April 1, 2006 to April 16, 2006
During this period we were out of the country cruising the southern Caribbean aboard Holland America's MS Ryndam.
April 17, 2006
After 14 days of cruising the southern Caribbean, we woke up Easter Sunday morning knowing that within a few minutes our ship, Holland America's "MS Ryndam", would be nudging the pier at the Port of Tampa, Florida, and our cruise would be over. Margo was the first out of bed and reported that we were still under weigh, but that she could see the lights of downtown Tampa in the distance. I love to watch the docking procedures, so I jumped out of bed and headed out onto the verandah to see for myself.
What a beautiful morning it was. I walked out onto our verandah and noted that it was still dark out but would be light soon. The ship was moving at what I judged to be about 7-8 knots and I could see the green channel markers sliding by our port side. The lights of downtown Tampa seemed close enough to touch as we approached the cruise ship pier where we would disembark. It was a warm wonderful morning and perfect weather for us to end a cruise.
A few minutes later, lines went over and the ship was secured to the pier. Thus ended our fantastic voyage to eight Caribbean ports. Now it's back to cooking our own meals, washing our own dishes and making our own bed. Nothing spoils you like life aboard a cruise ship but all good things come to an end at some point.
Since leaving the ship we've been going non-stop getting the motor home out of storage and trying to get back into a normal RV lifestyle. We're currently back at the Kissimmee, Florida KOA (a really nice park) and have been attending to chores like unpacking and grocery shopping. Tomorrow the Mini gets set up for towing.
April 18, 2006
Margo and I are very particular about our vehicles and the decision to tow the Mini behind the motor home was not taken lightly. We wanted the installation to be clean as well as functional. Before we left on our cruise, I made an appointment with a company called "Towing World" located 60 miles east of Orlando in the small town of Wildwood. So this morning I got up early to be there for my 9:00 am appointment with the owner of the company, a man named John.
I arrived at Towing World promptly at 9:00 am and was met by John who was all ready to get started working on the car. It only took me a few minutes to realize that I had come to the right place. John was ready to answer my many questions, and he patiently explained the installation of the Blue Ox base plate and wiring for the towing lights. He really likes Minis and wants to see everything done right.
After our lengthy conversation he got to work on the car, while I occupied myself reading and getting some lunch. By early afternoon the car was ready to go and the work was flawless. Unless you're a Mini owner or fan of the cars you'd probably never notice that it was set up to tow. The flat-black tow bar attaching points and lighting plug protrude out of the lower grill and blend nicely with the rest of the car. We'd rather that the car still look completely stock, but this is a nice compromise and one that we can live with.
If you live in the Central Florida area or are just passing through and need anything involving towing, we highly recommend that you call John at Towing World. He can be reached at: 352-748-2388 or 1-888-GO-HITCH. They also have a website: www.towingworldclermont.com
We posted a few photos from our cruise in our photo gallery and I have to say that my favorite is the one of Margo with the Captain of our ship. That photo is the result of a chance meeting with Captain Consen on the pier at St. George's, Grenada. I saw him approaching and quickly asked if he would mind posing for a picture with Margo. He made a minor fuss about it, saying "now I'll have to take pictures with everyone on the ship!" but it was all in good fun. The man is loaded with personality and it's obvious that he loves his work. His shipboard announcements had everyone in stitches and we just loved the guy.
April 19, 2006
Our goal is to depart the Orlando area this coming weekend. We've set Sunday as our departure date, but we still have things to do before we leave. Chances are we won't be back to the central Florida area for a while and we don't want to forget anything. Sort of like leaving home to go on vacation and wondering if you turned the stove off. I think we're getting there though. Today I needed to hook the car up to the motor home for the first time and make sure that there were no surprises. Towing a car is new to us and we don't want problems.
So with our new tow bar in hand, I set out to hook things up and was surprised at how easy it turned out to be. Even the lights worked properly the first time. After the car was attached to the coach I was tempted to make a run down the street to see how well it towed, but that would have meant bringing in the slides and picking up the utilities so we'll wait until Sunday. The good thing is that we have to go right by Towing World as we depart the area so if there are any problems, we can address them then. So far, we're really impressed with the quality of the Blue Ox products and don't anticipate any problems.
Margo's goal for the day was to update other areas of this website. She had been wanting to get to it since before the cruise but it takes time and we've been very busy. Today was the day though and we're very pleased with the results of her handiwork.
April 20, 2006
They say that the Orlando area is the number one tourist destination in the country and based on the numbers of rental cars and out of state license plates we see around here, we would tend to agree. The area south of downtown Orlando extending all the way down to Kissimmee is one giant tourist trap and it's huge. Disney alone occupies 44 square miles. There are the well known attractions such as Universal Studios, Sea World and Disney, but there are also many lesser spots that are to put it gently, tacky. Along side of the tacky attractions are the "budget" motels and hotels. There's also a plethora of chain eateries. Miles of them in fact.
The Kissimmee KOA that we're staying at is located along one of the more tacky thoroughfares, US 192. "192" as it's known around here has more then it's share of tacky stuff, but to it's credit it's changing and cleaning up it's act. The problem is that it also has more than it's share of out of town tourists. I don't know why but it seems like people loose every bit of common sense they ever had when they get away from home and behind the wheel of a rental car. This can make navigating the 192 challenging at times. Unfortunately, we need to drive it to get just about anywhere. The KOA is located approximately 5 miles from Interstate 4, which means 10 round trip miles of tourist dodging, reflex testing, motoring just to run a simple errand.
And running errands have been a big part of our life these last few days. It's amazing how many little things we need to get done before we leave the area on Sunday. Of course once we're gone we will quickly forget all of the running around we did and maybe even wish that we could be back at this nice little park.
Today I received a package from Moss Motors, a Mini aftermarket company in California. I had ordered some clear 3M headlight protectors for the Mini. They're designed to protect the costly ($120 each) headlight lens covers from rock impacts of up to 120 miles per hour. We figured they might come in handy when towing behind the motor home. Installation of the protectors was easy and once installed they became virtually invisible.
April 21, 2006
This morning I was scheduled to take a fasting blood test as part of my annual physical exam. The blood test lab is only about 4 miles from here down the 192, which is convenient. The lab opens at 6:00 am, so I thought I'd get up early to be there when the doors opened, so as to avoid the long waiting lines that form later in the day. Luckily there are almost no tourists out at that time of morning so my run over there and back was accomplished with minimal drama.
I needed to get back to the RV so that Margo could have the car to make a run into downtown. She was all excited to go visit with the folks where she used to work at Orange County Government. I wasn't back two minutes when she grabbed the keys to the Mini and was off making like Charlize Theron in "The Italian Job", zipping through traffic down the 192 towards Interstate 4. She was back in a couple of hours and judging by the smile on her face, it was obvious that she'd had a nice visit with everyone.
The motor home hadn't been washed in quite a while and was starting to look kind of drab, so I decided to give it the once over. It takes around four hours to give the coach a decent wash job, but it's good exercise climbing up and down the ladder but I enjoy doing it. It will probably get dirty soon after we hit the road on Sunday, but at least we'll be starting out clean.
April 22, 2006
Margo and I are Formula One Grand Prix race fans in the same way that many folks are avid football fans. When the races are on we gather together our munches and drinks then settle in to enjoy the race. This morning we watched the qualifying for the San Marino (Imola, Italy) Grand Prix, which will be held on Sunday. Michael Schumacher, driving for Ferrari, broke the qualifying record he held jointly with the late Ayrton Senna so it was a landmark qualifying session. Unfortunately we won't get to see the race tomorrow because we'll be on the road, but Speed Channel will rebroadcast it next weekend and we'll try and catch it then.
We only had to do grocery shopping then make a quick run by storage today. Now we're ready to leave Orlando for points north tomorrow morning. We can't believe we're actually getting ready to get back out on the road. It's exciting! We're not sure when we'll be back to Orlando so that last trip to storage was an important one.
Our evening was spent with good friends Sean and Patty Mahany who live up in Sanford. The Mahany's were our first friends when we moved to Florida and we will miss them when we leave. We had an enjoyable dinner together at an Italian restaurant in Sanford then said our goodbyes. It's always hard to leave family and friends behind when hitting the road and that is an important consideration for those considering the full-time RV lifestyle.
April 23, 2006
For the past few days I've been trying to decide whether to hook up the Mini to the motor home at the KOA or wait until we were out in the country a ways. This was to be our first attempt at towing the car since we set it up to tow behind the motor home and I didn't want to test the tow rig in heavy tourist traffic. When we finally got ready to leave this morning I decided to wait until we got out to a service plaza off of the Florida Turnpike to try it out. The plaza is located close to I-75, the route we would be taking north out of Florida and into Georgia. It has acres of concrete truck parking and would be the perfect place for us to hook up the car to try towing it for the first time.
Once at the service plaza I headed for the diesel pumps and topped off the motor home tank then drove over to the truck parking area. Soon the car was hooked up and we were ready for the tow test to begin. Margo stayed outside with her walkie-talkie so that she could alert me of any problems and I was behind the wheel of the motor home with my walkie-talkie in hand. It turns out that we needn't have worried about how well the car would tow, because it towed perfectly from the first turn of the wheel. I drove some figure eights around the parking lot and the car tracked and turned like it was born to do it. After doing a second and final light check we headed out onto the turnpike and points north. Towing from that point on was a piece of cake although I did stop a couple of times to recheck things.
So here we sit at Amy's RV Park in Tifton Georgia. Tifton is about 60 miles north of the Georgia/Florida border. The park is located about a half mile off of I-75 and seems to be a nice quiet little place. It has full hookups and the pull-thrus are long. The WiFi is good but because of some nearby trees we can't lock onto our Direct TV satellite. I could get the portable dish out but to tell the truth I'm too lazy. We'll catch the Sopranos on the Wednesday rerun. For one night we can either read or watch a movie.
April 24, 2006
Our destination for today was Flat Rock, North Carolina and the Lakewood RV Resort (www.lakewoodrvresort.com). We've stayed at this park before and find it to be a nice quiet place with all the amenities including a wide range of cable channels and complimentary WiFi.
Our drive up from Tifton, Georgia was an uneventful 382 miles of highway that included the outskirts of Atlanta. We found out through previous experience that downtown Atlanta should be avoided at all costs. Like most large metropolitan areas, Atlanta is choked with traffic most hours of the day, sometimes even late at night. Fortunately, there are alternative routes around most of it.
The small town of Flat Rock is situated right next to Hendersonville, NC, which is situated right close to the famed Blue Ridge Parkway. This is beautiful country anytime of the year but especially during the fall months when the trees change. It's stunning.
We plan to be here for one week to both check out the area and to visit with long time friends Charlie and Sharon Muccia. The Muccia's moved to the area a little over a year ago and both hail from the San Francisco Bay area.
April 25, 2006
We awoke to overcast skies this morning which was a good excuse to lounge around in the motor home. A little later the skies cleared so I went out and did some cleaning on the car. It's amazing how dirty a car can get while being towed behind a motor home. Oh well, 30 minutes of elbow grease and Willie looks like new.
We had arranged for our friend Charlie to come by and visit with us this afternoon and it was with much anticipation that we awaited his arrival. His wife, Sharon, was doing volunteer work and wouldn't be available to get together until tomorrow. Charlie showed up a little after 1:00 pm, and we had a great time showing him the motor home and catching up on old times. The conversation gave us an appetite, so we adjourned to a nearby Cracker Barrel for a late lunch. It was a good afternoon.
April 26, 2006
One trend that we're seeing throughout the country is the move towards mixed communities of RVs and park model homes. This park, Lakewood RV Resort, is no exception. One area of the park is dedicated to park models and it's turning into a regular little community. We spoke with one of the park owners who told us that they're very flexible regarding additions, floor plans, features, etc. These little homes appear to be a nice compromise for those folks that are on a smaller budget or that just want to downsize their lives. Park models in general might also make a good "home base" for those full-time RVers that need one.
We got a call from our friends this morning inviting us over to their house to hang out. As I had mentioned earlier, they are originally from the S.F. area but decided to move east with the equity from their Bay Area home. Here in Hendersonville they have a wonderful two-story house nestled in a beautiful mountain setting. Amazing what California equity can do for people willing to relocate. The drive up to their house is really pretty. The mountains are thickly forested with beautiful green trees and today there were a few rain showers making the whole experience seem like a drive through a rain forest.
Once at their place we engaged in the usual conversation and catching up which generated the usual cravings for food. At that point we decided to head down the mountain to a local all-you-can-eat buffet for dinner. After just coming off of a cruise a buffet was the last thing Margo or I needed, but we tried to eat sensibly (with the exception of my all chocolate dessert). After dinner there was more conversation then the drive back to the RV.
Coming back down the mountain after dark it was raining and the wind was blowing leaves and other small debris across the curvy two-lane road. The trees were swaying and our headlight beams often disappeared into darkness. This heavily forested mountain road couldn't help but make us think of what a contrast North Carolina is to flat Florida, just a few states away. What an interesting country this is.
April 27, 2006
This morning we tended to some chores around the RV then decided to make a run into downtown Hendersonville. We'd heard that it was quaint and not to be missed. We also needed to get Sparkie a booster shot for one of his vaccinations, which meant that we'd need to find a local vet. Margo found an animal hospital with no problem so off the three of us went to downtown.
The Downtown area is cute and quaint. It's what you might expect from this neck of the woods. There are lots of brick buildings and the main street is lined with small shops that look like they could have come from a Norman Rockwell painting. Cars are parked diagonal style. It's obvious that the main street used to be four lanes wide with two lanes in each direction, but the engineers and architects, for whatever reason, have chosen to make it two lanes wide with artificial curves added to what would otherwise be a straight street. My guess is that it's a form of "traffic calming" and local business owners want to slow people down so that they can look in the shop windows as they pass. The real result is traffic congestion and aggravation. To be honest, it makes us want to avoid the area, which is the opposite affect of what the designers intended. It's still cute and worth seeing though.
Sparkie got his booster shot, then we headed over to rent a movie for the night. We chose "Shop Girl" starring, Steve Martin, Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman. It's an innocent little "chick flick" about a gal who has to choose between two guys. Nothing earth shattering, but a good watch if you like relationship pictures.
We've been in this area long enough now to have become familiar with it, and we like it a lot, but there's always been something about it that doesn't sit well with us. Today it finally dawned on us what it is. There are few vistas. Places where you can see far into the distance because of the dense tree population. The trees are beautiful, but they make us feel a little claustrophobic. Maybe that's why we love being at sea and spending time in the southwestern deserts. These are places with the ultimate wide-open spaces. When we move ashore and throw out the anchor for the last time, it will have to be in the desert.
April 28, 2006 to April 29, 2006
There really is no web log entry for the 28th as it was just more visiting and socializing with friends.
For the 29th, let us first wish our daughter, Jennifer, a very happy birthday! Jennifer lives in Reno, Nevada, so we won't be able to celebrate with her, but word has it that her sister Heather is paying her a surprise visit by traveling up from the San Jose area. I'm sure the two of them together will celebrate enough for all of us. We miss you girls!
After a leisurely breakfast, we took a drive over to the Hendersonville airport where we visited the Western North Carolina Air Museum (wncairmuseum.com). Regular readers of this web log know that we love visiting air and rail museums, large or small. We'd have to characterize this particular museum as being on the small side, but it's still an interesting and well-run operation. The museum owns two hangers at the airport and both are full of antique aircraft. The main hanger houses the aircraft that are owned by the museum itself, and the second hanger is full of privately owned antique aircraft that are also available for viewing by the public. Admission to the museum is free, but like all museums, donations are more than welcome.
We were met at the door of the main hanger by a museum volunteer who took the time to explain the history behind each aircraft, then we were free to browse the collection on our own. It's a nice museum and will be enjoyed by anyone who loves airplanes.
Our next stop was the Hendersonville train depot. The Norfolk Southern rail line through town is closed, but the tracks and little train station are still in place. The depot, like many small town depots is long closed, but this particular depot appears to be well maintained and even has a model railroad club as a tenant. The depot is open to visitors on Saturdays from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm, which we didn't know until we got there. Unfortunately we got there after 2:00 pm and missed seeing the model railroad, but there will always be another time. This particular rail line isn't far from the town of Saluda, North Carolina and the famed 5% Saluda Grade, the steepest mainline railroad grade in the U.S. The depot has a nice website (www.avmrc.com) which we recommend for more information on the depot and local railroad history.
The depot is located only a few blocks from Main Street Hendersonville so we thought that we'd drive over and take a stroll down the street and check out the shops. We had driven down the street a few days ago, but didn't stop. However, we've since been told that there are stylized bear statues located all along the street and that they are fun to browse as each one is different from the next.
Business in the little downtown main drag was robust, but we managed to find a parking spot in one of the old fashioned diagonal parking spots and soon we were strolling down the sidewalk checking out the bears. Each bear appears to be individually sponsored and each one is definitely different than the next. They appear to be very popular as people were taking photos along side of their favorites. Margo and I were no exception (see our photo gallery). We browsed some of the shops and enjoyed ourselves. There are also some nice looking restaurants located along Main Street and we'll be sure to check them out next visit to Hendersonville.
April 30, 2006
It was a relaxing day today. We watched the Speed Channel presentation of the San Marino Formula One race and took a nice long walk. We'll be leaving Hendersonville tomorrow morning, but we don't really have much to do to prepare.
The Allison transmission warranty requires that the filter be changed in the motor home transmission at 5,000 miles. Our coach has 4,700 on it right now, so we've scheduled the service for tomorrow morning at a truck repair facility in Asheville. We need to be there at 9:00 am, which will mean getting up early. Asheville is only about 25 miles from here, but we have no idea what kind of traffic we'll encounter. Hopefully the service will go smoothly and we'll be out on the road with minimum delay.