The days leading up to Christmas were busy for us, with all our regular activities plus special events (some but not all Christmas-related).
The weekend before Christmas
On Saturday 17th we went to see the Sarasota Ballet at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Centre (a huge auditorium which was almost packed). Jewels (which was new to us) comprises three short ballets, Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. Although it is not Christmas-themed, the dancers’ costumes, in appropriately colours, gave it a Christmassy feel.
Next day we did our usual Sunday morning beach walk, this time on Lido beach. At the southern tip, we saw a large number of vultures, in the air and also on the sand (finishing off a dead fish). A girl on a stand-up paddleboard had found an enormous hermit crab. Later, while having lunch at the beach café, we saw a large white heron patrolling the tables. People eating were obeying the signs requesting them not to feed the wildlife, but that did not stop the heron, who managed to grab a basket of chips (fries) off one of the tables; they spilt all over the floor, and were then quickly demolished. Ideal food for herons???
Christmas began for us on Friday 23rd December, when we invited some friends and neighbours to join us for drinks and nibbles (it was going to be sherry and mince pies, but the menu got broadened a bit). A dozen people came, and we had a great time. We feel lucky to have got to know so many nice people here.
Christmas Eve started well. In the morning Ian went to his life drawing group, and Sandie to the farmers’ market downtown. She enjoyed sitting in the sun, cappuccino in hand, listening to a steel band play Christmas songs. The weather was warm, so after lunch we went to the pool. Then disaster struck…
At the nearby Asolo Theatre, there is always a great musical production in November/December; this year is was Guys and Dolls. We thought it would be nice to go on Christmas Eve, and Ian had booked seats online. When he checked the time of the evening performance, he discovered there wasn’t one – the seats were for the 2pm matinee, which by then was almost over, and the box office was closed. So the tickets we’d paid for were useless, and we had nothing booked for the evening. We ended up going to see the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One.
When in Florida, the obvious place to spend Christmas Day is at the beach. And luckily the weather played ball – it was one of the warmest days this winter. So after skyping our family back in Gloucestershire, we drove up to Anna Maria Island, and parked at Manatee Beach. This is our favourite local beach, and we knew that the café there would be functioning. When we arrived, about 10.30, it was in full swing. Santa and friends were dong the rounds (Santa later gave presents to all the children there) and there was live Christmas music. The place was packed – only problem was that Ian had to queue half an hour to order our food, while Sandie guarded a vacant table she had spotted. She had ‘all you can eat’ pancakes, while Ian had a large vegetable omelette with all the trimmings.
After we’d eaten, we went for a leisurely stroll along the beach, as far as Bridge Street. We were amused to see that a lot of people had brought Christmas trees to the beach – many small ones, but some really large. We also saw lots of snowmen – made of sand, of course. We had drinks in a Bridge Street bar, and took the trolley back to Manatee Beach. As the café was closing at 5, we had a very early dinner – but after our huge breakfast we were still not hungry, so ended up sharing. Then we went back to the sea to watch the sunset.
After picking up a leaflet advertising a fantastic light display there, Sandie suggested going to St Petersburg for the day. On the way we stopped at the Asolo box office, and to our amazement – and their credit – they exchanged our wasted tickets. By then the show had only a week to run, and most performances were almost sold out, so we got tickets for the matinee on New Year’s Eve.
We decided to adapt a walk we’d found to make it circular, and take us to parts of St Petersburg we hadn’t previously seen. We walked north via Mirror Lake and Crescent Lake. We emerged on the main road opposite the Sunken Gardens; we hadn’t planned to go there, but as we were passing…. The place seemed vaguely familiar, and we decided we must have visited once before. Later, Ian found a photo dated 27 December 1982 – almost exactly 34 years earlier!
We continued north to the Coffee Pot Bayou, and turned south following a path between posh houses and their dockside moorings. When we reached the main bayfront area, we stopped for drinks in a café and decided to stay for an early dinner. By the time we’d finished it was dark, so we could enjoy the Christmas lights while heading back to our car. Then it was a short drive to see the illuminations which had prompted us to go to St Petersburg. These were amazing – so many lights packed into quite a small area – and well worth seeing. It was provided by a church, and what amused us was the combination of fundamentalist Christian messages with decidedly secular or fantasy figures, such as penguins on a North Pole Beach, Snoopy on a motorbike and of course Father Christmas.
More Christmas lights
In Sarasota each December there is a ‘trolley tour of lights’ which takes you past some of the best decorated houses in the city. We booked too late for the pre-Christmas tours, but managed to get seats on Thursday 29th. The trolley bus was packed, there was Christmas music playing, and the driver told jokes, all adding up to a jolly atmosphere. The Christmas lights and inflatables were amazing – only problem from our point of view was the difficulty of taking night shots from a moving trolley. We were glad when, at one house, we were allowed off briefly to admire Santa’s apartment which had been created in someone’s garden, complete with kitchen, dining room and lounge where Santa was watching TV!
New Year’s Eve
In the morning, being Saturday, we went as usual to the library and the farmer’s market downtown. We were surprised to find a funfair – adult and children’s rides – crammed into the small space outside the library. And the market was even more crowded than usual.
In the afternoon we went to see Guys and Dolls, and were very glad we hadn’t missed the opportunity, as it was a brilliant show. The singing was great, the dancing spectacular and the stage set impressive. We enjoyed every minute.
We went back downtown in the evening. This was our first New Year’s Eve in Sarasota (last year we were at Epcot) so we did not know what to expect. One section of Main Street had been closed to traffic, and there were stalls selling food and drink, three sound stages, rides – and crowds of people. We managed to get a table for a late dinner at Barnacle Bill’s; we went on the Big Wheel, and Sandie went on the Paratrooper (one of her favourite rides) for the first time in years.
What we gather happens in many Florida towns at New Year is that a large object is ‘dropped’ at midnight. In Sarasota, this is a giant illuminated pineapple, suspended in the sky until it makes its descent (rather more slowly than we expected) into a cordoned-off landing area (no danger of hitting revellers on the way). Crowds watched, but made surprisingly little noise: there was no countdown, no cheering, and no singing Auld Lang Syne (though there were some fireworks on the bay afterwards). But the pineapple has definitely landed, so it must be 2017. We wish all of our readers a very happy new year.