Winter Park, Florida

With summer coming to an end, Bob and I decided to take a short weekend away just for a change of scenery. We didn’t plan a big trip this year since I was furiously looking for a new job (more on that later) and didn’t want to risk missing an interview if we were away. But Winter Park is only a few hours drive and it is a cute, quaint little town that has a lot of good restaurants, most with really good wine and beer lists.

We stayed right downtown – right in the heart of the old town which was both the best decision we made and the worst. The hotel was great – really awesome people, very convenient to everything and comfortable. The problem? Let’s see if you can spot it.

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That is the view from our room. Cute, right? Do you see the railroad crossing sign painted on the street? Yep. The railroad (which in most old towns is no longer running so no big deal) is still operational and frequently trains go by … including around 5:30 am one morning and 2:30 am another morning, Sigh. The price you pay for convince.

img_20180720_175317We really didn’t have an agenda with this trip. I know, no spreadsheet of places to go and restaurants to eat at, no pre-planned outings or specific exhibits to see. We wanted to relax, eat well and drink good drinks. The first night we were in Winter Park, we hit it out of the park (sorry, bad pun) with the restaurant we chose. The Parkview was a close walk and had some really interesting wines and beers. In my mind the food was secondary this evening, but it really impressed. I could not remember if I like artichoke or not – I don’t have it often enough to really think about it and I’m pretty sure it is one of those hit or miss vegetables – but I decided to go with the artichoke crostini and wow … just wow. The wine was also highly impressive and I again took a risk with Hanging Garden wine flight. These wines were from old and not as well know regions – Lebanon, Greece, Israel and Turkey – so not something I have every day. The Lebanese wine was my clear favorite from this bunch, but they were all really good.

On our only full day in Winter Park, we decided to walk to the botanic gardens. I love gardens and try to get to them in every city we visit. There is something particularly special about nature in the middle of a very developed area and this was no exception. It was hard to remember that we were just a few miles from Orlando proper.

img_20180722_090452_097As good as our first dinner was and as pretty as the gardens were, the highlight of the trip was the donuts. We happened by (on our way to the gardens, then stopped in on the way back) Little Blue Donut is this great place that does to-order donuts. Seriously. they make the general donuts, but they are super fresh and then they hand top them when you order. This was absolutely the best donut I’ve ever had, including Portland which is known for donuts. img_20180722_090452_093

For a really quick trip, this was just about perfect. I would have liked a little more sleep, but for the wine, food and scenery I’ll compromise. I was kind of glad we didn’t make it a full week, because that train would have driven me mad after about three days.

St. Augustine Beach

Sometimes you just need a break. A little time where you have no plans, no responsibilities and no need to do anything. After the last year, I very much needed this. I needed to sleep past 6, preferably without being woken up at 4 am by a cat. I needed to not schedule my activities around feeding the animals. Bob agreed that we should try to get away, so we started to think about what should we do, where should we go.

Our original thought was wait until I got home from work on the last day before spring break, and use the hotel’s tonight app, pick a place and just go. (Yes, I was willing to not plan something – you know I’m desperate to decompress when I’ll agree to that.) However, I began to think – and look. It’s high season here in Florida and it is spring break. Spring break in Florida. I forgot how many places fill up fast this time of year, so we went with a back up plan. One week prior, I began looking around at where to go. We looked at the upper keys, Ft. Myers and Naples, St. Pete Beach, Delray Beach and a few other places we could drive to. I also looked at St. Augustine, but was a little reluctant as I didn’t want to be tempted to do anything on this mini vacation. I just wanted to sit on the beach, or near the beach or someplace calming, and just do nothing. Then I looked at St. Augustine Beach. It’s a beach, it’s driving distance, it wasn’t was expensive as some places we looked and I found a super cute B&B that had an actual room available for the weekend. I looked a little more, then booked it.

wp-image-1875274554jpg.jpgThe House of Sea and Sun looks like it is nestled in the middle of no where. The views from the kitchen/dining area make you feel like there is nothing and no one around. But it is in the heart of St. Augustine Beach and very much in the middle of everything. Located on the beach (did I mention it was on the beach) it gave us exactly what we wanted. A quiet place to get away, walk on the beach, read books and rest. I even took a nap! The B&B is pet friendly and several other people had their dogs, but we didn’t bring Arthas.

We drove up after work Friday and spent the whole weekend. We didn’t make reservations for any restaurants, we didn’t go into St. Augustine proper. Except to walk to get dinner, or to walk along the beach, we didn’t leave the property. Patty (the owner) and Robin (her assistant) were fantastic and so welcoming. Happy hour each evening was fun and we got to interact a little with the other guests, but we didn’t feel pressured to do so. And I do have to say, I’m not a breakfast person, but breakfast every day was pretty amazing. Patty has run the House of Sea and Sun for twenty years. That is a very long time in the B&B world, but her experience shows.

Bob and I still talk about going to St. Augustine and seeing the city. He hasn’t been there is years and I have never been. There is also a state park not far from where we stayed, and I love state or national parks. St. Augustine is still on our list, but now I know where we are staying when we go back.

The Rest of Portland

The stated purpose for the Portland trip was a beer festival. Val and Bill decided they wanted to see Portland and found a large beer festival to determine the timing. Since Portland has been on our list, and Bob loves beer, we decided to meet them out there.

So the beer festival. It’s big. There are a lot of beers and a lot of people. While beer is not my thing (see post on wine tour) I still had a good time watching everyone else enjoy their experience. And honestly, the people watching was pretty fascinating.

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In addition to the beer festival, we wandered around Portland and did a few of the things everyone says you should do when you go to Portland. We toured the Japanese Gardens, which were beautiful and serene. They are not as large as you might expect when looking at a map, but they do take you out of the city and transport you to a different place.

We had a number of recommendations to visit Powell’s Bookstore. This is the largest independent bookstore in the country and it is massive. Taking up an entire city block, and four or five stories, if you can’t find a book here, you aren’t trying. Or, if you are like me, you gave up because of the crowds and minor claustrophobia issue. Had there been a few less people, I could have wandered the aisles endlessly. But … I experienced and Bob found some books he wanted.

No trip could be complete without a good meal. Bob and I ate at Beast one night. This is one of the few restaurants that people tell you to try and you worry that it won’t live up to the hype. It lived up to the hype. The menu was light and refreshing and downright delicious. And for a restaurant called Beast, there was surprisingly little meat on the menu – yay! We also found a cute little place called Picnic House that had the best sandwiches. We also tried Higgins – a place not far from our hotel that several local’s recommended as a Portland experience. It was good, and the restaurant itself was very pretty on the inside, but it didn’t hold any magic for me. It could have been because it was our last night and I really just wanted to be home by this point. it could have been that I was tired from walked all day for several days. It could be that it was meat heavy and I had already had meat that week. It could have been any number of things, but it was good, not great.

So Portland … the city was interesting and I love the transit network and how walkable the whole city is. I’m not in a rush to get back to the city itself, but I really do want to explore the wine country more and some of the other natural areas outside the city. Maybe even check out the coast.

Wine Tour

On our trip to Oregon the second thing I wanted to do was tour the wine country. I like a good Pino Noir and would love to dive deeper into wine, but Florida is not the place to do that. But, if we are going to be in Oregon where they do have a wine country, I want to take a day and explore. Despite this being a trip timed for a beer festival, Bob was in total agreement with the idea of a wine tour.

One of the first things I did was look around for a tour company. I knew I didn’t want to try to drive if I was going to be tasting wines, and I don’t know anything about where to go, or which wineries to avoid. I did a little research and decided to go with Backcountry Wine Tours. I liked that they kept all tours small and they specialized in wineries. A few other companies looked ok, but they did other types of tours, not just wineries and that made me nervous. I wanted to explore wine and the wine country so Backcountry it was.

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This was one of my better decisions. From the initial email exchanges to the tour itself, everything was perfect. We were able to let them know they types of wines we usually drink and what we wanted – which was really just a great day out. I know what I generally like, but both of us were up for trying anything. We ended up on a tour by ourselves (which was great, but I would not have minded other people either) so Jack – the owner of the company and our guide – was able to build the tour around us and what we wanted. After our first stop, he even changed where we went next based on the wine we liked at the first stop.

So the highlights of the day. I ended up liking a lot of wine which should not surprise anyone. But I found a pretty great white wine as well as some beautiful pinks and a few lovely Pino Noirs. But in addition to the wine, the scenery, the views, just watching the world go by as we drove around, was pretty specular. The highlight of the day, which I’m sure was planned by Jack, was Soter.

Soter takes the wine tasting experience to the next level. Rather than just popping in whenever and tasting a few wines, Soter schedules wine tastings. We were greeted with a glass of rose as we walked up to the main building. We had some time to wander around, see the gardens and appreciate the views before we were taken to one of the smaller buildings for a sit down wine tasting that also included some history of the region and the winery. And the wine was amazing. I could go on for several paragraphs about the wines themselves, but I will refrain. We loved this whole day, and Soter was an amazing way to end that day.

 

Stop and Smell the Roses

A few months ago Val texted me and asked if Bob and I would like to join her and Bill in Portland for a beer festival. Portland has been on our travel list for a while, but when Val asked, we still had Jessie and were pretty uncertain about what we could do. I also had to look at my school stuff and figure out if I could make it work. Well, with Jessie no longer with us, we started talking about it and looking at it and decided, sure. We can make this work.

There were two things on my list that I absolutely wanted to do. One was a wine tour (more on that in another post) and one was the Rose Garden. I *love* flowers and roses, while not my favorite flower, remind me of dad and grandmom. I still remember dad pruning the tea roses out front of the first house we lived in and mom’s mom grew these bushes of roses that always just amazed me. On our first full day in Portland we walked to Washington Park and hit the rose garden first. I could have spent the whole day there.

The rose garden is probably not as huge as I imagine it, but there were several sections including test roses and gold medal roses. There were roses of every color, of every size and they were all in full bloom. I actually stopped and smelled the roses. And lingered and took pictures, but really, I just basked in the roses.

The Rose Garden alone made going to Portland worth it. And this is coming from someone who usually plans trips around food and history. But for Portland, it was the roses. And the wine, but again, that is another post all together.

 

New York City

Bob is one of the hardest people to buy for. He has pretty much everything he really wants, what he doesn’t have he will buy for himself, and if I do actually figure out a concept of what to get him, I don’t know enough about that thing to actually get him something. So years ago I decided to just focus on trips for his birthday. May is a beautiful month for travel, and if I can swing a day off work, great – long weekend away. He loves NYC, so this is a popular destination for us. Add in good friends to meet, great restaurants and easy travel from Sarasota, and you have the makings of a good, dependable, never boring birthday present.

Normally I plan everything. Shocking, I know. I research restaurants, find hotels and plan the itinerary. This year, I did figure out the flights and hotel, but I did not plan any activities or meals. Big stretch for me and it was done part of of necessity and part as an experiment to see if I could let go and “go with the flow.” Turns out, I can, but I really, really prefer to plan something.

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We were meeting Ed and Erin in the city Saturday and Bob had decided he wanted to see the 9/11 Memorial, so we headed in that direction. With Ed and Erin missing (by seconds!) their initial train, we had some time to use up. Neither of us had ever seen the actual Brooklyn Bridge, nor been to Brooklyn, so we decided to walk it. Yep – we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge (with about a thousand other people that day) and into Brooklyn. We were a little worried that Bob’s pants would shrink and he would sprout a skull cap, but we were not in Brooklyn long enough for that to happen. But I did get some great views from the bridge.

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After some misses, we did finally meet up with Ed and Erin, and wandered the memorial for a bit. It was well done – peaceful, open, and poignant. The original plan included the museum, but we decided to head up into One World Trade and view the city from the observation level. It was really worth doing. The views are fantastic and it gives you a great perspective on the city. (I will admit to various tracks from Hamilton running through my head the whole time I was there, but in all honesty, I pretty much have Hamilton tracks running through my head every day.)

Erin picked the dinner location and she hit it out of the park. Scarpetta was perfect. The atmosphere was formal without being fussy, fancy but not stuffy and inviting enough that we didn’t care we were all in jeans from walking around the city all day. And the food. … oh the food. Ed and Bob got to share meat filled pasta and Erin and I dined on perfect polenta before our main courses.

I’m not sure if I will be able to pull off a non planning trip again, but it was a good experiment and it ended up being a lot of fun.

Welcome 2016

Happy 2016! This is going to be an interesting year. While we don’t have any trip planned, my return to school should keep me busy. I definitely want to try to be a little creative in the kitchen, but I’m not sure how often that will happen. But it’s ok – two years for school so there is an end in sight. My boss encouraged me to go back to school, and she thought I should go for my PhD, but … well …. that would take way more time than I’m willing to do so another masters will work just fine. 

By the way, getting a picture of Jessie is a little tricky. She hates having her picture taken, so I had to get her while she is licking cheesecake batter off my finger.

  
After a relatively quiet Christmas, we headed to Tallahassee to see Bob’s family. The weather generally cooperated and we were able to even get out to the Tallahassee museum. I had never been there and didn’t know what to expect, but we had a lot of fun seeing the different animals. The black bear and red wolf were my favorites. 

   
   
Bob and I did our traditional stay in on New Year’s Eve. I made a nice dinner (Bob requested steak, so that is what we had – he doesn’t request meat often, so when he does, I try to oblige, although I ate more of the potatoes and salad than anything else). This morning I decided I was in the mood for eggs, so I made omlets and potatoes. Bob had an onion and cheese omelet, and I had a kale, onion and cheese omelet. It was a nice way to start the new year.