Tall Ships

Before the days of steam engines, the world relied on manpower, wind, and water to get things done. Wooden ships with tall masts sailed the seas under yards of canvass sails. Journeys were long and dangerous; many perished in battles, pirate attacks, and storms that battered the ship and sent all hands into an unforgiving sea.

Though today, wood and rope have been replaced by steel, and sexton by GPS,  it is still felt that only by matching hands against the elements under sail does a seaman truly learn about the sea.

When in Portland, Maine recently, the “tall ships,” a collection of sailing vessels from around the world sailed into Portland harbor. Ships large and small, including a replica of a Spanish galleon, provided tours and sailing opportunities to throngs of visitors, while pirates roamed the streets, flags flapped in the breeze, and music filled the air.

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Since the festival extended into Monday, I had the opportunity to board the USS barque Eagle, the Coast Guard sailing training ship. Gleaming in polished wood, and brass and strung with miles of cabling,  yards of canvass sails, and baggywinkle (see the link), it is a magnificent vessel of a former time, preserved for today.

All aboard Matey!

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Fogged In

It is foggy in Portland, Maine. The clouds have touched the ground and everything is shrouded in a hazy mist of white. The fog horn on the bay warns of approaching land, not discernible with the naked eye. Like the whistle of a night train in the distance, it is a soothing sound.

It is said in many places that if you do not like the weather, wait 10 minutes. I have to agree with my daughter that no place I have been is that more true than here. Perched as it is on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, the weather changes as prevailing winds push clouds and potential storms that back up and collide with one another instantly altering the forecast. One minute the sun is shining and the next you can be fogged in or it can be pouring down rain.

This happened when we tried to go for a whale watch recently. We awoke to a steady rain, which tapered off to reveal blue sky and bright sunshine. As we headed for the boat however, skies turned cloudy, and once underway misty fog threatened to obscure cottages lining the rocky shore, yet not before getting a magnificent view of the tall ships in the harbor.

Heading out to sea, we passed through several cloud banks. The boat pushed through gentle swells that rocked and rolled enough to affect many without “sea legs.” Though I could not see much due to the fog I enjoyed the fresh, salty air and the wind against my face and in my hair.  At one moment, a halo of pinkish clouds formed almost a rainbow of bright in an otherwise dull gray sky. A lovely vision.

We did not find any whales this day, just a few seals and one enormous sunfish, so the trip was disappointing in that respect. Yet, for me, spending several hours on a boat on the open sea was enjoyable, if a bit long due to the absence of what we came out to see. Now to decide, do I try to go again (you get a “no whales” free trip guarantee)?

I don’t have to think too hard about that. This may be my last visit to this area of the country, so if the sun shines I will spend the morning on the water.

 

Down on the Farm

As I have mentioned, life with my grandchildren is a whirlwind of activity. In addition to the Children’s Museum, library, trampoline and bouncy house places, parks, playgrounds, and the beach, there are butterfly parades at the local Audubon Society and trips to “the farm.”

Agricultural tourism is BIG in Maine. Every place, small or large, seems to have a special event, view, tour, or self-guided option. Thus we found ourselves at Pineland Farms, not once but twice in one week.

Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, MainePineland Farms, a large working farm in New Gloucester, Maine, a community nestled among the rolling hills a little outside Portland, offers the public a chance to discover, learn, and explore rural life.

Though the farm is open for self-guided tours any day, Friday mornings gives children and their parents (grandparents) an opportunity to collect eggs in the hen house, milk a cow, see a baby calf, or hoe the garden or sample its goodness (in season), all under the guidance and tutelage of the farm educators. Among other things, children are fascinated to learn where milk comes from (when they squeeze the teat) and having a big animal gently take hay from their outstretched hand.

The day we went a new born calf was a popular attraction.

Hours old calf, Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, MaineAfter tromping through the barns and around the farm, you’ll be hungry so visit The Market and cafe in the Welcome Center, where you can enjoy a farm fresh lunch or take home some farm fresh goodness (fresh baked bread, honey, local jams and jellies, maple syrup, cheese, etc.) many of which are made at or from ingredients grown on the farm. If open, you can visit the creamery and see how cheese is made.

Equestrian Center, Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, MaineOn the lovely, winding way back to Portland,the equestrian center is open for visitors to tour the stalls and see the horses or watch riders put their mounts through their paces. Wander across the street and and you’ll find a flock of sheep.

If you have any energy left over (or plan another trip), nature trails offer opportunities to watch for birds, fox and other forest creatures, or just enjoy the babbling brook, fields, ponds, and forests as you walk. Trails are open year round  for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. Fish in the pond in warm weather or go ice skating or take a long run down the sledding hill (bring your sled) in winter.

We returned to the farm again on Saturday for the annual Sheep Shearing Festival where we watched sheep being sheared the old fashioned way, by hand, and using those new-fangled clippers. Australian shepherds herded a small flock all to the tune of whistles and prompts by their shepherd. For young and old alike, it was fascinating to watch the dogs in action.

In addition to the working farm demonstrations, there were crafters available to let help you experience carding wool and spinning it into yarn and making a sheep “doll” by using needles to felt the raw wool into the appropriate shape, then take it home with you. You could purchase hand woven wool socks, hats, scarves, and mittens (not unwelcome on this blustery spring day), hold and pet a rabbit, and for the little ones “shear” their own shaving cream sheep, along with other craft activities.

Once again, a farm fresh lunch at The Market and cafe was welcome before we all headed home exhausted, yet content from our day in the country fresh air.

More about Pineland Farms: The site of a former “School for the Mentally Incompetent,” the old administration building and dormitories offer a natural setting for conferences. And if you like, you can stay in one of several original farm houses on the property.

Portland

Traveling to and from Mexico, I take advantage of having my bags already packed and visit my daughter and family. This year that meant a trip to Portland — Maine, not Oregon.

Portland is a beautiful, historic, sea faring city, “Down East” as the natives call it, which means it is in the southern part of the state on the East Coast of the US, yet still just about as far north as one can get without being in Canada.

Blue Bear, Casco Bay, Portland, MaineIf you have never visited the East Coast of the US, especially in these northern climes, it is a rugged landscape, and the people are a rugged lot. They have an independent streak and are passionate about the environment. Many of the original “organic” or “all natural” companies had their origins in Maine.

It is a land of outdoor beauty and adventures — rocky shorelines with views of sailboats and fishing trawlers; rolling hills covered in maple trees that give up their sweet nectar in the spring and go out in a blaze of color in the fall; snowy winters for skiing, skating, sledding, ice fishing, or sitting around a warm fire.

Portland itself is quaint as only towns with 200+ years of history can be. Everything is historic from the wharf along the Fore River that leads to the sea, to the fishing boats, the brick streets, and the grand Customs House. Stroll along the waterfront or wander around downtown and you will find quaint shops, filled with souvenirs, antiques, handmade pottery, clothing, but also the necessities. It’s a small town, boutique atmosphere. If you want a shopping mall though, you will not find one; you will have to drive 20 minutes to the next town.

Lobster toys, Portland, MaineThere is plenty to do in Portland. Visit the Children’s Museum with your favorite little ones; they never run out of things to experience. Head to the Railroad Museum and ride the train along Casco Bay. Go whale watching. Walk the historic wharf area and purchase the catch of the day right from the boat. Or indulge in killer dark chocolate sorbet from Gorgeous Gelato, one of many ice cream and gelato shops competing for your taste buds.

Speaking of taste buds, Portland is a foodie’s heaven. Though chain restaurants can be found, local restaurants offering delicacies from cultures around the world, creatively transform the tiny spaces of the historic buildings into a feast for the eyes and palate.

The arts are alive and well in Portland, with dance, theater, puppet shows, and groups centered around activities like swing dancing. The library is not just a quiet repository for books but a center of community activities with concerts and visiting performers.

I wish I had more time to spend in Portland, and I especially wish I could have been there during the summer when the whale boats are running, the water is warm, and the town is humming. Perhaps I will visit again and have a chance to explore more.

Stay tuned.

Sunrise in the Mountains

If you have followed my adventures for any amount of time, you know that I love sunrise. To me, there is no better way to start the day than in the peacefulness of the early morn, as the birds awaken and begin to sing, hearing  the breeze rather than the rush of traffic, feeling the lingering coolness of the night as the day slowly brightens.

Sunrise over Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoThe variety of that early morning palette never ceases to amaze me. Vivid or pastel, cloud filled or mostly clear, the changes that occur between darkness and sun up are always a wonder to ponder.

Sunrise, Taxco de Alarcon, MexcioSunrise, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexcio Sunrise over Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoSunrise over Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoSunrise, Taxco de Alarcon, MexcioSunrise, Taxco, MexicoLiving at the top of a four story house on a hill overlooking the city gives me a great vantage point for watching the sun come up. Being in the mountains though is a different experience than being at the seashore.

At the shore, the sun rises over the horizon culminating in that glorious golden globe painting the sky and turning the sea to a golden rivulet surrounded by diamonds.

Sunrise, Cocoa Beach, FloridaIt comes up right on time, when the almanac says it should.That is not true of sunrise in the mountains.

In the mountains sunrise is slower. By the time the sun actually breaks the horizon, the actual sunrise is long past — maximum beauty occurs a good 10-15 minutes before that golden orb lifts above the mountain tops. When it finally crests, all that usually happens is a mighty brilliance that just makes an already bright and beautiful day complete.

Occasionally though the clouds and the light work out just right, like this day:

Which do you prefer? The slow awakening of a mountain sunrise or the instant gratification of the seashore?

How do you greet the sunrise where you are?

Flashback — Folk Art Center – Blue Ridge Parkway

At milepost 382 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, just outside of Asheville, NC, is the Folk Art Center, a wonderful place to stretch your legs and feast your eyes on some handmade beauty. Run by the Southern Highland Craft Guild, a century old artist’s organization, in cooperation with the National Park Service and the Appalachian Regional Commission, this gallery and gift shop offers seasonal exhibits and fine arts and crafts from around the region.

Here is a sampling of the quilts and folk art on display during my spring visit.

To learn more visit the Craft Guild website.

FYI – You will find other Craft Guild shops in Asheville, Gatlinburg, TN, Middlesboro, KY and at milepost 294 of the Parkway near Blowing Rock, NC.

Flashback — Mountain High

And now for the rest of the story —

As traBlue Ridge Parkway signvels, even meanders, always do, it came time to turn toward home. Leaving the coast behind, I headed West toward Asheville, North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park a place I had lived for a few months just out of high school and other than to drive by occasionally on trips south had not visited again since my early 20s. I spent a couple of glorious days (not nearly enough) driving the parkway which traverses 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina along the Blue Ridge, a part of the Appalachian Mountains, through tunnels and across streams and deep ravines, all with the glorious backdrop of the blue ridges for miles and miles.

Rising from Asheville at approximately 3000 feet above sea level to 6000+ several times, the climate changed from warm sunshine and blooming dogwoods to still naked trees and brisk wintery winds, then back to the warmth of spring in bloom again. Many scenic overlooks mark your way, along with great hiking opportunities, some easy and some more difficult, to waterfalls and places like Devil’s Courthouse (a cave where the wind makes it sound like someone is talking) and Looking Glass Rock (with a wet face that glows in the sun and shines like a mirror). (L-R below)

My favorite memory is the trip down from Mitchell Mountain, the highest point in the Eastern US. A section of the parkway was closed ahead and I would have had to backtrack at least 30 miles to reach a paved road going down the mountain. Having driven 50-60 miles out of my way, following the tourism office directions to reach the parkway the “easy” way (which I guess means less curves), I was not interested in backtracking that far. Discovering that I did not mind curves (what is with this curvaceous avoidance?), the ranger told me about a forest road shortcut down the side of the mountain that had just been graded, so of course I took it.

What a ride!

The road winds straight down the side of the mountain, switching back and forth and sometimes wrapping around itself, as it follows the terrain and a rushing stream. At the top there is nothing but late winter brown and dull conifers, but as you descend, tiny green leaves soften the stark branches of deciduous trees. Over and over you cross a stream which tumbles over dead fall and boulders — music to your ears. Before long, dogwoods in full bloom delight your eyes as you wind your way into spring warmth. At the bottom, an old mill attests to strength of the water’s flow.

Here are a few scenes from my drive.

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Asheville is lovely. Like my hometown, Madison, WI (though only 1/4 the size), it is a small city that is big in beauty and culture. Throw in the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smokys around the bend, and Southern charm plus music, artisans, and lots of organic food and you have a city I would love to call home.

In fact, when I came down the mountain to find a camp host in a very off-the-beaten-path federal campground just outside of town, I was very tempted to just stay right there and never leave.

 

 

 

Beach Personalities

As I turn west and trade coastal communities for mountains, I reflect on the beaches I leave behind.

One thing I learned on this trip is that not all beaches are created equal. Each is unique in its own way —

some are smooth,                                             some are littered with shells,

some are wild, untamed,                                 and others are urban retreats.

Some slope gently into the water while others drop steeply behind large (protected by law) dunes. Each has its own personality.

Though I have been on many beaches in my days, exhibiting all of the qualities listed above, I was totally unprepared for what I found at New Smyrna Beach.

A speed limit!

img_8086-qprI was told by many that New Smyrna Beach  was the “prettiest beach” on the East Coast of Florida, because of its relatively shell-free white sand and tidal pools for the little ones to splash in. Now maybe I did not visit the best part of the beach; it does stretch for miles, but when I got there, I found condos built on seawalls almost at the water’s edge, and in their shadow, a very shallow beach area with a “speedway” taking up two-thirds of the available space.

OK, so the speed is only 10 mph, but when it is between  the beach goer and the water, that is about 10 mph too fast in my opinion.

No traffic beach area, New Smyrna Beach , FloridaThankfully, every mile or two a section of the beach is declared “traffic free.” Be sure to look for the “traffic free” signs.

Or do as I did — drive to the far end of the barrier island into the northern section of Canaveral National Seashore and find miles and miles and miles and miles of beach with only foot traffic allowed.

Misty walk, Canaveral National SeashoreWhat’s your beach personality?

 

Charleston Chew

I am not a big city bear. I enjoy a day trip to the city, walking amidst the tall buildings, window shopping, people watching, visiting museums and grand big city parks — even riding the subway can be fun. But I hate the chaos of traffic and trying to find a parking spot, especially in a big city that I am unfamiliar with, and even more so when I am the driver, navigator, and sole crash avoider.

Charleston, South Carolina signBeing on the Atlantic coast and reluctant to leave the water behind, I thought I’d take a chance on the city life and make like a Southern belle for a few hours in Charleston, South Carolina. After all, Charleston represents the founding of our nation, Southern charm, and more history than you can imagine.

The plan was to head downtown, take in some history, photograph antebellum homes for the folks back home, have a little dinner in a quaint local establishment in a 200+ year old neighborhood and then head to Asheville and the mountains.

Having avoided Savannah and taken a more direct secondary highway into the state, I missed the official welcome center so I had no state map. Just outside the city I came upon a tourist information center so I stopped to get a map. Being a private tourism office, they make their money from referrals to hotels and restaurants in Charleston; the agent had no state maps and she was not too pleased with my plan to just visit the city for a few hours and hit the road again. (Let’s just say she did not offer a stellar example of Southern hospitality.)

Olde Market, Charleston, South CarolinaThough I asked for directions to the historic area where I could see the antebellum homes and such, she directed me to the Olde Market area — “200 years old and lots of arts and crafts.” OK I am up for that.

Basket vendor, Olde Market, Charleston, South Carolina Niche hotel and horse drawn carriage, Charleston, South CarolinaAfter navigating into the heart of the old city port area, where streets are twisted and narrow, one way and dead ended, driving around for 1/2 hour, dodging people, cars, and horse drawn carriages to find a parking spot, I found the olde market — a succession of 8 – 10 or more brick buildings with open ends and half walls filled with vendors. They have indeed stood here as a place to vend goods (originally from the ships in port and the plantations outside town) for 200 years.

The area was originally a warehouse district, though now the warehouses sport major chain and niche hotels, pubs, and restaurants for the tourists.

Baskets, Charleston, South CarolinaSince I was expecting “arts and crafts,” I was not prepared for the flea market atmosphere — a few handmade basket vendors (a Charleston specialty) and hand sewn bonnets, aprons, and household items, but stalls were mostly filled with 21st century junk “as seen on TV” or you’d find at K-mart. After walking through 3 buildings and literally finding nothing worth even pausing to look at (except the baskets – tourist priced), I bought a handmade lemonade and bolted back to my car. Following my own intuition and with the help of the lemonade vendor, I managed to make my way to White Point Gardens at the water’s edge.

This delightful couple blocks of green space, though under reconstruction in spots, offered a respite from the traffic and chaos. Walking around the area, I discovered the kind of historical homes, large and small, that I was looking for, towering live oaks dripping in Spanish moss, old brick and cobblestone streets, sections of the old city wall, gates offering glimpses of 200 year old courtyards and formal gardens, pavilions, statues, and more historical markers than you could count. Horse drawn carriages were everywhere, telling of the history of certain houses and residents (I guess taking the tour was the “seeing the antebellum houses” the tourism maven had in mind.)

Enjoy this photo tour of the area south of Broad.

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Fort Sumter, Charleston, South CarolinaBeing a coastal city, a seawall and promenade, 6-feet high and wide enough for 4 people to walk abreast protects the homes from the sea (and served dual duty as a battery in times past (the canons now sit in the park.) From the top, you get a view of Fort Sumter where the Star Spangled Banner was penned. (Never realized this historic fort was so small.)

For some reason, my foot hurt, making it really painful to walk (I learned later I had cracked a metatarsal bone; don’t ask me how) so I departed without finding a local historic establishment for dinner and set my sites on the drive home — via Asheville, North Carolina, and through the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains.

I have decided that a solo meander is not conducive to big city exploration. Charleston is a charming Southern city, worthy of a couple days or a long weekend of exploration where one can ferret out the historical gems and quaint restaurants. Visit with a friend, spend the money and stay in the heart of the city, and act like a tourist — take the horse drawn tours, visit the market, go to the fort, walk the old streets and live the history of America.

One last ocean sunrise

Edisto Beach, South Carolina

Well, the day had to come, one last day to walk the beach at sunrise before turning west and heading toward the heartland. I shall miss arriving in the darkness, a faint glow on the horizon, and watching it grow to a rosy glow that gets brighter and brighter until that golden orb peaks over the horizon and quickly explodes into a streak of color and a million diamonds sparkling on the waves.

Here I share with you the best of the last great sunrise over the ocean, at least for this trip.

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Only at the beach do you have this kind of unobstructed view of the magic moment the day begins. Ah what a glorious sight!