I begin our last day in Fort Lauderdale with a big early morning walk, but this time I bring Magnus along with me. It is another gorgeous morning, but the street are much busier as all the working people are up and getting themselves to work – poor sods. We wander and explore for an hour and then return to the room to get the ladyfolk moving so we can go for breakfast. Surprisingly they are up and into an advanced stage of the morning preparation routine - Stella even has a lovely French braid in her hair. Once everybody is ready to go we walk over to La Bonne Crepe, which is a restaurant Magnus and I noticed during our walk.
As we are browsing the menus I see there are kid's sizes available on the regular meals so I ask the server, "How large are the kid-sized meals?"
"The regular crepes are three bites and the kid's ones are half that size," she replies in a thick, Eastern European accent.
Three bites, I think to myself, that doesn't sound like much so I tell the kids to order the regular meal. Two large plates soon arrive, and each of them are overcome with three gigantic crepes, rammed full of fruit and Nutella and blanketed with a layer of chocolate sauce, syrup and icing sugar. Their eyes light up and I'm thinking we're going to need to do some extra walking today. I have no idea what that "three bite" nonsense was about – not even Mick Jagger or that singer from Aerosmith could do one of these babies in one bite.
After brekkie we walk over to the canal to take a short, free boat tour that is offered by the city. Though it is only a 30 minute round trip, we get a great glimpse into the canal system. We pass beneath several bridges – one of them which has two huge resident iguanas sunning themselves on the hot metal. On the south side of the canal are mainly businesses, hotels, shops and office buildings while on the north side are many private residences and a few small commercial building. There are also many docks with sail and power boats and the tour guide tells us the docks are all owned and managed by the city and there are many boaters who rent a slip for the entire winter season.
After the boat trip we get the car and drive west towards the Swap Shop – one of hundreds of giant flea markets that Florida is famous for. As we approach we see two giant flags and numerous huge drive-in movie screens. In fact, we discover that the Swap Shop has 14 screens and they show movies every night! And I thought drive-ins were dead.
As we are here on a Monday, the market is not busy at all and there are only a small number of vendors. I'm told by a staff member that the market on the weekends is absolutely mental, so I am glad we saved it for today. Most of the vendors in the open air part of the market seem to have pulled up in thirty year old cargo vans and simply dumped everything out onto the ground in the hopes somebody will buy something. To me, most of the stuff is worthy of being loaded into a big garbage truck and dumped into the nearest rubbish heap, but I suppose one man's trash is another's treasure. Magnus and I continue into the covered part of the market, which is a series of connected buildings, and the first thing we find is an exotic car museum, with some very expensive race cars and little information displays shwoing the history and specs of each vehicle. The rest of the building has vendors selling everything from jewellery to t-shirts to weaponry. Magnus wants to buy some throwing stars, swords and a set of real nunchuks, but I crush his dreams when I tell him we are not actually flying back on the private jet where you can take whatever you want on the plane and, unless he thinks he can sneak it through airport security, this weaponry will only end up being seized. I think he miscalculated his purchasing power anyway because he only has ten bucks, so he decides instead to invest five of it into tokens for the huge video game arcade that we find in another section of the building. The girls soon find us and we take off, but I am thinking that I'd love to return for a drive-in movie the next time we are here.
During the morning boat trip the guide told us of a nearby power plant where you can often see manatees basking themselves in the warm water output from the pumps. So we find the power plant on the GPS and start driving. It is just south of Fort Lauderdale, but since we don’t know exactly where this viewing platform is we drive around for a while on service roads, but we eventually find ourselves back on a highway and driving into what looks like the guarded entrance of the cruise ship port. We pull up to one of the gates and an officer asks us where we are going. We tell him in dopey tourist fashion that we're trying to find the manatees. He tells us it has been off limits to the public for nearly fifteen years. I guess the boat guide hadn't been here for a while.
Instead, we drive over to a nearby mall. So far this trip, I have gotten off extremely lucky and haven't had to sit in the car or on a bench even once waiting for the rest of the family to explore a mall, so I think they deserve a retail excursion. As they walk over to the T.J. Maxx I spot a store called Total Wines and since alcohol is pretty much the only thing I enjoy shopping for I go there. Well oh boy, am I glad I did. This place is heaven for booze hounds. There is row after row of bottles and cans stacked up higher than I can see, never mind reach. I track down a staff member and ask him how many different brands they carry. He tells me they have over 8000 types of wine, 2500 types of beer and 3000 types of spirits. And that, as far as they know, they carry every kind of beer made in the US. All I can think to say is, "I a luvva dis country!" I am so excited that I run over to get the rest of the gang and drag them back to experience the greatest store in the world. They are maybe not as thrilled as me, but are definitely impressed with the scale of the place. Ana finds three of my favourite beers (incredibly, they are located right next to each other on a shelf) and I buy a Kalik, a Presidente, a Beer Lau and a Radler for Ana.
We then proceed to a grocery store to pick up some supplies for a picnic lunch, which we decide to have back at the hotel pool, and we also buy a large bag of ice and shove our beers right into the bag – an instant low budget cooler. We do the short drive back to the hotel and, even though we had already checked out in the morning, the hotel had kindly left us with a key that gave us access to the pool area. So we spread out all our gear and sit down for an excellent, slow lunch. And though there were many, many things left to do and see in Fort Lauderdale, we decide to spend the remainder of the afternoon lounging in the pool and soaking up as much sun as possible before our encroaching return trip to chilly Canada. And that was an excellent decision. We lounge in the poolside chairs, reading magazines. We swim with the kids and play games in the pool. We watch the iguanas crawling around the poolside deck like they owned the place. We talk about life. We watch the boats go by. We all sit together on the dock, enjoying this time together as a family and feeling very privileged indeed.
Ana and I sometimes talk about retirement and what that will mean for us. To me, I don't think retirement will be that much different than what we do now. We have been taking "mini-retirements" the whole time we've been together, from a year-long backpacking trip around the world, to a 10 week adventure around Southeast Asia with the kids, and even the shorter 1 and 2 week vacations we've done to so many countries and the incredible sailing adventures we've had on the Great Lakes. Besides that, every year we do at least a couple of Power Weekends to interesting places in the US and Canada. Outside of vacations, we both have jobs we like that give us a great sense of purpose and opportunity to make things better, a great social circle, and an amazing and supportive extended family, who themselves live all over the world. How can retirement be any better than this? We've seen what a classic retirement looks like. BORING! And yet this is what many people strive for as they grind through each working day doing jobs they hate, watching the calendar and counting down the days to that magic retirement. The only thing retirement will probably change for us is we will be less tied down to a particular home. But I expect we will be both be working in part time, remote, contract or even volunteer jobs, but we'll just find them in interesting places that will give us opportunities to explore and travel even more.
Within an hour or two we will be packing up and heading to the airport for our trip home, and by 2am we should be back in our own beds catching a bit of sleep before work and school tomorrow. But as I sit on the dock, surrounded by my favourite people, feeling the sun on my face and my wife's hand in mine, all I can think to myself is…Life is grand indeed.