Well, here in Chicago it was a little warmer than typical for this time of year (high near 40). Back on the Gulf side of Florida it was probably in the mid-70s with plenty of sun. Oh well, it stills feels good to be home. Sort of.
Snow birds on the beach
As with every trip, there were lessons learned.
Lesson 1: Florida is weird. Beautiful and sunny, but so very, very weird. Any state that puts houses on stilts or screens in entire backyards is a bit off. You have gators for cripes sakes lurking in every irrigation ditch. And as you head further south there are entire towns where it seems that everyone (visitor and worker alike) is over the age of 70. I loved Florida but man is it weird.
Lesson 2: U.S. 19 sucks. Big time. From 60 miles north of Tampa to wherever that hell hole of a road ends, it is nothing but one stop-and-go billboard loving stretch of pavement. Cousin Frank called it “Useless 19” and I think he was being kind. Avoid U.S. 19 near Tampa!
Lesson 3: Clearwater and Tampa is nice, everything south is heaven. This was the nicest discovery of the whole trip. We loved, loved, loved Venice, Sanibel Island, and pretty much everything south of Tampa. Beautiful beaches, neat towns, and friendly/ slightly eccentric people (old too) made for a cool world to be in.
Lesson 4: No reservations is the way to travel. Only before a trip do Corey and I ever tussle over destinations. When we just sit back and let the trip guide us we almost never fight. And that is what we did this winter. Lodging decisions were usually made the day of and we knew (with the intuition of a true snow bird) when it was time to head back north. We are now back in our nest but are very much restless for our next adventure. Noel, Corey, and Henna too
There is nothing like traveling to south Florida to make you feel young. We spent the day and night in Venice and after a while here one starts to see everyone under the age of sixty as younger than they really are. The fifty year old couple looks like they are in their mid-30s, tops. The teenagers look like kids and the kids like babies. And when you see a baby you think fetus. I have to say that in this age phobic society we live in, it is very refreshing to see so many elders living their lives out in the open and in such a happy-go-lucky manner. It is easy to make fun of, especially when the local paper out of Pine Island front page is focused on golf cart rules. But here one sees the elderly out and about (yes on golf carts but also riding bikes with picnic lunches stored in baskets) doing everything from strolling hand in hand around town to doing yoga on the beach. This model should be seen as a goal by everyone hoping to see a retirement.
Pine Island KOA
At the beach just south of downtown Venice, Henna found many fossilized shark teeth. She was not alone; a family near us on the beach found so many that they began to sort them by size. Venice, by the way, is not only the shark tooth capital of the world, but also has a real nifty downtown that is both tasteful and touristy. And you know seniors are not going to tolerate lousy restaurants. We chose sushi and were quite happy.
Henna all business at beach
The last two days were spent traversing the various islands surrounding Sanibel Island. Sanibel Island as a winter getaway is heaven. It has all the charm of a northern Caribbean island (which it can almost be called) and the comfort of a U.S. state. Between the plentiful bike trails, the almost unspoiled beaches, and the nature preserves there really is no reason to ever leave the island. Except for in our case, we had to travel back and forth from our campsite on Pine Island.
The shell loot
The Pine Island KOA, where we spent two nights, is part camp ground and part alternative senior housing with some residents living year round and others for a season. The facilities and people were nice as well as the island itself. The one negative is that there is no beach on the island. No beach does have some benefits; one of which is the sleepy nature of the island. Another is the cheapness of our campsite (about $27). But we came for shells, sun, and sand meaning that we left our Pine Island home early each day in order to better commute to our vacation. We made the best of everything and even made some yummy tacos at the nearest beach to us on Coral Island. Oh, and we saw a gator on Sanibel Island. It might be a bit hard for us to transition back to the Chicago winter. Noel
Not that long ago I was looking through some old photos of the Grand Tetons and realized something rather big. While the granite has not changed much over the years, the people in the photos (namely Noel and Corey) have. All travel of course is a personal business and noticing what has and has not changed in the landscape is half the fun of getting there. It was with that sentiment we met our friends, Jeff, Alexis, and their three daughters for dinner a few nights ago.
Just another Florida sunset
I am happy to report that all the changes have been for the best. My beer drinking, shot downing and Sega hockey playing friend is now one heck of a dad to three wonderful little girls. Henna, who is always looking for a friend on the road, was in heaven as she palled along with three new playmates. As for Alexis, I do not think the Alexis I knew in college even wanted to be a teacher. Anyone spending a few seconds with her now probably could not imagine her doing anything else. Together they have built a fun and nurturing home in the bayous of Sarasota (where every drainage ditch is teeming with ‘gators). Thank you for having dinner with us and thank you for letting us crash at your home last Sunday night. Noel
It’s Corey here and the day before, we weathered the worst of Florida (US 19) in order to party with my cousins. Years ago, my grandparents retired to Florida, and eventually my Aunt Joan (my mother’s sister) followed them, taking my cousins with her. Frank, Cheryl, Rob, Mike, Renee and Gary are my wonderful cousins whom I only really know a smidge. After losing my Aunt Joan two years ago, being in their joyful presence brought her spirit back for one day. Also, thank you Cathy for hosting this get together and letting us crash! Corey
6 Coluzzis and 1 Corey
In between all this family and friend stuff we made it out to Clearwater Beach and paid a ridiculous amount of money to see Winter (the dolphin with the prosthetic tail). Clearwater beach was fun, in a circus kind of way. But south of Tampa is heaven for us (maybe it would feel different when the humidity and bugs come mid-summer). Tonight is New Years and we will spend it doing what we do/ love best; under the stars and with marshmallow fluff in our teeth. Happy New Years! Noel, Corey and Henna too.
Happy New Year!