Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Vacations are wonderful things. We haven't really had one in many years ... had a few "staycations", trips, and some downtime here and there, but as for packing up and going somewhere just for fun, no. So we're on vacation right now. We rented a car, drove down to Orlando, and have been goofing off down here for most of a week. Now we're wrapping up and getting ready to head back home, refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to get to work.

We decided to rent a car because our main one, the Land Rover, is now 10 years old and has over 150,000 miles on it. Although it still looks and runs great, and would probably have made the trip with no problem, it's getting to the point where we don't want to be far from home if something goes wrong. So we rented a Chevy Malibu from Avis. And to tell the truth, I've been very impressed: Chevrolet has come a long, long way in just a few years. It's nothing like the antique barges that GM used to put out, much more like a Honda or Toyota in ride, handling, and quality. And there are lots of nice little touches that I didn't notice until after living with it a while, like the soft lighting around the interior so you don't have to go groping around for the door handles or loose items. Plus, we got well over 30 mpg running at 75-80. All in all, GM is finally making a decent car again. Good on 'em!

We drove from Asheville to Savannah, Georgia, the first day, then on to our rental house in Mt. Dora (about 20 miles north of Orlando) the second. Yes, we could've done it all in one day, but why? Marathon drives are no fun. We stopped a few times along the way to stretch and let the dogs run. Janis needed her surf fix, so we stopped in Flagler Beach, where we could take Soozee and Indy out on the sand. This was the first time they'd ever seen the beach and they didn't know what to think ... it was kinda cool and fun for them, but scary, too. Eventually the "scary" overtook the "fun", so we didn't stay too long. Then that stinker Indy rolled around in a patch of grass and picked up seemingly every burr in a five-mile radius. I'm not kidding, she was covered. Took me ten minutes of combing to get 'em out.

We found our house in Mt. Dora through Vacation Rentals By Owner. It's on five acres just outside of town. Very quiet area with loads of live oaks. As it turned out, our house is really a mobile home with some very inexpert additions. (I'll just say that my neighbor at home, Darryl, who is a construction contractor, would never approve). Still, this place is comfortable enough, quiet, and is a great place to run the dogs. We can leave them at home without worrying whether they'll be nervous wrecks when we get back (see previous posting on our neurotic dogs).

So what have we done here? Well, we spent one afternoon exploring Mt. Dora. This is a nice little boutique town filled with nice little boutiques. Our great find of the day was the Goblin Market Restaurant. We had a fabulous late lunch there, and I mean fabulous. It alone would be worth the drive up from Orlando. I had something called a Grilled Chicken Fontina. It's a grilled chicken sandwich, but that's like saying a Ferrari is just a car. It was perfection on a plate. Janis had their special of the day, which was salmon wrapped in a crepe on a bed of tossed salad, along with a glass of a perfect pinot noir. And the prices were very reasonable. We're going back. If you're ever in central Florida, you should, too.

The next day, we went over to Daytona. With me being a gearhead, Daytona is a must-see. We took the tour and bought the requisite T-shirts. The highlight for me, though, was the ride-along. I suited up and rode three laps in an honest-to-God race car (modified to take a passenger) with a maniac for a driver. There are only three words to describe the experience:


They advertise a 165-mph speed and I believe every frickin' mile an hour of it. We slammed into the turns and rode up next to the wall, bouncing and jerking, pulling over 2 G's sideways, engine screaming, and me hooting as loud as I could with a grin that stuck out both sides of the car. I tell ya what, you get a whole new perspective on both the track and the drivers. Those corners are a lot tighter at 165 mph than they appear from the grandstands or on TV!

Once that was over, and I was completely drained of adrenaline, we went over to the Chart House for dinner. This restaurant chain is one of our favorites - the day we were married, for example, we celebrated with dinner at the one in Annapolis. The one in Daytona is right on the water and was, as usual, outstanding.

So what else did we do here? Well, what does anybody do when on vacation in Orlando? We went to Disneyworld! Epcot, specifically: two days wandering around that 300-acre theme park. We had a good time. While Disney is a dreamworld, "sanitized for your protection", there are still a lot of things that are genuine and enjoyable. The movie in the Chinese pavilion, for example, is a 360-degree theater, beautifully done, showing stunning landscapes, teeming cities, and a bit of (sanitized) history. It included spectacular shots of Tiananmen Square (I automatically remembered the massacre of 1989) and a section on how their multiple and diverse minorities are happily integrated into the Chinese nation (I don't think the Nepalese would agree with that description, however). These two examples point to why I don't really care for theme parks or Carnival cruises or any other fantasy experiences: eliminating the "unpleasant" or not-politically-correct half of the world eliminates the depth, richness, messiness, and vibrancy of real life. So Disneyland was fun, but in a bit of a cotton-candy way.

Still, there were some very real experiences. One is food: there's plenty of outstanding eating to be done. We munched on some excellent nachos at the Mexican pavilion and had a wonderful lunch in the German biergarten. The neat thing there is that they follow the German custom of seating multiple groups together. We wound up paired with a young couple from Lubbock, Texas, who were there on a honeymoon, and had a great time talking with them. The food, by the way, was excellent.

In the Japanese area, there were some taiko drummers. Taiko drumming is a Japanese art form, and is one of the things I most enjoyed about our tour in Japan. They had a trio from Tokyo performing, and they were good.

Two days in Disneyworld was enough, though. We could have gone back today to do Magic Kingdom or one of the other parks, but don't really want to deal with the crowds, heat, or cotton-candy nature of a theme park. So we'll be low-key this afternoon. We'll pack this evening and start the return trip tomorrow morning. We've had a great time on our first vacation in years, but now we just want to get back to our own little house.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great vacation. I'm going to do a cruise back to Alaska when I leave Iraq and then a week "staycation" at home. I plan to eat, sleep and read on the cruise and then I'll be ready to tackle some unpacking during my staycation. I'm also signed up for one Saturday in August and one in September to work on a Habitat for Humanity project. Glad to hear you are doing great.

SillyLittleLady said...

Glad you're having fun on VACATION! You should do it more often :) My vacation in Paris has just begun and isn't quite what I expected, to be honest, maybe a week like you did is all I need, not an entire month!