This past week, we've been down on Sanibel Island, off the gulf coast of Florida. It was a trip entirely unlike any we've had before: relatively spontaneous, unplanned, and genuinely relaxed. I think we need to do this a little more often.
The trip happened because my Dad decided to spend several weeks on Sanibel this year, and leaned on the kids to come visit. He got my stepbrother for a week, my stepsister for several days, and the two of us for the final week. So unlike our usual vacations, planned two years in advance, this one was done with just a few weeks' notice. And because we'd been so busy for the previous couple of months, we went into it having made no plans whatsoever of what we were going to do.
In fact, we didn't *do* very much. It's weird having a vacation that doesn't get a blow-by-blow diary, but there's no point: the days had an intentional sameness to them. I suspect I'd eventually get restless with it, but as a change of pace it was quite nice.
The central activity of each day was a bike ride. Two of Sanibel's distinguishing features are that (a) almost every road has a bike path along it, and (b) the island is very, very flat. Combine that with a near-perpetual traffic jam on the island's main drag, and everyone gets around on bicycle. We rented a couple of cheap 6-speeds (plenty good enough for the purpose), and went out for a leisurely ride each day -- four miles to start with, up to eight once she was comfortable with the bike. (Plus an extra four-mile sprint for me several of those days, to get my blood really moving.)
My family being what it is, we were of course never far from the digital teat. Between five of us there (me and msmemory, Dad and his wife Sandy, and their friend Carol who was also visiting in the middle), we had four laptops, all with Net connections. It was fairly common to find us all sitting around, working online in the middle of the evening -- everyone agreed that we were all daft, but that didn't stop us.
The entertainment for the week was watching my father deciding to buy a condo down there. This was one of those times that demonstrates how true the Waks family breeds: Dad has been dithering about doing this for over ten years now, but once he made up his mind it all went very quickly. He rethought the finances this time, thinking of it as mainly a rental property instead of a vacation home, and concluded that, viewed in that light, the property prices down there are merely silly, instead of downright stupid. The amounts are still stratospheric, but it looks pretty likely to happen.
The condo complex was Pointe Santo de Sanibel. No surprises, but very pleasant overall. We spent some time wandering up the shore picking at the seashells (Sanibel has an insane number of seashells -- the beach is nothing *but* shells in many places), marinating in the jacuzzi, and stuff like that. The complex has a small lagoon in the middle, with a cute family of turtles and allegedly a small alligator. (I never saw the 'gator, but msmemory think she saw his googly eyes sticking up out of the water at one point.) We watched 1.1 sunsets, the national sport of Sanibel. (The .1 was a mis-timing the first time we tried -- we got out to the beach in time to watch the last five seconds of the sun setting.)
We spent one late afternoon out at the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge, which makes up a large chunk of the island. This was curious mostly because the wildlife on the island seems to be almost entirely birds. I kept hearing accounts of bobcats and raccoons and suchlike, but never saw any land mammals other than a few pet dogs. But birds the island has in abundance. The main sport in the Refuge was catching sight of some Roseate Spoonbills, a large pink bird that can be found around and about in there. And sunset in the Refuge was really lovely: we went up in the "tower" (a small open three-story structure on a causeway), and watched lots of birds flying home for the night.
As you'd expect on a vacation island, there were a pretty good collection of restaurants. The places we went:
- The Island Cow is the mellow eatery. Huge menu, with sections of everything from salads to quesadillas to all sorts of fish. (The menu simply prices the fish by category, and posts which fish are in each category today on the blackboard.) Inexpensive and consistently good.
- We went to The Mad Hatter for Valentine's Day. This is the fancy, relatively pretentious restaurant at the west end of the island, up by Captiva. The food is quite good, but the pretension got to me a bit -- the preparations were all these cylindrical things where all the elements are stacked up on top of each other, and the service was rather snooty. Good in absolute terms, but not really quite our taste.
- Much better was The Twilight Cafe. which was excellent in all respects. The foods were intensely flavored from start to finish, the service friendly, and the prices not *quite* as horrid as those at The Mad Hatter. It has special menus for both veggie and low-carb, which appear just as good as the meat-eater's menu -- I had the portobello appetizer, served with mozzarella and tomato, all drenched in an tingly-rich balsamic reduction. Dad says this is the best restaurant on the island, and I see no reason to doubt him on this.
The travel itself was generally pretty unremarkable -- United's theoretical bankruptcy didn't affect us except by giving us a pretty good round-trip fare. Only notable leg was the final one last night (Chicago to Manchester). Due to mechanical issues, we were stuck on the tarmac for the better part of two hours. However, the plane was deserted (maybe 50 people on a 757), so we claimed a spacious exit row, let ourselves be plied with the free movie and drinks and food the captain authorized, and actually had a pleasantly mellow time of it.
So -- home again, home again, jiggety jig. A little more relaxed, which we definitely needed. We're going to have to re-examine how we treat vacations: while we enjoy going places that are exciting and cool, I think we need to do nothing a bit more often...