When I was younger, I would sometimes have bouts of depression. As I got older, I realized that there was a pattern to my depression. I realized that I usually felt depressed in the dead of winter when the days were short and there was not as much light. I realized that I must suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is what caused us to start planning most of our vacations in the winter months. We love the San Francisco Bay Area in the summer because there is so much to do. There are still things to do in the winter but when the days are short and dark, I really don't feel like doing much at all. I found that if I go somewhere sunny for a few days around February, March or April, it really helps me get through the winter doldrums.
We had already planned to go to Europe at the end of the summer in 2005 but in February, that seemed like a long way off. I was craving some sunshine and knew I needed to get away. I looked on Priceline at packages and came across one that included airfare to Orlando, Floridan and hotel for a very reasonable price. Milton and I discussed it and decided we could keep the price down if we avoided Disney World, Universal Studios and other theme parks. We would just go for the sun essentially.
We had a great time. The flight to and from Florida takes all day and was pretty exhausting since we started out from home and from the hotel there about 3:30 am going and coming. We had a pretty nice little extended stay kind of rm that had a little kitchenette for $41/night from priceline. You know I always like a good deal when we travel. We got a Grand Am from Budget for $151 for the whole time.
On our first full day it did rain and I was pretty dissapointed since the whole point of going was to get away from the rain. I guess we brought it with us. We drove over to Tampa/Saint Petersberg which is about 70 miles from Orlando and is on the Gulf Coast. We went to the Salavador Dali museum there which was pretty interesting. Dali has become so commercialized in some ways but seeing his actual paintings really renewed my respect for his art. We took a tour there that told about his life and explained a lot of things about his art that I didn't realize.
On the second day the sun came out and we drove over to Daytona Beach on the Atlantic Coast which is about 50 miles from Orlando. Within just a couple hundred miles, you have four major cities and so if we lived there, I think there would be plenty of things to do. On the way to Daytona Beach we stopped and looked at a house in Deltona. We did not like the particular houses we looked at but it gave us an idea of prices.
As we approached Daytona Beach, we started noticing a LOT of people on motorcycles. There were people on motorcycles everywhere. As we got closer to the beach itself, it became wall to wall motorcycles.
I had never seen so many motorcycles. They were having a HUGE street party... or practically city-wide party although for several blocks there were bands and a street faire thing going on with bands and a lot of partying. We walked through for several blocks and enjoyed it. We also visited the beach itself and this is a pic of me... notice the BLUE, CLEAR sky! It was like SUMMMMER!!
The sand was as white as the sand in Cancun. It was a bit windy though and I am wearing a jacket in the pic. Daytona Beach was a much bigger city than I had expected. It looked pretty intact for having been hit by three hurricanes in the last year.
When we got back to Orlando, we rested a little bit and then headed out to explore downtown Orlando's Church Street which is kind of a hip little area downtown with a lot of club activity and 20 & 30 somethings. We wandered around downtown Orlando and looked at condo developments. It reminded me of L.A. or S.F. thirty years ago... it's urban downtown living is just starting to emerge. If we were to retire in Florida as little old men, urban, downtown living might be more appealing than living in the suburbs. We would also feel safer in a hurricane in a highrise probably that isn't going to blow away. I think we might have gone to Universal Studios City Walk that night too. It was free and we were only doing free things pretty much.
I think it might have been the next day that we decided to go back to Tampa to see Ybor City. On the way we stopped at Disney's Celebration and looked at a couple of condo's there. Celebration was very interesting. It is really a beautiful, pristine little town. It was only built about eight years ago but they have used classic architectural styles and apparently have very strict HOA rules. You would certainly feel safe there. Milton says that he thinks Stepford Wives was filmed there. It was actually very pleasant-- very Norman Rockwell. It was interesting that you see happy looking people everywhere but no rowdy teenagers. We wondered what they had done with them. I couldn't imagine any driving down these streets with their subwoofers thumping. It was such a perfect little town. Maybe these people were robots? I don't know but I wouldn't mind joining them and living in such a pleasant looking place.
On our way to Ybor city, we stopped and looked at several housing developments. Houses run about $150,000 or so less than they do in the Bay Area. We would have to live in Modesto or Fresno to get similar prices and maybe even then, it would be hard to find houses as nice probably. Apparently a lot of the homes are sold as "vacation homes." People buy them as investments and then rent them to tourists for $200.00/night that come to Orlando to visit Disneyland. The real estate market seemed very hot in the area- there was a lot of building but in some areas, you had to enter a lottery to actually get a house because they were going so fast.
We also looked at some manufactured homes. We saw some as low as $64,000 but they had walls that looked like plastic and we couldn't have lived in them. You had to spend about $150,000 before all the walls looked like sheetrock. We saw some pretty nice manufactured homes and even saw one that was two stories. That was weird. The ones we really liked though were in the $150-200,000 range and by the time you bought the land and moved it, I couldn't see any advantage over buying a regular house. You could get a great regularly build, brand new house with a yard and about 1600 square feet for $220,000 so am not sure why anyone would bother with the manufactured ones. I wouldn't want to live in one with the hurricanes anyway... regular houses all seemed to be made of cinder blocks and those wouldn't blow away.
When we finally got to Ybor city, we were pretty tired after looking at houses all day and we just stayed a few minutes and turned around and headed back to Orlando.
On our final day, we went out and looked at more houses early in the day and then just relaxed until we left for the airport. We had a great time. Ever since we got back we have been working on our Europe vacation for September. We bought our airline tickets to London and have booked hotels in London, Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome and Athens. We have also booked flights from Rome to Athens and Athens back to London. We have been immersing ourselves in books on Europe and art galleries and sites.