Our Day Trip to Tangier Island

Thanks to Groupon, several weeks ago I bought a couple of tickets for a day cruise at Tangier Rappahannock Cruises. With the end of summer approaching, Juan and I found the perfect day to take advantage of the acquisition!  The temperature was a perfect 74H/71L. The clouds gave us a breathtaking display of beauty, without shedding a single drop upon us, and the Chesapeake Bay was bigger and lovelier than I had anticipated.

Tangier Island is tiny: 5 miles long and 1 mile wide, and only 3 feet above sea level. Its population is less than 500 people, but it’s rich in American history. Back in 1608, it was visited by Captain John Smith, who named it. On July 9th, 1645, the Virginia Council took all the male American Indians in the area, ages 11 and up, prisoners, and transported them to this isolated spot, in order to prevent further organized attacks against the English colonists. Governor William Berkeley’s own ship transported and abandoned them there.

More than a century later, during the War of 1812, thousands of enslaved African Americans gained freedom by fighting for the British against the American coastal communities around the Bay. The Virginia militia deflected a British attempt to take Norfolk in 1813, and engaged British forces throughout the war. More than 2,000 African Americans gained their freedom aboard British ships.

Today, fishing is the largest industry of the island, and most especially crabbing, mainly the soft-shelled blue crab (which is de.li.cious.)

The second largest industry of the island is tourism. There are daily cruises, mostly seasonal, and they pride themselves with having a handful (I counted 3) of restaurants serving succulent seafood. We had lunch at Lorraine’s and I must say that their crabby fries were so finger-licking good!

Back to history, in 1686, a man by the name of John Crocket  settled in the island, and his sons’ families did the same in 1814. As we rode through the island, we saw more gravestones than I’ve ever seen in one place, and so many of them had a Crocket name inscribed. Graveyards are found at the church, in backyards, in fields…

We rented a golf cart, which is the choice mode of transportation, even for the natives. We saw a church, a library, a tiny post office, a medical building, a school, and a few inns. We also visited a tiny, yet interesting museum which holds pictures and artefacts of the history and the present culture of this place.

Interesting fact: The Rev. Joshua Thomas (1776-1853) was a waterman so he moved from the mainland to the island, converted to Methodism, became a licensed preacher, and was ordained an elder. He served the Chesapeake region for more than four decades. He traveled in a canoe called “The Methodist” and conducted services for the British forces during the War of 1812. He advised the British troops not to attack Fort McHenry near Baltimore. In a prayer, he predicted they would fail. The expedition was not cancelled, and the British fleet was defeated.

Our Chesapeake Bay experience was unique and relaxing. Being in the island for just a few hours felt as if we were trapped in time. We often wondered how these people stand to live in such an isolated and tiny place! And then we were happy to return, bellies full, minds opened, hearts rested. God gave us a little reprieve from reality, surrounded us with beauty, provided us with more memories and marital friendship, and recharged our batteries to get us back to work tomorrow, first thing in the morning!

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When in Charlottesville

Juan and I had a spontaneous weekend in Charlottesville, VA. What a pleasant time we had! Let’s just say it will not be the last time we visit, since it has become one of our favorite spots in this amazing state.

We booked a last-minute hotel deal by bidding in Priceline.com, finding a Holiday Inn room for $59.

After we settled into our hotel, we visited the Historic Downtown Mall, which is a regular spot for us. We wanted to try a new restaurant, so we dined outdoors at Taste of India. One of the dishes we ordered was delicious and the other left a lot to be desired. The rice and chicken was finger-licking good, except next time we will try the mild version, since the medium spices made the dish a little too hot. The combination platter was very disappointing, with dry rice and beans that looked like they had sat on the plate a little too long. The overall service and ambiance were good, with plenty of time for good conversation and people watching.

The next day we drove through UVA, admiring the Jeffersonian architecture, and later visited Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and what a treat that was! Tickets were $25 per person and the money was well spent. Jefferson’s house and gardens have been very well preserved. It is a stunning place! I learned so much by watching a movie, visiting the museum, and taking a guided tour through the house. It was simply fascinating.

We ended our day spending a lovely evening at Jefferson Vineyards. We paid $10/person for wine tasting. Needless to say, my husband was in heaven. We purchased a bottle of truly amazing wine, sat in the field, and had a picnic. The view was stunning and the experience peaceful and refreshing. It turns out this is wine country! I did not know that 50% of the nation’s wine is produced right here in Virginia. In Charlottesville alone there are more than 30 wineries, which we are sure to visit one by one!

Next time we go, we plan on visiting Carter’s Mountain Orchard along with a local brewery. Autumn will be spectacular and I am salivating already!

The house at the top of "Little Mountain"

The house at the top of “Little Mountain”

The garden and observatory at Monticello

The garden and observatory at Monticello

Juan and I at Monticello's terrace, overlooking the dome at UVA and incredible mountain scenery

Juan and I at Monticello’s terrace, overlooking the dome at UVA and incredible mountain scenery

Our picnic from Whole Foods

Our picnic from Whole Foods

Jefferson Vineyards

Jefferson Vineyards

American Art and Portrait Gallery

Last Saturday, after attending the NATS regional competition with one of my incredibly talented students :), I left the University of Maryland and had about 3 hours to kill in Washington DC (one of my favorite places to visit). So, for the first time ever, I went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. As with any other Smithsonian museum, I was not disappointed. I would have loved a couple of extra hours to finish touring the place sufficiently.

These two museums share one of Washington’s oldest, public buildings. This landmark was built in Greek Revival style, from 1836 to 1868. I must say, I was also impressed with the architecture of the courtyard, which opened in 2007. It is absolutely stunning, exhibiting a contemporary glass dome (pretty huge). The day was very cold, but the courtyard was nice and cozy, filled with natural sunlight. Next time I’m in DC, I’ll go there and sit for a while. Maybe I’ll order a cup of coffee and journal. It is simply beautiful.

               

Among my favorite exhibitions were the Time Magazine Covers from the 60’s (which runs until August of this year), and the permanent collection of paintings of all our American presidents, in the Portrait Gallery. The museum displays both American art and American history. The combination of those two, made me a very happy camper. 🙂

William Jefferson Clinton. Oil on Canvas. Chuck Close

George W. Bush.  Oil on Canvas. Robert Anderson.

George W. Bush. Oil on Canvas. Robert Anderson.

Andrew Jackson. Ferdinand Pettrich.

Andrew Jackson.
Ferdinand Pettrich.

Morada Bay Beach Cafe, Islamorada

A few months ago my friends Gene and Liz traveled to South Florida and asked us to recommend places to visit. Juan and I gave them a packed list of things to do in the Miami area and recommended they visit Key West as well (I mean, traveling through the Seven-Mile bridge is quite the experience). When they asked us where they should stop and eat along the Keys, we didn’t have a specific recommendation for them. I wish I would have known then what I recently discovered (thanks to my amazing girlfriends who took me there), because I would have suggested the Morada Bay Beach Cafe, located on Islamorada on mile marker 81.6.

I was there during a beautiful summer day. It was a bit overcast, especially towards the early afternoon (typical of South Florida), so the weather was very pleasant. The best part of my experience was the ability to sit and relax and have good conversation with friends overlooking the open water.

I give this restaurant 4 out of 5 starts for the following reasons:

The Atmosphere: Beautiful place, full of vibrancy and color as well as open spaces with a great view of the water. The tables sit on white sand for a great sea-side experience. After our meal, we sat under the palm trees by the sea wall and had a fantastically relaxing time.

The Service: The staff was very friendly and accommodating.

The Food: It was good, but not amazing. They do not have a gluten-free menu, making it hard for my friend, Laura, to find something to eat.

Overall: This beach cafe captures the taste and feel of the Keys. I also hear they have live music, which I didn’t get to enjoy (in fact, I heard my friend Cliff Stutts plays there in the evenings, and he happens to be one of the best bass players I’ve ever known :)) I would go back in a heart beat.

      

    

On a more comical note, here I am hugging a palm tree. This now Virginia girl really misses palm trees! Gotta hug them when I see them!

Regarding the beautiful ladies pictured here, I recently wrote a post about their friendship 🙂

After our meal, we decided to drive next door (we could have walked but it was about to rain) to the Bass Pro Shop Restaurant. My friend Carmen and her wonderful new hubby Dave had previously done their research. They discovered this place carried the best key lime pie in the area. If you go, make sure to ask for the best server, Bobbie. Tell her that Silvia sent you 🙂 Sit in the back porch and enjoy the view.

Visiting the National Gallery of Art

I have been to Washington D.C several times, but until today, I had never had the opportunity to visit the National Gallery of Art. I visited (and Elise happily accompanied me) the West Building as well as the Sculpture Garden. Boy, oh boy, I just loved that place!

First of all, I was anticipating to pay for parking and possibly ride the metro and then walk to the gallery. I was a little nervous about that since the forecast called for 50% chance of thunderstorms. But fortunately, A. We discovered that parking on the streets on Sundays is free and we easily found a spot 3 blocks away, and B. It did not rain a single drop!

The West Building featuring a special exhibit of Degas/Cassatt

The West Building featuring a special exhibit of Degas/Cassatt

The West Building is gorgeous and the layout very user friendly. This marble structure was the largest of its kind when it was built in 1940. It is breathtaking to walk through marble columns and marble walls. The entire main floor sits under skylights, which results in having much natural light shining throughout the building. The smart and easy layout makes it simple to walk through the exhibits fluidly, without the need to backtrack. The rooms and halls are very spacious and welcoming, allowing for a very pleasant and peaceful experience.

Ceiling over the rotunda in the main floor of the West Building

Ceiling over the rotunda in the main floor of the West Building

With Elise on the main floor

With Elise on the main floor

Of course, there was not enough time to walk through the entire museum, so Elise and I decided to linger mostly around 19th and 20th Century art, especially French, our favorite. What a sweet experience.

Picasso's "Madame Picasso"

Picasso’s “Madame Picasso”

 

Monet’s “The Walk — Woman With a Parasol”

 

Degas' "The Dance Lesson"

Degas’ “The Dance Lesson”

Vigee-Lebrun's "The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rouge with her Sons"

Vigee-Lebrun’s “The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rouge with her Sons”

Sargent's "Street in Venice"

Sargent’s “Street in Venice”

Across the street from the West Building is the Sculpture Garden. We took a mid-day break and hung out at the water fountain (which I hear turns into an ice skating rink during the winter), did some people-watching, sculpture viewing, and Elise spent some time sketching under the warm sun. I especially enjoyed the greenery: all native trees, bushes, and huge, beautiful flowers. We ate lunch at the Pavilion Cafe and then headed back to the West Building to see the exhibits we had previously missed.

Me by the reflecting pool / water fountain. In the background is the National Archives Museum

Me by the reflecting pool / water fountain. In the background is the National Archives Museum

A girl and her sketch pad

A girl and her sketch pad

Pretty Gardens

Pretty Gardens

Overall, our day at the capital receives a rating of 5 out of 5. At the end of the day we were reasonably tired but pleasantly satisfied with our experience in the Art Gallery. I would love to go again in the not so distant future and “linger” in a different section of the building.

 

Exploring Virginia: Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley

After 2 years of living in Virginia, I finally got a chance to drive through Skyline Drive in Shenandoah Park. The weather was perfect and the sights from the overviews along the road were absolutely stunning. I grew up in Ecuador, surrounded by gorgeous mountains, but I lived most of my adult life in Florida, which has none. So this drive was like coming back home.

The only thing I wanted more of was time. Our drive was fairly short, and it takes several hours to go through the whole park. Now that we have a taste of it, we will be sure to go back again soon. I can’t wait to see it during the fall when the leaves are turning! Next time, I will bring my field guide, to make my bird watching more interesting.

Once hunger hit, we headed to our favorite spot in Charlottesville: Christian’s Pizza, at the downtown location. We love that place! The pizza is amazing, the pedestrian strip with outdoor cafes and shops is quaint and lively. It was the perfect way to end the day. (For more reviews on Christian’s Pizza, click here)