Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Happy trails

Ottawa, ON -- We are home! It was a short drive today from Mexico, so we pulled in just before lunch and found the place freshly cleaned and oh! so spacious!

The decision about whether or not to winterize (see yesterday's entry) was more or less made for us this morning. We awoke to the steady drum of raindrops on the roof, and, considering the sea of mud that surrounded the RV, we decided to skip it. We didn't even stop to have breakfast, opting instead to stop by a nearby McDonald's for a take-out Egg McMuffin to eat as we drove. Were we anxious to get home?
In no time, we'd passed through Watertown and saw the last bridge over the Thousand Islands into Canada. The view of the St Lawrence River from the top was terrific, as by this time the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. The water looked pretty high, which was not surprising to us as we'd heard a lot about the flooding in the area after heavy rains.

Next, we were changing the settings on the RV from miles to kilometres and eagerly passing the familiar landmarks along the 401 toward Ottawa. As expected, the signs of spring were not as far along as we'd seen in the states to the south, but I did glimpse a few clumps of trilliums in the bush, and I was delighted to see hyacinths in bloom in our front garden.

The remainder of the day was devoted to carting all the 'stuff' from the RV into the house, a lot of which still needs to be stowed in its proper place. In the days ahead, we will reflect on all the interesting places we've seen, the fine people we've met, and the adventures we've had. It is so good to be RVers again! Stay tuned for the next chapter, whenever that comes about. And thanks for following along with us this time around.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Backwards in time

Mexico, NY -- Nearly every site in this family-themed RV park is empty. That's because Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp Resort just opened for the season five days ago, so when we rolled in, we had the choice of practically any site we wanted. Many of them, including the most picturesque ones down by the Little Salmon River that's flowing swiftly past, will be very attractive in a few weeks. Right now, however, there is a lot of mud around, so we're parked up on the hill where it's a bit drier.

Dry was a happy thing when we woke up this morning back at Jonestown, after a day of constant rain. And although there were a lot of clouds overhead as we headed north once more on the I-81, as the day progressed the skies cleared and it turned out to be a lovely day.

Our route was quite straightforward -- I-81 North till the turnoff for our campsite -- but the conditions varied greatly through the day. Since it's one of the country's most heavily-traveled roadways, it gets pretty worn down over time, so one is either traveling on some pretty rough surfaces, or crawling through a construction zone, or (yay!) zooming along some freshly-paved ribbons of smooth, beautiful asphalt -- within the speed limit, of course.

The other thing about traveling north over many miles at this time of year is watching spring at several stages of its appearance in reverse order, from fully-bloomed to just emerging. In Virginia, at Monticello, the tulips had come up, had their moment in the sun, and had already faded when we visited two days ago. The trees along the highway were in full leaf, and people's flowerbeds were set for the season. As we proceeded into Pennsylvania, the trees were well on their way but not fully leafed yet, and today, having crossed into New York state, we saw many trees that were still bare, and lots shaded in that lovely pale green that's only present for a week or so. We also saw dogwood, cherry and apple trees, as well as forsythia, lending splashes of pink, white and yellow to the roadsides. It's almost like traveling back in time! We are confident that tomorrow, when we roll in to our neighbourhood, there will not be any snow whatsoever! We don't want to go that far back!

Val's big decision, on this our last camping day till some time later this summer, is whether or not to winterize the RV. Is there a risk of frost in the coming weeks that could damage some of the more delicate parts of our plumbing system? Or can we dispense with this step since we are already into May, after all. We've winterized our previous RVs many times, so it won't be a difficult task, but it will be different with this new vehicle. We have already purchased the three large bottles of pink antifreeze, and squeezed them into the back storage area. And the long-accepted cut-off date after which all likelihood of frost is past in Ottawa is May 24. Of course, that was before the climate began to change, so who can say for sure any more? Anyway, whether we do it or not, it shouldn't present much of a delay in our departure tomorrow morning. We await the final word with bated breath.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Drip, drip, drip...

Jonestown, PA -- That's the sound of the rain on the roof of our RV. It started our day, and now as we sit after our dinner, it's still playing the same tune. We are so fortunate that the wet weather hit us on a travel day, instead of a visiting day spent mostly outdoors!

It did have an impact, nevertheless. When we left the Charlottesville area, the mountain roads were slick in addition to all their ups, downs and curves, with dense forest on either side, no shoulders, and sometimes a canopy of branches over the road. We felt like everything finally opened up when we emerged near Interstate 64 and headed west on it to connect with the northbound I-81.

That open feeling lasted only a short while. In no time, we entered another mountainous area -- we were, after all, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian ranges -- and the trees were shrouded with wisps of fog. The further up we went, the denser the fog, till we could barely see 20 feet in front of us! The programmable roadside signs warned of foggy conditions and falling rocks (oh, GREAT) so we reduced our speed and hoped for the best. Good news: no rocks.

Although the bulk of our travel today was on a single highway -- I-81 -- we actually hit four states, starting in Virginia and then crossing two narrow strips, one of West Virginia and one of Maryland, before entering Pennsylvania where we now are. I'm not sure why the folks who mapped out the states set it up that way but it made our itinerary sound pretty impressive. In all, we covered some 260 miles.

Toward the end of that journey, more highway signs warned of heavy rain and possible standing water. Flying would be more like it. Every time a transport truck went by, we were engulfed in great plumes of water that our full-speed windshield wipers only just kept up with. Several times, the heavy traffic slowed almost to a halt as well, which we thought was unusual for a Sunday afternoon.

To break up the trip a little, we pulled off the interstate for a restaurant lunch at a Cracker Barrel. We'd forgotten that it was Sunday, till we stepped inside and saw the waiting crowds. Sunday brunch seems to be pretty popular in these parts. I didn't mind the 20-minute wait; it meant a good long browse in its well-stocked country store. And lunch was delicious!

Jonestown is just north of Harrisburg, PA and the KOA campground where we're parked tonight is a stone's throw from the interstate. It's quite lovely, too. Our site is right next to a picturesque stream where Tyler, the young staff member who led us to our site, says there's very good fishing. If we had a rod, we could cast off from the RV's doorstep! Let's just hope the stream stays its course; Tyler says this time last year it was six feet higher and flooded the whole campground. I got him to promise he'd knock on our door to warn us if that happens tonight.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Jefferson paradox

Charlottesville, VA -- When we were last here, at the beginning of our trip, we stayed in a hotel because it was too cold for camping. Today we're back, and it's too hot to camp without using our air conditioner! Fortunately, we are so equipped and are therefore quite comfortable.

It was a short hop from Appomattox to Monticello, just outside of Charlottesville, so after our drive through a winding, up-and-down country highway, we had plenty of time to spend on the grounds of Thomas Jefferson's estate, which has been designated as a Unesco World Heritage site.

Set atop a mountain in the midst of a 5,000 acre property, the third president's home was built according to his own architectural design. With its dome and columns and large windows, it dominates the hilltop, with a wide lawn in front of it edged with flowerbeds and tall trees. The view from the top is breathtaking, with the Blue Ridge mountains in the distance and green fields and forests spread out below.

Ariel, our guide, took us inside and showed us many examples of Jefferson's ingenuity. One item, his seven-day pendulum clock, caught my attention in particular, because I came to Monticello as a child when we were living in the US, and I remembered the cannon-ball weights that operated the clock, indicating the day of the week down the wall, with Sunday at the top near the ceiling and Friday at baseboard level. Jefferson had to cut a hole in the floor so the weights could go through, and Saturday's spot was one floor below in the basement!

Other gadgets included a dumb waiter in a sitting room, hidden on the side of the fireplace, which could carry up bottles of wine, placed in it by a servant in the wine cellar. Jefferson also invented a globe-shaped sundial that still works today.

Of course, Thomas Jefferson is best known as the author of the Declaration of Independence, with its inspirational phrases such as "all men are created equal" and everyone has the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". But his personal life seems to fly in the face of these exalted principles; he owned some 600 slaves and believed black people to be inferior, ignorant and incapable of abstract reasoning.

After touring the rooms of the mansion, with their classical paintings, displays of aboriginal art, and vast collections of books, as well as rich tapestry drapes and fine furniture, we went outside to take the tour of the grounds where armies of enslaved people grew crops, prepared food, tended livestock and kept the household running.

Two rough one-room shacks depict a typical home for the enslaved men, women and children who worked on the plantation from sun-up to sundown six days a week. They are copies of what originally stood along the side of the main house. Zella, our guide for this portion of the visit, had the difficult job of describing the hard life of Jefferson's slaves, who lived constantly with the fear of being separated from loved ones if they got sold off. While some who worked in the kitchen produced sumptuous meals in the French cuisine style Jefferson preferred, their own meagre rations of food consisted of dried corn, salt pork and fish. And they had to till the fields, cure the meat and catch the fish themselves.

It was hard to listen to the stories of the African-American people of those times, and to gaze at some of the other visitors in our tour group with black skin and wonder what their thoughts might have been. It was hard to understand how a brilliant man like Jefferson could draft documents that stirred the hearts of his countrymen to strive for human ideals, and at the same time could countenance the whipping of enslaved children and the hard labour of their mothers and fathers.

So, our day was a varied and interesting one that gave us lots to ponder. Our last stop on the property was the Jefferson family cemetery where a large obelisk stands above Jefferson's grave. On it is engraved the three accomplishments of which Jefferson was most proud, the Declaration of Independence, his statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and his founding of the University of Virginia.

Once settled at our campsite, a few miles from Monticello, it was time to get the laundry squared away for another week. From the sublime to the ridiculous!

(We also discovered we don't have cellphone connectivity here, so I will have to post my photos of the day some time tomorrow when we do.)

Friday, May 3, 2019

A country reunited

Appomattox, VA -- This is the place where Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee  came together to negotiate the terms of surrender and bring the Civil War to an end on April 9, 1865. Today Val and I stood in the parlour where these documents were prepared, and walked along the roadways where Union and Confederate troops marched.

Appomattox National Historical Park has recreated the small village of Appomattox Courthouse, with reproductions and original buildings arranged as they were at the time. The home of Wilmer McLean, whose parlour was used for the historic meeting mentioned above, had been dismantled years ago with the intention of moving it to Washington, DC for display. When the plan fell through, the house was reconstructed on its original foundation, and the rooms furnished as they had been.

In addition to the McLean house, there's a general store, the courthouse that gave the town its name, a law office, a jailhouse, slave quarters, a tavern and other smaller buildings.They're laid out in a grassy area with stately trees and gravel roads.

In the courthouse, which is now the park's visitor centre, we watched a short film about this pivotal event in US history. We also read about soldiers, mothers, slaves and others whose memories of the final days of the war were preserved from letters and diaries and displayed for us to read. The heartbreaking human toll of this war felt so real as I read the scrawled misspelled words of a worried father hoping to see his son again. Another soldier who took a bullet in his back that came out through his chest had scribbled a farewell note to his mother as he lay dying -- but in the end, he survived.

Outside, a fresh warm breeze ruffled the grassy fields under a bright sky, and a group of school kids chattered excitedly as they headed to the gift shop. A little further down the road, we stopped at a cemetery where the remains of 18 Confederate soldiers and one federal soldier are buried, some of the last to be killed in the Civil War.

Even closer to town, we stopped at the American Civil War Museum, which provided the perspective of the Confederate states, including memories from slaves who joined the North in order to obtain their freedom, and many artifacts donated by descendants of soldiers. We saw a Confederate flag with some of the stars cut out, removed by souvenir hunting soldiers as they headed home. There was also a scrap of the white flag that a Confederate soldier carried to the McLean house when the surrender talks began.

Everything we saw today was so well done. None of the texts were preachy or defensive, but simply presented the facts. Great care was taken to provide information from every side, both military and civilian, with photographs, paintings and artifacts, and to correct any misrepresentations that may have circulated at the war's end. For example, a painting of the signing of the surrender documents included General Custer, but the caption noted that in fact he had not been in the room at the time. Another text recounted General Grant's generosity, when he allowed food that had been shipped in for his soldiers to be distributed to the defeated and nearly starving Confederate troops.

No one could walk away from a day like this without pondering the high price paid for the peaceful democracy so many take for granted now.

Our campground tonight is in a field right next to the highway, with trucks, motorcycles and emergency vehicles roaring past. It will be a night to unearth the earplugs, methinks. At least we will not have far to go in the morning when we hit the road once again!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Purple mountain majesties

Lynchburg, VA -- As we came to the end of our travel day today, we could see distant blue mountain tops on the horizon, and the highway resembled the ups and downs of a fairground roller coaster. The peaceful country roads were nevertheless a pleasant contrast to the tangle of highways that ringed the city of Richmond at the start of the day.

With 20-20 hindsight, we might have accepted the brief intensity of interstate highway travel for the beginning of the trip just to get around Richmond. (We decided to 'do' Richmond at some later date, as our time grows short before we need to be home.) But in my determination to use only non-interstate routes, we instead stuck with Highway 60. I could see it going in to Richmond and coming out on the other side, so I figured we should be able to get through the city OK. And, in fact, we did, but not without a couple of U-turns and hasty recalculations that, shall we say, added to our adventures.

Once the city was in our rear view mirror, we engaged the GPS lady to take over, since she was most likely to work out the route along Highway 60 as we wanted, given that it was the most direct route from that point on. It was also a very picturesque one, passing through tall forests and past rolling fields splashed with colourful wildflowers, as well as through little towns and villages.

It was another very warm day -- reaching the mid-eighties -- but there was some cloud cover that attenuated things somewhat, not to mention the RV's air conditioning system.

When we reached our campground, great puffy clouds had started forming, some of them with iron-grey bases, and as we got settled, great rumbles of thunder warned of weather to come. Fortunately the storm broke once we were well in place, so we turned on the A/C and relaxed.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Of muskets and quill pens

Williamsburg, VA -- Today we hit the two other points on the so-called Historic Triangle around Williamsburg -- Jamestown and Yorktown. It was a busy day for teachers in the area; in both venues, armies of wiggling, squirming, excited school kids trooped through displays and interpretive stations, learning about life in colonial times and, hopefully, about how their country became a country back in the 1700s.

A beautiful parkway links all three points in the triangle, and we started down the part leading to Jamestown first. It's here that three ships, the Susan Constance, the Godspeed and the Discovery, landed after making the Atlantic crossing from England. Replicas of all three ships are moored on the James River next to the historic property, and visitors could climb aboard and marvel at the coffin-sized bunks and cramped quarters that passengers had to endure for months to get here.

Gracious buildings with large exhibition halls provided an informative introduction to the site, with artifacts, dioramas, artwork and text explaining the early encounters between settlers and native peoples. Several short films also depicted the events, and costumed staff members outside were on hand to answer questions and explain what life was like in those early times for both the colonists and the aboriginal communities in the area.

The weather was a bit kinder today, so we weren't quite sweltering after trekking about. After our morning at Jamestown, we ate lunch in our RV in the parking lot before setting out on the Colonial Parkway for Yorktown. It was about a half-hour drive, but on a gently winding road through tall shade trees, under red-brick bridges and past nearby waterways. One would never know we were traveling through some fairly densely populated areas for the entire way. Had we known how scenic it was, we would have pulled over on one of the lay-bys for our lunch instead of the parking lot!

The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown was another beautiful facility, set back from the edge of the York River and landscaped with lovely flowerbeds and a display of state flags. High-ceilinged halls housed exhibits and artifacts that explained in great and varied detail how the beleaguered Virginians came to the point of severing relations with the British and forging a new world of independence and freedom. We kind of felt like we were interlopers in a family conversation as we listened to videos and read texts describing this country's personal history.

One short film presentation was projected onto a 180-degree screen and included vibrations under our seats, flashing lights and even smoke as we watched battle scenes that were happening all around us! The section I really enjoyed was a gallery of portraits of ordinary people with quotes from their personal journals about the happenings throughout the war years.
Outside we wandered through a military camp where a costumed gentleman showed us the contents of a typical soldier's backpack, from his straight razor to a tin box with flint and linen fibres that helped him start a fire. Combs were made from cattle hooves, and there were even iron picks he could strap onto his boots to allow him to march on icy surfaces without slipping. In the colonel's tent there was a small wooden desk with quill pen and inkwell where he could record his strategies. We jumped when a soldier fired his musket with a loud 'crack' down the way for a crowd of school kids.

It was back to reality when we headed out to gas up the RV and pick up some groceries. I imagine the designers of these excellent historic sites hoped visitors might leave with a better appreciation for the day-to-day freedoms we all enjoy these three hundred years later.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

George Washington's britches

Williamsburg, VA -- With careful, tiny stitches using flax thread, the craftsman worked on the supple deerskin leather as a pair of wheat-coloured knee-length britches took shape on his work table. He was just one of a series of artisans we visited through the day on our tour of Colonial Williamsburg. The britches would soon be worn by George Washington -- well, his impersonator -- in a dramatic presentation to audiences of school kids, families, and retirees like us in the coming season.
It's a great way to absorb American history -- in a living village of costumed colonials with a wealth of information to share. We took the short drive from our campground this morning, having donned our sturdy walking shoes and Tilley hats, and having consulted the weather forecast. It promised a high in the upper eighties -- in great contrast to yesterday -- and we were ready.

It was not an overly busy day, so it was easy to pop in and out of various historic sites and watch people at work. We chatted with a wheelmaker, who told us about the strength and grain of different woods as he smoothed the spokes of a large wagon wheel with a rasp. Then it was a chocolate-making expert, grinding roasted cocoa nibs on a hot stone into a glorious, thick mass of molten deliciousness.

Some of our visits were guided tours, and at one of them the guide asked if anyone had been to Williamsburg before. One said five years ago, one a couple of years, then I said "fifty years!" -- which in fact was wrong; it was actually more like sixty years since my last visit! Yikes! Am I that old?? But yes, when we lived in Washington, DC in the fifties, our family made the trip to Williamsburg. I must confess I didn't recognize much, but I'm sure it's probably a totally different place from those days.

They say it takes at least one full day to see everything. We saw a lot, but we certainly only scratched the surface. Still, it was great to chat with artisans of every type, and to stroll on the shady streets as ox carts or horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped by. We stopped in at Chowning's Tavern for a tasty lunch with a stein of ale and a meal made with fresh, locally grown ingredients.
Some of the buildings are accessible to ticket-holders like us, while others -- like the taverns and gift shops -- are commercial establishments anyone can visit. They had lovely wooden utensils, silver jewelry, old-fashioned toys like penny whistles and rag dolls, and linen napkins that are one yard square. That was one thing I did remember from the last time; we ate at a restaurant where the servers tied huge yard-square napkins around our necks, practically drowning us kids in cloth folds! The tri-corner hats were another souvenir my brothers acquired those long years ago. Nowadays, each one costs $30! There were lovely Christmas tree ornaments but I wasn't willing to part with $25 for a little tin carriage, so we kept our wallets in our pockets.

By day's end, we had hit 86 humid degrees, and I was grateful for the occasional water fountain on the grounds, disguised behind wooden barrels. I was also glad I didn't have to spend the day in a long mutton-sleeved dress, apron and bonnet!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Where are my woolies?

Williamsburg, VA -- Beautiful azalea shrubs decorate the front entrance to our KOA campground here in historic Williamsburg. We've seen lots of gardens on our journey today displaying this showy emblem of spring in shades of red, peach, pink and white -- lovely. The campground is large and beautifully maintained, and surprisingly underpopulated at the moment, so we almost have it to ourselves.
 Brisk was the descriptor of the day today; I was loathe to emerge from my snuggly sleeping bag this morning! Expecting that it would warm up as the day wore on, I donned my usual light clothes and sandals and Val set out with T-shirt and shorts. By the time we stopped for lunch, we noticed most people were dressed in long pants and fleeces, and after supper we capitulated and turned on our furnace for the first time! It barely made it into the low sixties at best -- no idea why, but apparently the chill will be short-lived: tomorrow they're predicting 81 for a high.

Again today, we set out on Highway 17 north, but not long afterward we branched off to Highway 13 in a northwesterly direction. I had seen a Walmart Supercenter on Google Maps last night as I scoped out our route, and in due course we found it and turned in. In addition to a few groceries, we wanted to get a large plastic tote box to organize our stuff in the back of the RV a bit better, and having measured the space beforehand, we found exactly the right size. The RV has lots of wonderful nooks and crannies, which we've been filling up happily as we go along -- and still there is room to spare. We've also identified a few things we brought but don't really need (like Val's dozen pairs of sox!!) so we can pack more effectively on our next trip.

I realized by the afternoon that I hadn't seen a single strand of Spanish moss hanging from any trees today. We asked Janice at the Williamston campground if there were alligators this far north, and she said that one had been spotted a few miles from their site. But most of the southern flora and fauna are tapering off now that we have crossed into Virginia, even though this state was considered part of The South, historically speaking. Any self-respecting lizard or alligator would have made a beeline for warmer climes on a day like this chilly day has been.

Our route took us through Suffolk, and past Portsmouth and Norfolk, and we aren't even in England. The landscape ranged from flat, rural farmland, with fields freshly combed for spring planting, to heavily industrialized areas where ships dock and factories spew smoke, to genteel neighbourhoods with pillared homes and groomed lawns.

When we arrived at our destination and went in to register, Peter, the staffer who handled our arrangements, had a strangely familiar look. Tall and lean, with a thin beard around his angular chin and glasses perched on his nose, he could easily pass for Abraham Lincoln by simply donning a cravat and top hat! We asked him if he had ever portrayed the former president and he said yes -- a part time role he plays for business groups in the area. Even his voice resembled that of Daniel Day-Lewis, who starred in the excellent movie Lincoln that we have watched.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Carolina on my mind

Williamston, NC -- There was a Sunday feel about today, as we headed north from Myrtle Beach on Highway 17. We passed more souvenir shops and dinosaur mini-golfs, but also quite a few pancake houses with lots of cars in the parking lots, and customers coming or going dressed in their Sunday best, having fed their souls and now enjoying a feed of another kind with friends and family.

There are plenty of churches in this part of the world, and many have huge parking lots which, of course, were full of cars today. I saw many a Baptist church, and some Lutheran ones, as well as AME churches (African Methodist Episcopal). A lot of them are low-profile buildings with soaring white spires topped with a cross that dominates the landscape of a small town in a peaceful way.

Although our route was nicknamed the Ocean Highway, and the tiny bird's-eye-view map on our RV's navigation screen indicated quite a bit of blue water along its eastern edge, we didn't actually see a lot of ocean. There were long stretches of straight road with green forest on either side. Traffic was light and the weather was fine, so that was helpful.

We had a couple of larger cities to find our way through as we remained faithful to Highway 17 from start to finish. We didn't really need to consult the GPS lady till later in the day, content to follow the route the old fashioned way on a paper map. There was only a short stretch in South Carolina before the state line. Our road atlas was fine in a pinch, but we like to have a recent edition of each state's official map to make sure our information is up to date and accurate, and we didn't have one for North Carolina.

So, when we crossed into North Carolina we kept our eyes peeled for a Visitor Center where we could get said map, and sure enough, the turn-off appeared within a mile or two. Remember what I said about a Sunday feel? Right....the office at the rest area was closed. There was only one other car in the parking lot. At least we could access the restrooms. Fortunately Val found a literature rack near the men's facility that had the official NC map, so all was well.

Wilmington was the first large centre, and the first bridge we crossed took us over Cape Fear River. I caught a glimpse of the port area, but was soon engrossed in keeping an eye on the 17 North highway signs through the city streets. Next was Jacksonville NC, where there's a large military base. We stopped for lunch near a grocery store where we stocked up before setting out again.

At this point we activated the GPS to get a better idea of what time we would reach our destination. It put the GPS lady into a snit because for several miles the four-lane was squeezed into two due to construction. The system couldn't recognize that we were traveling on the northbound half of a highway that is normally two southbound lanes. I've never heard "recalculating" that many times in such a short space!

The final glimpse of a waterway was at Washington NC, a small town that straddles Pemlico River. I liked the village just before we got there, named Chocowinity!

Our camping spot tonight is a small family park that has seen better days. It has a rumpled, well-used feel, but it was deemed acceptable by Good Sam directory folks, and the staff were friendly and welcoming. We are so well set up in our little home on wheels, our surroundings don't have to be fancy.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Beachy keen!

Myrtle Beach, SC -- Brrrr! This morning the temperature was 58 degrees when we got up, so our fresh hot coffee was most welcome. It didn't take long to warm up to a more comfortable level, though, once we were set for the day.

The beach was our objective, and our KOA staff offered a free golf cart ride from the main entrance, plus the promise to pick us up at a time of our choosing. It was such a short trip, we figured we could get back on our own, but we booked a pickup for two o'clock just in case.
 We walked the short block to the beach from our drop-off point and past the hotels, then the fenced-off dunes and the soft sand till we got to the packed section near the water. A long, long beach stretched out in both directions, and although there were people there, it didn't seem crowded at all. A fresh breeze was blowing as we started our stroll, heading north with the waves crashing in on our left. The sand was coarser than at Honeymoon Island in Florida, and I was surprised to see that the seashells, of which there were plenty, were much thicker here -- almost like shards of flowerpots, rather than the fragile ones we'd crunched on during our Florida stay.

A small plane droned overhead, dragging a huge banner for one of the beach stores in town, with the message "Shark tooth necklaces 39 cents" flapping behind it. Not long after that, we overheard a woman telling her friend she'd found a shark tooth, which she held out for her friend to examine. My shell-searching immediately augmented to a shark-tooth-searching mission, and I actually picked up a couple myself -- or so I thought. Later, on our return stroll, we saw the woman again and asked her to look at them and see if they were. She said no -- and then gave me one of hers, which was very kind!

We watched a couple of people way out above the waves, suspended from a parachute which a motorboat was pulling along. They sure looked tiny -- but I bet they had a terrific view. There are high-rises all along the beach but they are set far enough back from the water so there is plenty of room for literally thousands of bathers, which I guess there are in the high season.

After our stroll, we stopped for lunch at a Friendly's restaurant, which was buzzing with customers, but served up a tasty meal. Then we set off toward the campground, but not before we stopped in at one of the kitschy stores for a wee browse. Flip flops, sunhats, bathing suits, plastic buckets and shovels, as well as gaudy souvenirs jammed the aisles! Didn't see any shark tooth necklaces though.

Since it was Saturday, I went off to do our weekly laundry once we got back to the RV. But not before chatting with our new neighbour Gwen, who had arrived next door in our absence in a Roadtrek RV very much like ours! She said it was brand new, and even asked Val to show her how to work some of its features. Her quick run-through when she picked it up had left her overwhelmed, so she wanted to master one new thing at a time at each stop she makes. We were glad to oblige.

When she found out we were from Canada, she told us about her trip to Montreal some years back. She and a friend were unwitting victims of a Just For Laughs gag that she says is still on You Tube! Must look it up! Another example of the interesting stories and people you meet with this mode of travel.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Forests and factories

Myrtle Beach, SC -- According to the KOA literature about this campground, we are in the middle of the city of Myrtle Beach, but looking out our door, we seem to be in the middle of a pine forest. All around us are tall, straight pine trees, and the wind sounds like a huge sigh as it blows through the needles. Every now and then there's a 'bonk' when a small pine cone hits our roof. The ground is carpeted with pine needles and live oak leaves.

It may sound peaceful enough, but in addition to that gentle breeze is a lot of noise! Across the way is a huge jumping pillow for the kids, and all through supper we could hear them screaming with delight. There are several motorcyclists in the park who seem to be making repeated circuits of the roads with their roaring engines. And, despite Mother Nature's free sweep of wind, a park employee has been slowly strolling the grounds with a blower droning away. It's a study in contrasts.

Our day had a leisurely start, since we only had a two-hour trip to make and checkout time was noon. So we took a few minutes to explore the Mount Pleasant campground before we left. It has a lovely artificial lake stocked with fish and, according to a staff member we spoke to, an alligator or two and an otter. He says there used to be three otters but doesn't know what happened to the other two. Hmm.
Great puffy clouds were gathering overhead with that anvil grey underside that promises rain, so we dumped our tanks and set out at about 10:30. Our route was quite straightforward -- Highway 17 all the way. The clouds never did open up, so we missed out on a free car wash.

Although our route paralleled the Atlantic coastline, we saw very little of the ocean. Most of the way was a straight four-lane with tall deciduous trees on either side. By noon, however, we reached Georgetown and crossed the bridge over the Waccamaw River and Winyah Bay. Down below were several marinas with pleasure boats galore, plus more utilitarian vessels. A huge factory on the left side of the bridge was busy turning logs from all those forests into paper.

Once we got into town we saw several signs guiding visitors to the historic downtown and harbour. The sign that caught our eye was "Gullah Museum" -- we'd heard of the Gullah people from our friends Scott and Mary Jane. They were among the African slaves that were brought to tend the plantations in this area but developed a distinct culture. It took some hunting to find the tiny museum, and when we walked in we were greeted by Andrew Rodriguez, a softspoken elderly black gentleman who was the proprietor and interpreter for the one-room display area. African artifacts and story quilts sewn by his late wife decorated the walls, with displays about rice and indigo crops. He showed us the quilt that his wife had made depicting the ancestry of former First Lady Michelle Obama, a descendant of the Gullah people. He talked about how the white plantation owners sought out Gullah slaves to tap in to their knowledge of rice cultivation that they brought from Africa. Mr. Rodriguez was more than willing to continue with a lengthy, scholarly lecture on every detail of the history, except we had to cut it short and get on our way. We were glad to know more about this aspect of American history.

After a quick bite of lunch, we continued along Highway 17 through Garden City and Surfside Beach. A series of strip malls, mini-golf courses and souvenir shops reminded us of the type of businesses you find around Niagara Falls. There was one store selling beachwear with a huge shark in front, and the shark's mouth was the store entrance! A Jurassic mini-golf had giant dinosaurs and waterfalls of blue-dyed water. And I'm sure I saw a Ripley's Believe it or Not museum somewhere in there.

We'll spend two nights here so that we can explore Myrtle Beach in more detail tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Through the tangles

Mount Pleasant, SC -- We are just north of Charleston, the South Carolina city where the first shots were fired in the Civil War. It's a place we've been before, so we recognized some of the sights as we drove through. We are at a lovely KOA campground, complete with a lake, wide, open sites and plenty of amenities. The blurb says it is situated on an old plantation.

It was a fresh morning when we set out from Jekyll Island Campground. We had spent a good session the night before mapping out our route for the day, because we didn't want to spend the whole time dodging transport trucks on the interstates. Our chosen route was along Highway 17 pretty well the whole way. There were two parts that made me a bit nervous; those were the parts where you could see the little "17" on the map on one side of the big city and on the other, but there was a whole mess of other highways in the middle with no clear indication how our little red line got through them all. The two cities were Savannah, GA and Charleston.

So, off we went, Val at the wheel and me with copious maps spread out on my lap and in the door pocket beside me. Full of optimism and confidence that we'd get out the other end none the worse for wear.

After crossing the bridge off the island, we turned northward on Highway 17 to a second more impressive bridge that took us over the Brunswick River and past the city of Brunswick. The Sidney Lanier Bridge is Georgia's tallest cable-stayed suspension bridge, and soars above the river. It replaced a vertical suspension bridge that had been twice struck by ships.

For much of our route, we followed a straight line with tall trees on either side and only a few glimpses of the marshes and waterways to the east of us. But the traffic was light and the weather was fine, and the two big cities were way off to begin with.

I confess that my level of anxiety did augment somewhat as I looked at the map and our GPS screen and saw that Savannah, our first hurdle, was nearing. With no fewer than three maps, I'd sort of seen how Highway 17 worked its way through, but we've had surprises before. My eyes were glued to every signpost on the roadside, and each time that lovely number 17 showed up I smiled inwardly. Yay! As the big city faded into the distance behind us, with not a single glitch or wrong turn, I rejoiced.

Shortly after Savannah, we crossed the state line into South Carolina. When the urban sections had thinned out, we stopped to have lunch and gas up. Our only other objective was a grocery store. We passed a couple of Piggly Wigglys (love that name!!) on the wrong side of the highway before using the GPS to find us a Publix store nearby. The one it found required a U-turn, but we made it with little difficulty and soon were back on good old Highway 17. That was the only time today that we had to hear the GPS lady drawl "recalculating"!

Besides the highway signposts, there were plenty of other signs with odd street or town names. We saw a Rude Dog Lane in one town, and passed another town called Ashepoo, next to the Ashepoo River! Another one I saw the other day was Horse Stamp Church Road. How about that.

A couple of times, our highway joined up with the Interstate 95 for a few miles, so we got to see the wisdom of our choice to avoid it. We were soon back onto the road less traveled -- though it was a four-lane for much of the way with a decent surface.

Charleston was approaching. Another tangle of incoming highways and city expressways! By this time we'd engaged our GPS lady full time, and her calm tones kept us on the right path throughout. Our final destination was only a few minutes beyond Charleston -- or so we thought. As our turnoff to Highway 17 approached, we saw an electronic sign that said "Incident on Ravenel Bridge. Expect delays." We were in the thick of rush hour traffic by this time, headed for...the Ravenel Bridge. A long line of cars snaked up ahead, and we had to squeeze sideways three times for police, ambulance and fire trucks to struggle past with sirens ablaze. When we finally got abreast of the incident there was no sign of a crash, so we fear it must have been a jumper.

As soon as we passed the emergency vehicles the traffic flowed freely and in no time we were at the KOA. Whew! Not quite: our reservation could not be found. Finally, the staff lady checked with another employee and realized it was under Vanin instead of Zanin! Next time I reserve over the phone I will say ZED instead of zee when I spell our name!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The cycle of life

Jekyll Island, GA -- First thing this morning, we were at the campground office door in order to register officially, since we arrived after office hours yesterday, and to see about renting a couple of bicycles. We'd been told there were only about five bikes to rent, but our promptness gave us the entire fleet from which to choose. Since they were all identical, it wasn't too difficult! And fortunately they were quite comfortable coaster bikes, with a heavy frame and fat wheels.

The island has a network of bicycle paths, most of which are smoothly paved, and we had a map to help us find the local highlights. We set out northward to the tip of the island, under a wide canopy of live oaks festooned with Spanish moss, which filtered the morning sun and dappled the road ahead. We passed a corral where one could rent horses for rides on the beach, and then arrived at the pier at the northern tip. The path continued in a southeast direction through flat, open marshland before opening onto a sandy trail leading to Driftwood Beach.

Craggy, weatherworn branches of felled trees clawed the sky from the wave-washed sand, and large rolling waves the colour of coffee curled in from the ocean. To our left and right as far as we could see, more fantastic driftwood branches dotted the beach, throwing crooked shadows on the sand. Val discovered a small jellyfish that had beached itself, and started chatting with a woman who had a long-lens camera around her neck. She took a picture of us with my cellphone, and we ended up conversing for some time with her about her horses and her travels. One of the fun things about traveling to new places.

The next leg of the circuit was more citified, with residential houses on either side of the road. By the time we reached Tortuga Jack's seaside restaurant, we were ready to get off our saddles and have a tasty Tex-Mex lunch and a chilled drink.

Sufficiently refreshed, we hopped back on to the trail, turning inland along the expansive golf course and toward the town. We had hoped to visit the Jekyll Island museum, but discovered that it was in transition to a brand new facility that will open three days from now. Where it was moving from was not clear! So we continued along the path, which took us past a series of enormous mansions with manicured gardens, pillars and porches where the rich folks had lived in bygone days. We also saw the massive Jekyll Island Club Hotel, set back from the road, a venue in times past for folks like the Rockefellers to get away from the winter.

By this time we had crossed to the east side of the island and were heading northward toward the campground. Across the water we could see the bridge to other nearby islands, and a wide swath of marshland in between. It was a pleasant vantage point for the Horton House, the island's first building in 1753, overlooking the mainland. The ruins of the house still stand; the building material is called 'tabby', a mixture of crushed oyster shells and other materials that clearly have stood the test of time. In its earliest days, Jekyll Island had been a plantation with cotton as a major crop. It changed hands several times between the Spanish, the French and the British.

We were very glad to see the campground entrance at last, having nearly circumnavigated the whole island! The temperature hit the mid-80s today so we felt we'd earned the ice cream bars that we picked up at the camp store on the way to our site.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Hiding on Jekyll

Jekyll Island, GA -- We are on the move again. Tonight, our little home on wheels is nestled under a canopy of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss on a tiny island off the coast of Georgia. The crackle of campfires and the scent of wood smoke evokes camping memories from way back, but the setting is completely new to us. Tomorrow we will have a better look at this historic spot, but for now we will rest from a long day's drive.

Our day started very happily with breakfast at Emily's Restaurant just north of the Dunedin RV Park with our friends Paul and Karen -- one last opportunity to trade stories of bygone escapades with an interesting couple! There wasn't much for us to do to ready ourselves for the trip, since most of the wrapping up stuff happened the night before.

There was a slight mishap last evening. We've been parked on an RV site that belongs to our friend Anna, and she asked us to leave the keys to her storage shed with a permanent park resident till she returns in the fall. They've been hanging on a nice key rack we installed on the wall just behind the driver's seat in the RV. I reached up to get them and somehow I didn't grab them firmly enough and they fell -- not handily on the floor. Oh no. They slipped down a narrow crack behind the driver's seat against the bathroom wall -- to a resting place visible by flashlight, fortunately, but well out of reach of my fingers in a space only a centimetre wide! However, I managed to fish them out with a plastic hook I'd thought might come in handy some day, wired to three twist ties hooked end to end. I coaxed the hook down to where the keys were wedged and looped the ring to our great relief. It was like a scene from a sit com!

We pulled out of our site at about nine this morning and headed north following the west coast. We followed Highway 54 eastward till it joined the Interstate 75 and turned north again towards Ocala. This route took us past Bushnell, where we'd spent a couple of very pleasant winters at the cottage of our late friend Carl. When we got to Ocala, after a quick lunch in a mall parking lot, we turned east again on Highway 50 till we reached the I-95, and followed it northward, circled Jacksonville and crossed into Georgia. The weather was fine and, while there were plenty of large transport trucks, the traffic flowed well.

The landscape changed from jungly pines, tangled with vines, and scrubby palmettos, to wide open flatlands as we approached Jekyll Island. There were Turtle Crossing signs every mile or so, but the only thing we saw was a racoon that quickly turned back from instant death when he saw us coming.

The campground literature said to follow their signs rather than our GPS directions, but their signs were not in evidence when we crossed the bridge from the mainland. So we ended up approaching the campground at the northern end of the island the long way around on the beach side instead of the more direct river side route, but it gave us a chance to see some residential and resort areas along the way. We're looking forward to seeing more.

[Note: Having trouble uploading my photos. Will try again later.]

Sunday, April 21, 2019

You sleep in that?

Dunedin, FL -- Yesterday we had errands to run, and just out of curiosity, I timed our getting-ready steps, from hooked up and stationary to on the road. It took us all of six minutes.

There was a big sale at Beall's this weekend, and we had some coupons to apply even better discounts to the already-marked-down items we had in mind, so that was our first destination. We were very pleased to find things we liked, and even more delighted when we walked out having saved over $100!

Out in the parking lot, as we climbed aboard, a couple of senior citizens came over to chat. They'd owned a Roadtrek RV in the past and were interested to see what we thought about this new model. We had a nice conversation, comparing places we'd visited and sharing ideas about places yet to see. They wished us well, and off we went.

Next stop, the grocery store for a few items, and then on to the beach for a brisk walk. On Friday we'd had some stiff winds and rain, so we were curious to see how that affected the sandy shore. It was still pretty windy, and refreshingly cool, and the surf was high. Great foamy crests rolled in and splayed on the packed sand, then raked back to start over again. For a holiday weekend, there were surprisingly few people on the beach, and barely a handful braving the churning water. It was low tide, so we had lots of width to stroll on, and the sand was firm underfoot.

Before we pulled away for one last shopping errand (had to pick up some Easter chocolate!), a gentleman came up to Val's window to ask about the RV. "Can you sleep in this?" he asked. His eyes widened when we told him we could also make meals, shower and watch TV!

Yet again, in the parking lot of our last stop, Val left the store ahead of me to start up the RV, and as I came out, there was a young couple in conversation at Val's window with more questions about our mode of transport. We don't usually get that many encounters in one day, but we do get waves and curious looks as we drive around. It's a great way to meet people!

A beautiful sunny morning greeted us on this Easter day, and there were even bunnies outside nibbling the grass -- not to mention the two dark chocolate versions Val and I exchanged after breakfast. That, plus an Easter service with glorious music, bells and trumpets, and a special brunch afterward, made for a pretty nice celebration.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A rare event

Dunedin, FL -- A fresh, cool breeze is wafting through the park today; a welcome relief from the steamy, oppressive heat of yesterday. I suppose I'm not meant to say words like "oppressive" regarding the Sunshine State at any time, but it sure felt that way when the mercury hit 90 in the shade and my forehead dripped with perspiration even while sitting quietly in my lawn chair in the shade. I confess I did repair to the air-conditioned clubhouse for a half hour at the worst of it, and worked on the lovely puzzle of Birds of Florida that's laid out on a table for passers-by to enjoy.

The park is quieter these days. A number of residents have packed up to go back north. Those who are still here are busily scrubbing RV walls, stowing stuff away, pulling in slides and covering windows with reflective foil to protect their winter getaways from the punishing heat of Florida summers. There are a few permanent residents, some of whom kindly oversee their absent neighbours' properties. Townspeople admit a sense of relief when the traffic congestion of the high season finally abates. We've never been here this late, so it's interesting to see what it's like when snowbird season comes to a close.

Val's brother John and Fawn are in the battening-down phase, and we'll be driving them to the airport on Thursday morning. It will be our first test of the rear seatbelts in the RV, that feed through the back of the convertible bed-sofa and seat three passengers. It's been a bit of a tough winter for John and Fawn, who've flown home twice for several weeks each time to see to Fawn's mother, in poor health. She's doing much better now.

A silver lining for them has been the fact that they have finally witnessed an event that happens only once every year: the lovely potted cactus that decorates their lot bloomed! Two days ago, a glorious flower opened its delicate pink petals, revealing a pale yellow crown at its centre. The appearance lasts only one day -- by evening, when we left their place after supper, it was already curling inward and turning brown at the edges. In all the years they've been coming here, it's the first time they've been here to see it with their own eyes. Beautiful.

Despite their long list of chores, they found time to go with us to Honey-moon Island beach for a stroll on Saturday. It was a special event day -- or so the banners said at the park entrance -- and the beach was full of sunbathers, sand diggers, wave jumpers, kiddies, mums and dads, sweet young things and old guys looking at sweet young things -- the whole nine yards! It was neat to see all the different ways one venue entertained its visitors. I especially liked the artistic display of beach rocks in tall piles and some pretty ingenious arched structures, plus a giant Fred Flinstone one fellow sculpted with great care.

Fawn also found a pair of bikes for us to use till our time comes to leave. We'd borrowed theirs in their absence, but they need to stow them away now. A neighbour with tons of grandchildren has a stash of bikes of all sizes and vintages, and kindly let us borrow a couple when Fawn asked. We tried to rent at a nearby bike shop, but he had none to spare. Val washed the bikes and oiled them, and they will do quite nicely for the next little while.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Tan lines, chow lines & laugh lines

Dunedin, FL -- Now that we've been down here for a couple of weeks, and despite my attempts to prevent it, the sun has made its mark on the few exposed parts of my tender white skin. Those parts are on the tops of my feet, where the sandal straps are not, a V-shaped spot where my open collar exposes a bit of neck, and my hands and wrists. So, when I take off my footwear, one can see three tan-coloured stripes, and my watch's usual spot on my left wrist is now clearly visible when I set my watch aside for the night.

On days like yesterday, when we walked on the beach, I regularly violate the dress code of skimpy bathing suits or shorts, strolling along as I do with long sleeves, long pants and my ever-present Tilley hat. But it's been a long time since I've had to nurse a painful sunburn, so I don't mind looking comparatively freakish. And yes, I've heard of sunscreen, but it would take entire tubes of the expensive stuff daily to accomplish what I do with clothing, plus I'd reek of chemicals and my eyes would smart and run for hours if the slightest speck of the goop got near them.

We've had a busy time in the RV park -- hence my silence on BlogSpot. On Saturday everyone gathered at the clubhouse for the annual farewell party, since many residents are packing up and heading north again. "When are you leaving?" is the mantra of the day. Tasty pulled-pork sandwiches were doled out along with chips and pop, plus cake for dessert, and we all trooped outside under the palm trees to eat and tap our feet to the golden oldies performed by the talented duo known as SPF40.

Later that afternoon, we were invited to the Cuban fest, held on Quail Street. We are on Sandpiper, but were honorary residents of Quail for the occasion. Ladies came in flowered dresses and gents in Hawaiian shirts, and we lined the street with lawn chairs. The Alvarez family served up delicious Cuban pulled pork, rice and black beans, followed by rum and cigars, while wonderful music played in the background.

Val and I had to sneak away early to participate in Trivia Night at the clubhouse to close out the evening. Who knew that Doritos came before Pringles, or that the winged Mercury hood ornament belonged to Saab? "Everybody!" was the standard answer! Our team didn't win, but we had a good time and lots of laughs.

Sunday we had an early-morning mission: to pick up Val's brother John and wife Fawn at Tampa Airport, back from snowy Canada after a family emergency. They got a hero's welcome when we returned with them to the park -- and this evening we got a second helping of the Cuban feast when they shared the care package that the Alvarez family kindly set aside for them!

While we enjoyed the meal, outside the skies opened and the wind blew and the rain came down in torrents. Lucky for us, by the time we headed back to our site, the rain had stopped and the air was lovely and fresh.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A shady spot and a good book

Dunedin, FL -- It was a fresh-washed morning today, after on-and-off rain showers through the day yesterday, so visiting the beautiful Honeymoon Island State Park beach held top billing for our busy social calendar. It took very little time, now that we've done it once or twice, to get the RV ready for driving, and in a matter of minutes we were strolling along the white sand in a pleasant breeze. We spotted a couple of dolphins out in the water, plus a great flock of pelicans winging overhead in a line that looked like migrating geese!

I'd already made a large five-bean salad and stowed it in the fridge to chill and mellow for the day, in preparation for tonight's potluck supper. Earlier this year, park residents had collected favourite recipes into a spiral-bound cookbook that they sold in support of park activities and local charities, and tonight was a community supper where contributors would prepare their recipes for everyone to sample. I wasn't around to provide a recipe, but I could still bring a dish to share.
Before settling back on our site for a leisurely afternoon, we topped up our RV's fresh water tank. The park owners are installing water meters at all the sites this week and next, so every day between 10 am and 2 pm the water is shut off for the whole park. The RV owners are the least affected, since they can be self-sufficient for that length of time -- as long as the tanks are full. I have a feeling the laundry building might get a lot busier in the early mornings and late afternoons for the next little while, however.

A tall live oak tree stands at the northwest corner of our lot, and provides a nice shaded area in the afternoon so we can sit out and enjoy the fine weather and delve into a good book. Which is what we did to while away the time before the potluck supper. Very pleasant.

Well before the appointed supper hour, people had gathered in the community hall to set out their offerings, scope out the dishes, and find a good spot to sit. Our hosts very wisely appointed servers at the tables to restrain the hungry hordes at the front of the line from cleaning out the bowls and platters and leaving the back-of-the-line crowd empty handed. So, when our table was finally called, there was still plenty to sample -- and what a feast! A wide array of appetizers, salads, casseroles, and desserts covered tables on either side of the room, and everyone ate heartily! And, if there was a dish one really liked, it would be easy to find the recipe if one had purchased the cookbook, which we did! Yum.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Off to see the Circus!

Dunedin, FL -- Some days unfold in a completely different way than you expect. Such was the case today, when we headed up to the clubhouse for the weekly Monday morning coffee, and sat down with our new friends Paul and Karen. They mentioned that they were heading out to Sarasota to see the Ringling Cultural Center -- and asked us if we'd like to come with them.

"Give me a second to clear my calendar for the day," Val quickly replied, and shortly afterward, we were in their car heading south toward Tampa Bay and beyond. The trip took about an hour, although it went very quickly as we got better acquainted. We crossed the huge Sunshine Skyway bridge between St Petersburg and Bradenton and on to Sarasota.

The Ringling, as the facility is called, is a 66-acre tract of land with beautiful gardens and vegetation, ponds and fountains, plus a museum dedicated to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, a huge art gallery, a theatre and, at the far end of the property where it meets Sarasota Bay, the Venetian-style mansion where John Ringling and his wife lived out their final days.
 We arrived at the circus museum just as the guided tour was beginning. Brightly coloured circus posters from the past, with tigers and elephants and acrobats and girls in sequins and feathers, beckoned small-town Americans to the big top for a day they would not soon forget. Original circus carts with ornately carved decorations and flashing wheels were on display, and you could almost see the snarling tigers behind the cage bars, or hear the upbeat music from the bandwagon that led the parade into town.

Next door in the Tibbals Learning Center, we marveled at the miniature circus display of some 3,000 hand-carved figures of performers, animals and spectators, lovingly created by one man, with wagons, train cars, tents, sideshows and a 7,000-seat big top three-ring circus tent complete with animated acts. Each figure was about four inches tall, with delightful scenes of performers practising, chefs serving hundreds of meals, men unloading horses from train cars, and kiddies licking cotton candy. It was wonderful!

John Ringling, the youngest of the five brothers, had a huge collection of priceless masterpieces that are housed in the Museum of Art which is, itself, a place of classic beauty, with a central garden surrounded by arched porticoes topped with copies of classic sculptures, and highlighting a replica of Michelangelo's David at its centre. We strolled through dozens of galleries till our feet ached!

One of the trams that purr through the grounds was a welcome sight when it pulled up to the doorway to carry us off to Ca'D'Zan, the Ringling's mansion. On the way, we passed massive banyan trees and sprawling lawns, as well as Mabel Ringling's colourful rose garden. We didn't have tickets to tour the inside of the mansion, but the outside views were magnificent, with their marble patios and commanding view of Sarasota Bay.

We didn't get back to the RV park till almost 7 pm, but it was a terrific day from start to finish, thanks to our kind friends Karen and Paul.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Eagles, lizards and pizza

Dunedin, FL -- After a couple of weeks in transit and getting settled in the RV park, it was time to get back to reality and check in at the local Weight Watchers outlet. All our indulgences along the way -- not that there were THAT many -- were impartially registered on the cold, hard surface of the WW scales and its large digital readout in front of us. The numbers were neither unexpected nor horrifying, so we were pleased to know where we stood, so to speak.

With our handy dandy RV waiting outside in the parking lot, we were able to enjoy breakfast before we stopped in at the grocery store in the same mall. Restocked with healthy fruits, vegetables and a frozen pizza, we headed for the beach once again for an invigorating walk. More on the pizza later.

Honey-moon Island State Park is more than just a beach, and after our stroll we thought we'd drive to the end of the access road to refresh our memory of the park from past years. Mostly, there were groves of palmettos on either side, but at one intersection I spotted a tall tree with what looked like eagles perched in the branches. We turned back for a closer look, and sure enough, there were three of them, each on their own branch, and on a fourth was calmly perched a large white crane, undaunted by the nearby predators. I guess when you're twice as tall as the other guy, you don't have to worry. I managed to get a picture of the group without scaring them off.

One of the joys of spending a lot of time outdoors is seeing all the creatures that share our neighbourhood with us. Our RV park has several rabbits that keep the greenery nicely trimmed, and if you're sitting out on the concrete pad next to your site for any length of time, you're bound to catch sight of a lizard darting out of the shadows, or sunning itself on a warm patch. Sometimes you can see the red of their fleshy throats pulsating in and out. Not sure what that means they're doing but it's neat to watch.

It was while I was pondering the lizard that I started to ponder what we'd have for supper, and my thoughts strayed to the frozen pizza we'd picked up. We often treat ourselves to one after our weigh-in, and there are some pretty tasty ones out there that aren't too fattening. The one we'd found had a cauliflower crust which really reduced the calories. Only problem is, although we have nearly every modern convenience in our little home on wheels, we don't have an oven. Oops.

Fortunately, there are some pretty kind people in the park who do have ovens, and Gloria and Gary were only too willing to help us with our little problem. Their gleaming, spacious fifth wheel trailer has everything including a convection oven, so at supper time I trotted down to their place with our little pizza and they cooked it in no time. Whew! Made our day!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Snowbirds and other feathered friends

Our second week in the new RV is unfolding nicely. Now that we have stopped site-hopping, we feel a bit more settled, but with an RV that's your only transportation, "settled" is a relative term. Today we set off in it once again, and we are getting our mobilization routine worked out pretty well. There are only a few small things we need to do before we head out, as a result of our discipline regarding putting things away when not in use.

Honeymoon Island beach was stop number one; we never get tired of strolling along the shore of this beautiful spot. This time we headed toward the pet beach, where a number of visitors were letting their dogs romp in the waves and sniff other dogs. Even though I have a basket full of pretty shells at  home, I couldn't resist picking up a couple more.

Next was Camping World. That was a bit further afield, so by the time we got there, we were ready for lunch. No problem; just put 'er in Park and head for the fridge, two feet away! After enjoying a bite to eat, we went in to the store and started browsing. The number of gadgets for RVers and campers is truly amazing, from sporks (an eating utensil that's a fork at one end and a spoon at the other) to foldable rocking chairs and everything in between.

Val was looking for a device to keep our awning from flapping in the breeze. We deployed the awning for the first time yesterday but we couldn't leave it out for long because the wind had picked up. The wide expanse of material is like a sail if a gust catches it, and we had no desire to become airborne, let alone face a nasty repair job if it should rip. Unlike other awnings, this one rolls out with two V-shaped arms under the fabric, rather than straight ribs on either edge. Once extended, you can release telescopic legs to anchor the awning to the ground or to a couple of clips on the RV wall. Unfortunately, the flap preventers we saw at the store weren't designed for our style of awning. So we'll just close it when it's breezy.
With a couple more errands attended to while we were mobile, we came back to our spot and got settled once again. As we bustled about preparing supper, we could hear the local neighbourhood mockingbird trilling away from a nearby tree. The serenade continued while we ate. I sure wish this bird would fly north and do its thing back home; it's so uplifting to hear this plain-looking creature singing its heart out with every variety of birdsong you could imagine! Meanwhile, other large white birds with red legs and a long, probing beak meandered through the park providing free soil aeration services. And down the way, an egret has been spotted, courting a cute plastic version of himself that someone has planted next to their RV. It looks like true love.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Off to the duck race

Dunedin, FL -- I wouldn't have thought I'd appreciate a down-filled sleeping bag for Florida nights, but it's been a real boon since we got here. Overnight temperatures have been in the low sixties, and that extra warmth has made all the difference. The days have started off quite cool, and some might feel the highs lately have been disappointing, but not me. Low 70s are my kind of weather, if you throw in some sunshine and breezes. We should be hitting that for the rest of the week at least.

The main activity of the day in the park today was the annual duck race and Tiki party, centred around the swimming pool. Dozens of bobbing yellow plastic ducks are set afloat inside a boom of pool noodles. When the noodles are lifted, a team of swimmers armed with squirt guns tries to nudge the ducks toward a narrow opening near the deep end. On the other side of the opening is an opposing team, similarly armed, whose objective is to keep the ducks out. Great shouts of encouragement fly forth from the excited crowds, who have a stake in which duck gets through first. Each little floater has been numbered and paid for, and the winning duck garners a nice prize for the sponsor! Smart observers park themselves at a certain distance, unless they don't mind being doused with stray squirts from time to time!Of course, the fun is augmented by a tasty barbeque lunch and drinks.

We enjoyed our burgers in a shady spot and watched the first couple of heats, but since we weren't around when they sold the tickets, we didn't have a stake in the results. So we headed out on our borrowed bicycles to try the home-made ice cream at the Causeway Café. One of our friends told us about the place and piqued our interest.

Lots of bikers were out today on the Pinellas Bike Trail. There was every type of two-wheeler imaginable, and every level of biking expertise as well. With ours carefully locked at the bike stand next to the café, we went in to see what we might want to sample.

Ten flavours in the glass case enticed us. Val chose vanilla and strawberry, and I picked one labeled "Heath"; I thought it was "health" with a typo, but it was really a flavour resembling a chocolate bar of that name, with chocolate bits and toffee crunch. Yum. Neither of us could remember the last time we'd had ice cream, but it was worth the wait! We enjoyed our treats, sitting in comfy Adirondack chairs watching the passing throng.

I'm sure our feverish cycle home again canceled several of the calories we'd enjoyed....yeah, right.

Friday, March 22, 2019

No fixed address

Dunedin, FL -- We got mobile again today. Our rental time at our temporary spot ran out at 11 o'clock this morning, so we disconnected, battened down the hatches and set off to run a few errands to take advantage of our freedom. It was reassuring to see how few things we had to do compared to the setting-out routines from our previous motorhome and fifth wheel. With them, there were so many important steps to take, which if forgotten could have dire consequences, that we wrote up a checklist and had it laminated. So, just before pulling away from a site, we'd go through each item like a pilot before take-off! You never saw us peeling down the highway with a hose dragging behind or an awning flapping in the breeze!

The grocery store we picked just happened to be in a mall with a hairdresser I'd used before, so after stowing our purchases, I left Val to make himself some lunch while I trotted off to get a haircut. Lucky me: Cheryl led me to a barber chair immediately and I was nicely shorn in no time!

It was too nice a day to spend entirely on chores, so we decided to visit the beach at Honeymoon Island State Park for a stroll in the sunshine. This lovely expanse of powdery sand is beautifully unspoiled, and we could feel all our knots coming loose as the foaming surf curled around our toes and the breeze ruffled our hair. It was delightful to see little kids with their plastic pails and shovels, bright umbrellas planted in the sand and kites flying overhead. As we walked along, tiny sandpipers and plovers scampered out of our way and gulls screeched overhead. What a treat.

When we returned to the RV park, we had a new temporary spot at Val's brother John and Fawn's site, where we squeezed in next to their car for the next couple of nights. On Sunday we'll move again to Anna's site, after she and Doug vacate it to return to Canada. She kindly sublet the space to us for the duration of our stay.

Anna had a little gathering on her site to bid farewell to her RV park friends and neighbours, so we got a chance to meet some of the ones we hadn't met before, and to let them get to know who their new site occupants would be. I'm looking forward to the shady spot we'll have for sitting outside.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Friends and neighbours

Dunedin, FL -- Our temporary rental spot is in a very public location, right along the main drag of the RV park, so if we are outside doing anything, there is no place to hide from the passing throngs! As a result, the smallest chore can take up to an hour, as folks drop by to say hi and catch up.

Such was the case today, as Val tried to stop an annoying drip from our hose connection at the back of the RV. He hates leaks. No matter what he tried, there was always a wet spot under the rig. That's when Chuck, our neighbour, strolled over and offered to take us to his favourite RV supplier in his truck. He also said we could drop by at Walmart to pick up a filter for our water supply -- that got me excited, as there were a few other items we'd noted that we could pick up there at the same time. So, off we went, with me in the back seat, and Val and Chuck up front exchanging war stories from their working days with great gusto.

After a successful outing, Val was out there attaching the new filter and dealing with the drip again, when another couple stopped to chat. Then some more folks meandered by and joined in the conversation. Before we knew it, most of the day had passed and we'd hardly done anything -- but we'd had a lovely time doing it!

It has been breezy and fresh again today, and delightfully cool overnight, promising another peaceful sleep in our little home on wheels.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Shanks mare

Dunedin, FL – The patter of raindrops on our RV rooftop told us this morning that we probably wouldn’t need the sunscreen any time soon. And the thermometer reading of 55 degrees nixed the shorts and sandals to boot! However, we’d slept soundly and in comfort, with nothing to complain about.

Our plan for the day was to get Val’s cellphone up and running with a U.S. SIM card from T-Mobile. Some years back we’d been stung by unexpected roaming charges from our Canadian service provider when we used our cellphones outside the country; a surprise we did not want to repeat. We decided to head over to the store on foot, for the exercise as much as to avoid unplugging the water and electricity which tethered the RV to our site. It wasn’t raining very hard by that point anyway.

We stopped in at the clubhouse first to post some mail and talk to the park manager, and as soon as we stepped inside we were greeted with cries of recognition and hugs from a group of park regulars! It was delightful! I just wish my mental databank of names was a bit easier to access after a year’s absence!

There were a few other customers at the cellphone store when we got there, but our wait to be served was short. Getting Val’s phone unlocked, its Canadian SIM card replaced with an American one, and a new account set up was not short – and there wasn’t a bench or chair in the whole place! We must have been there for the better part of an hour. Still, Val was delighted to have all his favourite apps at his fingertips once again.

Just before we left, a customer came in for some help with her cellphone, and then asked for her umbrella. Turns out it was T-Mobile Tuesday, when they give out free umbrellas! We asked if we could have one too, and they gave us one each – a black one for Val and a T-Mobile pink one for me! Perfect for today’s weather! I used mine all the way back to the park, once again providing free advertising for a U.S. enterprise. Well, the price was right!

Next to the mall as we were walking back, we noticed a line of small trees with plaques in front describing each one. It was a mini-arboretum of local trees, the most beautiful one bearing showy yellow blossoms. Unfortunately, it was the only tree without a plaque, so I still don’t know what sort of tree it was, but it sure looked pretty.

After supper this evening, we set about sticking up removable hooks in various strategic spots, so now we will be able to free up a bit more cupboard and drawer space by hanging some items on them. We’re gradually getting settled, and we’re also realizing how glad we are to be RVers once again.