Western Maryland- Railway, Canal and Mushrooms

Western Maryland Railway

Our mission in travel has been history, photography and trains.  Whenever we get a chance we ride and support  historic trains.  Cumberland Maryland preserves the Western Maryland Railroad and offers train rides to nearby Frostburg daily.  Our train was pulled by a EMD GP-30 diesel locomotive.  The Cumberland station was built in 1913.  The trip climbs 1300 feet in 16 miles through the Western Maryland mountains.  In Frostburg the locomotive turns around on a historic electric turntable.  Western Maryland is now part of CSX.

Historic Cumberland Depot

EMD GP-30

Classic operating turntable

Stainless steel Budd cars

The National Park Service operates a museum in the station called Canal Place which tells the story of the C&O Canal.  It operated from 1850 to 1924 from Washington DC to Cumberland.  It primarily carried coal from the Allegheny mountains.  The railroads competed over the same route and overtook the canal but the building of the canal made Cumberland a transportation hub.

Historic C&O Canal

Replica boat in Cumberland

George Washington was stationed in Cumberland twice.  Once when he served under British General Braddock during the French and Indian War and later serving the United States during the Whisky Rebellion.

George Washington slept here – twice

We camped at Rocky Gap State Park.  Goldie was pretty big for this campground but we got along OK.  We even found some edible wild mushrooms.  Chicken of the Woods or Sulphur Shelf (laetiporus sulphureus) is a mushroom we have seen in Washington.  We found several pounds in the campground.  Believe it or not they really do taste like chicken.  Their texture is even like chicken.  Easy pickin’.

Chicken of the Woods mushroom

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Appomattox and Lynchburg Virginia

Once again we find ourselves in historic Virginia.  This time we stayed at Lynchburg RV Park near Lynchburg.  Its another picturesque area in southwest Virginia with lots of rolling hills, hardwood forests and centuries of history.

Lynchburg is a small city on the James River.  The day we arrived they happened to be celebrating the James River Batteau Festival.  For 33 years groups of volunteers build 18th century batteau boats that once dominated transportation and trade along the river.  Today these folks spend 8 days cruising the river in period costume to Richmond.  Lynchburg was the start for 18 boats accompanied by up to 1000 canoes and kayaks.  The festival occurs every June on the Saturday of Fathers Day weekend.  What a scene!  While there we also checked out the farmer’s market which has been active since 1783.

Lynchburg Farmers Market sinc 1783

Lynchburg is also home to 7 historic districts each with a fine collection of historic homes and buildings.  We photographed many and chatted with a man who purchased an 1854 brick home 44 years ago.  To call it a lifelong project is an understatement.  Watch out for lead poisoning!

1854 Lynchburg home

Historic Diamond Hill Distict

One reason we wanted to stay in this area was to visit our friends Rod and Jane who live near Appomattox.  Rod works in the American Civil War Museum and Jane in a nearby State Park.  We got an in-depth tour from Rod and enjoyed sharing our love of history.  The museum has Lee’s frock coat and sword from the surrender.  Rod and Jane have a beautiful log home and it was fun to catchup.

American Civil War Museum cabin

Lee’s frock coat at the surrender

Rod and Jane at their beautiful home

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park is a NPS site that commemorates Lee’s surrender and the end of the Civil War.  What happened there has shaped American history ever since.  Lee’s surrender was an event filled with dignity and respect.  There would be no celebration by the victorious Union Army.  There were tears on both sides and a profound relief that it was over.  It is a very moving solemn monument.

McLean House – Sight of the surrender

Room of the signing

Appomattox Court House

Appomattox Tavern

Appomattox landscape

 

Jane told us about a play that was performed on the grounds the weekend we were there.  Wolfbane productions is a local theater company who put on a performance of Romeo and Juliet in the setting on the Civil War.  Right on the grounds of Appomattox it was incredible.  The actors were local and from New York City, the lighting, sound and everything was first rate all the way – we had never seen anything like it.  If you are ever in SW VA, check to see if Wolfbane has any shows.

Romeo and Juliet

Patrick Henry’s Red Hill Estate is another historic landmark in SW VA.  Its near a tiny town called Brookneal and was the last home of the American patriot once called the voice of the Revolution.  It was he who said “Give me liberty or give me death”.   Henry played a huge role in pre-revolution and post-revolution politics.  He is buried at Red Hill.

Patrick Henry’s Red Hill

Our love of history brings us back to Virginia again and again.  We know we’ll be back.

 

 

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Charleston South Carolina

We have been to Charleston South Carolina many times and yet every time we find more and more things to see.  History alone could fill many trips to the area.

Our first stop this time was Fort Sumter National Monument.  In the historic district of the city the park service has a very nice museum and visitor center.  We took the tour boat around the bay to the man made island that is Fort Sumter.  The monument commemorates the first shots of the Civil War and the struggles of those who fought and died.  The park ranger made an excellant presentation of the necessity of the war.

Ferry to Ft. Sumter

Approaching Ft. Sumter

Ft. Sumter today

Ft. Sumter 1861

Ranger talk

Tourists

We also visited Drayton Hall, the only 18th century plantation home which survived intact both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  John Drayton built the home in the 1750s.  The home was built in the Palladian style very popular in the day.  It remained in the family until modern times and was never renovated.  It really gives a true view of life 250 years ago.

Drayton Hall built 1750

Sketch with flanking out-buildings

Ornamental interior

View from Ashley River

Reflecting pond

There is so much to see and do in the Charleston area.  In addition to the fort and plantation home we visited a tea plantation, a farmer’s market and found delicious wild edible chanterelle mushrooms near our campground.

Charleston Tea Plantation

Charleston farmer’s market

Wild chanterelle mushrooms

Picked and cleaned

We always say the sign of a good place is somewhere we can find more to come back for.  Charleston is such a place.

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Cumberland Island and Folkston Georgia

Cumberland Island has been on our radar for years.  Even this time we had to wait 3 days to find space for the tour.  But it was well worth the wait.  We took the Land and Legacies Tour with guide Mike.  The island is 18 miles long and 4 miles wide.  The 18 mile beach is the longest undeveloped beach on the East coast.  We had a great tour and heard fascinating stories from Mike.  If you have any interest in the Gilded Age, the Carnegies, the Kennedys, wild horses, unspoiled beaches and a pristine island on the East Coast, then this is a tour for you.

Concession ferry to park

Welcome to the park

The only road on the island

Plum Orchard mansion- a Carnegie cottage

Famous wild horses of Cumberland Island

Tiny chapel where JFK Jr was married in 1996

Dungeness mansion – 76,000 sq ft – burned in 1959

Coastal Georgia

We love train watching in Folkston GA.  Ever since the town erected a viewing platform railfans have been flocking to the “Folkston Funnel”.  Nowadays they even have cabooses fitted out for overnight stays.  Virtually all rail traffic into Florida on CSX passes through the “Funnel”.  Thats anywhere from 45 to 60 trains per day including 8 Amtrak passenger trains.

CSX Southbound passing historic station

Northbound

Juice train rolls daily

Steel on steel

Silver Meteor bound for Miami

Grafitti enhanced double stack

Northbound Auto-train

Foreign power – BNSF

Zebras

Coastal Georgia is an easy trip for us going into or out of Florida.  Trains will be rolling again and we still have to walk those pristine beaches of Cumberland Island.  We’ll be back.

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Florida

We had not planned to be in Florida so many months this year but it just kinda worked out that way.  Between escaping to the warmest place for Winter, visiting doctors and dentists for check-ups, moving into a new RV and our 34 day long cruise tour to Italy- we also needed some chill time.  So we extended our stay.

We have spent our entire adult lives in South Florrida and enjoy checking out the sights and adventures of Central Florida.  Here are some of our discoveries.

Barberville Pioneer Settlement is near Deland northest of Orlando.  It is a fine collection of buildings from bye gone days.  Presenters interpret the many crafts and activities that would have taken place.  They even teach pine needle basket weaving.  Our friends Diane and Joe met us there for a nice Winter day excursion.

Barberville school

Part of our stay was spent at Sandy Oaks RV Park in Beverly Hills.  This was an interesting park filled with seasonal residents from the North.  They have so many activities every week we could not do them all.  We did join a weekly kayaking group and paddled the Withlacoochee River to Dunnellon and a wilderness area called Hog Island.  We also biked the wonderful Withlacoochee State Trail, a nearly 60 mile Rails to Trails treasure.

14 kayaks on the Withlacoochee

11 kayaks at Hog Island

Our Thousand Trails membership has been real helpful in Florida.  We stayed at Three Flags (Wildwood), Orlando (Clermont) and Peace River (Wauchula).  We also utilized our new Trails Collection membership while staying at Bulow Plantation (Flagler Beach) and Crystal Isles (Crystal River).

Wildness at the Orlando RV Resort

Bulow Plantation State Park

Sugar Mill ruins

Vulture roost near Wauchula

Florida’s first theme park was Silver Springs.  Its now a State Park with the best campground and fantastic kayaking from the crystal clear spring down the Silver River.

Gorgeous Silver Springs

Anhinga posing

Visiting alligator

 

While staying at Orlando we visited Walt Disney World’s EPCOT park.  When we lived in So. Fla. and our kids were growing up we visited Disney frequently but this was our first visit in at least 15 years.  We went with our daughter and grandaughter and had a great time.  It was Epcot’s International Flower Festival.  It was also interesting that so much of the park was exactly as we remembered it.  Very little change.  We had a great day.

Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival

Our grand with Snow White

Our time in central Florida was a nice time to visit with friends and family.  We spent time with Mark and Lyn buying RVs together, Trish and Chris in Rockledge, Paul and Kaye from Maine and old friends Sam and Debi now of Beverly Hills.  Friends Rob and Terri drove up from Pine Island to meet us in Crystal River.  As well as meeting new friends Bob and Kathy who gave us many insights into our new motorhome.

 

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Italy Land Tour

While the cruise portion of our trip ended in Venice, this was just the beginning of the land tour.  We had never done a bus tour so we didn’t know quite what to expect.  Fresh off the ship, our Italian guide Dimitri led us to a tour of Venice.  Waters in the lagoon were much more choppy than expected and the views never stopped.  Once docked a Venetian guide led us thru a maze of streets between canals to many Venice landmarks.  Then we had time on our own to maybe not get lost.  Venice is so unique it is almost overwhelming.   Some of the landmarks include Piazza San Marco, St. Marks Basilica, the Campanile bell tower, the Doge’s Palace.  Venice was crowded with tourists so we could imagine it would be impossible in the Summer.

Venice from the Grand Canal

Venetian “street”

Iconic gondola

St. Marks Basilica

Th Doge’s Palace and the Campanile

After a night in a hotel in the outskirts of Venice, we headed to Florence – birthplace of the Renaissance.  The historic center of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage sight and the capital of Tuscany.  Dimitri delivered us to a wonderful local guide who escorted us thru the medieval streets and plazas to some of the city’s great sights.  We saw a replica of Michaelangelo’s David in the Palazzo dell Signoria,  The Basilica of San Lorenzo, the cathedral of Florence known as the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio bridge and many other beautiful buidlings and monuments.  Florence is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Leonardo de Vinci and Michaelangelo called it home.

Florence Cathedral “The Duomo”

Basilica of San Lorenzo

David replica

Ponte Vecchio

Florence’s Arno River

Florenc’s Historic Center

On Michaelangelo Hill

Leonardo de Vinci

Michaelangelo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our day in Florence we stayed in a hotel in Montecatini, a wonderful small city in Tuscany.  Th city is also known as Montecatini Terme due to the thermal baths in the area.  Long ago the town was the summer residence of the Medici family.  After many hours on the bus we were anxious to walk as soon as we could.  The town was beautiful and wandered into a funicular to Montecatini Alto, a rocky mountain top town with a fortress, churches, restaurants and incredible views.

Montecatini Alto Funicular

Montecatini Alto

Montecatini Terme

Next stop was another mountain top town of Orvieto, a small city perched on top of a cliff in the Italian state of Umbria.  As usual the church built a spectacular edifice to remind everyone who had the power.  We rode the funicular to get up from the valley and saw the incredible cathedral, beautiful plazas and medieval streets.  Rick Steves calls Orvieto “what an Italian hill town should be”.

Orvieto Cathedral

Cardinal Hotel St. Peter would be our home in the center of Rome for the last 2 nights of our tour.  We were lucky enough to get a room with a balcony.  The next day we had a full day tour of Rome with Dimitri and a local guide.  Rome is the eternal city and we loved the sights.  Or course we saw Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps (which we had visited on a previous cruise to Italy) but we also visited the church of Mary Major, the Pantheon  countless baroque fountains and statues and other sights.  After the tour group ended we spent another day in Rome.  It was Easter Sunday and our hotel was only a short walk from the Vatican.  We couldn’t believe we were able to walk very close to St. Peters Square and watch from the edge of the crowds as the Pope gave his Easter Blessing.  It was very well organized amid tight security.  The crowds were happy and orderly.  A very lucky day.

The Church of Mary Major

The Spanish Steps

The Pantheon

Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers

Piazza Navonna

Bernini’s Barcaccia Fountain

Overall our Italy land tour organized by YMT vacations was more than we expected.  Their guides were excellant, hotels were nice, food OK.  Our cruise tour vacation was such an excellent value we really couldn’t go wrong.  By the end we feel like we kinda know Italy and would be very comfortable coming back to do a more extensive tour on our own.

St Peters appears on our walk

Crowds converge on the Vatican

St Peters Basilica rooftop

Throngs gathered for Easter

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Another Epic Transoceanic Cruise/Tour

Are we crazy?  Immediately after our Transpacific cruise last Fall we finalized plans for another big cruise acrosss the Atlantic. This trip was a great bargain and included stops in the Caribbean before crossing to the Canary Islands, Spain, France, Italy and Croatia before culminating with a 4 day bus tour of Italy.  All in about 30 days.  These are the go-go years, what the hell.

Cruisers

Our cruise on the Costa Delicioza began as the Northeast was slashed by a huge Noreaster storm causing several passengers to miss the sailing.  By the first morning of the cruise we found out the storm also caused such high water and damage that the port of Nassau Bahamas was closed.  One port missed.  We have been to Nassau many times, no big deal.  Two days later we arrived off the coast of the Dominican Republic where we were to stop at Amber Cove, closed again.  Again no big deal, we had read that it was a cruise company shopping stop.  So then Costa scheduled a stop at their private Catalina Island near La Romana DR and we had a nice beach day.  Curiously, we had a some of the best food of the cruise so far on this beach day.  We had not been impressed with the food thus far.

Our next 2 stops in the Caribbean were St. Kitts and Antigua.  We had always been interested in St. Kitts and scheduled our own tour.  We got into port mid afternoon so it was a quick tour but we saw the highlights, Brimstone Hill Fort – the largest fortress in the Eastern Caribbean built by the British, Romney Manor with Caribelle Batik, Wingfiled Estate – the 17th century home of Thomas Jefferson’s great great great grandfather, and a tour of the finer neighborhoods of the island – like where Robert Redford lives.

Brimstone Hill

Sunset at St Kitts

We had visited Antigua years ago so we walked St. Johns on our own.  The town needs a lot of work but the people are nice.  We visited the old church, the farmer’s market and the seafood market.  These were interesting but somewhat nasty.  Red Cliff Quay, the old slave market turned into shopping and dining was a nice area.

 

Approaching Antigua

St Johns

From Antigua we had 7 days at sea crossing the North Atlantic.  Our next stop was Tenerife famous for the single deadliest plane crash ever, when 2 packed 747s crashed on the runway killing almost 600 people.  We booked a ship’s excursion to Mt. Teide (Tay day) the highest peak in Spain at over 12,000 feet.  The Canary Islands are much closer to Morrocco in Africa than Spain but they are a Spanish provence.  Teide is a big volcano and we rode the cable car to the top.  It was cold.  Tenerife has over 300 volcanoes.  Our tour included lunch at a fine restaurant but there was no vegan option and unlimited wine made for a bad value for us.

Mt Teide and its Cable Car

St Patricks Day in Tenerife

 

Our schedule changed again when the captain informed us that we would not be visiting Cadiz Spain and would instead visit  a second Canary Island, Lanzarote.  Wind and sea conditions warranted this change.  We docked in a nice marina area at Arrecife and had a great  tour including a camel ride.  Lanzarote is dominated by the Timanfaya Hills volcano.  The hills erupted for 6 years straight from 1730 to 1736.  The entire island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  There is still little vegetation in the lava fields with temperatures near the surface of 100 to 600C.  Water dropped into a shallow hole instantly turns to steam.  The landscape was like the moon.  We visited a winery where they produce very unique wines in the volcanic soil.  It is so dry and windy they also use a vine growing technique of wrapping the vines in a circle in a depression to minimize moisture loss.  Very interesting.  The statue “El Diablo” by Cesar Manrique is the island’s symbol.  Lanzarote was one of favorite ports on the cruise.

Camel riding in Lanzarote

Timanfaya Hills

Water to steam

El Diablo

After a day at sea we passed through the Straights of Gibralter (unfortunately in the middle of the night) and arrived at Malaga Spain.  Here we utilized the Hop On Hop Off bus and saw the highlights of the city for peanuts.  We visited El Gibralfaro fortress, the square next to the Picasso museum, Picasso birthplace and the narrow old streets of this medieval city.  It was a cold windy day but we loved the old world ambience of Malaga.

Castillo de Gibralfaro

 

Malaga’s Bullring

Medieval streets

A cold day at the beach

Our next port was Marseilles France.  At this point we should mention that we had a great on-board lecturer Jean Christofe Robles.  He combined 2 of his passions, music and travel, and created a website, Travel with your Ears. http://www.travelwithyourears.com/ He did several presentations on World Music including music of the Garifuna of Belize, rake and scrape music of the Bahamas and reggae around the world.  Fascinating stuff.  He also did some port talks including Marseilles, where he told us about savon de Marseilles soap.  He explained that this soap has been famous worldwide for centuries.  The real deal is made with 72% olive oil and can be used for everything from body washing to laundry.  At one time there were 60+ factories in the city producing this soap with many fragrances.  Marseilles is France’s second biggest city so we opted to visit Aix-en-Provence, a smaller univercity town in nearby Provence.  The shuttle dropped us in the heart of town and we loved walking its narrow streets with a beautiful bakery every 20 feet.  The shops and people were very nice during our halfday tour.

The center of Aix

At our next port, Savona Italy, many passengers disembarked the ship while many families embarked on an Easter week 5 day cruise.  Needless to say this ws a big change in the demographic of the ship.  Costa is an Italian cruise line owned by Carnival Cruise lines of Miami.  Our ship had about 1800 passengers many of whom were European.  This included at least 600 Americans.  The group tended to be seniors with many older seniors.  Every important announcement was made in at least 5 languages, it took a while.  Some messages were only in Italian, we guessed these were not important.  When the European  families boarded the buffet was over run.  Hadn’t these people eaten before?

Savona gave us the chance to visit Genoa, home to Christopher Columbus.  We had a guided tour of Genoa and saw Columbus’s house, San Lorenzo cathedral, 11th to 16th century walls, the revived antique port.  The original old city had 2 story buildings built of stone, the newer (300 – 400 years old) additions went to 4 to 5 stories built of brick.  The narrow streets stayed the same.  Genoa had great foccacia, a hundred different ways – delicious.

11th Century gates into Genoa

San Lorenzo Cathedral consecrated in 1118

Ceiling gold brought from New World by Columbus

Classic Genoese architecture

Naples was our next port.  We had visited Pompei last time – it is awesome.  This time we took the one hour fast boat to Capri.  Famous for the rich and famous, it is a unique island with highend shops and hotels.  We saw the famous Three Rocks, the gardens of Roman Emperor Augustus, the Krupp mansion, the stone pathway from marina piccolo to Krupp.  The narrow streets had lemons everywhere, bakeries and a funicular (not running, our day).  The views are great, the wealth exaggerated.  Most hotels and shops were still closed for the winter so we can only imagine what its like in “season”.

Marina Grande

Three Rocks

“Trail” to Marina Piccolo

High end Capri

Bari Italy was next and a place we really had never heard of.  Its situated on the heel of the boot and was a major entry point fot GIs during WWII.  Here we took a ship’s tour to the nearby town of Alberobello, a town in Italy’s Apulia region.  Its known for the Trulli, whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs.  These drystone homes date back centuries and are UNESCO World Heritage site.  They are unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

Alberobello’s Trulli houses

Not all restored

Ancient Roman road

Dubrovnik was one of our favorite ports on this cruise.  It is on the Adriatic coast of Croatia and one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe.  We had a wonderful guided tour of the old city.  It’s pedestrian only and we visited a Dubrovnik museum dedicated the the men who died in the war of Croatian Independence from 1995 to 1999.  Dubrovik was bombed during the war but somehow mostly survived.  We also visited churches and a monastery which has a pharmacy operated by monks since 1317.  We bought some creams from them.  Dubrovnik is a hot tourist destination and we feel lucky to visit during a shoulder season.  We imagine it would be impossibly hot and crowded in summer.

Medieval walled city of Dubrovnik

Original gate to the city

High walls now an attraction

Monastery

Steep narrow streets

Beautiful plaza

Our cruise ended in Venice.  Our ship sailed into the port right past St. Marks Square.  Venice is so unique its almost overwhelming.  We had a nice walking tour and time on our own.  We visited some Murano glass shops and saw some spectacular pieces.  We saw the famous gondolas, the Doge’s mansion, the basilica, the crowds in St. Marks.

End of cruise – Venice

In talking to our fellow cruisers we found almost all said they would never cruise with Costa again.  Our biggest complaint was a lack of sanitation especially in the dining venues.  Every other cruise line we’ve sailed with requires everyone to sanitize their hands before entering the dining areas, not Costa.  We even witnessed officers not sanitizing before eating.  Needless to say hundreds of passengers came down with a virus, including us.  We actually lost weight on this cruise mostly because the food was so mediocre.  Day after day the food never changed.  Many times the only thing to eat was salad.  The vegies and salad fixings were good.  Even the desserts were boring.  Our cabin was great, the onboard lectures were good, the entertainment was mostly good, embarking and disembarking the ship was well organized.  To summarize, Costa did some things very well, some okay and some very poorly.  It was still an awesome trip, we’d do it again just not on Costa.  7332 nautical miles, 7 countries.

Costa Deliziosa

Our fab cabin

Formal cruisers

Up next, our Italy land tour!

 

 

 

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