Thursday, December 19, 2013

Celebrating the Season at Fiore and Harford Wineries

Having heard about Harford Vineyard's "Go Local for the Holidays" event, occurring each weekend in December, my friend and I decided to head out to the winery to check it out. A friend of mine visited Harford, and two other wineries along the Piedmont Wine Trail, just as the harvest had begun (see the link below to the blog entry), and had spoken well of Harford Vineyard.

We arrived just after noontime, and followed the signs down to the room where piping hot soups were being served by local chef Michael Pescrille. Maryland crab soup and cream of crab soup were offered -- and both were delicious. In addition, small cheese platters were offered, providing a selection of cheeses, crackers, and grapes.

Harford Vineyard and Winery is located in the heart of the Piedmont Wine Trail (see for more about the various wine trails), in as the winery's name suggests, Harford County (Md).

Our server was Theresa, one of the owners of the winery. She said they run the winery while working "day jobs," although her husband was planning on "retiring" soon so he can concentrate full time on the vineyard. Harford Vineyard was founded in 2003 when Vidal and Traminette grapes were planted, followed by Merlot grapes in 2005. Currently, Harford Vineyard offers 11 wines, that run the gamut from dry whites to sweet reds and a very popular peach wine.

True to my nature, I preferred the semi dry Vintage Vidal Blanc, but very much enjoyed the dry red, Crimson Moon. I also walked out of the winery with a bottle of the winery's Harford Blush, a semi-sweet wine. Day Trip Pal, who prefers red, preferred the Cabernet Franc.

There were a variety of crafts vendors -- some jewelry, some wine bottle crafts (some very clever lamps), and most interestingly, cigar box guitars! 

The day was still young and we had some time on our hands,
so Theresa recommended that we should try Fiore Winery, just 15 minutes away. Fiore, as its name implies, echoes its founders' Italian heritage and creates "Maryland wines with an Italian accent." Formerly a vineyard owner in Italy, Mike, one of the owners, had long wondered if the farm he and his wife owned since 1975 was the right location to bring a little bit of the old country to Maryland. He joined a Wine Growers Association to learn about French-hybrid grapes, which were the grapes popular with most growers at the time. Soon, Mike and Rose planted a small experimental vineyard behind their house and it slowly grew in size. Over the next 20 years, the pair turned their passion into prosperity. While working other jobs, they gradually increased their production from 1,500 to 35,000 gallons; and their wines have garnered them hundreds of awards, including 50 international medals between 2005 and 2008. 

Now they offer some 27 wines, including a very nice Rieseling that would compliment a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, ham, fresh vegetables, and mild cheeses. There's a bit of humor at the winery, as they offer a line of wines called "That Stuff Tony Makes," that are intriguing and fun, such as the Green Apple Riesling and Blackberry Cabernet. As I've stated before in the blog -- I'm no wine expert, but I'm starting to learn what I like, and there were several wines Fiore offers that really intrigued me. With 27 wines and a wine tasting that only offers a choice of any six (although like Harford Vineyard, they were generous in offering additional tastes if you asked about a particular wine), I'm already planning a return trip just to try some of the others (I was driving, so I didn't want to try two tastings in a row). The wine server was knowledgeable and friendly, and was able to chat with us and make recommendations based on our tastes for which wines to try.

Since I love sweeter wines to begin with, it was no surprise that I fell in love with the Vittorio, a sweet desert port that offered complex red raspberry flavors, and made me think I was eating raspberries dipped in chocolate (yes, I splurged on a bottle, which I am saving for New Year's Eve). They recommend serving this wine with vanilla ice-cream.

Tip: If you avoid purchasing wine and pack your own picnic, this is a budget-friendly day trip!

On our way back to our car we encountered this funny pony hanging
about with three of her friends in the nearby pasture

Getting there: GPS it! Harford Vineyard is located at 1311 West Jarrettsville Road, Forest Hill, MD 21050; Fiore Winery is located at 3026 Whiteford Rd, Pylesville, MD 21132.

Dogs: No, not even for the holidays!!

Hours: Harford Vineyard tasting room hours Friday 12-6 pm, Saturday 10-5 pm, Sunday 12-5 pm; Fiore
Winery tasting room is open April through October Monday - Friday 10 am - 5 pm, Saturday 10 am - 6 pm, Sunday 12 pm - 6 pm and November through March Monday - Saturday 10 am - 5 pm and Sunday 12 pm - 5 pm.

Websites: Harford Vineyard; Fiore Winery

Previous blogs about Maryland wineries:

Royal Rabbit, Mount Felix, and a previous visit to Harford Vineyards:

Linganore Winecellars, Serpent Ridge Vineyards, and Black Ankle:

Dejon and Boordy vineyards:

Red Heifer Winery:

Elk Run:

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tail Lights Fun Way to Experience Symphony of Lights!

The moment I heard about Tail Lights, a dog-friendly stroll through the Symphony of Lights at Merriweather Post Pavilion's Symphony Woods, sponsored by Howard County General Hospital, I was determined to participate. I rallied my reluctant (and definitely warm weather) husband and another friend (after all, I had three dogs to walk) and pre-registered.

As the 10th of December drew near, I watched the weather reports anxiously. Arrrgggggghhhhhhh! Snow was in the forecast!

That morning I watched and paced around the house as the snow fell, barely enjoying the snowfall and the unexpected day off.

Then the weather cleared, the sun emerged. Hoooray!! We'd go after all! And how pretty in the newly fallen snow -- I considered myself pretty lucky! I opened my email to print off my registration confirmation and there it was: the email postponing the event for another week, to 17 December. The anxious wait and the weather forecast freak-out would start all over again.

The day drew near, the snow melted, but the forecasted rain held off. We arrived at the entrance of Symphony of Lights at close to 4 pm when it opened. There were minivans, SUVs, and station wagons galore stuffed with .... dogs! Of every size, color and breed! (We noticed a plethora of beagles.)

As we entered the event, there were a number of sponsors, including 101.9 Lite FM offering prizes and lovely poinsettias, Bob Lucido Team/RE/MAX handing out ice-scrapers and wine-cooler bags (among other items), Dog Italia and Camp BowWow Columbia handing out packets of dog treats, VCA Animal Hospitals handing out people treats and dog frisbees, and most welcome on a cold evening, Chesapeake Coffee offering complimentary cups of coffee! It was like Halloween for adults! (Apologies: Mixing holidays is like mixing metaphors.) Thank you for helping sponsor this fun event!

After we received our goodies, we headed off to enjoy the walk among the lights. Along the way we encountered many friendly dogs and their owners -- some dressed for the season (the dogs, too!), such as Taylor and her friendly pooch, Pepper.

Even though it was barely dusk when we started, the lights came alive as it grew darker. And although I've been to Symphony of Lights many times, this was a different way to experience the lights. Walking through the lights is definitely a different experience than rolling through in your vehicle! Definitely worth getting out of your car to take advantage of this rare opportunity!

Alas -- this is a one time event every year. Look for it next year, in early December! Thank you Howard County General Hospital for starting this!

I enjoyed it so much I decided to post a mid-week blog about it. Look for my regular blog post this Thursday, about a visit to two Maryland wineries along the Piedmont Wine Trail.

Tip #1: It was a bit muddier than I'd expected. Come prepared not only with comfortable walking shoes (it's almost a 1.5 mile walk), but come with shoes you don't mind getting a bit muddy.

Tip #2: The Lights on the Bay, a scenic drive along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point State Park, also sponsors a dog walk in late November. The Christmas light show is sponsored by the Anne Arundel Medical Center.

Websites: Symphony of Lights Tail Lights

Dogs: Definitely!! It's all about the dogs!

Hours: Tail Lighs: 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. 17 December (rescheduled from 10 December). Keep an eye on then blog's facebook page as I'll be sure to highlight this event next year!

Symnphony of Lights Drive Through: Monday, November 25, 2013 - Sunday, January 5, 2014. Open 7 days a week, from 6:00 - 10:00 p.m., including holidays except closed December 31.

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Frederick by Candlelight: Decorated Houses, Museums, and Houses of Worship

Funny how you take your home town for granted until you've lived away from it a few years. I moved away from Frederick in the late 1980s. Now I find myself coming back to explore it - from ghost tours of Mount Olivet Cemetery to the latest, the 28th Annual "Holidays in Historic Frederick" Candlelight House Tour.

The  Candlelight House Tour is something I've been wanting to do for years. But with my luck, usually something else came up or I'd miss it, thinking it was one week and it had really been the week before. This year -- aha! Fortuitously, my mom, who still lives in Frederick, mentioned the tour in time for me to make plans to attend.

This year's tour allowed ticket holders to walk through Frederick's rich history, from the 1750s house museum Schifferstadt to mod 1950s homes, all decorated for the holidays. The eight homes were spread throughout the neighborhoods surrounding Baker Park, a lovely park that follows Carroll Creek through downtown Frederick. Proceeds from the candlelight tour fund many free public events that occur throughout the year in Frederick and more than $100,000 raised from the tour over the years have been donated over the years to beautify Frederick's historic district.

The interior photos shown here are not from this year's tour -- these were picked from google images from previous years' tours, as photography inside the homes on the tour was not allowed. This prohibition -- understandable from the homeowners' perspective -- was both wonderful and torturous for me. Not being allowed to photograph freed me to just enjoy the sights and the houses. But the trees and decorations were so lovely and creative that several times I was tempted to sneak a photo to share on the blog. I bravely resisted the temptation! 

One of the homes on the tour is Frederick's oldest: Schifferstadt,
now an architectural museum open to the public. Built around 1758, Schifferstadt is among the best examples of early Colonial German architecture in the country. Because it was built at the beginning of the French and Indian War as frontier settlers abandoned their western Maryland farms in fear of raids from the French and their Indian allies, Schifferstadt may have provided refuge for families west of Frederick in times of need.

The original owner of the land upon which Schifferstadt was built, Joseph Bruner, a German immigrant, and his family left their village of Klein Schifferstadt in 1729 in hopes of gaining independence, including the right to own property and build a home in the "New Land." He purchased 303 acres of virgin timber in 1746, cleared and farmed the land, and built a modest wood structure for his family home. Joseph Bruner named his farm Schifferstadt after his hometown in the Palatinate region of South Western Germany.

Joseph's eighth and youngest son, Elias Bruner, bought the farm from his father in 1753, and built the stone farmhouse in 1758 that we know today as Schifferstadt. It was inhabited until around 1972. By then, much of the original acreage had been sold. The house had fallen into a state of disrepair, and it was suggested at the time that it should be torn down and replaced by a gasoline station. However, in July 1974, the owners sold Schifferstadt to Frederick County Landmarks Foundation, Inc. Although its exterior and interior have been altered over the years, Schifferstadt maintains many original architectural features.

Christmas in Schifferstadt was celebrated much differently than we do now. Decorations were simple and were made of natural materials. There would have been a Christmas tree, probably decorated with candles.

The other homes on the tour are worth mentioning as well -- but I'll pick out a few that stood out for me. Several of the homes on the tour were among Frederick's oldest, including the one at 111 Record Street. This historic brick home was built by Dr. Willliam Tyler for his family in 1815 and is the birthplace of William Tyler Page. Although he served for more than 60 years in the U.S. Capitol, he is best known for authoring The American's Creed*, which is still recited by new Americans as they become citizens. The tour took us onto all three floors. Although the uppermost rooms were not the most grand -- it was there that several tour participants all said, "we wish we could live here."

With more than 6,000 square feet, this gorgeous home is a stately combination of Federal and Greek revival architecture that boasts 12-foot ceilings in the living and dining rooms and a grand stairway. Each room offered noteworthy architectural detailing. The floors as we walked through creaked in that "I'm a really old house" sort of way. And as we climbed the lovely staircases, I wondered, were these built to handle all these people on them at once? Luckily, the answer is yes!

One of the neatest homes on the tour was 231 Dill Avenue, a cozy colonial revival built in 1900. It still maintains the original turn-of-the-century charm, with front and back staircases and pine floors. The Christmas trees in the house were wonderful -- these were the ones I so wanted to photograph to share on the blog. I also loved the PINK master bedroom.

203 Rockwell Terrace was built in 1910 as a neoclassical revival, foursquare design, brick and frame house. It was recently converted from two apartments into a single family home, but luckily much of the original detailing still exists, including the staircase, restored mirror, fireplace mantel, bay windows in the front parlor and the tongue and groove cheery wood flooring. Despite the formal decorations, the owners' sense of humor came through -- there was a Christmas tree created from paint swatches, a nod to the owners' design business. And in the mudroom, the collection of deer antlers was decorated with green Christmas ornaments and garlands, a fun surprise! It was so cool to see such a lovely house filled with quirky (but but still tasteful--a style I've yet to master in my own home) decor!

Tip: If this tour sounds interesting, consider going on one of the two upcoming Candlelight Tours events. This first is coming up this weekend: the 25th Anniversary of Museums by Candlelight, a free holiday program. Frederick County’s numerous historic sites and museums provide visitors with a living reminder of the area's past. During Museums by Candlelight, there will be special programming and hands-on activities for visitors of all ages, and special children's activities are featured at most locations.

This is a self-guided event. Visit many locations, or just a few, in any order. Enjoy period demonstrations, living history vignettes, hands-on crafts, refreshments, tours, music, holiday decorations and historic settings by candlelight as night falls.

But that's not all. Celebrate Frederick's local history and religious diversity on December 26 by taking the 27th annual Candlelight Tour of Historic Houses of Worship this holiday season in Downtown Frederick. As the sun begins to set, visitors can tour many of Frederick’s famous clustered spires and other historic houses of worship by candlelight. At a dozen sites, guests will be welcomed with special programs, angelic choirs, and nativity scenes.

The 2013 Participating Historic Houses of Worship sites in Downtown Frederick include:
  • Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ -11 W. Church Street 
  • Trinity Chapel United Church of Christ- 10 W. Church Street 
  • Asbury Methodist United Methodist Church- W. All Saints & Court Streets 
  • All Saints’ Episcopal Church- 106 W. Church Street 
  • Calvary United Methodist Church- N. Bentz & W. 2nd Streets 
  • Frederick Presbyterian Church- 115 W. 2nd Street 
  • Centennial Memorial United Methodist Church- 8 W. 2nd Street 
  • Grace United Methodist Church- 25 E. 2nd Street 
  • The Visitation Academy Chapel- 200 E. 2nd Street 
  • Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church-118 E. 2nd Street 
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church- 35 E. Church Street 
  • Joseph Dill Baker Carillon- Baker Park

Web sites: Celebrate Frederick (candlelight house tours)

Museums by Candlelight:

Candlelight Tour of Historic Houses of Worship:

Schifferstadt Architectural Museum:

Getting there: Check the appropriate web sites for where and when the tours are offered. Schifferstadt is located at 1110 Rosemont Avenue, Frederick.

Hours: The candlelight house tours are two-days a year, in early December. Keep an eye on the Celebrate Frederick website, Visit Frederick website, or this blog's FB page for information about future tours. Schifferstadt Architectural Museum is open for weekend tours, April through early December, Saturdays and Sundays, 1 pm to 4 pm through December 8.

Dogs: Definitely not.

Eats: Lots of great little restaurants in downtown Frederick to chose from.

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

* The American's Creed
I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a soverighn Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect Union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it; to support its constitution; to obey its laws; to respect its flag; and to defend it against all enemies.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Visiting the Ponies at Assateague Island

Visiting Assateague Island isn't just a summer day (or weekend) trip -- the island offers a lot of interest for all seasons. When the ocean-dipping crowds depart, the island really comes alive for me. Cooler weather means pleasant walks along the island trails, and of course, no bugs!

Map courtesy of
Assateague Island is a 37-mile long barrier island located off the eastern coast Maryland and Virginia. The Maryland section contains the majority of Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park. The Virginia section contains Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and a small part of the national seashore.

Of course, it is best known for its herds of feral horses* and pristine beaches. The island also offers numerous marshes, bays, and coves. Several different companies offer boat tours and guided kayaking trips to see the horses and other island wildlife (that's on my wish list of daytrips!). The island also offers a taste of the natural seashore that is almost nowhere to be found now. If you need the boardwalk, the arcades, and the pizza joints, then head a few miles north to Ocean City, where all that kitschy beach-town glitz can be enjoyed.

*Because I am NOT horse-knowledgeable, I am using the terms horse and pony interchangably, primarily because it sounds cute to call them ponies. I am aware there is a difference in terms of size and definition between horse and pony. There is a controversy between Maryland and Virginia -- the equines in Maryland are referred to as horses, whereas the ones on the Virginia side of the state line are referred to as ponies, despite the fact there is no discernible difference between the herds.

For me as well, Assateague is a place of memories -- my family went camping there in the 1970s, until a storm almost blew our camper over. (Sunburned and tired, the next day we packed up and headed to the mountains, never to return -- at least, as a family unit.) But despite that, I have many fond memories in Assateague as a child, including the thrill of seeing the wild ponies and splashing in the ocean. Like many little girls, I grew up reading Marguerite Henry's series of children's books about the wild horses, beginning with her most famous, Misty of Chincoteague.

With some time on our hands one recent fall Saturday, we decided to head down to Assateague Island, check out the ponies, have lunch at Berlin near by, stop at one of the farm stands along the way to pick up some apples, and check out any interesting stores we happened to notice as we passed by. We packed up the dogs, grabbed some extra water and a dog bowl, and hit the road.

We soon passed several roadside farm produce stands, and stopped to purchase a variety of apples, some vegetables, and winter squash. After a quick walk for the dogs, we were off again, next stop: Assateague Island.

Once over the bridge that connects the island to the mainland on the Maryland end of the island, we were immediately greeted by a welcoming committee of wild ponies. It is not known exactly how these horses came to the island. Local folklore describes the Assateague horses as survivors of a shipwreck off the Virginia coast. While this dramatic and romantic tale of struggle and survival is popular, there are no records yet that confirm it. The most plausible explanation is that they are the descendants of horses that were brought to barrier islands like Assateague in the late 17th century by mainland owners to avoid fencing laws and taxation of livestock.

The ponies struggle to survive on the island. The summer brings mosquitos, horse flies, and scorching heat; the winter brings frigid, unrelenting winds and storms. These are tough little ponies!

Cute as they are -- these horses are WILD; they don’t behave like domestic horses and can’t be treated like the trained, domesticated horses we see in farm pastures, so be cautious, and follow the guidelines provided by the National Park Service:
  • For your safety and the safety of the horses, do not approach, touch or feed them
  • Stay at least a “bus length” away, but remember that may still be much too close depending on the circumstances 
  • If horses approach you, back off and return to your vehicle 
  • If horses approach your vehicle, roll all windows up--we had to do this because our greeting committee came trotting up to our vehicle as soon as she realized we had dogs. Then she stood with her lips against the car window, daring us to drive away. We just sat, while the beagles went hysterically berserk, until she got bored and drifted away.
  • Don’t open trunks or coolers if horses are nearby 
  • Assateague horses DO bite and kick, and can carry rabies.
Beagle and pony touch noses through the car window.
Before the national seashore was created in 1965, the island was going to be turned into a private resort community called Ocean Beach, Maryland. Some 5,000 private lots comprising what is now National Park Service property were zoned and sold for resort development in the 1950s. However, the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 halted the plans for development. The Nor'easter destroyed the few existing structures on the island that had been built and ripped the roads apart. Realizing that the island was too unstable to build upon, the housing development firm sold all of its land to the federal government. 

To this day, it is not possible to drive the entire length of the island; one must travel on the mainland to journey between the National Seashore in Maryland and the National Refuge in Virginia.

In 1962, Assateague Island National Seashore was established for the purpose of protecting Assateague Island in the states of Virginia and Maryland. Assateague Island is managed by three official park agencies. Assateague Island National Seashore is cared for and managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Department of Natural Resources. Assateague is vital for resting and feeding migratory shorebirds and other abundant bird species. More than 320 species of birds can be found here.

Many other creatures also call this home -- so keep your eyes peeled as you walk the trails and explore the island -- you'll be sure to see evidence! Assateague Island is a priceless seashore ecosystem that deserves our interest and protection.

If you go for just the day, then consider also stopping at nearby Berlin. Less than 8 miles away, this historic town offers quaint shops and small restaurants give visitors the chance to step back in time. Berlin also was the filming location for two major motion pictures, "Runaway Bride" and "Tuck Everlasting."

Tip: If you go between Memorial Day and Labor Day -- beware: dogs not welcomed in the day use areas, so leave your pooches at home!

Getting there: The park is located at the end of Stephen Decatur Highway (Route 611.) From the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, head east on Route 50 towards Ocean City and turn right onto Route 611. From the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, take Route 13 north to Pocomoke City. Turn right onto Route 113 and head north toward Snow Hill. Stay on Route 113 to Berlin. Turn right onto Assateague Road (Route 376.) When it ends, turn right onto Stephen Decatur Highway (Route 611.) Or GPS it at 7307 Stephen Decatur Highway, Berlin MD 21811.

Dogs: Definitely!! Except for the summer months.

Websites: Assateague Island National Seashore:;
Assateague Island State Park:

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gift Suggestion for that Special Someone: A Year of Day Trips and Dates

So for once I'm suggesting that you just stay home: don't spend Black Friday all day fighting crowds, just so you can give things that will eventually collect dust. Give memories and shared experiences! And all you need for this gift suggestion is some creativity, a computer and internet, or a phone.

One of the neatest gift ideas I've seen in a long time is to give a "Year of Dates." (Disclaimer up front: I didn't make this idea up --I'm not that clever. In fact, I have seen it several magazines, and in a book about relationships.) It just seemed so in keeping with the spirit of this blog that I had to write about it -- and offer my own ideas!

Here's how it works: Put a date idea that you both would enjoy -- something fun and out of the ordinary -- in an envelop, one for every month of the year. Then put them all into a basket or pretty container. Preplan these, where possible, by purchasing gift cards or tickets in advance.

Keep reading for some great ideas -- some I've already blogged about, but some I haven't!

A Year of History

If your special someone is into history, then plan dates around history and places of historical significance. Between Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, you have at least 12 right there!
  1. January: Figure out what your conspiracy theory is -- tour Surratt's House and Tavern (in Clinton, MD), then go tour Dr. Mudd's house (in Waldorf, MD).
  2. February: Explore the Manassas Battlefield 
  3. March: Go for a walking tour around Baltimore's famous Green Mount Cemetery (printed guides detailing the walking tour around the famous graves there are available from the Cemetery Office); bring three pennies to leave on the graves of John Wilkes Booth and two of his fellow conspirators.
  4. April: Go for a play at Ford's Theater, the scene of President Lincoln's assassination. While you're there, tour the little house across the street where he died.
  5. May: Spend a long weekend in Richmond. Tour the Confederate White House. While you're down there, go visit Petersburg Battlefield.
  6. June: Spend the day at Harpers Ferry. Do the history, then wander over the railroad bridge and walk along the C&O Canal on the other side. (See blog post for more about this idea.) 
  7. July: Go visit Ft. Delaware, the site of a Civil War fort and prison for Confederate soldiers. 
  8. August: Sign up for a segway tour of Gettysburg Battlefield, have lunch at Dobbin House Tavern (see blog post on for more about this idea).
  9. September: Explore Antietam Battlefield, and don't forget to visit the Pry House, the site of Gen McClellan's headquarters. On your way up, have brunch (if it's a Sunday) at South Mountain Inn.
  10. October: Go leaf pepping on your way up to Ft. Necessity, in western Pennsylvania, where George Washington started the French and Indian War when he tangled with the French and surrendered for the first and only time in his career. (See blog post for more about this idea.)
  11. November: Don't forget the War of 1812 -- Tour Fort McHenry, followed by lunch in Federal Hill in Baltimore
  12. December: Go see Mt. Vernon, George Washington's home and plantation, decorated for Christmas.

A Year of Historic Architecture and Gardens

If architecture, historic homes, and gardens are your special someone's thrill, consider some of the places below.
  1. January: Tour Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA. Go for dinner at one of the many nearby restaurants.
  2. February: Take the Behind the Scenes tour of Thomas Jefferson's Montecello
  3. March: Visit Confederate General Robert E Lee's former home, Arlington House, in the Arlington National Veteran's Cemetery (keep checking the blog -- there'll be a future post about this idea).
  4. April: Visit Ladew Topiary Gardens and tour the circa 1747 manor house in Monkton, MD
  5. May: Picnic at the National Arboretum Northeast Washington, DC (a good time to visit is during the few weeks when azaleas are blooming and don't miss the Bonsai gardens).
  6. June: Spend a day at Longwood Gardens, stay for the fireworks (see blog post on http://www.midatlantic for more about this idea)
  7. July: Tour Surratt House and Tavern, in Clinton, MD.
    Even if you're not interested in the history behind President Lincoln's assassination, this house has a well-equipped dining room and kitchen that really help you understand the Civil War era and how people -- normal, average not rich people -- lived.
  8. August: Spend an afternoon exploring Rock Run Historic Area and tour the Carter-Archer Mansion in the Susquehanna State Park (see blog post on http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea)
  9. September: Visit Frederick, MD's first home, Schifferstadt, built by a German immigrant in the 1700s, then walk around Frederick historic area enjoying the historic homes.
  10. October: Go leaf pepping on your way to Fallingwater in the Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania (see blog post on for more about this idea).
  11. November: Visit Majorie Merriewether Post's Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Northwest DC
  12. December: Take a Christmas tour of Williamsburg, VA (this may be more of a weekend than a daytrip).

A Year of the Outdoors 

For the most part, this is the least expensive of the themes -- most of our national and state parks only charge a nominal fee. The memories you create when you see that fantabulous sight at the hike's destination can't be beat! 
  1. January: Visit the King & Queen's Seat at Rocks State Park in Jarrettsville, MD. Save it for a dry day -- rocks are slippery when wet!
  2. February: Go snow tubing at Boulder Ridge or
    sign up for skiing lessons at SkiLiberty
  3. March: Seek out an early spring by going hiking in Catoctin Mountain National Park (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea); don't forget a quick hike to see Cunningham Falls (in Cunningham Falls State Park) nearby.
  4. April: Spend the day at Harpers Ferry National Park. Do the history, then wander over the railroad bridge and walk along the C&O Canal on the other side (see blog posts http://www.midatlantic and for more about this idea).
  5. May: Spend an afternoon exploring Rock Run Historic Area, Susquehanna State Park, then take the trail along the Susquehanna River (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea)
  6. June: Go car camping in Dolly Sods Wilderness Area and watch the sun come up (and hear the bears growling) on Bear Rocks (Tucker County, WV).
  7. July: Spend a day on the Chesapeake Bay at St. Michaels and sail on the Selina II (see blog post for more about this idea).
  8. August: Go kayaking on the Potomac River (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea).
  9. September: Sign up for a segway tour of Gettysburg National Military Park, have dinner at Dobbin House Tavern, and go for a ghost tour on the battlefield (see blog post on http://www.midatlantic for more about this idea)
  10. October: Go hiking in Sugarloaf Mountain Park, followed by a late lunch at Comus Inn (if you're going for dinner, reservations are recommended).
  11. November: Go bird watching at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (see blog post for more about this idea).
  12. December: Go fossil hunting at Calvert Cliffs State Park, in Lusby, MD.

A Year of Diversity

And if you want to provide a little bit of everything -- mix and match from the various categories. Here's a list of a variety of fun and memorable daytrips -- including some of my favorites!
  1. January: Tour Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA
    Go for dinner at one of the many nearby restaurants.
  2. February: Go for a "Cask to Kisses" wine tasting at Linganore WineCellars (for more about Linganore WineCellars, see blog post http://www.midatlantic
  3. March: Visit the fishes at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, followed by an Italian dinner in Fells Point.
  4. April: Go for lunch in Georgetown (Washington, DC) and then go walk along the historic C&O Canal.
  5. May: Picnic at the National Arboretum and tour the gardens.
  6. June: Walk around historic Frederick and go out to eat at one of the many fine restaurants downtown. Then pay your respects to the author of the Star Spangled Banner while taking a nighttime guided tour of Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, MD (see blog post  http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea). 
  7. July: Spend a day at St. Michaels, get some ice cream, and sail on the Selina II (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea).
  8. August: Spend a day at Longwood Gardens, stay for the fireworks (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea).
  9. September: Sign up for a segway tour of Gettysburg Battlefield,
     have lunch at Dobbin House Tavern (see blog post  for more about this idea).
  10. October: Go leaf pepping on your way to Fallingwater in the Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea).
  11. November:  Go ghost hunting on the Annapolis Ghost Walk (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea).
  12. December: Check out the Go Local  for the Holiday Festival, feature local crafts and artisans at Harford Vineyard (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea).
Happy Holidays!

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sugarloaf Mountain Sort of Day!

Recently, two friends and I headed over to Sugarloaf Mountain, to check out the park itself, visit the winery at its base, and then eat at a local restaurant. There were some surprises and yes, a disappointment. But more on that later.

Late fall is a fine time to check out the place that was President Franklin Roosevelt's first choice for a presidential retreat: Sugarloaf Mountain, in southern Frederick County in Maryland, right on the Montgomery County/Frederick County line.

Unfortunately for Roosevelt, and subsequent Presidents, the owner, Gordon Strong, refused to sell the land. Instead, Strong deliberately and systematically bought up all the surrounding tracts of land he could get his hands on -- and then placed it into a private trust so that Sugarloaf Mountain's beauty can be experienced by everyone. Today it is one of the rare private parks that is completely open to the public, at no charge.

Sugarloaf Mountain is an example of a monadnock -- an isolated hill or small mountain rising abruptly from gently sloping or level surrounding land. It appears to be either an outlier to the east of the main mass of Catoctin Mountain. Early pioneers of the area named the mountain Sugarloaf because the rock formations reminded them of the loaves of sugar, which were common in those days. The mountain has watched American history unfold: General Braddock, commander of British troops during the French and Indian War, marched his men past the mountain in 1744. Several battles occurred nearby, and Union troops alternated with Southern troops posted lookouts at its summit during the Civil War. And in a log cabin that still stands at the base of the mountain, wounded and dying soldiers were hospitalized -- that was our surprise find.

The log cabin is not marked in any way -- I initially stopped because it was picturesque and I wanted to snap a few shots of it. It was only after we returned home and I began doing some research that I learned of its significance!

The park offers hiking, picnicking, and a scenic drive around the mountain past views of the Monacacy Valley and the Potomac River. Our goal this November day was to take the short quarter-mile hike from one of the scenic overviews up to the summit of the mountain. We chose the green trail, for no reason other than that we hoped it would be less steep. Hind sight being 20/20, we believe the red trail might offer a more gradual ascent. Hiking up the mountain, even that short distance (quarter mile), can be strenuous. There are several benches placed so hikers could rest; the green trail becomes very steep very quickly, and indeed, there are several flights of steps leading up the final ascent along an imposing rock cliff.

Afterward we stopped at Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, at the base of the mountain to sample an array of eight of their wines, including Stomp, Circe, Comus, and their Rose (my favorite of the group). Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard grows five Bordeaux red grapes (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot) and three white grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Viognier). As you walk into the tasting room, you are greeted warmly and then directed over to one of the tasting stations (I felt like a cow in an efficient milking barn).

Once we were in place, the server quickly collected our $10 and efficiently opened up a bag of oyster crackers into a little bowl and the pouring began -- there is a factory-like assembly line atmosphere about serving the wine samples that distracts from the experience. The server rattled off little blurbs about the wines -- all of which I forgot almost as soon as I heard them -- holding the bottles and pointing to aspects on the labels in a carefully scripted monologue. We were in and out of there in under 10 minutes.

This was the disappointment of the day, as I'd heard good things about the winery, and it seems to be very popular. I wonder how much of its popularity is due to its proximity to DC and the very densely populated Montgomery County?

What I like about this winery: dogs are welcome on the grounds -- nice! Not many wineries welcome your pets, so Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard gains points there! There are picnic tables on the patio and water bowls set out for your pooches. What I didn't like: you can bring a picnic, but if you want to eat inside, then you have to buy their food. That, combined with the mechanical efficiency of the tasting room makes this one of the few wineries I'm not interested in returning to.

Our last stop was a late lunch at Comus Inn, located on the corner of Comus Road and Old Hundred Road. The restaurant is located in an historic building and farm originally known as the Johnson-Wolfe Farm. The building has been added on over the years from the original two-story log cabin built in 1862 by Robert Johnson. The log core currently is exposed on the inside of the restaurant.

The crossroads of Comus was the site of a rearguard action during the Antietam Campaign of Civil War on the 9th and 10th of September 1862. The Comus Inn property at the old crossroads was the site of Union artillery batteries, as well as a gathering point for Federal forces seeking to capture the Confederate signal station.

The lunch menu offers a variety of dishes, including crab cakes, a burger, and a catfish dish that was tempting until I heard the special: the Cuban sandwich -- pulled pork and ham with melted (probably provalone) cheese and seasonings. We also tried the soup du jour -- a roasted butternut squash soup with a hint of bacon. Interestingly, the only local wines offered on the drinks menu of the Comus Inn were wines from Elk Run Vineyards, not the restaurant's next door neighbor: Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard.

If you're there during harvest season, then definitely take a few minutes to check out the Comus Market, right across the street from the restaurant.

Tip: If you avoid purchasing wine and pack your own picnic (and don't eat at the Comus Inn), this is a budget-friendly day trip!

Getting there: The entrance to Sugarloaf Mountain is 7901 Comus Road, Dickerson, MD; Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard is located at 18125 Comus Rd, Dickerson; Comus Inn is located at 23900 Old Hundred Rd, Dickerson.

Hours: Sugarloaf Mountain is open daily, 8 a.m. until 1 hour before sunset; Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards is open 7 days a week 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.  except for major holidays; the Comus Inn is open for lunch Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Dogs: Definitely!! Except for Comus Inn.

Websites: Sugarloaf Mountain:; Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard:; the Comus Inn:

Check out the blog's FB page for updates and current events for places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stunning Views at the C&O Canal, Locks 33 and 34

This is sort of part two of last week's Harpers Ferry blog--this is the stretch of the C&O Canal we were trying to reach via the railroad bridge when our beagle categorically refused to go down the stairs. (There is no joy in having to carry a 40lb beagle down and back up several flights of stairs!)

The recent Congressional debacle over the Federal government budget afforded me the opportunity to have some unexpected time off from my job, as I was furloughed with several hundred thousand other Federal workers. My husband and I took advantage of this by completing some "honey-do" projects around the house -- but we squeezed in some time for day trips as well!

Despite knowing that the National Park Service was closed, another victim of the government shutdown, I gambled on a trip to one of my favorite segments of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal: the segment opposite Harpers Ferry, under Maryland Heights, between Lock 33, which you can access from the railroad bridge at Harpers Ferry, and Lock 34.

This segment runs close enough alongside the Potomac River to afford beautiful views of the river throughout the walk. Opposite the river, gorgeous homes dot the cliffside. On the other side of the canal and the narrow lane running alongside, rocky cliffs dominate the scenery. It's peaceful and gorgeous and not as well traveled as the segment at Great Falls in Montgomery County. Although the canal doesn't have any water in this segment, it is planted in grass and kept mowed, so you can appreciate the physical space of the canal, and the stonework that went into the locks and the walls. (Other segments are filled with swamp-like muck, or with out-of-control brush and trees that are quickly destroying all recognizable signs of the canal.)

The C&O Canal operated from 1831 until 1924, and runs parallel to the Potomac River on the Maryland side, from Cumberland to Washington, D.C. The canal way is now maintained as a park, with a linear trail following the old towpath, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
It is about 1 mile between the two locks. The path is smooth and appeals to bicyclists, so please share the path courteously. We started our walk near Lock 34. We encountered multiple joggers and walkers, including several with dogs, like us. We noticed a lot of birds along the river -- mostly mallard ducks, but quite a few cormorants and a couple great blue heron as well. We believe we may also have spotted a bald eagle, but didn't get a photo of it and aren't positive. Along the trail, squirrels frolic merrily, taunting all the dogs passing by.

As we followed the towpath down toward lock 33, Harpers Ferry starts coming into view. First to come into view is the railroad bridge that allows access for foot traffic between the C&O Canal and the historic little town, but as you draw closer to Harpers Ferry, the buildings start peaking over the trees. On the left, opposite the canal is the former lock keepers house -- now just a empty shell huddled under the Maryland Heights cliffs.

For the more adventurous, the Maryland Heights Trail Head is right in this area -- and the view from the rocks is spectacular. I know this, because I remember from the time I climbed it about 20 years ago. I really should hike up there again!!

Tip: We accessed this segment along the appropriately named Harpers Ferry Road -- but I don't recommend parking there. Since it was a weekday and the towpath technically closed, we crossed our fingers, hoping that there would be empty parking spaces, and there was. But there are only 20 to 25 spots available, along a very narrow country lane. Best to park in Harpers Ferry and walk over the railroad bridge at lock 33 or park at the Harpers Ferry National Park visitor center and take the shuttle in, or plan on walking a bit further and parking at the parking area in Point of Rocks C&O Canal access point.

Hours: dawn to dusk

Getting there: Follow Rt 340W out from Frederick to Point of Rocks, if that's where you plan on parking. Or following 340 out across the bridge into Harpers Ferry via Shenandoah Street, or go on 340W further to the Visitor's Center at  171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425.

Dogs: Bring your pooch!! (unless you're taking the shuttle from the National Park visitor's center -- in which case, refer to last week's blog on Harpers Ferry for doggy/visitor center work-arounds.). The C&O Canal towpath was made for them! (Well, no, not really, but bring them anyway!) Also bring poop pick-up baggies. There are no garbage cans along the way, so bring an extra bag for carry out. Or bring your bicycles and kids, not necessarily in that order.

Website: C&O Canal National Historic Park,

For other parts of the C&O Canal, check out the below articles:
Brunswick to Dargan Bend
Canal Pride Days 
Edwards Ferry
Fort Frederick to Hancock
Great Falls
Lander Lockhouse
Maryland Heights (Harpers Ferry)
Monocacy & Catoctin Aqueducts
Paw Paw Tunnel to Lock 56
Swain's Lock to Seneca Aqueduct
Kayaking at Swain's Lock

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Updated June 2020