I spent day 172 of the Nowhere To Be Project in St. Augustine, Florida. As a Florida native, I’ve visited St. Augustine countless times. Every Florida student visits this historic corner at least once in elementary school, so I came as a kid and then chaperoned my own kids as they visited the oldest wooden schoolhouse (circa 1716) in the country. I’ve also come to town for the night-life in the past, taking advantage of several of the many quaint bed and breakfasts offered in the town for an overnight. Today’s visit was more limited as I was just passing through, but decided to stop and take a stroll through time once again.
St. Augustine is about 90 minutes north of Orlando and is just 45 minutes south of Jacksonville. Coming on a Sunday morning no doubt made parking a bit easier. It also meant that fewer people were buzzing about this tourist mecca (another win). In my opinion, the highlights of St. Augustine include Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States (circa 1672), the Huguenot cemetery which is directly across the street from the fort, the beautiful Memorial Presbyterian Church (currently undergoing extensive renovations post hurricane) and the lovely Spanish architecture that remains prevalent throughout the town. If shopping is your game, you’ll find unique (but mostly touristy) shops in the Colonial Corner. If you’re looking for a great meal to match the Spanish-vibe of St. Augustine, head directly to Columbia, a staple in Florida since 1905. If you’re visiting St. Augustine anytime between April and November, don’t count on Ponce de León’s fabled fountain of youth to keep you cool as temperatures are sweltering and everything here is open-air. Instead, head over the drawbridge to cool off on scenic Anastasia Island. You’ll be so glad you did and I’m willing to bet that your time there will be the highlight of your visit to St. Augustine!
Native Floridian’s Tip for Beating the Heat: I always pack a portable insulated lunch sack with frozen washcloths in an effort to beat the heat while playing tourist in my home state.
Yesterday, I was on an airplane listening to some of my fellow passengers discuss their plans for their time in Orlando. Not surprisingly, they were all discussing the theme parks. I was born and raised in Central Florida and am here to tell you that there is so much more to the area than Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter. Therefore, I’ve decided to spend day 169 of the Nowhere To Be Project highlighting some of my favorite spots in greater Orlando.
1- Wekiwa Springs State Park: If you’re interested in seeing what Florida was like for the Timucauns (way before Walt Disney moved in), take a drive to Wekiwa Springs (pronounced Wuh-kie-vuh). It is about 45 minutes drive from the theme parks and just twenty minutes from downtown. I grew up just a mile or so from the springs and visited regularly as an escape from the heat. Because Wekiwa is a natural spring, the water remains at 72 degrees year-round. Be careful while swimming because the rocks do get slippery and wildlife is abundant (yes, snakes and alligators)! Be sure to rent a canoe and paddle down to the island marina for a bite to eat. Feeding the raccoons there as a kid was a highlight of my youth. That was before we realized how detrimental it is to feed wildlife!
2- Cassadaga: Cassadaga’s nickname is the “psychic capital of the world” which tells you about some of what you’ll fine there. Aside from the spiritualists, it is an old artsy town filled with history and mystery. Many believe that the unique energy in this town is residual from the early Native American settlers who once inhabited the land. The town itself is anchored by an old hotel and is peppered with quirky shops, many of which have resident mediums. As teenagers, my friends and I would come to town looking for ghosts. We never found any, but always met interesting people. I still find the town, its scenery, and its residents fascinating. I recommend that visitors take a few hours to check it out for themselves.
3- New Smyrna Beach: Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach may get all of the glory (and people) in terms of Central Florida beaches, but New Smyrna Beach is the favorite of locals. During the week, the town and beach are mostly sleepy, yet can become quite crowded on weekends and holidays. Don’t worry about hauling your stuff to the sand because you can pull your car right onto the beach here. Try to park close to the jetties for challenging swimming and surfing. Be sure to stop at Frozen Gold on your way out of town for a chilly treat.
As promised, day 143 of the Nowhere To Be Project is focused on revisiting my Danube Waltz journey with Viking River Cruises. As I explained yesterday, I will spend the next four days reviewing my previous Viking River Cruises in anticipation of my first Viking Ocean Cruise next week. For the first review, we’ll travel back to 2014. To begin with, the cruise almost didn’t happen as our initial booking was canceled by Viking. I received an email explaining that the voyage was canceled and that all monies would be refunded. We were really bummed to hear this as it was to be our first river cruise and one where our grown children would be joining us. I called Viking to find out what was happening and they offered to put us on another ship around the same dates. Initially, we had reserved two standard cabins (category F). These were no longer available on the replacement ship, but Viking agreed to upgrade us to french balcony rooms at no charge. These rooms are a bit smaller than the standard cabins, but have sliding glass doors to allow for fresh air and a larger viewing area. We were pleased with this change and the way the mishap was handled.
We flew from Orlando to Munich on Lufthansa airlines (booked through Viking’s choice air program to ensure that we were all placed together). We were greeted at the airport by Viking staff and were transported to Passau on a comfortable tour bus. We were greeted with champagne immediately upon boarding the Viking Lif on the afternoon of Saturday, December 20 and that was the kick off of what was to be an amazing holiday.
After a nice dinner in the main restaurant on board, we wandered through the lovely town. With this being our first river cruise, we marveled at how simple it was to walk on and off the ship in a centrally located area of town. On that first night were exhausted, so we just sipped gluhwein and enjoyed the simple beauty of Passau.
Day two of the cruise was also spent in Passau. We joined the included walking tour which focused on history and architecture. The tour concluded with an outstanding organ concert at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Once again, we enjoyed dinner consisting of regional foods in the restaurant as a family (table for four). After dinner cocktails were a pleasure in the lounge with the addition of live music.
We awoke in Linz, Austria and enjoyed a buffet breakfast before departing on a full day tour to Salzburg. The countryside was lovely and put everyone in the Christmas mood. Of course, there was a lot of focus on the von Trapp family and the film, The Sound of Music. Dinner was no exception and was followed up by live music in the lounge with a von Trapp flair. We were also able to spend a very short time before dinner exploring the quaint town of Linz.
On day four of the Danube Waltz voyage, we reached Melk, Austria where we toured the beautiful Melk Abbey, a 900 year old monastery. The serenity of the abbey was topped only by the sheer loveliness of it. There wasn’t much to explore in and around the ship after our tour, but we did sail in the afternoon to a pleasant little Austrian town called Dürnstein. We liked the area so much that we decided to skip dinner on board the Lif to enjoy a small, but picturesque Christmas market and more gluhwein.
Day five of our cruise marked Christmas Eve and everyone on the ship, passengers and staff, were abuzz with the festivities and decor as we awoke in Vienna. We joined the city tour of Vienna where all of the key spots in town were highlighted. The kids were getting sick of the slow pace of the tours at this point though so we ventured off on our own for lunch at Aida Cafe Vienna tea room in the heart of the city. From there, we made made our way to the office of Dr. Sigmund Freud (had to be done as professor of psychology:-) and then on to one of the largest of the Christmas Markets in the region for some shopping, and you guessed it, more gluhwein! We made it back to the ship with a few minutes to spare before our 1:30AM sailaway.
Christmas Day brought the Viking Lif to Bratislava, Slovakia. The kids slept in while we embarked on a guided walking tour of the surrounding town. While the tour did a great job of explaining the fascinating history and architecture, the entire city was closed for business in celebration of the Christmas holiday. We joined the kids for a special Christmas tea on board where the pastry chef taught passengers how to make the regional favorite, kiffles cookies. Christmas dinner on board was a wonderful celebration, but again focused mostly on regional foods rather than traditional favorites. In the late evening, everyone on board made their way to the sun deck for our arrival in Budapest where the cruise director highlighted key facts about the landscape as we sailed. Entering the vibrantly illuminated city at night was breathtaking. By the time we docked (about 10pm) we were ready to explore Budapest and did so into the wee hours.
Our final day was spent on an included walking tour of Budapest where we visited the National Opera House and Matthias Church. We made some time for shopping and dining in town before boarding the Lif for the final time. Our transport to the airport left the ship the next morning at 4:30am and seamlessly delivered us to the airport for our flight home.
Our overall experience on Viking’s Danube Waltz was outstanding. This part of the world is simply magical at this time of year and it offered so many wonderful opportunities for celebration. The staff on board the Lif was exceptional in all regards and we felt totally pampered throughout the voyage. The ship was comfortable, sleek and modern, and never felt crowded. Our fellow passengers, while much older than us, were mostly pleasant and very well-traveled. The food was good and the included regional wines were even better. The excursions were as to be expected, but the tour guides were exceptional. This journey sparked our love affair with Viking and river cruising so much so that we purchased vouchers for another voyage while on board.
On Day 103 of the Nowhere To Be Project I had the privilege of revisiting the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando, Florida. The museum presents key events in the history of Central Florida ranging from Native American occupation to the Florida Cracker pioneers to Walt Disney World and beyond. Sadly, the Pulse Nightclub Shooting has been added to Orlando’s historical timeline since my last visit. The two year anniversary of the incomprehensible mass murder of 49 innocent people just passed on June 12, 2018.
At first I wondered if the wound was still too fresh and raw for a museum exhibit to be appropriate. However, upon viewing it, I found the museum’s exhibit to be a moving, respectful and tasteful memorial to the victims. The museum’s approach is geared toward presenting the event through the lens of the overwhelming response from the community. Included in the exhibit are heartfelt letters and toys left at the nightclub in the aftermath of the terror, quilt blocks made to comfort the injured and the families of the victims and to memorialize those who were lost, and impassioned anti-hate artwork. The exhibit closes with a trip down a flight of stairs embellished with ribbons, each carrying a personal sentiment from a visitor. I hope you’ll make your way to the Orange County Regional History Center should you ever find yourself in Central Florida. We must never forget or relent. #OrlandoUnited
Several days ago I blogged about Burgerfi’s version of the vegan Beyond Burger. After that post, someone enlightened me about what he described as “the absolute best vegan burger out there”, aptly named the Impossible Burger. That conversation led me to hightail it to Wahlburgers in Orlando, Florida on Day 102 of the Nowhere To Be Project (Waterford Lakes location). This was my first visit to a Wahlburgers and I’ve never seen the show, so wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Unfortunately, neither Marky Mark nor the Funky Bunch was present (yes, I’m that age and I did have the infamous Calvin Klein poster on my wall as a teen) but a very chipper server was. I looked the menu over top to bottom and did not see anything about the Impossible Burger. I finally spotted it when I turned to grab a napkin from the dispenser on the table. It was featured there in full color on an insert. Wahlburgers version includes several non-vegan additions (bun, smoked cheddar, Wahl sauce) though so after a brief consultation on food preparation and ingredients with the server I created the “Nowhere To Be Burger”. This vegan masterpiece took the Impossible Burger to a truly plant-based pinnacle with toasted sourdough (no butter), avocado spread, sautéed mushrooms, chili spiced tomatoes, caramelized onions, pickle, mustard and catsup. With my additions, the price of my burger totaled $14.95, which is a bit high when compared to my son’s regular beef Double Decker which was just $8.95! I threw caution to the wind and went with a side of the sweet potato tots as an accompaniment. My son, a Mac ‘n Cheese aficionado, chose Wahlburgers’ Smoked Bacon version as a side.
After about fifteen minutes of marveling at the sheer number of Wahlberg-centric movie titles plastered throughout the industrial-vibed restaurant, our food arrived hot and fragrant. It was at first bite that my love affair with the Impossible Burger began. It looks, smells and tastes like a traditional beef burger. The mouth feel is absolutely identical. The flavor reminded me of a White Castle burger, delightfully greasy, oniony and mustardy all at once! I am a huge fan of Beyond Burgers, but the burger I ate today is now the king of my plant-based burger-loving heart. It was so authentic that I asked my son if they could have made a mistake and given me a regular beef patty. He assured me that they did not and I greedily gobbled up the remainder of the doppelgänger. The tots were really tasty too with a crisp, very slightly sweet and savory flavor. My son described his burger as “very good” and the mac ‘n cheese as “alright”.
After a quick Google, I learned that the Impossible Burger is not a Wahlburgers creation, but the brainchild of a company created by scientists called Impossible Meats. They are available at select restaurant locations only with no retail options for do-it-yourself patties. There is some laboratory engineering involved in the creation of these vegan marvels, so if you’re sensitive to that you’ll want to check it out fully before indulging. Thankfully, their website indicates that they are working to make them more widely available. Music to my ears!
*As always, I have no affiliation with any of the products or locations I write about and am not compensated in any way.
I spent day 101 of the Nowhere To Be Project in Mount Dora, Florida. It sits at a whopping 184 feet above sea level which is most definitely considered high altitude in Florida. I’ve been coming to this town for years because is represents one of the last strip-mall free corridors in the state. The charming downtown district is situated adjacent to Lake Dora and was founded in the mid 1800s by Dora Ann Drawdy who arrived there from Georgia in search of the frontier life.
These days you’ll find a scenic scattering of independently owned shoppes and restaurants throughout town. My personal favorites are the Hospice Hope Chest, where all proceeds support palliative care, and Goblin Market, an adorable restaurant with a cool library treehouse vibe. Their menu is not rich with vegan options though (hint, hint to the proprietors), so I’m mostly limited to salad when dining with them since my transition to a plant-based diet. There are many options for lodging as well including several b&bs and a hotel making it a very popular weekend and wedding destination.
It was 93 degrees with full humidity during my visit this afternoon which made the open air design quite stifling, but useful for the loss of a bit of water weight, haha. Mount Dora is a wonderful stop for those who are seeking an authentic taste of old Florida, but I would recommend visiting during winter months unless you’re interested in a nonstop steam bath. Welcome to the swamp sauna that is Central Florida for the better part of nine months each year!
On Day 99 of the Nowhere To Be Project I was craving a burger something fierce. Since shifting to a plant-based diet, Beyond Burgers have been my go to choice when these cravings arise. I tried to purchase some yesterday at Earth Origins Market, but the store was out of them. This is not unusual as the popularity of Beyond Burgers has soared and grocers can’t seem to keep up with the demand. Never fear though, Burgerfi now carries them and I decided to check out their version for the first time today.
Beyond Burgers are prominently featured on the menu board at my local Lake Mary Burgerfi. It is described as plant-based yet their version includes American cheese and mayonnaise, both of which are not plant based. I ordered the burger without those two items at which point the clerk asked if I was vegan. I told him I was and he explained that ordering the burger “vegan” had a special preparation and a wheat bun. I also asked for the burger to be topped with an onion ring. He shouted “vegan beyond” to the crew and rang me up. The associate kindly asked for my patience at that point because evidently the vegan burgers take a bit longer than other burgers.
The burger was delivered to my table about ten minutes later. The staff member who brought it to me asked if I was vegan. When I said “yes,” she explained that the onion ring batter was made with buttermilk. I appreciated her telling me that and wished that the associate who had taken my order had done so because I had paid a $1 upcharge for it bringing the cost of the burger to $10.47!!! Nevertheless, I removed the onion ring and dug in. The burger was tasty, but slightly over cooked. The bun was also a bit brittle which detracted significantly from the taste. Personally, I prefer my homemade version of the Beyond Burger. I pan fry the patty in avocado oil, melt on some Chao cheese and serve it on toasted sourdough bread. Regardless, I am beyond thrilled that Burgerfi has added a plant-based option to its menu. Maybe they’ll take it a step further to create a unique and tasty signature vegan burger, hint, hint…mushrooms, vegan cheese, avocado, special sauce and so on!
On Day 98 of the Nowhere To Be Project I found myself unexpectedly jetting back to Florida from Detroit due to a family situation that requires my immediate attention. I was bummed to have to leave my husband, the pup and the RV ( the Tiny Dancer, Too). Alas, they’ll forge on without me and I’ll rejoin them as soon as I am able.
I found a nonstop flight from Detroit to Orlando on Delta Airlines. It was decently priced at just over $200 considering I was flying on such short notice. The seat was in their Comfort+ section. This is a slightly upgraded economy fare offering the option to change the flight at no charge, pre-boarding, a larger seat, designated overhead storage bins and free entertainment, snacks and alcoholic beverages. I reserved an aisle seat online, but for some reason ended up by the window in seat 10A, one row behind the First Class section of the airplane. Other than that hiccup, the experience was pleasant. The seat was large with a lot of legroom, the overhead bin was wide open and a flight attendant retrieved my bag from me with a smile and placed it in my assigned bin. Once we reached cruising altitude, I was offered an assortment of snacks (Oreos, bananas, crackers and pretzels) which I declined and a glass of wine which I accepted. Passengers in First Class were offered the exact same options. The two and half hour flight flew by with the help of Jason Bateman’s recent movie “Game Night”. The entertainment was available only to passengers seated in First Class or Comfort+. All in all, I was really impressed with the Comfort+ option. It offered nearly identical benefits to a First Class fare at about half the price. Who knows, Delta Airlines might just become my preferred airline now that I’ve given up on United? Check them out the next time you fly and let me know how it goes!
On Day 69 of the Nowhere To Be Project, I happened upon an amazing new restaurant in Central Florida. Don’t you love when that happens? I was out gathering supplies for our upcoming six week voyage in our RV when my stomach came a calling. I used my Happy Cow app for the first time to find local restaurants offering vegan options. A place called “The Wildflower Co.” popped up as an option just a few miles from where I was. When I pulled into the parking lot, my first thought was, “oh, well, the place must have gone out of business”. I was so bummed! As I was about to exit the small rundown plaza, I spotted a sign that read “Vegan Cafe Around Back”. With that, I parked and headed out back hoping for a yummy feast.
The facility itself is nondescript to the point that I wasn’t sure if they were open when I entered. I did see someone sitting at a table, so I approached the counter and perused the two-page photocopied menu. Just then, a staff member came from the back to take my order. I was informed that the photocopy represented their brand new menu. I was torn between the ReLoaded Tots and the Shrymp Po’ Boy. I went with the sandwich despite not knowing what soy curls were and was offered a choice between tater tots, potato salad and macaroni and cheese as a side and decided on the latter. I grabbed a seat by the window to wait for it all. While the decor at The Wildflower Co. is very utilitarian and sparse, there was a lovely view of a pond and outside dining area from my hightop table. After about ten minutes, another staff member delivered my meal.
I was shocked by the enormity of the sandwich. It looked and smelled amazing and I couldn’t wait to bite into it. The soft Cuban bread was overflowing with warm crispy chunks of the fried soy curls. The sandwich was dressed with apple slaw, tartar sauce and cranberry sauce. It may sound like a bit of an odd combination, but it was honestly love at first bite. I’m sure I sound hyperbolic, but this was, without any doubt, the best sandwich I have ever eaten in my life. Let me qualify this by saying that this includes all the sandwiches I’ve ever had, both as a vegan and a non-vegan. I was so enamored by the sandwich that I almost forgot the mac ‘n cheese. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as memorable as the sandwich anyway. It could have been a bit warmer and it generally lacked flavor despite the heavy seasoning (paprika?).
I decided to take half of my sandwich home to share it with my son who ended up absolutely loving it. He is not vegan and usually survives solely on cheeseburgers from Burgerfi. When asked, he said it was “really good” and rated the sandwich as an eight out of ten! I gave it a perfect ten and plan on taking my husband to The Wildflower Co. for dinner tomorrow so that I can try more of their offerings! The only recommendations I might offer to the proprietors would be to get a large chalk board to present their menu (instead of the single photocopied paper one) and to offer freshly made iced teas as an additional beverage option. This place was a lucky find (thanks Happy Cow) that has been placed on my list of favorites in Central Florida!
Day 64 of the Nowhere To Be Project brought the first day of our inaugural journey in our new RV, the Tiny Dancer, Too. We decided to do a staycation of sorts at Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Campground. We thought starting small at a campground just a few miles from our home would be wise to ease ourselves back into RV life. Our spanking new rig was loaded down with all the things we knew we would need as we pulled out of the driveway. We also brought some things that we thought we might need and many that we probably don’t need, but hope will make it homier and comfortable for long trips. We are super excited to begin and promise to share the many highs and lows along the way.