Road Trip! Destination: Norfolk, Va.
The city of Norfolk, Va., has a dual personality.
Located at the convergence of five bodies of water, it's a haven for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy its almost instant access to activities such as sailing, kayaking, fishing, crabbing, swimming and harbor cruising.
Located within 430 miles of Pittsburgh, Norfolk is also a busy urban metropolis with a population of 242,628 and lots of cultural attractions and chef-owned restaurants.
Travelers often overlook its charm in their eagerness to get to nearby Virginia Beach and other seaside resorts along the Atlantic Ocean.
But Norfolk's long history — it was founded in 1682 — its museums, annual festivals and waterfront attractions make it a vibrant and interesting destination.
Just ask Pittsburgh's Rubber Duck, the star of last year's Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts.
That now-famous fowl is on a two-week visit to Norfolk to help the Chrysler Museum of Art celebrate the completion of a $24 million renovation and expansion project.
If you decide to follow our web-footed friend, start with a stop at one of the two visitor information centers: 232 E. Main St. in Downtown Norfolk or at 9401 4th View St., Ocean View, which is just off I-64 at exit 273.
Details: 800-368-3097 or www.visitnorfolktoday.com
The Duck and art
Pittsburgh media pet and world traveler “Rubber Duck” is in Norfolk through May 26.
Dutch artist Florentijn's 40-foot inflatable sculpture can be found bobbing in its temporary home on the Hague Inlet; across Memorial Place from the Chrysler Museum's front entrance.
After hanging out with “Rubber Duck,” continue your exploration of art inside the Chrysler. The museum's 210,000-square-foot interior has been refurbished and reimagined with new first-floor galleries for its Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Meso-American and Asian works.
The expansion added two new wings that house galleries for the Chrysler's collection of American and European painting and sculpture and provide 30 percent more gallery space and light for the museum's renowned glass collection.
There's also an updated, expanded museum shop and a cafe with an outdoor dining terrace that focuses on local and seasonal menu items.
Details: 757- 664-6200 or www.chrysler.org
The Naval Base
Norfolk is home to the world's largest naval station and there are opportunities to get a look at it from land or sea. Navy personnel conduct a 45-minute bus tour of the naval base. Visitors get a land-side look at aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates, amphibious assault ships and one of the busiest airfields in the country. Tours depart from the Naval Tour and Information Center.
Details: 757-444-7955 or www.visitnorfolktoday.com/tour/guided/naval-base
If you'd prefer to take the water route, the Victory Rover offers a two-hour narrated cruise past aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, guided-missile cruisers and whatever other ships are docked at the base. Rover captains provide commentary while the boat cruises the Elizabeth River and Hampton Roads Harbor.
Seating is available on an air-conditioned enclosed deck or an open-air upper deck. Cruises depart from Nauticus museum, in downtown Norfolk.
Details: 757-627-7406 or www.navalbasecruises.com
At the Norfolk Botanical Garden — with 155 acres of gardens and 12 miles of paved trails — there's usually something coming into full bloom. Summer gardens include the two-acre Bristow Butterfly Garden and the Kaufman Hydrangea Garden that's planted with 300 hydrangeas representing 20 species.
An outdoor sculpture gallery set in a 400-foot-long double border of shade-loving perennials stretches from the back of Renaissance Court to the edge of Lake Whitehurst. If the temperatures soar, head for the WOW Children's Garden, where you can cool off with a run through fountains, bubblers, foggers and jet sprays.
Details: 757-441-5830 or norfolkbotanicalgarden.org
The 38th Norfolk Harborfest returns June 5 to 8, with a weekend of activities on land, in the air and on sea.
The festival kicks off at noon June 6 with Parade of Sail featuring tall ships, character vessels, sleek power cruisers, sailing craft, antique and classic wooden boats, military vessels and tugs moving along the Elizabeth River to Norfolk Harbor.
Also planned for the weekend are tall-ship tours, 100 performances by local, regional and national artists and what's billed as the largest fireworks show on the East Coast.
Events take place in Town Point Park.
Details: 757-441-2345 or www.festevents.org
In Norfolk, mermaids are not a myth. They're a reality.
They have been living openly in Norfolk for well over a decade. They can be found throughout downtown and in neighborhoods, sunbathing in front of businesses, schools, hospitals and homeowners' yards. Spend some time in downtown Norfolk, and it's likely you will discover one or more of them on your journey.
If you're the type of person who would rather not leave the encounters to chance, a map disclosing the location for 25 of these sculptures of damsels of the deep can be downloaded from www.norfolk.gov/documentcenter/view/12942
Home to the World War II Battleship Wisconsin and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, Nauticus features interactive exhibits and films that focus on life on the water and explore the relationship between maritime commerce and the economy of Norfolk. Computer simulation games allow visitors to hunt subs and learn about plants and animals in the Chesapeake Bay area.
Visitors also can explore the inside and outside decks of the Battleship Wisconsin and have a hands-on encounter with starfish, hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs and urchins.
Details: 757-664-1000 or www.nauticus.org