It’s why we live here and why you should visit!

Have you been wondering about the best place to spend Spring Break or your next family Beach Vacation?
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BIG NEWS! Clearwater Beach has been ranked Number One Beach by Trip Advisor on their 2018 list of America’s Best Beaches! Sugar sand, emerald green water, and 365 days of sunshine are just a few reasons why!

Trip Advisor’s List of America’s Best Beaches:
1. Clearwater Beach, Florida
2. Siesta Beach, Florida
3. Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii
4. South Beach, Florida
5. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Oahu, Hawaii
6. Fort Lauderdale Beach, Florida
7. St. Pete Beach, Florida
8. Hollywood Beach, Florida
9. Santa Monica Beach, California
10. Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

Psssst! Trip Advisor has also ranked our Clearwater Beach as Number 7 of the Best World Beaches as well!
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On March 1st check the newest issue of our Jack & Niki’s Suncoast & Tampa Bay Visitors Guide to see fun things to do while you visit us in March. See http://www.tampabaysnowbirder.com/. We’ll give you some other great ideas of things to do!

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It’s Winter – let’s talk Summer camping!

Jack asks, if you have a minute won’t you come sit by the campfire and we’ll chat? It’s Winter and the perfect time to talk about camping next Summer.

I’ll start. As kids growing up in the Northeast we endured Winter. We couldn’t afford snowmobiles and ATV’s but we made our own fun.

After high school, fun with the Military and entering the work civilian force Winter took on a whole different meaning – like starting out every morning in a cold car, always looking forward to going to work in the dark and coming home from work in the dark. All  while trying to stay warm and keeping the car on the road.

Yes my friend, “cabin fever” can be a very real threat.

But that’s when I learned I had a love for golf!

Well, actually not for the game of golf itself but rather the sunny, blue sky days and green grass venues from where they always broadcast the tourneys. I admit I spent a considerable amount of Sunday time watching them and daydreaming while it was snowing and blowing outside my windows.

I guess at some point in my life I really and truly decided I did not care for Winter at all!

Unfortunately my career was based in the Northeast and Winter was really hard to ignore. It usually begins to slowly creep up on you from every direction and by late February it has taken up entirely to much space in your mind – my mind at least.

Fortunately for the last few years before I retired I shared office space with a like-minded individual named (don’t call me Ronnie) Ron. Ron and I both loved Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Though we vacationed at different times we would spend countless hours each Winter planning the perfect Myrtle Beach getaway – what to see, where to go, what restaurants to try, etc. To make a long story short we spent many more hours planning the next trip than we actually spent going on the trip. You know what though? It got us through the worst parts of Winters.

Once I retired and Niki and I started RVing, Winters took on a whole different meaning. In fact we started looking forward to each Winter as much as the Summer. That of course is because when the leaves started falling we started packing our little home on wheels for the trip South to a warmer Winter, old friends and familiar places.

You may have heard or seen me mention on our website (snowbirdrvtrails.com) that we always took our time coming or going. No quick three days down and three days back for us. At one time we did have to scurry like that but soon decided it’s really not what retirement should be about.

In our travels North and South we normally take a month coming and going. A different route each time and normally different campgrounds in different areas to explore. One motto we have pretty much followed is “Last out of a campground in the morning and first to arrive at a new campground in the afternoon!”

After our first 1,500 mile trip where we spent a night in each campground and put in as many miles as we could each day, we arrived at our destination so tired we were ready to sell the trailer! That’s when we decided that on the return trip we would travel no more than 250 – 300 miles each travel day and spend at least two nights in each campground to explore a bit of the area. Eight years later that’s how we still do it.

That brings us up to today and this very Winter of 2018. No doubt it may be sub-zero and  snowing and blowing where you are. You may be at work, you may be at home snowed in or you may be retired and actually enjoying warmer weather. Wherever you are let’s you and me do some planning and looking forward to the warmer weather to come. You know that time when the snow is gone and you can air out your camper or your tent and get ready for the fun to come.

I know many of you are still working and have to plan your vacation days with the destination in mind rather than the trip. I understand that. We were also there as well not so long ago.

With that in mind let’s just talk about areas and campgrounds past, present and future. We have over 38,000 miles on the road and are closing in on nights spent at 200 campgrounds so far. I am going to start posting some of our favorite campgrounds and areas we have visited in our travels. It may be an area you have visited or that you might be interested in visiting one day. Maybe you know a special place we need to visit near there or elsewhere. Maybe you are thinking about where you plan to RV, camp or visit on your next adventure. What ever the case you are among friends around this campfire and we invite you to join the conversation.

Fellow campers we’ll get through this Winter thing together!

I do apologize in advance for any writing errors. Niki usually edits my articles but I am just winging this one and we’ll talk about whatever makes you happy.

The first campground I would like to bring up that we like is somewhat centrally located on the East Coast. It’s located in Mt Airy, North Carolina and called “Mayberry Campground”. The name is appropriate as the town is the birthplace of Andy Griffith. We have camped there several times coming and going and we find something different and interesting each time. The people are friendly, the food is good and the prices are right.

Mayberry Campground is open year-around and located off Exit 11 of I-74 at 114 Bunker Road, Mount Airy, NC. The campground is gravel, full amenities and has both pull-through and back-in sites. It is a Passport America “half-price” campground.

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Before I go further let me say I am not a paid spokesperson for Passport America but I talk about them a lot because we are lifetime members and stay at PA campgrounds at least 75% of the time. The club is not for everyone but if you travel a lot it is definitely worth it (or I wouldn’t be suggesting it.)

Mount Airy and Mayberry Campground are both located on what we feel is our favorite route South from the Northeast.

(Our video pulling into Mayberry Campground.)

Mayberry Campground is located on part of the former 2,000 acre farm belonging to Chang and Eng Bunker, famous Siamese twins of the 1800’s. The twins – forever conjoined – had a prosperous farm as well as 2 separate and prosperous families. They married 2 sisters and had 21 children between them. They kept 2 separate homes, alternating 3 days at each home.

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THINGS TO DO IN MT AIRY:
Visit Andy Griffith’s “homeplace” at 711 East Haymore Street. Less than a mile away you’ll find the real “Snappy Lunch” and still making the “famous pork chop sandwiches”. It’s next door to “Floyd’s Barbershop” and “Opie’s Candy Store”. Just a little farther down Main Street you’ll find “Wally’s Garage” and “The Courthouse” with a recreation of the jail set office and cells we remember from The Andy Griffith Show. That’s also the place to sign-up for a real “Andy Griffith Squad Car Tour” of Town in a vintage Mayberry Police Car like Barney and Andy drove.

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Not far away you’ll find the Andy and Opie statues in front of the “Andy Griffith Theatre” and the Andy Griffith Museum where they have hundreds (perhaps thousands) of artifacts and memorabilia from Andy’s career on stage, TV and in the movies and as a singer and comedian. The Museum’s lower level has an exhibition of material from Eng and Chang’s life as well.

We do dine out a lot on our trips. We like to find the local “Mom and Pop” restaurants that the locals rave about. You may have seen me mention this before but we have two questions we ask of the hosts or locals at any new stopover – What is the “must-see” thing or place locally that you must show your friends and family when they come to visit? The other question is “What is your favorite locally owned restaurant with great homecooking?” The answers usually supply us with much to see and do on our next day.

If the following sound a tad like reviews it’s because they are. It’s what we also do on our website. We put our own two cents in on the good, the bad and the ugly in campgrounds and restaurants that we find. If we have not eaten there or not camped there we don’t review them. I am happy to say we have only found two of Niki’s “Deliverance” campgrounds in our travels.

On our very first visit to Mount Airy we had dinner at “The Copper Pot”. Real Southern home-cooking served by cheerful ladies with lovely North Carolina accents so thick you almost need an interpreter. Good food and Great people – the feeling is real down-home friendliness.

We also have tried a lunch spot suggested by the campground and backed by many good reviews on the Net. It’s called “Little Richard’s Smokehouse BBQ”. We like BBQ and have sampled it in about every State East of the Mississippi. This place is our new favorite for BBQ done right. Tender and juicy – slow cooked over hickory coals for 16 hours and truly finger lickin’ good. The sides are homemade as well. For sides we both tried the mac & cheese and turnip greens accompanied by a large basket of hush puppies. They have a soft drink – new to us – called “Cheerwine” which is cherry flavored and also tasty as were the warm blackberry cobblers we had for dessert with vanilla ice cream (of course!).

We can also recommend Tlaquepaque Mexican Restaurant & Grill at 2123 Rockford Street. I can’t pronounce it either but it’s a small restaurant with a talented chef. Both of our meals, traditional Mexican combos, were really delicious.

So have you been to Mount Airy and/or Mayberry Campground? What did you like or didn’t like. Did we miss something?

Where are you headed on your next adventure. Come pull up a stump by the campfire. The coffee pot is on and we have your cup waiting.

Jack
(To be continued.)

Exploring Florida’s Suncoast in November

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Jack and Niki bring you the November issue of our Suncoast & Tampa Bay Snowbird Visitor’s Guide. It’s now up on the Internet at http://www.tampabaysnowbirder.com/.
 
This issue explores a 12-mile scenic stretch of the 45-mile Pinellas Trail that runs along a former railroad bed with Parks and other interesting places to visit as you bike, walk or jog. Where to park, what to see and some interesting mile markers.
 
Did you know the Beach Markets are reopening for the Season? When and where are they?
 
How about a list of area restaurants open for a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner?
 
All of the above plus our regular features including what’s playing this month at the Pier 60 Sunset Cinema, a listing of November’s local art & craft fairs and festivals, area attractions by city/town, webcams, shopping, parks, dining and more.

Happy November from Niki & Jack Armstrong!

Dunedin, Florida – because it is!

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In the new August Issue of our online Suncoast Visitor’s Guide we’ll take you on a photo tour of Dunedin Florida. This special little community is located on St. Joseph Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. The Main Street recalls an earlier time without fast food eateries and big box corporate stores. It sits begging to be strolled and window shopped while you enjoy an old-fashioned ice cream cone you’ll find hard to resist. We’ll end this visit down at the end of Main Street where it meets the Dunedin Marina for a peek at a golden Gulf Sunset. It’s just that kind of a fun and colorful place to visit for many reasons. – Niki and Jack

A Visit to the 2017 Florida Strawberry Festival

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Yesterday was a beautiful day to spend a few hours at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City – just a few miles East of Tampa.

Plant City is arguably the largest strawberry growing area in the Country. During each March ‘s strawberry harvesting time the area shows its pride with one heck of an eleven day agricultural fair celebration paying homage to the growers – many are multi-generational family farms. Besides a large midway for the kids and young at heart, there are the animal and Ag demonstrations and exhibits with two real stand-outs. First is the strawberry decked out smartly in every edible form imaginable from shortcakes, shakes, sundaes to jams, jellies and more.

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Secondly, it’s over a week filled with some of the finest Country stars making appearances on the Wish Farms Sound Stage. This year featured Willie Nelson, Little Big Town, The Bellamy Brothers, Jennifer Nettles, Brenda Lee, Maddie & Tae and Rascal Flatts, to name a few.

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This year we chose to see Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers’ afternoon performance. They were as good as we expected, singing many of the hits they have had over their 40+ year career. They had two of the famous Lennon Sisters – Jan and Kathy – join them on stage for a couple of songs. They sang their hearts out for a very large crowd for about an hour and a half. Great show – even though the temp was hovering in the low 80’s, there was a nice breeze now and then that was much appreciated by the crowd.

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Our friends from Canada – Cheryl and Ray – joined us for this excursion and we spent several hours at the Festival enjoying the sights, listening to (and buying more CD’s from) one of Niki’s favorite groups – “Runa Pacha” – so versatile on the pan flute. We also enjoyed the Fair-type food including, of course, a mandatory round of huge, fresh, strawberry shortcake.

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The Florida Strawberry Festival is a lot of fun and we enjoy visiting it each year. We do recommend  if you ever have the chance to catch it as well.

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See more photos of the Florida Strawberry Festival on our Pinterest pages at https://www.pinterest.com/snowbirdrvtrail/florida-strawberry-festival/.

Safe travels and enjoy every adventure,

Niki and Jack

A Visit to Tarpon Springs and the Sponge Docks

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Niki and I traveled a short way up Florida’s Sun Coast this afternoon to have lunch with three charming ladies from the Hoosier State.
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Former RVing neighbors and friends who were just in the area for a few days. We met for a really nice lunch at one of the better reviewed Greek restaurants on the famed Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs – Dimitri’s “On the Water” Restaurant.
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We were blessed with a beautiful warm and sunny day, the boats – large and small – were moving up and down the waterway. We had a fun and relaxed two hours getting reacquainted over good food, service and great scenery.
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After lunch we all walked the couple of blocks down to the Greek and European Bakery for dessert. The selection of decadent desserts in their display cases are straight out of a chocoholic’s dream. I had to try the baklava tiramisu – now that is a combination to write home about!
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Tarpon Springs is a fun place to visit if you find yourself in the Tampa Bay area. Settled largely by Greeks and a thriving source for the sponge industry for many years, they are proud of their history and food and happy to share both with visitors from all over the World.
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More photos on our Pinterest pages at https://www.pinterest.com/snowbirdrvtrail/tarpon-springs-florida/

Florida Day Trip – Sunshine Skyway & Popi’s Place

Today was beautiful with temps in the mid-70’s, bright sunshine and blue skies. A perfect day for a Florida adventure to a place Niki had visited in the past when she lived in Bradenton South of Tampa. When it comes to good food I’m always ready for the next adventure!

Our destination was Popi’s Place, a family restaurant in Palmetto, Florida. Part of the fun was getting there. It’s about an hour Southeast of our home in Clearwater traveling by I-275. The route takes us over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge which crosses Tampa Bay and measures 1.1 miles in length and 430′ high at its center. The views of the Bay from the top as well as the long runs up to it are fantastic. You almost always see huge oceangoing container ships coming into or leaving from the Port of Tampa. Remaining approaches to the previous bridge extend far into the Bay and remain in use as the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park and both are usually packed with anglers and their cars. All in all quite a sight.

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Shortly after exiting the South end of the bridge there is an exit for US-41 – The Tamiami Trail – which runs South toward Miami and our route took us Northward toward Tampa and Popi’s Place.

We’ve long found that looks can be deceiving when it comes to good restaurants. Popi’s could easily be passed by without a second look but not for us on this occasion. The interior is pleasant and inviting and the people are friendly. They offer a list of daily specials but we decided to pick from the regular menu.

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They have a nice listing of starters and sandwiches and many entrees starting in the $11 range. All dinner choices come with soup or salad and a choice of two sides. Niki chose the Crabmeat Stuffed Shrimp with a slightly spicy, Cajun style breading with rice and black-eyed peas. A tossed green salad and a fantastic, freshly-baked dinner roll. Rounding it out with sweet iced tea and a nice slice of chocolate cake for dessert.

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I love really good fried scallops and my plate did not disappoint me with sides of mashed potatoes & gravy, cole slaw, a tossed green salad and also a dinner roll fresh out of the oven. I picked the chocolate cream pie for dessert. Me, I’m an un-sweet iced tea kinda guy.

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Niki and I both agreed that the meals were exceptional but we both also think we may have to have a second visit just to be sure. Our trip back home turned out to be not as pleasant and leisurely – it was during drive-time and all roads in and around the Tampa area are slow going at quitting time. All in all a beautiful day and well worth the traffic inconvenience.

Popi’s Place Family Restaurant is located at 10508 US-41 North in Palmetto, Florida. Telephone: 941.729.0753.

Color it Autumn in New York and the Northeast

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Friday was a beautiful Fall day and we took full advantage with a trip to a huge book sale in Shelburne, Vermont,
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a stop at the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in,
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lunch at the famous Bridge Restaurant in West Addison, Vermont,
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an Autumn photo-stop at Historic Ironville, NY – Birthplace of the Electrical Age in mining and
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a final stop to see the good folks (and the bison) at the Buffalo Farm in North Hudson, NY.
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The Buffalo Farm is the place we stock up on their mighty fine Vermont-made corn relish and Amish-made preserves for our upcoming Snowbird trip back South.

An excellent day shared with Niki and regretfully our last weekend outing with our Summer sidekick Brother Ken.

Hop Aboard and follow our Blog as we visit new places, find friendly faces and enjoy life along the Snowbird RV Trails at snowbirdrvtrails.com.

Autumn in the Adirondacks – Lincoln Pond

New York’s Lincoln Pond Road (County Rd 7C) is an easy and beautiful 16 miles over the mountains between Elizabethtown on Rte 9 and Port Henry on Rte 9N. It’s a winding, two-lane blacktop road in good repair with few houses and plenty of forest that breaks into full bloom each October.

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The Autumn road to Lincoln Pond

The route crosses a small causeway on Lincoln Pond.

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View of Lincoln Pond North from the Causeway
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Eastern shore of Lincoln Pond North
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Fishing spot on Lincoln Pond in the Adirondack Mountains
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Northern corner of the Lincoln Pond State Campground

The Lincoln Pond State Campground (open Memorial Day to Labor Day) is on a secluded section of the Pond and offers 35 tent and trailer sites with water and a dump station. The campground has a beach, hot showers and boats for rental. (http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24477.html)

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Twists and turns of Lincoln Pond Road – made for motorcycles!