Once October rolls around and the leaves start to change, I begin packing up to head south. As a child I travelled to Florida every year, usually for a month, when my father, who was a sports photographer, covered the spring training camp of the Toronto baseball team, the Maple Leafs, as they were called then. I loved those trips. (See Aria: Song of a Life http://riki-turofsky.com)
As an adult, yearly shorter trips became the norm. I bought a timeshare in south Florida and often went twice a winter. Then with Charles I went south to visit his parents for a week in St. Petersburg Florida. I said firmly then that I would never move south for the winter. Impossible!
Never say never. So here I am in Florida for 5 months and I love it. We have been doing this for 14 years now and I almost have it to down to a science.
Our trip is not merely about booking a flight, packing a suitcase, going armed with CAA maps and stopping at a motel on the way. Not that simple. Charles flies gliders, those gorgeous long winged airplanes with no engines, and we have a little dog. Planning is important especially the where-to-stay with Oscar.
Gorgeous glider in flight
When we first started travelling with a dog, it was Bear before Oscar; I scanned all the sites I could find about dog travel. One of the best Bring Fido was very helpful as a start. Then I checked out the motel chains. Some members allow pets, others do not; some have exorbitant fees, some are reasonable. I discovered that one year one motel would be pet friendly, and then the next year as I was booking, found out it no longer was.
I always start with our route and where we want to stop after 7 driving hours, which usually means almost 8 on the road. I have to be sure that the parking area will take our SUV and glider trailer attached, which adds 35 feet. We become the length of bus. I also like to have a swim after sitting for such a long time in the car, so I look for a pool. Then if the motel has a restaurant that is even better so we don’t have to drive the car with glider and park it on a street in some strange little town. It is a frustrating few days while I scan the net to find the appropriate accommodation. I will confirm with the property that they still take dogs, if this is not clearly mentioned on their website.
Ready to head south
Finally, we know where we are going to stay and that is a relief. I make the reservation and we input the address into the GPS usually on the morning of our departure. However, that is just the beginning. For some reason during the year I collect things that I think I will need in our condo in Florida and pile them in one place in our Toronto basement. Most of these things we don’t need, but if we’ve been on a trip to Italy for example then I usually buy something special for our second home.
This coming December we will be going on a long trip out of Florida. For the past few years we have taken a trip in January. We figure that this is the travel chapter of our lives, and plan accordingly. Often this includes a cruise so I have to think ahead and bring clothes for that. I also have to be sure we have vaccinations, visas, and other important documents if our journey includes foreign travel.
I organize mail forwarding through Canada Post’s Manage my Mail, leave instructions for our house cleaner to do special jobs each month in the house, cancel the papers, and provide details to my good friend, Liz, who checks our house twice weekly. This last part is important for insurance purposes. Our water is turned off, temperature turned down, instructions for leaf removal and snow removal given. I leave my car in our garage attached to a trickle charger.
My neighbours know we will be gone and keep an eye out. We also fill the bird feeder for my cardinals, put on timer lights, and make sure the house alarm is set and checked. I clean out the refrigerator and organize that the garbage is collected just after we leave, and despite my copious lists, I am sure I have forgotten something. Of course on the Florida end, there are similar items to be checked off when we arrive and when we depart, except for the snow removal of course.I always pack first and Charles leaves me alone while I do this, as there is much to consider, and I can get cranky. Even though I leave clothes in Florida, I still have my favourites that travel back and forth with me. The golf clothes alone take up an inordinate amount of space, despite the fact that I have doubles of golf shoes. I also pack a small bag for overnights in the motels for me and for Oscar, who needs his food, some toys, and lots of water for all of us.
Charles does his packing, and then loads it all in the car leaving a small space for the dog. I leave him alone when he is doing this. Yes, he also can get cranky. This year I managed to pack the extra car key ( keyless entry) that we carry just in case, in the largest suitcase that was deep in the trunk of the car. He tried to lock the car, but of course it would not lock because my key was in it. Fortunately for me, I remembered precisely where the key was, and could retrieve it easily. Hmm. Charles once worked on a department store delivery truck and is very good at organizing trunk space, but he was not in a cheery mood during this part of our adventure. He gassed up the car the night before, and the glider is usually in our driveway for a few days ahead of our departure.
I used to get the maps from the motor league, but now the GPS takes care of all. I get new CD’s for the car, as we love to listen to books. Sometimes we are so involved in the story that we don’t want to get out of the car. Our favorites have been Ken Follett ‘s Century Trilogy, Anna Karenina, and now we are listening to Foer’s Here I am which is a bit of a downer. We have Sirius radio and we prefer classical first thing in the day, and blues in the late afternoon. We like CBC news or PBS news. All this entertainment makes the wheels turn around faster, or so it seems.
Although we have been travelling like this to Florida for 14 years, I am always excited in the morning, and wake up far too early. After the dog has had a walk, I have had some juice, and Charles some coffee; we head off to the border at Fort Erie about an hour and a half away. We both have Nexus cards, which make border travel efficient, and after we enter the USA we breathe a sigh, and feel we are really on our way. We set our current routine a few years back and plan our first breakfast at a Cracker Barrel in Erie Pennsylvania. By the time we arrive there we are hungry and the sun has risen.
Parking lot at Cracker Barrel and Charles and Okay google at breakfast
Every Cracker Barrel is the same or almost the same. We need a large bus parking space and they have this. The dog gets a walk first and then we head to the washrooms, which are in the same place in every store. I say store because the restaurant is in a store that sells homey items. Country music is usually heard on the speakers. In each CB the menu is identical, the fireplace, the four star waitresses and the food are all the same. No surprises here. Some are better than others. The decaf coffee is pretty lame, but the juice is passable and the omelets good. These are not on the menu, but can be had to order. We always get an extra rasher of bacon and take a few pieces out to Oscar in the car.
Our first stop for the evening is in Weston, West Virginia at a Holiday Inn Express. If you have been following my previous blogs you will have noted that I love gorgeous hotels and have stayed at quite a few. My adage is ‘never settle for less than the best available, and this compact property at the top of a hill overlooking a cemetery is very comfortable, and extremely clean. Everything works and is in the right place in the room with a King bed. There is a small microwave that I use to heat up Oscar’s dinner, and a refrigerator. I mentioned earlier that I do a doggie bag and this has ice in it with some ground meat, as well as splits of champagne for me, a bottle of red for Charles, and anything thing else that needs to be kept cold on the trip. We have been staying here for quite a few years because they take dogs, have a pool and let us park sprawled out in their ample lot. The bathroom is pristine with a good shower, decent lighting, and there are mirrors in the room itself. The pillows are awful, but hopefully this will change next year as I stressed this in my survey. They charge $25 for Oscar and put us in a room that is close to an outside door to make our walks a little easier. Internet is free and we are content.
Row of Hearses at Holiday Inn ready for Halloween Fete
There is no restaurant, but we found a local one in the town a few years back called Thyme Bistro. It is charming and they usually seat us by the fireplace. Their food is surprisingly delicious and we know we are in the United States because the portions are more than ample. This evening Charles had scrumptious crab cakes and I a lamb shank. The wines are very decent and the experience pleasant and friendly.
Riki and lamb shank at Thyme Bistro Weston, WV
On our second morning I am up at the crack of dark, way too early, but after we walk and feed O we grab a juice and coffee and head off. There is a complimentary breakfast, but it is too early to eat and we know there will be Cracker Barrel en route. We are already in the mountains and watching the sunrise is simply wonderful and heartening. Some years the trees are at their peak and the views are breathtaking in the Alleghany’s.
Mountain splendour on the highway in North Carolina
Things like filling the fuel tank take place a few times a day. The glider drinks gas easily. Charles always checks the tires and lights and trailer hitch before departure. Oscar loves getting in the back and often stands and watches the views passing by. Breakfast is after about 2 hours of travel. Each morning we switch choices on the menu just to make it interesting, and the fire is burning, as the mountain air is chilly. I like the book better than Charles does and think the actor, Ari Fliakos, is simply terrific, but we discuss things about it and it makes the time pass. We skip lunch, as we know from Judi, the GPS, that we will arrive in Columbia South Carolina earlier than expected. That is because I could have slept one more hour, but I am like a child and can’t wait to get going. At any rate we do stop once at a rest area for a walk and some fresh air. It can be somewhat stressful driving the mountain roads with the glider in tow, and Oscar can always use a potty break.
The plan was to try a new motel for this second night, as our previous one, a despicable Embassy Suites property, keeps changing its dog policy, and last year unexpectedly charged us $100 for Oscar and the room was filthy. Most Doubletree hotels take dogs, and they have an on site restaurant, and a pool. Our room wasn’t quite ready when we arrived, so we had a drink in the lobby bar, where Oscar could sit with us and watch us eat their famous chocolate chip cookies, or so they told us.
They charged $40 for O, and the room was just fine, also near an outside entry. The restaurant was closed so we ate in their bar. The food was fine. Not fine was the smoke alarm that went off twice early in the morning. When we phoned the front desk manager, he opined that when the shower is on the smoke detector goes off. Charles took the battery out after the second screamer. However, that was the last time we would stay there. When I was book marking the hotel so you could see the link, they posted a notice about no longer being pet friendly as of Dec. 1. There goes another one.
I hate searching for pet friendly hotels especially after I just found one. At least we use different hotels on the way north in April, fingers crossed. Just checked the lovely Doubletree in Charlotte which is in a park setting and they are still pet-friendly. Whew! They also have a small restaurant that is very good. Doubletree Cranberry is our last hotel and it too is pet friendly. I understand they have just completed restaurant renovations so that is a plus as well.
Our final morning south we start to strip off our heavier clothes and feel the sun when we stop for gas and breakfast. Again, no lunch as we know we can eat at our place in Florida. We live in a condo that is part of The Mission Inn Resort in Howey in the Hills. This is not a well-known Florida destination, although the old golf course, El Campeon is listed #1 in Florida by Golf Advisor. It is a very convivial community and we originally chose it because it is close to a respected glider port called Seminole Lake, but we have found wonderful friends here, and love it.
Dora Canal near our Florida home
I play golf and like the girls and the course. Our pro, Joe Lewandowski, a PGA professional is super. I also run an opera club, attend a book club, and am involved in many other activities. It is terrific to have restaurants onsite. Aside from Nickers, which is casual fare, there is the Marghuerita bar, for light meals, and the elegant El Conquistador. La Hacienda is primarily a breakfast place, and is home to marvelous Sunday Brunches and special Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
We live in a ground floor condo that is part of a fourplex and is quite lovely. Our view facing west rewards us every evening with beautiful sunsets viewed through trees and hills, and lots of sky. It is compact, but spacious if that makes any sense.
We park the glider outside our door, release my little car from its trickle charger in the garage, walk the dog, and dash off to Nickers. We are greeted by the staff who remember us, and relax. We are home. Lunch is good. Then we hurry back to the condo to unpack the car, check out my garden, get a sense of everything, and put our lanai furniture outside. We always store it in the living room in case of inclement weather. I start my grocery list. We connect our computers and everything works!
At my desk in the den, I view a cardinal at my bird feeder. All is well in my world.
Till next time,