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  • Des & Sandie Nichols

APALACHICOLA - FLORIDA PANHANDLE

Updated: Mar 11, 2021


We have finally, after 5 months, we left Florida. We packed up the cats, stowed away all our bits and pieces (or was it the other way round) and headed West yesterday morning. Such is the current originality of our intrepid explorations that we arrived, 275 miles later, at our old friend, the haven that is called Apalachicola. This is the one town that left a simply indelible memory and to make it our first stop on our road to New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville was an easy decision. We quickly set up in the same RV park as before, and the staff remembered us and still consoled us over that horrendous dog hit-and-run night. They're like that round here. They remember you like an old pal. We then immediately headed down to the unbelievably charming old town. The Hole In The Wall Oyster bar was still there so we piled in. The same wonderfully etched faces, each telling a life story, were behind the bar, including the old shucker with his grey locks falling down his back in a ponytail. "I been shucking oysters since I was 16" he once told us proudly before adding that he had 7 children and 23 grandchildren. It must be the oysters. The staff, incredibly, remembered us immediately from our brief December visit. They're like that round here. Next door, some twenty familiar locals sat outside the small brewery on rickety wooden benches on the sidewalk, in exactly the same places we had left them six months ago. They're like that round here. One guy still had his faithful parrot on his shoulder. They're like that round here. As soon as we sat down with our beer, they struck up a cheery conversation with us interlopers. They're like that round here. Two men and a woman had two bags of popcorn, which is free at the bar. They didn't offer us a pinch. They gave us a whole bag. They're like that round here.

Today, we are off showing Georgie, armed with her camera, the sights of this fabulous area. But in the meantime, we thought it was worth giving the December blog another run. Nothing changes here, so it seems as relevant now as then. So here is our Ode to the Joy that is Apalachicola.

Georgie tasting the local nectar in the Oyster City Brewing Company.

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We love America. Its confident but justified pride might be hiding its glaring divisions, its obsession with lightning fast development might obscure its inherent natural beauty, its inward thinking might currently overshadow its sound global intentions, but these are good people. This is the strongest, wealthiest, most successful nation on earth, and boy do they know it. But America has lost so much in its hyper speed evolution. Cities are just concrete, corporate megacenters, small towns are reduced to dormitories with unloved 20 year old houses, many ready to be torn down. The car and the soulless malls with their identical chain stores rule supreme.

So what an unbridled joy to find Apalachicola. Set your watch back to a long lost era and find for yourself how life should, and could, be. This is the nearest thing to a true village we have found. It reminded us of parts of the South Island of New Zealand. A small, happy, smiling community who love what they have the little they have and take glowing pride in their town and are in no rush at all to join the modern chaos. Apalach, as it is called by those who live there, seems to have been spared the burden of discovery. It isn’t a sanitized living museum. It is still a hodgepodge of local quirky shops, fishing boats and sheds on the river and a small brewery bang in the middle of town. It is a wonderful, quiet center of existence for 2000 people. There is, we were told, one traffic signal, but we never saw it. Someone said it must be like Key West was 20 years ago. No, its soul and lifestyle are what living must have been like 100 years ago throughout America. Unrestricted, welcoming, unconcerned. Time seems to have just stood still.

So you can gather we loved it. And, what’s more, it has the best local oysters outside Prince Edward Island. Plump pearls of a delight and absolutely delicious eaten, with a speck of horseradish, in the most unpretentious setting.

Everyone here greets you as a friend, with a southern charm that we have never experienced in Florida. Indeed, can this really be Florida? Answer - it can’t be. But it is. The aptly named Forgotten Coast. It is so very different. Only the few cars (parked wherever the driver wants to stop) give you a clue that these are modern times.

We went into a ‘boutique’ called La Robe. In a gorgeous y’all accent, a fabulously colorful lady owner, her smile as wide as the river itself, welcomed us with ‘Parlez-vous français?’. I replied ‘oui, je parle français un peu mais pas très bien’. She laughed and said in her southern drawl. ‘Ah don’t know what yer sayen. That’s the only French ah know’. Then she pointed to a small table. ‘We have real French perfume here ..... from France’. We could have been in a scene from Bonanza. We then went to a local oyster bar called The Hole In The Wall. The conviviality continued with merry banter exchanged across both sides of the old bar. It is the sort of place where everyone joins in the same conversation. And in the loo, or men’s room as it is called, there was a large basin on the wall, full of ice, into which we were invited to pee. Ask no questions.

This place is special. There are no swarms of tourists covering its charm and character like a smog. Initially we were seduced by the name, Apalachicola. And the seduction was consummated by the open-arm welcome we received from the most warm and interesting people, most of whom admit they came for a day and stayed forever; a visit is a glorious submission into a forgotten age. Let’s hope it remains the Forgotten Coast.

P.S. I am not going to tell you, but we smelled a strong, pungent odor of burning in the bus last night. My knowledge of all things to do with the bus led me to say with complete confidence "It's electrical. Definitely electrical". It was only when Sandie pointed out that Lily was sitting on the table, next to a lit, scented candle, her tail swishing back and forth over the flame that we discovered the cause. She seemed totally unconcerned.

But I am not going to tell you that.


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