Saturday, May 30, 2009

An Extraordinary Dining Experience: Sanibel's Traders

Although it is not as extraordinary as a cat eating a melon, eating at Traders on Sanibel Island does provide something very special in the way of ambiance and culinary skills.

The spacious store turned eatery reminds me of our home on the Island, Toucan House. I was immediately comfortable with the environment when we went Traders for dinner recently with friends.

The high wooden ceilings, bright orange colored walls and exotica bedecking the dining area were all very familiar.

But aside from the similarities in spatial dimensions and decor, Traders is a very comfortable place to eat.

Tables are spaced out nicely, allowing for good dinner conversation.

The wait staff is attentive and knowledgeable about the food.

And the food itself is innovative, satisfying and beautifully presented.

Though in the higher priced category of Sanibel restaurants, it is not exorbitantly expensive and there is nothing pretentious in either the decor or menu offerings. Like most places on the Island, one is perfectly "blended" into the atmosphere in a pair of dress shorts or Capris. I did not see a formal looking outfit in the house the night that we were there.

Set back on a large parking lot, Traders has a nice landscaping around it. It does have an island flavor both outside and inn.

We were all very content with what we ordered, and the real dessert was not the sweet concoctions served after the meal but the little shopping spree at the end of the night.

Traders is not only a restaurant, it is a large and lovely store with some nice gift items from around the world as well as locally.

I will have to keep that in mind as shops on Sanibel generally close by 9 or so and the Traders' store is open until the restaurant closes which is probably closer to midnight.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sanibel Movie Theatre Perfect Respite for a Rainy Day

Though the sun is shining brilliantly once again, the past 2 days have been rainy most of the time on our little Island, as well as most of southwest Florida. The rain was really needed, and the area has greened up nicely as a result.

And the downpours provided a great opportunity to do something a little different. We have been curious about the cinema here, appropriately named The Island Cinema.

The little yellow building sits at the far end of Bailey's Shopping Plaza. Even in the rain, it beckons with its cheery color.

Once inside, the tiny lobby entertains the nose with the smell of popcorn and candies of all kind.

Even more delightful is that the triplex appears to have been recently renovated. The seats are cushy and new, looking more like theatre seats on a ship than in a land based cinema.

There are few people here on this rainy, gray afternoon, so, armed with our popcorn and a soft drink, it's our choice of seats.

We are delighted immediately as the pre-movie instructions are played out in a cartoon version of Sanibel. It is an adorable preamble to the feature film. And once again it provides the Island touch even in so simple a thing as a pre-film advisory of what is allowed and not allowed (cell phones, conversation, your own food from home, etc.) during the showing of the movie.

Unfortunately the movie we chose, Angels and Demons, does not live up to the promise of the trailers we had viewed. It is a rather ridiculous movie with an improbable plot that not even the acting talents of Tom Hanks can elevate to credibility. Were it not for the Rome location and some stunning scenes of the city by night, we would have most likely walked out.

But we sit through it, munching our popcorn and hoping that the deluge will have let up a bit when we exit.

Fortunately, it had, so we headed home, content with the theatre and fresh popcorn and despite a bad movie.

Next time we are here, we won't hesitate to return to the Island Cinema. We'll just pick a better movie!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Short Jaunt from Sanibel to Useppa Sure to Please

Though we have been coming to Sanibel for over a decade, much of our time spent on Island is devoted to sprucing up our vacation rentals.

Many of the site seeing possibilities on and near the Island have been relegated to "later" and we end up returning north before later arrives.

But the length of this current visit has allowed for a little more exploration than usual.

Yesterday, we caught a boat at South Seas Plantation and went over to Useppa Island.

Though we had been to Cabbage Key and enjoyed it, the difference between the 2 little islands is dramatic. Cabbage Key, funky and pretty much uninhabited, was fun. Useppa, perhaps even smaller than Cabbage Key, is pristine. It is a tiny tropical gem with lovely cottages and a beautiful Inn gracing the shores.

A private island, the visitor to Useppa only gets an infrequent and short lived glimpse by journeying to the Island for a lunch, look and learn. There, in the tiny museum, one can see history played out in the various exhibits and artifacts.

Continuously inhabited for ten thousand years, Useppa was home to nomadic peoples who roamed in search of food in prehistoric times. About ten thousand years ago, the Calusa civilization arose to become one of the most sophisticated native societies to have evolved in North America.

Centuries later, the waters around Useppa and the surrounding barrier islands are popularly thought to have been populated by fierce pirates seeking bounty and treasures. In one of the area's most important myths, legend has it that in the late 1700s, a Spanish pirate named Jose Gaspar kidnapped and imprisoned a Spanish princess named Joseffa de Mayorga. Gaspar the Pirate is said to have favored Joseffa over all the many women he had captured in his ocean conquests. When his attempts to capture Joseffa's heart were met with contempt, Gaspar used Useppa Island to imprison the proud princess, and the isle came to be known as "Joseffa's Island." Over many ensuing years, legend says that the changing local dialects gradually morphed "Joseffa" into "Useppa," giving the island it's unique name today.

All of this, truth or fiction, is fascinating, but not necessary to enjoying the island. It is a magical little place regardless of the veracity of the pirate myth.

Over the years, the island was purchased and developed by Barron G. Collier and utilized as a base for tarpon fishing and for entertaining the rich and famous. The island was later abandoned and used by the U.S. government as a base for the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Today, it's a wonderful spot to discover during your stay on Sanibel. As you leave the South Seas Plantation pier aboard the Lady Chadwick, you will leave the current century. Arrival at Useppa takes you to a time of quiet reflection. The island's centuries-old tradition of gracious hospitality, and it's long legacy of historical significance await you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tropical Rains on Sanibel

We have been on the island for two weeks now, the time has flown.

After 13 days of non stop sun and breezes, the summer weather is setting in.

The past two late afternoons, as is typical from June through September, the skies darkened. The winds picked up. The rain began to plop, plop on the roofs and trees. Then it poured out of buckets. Buckets and buckets of pouring rain. Buckets and buckets of roaring rain. Sometimes it is so loud, you can do nothing else but sit and listen to the rain. It's a true tropical rain. There is a beauty to it that is more ethereal than real.

The island needed a good drenching, and it is getting it. Not interfering with a full day of beaching or biking, the rains hold off until after 4, sometimes after 6. They are usually accompanied with loud thunder claps and brilliant bolts of lightning.

They will pound the trees and bushes ruthlessly for an hour or two. Then they will stop as suddenly as they began.

These are tropical rains, and they help to create yet another way to measure the day.

With non stop sunshine, one feels the island is without structure. The sun shines: you wake up to it, you see it disappear, always at the same time.

The rains create a natural segue. There is the time before the rain. Then the rain itself. And the time after the rain. It's the morning, noon, and nighttime of a 24 hour period.

Soon, you will be able to set your watch to it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ten Reasons a Vacation Rental Beats a Hotel Room: A Sanibel Perspective

Sanibel Island, laid back, tropical and natural, does not have huge and old hotels as one might find in any large city.

But there are options of inns and hotels on the Island competing with the vacation rental condos and vacation rental homes.

Since most condos are 7 day minimum rentals and almost all homes 28 day minimum rentals, if one were to be so unfortunate as to only have a night or 2 to spend in paradise, they really have few alternatives to staying in a hotel or inn.

But aside from the issue of having so much more space in a condo or house, today as we updated our phone system (now offering free phone calls to Canada and anywhere in the USA) at the condo and at our home, Toucan House, it occured to me how much value vacation rentals can provide.

Even the simplest services are add ons at hotels, even very, very pricey hotels.

And here is a list of what comes "standard" in many---- if not most---- vacation rentals that would cost you at a hotel or inn, IF they even existed:

1. The vacation rental (home or condo) will most likely offer you a complete kitchen where you can cook in rather than eat out in the hotel or inn restaurant.

2. The vacation rental will offer you a laundry room instead of laundry service that comes at additional cost.

3. The vacation rental will most likely provide free internet service at no additional fee.

4. The vacation rental will, in many instances, provide digital phone service where you can make long distances calls at no extra charge.

5. The vacation rental will offer in/home/condo DVD selections. No need to "pay on demand" for movies in many VR's.

6. The vacation rental will provide books, games and other diversions meeting the needs of a wide range of people.

7. The vacation rental will not only have available free beach chairs, towels and beach umbrellas, but also offer beach toys for kids and adults.

8. The vacation rental invites and allows for family gatherings in a home like setting. Where does the family "hang out" together at a hotel or inn?

9. The vacation rental personalizes the "guest" experience if you rent by owner and often if you rent through an agency. You will be remembered if you return. You are not just a number to the people in this industry, owners or managers.

10. The vacation rental offers free parking. Always.

Why rent a room when you can have a whole apartment or house?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Sweet Smell of Sanibel

We have been on island for a week with two more to go. Each day has been glorious and we have come at a time that offers unusual benefits.

May, although not highly popular, is a beautiful month on Sanibel.

I can only assume that the light tourism is due to families with children not having ability to travel at this time and those without feeling that the Island may be too hot.

Though this May is warmer than usual, it is still outstanding weather. The sun is offset by the breeze and we are doing our 5 mile walks barely breaking a sweat.

All of Southwest Florida, Sanibel included, is experiencing a drought and while we would like to see some rain to green things out a little more, the dry weather has created a particularly odorous island.

Ordinarily, the Island, much of it wetlands, has a swampy scent that hangs in the air. It is not unpleasant, and we have come to welcome it as iconic Sanibel. But this hot, dry spell has bleached the island of that scent.

What has replaced the wetlands aroma is the fragrance of
jasmine, honeysuckle, hibiscus and bougainvillea that seem to carry on the breeze where ever you are. It follows you from point to point and at times mixes with the smell of fresh laundry that steams out of the homes we pass.

We have never experienced the Island with such a lovely aroma greeting us, and despite our looking forward to a good drenching, we will miss the sweet smell of Sanibel we have now grown accustomed to during this stay.