Monday, December 28, 2015

Just gotta make it to Sunday

2015 is rapidly winding down and we're a little bit stressed as it does. I've been at work a lot, attempting to catch up after 9 months off on parental leave ‎(leaving the bulk of work for "future Andrew" to deal with. Well, now future Andrew has arrived). Add in Julie's shift work and the holiday season and our trip to Florida was a distant light at the end of it all. It's too bad that Christmas always gets rushed because it is such a good time seeing all of our extended family.  But it's rushed because we do try to see everyone.  
My quick trip to Dauphin was blemished by a flat tire on Christmas morning. My FOURTH flat tire of the year! Come on... But no matter, at least it was at the farm and my brother David made quick work of getting our spare in place. 
Just gotta make it to Sunday.  
‎Recollecting on Christmas day, it was a long one. Mostly due to our packing frenzy until after 1am. In the morning we're a cup short of a cup of coffee to get us going on the drive to GFK. Due to the tire mishap we squeeze 5 of us into our little car for the trip across the border. 
Just gotta make it to Sunday.  
Sebastian is a trooper and like me doesn't want to sleep if there's stuff going on. So he doesn't nap during the drive, and then doesn't nap during the flight to Orlando.  That's OK since we have the 2.5 hour drive from Orlando to Bradenton. So we get all loaded up in the car after Seb does a few sprints down the lobby of the car rental place. 
‎Excitedly we get on the turnpike and head for the coast, soon crossing over Lake Jesup where I happily declare that we'll make it to Sunday!   We are stoked for this trip!  After spending so much time down there this year we've been looking forward to getting back to the beach. 
We missed supper so we pull off into Oviedo to find some drive-thru. As we're sitting at a light, a sheriff pulls up beside us and asks if we're driving a rental, and could we figure out how to turn our lights on. Ok, thanks! (they are on)
In the drive-thru I notice that there's no reflection on the car behind me. I get out and check and we have no taillights whatsoever: no signals, no backup light, just the single brake light in the rear window. That's cool since we're driving at night on a freeway. Ugh. 
Just gotta make it to Sunday.  
‎Back to the rental place, where another sheriff asks us to turn on our lights. It is strange that none of them realised that my brake lights weren't working.  
Fortunately Seb gives little protest to being moved to a new car and we're soon back on the road with verified working taillights.  
‎A couple hours later (1am) and we're driving over the Manatee River with Bradenton before us. Julie comments how it's a nice small city without feeling like a city.  We should go to that tiki bar over there this time. 

Here it is, Sunday afternoon. We've had brunch at our favourite breakfast spot (the Sage Biscuit -‎) and are now having a beer in the lanai overlooking the pond while Seb naps. 
Phew, we made it to Sunday.

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Tarpon Pointe Grill & Tiki Bar

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Friday, February 27, 2015

One Night by the Manatee

It was a cool night tonight. Cool by Floridian standards, so perhaps we could say it was akin to an autumn evening. We really want it to be warmer as we’ve had to force ourselves to admit that we have to soon start our journey home. Strangely, walking around, it does feel like autumn: there are leaves on the ground, bare branches above, and the skies have been gloomy and cool all week.

Nonetheless, it’s Friday night! And the baby’s in bed so let’s go!

Bradenton was hosting a concert down by the water tonight [free!] featuring a local band, Wild Root. We like the riverwalk along the Manatee River near downtown – they’ve done a good job developing it with artwork, a skatepark and a small amphitheatre.

Wild Root band take the stage

It was a small crowd but the band did well, playing cover tunes of Joe Cocker to the Chilli Peppers, plus their original songs that were good too. The frontman, Paul Fournier, is a local high school teacher who reminds me a lot of Winnipeg music man Tim Hoover.

After the show we went to a nearby restaurant Pier 22 by the marina. A martini and house-made chocolate banana bread pudding for me, a glass of pinot noir and some sushi for Julie. Gazing out from the heated patio over the river we discuss our upcoming week and what should be on our to-do list as our time in Florida winds down. Julie hatches a crazy idea – what if we fly home via Phoenix like Ryan and Nuala did? Then we could come back to Florida to retrieve the car when the weather is better for a drive home? Constant snowstorms across the mid-west are making us nervous.

We finish up as the Lightning beat the Blackhawks on TV (we chuckle it’s best that our fellow parent Sonny and Rocky didn’t go to the game tonight - they’re Chicago fans - although they would have fit in well with the crowd as it was mostly red sweaters). Julie didn’t think her sushi was good, so she wants to check and see whether the chef is Japanese or Mexican (a joke from 2 years ago in San Diego). Unconfirmed… but the rest of the restaurant looks really nice.

best bathroom story of the week: it’s a small restroom that already has two fellows in it when I walk in. A short, stubby middle-aged guy with a cowboy hat and a beard chatting with a Mexican kid. Cowboy dude sounds a bit intoxicated, “tatered” as they say down here. Says he’s from Calgary. As he walks out, I call out “go Flames!”. He spins around into the door and asks “who said that?” while eyeing the Mexican. With a bit of a smirk he turns to me and asks how I know the Flames. I say I’m from Winnipeg and suddenly I’m his best friend as we squeeze out of the restroom. Do I know Kid Rock? Him and his wife are going on a cruise with him tomorrow, so much fun! It’s the 6th one they’ve been on – that’s all of them, ya know. They’re going with their “loaded” friends who they met down here on Longboat Key who are also from Calgary. His wife comes over and distracts him so that I can meet my wife who’s standing slightly impatiently at the door.

As we see them leave, he climbs into an Infinity SUV, that has Alberta plates. Story checks out!

Monday, February 16, 2015

the Cortez Fishing Festival

This past weekend (Feb.14-15, 2015) saw a small village area turn its main road into a street festival. The 33rd annual Cortez Fishing Festival aims to educate the public about the local fishing industry and the importance of preserving the wetlands. The $3 admission goes towards projects to preserve fishing habitat.

With our friend Shawna in town for just 45 hours, we figured this was a good spot to spend the day, and we weren’t disappointed. The splendid sunny day made the rum punch coconuts an immediate desire. We were happy to be randomly picked up by a guy with an extended golf cart to give us a ride to the festival from where we parked. (this was already after we had walked along the beach and had big bowls of homemade ice cream as our lunch… so justified?)

We browsed the arts and crafts section while listening to a country band. Andrew entered to win a hand-made wooden row boat [if you win, you just rent a uHaul and tow it home!] and considered a kitschy fish cleaning station for a buddy. We thought that this was actually it for the festival, until we got around the bend and there it was – the food!!

Festival food court

So many choices! What to try??  One guy gave a bad review of some coconut shrimp, which made us hesitate, but fortuitously made us check out each vendor to see whose shrimps looked the best. Shawna and I believe that our decision was good: as the shrimps and the large crab cake were both delicious. Who knew that pina colada sauce would be good on shrimp?

Mullet, Snapper, some grouper and even some octopus get grilled in the late afternoon. (It was all a bit salty and reminded us of Donghuanan Night Market in Beijing)

Next up was the local favourite, smoked mullet. Not to be left out, Sebastian had a taste and he even cried for more!

A refill of the coconut to wash that down before Shawna suggested the bakery. I won’t pass up a chance at baked goods, so with someone to share it with (Julie’s often left out due to her food intolerances) we ogled the cream-filled pastries. My strawberry puff was the size of my hand, filled with Bavarian cream, drizzled with chocolate and then topped with strawberries. Shawna’s cherry strudel was just as large (but thinner) and balanced nicely between gooey cherry filling and the light pastry.  Julie satisfied her cravings with a bag of kettle corn.  And with that, we were out of tokens.

There’s a fish processing facility here and today they had the place open to the public. We got to wander through, see some fish on ice (red and black grouper, snapper, mullet) and watch the local guy feed the pelicans who were hanging out on the dock.

As the sun lowered in the sky and our sugar levels max’d out, we made a beeline for the gulf to watch the sunset. A great finale to a great day!

Sunset at Coquina Beach

Additional photos of our day are found on Smugmug –>

More info on the Cortez Fish Festival located in Cortez Village, just west of Bradenton, Florida

An article about the festival featuring a quote from a Manitoban! plus some nice photos

View Larger Map

Thursday, February 12, 2015

We’re not burling, we’re sailing!

It has been a number of years in the making but today it finally happened – we got to have a sailing lesson!

It all started last weekend when Julie booked us for a kayak tour around the south end of Lido Key. Our guide Mark introduced himself as a lifetime Sarasotan who has spent much of his life on the water, even going to school as a boy from the boat his family lived on in the marina. As we chatted he said that he teaches sailing and his wife also windsurfs. What a coincidence! We are also looking to learn how to sail and would like to windsurf as well. Once back on shore we made plans to meet on Monday for a lesson. But fate would push back against us once more and our session was cancelled as heavy rains poured into the area all day on Monday. But today looked fine and sunny with just enough breeze.

Not surprising that we discovered Mark’s house backs onto water, a bayou [riverway] in this case. He had the boats ready to go so we hopped right on board and made our way to the bay while he briefed us on some sailing terms and the basics of working with the wind – remember the “no go zone” that covers straight into the wind and 60 degrees on either side. He rigged up a little pointer device on the front end of the boom to indicate the wind direction. We found some clear water amongst the moored boats in the Bay to anchor the  motor boat that was acting as our home base. 

I went first since I was the one who was so keen to get sailing. Sit with your bum on the side, grab hold of the tiller (the handle that operates the rudder for steering) with one hand, and the sheet (the rope that operates the sail’s angle) with the other hand. With a push from the moored motor boat we were off!

Just like our first windsurfing lesson, the moment that the wind grabs hold and you thrust forward feels exhilarating!  A couple reminders to “fall off the wind” (turn to be pointing more where the wind is blowing) were needed as I tended point upwards a bit too much. And then I needed to turn around. This took a bit of practice, and I’m sure will continue to require practice if we get to go again. First turn was to “come about” (aka tacking) or turn up into the wind. It’s a nifty manoeuvre wherein you slam the rudder all the wayclick for smugmug pictures one way, wait for the boat to point straight up wind and then shift your body to the other side of the boat, switch hands for the rope and tiller all while minding that the sail boom doesn’t smack your head. Four attempts and my confidence was up. After 8 attempts we did the jibe. This is the action that you see people getting knocked out or off boats on TV when the boom comes whipping around. Don’t worry – we watched our heads and safely navigated the turn. To conclude my lesson, I was quite happy when Mark stated that I pulled the sail boat up the motor boat “remarkably well”. Julie also did well and I’ll say that I think she was going faster than I was.

Sitting on the bow of the boat watching Julie sail past to and fro, was so good. The warm sun, a pleasant breeze [damn glad I bought this sweater yesterday!] and the Sarasota skyline made us thankful we can do this kind of stuff – with grandparents at hand to babysit! 

where we were sailing

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A nice sunny morning? That's a paddlin’.

Kayaking appears to be quite popular here, which isn’t surprising given the vast, extensive network of intercoastal waterways, bayous and rivers. Plus, it’s generally warm out! Bonus.

This Saturday morning we took our turn to venture out, booking ourselves a tandem kayak with iKayak Sarasota. Julie determined that they offered the best value and timing of the operators we found online. Unfortunately, when we got there, we learned it was low tide and our guide was a bit nervous about us being able to get into, and out of, the mangrove tunnels. But on the bright side, we were the only guests for the morning so we could go do whatever we wanted.

Our guide, Mark, is a lifetime Sarasotan who has spent much of his life on the water, but “couldn’t spell kayak guide 5 years ago!”. No matter, we’re not white water kayaking here, but lazily paddling out in the calm waters in between Lido and Bird Keys and Mark definitely knew the finer details of the area. He pointed out the AC/DC frontman’s impressive place on the water. And then pointed to an even more impressive house and invited us to a garden party that afternoon – with a wink. And an apartment building for seniors where they used to have to will their estate to the church that operated the apartment (no longer a requirement due to fussy children).

There are obviously plenty of sea birds in this area: cormorants, anhingas, brown pelicans, spoonbills, etc., but we can easily pick out our snowbird brethren (ducks and big white pelicans) because they aren’t nearly as comfortable around humans. Take this anhinga for example. He swam right up to us, and even underneath us!

An anhinga comes swimming close to our kayak

But the White Pelican wouldn’t let us get closer than 100 meters.

Mark scooped up a sea urchin, and warned us of stepping on them. He said it’ll sting, and you can try and try to dig the spike out of your foot, but you’ll have to give up and accept the fact that you’ll now have a piece of the ocean inside your foot (appearing as a small black dot). Upside down jellyfish were also neat to see, and likely something I would not have spotted on the sandy bottom prior to Mark showing it to us.

Eventually we worked our way to the mangroves and our guide picked out a small break in the trees for us to paddle into. They weren’t kidding when they wrote mangrove tunnels on the tour description – you really feel like you’re in a tunnel!  It’s so quiet in here, save for the gentle clucking of oysters shutting their shells. paddling out of the mangrove tunnels

In order to exit the mangroves we did have to get out of our kayaks and push them – with a newfound awareness of where I was placing my feet in the water!

The tour was about 2.5 hours, and a great way to explore the area. We’re now wishing we had our kayak here with us. But we made a friend with Mark and hope to go sailing with him.

Photos on smugmug: 

where were we?15-02-07 kayak gps map

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Florida Quays

Julie’s Christmas present this year was to view the sunset from KeyJulie christmas 2014 gift cert West; either from her room at a hotel (I was going to pick this one – or from a boat whilst on a sunset cruise. We started planning the trip and picked a weekend before we started hosting visitors. Unwittingly we picked a long weekend. What does the travel book say about driving to Key West? “We strongly recommend to not drive to the islands on a Friday afternoon, especially if it’s a long weekend.”  Guess what time we hit Miami for the final segment to Key Largo? d’oh!

We also got a quick lesson in hotel prices and availability for Key West: holy shiza are they expensive! Finding something under US$300 was a challenge. So we spent the hotel points that we got for signing up for a hotel credit card on a room at the Fairfield Inn & Suites.

We staggered the trip to Key West, spending 2 nights on other islands on our way there: first Islamorada, then Marathon and finally Key West. Our stay in Key west lasted about 30 hours. And if you go to Key West, there is a 3-hour time frame wherein most of the action takes place. We missed it (we were on the boat). So we’ll have to go back to see the sunset party at Mallory Square. We originally thought we’d make the entire trip back in one day, but we ended up staying a night just off the islands in Florida City before driving back to Bradenton through the Everglades.

The reason for picking this weekend to go the Keys was because of all of the events that were going on.

A story is one thing, but pictures make the difference – see them all here:

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Jammin’ in the Cortez Kitchen

The old man’s skin was so wrinkled and weather worn that I could not quite tell if he was black, white or Cuban. But his raspy voice definitely spoke of his years and the slightly French-accent-tinged long drawl spoke of his origins in the bayou. He played some old blues on the guitar that had most of the varnish worn off. Beside him sat an even older gentleman who was attempting to get his violin into tune. The American War Veteran to his right seemed to readily take charge and determine whose turn it was to play a tune.  Us, with our baby and pram, brought the average age of the small group sitting in the circle of wooden chairs down to perhaps the low 50’s.

The Florida Maritime Museum hosts a “Music on the Porch” on the second Saturday of the month. The slightly cooler weather today moved the music inside the old schoolhouse, and the old building with its wooden floors and country music reminded me of similar venues around Valley River, MB (i.e.. Zoria Hall). But we are in Cortez Village, the last bit of the mainland from Bradenton before hopping the bridge onto the island for Bradenton Beach. A small enclave of “old” Florida where the streets are small and narrow running between the clapboard bungalows under the large trees. The village is centered around the Cortez Kitchen, a section of water nicknamed such due to the fact that that you could always go there and get something to eat. Now there’s also a restaurant beside the water of the same name, but it feels like it’s as old as the village, especially at night when a band starts to play and the air gets a bit smoky inside. We sat on the patio by the boats and watched a Great Blue Heron stroll into the fish processing plant next door and scavenge for scraps. The seared tuna was tasty, and the Land Shark lager went down nicely. I snuck a morsel of wasabi to Seb’s mouth and got a fantastic scrunched face as result – but no cry!

The sun started to go down, a fishing boat came in to dock, and the setting was very peaceful. We took a walk on the boardwalk around the water to take in the view. Wonderful. This is the moment. And the air from the restaurant wafted out the succulent smells of garlic butter. Is anyone else hungry?

The sun sets over Cortez Kitchen