It’s Winter – let’s talk Summer camping!

Jack asks, if you have a minute won’t you come sit by the campfire and we’ll chat? It’s Winter and the perfect time to talk about camping next Summer.

I’ll start. As kids growing up in the Northeast we endured Winter. We couldn’t afford snowmobiles and ATV’s but we made our own fun.

After high school, fun with the Military and entering the work civilian force Winter took on a whole different meaning – like starting out every morning in a cold car, always looking forward to going to work in the dark and coming home from work in the dark. All  while trying to stay warm and keeping the car on the road.

Yes my friend, “cabin fever” can be a very real threat.

But that’s when I learned I had a love for golf!

Well, actually not for the game of golf itself but rather the sunny, blue sky days and green grass venues from where they always broadcast the tourneys. I admit I spent a considerable amount of Sunday time watching them and daydreaming while it was snowing and blowing outside my windows.

I guess at some point in my life I really and truly decided I did not care for Winter at all!

Unfortunately my career was based in the Northeast and Winter was really hard to ignore. It usually begins to slowly creep up on you from every direction and by late February it has taken up entirely to much space in your mind – my mind at least.

Fortunately for the last few years before I retired I shared office space with a like-minded individual named (don’t call me Ronnie) Ron. Ron and I both loved Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Though we vacationed at different times we would spend countless hours each Winter planning the perfect Myrtle Beach getaway – what to see, where to go, what restaurants to try, etc. To make a long story short we spent many more hours planning the next trip than we actually spent going on the trip. You know what though? It got us through the worst parts of Winters.

Once I retired and Niki and I started RVing, Winters took on a whole different meaning. In fact we started looking forward to each Winter as much as the Summer. That of course is because when the leaves started falling we started packing our little home on wheels for the trip South to a warmer Winter, old friends and familiar places.

You may have heard or seen me mention on our website (snowbirdrvtrails.com) that we always took our time coming or going. No quick three days down and three days back for us. At one time we did have to scurry like that but soon decided it’s really not what retirement should be about.

In our travels North and South we normally take a month coming and going. A different route each time and normally different campgrounds in different areas to explore. One motto we have pretty much followed is “Last out of a campground in the morning and first to arrive at a new campground in the afternoon!”

After our first 1,500 mile trip where we spent a night in each campground and put in as many miles as we could each day, we arrived at our destination so tired we were ready to sell the trailer! That’s when we decided that on the return trip we would travel no more than 250 – 300 miles each travel day and spend at least two nights in each campground to explore a bit of the area. Eight years later that’s how we still do it.

That brings us up to today and this very Winter of 2018. No doubt it may be sub-zero and  snowing and blowing where you are. You may be at work, you may be at home snowed in or you may be retired and actually enjoying warmer weather. Wherever you are let’s you and me do some planning and looking forward to the warmer weather to come. You know that time when the snow is gone and you can air out your camper or your tent and get ready for the fun to come.

I know many of you are still working and have to plan your vacation days with the destination in mind rather than the trip. I understand that. We were also there as well not so long ago.

With that in mind let’s just talk about areas and campgrounds past, present and future. We have over 38,000 miles on the road and are closing in on nights spent at 200 campgrounds so far. I am going to start posting some of our favorite campgrounds and areas we have visited in our travels. It may be an area you have visited or that you might be interested in visiting one day. Maybe you know a special place we need to visit near there or elsewhere. Maybe you are thinking about where you plan to RV, camp or visit on your next adventure. What ever the case you are among friends around this campfire and we invite you to join the conversation.

Fellow campers we’ll get through this Winter thing together!

I do apologize in advance for any writing errors. Niki usually edits my articles but I am just winging this one and we’ll talk about whatever makes you happy.

The first campground I would like to bring up that we like is somewhat centrally located on the East Coast. It’s located in Mt Airy, North Carolina and called “Mayberry Campground”. The name is appropriate as the town is the birthplace of Andy Griffith. We have camped there several times coming and going and we find something different and interesting each time. The people are friendly, the food is good and the prices are right.

Mayberry Campground is open year-around and located off Exit 11 of I-74 at 114 Bunker Road, Mount Airy, NC. The campground is gravel, full amenities and has both pull-through and back-in sites. It is a Passport America “half-price” campground.

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Before I go further let me say I am not a paid spokesperson for Passport America but I talk about them a lot because we are lifetime members and stay at PA campgrounds at least 75% of the time. The club is not for everyone but if you travel a lot it is definitely worth it (or I wouldn’t be suggesting it.)

Mount Airy and Mayberry Campground are both located on what we feel is our favorite route South from the Northeast.

(Our video pulling into Mayberry Campground.)

Mayberry Campground is located on part of the former 2,000 acre farm belonging to Chang and Eng Bunker, famous Siamese twins of the 1800’s. The twins – forever conjoined – had a prosperous farm as well as 2 separate and prosperous families. They married 2 sisters and had 21 children between them. They kept 2 separate homes, alternating 3 days at each home.

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THINGS TO DO IN MT AIRY:
Visit Andy Griffith’s “homeplace” at 711 East Haymore Street. Less than a mile away you’ll find the real “Snappy Lunch” and still making the “famous pork chop sandwiches”. It’s next door to “Floyd’s Barbershop” and “Opie’s Candy Store”. Just a little farther down Main Street you’ll find “Wally’s Garage” and “The Courthouse” with a recreation of the jail set office and cells we remember from The Andy Griffith Show. That’s also the place to sign-up for a real “Andy Griffith Squad Car Tour” of Town in a vintage Mayberry Police Car like Barney and Andy drove.

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Not far away you’ll find the Andy and Opie statues in front of the “Andy Griffith Theatre” and the Andy Griffith Museum where they have hundreds (perhaps thousands) of artifacts and memorabilia from Andy’s career on stage, TV and in the movies and as a singer and comedian. The Museum’s lower level has an exhibition of material from Eng and Chang’s life as well.

We do dine out a lot on our trips. We like to find the local “Mom and Pop” restaurants that the locals rave about. You may have seen me mention this before but we have two questions we ask of the hosts or locals at any new stopover – What is the “must-see” thing or place locally that you must show your friends and family when they come to visit? The other question is “What is your favorite locally owned restaurant with great homecooking?” The answers usually supply us with much to see and do on our next day.

If the following sound a tad like reviews it’s because they are. It’s what we also do on our website. We put our own two cents in on the good, the bad and the ugly in campgrounds and restaurants that we find. If we have not eaten there or not camped there we don’t review them. I am happy to say we have only found two of Niki’s “Deliverance” campgrounds in our travels.

On our very first visit to Mount Airy we had dinner at “The Copper Pot”. Real Southern home-cooking served by cheerful ladies with lovely North Carolina accents so thick you almost need an interpreter. Good food and Great people – the feeling is real down-home friendliness.

We also have tried a lunch spot suggested by the campground and backed by many good reviews on the Net. It’s called “Little Richard’s Smokehouse BBQ”. We like BBQ and have sampled it in about every State East of the Mississippi. This place is our new favorite for BBQ done right. Tender and juicy – slow cooked over hickory coals for 16 hours and truly finger lickin’ good. The sides are homemade as well. For sides we both tried the mac & cheese and turnip greens accompanied by a large basket of hush puppies. They have a soft drink – new to us – called “Cheerwine” which is cherry flavored and also tasty as were the warm blackberry cobblers we had for dessert with vanilla ice cream (of course!).

We can also recommend Tlaquepaque Mexican Restaurant & Grill at 2123 Rockford Street. I can’t pronounce it either but it’s a small restaurant with a talented chef. Both of our meals, traditional Mexican combos, were really delicious.

So have you been to Mount Airy and/or Mayberry Campground? What did you like or didn’t like. Did we miss something?

Where are you headed on your next adventure. Come pull up a stump by the campfire. The coffee pot is on and we have your cup waiting.

Jack
(To be continued.)

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Myrtle Beach – a great place for a holiday visit and to dine!

If you have traveled with us for very long you may have noticed we like to dine out – a lot. Our current week long visit to Myrtle Beach was no exception. There are so many great restaurants to choose from. In fact I think the restaurants may outnumber the golf courses – but it would be close!

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We had Thanksgiving Day reservations all set with a suggestion from our Myrtle Beach friends, Patrish and Wally. The restaurant is called Salt Water Cafe and it is located in Murrells Inlet just South of MB. The food was excellent and the prices are very good. They offer daily specials. We recommend you check them out – it would be a perfect lunch spot if you are visiting Brookgreen Gardens or Huntington Beach State Park.

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A favorite of ours when we visit MB is the K & W Cafeteria. It’s a real cafeteria line filled with made-from-scratch (mostly) – down-home, Southern dishes – cornbread, fried chicken, okra & tomatoes, collards, etc. – as well as the normal fare to choose from as you work your way down the line. The prices are reasonable and a two-fer is available for under $20 on Mondays and Saturdays, which I guarantee will fill both your tanks nicely.

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Another favorite of ours was a pizza/pasta buffet called Home Plate. The food was good, economical and plentiful but the main draw for us was a table busser named Isaac. Isaac made a full-blown production out of clearing tables. Life was simply a God given joy he was quick to admit. He was thankful for his family and a job he loved. One year we came and Home Plate had closed its doors!

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We were happy to find out that a new restaurant has opened in the same spot and is called Simply Southern Smokehouse – now a BBQ and soul food buffet. The food is good, the prices reasonable and the best part for us and many others is that Isaac is back and he has full reign to do his thing including leading the diners in some good old Gospel songs. It’s really something to see (and hear) but go early as the crowd also knows where to find Simply Southern and Isaac on Joe White Blvd!

We do treat ourselves to a couple of the more pricey tables when we visit Myrtle Beach. One is the Rioz Brazilian Steakhouse, which I’ve mentioned before. The soup and salad bar is long, varied and unique. Several different kinds of meat are offered at your table and sliced from skewers by the “vaqueros” who constantly circulate the room. You have to bring two things – a very large and hungry appetite and your wallet. It is an experience and worth a one-time spot on your bucket list.

Another place we try to visit is The Original Benjamin’s (170 item) Calabash Seafood Buffet. The food is all prepared well, the seafood is to die for and the desserts are the kind that make you want to start there first!

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Okay, enough about food. It’s making me hungry again! We had a really special Thanksgiving Week vacation in Myrtle Beach. We ate (too) well, saw several spectacular Christmas shows, took a few hundred photographs and spent time with old friends. We couldn’t ask for more.

In past trips we would stay at one of the many, nice RV parks or campgrounds. This time we drove our car and brought our furbabies along. Not every hotel allows pets but the LaQuinta Inn & Suites at 4709 N Kings Hwy, Myrtle Beach does. Their phone # is 843-449-5231. The fact they accept pets will never make it the 5-star Ritz but the staff is friendly and accommodating, the rooms fairly clean and comfortable and it is in the process of a total makeover. There is room in the parking lot if you do bring your RV and just want a hotel night or two in your travels.

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One final thought or tip for anyone planning to visit the Grand Strand. Your visit can be done quite economically, even for a family, with some research and pre-planning. Do not buy coupons from the Internet. Make your first stop at a grocery store when you arrive and collect the assorted free coupon books offered at the entrance. You’ll have a great time and save a lot of money.

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Safe travels and enjoy every journey,

Jack and Niki

p.s. Did we mention Krispy Kreme – “the” doughnut people? No trip South is complete without visiting the “factory” and sampling one or two.
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More about this trip on our FB page at https://www.facebook.com/OurSnowbirdRVTrails.

Easter Dinner on the Cottee River

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Catches Waterfront Grille in Port Richey, Florida
We hope all of our Internet friends and acquaintances had a nice Easter weekend? Niki and I did things a little differently this year. There are some favorite things at a traditional Easter dinner that we can no longer eat due to some medical restrictions so we decided to opt for Chinese on Easter Sunday and then have our Easter Dinner on Monday.
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Surf & Turf at Catches Waterfront Grille

Mondays happen to be when one of our favorites – surf and turf – is the Monday special at a nearby restaurant just a ways up the road and riverside in Port Richey.

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Catches in Port Richey, Florida

Catches Waterfront Grill and its Tiki themed sister establishment – Rum Runner – are located on the Cottee River just off US-19. The restaurant has great ambience and it is very relaxing watching the boats go by – going to and coming from the Gulf.

The food was delicious with the steaks done just the way we like them and the grilled shrimp skewers were very tasty. The only con would be we could not recommend the cole slaw again if you should happen to go there – though fresh there was really very little taste, however, there are many other sides to choose from. The young lady, Jen, tending our table, was a fairly new hire but very cheerful, personable and took good care of us.
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The Rum Runner on the waterfront in Port Richey, Florida
We had visited the Tiki themed neighbor – The Rum Runner – recently with Cheryl and Ray, our two friends from Canada, for fish and chips. The Rum Runner also offers tables riverside as well as a large dining area inside with a nice open feel to it. Both restaurants are served from the same kitchen area between the two.
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Blue skies and warm Gulf breezes make a near perfect day
The day was warm, sky was blue, with a light breeze from the Gulf, making for a most enjoyable Easter Dinner – though a day late.

“You WON’T believe your eyes or your ears!” – that’s what they told us….

Martin Preston visited our East Activity Center last evening to do a show. Mr. Preston has spent the last 20 years re-creating the music and glamour of the late, great Liberace.

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Martin Preston as Liberace

Niki and I – along with the rest of the audience – were not disappointed that we came. We were treated to an hour and a half show of brilliant piano music that transported us back to that time when we just couldn’t understand what our parents and grandparents found so enjoyable about a rather strange guy with his glittering grand piano and (way) over-the-top, one-of-a-kind outfits.

Now we know! Liberace was not only a one-of-a-kind showman, he was flawless on the piano – as is Mr. Preston. When he walked on stage he was Liberace!

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Mr. Showmanship plays in our Activity Center

Both the glittering grand piano and his several costume changes during the show were faithfully copied from the original designs that Liberace used and wore – down to the glittering cape with flashing lights of his encore performance. Martin Preston’s Liberace is supported and applauded by the Liberace Foundation in Las Vegas. He played all of the music that Liberace was known for, from 1890’s “Pop Tunes” to Gershwin to The Beer Barrel Polka, Malaguena, The 12th Street Rag, and I’ll Be Seeing You, and also taking random requests from the audience which he pieced together into a flowing medley toward the end of his performance. We have to say – other than the play itself – you haven’t heard “Phantom” until you hear it the way Liberace would have played it! Niki and I were blown away by last evening. (We now think maybe our elders weren’t quite so “strange” for liking this Liberace person!)

Mr. Preston brought an up-and-coming young artist with him who performed three short sets while “Liberace” changed costumes. He did a number of songs from Broadway productions including a medley from Oklahoma. He has had experience in a number of theatre productions and we thought he did extremely well – followed by “Liberace’s” re-appearance with a new outfit that was – dare I say — gaudier than the one before it!

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A glittering encore to end a wonderful show

From Mr. Preston’s Bio: “Recently, Mr. Preston was invited to star in the symphonic production Pops Goes Vegas! His performances as Liberace with the Indianapolis Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Canada, Detroit Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, and many others, are bringing the magic of Liberace to a whole new audience! But no matter where he is appearing, his greatest thrill is meeting the great showman’s many fans, and being told “You ARE Liberace!”

On the Road with Niki, Jack and snowbirdrvtrails.com

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Our Activity Center pre-performance