Follow by Email

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sorry old chap

Virginia is for lovers. As my wife pointed out, Virginia therefore must not be for old married couples.

First off, I must apologize to the East Coast. A few weeks ago, I had written how I wasn't very impressed with the beach at Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware, and had extrapolated that to infer that beaches on the East Coast (at least those north of the Carolinas) were nothing to get excited about. While I continue to stand by those remarks, this past weekend showed me that there are some quite pleasant swimming spots to be found on this side of the continent, even if you have to drive a third of a day to get to them. 

Ah, yes, the drive. First, some background: last Friday (the 27th) being the occasion our tenth wedding anniversary, my significant other and I decided it would be nice to celebrate by staying overnight somewhere by the ocean. A timely article in the Washington Post on state beaches accessible from the District of Columbia led me to make a reservation for the three of us on Saturday night (the 28th) at the Hotel Cape Charles, "a new boutique hotel on Virginia's Eastern Seashore". According to MapQuest, the drive would take about four hours from our temporary home in Falls Church. 

As the Beatles once sang, I should've known better. Even taking into account stops for gas, lunch and bathroom breaks (and one photo-op), it took us eight hours to make the drive to Cape Charles, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Eight frickin' hours! The number of traffic jams we encountered on the drive down at times rivaled the kind of freeway conditions I've encountered in Japan during Golden Week ゴールデンウィーク or the Lunar New Year holiday 年假 in Taiwan. Leaving at nine from Falls Church, it was five o'clock by the time we rolled into Cape Charles, having given up on doing some swimming at Kiptopeke State Park en route. 

Why, yes, we can.

If nothing else, the long drive drove home (no pun intended) to my wife and daughter just how big the United States really is. All those hours on the road, and we were still in just one state (and only the 35th biggest one at that!). Being a driver used to long hauls, I didn't mind the long drive, but the girls were surprised by how many different freeways we used on the trip down (and back). Proof that size matters was further in evidence when we crossed Chesapeake Bay on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a 23-mile (37 kilometers) long span that includes two tunnels. On an artificial island where the road descends into the first tunnel, we parked our car and got out to take in the scene. The other side of the bay couldn't be seen.

Emerging on the other side (and still in Virginia), the Eastern Seashore was a very different world. Traffic was light, the scenery was pleasantly rural and, best of all, Cape Charles was just a ten-mile (16 kilometers) drive away. Rolling into the town of just 1134 souls, all was forgiven. Downtown consisted of just a few blocks, only a handful of cars were on the street (and these were outnumbered at times by golf carts) and everything was quiet. Once the realization set in that we weren't going to be staying in a teeming beach resort town, the fun started in earnest. The girls gave a thumbs-up to our tastefully-designed lodgings:

Things continued to improve when we took a stroll to the public beach and found it to be clean, deserted and only a couple of blocks from the hotel. Many of the buildings along the way had that traditional seaside town-look to them, the kind where you can relax on the front porch while enjoying the cool ocean breeze:

At the seaside, two elderly Korean women were looking for crabs in the surprisingly clear water:

Back in town, we decided to have dessert before dinner, a decision determined by the fact that it was already 6:30 and Brown Dog Ice Cream was scheduled to close its doors at 8. Chocolate ice cream washed down with Red Rock cola didn't do anything to hurt my appetite later on:

Small it may be, Cape Charles was once a major railway hub. At one point, there were two trains a day (one a sleeper) traveling to New York City. The golden age of railroads has long since receded, but several train cars have been preserved as a nod to the past:

There's a very useful word in Japanese, natsukashii 懐かしい, meaning something "dear, desired or missed", often uttered when one is feeling nostalgic. Certainly Cape Charles conjured up for me an idealized image of an America dating back 70 years ago, before the Interstate Highway System and suburbs came into existence, when people traveled by train, or in their cars on highways, and when different regions of the country had very different cuisines. A time when the population numbered only 150 million, and isolationism was the defining element of American foreign policy. Of course, those were also the days when segregation was entrenched, a third of the population lived in poverty and rickets was still a common childhood malady, but nostalgia can be nicely selective, especially for someone like myself who wasn't around back then. 

Dinner on Saturday evening was at the Shanty, Cape Charles' "happening" night spot (there was a live band that played later in the evening, and a handful of university students had congregated on the premises). Being by the sea meant seafood was de rigueur - dinner consisted of fish tacos, steak with scallops and a baker's dozen of clams, washed down with craft beer, of course:

The sunset. Remember that the sun sets in the west, and that we are on the east coast. We watched the sun setting across Chesapeake Bay, not the Atlantic Ocean. The other side of the bay, which was still Virginia, couldn't be seen. This country is big, I tell you:

The Hotel Cape Charles at night. Our room was the one on the upper floor on the far left in the picture above.

If we look a little sleepy, it's probably because this photo was taken on the balcony of our hotel room at 7:00 on Sunday morning.

 The upstairs hallway of the hotel

Breakfast on Sunday was a healthy spread of Greek yogurt, oatmeal and nuts and granola. Suitably fortified, we were on the beach by 8:30 a.m.:

As you can see, the sky was blue, the beach was clean and almost empty and the tide was in. The water was warm, and much clearer than the murky Atlantic Ocean we swam in a few weeks ago in Delaware. Large crabs were hiding among the rocks, and small crabs could be easily found in the sand while we were swimming. My daughter and I spent about four hours in the surprisingly warm waters of the bay. By the time we reluctantly started to pack things up around 1 p.m., more people had shown up and the tide was going out (meaning you could wade pretty far out), but the public beach at Cape Charles could hardly be described as "crowded":

After showering off back at the hotel, we got back into our street clothes and had lunch at Kelly's Gingernut Pub, housed in an old brick building, followed by a quick stroll through the small downtown:

All good weekends must come to an end, and so it was we left Cape Charles just after 3 p.m. for the long drive back to Falls Church. And long it was - counting stops to gas up the car, take in the view at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge (see pic below) and have dinner, and encountering the obligatory traffic jams on I-64 and I-95, it took us 6½ hours to get back. Time stuck in traffic notwithstanding, going back in time to a small town along a quiet windswept stretch of shore was a very nice way to spend an anniversary.

Please accept my apologies.


  1. Great write up! Looks like you had a great vacation!

  2. It was a nice trip, even with the traffic. I'd like to explore the Eastern Shore more in the future.