Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sunrise on Amelia Island (Christmas Day)

1. The sun is not out of the water yet...

2. It's all beautiful and pastel now...

3. And the dramatic ending...

Amelia Island

For Christmas weekend we decided to go to Amelia Island. It is about 25-minute drive east from Jacksonville and only 2 hours away from Daytona Beach. It is quite an upscale place. As a matter of fact, we didn't even realize how upscale it was until we got there.

Unfortunately, I didn't get off work until almost 6pm that Friday. So we only made it to the Amelia Island Resort by 9pm. We were hungry and thirsty, but not hungry enough for room service ($5 for a bottle of water, anybody?). Fortunatelly, a girl at the check-in desk had a spare copy of the Chinese take-out menu. After studying it for a couple of minutes we decided that we could get some good dinner for the price of two water bottles at the Resort. Cheap eats always make me a bit nervious, especially when it comes to ethnic food (although I guess the US version of Chinese is heavily modified and reflects little of the original substance). But this time I didn't have to worry. The food (crab rangoon and hot and spicy shredded chicken) was excellent, one of the best I've eaten in my life (and I've eaten plenty of Chinese food in the US). Sorry, I don't remember the name of this place, but it's probably the only Chinese place on Amelia Island.

So we ate Chinese food and watched the "Forrest Gump". I'd never seen the whole movie before, just bits and pieces. Well, it was great - just the right mix of funny, sad, smart and dumb, lucky and purely incredulous.

The next day we set off to explore the resort. It can be done several different ways. You can set off on foot, rent a bike, a golf cart, or even call for a complementary shuttle bus. We chose good old walking for the simple reason that I was too cheap to spend $40 for bike rental. Soon it proved to be the best choice - the resort is small enough and there are places and things that one simply can't get to on a bike.

The day was sunny and warm and the tide was low. So we started off by walking on the beach. There are miles of unspoiled beach on Amelia Island. And the scene is as picturesque as one can hope for - few people, no cars, no little ice-cream trucks with their annoying jingles, no water enthusiasts on jet-skis, just a few happy and well-behaved dogs and a scattering of sea shells as far as the eye can see. Better yet, the newly built ugly condominiums are kept reasonably small here (2-4 stories) and so they get partially hidden behind the sand dunes.

The whole walking and shelling part got us really hungry, but we were still not ready to settle for the hotel's breakfast ($16/person and not even a buffet). Instead, we remembered seeing a little shopping village right by the reception center the night before and headed there. Immediately we spotted a nice-looking deli with a impossible to pronounce French name. The prices were much more reasonable and the food was good. This deli also sold a good selection of wines, spices, chocolates, cheeses, and gourmet foods. Afterwards we stopped by some of the shops where most of the clothes and home decore items were frumpy, pseudo-colonial, and kitchy. But it was not the cheap in-your-face bright-pink plastic flamingo kitch of Daytona's gift shops. Instead, it was carefully matched to the overall atmosphere of the resort and the status level of the patrons. Natural materials, be it wood or cotton, prevailed, flamingos gave way to golf and West Indies themed products, and the inconspiquous price tags were not slapped on the merchandize, but swung demurely on schticks of raffia.

So we walked past the stores and into the nature center where we got to see a couple of snakes and lizards native to Amelia Island. Then we stopped by the Spa. I picked up the list of services and learned that they too were overpriced. Besides, most were various procedures for stress-reduction and relaxation while my primary interest was in toning, cellulite reduction, and getting rid of stretch marks. But just in case I asked the Spa associate if they had any kind of treatment that would immediately transform me into the most gorgeous and sexy woman in the world. The girl said they didn't have any such stuff. Unwilling to spend money on anything that delivered less than a total miracle make-over, we left.

We spent the evening in the room watching some strange show on Bravo! (and which of their shows is NOT strange?) about some wanna-be fashion designers half of whom were arrogant pieces of work and the other half couldn't control their artistic emotions try as they might. We did bring our own wine, cheese, fruits, and chocolates from Daytona and had a nice picnic in the room that night.

The next day we woke up extra-early to watch the sunrise. I'm not going to say a word about the experience. Just look at the pictures. Better yet, get out of your house, drive or fly to the beach, and see it for yourself. The rest of the day was unremarkable, except that I saw this little owl and then found a racoon sleeping in a tree. We also went to Christmas brunch buffet. It was very much like a Sunday brunch at a Picadilly restaurant (and I really don't like Picadilly). Unable to stand this overpriced boring existence for another night, we left early and returned back to Daytona only to find Xander getting even fatter (he eats a lot when we're not home).

Choosing a Place to Live

Ok, so I bet y'all are dying to learn the outcome of my review at work. Drum roll please... Зайцы, дробь.... I GOT A RAISE! Yes, yours truly is a great employee who does an exceptional job worthy of a 5% raise.

Next item on the news is our possible move to Raleigh, NC. So the rumors travel fast. That's ok, I'm more than happy to answer all the questions. First of all, why North Carolina? Ok, let's think logically here (get your road atlases out now). From South to North:

Florida - been there, done that. The only good place is Miami, but expensive and hurricane prone.

Georgia - hmmm, have you ever been to this state? Its coastal areas stink, quite literally. Atlanta stinks figuratively with all the traffic and urban sprawl. The only semi-decent place is Savannah. Although, as charming as the historic district is, the rest is more sprawl, slums, and unpleasant smell.

South Carolina - Charleston is nice, but has the same disadvantages as Savannah. The rest of the state is off limits - my boss lives in Greenville and I really wouldn't want to move there or to Columbia. I prefer to work with minimal supervision.

Now from North to South:

Maine - too cold and desolate.

Rhode Island - expensive (but very nice).

Massachusets - getting even more expensive. Plus I feel that Boston is too big of a city for me. I'd love to visit, but can't stay (no offense to my friends from Boston). Plus they have too many traffic lights and too few public restrooms.

New York/New Jersey/Connecticut - ok now, we'll have to sell our body parts to organ harvesters to afford living there. So maybe we'll afford renting a place, since the salaries tend to be higher in the Tri-State area. But owning even an outhouse is out of the question unless we settle for 3-4 hours of commuting to work (one way).

Virginia and Maryland - these are nice (in parts) and even though they are more expensive than down south, we'd consider them if we had a solid job offer.

I probably skipped a state or two (Delaware comes to mind) and completely ignored Washington, DC. But you get the picture. So what's left of the Eastern seaboard is really the great state of North Carolina that seems to have it all.

Now, going from East to West:

Any Midwest states are out the running for the ideal place to live. No offence here. I've been to some of these states, notably Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and one or two others. And on average I was extremely bored. The plains depress me and so does the absence of significant bodies of water within easy driving distance. Or the absence of large cities and cultural attractions in general. Plus the coastal states tend to be more cosmopolitan and trendy, even though it does get annoying from time to time. At least it's never boring.

The West Coast would be great. I would love to try Seattle area, rain nonwithstanding. I was there in May and it only rained once in 3 days. Plus Seattle's multi-cultural atmosphere and its surroundings (mountains all around, forests, water everywhere) totally make up for lack of sunshine. I've heard Portland, OR is also a good place. But unfortunately the West Coast is out of a question as well. One reason is financial. The other, more important, is that it's too far from both our families (and they don't show any desire to move).

So back to North Carolina. There are two cities we marked as possible targets for our move - Charlotte and Raleigh. Now, Raleigh is the state capital, which means tons of government jobs. And everyone knows that government jobs are the best. You get great benefits, all federal holidays, long vacations, easy work... Plus it's harder to get fired, easier to move up the ladder, and you don't have to be very smart at all! If you think I'm wrong on this, just visit any of the government offices in your town (starting with the DMV, Social Services, etc). But Raleigh also has the Research Triangle Park - only the largest technology park in the world, with companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, IBM and the likes. And it is a pretty place too, very nicely planned and landscapted, with sidewalks and bike paths and all. Most impressive!

The Raleigh-Durham area has several universities, including North Carolina State U. and the Duke University. Duke is the 4th most prestigious university in the US and one of the best medical research facilities in the country. I always see it mentioned in my fitness magazines (for example, a study that concluded that if you eat right and exercize regularly, you are more likely to loose weight than if you don't - that was very motivating). If we move, I will be able to start a Master's Program at a state university as soon as I become a state resident (after 1 year). Unfortunately, due to the lack of organic funds (read - I'm not making enough money), I won't be able to afford Duke. Well, maybe I can earn some money by participating in their medical research for fitness magazines.

I don't want to dwell on the real estate market. It's not nearly as expensive as in New York or even Florida. The houses are nice too, most with fireplaces and hardwood floors, but with no garages. We didn't really see as many homes as we hoped to see, but the three that we saw were nice. Well, the first one actually had a flooded crawl space and the wall between the master bedroom and the master bath didn't quite reach the ceiling and the yard was screwed up and the view was mostly of the interior of the neighbor's house and there were a couple of other things... But the other two places were nice.

There are enough Russians in the area to support 3 stores and a Russian Sunday school. This is very important to me, since I can't live without some deli items that Americans seem to not like (i.e herring, cold smoked fish, cold salted and dried fish, fish in oil, fish in tomato sauce, and some fish salads). Oh, plus Raleigh is about 2 hours away from the ocean and 3 hours or so from the mountains. So all in all, Raleigh looks promising.

Will we move there? We haven't decided yet. We're considering some other places as well. Again, if one of us gets a really good job offer in Virginia or Maryland, we'll take it and move there. But either way, I'll let you know as soon as things are more certain.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Getting Ready for the Holidays

I apologize for not posting anything for the last two months or so. No excuses here, just got lazy. Well, a bunch of things was happening as usual. So this is the post with updates:

1) I officially have no happily married or even married friends anymore (relatives don't count here). All my friends are either single or going through some kind of a messy divorce. So, if you're a happily married couple that stumble on this post and decided to be-friend the author, drop a line. Knowing that you are out there somewhere will reinforce my belief in the "happy every-after" and make me less paranoid about my own marriage.

2) My house may no longer be used as a temporary "going-through-tough-times" shelter! This is getting seriously old and very annoying. I'm not being unfriendly or mean, but I've had my share of drama for the next couple of years. Short-term happy guests are still more than welcome!

3) Work is going... I'm supposed to talk to the Boss tomorrow about my performance and such. Keep your fingers crossed - I need a raise.

4) We're thinking about moving to North Carolina. So if you know anything about Raleigh area (Research Triangle) or have interesting job leads there, drop me a line. We'll be going to Raleigh this weekend and I'll provide a more detailed update when we get back.

5) The holidays this year promise to be very interesting. Chris got us reservations at a resort on Amelia Island, FL for Christmas. And I'm planning a little getaway to Savannah for New Year's celebration. I'll post updates as things move along.

6) If you were planning on getting me something for the holidays, my Amazon gift list is posted out there. Just search for me and you shall find 3 pages of books. Yeah, that's a not-so-subtle hint... Apologize for such straightforwardness, but no time to beat around the bush...

More stuff happened, of course, but I just can't think any longer. I'm falling asleep... Until later then...