It’s 8:30 a.m. on Christmas Day and I’m sitting in the van drinking my morning tea while Toronto Daughter (TD) catches up on her sleep. We’re staying at the Sheraton Beach Resort at Clearwater Beach for two days as our Christmas treat. Miles of white sand beaches, a beautiful pool complete with rows of lounge chairs, an outside café, and an outside bar where we sat and had a drink before supper last night.
Supper was in the van – in the parking lot – as we had lots of food in the fridge that needed to be eaten before it spoiled. Tonight we are booked for a 6:30 p.m. sitting at the Sheraton for a Christmas buffet.
We’ve been camping at Fort DeSoto Park, a magnificent county-run campground that has large private camping sites. We sit surrounded by palm trees in our own little semi-tropical world. We used my little tent for the first time. I was able to set it up myself and blowing up the air bed with the $4.95 gizmo that I bought at the Superstore in Saint John was a breeze.
Next on our agenda is Sarasota and the Ringling Brother’s circus museum and a highly recommended state camp ground. Then we’ll return to Fort DeSoto Park.
January 2, 2009 -I’m back in Tarpon Springs sitting at the picnic table as I write this blog. Who knew life with a grown up daughter could get so busy? We left our luxurious accommodation at the Sheraton on Boxing Day and headed back to DeSoto Park. The Park was full as we knew it would be but the Ranger Mike said to keep checking back as people would probably be canceling throughout the week. TD took over the job of checking in with Ranger Mike (he was cute as well as nice) and we secured a spot for each night for the rest of our trip with the exception of the one night we spent at Oscar Shearer state park near Sarasota.
TD even got up New Year’s Eve morning at 5:30 a.m. to line up at the office to make certain we got a spot. She was 8th in line! It turns out that the good natured Mike (did I mention he was also good looking:)) had made a mistake with our booking for that night and later in the day managed to secure one of the best sites in the park for us. (Did I mention how charming TD could be when dealing with Ranger Mike?) Ranger Mike’s explanation was that it was “Be nice to Canadians Day".
I can’t say enough about how wonderful Fort DeSoto Park is. Three miles from the campsite is North Beach – miles and miles of white sand heavily treed along the edges so there is lots of shade for people like me. North Beach was voted the No. 1 beach in America in 2005. We managed to get there for at least an hour on most days.
Fort DeSoto campground and North Beach are a favourite spot for Canadians although most of the Canadians spoke French. I always knew that Florida was a favourite winter vacation spot for Quebecers but the numbers become really apparent when you hear French constantly. At one point TD went to inquire about renting a kayak and, when she said she was Canadian, the person in the booth told her that she didn’t sound Canadian.
We had several Quebec neighbours at the campsite and when you asked them where they were from, they replied “Canada”. When I commented to TD that it was nice to see that they identified as Canadian first, she told me that my prejudice was showing and that most Quebecers are happy to be Canadians. The polls prove that she is right, of course, and she did live in Montreal for several years.
TD also made friends with a nice couple from Ontario who suggested that she borrow their kayak and try kayaking. Actually they were quite insistent that she not rent one and that she use one of theirs instead. So she did. And she loved it. She loved it enough to get some sore muscles!
Our trip to the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota was one of the highlights of the trip. John Ringling, one of the five Ringling Brothers, donated 66 acres, including his summer home to the state of Florida when he died. He had already built – and filled – a fine art museum and built his summer home. Several buildings have been added since then including one 3800 sq. ft. building that houses a miniature circus as it would have been in the 1920s/1930s, built to scale. The man who spent a good part of his life building this wonder says there at probably 50,000 pieces in the display.
I was equally taken with the opulent yet elegant home that John Ringling built right on the waters of Sarasota Bay. He would park his yacht out front, hire a band to play on the deck and people would spill out from the living and dining rooms and dance on the large marble terrace.
Ringling entertained many of the world’s rich and powerful business leaders trying to convince them of the potential of the Sarasota area and tried to convince them to build winter homes as well. He was so convinced of the potential of the area that he invested most of his money in land in the area. Alas the boom that John had anticipated didn’t materialize in his lifetime and he died broke and alone. His wife Mabel had died several years earlier and a brief second marriage ended in divorce. When you stand on the terrace of John and Mabel’s house you can see the development that John had anticipated across the bay.
Yesterday TD left for home and I came back to Tarpon Springs to a friendly RV park that I discovered earlier in December. More about life amongst the snowbirds and full-time RVers later……