The Passport Arrived Today!

The passport arrived today!

On September 7, I wrote about taking my teenage daughter to get her new passport. We went that morning. Because her previous passport had been issued when she was younger than 16, it was only valid for five years, and it was time to get a new one. Today, October 6, the new one arrived!

Because I have had so many questions about the process, I’m going to share some tips:

  • Before you schedule an appointment, download and print the appropriate application forms. You can find those here.
  • Make an appointment. You can make an appointment here. If you are renewing a passport, an appointment is not necessary; you can renew through the mail with forms from the website. However, if you are “renewing” your child’s passport and the last one was a five year passport, you must schedule an appointment for a new passport. It can be confusing, but you will not be able to make an appointment if you click “renew.” You must click “new passport,” and you can opt to get the photo at the appointment or get a photo at a local CVS or Walgreens before you go.
  • When you go to the appointment, take at least one check with you. They prefer payment by check, and I took two with me, because rarely do I write a check correctly the first time. It’s always good to have a backup check…just in case.
  • If your child is 16 or 17, he/she is eligible for a ten-year passport, but they must have proof of parental awareness. They can take a notarized letter stating they have your permission, or better yet, you (one parent) can accompany them on the appointment…and that is absolute parental awareness.
  • Passports for children under 16 (five-year passports) require permission from both parents. It’s easiest if both parents go to the appointment with the child. If both parents cannot attend, double check the US Passport website for directions. You can check that here.
  • US citizens 18 and older are eligible for ten-year passports, as are 16 and 17-yr-olds with parental awareness.
  • Take all necessary documents with you, including the completed application and old passport, if it’s for your child. You will need to provide several proof of citizenship documents. Examples are listed here. Make two photocopies of each document and take those copies with you, as well.
  • A photo ID will be required, as well…either for the applicant who is over 18 or the parent’s photo ID. I made copies of mine and my 17-yr-old daughter’s ID and took the actual IDs, as well.
  • If it is at all financially feasible for you, opt for the fastest service possible. When the agent who was helping us asked if we wanted to expedite, I told her we wanted the absolutely fastest service possible…and we received the passport four weeks later. Our total was about $188.

Good luck! And if you have questions, most of them can be answered on the US Passport website here. If you’re lucky, you’ll have your/your child’s passport in hand pretty quickly!

Sweet Escape

Sweet escape…

Sometimes, I just need to get away. It’s not that I have a miserable life. I love my life. But I like to roam sometimes, and last week, I was feeling the need to get away, so I did.

Last Friday, I started dreaming of the food at Nobu. If you’re not familiar with Nobu restaurants, you should be. To say they are Asian fusion restaurants does not do them justice, but that’s what they are…except the food is exceptional. The service is always outstanding, and the atmosphere is incredible. There are 16 or 17 of the restaurants in the United States (and even more worldwide), but I’ve only been to four. I’ve been to those four multiple times, but I’ve only been to four. I’ve never been disappointed…I’ve almost always been overwhelmed by the level of service and the fabulous flavors they meld together! I have some favorite dishes that show up in my dreams sometimes. That’s how much I love it.

Since I was craving it, I decided to check airfares to Miami, where there is a Nobu, and when I checked, I was shocked to find a $90 fare between Charlotte and Miami! I promptly called my friend, Meg, who is always up for an adventure, and asked if she wanted to go to dinner in Miami soon. She was totally up for it, and we made dinner reservations, hotel reservations, and airline reservations within 10 minutes! Our airline tickets ended up being $96 each, because of availability, but we were happy to pay that! Done!

We flew out Monday morning, and we had upgrades on the flights, so we found ourselves in first class on an American Airlines Boeing 777, which offers lie-flat cubicle-style seats between Charlotte and Miami. Yay us! We were so comfortable for those two hours that we hardly knew we were on a plane at all! Upon arrival, we grabbed a taxi to Eden Roc Hotel, and when we checked in there, we were offered a generous upgrade to a lovely oceanview suite with a big balcony. Woohoo! After putting our bags in the room, we dashed out for some nearby shopping, then came back to the hotel for some cocktails at Malibu Farm, an oceanview restaurant that has some great specialty cocktails. She had a watermelon cocktail, and I had a pineapple cocktail…both delicious. Yes, we were drinking our calories, but we at that moment, we didn’t care.

We arrived at Nobu just in time for our 6:15 reservation, and the real fun began! We both have some favorite dishes at Nobu, so we ordered a lot of food! Our server was incredible, guiding us through dishes we were not familiar with and making suggestions. That’s one of the great things about Nobu. In my experience, their servers know all about their dishes and can make recommendations about what dishes work well together. We started with a baby corn appetizer. Sounds weird, right? That’s what I thought the first time a server told me about it. As it turns out, it is one of my favorite things ever…baby corn in truffle butter topped with curry powder. Nobu serves small plates to share, so I think we probably had eight or nine different dishes, and that didn’t include our dessert…Miso Cappucino…one of those dishes I dream about on the regular. By the time we were done, we almost needed to be rolled out of the restaurant! Chalk that dinner up as a huge success! We were happy!

We flew home early Tuesday afternoon (less than 24 hours after arriving) after lots of great laughs and great food! I didn’t sit next to my friend on the flight, but I sat next to a nice lady who had an interesting job…giving me an idea about something my daughter might be interested in doing one day! We were home by dinnertime!

It was a getaway worth taking, and for $96, we couldn’t have driven to Miami! A sweet escape!

Time for a New Passport

Time for a new passport…

Our daughter’s last passport was issued when she was under 16. Because of that, it was only valid for five years and couldn’t be renewed in the regular mail-in way. We had to get a new one by applying in person at a post office, and a parent had to accompany her.

We aren’t planning to travel out of the country till March of 2022, but because I’ve known so many people who had nightmare issues with passports, I decided we needed to get this taken care of well in advance. So we went to the passport office at a US Post Office today. Getting the appointment was the first hurdle. Appointments are not plentiful, and you’re taking a big chance if you go as a walk-up customer. According to the sign on the door of the office we visited, walk-ins are taken on a first-come, first-served basis…and only if there is enough personnel there to handle it. Wow. To me, that sounds like you could wait all day and still walk away empty-handed. I was so glad we had an appointment. If you’re considering applying for a new passport or getting a new one before your minor child’s passport expires, you can search for appointments in your area here. None of the offices near our house had availability, so I ended up making the appointment at an office about 30 miles away, in Harrisburg, North Carolina.

We arrived, and my daughter groaned when she saw the crowd waiting outside. I said, “Don’t get all worked up. I think a lot of these people probably don’t have appointments, but we do.” As it turns out, I was correct. Most of them didn’t have appointments. We waited outside for the employees to come outside and call the names of people who had appointments. Our appointment was at 11:30, and we arrived at about 11:20. The first employee came out at about 11:40, and she informed us that she was calling people’s names who had 11:15 appointments. Several of them weren’t there. At about 11:55, she came out and started calling the names of people with 11:30 appointments. We were the second ones called.

Luckily, my daughter had filled out everything before we arrived. We had all the appropriate documentation: her current passport, a birth certificate and a photocopy of it, her driver’s license and a photocopy, her social security card and a photocopy of it, checks to pay for everything, and my passport and driver’s license to show as identification to prove I’m her mother (she’s not quite 18). Oh, and passport photos…we had those too. Our daughter went yesterday to CVS and got those done there.

Here’s some info for those who don’t know it: If the applicant is under 16, they receive a passport that is valid for only five years. Both parents must go to the passport office with the child to submit the application. Applicants aged 16 and 17 receive passports that are valid for ten years, but they need to show “parental awareness.” It was easy for me to go with our daughter, so I showed “awareness” in person. To see information about 16 and 17-year-olds and application requirements, click here.

When we got inside, we were seated, and the agent took all our documents. About five minutes later, she came over and asked us to come to her desk. Once there, we signed some paperwork, wrote checks, and answered some questions before we were on our merry way. It didn’t take long at all. In fact, since we were prepared, I would go so far as to say it was easy! The agent helping us was super nice, and it was a pleasant experience.

Now, we wait for the new passport. I paid for super-duper expedited service, because I wanted to decrease the odds of our having a problem. I don’t want to be worrying about our daughter’s passport when it comes time to travel in March. That actually happened to a friend of mine this summer. She was supposed to travel to the Bahamas with us, but her passport didn’t arrive in time. She missed the trip, and we missed her while we were there!

If you know you’re going to need a new passport or need a new one for your child, go ahead and do it. According to the website, the US Passport Agency is still playing catch up after closing for COVID, and it can take up to 18 weeks to get your passport. That’s 4 1/2 months! Also, remember that many destinations require you to have at least six months validity on your passport when you arrive. The country we are visiting in March doesn’t require that, according to their website, but I didn’t want to run the risk of the airline refusing to board us. It’s not worth the worry.

All this is my way of reminding you to check the expiration date on your passport, so you can get busy trying to renew it…or in the case of minors, get a new one.

And don’t dread the process, because we have had some great experiences with agents in the Charlotte area. The first time we got our daughter’s passport, we went to the Post Office in Matthews, NC, and the lady there was amazing. This time, we went to the Post Office in Harrisburg, and the lady who helped us there was amazing as well! I know it’s an intimidating process, but get it done and stop worrying about it!

You May Now Move About the Country

You may now move about the country.

Remember last summer, when we were afraid to move around much? We were terrified of getting on airplanes and afraid to go to resorts. We were scared we would get somewhere and be hospitalized away from home, right? I was. I love to travel, but last summer, I had to do it differently. My fear was that, if I did get on a plane and fly to a fun destination, I would be stricken with the virus, and as a result, I wouldn’t be able to get home. I wasn’t alone. A lot of people felt the same way. We stayed home or went on short trips. And it was downright depressing. Sure, we went on a few trips, but it just wasn’t the same. I felt like I lost a whole year of my life, including a valuable summer.

In September 2020 and November 2020, I’d had enough and got on planes anyway. Then again, in February 2021, I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I took our daughter to New Orleans with friends, where we proceeded to eat our way through the city. We made some great memories, for sure, and we appreciated every minute.

I flew again in early June on a trip to the Bahamas with my family. When we got to the airport in Charlotte to begin our journey, I could tell people were starting to emerge from their cocoons, but nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered when we flew out to California on June 13. We were on a 7:25am flight, so we got to the airport at about 6:00am. I was utterly shocked at how crowded Charlotte-Douglas Airport was on a random Sunday at 6:00 in the morning! Apparently, people have decided to take off again…and I love it! We are getting vaccinated and feeling more free! When we arrived at Los Angeles International Airport for our return flight, it wasn’t as crowded as Charlotte had been, but then, it was 4:30 in the morning. As it turns out, our return flight was full, so I know people are on the move.

If you haven’t traveled yet but plan to, here are some things to consider.

  • Remember your mask! Even though we aren’t having to wear them in most public places now, the Feds still require you to wear them the entire time you are in an airport or on a commercial flight…unless, of course, you are actively eating or drinking…and then, they ask that you just remove the mask briefly and put it back on between bites/sips.
  • If you live in a hub city (Charlotte, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, etc) you might want to consider getting to the airport extra early. You also might want to look into downloading the My TSA app. Using the app, you can check wait times at TSA checkpoints in your airport. It can mean the difference between missing a flight or making it.
  • Take your own pillow/blanket, if needed. Remember those pillows and blankets airlines used to offer? Well, no more… If you want to try to sleep on a plane, bring your own travel pillow and a sweatshirt. Or do what I do: take two sweatshirts. I take them in my carry-on, because I’m the freak who still thinks we need to look presentable when we board a plane, and a sweatshirt is just not something my mother would have approved for air travel. After I’m seated, however, I wear one hoodie and roll up another hoodie into a tube to wrap around my neck, so it will support my neck while I sleep.
  • Food on planes? Almost non-existent. I always fly American Airlines (I love American). Since the whole virus thing started, they’ve served small snacks in first and business class, but no food in coach. Bring your own if you think you’re going to be hungry, but do your fellow passengers a favor…don’t bring hot food. It smells. Your fellow passengers don’t want to smell your stinky sub from the airport or that greasy pizza you picked up in the concourse. Yuck. And while you’re at it, you might even want to purchase some drinks in the airport. I’ve been on a couple of shorter flights that only offered beverages in coach “on request.”
  • Here are some things to consider, even though they have nothing to do with the virus: Please don’t go to the lavatory in bare feet or sock feet on the plane. Yuck. Just yuck. Please don’t put your feet on the armrest of the person in front of you. Please don’t talk loudly on a redeye or early morning flight. Please don’t use nail polish on a flight (some people get headaches from the fumes). DO try to stay relaxed. DO be polite to your fellow passengers and airline employees.

Whatever you do, enjoy your flight. Enjoy the freedom of being able to move about the country again. Hopefully, we will soon feel more free to move about the whole world, but I know lots of people aren’t comfortable with that, because of virus rates in different countries. There are a couple of other countries I want to visit, but I’m holding off. Right now, I’m just grateful I’m able to see new places and meet new people. We made some nice new friends in the Bahamas when we visited, and we got to spend some time with friends from another part of the country when we visited LA. Summer, this year, feels more like summer. And I’m grateful.

Two Friends on the Road, Part 4…The End of the Journey

*I’m writing about this trip so I can remember details later. Maybe you will learn something new!*

Two friends on the road, part 4.

So we left Miami…we didn’t want to, but we needed to start traveling in the direction of home…north on I-95.

At some point south of Vero Beach, we dropped off I-95 to get put gas in the car and buy more lottery and scratch-off tickets. We we were looking for manatees again…trying to find a them in a marina or inlet. We were obsessed. Well, I was obsessed. Mary Ann might have been humoring me, but I wanted to see more manatees. Using her internet search skills, Mary Ann found a place we might be able to see manatees near a power plant in Vero Beach. We found the power plant; we also found out quickly the road to the power plant was blocked. We got creative. Looking at the maps on our phones, we saw where the canal passed through a neighborhood. We went there. It turned out to be a canal behind an apartment complex, but we parked in the parking lot and walked down to a dock on the canal. It was dark, and I was paranoid about trespassing. Darkness + water + trespassing = fear. I kept whispering, “I’m scared.” After a little while we didn’t see anything and didn’t hear any manatees surface, so we left. Whew! I ran to the car.

Soon after leaving Vero Beach, we both said we were hungry at the same time and made our way toward Melbourne. Mary Ann found restaurant info, and we made our way to downtown…a charming area! We couldn’t believe our good luck…lots of restaurants, live music, and cute shops!

We passed a place called 716 East on Main Street, and it looked great…outdoor seating, twinkling lights, and live music. After parking, I checked the online menu and saw Mary Ann’s favorite, eggplant parmesan. It’s hard to find good eggplant parmesan, so she was psyched! We looked a little rough, having been in the car all day…both of us had on hoodies…very casual. As we approached the restaurant on foot, we realized we were underdressed. I even gave the hostess an out by acknowledging we likely didn’t meet the dress code. She smiled and seated us at the front of the restaurant…not hiding us…so I guess our attire was acceptable!

The cutest waiter came over enthusiastically and took our drink orders. He then wanted to make us aware of the menu items that weren’t available. We were there late, so we understood. I almost said, “As long as you aren’t out of eggplant parmesan, we’re good,” but I didn’t. He pointed to a couple of appetizers and told us about a couple of other dishes they didn’t have. As he pointed to the menu, I realized the restaurant wasn’t 716 East anymore. It was a different restaurant altogether, called Ember and Oak…a steakhouse with no eggplant parm! Mary Ann realized it at about the same time; I could tell by the look on her face as she scanned the menu. As soon as our waiter went to get our much-needed cocktails, we laughed and said, “It’s a different menu!” Thank God I didn’t make my remark about eggplant parm to the waiter!

Sometimes things fall into place. That’s what happened at Ember and Oak. Our waiter guided us in ordering, and we enjoyed a great meal in a lovely atmosphere. And the dessert? Cheesecake stuffed doughnut holes??? They had me at “cheesecake.” For more info on Ember and Oak, click here.

I booked a hotel reservation from the restaurant, so we went straight to the hotel and dragged our stuff in. Inside, we did our scratch-off tickets…a silly ritual at this point. At bedtime, I realized I had left my restless leg meds in the car. I was afraid to go to the parking lot, and Mary Ann was falling asleep, so I thought, “Surely I will be able to fall asleep.” About 30 minutes later, I realized I was wrong, but Mary Ann was asleep, and there was no way I was running into a dark parking lot alone. I didn’t sleep…at all…maybe dozed here and there…but tossed and turned. At 6:30, Mary Ann said something, and I said, “I haven’t slept all night.” She said, “I know.” Eek. Note to self: remember restless leg meds.

We got an early start the next morning and drove to a manatee observation area in Melbourne. No luck, but we saw dolphins frolicking across the way, so we drove over and watched them. Mary Ann spotted a manatee swimming into the inlet, even though he stayed mostly submerged…we could see his “wake” as he slowly swam in. We were way too excited about the dolphins and manatee. We laughed at how embarrassed our kids would be if they were with us! But they weren’t…and we didn’t care what anyone thought!

Leaving Melbourne in the afternoon, we got back on the interstate and continued driving north into South Georgia, where we saw a feral black boar on the side of the interstate! I saw it as we passed and said, “What was that?!” Mary Ann said, “It was a wild boar!” I have to say that was the first feral boar I have ever seen in person…and I’ll be OK if I never see another one. I had an uncle who used to hunt them, and I remember hearing stories about how aggressive and vicious they can be. I still can’t believe we saw one on I-95.

We stopped for the night in Savannah, because traffic was backed up on I-95 for 15 miles. We didn’t have the patience for that. We got up the next morning knowing we would go back to Charlotte after one silly destination: South of the Border!

Not familiar with South of the Border? I have written about it before…read about SOB (South of the Border) here. It’s a roadside attraction in South Carolina, on I-95. Mary Ann had never seen it. It was a rainy, dreary day, so I hate she saw it that day. The gray skies made it look bad. It’s more fun to approach it at night, when the neon’s glowing. The dim light hides the wear and tear. We arrived, and I think she was underwhelmed. We took pictures with some of the landmarks…the giant sombrero, the giant Pedro, the neon SOB sign. We shopped in the souvenir shops and found trinkets. Two things got Mary Ann’s attention: the jackalope statue and Blenheim’s Ginger Ale. As we were leaving SOB, she spotted a giant jackalope statue, which she found especially funny…and had to climb up for a photo sitting on his back. She’d hunt me down and kill me if I posted it, so you’ll never see it. On our way out, we stopped at the SOB gas station for a bottle of Blenheim’s Ginger Ale. If you’ve never had Blenheim’s, it’s real ginger ale…with a kick. Blenheim has been making it the old-fashioned way since 1903. You can read more about it here. I knew Mary Ann would love it.

We left SOB and headed back to Charlotte, and once we arrived, we drove straight to Ilios Noche, a restaurant I knew Mary Ann would love! In fact, it has been a week since we were there, and she is still raving about it! For info on Ilios Noche, click here.

We made great memories…and that’s what it’s all about! The journey is the destination!

Two Friends on the Road, Part 3.5…Tales from the Trip

Two Friends on the Road, Part 3.5.

In re-reading Part 3 (see it here) about my road trip through Florida with Mary Ann, I realized I left out some of the best parts…the stories. I gave the facts, but left out the stories!

I’ve mentioned that when we arrived at Eden Roc, our Miami hotel, we were greeted warmly by the valet and bellstaff. What I didn’t mention is that I, somehow, managed to lose my valet ticket before we even got checked in. I realized it at the check-in desk. Thankfully, I had remembered the name of the young gentleman who helped us, and I went back out to find him. He was so sweet about it. First, he said, “Mrs. Mattei, I saw you put it in your handbag. It’s in there somewhere, but take a picture of my copy.” And I did. Wow. What a great guy. And wow…I’m becoming an old woman. I started to wonder if I have dementia. Seriously. We went up to our room, and there was the ticket…in my handbag. At least I had done that without paying attention! If I had dementia, I would have tried to use it as cash to tip someone, right?

What I also didn’t mention is what we observed during our dinner at Nobu that night. We had a lovely server named Jeanette, but wow…she must have pulled the short straw that night. We were a good table, because we are happy and trusted her suggestions. We decided, however, that the table next to us was the bad table of the night…

The first people who occupied the “bad” table were two ladies. They weren’t a couple. They weren’t mother and daughter, even though there was an age difference. We decided they were friends somehow. But they were not happy. When their cocktails arrived, they complained. When their food…the very scant amount they ordered…arrived, they complained. Ugh. Poor Jeanette. Seriously, we felt so sorry for our sweet server that we jointly decided to up the happiness factor, to make up for the “bad” table.

But then it got worse! Those “ladies” left, and a couple was seated there. They were in their 20s. The young lady was peppy and happy to be there, while her date clearly was not. It was very clear they were not a new couple. You know how new couples try to make each other happy? He…we will call him Bob… had no interest in making her happy. Bob promptly announced to the server (Jeanette) that he didn’t like Asian food. Hmmm…he was in an Asian restaurant. But then it became clear that his girlfriend…we’ll call her June…had forced him to go to Nobu. Really? Who has to be forced to go to Nobu? Bob, apparently.

Jeanette tried to make Bob happy by telling him all about the menu items that didn’t have an Asian flair. Wagyu beef tacos? He grunted. June tried to be perky and happy. Bob threatened to leave. June said, “OK, I want you to be happy.” Ugh. We wondered aloud, “What about June? Shouldn’t she be happy too?” Bob didn’t hear us…thankfully. We decided Bob was an asshole. Sorry…there’s not a better word…well, there actually is, but “asshole” is better than the other word.

I’m a mom, and Mary Ann is a mom. We both have daughters. Mine is 17. If she had been with me, I would have used Bob and June as an example of “what not to do.” I would have told her June could do better.

Seriously, I may be 53, but I remember being young. I remember dating. And I remember assholes like Bob. Mary Ann and I wanted to follow June when she went to the bathroom and tell her not to go back to the table. We wanted to tell her Bob is not her person. We wanted to tell her to walk straight out of there and don’t take his calls. We wanted to say, “Run for it, June! Run straight home, and don’t stop till you get there!” (That’s a line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the movie. It’s what a man in the crowd outside the store says to Charlie after he finds the golden ticket.) But we couldn’t do that, because June is not our daughter. Hopefully, June will figure out Bob sooner rather than later. Hopefully, she won’t waste five years of her life with him, expecting him to be something he’s not.

We finished dinner before they did, but we said a little prayer for June that night.

After dinner, we took a walk on the boardwalk and down Collins Avenue. One thing we noticed? Lots of those horrendous Target dresses! You know…the prairie dresses. Oh my! They are terrible! Before we had mentioned it to each other, I turned to Mary Ann and asked if there was an Amish convention in town. No offense to the Amish, of course. I admire them for following their beliefs, but the fashion? Not so much. Everywhere we turned, prairie dresses! In Miami! It was bizarre! It’s definitely not a trend I will follow.

To read what I really think about those Target prairie dresses, click here.

Tomorrow…Part 4…heading north…

Two Friends on the Road, Part 3

Two friends on the road, part 3.

My friend, Mary Ann, and I took a road trip from Charlotte to Miami and back last week. I’ve written parts 1 and 2, and part 2 ended with our driving out of the Tequesta/Jupiter area of Florida after attempting to visit Joe Namath’s soon-to-open restaurant…and getting caught accidentally trespassing in the process. Eek!

Our next destination? West Palm Beach, where we needed to try a Cuban restaurant my friend, Linda, raved about. We left Jupiter, and in less than half hour, we were standing in front of Havana Restaurant, right on the corner of Dixie Highway (Hwy 1) and Forest Hill Blvd.

Imagine our surprise when we found the dining room closed. The takeout window facing Dixie Highway was open, so we talked with the ladies there, who told us the takeout window is open 24 hours, but the dining room was open 5pm to 11pm. It was 4pm, so we decided to order an early dinner and dine at one of the outdoor tables on the side of the building. We knew that by the time we finished our early dinner, the dining room would be open, and we could go inside for dessert. We had Tostones Milanesa, Ropa Vieja, and Arroz con Pollo. Wow! The flavors were perfect, and the portions were huge, but we still saved room for dessert…because, well, Cuban desserts.

A little after 5:00, we entered the dining room and were seated immediately. I’ve never been to Cuba, but it certainly gave me vibes I thought were Cuban. The walls featured posters and photos of Cuban singers and stars, many from a bygone era. We loved the atmosphere! Mary Ann had never had Flan, so she ordered that, and I ordered Tres Leches Cake, which I always love, and we both ordered Cafe con Leche. The coffee came first; if you enjoy a good cup of coffee, I recommend you try the coffee at Havana. But when the desserts arrived, we were absolutely overwhelmed! Mary Ann decided she loved Flan. I knew I loved Tres Leches Cake, but this one bowled me over. I can hardly wait to get back to West Palm Beach just so I can get that cake. For more information about Havana Restaurant, click here. We loved it. The servers were absolutely delightful, and the food was fantastic. Highly recommend!

Havana Restaurant’s Tres Leches Cake

We waddled back out to the car after eating too much, and decided we’d stop in Delray Beach for the night. We took the beach road, and as I drove, Mary Ann was searching online for a small, locally-owned place to stay the night. We found Atlantic Hideaway on 6th Avenue. Unfortunately, they had no rooms left for the night. Even though we didn’t get to stay there, we recommend it and will likely try it another time. To see info about Atlantic Hideaway, click here. After driving around looking for other small inns, we finally opted to book at the Courtyard…yes, I know…not a small, locally-owned place, but it was in a great location…and at that point, it was just easy. We booked on the Marriott app, where we also checked in and got a digital key. Parking was in a covered garage. We were thrilled with how large the room was…two king beds…and the whole hotel was remarkably clean and beautiful. I never thought I would call a Courtyard beautiful, but this one definitely was.

After getting our bags to the room, we went out to explore on foot. Delray Beach is a lovely town with lots of cute restaurants and shops. We didn’t need more food after Havana, but we enjoyed walking. We crossed over the drawbridge and visited the beach. Of course, we took lots of photos along the way.

We slept well, and when we got up the next morning, we spent a couple of hours checking out Delray Beach, resolving to return soon. It’s the kind of place I could live out my retirement…seriously, it could happen.

In the afternoon, we got back on A1A, driving south through Highland Beach, Deerfield Beach, and Pompano Beach. We knew Miami Beach was our southernmost destination, so we made a hotel reservation and dinner reservations while we drove…more on that later. We didn’t make any stops till we got to Pompano, and we were past due for some lunch, since we hadn’t eaten breakfast. We had just said we were feeling “lunchy” when we saw a sign for Great Indian Grill. We both love Indian food, so we took a chance and were so glad we did! The place was small…just three tables…but with only two employees, it had a friendly, personal vibe. The chef, Jay, took our orders, and offered suggestions. He suggested Chicken Tikka Masala as an appetizer and Lamb Biryani and Shrimp Curry for lunch. Yum! Everything he prepared was perfect, and we felt like he was our personal chef! In some Indian restaurants, the flavors can be overwhelming, but Jay prepared them in such a way that the flavors melded perfectly. Everything was delicious. For info on Great Indian Grill, click here. We thanked our new friend, Jay, profusely before getting on the road to Miami.

As we drove away, we remembered reading that a Goodyear Blimp Airbase is in Pompano Beach, so Mary Ann checked her phone, and we decided to make a quick drive past the hangar, in hopes a blimp would be parked outside. As we approached, we realized we were getting more than that! A blimp was outside, indeed…getting prepared for takeoff! We had no idea where it was going, but when it took off, it flew low directly above us! As it started to circle low around the base, I realized it was doing a fly by and was going to land again! What a treat to watch it take off and land! I’ve seen the Goodyear blimp countless times, but I had never seen it take off and land, so this was fun! Once we knew it wouldn’t be taking off again, we got on the road. For info on the Goodyear Blimp Airbase, click here.

The blimp landing in the background, and a man biking through my selfie!

We rolled into Miami with Will Smith singing Miami on the car speakers, and eventually switched over to Pit Bull…just to get the vibe for the 305.

As I mentioned earlier, we had made a hotel reservation. We opted to stay at Eden Roc, because it’s in mid-beach (not South Beach!), and because they have valet parking. There were other factors too…Nobu restaurant and Malibu Farm restaurant are both at Eden Roc.

Upon arrival at Eden Roc, we were greeted warmly by the valet and bell staff. Check-in was quick and easy, and our room on the seventh floor gave us a pool view and partial ocean view. We got cleaned up and went downstairs to Malibu Farm for our cocktail reservation before moving to Nobu for our dinner. Mary Ann had never dined at Nobu, but I have dined at several, so I knew it would be a fabulous experience. It most definitely was. Nobu never disappoints. In fact, Mary Ann has called me several times since, still talking about that Nobu meal. I’d love to list everything we ordered, but we let the server decide for us, so we didn’t know the names of everything…but it was fantastic! For info on Malibu Farm, click here…and Nobu info, click here.

We went to bed happy, dreaming of the Nobu meal we’d just had!

We knew we had one day in Miami, so the next morning we picked a couple of things we wanted to do. I have no love for South Beach, so that was off the table. We knew we wanted to visit Calle Ocho…you can’t go to Miami without visiting Little Havana/Calle Ocho. We also wanted to visit the Wynwood Walls.

So after a quick drive around the Art Deco and South Beach area, we drove west, across MacArthur Causeway to Calle Ocho, where we had another great Cuban meal at Versailles. It’s a a tourist trap, but there were locals there too, and frankly, the easy parking was a factor in our decision. To see more about Versailles, click here. We left there and took a few pictures in Little Havana before going to the Wynwood Walls, an outdoor museum of murals by American and international artists. It’s actually blocks of murals on building and walls, but now there is a part of the area that charges for entry. It’s $10 per person, and it’s money well spent. We spent about an hour there, admiring the murals and taking photos. We loved it. And of course, at the end, I had to go into the gift shop to purchase some postcards…it’s what I do. For more about The Wynwood Walls, click here.

We left there, driving north with no idea where we would stop. More next time…in part 4 of the series.

Two Friends on the Road, Part 2

Two friends on the road, part 2.

At the end of Part 1, we were leaving Daytona Beach, headed south on Highway 1. To see Part 1, click here.

After making a quick trip over to Daytona Motor Speedway for a photo op…just because it’s a landmark…we’re not race fans, we were moving south toward Merritt Island, where we thought we might be able to see some manatees in the wild. We were on a wild manatee mission.

Mary Ann actually swam with manatees four years ago with a friend in Crystal River, Florida. I hate I missed it, because her stories from that trip are quite amusing. Apparently, a big male manatee was partial to Mary Ann and decided he would be her boyfriend for the day. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say he almost drowned her as he held onto her leg!

I wasn’t interested in that type of encounter! I just wanted to see some manatees in person…in the wild! According to one website, there was a chance we could see some at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, so we headed in that direction. According to one website, we would likely see them from an observation deck. We drove deep into the wildlife refuge, but when we arrived at the observation deck, it was closed for COVID. What the what?!? I don’t understand the logic behind that, so I was really disappointed, but then we read that some people had seen them at a boat launch nearby. We drove down a long gravel road, all the while praying I wouldn’t get a flat tire! When we arrived at the boat launch, a few other cars were there. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any manatees, but we did see some dolphins and got some amazing pictures of the sunset, so it was worth our while! We also saw some Roseate Spoonbills, lovely pink birds in the area. To learn more about the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, click here.

Leaving the wildlife refuge, we headed south on Highway 1, stopping for gas and more lottery tickets and scratch-offs, and we also stopped at an ice cream stand called Frisbee’s…it was shaped like an actual ice cream cone! We didn’t even bother to get ice cream, because we hoped to have dinner soon…but we did get a photo!

Soon thereafter, we got back on I-95, and our next stop was Vero Beach, Florida. We were driving down the interstate trying to figure out a safe place to stop. Mary Ann was reading off the names of cities on the map, and when she said, “Vero Beach,” I knew it would be safe to stop there. I have a friend who has a home there, and I know she has high standards. As we drove into Vero Beach, it was approaching 9pm, and we were looking for a restaurant for dinner. Mary Ann found one that was open till 10…Waldo’s at The Driftwood. We called ahead to make sure we would be able to get a table, and we were thrilled when they seated us outside, overlooking the Atlantic! We both had grilled fish with roasted veggies, and I texted Linda, my friend who has a home there, and told her we were at Waldo’s. She immediately texted me back, saying, “Waldo’s is an institution in Vero!” I will say the place had character. It also has quite a history. We highly recommend a visit to Waldo’s if you find yourself in Vero. To learn more about Waldo’s, click here. I was driving, so I didn’t have a cocktail, but Mary Ann ordered something called Voodoo Juice that was served in a bucket! She drank it down quickly and then said her head was tingling! Yes, she had a little buzz, but we later discovered she was also having a slight allergic reaction to something in the drink! Nothing serious…an antihistamine took care of it.

We ended up staying in a local Hampton Inn that night. If we had realized The Driftwood was right there, we likely would have tried to get a room there, but we were tired and just took the first option we came across. Even though we didn’t stay at The Driftwood, I would recommend staying there at least one night if you’re looking for a little, local place…just because it’s legendary, and the location is fantastic. You can see info about The Driftwood here.

After a good night’s sleep, we had some coffee and called Linda to get some tips about things to see quickly in Vero Beach. We went to the beach for a little while, and we were impressed by the boardwalk! It truly is a lovely area. She also recommended we spend some time checking out the town and look at some of the beautiful homes, and most importantly, she reminded me her brother had died in Vero Beach four years ago. He was an actor and had just closed his show, Ring of Fire, a show about Johnny Cash, at the Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach. In fact, the theatre has one of his guitars on display as a memorial, and I was determined to get into the theatre for a photo of it. When Mary Ann and I arrived at the theatre, however, it was locked. I left Mary Ann in the car and walked around the side of the building, where I could see the guitar display through a window, and I was fortunate to see a young man working. Yes…I knocked, because well, that’s just who I am. He came to the door cautiously, and when he cracked it open, I explained to him why I was there. Lucky for me, a woman behind him heard me and said, “Absolutely. Let her in.” As it turns out, she knew Linda’s brother, Jason, and she said to me several times, “He was a lovely man.” I thanked her profusely, took the photo, and texted it to Linda. If you find yourself in Vero Beach when there is a show at the Riverside Theatre, get tickets…I hear it’s a beautiful theatre. See more about the theatre here.

From Vero Beach, we traveled south a few miles to Fort Pierce. Again using the Roadside America app as a reference, we decided to visit the Fort Pierce Manatee Observation and Education Center. We certainly didn’t expect to see any manatees there, because it appeared the center offered kayaking tours for that, but we thought we’d make a stop anyway. The center, of course, was closed. Ugh. COVID. However, it was located on a marina, and there was a very nice gentleman there who told us he had just seen a manatee mama and calf in the marina that day. We were excited! It became our mission to find those manatees! We waited and waited. And then…we got lucky! The mama and calf surfaced together for air, and we ran along the footbridge to that part of the marina for a closer look. We were able to watch them surface several times and even got videos! I couldn’t believe how big the mama was, but Mary Ann told me the male manatee that molested her in Crystal River was much larger…yikes. I definitely don’t need to swim with manatees, but I was thrilled to see them! My husband and I used to hear them in a marina near Miami, but it was always dark, and we could never see them. At 53, I finally saw manatees! I was absolutely giddy!

Mama Manatee in Ft Pierce!

Eventually, we decided we needed to move on, so we got back into the car and on Highway 1, driving toward Tequesta and Jupiter. Any self-respecting Bama fan (me) knows Joe Namath lives in that area, and I had just read an article about a new restaurant he’s opening with a partner. It’s called Charlie and Joe’s, and I knew it was scheduled to open mid-January, so of course, I had to try to find it. Maybe we would get lucky and arrive at the Grand Opening, and I could finally meet Joe Willie?!? We Googled the location and drove right to it. There were lots of cars in the surrounding parking lots, so we thought we had arrived on the right day! I even checked my hair and makeup before we got out of the car! We walked across the parking lot and came to a sidewalk that had signs on both sides saying “no trespassing.” I thought that meant we couldn’t walk on the grass beside the sidewalk…right up till the cop stepped out of his car and asked if he could help us. Eek! I asked, “Are we trespassing?!?” “Yes, ma’am.” I said, “Oh my goodness! We saw the signs, but we thought they were for that area.” He laughed…fortunately. I thanked him for being nice about it, and we walked back to the car…after I got a quick picture with the sign for Joe’s new restaurant! I’ll meet him one day! For info on Charlie and Joe’s click here.

From the Tequesta/Jupiter area, we set out for West Palm Beach, because we were hungry, and Linda had recommended a Cuban restaurant there…more on that next time!

Two Friends on the Road, Part 1

Two friends on the road, Part 1.

I’ve recovered now. Wow. About 11 days ago, I embarked on a road trip with my friend, Mary Ann. We were long overdue for some fun, and frankly, we had discussed the possibility of a road trip without kids for years. It was high time we just got into the car and went. So we did. My husband stayed home with our 17-yr-old daughter, and my friend left her three kids with her mom…and off we went. We didn’t plan anything in advance. We didn’t have hotel reservations. However, because of COVID, we decided we needed to travel to places that were actually open, so we headed south…toward Florida.

We had used an app called Roadside America before, so we decided to use it on this trip too…and using the app, we decided our first stop would be at the UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, South Carolina. Crazy, right? It’s not an official welcome center; a gentleman built it in his yard, but it’s rather impressive. We knew when we had arrived, for sure. It’s shaped like a flying saucer and it cast a rather large shadow on the road as we approached from the east. Wow! Someone had spent a lot of time building this! I have to admit it was pretty amazing…an unusual photo op, to say the least. For a $20 “tip” you can go inside the massive structure, but since the sun was setting, and we weren’t sure the structure was “up to code,” we opted out of the grand tour. And soon, we were back on the road.

It wasn’t long before we were on I-95 south, and we stayed the course for several hours, till we decided it was time to stop…in St. Augustine, Florida. We got off the interstate and headed toward town, looking for a restaurant where we could grab dinner. We found a lovely place called Green Papaya, which offered Asian Fusion, but it was nearing closing time. We quickly ordered online and opted to eat it in the car, because we didn’t want to cause the staff to stay late. (My husband would be upset that we ate in my car…but he wasn’t there!) We were impressed with our ability to find a great restaurant, as the food from Green Papaya was just what the doctor ordered! If we find ourselves in St. Augustine again, we will return!

After dinner (in the car!), it was time to look for a place to stay. As I mentioned, we hadn’t made reservations ahead of time, and we wanted a small, locally-owned inn for the night. After checking ratings online, we headed toward a place called Magic Beach Motel in Vilano Beach…just outside St. Augustine. When we rolled into Vilano Beach, it was easy to spot Magic Beach Motel, because it was aglow in neon! It was exactly what we were looking for…a charming little beach motel from days gone by. (See feature photo!) For more info on the Magic Beach Motel, click here. Here’s where I should mention we purchased lottery tickets (it was at $950 million!) and scratch-offs every time we stopped for a bathroom break or to gas up the car. Scratch-offs added some mindless entertainment when we checked into the motel (and every hotel thereafter), and won more than we spent! We got a good night’s sleep, and the next morning, we decided to check out the area. We walked around the village, a tourist/beach area that boomed in the 1940s and 50s, situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Tomalato River. For more information on Vilano Beach, click here. I read there was once a drawbridge that directed traffic to the area, but when a new bridge was constructed in 1995, traffic was diverted away from the area, having a negative impact on the area’s businesses. It’s still a charming area, and it appears to be having a bit of a comeback, as a couple of hotel chains are building there. We strolled from the beach park on one end to the pier overlooking the Tomalato River on the other end. It was at the pier that we found the Bluebird of Happiness statue…another great photo op.

We had fun exploring. Lots of the old motels/restaurants are closed and falling into disrepair, and Mary Ann and I mused about what could be done to revitalize them…if we won the lottery! We also learned there is a Saturday flea market and a cute little Airstream shopping village on weekends. Too bad we were there on a Tuesday/Wednesday. We would have enjoyed it. Good info for next time, though!

We also learned the sign for Haley’s Court, an old beach motel, is an icon of the “beach tourism boom of the 1940s and 50s,”and it has its own historical marker, according to hmdb.org. When we drove into town, the sign was not illuminated, but the next morning, we were able to see it clearly. The sign is a great example of mid-century modern design.

After spending the morning exploring Vilano Beach, we loaded up and drove to The Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine…a tourist trap, for sure, but a fun one. We had lunch at a barbecue spot there, and it was surprisingly good! The park itself is interesting and informative, having begun as a tribute to Ponce de Leon’s landing in the New World. It has since become an archeological park, after several Christian relics were unearthed, positively identifying the area as the location of the settlement of St. Augustine in the 1500s. In the park, we found lots of information about the history of the area and even a planetarium! To learn more about The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, click here. We didn’t feel any younger when we left, unfortunately.

From there, we revisited downtown St. Augustine in the daylight…and it was just as stunning by day as it was when it was illuminated at night! The town square! The marinas! The fort! The beautiful, historical architecture! It’s definitely worth a visit! To learn more about St. Augustine, click here.

On our way out of town, we visited the lighthouse for a quick photo op, and we drove past the Alligator Farm, a place I visited as a child and loved. We needed to get a little farther south quickly, so we didn’t visit this time, but it’s also worth your time. I love a good alligator farm. Having lived on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay in Alabama, I’ve seen lots of gators…fascinating creatures. You can see lots of other animals at the Alligator Farm too. To learn more about the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, click here.

As we drove out of St. Augustine, we made a quick stop at a food truck park and grabbed some macróns before getting on A1A to head south on the beach road. We opened the windows and the sunroof, cranked up the 80s tunes and cruised the beach road through Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, and Ormond-by-the-Sea. This stretch of A1A felt like old school beach road…we enjoyed it and put our toes in the sand at several beaches along the way, searching for Right Whales every time we stopped. Right Whales can be spotted off the Florida coast between the months of December and March…something I didn’t know before this trip… so we hoped we might be able to spot one. We didn’t, but it was fun looking for them…and we got to enjoy the beaches in the process! We spoke with some local folks along the way…asking if any of them had ever seen Right Whales off shore…none of them had, but they knew people who had.

At Daytona, we hopped off A1A to take advantage of a photo op at Daytona Motor Speedway…a landmark, for sure. We then followed Highway 1 south to Merritt Island. I’ll pick up with that stop next time. At this point, we were having a great time, and the fun continued!

Outside Daytona Motor Speedway

Retro Road Trip

Retro road trip!

I’m 53. I don’t hesitate to tell people my age, because I don’t really care how old I am. I’m just happy to be here. At 53, though, I have accumulated a lot of life experience, and I have a lot of memories.

I don’t remember my parents ever being big on staying in little roadside motels, but I do remember a few occasions when we stayed in them in small towns. I remembering seeing lots of little locally-owned inns and motels in the late 1960s and 70s. There were lots of them lining the beach roads in the Florida Panhandle, a place we frequented. Panama City Beach was full of them, and a few are still there. When I was a little girl living in Spanish Fort, Alabama, on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, there was a cute little locally-owned motel near the entrance to our neighborhood. Anyone who lived in Spanish Fort in the 70s (and probably the 50s and 60s) remembers the Spanish Fort Motel, and they likely remember the Malbis Hotel Courts too, which had a swimming pool shaped like the state of Alabama. I know, because when I was a little girl, locals would purchase “memberships” to pools at both places. We spent lots of hot summer days swimming there. Both places had great restaurants for breakfast, and they both were on old Highway 90, which was the coastal east-west highway before the interstate, I-10, opened. After I-10 opened, of course, lots of those little places closed. Hotel chains built hotels near the interstates, and travelers opted for those instead.

Lots of those little roadside motels are gone now. But in some parts of the country, you can still find them.

This week, I am going on a retro road trip with a friend. We are leaving the kids behind and hitting the road…in search of every cute, little, retro, roadside motel we can find. We aren’t looking for luxury. We are looking for cute, quaint, old-fashioned fun. We haven’t put a lot of thought into where we will go, but we know we have to go somewhere that’s actually open during the COVID pandemic. We know we don’t need to drive into snow. And we know we need to go somewhere that there are still roadside motels. So, we are headed to Florida.

Originally, we had booked a five-night stay at a nice resort in south Florida, but then we decided to make this more of a retro adventure…a step back in time…and that’s what it will be. Plus, we felt like we would likely be more exposed to COVID at a large resort. Trust me when I say we are going to be careful. My travel buddy has already had COVID and still has antibodies. I don’t want to catch it, so I will be extra careful. But we want to have some fun and make new, silly memories.

Now don’t get me wrong. We don’t want to stay at any roach motels, and we don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to drug deals going down around us, so we have done a little research. And we will check reviews and ratings before we stop anywhere.

While we are on the road, we also will check out every cheesy roadside attraction we can find. All those roadside attractions the kids would grumble about? We are stopping! And we are going to take lots of photos! So stay tuned…the fun starts Tuesday.

I’m wondering if we should wear clothes from the 60s and 70s…maybe we will find some thrift stores along the way!

We are stepping back in time! Retro road trip!

***The feature photo is from a postcard from the Spanish Fort Motel. It features a photo of the entrance/check-in area.

***The photo below is a postcard featuring the Malbis Hotel Courts…and that pool shaped like the great state of Alabama.***