Road Trip to Florida: Highs and Lows

road trip

The past few weeks have been vacation time for hubby and I, on a road trip to Florida. The first step involved renting a car as our 2009 Toyota Sienna would most likely not survive the trip. If you have tried to purchase a new vehicle recently, you will know what I mean when I say it’s not as simple as it used to be. With our Florida destination booked for three weeks we decided to wing the rest, ie stop when we were tired.

We have experienced a few hiccups along the way but nothing insurmountable. So far.

Thanksgiving (US) Weekend

When I planned this trip, I did not realize we were leaving Canada the day before the four day Thanksgiving weekend in the USA. Apparently most Americans travel that weekend. This became obvious as soon as we crossed the border…the highways were packed!

road trip

GPS

The Ford Escape (we love it BTW and it’s similar in size to what we are hoping to purchase in a Toyota product) we rented included an onboard GPS system. Although hubby is (still) more of a map guy, he grudgingly admits to liking the commands to “turn right now!” I must say, he listens to her voice better than he does to mine. We did get lost in Fredericksburg Virginia looking for our first hotel though. The hotel clerk excused the GPS though blaming the confusion on a recent road name change.

Then I panicked when I thought I saw our turnoff near Jacksonville and told hubby to take a different exit than what the GPS said, only to get stuck in construction traffic.

Since that mistake, we have both learned to trust the GPS to guide us to restaurants, beaches, and tourist spots here in the Nokomis area of Florida.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Our second night we reached Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. A slight mix-up with Expedia on our reservations made using McDonald’s Wi-Fi (they booked us for two rooms for one night, instead of one room for two nights) was efficiently handled by that hotel clerk. So efficiently we ended up with a significant discount. Who doesn’t love a discount, especially when travelling?

Hilton Head Island is a gorgeous vacation paradise on the Atlantic coast. I cannot believe we have have never stopped there before but know we will again. It was cool and cloudy with a threat of rain the day we spent there but the beach was spectacular; our favourite kind of beach that stretches for miles.

road trip

Red Tide

Our road trip to Florida continued after Hilton Head, arriving at our final destination on Casey Key, located on the gulf coast, twenty minutes south of Sarasota, the next day. Unfortunately, we had not heard that Red Tide had also made an appearance a month earlier, and was still hanging around like an unwelcome house guest. Luckily for us it had (for the most part) moved on by the end of our first week.

In the meantime we became beach hoppers, searching for red tide-free beaches to walk. I did develop a sinus infection that developed into a hacking (covid negative) dry cough, mostly just when sleeping. It just meant lots of take out instead on enjoying the ambiance at local restaurants.

Self Professed Beach Bums

We are definitely beach lovers. Our routine here develops quickly. In the morning we walk as far as we can one way down the shoreline, (approximately three hours) past the massive, gorgeous homes. Stephen King and Rosie O’Donnell own homes down there (the north end of Casey Key) and Oprah used to.

In the afternoon we make the shorter trek (two hours) the other way, past Nokomis beach, to the north jetty. Watching the dolphins frolic there is a favourite pastime. During the stormy weather several dolphins were surfing the waves just beyond the human surfers that gathered there to enjoy the massive waves. Even the surfers stopped to watch the better-than-SeaWorld show. If only I was quicker with my camera! I caught one of the playful dolphins on a video, see it at the ten second mark.

The sunsets along this shoreline of Casey Key in Nokomis Florida are also spectacular!

road trip

Following the sunset, we would head back to our rental unit for a shower, then go out to dinner (or bring back take out) Our favourite restaurants here include Paya Thai Curry for pineapple chicken or the chicken avocado salad from Mi Pueblo, both restaurants are located on the 41 bypass in Venice, Florida. Paradise Grill in Nokomis offered daily cocktail specials, happy hour and early bird dinner specials. And, Pops’ Sunset Grill was just a short walk away, on the other side of the drawbridge.

Family Visits

A favourite part of this Florida road trip was the fact that one of our sons and his family flew down for twelve days. Having two of our six grandchildren (and their parents, of course) for at least part of the trip was an added bonus. In fact, I’ve decided if I ever win the lottery, I will rent a big house down here where we all could be beach bums together. It would have to be a big house to fit all thirteen of us at once!

Elton John wrote Your Song with those (similar) lyrics:

I don’t have much money, but boy if I did, I’d buy(rent) a big house where we both (all) could live (stay)

Elton John

Weather

The weather has been unusually warm and sunny for this time of year on this road trip to Florida.

Other years we have not been so fortunate. Cooler and wetter weather is forecast this coming weekend though, just in time for our departure.

One storm moved through the area two days before we had to leave with lots of big waves and winds but the temperature is still warm and thankfully we saw no sign of a tornado.

Bugs in Florida

For some reason, we have both have more bug bites this visit to Florida. Researching the reason why lead me to Tuxedo Mosquito Control which lists five foods that attract mosquitoes:

  • beer
  • avocados
  • bananas
  • salty foods
  • sugary foods

This list made lots of sense since I had been snacking on bananas and guacamole on the long trip down to Florida. I don’t drink beer, but I admit vacation food has much more salt and sugar in in than my usual diet at home. Since I laid off the bananas I have noticed less mosquito bites.

Now to figure out the no see ums and chiggers. Apparently the lush vegetation around the VRBO property we rented attracts both of these tiny biting buggers. They are the reason most Florida residents have screened in porches AKA lanais attached to their homes. Unfortunately, our rental does not!

I’ll be Home for Christmas

Like that song says, we will be home well before Christmas and this road trip will be a memory in the rear view mirror. Although local residents here try to decorate for the holidays and plan a boat parade, a wintery white Christmas is for me!

We also managed to fit in some Christmas shopping in the evenings, including a specific ornament for our newest grandbaby was born last March. I had purchased four of these gorgeous stockings on our last visit here, right after our fourth grandchild was born. My sister had to mail me one from Texas due to the travel bans of Covid when our youngest grandson was born in April of 2020.

road trip

The cold front promised by weather forecasters has arrived, time to head north. Hopefully our road trip back to Canada will be uneventful!

A busy birthday week in Corpus Christi, Texas

Corpus Christi, Texas is a beautiful city to visit, especially when the weather is cold in my hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  Last week I surprised my sister for her birthday, spending a whole week with her visiting all of the popular tourist spots and catching up on sister stuff. The surprise party was held at Talon’s Sports Bar, owned and operated by friends of my niece, and a great location for the party to kick off the birthday week…

As mentioned in my previous post, I did manage to get some gardening in by planting a garden in my sister’s front yard.  I do love seeing the different varieties of plants that grow in the places I travel to.  I knew that succulents and cactus are prevalent in Texas, I just never knew there were so many varieties of each…

Another great thing about vacations is that I don’t have to cook.  This past week I experienced most of the culinary delights Texas has to offer.   At restaurants, a few of which are located right on the water, I feasted on seafood, including delicious crab cakes and gumbo, Mexican, Italian and Thai food,  and of course steak, a Texan favourite.  Home-made, deliciously spicy, chicken tortilla soup, pico de gallo and guacamole prepared by my niece, as well as jalapeno peppers stuffed with cream cheese, then wrapped in bacon, grilled to perfection and served with sausage wraps on the beach by her husband.  I think I will stay away from the scales for a few days…

To wear off some of the calories, I was coerced into dancing, Texan style, at my sister’s favourite nightclubs Whiskey River and  Ropers . Thanks to her very patient and kind dancing friends Sinoel, Martin, Benny, Ray and others, I had lots of fun and many laughs trying to master the art.  One-two-three and quick-quick-slow are still echoing in my head…

Of course, when heading south to escape a Canadian winter, you have to go to the beach. The beaches in the Corpus Christi area of Texas are spectacular and plentiful.  Padre Island National Seashore, McGee Beach, North Beach, Packery Channel and Mustang Island are just a few popular spots.  Even though this was my fifth visit, I still find the waterfronts confusing.  Bay, gulf, channel, port…

My last day in Texas was the only one warm enough (78F or 26C) to hit the beach.  Although I found the water was too cold for anything more than dipping my toes, there were a few brave people playing in the waves.  It is winter in Texas too, although winter temperatures there are much more enjoyable than those here.  We walked the beach during the day and then enjoyed a bonfire on the beach using dried out Christmas trees collected from curbs in my sister’s neighbourhood…

We spent a few hours shopping for bargains too, and even though the Canadian dollar is currently so low in value, I was still able to get a few good deals on clothing.  Although we did not venture across the border into Mexico, I picked up a few Mexican inspired souvenirs in Texas, including an adorable ceramic gecko for my garden and some tequila…

The best part of this trip to Texas was the opportunity to spend quality time with my sister, her children and grandchildren.  I kind of put her on the spot by showing up, not just for her surprise party, but also announcing that I was staying at her place for a week.  I had already made arrangements with her son to use his bedroom in her home for the week.  Thanks to Facebook messaging, I was able to make plans with my niece and nephews before my visit without my sister suspecting a thing.  The only time she was suspicious that something was going on was when her son got up early the morning of my arrival to clean up his room.  Also fortunate, and much appreciated, was the fact that she was able to play hooky from work all week to spend time with me, thanks to her staff Cristi, Chrisy and others.

The birthday week in Texas was a huge success and tons of fun, but over much too fast.  Reality has called me back home to Canada and my sister back to work.  Arriving back in Ottawa via Houston and Toronto, I was greeted by snow and missing luggage, both indicators that all good things must come to an end…

Oh, by the way, my gardening website can be viewed at GARDENS4U

Hola from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

My family (except for my eldest son, who unfortunately could not get the time off work to join us) just returned from a week of vacation in Puerto Plata in Dominican Republic.  Similar to the recent challenge post of introducing my home town, I thought I would share our time in DR through pictures. I had planned to post this from there, but vacation got in the way.

Our resort was nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the mountains, with spectacular views of both.  Although the rooms (clean and comfortable), food (lots of it, with a good variety, including many gluten free options for me) and beach (shelly, lots of coral, and short in length) were of average quality, the mountain scenery was the best feature.  This trip was planned around our youngest son’s spring break, and as it is his last year in high school he invited a few friends to join us.  The unlimited food and drink for a reasonable price and great weather was the selling feature.  After all, you do not go to the Dominican Republic for the food; you go for the weather.  The resort was one of three in a row, connected by a winding, palm tree lined walkway, approximately a ten minute walk from end to end.  Vacationers staying at any of the three hotels, all of which are under the Riu banner (Merengue Village, Merengue Garden and Bashara), were welcome to use the amenities offered at each site.

The following pictures represent a typical day, from sunrise to well after sunset…

sunrise over the mountains, right outside our balcony:

830 am breakfast was mandatory; our rule to get the boys up and moving rather than sleeping all day after partying all night:

buffet

While a walk to the far end of the beach was next for my husband and I…

…the boys filled their day with various activities such as swimming (pool and beach), volleyball, soccer, bocce ball, basketball, kayaking, sunbathing (napping), and shopping:

The boys were on their own for lunch, often eating at the “snack bar” just steps from the beach:

snackbar2 snack bar

we often went elsewhere:

Dinner was a group event scheduled for 730 pm following an afternoon of more activities (them) and another beach walk topped off with a dip in the ocean (us)  Between the three hotels, there was plenty to do and see each evening as well:

The weather was great; hot and mostly sunny each day, with a few quick downpours, usually in the early evening or through the night.

It sure was painful to arrive back to the winter weather here in Ottawa; where would you rather be?

 

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic: partly cloudy and 28 °C (82F)

or

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: mostly sunny and -12 °C (10F) with winds at 26 km/h (16 mph)

Me too!

Christmas Vacation

Christmas vacation

For years, around October, I would wrack my brain trying to think of unique and useful gifts to buy my husband and three teenage sons.  Tired of this commercialism associated with Christmas, a few years ago we asked our sons how they would feel about going south for a week over their Christmas break instead of buying them presents.  All three thought a Christmas vacation was a great idea…

Cayo Coco, Cuba

The first Christmas trip we took was to Cayo Coco in Cuba. We were lucky as the weather was great right up until a cold front came through the day before we were to go home. The hotel was decent and the beach was beautiful, although there was quite a bit of seaweed at one end. The food was plentiful but bland with very little variety. The nightly entertainment was awesome, with a different show every night. Daytime entertainment was great too, with lots of activities for the younger kids to participate in or watch. My sons played soccer, beach volleyball, and water polo with the entertainment crew and many new friends they met there.

Christmas vacation
Cayo Coco, Cuba

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Next year the boys were asking in the summer where we were going on our Christmas vacation, so I started looking for “deals.” Because of the risk of cooler weather in Cuba, we decided to try the Dominican Republic. Our hotel was at one end of a long strip of hotels in Punta Cana. The hotel was nice and clean, and the beach was beautiful with very little seaweed; great for long walks. The food was much better here, with a greater variety and higher quality. Our New Year’s Eve “feast” was spectacular; I have never seen or eaten such a variety of seafood!

For this past Christmas vacation, we went back to the Dominican Republic but stayed at a different resort at the other end of Punta Cana. Although our room was clean and adequate there was an awful “swampy” smell in the rooms, perhaps coming through the ventilation from the lush, tropical landscaping surrounding one end of the hotel.   The beach was beautiful, we walked for miles every day. The food was of good quality and plentiful with a wide variety to choose from. The service at the restaurants and bars was excellent and the nightly entertainment was amazing. We also went on an excursion this year where we swam with sharks (nurse sharks that don’t bite) and disarmed stingrays, and then snorkeled around a coral reef. It was a great experience.

Christmas vacation
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Who Knows What the Future will Bring

Who knows what next year will bring. With our two eldest sons finished school, working full time, and getting older with plans of their own, they may not be able or willing to travel with us much longer. These past few all-inclusive Christmas vacations together have been invaluable gifts for me. A week free of cleaning and cooking plus quality time with my favorite guys!