Driving from Pennsylvania into Maryland you feel like you crossed the invisible line between north and south. This is pretty strange in itself as we drove from New York which borders Canada and there were still 4 states to drive through if we just went directly south from the PA/MD border to Florida. These are just some of the strange things your mind wanders too after being on the road for years.
We had just come through Gettysburg, PA and were on the way to our friend Jen’s house for the night just outside of Washington DC. Living in Tampa we sometimes thought that yes, we live in a big city. This is until we come to an actual big city with 16 lanes of traffic filled on a Friday rush hour. Then we think ah, Tampa, such a nice quaint little town.
Seeing friends in Northern Virginia
We had met Jen by chance the previous summer in Germany. We had gone to Munich with friends for the famous Oktoberfest. The day before the festival started, we had gone to a bar and sat down for a beer. Jen & her brother had just run the Berlin marathon a few days prior and just happened to be at that bar having a drink. After finding out that we were 1. Americans and 2. current or former New Yorkers, we became friends. They had bought a table at a beer tent for opening day the next day and invited us to join them as the table sat 8 people and it was just the two of them. We had a blast the next day with them and became fast friends.
We had seen Jen earlier in the year as she had flown down to Tampa to run in a half marathon with Julie. We were pretty excited to see her. After winding our way through horrendous DC rush hour traffic, we arrived at her house. Her friend Brian had joined, and they had prepared a bit of charcuterie and a few drinks. After catching up for a bit we wandered into her backyard into her Star Wars themed She Shed Bar. I know “Star Wars themed She Shed Bar” is a lot to take in so here is the breakdown. This structure was at one point a large shed that was turned into a bar. Jen loves Star Wars so there is Star Wars memorabilia decorations all over. As Jen is a she and she has a shed it’s a “She Shed”. Got it?
We had a blast with them that night eventually ordering some Thai food for dinner before calling it a night. The next morning, we hopped into Jen’s car as she drove us into Arlington, VA to one of her favorite breakfast spots, Tupelo Honey. After checking in and a half our wait we were in and chomping down on some great breakfast food! Jen then drove us around on a little tour of her area of the city before driving back to her house. After packing up we said goodbye to Jen and we were off.
From Jen’s house we drove over to our 2nd friend stop with Julia & Kyle. I have known Julia since high school and even after all of these years we are still great friends. She married Kyle a few years prior who Julie & I both love. Seeing them in the DC area was a pretty fun event. They had just moved to DC from Seattle just a few weeks prior from Julie and I showing up. We had actually seen Julia in Seattle on our return trip from Alaska just a few months prior when she told us that they were moving. We had also then met their baby boy Lucas for the first time. As it turned out we were their 2nd guests after her parents. They had actually just received a shipment of furniture earlier in the day so as we call caught up Kyle and I put together some of their new couches.
After the furniture was made, we all were a bit thirsty, so we piled into the car and headed over to a brewery near them called Lost Rhino. After a few delicious tastings and snacks, we were ready for dinner, so we piled into the car and headed over to Uncle Julio’s Mexican Restaurant. While the food and drinks turned out to be awesome even better was the big corner table that they had given us. This was perfect as we had space away from everyone for a stroller with a sleeping baby inside. Mom was happy, Dad was happy, we were happy, and the baby was sleeping soundly in a crowded restaurant. All was good with the world. After an awesome dinner we headed back to their house for the night.
The next day we woke up super excited. It was a dark rainy-day which made it perfect for what was planned. Today was a food and friends’ day. 1st up for the day…donuts! We all piled into Kyle’s car and headed over to Sugar Shack Donuts. Sugar Shack was great as they had 1. Vegan donuts for Julia, 2, Gluten Free donuts for myself and 3. Normal donuts for Julie & Kyle. We chowed down on them then piled back into the car and headed out for food stop #2, the Silver Diner. For the 4 of us all spending most of our childhoods in NY and NJ, diners are a restaurant staple. You can order anything 24 hours per day. As this was a brunch time, we all ordered a big breakfast meal with a large coffee. Needless to say, we were stuffed from this. There was more to go, however.
Next up we were headed into the outskirts of DC to meet up with our friends Laura & Nico. I had been friends with Laura and Nico since our days at the University of Tampa. Laura was from just outside of DC in Maryland and shortly after college they had moved back to this area. We met up with them and their two sons at a restaurant/coffee shop called Busboys & Poets. It was pretty awesome having the DC crew all together in one place. Julia & Kyle had actually lived in DC prior to moving to Seattle so having the 6 of us together again felt like old times. We all enjoyed a beer or 2 for a few hours before the kids started to get a bit cranky and it was time to head back.
Onward to Delaware
The next day we woke up, said goodbye to Julia & Kyle and hit the road once again. Today was a special day for Julie. Today we were going to Delaware; state number 50 for her! Delaware is unique for a few reasons. It is the 1st state in America, it has the only man-made curved border and except in the very north of the state, there are no actual highways. As this was the case after driving from Northern Virginia, into Maryland then over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (one of the scarier bridges that we have ever driven across) into the eastern shore of Maryland then crossed into Delaware on a 2-lane road. At the border we only saw a tiny sign that said “Delaware”. As we were out taking a picture a person from the business that we were parked next to, came out and told us that one of the Mason-Dixon stone blocks was just across the road and we should go take a look at that too.
The Mason-Dixon line runs almost the entire length of the southern boundary of Pennsylvania then takes a 90 degree right turn south and makes the entire western boundary of Delaware. This line was surveyed between 1763 and 1767. This was done to put to rest a border dispute between Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. It also is the line which separates socially north from south and politically during the civil war, slave vs non slave states. This was pretty neat to see as the stone markers are well over 200 years old and still standing there. After snapping a few pictures Julie and I were off.
Delaware is not a big state by any means. It is only 96 miles long and 36 miles wide at its widest point. The only state that is smaller than Delaware is Rhode Island. As this was the case, we didn’t think its capitol city would be too big, so we headed over to Dover. Dover (first settled 1693, became a town in 1717) with only a population of 36,000 was a nice and simple city to drive around. We drove down its main drag which included tree lines streets with bustling shops. It was pretty nice. After driving through downtown we headed over to the capitol complex.
The Delaware capitol building (General Assembly Building) turned out to be like the rest of the state, small. After getting wanded by a police officer we were told that while there were no tours, we could pretty much go wherever we wanted in the building. We were given a self-guided map and we were off. Being told that you can just go and explore is extremely rare in a capitol building. Generally, you are free to walk around a capitol building but without a guide you can’t go into most rooms. Here we walked directly onto the senate floor and stood behind the podium. This was pretty neat. We then walked over to the house chamber where we stood admiring the artwork for quite a while.
From the General Assembly building we walked over to the old capitol building. Here we were greeted by a very friendly volunteer tour guide who wanted to show us around the building. This building had been the capitol building for over 200 years and was truly history packed. This building saw the country grow from its beginning. One of the really neat pieces in the building was a portrait of George Washington which was completed in 1802 just after his death in 1799. It was really neat to see this painting as it wasn’t in a museum and you could get as close as you wanted to. Once we were done touring the building, we walked the capitol grounds for a bit before jumping back into Bubbles and heading to the campground for the night.
The next day we woke up excited to go on a tour of central Delaware. After spending so much time in Florida where something is considered old if it was built before 1970, it was really cool to be in a state where most things can trace their building to the 1700’s. We started our day in the town of Milford (first settled in 1680, became a town in 1807). We wandered around this friendly town (everyone on the sidewalk stopped to say hello to us) and found a great little coffee and sweets shop called Dolce Bakery & Coffee Shop. I got a coffee while Julie got a Philadelphia Buttercake. We had never head of this before. It was delicious and tasted exactly as you would think, very sweet and tasting of butter.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Delaware
Next up for the day was a stop that we were both very excited to make. One of the most famous craft breweries in the United States is Dogfish Head Brewing and its located right here in central Delaware. After Driving through Milton (first settled 1675, became a town 1763) we drove onto the huge brewery property. After a quick lunch in the van we headed in. For being such a huge brewery, we were surprised to find out that the actual bar/restaurant area was quite small. There were tours but as the next wasn’t going to take place for another hour we decided to get ourselves a flight of beer and sit and enjoy the room. The beer was of course amazing and after we finished our flight, we wandered into the gift shop where we bought a few souvenirs and some 6 packs to go to share with friends once we reached Tampa.
Lewes & Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Next on our list for our tour today we headed toward the shore. Our first stop was Lewes (first settled 1631, became a town in 1818). Lewes is extremely historic being the first settlement in the entire state of Delaware. The town was also as picturesque as they come. Clapboard style buildings lined the main street filled with shops and restaurants. Julie and I really enjoyed walking up and down these streets. As this town was on a river outlet and not a beach there were not many tourist shops to speak of (there was a ferry to New Jersey from Lewes). After we got our fill of Lewes, we headed to Rehoboth Beach.
Once we got to Rehoboth Beach (settled 1873, became a town 1891) it filled all the check mark boxes for a Mid-Atlantic beach town. Big main street filled with tee shirt and bathing suit shops. Check. Mom & Pop French fry, burger and fry shops. Check. Ice cream and water ice shops. Check. The only thing missing was people. It was Mid-October and well past beach season. Only about half of the shops were still open and for a town that could support thousands on a prime July day, there were only maybe 50 people that we saw. While it was cool to see it became quite windy with a bit of rain, so we hopped back into Bubbles and headed back to the campground for the night.
Bethany Beach, Delaware
The next morning, we woke up, packed up and were off. Today we would be heading down the Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) in its entirety ending up in the southern Virginia city of Virginia Beach. Our first stop of the day however was, Bethany Beach, DE (settled 1898, became a town 1901). Bethany Beach was very different than Rehoboth Beach as it was tiny in comparison. Bethany Beach was also founded by a leader of the Christian sect of the Disciples of Christ as a spot for all of his disciples to go in the summertime.
Today, unlike the previous day the weather was beautiful. The sun was out, and it was warm. We parked Bubbles and walked down Bethany Beaches Boardwalk looking out at the ocean. We then walked up the town’s main street hungry for lunch. We found it at Ropewalk which was a small seafood chain. We had lunch on their rooftop patio overlooking the ocean. It was pretty awesome.
Ocean City, Maryland
From Bethany Beach we continued south crossing back into Maryland and into Ocean City. Ocean City was an immediate shock to our systems. Coming from small and quiet Bethany Beach; Ocean City was as loud and as in your face as a town can be. We passed block after block of ocean front hotels, mini golf courses as well as every restaurant and tourist tee shirt shop that you could think of. We pulled over onto a side street where we found parking with beach access. We then found the reason that people come to Ocean City….the boardwalk. As we walked up and onto the structure it seemed to stretch forever in both directions. It was pretty great. The wind however had other ideas and as it was quite windy we decided to press on.
Going south from Ocean City the scenery changed as the road drifted inland. Gone was the beach and beach towns and into farmland we went. The roadway was excellent as we passed small farms and farmhouses. It was pretty neat to see this, as scenery in this part of the country had not changed that much in the past few hundred years.
Virginia’s Eastern Shore
We then crossed the Virginia line and entered the southern tip of the peninsula into the area named Virginia’s Eastern Shore. This we found seemed like an area that the rest of Virginia and the country for that matter forgot about. While we were surrounded by water on 3 sides there were no beaches to speak of. There were decent looking farms, however the few small towns that we passed looked like they had been mostly abandoned years prior. It was a bit sad out here. You felt like you were at the end of a dead-end street in an area that no one cared about anymore. That’s just how we felt though.
At the very tip of the peninsula lies one of America’s engineering marvels; the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. This bridge-tunnel combination connects the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula with the city of Virginia Beach. Originally opened in 1964 it consists of 15 miles of bridge, 2 miles of tunnel and 4 man made islands; 23 miles in total. The really neat part about this bridge is that when driving on it you go from shore to bridge, to island to bridge, to tunnel to bridge, to tunnel to island, to bridge to shore. Did you get all that? In our 60,000+ miles of driving over the past 3 years we had not been on anything like this.
Driving on it was just incredible! For a good portion of it you felt like you were driving on a roadway in the open ocean. You then entered a tunnel in the ocean and popped out on another bridge while still in the ocean. You then did the same thing again. It was one of the coolest things we had ever driven over. Soon enough though we were to the other side and back in populated Virginia Beach. We drove over to our campground, made dinner and called it a night.
Next up…We explore eastern North Carolina!