Our border crossing was at Hill Island east of Kingston, Ontario. The American customs officer casually informed us that our car had been randomly chosen for a spot check, and we were instructed to detour to a parking area outside the flat-roofed customs building. Once parked, an officious clerk told us to leave the car unlocked and remove ourselves into the building's waiting area. Inside the waiting area we plunked ourselves onto metal bench chairs and awaited the call of another (more civil) officer who, after collecting our relevant data, donned baby-blue rubber gloves and departed to conduct the detailed examination of our car. He returned about ten minutes later and advised we were free to leave, a thankful liberation from incarceration. We waved gleefully goodbye to the first clerk who (mistakenly on his part I thought) responded in kind.
Our first stop was Binghamton, NY. It was a dreary rainy day when we arrived in Binghamton which had all the grey-streaked flavour of the industrial northeast, reminiscent of towns with similar names in northern England. We had a passable lunch in the centre of the town at the Lost Dog Cafe before retiring to our cookie-cutter hotel room for a much needed snooze following our early morning departure at 4:58 a.m. Dinner at Remlik's that evening was superb though we were obliged to ask the server to subdue the thumping bass notes of the popular music background.
Early the next morning (Thursday, December 22nd) we were on our five-hour jaunt to Harrisburg, PA where we stayed at the downtown Hilton Hotel, the same place as last year. The favourably warm and clear weather encouraged us to take an extensive walk about the immediate area of the Hotel. After our large meals the day before, we were cheerfully able to skip breakfast. Our lunch in Harrisburg was a buffet in the Hotel. It was unusually good; however, we ate so much (I had two sinfully sweet desserts) that we had no appetite for our evening meal which turned out to be just as well. Originally we were scheduled for dinner at a place nearby the Hotel, but we found it far too noisy to tolerate so we returned to the Hotel where we were the only people in the entry-level restaurant.
Our subsequent leg of the trip (Friday, December 23rd) was a three-hour drive to Richmond, Virginia where we had booked a room at the grand Jefferson Hotel. We arrived in Richmond around 10:30 a.m. on a spectacularly warm and sunny day. We walked to our luncheon engagement at the renowned Ettamae's Cafe, about ten blocks from the Hotel. Our walk took us through an area of town which was clearly populated by mostly poorer black people and I confess to having felt somewhat conspicuous though I am certain upon reflection that it was only the singularity of the experience which made me feel so since no one else appeared to take any notice of us. To my surprise the proprietor of the establishment was an effusive plump white woman. She was about 50 years of age with dyed blond hair and a streak of purple on the temple. When she learned we were from Canada, she informed us that she was a grand-daughter of Grace Ettamae who had apparently married a Canadian man who drove trucks across the border between Windsor and Detroit. Our meal was perfect for a luncheon and did not contaminate our appetite for what turned out to be another excellent dinner that evening at the Jefferson in their main dining room. Somehow our server knew who had waited upon us there the year before.
Because we knew our haul to Hilton Head Island on Saturday, December 24th (Christmas Eve) was to be the longest (8 hours) we left the Jefferson no later than 4:00 a.m. We also knew that, once on the Island, we had to visit Freshmarket to get some food for the following several days as there is notoriously nothing open on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. En route we had breakfast at a Cracker Barrel outlet and our in-take was sufficient that we hadn't any interest in lunch. Accordingly when we arrived on Hilton Head Island at noon we quickly made arrangements at the Hotel (our villa was not yet ready) and then headed immediately for Freshmarket (with a preliminary stop for a car wash and polish,always an uplifting experience for me). We were the last of the customers at the car wash before it closed for Christmas. The Freshmarket was by contrast in full swing when we arrived, crowded with last-minute shoppers like ourselves. Fortunately we had taken the precaution of creating a checklist of groceries on my iPhone so we succeeded in collecting everything we needed to fatten our provisional stores. When however we returned to the Hotel, Denis discovered that they had booked us into a villa which was not located with a full view of the Ocean nor was it in the part of the Hotel which we preferred. After some necessary foot-stamping (a tedious process to which we are unfortunately not unaccustomed) we were told we could have another villa which suited our needs, though we would have to wait about an hour for it to be prepared. We agreed, pointedly unmoved by the prospect of further delay. In the meantime we repaired to the bicyle rental studio in the Hotel to equip ourselves with bikes for the next two weeks. Shortly thereafter the front desk called to inform us that the villa was ready. It turned out to be precisely what we wanted.
We wasted no time getting the car unloaded (requiring four trolley-loads)and disassembling the contents in the villa and finally heading to the beach for the first of our bicycle rides along the Ocean before the flush of the setting sun coloured the clouds on the horizon.
For Christmas Eve dinner Denis prepared a very tasteful roast chicken, potatoe fingers and healthful salad. We even had dessert (too egregiously bold to mention). It wasn't long afterwards that we retired, pleasantly exhausted by our three-day journey.
This morning (Christmas Day) began with a long bike ride on the beach. It was a sunny but windy day. We headed first into the wind to afford us the luxury of a speedy flight upon our return. My knees reminded me that I am no longer eighteen. Oddly the upper end of the beach was the most difficult to traverse. We quickly learned to stick close to the top end of the tide to have the benefit of the harder packed sand. We were thorougly enjoying our exercise after prolonged inactivity in the automobile. Apparently the many other visitors and their gambolling dogs were doing the same. Even though my heart was feeling the struggle, I knew (in my heart) that it was good for me. After about forty-five minutes, we decided to turn around. It took us a fraction of the time to return to our villa.
For the remainder of Christmas Day we indulged ourselves howsoever our inclination moved us. An hour before lunch (lobster and macaroni with a large fresh salad), I retired to the edge of the pool overlooking the sea grasses where I positioned a chaise longue towards the warm sun and read a book.