Sunshine state of mind

The days are quickly shortening here in Scotland, especially now that we’ve set our clocks back for the winter.  In other words, it’s definitely hibernation time.  I struggled to figure out how to work our trip to Florida into a blog post, as we didn’t visit many traditionally “touristy” areas-and, as much as my mom loves people, I don’t think she’d appreciate me telling everybody to go visit her!  That said, with the impending wintery darkness and cold upon us, I decided a visual trip back to the Sunshine State was in order.

We made our way from Nashville, blasting music (alternating between radio stations and singing along to my Disney playlist of course) for the ten hours.  Fraser is a great travel partner, incredibly laid back and always willing to distribute animal crackers snacks mature enough for adults, though I did enjoy messing with him a bit once we crossed the state line into Florida.  For the record, the chances of seeing an alligator on the side of the highway or under your car at a rest stop is fairly slim…but he didn’t know that driving down!  So once we reached our final destination, alligator- and wild cat-free, and the family introductions were out of the way (Fraser had “met” my mom and her husband via Skype,  but this was the first in-person meeting) we planned what we’d do in our few days there.  The beach was an absolute must, as was watching fireworks since we’d be there for the Fourth of July!  Between my mom’s suggestions and our dear friend Google we managed to give Fraser an experience that balanced Florida’s history and nature, while giving us a chance to relax a little as well.  While Florida’s theme parks are wonderful (hello Disney World and Universal Orlando) it’s also a fantastic holiday locale if you want a combination of city nightlife and chilled out beach time.

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Not the worst view in the world

Keeping that perfect balance in mind, we decided on a few key things: the beach (of course), the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, a local beachside winery/restaurant (that we ended up having to skip for a different locally-owned cafe but still, go local!), and this super old tree that would give Fraser an idea of Florida’s landscape without forcing me into the spider-infested national parks.

The beach itself was amazing-we ventured down with my brother and our cousin, and had a lovely time relaxing and cooling off in the water.  Fraser body boarded for the first time, and I’m 95% sure that we became makeshift lighthouses when we were out of the water since our sun-deprived skin was reflecting the sun in every direction.  That night we treated Fraser to a poolside BBQ, and we surprised my family with some Scottish beers.  We’d brought a few bottles of BrewDog for my family to try, so we ran a little unofficial tasting.  The reviews were resoundingly good so BrewDog if you’re reading this, I’ve got a feeling you should ship to Florida as soon as your USA brewery is open!  After Nate and Ross left we set up the fire pit, as I’d promised Fraser his first marshmallow roasting session and s’mores when we first booked the flight…and then barred him from trying anything s’mores-flavoured until then don’t regret it.

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His review? “Well worth the wait of…however many months you made me wait for it,” though he admitted he found Hershey chocolate too sweet and chalky for him (I have to agree, sorry America but the UK just does chocolate better).  I would post a photo of him actually eating his first s’more but he made me delete it so…oh well.

We also celebrated Fraser’s first Fourth of July!  For those who don’t know he’s very much on the “Scottish not British” camp, so when he found out we’d be celebrating Independence Day he got very giddy since he doesn’t get to have an Independence Day of his own (don’t get him started on the 2014 independence referendum).  Logistical nightmare of taking a shuttle to and from the beach aside, it was good fun.  Beachside fireworks, much like our first date, only instead of being early November and in the freezing rain we were able to enjoy the show in shorts and tank tops.

Now, one of the beautiful and slightly horrifying things about Florida is its landscape and wildlife.  The state is full of trees draped in Spanish moss, palms and vibrant flowers, and in the summer everything is in full bloom.  Sounds stunning, right?  It is…until you look up to admire the flora and find yourself staring at a spider the size of your hand, just hanging out a few feet above your head in a web that could engulf a smart car.  Also, I hate spiders.  I blame a certain tarantula encounter worsened by a horrible joke played on me a few years later.  But yeah, me and spiders do not get along.  The last time I’d visited my mom before moving to Scotland we ventured into one of Florida’s national parks, which was lovely until I encountered said eight-legged rainbow-hued nightmares.  So, while I really wanted to show Fraser how lush and beautiful Florida can be apart from their beaches, I was not going into those woods again.

My mom and I compromised by showing him one of Florida’s most stunning (and massive) trees, the Fairchild Oak, which is on the outskirts of a park and gives a glimpse into the state’s greenery while ensuring I wouldn’t be attacked by oversized fangs on legs.  You know how you can roughly tell a tree’s age based on the number of rings inside its trunk?  I’m not sure if anybody’s tested this tree or not, but based on the sheer girth of this oak-seriously it’s like 30 feet around-and its height, scientists estimate it is anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 years old.  Given that everything historic I’d shown Fraser up until this point was only a few hundred years old, or pathetically young in the UK, I was pretty chuffed (excited) to show him this ol’ gem.

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Let’s play find my mom in this photo

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So yeah natural history and old American things woo!  We later swung by the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse which, though not nearly as ancient as this bad boy, is equally fascinating.  The lighthouse and surrounding grounds are now a museum which gives great insight into how different lighthouses, including the Ponce Inlet one, function.  There are also historical components, like what life as a lighthouse operator and family would have been like.  In more recent history, a section of the grounds is dedicated to rafts used by refugees crossing the ocean from Cuba or other Caribbean countries to Florida.  It’s just a small area, but seeing what people craft to escape for a better life is immensely sobering.

We also convinced my mom to climb to the top of the lighthouse with us.  For those that don’t know, my mom is terrified of heights.  Like, doesn’t like ferris wheels terrified.  I’ve always told her it’s probably a good thing she’s sub-5’6″ since she isn’t fond of being up high (this is usually met with an eye roll or smack on the arm, love you mom!) and was super proud of her for climbing up with us!  A word of advice if you’re going with somebody who doesn’t do heights well-don’t tell them to look down, and don’t get stuck behind toddlers whose parents are letting them climb the stairs down at a rate of one step per minute.  The stairs at the lighthouse are narrow, as to be expected, and it’s pretty difficult (and not recommended) for people to try and pass one another on the stairs.  This usually isn’t a problem since there are multiple landings as you go, so people take turns climbing/descending, but my mom started to get a bit agitated/panicked when one group with small children decided letting their kids go instead of stopping on the landing to allow others to pass and descend more quickly was a good idea.  So mom, sorry we got you stuck in a tall lighthouse for about 15 minutes longer than you wanted to be!  But well done on the climb!

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Proof she climbed to the top and kept herself between me and the wall at all times

So although the weather was hot and we returned to Scotland with a bit of a sunburn (RIP Fraser’s left shoulder) we’re definitely counting down the days until we can return to Florida!  Next time I’m sure we’ll go to a theme park, as Fraser’s always wanted to go and I’m dying to see the new Diagon Alley addition in Universal Orlando, but I’d say it was a great first experience for Fraser!

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