Archive for category Gap adventure
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!
We arrived back in Sarasota on Monday 7th November. Great to be back in the warmth and sunshine, and to see our Sarasota friends again. Central Park looked much the same, except for the stairwells. They all have to be replaced (at considerable cost for the owners!) and the contractors are now in the middle of the work. Thanks to reports from our neighbour Rich, we knew that they were currently working on Building 3, where we live. We’d missed the noise of the pneumatic drills, and our new concrete stairway had been created, but the railings had not been set up. This final stage has taken longer than we expected, so at present we are still using the temporary wooden stairs.
Another new thing we spotted at CP2 was a sign by the water warning of alligators and snakes. Such signs are common near Florida ponds and lakes, and we’ve never seen any indication of the presence of an alligator here. We did however spot a snake (fair sized, but harmless) wriggling its way across the footpath.
We’ve been pretty busy since we arrived. We unpacked all the many and varied things we’d brought from the UK; restocked our fridge and freezer; got the car up and running – no problems, it started first time, but it was due a service anyway, so we got that done.
We resumed our regular Florida activities. Sandie is back on duty at the Cat Depot and the library, and taking part in her tap dancing classes and international folk dancing group. Ian has started painting again, and has attended his writers’ group. We’ve resumed our Saturday morning visits to the market, and our search of charity shops, still looking for the missing Lost 4.
In addition, there have been plenty of other things to occupy our time. We finished our work for the Sutton Trust before leaving England, but have since had to write a proposal for work to be done next year (and beyond). Sandie agreed to help again with marking business plans for the High Wycombe Young Enterprise group, and Ian offered to help with analysing the results, so that kept us busy over last weekend. We’ve had style proofs to check for our book, which is due to be published next March. And we’ve been in regular touch with our agent about problems with our Slough flat – empty now, but needing a lot of work to make it fit to rent again.
Even with all of the above, we have managed to have a few outings – we can’t miss all the sunshine, and we need some fresh air and exercise! Last Monday we went to see the annual sand sculpture competition at Siesta Key. This is always well worth seeing, and the professional sculptures were, as always, amazing. We combined our visit with a walk along the beach and back through the village, where we stopped for lunch.
On Wednesday we went for a walk along the Legacy Trail, a tarmac ‘multi-use’ path following the old railway track. One of our reasons for doing this was that Sandie wished to calibrate her pedometer, and the Legacy Trail (marked with distances every 0.05 miles) is the perfect place to do so. It can also be good for wildlife; we spotted an unusual red-headed lizard, and saw a hawk sitting up in a tree, but the turtle was camera shy and dived into the water as we approached.
Yesterday we went to our favourite Anna Maria Island. We’ve walked along the beach there many times, usually the top half or the lower half of the island, but decided it would be fun to walk the whole length (about 10-11 miles) in one go. We parked at Manatee Beach (about the midpoint of the island) and took the free trolley up to City Pier. It was then we had a shock, because the pier was closed! We’ve been there many times over the years, and it usually forms the starting point for our ‘top end’ walks. We found an alternative café for our morning coffee, and asked the lady there why the pier was closed. It was apparently damaged by Hurricane Irma – the first example we’ve seen of this – and repairs will take 18 months!
The beach near the pier is much narrower than it used to be, so we had to walk ‘inland’ for a bit until we could walk along the beach. But soon things were back to normal – wide stretches of pure white sand, cloudless blue sky and sparkling sea. As usual there were lots of birds: not just pelicans, and of course seagulls, but herons, egrets, terns, sanderlings etc etc. And for the first time, we saw lots of jellyfish (of varying sizes) stranded on the beach.
We stopped at the Sandbar for drinks, and reached Manatee Beach at lunchtime – carefully planned, so we could get our picnic out of the car. Then it was on to the Coquina Beach Café for afternoon drinks. Just a little further to the southern tip of the island, then a trolley back to Manatee, where we had dinner while listening to the live music. A very pleasant day out!
During the second half of October, we had some decent weather – sometimes bright and sunny, not too cold – and we took advantage of it to go for several walks, often through woods where we could admire the colours of the autumn leaves. Even before the clocks changed, the evenings were getting dark, so our Friday pub crawls had to end (unless we stayed in the town, and walked on lighted roads). Mornings seemed to be the best time for walks, so we designated them ‘coffee crawls’; usually we were able to find a village pub or café for our 11am (approx.) caffeine fix. We’ve lived in Wycombe for several years now, on and off, but we are still finding new footpaths and country lanes to explore.
West country wandering
On Friday 27th we hired a car and drove to Bussage for a weekend with Claire & co. It was Oscar’s sixth birthday earlier that week, but they had all been in France visiting Ant’s dad. And his party had been held before the half-term holiday. So the birthday dinner we had was his third celebration. Next day we met Ant’s five-year-old son Logan, and we all went to Tewkesbury to meet other members of his family. We had lunch at his mother’s tea shop, and were joined by his stepdad; later we met his sister who was running a cake stall in the town’s market.
On Sunday it was off to Tetbury, where Charlie was playing in a rugby match. He has only recently started playing rugby, but really enjoys it. His team (the Minchinhampton under-9s) played matches against two Tetbury teams, and Charlie scored two tries. We were not entirely certain which team won – even the players seemed unsure, but they had fun anyway. From Tetbury we went on to the West Swindon Centre, and had lunch in a pub there. Claire & co went home afterwards, but before leaving we went for a nostalgic stroll up to the house where we used to live some 30 years ago.
Ready for the off
On Monday morning we returned the car; we then had just a week before heading to Sarasota. When we first bought our condo, we imagined that – once it was fully equipped, and we had complete sets of clothes there – we would be able to cross the Atlantic with just hand luggage. We soon realised that this was never going to happen!
We may not need to transport clothes back and forth (though sometimes we do, for particular reasons) but there are many other things, including books, papers and files we want to work on. There are lots of things (including food items) that are better, cheaper or easier to find on one side of the Atlantic. For example, Ian does his oil painting in Sarasota (no room in Wycombe) but buys his canvases from Poundworld. And he has to take supplies of his various pills, enough to last six months. This time we needed to transport two large chess sets (Ian’s birthday presents) and nine silver teaspoons acquired during out European travels, all to be added to the collections in Florida. And then there was the Christmas cake, and the mince pies…..
Sandie decided that she would pack on Tuesday. But when we assembled all of the spoils, we wondered whether they would fit into our two cases. Since there were so many different shapes, it was like compiling a giant 3D jigsaw. Sandie managed to squeeze everything in – just! – and was congratulating herself until she opened her wardrobe and found other things that had to go.
The only solution was to buy a bigger case. On Thursday we went to Slough for the day, visiting the cemetery, calling at our solicitors’ office and having dinner with friends in the pub that used to be our ‘local’ when we lived in Langley. We spent the time inbetween looking round the shops, and finally settled for a case that was bigger than our old (rather battered) one, but not too enormous. So Friday’s task was to repack everything, but it’s done now and we’re ready to go. Today it’s cold and wet – looks like autumn is turning into winter, so time for these snowbirds to fly south!
After returning from Manchester on 1st October, we kept ourselves busy. The analysis and reporting for Sutton Trust occupied most of our time until the report was submitted late last Friday. We have had problems with our Slough flat, and began to consider if this was a good time to sell. Discussions, research and meetings took up a lot of time. And Sandie got involved in a Young Enterprise event, helping Caroline with a presentation to the young people who are to be managing directors of their various companies.
Still, there were opportunities to enjoy ourselves, such as meals with friends, and visits to pubs or restaurants. We went to the local cinema twice, to see the film Kingsman: the golden circle (quite entertaining) and the NT-Live Encore screening of Hamlet, with Benedict Cumberbatch. We went to our folk dance club; the first time since May that we’d been able to go, and the last time for quite a while! And we had two days out, to celebrate special occasions.
Our wedding anniversary
On Tuesday 10th we celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary with a day out in London. It followed the usual pattern of our ‘London days’, with perhaps some extra treats along the way. We went first to Leicester Square and were amazed to find there was no queue at all at tkts. After coffee, and a visit to Stanfords, we walked the final stretch of the Thames Path (for the third time). In August we completed a short walk on the Isle of Dogs, so we started from there this time. Walking from Crossharbour DLR station to the river, we stopped for a drink at a pub called Pepper Saint Ontiod. We’d never heard of any Ontiod, saint or otherwise, but an online search next day showed that there was no such person. The address of the pub was Pepper St On The Isle Of Dogs – they’d decided to abbreviate to Ontiod and make him a saint!
We followed the Path to the end of the Isle of Dogs and then through the Greenwich foot tunnel, emerging by the Cutty Sark and the Royal Naval Museum. The painted ceiling was closed, but we had a quick look in the chapel and lunch in The Old Brewery, an interesting place which (luckily for Sandie) had some American-style IPAs. Then we continued our walk along the river. It was years since we were last in that part of London, and we were amazed at how much building was going on. We paused for a drink at the ‘Anchor and Hope’ pub, where we remembered stopping before. Having only discovered Aperol Spritz in June while in Italy, we now find you can get it anywhere – Gt Yarmouth, the east End of London…..
We reached the Thames Barrier at 5pm, and needed to get back quickly to the West End. The Underground does not extend that far, and there was no obvious bus. We asked a man to confirm that we were heading in the right direction for the nearest railway station, and he kindly gave us a lift. We reached Charing Cross with just enough time for a pub dinner and a cappuccino on the way to Drury Lane for the 7.30 performance of 42nd Street. It was brilliant – wonderful costumes, great sets, and fantastic tap dancing. It made Sandie keen to be back at her tap class in Sarasota, though she knows she will never be anywhere near that level!
A special birthday
Ellie’s 40th birthday was on Friday, and as part of the celebration we were invited to a family tea on Sunday 15th. Claire, Ant, Charlie and Oscar were going too, so they kindly detoured to pick us up on their way from Bussage to Faversham. It was a long journey for them, especially as there were hold-ups on the motorways.
We reached Andrew and Ellie’s house at 1.15pm. Ellie’s mother and sister, her brother and his family were already there, so 16 of us sat down to lunch. Ellie did a great job of seating and feeding us! Some of us had not seen Hope since her birthday last month, so there were presents for her too – and congratulations for Isobel, who just a few days ago heard the good news that she’s passed the Kent test, and will be joining Hope at grammar school next year.
After lunch was cleared away, we all went out for a walk at the Oare Gunpowder Works Country Park. The children enjoyed running around, and we all collected edible chestnuts – we’ve never seen so many! Sandie regretted having bought some the day before. Back at the house we had cake (made by the girls), and then Ellie’s family moved on to Rebecca’s house, leaving more manageable numbers for tea.
We left at 7pm, and (after more hold-ups on the M2) reached our flat at 9.15. Claire and co did not stay, as they still had a long way to go. We relaxed and watched TV – while eating plenty of roast chestnuts!
Following our return from Norfolk, we had another weekend away, this time ‘up north’. We decided to combine two things: visiting Paul and Alexa, and taking part in an anti-Brexit protest march.
To Bury via Alcester
In fact, we were able to combine three things, because on our way to Bury we met up with our friends Jenny and David. They live in Redditch, just south of Birmingham, which makes a convenient stopping point when travelling north. This time we met them in a hotel in Alcester, not far from their home. We enjoyed lunch and a good catch-up.
Unfortunately, the traffic was bad when we continued our journey round the M42. We took the M6 Toll road which speeded things up, but later it was very slow going through some roadworks which stretched for miles. It was 7.15 when we finally reached Paul and Alexa’s house, but we were revived with drinks, food and chat.
On Saturday it was raining, so we did not go far – just walked into the centre of Bury, had coffee, looked at shops, had drinks and a very nice light lunch in one of Paul’s favourite pubs, then looked in more shops. We had an early evening dinner at another pub, this time a few miles out of town. When we were in the house we passed the time playing Oh hell!, a family favourite card game.
Brexit wrecks it
On Sunday morning we said farewell to Paul and Alexa, drove into the centre of Manchester and parked. We made our way to All Saints Park, where the first of two ‘Stop Brexit’ rallies was held. It was well organised, with huge TV screens so that you could see what was happening even if you could not see the stage. There were several speakers, most of them loud, clear and inspiring. The final speaker was Alastair Campbell: although we were never fans of his, we thought his speech was good, but were less impressed by his rendition of Ode to Joy on the bagpipes.
When we first arrived, there were only a few hundred people around, but when we set off to march, at 1.30 pm, the crowd was enormous – it was estimated at 50,000. We paraded through central Manchester, draped in EU flags and carrying banners or placards, often with quite entertaining slogans. The march was held in Manchester because the Tory conference was there, but we were not allowed to get too close. It had been pre-arranged with the police where we would disband. Officers lined the streets, which seemed unnecessary as the marchers were the most peaceful, polite and good-humoured protestors we’ve ever seen.
When the official march ended, many continued walking to Cathedral Gardens, where a second anti-Brexit rally was held. This was rather an anti-climax, as it was much smaller and less well-organised than the first. When we arrived, a succession of people were performing rude and not terribly funny songs. However we did enjoy the performance of a Boris Johnson lookalike – he really was uncannily like Boris in appearance.
At 3.30 there were speakers. It was beginning to rain, so we were not keen to stay long. There was only was only one speaker we really wanted to hear. Stephen Dorrell is Chairman of the European Movement UK, to which we belong, and he was also our MP long ago when we lived in Loughborough. Luckily, he was one of the first to speak, and his speech was brief and to the point. So when he had finished, we set off on the long journey home.
It was great to be in Manchester, among so many people who feel strongly, as we do, that Brexit will be a total disaster for Britain. It made us feel hopeful that – as the impact becomes more and more apparent – we will be held back from the brink. However, since arriving home, listening to the news and reading comments on Facebook, our optimism is beginning to fade.
After returning from Portugal, we got started on the work we’d undertaken for Sutton Trust. This and other things kept us pretty busy, but we had a couple of evenings out at the weekend. We did our usual Friday evening pub walk, this time aiming for the Crown at Penn, where they do Sandie’s favourite ‘vegetarian fish & chips’. When we left the Dolphin (our first stop) the rain came down heavily, and after walking through the woods we were soaked. This necessitated stopping at another pub (shame!) to shelter and drink port to warm ourselves up. The following evening we went to see the film Victoria & Aqbal – Judi Dench was wonderful as ever, and it was a great film.
Off to Yarmouth
The next weekend we were off again, this time to Norfolk. It was our first trip there for some time, and was arranged to coincide with Sandie’s cousin Mike’s golden wedding anniversary. We wanted to combine this with a nostalgic visit to Great Yarmouth, Sandie’s home town. We collected a rental car on Thursday afternoon, so we could make an early start on Friday. On our way we decided to have a coffee stop (as we always used to do) at ‘The World Famous Comfort Café’ (yes, that really is what it’s called) but to our disappointment it had not yet opened when we arrived. We ended up at the ‘Waffle and Pancake Shack’: the location was familiar but the café was not. We discovered that it had changed hands (and names) twice since our earlier visits!
In Yarmouth we parked near the far end of the Pleasure Beach. (Those who do not know Yarmouth may want to skip this paragraph, as it won’t mean much to them.) It was that time of year when the Pleasure Beach and some other places open only at weekends, but although the place was quiet there were still visitors around. We strolled along the seafront, noting lots of changes since our last visit. The Big Wheel that used to stand in the Pleasure Beach has disappeared, and a new wheel has been erected in a different location. The jetty has been demolished, and the Wellington Pier no longer reaches the sea. The Winter Gardens is in desperate need of some TLC – a shame, as it is (or should be) such an attractive building.
The other great change was in the weather. It was actually warm and sunny – miraculous for Yarmouth at any time of year, let alone late September! We ate our lunch sitting outside one of the many beachside cafés. Later we walked up Regent Road to the town centre, and couldn’t resist some Yarmouth market chips. Back on the seafront we had a drink (again sitting outside) and walked north to the Waterways, due for complete restoration nest year. We just had to have some hot donuts (another seaside treat) on our way back to the car.
On to Ormesby
A few miles outside Yarmouth, we stayed two nights with our friends Una and David at their home in Ormesby St Margaret. On Saturday we all went for a walk in the woods near Acle. In the evening we all had dinner at the Filby Bridge restaurant, where we were joined by our other friends Linda and Don. We recalled being there in 2012, for their ruby wedding celebration. Sandie, Linda and Una were at school together – many years ago! – and it was great to meet up for the first time in some years. The food was great, and certainly plentiful, more than even Ian could eat, and that doesn’t happen often!
And then Sheringham
On Sunday morning we said goodbye to Una and David and drove across to Sheringham, on the north Norfolk coast. There is a steam railway which runs between Sheringham and Holt; Mike (a real railway buff) and Jane had chosen to celebrate their golden wedding with lunch onboard. About 40 of us filled two railway dining carriages. From Sheringham to Holt is a short journey (only about six miles), so it doesn’t take long, even by slow steam train. But there has to be a longish wait at either end while the engine is moved to the front of the train. We did two round trips while eating lunch: a starter on our way to Holt, and main course on the return, then pudding on the second trip to Holt, and coffee on the return. The food was excellent, and the portions very generous. The service was brilliant. And the weather was amazing – again!
When we finally arrived back in Sheringham, lots of us went to Mike and Jane’s house (quite close) and enjoyed a cuppa sitting in their beautiful garden. There was food too, but nobody had any appetite left!
And finally Ely
We’re cheating a bit, because Ely isn’t in Norfolk – it’s in Cambridgeshire. But we’d reckoned it was about half way between Sheringham and Wycombe, so decided to stay overnight on our way home with our friends Robert and Teresa, another couple whom we hadn’t seen for years. Another opportunity to have a long chat and catch up with each other’s news!
On Monday morning we visited the magnificent Ely Cathedral, accompanied by Robert who is a voluntary chaplain there. The weather wasn’t so good, and there was even some light rain while we were driving home in the afternoon. But we couldn’t complain, as the weather had been so remarkably good for the past three days. We’d had a great weekend – the golden wedding party, the nostalgic wander around Yarmouth, and seeing so many old friends – but it was definitely not good for our waistlines!