Friday, June 2, 2017

See you in July, Siesta Beach!

Just before the Memorial Day weekend, Siesta Beach (Sarasota, Florida) was named the #1 beach in America. We were thrilled! We have taken friends and family to Siesta Beach and they all loved it. Click on coastal expert Dr Beach's website to see his list of the top 10 beaches in America. Read more here.
Siesta Beach,Sarasota
Exploring beaches is our passion. Thanks to the Mai Thai, we've had the opportunity to explore many alluring beaches that are otherwise inaccessible (Caladesi Island, number 7 on Dr Beach's top 10 list, is one such beach). We are especially fond of the beaches along the Florida gulf coast, the stretch of fine white sand from Sarasota to Clearwater, and from Alabama to the Florida Panhandle (affectionately known as the Redneck Riviera).
Kayakers heading towards Caladesi from  Honeymoon Island
Shell Island Beach, Panama City, Florida (Panhandle) 
Beach in Carlsbad, Ca
Assateague Island National Seashore, Berlin, Maryland
A trip to Sarasota or the Tampa Bay area would not be complete without spending a day on the beach. Make your escape to Siesta Beach utterly perfect with a side trip to one of these attractions:

Bayfront Park is a lovely park complete with a marina, restaurants (read my TripAdvisor review on O'Leary here), playground, and swings. There are also lots of boats available for charter. Great place to soak up some sun and people and boat watch.

St Armand's Circle and Lido Key Unique shops, art galleries and many restaurants offering  alfresco dining make St Armand a charming place to visit. Nearby Lido Key has acres of  recreation area with playgrounds, public pool, picnic tables, nice beaches and spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico. Traffic in and out of this area can get quite congested, so plan accordingly.

Ringling Museum and the Ca d'Zan mansion - The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, one of America's greatest institutions, brought down its curtain last month after 146 years. Sad news indeed. The good news is you can visit the Ringling Museum to see haunting relics of the greatest show on earth and experience the magic of the circus all over again.

Myakka State Park -  Located on opposite end of Siesta Beach (on Rt 72 past I-75), Myakka Park exudes Everglades ambience, with alligators and birds galore. Kids would love to climb the Canopy Walkway to the Observation Tower. Because of drought conditions, the Myakka river may be too low for an air boat ride. Check their website before going.

The beach is calling. See you on Siesta Beach!

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Weekend Reflections: Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park

Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park, California
Can you believe this picture was taken 28 years ago this spring?

It was my first time visiting Yosemite National Park, and I fell in love with it. An outdoor paradise with countless trails and breathtaking landscapes and vistas at every turn! My article on Yosemite National Park: Tips for First Time Visitors was published in Yahoo!Voices in January, 2013.

One of our favorite hiking trails was to Mirror Lake; it's an easy trail with BIG reward - a mirror reflecting the stunning scenery around it. Making it a perfect image to share on this website where bloggers share photos of reflection.

Hope you like it as much as I do!

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Yosemite National Park in the Spring Memorial Day weekend at Fort McRae Anchorage Fire in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Gatlinburg, TN

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring is the perfect time to explore artsy St Pete, Florida

Yesterday, a nor'easter wreaked havoc in the northeast (from Washington, D.C. to New England), bringing snow, sleet and rain to the region. Our weather in St Pete, Florida has deteriorated as well, with heavy rain Monday night followed by cloudy skies and 18-20 mph winds for most of Tuesday. Today's high is 57 degrees F, low is 47, and the wind hasn't abated much. Old man winter is not going away any time soon, even if Spring is less than a week away.

Not that we're complaining. We've had wonderful weather for the past three months. And we do need the rain. It's a good thing we had chosen to explore downtown St Pete this past Saturday.
Vinoy Basin (ferry to Tampa docked on the right)
stunning Sundial Shopping Complex
Downtown St Pete has grown leaps and bounds since we discovered this little gem about a dozen years ago. High rises continue to sprout all over town. There are restaurants galore. With a new ferry service connecting St Pete and Tampa, you can visit both cities without worrying about traffic and parking (call us biased, but boating on the Gulf side of Florida is the best!) We have fond memories of the iconic inverted pyramid at The Pier, which met its wrecking ball in 2015.
Inverted pyramid at The Pier
This past weekend, we were thrilled to catch a glimpse (albeit through the chain link fence) of the Grand Prix in action! The proof is in the video.

After strolling around the waterfront, we drove several blocks over to check out Chihuly's new location on Central Ave.

We wandered into an alley of cute shops and as we walked out the back, we were greeted with some creative murals.

Further up, we ran into some artists creating works of arts on dumpsters. Not sure if this was part of the Second Saturday Art Walk?
Mural artist at work
Every time we visit downtown St Pete, we come away feeling happy to have a neat place like this near us.

Hope you had a great weekend too!

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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!
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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!