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  • Writer's pictureZack Demopoulos

Day 1: #Flafreetour launches!

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

Newark NJ to Jacksonville FL to St. Augustine

What's a memorable road trip with out knickknacks?! Thanks to Kustom Koozies

for creating our personal koozies to hand out as we visit family and friends!

Song for the day: Hooked on a feeling. Blue Swede and singer Bjorn Skifs. (1974)

"Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga"

Song anthems are great for road trips. This lyric was easy to chant loudly in a car, especially after landing in Jacksonville, Florida and picked up by Phil's sister Elaine and brother-in-law Chuck. Many of us "older" folks are familiar with this song thanks to Ally McBeal and dancing babies.

Here's a little trivia, speaking of dancing infants. There have been studies that found infants respond to the rhythm and tempo of music and find it more engaging than speech. Our grandson Zachary has been dancing to music way before he muttered his first word!

Zack, Phyllis, Elaine and our 5 star driver Chuck

Tip for the day: Speaking of grandchildren, when traveling on your next adventure, buy postcards (remember them?) from neat places, handwrite a note to them, and mail them (remember how to do that?) from that location. Carry postcard stamps with you or you can buy them there. Added bonus: Get a personalized gift box so they can store cool stuff like postcards or coins from your travels!

Big thank you to WoodshopDymtro that did an amazing job on our grandson Zachary's special box. Dmytro Posypaiko is a great craftsman what will build boxes per your request in terms of size, stain, and personalization.

And so it begins....

This is the first trip of this length of time away from home Phyllis and I have taken.....ever. We are BIG dog lovers. Athena is our fourth dog in 34 years and ever since we rescued/adopted her from Home For Good Dogs in 2015 we have never been apart from her longer than 7 days. Leaving her for a day gives her anxiety. Knowing we are going to leave her for 24 days gave her parents anxiety too! But her send off was nevertheless the best.

Zack, Phyllis and Athena. We get asked what breed is Athena all the time and we find it more appropriate to say "Greek Doggess" than the "M"word.

Best send off ever 2.0

Son Demetri and Daughter In Law Angelica live only minutes from the Newark airport so it is extremely convenient to "work out a deal" and park at their house and even have them drop us off at the airport, especially for extended trips like this one. Part of the deal is of course to have our grandson Baby Zachary gives us a send off!

Baby Zachary, 13+ months old, with the G'rents

Airport drill

When I worked in corporate America and flew all the time all over the world, I was notorious for arriving at the gate minutes before my flight. I do not like to sit around in airports. Phyllis is the complete opposite and broke me of that bad habit. So as we approach our gate 2 hours before departure....

We look for a good spot to have our traditional vacation breakfast at the airport which usually means "where can we get a Bloody Mary or beer at 8 AM?"

Terminal C has a slew of great restaurants and bars. Always a good idea to check out a map and plot out your best choices closest to your gate. Not that we did that....just saying it's a good idea. 😆

We spotted a nice little bar Little Purse that is located right across from C103. It is adjacent to Poppy's Bagels which gives you the best of both worlds. We ordered breakfast from Poppy's and our breakfast beverages from Little Purse.

I went with the Lagunitas IPA, 6.2% ABV (alcohol by volume), 51.5 IBU (international bittering unit)--the higher the IBU the more bitter. It's an English IPA, very tasty and crisp, and full body but not enough to over hop you.

A word about the pandemic

Today Newark International Liberty Airport was somewhat chaotic. Covid-19 restrictions are lightening up, people with extreme cabin fever were out in droves free to fly again, and travelers were acting like they never have traveled before.

Phyllis and I are fully vaccinated. Of course we are wearing our masks when required and keeping a safe distance when possible.

And while we realize our freedom to travel again as we choose, we must follow all protocols, and we must not forget our manners!

As we approached our gate, we bumped into a United Airlines employee and she looked very tired. We like United and fly on it all the time. It is also centered in Newark. We had just passed a gate that was boarding a very long line moving extremely slow. We asked her about that. She said that was the gate for Hawaii and they still are imposing very strict Covid requirements which means it is taking a long time to board passengers.

"They will be late" she said to us apologetically. "I am sorry about what you are going through as passengers". Phyllis, feeling bad for this under appreciated and overworked woman, immediately responded with "We choose to travel. You have no choice. We apologize to you and thank you for being here." That put a big smile on her face.

You meet the most interesting people at the airport

When we got to our gate we noticed nobody was lined up in their "lanes" yet except for an elderly sprightly woman standing in the coveted Group 1. So Phyllis and I got in the Group 2 lane and stood next to her and said hello. Well that is all it took for Anne to launch into nonstop conversation with her rich Irish accent, energetic hand gestures, and a tongue that moved so fast I had a hard time keeping absorbing her words. Only when the United employee behind the desk asked a question did Anne stop talking.

"Excuse me, are you in Group 1?" Anne looked confused and gestured that she had no idea what she was asking.

"Can I see your boarding pass?" the employee continued. Anne was clutching her boarding pass in her hand very tightly somewhat reluctant.

"I see you are in Group 5. You will have to step out of this line" smiled the employee.

Anne looked devastated. "Oh my, what is a lass to do? I have no idea how these things work."

The employee felt bad and Phyllis and I came to the rescue. We asked if we can "adopt" her and have her join us in our line. The employee smiled "of course". I wish I caught her name. Big shout out to the United employees are rocking it! Of course Anne was very pleased as well.

Phyllis with our newly adopted family member Anne.

Anne joined us in line and picked right up from her last story, finished it, and started a new one. She was adorable and quite interesting. My favorite story was about her mother (or was it grandmother, aunt?...I really had trouble keeping up with her stories). The subject of her story lived to 106 years old and had 17 individual children, and she emphasized "Individual". I, immediately regretting my question after I asked it, said "You mean she had children with 17 men?!". She laughed out loud and responded "My dear lad, she was not a spare arse (loose woman)! I meant she had no twins or triplets!".

When we landed in Jacksonville, and after we "collected" our luggage (as Anne referred to it), Anne gave us a tight hug and a kiss (what Covid-19 pandemic?) and reminded us that we must go to Culhane's Irish Pub pointing to her hat. I do not recall the relationship she had with them--I could only retain so much information that Anne spewed at us during the 30 minutes together!

Here's a little trivia. Anne and her ancestors are from Tuam located in County Galway in western Ireland. It is said that humans have lived there since the Bronze Age. I can assure you Anne knows many of them! 🤭

By the way, we did not make it to Culhane's but we did hear great things about the two pubs which are run by four sisters. Don't tell Anne we did not go but we promise to go next time. Don't tell the four sisters either (see below!).

Lynda, Michele, Mary Jane and Aine are the four sisters (and yes they are clutching weapons!)

Historic St. Augustine

You must take time and tour St. Augustine if you are anywhere near the area. It is rich in history, beauty and stories. Paul Goodman in Wonder Wisdom gives us 20 facts about St. Augustine--did you know it's the Oldest Continuously Occupied City and Port Established by Europeans in the Continental United States? Has the oldest wax museum in the U.S? The narrowest streets in the country?

We enjoyed a very nice leisurely late lunch with a beautiful view of the Matanzas River and the Bridge of Lions which was built in the 1920's. We ate at A1A Ale Works Restaurant and Taproom which had over a couple of dozen local craft beers to offer. I regret to say that I do not recall the bartender's name but he was extremely knowledgeable and effective in asking me what kind of beer I like and delivering me the perfect ale.

I had the following local beers:

  • Old Coast Ales Brewery: Empirical, American IPA, 6.1% ABV, 65 IBU. A nice dose of hops full of flavor and opened up my palate for a meal!

  • Dog Rose Brewery: Palace Pale Ale, American IPA, 4.8% ABV, 36 IBU. A more mild dose of hops, a nice citrus undertone, and very crisp taste.

By the way, I ordered the Mediterranean Salad with the fish of the day blackened on it which was Wahoo. What is a Wahoo you ask? A very nice mild but firm fish that is great for blackening spices. Check out this Florida fisherman catching a wahoo. His celebration at the end of the video is worth watching in itself!

We had a real nice surprise when our nephew (Elaine and Chuck's son) Philip joined us! More about him in a minute!

Call it a night....maybe....and the freedom to make that call.

We had such a great long day traveling, sight seeing, singing, eating, and of course drinking. That is why, at a few minutes to midnight, when everyone went to bed but Philip and I, I was startled by Philips response to my "Good night Philip". He said, with a grin, "Do you want to ride to the beach?".

Now Philip is a cycling enthusiast. I love riding too but more on a recreational side. I have always wanted to ride with Philip but I did not envision the opportunity would be as such. That said, I struggled with what I should do vs. what I really wanted to do.

I should go to bed!

But I wanted to ride!

Now when you have the freedom of choice, and the freedom to take advantage of an opportunity, what do you do?! You just do it....thanks a lot Nike. It does not help that Philip is quite a persuasive lad (thinking of you Anne!) too.

I do not regret it one bit! The beach, a 15 minute bike ride, was incredibly draped in darkness. Only luminous specs scattered throughout the vast night sky gave you some guidance on the sand. You only knew that the sound of the crashing waves you can hear but not see very well was in front of you. It really was quite a sight and feeling I have never experienced before.

Now I am not going to admit we broke any laws, but I did become familiar with some that evening. You are not allowed to drink and ride a bicycle much less ride one after you have been drinking. You have to have a light on your bike at night. And you have to pay an entrance fee to the St. Johns County Pier even though it is way past midnight. Please take note! You must check out the pier but I recommend doing it during the daytime or sunrise!

I am indebted to my nephew. He pushed my comfort zone and it was exhilarating to feel free to do something you normally would not do. Thank you Philip! You rock. I will not forget it! Except I will try to forget the memory of disfigured dark figures (like those in Patrick Swayze's "Ghost" that ended Carl's life!) holding fishing rods spaced out every few yards on the pier that would grunt at us as we walked by them down the very long pier! 😱 Speaking of scary, our picture taken when we got home after 2 AM is a sight for sore eyes! 🙃😜

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