Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rest and Relaxation in Orlando

Orlando is a great side trip from the Tampa Bay area. Filled with attractions and theme parks galore, it is a popular destination for families. But that is not why we came here. Thanks to my sister who's visiting from Canada, we're spending some time at her timeshare - the lovely Marriott Harbor Lake in Orlando.

We drove from St Pete, and our first stop was Ming Bistro, our favorite place for dim sum lunch. There was a line when we got there. A good sign, right? Unfortunately it was not, and we won't be going back again. Here's my review of the restaurant. A funny thing happened though. My cousin Jolene and her family, whom we haven't seen for years, were seated right next to us. This impromptu meeting was sheer coincidence. Here is a family who really knows how to travel, having spent last five years in Singapore and a month wandering around Europe before returning to Florida. Great to see you Jolene et al, and happy new year!
Then it was off to the Marriott Harbor Lake timeshare.
Key West cottage style timeshare (front desk and clubhouse)
Enjoying the pirate-theme swimming pool
gorgeous hot tub/spa
We were early and got our room right away - a lovely 2 bedroom villa on the 4th floor overlooking the lake. At the back of the building, a path leads to a BBQ/picnic area (complete with gas grills) and swings facing idyllic wetlands and lush flora and fauna.
Nice King size bedroom

After setting up the WiFi and Roku (for our Korean dramas), we went to our favorite supermarket Publix for some groceries. Our Super Bowl dinner party - NE Patiots vs Atlanta Falcons - was a simple steak and salad. To our friends in the South - you know we used to live in Boston, so y'all please forgive us for cheering for the Patriots. But seriously, may the best team win!
found this in the clubhouse of at 55+ community in the St Pete area
Both our steaks and the football game were outstanding. At half time, with the Falcons leading the Patriots 21-3, we thought the game was over. Lady Gaga managed to keep the excitement going; on Facebook, friends kept saying it's not over until it's over. True enough, the Patriots led an epic comeback in the fourth quarter, erasing a 25 point deficit to win the Super Bowl in overtime! One of the most exciting games we've ever seen.

The next few days found us lazing around the pool and the gorgeous hot tub, doing yoga exercise, and enjoying the beautiful sunny weather. Life is good!
You might also like:
What do Apple and the Super Bowl have in common? Thought of the day: Giving thanks and feeling grateful Arts festival and a picnic in Sarasota, Florida

Friday, January 6, 2017

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017!

Happy New Year!

Looking back, 2016 was an awesome year with numerous highlights - two weddings, two national parks, wonderful harvests of myriad tropical fruits from our aunts' garden, and many opportunities to meet new members of our extended family.

We started the year with a small mishap - a flat tire while returning to St Pete from our annual visit with friends in South Florida. A weird bumpy noise on the road got us concerned. We pulled into the picnic area of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to find one of the tires just about ready to blow out. The captain replaced it with the donut spare and we drove cautiously back to St Pete, about a half hour away.
Sunshine Skyway Bridge
February found us in Calgary and Edmonton, Canada for our niece's wedding. Normally it's freezing this time of year, and we came prepared. Mother Nature was kind to us, bestowing us with mild temperatures; the winter clothes we brought stayed in the suitcase. In Edmonton, we stayed at an AirBnB home, our first experience with the outfit.
Isn't this AirBnB home pretty? 
Beautiful on the outside, the house was a total disaster inside. Dirty carpets, cheap wimpy bathroom towels, uncomfortable beds and skimpy linens greeted us. Soap and shampoo? Forget about it. Don't even get us started on the mismatched dishes and utensils in the kitchen. For the money paid, we could've stayed at a nice hotel with all the luxurious amenities. Did we mention there were sounds of baby crying in the basement at night? Creepy to say the least. We were told not to park on the right side of the driveway. We guessed a family was living in the basement but hadn't the vaguest idea where they entered the home. We did not dwell on it. All the discomforts were instantly forgotten when we gathered to celebrate with family and friends at the special wedding on Valentine's Day. After the event, we took an exhilarating trip to winter wonderland at Banff National Park - read more of our post here.


In June, we bought a small home near our aunts' in the Tampa Bay area. The next month, we hosted three sets of relatives, from Oakland, Houston and Boston. They were delighted to discover new beaches and places to eat, and thrilled to pick tropical fruits like mangoes, longans and starfruits. They had just missed the glorious lychee season. Boy, were they delicious!
Sweet juicy lychee ripened in mid June - this season was the best they've ever had. 
Picking starfruit from our aunt's garden
Longans almost ready to be picked
Another wedding took us to Boston. We arrived much earlier than the celebration so we could join family for a week in lovely Bar Harbor, Maine. It has been a long time (twenty-two years!) since we visited. We binged on the fabulous Maine live lobsters, and admired the spectacular ocean views while hiking the countless trails at the beautiful Acadia National Park.
Famous Maine lobsters and blueberry pie
Hiking Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park
We met up with many friends and relatives, and walked all over Boston, Cambridge and Brookline. Read about our Boston blog post here. We also made it to the famed Brimfield Antique Show in Western Massachusetts.
While in New England, we also visited friends in Montreal and took a side trip to Quebec City, The last time we visited Quebec City was also the time we went to Bar Harbor (we had taken the ferry to Nova Scotia and drove all the way to the Gaspe Peninsula before stopping in Quebec City). The historic walled city was packed with tourists, but what a fascinating place! Check out mvmaithai's review on Les 3 Brasseurs, where we had an excellent Québécois meal.
Chateau Frontenac
Back in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we did a little boating and some fall activities with our marina friends.
Cruising on Guntersville Lake, Guntersville, Alabama
Fall outing to Wooden's Apple House in Dayton, TN
Hiking Point Park at Lookout Mountain
In some ways we are glad 2016 is over. The battle for the White House took its toll on everyone. For the entire year, not a day went by without some kind of news (mostly bad from finger pointing to blaming) about the candidates from both parties. When friends refer to their neighbors as Hillary or Trump people, you know this country is more divided and polarized than ever. We're thankful the election is finally behind us. We wish for a better and brighter future for America and its citizens, and hope both parties will unite and work together on the issues facing our country.

On the brighter side, the holiday season in the Tampa Bay area was studded with amazing holiday lights and decorations. At least 3 places took our breath away - The Oakdale Christmas House which apparently has been in the making for 40 years and has appeared on HGTV and NBC's Today Show, the Florida Botanical Garden, and the Lake Park neighborhood.

Oakdale Christmas House in St Pete
Lights at the Florida Botanical Garden
While en route to spend the holidays with our friends in S. Florida, we caught a glimpse of horseback riders treading in the water around the Sunshine Sky Bridge park area. Again, we stopped to soak in the scenery. A perfect picture, A perfect farewell to 2016.


Happy New Year, y'all!