Ok family, friends, and strangers who read my site regularly. (Who am I kidding).
My trip to
The Holy Land Central Florida is complete.
What do you do in Orlando and surrounding area if you have no interest in theme parks, studio tours, characters in costume and $10 hamburgers? I spent the long July 4th weekend on a solo trip tooling around central Florida. My actual motivation for traveling was to visit and catch up with my aunt residing in Ocala, but I managed to absorb some of the humid atmosphere of the central Florida area as well.
Having experience at many short weekend trips, I figured it would be a lot of fun to fly down, drop in and spend some time with a favorite family member, do lunch, and fly home. Perhaps parlaying such experiences into a book titled, “How to take a worthwhile vacation in under three days or less”. The perfect best seller for our travel starved society.
From my home in downtown Denver I took the ultra convenient RTD express bus to the airport from the Market Street Station. It’s about an hour trip from downtown to the airport, as it makes some stops before hitting the freeway, but it drops you off right at the ticket desk, saving the need for parking, shuttles, and long walks. Armed with only my messenger bag, a change of clothes and a few books, I was airborne in no time, and arrived Orlando later that afternoon.
What I didn’t realized about driving in Orlando is that a casino size bucket of quarters comes in quite handy in the rental car, as every freeway except interstate 4 is a toll road. No problem, I scrounged up some change and was on my way. Planning on driving up to Ocala later that night to visit my relative, I headed to downtown Orlando to see what was happening.
Passing the Channel 13 “Stormchasers” van going 40 in the left lane, I was quite happy to see a Waffle House every single exit of the freeways, a place I enjoy passing time in on road trips, and which Colorado could use a few more of.
I arrived downtown, which was clean, laid out well, but not to busy this Saturday night. I parked in a garage, and the first restaurant I saw was Tijuana Flats, a burrito place similar to Chipolte or Qdoba here in Denver. Tijuana Flats was the best place I ate at, and the atmosphere was very anti-corporate, despite being a medium size chain around the south.
I took my place on the sidewalk outside in the sweltering heat, and enjoy an excellent burrito, chips, and beer while people watching. The best part of Tijuana Flats burrito process? They toast the tortilla! Note to other burrito chains: After being chocked full of beans, rice, guac, and sauce, the tortilla often morphs into a soggy moist wet paper towel consistency when reaching the second half of consumption. When toasted to a slight crisp, the above mess is prevented, and the tortilla remains a wonderful median between soggy and a corn tortilla chips.
After finishing the best burrito ever, purchasing some souvenir hot sauce, I walked around downtown a bit more, dismayed at not finding much open on a Saturday night. I walked around Lake Eola, but most people downtown were either eating in fancy restaurants, or on their way to somewhere seemingly more important.
Relaxing in the park, determined to find some life in O-town, I paged through an independent weekly, and found that Parlimount House was having their massive beach party that weekend. I visited briefly before driving up to Ocala to visit my aunt the next morning. Arriving Ocala around 10pm I didn’t find anything open for entertainment, so retired to a small motel off interstate 75. In my room I caught Florida’s “Space Shuttle Channel” a few times, and would have driven the 50 miles from Orlando to the Kennedy Space Center to see the launch, but unfortunately both days it was delayed because of afternoon thunderstorms. This surprised me because I thought they launch it early morning to avoid the nefarious weather.
The next day in Ocala we lunched at Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grill, serving Lousiana cajun fare. My aunt and I, both being short, immediately found a table after sinking to chin level in the deep booths. We enjoyed a good meal of spicy gumbo soup, seafood, and ice tea this hot sticky day.
Downtown Ocala has a beautiful town square, and many advantages for seniors
After lunch we headed on east on highway 40 through the Ocala National Forest, and a short drive later met the Saint John’s River at the small village of Astor. Relaxing with more iced teas at a small bait and tackle shop right on the river. We watched several boats dock, fill up on bait ‘n beer, and motor off down the wide river. The Saint John’s River is a picturesque place I would mind returning too. The Blair Jungle Den Motel has some small rooms on stilts overlooking the river. Like a humid sticky version of a mountain cabin this place is definitely my style should I return to the area.
The whole “river” environment is something I lack in my home of Colorado. The large houseboats, motorboats and passing the day lazily rolling down the river would definitely be worth returning for, especially in the dead of winter. I haven’t done a “lazy river” trip since a road trip to the Lake of the Ozarks 10 years ago with a group of friends. Beer, boats, jet skiing. As long as one person knows CPR you got a great trip.
That same night, back in Orlando… Since my flight was at 6am to Denver, I decided to just hang out at the club until closing time, and shoot over to the airport into the wee hours when crowds are non-existant. The place? Back at the Parlimant House, after another visit to Tijuana Flats of course.
Most gay bars fall into certain categories: preppy snob club, heavy beat dance clubs where everyone has fun, or local neighborhood blue collar bar, where the eye candy may not be as appealing, the the environment and people are far less pretentious. Parliment House, which bills itself as “The Gay all Inclusive Resort”, is a sprawling property on the site of an old 1960s motel, and doesn’t appear to have been updated since then. The L shaped motel wraps around the large pool and outdoor events area, and scattered throughout the property are three clubs, a drag theatre, and the aptly named “Rainbow Cafe.”
Unfortunately the surrounding neighborhood of Orange Blossom Trail Street isn’t quite as welcoming as the Parliment House property, and to their credit they provide secure parking, away from the people lurking in the nearby industrial warehouses and out of the line of police helicopter lights.
Parliment House was a cool place to go clubbing, but the most baffling thing of all is that this place is actually selling time shares. I can’t imagine what gay person or gay couple would be interested in buying a time share at a sleazy club in the most dangerous parcel of Orlando. Yes it’s built on a lake, but the lake isn’t a pristine setting in the rural sawgrass. It’s just a dumpy duck feces filled large lake, with residential homes far on the other side. (Hopefully none of the kids living there get telescopes for Christmas). The mind boggles. Anyway a fun place to have some drinks, dance off the booze, before leaving the next morning.
Delany Park Neighborhood, near downtown Orlando