Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Travel Journal’

Moments from the Voyage of the Star Clipper, Lisbon to Athens, 2015

Description of this adventure at: Lisbon to Athens: Grand Voyage of the Star Clipper, 2015

Enchanted with the splendor and grace of the sailing ship, a masterful creation of those who designed and constructed this work of art, I fell for the romance of sailing the frothy seas that inspired waves of passion for life as the salt air wind blew away doubts and dreams unfurled.


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Daily Prompt Journey

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Lisbon on a Tram

Lisbon’s Tram 28 Tour

Red arrow Trolley

Hometown Trolley: Red Arrow

A photograph of a little yellow tram-car against the backdrop of a twisted alley way on a cobblestone street, enticed me to visit Lisbon. National Geographic lists the Lisbon trams in their top ten list of trolley rides. I have an affinity for trolleys because I grew up next to a the Red Arrow Trolley Line that ran in the back of my childhood neighborhood; we always looked forward to riding the trolley.

So when public transportation takes on a mystic quality, I know a ride is not to be missed. My experience with the hair-raising Amalfi Coast bus ride comes to mind. I always prepare references of places I plan to see and “visit” locations on Google maps still I didn’t find the right place to pick up the tram in the historic Amalfa section of Lisbon. I was proud of myself for negotiating a metro transfer and arrived at the Martim Moniz Plaza only to stand a station for 20-minutes, wondering if I was lost. A man wearing a transport vest looked like a good candidate to set me straight, and he affirmed I was in the right place, but the next tram that stopped was the Number 12 not 28! I decided to explore around the plaza, turned the corner . . .

Tram 28 Line

Ah, yes, I should have scouted out the stop with the long queue. I thought a rainy day in April would be safe bet against hoards of tourists. As rain intensified, everyone, including myself, stood our ground as we waited patiently for the trams to arrive until we, too, could be squeezed into the trolley car. Many of the guidebooks warned against pickpockets, but with cacophony of foreign languages and folks holding city maps while taking cell phone photos, there was no room for pickpockets . . . just hawkers selling umbrellas at inflated prices.

The Lisbon trams, once drawn by horses, have a steampunk quality, with their 20th century fittings and polished wood. The vintage cars, built over seventy years ago, sport bright yellow paint. The narrow cars jounce (made up word) through cobbled streets and narrow alleys, like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from Disneyland–with sudden turns, avoiding what would seem to result in an inevitable crash. The tram wheels, positioned at the center of the car and not at the ends, make the trolley seem to float over the tracks.

Tram 28 in Alley

Dark Tourism at its Best

Mausoleum DoorI stayed on the trolley, with a mysterious transfer to another, to the end of the line. I never did quite figure out their system, but did reach the last stop, the Prazeres, for my verified “Dark Tourism” experience. Ironically named “Cemetery of Pleasures,” the spot has an otherworldly feel, the rainy day contributing to the misty atmosphere. Lines of cyprus trees stretched toward the sky, breaking up the line of marble buildings. This cemetery reminded me of our visit to the Cimetiere Du Pere-Lachaise in Paris, where many of the rich and famous found their last resting place. Seems like Europeans like to create stone villages to the dead, perhaps trying to create immortality in stone. Each mausoleum is characterized by its own personality, with a variety of sculptures decorating the façade. Elaborate doors served as the entrance, either painted or with intricate ironwork in front of a window. Each building has a strange quality of enticing visitors to look into the little houses while still conveying an eerie caution. I couldn’t help but peek through the windows to see alters with pictures, as well as the coffins. I would have lingered longer, but as the rain spilled over my umbrella, the bone chilling dampness, no pun intended, drove me back to find the trolley.

Prazeres Cemetery

 Tram Stop: Castelo de S. Jorge

The trolleys stop at over thirty locations, and I found it challenging, if not impossible, to figure out exactly where we were at any one time. I did have a list of stops, but small print named the stations names and the conductor did not make announcements. In any case, every stop along the way seemed like a great place to get out and explore so it didn’t matter about missing the stop for Castelo de S. Jorge. The massively huge castle, which dates back to the 11th Century, sits atop the tallest of Lisbon’s seven hills. A shaded courtyard spread out toward expansive views of the city and surrounds, providing a great perspective of the area. The Tagus River, sparkling in the sun, surrounded the landscape.


The massively huge castle, which dates back to the 11th Century, sat atop the tallest of Lisbon’s seven hills. A shaded courtyard spread out toward expansive views of the city and surrounds with the Tagus River, sparkling in the sun, surrounding the landscape. Viewing from the ramparts, I looked down into the neighborhoods of Alfama. Cottages and castle stand together as extreme contrasts in size and style.

I walked up and down the steps of the ramparts, being careful not to lean too far over the short walls. Steep steps provided a workout, but with so many interesting places around every corner, I wanted to see all of it. At the archaeological site, I viewed the ruins of the Moorish quarter. Before the Moor invasion, other civilizations occupied the site dating back to the Iron Age.

Lunch with a Peahen

Peahen at LunchPeacocks and pea hens sat in the trees and on the walls and paraded around the café. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen peacocks of such size. When the male spread his feathers, he needed at lease ten feet. I bought a baguette for lunch and settled down at an outside table. Can you enjoy a meal while being watched? A peahen took an interest in my sandwich, cocking her little head as I tried to dissuade her with a conversation littered with, “no, no.” Being a Portugese bird, my words did not translate, but being a persistent creature, she was eventually rewarded with a handout, which worked for her and provided me with the knowledge of why these birds were so large.

I hopped back on the trolley and then the Metro to my hotel. Lisbon’s Metro had been easy to negotiate and surprisingly spiffy and clean. Shiny blue tiles lined the walls along the series of escalators that carried passengers to lower levels. Not a single piece of paper littered the floors. Crowds jammed into the cars at rush hour. A fist fight broke out right in front of me, the result of pushing and shoving that jostled the passengers caught in the crush. A women on the platform broke the fight up, leaving the two agitators apart as the doors shut on the car and separated the two.

Lisbon Metro Station

Metro Platform

With four fitful hours of sleep on the plane the previous evening and a full day of exploring, I fell into bed exhausted, as the “Trolley Song” came into my head,

Clang, clang, clang went the trolley
Ding, ding, ding went the bell

Chug, chug, chug went the motor
Bump, bump, bump went the brake

Lisbon to Athens: Grand Voyage of the Star Clipper, 2015

Paranoid Traveler or Conscious Consumer?

March 17, 2015

Should I go on this trip? Would you go?

For two years I planned this vacation: taking a smaller cruise ship to various ports across the Mediterranean Sea. I gathered over fifty pages of research on the trip locations, studied guidebooks and constructed a google map. I watched videos of each port. After I purchased the the trip tickets and packed my suitcase, current events left me in a quandary on whether I should take this vacation.

On February 15, ISIS beheaded 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt on the coast of Libya near Sirte, a port town. By Mid-March ISIS and the State-affiliated militants were engaging in violent clashes.

In October of 2014, ISIS began a propaganda campaign, threatening the Vatican, claiming to launch a war against the Catholic Church and invade Rome. On March 15, the Vatican, which in the previous months had downplayed the threats, its Geneva ambassador suggested that military force should be used against ISIS, if settlements could not be reached.

What I found alarming is that Cruise reported:

But sailing into a port in Morocco or Egypt on a cruise ship? It’s not a matter of if. It’s just a matter of when.

Fisherman on Lampedusa, a small island halfway between Sicily and Libya, raised their concerns with the Italian government that they were fearful of being boarded by the terrorist group.

I called my cruise company. The representative reported that their insurers would not allow the ship to go anywhere near where they perceived danger. I guess protecting their investment will also protect me. It’s kinda funny that it comes down to money. He said they would change their itinerary if there were any threats. He also said the cruise line could not guarantee safety 100%, which I understand.

Statistically, I should be more concerned with these possibilities if I stayed home: about 40,000 automobile deaths and 32,000 firearm deaths occur in the United States each year. I’m in more danger driving on the 95 Interstate or catching a stray bullet from a crime or accident than anything happening on the high seas. So far, not one American tourist has been killed by ISIS.

Still, the situation in the Middle East does give one pause. Whereas I have a choice to go, I know that those folks caught in the middle of these conflicts have no choice.

The State Department has issued travel alerts and warnings for over 40 locations.

How does a traveler remain aware without being hyper vigilant?

As a traveler, have you faced a similar situation and what did you decide?

Would you stay home or go on this trip?


The next day, after I composed a draft of this post, tragically militants killed 17 tourists as they stepped off buses to visit the National Bardo Museum in Tunis. My cruise line has listed the Bardo Museum as one of their excursions.

Someone wrote on Facebook that didn’t understand why anyone would travel to Tunis. Last year 6.2 million tourists visited that country without major incident. Tunisians have invested in the travel industry, as 20% of the population benefit from tourism. The people of Tunisia will suffer the long-term effects of reduced revenues if the tourist industry collapses, which would further weaken the country economically and perhaps give ISIS a further foothold in the ensuing chaos. Tunisia has taken positive steps toward democracy, a positive outcome of the Arab Spring. Let’s hope the militants have not derailed their democratic initiatives.

Link Special Report

Sailing Sojourn on the Maine Coast

Longing for a seafaring adventure? I’ve just returned from a six-day sailing experience on a schooner through the islands and back bays of central Maine. I prefer to write travel journals as pages, which can be found here: Sailing the Coast of Maine on a Windjammer.

A sampling of some of the photographs by primary colors.






A Corner in West Mount Airy, Philadelphia


Greene Street and Carpenter Lane

Taking a writing course offered at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore led me into a community in West Mount Airy at the corners of Greene and Carpenter Lane. Despite the bleak winter afternoon, the community offered a warm atmosphere as the little shops that lined the streets invited me to stop in to visit. In addition to taking a writing course, I had also enrolled in a photography class at an art center in my community, so I had brought my camera along, as our assignment was to look for new shapes and textures as subjects.

IMG_2275With a fondness for restoration, I couldn’t believe my luck stumbling onto the Philadelphia Salvage Company. Suitcases and trunks piled on what looked like an old railroad cart, and metal cans spilled into the sidewalk. But I didn’t linger too long in cold. Upon entering the building, I noticed  a cast iron stove, pumping warm air through the building, as a tea kettle spewed steam from its spout. I warmed my hands and looked around, mesmerized by the array of architectural salvage, from stained glass, plumbing and electrical fixtures, antique doors and windows. In a second life, I could be a picker, as I love all the old stuff in need of a fix-up.

The Salvage Company celebrates a doggie visitor as their “mascot of the day,”  and I understand that a sleepy cat sometimes occupies the front bench.

Tea Pot Frame

I found lots of subjects for my photography assignment.

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One subject seemed to deserve special attention: a shelf of different sized gears.  The photograph of those gears inspired this blog post, and three months later the photo won first place at the Community Arts Center!

Across the street from the Salvage Company, dogs waited patiently for their owners grabbing a bite to eat at the High Point Cafe. Chilled by the damp air, I stopped in for a cup of coffee. I was not disappointed as the coffee was excellent, in addition to their selection of pastries. The Cafe refers to their corner as a village and “are proud to be part of one.”


One store down from the Cafe, the Nesting House specializes in selling new and used baby items “with an aim to uphold a mission of social and environmental stewardship.” They sell cloth diapers and used clothing. I found a little pair of shiny dress shoes for my great-niece.


Crossing over to the corner, I opened the door to the Weavers Way Co-Op, and met with crowds waiting in line to make their purchases. Deli aroma filled the air, and signs advertised hot soup for sale by the cup. According to co-ops website, they sell products that are “local, sustainable, organic, fairly traded and healthful.” It’s a small, two-story compact space, and yet they had annual sales up to $14 million.


A Huge Assortment of Bulk Items

I picked up some fresh vegetables and loaf of bread and headed to my destination, Big Blue Marble Bookstore. This store reminded me of the book shop restoration I had been part of years ago at Bindlestiff Books in West Philly. An independent book seller, the shop displayed a fantastic collection of children’s books and places for kids to sit and consider what they might buy. Toys and stuffed animals filled every corner. A cozy space, I lingered in the travel section before heading upstairs to my writing course. The store sponsors events including book clubs that can use their community space.


The progressive leanings of this corner village come from a long history of neighborhood harmony. According to Wikipedia,

The area is recognized by many civil rights groups as one of the first successfully integrated neighborhoods in America. Mount Airy residents organized to resist blockbustingpanic selling, and redlining, especially during the period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s when those practices were prevalent. It continues to be a well-blended neighborhood and was recently cited in Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine for its racial diversity and neighborhood appeal. The community has also been recognized by US News & World Report for racial harmony and balance.

The harmony in their neighborhood stands in contrast to what the big-box stores offer. In this post, Mystique of the Ole Fashioned General Store I compare the general store of years gone by, which served as a community anchor, with the big-box store of today, which, in contrast, offers little neighborhood involvement or esthetic appeal.  According to a study conducted by faculty at Penn State, big-box stores coincide with hate groups. Mount Airy demonstrates that progressive values provide the small-town American atmosphere we long for in this country. It’s as simple as having a welcoming street corner in your neighborhood.

Road Trip: DelMarVa Peninsula to the Outer Banks

I’ve made this trip often, so I thought that it might be time to journal the drive. We’ve changed our route over the years, as new highways now bypass some of the little towns. The new routes take less time with the elimination of traffic lights but have lost the chance to view the environs of these towns. Along the way, many interesting places beckon us to explore rather than stay on course for our destination.

We start our journey on my least-favorite highway, the congested Route 95, which is a direct route, if nothing else. At Delaware, the highway splits and Route 495 provides a pass around Wilmington. For a few miles, we see expansive views of the Delaware River, bridges, factories, ship yards, refineries and a big hill where trucks haul trash to the top. With major construction on-going, we navigate through the cattle shoots, jostling for a place on the highway with 18-wheelers.

Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Bridge

Opened in 1995, this bridge is one of the first of its kind in the area. A concrete and steel cable-stayed bridge, it spans the Delaware Canal, which connects the Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River.


Just off the bridge, fields of corn alternate with suburban sprawl, box-like newer construction–single family and apartment complexes.  Scrub forests and mixed pine and deciduous woods fill much of the landscape.

The Chesapeake Peninsula is coastal plain, which is a sandy, flat area, and the view from the car are fields of crops and outcroppings of forests in unpopulated areas.  Small and large stands selling fruits and vegetables regularly appear along the highways. Along Route 13, shopping districts and homes have sprawled over some the farmlands in the last twenty-five years.

 Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City is a popular seaside resort for folks who live in the Mid-Atlantic region. Even though I have lived just three hours from this town, this will be my first visit. Our family vacationed at the Jersey Shore, specifically, Cape May. On this trip I thought it was time to stop at Ocean City, lured by the chance to walk along the lively 3-mile long boardwalk. After sitting in the car, will be good to get out and smell the sea air.

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The Ocean City website listed a variety of events in the city: fireworks, concerts, movies and laser light shows.

Berlin, Maryland

A short drive from Ocean City, we stopped for lunch in the historic town of Berlin. The residents have restored the buildings along the main streets, where eclectic gift and antique stores feature displays in their windows. The tree-lined streets, Victorian lanterns and planters filled with flowers made this town an inviting stay. Several restaurants, such as the Drummer’s Cafe, Rayne’s Reef Luncheonette and SiCuli Rustic Italian offered a variety of choices for lunch. We ate at The Globe, once the neighborhood movie theatre and enjoyed a tasty lunch while watching an old-time flick.

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Crisfield, Maryland and Tangier Island

Blog post, Tangier–Virginia’s Island Lost in Time, describes our visit to Tangier Island in 2011.


Parksley, Virginia

Parksley Train Station

Parksley was a planned community as a result of the railroad constructions on the Eastern Shore and is representative of the small town atmosphere of that era.  The commercial district in the center of town has a number of shops and restaurants.  Victorian houses stand along the shaded streets.

Founded in 1988, the Eastern Shore Railroad Museum is housed in a restored train station.  Around the station, railway cars, such as the Fredericksburg and Richmond Post Office Car and the Wabash Caboose rest on tracks.

Train Cart

Onancock, Virginia

Onancock comes from the Indian word “auwannaku” meaning foggy place, but it was a bright sunny day when we arrived. This town offers much to see with self-guiding walking tours past historic homes and lovely gardens and places to rent boats and kayaks. A ferry operates out of Onancock Creek to Tangier Island. For over a century, the Hopkins and Brothers operated a mercantile store, as Onancock had been a busy center for trade. Renovated and moved, the interior of the building still maintains the look of a country store. A number of old-fashioned general stores still remain in operation along our route, which inspired this post on the political and social aspects of losing the general store in the American small town.

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Chicotegue Island, Virginia

Spending just a day on Chincoteague Island, we were rewarded with a serendipitous experience. Chincoteague, on the eastern shore of the Del Mar Peninsula, is best known for the wild ponies, whose ancestors survived a wreck of a Spanish Galleon, or one of the legends would have us believe. Turned out the egrets carried the day.

Cape Charles, Virginia

Turning off 168, about twenty miles from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, we found this attractive little gas station. Read more about this station and others like it at: Nostalgic Memorabilia: Filling Stations of the 1920s.

Gas Station

Gas Station on Route 184

We explored the bay-side town of Cape Charles. For many years the town had been the terminal of the Little Creek Cape Charles Ferry, which provided car ferry service to Norfolk and Hampton. Now an expansive beach runs the length of the village. Many of the homes date back to the early 1900s, and the town center has a distinctly small town main street.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay the bridge meets the Atlantic Ocean and opening of the Chesapeake Bay. About 17 miles long, the bridge connects Cape Charles with Norfolk.


The Bridge-Tunnel, opened in 1964 and considered the largest bridge-tunnel complex in the world, consists of low trestle bridges, two suspension bridges and two tunnels, each a mile long under the shipping channels.

Currituck, North Carolina

Just off of Route 168 and situated on the Currituck Sound, the town is the landing for the Knotts Island Ferry, which offers a free shuttle to Knotts Island.  The town has a few brick buildings including the Courthouse and Jail house, dating back to 1820. W. H. Snowden’s General Merchandising  Store was closed but I could peek in the windows and see that it still retains the look of a country store.


Knotts Island Ferry

Snowden General Store

Peck Basket, Moyock, North Carolina

One of our favorite stops along Route 168 is the Peck Basket. Years ago the little store was not more than a shack but always had an eclectic array of items to gaze at or to buy. In its new site, has taken on the ambiance of a general store, replete with pot belly stove and old-time counters and open shelves.

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Wright Memorial Bridge, North Carolina

Built in 1966 and over a mile long, this bridge connects the Outer Banks to the mainland. Getting over the bridge on a Saturday is an exercise in patience as traffic backs up along 168 all the way to the Cotton Gin. The backup continues along Route 12, the only highway to the upper end of the island.

Duck, North Carolina

Beach and bay scenes in Duck.

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Elizabethan Gardens, Manteo

Best described on their website:

Fanciful and elaborate gardens were kept to entertain Queen Elizabeth I during her reign. Our garden was created for your enjoyment, and as a living memorial to the time when Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colonists lived in this very place over 400 years ago. Inside our brick-walled gate you’ll find a wonderful collection of Renaissance statues, a sound-front Elizabethan-gazebo, a sunken Elizabethan knot garden – all adorned by an ever-changing palette of year-round color from hydrangeas to native plants, perennials and  camellias on ten sound-side acres.

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The Lost Colony, Manteo

One evening we attended The Lost Colony, the longest-running outdoor theater. I especially enjoyed the 16th century choir music and the Native American dancers, who flung the sand in arches over their heads. Special effects, fire torches and guns blasting, added unexpected excitement and action. The story, an historical drama rather than a recreation of actual events, piqued my interest and I followed up with some research on my own. Our family members were friends with the “Queen,” played by Diana Cameron McQueen, so we stayed after the performance to meet and talk with the cast members.

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Coastal North Carolina: Witness to Pirate Invasion

Beaufort: Legacy of Pirates along the North Carolina Coast

Schooner Wolf

Yo Ho Ho & a Bottle of Rum

As we arrived in Beaufort, we found the town overrun with people streaming down toward the wharf. After scouring the neighborhood streets for a parking place, we headed the way of the crowds toward the waterfront. Some were dressed in colonial costumes–this began to look like fun!

Turns out, we arrived just in time for a pirate invasion! Folks lined the piers and watched as the events unfolded on the river. A classic topsail schooner led the attack by sea, her pirate crew taking aim at the shoreline blasting her cannons. Muskets fired back in defense. Pirates in longboats plowed the water, and buccaneers on land brandished swords. Townsfolk cheered as the pirates clashed with the military guard.

We just happened on Beaufort’s Annual Pirate Invasion: It Takes a Village to Pillage event, the town’s recreating of an actual pirate invasion in 1747. The story goes that Spanish privateers sailed into the harbor and stole several ships, easy pickings when only a few men guarded the coast. Not satisfied, the pirates returned several months later to take the town! About fifty militiamen were not enough to protect the village, so citizens high-tailed it out of the area. After collecting more recruits, however, the militia counterattacked, driving the pirates out for good this time.

Blackbeard supposedly had been a frequent visitor to Beaufort around 1718. The governor of Virginia, tired of piracy along the coast, sent two sloops on a mission to capture Blackbeard; the governor’s ships eventually tracked down the pirate, and an intense sea battle followed in which Blackbeard was killed. Three hundred years later divers discovered the wreckage of his ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, in Beaufort Inlet.

Capture of Blackbeard

The weekend featured all sorts of pirate activities from sword dancing, to pirate cruises, and costume contests.  The trial and supposed hanging of the pirates highlighted the afternoon. With so many events, I would come back and enjoy the entire weekend! 


More about our stay in Beaufort as well as our road trip through the towns of coastal North Carolina at the link.


Nostalgic Memoribilia: Filling Stations of the 1920s

About twenty miles from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, we turned right from Route 13 to Route 184 to explore the bay side town of Cape Charles on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. For many years the town had been the terminal of the Little Creek Cape Charles Ferry, which provided car ferry service to Norfolk and Hampton. Now an expansive beach runs the length of the village. Many of the homes date back to the early 1900s, and the town center has a distinctly small town main street.

Upon leaving the town, we drove by the filling station pictured above. A sale sign poked out of the tall grass. Even in the state of disrepair, the little building conveyed a charming ambiance so we stopped to take a picture as it seemed that its future was somewhat precarious.

After some research, I learned that during the 1910s filling stations were fairly standardized, but beginning in the 1920s oil companies began pushing to make their product easily identifiable, leading to a variety of architectural styles for their stations. In 1926 the English cottage design became the trademark of the Pure Oil Company. These quaint cottage buildings were intended to appease neighbors, as unsightly gas stations were considered an undesirable addition to communities.

The Pure Oil Company painted their stations white and topped their steeply pitched roofs with characteristic blue enameled terra-cotta. Arched entrances, bay windows, ironwork and sometimes flower boxes gave these structures a Tutor look. Only the pumps out front identified the building as a service station. Carl A. Peterson, responsible for the design of these stations, became head of the Design and Production Department for Pure Oil in the mid-1920s.   The company continued to use his design until just after the Second World War. Some of these stations have received historical designations, such as Freitag’s Pure Oil Service Station; but unfortunately, most have been torn down. In Wilmington, Delaware, a monument to Peterson’s work stands at Market and Seventeenth Streets, on the edge of the historic district.

Phillips 66 and Cities Service stations adopted variations of Peterson’ popular style. Standing by itself, one of these stations still remains on Route 30 in Devon here. I’ve seen two others in the Philadelphia area, one in West Philly on the corner of Whitby and 52nd Street and another, converted to selling Italian ice, located in Upper Darby on Garret Road.

The Pure Oil Company has another local connection. Securing its name in 1895, the company finished its crude-oil pipeline from the Pennsylvania oil fields to deepwater terminals across Pennsylvania. In 1901 before the pipeline was completed, the company built a refinery at Marcus Hook, PA, to process the company’s crude.

What triggered my nostalgia for this filling station is that my mother worked for a time in an office in a gas station that had similar architecture. Located near the corner of City Line and Lansdown Avenues, we would often drive by the station; and my parents would remind us of Mom’s time there. I always admired the structure with its rust-colored tiled roof and rounded door. The station has long since disappeared from the landscape, but when we drive pass that corner, the ghost of the building still stands in my mind.

Tangier, Virginia’s Island Lost in Time

Island in the Middle of the Chesapeake Bay

From the Air 2014


Houses atop the marshlands

Why an overnight on this tiny windswept island?

At the last minute, we thought we might have to cancel our trip. We had been on the road for only 15 minutes when we received a call from our motel proprietor on Tangier calling to warn us that the rain was coming down fierce creating turbulent water for the boat ride over to the island. Although we were driving through the middle of a downpour ourselves, we decided that we would make the trip anyway. We did pull off at the nearest drugstore to buy more seasick medication. By the time entered Crisfield, our docking town, the sun rays streamed through the clouds, but the influence of the weather continued to follow us during our stay on the island.

Trash containers modeled after the lighthouse that once stood on the island

Remote island societies slow the cultural clock, as happens on Tangier where everything from their language, occupations and way of life varies from the mainstream. Linguists have studied their speech, as the islanders speak a unique restoration era dialect of American English with language roots in Scotland and Cornwall. We noticed that when native residents spoke to one another, we could barely understand the conversation, with varied intonations and a unique linguistic cadence.  Without fast food restaurants, chain motels, traffic and cinemas this tiny community contrasted dramatically from our suburban bubble. But outward appearances can be deceiving; what the “soft shell crab capital of the world” shares with its mainland neighbors are economic and environmental problems. Hard-working watermen continue to eek out a living from the increasingly polluted waters of the Chesapeake Bay. According to Wikipedia, the per capita income for the town was $24,042. About 22.6% of families of the population live below the poverty line. The watermen resent government regulations and question whether they are being the scapegoat to all the Bay’s environmental problems. If regulations restricted fertilizer runoff, for example, crabs might flourish. Tangier barely rises above sea level and water floods the entire island during storms or high tides. We ignored the phases of the moon, which also came into play during our visit.

Passenger Ferry to Tangier

At the marina at Cristfield, a working fishing village on the Western Shore of Maryland, we boarded the ferry for the 75-minute ride to the island. With predictions of stormy seas and given my weak stomach for drastic up and down undulations on the waves, I became somewhat hesitant to step on board. Over an hour on the water seemed like a long ride especially in rough seas, but the process of a journey begins to set my mind apart from where I’ve been to where I’m going. The seas rocked the boat from side to side, but thanks to medication, we made the trip fine. Before reaching the dock, the ferry passed through the crab shacks, traps piled high on their piers.

Water Level brings Change in Plans

On arrival, we began to walk to our motel, The Sunset Inn, when we were offered a ride in the back of a pickup truck. Our driver told us we probably couldn’t traverse the water-covered roads with suitcases, and he was right! The road disappeared under eight inches of water, and tidal waters surrounded the most of the houses. Higher ridges separate the homes from the marshes and tidal canals. Wooden arched bridges connect the two main streets that run parallel the length the island. We read that the island was sinking, and it seemed as if it was sinking as we rode along!

The nice folks who offered us a ride left us off near our motel only a short walk away. We settled in becoming immediately acquainted with seven of the island’s friendly cats. One snuck into our room, and immediately being purring upon being picked up and carried out. We learned from our motel manager that an animal organization fixed all the cats on the island to control the population.

We decided the golf cart transportation would be essential to get around the island, even if it was just three miles by one mile. We returned to the dock area where we could rent a cart. Our motel manager’s husband gave us a ride into town. He proudly said that he was a waterman, born and bred. For all their hard work, watermen receive only $14.99 for a bushel basket of crabs.

Touring the Island

Since the island’s primary business is crabs, we ordered crab cakes for our dinner and were not disappointed. By the time we finished, the tidal waters had receded, and we made our way back to the motel.  The beach was just at the end of our road so we followed the path through the high reeds. A deserted sandy beach stretched before us, but we did not linger as mosquitoes began to hum around us.

The next morning we set out to explore the island. We rode to the airport area and through the streets of the main village. We paused to watch the snowy egrets fishing in the marshes. We stopped for supper at Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House.  A family-style meal, we had plenty to eat with homemade hot bread, corn pudding, crab cakes and oyster fritters, just to name a few of the total nine dishes served. Afterward, we stopped at the Tangier History Museum, viewed the exhibits and saw a short movie.

Richard, Jean and the iconic crab

Full Moon Rising

We were watching the clock for our 4pm departure as we had left our suitcases at the motel on the other side of the island. What we failed to watch was the tide schedule; and the tide was unusually high, like the evening before. We headed down one alleyway after another only to be blocked by rising water. With only little more than an hour before our ferry would be leaving, we unwisely decided just to plow through the rising water.  Of course, our cart stalled. We had no choice but to jump into the water and wade back to the motel to pick up our gear. When we returned to the cart, we piled our luggage on the seats and began to push it back to the depot. Some folks, seeing our predicament, suggested that we leave it and walk back.  One last time, we tried to start the motor when lo and behold, the engine turned over. Quickly we hopped back in the cart and made our way to the ferry in enough time.


October is the time of year when folks decorate for Halloween and some will include graveyards and other scary displays in their yards.  On Tangier gravestones in the front or back yards are not unusual, and these are real! Several explanations offer reasons for the custom. The island experienced four epidemics, beginning in 1866 with Asian cholera. Because the death rate was so high, bodies had to be buried quickly. The residents were hardest hit in the early 1870’s when tuberculosis, measles, and smallpox epidemics hit the island. Also, centuries ago American and Britain families often buried deceased relatives in their yards and the custom persisted. Several recent graves we observed still had funeral flowers atop the mounds.

Reflecting Tidal Flooding

Returning to the Mainland

We were treated to another history lesson on our voyage from Tangier back to Cristfield when by coincidence we sat across from Dewey Crockett, a native islander who served as mayor, undertaker, medic, teacher, church music director and assistant principal. We learned that residents have to wear many hats in a small community.  The Islanders have resisted changes that have altered the mainland, such as alcohol, lotteries and even a movie deal. Dewey said that because everyone knows each other it is easier to keep an eye on the children, who still find the enjoyment of playing sports or running skiffs across the marshes.

Endangered Culture

The watermen support Tangier Island’s population of 525, but according to Dewey, fewer young people are choosing a career as a waterman. The graduating classes have become smaller, and the State has not replaced retired teachers. Some illegal drugs have worked their way to the island. The tourist industry has helped the economy a bit, but it remains a question whether the island can continue to exist with the dual pressures of modernization and global climate change.

Generally, the social hierarchical structure is fairly flat. The houses are small, and structures, while preserved, are not modernized, with the exception of the community health center. For children, the island would seem like a paradise with the freedom to run through the allies and gravestones and to venture out in the marshes in small boats. The Islanders seem to love their island and their life there. I can feel invigorated by the salt air and stormy skies but almost impossible to capture what these folks experience in their close-knit community. If global climate change destroys this culture, the loss will never be recovered.

Cape May: Retrospective

Finding Cape May


Located on the southernmost tip of New Jersey, a peninsula known as Cape Island. The city of Cape May is the oldest seaside resort in the United States.

1950s to 2011

Song Sparrow Greets Us at the Cape 2011

Jersey Shore 1957

When we were growing up in the 1950s, every summer our family vacationed at the shore towns of New Jersey, either Wildwood, Ocean City, Stone Harbor, or Long Beach Island.  Part of our stay would include a trip down to Cape May. Back then the little town was a bit run down, with many of the houses in disrepair. The boardwalk had washed away , and the beach was almost non-existent. Huge boulders lined the sea road, the beach extending to about thirty feet at the most. At high tide the water reached just about to the rocks. Still, the town had a mystique of a former era, and my favorite place to visit was the building called “the Casino,” a large round wood structure.  Inside imports from around the world lined the shelves. I couldn’t wait to see the little colorful cloth dolls holding baskets and brooms. The store offered a wide choice of  souvenirs, and, of course, the colorful plastic buckets and shovels. One year we came away with toy boats.

Cape May  has three sections: West Cape May, the City and Cape May Point. We rediscovered the Cape in 1980 when a friend suggested a place to stay on Cape May Point. The Point is a quiet little village with a lighthouse, park, pond, bird observatory and pristine beaches, in vast contrast to the honky-tonk of the Wildwood boardwalk. The amenities consisted of a post office, above which was a spacious apartment which we rented one summer, and a small general store. We always had plenty to do and took many long walks or bicycled along the pond or to the lighthouse.

We vacationed on the Cape every several years, our families renting places together or nearby. By that time, Cape May had been designated as a National Historic Landmark, with only San Francisco with more Victorian houses. We would drive our families into town for shopping or walking along the ocean, stopping to give the children rides at the small arcade.

When Jean and I returned to the seaside town, we stayed at Leith Hall. I spent a considerable amount of  time trying to decide which one to select out of the of the many B&Bs, inns, mansions and historic hotels, as so many have interesting architecture and character.  I decided on Leith Hall, enticed by their description of salt air breezes, given that Philadelphia was baking in a heat wave. The 4PM tea and cakes were most welcome and thoroughly enjoyed the homemade breakfast served on the porch.

We returned to our old haunts, including Sunset Beach and the sunken cement ship, Cape May Point State Park, and the Washington Street Mall. We attended a play at the Physick Estate and took photographs of the restored houses that lined the tree-canopied streets.

Past and Present

Returning to places from the past is like a form of time travel where memories, once faded or forgotten, reappear to intermingle with the images before our eyes. Emotions are neither happy or sad but in some intermediary continuum of peace and reflection.


American Oystercatcher

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