Thanksgiving in Florida? Without family? It seemed strange, but we’d make it fun. Happiness comes when one is flexible.
So we piled into our van and drove straight to the bottom of the continent to Gulf Breeze, in Florida’s Panhandle, and settled into our inexpensive hotel, literally a few feet from the Gulf of Mexico’s calm water. The city’s name- Gulf Breeze- was evocative- a worm on the hook that lured us into pursuing a change of scene for a few days.
The restaurant, The Grand Marlin was six minutes from our hotel, and right on the water at the base of the Gulf Bay Bridge. (We booked in from Saginaw, Michigan, by the way, and a good thing, too: there was just one place left. Imagine driving all that way, only to be turned away...)
Our reservation was set at 11:15 a.m. That actually worked well. We eat one meal a day, and, in Central Standard Time, it was actually 12:15 EST, our normal meal time. It would take a while to peruse the menu, order and be served. We’d finish by 1:30 or so.
Perfect. Neither of us wished to nudge our bodies into Central time, as we’d be down there only 3 days...
A bit about this large, attractive building. Raised on huge steel/cement stilts, it hovered over the sunlit bay. When we walked up the stairs and entered the enormous main room, most tables, as well as the big semi circular bar, were filled. The ceiling was at least 30 feet high. There was no carpet. The noise level was, for us, too loud to be able to converse.
But we were really lucky. Our waitress showed us to another room, up another level where a booth in a corner was ready, private and absolutely perfect. The bay was right there; the sky vast, the noise level insignificant. This ceiling was maybe nine feet high.
And oh, the food!
We ordered fresh ocean fish for our mains, but the starter, ($24) which we split, was memorable. It’s called Lobster Fingers. I rarely gush about food, but this dish was sublime. Three huge claws were sautéed, then rolled lightly in coconut flakes. Then a delicious remoulade sauce was set down under them. OMG. I’d drive back to Pensacola just to enjoy it again.
By the way, it’s the most popular starter the restaurant offers. I give it five stars!
Sated, we wandered back to our hotel, and napped, still tired from our long journey.
But, people who eat wonderful meals that fog the senses and smooth the mind can be jerked back to the world by age-old rivalries played out for the billionth time...
Bryn and Joe and I were strolling along the Beach area at about 5:00. The deepening gloom was rapidly descending into darkness. It was suddenly harder to discern where objects were. The lawn grass faded into sand so pure and fine it looked like white flour. Here and there on the beach lay scattered boulders, tall perennial decorative grasses, long, bleached logs, and large chunks of cement, left there, we thought, to retard erosion. And behind one chunk was a huge, bob-tail, deep grey cat, who was apparently surprised by Bryn’s soundless approach. The beast leaped high and bounded away into the dark. Bryn, leashless and content be close to us, woofed in surprise, and before we could grasp what was happening, she’d vanished too, into the night.
Cat, Boss! I’ll find him!
I saw a flick of white as she bounded away, then nothing. We called, -nothing. So we ran. Ran, ran along the shore and called, having no idea where she might have gone, or if we had crossed into private land...For what seemed ages we peered over, under, and around docks, reeds and boulders. We called her name, with Joe’s louder voice growing more desperate. By now, at 7:00, it was totally dark. My one good eye could make out almost nothing but flat, obsidian ocean and white sand.
Then, Joe shouted back to me that he’d spotted her carefully picking her way back, guided by our calls. Wet and sandy to her knees, she looked contrite. Joe secured her using his belt; I sagged with relief! (She wore no collar because I’d just brushed her, and had forgotten to slip it back on. Wanting a gentle stroll around the quiet grounds we’d forgotten about Murphy’s Law, and hotel mousers...)
Bryn had snagged some burs, twigs, and bits of seaweed, but was otherwise fine.
The three of us carefully trekked back along the shoreline until we recognized our hotel.
For the next two days that big cat would sun himself on a boulder right next to the lapping water just below our balcony. Bryn would sit up there unmoving, watching him, never blinking. The cat looked quietly out to sea, certainly feeling Bryn’s eyes on her, but utterly indifferent. This hotel was HER territory. She knew all about dogs.
To Bryn, cats are still a baffling mystery. She’s never inspected one up close...Maybe someday.
Though it was past 9:00 we decided to walk to the hotel’s very nice restaurant to enjoy two glasses of merlot. Pumpkins with cheery grins greeted guests. The air was salt-scented, and twinkling holiday lights made the black lawn sparkle as sprinklers scattered fine mists of water with gentle whooshes. Christmas music, barely discernable, seemed just the right touch. It seemed that lots of people had decided to celebrate Thanksgiving away from home.
The best touch? Fireworks suddenly lit the sky over the bay; Pensacola was celebrating on this lovely, windless evening. What a splendid end to our first day!