Thursday, August 18, 2022

the last hurrah of summer

In recent years, we've tried to take one last family vacation before school begins.  Typically we take a cheap week at "the beach", which for us means Garden City Beach or Surfside Beach on the SC coast.  We lay low, eat in as often as possible and just try to have an actual vacation, the kind where you rest.  

It was looking like we were going to skip out on this vacation this year but in the final moments we decided to just look and see what was available.  We found absolutely nothing on the Grand Strand and didn't really want to go as far as Florida.  Then we considered Hilton Head Island and found a few deals there.  We decided to go for a half week and booked it.  

Here's a general disclaimer about the beach for me: 
I am a beach person.  I am the best version of myself with salty air and sand nearby.  I have traveled to many coasts and beaches along the east coast, the Caribbean, and now a couple in Europe.  I know that beach snobbery exists and that while everyone and their mother regularly travels to Myrtle Beach (also on the Grand Strand), it is popular to hate it, put it down, and refer to it as "Dirty Myrtle" or the "Redneck Riviera".  It's popular to say that the Charleston area beaches are the best and that you're likely to get stuck by a dirty needle walking on Myrtle Beach.  Hogwash.  All of it.  The entire strip of the Grand Strand of SC offers easy access to the beach, beautiful, wide beaches, and easy access to a multitude of restaurants and attractions.  I've personally seen dirty needles and tossed band-aids on the Isle of Palms and I do not believe it should be a burden to park near, walk to, or access the beach.  I also understand that I have a nostalgic bias toward the Myrtle Beach area dating back to the first time I ever saw an ocean in my childhood.  Either way, I'm right, snobs are wrong and you can usually find me along the Redneck Riviera.

That said, I got up well before the sun, ran, had coffee, and pointed my truck toward the fancier Hilton Head Island.

The early start put us ahead of coastal vacation turnover traffic, especially along I-95 where for some ridiculous reason, traffic engineers still think two lanes is enough through most of my entire state.  So we arrived early to the island area and stopped at the outlets for some shopping that my kids love to call "back to school shopping".  This is how kids talk parents into buying things they don't need during summer.  Alas, we were in the Vans store because 14 pair of shoes per human is not quite enough in our house and we saw this guy hanging out on a box.  I scooped him up and set him free in a bush as we exited without buying any shoes.

As soon as we arrived on the island we realized it was too hot.  Too hot for anything.  We still had an hour before we could check in so the family drove to the grocery store and I walked the long walk out to the beach.

I was drenched in sweat when I finally arrived on the sand but I was lucky enough to get this funny photo.  They were posing for the people behind them but I thought it was a funny pose.  Laughing made me sweat even more.  It was hot.

But I do love the coast.  All of it.  I love the horizontal landscape, the lush green marsh grasses, and the constant presence of water.  I do not love the .63 mile walk from the Hilton Head condo to the beach.  Our room had a nice view of tennis courts and I immediately missed the ocean front balconies of Dirty Myrtle. 

But again, I love the coast so fine.  I'll walk a bit.  The wildlife was nice too.

And the visual payoff when you finally make it to the beach is worth it.  Most of the time.  We got settled and took a slightly cooler evening stroll on the beach to explore.

The next morning I headed out for my run.  More cool birds and a long run down the boardwalk but I got a couple of miles on the beach as well.  It was already hot.  The nice breeze while running south turned to a deathly still sun bath on the run back north.  

I noticed this osprey in a tree by the boardwalk and as I got closer I also found a cool shorebird skull.  

While I showered, G and Violet started their pilgrimage to the beach.  As they passed the little pond, they texted and said they saw an alligator.  There were signs around all the ponds but I wasn't falling for this again.  I know we have alligators in SC and I love seeing them but I NEVER get to see one.  Outside of Huntington Beach State park, I always get promised gators but I never get to see one.  We've been to Florida several times, driving clear across the state and not one alligator sighting.  We eventually had to pay to go to the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine.  They saw one on their trek to the beach?  Right.  I won't be fooled again.

Then it was time to sit.  On August vacations, I do not sand sculpt.  I sit.  Sometimes I read, sometimes I draw, but always I sit.  Blue sat with me while G and Violet sat in the water.  It was so hot they could only stand to be out if they were in the water.  When the family went inside, I moved under the umbrella and watched as 14 people got stung by jellyfish and went to seek help from a very unsympathetic life guard.  She would tell them, "Sorry, there's nothing you can do.  It will go away eventually."  I found her response profound and applicable in so many different scenarios.  Deep thoughts on the beach.

I had some not so deep thoughts too.  Mostly about this guy.  Around noon he and his wife came out and set up their little wind-blown tent nonsense directly in front of me.  Seriously, like 10 feet away, blocking my entire view.  There wasn't enough wind to use the ridiculous tent so they spent most of the afternoon sitting in their chairs, yelling at their kids, talking into their phones with the nylon curtain drooped flat against their heads.  It was funny, but also very irritating.  When I finally tired of seeing him all afternoon, I packed it in and left.

We found a grouping of shops and restaurants on the island and thought that would be a cool place to hang out for the evening.  All of the shops were just different addresses of the exact same touristy store.  We had a good dinner, I left a drawing for someone to find, and we headed in for the night.

The next day we split up for separate adventures.  Violet and I kayaked Broad Creek most of the day.

And Blue and G drove to Savannah under the guise of more "back to school shopping".  They found the Weiner-mobile!

I will climb a lighthouse.  If it's open to the public and not crazy expensive, I'll walk every step to the top for a better view, even though I'm scared of heights.  I hadn't been to the Harbor Town lighthouse since I was a little kid so we drove there to check it out.  It's a stubby little lighthouse and apparently you have to pay a toll just to drive there, which I'm still a little bitter about, but it was fun. 

The view was nice and it was sort of a museum experience too, so we saw some cool things.  There were some shops there too but again with the same cheap stuff in every building.  We gave it a chance and then left.

Since we didn't see a restaurant that looked great in Harbor Town, we decided to drive up to the Old Oyster Factory.  Violet and I spotted it when we were kayaking and it looked cool.  We arrived pretty late an it was still very crowded but this was the right choice.  The food was really good and the creme brûlée was even better.  (That may not be how you actually spell it but I really like how autocorrect made it look)

The next morning I was running to the boardwalk and what do you know?  A lady yelled at me from a balcony and said I might want to stop because there was an alligator coming.  I slowed.  Then I saw him alligator-jogging towards me.  I stopped.  I watched him cross my path and slip into the pond.  Turns out they really did see an alligator in the pond.  My bad.

So it was hot and it was a very long walk to the beach, but there was a cool little restaurant right on the beach.  Bathrooms, drinks and food.  Very convenient.  

We decided to so some thrifting while we were there.  We mapped the thrift stores on the island and visited them all.  We didn't find anything to buy but we saw some really cool things.  Some scary dolls, this awesome baby carriage, and a basket full of plastic lobsters.  

We took one more evening walk on the beach and caught a little bit of the sunset.  We also watched a little TV.  This summer I've cultured Violet by getting her to watch some comedy movies with me.  We also did a couple of Netflix series things and we started the weird show "Alone" just before leaving home for this vacation.  The condo was pretty small so we also forcefully added Blue and G to the TV mix a couple of nights.  

The next morning we planned to just leave and pick up some food on the way to Charleston but we ended up stopping by Bad Biscuit for some breakfast.  It was a very cool little restaurant.

We decided to sit and eat and look at all of the art and oddities in the dining room.

The food was really good.  Would recommend.

We made it to Charleston for a quick visit.  Violet and I picked up some macarons and dropped another drawing downtown.  I do love Charleston, just not the beaches nearby.  Or actually, I just don't enjoy the drive to the beaches or the hassle of trying to find parking.  On the drive home, Blue and I were almost struck by lightning, so that was fun.  

Hilton Head isn't our first choice of vacation spots but it served us a nice little adventure.  A very hot, very sweaty adventure.

And now, I guess summer is over.  Boo.


Wednesday, June 29, 2022

europe day 13, venice > philadelphia > home


The last run was a little earlier but just as beautiful as the others.  We took a different turn and ended up at the Peggy Guggenheim gate again.  This was a welcome accident.

After my last run in Venice, we finished packing and met in the lobby for breakfast before checking out.  This was our last group pic at the hotel.  That's a happy bunch of people.

The halls of our hotel felt like a hospital at times.

The rooms were simple, but everything you needed on a trip like this.  A shower and a place to sleep.
After checking out, we took the vaporetto to the bus stop and took the bus back to the airport.  The airport was named Marco Polo Airport.  Did we play Marco Polo inside Marco Polo?  You know we did.

I took these photos across Fiona again.  That's Venice as we left.

The snow-covered Swiss Alps below us.

And the first sight of the US, Cape Cod.  This all day flight took us across Europe, past the southernmost tip of England, the tip of Newfoundland and eventually to Philadelphia.  I watched a movie or two and tried to read on the flight but it was too dark.  I could have used my light but I would have felt like a butthole.  It was hard for me to sit still so long.  
Philadelphia airport was one of the most ridiculous places in terms of security.  Rude, annoying and completely illogical.  I'm sure it's a lovely city though.  Once we were through security AGAIN, Sean and I plotted to get an authentic philly cheesesteak sandwich.  Emily blew past us and stood in the line for Chick-fil-a.  We got Geno's and I'd like to say it was great American food but it was wholly unsatisfying and utterly disappointing.  Sean got some garlic fries at Smashburger and those were good.  I also got a proper white chocolate mocha at Starbucks and it was delicious.  Then we sat on dirty airport carpet and waited for our flight to board.

I had the window for the flight home. That's Philadelphia as we left.

And that's Charlotte as the sun was setting.  We lost 6 hours in the flight back home and while it was 8:00 pm or so on our watches, it was 2:00 am on our bodies.  

At baggage claim, we were able to grab our bags and Katherine and I quickly divided up our souvenirs.  I handed my kids a bag to carry out and we said our goodbyes to the group.  This was a great group to travel with and I really enjoyed the trip.  

The kids asked a lot of questions and told me a lot about what I missed while I was away.  After a little while Blue put his ear things in and tuned out.  Sometime after that I fell asleep and woke up to a car on fire in the opposite lane.  I quickly fell asleep again and woke up just as we pulled into the driveway.  I ate, drank a lot of water and got a shower before going to bed.  The dogs were so happy to see me.  I was wearing a mask when I came in and they both growled at me until I pulled it down.  Then they licked me until I went upstairs.  It was a great trip but it was nice to be home.

europe day 12, venice > murano > burano > venice


This was our first totally free day in Venice and it was our last day in Venice.  Our group made plans and invited everyone to go on an all day adventure to the islands of Murano and Burano. I walked to the pharmacy to try to get some things for Emily but the pharmacy didn't open until 9:00 am and we were supposed to meet at 9:00 am at the vaporetto stop.  I grabbed a cappuccino and a strange little breakfast club sandwich and ate it on the way back to the hotel.

A large group of us boarded the vaporetto enroute to Murano about 45 minutes away.  

Our larger group got split up among the water taxis but we all ended up at the same place eventually.  Sean had made the trip before so he recognized the place to get off the boat.

At the foot of the lighthouse there was tiny stretch of triangular beach.  This is the sea glass beach of Murano.  We hopped down onto the sand and rocks and started collecting bits of glass washed up from around the island.  Murano is the glass blowing island and it is packed with furnaces and glass blowing factories.  I assume there's someone dumping broken works of art into the water all around the island for this much glass to wash up on shore.  

I had long given up on not taking souvenirs back home a this point but I had gathered a respectable amount of glass I thought I could pack so while everyone else combed the beach, I grabbed a water and a drink and walked into a few glass shops.
This glass chandelier almost came home with me.  It was clear glass with turquoise flowers and ends and for 750 Euros they would ship it to my house.  Very tempting.  I texted it to the family as they were waking up and I didn't get a "NO!".  I thought about it for a while and decided against it.  It was so beautiful though.

Soon Sean followed my lead and grabbed a drink that matched his Burano shirt.  He planned to wear his colorful shirt to match the buildings we'd see later.  His fan also matched.  And that hat!  A very nice hat.

We were headed to a glass museum when hunger took us to a sidewalk café.  I got to eat at a table alone and enjoy the view as I wrote in my sketchbook.  It was a nice little break from people, even though I could hear everyone just behind me.  

We stopped in a lot of glass shops to allow everyone to pick up the souvenirs they needed.  Everything was colorful and shiny.  It was a dream.

We hit a bit of a snag when we found the line to the next vaporetto was over a hundred yards long.  These boats hold a ton of people though, so we only had to wait about 30-40 minutes.  When we got on the boat to Burano, we ran into Katherine's high school art teacher, Ms Oliver.  She was on an Italian vacation with her husband and she recognized us even with masks, glasses and hats.

Once on Burano, I ditched everyone temporarily and started walking down the streets.  It was amazing for me.  I love color so much and these were MY colors.

I can show you the Sharpies that match most of these.  I felt so comfortable here.  The light and the color was pure joy.

This was a great spot for a panoramic photo.  You may have to click on it or whatever to actually see it.

Sean was quick to tell me he found my street.  Pope Street.  Perfect.

We took a lot of photos.  I took a lot of photos.  I think I amassed about 4,000 photos on this trip.

The rainbow peace flag with Mary and Jesus.  Nice.

We could have spent many more hours here but it was getting late and we still had some plans for our last night in Venice, so we boarded the next vaporetto and took the long ride back to our hotel.

Kelsey joined us for dinner on the water.  This was the best table I had all week, right on the water with a great view.

Katertot and I chose our seats for the selfie backgrounds.

Anne and Sean with the after dinner cappuccinos.  And a very nice hat.

There's beautiful Anne in my food photos again.  This was the last food item on my list and we totally forgot about it until tonight.  Tiramisu.  The absolute best tiramisu I've ever had.  Life changing.  So perfect for the last night.

After dinner and dessert it was time for the bucket-list gondola ride.  I was the only one here who had never been on one.  They were great friends to go with me so I could have the experience.  It was the perfect time of day to go.  The sun we setting and it wasn't hot.  It also wasn't dark yet so we could see everything from the Grand Canal during golden hour.

This photo made everyone nervous because I had to hold my phone out over the water to get the mer-horse sculpture.  I had a death grip on the phone, don't worry.

Every gondola had the same thing on the front.

This was at the end of the ride and everyone was supposed to be fanning me.  I don't know what happened.  The gondolier was nice.

After the gondola ride we found out Emily was feeling good enough to come down to the hotel courtyard to have a drink with us.  We sat there for a while talking and enjoying the night.  Then Sean and Katherine had a few more Euros they needed to spend so we took a walk towards the shops and did some last minute souvenir shopping.

The walk back to the hotel was a slow one.  We took in everything we could knowing it was our last night in Venice.

Looking back, it's hard to believe we did all this in one day.  Everyone was so cooperative and fun.  Everything worked out well.  It was a great day and a beautiful day at every turn.  We got back to the hotel around 11:00 pm and still needed to pack.  We had planned to use an empty bag Katherine brought to fill up with our souvenirs and we would just check that bag on the plane.  I still had a tough time getting my suitcase to close.