British Airways is still My Favourite Airline, having delivered a hassle-free and comfortable trip from Newcastle. We’ve taken to arriving in the States via Philadelphia, as the flight is shorter than to DC and the US Customs and Immigration procedures take on average about two hours less. Then we stay in a hotel, have a little look round Philly and lunch in Reading Terminal Market, and take the train to DC, at least partially recovered from the flight.
We’ve been to Philadelphia before and done the must-sees, so this time we just took a pleasant stroll where the fancy took us, taking in a short lesson in 20th century economics at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia which had an exhibition on. Outside, a young man in an Uncle Sam outfit holding a placard wished us a Happy Tax Day. Perhaps unwisely, we told him we weren’t US taxpayers, and he asked us what we thought of Michael Bloomberg running for the Mayor of London. Ian suggested he could simply swap with Boris.
We had a super few days doing family stuff in Centreville.
A week after arriving, we drove down to Great Bridge near Norfolk, where Carina had been in storage since November. I hadn’t wanted to leave the garden at home and miss the English spring, but Virginia was lovely too, with the bright green leaves bursting out, the dogwood and the other flowering trees and shrubs making a beautiful display.
We’d hoped to see the famous cherry trees in blossom in DC, which we’d missed three years ago. That year, spring had come very early, followed by strong winds which destroyed the blossom before we arrived. This year, we were on target (the best dates are forecast on the internet), but when Ted drove us through the Tidal Basin after picking us up from the station, it was obvious that heavy rain the night before had ruined most of the blossom, and the heavy grey skies didn’t enhance what little remained.
Carina had spent the winter in a big workshed at Atlantic Yacht Basin, Chesapeake. We had 3 nights in a hotel while we cleaned, scrubbed, unpacked, bought provisions and generally made the boat fit to be lived in again, and managed a return visit to a favourite haunt, Tautog’s Bar and Restaurant at Virginia Beach, where the food is excellent and the atmosphere small and friendly.
All this time, although the temperature was cool, the sun shone continuously. Our departure on Saturday morning was marked by grey skies and steadily increasing rain.
We decided to by-pass Norfolk this time and head straight for Hampton, impatient to explore Chesapeake Bay with its many rivers and inlets, and colonial history.
Despite the rain, it was a relief to get the boat out of the shed and into the fresh air. As an economy measure after three nights’ extravagance, we spent the first night moored out in a sheltered inlet near Hampton. The following morning we covered the short distance to Sunset Boatyard, about half a mile from downtown Hampton.
We’re still finding plenty of things to spend money on, and there’s a certain amount of negotiation involved. As in, well, you had those new widgets to make the internet connection better, so maybe I could have new a worktop in the galley. Our latest acquisitions are two folding bikes from Walmart, plus accoutrements, and we tried them out in Hampton, cycling through the wide shady streets lined with flowering trees and elegant houses.
At the end of the main street we came to St John’s Anglican Church, the oldest permanent Anglican Church in America, founded in 1610, three years after the first settlement at Jamestown.
Inside, there is a stained glass window depicting the baptism of Pocahontas.
There was a notice pinned to the door advertising ‘Spring Promises’, a concert by Bellissima, a Women’s Choir which is based in the area. It was due to start at 4 o’clock, so after some discussion it was agreed we could go. The programme varied from Schumann, Vaughan Williams and the Song of Solomon, to ‘Perhaps They are Not Stars’, a traditional Inuit text set to music, sung in memory of one of the choir members.
Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings to Heaven, Where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down on us to let us know that they are happy.They are not stars, but Love.
There is another window in the church, with the inscription inpartibus transmarinus sigillum societatis de promovendo evangelico – the seal of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Still in existence today as the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, it was founded in 1701 to promote the Anglican Church in North America, in the face of competition from the Congregationalists, Baptists and Methodists, and Dissenters. Thanks to Jeni, Jill and Karen for your help with that one!
We’d been recommended by the boatyard staff to try the Taphouse on the Main Street, so after the concert we went there to sample a couple of the 157 different varieties of ale on offer. Trying the beer seems to be a rather more interesting activity than trying the wine, we find.
We stayed for dinner, and perhaps emboldened by the beer, I decided to try blackened tuna with garlic green beans and smoked tomato sauce, on bacon and blue cheese grits. Good call!
Our perfect afternoon was marred slightly on the way home. As I was crossing the road at a controlled junction to go to a 7-11 store to get some cash, a car swerved round the corner at speed and stopped about a foot from me and my bike. Ian yelled something at the driver.
In front of the store was a gas station (please note use of appropriate terminology) and the driver pulled onto the forecourt and came over as we were propping the bikes up.
‘Wouldn’t leave those bikes there.’
‘Nah – not safe.’
I stayed outside with the bikes while Ian went in to get the cash, followed by the driver who emerged a minute later.
‘Where you guys from?’
I allowed a pause of several seconds before answering.
‘Y’all got a weapons permit?’
Another studied pause.
‘Well, youse might like to think about gettin’ one. This is a weapons state.’
For the first time in America, I felt slightly uncomfortable. But not so intimidated as the time when some teenage boys threw stones at our narrowboat on the Grand Union Canal near Leicester, or some teenage girls hurled abuse as we passed under a long bridge on the Ashton Canal at Stalybridge. Or the time when, hitch-hiking through France in 1970, we had to smartly jump out of a Spanish lorry driver’s cab when he started brandishing a knife.
We had to decide the next day whether to stay in Hampton, or move up to Yorktown. The weather was complicated and if we didn’t go early, the strengthening winds would mean we couldn’t go at all for the next two days.
After half an hour of pitching up and down I began to feel queasy, remembering at this point that I had forgotten to bring from home the First Aid Box, containing the stugeron and all the other over-the-counter meds that we never have need of.
I spent the next two hours lying horizontal, covering my eyes and groaning theatrically from time to time.
The Captain decided to abort the journey and instead of going all the way to Yorktown, diverted into a sheltered inlet at Poquoson where we anchored. Unusually solicitous, he made me tea and toast, but it was some hours before I started to recover.
We discovered later that the weather forecast had been amended the morning we left Hampton, and a small craft warning had been in place since late morning. We spent Tuesday on the mooring, glad that we weren’t out in the Bay.
But there was a lovely sunset.
Sunset near Poquoson