Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Riding the Battle of Gettysburg

Gettysburg Cemetery. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Did you grow up in the era when summer vacation meant being taken to historic sites to "see America"? And was your nose, like mine, stuck in a comic book? Today it's Game Boys or I-Pads but the result is the same: Frustrated parents railing about ungrateful children and children whining about being force marched through dull fields and old buildings for reasons they didn't understand.

Sound familiar?

 Put those ungrateful, frustrated little wretches atop a horse, though, and it becomes an adventure. Put yourself on one and understand the greatest battle of the Civil War.

What occurred there sinks in, too.

Virginia's monument to Robert E. Lee and the troops he led. Photo © by Judy Wells.
A visit to Gettysburg is an emotional experience but it can be tough for us Levelers. There's a lot of walking -  6,000+ acres, 1,300+ monuments - and changes of elevation. There are tours by bus, bicycle, car, Segway or my favorite.

Tip: Get thee to a horse.

The beginning of a ride the battle from the Southern side. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The importance of the Battle of Gettysburg, the terrible waste of life, the Emancipation Proclamation that followed 150 years ago today make it easy to understand why this is hallowed ground. But no amount of books, maps and documentaries made what actually happened clear to me until I literally "rode the battle".

Southern troops spread across a farmer's fields - no shade or water. Photo © by Judy Wells.
I learned and understood more in an hour than I had in a lifetime.

It's still farmland and the farmhouse is still there. Photo © by Judy Wells.
There are horseback tours from the Southern and the Northern sides. Mine was from the Southern side and I heartily recommend it. You can drive up to the Northern positions and easily appreciate their superior ground.

The barn from a neighboring farm is still there, too. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Don't worry if you can't ride; the horses are gentle and it's a nose to tail, walk and talk pace. You won't be mounted long enough to get sore.

Once the Southern troops left a thin line of trees they were in the open with little cover. Photo © by Judy Wells.
You'll be able to hear what the accompanying guide says because you'll be wearing ear buds and one of those little clip-on battery operated receivers.
Northern troops held the high ground. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Speaking of guides, you can opt for ordinary, a costumed General Robert E. Lee or the whole group to be in period costumes. Ordinary, the least expensive, was just fine, thank you. I can imagine how uncomfortable woolen uniforms would have been on those three hot July days.
Aptly named Cemetery Ridge was perfect cover for snipers. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Those licensed guides/rangers, by the way, study for years and are rigorously tested on their knowledge of the battle and the times. It's easier to get a PhD from an Ivy League college than to become a guide at Gettysburg.

The result: the Union was saved and the Emancipation Proclamation could be signed into law at a cost to both sides of 51,000 casualties among the 170,000 men and 5,000 dead horses. Photo © by Judy Wells.

 Find out more at
Gettysburg National Military Park, www.nps.gov/gett
Tours, www.gettysburg.travel/visitor/gettysburg_battlefield_tours.asp

Leia Mais…
Friday, July 19, 2013

What to See and Do on the Outer Banks

When the beach isn't enough... Photo © by Judy Wells.
When you tire of lolling on the beach, there is enough on North Carolina's Outer Banks (OBX) to keep you and the kids entertained. In fact our group of travel writers were so busy seeing and doing that we never had a chance to loll anywhere.

Roanoke island

Board The Elizabeth II at Roanoke Island Festival Park. Photo © by Judy Wells.
 Only spent a few hours in this charming touristy town, enough time for lunch and a brief walk around. Could see the replica of the "lost colonists'" ship from the docks but missed the North Carolina Aquarium,  Fort Raleigh - Lost Colony
and The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama, oldest in country. 
Downtown Manteo. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Tip: Many of the stores in Manteo are at the top of a flight of stairs.

North Island
Don't miss the exhibits and talk in the visitor center. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hill, is one of the few places in the world where you can stand on the exact spot where history happened.
This is exactly where it happened. Photo © by Judy Wells.

A large boulder marks the spot where the first flight took off and smaller stones (suitable for standing on) mark the landing spots of it and three subsequent flights.
Flight began here. Photo © by Judy Wells.

The amazing story of that first flight will grab your imagination and the site provides the perfect backdrop for its telling although it looks nothing like it did when the Wrights were there. There were no trees - those were planted between 1902 and 1958 - and there were no dunes. It was one windswept hill and emptiness. Locals, especially the volunteer lifeguards, helped the Wrights for fun, even though it meant hauling their gliders and planes up to the top of Kill Devil Hill.
Killdevil Hill in the background, replicas of the Wrights' workshop, living quarters and hangar to the right. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Tip: You don't need to walk up to the hill; there's not much to see and you can drive if you're curious. Otherwise, steps and elevations are few.

Pose with or try out the life-sized bronze replica. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Do stop examine the copy of that first plane on your way out. Kids love climbing on it and it makes a great photo-opp.

Tip: If you're a pilot, consider flying in to this still active air field. Wouldn't it be cool to land where the Wrights did?

Whatever, consider man's progress: We went from first flight of 120 feet to landing on the moon in 66 years (Neil Armstrong carried with him a piece of canvas from that original plane)!

Hatteras Island

Levelers may be into photographing lighthouses but few of us really want to climb to the tops. Consider visiting - it won't take long - the two here.

The Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current were the I-95 of the 18th century  and with ever-changing sandbars extending up to 20 miles from the island, mariners needed all the help they could get. The two currents meet at Hatteras Island and In the days of sail, if the winds were from the Northeast, ships headed North or following the Gulf Stream to Europe had to anchor and wait until the winds died down which could take days. Between currents, wind and sandbars, this dangerous stretch became known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has an interesting history. At 210-feet high the tallest brick beacon in the country, it was built in 1870 some 1,500 feet from the ocean. By 1970, the shifting coast was a mere 120 feet away and threatening to destroy the landmark. By July 9, 1999 it was back on its foundation 2,900 feet inland, a bodacious project. It resumed its sentinel duties in November. Today the sea is 1,600 feet away.

Bodie Island Lighthouse. Notice it's stripes are horizontal, Hatteras' are diagonal so ship captains can correctly identify them. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Bodie Island's name supposedly is the result of the majority of shipwrecked bodies washing up here. It was decided in 1837 that a lighthouse was needed around Bodie Island to help southbound ships navigate the dangerous Cape Hatteras. The present Bodie Island Lighthouse is the third one - the first toppled due to a bad foundation in 1859, the second was blown up by retreating Confederate troops in 1861. The third turned on its Fresnel lens in 1872. After much renovation, it was opened to visitors this year.
Bodie Island Lighthouse stairs. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Tip: Bodie Lighthouse is worth going in to see its handsome staircase. Both locales include good bathroom facilities.

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
 While we're dealing with shipwrecks, don't miss the museum dedicated to the more than 1,500 that lie off the OBX and to the area's maritime history.

Fresnel lens - Sherman couldn't find it but you can. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Begun as a private museum, it is now state owned with a collection that includes the 1845 French Fresnel lens the Confederates buried and that Sherman couldn't find to artifacts from shipwrecks and pirates. The museum shop is worth a stop.

NOAA and OSHA were born here. Photo © by Judy Wells.

 U.S. Weather Bureau Station  

NOAA and OSHA were born here in this architecturally odd but distinctive two-story building that opened Jan. 1, 1902, one of 11 of the country's first official weather stations. Staff would take readings every hour and relay them to Washington, D.C., via telegraph. On April 14, 1912 the operator on duty picked up the SOS from the Titanic. When the message was relayed to the Marconi Wireless Co., no one believed it. Now an Outer Banks Visitors Center uses half of the first floor.

Tip: There are 26 steps up to the top floor but nothing is there so save your energy.

To do:

You won't regret a tour with Danny. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The first thing I'd do is schedule a tour with Danny Couch of Hatteras Tours. He's personable, knowledgeable, a lot of fun and loves giving visitors inside info on his home.

Riding on the beach is a treat. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Ride through Maritime Forest and on the beach
Equine Adventures offers rides for all levels of equestrians through a stream-crossed maritime forest to the beach where those who dare can gallop along the sand.

Koru Village is where to head for blissful, head-to-toe pampering.

Fishing boats may outnumber cars in Hatteras Village. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Go Fishing
In August, the Gulf Stream literally touches the shores of Hatteras bringing the big fish with it and anglers to the beach. Heaven for surf casters.

Trophy catcher from Capt. Foster's office. Photo © by Judy Wells.
If deep sea fishing is your thing - and it's one of the biggest attractions here - head to the Albatross Fleet at Foster's Quay.  Since 1937 the Foster family has been taking fisherfolk to fish, landing record catches. Capt. Ernie Foster has been the second generation guide since 1958.

Fly a Kite
There's always a wind and you'll find a huge selection at www.kittyhawk.com, Waves Village.

Buxton Village Books. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Read a Book
Read up on island histories (including the infamous BlueBeard), novels and best sellers at www.buxtonvillagebooks.com.

Wind surf
April and October are the premium months for this sport.
Ocracoke Ferry. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Day trip to Ocracoke
Didn't have time to take the ferry from Hatteras Village to Okracoke, but it heads next-time's list.

Leia Mais…
Thursday, July 18, 2013

Choosing your Gateway Airport

Nothing is worse than arriving loggy after a cross-ocean flight only to find half the world in the passport control lines ahead of you.

May stats are in and according to Business Insider, the longest waits in May were at
JFK Terminal 4 -  93 minutes average daily peak wait time, up 34.6% from 2012

Miami North Concourse - 75.1minutes average daily peak wait time, up 23% from 2012

Miami South Concourse - 72.7 minutes average daily peak wait time, up 18.8% from 2012


Atlanta New Terminal (F) - 38.9, down 25.3%

Seattle - 34.4, up 26%

Atlanta Old Terminal (E) - 22.9, down 48%

Leia Mais…
Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Where to Eat on the Outer Banks

Hatteras Island, Outer Banks, N.C. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Seafood lovers will like it here. So will pizza fans. From gourmet to unadorned oysters on the half shell, local treats abound.

There's nothing like salt air to give you an appetite and there's nothing like the local fare to satisfy it. During a press trip in April I had a chance to try a lot of it. Alas, also during that press trip I broke my ankle which is one reason I've taken so long to share my findings with you.

Most of my time was spent on the Hatteras Island but I did try two good spots to the north.

Roanoke Island

Full Moon Cafe. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The Full Moon Cafe and Brewery, , Manteo, serves up an outstanding lunch. Their burgers are excellent and I can personally recommend the crab and shrimp dip and the buttered pita that accompanies it. You won't want to leave a morsel of the crab and shrimp enchilada behind. The beer's good, too, and all at reasonable prices.

Northern Beaches

Awful Arthur's Oyster Bar, Kill Devil Hills, a congenial, kicked-back watering hole, serves up some outstanding seafood including the best oysters I had anywhere on the Outer Banks.

Hatteras Island

Chef Foutz's sausage, arugula pesto and manchego cheese appetizer. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Ketch 55 Seafood Grill, Avon, garners raves from the locals. I didn't get to dine there because Chef Seth Foutz came to us, preparing supper in our rented beach house. If there is an appetizer with grilled sausage on garlic pita with arugula pesto and smoked manchego cheese, get it.

Just enough nutmeg in the bisque. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Crab cakes a bit overdone for my tastes. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Quarterdeck Restaurant, Frisco, isn't much to look at but locals swear Miss Gina's crab cakes are the best on the island. They are good but I liked the crab bisque better.

View of Pamlico Sound. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Pamlico Cafe's crab cake. Yum. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Pamlico Sound Bouillabaisse. Photo © by Judy Wells.
 Cafe Pamlico, The Inn on Pamlico Sound, Buxton, is one of the few restaurants ever encountered where the view is equaled by the food. By far the most elegant and romantic setting, everything from drinks to desserts in this white linen establishment is memorable. The pan-seared crab cakes are to write home about.

Gidget's specialty pizza. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Gidget's Pizza and Pasta, Avon, is where you'll bump into the locals at lunch and it's easy to see why. Prices are extremely reasonable and the food will quickly win you over. We ordered a variety of pizzas and it was hard to pick a favorite but the Signature pizza - white garlic sauce, sliced tomatoes, fresh spinach, thinly sliced red onion, sweet red and green peppers, mild banana peppers, crisp bacon and a blend of cheeses - received many a vote. You'll need a l-o-n-g walk on the beach after this.
Take that l-o-n-g walk in the morning. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Leia Mais…
Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Outer Banks Escape

Sunrise from the Southern Belle. Photo© by Judy Wells.
Resort lovers who want to be able to make a quick run to a McDonald's or Starbucks head north to Nags Head and Duck when they reach North Carolina's Outer Banks. Those seeking a get-away with local color and new experiences turn south toward Bodie Island, Rodanthe, Avon, Frisco and Cape Hatteras.

Locals down here brag that you have to drive 45 miles to reach those Golden Arches.

"You got to get used to this place," said tour guide Danny Couch, a 10th generation Carolinian who married into island life. "It's not like it is at home."

You can find Wi-Fi connections, but no chain restaurants, hardly a sacrifice with a plethora of home-owned, home-sourced cafes and restaurants. Lots of things to do and see, too, if looking at, walking along and swimming in the ocean isn't entertaining enough.

Leveler tip #1: Get an elevator.
These are among the smaller beach houses. Photo © by Judy Wells.

It isn't a luxury. Forget cozy little one-story beach houses. If you want oceanfront - and who doesn't - McMansions are the rule. These pastel-hued two-, three-,  four- and more-story belles of the beach are designed for group gatherings. A week at the beach rental destination with three to six bedrooms, large porches, viewful turrets, entertainment systems, elaborately outfitted kitchens and, if the owners are smart, an elevator.

First floors are for tucking in the car and letting the Atlantic roll through. Second floors are usually all bedrooms and baths and living spaces begin on three. That's a lot of schlepping up stairs.

The Southern Belle - 23 steps up to the second floor. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The Southern Belle, where we five journalists stayed, came with a 3-person-sized  elevator, a good thing when there are 23 steps up to the second floor. Trust me, you'll want one.

Leveler tip #2: Plot your access to the beach. 
You may have a long walk plus stairs to reach the beach. Photo © by Judy Wells.

If you snag beachfront accommodations, plan on negotiating stairs. The dunes developed in the 1930s and '50s have grown and it can be a long walk to reach the stairways down to beach level.

It's legal to drive on the beach. Ramps at mile marker (Outer Banks method to relay locations) 49 and 23 are recommended.

Easy-walk beach access. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The only level place to park and walk to the beach is in Avon between Koru Village Beach Club and the Avon Pier.

Leveler tip #3: Eat local.
Photo © by Judy Wells.

Look for the "Outer Banks Catch" sticker on the door of restaurants to ensure they're serving fresh, local catch.

Leveler tip #4: Getting connected. 
The Dancing Turtle. Photo © by Judy Wells.

If your rental doesn't have Wi-Fi and you feel the need for connection, make a beeline for The Dancing Turtle Coffee Shop in Hatteras Village. They have that plus good coffees and teas, enticing pastries, comfy chairs and tables and a warm camaraderie.

Leveler tip #5: Need groceries?

The Food Lion in Avon is the only major grocery store in the southern Outer Banks.

Leveler tip #6: Speak like a native.

Pamlico - PAM-lick o

Bodie - body

Manteo - Man-TEE-O

Rodanthe - Row- DAN- the

Ocracoke - OH-crah-coke

Leveler tip #7: Be friendly OBX native-style.

When driving along the two-lane road that runs down the island, "chuck a howdy" - a casual one- or two-finger wave with a nod of your head - to cars you meet.

 Next: where to eat and what to see and do on the Outer Banks.

Leia Mais…
Monday, April 8, 2013

Tallahassee - A capitol idea

You can tour the empty, echoing halls of government, climbing tier after tier of steps or, if you go to Tallahassee, Florida, you can see native wildlife - bears, buzzards, eagles, fox, wolves, panthers, gators and more - in its native habitat; experience an Apalachee council house and joint native and Spanish settlement at Mission San Luis; and relive the days of Prohibition in a modern-day speakeasy, complete with secret password and passageways.

Gator territory at Tallahassee Museum. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Along the way, you'll find excellent food, from country store to produce market, sophisticated restaurants to a kick-back oyster bar and every variation in between. Seafood comes from local rivers and the nearby Gulf of Mexico, produce from area farms, recipes from great grandmothers to high-Gucci chefs.

A recent press trip opened my eyes to the capitol fun to be had there and I wanted to share.

Tip: Levelers, Tallahassee is one of the few cities in Florida with hills so you will encounter elevation changes and steps. However, elevation shifts are relatively minor and flights tend to be short and accompanied by ramps and/or elevators.

Museum of Florida History. Photo © by Judy Wells.


Treasures from storm-wrecked Spanish Galleons, Photo © by Judy Wells.
If you're into Florida history, this is the place to come. Archives and artifacts abound. If all you want is an entertaining overview, it's the place, too, the Museum of Florida History. Kids will like Herman the Mastadon, you'll like seeing treasures of the New World lost en route to the Old World.
Civil war tent. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The special Viva Florida exhibit takes you from first encounters between old and new in Florida to the state's entry into the Civil War.

Easy walks through swamps and wild animal habitat. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The 52-acre Tallahassee Museum looks nothing like a museum. An easy boardwalk takes you through the wildlife habitats and by sculptor Jim Gary's whimsical 20th century dinosaurs.

Can you find the crankcase? Photo © by Judy Wells.
Wander through the 19th century Florida village or take the zip line which is a bit of zipping plus a lot of fitness, balance and team building-type segments in 73 platforms.
More balance challenge than zip. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Warning: "Zip" stuff is not recommended for Levelers; otherwise, although there is a lot of walking, it's on the level with plenty of reasons to stop and sit a bit.

Apalachee Council House. Photo © by Judy Wells.
If you think of native American dwellings as crude huts or tepees, Mission San Luis will knock your socks off. The 125-foot diameter, five-story-high (!) Council House is built over and to the exact size of the original destroyed by fire in 1704. More than 100 years before Spanish missions reached California, the Spanish and Apalachees had created the most prosperous of missions, sending extra produce and pelts overland to St.Augustine or to Cuba from St. Marks where Spanish galleons put in.

Firing demonstration at the Spanish fort attached to Mission San Luis. Photo © by Judy Wells.
A Spanish fort and village, a Franciscan chapel and re-enactors make this a must see bit of history that even the kids will enjoy.

Goodwood Plantation. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Goodwood Museum and Gardens began as a 2,500-acre plantation, went through five private owners after being built in 1834, inspired inheritance case law when the original owner was lost at sea and remained a plantation until finally becoming a museum. Most unusual, 85 percent of the furniture stayed with the house as it changed owners over the years; there's also more than 900 articles of clothing previous owners left behind.
Neo-classical pool pavillon. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Tip: You will encounter a short set of stairs getting in and one flight of stairs inside the house and the gardens are level. 

Where to Eat/Drink

Lobster too? Photo © by Judy Wells.
Good things come in small,packages and the tiny Paisley Cafe in Midtown for breakfast or lunch will start your day off with a smile. Ebullient owner/chef Kiersten "Kiki" Worrell uses only the freshest, finest ingredients and no preservatives for her down-home cooking with an international twist.  Her biscuits are to die for, the apple butter is made in house and she whisks grits to perfection. The food would be totally healthy if you didn't want to eat so much of it.

Lobster and biscuits. Photo © by Judy Wells.
If taste buds call for seafood at lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch, head for The Front Porch. Former "Chop" champ, Chef Joe Rego, heads up a kitchen that turns out creative combinations of regional fare with a delicious influx of Maine lobster. The drinks are good, too, and the decor will mellow you out. You won't go home hungry and you might take one of Fred Fisher's gyotaku prints as a memento.

View from Level 8. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Don your chicest duds for sunset cocktails on the terrace at Level 8 atop the beautifully restored Hotel Duval. Bar snacks are excellent and designed for sharing. Chef Chris Leynes' rosemary, lemon toasted nuts and pretzels with a touch of bacon are addictive. [See and try the recipe at Food Afar - Recipes from a Travel Writer.]

Pecan crusted red grouper, bourbon-smashed sweet potatoes, collards and pot likker, Photo © by Judy Wells.
Florida Golden Spoon Hall of Fame member Cypress won't disappoint either. More likely, the clean flavors and creative pairings will delight you. I can attest to deliciousness of the Pecan Crusted Red Grouper with Bourbon-Smashed Sweet Potatoes, Collard Greens and Pot Likker. At the risk of spoiling your appetite, start with a selection of cheeses including Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill from just up the road in Thomasville, GA.

Beef brisket from Avenue Eat and Drink.
It's hard to judge Avenue Eat and Drink  fairly for they had set up a food and wine pairing experience for us. After a snitty, under-informed waiter finally agreed to seat us (actually we sat ourselves) things leveled out and we had a delicious albeit meat-heavy series of dishes. The lamb chop and beef brisket were irresistible and the salad was superb. Others dining from the menu seemed to be enjoying themselves. I'll try it again.

My pork dish was delish. Photo © by Judy Wells.
If you want live music with your meal try Mockingbird Cafe. Service was spotty the night I was there. The kitchen seemed to be overwhelmed and some orders were mixed up, my meal was good if not memorable, but our waitress's knowledge of wine and spirits helped make up for the snafus.

Preparing the absinthe. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Mixologists at Alchemy Speakeasy live up to their name, turning out cocktails the old-fashioned way - no pre-mix - one glass at a time, often at your table. It takes some hunting down to find it, drinks are pricey, but the experience is a fun one. E-mail alex@alchemymidtown.com and make a reservation (don't forget the password) or stop and ask at the Midtown Filling Station. You'll be surprised by what can be hidden in a nondescript office park.

Want beer, oysters and a jolly atmosphere with absolutely no pretensions? Try the Aphrodesiac Oyster Shack. Trivia, comedy, karaoke and trash cinema nights are served along with fresh Apalachicola oysters, burgers and other bar fare.

Food memories to take home.

Tomato Land for take-home fare. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Tomato Land, not far from Paisley Cafe, sells locally produced sauces, jams, jellies, meats and other kitchen must-haves along with fresh produce.

The drive to Bradley's. Photo © by Judy Wells.
You can find Bradley's whole hog sausage there, but you'll be missing a local treat not to venture out to Bradley's Country Store, circa 1927. It's a pretty drive out Centerville Highway that will take you back to simpler times when you reach the store. Creaking wood floors, a cold drink box and at the back, a cold case full of sausage links, smoked pork chops. hams and shoulders. 
Bradley's Country Store, sausage central. Photo © by Judy Wells.

"Nothing's finer than to sit in a rocking chair on the front porch with a sausage dog in one hand and a cold drink in the other," said one otherwise sophisticated devotee.

Worked for me.

Leia Mais…