Thursday, October 12, 2006


It was good to finally have a vacation after almost two years without one. And, having two weeks off in a row, and actually going somewhere, was the best. I remember reading, years ago, about how having only one week off isn't really a vacation because it takes that long just to relax. Having a second week off allows the body and psyche to get the benefit of the vacation.

In the European countries folks have anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks off annually as their "holiday." Here in America it's considered a sin to take any time off more than a week and, when you do, you're expected to take work with you. I'm sure that's probably another reason why Americans are so anxiety ridden and unable to kick back and relax. Vacation is supposed to be just that - a vacation. A time to rest and recuperate, rejuvenate. Doctor's orders: Take two weeks off, enjoy yourself and don't call me in the morning. Go have fun.

So we went to Sarasota, Florida for two weeks. Drove down to Baltimore to drop the dog off at my sister's and then flew to Tampa. From Tampa we took a shuttle to Sarasota. The flight down was only two hours but by the time we finally got to our destination, it was well beyond day's end. The inconvenience was soon forgotten, however.

The next day, my first ever in Sarasota, was to be a beach day. Swim in the Gulf of Mexico, walk the pristine beaches and soak up the late September sun. I read where the sand at one of the beaches we went to, Siesta Key, was actually quartz. Milleniums ago minerals washed down from the Appalachia's to the gulf and became the beach.

When we walked on the beach that first day, the sand was a white, soft powder and cool to the touch. It was like walking on flour. The day was hot, the sky was bluer than blue and the breeze coming in off the water was refreshing.

After about 15 minutes we began coughing and hacking. The backs of our throats became sore and scratchy. Our eyes watered. It became difficult to breathe.

What we saw all along the water's edge and in the shallows was red seaweed and dead fish. The Red Tide was in, all along the coast line for as far north and south as we were ever going to travel this holiday, and it wasn't going away any time soon.

Later on during the second week of our stay we spoke with residents who said that the effects of the Red Tide happens every year. They also said that it was lasting longer than in previous years. They were used to hacking and coughing and having difficulty breathing. One couple said that they lived three miles inland and still felt its effects.

In the local papers we read about ongoing studies to measure the effect of the Red Tide on people with asthma and allergies and other breathing problems. It appears that the Red Tide is pollution driven and kills off all marine life it comes in contact with. The seaweed dies when it washes up on shore and releases airborne spores. The dead marine life also washes up on shore and rots in the sun.

As a result, we spent one evening sitting on the beach watching a beautiful sunset, one evening sitting on the rooftop deck of Sharkey's Restaurant and Tiki Bar drinking Marguerita's, and one brief afternoon walking on the otherwise pristine beach. We also spent more than four hours in a medical clinic seeking treatment.

While we were in Sarasota we went dancing at the Ritz, shopped at St. Armand's Circle, visited the John Ringling Museum and grounds, went to Myaaka State Forest where we saw tons of alligators, and toured around Sarasota, Venice and Bradenton.

While we were in Venice we stumbled onto an antique car show. We walked among '57 Chevy's, '65 T-birds, saw a 1966 VW Microbus, and even an old Henry J, among many other beautifully restored cars.

The Sarasota area is no longer a sleepy town. Where there were fishing shacks and old wooden docks, there are now high-rise condos and sleek motor cruisers. Where there were once orange groves there are now $300,000 ranchers with in-ground pools. Even the downtown area has changed. Whole Foods, Starbucks and luxury high rise condos intermingle with art gallerys and other small businesses.

We walked around downtown Sarasota and, in front of Cafe Bijou, saw a life size sculpture of Andy Warhol. I took a picture of Julie sitting on a bench at the side of a large sculpture of a clamshell and water fountain. We went in and out of the small shops and art galleries, taking a gander at wares that were increasingly appealing to upscale folks.

In St. Armand's Circle we wandered through shops that sold pretty much anything you wanted to buy, assuming you had enough money. I saw a pair of men's shoes that were a steal at $200. Unfortunately, the only way I was going to get them was to steal them so I walked away empty handed. Julie, an inveterate shopper, did get some real deals at some of the exclusive stores.

Being a people watcher by nature, I couldn't help but notice the many perfectly shaped breasts on women between the ages 18 and 80 as we cruised St. Armands and, later on, while dancing at 15 South. It seemed like the norm for women in Sarasota was to have blonde hair and wear black, low cut dresses that accentuated their breasts. It seemed like the older the woman the more perfect was her body. Days later I started noticing the clinics that advertised breast enhancements and body sculpting.

One day we went to Bradenton and toured the Village of the Arts. The Village is a six square block area of renovated housing that four or five years ago was an urban blight. The City decided to offer the area up to artisans of all types who would rehab the houses, live in them and use them for their studios. Then, to open their studios up as galleries and invite the public in. Houses went for $50,000.

The artists moved in, rehabbed and painted the houses in a fantastic display of colors and set up shop. The first Friday and Saturday of every month there's an art walk. Literally hundreds of people attend and it's a huge success. Houses in the six block area now go for more than $300K and, just like in Sarasota, people can no longer afford to live there.

We spent much of our time the second week hanging around the pool at our host's house. It was a very relaxing time. We got up around 9:30 - 10 in the morning, ate a leisurely breakfast and then toured around in the afternoon. At the end of the day we came back and jumped into the pool. A couple times we took a late night swim under a mostly full moon's light.

We did have a nice time, all in all. Our hosts were as pleasant as could be and we all got along well. We went out together several times to eat and to dance. Generally Julie and I would wander around during the day by ourselves and, in the evening, after work, we'd all do something together.

We went dancing at the Ritz several times. Live music. Drinks. Friendly crowd. Good atmosphere.

It was a really nice vacation and I'm glad I went. We took 118 pictures to immortalize the trip. Every day, except for one rainy day, the sun was bright, the temperature was 88 -90, and the sky was cerulean blue.

It was a two week vacation that was enjoyable, relaxing and fun.


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