Day 22 – Coming home

Got up at 07:00 and started final packing and cleaning. Tried weighing the suitcases again with our new scales but it was different every time I tried – it is going to get the order of the sledgehammer when I get home. We finished packing and cleaning by 09:30 and set off in pouring rain to Denny’s for our final breakfast. We had originally planned to stop off at Tampa Zoo on the way to the airport to kill a few hours but the rain put paid to that idea. We arrived in pouring rain and left in pouring rain. Whilst we were in Denny’s Jan asked the waitress what Grits were and in response she bought this bowl of mush with grated cheese on top – needless to say it tasted as bad as it looked. Thankfully the rest of the breakfast was much nicer and we both left with full stomachs. Just before we reached the Sunshine Skyway Bridge the rain stopped and the sun came out. We decided to give the Zoo a miss as there wasn’t enough time and instead headed towards Largo in search of Largo Mall. We didn’t find it but instead found Clearwater Mall where there was a Pet Store. Whilst we were in there we saw a woman pushing a trolley round and in the trolley was a seven week old puppy which was a cross between a Chihuaha and a Jack Russell. It was so soft and cuddly. We bought a small toy for the cats and by the checkout was a windowed off area containing a number of stray cats and kittens – it was a good job we were going home as I am sure we would have come away with one! From there we headed to the Airport and handed back the car. We covered nearly 1500 miles in it added to the 400 odd in the other car means we did a lot of driving. The Impala was OK for driving at 45mph on straight six lane highways but it’s performance and handling was barely adequate and well short of European and Japanese standards. We were first in the queue for baggage check in and surprise surprise Jan’s case was overweight – 4kg to be exact. To make matters worse I was 3.5kg overweight (mainly due to Jan’s stuff she couldn’t fit in hers!). The check in lady was very good and allowed us 2kg extra each so we we spent the next ten minutes stuffing as much as we could into our hand luggage and changing footwear. Eventually we made it and got away without any baggage charges, a relief as it was $15 a kg. I enquired about my prize winning seat upgrade but my luck didn’t hold as the next section up was full so we missed out. The plane which seemed full took off on time. Just as they were starting to serve dinner it got turbulent for a while and the seat belt lights came on but fortunately it didn’t last too long. After dinner Jan watched Bridesmaids again which she thought was very funny and I watched The Hangover Part II which was funny but not as good as the first one. The rest of the flight was uneventful and both Jan and I fell asleep. We landed a few minutes early at 08:00 to a beautiful sunny day which always helps when you have been to somewhere warm. As with last year we picked up our car from the car park and drove home arriving just before 11:00 – the only thing of note was that we came across a car accident – one of the cars a beautiful black Audit TT had overtaken us a few minutes before. The cars were badly damaged but both drivers seemed OK. To sum up the holiday we had a great time even though this was the wettest Florida holiday I have ever had but when the sun was shining it was wonderful. We both love the whole area around Sarasota and are hoping to go back and stay a few miles further south at Siesta Key next year. We are both more sun tanned than last year although to be honest we still didn’t spend a lot of time sunbathing. The trip to Sea World in Orlando and the day with Gary, Paula and Amy was great fun – the journey through the storm back to Sarasota was unforgettable. The two days at Busch Gardens were both enjoyable – the Cheetahs were wonderful and the Cheetah Hunt roller coaster was exciting especially when we sat in the front seat. We listened to our favourite radio station 94.9 all the time we were out there and apart from Adele, they appeared to be playing the same records as last year! So we are both sad that it is all over for another year but we are counting down already to next year – only 350 days to go!!

Day 21 – At the Beach

Got up at 07:30 and did the blog. Following breakfast at the villa we started the task we have been dreading all holiday – packing to go home and clearing up the villa. After we had packed and tidied as far as we could, we headed off to the beach for our final sunbathe. The sea was more choppy than previous and there was also a lot of plant leaves in the water as well. The water was quite warm once we got in. After that we both lay down in the sun and fell asleep. When we woke up the sky had come over cloudy so we decided to call it a day and head back to the villa. When we got back to the villa Jan and I had the sad task of throwing away her flip-flops and my sandals which between them have given over 16 years faithful service – we only hope their replacements will be as long serving! In the evening we had dinner in Carrabba’s which was it’s usual excellence washed down by some great margaritas. After dinner we headed next door for a game of crazy golf. This was a course with a difference as between the first and second hole you could feed some baby alligators with pieces of meat dangling off a long stick. It was great fun watching them fight amongst themselves for these tiny bits of meat. After a very close game which fluctuated back and forward I managed to beat Jan by 1 shot. I suppose I did have a slight advantage as I accidentally pushed Jan into the alligator pool and she played most of the game with half her toes missing (only joking it was only one toe!). After all that excitement we headed back to the villa trying not to think about tomorrow.

Day 20 – De Soto National Memorial Park & Sarasota

Got up at 08:00 and did the blog. After breakfast at the villa we headed off to the De Soto National Memorial Park which commemorates the landing of Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto and an army including over 600 soldiers, 220 horses, a herd of pigs and war dogs at Tampa Bay in 1539. They arrived in 9 ships with orders from King Charles V of Spain to conquer, populate and pacify the land known then as La Florida. The truth was that De Soto’s personal objective was in fact looking for treasure like they had found previously in Peru and Mexico. The expedition which lasted for 4 years and covered over 4000 miles of Southeastern America was a total failure which cost the lives of De Soto himself and over 300 of his men and all the horses as well as hundreds of native Americans through fighting, enslavement and the diseases which the Spanish Conquistadors brought with them such as Smallpox, Chicken Pox and Measles to which the locals had no immunity against. They found no actual treasure but what they did find was the richness of the land in La Florida which became the journey’s enduring legacy. The visitor centre itself was interesting and after we watched a short film about the expedition I got the chance to try on some of the equipment worn by the Conquistadors. I tell you I will never complain about carrying a camera bag again – the helmet weighed a ton. The park ranger told us that the Mosquitos would get under the rim and cover their faces in bites! After a few serious photographs we went for a walk around the park which was very pleasant although we saw very little wildlife apart from the obligatory flying fish and squirrels and a lone turtle. It was well worth the visit, although on reflection I am not sure who looks the most silly – me wearing the hat or Jan holding hands with a cardboard Indian! After all that culture and exercise it was time to get back to reality and head off to Hooters as Jan had a shopping list from people at her work and I was in need of some breasts (Chicken ones of course). The standard of service and friendliness of the staff was as good as ever and we ended up spending a nice long lunch in there. Eventually Jan managed to drag me kicking and screaming out of there and we headed off to Sarasota. On the way we stopped off at Sara Bay Marina as Jan wanted to see the Floating Chapel. This is in fact a chapel built on a boat and every Sunday it heads out to sea with 100 good people on board for the Morning Service – only in America! From there we parked up at the Bayfront in Sarasota where we had our picture taken in front of the giant sculpture of the sailor kissing the nurse and then we went for a very pleasant walk around the Marina itself. There were some expensive boats there to admire but what was really nice was the friendliness of the people especially the ones with dogs. We stopped and talked to a number of people and on top of that the weather was wonderful – we just didn’t want to leave. From there we headed off to St Armand’s Circle and a final ice cream float at Kilmin’s. As we had eaten such a large lunch we decided to eat in at the villa for dinner so we stopped off at Publix for the final time to get something to eat. Jan cooked a nice meal and then we watched a film we had bought earlier The Lake House starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. We both really enjoyed it even though the story was complicated. Tomorrow we are going to start packing (sob sob) and then later on head back to the beach for a final spot of sunbathing.

Day 19 – At the Beach & Ellenton Outlets

Got up at 07:30 and did the blog. After having breakfast in the villa we headed off to the beach for a spot of sunbathing as the sky had turned blue again and the weather had returned to normal. The sea was cold at first but once you were in it was lovely and refreshing. We spent a very relaxing few hours at the beach enjoying the sunshine and getting a little sunburnt before heading back to the villa to finish off the remainder of last night’s meatballs. The weather was still nice so we headed off in the afternoon to the Ellenton Outlets for a spot of retail therapy. We spent more than we intended as usual but we both got a nice watch and a pair of Skechers shape ups each at a considerable saving on UK prices. I got my usual Jeans and Polo shirts and Jan got yet another T-Shirt. I don’t how she is going to get all this stuff home as she was dead on the limit coming out – probably give it to me to carry in my suitcase! There was only one thing left to do there then and that was to head to Kilmin’s Ice Cream Parlour for an ice cream float to celebrate our purchases. By now my sunburn was really starting to kick in so we headed back to the villa via what will probably be our last steak dinner at Outback this year. As always the meal was excellent – we are going to miss it when we return to UK. The promised rain never materialised either so all in all it was a very good day. Tomorrow morning we are off to the De Soto National Memorial Park for a spot of exercise and bird watching and then in the afternoon a return visit to Hooters for some more bird watching – well it would be rude not to!

Day 18 – St Armand’s Circle

Got up at 07:30 and did the blog. Looking out of the window there was plenty of evidence of the overnight storm – lots of surface water and fallen branches from the palm trees. After Jan got up we had breakfast in the villa but as the skies were still very grey we decided to get ready to go out anyway in case the weather improved. Once we were ready I could see some odd bits of blue sky so we headed off to St Armand’s Circle to visit our favourite ice cream parlour. By the time we got there the sun had come out so after the obligatory ice cream float we went for a short walk around. After that we headed off to Westfield Southgate Mall in Sarasota which we had passed by a few times previously. The mall contains designer labels such as Banana Republic, Express and Gap as well as department stores Dillard’s, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. A quick look round and we discovered that this is where the wealthy people shop. A polo shirt I had seen at the outlets for $49 was $98 dollars in Dillard’s. Needless to say apart from some skin cleansing cream from a stall we didn’t buy anything. The weather was starting to cloud over again so we headed back to the villa. We decided that we would eat in tonight so on the way we stopped at Publix in Longboat Key to get some things for dinner. Publix equates to Tesco/Asda/Sainsbury’s out here but that’s where the similarity ends. In the course of walking around the store I was asked by at least six staff how I was and did I need any help. At the delicatessen counter we were given a sample to taste before we bought. There was also a women selling some red wine which you could taste but she also had a dish of meatballs cooking so you could taste what is was like with food. It was delicious so we bought the red wine and meatballs. At the checkout the shopping was packed for us and the packer insisted on taking the shopping out to the car! By the time we got back to the villa the heavens had opened up again and the road was flooded in parts. Jan cooked the meatballs which were delicious. The wine was good also, although I managed to knock my glass flying but luckily we have a wooden floor – the room looked like a crime scene. After dinner we watched a romantic comedy film ‘Definitely,maybe’ with Ryan Reynolds, Isla Fisher and Rachel Weisz which we both enjoyed apart from the break in the middle when I had to clean up the crime scene! Tomorrow there is a forecast of 50% chance of rain which is an improvement on the 70% of today.

Day 17 – Relaxation

Bridge Street RoundaboutBridge StreetCortez Fishing PierGot up at 07:30 and did the blog. Weather forecast for the whole weekend is wet and windy so planned trip to Naples has been cancelled. If weather improves on Monday we may go then, but weather forecast for the remainder of the holiday is not brilliant – in fact it starts to improve on Thursday the day we fly back. After a late breakfast I went and lay down by the pool but it was very windy so in the end I gave up. After lunch we took a short drive down the road to Historic Bridge Street. As the name suggests there was originally a bridge on this road completed in 1922 which connected to the mainland at Cortez village. When the new drawbridge was built in 1967 the Anna Maria side of the bridge was converted into a fishing pier which is still standing today. Even though it was quite windy there were a number of anglers fishing off the pier. Whilst we walked down the street we were stopped by a resident who had lost her Chihuahua dog which had run off after being frightened by a bang. We said we would look out for it whilst we were walking around but we didn’t see it. We stopped by her house on the way back but she wasn’t around – lets hope she found it. The street itself contains a mixture of quaint shops, bars, restaurants as well as permanent and rental accommodation. An interesting feature of the street is that it joins the main road at a roundabout albeit a small one, the only one I have seen on this holiday. The clouds were starting to look threatening so we headed off to Walmart’s to get a few provisions. By now it was nearly 16:00 so because of the weather we decided to head off to the Sandbar restaurant on the Island for an early dinner. Jan had grouper and I had chicken washed down by margaritas – very nice. We headed back to the villa and watched a funny film which we had bought earlier – Ghost Town starring Ricky Gervais. Outside the wind blew quite strongly – we were glad we were indoors. Tomorrow the weather is forecast to be worse so it will probably be a quiet day in.

Day 16 – Busch Gardens

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Got up at 07:30 in preparation for our free visit to Busch Gardens. After a leisurely breakfast in the villa we set off just after nine. There were no accidents today so the journey took just over an hour. We had both decided to travel light today so no heavy camera bag for me and no handbag for Jan. This backfired slightly as when we eventually reached the front of a slow moving queue to get through the entrance we were told we needed ID to get in. I was OK but Jan’s ID was in her handbag in the boot of our car. Luckily customer services were sympathetic and gave her a hand stamp so we rejoined the slow moving queue at the back again and this time we were both admitted. We headed off to the Cheetah Hunt roller coaster for our first ride of the day but there now wasn’t time to do it before the live Cheetah display which we had missed on Monday. In the Cheetah enclosure they have set up a system where a wire is connected to pulleys at opposite ends of the enclosure. This is driven by an electric motor. A lure is tied to the wire and they get the Cheetah’s to chase it similar to a Greyhound Race. It is very impressive to watch a Cheetah in action and in the short distance of the enclosure they have been timed at 36 mph. When they get to the other end they do a fast turn and chase it back. Apart from being exciting to watch it is essential for their cardio-vascular needs. After the display they got the remaining six female Cheetahs in and fed them. After they had finished feeding they started chasing each other round the enclosure which was great fun to watch. My only regret was that I didn’t have my movie camera with me as my pocket camera cannot cope with the speed of a Cheetah – I just caught the end of its tail! After all that excitement we headed off to the Cheetah Hunt roller coaster. We decided that this time we would queue for the front seat which we both agreed made the ride even better. After that we went to look at the animals including some Hyenas which were right up against the glass in their enclosure so you could get right close to them. From there it was back to Cheetah Hunt for a second ride in the front seat. We then headed off to the theatre for a Sesame Street 4D film but on the way there it started to rain so it was good timing although during the film we got sprayed with water so we got wet anyway. We were going to go on the Sheikra roller coaster next but it started to rain heavier and there were rumbles of thunder so all the rides were closed. Eventually the rain eased a bit so we headed off to the Marrakesh Theatre to watch the Rock-A-Doo-Wap show which was mainly songs from the late 50′s but they also did a medley of Four Season’s songs. It was a very enjoyable and professionally produced show – the singing, dancing and musicianship was excellent. The rain had now stopped so we headed back to Sheikra as the clouds were starting to threaten again. On the way there we passed the wooden roller coaster Gwazi. There were signs outside saying that there were new cars and the ride had been improved. I foolishly believed this and went on it, Jan had more sense and stayed behind. The ride was just as brain numbing and bone shaking as it ever was and I came off it with a headache – never again! At Sheikra we queued for the front seat and this time we also bought a film of us riding on it – a great ride. We then stopped for a quick snack. Whilst we were there some woman bought some sort of ice cream pie and left it on the table unguarded whilst she went to get cutlery. At this point about 3 or 4 gulls descended on the pie – they were so quick and made a right mess of it. It was starting to rain again so we jumped on the Sky Ride and headed for the exit stopping off to look at the Cheetah’s again. Whilst we were there a man came close to the enclosure with a guide dog which got the Cheetah’s quite agitated. It was now starting to rain harder so we headed for the car park after a most enjoyable day. The journey back was slow to start with but with the promise of dinner at Outback to look forward to it soon went. Dinner as always was excellent and we arrived back at the villa at 21:00. The weather forecast for the weekend is not good so we will have a lazy day tomorrow.