Posts Tagged beaches
In the run-up to Christmas we had lots to do – shopping of course, writing letters and cards – but still plenty of time to enjoy ourselves.
Beaches and birds
In the past two weeks, we’ve been to four different beaches. We love strolling along the water’s edge, watching the birds (and having lunch at a beach bar). On Siesta Beach, we were fascinated by a seagull making several attempts to pick up the remains of a large fish. A little sanderling stood nearby, waiting to take its turn whenever the seagull beat a temporary retreat. Walking south from Turtle Beach, we found the beach almost deserted – the pelicans definitely outnumbered the people. We’ve now discovered that our favourite birds (seen on Lido Beach and elsewhere) are called royal terns: to us they are the birds with orange beaks and crazy swept-back hairstyles.
Yesterday we went to Anna Maria Island – the beaches there are still our favourites. We parked at Manatee Beach and took the free trolley to City Pier, where we had coffee before walking back along the beach back to Manatee. On the pier we saw a cormorant sitting on a wooden pillar, and while we were drinking our coffee a heron wandered past the window.
Theatres and cinemas
All of the theatres in this area put on musical productions pre-Christmas, and we’ve enjoyed four very different shows in different theatres. First was She Loves Me at the Players: we’d never seen the show before, but the theme song was of course familiar and we’d seen the film You’ve got mail, which is a modern adaptation of the story. At the Venice Theatre we saw Hair, which was a real nostalgia trip as we first saw the show in the West End in 1971.
Next was West Side Story at the Asolo, a brilliant production of what is probably Sandie’s all-time favourite musical. Finally, we went to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center to see the Sarasota Ballet perform John Ringling’s Circus Nutcracker. This was the traditional Christmas ballet, music by Tchaikovsky, brilliant dancing – but the story structure placed within a circus setting, in homage to the Ringling family whose winter quarters were in Sarasota. A clever idea, and it worked very well.
We’ve also been to three different cinemas since we’ve been back in Florida, to see a variety of films: Spectre, Suffragette and Brooklyn.
Several places in the Sarasota area have special evening opening hours in December, and light up the trees, grounds etc. On Thursday 10th we went to Historic Spanish Point, between Sarasota and Venice. We’d never been there before, but we could not have chosen a better day to visit. We arrived in time to have our first look round in daylight. The sunset that evening was glorious, and from Spanish point we had a perfect view. We walked round again after dark, enjoying the lights in the mangrove trees. We sat for a while looking out across the bay, sipping wine, and listening to Christmas music played by a guitarist in the sunken garden. A wonderful atmosphere!
Two days later, there was a Christmas dinner in our clubhouse, with lots to eat, a Secret Santa game and the opportunity to get to know more people. As the dinner was very early, we walked down to the Bayfront afterwards and saw the lit-up boats remaining from the parade which had taken place that evening.
There are a number of social events in Central Park II, including ‘pickleball’ (a variant of tennis) played every Thursday evening. We watched for the first time last week, along with a camera crew from the local TV station. We have not yet been persuaded to play, which is just as well – with our sporting skills, it would be a disaster! The post-game session – sitting by the pool for drinks, nibbles and natter –suits us rather better.
We posted our last blog at the end of May. By that time we’d been in Sarasota for three weeks and had bought or installed all the things we needed for our condo. So we were thinking of going on a short camping trip during the first week of June.
In the end we decided not to go, for two reasons. First, a lot of rain was forecast – not ideal for camping! Second, contrary to our hopes and expectations, we had not exchanged contracts regarding Claire’s house move. Of course, our cellphone would work anywhere, and a lot of campgrounds these days have wifi, as we discovered last year. Nevertheless, we decided we would feel happier staying somewhere with guaranteed email contact, until contracts had been exchanged – and that still has not happened!
To peninsula or not…..
It was probably just as well that we did not go away. We love our condo, but there is one thing we have never liked. In the dining area, there is what we understand is called a peninsula: a granite top, with cupboards underneath, attached to the wall. It’s big enough for six people to sit around, but you need bar-type chairs or stools – we bought these from the previous owner. And it matches the kitchen cupboards and worktops. But we don’t like it! Being old-fashioned, we would much prefer a wooden dining table and ordinary chairs.
We wondered from the start about having the peninsula removed, but were afraid it would damage the wall. However, one of our neighbours, David, who is a handyman, assured us it would be a relatively easy job – in fact, he offered to do it for us. We got very enthusiastic, especially as it meant we could have the wall repainted a colour that would go better with our other furniture. So we embarked on another round of shopping, looking for suitable dining tables and chairs! But we didn’t find any we really liked – and meanwhile people kept telling us how nice the peninsula was, and how it had been installed only recently at considerable cost. So we started dithering – were we really doing the right thing?
Finally we decided yes, we definitely wanted to go ahead. By then we’d seen some tables we liked, although the only ones that exactly met our requirements were on the Internet, and ideally we like to see things in the flesh (or wood, in this case). We’d realised, though, that even if we ordered immediately, the furniture would be delivered – at the earliest – just as we were setting off back to England. So we’ve agreed that David will demolish the peninsula while we are away, and we’ll buy a table and chairs as soon as we get back in the autumn.
One of the things that attracted us to Central Park was its location – within walking distance of the Bayfront and Main Street of Sarasota. We’ve made a number of evening excursions to sample the bars and restaurants. On June 1st (the day we didn’t go camping!) we decided to walk to Main Street during the morning. Our two chief aims were to get a (preferably cheap!) haircut and to join the library. We were successful in both. The library is a beautiful building, inside and out; as well as a vast collection of books they have lots of DVDs which can be borrowed without charge – a great boon for us as we have still not discovered much we like to watch on American TV! So this has now become a favourite place, and we are exploring some of the different routes between our condo and Main Street, getting to know the town even better.
Another discovery was the Friendship Center, which is just across the road from Central Park, but we didn’t realise it was there until Grace – one of our neighbours – persuaded Sandie to join her for an afternoon dance session. This turned out to be ballroom dancing, which Sandie enjoys but a partner is really needed, and Ian is less keen. However, Sandie was impressed to find that the Center offers a wide range of activities for people aged 50+, including two tap dance classes. She tried one on Monday, which was great because her usual class is currently closed following a fire at the YMCA. We will try out other classes when we are back in November.
Bradenton and beaches
Bradenton is only about 15 miles north of Sarasota, but we tend not to go there very often – mostly we end up going south towards Venice on our shopping trips. However, one day we went to Bradenton for a change (and because a particular shop there had been mentioned to us). Although our main aim was to hunt for dining tables, we stopped in the town centre, walked down to the riverside, and had drinks on the pier. Later we stopped at the Neal Preserve – there are lots of parks around Sarasota, including several we have not yet visited. We continued to Anna Maria Island, decided to stop at Manatee Beach for a drink, and ended up staying for dinner and sunset – just for a change!
We usually go to the beach two or three times a week, since we enjoy swimming in the warm Gulf of Mexico and walking along the white sands. There are lots of beaches to choose from near Sarasota; some tend to be busy, others practically deserted. Sea oats and sea grapes are common sights, and there are usually plenty of birds to watch: herons, egrets, pelicans, sanderlings, sandpipers, ibises, skimmers… the list goes on. May to October is turtle nesting season, and the rangers put up orange markers so that they are not disturbed. In areas where the baby turtles are at particular risk of predators, cages are placed around the nests. At South Lido Park, close to the beach, we saw an osprey nest, some rather weird trees and various interesting fungi, including some that were bright orange!
Although our camping trip was abandoned, we were determined to have at least one ‘day out’, going further from Sarasota and doing something other than shopping for the condo. We succeeded, up to a point. We decided on Englewood, which is just south of Venice and so not really that far from Sarasota. We went first to Manasota Key, which is just offshore from Englewood. We drove down the island, stopping en route at three different beaches. The weather was rather cloudy, so at the first two beaches we went for a walk, rather than sitting in the sun. At the third we got our chairs out, and Sandie ventured in the sea, although the waves were surprisingly rough.
Our final stop was Stump Pass Beach State Park, where we ate our picnic lunch and then followed the 1.3 mile footpath to the southern tip of the island. This means walking along a narrow tree-lined sandspit, with the Gulf of Mexico on the right, and the Intracoastal Waterway on the left. There was a dramatic sight at the far end, with lots of dead trees standing in the water. We walked back along the beach, by which time it had become very grey and there was some light rain. With the waves crashing, the wind blowing and very few people around, it was a wild scene – reminiscent of New Zealand rather than Florida!
Leaving the island, we stopped in Englewood itself, but were a disappointed with the town. And while we were having a drink, there was a heavy rainstorm, so we got back in the car and headed home. But we did do some shopping on the way – we could not escape altogether!
We were keen to do another walking holiday, and after studying brochures we opted for the southern half of the Corfu Trail, which runs all around the island. This involves walking about 70 miles, averaging 12 miles a day. As usual on such trips, we were given detailed directions for the walk, and our luggage was moved from hotel to hotel. Here is an account of our latest adventure.
Tuesday 27 May
The taxi called for us at 5. It was chaos at Luton airport, but we managed to catch our 7.40 flight. At Corfu we were met and transferred to a small hotel in the village of Spartera, in the south of the island. The Corfu Trail starts not far from there, and loops down to the coast before heading north. It was suggested that (time permitting) we should do a circular walk after arriving at our hotel. It was wonderful to be in t-shirts and shorts, enjoying the warmth and the sunshine. We had some great coastal views, and lots of beautiful spring wildflowers. We also saw three snakes; we’d previously been told that there were lots on the island, but assured that only one type was venomous! Walking along the beach we found a wall of rock barring the route. Fortunately there was a narrow hole which we could (just) squeeze through.
Wednesday 28 May
The trek began in earnest, and we settled into a pattern of breakfast at 8 and walking by 9. As we were doing a self-guided walk, there was no deadline, but our luggage had to be out by 9, to be collected and moved on to our next stop. This morning’s walk was wonderful: meandering through woods and olive groves, admiring the wildflowers and butterflies.
We reached the town of Lefkimmi, and found some delightful cafés close to the picturesque bridge. We stopped for drinks, and indulged in home-made donuts – we expected them to be small, but they were enormous, and very tasty. Then it was on to our overnight stop, the small resort of Agia Varvara. We found our accommodation about 4.20, so had time for a stroll along the beach (and in Ian’s case, a swim) as well as drinks at a café on the beach.
As usual, dinner was included at the taverna linked with our accommodation. We had baked Feta cheese in tomato sauce, followed by a vegetable stew made especially for us by the owner/cook, using fresh vegetables from her garden. All very nice – except that Sandie found a small piece of broken glass in hers. Luckily she identified it before swallowing, or our holiday might have come to an abrupt end…
Thursday 29 May
We awoke to find the sun had disappeared, and there were heavy clouds over the island. During the morning, there were a couple of showers, but nothing serious. Most of the walk was along the beach, and it was hard going on the soft sand. In one stretch we had to scramble over rocks. We ate a picnic lunch while sheltering in a beach hut, not currently in use. We emerged thinking that the rain had eased, but in fact it poured steadily for the rest of the afternoon. We had to walk for 2.5 hours through very heavy rain, and arrived at Paramonas soaked to the skin, and freezing cold.
Friday 30 May
Luckily there was no rain today. However, we struggled up a steep, overgrown path to the top of a hill, and since the vegetation was soaking wet from yesterday’s rain, we got wet feet and legs again. We walked through picturesque villages and great mountain scenery. We stopped at a village taverna for lunch: the owner talked us into eating more than we intended, but the food was delicious.
Today’s section of the Corfu Trail finished in the village of Stavros, but as there is no accommodation there, we had a hotel in Benitses, which meant a further walk steeply downhill to the coast. Benitses is a holiday resort, but was very quiet. We had an enjoyable meal in an Italian restaurant. Unusually, we had wifi in our hotel room. Ian checked the weather forecast, which said rain for the next five days – the rest of our time in Corfu!
Saturday 31 May
We were driven up to Stavros, to continue our walk. We went through an area of interesting rock formations – as our guidebook said, it was like a ruined city. Then it was uphill, to cross another mountain. Near the top, we had a heavy storm, but contrary to the forecast, that was the only rain we had all day. Going downhill was difficult, because the path was very rocky and the rocks were slippery.
Our next overnight stop was in the village of Pelekas. After reviving drinks we walked up to the ‘Kaiser’s Throne’ viewpoint. We had dinner with Ann and Derek, another British couple, and swapped notes about hiking in Corfu.
Sunday 1 June
Apart from some dark clouds in the morning, and occasional bursts of wind, the weather today was excellent. So much for weather forecasts! We walked down to the coast and then steeply uphill. We had to descend via a steep narrow path that was mainly loose rocks – we took it very slowly, afraid we might break a leg!
For much of the day we walked through the Valley of Ropa, which made for easy walking, except when we had to cross an olive grove. There was no clear path, the instructions warned us that we would probably get lost – and we did.
Tonight’s hotel was bigger and smarter than the other places we’ve stayed on this trip. But the service was poor, and the facilities were not great. In particular, we regretted the lack of hot water – after trekking 21 km, we really needed a shower!
Monday 2 June
We took photos of the picturesque beach, and then headed uphill. In a couple of places, the going was difficult (‘hands and feet needed’) and at one point there was a ladder to help us climb a rock. But it wasn’t too bad, and we were rewarded by magnificent views of the north-west coast. We stopped for coffee in the village of Lakones, and looked down on the Paleokastritsa, a promontory which is (according to our guidebook) the most celebrated beauty spot on Corfu.
Later we did a short detour to get good views of the Angelocastro fortress. Then it was mainly downhill (with more great coastal views) into the seaside resort of Aghios Georgios, the endpoint of our walk (although the Trail continues beyond).
Today’s walk was shorter than most, so after arriving at our hotel we were able to spend time on the beach. However, we did not rate the quality of the sand, and Ian decided the sea was too cold, even for him!
Tuesday 3 June
We had allowed a bit of time for sightseeing between finishing the Trail and flying home. So this morning we were driven into Corfu Town, and checked into a hotel there. We spent the rest of the morning exploring the Old Fort, and climbed up the lighthouse to get good views of the coast and back to the town. In the afternoon we explored the Old Town, with narrow streets full of shops, cafés and churches. Unfortunately, the sun we had earlier disappeared, and we had rain most of the time, and constant grey skies, making our photos rather dark.
Wednesday 4 June
The sun shone for our last day in Corfu. There were some places we wanted to visit south of Corfu Town, and the day worked out very well, though not quite as planned. Our first stop was the Archaeological Museum, to discover it was closed for three years! We walked on, past a scenic windmill, to the Mon Repos estate, which was rather disappointing: a pleasant woodland stroll, but not particularly exciting.
Next stop was the village of Kanoni, where there is a spectacular view across a bay with two small islands, one of which has a picturesque whitewashed monastery. The bus to Kanoni runs past Mon Repos, but we just missed one bus, and walked on while waiting for the next. We finally caught a bus, only to discover that we were almost at Kanoni anyway! After coffee (enjoying the view) we visited the monastery, and then walked along another causeway which crossed the bay and brought us much closer to our final goal, the Achilleion Palace.
Built in the late 19th century, in neoclassical style, the Achilleion has been called tasteless and ostentatious. However, it is a very popular tourist site, and we enjoyed looking round the house and gardens. Then we took a bus back to Corfu Town, and just had time for a very brief look at the British cemetery, before we were picked up and taken to the airport for our flight home.
Final thoughts on Corfu
Despite some bad weather, and occasional difficult footpaths, we really enjoyed walking the Corfu Trail. The mix of scenery (coastal, mountains, rural villages) makes Corfu a good place for a walking holiday. We also enjoyed the two days we spent in and around Corfu Town. However, we were not particularly impressed by the beaches we saw or walked along. We’ve seen much better ones on other Greek islands, in the south of France, or in Florida. Which, coincidentally, is where we are going next…..
There are things that we miss in Ghana – such as constant electricity, a reliable water supply, and a street address! On a recent Saturday we were reminded about all of these things.
A lot of houses, including ours, have large black plastic ‘Polytanks’ to provide a constant supply of water, even when the mains isn’t running. Our tank is mounted high up next to the roof on a kind of metal scaffolding. One Saturday morning we noticed that a stream of water was running down from the tank outside the dining room window. A plumber went up to investigate, and reported that the metal sheet on which the tank sits is rotting, so it has tipped over and caused a leak from one of the joints. If the sheet is not replaced, then the tank is likely to come crashing down one day, causing considerable havoc! We are hoping that the landlady can get this problem sorted soon, preferably while we are away from home, as it will mean going without water for two days.
A street address is something we took for granted until we came to Ghaaa. The only address we have for our flat is Flat 4, NG22/3, New Gbawe Top Base – and nobody would know where that was! If we need a taxi home (usually when we have heavy shopping) we have to direct the driver. Getting a taxi from here is more difficult, though fortunately we don’t have to do it often. There are no taxi companies as such, so you have to find an individual who knows where you live. Luckily we’ve found such a driver, called Alex.
On the day we discovered the water tank leak, our friend and colleague Erica was coming to lunch. She lives in Kasoa, about ten miles away. She also has a local driver, but does not know the way to our flat well enough to direct him. And we could not send Alex for her, because we could not clearly describe where she lives. So it had to be a complicated arrangement, whereby Erica’s driver brought her to Weija Junction (identifiable point fairly close to where we live) and Alex had to pick her up from there – taking Sandie with him because otherwise it would have been difficult to make contact, as there are lots of taxis and people around.
The power supply has not been too bad lately – we’ve had nothing like the 48-hour blackout we experienced in November. But there have been a number of shorter cuts. On the same Saturday evening, we were having tea on the balcony when Sandie noticed the lights going out on the hills opposite. She’d barely commented on this when our lights went out too. They were still out three hours later, when we went to bed. Power was restored next morning, but off again when we arrived home late that afternoon, desperate for a shower!
Despite the problems, life in Ghana has definite advantages, and one of course is the weather. While people back in the UK have been telling us about the dreadful weather – snow, ice, rain and bitter cold – we’ve been exploring a range of beach resorts up and down the Ghana coast, taking in a new one each weekend.
Two weeks ago we travelled up the coast to Fete, and stayed overnight at Till’s No. 1 Hotel. This is very smart and nicely laid out, though very quiet when we arrived. Then suddenly two coachloads of day visitors arrived, and the place became very crowded and rather lively. At sunset the visitors disappeared again, so we had dinner all on our own that evening. The next day we visited the nearby village of Senya Beraku and its Fort of Good Hope, with good views over the beach and the fishing boats below.
The day after Erica’s visit we went to Bojo Beach Resort, quite near home. The beach itself is a sandbank, and you have to take a boat across a river to get there. From the beach you get good views of the fishing boats of Bortianor village tied up in the river.
Last weekend we stayed overnight at Abandze Beach Resort, not far from Cape Coast. It has nice rooms and a friendly atmosphere, and on Saturday the weather was sunny though windy, so we lazed on the beach for a bit. Then we went to explore nearby Fort Amsterdam (confusingly built by the British). This is on a headland with more good views over the beach and boats, but it was spoiled for us by the annoying children there who kept pestering us. But later on, back at the resort, we had a pleasant meal at the beachside restaurant, our table lit by a hurricane lamp and with the sound of crashing waves in the background.
We are working quite hard during the week, honest – it’s just that the temperatures here are warm all year, and there is an amazing variety of beach resorts scattered along the coast, which gives us somewhere to go at the weekend.