Friday, October 25th. We drove through pouring rain with pounding tractor trailers on I-95 until turning west on 528 and then south on 417 to Moss Park Road and the quiet, sylvan retreat of Moss Lake, an Orange County Campground. Nice, secluded sites with good distance and shrubbery between each. Ours was #48, at the end of a mile+ unpaved rough road with enormous potholes and puddles. Maybe the road is why the campground is so quiet? Sites have electric and water hookups. Nice, clean restrooms and showers. $17/night, 24 miles from downtown Orlando, and 20 minutes from the Orlando international airport. We set up and spent the afternoon recovering from the stressful drive. Matt’s flight from NY arrived just before 7, and we arranged to meet him at a local restaurant called Mr. K’s Chinese on Narcoossee Road, equidistant from the airport and Moss Lake. He arrived bearing gifts from NY (fresh chocolate babka [see below] and cinnamon raisin bagel) and from Abu Dhabi (assorted fresh dates!). The Chinese food was ordinary, but the company was priceless!
Saturday, October 26th. We picked Matt up at his hotel and drove out for brunch at Dixie Dharma, a hipster hole-in-the-wall with an inventive vegan southern comfort food menu. https://www.dixiedharma.com/ Pretty good execution of an ambitious and unusual concept.
They gave us a flyer advertising the annual Central Florida Veg Fest, taking place right now just a few blocks away. So we trekked through the hot, sunny streets to a large field about 20 minutes away, where hundreds of colorful tents and tables were set up to sell and display all things veggie, eco-conscious, humane, including numerous animal rescue nonprofit sanctuaries with animals to pet, yoga classes, ethnic food trucks, medical marijuana info, tie-dyed clothing, handmade crafts, community gardens (with a surprising scarcity of native plants). Quite a scene! Great fun! Made me want to move to Orlando, were it not for the horrible traffic, eternal road construction, rampant overdevelopment and general congestion.
The heat and need for rest and hydration impelled us to take shady side streets back to the truck and thence to one of our old favorites, the Dandelion Cafe. We sat in air conditioned comfort and had huge wide-mouthed Mason jars of iced coffee, chatted for a couple of hours, and then shared a platter of vegan nachos with whirled peas instead of guacamole on top. Pleasant!
Danielle, by text from Abu Dhabi, recommended that we check out the East Side Market, a complex of small restaurants, bars and shops. It was quite the happening place! Impossible to park. We lucked into a spot on the street in front. We wandered around, Matt bought some gifts, I bought a whole wheat sourdough Levain and a pretzel that looked like it might be a Bavarian pretzel but wasn’t. We’ll have to go back to Bavaria for those pretzels! Then Matt ran across the street to Kelly’s ice cream and brought back a cup that we all shared at a tree-shaded picnic table.
We stopped at a Fresh Market and picked up a bag of Hass avocados to eat with the sourdough, and then drove through some charming neighborhoods of small bungalows with mature tree canopy. College Park. Again, made me want to move to Orlando, were it not for… see above.
Apparently after a day of nonstop eating, we were still hungry, so we had dinner at Sea Thai, one of Matt’s old reliables from his Orlando days. It started pouring again while we were in the restaurant, so we drove Matt back to his hotel and then in the dark through the rain and hellish traffic in downtown Orlando to the 408, to the 417 and back to the sandy swampy campground.
Sunday, October 27th. Picked Matt up at his hotel and headed north to Wekiva Springs. Beautiful state park with a great public swimming beach at the Springs. Many, mostly Hispanic families enjoying the water and picnics. We sat on a bench at the shore and shared sourdough with slices of avocado for breakfast.
We walked up to the Nature Center where there was a sign announcing a butterfly and Native Plant garden, “Coming Soon!” The sign was dated May 31, 2016.
Then we wandered over to a small crowd of people all looking down at the grass. A park ranger was there, shepherding a Florida King Snake, out for his morning walk (slither?), and we were able to get up close and personal with him. The snake, not the ranger.
Then we took a short hike on the “Wet to Dry” boardwalk trail, traversing several ecotones from the Springs to the piney woods uplands and back. On the way out, we drove through the Sandhill campground and found the best spot: site #34.
Maybe we’ll stay here next year if Matt comes to teach at FIEA again in October. There was a huge lineup of cars waiting to get in to the park as we drove out. We congratulated ourselves on having arrived early and avoided the crush!
Time to eat again! For lunch, we drove to another old favorite, The Sanctum. Again parking was impossible, especially with our big truck. After driving around the block a few times, we found a spot on the street a few blocks away, trooped back to the restaurant and enjoyed more vegan delicacies, each dish faithfully photographed by our family foodie. When we got back to the truck, look who was waiting for us! (Update: probable ID = Peppered jumping spider)
Then, we dropped Matt at his hotel so he could pick up his rental car and we all drove to the Lake Nona Walmart, about 15 minutes from our campground. We needed to pick up a replacement RV water filter, Matt also did some shopping, and then we drove back to the campground so Matt could visit our snug little home on wheels. We whiled away the rest of the day enjoying the rare pleasure of each other’s company, the three of us together for the first time in many months, and the last time for many more… Bittersweet!
Monday, October 28th. We packed up and bumped our way out of Moss Lake campground, giving the septic dump station a gold star on the way out. So many of these facilities are poorly designed, but this one was very fine! Pretty easy route south on 417 to pick up the Turnpike north to the end at Wildwood, continuing north on I-75 to Ocala, SR40 east to Silver Springs State Park. Beautiful campsites, full hookups, pull through site #43, smooth paved roads, laundry facilities in the bathhouse ($1 each for washer and dryer), and a book exchange kiosk! This is the Ritz! We walked around the campground and then took a hike on the River Loop trail at sunset.
About 2 miles to the banks of the Silver River and back, while our laundry was in the washer. When we got back from the hike, the wash went into the dryer while we had a light dinner. As we retrieved the dry clothes, lightning started flashing in the distance, coming closer, now raining, thundering, good time for bed!