Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Charleston SC (including detour)

Sunday brought a change of plans. While we were getting rain in VA, Charleston was getting RAIN. That combined with extremely high tides led to road closings (and more serious problems for many residents.)  Our friend Deborah suggested we detour to Chapel Hill NC for a day or two. Chapel Hill is one of the three towns (cities) making up Research Triangle Park an area with many universities/colleges and spin-off research institutions. 

After settling into our room we explored the nearby area and discovered an excellent Turkish restaurant, Talullas. A pide with lamb and eggplant along with a Turkish wine made for a great lunch.   
Turkish Bread with acili ezme (a dip of spicy red peppers, tomatoes, green peppers,
walnuts and Aegean olive oil). Both were Excellent!
Pide (Turkish Pizza) with 3 cheeses and ground lamb 
Patlican Oturtmasi - Layers of fried eggplant topped
with tomato sauce, baked in a stone oven.
Turkish Coffee with Künefe -- Turkish finely shredded wheat wrapped 
around a light cheese, topped with mulberry extract. 
After lunch we checked out some shops. In "Uniquities" Pat found some pieces she really liked...but they were either too big or too small. Monday we checked out more shops and enjoyed an excellent Indian lunch, 4.5 on a heat scale of 5. Pat spent a little time exploring the lovely University of NC campus. Note: Started in 1795, UNC is the nation's oldest state university.
UNC South Building, 1798-1814
(yep, it took that long to get the building fully funded) 
Tuesday following a discussion with Deborah we decided that it was time to move to Charleston. Shortly before crossing the NC/SC border we noticed many billboards for Pedro's Fireworks. Upon crossing the border we saw the sign for Pedro's "South of the Border". We began to wonder if we had gone a little too far south... ;-)  Also in this area we started noticing many billboards, some with an Adult entertainment spin and others with a religious spin. 

We confirmed our route at the South Carolina visitors center near the North Carolina border and indeed we needed to take the I-95 detour that added 1 hour to the trip...but successfully got us to Charleston.  And yes, there were many signs of the heavy rains in South Carolina including the flooded streets in Charleston, still with detours we were able to get to the Isle of Palms (aka IOP)

Several of Deborah’s friends were meeting for happy hour at the Red Drum and we joined the festivities. After the Happy Hour and a burger with fries Deborah took us to a nearby favorite pub. A very fun evening. We enjoyed meeting Diane, Richard, Donna & Greg.
Happy Hour incuded 1/2 price wine by the bottle. Both of these were especially good.
Volver 2012 Tempranillo from La Mancha area (above)
and Tahuan 2013 Malbec from Mendoza (below).

Wednesday, with Deborah acting as tour guide, we explored Charleston starting near the visitors center and moving on to the Aiken-Rhett House. The house is relatively un-restored and maintains many of the original features, including the out-buildings (kitchen, laundry, slave quarters, stables, etc.).  The self-guided audio tour provided lots of detail about life for the owners and for urban "enslaved servants". 
Aiken-Rhett House from the front. No photos allowed inside.
Joggling Board on the piazza of the Aiken-Rhett House. A long board supported by rockers on each end.
A young couple sitting/bouncing on it will shortly find themselves close to one another.=
We stopped for at 82 Queen to sample some Low-Country Cuisine (Fried Green Tomatoes, Flounder with Succotash, She-crab soup, ...).

Next we visited the Nathaniel Russell House which is a complete contrast. It has been fully restored to its 1808 grandeur complete with period colors and furnishings. It was interesting to learn that Nathaniel Russell was from Bristol RI (we stopped in Bristol earlier on in our trip) and was in the import/export business (Carolina Gold rice, indigo, tobacco and cotton, ...including African slaves.) 

Nathaniel Russell House
There was an interesting graphic depicting the slave trade (indicating the source and receiving countries).  Surprisingly (to us), while roughly 400,000 slaves came to the US, closer to 10 million ended up in the Caribbean and South America. 

We continued on down to the Battery (waterfront) where we saw a dolphin playing in the water and then toured along Church Street enjoying the architecture. After a drink at the Rooftop at Vendue we headed home to the Isle of Palms.

Fort Sumter sits protects Charleston from the middle of the Harbor
Fountain at Waterfront Park
On Thursday we went out of town to Middleton Place, a 18C/19C rice plantation. The Plantation, built in 1705 was quite impressive with it's classical gardens a la Versailles and it's main building and two "flankers" used for hosting guests. But in the late days of the Civil War, it was destroyed by General Sherman's troops. Some 60 years later a family member restored the gardens, the farm and the one flanker that had partially survived. 

After a horse-drawn wagon tour of the grounds, we  picnicked under the trees.
Horses pulling a carriage under s Spanish Moss laden tree
The ruler of the farmyard. Love those "pants".
A guided walking tour of the grounds revealed how the plantation was managed, including how rice was grown. The "enslaved Africans" brought the rice-growing expertise. It is very labor intensive and was only profitable while there were still slaves to provide the labor. 

A volunteer demonstrating wood working needed to maintain the farm.
While touring we spotted these critters sunning peacefully together.
Note the gator behind the turtles.
Next we toured the house (guided, no photos allowed) and the gardens (on our own). A highlight of touring the gardens was to see the ancient and massive Middleton Oak (37' around).
As we were heading home and nearing IOP, we noticed the lovely sunset thinking, "darn, the timing is bad to stop for a photo".  Yet once after arriving home, we headed to the beach only to see a brilliant red after-effect.

Later we watched “The Patriot” (starring Mel Gibson) which included many shots of Middleton Plantation. The next day we headed back into Charleston to give Pat a little shopping time (she found a great plaid shirt) and to take advantage of the opportunity to see some private homes along Meeting Street as part of the fall Home & Garden Tour fundraiser for the Preservation Society of Charleston.  

The touristy marketplace.  Pat prefers to seek out speciality boutiques.
San Miguel Shoe knock-offs. The designer worked with San Miguel Shoes and
then created Charleston Shoes. Somehow, that seems to what we expect most
"Americans", ie folks from the US, expect.
Having arranged to have an early dinner at Hank's, we had a light lunch at Sermets (Artichoke Torte, Pistachio Encrusted Scallops, and Sweet Potato Fries). All were great. So was the seafood dinner at Hank's. Roasted Grouper for Bill and a Broiled Grouper, Scallop, and Shrimp platter for Pat. Everything went well with a nice Falanghina from Campagna, Italy.

Pat loved her roasted seafood and was impressed
with the presentation of the shrimp, all curled together.
We took it easy on Saturday, visiting nearby Fort Moultrie. The Fort served in the Revolutionary War, continuing through the Civil War and WWII. Rain was clearly imminent so we toured the grounds before touring the exhibition and viewing the story of the Fort. Good decision! There was a major downpour while we were inside.

Fort Moultrie Guns used for Harbor Defense from 1873 to 1898
For lunch we went to The Obstinate Daughter on nearby Sullivan's Island -- the name refers to a cartoon that depicted a defiant Charleston in 1776 foiling the British fleet’s attempt to capture the city in the Battle of Sullivan’s Island.

Next stop:  Beaufort SC

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Colonial Virginia: Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown

From Alexandria we moved on to Williamsburg VA. But first we stopped at Wegman’s, a supermarket that is new to us but a favorite of our DC friends. We can see why. We didn't check out the whole store but it certainly has a great selection of veggies and wine. 

The rain that started in DC began to have an impact on our travels in Williamsburg. After checking into our hotel, we did a little tour around town checking out shops and restaurants. Seeing ominous clouds we headed back to the hotel a little earlier than we would have liked. 

We had struggled to identify the most central place to stay in Williamsburg. And we learned there simply isn't a clear answer. Hotels, shopping and restaurants are spread out in 3 areas: Colonial Williamsburg with Merchant Square (a mix of boutique shops and other stores you might see at in major shopping center), the College of William & Mary campus area, and New Town with housing and the usual mix of shopping centers and shopping strips. The things one might want to do are equally spread out. But it's easy to get around so no matter.

Thursday brought forecasts of more rain so we decided to drive to Virginia Beach to look around. We had lunch, took some photos of the stormy ocean, and did a little shopping before returning to Williamsburg. 

Lunch at Lynnhaven Fishhouse was the best part of the day, Pat had sautéed soft-shelled crabs and Bill had salmon. Lynnhaven is on the waterfront by a wharf. The view of rough surf and dark sky was impressive.  

Our most notable activity for the day was trying to get to the Chrysler Museum of Art (noted for it's glass collection), we needed a boat not a car!! Little did we know this would not be the only flooding facing us in the next week.  

Friday brought more rain and we identified rainy day activities: hair cuts and a movie. In between we found time to fill the car with gas and have pizza for lunch at Giuseppe’s. The movie: The Martian, in 3D. The best news was that hurricane Joaquin decided to head east.

Saturday we decided to brave the elements and go to Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Battlefield. In 1607 a group called the Virginia Company founded Jamestown, the first "permanent" English settlement in North America. We toured the site and visited the museum. Since 1994 they have been excavating the area and have uncovered many items helping to identify the chronology for the site.
Jamestown Settlement -- fence and "Tercentennial Monument" erected in 1907!
Our visit to Yorktown started at the Island Cafe. Pat had more soft-shelled crabs and Bill had flounder.

After lunch we went to the Yorktown Battlefield where we learned more about the strategies and details that resulted in the surrender of the Cornwallis's British forces in October 1781. On display, George Washington's tent. He probably slept there...

After a little shopping back in Williamsburg we headed back to the hotel having successfully dodged the two or three showers during the day.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Washington DC

The drive to Alexandria to see our friends Joan and Len and tour the DC area was uneventful. We did get photos of a few more “Welcome to” signs, catching up on ones we'd missed while coming to the Brandywine area.

Friday we went to the Natural History Museum in DC. Viewing the History of the Earth and its geology among with the the progression of humans and other animals that existed in the past or present took about 5 hours. We were greeted by Harry, an African Bush Elephant.
Harry, African Bush Elephant. Weight 24,000 pounds, Height: 13.2 feet
We then visited the Gem & Stone collection where we saw the Hope Diamond.. The diamond was 112 3/16 carats when acquired by King Louis XIV in 1668. After several recuts it is now 45.2 carats.
The Hope Diamond as reset by Cartier in 1910
Other stones...
Gorgeous image of what is now called Crater Lake.
What a great shot!
A Nature's Best Photography Winner for Most Inspirational Moment:
Milky Way shot over a remote point in the Olympic Wilderness in WA by Joe LeFevre
We returned to Alexandria to meet Len and Joan and head off to dinner at Central Michel Richard. The Cava was quite good and made a great accompaniment to the Cheese Puffs / Gougere and Charcuterie appetizers. Dinner was halibut for Bill and a lobster burger for Pat. Both went very well with a fine Roero Arneis.

Pat's Lobster Burger
After dinner Len took us for a drive around DC. It was hard to get around due to the traffic restrictions (maybe worse than usual because of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit?).
Capitol Building...under renovation but interesting lighting effect
Lincoln Memorial
Saturday morning Len took us to Total Wine to replenish our traveling cellar. We were quite impressed with the breadth and depth of the selections. Later the four of us went to lunch at the Fish Market in Old Town Alexandria. We had sandwiches, cod for Bill and oyster for Pat, with a nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. 

Later we wandered around the galleries in the Torpedo Factory and shops along the streets. As we entered one store Pat's immediate reaction was "Wow". And the staff said "We get that a lot". It was the showroom for Cyrous, a Turkish Designer. After adjusting to the casual display, Pat spotted a piece that Joan might like. That one didn't work but we found one even better. Unfortunately nothing quite suited Pat...

Joan shopping at Cyrous Showroom
Sunday we visited our former neighbor Sue and her husband Brian and son Chris. Sue was our neighbor in Sudbury MA in the early 70's while she was in high school. We had an excellent lunch of grilled pork, potato salad and green salad with squash. They live in the Buckland area of Gainesville VA (west of DC about 40 miles.)  After lunch Brian toured us around their neighborhood. Buckland is a historic district with several buildings circa 1800, including a Roadhouse, a Post Office and the Mill that is on Sue & Brian's property.
Bill noting the "height" of the door as he enters the Buckland Post Office 
Buckland Tavern, ca 1800
Later we went for a walk around Sky Meadows State Park, in the Blue Ridge Mountain area. Then on to two wineries, Deplane and Barrel Oak Winery. Both had some good wines and we enjoyed a little “snack" Sue had prepared with a bottle of Norton at Barrel Oak.
Bill with Sue & Brian. Note the little glimpse of the
Mountains in the background between Sue & Brian.

Monday we headed back into DC and visited the American Indian Museum, it covers the whole western hemisphere from Patagonia to the Arctic. We didn't do it justice but breezed through the exhibits on the ever changing US government agreements with the natives, the truly lovely displays of clothes and tools used by groups throughout the Americas and a special exhibit on the engineering feat of building the Great Inka Road (through the spine of South America). The cafe is particularly good in that they feature true native foods.  Many looked great, but we were saving ourselves for dinner with Len & Joan. So we got a piece of blue quinoa bread and a piece of fry bread, accompanied by a true native classic, Not Your Father's Root Beer.

From the American Indian Museum
View of "The Mall" from the Museum of the American Indian
Bread at the American Indian Museum -
blue quinoa bread and fry bread
After lunch we went next door to the Botanic Gardens. We enjoyed both the outdoor gardens and the conservatory. There is a special exhibit titled "Roots - The Secret Life Exposed" with associated sculpture and photography.

Dancing Roots Sculpture 
Huge mural showing life size tops and root systems for various plants
Next stop: A swift tour through the American Art Museum. They have a good selection of including some European impressionist & Dutch Art. Thinking back, it is unclear why this doesn't focus on American artists... 
Frederic Edwin Church...Niagara Falls 1857
This is from Pat's favorite viewpoint of the falls
Pissarro...Blvd des Italiens, Morning, Sunlight 1897
From there we headed out to meet Len and Joan for dinner.  Enroute we noticed the way the massive government buildings have engulfed older ones, saw a wonderful shop with spy gear (at the Spy Museum), stopped for a glass of wine at Bistro D’oc near the Ford’s Theater and checked out a few of the nearby shops.

Dinner was a few blocks away at Brasserie Beck, a Belgian restaurant. Muscles for Pat and Scallops for Bill.

Next day after breakfast at the Delray Cafe, we returned to DC for a stroll around the Monuments. We actually started with a brief stop at the Hirschhorn Museum (modern art) and another at the Castle, the original Smithsonian building and home to the visitors center.

After viewing the Washington Monument we walked around the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson, FDR, Martin Luther King, Korean War, Lincoln, Vietnam (2) and the WWII Memorials.
One of many road signs 
Lincoln by Daniel Chester Frank (one of our favorite sculptors)
The FDR Memorial spans 7.3 acres and includes sections featuring each of his 4! Administrations

WW II Memorial
We next went to the Museum of American History. 

Caroline Harrison's Inaugural Dress
...part of the collection of First Ladies' Gowns 
Later we took the metro to Foggy Bottom and walked to Georgetown where we ducked out of the rain into a wine bar!! After strolling around Georgetown we walked back to dinner at Rasika, very good Indian restaurant.

Rainy Georgetown
With Len & Joan at Rasika