Monday, February 27, 2012

Part II: Our month at Seminole Campground

February 15-27, North Ft. Meyers

Vic and I decided to head out on our own and check out Matlacha and Pine Island. It took about twenty minutes to get to Matlacha a cute little bayside village with artsy shops. 
Bert's: A well-lnown watering hole in Matlacha
From here, we continued on to Pine Island, not sure what to expect. Unless we were missing something, there didn't seem to be any white sand beaches. It did, however, have the charm of a less touristy seaside area with a few picturesque seafood places on the water.
 It was too early for lunch so we decided to head north to Punta Gorda and maybe even the Venice dog beach.  On the way to Punta Gorda, I decided we should check out a campground that I heard about called Water's Edge. When we arrived, we took the opportunity to walk the dogs around their man-made lake. We struck up conversations with a few couples who really seemed to like it there.  We were impressed with the privately owned or rented sites that circled the entire water's edge of the lake, each with its own customized tropical look. On the minus side, the regular park rentals were stuck in the grass on the outside circle of the lake with much fewer amenities or aesthetics.  This arrangment made the haves and have-nots stand out too much for us. I imagine the renter vs. owner conflict may be more pronounced in this kind of environment.
On to Punta Gorda. We were given recommendations to try a place called Danny’s for happy hour, but we noticed another place called Dean’s with an outside bar that turned out to be a tasty stop, well-known for its Tex-Mex food. (We could even have the dogs at the bar with us because it was outside.) In 2004, Hurricane Charley caused major damage in this area, but, as a result, is quite charming in its renovated state. We both liked the size and vibe of the town, reminding us of Corvallis in an odd way—maybe it was the farmer’s market setting.  The RV park, Water's Edge, on the outskirts of town, suddenly seemed more attractive to me as I could imagine myself spending time here. Our next question was how far it was to the best shelling beach; we were sad to hear that it would take about an hour with traffic to get to the place locals seemed to like the most: Boca Grande. I don’t think it would be as far to Englewood or even Venice beach, but not sure.
We decided to go ahead and forge on to Venice and see what it was like there. I knew about the dog beach and also wanted to look up a friend from my pre-teen years in Michigan. Vic was gracious to go along with this plan and since I had no phone number for her, I just navigated used her address to navigate us to her front door. She was home and we had a nice visit on her front porch with promises to get together again while we were in the area. I left wondering where all those years went since we used to have slumber parties at her parents' cabins and where I had my first spin the bottle kiss.

Next stop, before sunset, was the Brohard Paw Park in Venice. What a place this was— a long entry to the ocean which was all fenced off that led to a wide stretch of premium beach for dogs to run free. The beach itself was not as pretty as further south; the sand seemed grey and coarser. This was supposed to be a famous area for shark’s teeth (like our Englewood beach adventure). I didn’t see any, but that might have been because our attention was on the watching the dogs play their hearts out.
Saturday was time for the Buckingham Blues Fest. All ten of us went, with Sharon and John heading out first and giving us a thumbs-up that it was worth it. We all brought chairs and circled around on a small hillside overlooking the stage where a highly talented blues band was entertaining a crowd of about 100 people. It was a perfect day, about 75 degrees and clear skies, but by early evening a cold front (we laugh about what Floridians calls cold front—a drop of 10 degrees) came through adding to the ambiance of the setting which included the largest fire pit I have ever seen at an outside venue. The crowd was quite eclectic ranging from aged hippies, tough bikers, senior snowbirds (us?), and younger hip couples grooving on the blues. Quite a place just for people watching.
video

My brother Mike was going to be coming through Ft. Myers on his way home from a trip to Tallahassee and a cleaning out of his mother-in-law’s house in Beverly Beach. We arranged to meet, guess where, our neighborhood bar, Hogbody’s. Mike also invited his former Illinois neighbors, Andy and Dorothy, to join us for a late lunch. Our mini-reunion turned out to be another good time at Hogbody’s with terrific food and company. 
I had been hankering to make a paella dinner and I even happened to have shrimp, chorizo, chicken, and arborio rice on hand. All it took was a text message to invite everyone and of course everyone pitched in with sides and vino. Paella is one of my personal favorites and it had been some time since I made it. Not having my Julia Child cookbook on board, I was lucky to find the recipe I always use on-line. John and Sharon were leaving this week, so it also seemed to be a special opportunity to get together before they took off on their next adventures. After dinner, we got out the tiki fuel with citronella, used it to stoke up a fire, and spent another night around the campfire enjoying one another’s company.
When Vic and I were staying in Bonita Springs, I saw a sign for a Trader Joe’s that caused us to turn around and investigate. It turned out the sign said "Coming Soon." Well “soon” had arrived and our little group of six were all eager for a fieldtrip. We managed to fit into Steve and Diane’s Buick Enclave SUV with room enough reserved for our indulgent purchases. (How many cases of two buck chuck will fit in the back cargo area of an Enclave?) The newly opened TJ was in Naples, close to an hour drive, but what else do six retired educators have but time? The grand opening was just as busy as I remembered when our store first opened in Corvallis—crowded aisles and sold out favorites. Our biggest disappointment was that this store did not carry Vic’s cranberry oat dunkers. Nevertheless, we were able to amass a cartful of goodies including some splurges on wine and imported cheeses. I should have taken a photo of the Enclave cargo area; it was impressively packed to the rooftop.

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