Good morrow fair reader, I hope you are well.
Well, I thought I’d write and tell you about the most fabulous weekend and the benefits of living on impulse occasionally! Lots happened, so get your reading hat on. This could take a while. About ten minutes on a test read. Get comfy!!!
Picture the scene: It’s Thursday evening and Pliny is pottering about at home planning to start looking for a job in the morning and hoping that his penchant for procrastinating doesn’t kick in.
Who on earth was I kidding!!
A Facebook post, from Brandee Anthony in Florida: Does anyone want to go camping in the Keys this weekend? I’m tagged. Holy moly an invite to go camping in the sun instead of job hunting in the cold. Why the hell not?!
Once again I fall into the arms of my ever-patient sister, who works for an airline, and I text her to see if she’s still awake (It’s 09:30pm ish) or busy. She’s on business in Newcastle but thankfully responds and I ask her if she can get me on a standby flight to Florida in the morning, returning on Monday. Half an hour later and I’m all set to go. I’d best confirm that invite!!
A few messages later and I realise that a response wasn’t exactly expected and I’ve basically invited myself to Florida. Thankfully Brandee is ever the hostess with the mostess and agrees to host me around for the weekend, although camping might not be possible.
And so begins the panic packing!! A tent, sleeping bag and all the camping paraphernalia go in the larger case, just in case, along with my new DJI Goggles (looking forward to testing them out). The second bag is for clothes and I’ll try my luck with two carry on’s, a drone and a camera.
A super quick Google for a rental car to get me from Miami to Vero Beach and back and an even faster registration of my drone with the FAA to avoid arrest and I think I’m set to go. Excellent. Ten minutes left to sleep before I need to wake up to head to the airport. Best not chance it!!
To the airport via the Heathrow Express and hurrah, I’ve managed to score an upgrade so a nice flat bed to catch up on a bit off lost sleep on Whilst I fly. Pre-flight bubbles, a nice meal and a watch of the excellent Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (Oscar worthy fo shizzle) and its time to get my head down…
A short drive (2.5 hours or so) to Vero beach and before you know it I’m being welcomed by Brandee and Zeke into their home for a warm-up drink before we head out. Introductions were made to those who I’d yet to meet, Chinchillas, Sophia, Bella, Astro!
Those who are in the know, know Grind and Grape or will have heard of it and it’s a lovely place, right near the sea. Good drinks. Good nachos. Good times. If you’d told me on Thursday afternoon that by Friday evening I’d be having a beer with a professional mermaid, a former NFL footballer and two players from the New York Mets baseball team I’d have laughed in your face. But sometimes life throws you an adventurous bone. You gotta grab it and chew for England!
Perhaps it was the flight, the lack of sleep or just the fact that I’m a total lightweight, but a few tequilas, cocktails and beers later I was a bit drunk, hopefully not embarrassingly so, and at some point, we headed homeward.
Awake with a slight hangover. This could be awkward. I hope I’m not the only one!
Thankfully Zeke seems to know some good hangover cures in the form of a beetroot and ginger shot that certainly focuses the mind!! Hot hot hot! Also an expert on essential oils, he is able to nurse me to something resembling normality.
Brandee is doing an interview this morning with some girls from Florida State University (I think) on something mermaid related so Zeke and I retire to the back porch for a chat and I agree to take part in a Qi Gong session. A new experience for me and at first I have to admit to feeling a bit self-conscious bobbing up and down a tapping myself all over as guided. But he’s a good guide. Patient and chilled out. I have to say that for something so relaxing in appearance it really was quite a session and by the end, I felt well exercised and well rested in equal measure. Thanks, Zeke.
We chat for a while about football, philosophy, all sorts really until Brandee is done with her interview – not long at all – and we get set to go out and about for the day.
First stop; the local farmers market which was a nice place and offered a real sense of community, the like of which I don’t see much of in London, at least not in the same local sort of way. All sorts of things are there to buy and much of it unique and locally sourced.
Then a bit of a walk around town. Some of the local sites. A brief stop off at Zeke’s step-mum’s shop and a visit to an outdoor art fair at which his Grandma is exhibiting. Thank god my bank card was declined at the ATM due to a sticky number 2 key, otherwise, I could have spent a fortune there on beautiful stuff that I couldn’t have easily gotten home!
After a while, we headed back home to rest a while and prepare some dinner (side note, I’m appallingly bad at Mario Cart). And with dinner comes another first. I’m challenged to cook cactus. I never even knew you could eat the stuff!! A quick google and I decided that sautéing would be the simplest approach and knocked some up with some garlic, ginger, mushrooms and soy. It didn’t taste too bad (I’d eat it again with a bit more flavour added), a bit like green beans: But to cook it was like making a space/horror/thriller movie. It’s very viscous and you need to cook away the sticky stringy gloop to be sure that it’s done properly. Thanks, Google!
Dinner done and another warm-up shot of tequila before we head out to a bar called the Kilted Mermaid, where there is live music. What a fantastic band too: The Resonant Rogues – catch them on Spotify – a sort of folk, bluegrass, Baltic four-piece. Comprising a double bass, fiddle, guitar and banjo/accordion player, they entertained with real foot tapping enthusiasm playing a range of styles but sounding fabulously unique in doing so. Especially when that sound of the Appalachian country was blended with the rhythms of Eastern European Baltic folk. Sounds odd, but trust me, it really worked and was exceedingly entertaining.
Zeke has other commitments today so it’s just me and Brandee, but she really, really steps up in terms of great stuff to see and do and I really am so thankful!!
A great lunch of calamari to start and shrimp with pasta and a clam chowder as a main, in the Riverside Cafe down by the Indian River.
Then a chance to fly my drone, at last, in sunny climes by the Grand Pavillion Picnic Area.
Bugger. Communication error between the drone and the remote control. Flight abandoned. Arse.
Never mind. Still lots to do.
Brandee has contacted a company called Gator Bait and we are due to go for a ride on one of those boats you see on the tele in the Everglades with the huge fans on the back. Great fun! And very educational, with a guide who knew his onions.
Must have seen a least twenty/thirty gators; lots of Osprey (majestic); loads of different birds and the odd turtle or two (one of which looked like he’d recently met a gator and come off worst missing, as he was, half his shell).
What a buzz. I’ve captured some pics and share them here, but really spent most of my time just looking at the beautiful nature around me in the Blue Cypress Conservation Area and grinning like a loon.
Starting home to change, grab some pinacoladas and head to the beach for a time, we stop off to partake in what I am assured is the Florida tradition of eating oranges straight from an orange grove – all perfectly legal – probably – and boy oh boy are they juicy when you get them straight from a tree!!
And so to the beach to chill out a little, enjoy the scenery and the ocean as well as a very tasty pinacolada made by the cocktail expert, Brandee Anthony!! Delish!!
I made sure I stood in very shallow water, the wash gently lapping at my ankles for a quick photo. That went well!! Denim shorts damn it! See below!
And so to a restaurant feeling like I’d wet my pants having only slightly air dried in the sun.
This was my first visit to a Hibachi restaurant. Another great idea from my host! It was both tasty and entertaining having the food made before me and I’d certainly return. No doggy-bag for me. That plate was getting cleaned. No question.
Already it’s Monday:
And sadly time to head home already. Booooo.
With fond farewells bid to all, I set out back towards Miami Airport.
The joy that is social media meant that I even managed to get a pit stop on the way home with the delightful Sherry, near West Palm/Boynton, around that area, and got briefly re-acquainted with Lexi, the softest dog that ever there was and one with a seriously gluttonous appetite for licking people!! Bless.
Before meeting Lexi again, we stopped off for another culinary first for me in a Jewish deli for some Matzo Ball chicken soup. If you don’t know – and I certainly didn’t – a Matzo ball is like a large dumpling set, in a chicken broth which was v. delish indeed. Followed that with a pastrami and sauerkraut sandwich because, well, a man’s gotta eat!!
So, well fed, we headed over to Sherry’s place to take Lexi for a quick walk before time got away from us and I had to continue my journey airport bound.
Just time for a quick hello to Aaron, Sherry’s husband, who arrived home as I was about to depart. Hopefully, a longer catch up next time I’m in the state!!
And so to the airport and to face the only challenge of the weekend. Getting gas.
It’s always the little differences that catch you out and I could not get the petrol pump to work for the life of me. To use a credit card at the pump, I needed a zip code: #fail.
I tried paying in the booth, but being in Miami, this wasn’t possible on account of my limited Spanish. The lady kept asking me to pay in advance‽ Odd. I said I had no idea how much gas I needed? Stalemate, as neither of us, could explain what we wanted or needed from the other.
Fortunately gas station number two was staffed by someone who was bilingual and I learned something that will be useful to me in the future and to you, dear reader if you’ve not bought gas in the US before. Apparently, you pay over the required amount at the booth and if you don’t get to that level you aren’t charged for more than you pump. Who’d-a-thunk! Still, it’s always good to learn new stuff and if my challenge can ease your travels, even in this small way, then this waffle has been worth typing!
Car safely returned, checked in and straight to the departure lounge where I had just enough time to scope a little of my experience before boarding the plane for the seven-hour flight home. Lucky, once more to snaffle an upgrade to Premium Economy seat, which greatly aided a good rest.
I love living on impulse. This was a weekend that proved to me that sometimes its good to just do stuff, rather than worry about it too much. Granted, I managed it on a small budget due to some fabulous connections, so big thanks to my sister for the flights and to Brandee and Zeke for putting me up and looking after me!
Life is sweet when you live it to the fullest you can.
Once again, congratulations if you’ve managed to read through this without falling asleep. I absolutely promise to try writing some shorter posts sometime soon!!
For now, though, I will bid you a farewell.