Joe and I trudged around the silly car rental area, poorly laid out and nearly unlabeled at least for the Budget area, and finally tracked down the right desk. I collapsed with our luggage in the waiting area and watched Joe at the desk. I should have known something was afoot when it took forever to get the car, which we had reserved months ago, and when there was much smiling and nodding from the rental car agent. So Joe surprised me with a convertible upgrade. Yay?! Eh, except I was Debbie Downer and mildly unamused. Joe is a huge fan of convertible life, the wind in his massively curly hair, face tanning by the minute, I am less enthused unless it's sunny and a high of 75. I usually feel cooked, dirty, wind blown and my makeup melts down my face like butter cream icing on a summer wedding cake. I'm not super high maintenance, but convertibles bring out my prissy vanity. He knows this. So as Joe tried to convince me that he had upgraded purely for my pleasure, I was a little indignant. I blame the heat. But after a large iced coffee, hair in a ponytail and sunglasses slapped on my face, I quickly fixed my attitude. Because well, hell, convertibles are a blast! So we hit the road and headed south to Naples.
Joe's great aunt and uncle had generously lent their condo to us for the week. Decorated all in light beiges and greens, lots of windows, sliding doors we could throw open in the morning and at night when the humidity and temperature was bearable, a view of the green golf course, a fully stocked bar (pineapple rum is a delight) and a nearly empty condo complex, these were the perfect accommodations. Oh, yeah, and free. The pool was just several yards across the street. Heated to a balmy 82 degrees, not particularly refreshing, but who am I to look a gift pool in the mouth?
So we got settled in, dropped off bags, made a grocery list, we had ambitions to cook in for several meals, and then headed out for our first seafood dinner of the week. I won't recount every delicious meal on this trip, there were many, and though we may be abundantly well fed foodies, I don't want to bore you with each meal. Though I wouldn't mind reliving them each a time or two. This one was a stand out. Steamers is a traditional New England seafood joint. Nothing fancy, situated in a strip mall next to a Subway, the decor is netting and plastic fish on the wall, old wooden tables, basically a less cheesy Red Lobster vibe, our clam appetizer was delivered in a plastic basket with paper plates, but the food was perfect. I might as well have been eating those clams right on the beach in Cape Cod they were so good. And all the waitresses sound like they just flew in from Boston, brusque but efficient. Joe followed the appetizer up with a fried seafood basket, his favorite meal, and I had the lobster roll. Otherwise known as lobster salad on a split top, buttered and toasted potato roll. Creamy, sweet lobster meat tucked inside a crispy roll. The perfect sandwich. The fries were pretty good too. Add a diet coke with a lime squeezed in it and this vacation was already off to a damn good start.
After dinner, we were able to put the top down on the convertible since even Joe likes the top up when the temperature is over 90 degrees, and tooled around Naples to get our bearings, we hit the beach, walked down the pier, got our feet wet in the gulf, breathed a deep sigh of enjoyment and impending relaxation, hit the Publix for supplies, headed back to condo and crashed.
Sunday was "spend the day with Mike" day! My little brother moved to Fort Myers in January of this year, which prompted our visit to Southwest Florida in the first place. Mike had Sunday off work, and with his girl Jaime in town too, the four of us decided to spend Sunday together. Joe and I drove up to Fort Myers, checked out Mike's nice apartment, drove by the restaurant where he is the sous-chef, more on The Veranda later, checked out downtown Fort Myers and then drove down to Fort Myers Beach.
Fort Myers Beach was crazy. I felt like I'd been dropped into Spring Break for the over 40 set. It was great and a total contrast to the placid, family vibe of Naples. Lots of boats, lots of beers and lots of fake boobs. Fort Myers Beach has that party energy and guidos galore, plus they boast a lady with the most buff, muscled arms that I've ever seen in person. Mike was fixated. Minus the bikini top, I would have sworn she was a man from behind. Our main goal at this point was lunch and cooling off a bit. So Mike took us to one of his favorite spots, The Cottage, which serves a mean fish taco, paired with a cold Corona and a bar stool facing the beach, the four of us were in heaven, sweaty, sand covered heaven. We hung out for a couple of hours and talked and people watched. Once the heat got to us we headed back to Mike's place so Mike and Jaime could pick up swimsuits and Mike's car and head back to Naples with us for the rest of the day.
We stopped at the condo in Naples so Joe and I could change into suits and grab beach supplies and then we headed to Naples Beach. Quiet, breezy and nearly 10 degrees cooler than earlier in the day, we set up our chairs and towels and jumped right in the water. Except for Miss Jaime, she accidentally forgot to put on her swimsuit top, and being that this wasn't a topless beach, we convinced her to go ahead and get in the water in her cute black dress.
Mike got in the water past his knees for the first time since he moved to Florida, ridiculous! And we swam and frolicked and felt little jelly fish brush up against our hands, floating all around us. It was an excellent afternoon. We headed back to the condo, rinsed off the sand and changed for dinner, except Miss Jaime who still had her "swimming" dress on, which had dried by the time we went to dinner, but as Joe said, "Jaime, you look like a baseball hat." All the salt from the ocean had dried on the black gauze of her dress. Thankfully, dinner was a casual outdoor affair at Alice Sweetwater's where we all gorged ourselves on the best fried shrimp in Florida.
We sat on their back deck with misters and fans keeping us cool. And then home to watch the Lost series finale, old school style, DVR and HD free, and it was still excellent.
Monday was a total lazy day. No plans, we slept in and wore swimsuits all day, alternating between laying out at the pool, reading, swimming, chatting up the senior community, and taking long afternoon naps. Around dinner time we finally decided to shower and venture out. We had another outdoor dining experience right on the bay at, of course, the Bayside Grill. The food was great. Our waitress was friendly and other than having to listen to the douche sitting behind us talking too loudly about how "much better the FT (Financial Times newspaper) coverage is now versus the WSJ (Wall Street Journal), WSJ has just really gone down hill, they've disappointed me" and hearing his elderly mother complain loudly about the food and talk to their waiter as if he were five, it was a great evening.
Tuesday was a shopping, touristy kind of day. We scoped out a breakfast place on UrbanSpoon and landed at Lulu B's. All retro diner decor with purple everywhere, the waitresses were in their sixties with excellent bleached blond hair, blue eye makeup, gravely smoker's voices and that gruff but friendly demeanor that should be a job requirement for all diner waitresses. After breakfast we headed to the Waterside Shops which are the fancy, high roller stores, where we purchased nothing but replacement iPhone chargers and I simply browsed through the Kate Spades, Louis Vuittons and Hermes, thinking "Why would I want to spend $5,500 on a purse?" And I'm pretty sure I would feel incredibly uncomfortable carrying around a $5,500 bag, especially since I've been known to spill an entire iced coffee in my purse. Then we stopped by Barnes and Noble where I picked up the final book in Stieg Larson's Millennium Trilogy - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. If you haven't read these books I highly recommend them. They are incredibly popular which often makes the book snob in me shy away, but these books are smart, well crafted and peopled with some complex, realistic characters that you just root for all the way through. Then Joe and I walked around the Third Street South shops, the old downtown area of Naples, filled with art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. We grabbed lunch and headed back for an afternoon at the pool. We cooked in that night and then went to the beach to watch the sunset. Just gorgeous.
Wednesday we got up early and drove out to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary for a little Florida nature and some minor exercise to awaken our vacation dulled brains. Corkscrew Swamp has about a 2.5 mile raised boardwalk that meanders through several different habitats: pine flat wood, wet prairie, lettuce lakes and marshes, pond cypress and bald cypress forests.
In the high season it's filled with birds and wildlife, but since we were visiting off season we didn't really see a lot of animals or bird life. But the trade off was that we had the entire place to ourselves. We walked the first half of the boardwalk in almost complete silence as we took in all the foliage, fauna and greenery surrounding us.
It wasn't too warm yet since we had started early, but everything was wet and shortly we were soaked just from the humidity and constant moisture. I loved the pristine and vast amount of nature we walked through. I can't describe for a regular city girl what a strange and thrilling silence was all around us. No traffic, no horns, no ringing cell phones, just frogs and birds and the occasional alligator waking up from a nap.
And of course the clicking of our cameras. We didn't see another person for over an hour and half and then when we did just a quiet hello and we were back in our own world again. I loved it.
One of the highlights of our trip for me. And as this post is getting a little long I'm just going to breeze through the rest of the day: lunch outside, pool, nap, sunset dinner on the beach, rum drinks, bed.
Thursday we drove to Everglades City to take an air boat tour through the mangroves, hoping to spot some of these real live alligators that we had been told lived in Florida. We had heard of these mythic creatures, but hadn't spotted a one at this point. Even the drive to Everglades City informed us that we were in the middle of alligator and panther territory.
And yet we saw not a single viscous creature. So disappointing. And I'm not talking about the sad baby alligator we were invited to hold while having our picture taken once we made it to the boat tour company. That little guy was just kind of sad. We passed on that photo op. But live, wild alligators, up close and personal, while speeding around the swamps with Captain Henry, yes! WHeeooh!
The wind whipped through our hair, creeping, growing mangrove surrounded us, the occasional prehistoric beast came lurking out to greet our boat, and I might have squealed at least once when Captain Henry took a tight turn and I found myself tilted precariously close to the water.
little footage here. It was even more fun that it looks.
Rest of Thursday: lunch outside on the water, spotted tiny sharks feeding under the dock by our restaurant, pool, picnic on the beach at sunset, watched five para-surfers, home, bed.
Friday was another "spend the day with Mike" day! And our last full day in Naples. Joe let me sleep in and enjoy a couple of hours of alone time, which I basically spent laying around in my pajamas drinking coffee on the lanai, while he went up to Fort Myers to pick up Mike for our 9am Naples Water tour.
Captain Matt at the The Charter Club dock took the three of us out for a tour of the bay and the gulf, we saw a few dolphins, many oversized celebrity mansions, Captain Matt offered a bit of political commentary on the oil spill and the insanity of owning a $40 million dollar home that is empty 50 weeks a year, and then dropped us off at the white sand beaches of Keewaydin.
This beach was beautiful. Sugar fine sand, beach covered in shells, clear blue water and no one around. We only saw one other person on the island in the forty five minutes we were there. Though the island is open to the public it's only accessible by boat. It felt like we had our own beach property. We each filled up a ziploc bag with shells, swam, took pictures and just relished the experience. The three of us just kept looking at each other and smiling and saying "How awesome is this?" How lucky are we to be out here?" It was perfect.
Again, I ramble, quick Friday wrap up: lunch outside on the water again, browsing the touristy shops at Tin City, home to take showers and pack a change of clothes for our fancy dinner at The Veranda in Fort Myers, and Joe might have been having so much fun on the beach that he walked right into the water with his wallet in his pocket, so he had a little wallet drying to do.
Then we headed up to Fort Myers, Mike might have taken a little nap on the way, we dropped him off at work, then Joe and I wandered over to the Edison Ford Winter Estate. I wasn't particularly interested in going to this museum. Frankly wandering around an old lab and looking at old lab equipment seemed kind of dull to me. But after we got a totally unnecessary audio tour equipment lesson, "Press the number of the audio tour you want to hear and then press play. Press the volume up arrow to turn up the volume." Really? We couldn't have figured that out? Anyway, once they finally let us loose on the property and out of the little museum, it was beautiful. See!
I would like to move here. And I wouldn't even mind wearing period costumes if they would let me live in the house. After a couple of hours walking around and fantasizing about moving into Edison's master bedroom, we ran back to Mike's apartment and put on our fancy pants and headed over to dinner at Mike's restaurant.
Wow, just delicious. The Veranda is a lovely restaurant situated in two old houses in the middle of downtown Fort Myers. They make everything from scratch. From the tangy salad dressings, to the desserts, even the red pepper jam generously spread on their sweet corn muffins. Mike gave us a tour, I happily spotted a man with a live parrot on his shoulder having a drink in the bar, always a good sign. We got a cozy little table in the corner. Pete, our competent and gracious waiter who even has his own business cards, began our decadent meal with a seafood sampler with scallops, shrimp, mini crab cakes and artichoke fritters. Jesus, and this was just the first course. Followed by salads, and then the main show, Joe enjoyed the the hog snapper cooked in parchment paper and I had ostrich fillet in a savory coffee demi glace along with fresh morel mushrooms. Soo good. I assumed that ostrich would taste a bit like chicken, but the flavor is similar to lean beef. And as if we weren't stuffed by this point, Pete brought out two desserts. The best key lime pie in all of creation and a chocolate pate so rich and creamy that more than one bite seemed indulgent. It was a fabulous meal and a stellar way to end our vacation and our last night in Florida. Thanks again, Mike! You should be very proud of yourself and the restaurant.
And that was pretty much our vacation. Saturday was just a couple of hours at the pool, a couple of hours of cleaning the condo and then the rest of the day spent traveling home.
This dapper gent was on our flight home, carrying a whimsical Treasure Planet backpack. Young at heart.
While the trip was relaxing, fun and just a delight, it was really nice to come home again. We don't have an ocean or quite as many elderly rich people, but it's home. And even though I don't get to spend the day drinking by the pool, I was happy to be back to our life. #42 Accomplished!
Most photos by Joe Sands, a few by me but not many.