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.