Archive for November, 2013
On 4th November we flew to Florida. We picked up a hire car at Tampa airport and drove down to Sarasota, where we’ve been given the use of a big house by a very kind lady. We found her on our home exchange website, and she’s happy for us to use her house for as long as we like (she now lives elsewhere), even though she doesn’t want to use our home in England. So in this case we’ve really lucked out.
The reason for coming to Florida was to sort out what was happening to the house we own, just north of Sarasota. We bought it ten years ago, and it’s been rented out since then. However, it had been empty since the last tenants left at the end of August, so we were wondering whether the time had come to furnish it and use it ourselves in winter, doing holiday lets in the summer. That’s what we’d always intended to do when we retired, but so far we’ve been busy elsewhere.
We’d also come to the conclusion that the house is really too big for us, and not in an ideal location, so another possibility was to buy somewhere smaller and more central. We decided that a visit to Sarasota would help us explore all the options. We began doing so, but then – less than a week after our arrival – our agent found us new tenants, so the house will be rented out for at least another year.
Meanwhile, we’re still thinking of buying a smaller property to use as a bolthole in the winter, and have been looking round at a number of places. This is always fun, but the decision will be difficult! We are considering three different areas, each with advantages and disadvantages. One of these is Venice (20 miles south of Sarasota), which has a lively downtown area decorated with gaily painted dolphin and turtle statues.
Enjoying the sun
We’ve really enjoyed being back in Sarasota. The weather here has been warm (never below 20°) and mostly sunny (with light rain on just a couple of days). What we’ve heard of the weather in England makes us glad we’re here. Although we’ve done a lot of house hunting, we’ve had plenty of time for relaxation. We couldn’t walk too far, because the problem with Ian’s foot has persisted, but twice we’ve been to one of the local beaches in the late afternoon, taking a short stroll along the white sands and then having a glass of wine while we watch the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a tough life…
Sarasota, with several theatres and an opera house, is known as the cultural capital of Florida. The first Saturday we were here we went to one of the local theatres to see the Gershwin musical Crazy for You, which was really well performed. There are several cinemas, including one which is amazingly cheap, so we’ve been to see a couple of films there.
Sarasota also hosts many arts festivals. Although we’ve been here only two weeks so far, we’ve managed to catch three of these.
St Armand’s Art Festival
St Armand’s Circle on Lido Key has many posh shops and restaurants, and on our first weekend it was taken over by the St Armand’s Art Festival. Dozens of stalls sprang up displaying all kinds of artwork, and it was fascinating to wander round admiring all the different paintings, sculptures and other pieces. We managed to resist the temptation to buy anything – apart from the cost, we don’t have anywhere to put it yet.
Siesta Key Sand Sculpting Competition
Siesta Beach is (allegedly) ‘the best beach in the USA’. On our second Sunday we went to view the sand sculpting competition there, with some amazing constructions made from the fine white sand by artists from all round the world. We had our photo taken in front of a Christmas sculpture, all ready to use as a personalised Christmas card. Again, drinks while waiting for the sun to set formed part of the event.
Sarasota Chalk Festival
At the same time as the sand sculpting at Siesta Beach, downtown Sarasota was taken over by a festival of chalk drawing. Pineapple Street was closed to traffic and covered in chalk art, again by artists from all round the world. We went to see it on Monday morning, and were amazed by the detail which these artists can produce using just chalk on tarmac. The theme of this year’s festival was ‘Legacy of Valor’, which is why several of the drawings were of soldiers or war-related events.
Some of the pictures were elongated so that they would look normal when viewed from eye level in a certain direction. But it was often difficult to get the right angle for photos, which is why some people were using steps to look down on the drawings. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln had a vertical section placed behind that chalked on the road. In order to get the desired effect, it was necessary to look through a fish-eye lens mounted for the purpose.
Watch this space
We intend to stay in Sarasota for at least another week, while the house hunt continues. Watch this space…..
We landed at Heathrow at noon on Monday 14th October. Claire picked us up, and took us back to Wycombe, where we spent the next three weeks. Most of our time was occupied with the usual round: meeting up with friends and family, babysitting, medical appointments and visits to the optician, hairdresser etc. We also completed another stage in sorting out our possessions: between four of us (Claire, Charlie and ourselves) we managed to get everything out of Claire’s loft, and took our belongings back to the flat. The next challenge was finding somewhere to put them all!
A disappointing day
It was a long time since we’d been to the theatre, so we decided to have a day in London on Saturday 19th. The morning followed our regular pattern: train to Marylebone, tube to Piccadilly Circus, half-price theatre seats from tkts in Leicester Square, coffee in the Moon under the Water, browse in Stanfords travel bookshop.
The weather forecast was reasonably good, so we decided to spend the afternoon walking along the South Bank (doing more of the Thames Path). We stopped for lunch in a favourite pub, the Founder’s Arms. Until then, all was well. But while we were in the pub, the heavens opened, and we sat watching people hurrying by with their umbrellas. Disappointment No 1! We abandoned the idea of a walk, and dashed into the nearby Tate Modern. And then we had Disappointment No 2: the Turbine Hall has been closed for redevelopment.
We crossed the Millennium Bridge, took the tube to Marble Arch, and spent the afternoon looking round the shops in Oxford Street and Regent Street. We ended up at the Stock Pot near Leicester Square, where we planned to have dinner. The Stock Pot has been one of our favourite London restaurants for many years – there are not many places where you can get good cheap food in the West End. But to our shock we found it had closed – Disappointment No 3!
Last stop was the Theatre Royal Haymarket, to see One man, two guvnors – Disappointment No 4! We were keen to see the show, as it gets very good reviews, our friends have liked it, and the near-capacity audience certainly enjoyed it. So it must be our failing that we do not appreciate slapstick, and spent most of the performance wondering why other people seemed to find it funny.
A bout of gout
The day after our London trip, Ian woke with a swollen and very painful foot, which made walking very uncomfortable. The GP confirmed (when Ian managed to get an appointment) that it was a classic case of gout. He was advised to avoid red meat (easy) and red wine (less so). He was also given pills which appeared to help, although having got better, his foot got worse again a few days later. It seems that gout is a one-off problem for some people, while others suffer frequently. We just hope that Ian is in the first category!
A pants party
Wednesday 23rd October was Oscar’s second birthday. We had a birthday tea on the day, and he opened presents from the immediate family.
His birthday party was the following Sunday, and as usual Claire made this a big event. Her chosen theme was Aliens Love Underpants, which (for the benefit of readers who don’t have young children) is the title of a popular book. As it happened, there was a stage production of the book at the Wycombe Swan Theatre, and we took the boys on Saturday morning.
For the party, the house was decorated with washing lines draped across the living room, with more than 20 pairs of pants of varying colours, patterns and sizes. There was a birthday cake in the shape of a pair of spotted bloomers. Charlie had a cape made out of pants, and Oscar wore pants on his head. Some of the adults also had pants on display, although usually with jeans underneath! There was of course plenty of food and drink, and after dark there were fireworks – not pants-shaped, however.