Planning a lengthy trip is quite a task particularly when there's the wishes of more than one person to take into account and if you don't want to schedule every second of every day. Strange that, the more you want it to be less of a package tour, the more tricky it becomes to organize things. My approach was to place a few key things and leave blank spaces around it. Our big round the world trip in 2010 was great but suffered a little I think by being too organized. With time less of an issue, a bimble factor needs to be built in.
That said, none of the time we are due to spend in Florida is unplanned! The overview was to attend the tennis tournament in Key Biscayne again and so I crammed things in around it. This segment included 3 days in Saddlebrook Tennis Resort (30 minutes north of Tampa) and a recovery day in Naples (about 2 hours west of Miami) -- see website here.
|Some of the tennis courts at Saddlebrook. There's also hard courts where touring pro's come to train. When we there John Isner came to practice on the hard courts ahead of the Miami tournament this week.|
I'd organized a hire car from a smallish company called SIXT, a first for us and they turned out to be very efficient indeed down to upgrading us to a nice BMW X1 that could hold all of our luggage (we still haven't figured out how to travel light). The GPS took us ultimately to the right road and in the goodness and fullness of time, we covered the 450 kilometers in around 5 hours to Saddlebrook.
And boy, has it changed. Admittedly it has been since 1997 (by collective memory) since we'd been there and previously it was out in the boonies. Now not so much. The Waffle House that I remembered we'd enjoyed pretty much as the only local eatery is still there... and probably hasn't changed one iota. It looks very small now. It is in the midst of a shopping plaza, one of several that have sprung up all around and that is the thing I find odd. There's still no industry of any sort near by nor any big city that could draw on the local population. There's a couple of new hospitals for sure but mostly it seems to me like a field of dreams: build the shops and then developers build housing estates for people to live in. So there's people living all around these days. But what do they do? In the 3 days we were at Saddlebrook we never found a town of any sort. There were shopping plazas and housing estates for sure, but no town. No reason for the people to be there. I don't get it at all.
The resort itself is owned and operated by a man named Tom Dempsey, after whom the new steak restaurant is named. He's now 88 but works every day and his family are now more involved in running things. That does mean there's no deep corporate pockets behind them which probably accounts for the fact that the units themselves are pretty tired. We joked that they'd probably not changed anything since we were last there in 1997, actually not true as the last major reno was back in 2006/7.
|The view from our room. Not too shabby really... unlike the room!|
However the tennis was as remembered: 5 hours of intense drilling and activity. The day starts at 7.50 am for stretching and then its tennis solidly until 11 am. After a 2 hour break, tennis restarts at 1 pm and continues to 3 pm. From memory this worked well in the summer months as thunderstorms came in daily around 3.30 pm. That was the theory anyway but in practice it didn't work in the first 2 days because of the enormous storm that came slamming through at 11 am and which lasted for the next 15 hours.
Talk about deluge but to be fair to Saddlebrook they managed to get the courts ready for play by 9 am the following day. Given the amount of rain that came down, I'd half expected for there to be no play for the whole day at least. Very impressive.
That meant we had the afternoon free so we went to a shopping mall 30 minutes away near Tampa airport. It was a hideous drive in torrential rain. Poor Viv who drove but she then rallied and came up with the great idea to have a restoring Martini at the Capital Grille there before embarking on some retail therapy. We'd had a more than respectable Martini the previous evening in Saddlebrook's sports bar so were prepared to embark on a 7-week taste test across the USA.
Capital Grille is an up market steak and cocktail chain and I for one am a supporter if they produce Martini's like that. The vodka used makes an important difference and Viv and I had become fans of Tito's which is smoother than some but less bland than, say, Grey Goose which I think is massively over rated. Viv stayed with olives whilst I'd recently made a change to a twist of lemon.
This proved to be a nice restorative enabling us to face the malling prospect in better humor. As it turned out we didn't buy anything, nor did many others by the look of it as the mall was relatively empty. Mind you the Apple store of course had a solid coterie of people inside whilst I did note that Microsoft has given up on its notion of branding stores and is now calling them X-Box stands. The game side was busy but the computer side totally empty. That must say something about Microsoft in the future. I see they are planning a new version of Office for the iPad. I call that surrender.
Back to tennis though, the format is 1 pro per court with 4 players. Viv and I shared the court with another husband and wife, from Toronto of all places, who hadn't played for quite a few years and wanted a crash course in muscle memory. They were very sporty so by the 3rd day, their progress was pretty impressive. But this did mean that Viv and I weren't taxed that hard competing with them and the coach, a Russian guy named Alex, was actually very good at ensuring we all worked at our respective skill levels.
By the 2nd day though the main coach, an English guy named Howard, moved me to another group of harder hitters run by a young coach who committed in my mind the indignity of asking me why I didn't play with more topspin.
"All the current guys do this and so should you."
To underscore his words he showed us all a video on his phone of Djokovic playing his forehand which of course is just ridiculous in both its severity of grip and the amount of topspin he therefore can play.
"You should try to do it like that."
Now I understand that this is the current norm, but then again I learned with a wooden racquet when nobody hit topspin at all so I thought I'd done pretty well at least playing with a little topspin. Bloody cheek! And I wasn't impressed that when we were all picking up tennis balls after a drill, he immediately went onto his phone to text. Bloody young kids!!
Howard invited the guests to cocktails by the pool at 3.30 pm that day which was nice and of course we attended prior to lounging by the pool as the sun had returned in force. I tried out the pool and immediately regretted it.... it was really cold!
The final day was back to the usual schedule and our afternoon was with another husband and wife from New Jersey who were good, the wife particularly so. Because Alex had 15 racquets to string, we had a new coach, John, who was 62 and an ex-touring pro and was great fun. He loved to talk too and had some great stories but still found time to work us thoroughly as well as critique my stroke dynamics -- forehand lazy, backhand structured well but I have to hit both harder... and with more topspin. Aaagh!!!
We even managed to get filmed in action using an iPad and some really neat editing tools. Somehow they'd managed to put my head onto some really dumpy chap's body. But his forehand was quite lazy and he certainly didn't hit much topspin either.
The backhand was nice though!