Oh my, it was a wonderful vacation. Sunshine, ocean, palm trees. I have spent the past couple days since we've been home in a sad slump, not wanting to be back in the real world. Wanting to be where everything is green, vibrant and relaxed. Not grey, brown with a chance of snow. I gave up my trying to live in the moment and choose to keep the vacation on continual replay in my mind which is just depressing. When I wasn't thinking about the past week, thoughts of moving to a warmer climate kept creeping in. Just like when we returned last year, we begin to imagine a life far away from the snowy mountains. A life of raising beach babies instead of Montana girls. Both of us know now is not the time to leave...too much stuff going on in our lives here that it would be irresponsible at this point. It doesn't mean I can't dream of a different life for us down the road. And in the hopes of bringing myself back to living in the present, I want to soak up all our little Bozeman has. As I took my first run in over a week this morning, I enjoyed the mountain view and was able to feel the same content feeling I got on my morning walks on the beach. I love, love the mountains here, but also have a pretty strong love affair with the ocean. Right now I'm going to take some time to re-live our vacation, capture all the details so I can look back on it later and reminisce. Then, I will tuck it firmly away in my wonderful family memories file and continue on in our happy present moments.
With that, we take off...
Or, "blast off" as the girls said on the airplane. These girls are great little travelers, and after a minor mishap at the first airport, we were on our way. (They only had seats for three of us and actually suggested one of us would have to wait for the flight, the next freakin day! Thanks to a total stranger who finally took a bump, we got the fourth seat. Thank you kind person, we will pay it forward.) I know many think flying is a pain and I have my moments, but for the most part, I love it. I know it means we are on our way to some place fun. We left snow and two plane rides later, we arrived to 75-degrees and palm trees and the feeling of vacation set in. We grabbed our car and met up with Matt's parents for dinner. They stay in Naples for the winter and the plan was for us to head up to Manasota Key for a few days just us four and then down to Naples for some time with them. After a festive dinner we said good bye to them for a few days and made our way to where we were staying. By the time we got to the resort it was dark, but you knew it was good by the sound of the waves crashing. The next morning we realized just how amazing the view from our condo was...
|That is our shabby chic condo behind Ava. The beach was literally right outside our door.|
We had zero plans for this portion of our trip. A nice departure from the first part of our vacation last year which was two jam packed days in Disney World. To this day I still get exhausted thinking about those days at the "Happiest Place". The only thing on the agenda was beach, pool, eat, repeat. This is exactly what we did for three whole days. It was glorious. The first morning we did venture off the island briefly on a hunt for coffee. After a trip to the market we stopped to grab some breakfast at an outdoor tiki bar type restaurant. They had me at the sign...
The place was fantastic...you could eat with your feet in the sand and a view of the bay. We did as the sign said and ordered a mimosa to go with our brunch...nothing like a mimosa made with fresh squeezed Florida OJ. The girls loved it also for the giant Jenga game...
|Matt is going to be making one of these...way more fun than regular Jenga|
That was the only breakfast we ate out. We never wanted to stray far from the beach and why would you. That afternoon was spent exploring the beach right out our door. We wandered down to Stump Pass Beach, a state park on Manasota Key. It was quiet, secluded and simply beautiful.
|This old dead tree was littered with sea shells...I found it magical.|
|These amazing photos are Matt's work.|
One of the best things about staying on the beach was each morning Matt and I took some time for a quiet stroll on the beach alone. I loved the solitude of walking on a quiet beach first thing in the morning, coffee in hand, barely awake. The few people you pass give you a quiet smile and "mornin" and are in the same state of blissful happiness you are. And, the one kind older gentlemen I saw each morning who gave me complete sand dollars, which are almost impossible to find. Those mornings were my meditation. After we each had our turn, it was time to take our little fishes to the pool! I swear they could spend all day long in the water. Seeing their confidence in the water grow after just a week is one of the main reasons I would love to live by the water. To encourage this love of it. By the end of the week Ava was jumping in the deep end and swimming the whole length of the pool by herself...she didn't even want anyone by her. Layla was a little slower warming up to it, but was as happy as can be playing in the shallow end sticking her face in the water. What I wouldn't give for a pool in my backyard.
Happy parents watching their fish-
Pool time was followed by lunch on the beach, re-applying sunscreen and then playing in the ocean.
We had some good dinners while we were there, but my absolute favorite was the evening we got some pizza and wine to eat on the beach while enjoying the sunset. This was the best.
|I love my crazy family|
|Ava making friends with the locals|
All too soon it came to our last night on Manasota Key. After spending all day swimming and at the beach we decided to venture out for dinner for our last evening. We went to a wine bar bistro right on the bay. I got to watch the sun set behind the palm trees behind Ava...it was beautiful. The sea food was delicious, so fresh. We watched the boats come in and listened to live music as this funny guy rocked out to the piano. He came over to visit with us...(mainly because we appeared to be the only one enjoying the live music...I guess retirement type communities aren't big at rocking out)...he was so excited about the fact that we were from Montana. He had never been, but always wanted to go. It's always interesting to listen to other people talk about where you live the same way you feel about where they live. It reminds me how lucky we are to live in this state. The next song he dedicated to his new friends in Montana. He was totally quirky and added so much to our last night there...
The next morning we sadly said good bye.
We didn't stay sad for long, because we were on the way to the second half of our vacation. It's about a 2 hour drive from where we were down to Naples. Right before you are there you hit Fort Myers, one of the bigger towns in the area. We decided to venture in there a bit on a search for coffee. What we stumbled upon was the cutest downtown in their historic river district. What was going to be a quick coffee run turned into a hour of wandering around this funky town. In our limited experience in these gulf beach communities we have found they tend to be very retirement heavy. Lots of wealth and a bit of a pretentious feel. Not the yippie Bozeman vibe we know and love. What we found in our wandering was a much better vibe...I knew it as soon as I saw the guy who was making our coffee had two earrings and colored spiky hair. Cool town...
We found a pineapple fountain to make wishes in-
|Love the street lights and sidewalks|
The coolest tree. Ever.
And, the best sign. Ever.
|Placed ironically in the window of a very hippie type art store|
This town may garner a future family vacation for possible relocation.
Then it was just a hop, skip and a jump and we were in beautiful Naples. This beach town is a playground for the wealthy. It is a great place to take in amazing food, the most beautiful beaches and lots of greenery. First stop when we got there was the pool of course.
After a refreshing dip, we cleaned up and it was time for our first dinner in Naples. However, we didn't stay in Naples...we ventured to the Isles of Capri. I had heard a lot about this place because of a blog I love. Last year, we actually tried to go there, but it was a little early in the day and we ventured on to a different place instead. This year, my in-laws had heard of it and gone and really wanted to take us there. Great place. Tucked into a little bay, we ate again with our feet in the sand and a view of the sun setting behind the palm trees off the pier. Breathtaking.
Tired after a very full day we went to bed and woke up ready to hit the beach.
The weather had different plans. We optimistically packed lunches, threw on suits and headed to Barefoot Beach. Trying to will the dark clouds that were looming away as we made our way there. It didn't work. Once we got there it was chilly and windy, but that did not stop us. We are hard core and the chilly ocean waters were still warmer than a Montana lake ever is. We put on sweatshirts, snuggled in towels, ate our lunch, chased seagulls and took in the view of the wild waves crashing in.
After about a hour, we threw in the towel and decided maybe the next day would be a better beach day. (Not before seeing two tortoises!) It seemed like a good time to go to the Naples Botanical Gardens. This was another thing I had on my list of things to do last year, but we never did. I am so glad we didn't miss out on it this year. The beauty of these gardens was breathtaking. Trees, flowers, greenery, butterflies and art work scattered throughout. It was so peaceful just wandering through. And, the girls fell in love with the Children's Garden, and how could you not. There was a splash area, butterflies, mini cottage, scavenger hunt. It was such fun...better described in photos...
|Bonus-they sold wine and Popsicles!!|
|Not having swimsuits on did not stop these girls!|
|Best shot Matt captured!|
|Ava sitting with a butterfly...yellow and black on the leaf|
|Scavenger hunt, finding crazy things flowers were potted in like toilets and guitars|
|It was like walking in an outdoor art gallery...uh-mazing.|
That evening was date night for Matt and I. It is so wonderful to travel with in-laws because you have babysitters! The girls got to spend the evening with Grandma and Grandpa and we got to go out on the town. We had dinner reservations at two places because we couldn't decided what we felt like. One was on the beach for sunset, one was in the swanky downtown just a few blocks off the beach. Originally we had thought for sure on beach sunset, however, the cloudy and chilly night made us change our mind. I think we made the right choice. We had an amazing leisurely dinner at Sea Salt. Sitting outside, watching the vibrant action going on all around us. It was one of those lovely dinners that you stretch out as long as you can...drinks at the bar before you are seated, warm bread and olive oil, fresh oyster appetizer and homemade pasta dinner all over a bottle of vino. We were too stuffed for dessert, although I was on the hunt for the perfect piece of Key Lime pie. Our waiter told us we should simply go to the local Publix (grocery store) for the best pie, but, we didn't make it there. We took our very full selves to the beach and walked along the shore....the ocean waves crashing on one side and the lit up mansions on the other.
The next day we woke up to sunshine so knew we would be able to spend this day at the beach. We hadn't even unpacked the beach stuff from the car so we just had to put on suits and get out to soak up our very last day. It was hard not to be a little sad, knowing it was the last day. However, I made myself stay in the moment and not even think about leaving. With views like this it was easy to do...
The sand in Naples is like sugar. Sugar with amazing shells thrown in.
On our way to our last dinner and to watch a final sunset...
I heart this photo and what it represents to me...
|My girls and I saying farewell to the ocean.|
We couldn't let it end there, just not ready yet. We made a stop at Tin City for some ice cream on the way home. We made it a point to have ice cream daily and on this day twice.
By then it really was time to get a few hours of sleep before our 3 am wake up call to catch our flight. When I booked I think I overlooked the fact that we needed to be at the airport a couple hours early and we were 45 minutes away from the airport. I sometimes forget we live in a town where you can get to the airport in 15 minutes and because it's small don't need to be quite as early. Oh, well. It was nice to get home at noon instead of midnight. Get a chance to get settled back in. And, as sad as it was to be home there is nothing like curling up in your own bed that first night back. Oh, sweet comfort.
So, that my friends, is our vacation in a nutshell. I know, a lot of photos and a long post and if you made it to the end I applaud you. This was more just for me. I wanted to remember each detail and through my writing get to re-live it a bit, just one more time. I want it preserved so down the road my girls can read it and feel like they remember it. Remember these memories that I hold so close to my heart. I want to be able to read it and then close my eyes and feel this...
Thank you Florida...you were amazing as always. Hope to see you soon.
A few final photos too good to leave out.
|Coronas are meant to be drank on the beach....just sayin|
|My beautiful beach baby...with a chocolate ice cream mustache|
|Why hello there.|
Have a happy day. Spring is just around the corner.