Disclaimer: This was my first Florida trip with Marco last October 2014. There are two more trip worth coming from last Thanksgiving and also more recently this Valentine’s Day. Read it like it was last year, yeah?
So, this was unplanned. Just a couple of weeks ago Marco was interviewing with the Orlando Sentinel and now we are moving him down to Florida. But, what better time to have an adventure, right? We began this trip with a trek across Iowa on our way to Charleston, Illinois.
We wish that we had an extra week to actually do the traveling. I’m a person who likes to just spot signs and stop at roadside attractions, or every time I need gas to ask the people there what fun stuff is hidden locally. We had to be a lot more selective this trip because we did have a timeline. We left Thursday around noonish. We had planned on packing Wednesday night but of course had to do some final farewell drinks and dinner with friends. That’s one of those things you can’t avoid because it’s hard to tear yourself away when you (Marco) know you won’t be seeing them again likely for a long time.
We stop at A LOT of rest stops, well, because Marco has a bladder the size of a peanut. The upside to this however is that I often get to read a lot of text panels, stretch my legs, and sometimes see some gorgeous scenery. We stopped at several really gorgeous rest stops along the way.
Our one planned stop for Iowa was at The Candy Kitchen in Wilton, Iowa. This is a little gem our friends Ruth and Troy told us about. Wilton, a town of about 3,000, is a fairly typical little town except George and Thelma Nopoulos live there. This amazing couple in their 90s have lived in Wilton most all of their lives and actually met when Thelma worked at the Candy Kitchen as a young woman. The Kitchen opened in the 1860s and has existed in approximately the same location ever since. The Nopoulos Faily has operated it since 1910. The Candy Kitchen is an old-fashioned soda shop and the owners are a riot. Though we just intended to stop and grab ice cream to go we probably stayed close to 45 minutes, chatting and laughing, looking at photographs of important visitors, and deciding whether to buy the triple dipped malt balls or the chocolate covered peanuts (we got both). Road trip munchies.
From there, back on the road to Charleston. Marco was being inducted into the Eastern Illinois University Journalism Hall of Fame and so we had planned to spend a few days there over the school’s homecoming celebration. Luckily it worked out that Marco’s family was able to come down from Chicago as well. First thing Friday morning we had that ceremony and then back to the less serious stuff. We spent the whole weekend with Marco’s college buddies and had a great time at the homecoming game and the journalism department’s chili cook-off.
Sunday morning back on the road towards Florida. Now we had planned to pick one town and do some touristy things because as I mentioned we were on a time schedule here. Also, I refuse to eat at chain restaurants on vacation, even on a tight schedule. There are so many smart phone tools that allow you to figure out what the locals eat anywhere you are. Would it be easier to grab a cheeseburger? Sure, but then I wouldn’t have eaten this deliciously over-pepperonied pizza at Woody’s in Clarksville, Tennessee.
We randomly picked a place on the map for fun activities and the destination became Chattanooga, Tennessee. The goal was to see the site for the Battle Above the Clouds and Ruby Falls but we only managed the latter. By the time we arrived it was too dark to enjoy the museum and lookout point of the former. Battle Above the Clouds happened during the Civil War in which, it seems, a strange fog falls on the town blocking the site of the mountain while also blocking the view of town from above. Thus the battle on the mountain being named Battle Above the Clouds. We did get to go to Ruby Falls which was beautiful and intriguing. One of these posts coming up (I know, I get out of chronology) will be about the trip to Crystal Lake Cave in Iowa we took with my nieces and nephews. Similar in that you tour through a cave system with all sorts of interesting stalactite and stalagmite formations with cute little names given to them, but Ruby Falls has FALLS. Some of the tallest underground to be found. This was one of those times I wish I had a $1,000 camera. Marco thinks I unfairly critique museum and site tour guides. I think people should just be good at their jobs. Ours wasn’t too bad, though I felt we could have heard so much more historic background of the cave. I suppose she was a bit distracted by the two people on our tour who were out of their minds on some drug and kept falling hundreds of feet behind. Ahh, life experiences.
We camped out in Macon, Georgia. In which Marco insisted we eat Bacon in Macon before leaving in the morning, we did. Weird, floppy, continental breakfast bacon. Also, at rest stops in Florida you can get little tiny tasters of orange and grapefruit juice. Delicious. Again, local food at the Bakery Mill & Deli. The interwebs recommended I have the Reuben and boy did it win. Give me all your kraut and coleslaw. Finally in Florida by mid-afternoon. Luckily, Marco has a first floor apartment and not a lot of stuff. We managed to get everything in the car that he has. We left behind a box fan, a laundry basket, and Sprout. I won’t tell you about Monday, it was boring. Grocery shopping and unpacking.
Tuesday Marco and I weren’t planning anything but more unpacking and relaxing but decided to check out a local park called Wekiwa Springs. Supposedly it was to have a nice natural spring pool for bathing and that sounded like enough excitement for us for the day. What we found was wonderful beyond words. The spring pool area was like an oasis and we figured out you could rent canoes. Rent canoes to where? Up the river, we don’t know where it leads but sure! We are in the middle of the city (suburbs of Orlando) and not only is there this beautiful area but we also canoed up a river that would never give any sort of hint there was a city anywhere behind the trees. I’ve traveled a lot in my life but it always amazes me to look at trees and animals in the wild and have no clue what they are. Leapin’ lizards! And lots of them, name that movie!
Trees, plants, gators, and especially birds were all over the place. We canoed upon a little tiki bar island and pulled off to enjoy drinks with the locals. We met very few people born in Florida there but a lot of transplants who gave us a ton of suggestions for nearby points of interest. What a beautiful and relaxing day we didn’t plan on having….except when I fell in the water (because I was rescuing Marco) and thought I was going to be eaten by a gator. No big deal.
Tuesday we hit up a recommended spot, The Dandelion Café. Turns out they were having a comedy slam and even asked Marco to judge. The Café is a gourmet tea and vegan type place so we bought some fun drinks and settled in on the patio. Because it’s October and beautiful outside in Florida. Not everybody was great but it was good night of giggles. If you ask me, Marco is too kind of a judge.
NEXT STOP DISNEY WORLD! Well the Hollywood Studios portion at least. This was Marco’s first time and since he is like a 12 year old anyways, I knew it would be super fun. Also, he hadn’t ever been on a roller coaster before and I was sure excited to be the one taking him. The Tower of Terror was the best because he just giggled, not laughed, giggled the whole time. Not only did he grab me when the cart dropped but also the guy sitting next to us, AND the moment was caught on camera! Marco and I got our Disney personalities…what do you think that says about us?
Disney was a lovely time and I was really quite impressed with the service, movement of lines, 3 free fast passes, and the fact that you can bring your own food to save on bucks was wonderful.
Thursday evening was quite possibly the highlight of the trip. We went to Capone’s Dinner Theatre. Now, yes, we both LOVE theatre and musicals and dinner, but this was one of the most entertaining shows I’ve ever been to. The cast was spot on, all the “help” was always in character, and it was very participatory. The food was decent (some of the best we’ve, now months later, had at dinner theatres in Orlando). My favorite quotes from the show:
Old Lady: What time does the show start?
Our waiter (a real wise guy): Whenever the hell I want!
Waiter asks if he can take my plate and I say yes
Waiter: I like it, a real proper burial with the napkin on top like dat.
Marco especially got a show.
Friday Marco worked, I explored Orlando. The really amazing thing I wasn’t expecting from Orlando was the parks an lakes and wildlife everywhere. Lake Eola, just a couple of blocks from Marco’s work, is really gorgeous. Then I spent 5 hours at the Orange County Regional History Center (big surprise right?), a phenomenal museum with some great exhibitions. Their current exhibition was ‘Gone With the Wind’ which I, of course, loved.
That night we went down to the Halloween celebration at Old Town in Kissimmee. Good fun, photos can speak for themselves. Old Town is a great place to waste some time with a lot of restaurants and neat (over-priced as expected) knick-knack shops. We saw a random group of zombies break out Thriller, that was amazing.
SATURDAY WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BEACH DAY. BOOOOO! We had several beautiful and warm days, just for this one to be super cold and windy. But, as always we made the best of it and went to the Kennedy Space Center. Not enough hours in a day to spend at that place but we “did” as much as we could. We did go to the beach for just a little while and even though it was so cold it was beautiful. So many jellyfish!