Saturday, October 6, 2018

A "Plan B" Vacation Paradise by Leah St. James

You might recall that a few weeks back I wrote how my plans to vacation with my oldest/best friend in the Wrightsville Beach area of North Carolina went terribly awry when Hurricane Florence zeroed in on the area. My friend and I quickly switched to Plan B – North Carolina’s Outer Banks and Virginia Beach for the last few days. 

I knew then it was not exactly a shabby Plan B! But now, back home, I can officially report that it was  fabulous.

From food to friends to fun, our week away went without a hitch until an ornery ATM machine on our last night gave my friend a case of agita and me a near coronary. (I’m a BIT more neurotic than she is.) Luckily all ended up fine. (I still can’t find my house keys, but presumably they’ll turn up ... somewhere. I think the cat hid them.)

Here are a few highlights:

While my beach-deprived friend’s major goal was some serious beach-combing and swimming in the ocean, she’s always game for adventure, and we found it (well...our version of adventure).  Despite some rainy weather, we got two full days at beachside and spent a good chunk of time searching for shells and laughing at the tiny sand crabs scurrying across the beach as we walked.

This little guy was about three-quarters of an inch long, side to side.


The shell in the foreground is called a "lion's paw."
Hopefully you can make it out.

We spent a day on Roanoke Island on the Outer Banks and learned about the Lost Colony of Roanoke. (Since I'm an HEA person, my version of the mystery is that they went to live --happily, of course--with the natives.)

We caught the first day of Virginia Beach’s Neptune Festival and strolled the vendor fair where we discovered woodworking expert Larry Ringgold and his remarkable driftwood sculptures.

"Cat's Meow" by Larry Ringgold. The image doesn't do it justice.

We blabbed until after midnight, slept in and ate when we felt like it (a major departure for my normally regimented work-time schedule). We had a blast.

Here are my favorites from the week.

Wild Horses of Corolla 

Since reading about these horses, brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers, I've wanted to see them. We booked the last two seats from one of the tour companies, climbed aboard the 12-person beach-going Jeep and held on as we bounced our way down the beach. 

Luckily, it wasn't long before we spotted a "harem" (a stallion with three of his lady friends) hanging out by the water. At first they just stood there like a bunch of storefront mannequins. Then the stallion lifted his head and his ears went on alert. We followed his gaze down the beach and spotted another group of mustangs ambling in our direction. The tour guide warned of possible friction between two stallions, but luckily all were friendly. After sniffing around each other a bit, they went their separate ways. 

I call this the "parlay" shot. :-)

Another interesting part of the tour:  two areas of development right in the dunes. I mean modern houses built among dunes themselves, with no paved roadways, no street names, just houses plopped in the middle of dunes. Underground wiring provides all the comforts of home, but four-wheel drive or ATV is a necessity for living there...not to mention an exceptional sense of direction. (All I could think was how would Amazon even deliver!)

My eagle-eyed friend spotted dolphins frolicking not far off the Virginia Beach shoreline on our last day for a perfect ending. We watched about six or seven swim up and down, with some flips and leaps, for about 30 minutes. Later that day, two dolphin-watching boats cruised by and I had to wonder if they  were able to spot any!

Sunset cruise along the Albermarle Sound
We got a surprise treat on our second day, courtesy of a friend from my job who has a home with her husband near where we were staying. We were going to meet up at her office, but she said, "Leah, come on by for some dinner and a cruise." (How lucky were we??) It was lovely and special.  Many thanks to our gracious, generous hosts!

They gave us a list of recommendations of things to do and see, including some good restaurants. (My ears perked up, of course.)

A big part of vacation for me is getting to try different foods. At home, normally TPM/hubby and I are pretty routine—due to both time and budget constraints. But you have to live it up a little on vacation, don’t you? Here are my top three picks for best food of the week:

Pocahontas Pancake and Waffle House, Virginia Beach
I had a garden veggie omelet with asparagus, tomatoes and roasted mushrooms and a  croissant, and my friend got a sampler platter. Naturally we shared. We agreed--the Belgian waffle was the best either of us has ever had. Huge portions, every bite delicious.

Hungry Pelican Deli, Manteo, OBX
I had something called a “wheatberry veggie.”  I just remember my taste buds registering fresh, fresh, fresh with a delicious, savory dressing. I’m certain I ate every morsel and even lugged home a peanut butter-topped brownie for dessert later that evening.

Slice Pizza, Kill Devil Hills, OBX
I had a slice of veggie. I can’t recall the toppings exactly (I was too busy inhaling the darn thing), but I do remember a perfect crust and fabulous flavor. Yum... one of the best slices I’ve ever had, including even in Brooklyn!  I told the guy working there they should to my neighborhood! :-)

(Sorry, seafood lovers. I don't like seafood so can't give you any ratings or recommendations. My friend, however, indulged in shrimp and she crab soup and I forget what else, and there was plenty to be found.)

It was a lot of fun trying different foods and seeing new places, but the best part of the week by far was spending time with my vacation buddy.

She and I have been BFFs for a loooong time. We met in sixth grade, quickly became inseparable through middle school and the first year of high school. Then her father was transferred and the family moved about seven hours away. That's nothing today, but back then, it might as well have been across country. There was no such thing as email or texting. Even long-distance phone calls cost money...more than we had. So we lost touch for a few years during our late teens/college years, but when we reconnected (thanks to her diligent investigative work when she returned to our hometown area!), it was as if a day hadn’t passed.

Since then, we’ve been there for each other for both joys and sorrows and everything in between. We’ve watched our families grow and form families of their own. And now, as we head into our senior-ish years, what a joy it was to spend a whole week together to catch up, share in such neat experiences and laugh at ourselves, together.

I miss her already. Luckily, we've started planning next year’s beach destination vacation. 


Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the power of love. One of these days she’s going to tackle a “buddy” story to memorialize this lifetime of friendship. Learn more about her work at, or visit her on Facebook where she occasionally posts about the writing life.


Diane Burton said...

Sounds like you had a marvelous time. Getting together with friends is so much fun! I'm glad your 2nd choice was so enjoyable.

Jannine Gallant said...

Love the photo of the horses! And I'm glad you had such a great time. What a terrific tradition!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Leah, thanks for taking us on vacation with you and your BFF. You are so darn lucky to have nurtured this friendship...and a yearly trip together is one great strategy. Loved the food details, the wild horse tour, and the woodcarver pics. What a neat adventure. Smiled about the Amazon query. They'll have drones, right? So glad you had fun!

Alison Henderson said...

What a fabulous trip, Leah. I love, love, LOVE the driftwood sculpture!

Leah St. James said...

We did, Diane. It was over too quickly. Sigh...

Leah St. James said...

Jannine, The only "bad" part of seeing the horses is that you have to stay a minimum of 50 feet back by law. That's not far in the big picture, but it's not close enough to feel close. Still, they were live in front of us, and it was so cool.

Leah St. James said...

We are so lucky, Rolynn, that we have been able to keep in touch and schedule these semi-regular get-togethers. I've always thought about people who didn't have the travel conveniences we have, or the technology. When the settlers/colonists/pioneers said goodbye to a friend or family member, it was really goodbye for the most part. Even letters took months, presuming they survived the ocean voyage for delivery. I count my blessings every day. :-)

Leah St. James said...

Alison, that photo doesn't do justice to the driftwood sculptures. That lion stands about three feet high (estimating)--maybe the size of a German Shepherd or Collie, maybe bigger. If I had an extra 6 grand, I'd buy it! It was incredible. All his sculptures were.


Sounds like a wonderful time! I just got back from a similar experience with two of my college friends and I feel so rejuvenated! Congratulations and thanks for sharing!

Leah St. James said...

IT is rejuvenating, Jennifer. So glad you got to see your friends too. Thank you for stopping by!

Mandy Moore said...

Thanks Leah;, for the great summary of our trip and the kind words!! Thanks for being so flexible for your less disciplined friend; not much of a scheduled person am I??!?!? The hazards of living alone and often not having to take other people's wants or needs into account. To be honest, I would rather have to be concerned with other people's needs!! Such is life. The trip is like a shiny brand new coin in my all stands out so clearly and I can't believe it can't go on and on! Thanks so much for your sense of humor and willingness to explore and wonderful tolerance of my beach needs! Some year we'll invest in an umbrella and beach chairs so we can really do some "beaching"....I can hear you now, saying "oh boy! Not happening!" Beach sitting is an art, with much good reading involved, picnic lunches, cards, walks with beach glass hunting (no success this trip!) It is a bummer that it has gotten so scarce. And if you still get tired of the beach, you can retreat to our oceanfront house (!)!complete with wonderful deck, and make some of those delicious homemade pizzas (not quite Slice but still yummy!). We'll learn how to make pina coladas to complete the post beach deck experience. Sounds like heaven! Blessed to have your friendship through thick and thin (lots of thick!!), your sense of humor and adventurousness! Is that a word? We'll work on your worrying next time! Love ya!

Andrea Downing said...

What a glorious vacation. I'm jealous! But I've got some good ideas from you, for which thanks--especially love the horses, of course.

Brenda Whiteside said...

How perfectly wonderful. You two really made the most of your time. And girl time together is so enriching.

Leah St. James said...

Thanks for stopping by to share your memories, Mandy. I'm not sure anyone can break me of the "worrier" gene, but I definitely worry less when we're having fun together. :-) Wrightsville Beach next year?

Leah St. James said...

"Glorious" is the perfect word, Andi. I'm still smiling when I take a few minutes to look at my photos, and I think I will be for a long time.

Leah St. James said...

There is something special about "girl time," Brenda. I'm blessed with several women in my life who bring me joy every time we speak or connect. :-)

Margo Hoornstra said...

You are so lucky to have your BFF to share such a wonderful time with. Thanks for sharing and good luck with next year’s traditional vacation.