Ojeda’s Roasted Lamb

I ate dinner at a restaurant called Ojena, which, in Burgos, Spain, is something of an institution, open for around a hundred years ago. I ordered the house speciality, something the region is know for: suckling lamb roasted in a wood fired oven.

Ojenda, with its white table cloths and black coated waiters, feels upscale, but on this Monday night the dining room was almost empty. The lights were bright and I was seated in an odd corner beside the entrance.

The service was friendly and prompt with lots of polite talk. The house red wine was light, dry and refreshing. When the food came I got exactly what I ordered, a big hunk of meat. My waiter brought the whole hind quarter of a kid lamb and asked, in Spanish, if I wanted it separated, which I did. He brought around a basket of bread rolls, from which you can choose liberally. The bread was fresh, the lamb was savory and tender enough to cut with a fork. If I had a second chance I would order the house soup and have something to pair it it with. At the end of the meal I ordered the house special again, the puff pastry cream cake, a layer upon layer of flat flakey pastry sandwiching a rich white cream. Delicious!

All together it came to about 40 Euros.

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Fort Ward

Fort Ward is a historic park in the city of Alexandria, Virginia. It was originally built to help defend Washington DC during the American Civil War. Today the park is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon. It has well preserved earth works, trails (paved and unpaved), and a small museum. There is a single lane road that makes a loop around the park with plenty of places to stop. There are picnic areas, tennis courts, public restrooms, a playground, wooded areas and open fields.

img_6659On our first trip we stopped in for a peak at the museum. It’s small with the usuial civil war era relics such as guns, uniforms and medical tools. We took a nice walk through the earthworks which are shady and not expansive. We took some time to fly our kite on a level field near the parking lot, and we took a drive around the loop road which skirts the perimeter. On an average day the park is not crowded and parking is easy. You have a number of lots to choose from.

The fort is also used for special events. They regularly hold civil war and revolutionary war reenactments and have summer camps or other historically related events. Our second img_6692visit was the day before presidents day and the fort was holding a revolutionary war festival with troop encampments and a battle reenactment. This was fantastic.The reenactors really know their stuff. They go through incredible lengths to replicate authentic uniforms, gear and activities. They are easy to talk with and happy to answer questions.Watching the battle is amazing and informative. It’s also loud, so bring ear plugs. Both sides use realistic tactics from the war as the tide of soldiers ebbs and flows in an attempt to command the battlefield. For this event it was difficult to park inside the park, but there was plenty of street parking on Braddock road to accommodate the modest crowd.

The park is open during daylight hours

Directions:

 From 395 exit at King street and head South East to Braddock road. Take a right on Braddock and Fort Ward will be about a mile on your right.

From Old Town Alexandria head west on Braddock road, passing by the metro station. The fort will be about three miles on your right, shortly after you pass the intersection with King Street.

Driving I 95: DC to Orlando

This article will give you some insight on what to expect on a drive from Washington DC to Orlando, Florida or vice versa. The route is about as simple as they come, just get on I 95 and drive for for eight hundred fifty miles or around thirteen hours, give or take depending on stops, traffic and driving style. The interstate on this route is completely toll free, but Orlando has quite a few toll roads once you arrive.  Most are less than a dollar. You have to cross five states, so I have broken up the route details into these sections: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Virginia: This section of I 95 is about 175 miles. It stretches from the Potomac River down to the border with North Carolina. It should take about two and a half hours going the speed limit with light traffic. AVOID DC RUSH HOUR which is a righteous mess and will make an ungodly beginning or end to your trip. Do not get caught heading south out of Washington between about two and eight in the evening or heading into the city between seven and ten in the morning. This stretch of road is one of the worst traffic jams in the nation as people are commuting in and out of town from as far out as Fredricksburgh. Heading into the city, once you get near the junction with I 495 and I 395 around the beltway, traffic will be a bad going in any direction during these times. Avoid those weekday hours and you have a good shot and a smooth passage.

Richmond is about 105 miles or an hour and a half south of DC. Here you have a choice of taking I 95 through the city or taking I 295 around. Both are about the same distance. I 95 is more interesting because you see downtown Richmond, but I 295 has less traffic. We typically drive through town and have never had trouble with a jam, but the route does require a little more concentration. On the other hand, as of the time of writing, January 2017, the road around I 295 was in terrible condition and in desperate need of resurfacing. I tried it today and had to dodge a huge and very dangerous looking broken tree limb laying in the fast lane.

This part of the road also passes by some of the most important civil war battlefields including Chancellorsville, Wilderness, Fredricksburgh, Spotsylvania, Petersburg, and Richmond Battlefields Park, each of which is well worth spending a day to visit.

Virginia is also the cheapest place to buy gas on the trip so fill up before you get to North Carolina where the price goes up about twenty cents a gallon, or if your headed north, try to hold out until you cross the state line. Look for Love’s travel stop at exit 4.

North Carolina: This section is about 180 miles or two and a half hours. There is not a lot to see here. Other than the Roanoke river its mostly flat and lined with trees. Lumberton, near the border with South Carolina, has a wide selection of hotels, restaurants and stores if your are looking to break your trip up or find supplies.

South Carolina:    This section is about 200 miles or  3 hours. The scenery here is generally nondescript, but you will pass over Lake Marion and some marshlands. You will also be within an hour of Charleston, Beaufort, and the low country, all excellent places to stop over and even spend a few days visiting.

South Carolina traffic can be bad on I 95, especially between the intersection with I 26 to Charleston and the border with Georgia. Its not uncommon to be stop and go and stop a while longer. This is the part of the drive I worry about the most because its hard to predict and can add hours and hours of frustration to your drive. There isn’t really a good alternate, but try to avoid mid day here if you can.

South Carolina is a good place to fill up on petrol, but be aware that most stations advertise their cash price and add five to ten cents to it if you are using a card.

Georgia: The GA leg is about 110 miles or a quick hour and a half. You will pass near Savannah and The Golden Isles. Brunswick is not a bad place to stop for BBQ either. I always see speeders getting tickets from state troopers in I 95 in Georgia, so be warned.

Florida: Rejoice, you are almost there! (Or just leaving). The Florida section of I 95 is 125 miles or an hour and forty-five minutes. You will go through the middle of Jacksonville and near St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. Here again you have the option off taking I 295 around Jacksonville or staying on I 95 and passing through the middle. The time is about the same and I have only ever passed through on I 95 for more interesting sights. I’ve never had any problems with traffic in doing this.

Florida is the most expensive state for gasoline, so try to head into it with a full tank.

I 4 is where you finally depart I 95. Once you reach it, you are  about 50 miles or 45 minutes north of downtown Orlando, a bit further for Disney World. I will mention that I 4 is not a toll road, but most of the other highways around here are, so you might try to stay on I 4 as long as you can, even if your GPS is taking you a different rout to save a mile or two.

It’s a long haul, but with a little planning and mental preparation, you can do it.  Happy traveling!

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Rock Creek Park

Urban parklands provide us a space for wonderful afternoon get aways, sorely needed exercise and fresh air. They are best savored on an early autumn Sunday, somewhere not too far from home. Any modern city should have something nestled somewhere within its midst. New York has Central, Vancouver has Stanley,  Tokyo has Ueno, and DC has Rock Creek.

Rock Creek Park, established by congress in 1890, is located in North Central DC, and stretches north from The National Zoo to the tip of Washington’s diamond shaped border with Maryland. It is managed by the National Park Service and is a wonderful hilly, forested area for hiking, biking, jogging, horse back riding and picnicking. The park has no admission fees. Several roads pass through the park, most notably Beach Drive, which follows the creek along its entire length. Check out the map to plan a visit.

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Inside Peirce Mill

There are a number of interesting historic sites in and around the park. We visited Pierce Mill: a gorgeously preserved, four-level stone building that dates back to the 1820’s. The sturdy, blue-grey cobbled exterior makes for nice photos, but the greater treasure is the inside where you can see the meticulously restored gears, the grain elevator, the hoppers, and grinding stones. The mill is a testament to preindustrial ingenuity, an incredable refining machine powered by water.

Processed with Snapseed.In a city like Washington, filled with more sites than anyone can fit into even a lengthy tourist itinerary, the attraction to Rock Creek Park is probably more for locals looking to escape the crowds and get back to nature. The scenery is pleasant, and typical of the low country forests that once covered this mid-atlantic region.  It is easily accessible by car and with plenty of free parking. Even on a gorgous Sunday afternoon in September, there were plenty of open parking spaces along the drives.

If taking Metro, the park can be easily reached from a number of stations. We got off at Cleveland Park station and walked down Porter St. for about ten minutes until we got to the park. Then we followed the trails north for a leasurly three hours, including a picnic lunch. Leaving the park from the north east, we crossed over into Maryland, and got on Metro again at Silver Springs. That was about a six mile hike.

 

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest and among the most well known lighthouses in the United States. It is located in Cape Hatteras National Seashore on The Outer Banks of North Carolina. We visited the lighthouse as part of our Memorial Day weekend camping trip in The Outer Banks.

The lighthouse is about an hours drive from the Wright Memorial Bridge connecting the northern end of The Outer Banks with the mainland. An adult ticket to climb costs $8.00  and $4.00 for senior citizens. National park annual passes do not cover admission.

Approaching the lighthouse from the parking lot there is a viewing area with a small amphitheater of rough quartz sitting stones, each marked with the names of the eighty-or-so different former light house keepers. Its a nice spot for photos if the light is right, but there is plenty of room to take photos from other angles.stairs

The climb to the top is slightly strenuous, but not exhausting. A wide and not particularly steep spiral staircase leads up 248 steps to the top. I know the exact number because we bought a refrigerator magnet that says “I climbed 248 stairs to the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.” There are eight landing areas on the way up to stop for a rest and let others pass.

capeThe view from the top is gorgeous. You can perfectly see the cape where the islands sharply cut back west towards the mainland from their north to south run. It was windy up there, but not terribly, although I am certain it can be worse. You can make out the beach, a few hundred yards, away where the lighthouse stood until it was moved a number of years ago because of the encroaching shoreline.

museumThere is a small museum in the old keepers quarters with a ho-hum film and exhibits. We found the most interesting part to be the exhibit on how they moved the lighthouse and the display of the rollers they set it on. The lighthouse is still functions and comes on automatically each night. It blinks every eight seconds or so.

There are a number of lighthouses in The Outer Banks, but if you are planning to climb just one, this would be a good choice.

Oregon Inlet Campground

My wife and I camped at Oregon Inlet Campground in The Outer Banks, North Carolina over Memorial Day Weekend, 2016. I reserved a tent only site in March on the Reservation.gov website without any problem. The site allows you to reserve a slot, but you can not choose a specific site. You have to do that when you arrive. The cost was $28 per night and I payed that immediately online with a master card.

The campground is about a thirty minute drive from the Wright Memorial Bridge connecting the north end of The Outer Banks to the mainland. It is just a few miles past the enterence to  Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The campground entrance will be on your left just before reaching the gorgeous Herbert C. Bonner Bridge.

There are three campground loops. We camped on loop A, which has tent only camping. Loop B and C allow for RVs. For loop A, the sites on the right at the first half of the loop are nestled up agains the dunes that separate the campground from the beach. We were lucky to get site 005 and loved it because with this site, and the next few on the right, the dunes and brush create a greater sense of privacy, and it is a quick jaunt to the restrooms just across the street in the center of the loop.

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standard site grill

There is no shade at any of the sites. Each site has a charcoal grill, a tent pad, and a paved area to back into. The restrooms were clean and there were three separate showers, although only two were working. The showers did not have any heat adjustment but the water was warm and comfortable. There is a place to fill water bottles with cool drinking water at the water fountains near the restroom doors. There is also a double faucet near the showers to get water for dishes etc.

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the beach behind Loop A

It is a short walk through the dunes to the beach. A trail begins at the entrance to loop A. It is an attractive walk, but we did not find the beach very attractive because four wheel drives were allowed to drive on the beach and there was a system of dirty looking tire trenches all up and down in the sand. The beach here was also narrow. We found a number of much more attractive beaches a short drive away.

Black Berries
Harvested from the dunes behind our site

On the whole, we loved our visit. One tasty surprise was that the dunes behind our campsite were rolling with blackberry vines and the blackberries were in season. We had all the fresh blackberries we could eat. There are still some in our fridge now.On a negative note, the biting insects were too bad to stay outside after the sun set. I still have some pretty fiece bites on my arms and legs a week later that show no sign on going away.

We will go again…..some day.