My friend L loves to travel; she has been to some amazing, incredible places around the world. L is one of those people you can really talk to about anything but when you get her on the subject of travel she really enthuses. L mentioned, prior to her recent trip to Florida, that she would love to do a blog post. I was delighted to offer L the chance to Guest Post for me & hopefully, you will hear a lot more from L on Happy Mummy in the coming months and years!
Florida Trip Review:
My initial impressions of Tampa were formed by the views I witnessed from Tampa Bay whilst cruising along, what I now know to be called Sunshine Skyway bridge and I must admit to being mesmerised by the bay’s translucent water which reflected the sunset and already set the mood for the start of a tropical, relaxing break over the course of the week. A quick, local and what is termed easy fix cuisine was sampled at a branch of Pei Wei, which I would describe as perhaps being a no-frills, American equivalent of Wagamama’s, equally offering Asian fusion dishes, and as such is ideal for a meal on the run. The rice bowls are particularly appetising with vegetable and seafood options with reasonably sized portions and there are bottomless drinks on offer as well, the iced tea was certainly appreciated as a refreshing alternative to the fizzy drinks to combat the tropical weather!
A particular highlight of the trip that has continued to leave a lasting impression on me, was a visit to the Gospel Brunch Buffet at the Blue Rooster in Sarasota. The brunch occurs every Sunday starting at 11.30am and reservations are recommended! The setting is in Downtown Sarasota on what appears to be a quiet, unassuming road until the peals of music can be heard from the band practising inside the venue! The road is nestled amongst others in that vicinity resembling the names of fruits such as Fruitville Street and Lime Street! Brunch never quite seems complete to me without the possibility of sampling a sparkling beverage and as such I was pleased to see some aperitifs referenced on the specials board and so ordering a Bellini satisfied that aspect! The buffet was southern style with highly recommended staples such as macaroni cheese and there were even fried green tomatoes available, which were a first for me!
The gospel band performed an impressive two sets and so kept the brunch eating crowd engaged!
It certainly felt apt to explore the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens by foot after such sumptuous food for brunch! A Marc Chagall exhibition was on display during such time but throughout the gardens were also several examples to be found of stained glass windows painted by Chagall. It was also interesting to locate the various quotes by Chagall, peppered around the gardens, which broached the subject of the relationship between art and flowers. A selfie stop and a hugging tree were some of the unusual features within the gardens but walking through the mangroves by the waterfront proved to be such an idyllic setting and offered some respite from the tropical heat!
As the St Armand’s island area is within the vicinity of the gardens it provided the ideal opportunity to combine the visits. Such area seemed to have a slight European influence judging by the lovely French patisserie nestled amongst the delightful artisan boutiques!
It was also a delight on another occasion to visit a family run local eaterie in the form of Carmelo’s in Punta Gorda which is in a slightly more residential area. However, Carmelo’s is quite the hidden gem with its Italian cuisine being made to order. The chicken limoncello dish certainly stood out in my memory, especially as it was not a dish that I had encountered on any other Italian menu previously and it was also rather delicious! Such quality cuisine also enhanced the ambience and the garden area is well lit and creates an intimate setting. An early reservation is recommended as the restaurant shuts at 9pm but it is certainly worth making the trip to Punta Gorda to experience such well-made cuisine!
I also successfully managed to avoid Disney World on a day trip to Orlando but still couldn’t escape from the Disney merchandising as there was a Disney Character Warehouse as the shopping mall outlet! I must admit, however, that the gleaming white Disney castle does look impressive from a distance whilst in Orlando!
Whilst back in Western Florida, the sight of so many signs providing directions to the Gulf beaches finally tempted me to succumb to the desire to visit such sandy shores. Manasota Beach fulfilled such desire with its clear aqua waters and powdery sand on which I managed to spot a shell or two! It seems that beach yoga was also being offered at this end of the beach!
Driving through a canopy of trees provided such a pretty background en route to Englewood Beach. Live music and happy hour at the Gulf View Grill by the beach were an attractive option and therefore a refreshing cocktail before sunset was welcomed! The grill was rather tranquil and opposite Englewood beach with a formal dining area upstairs. Listening to the live band, Black Velvet, also added to the relaxing ambience and it provided the ideal location from which to visit the beach to capture the sunset! It certainly seemed to be a popular activity amongst the locals as the beach was teeming with people as the sun went down.
The theme of being beside the sea continued with a trip on another day to the Sarasota Bayfront. However, prior to doing so, I had eagerly been awaiting the opportunity to stop by the renowned statue in Sarasota known as Unconditional Surrender. I had previously witnessed couples replicating the pose adopted by the sculptures within such statue and I was keen to photograph the statue myself given how imposing and symbolic it is! Such statue is meant to be representative of a scene that occurred during victory celebrations following a war.
The Sarasota Bayfront and marina is a pleasant destination within close proximity of the statue and a walk along the pier whilst marvelling at the boats docked was a nice way to while away an afternoon. I also found the shell pattern embedded within the tiles on the Bayfront to be rather interesting and imagined that it may be a symbol of Sarasota. It also seems that there is quite the Italian influence close to such area with signs to Venice and Naples! I also discovered that the references to the Tamiami Trail within such vicinity was an abbreviated form of reference to the road travelling from Tampa to Miami!
Another highlight within the trip was a visit to Phillippi Creek Village in which the happy hour was certainly indulged! It seems that such happy hour commenced rather early at 3pm even by our UK standards! However, it was not the only enticing element of the venue as it has alligator statues at its entrance and its food menu is contained within a newspaper! The restaurant is a themed one with other statues contained inside, adding to its charm. Sitting outside by the dock area it only seemed apt to consume the local fish, tilapia, to accompany the refreshing cosmopolitan!
In keeping with the alligator theme, a trip was taken to Gator Club on Orange Street. It is situated in a section of the road with a plethora of bars and restaurants in the downtown historical side of Sarasota. Despite it being a Thursday night, the bar was not as busy as one may be accustomed to in London or other European cities on such a night but there were still many locals out for the evening.
There was an impressive reggae band playing in the downstairs bar that evening which was a relaxing way to end the trip but the upstairs section of the venue made me recall those English pubs with pool tables!
Well, the trip to Florida ended in the same way in which it commenced with views of Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway bridge although the daytime views made them seem even more impressive!
A slight delay to my flight meant that a few more hours in Florida were at my disposal! A stop at P.F. Chang’s in the airport therefore helped to while away the additional time. It offers slightly more upmarket Asian fusion cuisine with light dishes such as the crispy honey shrimp. An Acai Martini was a well-made and refreshing cocktail for the end of my trip which wouldn’t have been complete without some live music accompaniment from a Mariachi band in the airport terminal just outside of the restaurant!