We (my wife, Janine, and I) spent the last fourteen days, more or less, on the road. The destination was Florida, where my wife’s high school friend now lives. The first day on the road, a Sunday, we drove about 425 miles—from Dallas, Texas to Jackson, Mississippi. We stopped for lunch in Marshall, Texas at the Cajun Tex Restaurant, which turned out to be a pretty decent spot for oyster po-boys and such.
While in Jackson, we stayed with an interesting guy who’s an acquisitions editor for a university press. He’s in his mid-thirties and has reached the point, after a long and successful stint as an editor, of determining whether he’s happy with his present course or whether he’s ready to jump into something different. I enjoyed conversing with him; I plan to stay in touch with him from time to time. We connected with the guy through a couch-surfing website.
As a token of our appreciation for his hospitality, we brought him a bottle of Texas wine and a six-pack of Rahr’s Ugly Pug, a favorite beer of mine brewed in Fort Worth. We also bought him dinner at an Indian restaurant he recommended, Ruchi India. I was highly impressed with the food. I was particularly impressed with the fact that they offered a dish I have not seen offered at any of the many Indian restaurants we frequent in Dallas: goat vindaloo. It was exceptional!
I first learned of “formal” couch-surfing from my friend, Bev, who had recommended it to me after learning that I had a desire to take long road trips but limited funds for lodging along the way. She suggested I check out a website, couchsurfing.org, where I learned quite a lot about it. When we began the trip to Florida, we had already hosted a few couch-surfers in our home and had decided we wanted to participate in the other side of the equation by being hosted. My motive in wanting to couch-surf had morphed from one of saving money to one of meeting interesting people. Rather than stay in a predictably-decorated roadside motel, we wanted to stay in a real-world environment and have the opportunity to meet real-world people.
After one night in Jackson, we drove another 440 miles to Tallahassee, Florida, where we had hoped to couch-surf with another host. That was not to be. I made only two contacts, neither of whom responded immediately to accept or reject my request to be hosted. One of them, though, responded a day or two later, apologizing for the late reply but explaining that she had been camping and out-of-touch for a few days…and she offered to host us on our way out of Florida. Absent a couch-surfing host, we stayed overnight in a Best Western in Tallahassee.
On the road to Tallahassee, we stopped in Mobile, AL to have lunch in an old diner, the Dew Drop Inn. It’s said that Jimmy Buffet’s affection for burgers was born at the Dew Drop Inn (see this link, which also references the Camelia Grill in New Orleans, where we had breakfast one day last September). The Dew Drop Inn advertises itself as the oldest restaurant in Mobile (see the photo of its sign). With all due respect to Jimmy Buffet and all who hold the place near and dear, I was not overly impressed with my burger. For one thing, it was tiny and flat. For another, the meat was overcooked. My wife liked her hot dog, though, so the place succeeded in making for a happy lunch.
Dinner in Tallahassee was not a wonderful event. We ate at a tired little place called Foody’s near our motel. Foody’s takes its place on my “avoid at all costs” list.
After our night in Tallahassee, we got on Florida 19 south for the 220 mile trip to Spring Hill, Florida, where my wife’s friend lives. We dawdled along the way and took a bit of a detour to Steinhatchee, Florida, where we had a pretty decent lunch at Roy’s Restaurant.
We arrived in Spring Hill well before dinner time and spent time chatting with my wife’s friends. Inasmuch as they are private people who don’t blog, Facebook, etc., I will not use their names and photos in this post. Suffice it to say we enjoyed our many days with them.
A friend of mine, who I’d never met in person but had communicated with electronically for quite some time, lives a bit south of our Spring Hills hosts. I had been in touch with him before our trip to arrange a visit. On Friday morning, we drove 40 minutes to his place, arriving about 11:00 a.m. We spent a good five hours visiting; it was really great to get to know him in person! He cooked for us, served me beer and wine and absinthe (Janine was the designated driver on the return north), and generally treated us as honored guests! He even gave me a French press coffee maker when I commented about it, saying it was an extra one he did not use. I invited him to visit us; I hope I can show him the same hospitality he showed us.
A day or two earlier, I learned from a friend’s Facebook post that she was in Florida for a meeting. Through a series of private messages back and forth, I learned that she was in the Tampa Bay area and that, after her meeting, she would be spending the weekend with her parents, who live in Spring Hill, before returning home to Seattle. What a coincidence! So, we arranged to meet for breakfast on Saturday morning. There she is, sitting across the table from Janine and me, at the Breakfast and Lunch Nook in Spring Hill!
After a nice visit with Dana, we headed down to Tarpon Springs, just a few miles south. Tarpon Springs is well-known for its sponge boats, which line the marina along Dodecanese Avenue in the Sponge Docks District. The town has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the U.S.; during our visit, we overhead many conversations in Greek among groups of old men, who I imagine had once been employed in the sponge industry. After walking up and down Dodecanese Avenue, visiting seafood markets and shops here and there, we stopped for lunch at Hella’s Bakery and Restaurant, where I had good gyros and Janine had a bowl of excellent avgolemono soup.
The next day, we drove from Spring Hill down to St. Petersburg for a visit, first, to the beach and then to the Dali Museum. The museum is situated next to a marina and across the street from the Albert Whitted Airport. Though I’ve never been a fan of Dali’s work, there is no question (in my mind) that he was a creative genius. Janine bought a mug that includes an image of the Dali piece entitled “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea Which at 20 Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln.” While his work won’t hang in my home (as if I could afford to buy any of it), I admire his bizarre creativity. However, I did buy a set of 20 paper cocktail napkins (for $1.00) bearing a Dali quote in multiple languages, as shown in the image below.
After the museum visit, we crossed the street to the airport, where we had lunch at the Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge. Considering the fact that the restaurant was not billed as a great place to eat, I was surprised that the food was quite decent. We left the restaurant with the intent of getting on the tollway back to Spring Hill, but a few wrong turns took us a long, long way out of our way. Eventually, we found our way to the tollway and ultimately to Spring Hill.
Somewhere along the line (the days began to blur…not sure just when we did this), we headed out to visit the Homassasa Springs State Wildlife Park, just a few miles north of Spring Hill. The park is almost entirely “native Florida,” in both flora and fauna, with one exception. That exception is a 53-year-0ld hippopotamus that had lived in the park before the state bought the parkland; though the state planned to make it a 100% native Florida park, local residents banded together to save the hippo from being sent away and it was granted permanent Florida citizenship by the then-governor so it could stay in the park. We saw roseate spoonbills, flamingos, a bear, a cougar, a manatee, and numerous other beasts…all were in enclosures, unfortunately.
Another side trip to Hernando Beach revealed a beautiful coastline, attractive inlets (including one with a wild manatee loafing along in the shallows), and a nice little restaurant, called Leslie’s Bistro, where we stopped for lunch.
We headed to Naples and Fort Myers Beach a week after we arrived in Spring Hill. Janine’s friends have a time-share on Fort Myers Beach, which gives them the ability to rent a unit in the building at times outside their time-share arrangement (which our visit was). They rented a unit where the four of us stayed for considerably less than it would have cost to rent a hotel room (the rates for which were $350 per night and up). The morning after we arrived, we took the Key West Express ferry to visit Key West for part of the day. We had originally hoped to stay in Key West for a day or two, but the prices of hotel rooms were astronomical…if we go back, we’ll plan to visit in low season, after the snow-birds have returned to their nests. The Key West sunsets are said to be among the most beautiful in the world; the view from the high-speed ferry during our return suggests that’s true.
There’s more to record about the trip, but I’ll leave a few bits and pieces of the visit and details of our return trip to another post