A Day in Philadelphia

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Sometimes you just don’t have enough time to spend in a destination but you want to go there and experience it quickly.  I hadn’t been to Philadelphia for decades despite having grown up in Pennsylvania so we decided to take a quick trip to the city and take in some sights and spend just a little bit of time there mostly to see if it was worth a planned trip back.  It definitely was!

 

Independence Hall Philadelphia

We stopped at the large welcome center in the historic district where they had places to charge your phone.  We couldn’t get reservations for Independence Hall so do that in advance on the internet if you do plan on going.  What we did get was to sneek into a tour of the building next door which was much more intimate and just as interesting.  I’d been to Independence Hall years ago – and I mean decades ago really!

There is plenty of architectural gems to find in Philadelphia. Just look up.

A quick walk around downtown to where the old JohnWanamaker Department Store was takes you through lots to see. Macy’s takes up the old store location and I just couldn’t go in because I loved Wannamaker’s too much.  We also went into the nearby Walgreens for something and it was an incredible store.  I know.  Walgreens shopping as part of the tourist experience but it was a beautiful space on the third floor.  Somehow deodorant and shampoo was elevated to an new level and it cost the same as in a suburban box style Walgreens.

But it is something rather American that makes this story and experience fascinating to me as I write this well after this trip.  The memorable experience was the Walgreens as well as the historic experience of the founding of the country.

Theres plenty of easily accessible parking near the historic district of Philadelphia

Parking in center city Philadelphia isn’t all that difficult and certainly no reason not to arrive by car.  We found parking rather quickly and it wasn’t so much that we could remember weeks on just how much it was.  It is in many of these non-descript streets – of which there are many in Philadelphia – that make the city intriguing as there are bits and pieces – clues almost – that gives you a glimpse into the soul of the city.  I have no idea what the wall on the left of the above photograph is but it is clearly artistic and clearly not marked just like the old building in the first photograph.

The most beautiful third floor of a Walgrrens ever in centre city Philadelphia

So you have no reason to not visit the city.  It is easy from any of the suburbs to run the car in – though it might be easier and quicker with public transport.  Whether it is a Walgreens, Independence Hall, one of the many museums, historic districts, hundreds of restaurants or whatever catches your eye, you are sure to enjoy a quick day in the city.  We’re glad we popped in and can’t wait to return for a far more relaxing and exploratory time.

The Natural Bridge

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One of America’s original tourist attractions is still stunning and awesome as it must have been to people like Thomas Jefferson. The Natural Bridge is a great place to view nature and the fascinating natural bridge itself .  We went directly there and from there to the campground nearby.  There was ample room in the parking lot for our 35 foot motorhome.  The gift shop was a bit spartan as it was the end of their season and it’s feel harkened back to a time that predates theme parks and was actually quite nice to feel imagining all the visitors who had gone through the space in the past.

You cant totally capture the beauty of the Natural Bridge with a camera.

It doesn’t take long to visit if you’re in a hurry but it is the type of place I’d recommend at least two hours for because this is all about the feeling of the place and taking in the natural beauty.  A shuttle does carry you back to the top but it isn’t that difficult to climb back up the steps – there are places to rest along the way and plenty to see.

The stream midway down to the Natural Bridge even seemed historic to me.

You can actually go right under the bridge and even beyond.  It was spectacular and in places it felt like places we’ve been before with the exception of the incredible natural bridge itself.  There are historical markers you can read that bring you up to speed on the history of the place.  The most amazing thing to me was the feeling of so many people having been there in the past.

Once through the store we decided to head towards the campground.  We selected the KOA Natural Bridge because it was nearby and a quick on/off the expressway.  They can be a bit more expensive than many campgrounds but we believe it is worth it as they are consistent and offer the amenities we like.  Not the most level of spots, you can see the picture of our site with a nice little deck included.  We loved it there and would return again!

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The KOA Natural Bridge campground was a great base for exploring the area.

The Smithsonian Museums in a Day in Washington

So it takes days to really experience the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC, but sometimes you just have a day to do it.  What do you do?  Make the most of your time and realize that this isn’t the best way to fully experience any museum.  So we managed to get into DC (there are many ways of doing this but one of them is NOT driving an RV in – we did that once – and expecting to park it) which you can get all sorts of information on elsewhere.  My sister took us and we parked at the Ronald Reagan Building a short walk away from The Mall where most of the Smithsonian museums are located.   From here you can walk to everything I’ve mentioned – including The White House if you haven’t seen that.  I used to live in the district so we were pretty much up to just hit as many museums in a day that we could while still absorbing what we saw.

Washington Monument

You can walk by the Washington Monument or head up there and go inside!

First up we hit the National Museum of American History.  Next to this is the National Museum of Natural History so that’s an easy pair to hit.  There are excellent restaurants in both so you could just do both of these. We went down The Mall towards the Capitol and passed the National Gallery of Art and its Sculpture Garden.  There is another building next to the National Gallery called the East Building that is also on that side of The Mall.

National Museum of American History, Washington DC

We went for a walk across The Mall to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum and managed to enjoy some of that for a bit as well.  There are fast food restaurants here that will work quite well for families.  Next to this is the Museum of the American Indian and next to it the United States Botanical Gardens – which I’d been to for a reception and I don’t suggest going in if you have allergies without some Loratadine.

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There are always temporary exhibits at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History that are fascinating.

On the way back we passed some sculptures and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.  This was Joe Hirshhorn’s collection and passion.  His wife, Olga, who just recently passed, was quite the character and I got to know her as part of my work in the museum field but we didn’t stop by there today though you easily could.  The Smithsonian Castle where there are also exhibits worth seeing is just beyond that.  It also serves as a visitor center so it is a good place to start your day if you’re unclear of what you want to see and do.  And if this weren’t enough, round the corner from the Castle is the Freer and Sackler Galleries featuring art primarily from Asia.

 

Chrysler Mini Van

A Chrysler mini-van at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.

I’ve worked for several museums that were Smithsonian Affiliates – and had been to the Smithsonian a number of times on business whether it was for a conference or a mission to borrow artifacts.  But this was the first time in a long time I’d been there just as an anonymous visitor and it was really quite nice.

Rockwood Pottery Company

A pottery exhibit at the National Museum of American History – Smithsonian, Washington, DC

Back to the visit.  You can honestly spend a day at Air and Space alone – and you must get out to Dulles to see the new facility there.    The amazing exhibits here never fail to engage my senses.  To be able to see some of the space artifacts and to ponder their use is an incredible thing.   And there is a variety of things to do from films and exhibits to interactive exhibits and hands on things for the kids.

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The space artifacts at the Air and Space Museum are absolutely awesome.

You can create your own whirlwind of museum activity in a day if you want.  And if that is all you have, by all means, it can be done as you have read here.  I’ve spent most of my career in museums so certainly a week spent going round the museums at The Mall even would be not enough, but you really must go no matter how much time you don’t have.  Always well worth it and truly a national treasure to be preserved is The Smithsonian.

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This Mark di Suvero sculpture on The Mall in Washington DC is one of many outdoor scultpures and artwork you can see.

 

A Day in Ogunquit, Maine       

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Why you should include Ogunquit, Maine on your bucket list 

Ogunquit, Maine, is an easy day trip from many places in New England and is well worth visiting for a day and more if you can.  It is the type of place you could imagine yourself settling into for a week or a season of quiet relaxation.  I imagine the locals probably think the town gets overrun by tourists but it didn’t feel that way to me on our visit.  We drove up for the day from Salisbury Beach, MA where we had our RV for the week.

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The view of Ogunquit Beach from along the Marginal Way in Maine.

The air is clean and crisp and the water views incredible.  The restaurant selections are pretty amazing too.  Did I mention the air was clean and crisp?  I’m sure people take this for granted but that was a pretty incredible thing.  And there are hills and cliffs and a beach and a trolley.  The one thing you must do I think is walk the Marginal Way and soak up the laid back feel the area gives.  You can easily imagine a simpler time when the upper middle class spent their summers here years ago.

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Old hotels are immaculate along the Marginal Way with plenty of places to stop and take in the clean air and great views.

This is great old school summer vacationing at its best with cabins and large hotels that don’t have brand names and most likely close during the off season with grass made for croquet and Adirondack chairs.  The beaches are not powder white sugar sand like you see in the west coast of Florida but that was quite alright by us. There were plenty of people schlepping beach chairs to the beaches.

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Barnacle Billy’s in Ogunquit, Maine, 50-70 Perkins Cove Road.

At the end of the Marginal Way you’ll find a couple restaurants.  We stopped at Barnacle Billy’s and had really quite excellent lobster rolls and drinks.  From there you can go to the nearby historical museum, which was closed when we stopped by, and stroll the beautiful grounds.   It is easy to loop back to the main town center from he for the usual t-shirt shops and ice cream but just being here was special and magical.

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No shortage of visitors during summer and shops to visit in Ogunquit.

There is plenty to return for as the town has an excellent playhouse and an abundance of activities and restaurants to try.  It’s also an easy base for day trips to places like Portsmouth, Old Orchard Beach and even outlet shopping in Kittery.  So whether you stay in Ogunquit or just venture there for a day, there’s great reason to visit as well as stay for a more extended period of time.  Whichever you do, you’ll find plenty within an hour or so drive of Ogunquit.

Camping in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

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Camping Near Gatlinburg

The campground Camping in the Smokies is a no frills camping experience and what you get here is easy access to everything via the trolley.  We would stay here again without hesitation though some campers may prefer something better.  It is really fine if you don’t mind a grass site and paying for the location rather than the amenities – which really just include a small pool here.  We had a fine experience despite the reviews.  The convenience of the trolley and having a Dollar General store, horseback riding and a full service bar/restaurant all within walking distance makes up for any loss of amenities.

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Camping in the Smokies is a no frills, perfectly located, park that our dog Rudi loved!

You really don’t need a car when staying on a Gatlinburg Trolley route.  They are easy and there’s an app you can download to tell you exactly where your trolley is and when it is coming.  There are various routes to get you just about anywhere.  The terminus in the town centre is right at Ripley’s Aquarium and within walking distance of anything in the town itself.  Many locals use it and you should when visiting.  It is frequent enough and you can get just about anywhere in a reasonable amount of time.  Parking in the town center isn’t the best option.

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Downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee actually is quite beautiful along this stream.

You take the Aerial Tramway up to Ober Gatlinburg from the downtown and you can buy a return (round trip) ticket.  Ober Gatlinburg had a lot to offer from good German food and the Ski Mountain Coaster to an aqua massage, chair lift ride and the Alpine Slide.  We did all that but could have done a lot more!  There are plenty of other things for children and they won’t soon be bored.  We certainly weren’t.  I think the Alpine Slide was my favourite but it was all good fun.  Some reviews call it dated; I like to call it nostalgic fun.  Life is too short to criticize everything.  Just enjoy it for what it is because it was an awful lot of fun.

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One of the fun attractions at Ober Gatlinburg.

The Hollywood Car Museum  is located right in the town centre along the main street so you can’t miss it.  We love cars so we had to visit.  It really is a great place and as a former museum director I could certainly spend time making criticism about it, the point is the place is fun and full of information and nostalgia and interesting cars.  It was well worth the price of admission in my mind and while it is more of a boardwalk attraction, even museum goers can enjoy the hell out of it.  We even got our pictures taken sitting in the 1966 Batmobile – and loved it!  The Beverly Hillbilies truck and Andy Griffith’s police car and plenty of others are all here.  We had a blast and enjoyed speaking to the manager on duty about the collection after we went through.

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The Hollywood Car Museum in Gatlinburg featured the Beverly Hillbillies Truck.

Horseback riding at Smoky Mountain Riding Stables is very convenient to the campground we stayed at and you could easily walk there but we rode our bicycles.  The guide was excellent and the trail one of the best we’ve done.   I even saw a black bear cross the trail right in front of us which was a super fun sight!  We would go back here any time as the stables and horses were well cared for and the staff incredible.  We even forgave the owner who chatted to us afterwards telling us how great he thought Donald Trump was.  And yes, the owner was a bit angry about government regulations, he was white and was male but we didn’t try to change his mind.  The experience here was one of the best horseback riding experiences.

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Not far from where a black bear crossed our trail whilst horsebackriding in Gatlinburg.

Crystelle Creek Restaurant and Grill is right next to the Camping in the Smokies campground.   There is a bar and restaurant and the food was well above expectation.  The martinis were really well made too!  And there is a waterfall of lights in the back of the restaurant that look quite nice at night.

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The bar at Crystelle Creek Restaurant and Grill, Gatlinburg.

We look forward to a return trip to Gatlinburg and would do some of the same things again – which is saying a lot!  This is a great destination that enables you to do just about anything you want to do and be as busy as you want to be.  Sure, there’s some tourist schlock but the town is packed with a lot to do in. A compact area at reasonable prices.   Not the most authentic experience in terms of soaking up local culture but a nice manufactured destination that we certainly intend to return to

Fun in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

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People laughed at work when I said we were going to Pigeon Forge.  I didn’t really know what to expect but from what I could tell it looked like there were plenty of things to do and we were going to be in Gatlinburg also – another destination that people snickered about.

Convenient camping location in Pigeon Forge

Well let me tell you, we had a blast and there was no shortage of things to do. We stayed at the KOA in Pigeon Forge which is easily in walking distance or a short bike ride to the Old Mill  district.  It was a great place to spend a few days or longer.  We didn’t opt to visit Dollywood or the splash park or do any of the dinner shows but they’re there along with plenty of ‘outlet’ stores.

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A quick selfie while boarding one of the many go-karts that were in Pigeon Forge.

The Old Mill District is more of a collection of several shops and restaurants than an actual district but it was great.  There is a place to taste moonshine – ten flavors.   We bought some because they were so damn good.  The flavors are to die for like apple pie and blueberry.  We ate at the Old Mill Pottery House Cafe & Grille and had great service and delicious food. Highly recommend.

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The Old Mill Pottery House Cafe & Grille came recommended by friends who had been.


Horseback Riding in Pigeon Forge

We went horseback riding at the Big Rock Dude Ranch, a short drive from just about anywhere in the town but not an easy bike ride away.  There is room to place a motor home along the road but we didn’t try their parking lot as the trees were pretty low going in.  The ride was great and the trails fun and the scenery excellent.  This is really a must do if in the area and there were kids riding too so it’s fun for the whole family.  The guide was wonderful and we really enjoyed the trails which were unlike any in Florida which are all flat.  The price was quite reasonable too.  Really a fun time.

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The Big Rock Dude Ranch offers excellent horseback riding in Pigeon Forge, TN

Go Kart Riding in Pigeon Forge

We also did some of the crazy go kart rides that are all over the place – great fun tracks and all sorts of types of tracks for anyone to enjoy.  If you like go karts, this is a destination for you!  There are tracks that have four and five different tracks that you can mix up when buying time so that you can try multiple tracks at one location and some of these mega tracks are all close together.  We road bicycles along the main road and had no trouble hitting some.

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The trails for horseback riding at Big Rock Dude Ranch are excellent and fun.

At the Old Forge Distillery you can sample up to ten flavours of moonshine.  I must say we’ve become a fan after the tasting.  The flavours included Apple Pie, Blackberry, French Toast and more.  It was hard to tell which was the best, so we bought several, including a sample package of five flavors that makes for a great gift.  There were plenty of things to buy in this excellent store and is truly a fun shopping and sampling experience for adults.

All in there is plenty for everyone in Pigeon Forge.  It is a well-developed tourist destination and is mecca for anyone who loves a good pancake house.  But you can do just about anything here.  You don’t have to love country shows and outlet malls to enjoy a stay here.  We will be back!

 

Wekiva Falls: Nature in Orlando’s North

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Where is a great weekend getaway in Florida?

We were looking for something fun and different to do but only had a weekend to do it so we thought of WHAT we wanted to do and went from there.  A friend had visited Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides at Rock Springs Run Trail in Sorrento, Florida (northern small town of the Orlando suburbs) and she recommended it.  That was all it took.  We found Wekiva Falls RV Resort nearby and they offered canoe rentals and a natural spring (in addition to plenty of other things) and we were set with our weekend destination.

There are nature trails at the Wekiva Falls RV Park that you can walk or ride your bicycle on.  This view was just stunning and it went along a small stream for a while and you can walk along the crystal clear stream quite a ways too!

Getting across the I-4 in Florida

So now that we settled on where to go for our horseback riding and canoe adventure that was withing a reasonable drive from the Tampa – St Petersburg area, we were set.  Unfortunately the roads between St Petersburg and Orlando are pretty awful and there is no rail service which makes it even worse.  What normally would be a roughly 2 hour trip took about four hours.   The key is to avoid the I-4 and the I-275 in Tampa.  There are a few alternates including the Crosstown Expressway in Tampa and there is a half-beltway through Orlando sometimes called the Greenway, sometimes called the 417, but it is worth it.  If you’re just coming to Wekiva Falls, take the 429 (sometimes called the western beltway, but don’t let the word beltway confuse you – this road does not make a full circle around Orlando) which is also a toll expressway

The natural springs at Wekiva Falls RV Resort and waterslides for children.

Where’s a great place to camp in Orlando?

The RV park we stayed at, Wekiva Falls RV Resort, is really a destination.  There is everything from the natural springs you can bathe and swim in, which are a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit and water slides in the centre of the lagoon as well as a tiki bar further down by the marina that is fun and lively.  There’s canoe rentals, nature trails, a clubhouse and the usual other activies you’d expect.  The store is well equipped and the staff are excellent.  It is located on the north side of Orlando and not the most convenient if you are doing the attractions which are on the city’s southside.  But if you love nature and want something different this is the spot for you!

The tiki bar at the marina of Wekiva Falls RV Resort

We rented a canoe for two for two hours which was plenty.  You get your supplies at the camp store before noon or at the tiki bar after noon.  The fee was packaged into a great weekend special the campground was offering which was a site for two nights, four people, a canoe rental for two and a late check out all for $75.  This is a great deal and well worth it for a fun weekend Florida getaway.  We launched at the marina and paddled to the river about 5 to 10 minutes away downstream.  Once there, you turn right to paddle upstream which makes coming back much easier and relaxing.

A sample view of canoeing up the Wekiva River.

On our trip we packed a lunch and pulled up next to a log and ate.  It was peaceful.  We saw several turtles sunning themselves.  The water is very clear so there are fish to see as well.  I kept looking for other things but never saw a bear sunning itself on the riverbank or an alligator playing poker.  But all in the canoe trip was incredible and would be something we’d do again.  There were people fishing in the water but there weren’t many people out.  You can get a chance to really think about what it was like before cars – when the aircraft above going to Orlando-Sanford International (SFB) aren’t descending or taking off.

 

On one of the many trails to ride at Rock Springs Trail Run.

Where to go horseback riding in Orlando?

This is the perfect spot for it.  On a hot day, there is enough shade.  When you enter the park you are an the honour system to pay $3 cash for your day pass to the park.  The directions to the horseback riding, operated by Cactus Jacks, is easy and well signposted.  You can select a variety of times for your trail riding and it is perfectly fine for children and adults who have never ridden a horse.  The guide we had was excellent and pointed things out along the way.  It was much better than we expected because Florida is so flat and open but this took us through forest and field as well as a small hill that most would describe as a pile of sand.  There is an old railway bed that you also go down which is pretty cool because you can hear the horses click clack on the old railway ties hidden beneath the sand.

The horse barn and office at the Rock Springs Trail Run.

For those looking for an alternative to the attractions in Orlando, which are absolutely incredible and why people come from all over to Orlando, then this easy two night trip in an RV, camper or tent is perfect.  And for anyone within two or three hour radius of Orlando, it makes for an easy weekend trip for camping.  We are excited to go back actually.

Historic small town in Georgia: Darien

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Darien, Georgia, was just a tiny circle on the map for us for years.  It was an exit you’d pass along the I-95 on the way home or to somewhere else.  So we found ourselves trying to find a place to meet with Michael coming from New Hampshire and me from St. Petersburg.  I was in our RV and he would have one of our cars so I drove after work until I was tired one night and motored on the next day to find Darien.

The initial attraction was a dead outlet mall that still had a few shops open and a little visitors centre.  And there was a truck stop too so it was ideal for an RV trip.  I easily parked in the outlet mall parking lot which was made for throngs of visitors and tour buses both of which were long gone if they ever existed.

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Darien River waterfront with shrimp boat.

But I stopped into the visitors centre and a very helpful person told me all about the town and the plans to turn the mall into a home decor centre. Darien is the second oldest in Georgia and had a legend about some sea monster – there is a replica of what they imagine it to look like in the centre and there is Fort George nearby which is the southern most point in the colonies of the British Empire according to the brochure.

We opted to stay at the Cathead Creek Ranch & RV Park which on the website looked fun and relaxing with a Petting zoo but the little zoo was closed but that didn’t change our views.  It was a relaxing and great getaway with friendly people, a horse and cow pasture, and a reasonal Good Sam rate of about $27 (USD) per night for full hookups.  There is a wee shop that has some items but it is quite small.  The attraction of this place is it is like feeling you are camping at a farm ranch yet three miles down the road at the exit there are a lot of services and further down the road there is a Bi-Lo supermarket.

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Cathead Creek RV Park is a large open field surrounded by a working ranch and is perfectly peaceful.  We would definitely go back!

We went into Darien’s old town center  one day and you could easily miss it if you were headed to Brunswick or other points south.  we turned off and drove around a bit – it was small for sure. But on the west side of the main road there wee a few shops including a wine bar (Waterfront Wine & Gourmet) and an antiques shop.  This gives it a leg up on any old southern towns that have just not been reinvented yet.  The restaurant that we found was on the waterfront and is called Skipper’s Fish Camp.

This is where your trip to Darien becomes extra special.  This waterfront restaurant and bar has outdoor seating along the river, a little bar and lounge and a restaurant with a nice theme going in each side of the place.  It is the fried shrimp that are special.  They come from the Georgia coast and you can see the shrimp boats docked up along the river near the restaurant.  Quite honestly it was the best fried shrimp I have ever had in the continental United States.  We took some to-go the first visit and the again the next day we returned and had the same thing the next day.

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The bar side of Skipper’s Fish Camp in Darien, Georgia

Don’t miss this and the couple of shops downtown.  There is an Inn overlooking the parking lot called The Waterfront Inn should you be traveling without a motor home.  And there is an arts centre in an old jail you can see from the main road that cuts the town in two that has been converted to and arts centre though it was closed both days we visited.

So next time you pass Darien on the expressway, consider a stop – especially if you love fried shrimp.

Beach Camping in Jacksonville with a dash of History

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Kathryn Hanna Park – Atlantic Beach (Jacksonville)

If you’re looking for a relaxing, get away from it all, vacation that is near the Atlantic Ocean but yet is fairly inexpensive then you’ve found a great spot with Kathryn Hanna Park in Jacksonville.  The camp sites are well within walking distance to beautiful beaches of the Atlantic Ocean.  There are great big dunes protecting the land from the water and they’ve done a great job of this park in keeping it natural.

The beach is wide and nice at Hanna Park near Jacksonville, Florida.

The beach is wide and nice at Hanna Park near Jacksonville, Florida.

That said, we were here during a rainy three days and it felt somewhat like a rain forest at times.  Hot, humid and steamy feeling surrounded by lots of high trees and vegetation.  It was a great getaway and felt a lot like something different which is often what you’re looking for when you select a long weekend getaway.

The boardwalks over the dunes at Kathryn Hanna Park near Jacksonville at Atlantic Beach.

The boardwalks over the dunes at Kathryn Hanna Park near Jacksonville at Atlantic Beach.

Jacksonville

Jacksonville itself appears to be a city that has turned the corner and is starting to see more residential development in its urban core.  There are great wide swaths of land still to be re-developed and there is some infrastructure to support it such as a monorail type light transit vehicle that connects sections of the downtown.  The main bus terminal oddly is up on the north side of the downtown but connects with the monorail style system.

The campground at Kathryn Hanna Park near the beach in Jacksonville is a great place to call home for a while.

The campground at Kathryn Hanna Park near the beach in Jacksonville is a great place to call home for a while.

I paid attention to the bus system because it was my intent to take the bus from the beach to downtown.  Alas, the bus passed me up as you cannot flag them down and the section of road I was on didn’t have a bus stop.  Yes, the driver happily zoomed by me.  So I ordered an Uber vehicle which was quick and painless.

Downtown Jacksonville is fairly well developed for a Florida city with transit options that include a single line monorail style rail car similar to what many airports use to shuttle people to and from terminals.

Downtown Jacksonville is fairly well developed for a Florida city with transit options that include a single line monorail style rail car similar to what many airports use to shuttle people to and from terminals.

In the downtown area there are lots of museums including the incredible Museum of Science and History, the Jacksonville Contemporary Art Museum as well as the Cummer Museum.  Nearby is a zoo and some other attractions to keep you busy should you want to get out and have some fun in Jacksonville.

Kingsley Plantation

The road into Kingsley Plantation is very special indeed and gives you the impression immediately that you are going back in time to Kingsley Plantation.

The road into Kingsley Plantation is very special indeed and gives you the impression immediately that you are going back in time to Kingsley Plantation.

This is a well off the beaten path type of historical attraction that is well worth visiting.  It is down a windy twisty turny wooded road that is often dirt but once you get there it is an interesting piece of the region’s history.  Do not go at twilight as the mosquitoes are not fun.

Many of the structures at Kingsley Plantation near Jacksonville are restored.

Many of the structures at Kingsley Plantation near Jacksonville are restored.

The site was home to a man, Mr. Kingsley, who owned a slave that he married and set free and she in turn would help run the plantation and own slaves as well.  The story is fascinating and takes part in the early part of the 19th century.  You can still view many of the buildings including the former slave quarters.  For a full history of Kingsley Plantation you can go to the National Park Service web site on the subject.  

A nice view of the water from the Kingsley Plantation near Jacksonville, Florida.

A nice view of the water from the Kingsley Plantation near Jacksonville, Florida.

It is a government facility so it isn’t reliant on admissions and therefore is well preserved with adequate signage to explain the history of the plantation and the story of the family.  There are great water views from the back of the plantation and the staff are very happy to give you more information should you need it – and I would suggest speaking to the staff because they are very knowledgeable and help bring the history of the plantation to life.

Atlantic Beach

This is a charming little beach town with some great little shops and bars/restaurants around and you can easily walk the town in a short while but worth the poke around.  You’re guaranteed to find some place you want to slink into whether it is for food, drink or both.  We found a great place with indoor and outdoor seating called the Flying Iguana Taqueria and Tequila Bar.  The food was fabulous and the drinks were perfect – you can’t go wrong here.  Some historic structures are here too.  It is an easy drive here from Kathryn Hanna Park in a car.

The Flying Iguana on Atlantic Beach near Jacksonville was a great find in the drinks and food category.

The Flying Iguana on Atlantic Beach near Jacksonville was a great find in the drinks and food category.

In all, this makes for a great long weekend away and you can cover a lot of things or you can just lounge at the beach and campground and have a great time.  The camp store was not open when we were there and it didn’t look like it would open any time soon so come prepared.  Otherwise, its a great getaway.

 

 

 

History and Beaches: Camping in St. Augustine Beach, Florida

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St. Augustine Beach

I must admit I had never stayed in St. Augustine Beach before.  Actually I hadn’t been to the beach here before except a family trip in the 1970s.  And I worked for a museum for five years that had another facility in the old town section of St. Augustine.  So, finally, I decided it was time to visit.

We selected the KOA campground because it was fairly close to the ocean yet still close to the old town since we were just using bicycles to get around.  As with all KOA campgrounds, this one was well run and very clean with amenities to keep everyone happy.  It was Labor Day weekend in the U.S. so it was fairly busy.  It was nice to see the campground fairly full.

Cabins across the lake at the KOA Campground in St. Augustine Beach, Florida

Cabins across the lake at the KOA Campground in St. Augustine Beach, Florida

We used the pool which was great and we had a very good end site.  The bike ride to the beach was all of about 7 minutes so it is very convenient and directly down Pope Road.  The beach here is a short walk to the pier and has a shower and some parking too.  There is an old motel that is shuttered awaiting some type of development at this corner.

The Pier at St. Augustine Beach is less than ten minutes by bicycle from the campground.

The Pier at St. Augustine Beach is less than ten minutes by bicycle from the campground.

We managed to eat at two different places on A1A and both were very good.  The first, Little Margie’s FA Cafe is more of a small dive restaurant and I mean that in the best way possible – it was terrific.  It has indoor and outdoor seating and a small bar.  It is the perfect little beach place and does lunch and breakfast as well as a full liquor bar.  The nachos were excellent and the beers (5 Bud Lights for ten bucks) were cold!  Be sure to visit the unusual gift shop next door which is owned by the same owner and is worth a pop in to.

Little Margie's FA Cafe was the perfect place to relax and eat right across from the beach in St. Augustine Beach.

Little Margie’s FA Cafe was the perfect place to relax and eat right across from the beach in St. Augustine Beach.

The second place we went to, Salt Life Food Shack, was just down the road and is a much more polished place (despite the name shack) with indoor and outdoor seating, air conditioned inside and a roof deck.  It was fully non-smoking and had great views from the roof deck.  Ironically we opted for nachos here and they were heaping and fabulous!

The nachos at Salt Life in St. Augstine Beach were out of this world and paired perfectly with cold beer.

The nachos at Salt Life in St. Augstine Beach were out of this world and paired perfectly with cold beer.

St. Augustine

I’d been to St. Augustine many times and also been director of a museum there though I had an on-site manager so I didn’t spend that much time there.  Still, I’d been to St. Augustine many times and have many friends in the tourism business there.  But if I somehow could forget all that, I’d still find it a fantastic place that I’d highly recommend to everyone.  And I do.

We rode our bicycles into the town which was a bit further than probably most people would like to cycle especially in the heat.  But we did it in about thirty minutes.  We passed the Alligator Farm and the St. Augustine Lighthouse.  Both attractions I would highly recommend and have been to them both.

The outside of Taberna del Caballo in St. George Street, St. Augustine.

The outside of Taberna del Caballo in St. George Street, St. Augustine.

In the town we really just walked up and down St. George Street.  We stopped at the former Old Spanish Quarter which is now the Colonial Quarter.  We ate at the Taberna del Caballo and had a pleasant enough meal inside with paraffin lamps being the only lighting in the place made it feel special and more authentic.

After dinner we rode back to the beach to the campground and enjoyed a relaxing drink outside the RV.  Having enjoyed some ocean time, downtown historical time and some camping time, this was a great weekend getaway and one that we’d surely repeat if the opportunity presented itself again.

 

 

 

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