Monday, January 22, 2007

Coventional Wisdom, Fat Points and Other Rat's Mouths

Before leaving the Orlando area for the Gulf Coast and Punta Gorda (Spanish for “Fat Point,” just like Boca Raton translates to something like “Mouth of the Rat”) we visited a business that we just never expected to find in Florida - of all places. So when, while running some unrelated errands, we happened to drive past LAKERIDGE WINERY ( we decided to return first chance we got to take the free tour and tasting that was offered seven days a week on their sign. Now we are certainly not wine snobs, and in fact we don’t pretend to know much at all about the subject other than to say we do know what we like and what we don‘t like once we‘ve tried it, but we fell into the camp of the incredulous who assumed that surely there was no good wine, let along great wine, to be had in Florida. At the time, I never thought I would write about wine in Florida. Period!
We were surprised to find every parking space in the guest lot taken when we arrived, so we stole into one of the tour bus spaces (there weren’t any there on a Saturday). Like all good tours, you enter and exit through the gift shop. Theirs was very nice- on the order of an upscale wine and cheese shop but with nearly everything bearing their logo. I really liked the giant wine glasses- it would have made a great fish bowl if I weren’t living in a motor coach. It also would have been great for those times when you promise your wife you are only going to have “one” glass of wine!!!
But back to the wine. I’ve included a link to the site above if you are interested. Basically, the grapes grown in the area are all hybridized versions of Muscadine, and the wild Muscadine grape that the Spaniards found growing in Florida when they- not we,not you, not me, not any of the rest of us, not the French, not the Italians, and most assuredly not the English- discovered it many long years before vineyards were established anywhere else in the country. You would not have guessed correctly in a trivial pursuit game if you said that vineyards were first and are still the best in either New York or California. Not so. Florida was first. And lately it has been beating both New York and California, and even European wines with some great regularity at competitions world wide. My son and his bride love to go to Italy every chance they get to see the sights and sip the vino. Maybe after reading this they will want to jump on a plane and head to Florida. Then again maybe not!
We stared at showcase after showcase filled with bottles of wine with ribbons and metals around their “necks.” If their wine competitiveness keeps growing they will need to build a lot more showcases at the winery.
But I suppose the point of all this, and the reason for commenting here is this: conventional wisdom says that most of the good U.S. wine is in California and the rest is in New York. And conventional wisdom, especially in this country at this point in time, would be that we ALL want everyone to speak English and not some other language, especially Spanish. It’s becoming one of the hot topic issues of our time on the planet. But “conventional wisdom” is often backward looking and not forward thinking. The fact is that, defying conventional wisdom, there are fine wines in Florida, and more than a few towns whose names sound infinitely better in the native Spanish than they ever will in English.
Life’s lessons are learned through experiences which test the tried and maybe-not-so true.
Fine wine, by any name and in any language, is where you find it.


Part of the Muscadine grape vineyard at Lakeridge Winery near Orlando (Clermont), Forida in "winter" season.
The trellised entryway to Lakeridge Winery

Marilyn gets a taste of the Cuvee Noir

While the scale may not show it, the goblet portion of this wine glass is about 30 inches high. ALL of the wine in the rack seen through the glass would fit into the glass. Cheers!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Stampede Gang

From left: Yours truly, Marilyn, Brenda, Carlton, Cousin Susan, Bob

"Getting There....

“Getting there is half the fun” is an old adage which is readily subscribed to by most folks who love to travel (by any means other than flying) and RV-ers will sign on to the idea right up front every time. So no wonder when “The Gang” got together to visit Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede in Orlando one night, that “getting there” and back did, in fact, turn out to be about half the fun….
To protect the savvy nature of intrepid RV navigators and to spare the feelings of all involved, let’s discuss this in terms of vehicles and not personalities.
To start with, let’s float another old adage: better late than never! Here in Florida in the middle of January, Dolly and cast are still celebrating Christmas, and as it turns out our tickets are booked for the last night of the Christmas show. Emotionally I am closer to the 4th of July at this point than I am to Merry Christmas, but I digress. The show itself was quite good- real snow falling on the horses, chicken chasing, pig races, ostrich riding, horse relays, a re-enactment of the Civil War featuring the North Pole vs. the South Pole, and, as they say, when they wish to move the topic along, much, much more. It’s a dinner theater experience by classification and dinner was also pretty good, although eating a whole chicken with your fingers and washing it down with a beer out of a glass jar while the living manger scene is descending on a platform from the ceiling and ice skaters on a Teflon sheet weave their way in and out of a goat herd is a bit of a stretch for me. But while the show was good, the company was great, and “half” of a good time was had by all.
Now to the other half of the fun- getting there and back. We are a high tech crew, we are! So when we ventured forth from the campground, the lead car was boasting a spiffy GPS on the dashboard. The follow vehicle had the tourist maps with the address and the illustration of how to reach the destination. Shouldn’t be a problem. All of us have been here a week and a half or so and have driven by the Stampede a dozen or more times on Route 4 en route and return from other venues like Sea World, Camping World, Bargain World, Disney World, and you get the idea- Small World! Problem is the lead car with the GPS, unbeknownst to the chase car, did not have the destination entered into the GPS, nor did it HAVE the address. And the chase car, unbeknownst to the lead car, did have the address and the maps but not the GPS into which to enter the destination. It’s only maddening to circle a destination which is large enough to be clearly visible from the road for a few times “around the block.” After that it starts to get funny pretty darn fast. And what is funny the first full “circle the wagons”, to use a Dolly phrase, gets to be down right hysterical on ensuing circumferences. But, high tech to the rescue, we hold a while-driving cell phone conference and eventually reach the Stampede- and not late at all. Even if it was a Christmas show! We find a table to seat ourselves, but decide, in light of the ride there, we should circle the tables a few times before sitting down. We do. We laugh. We have our picture taken, still laughing from the ride, riding reindeer. The laughter is so contagious that the hat on my reindeer’s head falls front and covers his eyes- don’t believe me; check it out!
That should be the end of the story. But it’s not. Turns out things look a little different in the dark and with road construction that closes the off ramp to route 192 after dark, so once again we are “lost” (not really, we know where we are , we just don’t know quite where we are going). Who would think you need a GPS setting to get back to the campground from 15 miles away. Reminds me of the directions given by Mainers to tourists who ask,
“How do I get to Bangor?”
Answer, “You can’t get there from here.”
So around and around we went. This time around the Magic Kingdom and Downtown Disney. Which is good, because Marilyn wanted to go there this trip and now she can say she did!
Not too much later we arrived back at the campground. It was late enough for quiet hours to be in force, however that did not stop the six of us from singing a rousing chorus or two of “Have a holly, jolly, Christmas” before drifting off to our coaches and disappearing once again into the night.
It was a good show. But as it turned out it was the perfect evening to go for a ride….

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Our Newest Blog Feature

Here is the latest feature being added to the blog as of today. This map reflects (in color) the states that we have visited with the coach thus far. Each time we visit another state the map will be updated to reflect our travel history. A lot of RVs have a version of this map on the outside so other campers can identify where the RVs owners have traveled, but since we have the blog, we are excited to share our travel "path" with our readers who may never see the coach parked in a campground somewhere.

While nearly all technical achievements seem somewhat miraculous and darn near impossible to me, this one was easy! Not because I am so very clever- but because I got the directions from the WIFI Savvy web blog of our friends Jim and Chris ( and those guys make lots of computer stuff easy for those of us who are admittedly NOT true geeks. If any of you would like to learn more about your computer and its use, you can try the link above or any of their links posted on the "dashboard" of the blog.

You can always check the mini version of the map just below the "About Me" and the "Archive" section at the top of the posts.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Orlando Magic

Orlando is known to be a place of magic. Whether it’s that of the child having feasted his eyes on Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Mickey Mouse for the first time or the team fanatic at the complex of the sports team of the same name, there does seem to be something here for everyone with a touch of the magic.
Personally, I always thought it would be magical to eat all the lobster I could. And much to my great delight, Orlando is blessed with a half dozen or so “All-you-can-eat” Lobster feasts. So after days, even weeks, of putting that thought out of my mind, I never-the-less decided the time had come to live the fantasy. We studied all the ads, read reviews on line, and made our selection and picked our date night. Dinner time approached and we pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant we had selected, but just before going in, we ducked in to one of those discount ticket places next to it to see about some tickets for Sea World the next day.
Before wrapping up that discussion I asked, “ So how’s the buffet next door?”
I expected to hear that it was great. The sign looked nice. The reviews had been stellar. But the guy behind the counter hung his head and, more or less talking to the floor, answered me with a single word, “Terrible….”
Long story short, he sent us off in another direction and so the Boston Lobster Fest became the new dinner destination. Nice looking place. Nice looking buffet. Instructions given. On your mark, get set, go!
Admittedly we did not waste much time “getting into it.” Marilyn’s first plate was filled with lobster and lots of snow crab legs. I took a more measured course filling my first plate with oysters, mussels, and clams. Also on the line and tasted by me were Maine steamer clams, hard shell crabs, fish of all types (mostly broiled), scallops, and just about everything seafood you could hope for. But this was to be a night of magic, fantasy and focus, so off to the lobster line I went, again and again and again and again and again and again and yet again. Count the “agains” and you’ll know how many lobsters I ate before my personal capacity meter registered full. After one lobster, Marilyn took the safe route and ate only crab, which she does prefer. Crabs on the line come as gigantic legs, some in clusters, some as singles, but not what you would term as “countable.” I know her! This choice made her feast less measurable and therefore even more enjoyable.
What we can tell you for sure is that the price we paid was a mere pittance of what we consumed in any way you care to measure. We didn’t even take the time to tie the bibs on. The waiter did issue his mandatory reminder that crab and lobster are messy, but we told him, as we kept eating, that we had lived in Maine for lots of years, so if we did mess up our go-to-dinner duds we would simple “wear it” out proudly when we left the place. (Actually, even I stayed fairly clean.)
So perhaps this was an all you can eat night. But perhaps it was true gluttony at its finest hour. The difference between the two is what makes one memorable and the other not so. If you are reading this- you, too, have gone to the buffet and come home more than full. I’m sure you enjoyed it at the time, but the real question is, “Do you REMEMBER it?” Because a buffet all the time is merely overeating, whereas a rare indulgence in the sublime is a noteworthy occasion. I have eaten at Country Buffet. Good. But not memorable. Chinese? Many times. Good. Not memorable. And so on.
I am reminded of a few such memorable times. There was the time my parents took me to the all you can eat shrimp buffet at the old Shillington diner. I ate nothing but shrimp. The next time I went there they had closed. Some say it was a family issue but I’m pretty sure I finished them off with all the shrimp I ate. Then there was the night in Honduras when Marilyn ate what was surely a two pound prime rib at dinner before we went to another restaurant to watch the heavyweight prize fight on their large screen TV and she promptly ate an enormous hamburger and a plate of fries. Whenever I recount that story, she always adds, “I needed rare meat,” so I include it here as part and parcel to the truth. I am also reminded of the first time I ever came to Florida and came across an all you can eat lasagna deal; the waitress brought me my first ice cube sized piece of cold lasagna and NEVER came back to the table. After two hours, another server came over to tell me, basically, “Yes it was all you can eat, and we have no more , so that IS all you can eat.” Not everything is memorable for the same reason. And finally I am reminded of my mother’s story from her childhood. Loved fried eggs. Could never get enough, and one day told my grandfather,
“Just once I would like to eat my fill of fried eggs.”
My grandfather’s response to that was to buy a flat of huge duck eggs and make her eat every one of them. Maybe that’s why I can’t recall my mother eating eggs too many times in my house growing up.
Have you ever really thought about “pigging out” as a momentous time in your life? Where were you when Kennedy was shot? When Princess Di died? When Man first stepped on the moon? When you ate all the lobster you ever dreamed of eating? Where were you then?

We had a marvelous two days at Sea World. Retail price? About 250 bucks. But we didn’t pay that. We did the classic discount ticket routine known to all, or at least darn near all, who come to Orlando with theme parks on the agenda. Here’s how the deal works. Stop in at any, or every, place that advertises “Discount Park Tickets.” It really doesn’t matter what park (or show) you want to visit- Disney, Epcot, Sea World, Bush Gardens, you name it. See what they have to offer. The basic premise is that if you will give them a couple hours of your time during which time they will try to sell you a timeshare, a condo, a new house, a cruise, what have you, they will then reward your time with discounted, and in some cases free, tickets for anywhere you want to go. We visited the Westgate Timeshare project. It was a gorgeous property and we did learn a lot by spending our time there. Admittedly we were curious and did ask questions so we “invested” about 3 or more hours rather than the 90 minutes they asked us for. And for our time we received 4 tickets to Sea World (two for each of two days) for the grand sum of $12.00. The savings were substantial. In addition to our tickets, we got an “entertainment book” similar to the ones we used to buy back home in Cape Coral. The book has a value of about 40 bucks or so and inside it are literally thousands of dollars in savings for other activities. One use usually pays for the book and so when it is free- even better. It’s good for a year so when we get to Tampa and Bush Gardens it will pay us handsomely again. I suppose we didn’t need to do that, but it seems to be part of the Orlando culture and, you know, when in Rome….”
Sea World is a magical place too. They have a little bit of everything there- rides, birds, fish, sea mammals of all kinds, good food at theme eateries. You can send a diver down (and watch him through the glass) for an oyster guaranteed to have a cultured pearl. You can buy raw fish and feed the seals and stingrays, that is if you can figure out how to keep all the birds from stealing your fish. The storks have become masterful at robbing everyone of their fish treats from little kids to trainers, even the pre-loaded, lid-covered fish stations the handlers use during show times, and a couple even tried taking fish out of the mouth of Shamu. Perhaps that is the answer to the question, “Why are there so many birds standing on one leg at sea world?
I tried and tried to think what I would write about our time at Sea World. Everything I thought about was either too shallow or too deep (gotta love a water image). I suppose writing is by definition a public thing, but my time, our time, at this place just feels more private to me than most things I do. This I can tell you. We needed two days to take it all in, and even then we were rushed. There are places there where I could stand in awe and watch all day. But having said that, I do not feel like a spectator. As a diver, I have been in the water with many of these creatures and feel connected to them in ways I do not understand. I accept that connection, appreciate that connection, and take comfort in that connection. I often feel more like part of the ocean life cycle which I am not a natural part of than the cycle of life that plays itself out above the waves to which I was born. I am always drawn back to water, no matter how removed from it my life becomes at times. And when I am at places where the world is the sea, there is always a part of me that stays behind when I move on. Some people say they can hear the ocean in a shell placed to their ear. Me? I hear it all the time, but keep lots of shells around just in case that were ever to change.

Sign of the Times

I must admit my growing fascination with signage, in particular the whimsical “X-ing” signs we have seen as we travel along. I have pictured and commented on others before but this most recent find, turned out to be, well, the real deal. Welcome to Sea World…


Who's To Say?

Like the ship that left the safety of its harbor and set off on an uncharted course, so have we chosen to sail our land yacht in a path as yet unpredicted and directed in no small part by the way the winds of our lives are blowing. It may never measure up to the swashbuckling adventure of the pirates of old, but there is an unknown to it that is comforted from time to time by things familiar. Perhaps it was not me or we, but Abby who selected this site from those available?

Friday, January 5, 2007

Cosmically Connected Cousins

We have recounted the beginning of this story around many a campfire now, but here is the whole story in all its most bizarre detail:
Back when we first started the coach touring adventure, we made a shakedown run from Cape Coral, Florida to Reading, Pennsylvania and back. If you’re interested in that phase of the trip you can flip back through the archives to the beginning of the blog. Along the way we happened into a campground in Lebanon, near Hershey, PA, that had well over 400 camp sites. We were traveling solo so had no plans to meet up with anyone in particular. Outside of my family, no one knew we were traveling to the area, nor did we know anyone else had travel plans that would cross our path that day.
This conversation took place, as they say, out of the clear blue sky, while Marilyn and I were setting up camp.
“Are you from Florida?” asked the guy who had just pulled in to the site next to the one we were in at the top of the “H” loop.
“Why, yes, we are.”
Nothing magical or uncommon about the origination of the conversation. Both my coach plates and the car license clearly read “Florida” and sported the “orange” so I thought at first the question, while designed to open the conversation (you always need an opener!), might be a tad obvious and predictable.
Second question stopped me cold, “Do you have a wife named Marilyn?”
“Yes I do, and now, you have my undivided attention.”
You see, I had the instant thought that no one short of a mind reader could ever have called that shot.
“May I ask why YOU ask?
“Well, my wife is in the coach there and she wanted me to come out and ask you that…because she is thinking that your wife looks a lot like her cousin, Marilyn.”
A minute later, the guy’s wife pops out of the coach, Marilyn does the same, and there are loud shrieks, hoots, and hollers as (sure enough) the two long lost cousins embrace, jump around, laugh, giggle- the old how-can-this-be reunion celebratory dance.
Ok. Be that as it may, it’s pretty amazing that out of the thousands of campgrounds in the country and the millions of camp sites and the many more millions of campers out there, that two people who are family, neither one knowing the other is traveling, should wind up parked next to each other and recognize one another after years of not seeing each other. My odds of winning 10 million smackers in the lottery are considerably greater than the odds of that ever happening - even once.
So meet Cousin Susan!
Me? I’d never met either of them before so over the next few days we had a marvelous time getting to know each other, shared a few meals, chatted, rejoiced and pledged to meet up another time in a manner of choosing and not chance.
A happenstance or a miracle directed from on high? There was talk Marilyn’s and Susan’s mothers, who had been best of friends in life, had called the shots from Heaven. Brought the girls back together to carry on the tradition of giggling in this life. Hooked them back up near the chocolate mecca of Hershey, a family focus for all generations.(see earlier blogs from Hershey) and restored old family ties.
If I once would have doubted that, I no longer do!
Fast Forward.
This time I know Bob and Susan will be meeting us in Orlando for a couple weeks of camping together. Both Marilyn and I are greatly anticipating meeting up with them. Should be fun. So when Susan asks us to call when we get in and pick a spot, I joke that we shouldn’t really need to do that as we would most likely wind up parked next to each other even if we didn‘t try to. But we agreed that whoever arrived first would select a spot and advise the other of the location so that the later arriving of the two could set up in proximity.
As we were both scheduled to arrive same day and roughly the same time of day, we tried to get an early start and beat them to the punch so to speak. However, a motorcycle accident in front of us on I-95 that littered the road with four wheelers too delayed our BTB (Beat the Batemans) push, and they arrived before us.
Now there are 734 sites in the campground. We have earmarked a site we would like to set up on but not mentioned it to anyone. Not anyone I tell you! We have circled it on the site map we picked up the last time we were in the park after scouting out where we might like to be. Still about a half hour away from arriving ourselves, Marilyn’s cell phone rings and she answers it on speaker phone- full volume. It is Cousin Susan. Over the hum of the diesel engine and the oldies on the Sirius satellite radio she informs us that they have arrived and selected a site. They are in site number I-34.
We both scream! That is the one very site out of 734 to pick from that we have circled on our map. Once again they have landed exactly where we were headed. We are in semi shock. How can this be? We pick another site because the one next to I-34 has already been taken and is “off the board” in the office. But when we drive to the spot, the site next to Susan is NOT taken as indicated (you cannot reserve a specific site in the campground- you either are on it or you are not) so with a simple call to the office we switch to the site next to them- one that should not be open in a campground that is near seasonal capacity - but is!
A day later, other friends of theirs arrive too. The site directly across from them is open that day as well.
You just can’t make this stuff up.

"Southern Lights"

If you were camping in Fairbanks, Alaska, there was a chill hanging in the night air and you looked up and saw this sight you would know exactly where you were and what you were looking at- the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. It’s one of the unique things you go there to see, one of the natural wonders of the world and well worth the long and expensive trip to get there.
Turns out Florida has its own not-so-natural light show. You can see it at Thousand Trails, Orlando on any given night, while you are sitting around on a balmy evening in your pineapple shirt and short pants. That’s right, it’s the Southern Lights! Imagine our delight sitting after dark under the awning, having finished a lovely dinner with friends (but that’s another story) when out of the silent night appeared a spectacular array of eerie and almost supernatural lights moving mysteriously down the road past all the parked coaches. Blinking. Flashing. Pulsing with the energy of the night.
Amazed at the awesome beauty of the unanticipated sight, we broke into applause in appreciation of the splendor of it all.
There is always magic to the darkness. Things easily explained in the light are not so in the night. And many things visual and perceptual are enhanced by the trickery of the dark. Santa Clause doesn’t attempt the chimney thing in the daylight. You don’t go to see fireworks in the afternoon. You don’t howl at a full moon that rises at 10:00 AM. And you don’t tell ghost stories at breakfast!
So what brought us the surprising and color rich spectacular appearing before our very eyes this night? Six happy campers. Grownups with tricked out Go Carts, a fantastic sense of humor, and the kind of genuine joy that you find around many a campground. On their second trip past our open air dining table, they slammed on the breaks in response to the hoots, hollers, and rousing cheers and pulled off a magnificently complex Chinese fire drill. In the darkness, their mounts were glorious chariots, but the flash of the camera betrayed the illusion and exposed the golf carts to the momentary normalcy of the light.
We spoke in the dark for a while before it was time for them to go. ‘Twas like Santa eating the cookies and milk before heading back up the chimney, then dash away, dash away….before the light of day.

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