Friday, November 16, 2012


Oyster Flats

Our focus today was a day trip to Apalachicola, Florida….about two hours east of PCB.  We took the scenic route and enjoyed view after view of the Gulf shores.  Lots of large herons, pastel houses and palm trees all along the way.

The town of Apalachicola sits on the shore of the Apalachicola Bay.  This is where 90% of Florida’s oysters come from.  This bay has ideal conditions for oyster growth, brackish water, shelter from barrier islands and incoming winds that help “salt up” the oysters.  Here, the oysters are still harvested the same way they've been harvesting them since 1800, by tonging them off of oyster bars in the bay.

Oyster Shells
It’s easy to see that oysters are the primary business here.  There are oyster boats everywhere and oyster processing plants all along the bay.  Each plant has a huge pile of oyster shells beside it…waiting to be returned to the bay to help provide anchoring for new oysters.

Oyster Boat Coming In
We stopped at the Up the Creek Oyster Bar where they proudly serve local oysters and lots of alligator dishes.  Between the four of us we tried about 1/3 of the menu including alligator chili, conch cakes and sweet potato donut holes.  Wonderful food with a great view of the oyster boats coming in with their catches.  Without a doubt, this is one of our favorite places to eat in this area…along with Hunt’s and Dusty’s. 

Apalachicola Old Cemetery
After lunch we went by some of the historical homes in the city.  The population of Apalachicola is about 2400, yet there are over 900 homes in the National Historic Register!  We finished up our visit with a stop to geocache at the old cemetery.  Graves there date back to the early 1800s and include the graves of 7 Confederate Civil War Veterans.  And yes, they are accorded the term “veterans” and their graves are marked with a bronze plaque as are Union vets.

We all love saying “Apalachicola”….it’s just a fun word to say.  Try it!  We've probably said it 50 or 60 times today.  I think I’ll say it few more times just for fun!  Apalachicola!  Apalachicola!  Apalachicola!

Florida Days

The Truman House

On Tuesday morning we headed about twenty miles west on Route 30A to visit the little town of Seaside, Florida.  This little community was built in the early 80s and was designed to look like an old-fashioned beach village.  Each house is a different color and they are built in different styles: Victorian, Neo-Classical, Modern, etc., and each house is named.   Everything looks so perfect it kind of reminds you of a movie set.  In fact, Seaside was the prime filming location for the movie, “The Truman Show”. 

Seaside has lots of little unique shops and restaurants, including several Airstream Trailers set up as food trucks.  We ate at one: Meltdown on 30A.  This truck focuses on grilled-cheese sandwiches (cheese toasties for my Decatur readers) and boy…these are some of the best grilled-cheese sandwiches we’ve ever had!  Yum!

This day turned out to be a day of seeing wildlife.  Deer along the road.  Four foot long manta rays.  Pelicans and egrets.  And, finally….alligators!  Saw the alligators in St. Andrews state park.  A five-footer was only a few feet off the trail and seemed be posing just for us. 

A cold front moved in last night so the temperature never hit 70 today.  Brrrr!  It’s not going to hit 70 again till Friday so we’ll just have to tough it out till then.

Our dollar on Dusty's ceiling
Wednesday morning was misty and chilly.  Kind of chilled out in the condo watching Jeff Dunham till lunch time, then headed for Dusty's for oysters.  A dozen oysters on the half shell were $6.95 and they were delicious!  Shrimp and oyster Po Boy's rounded out the meal....great little place!

Our next stop was to be an air boat ride.  We got there and waited for the rain to stop....never happened.  Postponed the ride till Thursday.

Headed back to the resort for a wine social at the club house.  Wine and cheese were provided and we met new friends from Ohio and Indiana.  Love these events!

We started our Thursday with a long walk through the resort property and then out on a pier at the nearby Wyndham Resort.  Saw lots of sea birds and hermit crabs, but no dolphins.

Geared up and ready to go!
Afterwards, we headed back to Dusty's for lunch and then to the airboat.  This time it wasn't raining so we boarded and headed west on the intercoastal waterway.

Did you know...  The intercoastal waterway was started in 1824 and stretches from Maine to the Mexican border in Texas...almost 3000 miles of safe waterways!  Safe, that is, from attacks: British attacks on American shipping are what started the whole intercoastal idea.  The waterway also provides protection against Altantic and Gulf storms, thus there is a lot of barge traffic here.  (Amazing what we learned from our airboat captain...a small slip of a girl who has been driving airboats for seven years!)

Best seat on the boat!
This ride was c..c..c..cold!  But, lots of fun!  We skimmed across the water at 30 miles an hour and learned that you stop an airboat either by hitting a tree or by doing a tight 360 degree turn.  We stopped lots of times, but without hitting a tree!  We turned into a creek where normally there are 10 foot and 12 foot alligators, but none today.  Too cold!
Sculpture in St. Andrews (Panama City)

Panama City was next on our itinerary.  We visited their small historical district and then had a drink at Uncle Ernies...watching in vain for the sunset.  We finally figured out that you can't have a sunset without a sun.  Duh!!!

Hunt's was our dinner location.  It's just a little hole-in-the-wall spot, but wow, great food!!!!  Thanks Shannon and April for the tip!

Made it back to the Marriott and to 30 Degree Blue to listen to karaoke...yep, just listen.  No singers in our group!  They had some really great singers, reminding us of our favorite haunt in Palm Desert.  Best was Summer who sang Adele's "Someone Like You".  Simply awesome!

Fun day in spite of the cold...but we are really hoping for some Friday sunshine!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

That 70s Show

Monte was born on November 12th, 1942…thus, November 12th, 2012 was his 70th birthday.  Being the birthday boy, he got to choose the activities for the day…..within reason….not my reason, nor Monte's, Aleta and Mona’s reason...of course.

The day started with cake, candles and cards on the balcony. Not long after, we headed to the Pier Park which is a huge (80+ shops) outdoor mall with an amusement park, Cineplex and 25 restaurants.  After hitting a few stores we headed for Margaritaville where we had a quick lunch and a rita or two.

Next up was “Skyfall” at the IMAX.  Bond did his best to impress Monte and succeeded.  Great movie!

Gator...or rabbit???
Earlier in the morning, Monte had read on the Internet about an Irish Pub called “Matty’s”…lots of great food and Art was to be found there.  Accordingly, that was our next stop.  Unfortunately, we found that not everything on the Internet is true and in fact, Matty’s is a heavy duty biker dive.  Monte decided he didn't want to get the Matty’s tat so we had a drink outside, watched pelicans flights and then sidled our way out. 

Birthday Creme Brulee
Back to the condo for wine, fire watching, and rabbit watching…Yep, rabbit watching.  There are several large wild rabbits near the firepit.  

Soon it was time for dinner at Firefly.  This is an amazing place (thanks to the Masons for the recommendation) and is a must-do for PCB visitors.  Word of caution…the she-crab soup is awesome…but don’t order anything else.  The soup i  so rich and filling that anything else is just too much!!!

Now back to the condo to crash and refresh.  Happy 70th Monte!  Thanks for sharing your birthday with us!

Monday, November 12, 2012


Grand Lagoon Boardwalk
Our hotel is located on a peninsula on the Grand Lagoon of St. Andrew’s Bay…not quite the same beach feel as you get directly on the Gulf.  We wanted that "Gulf Beach feel" so our first destination of the day was the beach.  We stopped at a city park and headed for the water.  PCB’s (Panama City Beach) beaches are pure white sand…almost looks like snow…and powdery soft.  It’s a beautiful contrast to the blues and aquas of the warm waves washing upon the shore.
Shelling on PCB

I suppose you’re wondering where all that white sand came from, aren’t you?  Yeh,  I knew it because I wondered, too.  Turns out that it is quartz crystals washed down from the Appalachians and ground down into fine powder over millions of years by the Gulf's waves.  Now.  You.  Know!

Next stop was the City Pier, jutting over a quarter of a mile into the gulf.  We got lots of great views of the crashing waves and the great shoreline of PCB.  We also saw huge manta rays and some jelly fish the size of softballs…glad we were on the pier!  But our best sighting was three dolphins headed straight for the pier.  Mona spotted them way out and the four of us watched as they got closer and closer.  Just as they got close enough for a good photo they disappeared.  Camera shy, I guess.

See them?!?!
One of the mandatory activities in PCB is souvenir shopping, so off we went hunting for the perfect memento.  Luckily, there are virtually hundreds of shops and mega-souvenir stores to choose from and some of them have bonus attractions like live shark feeding, alligators or even hermit crab racing.  Can it get any better than this?!?!?  (Actually, it can…there are ALL sorts of souvenir shops, catering to your every whim!  You’ll just have to visit PCB on your own to see what they offer.)

Got the shopping done so it was time to do some Veteran’s Day Wine Tasting.  (What vet doesn't like wine?!?!)  We started out with the Sea Breeze Winery which specializes in wines made from the local muscadine grape.  Lots of fun wines here!  Then, off to the Panama City Beach Winery.  This winery offers about 25 different wines, all designed by a chemical engineer and all made from fruit.  Wow, what incredible flavors…mangos, grapefruits, tomatoes and on and on.  They even have an orange based wine that has a perfect coffee finish.  These wines are amazing!!!  They even serve cheese ball samples that are paired with the wine.  Talk about a do-over place!

All that shopping and wine tasting wore us out so it was back to the condo for relaxing by the fire.  This is a great place for just chilling….at least till it was time for dinner.

Mona has been on a grits crusade this entire trip.  She’s had grits every time they’re offered.  Grits and butter, cheese grits, smoked cheese grits….you name it and she’s tried it.  This evening’s meal was no exception…triple cheese grits paired with fried shrimp.  Best grits so far!

First day in PCB is done…and what fun!  Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings….what surprises will come...what kind of animals or Art will we see...what kind of grits will Mona have next?!?!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Florida Bound!

Mona's Third Sunrise!

Monte’s 70th birthday is this week and he decided he wanted to celebrate it somewhere warm.  To meet that goal we set out early morning on Friday, headed to Panama City Beach, Florida.   In fact, we were so early that Mona got to see her third sunrise of the year!  In fact, I think it’s also her third sunrise of this century!  Of course, she was all aglow with delight….NOT!   It’s times like these that I think maybe she might have some of Bill and Eric’s blood in her!

Cotton Bales
We had never driven through the south at this time of year (M&A have, but we have not) and so it was our first time seeing the cotton harvest.  As like corn and beans, they use combines (they call them “pickers”) for harvest, but they only pick six rows at a time.  The picker ends up leaving huge ten-ton bales of cotton on the ground waiting to be hauled to the cotton gin.  Couldn't begin to count how many bales we saw….very impressive!

We spent the night at a Harrah’s hotel in Tunica, Mississippi.  This is the third-largest gambling area of the United States, behind Vegas and Atlantic City, and hosts ten casinos scattered along a ten mile strip of the Mississippi.  Like Vegas, the casinos look like neon palaces, but these are like the casinos in St. Louis; meaning that they are actually huge floating barges.  (Yet another archaic law…don’t get me started.)

One area has three casinos within walking distance so we visited each of them to try to donate to the local economy.  We finished up around 5:30 (not very hardcore gamblers, are we?) and headed to our car.  Much to our surprise, there were about 15 hot air balloons in the parking lot.  There were none when we went in!  It was the Balloon Glow for the First Annual Tunica Hot Air Balloon Fest.  We've always managed to miss the STL balloon glow and here we just stumbled onto this one!  They had a great band playing country rock and every few minutes the balloons would be fired up, glowing in the night sky.  Too cool! 

Saturday morning, Mona got to see her fourth sunrise of the century.  Somehow, I’m thinking this might be enough for her until the next century.  She said that from now on she wants to concentrate on sunsets.

We stopped for breakfast in central Mississippi.  This was M&A’s first Waffle House so Aleta decided that she must of course have a waffle.  Our food came…minus the waffle.  The three of us ate…still no waffle.  Flagged down the waitress…no waffle.  F…i…n…a…l…l…y the waffle!  I guess they wanted her first waffle to be absolutely perfect so they discarded twenty or thirty of them before they found the perfect first-timer waffle!

After about ten hours of driving we made it to our hotel, Marriott Legends Edge in Panama City Beach, Florida.  We were tired and hungry so after dumping our bags in our condo we walked over to get our first meal in Florida.  Seafood and martinis for all!  That’s the way to start a Florida vacation!!!