Friday, December 2, 2016

Florida in November

 Marie and I left for a two week visit to the family in Florida on the 10th of November, stopping as we always do for a few days in Montreal to babysit and attend a children's birthday party. The weather was nice when we left home, the unexpected snow we had in October all gone and some warm days promised ahead. But the sun was long gone over the western hills when we pulled out of the drive and it was dark when we arrived in Montreal. We both enjoy our twice monthly stay-over with the grand kids and consider it a highlight of any trip to the big city.

Daniela and proud parents

After crossing Champlain Bridge, Montreal heading south to pick up Interstate 87

 We were on the road early on the 13th, crossing into New York State and picking up Interstate 87 going south towards the Philadelphia area, our first planned stop for the night. We unfortunately relied too much on Google whenever we found traffic heavy or road repairs and were rerouted so many times we actually lost over 3 hours. As it was we arrived at our campground much later than we had planned, having driven for almost 12 hours. The campground was located in Clarksboro, NJ, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, and was closed when we pulled up but they had left our check-in paperwork and map of the spot where we were to set up for the night. A hot shower was welcome and we slept well that first night.

Timberlane Campground, Clarksboro, NJ
With the sun shining the next morning we were soon on the road again. And until we returned to Canada two weeks later we were to enjoy warm and sunny days for the whole trip. Our next destination was Delaware and south into Virginia and over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel. We usually take this route to avoid the horrendous traffic through the corridor that includes Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Richmond. Take note here that the optimum word is "usually" and read on further...

 Just west of Norfolk we found a clean and quiet campground, Davis Lakes, in the town of Suffolk. There were few campers there and the air was fresh and crisp, a typical late autumn day in southeast Virginia. We had heard earlier that day of the passing of Gwen Iffel, one of our favourite newscasters on PBS and were saddened by the news. As well before we left the site I had discovered a 4 inch nail in the right front tire but were fortunate to be directed to Preacher's Tire Service  close by. They were friendly and very professional and had us on the road again in half an hour.

Davis Lake Campground, Suffolk, Virginia

fixing the tire at Preacher's Tire Service, Suffolk, VA

 We got on the I-95 in Emporia, Virginia and drove to Florence, South Carolina for the night. The drive that day was uneventful and our repaired tire gave us no trouble, although I kept checking the air pressure whenever we stopped to make sure it wasn't leaking. Driving through North Carolina we could still see the destructive force of Hurricane Matthew that had slammed into the southeast in October, killing 28 people here and shutting down this portion of the Interstate 95. Thousands of old oak and pine trees that had crashed down in the high winds still littered the road edge for mile after mile until we passed into South Carolina. At the Florence RV Park we stayed close to the campground fishing pond, home to a myriad of different species of tame ducks. The air was already smelling of the south, misty and cool that morning but with a promise of a hot day when we continued on our way towards Florida and our last stop before Lyn and Don's place in Brooksville.

Florence RV Park, Florence, SC
 That afternoon we stayed at our first KOA campground in a long time. We usually chose Good Sam parks as we are members and they offer a 10% discount, but this KOA in Starke, Florida was exceptionally clean, friendly and well laid out and a hidden gem in what otherwise is an unusually drab town. I filled our propane tank up at a ridiculously cheap price, retired our long pants and sweaters and called Lyn up to let her know we would be there tomorrow sometime.

tees and shorts at last, Starke KOA, Starke, Florida

When we arrived in Brooksville that afternoon we drove by the Grande, the assisted living facility where Dad was now. He didn't like the facility in Spring Hill so had moved here, closer to Lyn and Don, a few months ago. To our surprise we saw him sitting out in the parking lot, in the sun and in his favorite fold out chair, surrounded by ancient oak trees. Well it wasn't really a surprise as we know how he likes his sun but he was the only one there and stood out. We parked next to him and at first he didn't recognize us or the truck but some sort of recognition eventually flashed over his face and he seemed pleased to see us. He was very eager to show us around and his latest pastime of painting on bottles, caps and tee-shirts. The Grande seemed rather ostentatious with classic Floridian decor and a Grecian inspired fountain in the foyer but Dad had a very big and comfy room with a lot of natural light from large windows and a door to the outside from his bedroom. We visited with him for a few hours, promising to come back and see him again while we were there and take him out for lunch. 

Shawn and Don fixing Shawn's Saab

taking over Lyn and Don's driveway

lizard on pine tree in Lyn's yard

Go Habs!
 The weather was cold but clear the first few days in Brooksville, getting down to below freezing one night but it was warm during the day. I think this was the first time I hadn't gone swimming in their pool since we have gone down to visit. Lyn no longer had her two abandoned raccoons she had raised from babies, having finally let them loose into the wild, but Squirt the hairless little squirrel still lived in the cage inside the house, surviving on only my sister's love I'm sure. Shawn came over one day with Brenna and one of his two drones and gave me a lesson in humility by flying it like a pro and reminding me of my little black drone, still somewhere up a tree in Nova Scotia....

We took Dad out to lunch at an Applebee's restaurant in Brooksville one afternoon and convinced him to have a shrimp dinner after he insisted he didn't like the things. He ate it all and ordered dessert as well. I realized after he told us he never felt like eating lunch and dinner at the Grande he was none the less still hungry. After we dropped him off we told him we would see him on Thanksgiving Day at Lyn's. For a man turning 93 this month he is in good health and except for a bad sunburn he still insists he will see 100. He might outlive Lyn if she doesn't take care of herself. She is still obsessed with her exotic plants and flowers and while we were there she kept busy buying and planting even more around the property.

Applebee's restaurant

outside the Grande, Brooksville, Florida

Brenna and Muffy
 On Sunday, November 20th we all piled into Don's Toyota and drove an hour north along highway 19 to Yankeetown, an old and typical Florida "cracker" town on the Withlacoochee river. Each year the local Lions Club puts on an Arts, Crafts and Seafood festival and Don thought it would be a interesting way to spend the afternoon. We roamed around under some tall pines and oaks for a few hours looking at the vendors offerings but didn't leave any of our money there. There were some interesting pen and ink drawings and some very different sculptures constructed of old toys, tools and bits and pieces I enjoyed looking at but nothing I needed. Lyn did pick up some more plants though...

Withlacoochee river, Yankeetown, Fla
Don and unique horse sculpture, Yankeetown, Florida
 The next day Marie and I drove down to Tampa to visit the old Spanish and Cuban part of town called Ybor City. I hadn't been there since the mid seventies and had always wanted to return. Originally founded by Vincente Ybor as a cigar manufacturing centre you can still see hand-rolled cigars being made. We strolled around the area for a while past old red brick buildings with wrought iron balconies and narrow brick paved streets with yellow trolley cars as we searched out a cafe for a cup of Cuban coffee, eventually coming to La Setima (7th Ave) where all the restaurants, pubs,bars,shops and art galleries beckoned. A great place for a "pub crawl" according to sister Dee! The streets were basically deserted, nary a tourist in sight when we discovered the Columbia, the "Gem of Spanish Restaurants"and were led to our table by a smartly dressed server. The place was packed with business people and obviously popular since it's opening in 1905. I discovered the Columbia is the oldest restaurant in Florida and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world, seating more than 1700 people in 15 dining rooms! The menu was a cornucopia of Spanish/Cuban cuisine and very reasonably priced (unlike Applebee's where we took Dad earlier) and because I was in a Pearl of the Antilles Island kind of mood ordered a delicious Cuban sandwich. Mine was the 1915 recipe : fine ham from Spain, Genoa salami from Sicily, mojo marinated roast pork from Cuba and German Jewish swiss cheese, pickle and mustard, placed on buttered Cuban bread, and pressed to a crisp finish. Marie had a vegetarian dish with egg plant. For dessert we shared a Cuban bread-pudding with rum sauce. OMG.
The Columbia Restaurant, Ybor City

the "Mixto" Cuban sandwich
bread pudding with rum sauce

9/11 Fallen Heroes Memorial, Ybor City, Tampa, Florida

La Setima, Ybor City

Ybor City, Tampa, Florida

Before we left Florida we wanted to see at least one sunset so one evening we drove to the boat launching park and old pier in Bayport, not far from the beach at Pine Island we have come to know so well. Don, Marie and I had just come out from the late afternoon showing of Arrival, a new film by French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (3 out of 4) out on highway 19 and had only 25 minutes before the sun set. We made it with ten minutes to spare. It was worth the short but fast drive and we put up with a swarm of no-see-ums to watch the sun sink one more time into the Gulf of Mexico.

sunset, Bayport, Florida

 The day before returning home was Thanksgiving in the USA. We sat down to a delicious dinner of turkey and ham, courtesy of Lyn and Marie, as well as a green bean casserole, carrots, parsnips, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, and 3 pies to finish it. Dad, Shawn, Lauren, Brenna and Lauren's parents, Barbara and Jim, were there as well and we were all thankful for safe trips and another visit, soon to end. Dad got into the wine early so I took him home to the Grande immediately following dinner. The next time we see him we will fly down, the drive of over 3500 miles too much for a little over a week's stay. Hopefully Lyn and Don will one day make that long promised trip together to visit with us, but the years and age have a bad habit of passing by so we don't expect to see them any time soon.

We said our goodbyes the next morning, the 25th, and were soon on I-75 heading north. Hopefully we would get home before the scheduled snow for the week arrived. We had planned for four days back to Montreal, then heading home the next day. We stopped in Brunswick, Georgia our first night at the Golden Isles RV Park. It was probably the most run down campground we had ever stayed at but the showers were hot and we slept well. It would also be the last night for summer attire!

Golden Isles RV Park, Brunswick, Georgia

 From Georgia we continued on the I-95 to North Carolina stopping at the RVacation Park in Selma. It was located right on the Interstate so we heard the trucks till the wee hours. Amtrak goes through there as well so it was a long night. The weather was getting cooler and only in the high 50s so it was back to a sweater and long trousers for me.

RVacation Park, Selma, NC
 Back on the 95 and as noted earlier the wrong decision made to continue on the Interstate through Richmond and Washington. Normally we would return north via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel and avoid the big cities but this time we thought we would save some miles and time. We did but it took forever to go through this part of the trip back, the outskirts of DC the worst with constant traffic accidents on the I-95. We called it quits later than usual, pulling thankfully into another KOA outside Washington in the city of Fredericksburg. It was a pleasant spot with very little campers and we were able to relax, walking down to a small fishing pond as the sun set.


Fredericksburg/Washington KOA

Next morning we were back on the ole 95 around New York City where we found the I-87 and the first road signs for Montreal. We stopped again in Florida for the night, a small town in the Hudson Valley renowned for its many wineries, distilleries, cideries and breweries. We had stayed here in April of this year on our way south at the Black Bear Campground. It would be fun I think to explore this area more and check out, among others, the Brotherhood winery, the oldest in the US as well as the dozens of others that dot this area of New York.
Black Bear Campground, Florida, NY
  We always enjoy the part of the drive once you pass Albany, the capital, and head in to the Adirondacks. The road is winding and hilly with great views with very little traffic. It is almost deserted the closer you get to the Canadian border and at this time of year you feel like the only person in the State. It rained most of the drive into Canada, the first gloomy day of our whole trip and it was almost dark when we arrived in Montreal. After a very short visit we were home just in time for the promised snowfall, safe and sound until we head back to the city on the 10th for Marie's birthday.  It will be her 60th so we are looking forward to getting together with Christina and the rest of the family in Ottawa to help her celebrate!  gws