This week we travelled to Orlando, Florida — the theme park, gift shop, outlet mall, chain restaurant, six-lane highway capital of the world. Or at least of the southern United States. Not exactly my first choice of destinations, but our aunt kindly and generously gave us a week at a timeshare property, so off we went to make the most of it and enjoy some time away.
When I travel I love to get off the beaten path and try to see a place for what it really is. As I researched things to do in Orlando, I began to realize that there isn’t much of an “off” the beaten path. Orlando is designed to draw in masses of people, charge them admission, entertain them, feed them and sell them souvenirs to remember it all by. Everything is BIG and colorful and fantastical. It’s what they do and they do it well. So we went with it, to an extent. We spent a full day at Epcot Center. We explored Downtown Disney, we saw a Medieval Times dinner show, we shopped at an outlet store, we played mini-golf, and we enjoyed it all, but we didn’t give up on finding our way off the beaten path.
After much searching, we found the more beautiful, serene side of Orlando — it does indeed exist. You just have look carefully.
At our resort we rented kayaks and paddled around the small lake bordering the property. Sure, it was right by the six-lane highway, but the sky was blue and the sun was shining. We hugged the shoreline where tall grasses and lilies grew and saw beautiful herons and cranes and even a small alligator hiding in the marsh. We visited two local gardens and explored the grounds filled with lush tropical plants and flowers, and absent of crowds. We were the only customers in a small Falafel place in a strip mall, and we enjoyed huge plates of hummus and pita, falafel, dolmas, and tabouleh. We ventured out to Winter Park to a sidewalk art festival and enjoyed wandering from booth to booth seeing paintings, pottery, sculpture and photography.
Those are the places I would go if I lived in Orlando. They are places and things that bring me comfort and joy and a feeling of peace. They provide some respite from the crazy, bright, crowded bustle that dominates the rest of the city. They must be places that make Orlando feel like home to some who live there. They are certainly lovely memories for me, and I don’t even need a t-shirt to remember them by.
Read more about the Orlando trip at Buried Carrots.