At long last, after two solid years of wandering around North America, Marylu and I are going to be staying put for a while. We found a place that has everything we want and need and the climate is great year round. Our little piece of heaven is in the outskirts of Oceanside, California.
Having spent most of my life so far in Minnesota, it still looks like a foreign land here. Minnesota has wide vistas of flat plains and gently rolling hills. The Southern California coast is a land fringed with steep, sculpted mountains and valleys. There are certain trees that thrive in Minnesota; the pines, maples, birches, and oaks. Around here, there are so many trees and plants I have never seen before, I don’t know where to begin.
This is not one of those terrible Snowbird letters about “it is so nice and warm here”, compared to your winter. Rather, I am marveling at the diversity of nature to be found in Southern Californian December. Here are some photos from our neighborhood.
This is a new world for Marylu and I and we are still settling in. Or not. Our lease is up in June and we have not yet decided whether to stay or keep roaming. We’ll let you know. Until the next time, we hope everyone has a great Christmas and a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year.
Alan’s post began with more mundane details about our location, like population and elevation. So, to be consistent, I’m starting with numbers from the beginning of our adventure on October 21, 2015. Some might make you laugh while others should earn a cringe.
24 x 365 x 2 = 17,520 NUMBER OF HOURS together, except for bathroom breaks and an occasional solitary walk or drive to the store. This leads to one of the top questions we hear: “How are you still getting along after spending so much time together?!”
36,910 NUMBER OF MILES DRIVEN. For hours and hours. Together……..
Over 135 NUMBER OF DIFFERENT BEDS WE’VE SLEPT IN.
230 +++ NUMBER OF BREWERIES VISITED. The nationwide craft beer expansion has expanded our waistlines! We stopped counting. That will surely help with the pants sizes, right?
37 STATES VISITED, plus parts of Canada and Mexico.
1 VACATION FROM TRAVELS! A Caribbean cruise.
10,000+++ NUMBER OR COMBINED PHOTOS. Don’t worry, they won’t all be included here! That leads to the second most frequently asked question: “What were your favorite spots?
Some of mine include places you might expect: Niagara Falls and Quebec,
Our beautiful State and National parks –
Boston, Gettysburg, Charleston, and New Orleans –
And, small towns not so familiar.
Fairfield, Arkansas – very scenic! It is a small town hidden in the hills, near a lake, and two golf courses. Great a week for golf and exploring.
Lake Lure and Asheville, North Carolina. Alan enjoyed it except for the traffic and the potential for snow. Many breweries!
Gautier, Mississippi. “Why?” you ask. Well, we found a really good deal on a rental property and thought, why not! Great food, good golf, close to Biloxi, and lots of history.
Madisonville and Abita Springs, Louisiana. Live there? No, too much weather going on.
CO, Durango Scenic, touristy, mountain town. It was a good place to recover from the flu; not too many distractions.
The 3rd most asked question: “Any regrets?” Mine – not really, it’s been a wonderful experience. I do miss family and friends. Fortunately, technology has advanced enough to keep us connected.
I could go on and on but “enough already”! Alan says.
After San Diego, it is a relief to get back to Oceanside. Here we have all that perfect Southern California climate without the massive traffic and crowds that infest the big cities. True, Oceanside is still part of the supercity that extends from Tijuana to Los Angeles, but over here there is still some open space.
Oceanside is a multi-layer cake of a city. The first layer is the beach and the downtown area between Interstate 5 (AKA “The 5”) and the ocean. This is where California Dreaming takes place. The beach is sprinkled with deeply tanned young (and a few old) surfers and beach denizens. Close to the beach is a nice variety of food and drink, hotels and motels, beach gear shops, and lots of little “Quickie Mart” stores for overpriced liquor and beer. Pretty much any day of the week there is live music someplace. On Thursday and Saturdays, they have a Farmer’s Market. On Thursday night they have a “Sunset Market” with an amazing variety of food tents, arts, crafts, produce, and music. On weekends, the long-haired locals and the buzz-cut Marines mix together (mostly) without incident.
The next layer of the city starts North of The 5. This area is a little more spread out, a little warmer and drier. The hills get bigger and housing developments, all sporting red brick roofed faux haciendas, spread like melted ice cream. Industries, big box stores, breweries, and strip malls start out here in the “inland”. Freeways run like rivers to the ocean.
The last layer of the city lies even deeper inland. Tendrils of suburbs wend through valleys, following veins of freeway. The hills have turned into low mountains, fringed with garlands of large homes, gloating over what must be a great view. The open spaces become agriculture or golf courses. The dense multiverse of greenery that thrives on the coast gives way to the high chaparral.
This is also the area where the Missions were built, three centuries ago. The Spanish clergy came to convert the local people, the Conquistadores came with them to make sure it stuck. Or something like that. Check your history books for a long and twisted history with the lands and people changing hands frequently. We visited the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia and found a beautiful old building that has been lovingly restored.
As you may recall, we have been looking for a place to settle down. Using our lavish beachside rental as a home base, we scoured the area for a new home. The more we saw, the more we knew what we wanted. Finally, we found a bargain with everything on our list. After two years of traveling around the country, we are going to be rooted again. At least for the seven months of the lease. After that…?
Charleston, South Carolina: Population = 132,609 (Metro area = 727,689), elevation = 30 feet, average January low temp = 42.1, Average July high temp = 88, average sunny days = 209, annual snowfall = 0.3”, annual rainfall = 46”, air quality index = 38, water quality index = 50, comfort index = 31, median age of residents = 36.3
The difference between Charleston and Myrtle Beach is stunning. Where Myrtle Beach looks like a new arrival, Charleston almost drips with history. The first settlement was in 1670, on the banks of the Ashley River in a low, swampy area. Since the French, Dutch, Spanish, and English were all fighting over the Carolinas, they thought it would be more defensible. After many hardships and crop failures, Charleston was founded at its present site, across the river, in 1680.
Colonial Charleston was the trading center for the many plantations that sprung up in the area. These plantations were worked by slaves, brought over from Africa. Of the estimated 400,000 slaves transported across the ocean, about 40% landed here first. By 1708, the majority of the people in Charleston were black African slaves.
Prior to the Revolutionary War, George Washington read the Declaration of Independence from the steps of the Exchange building in Charleston. During the war, Charleston was attacked three times and finally, defeated and occupied in 1778. It was not until 1782 that the city was besieged and reclaimed.
The Antebellum Era was a time of great prosperity and power for the 90 richest plantation owners who ruled the area. Cotton was king and slavery provided the labor to make it hugely profitable. But then the Civil War erupted. With the election of Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina voted to secede from the Union. Fort Sumter was bombarded by a shore battery and taken. The city withstood a blockage until 1865, when General Sherman’s “march to the sea” captured it.
Somehow, the geography and luck has protected the city from the worst of hurricanes, earthquakes, war, and fires. Stroll through the downtown and you see building after building with historical plaques dating them back to the 1700s. Even some of the alleys are the original cobblestoned pathways though the gardens and huge trees.
Church steeples rise everywhere, earning Charleston the nickname “Holy City”.
Maybe this has been kind of a term paper but, with so much history everywhere, it is hard to describe Charleston without it. It is also a big modern city with all of the food, nightlife, business, and office buildings. It is a complex city with a lot to see and we didn’t have enough time to really see enough of it. Maybe another time.
Raleigh, North Carolina: Population = 370,896 (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metro area = 2,037,430) , elevation = 400 feet, average January low temp = 31.5, Average July high temp = 89, average sunny days = 213, annual snowfall = 4.6, annual rainfall = 45.2, air quality index = 26.2, water quality index = 90, comfort index = 36, median age of residents = 33.6
Our trail South has become a zigzag, crossing from coast to inland and back again. This week finds us inland, exploring yet another state capital in Raleigh. Sorry, North Carolina, but your capital is pretty pathetic. We entered this smallish building to look around and mostly we saw beige paint and peeling wallpaper. The chambers are drab little rooms with plain wooden desks. The rotunda is plain and bland. A statue of George Washington, sitting in Roman toga and short haircut, for some inexplicable reason, resides in the middle. OK, we finally figured out that this building is kind of a museum of state government as it was a century ago. The only active part of the building is the Governor’s office. That may explain a lot.
We found the actual, active government in the State Legislative Building. Out of session and under construction, but still, this is the building. Flat and boxy, squares with little courtyards and fountains in the center, dull and utilitarian, this building has the grandeur of a scrub brush. If there were lockers along the walls, it might pass for a high school. I searched and finally found a room labelled “Rest” instead of “Mens”, so I would not have to show a birth certificate.
Anxious to rinse that stale government taste out of our mouths, we crossed the city to find some good beer. Raleigh is in the midst of a craft beer explosion and breweries are everywhere. Trophy Brewing came highly recommended, with good reason. They make a great selection of beers, including the popular DAVE series. Their pizza is thin crusted and crunchy and topped with creative blends of good things. We had a great time talking to the staff and regulars, who were bright, fun, and funny (and dapper!) and made us feel (again) that the Millennials and GenX’ers are going to build a new and better world. If they get involved and vote out the knuckle draggers.
Downtown Raleigh is compact and walkable. There are a few tall office buildings, but mostly you will find shorter buildings with many shops, restaurants, and small businesses residing at street level. Good and varied places to eat are everywhere. We found Jamaican, Lebanese, Laotian, Irish, Mexican, Cajun, Chinese, and Southern, to name a few. We understand there is a great live music scene here too, but most of it starts after 9:00 PM, so us old fogeys didn’t get to see it.
Just outside of Downtown we found Pullen Park. This is a big, beautiful park with a lake, trails, and flower gardens for sunny afternoon strolls. Follow the calliope music to the carousel for a ride on your favorite animal. Look both ways at the tracks because the little train may be chugging along with its load of kids, big and small. Be sure to say “Howdy” to the Andy and Opie statues.
On another trip to the ‘burbs, we went to the North Carolina Museum Of Art. Besides the many collections of art, both old and new, they were showing Art Deco Cars from the 1930’s and 1940’s. These were concept cars: unique, trend-setting, and beautiful.
Back downtown in the city, we also toured the North Carolina Museum Of History. North Carolina is one of the original colonies and has a lot of history. The museum is arranged in a series of sequential rooms that each display text and artifacts of the period.
Raleigh is a city of many diverse neighborhoods. Driving around the city we saw everything from tired old shacks to stately brick mansions; middle class suburbs to college campuses. One section stands out though, the Oakwood neighborhood. This was a community of big mansions that became multiple family houses that became restored jewels.
The cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill form the Triangle, a large and diverse area including several colleges and major businesses. With only a week to spend, we couldn’t really get to the rest of the Triangle. Maybe next time.
Virginia Beach, Virginia: Population = 452,994 (metro area = 1,700,000) , elevation = 10 feet, average January low temp = 31.9, Average July high temp = 87, average sunny days = 213, annual snowfall = 7.1, annual rainfall = 47.8, air quality index = 36.5, water quality index = 61, comfort index = 35
October 22nd marked the one year anniversary of our road trip. Over 25,000 miles, about 35 states and 4 provinces, and 78 rentals so far. Still enjoying the trip…
From our roost on the peaks of the Shenandoah Mountains, we descend into the coastal plains of Virginia. The highway twists and turns and crosses deep misty valleys along the way. All too soon we run into the web of highways that tie the big cities together: Newport News, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth. Four to six lanes of aggressive, turn signal impaired, impatient drivers, all in a hurry to get to someplace that lies just ahead of the bewildered geezers with the South Dakota plates.
The next day, Sunday, we are meeting some dear old friends: Mick, Deb, and Gerry. It is really great to get together and catch up and gather hugs all around. Deb graciously greets the visitors from Minnesota with her Vikings headgear and earrings.
Our hotel is just across the street from the boardwalk that runs for miles. The summer season is just about over and the beach is quiet. A few people dot the beach, hiking and biking, strolling and rolling. The amusement park is closed. A long walk gets us to Ocean Eddie’s Seafood, perched on the end of a fishing pier. Their last day of the season is Saturday and the deals are delicious.
The other elephant in this room is the Navy. There are Navy bases and shipyards all over. The ships can be seen from beach and freeway. Nearby there are Naval Air bases where the jets off carriers land and take off with ear-shattering roars. Supporting and supplying the Navy is the biggest business in the area.
The Chesapeake Bay played an important part in America’s history. The Virginia Company settlers arrived here in 1607. The old lighthouse that stands today was the first federal construction project, back in 1729. In 1781 a French fleet, supporting the revolutionary Americans, fought the British to a standstill here, stopping them from joining forces with General Benedict Arnold’s troops.
We picked a nice warm, sunny day for a day trip and headed over to the Williamsburg. Our first stop was the Williamsburg Visitor’s Center, where for a price, you can do tours and activities ranging from carriage rides to musket shooting. We took a bus into the Historic Williamsburg “downtown” area and strolled along the streets, admiring the homes and businesses. To my eye, these buildings looked too flawless, too modern, to be original. Most are recreations or largely restorations. Williamsburg is more historical park than historical site. Unfortunately, we were too late for Jamestown and missed seeing the excavations.
Just a few blocks away from our hotel we found the Virginia Marine Science Museum. They have an amazing collection of local marsh, river, and ocean species, as well as a few surprises.
Virginia Beach is a great place to visit in the fall, and probably a great place to visit in the summer when the beach is thriving and coated with bodies glistening with suntan lotion. If you don’t mind running the freeways, there are lots of interesting and fun places to visit.
Massanutten, Virginia: Population = 2591, elevation = 1384 feet, average January low temp = 22.2, Average July high temp = 86, average sunny days = 178, annual snowfall = 24.6, annual rainfall = 35.5, air quality index = 85, water quality index = 70, comfort index = 46
We were a little confused by where exactly we were going for this week. The ad in RCI said McGaheysville. When we got there though, the directions led us to Massanutten. As it turns out, McGaheysville is the closest town to Massanutten. Massanutten is both a town and a resort. I guess there are enough full-time residents living in and around the resort area to make it a town in its own right.
Since the RCI sale price for the week was so low ($235 a week!!), we were expecting another tattered old cabin in the woods with few neighbors or amenities. Instead, we found ourselves in the midst of a huge resort that covers most of a mountain. Amenities include a ski resort (chairlift rides and mountain biking in the summer), two golf courses, several bars and restaurants, kayak and canoe excursions, arts and crafts classes, a spa, go karts, a water park, racquetball, tennis, hiking trails, zip lines, pools and hot tubs, horseback riding, shows, concerts, and more. There are about 3,000 units to time share, rent, or, as we soon found out, buy.
During the checkin procedure, we were directed to another desk for our parking pass. Before we got the parking pass, we got the offer; if we would attend a sales presentation, we would get activities cards good for $200 of free or discounted activities. This is not our first rodeo, so we took the cards. Wednesday at noon, we met the two guys for the pitch. First to the waterpark for a look around and a free buffet lunch. Then to an apartment building with display units. Then back to the pressure cooker conference room where this week’s crop of gullible tourists were being played. We listened to the BS, watched as they drew numbers and diagrams, and smiled as they slowly dropped the price and points and deals. Dealmaker A dropped out, to be replaced by dealmaker C, an older and more experienced hand. When they finally accepted that we were not budging, they sent us on to a cute little folksy lady who was actually dealmaker D. She had one last offer for us, but we shot that down too. Free at last…
I am devoting a lot of time and text to the timeshare sales pitch here, I know. If you have never seen one though, I want to warn you about it. There are two basic flavors: weeks and points. With the weeks, you get one week a year at a specific resort that you can either use or trade for a week at another resort. With points, you buy so many points that can then be used to obtain weeks at any of the seller’s resorts. Either way is not worth it. To get weeks, you buy more weeks than you would use in a lifetime, and you have to pay yearly fees and trading fees, and many other fees. With points, you never really know what they are worth. It depends on the resort and area and the time of year. And you still pay all those fees before you can use anything. Trust me, you can do a lot better for yourself by just booking a resort when you need one.
That being said, I have to admit that the Massanutten Resort is beautifully located in the Shenandoah Mountains, the units are mostly very comfortable, and there is a lot to do. But if you ever go, just rent, don’t buy.