31 December 2012

2012-13 SOUTH & EAST COAST Bonita Springs FL 6 - New Years Eve Shuffle

Miles driven today is 213, with a moving time of 4'46". That averages maybe 45 MPH!! Slow going. Filled up first thing in the morning in Tarpon Springs. Gas was $3.27 per gallon. Average MPGs on this tank was 50 even. And, got our batteries for the mouse, so back in blog business.


Woke up to sunshine with a bit of a chill in the air. Temp was 54 when we headed out. First, off to downtown Tarpon Springs. TS has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any US city and this is so obvious when you walk the streets and docks of the business district. Greek restaurants and bars, Greek food product / gift / chachky shops, bakeries with baklava and special breads marked "2013," and shell shops galore.

Fishing and shrimping currently make the livelihood of most here, but this town was founded around the sponge diving industry. Boat docks, shops, and a museum are all dedicated to the historical beginnings of the town and what keeps tourists coming. Boats were decked out in sponges and Christmas gear. Lots of Greek music funneled outside to get you in a Greek-ish mood. There is a small aquarium, a monument that honors sponge divers, and traditional Greek food on every restaurant menu board. As it was 9am, we weren't ready for octopus appetizers, but we did get a pick-me-UP espresso and sweet at a quaint patio cafe.

Within arm's reach of our table was a "store" (card table with clear plastic mini-cabinet) selling Cuban-style, hand-rolled cigars. The owner's son rolled them from scratch and there were a half-dozen in variety. Mike bought two--one each for Tom and Teshia. They love smoking cigars together on occasion, and so...

Snapped a few photos and moved on down the road toward Bonita Springs. Most of the journey today was a bit stressful on busy city streets with additional construction in many locations. One highlight was the Sunshine Skyway Bridge spanning over Tampa Bay. This bridge replaced a doomed bridge in 1982. The original bridge was partially destroyed when the 570' freighter MV Summit Venture collided with a bridge support. As a result, six cars, a truck and a Greyhound bus plummeted 150' into the bay, killing 35 people.

This new bridge is cable-stayed in style (constructed of steel and concrete) and about  four miles long. It is a piece of art in itself and offers fabulous views of the area. The Travel Channel rates it #3 in its Top Ten Beautiful Bridges of the World list.

At the north end of the bridge, we stopped at a very cool (rating 4--clean and nice atmosphere, but not all the recycle amenities we look for) art deco-style rest stop. Great view of the bridge, but we also saw "Beware of coral snake" signs. Aren't they poisonous? ... Watch your butt!

Along the road, saw signs for a brand new industry -- sink-hole services. Apparently this phenomenon is becoming common in these parts. Lots of full-size billboards with services offering to prevent and repair sink-hole situations. Hmm. Does not give much confidence in owning a house around here.

We hit Bradenton at 12:14pm. Temp was 79. Ooooo, yay!

Next stop Sanibel Island, just south of Ft. Myers. We have been to this special place (Lucille Ball had a home here) before and decided it was worth another side trip for lunch. We choose Doc Ford's, a restaurant owned by Randy Wayne White, one of Mike's fave authors. He writes funny Florida crime novels and Doc Ford is one of the main characters. So the author decided to capitalize on the name and named his restaurant for the character. Great idea!

We ate on an outdoor patio, with birds flitting around begging for crumbs. Very little from us though as the food and drinks were excellent. Mike had a grouper sandwich and I had fish tacos. John, our waiter made a special rum drink for Deb. We got to talking with him and mentioned Savannah was on our itin. Turns out he waitered there at his last job and recommended his old restaurant called Peaks. We took his waving-hand photo and said we would show it to his previous coworkers at the restaurant. Fun guy, great meal. Bought our first t-shirts of the trip on our way out.

Sanibel was as lovely as we remembered but very traffic-jammy on this New Years Eve day. Pedestrians have the right of way here (like in CA), so we were playing dodgem cars and people. Saw their live arts theatre (Herb Strauss) in a old schoolhouse. 

We reached Bonita Springs (home of Mary V, friend of my sister) and tried to connect with her. We knew she had a busy schedule with out of town (actually out of country visitors) and with it being New Years Eve, but we thought we could catch up with a meal or cocktail. Plans changed a couple of times, but in the long run we were not able to coordinate a visit.

So after seeing a lovely sunset from our hotel window, we were off to get supplies for a quiet but romantic NYE with just the two of us. We went to a liquor store and got Myers rum cuba libre fixings and some glass cocktail glasses, and ordered a pizza to go from Carrabba's. We grabbed cookies from the front desk and woohaa! Ready to party. Mike made it to about 11:15 and I made it til 12:07. Pretty good for two old farts.

The BIG question of the evening was, now that Dick Clark has gone to the eternal NYE party in the sky, who would be a good replacement for him on the New Year's Eve TV show? Some folks we thought of were Larry Hagman (bummer, he's dead, too), Jon Stewart and/or Stephen Colbert (maybe), Oprah (naah)... This is hard. No one's perfect. They have to be alive, finger-quote legendary end-finger-quote, and respected in their craft. Then Mike suggested Jeff Dunham, the American ventriloquist. At least he would have a built-in line-up of interesting and entertaining guests. That was the best we could do at the moment. Tell us your ideas in a comment.

In the meantime, everyone (friend, family, foe) have a happy and safe 2013.

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If you have visited any of these places, we would love to hear your comments. Or send us recommendations of places we should not miss.