We had some cool days in January, but so far in February the weather has been glorious: blue skies, sunshine, and temperatures generally around 28°C. Ideal for sitting on the beach (as well as walking on the beach and elsewhere) or going to the pool.
Some of our regular activities have been a bit different recently. On Thursday evenings we often go to the ‘post-pickleball’ social gathering, though we do not play ourselves. Last Thursday, it was more of a party, with pizzas, pastries, music and dancing. On Monday evenings Sandie goes to Grapeviners (international folk dancing) and this week was their annual ‘Snowball’, again with plenty to eat and drink. Last Friday, when Sandie visited Cat Depot, there was a farewell session for the volunteer co-ordinator, with coffee and cakes – do you notice a common theme here? And on our usual Saturday morning downtown jaunt, we detoured to admire the art and craft exhibition which occupied a large stretch of Main Street (no food or drink though, unless you chose to buy it).
On Friday February 2nd, we went with about 25 friends from CP2 to The Old Packinghouse Café. We enjoyed the music from The Florida Mountain Men (a real oxymoron!). Next day we went to the Church of the Palms (an enormous modern building) for a packed performance of Carmina Burana in Motion. ‘Motion’ referred to the fact that there was dancing as well as music and singing. We really enjoyed it, although the seating did not allow us a good view of the dancers.
Back on the food and drink theme, we’ve explored some other new places in Sarasota. Last night we went with Rich to the Fountain Café – we’ve passed it many times on our way into town, but it was the first time we’d eaten there. A couple of times we’ve had drinks at the Westin rooftop bar. From the 19th floor you get great views over the city, though when we went for sunset drinks last Saturday it was really crowded.
Say ‘I do’ again
Every year, on St Valentine’s Day, there is an opportunity for couples to renew their marriage vows on Siesta Beach. We’ve seen some beautiful beach weddings, but even though we lived by the sea, a beach wedding in Great Yarmouth 1970 was not possible, for more reasons than one!
But in Florida 2018 we could renew our vows at the beach, although it was certainly not a private affair. About 400 couples took part, in a wide variety of attire. Each couple was given a certificate and a rose. There were several ‘photo opportunities’ on the beach and the adjacent grassy area, but no professional photographers – you had to talk nicely to the couple next to you in the queue, so the photos were not as good as we might have hoped! There were presents for the couple who had been married the shortest time (one month) and those who had been married longest (65 years – we couldn’t compete).
The sunset ceremony, led by a judge, was very brief and non-religious: we repeated the vows which (in our view) said just the right thing. When the crowds dispersed, we walked down to the sea, along the shore and up to the village, where we had dinner at the Siesta Key Oyster Bar – another new venue for us to try!
Earlier this week, we heard some very sad news. Our friend Don was killed in a freak accident on the caravan site (near Great Yarmouth) which he owned and managed. We’ve known Don for about 50 years, and find it hard to believe that he is not around any more. Our thoughts are with his family, especially his wife Linda (who was at school with Sandie).
Renewing our vows naturally made us think back to other wedding-related events. Don was an usher at our wedding; Sandie was Linda’s bridesmaid when she married Don in 1972. Along with our friends Una and David, we celebrated ‘A hundred years of marriage’ in 2003. Linda and Don came to our ruby wedding celebration, and we went to theirs. Happy memories. Rest in peace, Don.
The weather has continued variable through January: mild/warm/hot, sunny/cloudy/windy. But very little rain, so we’ve been out on several walks: along beaches, through country parks, or around the city. At home we’ve kept busy with our travel plans and our book. We’ve made progress with both. We’ve booked a walking tour of Menorca in May, and are currently working on our big European tour in June-July. We’ve worked our way through four sets of proofs, and on Friday signed to say that the latest set was ready for printing. We also approved the latest version of the cover, so hopefully the book will be ready for publication in March.
On Saturday 20th Sandie – along with several friends from CP2 – took part in the Women’s March for Democracy. We gathered on the Bayfront and walked over the Ringling Bridge. Similar marches took place all over the country, people protesting about the actions and policies of the current administration. Of course, the marchers were not all women – many men took part also, but Ian was at this life drawing group at the time!
Last Tuesday we went down to the Botanical Gardens, to see an exhibition of rainforest masks from Costa Rica. The colours and designs were amazing.
A day in St Petersburg
Last Wednesday we decided to have a day out in St Petersburg. There is a Dali Museum there, and we’d often said that we must visit sometime. Then we found that the Museum of Fine Art was hosting an exhibition of Star Wars costumes, so we decided that we would spend a day in St Petersburg and visit both.
The Star Wars exhibition was well worth seeing (even for Sandie, who is not a great fan of the films). It was fascinating to see how water is pumped through Chewbacca’s costume, to keep the actor cool, and the detailed instructions (several stages) for getting Darth Vader into his outfit. A whole room was devoted to the gorgeous gowns created at enormous expense for Padme, even though some were on screen for only a few seconds.
As we’d never been in the MFA before, we had a quick look at some of the permanent exhibits as well. Then it was time for lunch. On an earlier visit to St Petersburg Sandie had spotted a small vegetarian café serving Middle Eastern food: the menu looked good, and best of all, it included halloumi, which Sandie loves but cannot find easily in Florida! So we tried it out, and very much enjoyed our lunch.
So far, so good! But the Dali museum was disappointing. We started on the third floor (as directed) and expected to work our way down. It took us about 20 minutes to look round, so we were amazed to discover that there was nothing on the other floors to see. Not much for $20 each!
Fridays and Saturdays are usually our nights out. On Friday 19th we went to the Historic Asolo Theatre to see the NT-Live screening of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. It is a clever concept, and the production was of course excellent – but we did miss any semblance of a plot! We much preferred the (very different) film we saw on Saturday: The Post. With two brilliant actors (Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep) and a master storyteller (Steven Spielberg) it was also topical, and kept us gripped, even though we knew the outcome! When the verdict of the Supreme Court was announced ‘The press exists to serve the governed, not the governors’, there was applause from the audience as well as those on the screen. More applause at the end – and laughter from those near us when Ian observed ‘But of course, it was all fake news’.
Evenings out often involve dinner, and on Saturday 20th we went with Rich to Giorgio’s, which was new to all three of us. But last Friday we did something completely different – we went to a tango lesson! Way back in 2011, we had two or three lessons while we were in Buenos Aires (it seemed the obvious thing to do there) but had since forgotten what little we managed to learn. It was earlier this month, at the Palm Avenue Art walk, that we saw some professionals demonstrating and Ian suggested that we ought to have another try. Fortunately the instructor was patient and encouraging – but just as well Craig Revel Horwood was not there!
The weather remained cold (by Florida standards) for the week following our return from St Augustine. We did less walking than we normally would: our furthest trip was through Payne Park to a secondhand bookstore. It was too cold to have breakfast, lunch and drinks on the lanai as we usually do – and since Ian uses the upper lanai as his art studio, it was too cold for him to do any painting.
Still, we had plenty to keep us occupied indoors. It was time to start researching and planning the trips we hope to take over the spring and summer. And then we received the first complete set of proofs for our book, so reading and marking up corrections kept us busy for the next few days.
On Friday evening we did the usual ‘first Friday art walk’ along Palm Avenue: lots of free wine and Ian did a fish print in one of the studios. Saturday evening we saw the film Darkest Hour (about Churchill) at the Burns Court Cinema. We thought it was a brilliant film, and were completely gripped, even though we knew the outcome!
Foxy and Batty
Just before Christmas, we received a request from Cat Depot regarding two cats who needed foster care for three months. Back in November, these cats were found in the proximity of a dead bat, so there is very slim possibility that they’ve been exposed to rabies, and they have to be quarantined away from other animals. Cat Depot has lots of foster carers, but most have pets of their own – we haven’t so were pleased to acquire these two on a temporary basis! They’d been christened Flying Fox and Fruit Bat, but we’ve abbreviated the names to Foxy and Batty. They are quite different, in appearance and character, but both are good-tempered and affectionate. We love having them, and it makes our place seem like a real home.
On Sunday 7th the weather improved, but first thing in the morning it was still quite cold, albeit bright and sunny. So we decided to postpone our usual Sunday morning beach walk, and instead walked over the Ringling Bridge to St Armand’s Circle. This was perhaps a mistake. On Monday the temperature increased markedly, but there was no sun, so it felt colder. We decided to go ahead with our plan for Siesta Beach, and did our usual long walk there. Lots of other people were doing the same (the firm sand near the sea makes a great walking track) but only a few brave souls had taken their chairs to the beach and we were not among them! Most were wrapped up warmly, although we did see one girl in a bikini.
Contrary to the forecast, we had more sun on Tuesday – we went for a walk, but it would have been a better day for the beach! The rest of the week was busy with the usual activities. We booked our first trip of 2018. Rich came back from Chicago and took us to dinner at Pacific Rim.
On Saturday our friends Ruth and Robert, from South Carolina, came for an overnight stay. We hadn’t seen them for a year, so we spent most of the time talking! We went down to the bayfront, where we saw an art exhibition, had drinks at Marina Jack’s and dinner at O’Leary’s, but the weather was so incredibly cold that we were quite glad to get back to our warm condo.
The forecast suggested that we were in for another chilly week. Certainly when we got up on Sunday morning, it was very cold (for Florida) – although there was sun and the sky was blue. It seemed good weather for walking, and we hoped that by afternoon it would be warmer, so we set off for Rothenbach Park. On the main trail, through lots of palms and other trees, we didn’t see any wildlife, though we were intrigued by what appeared to be oranges growing wild. On the shorter trail we saw several birds (some kind of dove) in a tree, and then a trio of Sandhill cranes met us on the path. They were not at all bothered by our presence, and seemed quite happy to pose for photos!
The north of Florida, that is. We’d heard that New Year’s Eve was good in St Augustine, so decided to do a special trip. As it was likely to be busy, we booked accommodation for three nights (one motel, two camping). When the date approached, the weather forecast was not encouraging! But we’d booked, so we loaded the car and off we set, early on December 30.
There was a lot of traffic on the road, not to mention roadworks here and there, so it was a slow journey. The weather alternated between grey and gloomy/bright and sunny. But it was certainly cooler than usual, especially as we drove north. In St Augustine everyone was wearing jeans and fleeces – yet less than a week earlier we’d been on the beach, wearing shorts and t-shirts, watching people in bikinis and santa hats!
Over the Christmas period they have ‘Nights of Lights’ in St Augustine, when all the buildings in the city centre are decorated with millions of tiny white lights – reputed to be one of the best displays in the world. We’d booked a motel on the 30th so we could easily walk around the city. It truly was beautiful, especially all the hotels along the waterfront. There were crowds of people, and corresponding long waits for tables in restaurants, but it was worth it. We particularly enjoyed Flagler College, as we were allowed inside to see the magnificent rotunda. But it was cold: Ian managed to buy a woolly hat, but the shops had sold out of gloves. Not something we normally need in Florida!
New Year’s Eve
Next morning we had another stroll around the city, and then drove south.
The main New Year’s Eve celebration is at Pier Park in St Augustine Beach, so we’d booked a tent site at the KOA there. But first we detoured to Fort Matanzas, a national monument we’d not visited before. The fort itself is across an inlet of the sea, so you need to get there by ferry, and the two NPS boats were out of service, due to hurricane damage. So we could not visit, but we could see the fort from across the water. We enjoyed the nature trail, and walking along the beautiful beach opposite the fort. The weather was bright and sunny, and we even saw a dolphin!
Back to the campground, where we erected our tent – and got a shock. We hadn’t camped since March, but David and Donna borrowed our gear in the summer. We couldn’t believe how clean and neatly packed everything was!!!!! We had our traditional drinks while the mattress was inflating, and made the bed. Then we went down to the beach, and went for a walk along the shore.
In the evening we went back to the beach for the ‘Beach Blast-off’ celebration. This was rather disappointing: several food stalls, a drinks tent, a band playing untuneful music and some attractions for children. The fireworks were supposed to be accompanied by music, but it was totally unco-ordinated. Nevertheless, we had fun. We enjoyed some excellent food, and were highly amused to discover that we had to be ID’d before being given the wristbands which allowed you to purchase alcohol! Nice perhaps, to think we could be under 21 – we wish!
The strange thing to us was that this New Year celebration ended at 10pm – with two hours of 2017 still to go. (The fireworks in fact were scheduled for 8.30, but finally happened an hour later.) We walked back to our campsite and drank red wine as we waited for 2018. It was not as cold as we expected, and, warmly wrapped up, we felt quite comfortable sitting outside.
New Year’s Day
During the night, however, it became much colder. And it started to rain. And there was a strong wind. It hadn’t occurred to us to bring blankets to put on top of our duvet, so we got up, put more clothes on, and went back to bed. Even so, we were freezing. In the morning, we washed, dismantled the tent and loaded the car – all within half an hour. (The tent is, of course, no longer clean and neatly folded.) Then we drove two miles down the road and had breakfast in a convenient Starbucks.
We were due to camp that night in a state park, and there were other places we planned to visit on the way. But the weather was so appalling, we did the only sensible thing and drove home. Even in Sarasota it was cold – and still is – but not quite as bad as in the north.
So – not a great start to the new year! Our current wish is for better weather, but hopefully this cold spell will not last long. There are lots of things we wish for in 2018: Trump impeached and Brexit reversed are high on the list, but we’re not optimistic about either. We hope for continued good health so we can still travel – must start planning 2018 trips soon!
We want to do a lot of walking too. A year ago, we read about the ‘thousand mile challenge’ –it’s supposed to be good for older people especially to walk 1,000 miles a year. Sounds a lot, but it’s less than three miles a day, and we guessed that we probably do that anyway. So, mainly out of curiosity, we equipped ourselves with pedometers. We both passed the 1,000 miles in July, so had to revise our target. We decided 1,500 would be too easy, and 2,000 too challenging, so we compromised on 1,750. And we succeeded: by the end of 2017, Ian had clocked up 1,790 and Sandie 1,850. Whether we shall manage the same this year remains to be seen!
Whatever you wish for in 2018, we hope it’s a happy and healthy year for you and yours.
After Anne left us, we settled back into our ‘normal’ routine. The weather was good, so we spent time at the pool. Ian went to his life drawing class, and Sandie to her ‘Grapeviners’ international folk dance group. She visited Cat Depot, hoping to see Amanda, but found that she had been adopted very quickly.
On Saturday 16th we went to the Florida Studio Theatre, where we saw a play called Once; it had energetic Irish singing and dancing, but not much of a plot. Next day we did our Sunday morning beach walk, this time north along Turtle Beach. As usual, there were very few people there, but lots of birds. We also found some things that had been washed up by the sea, including a pair of goggles which must have been in the water for a long while, since they were encrusted with barnacles (not much good for looking through!).
The morning after Anne and Mandy left us, Ian went and bought our Christmas tree – not safe with a kitten around! In the afternoon (while Sandie was working in the library) he put up the tree and the decorations. It looked really good when Sandie got home! Next day, she wrote our Christmas letter, and got busy sending out emails.
On Sunday 17th we invited a few friends round, and introduced them to the delights of mince pies, Christmas cake and mulled wine!
On Wednesday Sandie accompanied Ian to his writers’ group; as it was the last meeting before Christmas, partners were invited, and we all took treats to share. On Friday we went to a concert given by Sarasota Orchestra, called Home for the Holidays. They played a wide selection of Christmas music – most familiar, but not all – with great skill and enthusiasm. On the way back we stopped at the Bayfront for drinks and a meal. On Saturday we had dinner with Rich at the Pacific Rim restaurant, not far from CP2.
Christmas Eve was on Sunday, of course, so we had our usual trip to the beach (Lido, this time) for a walk, coffee and books. We walked right round to South Lido Park, where we saw two birds that looked like parrots, perched on the top of the bare branches of a tree. We also saw chairs and tables set out for a wedding – and a reception!
We cut our usual outing short and returned home for lunch and an important appointment – talking via skype to our family gathered at Claire’s house, back in the UK. Later we went to see the new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi – our first visit to the Cinebistro in Siesta Key Mall. We did not want to eat while watching (certainly not at 4.30pm!) so had dinner afterwards in a new café nearby.
Then, before returning home, we drove round some of the places where we knew (from last year’s trolley tour) that there would be houses with Christmas lights. In one especially good area, we parked the car and walked around. Lots of other people were doing the same. It was brilliantly arranged, with tunnels of lights you could walk through or (in one case) drive through. In addition to the decorations in houses and gardens, there was Christmas music and fake snowstorms. One householder offered marshmallows for toasting; another projected Christmas films on his garage door!
After opening our Christmas gifts, we drove to Anna Maria Island, and had breakfast (all you can eat pancakes) at the Manatee Beach Café, as we did last year. Once again, there was an enormous queue to order food. But the atmosphere was great, with Christmas music and a visit from Santa, who still had enough gifts in his sack for the children present. This year we also had a visit from Miss Alaska – not sure why she was in Florida, something to do with the weather, perhaps? There were also a bunch or pirates, apparently members of the Anna Maria Buccaneers, who collect money for charity.
Afterwards we went for a long walk on the beach – something we do frequently, but still a bit different at Christmas. Many people were wearing Santa hats; a few had set up their Christmas trees on the sand; the trolley driver was handing out candy canes. After a huge breakfast we didn’t need lunch, but we stopped a couple of times for drinks. We stayed for the sunset, and then returned home, but not for long. We had dinner at a Greek restaurant we hadn’t tried before: it was packed, and the food was excellent.
Americans don’t celebrate Boxing Day, but we’re Brits, so we decided we should have another day off. (Doubtless you’re thinking that every day is a day off when you’re retired!) This time we went to Caspersen Beach, just south of Venice. We’d been there once before, and were entertained by all the people hunting for sharks’ teeth.
After our picnic lunch, we went for a long walk south. The first mile or so is wild and beautiful. We passed the ferry (furthest point on our previous trip) and continued exploring. Soon we began to see smart beach houses, but still very few people – until we reached a beach near a car park, where there were crowds. We had no idea where we were, but found out that it was Manasota Beach. After returning to our ‘camp’ we watched the sunset (again!) and then drove round to Sharky’s on the Pier, one of our favourite restaurants, for dinner.
Now Christmas is really over, and we’re back to our usual activities, and home cooking – for a couple of days, at any rate. Soon it will be New Year, and we wish you all a very happy and healthy 2018.
On Thursday 30 November, our friend Anne arrived from the UK for a two-week holiday in Florida – her first visit to the Sunshine State.
She was due to land at Tampa at 5.20pm. Following our usual practice, we set off in the morning, and made a couple of stops on our way. This time we went to Pass-a-Grille beach – we’d seen it recommended, but did not find it special (we’ve been spoilt by all the beautiful beaches around here!) and were amazed by the high car parking charges. After our picnic lunch, we drove up the coast to Treasure Island, where we went for a walk on another beach. We found the remains of a sand sculpture competition – not up to Siesta of course – and had a drink at Sloppy Joe’s, having discovered that the one in Key West is not unique! Then it was on to the airport, to meet Anne and bring her back to Sarasota.
During her visit, we introduced Anne to a lot of the places we go regularly: the Bayfront, the shops, the market, the library and the beaches (we spent a morning on Siesta Key, and a whole day on Anna Maria Island). Anne is particularly interested in wildlife, so we took her to nearby state parks (Myakka River, Lake Manatee) and other places (Red Bug Slough, Celery Fields, Historic Spanish Point, South Lido Park) where she saw lots of birds and some alligators, and got a taste of the ‘real Florida’. We also did a day’s excursion down to Sanibel Island, where we collected shells and followed the Ding Darling nature drive.
Back in Sarasota, we visited the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and the Mote Marine Aquarium. And we enjoyed the sunset cruise aboard ‘Le Barge’ on Sarasota Bay. Many thanks to our neighbour Rich who organised tickets for us and came with us on the cruise.
The weather was perfect that evening, as indeed it was for the whole of Anne’s first week here. But after that, the temperature dropped, we had some rain one day and cold winds the day following. When we did the airboat trip in Myakka River SP, we were wrapped up in fleeces and hoods – most unlike Florida!
Since Anne was to visit in December, we planned to take in some Christmas events. On Saturday 2nd we watched the annual parade in Main Street – something we definitely do not see in England! On Thursday 7th we went (with Rich) to ‘Holiday Splendor’ at the Ringling. We enjoyed drinking wine by the bay, and it gave Anne an opportunity to visit the museums, although we were rather disappointed by the singing (in comparison with previous years). Another evening we attended the Central Park II Christmas party, with food and drink and ‘Secret Santa’ presents.
We planned to visit Spanish Point another evening, for their special Christmas event, but this was cancelled due to forecast ‘inclement weather’. And on Saturday the lit-up boat parade was also cancelled, due to a ‘high winds advisory’. We ended up going to the cinema instead, to see the new version of Murder on the Orient Express. It was good in many ways (possibly better if you don’t already know the plot!) but we did struggle to believe in Kenneth Branagh as Poirot!
The day after Anne arrived, we went to Palm Avenue for their ‘first Friday’ of art galleries, wine and music. Usually there are singers from Sarasota Opera, but this month it was (not surprisingly) carol singers instead. A real highlight was Tuesday 5th when we went to the Asolo Theatre to see Evita. They always have a first-class musical production in November/December, and this was no exception:slightly unusual, but great acting, singing, settings – and of course music!
While Anne was here, we paid brief visits to two nearby towns: Venice and Bradenton. All too soon, the time came for her to leave. Following what has become our standard pattern, we made a stop in St Petersburg on our way to the airport. Anne’s flight did not leave until 7.45pm, so we had plenty of time to look round. In addition to the usual stroll, and lunch on the bayfront, we visited the Chihuly Collection, and were blown away by the fantastic glass artwork, beautifully displayed. We saw a demonstration of glass blowing as well.
By now Anne is back in the UK, where the weather is really cold (not just Florida cold!). Needless to say, here the weather has improved greatly, and is back to what we consider normal for Florida.
On Thursday 14th we said goodbye not only to Anne, but also to Amanda, the kitten we fostered. We’d seem her grow enormously over the past three weeks. She’d grown a lot more active and adventurous and we’d been amused and entertained by her crazy capers. She’s now back at Cat Depot, and we hope will soon find a good ‘furever family’, as they say there.
As always there is no shortage of entertainment in Sarasota. We’ve recently seen La Traviata at the Opera House, Moon over Buffalo at the Players Theatre and the film Loving Vincent at the Sarasota Film Society cinema in Burns Court.
As usual, we’ve done plenty of walking too, sometimes aiming for shops, or for a pub/café/ restaurant for an evening meal. Last Saturday we enjoyed watching the sunset from the deck at Marina Jack’s on the bay.
This week we chose Turtle Beach for our Sunday morning beach stroll. Last year we noted that the beach had been much improved by the addition of extra sand, enabling us to walk further than we’d been able to do previously. We wondered if Hurricane Irma had caused havoc there, but no – we were able to walk all the way south to the headland, about three miles. Once we were well away from the car park, we saw very few people, but in one area there were more birds than we’ve ever seen before. It seems that small fish had been driven in towards the shore by larger fish, and the birds were waiting: a long row of pelicans in the water, and egrets, herons and other birds on the sand.
We’ve celebrated a couple of special events during the past week. Last Thursday was Thanksgiving Day, and we were invited by Lynda for coffee and scones in the morning. Lynda belongs to Grapeviners (Sandie’s folk dance group) and some other members were also there, giving us a chance to get to know them better (not much opportunity for conversation when we are dancing!). It rained heavily most of that day (the only real rain we’ve had since we’ve been back) but when it finally stopped (late afternoon) we walked down to the Bayfront and ended up with dinner in Main Street.
Yesterday was David’s birthday, and we joined a large crowd of people celebrating at the Mandeville Beer Garden. Most were from Central Park II so we spent a very pleasant evening chatting to neighbours, sampling the beers (or ciders, in Ian’s case) and the pizzas from a visiting stall, not to mention David’s birthday cake.
Talking of CP2, the good news is that work on our new stairwell was finally completed last week. The bad news is that they have started on the roof of our building! And without warning…. Yesterday morning Sandie arrived home from her tap dance class to find our part of Building 3 swathed in blue tarpaulin. Quite a shock! She wasn’t even sure how she was going to get in – but managed to squeeze by. And the noise (from the old roof being destroyed, and pieces thrown below, not to mention machinery being used) was horrendous. Luckily today the workmen have moved further along the building, so it’s not so bad.
But the best news is that, for the past week, we’ve enjoyed the company of Amanda, a kitten that we’re fostering for Cat Depot. She is black and white, tiny and of course very cute (what kitten isn’t?). She’d already been given the name Amanda, but we call her Lady Amanda (she obviously rules the roost) or (on occasions) Mandy the Menace. We will have her for another two weeks, until she’s big enough to be spayed. Then she’ll go back to Cat Depot, have the op and be available for adoption. We shall miss her!