October 2007

During the month of October we traveled from Kure Beach, North Carolina to Huntsville, Alabama by way of Virginia Beach, Virginia; Fort Meade, Maryland;  Thomaston, Connecticut; and Newport, Rhode Island.  Over 2200 miles traveled!

October started in Kure Beach, North Carolina, and ended up over 2,200 miles later at Huntsville, Alabama.  During the month, we stopped for a couple of days each in Virginia and Maryland, two weeks in Connecticut, a few days in Rhode Island, and then did some serious traveling to get to our campground hosting gig at Monte Sano State Park, located in Huntsville, Alabama.

The route from North Carolina to Virginia Beach we drove was primarily on non-interstate roads, quite scenic and interesting.  We saw truckloads of peanuts recently harvested, as well as short-leaf tobacco.  The cotton and soybean crops didn’t appear ready yet. 

Ocean Pines RV Park in Virginia Beach was our base for a few days while we visited friends Barry and Judy.  In trying to find the campground, we turned one road too soon and went through the gates of Oceana Naval Air Station (Ocean Pines is Oceana’s military campground located off-base.)  The security guards stopped traffic while we pulled a u-turn with our 58’ truck/RV combo – what a grand entrance we made! 

Ocean Pines is a former military housing area – the sites were long and set off the road a bit.  Oceana’s runway was not too far behind us but lucky for us, the jets were more active during the day than at night.  We got a Commissary and Base Exchange fix while we were nearby. 

Coincidentally, Lucille’s brother Roger and wife Kathie were in town visiting one of Kathie’s sons.  We visited with them for a couple of hours one afternoon – next morning, they were back on the road, heading towards upstate New York. Sure glad Roger mentioned they’d be in Virginia Beach then – imagine finding out afterwards that we were just three miles apart! 

Judy called us on Wednesday evening – she and Barry had just gotten back from a quick trip to a wedding in Chicago that past weekend.  After kicking around several options of what to do together the following day, we decided we just wanted to hang out with them, forego doing any sightseeing, then go out somewhere to have dinner.  Barry’s priority was to get a Shelley-fix, so sometime during our stay they wanted to stop by the rig so he could give her lots of belly rubs.  

Judy and Lucille have the same taste in books.  Last time we visited them, we walked away with bags of books so it was time to repay the favor.  Lucille saved up a bag of books to bring to Judy. Hah!  She surprised us by bringing out four large grocery bags full of books.  We culled through them, taking back a bagful, mainly paperbacks.  As much as we would have liked to taken them all, we have to keep in mind our RV weights when we head down the road, for both safety and fuel issues.  Out of that one measly bag of books Lucille brought Judy, she had read all but one.  

Barry and Judy’s condo is on the Chesapeake Bay side of Virginia Beach with an awesome view of the bay bridge.  We brought lawn chairs, snacks and drinks out to the beach and while the gals held down the fort, the guys went for a walk down to the bridge and back.  By the time they got back, we were ready to for dinner.  We enjoyed seafood at a local establishment, and then they followed us back to the campground so Barry could get his Shelley-fix.  Of course, Shelley was in seventh heaven seeing her friends again and getting all that extra attention.

We got an early start north the next morning, with plans to meet Dianne for breakfast near her home in Cape Charles, Virginia.  We met Dianne earlier in the year while we were visiting Lazy Days RV Supercenter near Tampa, Florida.  We struck up a conversation with this very friendly gal, learned she had family in the Melbourne area, as we did; that she had a home in Virginia near where Larry’s family had roots; and that she was going to be volunteering at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore in Michigan, as were our friends Karen and Galen.  Talk about a bunch of small world moments all wrapped into one!  She and Karen and Galen connected while in Michigan, had a great summer together with plans to meet with all of us sometime in the future.  When she learned we’d be passing through the Cape Charles area, we got a breakfast invite.  We parked the rig at a nearby grocery store, hopped in her car, and got a quick tour of Cape Charles (we want to go back!)  We then enjoyed a great visit with her, albeit too short, having breakfast at the golf course’s restaurant.

The ride to the DC/Baltimore area was enjoyable and scenic.  We stayed off interstates except for the last twenty miles.  Coming in from the eastern shore of Virginia is a much more pleasant way to approach Fort Meade, Maryland, our home for the next couple of days.  

Larry’s relatives, Bill and Loretta, live in nearby Clarksville.  We visited with them for several hours Saturday afternoon and evening, going out for an early supper at Bare Bones Grill and Brewery.  After dinner, we toured a couple of subdivisions – huge houses with price tags to match.  We noticed that the garage doors in one subdivision resembled barn doors – how odd to have that style door, compared to the lavishly decorated homes. 

We made plans to visit with them and their son Joel and his family the following afternoon.  Alas, plans changed.  Larry experienced minor chest pains Sunday morning.  We got directions to a nearby walk-in clinic, where he was seen immediately.  The clinic physician ran some tests and didn’t see anything alarming, but she didn’t want to discount how Larry was feeling so she called for an ambulance.  Larry was quite disappointed – no sirens or flashing lights on his first ambulance ride.  Lucille followed them to Baltimore-Washington Medical Center in nearby Glen Burnie and after locating a parking place large enough for our huge truck, joined Larry as they were running several tests.  They ended up keeping him overnight for observation and further testing, admitting him to a room upstairs.  After he passed his stress test the following day, he got sprung – no heart problems seen and no idea what caused the chest pains.  This lifestyle is a thrill a minute!  This medical hiccup delayed us a day.  We never did get to see Joel and his family but visited with Bill and Loretta the evening he got sprung.

The military campground’s staff was very accommodating in shuffling sites around, allowing us to stay the additional unplanned night.   Had it been necessary to stay longer, they could have done more shuffling.  We were glad to get back on the road, just a day late, driving north through Baltimore traffic.  North of there, we opted to drive on a different route, going up through Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania and the Delaware Water Gap (US 209). 

Typically, we avoid I-95 north from DC on to New England – too much traffic, older roads and lots of congestion around all the major cities.  We usually head north on I-81, going through Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  By taking the Gap road, we avoided a lot of the major hills around Wilkes-Barre.  US 209 is a pleasant two-lane road and a scenic drive, well worth the change in routes.  We stopped for the night at Sam’s Club in Middletown, New York, delighted that the temperature had at last dropped—finally we can wear our jeans and long-sleeved shirts.  We got permission to park there, bought a few items, ordered a pizza to go, and hunkered in for the night.

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We stayed at Branch Brook Campground while in Thomaston, Connecticut.  The leaves were changing color and the mornings were getting crisp.

After a quiet and restful night, we hit the road for our final leg to Connecticut, crossing the Hudson River at the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.  The toll collector was quite friendly.  When he spotted Shelley (who can miss that big head poking over the driver’s seat?) he showed us a picture of his own dog.  It makes you wonder how many people pass through before he gets a chance to show off his pet.  By noon, we’d arrived at. Branch Brook Campground in Thomaston, getting a back-in site with our rear window overlooking the brook. We were even able to get the satellite dish up and running, despite all the trees there – life is good! 

The next day, we drove to Cheshire to pick up Larry’s mother Vivian, had lunch at Friendly’s and took her to Dollar Tree, WalMart and Price Choppers – some of her favorite stores. Another day, we picked her up and drove to West Haven to meet Larry’s brother Bruce and his wife Dani at Chick’s Drive-In where we had some of the best and most reasonably priced scallops and fried clam strips.  Check out their blue-plate specials if you are ever in the area – plenty of parking.

Another evening, we met another brother, David, and his family at Nardellis, famous for their grinders (translate:  subs, hoagies, poor boys.)  Jessicca, Ashley and Mikkaylia are all growing up into beautiful young ladies.  We saw Ashley again another day when we enjoyed pizza at Brian and Bonnie’s home in Shelton.  They’d arranged to have their son (Ray and his family) and daughter (Cindy and husband Steve) there at the same time – this is getting to be a tradition – we meet at Bonnie’s for pizza and visit with the ‘kids’.

One evening, Brian and Bonnie came over to our place for a pot roast dinner – Bonnie brought the tallest homemade apple pie we’ve ever seen and left half of it with us.  Being the gracious hosts we are, we certainly didn’t want to hurt her feelings and turn her down. We enjoyed every last bite of the pie – we’ll have to make inviting them a new tradition, complete with apple pie.

Bonnie and Brian joined us at the Bauer Farm for the Harvest Festival.  However, our main reason for attending was to watch the fabulous  Atwater-Donnelly duo perform. (K&G, eat your hearts out!)

One Saturday, we drove to Shelton to pick up Brian and Bonnie, and then headed to Bauer Park in Madison to enjoy the Harvest Festival there.  Our main reason for going there, and wanting them to join us, was to see Atwater-Donnelly in concert.  We’d met Aubrey Atwater and her husband Elwood Donnelly in Mountain View, Arkansas, in April and were thrilled to read that they would be performing nearby during our stay in Connecticut. 

The Harvest Festival is geared toward family activities with scarecrow making, pumpkin painting, face painting, nature demonstrations and lots of other fun things for the entire family to enjoy.  It was a clear crisp fall day.  Just before concert time, we set up our lawn chairs in the field, Aubrey and Elwood brought out their instruments and sound system, and with a total of eight people with chairs and young families coming and going, we felt like we had a private concert. Brian and Bonnie really enjoyed their music and of course, we were thrilled.  We bought two of their CDs that we didn’t already have, had one of them autographed, and had our picture taken with them.  What an awesome day! 

Another plus that day was that Lucille’s sister-in-law Tracy and nieces Katie and Jessie came down for the festival.  We got to visit with them and admired the scarecrows they’d just made, their pumpkins and their vegetable-dyed necklaces.  Unfortunately, Ray had to work that day so we missed seeing him but made plans to catch up with him later.

One Sunday, we met up with friends Louie and Anne.  If you recall from our travel updates last summer (06), they were on the lookout for a suitable RV site for us at Klondike Camp Resort, in Otis, Massachusetts.  One possible site became available so we made plans with the owner to meet them that afternoon.  Louie and Anne offered to drive – we bought lunch at the Blue Colony Diner in Torrington on the way up.  It was a gorgeous fall day for a ride – the leaves were starting to turn.

After seeing the one site, we agreed to pass on it because it was a steep uphill grade to back our rig into place, not a good situation for transmissions.  We were very interested in another site and left a message with those owners to call us back.  Jumping ahead here – we eventually heard back from the owners, arranged to meet them back at the site on another day, drove back up (oohing and aahing at the leaves again--can’t ever get too much of those colors), paced out and measured the site, and left a deposit with the current owners, with the sale of the site contingent upon the removal of a hemlock tree smack dab in the middle.  The Klondike owners are really particular about cutting down healthy trees – you have to justify why you want the tree cut down and submit that to a tree committee who makes a determination after viewing the offending tree.  Long story short, we got permission and the paperwork has started for us to purchase the site.

Before everyone starts to think we’re settling down--not at all.  We were enchanted by Klondike last year – we love its wilderness and peacefulness, yet we have the option of joining in any activities at the clubhouse or using the larger-than-Olympic sized pool.  Klondike is a three-season resort only and according to town regulations, a site owner is not allowed to build a home or cottage on the property.  Sheds and fences are okay.  Sites have either park models on them or RVs that can come and go.  Our site is a full hook up, 50 amp electric site.   We’re responsible for the electric and monthly association fees.  We are close enough to our family in Connecticut – day trips one way are about an hour or so.  Guest RVs are allowed on our site for two weeks at a time and if we’re not there at all with our own home-on-wheels, we can allow family members to park their own campers for however long they’d like. 

The current owner is cutting down the tree and its stump, as well as removing another stump and leveling the area.  It will probably be next spring before we even get to stay there but we’re looking forward to having a place of our own to come and park on for months at a time and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding Berkshires.

While we were in Connecticut, we received our part of the closing papers for the Florida house to be signed and notarized.  We are happy to report that all went well and we are no longer property owners in the state of Florida – yippee!  We may be houseless but are certainly not homeless.

Sometimes the best time to catch up with other folks is to meet somewhere for a meal.  We did that with George and Ann. George (Lone Oak’s Workamper coordinator) and his wife Ann, also a Lone Oak employee, hooked up with us for lunch at Chiana’s Coffee Shop in Torrington.  We thoroughly enjoyed seeing them and catching up on Lone Oak happenings (our Workamping job in 2006.)  Another afternoon, we finally got to see Lucille’s brother Ray, meeting him for lunch at A. Joseph’s, an Italian restaurant where Lucille had the best eggplant parmigiana ever.  We picked up another eggplant dish to go which we brought to Larry’s Aunt Blossom the following day.  She probably couldn’t wait for us to leave so she could dig in!

Center Church in New Haven is famous for its basement crypt.  We tried to visit the church last year but found out when we got there that tours are only available certain days and hours.  This year, we called in advance to confirm the upcoming Saturday tour.  We got an early start so we could get there for the 11:00 am opening.  After maneuvering around New Haven’s downtown area, finding a parking place and walking to the church, we were met by a priest at the church telling us that the crypt was closed that day because of a wedding in the church proper – grrrrr…..What a wasted trip.  Sure wish we had been told that when we called to check on the tour. When we finally get to see this elusive crypt, we’ll fill you in on how and why it’s located in the church basement.

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The leaves were near peak colors as we walked the Thomaston Dam.  The Naugatuck Valley Railroad train provides leaf peepers an opportunity to travel the rails and enjoy the colors. 

One beautiful fall afternoon was perfect for a Sunday leaf peeping drive .  We drove up to nearby Thomaston Dam, where due to this year’s lack of rain, the water level is way below normal.  But the leaves were spectacular.  As a bonus, the Naugatuck Valley Railroad train chugged along below us on its own leaf peeping excursion.  We ended that crisp fall day enjoying pizza on Ray’s front porch, huddled around the portable fire pit.  What a great lifestyle!

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Our campground in Newport, Rhode Island was located on a small bluff overlooking Narragansett Bay.

Our two weeks in Connecticut quickly passed.  We hit the road heading for a few days’ stay at a military campground in Newport, Rhode Island.  At last, we added Rhode Island to our map of states we’ve overnighted in our RV.  Carr Point Recreation Area is a small six site RV park run by the Newport Naval Station, with all sites backing up to Narragansett Bay – we had an awesome view out our rear window.

You mention Newport and folks that have been there suggest you visit the mansions.  We decided to see for ourselves what all the hoopla was about.  After seeing four of them, I can understand why the mansions come to mind.  Think Great Gatsby – imagine an era before income taxes (late 1800s to very early 1900s), lots of wealth flowing amongst the steel magnates, the railroad magnates.  Think Vanderbilts, Astors, Morgans, and others, building their summer ‘cottages’ in Newport. 

We bought tickets to the Newport Mansions Experience (admission to any five properties), operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County.   The five properties that are open this time of the year are:  The Breakers, The Elms, Marble House, Rosecliff and Green Animals Topiary Garden.  Rosecliff and Marble House are guided tours while the others are self-guided.  Unfortunately, other than taking pictures of the building exteriors and gardens, no indoor photography is allowed.  We naively asked why, thinking that perhaps the camera flash may ruin the tapestries and such.  But that’s not why--the reason is to keep people from photographically ‘casing the joint’ to rob the treasures at a later point.  Because we don’t have a criminal mind, we never thought of that.  In lieu of pictures, we’d hoped to find postcards or something similar that we could use to scan the images to share what we saw, but there were none to be found.  So, you’ll just have to get to Newport and see these mansions yourselves.

What we saw:

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The Vanderbilt cottage in Newport featured 70 rooms and over 100,000 square feet.  There were more fireplaces (27) than bathrooms (23).

The Breakers (Larry’s favorite), built in 1895, is the largest of the four mansions we toured.  It was Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s 70-room summer estate, over 100,000 square feet.  It has 27 fireplaces and 23 bathrooms. Two of the fireplaces were built out of Italian blue marble, the source of which was depleted during construction of these fireplaces.  Sad.

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The Elms cottage was owned by coal magnate Edward Berwind.  The French-styled chateau featured a 10 acre park and sunken gardens.  

The Elms, built in 1901, was the summer retreat of coal magnate Edward Berwind.  It features wall-sized Venetian paintings, Chinese lacquer panels and great tapestries.  We toured the grounds and saw lots of beech trees – European, copper, weeping and fernleaf, but no elms - weird.

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The Rosecliff cottage was modeled after the Grand Trianon at Versailles.  It was completed in 1902 for Nevada silver heiress, Tessie Oelrichs.

Rosecliff (Lucille’s favorite), built in 1902, hosted some of Newport’s grandest parties.  Cole Porter was a frequent houseguest.  This is the only mansion that allows people to rent its huge ballroom for special functions.  Great Gatsby, Amistad and True Lies were all filmed here.

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This Vanderbilt cottage was completed in 1892 using 500,000 cubic feet of marble.

Marble House, built in 1892, cost a whopping 11 million dollars in 1892 – imagine that in today’s dollars!  The ballroom features 22-carat gold leaf gilded walls.

Lastly, the Green Animals Topiary Garden, built around 1860.  This was a fun property to visit – it was fun picking out the 80-plus shapes of animals and other geometric shapes sculpted out of either California privet or yew.  The oldest topiaries were started in 1910 and moved to their present locations in 1912.  The youngest, a baby giraffe, was planted in 2004.  Also on the property is the two and half story Victorian Brayton House, a more realistically sized summer residence that paled in comparison to the mansions.  Original family furnishings are on exhibit as well as an antique toy collection.

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A giraffe, bear, elephant, dog, camel and other animals were created by carefully shaping and pruning shrubs over many years.

General comments about what we saw…. we visited the five properties over the course of two days.  The guided tours were excellent but we were part of a large group at the Breakers so it was not as personalized as the much smaller tour of Rosecliff.  Once we got the hang of the MP3 players for the self-guided tours, going at our own pace was much more fun.  It is mind boggling to hear how much money was spent on building and maintaining these mansions, to see that much wealth concentrated in one small town, to hear that these huge mansions were only occupied a couple of months a year, to see what lengths one-upmanship was taken to impress your neighbors, to imagine growing up as a child in these mansions.  We could pool all our earnings, past, present and future, and still not come close to affording even the smallest of these mansions. 

Based on the recommendation of the Rosecliff docent, we had lunch at Flo’s Clam Shack, a quirky eating establishment that is known for clams, any shape or form.  Lucille enjoyed the clam chowder while Larry feasted on some very good fried clam strips.  Their clam cakes were okay, sort of like fritters with pieces of clam instead of corn.  When you place your order, you are handed a rock with a number on it.  When your number is called, lunch is ready!  Saves on paper…. who needs those electronic pager thingies you get at some other restaurants!

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Lucille's cousin, Marcel, met us for dinner in Newport, Rhode Island.

One evening, Lucille’s cousin Marcel, his wife Priscilla and their youngest son Ben came out to Newport.  We met them at the Blue Plate Diner and had some wonderful fish and chips.  The entrees came with a complimentary piece of pie but Lucille opted for the chocolate-chip bread pudding – a great substitution.  After dinner and catching up on our lives (it had been at least ten years since we saw Priscilla and Ben), they followed us back to the campground and got a tour of our home on wheels.  We saw them off after a short visit with hopes we’ll see each other before another ten years go by.

All too quickly our visit in Newport ended and it was time to head south.  We decided to drive some long days to get to our campground-hosting job at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, Alabama.  We wanted to arrive a couple of days early and run errands before resuming our duties on the evening of November first.  Doing this meant three long driving days, though.  Typically, we like to drive around 200 miles but we averaged over 400 miles each day.  Needless to say, we were glad to get to Huntsville and stay put.

But first the journey, which presented us with some firsts as well as repeat adventures.  We found I-95 through Connecticut west of New London to be a rough ride, with a lot of traffic through New Haven.  We got off of I-95 just at the New York state line and headed for the Tappan Zee Bridge and I-84, which eventually led us to I-81.  Sometime during that ride, we lost another wheel liner on the RV, which made a total of three we’ve lost over the past two years.  They are just clip-on liners, losing their tension-- replacements are very hard to find.  Larry’s mission when we got settled in Huntsville was to find a set of four liners that screw on.

Our plan was to fuel up at the Flying J in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, dump the holding tanks and partially fill the fresh water tank, then pull into an RV slot and spend the night there.  Despite the rough roads, we made better time than we thought but were amazed that as early as 3:30 that afternoon, all available RV parking was taken.  We got back on the highway and drove for about another hour, stopping at a Sam’s Club in Hagerstown, Maryland.  By this time, we’d covered six states since we left that morning – Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.  Keep in mind, though, the states are small or we breezed through just a part of some of the states. 

What a surprise we found when we got parked at Sam’s Club.  Lucille opened the RV door and found broken glass and other items on the floor, this in just an hour of driving that didn’t have any remarkable problems.  Having the kitchen cabinet doors pop open long enough for some bowls to fall out was a first.  We’ve been on worse roads and have never had any of the doors open up.  Needless to say, we had quite the mess to clean up before we could even let Shelley in.  The only thing we can think of is that the RV somehow must have torqued enough to pop the doors.  The doors have a good latching system but obviously in this situation, not good enough.

Next morning, we walked over to Chick-fil-A and had breakfast before hitting the road.  We covered four states that day – Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee.  We pulled into another Sam’s Club in Kingsport, Tennessee, only to find it had closed.  Luckily, there was a Cracker Barrel on the other side of the interstate that allowed us to park overnight.  After breakfast at Cracker Barrel the next morning, we started the last leg of our three-day marathon, arriving at Monte Sano around 3:30.  Park personnel offered us a full hook-up pull-thru site which we promptly took and got settled in for the next couple of days before moving to the host site on the first.

So, over 2,200 miles later, from North Carolina, up to New England, and back down to Alabama – here it is the end of October already!


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