After leaving the Chesapeake in late October, we made our way slowly south, almost all of our travel "on the inside," as East Coast sailors say of the Atlantic Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW). This was due to ongoing poor weather conditions for venturing out into the ocean. On the bright side, though, fall 2015 was considerably warmer than 2014. On Thanksgiving a year ago, we were shivering in 28º weather in St. Simon's Island, GA. This year, Baltimore was in the 50s and even 60s during the week we were prepping for Thanksgiving, dipping down into the 40s on really chilly days. No comparison to either of the past two winters!
More on Thanksgiving in a bit, but first, our really exciting news from Baltimore! Son Mike and daughter-in-law Meghan are expecting their first baby, a boy who will be arriving sometime in late April. This will be our first grandchild, and it's safe to say we're over the moon. I've already knit a sweater for him, and am working on a second.
Happy as we are with our peripatetic lifestyle aboard S/V Thalia, having a grandchild on the way has admittedly caused us - especially me - to start thinking about where we might land one day. Our conversation has been almost entirely focused on where rather than when. That's because, two years into our voyage, we're still really enjoying our life and have much to explore. But we have started checking out certain areas so that when we're ready to return to land, we'll have a rough plan in place.
We're pretty clear we won't be returning to the West Coast, with its high cost of living. Given that three of our five kids live in Baltimore and DC, and with that grand-baby on the way, we're mostly focused on the mid-Atlantic states. New England is lovely but too cold for us. So far we haven't seen anything that really appeals in Florida, and it's way too hot in the summer. We've found a few towns we really like on the eastern shore of Maryland, most notably Chestertown and Easton. Although the winters there are a little colder than we would prefer, they're definitely possibilities. So far, though, North Carolina has piqued our interest the most.
What we think we'll be looking for: not too large a city, but large enough to have an attractive array of cultural and educational opportunities; preferably a university town. We like to feel a strong sense of a city's history (easy to find on the East Coast!), with great architecture and a vibrant downtown. A diverse population - in terms of age, race, politics, etc. - is preferable, and of great importance to us is a really good dining scene, a farmers market, and a sense of connection to the land. Being able to walk or bike for most of our needs would be ideal. And we'd like to end up no more than a day's drive from our kids.
The past month has represented a kind of pause for us in our travels. We arrived in New Bern in early November to visit with our friend Danielle, who lives there, and Russell and Kathy, who have been there all summer on their boat dealing with an ailing father. New Bern is a sweet little city (pop. 30,000), one we've grown fond of over the past couple of years.
New Bern has bears everywhere ("bern" is "bear" in German, and Bern, Switzerland is this town's sister city). This one is in front of Mitchell's Hardware, one of our favorite stores.
It has a charming historic downtown - complete with the world's coolest hardware store and several good restaurants. It's located right on the Neuse River and is an easy day sail out to the Outer Banks. Housing is very affordable. The town has a year-round farmers market - a requirement for us! - but the market is tiny and is unfortunately more focused on crafts than food. But the other retired boaters we've met who have relocated to New Bern love it, so it remains on our short list.
We dropped off Thalia in our favorite boatyard in Oriental, where she was measured for a new genoa (the sail in the front of the boat, for those unfamiliar with boating terminology), as our old one is nearing the end of its useful life. We are also dealing with an unknown but troubling transmission issue, as well as some other (hopefully) minor repairs. The plan was to leave Thalia in Oriental over the Thanksgiving holiday, while we spent a few days exploring some of the large region of North Carolina known as the Piedmont. From there, we had reservations to fly up to Baltimore to spend a week visiting family.
Russell and Kathy were kind enough to pick us up in Oriental and drive us to Raleigh. They were in need of a break from their New Bern routine, and wanted to shop at Trader Joe's, so it worked out well for all of us. After a really good lunch of Venezuelan arepas and the trek through TJ's, they dropped us off at the airport rental car office and headed back to New Bern. We then got our car, checked into a hotel near the airport, and headed out for some real eastern Carolina BBQ.
The next morning, we drove an hour or so west to the city where my cousins grew up, in a home my Dad designed for them in the early 1960s.
This detail of the living room of our cousins' house is classic Dan Gale style, including very large windows and cedar dentals under the eaves.
I've always wanted to visit Winston-Salem, and the first thing we did when we arrived was to drive by their old house. Turns out, it had a dumpster out front and was crawling with workers. We introduced ourselves to the contractor, who is doing an extensive remodel to the house for its new owner, restoring it to its glory days with some 21st century improvements. He was excited to meet the architect's daughter and gave us a tour, which was really a treat for me. I've lived in more than half a dozen Dan Gale-designed homes in my lifetime, and I could feel his spirit there as we walked around.
At the Visitor's Center downtown, we got an enthusiastic welcome and a load of information, leaving us with the sense that Winston-Salem (population 236,000) is a city with a strong sense of community and a vibrant arts scene. We drove to historic old-town Salem, similar to colonial Williamsburg with extensive living history displays. We lunched in the 1784 Moravian tavern, then spent an hour or so just driving around some of the residential areas. We really weren't there long enough to see the newer downtown or much of the surrounding area, but we liked the city and thought it worth another visit in the future.
We stopped in Chapel Hill on our way back to Durham that evening, walking up and down funky and vibrant Franklin Street near the UNC campus, and dining in a really terrific southern Indian restaurant.
A fellow culinary school graduate we knew in Portland, Nick, a native North Carolinian who now lives in Durham, was kind enough to help us get our bearings there and even showed us around the nicely renovated downtown on an impromptu walking tour. What we saw impressed us.
The Walker warehouse in downtown Durham is typical of the city's beautiful old brick architecture.
Like many North Carolina cities, Durham (population 315,000) is full of wonderful old brick warehouses and factories that used to house tobacco and textile factories. These days they're converted to lofts, art studios, restaurants, and retail spaces with a slightly funky and very cool vibe. Downtown Durham is definitely great to walk around. It has a terrific dining scene with a strong farm-to-table focus, and the farmers market we visited on Saturday morning is one of the best we've been to in a long time - right up there with Charleston, SC and the Hollywood market in Portland, OR. Oh, and great food carts!
A lineup of innovative food trucks at the Durham farmers market made us homesick for Portland. This one would fit right in!
Gorgeous organic greens were among the many local, seasonal vegetables on display at the market.
We didn't have time to stroll around the Duke University campus, but having a university in town is always a plus. The neighborhoods we drove through reminded us of those in SE Portland, but at probably half the cost. Housing in Durham is more expensive than New Bern or Winston-Salem, but is still very reasonable by our West Coast standards.
We even made some new friends there, when we struck up a conversation with a guy at the farmers market who was wearing an Oregon Ducks sweatshirt. We hit it off right away with the couple, Mark and Cathy, who live in Chapel Hill and who gave us some great information on the area. Mark attended Oregon years ago, and we were definitely glad he wore that shirt that day! He's since followed up with a very nice email, offering any help we might need when we're back in the area. Right there is a great example of what we love about the South.
The largest city in the area and the capitol of North Carolina, Raleigh was our last stop before flying out on Sunday afternoon. We spent the morning driving around its downtown and really lovely historic district, not a neighborhood we'll be able to afford but a pleasure to visit. After a very good brunch in town, we returned to the airport to fly north.
Thanksgiving in Baltimore
We had a busy but wonderful visit with Mike and Megh, who put us to work prepping for Thanksgiving and helping with some household projects in anticipation of the new baby.
Daughter-in-law Meghan made a delicious seasonal punch for Thanksgiving day.
Mike and me making turkey stock, gravy, and numerous side dishes, with a little help from a very attentive Bowser.
Thanksgiving turned out to be an all-day affair, with family and friends arriving mid-morning for homemade bagels and mimosas, and staying for a multi-course feast with a 22 pound turkey and many trimmings. Mike, Larry and I cooked most of the meal, with Megh doing a couple of side dishes and daughter Kelli bringing two beautiful desserts.
Larry and his turkey, before roasting...
It was our first experience with a couple of Church family traditions. One - common throughout Baltimore - is to serve sauerkraut with Thanksgiving dinner! We'd never heard of such a thing. And a family tradition now in its second year is for each guest to say what he or she is thankful for, followed by a shot (this can be anything - tequila, whiskey, wine, water for the expectant mama, etc.). There were some really nice little speeches, and the shots made it a lot of fun.
The next three days we were there, Larry and Mike did a run to Ikea and I continued to cook up a storm. By the time we left, there were three new bookshelves in Megh's office, a much less cluttered nursery, shelving in the laundry room, a new desk for Mike, and a freezer full of sauces and soups for when the baby arrives. We won't be in town then, so it was nice to be able to help out a little in advance.
Back in Oriental
We're now back in the boatyard, enjoying some lovely weather and trying not to get too frustrated with the very slow pace of boat repairs. Our sail is coming in a week late, and we still have no idea what's going on with the transmission, but are hopeful it will be a relatively simple repair rather than a replacement. Meanwhile, we're catching up on some projects, and looking forward to moving on soon.
Thalia "on the hard" in Oriental, waiting for a few parts to arrive before she could be put back in the water.
Next we plan to head back down to Charleston. Weather permitting, we'll do this in a series of long days just offshore, rather than traveling down the ICW again. We're hoping to be there in time for our 8th anniversary, as we have reservations at Cru Café, one of our very favorite restaurants.
From there, we'll travel to St. Augustine for Christmas. We really enjoyed visiting there last year, and figured it would be a perfect spot to spend the holidays. We'll spend a week or two there on a mooring ball, and then we'll need to decide whether to head back over to the Bahamas for the winter - Plan A - or perhaps travel around through the Florida keys and up the west coast, then over to New Orleans - Plan B. We haven't decided yet, but will keep you posted!