Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Visit to Tarpon Springs

     On Friday 4/7/17, we returned to Sarasota from the Okeechobee KOA near Lake Okeechobee,  where we attended our first Tiffin Rally.  We've attended a Good Sam and an FMCA Rally, and we had heard numerous good things about Tiffin Rallies.  Best of all, the 2018's would be there, and we would get our first glance at the new rigs.  The KOA was filled with about 300 Tiffin RV's featuring all years, makes, and models, and Bob Tiffin and the rally organizers did a great job at making us feel welcome.  Even Elvis showed up the last evening and put on a great show after dinner.  We survived a week of high 80's, high humidity, and an afternoon of tornado warnings, but it was nice to move back to Sarasota by weeks end.
     On Saturday, we packed up and headed over to Tarpon Springs.  I had been receiving some notices of a new RV park being built along the Gulf, and I wanted to check it out.

Tarpon Springs also has a historical downtown, which reflected the Greek culture that became so prominent in early Florida with the discovery of the sea sponges growing in the gulf.  
     The first settlers arrived in Tarpon Springs in 1876, and by 1890, the sponge industry was going strong.
 Immigrants from Greece brought their diving expertise to this country, and soon over 500 divers using rubberized suits and helmets were operating out of a fleet of 50 boats.   With the divers came their families, and Greek restaurants and bakeries now line Historic Downtown.  For 30 years, the sponge industry flourished, and was the largest industry in Florida, greater than tourism and citrus.  A blight in the 1940's decimated the sponge industry, and the area turned to the tourists.  In the 1980's, the industry revived after the discovery of new sponge beds, and the weekly auctions are again happening along the sponge docks.
     Downtown buildings are decorated with festive murals, all dedicated to the sponge diving industry, and a bronze statue on the waterfront commemorates the Tarpon Springs Sponge Exchange, incorporated in 1908, and still active today.  
     We had a delicious lunch of chicken and pork at Yiannis Greek Restaurant, and it included a wonderfully sweet dessert called baklava.  If you like sweet, you have to try it!  Debbie and I walked the shops and gazed into the bakery windows we found along the way.  Debbie laughed when a t-shirt clearly explained all she had experienced that day.  It said - I'm not hollering...I'm Greek!

     We even found one of our Freedom Boat Club franchises down at the waterfront, so it looks like we'll be returning up here to do a little boating.  Our next adventure is boating down at Pine Island on Tuesday, which will give us a look at some bigger water, and a chance for Debbie to experience her first "cheeseburger in paradise" out at Cabbage Key! 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sarasota Adventures

     We've been in Sarasota (Florida) now for just over a month,and I've been totally negligent in my postings.  So today I'll try and catch up a bit.  We have settled in at Sun-N-Fun Resort in Sarasota which is conveniently located a short distance off of I-75.  Now if you've never driven I-75 during the snowbird season, you should buckle your seat belt nice and tight, and give it a try.  Debbie and I have decided that Florida has the most aggressive drivers in the country, which doesn't work well when you factor in road construction and traffic congestion.  Just because the speed limit is 70, doesn't mean that you get to go 70.....unless you're on I-75!  ZERO traffic enforcement means rodeo time on the interstates, mixed in with lots of down time as the authorities clear the wrecks from the highway.

     But I digress.... Roughing it Smoothly definitely describes our chosen lifestyle!  Debbie sets up a pretty comfortable campsite wherever we settle.  Our Vermont friends, Dean, Joanne, and Mrs B, joined us for some smoked corned beef as Debbie's latest gadget, the Instapot, turned out the the vegetables in about 20 minutes.
 The Green Mountain Grill came through with a tender corned beef which I smoked for about 6 hours.  I took this "before" picture when we started, but we moved right into the eating part when it came out.  Dean and Joanne stayed a few more weeks camped out here at Sun-N-Fun, but headed north to Vermont in early April.  Dean called recently and advised it was 34 degrees and snowing in Burlington, and there was no need to come north.  Debbie and I comfortably sat back, knowing we weren't headed north till early May.
      As Dean and Joanne continued with their healthy activities including pickle ball and bike riding, Debbie and I moved to our next adventure which features our favorite pastime....boating! Last year at the Sarasota Boat Show, Debbie and I joined the Freedom Boat Club, which has given us access to boating all along the coast of Florida, up eastern seaboard into Virginia, over into Michigan, and even Lake George.  

 It's just a quick drive from the Resort over to Marina Jack's at Sarasota Harbor, and we're soon out enjoying the Inter-Coastal in one of the variety of boats provided with our Freedom Boat Club membership.  We have to take a driver's test and get certified to venture out in the "blue water" and Debbie's not quite sure she want to do that yet.
 Tomorrow, we're going down to Pine Island and using a boat out of there, which will put us out in the inter-coastal with lots of water all around us.  We'll see how Debbie likes it.  We'll be in a 21' Key West, so I think we'll do just fine.  Debbie is the navigator, and these are some of the charts we use to navigate.  Not too confusing is it??  But once you've tried it, it really is quite easy.  When we return to the dock, we pay for the gas we used, and walk away.  Freedom Boat Club cleans and stores the boats, and makes them ready for the next member.

 As you can see, I get to drive when it's a go slow pontoon boat, while Debbie like to "see what she can do" on the open water!  And she's looking pretty radical keeping the hair our of her face!!  Now you might think that there's plenty of water all around, but with the tide comes varying water depths, so it's best to stay between the buoys.  Debbie's job is to work the charts and keep us there.  There are lots of restaurants, and beaches to pull into, and there's quite a party atmosphere out here on the weekends.  My next goal is to figure out this salt-water fishing.

  Of course, we also need to include a visit up to Gainesville for a visit with Aunt Anita.  She's pushing 92, and still managed to bake a cake for her "favorite nephew"!  We love visiting with her and hearing the stories of growing up in Corinth.

Her mind is as sharp as a whip, but the knees aren't as strong as they used to be.  She still manages to amaze us, and we can only hope to be as active as she is when we get that age.  How she managed to raise 9 kids and bake a cake every day is beyond me!
      We did a day trip up to Tarpon Springs yesterday, with a visit to Historic Tarpon Springs and the Sponge Exchange.  I'll pick that up in the next blog.  Right now, lunch and the pool is calling.  Stay safe everyone!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Florida Bound From SPI

     We departed SPI on Saturday 2/25/17, and our first stop was just up the road in Port Aransas, and the Padre Island National Seashore. We arrived without incident at the Port A RV Resort, newly opened resort property located a short distance out of Port Aransas.  The park was well groomed and under new management, and seemed to be doing quite well.  The sites and roads are paved, with lots of grass around.  The sites were a little tight, but we were only there for a few nights, so that wasn't an issue.  We ventured into town after setting up, and stumbled into a bustling marina area.  There was adequate parking available, and we enjoyed a stroll along the waterfront, watching massive seagoing vessels passing through the channel, causing waves that sent the shoreline fishermen scrambling for higher ground.  Those that weren't paying attention, received a nice drenching which woke them from their daydreams.  In the marina we found numerous fishing boats, sailboats, and an occasional trawler that reminded us of our time with Capt. Chris.

 As the sun set and the temps dropped enough to warrant an extra layer, we headed over into town for dinner.  We stumbled upon a "family style" restaurant displaying an all you can eat shrimp special, called MacDaddy's.  Inside we found a cozy bar displaying multiple beer taps, and I figured this was going to work just fine. It worked so well, that we returned the 2nd night and enjoyed another delicious meal.  
     Our second day in Port Aransas led us to the Padre Island National Seashore, the main reason for our visit.  After passing through the unmanned front gate, we stopped at the Visitor Center to get our bearings and see what the park had to offer.  Padre Island National Seashore boasts 60 miles of beach which is completely accessible by vehicle, and of course we couldn't pass up the opportunity to wander south on the beach and enjoy a picnic on the shore.  We drove south about 10 miles and it started to get pretty lonely.  There's nothing but beach and sand dunes, and occasionally a car or truck would pass us.  We had several campers come from further south, and the trucks were loaded down with fishing and camping gear.  Everyone looked like they had a good time.  Even this Ranger!

    We thoroughly enjoyed Port Aransas and the bustling marina area.  We do seem to like having boats around.  Traffic through and around Corpus Christie was easily managed, and the highway to north to Beaumont was quite pleasant. After a quick overnight near Beaumont, we continued east on I-10 across Louisiana and Mississippi into Alabama. If you have never driven across Louisiana, you're in for a real treat.  LA has some serious issues with their highways!  They are some of the roughest roads we've found in our journey, and they really give the rig a pounding.  Amazingly, the roads look like they're in pretty good shape, but the seams in the roadway about every 8 feet, just pounded us.  Some engineer made a serious mistake designing the roadway.  And LA has no rest areas along the I-10 corridor, so you'll find the welcome center in Mississippi is a busy place!
     We intended to stop somewhere along the coast in Alabama since we had heard of the wonderful beaches there.  Unfortunately, again this year, we are traveling during Mardi Gras season, there were no available sites along the coast unless you were willing to pay over $100/night!  Yipes!  So Debbie got busy hunting an overnight stop near Mobile, and we stumbled onto a couple of jewels that I want to mention.
     Our first stop was All About Relaxing RV Park, in Theodore, AL.  It was an easy drive south from I-10 into the park, and we found our site and every site surrounded by blooming flowers and decorated for Mardi Gras.
A chalkboard on each site welcomed us, which was a nice little touch.  The  park has 41 sites, and there's a heated pool, and immaculate laundry facility on site. All the sites are paved, and when we experienced satellite trouble from a tree on our site, management stepped in and moved us.  We do like to be able to watch our news stations!
     The following day we meandered around Mobile Bay and enjoyed visiting Dauphin Island and the Gulf Shores.  We found many beautiful parks around the bay, and many boasted some magnificent views of the coastline.
 We also found beautiful beaches, with white sand that felt like powder in our hands.  It seemed like the beaches were just getting ready for the summer season or the spring breakers coming, so I don't know what they are like during the winter months.  The locals told us the weather is a little cool Jan & Feb, and the area comes alive during the summer season.
       From Mobile, we moved east just a short distance, and Debbie found another gem at Twin Lakes Camp Resort  in Defuniak Springs, AL.   This gated RV resort, located along the shores of 2 lakes, is a beautiful park with numerous paved waterfront sites.  The azaleas were in bloom throughout the park, and parking among the Florida pines made us feel right at home.
The ladies at the front desk were more than  helpful, and asked Debbie whether she preferred to see the sunrise or the sunset.  And the site we were assigned afforded us the opportunity to enjoy both.
 Down on the tip of the peninsula, the park has built 2 tent structures overlooking the water which are designed for the ultimate luxury in tent camping.  Inside we found a nice comfortable bed, a claw foot tub, and soft seating that opened up to a front porch on the water.  Of curse, they're not as comfortable as Big Red!  
      We slowed our pace a little and enjoyed 2 nights at Twin Lakes, and I was able to get a little fishing in from the boat launch.  I had another successful day at fishing, as the fish did not bother me!  Thankfully we're not dependent on my fishing for food!
      Now we are settled in at Sun-N-Fun in Sarasota where we will enjoy all the offerings Sarasota has to offer for the next month.  We definitely looking forward to catching up with some old friends and making some new ones.  We're going to get over and check out the game if disc golf which looks pretty interesting, and getting into those bogo's over at the pool.  Plus we'll be spending a little time out on the gulf enjoying the weather and taking in a little fishing.  It should be an interesting month.  

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Enjoying South Padre Island

     Well, we've survived our first week here at the South Padre Island KOA, and we seem to be staying pretty busy.  The area south of us was actually the site of the final battle of the Civil War.  I never realized that the waterways down here played a vital role in supplying resources for the Confederate forces, and was also the port where slaves were taken out of the country and put on ships bound for Europe.  The most unfortunate part was the fact that the final battle occurred about 4 weeks after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.  Guess the mail was a tad bit slower back then.
We continued on past the battlefield site and ended up on the beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  If we had driven south a short distance we would have arrived at the border with Mexico.  Going north we would arrive at the northern tip of the Boca Chica peninsula overlooking the south end of South Padre Island. The beach was deserted and we decided not to venture too far either direction  We don't have a tremendous amount of experience driving in the sand, and discretion tends to be the better part of valor.

      Heading back toward Brownsville, we headed for the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park, which preserves the site of first battle of the U.S.-Mexican War in May, 1846.  In that battle, Gen. Zachary Taylor moved hos forces south from Port Isable to break a seige on Fort Texas.  Gen. Arista moved to block this southward movement, and spread his forces a mile across in front of Gen Taylor.  Though outnumbered, Gen, Taylor's artillery maneuvers were able to decimate the Mexican forces, and ultimately end the siege at Fort Texas.  The
Texas territory north of the Rio Grande in U.S. hands.

     On Thursday we climbed aboard the local tour boat for a tour of Brownsville Harbor. Very interesting tour, and Debbie really seemed to enjoy the complimentary shrimp which were provided on the return end.

     I worked at fishing both in the surf and from the jetty down at the county park, but luck wasn't with me this year.  I was told a story by the local bait guy that the sheepshead wouldn't start running until the white flowers came out on some local plant.  Do you think that was true??  But I always have my GMG smoker, and for Valentines Day, we feasted on surf and turf at the campsite.
      Our Canadian friends, Al and Nancy, finished up their family visit, and our last 3 nights in SPI seemed to include extended Happy Hours.  The first two nights we seemed to have forgotten food, but our last night, we were treated to a wonderful night out on the town, with dinner at The Painted Marlin.  The girls enjoyed some "girly" drinks, which Debbie described as delicious.
It was a very lovely evening and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.  Unfortunately we had to say goodbye for 2 years, as Al and Nancy will be RV'ing through New Zealand next year.  But we've already made tentative plans to meet back in SPI in 2018.  They should have lots of stories to tell and photos to share.  We strongly encouraged Nancy to start a blog so we can keep up with their travels.  We'll have to see how she does with that.  The group photo was captured by the waiter.  I hope he keeps his day job!

     Our 2 weeks went by very quickly, which often happens when you're enjoying the location and the company.  We are truly fortunate to be able to do these things.  Our plans take us north to Port Aransas, and a visit to the Padre Island National Seashore.  Then we'll be over to Florida for March and part of April, taking in some baseball and who knows what else.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

Back at South Padre Island

     We had a wonderful trip from Santee, crossing several states and lots of desert, but now we've settled in at the South Padre Island KOA.  What a treat to again experience warm temperatures and high humidity.  My sinuses are loving it!  Our site is tucked in the back corner of the park, and we have a wonderful view into South Padre Island from the rear of our rig.  We seem to like it better than being out in the park, surrounded by fellow campers in kinda cramped quarters.  I'm not crazy about having to walk on the small rocks on our site, but I'll get over it.  The park is full of wonderful people, and our friends from Winnipeg, Nancy and Al, were on hand to welcome us back.  Sounds like we're going to have to miss them next year, as they have plans to visit New Zealand and wander around in an RV down under.  That should be an awesome trip!  As a bonus, Al came out with a bottle of 12 year old scotch last night, as we stopped to welcome more of their family down visiting from Canada.
     As we came across from Santee, we stayed over at one of our frequent stops in Las Cruces, NM, and met some wonderful travelers from Burlington, VT.  Joanne and Dean were coming from Las Vegas after visiting family, and they pulled in behind us as we were checking in.  We had a nice visit that night, and discovered they were also heading for Sarasota, Fla.  So we're looking forward to getting to know them better when we meet up over there in a few weeks.
     Yesterday we finished up all our preparations for visiting SPI, by stopping over at the local county office and getting our beach pass valid for 30 days.  Entering the county park costs $10/visit, or you can get a 30 day permit for $25. Seemed like a no brainer since we anticipate a lot of beach time.  But gets better.  At the county office, the clerk asked if I was a veteran, and I just happened to have my new NY license which has Veteran across the top.  We were given our 30 day pass for $12.50!!  Can't beat that.  Next I'll see if I can get a discount on my Texas fishing license.
     It was such a beautiful day, that we wandered over to the Isla Blanca County Park,  The park is located at the southernmost point of SPI, and features over a mile of beachfront with several pavilions.  Today it was packed with families and tourists enjoying the 80+ degree weather.  There's also a 600+ full hookup RV park here, which looked pretty full to me.  It's quite a bit cheaper than our KOA, but the lack of shade would stop me from staying there.  There's also a large jetty along the entrance to the bay, which was lined with hopeful fisherman trying their luck.  All the fishing I have dome is further north up the beach, out in the surf, but this looked interesting.
     There's quite a massive statue of Jesus overlooking the entrance to the bay which serves to protect the sailors passing by.  Numerous plaques memorialize those who have lost their lives out on the water.
     As we worked our way north through the village of SPI, I spotted a DQ, a made the command decision to cool our cores with a DQ Blizzard.  We're not really sure how they had evaded us for this long!  If you ever get the chance, a DQ Blizzard will rapidly cool your core on a hot day!
     Returning to our site, the GMG smoker was fired up, and dinner was soon on the grill.  Happy hour drinks, and a tasty dinner, was a great way to end our first full day on SPI.  Not sure if we will be able to survive another 2 weeks!
     For all of our friends and family experiencing a pretty significant snowfall yesterday and today, we can only say that we feel your pain.  But, as you can see, this heat and humidity takes its toll also. Be safe everyone!