Monday, February 23, 2015

A Vacation in Winter ~ Our Trip to Florida Part II

Perhaps nothing will bring out the differences in people than traveling together.  I happen to strongly believe that you truly never know a person until you take a trip together.  Before my husband and I married, we took a road trip during December to Utah together.  I wasn't sure we would get married after that trip. Our differences always show up when we travel.  After over twenty years of marriage, we now travel together quite well because we have learned to include those parts of travel that we both enjoy into the trips we take.

Jim is the planner when it comes to travel.  He wants a plan.  He likes to follow the plan.
I'd just soon show up in a place that looks interesting and explore.

I like to camp.
Jim loves to stay in fancy hotels.
Ok, he was right all along on this.  Fancy hotels are nice.

Jim is a destination traveler.  He wants to take the fastest route with his GPS leading the way.
I like to explore by reading maps to lead me off the beaten track.

Jim loves staying in big cities.
I want to visit the country.

You get the idea.  We are different.  That is a good thing.  We try to do together what both of us enjoy individually.  When we went to Florida, Jim only scheduled the first two days.  He left the rest up to me.  I didn't get my homework completely done.  I did go to AAA and picked tour books and maps (gotta have maps) and sat down with Jim to make a list of things we might like to do while in the Orlando area.  We forgot to bring the tour books, the list, the maps.  How did I go on vacation and forget to take a map?

So, here is what we did on the three days that I was in charge of a plan:

Jim doesn't especially care for beaches.
I love beaches.

Clearwater Beach

I specified that we visit at least one beach.  I had hoped to visit both sides of the peninsula that is Florida.  I didn't care which side we visited first, but I was thrilled when it was suggested by my husband that we visit the Gulf of Mexico side of state.  Jim's daughter has spent a lot of time in Clearwater, Florida because of her triathlon experiences.  She highly recommended we visit the beach at Clearwater.  

Using the GPS, because we had no map, we headed towards our destination in our rental car on our third day in Florida.  I must say that I was a bit of nervous wreak on the highways of Florida.  Jim did an excellent job of getting us where we were going, and I tried not to backseat drive because honestly, I was just grateful not to be driving.  He drove us right to the place that was recommended for lunch.  The local favorite, grouper, is wasted on me.  I'm just not a fan of it, but at least we had the experience.  After lunch, we headed to the beach.  On our way, I stopped into the local chamber of commerce for a map.  They had no maps of Florida.  What?

The beach was awesome!  I'll be honest with you, dear readers, when I think of Florida, I just think of beach life.  That is why I wanted to go to Florida.  I wanted some beach time.

When I had my head injury in 2011, the physiatrist I went to told me I just needed to go find a beach somewhere and dig my toes in the sand for about six weeks.  He said, "Nothing would be better for you than digging your toes in the sand and keeping them there until your injury heals."  Of course few of us have the luxury of extended toe in the sand time, so when I get a bit of it, I make the most of it.

Walking barefootin the sand is the perfect exfoliator for winter weary, dry heels, and and it also soothed my aching instep.  I love walking on the seashore.  The water was cold, but oh so refreshing.

Even if the weather is a bit cool, you just can beat lounging on the beach.

Mount Dora

On our fourth day in Florida, it was really quite cool, and we didn't really know what to do.  (We'd forgotten that list and the tourist guide.)  We remembered that we might like to go to Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando.  Jim kept calling it Ebola Park.  We made our way downtown on those terrible highways that I hated, parked the car by the park, and wondered what to do next.  Jim suggested we go to botanical garden that he thought was close by.  I love botanical gardens, so we thought we'd check out the exact location on our iPhones while we warmed up at a coffee shop.  A Starbucks was just a block away, so off we went.  Jim found us a table where a couple was sitting.  They asked us to join them.  Soon Jim was telling them stories of being a principal and about working at the Apple Store.  We had a great conversation with the young man.  He is a realtor in Orlando, and talked to us about the real estate market in Florida.  Just as the couple was leaving, the woman told us we should really visit Mount Dora.  She said it was not that far away, and she said we would love it.

We took her up on her suggestion and off we went to see Mount Dora.  All we knew was that it was a "quaint little town with lots of antique shops."  The drive to our destination was great.  We saw orange groves, and wonderful country homes along our route. When we drove into town, I was somewhat reminded of Baker City, Oregon, because it seemed like we were going back in time.  The homes, the streets, the shops, were all reminiscent of the 1950's or 1960's.  We explored many of the shops and walked down to Lake Dora which is just a few blocks form the shopping area.  We got to Lake Dora too late to schedule a boat ride around the lake during the day.  We could have taken a sunset tour, but we wanted to eat and get back to Orlando before it got too late in the evening.

After shopping and walking around town,  it was suddenly late afternoon.   We decided we'd better find a place to eat.  As we wondered around checking out restaurants, I saw an intriguing spot at the end of the street.  A beautiful historic inn painted with bright yellow paint didn't need the double "Welcome" signs in front to convince me that this was a spot I wanted to know more about.

We passed a smaller yellow building that was a gift shop as we headed towards the larger building featuring a large veranda.  I saw the sign in front, The Lakeside Inn, and knew I had found a treasure. Listed on National Register of Historic Places, this inn opened in 1883.  Jim and I walked up the front steps and into the main lobby of the inn.

By the time we got here, we were running out of options for an early dinner.  It was Friday night of Valentine's Day Weekend.  Places that weren't booked did not appeal to us.  "Do you think we can possibly get a reservation for dinner here tonight," I ask Jim.  "I doubt it," he says.  "It's my treat.  I'm buying you an early Valentine's dinner here tonight," I said as I walked towards the tavern that I could see off to my left.  I basically begged that we could have a reservation for 5:00.  It was 4:30.  The young man knew that they would be busy that night because there was a large group staying in the inn.  So far most of the group was still having drinks on the veranda.  They hadn't thought about dinner yet.  I got us a table for two for 5:00.  

Jim settled himself into a rocker on the veranda to wait for dinner while I went off to take some photos.

As I said, there was a large group staying at the inn.  They belonged to an old cars club.  Their arrival only added to ambiance.

Don't you just love this place?

When 5:00 arrived, we went into Tremain's Tavern, located inside the inn, for our dinner.  We both had their blackened red snapper.  The dinner was absolutely fabulous.  We enjoyed the food and the experience so much.  I wished we were not tied to our room in Orlando so we could have stayed here at least one night.  Sadly, all good things must come to an end, so we left our idyllic Florida inn and headed back to the resort where we were staying.  

Jim asked if I would like to watch the sunset from shores of lake before we left the area.  It was Valentine's Day Weekend after all.  We found the perfect spot.  Armed with my camera, I was excited to practice taking sunset shots.

I love the light just before the sun sets.  This scene is so peaceful.

 We found our perfect romantic spot to end the day.

Flocks of birds set out for the horizon at setting of the sun.  This one seems alone on his journey.

Walking back to the car, the light fading, I observed these birds still on their perches.  They also seem to wish to linger in this spot just a bit longer.    

This day we had begun our journey with no real destination in mind.  This day could not have been more perfectly planned if we had tried to do so.  It was a serendipitous kind of day.  We met strangers who told us where Starbucks was.  There we met strangers who led us to Mount Dora.  There, we happened on this wonderful inn where we ate a fabulous meal on a night when reservations were hard to come by.  

As a couple, we have too few days that end with us watching the sun set in western sky.  But this day, we took the time to end the day with a romantic stroll along the shore of a lovely lake.  Who could have planned a better Valentine's Day Weekend experience?  

Cast in a golden glow, this day ended perfectly.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Vacation in Winter ~ Our Trip to Florida

My husband and I have never taken an extended winter vacation before.  Since we retired, we usually travel in the fall.  Actually, we had not been on a long vacation since 2011, so it was time for us to get away from the demands of life and go someplace totally different than we had previously visited.

When this year's trip planning began late last fall, we decided to go to Florida.  We weren't sure when we would go.  Finally, we selected the second week of February.  Our thinking ran along these lines: February + Colorado = wintery weather of snow, cold, and grey skies.  We planned to celebrate Valentine's Day in Florida, and the trip was also to serve as an early birthday celebration for my milestone birthday that happens next week.

The first part of February in Colorado was very warm.  Most days the temperatures were mostly in the 60s or the high 50s.  I was wearing a sweater whenever I went outside.  So, I packed my summer clothes and off we went to Florida to bask in what we thought would be even warmer and sunnier days.  As it turned out, it was warmer in Colorado while we were gone than it was in Florida while we were there.  The cooler temps in Florida didn't impact us much.

It was pouring down rain when we arrived in Florida.  Thankfully, I had packed our two small travel umbrellas.  I had not packed the kind of clothes I needed.  My summer tops I took with me were never unpacked.  I wore the same cotton lightweight blue sweater almost every day over whatever else I was wearing.  I was grateful I had thrown in my old black fleece jacket just before we left. I lived in it.   I wished I had not taken my long pants and a long sleeved t-shirt out of the suitcase just before we left home.  I also wondered why I brought summer dresses.  Not only that, I never once put on a swimming suit in Florida, and I brought two.  I always overpack, but this trip, I generally made poor choices when it came to taking the right kind of clothes.   Thankfully, I did take tennis shoes and did not rely on wearing my walking sandals during the trip.  I never even wore the sandals that I took.  Do you ever pack all wrong for a trip?  I need packing help!

As I write this, the snow is piling up in outside my window at home.  It is very cold, so this seems like the perfect time to reminisce about out time in the Florida sun, even if it was not as warm as we had expected.  It's hard to believe that a week ago, I was basking in the sun on a sunny beach.

We tried to have a variety of experience on our trip.  Today, I will tell you about:

 The Disney Experience

Neither Jim nor I had ever been to Florida before.  He has always expressed how much he wanted to go to Disney World.  He especially wanted to go to the Epcot Center.  Quite early in the morning on our first full vacation day in Florida,  off we went to the Epcot Center.  Before we left for our destination of Epcot,  Jim had used his iPhone to schedule fast passes for the rides he had in mind.  Armed with his "milk route" plans downloaded to his phone,  Jim was very excited to explore the place he had long wished to visit when he finally made it to this spot.

First stop was Soarin.  My wimpy side came out when we got to the ride.  I was just not sure how I would hand the heights, so I sat out the ride.  My husband was very disappointed that I didn't go with him, but he was understanding.  The next ride, Mission: Space, was one I for sure was not going to ride.  After checking out the vaious rides, we decided to explore the World Showcase part of the park.  Jim wanted to visit Mexico first, so off we went.

Epcot's World Showcase is certainly interesting, and we enjoyed walking around and seeing all of the various aspects of each country represented there.  While I greatly enjoyed the World Showcase experience at Epcot, after hearing about it from others for years, my overall impression of the experience was one of disappointment.  I think I had it pictured in my mind to be more like going to a World's Fair.  I remembered all of the wonderful pavilions from the various countries at the Spokane World's Fair of 1974.  I know it is not fair to compare a World's Fair to Disneyland, but I did, and Disneyland lost in comparison.  

Jim and I had a wonderful lunch at Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe in the Norwegian area.  Norway was a popular place because of the new Frozen attraction.  I ventured into the gift shop to see how much those Anna and Elsa costumes that I saw all the young girls wearing cost.  They start at $49 and go up from there.  I saw some toddlers dressed in the dress, shoes, the tiara, and carrying Elsa's wand.  Some families had more than one child all decked out in the Frozen costumes.  Parents must have a lot more money these days than I had when my children were younger!  God help these parents when these same darling little toddlers go prom dress shopping.  They will expect a very expensive gown.  

We saw so many kids at Disney World that we were actually very shocked.  We kept asking, "Why aren't these kids in school?"  We are after all retired educators.  I speculated that some might be on break from year round schools.  We wondered if some were "home schooled."  We just did not expect to see so many children out of school in the middle of the day in the middle of February.  

We spent most of the day exploring the various countries in the World Showcase.  By 5:30 we were ready for the dinner Jim planned.  He had made arrangements for us to eat at France's Chefs de France.  We both thought our meal was excellent.  I had thought we would be going to a very fancy place and perhaps I should put on a dress for dinner.  Of course, one doesn't change to a dress for dinner at Epcot, and of course there was no need to dress-up.  The restaurant atmosphere was relaxed and informal, which seemed a bit odd given the price of the meal.  I enjoyed eating at Chefs de France and would recommend it to others.  

After dinner, we were tired, so we decided to head out of Epcot and make our way to our hotel.  Realizing how far we were from the entrance, we wondered if we would make it to the gate given how worn out we felt.  On the way back to the entrance, we stopped to ride Spaceship Earth.  That was fun experience.

We had to laugh when we saw the funnel cake stand just before we left Epcot.  The funnel cake stand is the last stop we used to make at the Colorado State Fair every year.  Still very full from dinner, Jim jokingly acted like he was going to buy some funnel cake for the road.    

At the end of the day, Jim checked his pedometer.  We had taken 19,658 steps!  No wonder we were tired.  That equals nearly nine miles of walking.  We were quite proud of ourselves.

The next day, we didn't get up quite so early.  We also decided not to eat breakfast before we left for our day of adventure.  We had seen so many places to eat at Epcot, we thought we'd just eat at Magic Kingdom.  That was a very bad idea.  By the time we drove to our destination and took the ferry over to the entrance we both were starving.  Jim was beyond hungry when we finally got inside.  Because of our late start and late arrival, no place was still serving breakfast.  It was nearly noon.  The sight of others eating hamburgers and such made us both nauseous.  Finally, we were able to get coffee and breakfast fare at Main Street Bakery, which was really Starbucks.  We then had to find a place to sit down and eat.  Once we were fed, the day was off to a better start.

We really did enjoy Magic Kingdom.  We explored most of it and took in many of the attractions.  Jim again had scheduled the rides he wanted to take on his iPhone so we could have the fast pass and not stand in line.  First on the schedule was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  Jim didn't think I would want to go on the ride, but he was as excited as a little kid when he got to it.  I said I was up for the ride.  We took a selfie before we boarded for Thunder Mountain.  

I guess Jim didn't know how much I love roller coasters!  I haven't ridden one for years because of my heart arrhythmia problems, but I decided that since I'd had the old ticker fixed with the ablation last summer, that I'd be able to handle the ride.  Sure enough I handled it.  I had a blast.  Mostly, I just loved listening to my husband laugh down each steep hill, and around every sharp turn.  His laughter literally thrilled my heart.  Here I am making my exit from Thunder Mountain.  (The hardest part was climbing out of those little cars.  I'm not as young as I used to be.)

It was quite chilly the day we were at Magic Mountain.  In the photo above, I actually have on two sweaters, a cardigan and a pull over.  At times, I also layered on a fleece hoodie and the green windbreaker that I am holding.  

When Jim headed towards Splash Mountain, I wasn't sure if I wanted to get wet.  Also, I like roller coasters better than I like rides like Splash Mountain, but I got in line for the ride.  Wouldn't you know it?  We ended up being placed in the first seat!  From the look on our faces, you might not think we were having fun, but we were!  Yes, we were absolutely soaked, but that was ok.  We made a great memory.  

We decided to buy the photo of us on the ride.  Jim used his iPhone Apple Pay to pay for the photo.  The young clerk in the gift shop said he had never had anyone pay with Apple Pay before.  Jim was the first to use it.  The clerk was quite impressed with my soaking wet, 70ish, techie husband.  I guess we didn't look like or act like most of the grandmas and grandpas he had seen buying souvenirs for the grandkids.  

We had a terrible lunch/dinner at Columbia Harbour House, but that was really the only bad experience we had at Magic Mountain.  What's not to love about a place where I can ride roller coasters and a carousel?  

We only devoted two days of our week long vacation to Disney.  My favorite day was at Magic Kingdom, but I did really enjoy seeing and exploring Epcot also.  It was great fun being with my best guy exploring a place designed for kids of all ages.  We are still young at heart.  

More on the trip to follow...