Tag Archives: Family

Shelling & Shopping in Gulf Coast Florida

For the second part of our Florida trip with my sister Liz and Brother in law Derek, we left The Florida Keys and crossed Alligator Alley to spend a night in glamourous Naples with its white soft sandy beaches, millionaire mansions and rather gorgeous sunsets. In Tin City we perused the gift shops and ate at one of the seafood restaurants where Derek who doesn’t do fish, tackled the first large plate of ribs of the holiday!

We have visited this side of Florida many times before, but usually staying on Sanibel next to the beach. For this trip we had booked through Airbnb to stay in a great value inland property in Cape Coral. The Tropical House was excellent with plenty of room, outdoor seating next to a covered pool and located right next to the canal where Brad & Derek made use of the kayaks. It’s a location we didn’t know but was only a 30 minute drive from most places we wanted to visit for days out.

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To reach the Gulf, the Cape Coral area is closest to laid back Pine Island with its fishing boat marinas and water taxis that transport day trippers and campers to one of the many nearby islands and Cayes. To reach Pine Island you cross the bridge, driving through the tiny stripland of quaint Matlacha where shrimp boats dock, old fishing shanties have been converted to rustic B&B’s and an arty community sell their creations. We stopped for drinks and supper at legendary Bert’s Bar which dates back to the 30’s.

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As we were out of season, we reviewed the upcoming weather reports and headed out on what looked to be a rainy day for shopping! So we’ve eaten noodles, made picnic lunches and generally tried to not spend too much money over the last year whilst travelling, but then the Evans literally went nuts spending on the credit card in the Miromar Outlet Shopping Centre. For the last 2 weeks of our trip we would be taking a Royal Caribbean Cruise to get us home to the UK (more to come on this snippet of excitement later..) so Mr E was in need of trousers, shoes and a jacket. Birkenstocks and shorts probably wouldn’t meet the formal dinner requirements! I purchased some sandals and OMG!..a pair of high heels ready for work, my flip flop wearing feet are not going to like being squished into shoes once again. Between us all we packed our purchases into The Town & Caravan and headed home, exhausted from the excess of spending, too tired even for a round of Adventure Golf!

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Time for a picnic! With a well packed cool bag we drove down through Fort Myers and into Lovers Key State Park. For just $8 we parked up and took the land train across the mangroves to find a spot on a very white sandy beach. Once our day camp was set up we did the stoop..bending over walking the Lovers Key Beach looking for top notch shells. At the end of the beach in the fast flowing inlet, we were utterly delighted to watch a group of fishermen in their boat catching tilapia, while two dolphins practically held their flippers out for cast offs and handouts as the guys were just copiously reeling the fish in, of course it was the one time I didn’t have my camera in hand!

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I totally love these desolate outer beaches where plovers and sandpipers probe for food along the waters edges huddling together in their respective groups. Herons and Egrets just hang out, paddling in the soft waves waiting for their next big catch.
Washed up bleached tree trunks are now organic beachy art installations, long gone leaves have been replaced with jangly white shells that resemble white blossom from a distance. We hung shells on high branches and made wishes that we’ll return again one day.

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Away from the beaches we spent a pleasant morning at the Edison Ford Estates located next to the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers. These beautifully restored craftsman houses were the family winter destinations for Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The museum, laboratory and houses exhibit their lives and inventions. Edison, Ford and Harvey Firestone formed a botanical research corporation to research a natural source of rubber that could be grown in the US and remove dependence on foreign rubber being imported.

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The Botanical Gardens flourish with a massive Banyan Tree still growing today that was one of the original 17,000 plant samples that were tested for the rubber research. Edison spent time in his laboratory and study perfecting his inventions. One of his most famous patents was for the long lasting electrical light bulb. The estate is in a beautiful spot looking out over the river and I’m sure the creativity of two of the finest American minds was fast flowing here.

One of our favourite holiday spots to visit is on Sanibel & Captiva Islands. So we were keen to show Liz & Derek where we have spent many happy holidays. We packed a final picnic and headed over the Sanibel Bridge to spend a lovely day on these perfectly formed Floridian islands. We started out at the south end of the island at Lighthouse beach. On this corner of the island people fish from the pier, there’s plenty of shells to collect, sandcastles to be built and a couple where getting married.

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Posing for photos, two baby Osprey watched as Mum & Dad soared over the waves swooping on unlucky fish destined to become Osprey lunch. After a wander on the beach we stopped at Pinnochio’s for yummy ice cream topped with one of their signature animal crackers. From there we drove north through Sanibel up to Captiva. This tiny island feels totally tropical, with its pink and green Florida coloured houses nestled in the palm trees. We stopped at Jensen’s Marina hoping to see Manatee in the sheltered bay, we got lucky and Liz nearly did a ‘Sarah cry’ when they popped up their cow noses to take a breath. The whole Manatee family bobbed up and down for our amusement.

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After picnicking on the beach, we headed down to drive through the Ding Darling Refuge. Lots of winter snowbirds have now left Florida, so the park was pretty quiet but we still enjoyed this sanctuary and the fresh air.
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Our day was completed by a visit to one of our favourite spots The Island Cow for dinner. Derek tucked into more ribs and opted for additional ribs instead of shrimp, boy he loves his meat!

Soon enough it was time to move on and over to Fort Lauderdale for the last part of our trip. I know our wishes will come true and we’ll definitely return to this wonderful part of Florida in the future or until we win the lottery when we buy our own spot of paradise in Captiva!

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Oh Canada!

“He’s just not ready”…during our trip to Canada we’ve learnt the Conservatives admire Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s hair but advised via ‘smear campaign’ adverts..being Prime Minister isn’t an entry-level job!

Political happenings are a huge discussion topic, we’ve also learnt Canadians like drinking, watching sports, talking about the weather more than us Brits do, eating potatoes in all forms and that Toronto is ever-expanding.

We’ve had a wonderful 3 weeks in Ontario, staying with family and friends has been a treat, everyone we met was interested where we are from and are super friendly.

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We started our trip staying in ‘rurban’ Alliston with our Evans cousins. We shopped making the most of the $2 to £1 exchange rate, ate poutine in potato land, drank 1930 tequila drinks and had a fun weekend at the Alliston Potato Festival.

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Toronto is huge, it’s the fourth most populated city in North America and is an international centre of business, finance, arts, and culture. As Alliston is just over an hour away from Toronto, with our trusty guide Gary we took a day trip into the city.

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On the former site of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, which was once the largest whisky distillery in the world, now stands the Distillery District. Impressive brick buildings now house pedestrian only walkways of art installations, restaurants, microbrewery bars, shops that sell what I would describe as ‘nice things’ and coffee shops a plenty. It’s certainly a popular tourists destination.

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Incredibly trendy, Toronto is the city of bearded hipsters where shops and bars have outrageous on trend double names such as Frank & Oak, Lavish & Squalor and Scotch & Soda. 140 independent and ethnic neighbourhoods make up the city, so being with arty Gary we took a walking trip through just a few of these hip hoods.

We parked in Little Italy, where one level older homes were framed with pretty gardens. Strolling down Ossington Avenue, Gary told us this area was a den of sketchy heroin houses during the 80’s and is now transforming into a popular hangout for the hip. From Dundas St W we saw delicious looking Gelato shops in Portugal Village.

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Queen Street West is the art and entertainment district, we stopped at Paul Petro Contemporary Art Gallery to view Gary’s latest art exhibit ‘Ghost Host’. From there we visited Chinatown, if I lived in the city this is certainly the place to buy fresh exotic fruit and vegetables.

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Kensington Market is a distinctive multicultural neighbourhood, although we didn’t visit on the popular outdoor market day, we still saw plenty of bustling vintage boutiques and deli stores in converted grand Victorian buildings. We ate Jamaican spicy doubles and beef patties, then took a break to sit in the sunshine with a pint at Ronnies.

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Our day ended watching a baseball game. Toronto Blue Jays were playing at home in The Rogers Stadium against Minnesota Twins. The stadium roof was open to the clear night sky and the crowd were cheery as The Jays have been on a winning streak.

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It was great to see so many families at the game with kids sporting their baseballs gloves ready to catch any high balls. Final score Jays 9, Twins 3.

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In Port Credit, we stayed with Aunty Dee who owns a fabulous apartment that has views of Lake Ontario and out to the spectacular Toronto skyline. Purple Dee is just the most lovely person and it was great to stay with the Evans girls there for a few days. She is certainly the cool granny!

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Toronto’s York University were hosting The Rogers Cup competition for the Womens Tennis Association. We had day tickets with opportunity to watch the top women warm up on practice courts. Those Williams girls make playing tennis look easy, boy they sure can hit the ball hard! On centre court there was a big Romanian crowd cheering for no 2 Sabena Halep.

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After tennis we headed up to Cottage Country for a fabulous weekend with the Biggart family on the River Severn.

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During our last week in Canada we couldn’t miss out driving down to visit to the fantastic Niagara Falls. It is truly a wonderful sight that I will never tire of seeing.

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Once you drive out of the GTA, Ontario has beautiful individually designed houses, there is plenty of green spaces with vast beautiful skies.

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When we are in Canada, we certainly feel like it’s home and we aim to visit more often over the next few years as we certainly ‘heart’ Canada.

Let the Potato eating commence…

Oh Canada!

Yes that’s right, we’re in Canada! We’ve diverted from the travel plans spending time in Mexico, Central and South America to have a month of normality in Canada and California with friends and family.

Since booking our tickets for Canada I’ve been excited about shopping and visiting a Dollar store, Mr E has been hankering for poutine.

If you haven’t had poutine before you are missing out on a fabulous treat, it’s practically a food group on its own.

Poutine at its best is a plate of freshly cut handmade chips, thick brown gravy and chopped up cheese curds. At this stage you’re either salivating at the thought of this delight or making a scrunched up face that is showing utter disgust. But let me tell you poutine is a delicious homey comforting mouthful of yumminess.

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After arriving in Toronto airport late on Monday night, Gary Evans picked us up and whisked us off to stay with family Evans for the week. Their home is in Alliston, which is an hour north of Toronto, it’s a cute town of about 15,000 people surrounded by farming fields of corn, soy and potatoes. Happy Boris corn growing entrepreneur provided us with just picked delicious sweetcorn for the BBQ.

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We’re visiting the Evans family during the week of the Alliston Potato festival, more to come on this spectacular yearly event though later in the week!

To get this week underway in praise of the potato, Mr E was after a portion of good traditional Canadian poutine.

Originating from Quebec province, in Québécois slang poutine means ‘mushy mess’ and it’s now quite the posh food fad of the moment. Wendy’s and McDonald’s have recently added their version of poutine to the fast food menu but this really should be avoided at all costs.

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In England we have always had regional varieties; chips n gravy – northern, chips n cheese – Welsh,  chips n pitta – southern but the addition of the cheese curd would have been poo pooed by late night revellers looking for carb laden munchies, the donner kebab proving to be the choice of drunkards. There are now new restaurants selling gastro styled poutine popping up all over London town, catering to the trendy skinny jeaned wearing hipsters, however gravy, curds and beards really shouldn’t be introduced to each other!

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In Canada, an independent Mom and Pop restaurant or a roadside chip shack are best for serving the finest home styled poutine. Today we chose Judy’s Chip Wagon for a lunch time poutine chowfest. It didn’t disappoint, gooey cheese mixed with tasty gravy and chips were firm yet chewy.

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Mr E was happy with this unique taste sensation, I expect there may be more poutine tasting this week…