Friday, July 28, 2023

Summer 2023

This blog started out as a way for me to document my experience when I was discerning religious life in a convent. 

It continued after I left as a way for me to share religious and spiritual reflections as I figured out what to make of my life as a grad student after that experience. 

And now it seems this blog has turned into a full fledged travel blog which I am okay with :) I have continued to share spiritual reflections in other ways through presentations at school, church, and with some blogs that I have had pieces published with in recent years. Anything that I have published I keep here. This blog remains a personal one and at this time in my life I'm using it to share my journeys!

This summer has probably been one of my best, I'm going to go ahead and say that. After 13 years of teaching and 3 in a pandemic, I have seemingly mastered how to spend one's summer with balance of travel, activities, and true rest. 

You may remember that I started a podcast in 2020. I decided to pause it this past May in 2023. It was getting hard to find guests and now that our lives have gone back to somewhat of a "normal", less people are spending time online at home (at least in their spare time) and we are out and about doing "real" things again. I bring up the podcast because in one of my later episodes, I discussed with a guest what true rest is. A lot of times, I think that me sitting on my couch scrolling through Instagram with Netflix on in the background is resting. However, I have found that true rest comes in some of the activities I love like going to a winery or reading a book or painting rather than just sitting. 

So this summer I have tried to balance staying busy with equal parts true rest and I think I've done it!

Since Covid, one of my traditions during the very first weekend I am done with school is to find a cool, more local Air B n B and just have a quick little getaway to refresh. This also usually involves also going to wineries. I have been updating my spreadsheet and have now visited over 100 of VA's wineries! This summer I did begin by booking a little getaway for myself (with a hot tub) and adding a few more VA wineries to my list. 

Little VA getaway, June 2023

I also had another trip pretty early on in my summer. I have been to Austin before. I'm sure that I even documented it on this blog back in 2015. I really enjoyed the city the last time I went, so when an artist friend said she was going this summer and asked if I wanted to tag along, I said absolutely. 

We drank lots of margaritas, ate lots of tacos, saw lots of art, swam in Barton Springs, waited for the bats, and explored a few places I hadn't last time I was there like more of East Austin and also The Museum of the Weird. We had a great few days in Austin, even though it was grossly hot and humid. 

above: beating the heat in Barton Springs, below: checking out the Museum of the Weird. It lived up to its name. 

Getting artsy in Austin!

After the VA and Austin getaway, I made my way up to DC to celebrate a college friend's wedding. My 20s and 30s were marked with so many weddings. I was burnt out as a bridesmaid by 2012. The weddings have slowed down since I've entered my 40s and it was actually really nice to come together to celebrate with friends again. 

CUA folks coming together after 20 + years of friendship to celebrate Stephen's wedding!

I also took the opportunity to explore some museums as you do in DC and explore a new brunch place with friends as well. I was particularly struck by one piece in particular at the Hirschhorn Museum.

Exhibit at the Hirschhorn Museum in DC. The whole room was filled with phrases painted on walls, floor, and ceiling as a stream of consciousness that the viewer got to walk through and experience. 

After my DC weekend, it was back to RVA and a visit from a friend from Ohio for the 4th of July. We spent a couple of days eating and shopping our way around my city and also hanging out with friends in pools. 
The Fourth of July with friends in RVA

After my friend left, I had a little downtime to get ready for my big, solo trip of the summer of 2023. I have been turning my attention since the pandemic to domestic travel and trying to visit all 50 states. After my Spring Break trip back in April (which I documented) and now also after this summer's trip, I only have 4 states left!!!

This summer's trip was all about Maine and Vermont and a little bit of Canada since I was up there anyways :) Below is my itinerary of my summer East Coastal trip! Enjoy!

Day 1: Fly to Burlington, VT and stay in Burlington.

I have perhaps put Vermont and Maine off until the end of my 50 states list just because I do not like cold weather. When I think of Vermont, I think of one of my favorite Christmas movies, White Christmas (even though it wasn't actually filmed there. I was hoping to find the hotel it was modeled after, but it doesn't exist!)

My expectations for Burlington were rather low, if I'm honest. I was just trying to check off one of my 50 states. But when I got my rental car and drove towards the city, I was taken aback by how pretty Burlington and Lake Champlain are. 

View of Lake Champlain from downtown Burlington. 

This first day was my big day to check out Burlington, so I walked around downtown and found it to be so cute.  A good balance of touristy but also some places/bars where locals hang out. I had lunch at a cute Mexican place, walked around Phoenix Books, and of course, got some Ben and Jerry's. 

Cute lunch place: El Cortijo! I had a bean burrito and some of their homemade chips with a Mexi-coke.

For some reason, I wasn't expecting the Marshmallow Sky flavor to be blue, but I guess it makes sense.

After hanging out around downtown, I decided to head closer to Lake Champlain and my air b n b. On my way, I crossed off one of my Atlas Obscura finds as well. 

World's Tallest Filing Cabinet- an Atlas Obscura find!
Another Atlas Obscura thing: The Earth Clock which is the group of stones to the left. Also reminded me of Outlander. I spent some time here at Blanchard Beach around sunset. It was perfect. 
Had to visit a brewery while in Vermont! This one was close to my Air B n B and recommended by my host. I liked the vibe there!

Day 2: Stowe, VT to Portland, ME

This day was one of my heavier driving days, though all of my drives weren't much more than 3 hours which isn't long for me!

My first stop this day was the town of Stowe which also happens to be close to where the real life Von Trapp Family lived when then came to America. I am a huge musical and Sound of Music fan so it had to be done. Despite the rain, it did not disappoint. Vermont was having major rains and floods at this time. I was lucky that my trip wasn't affected too much but I feel for the people who had to endure its effects. 

Stowe is about 45 minutes outside of Burlington and was a little bit out of my way on the way to Maine, but it was worth it to me to see this quaint town and one of the places associated with one of my favorite film families. 

Stowe is what I picture when I think of Vermont. It had cute shops and restaurants and was very picturesque. 
I didn't take the full property tour, but just explored the main lodge and the gift shop and drove around on some of the grounds. It was good enough for me to be where the real life Maria Von Trapp lived!

After my morning in Stowe, it was time to make my way towards Maine. I drove through the rains and encountered one or two roads affected by the floods, but overall, my drive wasn't too bad. It was raining all through New Hampshire. I stopped in a town outside the White Mountains and had some lunch and got a maple-flavored soft serve as you do in Vermont/NH/Maine.

Maple flavored soft serve also did  not disappoint. 

After driving through the rain for a couple of hours, I made it to my destination for the night: Portland, Maine. This was the city that everyone messaged me about. I had so many food recommendations, but after walking around the city for a while (including stopping in at a karaoke bar because duh, gotta get a feel for the city!) I made my way to The High Roller and it was such a perfect recommendation. 

I wanted all of the lobster things but decided on lobster bisque, a mini-lobster roll with pineapple "sauce" and an Allagash beer. It was amazing. The vibe of the High Roller was also a great vibe. It was diner and retro but also family and hipster all at the same time. I highly recommend this place in Portland!

My first taste of Maine lobster, definitely not the last! Also, I highly recommend The High Roller in Portland!

Day 2 was a big day with lots of rain, so after walking around the city of Portland for a while, I called it a night in the local hostel (which...I'm definitely too old for hostels, but at The Black Elephant you can get a private room, just have to share bathrooms. Also, it's really well located in the city and is decorated in Wes Anderson style. It's pretty decent for a hostel). 

Day 3: Portland, ME to Bar Harbor, ME

In addition to all of the food recommendations, another thing people said I had to do in Portland was the Portland Head Lighthouse. It's a little bit of a drive from downtown to Cape Elizabeth, but I had some breakfast in town before heading out that way. The drive isn't too bad and the Cape is pretty nice. However, I was there for ALL of the fog. I hung out around the cape and in the park for almost 2 hours and the fog just didn't want to let up. Even when the sun was fully out, it was still somehow foggy? But I enjoyed exploring the park the lighthouse is in and made my way into town for a Whoppie pie (another Maine was just alright for me, though I'm not a huge sweets person). 

Portland Head Lighthouse without much light....
Whoppie pies are a Maine thing...

I could've definitely spent more time hanging out around Portland as it was a cool city, but my next destination was Bar Harbor. 

I stopped in Bangor, Maine along the way to check out another Atlas Obscura item. The town of Bangor was cuter than I expected. It had a cute downtown with restaurants and thrift shops and a river that was kind of picturesque. I was flying out of Bangor at the end of my trip so I was glad that I'd get to re-visit this city. 

Atlas Obscura find: huge Paul Bunyan statue was actually kind of terrifying.
Had a late lunch in Bangor at Sea Dog Brewery. Their beers were also tasty!

After a little time in Bangor, I made my way towards Bar Harbor, but I had to pull over when I saw this roadside antique shop that was not to be missed! I'm so glad I stopped. It was the perfect little road trip break to stretch my legs and have a photo op!

Fun stop on my way from Bangor to Bar antique store with all of the fun things!

After a morning in Portland, an afternoon in Bangor, I finally made it to my destination for the next 2 nights: Bar Harbor. The weather was beautiful when I arrived and I walked around the adorable tourist town and sat by the water before heading to my air b n b for the night, but not before I stopped in Acadia National Park to watch the sunset. It was a little hazy, but still a great end to the day. 

Bar Harbor is beautiful! I can see why people summer here!

The National Park pass purchased for Utah and Wyoming has come in handy this year!

Day 4: Acadia National Park/Bar Harbor

I spent the full day in Bar Harbor and most of it in Acadia National Park. I got up early and drove to the park. My air b n b host had suggested starting with Sand Beach. It was already busy when I got there around 8:30. I found parking in a lot (luckily) and walked the Ocean Path down to the beach. Everything was very foggy, similar to when I went to the Portland Lighthouse. You really couldn't see much at the beach. 

So I made my way to Thunder Hole which was in walking distance to Sand Beach. A line of people were also waiting there, but you could still see the waves that the hole makes when the tide recedes then comes back in. It was worth the wait and walk. 

I continued to just walk around the Ocean Path for maybe 3 miles total just taking in the coast and hoping that the fog would let up some. It was still beautiful even with the fog. 

Acadia National Park. It was foggy the entire time, but still really beautiful. 
I got back into my car after walking the path for some time and drove to a couple of other spots on the park map. People had suggested stopping at the Jordan Pond House to get lunch, but reservations were already full when I had checked and there were so many cars parked there when I decided to just try and stop by. I still enjoyed my time taking in the park even though I didn't get to actually see very much of the scenery. 

After a day of walking and exploring nature, it was time for some lunch and beverages, right? 

I had seen on my drive in that Bar Harbor had a winery, so I had to stop there. It was pretty decent- there were a couple of wines that I liked and the host paired some with chocolates which was also a nice touch. 

I stopped for lunch at a Lobster Pound on the way into town and had a blueberry Atlantic beer which is my new favorite beer. 
Above: Bar Harbor winery with chocolate pairing, below: waiting at Lobster pound for my crab sandwich with my new favorite beer. 

After grabbing lunch and some drinks, I went back to downtown Bar Harbor and did some shopping, walked the Shore Path, and had another beer while listening to some live music outside an adorable inn in town. Such a great way to relax after an active morning!

I ended the evening at my air b n b (with some more of my favorite beer...I bought a 4 pack to take with me on the road to my next stop...Canada!)

Above: taking in another beer and some live music in Bar Harbor, ending at my air b n b by the water with another was a big beverage day, I guess! Yolo! haha

Day 5: Bar Harbor to Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

I really enjoyed Bar Harbor. It was probably one of my favorite places on this trip. It was time, however, to say goodbye to the US and check off a couple of more provinces in Canada. 

Last year, I went to Montreal and Quebec City. Growing up in Cleveland, I had also been to Toronto a couple of times. On this trip, I was going to check off 2 more provinces: New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. 

I'm not really sure why I landed on Saint John. When I was doing research, it was one of the cities that popped up when researching the area. The city was billed as the oldest city in Canada. I pictured it to be something similar to when I went to Montreal or Quebec City last year. This, however, would not be the case. 

I got to the border and the border patrol woman really wasn't buying it when I said I was going to Saint John for vacation for two days without much of a plan. I would later come to see why. Or maybe she's just really good at her job. It was hard to tell. 

Before I got to Saint John, however, I stopped in the adorable coastal town of St. Andrew. It was a cute fishing town and even though it was (you guessed it) foggy, I enjoyed walking around the historic points, through town, and the beach. 
War of 1812 Blockhouse in St. Andrew's
Adorable downtown St. Andrew's

On the coast in St. Andrew's

I arrived in Saint John (why St. Andrew's is abbreviated and possessive I do not know. The border patrol woman corrected me when I tried to refer to Saint John in the same way) and it was too early to check into my hotel. So I walked around the city for a while and had some lunch. I was a little disappointed. This was not an adorable fishing town or European picturesque city. This was reminding me a little of the Steel belt where I am from. The locals were out and about mixed with families of tourists and it was an odd combination. It was also STILL FOGGY. 

I was getting a little downtrodden on my choice to stay in Saint John, but things perked up when I checked into my Victorian mansion of a hotel. I also decided to check out a couple of things on my list of the city which weren't what I had expected but I was learning about the city. I found a bar that had trivia going on in it and that was my entertainment for the evening. I was also glad I had the 4 pack (now 3 pack) of beer in my hotel waiting for me. Day 5 had started out strong but was probably not my overall favorite.

Above: Loyalist home from Revolutionary War period (or as they refer to it in Canada, the War of Independence). Below: my Victorian mansion hotel! Victorian architecture is big in Saint John as is its Loyalist history. 

Above: Saint John's City Market which was cute but a little underwhelming. Below: Reversing Falls which comes from the Saint John River and Bay of Fundy intermixing. This also is where supposedly Pangaea pulled apart separating North America, South America, and Africa!

Above: terrifying statue park with Saint John historical figures. Below: Another War of 1812 Tower.

A foggy Irving Park beach 

Day 6: Saint John to Digby, Nova Scotia and back to Saint John

After seeing that Saint John didn't have as much going on as I thought, that made my decision to get up really early and hop a ferry to Nova Scotia even easier. I had debated taking the rental car onto the ferry and driving around Nova Scotia, but I was going back to Saint John later that day and didn't want to spend my whole day in a vehicle. I made the decision to just walk on the ferry and do a day cruise which was a cheaper option anyways (this trip was not cheap! All of those seafood meals add up!)

The ferry itself- called the Rose Fortune, named after an African American Loyalist (she fled the States and made her home in Canada)- was a really nice ship. I've taken boats to the Lake Erie Islands and was expecting more of something similar, but this was more like a cruise ship! It had a movie lounge, cafes, gift shop, and an educator gave periodic talks on the Bay of Fundy which I found helpful and gave me something to do on the 2+ hour ride. 

Movie Lounge on the ferry to Nova Scotia!

I was hoping that the town of Digby (where we were docking) would be close to the port, but alas, you really need a car to get from the port to the town. Also, Uber is not a thing in Nova Scotia. A woman who worked for the ferry was kind enough to call me a cab and the cab driver came quickly, however, he did not take credit card or American money. But he drove me to a bank and I got some Canadian cash out. He also gave me his card to call him for later when I'd have to go back to the port. This would definitely come in handy later. 

The town of Digby was somewhere in between the cute fishing town of St. Andrew's and the rough around the edges vibe of Saint John. And it was definitely small. However, the sun was out and it was the end of my trip and I was content to sit with a book and a drink and look at the beautiful surroundings of Nova Scotia. 

Digby, NS, Canada

I walked through one end of town to a couple of shops and down by the water and decided to go to the Admiral Digby Museum to kill some time. I ended up spending almost 2 hours there. Not because there was a lot to see, but that I ended up getting a guided tour from the curator and we chatted a lot throughout the tour. It was helpful to learn more about Digby, their history, and also more about this part of the world. 

After an educational morning, I went to get some lunch on the water. Digby is known for scallops, so I had to get some before I went back to New Brunswick. 

The scallops on the menu were to be served fried which just seemed criminal, so I asked for them to be pan seared. They were seared with way too much oil for my liking, but the texture was certainly phenomenal. I had a great meal. 

Digby Scallops and Haddock, which I also had in Maine. It's a local fish.

Digby, NS

After lunch, I went to a couple of more shops and a park and then literally sat on the dock of the Bay (of Fundy) reading and writing postcards and journaling. 

When it was time to check in for my ferry back, I walked back to the Admiral Digby Museum and asked if they would call my cabbie to take me back to the port. They did and he was there quickly to take me back. 

I was glad to spend the day in Nova Scotia even if the town didn't offer a ton to do and I didn't get to explore the province as much as I would've liked if I had a car. 

When I got back to Saint John...there was still sun! So I walked around and explored the city in literally a whole new light. Saint John had a lot more going on this evening probably since the sun was out and I came upon a "Container Village" which I wish I would've know about earlier! It is a whole set up of vendors and bars built within shipping containers! I thought it was a cool spin on the industrial city. 

Above; Saint John out of the fog and in the light! Below: bar in the Container Village

Above: more of Saint John in the light, Below: more of the Container Village

I was so glad that I got to experience the Bay of Fundy and Saint John in the sun! I ended the day with my final lobster roll of the trip (which actually was better than the one I had in Maine!)

Day 7: Saint John to Bangor, ME

Even though I ended up enjoying Saint John more by the second night, it was time to leave. My coastal trip was coming to an end. 

My flight was going to be out of Bangor in the afternoon, so I had some time to kill in the AM before I returned my car in Maine. I decided to revisit one of the nearby towns that I had loved: St. Andrew's.

I had coffee and a breakfast sandwich in this adorable coffee shop- Honeybean's (how cute is even the name!)- in St. Andrew's. It seemed to be a go-to spot for locals and tourists alike. 

Coffee at Honeybean's in St. Andrew's.

I went to a nearby antique shop and also saw a couple of gorgeous buildings like this Baptist Church which I fell in love with (I love yellow :)

Cool Baptist Church in St. Andrew's, NB, Canada

On my way to St. Andrew's the first time, I had noticed a sign for St. Croix International Park. I had some more time to kill after my morning in St. Andrew's so I decided to hit it on my way back to the States. 

There wasn't much to the Canadian side of the park, but I learned that this was an International park and that both the US and Canada had some claim to it. The actual island itself that lies between the two countries isn't open to visit, but you can visit the visitors centers in both countries. The island hosted the first French settlers to the region and was a place where they were quarantined when the realized they couldn't withstand the cold winter. 

Canadian side of St. Croix Island.

Well, now I had accepted the challenge that I was going to visit both countries' sides to this park/island. But first, I rolled through another adorable town that had a market going- St. Stephen's. This would be my last town in New Brunswick and in Canada.

Cute market in cute St. Stephen's

Crossing back into the US. The border patrol guy on this end of the border gave me much less hard of a time! Probably since I was returning as a citizen, not entering as a guest!

US side of St. Croix Island...same information, but this time statues :(

After my morning of exploring, it was time to head back to Bangor, grab some lunch, and then return my rental car and catch my flight back to Richmond. 

All in all, another successful solo trip! I'm getting so good at this! 

I have one last little getaway before reality sets in. I'm heading to North Carolina for a beach week with my family to close out July and usher in August before I head back to work in a couple of weeks. 

I love summer and this one has been one of the best!