Tag Archives: road trip

Birthday Road Trip: Dogfish Head and Ocean City

We’re quite old hands at visiting craft breweries now, so had an idea what to expect when we visited Dogfish Head brewery at Milton, DE. This is the brewery that makes a couple of my favourite beers out here – their 60 minute IPA and Indian brown ale are perfect after a long walk.

The brewery was surprisingly busy, so the first tour we could get on was rather later than we’d hoped. However, it was close to lunch time, so we figured we could enjoy a few tastings and grab some lunch before the tour. The brewery has a ‘beer-centric’ food menu available from ‘Bunyan’s Lunchbox’ – a sort of stationary food truck – just outside. Here they serve beer-dosed bratwursts, hop pickles (totally weird and amazing), and bowls of ‘hard-tack’ clam chowder, made with dark beer. You can also get a lot of this food at Dogfish’s brew pub ‘Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats’ in Rehoboth Beach. And they apparently stock the chowder and brats in some branches of Whole Foods and Harris Teeter.

This wide availability of Dogfish Head’s non-beer produce might give rise to a suspicion that the brewery is not quite as ‘off-centred’ as its slogan suggests. In fact, the brewery has a very established commercial arm, and its on-site shop was overflowing with merchandise.

The story of its founder was also slightly different from what we were used to – a graduate of a liberal arts college borrowed money from his parents to start this brewery. The story’s main tension revolves around the founder screwing up the courage to tell his father: thanks for all that expensive college education, but I think I want to brew beer for a living. The conversation happened while father and son were out jogging, and ended with the father suggesting the brewery’s name.

There was another obstacle to the founding of Dogfish Head. Thinking he saw a gap in the market in the fact that Delaware had no craft breweries, the founder happily went ahead with his plans, only to discover that the reason there were no craft breweries in Delaware was that it was illegal. He was undaunted though – for a very good reason: his wife was the daughter of one of the main guys who ran the state. So husband and wife lobbied for a change in the law and even got to help with drafting the legislation that made the enterprise possible.

Now I don’t want to suggest that any other craft brewery foundation story is that of a working class hero making good, but there is something a little more endearing about the story of the New Belgium founders making their start-up money through their jobs in industry, becoming successful and then handing over ownership of the brewery to their employees.

Despite all this, we still enjoyed our time at the brewery – and we still enjoy the beer.

One of the main highlights of the day though was the drive out across the Chesapeake Bridge. We saw it stretching out across the water before I drove out onto it…

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… and I think I grinned for the entire time I was driving across it!

One of our ambitions since watching the Danish/Swedish detective series The Bridge has been to drive across the bridge between Denmark and Sweden. While the Chesapeake Bridge isn’t as long as that bridge, it did give us the feeling we’d imagined of being in the middle of the ocean, driving towards the horizon, part of a great feat of engineering. More than this, the sun came out, and we enjoyed flying across the water with the seabirds.

Finally we made it to our destination for the night – we were staying in a large hotel in off-season Ocean City. We weren’t alone – the hotel was pretty full of people avoiding Christmas – but the deserted, wind- and rain-swept beach certainly lived up to my standards of bleakness.

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Perfect!

Read on in my next post

Birthday Road Trip, December 2015

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My birthday comes between Christmas and New Year. It’s a difficult time of year for a birthday – often people aren’t around, or places aren’t open, and you don’t really feel very much like celebrating again while you’re still recovering from the Christmas turkey, puddings, cake, and chocolate. In the past I’ve embraced it – Christmas cake is way better than birthday cake in my opinion, and a good turkey sandwich makes an excellent birthday lunch. But when you’re celebrating Christmas in a less than traditional way, with family, Christmas cake and turkey sandwiches far away, a Christmas birthday doesn’t seem as jolly.

So we did what we always do when we’re feeling a bit down – we hit the road!

R knows me really well, so he suggested an itinerary that very much appealed to me. We would be starting by driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Delaware – one of the states I hadn’t visited yet – and having lunch and some tastings of beer at Dogfish Head Brewery, which happens to be one of my favourite beers. Then we would drive to Ocean City, MD, and spend the night there; I love being by the sea in the winter, on a good, wind-swept beach.

Day 2 we would drive to Charlottesville, probably via a Chik fil A (I mentioned this trip was designed to fit in my favourite things!).  Here we wanted to see the University of Virginia campus, designed by Jefferson, and Jefferson’s house – Monticello. We thought we might do that on the morning of Day 3, before we drove up the Shenandoah Valley to stay, for our final night, near Little Washington, in Sperryville – where there just happened to be another brewery, and a distillery, as well as a nice restaurant.

On our final day we planned to head up to Skyline Drive and get in a short hike before driving back to DC.

It was a pretty full schedule, but it turned out to be a nice little road trip, which fit nicely into the time between Christmas and New Year and didn’t break the bank.

Read on in my next post

 

Southern Road Trip – On the back roads from Atlanta to the coast

Having hated the interstate between Nashville and Atlanta, we decided to take a less direct route from Atlanta to the coast. The plan had been to drive to Charleston but, just as we were realizing how far this was and how late it would be when we got there, a friend invited us to her family’s beach house where she was spending the Memorial Day weekend – and we jumped at the opportunity. I was sad not to see Charleston or experience the seafood there but hopefully there will be other opportunities in the future, when we’ll have more time to dedicate to the city.

So we set a course from Atlanta (GA) to Pawley’s Island (SC), with an aim to avoid the interstate. Travelling on the smaller roads meant that the trip would take longer, but we figured it might be more interesting and picturesque.

So I think we saw the ‘real’ Georgia. We saw a lot of productive farmland – that rich red earth mentioned in Gone with the Wind – and people selling produce on the side of the road. Though Georgia is known as the peach state, I didn’t see many peaches on offer. Apparently they grow more peanuts than peaches, but naming them after that would mean being known as the Goober State. We saw plenty of signs for boiled peanuts, a southern delicacy that my friend had told us about. Apparently you suck the nuts out of their salty, soft-boiled shells, a bit as you do with edamame – though that’s probably not a comparison the peanut farmers would appreciate.

We also saw a lot of poverty, both on the outskirts of Atlanta and in the countryside: homes that were really just falling down old shacks, and towns where we drove along abandoned high streets of boarded up buildings. Many of the little towns had been designed to show their best fronts to the railways and, while run down, these streets retained some of that charm. Once we got into South Carolina though, we were mainly driving through empty countryside – it was only when we got closer to the coast that the land improved and the towns grew more prosperous.

Our route took us around Athens (GA) and over to the Savannah River – which was incredibly beautiful. Just outside Athens we were able to stop for breakfast at a Chik fil A (I described this here), and we stopped for lunch in Saluda (SC). This was a very small town with a nice old courthouse on a pretty square, an active historical society and a few nice-looking cafes, which were unfortunately closed because it was Memorial Day weekend.

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We had  a quick look around and a Subway lunch at the gas station, where the very polite but baffled-to-see-us server kindly charged my iphone for me. Then we ‘made the skwaya’ and rejoined the 178 toward Orangeburg. We skirted Lake Marion and Lake Moultree, and drove along the edge of the Francis Marion National Forest. It was all very beautiful and peaceful. And then we reached Route 17 and Pawleys Island.

Suddenly we were back in civilization. There were billboards, restaurants, hotels, and shopping centers, as well as mini-golf and fishing supply stores. The local radio advertised grocery stores where you could stock up for your beach trip, or just pop along if you’d forgotten an essential ingredient. We stopped at a liquor store for some beer. It really was the height of convenience. Further up Route 17 is even more of a contrast to the interior: there you find the well-known Myrtle Beach area with its huge hotel and golf complexes.

For us though, we were at the end of our day’s drive. We said hello, drank a beer, and then hit the beach. We had driven for over ten hours, and we had reached the ocean.

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Read about the rest of our Southern Road Trip and our adventures with Southern food:

East Coast Adventures – Southern Road Trip

I’m just back from the road trip that I mentioned R and I were planning when I first started this series of travel posts. I’m not sure how accurate it is to term it an East Coast adventure now, as we didn’t drive to Nashville from DC via Kentucky as we had originally thought we might – it turned out that R had to work the Friday and I had to be back for Tuesday evening. But we did at least drive eastwards from Nashville to the coast and back to DC, so maybe it still fits here.

We some amazing experiences. We heard live country music in Nashville, experienced the Southern Mount Rushmore, and swam in the ocean off South Carolina. The food was excellent too – we ate a lot of chicken (you really can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you want…) and some seriously authentic South Carolina barbecue.

I’ll cover each of our destinations separately, but I thought it would be helpful to give a bit of an overview of our trip and what we learnt about American road trips – especially short ones. So here are eight things I learnt:

1. America is big.

Only in America, I thought, would the GPS system’s instruction to ‘continue for 134 miles’ sound reasonable, normal, run-of-the-mill even. The main thing I took away from this trip was a greater appreciation for just how huge the US is. Driving from Nashville to Atlanta, Atlanta towards Charleston, and from just south of Myrtle Beach back to DC totaled up to over 1000 miles. This area looked far smaller on the map! I think I was partly misled by the fact that Sherman’s army marched a route a little like ours from Atlanta – I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to cover those distances on foot.

2. Driving takes a long time (and)

3. It’s difficult to have a great time in cities when you only have a short amount of time

Following on from my first realization, I now understand how much time road trips require. It would certainly have been possible to drive from Atlanta to Charleston in a day, but we worked out that, on our schedule, we wouldn’t arrive there until 5pm and, as we had to be back in DC the next day, we would only have the evening to experience what I’m sure is a very interesting city. In the end we prioritized regional experiences over slap-dash attempts to ‘do’ cities in a couple of hours, and I’m thoroughly glad that we did. For a start, if you don’t know a city and have had to choose rather randomly where to stay, you can end up not having a great time and feeling like all the action is taking place somewhere else… This happened to us to a certain extent in the downtown areas of Nashville and Atlanta; luckily though, we had some time to find the fun in Nashville as we were there for two nights and I had done quite a bit of research. More on this soon.

4. Driving is boring

Especially on the interstate, which also requires high levels of concentration and can cause stress. Getting off the interstate is far more interesting, especially if you go through little towns, but even this gets old after 5 hours. Luckily we like country music and there were plenty of stations we could cycle through that were all playing the same songs – eventually we were able to sing along. Only in South Carolina did we have trouble finding country stations amongst all the religious channels… Next time I’m going to take my own CDs or invest in some kind of adapter so I can play MP3s off my phone.

5. The Interstate is anonymous

Bill Bryson bemoans this in Lost Continent – especially mourning the demise of Route 66:

It was only two lanes wide […] hopelessly inadequate for people in motor homes, and every fifty miles or so it would pass through a little town where you might encounter a stop sign or a traffic light […] So they buried it under the desert and built a new superhighway that shoots across the landscape like a four-lane laser and doesn’t stop for anything, even mountains.

Certainly, the interstate will get you from city to city quickly, but I think there’s a distinct possibility that if you traveled the whole of the States on just the interstate, you would get the impression that America was all the same, and that Americans only ate in chain burger and chicken joints. Some stretches are nice, tree-lined and cutting through farmland, but others are four lanes on each side, with those motor homes fighting lorries for the middle lanes, forcing others to undertake, and nothing else to look at except clustered billboards for McDonalds, Fairfield Inns, Taco Bell, etc.

We tried, where possible, to get off the interstate and really enjoyed taking those back roads through little towns. In Georgia we stopped at a traffic light in one of these towns and saw people sitting on rocking chairs outside the local store, and in South Carolina we stopped outside the old courthouse in Saluda to find some lunch. I’m sure that if it hadn’t been Memorial Day we would have found somewhere local to eat, but unfortunately everywhere apart from the gas-station branch of Subway was closed…

6. Navigating using only an iphone is high risk

Googlemaps is great. It has revolutionized travel for me. No matter where I am in the world I can use it to find my way around a city, find restaurant recommendations, and navigate a road trip. Where once I would have needed multiple road atlases, guide books and print outs, I now only need the iphone. However, at certain crucial points in the journey this system almost let me down. For example, in order to save battery I would close the app when we had over a certain number of miles on one road and switch it back on when I guessed we were getting close to a more complicated bit. All fine in theory, but often I’d switch on the phone and realize I had no reception. Even with two phones it was annoyingly often the case that one would have no signal, while the other one might have signal but would be almost out of battery. I think in future I’ll still use the iphone, but possibly bring some kind of hard-copy backup – and I’m definitely going to invest in an iphone charger like this one.

7. Use a good car

As with all things, you need the right tool for the job. If you attempt a road trip in a rental car, pay what you need to to get a car that you know and will be comfortable in. 1100 miles in a Chrysler 200 is not fun for either driver or passenger. Also, the higher price vehicles might be more likely to have USB ports for your phone and MP3 player…

8. Travel with someone you really like

The driver is at times going to get irritable, and the navigator is going to call out turns too late and be annoyed when the driver misses the exit. But if you know and like each other then you can usually find the right thing to say – a shared joke or a well-timed observation – to get you back on track. I really enjoyed even our longest drives together on this trip – even, in some strange way, the hellish drive back into DC, when the lorries were hogging the middle lane and the whole thing came to a standstill, and we had to come up with a contingency plan to return the rental car when six I clock came and went and our branch of Enterprise closed…

Anyway, we survived our first American road trip. We even survived our journey along the back roads of Georgia and South Carolina, where friends anticipated we might have tense exchanges with law enforcement officers starting with something like ‘You folks ain’t from around here…’. And while our road trip didn’t have the most romantic of returns, the fact that we’re willing to try it all again is perhaps proof of the strength of our marriage!

Read onSouthern Road Trip – Nashville

Read about the rest of our Southern Road Trip and our adventures with Southern food:

East Coast Adventures

I’ve always thought of traveling in the US as a gigantic undertaking. I imagined road trips over interminable deserts, on empty, sunbaked interstates that shimmer into the endless distance, across inhospitable mountain ranges, through dusty suspicious towns, and on and on across the continent to the ocean. Romantic, but time consuming. And as Bill Bryson has pointed out, most of the romantic roads have now been replaced with anonymous interstates, where you battle with delivery trucks driving too fast and try not to crash in the chaos of lane switching and under/over taking.

The Great American Road Trip – Death Valley http://www.cgpgrey.com [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
However, there are other kinds of traveling in the US, especially on the east coast where towns and attractions are relatively densely packed together. You only have to drive an hour from DC to be somewhere you might want to stop and sightsee; or the train can take you to Baltimore in under an hour, Philadelphia in about two hours, and New York in three – even Boston is less than seven hours away by train. Direct flights within the area aren’t too expensive either – you can get to Portland Maine in under two hours for about $250 (£161). So far we’ve flown to Maine for a week’s vacation driving around the MidCoast region and to Boston for a weekend. We took the train for a weekend in NYC and a daytrip to Baltimore. And I’ve traveled to Binghampton in upstate NY via a flight to Syracuse and a Greyhound bus(!) We’ve also driven from DC to Shenandoah National Park (1.5 hours), to Virginia vineyards (1 hour), and to the Historic Triangle on the Virginia peninsula (about 3 hours). We’re currently thinking about taking a long weekend to drive through West Virginia and Kentucky to Nashville (TN), and back through Georgia and the Carolinas – I don’t think this is too ambitious.

So what I’m really saying is that DC can be the perfect starting point to an East Coast American adventure. Certainly two of our family members found this to be true when they embarked from DC, in a white convertible mustang, on an autumn road-trip through upstate New York, New England and Maine. I was incredibly jealous of their itinerary, which took in the Finger Lakes, the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory, and fall foliage in Maine’s Acadia National Park before ending in Boston, where they got their flight back to the UK.

We do still think about the epic, cross-continental road trip, and might get the chance to do this when a couple of our friends get married later this year in California (and if we have enough holiday…). But in the meantime, there’s still plenty of America on our doorstep to explore.