I miss Florida. Florida in the winter. Florida’s beaches. A particular friend who lives in Florida. So when P suggested we go to Florida, my joy knew no bounds. We decided to go visit our favorite haunts in Melbourne. The soccer fields where I spent many an evening while my son was at soccer practice. The Avenue at Viera which was right next to our apartment, where we went for morning walks, evening walks, window shopping, or eating out at one of its many restaurants. And finally to the beach – my happy place.
To break up our 9-hour drive, we made a pit stop at Savannah, Georgia. I had read about this place in the book, “Gone with the Wind” but had no idea it would be such a charming little Southern city. Each house is a piece of art with cast-iron fronts, gas-lit lamps on the porch, lush gardens tucked away in the back. Most of the buildings are from the 1800s and early 1900s. Almost every intersection has a park with a fountain in the middle, the most exquisite one was the Forsyth Park with water spouting mermen and swans. The park also had a dummy fort converted into a visitor center with restrooms, and statues dedicated to confederate soldiers sprinkled all over the place. On River Street you could take a boat ride on the Savannah River, which we passed up for lunch at one of the many river side restaurants. We ordered salmon burgers, fried green tomatoes, shrimp salad on a croissant, and a southern medley platter with macaroni and cheese, orzo pasta, collard greens and mashed sweet potatoes. The last two were a bad choice. The collard greens were soggy and the sweet potatoes were goop. So much for eating my veggies! I asked for a bowl of mashed potatoes instead. Tummies full, we were ready for our 5-hour drive to Florida.
On our first day there, we reached the beach around sunset. I think the last time I went to a beach was 2 years ago in Chennai. I felt like a child seeing the beach for the first time. The sounds of the sea, the cool waves rushing and then slowly licking my feet, the sky painted in hues of orange, purple and grey, felt surreal. My heart exploded with joy and love and I told the ocean I loved her. I know it feels silly in hindsight but the ocean felt alive. I could feel her heartbeat and was held in rapture by her beauty. I turned around to walk along the wet markers made by the waves and I found a piece of coquina (soft limestone made of broken shells) . It was heart shaped and I felt like the ocean was telling me she loved me back. The kids splashed around in the water and I quietly walked along the edge of the waves, an indescribable peace washing over me. When it got dark, we saw some people start bonfires and light tiki torches. The smell of hot dogs cooking on a fire wafted towards me and made me hungry. We grabbed some pizza for dinner and headed back to our room for some shut eye.
On Christmas eve, we met our old friends from Florida for a day at Brevard Zoo. The zoo was just 5 minutes from our apartment when we lived in Melbourne and had a zoo membership, so we were there almost every weekend. The kids knew most of the animals, especially the talking hyacinth macaw that kept yelling, “cracker” or “back to work”. There were a few new exhibits and one of them was a kangaroo trail where you could have a close encounter with a kangaroo. I must say that the board outside explicitly warned us but I chose to ignore it. The most dangerous thing at the zoo as far as I knew was the bird feeding exhibit where noisy lorikeets would land on your shoulders and arms. So I thought these people knew what they were doing when they opened the kangaroo walking trail. When I stepped in, there were a bunch of people being entertained by a small kangaroo with a zoo keeper in close proximity. How dangerous could this be? We joined the raggle taggle crowd and stood with our backs glued to the fence that separated all the other kangaroos from us. The little marsupial started off by sniffing our feet and then chewing on my son’s shoe laces. Then it moved to my husband’s shoelaces and then it started tugging at his cargo pants. The zoo keeper lady intervened and shooed it away. It then started sniffing my sandals and lifted its head and held onto my thighs at which point I freaked out. I tried to shrug the thing off but it took offence and bit me on my knee and scratched my thigh when I was turning away. Big mistake! It saw my bag with its shiny sequins and grabbed onto it. I was screaming and trying to run away while this creature was pulling my bag and me from behind. It felt like I was running but getting no where. The zoo keeper somehow got it off of me and then we all decided to leave. Our friends had little children under 5 and I felt like it was really dangerous for them to be there.
The young ones were getting hungry so we had some lunch and then headed to the mall. It was a gorgeous 80 degrees and we sat by the fountains and chatted away while the kids rolled on the fake grass and had a ball. Around 4 we headed to the beach. The two toddlers decided to bury themselves in sand and we stopped them right when they were half buried. We then took a long walk along the beach and the kiddos got wet and then proceeded to roll in the sand. It took my friend a while to get them both washed up and out of their sandy clothes. We all stood talking in the parking lot because we didn’t want the day to end. But we knew we had a long trip ahead of us so we reluctantly said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel.
On our way back we stopped in Savannah again and ended up eating overpriced pizza in a hole-in-the-wall pizza shack (sorry that place cannot be called a restaurant!) We forgot that most places are closed for Christmas. It was too cold to stroll around and I just wanted to go home and eat something that was home cooked. Our short and sweet Florida vacation was over but I will hold onto the memories of the beach and the time we spent with our friends for a long time to come. So long Florida and I hope we meet again soon!