Awash with memories, this one’s about a special lady

My latest on hypeorlando is about the fantastic Harriett Lake. Settling into our new (old) neighborhood is bringing back a bunch of memories. The memory narrative I refer to is well worth a read, especially if you’ve lived in the area as long as I have.

Photo courtesy Orlando Sentinel

Another move for the Youngs!

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It’s been a busy summer (now almost winter) which has included a move. We’re known for our tendancy not to sit in one place too long…here’s our history of selling and buying houses during our 41 years together. Stayin Alive in Yet Another Home

A tour of Quantum Leap Winery…the only one in town!

Further exploring Quantum Leap Winery, Orlando’s (not so well-kept) secret… Forever Young but Growing Old.

Our town might be growing in breweries but there is still only one winery in the city. Located on 1312 Wilfred Drive, in the Mills/50 District, it’s not far from the Track Shack. A great place to taste a vast collection or pick up the perfect gift. Now with extended hours open to the public, it’s easier to do just that. Enjoy!

Pull off Orlando’s Main Roads for These Fun Spots

Craft beer, independent winery, fried green tomatoes and camellias…Orlando has it all but you have to find them! Check out my latest post in TravelPulse about these hidden treasures.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral

A couple of weeks ago, Charlie and I were in New York City checking out some alternative lodging options in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Here’s a link to my TravelPulse blog post…enjoy and hoping the holidays are a happy time for all!

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Travel the world with these bloggers and photojournalists…eye-candy for the armchair traveler

A break in the daily cruise travelogue to praise our fellow writers and photojournalists. Check it out on hypeorlando…8 Global Journalists who take you to foreign lands without leaving home.

Vid and Savi, BruisedPassports.com

Vid and Savi, BruisedPassports.com

Mountain Update and new posts on TravelPulse and hypeorlando

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Taking a break from cruise blogging to write about early Christmas shopping on hypeorlando and a post about the upcoming Fall Farm and Artisans’ Tour in conjunction with local B&Bs on TravelPulse (just click on the links).

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We’ve been busy, up here in NC, exploring Asheville and the surrounding mountain towns. The temps still remain 75 or under…some evenings drop to low 60’s and even high 50’s the other morning. This is why we’re here.

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Deer sightings are in abundance this month, as are squirrels terrorizing us by sitting in trees, high above our metal roof, using us as target practice with these round objects which sound like cannon balls. They hit the roof and then roll down…honestly, if not cannons they sound like bowling balls!

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Yesterday this was a nice mound of colorful impatiens…last night they were a deer’s appetizer

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Visitors arriving in a couple of weeks…will head home mid October, hopefully, after a gorgeous display of fall leaves.

More cruise news and photos to follow…

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3 Reasons to visit Asheville

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North Lodge on Oakland

I just want to share some of my recent posts about Asheville in hypeorlando and TravelPulse. We were invited to stay in 3 lodges which are indicative of the hospitality and beauty of this city.

TravelPulse is a newsy travel industry site which is heavy on words, but not photos. Here’s the link to that one… Click here for TravelPulse

I broke down each of the Inns on hypeorlando as more of a pictorial:

The North Lodge on Oakland is a small B&B, close to the Biltmore Estate, operated by a lovely couple who take pride in their home. Click here for the North Lodge

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Gary and Cindy Broaddus, Innkeepers

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Library Room at the North Lodge

Our next stop was the Reynolds Mansion where Billy Sanders treated us like royalty. This home was built by slaves and has undergone massive renovations with the intent to restore it to its original beauty. Click here for The Reynolds Mansion

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The Reynolds Mansion

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The Reynolds Mansion Guestroom Lila

I can’t believe I had never heard of the Omni Grove Park Inn. An NC neighbor recommended it and I was amazed by the history and architecture of this lodge. Click here for the Omni Grove Park Inn

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Photo courtesy of The Omni Grove Park Inn

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Sunset over Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains

We’re now in the last week of a month-long visit by 2 of the grandkids and will be heading back to Florida to deliver them to mom. After a short stay in Orlando, we’ll be returning to Wolf Laurel with Ali and James in tow.

So far the weather has been the reason we moved up here for the summer. The temps have risen in town but when we drive back up the mountain to our house, we’re back in the 60’s or low 70’s. There is definitely something to be said for high elevations!

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Home sweet NC home

Wolf Laurel Update

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The view when we arrived April 13

It’s been a little over a month since arriving at the mountain house for the summer. One thing we’ve learned is, next year, we’ll head up this way later in the spring/summer. Although it has been fun seeing the wildflowers of spring, the temps are chilly…just this morning we woke up to low 30’s, brrrr. Hopefully, this is the last cold spell and we won’t have to turn on the heat again. Our rhododendrons are about to bloom, much later than those in town and toward the bottom of the mountain…I’m guessing the low temps play a part in that.

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What a difference a month makes!

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Mayapples are everywhere. Each one only produces one tiny flower under an umbrella of leaves.

We’ve been busy fixing up the house, painting, patching, hauling stuff we don’t want to Goodwill. We enjoyed bonding with the Bonds last week during their visit after nephew, Andrew, graduated UCF. They are experienced hikers so we had our hands full keeping up with them while visiting their old vacation haunts. Checking out the stars on Andrew’s telescope in the pitch blackness of the mountain was a high point. The night sky provides quite a show when light pollution is not an issue. Looking forward to more visitors…Jess, Chris and the grandkids are arriving mid June, then Ali and James in July. We’re feeling a bit like empty-nesters since sis, Patty, and her crew left, though.

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Snow on Big Bald

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Missing the Bond’s boots on the porch

Critter sightings include deer, turkey, chipmunks and, we think, a big fat groundhog. No bear scares but we are always vigilant.

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This little lady charged toward Patty and I on our walk. We were the “deer in the headlights” til she darted away.

We enjoy our visits to Mars Hill, Weaverville and Asheville, when we need a dose of civilization. One thing that stands out, everybody is so friendly and happy up here, whether at the grocery store, restaurants, shops…always a smile and ready to help. And highway driving is way more civilized than what we deal with in Florida. Missing our newspaper home delivery and still can’t find where the Sunday NY Times is sold. We’re old and old-school…getting our news online is just not the same.

This is a whole new world for us and it’s been a bit of a learning curve. We’re happy with our choice of house and area, we just have to become more accustomed to the harsh terrain. We’re so spoiled in Florida…bitch as we might about the heat and humidity, it’s an easy environment in which to live, with all its flatness.

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Every night the sunsets are phenomenal over the ridge

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…

When Plan A fails…make sure you have Plan B, C and D available

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So the deal wasn’t done and the papers weren’t signed, lucky for us we had an honest inspector who immediately saw structural issues and did not continue the process. Inspections are pricey in the mountains and he saved us quite a few bucks by not going any further. He said a structural engineer needed to see the damage and go from there. It was enough for us to cancel the contract and move on. Very disappointing, especially since the owner is a structural engineer and should have disclosed the problems on the contract.

We’ve learned not to become emotionally attached to anything we attempt to purchase so we weren’t envisioning family holidays on the deck quite yet. There were others on our short list and some more popped up on the MLS, so we kept shopping. Our criteria and must-have list was short – 3,000 feet in elevation, a view, high ceilings (we want to feel like we’re in a mountain house, not sitting in a subdivision somewhere with low ceilings), and a location that doesn’t need a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Elevation is a must as our main reason for purchasing a summer home is to get out of the heat and humidity of Orlando. Our research has shown that 3,000 feet pretty much insures not having to turn on the a/c all summer. A panoramic mountain view is fleeting. The house that failed inspection had a killer view off the deck but that deck might be sliding off the mountain in the future. Another house had a great view but was too small and, inside, felt like we were anywhere but in the mountains. Another one had a death-defying drive-way and a larger car would have to back out of it without being able to turn around.

In the end we’re losing the view with the chosen abode, but it’s just a short walk away, along with the Appalachian Trail, and the size and location make up for it. Check out my hypeorlando.com blog at Forever Young but Growing Old for details on our last visit. Hopefully, we’ll close in early December and have more to report with pictures. But those photos might include snow!

 

 

 

Second trip’s the charm

On our second house-hunting trip to North Carolina, we chose to stay at a bed and breakfast within the Wolf Laurel community. Our research found several houses in the area and we figured what better way to get a feel for the neighborhood than to spend a few nights in it. Good choice on many levels…

Our digs for the week

Our digs for the week

The Bald Mountain House, run by Monica and Tony Martin, was a delightful find. The high elevation with drop dead mountain views, along with the comfortable sleeping arrangements would make for a memorable stay by itself. However, add to that the phenomenal breakfasts and interesting conversations and I’d say we hit the jackpot.

The Mount Mitchell suite

The Mount Mitchell suite

We stayed in the Mount Mitchell room/suite with a king bed and roomy sitting area, on the third level, with gorgeous views. In the middle of September it was a bit chilly to leave the windows open at night but during the day the fresh mountain air wafted through the rooms.

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Each of the four mornings we were there, Monica whipped up creative and tasty dishes to start our day of house hunting and gave us tons of tips about the surrounding Wolf Laurel community. Tony has his own HVAC business and winterizes most of the homes on the mountain so he proved to be a wealth of knowledge whenever we mentioned an address in which we were interested.


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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!

The Amtrak Adirondack to New York City

Lake Champlain from the train, looking east to Vermont

Lake Champlain from the train, looking east to Vermont

The next leg of our journey put us on the Amtrak Adirondack to Penn Station in Manhattan. What was touted as a 10 hour trip, turned into 12. Check out my blog post on hypeorlando for more details…

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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.

Seizures ain’t pretty

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Another entry into the hypeOrlando blog community…Seizures ain’t pretty from Forever Young but Growing Old.

Hope you’ll stop by and leave a comment.

One of these days we’ll be back on the road and I’ll have travel stuff to add here. For the time being we are still getting adjusted to our move back to Orlando and staying busy here at home.

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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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Orlando’s Jewel

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Having grown up in Orlando before the city was just a glimmer in the eye of Walt Disney, my parents would take family and friends visiting from the North to Lake Eola, in the heart of downtown. The lake’s green-domed fountain was a favorite of visitors and locals alike. A nighttime drive-by provided a colorful sight, complete with oohs and ahs as the jets of water shot to heights, not quite as soaring as Lake Geneve’s Jet D’Eau, but high enough to amaze and delight. A leisurely walk around the lake was usually in order during the day where one could hop on a Swan Boat to explore the fountain close-up and take in the sights along the shore.

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Over the years the fountain has taken hits from lightning; the latest almost caused its permanent demise when funding was scarce to repair the electrical system and get the waterworks back in working order. However, successful fundraising got the job done and our showpiece was returned to its former glory, and then some.

Recently with the help of the non-profit See Art Orlando, private funds were collected to bring a gaggle of artistic sculptures along the perimeter of the lake, turning the area into a virtual arts-appreciation learning experience. See Art Orlando’s mission is “to enhance the aesthetic experience and cultural image of Downtown Orlando.” I’d say they achieved that worthy mission in spades.

My personal favorite, “Monument in Right Foot Major”, by Todji Kurtzman, resides in the southeast area of the park. Caste in bronze, it creates the look of determination but also might give one a feeling of being stuck in the mud, on a day when it is difficult just putting one foot in front of the other. Whatever the interpretation, I just know that it makes me feel good when I see it.

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A few steps away you will encounter “Cedar of Lebanon”, by Jacob Harmeling of Orlando, a three-story high sculpted tree which is particularly impressive at night with its subtle lighting from within.

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“Discovery Muse”, by artist Meg White, is an enormous body at rest with hand extended, as if inviting a weary traveler to rest in her palm. My visit on this day was during a cold snap which caused her to be blanketed with a sheet to keep the greenery covering her from the harsh temps. (Yes, Orlando winters sometimes dip into the twenties!)

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Douwe Blumberg’s “Take Flight” represents a sight we have seen many times, a flock of birds, perhaps startled, suddenly flying into the air in a group. The visual experience of this sculpture changes with the setting sun and is dramatically lit at night.

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The artist Ralfonso created “Union”, on the northeast corner of Lake Eola. He describes the sculpture as “wind-driven kinetic stainless steel/aluminum sculpture” with multiple “wings” moving with the breeze. A fellow admirer of this piece told me that he imagines the spirits of deceased loved ones causing the parts to move.

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These are just a sampling of the many works of art surrounding our jewel of a lake in the middle of downtown Orlando. If you’re making the trip to central Florida for the I-Drive experience, you might enjoy getting away from the tourists and taking an afternoon to meet the “other” Orlando. The Swan Boats are still operating so hop on and experience Orlando like a local.

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from O-town

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After a multi-year hiatus, the Orlando Sentinel has decided to publish a My Word column at last…here’s the link “Orlando indeed incomparable to others”.

Here’s the unedited version…

Beth Kassab’s column about the best “other” downtown reinforced my feeling that Orlando is THE best downtown around. Having just returned, after a seven year “retirement” in New Smyrna Beach, I am so happy to be back that I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.

Now, don’t get me wrong, New Smyrna Beach is a wonderful retreat and our go-to choice for a beach vacation, however, living there full time was just not as fulfilling as we envisioned. Many would comment on their wish to live in paradise year round but they might think twice for what they wish.

A typical trip to the grocery store in a beach community, depending on the season, might mean dodging shopping carts among aging snow birds or standing in line with beachgoers who forgot to cover up overexposed body parts. (I know it’s the beach but, please, folks, wait till you hit the waves before showing off your new bikini!)

On the other hand, our visits to the downtown grocer, located under a high rise apartment building, have been much more pleasant since we are usually the oldest shoppers in sight. We find ourselves surrounded by, what used to be called, yuppies of every type. The dress code is office casual or, sometimes, it is apparent they are picking up dinner after a visit to the gym. In the case of the latter we have seen many a finely sculpted bottom. As you can imagine, my husband now accompanies me on every trip. “Where shopping is a pleasure,” has a new meaning.

Replacing the beach with the various lakes available downtown for daily walks has been a delight. Shade is a valuable asset which cannot be found along the shore, and there are just so many shells one can collect on the beach. The addition of sculptures around Lake Eola is a testament to the city’s nickname, The City Beautiful, and adds to the sense of metropolitan culture which we have missed.

It was tough leaving our neighbors and friends but know they are only an hour’s drive away. Our small town experience was a lesson which made us realize we were not ready to leave the city. We’ll save those “other” downtowns for day trips. Meanwhile, we will relish being a part of Orlando’s cultural growth and retire in style.

A one-way ticket to Orlando

After seven years of “sort of” retiring to New Smyrna Beach, we have decided it is time to rejoin the living and move back to O-town. Not that beachside living is the place people go to die…it’s just that making a vacation town your full time residence is a bit isolating in terms of diversity. Depending on the time of year, the demographics of a beach town goes from snow birds to spring breakers to day-trippers to bikers…99.9% of which are white, Anglo and straight…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Don’t get me wrong, the town of New Smyrna Beach is lovely and the full-timers made for wonderful neighbors and loyal friends. We were so grateful to have the ocean just a short walk away when we had our grandsons visiting, or living, with us. The beach is a giant playground where they can make as much noise as they want and expend enough energy to make them collapse into bed at night.

However, the culture of the area is different than that of Orlando. It was like a seven year vacation and we were ready to go home. Now, in the right place at the right time in our lives, we couldn’t be happier to be back in the middle of a diverse city among people who are in the business of living their lives and enjoying the downtown urbanity that the City Beautiful has to offer.

Below are a few photos of our new digs for anyone interested…

Our new abode

Our new abode

View of Lake Emerald from our driveway

View of Lake Emerald from our driveway

Koi pond

Koi pond

Ricky's coping with the move well

Ricky’s coping with the move in stride

We even inherited a couple of gnomes

We even inherited a couple of gnomes

Just around the corner is Lake Davis with this view of downtown

Just around the corner is Lake Davis with this view of downtown

Don’t forget your hometown…

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Travel bloggers might take for granted their home base and not think to write about the place in which they are most familiar. It occurred to me this morning, while walking the beach, that writing about European travels is exciting but I would be remiss to ignore the jewel that is New Smyrna Beach, my current hometown.

In my case, the beach is just a block away and there are times when we get wrapped up in the minutiae of life and forget it is there. A brief walk, with toes in the sand, can take away stress and make one realize how small our concerns might be compared to the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and our place on the planet. An Orlando friend once told me that whenever she drives over the bridge onto the island, she is overcome with a sense of calmness and relief, leaving all the city craziness back on the mainland.

Our little town is still relatively unknown, except for its unnerving distinction of being the “Sharkbite Capital of the World”. We’ll just forget about that for the moment while other, more palatable aspects of our town are described. We have two bridges from which to enter the barrier island. If you are in a hurry to get to your destination, the South Bridge, as we call it, will whisk you from State Road 44 to Atlantic Avenue, heading south towards the Cape Canaveral National Seashore. Along the way you will see neighborhoods and condominiums, a lot of which are owned by our neighbors to the west in Orlando.

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My preferred route is to the north, a bascule bridge spanning the Indian River. It is a favorite walk-over for guaranteed sightings of dolphins and the occasional manatee along with kayaks, sailboats and mini-yachts, the latter causing the bridge to rise three times each hour. If you are caught in your car at the time a tall boat is cruising through, it is a good time to lower the windows, turn off the engine and just relax and enjoy the salt air.

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Once over the north bridge, you are on Flagler Avenue, a funky main street dotted with restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and lodging. And, if you are visiting at the right time, you can enjoy the monthly wine and art walk. You might also notice a banner spanning the street announcing whichever monthly event will close the street to auto traffic and allow revelers to meander the avenue for celebrations of Cinco de Mayo, Flamingo Follies or numerous food events, coupled with live music and dancing in the streets. The residents of New Smyrna do not need a reason to party!

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Currently a movie is being filmed in town causing some roadblocks, but how can one be upset when the ambience of the city lends itself to being laid back and carefree. The film, “Waves of Grace” is centered on a surfing community and sightings of the crew shooting scenes in various areas of town is common. They are based at our favorite bed and breakfast, the Black Dolphin Inn, located on the west side of the Indian River. This new B&B just got named in the Top Ten Bed & Breakfast Inns by The Guardian, a British national daily newspaper and is a wonderfully stylish asset to our town.

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The beaches are great for body, board and kite surfing, and provide family fun all year round, offering thirteen miles of flat, sandy shore. A couple of miles to the north you will find the jetties across from the Ponce Inlet lighthouse which shines its welcome each night. You are also at the spot where New Smyrna Beach gets its infamous reputation as the aforementioned Sharkbite Capital of the World. Surfers love this area which provides the biggest waves against the rocks jutting out into the ocean. Small sharks also love this spot as a perfect feeding place full of bait fish and the occasional ankle. Intrepid surfers sometimes bump into a feeding shark and might require stitches when their dangling foot is mistaken as that day’s dinner.

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With Orlando to the west and Daytona Beach to the north, there is no shortage of entertainment in central Florida. However, it is always nice to retreat to the tiny town of New Smyrna Beach to refresh, renew and relax.

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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…

Heading north and beginning to think we’re crazy

As long as Charlie doesn’t catch the God-awful stomach virus I had this week, we’ll be heading up to Niagara Falls and Toronto on Monday. Let’s hope that sleeping in another bedroom did the trick and the bug didn’t find its way into his tummy. For the first time ever we are flying out of Orlando-Sanford International Airport, which is much closer than MCO. We are reading all the fine print on the Allegiant Airlines website so we’re not stuck wtih a piece of luggage that is an inch or two over their limits, as happened with Ryanair last summer. Allegiant charges $30 for each carryon going into the overhead bins and $50 for a checked piece of luggage, so we decided to go ahead and bite the bullet. No way could we fit everything we need to go to such a cold climate in a bag that would fit under the seat (those are still free to carry on). The cost of the ticket was so inexpensive ($250 total for two roundtrip tickets to Niagara Falls) that we can justify the extra charge for checking on a bag.

Our plan is to travel as cheaply as possible and we’re taking every shortcut we can, so we’ll see how it all pans out. Our daughter can drop us off at the airport but not able to pick us up so we’ve opted to rent a car when we get back and take it back to Sanford the next day…much cheaper than paying the $12 a day in parking fees at the airport for 6 days. We’re flying into the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area at a smaller airport, similar to Sanford, which makes the transportation choices fewer when trying to get to the Canadian side of the Falls. The plan is to catch a bus to the Rainbow Bridge and walk across, then catch another bus which will let us off close to our hotel. Arriving at 6:30 pm means we’ll be in the dark but we hear the area is well lit and very accessible to the walker. Of course, if it’s raining or snowing, or both, we’ll be miserable and may have to opt for a taxi (at a cost of $80 plus) to get us into Canada.

Priceline gave us the best prices on hotels in both Niagara Falls and Toronto at around $75 a night for a four star stay. Once in Toronto we can depend on mass transit either by bus or subway. And we picked up a Groupon for a hop-on, hop-off bus tour that lasts three days which we can use at our leisure.

We certainly cannot complain about our winter in Florida, after hearing about our friends up north suffering through one storm after another, but I’m getting tired of cold weather and ready to put away the winter gear. This will be the last snowy trip for awhile. Of course, by June we’ll be cursing the humidity down here and planning the next trip to the tundra.

Hopefully, the next post will be from two healthy travelers in a toasty room in Niagara Falls!

Remember, it’s all about the kids…

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Over the weekend we celebrated our eight year old grandson’s birthday with a road trip to Nickelodeon Resorts & Suites. The Friday afternoon traffic through Orlando on I-4 reminded us why we choose not to go out that way unless we really have to. Bumper to bumper for no apparent reason, it always amazes me how traffic crawls on four lanes with no wrecks at which to gawk and no rain to cause a backup.

Check-in was seamless with the announcement of Carter’s birthday over a bull horn, which was much appreciated by the shy birthday boy. We booked through Travelocity with a room rate of $134. Add to that a “resort fee” of $30 per night and you can do the math. I have always thought the extra cost to be like a car lot with the “dealer fee” added. Just give us the total amount to rent the room, with no surprise fees tacked on. Charging extra kind of insults one’s intelligence.

Another pet peeve, usually with more expensive hotels, is the lack of WiFi in the rooms. This place didn’t even offer it with an added fee, only available in the common areas. However, the rooms are supposed to be equipped with a hard-wire to connect a laptop to the internet. Not so in our room, though, and when I went downstairs to secure the missing wire I was told that our particular room was not able to get the internet via DSL and they insisted on moving us to another room. Several hours later we were in a new room with the aforementioned cord plugged into the wall. All of this hoopla was for naught, however, when we realized our laptop and net book weren’t configured for their method of accessing the internet anyway. Much ado about nothing just to stay connected to cyberspace. Actually, it was nice to take a break from email and FaceBook for the weekend.

The two-bedroom unit was very comfortable with a separate bedroom for gma and gpa, another room with twin beds for the older boys, and a foldout sofa in the living room for mom and Isaiah. The kitchenette included a tiny fridge, microwave and sink, which gave us the option to store our own drinks and snacks. Since the resort is for kids, we didn’t worry about the boys getting noisy, and we weren’t bothered by anyone else in the building. The beds were comfy and we slept well.

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The food court “mall” offers a couple of buffet restaurants, a Subway, pizza place, a cafe that sells Starbucks coffee along with bagels, donuts, breakfast sandwiches, etc. Pricewise, this was the best choice for breakfast as the buffet is expensive and the character breakfast is extremely pricey. Get to the mall early to avoid lines of grumpy, bleary-eyed parents scrambling for their caffeine fix.

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The heated pools are made for kids – a huge lagoon with slides, kiddie areas, and daily sliming was a big hit. A smaller pool, near our room, proved popular with our guys as it came with a calmer atmosphere and a separate area for the little ones. The security situation around the pools was stellar; always a presence of at least four, very vigilant, lifeguards. We witnessed one female lifeguard standing in the shallow area scanning the water very methodically, every quadrant of the section to which she was assigned. Shift changes occurred regularly, so they wouldn’t get passive in a situation with so many kids in and out of the pool. It seems impossible to stay on top of everyone, but they did a great job, even rescuing one little guy who went under, with no parent nearby. The lifeguards jumped right in and pulled him out while the mom nonchalantly took him, with no sense of urgency or thanks to the young people who saved him from drowning. We went away with the secure feeling that if one of our kids was out of our sight for a second, they were being watched by professionals.

Of course there is no accounting for parents behaving badly. We saw several dads, over the course of the weekend, imbibing heavily, and witnessed one being demanding of staff but not making any sense in his drunken state. The staff, in turn, was very polite and just kept smiling and trying to help. Kudos to the staff over the entire weekend…they were very professional and always with a smile.

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One of the free perks was a shuttle bus to Disney, so Saturday night we rode to the Magic Kingdom where we caught the monorail to the Polynesian Hotel and enjoyed an inexpensive dinner at Capt. Cooks, then headed out to the lakefront where Peter Pan was being shown on a big screen. At 8 p.m. the fireworks started which were enjoyed by all, especially the big kids, while sipping a fruity glass of sangria. The boys had a great time; the weather was perfect, sitting on the beach with a full moon felt so relaxing after a frenetic day with three wild and crazy kids. We then took a boat to the Magic Kingdom where we caught the riverboat to the transportation center, and then the shuttle back to the hotel. Taking advantage of free stuff at Disney is always a favorite.

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Nobody does it like Disney, however, so do not expect that kind of experience at Nickelodeon. However, if I were the eight year old child celebrating a birthday, I wouldn’t complain about a thing. The bottom line is that the kids were thrilled and that’s why we were there.

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