Category Archives: Adventures

Maine

After Boston, we headed up the coast to Portland, Maine. Although technically Maine was under traveler quarantine, no one checked us. Staying in our own RV, it isn’t difficult to self-quarantine!

Originally, we had planned to meet family members in Portland for the Fourth of July week. Unfortunately, they had to COVID-cancel. Bummer. Maine was also essentially shut-down when we arrived, but we spent a lot of time exploring many of the coastal towns. We could view light houses, rocky shores and sandy beaches. The Maine coast is really beautiful. One of the towns we explored was Kennebunkport, longtime summer retreat of the Bush family. We couldn’t see any occupants, but we could see the black secret service SUV’s parked at the entrance!

We took full advantage of the abundance of fresh and local seafood during our month here. We found a fabulous Portland seafood market and placed online orders at least weekly. You picked a pick up time, texted upon arrival, and a masked/gloved attendant brought your bagged order out to your vehicle. We ate local mussels, fresh fish, and lobster lobster lobster! We also tried lobster rolls at three separate places, including the famous Red’s Eats on US 1. By the end of the stay, we were pretty much lobstered out.

During the month, Maine started to gradually open up. We were able to take advantage of some outdoor dining, shop at the Freeport outlet stores, and visit the Portland museum of art (for free!). We visited several local breweries – some with outdoor “tastings” and others with just take-out. Some of the local beer was quite nice.

We were also able to take a whale watching tour (saw one) and hop a ferry to nearby Peaks Island. We took our bicycles and cycled around the island for a different perspective of Casco Bay.

We couldn’t do everything we had originally planned, but we made the most of our time there!

Leaving Portland, we headed up the coast to beautiful Acadia National Park. We only spent a week here, which was just adequate to explore all sides of this stunning park. We cycled the carriage roads, hiked the Bubbles, rode the perimeter on the motorcycle, and explored picturesque Bar Harbor. We had the opportunity to meet one of Jeff’s longtime friends for dinner, which was quite a treat. (She had relocated from Miami to Maine some years ago.)

Since we were within reach of the Canadian border, we motorcycled up to the border crossing at tiny Calais, Maine. Like Moses at the Promised Land, we could see into Canada, but not cross over during these COVID days.

Continuing on, we began our westward trek …..

Boston

Boston has such incredible history. Walking the Freedom Trail winds you through the oldest part of the city, past landmarks such as the Old North Church and Boston Commons. Unfortunately, Massachusetts was COVID-locked during our stay. While Tennessee had been starting to gradually open, the Boston area was still almost completely shut down. We experienced the novelty of almost no big-city traffic, while we explored the city. We did a lot of walking around cities while looking at buildings from the outside. One day, it would be nice to go back and actually go INTO some of the historic buildings and museums.

The campground we stayed in – Normandy Farms – is highly rated as one of the nicest campgrounds in the US. It had the most amenities of any campground I’ve ever seen; sadly most of which were closed during our stay. It was virtually empty at first, but did begin to fill up on the weekends. The bath houses were also closed during much of our stay, forcing us to rely on our less-than-functional motorhome shower. Combining the weak lukewarm spray of our shower with an auxiliary bucket of hot water served the purpose adequately. Needs must.

During our time parked in the pine forest that was our campground, we got the full pine pollen experience. Apparently, in June these pine trees let loose a veritable cloud of sticky green pollen powder. It drifted everywhere, coating literally everything in a blanket of green. The ground was green. Our truck and bus were green. If you washed something off, the next day it was green again. It was a sight to behold. We thoroughly cleaned the bus the day before we moved!

Toward the end of our month in the Boston area, we were able to catch a ferry across to Martha’s Vineyard and explore it on the motorcycle. We actually were able to dine at a restaurant (outside) for the first time in weeks. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful place.

At last, an update

Dear readers, I’m sorry it’s been so long since I posted. This pandemic has thrown a wrench into my psyche, I think. There has been so much uncertainty about our travels and general life — it’s sort of sucked a lot of the enthusiasm out of me.

So, now to catch you up!  When last I posted, we had just fetched the bus from its parking spot in Greensboro, NC.  I didn’t bother to post another campground review for Jones Station RV Park, because nothing had changed from our stay last fall.

Altogether, we hunkered down in our Gatlinburg cabin for about six weeks, from Easter time to late May. We used the time to accomplish some desired upgrades to our cabin including re-staining the exterior, installing window tint film on the cathedral windows in the main living space (cuts down on heat) and installing a new gas grill on the deck. It WAS nice to live in an actual house for a while, but it was so strange to be in a tourist town with nothing open and nobody there.

In the last couple of weeks of our stay, the Great Smoky Mountains National park and some local shops and restaurants FINALLY partially re-opened. My sister and her husband joined us for a few days and we enjoyed some hiking, shopping and social time. That part was wonderful!

Our Northeast tour itinerary had us checking into Normandy Farms, near Boston, on May 22. We checked with the park, and because our month-long stay was considered “long term”, we were permitted to stay. Since we had renters booked to come and our RV booking in Pigeon Forge was up, we decided to take the plunge and re-join our planned northeast loop.

We took a leisurely 3 days to travel the 1000 or so miles, staying in rest stops along the way. We attempted to park overnight at a casino en route, but we were politely kicked out! Normally, overnight parking is allowed, but since the casino was Covid-closed, no one was permitted on property. Bummer.

Other than that minor glitch, our travels were uneventful and we arrived at Normandy Farms on schedule, ready to explore the Boston area (as much as possible).

to be continued ……

Fetching the Bus

21d89630b2308f383404a768f516e5b4As mentioned previously, we are currently hanging out in our lovely Gatlinburg log cabin. However, we had left our rig back at Jones Station RV park, near Greensboro. Our paid-up month was expiring, so we made the 4.5 hour trek back there on Monday to fetch the bus.

We had already packed up the bus and pulled the slides in before we left, so preparation for travel was fairly minimal. After sleeping overnight, we finished gearing up:  checked the tires, stowed the satellite dish, locked things down, hooked up the toad, and hit the road back to the Smokies.

Our journey back to Pigeon Forge was uneventful – always a good thing! It was odd not having Pumpkin kitty on my lap, as we had left him back at the cabin. He doesn’t particularly like all of the driving stuff, so he was much happier staying behind. We fueled up just before arriving at our new campsite at Pine Mountain RV Park. We shoehorned into the site — fitting, but just barely. We plugged into power, washed the bugs off the front of the bus, grabbed a few more things from the inside, and headed back to the cabin. Mission accomplished!

The pandemic shut-down is creating significant disruption for the full-time RV community. We’ve already cancelled our first three northeast tour campground reservations. The Jones Station RV park owner shared that his campground was full of folks that literally had nowhere to go. We were unable to extend our reservation there, but were luckily able to find another spot closer to our cabin. We’re booked here for three weeks, and then – theoretically – will head up toward the Boston area.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting mightily tired of Covid-19. I want to go the National Park and hike. I want to go out to dinner, and shop. I want to get my hair cut! We won’t do anything imprudent – we will continue to follow the guidelines and take proper precautions. We don’t want to catch this thing. But going from a full-on active life to full-stop has been challenging to say the least. If we can safely move along to another area to explore wilderness (continuing to observe social distancing) – we will.

Fingers crossed.

Looking back …. and ahead

looking back aheadOur time at Recreation Plantation is nearly finished! Our 5-month winter stay has gone by so quickly, it’s hard to believe we are already in mid-March.

I’ve posted a 2019 travel summary under the “Our Travels” tab. Last year offered a more relaxed style of travel. We drove fewer miles and stayed longer. We were able to spend a lot of quality time with friends and family. Our warranty issues were solved during service work at both Spartan and Entegra. We explored new parks and landed in a great spot for the winter season. There were a few challenges last year, including dealing with repairs from a fire at our beloved Gatlinburg cabin, and an invasion of stupid stinkbugs! While the bus was parked at our winter spot, we traveled back to South Florida in November, flew home for Christmas, drove up to our cabin in January (to complete repairs) and even went on a February week-long Southern Caribbean cruise with my sister! It was a great year.

But now the world has changed. We’re in the midst of an evolving public health crisis as the Covid-19 virus spreads throughout our communities. Activities in our area have been almost entirely shut down – no exercise classes, theaters, or church services. Stores are stripped of cleaning wipes and, of all things, toilet paper. It feels like hurricane prep mania, without knowing when/where the hurricane will hit or how big it will be. It’s hard to prepare adequately, when we don’t know exactly how all of this is going to play out.

So what will we do? We had already booked campgrounds for the year ahead and we are moving out as scheduled at the end of the month. We are currently healthy. RV parks aren’t closing (nor giving refunds) and our camping lifestyle lends itself easily to “social distancing”. We may not be able to do everything we hoped (like, visit museums and such), but I expect that forests and mountains will be open! This isn’t a vacation, it’s our lifestyle. After all, we have to live somewhere! We’ll be smart about it and follow recommendations regarding gatherings and hygiene. And we’ll continue to monitor the situation and adapt if needed.

We live in interesting times, friends!

Be well.

 

 

Taking a Vacation from RV-ing

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I know I haven’t been blogging much lately. Since we are stationary here in Central Florida for such a long time (5 months), we have been taking the opportunity for travel that is a bit different than our normal “mode”.

First, in November, we made a quick weekend trip down to our old South Florida haunts. Part of it was for a work meeting, but the rest was to see friends and run / bike in familiar places. Staying at a hotel directly on Hollywood Beach wasn’t so bad either! It was a lovely visit.

Over the holidays, we flew to Indiana to visit friends and family. It was simply wonderful, just enjoying great food, nice wine, and time together. That’s what the holidays are all about!

Then, a few days after returning from Indiana, we packed up the truck (and Pumpkin) and drove to Gatlinburg. I had mentioned earlier that we had a small dryer fire in June at our rental cabin. Fire damage was minimal, but smoke damage was extensive. We had expected repairs to be completed much earlier, but contractor, insurance and permit delays all conspired to drag out the process. We arrived in early January to find, to our delight, that our contractor had done a fantastic job. We spent two weeks purchasing replacement items, hanging TVs and décor, scrubbing and cleaning, and generally getting the cabin ready to place back on rental. Jeff’s brother joined us, bringing tools and expertise, which was an enormous help. I have to say that the place looks better than new! I love our cabin, and am so very happy that she is beautiful and fully functional again. All’s well that ends well!

That was last week. This Friday we are flying to Puerto Rico for a seven day Southern Caribbean cruise!! It’s a first for us, but we are traveling with my sister who is an experienced cruiser. She helped select the itinerary and has provided lots of handy tips. I’m really stoked about the whole trip – life on the ship, shore excursions, the entertainment, great food, and of course, adult beverages! I think it’s going to be just fantastic!

And then ….. just a few more weeks and we’ll be moving along in our lovely motorhome again, beginning our East Coast tour!

 

Wintering in an “Active Adult Community”

rp-signWe’ve been traveling RV full-timers for just about two years now. Our first winter was spent crossing the Southern US from Charleston to California. During our second winter, we bounced around Florida from Orlando, to South Florida, back up to Orange City. We knew we wanted to come back to Florida for this winter, but where?

I REALLY liked the Orlando KOA, but it was uber expensive (plus, it’s closing this year anyway). Orange City was less pricey, but there wasn’t much to do around there. We had originally thought to go back to South Florida, but I didn’t want to spend the whole winter at the County campground. The bath houses weren’t great, and there wasn’t much for me to do unless I had my own transportation. Plus, the weather stays pretty hot that far south. What I really wanted were the amenities and planned activities that I had at the KOA, at a more affordable rate. We searched around and found …. Recreation Plantation.

This RV park is located in Lady Lake, Florida, adjacent to the mega-retirement community of The Villages. Recreation Plantation is an “active adult RV community” that takes its activities very seriously! There is a full time activity director that creates an overflowing calendar of options for approximately 1000 resident sites. Do you like sports? You can take part in softball, pickleball, tennis, volleyball, horse shoes, shuffleboard, table tennis, corn hole, or badminton. Like exercise classes?  There’s water aerobics (deep or shallow water), Zumba, Yoga, Dancercise, Walk Aerobics and Line Dancing. You can play games: poker, hand & foot, bridge, euchre, 500, mahjong, bunco, etc. Bingo is on Wednesday nights. Square dancing is Friday night. You can meet to craft with fellow woodworkers, quilters, knitters, and crocheters. There is literally a full slate of activities every single day including regularly scheduled dances,  dinners, and socials. Attendance at the Thursday morning meeting (free coffee and donuts provided) is the only way to keep up with it all!

If you get bored with the park activities, you only have to go a couple of miles down the road to The Villages for additional entertainment, dining and shopping. Each of the three Villages town squares offer free entertainment, every night. There are movie houses ($5 Tuesdays!) and live theater venues. We’ve already caught a several band theater shows: Simon and Garfunkle Story, the Authorized Blues Brothers and The Beatles Abbey Road.

It’s summer camp for grown ups!

Much of Recreation Plantation consists of fixed RV’s or park models, with a couple of sections open for transient RV’ers like us. Our site is grass/sand but it’s level and large. Electricity, cable TV and HIGH SPEED INTERNET is included in our site monthly rate. Yes, real honest-to-goodness high speed internet, sufficient for streaming! I hardly know how to handle that any more. All this for about half the cost of the Orlando KOA!

Most residents here are regular seasonal visitors, with a not insignificant year-round population. Folks here are friendly and welcoming — we feel right at home! People wave as you pass by and folks are always willing to teach you an activity if you’re new. The facilities are nice and, all things considered, it’s a very comfortable place to set a spell.

However, as much as we like it here, we’re not ready to settle down permanently (or even semi-permanently) at a place like this. Looking around, the average age of the population is, like, 75. We are definitely among the youngest here. But for now, we are learning Pickle ball and Line Dancing. I’ve picked up Swedish weaving and am learning how to play mahjong. Our days are full, and we are meeting interesting and active older folks. For this winter, it’s going to be fantastic.

But come spring, it will be time to continue our adventures!

Doing Disney at Fort Wilderness

021Since we wintered in Orlando last year, we sprung for Disney annual passes. We spent quite a bit of time “doing Disney”, visiting all of the parks and most of the resorts, and experiencing three of four Epcot Festivals (Festival of the Holidays, Arts Festival, and Flower and Garden Festival). As we completed this year’s travel circuit and headed back toward the big Mouse, it seemed fitting to round out our Annual Passholder year at the Disney campground: Fort Wilderness. We’ve stayed on Disney property a number of times, from budget to deluxe hotels. But, taking our actual home to Disney took the fun to a whole ‘nother level!

033Staying in Disney offers many wonderful perks, including the use of all of the transportation options. Depending on our route and destination, we could take a boat, bus, tram or monorail. We essentially parked our car for the entire stay. The campground itself is HUGE, more than a mile end-to-end, so our bicycles came in very handy for getting around. (Many campers rent a golf cart for their stay).

As I’ve described earlier, Disney is ALWAYS busy. However, staying IN the park offers one extremely fabulous perk — Extra Magic Hours. That means that Disney resort guests can gain entrance to one or more parks BEFORE the general public! With less crowds you can ride the popular rides without the crazy wait times. During our Halloween week stay, the new Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars land) section had just opened up. Due to the expected demand, Disney offered Extra Extra Magic hours every single day! We were able to enter Hollywood Studios at 6 am, a full 3 hours before everyone else!

In addition to this great perk, Disney resort guests can book FastPasses 60 days in advance, rather than 30 days for other ticket holders. You can bet that I was on my computer at 7 am on the 60th advance day to book all of the most popular rides. Between the early entry and Fast Passes we were able to do all of the cool rides — sometimes several times! Since we’re early birds anyway, we would typically arrive at early-hours rope drop and knock out all of the really good stuff by early afternoon. So efficient, and not nearly as exhausting as waiting in line for 2 hours for a ride. We hit the Hoop Dee Doo review dinner show at the Fort, snagged coveted lunch reservations at the ever-popular Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, and practically walked right into Star War’s Olgas Cantina.

One of the trip highlights was the “Keys to the Kingdom tour”, a 5 hour tour of the Magic Kingdom including a visit to the famed underground “utilidors”. Even though I had been going to Disney World for years, I learned a ton of new things about the design and function of the parks. We learned that the four Disney “Keys” is the shared code of conduct: Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency.  I won’t spill any secrets, but if you are interested in a “behind the scenes” look, this is an awesome tour! As an annual passholder, we got a 15% discount for the tour, and it included lunch.

Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival was going on during this time, and we tried quite a variety of food offerings. Each of the festivals have their unique features, but the emphasis for this one is quite clearly the food. There are easily twice the food offerings compared to any of the other festivals and the dishes are varied and creative. Marissa’s family joined us for one of our Epcot days, which was great fun! As a side note, virtually all of the parks are undergoing some level of renovation, with Epcot more than most. It seems like half the park is under construction! I’m sure it will be fantastic when finished.

Fort Wilderness itself was also fantastic as a campground. Our site was amply sized and the facility was beautifully kept. One unexpected benefit of staying in the Fort during Halloween was the incredible camper Halloween displays! Some of them were downright professional. I had no idea this went on. We spent several evenings just bicycling around the various camping loops, marveling.

We spent 6 days straight playing in the Parks. You might think we’d get Disney overload, but …. nope. I was sad to leave the happiest place on earth. Until next time!

 

Greensboro

008I am sooooo behind in blogging!! Time has simply gotten away from me, but I’ll do my best to catch you up!

After departing the Hendersonville area, we traversed to a spot between Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Our campground was located about 45 minutes from Sean’s place in Greensboro, a bit farther than we would have liked, but it was the only suitable place for us. I’ll do a full campground review later.

Our main purpose for being there was really just to be able to spend time with Sean and Marissa. The weekends were the only time they were free, but we made the most of the time we had! We rode bicycles along the local greenway, caught a movie, enjoyed meals together, and even fit in a Broadway show (Aladdin) at the Durham Center for the Performing Arts. (The show was highly entertaining!) One Saturday we travelled to nearby Pilot Mountain State Park to hike and watch Sean show off his (impressive) rock climbing skills.

It was fantastic to see how they are settling into their new home. Sean’s rock climbing gym is 10 minutes away, and some of the best climbing in the East US is within an hour or so. A beautiful bicycle greenway literally travels through their apartment complex, providing immediate access to a variety of mountain biking trails. His new job is going well. Marissa’s medical residency program is extremely demanding, but she takes advantage of the recreational opportunities as her schedule permits. All you want as a parent is to see your children happy and successful. It’s all good!

During the weekdays, we explored the area. We discovered a little gem of a park: George and Julia Brumley Family Nature Preserve. The park includes a network of flowy mountain biking, hiking, and multi-use trails that worked perfectly for our regular work-outs. As the weather cooled during our month-long stay, we got just a taste of chilly fall weather and changing leaves.

During our stay, we also had plenty of time to catch up on chores such as washing the bus, sanitizing our fresh water tanks, changing water filters, and such. It is a pleasant area, but it’s not a particularly exciting place to visit. If it weren’t for Sean and Marissa living there, it would not have been on our radar!

The only fly in the ointment, literally, were those darned stinkbugs! As we prepared to pack up and leave Greensboro, we pulled in one of our slides to find dozens of those pesky critters imbedded in one of the slide seals! We likely picked up the infestation at our Hendersonville location and carried them unknowingly to Greensboro. We squished all we could find, cleaned out the seal, and went on our way, knowing that there were likely plenty that we had missed. After reaching Florida, we went on an intensive bug hunt, through basement and cabinets, high and low, seeking and destroying. Nearly a month later, we still see an occasional stinkbug emerge from some unknown crevice. It’s rare though, so — I think — we’ve got a handle on the little stinkers.

Hopefully.

A Tale of Two Houses: Biltmore Estate and Carl Sandburg Home

While in the Asheville/Hendersonville area, we toured two historic homes. The Biltmore mansion is enormous, opulent, and designed to impress. The Carl Sandburg home is simply that – a home; cozy, warm and intimate. They were as different as they could be, yet equally fascinating.

The Biltmore mansion is known as America’s Largest Home. The 250 room mansion, built in the French Renaissance Chateaux style, was constructed by George Vanderbilt in 1895 as a country retreat. Quite modern for its day, the estate is equipped with 33 guest rooms, 45 bathrooms (at a time when indoor plumbing was rare!), opulent public rooms, an elevator, and the very latest in high tech (for the time) amenities. There is even an indoor heated pool, bowling alley, and gym. The place is just enormous!

Outside the mansion are the extensive gardens and grounds. We tromped all over them, exploring the beautiful conservatory, rose and azalea gardens, and down to the bass pond, waterfall, and boat house. We walked miles exploring it all. But wait, there’s more! Hopping back into our vehicle, we drove several miles to the winery and associated village area where we sampled the estate wines. (Drinkable, but nothing special). We literally spent all day exploring different aspects of the estate.

The Biltmore is unusual in that it is still family-owned. Most gilded-age mansions were ultimately sold off as rising taxes and labor costs made the expense of maintaining such a beast unsustainable. However, the Vanderbilt family managed to hold onto it, developing the estate into a slick, diversified money-making operation. There are multiple shops, restaurants, winery, hotels, conference center, and of course, the mansion museum. Special exhibitions, tours, and events keep even locals coming back for more. And the cost of admission isn’t cheap at upwards of $70 per person!! But, impressive it is, most certainly.

At the other end of the spectrum is the unpretentious former home of Carl Sandburg, known as the Poet of the People. Already an award-winning author, poet and biographer, he purchased the existing home and its 245 accompanying acres to live in for the last 22 years of his life, from 1945 to 1967. It was a writer’s retreat, a family home, and a working farm for breeding Mrs. Sandburg’s internationally-known prize-winning goats. When Carl died, his widow sold the farm to the government to become the Carl Sandburg National Historic Home – the first historic site to honor a poet.

When the family moved out of the home in 1967, they took only their clothes and a few personal items. Everything else – furniture, books, papers, décor — was left just as they had lived there. Walking into the home is like entering a time capsule. TIME magazines are stacked along the staircase, the dining room table is set for dinner, and working papers are stacked on their office desks. Although comfortable, the furnishings are nothing special. We were told that Mrs. Sandburg bought a lot of it at garage sales! What is impressive is the sheer number of books in the house. There are book cases in every room, in the halls, in the basement …. everywhere! 12,000 books!! As an author, Carl used these books extensively for research purposes, plus he subscribed to a number of newspapers and magazines. While touring the home, one feels that the family has just left for a walk in the garden and could return at any time.

The grounds are equally unpretentious, yet scenic. Trails lead around a small lake and up to a scenic overlook at the top of the small mountain. Another trail leads to the barn and dairy complex, where the National Park Service still breeds a small herd of goats descended from Mrs. Sandburg’s famous prize-winning line. It was very peaceful. A guided tour of the home costs a nominal fee ($5), but walking the grounds is free. In fact, we saw several people walking or running the trails for exercise.

Two estates that couldn’t be more different. The imposing Biltmore, built by a wealthy industrialist, has been developed by its heirs into a slick diversified operation, requiring hefty fees for entry. The Carl Sandburg Home, owned by the unassuming “Poet of the People”, was sold for a modest sum by his widow to create a national historic site, open to all.

It seems fitting.

“The secret of happiness is to admire without desiring” ….. Carl Sandburg