Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Travel: Smith Island

Photo by Jennifer Diamond

This past weekend, a friend and I visited Smith Island, one of the islands in the Chesapeake Bay. Even though I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I had never been to the island before (nor heard of it, actually). So I was excited when my friend invited me to go with her.

In order to get to the island, you have to get on a ferry that leaves from Crisfield, MD. So we spent some time wandering around Crisfield before the boat left at 12:30. There's not much to do or see in Crisfield, but we did get to meet the mayor, Kim Lawson! While we didn't get the warmest greeting (he "jokingly" shut the door behind him and said something to the effect of "Ladies, now you're mine!"), he did give us a good history lesson of Crisfield, Smith Island, and its neighbor Tangier Island in Virginia. He told us little tid-bits that we wouldn't have learned elsewhere: that there were many crab houses in Crisfield, and each one had its own whistle sound to let people know there were crabs to pick for work; that people from Smith Island can order groceries from the mainland and have the food delivered by the mail boat in a banana box; that on Smith Island in the general store, there is a back room with a checkerboard, and that is where watermen would gather and play checkers until all of the watermen were back safely. Although he talked our ear off, we got quite the insight!

Here are some photos from Crisfield. They sure love their crabs!

There's a little community garden area in Crisfield. It's nice to support the locals, but be warned: as a young woman, I was pretty creeped out by some of the local men who were selling food and other things at this garden. Run away!

This is the ferry that took us to the island. It's $26 for a round-trip ticket, and it takes about an hour each way.

Crisfield has not one but TWO water towers that feature crabs on them!
This is the mail boat, and it still delivers groceries to Smith Island!
Even the street signs have crabs on them!
Since we had an hour on the boat, we just chatted, looked out on the water, and saw lots of birds!

The cormorants and gulls all had the same idea!
An osprey with its nest!
Then we arrived and reached Smith Island! The island is only a few miles long with fewer than 250 inhabitants. There are actually more cats on the island than people! There isn't too much to do, since it's mostly residential. But you can choose to rent bikes or golf carts to explore the island if you'd like. My friend and I just walked around and enjoyed an authentic Smith Island meal.

The boat docks right at the Bayside Inn Restaurant, so all of us got off and went straight in for lunch.
The Bayside Inn Restaurant has a warm, homey feel to it, and the staff members are very nice. We ate some of the best crab cakes (I'm from the Eastern Shore, so I would know!), and their french fries, macaroni salad, and coleslaw are yummy, too!

The reason we visited this place: to eat real Smith Island Cake*, the state dessert of Maryland! It is so good, and so rich!
After our huge lunch, we walked around the island to try to walk off our "food babies." We visited the cultural center, where you can see old photographs, model boats, and watch a short video about the island. It's just $3 for entry, and it's fun to walk around the center, even just for a few minutes. Then we spent the rest of our time on the island just wandering around.

This pretty cat greeted us at the cultural center. Photo by Jennifer Diamond.
There are lots of fruit trees on the island, including pomegranate trees!
Some driveways are paved with oyster shells, showing how plentiful these bivalves used to be. Photo by Jennifer Diamond.
Methodist is the main (only?) religion on the island.
Ruke's is another restaurant on the island, but the owner died somewhat recently, so it's closed (at least for now).
The Post Office, which gets its mail via boat!
There was a little house that was an antique shop, and they had a shelf of unicorns! Of course I had to buy one!

Then it was time to leave (the boat leaves at 4pm sharp), and we both enjoyed a nap on the ride back (although we were woken up by the spray of the boat!). It was such a lovely day, and I definitely recommend Smith Island as a nice day trip! Since it's quite a drive from DC, I recommend booking a room at a cute bed and breakfast to spend the night on the mainland before heading back the next day. We spent the night with my parents, but not everyone has such a local connection!

*Click here for a recipe for Smith Island Cake. Note that while the original recipe features yellow cake with chocolate icing, you can make the cake in many flavors: orange, strawberry, coconut, Devil's Food, etc.! Whatever your heart (and belly) desires!

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