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Modified Florida: Day 6

Sun. Sept. 24, 2017:
Palm Beach to Miami, FL to Toronto, ON:

An 8:15am wake-up is not so bad if for some unknown reason you think it’s daylight savings time (it was not). What made the wake-up easier was that I dreamt I had already woken up. Breakfast was included and thankfully it was a buffet and the wedding party had their own separate event going on. The buffet was super fancy and easily the best breakfast buffet we have ever been to. They had apple cider bacon, Virginia ham, in-house baked pastries and donuts. I grabbed so much food because early on I had spotted the bigger plates. Brent said he would split the glazed donut with me, so of course I need a mini chocolate croissant on the side. I balanced it with a yogurt parfait and some extra granola and fruits on the side. The apple chicken sausage was also pretty good. I had also grabbed a mini braided pastry, I was expecting pecans and maple but when I bit into it was cranberry.

The TV in the bathroom mirror said the weather for the day was cloudy skies. The GPS had an option called “return car” that directed us to the car drop off spot, which is always impossible to find. There was no one on the road at 9am on a Sunday. I was so full from breakfast that I couldn’t even finish my Dunkin’ Donuts iced mocha. Also it was not that good.

On the drive we passed three separate car accidents. Turns out Floridians don’t know how to drive in the rain. Or at all really. No one every signals or leaves enough room between cars. The roads also hold the rainwater, so soon we were driving through spraying mist. We could see the bright blue sky up ahead. By the time we were passing through Ft. Lauderdale you wouldn’t have even known it was raining.

The airport was uneventful. Our flight was delayed only a short time. We grabbed some snacks but realized we weren’t sitting together, so we chowed down and ate it all. I was tempted by the duty-free, even moreso when I saw that near our gate there was a sign on the wall saying you could scan the QR code and buy via an app. In the end I was too lazy. I also realized that my travel purse was on its last legs. I spent the last bit of time before boarding desperately searching for a new purse online.

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Posted by on October 3, 2017 in The Roving Reporter, Travel

 

Modified Florida: Day 5

Sat. Sept. 23, 2017:
Clearwater to Palm Beach, FL:

We drove back across Florida, back to the east coast, to Palm Beach. We stopped again at my beloved Dunkin’ Donuts so I could try the pumpkin spice flavour shot. I had forgotten to put on deodorant, so when we pulled into the parking lot I grabbed it from the trunk. I saw that some other cars were pulling in, so I left it in my purse for later and ran in for my coffee fearing a morning rush. Only once I sat down in the car with my coffee did I realize that I had already tried the pumpkin spice when we were in Boston a few years ago. I was not a fan of it, I found it too sweet. Ah well, it was not that bad the second time around. Plus it gave me an excuse to demand a second, afternoon stop for another coffee.

We passed by a guy in a parking lot selling “commemorative” Hurricane Irma t-shirts, it was super tacky and way too soon. About an hour into our 3 hour drive we stopped at another Dunkin’ Donuts. It wasn’t exactly afternoon yet, but I really needed a second coffee. Two nights on a crappy motel bed with a loud a/c amount to really crappy sleep. There was no sign of pumpkin spice coffee in bags and they only had XL t-shirts for sale. The line was so slow because of the two indecisive ladies at the front, one of whom tried to order a donut that they did not even have available, that the lady behind me gave up and went back to her car to go through the drive-thru. I was annoyed that I had to specify that I wanted a hot coffee, like duh, of course I want a hot coffee, I did not say iced coffee so by default it’s hot. It was weird. I also picked up some iced coffee at Dunkin’ for the following morning.

The daily rain came early, arriving around noon. We were staying at a resort, The Breakers, in Palm Beach. The plan for the rest of the day was to just hang out on the resort, so it’s good that the rain came early instead of messing up our relaxing afternoon. The hotel only had valet parking which pretty much settled our lunch and dinner plans. We had not passed anything on the way in that we could walk to either. The hotel was so fancy that Brent’s name was printed on the keycards. Our bathroom mirror had a small TV in it and speakers in the ceiling. From our room we had a partial ocean view. We could also see the lawn down below where the staff were setting up for a wedding.

I was starting to get hangry. I had not gotten any food at either of our Dunkin’ Donuts stops because we were going to get lunch on the way. We just didn’t anticipate not passing anything. All I’d had to eat thus far was Oreos. We wandered the resort to look at all of our food options. On the way we saw two cute green lizards. We also saw an Indian wedding, it was so weird to see hotel guests gawking and photographing and filming the celebration as if they had never seen anything like it before. We had to take a detour to get around the celebrations. We walked by the stairs down to the beach and I noticed that the ocean conditions were rated as high level of danger- no thank you. The last thing I wanted was to get swept away by a rip current.

For lunch we went to the Beachclub Bar because it closes the earliest. The Seafood Bar did not have a menu listed and was open until 11pm, making for a great dinner option. The Beachclub Bar had a similar menu to the other restaurant but with a few more choices and a nicer patio. I had the Cubano grilled panini. I had to redeem the sandwich after the atrocity I had eaten at the Miami baseball game. I was tempted by the crabcakes but there’s no way a seafood bar doesn’t serve crabcakes. The chimichurri fries on the side were ok. The sandwich was the real standout. I also ordered a sangria slushie, finally fulfilling my desire for a frozen alcoholic drink.

We figured we would be done lunch by about 3pm and we would head back to the hotel room to wait out the rest of the UV. I wanted to catch up writing in my book and Brent still had a few pages left to read. The Stella Artois cider was the perfect drink for this. Safe from the threat of the UV, we headed out to check out all 4 pools. The first one was too cold for my liking. At the second pool I opted for the hot tub instead. It felt so nice to sit in the warm water and float among the bubbles. The best part was that there was no one there. I could have stayed in there for hours. I missed the third pool because I was in the bathroom. The fourth pool I dipped my toes in and decided it was way too cold, it was in the shade too. I would have gone into the hot tub but there were weirdos in there. I sat on a deck chair while Brent waded out into the ocean. I was not having it. I sat and watched as the ocean currents and waves almost knocked him off his feet. I also watched as dumb surfers tried to surf the small waves. They kept falling. It was great.

Eating Oreos while reading in bed is possibly the best way to spend an afternoon. We were both quite tired, we queued up Arrival but Brent ended up falling asleep halfway through. Afterwards we watched Atlanta. At around 9pm we headed down to the Seafood Bar for dinner, even though Brent wasn’t all that hungry. We hadn’t eaten in a while, unless you count the half bag of Oreos I devoured.

The crabcakes at Seafood Bar were everything I wanted. The difference between ti being an appetizer and a main was one extra crabcake and a side of asparagus. Not worth it. Especially given that Brent had ordered a large seafood and linguine dish, so when we traded halfway we each got just the right amount of food: half a main and half an appetizer. The seafood was good but the noodles were way too salty. I couldn’t finish my portion of the noodles. I couldn’t resist ordering the blackberry lemonade: it had house-infused vodka and freshly made lemonade. On the way out we passed by the bar and saw that indeed, the bar was an aquarium top. Alas, there were no seats. On the way out we saw some horrible looking middle-aged, overly tanned, ladies in way-too-tight way-too-short outfits. A real live, cougar sighting, one may say.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2017 in The Roving Reporter, Travel

 

Modified Florida: Day 4

Fri. Sept. 22, 2017:
Clearwater, FL:

I slept very poorly, in fits and starts. It was especially frustrating because it took me forever to fall asleep and then I would immediately wake up. Things really turned around when Google said there was a Dunkin’ Donuts a 5 minute drive away! Finally, a chance for real coffee! There was a sign on the door saying they had a new flavour: maple pecan. I was way too excited about it. They had bags of coffee for sale but just the regular cadre of boring not-so-great flavours. They also had t-shirts and mugs for sale but the shirts were only giant sizes and the mugs did not have the DD logo.

To go with my coffee I got my beloved coffee cake muffin. The maple pecan was a sweetened flavour shot- way too sweet for me. I decided that the next day when we went back I would get the other new seasonal flavour: pumpkin spice. We were in no rush to head out. I had time to make a cup of tea using the coffee maker to boil my water and then to enjoy it in bed while reading.

On the way to Sanibel and Captiva Islands we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch. We ordered at the kiosk and no sooner had we sat down, an employee came up to inform me that- shocker- the ice cream machine was broken and would I like a fancy iced coffee instead of my desired Turtles brownie ice cream sundae. I shrugged and asked for an iced vanilla latte.

Back on the road, on the next block we saw a Culver’s. We had just eaten lunch, so we decided that Culver’s would be saved for dinner. Who can say no to a butter burger? Plus at least with my dinner I could have an ice cream.

We started out at Sanibel Island at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. It was cool to see really large intact shells, you rarely get to see such specimens on the beach. After browsing the collection and learning about shells and about what makes Sanibel such a hotspot for seashell collecting we headed to the activities room. They had it set up so that you could make crafts using shells. That is how abundant the supply of shells is. That they provide bins of them, all sorted by size and type, to create little sculptures. We each made one but Brent placed his among the museum examples to inspire future creations.

Up next we drove to the JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. I could never get the name of it right. It had just reopened a few days ago and we were unsure of what to expect. The nature drive was closed on Fridays, but it seemed like even if we had been there any other day it would still be closed after the hurricane. We went on the short nature hike to the lookout. It was unbelievable how hot it was, even in the limited shade. I was barely able to function, my thinking felt impaired. We applied sunscreen, knowing that up next we were going to the beach. On our nature walk we saw: a red-bellied woodpecker, a little blue heron, some white egrets and red-headed ducks. On the walk back we heard a bird crying off in the distance. After looking around we finally saw it: an osprey sitting atop a streetlamp in the high school parking lot next door. There was another osprey circling overhead.

We drove to Bowman’s Beach to see if in fact Sanibel was a seashell collector’s paradise. Turns out they undersold the sheer volume of shells. It was incredible how many shells were washing up on the beach. There piles and piles. Shells everywhere. Our worries of finding some interesting shells like conches were quashed. We found so many. Brent even found a giant one that had smaller ones attached to it. We found shells in a variety of colours: yellow, red, purple, even pearly ones. One was so thin it was translucent. As we turned to walk back we were worried that we had been so caught up in walking and searching. It felt like we had been walking forever and now were going to have to trod back in the heat. Turns out we did not actually walk that far. It just felt that way because of how long it took us to walk, as we kept stopping to look at shells. I was very dehydrated by the end of our walk. At the start I had tried to drink from the water fountain but the water was warm. On the way back I noticed another drinking fountain and was about to drink when I realized, to my horror, that there was a spider on it. And the vending machine would not accept a $5 bill, it kept spitting it out.

We drove to neighbouring Captiva Island to have a look at their seashell beaches as well. They also lived up to the hype. I was starting to fade by the time we got to the second beach. I was dehydrated, covered in sweat mixed with sunscreen and just so uncomfortably overheated. Walking back to the car over a bridge we saw a needlefish in the water and I saw a fish jumping out of the water.

On our way off the island we stopped at a liquor store. They did not have any singles, but Brent got a six pack. We stopped at Publix on the way to grab some evening snacks. The first time we went I had forgotten to grab some of my beloved Biscoff cookies. Alas, they were nowhere to be found.  I did find Dunkin’ Donuts mocha flavoured Oreos. I also grabbed a Stella Artois cider for the bottle cap. On the way the afternoon rains were much lighter than the past days.

The dinner at Culver’s was just what I needed after a long day in the sun. I downed my fake Sprite in no time. And yes, it was my second cheeseburger of the day, but heck, I was on vacation. I ordered the fries instead of the cheese curds. They are delicious but I was not about to spend the rest of the evening feeling sick. Instead I swapped a few fries for a few cheese curds from Brent. I immediately started questioning my decision. They were so good, why did I not just get them?! I had ordered a small burger, leaving room for ice cream. I had ordered chocolate custard with salted caramel ribbon and Heath bar. They gave me vanilla. It was still delicious and the place was full of weirdos- I wanted out of there.

Our motel faced a canal, I guess that is why they had “on the water” in the name. We sat on the patio deck overlooking the water and enjoyed our drinks. I had a chance to catch up writing in my notebook. The Best Damn Cream Soda cooler I had was ok, it fit the bill for patio drinking- but it was not the best damn cream soda. It was average. There were some cute little lizards running around nearby.

Afterwards we watched TV in bed while munching on snacks: spicy BBQ Lays and the Oreos. The lemon-lime Seagrams cooler was just awful. Why would they make it malt liquor and not vodka based?! Who does that?! I nursed it but gave up on it. It was terrible

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2017 in The Roving Reporter, Travel

 

Modified Florida: Day 3

Thurs. Sept. 21, 2017:
St. Petersburg to Clearwater, FL:

We had to take a towel from the hotel because we needed it for that morning’s activity: swimming with manatees. We had originally planned on doing this the first time we were in Florida but it didn’t work out. Despite the excitement awaiting us, I was not thrilled about the early wake-up, I had not slept well. Adding to it was the fact that we had not thought ahead and bought snacks. I made the in-room coffee, finished it off with the little packet of coffee whitener and looked at in horror. It was not even the right shade. One sip and I decided I would rather risk a headache than down that swill. I took a pre-emptive Advil but already I was feel not-so-great.

There was a lot of traffic on the road. The GPS took us via a different route, avoiding the freeway and taking a smaller highway that had stop lights whenever it went through a town. It was frustrating because we could not drive fast to make up time. Even though we had left 30 minutes early we were going to be 30 minutes late. We drove past a shop advertising wigs and taxes but other than that the drive sucked. I had to call and let them know we would be running late but we actually ended up arriving 15 minutes earlier than we had expected. We snuck in and started watching the safety introduction video while filling out the waivers. I was expecting a lot more people but it was just going to be us and a Norwegian couple. I was expecting we would be going out in our bathing suits. Instead we were given wetsuits.

It was a short drive down to the dock where the boat was waiting for us. I was not expecting that we would be swimming in a residential bay, basically in peoples’ backyards. We were worried that there was a chance we would not see any manatees. Literally 5 minutes in and already some manatees had been spotted. I found it awkward and difficult to put on the snorkel and mask. I had never been snorkeling before. I could not get used to breathing through my mouth. I made an awkward entrance into the water, trying so hard not to splash or to touch the bottom of the water otherwise I would stir up silt and reduce visibility of the manatees. We were given pool noodles and told to doggy paddle. At our first stop swimming was all but futile. I swam furiously, doing the breast stroke, a side stroke, finally doggy padding. And nothing. I stayed in one spot while the rest of the group managed to swim along with the manatee. Who was impossible to see because of all the silt being kicked up by the manatee eating. Eventually the guide grabbed my pool noodle and helped by pulling me along so I could catch back up to the group. I was not a fan of the strong current. Initially I was not a fan of this excursion. Every time I put my head in the water to look at the silt, I mean manatee, I panicked because I was not used to breathing through a snorkel- it was scary. In the time I had my head down everyone would be further away. Plus I could not wear my glasses under my mask so I was also a little blind. Plus swimming against the current and not getting anywhere is not just physically tiring- it is also mentally tiring. Additionally not having had any coffee or breakfast was not helping. When I took my snorkel out a bunch of saliva dripped out. Oops.

The second stop was a lot calmer and so was I. I had gotten used to the snorkel and now I did not have to fight the current. The only scary thing now was those moments when I would be looking underwater and seeing nothing and then all of a sudden out of nowhere I am inches away from the manatee’s side. I would panic for a moment, terrified of drifting into it. My fingers did brush one. The trouble was there was nothing to push off against or grab hold of as the manatee passed. Steering- when all you had was a pool noodle and instructions not to kick or walk along the ground- was difficult. Also making things difficult was that the manatee would change directions suddenly. I’d be watching it from the side and all of a sudden it would pass underneath me.

Our third stop was Jurassic Spring. This is where the manatees gather in winter in search of warmer water. We saw a giant crevice but I was too afraid to dive down and look at it. While they all swam around and dove down, I floated with my pool noodle. We had a fun photo shoot with our guide. I was glad I had not bought a disposable underwater camera. The water had been too murky plus I would have had a hard time taking pictures. This way we did not have to worry and would just buy them at the end.

On our way back we spotted two pairs of mother and calf manatees. We had an unscheduled stop to look at them. The water was so clear here. We were able to follow them for a while. It was cute to see them eating, brushing their adorable fins along the ground. In the video they had mentioned that if you see a calf swimming alongside the mother with it’s head by her arm, it may be nursing. The water was a bit murky but it seemed like we saw that. The videos our guide took later confirmed it. On the way back in we also saw a turkey vulture and a black vulture hanging out together. Throughout the trip we had been referred to as Canada and Norway. It was so hard to peel off the wet wetsuit afterwards. I did not realize how dry your mouth gets after snorkeling. The whole time we were out there, I only took off the snorkel and mask when we were safely on the boat.

For lunch we went to the plaza across the street, to Wendy’s. The plan was to have a light lunch given we were going to Frenchy’s for grouper sandwiches next. But it was an hour and a half’s drive away and we had yet to eat anything. I was so thankful to finally have a coffee. The manatee place had coffee, but once again only coffee whitener. What was going on, I thought? Similarly when I tried to order coffee with milk at Wendy’s she tried to charge me for a small carton of milk saying they only had creamer for the coffee. I settled for the creamer but was pleasantly surprised to get half and half cream (aka not creamer).

On the road we were fooled at the toll booth. We tried to drive right through but the lady informed us that the tolls had been reinstated as of midnight. I had left my iPod in the car while we were at Wendy’s and now it was giving me and overheated warning with a picture of a thermometer. I waited a bit but it didn’t cool down so I turned it off and on again. The coffee from Wendy’s was enormous and lasted me most of the drive. We stopped at a gas station and I got a glass bottle of Sprite for the bottle cap, cookie filled Reese cups and summer Starbursts.

We took a detour to Clearwater Beach for a second lunch. On the way in we passed a bunch of birds of prey all perched on lampposts. I had read about Frenchy’s and their amazing grouper sandwich in the book Real Food/Fake Food and I really wanted to try it. I ordered the original and Brent ordered the hot buffalo. It was too spicy for me. The sandwiches took a while to make which was fine with me, I was enjoying a really strong blue margarita. Plus it meant the sandwiches would be fresh and I got a chance to order a mojito, this time to actually go with my sandwich. The mojito was delicious, it was made with pineapple rum, club soda and an orange slice. The sandwich was outstanding. All parts of it were amazing. I tried a piece of just the fish on its own, delicious! Easily the best fish sandwich, maybe even the best sandwich, of all time. And it was all so cheap too. The sweet coleslaw on the side was also delicious, but I ate around the pineapple chunks. We were lucky it was not super busy, they had just reopened a few days ago after the hurricane. When the server brought my second drink she mentioned the Frenchy’s passport, if you go to all 5 of their locations and order a signature cocktail you get a free tank-top or t-shirt. I wish I had known about this before. I would not have ordered two drinks at the Original Café, because 3 of the other locations were within a few blocks. We could have started there and then ended with the sandwiches. We were very full after all of that, but we still ordered a slice of key lime pie to go. Clearwater Beach was a nice little town on the waterfront.

As we drove to our hotel I photographed the sunset, a requisite of any Florida vacation. I had not though the glass bottle Sprite purchase through. I could not open it in the car because it required a bottle opener, I was very sad. There was a Publix 3 minutes away from our motel. They conveniently had a separate liquor store, even though we ended up going to both, and the grocery store also had an alcohol section. The liquor store proved to be a bottle cap bohnanza. I got 5 different caps from a variety of ciders and mixed drinks. Especially because the drinks are normally only available in a multi-packs and I never get them because realistically I only want one Mike’s Hard Lemonade, not 6. We went to Publix after to get some Pop Tarts and so I could restock on Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. The pumpkin spice coffee was all sold out but I did get vanilla cupcake and cinnamon roll. We also got some aloe lotion for our poor sun-exposed selves. I bought a package of peach green tea in the hopes that for the rest of our trip I would have access to a kettle.

We got to our motel room and it was like stepping into a time warp. We had an old tube TV that was tiny. But more importantly it had a fridge and at least there was cable. And most importantly: the kitchenette had forks. The key lime pie did not survive the trip. Turns out that key lime pie and Florida heat do not mix. It had melted into a sad little pile, albeit a delicious pile. And it also made for a funny photo. We ended the night watching a special episode of Nathan For You. Even on a small TV it was unbearably awkward at times to watch.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2017 in The Roving Reporter, Travel

 

Modified Florida: Day 2

Wed. Sept. 20, 2017:
Miami to St. Petersburg, FL:

I had some how managed to forget to pack a razor. This combined with the fact that there was no in-room coffee meant it was time for a trip to the Walgreens around the corner. On the way there I spotted an Italian bakery across the street. A hot cup of brewed coffee beats out a bottle of overly-sweetened iced coffee any day. However as I crossed the street to head over I noticed another café down the street. I assumed that the Italian bakery would serve LaVazza coffee or Illy, both of which I dislike I opted for Les Moulin La Fayette instead. Boy was I wrong. They did not even have any milk for the coffee, all he offered me was Coffee Mate. I had to get the guy to pour me some from the carton they use when making lattes. On my way back I still stopped in at the Italian bakery, I needed something for breakfast. In the window I noticed what looked like pączki. When I asked what the flavour was it sounded like the guy said vanilla, but what he handed me did not look like vanilla. It looked like the polar opposite: chocolate. Turns out I had misheard him, he said Nutella. I ended up having to scoop some out because there was way too much of it in the middle. The donut part was really good- but it was not a pączek. It also turned out that the Italian café did not serve crappy coffee, they even made latte art.

In keeping with the theme of the trip thus far, Despacito (radio version without Justin Bieber) came on the radio in the cab on the way to the car rental place at the airport. It kind of sucked being at the airport, our vacation had just started. It was an incredibly long walk to get to the tram to get to the car rental place. We had been dropped off at the Air Canada terminal where we would be flying out of later- which is all the way at the opposite end of the airport. I had never been on so many moving walkways in my life.

We had a slight delay at the car rental place as they directed us to an empty parking spot and had to wrangle a new car for us. Once in the car it felt so good to finally listen to Stuff You Should Know again. It had been two weeks of saving them for just this moment.

Our first stop of the day was the Everglades Holiday Park for an airboat tour of the Everglades. As we pulled into the parking lot a giant tour bus unloaded. Crap we thought, it would be a long wait. The peacock was smart, he was hiding in the shade under the deck and away from all the people. I was happy to see that after all these years he was still there (I assume it’s the same one as last time). The tour group must have had a pre-scheduled tour because we waited less than 10 minutes. Our captain’s name was Charlie and it would be an understatement to say that he was energetic. On our boat ride we saw turkey vultures, cormorants, and fish. And of course, we saw some alligators. Two were circling each other, one was in the other’s turf- except he was not much of a menace given he was missing a leg and was aptly named Scar. They were within arms reach of the boat. One alligator eventually swam almost right up against the boat. The captain also stopped the boat so that he could feed some birds and fish, allowing us a close look at them. We saw an alligator gar fish with a long pointy nose. On our way back we spotted one more gator but he was further away.

After the airboat ride we watched the alligator wrestling show. It was really not that interesting and it was super hot outside. Regardless, we stayed until the end. It was awkward seeing people leave mid-show. The line after the show to get a photo taken with a baby alligator was too long and it was way too hot to stand around. We watched two racoons play in their pen. One sat on a toy tent and chewed on it and then the other grabbed it and started washing it in his water bowl. One of the racoons was albino, making them both seem that much cuter. The giant tortoise was having an afternoon nap. It was hot outside, but in the car it was unbearable. Adding to my discomfort, in addition to being dehydrated I was also hungry.

Eventually we spotted a sign on the highway for a McDonald’s, having missed the exit for Burger King. We did not realize we were in a part of Florida that had been hit harder by the hurricane. We tried to go into the McDonald’s but there was a sign on the door saying that they were under a boil water advisory and that only the drive-thru was open and only with a limited menu. We ended up ordering one of each. Really it was a small menu: 20 piece nuggets, quarter pounder with cheese, medium fries and two cans of Coke. We sat in the car in the parking lot and ate our lunch. It hit the spot.

The mid-afternoon rain was right on schedule, around 4 in the afternoon and soon after you could not even tell it had rained. We could see the baseball stadium on the horizon long before we were in town. We still had to cross a giant bridge into St. Petersburg where the Tampa Bay Rays play. Once in town we realized that literally just about everyone around was wearing Chicago Cubs shirts. The Floridians were outnumbered. We wondered how many Rays fans there would be at the baseball game, compared to Cubs fans.

On the way to the hotel, via a series of one-way streets, we were further detoured by a condo construction site that was inexplicably blocking multiple streets surrounding it. All for one lousy construction site. We walked to a nearby liquor store. On the way we saw a guy jaywalking and joking that he should try and get hit by a car so the lady driver would have to nurse him back to health. Then we passed a guy flirting with two girls by allowing them to use his cherry-picker to take selfies. St. Petersburg was a weird town full of weirdos. We walked by a free shuttle bus stop to the stadium but it was only a 30 minute walk. At the liquor store I ended up getting an orange Fanta, a new bottle cap for our collection.

Walking to the stadium we passed some more weirdos. There were two guys in a parking lot playing catch. One of them was barefoot, wearing white overalls, and a black undershirt and black shorts that were sticking out from under the overalls. Like I said, weird people in St. Petersburg.

Tropicana Field was giant. We had no idea which entrance to go to. In line we saw a few Rays fans, true Florida stereotypes: tanned, leathery and plenty of bad tattoos. We watched a girl try to chug the rest of her Bud Light and subsequently drop it. She tried to brush it off as not wanting it anymore. We got there just in time for the game to start. Our walk around the concourse would have to wait. On the way to our seats though I did manage to snag a free beer coozie and a squishy baseball. Only when we sat down did I see it was branded with something.

I kept getting distracted from the game because a family a few rows down from us kept getting kicked out of seats they had assumed were empty. There was a lot of shuffling and pointing at tickets. So much so that I missed a stolen base. I was assured that the player who did the stealing did not first do a dance to tease the pitcher, who inexplicably could not throw left. We had surprisingly good seats given we were sitting in row W. I had assumed we would be way back, but the rows start from the back of the alphabet. If we had Z we would have been the ones kicking that family out of our seats.

In the first inning the Rays got a home run. The home team got a home run and there was nothing: no theatrics, no mascots, barely even any cheering- though this was probably because the ratio of Cubs to Rays fans was about 9:1. They could have at least made the Tropicana orange in the stadium sign squirt some orange juice. There was nothing. I was very disappointed, except for the fact that at every game we have been to thus far, the home team has gotten a home run. Brent pointed out the tank of stingrays by the outfield and my first thought was of concern for their safety. What if a home run is hit there and the ball splashes down in the tank? I tried to float the idea of little baseball helmets for the rays and I was overcome with how cute it looked in my mind. In the 2nd inning a guy proposed to his girlfriend on the jumbotron. It was lame.

After the 3rd inning we went for a walk around the concourse. On a TV screen they were playing a video of Rally Cat, the cat dressed as a DJ in a Rays uniform. It elicited more than a few awws from me. The internet said that the pork nachos were really good, however it failed to mention that they were served in a bar in the stadium. I went across the way and got two tacos from Taco Bus instead. The marinated steak was sold out so I had to settle for pork and chicken. Meanwhile Brent waited in line for beer. On our walk we were on the lookout for a stand selling Italian sausages. And another one selling frozen cocktails. We passed by a craft beer place that was selling 3 Sisters key lime cider. That was clearly way better than a frozen cocktail! As I waited in line the guy behind me was standing way too close to me. Inevitably he bumped into me and apologized. But then rather than moving back a bit he just kept standing there, and again bumped into me and apologized again. I was so irritated. Why didn’t he just step back a bit?!

Finally we got to the rays tank. We took turns looking at the rays. They were all crowding in the corner and impossible to pet. Although it did make for a great photo op, because it looked like they were watching the game. I saw part of a sign that said grill and I was about to say that maybe that stand sells the Italian sausage but as we rounded the corner I saw that it was Budweiser Grill- no way they would sell good food I thought. Turns out I was wrong. We did not realize how big the concourse was. During our walk we had missed two innings. The concourse had no sightlines of the field because we were basically walking under the bleachers. My tacos were cold by the time we got tour seats, but still delicious. But the Italian sausage was better.

There was a kid in the first row of our section who was so desperately trying to get on TV during the whole game. He had a sign saying it was his first game. The Cubs had been losing miserably, and in the 8th inning they scored. And the stadium erupted in cheers. Everyone started clapping and chanting Lets Go Cubbies. We left soon after because we had an early morning the next day.

Walking back we passed by the weird art bar where the guys had been playing catch in the parking lot earlier. Now there was a poetry reading going on inside, with about 4 people in attendance. We passed a bar where a guy was crappily singing a song that I somehow managed to recognize as Where’s The Love by Hanson. This was the second Hanson song in two days.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2017 in The Roving Reporter, Travel

 

Modified Florida: Day 1

Tues. Sept. 19, 2017:
Toronto flight to Miami, FL:

We had to wake up super early to get to the airport for our flight because there were new rules in place when going through security that might make it take longer. We were up before the subway was running and rather than taking a bus all the way to the other end of the city we took a cab directly to the airport. And of course, we breezed through security really fast as none of the new provisions were in place. Once we had settled in by our gate I left for the bathroom. On my way I could see David’s Tea on the other side of the glass doors! I figured I just had to backtrack to where we had first come in and take a different branch of the forked route. The lady at the information desk told me that in fact I could not access David’s Tea because it was in the international departures section of the terminal. I was very sad. Especially because I had walked all that way. I had to settle for a cup of tea from Starbucks instead of having loose leaf tea to last me the whole trip.

On the plane I had trouble staying awake. I intermittently fell asleep while reading my book, The Man From Moscow. I also made the mistake of drinking my tea too early and ended up having to pee. Because there was turbulence they could not serve hot drinks, and rather than have a desperately-needed cup of coffee I had to settle for Coke. Top it off with the fact that there were no snacks served with the drinks? So lame. A lady sitting near us asked if there was a time difference due to how short the flight was.

Once we had landed we set off looking for the taxi stand, it would have been too confusing to try and call an Uber. No sooner had we tried to look around for the taxi stand, a guy ushered us to his car and off we went- fingers crossed we were in a licensed taxi. Turns out we had taken a fancy car service instead of a taxi. At least the guy had a license. On the way in the only real signs we saw that a hurricane had passed through were torn billboards and palm fronds on the sides of the roads.

While Brent paid I went ahead to check us in. There was a slight delay as the fancy car had a crappy card reader. We only got so far with the check-in process as they needed Brent’s ID and credit card. We were staying at an art deco hotel in South Beach, the Delano. Our room was completely decorated in white. The mini bar was in a metal steamer trunk turned on its side. The hotel was fancy but not fancy enough to have an in-room coffee maker.

The first thing we did was head out past the pool to check out the private beach. They were still setting up all the beach chairs. When we tried to get back inside our cards wouldn’t work and we had to go all the way around to the front of the hotel to get back in. Afterwards we tried to go for a walk along the beach but it was way too hot and we did not have on sunscreen and the noon sun was threatening. There were some washed up corals on the beach and the water was warm. We left the beach and headed over to check out the rest of the art deco hotels on Ocean Drive. We stopped in at Walgreens, both for sunscreen and a short, air-conditioned respite from the heat. At Walgreens we found everything-bagel-with-cream-cheese flavoured Lays. They delivered as promised and were like a better version of salt and vinegar chips. We walked by three different hotels, all playing three different versions of Despacito. I couldn’t help but laugh at Brent who hates the song. The Tides hotel was known for having a great bar, alas it was still closed after the hurricane. We stopped at another art deco hotel, The Clevalander. They advertised happy hour but did not say when it was or what the deals were. I ordered an acai caipirinha. I only understood the $17 price tag when I took my first sip. Turns out what was listed as one drink, was actually the size of three drinks. In no short order, I was tipsy. On the menu they listed the option to upsize the drink to 55oz- which was just insane to me.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a tacky tourist shop, only because it was in an art deco hotel lobby. We ended up finding a World Cup onesie for Poland- the perfect gift for Camilla’s baby shower. It was a long, slow walk back to the hotel. It was so unbelievably hot and muggy outside. We stopped in at I ❤ Liquor to check out the selection. I had forgotten my keys at home so we had to buy a bottle opener as well. The selection was not great, but at least now I would be able to add Kirin and Guinness to my bottle cap magnet collection.

We got back with just enough time to change and head down to the Argentinian steakhouse restaurant in the hotel, Leynia. We were at a steakhouse, I had to get the steak. Brent ordered the Argentinian sausage. We traded halfway. The crispy smashed potatoes on the side were so good, the steak was incredible. It did not seem worth it to get another expensive cocktail was I still feeling the effects of the first one. We were too full for dessert and opted to snack on candy back in the hotel room instead.

After a short nap we walked down to the pool. It was nice because now it was not so hot and the UV was no longer as strong. We swam around for a bit and confirmed that the pool did in fact have underwater speakers. The pool could have been a smidge warmer in my opinion. I found the ocean, where we went next, to be much warmer. However I was not a fan of the seaweed that kept touching my feet. It was so gross and I kept stepping on it no matter how much I tried to avoid it. We gave up pretty soon, there were dark storm clouds threatening to ruin our fun anyways. The hotel was already dimly lit, and with my sunglasses on I could barely see anything as we went back to our room. Our timing was perfect, just enough to get ready and head out to the Marlins baseball game. Most of that time was spent researching what to eat at the park and catching up in my notebook, with a little bit of time allocated to scrubbing off the sunscreen.

We took an Uber to the Marlins Park stadium. We easily got our tickets exchanged from Saturday’s game which had been relocated. On our way in a guy handed Brent a bag, saying it was a free gift. Only when I approached the table and he tried to get me to sign up for a newspaper and we tried to walk away the guy said to give the gift back. So Brent left it on the floor as we walked away. Once inside I was shocked at how empty it was. And it’s not like we were there super early either. I joked that the place was so empty because of DJ Unity, the “official” DJ of the Marlins, who was playing Hanson’s Mmmbop and later the Spice Girls. Even though in my opinion, he was the best DJ around with great taste in music.

The food options inside the stadium were limited, not everything was open. Nothing in the Taste of Miami section caught my eye, everything there was just sitting under a heat lamp looking gross. Brent got a snapper sandwich there. I had wanted to go to the Clevalander for a specialty drink but when we got there we found out it was a separate bar within the stadium and did not want to risk an awkward situation because Brent already had his food and beer- so we continued on along the concourse. I eventually settled on a sad looking Cuban sandwich. I decided to wait until later to get a drink on our second round of the concourse. The sandwich was not good. It was greasy and dripping everywhere and it was way too salty. After eating half of it I got up to get a drink and to find some napkins. I had to walk a good quarter of the concourse before finding a place that served something other than beer. I momentarily considered getting a Bud Lite Lime-A-Rita but thankfully I noticed that they also served sangria. I had forgotten my ID in my other wallet, but the lady just asked me what year I was born in.

We had great seats at the game, we were so close, in the front of the second section. The TV camera guy was initially standing right in front of us. We were shown on the big screen but I refused to look or even acknowledge the camera guy- I was not having it. He soon left. Things were not looking good in terms of chances of a home run, making it 2/2 fails (the first being the food).

On our second go-round of the concourse I noticed a Cuban ice cream stand, Azucar. No sooner had I gotten in line, Brent mentioned the potential for a home run, so I left the line and went to join him watching the game. No home run. Back to the line. And just like that I was running back, the next player had hit a home run. The crazy tacky statute in the outfield was going off: lights were flashing, fog was billowing and the dolphin (er, marlin) was arcing across the fake sky over a fake rainbow. It was truly tacky and so worth losing my place in line. I ordered a scoop of dulce leche. It was delicious and it redeemed the food options at Marlins Park. There were no good drink options available, I passed on having a second drink. We passed by the bobblehead museum but for some reason they lose their interest when there are so many of them. It’s no longer really a novelty. Though there were some really crappy ones.

Walking around the concourse the TV screens kept hinting that there was going to be a kisscam. In the 6th inning there was a mascot race. And it was awful. They only ran around a quarter of the field, walked the next quarter and then exited. Half the stadium could barely see them! The 7th inning stretch was equally disappointing, it was just a long ad for a coffee company. The stadium was so empty that there were not enough people there to get the wave going. Oddly though our row was full.

Two foul balls were hit in our direction. The first one landed in an empty row below us and bounced high above us. The second landed in the section just in front of us and Brent leaned far over the railing for it. Scaring me in the process. He was not even close. I was sitting between Brent and a kid one seat over from me. They were both shouting at Stanton to hit his 56th home run. They both took to booing the pitcher and calling him a scaredy-cat. Just as I was about to tell Brent to stop booing, the whole stadium started booing. The kid kept picking up terms from Brent too.

We left at the end of the 8th inning: we had seen the homerun, the mascot and there was no sign of the kisscam. We walked a couple of blocks before ordering an Uber because the cops had blocked the streets around the stadium. On the drive back we passed through Little Havana, we saw the ice cream place I had gone to earlier and the place where Richard Ayoade played dominos in Travel Man.

Back in our hotel room we changed into nicer clothes and went down to the Rose Bar in our hotel for a nightcap. I tried to order a drink with smoked pineapple but the bartender was all out. Instead I ordered an old fashioned made with apple syrup.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in The Roving Reporter, Travel

 

East Coast Done: Day 10

Sun. May 28, 2017:
Toronto, ON

The early wakeup sucked, even more-so because I did not sleep well. But it was not as bad as previous times. At the airport I grabbed us some snacks to hold us over: a Babe Ruth chocolate bar, some Swedish Fish and an orange Fanta. All part of a healthy breakfast, no doubt. Because we had a layover in Charlotte, NC our flight was considered domestic and there was no duty-free shop. Even though the flight was a mere 30 minutes, it felt longer because there were really annoying people behind me talking the whole time.

We stopped at Auntie Anne’s to grab pretzels because there was no line and we had about 10 minutes before our connecting flight started boarding. When we got to the gate the boarding time was listed as 15 minutes later than we had been told. We had felt rushed for nothing. The cinnamon sugar pretzel was not as good as the sweet almond or the original.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2017 in Adventures of Pinka!, Travel

 
 
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