We then headed north to visit a friend from our Botswana days. At her suggestion, we visited Haddon House, another fabulous medieval house, which had retained its “pristine medievalism” because it had been shut up for 200 years (its lord got an upgrade and moved to a bigger house) and it was only reopened in the early 20th century!
So while Hardwick Hall reflected the heights of Elizabethan, rennaissance, sophistication, Haddon Hall took you back to an earlier, more rough edged time. The kitchen, for example was more of a true medieval kitchen with fewer mod cons.
The family is actually still in residence now, but in a modernized section! Absolutely amazing. It was the middle of the week, so we had a very pleasant visit and a lovely lunch.
The first mentions of a house/fort at Haddon date from around 1150. Around 1195, the owner was granted permission by John of Mortain (Later, King John. Yes, THAT John.) to build a low and un-crenellated wall around the buildings – hardly a serious fort. The building grew in fits and starts until 1703, when the owner was elevated in title and moved to Belvoir Castle. (Better view!) The site was then basically abandoned until the early 20th Century when the ninth Duke and Duchess of Rutland began a restoration program. Close to a time capsule.
All of that eating required a lot of cooking. The kitchens were large and, over time, connected to the Banqueting Hall by a large passage.
The Earl’s Apartment, One of the upstairs bedrooms preserves royal graffiti from over the centuries. Some of it dating way back, and some of it VERY modern!
The Hall has been owned by two families. Their crests are in the left photo and the Order of the Garter is in the right photo. The colored glass still glows on a sunny day. The diamond shaped panes are each set at a different angle to maximize the sparkle.
Four “H’s”?? Read on. We continued north towards two famous, and very different, halls, Hardwick and Haddon.
Bess of Hardwick was an amazing Elizabeth era woman. In today’s world, she would be outstanding; in her era, she must have been a force of nature. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bess_of_Hardwick) Read the fine print; when your first husband is 14 years old, it gets complicated! Besides being very rich, her husband was, from time to time, the keeper of the captive, Mary, queen of Scots and Mary and Elizabeth would sew together. You thought Downton Abbey was a stretch? Even Julian Fellowes couldn’t write this stuff.
Hardwick Hall is almost as interesting as Bess herself, being very modern “(Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall.”). Sadly, you cannot visit the four banqueting rooms, in each of the towers.
One of the odder things about Hardwick Hall is that there are actually TWO of them, right on the same site. And one is National Trust and the other, “Old Hardwick Hall.” is English Heritage. The old hall has long been abandoned, but was never torn down.
Hardwick Hall may have been built strictly as a residence, but it was still sited on a hill with steep defensive slopes. The result is great views.
In the days before elevators, there were stairs everywhere. Some elegant, intended to impress, some smaller and practical, but most well worn with centuries of use.
The joy of these great barns is sometimes in the smaller details.
The upper rooms, where the family lived, are every bit as amazing as you would expect, with beautiful plaster work, paneling, and rich hangings. Conspicuous ostentation was the goal and Bess and her successors achieved it.
The motto of of the monarch of the United Kingdom, said to date from Richard I is “Dieu et mon droit.” Literally, “God and my right.” Bess covered Hardwick with her initials, “ES,” Elizabeth of Shrewsbury. The letters crown the towers. Now go back and enlarge the image of the seal, you will see that the motto has been modified to include the letters “E” and “S.”
We are members of Harvest Hosts, a system that lets you stay overnight at vineyards and similar establishments in the US. Harvest Hosts recently acquired Brit Stops, a similar organization for pub stays in the UK. (https://www.britstops.com) After driving past a few times, we found the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Baslow, jammed ourselves into their carpark, and had a great dinner. (https://www.wheatsheafpubbaslow.co.uk)
That is two”haitches,” Hardwick Hall, down, two more to come.
After leaving the south coast, we fought the joys of the M-25 and M-1 on a Bank Holiday weekend. For those who may not be familiar, the M-25 is to London what I-495 is to Washington, D.C. – a ring road.
Only, on a Bank Holiday Weekend, it is simply a multi-hour parking lot. Think lots and lots of clutch pumping. Finally, we were able to join the M-1, the UK’s main north/south axis (think I-95) and start north. This may be a good time to introduce some essential Anglicisms – “tail back” and “queue,” both words usually pronounced with a wide range of select obscenities! That was the bad news. The good news is that UK motorways are excellent with some very nice features.
First, most on ramps are two lanes wide and join at two points on the road. This smooths out the traffic flow immensely.
Secondly, most British drivers are simply more courteous than their American counterparts. For example, regular drivers, not just truckers, routinely move out of the slow lane to let you merge – especially nice if you are driving a heavy and underpowered truck.
Finally, passing on the left, or slow side (Same as passing on the right in the US.) is almost always illegal, so again, with a slower vehicle, you are much, much less likely to get “trapped” in a faster lane should, for example, you move over to allow an HGV (heavy goods vehicle, or “artic” – articulated lorry or, in ‘murican, a semi) to merge. And speaking of HGV’s some are double trailers and some are double height, and lots are foreign; a wild new world. (We will return to this theme later.)
After some hours, we reached our first UK campground, the White Mills Marina just south of Northampton. (https://www.whitemillsmarina.co.uk) A lovely spot to gather ourselves together, take walks along the towpath beside the River Nene and make a shopping trip to complete our supplies.
The marina was an interesting insight into the parallel world of river boat travel with lots and lots of narrow and wide boats. Some are floating hotels, some are day trippers for tourists, some are rentals, and lots are simply people full timing, just like their cousins in RV’s. And the marinas offer all of the same amenities as an RV campground. White Mills is simply nicer than most.
We first discovered this world when, some years ago, we took a short trip on the “Wessex Rose.” She has new owners, but looks to be as lovely as ever. (https://www.wessexrose.co.uk) Geek note: The Wessex Rose is a “wide” boat. Some of the hotels are two narrow boats, a powered boat with day facilities which tows a second boat which contains the sleeping accommodations. At night, the two tie up side by side.
We had expected to wait about a week for our truck to appear, but plans have a habit of going awry and the ship carrying the 917, the Hawaiian Highway, was about 2 weeks late!
Because of the delay, Denise’s brother ended up hosting us for a total of three weeks, which really was above and beyond the call of duty. We were, needless to say, very grateful. And, as always, we had great fun together!
While near Chichester, in Sussex, we were able to explore the area a little. We made several visits to Chichester, a lovely Roman town with fragments of wall still existing and the traditional Roman cardo layout, with four main streets leading to the medieval cross in the center of town. (“Chester” comes from the Latin, “castra” meaning fortress. See also Doncaster, Leicester, and all the rest.) There are lots of fun shops (for a few important purchases) and wonderful coffee shops for a coffee or light lunch.
On a rather chilly day we went to the Wetlands Reserve at Arundel, a nearby town, to view its amazing selection of different ducks, coots and swans. They are free to leave if they wish but most obviously do not. They looked quite at home.
Fred and Denise’s brother, Trevor, snuck out for a quick visit to the little Air Museum at Tangmere. Devotees of the Battle of Britain will have heard of Tangmere, one of the many RAF bases. (https://www.tangmere-museum.org.uk) The little museum is well worth a visit for the extensive memorabilia and, next time, the flight simulators!
In 1937 the Gloucester Gladiator became operational with the RAF; the last biplane. It even served during most of WWII. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloster_Gladiator) In 1943 the Gloucester Meteor became the first operational jet fighter on the allied side – a span of only six years. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloster_Meteor) Considering that the first jets were only conceived of in the late 1930, this was an insanely short time. The Meteor was so secret that pilots were no allowed over German lines least one crash and be recovered. The Meteor was used to intercept V1 flying bombs and to tip them over with the wing so that the gyro would fail and the bomb would crash. That would have been a wild maneuver.
Fred was amazed; he knew that the Allies were working on jets, but did not know that any were ever operational.
Chichester also has a Ship Canal and we enjoyed a lovely walk along the towpath one morning. In the early 1800’s, there was an idea to connect London with the sea near Chichester. The goal was route to carry heavy cargo that was protected from French raiders on the Channel. The canal never reached London or made any money, but it did make it to Chichester. Quite an interesting little artifact. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chichester_Canal) Again, we saw a selection of ducks, coots, and moorhens.
We were back in Arundel a week or so later to visit the Castle and to explore the gardens during the Tulip Festival. The Festival had been delayed for a week as with a chilly spring, the tulips were not flowering!
The displays were wonderful, though some flowers were still not open.
The tour of the Castle, which is the home of the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl Marshal of England, was most interesting. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_of_Norfolk) (You don’t want to meet the current Duke on the road; he is under a six month driving ban!)
The castle is old, parts are Norman, huge, in good condition, and still occupied by the family. Needless to say, it has been expanded and altered many times. Some of the bedrooms you can visit are still used for guests! This leads to the odd anachronism of telephones and modern magazines in odd places. Arundel should definitely be on your short list of castles to visit, if only for the only intact portcullis the first that we have ever seen. (https://www.arundelcastle.org)
The Dukes of Norfolk are hereditary Earls Marshal. While this used to mean tending to the king’s horses, now the primary duty is to organize major state occasions. For example, the funeral of Elizabeth II and, more recently, the coronation of Charles III. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Marshal)
If you read the Bayeux Tapestry in the original latin (doesn’t everybody?), you will learn that Edward went to the church at Bosham before leaving on his ill-fated trip to what is now Normandy. WE went to Bosham to have fish and chips at a great pub with Denise’s cousin, visiting with his wife from Iceland. (Small world. His wife’s nephew is a great guitar tech at a guitar shop in Arlington and performed an amazing setup on Fred’s Strat!)
Bosham is an interesting little town as parts of it flood every high tide. And even though it has been doing this since Edward’s time, people still park in the wrong places! And, fish and chips enjoyed, we also visited the church, which is still there, if greatly expanded. (https://boshamchurch.org.uk)
We spent a lovely morning at the Weald and Downland Museum. Our first visit in about 30 years! (https://www.wealddown.co.uk) The Weald and Downland museum is a large, open air collection of “vernacular” buildings from the Middle Ages on. Basically, the buildings in which real people, not the nobility, lived and worked. It has parallels in Colonial Williamsburg and Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. If your image of the past begins with castles and stately homes, this museum completes the picture with houses of more ordinary people. It has expanded a bit and there were new exhibits.
Finally, we had word that we could pick up the 917 in Southampton. We really appreciated the train system around that area. We had taken the train from Gatwick Airport to Trevor’s local station, Barnham, when we arrived. Later we took the train from Barnham to Chichester to shop and now we took the train from Barnham to Southampton to pick up the truck. A great system. The Brits always complain about the trains, but would that we had similar service around DC. Oh, we did. And we had street cars in DC – until the great Firestone/General Motors campaign of the 1950’s. Breaks your heart.
We spent a day unpacking our clothes as we had shipped some in the camper. We had also locked most of our possessions in the back garage, so that all needed to be organized and sorted.
Then we visited the camper storage facility that we had thought to use during our returns to the States only to find that they thought us to to be “inappropriate.” So we are currently looking at alternatives – stand by; trains may be involved again! We had our first shopping trip and then headed back to prepare for departure.
In 1955 the S.S Exeter sailed into Barcelona harbor.
On deck was a five year old Fred who remembers to this day – Spanish railway cars have four big wheels and not eight small wheels like US trains, and that the clamshells on dock cranes don’t have teeth so they don’t puncture the hulls of ships as they load and unload things like coal. His father took two pencils and some string to explain how cargo booms can more items between the pier and a ship. Useful things for a five year old to understand!
Our arrival in Barcelona began with a pretty sunrise.
Barcelona harbor is still busy and now has a huge section devoted to cruise ships and ferries. We disembarked and grabbed a taxi to our hotel, conveniently located down near the water and deep in the gothic district, aka, tourist central.
We like the hop on/off busses available in many cities as they allow you an overview and can help you to get an impression of a city and to start to get your bearings. We bought a two day ticket and set off. We had thought to get off and admire the new Familia Sagrada (Sacred Family) cathedral, but the crowds were huge and it was not clear that we would be able to get on the next bus.
So we got off at the top of La Rambla, the main tourist strip and inspiration for the title of this post, and went looking for lunch. This turned out to be a nice little restaurant in an ancient cellar. A tourist trap to be sure, but a very nice trap. (https://julivertmeu.com/)
After lunch, we continued back to the hotel, admiring (?) the crowds.
Dinner was a wander through the neighborhood in search of tapas. We especially enjoyed the Chorizo Napalm.
As 2020 opened, we began to get serious about our plans to spend a year or three traveling in Europe and North Africa in the 917.
The idea was fairly simple – ship the truck to Europe and start traveling in a part of the world that had mostly been fly over countries for most of our lives. Then came COVID.
Now, in 2023, it was time for another look. Several things had changed – the increasing enforcement of the Schengen Agreement which limits time in the European Union to 90 days in, followed by 90 days out, was a major complication. Although there are reports that enforcement is variable, the penalty for overstay is a ban from entering the EU for three years, so this is not something that we want to risk. So this means that we will be traveling in and out of the UK, where we can get 180 days at a time, and then dropping into the EU.
So we launched into a siege of repairs and upgrades, picked a shipping company, and made a reservation. Denise found a repositioning cruise on Viking with very low rates, so we chose that as an alternative to flying. In the end, as the ship carrying the truck is running about two weeks late, this was probably not a good idea for the initial trip – would have been better for subsequent returns to the UK, but it was a lot of fun. And an interesting opportunity to compare/contrast with our almost identical trip on Seabourn.
We drove up to Baltimore to drop off the truck, to almost exactly the same place where Fred recovered his Blazer in 1975, after the trans Sahara trip. (https://pbase.com/diplostrat/sahara) When Fred received the truck in ’74 it had been completely looted – here’s hoping that we do better this time!
We flew to Fort Lauderdale to join the Viking Star. Boarding was easy and we set out to explore the ship which, while larger, was almost the twin in layout to the Seabourn Sojourn. It was fascinating to note what was the same and what differed from the other ship. In the end, they were more alike than different.
After an easy departure, the Pilot went ashore and, later, we waved goodbye to Miami. We were finally en route.
We settled into the routine at sea. And we enjoyed the wonderful weather.
We skipped going ashore in Phillipsburg, but were looking forward to Madeira, a kind of magical place. It is easy to see why it it is so high on the European list of vacation spots. With only a four hour visit, we skipped the the packaged tours and set off into town to in search of coffee and a visit to the cathedral.
Funchal is really pretty.
Our first stop was the park where we admired a statue of Bolivar and had a chat with a lovely lady who had just moved back to Madeira after living in Venezuela for years.
Fortified with and espresso and a gelato, we visited the cathedral, a rather plain, gothic building, dating from the late 16th century. One of the few intact buildings from the early colonial period.
Sailing away from Funchal we passed Kong’s island. 😉
Sadly, we passed through the Straits of Gibralter at night.
The next day we sailed up the Mediterranean coast of Spain towards Barcelona.
As the sun set, we passed Ibiza. Barcelona tomorrow morning.
After finding our bearings on day one, we had a better idea of what we wanted to see on day two. We started by taking the Hop On Hop Off bus on its second route.
Everyone recommended the Barcelona Maritime Museum (https://www.mmb.cat/en/) So we “hopped” off the bus at the front door. It is an amazing place with a full size reproduction of the galley “Real”, the flagship of the Holy League Fleet at the Battle of Lepanto. (1571)
The world is divided into two types of people, normal people who have never heard of the Battle of Lepanto and geeks like Fred who love this stuff. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lepanto) He remembers a young adult book about the battle which turned on the adventures of a young fisherman who was there, met Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish author, and had other adventures. Cervantes was badly injured during the battle.
Fred needless to say, knew all about this and was absolutely fascinated by both the small scale model and the full size reconstruction, which had been built for the 300 year anniversary. (Build a few more and we could make a great movie!)
Displays about the life led by the enslaved rowers were interesting, if depressing. While there were some paid rowers, as in Roman times (sorry, Ben-Hur is wrong), most were slaves who spent all their time chained four or five to the oar. When not in battle, the ship was typically rowed by only a quarter of the rowers at a time, but they never left their oars, day or night, while at sea. Moslem scholars noted that you could smell a Christian galley before you saw it.
The Ottoman admiral (amir al-bahr, now you know where the word originated – literally the commander of the fleet), Ali Pasha is supposed to have told his Christian galley slaves, “If I win the battle, I promise you your liberty. If the day is yours, then God has given it to you.” John of Austria, more laconically, warned his crew, “There is no paradise for cowards.”
The building housing the Maritime Museum is itself of great historical interest. It dates back to 1500 and was built as a multi-lane shipyard, where the original ship was built.
History records that by the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the galley was being replaced by the galleass. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galleass) Most scholars attribute much of the Holy Leagues success against the Ottomans to placement of six galleasses at the front of the fleet where their unique ability to fire broadsides devastated the Ottoman galleys which could only fire forwards.
By the Battle of the Armada in 1588, almost all of the ships used were galleons with no oars, but lots of cannon on the sides. But, it is reported that there were four great Venetian galleasses that were seaworthy enough to cross the Bay of Biscay.
On a nice bright sunny day we took a cable car from the port up a hill to the south of the city. The views were spectacular and included full city views (See pictures at top of page) plus the loading of a ferry to Morocco. We even saw a Unimog camper being loaded. And enjoyed a nice cappucino coffee with our view!
We visited more museums while in Barcelona. The first was the Picasso Museum. The mature Picasso is a specialized form of art. But we had learned that the Picasso museum featured his early work as well, and that aspect of the museum was absolutely fascinating – to watch him evolve from a superb, but very “classic” painter into an avant garde artist. While Fred is not a fan of the avant garde, it is clear that he would never have become as famous had he continued in the traditional vein. (No photos)
But our taste runs to music rather than Picasso and after another wonderful tapas dinner, we enjoyed an excellent Flamenco guitar and dance concert at the Palau de la Musica. The guitarists were stunning and we even bought a CD! (https://www.barcelonaguitartrio.com/en/bcn3-2/) They are a local group and the audience clearly liked and supported them.
The second Museum was the Casa Batilo, remodeled by Gaudi with a free hand and deep pockets. The result is an absolutely different house design, though based on some very interesting science, with no straight lines anywhere. (https://www.casabatllo.es/en/) Casa Batilo means “bat house” but sometimes it seemed more batspit crazy!
Lastly, we simply enjoyed wandering the tiny streets of the Gothic section near our hotel. You never know what you will find….we found ice cream shops (with wonderful ice cream inside), apartments and bridges built over the streets.
When it was restored, a large, modern steel market was built.
And when it reached the end of its commercial life, it was to be razed. When this started it was discovered that the market sat on an extensive range of ruins and, even better, because of municipal records, the exact details of almost every building were known. (https://elbornculturaimemoria.barcelona.cat/)
And, with that, it was time to pack for the flight to Gatwick.
In the latter part off 2022, Denise’s brother wrote that he and his wife were going to take a repositioning cruise from Lisbon to Miami and then continue to make a circuit of some of the lessor known Caribbean ports. Would we like to meet them in Miami or join them for some or all of the trip? Didn’t take long for us to decide that we were hooked. So, in early November 2022, we boarded a flight to Lisbon, via Zurich. The day after our arrival in Lisbon, we were off to Porto in the north, via a stop over at the Shrine of Fatima. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctuary_of_Fátima
Arriving in Porto, we checked into an amazing hotel. The bad news is that it is on a pedestrian street, so we had to schlep our suitcases over the cobbles, the good news was that the hotel is a repurposed 16 th century townhouse/palace, with a new, modern building on the rear. So the public areas had parts that even included Roman constructions, while the hotel rooms were completely modern.
We were lucky to have superb guide. A former air traffic controller with the Portuguese Air Force, his English was better than ours. We started wth a visit to a port warehouse.
We then travelled up the Douro valley into the wine country.
We stopped to admire a small country church and a classic stone bridge as we continued up the valley. The views were beautiful.
We stopped at the Pacheca winery for a tasting and a fabulous, multi-course lunch with a different wine for each course. (The Pacheca Winery is spelled “Pacheca” and not Pacheco as it is woman owned.) For those of us who don’t usually drink port, it was fun to discover a new variety of wine. (https://quintadapacheca.com/)
Leaving Porto, we drove back to Lisbon, stopping in Coimbra to sample pastel de nata, custard pastries which were developed by nuns with too many eggs and are simply delicious.
After a quick windshield tour of Lisbon, [we will have to return,] we arrived at the pier just as Trevor and Sheila pulled up from their flight from UK. Check in/boarding is instantaneous, other than Fred having a momentary panic that he had lost his phone – found to be in his hand. (!!) Our actual sailing was delayed due to a heavy swell at the mouth of the river.
The next morning we plowed into the mid Atlantic swell and settled into shipboard life. We much much prefer longer crossings to daily visits to ports packed with duty “free” shops and other tourist traps. The ship was simply lovely and we quickly discovered that every day had to begin with a visit to the gym if we were to still fit into our clothes.
Our first stop was Funchal on the island of Madeira. Madeira is one of the rare islands with a self sustaining economy. That said, it also owes much to the transatlantic trade, all the way back to the 1500’s. Because of the prevailing winds and its westward location, it was a crucial provisioning point for ships sailing west. We started our visit at the market.
We enjoyed a cable car ascent, and visiting the market, glorious gardens, and a drug store for some essentials.
We left Funchal at sunset and set out for Miami.
Fred made friends with the two guitarists working on board, one a Colombian who played in the stage band, and the other a Brit, who played in the jazz combo. Both are conservatory graduates and the Brit noted that this is the only job he has had since graduation a few years ago. And yes, both read music very well and are jaw droppingly good.
The crossing was wonderful and we soon arrived in Miami for the turnaround for the Caribbean part of the trip.
Denise and Fred have lived around the Caribbean for years; Panama, Cuba, Venezuela, and Fred has done several temporary duties in the area, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Trinidad, and even a short, post-hurricane Ivan visit to the Cayman Islands, (https://pbase.com/diplostrat/cayman) but we have never done the classic tourist circuit.
First up was Puerto Rico and here we felt most at home. Not surprisingly Puerto Rico feels much like Ecuador, Venezuela, or any other former Spanish colony.
Our next port was Sint Maarten, an island shared, since 1648, between France and the Netherlands. The history of the island follows many of the same trends of other Caribbean islands – massive importation of slaves and indentured workers to grow sugar, cotton, tobacco, and salt. Fabulously wealthy colonialists and many, many slave revolts. Today, tourism is the life blood of the island and its airport is one of the busiest in the area, famous for a beach and road right at the end of the runway. We hired a taxi for a day trip ‘round the sights and a lunch in the market on the French side.
We had a rainy day in Guadeloupe. We hiked up a knee poppingly steep hill to Fort Napoleon. The views were tremendous and there was a surprisingly comprehensive little museum inside the fort.
Our next island visit was to Antigua and again we chartered a taxi and visited the famous Nelson’s Dockyard. The dockyard has been rebuilt as a tourist attraction, but has several reasonable exhibits on Napoleonic era sailing and naval operations.
Nelson? Well, it is called Nelson’s Dockyard today, but he was roundly disliked by the Antiguans, who resented his upholding the Navigation Acts which prohibited trade with the new United States. They even held up his promotion for years. In return, he dismissed them as worse than the American rebels. Still worth a visit.
The sugar trade, especially, made the Caribbean Islands as valuable as any gold mine or oil well for hundreds of years and most changed hands many, many times following bloody raids and sieges. Hence the proliferation of forts you can visit. Like many other islands, Antigua’s list of resident/vacation home owners is a real who’s who of Anglo-American actors, musicians, and other personalities. You might be hard pressed to name one who doesn’t have a place on Antigua.
St. Kitts is about as small as they come. Traveling around the island you are struck by the use of the singular; there is often only one of a facility on the whole island – “This is our …” Bank, hospital, car dealer, etc. Note that this is emphatically NOT the case with churches; here the quantity and variety is infinite. At the end of the 19th century the sugar trade was dying out and the plantation owners were eager to cut their costs. One solution was to build a narrow gauge railroad to link all of the major plantations and allow them to consolidate their harvests at one, modern sugar mill, as opposed to using windmills at each plantation to crush the harvest. In the end, it didn’t work, and today the bumpy tracks are used to to tourists around the island at the blazing speed of ten miles per hour. And even that is rough! But lots of fun.
From St. Kitts we sailed back to Miami via the British Virgin Islands and flew home.
Traveling in these COVID times is somewhat challenging but we feel a little safer when in our camper. A trip to Florida in November 2020 proved harrowing a couple of times but we survived and even had a wonderful time.
We try not to travel for more than four hours a day if we can help it, so our first night’s stop was a most pleasant vineyard, Hinnant Farm Vineyard and Winery in Pine Level in North Carolina, courtesy of Harvest Hosts. (Home – Hinnant Vineyards) This was our first taste of the muscadine family of grapes which grow well in the south. We much prefer dry wine but found the sweeter wines novel.
This is a former cotton plantation with a Georgian-style mansion, slave cabins and tours. It is one of the very few original plantation houses around Charleston. Most were burned by the Union Army during the Civil War, but this was commandeered to use as a headquarters.
We were interested in the history of the Gullah people of the area. We first heard Gullah in a museum in New Orleans and were stunned; Gullah sounds almost identical to the West African Pidgin that we knew in Cameroon. We were lucky enough to have a tour guide with Gullah origins, who had grown up in Beaufort nearby. He was a wonderful source for information about the unique sea island cotton grown previously at the plantation. This cotton is finer and softer even than Egyptian cotton and is exceedingly expensive. As a boy, our guide had worked in the cotton fields, so he was able to give us first hand memories.
We stayed at the Campground at James Island County Park, which proved to be a real find. (The Campground at James Island County Park | Charleston County Parks and Recreation (ccprc.com) Although a large campground, it was designed for maximum privacy with foliage separating campsites. There was also a shuttle bus to the Macleod Plantation, (which is also part of the County Park System), which proved useful in the rather heavy traffic. The park had also just opened its drive through Holiday Light display all around the campground and beyond. We took advantage of our location and drove through!
Our final stop, on the way to Orlando, was the Adamson Oaks Farm, again courtesy of Harvest Hosts. Here we enjoyed a farm tour and saw a variety of animals including horses, sheep, goats and llamas. But the highlight was the recent pecan harvest and the wonderful pecan pie, which we purchased! Friends all received fresh pecans for Christmas!
Our visit to Orlando included a visit to the Lakeridge Winery. (Welcome to Lakeridge Winery) Lakeridge is a huge winery complex with several sites and a selection of wines from locally grown muscadine grapes and blends using west coast juices. Again, the sweets predominated, especially with the local grapes. It was a lovely afternoon out as the grounds are extensive and the weather not too hot.
After a quick visit to St. Petersburg, where it was cool and windy and rather spoiled Denise’s beach walking plans, we headed north by stages.
Our first stop was the Pioneer Florida Museum, near Dade City. A low-key, open-air collection of historic buildings. Some nice insights into the old citrus industry and an insane collection of old Lionel electric trains! (Fred always had American Flyer, but, you get the idea.) (Pioneer Florida Museum, Dade City, Florida)
Then on to to Colt Creek State Park to relax and do some bicycling. It proved to be a lovely spot and we enjoyed it although again, it was surprisingly cold.
Our initial plan was to go to the Hovenweep ruins as we headed west, so we went south to a very nice campsite on the edge of the Rio Grande to catch up on chores and evaluate the tales of heat that we were hearing from the news and friends in the west. After considerable research, we decided that this was not the year to head west and that the Upper Peninsula of Michigan sounded like a better idea. So, we retraced our steps and, after another night spent outside Leadville, we headed north-east to a town campground in Brush, Colorado. Surviving this night proved our decision was wise. It was hot, over 100F, and the Blue cat was so distressed that we had to hold him under the tap and cool him off in front of his personal fan. All the while, our air-conditioning labored to bring the temperature down to 85F inside the camper. It was an unpleasant evening, and we were happy to continue heading north the next day.
Moving on into Nebraska and Iowa, we again used Harvest Hosts for some fascinating overnights. The Anchor Meadow Farm in Milford, Nebraska, raises a specialized breed of pig and chickens and we enjoyed roaming, watching the evening feeding as all the pigs rushed to the meadow fence at 5:00 PM. (Be impressed; our first attempt at embedding a video.)
Blue cat met chickens for the first time and was not impressed. Our generous hosts gave us power for the night and we enjoyed a night of air-conditioning. The meat and eggs we purchased were wonderful. While in Nebraska we stopped at the Homestead National Monument. Who knew that homesteading started with Abraham Lincoln and continued until 1969? Quite fascinating.
In Iowa, we stayed at the Wolf Creek Trail Ranch in Anthon, where it was wonderfully cool at last! We also enjoyed a highly caloric visit to Le Mars, Iowa, Ice-Cream Capital of the World, and specifically to the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor. Every Blue Bunny flavor was in view and the number of sundaes and milk shakes available quite made it difficult to choose. But we did, and sat down to enjoy it! It was well worth the visit!
On into Minnesota, we saw our first lake at the Split Rock Creek State Park in Jasper, Minnesota. Well, it is supposedly the land of 10,000 lakes and we did see many more! The state park was small and pleasant, and we enjoyed our stay. We admired the Prairie Hill, which inspired the park’s creation, and which is believed to be an authentic prairie hillside. We visited the Pipestone National Monument nearby, the source of sacred red pipestone quarried by many Indian tribes for making pipes.
We wandered the trail, admired the quarry rock face, the prairie area and visited the waterfall.
Fred marveled at the inscription left in the 1800’s.
We made a brief stop in New Ulm, Minnesota, in search of German food. We were not particularly successful, but but we visited the Hermann (Arminius – hero or villain of the Teutoburg Forest victory/massacre ) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Teutoburg_Forest) Fans of the TV series “Barbarians” will know at least one version of the story. New Ulm was a “Turner” community, founded by German socialists in the wake of the revolutions of 1848. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Ulm,_Minnesota) We visited the Carillion and the Hermann Heights monument.
Our next stop was Minneapolis so Denise could ride the river boat at Sweetwater. We ended up taking a most pleasant evening supper cruise and even found a parking lot beside the river where we could park to ride our bicycles.
We returned the following day and, as rain threatened, we rode across the new bridge into Wisconsin, took the bike trail back to the old bridge, and crossed back to Sweetwater for a pleasant outdoor lunch. We got back to the truck and loaded up just as the rain began!
Our next stop was to be Duluth but we were unable to get a camping reservation for the Saturday night, so we headed back into Wisconsin for another winery stay, this time with live music. We should have stayed here in the first place!
We continued to Duluth on Sunday to the Waterfront RV Parking at the Lakehead Boat Basin. (http://www.lakeheadboatbasin.com/rv.html) This proved to be a wonderful find, a marina with RV parking on the water. During the winter, the space is used to store boats, but in summer it was an amazingly pleasant little park.
Our stay included a great Italian meal, bike rides along the lake, and lots of ore carriers going through the raising bridge with loud horns on both the bridge and the passing ships.
A couple went through at 5 AM which was exciting. We loved it!
We never pass up a railroad museum. Duluth’s museum is a bit different as it has exhibits dedicated to all of the women, wives and fiancées, who came as immigrants to join their husbands and boyfriends working in the mines. They were detained at the station until someone came to pick them up. And, of course, great trains from different ages.
We had decided to come to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (UP) seeking cooler weather. But, without camping reservations. This proved to be a bit challenging, and we found ourselves constrained by reservation options. All the State Parks and most of the town camping parks were full. But it all worked out. As Canada was still closed, we headed east to Ontonagon Township Park, where the campsite assured us that if there was a space available, they would save one for us! A little nerve racking but we drove there as quickly as possible with our fingers crossed. And indeed, we were given a space, not beside the lake, but close by in the forest. We biked into the town a couple of times and had a great visit to the Adventure Mining Company copper mine in Greenland. (http://www.ontonagon.net/adventuremine/) It was our first visit to a copper mine, and we learned all about it! Amazing to consider that the copper can actually be too pure and the nuggets too large.
We made a brief stop in Marquette for a wonderful Mexican lunch on the deck overlooking the town, a visit to the first ore dock, the one that established the standards for ore transport on the lakes.
We then drove on to our next stop, Munising. We had managed to get a reservation for several nights, including July 4, at the KOA campground, albeit in two different sites. The weather was still quite hot, but the sites were fairly shady, and we were able to keep Blue cool. Munising proved to be a great base and we enjoyed our time there. The only pity is that the campground was on a narrow, very busy two-lane road with rumble strips on the shoulders, which made us reluctant to use the bicycles.
Two boat rides, one to look at various wrecked boats and another one to view the Pictured Rocks National Park from the water were fun. (Click for captions and full size images.)
The boat ride to the Pictured Rocks proved to be the right choice as you cannot really see the colors from the cliff tops. (https://www.nps.gov/piro/index.htm) We also visited a waterfall or two and enjoyed miniature golf for the first time in years. The ice-cream shop at the miniature golf course sold us an ice-cream flight which was a wonderful idea! We also tried the local specialty, a pasty, which we found rather heavy. We much prefer the ones sold in Devon and Cornwall in the UK. On the other hand, we loved the white lake fish and chips we bought from a food truck(!) – it was simply amazing.
Fred wanted to go to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point. And as we did not want to drive there and back, we found a most interesting campground called Kritter’s Northcountry Campground. (https://www.northcountrycampground.com/ ) Although full, they agreed to give us a tent site, so before our arrival there, we seized the day to visit the Seul Choix Lighthouse. (http://www.greatlakelighthouse.com/) Unfortunately, the ghosts took the day off, but it was a most interesting visit and we climbed to the top of the tower to admire the view.
We were early enough to walk onto the raft though by the time we left there was a considerable line. (Did we mention the crowds everywhere?)
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum has displays of various shipwrecks including the Edmund Fitzgerald, which has always interested Fred because of the song by Gordon Lightfoot. We were there nice and early and were absolutely stunned by the number of people who found their way to it.
By the time we left, it was packed with people and parking was difficult. (https://www.shipwreckmuseum.com/) (And yes, the Edmund Fitzgerald is still sunk.) We then wanted to visit the Taquamenon Falls and could not even get into the State Park, let alone park there. Cars were lined up on the entry road outside. It was becoming clear that after the July 4 holiday, tourism had increased in the area and that it was time for us to head south and home. Also, the weather had turned rainy and cold, and we crossed the Mackinaw Bridge, saying goodbye to the UP.
We stopped in Petoskey, Michigan to spend the night at the Boyne Valley Vineyards. (https://boynevalleyvineyards.com/) What an amazing place! Our designated camping spot was deep in the woods and we happened to hit the night when the Petoskey High School Alumni Steel Band was performing. So, not only did we enjoy tasting great wine and flatbread, but we got to hear a wonderful concert (and a free hotdog!). Altogether an amazing experience. Oh, and the wine was good as well.
We stopped off at the Historic White Pine Village and had a great time learning about the lumber industry and chatting with Civil War reenactors. (https://historicwhitepinevillage.org/)
After another night spent at Christofferson Fruit Farms in nearby Ludington, we continued south to the Detroit area, where Fred had plans to visit a guitar playing friend.
Running early, we stopped off at an outlet mall for some shopping. As we were leaving the clutch suddenly dropped right to the floor – we were immobile. Panicked telephone calls to our mechanic friends (Thank you, Rob!) ensued. Worse, all of the local tow companies told us that, as it was a Saturday night, tows weren’t available. In the middle of all of this, a gentleman walked up and said that he owned an expedition camper company, about a mile away. His company turned out to be Adventure Mobil and he had even visited our Tiger at a show some years ago. (https://www.advmobil.com/) Would we like some help?
Would we? We jumped at the kind offer. So, his friend, visiting from Tennessee quickly pulled the cab apart and diagnosed the problem as a small, broken piece of plastic in the clutch linkage. What to do? “Oh, I’m good at speed shifting, I’ll just drive the truck to the shop and we can fabricate a new piece.” And he was a good as his word. Denise was impressed, hills and crossing a four-lane road notwithstanding, he only stalled once. (Fred is now practicing speed shifting!) Once at the shop, the troops turned to and, in an hour or so, had fabricated a replacement part out of a billet of aluminum – even stronger than the original! As they refused any payment, we took the troops out to dinner.
After the repairs were finished, they offered us a wonderful overnight camping spotand we all settled in for a snooze. Sometimes the overland gods are kind!