The beaches of North Carolina

I love, love, love, the beach, but the beaches in the outer banks of North Carolina are especially amazing.

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Sitting on the deck, watching the sun rise over the ocean is the perfect way to start any day.  I love the sounds of the waves hitting the sand, all of my worry and tension just melt away.

We spent one morning at the 4 wheel drive beach where we were treated to not one, but two visits from the wild horses.

I was totally surprised that we didn’t find very many shells on the beach this year.  Usually I come home with buckets full, but this year I didn’t find a single one worth picking up and bringing home.

I finally gave in to peer pressure while in the outer banks, one morning I stopped by and grabbed a box of Duck Donuts.  For those of you who are not familiar, let me explain.  The donuts are hot and are made to order, while you wait.  You pick a frosting, a topping, and a drizzle and in about 10 minutes you are walking out the door with a box of fresh, piping hot donuts.  I am not a big fan of donuts, and the idea of eating that much sugar for breakfast is not really my idea of a good time, but I decided I needed to take one for the team and find out what all of the hype was about.

They were, without a doubt, tasty.  A cake style donut, hot, and fresh from the fryer.  It was definitely worth trying, but not something I could eat more than one day while down the shore!

We ended our week bracing for the hurricane.  I LOVED watching the storm roll in…others in my party were not so thrilled dealing with a category one hurricane in a house that sits right on the beach.  I was the wing nut outside taking photos…..

 

The skies were beautiful and the ocean was wicked.  I had to open the back door around 2 am to re latch the outer screen door and I was covered with sand.  The wind was just whipping sand against the house.   Truly the only time I was a little nervous was  when we had to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  They had 60 MPH sustained winds with gusts of up to 80 MPH.  The waves were crashing onto the bridge.  Thankfully there weren’t many people on the bridge so we straddled the center and drove at a snails pace.

I can’t wait to go back next summer!

Biosphere 2

The hubby and I have been visiting Tucson for the last 21 years.  We have just about seen and done all of the tourist things Tucson has to offer.  One thing we hadn’t done was tour Biosphere 2.  While in town this past week, we had a chance to go and what an amazing trip it was.

Originally constructed by a private investor for earth science research and as a test for life on the international space station, it is now owned and operated by the University of Arizona as a world-class research facility on climate change and a hands on teaching lab for the U of A life sciences department.

The biosphere houses five different and distinct ecosystems –

  • Ocean with coral reef
  • Mangrove wetlands
  • Tropical rainforest
  • Savannah grassland
  • Fog desert

Biosphere (14) Biosphere (18) Biosphere (22)

There are 6500 windows in the 3.14 acre facility.  It was a sight to behold! There is currently many experiments running at the site, but one in particular, the LEO – Landscape Evolution Observatory was truly fascinating.

We were able to tour all of the different areas as well as see the living quarters of the first researchers who were sealed up in the facility for two years.   It was a fascinating tour and one I would highly recommend to anyone visiting the Tucson area.  For more information, visit their website http://b2science.org/

If you have middle school or high school students interested in science, the Biosphere offers a week-long summer camp where you learn from the researchers on site, with hands on research projects, creating and presenting your own research poster by the end of the week.   What an incredible thing to be able to put on any college resume!

Sunrises and Sunsets

I love going home to Tucson, for a multitude of reasons.  I love the way the desert smells in the morning, the mountains are breath-taking, but honestly  it is the sunrises and sunsets that move me the most.

Sunset on Saturday

Sunset on Saturday

Monday Night Sunset

Monday Night Sunset

Sunrise shadows on the Catalina Mountains

Sunrise shadows on the Catalina Mountains

morning sunrise

Look at the colors of this sunrise!

The sun starting to set

The sun starting to set

Sunrise on Thanksgiving morning

Sunrise on Thanksgiving morning

I can’t imagine living in Tucson full-time, I am definitely an east coast girl, but I am grateful for the times I get to go home for a visit.

Gorgeous Fall Temperatures

We have been experiencing some fantastic fall weather around here, warm days, cool nights that are perfect for sleeping.  We usually sleep with our windows open, which drives my little neighbor girl crazy.  She likes being outside as much as the next kid, she just doesn’t understand why I feel the need to bring the outside in – yes, that is a direct quote from her.  I just love talking to her, you never know what is going to come out of that mouth!

Anyway, I have been waking up to the sounds of bird chirping, the occasional dog barking, and more and more frequently, the whoooosh sound that comes when the operator of a hot air balloon turns on the gas to fill the balloon with air.  The first morning, I was woken out of a dead sleep, it took me a minute to realize what the sound was and where it was coming from.   The next morning, I was much quicker on the draw –

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They ended up floating past our house, waving and saying hello.   What a nice way to wake up, blue skies, friendly people and a colorful balloon.   Before I went back inside, I spied a huge spider web in the corner of the garage.  I can’t see a spider web without thinking about the book Charlotte’s Web.  I know, weird, but that is just me.  So I leave you with a picture of the sun shining through the spider web.  Happy fall!

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Restaurants in Charleston

I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the restaurants in Charleston were using locally made products, meats, and produce.   There were quite a few farm to table places to eat in the city.   We tried to sample as many of the “Lowcountry” foods as possible.  We tend to split appetizers and entrée’s when we travel so we get to try more of the local favorites!

Sunday we had our first dinner at the Lowcountry Bistro .  We shared an appetizer of Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimento Cheese Grits and for dinner, we split the Chicken and Waffles entrée.   I love fried green tomatoes, my friend had never had them before.  She liked them, but it wasn’t something she was ever going to crave.   I was shocked that she did not care for the pimento cheese!  I am not entirely sure if it was the grits or the cheese she had an issue with but either way, I was happy to finish the plate.  Our dinner entrée was divine!  Crispy chicken on a sweet potato waffle topped with pecan butter and a luscious bourbon reduction syrup.   Heaven on a plate, sweet, salty, and crunchy….

Monday we went to Sullivan’s Island for dinner. We took the advice of one of the shopkeepers and had drinks and an appetizer at Salt before heading over to Poe’s for dinner. The heavy thunderstorms of the afternoon gave way to a gentle rain, it was so nice to sit outside on a covered rooftop bar and enjoy an appetizer and drink. At Salt we each had a lovely glass of cold, crisp, acidic white wine and shared a bowl of their smoky corn soup with a truffle drizzle.   It was so good! I know, honestly, what kind of people share a bowl of soup? We do…..

At Poe’s we shared an appetizer of tortilla chips with pico de gallo and guacamole and split one of their awesome house ground hamburgers. We went with the Gold Bug Plus burger with Sweet Pepper Goat Cheese and a side of fries. I am so glad we shared the burger, it was HUGE!

Tuesday for lunch we went to the Magnolia Restaurant , my friend had their Buffalo Chicken Cobb Salad and I had the Fried Green Tomato BLT with Pimento Cheese.  It was nice, the food was good, not great, but the service was definitely lacking.   Our waiter bordered on rude and I felt that we were rushed through our lunch.  Perhaps they get busy later in the day and needed the table, but honestly, I am glad we went for lunch and didn’t waste our money on dinner.

Tuesday evening we had a drink at the Star Rooftop Bar because we heard it had a great view of the city. I wasn’t that impressed with the view, too many buildings in the way. Because we stopped there before dinner, the sun was up, therefore, there was barely any shade to be had. Our bartender was a nice young man but he made us the single worst martini’s I have ever had. I finished half of it and left the rest of my drink.

That night we were in the mood for some BBQ so we googled and found ourselves at Queology near the city market. They had some great reviews and had just been featured on the Food Network. The menu is a bit limited and the drink selection is slim but it was so delicious! I had the BBQ Pork Taco’s and my friend had their Pulled Pork Sandwich. It was exactly what we needed for dinner that night!

Wednesday we went to Eli’s Table for lunch and had the BEST chicken salad I have ever had in my life.  The chicken was all white meat and achingly tender.  It had just the right amount of mayo and a slight sweetness from the dried cranberries.  I had a scoop on a lovely green salad dressed in a light honey champagne vinaigrette while my friend choose the wrap with a side of kettle chips.   We were so hot from our walking tour, our poor waiter took one look at our faces and brought us two very large glasses of water, which he refilled before even taking our lunch order.   The service was impeccable and the food was wonderful.

Wednesday was our best food day of the entire trip.  The lunch at Eli’s was terrific and for dinner, we went to Fig.    We shared their appetizer of ricotta gnocchi in a grass-fed Bolognese sauce.  The dinner entrée’s didn’t appeal to either of us so we each followed up the appetizer with salads, she had their nine vegetable salad in a house made caesar dressing while I had the heirloom tomato salad.  I am now completely and totally craving garden tomatoes and mine are about a month away from being ripe.    It was the only time that week we had dessert, we split the chocolate espresso cake with homemade mint ice cream.   It was to die for!

Thursday after the beach we just wanted something quick and local.  Neither of us felt like driving into downtown and searching out a parking spot.   We googled restaurants close to our hotel and found a great little mexican place La Nortena.  We both had their combination plates – I had one an Al Pastor burritos and a barbacoa enchilada in salsa verde.  My friend had a pulled chicken taco on a homemade tortilla and a beef enchilada in a red sauce.   Our dinners came with a plate of pico de gallo, guacamole, mexican rice, refried beans, and sour cream.   We each had a margarita and had to roll ourselves our the door.  They gave you enough food to feed a family of four.   Our server was new, but the manager made sure everything was to our satisfaction.   It was a hole in the wall place with warm, friendly service and great food.   You can’t ask for anything better.

Friday we had lunch at Husk, it bills itself as a celebration of southern ingredients.   They have a new menu daily, for both lunch and dinner.   There is a chalkboard when you walk in that lists where all of the ingredients for the days dishes came from – all of the produce, cheese, meats, breads, you name it.  All of them were fresh and local.   We had tried to get reservations for dinner but they are booked for the next month.  I am so glad we were able to grab a table for lunch.   We each had their fried chicken BLT with Duke’s mayo, country bacon, fried boneless chicken thighs, ripe tomatoes, and bibb lettuce.  All served on a homemade roll with house made ketchup to dip the fries.   It was heaven at first bite.  It was hands down the most tender, flavorful chicken I have ever eaten.   The combination of the fried chicken with the smokey bacon, the sweetness of the tomato and the tender bite of the lettuce was out of this world.   We shared a bowl of grilled summer courgettes with wood fired sweet onions and heirloom tomatoes.  The squash was perfectly cooked, the onions and tomatoes were slightly smoky, and I loved that the herb was tarragon – it gave the dish a nice licorice bite.

Lunch had filled us so much that we weren’t interested in a big dinner.  We hit up the wine bar Bin 152 in the French Quarter Section of the city.   The staff was friendly and gave us fantastic recommendations on the wine, cheese, and charcuterie!  We each had two glasses on wine, one white, one red, and shared a plate of thinly sliced salami and a beautiful soft chevre style cheese made with cow, goat, and sheep’s milk.   Last year we ended our trip in Denver at a wine bar and while we didn’t plan it, we ended our trip this time the same way.  Our original plan was to have drinks and appetizers at the wine bar followed by a light dinner but we found the meat and cheese was exactly what we needed for dinner.

All in all, we had great meals in Charleston!  There were so many other places that were recommended to us that we just didn’t get to, I guess this means we have to go back again.

 

Final Day in Charleston

Friday was our last vacation day in Charleston, we were both scheduled to fly out very early Saturday morning.   The heat was oppressive and we were tired from all of our excursions so we had a lazy morning at the hotel and didn’t head into the city until 10am.   We hit the City Market for some gifts for the men in our lives.  After walking in and out of the vendor stalls in the Market and on both sides of the street, we had a lovely lunch at one of the best restaurants in Charleston.

We did a bit more walking around the city, taking photo’s and leisurely soaking up all that Charleston had to offer.   We went back to the hotel to freshen up and went into downtown Charleston for our last meal.

It was the perfect way to wrap  up our vacation, with a nice, easy, relaxing day.   If you get the chance, I highly recommend putting Charleston on your list of places to visit.   I purchased a new camera lens the day before I left on vacation and had a blast taking photo’s in and around the city.  Here are some of my favorite shots.

Battery District Houses (4) Battery District Houses (10) Battery District Houses (17) Battery District Houses (30) Battery District Houses (46) Charleston, SC 259 Charleston, SC 278 Kitchen and Slave Quarters, Charleston

Day Two, Three, and Four in Charleston, SC

One thing I will say about Charleston in late June is it is hot….crushingly, horrifically, humidly, blindingly HOT.   We were originally going to go to Ft. Sumter on Tuesday afternoon but they were calling for massive thunderstorms and we didn’t think it was a great idea to be on a metal boat on the water during a thunderstorm.

Instead we got up early and walked the Magnolia Cemetery and then the City Market in the morning.  The cemetery was hauntingly beautiful.  Some of the stones are so old you can’t even read them anymore.  There are graves of confederate soldiers who parished during the battle of Gettysburg and were transported down to this cemetery to be interred.  There were so many unmarked confederate solder graves, I was awestruck.  The ladies of the city of Charleston raised the funds necessary to move the bodies, bury them, and buy head stones.

Magnolia Cemetary (3) Magnolia Cemetary (36) Magnolia Cemetary (35)

After the market, we toured the Old Provost Exchange and saw part of the original wall that surrounded the city of Charleston.  We learned about why the city of Charleston walled their city back in 1670, saw where they imprisoned their pirates, and how they kept a stash of gunpowder hidden under the noses of the British for two years during the occupation of Charleston at the time of the Revolutionary war.   The architecture of the site was incredibly impressive and still stands to this day.   If you have time, you should try to take the ghost tour of the dungeon, we didn’t have time, but I heard it is a fantastic tour.

Old Provost Exchange 2 Half Moon Battery Sea Wall, Old Provost Exchange

We then drove to Mt. Pleasant (a suburb of Charleston) and parked in Patriot’s Park.  We saw the USS Yorktowne in harbor and got information on the boat to Ft. Sumter for later in the week.   We headed back into downtown Charleston for a fantastic lunch at Magnolia Restaurant.  After stuffing ourselves silly, we went to one of the best farmer’s markets I have ever attended.  They had beautiful, lush produce, fresh made lemonade, locally made fresh loaves of bread, spice rubs, organic meat producers, honey, homemade pickles, and stands were you could grab a pre-made dinner to go.   One of my coworkers suggested it to us and he was so right, it is worth seeing!  I just wish we had a kitchen in our hotel so I could have grabbed some items and made us a wonderful dinner.

Since we were in the Mt. Pleasant area, we decided to check out Sullivan’s Island, to decide if this is where we would spend our beach day while in Charleston.   While we loved the town of Sullivan’s Island and had a fantastic dinner while there, it does not offer any amenities (beach chair rentals, changing rooms, restrooms, etc) for the day traveller and since we had both flown into Charleston, we didn’t have beach chairs, etc.  at our disposal.

I should tell you, it never did rain on Tuesday…..

Wednesday morning, we made arrangements for a walking historical tour of the city of Charleston with Al Ray from Walled City Tours.  Al is a 7th generation Charlestonian and has been a tour guide in the city since 1979.  He was funny, insightful, and gave us a wonderful tour.  We started at the Circular Church on Meeting Street.   We learned that Charleston has been a city of religious tolerance and diversity from day one.  There are over 400 churches in the city of Charleston, which is why it is apply nicknamed “The Holy City”.

The tour is two hours long and you walk approximately 1 1/2 miles.  It was an amazing journey from 1670 until present day.   I learned that the city of Charleston was the third largest port in the United States and that after the War Between the States, it took Charleston 200 years to recover financially.   We toured the Powder Magazine, walked along Rainbow Row, and saw the last remaining slave market building in Charleston.  We just scratched the surface on the history of Charleston, there are so many interesting stories in this city. I highly recommend you take a tour from Al Ray if you have the time.  He does also offer a Home and Garden tour, daily at 1pm and a Slave Tour on the weekends.   If it wasn’t so flipping hot we would have taken his Home and Garden tour but dear lord by 12pm, I needed a long tall glass of iced tea and a restaurant with air conditioning!

After lunch, we headed to the Aquarium and took the boat to Ft. Sumter.   All I really knew before I took the tour was that it was the sight of the first shot fired in the Civil War.   I had no idea how long it took to build the fort (10 YEARS!) and that the original plans called for over 80,000 bricks.  It was a five sided, three-story fort with walls that are 5′ thick!  The fort you see today is vastly different from the fort of the Civil War but it is worth seeing and the cooling breeze on the island is worth the price of admission on a hot summer day. Fort Sumter (11) Fort Sumter (1)Fort Sumter (10)

Thursday was our beach day.  We started with a hearty breakfast and hit the highway!  We decided on the beach at the Isle of Palms, it is the only public beach in the area with restrooms, a snack bar, and on site beach chair/umbrella rentals.   We had a lovely day, hot but with a constant breeze.   The water was 80 degrees and the beach was not very crowded.  Early afternoon we experienced our first “beach dust devil”.  The heat from the sand forms a whirlwind which struck a very wide and long path on the beach.  We escaped without incident but some of our fellow beach goers were not so lucky.  It tossed beach chairs, umbrella’s, and toys down the length of the beach.   One gentleman was hit in the head by flying debris and had to be taken to the hospital for stitches.   It hit with no warning and lasted a few minutes but rained destruction while it lasted.

I love the beach, I could see myself retiring to a beach front home and being very, very happy.  Nothing is more relaxing that sitting in a low beach chair, feet in the sand, icy cold water in the cooler, a great book to read, while listening to the sound of waves crashing on the shore.   By the end of the day I was completely and totally stress free.  I am so glad the weather cooperated and we were able to have such a beautiful beach day!