May 18th, 2008

plane feet

Fountain of Youth: closed for maintenance

The last time we drove down Longboat Key we couldn't find anywhere to eat between the condo blocks and the vacation rentals; you can't even turn down a side road because it's the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the mangroves and the bay on the other. This time we spotted a tiny shopping mall, Central, and turned back to see if we could get a coffee. The Blue Dolphin Cafe had coffee and a brunch menu: excellent omelettes with swiss cheese oozing from every orifice and crab eggs benedict with so much crab I had to take the muffin on faith.

After Longboat we stopped at Lido Beach to look at the map and wander on the sand and paddle, then we had to turn back onto the mainland and cut through the edge of Sarasota to reach the bridge back to Siesta Key - the islands run in a line down the coast but the roads don't. I don't remember the sculptures along the waterfront from last time - maybe it's a festival? - there are red, yellow and blue Andy Warhols, a white cube with shiny metal strips hanging inside it, a twisted metal coil that feels like my spine, some odd distorted figures... Turtle Beach on Siesta Key was quieter and less ferociously bright, with a breeze and warm water and we paddled and read and paddled and snoozed and then started looking for a motel with a pool so I could float some more.

We thought Casey Key, and the beach there was nice, but driving along we found it was about 400:1 fancy houses, Italianate villas, Stephen King's winter home, private beach steps, ospreys on poles and fancy gardens to motels. A miniature Palm Springs, but oddly deserted. Does Florida ever fill up? We say a lot of cars in car parks, plenty of people on the beaches - but nowhere near as many as would fit into the monster condo blocks and vacation homes. If 87 degrees in May isn't the best time to visit, when does everyone come? When are all the rooms full - and where do they all eat? Florida feels - hollow...

Heading back across the bridge from Casey Key to Nokomis, we stopped for ice cream and then drove round and round Venice looking for a motel. If the mattress had only been a tiny bit less bouncy, the Island Breeze would have been perfect: huge bed with a patchwork quilt, nice shower, pool, pretty flowers, lizards to watch - and $70 a night. When my back is normal we'll definitely go back. Bushido in Venice does lovely sushi - lobster, mango, avocado roll - but the service was appalling. They never even set the table - not even after they brought the sushi, they forgot half the order - I'd say go but eat at the sushi bar so you can tell right away if you're getting the right food! 

I'm trying to swim or paddle three times a day at the moment - it helps my back more than anything and I can even move my legs in the water a little now, it's not what you'd call exercise as I drift and paddle but it's better than codeine! So we swam before breakfast in the charming little pool at Island Breeze. Venice was practically closed for Sunday but we found a sidewalk table at Althea's. They don't have iced coffee on the menu but they were happy to tip ice into my coffee (visions of mr_kurt in London trying to find iced tea) and I found another benedict to add to the collection: portabella mushroom, spinach and canadian bacon - which may or may not be canadian, but it ham rather than bacon. Simon's country fried steak and gravy came with 'home toast' - halfway between a sourdough and a morning batch.

We set out looking for Warm Mineral Springs, which the leaflet in the hotel room said was off exit 34 of the 75. Two problems: they changed the exit numbering on the 75 and there are no signs for Warm Mineral Springs on the road. This might be because it is actually slap bang on the 41; the 41 is the road that runs along the side of Venice, the road the island Breeze is actually sited on...  As it was, we came off the 75 when we thought we can't go much further, it;s only 12 miles, found no signs so drove off at random and got ourselves lost in the winding white backroads because the GPS doesn't seem to have routing data for Florida. Google Maps positioned us within 5,000 metres, so I scrolled around the map by hand until I found us, then navigated us along tiny roads that reminded me of a maze in a puzzle book that knows children have good eyesight. The first road that Google Maps thought would take up across the 75 petered out and we had to turn into Gravelman Road - I guess because that's as far as the Gravel Man went and wiggle back around roads that look like a housing estate on the map and like dirt tracks over farmland on the ground. We passed a very impressive Russian Orthodox church in the area zoned religion (seven churches in a row) and found the springs at last.

This might be Ponce de Leon's fountain of youth and there is usually an actual fountain, but they're doing some work on it so it's dry. The 'spring' is more of a swamp hollow - a big lake with ropes so people can amble round and round in circles - it was like watching a  small town promenade on a Sunday afternoon. We weren't the youngest people there but we were certainly weighting down the bottom of the bell curve. The sign says 87 degrees but the water was slightly cooler than the air; very mineralised but with no sulphur tang. It has turned my silver watch an odd colour though! A lot of Russians were gently bobbing up and down on boodle tubes and flotation belts, peraqualating around. Simon heard one of them say morozhnye; I heard one of them say she was from Portland.

Getting back to Venice was a lot quicker because we stayed on the 41 and did it in about 15 minutes!We stayed inland through Sarasota - I want to stop and see the orrery at the entrance to the Ringling School of Design next time - and Bradenten, cutting back onto Anna Maria island on Cortez Bridge; not the scenic route. Back to the Silver Surf motel, back into the sea on the icing sugar white, cake mix texture beach, and then dinner at Banana Cabana. "Good food, says Denzel Washington' proclaims a sign in the window. The plantain chips with mango dipping sauce were amazingly good. Simon's macadamia crusted group was delicious. I found my tropical fruit seafood paella a slightly odd mix of flavours. But the Hurrican reef raspberry wheat beer was excellent too.  Ice cream on the beach and bed....