Category Archives: Travel

Lucille spent 6 years working at Visit Florida, the state’s official travel planning organization. During this time, she read and edited thousands of travel stories from hundreds of journalists who experienced the world first hand.

Finally, she decided it was time for HER to start exploring on her own. Thus, the travel section of the blog was born.

Lucille’s unique ability to paint a picture of a destination is uncanny. She captures a location’s sights, sounds and smells. So, readers feel they’ve been transported to a far away locale.

Journey with Lucille for weekend getaways in South Florida, cross-country flights to sunny California and everything in-between.

Weekend Getaway to Mount Dora, Part 2

We pulled into Mount Dora about 7:30 pm on Friday. The sun had already set and although it’s central Florida, there was a chill in the air. I’ve visited Mount Dora a couple of times in the past, but never in the winter. My sister-in-law described it best.

“It’s like living in a hallmark card!”

She was right. When you pull into town, you are greeted by thousands of twinkling lights in every color. I know most towns decorate for the holidays but this is much more than a few strings of lights wrapped around a welcome sign.

Every street, every park, every shop and restaurant has a display of lights and music. To give you a sense of the level of detail, the city starts decorating in October. My favorite was the downtown park with tiny white lights that seemed to drip from the giant oak trees.

However, the crowd favorite was clearly the Santa Claus Village created by a private citizen down by the boat docks on Lake Dora.

There were 3D angels with light blue wings and flowing white dresses hovering overhead. Tiny elves with packages covered the ground, while candy canes lined the streets of the Christmas village. And of course, Santa with his 8 tiny reindeer soared above it all.

Mount Dora is great any time of year, but it definitely is extra special over the holidays.

Where to stay in Mount Dora:

We stayed at the Grandview Bed and Breakfast, located on East 3rd Avenue for two reasons. First, it’s walking distance to downtown, so once you’re there, you’re there. You don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot, feeding a meter or wonder if you’re illegally parked (more on that later).

Second, the hospitality is insane. I honestly think that Gwendolyn (the proprietor) might be a witch. Not a bad witch. More like Hermione from Harry Potter, or Glinda from the Wizard of Oz. I don’t know how else she could provide the guest experience she does without spells.

You can see more details about the stay on my Google Review, which could all be proof points of her magical powers, but all you really have to do is get a taste of her 5-course, made from scratch breakfast and I’m sure you’d agree with me that clearly the woman has skills that are beyond this world.

What to do in Mount Dora:

After Gwendolyn’s breakfast, we walked downtown to do some shopping. Mount Dora has all the usual, quaint, locally owned stores that you’d find in most historic downtowns – gift shops, soap stores, kitchen gadgets and the like. But my favorite store was the Mount Dora Olive Oil company (because I am Italian, after all).

There’s a lady with short, curly white hair who works there (or maybe she is the owner, I didn’t ask, she didn’t say) but it is clear she loves her job. She knows everything about every type of oil and vinegar in the store and diligently explained the difference in flavors, cooking methods and offered recipe advice for pretty much every serious customer who walked through the door.

ALSO, they bottle any olive oil you buy right there and they have this cool torch they use to seal the containers shut. It reminds me of when you throw plastic into a campfire, but this doesn’t smell. So, even if you aren’t buying, I would go check it out.

That afternoon, we went on a boat tour, which left from Lake Dora. Once again, you can walk from town to the boat ramp, which is ideal since parking by the boat ramp looked like a nightmare. There’s actually two bout tour companies in town, and we went with the Rusty Anchor. They’ve been in business for 30 years, which doesn’t always equate to excellent service, but in this case, it did.

The biggest difference between the Rusty Anchor and their competitors are the boats themselves. Our boat had seating all around the sides of the boat, so every passenger had a view of the water, whereas the other boats had rows of seats like a bus, so if it’s a crowded boat ride, you could be stuck in the middle seat with nothing to stare at but the back of some old guy’s bald head (I mean, it is Florida).

You can bring libations on the boat as well, which makes the alligators seem bigger and the ride seem much more dangerous and exciting overall.

Although we didn’t make it this time around, two other must do activities are going to Blue Springs State Park to see the manatees (especially if you go in the spring) and walking the Palm Island boardwalk. It’s great in the summer because there’s a ton of foliage, which keeps you from passing out due to heat stroke…and that is super important since there’s a zillion alligators lurking along the banks, ready and waiting for someone to pass out from heat stroke.

Where to eat in Mount Dora:

On Friday night we went to Pisces Rising, which is a seafood restaurant, but all their food is good. In fact, I ordered the duck and it wasn’t a mistake. Our waitress said it was the most under-ordered item on the menu…probably because it is a seafood place, but I’ve seen more ducks in the water than flying around in the air, so I felt it was a more than appropriate order.

On Saturday night, the City put on a Children’s Christmas in the Park. There was a snow maker and sledding down this hill. Needless to say, the downtown area was PACKED. People were parking illegally down all these narrow little side roads, so it was no surprise when this woman rounded a corner and ran into one of the parked cars. Just another reason to stay at the Grandview and walk everywhere…

Anyways, on Saturday night, we headed to the Copacabana Cuban Restaurant for dinner. It’s got a huge patio outside and is a great place to people watch, especially on a busy weekend. If you go for drinks, get the mojito. If you go for dinner, get the yellow rice as your side instead of the white rice. It’s not extra, it’s just extra good.

So, that’s Mount Dora in 48 hours. If you haven’t been. Go. If you have been, go again. It’s that good.

Wow?! DID YOU JUST READ ALL OF THIS? If you did, please leave a comment and let me know what you thought!

Thanks for reading!

Lucille

Weekend Getaway to Mount Dora, Part 1

Packed and ready for our trip to Mount Dora

I pretty much spent my entire life plotting ways to get out of the middle of nowhere (aka Alaska) only to marry a man and move to the middle of nowhere (aka Tallahassee, Florida).

You don’t believe me? My mom doesn’t. Tallahassee has a Walgreens therefore it must be a real city. Low bar, mom…

But it’s true. I used to work in tourism. I LOST COUNT of how many times journalists would come up to me at conferences and say “I thought Miami was the capital!” People haven’t heard of it, haven’t been to it and only about 180,000 even want to live in it.

The problem isn’t so much with Tallahassee (people LOVE the trees…until hurricane season), rather, it’s the inability to quickly or cheaply get in or out of Tallahassee. Flights are hella expensive and the nearest city is a 4 hour drive.

If I get a bunch of comments saying “Destin is only 2.5 hours away” I will just assume you haven’t ever been anywhere in your life because Destin isn’t a city. It’s a beach town. Is there a Nordstrom? Didn’t think so. Thank you, next.

At this point you’re probably wondering, is this a rant from a lunatic about some tiny little capital “city” or a post about Mount Dora? I’ll get on with it…

My point is, I get VERY excited when we take trips away from Tallahassee that don’t require a $500+ airline ticket or a 5 hour car ride. It’s as rare as a unicorn so the excitement level is completely appropriate.

As a wedding present, my amazing aunt and uncle booked us a weekend getaway in Mount Dora, Florida. And they also got the same gift for my cousin and his wife who got married in 2018 as well. So THIS WEEKEND we are heading down for a couples vacation. Which, by the way, may be the last couples vacation we go on since we will likely have kids in tow in 21 days (but who’s counting?).

According to google maps, Mount Dora is 199 miles or 3 hours and 41 minutes from Tallahassee by car. No flight required. Under 5 hours. I AM VERY EXCITED!!!

We have a whole itinerary of activities planned that I’ll share in my next post, but since I’ve been to Mount Dora before, I can say with certainty to all my Tallahassee friends that if you are looking for a relatively close and affordable getaway, you should put this gem on your list.

Until next time!

– Lucille

Vacation in Palm Springs, California

It’s 7 a.m. but one look at the sky and you’d think it was high noon. Beads of sweat have already begun to form along my hairline as I trek across the grounds of the Riviera Resort in Palm Springs, California.

The Riviera Resort in Palm Springs, California

There are about 40 women of all shapes and sizes standing out on the Wexler lawn. It’s a perfectly manicured patch of grass that looks slightly out of place in the desert. And it’s much more suited for weddings than a yoga class. But conference space is tight and time outside is limited, so the spot works perfectly.

The Wexler Lawn

Brightly colored mats of green and pink lay in crooked rows of six or seven on the dewy morning grass. Yoga music plays in the background as the instructor, dressed in a tight-fitting pastels from head to toe, weaves in and out of the crowd.

I wouldn’t consider myself a yogi. For one, I’m Catholic and the spiritual side of it feels a little sacrilegious. But I do go once a week to a 90-minute hot yoga class to stretch everything out. It’s particularly important with all the weight lifting I’ve done over the past year.

The instructor in Tallahassee is a natural blonde, curly haired woman in her late 30s. She never takes herself too seriously and is quick to joke and quick with an easier yoga move alternative.

Yoga in California though – it’s just a little bit different…

This instructor is probably in her mid 60s. However, California is known for doctors with “magic hands”, she could easily be 40 or 80, depending on the surgeon. Her hair is dry, long, wavy and bleached blonde. She covers the roots with a baby-pink ball cap and her eyes with oversized sunglasses.

Class begins and we all stand on our mats, waiting for instruction, but it doesn’t come instantly. Rather, she begins by asking us to step off the mats and onto the wet grass.

“Feel the dirt beneath our feet and become one, grounded in the earth.”

Her voice is raspy, like a smoker…gruff, but the yogi-vocabulary takes a bite out of the harshness. A phrase my mom always used to say to me as a kid pops into my head for a fleeting second – “it’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it”. Then it’s gone and instead I’m focusing once again on the instructor.

“Take a deep breath in. Don’t forget to breathe. Are you even breathing?” she asks one woman.

A little different than the “go at your own pace, listen to your body” mantra I hear at home.

Next we offer a prayer/meditation/wish to a higher power because the world is crashing and burning primarily due to the President, which is made abundantly clear without his name ever being mentioned.

Then it’s a warrior pose. Our feet dig into the ground, slipping just a little on the wet grass, but not enough to warrant a change in the position.

The instructor weaves in and out of the rows. This time the instruction is to “imagine your face is smooth and your lips are plump.”

“Smile…But don’t overdo it…you don’t have to smile THAT hard.”

With 840 miles from top to bottom, California’s topography ranges from soft sandy beaches to rugged mountain tops, all mixed perfectly into one amazing state. It’s breathtaking and intimidating at the same time. When you look across the varying skylines, you can’t help but wonder, “is this even REAL?”

This feeling transcends into the culture and the people I’ve met while traveling around California. Beautiful. Diverse…intimidating as fuck. They are cooler than you and they know it, but unlike a New Yorker, they won’t come right out and tell you.

So I wear my trendiest sunglasses, my most bohemian top and my acid washed, high waisted shorts…I only wish I could feel as cool as I look when I’m in California.

A view of Malibu
Practicing my yoga skills at El Matador Beach in Malibu
The San Jacinto mountain range
On top of the world at San Jacinto state park
Trying to play off “California cool”