Friday, May 15, 2015

Texas Bound

Leaving Saint Augustine was hard, but the prospects of seeing old friends along the way seemed to add a little sunshine on the horizon. We had originally planned on taking a very indirect route so that we could stop over in Nashville and add a new city and state to list of time spent, but once I knew that one of my dearest and best friends was going to be in Alabama while we were on our trek west, our route became more direct. Plus an added bonus, we would be driving through Pensacola, which meant a dinner with one of my college/sorority sisters must be included.

Loren and I
We arrived in Pensacola early Friday evening and it allowed me the opportunity to sneak away and meet up with Loren; a ZTA Sister from SUU, for a drink and reminiscing about the good ol’ days at college and all the life developments since then. It was such a great night of fun conversation and I a reminder as to why I completely adore this lady. Plus I haven’t had the chance to see her since her wedding many moons ago, but seeing her and talking, it was like no time has passed; I just love those relationships where you can get together after years apart and it’s as though no time has gone by, it’s almost as though the conversation started off just where we left it last.

Sunrise view from our hotel room
Saturday was full of surprises and unexpected gifts that all started early. First we were lucky enough to have a beautiful east facing hotel room over the bay, so all we had to do was open the drapes and let the suns painted light permeate our room all while we laid in bed in sipped on our coffee; this was a much needed start considering the early morning loading of the car the day prior. A sunrise call from Stephanie, letting us know she landed safely in Alabama the night before and her ETA to meet up with us for a full afternoon of hugs, laughs and non-stop talking. We quickly devised a plan to meet up in downtown Pensacola for lunch, giving her time to drive the coastline and for us to stop and visit the Air Force Armament Museum.

Tom and the look of joy on his face from staring at planes
The Armament Museum was great, giving Ethel the opportunity to strut her stuff by age old planes and of course my favorite, watching Tom completely geek out at all the aircrafts. His bits of history and information about each plane floored me, I knew Tom loved them, but how much and what he knew was such a pleasant surprise. His giddy reaction and fascination was well worth the stop and total man haven if you’re ever the area.

Beads, beads, beads!!!
From there we were on to Pensacola to find a dog friendly lunch haunt and to meet up with Stephanie. We had originally planned on meeting up with her downtown, but once we arrived we were immediately met with the mayhem of a Mardi Gras Day parade and celebration. We had a bit of time on our hands so we parked the car and took off to explore some of the floats and the crazy antics that were already unfolding. It is these spontaneous adventures that I just love stumbling upon and getting to be a part of, plus the people watching just takes the cake!

Fighter plane engine
Instead of trying to figure out how and where to meet amidst the Mardi Gras crowds, we found a little diner just outside of downtown to meet up at. Fortunately for us we were the only ones outside for the three short hours we occupied their tables, which was wonderful for Ethel, she was able to run amuck and not be bothered to share anything, especially her people. Sorry, y’all I have raised a dog diva!

Stephanie, Bonnie and Tom
Time flew by and before we knew it the sun was beginning to set, at some point the restaurant staff ceased to exist and all that remained was endless conversation. Although Stephanie and I would regularly text and often talk on the phone, there is just something to be said about seeing one of your favorite people in person after a long absence.  I don’t think I realized how much I missed Stephanie until she was standing in front of me and couldn’t stop hugging her; seriously, if people didn’t know us, they might have though us lesbians; especially after the boundless hugs goodbye! You’d think somebody had died!

Crossing the Mississippi as we head back west.. What an amazing year since we crossed it going east!
Next day, we were off to Texas and bound for our new home for the next six weeks. This is the first time since we set out that we have not used Airbnb for one of our extended stays, instead this time we used Execustay through Marriot. Not because of a lack of options with Airbnb, but pricing more or less; I don’t know if it because part of our stay was during spring break or what, but the housing prices were off the charts high for Airbnb. In fact I had checked out the cute little retro place we had stayed at last time we were in San Antonio (click here for that post), but that had close to doubled since our last stay over a year ago.

San Antonio apartment
Our home in Texas was a great location for Tom, less than half a mile to his client, so he could walk to and from work, making the need for the car almost obsolete other than Ethel and I’s adventures during the day. Our cute little apartment was exactly that: cute and little, although we don’t require much. Execustay managed to win us over with everything: new, clean and completely organized for our stay. This is definitely a service we would use again, the fresh new towels, bedding and dishes, pretty much won us over.  Not to forget the pool and the gym, seriously though, the pool was divine at the complex; it almost felt like we had been transported to a Vegas resort! So here it is, our perfectly located Execustay:

Friday, May 1, 2015

More Than A Beach

Our return to Saint Augustine kicked off with a bang, literally. We arrived just in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve at the pier for Beach Blast Off. Food, drinks, live music and to top it off an amazing fireworks celebration all to say goodbye to an incredible 2014 and welcome in all the adventures that 2015 has in store for us. I know I mentioned in a previous post that St. Augustine and I are kindred spirits, the town even functions on my timeline; up with the sun and to bed with the sun. So imagine my delight when the fireworks happened at 8:00 at night! I was over the moon that I could send an epic year off at a fantastic celebration, still manage to hit the sheets early and wake up ready to take on 2015, fully rested and full of zest!

If Beach Blast Off wasn't enough to kick start an amazing 2015, Tom had concocted this unbelievable birthday celebration for me. That’s right, I turned another year wiser on January 2nd, and Tom managed to outdo himself with a magical weekend escape to the Omni’s Amelia Island Plantation. Not only did we have a great room, but I woke to breakfast in bed, a morning at the spa, lunch in town, upon our return to the hotel the concierge had set up champagne and cake in the room and if that wasn't enough, Tom had one more surprise up his sleeve. He had arranged a private bonfire on the beach for us; more champagne and the makings for s’mores. It was all so dreamy and Tom made me feel like a complete queen, granted he does that on a regular basis, but an entire weekend of it was lovely and so appreciated.

With such an epic kick off to 2015 it got me to thinking about life, our last year and all the wonder that has come with it. I know we are living in this sort of dream world, the travel, the experiences and I am never for one minute not grateful for the opportunities that life and the universe has given us; for taking the plunge and saying what the hell, let’s do it. Life has a crazy way of presenting itself and I feel beyond blessed to live in this fairy-tale that I do and the gratitude I feel for those that have been there for us; to help us make it happen and for those that we get to share it with, our readers! Thank you to you all for growing, learning and living it with us. Okay, enough of my sentimental side, I’ll get back on task and reveal more of our crazy adventures.

Miss Ethel playing on the beach
Saint Augustine takes the holidays to the extreme and then they tack on another month of it, it is the Nights of Lights, which goes from Thanksgiving to the end of January. The entire town is draped in Christmas lights and this year was a little extra special due to the city celebrating their 450th year anniversary has the oldest settlement in the United States. Of course being us we needed to add a little extra magic to an already enchanting experience, we decided to tour the lights by a private horse drawn carriage. We took to The Tasting Tours lobby, procured a bottle of wine and met with the beautiful Leo (our horse) and Laughlin (Leo’s handler) to hop on board our carriage. Seeing the city at a slower pace and a different perspective just added another level of beauty to the city; also, the sound of a horse trotting along the cobblestone streets, the click, clock and clack,  just made it that much more alluring. If you ever need a moment to feel like Cinderella, this would be the city and the mode of transportation to help you find your inner princess.

El Galeon is also parked in the docks of Saint Augustine until summer for the 450th anniversary, the full-size reconstructed Spanish sail boat is open for tours and gives a great perspective of what it would have been like for those that crossed the ocean blue all those 500 years ago. A look into what it would have been like to been part of Ponce de Leon crew and the craftsmanship of what goes into building a man-made ship of this size, all truly remarkable.

We also happened to be in town during the “Enemy at the Gates” at Castillo De San Marcos and to be honest is was probably Tom’s favorite excursion upon our return to St. Augustine; he got to watch cannons fire at night, what manly man wouldn't love that! The staff and volunteers provided a living history tour by candlelight; the fort is dark, lit only by candles and we got to watch actors reenact scenes from battles past. Completely enthralled by the history, seeing the fort without electricity and the loud booms of the cannons echoing within the fort walls all added to that otherworldly experience of what it might have been like to have been there during the battles; minus the fear or our lives of course.

Besides adventures and copious amounts of time on the beach, Saint Augustine has this magical way of drawing family to us. Tom has another long lost cousin, Jean. In fact it is Tim’s sister that you might remember from the Ontario Outings post.
Stole this shot from Jean that she took while we were out walking on the beach
Jean and Tom looking through family photos

Jean and her husband, John, live over in Tampa and took the drive to St. Augustine for the weekend to meet up, get to know each other and share history on really the unknown side of Tom’s biological father's family. Jean and her husband were such a delight and it was so wonderful to spend time with them, getting to know them and hear stories about Tom’s grandmother, aunts, uncles and of course little tidbits about a man that helped bring Tom into the world. Jean was so thoughtful that she put together a photo album of Tom’s heritage and we spent the evening browsing photos, listening to stories and learning what life was like all things Lenny.

Sandi, John, Jean, Bonnie and Tom
And if just getting to meet Jean and John wasn't enough, we found out that Tom has another cousin, Sandy, that actually lives in St. Augustine and she joined us all for brunch the following morning and chimed in her stories and memories. Getting to know family along this journey has been such a great and wonderful experience for us and these moments in time that have made Project #Gonewanderlusting worth every mile.

Gavin, Sherry, Todd and Evie
A few days after meeting Jean, John and Sandy, and just before we hit the road for Texas, Todd, Sherry and the kids flew in to Saint Augustine to show Sherry’s parents a town that captivated their hearts as well when they were here visiting us in October (Click here for that visit). Neither Tom nor I had seen Todd and Sherry’s kids, Evie and Gavin, in over two years, so we were just ecstatic about the opportunity to spend time with them and just admire the young adults that they have grown into. The passage of time is mind boggling, days go by way to fast and before we know it the years have slipped by; thank God for Florida, because I am pretty sure we have seen Todd and Sherry more times since we’ve been in Florida than we had in the last two years in Utah.

Our breakfast send off  crew
Meeting up with Todd, Sherry and the kids made for an exceptionally hard send off from Saint Augustine, every piece of my being was dying to stay, to spend more time with them and also knowing that part of my heart was being left there on the beach. This place has captivated us and we can't wait to return again. Until then we have more shots that we took while exploring Washington Oaks, the museums and of course our time spent on the beach.

Lucky shot at Washington Oaks
Washington Oaks State Park
Coquina Beach at Washington Oaks

Lightner Museum