After surviving the renovations to my house, I felt in need of some rest and relaxation. After paying for the renovations, I felt that any travel had better be close to home. One advantage of where I live is that the Appalachian mountains are about three hours west and the sea about two hours east (a bit longer now I’m driving a Camry Hybrid instead of a Mazda sports coupe).
I’ve always preferred the mountains, so I headed there first. Alas, the trip did not live up to my expectations. First, there was stress. I was only halfway to the Virginia border, in the middle of nowhere, when my tire pressure warning light came on. When I eventually reached a service station, it was out of air, but all my tires seemed to be OK (I never really trust those little tire gauges). The light stayed on all the way to Skyland Lodge on the Shenandoah Parkway, where I finally dug out the car’s Users’ Manual and found that the sensor was malfunctioning.
Then I discovered I should have upgraded to a room with AC. Who would have thought you needed AC at 3,680 feet in September? But my room faced due west, with no shade, and limited ventilation. I didn’t even have a view to compensate for the heat, as the haze hiding the mountains never lifted. Add in mediocre food at high prices, and the Lodge dropped off my re-visit list. I like to hike in the mountains, but an otherwise enjoyable hike to a nearby waterfall demonstrated that not only was I out of shape, but my lungs were in worse condition than I had thought.
The trip wasn’t a complete loss, though. I stopped off at Veritas Vineyard on the way north for a tasting, and picked up a bottle of wine for my room. I attended a Park Ranger lecture at Big Meadows, just down the Parkway from the Lodge and admired the owl that was the star of the show. And I drove over to Winchester, a historic town I hadn’t visited before, where I had a docent all to myself for a tour of the Abram’s House, built for the Hollingsworths in the mid-1700s and used as a Quaker meeting house as well as a dwelling.
From the Shenandoah Parkway I drove south to my favorite place in the mountains, Peaks of Otter. I had been delighted when the lodge there re-opened, and the setting was still enchanting, but the food was so terrible I not only wrote a bad Tripadvisor review, I sent an email to the Park Service (that got me an apology and a discount coupon, but I think I’ll take more food with me next time). On the way south I detoured for lunch at the Cranberry Grocery in Staunton, but it was too hot for a lot of sightseeing.
I visited the mountains in September, well ahead of the leaf-peeping crowds. I waited until the begining of November to head to the beach, partly to avoid the crowds, and partly because that’s when the prices come down at the all-suites hotel I like at Wrightsville Beach. (Turned out that parking is free then, too.) To my surprise, I enjoyed the beach more than the mountains. Aside from intrepid wet-suited surfers, out on the waves, the beaches were virtually deserted. I had a great view from my balcony (when I could get the door open….) and made use of the suite’s kitchenette for breakfast and dinner. The hotel is right next door to the Oceanic restaurant, where the she crab soup was as good as I remembered. I found a cafe with drinkable coffee and wifi, and walked the beach morning and afternoon.
Wrightsville is, of course, easy driving distance from Wilmington, but I’m not driving at night these days, except brightly-lit roads I know well, so I moved into a Wilmington hotel for my last couple of nights in order to walk to restaurants. I also wanted to investigate the town’s historic houses, which I hadn’t done on previous visits. I found a very central hotel (the Wilmingtonian), with reasonable rates and free parking, and had no trouble filling two days. I visited the three main historic houses (all on one ticket), wandered several streets of interesting houses, checked out the shops, and had an excellent meal at the Caprice Bistro (although it would have been better with a longer wait between courses).
The only disappointment was Oakdale Cemetery, where I found a sad shortage of interesting grave markers. And then I had another car problem. Fixing the tire sensor cost me $167 and a couple of hours. Fixing the damage from the chunk of tire I hit on I-40 south of Raleigh will cost me $500 (and my insurance company another $700 or so) and a couple of days. My enthusiasm for driving trips has hit a new low.
And the noise? That, alas, is tinnitus, a new, constant, and decidedly unwelcome companion. It’s as if the AC never shuts off. I am a big fan of silence, and live in a very quiet house, so having this noise in my head all the time is particularly annoying. Given how many people are living with the problem (about one in five, according to the Mayo Clinic), I was surprised to find that there is no cure, and not a whole lot of research. I took the problem to the Duke Ear Clinic, which specializes in tinnitus, and they think it’s related to my existing hearing loss, which seems a bit unlikely to me. However, I did finally get hearing aids, and while they haven’t eliminated the tinnitus, I am hearing a whole lot better, even in noisy restaurants.
I haven’t come up with any definite travel plans for 2014 yet, but am leaning towards South America. Meanwhile, I wish all my readers a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.