Traveling in Florida during the Pandemic

My husband and I often do a January getaway to celebrate his birthday. Several months ago we decided to go to St. Augustine. While we knew it probably would be chilly as it is further north (it was!), we felt it was a bit safer than some other spots in Florida.

The plan was to fly directly to Jacksonville, the closest major city to St. Augustine, but sadly Southwest canceled our direct flight and put us on a route that went through Atlanta. Changing planes and being exposed to more people didn’t seem like a good plan. So we decided to fly to Orlando and do a 2-hour drive up to St. Augustine.

Thankfully, our flight to Orlando was not full, so we did have some spacing between us. However, the return was packed. It looked like a lot of people were returning home from Disneyworld. But people were all masked up and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. We flew in October on another packed flight to Tennessee and did fine. However, Florida is more of a hot spot now than Tennessee was then. Nonetheless, I am lying low since my return (which is pretty much all I do now anyhow) and limiting contact.

My first observation when I got to Florida is that people in the airport were generally good about mask wearing and social distancing. However, once outside, that seemed to change. As a resident of Colorado (more specifically, the very left-leaning county of Boulder) I am used to seeing people wearing masks pretty much everywhere. Even outdoors, many people wear them or will pull them up if they see people coming toward them on the walking paths or sidewalk.

But that was not the case in Florida. We stayed in a condo that we rented out through AirBNB. I was surprised that our property owner actually did an in-person check-in. Nowadays that’s pretty rare here in the US it seems. (AirBNB encourages property owners to allow self check-ins, although it’s not required.) The issue I had was that he did not wear a mask when he met us at the condo. Wow! That was very strange.

When we were out sightseeing it seems that people did comply with mask-wearing rules at attractions with paid entry. However, it was hit or miss at stores. Signs were posted that mask wearing was mandatory, but I saw people in stores without them. In grocery stores all the clerks wore them, but some customers did not. Back in Colorado they would be asked to leave or put one on. On St. George Street in St. Augustine (a popular tourist area) only about 50% of the people wore masks. What I found most astounding was that some shopkeepers had signs up about wearing masks, yet they did not wear one themselves. Okaaay! I also had clerks standing outside with samples approach me, sans mask. Talk about unacceptable! No wonder Florida is having problems. It’s like they are living in an alternate universe.

As for restaurants, all the servers I saw wore them. Like in Colorado you are asked to wear masks at your table until you order (although compliance there is not always observed) and if you get up to go to bathroom. We ate out only once per day at lunch since we wanted to do patio dining and it was a bit chilly, even with heat lamps. It seems like that was a popular choice with most people, although I did observe a large group of senior citizens (at least 30) eating inside at one restaurant. They were all seated closely and at the time had no masks on and no food in front of them (I don’t know if they had finished or had just ordered, but I would have thrown a mask on in that situation). I did observe at one coffee shop in St. Augustine, City Perks, that the baristas did not have on masks. That would be a big no-no in Colorado.

For the record there are roughly 4.5 million seniors in Florida. From what I saw in St. Augustine they were some of the worst offenders. Most of the younger tourists wore masks. I also was very impressed one day when I walking on the beach where they were doing some beach restoration work when the young construction worker pulled up his mask to talk to me to tell I couldn’t pass at that time. Good for him. I wish all of the residents in Florida would adopt this attitude. I love this state and I have traveled here many times, but some folks still seem to be in denial.

2016 PTSD – Election Night Eve

I just got back from a lovely walk with my pug Spanky. It’s hard to believe that a week ago we had snow and tonight it’s in the mid 50s (although it will get colder). Today it got up to 70.

Anyhow, late last week I was watching Stephen Colbert as I usually do before bed, and he referred to the anxiety so many are feeling here in the US as 2016 PTSD. So true! Everyone in my family has voted and we’re trying to be positive, but I remember four years ago feeling positive that we’d have our first woman president. Well, we all know what happened. In previous elections when the candidates I voted for didn’t win I never felt so down. But 2016 was different.

It’s been a long hard road to this election. The Covid-19 Pandemic has only made it worse. I hope people recognize Trump’s total mismanagement of it here in the US and vote him out. I know my 90-year-old aunt, a life long Republican, has voted for Biden. And the Lincoln Project gives me hope that other Republicans will vote for Biden. However, in the end, all we can do is wait and see because I don’t think anyone trusts pollsters anymore. Word is there might be a lot of “shy Trump supporters.” But as Colbert said, Trump supporters are anything but shy.

In the meantime, I’ve got a small bottle of bubbly chilling and on standby. It might be a few days, it might be a few weeks, or it might not happen at all. But at this point all we can do is pray.

Paris in the fall (2017)

Back in late September of 2017 we took a 3 week trip to Europe. The first week or so was spent primarily out in the English countryside. We then hopped on a train in Cambridge that took us to King’s Cross in London, then walked over to the International train station, St. Pancras, and boarded the Eurostar to Paris. Taking trains in Europe is definitely easy and economical. While you do have passport control and security, it is much quicker than the airport (you only need to arrive about 45 minutes before departure) and you can bring on liquids (yes, even a bottle of bubbly).

Transportation in the city

We took a taxi from the train station to our hotel in the 1st arrondissement of Paris (near the Louvre and across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower. We paid about $50 for that taxi ride and he didn’t even take us all the way to the hotel. An outdoor concert was taking place nearby and he said the streets were closed off. We didn’t see evidence of street closures as we trudged our way through the rain to our hotel. So on the way back we used Uber. Much better. I think we paid about $30. We were just becoming comfortable with Uber. Do check before you travel to see if Uber operates in the country you’re going to. Uber has had some issues in London but last I heard they were once again cleared to operate. Hopefully, they are still operating in Paris.

Other than that we walked everywhere. We did not go to the Palace of Versailles. The easiest way to get there is the Metro. Next time!

Lodging

I wanted to stay closer to the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement. But my husband wanted to be closer to the river. Overall, I think either is a good choice. I think perhaps over near the Eiffel Tower there might be more dining options. But I cannot complain about our accommodations and staff at the Hotel Brighton. Even though it overlooks the busy Rue de Rivoli, it was quiet with large rooms. The location is very close to the Louvre and right across the street from the Tuileries Garden.

One thing we discovered is over on this side of town you should definitely ask the front desk to make dinner reservations for you. It is very hard to get a seat at good restaurants unless you do so. We did this the first two nights, but on our third night we did not do so and that was a big mistake. We ended up eating bad Chinese as no place had a seat.

Rue de Rivoli from our hotel room
Fall Colors in Jardin des Tuileries and the Eiffel Tower. (view from our hotel room)

Sightseeing

With 2 1/2 days planned for Paris, we had a relatively short list of places we wanted to see: The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre-Dame. Why we did not include Palace of Versailles I’m not sure. Perhaps because we were just looking for walkable destinations. Looking back that was a mistake. I think I would have rather stayed an extra day in Paris and one less day in London.

Here’s a short recap of our visit:

Day 1: The Louvre

My dad lived in Paris in the early 1950s and had such great stories about it, including how you really needed a pair of roller skates to see the massive Louvre. He wasn’t kidding. Of course, you can’t but it sure would help. After all, it’s over 650,000 square feet, making it the world’s largest museum. Its most famous work by far is the Mona Lisa.

Right now of course Americans can’t travel to Europe so it’s pointless for me to talk about the entrance procedures. Those will most likely be more stringent than ever. But I will say do utilize advance ticket options and self-guided audio tours. We wandered haphazardly around the museum and spent way too much time there, retracing our steps and trying to figure out where to go next. My husband loves museums and even he admitted that we perhaps didn’t tackle the Louvre very well. We didn’t have any problem finding the Mona Lisa (lots of signs) but after that we really didn’t have a plan. We ended up spending most of our day there, as well eating our lunch in a cafe within the museum. Certainly our lack of planning was evident. In retrospect, we could have spent only an hour or two there and seen something else in the afternoon. However, we did get rain that afternoon so perhaps that’s the way it was meant to be!

Day 2: Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe

It bears repeating. Paris is a very walkable city but it can be very hot during the summer, so try to go in fall or spring. We were there early fall and although we did get rain on the first day, the second day was magnificent. The walk to the Eiffel Tower along the Seine River was so scenic. They do have river boat tours but we did not do one. Perhaps in the hot summer, but on this beautiful day it was very enjoyable just to walk. Like any big city there’s lots of traffic, but it’s not as crazy as Rome or New York City, and directionally challenged North Americans don’t have to worry about cars coming from the wrong direction like in England.

The Pont Alexandre III Bridge

We did not need to make a reservation to go up the Eiffel Tower (I’ve heard that others have had to but perhaps we just got lucky. Here again, post pandemic entrance procedures are bound to change). By the time we arrived the clouds had moved on and we were treated to a spectacular view. I had never quite understood the fascination with the Eiffel Tower until I was there. It is truly worth while seeing in person.

After a leisurely al fresco lunch we headed back across the river to the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a little over a half hour walk, about 1.5 miles away from the Eiffel Tower. The weather was lovely so we hit the jackpot. Then, of course, you’ll want to walk the stairs to the top – a mere 284 steps. Or you can cheat and take an elevator to the mid level and it’s only 64 steps. Like the Eiffel Tower, seeing this monument, commissioned by Napoleon, is even more impressive in person. We then walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Sure, we popped in a few stores, but we mostly just enjoyed the uniquely French atmosphere.

Arc de Triomphe

Day 3 Notre-Dame

Our plan to see Notre-Dame was to walk there, take pictures, and then head back to the hotel before heading to the train station for our early afternoon train back to London. It was a pleasant half hour walk from our hotel. As expected, there were already long lines to go in. Having seen so many churches in England we didn’t really feel like we were missing out. Of course, had we known that a terrible fire would cause extensive damage to the structure a little over 18 months later, I think we have made the effort to go inside. But alas, who knew? Who expects this to happen to these magnificent structures? However, I count myself lucky that I was able to see it from the outside. Such a beautiful church. I hope they’re able to restore it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my trip down memory lane. Some day we’ll all be able to travel again, as long as we continue to follow recommendations and take proper precautions.

Up and down weekend

I’ll start off with the good news! My oldest son rode his bike up Mt. Evans! That is one of the two 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado that have a road to the top, the other being Pikes Peak. Now, of course, he didn’t start at sea level, but his elevation gain was just over 7,000 feet and total round trip mileage was 58 miles. The elevation of Mt. Evans itself is 14,271 feet (4348 meters). This summer the road to the top is closed to cars due to Covid-19, so it did make it an ideal time (if there is such a thing!) to do it.

Doing this bike ride would be an accomplishment for anyone, but for my son, it is especially amazing. He has been a Type 1 diabetic for nearly 20 years. While he was young it was hard for him to compete in sports due to managing his blood sugars. But since he started wearing Dexcom’s Continual Glucose Monitor (CGM) five or so years ago, he has started to become more active. He now can look at his phone and know exactly what his numbers are without doing a finger prick. It’s truly an awesome medical device.

at the top of Mt. Evans 14,271 feet

Now about the downside of my weekend. I cut my finger on Saturday and required five stitches. I was cutting a watermelon and the knife got stuck. I yanked it out and it hit my finger. This is the second time I have cut my finger during the pandemic. The first time was on the tip of my pinkie while cutting an apple with a serrated knife. While not as deep it was a really tough one to bandage. I thought about going to the ER but I was a bit concerned as it was early on in the pandemic and we were in lock down. Fortunately, this second cut was easy to stitch, but it was sure painful when the doctor gave the lidocaine shots to numb my finger. I have put a picture below but don’t scroll down if you get queasy. I’m happy to say I haven’t had any throbbing at night, but I have to be careful still as it hurts if I knock it in to anything.

Ouch!