Friday, February 17, 2017

Florida, gulf side, beautiful and shell-y Food/travel

I delayed writing this, thinking my photos on the phone can be saved. The Mike is working on that for me.  (thankful I have a techy in house).  I don't have all those photos yet, but I do have ones I shared with people  while I was on the trip :-) Thus, I hope I'm forgiven for not having posted this in January!)

During the middle of January I went to Florida with a friend and child. She had reasons to 'get out of Dodge' for the weekend and had thought of Sanibel Island.  Let me google that, I said. WOW, count me in!  

As with any flights from 'fly over land' midwest, it essentially takes all day to fly somewhere.  My flight departed home at 6:15am Central and I landed in Ft Myers FL at 6:30pm Eastern.  I tried to get on a direct/earlier flight from Ohare to Ft Myers and no, I couldn't, unless I wanted to pay a couple hundred dollars for a flight that wasn't even an option when I booked.  On the plus side, I can say I've been to Charlotte NC airport and it is expensive ;-)  
Cotton Candy skies.
As with all flying/travel, I packed food for travel.  I had my Tanka bars, homemade 'granola' mix of sunflower/pumpkin seeds, Guittard chocolate chips, Trader Joes coconut flakes and dried cranberries. I also had cheese, some yogurt tubes (Siggis brand) and since it was early in the morning, I packed some hard boiled egg whites as well (which I ate at the airport, not on the plane).
Gorgeous dinner plate hibiscus at the hotel
After landing, I met up with my friend right at the airport. The car rental agency is right out the door (love airports like this).  We hit up Outback Steakhouse for dinner (they're great for being gluten free/celiac and soy intolerant (soy oil/protein/flour), then Target for some small groceries, before heading over to the Island ($6 toll/fee for a trip on/off the island--only pay going in).  We checked into the HolidayInn which is undergoing a restaurant rehab, and we knew ahead of time we'd get to dine out more for this, and which turned out to be an outdoor walk-up hotel--seems appropriate for an island. Seemed weird to not have a deck.  FYI:  Sprint does not have much cell service on this island.  I had phone service at the hotel, but not out on the steps which were concrete--dropped a call to The Mike when I tried to walk up the stairs while talking to him.   

Our first day on Sanibel we got up and had some stuff in room we'd gotten at Target (Milk, yogurt, and my granola), as well as OJ from the hotel.  They had some prepackaged danishes, but no UDIs. For whatever reason, Holiday Inn Express has UDIs available. Holiday Inn does not.  
Bowman Beach
We headed over to the beach recommended by the hotel staff for shell collecting. The hotel also gave us a 'shell bag' which was a sling/backpack made mostly of mesh for the sand.   Bowman's Beach was our first beach. Seashell galore at 11am. I can only imagine what it looks like at 5am after the tide goes back out.  I slathered on SPF 30 several times, including before we left the hotel.  (SPF 30 because I had a lot of travel bottles that size and I was flying with carry on luggage only!).  I also had a couple of the Athleta SPF swim shirts to wear over swim wear, which I thought was great as a cool breeze came off the water sometimes. As I said, Bowman's Beach had a lot of seashells. We were good with picking up ones that had been broken and worn smooth by the water, but I know others may want whole shells. I think getting there earlier in the day would be good if that's your goal.
Angel Wings
I have no idea what this bivalve is aside from being called 'angel wings'.  I did find one that was closed and still intact, and sent it back to the water :-)  
More shells 
We had lunch at Cheeburger Cheeburger. I've never even heard of this place before, but it looked good.  We checked out the menu posted to the front window.  Both of the adults were *so* concerned if they could do gluten free (and excited when we saw GF buns on the menu) that we *both* completely missed seeing the "we cook in peanut oil" on the menu.  Thankfully my friend's child is not reactive to peanut oil in the air. My understanding is that very few peanut allergy people are allergic to it in the air.  I had a wonderful hamburger with egg on top and the bun I couldn't tell was GF when eating the bottom portion with the hamburger.  The place had a fun decor, with cutouts of Hollywood people, and photos on the wall of people who ate the monster burger and fries. 
My phone died while we were inside. No food photo.
Off we went to the hotel to charge our phones (and I remembered to put mine on airplane mode while we were away from the room).  Later, we headed to the hotel beach. It was a nice with the afternoon sun on the beach. The water was a little chilly in and fairly level. It took a while wading out until the water was up to my armpits and chin.  

The hotel section of the beach also had recliner chairs, and there are specific beach towels provided by the hotel for use out in the sand.

I was wondering when I'd see warning signs, and this was the first one I saw. It was past the hotel buildings and on the way to the beach.  The hotel has a little lagoon area where the sign is posted. Somehow I saw the sign and missed the water rinse off are right next to it.  
This sign pretty much screamed to me:  do not go for a daybreak run 
I went back to the hotel before my friend, so I could call The Mike. While I was sitting on the concrete curb talking to him--hey, I was enjoying the sun and cell reception--two ladies came riding up on bikes. I noticed the one had an awesome calf/ankle tattoo of the USA outline with 26.2 inside.  We made eye contact and I mimed that I loved her tattoo.  I couldn't talk since I was on the phone with The Mike, but she asked and I answered I had done five.  Runners--we are everywhere :-) 

We went to Island Cow for dinner. A little bit of a wait, but I thought the place was awesome.
1. I grew up a dairyman's daughter and granddaughter, and niece. This place has Holstein dairy cow decor everywhere :-)  
2.  Our waitress was very knowledgeable about the gluten free menu and confirmed that soy oil (and definitely not soy protein/flour) would not be used in cooking. 
3. This place had *real* butter on the table. Not butter spread, not margarine, but real butter.
I had the Paella. It was delicious.  After having a clam and mussel, I gave the others of those items to my dining partner.  She likes them more than I do. Shrimp and fish and chicken. Tasty.  
Island Cow Paella 

 The next day we went to the Lighthouse Beach.  The parking was a bit larger and we were lucky to get a spot.  We were there earlier too, at 10am.  Someone leaving gave us their parking pass, which was for an hour.  We were going to use it, but then someone else came along and they said they were only going to be there for a little bit, so we gave them the hour permit.  Each beach has parking, but you have to pay $4 an hour to park (and can do half hours), with the receipt displayed in your car window.   Lighthouse beach wraps around the edge of the island. It does have an old lighthouse on the island which is roped off.  It's a good beach for sand castle building. As we stayed there, the tide was getting to low tide, which made it a little easier to find seashells out in the water. Where we were on the island/water, the ground went out for about two feet and then had a drop down of a foot or so. This is where I found a lot of shells that looked old, had holes in them, and a small handful of ones that were completely intact.
Since my phone is old, I was brave and went out in the water with it.  This far out and the ground was still flat, no drop offs.  We saw some dolphins out further and I wondered at what point the land dropped off. It doesn't. The dolphins were basically swimming in 4 feet of water.  

Another view of being out in the water.  Looking at Sanibel:

 The south side of the Lighthouse beach, where we first came from the parking lot, had some shells (below), but not as many as Bowman's. As we went around the corner by the Lighthouse, there were fewer and fewer of these shells.  
 After the beach, we went to the Lighthouse Cafe which was in a strip of buildings/businesses nearby. Handy, and a nice variety of food. They even had real maple syrup for sale, from Vermont.  We laughed, because there aren't Maple trees on the island ;-)  I had a burger, no bun, and a side salad,  along with part of the cantaloupe my friend ordered (which comes as half a cantaloupe!).  Cool place, with the walls lined with lighthouses from the world over.  I've been to two that were posted on the walls.  We went to a store nearby where I found a sand dollar locally made into a Christmas ornament.  The store owner told us about sea shell collecting, when the best time is, how to tell if a sand dollar is still alive, and more.  Very nice place.

Then we went back to the hotel for some downtime, organize our luggage, sort through out shells.

Did I gather too many?

We stayed in Saturday evening and had restaurant left overs (for my friend and her child) and I had some Annies Mac and Cheese microwave bowl I had picked up at Target. Being out in the water for hours wore us out, apparently. We were tired!  

Sunday morning it was my turn to go down to the hotel beach for dawn to break the sky.  It was windy, as a storm was definitely moving in, and I found several more shells, several of the bivalve ones which were quite large (one almost the size of my hand).  
Dawn, the sun arises.  

On the beach at dawn. Surprised this photo is so washed out, as it was darker than the sunrise photo. 
We didn't have to leave the island for some time on Sunday, so we went to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Bring your national park passport book for the stamp. A nice museum with a good sized gift shop. This might be the first place to visit, as they had reef friendly sunblock for sale, at a fairly reasonable price too.  For just a few dollars per car, you can drive the road through the preserve, as well as take a few jaunts if you're so inclined-in areas where the alligator sign is displayed.   FYI: When you drive through the preserve, make sure everyone is seatbelted in the car!  Someone was pulled over by national park police just after the pay kiosk.  Later, we encountered a woman and child who was venting about having a $150 ticket for not having the children seatbelted in the car. She said her daughter stayed with the baby in the car when we had our encounter with her---especially if you have a job/career that would highly frown upon such a ticket.    
Barely in the park and we saw this guy at the side of the road. There were several others in the trees as well.
There are a couple areas where you can get out of the car for better viewing and photos.  
 When I asked one of the volunteers, I was told s the birds were laying low because it was windy for them.  I was a bit in disbelief, since the wind seemed to be maybe 5mph, but there were calls for bad winds in the afternoon. The volunteer said the fish fed earlier in the day and then lay low during storms.  
Always on guard around wildlife
Before we left, we had lunch at Sanibel Fish House. I figured, Gulf of Mexico, seaside, fresh fish made gluten and soy free would be easy to have. . .and I thought wrong. It was like an Applebees. The hostess said the wait staff would help me. The wait staff seemed clueless, but picked up the menu towards him and proceeded to browse through reading things off I could have, which I couldn't see on the menu because I didn't have it.  The manager came over and told me about a handful of entrees I could have, and she really suggested the spaghetti squash.  I was told no fresh fish for me.  No Salmon, no Mahi Mahi. The manager said not even the appetizer of steamed shrimp.  I ended up with the spaghetti squash served with side of julienne squash and zucchini--and a handful of steamed shrimp (um, what? shrimp? I thought the manager said the shrimp wasn't possible!).  Plus, they used "butter". The manager kept saying butter, but she really meant margarine/butter spread.  

That was Sanibel/Florida. It was gorgeous compared to winter in the Midwest. 

Two hour delay in Ft Myers due to weather.  I thought it was the strong winds at 4pm (like 30mph with 50mph gusts), instead there were bad storms between Chicago and Fl which delayed the flight. There was also an emergency on board of some sort as there were about ten paramedics and a stretcher at the gate for the plane.  

No running while on the trip, unless you count running through Ohare when the flight attendants told me I could make my connecting flight home (I didn't and my low back was angry with me for having run).  An overnight in a hotel and I was home by 1pm the next day.  I got to the airport for the two hours ahead of time, even though I didn't have checked luggage, as I didn't know what Chicago TSA would look like. I  got through fairly quickly,  and ended up walking laps in the airport. My flight departed down one of the staircases as well, and boarding wasn't happening, so I also did steps, up the stairs, down the stairs, up the stairs, down the stairs. I provided some entertainment for gawking men who were skeeving me out, so I stopped for a period until they moved on.  Over 11,000 steps by the time I got on the plane :-)  

Next adventure?  Little Rock half marathon--I'll be one of the walkers! One day I hope to be healed from this car collision and able to run again.   Do you know how big those medals are???