Our Labour Day-weekend trip continued on the Virginia coast, where we were staying with my ex-colleague P, from Finland. She moved to Norfolk from Brussels around the same time as I moved to Puerto Rico last year. Her husband works for NATO, but unfortunately we didn’t get to meet him since he was on a business trip in Europe. They live in a condo with big balconies, a small pool and beautiful views over a marina. I just realised a big difference from Puerto Rico – the condo doesn’t have any locked gates or security guards! Maybe security isn’t such an issue?
After quite a slow start and bagels for breakfast for a second day in a row (we never eat bagels in PR), P suggested that we start the tour of the Tidewater area on the beach – I was especially tempted by this suggestion since I had admired P’s beach finds of shells and beautiful stones placed on the window sills and tables in her home. I love collecting stuff from the beach and recently had the idea of putting my beach treasures in a big glass jar (I am also collecting wine corks in a matching jar!). The beaches were just like I had imagined them (or rather seen on Annika’s blog from their holidays on the Outer Banks, OBX of North Carolina!) – windswept and wide with wonderful sand dunes and weathered wooden boardwalks! Too bad that we didn’t have time to just relax in the sand as we had decided to cross the bay to the Eastern Shore.
To reach the Eastern Shore, which is a long peninsula stretching down from Maryland – only the southern tip belongs to the state of Virginia, you need to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (17½ miles long*, toll is $12 but you are reimbursed ~$5 when you return) from Norfolk / Virginia Beach (or drive down from Maryland, of course!). We were not the only ones wanting to reach the shores and the traffic was quite heavy on the bridge & tunnel connection. What I found quite surprising was that a very big number of the vehicles were registered in the states of New York and New Jersey – why didn’t they drive down from Maryland instead?
The Eastern Shore of Virginia is much less touristy than the Virginia Beach area and once we had crossed the Chesapeake Bay, we found ourselves on a long, straight road with corn fields, small towns and wildlife habitats. It is a popular place for bird-watching and there are a few beaches that are protected to allow the birds to breed in peace. We were starting to get a little hungry, so Cape Charles sounded like a nice place for stopping and trying to find something to eat. Cape Charles is a sleepy but pretty town full of Victorian wooden houses and boardwalks on the western side of the peninsula. A very good and fresh lunch was eaten in the Cape Charles Coffee House, with an almost wild west saloon-like interior. We would recommend their sandwiches, cheesecake and coffees and since the waitress was very friendly (she helped us explain the difference between cane and brown sugar…) we actually lingered longer than planned in the cosy atmosphere.
Afterwards we discovered the insect life of the beach… The shore looked like a normal beach, until we looked closer, from the “safe” distance of a wooden boardwalk – the sand was crawling with insects!! I don’t know if they were small cockroaches but it definitely didn’t tempt us to get down on the sand.. However, there were also some very cute mini-crabs (see photo below) and a scarily giant moth. Returning to the car through a residential area, we realised that we could have walked around the whole afternoon, taking photos and dreaming about which house we would love to live in…
Nevertheless, pulling ourselves from the porches and rocking chairs as the afternoon was passing quickier than expected. We headed towards Oyster Bay, but it turned out to be not so easy to find the small fishing village on the opposite [eastern] side of the peninsula… After a few wrong turns we found Oyster by driving between the two churches in the town of Cheriton. However, our expectation to find local watermen (local name for fishermen) selling their catch of the day (oysters for example!?) was not fulfilled – the village was very quiet. We were told by two local youngsters sitting in a pick-up truck wearing trucker caps and chewing tobacco and saying y’all (stereotypes?) that maybe another day… (it was after all Saturday). Our hostess P said that she has tried to find fish sold directly from fishermen but it doesn’t seem to be a very common practise in the area. Unfortunately the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge was closed when we arrived after 5 o’clock, so we returned towards the Chesapeake Bay connection and the mainland.
The sun was starting to set, and we took the opportunity to take another short walk on the beach – this time on the outskirts of Virginia Beach, close to the Lynnhaven Fish House Restaurant (on the beautifully named Starfish Road) where we had a tasty seafood dinner overlooking the sea. I tried the locally produced white wine, but I wouldn’t recommend it – the wine had a slight taste of vinegar! Part III of our Labour Day-weekend will follow soon…
*) According to Fodor’s guide book it is 17½ miles, but you know what I think of that publication (CRAP!) so who knows, maybe Wikipedia is more correct with 23 miles / 37 km!?