.  The spring onion soup was the most magical silky rich combination when the soft egg spilled into the soup flavored with hen of the woods mushrooms, crispy leeks and ramp powder.

For my entrĂ©e, I comfortably settled on the housemade chittara pasta enoki mushrooms, shaved leeks, crisp sunchokes, shaved Doe Run Farm St. Malachi cheese, and Baywater Farm pea shoot pesto.   Betsy succumbed to the delicious grilled double cut Berkshire pork chop, herb roasted fingerling potatoes, Fifer Orchard asparagus, charred Vidalia onions, rhubarb butter, and mustard jus.  Both were amazing and beautifully presented.

Just when the words “I am too full for desert” make their way through my lips, we learn there is a desert of warm ricotta doughnuts, lemon curd, sabayon custard, lemon zest, powdered sugar and fresh mint.  This is why you get invited to the James Beard House.  The doughnuts were fluffy and light on the inside with a crunchy exterior that came alive with the tangy lemon curd and airy sabayon.

The creative and seasonally-based food was beautifully presented, creatively paired, and perfectly executed.  If you are in the area, you must go to Heirloom.  At least check out their Instagram page for some of the prettiest food around that definitely brings inspiration to my kitchen.  Heirloom gives us reason to go back to the Delaware Shore.