Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving and Holiday Festivals

We wish you safe travels as you head home to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a joyous holiday season!

Thank you for reading this blog.  We will continue to share our passion of traveling by land and by sea (or river), and occasionally, feature some recipes of yummy food from the Mai Thai galley. Incidentally, this Thanksgiving, I'm making a sinful batch of Chocolate raspberry bars to bring to a family party. I've made it a few times, and each time it got great reviews. Click here for the recipe.

As for holiday festivals, we've gone to some pretty memorable festivals over the years, some of which we'd like to share with you here. If you're not in the holiday spirit just yet, maybe attending one of these festivals will put you into the holiday mood. Enjoy!

Holiday Events and Festival
Nov 24 - Dec 31 Holiday Lights in the Garden, Largo, Florida
Nov 24 Apalachicola Downtown Christmas Celebration, Apalachicola, Florida
Dec 9 Winterfest Boat Parade, Ft Lauderdale, Florida
Dec 9 Dickens Festival, Franklin, TN
Dec 16 Christmas Boat Parade, Cape Coral, Florida

What's your signature dish for this Thanksgiving?

Updated: 11/17/17

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Fall Foliage at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina is one of the most visited national parks. This past weekend must be super crowded since Friday was the first day all federal employees reported back to work after a 15-day government shutdown. With the leaves changing color this time of year, fall is one of the busiest and prettiest seasons to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

This time several years ago, we made the leaf-peeping pilgrimage to see the foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains. It's a 3 hours drive from Chattanooga. For this particular trip, we stopped at Bryson City, the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, Clingmans Dome (highest spot in the Smokies, with elevation of 6,643 feet) and drove on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Vista along the Blue Ridge Parkway

The vistas were awesome along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the palette was mostly yellow, not the vibrant orange and bright reds that we were used to seeing in New England. Tree diversity and weather are key to some stunning colors. This fall however, family and friends up north reported a disappointing foliage.

In the Smokies, peak foliage occurs at different times due to the varying elevations; mid October to early November is a good time for an autumn drive. Check the park's website for information on fall colors and the best time to view it. Not to dampen your spirits, but I suspect the foliage in the Smokies this fall may not be great either. Up until Saturday, we've been having summer-like temperatures. 

Maybe the artic air blowing in from Canada this week will be the catalyst for the leaves to finally change colors. Good luck! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Favorite Cruising Destination: Cumberland Island, Georgia

I was delighted to find the CBS Sunday Morning Show doing a story on Cumberland Island yesterday. We used to cruise up and down the East Coast in the spring and fall, and one of our favorite cruising destinations is Cumberland Island, off the Georgia coast. You can get there via the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), the 1,095-mile long waterway that stretches from Norfolk, Virginia to Miami, Florida.
Live oaks canopy leading to the dock and our anchorage
Accessible only by private boats or ferry from St Marys, Georgia, Cumberland Island is very secluded, and that is probably the reason why the late JFK Jr chose to get married there. The Carnegies used to own 90% of the island; they have donated or sold much of it to the National Park Service. Due to the government shutdown, Cumberland Island is closed to visitors at this time. But is it really necessary to shut down the website too? 
Giant live oak trees gracing Cumberland Island
the remains of Dungeness mansion that burned down in 1959
Boardwalk to beach (aka Cumberland Island National Seashore)
Cumberland Island has a campground, lots of history including the First African Baptist Church and the Carnegies' mansions (Dungeness, Plum Orchard), miles of hiking trails, and 17.5 miles of hard-packed sand beach. We were awed by the giant oaks, beautiful dunes, and all the wildlife on the island. Wild horses roam freely here. We saw many species of birds, and had our first encounter with the ancient-looking armadillos.
Armadillo, oblivious to our presence
After anchoring at Dungeness Greyfield Channel for two days, we moved north on the ICW to discover another entrance to Cumberland Island. We saw the ferry from St Mary's docking there so we followed suit, dropping our anchor in the narrow Brickhill River. Here, we spent four blissful days drinking in our million-dollar view, which overlooks Plum Orchard, the house built by Lucy Carnegie for her son. Everyday at low tide, birds and wild horses would wander to the river banks to forage for food, mesmerizing us for hours. At night, we heard alligators, but shrugged off the thought of them slithering up to our swim platform.
Wild horses foraging close to our boat
After four days of complete solitude, we decided to move up the river for a change of scenery. It was a little windy, about 15-20 knots, but how bad could it be on this tiny river? Little did we know.

No sooner had we left our anchorage than we hit a mud bank and ran aground on a rapidly outgoing tide. The wind was relentless, gusting to 25 knots, kept pushing us further into the mud bank. We finally gave up and called TowBoat US for help.When they arrived, they couldn't pull us out until the tide came back in. So while waiting, the Captain went out to monitor the situation and take some pictures. The mud was so soft he sank into it knee deep. A dolphin swam by, poking its head out of the water, as if to ridicule us.

A few hours later, Tow Boat US returned to tow us back to our previous anchorage. The boat ran fine, much to our relief. We stayed put for a couple of days to rebuild our confidence before moving to Jekyll Island HarborMarina  to fuel and provision.

As most cruisers know or will learn soon enough, this part of the ICW is narrow and shallow. Also, Georgia has some of the greatest tidal range, as much as 8 feet. Since the Army Corp of Engineers maintains the ICW (if at all, depending on funding) at about 10 feet deep, grounding is not uncommon. Much has been written about the idiosyncrasies of  the ICW;  here are some links you might find useful - navigating the ICW, part 1 and a cruiser's trip in Passage Maker magazine. Cruiser's net also has reports of grounding problems near this location, complete with charts.

Cumberland Island remains at the top of our list of favorite cruising destinations. If we had to do it over again, we would still choose to explore uncharted territory. Our lesson learned is to pay more attention to the wind and tide, and never ever fight with Mother Nature.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Where to eat in St Petersburg, Florida: Café Alma

When friends told us they'll be visiting St Petersburg, Florida, we were thrilled! We love downtown St Pete, and the beaches on the gulf side, and I've written many articles on both topics.

When I wrote Where to Eat in Tampa Bay last year, I learned that the St Pete Ceviche (in the Ponce De Leon Boutique Hotel) is now open for lunch, and is offering $4 tapas on Tuesday all day. We couldn't take advantage of the excellent offer on this particular day, so we decided to check out Café Alma, a couple blocks from Ceviche.
entrance to Cafe Alma
inside Cafe Alma
We've heard great reviews about Café Alma, but never got the opportunity to stop by. Turned out Café Alma serves tapas also, and like Ceviche, the restaurant has been offering half price tapas for the last few years!  I love tapas; they are so tasty, and each bite bursts with flavors reminiscent of the Mediterranean. Tapas are small appetizer portions, so you can sample many dishes, and if you don't like one, it's not such a waste. The size of the tapas at Café Alma is not that small, as you can see in the pictures below. Café Alma's menu features a wide selection, from seafood to meat and vegetarian, as well as the usual fare of burgers, sandwiches and pasta. Everything was delicious, and we were delighted to find musicians arriving around 6:30 pm to provide live jazz entertainment.
Smoked Salmon
Portugese Spicy Shrimp
 Garlic Clams
Café Alma
260 1st Ave S #100  St Petersburg, FL 33701
Closed on Mondays
Café Alma moved to Madeira Beach in Jun 2014 and closed for good in 2015.

Updated: 10/24/20

Monday, September 23, 2013

Buy, sell, or build a boat

We're not buying, selling, or building a boat. But we do know this. The happiest day of your life is buying a boat, and the second happiest day of your life is selling your boat. If you've ever bought or sold a boat, you'll agree with the saying. This past weekend, we saw two boater friends making a transaction on a houseboat (one party selling, the other buying.) We celebrated with both parties at a local pizza joint.

The people who are passionate about building their own boats (with plans from Glen-L or other boat builders) gathered at Hales Bar Marina again this weekend. This is their fourth year here. This year’s gathering seemed to be a tad smaller. We saw lots of cute miniature boats when they first gathered here in 2010 - see posting of pictures and a video here.

We felt bad for these people because the weather wasn't cooperating, raining all morning on Saturday. Strong winds blew one of their tents into the water. Luckily, it cleared up in the afternoon, and the group was able to carry on their parties and swap meet, as well as walk around to admire each other’s labor of love.

A 1959 engine. What a beauty!

Sunday turned out to be a gorgeous fall day. We gathered the usual suspects to take a leisurely walk up the hill.

Anything exciting on your end?

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Hiking in the fall at Stringer's Ridge

Fall is here! The nice, cool weather is perfect for hiking. Our favorite trails are on Lookout Mountain, but we also love to explore other new and interesting trails.

Sunset Rock, Lookout Mountain
A view of the Tennesee River atop Sunset Rock
This weekend, we decided to hike Stringer’s Ridge, an easy to moderate hike that is located close to downtown Chattanooga.

The trailhead is next to Nikki's Restaurant (899 Cherokee Blvd, Chattanooga, TN 37405). There is room for 5 cars along the roadway, but if you drive up further, there's parking for another 5 to 6 cars. The major trails are wide and paved with asphalt and gravel;  there some narrow dirt trails. Feel free to explore; there are maps at most junctions, and all the trails are well-marked.
Map of Stringer's Ridge
A view of downtown Chattanooga
If you feel the need to reward yourself after the hike, check out Nikki's, a hole in the wall that takes you back to a much simpler time. The joint is famous for its jumbo fried shrimp and onion rings. Too greasy for your taste? There's Mamacita, a cute Tex-Mex restaurant down Cherokee Blvd on 109 N. Market Street, and a Whole Foods Market on 301 Manufacturer's Road. Both are minutes away from Stringer's Ridge trailhead.
Nikki's Drive Inn
How was your weekend?

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Cruising the Chesapeake Bay

Last weekend, we bought some fresh peanuts from HMart, our favorite Korean supermarket in Duluth, north of Atlanta. This time, I got a little more adventurous with my boiled peanuts, flavoring them with Old Bay seasonings. The smell transported me back to the Chesapeake Bay. The iconic spice mix hails from Baltimore, and is now available in major grocery and seafood stores nationwide. Whenever you order blue crabs or shrimp from a restaurant in the Chesapeake Bay area, you can bet the seafood is cooked, steamed or dusted with Old Bay.
Yummy blue crabs at our favorite crabhouse - Sandgates Inn, Mechanicsville
This time almost ten years ago, we were cruising the Chesapeake Bay. It was our second time cruising the 200-mile long estuary, and we were determined to explore all the major rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. After spending about two months crisscrossing the expansive bay, getting as far north as Georgetown on the Sassassfras River, we finally tied up at Anchorage Marina for the month of August.

Many cruisers we'd met along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) also stopped at Anchorage Marina, so we had lots of companies! The marina had  wonderful facilities - clean restrooms and showers, laundryroom, boater's lounge with a big TV and a ping pong table, and a pool overlooking the Patapsco River. We couldn't have selected a better location. Across the street were stores, restaurants and a Safeway supermarket. Located in Canton, the marina is within walking distance to other wonderful neighborhoods like Fells Point, Little Italy and the Inner Harbor.

Inner Harbor, Baltimore
Southbound Cruiser's Reunion

Every Monday night, boaters would round up a group of people to dine at Coburns; the food was superb, and  the crab dip and crabcake were to die for! I was surprised to learn the restaurant is now closed. Other memorable events included the free O'Malley's March concert (Celtic rock band leader Martin O'Malley, now governor of Maryland, was the mayor of Baltimore at the time) at Patterson Park and the 3-day Southbound Cruiser's Reunion.

We frequented the ubiquitous crab houses every chance we got. The blue crabs here were meaty and so delicious! Sometimes peppered with so much Old Bay seasonings that your lips would go numb on you after eating dozen or more of the blue crabs. Several friends who visited said that they had never eaten so many crabs in their entire lives! Have you?
A pagoda at Patterson Park in Canton
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