Exploring Saint Mary’s County Maryland: Rural Charm and Hospitality

Exploring Saint Mary's County Maryland

One of the pitfalls of being well-traveled is a tendency to look too far beyond your front door. Truth is any new adventure, no matter how near, is still worth having. Embracing that idea is how I found myself a few hours from home exploring Saint Mary’s County Maryland.

Much of the county is dotted with bucolic encampments of cattle and fields of corn. Formerly a seat of tobacco cultivation, some of that land has been converted to wine production. Which brings us to our first stop, a winery!

Port of Leonardtown Winery

This small winery boasts a bevy a awards and accolades for its small batches of surprisingly sophisticated {surprising to me that is because much of my experience with Maryland wines has fallen a bit short of a trip to Montepulciano} wine. Setting it apart from most wineries is the fact that Port of Leonardtown is a cooperative of growers. Each producer tends to their growth and harvest, the bounty is then turned over to an in-house vintner. The resulting product is uniquely, Saint Mary’s County Maryland.

20160501_130102-1

Just outside the tasting room is a small park with a beautiful, copper roofed gazebo. Making this stop family-friendly. Wine + Family Time = Bonus

Up next, I go back to the Navy…

Patuxent River Naval Air Museum

Have you ever walked into a place you’ve never been before and been overwhelmed by a sense of déjà vu? … all over again. This is that place for me.

The lobby of the newly redesigned museum is designed just like a hangar bay.  A bay that was so reminiscent of the one I worked in daily as part of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two known as the Circuit Riders back in my day. Standing at the wheel of a vintage Navy helicopter that is the focal point of the room, completed the sense of having been there before.

20160430_142438

Tucked along side the helicopter you’ll find a brief history of naval aviation dating back to the days of the brothers Wright and forward into space travel. It’s both an informative and adventurous visit when combined with a stroll down the tarmac outside the building. 

You’ll find historical and unique aircraft along that tarmac and even a very cool prototype or two. There are hands on exhibits and flight simulators as well.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to share this part of my history with our kids. They’ll have some epic fodder for essays this school year, for sure.

Historic Leonardtown

While we’re on the subject of time travel, fans of Marty McFly and Doc Brown will fall in love with the historic section of Leonardtown. Standing in the town square it’s as though you’ve stepped back in time, or onto a movie set.

Red bricked buildings boast painted marquees of businesses long gone. Quaint shops and small eateries line the cobblestone streets. At the center, a town square dedicated to Leonites who’ve served their country, completes the Mayberry-like vibe.   

One of our favorite stops was Heritage Chocolates – for obvious reasons… like, um… handcrafted confections of chocolate covered bliss. Bonus points for the entertainment value of watching someone making these sweet treats – I-Love-Lucy-Style.

20160430_113351-01

The historic jail is a must-see for history nuts, like us. Hold up behind the stone walls of this small building is a chronology of crime and punishment, the history of a local doctor and philanthropist and a treasure trove of period items donated by residents for the preservation of the town’s history. 

Into the paranormal? Fancy yourself a bit of a ghost hunter? Be sure to make time to learn about Moll Dyer, her rock and the rumors of witchcraft that still linger in the air. 

20160430_185712

Where to Stay 

Where you stay can be the biggest factor in the success of nearly and adventure. On our Saint Mary’s County expedition our base camp was perched on a tiny strip of land just big enough for two way traffic and buildings (mostly on one side,) called Saint George Island. Just driving to the Island Inn & Suites is an adventure as the tide laps at the grass that hugs the road. 

Hospitality here is the hidden gem of Saint George. The staff is warm, welcoming and excited to share their home with you. Borrow a beachcomber bicycle for a ride down to the park at Piney Point or take to the water with one of the kayaks they offer. Our favorite activity was watching the sun set from the balcony after a walk down the boat pier behind the hotel. They also have a public fire pit and will even supply wood and marshmallows for roasting. 

20160501_082056-01

Saint George Island is fairly isolated, but that is part of the charm. You won’t find a grocery store or gas station on the island but both are easy driving distance. Next door to the hotel is The Ruddy Duck a nice little eatery offering local favorites and some very good craft beer, which by far makes up for the lack of “night life” on the island. 

Though it may not be a place that gets huge marque in the travel space, exploring Saint Mary’s County Maryland is certainly worth the trip. 

Save

Save

The Cornstalk Hotel in New Orleans (or that time I spotted a ghost)

The Cornstalk Hotel New OrleansWhen a place has been inhabited since 1840, there are sure to be a few stories infused into its walls.  The Cornstalk Hotel in New Orleans certainly has a few. Here, at the most photographed hotel in one of the most picturesque cities in the country, my ghost story begins. 

Let’s start with a stroll down Royal Street. It’s 1840, New Orleans is a bustling port city cradled in a crescent giving access to both the ocean and the great Mississippi. In a stylish home – not far from Jackson Square — a husband worries that his wife is suffering from a deep longing for her Iowa home.

In one of the most romantic acts, still able to be witnessed well over one-hundred years later, the man commissions an iron-work fence. Wait? What? Stick with me here. The man requests a grand gate made in the shape of the swaying stalks of corn that dominate the landscape of his beloved’s home.  Rising above the sidewalk of Royal Street we can still see this love letter today.

The Cornstalk Hotel New Orleans Famous FenceWhen the rare opportunity for my husband and I to getaway -sans offspring — came up, I chose The Cornstalk Hotel for this story alone. Besides, staying in New Orleans should be an adventure in the extraordinary and staying somewhere this old and ornate is like time travel.

Our stay was lovely. Sitting on the balcony, I felt like a grand dame of New Orleans society, nodding at the endless gatherings of tourists that stopped to snap photos of the hotel. The proprietor joined us on the veranda as we listened to guides from the hourly ghost tours stop to regale their audiences with tales of the rooms we’d be spending our weekend in. 

Perhaps that played into the bumps and knocks we’d hear all weekend. Maybe the flickering lights were just due to faulty bulbs. Buildings settle over time, door frames warp. Could it be that was the reason the door to our bathroom would slowly swing open hours after I know I closed it?

As night deepened and we returned to our room, the sounds of Bourbon street in the distance started to fade. Yet whispers still drifted to our window. Looking out our window hoping to guilt people into moving on quietly! I noticed not one living soul.
The Cornstalk Hotel New OrleansThere are no smartly dressed concierge here waiting to fill your every request. You won’t find marble soaking tubs with relaxing jets. The nearest spa is a stroll away.  The house is old, it has an air of mystery to it. The beds are made of rich woods with ornate carvings. Fireplaces are encircled with stone and gilt ironwork. Victorian touches from chandeliers to window dressings give one the feeling of having traveled back in time.
 
Make time to sit on the balcony. As the sun starts to set, look to the buildings across the street. Do all the people walking by seem solidly in the same plane as you are? I snapped a photo from that spot. The day wasn’t foggy, nor particularly humid. My camera lens was clean, the battery new. Yet I could almost be convinced I caught something or someone, spectral. Judge for yourself…
Haunted Hotels in New Orleans

The Cornstalk Hotel – New Orleans, Louisianan

Address: 915 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Website: thecornstalkhotel.com

Phone: (504) 523-1515

Price Point: $179 – $324 – depending on season and day of the week.

Note: As mentioned, this is an old house. Though it is also a quaint boutique hotel, it isn’t exactly what I’d personally consider luxury. That said, I’d gladly go back again. It really is a very unique place that is worth staying.

If you are planing to visit New Orleans with children, this may not be the hotel for you.  

 

Save

Save

Save

Glamping at Firelight Camps (Ithaca, New York)

There comes a time in life where once must face certain truths. Revelations like; I’ll never enjoy eating foie gras, will not willingly jump out of a perfectly good plane and camping is better suited anyone but me. Now glamping, that is a different story. 

Yes, the woman who spent her childhood summers in a musty old military surplus tent, reveled in solar showers, and would never dream of an RV has become tent-adverse and is raising hotel kids. In fact, during one stay at a lovely Residence Inn in Charleston, North Carolina, the youngest picked up the room phone and was appalled to learn there was no concierge. 

Frog Pond at Firelight Camps Ithaca New YorkWould I ever be able to show them the joys of camping? Did I even want to? I mean, solar showers sort of suck. Maybe easing them in would be the key… or not.

The teen daughter and I set out to test this theory with an epic road trip to Upstate New York, where we’d be guests at Firelight Camps in Ithaca for a glamping experiment. Would she survive without bell service… and, um… electricity?

I’ve written about Firelight Camps and the whole glamping trend before, but I’d yet fully experience it for myself. {I doubt a pop up tent in a suite at the Four Seasons counts.}  

firelight camps Ithaca new yorkFirst impressions count, and Firelight’s first impression knocks it out of the park, as it sits on the grounds of the La Trouelle Hotel – a quaint resort with some beautiful architectural features.   The camps themselves are behind the hotel, which is a little disorienting at first.

Once you make your way down the the “lobby” tent, where you’re greeted by not only chic-camp decor but a friendly host, the “awkward” wares off.  Our host welcomed us with local wine, gave us the lay of the land.. where the bath house is {a real bathroom, with real showers and even a sauna}, what was available on-site, and what wasn’t. There is no electrical outlet in your tent. That said, there are battery operated lanterns that light things up fairly well and do double duty as USB chargers.

Glamping at Firelight Camps Ithaca New YorkThe lack of outlets fades away the minute you step inside your tent and see the REAL bed – with actual sheets, and pillows you don’t have to blow up! Each tent also features a balcony with chairs and a table. Ours looked out over a small ravine and was the perfect spot for enjoying tea with the birds. 

Though there isn’t room service, you can make reservations at the steakhouse that is also located on the property. We choose to head into the town of Ithaca, which is just a short drive away from camp. Ithaca is absolutely charming, and the foodie scene is strong. We had the best meal at North Star Pub {recommended by our host} and enjoyed watching a parade that was part of the city’s annual festival with a theme of “Better Together” celebrating the artist in everyone.

Back at camp, the fire surrounded by a luxury seating area blazed as craft cocktails where whipped up and deep conversations had. There was a fierce game of horseshoes going on as well. Gourmet S’mores? Yeah they had those too.

The bed was sublime. The only bug we encountered was on the outside of the tent, and try though he might, he wasn’t getting through that canvas. Thank god! The frogs sang us to sleep from the nearby pond. 

In the morning we noshed fresh fruit, pastries, and locally produced yogurt topped with the famed granola made by chef/owner Emma Frisch who also happened to be a finalist on Food Network Star Season 10 and is the owner of Frisch Kitchen.  Not your typical hotel breakfast, for sure.

Luxury Glamping Touches at Firelight Camps Ithaca New YorkSo how did Firelight do with the teen? She really enjoyed the bed, got over the no electricity thing, and says that she wants to hike nearby Buttermilk Falls – this from the kid who says “Ugh, nature… it’s all over me!” That I’d have to credit our host with, he was very enthused about all great hiking in the area.

There is a certain serenity to Firelight that I’ve not found at “traditional” camp grounds. While families are welcomed with open arms, I’d caution that this isn’t a place for the rambunctious. That said, it’s perfect for a family like ours who is looking to break out of the suite life and get back to nature without having to sleep on the ground… or use a solar shower.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Better (it really does matter)

If you’ve been around here a time or two you may know that I collaborate with Verizon. Most of the time that means testing out new products or services and sharing my honest thoughts here. While I always guarantee readers my unedited opinions, I also accept that not everyone buys the fact that they aren’t influenced, maybe just a little. I get it. Really, I do. I tend to wonder about “sponsored” content too.  I recently had an experience with Verizon Wireless that had nothing to do with my collaboration. It proved to me that their slogan, Better Matters really is a thing.  

The youngest of our Little Nuggets turned ten this summer. Here in the coop the traditional ten-year gift is a cell phone. Right around the same time the teen needed an upgrade (can’t have a smartphone without a functioning camera… oh the humanity!) and our household said goodbye to analog – so long answering machine, you served us well. Off to the Verizon store we went, with no little amount of trepidation.

In the past a visit to the store meant hours sucked out of our weekend. Help that was little to no help at all, and coming home with lighter pockets and befuddled brains. A few years back I even managed to get signed up for two insurance plans on the same phone.

Wait, we thought she was writing about why Verizon Wireless is, um… better.

I hear ya, and I am. I’ve since learned that not all Verizon stores are created equally. In fact, not all Verizon stores are even Verizon stores. What?!! 20160813_132532-01 Here is the deal, there are a lot of stores out there that are Verizon ‘authorized dealers’. Any number of them are great, I’m sure. I just didn’t find those. I found the one that made me dread the cellphone store. Then I found a Verizon store. (cue harp music and unicorn sparkles)

The Verizon store nearest us was a bit of a trek, but totally worth it. From the minute we walked into the store in Glen Burnie, Maryland it was evident things were going to be different. Starting with the warm welcome my phone gave me. Yep, the phone welcomed me to the store… hello, Kubrick!

Team members took our info, what we needed and gave us an actual estimate of how long it would be before we were helped. The doctor’s could take some lessons here! 

Just about everything in the store was hands-on with demos and clear pricing. That pricing thing was the teen’s least favorite feature. When mama knows not everything goes. We played, laughed and got tips from the welcome staff. It didn’t even feel like waiting.

Gerald, our Solutions Specialist (and new BFF) helped the kiddos look through phones, showed them features and put my mind at ease with some cool functions for parental controls. At no point did he push hard for upgrades or add-on items. He’d mention it once. Then accepted my answer like I actually was a human who knew what I did and didn’t want. WOW!

20160813_135510-01While we waiting for data transfers from our old to new phones, Gerald showed us some cool new products. The Nest Cam will be finding its new tree at our house sometime soon. Our current security system came with one camera that doesn’t have the motion-sensing tech an easy install that Nest features.  Plus, I can take my helicopter parenting to a whole new place with it – ha ha. 

Our new puppy doesn’t have a taste for shoes, but he did find my beloved Plantronics Backbeat Fit headphones quite tasty. Gerald introduced me to the Jaybird X2 wireless headphones, which were pretty awesome – not Backbeat awesome but an option for sure. Again, he didn’t try to oversell.

Since that data transfer was taking a bit longer Gerald offered to put the Zagg screen protectors on our new phones. Okay, that was beyond awesome! I’ve never been able to get one on without it looking like bubble wrap on my screen. In fact I usually hate that so much I eventually take the damn thing off and live with the scratches and eventually the cracks.

In the space of less than an hour our family was fully outfitted with sweet new phones (yes, I got me an upgrade too!) some cool and useful accessories and a newfound adore for the Verizon store. Any place can sell you the phone, the ear buds, the cases and shields, but very few places bring the customer service like an actual  Verizon store and the humans that work there. 

20160813_144957-01(This is Gerald. Helpful and adorable too!)

It comes down to people in the end and that’s when better matters.

 

Craft Cocktails: BTB Speakeasy

Craft cocktails are the hottest thing in entertaining these days. Beyond the handcrafted bitters touted by beguiling bearded hipsters lays a storied tradition of revival.  In the heart of Old Town Leonardtown, Maryland a nod to some of that history can be found behind an unassuming bookshelf in a charming little coffee shop – welcome to BTB Speakeasy.

BTB SpeakeasyThis quaint little cocktail stop lets you step back in time to an era when the Volstead Act had Americans crafting cocktails in bathtubs and whispering passwords through sound dampening doors.  As you slip past the bookshelf in the bright at cheery coffee shop (grab a one of their cookies to go – so good) the tones, seemingly even the time changes. The room is dark, the tables and chairs a hodgepodge, the bar lit with flickering candlelight.  The feel is decidedly clandestine. 

Bustling behind the bar are some gifted Mixologists – no bathtub gin here. Top shelf spirits come together with handcrafted syrups, bitters and unique techniques developed by co-founder and cocktail genius Brad Brown. Sitting next to a fresco of Al Capone himself, Penny, Brad’s wife and BTB co-owner, regaled me with stories of cocktail history and the inspiration that transformed a coffee shop into an homage nightlife under the eighteenth amendment. 

On a trip to New York Penny found her way into a speakeasy. Impressed by the immersive, fun, cloak-and-dagger feel of it she walked away inspired to bring that to life in Leonardtown. Helped along the way by Brad’s years in the bar/restaurant business and the artistic talents of a close friend who painted period murals for the walls, the duo brought a bygone era back to life. 

The space inside the speakeasy is snug with just a handful of tables that must be reserved in advance. Call ahead to reserve one and get the password of the day. Whisper that to the staff at the coffee shop counter or pickup the old fashion phone on the wall to connect directly to the back. You won’t get in without this information – after all you could be the Fuzz!

Dotted with antique shops, a wonderfully dusty used book and record store, vintage car museum, craft chocolate factory and historical landmarks, the Old Town section Leonardtown, Maryland feels as though it is frozen in time as well.  A stop at BTB Speakeasy (and Coffee Shop) is a great way to cap off a visit to Old Town. 

BTB Speakeasy’s Smoked Maple Bourbon Old Fashioned
  • 1 Sugar Cube
  • 1 1/2 ounces Top Shelf Bourbon
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • water
  • Slice of orange and cherry to garnish
  • Maple Wood Plank

Brad’s twist on this classic cocktail is the smoking of that maple wood plank. You can find these at most big box or stores like Lowes. Light the wood and blow it out. Turn your highball glass over on top of it to capture the smoke. Put the sugar in a cocktail shaker, add bitters and bourbon. Muddle until the sugar is crushed. Top with water to your liking and shake. Turn your smoke-filled highball glass over and quickly add ice, pouring the cocktail over the ice. Garnish with cheery and orange. The flavor is incredible!

note: pay special attention to the “House Rules” at BTB Speakeasy. Also, if you wear a fedora you’ll get half off your first cocktail.

Travel. Eat. Drink. Write. REPEAT