Cooking on the Road: Ninth Edition

Grilled fish and leeks with citrus salad

Normally, I write about all of the things I make on the trip; however, since getting Covid I have not been as motivated to cook.  Matt took the reins for a while, which I truly appreciated. ❤️ Matt picked out a refreshing fish dish, which is great for a hot summer day since the only cooking required is on the grill.  In addition to this recipe having a great combination of flavors, the list of ingredients is small, it is simple to put together, and it doesn’t take a long time to prepare.  And, for once, we are not cooking salmon. 😂

I’m not the biggest fan of swordfish, so we picked up some mahi instead, and I bought both navel and blood oranges for a little variation in color and taste.  The richness of the fish, contrasted with the brightness of the oranges, tanginess from the olives and vinegar, and herbaceous zip from the dill were brought together with the aromatic charred leeks.  We loved how this all came together and think you will too.

Venison bolognese

When we visited my folks during the winter holidays last year, my mom shared some of her canned goods to take with us, one of which was canned venison stew meat.  Matt never had this before, and thought a bolognese would be an ideal way to try it.  I found this Food and Wine recipe, and decided to give it a go.  

I halved the recipe, since we had a pint jar of venison, which is around 1 lb.  It’s not ground meat, but it’s very tender, so I broke up the meat as I cooked off most of the excess moisture.  We had spiral pasta (fusilli bucati) on hand, which worked well.  Since the venison was already tender, I only cooked the sauce for about 30 minutes instead of 1 1/2 hours, and that was still sufficient time to develop plenty of flavor.

If you love venison or are curious about trying it for the first time, this is a fabulous way to prepare it.  You can’t go wrong with a mirepoix base (celery, carrots and onion), a red wine reduction, herbaceous notes from the bay leaf and oregano, and a creamy finish with the addition of butter and parmesan.  They all add a little something to the flavor party, making this a dynamic sauce and some of our favorite leftovers. 😋

Creamy chicken and kamut casserole

In my continued quest to experiment with different types of whole grains, another grain I wanted to try was kamut, a species of wheat called khorasan with grains twice the size of modern-day wheat.  In searching for recipes, I did not find very many; however, there are so many wheat-based grains to choose from that I think you could easily substitute one for another and simply adjust cooking times.  

This casserole caught my eye because it incorporates collard greens and bell pepper, but has a creamy element with the addition of a small amount of milk and flour, and a toasty cheesy topping to round out the dish.  To cook the kamut I used my instant pot, a 3 to 1 ratio of water to grains, a pinch of salt and set the pressure cooker on high for 45 minutes.  During that time I prepared the rest of the dish, which came together quickly, and by the time I needed to add the kamut to the casserole, it was ready to incorporate.  

Because everything is already cooked and you are just looking to brown the top cheese layer, I used the broiler function in my oven.  However, the broiler took a while, so I left the casserole in the oven for about 20 minutes.  If you are going to use your broiler, I recommend setting a timer at 5 minute intervals to ensure you don’t scorch the top.  Oven broilers vary, and you don’t want to risk an oven fire or wrecking your meal.

Matt loved this dish, and for me it felt like a guilty pleasure with its cheesy top layer and creamy consistency.  The flavors worked very well together, and the whole grains and vegetables satiated me as well, so I wasn’t left feeling the need to snack after dinner.  😋👍

Blueberry buttermilk chess pie

Matt and I were going to visit Beth and Roy, whom we met in Savannah.  They invited us over for dinner once we arrived in Portland, Maine, and we simply could not come empty handed.  I was inspired to try this recipe, having never made a chess pie before.  The supposed reason it’s called “chess pie” is because someone misheard another person who had said “just pie” and the name stuck.  It’s a custard based pie, and this one was dressed up with buttermilk, blueberries, vanilla and orange zest.  

Because I had to pre-bake a pie shell and didn’t bring pie weights with me, I improvised. I was going to line the inside of the pie with foil anyway, so I found medium sized flat rocks outside, washed them, and covered the bottom of the pie with them.  It worked great!  The resulting pie had delicate textures and flavors, and received rave reviews. 😍 If you like custard pies and are in dire need of a creative use for your blueberries, give this one a try. 🫐

Grilled gochujang pork shoulder and bibimbop bowls

Matt bought a pork shoulder roast a while back and stuck it in the freezer, but recently we needed to free up freezer space for other things.  I get daily emails from Food and Wine, Bon Appetit and Epicurious, one of which was a lengthy list of pork recipes.  I LOVE gochujang (fermented chili paste), so this grilled gochujang pork shoulder steaks recipe was perfect.  Once my marinade was blended, I reserved some of it as a dipping sauce for later.  After Matt cut the pork shoulder into 3/4 inch steaks per the recipe, we let the steaks soak up the marinade in a covered bowl in our refrigerator while we went out for the afternoon.

I always want to balance out a hefty portion of meat with some veg, so this vegetable bibimbop recipe was a great complement to the pork.  Matt doesn’t like bean sprouts and I don’t like mushrooms, so I substituted radish and wakame seaweed.  In addition to garlic and sesame oil, I added 1 1/4 teaspoons of gochujang as a stir fry sauce to the veggies.  Pulling it all together, I used some short grain Japanese rice, and dressed the bowls with all of the bibimbop components, adding some of the reserved marinade for the pork to provide a bit of heat to the dish.  

It was a big meal, but everything tasted wonderful!  If I were to make it again, my only change would be to add a hint of salt to the spinach.  However, if you mix everything together before you eat it, then you likely won’t need that extra bit of salt since the dipping sauce, pork, and seaweed all have plenty.  The creamy egg contrasted well with the sauce, and the rice added great texture to the party.  Though each component takes a bit of individual attention, this is a wonderful combo and gets 4 thumbs up from Matt and I. 😋👍👍👍👍

More Lessons Learned on the Road

With Matt’s injured right foot, he couldn’t really do much of anything, let alone drive or handle departure and arrival chores.  For this reason, we are so glad that we decided to share all of our tasks from the get-go and ensure both of us were comfortable taking care of all that needs to be done.  If I didn’t know how to hitch up, wasn’t comfortable towing the trailer or backing up into a site, we could have been stranded because of this accident. 😬

I made a point of getting comfortable driving the trailer right from the beginning.  After a few months, I stopped getting so nervous and at one point in time everything just sort of clicked and it was no longer that scary.  Less frequently but still part of my learning process, I also have gotten better at hitching up.  We have a Pro Pride hitch, and like many weight distribution hitches, it is complicated.  It requires multiple steps to the hitching up process and precision when backing up to get the hitch into the receiver.  And backing up with a big ass trailer is also challenging and requires lots of practice, especially when you’re often in tight campgrounds.  Anyone who has backed up with a trailer or a boat knows what I’m talking about. 😂

All this to say, there are a few pointers that I think might help couples as they embark on any long-term trips or a full-time on-the-road lifestyle.

  • A checklist. Having a punchlist of items to take care of for departure and arrival has really helped.  We have a shared note through Apple Notes that both of us can reference on our phones and keeps us on track.  Though we don’t refer to it as frequently now (we have been doing this for a year, moving once a week on average), it is helpful, especially when you are first starting out.  You don’t want to forget anything important.
  • Practice, practice, practice.  It makes a world of difference when taking on each task.  Some of the biggies, like hitching up, driving while towing, and backing up your rig take time to get comfortable enough where you aren’t stressed out about it.  It does get easier.
  • Communication.  There are certain things that Matt does more than I and vice versa.  If we see someone doing something wrong, we speak up to ensure it’s done right the next time.  Swallow your pride, learn something in the process and know that you’re helping each other to stay safe and reduce risk of injury to yourselves or your rig, both of which can be costly.
  • Attention to detail. This has also been a key ingredient to our success.  Double checking that you locked the doors on your rig, turned off the water heater and water pump before a move, turned off the gas (if your refrigerator can run on electric), and checked tire pressure before hitting the road have saved us from roadside emergencies.  If you’re unsure, check again.  It’s better to be safe than sorry!

These four pointers have really helped us successfully and safely travel all of this time, and without them we could easily have had a major emergency that could have stranded us or ended our trip.  Don’t let this happen to you! 😃

Boston, Massachusetts

Because we had been sick earlier on, we chose to head back down to Boston during our time in New Hampshire.  Neither of us had ever been, so we didn’t want to get so close and not take the opportunity to see this historic city.  It took about an hour and a half to drive down, and we found an open lot at Sullivan Square to park for just $9.00 for the entire day.  We walked from here, but there are also public transit options nearby, including multiple bus lines and a subway line.  

Our main goal for the day was to walk the 2 1/2 mile Freedom Trail, which takes you through multiple parks to 16 sites of significance in US history. We did things in reverse, starting at Bunker Hill in Charlestown and culminating our tour at Boston Common in downtown.  Though you can purchase guided tours, and we certainly ran into many along the way, we wanted to do things at our own pace.  Here are the highlights.  

Atop Bunker Hill is a monument honoring those who fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill, fought against Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War.  From here we walked through a few smaller parks to the beautiful five-acre Paul Revere Park that sits along the Charles River.  I liked the decorative mosaic tile and undulating benches, which seemed to be a nod to Gaudi’s Parque Guell.  The views from the top of this layered park are also outstanding.

From here we walked across an impromptu pedestrian bridge to the North End while the main bridge was under construction.  It flexed a lot under foot, so I can imagine that anyone afraid of heights or going over bridges might freak out a bit.  😬 We walked up to the Copps Hill Burying Ground, the second-oldest burial ground in Boston where many of the North End’s residents of lesser means were laid to rest. 

Down the street from the cemetery is the Old North Church, where Paul Revere’s signal lanterns were hung to warn Americans of the onslaught of British troops.  A statue of Paul Revere stands behind the church in their courtyard.  By this time, we were getting peckish.  The North End is Boston’s oldest residential community, and is filled with gorgeous historic buildings and dozens upon dozens of Italian American restaurants.  If you love Italian food, you really can’t go wrong here.  😋

After lunch, we continued to several more sites, including the Granary Burial Ground, Boston’s third-oldest cemetery. Therein lie the remains of notable figures, including Paul Revere, the five victims of the Boston Massacre, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Robert Treat Paine to name a few.  For us, it was interesting to see commemorative plaques on the walls of the surrounding buildings, which made me wonder where their bodies were actually buried.  Our tour ended at the expansive Boston Common, America’s oldest public park, dating from 1634.  It is a beautiful park, bordered by the state capitol building to the east.  

Finally, we took a cab across the river to Harvard and walked around their campus grounds before deciding to “call it” and head back toward our truck.  Our feet were worn out by this time. 😑 We had parked on the northern edge of Boston and were conveniently located next to the freeway entrance, so we had a relatively speedy exit during rush hour.  Though we couldn’t live in such a densely populated area again, Boston is a beautiful city, very walkable, filled with history, and worth going to see for yourself.  

Friendly New Hampshire

We had read a lot of positive reviews about New Hampshire and more specifically the Nashua area, so were curious to spend some time here.  New Hampshire has been lauded as a more affordable place to live, with lower taxes and an entrepreneur-friendly environment, as well as a plethora of educational opportunities for people of all ages.  What we found was that the people of New Hampshire were some of the friendliest we have encountered thus far during our travels through the northeastern United States.

Downtown Nashua 

With another hot, sunny day on the books, we headed into Nashua to run a few errands and have some lunch.  After picking up a few things, we walked along Main Street looking for a place to enjoy lunch outside.  There weren’t a lot of places open for lunch, but we found the Odd Fellows Brewing Company.  Matt had a brown ale and I had a key lime sour, and both were tasty beers. 🍻 I wanted crab cakes, but they were out, so I had a their cod sandwich, and Matt had their fish and chips.  Both were good, but it was a LOT of food.  

Afterward, we walked along the Nashua River, soaking in the sunshine and the views.  There isn’t a large greenway though, so we drove over to Mine Falls Park to take a stroll.  This 325-acre park is great for boating, fishing, walking, biking and skiing, with a decent network of trails and waterways.  We saw the historic gatehouse, built in 1886 to expand the previously smaller guard gates, which demonstrated more utilitarian rather than decorative architecture.  The pollen was very thick in New Hampshire, as was demonstrated by the marbled effect on the water in one of the pictures below, but it did not deter people from taking advantage of a statewide free fishing day.

We had hoped to loop back around the Mill Pond, but the bridge is closed until July 2022.  Between the bridge closure, pollen impacting Matt and us both still recovering from Covid, we turned around and called it a day.  There is so much more we could discover in Nashua, but we are trying to pace ourselves and not overdo it.  

New Hampshire Coast

One really convenient feature of New Hampshire is that it’s small, so you can easily drive across the state for a day trip.  There are 18 miles of shoreline bordering the Atlantic Ocean, and we headed east in search of lunch, sand, sun, and ocean breezes. 

First, we stopped for lunch at Tuna Striker Pub located off of the Seabrook Harbor. This place turned out to be a fabulous pick.  We had an outside table, the service was excellent and the food was even better.  We had a cup of lobster bisque, a cup of clam chowder, crab cakes, olive tapenade and a big salad.  It was a wonderful way to start our day on the coast.  

Next, we stopped at the Hampton Beach State Park, strolled along the shoreline, watched people bare their skin in hopes of turning bronze, but mostly turning pink or red instead.  We saw a beautiful New Hampshire Marine Memorial and a family of ducks buoying on the waves.  It was fun to simply observe and walk off our lunch while enjoying the breeze and the dance between the sun and clouds overhead.

With plenty of daylight left, we went to Odiorne Point State Park, which is just south of Portsmouth.  From Hampton Beach the drive was relaxing as we saw a variety of houses along the coast, everything from small shanties to grandiose mansions.  When we arrived at the park, I found a myriad of paths to explore.  We saw a bunch of groundhogs hanging out in the park’s gardens on our way toward the Seacoast Science Center.  Then we saw this large cement structure, which turned out to be Battery Seaman Gun #1, built in 1942.

As we looked at this relic from the past covered in graffiti, a man came over from the trail asking us if we knew what it was.  He then shared that he and his friends used to bike over there when they were children and run through the amass of subterranean tunnels and rooms inside.  His name is Chris, and he talked at length about how some of the lowest rooms were flooded, others still had furniture and papers in them, and the powder rooms had some substance hanging down from the walls, possibly used to prevent a spark from blowing the whole place to kingdom come.  

He said that when the state took over the land, they closed off the access points to the rooms and tunnels by welding the doors shut, but that did not deter curious explorers.  Eventually, the state put large blocks of rock in front of the doors.  This battery was part of Fort Dearborn, built during World War II, and you can check out more of the fort’s history here.   We thanked Chris for sharing the significance of this place both for him personally and historically.  

Finally, we headed into Portsmouth, in search of dinner.  After wandering the streets of this wonderful little city, we went to the Portsmouth Brewery.  The beers were excellent and the food was decent.  Had we not still been trying to be cautious and eat outside due to our recent Covid infection, we would have opted for one of the many great restaurants in the area that only had inside seating.  This town is definitely worth visiting, between the views, the great food scene, and several islands nearby with historical sites to see.  

Palmer-Bartell Forest and Culture Bread 

There were several trails and the Potanipo Lake nearby us in Brookline.  First, we went to the Palmer-Bartell Forest.  We tried to use this route, but the trailhead listed appeared to be on someone’s private property!  Instead, start at Bartell Trailhead, and then connect to the route from AllTrails.   

As we hiked toward the Powerline trail, I heard a squeak coming from the side of the trail.  I stopped, trying to locate where the sound was coming from.  Matt pulled back a few leaves and a dead branch, and lo and behold, it turns out we accidentally freed a wood frog from the jaws of a garter snake. The snake was NOT happy with us. Whoops!  😳🐍 However, the wood frog’s cries worked and it got to live a little longer.

On the Powerline trail there were several flooded sections, where I observed several different frog species before we went up Hutchington Hill before circling back to the Brookline Rail Trail, which is also used by cyclists in summer and snowmobiles in winter.  There are several bodies of water along this stretch, and I discovered new flora growing nearby.  The only major challenge was the fact that there was SO much pollen in the air.  My pant legs were coated in it by the time we got back to the truck.  It was definitely wreaking havoc on Matt’s sinuses and coating everything in a fine yellow layer.  I’m looking forward to the end of the massive dumps of pollen so we can finally wash the trailer. 😂

Afterward, we went north to the town of Milford and ordered sandwiches from Culture Bread.  I got their BCGC, a grilled broccoli, cheddar and cream cheese sandwich, and Matt picked out their B-Real, a pulled pork sandwich.  Both were incredible! 👍 The staff was super friendly and I wish we had time to go back again.

The Big Oops

Even closer to us was the Potanipo Hill and Sculpture Park that features local artist’s works.  Earlier that day it rained, but the afternoon was sunny and beautiful, so we headed over there to check out the outdoor art display.  We had gone a 1/2 mile and were looking at a sculpture called Bones of the Earth when I heard Matt yell.  He had slipped on a rock and was on the ground gripping his leg.  He yelled, “I broke my foot,” so I hurried over to try and help.

Unfortunately, I’m too short to help support his weight, so he had to peg leg on his heel to get back to the truck.  Off we went to the St. Joseph Urgent Care in Milford.  They were so nice and got him in quickly for X-rays and an examination.  The X-rays did not show any broken bones, so they simply gave him crutches and sent him on his way.  

That being said, he could not put any weight on it, so that meant our plans were going to change pretty drastically.  No!  Not right before Maine!  Maine was the leg of our trip we had been anticipating for months, and many of the things we had planned to do were now out the window. 😩 However, it’s a good thing this happened late in our travels, because had it occurred early on, we may have been stuck for a while!  Thankfully, I was comfortable enough with driving the truck, towing, departure and arrival tasks to take over. 

Field and Stream RV Park

The park we stayed in is called Field and Stream RV Park.  Their web site states that it’s “Peaceful, Quiet, and Restful,” and I completely agree.  It’s a small park with a number of full-time residents, and has several amenities.  You are given a QR code to enter the campground, so hang onto that piece of paper and keep it in your vehicle.  We saw one person try to use a picture of the QR code on her phone, but the scanner would NOT accept it, just FYI.

Their campsites are fairly level, the laundry facilities were some of the nicest we have encountered, there is propane on premise for refills, and there is a small fishing pond and play area for outdoor entertainment.  We got to know some of our neighbors, Lynne and Hank, who moved from Massachusetts to Greenville, South Carolina a few year ago, so we gabbed for a while about their experience living there compared to the northeast.  Our conversation was instigated by Matt’s crutches…Hank has been dealing with a foot injury for years now, so those two commiserated on this painful similarity.  

If you are spending time in New Hampshire or Massachusetts, I highly recommend this park.  It was an easy jaunt to the Atlantic and to Boston due to its central location, and provided the respite one looks for when trying to get away from it all.  

Our adventure will be interesting from here on out.  Matt plans to see an orthopedic specialist once we get to Portland for a second opinion and we will simply have to play things by ear for a while.  Wish us luck! 😬🍀

Central Massachusetts

One of the draws to visiting Massachusetts for us was seeing one of my long-time friends Bre, with whom I used to work for many years at GU Energy.  We have stayed in touch over the years and I was excited to reconnect.  However, with Covid having gripped us, we had to change our plans and find other ways to spend our time.  We wanted to socially isolate as much as possible until I tested negative, so going to a more populous area such as Boston was out of the question.  Instead, we laid low during the Memorial Day weekend and did a variety of more relaxed activities during the subsequent week.

We had a fairly brief travel day, but as we neared our destination we ended up on a road with a “Road work ahead” sign.  This was the only road through to our destination that we could find. We didn’t see any construction workers though, so we continued down what was essentially a repaving project in mid-swing.  Pretty quickly we saw a construction crew and police standing around, but were offered no guidance until we stopped next to a dump truck driver whose response was “Yeah, you’re good.” 

As we cautiously continued, manholes and other obstacles were raised above the surface all over the road. So we ended up playing manhole slalom with our travel trailer while competing with oncoming traffic. We’d seen similar construction zones in places like Belize, but didn’t expect such a chaotic situation in Massachusetts. 😂 Thankfully, we made it through the construction zone unscathed and it all worked out.

Northampton/Springfield KOA

In central Massachusetts, we stayed at the Northampton/Springfield KOA, which is actually located in Westhampton.  This KOA is one of the larger ones we have booked during our journeys.  We were way in the back, and this turned out to be great for us.  It was less crowded and thus quieter, had a decent amount of sun, but we also had afternoon shade.  Our site was grass and slightly sloped, so for more level sites on rock I recommend those at the front of the KOA grounds.  However, the frontmost sites are closer together and see a lot more traffic since they are also near the office and general store, pool, play equipment, and mini golf.

This KOA offers firetruck rides for kids, which we saw on several occasions doing laps around the park.  In fact, they provided a whole itinerary of activities happening over the Memorial Day weekend.  There are facilities with laundry, bathrooms and game rooms both in the front and back of the park, and another bathroom in the center of the park.  Unfortunately, the laundry facilities near us were really grimy, with dead bugs all over the floor, and the arcade next door was locked.  But, we took a peek at the front laundry facilities and they were much cleaner by comparison and the game room was open.

Two issues we experienced were extremely low water flow and frequent power outages.  Since we usually fill our freshwater tank, water flow isn’t a huge issue for us.  However, we kept having power brownouts, as did our neighbor, so I don’t think they are set up to handle the number of people staying there, even though it wasn’t even completely full.  There are a number of full-time residents in the middle of the park and trailers that remain there permanently as vacation getaways.  I’m not sure if that affects the power issues, or if they just need to redo their entire power grid.  Finally, the KOA general store was pretty barren, so the Outlook Farm Barn and Eatery just a few minutes down the road is a great option for prepared food and groceries.

Downtown Northampton

We wanted to see downtown Northampton, but still keep our distance so we didn’t get anyone sick.  The weather was really nice, so we parked on the edge of town and went for a stroll.  

The first place we encountered was Smith College, a private liberal arts women’s college.  As we continued toward the town center, we enjoyed the vivid art on the streets, sidewalks and walls and saw a pedestrian bridge overhead.  That bridge is part of the Northampton Greenway, one portion of over 52 miles of bike/walk paths branching out in several directions from downtown. We continued along that path and then circled back, enjoying some older buildings, including the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church. 

Eventually, we decided to stop at Jake’s Restaurant, since they had a decent menu and outside seating.  I had their Eggs in Purgatory bowl and Matt had the house burger.  My lunch was especially good and quite filling, so I saved half for breakfast the next day. 😋 I was really warm at this point in the day, and this being our first real outing since being sick, we didn’t want to push our luck, so we headed back.  All in all, we thought Northampton was a cute little downtown.  Had we been feeling better and not concerned about being contagious, we would have definitely spent more time down here enjoying the restaurants and the bike path.

Hiking/Walking

As we slowly started getting out more, I was itching to get on a trail to see how my lungs could handle a little bit of elevation.  Nearby was a place called Mineral Hills Conservation Area, which has trails and views of an abandoned rock quarry.  I figured it would be a great place to enjoy some nice views.  Starting out, it was incredibly buggy, so bug spray is recommended.  We didn’t catch any views on the main part of the hike, but did get a decent little workout.

On our way back, the quarry is right next to the trailhead, so if you want to skip the hike and just see the quarry, you can easily do just that.  We saw from atop the cliffs that there was quite the ecosystem down below: a pond filled with fish, frogs, turtles, and among the dry parts of the quarry there were plenty of birds and blooms visible.  As such, we went into the quarry.  

Not only did we see all of these things, I surprised a large snake, and the frogs gave us quite the little concert.  I have never heard bull frogs with such deep calls before!  Check out this video and turn up the sound to listen.  At 13 seconds and 34 seconds you can hear the low, guttural calls from what I suspect was a really large bull frog.  😯🐸 This was a really cool experience, and as far as enjoying wildlife, it was one of my favorites on this trip thus far. 👍👍

Listen to all of the frogs in this video. It’s incredible.

Before we left the area, we went on one more walk through Nonotuck Park in Easthampton.  This place gets plenty of use, having facilities for to play soccer, volleyball, baseball, softball, basketball, swimming, bocce ball and more.  We stuck to the trails along the Broad Brook and Nashawannuck Pond, and I finally got to see one of my favorite flowers in bloom: the Pink Lady’s Slipper.  This wild orchid is native to the northeast and reminds me of the Showy Lady’s Slipper, which is the state flower of Minnesota, where I grew up. 😍 

Springfield

Just 30 minutes south of us is the city of Springfield.  It also happens to be the home town of famed children’s author Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Seuss Geisel).  The weather was going to be a hot, so we thought it would be a good idea to go check out the Dr. Seuss museum and beat the heat.  While looking for things to do in Springfield, I happened upon this blog post.  It was hilarious that the 15th idea on the list was to not go to Springfield at all, but go to Boston instead. 😂 Talk about terrible advertising for a city! LOL

We discovered that Springfield has five museums together in one area, so you can buy a ticket to see them all and they provide a map of each location and type of museum.  The options include museums of science, art, fine arts, Springfield history, and Dr. Seuss.  You have to select a time slot to go into the Dr. Seuss museum due to its popularity, so we chose to start at the science museum since it was right next door.

We walked through sections displaying both a variety of mammals and dinosaurs as well as a synopsis of earth’s geologic and natural history broken down into time periods.  Upstairs we saw an exhibit of African artifacts and cultural history, showing how many of us originated from this area when the continents had not yet separated into their existing locations.  I never realized just how massive the continent of Africa is until that moment! 😯 Finally, we wandered the Earth Hall, which displays different meteorite remnants, rocks, gems and minerals from all over the world.  The variety of materials found on this earth are awe-inspiring.

Next we headed over to the Dr. Seuss museum.  You walk through different rooms dedicated to different subjects, such as his early and late childhood, his years as an acclaimed author, and the period after he retired from writing.  The basement and first floors of this museum are mostly geared toward kids, including many interactive sections, but the second story shares artifacts, his drawings, and correspondence with loved ones that provide more insight into the man behind the popular children’s books.

Outside you can wander through the small Dr. Seuss memorial sculpture garden, all figures designed and created by Dr. Seuss’s step-daughter Lark Grey Dimond-Cates.  

It was getting late, so we only had time to visit one more museum.  Across the way we took a brief tour of the fine arts hall, which included paintings, furniture and sculptures from periods including some 15th century Medieval period and 16th century Renaissance art, 17th to 19th century European art, and Modern or Contemporary art on the bottom floor.

Afterward, we walked around downtown in search of an open coffee shop, and discovered La Fiorentina Pastry Shop.  They have a small grocery of Italian goods, cafe, bakery and gelateria, with some gorgeous cakes and other delectable pastries on display.  Matt got an affogato and I chose a small cup of strawberry gelato, which we enjoyed as we walked toward the truck.  I wish we had more time to visit the city’s Forest Park, but it was getting late, we were tired and needed to head back to prepare dinner.  If you like visiting museums and/or are a fan of Dr. Seuss, this is a great place to enjoy both.

Though we would have loved to explore this area more and see friends during our stay, we were still in recovery mode after being sick, trying to distance ourselves from others and regain our energy.  What I loved about the area was how relaxed it was.  We didn’t feel rushed or stressed and really enjoyed the pace of life here, the scenery, and the lovely late spring weather.  Come see for yourself if you are traveling through New England.  We head to New Hampshire next for another week-long stay.  

A Forced Break

Throughout our travels, we have been so fortunate to remain healthy, which makes moving around a whole lot easier.  Well, our luck ran out! 😐 I started hearing from friends and family all over the country that they had recently gotten sick from Covid, and knew cases were on the rise again.  In Washington DC we experienced large crowds indoors for the first time in quite a while, so I resumed masking up indoors.  We also spent a day in Philadelphia, during which time I masked up indoors to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  However, two days later, Matt got sick. 🤧 We think it was while waiting for sandwiches at Campos, since he was inside this small deli, packed to the gills with people for 30 minutes while I was outside.

I wasn’t experiencing any symptoms, so he wasn’t sure if he had a sinus infection or if it was something else.  As such, we laid low for the remainder of our stay in Pennsylvania and moved to Connecticut.   Although Matt’s symptoms were starting to subside, we were concerned about spreading Covid, so it was decided to go get a drive-through Covid test to be on the safe side.  By this time, Matt had been sick for 5 days and I was still fine.  Our test results came back quickly: I was negative and Matt was positive.  Crud.  

The day after we got our test results I started getting symptoms.  No!  Not now!  We were so excited to explore western Connecticut.  My friend Tali and her sister had shared so many great places to explore: Kent Falls State Park and Steep Rock Preserve, to name a few.  Another friend of ours had recommended a few spots in New Haven to eat as well: Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria and Louis’ Lunch, the supposed birthplace of the hamburger sandwich.  We even had grand plans to visit Rhode Island since it was just a few hours away.  In the end, we didn’t see any of these places. ☹️

I had been so worried about getting Covid, because of complicating factors.  When I turned 30, I got mononucleosis for the first time, and it went undiagnosed for 5 months, during which time I was still training and racing bikes.  The virus that can cause mono is called Epstein-Barr, which remains a latent virus in your body and can resurface again if your immune system is severely compromised.  This virus combined with a late diagnosis led to four years of chronic fatigue last time, and I have been so fearful of ending up with chronic fatigue again.  It was horrible, because it took away my active life, many people told me it was just all in my head and I became severely depressed.  Though I am trying hard not to dwell on the fact that I might get chronic fatigue again, it’s hard to quiet that voice in my head. 😬

Asking friends and family about their Covid experience, I thought it might not be that big of a deal.  Well, I was wrong.  I haven’t been that sick in over 10 years.  By day four, both Matt and I were concerned that I might need to go to the ER, because my symptoms kept progressing.  Basically, I felt like death warmed over. 🤒 Thankfully, my worst day was also the day when I turned the corner and my symptoms started to subside.  We are now asymptomatic, but still more tired than usual, trying to be patient as we slowly recover.

We converted our dining table into a daybed during our recovery

During most of our illness we stayed in a lovely place called the Cozy Hills Campground, just outside of Bantam, Connecticut.  Though we did not use many of their facilities since we were sick, this place did live up to its name.  Most of the sites were spacious, especially ours: Site 370.  The grounds have three ponds and several amenities, including a well stocked general store, firewood bundles, and activities for kids. It was so peaceful during our stay as I convalesced in the trailer, watched the turtles sunbathe, waterfowl paddle across the water, and listened to the trees rustle in the afternoon breeze.  We could not have asked for a more relaxing stay, to be honest.  

Our isolated and spacious site at Cozy Hills Campground in Bantam, Connecticut

It was fortuitous that Matt and I had somehow staggered our sickness so we could take care of each other.  We had plenty of food in our pantry, so we didn’t have to leave the trailer or spend unnecessary effort on meals.  Plus, the weather was warm enough that we could open the windows and doors to get fresh air and not feel so cooped up inside.  We didn’t have any raucous neighbors stressing us out either.  This wasn’t the experience we were looking for, but we were thankful that it went as smoothly as it did.  The jury is still out as to whether I will have any long term effects from Covid.  As is often the case, only time will tell. 🤞

Eastern Pennsylvania

After some stormy, gray days near the Atlantic coast, we headed north and farther inland.  We got a healthy dose of sunshine on our journey and were excited to change it up for once, taking a longer lunch break to see Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, just over the Virginia border.

A Lunch Stop in Gettysburg

Gettysburg is known for the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the most significant battles during the American Civil War, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which was given to commemorate and acknowledge the sacrifice of fallen soldiers and to dedicate the Soldier’s National Cemetery.  The National Park Service preserves the 6000+ acres of battlefield grounds and American Civil War artifacts.  We parked and walked over to the battlefield, where we saw countless plaques, statues, and other memorials to the commanding generals and their military units who fought in this battle.  

Reading about the brutal battle and everyone involved, including those charged with medical care under ghastly circumstances, you cannot help but feel the eeriness and haunting nature of this place.  Our tour culminated at the Pennsylvania State Memorial, which commemorates the nearly 35,000 Pennsylvania soldiers who fought during the Battle of Gettysburg.  After climbing the steps, there is a spiral staircase access in the southwestern column that leads to an upper level.  From here, the views of the surrounding valleys and the battlefield are incredible.

If you are a history buff or want to honor and remember those fallen in battle, this is a peaceful place to accomplish both.  For us, it was the perfect place to stop for lunch, walk it off, and learn more about one of our country’s most visceral moments in history.  There isn’t more than a few hours worth of activities here, so I recommend visiting if you are already planning to pass through this area or perhaps a picnic spot for lunch.

A Day in Philadelphia

We couldn’t visit eastern Pennsylvania and not go to the city of brotherly love.  Fun fact: The reason why it is called the city of brotherly love is because the founder, William Penn, aspired to create a city of religious tolerance and without religious persecution.  Philadelphia comes from the Greek words Phileo (love) and aldelphos (brother).  It was hot the day we went, and we experienced powerful contrasts in sights, sounds and smells while walking around.

We spent most of our time in the city center, parking near the Philadelphia Museum of Art and walking toward Independence Hall.  In addition to seeing some of the historic sites, we were focused on getting some lunch in our bellies.  Philly is known for its cheesesteak, and although it’s not something I would typically eat, we decided to go for it since we may not get a chance to come back here again.

The first place we wanted to go was Sonny’s Famous Steaks, but discovered they were closed temporarily when we arrived.  Instead, we went down the block to Campo’s.  Even though it was already close to 2pm, this place was packed…likely due to Sonny’s closure driving more business their way.  We ordered inside and I grabbed a table on the sidewalk while waiting for our food.  Matt waited inside for our order, which took over 30 minutes.  Was it worth the wait?  Not really, but we dug into our cheesesteaks anyway since we were ravenous at this point.  Though it satisfied my hunger, I don’t think I’ll be having another cheesesteak anytime soon.

One of the places we wanted to see during our time here was Independence Hall.  The National Park Service has instituted a reservation system to limit the number of people entering the hall at any given time to 45 people or less per time slot, so you will have to go online to reserve your spot.  It only costs $1 per person, but they do not have tickets to purchase at the hall, so you have to take care of this in advance.  

After lunch, we walked back to Liberty Hall to see the Liberty Bell while we waited for our reservation time at Independence Hall next door.  The Liberty Bell originally symbolized American independence from the British monarchy.  It has since been adopted as a symbol of freedom by many groups, including abolitionists during the Civil War to end slavery, suffragists fighting for women’s right to vote, and several others who have visited the bell because it represented their fight for political, religious and personal freedom from persecution.

Next, we walked over to Independence Hall to see where both the United States Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were agreed upon and signed by our nation’s founding fathers.  It was originally built as Pennsylvania’s State House where all legislative, executive and judicial branches of government met.  The person leading our tour mentioned that they are still learning more about historic accuracy of events.  For example, they used to think three judges presided over the court for judicial hearings, but more recently discovered that there were four judges.  We were only allowed to go into the two rooms that comprise the downstairs of the hall for 10-15 minutes, so the tour was brief.  Our tour guide had a very confusing delivery and it felt like he was just rambling off the cuff, so how great of an experience you have may depend on who leads your group.

Next up, we decided to walk down to the Delaware River along the waterfront and take a moment to relax at Liberty Point.  This restaurant has outdoor seating on two different levels, and we opted for a high top downstairs away from the music to enjoy a refreshing drink and some people watching.  After wandering along more of the riverfront, we chose to get an early dinner.  Our friend Tali had recommendations since she and her family used to live in Pennsylvania and visit Philly.

Along the way to dinner we walked through one of the city’s several historic districts and saw some of the many landmarks in the area, including President James Madison’s residence and A Man Full of Trouble Tavern, the only remaining tavern from Colonial Philadelphia.  During all of our walking around the city, we noticed that it is incredibly pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly with a lot of public parks.  Runners, bikers, strollers, and park goers were all taking advantage of the gorgeous weather that day. 

Before heading back, we had dinner at Fat Salmon Sushi, which was perfect after a hot day.  The restaurant had a relaxing ambiance, a large selection of items on the menu, and everything we picked was tasty and satisfying.  We swung by Trader Joe’s on our way back to pick up some of our favorite snacks and left the city tired but fulfilled.  It was an action-packed day and provided us a glimpse into what everyone talks about when they say Philly is a great city.

French Creek State Park

Eastern Pennsylvania was another area where we had trouble finding a decent campground or RV park.  So many of the reviews were absolutely terrible, primarily due to difficulties getting to the campground (narrow, winding roads, low hanging branches, or low clearance overpasses) or extremely muddy and uneven site conditions.  In the end, we decided to stay at French Creek State Park, about an hour and a half northwest of Philadelphia and a little over an hour southwest of the Allentown/Bethlehem area.  And, we ran into all of these issues anyway. 😂

The routing to get there was really wacky, taking us up and down all sorts of narrow, winding roads, and at times having to navigate some dicey right turns.  If you do decide to come here, the best way to enter is from the north, taking highway 724 to either highway 345 or Shed Road.  Once you arrive, there are four loops in the main campground and some more remote group camping sites elsewhere in the park.  We were in Loop B, and unfortunately picked one of the “not so great” sites which was muddy and sloped.  You can run the risk of damaging your RV’s slide(s) and/or refrigerator if you try to operate them while your RV is not level, and we maxed out our available blocking trying to get our rig level.

We did a walk through the other loops and here is what we found:  

  • Loop A is mostly shaded and has some sites that appear to have been repaved more recently and are more level (sites A1 through A20), but a lot of the inner sites on the backside of Loop A have varying degrees of sloping issues.  
  • The rest of Loop B is fairly shaded as well, and sloping issues are hit or miss.  
  • The sites closest to the entrance of Loop C get the most sunshine and are fairly level, and the rest are shaded with varying degrees of sloping issues.  
  • Loop D is currently closed while they do maintenance, including tree removal.  

Basically, unless you can scout sites out before you choose them, it’s a total crap shoot. 🙄

The bathrooms are run down, and the showers are a push button operation, so you cannot control the water temperature.  I had to hit the button three times before I got any warm water, and then the water got too hot with no way for me to cool it down unless I just stood there and waited for 10-20 minutes. 😠 This was not ideal or efficient, so I didn’t use them again.  But, the bathrooms do have an outside sink for washing dishes, which is nice.

For trail access from the campground, you have to walk 1/2 mile to the campground entrance for the nearest trailhead.  I found one trail entrance from loop A, but you would have to walk through someone’s campsite to get to it, so it’s not always accessible.  Because we were there in the springtime, most of the trails were really muddy and insect repellent was essential.  There are also two bodies of water nearby: Scotts Run Lake and Hopewell Lake, both which offer boat launches and docks for fishing, boating, etc.  

Caterpillars were everywhere during our stay, trying to cocoon on anything and everything we had outside.  In the end, I don’t think I would return to this campground.  It was remote, buggy, muddy, run down, and most of the trails lacked any views and/or needed maintenance.  Unless you are coming here for water sports, I would camp elsewhere.

Trexler Nature Preserve

One of the last activities we did was visit Trexler Nature Preserve, just outside of Allentown.  We combined hiking with seeing some of the many historic covered bridges nearby.  Thankfully, the park’s web site gave us a heads up on a covered bridge closure, so we could plan our hike and parking accordingly.  We drove to the South Range trail head parking lot along Jordan Rd, 1/2 mile south of the Geiger covered bridge.  Since the bridge is out through June, only local traffic is coming through, so it’s pretty safe to walk along the road to the trail.

We saw so many gorgeous spring blooms and birds as we walked along the Covered Bridge Trail.  The trail ends at the Jordan Creek water crossing, where we saw several school buses coming from the zoo nearby.  The road goes through the creek instead of above it, so we heard the kids squealing as the buses made big splashes driving across the water.  From there, we continued on the Elk Ridge Trail and across a pedestrian bridge to view the Schlicher’s Covered Bridge.

Jordan Creek vehicle crossing makes a splash

Matt was feeling ambitious, so we took the steep Elk Ridge Trail up along the game preserve.  We saw a brief glimpse of the elk as we huffed and puffed our way up to the ridge.  There are several access points to the preserve fence line where you can try to spot the elk herd.  At one point we had nearly a 360 degree view, and this is where we saw ominous clouds west of us.

The radar showed a nasty storm headed our way, so we didn’t dawdle.  Back down the ridge to the Jordan Creek we went, and back across another pedestrian bridge.  The rain began about 1/4 mile from Jordan Rd, so we tried to pick up the pace.  We made it back to the truck just in the nick of time.  As we shed our muddy hiking shoes and wet jackets and got inside the cab, the skies opened up and dumped buckets of rain.  Despite the weather cutting our hike short, we really enjoyed our adventure here and highly recommend checking it out.

There is so much you can do in eastern Pennsylvania, from touring the big city of Philadelphia, to traveling the country roads and seeing countless historic structures among the verdant rolling hills.  I would like to come back to bask in the beautiful natural spaces this area has to offer, perhaps later in summer after the mud subsides and the caterpillars are done cocooning.  Our time here was so brief, but as we continue northeast it has been interesting to see the unique attractions each state has to offer.  Goodbye Pennsylvania and hello Connecticut!

Cooking on the Road: Eighth Edition

Pasta with creamy carrot miso sauce and carrot top gremolata

One of my frequent goals in cooking is to use up items before they expire or that are taking up space in my pantry, and this recipe accomplished both.  I had half a box of bowtie pasta and a few tablespoons of white miso paste, and this vegan recipe was a creative way to use up both and incorporate nuts and vegetables.  

For the gremolata, which is similar to a pesto, I blitzed the ingredients for longer than the recipe called for to improve the texture, making it less gritty.  The results packed a punch between the greens, lemon zest and juice, but also balanced out the creamy richness of the carrot miso sauce. For the sauce, I cut the water by 1/2 cup, making the sauce thicker so it would coat the pasta better.  Since I have been fermenting shallots and garlic, which uses salt in the process, and my cashews were salted, and miso is plenty of salty as well, I did not add even more salt to this dish.  

After cooking the pasta, I added a few serving spoonfuls of the sauce to coat it.  Finally, I added a few chopped cashews for some additional crunch.  The result was a creamy, zesty, nutty pasta and what I think was a successful spring dish that celebrates carrots, using all parts of this lovely vegetable.  🥕👍😋

Strawberry shortcake

One of my all-time favorite desserts from childhood is strawberry shortcake, but not with angel food or sponge cake.  Where I grew up we used biscuits with a hint of sugar, and I still prefer it texturally to the light cakes that get too soggy too quickly.  The Best Recipe still has my favorite take on this classic, but on the road I don’t have access to this gigantic cookbook, so I used Sally’s version instead.

While visiting Boone, North Carolina we were walking down their main street and happened upon a farmer selling strawberries.  They smelled so good that I couldn’t resist getting some, and they were a steal at $5 per quart.  Because newfound friends Mike and Carrie in Sylva, North Carolina had been ever so gracious, putting us up twice during our time in Asheville, I wanted to express our gratitude by baking this favorite of mine to share with them.  

This has never happened to me before…these strawberries were absolutely perfect.  None were under ripe or over ripe, so every berry in the bunch was used. 🍓😍 The macerated berries and whipped cream were easy, but baking biscuits in the trailer turned out to be tricky, especially on a hot day. I had to scrap the first batch because they turned into puddles, so I relied on the 3:2:1 ratios of flour, liquid, and butter for the second batch, kept everything cool, and worked quickly.

I cubed butter and stuck it in the freezer along with my sheet pans, while I prepped the dry ingredients.  Once the dry ingredients were in the food processor, I pulled the butter out of the freezer and incorporated it, then plopped the mixture in a wide bowl and added cold buttermilk from the refrigerator immediately.  Using a floured pastry cloth, I turned the loose mixture out and pressed it together with the cloth.  With my cookie cutter and a metal spatula handy, I put the biscuits on the cooled baking sheets and pushed them together in the center of the pan.  

Some of the biscuits were barely together, but that was ok as long as I got them into the oven before the butter got too warm.  I also brushed some heavy cream and sprinkled sugar on top to create a golden crust.  Because I had two batches, I stuck the second one in the freezer while the other batch was baking and increased the baking time by just 2 minutes (22 minutes instead of 20).  The biscuits turned out fabulous!

The results were a slightly sweet, but mostly refreshing spring/summer dessert that put me right back to my childhood memory of my mom making me a large, layered shortcake for my birthday.  It is still my favorite birthday cake I’ve ever had.  If you happen upon a bunch of fresh strawberries, this is a way to showcase those beautiful, juicy berries and share dessert with loved ones. 😍

Salmon with bean ragù

Beans and lentils are an important part of our diet, being high in folate, potassium, iron, magnesium and a great source of fiber.  As such, I thought I’d try this salmon and bean ragù recipe.  Using canned beans also means this meals can be done in less than 30 minutes.  I chose to use 3 oz of prosciutto instead of 2 oz, crisp it up in the pan ahead of time, and then save 1/3 of the crumbled results to garnish with at the end.  That little bit of crisp texture worked great in this dish.  I couldn’t find escarole either, so used a mixture of dark leafy greens instead.  We loved how this turned out and think you will too.

Chicken and freekeh with lemon feta relish

I have been trying to incorporate more whole grains into our diet, and it has been a long time since I tried freekeh, which is roasted cracked wheat.  The last time I tried freekeh, the dish seemed cloying, so I have been hesitant to try it again.  Whole Foods carries small bags of several different whole grains, so it wasn’t a huge commitment to buy a few and experiment. 

This dish from Food and Wine turned out better than expected.  I finished off our dried currents in place of the golden raisins, but left the rest of the recipe the same.  The freekeh took a lot longer to cook than the recipe indicated…more like 30-40 minutes, despite soaking the grain for an hour beforehand.  Otherwise, everything turned out great.  The feta lemon relish gave this dish the finishing zip that it needed to balance the sweet and smoky flavors of the freekeh and currants.  I loved it and will be making this again.

Cassoulet

You’d think a dish made up of meat, beans and bread crumbs wouldn’t be anything to write home about, but this one featured duck, one of my favorites, and soon became a go-to comfort food.  I’ll never forget the first time I had this classic Provincial French dish at the Ledford House.  That night will forever be solidified in my memory, so not only do I recommend the Ledford House, but trying this recipe.  The Ledford House is located on the cliffs of Albion in northern California, about 7 miles south of Mendocino.  They have delicious food, an excellent wine selection from vineyards down the road in the Anderson Valley, feature live Jazz music nightly, and breathtaking views of the ocean. 

Cassoulet can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be, from curing the meat 2 days ahead, then cooking the meats and soaking beans 1 day ahead, and then assembling everything on the final day.  Conversely, this simplified version of cassoulet can be done in a hour.  I didn’t want to waste a lot of propane cooking for hours, so I opted for the simpler version.  If you love duck like I do, I highly recommend incorporating that into this dish and allowing for any extra cooking time, but chicken thighs are also a tasty and a very forgiving meat that can easily stay juicy and tender.  I had a couple of Andouille sausages left over from another recipe that also worked well in this dish, and two cans of northern beans.  

The other ingredients are so simple, but really round out the flavors, including your aromatics (onion, garlic), thyme, tomato paste, and a little bit of white wine for deglazing the pot.  The white wine is essential in this dish as it adds depth that you simply cannot achieve without it.  Finally, the breadcrumbs on top are also important.  When you pull this out of the oven, having that bit of crunch in contrast with the soft, bubbling mess of meat and beans underneath is heavenly.  We made this on a stormy day in which a warm comfort food was just what was needed.  The next time you want something to warm you up on a cold day, give this recipe a chance. 

Sweet Virginia

Though we did not see central Virginia, we did get to see parts of the western and northeastern borders.  From the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, this state not only offers up a variety of landscapes, but also a depth of history like no other, being the first English colony and one of the original 13 colonies of the American Revolution.

I often talk about access to the outdoors, because it is near and dear to my heart, and an important quality of life factor that I pay close attention to everywhere I go.  Virginia is among the top 20 states for public land access, helped significantly by its Shenandoah National Park lands.  And, its next door neighbor Washington DC is ranked as the #1 city in the nation for park access, and is incredibly walkable.  Its National Mall is a great example of the public parklands available to enjoy.

Virginia also happens to be one of the US’s top 10 bike-friendly states.  We saw road cyclists and mountain bikers everywhere we went, and there were greenways in every town we visited, which makes biking safer for people of all ages.  Not to mention, it is right next door to DC, which has loads of biking infrastructure and is also among the top 10 bike-friendly cities in America.  Arlington also gets great bike and walk scores.  

One of the beautiful overlooks just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke, Virginia

Economically speaking, Virginia is great for many reasons.  The state as a whole offers a wide variety of jobs and employment industries, low unemployment rates, higher median household income, and thus lower poverty than a majority of US states.  It is also considered a small business-friendly state and has better income equality than the national average.  Forbes even ranked Virginia #1 for quality of life in 2019.  

Virginia’s education record is mixed. It is one of the top 10 most expensive places to obtain an education at a public university, on par with every state in the NE, except the more affordable states of West Virginia and Maine.  However, for Pre-K through high school education, Virginia is one of the Top 10 states in the country to live.  It also has one of the most educated populations in the US.  Anecdotally, of the 4 universities I visited on our journey, University of Virginia did have the highest tuition and fees, which definitely gave me pause, considering that the immediate area did not have a lot of job availability.  

If you like to experience all four seasons, Virginia is a great option.  The biggest natural disaster risks you should be aware of are tornadoes and hurricanes, depending on which part of the state you live in.  The climate has been trending toward higher temperatures, heavier rainfall and thus more flooding events, which is of greatest concern if you live in the coastal region.  Incidentally, we spoke with some residents of Charlottesville who grew up in the area, and they said they have seen more days above 90 degrees there in the last 5 years than ever before.  Conversely, one the most significant blizzards on record occurred in 2016, so the overall weather patterns are seemingly headed toward the extremes.

View on our way up Rag Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Straddling the north and the south, Virginia has a mixture of both, giving the state a sordid history and track record for civil rights.  However, since the 1970’s, Virginia has slowly been shifting from a largely conservative state to a more moderate state, with the most progressive voting record being just outside of Washington DC.  Virginia is not unlike most states in which the more populous areas and college towns tend to be the most liberal and the rural areas tend to be the most conservative, so that is the best guide for expectations if political affinity is important to you.  

We personally found the areas of Virginia we explored to be some of the most beautiful to see in the springtime, being lush and green with beautiful blooms and stunning views.  And, the roads were actually in great shape as well. Especially after heading into Pennsylvania, we started to miss the quality of roads very quickly. 😂 We noticed that the areas we visited were really clean, but sensed that several regions were also struggling economically, seeing more business and houses boarded up than other areas of the country.  

Photo by Mohamed Almari on Pexels.com

As always, I highly recommend visiting any place you are considering moving to, and gauging your personal comfort level compared to past experiences.  I hope this post and the previous four posts sharing our travels throughout the state give you a sense of what these regions of Virginia have to offer.  Like everywhere we have visited, places are never like you assume they will be and there are pluses and minuses that you simply cannot know until you go and see for yourself.  Come visit this beautiful state and see what I’m talking about.

DC: Our Nation’s Capitol

Bull Run Campground

Some of our friends we met on the road highly recommended Bull Run Regional Park and campground, located just south of Centreville, about 45 minutes outside of DC.  We decided to stay for a 4-day weekend and visit the National Mall as neither of us had been before.  This 1500-acre park is HUGE!  They have several hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, a water park, disc golf, and 150 spacious sites for camping.  We chose one of their pull through sites, which worked fine for our brief stay.  It was great to have such a large, spacious place to stay so close to DC.  

However, you should know that there is a public shooting range next door, so you will hear shooting every day of the week except Monday and Tuesday.  Furthermore, most of the trails are very muddy.  There is a lot of boggy swampland here, so the trails get really messy.  That being said, we saw snails, mating millipedes, and even a coiled up rat snake on our hike along the Bull Run riverfront.   The park was clean from what we could see, but I did not investigate their bathroom facilities.  Definitely check out other reviews on Google or Campendium and decide for yourself whether this is the place for you. 

Day 1 in DC

The rain threatened to ruin our plans, but aside from a spate of misty weather, we didn’t have any issues and were in fact appreciative that it wasn’t too hot since we were outside for most of the day.  We started at the Lincoln Memorial and walked alongside the reflecting pool toward the Washington Monument.  We learned that construction of the Washington Monument halted for over two decades in part due to lack of funding.  When it resumed, they had to source marble from another quarry, so there is a visible difference about 150 feet from the base where the new stone continued upward.

We passed several museums that we decided to visit the next day, which had a higher chance of rain…a better time to spend indoors.  Soon, we approached the US Capitol building, which was setting up for an event, and was also getting a facelift on the west side.  Whether that was the result of annual maintenance, the events of January 6th or a combination thereof, I’m not sure.  We headed around to the east side and were surprised at just how close we could approach the Capitol given recent circumstances.  

By this time we were pretty famished, so Matt found a place called the Junction Bistro and Bar.   Our timing was impeccable!  Not a moment after we snagged a table and the whole place was filled to the brim with hungry people during the lunch rush.  I ordered a chicken sandwich with a side salad and Matt got a pork, rice and beans bowl.  Both were really flavorful. 😋 When I finished mine, I couldn’t resist savoring a few bites of Matt’s dish as well.

Afterward, we headed toward the US Supreme Court Building, which is currently barricaded off…likely due to planned marches on the Capitol and Supreme Court tomorrow regarding the controversial Roe vs. Wade draft opinion.  The march organizers were already setting up near the Lincoln Center.  We plan to be back tomorrow, so it will be interesting to be present during such a momentous occasion.

We decided to go to the National Gallery of Art (NGA) on the way back.  Matt had his pocket knife on him, which is NOT allowed in the building, and we had to stash it in a planter nearby so we could enter.  Once inside, we spent a few hours walking through rooms featuring paintings that included styles such as landscapes, still life, French and American impressionism, Avant-garde, and neoclassical, from the likes of Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Goya, Rousseau, Singer Sargent and many many more.  

The NGA was also exhibiting Afro-Atlantic works of art from the 17th century onward.  It was a bit ironic seeing art displaying the slave trade and cultural impacts across South, Central, and North America and the Caribbean juxtaposed with portraits of aristocrats or otherwise showing the more relaxed European lifestyles from the 1800’s.  Regardless, this museum holds more than we could see in one day, so we can come back again to explore other exhibits.

As we were finally getting back to the Lincoln Memorial we heard people shouting and clapping and soon realized we were witness to a marriage proposal in action! 😍 She said yes!  Our feet were pretty tired at this point, having walked nearly 10 miles, so this lightened our moods and was a great way to cap off our day.  Though we were very tired, it was a fulfilling day and was worth the effort to see these grandiose and historic buildings and the buzz of excitement among the many groups of people around us also visiting the capitol for the first time.

Day 2 in DC

If you plan to visit DC, expect the unexpected.  There are so many events planned in our state’s capitol, especially on the weekends, so there may be street closures, venue closures, etc.  Do your due diligence in advance and have an easy escape route.  We found easy street parking here near the Lincoln Memorial, that we could re-up later in the day through an app after the three hour time limit.  On the second day we chose to return to this parking spot with many streets already cordoned off for the upcoming march and large graduation ceremony for George Washington University the following day.

This time we chose to swing by the White House and then visit a few of the museums before heading back.  On our way, we walked through the Constitution Gardens, one of many walking or biking routes you can take at the National Mall.  Most of the streets surrounding the White House are closed, so the best way to view it is on the north side from H St NW near the Lafayette Square.  You’ll know you’re in the right place if you see a crowd of people hanging out at the barricades.  The security presence here is significant.  In fact, we saw heavy security all over the place in our two days walking around near the National Mall.  

Afterward, we headed toward the National Museum of American History.  Like the other museums, this one is also gigantic.  And did I mention that all of these museums in DC are free?  This museum covers a lot of ground, including the history of our democracy, voting rights, free speech, the presidency, immigration, American inventions, and so much more.  We walked around for about an hour before we started to get hungry and needed to find some lunch.  Although they do have a cafeteria, a large group of people had descended upon it right before us, so we left to find food elsewhere.

Next up we went to the National Museum of Natural History.  There is also so much to see here, covering everything from geology, gems, minerals and fossils, to marine life, a hall of mammals, insects, human origins, and so much more.  We spent most of our time in the sections showing marine life, fossils, human origins and briefly walked through the hall of mammals.  By this time, our backs were screaming at us, having walked around on concrete for a few days now, so we had to call uncle and start heading back.

As we were heading back, the Ban Off Our Bodies march was in full swing, coming up Constitution Avenue.  I have never witnessed a march in person before…I am claustrophobic in large crowds and get tremendous anxiety, especially in the day and age of covid. 😬 Yet, it was such an emotional sight to see so many people of all ages, races and genders coming together to exercise their right to free speech.  No matter which side of this contentious issue you are on, to be able to band together with others to express how you feel is still an important and powerful practice within our culture.  And we did later verify that no notable foul play occurred during or after this march, according to the local news.

I really did not think visiting DC would be as impactful as it was.  The sheer vastness of the National Mall and surrounding historic sites, the amount of information you can learn about so many aspects of our culture and history, and the meaning behind the sculptures, art and architecture I saw moved me in ways I didn’t know it could until I saw them in person.  Now knowing this, if you like to take your time wandering the museums, learning and seeing new wonders, I recommend taking at least a week to do so.  Two days was simply not enough time, but I’m still thankful we saw what we did when we did.  Now onto another place with a lot of history: Pennsylvania!  I will share more on our visits to Gettysburg, Philadelphia and the surrounding areas soon.

Vietnam Women’s Memorial Statue, National Mall, DC