Check me out on TravelPulse.com

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Gotta blow my own horn here, so to speak, with the news that TravelPulse.com has published one of my blog posts and I am in contract with them to write further content. Most will be based in Orlando but I’ll be writing about Asheville this summer, also. First post is about the rise of the craft beer industry in Orlando…research was great fun!

It’s a major step for me as I’ve been slooooowly working towards this kind of validation as a writer, focusing on travel, and it feels good to be validated. Thanks to Kim Warrner for informing me about the Orlando Sentinel‘s blog platform,  hypeorlando.com, right after we moved back to Orlando. Writing for them has been a wonderful exercise in discipline and the support really helps, as sitting at a computer, hoping to get noticed, can be very isolating. Just when you feel like giving it all up, someone in the hypeorlando group will pat you on the back, come up with a few words of encouragement and spur you on.

Geez, this is sounding like an acceptance speech for an Academy Award! Actually, it kind of felt that way when I saw my name under the TravelPulse banner yesterday. More to come…

Tijuana Flats…not just good food but good people

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Recently I was invited to a blogger event at the Tijuana Flats on East Colonial, in Orlando. These events are one of the many perks of writing a blog, especially with hypeorlando (the Orlando Sentinel blog platform). We get to taste-test new menu items and get an insider view of house local restaurants operate.

I’m including a link to my recent Tijuana Flats blog post with hypeorlando…”Tijuana Flats, superb Tex Mex and giving back to the community

It’s heartening to know that local businesses play such a big part in helping our community by giving back in ways we might be aware of. And the sangria is awesome!

Next stop, Portland, Oregon

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View of Mount Hood, flying into Portland

View of Mount Hood, flying into Portland

Finally, getting to Chapter 2 of our summer trip out West…we left Washington DC before dawn, heading to Portland, Oregon, to meet up with an old grammar and high school classmate, Bob Burgan. Bob and Mary extended an invitation to stay with them a couple of nights at their beach house in Manzanita. I haven’t seen Bob since high school but have reconnected through FaceBook and have been intrigued by his photos of Manzanita, which is just south of Cannon Beach. It’s a 90 minute drive from Bob and Mary’s lovely house in downtown Portland, west to the coast. When you reach the westernmost point and head south to Manzanita, the view of the ocean is phenomenal…it most definitely qualifies as a “Holy shit!” moment.

Cannon Beach, just north of Manzanita

Cannon Beach, just north of Manzanita

The stroll from the Burgan/McArthur house to the beach is a short one and stepping out from the grassy path onto the shore is a shock to the senses. This is a much different view than our east coast shoreline. The Pacific is not as forgiving and the rocky cliffs in the distance make for treacherous waves. I just had to dip my toes to check out the temperature when a rogue wave caught me up to my knees. And, yes, it was cold!

Nola's a happy camper on the Manzanita beach

Nola’s a happy camper on the Manzanita beach

Bob and Mary’s pup, Nola, loves the beach and was in constant motion. The next day Bob took us on a short hike from the Oregon Coast Highway to Oswald West State Park, another beach with magnificent views, this time with surfers taking to the waves. Unlike Florida beaches, the water is so cold the surfers have to be covered head to toe before making their way into the frigid water. Tsunami warnings and evacuation route signs dot the roadway. An issue we, on the east coast, don’t think twice about.

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A couple of fossils

 

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Pacific waves

All bundled up

All bundled up

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Bob leading the way

Bob leading the way

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We spent the rest of the day being shown Bob’s old haunts…he’s been living in Oregon since the ‘70’s and knows EVERYBODY in Manzanita. This was proven over and over again on our journey. Bob is a story in itself and his most recent escapades can be found in the Habitat for Humanity Disaster Corps newsletter. Years ago, he fell off a mountain and lived to talk about it but was left with a crooked leg which can be seen in some of the photos. It doesn’t hold him back, however. I don’t think anything’s going to kill Bob Burgan. (Well, I take that back, maybe Mary will!)

Kelly's Marina, Nehalem Bay

Kelly’s Marina, Nehalem Bay

The always busy Kelly

The always busy Kelly

Back in Portland, we were dropped off at a boutique hotel on the Willamette River, the River’s Edge Hotel & Spa, which is just a couple of blocks from a Portland Streetcar stop. (Got a really good deal through Priceline)  The mass transportation opportunities are abundant and provide an inexpensive way to tour the city. Before we said goodbye to the Burgans, however, they took us for an early evening walk around the International Rose Test Gardens which, as the name implies, serves as a testing facility for new rose varieties. The park covers 4.5 acres with over 7,000 plants. It’s a sensory overload of color and fragrance…a truly amazing place.

Intl Rose Test Gardens

Intl Rose Test Gardens

 

Mary and I with the founder of the rose garden, Jessie Currey

Mary and I with the founder of the rose garden, Jessie Currey

 

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Later, we dined at Meriwether’s, sharing a generous portion of Paella with local craft beers. Our time with Bob and Mary will never be forgotten. The bond that is forged in childhood never seems to break and our respective spouses added to the enjoyment of reconnecting at a stage of our lives where we appreciate the value of friendship.

The old man and the sea...

The old man and the sea…

The next day we were on our own to explore the city and we fell in love. Portland is a progressive town that felt, to us, like home. I have a feeling we will be spending a lot more time there in the future. Divided by the Willamette River, we took the streetcar over the bridge to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) where we toured the USS Blueback, a Naval submarine which was assigned to Pearl Harbor, among other places, and is currently a permanent fixture at the OMSI.

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We then headed back over the bridge to the Pearl District, which houses the famous Powell’s City of Books, taking up a full block, chock full of tomes for the taking. Just walk in with a bag of books to trade and you can walk out with a new collection. It’s a busy place. The city is also home to Portland State University, which is bisected by the streetcars giving riders a mini tour of the campus. For the most part the weather in Portland, and Manzanita, was pleasant and cool for the middle of summer, except for our day in the city when the temps reached 97 degrees…an anomaly for the mercury to reach that level. It was manageable, however, as the humidity level was so low, and we all know “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!”

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CAR2GO saw these throughout the city

CAR2GO saw these throughout the city

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After our night at the River’s Edge, we were driven (complimentary) to Union Station where we were to start the next leg of our journey on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, overnight, to San Francisco. More on that in the next chapter.

Union Station, Portland

Union Station, Portland

YMCA…one more thing to appreciate about the Orlando area

Getting ready for a big trip in a few weeks, been trying to get into shape. Since moving back to downtown Orlando we have no excuse to lazily while away the summer. Charlie can’t run because of a torn Achilles tendon but our local Y provides a ton of other opportunities to get in a workout. My latest HypeOrlando blog is an homage to our area YMCA’s and why they should not be taken for granted.

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My new passion is the Zumba class which is the best aerobic experience I’ve had in a long time…and I’m not the oldest one there. Has it really been 20 years since I took that dance class and had to learn intricate moves? Those 20 years have wreaked havoc with my brain-foot coordination but fun is had by all and the sweat is proof it’s a great workout. Move over 30 year old hard bodies, make room for grammy!

Our leader, Alaina, in a rare moment of almost standing still.

Our leader, Alaina, in a rare moment of almost standing still.

hypeorlando has launched!

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There’s a new blog community in town called hypeorlando – a product of the Orlando Sentinel – and my blog Forever Young but Growing Old is included. This is an exciting opportunity to expand into other areas and reach more people with my musings…hope that’s a good thing. Hypeorlando is loaded with talented bloggers covering a ton of topics. If mine doesn’t float your boat, I’m sure you’ll find one that does.

Hippies to Boomers will continue, without change, as I chronicle our travel adventures and the hypeorlando blog will not only delve into travel, but include an added Lifestyles element. My first entry, “Everything old is new again,” is live on the website. Hope you enjoy it.

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St. Augustine…not just for school field trips anymore

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Living in Central Florida all our lives, we are very familiar with the St. Augustine School Field Trip. As a student, myself, I was bussed to the oldest city in the U.S. as part of my eighth grade trip, circa 1962, to see the Cross and Sword, which later was designated as the official Florida state play. Years later when my children were in school, they each trekked to the old city with mom in tow as a chaperone. Just this past summer, my husband and I took our oldest grandsons for a tour of the Castillo de San Marcos and a glimpse into history.

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Recently, however, we were given the opportunity to visit St. Augustine without children along for the ride, rediscovering a city full of culinary and cultural surprises. Our newfound experience of this historical town created a feeling of European ambience with narrow brick lanes leading to our lodging of choice, the St. Francis Inn, on St. George Street. Here we were welcomed to an inviting suite complete with complimentary sherry, to be sipped on the wrap-around porch in rocking chairs, surrounded by lush, native Florida landscaping. Our hosts, Joe and Margaret Finnegan, provided an atmosphere of warmth and hospitality, while enlightening us on the Inn’s historical past. After each day of exploring the city, we enjoyed a relaxing time in the courtyard with a selection of evening wines and desserts along with ghostly tales from our hosts.

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St. Francis in the dining room

St. Francis in the dining room

The St. Francis Inn’s Gardeness, Jill Ziebell, schooled us in her techniques for preserving the grounds with natural Florida flowers and shrubs. As a Master Gardener and Master Naturalist, Jill exudes passion for her craft and calls her own design style “Artistic European with Historic Flavor.” She is a true earth mother and the St. Francis benefits from her expertise.

Gardeness Jill Ziebell

Gardeness Jill Ziebell

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Our culinary experience in St. Augustine left us amazed at the diverse menus available and the passion of the chefs who deliciously hone their craft. Our gastronomic journey started at the Bistro de Leon on Cathedral Place, where we met Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard of Lyon, France. He states, “When you cook, you have to love people. My cuisine is like a symphony; I cook to the rhythms of music…” Chef Poinard welcomed us with tasty samplings of his creations and left us feeling loved.

Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard

Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard

Earlier this year, a new attraction took over the two acres on St. George Street which previously housed the Colonial Spanish Quarter. A multi-million dollar renovation created the Colonial Quarter which includes a unique experience of sixteenth through eighteenth century life in the Nation’s Oldest City. The endeavor is partnered with the University of Florida and provides an educational, historical and adventurous experience for all ages. The attention to historical accuracy is obvious, the hands-on encounters with the past are priceless, and you won’t see mouse ears or death defying roller coasters anywhere on site. We had an enjoyable time among actors portraying British and Spanish characters with enthusiasm and charm.

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After our adventure we were treated to lunch at La Taberna del Caballo, on the Colonial Quarter property, providing a sampling of menu items from Cuban fingers to cheese fondue to flatbreads of all variety. Pair that with sangria worthy of a two hour nap and you get a fantastic meal prepared by Chef Murphy Leathers, who graced us with his presence. We waddled back to the St. Francis Inn where the aforementioned nap was in order.

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Later that evening, we were hosted by Photographer Hookey Hamilton and her goldsmith husband, Joel Bagnal, on the balcony of their 211 year old home overlooking the harbor. Stories of their home’s history, ghostly events and their serendipitous meeting, made the cocktail hour a special time to get to know this lovely couple. Their home reflects the love and passion they have poured into their craft.

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More food on the horizon when we walked to Meehan’s Irish Pub and were greeted with wine, whiskey and superb food. John Meehan’s passion for fresh ingredients made for a delightful menu of Grilled Lamb on a Stick, Steak ‘n Stout Stew in Pastry and Bangers & Mash, among others. The daily house-made Irish Cream was the kiss of the Blarney Stone. John’s secret recipe was the perfect ending to our little trip to Ireland.

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Breakfast, the next morning, at the Hot Shot Bakery started with a chocolate dipped datil pepper, which this cowardly diner just couldn’t bring herself to try. I stuck with Sherry Stoppelbein’s Pumpkin Pecan Waffles with homemade Caramel Sauce and bananas which were delectable. However, Sherry’s Wall of Flame exhibits hundreds of photos of more adventurous diners who dared to take a bite. A Minorcan staple, St. Augustine is the leading producer of datil peppers in the U.S.

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The rest of our day included a visit to “57 Treasury” with Karin Sufalko who created wonders with discarded palm fronds, turning them into works of art. Karin is from the Bavarian region of Germany and exudes the warmth and friendliness we encountered on our trip there last year. Her stories, told while creating a masterpiece floral arrangement, were as whimsical as her shoes.

Karin Sufalko

Karin Sufalko

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More food was in store as we joined Tour St. Augustine for a lunch excursion which included the Old City House Inn & Restaurant’s presentation of cod on a bed of lemon grass mushroom risotto with pea puree and mango dash (my personal favorite of the trip); Athena Cafe’s flaming cheese and Minorcan clam chowder; and dining al fresco at The Gourmet Hut for a crabmeat salad with mango nectar and a blackberry platz crumb cake.

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St. Augustine Vintage Car Tours gave us a ride back to the Inn on their electric-powered shuttles, where we were treated to a cooking class with Janice Leary who showed us her Strawberry Fruit Soup, Eggs in a Basket and Swan Cream Puff techniques. Janice runs a tight ship and manages to feed many appreciative guests each morning with an array of menu choices culminating each year in a Holiday pairing of desserts with the “12 Days of Christmas,” thus the Swan Cream Puffs for the Seven Swans-a-Swimming.

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Janice Leary preparing Strawberry Soup

Janice Leary preparing Strawberry Soup

Not knowing how we could possibly have room for another meal, we later walked to O. C. (Outta Control) White’s for dinner overlooking the historic Bridge of Lions on the Matanzas River. Between courses we were entertained with ghostly tales, by an animated server, about the building which goes back to 1790. (There seems to be a ghost living in every inch of the city.) Live music, shrimp and grits with cool evening breezes…it doesn’t get any better.

Full of ghost stories

Full of ghost stories

Shrimp 'n Grits

Shrimp ‘n Grits

A farewell brunch at the St. Francis, the next morning, surprised us with a visit by Henry Flagler himself, a dapper gentleman, worth millions, who put St. Augustine on the map in terms of becoming a winter destination for wealthy northerners. His stories transported us back to an earlier time when customs were quite different and men of his stature were the definition of genteel. Try as we might, we couldn’t get him to fall out of character. He was quite surprised to hear that there was a college named after him! (Flagler was portrayed by the actor John Stavely, the Colonial Quarter’s Director of Historic Programming.)

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Our whirlwind visit certainly gave us a new perspective on the Oldest City and will be our destination of choice when we crave the flavors of Europe and the historical experiences of our country at its inception. Once you have chaperoned the mandatory school field trips, return for the grown up version of St. Augustine and you won’t be disappointed.

Just the two of us!

Just the two of us!

Shivering in Niagara

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Every time we head north on a winter holiday and tell people we are from Florida, they look at us and ask “Why?!?” Finally, we are asking ourselves the same question after a week spent in Niagara Falls and Toronto, Ontario, in sub-freezing temperatures. The sights were worth the trip but we have sworn off the frozen tundra for awhile.

Walking into Canada

Walking into Canada

Since we decided not to rent a car, using mass transit instead, we found ourselves standing on snowy, windy corners, waiting for a bus or train to take us to yet another spot where the wind chill made the freezing temps drop even lower. I am surprised my photos of the Falls came out clear with my shivering hands trying to focus the camera. Our plans fell into place, however, with just one glitch at the end. Allegiant Air was on time and zipped away from Sanford, landing in the tiny Niagara Falls International Airport Monday night. (The size of the airport would prove beneficial later.) As soon as we grabbed our luggage, the bus was waiting for us just outside the door and led us to the Rainbow Bridge, which was a short hike across a huge gorge within sight of the Falls.

The everchanging view outside our window

The everchanging view outside our window

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We found our way to the hotel, on foot, enjoying tolerable temps…they didn’t drop until the next day. The Doubletree Resort was a good choice and a good deal through Priceline. The maddeningly slow WiFi was the only drawback, resulting in no blog posts while we were away. The next day we walked to Niagara Falls and took in the magnificent view, with a trip down an elevator to the tunnels behind the roaring water. Two of the portals were frozen over, however, but we weren’t disappointed as the ice was a sight in itself.

Frozen portal

Frozen portal

The rest of the town is like a mini International Drive, in Orlando, with haunted houses, carnival rides and overpriced restaurants. We did become fans of Tim Horton’s, however, with their delectable donuts, as well as bagels, sandwiches, soups and, of course, their famous coffee. They would do well in New Smyrna Beach since it looks like all of Ontario is in our little beach town during the winter.

We heard about the negative ions from the Falls which produce positive effects on the brain. I think we were suffering from brainfreeze, due to the low temps, so maybe those ions couldn’t penetrate. However, we were in a good mood to start with so maybe we just didn’t notice. It is a glorious sight, though, and well worth the trip to see one of the natural wonders of North America.

If you are planning a trip to Niagara and are not interested in the tourist stuff, just plan on one full day there. Unless we missed something, the main attraction is the Falls and they can be seen in a day. We really enjoyed our time in Toronto and could have just taken a day trip from there, had we known what we do now.

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Stay tuned for our Toronto adventures and our mad scramble to catch our flight back home…