A Long Weekend in St. Augustine, Florida

While early July is a very, very, very hot time to visit St. Augustine, Florida, we continue to do so year after year.  And, we’re not the only ones!  From the early morning hours until the late night (late night here is about 11pm!), the streets are packed with tourists, artists, residents and passers-throughs. Some ignoring the blistering heat, some trying to ignore it, but all truly in it.

We arrived at the lovely, albeit dated, Casa Monica hotel and checked in.  An earlier guest was fortunate enough to get our preferred room, 212, so we were booked, for the first time, in a room on the 4th floor.  It’s been a couple of years since we’ve stayed at the Casa Monica.  While the common areas are as grand, and as beautiful as ever, the guestrooms could use some serious updating.  The old carpet smell greets you upon entry into the rooms.  Not dirty, but definitely old. The walls and doors are thin.  You can hear every sound through them.  And the bathrooms!  Oh my!  They look as if they haven’t ever been updated.  Ever! The comfortable bed and pillows made up for what the dated room lacked.  So, all was well.

We decided to brave the late afternoon heat and head out for a walk and a snack.  A1A Ale Works caught our eyes.  In a perfect location on King street, facing the lovely Matanzas Bay, this place is a must visit!  The menu features Floridian, Caribbean and Cuban-influenced selections, there’s a working brewery, and 2 bars.  Try the lump crab cakes with Cajun remoulade and the fried calamari with wasabi aioli.  Amazing! We topped off our snack with refreshing A1A/Florida Mules…ginger beer poured over St. Augustine vodka, fresh lime and mint.

Refreshed and full, we headed out to stroll the historic Lincolnville section of St. Augustine.  After just a few steps, the heat hit us like a ton of bricks.  Well, at least that was the excuse we used for having to step into a place with a big sign that read “Come In and Cool Down with Frozen Wine Smoothies”.  Little did we know that Vino Del Grotto would become a daily stopping point for us, making the hot St. Augustine summer days much easier to bear.

Weekend Road Trip – Richmond Jazz Festival 2015

 Guest Blogger, Samantha

What a gorgeous day to be outside enjoying great music! We started the day off with some good ol’ soul food at Mama J’s Soul Food restaurant in Richmond, VA. You gotta try the catfish! From there we spent the day at the Richmond Jazz Fest listening to the sultry baritone voice of Will Downing, the smooth sax of Kirk Whalum, and the oh so sexy Joe. And to top the night off, we danced & sang along with the always exciting Ronny, Johnny, Ricky, Mike & Ralph…in other words, we partied with New Edition! I even got a kiss from Ralph & a wink from Ronny!
Oh what a day & night in Richmond, VA!


In Antigua…Early To Bed, Early To Rise…And Shirley Heights

The ladies and I are night owls.  We wake early, work long days into the evening, then begin to unwind pretty late at night.  Well, not in Antigua!  We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, and learned that we had until Saturday at midnight, then Sunday until 10pm (unless we wanted to venture to an “after-hours” spot) to party.  Monday through Thursday the island closes pretty early.  That proved just fine by us.  We took advantage of our time on this calm island.  We were in bed by 10pm most nights, and out the door by 9:30am most mornings.  Don’t get me wrong…we partied.  We just adjusted our time to do so.  What a great concept!  Our days consisted of the fitness center or water aerobics first, then Blood Marys and mimosas with breakfast, the pool,white wine spritzers and champagne cocktails for lunch (and in the hours leading up to and after lunch!), and wine with dinner.  By nightfall, we were more than ready to turn in.

We were told that on Sunday we could not miss the opportunity to go to a place called Shirley Heights.  More specifically, to The popular Shirley Heights Lookout Bar & Restaurant that rests at the summit.  We did not hike up to the top as many do (I’m willing to back to do that after the ankle heals, though!).  Instead, we were picked up at the resort by our awesome, private island guide, Ozzie, and driven right to the door or the restaurant/bar/soundstage.  The festivities began at 5:30ish with the steel drum “orchestra” Digicel Halcyon Orchestra, full bar and a dining spread that was a showstopper!  After about 2 hours of the steel drum amazement, came a live reggae band until 10pm.

The place was packed!  Packed with tourists mostly, but there were some locals.  The mood was so festive.  The sun setting over the beautiful hills,  located approximately 492 feet above sea level,  with panoramic views of the southern island of Guadeloupe and the active volcano Montserrat. Simply breathtaking!

We secured spots on the front row of the stage at the picnic tables (not an easy feat at all!), and while I sat and enjoyed the music, the ladies went to buy drinks (rum punch, Dark and Stormy, rum and coconut water) and food (grilled lobster, jerk chicken jerk ribs, potato salad, rice and peas, coleslaw).  Yes, this place ROCKS!!!

We only stayed for half of the reggae set.  The food, drinks and steel drum orchestra more than satisfied us.  We had scheduled our pick-up for 9:30pm.  It was 8:30, and we were ready to leave.  Fortunately, we got Ozzie’s card.  And, fortunately Ozzie is well-known at Shirley Heights.  We went up to the bar, asked to use the phone to call him,  The bartender looked at the card, motioned someone from the doorway over to the bar, she looked at the card, told us to wait a second, and she returned with Ozzie.  We were resort-bound in no time!  What a great night.  And we were happily in bed by 10pm.

3 Besties, 2 Checked Bags, and 1 Carry On…Antigua, Here We Come!

We travel so well together.  London/Paris/Rome, Miami, Las Vegas, and now Antigua.  This was a much needed, BFF bonding vacation.  A few months ago, we loosely “saved the date”, and surprisingly, to all three of us, we pulled it off.  With our crazy schedules and family and work obligations, this was a long shot. But we did it! 

Our flight departed at 6am.  We wanted to arrive as early as possible and get our party started.  We kicked off the morning with Bloody Marys.  They seemed to make our plane fly faster.  One plane change later, we arrived safe and sound (and by 1:30pm!) in Antigua.  The small, sunny, festive airport was pretty crowded.  But of course…everyone wants to be in tropical paradise, right? There were visitors from all over.  The U.S., the UK, South America, Australia.  The customs line was pretty long.  But, there was the boot!  Yes, the bane of my existence helped soar us through the line (actually, through every line we encountered on the entire trip!)  During our speed-through, we learned that the creole greeting in Antigua is “wa gwaan” (what’s going on?).  We used it every chance we got during our stay.  Our hosts really seemed to appreciate our efforts.

We hailed a taxi, as instructed by the resort when we called ahead days earlier to request a pick-up.  There were plenty of friendly drivers waiting in a well-organized section of the airport for visitors.  The fare was exactly as the resort said it would be…$31 USD.  The driver’s side is on the opposite side of the vehicle for us US tourists.  That, combined with the curves, really small roads, and steep overlooks, made our 30-minute ride to the resort very interesting.

Upon arrival to St. James Club, we sought out the front desk agent that I had had the pleasure of speaking to on the phone a few times leading up to our vacation.  Shaneika.  She was awesome!  She seemed to smile through the telephone, so I was determined to meet her face to face and thank her for all of her pre-trip assistance…and patience.  We walked up to her at the counter, greeted her by name, and she smiled and said “I know who you all are.”  How cool.  As she began to check us in, we confirmed that we would have three beds.  We then joked about getting an upgrade.  She excused herself for a second, and came back smiling even larger.  “Ladies, I have some good news”, she said.  “You have been upgraded to a 2 bedroom villa.”  What in the world?  How awesome! She continued with our check in, and we happily accepted the glasses of champagne that were being handed to us by one of the hostesses.   “Ladies, I have some good news”, she said again.  “There’s more?”, we said, about to burst with enthusiasm.  “Your villa is ready for check-in.”  Great!  Then, just before we turned to walk away, one of us asked Shaneika if the villa, our private, get-away-from-the-world for 5 days had Wi-Fi.  Shaneika excused herself for a few seconds.  She returned and said “Ladies, I have some bad news.  Your villa is too remote to get the Wi-Fi signal.”  “Yes!”, I thought!  That’s not such bad news at all!  There was, she assured us, complimentary Wi-Fi in the lobby.  Perfect.

Our “buggy” (a 6-seater golf cart) arrived, with Vincent, our driver and personal resort guide, at the helm.  He drove us up the winding road, through the beautiful resort grounds to our villa.  It was a 3-level, 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom, full kitchen, dining room and living room villa, with lounging patios/balconies on each level. Antigua, we’ve arrived.