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North America

A Tale of Two Cities

Jonathan van Bilsen



January 8, 2017

A Tale of Two Cities

Many Canadian tourists make the trek to Orlando to visit Disney world, but there are two other towns well worth the visit, and are anything but amusement areas. The first city I would recommend for a day trip is Mount Dora, located about an hour north of Orlando.

With a population of 13,000, this small, picturesque village has several streets lined with unique clothing boutiques, art shops and restaurants. Nestled on Lake Dora, it is a fantastic escape from the hassle and bustle of Mickey Mouse Land and other Florida attractions.

The drive from Orlando to Mount Dora is pleasant. Winding roads lined with trees take you on a leisurely trek, passing horse farms and century homes. For those in a rush, there is a new highway, but beware of the five dollar toll charge. With modern GPS technology, bypassing the toll road is quite easy.

Once you arrive in Mount Dora, simply park your car, as the entire town is within walking distance. I found it similar to Port Perry, including the friendliness of the people who owned the shops. 

Be sure to keep the Florida sun in mind and wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen, otherwise your skin will be quite crispy in a matter of minutes. Start your visit with a tasty lunch in either One Flight Up, which has a balcony on the second floor, overlooking Donnelly Street, (the main thoroughfare), or enjoy tasty soup and sandwiches at Let's Do Lunch, also located on Donnelly street. Both are great, but there are numerous other eateries as well.

If you want a more formal lunch, make your way toward the lake (about three blocks) and enjoy a wonderful meal on the porch of the Lakeside Inn. Along with good food and picturesque views, it is also a hotel, which was built in 1921. Complete with all the charm of yesteryear, a visit to the lobby and bar is like being whisked back in time, to an era of high society and post WWI freedom.

A few steps from the Lakeside Inn stands a lighthouse and a gazebo, both of which overlook a wildlife refuge. There are fish and birds and even a small alligator or caiman, a viewing which is a must for a trip to central Florida.

The dress shops on Donnelly Street feature designer patterns, many of which are local. The art galleries all show work from resident artists, including a second story shop owned by artist Bev Neal, who will along with showing you her work, is also a local historian, explaining the history of Mount Dora, complete with photos dating back to the early twentieth century.

When you have thoroughly exhausted your stay and head back to your home base, albeit Orlando or Tampa, there is another unique town worthy of a day adventure.

St. Armand's is located outside of Sarasota on Florida's gulf coast. Like Mount Dora it is another 'must see' destination, especially if you want to escape the tourist bustle for which Florida is so famous. 

A little more popular than Mount Dora, St Armand's is also quite a big larger. The central part of the city, which caters to tourists, is divided into four quadrants, each of which centers around the fountain. During severe rain storms, the centre area floods, however, this does little to distract from making your visit a fun experience.

Of course the first thing I did, after parking my car, was to visit Kilwins, a well-known, old-fashioned confectionery chain which sells chocolates, ice cream and handmade sweets. A good cup of coffee with a waffle cone overflowing with New Orleans pralines and cream is a must, especially after sitting in your car for a while.

Depending on your tastes, the Shoppes of St Armand’s should fulfil everyone's desire. There are many clothing stores, most of which, cater to sunshine patterns of brightly coloured floral designs. Men's shops carry the latest fashions to look your best on the golf course or on the beach (no, I didn't buy a Speedo). 

The souvenir shops tend to get away from the, kitschy stuff offered in larger cities, but the prices are not cheap. Then again, how often does quality come at a low price?

I enjoyed leisurely strolling through the numerous art galleries and seeing the work of local artists, displayed everywhere. There is an amazing Robert Wyland gallery. Wyland is a marine artist, most noted in the Toronto area for his wall mural of the dolphins on the exterior of the Redpath sugar museum and associated grain elevators, along Toronto's waterfront. His work is fantastic and the gallery features many of his works, as well as those of other unique and talented artists.

Next time the kids or grandkids insist you head to Florida, think about Mount Dora and St. Armand's to get away from the spotlight for a day or two. You will enjoy the break

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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