My family visit in Alabama done, I headed south and west toward the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. So where is that? Look at a map of Texas and go to the southernmost point where the Rio Grande River runs into the Gulf of Mexico and there you are, just north of Mexico. The Valley is somewhat like being in the Fonterra (borderlands of Mexico). When you leave the Valley heading north and cross the King Ranch, about 75 miles north of the Mexico/US border, you have to stop at a Border Patrol checkpoint and declare your citizenship. One hears Spanish as much or more than English and the Mexican food is plentiful and tasty. South Texas was my home for many a year and I try to make it back whenever I can.
The drive from Florence, AL to San Benito, TX is a little long, 1050 miles to be exact. A good chunk of those are in Texas, 450 miles. I have traveled this road many times and have found Lake Charles, LA to be a good target to stop for the night. Lake Charles sits about 25 miles from the Texas border and offers a couple of casinos to relax in. My casino choice is L’Auberge Casino Resort (https://www.llakecharles.com/). L’Auberge is an upscale casino complete with golf course, plenty of gaming, restaurants, hotel, and an RV Park. You can also opt to camp free of charge in the parking lot, which I decided to do. So after a long day’s drive I wound my way through the property and found a nice edge of the truck and RV parking area that had grass. I have to keep Tawny, my miniature Aussie, in mind. Casino camping is easy; nothing to hook-up and you don’t have to disconnect the trailer. Just park and push the button for the slide-out and you are done. I let Tawny stretch her legs and I pulled out a lawn chair. Gin and tonic in hand and a good cigar lit; it was time to relax for a while before hitting the casino for dinner and entertainment.
Tawny sufficiently walked, the drink and cigar finished; I headed to the buffet. Louisiana cuisine is tremendous and the buffet offered a good selection of the fare. Jambalaya, gumbo, oysters, crawfish etouffee, and shrimp creole were all to be found. Crab claws, pork ribs, fried chicken, and prime rib were some of the other tasty treats on the buffet. After probably too many trips to the buffet line, it was time to do a little gambling. Slots are my game of choice and actually I did pretty well on this excursion to the one-arm bandits and walked out of the casino three hours later with an extra hundred bucks in my pocket. As I walked out of the casino I was hit by the hot humid air of Louisiana in June. As I stepped into the trailer I noted how hot and stuffy it was even with all the windows opened. One of the disadvantages of casino camping without hook-ups is that I can’t run my air conditioner. It was going to be a long hot night. Around 4:30 am Tawny and I had had enough of the stifling heat. It was little early to start driving, but hey, the truck has A/C. I quickly shut the windows and retracted the slide and hit the road. Note to self…. Don’t camp without A/C in Louisiana in the summertime.
So in the early morning hours Tawny and I made our way towards Texas. One thing I will say about Texas drivers is that they are probably the most courteous drivers around. I hit Houston during the morning rush hour pulling a 30 foot travel trailer. I had to change from I-10 to US 59 in the middle of downtown crossing three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic in the process. In Texas this isn’t a problem. There are plenty of people on the road in pickups that are used to pulling trailers. I put on my blinker and one pickup truck after another let me all the way across to the lane I needed. Once I passed downtown, traffic thinned out and I headed on south.
South of Houston around Victoria, I was reminded about another aspect of Texas, WIND. I hit a strong headwind of about 35-40 mph. This had a tremendous impact on two things due to the trailer I was pulling. First my speed dropped from 75 mph (the legal speed limit in this part of Texas) to me barely being able to make 55 mph. Second, I watched my gas gage rapidly drop. Normally pulling the trailer I get around 11 mpg, with the headwind I was getting 5 mpg. At the price of gas I cringed as I made my way down the highway. It is amazing how quickly your mind can calculate distance to the next gas station when you are watching the needle of your gas gauge fall. Towns in this part of Texas are not that close so I had to plan gas stops well in advance so that I wasn’t stranded on the side of the road. I do carry an extra 5 gallons for my generator, so I had a backup in an emergency.
After battling the wind all afternoon, I arrived at my destination; The Thomae Ranch between Rio Hondo and San Benito. The Thomaes are friends and former relatives; Gayln is my ex-wife’s sister. I have a good relationship with all of my ex-wife’s family and I am sure to visit whenever I am in town. Gayln and Dennis are nice enough to let me park my travel trailer in there RV spot on the ranch. Their hired man used to live in a fifth wheel and they have a complete hookup. So I pull behind the barn to position the trailer in its proper spot, let Tawny out of the truck sans leash, and get connected for an extended stay. The plan is to visit with friends over the next ten days and then leave the trailer and Tawny in the Thomaes’ care while I spend the month of July in the Pacific Northwest.
Life on a ranch in South Texas operates around the summer heat. Chores are done in the morning and late evening and one stays in the A/C during the heat of the day. My mornings were spent with coffee, a cigar, and a walk around the property checking out the cattle. Tawny enjoys her leashless freedom exploring the cow pens and stalls. Stalking and herding Guinea Chickens around the barnyard, she is getting in touch with her ingrained herding tendencies. One would think that the chickens would cringe at Tawny’s harassment, but actually they would egg her on. The chickens would come over to the trailer each morning to wait for Tawny to emerge from the trailer. Tawny would rush the flock of about 50 Guineas and they would flee and then regroup. In unison they would return clucking “do it again…do it again”.
The Thomae Ranch is a working ranch with beef cattle and horses along with various plantings of cotton and grain. Lane Thomae has been quite successful earning scholarships by showing cattle at local livestock shows. A good portion of the Thomae family’s daily chores revolves around the care and training of Lane’s show cattle. Each show steer and heifer has an individual stall complete with a fan to help keep them cool. A radio plays all day and night in the stalls to keep the cattle company.
A benefit of staying on the ranch is that Gayln cooks a good dinner. Many a night Tawny and I would make our way up to the ranch house for dinner. Tawny would get to play with the 8 dogs that hang out at the house and I would enjoy a good meal and a cigar on the back porch. At the end of the night Tawny did not want to go home. The first night after dinner Tawny followed me almost all the way back to the trailer and then turned around and ran back to the house. After that I started bringing her leash so that I could drag her back home.
When I am in the Valley I have a long list of friends to catch up with. The meet-ups center on two activities eating and fishing. On the food front, the meals consist on my catching up on my Mexican food. Mexican restaurants are not lacking throughout the Valley. Even one horse towns host a local Mexican restaurant. The price is right as well. One restaurant I go to for lunch has 3 cheese enchiladas, rice, refried beans, desert and your drink for $4.00. Stripes, the local convenience store chain offers breakfast tacos for $.99. The food is plentiful and cheap!! The Tex-Mex food is a far sight from the Mexican food I get in Pennsylvania. I usually resort to cooking my own Mexican food, so being able to find it on every street corner is heaven. My other food craving when in Texas is Whataburger! This hamburger chain is family owned and located throughout Texas. My brother lived in California for many years and raves about In and Out Burgers, but for my money Whataburger is “What a burger should be.” I had a great time catching up with various friends over good meals and I know I gained some weight along the way.
Another great way to catch up with friends is out on the water fishing. The Laguna Madre, a shallow water bay between the mainland and South Padre Island, is home to a variety of fish; redfish, blackdrum, speckled trout, and flounder can all be found. I used to own my own custom made shallow draft bay boat and would fish once or twice a week year-round, but since I no longer live near the bay I now rely on friends for my fishing fix. Grady Deaton, a friend since my MBA days some 18 years ago, has a boat and is always happy to spend the day on the water. Grady is quite the character. He went on and earned a Ph.D. in Mexico, is an adjunct government professor, works as a construction manager, and runs a fishing charter and hunting guide business in his spare time. So, if you are in South Texas and have a hankering for hunting or fishing, contact Grady at www.dosgringosfishing.com.
Grady and I agreed to meet for a morning on the water and he picked me up on the road outside the ranch at 5:30am one morning. He brought the obligatory breakfast tacos from Stripes and we headed to Arroyo City to pick up some bait shrimp and launch the boat. On the way to the bay he received a phone call from his fishing guide partner. A couple guys who flew in on their private plane to go fishing and he would not be able to take them out. So our fishing trip among friends turned into a paid charter. My job was deck hand and conversationalist. How many people go fishing with two Ph.D.’s? Fishing wasn’t that great, but any day on the water is a good day. There is nothing like drift fishing on a beautiful day, engaged in good conversation while enjoying good cigars. Life is good!!!
Later in my time in the Valley, Grady and I connected again for drinks at his country club pool and dinner of fajitas on the grill. Now not all vehicles in Texas have horns, but the pickup of a friend of Grady’s does. After drinks, Grady decided to partake in a little truck fighting. There is never a dull moment with South Texas Rednecks.
My stash of cigars was getting low so I set my sights on a provisioning trip. Holiday Wine and Liquors (http://www.holidaywineandliquor.com/) with locations throughout the Rio Grande Valley has a well-stocked humidor. Every time I have visited the humidor they have had a sale of 40% off individual cigars. Not a bad price on quality cigars. So I made a trip to the local branch and did some must needed shopping. Checking out the internet and my cigar shop locator ap on my IPhone, I located a couple shops up at the mid-valley and scheduled a road trip to explore. Pulling out of the ranch with lit cigar and giddy with anticipation of visiting a couple of cigar shops, I let my GPS lead me to the smokes. The first location turned out to be a bust. The address was a house in a residential area of Weslaco, TX. Maybe the home owner had a cigar business out of his house, but I wasn’t going to walk up and ring the bell. Cross that one off the list. Next stop a shopping center in McAllen, another half-hour down the road. I had high hopes for this shop based on my review of their website. It looked like a good selection and possibly a place to engage in some cigar conversation. The GPS let me right to the shopping center and a vacant store space. The shop had closed at some point and had left the website up. Bummer, my road trip yielded no fruit. Oh well, such is life in South Texas. I turned the truck around and headed back to the ranch.
I had one last task to complete before I left the Valley and begin my next adventure, to visit South Padre Island (http://www.sopadre.com/). South Padre Island is a resort town on the Gulf of Mexico that is a playground for people from across Texas and Mexico. During Spring Break, the island is flooded with college students out for a respite from their studies. Condos and beach houses line the white beaches and beach goers frolic in the warm Gulf waters. My high school days were spent surfing and sailing these fine waters and partying on the beach at night. In my later life I lived and operated an interior decorating business on the island for 9 years before pursuing my academic career. South Padre holds lots of wonderful memories and I always make a pilgrimage when I am in the Valley. The Thomaes and I headed to the island for a meal of seafood and to watch the Friday night fireworks over the bay. After a great shrimp dinner, we staked out a spot at the end of a road on the bay. The lawn chairs came out of the back of the truck and I fired up an AVO to watch the sunset and the pending fireworks. As we waited for the fireworks to begin, several party boats filled with revelers on board tooled by. Music blaring, lights flashing, the mark of a party in full swing. Then shortly past nine, boom! The fireworks show began. It is quite the impressive show and if you are in the area on Friday night during the summer be sure to partake.
Friends seen, fish caught, belly full of Mexican food, cigars smoked, and belly food it is now time for the next adventure. So, with Tawny and trailer in the capable hands of the Thomaes it was time to catch my flight for the cooler climes of the Pacific Northwest. The trek began with an automobile ride to the airport, a plane ride to SeaTac, a train ride into Seattle and then a ferry ride across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island to Matilda, a 28 foot Pacific Seacraft sailboat for the next stage of my summer. But that’s another story!!
Remember it’s all about the journey!!!!
After two blissful weeks in Asheville, NC it was time for the Cigar to hit the road!! Sitting was nice, but it also feels good to be changing locations. Next stop is Florence, AL; a 400 mile drive. Florence is not on most travelers’ radar screen, so why you might ask am I heading to this town in northwest Alabama? Well the answer is quite simple; my mother and sister’s family are living there. Also there is a gem of a cigar shop, Truly Cigars in town. So I am off to Florence to catch up on family and to enjoy a cigar or two.
Near Florence is Joe Wheeler State Park (http://www.alapark.com/joewheeler/), a really nice get away on the shores of Lake Wheeler. There are lots of wooded campsites and I found a large site that backed up to the woods. The park offers a host of things to do – boating, fishing, hiking, golf, and wildlife viewing to name a few. A couple young girls were hiking in the woods and came across a baby deer that had been left all alone. They picked up the deer and brought it back to their campsite worried that the fawn was an orphan and would die. While the fawn was cute, please note that mother deer will hide their babies and then come back to them. So if you find a baby deer seemingly all alone, please leave it be. It is not an orphan. The girls’ family called the Park Ranger and I assume that the ranger took the fawn back, but I didn’t hear the final outcome.
Now I mentioned that Florence has a good cigar shop, so let’s turn our attention to the fun stuff, cigars. Truly Cigars (http://trulycigars.com/) is a gem in a small Southern town. The entire store is humidified and they offer a full bar. The shop is extremely comfortable and it is so nice to be able to order a drink to go with your smoke. Truly Cigars actually had to get a special exemption from the local government to be able to allow smoking and the consumption of liquor in an establishment, truly a success story. The owner of Truly Cigars is also the local Zaxby’s (http://www.zaxbys.com/home.aspx) restaurant franchisee. He has a store in front of the strip center where Truly Cigars is located. Inside the cigar shop is a red hotline phone that dials one number only, the Zaxby’s restaurant. All you do is pick up the phone, order your food, and wait for it to be delivered to the cigar shop.
Truly Cigars added an outside deck to the back of the store; expanding the overall space of the shop. The deck is covered and offers comfortable patio furniture. Two big screen TVs hang on the wall for your viewing pleasure. Some evenings and weekends a live band plays on the patio making a unique cigar smoking experience. As with other visits to cigar shops, I sought out a unique cigar and found it in the Perdomo RTR. Nick Perdomo’s son attended the University of Alabama, so Nick created a blend that can only be bought in Alabama. The resulting cigar the RTR (Roll Tide Roll) is a smooth rich smoke worthy of his other noted blends.
If you should find yourself passing through Florence, AL then make a stop at Truly Cigars. You won’t be disappointed. Have a cigar and drink for me while you are there.
Time to hit the road again. Next stop South Texas.
It’s all about the journey!!
Date: June 1-15, 2013
Camped at: Wilson’s Riverfront RV Park http://wilsonsrvpark.com/ Asheville, NC
In prior posts I related my experience of visiting the location of my first cigar, Carolina Cigar Company and Sir Tom’s Tobacco Emporium. I had one more cigar shop to visit before leaving the Asheville area, B & B Tobacconist (http://bbtobacconists.com/). I heard about B & B Tobacconist from my RV Park neighbors, John and Robin who have lived in the area for a number of years. So on a Friday afternoon headed over to check it out. What a friendly place with a great group of cigar smokers! The shop is located in an old house on Merrimon Avenue just outside of downtown. I arrived and went inside a comfy cigar shop with friendly staff and customers noting the “concealed weapons welcome” sign by the front door. After selecting a cigar from the well-stocked humidor, I joined the three customers that were enjoying their smokes. They allowed me to join their conversation and, like other shops, they asked me about what I was doing in town. I gave them an overview of my travels and blog which led to additional questions regarding the various cigar shops I had visited. They told me that I missed a Nomad Cigar event the night before and the tobacconist gave me a Nomad to try. The conversation was delightful and I was informed that I need to return Saturday morning. It seems that Saturday mid-day is when all the locals come out to have a cigar before their afternoon activities. Finishing a couple of cigars and thanking them for the conversation, I promised that I would return the next day.
I arrived at B & B Tobacconist around 11am on Saturday to join the morning conversation. David, the owner of the shop, was working and I introduced myself. He gave me a history of this family business and discussed the shop and the community. Soon the regulars were coming in and perching themselves in the rocking chairs lined up on the veranda. The clientele is an eclectic group of professionals and blue collar workers all drawn by the common bond of the tobacco leaf. I was struck by the deep level of community found at this well established shop. There is a liar’s bench inside the shop that you can’t sit at until you tell a lie. I didn’t get to sit there. Recently the shop had a longtime customer pass away. They had a collection box out and had hung his fly fishing vest on the wall of the shop. Over the liar’s bench hung a series of brass name plates with the names of all the old time customers that had passed. Around noon a couple showed up with a giant 3 foot long brownie in the shape of a cigar as a thank you present to the patrons of the cigar shop. The woman was 9 months pregnant and evidently the local cigar smokers pitched in for baby gifts. The shop definitely has a good since of community and as an outsider I as immediately taken in.
While the other smokers and I were kicked back on the porch, a 1967 bright red Toyota pickup pulled up front. Out of the cab came a fellow local smoker with a proud look on his face. He had just finished the complete restoration of the truck and was excited to show it off for the first time. He was like a proud father as he discussed the story of the restoration and fielded questions.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day hanging out at B & B Tobacconist and returned one more time before I left Asheville. If you find yourself in the Asheville area, be sure to make a point to stop by B & B and tell the Cigar on the Road says hello. Well my two weeks in the Blue Ridge Mountains came to an end and it was once again time to hit the road. I will definitely be returning next summer for a relaxing and pleasant sojourn in Asheville.
I have had a busy summer and was without reliable internet for six weeks so I am behind in my blog updates. Never fear though new entries of my travels will be coming in the next few weeks. In the meantime, you can read my latest article in The Cigar Lounger magazine (http://thecigarlounger.com/). The Cigar Lounger utilizes the next generation technology available on the Apple Ipad platform. It is an interactive viewing and reading experience that is much more fun than skimming through a traditional magazine. This is the second issue of The Cigar Lounger and I am please with how professional and visually stimulating it is. My article in the August issue recants my 2012 sabbatical experiences and sets the stage for the summer 2013 travels. The current article in The Cigar Lounger covers the beginning of the trip. A key focus of the piece is comparing my experiences at The Clay Pipe in the Mohegan Sun Casino (www.mohegansun.com) and my visit to Two Guys Smoke Shop in New Hampshire (www.2guyscigars.com). The article concludes with a discussion of the Acadia National Park experience.
The Cigar Lounger is written for the common cigar smoker. You won’t find any articles about personal jets and million dollar sports cars. What you can expect is useful information about experiencing a good smoke. You can find The Cigar Lounger in the Apple Newstand Store. There is even a short preview copy of the first issue, but a quick note, my article is not in the preview. The editors are in the process of making it available on an Android platform in the near future. So please consider subscribing. You won’t be disappointed.
On another media note, I was recently a guest on Over a Cigar internet radio program. The Cigar Lounger and Over a Cigar (www.overacigar.com) are a part of the same company. The founders happen to frequent my home lounge in Colmar, PA (http://www.cigarcigarspa.com/). Check out the podcast …. http://overacigar.com/listen-live/
Stay tuned for more tales from the road. And remember It’s All About the Journey!!!!
Date: June 1-15, 2013
Camped at: Wilson’s Riverfront RV Park http://wilsonsrvpark.com/ Asheville, NC
South of Asheville is the town of Hendersonville, North Carolina and nestled in the renovated and vibrant downtown is Sir Tom’s Tobacco Emporium (www.sirtoms.com). Sir Tom’s main location is in Spartanburg, South Carolina, but the location in Hendersonville was closer to Asheville. I found Sir Tom’s by looking on yelp and decided to take the drive south. Downtown Hendersonville (www.historichendersonville.org) is a quaint village center out of the heyday of small town America. You can find Sir Tom’s Tobacco Emporium on 4th Avenue just off of Main Street. Browse the downtown shops and then slip in to Sir Tom’s for a smoke.
My trip to Sir Tom’s was on a quiet afternoon which made for a relaxing visit. As I walk in to the shop the clerk was helping a couple of young men in the humidor select their first cigars. The two men had just graduated high school and were going to celebrate with a smoke. The clerk, Miles, was extremely patient and informative in his guidance for their inaugural cigar. I was taken once again how cigars can be used as a social celebration of life events. High school graduation is just a monumental as a baby being born. After watching the decision making process of the novices, I made my selection from the humidor and sat down to enjoy the afternoon.
Miles joined me in a smoke and conversation. Sir Tom’s is lucky to have someone as passionate about cigars as Miles is. You can check him out on instagram at Milesofcigars and follow his pictures and short videos. Passionate about cigars may be an understatement when it comes to Miles. His favorite cigar is Tatuaje and he wears the Tatuaje Monsters tattooed on his chest. That is dedication to a brand. We had a great conversation and it was a memorable visit. Miles is quite the character and if you are lucky enough to meet him you will have a good time. He is also knowledgable about restaurants in the Asheville area and turned me on to chicken and waffles at Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack (www.rockyshotchickenshack.com).
So if you find yourself near Hendersonville, North Carolina off Interstate 26, drop in have a smoke and say hey to MilesofCigars.
More Asheville area to come!
Date: June 1 – 15, 2013
Camped at: Wilson’s Riverfront RV Park http://wilsonsrvpark.com/
Asheville. Asheville. What a place to spend time. If you have not been to Asheville you need to put it on your list of places to go (www.exploreasheville.com). Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains it is reminiscent to Austin Texas 30 years ago. The town has a little bit of everything for everybody. Arts, music, craft beer, historic homes, outdoor activities, beautiful scenery, and cigars can all be found in the mountain town of Asheville.
The biggest tourist draw to Asheville is the Biltmore Estate (www.biltmore.com). Built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1890’s, it is the largest private home in the United States. I have seen the Breakers in Newport and the Hearst Castle in California and the Biltmore is by far my favorite. Situated on 8000 acres the estate is quite the attraction. While in Asheville do make a point of seeing the Biltmore and also splurge the extra $10 for the audio tour; you get so much more out of the tour than just walking and looking. The audio relates stories of the Vanderbilt family and life on the estate. I was quite impressed by the Vanderbilt’s sense of social justice evidenced by paying their maids New York City wages in the mountains of North Carolina. On the other side of Asheville, Mrs. Vanderbilt’s attention to the local populace is also in evidence at Biltmore Industries adjacent to the Grove Park Inn (www.groveparkinn.com). The Grove Park Inn is a historic hotel that brought the rich and powerful to Asheville during the Gilded Age (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grove_Park_Inn) . Biltmore Industries (http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/asheville/ind.htm) employed local craftsmen and textile workers in the production of mountain crafts for sale to the tourist and their homes back in New York. This social enterprise produced an economic boom for the area and provided the foundation of the arts and crafts found in Asheville today. While at the Grove Park Inn, be sure to visit the Biltmore Industries museum next to the hotel.
Artisans can be found throughout Asheville. When I moved into the RV Park there was a tiny house on wheels that a local aspiring designer built herself. Rhodes Waite (http://www.thetinylife.com/asheville-tiny-house/) built and designed a compact living space that had all the comforts of home, including indoor monkey bars.
Asheville offers several different art and craft events during the year. On a prior visit to Asheville, the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands (http://www.romanticasheville.com/craft_fair_southern_highlands.htm) was being held and on this trip I partook in the River District Studio Stroll (http://www.romanticasheville.com/river_arts.htm). Either of these functions are a great way to spend the day perusing the local wares. There are truly some talented people in the area.
If you are into craft beers, then Asheville is a must to visit. Forbes included it in its list of 5 Beer Cities to Hit This Summer (http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestravelguide/2013/05/20/5-beer-cities-to-hit-this-summer/) and CNN includes Asheville in its 8 Best Beer Towns in the USA (http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/06/travel/usa-beer-towns). Check out http://www.romanticasheville.com/beer.htm for a list of all the breweries and beer events throughout the year. My favorite is Highland Brewing’s Gaelic Ale (http://www.highlandbrewing.com/). If you want to sample some local brews and have a meal check out Lexington Avenue Brewery (http://www.lexavebrew.com/) , Mellow Mushroom (http://mellowmushroom.com/) , or the Bier Garden (http://biergarden.homestead.com/); all places that I enjoyed a meal and a brew. It is amazing the variety of beer these places have on tap.
Walking around downtown Asheville I was treated to hula hoops in Pritchard Park, an oasis in the middle of downtown. Strolling past 5 Walnut Wine Bar (http://5walnut.com/), I heard Spanish Music filling the air through the open windows of the wine bar. Suddenly, I had a hankering for a Rioja so in I went. Inside I was expecting a Latin group, but instead I found a blonde hair Asheville Native, who sang perfect Spanish. Whitney Moore (http://www.whitneymoore.com/) is her name and she has traveled the world and lived for an extended time in Mexico. She was a pleasure to hear and I bought two of her CD’s. Music is all around Asheville, in the bars, on the streets and at music festivals. My last night in Asheville I was treated to two very different venues, the first a Celtic Music festival and the second, the Bywater Bar (http://www.bywaterbar.com/), an interesting private club on the banks of the French Broad River. I found out about the Celtic Festival (http://www.celticheritageproductions.com/wnc.htm) from two of my neighbors at the RV Park who were the organizers of the event. Tawny would stop by their Airstream whenever we walked by and we engaged in daily conversations. The festival was being held on the adjacent property and was to go on for two days. I was only able to attend the first night, as I was leaving the next day. On the Friday of the festival, I grabbed my lawn chair, walked next door and was treated to back to back bands. My neighbor, Marcille, was one of the performers with her band that included a great fiddle player and sported a couple of Irish dancers. I was joined at the festival by John and Robin, some other neighbors from the RV Park. We lined up the lawn chairs in a row, grabbed some grub and Gaelic Ale, and settled in for the music.
About nine we packed up and headed to the Bywater to hear a local band that John and Robin knew. Talk about a transition we went from bagpipes to Patsy Cline. The Bywater is a cool, casual place. Inside is the bar with plenty of local brews on tap. The band was setup under a covered porch. Outside there are lawn games and a huge fire pit with a shelf around it to place your beer. I could sit outside, listen to the band, and enjoy a good cigar. We were joined by John and Robin’s daughter and the girlfriend of the drummers. A good time was had by all. It was a great way to end my stay in Asheville.
Three more posts on Asheville are coming … two on different cigar shops and one on outdoor activities.
Date: June 1, 2013
Start: Summerville, WV
End: Asheville, NC
Camped at: Wilson’s Riverfront RV Park http://wilsonsrvpark.com/
One of the reasons for coming to Asheville was to go back to my cigar roots and revisit Carolina Cigar Company where I purchased my first cigar two years ago. Did I still consider the cigar good after I have tried numerous cigars? This was a question I had. Arriving in Asheville, I located Wilson’s Riverfront RV Park on the banks of the French Broad River. I had found the park on the internet and it was located in the town of Asheville. Most of the RV parks in the area are outside of town and I wanted to be close in. Wilson’s has spots right on the river and I sought one of these out. I am all about location, especially since this was to be my home for two weeks. For the price of $190 per week I got full hookups, cable TV, and Wi-Fi. Not a bad deal. The RV Park has the added benefit of having the French Broad River Greenway (http://www.ashevillenc.gov/Departments/ParksRecreation/ParksOverview/Greenways.aspx) passing through the center of the park. I could get up each morning and go for a bike ride and Tawny had a chance to walk along the river. Tawny also enjoyed sitting in the yard and watching all the dogs and people pass by while they were getting their exercise; never a dull moment. A mile down the road is a dog park, so Tawny got additional socializing there.
Camp set; I headed to downtown to eat at a favorite place, The Mellow Mushroom (http://mellowmushroom.com/), a great pizza shop with an incredible draft beer selection. Following a great late lunch/early dinner, I made my pilgrimage to the Carolina Cigar Company (http://www.thecarolinacigarcompany.com) directly across the street.
Two years ago my ex-wife and I had eaten at The Mellow Mushroom and wandered into Carolina Cigar Company to look around. She picked up some cigars for her brother-in-law and suggested that I try one. I opted for the Connecticut Cabinet Lonsdale and took it back to the rented cabin to enjoy with a cocktail. The next day I went back and bought a box. The cigar hobby had begun. This trip followed a similar path. I selected the three varieties available in the Cabinet Lonsdale; a Maduro, a Habano, and the Connecticut. Arriving back at camp I set one of my rocking lawn chairs on the banks of the river, poured myself a Knob Creek (http://www.knobcreek.com/) and lit up a Carolina Cigar Company stick. The cigar was not bad. Have I had better? Sure. But I had feared that it would taste horrible. Reminiscent of my first encounter I went back a couple of days later and bought a box of the Connecticut. The plan is to bring some of those back so my friends at Over a Cigar (http://overacigar.com/) can try them.
I deemed the first day in Asheville a success and called it a night. My two weeks here will be filled with sightseeing, finishing my article for The Cigar Lounger (due out in July), catching up on my blog, visiting local cigar shops, and partaking in the local culture. Stay tuned, lots more to come from this great town in the mountains of North Carolina.
Date: May 31, 2013
Start: Niagara Falls, NY
End: Summersville, WV
Camped at: Summerville Lake Retreat http://summersvillelakeretreat.com/
I took off in the morning from Niagara Falls heading first west to Erie Pennsylvania and then south through Pittsburg and on into West Virginia. At a gas station south of Morgantown, West Virginia I met a group of guys heading north from Columbia, South Carolina to Pittsburg and then on to Vermont, hauling steel in a fifth wheel trailer. I never figured out why they were hauling steel to Pittsburg, a steel town; an unanswered question. The encounter is typical of several along the way. Standing by the gas pumps, a gentleman around my age came over and stared lustfully at my travel trailer and inquired where I was heading. I explained my summer travel plans and informed him I had bought the trailer the previous October in Tacoma Washington. He yelled over at the four guys in their twenties and said, “hey guys, he bought this trailer in Washington, the state, not the city.” The younger men then asked if I wanted to trade places. I guess a lot of people see the allure of traveling around the country. After a farewell, I was back headed south into the mountains of West Virginia.
Driving through this part of West Virginia, I was taken by the beauty of the steep, close mountains of this part of Appalachia. The lush green mountainsides created stunning views of multiple peaks off the side of the road. I made it as far as Summersville, West Virginia and found a Good Sam’s Campground (http://www.goodsamclub.com/) , Summersville Lake Retreat, for the night. I was given a picturesque pull-thru site overlooking Summersville Lake, http://www.summersvillewv.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=23&Itemid=215. This RV Park is in a park like setting and Tawny enjoyed walking through down the woody lane that winds through one section of the park. She thought she was back on the Carriage Roads of Acadia National Park. We settled into dinner and I enjoyed a cigar while Tawny relaxed on the soft cool grass after a long day’s drive.
The next morning we made an earlier start bound for Asheville, NC. A short drive south of Summersville West Virginia I was treated to a gorgeous sight, The New River Gorge (http://www.nps.gov/neri/index.htm). Just off the highway, the gorge is a sight to behold. A short walk down a staircase brings you to an overlook that you can see the gorge and the New River Gorge Bridge, http://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/nrgbridge.htm. As I approached the lookout platform, I was treated to a train whistle down in the gorge. I felt as though I was inside a model railroad setup; the view was so reminiscent of my childhood dream of constructing a model railroad. You could really see the detail depicted in the train setups in the Model Railroad magazines. This would have been a great place to sit and enjoy a cigar; however, smoking was not permitted. Bummer…
Back in the pickup I resumed my drive to Asheville, but made a note to one day return to West Virginia to see more of the wonderful sights.
Next stop, a two week stay in wonderful Asheville, North Carolina; Land of the Biltmore House and culture.
Date: May 29th & 30th
Mileage: 86 miles
Camped at: KOA Niagara Falls http://koa.com/campgrounds/niagara-falls-new-york/
A quick jaunt from Rochester is Niagara Falls and the KOA campground that would be my home for the next two days. After setting up camp, I headed to Niagara Falls State Park, http://www.niagarafallsstatepark.com/ , on the US side and then crossed into Canada to see the falls from the Canadian side; two very different views. If you have never visited Niagara Falls, I would put it on your list of places to see. Make sure you have your passport because you definitely need to see the falls from both sides. This was my third trip to Niagara Falls, and it would be worth a fourth.
First stop was the American side and a drive around Goat Island, a pretty island just above Niagara Falls. From Goat Island you can take the Cave of the Winds Tour, http://www.niagarafallsstatepark.com/cave-of-the-winds.aspx , and take an elevator down into Niagara Gorge to experience the falls close up on wooden decks. A little farther down the road is the State Park Visitor Center where you can park (for $10) and check out Niagara Falls from the American side. Camera in hand I headed down the path to view the falls. When one first sets eyes on Niagara Falls, you are taken back by the sheer magnitude of it. The rush of the water and the sound of it as a plummets over the brink is amazing. You stand there looking at the falls and think why in the world would people want to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
In Niagara Falls State Park you can also catch the Maid of Mist boat tour of the falls, http://www.niagaraparks.com/attractions/maid-of-the-mist.html and experience the mist from the bottom of Niagara Gorge. Where you catch the elevator down to the boat, there is an observation platform that juts out into Niagara Gorge which looks like an incomplete bridge. For a dollar you can get a good view of the falls. After taking in the American side of Niagara Falls, it was time to cross the Rainbow Bridge to Canada and get a better view of the Horseshoe Falls.
I had thought about camping on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, but decided that it was not feasible when I was carrying my whole house with me. Some issues are you can only take one bottle of liquor into Canada, I have a whole bar; you can only bring 50 cigars; I have a travel humidor with well over this amount; and you need rabies certification for the dog; which I do have. So I left the house at the KOA along with Tawny. I carry 5 gallons of gas for my generator, so I left that at camp as well in case that was an issue. One last detail was to make sure I had my passport card with me. I have a regular passport and a passport card that is good for travel into Mexico, the Caribbean, and Canada by land or sea, for air travel you need the regular passport. The card is convenient because it fits in your wallet, http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html . By my estimation I was set for a flawless border crossing. Leaving the Niagara Falls State Park parking lot I drove the short distance to the Rainbow Bridge to make the crossing, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_Bridge_(Niagara_Falls) .
The Rainbow Bridge is a toll bridge where you pay $3.25 that covers both directions. The EZ-Pass does not work here. Once you cross the Niagara Gorge you pull up to the Canadian border crossing and have a chat with the official. They ask about liquor, tobacco, fruits, and weapons. I was asked if I own or carry a gun in the US. Everything checked out and I was off to see the falls. From the Rainbow Bridge to past the top of Niagara Falls is a manicured drive and walkway along Niagara Gorge. One of the nice things that I have found throughout Canada is the cleanliness and the care the Canadians take with their public spaces. I drove up past the Horseshoe Falls and found parking at Niagara Parks Floral Showcase, http://www.niagaraparks.com/garden-trail/floral-showhouse.html . Like the American side, the Canadian side has lots to do and see. Check out the following website for all the Canadian Attractions, http://www.niagaraparks.com/attractions/ .
I walked along the river and watched the water jut over the drop of the falls. Interestingly there is a rusted barge stuck on the rocks above the brink, which made me wonder what the sight would have been had it made it all the way to the falls and gone over. It is from the Canadian side that all the thrill seekers have rode their barrels over Niagara Falls. The American Falls plummet onto rocks, where the Horseshoe Falls drop into a pool at the base of the falls. Alas, no one was making the plunge on my visit. Standing next to the brink of the falls, the roar of the water is exhilarating and the mist often hides the falls behind it. Taking pictures as I went, I strolled along the edge of Niagara Gorge and at one point was enveloped by the mist. Overlooking Niagara Falls is the Edgewater Tap and Grill restaurant, http://www.niagaraparks.com/dining/edgewaters-restaurant.html , and I stopped in to try some Canadian brew and to have a bite to eat. The Edgewater has ample seating on a second story patio and I was lucky enough to get a table on the rail, providing an excellent view of Niagara Falls. There I enjoyed a flight of Canadian drafts and some popcorn shrimp. Taking my time I contemplated the falls and took in the tourist as they rode in horse drawn carriages and took pictures of the falls.
The day had started out cloudy, but by the time I finished my respite, the sun was out in its full glory. Walking back to the truck along the Niagara Gorge I was treated to a rainbow in the mist. I now know where the Rainbow Bridge gets its name. Several pictures later I was back in the truck driving around the town. The big hotels on the Canadian side are built tall, so that the rooms have a view of Niagara Falls. I thought about trying to find a Cuban Cigar, but only saw souvenir shops advertising Cubans and was worried about finding fakes. So close, but no cigar. As I said earlier, this was my third trip to Niagara and I opted to not visit the other sites in the area. For a newbie to the falls I would suggest going down river to the Whirlpools, http://www.niagaraparks.com/attractions/whirlpool-aero-car.html , which is a pool that has been dug out in the gorge where the river makes a bend. Also worth the drive is the historic town of Niagara on the Lake, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niagara-on-the-Lake .
My afternoon in Canada concluded, it was back to the Rainbow Bridge to cross back into America. As I mentioned earlier, I had taken care to eliminate any border crossing issues. In my preparations I had forgot on thing; I had two pieces of firewood with bark on it in the bed of the truck that I had picked up in Maine. I did not even think that this would be a problem, but it was. The custom agent inquired about the nature of the firewood and selected me for secondary screening. I had to pull the truck under a carport and go inside to wait for an agent to come search my truck. The agent made initial contact with me regarding the firewood and was asked if I knew that you could not transport firewood in New York more than two hundred miles. I answered that I had no idea that that was the case. Being the wood came from Maine, I was way over the limit. Additionally, the wood had spent the afternoon in Canada, another grievous offense. The agent proceeded to examine my pick-up and after about 20 minutes returned to tell me the verdict. Since I was only carrying two pieces of firewood, he informed me that he would dispose of it and I would not be required to return to Canada to dispose it there; as this is the normal procedure. So two sticks of firewood lighter, I was allowed back into the United States of America. Returning to the truck I noticed that the inside of the truck had been searched as well, which made me glad I had not tried to smuggle in a box of Cuban Cigars. Who knows what the penalty for that would have been? The lesson to all this; do not transport firewood across International borders, or even State borders.
The firewood issue got me hankering for a campfire, so when I returned to the KOA I picked up a bundle of New York firewood that I would burn on the next two evenings. Back at camp, Tawny was glad to see me, although maybe still a little miffed that I forced her away of all the excitement back in Rochester. To make up for it, I grabbed a bag of dog treats and headed to the KOA K-9 Camp, a fenced dog park full of agility toys. Back in Philly I had trained Tawny to walk a plank, run through weave poles and jump through a hula-hoop. Tawny had wowed the local kids back in Rochester with her hula-hoop trick. Tawny was a trooper and worked through the different toys, albeit not at any speed necessary for competition. Her first time over the teeter totter was a surprise to her as it began to move under her feet. She likes the ramps and planks the best and while I sat on a bench she would go walk the plank on her own and them come over for a treat.
That night and the next I relaxed over a campfire with a Knob Creek Bourbon, http://www.knobcreek.com/ , while enjoying a good cigar. I was careful to use up all the firewood so that I would not be guilty of the heinous crime of transporting firewood across State Lines. The trip so far had been pretty rushed, what with having Kelly for a week in Maine and spending three days with Jen and Ethan, so I relaxed the next day at camp and did some writing of blog entries, a draft of an article for The Cigar Lounger Magazine (a Newstand magazine coming in July), and reviewing my academic research.
The next stop on The Professor’s summer vacation is Asheville, NC some 708 miles away. This is a two day trip pulling the trailer and my hope is to make it into West Virginia on day 1.
See you on the road…
Date: May 28, 2013
Camped at: Friends Driveway
While in Rochester I did a search for cigar shops. One that interested me was the Santiago Cigar Factory http://santiagocigarfactory.com/ . Why the interest? Well they make all their own cigars and one of my quests for the summer is to try cigars that I can’t get elsewhere. In some instances this manifests itself in the house cigar at a particular shop, or in this case, the store actually manufactures its own cigars locally and only sells its own wares. I headed to downtown Rochester and found street parking in front of Santiago Cigar Factory. Going inside I headed to the humidor to see what they had to offer. The owner of the store, Gary Liotta, came in and began talking about his cigars, which are all rolled by their in house master roller. I introduced myself and told him about cigarontheroad.com. Shortly, he was called to the phone and was replaced in the humidor by his son. With his help I selected several sticks covering a variety of their offerings; the Primero, the Ecuador, and the Mata Fina. http://santiagocigarfactory.com/cigars
I kicked back in a chair, lit a stick and began a conversation with the owner’s son. Santiago Cigar Factory has an interesting business model that is unique from other cigar shops I have seen. They have the shop where people can come in, but also they travel to different events like golf tournaments and music festivals where they roll cigars on the spot. They advertise these Master Rolling Services on the website, http://santiagocigarfactory.com/master-rolling-services and travel as far as Philadelphia. The event services are a great way to gain visibility for their product and to attract new or occasional cigar smokers.
As in pretty much all cigar shops you partake in some good conversation. Amongst a steady stream of customers picking up a few sticks to take home at the end of the day, I learned more about the cigar business according to New York State rules. Early in my trip I visited Two Guys Smoke shop in New Hampshire, www.2guyscigars.com and found out the owners had moved their shop from the Boston area when a 15% tax on cigars went into effect. The current Massachusetts rate is 30%. New York is another story, with a 75% tax on the wholesale price of cigars. In our discussions that day we talked about how when the owner’s son does the roadshow out of state, the price point for their cigars offers a challenge when customers compare Santiago Cigar Factory prices to what they are used to paying for familiar brands at the local cigar shop. Santiago Cigar Factory prices were around $10 or so for a stick. I think the uniqueness of rolling on the spot helps to overcome this perception.
Cigar finished, I said my farewell and headed to Jen and Ethan’s for a last meal in Rochester. Next stop Niagara Falls!!!
Santiago Cigar Factory
335 East Ave Suite 2
Rochester NY 14604