Hometown Tourist, Ch 6: Harpers Ferry

Hometown tourist is all about exploring my current ‘hood and surrounding areas in the hopes of letting people know what’s worth seeing and what’s worth skipping when you come to Washington DC.

Geography will tell you that Harpers Ferry is in West Virginia but i will tell you it’s a 90 minute drive from my house and therefore fair game for the hometown tourist series.

If you are a history buff Harpers Ferry is for you. As the welcome brochures explain, “the history of Harpers Ferry has few parallels in the American drama. It is more than one event, one date, or one individual.” Not the most exciting copy writing, so here is my version: the history of Harpers Ferry is largely interwoven with the Civil War and slavery. That is because Harpers Ferry, in Civil War times, sat where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers met. As fate would have it, this was also a dividing “line” between the North and South. And since the town sits on a waterway, it was often subjected to battles. You can read a brief overview of the town’s history on their website.

A little bit about Harpers Ferry
A little bit about Harpers Ferry

In the event that history is not your thing, you would also enjoy Harpers Ferry if you are an outdoor enthusiast. The town is well-known tubing, ziplining and easy access to the Appalachian Trail. Advance recommendations for tubing and ziplining are suggested; we were given a recommendation but since we didn’t use it i can’t say if its worth passing-on. A quick Google search will turn up several options.

If tubing is your idea of fun, Harpers Ferry is for you!
If tubing is your idea of fun, Harpers Ferry is for you!

The town itself is tiny and really consists of the lower Harpers Ferry area. It’s quaint with gorgeous views and several gift shops, ice cream stores and a few pubs. The pubs are great for a drink and the staff is friendly but leave any expectations of good, gourmet, farm-to-table food at home.

In a nutshell: lower Harpers Ferry
In a nutshell: lower Harpers Ferry

We were looking for “something to do” on a Saturday and are always up for trying something new. Harpers Ferry fit the bill. The scenery was beautiful, a great break from the concrete jungle of DC. If you aren’t this type of person and do not plan to go tubing, this is probably not the best Saturday activity for you.

Interested in visiting? Message me and i’m happy to send you the directions we used.

Wine Stellenbosch Style

Thank you everyone for your patience with me. I haven’t been writing and posting as often as i would like to or should be. The past seven weeks were a blur but i’m pleased to share that i’m back, i’m aware of my sins and re-committed to my blog. I really want to share my Trek Across Maine adventures but first i need to tend to some unfinished business.

I organize my writing based on series. For example, i write a series of posts on a particular destination. The series can be short or long, it depends on how much i have or want to share. A while ago, i started a series on South Africa which to this day is one of my favorite trips. It’s important to me that i finish that series before getting to my cycling adventures. I really want to share how amazing this country is. And honestly, i’m a linear thinker. It would be really difficult for me to jump into cycling without finishing my SA series. I can’t explain why, just know my brain doesn’t work that way. So here we go… more on South Africa.

And since we are picking up with South Africa, what better way to pick up than with wine? I like to pretend i have a discerning palate but the truth is what i really have are a lot of food texture issues. I also lack a good sense of smell, thanks to a genetic flaw. Lucky for me, you don’t need to be a oenophile to enjoy the Stellenbosch area of South Africa. 

VIews

From Cape Town, you need to hire (aka rent) a car or make tour arrangements to get to Stellenbosch. In my case, i worked through the hotel; they used Cape Capers. I have no real compliants about this group. It’s possible i could have done better but really for a straightforward wine tour, it was great. The driver was low key, took us where we wanted to go and offered suggestions for shipping wine back to the states. That in and of itself was probably worth the trip. I rarely drive overseas because of all the horror stories you hear. If you are in a group or don’t have this psychological bias, then driving yourself might give you more flexibility.

There are numerous winery’s in the Stellenbosch and visiting them all would take a week, possibly longer. I decided to visit the winery’s that were exclusive to South Africa. We started with Neethlingshof Wine Estate.

Stellenbosch

The estate was gorgeous and the owners offered a wonderful tasting of seven different wines. Each was exclusive to South Africa, creating a unique experience. The wine was great but what i enjoyed the most were the views. The estate was well maintained and had stunning views of the countryside.

KMV winery is one of the “leading” wine and spirits producers in South Africa. I requested wineries exclusive to South Africa and technically KMV is but they are pretty well known by foreigners and as a result, they get more more tourist-traffic. The winery was enjoyable but i think we could have pushed our guide for more local, unique experiences like Neethlinshof. One thing KMV does have going for it, they make 3, 5, 10, 15 and 20 year old brandies. If you happen to be a fan, then do put this on your itinerary. I actually purchased two bottles as gifts for family members.

If for some reason you don’t like wine, i would still recommend visiting Stellanbosch. It’s a beautiful part of the country filled with lots of scenery and places to stop and lunch or dinner. The area is a big contrast to Cape Town and from what i’m told places like Jo’berg and Sun City. If you’ve been to Stellanbosch and want to add your vineyard recommendations, please feel free.

In Search of Inspiration

I’ve been looking for inspiration lately about what my next series of travel posts should focus on. Looking for inspiration is hard. It’s like waiting for water to boil, it never happens when you really, really, really want it to. Short of being struck by lightning, i decided to stop waiting and just start writing.

I noticed that my social circle, and bloggers i enjoy reading, seem to be buzzing about South Africa and safari’s more generally. Taking a safari was one of the best experiences i have ever had. Beyond that, visiting South Africa was one of the best experiences, like top three, i have ever had. It will take me several attempts to articulate what was so epic about the experience. For now, it boils down to something a local told me: Once Africa gets in your blood, it will never leave.

The "back" of South Africa's famous Table Mountain features a smaller range called the 12 Apostles
The “back” of South Africa’s famous Table Mountain features a smaller range of peaks called the 12 Apostles

Getting to South Africa can be a drag. It’s a loooong flight. When i visited, there were not a lot of International flight options, especially if you were departing from the U.S. Today, there are significantly more routes. But what i did, and what i strongly recommend, is that you break up your flight. I booked VirginAtlanic from JFK New York to London, got off and spent the day wandering around. I’ve been to London a few times and know how to navigate the Tube. This made getting into the city easy. At the end of the day, i went back to Heathrow and 11 +/- hours later, i was in Jo’berg.

Since i spent most of my time on Safari, lodging was not a huge challenge. In Cape Town, i stayed at the Sheraton next to the convention center. The hotel had great amenities and was free to me (cashed in points). The drawback was, after dark the surrounding streets were considered unsafe. The hotel did provide free taxi or water boat services to the Waterfront area which was a great “work around.” 

The Cape Town waterfront with the stunning Table Mountain in the backgroun
The Cape Town waterfront with the stunning Table Mountain in the background

The exchange rate in South Africa is almost always favorable to tourists. You can spend a little or spend more and still enjoy yourself taking in the sites, the food and shopping. And, if you end up spending a lot on wine or furniture (believe me, it happens), ship it home via boat. It takes longer but its much more efficient. 

If you are planning a trip to SA, you can get information from South Africa’s tourism site  and Lonely Planet. For Safari information, i strongly recommend  And Beyond Africa. I promise to elaborate why in future posts. For now, check-it out. I wouldn’t steer you wrong.  

Iceland, Naturally!

After a lot of debate (in my head mind you, because isn’t that the best kind), i finally settled on my next series of blog posts: Iceland, Naturally!

If you asked me 10 years ago if my travel plans included Iceland, the answer would have been no. But, a few years ago co-workers talked me into visiting this country after sharing their own adventures.

When they say “something for everyone” they mean it in Iceland. Outdoor activities, both leisure and adventure, are plentiful. The Blue Lagoon is perfect for people looking for a spa experience. The nightlife in Reykjavik is as crazy as you want it to be while the food is delicious, and again, as crazy as you want it to be.

Iceland's Blue Lagoon
Iceland’s famous geothermal spa, the Blue Lagoon

If you are considering a trip to Iceland, here are some helpful details.

Airfare. From the East Coast, Iceland is ridiculously easy to get to. Visit Icelandair to plan your flights. I’m sure there are other airlines that fly in and out of Iceland but truth be told, i didn’t bother to find out. Iceland Air had a good site, the prices were reasonable and they also offered combination packages as far as lodging and transportation from the airport into Reykjavik.

Lodging. There are numerous hotels in Reykjavik. The Hotel Reykjavik Centrum was recommended to me and i went with it. The location was better than i could have imagined. Located in downtown Reykjavik you can easily walk to the main attractions in the city. Our hotel package included a continental breakfast, with delicious coffee and a substantial breakfast offering. The rooms were clean, while perhaps a little small for most U.S. expectations. The staff was terrific offering suggestions of things to do that are both popular with tourists and their own personal favorite things. There is also a tourist office one block away that was incredibly helpful providing maps, arranging excursions, etc.

One of Iceland’s many waterfalls, Skogafoss.

Rental cars. I say skip it. If you stay at the Hotel Centrum, you can walk everywhere in Reykjavik. All of our excursions included bus transportation which was a great way to meet other tourists.

Spending money. This was our first country on a two country vacation. We spent roughly $800 on excursions (three of them), meals (lunch, dinner and drinks), tips, the spa and gifts for people. You can absolutely spend less than we did. However, when we go on vacation, we like to be not be worried about money. We’ll be frugal at home so we can enjoy our travel as much as possible. Do keep in mind, the exchange rate does not (unfortunately) favor the dollar. If possible, try to bring some extra cash or invest more time on the upfront looking for travel deals.

Views around Iceland
Views around Iceland

One caveat to this, my trip to Iceland happened before the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull. At this point, i would imagine the country and is back on track. I do still encourage you to reach out and confirm details, especially when it comes to suggested itineraries that i will share in future posts. Better safe than sorry! I do hope this won’t dissuade you from a visit.

And, full disclosure: these are my own opinions. I am not affiliated with any of the organizations or company’s listed. I love to travel and want to share my adventures with everyone.

More to follow on Iceland, Naturally!