Summer Travel Map

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Just Being Tourists

July 31, 2010
St. Louis, MO - Alton/Grafton, IL

Today was a long but fun and productive day. It was nice having a "tour guide" to show us various things. We started with a drive into St. Louis, a little over an hour away. This was the farthest out we were going, so we were then able to work our way back with ease.

Our first stop was for breakfast. Where better than a donut shop? We each had a couple of treats from World's Fair Donuts, in operation since the 1904 Exposition (with some of the original equipment, from the looks of it). Right across the street are a couple of "antique" stores that Michael and Susan like to browse. It seemed to me that the buildings were more antique than the wares, as the shop owners apparently do quite a bit of direct importing from Mexico, mostly metal work and cast concrete type decorative "art". It was fun to poke around enough to not feel guilty using their restroom.

The donut shop is at the foot of "The Hill", a neighborhood that celebrates an Italian heritage. It reminded us of parts of South Philly, and we took advantage of two different markets to stock up on Italian products that are hard to find on the road.

As we headed back to Illinois and lunch, we stopped at one of the many Lewis & Clark sites in the area. This particular one is relatively new and features an observation tower that affords views of the confluence of the three rivers. Since it was a heavily overcast and hazy morning (and they charge a $4 admission), we decided to save the tour for a better day.

By now, it was time for lunch, and Michael wanted to show us some local flavors. We headed for "Fast Eddie's Bon-Air", and found the lines about a half hour long. Essentially a "biker bar", the place is known for cheap food and cold beer, and attracts a much broader crowd than just HOG riders. 99¢ burgers, 99¢ fries, 29¢ peel-and-eat shrimp, and $3 beer - you know how they make their (cash only) money. The food line snakes around inside, right around the bar where one bartender is positioned to get you drinks while you're still in line to order. Gotta love that! Of course, one of the neat things about a place like this is the people-watching, and we definitely saw some characters.

After lunch, we made a quick stop back home to check on the pups and let them out for "exercise". Then we headed for Grafton, just a few miles down the road. We took a few pictures of the high water, which is almost up to the road in places because of the heavy rains in the upper plains this summer. The water's not usually this high at this time of year, as the rivers usually peak in the spring.

We headed up the bluffs to Aerie's Winery to enjoy the view and maybe some vino. In spite of the name, they don't actually make wine, but they do sell a decent selection by the glass or bottle. The real attraction, though, is the views of the rivers from 250'+ up. It would have been perfect sitting on the deck and watching barges plow by and eagles soar on the updrafts - if it wasn't for the "entertainment". They had a "country boy" doing solo karaoke (he sang and pretended to play guitar while the machine provided all the music), and he was actually pretty good except for his overcompensating use of sound. And he kept turning the volume up. And, "appearing on the deck 2-6 PM" meant playing without taking any breaks. But, the views and company (Susan's sister and brother-in-law joined us after a while) were nice, the wine was fine, and we still had a good time.

Click here for pictures from today's adventures...

Back home once again, it was soon time for dinner. Pappardelle (fresh pasta, also from the West Side Market) married nicely with the Veal Ragu, and we all ate well. And there was even a lunch worth left over. Since we were up early and busy all day, it'll be another early night.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Roughing it

July 30, 2010
Pere Marquette State Park, Grafton, IL

Today, we moved to our "home" for the next week, Pere Marquette State Park. We are right along the Illinois River, and within several miles of the confluence of the Illinois, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers. This is part of the "Great River Road" that travels from the Gulf of Mexico to the headwaters of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca in Minnesota. I have this notion about driving the whole road on one of our summer trips, but that won't be this year, as we're heading west in a week.

The park is nice and sites are spacious. 30 of the 80 sites are open for reservation in advance and the remainder are "first come, first served". All have electric service and there is a sprinkling of 50 amp sites so we're all powered up. The park is in an old grove of elm trees, so we have no satellite shot for internet, and cell service is pretty spotty, so we're definitely suffering from telecommunications withdrawal, but we'll definitely survive.

This afternoon, after we set up inside, I put out the chairs, grill/stove, outside rugs and dog pen. We hope to be able to spend some time outside while we're here (heat, humidity, and insects willing). Geri did the prep work, and I pulled together a nice pot of Veal Ragu (using our Lamb Ragu recipe, but with ground veal we got at the West Side Market in Cleveland). That'll be for tomorrow's dinner; always better the next day.

Michael and Susan came over this afternoon after work and will stay with us for two nights. Tomorrow will be a busy day, as Mike's playing "tour guide", so we'll all turn in early...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Quick Stop with Michael and Susan

July 29, 2010
Litchfield, IL

Today was another easy driving day, wending our way through corn and soy fields from northern Indiana to southwestern Illinois. We headed south from Elkhart and ended up with a couple of detours as we zigzagged south and west. These aren't "over one block then back" detours. Out here, the roads are laid out in a grid pattern, and the next "county road" is 4 miles away, so a detour turns 4 miles into 12 just like that. It didn't hold us back too much, though, and we crossed I-65 for a fuel stop right on schedule. From there, it was a short hop to Illinois (now in the Central Time Zone), over to Kankakee and I-57. South to Champaign and I-72, then west to Springfield and I-55, and we were soon at Michael & Susan's place in Litchfield. We parked right out front, running the generator to keep the air conditioning on in the 90+ degree heat.

 They've done quite a bit of work on the house: new roof, siding, windows...

Yes, sidewalk is still cracked from where I drove over it on our last visit...

They were ready for us, having wine and dinner ready to go. We visited for a bit, Mike grilled shrimp for an appetizer, and we chowed down on a nice piece of tenderloin cut into steaks. We'll stay tonight and move about 50 miles away tomorrow, where we'll stay for a week.

Shrimp on the barbie - Woo-Hoo!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

RV/Motorhome Hall of Fame

July 28, 2010
Elkhart, IN

The Hall of Fame Tour continues! In fact, for now, it's over as we have no more Halls scheduled on this year's excursion (unless we run into one by coincidence).

Like all of the other halls of fame visited on this trip, the RV/MH (Motorhome) Museum and Hall of Fame has evolved over time. Initially a "virtual hall" before physical space was obtained, it was finally developed as a museum in the early 1970s and moved to its current facility just off the I-80/I-90 Toll Road in 2007. A contemporary and open building, it houses the Hall of Fame (well over 200 inductees, very few of whom I recognized) on the second floor mezzanine and four different exhibits: components, new RVs, and two dedicated to older RVs. These last two are probably the most interesting, of course. We spent a couple of hours poking around, all in all.

Click here for pictures.

We got home just before today's batch of thunderstorms rolled through. We didn't have any hail and we didn't hear any sirens, but we got several rounds of heavy downpours. Tomorrow will be a good test of the soil's ability to absorb water, as we'll be headed out (we hope) early in the morning. I was able to get the Rover hooked up before the storms, so we're halfway ready for travel.

Geri made a nice quiche for dinner, with the remaining asparagus from West Side Market in Cleveland, mushrooms, bacon, and peppers. Mmmm. We'll finish up out travel preparations before calling it a night, and be ready to be on the road by 8:30...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

West to Indiana

July 27, 2010
Elkhart, IN

Yesterday, the weather cleared, just in time for the next driving leg of our trip west. We drove south a few miles and picked up I-76 west, switching to US-30 after a bit. With these route numbers, we were reminded of our time in the Philly area! It was a nice day for driving, with only a little wind in areas. US-30 turned out to be an excellent route, mostly 4-lane divided highway. We fueled up in a little town called "Beaverdam", where US-30 crosses I-75, then continued on, picking up US-33 near Goshen and Middlebury (towns in Connecticut near where I grew up) into Elkhart. A nice driving day...

We settled in, hooked up, and walked the pups. As we did, we couldn't help but notice the way neighbors have their tow vehicle set up.

I pulled out the grill and we fired up a fabulous 40 oz Porterhouse that we'd bought at the West Side Market in Cleveland. Geri made Risotto Cakes and Sautéed Asparagus, all of this going with a nice Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh, yeah; that's livin'. Now, why did I only buy one of those steaks??? D'oh!

Today was a "close to home" day. I paid bills and did a few things around the coach. Geri did some laundry and cleaning. We did our shopping at Wally World. We took a ride to Petco a few towns over for dog food, so the pups got out for a ride as well. For dinner, I grilled some chicken and we had that with Fried Rice, Geri's Famous Panzanella Salad, and a "value" Malbec from Argentina.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Family Visits Continue

July 25, 2010
Streetsboro, OH

Well, this is certainly the year for family visits. Since we were stopping in Ohio, we had a chance to visit with Geri's nephew, Scott. Actually, Scott and his daughter, Lindsey (with her friend Charles), had a chance to visit with us at the RV park in Streetsboro. They live in Akron, just south of where we're staying. We had a nice visit, especially since we haven't seen Scott in years (since we lived in CT).

We're going to miss seeing Geri's great-nephew, Russell, by just a few days. He lives in Indiana, but is visiting with Cindy in Massachusetts this week. Maybe next time!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A day in Cleveland

July 24, 2010
Cleveland, OH

We actually made two trips into Cleveland today, managing to see everything we'd planned and still take care of the pups in the process.

The weather's been quite variable during our stay here. The only consistent parts have been the high temperatures and high humidity. We've had periods of rain on and off, some of it quite heavy. Winds have been strong as well, even knocking a birds nest with two chicks out of the tree next to us (one survived but seems to have been abandoned by the parents). We saw a couple of spots here in the park where things have turned muddy; fortunately for us, we're in a stable site.

We started the day early (OK, early for us), heading north via the spaghetti-like network of Interstates and Expressways that criss-cross Cleveland. Our first destination was the West Side Market, Cleveland's oldest publicly owned market. It's very similar to the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, and just as crowded on a Saturday morning. We were lucky enough to find a parking spot right near the door and spent the rest of the morning walking through and loading up on provisions. It's the kind of place where you have to walk all through one time, looking at the various stalls and shopping for the best food and the best prices, then head back to specific vendors once you know what you want. Of course, not being familiar with the layout, we "lost" a couple of vendors for a bit in the process. We picked up some veggies, veal (ground and cutlet), fresh pasta, ground lamb for the pups' food, and a nice, thick Porterhouse steak. We'll be eating well this week!

After leaving the Market, we headed the short distance to the lake shore and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I must say that we were somewhat disappointed with the exhibits, the crowds (hey, it's a hot Saturday, so crowds are expected, but still...), and the lack of parking. Now, some of the latter is self-inflicted (we have clearance issues in the Rover with the roof pod on), but the Hall is located in a complex with a series of other attractions, including the Science Center and Browns Stadium. Things must get pretty tight when there's a football game!

The Hall bans photography, so that set the tone right away. Many exhibits include videos, which is great, but when they're all spaced closely together with throngs of people clogging the walkways, the cacophony of noise and close-quarters maneuvering gets tired pretty quickly. Together with the fact that there isn't an exhibit documenting the various inductees (other than a video you get to queue up for), we left feeling a little empty. The Bruce Springsteen special exhibit on the top two floors was good but not completely accessible (escalators only go to four of six floors), and there was some interesting U2 memorabilia from the Zoo TV Tour, so it wasn't a complete washout.

After the Hall, we made a quick trip back home to walk, water, and feed the pups, and to relax a bit before dinner. Being Food Network junkies, I'd made reservations at Lolita, one of Michael Symon's Cleveland eateries. We did have an Iron Chef sighting, as he was hanging around between the bar and kitchen for a short while, and we had an excellent meal with fine wines. We started with a Crémant d'Alsace, a rosé sparkler, and moved on to Oren Swift's "The Prisoner", a Napa red blend. The only dish that was a tad disappointing was Geri's Roasted Beet starter; my Crispy Chicken Livers were fantastic. We both had the Pappardelle with Pork Ragu pasta course (very good, although we like our homemade Lamb Ragu a tad better), and finished with Lamb Steak (Geri) and Hanger Steak (me). We both thought we "won" the entree round, and the better news is that Geri brought home portions of both the pasta and lamb for leftovers. Woo-hoo! After dinner, we shared a Vanilla Bean Gelato and a glass of Dolcé, a sweetie from California. Another great meal!

Click here for more pictures.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hall of Fame Tour - Football

July 23, 2010
Canton, OH

This morning I made the quick half-hour drive south the Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Similar in size and scope to the Baseball Hall, done in a slightly more modern design, it was an interesting place to spend half a day. Exhibits show the origins and history of the game, and the inductees Hall is well done. As usual, I was able to glean a few tidbits that I didn't know (and some that I probably should have):

  • The Redskins began as the Boston Braves and the Steelers began as the Pirates. It must have been confusing with football and baseball teams using the same names.
  • The Rams and the Cardinals are the only teams to have played in three different cities, each doing a stint in St. Louis.
  • The Cowboys and the Raiders are the non-expansion teams with no retired numbers (Jaguars and Ravens as well, but they only formed in the 1990s).
  • I remember the AFL from the 1960s, but didn't know it was the fourth incarnation under that name over the years. AFLs 1-3 and the AAFC in the 1940s (featuring teams with names such as the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers) generally lasted 1-4 seasons and were plagued by financial difficulties. The AAFC ("All-America Football Conference") resulted in the 49ers, Colts and Browns start in the NFL.
  • The WFL in the 1970s was even more deprived, with "World Bowl" players' uniforms repossessed after the championship game (won by the Birmingham Americans).
  • Only two teams have existed each year since 1920: the Bears (initially the Decatur and then Chicago Staleys) and the Cardinals.
  • There was at least one incarnation of the Washington Senators (not much better than baseball, I suppose).
  • And, who could forget the Tonawanda Kardex, Oorang Indians, Louisville Brecks, Staten Island Stapletons, or the Hartford Blues (originally from Waterbury, actually playing in East Hartford)?

Click here for some pictures from the Football Hall...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Travel Day: Cleveland

July 22, 2010
Streetsboro, OH

Today was an easy travel day, bad roads notwithstanding. One section of I-86 was so bad we had to slow to 45 MPH. These DOT people ought to be ashamed of themselves for letting things get this bad.

We did most of our travel preparation last night, including hooking up the Rover, since we were in a nice, long pull-thru. This morning it was just make the coffee, pull in the slides and power cord, and go. We hit the road right on schedule at 8:00, heading south to I-88 then west. This highway used to be (and still is in some places) NY-17, the "Southern Tier Expressway". At some point, it changes to I-86 and continues all the way west to I-90, just into Pennsylvania. We quickly crossed into Ohio, and turned south on I-271, then southeast on I-480 for a bit. We arrived at this RV Park right on schedule as well, a little after 5:00. It was a partly sunny day, but pretty hot an humid in the afternoon.

We've been to this park before, almost exactly four years ago. We stopped here on our way east after "moving" to South Dakota. I remembered the spots being a little tight to get into, back-ins positioned at 90 degrees to the narrow access roads with all sorts of trees and posts to work around and other campers' vehicles parked close to the road. Fortunately, this time we got a spot right across from one of the buildings, with an access road in front. I was able to pull in there and back straight into our spot. Good stuff.

We were able to get the satellite dish up, so Iron Chef is on the tube and the Internet connection is working on and off. The "off" part is weather-related, since we have some rain moving in. Some of it is heavy, with watches and warnings to the north and west of us. Hopefully, it'll pass over night...

Tomorrow, it's back to the Hall of Fame Tour!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A small detour onto the Cooperstown Beverage Trail

July 21, 2010
Cooperstown/Milford, NY

After the Baseball Hall of Fame, we made a small detour on the Hall of Fame Tour. One of the tourist guides mentioned the "Cooperstown Beverage Trail": two breweries, a winery, and a cider mill. Well, we did three of four; not too shabby.

Yesterday afternoon, we headed to Brewery Ommegang. We had a nice tour and a comprehensive tasting - all complimentary. Gotta love that! "Ommegang" actually refers to a "walk about" festival held in the Grand-Place in Brussels since 1549. The brewery, created in 1997, focuses on Belgian-style ales, with excellent results. They're definitely doing something right, since they were bought by the firm producing Duvel, one of our favorites.

We had a tour of the facility followed by tastings of five different products. Geri and I each chose our favorites and we headed for home, it being too late for any more tasting. I pulled together some breaded chicken with pan-roasted red potatoes and peas for dinner, and we had a relaxing evening.

Today, we decided to head out for lunch, taking a recommendation from our good friend, Bill, to try the Blue Mingo Grill, located right on Lake Otsego just north of Cooperstown proper. Geri had a fish taco and I had a burger, we each had a pint of Rare Vos Ale from Ommegang, and we shared a key-lime custard for dessert. Great meal!

After lunch, we decided to swing around the Lake on our way back to Milford for the remainder of the Beverage Trail. This is all farm country, with lots of fields and meadows interspersed in the heavily wooded hills. I had a random thought that we hadn't seen any wildlife as we drove along. Well, we no sooner got back into Cooperstown when we saw a doe with two fawns grazing inside a fenced-in compound. We immediately thought of Wayne's garden, all fenced in to keep the deer out. The doe squeezed through a hole in the fence and crossed the road in front of us, and the fawns stayed and ducked into the brush. I'm sure they reunited after we left.

We hadn't traveled 2 minutes up the road when we had another pair of does with a set of fawns cross in front of us. This was all the wildlife we saw, and it was all in the most developed area. Strange.

We made two more stops, at Cooperstown Brewery (OK but not as comprehensive or tasty as Ommegang) and Bear Pond Winery (gotta love local wineries for their effort; at least they had wines made from grapes).

Click here for some photos...

Given that we had a big lunch, we just had a nice salad for dinner. I see the last piece of Geri's "Harvest Pie Tartlet" waiting for me to clean it up, so I'll do that after we finish doing our travel preparations. Tomorrow, we head for Ohio.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Baseball Hall of Fame

July 20, 2010
Cooperstown, NY

Today was the scheduled day for a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the primary reason for our stop here. Since Geri had already been when she was young (and isn't highly interested in sports or my "Hall of Fame Tour" approach to sightseeing), I headed out early and got to the Hall just after it opened. It being summer, there were already school bus loads of kids with parents in tow in the area, but it wasn't too bad as far as crowds went.

Like many museums, this facility has undergone several renovations and expansions since it was opened in 1939. It's a three-story building done in a very professional and accommodating way. Why Cooperstown? Well, one of the disputed stories about the origin of baseball in the first place has Abner Doubleday "inventing" the game in the summer of 1839 in Cooperstown. Almost a hundred years later, Stephen Clark, owner of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, concocted the plan to boost Cooperstown's economy (devastated by the double whammy of the Great Depression and Prohibition - the area was known for growing hops) through tourism by creating a National Baseball Hall of Fame. Commandeering some space in the Village Hall, memorabilia started flowing in and inductees were designated beginning with the class of 1936. The Hall moved to a new building in 1939 and that facility, expanded and renovated over the years, remains today.

The Hall has exhibits on a variety of facets of the game: history (people have been playing games with balls and sticks since ancient Egypt), amateur and professional versions, women's leagues, Negro Leagues and integration, and individuals (most notably Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson. It was interesting to see exhibits on the history of the rules (the first team to codify "New York Rules" was the Knickerbockers, long before the basketball team took the name), and of the current franchises. Some things I didn't know:

  • The Dodgers were originally called the "Trolley Dodgers" because teams playing in the streets had to get out of the way of the streetcars of the time.
  • The Yankees were originally formed as the "Baltimore Orioles" in 1901.
  • The Braves played in Boston under eight different names, starting as the "Red Stockings" before moving to Milwaukee in the 1950 prior to Atlanta in 1966.
  • The A's played in Philadelphia for 50+ years before moving to Kansas City in the 1950s and then Oakland in 1968.
  • More teams played in Washington as the "Senators" or "Nationals" before moving on than any other place.
  • The current Washington Nationals are the only team to not recognize the retired numbers of their predecessor team, the Montreal Expos.
  • Jackie Robinson's number 42 is retired by all teams.

I learned a couple of other things I should have known, like Yogi Berra's name is Lawrence ("Larry" on his 1951 AL MVP award), Pete Rose is barred as an inductee but his memorabilia is featured in several exhibits, and Manny Ramirez (just being Manny) is among the top ten active players in almost every major category (games, runs, hits, homers, doubles, RBIs).

Click here for more pictures, including several plaques from the "Grand Hall" exhibit.

Things are picking up in Cooperstown, as this year's induction ceremonies will be held this coming weekend. By the time I headed home in the afternoon, the entry line was out the door and down the sidewalk, fed by more busloads of kids on summer vacation. Glad I went early!

All in all, it was a great visit and I'm glad I stopped by.

Monday, July 19, 2010

An easy travel day, memories included

July 19, 2010
Milford (Cooperstown), NY

Sunday was our travel day, and it was a nice day for driving. It was warm but not so hot that we needed to have the roof air conditioning on, and sunny/hazy most of the day.

We left Beach Rose RV Park on schedule around 8:30 AM and headed west. After a quick hop, we were on I-495. The "easy" way to where we were going would have been to then take I-90 to Albany then I-88 (a new road for us) west from there. The only issue is that I-90 is a toll road. If we were in the Rover, that would be one thing, but the tolls increase steeply for the coach. After spending $125 in tolls to get from Virginia to Connecticut, I decided we'd be better served by taking the "scenic route" west. Beside, we'd have a chance to see areas we'd never been through before.

So, we exited I-495 after 20 miles or so and took MA-2. Other than their somewhat insane desire to place manhole covers in the middle of travel lanes, we found this to be a pretty good road. It wasn't as scenic as expected, but I'll bet it's fantastic in the fall during "leaf peeping" season.

When we got to Greenfield, MA, we were faced with a detour, unable to continue on MA-2. On the spur of the moment, we decided to change routes, heading a few miles north on I-91 to Bennington, VT, and then taking VT-9 west into New York. This route had been in the back of my mind anyway, since NY-2 (extension of MA-2)into Troy was not a "designated route" on our Trucker's Atlas, which can mean low overpasses or other things we'd like to avoid. In general, if it's OK for truckers, it's OK for us.

This route also provided a memory flash. Shortly after we crossed into New York, we came to the junction of NY-7 and NY-22. I remembered this junction from the days in the late-60s/early-70s when we had a family "cottage" in Vermont. We used to take NY-22 north as part of the route, and for years we stopped at a "roach coach" at a roadside turnout run by "Hoosick Harry" (it's right near Hoosick and Hoosick Falls, NY). Homemade hamburgers (no cheese) were always on the menu. I remember my father bringing Harry a little nip of Scotch as a tip (he always made friends with other Scotch drinkers). The whole intersection is a construction zone and the turnout is no more, but I still remember those burgers.

We were able to get through the Troy-Albany-Schenectady "metro-plex" without any issues (or tolls) by staying on NY-7. This worked out well , since I'd aimed to stop for fuel right where NY-7 meets I-88. It was a Pilot Truck Stop, and I really don't like their process of having to go in, pre-pay, pump, then go back for a final receipt. Since they just took over Flying J, our preferred fuel stop, in a bankruptcy proceeding, I'm afraid the Js will end up being non-RV-friendly. Oh, well; nothing we can do about that...

Anyway, once fueled up we were off on I-88 for an hour or so, then north to Milford (just southwest of Cooperstown) and our destination, Hartwick Highlands Campground. This is a huge property and the sites are well-spaced. One large meadow has been converted to mostly RV pull-thrus (good for us gotta-have-a-satellite-connection types), and the rest of the sites are buried in the woods (for the I'm-not-"camping"-if-I'm-not-in-the-woods people).

Today, we did our normal day-after-travel stuff. Geri started some laundry, we did some planning for things to see and do here, and we made a grocery run to the small town of Oneonta, just south of here.

Oh, I almost forgot: Maya Lynn finally sat still for a decent picture...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Seafood and the Sea

July 15, 2010
Newburyport, MA

Today was an absolutely beautiful day, and we took advantage of it in several ways.

We were up early (for us) and ready to roll by mid-morning. We took the pups for a good walk, since we knew we'd be leaving them on their own to guard the coach for most of the day.

Our first stop was Park Lunch in nearby Newburyport, just south of where we're staying on the south side of the Merrimack River. This restaurant was recommended by the couple next to us (work campers here who have their winter home in Sun City - small world) as a "where the locals eat" place. We had a great brunch to get us started: Fried Clams for Geri and Chicken Salad for me. Fortunately, she ordered the "appetizer size" plate of clams, which was plenty (and left no prisoners). The chicken was quite tasty, with lots of scallions and served on an open-top hot dog roll (a New England thing).

After lunch, we drove a few blocks to the Newburyport Whale Watch offices. We had plenty of time to park and make our way to the "Prince of Whales", a 100', all-aluminum sightseeing boat. We headed out to Jeffries Ledge, a 30+ mile long glacial deposit in the Gulf of Maine, about 20 miles offshore. Traveling through 600'+ deep waters, we soon came to the relatively shallow (around 150') ledge, which is home to all sorts of aquatic life. Out here, "life" = "food", and we were treated to what the on-board naturalist called a "Grand Slam" of whale sightings (four different species). Our first encounter was with a Minke whale, a small and relatively populous species. We headed for a Humpback in the distance and were treated to a show of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins (a member of the whale family). Finally, we saw an elusive Fin Whale, second largest (after the Blue Whale) species and quite endangered.

In addition to the whales, we saw some Coast Guard activity and had a good view of Salisbury Beach. Click here for pictures from today's cruise.

We learned and re-learned some things about whales on the tour.

  • Whales are "toothed" or "baleen" (filter feeders). 
  • Only toothed whales use "sonar-like" sounds to "see" underwater. 
  • Humpbacks, while smaller than Fin Whales, have much more blubber and are therefore more buoyant. 
  • Humpbacks raise their tail out of the water when they dive because they need the extra momentum to propel themselves downward; most other whales have less fat, are less buoyant, and don't need to raise their tails. 
  • Fin Whales weren't hunted until recently because they sink when they die, causing "predictable results" if harpooned by a small vessel.

When we got back home, we walked the pups and decided to shift our dinner schedule around. Rather than leave them again and go out for lobster, we shifted that to tomorrow. Since it was nice out, I made a quick trip to the store for burgers and hot dogs, we grilled, and we ate outside. We chatted with some of the neighbors after dinner until the bugs drove us inside.

Links to related info:
Blog posting from the on-board naturalist
Blue Ocean Society
Newburyport Whale Watch
Jeffries Ledge info

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day Trip to Maine

July 14, 2010
Wiscasset/Freeport, ME

Today was supposed to be a rainy day, and the weather delivered - in Massachusetts. Us, we headed to Maine and most of the rain passed to our South. Niiicce...

Now, there are two ways to look at this. The logical approach would be that we wanted to go to L.L. Bean's flagship store in Freeport. I have a pair of their shoes that have completely worn out in just over a year, and they have a "satisfaction guaranteed" business model that we needed to test out. Now, it just happens that Red's Eats, home of Maine's Favorite Lobster Roll is just up the road from Freeport, in Wiscasset, so we might as well stop there for lunch, right? Of course, another way to look at this is that we needed to go to Red's and Freeport was a bonus stop. Hmmm...

No matter how you look at it, we had a nice and successful day. It was generally cloudy but we hit the road before it rained. We got to Red's after the main lunch crush and "only" had to wait about 45 minutes. We met some nice people from D.C. in line (you always meet someone in line at Red's). We brought the pups and they had a good day being with us. L.L. Bean gave me full credit for the old shoes toward a new (supposedly better) pair. And, we found the world's largest boot. Now, does it get any better than that?

And, we "collected" another Albertville fire hydrant...

We got home late in the day and still full from the lobster rolls (each one has "more than one lobster's meat" - however you measure that). We snacked and watched a little TV, and now we'll call it an early night. Big day tomorrow - but more on that later...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Merlin

July 13, 2010
Salisbury Beach, MA

Today is Merlin's 12th birthday. Happy Birthday, buddy; you're a good dog.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Stocking Up

July 12, 2010
Salisbury Beach, MA

Today was a day for some "stock up" shopping. We headed for the closest "Super Wally", list in hand, since we've done a pretty good job of working through a lot of the groceries and staples we had on board. We made a stop at GNC for vitamins and "happened" to find a New Hampshire "State Store" along the way up US-1. New Hampshire is one of the few remaining states where all alcohol sales are handled through a state agency. The difference from the others is that they celebrate their buying power and have some of the lowest prices going. So, we stocked up, adding enough wine to carry us through August and spirits to last into 2010. Now, all I have to do is figure out where to put everything.

Post-Wally, we headed home into some unexpected showers. We were able to get everything in the coach without getting wet, and relaxed for the rest of the day.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Travel Day - Salisbury Beach

July 11, 2010
Salisbury Beach, MA

We were up early (OK, not too early) and ready to roll by 10:00. After a nice breakfast, we were actually on the road right around 11:00, just on schedule. We had an easy driving day, covering 151 miles in just over 3 hours, heading for Salisbury Beach, MA. This little beach town (duh!) is in the extreme northeast corner of Massachusetts; we're parked about 2 miles from the New Hampshire border. A relatively small park at just 50 sites, it's a little tight but we were soon parked in the only pull-thru site in the park.

For a change, we didn't have a dinner plan. Strange! Since we were still full from breakfast (and dinner the night before - and the whole month we spent in CT), we decided to make a quick trip to Hampton Beach and grab some food on "the strip". Hampton Beach is kind of like Atlantic City without the boardwalk: a one-mile one-way strip along the beach, with all sorts of tourist-trap shops that have been there for years. It's like a town that time forgot in some ways. On the other hand, it can be predictable and comfortable, no matter how long between visits. This was good, since Geri had a hankering for fried clam strips from a certain shop and I was happy with an order of "boardwalk fries" and a "Fried Doe" (dough) from Blink's (butter and sugar, please). Oh, yeah; that's the good stuff.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Wrapping up the CT visit

July 10, 2010
Broad Brook, CT

In spite of the threatening weather, Saturday was a day planned for our "last hurrah" get together with friends and family. Al and I got things organized (grill and chairs in the garage due to the rain forecast, etc.) and managed to finish up the summer cribbage challenge (he's this year's champ). We planned a second rendition of the "Baltimore Pit Beef Sandwiches" we made a few weeks ago. Although Alicia was headed for a wedding with her friend, Eric, we knew we'd have a full house. Peter (with Val, Josh, and Belle), Melisa (with Paul - under the weather and drinking water all night - and Jesse), Mike & Lynne (with Alyson, Billy, Beth and "Petey the Yorkie"), and Al's friends John and Ted all stopped over late in the day. The sandwiches were very good again, and all the sides and desserts made for a very full dinner. The wines flowed (even the "box wines"!) and the nightcap(s) of Gentleman Jack were followed with the customary "last sandwich". All in all, a great way to wrap up a very nice visit...

Friday, July 9, 2010

The "Hall of Fame Tour" Starts

July 9, 2010
Springfield, MA

Al and I started the day by adjusting the Rover's Parking Brake, and then headed north to Springfield and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. It's amazing to me that we lived so close for so many years and never visited, but that's what happens: life is too busy and you never really get to see the sights in your own back yard.

The current Hall facility is actually the third incarnation of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Incorporated in 1959 with the first inductees, the Hall didn't have a formal home until 1968. Major renovations and expansions in 1985 and 2002 have created a world-class museum, all within a stone's throw (or a long jump shot?) of where the game was invented in 1891.

The exhibits focus on all aspects of the game, with focal points on the game's origins and early years, college and professional leagues, men's and women's players and teams, etc. There's a whole section devoted to Michael Jordan, as might be expected, and some elements are perhaps Celtic-centric (also not a huge surprise), but overall it was a nice way to spend an afternoon. With UCONN developing as a powerhouse in the East, it was interesting to see several pieces of their memorabilia, including a jersey with Britt's number (she played for one of the UCONN satellite schools in her freshman year). Good stuff!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Seafood and Wings and Ritas - Oh my!

July 8, 2010
Broad Brook, CT

Hmmm. Where did the time go for the last few days? Well, we did more visiting and eating. What else is new?

As expected, Sunday we headed to the beach. It was a nice day, a little on the warm side, but the breeze kept things under control. Al dominated at the cribbage board, but that's OK. In the evening we all headed to Ted's after the beach. He did two excellent pieces of meat on the smoker: a pork butt and a beef tenderloin. Both were great, but the beef "won" in most people's book. It was on the "rare side of rare", just the way I like it. My friend Dave might say "blue". With Cindy's sides of salad, potato salad, guacamole, etc., it was a fun meal.

Monday, we caught up with colleagues from my Aetna days - a long time ago - Pat & Sharon. We reconnected last year via Facebook, which does actually have useful purposes at times, and caught up out in AZ when they were visiting. This time, we met for lunch at Sophia's, a local restaurant, and then returned to the coach so they could check out our "retirement home". In the evening, the "Seafood Fest" continued, as Al and I made a run to Stew Leonard's and came back with 4 lobsters (steamed and picked for later in the week), King Crab Legs and a pound each of shrimp and sea scallops. Everything was nice and fresh, and went well with a salad from Pat's garden laced with seared Ahi Tuna.

Tuesday was an easy day, as most everyone was back to work. We caught up on bills and birthday cards and generally relaxed in the afternoon. Al made his famous Lamb Chops with Mushroom/Port sauce for dinner, and we did a comparison taste with Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec wine options, both of which were excellent.

I got an early start Wednesday in cleaning the coach, wanting to get something done before it got too hot. After 4,400 miles, it needed a bath! I started with the roof and did the shady side before 10:00. We had a little bit of excitement, as the power lines burned right off the house next door. Overloaded? Could be; these houses were built with 100 amp service originally. We upgraded Pat & Al's to 200 amp service when we put in the RV pad. Anyway, the Fire Department and Power Company responded quickly, and nobody else in the neighborhood seemed to be impacted. I guess record-setting heat will do that.

Wednesday was also designated as "Wing Night", so that was the focus of the rest of the day. We had already gotten one package of wings but knew we needed another, so off to Costco we went in the morning. Back home, we spent most of the afternoon preparing the wings. Off with the tips, split in the middle, then into the steamer. Yep; our recipe starts with 12-15 minutes of steaming to render some of the fat, then they cool until cooking time. Deep frying? Nope; just 45-50 minutes in a 450° oven on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. These are "healthy" wings! We did four different sauces, starting with Budweiser Wing Sauce (if you like mild Buffalo-style wings and can find this sauce in the grocery, give it a try). The other three were Sticky Fingers BBQ sauces (thanks, Mike & Lynn!): Carolina Original, Carolina Sweet, and Habanero Hot. All were excellent, even the Habanero (not as fiery as expected). Oh, and it turned into "Margarita Night" as well - bonus! Two pitchers of "George-a-Ritas" did the trick, and we ended the evening with a couple of games of three-handed cribbage with Mike's new board, "imported" from South Carolina on his recent vacation in Myrtle Beach.

Today was another scorcher, so I once again got an early start and finished up washing the rest of the coach before it got too bad. As is often said, "It's not the heat; it's the humidity", and I was drenched by the time I finished. In the afternoon, we made another trip to Stew Leonard's and stocked up for the weekend. Pat bought a couple of containers of Lobster Bisque, which was doctored up with the lobster meat that Al had prepared earlier in the week. And the "Seafood Fest" rolls on!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Seafood Fest and Independence Day

July 4, 2010
Broad Brook, CT

Another week has passed and we're now celebrating Independence Day. Wow, time really flies when you're having fun! Let's see; what kind of fun did we have?

Last Sunday, Al and I helped out the local Athletic Booster Club. Al's friend, Ted, runs an annual golf outing followed by a steak dinner. Al and I cooked the steaks while Ted took care of the sides and salad. 110 rib-eyes + 4 trays of pasta + two trays of potatoes + 2 green-bean-casserole + 2 salads later, everyone was full to the brim. And we managed to get it all done while keeping an eye on the threatening sky and not getting wet.

Monday and Tuesday were "leftover days". In addition to what Ted sent us home with on Sunday, he stopped by with more food. Steaks one night and pasta the other; gotta love that.

Wednesday, I was "back on the clock", getting back to our to-do list. This time, it was changing the brake shoes on the Rover's Parking Brake. Well, trying to anyway. OK, I'll admit that twice (that I can remember) in the last 5+ years, I've hooked the Rover to the back of the coach and driven for a short distance with the Parking Brake still on. As you can imagine, that falls under the heading of "nothing good can come of this", and the last time (when we were leaving Livingston, TX, in May) pretty much made it necessary to change the brakes. The Rover has 4-wheel disc brakes, but the Parking Brake is actually a small set of drum-style shoes inside the rear rotors. I ordered the shoes for a good price online, and they were waiting for me here in CT.

Well, I got an early start, parked in a shady spot, blocked the wheels and got the power tools out. With the 20-ton air-operated hydraulic jack, we were off the ground in no time. With the impact wrench, we sounded just like a NASCAR pit stop in progress. Having done a 4-wheel brake job 15 months ago, I knew exactly which wrenches were needed to pull off the caliper and pads, and the retaining bracket. Now, the rotor just slides off and --- hey, this baby's stuck! Some heavy persuasion with a large rubber mallet had no effect, so I put everything back together. "Plan A": devise a puller to pop the rotor loose. "Plan B": stop at a Land Rover Centre somewhere in our travels. Either way, done for the day.

Thursday and Friday turned out to be "Seafood Fest" days. You can't be in the Northeast and not have a seafood fest; it's a law or something. Since Pat & Al were off for the long weekend, we got started early. Thursday, we hit the road around noon for the Shore, specifically to Abbott's Lobster in the Rough in Noank, CT (right next to Mystic). It being a weekday (and a beautiful one at that), the place wasn't crowded. We had our pick of outside tables and were soon enjoying appetizers (clams and mussels for Geri, Pat, and Al and oysters for me), followed by 2½-3 pound lobsters. Mmmm; that's eating. After eating, we hung out, let Al win three games in a row at the cribbage board, and watched a bunch of suits (literally - Abbott's is pretty rustic but these people were in suits, ties, Navy blazers, tasseled shoes and high heels) show up for a political fundraiser. Discretion being the better path, we chose not to crash the party or heckle, so we headed home (after a stop at the German Club for a brew).

Friday, Al and I headed out for some shopping, first to Table & Vine in Massachusetts (after all, states here are only slightly bigger than cities in AZ - and Mass has lower wine prices), then Costco, and finally Stew Leonard's in Newington. Stew's is kind of like Wegman's and Central Market: not quite Whole Foods but lots of fresh stuff. Al picked up four more lobsters ($4.99/pound - good price) specifically to harvest the meat for a later meal. I got King Crab legs, sea scallops, and shrimp, and they were all good that evening. Now, that's a Seafood Fest...

Yesterday, Al and I tackled the Rover Parking Brakes again. He borrowed a large gear puller from Ted, and it did the trick quite nicely. With the air tools, we made quick work of the shoe changes on both rear wheels. We still have to fine tune the adjustment on the Parking Brake, but that should be an easy task . Pat & Al took a Harley ride in the afternoon, and we grilled up a bunch of hot dogs, burgers, and sausage patties in the evening. It was also "movie night", so we retired to the "VIP Lounge" (aka the coach) with Pat's fresh-made strawberry-rhubarb pie. I'm still full this morning!

Today is "beach day", a sort on Independence Day tradition. Pat & Al left early for the Elks Lodge in Westbrook, CT, right on Long Island Sound. We're getting ready to leave now, and we'll spend the afternoon there. Later, we're supposed to stop at Ted's for a feed on the way home, so it'll be a full day.