Alexandria, VA

Alexandria, VA

Washington, DC seemed like a convenient place to take off on our Ethiopian adventure, so Maggie and I spent a few days exploring the area before flying out. We started with a great evening of music at the Birchmere, a concert hall in her home town of Alexandria, VA. This is a great venue for folk, country, bluegrass and jazz, where you can eat a great dinner while sitting close enough to reach out and touch the artists. Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin brothers provided the entertainment.

Next morning we headed out on a road trip to explore the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay, including the DelMarVa (Deleware, Maryland and Virginia) peninsula and the barrier islands of Chincoteague and Assateague.

After crossing the Bay on the Bridge/tunnel–an amazing 23-mile structure composed of bridges, causeways, artificial islands, and two mile-long tunnels, we stopped at the Visitor Center at the tip of the peninsula to get our bearings. The highway to Chincoteague goes through several charming, historic Victorian and Colonial villages.

There are lots of old plantation homes here, and we spent some time exporing one, Eyre Hall. This 18th century Georgian house has beautifully maintained gardens and backs up to an inlet of Chesapeake Bay that the locals refer to as a creek.

Eastville is the home of the Northampton County courthouse complex, featuring several well-preserved 17th century buildings. The courthouse is home to the oldest county court records in the US, dating back to the 1630s.

From here we continued north toward the barrier islands of Chincoteague and Assateague. You may have read or heard of the children’s book “Misty of Chincoteague,” about the wild ponies that live on these islands.

Although we missed out on a few museums and other attractions by going in the off season, we enjoyed the quiet in the charming town of Chincoteague. As we approached the town we kept seeing bakeries and coffee shops touting their “Smith Island Cakes,” and finally our curiosity got the best of us. A volunteer in the Visitor Center explained that this was a traditional 8-10 layer cake which we absolutely had to sample, so after enjoying a great seafood dinner we checked it out–delicious, and it very much reminded me of the “7 layer cake” my grandmother used to get from the Jewish Bakery in Detroit.

We climbed to the top of the Assateague lighthouse and enjoyed the view, and stopped several times for photos of the mysterious wild ponies. There are several theories of how the ponies came to live here, most of them involving shipwrecks of one kind or another.

Another attraction near Chincoteague is the NASA base on Wallops Island. There is a lot of flight training happening here, such as navy pilots learning to take off and land from aircraft carriers, and it is also the base for resupplying the International Space Station. The public is not allowed into the actual base but there’s a great visitor center with educational videos and other displays.

As we headed home, we followed the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Scenic Byway. The highway starts in Cambridge, MD and winds through historic spots important in the history of the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman grew up here and helped many local slaves to escape north. We started our visit at the Sailwinds Park visitor center, and stopped to check out the Choptank River Lighthouse before taking the walking tour of Cambridge’s historic downtown.

After watching the video and enjoying some conversation with the volunteers at the Harriet Tubman museum and education center, we stopped to see some of the historic sites along the highway.

Thanks, Maggie, for the hospitality, and for doing all the driving!!


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