Archive for category Gap adventure

You’ll have to cook it yourself!

On Tuesday 8th January we left the coast and headed inland.  But today we did not go far – just to Porongurup National Park.  (Why do so many names in this area end in ‘up’?)

We did four walks in the park, two short and two longer.  The first long one (very popular, with a constant stream of people going up and down) took us to Balancing Rock.  From there you can go up to the Granite Skywalk, another clever piece of engineering which juts out over the rocks.  It’s not far at all, but getting there involves climbing between rocks (handholds and footholds provided on each side) and then ascending a vertical ladder.  We chickened out, and enjoyed the view from just below.

In the afternoon we attempted the Nancy Peak walk.  This was more challenging than we had expected: very steep to begin with, and then a very rocky path.  We reached what we assumed was Nancy Peak, and stopped to admire the view – but when we set off we found there was another peak even higher!  It was a struggle, but we got there, and then had a difficult path going downhill.  It was a relief to find a straightforward easy path back to the car park. We stayed overnight in the small town of Mount Barker.

Wednesday 9

Today we visited the Stirling Range National Park.  It’s quite close to Mount Barker, but we hadn’t realised that the only entry to the park is at the far end, so it was a 60km drive to get there.  We decided to start with the Bluff Knoll trail, the most popular trail in the park.  (At 1095m, Bluff Knoll is the highest peak in southern WA.)  The trail is only 6km return, but it’s steeply uphill and very tough.

People we passed told us that the summit was covered by cloud, and so there were no views. They were right, but while we were there, a small break in the clouds meant that we did get some views.  While we were on the way down, the sun came out fully, and we got much better views.  But it was not an easy walk, and took us five hours altogether. It was too late (and we were too tired) to do another hike.

That evening we walked from our accommodation to the Mount Barker hotel/bar/restaurant, the only show in town as far as dinner is concerned. We enjoyed an excellent meal, a chat with the friendly host – and magnificent views of myriads of stars while walking back.

Thursday 10

Today we drove some 200 miles north to our next destination: Hyden, the closest town to the famous Wave Rock.  We were surprised to see salt flats and a windmill along the way.  Our accommodation for three nights was a cottage on Lake Magic.  The cottage was actually a 2-bed bungalow which sleeps six – great to have so much space for ourselves!   We spent the afternoon catching up with shopping (in the town), washing (luckily there were machines on site) and emails (had to go to the campground, as no wifi in the cottages).

In the early evening we went to have a preliminary look at Wave Rock. It is practically next door to the campground, and we were surprised to see people walking in top of it.  We followed the Hyden Rock trail, which took us up and over Wave Rock (the most dramatic feature of Hyden Rock). Found some people had taken drinks up to watch the sunset – made a mental note that we should do so one night!

Friday 11

No matter how much research you do when planning an itinerary, you never get it completely right. There are some places where you wish you’d allowed more time, others where you have more than enough.  Wave Rock was one of the latter.  We’d read that there were several trails at Wave Rock and also at The Humps, another rock formation nearby.  So we allowed a day for each.  We didn’t realise how short the trails were – we took it easy, but by lunchtime we’d completed all the trails in the Wave Rock area.

What to do in the afternoon?  As the weather was very hot (a complete contrast to the coast) we decided that swimming would enable us to relax and cool down.  Unfortunately the campground pool was very small, and crowded with extremely noisy children.  We tried the lake, and the ‘salt pool’, but neither offered shade or anywhere to sit; the lake was very shallow and the footing was either rocky or muddy.  In the end we gave up, but we did enjoy a circuit of the lake – walking!

Later we watched the sunset, and then went into Hyden.

The cottage has a decent-sized kitchen, but we thought we’d treat ourselves tonight to dinner at the Hyden Hotel ‘bush bistro’ – the only dining place in town.  The room was dark and dismal, the menu limited, but we had no other option.  When Sandie ordered a veggieburger, the barman told her she would have to cook it herself.  She assumed he was joking – but no.  He pointed to a chiller cabinet with all kinds of raw meat on display, and explained the system: people chose their meat, and grilled it on the barbecue on the far side of the room.  A veggieburger could be provided (it was on the menu) but Sandie would have to cook it the same way, in the animal fat. She declined the offer, and restricted herself to the salad/veg bar.  Fortunately, after some debate, the kitchen provided Ian’s fish & chips ready cooked!

Saturday 12

This morning we admired some artwork in Hyden, made from scrap metal and illustrating the lives of the original settlers.

Then we went to The Humps, where we saw some aboriginal rock art in Mulka’s Cave, and did two short walking trails.  We saw more interesting rock formations, and weirdly shaped boulders – but we also saw millions of flies, which constantly buzzed around our faces and were a real nuisance.  They were much worse there than anywhere else we’ve been – no idea why.

In the evening we climbed up Wave Rock for the last time, taking drinks to enjoy as we watched the sunset.  Next day we’d be heading back to the coast.

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Tingle Trees and Slinking Skinks

On Wednesday 2nd January we left Perth to begin our big road trip to Adelaide. We drove south and then south-east, clocking up well over 400 km (250 miles).  Our first destination was a small town called Walpole.  We had time for a short walk before dinner, which had to be early as all the cafés closed at 8pm.  The walk was a loop trail among tall karri trees; we saw some parrots and heard lots of other birds.

Thursday 3rd January

After yesterday’s long drive we let the car have a rest, and did a long walk instead.  The weather was grey, cool and windy – a complete contrast from the blue sky and sun we’d experienced in Perth.  We followed part of the Bibbulmun Track to Coalmine Beach on the Nornalup Inlet, and did a loop road from there with occasional ‘fishing spots’, where you could go down steps to the water’s edge.  Then it was on to the Hilltop Lookout, and finally the Great Tingle Tree.

Tingle trees are found only in this part of Australia, and nowhere else in the world.  They grow to a great height, some trunks are hollowed, and strange growths twist them into weird shapes.  The Great Tingle Tree really is enormous, but does not look completely stable!  From there we headed back to Walpole via quiet (mainly unsealed) roads, spotting a few kangaroos along the way!

Friday 4      

En route from Walpole to Denmark, our next stop, we did the famous ‘Tree Top’ walk, which was perhaps more interesting for its construction than for the views – yet more tingle trees!  Afterwards we did the Ancient Empire (ground-level) walk to see yet more trees.

From there we went down to Conspicuous Cliffs; the scenery was amazing.  We walked down steps to the picturesque beach and up more steps to a viewpoint.  It was very windy on the beach, so we were not tempted to stop.  On to Peaceful Bay, where we walked a little way along the beach, and then to Denmark.  We saw a group of kangaroos on the road up to our accommodation – apparently a local lady has been feeding them, which is definitely frowned upon!

When we bought our tickets for the Tree Top walk, the lady told us (and others in the queue) that it was open until 9pm Friday evenings in January; she implied the trees were lit up and it was a sight well worth seeing.  We decided to go back, although it was a long way (over 30 miles).  But we were really disappointed.  A few trees had floodlit trunks, and one or two had coloured lights in the branches, but that was it.  There were some lights on the first part of the path, but the rest was dark.  Ian complained to a lady who said we should not have been told it was a light show.

Driving back was quite scary in the dark, because of the possibility of encountering kangaroos.  This is not a joke – hitting a kangaroo can seriously damage the car and possibly those in it, not to mention the kangaroo itself!  We saw two, but Ian drove very carefully and no harm was done.

Saturday 5

In Denmark we saw an arts market, and bought a few things we needed from op shops (= thrift shops = charity shops).  Then we drove down to the rivermouth, where there were lots of pelicans, though not the same species that we see in Florida.  We did a few short walks in the area, and then drove down to Ocean Beach and stopped at some of the viewpoints.

We decided to try the Wilderness Ocean Walk (WOW trail) which started nearby.  This proved to be a very pleasant walk (7km each way) along the cliffs, with good views here and there, though the track swerved inland part of the time.  At Back Beach (on the way) we had to move out of the way of some paragliders coming to land!  Lights Beach (at the end of the track) was an attractive series of coves.

Sunday 6

We first visited Greens Pool, a picturesque beach sheltered by a lot of rocks.  Unlike a lot of beaches in SW Australia, which are suitable only for surfing. Greens Pool is recommended for swimming – but the wind was still strong.  Walking along the beach we saw two oystercatchers, and some rocks covered with bright orange lichen.

We walked on to Madfish Bay, which was beautiful but very windy.  Then to Waterfall Beach, which was similar, though we did get to see the small waterfall.  On the way back, we detoured to the Elephant Rocks cove.  Then we drove back through Denmark, and visited two other beaches: Cosy Corner Beach and Shelley Beach. Ian found a plastic bottle that had been colonised by sea creatures, including a small crab!  We know that plastic is bad for marine life, but in this case they seem to have made good use of it!

By now we were recognising the characteristics of beaches in this area: beautiful soft white sand, amazing turquoise seas, interesting rocks – dare we say it, more picturesque than the beaches we love in Florida? BUT (it’s a big but) even when the sky is blue and the sun is shining, there is always a strong wind blowing, and walking in the teeth of a howling gale is not great fun!

Monday 7

Today we visited Torndirrup National Park, near Albany.  Unfortunately the blue skies and sunshine had disappeared – it was very grey, so the scenery looked less attractive.  We stopped at several viewpoints and did some short walks.  Natural Bridge and the Gap are highlights of the park, and the viewing platform has been cleverly designed.

After lunch we drove up Mount Clarence, to see the ANZAC memorial and the Padre White lookout.  On the way we saw some black King’s Skinks – altogether we saw about eight during the afternoon, though they tended to slink away as we approached.  On nearby Mount Adelaide, there is more information about the ships in the ANZAC convoy – at the top you could see where they were harboured before setting off.   There are also lots of defensive positions and military hardware, and some interesting exhibits about the people who fought in the first world war.

Later we drove down to Middleton Beach, and followed the coastal path back towards Albany. We detoured to see the remains of a lighthouse, and also an Ataturk memorial (not as smart as the one in Wellington).

In the evening we returned to the ANZAC park, to see the ‘Field of lights’ installation, representing the 16,000 people who set sail in 1914.  Albany was their last glimpse of Australia.

 

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New Year at the Trots

On Friday 28th December we flew from London direct to Perth, Western Australia. It is less than a year since this service began, offering the first opportunity to fly from England to Australia without a stop on the way. But for us the attraction was that our daughter Claire was working on the flight.  She has been with Qantas for nearly 11 years, and this was the first time we’d been able to fly with her. She organised staff travel (standby) tickets for us, but it was touch and go whether we could get seats, so Plan B was an Emirates flight via Dubai, leaving a little later.  We were lucky – we got on Claire’s flight.  We enjoyed seeing her at work, and getting to know some of her crew mates.  And of course, we were well looked after!

In Perth

We’d visited Perth twice before: the first time back in 2004, and the second (a very brief visit) in 2009.  So the city was familiar to us, though some things had changed. Our hotel was close to Claire’s, and on Sunday morning we met up, walked into the city centre and had lunch at a pleasant pub by the harbour.

Later in the afternoon the two of us set off on a longish walk around the outskirts of the city.  We went first to Heirison Island (in the Swan River), where there is a small kangaroo colony – but they obviously hid when they knew we were coming. We crossed over to the south bank, and walked along the river path as far as the South Perth ferry. There is a series of parks by the river, and a lot of families were enjoying a Sunday BBQ lunch in the sun.

We crossed back by ferry, and walked up to King’s Park.  There we found more groups of people with picnic hampers, sitting on the grass or on folding chairs, enjoying the views of Perth at sunset. Needless to say, we took several photos ourselves, and then walked back through the city, stopping to have dinner en route to our hotel.

New Year’s Eve

We decided to venture outside Perth and see beaches and/or regional parks we hadn’t visited before.  We drove up the coast and stopped at a place we identified as Floreat Beach. Although the sun was shining brightly and the sky was blue, there was a strong wind, so we were not keen to swim or sit on the beach.  Next stop was a seaside resort called Scarborough (not to be confused with the one in Yorkshire).  It was obviously very popular, and finding a parking space was not easy!  Finally we succeeded, but were limited to two hours.  We had coffee, and walked along the footpath behind the dunes, and then on the beach itself.

From there we went slightly inland, and managed to find Bold Park, which was definitely worth a visit.  We followed the short path to the top of Reabold Hill, for great views over Perth and the surrounding area.  Then we followed a longer track through different kinds of bush – a taste of the real Australia!

Before our 2004 visit, we’d contacted the Perth visitor centre to ask what there was to do on New Year’s Eve in the city.  The main thing, we were told, was to go to ‘the Trots’, which we’d never heard of before.  We were intrigued, so the three of us (Anne was with us in 2004) spent the evening at Gloucester Park, home of the trotting races, or harness racing as it’s officially called.   It was a novel experience, which we quite enjoyed, so (although there were other events in Perth) we decided to repeat it for New Year’s Eve 2018.  This time, however, we booked a package which offered buffet food and unlimited drink (from a set range) as well as a good vantage point for viewing the races.

The package was in some respects disappointing.  The wine, available from 7, ran out at 7.30 (although it was replenished fairly soon after).  The food was basic, and there was very little for vegetarians. The races were entertaining, but finished by 10, and after that we had to endure some exceptionally loud ‘music’ from a band playing just outside.  However, the fireworks at midnight were spectacular.  From where we sat, we could see the Gloucester Park fireworks and also those over the Swan River – a double display in stereo.  We walked (staggered?) back to our hotel about 1am.

New Year’s Day

When planning our trip, we discovered that Yanchep National Park was within easy reach of Perth, so we decided to spend a day there.  The park was not quite what we expected (more organised and less wild than most national parks we know) but it was well worth a visit.  We did a guided tour of the Crystal Cave, and two short hiking trails.  The main attraction was the wildlife.

There is an area set aside for koalas, with eight current residents – we saw most of them asleep in the trees.  One actually moved (slightly), thus disproving the notion that they were all stuffed!

While drinking our morning coffee, we were entertained by parrots who (as well as crows) were keen to join in the action.  To make us feel at home, we saw several waterbirds and even a pelican (though probably a different species from the ones that hang out in Florida). There were a couple of wallabies in the koala enclosure. Best of all, a kangaroo posed for photos, and seemed unfazed when we quietly approached.

Going out tonight for dinner, we discovered that (as often on New Year’s Day) many restaurants were shut.  We ended up eating at an interesting Indian restaurant which offered an ‘all you can eat’ buffet, and payment was ‘what you can afford’.  They were doing a roaring trade!

And so our third visit to Perth has come to an end.  Tomorrow we head south, to begin our long road trip east.  We wish all our readers happiness and good health in 2019.

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Christmas in the freezer

So long!

We landed back in England on Friday 14 December.  It was 1.30pm when we finally reached our flat.  In the afternoon we made a dash into town as Sandie needed to have replacement lenses made for her specs in time for our trip to Australia.  In the evening we went to our folk dance club’s Christmas party.  We had a good time, and managed to stay awake – just!

In Wycombe

We were busy over the next three days, shopping, unpacking and catching up with just a few of the TV programmes we’d recorded in our absence!  On Saturday evening we had dinner a Caroline’s; on Monday Anne came to lunch.

It was of course very cold.  Based on weather forecasts and past experience, that was not a surprise, but even so, it came as a shock after Florida.  On Sunday morning there was a pale sun, and we decided (rightly) that it was perhaps not quite as cold as the previous day.  And we felt in need of some fresh air, so we braved a short walk around the Rye.  The only problem was that – following an overnight frost – the paths were slippery, so we had to be very careful. We did not want a repeat of winter 2010, when Ian fell and broke his wrist!

When we got back to the flat we assembled our ancient Christmas tree. It is now somewhat past its best, and some missing screws made it lean at a slightly drunken angle.  But we enjoyed unpacking all the Christmas decorations we’ve inherited or collected during our travels. Some were on display for the first time, but most we had not seen for four years.

In Bussage

On Tuesday 18th we travelled (by bus and train) to Stroud, where Claire met us in the pouring rain. She’d invited us to stay so we could see the boys’ school nativity play.  In the evening all six of us walked round to Maggi and Phil’s for dinner.

The nativity play was held on Wednesday afternoon in the village hall.  For the benefit of non-UK readers, it is traditional for young children to perform a nativity play at school in the run-up to Christmas.  At Eastcombe the youngest class performed the play, with Oscar as Joseph, acting and singing with great enthusiasm.  The older children joined in the songs, including Charlie who also played handbells.

While in Bussage, we were introduced to Trev, the baby tortoise that was Oscar’s birthday present.  We also met Lotty, the new resident cat.  Sandie helped Claire do a massive Christmas shop, returning with a carload of food and drink.  We played several board games with Oscar, and Ian gave him a tutorial in the rudiments of chess.  On Thursday we drove back to Wycombe, in Claire’s car as she was not going to need it over the weekend.

In London

On Saturday 22nd we had a ‘London day’.  We enjoy seeing the Christmas lights, and this was our first opportunity to do so since 2014.   We followed our traditional Christmas route, starting with coffee in Leicester Square, and going via Stanfords to Covent Garden, where we had mulled wine and browsed round the craft stalls.

Then by tube to Knightsbridge so we could look round Harrods, and through to Hyde Park to see the ‘Winter Wonderland’ funfair, which has grown considerably since the last time we were there.  We had more mulled wine and shared a giant pretzel in the ‘Bavarian Village’.

We walked up Park Lane and along Oxford Street, admiring the decorated windows in Selfridges and other department stores.  By then it was dark; we were not impressed by the Oxford Street lights, but the ones in St Christopher’s Place were good, as were the ones in Regent Street and Carnaby Street. We ended up in Trafalgar Square, so we could see the tall tree, as well as the moon rising behind St Martin’s in the Fields.

In the evening we went to see Don Quixote at the Garrick. We are big fans of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and used to think they could do no wrong, but this time we were disappointed.  The standard of the production was high, of course, but it was (in our view) an odd mix of pathos, comedy and pantomime.  It got excellent reviews, and there was laughter in the audience, but it was just not to our taste.

Christmas

On Christmas Eve we drove back to Bussage.  We spent a few hours in the local pub with Claire and family, Maggi and Phil, and some friends of Claire’s.  Ant went to collect Logan, then home to prepare a big dinner, ready when the rest of us got back from the pub. After the boys went to bed, the adults played Cards against humanity.

Needless to say, the boys were up early on Christmas Day.  They had presents in their bedrooms, and more presents under the tree.  We took them to the local playing field, to work off some of their energy.

When Jill, Bill and Paige turned up, there were more presents.  Later Jill took Logan back to his mother; then Maggi, Phil and Chris arrived, with – you guessed it – yet more presents.

Twelve of us ate a HUGE Christmas dinner –impossible to eat even half of the mountains of food that had been prepared.  And we played games.

On Boxing Day we left Bussage early, and drove back to Wycombe, where we were joined by Andrew and his family, and later Chris.  We all went to a local pub for a 3-course dinner, and soon after Claire & co arrived – they had followed us along the M4 but got stuck in heavy traffic.

After almost three hours eating, drinking and talking, we drove back to our flat, where there was another present exchange, and a version of Secret Santa (based on the game we play at CP2) instead of our traditional lucky dip.

By 4.30 all our guests had left, but about 6 our doorbell rang – Chris had visited a friend in Wycombe and been invited to join a group going to London next day.  So he stayed with us overnight; we don’t often see him, so it was great to have the opportunity to chat – just a pity that Sandie was not feeling good (a cold coming on) and we’d eaten so much we could not manage any more!

That was the end of Christmas 2018.  In between the festivities, we’ve been making plans for our Alaska trip next summer.  But first – it’s off to Australia.  We leave tomorrow, so have some packing to do!

 

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There are manatees at the bottom of our garden

December for us began not with a bang, but with the sound of Seventy-six trombones.  Rich came with us to see the big end-of-year production at the Asolo, which this year was The Music Man. Unlike Rich, we had never seen the film or the stage show, and we can’t say that it won a place in our Top Ten Musicals of the 20th century.  But the enthusiastic all-age cast put on a great display of singing and tap dancing.     

 

Next day, we were off to Anna Maria Island – only two weeks since our last visit, but we wanted to go again before we leave Sarasota, and this looked like our last opportunity.  The weather forecast threatened showers, but the day dawned bright and fine, so we decided to risk it.  However, as there was to be a strong breeze from the south we decided to walk south to north – contrary to our usual practice – so that the wind was behind us.  It seemed strange doing that, even though we were covering the same ground and stopping (more or less) at the same places.  We were at the Sandbar in the afternoon rather than the morning, so we stopped for a drink at the bar, and were pleased to discover that they now do Aperol Spritz!

Cats, birds and butterflies

During the next few days we had our new dishwasher installed, and an engineer came to fix our oven (we are not entirely convinced about this, since his story was quite different to what we’d been told by the first guy who came!).  Sandie did her usual voluntary shifts, and while at Cat Depot she learned that Romeo had already been adopted.  Good news for him and his new owner!

We went up to see our house in Bookelia Circle, which had just been painted.  The men had done a good job, although we are not keen on the colour of the front door.  We spent a fair bit of time writing Christmas cards and letters, but managed to fit in a couple of short walks.  One morning, after visiting our car insurance office and the county tax office, we looped back through Payne Park.  That evening (after Sandie’s tap dance class) we went round to the bayou, where we were lucky enough to see some manatees.

Next day we walked through the Red Bug Slough Preserve, where we saw lots of birds, some beautiful butterflies and a cluster of turtles on a floating log.  We marvelled again at having a peaceful ‘country’ stroll right in the centre of the city, and having manatees virtually in our back yard!

Last Friday evening we skipped our tango lesson and went with our new neighbour Elfie to the First Friday on Palm.  We enjoy visiting the shops and art galleries (open late on the first Friday of every month) and sampling the free wine and nibbles on offer.  Such a shame that it clashes with tango, so we don’t normally get to go.  This time we ended up with dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

Christmas is coming

A few special events have reminded us that Christmas is not far away!  On Saturday evening we went to see the annual Illuminated Boat Parade.  Last year it was cancelled because of unsuitable weather, but this year it was mild and all went well.  We had to compete with crowds of people for viewing spots, but we managed to get some decent photos.

On Sunday afternoon we went to a concert given by Choral Artists of Sarasota, in the big Methodist church downtown.  They and their orchestra performed a variety of Christmas music, with some unusual and – in one case, definitely quirky – arrangements.

When the concert finished, we hurried back for the CP2 Christmas social: food and drink with our friends and neighbours, plus the traditional Secret Santa gift exchange.

On Monday evening we went out with Dee and Rich.  We took them on a tour of areas of Sarasota which have (in our opinion) the best Christmas lights, then we had dinner together at Brio’s in the UTC Mall.

On Tuesday evening we had a few friends round to our condo for drinks (including the two bottles of Pinot Noir we’d acquired in the Secret Santa).  It was an opportunity to wish people Happy Holidays and say ‘bye for now’, as on Thursday we head back to England!

 

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Walks and Wildlife

Wednesday 21st November was a sad day for us: Mr Romeo had to go back to Cat Depot.  We’d enjoyed his company in the three weeks he was with us, and we hope he finds his ‘furever’ home soon.

Social events

The next day was Thanksgiving Day.  In the morning we went for a walk along Siesta Beach, as did many other people, even though it was not as sunny as usual.

Later we walked to the home of Lynda and Kevin (Sandie’s friends from folk dancing, who now live quite near us).  They had invited us for Thanksgiving dinner, and we had a very pleasant time together.

This week we celebrated David’s birthday at the Mandeville Beer Garden downtown.  A crowd of us went last year, and sat outside.  Unfortunately this year the weather was not so good, so we were inside.  Not a problem, except that the table Donna had booked was not nearly big enough to accommodate all those who turned up.  What it is to be popular!

Also this week, there was a ‘meet your neighbor’ social at the CP2 clubhouse.  We enjoyed drinks, snacks and the opportunity to chat with people we already knew, and meet others for the first time.  We were given name badges, which was a good idea – though whether we will remember all the names is doubtful!

Walks and wildlife

We often go for walks, sometimes with an additional purpose.  One day we walked over the Ringling Bridge to the shops at St Armand’s Circle.

On our way to David’s party we detoured around Gillespie Park, and saw some spectacular sunset skies.

One evening we did a ‘pub crawl’ along the bayfront.  We started by watching the sunset at Bay Island Park, then had cocktails at Marina Jack’s terrace, and got another good view of the evening sky.  Next we had drinks at the top of the Westin (dark by then, so we could see all the Sarasota lights) before heading back to O’Leary’s tiki bar for dinner on the beach.

Our most recent beach walk was at Turtle Beach.  On arriving we were intrigued to see a sign pointing to a ‘beach baptism’.  We’d seen several beach weddings, but not a beach baptism! There was a sizeable crowd of people singing and playing guitars, though we did not see the actual immersion.  As we walked along, we saw surprisingly few people, and not as many birds as usual (possibly due to the recurrence of red tide).  The sand had shifted since our last visit.  We could not walk as far as we usually go, because the beach in front of one house had all but disappeared, and strong waves discouraged us from wading round.  In other places the sand had piled up high, just about covering some chairs on a deserted porch.

We did however see lots of crabs: several tiny ones which disappeared into their holes, and one large one that went half-way in and sat mocking us while we tried to take photos.  And we saw the sad remains of a few turtle nests which had been uncovered by the sand. Some of the eggs had hatched, but not all.

Among the local parks, Celery Fields has become a favourite.  There are some pleasant walks there (even a small hill, remarkable for Florida!) and you can often see lots of birds.  Ian has become an enthusiast, if not quite a twitcher!  Yesterday we saw parakeets (sitting on the telegraph wires), sandhill cranes, roseate spoonbills, grackles, limpkins and an American bittern, as well as the ibises, egrets and herons that you get everywhere.  We even saw an otter coming towards us, though it disappeared into the bushes before we could get our cameras ready.

But there are opportunities to see wildlife without venturing even that far.  We occasionally take evening drinks round to the bayou just behind CP2; sometimes we see a manatee there, as well as lots of jumping fish.  Our condo looks onto the lake/pond (call it what you will) where there are ducks and often visits from water birds (most recently, a Great Blue heron). When walking around the complex we have to be careful not to tread of one of the many small kamikaze lizards that rush across the path, and we sometimes see snakes (black racers, which are harmless).

Disasters

We are not doing too well at the moment. We had an engineer round to look at our oven and our dishwasher, both of which were causing problems.  He’s coming back to fix the oven when the spare part has arrived, but the dishwasher has to be replaced.  Sandie has a problem with her specs – one lens goes cloudy when in bright light. We just hope that nothing else goes wrong!

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Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Claire and family left us on Saturday 27th October.  We took them to Tampa, detouring en route to visit Clearwater, where we had lunch by the marina.  Then it was across Tampa Bay to the airport, with a brief stop at an enormous Christmas shop, where we added to our collection of decorations.

Next day we handed our big rental car back at Sarasota airport, and we re-organised the furniture in the condo.  We were then back to normal – whatever that is!

What’s all this about alligators?

Back in the (Sarasota) routine

Apart from a heavy storm on Friday afternoon, the weather has been great – mostly sunny, and max temperature around 28-30C. Ideal for the pool, though we’ve only been once – too busy with other things!  We’ve taken up our usual Sarasota activities again, though some are on different days of the week.  Sandie worked at the library on Monday, and at Cat Depot (where she was trained to operate the front desk) on Tuesday. On Weds evening it’s her international folk dance group, and since it was on October 31st there was a Halloween party.

Her tap dance class has moved to Thursday afternoon, but the tango lessons (for both of us) are still on Friday evening.

As before, we spend Saturday mornings downtown (except when Ian opts to go to his life drawing class) and Sundays on one of the nearby beaches.

On Sunday 28th we went to Turtle Beach; there was not as much wildlife as usual – just a few pelicans, a group of vultures, and a host of sanderlings.

Last Sunday it was cloudy, and rain was forecast (though it never actually arrived) so we went to Lido Beach, which is the nearest although not our favourite.  As well as lots of birds, we saw several tiny crabs, and Ian found a cast-off shell from a (much bigger) horseshoe crab. We were fascinated to see a tiny sanderling starting to eat a dead fish that was about five times its size.

We aim to do some ‘country walking’ during the week, too.  Last week we walked through Paynes Park to some shops beyond.  On Thursday we went to Celery Fields, where we saw a snake as well as lots of birds.

But we don’t have to go far to see wildlife.  Twice last week we took early evening drinks round to the bayou to see the sunset and watch the jumping fish.  One night we saw a couple of manatees too.

Special events

Last Saturday we went to a surprise 75th birthday party for our neighbour Paul.  It was held at the Boatyard restaurant, with outdoor seating facing the Intracoastal Waterway.  A beautiful location – just a pity that the wind was quite strong that evening.  We took the ‘Happy birthday’ balloons we used for Oscar, but struggled to put them up, and they blew around so much they were difficult to read!  At least 20 people were there; Paul’s face was a picture when he arrived and saw us all.  We had a lovely dinner, followed of course by birthday cake.

This morning we went to the Botanical Gardens, courtesy of Rich who was doing his Tuesday morning volunteering stint there. We saw the current orchid exhibition, which was wonderful – the flowers are so beautiful, and so cleverly arranged.  We enjoyed our morning coffee sitting outside the café, in that picturesque setting.

Today is election day in the US, and we’ve been both fascinated and horrified by the never-ending ads on TV.  Unlike the UK, where each party is allowed one party political broadcast, and there are strict rules on what can be said, here it seems campaigners can run as many adverts as they can afford, and smear their opponents as much as they wish.   We await the results with interest, and some concern.

Mr Romeo

Opportunities to foster adult cats do not come very often, and are usually very short term.   Having Foxy and Batty for three months early this year was a rare exception.  So when we heard that a temporary home was needed for another cat, we got on the phone straightaway to the foster co-ordinator at Cat Depot.  And so Mr Romeo came to stay with us until Nov 27. He is a beautiful black and white cat who is recovering from an operation, and cannot go on the adoption floor until he has had more blood tests.  When we first brought him to the condo, he hid for over 24 hours (giving us the excuse to go round calling ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore…?’).  But since then he has been very friendly and affectionate, and follows us around everywhere.  We are glad that we shall have him for another three weeks!

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