Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Happy Visit: Longwood Gardens

He who plants a garden plants happiness, according to an old Chinese proverb. Both Pierre S. du Pont and his wife Lilian planted a lot of happiness, as they planned and developed their estate, Longwood Gardens.

I felt so very spoiled walking through the gardens. From the visitors center we turned right, into the formal Idea Gardens that provide a shifting color pallet, from purple and red to orange, yellow and white. From these, we strolled to the lake, on the other side of which was the formal Italian water garden that was a favorite of Day Trip Pal.

From there, take a turn through the woods and alongside the meadow (which will re-open next summer), making sure to check out the two treehouses.

It was nice to see so many families with kids of all ages enjoying the gardens. The treehouses were particularly appealing to the kids, and they romped up and down the stairs. But they also played on the paths and seemed to enjoy the water features and fountain shows -- which appealed, frankly, to most adults as well (it's fun to put on your kid hat every once in a while!).

You don't need to know a lot about flowers to enjoy the gardens. It's just plain fun walking through the various scenes and "outdoor rooms."

The gardens didn't appear overnight. According to Longwood Garden's website, the land had originally been inhabited by the native Lenni Lenape tribe who hunted, fished, and farmed the productive wilderness.

In 1700, a Quaker family named Peirce purchased the property from William Penn and soon established a working farm. Joshua and Samuel Peirce began planting an arboretum on the farm in 1798. Longwood owes its present-day success to the Peirces, who actively pursued their interest in natural history.

By 1850, the site was known as having one of the finest collections of trees in the nation, and one of the first public parks, and its aesthetic qualities were as important as its botanical significance.The farm was purchased in 1906 by Pierre du Pont and from 1907 until the 1930s Mr. du Pont created most of what is enjoyed today. In 1946, the Gardens were turned over to a foundation set up by Mr. du Pont, which is what we enjoy today when we visit. 

When you go, make sure you check out the Conservatory -- throughout its 20 indoor gardens, there are well over 5 thousand types of plants. The Conservatory was built in 1919 and has been periodically expanded and renovated. At present, there is about 4.5 acres of covered display, production, and research greenhouses. During the summer months, the regal Victoria lily, and its cousins float placidly in the center plaza of the Conservatory.

Sadly, the day we visited, the fountain show wasn't active, due to a fireworks display that evening. Despite that, there was more than enough to see and do -- and we left Longwood Gardens tired and quite satisfied.

Check out Longwood Gardens at Christmas!! A Longwood Christmas 2015 and A Longwood Christmas 2019

Getting there: Longwood Gardens is located on US Route 1, about 3 miles northeast of Kennett Square. GPS it: 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square , PA 19348; if your GPS does not recognize the 1001 Longwood Road address, try 399 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348; admission fee required.

Hours: Varies by season. Generally opens at 9 a.m. Please check the website.

Dogs: As fun as it would be to have Fido along, leave him home.

Eats: There's two restaurants onsite; prices quite reasonable, and a lovely patio to enjoy lunch on.


Updated January 2020

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Catoctin Mountain Reverie

The plan: bring the boys to one of my favorite spots, Cunningham Falls, in Cunningham Falls State Park, not far from Thurmont, MD. Climb the falls, like I did when I was a kid, tell them the ghost story told to me when I was in 6th grade (for which I can find absolutely no supporting evidence, although there have been "ghostly images" photographed -- not by me -- in and around the falls -- intriguing! But I digress...). The last part of the plan: picnic in some scenic spot and thoroughly enjoy the absolutely gorgeous, 60-degree F August weather.

So I packed up the kids, the picnic lunch, and grabbed the two beagles, choosing to leave the greyhound mix behind because we'd taken him hiking the day before and his legs were still wobbly (he'd had double knee surgery as a puppy and never developed great stamina for long hikes multiple days in a row).

I've been going to Cunningham Falls since I was a kid. I've gone on romantic dates there (picnic breakfast on the falls!!), I've brought college friends there... it's just one of those places I love and want to share with people I care about. My mom and I have brought the boys there multiple times -- but not within the past few years. It was time to go back.

I didn't bother to check the state park's website. I knew where Cunningham Falls State Park was and what was there.

So the anti-dog signs were an unwelcome surprise as we drove up to the gated, manned entrance to pay the minor entrance fee. The beagles helpfully barked hysterically at the gal collecting entrance fees as I tried to determine whether there were any trails in the park that I could bring the dogs along on (the day was too fine not to spend it walking in the woods). She made me turn the car around.

Sigh. Onward to Plan B.Luckily, there was a Plan B, although I was making it up on the fly. You see, Cunningham Falls State Park is smack dab next to Catoctin Mountain National Park. I decided to go to the national park's visitor center, grab some trail guides, and head out on an easy hike.

Sadly, the visitor's center was closed, a victim of sequestration, I bet. We perched on a rock and silently ate our lunches. The boys complained about how cold they were. In August!!! The beagles, left in the car during the picnic lunch, made friends everywhere by continuing to bark and bay hysterically. Several of the other visitors in the parking lot were amused, but some where not. The day was NOT going well.

There were some trail head signs at the end of the parking lot. We were in luck! The distances seemed doable -- between 1.5 and 3 miles there (there were several options to chose from, including Hog Rock, Wolf Rock, and Chimney Rock). Well, it was more like, I chose, because the boys were all for going home at that point, although one of them was willing to go to Chimney Rock because the starting trail looked flat, while the others headed straight up the mountain, but that was farthest out and I had an appointment I had to go to later in the day. We opted for a shorter one -- Wolf Rock -- and hoped for the best.

Had I read a description, I probably would never have chosen Wolf Rock. No view. But oh, how magnificent a place, in and of itself -- photographs, at least not ones I'm capable of taking, don't do the place justice. Wolf Rock is a huge rock jutting out of the mountain, that seemed to be the size of the mountain itself. Hardy pine trees colonized the top, but otherwise, it loomed above the treeline a bit. The sense of serenity atop that rock is awe-inspiring.

Wolf Rock is part of the exposed Catoctin Mountain bedrock of quartzite (so it really is the mountain itself). 500 million years ago, this rock was the sandy bottom of some mysterious sea. It was compressed and crystalized from the forces at work when the Appalachian Mountains uplifted 200 million years ago. Quartzite erodes slowly, so it often forms ridges like Catoctin Mountain.

Despite the "no view," the hike -- pretty much straight up the side of a mountain for 1.5 miles -- was deemed "worth it." This from two brothers who'd complained and lobbied to turn around for most the trek there. This would be an ideal place to come back to in the fall for leaf peeping! Hmmm. And after Labor Day, I could bring the mutts along to Cunningham Falls too.

When I got home I finally checked the Cunningham Falls State Park website. Buried in the info is the tidbit about dogs being banned between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which says to me that there is no real reason not to allow dogs, but that's the subject of another blog, perhaps. Anyway, lesson learned: even when I head out to a place I've been many times, it's worth checking the website. You don't know what you don't know!

For additional hikes in Catoctin Mountain National Park: Hog Rock Hike and Chimney Rocks Hike

Getting there:  6602 Foxville Rd, Thurmont, MD 21788

Hours: Open from dawn until dusk. Check website for visitor center hours. No admission required.

Dogs: Bring them! A tired dog is a happy dog! Don't forget to bring poop pickup bags.

Eats: Thurmont, just a few minutes away, offers a variety of restaurants, including myriad fast food. But best choice of all: pack a picnic and find a rock to sit on and enjoy your beautiful surroundings in the park!


Updated January 2020

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Segway into a Battlefield Tour: Gettysburg National Battlefield

I have been visiting Gettysburg periodically for as long as I can remember. I grew up in Frederick and drove through the battlefields (on route 34) to visit my aunts and uncles and cousins who lived just north of Gettysburg my entire childhood. Even as an adult, I found myself returning there every few years, trying to understand the orders of battle and the significance of J.E.B. Stewart's not reporting in prior to the three days of battle, and exactly why Pickett's Charge was such a bad idea...

I read many books -- from Shelby Foote's trilogy series on the Civil War to Sears' Gettysburg to one of my favorite books on the battle, James M. McPherson's Hallowed Ground. Still, when I got the battlefield, my understanding evaporated in the face of the bouldered Devils Den and the Big Round Top and Little Round Top and the Peach Orchard (where was that, exactly?), and despite all that reading I would wonder, what happened here?

I tried the narrated battlefield tours -- those got me a step closer, but still, I found being in the car was an obstacle to the sort of understanding I sought of the events that raged across those fields 150 years ago.

Last year hubby and I were driving through Gettysburg, on our way home from a family reunion, and we noticed some segways zipping through the battlefield. We looked at each other and decided, right then and there -- we wanted to do that! Fast forward to a couple weeks ago -- when we made reservations with Seg Tours for the Western Battlefield Tour -- three hours riding a segway, with a narrated tour and a guide.

The narration paced with the speed of the segways, with four brief stops, one of which included a delightful mid-morning snack of grapes, cheese and chocolate! SegTours also provided two cold water bottles in the carrying case in the front of the segway, a thoughtful gesture that would make a hot day bearable.

Before we headed out on the tour, everyone spent 30 minutes of training, including both a safety video and individual instruction on an indoor obstacle course, which you must feel comfortable on before they set you loose on the roads and streets of Gettysburg and the battlefield. The segways are quite easy to master (even I felt comfortable after 10 minutes on one), and they are wonderfully fun -- nevermind the battlefield tour, I felt like a kid on my skateboard, except more in control (I never really mastered skateboarding).

The tour started with Seminary Ridge before heading over to see where
Pickett's Charge started from, and a close-up look at Confederate General Robert E. Lee's statue, overlooking the fields of Pickett's Charge, which ended so disastrously for the South. Interesting to note: Lee's famous horse, Traveler, had thrown him just before the battle and he'd been mad at the horse, so he was riding a horse named Lucy throughout the Gettysburg Battle. Unfortunately for Lucy, she was a smaller, less majestic horse than Traveler, so when it came time to depict Lee upon a horse for a Gettysburg monument, Traveler was chosen, even though he'd not actually been there.

This first part of the tour was beautiful -- traveling down the tree-lined Confederate Avenue and seeing where the Confederate lines had been positioned, and because we weren't traveling as fast as we might have in a car tour, I noticed a beautiful monument, which easily might be my favorite of all: the Louisiana State Monument, on Confederate Avenue, opposite Pitzer Woods.

From Confederate Avenue we traveled east toward the Peach Orchard and the Round Tops. We wound our way down toward the rocky Devil's Den (and we saw where Sickles should have positioned his troops but didn't, and how that almost lost the battle for the Union but how it was saved just in time) and then up the hill to Little Round Top, for the second and third stops of the trip.

From there we segwayed to what is often referred to as the High Tide of the Confederacy -- where Picketts Charge, despite the casualties incurred by Southern troops, had come with a dozen or so yards of winning the war for the Confederacy.

After the tour (if you go in the early morning), there is still much to see and do at Gettysburg. Visiting the Park's Visitor's Center and seeing the Diorama is a must-see. Consider visiting the Gettysburg Museum of History, featuring relics from the Civil War and the local battlefields. And don't overlook the nearby Eisenhower National Historic Site, the home and farm of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States.

If you get historied out, Gettysburg offers a variety of antique and boutique stores, and walking through Gettysburg is enjoyable in its own right. There are several wineries nearby, as well (Adams County Winery, Reids Orchard and Winery, among others. If you stay until evening, there are a variety of ghost tours offered (Ghosts of Gettysburg, Gettysburg Ghost Tours, Ghostly Images of Gettysburg, among others), including one that takes you back onto the battlefields, which are open until 10 p.m. In fact, I can see already opportunities for future blog entries on Gettysburg! There is enough to see and do for several days spent in Gettysburg, and there are a number of lovely bed and breakfasts in the area.

There are also other ways to tour the Battlefields, if riding a segway doesn't appeal. Several places offer guided horseback rides through the battlefield (Hickory Hollow Farm and Confederate Trails Horseback Tours, among others), and GettyPeds offer moped and scooter tours through the park.

Interesting note: although it was August, it was overcast, cool, and fairly early in the morning. In fact, it was unexpectedly chilly. Had we brought along light wind breakers, we would have been more comfortable. The segways had carry bags on front of them where a wind breaker could have been stashed "just in case." Wear comfortable shoes -- on the segways posture and balance are everything, and it's hard on your feet, ironically.

Recommended reading: Hallowed Ground, by James McPherson and Gettysburg, by Stephen Sears.

Hours: Check the SegTours -- or other tour websites -- for tour hours and fees.

Eats: Lots to chose from in and around Gettysburg. Beware the over-commercialized "historical pubs," which are pricey but not anything special. If you just want quick eats, there's plenty of fast food as well.

Websites: For SegTours,

Learn about the various monuments in advance:

National Parks website for the Gettysburg National Battlefield:
The mission of the National Park Service and its partner, the Gettysburg Foundation ( is to provide each visitor with a quality experience while visiting the Museum and Visitor Center, walking the Soldier's National Cemetery where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address, and while touring the battlefield park.

Updated May 2018

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Elk Run Vineyards and Winery: Yoga and Wine in the Vineyard

Daytrip Pal mentioned she was going to a vineyard to do some yoga -- so I asked her to write about her experiences. -- Daytripgal

A Guest Blog by Daytrip Pal

If you like yoga and you like wine -- then how about yoga and wine? A couple weeks ago I tried a new thing called Yoga and Wine in the Vineyard, at Elk Run Vineyards and Winery. It combined an hour-long session of yoga followed by a wine-tasting. Yoga House owner Jennifer Topper has held two sessions so far, one at Serpent Ridge Winery and the one I attended with my friend (not Daytripgal) at Elk Run.

Jennifer thought of doing this when she noticed a similar event when she was in northern California last year. "I thought to myself that this would be a nice event to co-host with local vineyards in Maryland," she said. "Yoga is often offered at various venues, like the beach, park, the office, schools, etc., so i thought, why not at these beautiful vineyards?"

It sounded to me like an ideal way to combine two relaxing pastimes! The Elk Run event started at 7 p.m. with over an hour of outdoor yoga. It was overcast but not raining, but fortunately there was a tent so a little rain wouldn't have made much of a difference. Atlhough it's a cool idea for "girls night out," there were supportive boyfriends and husbands also participating -- so also an idea for date night. Jennifer agrees. "I couldn't be happier with the group of people attending our events. And while there are primarily women, there are quite a few men joining as well. This is a great couples event!" she said.

There were about 15 of yoga mats circled around the instructor for a relaxing hour or so of yoga poses. It was advertised as yoga for all levels, but just about everyone in the group identified themselves on the sign-in sheet as "intermediate."

Jennifer notes that these events are for ALL levels -- from beginner to advance. "We like to keep these events fun and playful and encourage beginners to give it a try," she said. "These sessions are not intimidating at all, and I've found that the majority of the students attending are beginner to intermediate."

I enjoy yoga but have rarely attended formal classes - mostly doing yoga in the comfort of my own living room with Wii Yoga or favorite Yoga videos (mostly the YOGAmazing podcast). Given my lack of formal instruction, I characterized myself as a beginner.

Turns out I kept up well with everyone else. Most of the poses were standard - lots of downward dog and warrior poses. Hard to say how a true beginner would do, but Jennifer was very good about providing options of those wanting more of a challenge as well as helping the less limber. It was beautiful doing yoga outdoors with a view of the vineyards -- very peaceful. 

Following the yoga, we went in for wine tasting. We got to select 8 wines to taste from their list of 16. Only one - the sparkling wine - was unavailable for tasting. It was your typical wine tasting with plenty of good information on the wines and vineyards. The sommeliers were very nice, informative, and helpful, and made us feel comfortable. It's worth noting that Elk Run only uses its own grapes.

And I thought this was cool: some of Elk Run's labels went up on the space shuttle Atlantis! There's a framed photograph and label inside the tasting room. And I'm now watching House of Cards on Netflix because one of Elk Run's wines will also be in the upcoming second season of the show.

Yoga and Wine cost more than a standard wine tasting, but you're getting more than a standard wine tasting (most wine tastings cost about $5, plus or minus a few bucks). For $38,you get over an hour of yoga in the vineyards, followed by a tasting of eight wines of your choice, along with fruit, chips, and cheese dip. Plus you get to keep the wine glass!

Dress for the yoga, not for the wine! Wear yoga pants or work-out pants, and a comfortable shirt or yoga shirt. And keep in mind, you're essentially upside-down in some of the poses (such as downward dog) so it's good to have a shirt that won't fall over your head and nothing falls out the, if you know what I mean!

Getting There: depends where! Keep an eye out on Elk Run's webpage or Facebook Page.

Websites: Elk Run Winery:

Updated May 2018

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Friday, August 2, 2013

A Day on the Bay: Tilghman Island, St. Michaels, and Sailing on the Selina II

What started out as a romantic day on the Bay for the hubby and I turned into a day trip for the entire family the following week -- that's because there was plenty to do for just the two of us, and plenty for the boys to enjoy as well.

The plan for the romantic date: Drive to Tilghman Island, MD, look around the island, then find a nice place and have lunch. From there, drive the few miles to St Michael's, meander around the town a bit and get ice cream cones for dessert, then go sailing on the Selina II with Captain Iris and her first mate, Frank. And that's pretty much how it went.

Tilghman Island has been an island of many names. According to wikipedia history of the island, the island was known in Maryland's land records as the Great Choptank Island, but then it took on the names of a succession of its owners. When granted to Seth Foster in 1659, it became known as Foster's Island. In 1752, it came to the last family to own it, the Tilghman's. They owned it for more than a century, until the mid-19th century, when James Seth purchased the island and began selling parcels to local farmers and oystermen in the area. Their name stuck.

Boat-building and blacksmithing, as well as fishing, oyster-dredging, and farming were the primary industries of the island, for the next century. Oyster-shucking and canning companies started in the 1890s, and at about the same time, the island's guest houses began filling with Baltimore families seeking an escape from the city heat. Although the seafood industry is now much diminished and the shucking houses and processing plants are being replaced by upscale waterfront housing, it's still an interesting place to visit -- out at the Bay at the end of a long peninsula.

You can still see the "authentic" Tilghman Island, the island of a working skipjack fleet and of the watermen and their families that inhabited the island. The views are lovely, and it's worth driving down some of the roads to see the different aspects the island offers. The day we were there, the birds played a joke on us. We spotted a brown, largish bird with a white head -- and I was excited! A bald eagle! I took easily a hundred photos of her on her nest, with her three chicks. But no -- it was an osprey, and had I known my birds better, I would have recognized the white body and the black mask over its eyes as dead give-aways: these are no bald eagles. Still, ospreys are amazing and gorgeous in their own right!

Tilghman Island is separated from the mainland by Knapps Narrows, but is easily accessed by a drawbridge. In fact, that's also a pretty nice place to have lunch. There are two restaurants there, and for no particular reason we chose The Bridge Restaurant, which offered a pleasant view of the drawbridge and the boats traveling through the narrows, had a menu that featured both fish and burgers, and was tasty. From our table inside in the air-conditioning, we enjoyed watching the folks on the boats as well as various birds, from standard seagulls to ospreys to my favorite bird of all, the great blue heron.

After lunch we traveled the 22 miles back up Rt 33 to St. Michael's. St Michael's history is not dissimilar to Tilghman's -- its main industry was shipbuilding until just after the War of 1812 (which it had a role in), then the seafood industry became predominate, as well as offering hospitality to Baltimore elite seeking shelter from Maryland's hot and humid summers. In fact, next week (10-11 August) the "town that fooled the British" is celebrating the bicentennial of the Battle of St Michael's with a town-wide celebration, including a parade, a Navy band brass quintet and other live music, 1812 re-enactors, and more. So how did St. Michaels fool the British? An important shipbuilding site, the town was a logical place for British attack. The town's residents, forewarned that the Brits were positioned on the waters to attack with cannon fire, hoisted lanterns into the trees above the city. This "blackout" fooled the British into overshooting the town's houses and shipyards, thus saving the town.

Our plan for St Michaels was simple and relaxed: walk along the main thoroughfare, browse among the various boutiques, and find ice-cream. Had it been a bit cooler, we might have been more ambitious, and rented bicycles or even kayaks (there are several places that rent both -- TriCycle & Run and Peddle & Paddle, among others) to explore the harbor with. But the day we chose for our romantic date was a cool 95 very humid degrees, with very little breeze to temper the heat. Walking was about all we wanted to do. We found Justine's Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor, and it looked both quaint and busy (busy being a good sign). Although we didn't try anything on the "wall of shakes," the ice-cream and service were good, and worth stopping by. There's plenty of shade along the streets to walk in, and when it got too hot, there were a variety of shops, from antiques to art shops to dip into to cool down while browsing. If you get a chance, visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, as well, to learn more about the local history and heritage, ecology and culture of the Chesapeake Bay. You can easily spend a few hours at the museum, touring the boatyard and exploring the various exhibits.

Several different bay tours and sailing charters sail out of St Michaels, including a tour of Chesapeake Lighthouses (future blog, I'm thinking), excursions on one of the few remaining skipjacks, and various yacht charters, but one stood out: the Selina II, a 2-hour excursion on an historic 1926 sail boat still sailed by the grand-daughter of its original owners. Not only was the boat gorgeous, but each charter only takes six people, so a more intimate setting and no crowds.

No captain, no matter how awesome, can guarantee wind to sail by, and so it happened that the first time we went on the Selina II, there wasn't enough wind to merit hoisting the sails. But Captain Iris didn't let that daunt her nor ruin the afternoon. We motored around the Miles River, touring the coastline and seeing the marvelous estates and enjoying the stories she knows about the families that own them. We enjoyed it so much that we decided this was something worth coming back again for, but this time with the kids. With marvelous weather and a blog in mind, we came back the following week, and this time were lucky. Not only was the day at least 10 degrees cooler, but there were fair winds as well. Captain Iris admitted that no two trips are the same -- on sailing days, she goes where the wind takes her, and the conversation goes likewise. Extremely knowledgeable about the Bay and its history and culture, Captain Iris engaged the boys on their level, making the cruise enjoyable for them, and allowing the older one to help raise the sail (there's probably a technical sailing term for that) and both to steer the boat for great lengths of time. On the way home, both boys requested a return trip next year.

The Selina II also offers sunset cruises, dinner cruises catered by local chefs, and wine-tasting cruises, during which Captain Iris offers samples of her current favorites from Spain, Argentina and Italy. Although not a sommelier, she knows much about wines, probably more than most, and when asked about the wine-tasting cruise, began rattling off far more than this neophyte wine-drinker (see my earlier blog) could hope to understand. (Yes, I do plan on returning for a wine-tasting cruise!)

If you're not within day trip distance, there's enough to do to keep busy for two days, and there are several B&Bs in St Michaels, and at least one B&B on Tilghman Island. Did I mention the local winery? (That'll be the subject of a future blog!)

If you're going in the summer, plan ahead a little. Bring sunscreen and hats, and wear light-colored clothing, because you'll be out in the sun quite a bit. If you're going on a sailboat, wear sensible shoes. If you're staying overnight and planning on walking and exploring the area at dawn or dusk, bug spray wouldn't go to waste.

Getting There: I recommend visiting the websites listed below. The St Michaels website offers detailed directions from several points of departure, or you could punch in the address of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum into your GPS: 213 N. Talbot Street, St Michaels, MD 21663. To get to Tilghman Island, just keep going down Rt 33 through St Michaels until you come to the Knapps Narrows Drawbridge. Head over that, and start exploring!

Hours: Depends on what you want to do.

Dogs: If you're there for a day and not planning on going into the museum or taking a sailboat ride, bring them. Many businesses provided water for dogs, and there were many families walking with their pooches along the streets in St Michaels.

Eats: Restaurants in Tilghman Island and in St Michaels offer a variety of places to eat, that run the gamut from the very nice and dressy and equally pricey to less expensive and more family oriented but no less tasty.

Websites: and
Selina II Sailboat Charter:
Justine's Ice Cream Parlor:
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum:

Updated May 2018.

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