The drive to Howey in the Hills (near Orlando) was easy and took us through some very attractive countryside. 

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We were surprised to see this sign in Florida

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(they have so many bears that they have been carrying out a rather controversial cull).  This sign made us snigger

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(nothing to do with people wanting to retire) and I liked this way of advertising the local livestock.

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As we approached Howey in the Hills, the mystery was the lack of hills.  Our friends Russ and Gail later explained that there were rolling hills about the place, but it is relative.  Florida is so flat that any little bumps seem quite exciting. 

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We were made most welcome, which is particularly generous of Gail and Russ, as they are trying to sell their house (mmm, pattern here) and were having to keep it immaculate otherwise their very fierce realtor would tell them off.  Selling a house here in the USA  is both complicated and expensive.  You always sign an exclusive deal with your realtor and it costs a massive six per cent of the final selling price, which is then split between your realtor and your buyer’s agent.  You get signed into an  exclusive deal for six months and, even if your guy is rubbish, you are stuck with them.  Their latest realtor (otherwise know as Nasty Janet, or something like that)(well it rhymed with nasty) not only has made them clear every personal item away, insists that the place is immaculate (when Gail opened up the patio doors for her, she was incensed by the small amount of dirt stuck in the runners and actually got down on her hands and knees in her posh dress and scrubbed them out and is now insisting that Gail should do this before every visit! Good Grief!)  You are not allowed to stay in your own house when potential buyers come around, but are cast out onto the street. 

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Gail and Russ have gave us a lovely time, showing us all over the area and taking us to their favourite restaurants. 

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We have been able to watch sea planes taking off, been to see A Walk in the Woods, the film about Bill Bryson’s attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail, which was very funny and showed many of the places we have been to coming south. 

We went to Mount  Dora, a delightful local town (there is a hill somewhere in the town, honest) for a walk around the shops, where you can buy ‘interesting’ foodstuffs

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(yes, it tasted as bad as it sounds), enjoyed the Christmas decorations at the local gun shop)

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found out that some locals REALLY hate Obama

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(yes, it really is toilet paper)

and talked to the odd pampered pet

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and Tim had a go on a Segway

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On a couple of occasions, Russ took Tim clay pigeon shooting at his club (after lending him a hat)

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and Gail took me along to the sports centre to go swimming. 

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(Just imagine watching out door aquarobics a couple of weeks before Christmas.) (it has a lot to recommend it) 

When we mentioned we didn’t know how big a grizzly bear was, they took us out to Russ’s favourite gun shop, where we saw a stuffed one, along with a whole menagerie of other animals. 

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The baby bear looked sweet, apart from the claws, and it still seems a mean thing to kill and stuff something quite so cute.  One thing that struck me was the variety of guns for sale;

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there were semi automatics (just in case a whole squadron of deer attack you at once), pink guns for the ladies, 

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enough weapons to start you own little war, along with a shooting range to practice.

 We went to a one of The Villages, which was quite an eye opener.  These are purpose built towns for the over fifty fives.  Over a hundred thousand retired folk live in them, having an absolutely fabulous time.  Alongside every road there are tracks for the ubiquitous golf carts that whizz all around the place. 

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You can drive your golf cart between the three villages and the local shopping malls and there are tunnels under all the main roads to keep you safe.  Each village has a square where they play live music every evening all year round. 

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Every evening a team of nice young men come and put out the chairs, the booths open to serve drinks and snacks and the locals all come out to dance and have fun.  There are myriads of restaurants and an excellent cinema in each village, over a hundred golf courses with forty more planned, concert halls, churches, clubs of every description, a university of the third age where you can study anything your hear desires….. The list just goes on.  You can have young folk to stay, but only for a month at a time.  The place is obviously popular;  this is the list of new villagers in one village over just three days. 

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With so many lively older folks in one place, you can probably imagine how well doctors and other medics do in the area.  We heard of one doctor who owns his own bank and is about to trade in his personal jet for a new one.  

We passed this airfield where you can buy your own hanger to shelter your plane (and you can live there if you want). 

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The community where they live has a beautiful golf course with the usual lakes and ponds.   

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The view from their condo is lovely both by day

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and by night

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You must always assume that any water in the south of the USA has alligators, including huge great beasts that would happily make a meal of you.   Gail told us of two recent attacks; the first happened to a local who had lived in the area for many years and who got careless gardening near the water and is probably grateful that the gator just tore his sleeve.  The other was a young man who decided burgle some of the local properties and when he was chased, thought it would be a good idea to hide in the undergrowth.  They found pieces of him two weeks later.  (No chance of a learning curve there, then).  When playing golf you are allowed a free drop if your ball goes in the water and Russ described how, when playing golf, his friend the ball dropped near a rather large alligator.  The friend was convinced it was only a model so, despite Russ’s warnings was about to go and hit his next shot when the giant gator opened its eyes.  Apparently he really did go as white as a sheet.  Another time his daughter’s husband saw an alligator near his ball and was about to go close when Russ stopped him.  He said he wasn’t worried because the alligator was so small, at which point Russ explained it was just its head showing above the water! Gulp.  Still, as long as you leave them alone and DO NOT FEED THEM (great idea that, training them to associate humans with food) and don’t hide in alligator infested bushes, it’s perfectly safe around there.  (Apart from the snakes.  And the nasty poisonous spiders.  And the drivers that tailgate all the time and don’t use indicators.)  

All in all we had a wonderful time, got a very interesting insight into what all those snowbirds do in Florida and were treated extremely well.  Russ and Gail even drove us to the airport, are going to look after Camel for the next couple of months while we head back to the UK and then have promised to pick us up again and let us stay for a few days in February.  Wonderful people!

I hope you all had a great Christmas and I wish you all a wonderful New Year!

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