We escaped the pandemic winter months by returning to Venice, Florida. We rented a house in the Venice Golf and Country Club (aka “VGCC”), the same gated golf club community where we have rented in 2018 and 2019. By way of explanation, in 2020 we stayed in St. Pete, FL, at the fabulous Vinoy - you can take a look at that among my travelogues. The house we rented this time was not the same one we had in 2018 & 2019; we rented from a Massachusetts couple via a rental agent.
Our plan was to arrive in Venice early afternoon on the day the house became available to us, which we accomplished. The evening before departure we packed our Mercedes E-300 from behind the front seats all the way to the trunk lid. Fortunately the Mercedes has fold-down rear seats to give us the room we “needed”. We kept an overnight, carry-on type bag each for our traveling stays. We had a three part trip:
The drive was, for the most part, uneventful. We drove on US 95 until FL Rt 4 to Rt 75, except when we left the highway for our overnights or to gas up or get lunch. Traffic generally moved well enough. When we stopped for lunch or overnight, most people wore masks... but the further south we went the more exceptions there were. Every server we encountered except one wore masks. We were shocked at the exception. Oh, well.
The car was an excellent travel partner. We averaged over 30 mpg for the trip down and the return trip, which for a fully loaded large luxury sedan is pretty decent. And it remained peppy. I loved the car before the trip, and more so now.
Below: Karen on the balcony of the Jekyl Island Westin; Chuck on the balcony, enjoying life:
Below: The Mercedes E-350 (before being loaded down):
When we arrived, we had to go through a process to get a sticker on our headlight to automatically open the VCGG community gates. We then went to the house and used the garage code to enter.
The house was a little smaller than the one we had in 2018 and 2019, but had a great layout and was well-furnished, particularly in the kitchen. The kitchen had every kitchen tool imaginable, and all of good quality. The house had WiFi and cable TV - what more could two 21st century techies want? It had two bedrooms (one a master with a king and the guest also had a king), an office, a laundry room, a two-car plus golf cart garage, a dining room, a kitchen with breakfast nook, a living room, and a lanai with a pool. The view was great - across a wide fairway to a dense woods with the sunset behind the trees. The course was set up such that we were not affected by errant golf balls or by golf carts close to the house. Living was easy. A few photos will demonstrate:
Below: The house from the street; and the view from the living room:
Below: The living room; and the kitchen:
What a friendly community we find each year at VGCC. The community is built around the golf club and course, and around the many ponds. The community is comprised of 587 homes, and the golf and country club is equity-owned by its members. VGCC was built starting in 1991, so its vegitation is mature and the place is beautiful. Members own their own carts and drive them from their homes to the course, so they already have their clubs aboard. The course has a number of challenging holes, with a lot of water and greens that roll fast (many days the green speed is 12). Yep, lots of water, devious bunkers, sharp doglegs, sloping greens, and of course, the green speed.
Below: A view from a tee box on #10; and a view of the challenge presented from the tee box of #17 (yep, there is a fairway down there somewhere):
Oh, and did I mention the aligators? Gobs of them and some are huge. Everywhere there are birds of every description. The sand cranes own the course, or think they do. One time on the finishing hole, I drove the cart to near my ball and two sand cranes stood on the cart path, so I gingerly went around them. The stayed near me as I approached my shot. I worried more about the sand cranes than the shot, and the results demonstrated that. They make a sound like a velociraptor in Jurrasic Park. All the time. But you also see pelicans diving for their lunch, and various osprey, hawks, and eagles. There is an osprey nest on the course with a video camera over it, and we actually were able to see a live osprey hatching on our phones. Ain’t tech just marvey? Not to mention baby ospreys.
Below: Karen on a tee box with a 15 foot gator sunning on the side, just behind her; and another look at the alligator:
A couple of Sand Cranes in love on the course; and a stunning view of hole # 8:
Over the past year the clubhouse has and is undergoing a $6 million+ renovation. This is on top of a recently completed $2.5 million course renovation. The facilities, when completed this summer, will be top-notch, including enhanced dining areas, fitness center, court sports, and more. It is enough to entice us to return in the future.
Florida during this pandemic is a dichotomy. On one hand, the visitors (and there are a lot of them) seem to wear masks. On the other hand, the natives were split between those who wore masks at least some times, and those who just refused. Some of the latter would have masks hanging from their ear and not put them on in stores or restaurants. Many Floridians walked down crowded sidewalks oblivious to the fact that there was a pandemic. Perhaps I have divided the population between natives and visitors too finely, but I think that the general comment holds. Older men would be maskless walking with their masked wives. Huh? It is reflected in the politics, but that is someone else’s topic.
Things were open for business, with restaurants trying (mostly) to space tables. We shopped for new bathing suits (bought them), and we shopped frequently for groceries at the Publix on Jacaranda Boulevard.
Our weather was perfect for two months. It was a little chilly the first few days (low 60’s during the day), and a little warm for a couple of weeks (low 80’s during the afternoons), but in general it was low 70’s all the way, with nights in the 60’s. Perfect. Humidity was moderate, no insects, and we had one afternoon with rain and two nights when it rained. We really lucked out on the weather.
Just prior to going to Florida I was fortunate enough to get scheduled for a Covid shot at the Main Line Health Lankenau Hospital. The timing was February 23rd, so I made arrangements to fly back for the shot. That meant hiring a ride to the Tampa airport, flying to Philadelphia, renting a car, driving home, spending the night, getting up early and driving to Lankenau for the shot, driving home, spending the night, driving to the airport, dropping off the rental, flying back to Tampa, and being picked up by Karen and driving back to VGCC. Whew! I considered the whole thing worth it. I also tried to get the shot in Florida, where I was eligible, but I never got invited by their system to get a shot. So, the Philly shot was a good thing. I got my second shot a couple of days after our return. Fully vaccinated.
While home, I was able to go through the mail, pay some bills (missed one - oops!), make sure all was right, and start and drive Karen’s car. It had snowed a lot at home and I did get her freshly washed car all dirty when I drove it to Lankenau instead of the rental. Sorry.
Bill and Lee are Karen’s brother and sister-in-law and they came for a week with us. We have had them visit in Florida in an earlier year and we have always enjoyed their company. Bill, though recovering from a biking injury, was anxious for an active time to include biking and beach-walking. We all went for a bike ride along the Legacy Trail, a great biking trail... very scenic. I got winded early on trying to bike up a highway overpass, and had to rest. I returned to the beginning after that, but everyone else continued on. Please note that I hadn’t biked in over five years and was not in bike shape at all.
Below: A view of the Legacy Trail, at Oscar Sherer State Park; and the trail approaching the overpass that overcame me:
Below: Bill and Lee on the bike trail; and the four of us at Casey Key Fish House in Osprey:
Below: The sail boat that we sailed; and Bill & Lee relaxing on the boat:
Below: Captain Dove; and First Mate Tim:
Karen’s longtime friend and former co-worker, Sue, and her husband, Jim, came for a visit, and we all met at Sharkey’s at the Pier for lunch and a little walk on the pier. You cannot fault the food, the service, the view, or the experience.
Below: Sue and Jim at Sharkey’s; and Karen and Sue at Sharkey’s:
Below:Sharkey’s on the Pier view of the pier:
Unfortunately, in the second week of February I began to experience a severe pain in my lower back, right hip, groin, femur, and knee. It was constant, day and night, and nothing that I did seemed to control it. I contacted a local Orthopaedist and on February 26 he X-Rayed my hip and groin. He recommended certain exercises, which I did (painfully) and which had no effect. I returned and received a cortisone shot to the right hip. It also had no effect.
During the entire trip from the ensuing of the pain until well after we returned home, the pain was constant. I tried to play golf and did until the last week, though I was in extreme discomfort. Since returning, up to the writing of this travelogue, I have visited my personal physician twice, had an MRI, visited my orthopaedist, and have made several other appointments. The general diagnosis seems that I have some “severe bilateral neural foraminal narrowing” and bulging discs and other problems in my lumbar spine. This is causing the nerves to my hip, groin, and leg to be pinched and is the source of my pain and difficulty in walking. I have begun some course of treatment.
I bring this up because it affected our vacation, which was planned to play golf, enjoy the beach, some biking, walking, and other activities. I struggled to play golf and was a burden to Karen, who was and is a marvelous partner helping me in every possible way. I also have to tell you that as a gift to Karen on Valentine Day I shaved my goatee. So you see some photos with and some without the chin hair.
Karen was a lot more active than was I (see above). She loves golf, tennis, paddle, swimming, exercise, and beach walking, and also almost anything athletic. There were a number of times when she played a round of golf without me, with her friends or even with brand new acquantances. This, of course, left me with time to read and I consumed several novels. She also met up with her friends for a bike ride on the Venetian Waterway Park Trail. She went kayaking with our friend Sheryl and had a great time doing it. She is actually the energizer bunny.
Below: Karen with Sheryl and MJ on the bike path; and Karen kayaking:
Prior to the trip, Karen sprained her ankle. She is a warrior and never complained, and still had the boot on when we arrived and played our first round of golf. Shortly after, she switched to a brace, and after a week or ten days of that, went with just a small wrap. Didn’t stop or even slow her down.
Below: Karen on a bridge on the bike trail; and a view of Karen’s boot just before we left for Florida:
When we travel one of the great pleasures is to sample the local cuisine. This is especially true of travel to foreign places, but also to domestic locations. I relish dining out, which may be a way of relinquishing my cooking duties. In our time in Venice, we dined at home and away in a ratio of perhaps 60% to 40%, if you include take-out with in-home dining. Note: we don’t do home delivery, either vacationing or at our home, but prefer to pick up orders.
So where did we go for our meals and how were they? We tried to exclusively make reservations, if available, for outdoor seating. A number of good spots did not do reservations, but they may have an outdoor bar or waiting area, and we did try to squeeze into times with a high liklihood of quick seating. We liked to look over the water if possible, though we also went to many inland places.
Some of our favorite dinners were: (note that some links may not work with your browser or security settings):
Some of our favorite breakfast, brunch, or lunch places were:
Some of our favorite take-out places were:
Below: Chuck at Finn’s at Sharkey’s; and a sunset view from Finn’s:
Below: The pier at Casey Key; and sunset at The Crow’s Nest:
Below: Karen at The Crow’s Nest; and Chuck (with green hair reflection) at The Crow’s Nest:
Karen, Bill and Lee at Pops Sunset Grill (forgive the fuzzy photo - I screwed this up):
Not all of the places we went to are listed; it becomes exhaustive. While it was true that we ate out a lot, we also cooked a lot... hey, one has to eat. We shopped at Publix, and kept a decent pantry. The owners of the house left some basics for us, and they really set up the kitchen very well to make our cooking easier and more enjoyable. Mostly we grilled on the Weber grill: pork chops, steaks, burgers. We ate healthy for the most part. I actually came home weighing the same or slightly less than before. When we ate, we ate on the lanai, viewing the sunset over the trees. Quite a sight and very peaceful. We had wine almost every evening with our meal, at home or dining out. A glass of wine is my weakness.
We would rather drive shorter, more relaxed distances than to sprint home in a tiring frenzy. We planned almost a reverse trip to go home - same highways, and the only deviation being going to Richmond instead of Rocky Mount:
In Richmond, we stayed at the Marriott Courtyard Downtown, which was really well placed and was more upscale than one might anticipate. It was located on East Cary Street, a belgian block street lined with great restaurants. We are at The Hard Shell, within a block of the hotel. It was perhaps the best seafood dinner I have enjoyed in a long time. If you are in Richmond, you must try it.
Below: A view of The Hard Shell:
The drive was pleasant and uneventful except for a pileup that had occurred on US 95 somewhere in South Carolina, but our nav system took us around that after a small wait. We arrived home in good spirits, and the only downside was that somehow our Andy Warhol Committee 2000 print fell from over the mantel and smashed the glass and frame. The print was unharmed and is now being reframed.
Below: Andy Warhol Committee 2000 (aka Celebration 2000) signed print (this copied image does not show the signature):
We’ve done it before; we’ll do it again. We thoroughly enjoy the experience of Venice, Florida, and the value of renting in the Venice Golf and Country Club. Except for my injury, it was a flawless and totally enjoyable two months.
Our next trip, already booked for early October, is a tour of Greece (Athens, Delphi, Olympia), followed by a cruise on SilverSeas ship “Silver Shadow” (max 388 guests). There are multiple tour options for each stop. The cruise is 10 days at sea from Athens to:
Look for the travelogue of this cruise in late October.
And, finally, we’ll be spending a month in Feb/Mar, 2022, in Hawaii, after a few days stop in Napa Valley.
The events listed below include the ones in which I participated. Karen had many other activities - a lot of activities - that I did not do and are not listed below. For example, she played a lot of tennis, both just hitting with the ball machine, taking a class, or playing. She also kayaked, rode a bike with friends, played additional golf, and so on. Some of the events that I or we did are not listed just because I forgot them or did not write them down. Shame on me. Also, I had tossed the scorecards on which I kept our foursome names, so I only put in what I remembered. Sorry.
Not included is that we went to the club pool and hot tub (spa) most afternoons. I would spa and Karen would swim laps, and then we would float around a bit and then sun-dry and golf cart home. We also went to a couple of open houses (just perusing, nosy-like), went shopping for clothes, did a bunch of grocery and pharmacy runs, and so on. One of the things we like about renting in VGCC is that the rental includes a membership in VGCC, including golf and all the other privileges, and the use of a golf cart. We rode the cart every day everywhere we went within the gated community. The rental fee including golf and the card means that we played at least 60 rounds of golf for “free”, making the fee a pretty good deal.
|01/30/21||AM & PM||Drive to Rocky Mount, NC; stay at Marriott Courtyard||okay|
|01/31/21||AM & PM||Drive to Jekyl Island, GA; stay at Jekyl Island Westin in room w/balcony view of ocean||good|
|02/01/21||AM & PM||Drive to VGCC & move in to 539 Fallbrook Drive||good|
|02/04/21||PM||golf w/Al & Deck||97|
|02/05/21||PM||Dinner outdoors at Cassariano Italian Eatery in Venice||good, not great|
|02/11/21||AM & PM||Bill & Lee arrive for visit||great|
|02/11/21||AM||Dr. Gonzalez, Orthopos, X-Ray||oaky|
|02/11/21||PM||golf w/Al & Deck||94|
|02/13/21||PM||Sailing with Bill & Lee out to the gulf||spectacular|
|02/13/21||PM||Dinner with Bill & Lee at Casey Key on the deck at sunset||fabulous|
|02/14/21||PM||golf w/Fred & Elizabeth||96|
|02/16/21||PM||golf with Roland and Sheryl||99|
|02/16/21||PM||Dinner with Bill & Lee at Tikka Indian||loved it|
|02/17/21||AM||Bill & Lee end their visit||a fun stay|
|02/20/21||AM||Blu Island Bistro for outdoor breakfast||great breakfast|
|02/22/21||AM||Fly AA to PHL, Hertz rental, to home||good|
|02/23/21||AM||Lankenau Hospital for Pfizer Covid-19 1st Shot!||wonderful!|
|02/24/21||AM & PM||Fly AA to TPA, Karen drives me to VGCC||great|
|02/24/21||PM||Lunch outdoors at Original Word of Mouth||good|
|02/24/21||PM||Dinner at Casey’s Key on the dock... best grouper sandwich ever||outstanding|
|02/25/21||PM||golf w/Al & Deck||93|
|02/26/21||AM||Dr. Gonzalez, Orthopod, Cortisone shot||okay|
|02/26/21||PM||Dinner on the Veranda at VGCC with the RiverCrest crowd, including Roland (who set it up) & Sheryl; Herb and MJ; Bob and Sharon; and ???? and ????||great time|
|02/27/21||PM||Dinner outdoors at Valenti’s Allegro Bistro||okay, not great|
|02/28/21||AM||golf w/Dave & Jan||94|
|03/02/21||PM||Dinner ourdoors at Mi Pueblo Venice - Mexican||pretty good|
|03/03/21||AM||Brunch at Daiquiri Deck in downtown Venice||fun, good|
|03/04/21||AM||Lunch with Sue and Jim at Sharkey‘s on the Pier||great fun|
|03/06/21||AM||Breakfast (alone) at Blu Island Bistro||wow, great|
|03/09/21||PM||golf w/ Dave & Jan||98|
|03/09/21||PM||Dinner at Cafe Longet in Venice - almost French||good|
|03/11/21||AM||golf w/Herb & Bob||95|
|03/12/21||PM||golf w/Rich & Sharon||95|
|03/14/21||AM||golf - couples tourney||94|
|03/15/21||AM||Tour Ideal Classic Cars; examine 1964 Austin Healey||great|
|03/15/21||PM||Dinner on the dock at Casey’s Key||great as always|
|03/16/21||AM||golf w/Dennis & Sharon||97|
|03/18/21||AM||golf w/Al & Deck||95|
|03/19/21||PM||Dinner at Fins at Sharky’s||excellent|
|03/21/21||AM||Lunch outdoors at Original Word of Mouth||good|
|03/22/21||AM||Brunch (alone) at Peach’s on Jacarunda||very good|
|03/24/21||PM||Dinner outdoors at Angelo’s Italian Market - best Italian this week||very good|
|03/25/21||AM||golf w/Al & Deck||97|
|03/26/21||PM||Dinner at Tikka Indian Cuisine, again||still very good|
|03/27/21||PM||Dinner outdoors at Bodrum, off Miami in Venice - Greek/Mediteranean||good|
|03/30/21||AM/td>||Brunch at Blu Island Bistro||habit-forming|
|03/30/21||AM||pick up disc of X-Ray||okay|
|03/30/21||PM||Dinner outside at the Crow’s Nest on Tarpon in Venice on the deck overlooking the gulf at sunset||spectacular|
|03/31/21||AM||Drive to the Jekyl Island Westin||okay|
|03/31/21||PM||Dinner outdoors at Harry’s Lounge at the Westin; we were lucky that Paul the bartender took pity and gave us a table; there were no tables at three other places we tried||a relief!|
|04/01/21||AM & PM||Drive from Jekyl Island to Richmond, VA||okay|
|04/01/21||PM||Marriott Courtyard in downtown Richmond||very, very good|
|04/01/21||PM||Dinner at The Hard Shell in Downtown Richmond - unbelievably good Seafood||Outstanding|
|04/02/21||PM||Home at last - thank God almighty, home at last||felt good|