Friday, December 13, 2019

Road Trip 6: Finally Mount Dora

Our next stop was Mount Dora, a Florida town we'd had our sights on for a while. But when we've tried to visit in previous years there's always been something to scupper our plans. Most recently an art fair - which they seem to do a lot of - clogging the streets. It's not called "Festival City" for nothing. You could kiss goodbye to parking anywhere. This time we had more luck. In fact Mount Dora more than proved its worth. For starters there was the sort of lunch place I look for in my dreams.


Shaded courtyard, tinkling fountain, decent food - snapper, lobster bisque, the works. We had walked around looking for some little hidden place off the main drag and saw umbrella tops peering over a fence. It was called The Goblin Market. It sounded as if it belonged in one of the tweer parts of Cornwall but it was a very pleasant surprise..
  The town was full of quaint shops.


And after lunch we took in the Modernist  Museum, with an exhibition about Memphis group design - lots of thought-provoking invigorating stuff - bright colours and stark shapes, the sort of furniture  you wouldn't fill your house with (unless you were David Bowie, who'd owned a lot of the objects)  but have just one piece as a feature. Although even that might be too much for hubby. All somehow unexpected in a small town in Florida.


And then..


The "Modernist Museum Shoppe". Something distinctly "only in America" about that one.


If you can find a day without an art fair I'd thoroughly recommend Mount Dora. Here's the view over the Lake.


Called Lake Dora. There's even a lighthouse.

  And then, the next day, we trundled into Golden Beach ...


...sister-in-law dropping me off and heading south to Naples. We love those road trips but at the end you always want to say "If I see one more hotel or restaurant it'll be too soon." Good to be home.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Road Trip 5: Carriages Await

Passing boats on the road is one way you know you're in Florida. Another is a sign saying "14 Foot Gator, Clean Restrooms". We left the alligator for another time but saw something else on the map (yes, it still pays to look at the occasional map) which interested us, near a place called Lady Lake.  "Florida Carriage Museum" it said. Worth the detour, I suggested.  That's what we go on back roads for. 


  We found ourselves in a sprawling paradise of white fences, lakes and fountains worthy of the best stud farms in Kentucky and incongruously an RV park. This, we read on a sign, was the Grand Oaks Resort. We couldn't find the museum, so asked a friendly employee,  "Sorry, the museum's closed".  Well wouldn't you know. That's always happening to us. The winery we wanted to stop at had been closed too. That's what happens when you go on back roads and don't plan ahead. Oh well. "Do feel free to wander around", the employee added generously, so we took him at his word. We discovered a palatial stable yard (which Americans call a "barn") 


with a "horse-washing station".  


Note the trolley loaded with, presumably, shower gel, conditioner, mousse, and hair spray. "Will that be a blow dry sir?"
 The Carriage Museum might have been closed but lo and behold, there was a vintage carriage. Though I suppose all carriages are vintage. And there were harnesses decorating a wall, presumably still very much in use.


And more carriages, one manufactured as far away as Poland.


These were for sale. One cost 5,500 dollars.


Perhaps we could have towed it behind us. The whole place was gracious and elegant.


Apparently you could stay here - perhaps in the RV Park, or one of the chalets dotted around and learn how to carriage drive to your heart's content. There could be worse ways to spend a holiday.


The familiar live oaks with Spanish moss attached shaded some more piebald horses. (They call them "paints" here).

Up the slope was a big estate. Amid all the graciousness, the sign seemed a little incongruous.


And there were similar signs further along the fence. . You just can't, it seems, get away from politics.

To be continued.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Happy You-Know-What!

I haven't quite finished the road trip saga but in the meantime, good wishes to all my American friends for this nice, uncomplicated food-and- family fest that is Thanksgiving. (With apologies to the chaps in the photo at the top of the Blog, who are probably not celebrating. So I'd better not say it too loudly.)
  Somehow I associate the T holiday with cold weather, which is more appropriate for a gargantuan meal. But for us in Golden Beach it will be pushing 80 degrees (don't panic, Americans still do Fahrenheit. Good for them.)
  Lately we've had some lovely sunrises - this from our front door -


- though Thursday is expected to be a foggy morning, which is a bit more in keeping with the season.
And then of course it's Black Friday. I've noticed that Britain has adopted Black Friday with a vengeance, which seems a bit odd without the Thanksgiving bit beforehand.
  They might as well start the tradition, though what would be the equivalent? The first shipload of marauding Angles and Saxons getting befriended and feasted by the Ancient Britons? I don't think that's quite how the story went.
  Meanwhile on the beach..


"Call me a party pooper, but I'm with the gobbler lads on this one. I'll be at work as usual".
  For the rest of you, have a happy and relaxing day!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Road Trip 4: Hot Cheese Danish and Hunting Prints

Over the road trip years, sister-in-law and I have stayed in just about every sort of hotel you can imagine. The shabby old ones, the samey chains, or sometimes, when we're lucky, a memorable one-off place like the Inn on the Square in Greenwood, South Carolina. 
  The Inn appeared to have an  eclectic mix of guests...


  ...cleverly introducing them to some potential customers.


  The undertakers seemed to be keeping themselves to themselves - sharing some grave news perhaps - but a pharmacists' convention was in full swing in the restaurant, so we were sent to eat dinner in the bar, which proved to be charmingly decorated with English-style hunting prints and had a friendly barman who mixed a mean cocktail and chatted to sister-in-law about the exorbitant price of football tickets. I could find common ground there. The hotel looked venerable but was only 60 years old. 
  Breakfast at the Inn was All Included with old-fashioned sit-down service.  Sister-in-law raved about the grits.  I stuck with a South Carolina approximation of a Full English.
  It was raining as we drove into Georgia. Past some near-derelict villages and pretty, peeling houses and a Confederate flag with "Redneck" proudly emblazoned on it, we found a town called Hazlehurst (a moniker that would have been at home in the Home Counties) and another of our interesting cafes.  This one, well-hidden behind two doors in an otherwise empty new building, looked startlingly modern and was called Mocha on Main. Even though it wasn't on Main. Perhaps the name just sounded good. We were the only customers. A young girl with a sweet Southern accent amply punctuated with "Yes Ma'am"s served us lattes and a hot cheese Danish and asked us very politely where we were from. She meant me of course. I could never go undercover here.
  Then we were off again, barreling southwards towards Florida


Along with the great boat migration. It was that time of year.

To be continued

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Road Trip 3: Trains, Shrimps and Grits

Here was another scenic overlook 


To make the most of.


We stayed the night in Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech, sadly the site of a particularly bad campus mass shooting a few years ago. But today all was sunny, the campus looked cheerful, a new generation of students going about their business - including a bunch of military cadets marching along.
  Then it was on to North Carolina, where, in Yadkinville, we found another good coffee shop, a tiny hole-in-the-wall place called Jarro, apparently the name of a Mexican coffee mug. The coffee was good but even better were the small "cheesecake tarts". They were absolutely delicious and, surprisingly for America, there wasn't even a hint of cinnamon. That made me very happy I can tell you. Along with air-conditioning, cinnamon is one of those things Americans do far too much of.
 We passed landscapes smothered in predatory kudzu vines - you could just see the shapes of swallowed trees and bushes under the green mass - like something from the Day of the Triffids. We passed the Weeping Mary Baptist Church. That intrigued me. Could it find common ground with the Catholic Our Lady of Sorrows?
  Our lunch pitstop was a town called Hickory.


The old railway station had been converted into a restaurant where I indulged in my favourite North Carolina dish, shrimp and grits. The grits were different - crunchy on the outside and laid out in the shape of an anchor. They were pretty good. I used to think of grits as something like the stuff Oliver Twist asked for more of - and in cheapo diners that's exactly what they taste like but served in an interesting way they can be very tasty.


Along with the restaurant there was a liquor store and a deli, where, wonder of wonders, they sold Tomme, a cheese I've only ever seen before in central France, where it's used to make one of hubby's favourite dishes, aligot (ie mashed potatoes and gloopy cheese.) This Tomme had actually come from Georgia but I bought some all the same. (Flash forward: the aligot, when I got round to making it, really  hit the spot). In Hickory they also brew their own beer. It's always unfortunate to come across places like that at lunchtime when you still have to drive.


And wonder of wonders Mark 2, Hickory still had trains!

Well freight trains but they were better than nothing. Not quite such a trainspotting paradise as Folkston, Georgia which we visited a few years ago but good enough.
  And there were other attractions.


Unfortunately we couldn't have time for everything.

To be continued.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Road Trip 2: Country Roads and Sausage Rolls

There's nothing like bowling through West Virginia when the leaves are turning and the sky's a bright blue. 

Especially after we'd munched on the American equivalent of a sausage roll - not quite our flaky, greasy sort but pepperoni and Swiss cheese baked into a bread roll - apparently a West Virginia specialty. A bit like the Cornish pasty idea, miners found it handy to carry to work. We washed it down with some pretty good coffee. The little cafe in Grafton was called Espresso Yourself and I definitely recommend it. They had cookie dough ice cream too, an American delicacy a teenage  relative recently introduced me to. Gorgeously decadent to have it for breakfast.


One thing we've noticed more and more on our backroads trips - small one-off cafes often run by eager young people and with interesting names. It's much more fun seeking them out than lazily heading for Starbucks. Of course with Tripadvisor and such it's got a lot easier to find them.
 Admittedly parts of West Virginia look a little sad.


A lad we talked to in the cafe thought things were slightly better under the current President but wouldn't commit himself. On previous trips we'd met people desperate to keep the mines going. "Without us New York City would go dark", one had said confidently. Certain New York City residents should spend time here - a world away from their pampered lives.
  Later we encountered a mysterious cabin in the woods.


"Mud Duck Cavers". Sorry we didn't have time to check them out.


 We spotted a sculpture.


The sign said "Haywire Flyer Scrap Metal Art."


There were bridges and stony babbling brooks.


 And spectacularly winding mountain roads. Rather a lot of them. "We'll miss this when we're in Florida", I said, "better make the most of it."  Sister-in-law, who was driving, gritted her teeth.


 As usual with gorgeous views you can never find the right place to pull off for a photo stop. You see a likely one, yell "Stop, stop!" but it's invariably too late. This one was a bit of all right though.


Lunch was in Lewisburg,  a little olde English, a little touristy,


And very pretty.


One of those places full of art galleries and loud lunching ladies.It was possibly a destination for people staying at the posh resort of  Greenbrier of blessed memory, not far away. "Let's get a bit of the real West Virginia, what?"  It was a different world. 
To be continued.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Road Trip: The Home of Unspellable Phil

At last (as I take a break from the weeds for a while) some stories from the road trip south. Sister-in-law and I have seen a lot of Pennsylvania but we'd never actually stopped in Punxsutawney, which must be about the most unspellable town in America. You might know it from "Groundhog Day" as the place where a groundhog (or woodchuck, as it's called in western New York) predicts the weather. Each 2nd February, the rodent, or, presumably, a convincing double, is yanked out of its burrow and if it sees its shadow and runs back in, there will be six more weeks of bad weather. If it doesn't, there'll be an early spring. A bit like St Swithun's Day in Blighty, except we don't need a fat, furry animal to tell us it's raining. 
  The actual burrow is out of town and not the one pictured which is, I suspect, something to lure tourists. Likewise the groundhog outside.


The place must be buzzing every 2nd February. But this wasn't 2nd February and it was pretty darned quiet. Most of the townspeople  seemed to be having brunch in a local eatery. So we joined them


The made as much as they could of the groundhog motif. These were the floor tiles.


And there was a big cabinet of cuddly groundhog memorabilia. Breakfast wasn't half bad either - waffles, eggs and bacon. Thanks Phil.
to be continued

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Weed Awakening

There are several good things about living a nomadic life. And there are the downsides. And on these, Florida is still a steep learning curve. Having lost our trusty landscaper (no, no, everyone here has landscapers - it's American for someone who mows the grass for you), we omitted to specify to the new ones that, as well as cutting the grass while we were away for the summer, we would also like them to keep on top of the weeds. It didn't even occur to us. And we had no idea, absolutely no idea, what a gargantuan weed fun fest the hot, wet Florida summer is. You couldn't even see the garden perennials for weeds. And these mysterious tree-like things had grown to a height of 5 or so feet in six months. Can that be physically possible?


Yes it can.


Well we have learned our lesson. 


That's only a tiny part of my efforts over the past few days.  The local hardware megastore gleefully makes a fortune from these brown paper bags and at the moment I am single-handedly keeping them in business. The City (what we would call the council)  now won't take away your garden refuse if it's in black bin bags. Oh no. You have to have the pc brown paper bags. or you can tie the stuff up in tidy bundles. Just wait till you try and make tidy bundles.
  It's had an interesting effect on our garden wildlife. One positive thing is that the hibiscus, while looking annoyed and begraggled, haven't been eaten by the rabbits because the rabbits probably couldn't find them.
  Charlie the mocking bird who usually hangs out on the cable above, was complaining loudly that the bird bath was dry. For a time I was convinced the bird bath had been stolen as it was completely masked by the triffid in pic 2.
  But the strangest encounter was when I started sweeping the patio, I heard a rustling sound from the big ornamental bush that sits, inconveniently, right in the middle. I thought it was a bird but no, the next thing was that a lithe black snake emerged from half way up the bush, giving me a what-the-heck-do-you-think-you're-doing look. Tongue darting in and out and all, just about level with my head. By the time I got the camera he'd scarpered of course. At least you're safe with the black ones. It's the stripy ones that get complicated. Like Florida.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Hello Again Golden Beach!

Dateline: Golden Beach, Florida

 It's good to be back again to my favourite sunset spot.


More on the road trip shortly but my arrival in Golden Beach wasn't without incident.  The first night the southern flank of Tropical Storm Nestor brushed us as it swept by. I woke up every half hour to an ear-splitting thunder clap and sounds of rain pummelling and surf crashing. Luckily (in retrospect at any rate) my phone was switched off or I'd have been woken up every ten minutes by screeching tornado warnings. In the morning the rain fell like Niagara Falls. I've never seen rain like it. And the trees were swaying and rocking in the wind. Goodness knows what a real hurricane would be like. The Sun Fiesta (sic) Parade was cancelled, as were the Sailing Squadron races. Hubby on the phone from up north mused, "I expect there was a Small Craft Advisory out." 
 "Large craft more like and not an advisory either!"
 Sunday was calmer.


But the storm hasn't brought cooler weather. Yet.  It's like a steam bath out there. Still, I'm not complaining. It's still better than a western New York winter.

Monday, October 14, 2019

An Autumn Farewell

Apology: Oops. This should have been published a week ago but wasn't. So much for modern technology.

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York state

There was frost on the path to the neighbour's pond. It came stealthily overnight, missing our garden but settling just a few yards up the road.


The mist swirled up over the pond.


The fogbound trees just hinting at a little autumn colour


While others were skeletal phantoms already.


A ragged flock of Canada geese flew over, yet another convoy on its way south.


Further up the hill, it was a brilliant, blue chilly morning, the fog nestled in the valleys,


the early morning forest suffused with mystery.


Though asters still bravely twinkled in the grass


It was my farewell for a while.


The blog and I are off on our road trip south and it's hard to leave when there's still so much beauty on the lane. And so quiet too, except for the occasional kissing sound of a chipmunk and a sudden cacophony of honking and splashing from the pond as the geese take off.


 I note that the library, always full of bright ideas, is having a Fall Prevention Workshop. I did a double take when I saw it. If I were an American I would ask, "Who on earth would want to prevent such a beautiful Fall? "


Of course it's not that sort of Fall they're talking about but the sort that happens in the winter, which isn't that far away now. The sort that drives many western New Yorkers, especially older ones, to head south, where you can generally manage to survive the season without slipping on ice and falling flat on your face.


Assailed as I am on both sides of the Atlantic by political turmoil it's good to think that the locals here have other priorities.


And even the garden has managed to survive some benign neglect and in dishevelled dowager mode, still holds its own.


Before I leave, there's the annual.  To net or not to net. I used to be a real enthusiast for deer netting but have come to realise that a) It gets hideously snarled up under the weight of the snow and it's impossible to disentangle in the spring and b) the deer will find a way through. Or go for the bushes you skipped and didn't think they'd want. There is nothing they don't want.  Short of hiring a crane and spreading a giant net over the whole garden, there's precious little you can do except hope for the best and expect the worst.
 Sometimes I think my nomadic life is nothing but a series of goodbyes. But then it's also a series of hellos. In a week or so I'll see Golden Beach again and blog will resume in its southern guise.