Tuesday, December 20, 2016

December in Leesburg

That should keep us busy for a while!

Getting into the “Stationary” mode is easier having done it last winter in Arizona, and having our friends Harold and Wanda right here makes it twice as easy. We've been out twice in their boat exploring the lakes and canals along with their friends Charlie and Dot who are from Cumberland Maryland. Charlie was a motorcycle enthusiast in the days of Triumphs and BSA's so we get along immediately. Dot and Barbara fit in well too so our circle of friends has grown already.

We signed up for line dancing classes and after an early struggle we got back into it. The class here is a bit more challenging than the one in Sundance but we should make progress if we stick to it.

Line Dance Class
Barbara has joined a “Stitch Craft” group. She has decided to knit sweaters for our Grand kids Kaitlynd and Niail and likes the idea of knitting in company with like minded people.

There doesn't appear to be an art group here. There are “Zentanglers”, which is kind of a geometric pattern kind of drawing that so far hasn't drawn me in. In February a Canadian artist runs classes in the park but there's nothing else, so I jumped in with both feet and started to sound out interest in forming an informal Art group with the intent of meeting once a week and drawing or painting, visiting galleries etc. We'll see. If that doesn't work maybe I'll try and start a photography group?

Calling all artists
Meantime I've got the easel out and I've begun another series of flower paintings. Everyone seems to like what I've done so far. They don't take up much room and I like to give them away as little “thank you” gifts. I ran out of them a couple of months ago so I need to replenish my supply. I find it much easier to work on six or so small paintings at once. I draw them all out at once then paint the backgounds and let them all dry. All the leaves and stems are next and finally the complete flower, getting into a flow. Very satisfying.

We're also talking about trying Pickleball again. It's a little like tennis but with a solid wood raquet and a wiffle ball it is slower for us seniors! We tried briefly last year and we bought the raquets and balls but Barbara did something to her knee and we stopped playing. More on that after we try it.

Locally there are several “Flea Markets” “Farmers Markets” “Swap Meets” etc which might not tempt us to buy anything but at least provide an excuse for a lot of walking! Harold, Wanda, Charlie and Dot like to do the weekly Monday one that provides 3 hours of walking and lunch. I've started tagging along with them just for the exercise. What with line dancing and riding our bicycles everywhere we should at least be fitter soon!

Christmas at the Flea Market
Anything you need is here.
We did the park's “Christmas Concert” a couple off nights ago. I've been told that if you can't say anything good about something then don't say anything! Everyone in it was a volunteer so bravo for trying.

Like Sundance last year there seems to be a dance most Friday's and there are events scheduled for Christmas and New Years that we'll be joining in. All in all a busy time and we keep meeting more and more people and forgetting more and more names! When January comes around there will be flood of people coming in so this is a good time to get our feet wet before the rush.

If we don't talk to you before the Holidays have a very Merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The infamous Xmas Letter!

Xmas Letter 2016

Wow! Where do we start with this letter?

Our big adventure started last year in July so this is the first complete year we have spent on the road in our RV.
We started the year in Arizona, went to San Diego then slowly wandered east across Texas and north until we crossed into Canada to visit Barbara's cousins in Ontario, who had a family reunion going just west of Niagara Falls. 

Stopping in Maryland along the way we caught up with our son Fred and his wife Cori plus lots of friends and neighbors. Happily our daughter flew in for a week too but left the kids behind so we didn't get to hug and spoil them.

After we celebrated Canada Day (July 1st) in Ontario followed by July 4th. we headed over to Ottawa to meet up with another cousin Alan and his wife Mary. I could listen to Mary talk all year. She was raised in Jamaica and that lilting island accent she has fascinates me.

We had a disappointing visit to Montreal which started us south to Vermont earlier than we had planned, but got us to Burlington and the big RV Rally we had signed up for. All our RV friends from San Diego were there and we had a great time.

We made a last minute decision and moved on to Maine. We made another Rally there based on lobsters and also the Lobster Fest in Rockland before moving across the border again into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to explore Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton.

That was as North and as East as our adventure has taken us, so we headed South again meeting Barbara's Brother Stuart and his wife Linda in New Hampshire for the autumn “Leaf Peeping” trip in the mountains.

Our intentions were to slowly drive south keeping the turning leaves around us, except it got cold and we made a hasty trip south to Florida and the most southerly point of our trip -Key West.
Which leaves us in Leesburg Florida for the winter. We intend to be here until April so we can get some Baseball Spring Training games in, then we plan on a couple of months in Europe catching up with friends and relatives there and visiting some countries we haven't seen before (Spain and Portugal for just two).

It's been a fun and exciting year that has just flown by. We've traveled 11,000 miles in the RV, 9,000 miles in the Fiesta, been in 3 different countries, and too many states to recall.

If you want the full story our blog is http://banbrv.blogspot.com/ and if you look on the right side of that screen there is a column that shows months and years, you can click on any of those to go “Back in Time” on the blog.

We wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a healthy, prosperous New Year.
Best Wishes
Brian and Barbara


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Snuggling down for the winter

The sunset was spectacular with sailboats passing by and a Caribbean singer adding to the atmosphere. We met a couple from Finland Ria and ?? who were really enjoying the trip. Several well spent hours then a cab home.

We decided we liked the upper Keys but not Key West. That's OK, you have to experience things for yourself we find. We've been told to avoid places by friends only to find that we quite liked those same places.

Next major step for us is getting to our “Winter Quarters” in Leesburg FL, which is North West of Orlando. We chose the Holiday Travel Resort because a good friend of mine has stayed at this park for many winters and we decided that was a good starting point for us.

It's not easy deciding where you are going to spend 3 or 4 months, and winter is the busiest period for these resorts. Good ones can fill up fast and you need to make reservations early sometimes.

Of course you only have a website and maybe a glossy brochure to guide you so things may not be as good as expected when you get there. We got lucky last year in Casa Grande. We'd originally thought of staying at the Escapees park but as they don't take reservations we decided to go to another resort that did. Some research brought up Sundance 1 Resort. 2 years ago we tried it for Christmas and New Years while we were both still working. We loved it went back to stay our first full Winter there (http://banbrv.blogspot.com/2015/12/settling-down.html).

Once we were on the road seriously we had to decide where our next winter would be spent. Florida was the destination for the East Coast fulltimer/snowbird set. We did some research and then selected Holiday Travel based on their website, brochure, activities, price and the fact that my friends Harold and Wanda have been very happy here for several years.

Part of this trip to Florida and one of the reasons we got here early was to look at other areas of the state for possible future winter stays. Hence the Keys, Naples and our stop in Wauchula.

Wauchula is about smack in the middle of the state, not close to any major cities. It's a farming community that has several RV Parks around town. What drew us to this area was that there are 2 parks we wanted to look at. The Escapees Florida Resort and the Thousand Trails (TT) park.

We wanted to experience the Escapees (SKP for short) park because we've stayed at a few before and we're members of the Escapees RV Club. Unfortunately they too don't take reservations so we decided that if there were no vacancies we'd try the TT park where we could make reservations online.
Our space in Wauchula

We loved the library in the park, so cosy and well stocked.
Fortunately we got into the SKP park. Fortunate because we immediately bumped into friends who we met at the Rally last month and met some new friends - Judy who's a painter and her husband Ken, and a couple from UK Rosie and Mike who are musically talented and kept everyone entertained.

This was one of those comfortable SKP places with excellent facilities, wide spaces and friendly people everywhere. We immediately submerged ourselves in the atmosphere and swapped books and DVD's in the library, got into the Happy Hours each evening and attended their weekly Movie Night. We won a discount coupon in the nightly door prize drawing and as a result went into town to Giuseppe's Italian Restaurant.

I even broke out my art stuff and began a few more flower paintings. This is a place I could spend a couple of months I believe, Maybe if Leesburg doesn't work out we could consider moving here. They certainly seemed disappointed when we said we were leaving.

You can actually buy in to this park. If you are an SKP member you can buy a site. It's a Cooperative, so you buy from the Coop and when you sell you sell back t the Coop. Talking to people who are owners they are happy, and there's an 8 year waiting list to buy, so that says something!

I was kind of sad to leave Wauchula but we had reservations starting Dec 1st at Holiday Travel RV Park. A good friend of mine from motorcycle trips in Virginia Harold and his wife Wanda have spent the last 10+ winters at this park. As soon as we were settled in they came over and we started getting caught up on their news. They even have a ring binder full of places to go within an hours drive!
Christmas Parade at Holiday Travel RV Park
Next thing they had us walking the local flea market which is HUGE! Bigger even than the ones in Arizona. Next day Harold, Charlie and I were walking a Car Show/Swap Meet full of more stuff. Then we all got a ride on Harold and Wanda's boat the following day and explored the canal and one of the big lakes nearby. Although we didn't see any alligators there were plenty of birds around.
The fruit and vegetable area at the Flea Market
Lots of stuff on sale at the Car Show/Swap Meet
The Car Coral
We started Line Dance classes again too and we're seriously thinking about Pickle Ball and Shuffleboard. There is no darts league here so we're looking for alternatives.
Barbara and Wanda

Charlie and Dot

Captain Harold and the boat
And then there is the matter of maintenance on the rig. We have a few items that although not critical need to be sorted out before we head out again and having 4 months here gives us the chance to get them done.

First is the rear view camera. It's great for backing into spaces and to keep an eye on the Fiesta and bicycles when we're on the road. It's essential when overtaking something to make sure we're clear before we pull back in. For the last 6 months it's been acting up. If I wiggled the wires in the back of the monitor it would behave for a couple of days and them just when we'd get into traffic the picture would go all zig zaggy! So we ordered a new color camera and monitor but it requires pulling a new coax cable the length of the rig and so we've been tearing the inside of the rig apart to feed the wire thru. Quite a mess as the route goes thru all the overhead bins, the valances along the side at the roof and all the closets. Hopefully this will last 17 years like the last one!
Wires hanging down everywhere for the camera installation
We still have to tear the bathroom apart again to replace seals in the toilet and replace the floor again which it turns out wasn't meant for wet spaces. Live and learn there! We also plan on putting in a new internet streaming device for the TV, changing the oil in the engine of the rig and the generator and getting the Fiesta into a Ford dealer for it's seemingly annual transmission replacement.

That should keep us busy for a while!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

As south as we can get.

Eventually we caught up, made promises for next year, emptied the cooler, had one last meal together at a nice steak house and departed on our next adventure.

Destination? The Keys.

We have been in the Keys before in the past (The accepted slang for the Florida Keys, a chain of islands leading to Key West the Southern most point of the USA).
Barbara outside Disney World 40 years ago

Me looking cool on Daytona Beach back then
The DISTANT past! Last time we were here was almost 40 years ago in November 1977. I had been working in Brazil for 6 months on a bachelor status contract and Barbara had been patiently setting up the house we bought before I promptly vanished from the scene.

There aren't many things in my life that I'd change, but that 6 months away from Barbara would be one of them.

But enough of regrets. Barbara and I met up in Miami and rented a camper van for a couple of weeks. We toured Florida and enjoyed our first visit to the USA and our first time in a motorized RV.

The Pontiac Trans Van we rented.
After filling the thing with mosquitoes in the Everglades we came down to the Keys and explored. It was a little less developed than it is now! Still we enjoyed the Mel Fischer Treasure Museum when it was still funding Mel's search for the Atocha treasure (http://www.melfisher.com/Library/AtochaMargStory.asp) and we rode the Conch Train around Key West with stops at the Hemingway House and various bars and restaurants.
You have to ride the Conch Train in Key West.
It's funny but we can't remember how we went about finding places to camp back then. I suppose we just saw a sign for a campground and pulled in. It was November so it wasn't quite the peak of “Snowbird” season which starts December in Florida.
Another compulsory stop
The Pontiac TransVan we had didn't have any hookups so we didn't need much. I don't even think it had a power hookup as the house battery kept dying after a day or so. Good job we didn't know any better or we might not have been so happy! As it was it became our second honeymoon and after this moment we were more determined than ever not to be separated for so long again.

This of course was all BC – BEFORE CHILDREN! We'd been married for 6 years by this point and Sally didn't arrive for another 5 years, Fred for 8.

And now we're back, we're staying at the Elks Lodge in Tavernier at the top end of the Keys for 5 days, followed by another 5 in Key West. That should give us lots of time to explore the whole chain.

Being an Elks Lodge we were instantly welcomed and made to feel at home. Dinner would be provided Thursday and Friday, there was a Rummage Sale Saturday and they had a waterfront Tiki Hut under the palm trees and a fishing pier.

A local guy, (also a Brian) took me under his wing down at the fishing pier and introduced me to the intricacies of saltwater fishing there. Soon we had enough Mangrove Snappers for supper and I caught a Needle Fish and Puffer Fish too for a little variety (but put them back). There are Barracuda here too which bite clean thru regular fishing line.
A Mangrove Snapper

Sunset from the Elks Lodge beach.
Barbara seemed to be either :-

A. In a very good mood or
B. Sick of the sight of me!

Anyway she suggested I just hang out at the pier all day and fish while she did some baking and cleaning. I knew I married her for some good reason! We both enjoyed ourselves and when I got back to the rig it smelled so good from all the baking she'd done.
We finished the day with the Lodge's Meatloaf Dinner and their monthly special drink, Parrot Bay Coconut punch.

Well camouflaged Iguana on Marathon Key
Over the next couple of days we explored the Upper Keys and I fished. We ended up with quite a lot of Snappers, so Barbara decided a fish pie was in order. I wish I'd taken pictures of it but it was too delicious and a picture of an empty plate wouldn't do it justice!
Day on the beach at Sombrero Beach Marathon Key
We said farewell to our new friends at the Lodge and moved on the Key West at the southern tip of Florida. “Closer to Havana than it is to Miami” is the local claim. Unfortunately in the 40 years since we were last here, this pleasant little town has turned into a nightmare of people, traffic and pay to park areas.

Famous now for Duval Street where anything apparently goes, we found the atmosphere overwhelming and the sense of being tourists ready to be ripped off by high prices and poor quality not to our taste at all.

The campground we picked based on being the lowest price in Key West turned out to be small, dirty, noisy and EXPENSIVE! At $75 a night plus tax it is the highest price we've ever paid for camping. At the same time it IS the cheapest in Key West with the rest of them being over $125 a night, about the same as the cheapest motels in the area.
That's us jammed up against the Laundry/Bathrooms in Leo's

The picturesque view from Leo's front door.
So a lesson learned for us, things change over the years and not always for the better. But still we came and experienced the area.

Key West Harbor
A sunset dinner cruise was offered and we sailed out on a catamaran with a dinner and free open bar. The sunset was spectacular with sailboats passing by and a Caribbean singer adding to the atmosphere. We met a couple from Finland Ria and ?? who were really enjoying the trip. Several well spent hours then a cab home.
Ria (r) and ?(l) from Finland.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Ocean Isle, Myrtle Beach and Orlando

One last breakfast with the Elks then we set off South again. Now we're in Myrtle Beach SC to meet Barbara's cousin Helen and our old Maryland friend Barry.

Barry and Barbara spending time.
Barry is a good friend from our motorcycling days back in Maryland. We had a great group of friends in Maryland Chapter J of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) and we were continually going out for ice cream, breakfast or dinner somewhere. Barry has been a wonderful source of jokes and good humor. About the time we moved to California, Barry moved to Myrtle Beach SC.
Drunken Jacks for lunch
After touring his house and admiring his new motorcycle he kindly got us in his minivan and showed us the sights around Myrtle Beach. We bought him lunch at Drunken Jacks as a thank you then continued our tour. The next evening he showed us the local Brewery and introduced us to some of his local Gold Wing friends Frankie and Mike. We had a great time. Thanks Barry!
Lesser known spots in South Carolina
Barbara's cousin Helen lives in North Carolina just ½ an hour North of Myrtle Beach. She had been looking after her grandson Jimmy for a couple of days but when she got home we went up to visit. She lives in a beautiful house on a lake and a golf course and we stayed the night and caught up on family news from UK, US and Canada. Thanks Helen!
Barbara and Helen relax on the patio
We had just got back when friends from 30 years ago contacted us on Face Book and said they were in Florida so how about getting together. What an opportunity to catch up on more news! Jacky and Sharon live in UK but have a place near Orlando too. They thought they would be able to fit our RV in their drive so we changed some plans and decided to make it happen.

On and on! We next found out that more friends from UK were in Florida. Ron and Sue were in Orlando doing Disney World but unfortunately they leave the day we arrive so we probably won't get to see them. Maybe next year when we go to Europe?

There are always choices when you pick routes. Going to Florida the most obvious is I95, but that's just not for us. A much nicer (if slower) alternative is Rt17 which parallels 95 and is for the most part 4 lanes. The occasional town and stoplight don't bother us, and I've learned to keep fairly close to the posted speed limit on these rural roads where the town's Police department pay their salaries with speeding tickets.

The rig has been in dire need of a wash after 6 months without one, and the car is pretty crusty too. Truck washes are the place to wash RV's also. We saw one along the way but after ½ hour of waiting we discovered that they were using the same brushes to scrub all the trucks and the same bucket of soapy water too! They didn't even empty the bucket between vehicles either. So that and the fact they wanted about $75 to wash and wax just the rig had us leaving unwashed.
Blue Beacon truck wash, we're next!
We've used Blue Beacon truck washes several times around the country and been very satisfied with their service. Looking on their app we found there was one 60 miles further south and right on Rt 17! Off we went and got both the car and rig washed and waxed for $63 using pressure washers and an overhead roof sprayer. The wash bay was next to Love's so we filled up, had a bathroom break and then made sandwiches for lunch on the road. Doing everything in one stop is an old long distance driving trick that keeps average speeds up by eliminating several individual stops.

To make up some lost time and avoid traffic in Savannah and Jacksonville we got on I95 (Alright we caved in!). As soon as we could we got on to US1 thru St Augustine to our stop for a couple of night at the Compass RV Park about 4 miles from St Augustine. A nice quiet place that the owners are obviously spending a lot of money on but $60 a night after our Good Sam discount was too rich to stay long.
St Augustine Beach
Near Kissimee we found a Thousand Trails park we could stay at for FREE! Lots of amenities including no license fishing and they are spending like crazy on new water and electrical supplies in the park. Better yet, when we looked up Jacky and Sharon's address it was only 4 miles from them and we were soon catching up on 30 years of news.
Jackie and Sharon
We first met Jacky and Sharon in Holland were Jacky and I worked in the same office designing ships for the Dutch Navy. Jackie was an apprentice in a shipyard in Scotland then hit the trail, freelancing around the globe like myself. In Baltimore Jackie and Sharon were expecting their first child and we were all eating at Bo Brookes Crab House when she went into labor! We share many friends and acquaintances and we've worked in the same places though not always at the same time.
Nice night at the RV Park
We had lots of catching up to do. To help they invited us too stay at their place near Orlando which they rent out to vacationing guests, (www.cookfamilydreamfloridavillarental.com). It's a really nice place with a pool, hot tub, multiple bedrooms and a screened in back yard to keep the mosquitoes away. After a few libations to lubricate our vocal cords we were deep into reminiscences.

We reminisced until 1am!
Hanging out at their pool
Next day we spent touring the sights, bars and restaurants nearby, then they came over to our place and we barbecued and reminisced some more. Eventually we caught up, made promises for next year, emptied the cooler, had one last meal together at a nice steak house and departed on our next adventure.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

North and South Carolina

For October it was surprisingly busy, but not too noisy. In fact we're liking it so much we're considering extending our stay for a few more days.

South, South ever South.
For almost 25 years I traveled from Maryland to Norfolk VA frequently. I worked on Navy ships and that's where the Navy kept them. At first I used to drive I95/I64 but with all the traffic around Washington DC it soon got old.
Our first major tunnel. The Hampton Roads tunnel to Norfolk
One trip I took with a co-worker and he suggested Rt3/301/17. I'd never been that way before but it turned out to be an excellent low traffic alternative. The only downside were the country cops who made a living off sailors from Norfolk going home at the weekends. At that time the roads were mainly 2 lane and the speed limit 55. If you went 60 there was a good chance of getting a speeding ticket. I paid my fine and slowed down!

Now that route is even nicer with 4 lane roads and 60 for a speed limit. The traffic thru Waldorf MD has got worse, but the cops are still looking for revenue!

We decided to stay at the Thousand Trails Chesapeake Bay Park in Gloucester VA. Just off Rt 17, it was a quiet and picturesque place but busy due to their weekend Halloween activities for kids. And for us it was FREE!

The boat launch at Chesapeake Bay RV Park
We posted our location on FB and a couple of friends from the San Diego Shanty Shakers RV club told us they too were in Virginia so we hooked up for lunch and chatter in Petersburg VA near Richmond. We caught up with news, talked over journeys and had a great time but as we were heading in opposite directions we had to break up the party and wish Bruce and Sue pleasant travels.

Bruce, Sue, Barbara and I doing the selfie thing
Although we have been to this area many times in the past we had never stopped at the Yorktown Victory Center, to pass a few hours we decided to rectify that. We had seen an ad in a local newspaper saying that this week was the 235th Anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown which effectively ended the Revolutionary War. There were special ceremonies and free admission.
Yorktown Victory Center
Well turns out that the ceremonies were not at the Victory Center but in the town of Yorktown. We had our National Parks passes. Except that this was a Virginia State facility not a National Park, so we had to pay anyway. We did get a Senior Discount though!

The "Doctor" explains Revolutionary War medicine
We continued on Rt 17 and crossed the State Line into North Carolina. In some construction we were following the posted 35mph speed limit and hit an unmarked severe bump that bottomed out the suspension on the rig breaking the weld on the bike rack, thanks VDOT!

A dramatic moment in the birth of Elkdom
We'd planned on staying at the New Bern Elks Lodge who have electrical hook ups, they also helped me find a local steel fabricators who could help fix the rack. Not only that but they told us we were welcome to have dinner with them that night at their “Meatball Cook Off”, the next night at their “Elks got talent” show and we could come in to the Lodge Sunday and watch the US Formula 1 Grand Prix on their 60” TV! Which we proceeded to do. We were “adopted” by a very friendly group and seated at their table each night. They introduced us to EVERYONE (so many we can't remember all the names). This is what being an Elk is all about, and we've found it in so many Lodges we've been to.

We got the bike rack repaired and I moved the brace I'd put in in order to strengthen the joint that broke. I “adapted” this rack to carry Barb's 3 wheeler and my own bike from a 2 bike rack that came with the rig. It's been great for 3 years and almost 30,000 miles, but that bump on 17 was just too much for it. Hopefully it will last a few years longer.
Fixed bike rack
Small stay to the left relocated for strength.
 We visited the “palace” in New Bern, which was the Governor's Palace when Britain ruled North America. Quite an interesting place but not original as it burned down many years ago and the present building was put up in the 1950's.
The Governor's Palace New Bern

Regal Palace gates

The Regal seal of King George

Tour guide in period costume
After lots of walking we decided that a cold beer was in order. We made our way to the local bar that had micro brews on tap. Disaster! It was closed on Tuesday! As we turned to leave a familiar couple came walking towards us. Chris and Cheri, who are know throughout the RV world for their great website and blog.
Cheri, Chris and Barbara
They are computer professionals who work and live on the road full time. They develop websites and apps and test computer and smart phone equipment then publish their results for our education. Thanks to them we set up our internet connection, phone booster and TV streaming system and got the T Mobile phone we used for internet and phone access in Canada.

The last time we saw them was in Vermont at the Escapees Rally earlier this year and in Tucson last year. What a small world! We chatted briefly, promised we'd add a link to their blog on our blog (Which we did, look at the right side of the screen) and found another bar with decent beer that was open on Tuesday. Thanks Prohibition Speak Easy!
Must be in the South, Spanish Moss in the trees.

Federal style houses New Bern
One last breakfast with the Elks then we set off South again. Now we're in Myrtle Beach SC to meet Barbara's cousin Helen and our old Maryland friend Barry.