Home Sweet Home
Our trip in bullets:
○ We were gone exactly one week--in some ways it seems like it was another lifetime ago when we first arrived to Florida; in other ways, it feels like we left yesterday. No hassles whatsoever with flight & rental car! We rented a Honda Kona. We're planning to trade in at least my car in the next year (I currently drive a Beamer-it's an X5 and I don't notice what a behemoth it is until I try to navigate parking decks and narrow parking slots)--and we may go down to one car when we move (depends on whether or not we'll be working & doing enough separately to warrant two vehicles) and we are planning on a smaller to medium-sized SUV. This one was small to medium, and it was doggy, but got great gas mileage and was a comfortable ride.
○ Our first day in Florida was spent in the Tampa area. Our former freighbors moved to Bradenton 3 years ago, and we hung out with them our first day. We got to their place around 2:30, and we took them to a place they hadn't tried yet (when they asked us where we wanted to go, we requested either one of their favorite hangouts or a place they hadn't tried yet--they are still learning their new city, so we went to a new place for them, too!). Ron & Christi invited us to spend the night — it was Sunday, so we got back around 8:30 or 9. Ron's schedule is pretty flexible & he has a home office set up, but Christi is in the corporate world, so she left for work when we were just getting up on Monday morning. We took Ron out for breakfast & headed toward the panhandle.
○ The first fun spot we hit was in that little crook between the panhandle and north Florida--Cedar Key. LOVED it there, but there was nothing nearby to make it an ideal place to live in...just a great little undiscovered town to visit on occasion. Super friendly & where I got most of the postcards on our adventure. My apologies--I wanted the postcards to have a Florida cancellation stamp, but I didn't find a post office our last couple of days--nor one at the airport which I thought for sure I would find, so they must have been before we went through security, so they'll go out this week from boring old Illinois. lol
○ After such an auspicious beginning to our trip, the next couple of days sucked. I tend to blame the weather most of all--either that, or southern hospitality is a myth in Apalachicola. Worst town ever! Everyone we encountered there was rude. We were going to spend the night there, but we didn't feel at all welcome. In their defense, they are probably getting sick of northern transplants and transplant wannabes, and all of the restaurants/hotels/etc. were short-staffed. That said, we boogied on out of there and spent the night where we were warmly welcomed in Port St. Joe instead. Cute little town and much friendlier. Also, not a place to move to, but we did enjoy our time there.
○ Got to witness the destruction from Hurricanes Michael and Irma, we were told, in Mexico Beach up to Panama City Beach. So sad--even the forest got hit hard in that area. I think these towns would be awesome, but they are still rebuilding after the hurricane-Covid double-whammy, so it was hard to tell.
○ We spent most of our time between Destin/Ft. Walton Beach and Pensacola. There are many off-beach towns we fell in love with that are within 45 minutes of the gulf beaches--notably, Milton, Pace, Navarre & Niceville. Housing was slightly more affordable than we feared, but there is a huge influx into Florida, so we're keeping our options open. (We will also try some towns in Texas and possibly Lousiana...) That said, we felt very comfortable in the panhandle and loved it so much more than central and south Florida. It had a laidback Costa Rica vibe, yet there were activities all around us, which in CR, you do have to go hunting for things to do. It was also way less commercial than its southern counterparts--a definite plus for us.
○ Healthwise, I had to keep up with hubs, so that is a GREAT sign for his health. Not so much for me, but I was only too sick to do anything one night out of the entire week, so I consider it a win. We split driving in half--I drove at night, he drove in the bright sunlight. It rained a TON, so when it got very dark, I took over and vice-versa. Speaking of health, you might remember that hubs was playing pinball when he had his stroke. He hasn't really tried to play since February--but we found some cool pinball places and he's a little rusty, but found it much easier than he feared, so he's excited about pinball again! =)
○ Oh, the excellent fresh seafood. Food in general was AMAZING everywhere we went. The only thing we didn't get to eat that we hoped to was seafood pizza. Maybe it isn't a thing in the states, but when we go to Central America, we have had some of the most delicious seafood pizzas in the world! I did get some gator bites. I was hoping to try an actual alligator dish, and I know they exist, but I was pleased I got some alligator to try, anyway. For me, it tasted a bit like turtle. I'm an adventurous foodie, so turtle and alligator are a cross between poultry and a white fish (but heartier--like swordfish or tuna steak, but with a lighter white fish taste) for me. I don't know if I'm a good person to swear by, however, since I lost my sense of smell in 2007...
○ Final thoughts: Hotels were insanely overpriced, even in areas where they weren't in danger of selling all of their rooms. We spent, on average, $185 a night and we purposely searched for mom & pop, clean hotels without pools to lower our costs. Restaurants, hotels, retail stores--they are all hurting badly for employees. Enough so, I told hubs that I'd be the willing sacrificial lamb to go to Florida before he wraps up his business for a part-time gig. haha I really do miss working. I like to be busy and as an ambivert, I'm even beginning to miss people. lol There are a few busy seasons in the panhandle and other beachy resort towns in Florida--we were just about to hit one of the busy times, which is probably why hotels cost so much. I was soooooo happy to see a lot of north Florida is still untouched by humanity. It was so beautiful there and a great mix of forest, finger lakes, beach, bay & sea. It's much like I remembered of Florida from my earliest memories--I lived for a time with my tia-abuela & Uncle in Orange Park (suburb of Jacksonville), so nostalgia and great memories were all around me, even in the panhandle which I'd never explored before. I didn't think I could be happy in Florida--and I still don't think I'd be happy in central to south FL, but I LOVED it even more than I expected to up north. I could definitely live there.