Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Boat rides, Beers and Birthdays

The last few weeks have been filled with celebration and lots of adventures (two great distractions from blogging!) So far, twenty-eight has started out with a bang... a changing wind is blowing through and I fully intend to keep that motion going, full force.

Similar to last year, libations were had with friends and a scenic river side view.  However, last year, in Amsterdam spring took for ever to arrive and it snowed just just days before my twenty-seventh birthday. Thankfully, this year's party was soaked in Florida sunshine!

My darling friend Lurlie and I share the same birthday and since we were on the side of the globe this year, our vision of a double birthday party finally came true! Despite weeks of begging, Lurlie absolutely forbid us to have 90's theme complete with a playlist of decade inspired garb and party jamz. Instead, we opted for a lazy day along the river with friends and absolutely perfect, Florida day!

Celebrating back home with my American friends was so much fun and this hometown part was made even more special with a surprise visitor... My Dutchman!

Having gone through a challenging, emotional year, I was more than happy to say 'buh-bye!' to twenty-seven. Last year had me pretty convinced the curse of twenty-seven is a real and terrible thing, thankfully I made it through what was by far the most confusing year of my life, phew.

Welcoming a fresh, new year with sunshine, swimming, cold beers, BBQ, a boat ride along the river was the perfect way to kick off a fresh year full of positive vibes and belly laughs with friends!

We rounded out the nearing the end of our twenties at Wekiva Island and some how found energy to drag out sun soaked selves out for a few rounds of fancy beers (and my Mom's famous almond-poppyseed cake!) later that evening at our friends' awesome, local beer bar, Redlight Redlight.

Belgian beers seem to be a birthday trend during my twenties, a very welcomed tradition. Both spots are two of my favorite Florida hangouts and highly recommended if you're ever exploring our southern peninsula.

Birthdays are a funny thing, they remind you how quickly time passes yet also how lucky you are to take on another year of life's great adventures surrounded by the smiles of those you love. Celebrating with old friends (and a few new ones) was as fun as could be. I'm looking forward to what twenty-eight has in store... Luckily, there are still eleven more months to find out!

P.S. A few birthday flashbacks... I turned twenty-four in Madrid (my first expat birthday!), my favorite birthday cake(s), celebrating twenty-seven in Amsterdam, Eating macarons during last year's birthday trip to Paris and my mom's birthday visit to the Kroller Muller Museum

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Weekend Wanderings: Camping at Fort De Soto Park

My time away from Florida sparked a tendency to day dream about camping on the beach and relaxing under the stars with a salty ocean air whirling around. Having grown up in the Sunshine State, it was easy to let blue sky fantasies take over my mind while peddling throughout the maze of Amsterdam's canals, during far too many overcast days. So, when Annelies, flew over for her first Florida visit, we knew camping on the beach would be on the agenda!

Fort De Soto
 is actually a Park we used to frequent while growing up and having a Dutch visitor in town from Amsterdam was the perfect reason to trek down to the Gulf Coast for a quick camping get away. You can reserve a site in advance and $35 will get you a view of the water but unfortunately, we discovered jumping in was not an option.

After a few days of camping together last summer at the Best Kept Secret Festival we had our night-in-nature game plan down. She worked on the tent while I gathered fire fixings, like dried palm fronds for kindle and prepared our afternoon picnic spot. Everything was effortlessly set up long before sunset and we sat along the water for an afternoon of bird watching, fizzy drinks and foot long Publix Subs (a Florida staple) while enjoying warm and sunny Florida afternoon. Perfection!

Once the sun began to lower, we walked a few yards back to our site and continued our afternoon happy hour. Flashlights, card games and extra layers to protect were all packed, along with a handful of other things we probably didn't need but threw in the trunk anyways. We were prepared, we had everything... except for the graham crackers. Noooo!

The irony of this missing ingredient was that I'd promised Annelies for over three years that, "When you visit America, we will go camping and make s'mores!" Okay, so what if she had no clue she was missing... the American Girl Scout inside me was still disappointed for making such a rookie mistake!

Laughing at our minor loss, we lit up the fire and roasted marshmallows on a stick with a bit of chocolate stuck on top, voilĂ ! However, a few rounds of that gooey mess made it clear why those dang graham crackers are so crucial for proper s'more formation. Either way, we enjoyed lovely night for camping complete with a glowing fire, full bellies, a competitive game of Uno and lots of girl talk in our little palmetto sanctuary....

... Until an evil cackle rang out through the night. Annelies shrieked and I shouted, "Daaaamnit! Raccoons!" Ugggh. I absolutely loathe raccoons, with their creepy paws, brazen attitudes and menacing behavior (like when they killed a few of our darling backyard chickens). Those sneaky bandits are no friends of mine!

Turns out, our French neighbors thought it would be a good idea to ignore the signs that read, "No cooking after dark" and leisurely decided to begin grilling food close to midnight. A serious camping no-no, especially when you're in Florida palmetto scrub crawling with raccoons. I mean, duh. 

The saga unfolded as Annelies honked the car horn while I attempted to scare off the varmints with projectile debris. Those chunks of palm fronds sure came in hand as makeshift boomerangs, ha!

Unfortunately, we exhausted effort only to discover the scoundrels didn't even flinch (people, stop feeding the raccoons!) Eventually, most of them reluctantly shrugged off into another section of palmetto scrub or probably a trash can. We counted 8 or 9, casually stroll out of the trees and over to the site of our French neighbors who, from the sound of things were completely horrified. We overheard them shouting as they threw everything in their car, flew into their tent and zipped it up with haste. Needless to say, the French were gone first thing in the morning and became the joke of all the redneck fishermen in the surrounding area.

Sharing a common distaste for the pests, we wet down the fire and took our card game back into the tent. The moral of this story... if you're camping at Ft. De Soto keep all your food locked up and be prepared for an onslaught of raccoons (they even returned again at breakfast time, yuck!) Given the wicked noises and chaos of it all, Annelies was disturbed by her first raccoon encounter. Looking back, this is a pretty funny story to retell together, we must have looked so ridiculous!

The next morning we woke up with the sun, had breakfast under the palm trees and scared off a few more varmints en route to stealing our orange juice. During our morning stroll around the park, we found huge, red hibiscus, a welcomed variety after being in the land of tulips for so long.

Given the overcast weather that morning, we decided it was best to pack up and head to St. Petersburg for an afternoon of wandering and a tasty lunch at Taco Bus. If you're in the area, don't pass up the chance to grab a bite at this popular food truck. You know I never pass up a taco opportunity and having heard great recommendations for their beer battered fish and butter nut squash tacos for years, we took our chance. I gotta admit, Taco Bus definitely lived up to the hype!