Eye, Ay Captain: A Pirate-Inspired Honeymoon
“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” - John Steinbeck
Argh… after four hours of sitting in the stylist chair for my practice up-do, the unpredictable aerosol found its way into my right eye. The beautician apologized and I waved it off… ”not a problem,” I said. After all, this was the third time she was trying to manipulate my mane into a romantic Elizabeth Swan-like coif. I just sat back and closed my eyes thinking about the small island Patrick and I would be scuba diving from off the coast of Belize not two weeks away for our honeymoon adventure.
Little did I know that this seemingly minor incident would find me at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute with a patch over the aforementioned eye to prevent a searing pain every time I encountered a bright light. Grimly I thought back to the stylist chair and mused, “this was not the pirate look I was going for.” The eye infection left me with greatly reduced visual acuity, abrasions on my cornea, the inability to wear contacts, and a bunch of gooey stuff to put in my eye throughout the day. Needless to say, our trip to Belize was canceled since eye infections are not particularly compatible with scuba diving.
Our wedding took place the following day, 10/10/10, a date much coveted by computer programming binary users such as my memory-challenged husband in our backyard on Pirate Lane, the location of the house we had purchased not two months prior. Davey Jones rippled gently in the warm October breeze as our photographer captured the day’s events: My six-year old glasses breaking 10 minutes before the wedding, vows to stay in wedded bliss until the rum is gone, swashbuckling cakes with a sword, and of course, plenty of hearty “Arrr’s!” as we kissed and dragged our suitcases down the road toward our vehicle.
The Peralynna, Columbia, Maryland: 10/10/10
After organizing our wedding and initial honeymoon, we had decided to simply relinquish control after the reception, rent an exotic car one-way, and drive south for our honeymoon, much like two renegade Caribbean pirates in search of freedom. Well, almost. We had booked our first night’s stay at a lovely bed and breakfast in Columbia, Maryland only about 20 minutes from our house due to another eye appointment at John’s Hopkins the first day of our honeymoon. The Peralynna had been the result of lots of time spent researching, plus wanting a place to pamper ourselves a bit after months of planning and three days of hosting at our home.
We were immediately welcomed by the smiling owner, who offered us wine and cookies as he proudly took us for a tour of the modern Grecian interior, culminating with the introduction of two human-sized marble statues, sisters Pera and Lynna, for which the manor was named. Once in comfy clothes and wrapped up in the grandeur of Suite C’s red and gold renaissance decór, we indulged ourselves, reflecting on the joyous events of the day. Patrick and I popped open a bottle of champagne from our private lanai overlooking a bucolic sheep pasture, lounged in the two-person hot tub infused with lavender oil, and dined on a delightful selection of smoked oysters, crackers, cheese and apple that my husband had packed along with candles and rose petals for a romantic indoor picnic. Although we would have preferred to sleep-in a bit, a hot gourmet breakfast of omelets and sausage beckoned us downstairs to the dining room Monday morning, allowing us to enjoy a four-hour food coma while waiting at the doctors.
Despite having to sport my superglue and fishing line-kludged glasses for a while longer, the corneal specialist predicted a slow but steady recovery, scheduling another appointment for the following week. This reassurance was just what we needed to enjoy our getaway, so we made a quick pit stop at the house to load up on champagne and a few snacks. Hopping in the car, Patrick asked, “Where to my lady?” With hopes of warmer climates, I simply replied, “South!” Upon making it through the Washington D.C. traffic without too much difficulty, I realized that I had some responsibility as the navigator, knowing that my eye condition would not allow me to drive. Maybe I did need some direction after all. I opened the glove compartment to look for a map and instead discovered an unexpected gift from my dad. It was Blackbeard’s compass from the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a relic fashioned by my father using my grandfather’s boat compass mounted on a piece of rough hewn maple. For our couple’s shower he had contrived a story about purchasing Blackbeard’s compass from Sotheby’s in London and then discovering a series of holes in the wood piece containing Blackbeard’s predictions (all of which were topics pertaining to Patrick and my shared history to discuss at the shower, serving as the obligatory awkward activity). Now it sat in the helm of our exotic car with three slips of paper nestled in the holes he had drilled. I looked incredulously at my husband with a smile and shrugged as I finagled the first slip of paper out of the hole with tweezers from my bag. As I unrolled it, the words read, “Virginia Beach”. I whipped out my smart phone and plugged in the destination. Forward HO!
Virginia Beach, Virginia: 10/11/10
Five hours later, cruising down the freeway in our BMW 330, we discovered that Virginia Beach was not only the place Patrick and I had visited last September to celebrate my 27th birthday dancing on the beach during the blues festival, but it was also where the annual Blackbeard Pirate Festival takes place in June. Apparently, about 300 years ago, Blackbeard met his death in a North Carolina inlet near Ocracoke Island. A battle ensued between the Adventure (Blackbeard’s ship at the time) and sloops under the determined leadership of Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard, resulting in Blackbeard’s decapitated head being hung below the victor’s bowsprit.
Upon crossing into the state “for lovers”, I couldn’t help but smile at our comparatively good fortune. Our heads were still attached and thanks to Traveler’s Joy we were able to reallocate the money gifted for staying at cabins on the beach in Belize, to a series of evenings at bed and breakfasts and mid-class hotels, starting that evening at the Days Inn. After checking in to our economy room, we walked the beach right before sunset and made our way to a pavilion to view the stunning array of colors as they sank into the earth. Again Traveler’s Joy came through, turning our slated cocktails for two on the beach to sushi at a biker bar. Eighteen holes at the fun-loving Pirate Putt-Putt course a few blocks from our hotel provided ample evening entertainment, honing our skills for shamelessly fishing poorly aimed golf balls out of the drink before calling it a night. The morning met us with a yellow-hued sunrise over the ocean and lemon flavored doughnut holes at the complimentary breakfast. We strolled down the main drag to stretch our legs before deciding to hit the road. Once again I consulted Blackbeard for direction, drawing out the second slip of paper. Cotton pop-corned the roadside as we made our way across the South Carolina border, stopping at a cute 50s diner named Andy’s for a garbage burger and malt to stave off our growling stomachs.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: 10/12/10
Patrick had never been, but I had visited Myrtle with my grandparents years ago. It was more Vegas-like than I remembered with advertisements and billboards wherever we looked, but I enjoyed pointing out places of interest. There was the Legends Show where I got my photo taken with Neil Diamond and Blues Brothers impersonators. Then there was the Coastal Grand Mall where I tried lobster for the first time, and even Brookgreen Gardens (where as a teen I could picture myself getting married). Our travels brought us beachside to the Holiday Inn, where it seemed we would get a deal for the night. Once again we arrived just before sunset, so we scoped out the beach, taking a long barefoot walk to the pier where we dined on seafood soup, a variety of lightly fried scallops, oysters, crab cakes, and fish, under the hazy aura of the waxing moon. We tried to picture what the Carolina coast must have been like in the 1700s with pirates, including Blackbeard ruthlessly ambushing colonial vessels that used Myrtle Beach as a stop along their trade route, turning passengers into hostages and cargo into loot. Although these stories no doubt have been embellished in telling from generation to generation, they continue to draw treasure hunters by the handful to Myrtle Beach inlets with their metal detectors at dusk in search of the infamous treasure of Captain Kidd.
Whether it was the allure of the moon or our growing sense of adventure spurred on by the treasure seekers below, Patrick and I both agreed that we wanted to explore a place neither of us had been before and that we would leave in the morning. Would Blackbeard’s remaining slip of paper meet our location standards? Logically, if the destinations were following a pattern, the next big stop along the coastline might mean Hilton Head or Savannah. Both of these places I’d already visited. Powered by colorful off brand sugar loop cereal we looked at each other expectantly in the car the next morning and extracted the last piece of paper from its compartment. Patrick unrolled it slowly…St. Augustine! The oldest city in the United States found us at its beck and call. We answered the eight-hour driving challenge with a hearty “Yo Ho” and made tracks. We were in good spirits headed toward uncharted territory. About three hours down the road we stopped in Manning, South Carolina for lunch indulging in chicken salad and Reuben sandwiches under the medieval flagged overhangs of yon Sandwiche Castle. Directly after lunch, Patrick researched places to stay in the heart of St. Augustine and phoned the Westcott Inn, reserving the last room available in the reputed harbor front home for the remaining three nights of our trip.
St. Augustine, Florida: 10/13-10/15
In the U.S. it is a rare treat to experience something truly historical, authentic, and reminiscent of Old World Europe and while much of St. Augustine appears to have been adapted for tourists and modern commercial purposes, the clatter of horses hooves echoing through gray cobblestone alleyways, romantic golden moss tresses dangling from majestic live oaks, and tempting scents wafting from rows of creatively signed shops found me holding my breath with wonder and then letting it go slowly, leaving a feeling of peace, possibility and a sense of the present infused with moments past. The Westcott Inn indulged our new found sense of time travel, being a stately white columned Victorian mansion built in the 1880’s. Staying in the original master suite of General Westcott himself we were sitting in the lap of luxury, complete with our very own Jacuzzi and view of the bay. Venturing out, we slipped into the twilight and wandered along the waterfront completing a circuit through the quaint routes of the historic district until deciding to eat al fresco under the aging grapevine-twined trellis of O.C. White’s 1790 Seafood & Spirits. Live guitar music and candlelight accompanied the savory strains of lobster tail and smoked salmon, as we toasted to discovering a honeymoon destination that truly represented us.
We awoke to a symphony of orange reflecting off the waterway below our window and a knock at the door heralding the arrival of our pre-arranged breakfast in bed. A spicy frittata and honeyed croissant later we were dressed and ready to take on the town. Wax museums, antiques, boutiques, and restaurant niches were around every corner, but what really appealed to us were the art galleries. Often differing in our opinion of art, Patrick and I enjoyed bantering back and forth comparing items of interest until stumbling upon a newly installed (as of that day) collection of oil paintings depicting enchanting female figures with abstract backgrounds by master colorist Henry Asencio. Further down King Street we crossed the plaza of one of 1880 oil tycoon Henry Flagler’s impressive and grandiose hotels, The Ponce de Leon, now part of Flagler College. Its Spanish Renaissance style, poured concrete construction, and electrical wiring were truly cutting edge for it’s time and a beautiful sight to behold as we passed by a wedding party photo-shoot and entered Hot Shot Bakery for some lunch. Following two fairly serious cases of embarrassment and indigestion after accepting the bakery challenge of eating two locally grown Datil peppers dipped in chocolate and trying to quench the extreme hotness with a Coke, all the while being photographed by the owner, we headed back toward the waterfront for relief. Although immersion in the cool water was tempting, we decided to try a kayaking Eco Tour of Matanzas Bay with a knowledgeable guide named Brian. Even before entering our individual vessels we spotted a baby green turtle and a white crane hanging out by the docks! Out on the water things got even better, coming to within feet of a family of dancing dolphins which was the Indian namesake for the bay, paddling under the Lion Bridge, avoiding jumping mullet, and heading toward the marshlands to fully observe the giant cross erected on St. Augustine’s 400th anniversary to mark the landing site where General Don Pedro Menendez of Spain landed on the feast of St Augustine 1565 to colonize.
Unfortunately we were a week or two late to see any manatees, but the view of the embattlements of Castillo de San Marcos was magnificent from the water and further entertained us by firing stale bread out of their cannon at us on the hour. Immediately following our waterside tour we decided to romp about the ramparts of the bread-wielding Spanish fort built to protect its claims in the New World. Years ago we had taken a few token photos of us leaning against a series of archways in a Puerto Rican fort akin to this one in San Juan and we were eager to replicate the images at Castillo de San Marcos if possible. Although the construction style and dome-covered sentry boxes were very similar, there were no comparable archways and surprisingly this undefeated fort was constructed from coquina, a type of limestone comprised of millions of tiny shells, harvested from nearby Anastasia Island. The porous shell construction served the Spanish well by absorbing most damage from cannon fire, trapping the cannon balls inside the wall, allowing the balls to be removed and immediately reused in counter-fire against the assailant! An official tour of the historic district via white horse and carriage on the way to dinner at St. Augustine’s premier restaurant, Collage (World Fusion Cuisine), was a crowning night cap.
Our remaining day in St. Augustine began with a breakfast casserole on the patio and a trip over the Bridge of Lions to Anastasia Island in hopes of ascending the 165-foot conical tower painted candy cane style in black and white swirls that mimicked the Escher-like spiral staircases within. Upon reaching the observation deck, we found the vista of the island, bay, and old city below certainly worth the 219-stair climb and on our descent were thankful that neither of us had been stationed as early lighthouse keepers (lugging 30 pounds of hot lard oil up those stairs must not have been fun). Following the suggestions of locals, we drove down A1A until our convertible bottomed out in a sandy parking lot near “A” street, where we donned our swimsuits and found a pleasant strip of white beach spotted with dune grasses.
Salt encrusted from wave jumping in the Atlantic and a little “burned out”, we settled in at the Beachcomer for a late lunch of fried alligator tail and then headed back to St. Augustine to scope out our favorite gallery once again. Upon entering in our sandy garb, we found ourselves grossly underdressed as the artist we liked was there painting a live model while wine and aperitifs were being delicately served to patrons in semi formal attire. At that moment, I wished I was at least wearing underwear underneath my torn jeans, but that did not stop us from becoming mesmerized by the steady yet whimsical strokes and pigments Henry used to portray the vibrant blonde reclining on a leather bench draped in a silk crimson sheet. Patrick reminded me that my maid of honor had gifted us with some money, stipulating that we spend it to purchase each other a souvenir from our honeymoon. Facing a difficult decision we singled out a stunning new limited edition framed print entitled, “Mistral” and had it signed by the artist. As an aspiring painter I was thrilled to shake hands with him only later discovering that some of his red paint had smudged off on my palm. Like shaking hands with a chimney sweep, I hoped good luck had rubbed off.
The afternoon concluded with a soak in the Jacuzzi, booking plane tickets to Baltimore on Southwest airlines using Traveler’s Joy money, and dinner of southern jambalaya followed by a wash of pecan beer at Harry’s on the waterfront. As dusk settled in, Patrick took me by the hand and headed toward the docks. I asked, “Where are we going?” Patrick responded cryptically, “We have a date with Blackbeard.” As it were, at the stroke of 10, we boarded the Black Raven pirate ship for a culminating cruise through the Intracoastal Waterway, making our way toward the fort and back, much like Sir Francis Drake must have in 1586 before issuing orders to burn the town. We heartily booed at pirate poetry, caroused (rum and cokes in hand) to a slew of bawdy jokes with a busty Irish wench, hollered out authentic sea shanties with Jack Sparrow, danced a polka- jig on the quarter deck to an applauding crew, and were cheerfully misled by a resident pirate magician who demonstrated some of the best slight of hand I’ve ever seen. As the surly load of tourists filled with jolly grog started down the gangplank, Patrick and I snagged a photo with Blackbeard himself by the main mast…a fitting end to our piratical honeymoon journey.
Still pondering the age-old question of what to do with a drunken sailor, the next morning over cinnamon rolls and coffee, we packed up the car for the last time and drove to the Orlando airport. We parked our rental in one of the garages, placing the key under the mat and e-mailing the company its location for pick-up. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to get back, but I agree with Steinbeck, marriage is a journey of its own.
Pirate Lane, 2011
As the excitement of the wedding celebration and holiday festivities slowly fades with the freshness of the New Year, Patrick and I would most certainly recommend taking a spur of the moment trip, whether or not there is a compass in your glove box. Although our honeymoon wasn’t an exotic locale, we would definitely suggest St. Augustine as a destination with a little something for everyone. Perhaps we will head back to continue our exploration of America’s oldest city, starting with the Fountain of Youth, before too many wrinkles set in. Of course there’s always the Lightner Museum with its large Tiffany stained glass room, the Alligator Farm, Anastasia State Park, Fort Matanzas on Rattlesnake Island, Mission of Nombre de Dios, San Sebastian winery, and without a doubt, the Pirate and Treasure Museum. We are full of anticipation to continue our journey together, wholeheartedly searching for things just a bit out of the ordinary to challenge ourselves, and enhance that intangible quality that brings richness and satisfaction to life.
Generous contributions by friends and family through Traveler’s Joy enlivened our trip, allowing us to have a spontaneous and personalized honeymoon, thanking loved ones for specific aspects of our venture, and bolstered our bank account, greatly off-setting the $7,417.23 price tag of our 5-day honeymoon, including one-way airfare of $579! Topping the expense chart was the exotic car rental ($3,000), followed by the purchase of our joint souvenir “Mistral” oil painting ($1,500). Although we were unable to take the tropical honeymoon trip that we had originally planned, the flexibility afforded us by Traveler's Joy allowed us to create priceless memories. We are already a leg up on planning our next Belize trip, and have our good eyes set on the future.