where mini coopers and museums played
So Husband is incredibly passionate about Mini Coopers, particularly the original British ones, and has several of them. He restores some and maintains the patina of the originals if possible. He's hooked, has been for almost his lifetime, and so we sometimes venture to events called Mini Meets, sometimes the East ones and sometimes the combined East and West Meets - hoping to get out west for one some day (AKA my excuse to go out west). Since the 2015 meet wasn't too far away, had a nature trail near the hotel, swimming pool, and looked like a cute town, we decided to load up the mega-van and kiddos, strap down Husband's new-to-him Mini, and head to St. Michaels, MD. So glad we did!
While we did some of the Mini Meet activities like checking out the oodles of Minis at the car show and some of the vendor displays, a yummy picnic lunch at Lowes Wharf Marina Inn, the big awards banquet, and participated with the girls in this crazy obstacle course called the Funkhana (our first ever time, super slow time, but the girls were ecstatic to ride in Daddy's racecar and do the course). Although we didn't do all of the events and walked through one section of the Rallye's course, we had a nice time catching up with kids and adults we've met at Meets over the years, and the girls love seeing all of the cars. One of my requirements for them before they can drive some day is that they have to know how to fix a car, and Daddy's teaching that course (maybe I'll join!), and they have to pay for the car, gas, and insurance... So they frequently photograph Minis and spend a lot of time checking everything out.
In addition to keeping up with the Meet events, we went swimming in the St. Michaels Inn pool at least once a day, ran the St. Michaels Nature Trail and neighborhoods daily, hiked to a grocery store to restock the supplies we'd brought and Sam's Pizza & Restaurant (delish!), walked around the town a couple of times, played several times at a big, perfect-for-our-kids'-ages playground with multiple playspaces, and had lots of fun together!
The Nature Trail was flat, paved, wound beside water, a farm, a few neighborhoods, across a little bridge, and to the big playground. The girls spied a baby deer, many butterflies and hawks, birds and boats as we jogged along, until at least Flopsy fell asleep. I'd head through the streets and neighborhoods, which were quiet enough to not cause drivers a problem with my triple stroller, but running through the main street proved a bit sketchy with traffic, sidewalks that weren't wide enough for us, and cars parked along the roadside- calls for speedy running and not spending much time on that road. Outside of the town, there were wide berms as there are popular bicycle routes that run throughout the county - if you want to take a ride- http://tourtalbot.org/resources/maps-brochures/ . We ran past the Inn at Perry Cabin, an ultra fancy resort that sort of lends itself to the idea that St. Michaels is for the wealthy vacationer, maybe exaggerated further by the fact that the Inn was the wedding reception venue for the Wedding Crashers movie with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.
When we toured the town after our picnic lunch one day, we stopped in to Justine's Ice Cream Parlor, where they're now crafting their own homemade ice cream after 25+ years of shakes and scoops! The atmosphere was delightfully old-school, the list of shake flavors was long and tempting (Husband liked his choice!), and the big frozen buckets of delicious, homemade ice cream beckoned to little girls. Afterward, we wandered the main street and explored a cooperative art gallery, which was full of a wide variety of beautiful nautical and nature-inspired creations. The gallery was owned by a couple, who also owned the toy shop across the hall, who were both so friendly and kind to our girls that we felt terrible leaving without buying something little (wind-up toys) because he had spent so much time playing with the kids.
One afternoon, instead of participating in the Rallye (an hours-long scavenger hunt-type activity for the Mini Meet, for which I couldn't have sat in a car long enough without a pit stop, much less the girls being able), one of Husband's friends directed us to one particular stop on the Rallye - Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. After finding the refuge (which was sort of off the beaten path and tricky to find - thank you, GPS!) and paying the entrance fee, we had a tiny bit of trouble finding a good parking spot for our mega-van. So we parked in some gravelly lot by the maintenance building, which turned out to be a big mistake in terms of bug ambushes. I got chewed up like crazy, but the kids and John must have less yummy skin and avoided the buggers. After spraying everyone down with tons of bug spray, which wasn't really necessary anywhere else in the refuge - just in that parking lot. The road was paved and wide and super stroller-friendly, even for our triple stroller, since cars usually drive through, and there was a potty break spot along the way, for which I was truly grateful :). Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a very popular bird migration stop along the Atlantic Flyway and has seasonal visitors of all types, depending on the time of year. We were between migratory seasons, so we didn't see many of the varieties of birds as are usually present, but it was still a lovely, quiet walking location. One regular furry friend there is the Delmarva Fox Squirrel, whose population at the refuge is the largest in existence because of its endangered rating. Blackwater also has the largest density of breeding Bald Eagles, who use the pine trees as their nesting ground, and we were thrilled to be able to spot several of them soaring majestically above the treetops. Husband's dad is a huge birding fan and is one of my main resources for any bird-y info we need for school or for our nature walks. He was amazed that we had seen so many in the wild and was glad that we snagged a few photos, grainy as they are. Nature photographers would have a field day searching for these guys! We also noticed baby turtles sunning themselves on fallen tree limbs in the marshy areas, some little swimming critters we thought were otters, lots of other little birds hopping and singing and delighting in the woodsy backdrops and dry grassy meadows, ospreys nesting and feeding babies in the wetlands areas, and ducks and geese honking and quacking their ways into their favorite nesting zones. It truly was a lovely, relaxing time, and a great place for the kids to use their observational skills to see the animals and their photography skills to capture them in time.
One of my most favorite places on the whole trip was my new favorite museum - the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. This place is awesome, beyond wonderful for kids and adults alike to investigate (not the most handicapped accessible, like the lighthouse, as one man in our group learned, but some friends carried him up the steps to explore). Picture a museum full of nautical artifacts, ships to climb aboard, historical stories to read and experience, hands-on explorations of shipyard building and crabbing and oystering, heirloom gardens to wander through, art galleries to view... all bundled into one campus with maybe seventeen outbuildings, including historic landmarks, a lighthouse with working historical pieces... Words cannot describe how beyond thrilled the girls were that they could actually touch museum pieces and walk onto artifacts, push buttons to hear stories,practice pulling up traps for blue crabs, meet shipwrights (you can even apprentice here as a shipwright!), and although we didn't see some of the various workshops in motion (they're running on specific days for hands-on lessons in decoy design and model boat building!), we saw their shops and the works they've created. After spending 3-4 hours diving into absolutely every nook and cranny of every single building and completing the scavenger hunt the museum staff had given us at the start of our adventure, the girls were hot, sweaty, exhausted, and happy little bugs (it was July, so the weather was sticky anyway...). But if you're ever in St. Michaels, you absolutely HAVE to make the time to visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum!!!
Even though we were only in St. Michaels for a few days, we enjoyed cramming in so many wonderful adventures, relaxing together as a family, and even learning a lot along the way. I'd definitely recommend stopping by if you're in the area!