Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day Trip to Key West

Mom, Dolores, and I decided to spend our second day exploring Key West, only a short 30 minute drive from the house.  We arrived just as “rush hour” was winding down.  In Key West, that means cars and jet skis!
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We took a drive around the historic district and then down Duval Street.  Lots of characters riding around there!

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A trip to Key West would not be complete without a visit to Sloppy Joe’s Bar (where Hemmingway used to hang out).  But is was a bit early for us to start drinking so we moved along.

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The next stop was where everyone visiting Key West always goes – to the Southernmost Point of the U.S. marker to get their picture taken!  This was Mom and me--
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Both Mom and Dolores are avid gardeners and met a few years ago at our local garden club, so they wanted to check out Key West Garden Club’s gardens at West Martello Tower.  The location is an old civil war-era fort on the south end of island. Restoring the brick fort was too costly and not really historically worthy, so the town let the Garden Club take over the interior open-air courtyard and turn it into a magnificent tropical garden.

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Dolores found this short little archway just the perfect size for her 5’0” stature:

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After our garden walk, it was time to find some lunch.  Mom and I had a wonderful outdoor dinner at Kelly’s a few years ago, so we decided to try it again for lunch.  It was terrific.  So good, in fact, that they sent the chef out to meet us after we kept raving to the waiter about how good the crab quiche was!

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After lunch we walked around the waterfront, saw a thunderstorm brewing out towards Cuba, and watched a gigantic Carnival cruise ship take off.  Key West is quite a popular port of call!

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Monday, November 29, 2010

All Kinds of Critters on Big Pine Key

The Florida Keys are a series of small islands and coral reef extending about 150 miles into the waters between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.  Each island (key) is fairly small—some less than a mile wide and a mile or two long.  Big Pine Key is one of the larger islands (a good 7 or 8 miles long and 2 miles wide).

The island is home to the tiny Key Deer.  Only about 500 of them exist and they only live on Big Pine Key (which means that sightings of these little cuties are pretty common once you get off the Overseas Highway).  So, for my first day’s adventures, I decided to take a morning bike ride around the island to see what creatures I could find.

Here’s the first creature I encountered!
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And a quick stop to the grocery store (after hearing the sounds of roosters crowing), revealed that the roosters lived in the grocery store’s parking lot! (these birds are very common in Key West too)
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But it wasn’t long until I finally found a Key Deer.  They’re very used to people and like to hang out in some of the residential neighborhoods on the island (especially on trash day I hear.. easy pickins!):

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There’s a wildlife sanctuary on the north end of the island around a freshwater sink hole pond called Blue Hole that I wanted to go explore.  The first animal I found there was a large green iguana hiding in the brush (click this photo open to see it larger)--

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I saw a few birds swimming on the pond, but nothing too interesting, so I started to walk back to the trailhead.  All of a sudden, I heard some strange coo-ing sounds coming from a shady grove ahead of me.  I was amazed to find a dozen or so gorgeous peacocks strutting around foraging for their breakfast.  Not sure how they ever got to the island, but they seem to call it home now!

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On the way home, I spotted a few more Key deer but nothing could top the surprise of those beautiful peacocks!

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Let’s go to the Keys for a few days!

As my mom and her friend, Dolores, were traveling down from Chicago (driving and sightseeing, rather than flying), they hatched a plan to extend their stay in Florida beyond the 1 week at my mom’s condo.  Dolores’ son has a vacation home in the Keys that just so happened to be available the week after Thanksgiving, so they called me one night asking if I’d like to stay an extra week and come down to the Keys with them.   Hmm, no thinking required for that answer…of course I would!

So after Mom got in her mandatory 4am Black Friday shopping spree, we left Naples on Saturday to head to Big Pine Key (28 miles from Key West).  Dolores had carefully checked with her son to make sure RV parking was o.k. (it was) and, of course, if dog swimming was allowed (yep, that too!).

While Mom and Dolores enjoyed the vacation home, Millie and I were delighted with our fabulous RV spot:

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Looking out the skylight window at coconuts!
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But the best part of the house was around back—the patio with a swim ladder to the crystal clear warm waters leading out to the gulf and ocean.  Great for launching my kayak, and for Millie to swim!

We were a little worried if Millie would learn how to climb the ladder to get out of the water (the water was about 15 feet deep).  So I kept her on her leash for the first day’s swim, but she mastered the ladder in no time and had a blast!

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving in Florida

IMG_3306There’s something a little odd about celebrating the holidays in shorts and flip-flops viewing palm trees out the window rather than being more bundled up watching snowy woods at Grandma’s house.  But my mom has been coming to Florida for Thanksgiving for most of the last 20 years (as it’s her timeshare condo week), so this is where we usually celebrate.

This year, one of my mom’s girlfriends came down with her from Chicago, so rather than go out, we decided to do a single ladies’ Thanksgiving dinner at the condo so everyone could make their favorite dishes, sit on the balcony and watch the sunset over the Gulf.  My stepsisters’ aunt joined also joined us.   Timeshare condos don’t have oodles of fine china, so our serving dishes were a bit improvised, but the meal was fabulous, and so was the sunset!

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Earlier in the day, Millie got to do her favorite thing on Thanksgiving as well….go swimming!

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

RV “Toad” Alternatives

If I had a large Class A motorhome, there’d be no question I would tow a car behind it (affectionately called a “toad” or “towed” by RVers).  Driving a 40’ RV around a crowded grocery store parking lot, or down a narrow city street is not very fun and sometimes impossible, so that’s why almost all big rig owners bring tow vehicles to do their exploring once they arrive to a new destination.

But small motorhome owners are faced with a dilemma—to tow or not to tow?  My View is 24’ feet long (only slightly longer and wider than a large pickup truck), so it is quite nimble enough to navigate strip mall parking lots, small gas stations, tight corners, and so on.  It’s also a fabulous day-touring vehicle when sightseeing (never need to worry about finding a restroom when you need one, or finding a nice luncheonette with a scenic vista). If you drive past an interesting roadside attraction and want to turn around and go back, it’s a small enough rig to back up or do a u-turn (you can’t do that if towing a car).  But on the other hand, if you’re staying parked and in one place for a number of days or weeks, having an extra vehicle sure beats having to pack up the RV every time you need to run to the store or want to go to the beach!

My current car, an AWD Subaru Outback, can only be towed via a car trailer, and that set up would be way too heavy and cumbersome for the View.  So, I utilized a few other “Toad” alternatives for my month-long stay in Florida:

1. A Rental Car

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There was a Hertz office just a few blocks from the RV park and they offered great weekend rates from around Thursday noon to Monday noon (about $20/day).  Since I was working during the week anyway, this was a great solution to get out and see the sights when I had the time to do so.

2. An e-Bike

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This is my main form of toadless transportation whenever I’m RVing.  It’s a Giant Freedom DX electric bicycle.  I like it because it doesn’t look that different from a normal bike (hopefully less likely to draw attention).  But if you look closely, the front wheel hub is chunkier than normal (that’s where the electric motor resides), and behind each of those rear saddlebags are 2 large Li-Ion batteries capable of providing enough oomph for a 40-mile bike ride!  Now, before you think it’s a total lazy girl’s bike, you still do have to pedal the thing (it’s only an electric-assist, not a moped), and going up steep hills can still be quite a workout.  But it’s a great solution for bike-friendly Florida with it’s wide sidewalks and flat terrain!

The bike was great for riding around the resort and tooling up to the corner strip mall.  But what about grocery shopping, you ask?  Simple.  Just attach the ultra-light,12 pound  Burley Cargo Trailer!  Here’s my shopping setup:

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But I still had one more problem to solve—the RV park was 4 miles from the nearest doggie swimming area, and Millie as you know, LOVES to swim.  For a week I tried training her to ride on the cargo trailer (to the great amusement of my RV park neighbors!).  She’d sit on the trailer bed just fine, but as soon as the wheels started turning, she’d jump out.  So, a trip to the pet store found me the perfect solution—a pop-up kennel that fit the trailer just perfectly!  Millie still wasn’t too thrilled with this (just look at her face below!), but she’ll put up with any temporary annoyance if swimming is the reward!

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3. A Real Toad!

Well only in Florida I guess!  One night after my bike ride, I returned to the rear of my motorhome to find this little guy hitched up to the back of my rig…a real toad!

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

My home for a month– Lake San Marino RV Resort (Naples, FL)

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I love this “Grandparents at Play” sign on the way into Lake San Marino RV Park.  It certainly reflects most of the residents here.  LSM is a “55+ Active Adult Community” that also happens to let a few youngsters like me come stay with them on a temporary basis.

I had stayed at this park back in March for a week when my mom and I were visiting family and friends in Naples, and so when Mom said she’d be going to Florida again in November, I checked availability at LSM to see if I could get a good rate like last time.  Since it was still a bit early for main snowbird season (Jan-Mar), they were running a special where the monthly rate was only $100 more than the weekly rate.

I rolled in on Nov. 1st along with about 25 other snowbirds and the staff really had things ready for us—a complimentary cold bottle of water, our registration packet jammed full of activity calendars and local info, and many guys on golf carts to lead us to our sites.  I pulled into Site 193, put a few leveling blocks out, and the View never moved again for the rest of our stay!

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I had to work every day, so left most of the planned activities to the seniors, but they were busy!  Daily shuffleboard matches (with a bleacher section no less), weekly horseshoes, twice a week bike rides and golf outings, and nightly card games.  I was kind of glad all I had to do was sit in front of a laptop all day!

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My neighbors for the month were Bob and Sally, full-time RV’ers from Paducah, Ky.  They were a lot of fun and Millie loved getting her daily back “massage” from Sally!

Our street was half made up of snowbirds from Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan, and the other half from Canada (mostly Quebec).  It was great to go for morning walks and be greeted with a “Bon Jour” from one of the Quebec folks! 

Millie made friends with a dog about her size named Ginger who was from Missouri.  The two of them would meet at the dog walk area nearly every day to play.  We also found a far corner of the park where Millie could get off her leash for a few minutes to play frisbee.  One couple used to come out on their patio each evening just to watch her jump and catch those frisbees!

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One day, I came back from emptying the trash to find that Millie had been keeping my seat warm … and no doubt, texting her pal Ginger down the street again!

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But perhaps the cutest thing was the night we heard loud meowing outside the RV.  I looked outside to see a little kitten beneath Bob and Sally’s RV.  It looked like it might be really hungry, and since it was Thanksgiving weekend, I put some of Millie’s dog food and a bowl of milk out on the patio to see if the kitty would take it.  A few minutes later, I started hearing the sound of kibbles crunching, so I stuck my camera out the door to get a quick shot.  Turns out, there were actually 3 kittens enjoying Millie’s food that night, but they were so skittish, I could only get 2 of them to pose.  So cute though!

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After nearly a month, I really had grown fond of Lake San Marino and it’s friendly community.  I hope to return to spend a full winter season there next time.  The warm 80-degree days and moist Gulf breezes really spoiled me!

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