Category Archives: Daytripper

Getaway to Tangier Island: Crabs, History, and the Mighty Chesapeake

Our region is in large part defined by the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Although we in D.C. live a bit inland from the Bay itself, we still benefit from its bounty, such as blue crab feasts, seafood at the Maine Avenue Fish Market, and excursions along the shore.

But while you live in the area, it’s worth getting a total immersion into the richness and culture of the Chesapeake Bay.  To do so, take a weekend and head down to Tangier Island, located 12 miles into the middle of the Bay.  In order to get to Tangier, you must take a 1.5 hour ferry ride from either Reedville, VA or Crisfield, MD (each about 3 hours away from D.C.).  While there are day trips to the island, that option gives you only about two hours until the ferry turns around and comes back, so I’d highly recommend spending at least one night to really get a feel for the place.

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The island is comprised of about a thousand acres, only about a hundred of which are actually inhabited (the rest being marsh).  About 500 people live on Tangier, and since no cars are allowed bikes and golf carts are the main forms of transportation.

Tangier has an important place in American history.  Pocomoke Indians inhabited the island for many years before Europeans including John Smith arrived.  It is also historically significant because it served as the staging ground for British troops during the War of 1812.  And interestingly, to this day, residents speak in a dialect that linguists believe is very similar to the English that European settlers spoke when they first arrived in America.

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The best part of Tangier Island is the crabs and observing the economy and culture that has been built up around them.  According to locals, about 75 percent of our country’s soft shell crabs (those that have just molted out of their old shells and are soft and squishy all over) come from the area every year, and it also provides a significant amount of hard crabs, oysters, and even eels that are sold to markets in New York and other places around the country.  Because the economy is built around the crabbing, it has a feeling very similar to a New England fishing or lobster town, with little changed over the last century.

crabs

One of the must-do activities during your visit is to take a tour of a “crab shanty,” the structures on the water around the edge of the island where watermen tend to and harvest soft shell crabs.  Because the crabs harden again within a few hours of molting, the watermen must immediately ready them for packaging and shipping, meaning that they work around the clock.

The island is not much built up for tourism quite yet, which is part of its appeal.  There are three bed and breakfasts (I stayed at the Bay View Inn, which was lovely), a couple of ice cream/sandwich places, and a few gift shops.  The three restaurants which are open for dinner (one of which has a last seating at 5pm) sell mostly an array of crab-based fare, including crab cakes, soft-shell crab sandwiches, and crab bisques.  It’s worth mentioning that the island is dry, so bring your own alcohol and be discreet about it.

crab roll

Other activities to do on the island include taking in the small yet chock-full Tangier History Museum, kayaking in the marshes to see the myriad of shorebirds (including glossy ibis and black skimmers), and biking to the beach to see a sunset.

Tangier Island is truly a step back in time, and a glimpse of how and why the Chesapeake Bay is so important to our region and its economy, ecology, and shared history.

To visit:  Ferry once daily from Reedville, VA (May-October) or Crisfield, MD.  Various bed and breakfasts, as well as vacation rentals.  Go during the summer, as very little is open during the winter.

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Filed under Activities, Daytripper, Local Food, Museums

Bahn Mi Bliss at the Eden Center

Every city has its neighborhood cultural hubs, from Little Italy in Boston to Koreatown in New York.  One of D.C.’s best ethnic hotspots is Eden Center, located in Falls Church, Virginia.  This large indoor and outdoor mall complex is home to approximately 120 Vietnamese stores, ranging from restaurants to groceries to souvenirs to salons.  As its website says, it is “the heart and soul of the Vietnamese-American Community for the entire East Coast.”

Because there’s so much going on at Eden Center, especially on weekends, it’s a bit overwhelming to visit and pick a restaurant.  Let me suggest Song Que (“song whey”), a delightful bahn mi shop that also features various grocery/deli items like finger foods to go, hard-to-find fruits, and snacks.

Bahn mi is best described as a French-influenced Vietnamese sandwich, featuring meats, tofu, and pickled vegetables on a baguette.  Options include ground pork, lemongrass beef, and Vietnamese meatballs.  Song Que is somewhat unique in terms of bahn mi at Eden Center and elsewhere in that it has a great vegetarian option—the caramelized tofu skin sandwich.

Also worth tasting are the bubble teas that come in all sorts of flavors, like mango, yellow bean, and jackfruit.  Song Que is nice in that it has table and seats in the back, which many of the other takeout food options at Eden Center do not.

After your sandwich, stroll around the mall, and especially go to the grocery store, called the Eden Supermarket.  It’s a treasure trove of many different ingredients for Asian cooking at amazing prices.  Other great restaurant choices at Eden Center included pho, seafood dishes, and soups.  Here’s a listing of all of the options.

Eden Center, formally the Plaza Seven Shopping Center, started reaching its height when thousands of immigrants settled in the area in the 1970s after the Vietnam War.  Indeed, the clock tower at the Eden Center is an exact replica of that in Saigon.  It’s a great place to step out of America for a couple of hours, and experience the delights and flavors of a different culture.

To visit:  6751 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA (Song Que is located at 6769 Wilson Boulevard), hours vary by store—call for details.  About a one mile walk from the East Falls Church metro, or 1A/1B/1E/1F bus west from the Ballston metro).

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Yes, Virginia, There is a Naked Korean Spa in Washington DC

How do I even begin to describe SpaWorld?  I spent 3.5 hours by myself in this 50,000 square-foot bathhouse and relaxation Mecca, and all I can say is that I am wowed and will be back!

SpaWorld, located in Centreville, Viriginia, about 45 minutes from downtown DC,  is the largest Asian-style “spa resort” in the country, according to its website, and as far as I can tell, one of only a few in the U.S. (other big ones are in Queens and New Jersey).  Known as a “jimjilbang,” the phenomenon is certainly very Korean, but not traditional, as jimjilbangs only started popping up in Korea in the early 2000s.  The idea of this kind of spa is to not only provide a location for relaxation, beauty treatments, and communal bathing, but to be a place for families and friends to spend many hours socializing.  (This Washington Post article has more details).

When you walk into what appears to be an unassuming office building or retail space, you are handed a set of canvas shorts and T-shirt jumpsuit (orange for ladies, yellow for guys), and directed down a hallway.  You are also given a small key on a wristlet that will later be used to charge further expenses (salon, massages, food, etc.)

The first part of the SpaWorld experience is single sex, beginning with a locker room where you can either change into your jumpsuit or stay naked and head into the pool.  The “bade pool” is a 3-foot deep pool that consists of 10 or so jets designed massage different parts of your body, from the neck to the calves.  Surrounding the bade pool are wet and dry saunas, hot tubs, and public massage/exfoliation tables.  And yes, in this section, you are naked.  I wasn’t taken aback by this, as I had visited a communal bath in Central Asia, but I could see how the experience would be unnerving for the casual spa-goer.  You will find that it doesn’t matter in the least, as there are so many women (or men) that you are very quickly lost in the crowd!

After your bath, put on your jumpsuit and head into the communal “rest room.”  Here, dozens of mats are laid out on the floor as a comfortable spot for families and friends to just hang out (in the jumpsuit of course!)  Magazines in Korean, Russian, English, and other languages I didn’t recognize were strewn about, and people slept, read, typed on their computers (free WiFi!), or just chatted with friends and acquaintences.  The rest room is connected to a snack bar and little cafeteria, with 27 Korean dishes on the menu.

Around the edges of the rest room are about 8 different co-ed and clothed saunas and heat rooms, all with healing and medicinal properties.  Reed mats are on the floors of each, so you can rest in the rooms for as long as you like.  My personal favorite was the red clay ball room, where you can sink into marble-sized clay balls a la those glorious days a Chuck-E-Cheeses (although smaller balls and fewer children).  Also of note is the ice room, where large blocks of ice line the walls—I was told that entering a cold room after so much heat is the best way to end the healing processes that the bathing and sauna experience provide.  SpaWorld also boasts a fitness center (I actually worked out before going into the bade pool!), hair and nail salon, and an arcade, just in case you are in the mood for pinball.

SpaWorld makes me feel as if I have fallen asleep on a round-the-world flight and woken up somewhere hard to believe and foreign, a rare and delightful experience in DC!  While a bit pricey at an entrance fee of $35, the ticket is good for 24 hours.  Go by yourself and bring a book, go with friends and bring a card game, but go to SpaWorld soon and catch some good vibes!

To get there:  13830 Braddock Road, Centreville, VA 2012, 703-815-8959.  A bit of investigation tells me that it could in fact be possible to take the 630, 631, or 632 Fairfax Connector from the Vienna/GMU Metro station, but I would call first.  Automobile wheels are definitely your best bet.

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Fields of Flowers: A Pick Your Own Flower Farm

(Guest post by Sarah Cunningham).

One hour west of the city, snuggled deep into Loudoun County’s rolling agricultural acres, lies a magical, mythical place beckoning to you.  It’s true.  This mythical place is in fact a pick-your-own flower farm (tell me truly, have you ever heard of something so charming?). It goes by the name Fields of Flowers and it is run by Robbie, the sweetest, toughest flower farmer the land has yet seen.

As you roll up to Fields of Flowers from VA-7, you’ll be swept off your feet by the sight of Robbie’s lovely house, nestled into the green grass, framed by hanging swings and lawn chairs, the house itself seeming to keep watch over her fields.  After you park, you walk a small path to a barn, where you are met with the sign, “Grab a bucket, read the directions, and have fun!”  And there you have it–piles of buckets, piles of scissors, jars of water to keep fragile flowers hydrated–all of this stacked under a covered walkway leading out to…the fields.  And there they stretch.  Acres upon acres of farmed flowers.  You can’t imagine such a thing!  Plots of sunflowers rising to the sky, clumps of mint tickling your nose, bushes of yarrow–from colorado to common to paprika, lavender beds lining row after row, hydrangeas hanging off their stems like dangling Christmas ornaments…Lilies, snapdragons, butterfly bush, zinnia, daisies, phlox, larkspur…All grown by Robbie, and for $30 a bucket (a very roomy bucket, mind you!), the fields are your’s for the picking.

So there you have it–you simply arm yourself with your bucket, grab a shears, and head out to the fields.  Once you’ve got your bucket of flowers, Robbie has a small worktable underneath her covered walkway where you can put together your bouquets and/or centerpieces.  Feel free to work away right then and there, OR, for a small charge, Robbie herself can arrange your floral pieces.  Some events for which you may want to visit Fields of Flowers are the following:

*birthday parties     *bridal showers     *baby showers     *graduation parties     *WEDDINGS!!! (yes, yes, it’s really doable!)     *dances (you can pick the flowers for the boutonnieres, corsages, and bouquets!)     *simply decorating your house

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, it is very hot this time of year, so the earlier you get your start, the better.  The farm is open Thursday through Saturday, from 8am until 6pm.  If you want to wait until the weather cools off, Robbie lets you pick until the end of October, or until the first frost.  To see what’s blooming when, visit the Fields of Flowers website.

Okay, okay, I just have to say it, because I can’t keep it in: I picked flowers at Robbie’s flower farm for my wedding, and it was one of the best experiences! It involved everyone–my sisters and sister-in-law, mother and mother-in-law, best friend, flower girls, family friends, you name it!  About 12 of us were armed with our buckets picking flowers like there was no tomorrow, and then arranging like the mad floral women we had become.  And here’s the thing: you can’t go wrong.  Everything is simply so beautiful, that you don’t need to stress about what goes where.  As Robbie says, anything you do will turn out to be a “natural, garden look”.  And that it did!  We had bought vintage watering cans as our centerpiece holders, and we just filled those babies with our hearts delight.  And what a time we had!  I REALLY recommend it for any bride-to-be, or simply any hostess!

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(Leesburg) Virginia is for Lovers

(Guest post by Sarah Cunningham).

Last Monday my fiance and I played hookie and took a day trip to lovely (Historic) Leesburg in still lovelier Loudoun County.  I’m not sure what exactly I expected, but I definitely had not foreseen the magnitude of charm that we encountered.

Only 45 minutes west of the city, Historic Leesburg feels hours away.  Driving in, I felt I had arrived in a quaint, sea-side town, circa 1870.  The main street, East Market Street, was dotted with souvenir shops, many of them bearing the British flag (perhaps a remnant from the Revolutionary War??), selling hand-made crafts and sweet treats.  Restaurants bore slogans such as “18th century cuisine served here!” on their hand-painted, wooden signs.  (Of course there was also the China King and the new Mexican restaurant, but they both managed to completely fit in–and smell delicious!)  Bakeries boasted beautiful hand-made treasures covered in pastel frostings, and afternoon teas seemed the norm.

Really, it was quite an idyllic day in Leesburg.  After window shopping along Market Street, we hopped back in the car and found a lovely green space– Ida Lee Park & Recreation Center–where we set up shop.  We uncorked our wine, brought our sandwiches, and laid out the lemon bars.  The sun was perfect that day, and we took our time munching through our meal and sipping through our wine.  Because it was a Monday, we shared the park with only ourselves, a peaceful pause in our otherwise fast-paced District lives.

On the way home, we scooted down Market Street once again, taking in the quaint calm of this charming little down, and then scooted onto the highway–back to home, sure we would be back to Historic Leesburg again quite soon.

For anyone who wants to take a day-trip to lovely Leesburg, you can get there quite easily in the car and through public transit.

For drivers:

Take 495 South

Take Exit 45 A, and merge onto VA 267 W, towards Dulles Airport

Take Exit 1 A, which will put you on US 15

Take US 15 BUS Exit Towards Leesburg (you’re almost done!)

Turn right at US BUS 15 N/S King Street

Turn right at E. Market Street–You made it!

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