On the last day before leaving Pensacola, we’ve gone downtown to a Greek street festival. Obviously, it’s only curiosity, not an actual affection that drove us to that place. Unless you count baklava, which my wife is truly passionate about. Unfortunately, the one served was a bit too sweet for my wife’s taste and way to expensive for mine. On the flip side though, the Greek know how to party, and our kids felt very comfortable dancing with the natives. All we knew about traditional Greek dances, was limited to a distant memory of an old movie. Turns out Sirtaki, which is the proper name of a dance commonly associated with Zorba, the Greek is not even a traditional folk dance anyway. Did it stop our kids from making new friendships…? Not at all.
Today we’ve finished school early and took a field trip to the Naval Aviation Museum. The exhibition is just across the bay from Fort Pickins, on the premises of the military complex. The base is so close, that every morning we hear the soldiers’ reveille and yet it takes about 40 minutes to get there by car. At the entrance to the Naval Air Station Pensacola, or the cradle of naval aviation, we are greeted by a cop asking for my driver license and whether we have any weapons. The entrance to the museum, the lighthouse and few other places in the base is free, but they need to know who are they letting in.
Even though we had about four hours to see the exposition, it was not enough. Even though it is smaller than the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum we have visited last year, it seems more interesting. There are things to touch and play with, not just boring exhibits. The kids mostly appreciated the loony tunes played in a 1940’s theater. We walked down a WWII american street, saw a few typical stores, examined food stamps and food items from that era. There is a lot of interesting stories about pilots and sailors. Walking aboard replica aircraft carrier, we were able to imagine life on the ocean with 2796 other crew members. Well, to a point at least…
We’ve arrived at Fort Pickens early afternoon on Sunday. The park is located on an island, right off the Pensacola Beach. There is nothing, but miles of white sand, ocean on one side, bay on the other. And obviously there is the fort at the tip of the island.
Overall, there isn’t much to do in the park. There is a daily guided tour in the fort, but other than that we’re on our own. With no other interpretive programs, we have plenty of time for homeschooling in the morning and ride bikes and play in the Ocean in the afternoons. Every other day we do the school at a local library, and sometimes there are story times to keep everyone entertained. Libraries also provide for free Internet access, which means I can do this updates and work on my Customers’ websites.
Just as the name suggest, we stayed in Florida’s outback for a couple of nights. We’ve left Jacksonville on Friday morning, just on the brink of an upcoming storm. As we learned later, it was a rather large one, therefore I’m glad to report that our timing was impeccable once again. We escaped west far enough to stay dry and we left Chattahoochee just before the storm caught up with us. We’ve packed the car last night and after folding the tent, we’ve left before breakfast. When we stopped at a nearby Micky Dees for a bowl of cereal at a curb, it started to rain.
Couple of hours later, we got out of the wet zone. The sky started to clear out as we approached Pensacola, but the wind picked up a bit. Right now it’s blowing so hard that our mesh tent is bending over half way down to the ground each time there is a harder blow from the bay. We are straying at the Santa Rosa island, at Fort Pickens State Park. We plan to stay here for the entire week, which according to weather.com is supposed to be sunny and warm.
I think there is really no need for us to complain about the weather at all. Yes, we got wet, real soaking in fact, but only once in Rocky Gap near Cumberland, MD. We also didn’t time properly our departure from Cheraw, SC and left the campground in rain and in a hurry. We’ve learned from these mistakes and now we’re packing the night before departure and keep observing the weather forecest changes to react appropriately. In fact, rain and sun dictate the direction and speed at which we’re moving. After all, our journey is a a true wander…
If I was to rank the places we’ve visited so far, I would have given Smith Mountain Lake State Park in Virginia most points for their interpretive programs, their facilities and very friendly, dedicated and knowledgable staff. Hunting Island ranks best for the weather and the overall vacation-like setting. Buckaloons in Pennsylvania still holds the 1st position for their bathroom standards. In fact, I have to say that in this category, the cleaningness and features are adequate to park’s latitude. North ranks much better than the South.
All the places we’ve visited so far had their own highlights and all of them had their problems. Too moist, too hot, too many raccoons, ants, skuns, armadillos, you name it. But all of them were really fascinating and I’m glad we had a chance to visit them all.
This morning, we’ve crossed a timezone line. We are leaving the East and will be travelling along the gulf coast. If there only was a ferry from Florida to Yucatan, it would have saved us a lot of time, and probably money. In fact, apparently there used to be one, back eight years ago. Unfortunatelly it failed to attract enough interest to stay in business for too long and left the owner with a USD $Million hole in his pocket. There might be another one launched as soon as early next year, but it’s not sure. We’ll take the long road and start learning Spanish along the way.
Yesterday I got distracted. Instead of enjoying our terrific vacations, I started stressing up again. Why? The culprit might be a broken wheel bearing, unlocked GSM phone or maybe a fact, that when the money runs out, the dream life of ours will burst like a soap bubble.
We knew all along that our car had a bit of a problem. There was this grinding noise coming from underneath the car, quiet at first and getting louder and louder as we moved south. Obviously, it’s not the direction, but rather the distance that made the problem sounds worse and worse. I’ve been putting off a visit to a repair shop until we got to a bigger city. Jacksonville was big enough for that.
I checked on Google all the reviews of local service garages. Authorized Nissan dealers around here didn’t have much to offer, beside rants of furious customers who complained about the service. Instead, I chose a small, privately owned shop nearby. Unable to describe the problem, I invited the mechanic for a ride. Couple hundred yards later his diagnosis was clear – bearing in the front right wheel was shot. They offered to do the repair right away, and gave us a ride to a nearby library. It took about three hours to get the part from the dealer and get the repair done. It was just enough time for a daily dose of homeschooling.
While Agnieszka took care of our kids’ education, I decided to take a walk to a nearby plaza to get a Pay As You Go SIM card. Since we’re traveling all together, we decided to suspend my wife’s cell phone contract and communicate with our friends and family only through internet. I have to admit, this setup works very well for us. We live like on a sailboat, always close to each other. Since we only have one car, whenever we separate it’s mostly within walking or a bike ride distance. An old fashioned walkie-talkie works great in such proximity. Heading towards less populated areas and being somehow responsible parents we decided that we will need a cell phone for emergency situations. It doesn’t make sense to pay $50 a month just for an ability to make a phone call. Therefore we’ve decided to get a Pay As You Go SIM card for the old phone (which happens to be a CDMA/GSM hybrid device). For some reason, we’ve decided that T-Mobile would be the best choice, even though the rates between operators are quite comparable. I think it’s got something to do with the commercials we’ve seen back in Poland suggesting that T-Mobile subscribers around the World can talk for free within the network. I got the card and I’ll let you know if it works once I unlock our damn Verizon cell phone.
Anyway, after spending $540 for a single wheel bearing and wasting four hours searching the internet for cell phone unlocking instructions, I realized that I was stressing out again. It’s been almost three months now since I quit my job and frankly speaking I’m not any closer to know what I want to do when I grow up. On top of it, I have some commitments towards my paying Customers, which I don’t have the time to fulfill. Around midnight I realized that instead of enjoying the ride, I let such comparatively minor issues ruin a perfectly nice day.
Fortunately, the next morning we took the bikes and went to a nearby park. During the week and probably already after season, the park was rather empty. Great! That gave us the opportunity to enjoy all its’ amenities without the usual crowds and hustles. And the Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park has indeed much to offer. First there is the beach, probably over a mile long and pristine. There are lakes and over 22 miles of bike and hiking trials, picnic shelters, playground and much more. Everything we needed was there. Including the peace, quiet and picturesque views, that attracts multitude local painters. We’ve seen probably a dozen artists throughout the park, contemplating nature and working on their masterpieces. Or the fishermen on the beach, standing still with their fishing rods, waiting for the big catch. They all seemed at peace with their life, happy with what they have and what they are doing – living life – not chasing the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. We tend to overcomplicate things, but in fact life is indeed very simple. It’s about being present and enjoying every moment, rather than stressing about the future. After all, the social security system is almost bankrupt already and the economy is going down the drain. We may as well enjoy our retirement right here, right now, as we’re still young and our children still value us more than their videogames.
Sitting at the ocean, I realize that the car repair bill might seem expensive and will definitely shorten our trip, but on the other hand, this could have led to a much bigger problem or even a disaster on the road. The cell phone is not a necessity; we are still in urban areas. And after all, WalMarts are at least every 30 miles apart throughout the entire United States – we can always get a cheap device. And right now, I’m done thinking about the future. My kids are at the beach and really, really do need me right now!
While enjoying the luxuries of a civilized World, yesterday morning we’ve watched the weather forecast. Apparently, the summer is over in Florida and with the first day of October also came in autumn. Indeed, we’ve noticed quite substantial temperature drop – from high 80’s to just shy of 80 degrees during the day. At night, the temperature drops to 60’s or sometimes even high 50’s. It’s terrible!
Looks like everyone got terrified by such gloomy forecast and instead of the beaches, crowds hit the malls. We decided that instead of a regular school, on Saturday we’ll go to a book store, where the kids can play and read books, while I can work a little on the websites business of mine and Agnieszka can go shopping bargains and end of season sales. Sounded like a lazy early afternoon, but I have to admit, it’s been a while since last time I had problems finding a parking spot in a shopping center! And Jacksonville is just packed with commercial activities. It seems as there are malls and plazas at every street corner. All of them packed and looking real busy.
After couple of hours at Barnes and Noble, we bought some groceries at a local Wegmans equivalent (Publix) and headed downtown to Arts Market for a picnic. The market was already closing, but the place was being prepared for an evening movie show. “Alice in Wonderland” was on the menu, so we decided to stay. Since we had a spare hour, we took a stroll downtown on the riverside walkway. Contrary to Savannah, we were really sorry, we didn’t take our bikes this time. Instead, we saw some manatees and enjoyed the late afternoon on the water. It was a Philippines Pride Day and downtown was packed with street vendors, shows and plenty of people. Unlike Rochester, Jacksonville makes an impression of a very lively city.
Tomorrow, I plan to visit a service garage and do some maintenance on the car. Today however, learned from yesterday’s experience, we hit the beach. Right now, while typing these words Agnieszka and the kids are finishing building a sand castle. I think they may need my help with the towers. Enjoy this “unseasonably cold” fall..!