The islands of Sanibel and Captiva

We wanted to leave Orlando early in the morning but only managed to do so around 11 am. We took Interstate 4 highway, and switched to Interstate 75 near Tampa. Our first destination was a town called Venice (yes, there is also a Venice in Florida!) where we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to pick up a map, and ask for directions to the beach. The two senior citizens at the reception desk, I think they were volunteers, were very friendly. The lady looked at my T-shirt and shorts, and asked where I was from. I replied, "From halfway around the world." She smiled broadly and said, "Oh yes, I can see that!"

Venice is a beautiful city, and has a historic district combining the best of past and present while enjoying a modern outlook with the Italian-style architecture of downtown Venice. We headed for the beach which offered free parking, and which is now becoming a rarity on public beaches throughout the United States! And who knows, we might even find some prehistoric shark's teeth which have been known to wash ashore from the blue green waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Well, it was free parking all right, but we didn't find any shark's teeth on the beach. However, we saw a lot of people in the water searching for them with their long handled scoops. I asked one man how many he got and he answered 'five.' I'm not sure what those five were, and I have a feeling he didn't too. By the way, while I was having my sandwich lunch on the beach, a sea gull swooped in from behind and snatched it away. I suppose he was hungrier than me. Anyhow, I had already eaten half of it so I consoled myself with that thought.

To continue our journey we drove through the pretty streets of Venice again. The palm lined avenues reminded me of Nice, France as the scenery is somewhat similar. We had planned to spend the night at Fort Myers, and we reached the city in the early evening where we found a Budget Inn for $45 a night plus tax. There are several restaurants nearby and we wanted to have dinner at the Red Lobster, but when we got there we were told to wait for ten minutes to be seated. Well, we waited more than ten minutes but none of the staff seemed to notice us at all, so we finally left and went to Mel's Diner a 50's style restaurant (with pictures of 50's stars on the walls) where we had a superb dinner of spare ribs with french fries and cole slaw, and corned beef sandwiches washed down with Coors draft beer.

The distance from Fort Myers to Sanibel Island is approximately 25 miles or 40 kilometers, so it took us less than an hour to Sanibel. We had to pay a $6.00 toll fee (no charge on the return trip) to cross the causeway to reach the island. As usual our first stop was the Visitors Center, a multi-colored quaint little building on a street with the catchy name of Periwinkle Way. We wanted to go all the way to Captiva Island, but our first stop was Lighthouse Beach. I have a thing for lighthouses, and always try to see one close up whenever possible, at beach locations in countries around the world. This lighthouse on Sanibel is quite high, around 100 feet but the structure/design of the rusty steel tower is unattractive with its skeleton framework. Surprisingly, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and while the grounds are open to the public, the lighthouse itself is not.

Besides the very popular picking up of seashells (affectionately known as the 'Sanibel Stoop') on the beach by vacationers and residents alike, other water activities are boating, fishing, snorkeling, etc. There is a fishing pier on this part of the beach, and I saw a number of fishing enthusiasts patiently waiting for their catches. The downside of both Sanibel and Captiva is the paid parking which is $2 an hour, so if one is planning to spend a full day there, the parking fee can be a bit costly.

To reach Captiva Island we drove along the Sanibel-Captiva Road until we got to the small bridge where Captiva Drive begins. Along the way we saw a lot of nice houses and pretty roads, some lined with flamboyant or flame trees. Here again, the main beach activity at Captiva was shelling and swimming. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of some dolphins slicing through the waves as they surface for air, but it was not our day.

On our return trip back to the mainland we made brief stops at a couple of small islands just before the Causeway, aptly named Island A and Island B. We also visited the supposedly world's largest shell factory at North Fort Myers. There is a retail store, a nature park/botanical gardens, and a fun park for kiddies. We spent some time there resting up for the drive back home. Our last stop was the town of Punta Gorda (Spanish for Fat Point) which is a waterfront community near Charlotte Harbor. Proclaimed as "a small city with a very big heart," I was again surprised to discover that this big heart city had free indoor parking right in the center of town. Let's hope we can get to experience many more pleasant surprises in our future travels!