Oct 05, 2018

Punta Gorda Herald Feature | The stay-at-home tourists


Rusty Pray | PGH Correspondent
Rusty Pray is a freelance correspondent. Contact him at rustypray@gmail.com

Hotel Punta Gorda Mural

Oct. 5, 2018 (Punta Gorda, FL) – Tony Caniglia and Sharon Sweeney, neighbors and companions later in life, one day decided they wanted to get away from the hum-drum of Deep Creek and treat themselves to a long weekend.

And what better place, they figured, than Punta Gorda?

And so, they decided on a staycation right in their own backyard–with all the fixins’: good food, interesting activities, and a place to sleep with all the amenities.

They booked a room for two nights over the Labor Day weekend at the new Springhill Suites at City Marketplace in downtown Punta Gorda and began what would become the quintessential tourist trip to Punta Gorda.

Tony is 82; Sharon, 78. They knew each other as friends before Tony’s wife, Linda, died in 2008. Sharon’s husband passed away in 2006. The two started dating in 2009.

Spending a weekend tooling around Punta Gorda was “something we’ve always wanted to do,” Sharon said. “Just because there’s so much going on here.”

They started to put the nontrip together on Wednesday evening at the Orange House.

“On the way out, I said to Sharon, ‘They just opened the Springhill. Let’s stop by on the way home,’” Tony said. “We did. As we walked through the lobby, she fell in love with the place.”

“I was so impressed with it,” Sharon nodded. “It was very modern, very inviting. I had the first glass of wine there.”

Seeing Punta Gorda’s murals was tops on Sharon’s to-do list. There are 30 of them, and they form a pictorial of the area’s history. The Hotel Punta Gorda, depicting seven famous guests of the old hotel, is Sharon’s favorite.

“I’ve seen a lot of the murals,” she said, “but you can’t really see them when you’re driving by. It’s amazing all these murals. You really have to walk around to see them. So that’s what we decided to do.”

They started about 10:15 Saturday morning. They parked in the Springhill parking lot and began strolling Harborwalk. They examined historical markers and stopped by some landmarks on Retta Esplanade, including the new Carmelo’s restaurant, which had not yet opened.

By the time they reached downtown, it was getting near noon and they were hot and sweaty, so they stopped into Bella’s Bistro for lunch.
“If you like grilled cheese, have a grilled cheese from Bella’s,” Tony said, relishing the memory.

They resumed their walk and got as far as the Celtic Ray, a popular eatery and watering hole. They sat outside on the swinging bench for almost an hour. They moved on to the Vietnam Wall replica in Laishley Park.

“It was very emotional,” Tony said. They toured Laishley Park, then treated themselves to ice cream at Harborwalk Scoops & Bites.

“By that time, it was pretty close to check-in time,” Tony said.

They found their room much to their liking and got ready for dinner. They had reservations at Carmelo’s. Sharon had a seafood dish; Tony, spaghetti and meatballs They took Nickel Ride, Punta Gorda’s new people’s taxi service, to the restaurant.

“When we left Carmelo’s, we went to the Orange House. We were there for a while.”

They called Nickel Ride, went back to the hotel, and retired for the evening.

You can’t get any more Punta Gorda than that.

Except …

The next day started with breakfast at the hotel, and included stops on the roof of the Wyvern, F.M. Don’s for Sunday brunch with friends, the Tiki Bar and the Crab House for dinner.

“It was very peaceful,” Sharon said of the Wyvern’s perch.

“We met some people from Cape Coral,” Tony said of the Tiki Bar.

You can’t get much more Punta Gorda than that.

Except …

On Monday, they swung by Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda Isles. They took each other’s picture standing next to the Ponce statue. They gazed at Charlotte Harbor.

“I just was taken by the overall thing–the local stuff, which I love,” Sharon said. “We enjoyed the river walk. That’s so nice. It was a wonderful way to spend the weekend.

“I would do it again and try to get to do some of the things we didn’t get to do. I didn’t see all the murals I wanted to see.”
Next time, Sharon, next time. It seems certain there will be one.

View the PDF article with images: PG Herald 10-5-2018