A Travellerspoint blog

Boca Grande

Tuesday March 15th

sunny 24 °C

Tuesday morning we headed out from the St. Pete's area and picked our way south down the Gulf coast to Port Charlotte where we had booked a Microtel for the night. We had not stayed in one before so we thought we would try one out. When we arrived at noon our room was not ready so we headed west to explore the coast in this area and found a real treasure – Gasparilla Island and the lttle resort village of Boca Grande.

Boca Grande is a beautiful little resort village at the tip of Gasparilla Island. It is known for its charming authentic downtown, sugar sand beaches, blue water, and world class fishing. We saw relatively few Ontario cars – and a lot of Florida ones. This seems to be where the local residents go for vacation – many maintain homes here. It is very upscale and reminds you of Cape Hatteras – large homes build on gorgeous beaches rimmed by delevoping sand dunes. What you notice first though is a large number of golf carts driven by people of all ages. They are on a special pathway in many areas but also on the roads. We even saw the local Sherriff in a specially marked golf cart. We later found that one of the reasons so many of the residents drive these carts is that there are no gas stations in the place. As you drive by homes you will see 2 golf carts and one car in front. It seems like a perfect mode of transportation for a relatively compact area and where the weather permits. There are not only the standard golf carts but lots of customized carts made to look like a woody wagon or even a hot rod with flames painted on the fenders. There are even extended wheel base carts that look as long as a small limo.

Late in the day we finally headed back to Port Charlotte where we met David's cousin Anna Staples and her husband Peter for dinner. Anna and Peter are serious RVers and are staying in a lovely RV park near Port Charlotte for the winter this year. In another week or so they'll be starting to work their way north towards home in Canada for the summer months.

Wednesday we'll head off towards Naples where we'll likely stay until we head over to Miami to catch the ship on Saturday.

Posted by DavidandHazel 09:01 Archived in USA Comments (0)

St. Pete

sunny 23 °C

St. Pete is an old city right located on a peninsula between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, south of Clearwater and Dunedin and north of Sarasota and Bradenton. It is referred to as the Sunshine City because St. Pete has 360 days of sun a year. As a matter of fact it holds the Guinness World Records title for the longest consecutive number of sunny days – 768 (Feb 6, 1967 to March 17, 1969). Although it has a reputation for being a very “geriatric” city, it claims to be attracting many younger tourists these days. Judging from the large beach volleyball tournament we saw today, we think that must be true.

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Today we set out to explore and headed to the St. Pete Pier. This free local attraction has restaurants and shops and a small aquarium you can visit for a small fee. While people fish from this pier (as they do from almost every pier and bridge in Florida) what we found most notable was the large number of very tame brown pelicans. They were as anxious for fish scraps as any flock of seagulls or pigeons are for crusts.

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Pelican Feeding Frenzy

As we left the pier we heard music coming from along the shore so we drove over to investigate. That is where we found the volleyball tournament, beautiful beaches and the Vinoy Park Crawfish Festival – lots of games and local food – crawfish, gator, etc. We took a pass on the festival food and continued to explore the area.

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Looking towards the St. Pete shoreline from The Pier

Posted by DavidandHazel 15:53 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Saturday - Florida Sunshine

Saturday, March 12

sunny 16 °C

Thanks to those of you who used this site or David's email (Blackberry) to send us a message. Hope you have as much fun following our trip as we are having writing this blog.

Flying to Florida is much like flying anywhere. You get on the plane, have a snooze, perhaps read or watch a movie. Then after three hours of distractions you get off the plane and go pick up your luggage. At this point you could have arrived at almost any major airport in the western world. Then as you head to the exit you feel that wave of warm humid air wafting in the doors to the luggage pick up area. That is when I know I'm in Florida.

Driving to Florida you don't get that sudden transition from the slush of home to the warm palm breezes. Driving to Florida is more of an evolution into the warmth. If you set out early in the day, (which we seldom seem to do), the first day of the drive will see you move from snow and bone chilling winds when you get out to fill up the car to somewhere 800 or 900 km south of the border. When you stop for the night you notice that it is not quite as cold and with any luck you left any signs of snow in the fields by mid afternoon. If you have taken the shorter route you are probably south of West Virginia, if you have decided not to press your weather luck and have taken I-75 via Windsor/Detroit you are well into Kentucky. Whichever route you select the vegetation still looks much like any early or late winter scene in Canada. The fields are a dirty brown and the trees are all leafless. The temperature when you stop for the night is probably 5-8C or, as they say here, low 40s.

Day two is a very different experience. As you move south on day two of the drive you really start to see changes. Tennessee starts to show signs of green and when you get out to fill the car you don't bother to grab a jacket. The cherry trees (we think) have blossomed and are everywhere. By mid afternoon you look forward to those fuel stops as the warmth of the southern sun is very evident. The temperature guage which the previous day only moved up four or five degrees all day is now moving higher every hour. By the time you hit the Georgia Florida border it is pushing the high teens or perhaps into the 20s as it was for us today. The progress up the temperature range is a wonderful indication of things to come.

This weekend is the start of the March break week for many Ontario schools and many families take the opportunity to drive down to Florida to grab some rays. We knew this when we set out but we were not prepared for the mass pilgrimage of Ontario cars streaming south on I-75. It was not just a sprinkling of cars it was a steady stream. When we pulled into the huge Florida Tourist Information Center just south of the Georgia state line it was like pulling into a mall parking lot in Ontario. The vast majority of the cars had Ontario plates with a sprinkling of cars from Ohio, Michigan and Georgia. The outflow of $ from the Canadian economy must be staggering.

By 5:00 pm we had arrived at our day's destination, the Comfort Inn just inside St. Petersburg. It had been another cloudless day, very reasonable traffic and the temperature had hit 24C by mid afternoon.

We had earlier decided to spend a few days exploring the Gulf side of Florida and decided that St. Petersburg would be a good stopping point for the day before moving further south. This would also give us an opportunity to drop over to Dunedin and join our friends Jack and Jacquie Howell (Kim Spiteri's parents) for a dinner out. As usual getting together with J&J was fun and all too quickly it was time to head back over to our hotel and make plans for the next couple of days and to write up our blog and our log.

Posted by DavidandHazel 22:52 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Driving South

First it was Bad Weather then Great Weather

sunny 13 °C

Although initial plans looked like a Friday departure from Brampton we decided to move the departure time up to Thursday due to the weather predictions for Friday and Saturday. We packed up in a bit of a rush and headed out Thursday late afternoon headed towards Windsor and US I-75. We chose that route due to the weather forecast for the next 36 hours. We had rain on and off all the way to Windsor. After crossing the Windsor/Detroit border and turning south on I-75 we ran into pretty steady wet snow. Fortunately, there was little if any accumulation on the road so we pressed on for several hours finally stopping over for the night in Dayton, Ohio.

Next morning we woke up to a winter wonderland. The combination of rain and snow over night left all the trees and grass coated in white. There was not enough to make the roads slippery, just enough to look like a fairyland as the sun bounced off the white snow coated surfaces. There was still snow on the ground well in to Kentucky. It was a great start to a perfect driving day - not a cloud in the sky all day and another 10 or 12 chapters of Harry Potter on Audiobooks on the sound system. The only snag all day was the trip through Atlanta and the usual hectic traffic that seems to plague Atlanta almost 24/7. However, with a bit of patience we navigated through the chaos and finally stopped around 7:30 pm just north of Macon Georgia. We covered just under 1000 km today in eleven hours.

The best discovery of the day was how to use a Canadian credit card at the outside gas pumps who ask for a zip code. When the pump asks for your zip code you enter the only the numbers from your Canadian postal code associated with the billing address of your credit card, normally your home address. Then add two zeros for a total of five digits. Works every time. So in our case our home postal code is L6S 4E9. Therefore the numbers are 649 then add the two 0 for a full number of 64900, enter it at the gas pump and Bingo it works without having to go in and see the cashier and all of the complications of that mess.

Thanks to Goldwing riding buddy Don Luxton for that great tip.

Posted by DavidandHazel 23:43 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Heading South Again

Lure of the Bargain or Lure of warm weather

snow -1 °C

Well here we are back getting ready for another travel adventure.

What started out as a periodic update to family has over the past year or so evolved to a regular email update to family and many friends who have asked to be added to our email list. For this trip we have decided to set up this blog site rather than clog up your In Box with long emails. This way you can cruise through the site at your leisure or ignore it as you see fit. We would love to hear feedback from any of you on how you lke this format as opposed to the email log. The best email to get to us is via David's Lafarge email which is delivered to his Blackberry <david.guptill@lafarge-na.com>. If anyone else you know wants to view the blog feel free to pass on the link.

Well as many of you know we are getting a real winter in Southern Ontario this year, unlike last year. Although we escaped the worst storms of January by spending four weeks exploring both coasts of Florida we have decided to take one last break from the cold and snow. Adding to our motivation has been our desire to try out Celebrity Cruise lines which has been highly recommended by several friends who are seasoned cruisers. A few weeks ago we started cruising around, so to speak, for one last escape from winter. After trolling the discount cruise web sites to get an idea of what was available we decided to try for a week in either the Western Caribbean or Eastern Caribbean on Celebrity's brand new ship Eclipse. Eclipse is a nice sized ship at 122,000 tons and just over 1000 feet long with a capacity of 2800 passengers – sort of mid to larger sized. Bigger than we have been on before with Holland America but about half the size of Royal Caribbean's Oasis class ships that take over 5,000 passengers. Once we had a general idea of what we wanted we emailed our friend and travel agent Tanja at Barrett-Carlysle and put her on the case. Tanja can suss out any deal that is out there and is great at making suggestions of what to go after and what to leave alone. This is particularly helpful on cruises.

Two days later and a few emails back and forth and Tanja had us booked on both cruises for not a lot more than you often pay for one, best of all we had a balcony cabin on a higher level deck. The cruise ships call putting two cruises together, “cruising through.” You start with one cruise and stay right on the ship and often in the same cabin for two consecutive cruises. From our past experiences it appears to be a fairly common practice. In between the two cruises you return to the home port (Miami in this case) for the better part of one day and then head out again in late afternoon on the second cruise.

Partly because of the sky high air fares during March break and partly because we like the freedom and convenience driving provides we have decided to drive down to Miami. Most of the hotels near the cruiseport have “stay and park” specials so having a place to park the car is a non-issue. One of the great luxuries of being retired is that we have the time to do things like this. We plan to head out a week or so before our ship departs. We'll arrive in Florida a few days early and return home a few days after our cruise ends. We’ll get in some more exploring around southern Florida and probably get in a visit with our good friends Eric & Jeannie Corkum from Halifax. We have spent many sailing trips in the south with Eric & Jeannie on their big Beneteau sail boat. They also recently purchased a house in Fort Lauderdale on one of the canals where they plan to keep the boat permanently.

So come March 11 or 12th we are going to load up the Infiniti and head south. Sure hope we have a better ride than we did in January when we had almost steady snow from the US border all the way south to the Carolinas. However, this time we’ll have on the new tires that we purchased during our last trip south. Some of you will remember the adventure we had driving down in January with our well-worn high performance summer tires on the car.

Our next update will be after we hit the road later this week.

Posted by DavidandHazel 11:07 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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