Archive for December, 2014

Away and back home

During our last full week in Florida, the weather turned (relatively) cool, and some days were cloudy, though there was no rain. But as usual, we found plenty to do.   The house hunt continued, but without success. We were tempted by some beautiful houses close to Jane’s, but finally decided to keep waiting for somewhere downtown. With Christmas and the New Year approaching, we were kept busy sending off greetings by email, and making arrangements for future travels.

Sandie was delighted to find a tap dance class in Sarasota, and put on her dancing shoes for the first time in nearly four years. We explored Rothenbach Park, not far from the city. We saw the film Interstellar: Ian was rather disappointed, Sandie less so because it wasn’t her scene anyway! And we saw a great production of the musical Black Nativity, performed by the West Coast Black Theatre Troupe at their theatre in Sarasota.

Rothenbach Park

Rothenbach Park

A great weekend

We flew home on Monday 15th December, but really enjoyed our final weekend with friends in Sarasota. On Friday evening we met up with Jane and Phil at the Ringling Museum. We had dinner in the Treviso restaurant and then saw South Pacific (another great production) at the Asolo Theatre.

On Saturday we were off to Venice to meet up with Sue and Ed and discuss plans for the second half of our home exchange. We had lunch in a nearby café and then drove out to Snook Haven, a very attractive spot which we intend to explore further. In the evening we went down to the bayfront to watch the Boat Parade of Lights. This is another traditional event: boats of all sizes sail into the bay, each one illustrating Christmas themes in hundreds of lights.

Snook Haven

Snook Haven

At the Bayfront

At the Bayfront

Dolphin fountain at dusk

Dolphin fountain at dusk

The parade of boats

The parade of boats

An amphibious train

An amphibious train

Celestial choir

Celestial choir

On Sunday we went over to Anna Marie Island, one of our favourite spots. We looked at the weekly craft market in Bridge Street, and walked along the sand to Coquina Beach. There we found another craft market, and had lunch at a beach café. By then it was really warm again, and we made the most of the opportunity to eat outside in the sun. On our way back we stopped off to visit Doloris; we met her husband Dom, saw her beautiful condo and were guests at their association’s Christmas party.

Christmas at Anna Marie Island

Christmas at Anna Marie Island

Ibis in the surf

Ibis in the surf

Beach market

Beach market

Lunch on the beach

Lunch on the beach

Flying home

Flying home

Back in Wycombe

We landed at Heathrow soon after 11am on Tuesday 16th. We were met by Claire, Oscar and Maggi. They had spent the morning at the school; Claire and Maggi had watched two nativity plays, the first by Year 1 and the second by the nursery department. Sadly we arrived just too late. Fortunately, however, the Year 1 production was repeated next day, so we were able to see Charlie’s starring performance as Chief Elf. He sang a song solo; we were pleased to discover that he has inherited Claire’s musical talents rather than ours! In the evening we all returned to the school for a carol service; when it ended, Santa’s sleigh was parked in the playground, and the children queued to talk to him and receive gifts.

Charlie as Chief Elf

Charlie as Chief Elf

The Nativity ensemble

The Nativity ensemble

Talking to Santa

Talking to Santa

In the following days we were busy with the usual Christmas preparations: writing cards, wrapping presents, putting up decorations – and masses of shopping! But we found time to join the local gym, something we were keen to do as we are putting on weight again, and really need some exercise. Claire had already joined, and was enthusiastic. Sandie accompanied her to a Zumba class, but the Pilates one they intended to try was cancelled. Ian prefers the gym itself. We experimented with their newly-installed sauna, but improvements are definitely still needed.

Our Christmas tree

Our Christmas tree

London

On Saturday evening we went to see The Battle of the Five Armies (final part of The Hobbit) at the local cinema. Next morning Claire was off to Dubai, so the boys came to stay with us. On Monday we took them up to London for the day. We started off in Covent Garden, watching street entertainers and looking round the craft market, which has changed since our last visit – a lot of the stalls are now selling antiques.

At Covent Garden

At Covent Garden

From Covent Garden we walked through to Leicester Square, where there was a small Christmas funfair, with rides and stalls selling food. The weather was quite mild, so we were able to eat outside – although compared with Coquina Beach there was less sun and more clothes!

Lunch in Leicester Square

Lunch in Leicester Square

Gator ride (but not Florida)

Gator ride (but not Florida)

In the afternoon we went a live production of Stick Man, based on one of the boys’ favourite books. Then we took the tube to Marble Arch, and walked through the West End – Oxford Street, St Christopher’s Place, Regent Street, Carnaby Street – admiring the Christmas lights and shop windows. We ended up in Trafalgar Square, to see the giant tree, although Charlie was disappointed – he didn’t think it was really that big!

Oxford Street

Oxford Street

Christmas lights

Christmas lights

Shop window (1)

Shop window (1)

Shop window (2)

Shop window (2)

Shop window (3)

Shop window (3)

Carnaby Street

Carnaby Street

The not-very-big Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square

The not-very-big Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square

 

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Seasons in the sun

Our time in Sarasota confirmed that this is where we really want to spend our winters. It combines all the attractions of city, country and coast, making it a perfect location for us. Finding a winter home has sadly not proved easy, but we have used our time here on this brief trip to enjoy some of the delights that Sarasota has to offer.

Tubeman says Hi!

Tubeman says Hi!

Welcome to the sun!

Welcome to the sun!

Househunting

We looked at a number of other condos, in Sarasota itself and also in Venice, but decided that Central Park was where we really wanted to be. So we made an offer for the condo there – a low offer, to take account of all the work that needed doing. The property was a bank repossession, and the procedure for making an offer was quite complicated, involving sealed bids. But sadly our offer was rejected. We are now contemplating what our next step should be.

Sadly, this candy-striped property was not available

Sadly, this candy-striped property was not available

Beaches

There are miles and miles of beautiful white sand beaches in the Sarasota area. The sea temperature at this time of year does not make us inclined to swim (though some do) but we really enjoy walks along the shore, and the recent sunny weather has encouraged us to go for several, starting at a different beach almost every time.

Life's a beach

Life’s a beach

Heron, posing

Heron, posing

Shell, sand and shadow

Shell, sand and shadow

Some beaches are popular; for example, there were plenty of people on Siesta Beach (claimed to be the #1 in the USA) on the morning of Thanksgiving Day – although with so much space it was never crowded. Along other wilder stretches we saw hardly anyone at all, but we did see lots of seabirds, ranging from pelicans to tiny sanderlings. On one walk we were fascinated to watch a heron trying unsuccessfully to swallow a whole plaice it had caught. It was also amusing to see egrets taking up their positions near fishermen, hoping for scraps from their catch, or trying to break into their bait boxes!

Flatfish problems

Flatfish problems

Is anyone looking?

Is anyone looking?

Countryside

Myakka River State Park, one of the oldest and largest in Florida, is only a few miles from Sarasota. It has great scenery, and lots of birds and alligators! There is plenty of scope for walks (long or short) and you can take an airboat ride on the lake. We visited Myakka River for the first time, and had a great day out there.

A queue of vultures

A queue of vultures

The second largest airboat in the world

The second largest airboat in the world

Tourists - yum!

Tourists – yum!

On Upper Myakka Lake

On Upper Myakka Lake

Urfer Family Park is actually in Sarasota, in fact it is within walking distance of Jane’s house! We must have driven past it lots of times, without even noticing. One day we spotted it on a map and thought it would be somewhere to aim for. We saw some great children’s play equipment and thought that was it.   But then we discovered that the park extends quite a way, and includes an exercise trail, nature trails etc. We went for a walk and found it hard to believe we were still in the city.

The Wilson House at Urfer Park

The Wilson House at Urfer Park

While in Urfer Park we picked up a leaflet for the ‘Legacy Trail’, which we had not previously heard of. This is a converted rail track that runs from just south of Sarasota down to Venice. We walked a section of about three miles each way. The trail is flat, straight, wide and tarmacked; it can therefore be used by cyclists, who far outnumbered the walkers on our excursion. (That was a Saturday morning, so maybe it would be quieter during the week, when the young cyclists are at work!) We saw some interesting plants, but few animals: just a lot of small lizards, and two turtles, one of whom was intent on crossing the trail, but wisely decided against!

The Legacy Trail

The Legacy Trail

You looking at me?

You looking at me?

Evening entertainment

Sarasota has lots of cinemas and theatres; it also has an Opera House and a Performing Arts Center, though we haven’t been to either of those yet. Recently we’ve seen two films, My Old Lady (despite the great cast, we were not impressed) and The Theory of Everything (which was brilliant).

At the Players’ Theatre, we saw A Christmas Story – the musical which was based on an old American film. We went to the Players’ twice last year, and thoroughly enjoyed their productions, but this time we were rather disappointed.

Holiday events

We were in Sarasota for the ‘holiday season’, beginning with Thanksgiving on Thursday 27th November. We went for a morning stroll along Siesta Beach, and later joined Jane and Phil for drinks and a wonderful dinner in Phil’s beautiful house on Longboat Key.

After Thanksgiving, the emphasis everywhere (shops, TV etc) is on Christmas. This is much the same as in the UK, but in Florida it’s warm enough to have outdoor events at this time of year. Some gardens and parks are lit up in the evenings, and the atmosphere at the Ringling Museum complex was magical. The courtyard of the Art Gallery (impressive even by day) was illuminated, and a series of groups sang, played or danced on the outdoor stage. Other groups performed under an open-sided marquee by the bayfront. The Ca d’Zan (spectacular Italianate mansion on the waterfront) was alight with Christmas trees and decorations, and carols were sung to the accompaniment of the grand piano.

Ringling courtyard at dusk

Ringling courtyard at dusk

Children's choir

Children’s choir

Sunset over Sarasota Bay

Sunset over Sarasota Bay

Ca d'Zan

Ca d’Zan

Moonrise

Moonrise

Inside Ca d'Zan

Inside Ca d’Zan

The courtyard lit up

The courtyard lit up

Dance group

Dance group

There are also Christmas parades; we’ve seen them advertised in every town and village around here. We went to the one in Main Street, Sarasota. As might be expected, there were lots of bands, dancers and floats, representing many of the schools, churches, charities and clubs in the city. It took an hour and a half for the procession to pass us. Great fun, and obviously much enjoyed by the crowds of spectators.

Waiting for the parade

Waiting for the parade

Christmas float (1)

Christmas float (1)

Christmas float (2)

Christmas float (2)

Swirling dancers

Swirling dancers

Moonrise again

Moonrise again

Christmas float (3)

Christmas float (3)

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