Thursday, June 24, 2004

I'm really blocked about my next vacation. Poor Pip is still recovering from a pulled ligament. I realized on the way home from the beach last weekend that he tends to stand up whenever the air changes or the speed of the car changes. Not good for his "knee." Since there was a traffic snarl I spent a lot of time telling him to lay down. So, taking him out somewhere in August may not be feasible. Even if I do, he may not be able to walk much. My poor walking companion can no longer walk!

Something will occur to me, I'm sure.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

I'm sort of on vacation now. I'm at Mom's at the beach. The best place to go for beach updates is the Hampton Roads site. There's eveything! Events, traffic cams, local news, weather. What else do you need?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Still no inspiration for my next vacation. Here's a free desktop from my last vacation, Ocracoke. Well, it's not a picture of Ocracoke. It's a picture from the ferry that runs to Ocaracoke.

Friday, June 11, 2004

I'm not going to Milwaukee in August, I'm going in September or the beginning of October. I've divided what's left into two short vacations. In August I"ll have to find something a little closer to home to jog out to so I can keep cool.

The two worst months of the year are February and August. Both are extremes that arrive at the end of the season when my patience has ended.

Monday, June 07, 2004

My Next Vacation: Milwaukee, Wisconsin in August. Why? One of my sons is returning there with his family after a year in Japan.

Ocracoke - Change Your Pace

Rating: A Return Visit with More Money
Attractions: long beaches with good body surfing waves, whole plentiful shells, service culture, excellent weather, closer than the Bahamas yet isolated
Claim to fame: Home of Blackbeard (pirate), survivors of three major hurricanes, plentiful Blue fish
Things to do: eat, lay on the beach, swim in the ocean, body/board surf or learn how to, bike or walk lazily, join a fishing charter, watch the fishing boats unload the daily catch, become a pirate, count stars, look at the lighthouse, ride the ferry, visit wild horses, observe pelicans and scarlet tanagers, take long deep breaths of salt air, learn the local dialect, fly a really big kite
Amenities: small hotels and inns, rental cottages, campgrounds, personal service, 350 beers from around the world, 10 cent shrimp, fresh fish, charter airline, dog kennel, boutique shopping
Hazards: biting flies, poison ivy, sunburn, high winds, ding-batters
How to get there: drive & ferry, fly, boat
Essential gear: camera, sunscreen, debit/credit card, hat, bathing suit, dog, insect repellent
Last visited: May 22-29, 2004

Thursday, June 03, 2004

My Last Vacation

Ocracoke. My daughter and I camped at Ocracoke Campground, run by the government as part of the Cape Hatteras National Park/Seashore. They were at about one third capacity, which I liked. We got lucky and snagged a dune spot, the last one available, with nothing but a dune between us and the ocean. The dune provided a wind break. The site had a couple of large bushes (or stunted trees) which also gave some shade early in the morning and late in the afternoon. This also gave us some privacy. Altogether, a good site. It was easy to check in and out. The ranger station was closed by the time we arrived at 8 pm. But instructions were easy to follow. The next morning the ranger came out to our site to give us a windshield sticker. No hot showers. We took cold showers late in the afternoon when the air was hot and we could still warm up afterwards.

Just about every day involved doing nothing. This meant lying on the beach, reading a book and figuring out where to have lunch. Most days we found something to do out of the heat between 11 am and 3 pm. A couple of days that was jumping into the ocean. Other days that was eating lunch in an air conditioned dining room or a breezy, shady deck. The ranger station listed water temperature at 76 degrees. It didn't feel that warm, but it was okay. The air temperature varied from 80 to 92. At night the air was between 65 and 72. Nice sleeping weather. It rained once very lightly and another time enough to get the ground wet. It was pretty easy to keep cool. All I needed was shade and a breeze. Both readily available.

The beach is grey sand. Shells are easy to find, whole and big. Forget the low tide thing. Try the north end of the island. The surf is hard and short. One very windy, wavey day three surfers tried to paddle out past the breakers and were pushed about half a mile along the beach before giving up. There wasn't enough calm water for swimming but I enjoyed diving through the waves. I saw a few people body surfing. The most successful had body boards.

My biggest disappointment was finding myself leaving the dog in the car for long periods of time. I chose this vacation with the dog in mind but I didn't actually do a lot of stuff with him besides walking on the beach and running in the waves. Pip's favorite time was the day we went to the north end of the island where there were no waves and little wind. He loved that. He got in the water constantly, had a lot of energy and seemed happy. There's a dog kennel - Sandy Paws Bed and Biscuit. I never left Pip there but it looked inviting. Dogs were everywhere and welcomed by everyone.

The whole island, except for off-island stuff (ATV on Portsmouth, surfing lessons and charter fishing trips), could possibly be done in two days if you pack in your activities back to back. We visited the museum, Teach's Hole (a mini-pirate museum and gift shop), the information center, and the light house on different days. Except for the lighthouse (which took five minutes), I believe you could drag out each visit to maybe two hours if you had to. One visit is all you need.

The lighthouse (which is not open to the public) is next to one of the better places to eat - The Albert Styron Store (ASS to those who know). It's a sort of old country store and gift shop with a deli - Cat Ridge Deli. I don't remember seeing any cats there but the food was excellent. I had the Monday special on Tuesday (Rueben on tomato wrap). It was delicious. Thing to do is order your sandwich and then browse the store.

Another good place to eat is Creekside Cafe. It's the top floor of a house with a balcony overlooking Silver Lake Harbor (the creek). The food was very tasty and the service attentive. We didn't discover this place until our third day. Hard to miss as it's right above the ice cream store and bike rental. Our last night we sat on the balcony drinking wine and watching the sun go down. This is also a good place to sit and watch traffic, whether upstairs with a meal or downstairs in a rocking chair on the porch licking a cone.

For tasty, healthy take-away food try Fig Tree Bakery. Another great wrap place. Kathleen said their Hoummous wrap was the best on the island. They also have Cheer Wine and a few other unusual drinks. I tried the molasses oatmeal cookie. It was chewy and flavorful.

Each morning involved a visit to the Beachcomber Campground and Store. Here I got coffee and milk. I ended up here because they are the only place open at 6 am. We also got ice and sandwiches here for the days we cooled off during the heat of the day by jumping into the ocean. It's a place where the locals go for coffee and breakfast biscuits. There's even a place to sit around and chat, and you can get the obligatory kite and t-shirt, too. The campground advertises hot showers. I don't know if they actually offer sites for camping or if, like Teeter's Campground, they were just a place to park your trailer home.

One off-island excursion we did make was to Pea Island Wildlife Management Area. We took the ferry (free and frequent) back to Hatteras and then drove up the banks. At the information center we bought a $7 CD with a driving tour of Pea Island and Alligator River. The CD said it was a two hour tour, but I believe it took us longer than that. The narration allows for stops along the way, including taking in the history of Manteo. We saw a lot of birds but no bears or alligators even thought the CD warned us not to feed them. On the way back we stopped at the Bodie Island lighthouse. If you go, be there before 5 pm. They close right on time.

I suppose I should mention Howard's Pub. Everyone finds it. It's at the entrance to the village offering about 300 beers and ordinary pub food, much like the stuff you would get at home. The service is excellent, the atmosphere festive.

Would I return to Ocracoke? Not without extra money for off-island excursions and dog kennelling at Sandy Paws. Also, I would go a week earlier than this year (or two or three weeks after Labor Day) to make lying on the beach cooler. I'd also get one of those portable beach cabanas, mostly to get out of the wind. We made a short shelter out of a tarp, mostly for the dog, but it was a bit cramped for long visits. My dream: fly in for a long weekend of lying on the beach.

Coming home from vacation reminded me that I plan my trips to avoid crowds. On Friday afternoon the campsite started filling up and by evening there wasn't an empty site. We were so glad we left the next morning. When I got home Saturday I saw that most of my neighbors were gone - so I had the neighborhood to myself. It was so peaceful!

Now about my next vacation . . .