The plan was to give Mom options for her birthday celebration. We’d go to lunch and mooch around in either Rio Vista, Sonoma, St Helena or Benicia. We met up with my sister Donna at her house in Suisun City and discussed our options. Mom picked Benicia. Little did we know it was the day for the annual Peddlers Fair. Donna was over the moon when we discovered the happy coincidence.
We were lucky to find a parking space down by the water. It was a 12:30 so we were looking for lunch. The Salty Dog had a line of people waiting and no hostess in sight. We walked up the street and stopped at the Union Hotel. The food was terrific but the service was slow as molasses.
Then we shopped till we felt like melting on the pavement. We stopped at the First Street Cafe for an ice tea. Then we headed back toward Suisun City on back roads. On the way we saw a sign that read “gravenstein apples for sale” and we did a hard brake to stop and buy enough for pies. We enjoyed a perfect day of celebrating my Mom’s birthday together.
If you read my blog you know I have a fascination with penguins. I was looking for books on the Satellite Sisters summer reading list whilst in a Washington DC bookshop and The Black Penguin by Andrew Evans caught my eye. On his first assignment with National Geographic, he fulfills many of his geeky childhood dreams on this grand adventure.
It is a hybrid book–part personal memoir, part travelogue. Evans is an accomplished writer so every chapter kept my attention. I was particularly empathetic to the chapters about his experience growing up Mormon and gay. I have a few friends in my life from a similar background, but anyone who has felt like an outsider–and if you travel then you know this feeling–can relate to his pain of feeling completely misunderstood and alone.
He also decides to travel by bus from Washington, DC to Ushuaia, Argentina to board the National Geographic vessel to Antarctica. I enjoyed living vicariously through him and decided that I’d rather never travel by bus anywhere if I can avoid it. Lesson learned.
The first 258 pages are all building to the last couple of chapters of penguins! and stories from his month on National Geographic Explorer. Sheer bliss. I wanted to go to Antarctica before and now I want to go even more!
People outside of Northern California don’t necessarily spend time learning about the 1849 California Gold Rush, but growing up in Sacramento, you can’t help but learn about it. Not surprisingly, people who live in this region of West Virginia you can’t help but absorb a lot of Civil War knowledge. Harper’s Ferry National Park is a gem of a park and so much more interesting than so many of the Civil War battlefields I’ve been to. And this was a continuous battleground over the course of the war.
The park is located on the Appalachian Trail and preserves the place where John Brown was tried and hung. As you walk around the old part of town you can see shops preserved as they might have been during the Civil War alongside a current day bookstore and places to find food or outdoor equipment.
You can also go on hikes or walks along the rivers. I hung out in the Coffee Mill while my friend Nyasha jogged and walked over bridges and along the river. The Coffee Mill was frustrating as so much of what was listed on the menu was unavailable.
We came across re-enactors in several places. I asked the three Confederate soldiers why motivated them to volunteer as living history docents. They are self-professed History nerds.
Parking is also a challenge. I grabbed one of the last spots along the street on Potomac Street. I downloaded the National Park Service parking app and paid via PayPal. After 10 a.m. you can probably expect to use the parking lot up the hill and take the shuttle to the main part of the historic village. I found it difficult to find a way to pay the day use fee. I finally waited in line at the entrance up the hill because I want our National Parks to be around for my grandchildren.
The entrance fee is just $10 per carload or $5 per person if you walk or bicycle into the Park. This is a real bargain at Harper’s Ferry.
One more of the few remaining states is “in the bag”. My friend Nyasha and I took a road trip from Alexandria, Virginia to the Harper’s Ferry region. We left on Friday afternoon. It is only a 1.5 hour drive with some traffic. After a quick stop at the Visitor’s Information Center, and then another quick stop to see the Appalachian Trail Headquarters before it closed, we headed toward the oldest town in West Virginia–Shepherdstown.
Shepherdstown has witnessed some traumatic history. After the Battle at Antietam every building save the church was turned into ta hospital to treat wounded soldiers. Over 23,000 people lost their lives in that battle. It is hard to fathom. Without modern medicine and painkillers it is hard to imagine the scene of horror. And this was just the beginning.
At the Trinity Episcopal church the history marker said that it was not uncommon to have the church full of Union soldiers one Sunday and Confederate soldiers the next. The town (and nearby Harper’s Ferry) changed hands often.
Imagine being a mother trying to feed and clothe your family and keep your children safe while the war raged in your front and back yard. Soldiers confiscating your chickens. Gun battles surrounding you.
Today Shepherdstown is the home of Shepherd University and thrives on tourism. Gay pride flags were hanging on many businesses in town. We popped into the Four Seasons Books and bought a few of the staff recommendations. I picked up a book of three essays by Elizabeth Catte, What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia. You can call it a response to Hillbilly Elegy: “His use of the word ‘we’ transforms the personal reality of his difficult childhood into a universal experience.” She acknowledges that the mythology of Appalachia is powerful and pervasive and provides lots of concrete information (dare I say facts) to explain how much more complex reality is.
The staff person also recommended we try The Blue Moon Cafe. If I return to Shepherdstown I’ll try somewhere else.
We drove on to the Hampton Inn in Charles Town to spend the night. These three towns–Shepherdstown, Charles Town and Harper’s Ferry are all about 10-15 minutes apart. All surrounded by lush green forests and never far from either the Shenandoah or Potomac rivers. It is also cooler so this area is a destination for the motorcyclists and families looking for a break from the heat and humidity of the lowlands.
I freely admit that my travel choices are influenced by Netflix shows, especially Chef’s Table. Season 4 the episodes focus on dessert. I somehow missed the hoopla about Christina Tosi’s Milk in New York City. This June she opened a flagship store with lab in Washington, DC.
Carole and I headed there on a hot and muggy day. We didn’t get the cereal milk softserve. Instead we bought a slice of chocolate malt cake, a slice of birthday cake, and some crack pie to share. Sugar shock in the best way!
This store at 1525 15th Street NW near Logan Circle doesn’t have a lot of indoor seating (as in, air conditioned), and there is limited outdoor seating. There are parking spaces though! And they are offering baking classes here.
We browsed her cookbooks and are seriously exploring taking the chocolate malt cake in the near future. Meanwhile I crumbled my remaining crack pie in my oatmeal this morning and it was very, very good.
I was looking for some hidden gems in Boston so I checked out the website Atlas Obscura. Reading about Caffe Vittoria was intriguing. When I shared the address with my son, he’s wanted to go too because it is in Boston’s North End.
You got to love a big city that costs only $10 to Lyft across town. Boston is very compact and you can walk 15 minutes in almost any direction to a new neighborhood and experience something unique and fun.
We were dropped off across the street and faced Caffe Vittoria on the left and Mike’s Bakery on the right. There was a line down the block to get a cannoli from Mike’s Bakery. But we came for coffee and gelato and the coffee related ephemera in Caffe Vittoria. It is also the first Italian coffee cafe in Boston. I loved the pistachio gelato and Tevis enjoyed his blackberry gelato. My decaf Americano was good.
We started walking off our dessert as we headed to the T Station. We paused at North End Park where many people were relishing their cannoli and playing in the fountains. It is a great small park with adult swings and nifty lawn chairs.
People in Boston complain about the T and the need for maintenance. Yet it goes where you need it to go and is affordable. Coming from a place with limited public transportation I find it delightful. We walked home from the station enjoying the cooler evening.
People rarely put a city’s central library on a list of must sees. The New York Public Library reading room is an obvious exception, and the Library of Congress is in a class by itself. So when my waitress at Cafe G at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum urged me to check out the Boston Public Library and take the tour offered once daily, I listened.
Fortunately admission is free and the tour is also free. This is a theme at the Boston Public Library. “Free For All” is carved in stone over the entrance. The Boston Public Library is the first large library in the nation. It was remarkable that the founding donors who started with a few rooms of books to lend in 1848 opened it to all–even the hordes of Irish and German immigrants who crowded the city at that time.
The Central Library building on Copley Square occupies a full city block. It has occupied this third home since 1895. They spared no expense on the art and architecture, hence the value of a tour from a well-trained docent like Gail. We met in the front foyer and the tour covered a lot of ground from outside the entrance to the third floor galleries to the inner courtyard. It was wonderful to learn more about the politics and controversy that gave us such a beautiful community asset.
Gail explained the blanks on the John Singer Sargent gallery, but only alluded to some conflict that prevented us from seeing the Whistler paintings in the Reading Room. It is all very interesting and worth the investment of an hour.
I also arrived early and enjoyed lunch at the Map Room Cafe. The food is all “to go” so I took my yummy Cobb salad to the nearby courtyard and enjoyed a wonderful dining experience next to the fountain. There is also a Newsfeed cafe in the new modern addition where you’ll find the Children’s Library on the second level. Or you can pay $40 per person and go all out for high tea at the Courtyard Restaurant.
Copley Square has a lot going on. The John Hancock tower is nearby. The Old South Church is the other side of Boylston Street from the library. Also straddling Boylston at the modern library entrance is the Boston Marathon finish. This is also the site of the Patriots Day bombing. Thankfully the area has fully recovered.
One block away is Newbury Street, the main shopping street of the Back Bay neighborhood. Boston is a small big city and it doesn’t take long to walk to Berklee College of Music and the Boston Museum of Art or on to Boston Public Garden.