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Day 15: St. Augustine

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Two hundred and twenty five years ago, on September 8, 1565, Don Pedro Menéndez de Aviles announced the birth of a new city, St. Augustine.  What a life it has had!  It has recovered from hurricanes, wars, plagues and countless pirate raids to become our nation’s oldest continuously inhabited city.  St. Augustine is the first city in America to celebrate 450 years of unbroken history!  With that, there are places to visit all over the city.  We arrive too late in the month for the celebration – landing re-enactment, the Celebration of Mass and 16th Century Cooking Contest.

The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.  It’s a national monument and was de-activated in 1933.  There’s so much history there that I was really looking forward to exploring it and attending the cannon firing.  But, it’s been steadily sprinkling all morning, so the Castillo de San Marcos is crossed off.  If I fall in the slippery ruins, it could be my ruin, so we decide to visit the Pirate Museum.  We come in, pay for discounted tickets and then decide to eat lunch before going through.  The attendant gives us the museum’s crossed bones & skull stickers and says they are our 10% discount at a couple of nearby restaurants.  We wander around the shops.  (One even had alligator jerky!)  After lunch, we make our way past quaint shops back to the museum.  It looks like any other attraction, but it’s not.  Yes, there are fun things for the kids to do such as lighting cannons that go “Boom!”, looking for hidden caches using a “treasure map” and listening to ghost stories in the dark!  But, there really IS treasure to be found.  Local archaeologists have unearthed numerous artifacts that are displayed.  Explorations under the seas have brought up even more pirate booty.  You can touch a 400 year-old metal trunk, the world’s only surviving pirate treasure chest!  You can view one of only TWO known true pirate flags.  There is even a chance to lift up a real, solid gold bar recovered from the Santa Margarita, a Spanish ship that sank around 1622!  Every piece that makes a historical claim has been authenticated.  I think it’s a pretty cool way to make history come alive for the young and not so young.

Good-bye, Florida!  Loved our stay in your sunny state!

We arrive in Savannah just in time to enjoy the manager’s reception. The Fairfield Inn is competing with many other, newer properties and I think this is a great way to welcome guests. There’s cream of potato soup, cheese & crackers, Caesar Salad, cheesy nachos, and Miss Beverly’s specialty, deviled eggs! We then head out with a map to see what sights we may want to visit tomorrow. We check some out and wind up following a ghost tour bus a block or two as an eerie voice spilled out into the quiet night, describing chilling events. We go down another street and see a horse drawn carriage clip clopping along as the driver points out an area of interest to her passenger.  We pass through silent streets, alongside trees laden with Spanish moss.  Lonnie says that growing up, they called it Witch’s Hair.  O-o-o-o-w, time for a break!  I mention a local vegan cafe.  Lonnie, with a pained expression, says, “My stomach’s starting to hurt just thinking about it.”  I give up getting him to go meatless.  We stop by a local coffee shop, then decide to get dessert elsewhere.  Found “Local” through Yelp.  It has a rich, young ambiance and a wonderfully secluded rooftop lounge called the “Perch.”  At night, it’s the perfect hideaway for unwinding from a busy day or enjoying quiet conversations.

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Day 14: Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales

Breakfast buffet is compliments of sweet Diana at the front desk.  The man supervising the buffet needs customer service training, but there’s sausage, eggs, fresh fruit, etc.

We leave and miss the exit.  We’re using printed directions that didn’t say how soon to get over to the far lane.  It was very soon!  Out comes the GPS.  It’s not 100% accurate all the time either, but using a map with it makes for less wrong turns.  Maybe we should allow 10% getting lost time.  We drive by a power line pole shaped like Mickey Mouse’s face – nice touch Disney World!

Bok Tower
Bok Tower

Bok Tower Gardens was a nice break.  Edward W. Bok had a vision, so he brought in people who were well-respected in their fields to create a serene oasis.  He hoped his tower grounds would be: “A spot which would reach out in its beauty to the people, and fill their souls with the quite, the repose, the influence of the beautiful.”

Pinewood Estate
Pinewood Estate

The 205 foot singing tower is a 60 bell carillon that plays at set times during the day.  We walked around Pinewood Estate, the 1930s mansion on the grounds.  We lose our way and ask for directions.  A walker gives more information about the gardens.

We leave and lunch in Haines City. R-Place is preferable to the string of fast food places on the way.  Lonnie’s spaghetti is average, but my lightly battered whitefish sandwich is delicious.  Asking your server what’s fresh is always a good thing!

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Day 13: Orlando

Monday,  September 16, 2013

We have lunch with another old friend.  That’s two hours of reminiscing and trying to out-do each other at having senior moments.  His son works for Universal and he offers to get us in.  We thank him and tell him we’ve “Been there, done that” with kids.  We need to get some things done before dinner.

After the show with my old boss, Cam!
After the show with my old boss, Cam!

I look forward to seeing my old boss again!  She and her husband meet us for the “Outta Control Comedy Show” at Wonderworks.  It’s an endless stream of popcorn, salad, pizza and beverages as we enjoy catching up on each other’s lives and former co-workers we still see.  The television station we worked at is a smaller one and many of us interacted and often socialized away from work.

Outta Control Comedy Show host sets a $20 on fire!
Outta Control Comedy Show host sets a $20 on fire!

I will say this about the comedian/magician – not only was he hilarious, but he patiently worked with a young audience member who had a disability.  The maybe 12 year-old could not stay focused and would wander around the stage looking at things.  The magician would call him back many times and coach him to do the few steps needed to complete the illusion.  It was a “feel good moment” when everyone cheered the young man.

The Best Western Plus in Orlando could use a renovation, though it is close to activities and has one of my favorite pluses – double sinks!  They had 5 sets of towels for us and the “Clean” TV remotes, designed to be easily wiped down.  I wipe down every hotel remote we use as they are the germiest items in hotel rooms!  

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Day 12: West Palm Beach

Sunday,  September 15, 2013

We have so much to be grateful for on this trip – new experiences, learning to blend together better as a team, meeting so many interesting people.  So, I was very happy to be going to church service with a childhood friend!  Pastor Ron delivered the message well.  He also made a comment that more churches should encourage their members to do:  “Embrace visitors.  Let family and friends sit elsewhere.  They’ll forgive you.  Visitors won’t forget.”  I also learned that there is a dengue fever outbreak up the coast.  They prayed for that situation and many others.  How comforting!

During the greeting each other part of service, the woman next to me asked if I was a member.  Told her “No,” that we were on a seven week trip.  The moment service concluded, she turned to me, grabbed my hand and exclaimed, “It’s so good to meet fellow travelers!”  That started off a full ten minute discourse on the joys and challenges of travel.  Mary and Warren had recently returned from one of their trips and gave us plenty of advice on Canada.  Mary said one of her favorite places is the Bay of Fundy, located near Nova Scotia.  It is renowned for having the highest tides on the planet, reaching up to 53 feet.  Two times each day, one hundred billion tons of sea water flow in and out of the Bay of Fundy.  Because of that, it forms an exciting and varied marine ecosystem.

Even though we’re touring the West Coast at another time, Mary raved about Alaska.  The first of May is when they leave Florida for Alaska.  In Alaska, Fred Meyer stores are traveler friendly.  Mary says if you have a camper, you can park in their parking lot up to three days.  They have a concierge for the people staying in the parking lot.  That person will greet them and direct them to free morning coffee.  I hope that’s still true by the time we get there.  My husband, at one time, wanted us to travel in an RV.  I nixed that when I reminded him if he ever became sick, I wouldn’t be able to drive as I can’t reach its pedals.  Mary recommended a camper truck because:

There were limited places that they could take their RV and gas usage is very large.

It’s no problem to drive a camper truck.

If you get a camper truck, they recommend you have a shower installed.

Get at least a 2000 watt water generator.

Don’t go to Alaska with a pop-up camper – go for the hard top.

The car ferry price will be the same as an average car.

Fun things to do:

Arkansas has the 911-acre Crater of Diamonds State Park.  Where else can you publicly mine real diamonds?!?  They’re always discovering diamonds in the field, including the world’s only perfect diamond ever discovered, the Strawn-Wagner Diamond.[1].  If you go, there are three stategies: dig, sift, stroll.  Digging in the hard soil is pretty difficult.  Warren prefers just strolling around as the fields are plowed often.

Mary advises talking to locals.  They were at an Amish yard sale in Pennsylvania when they were invited to go down the street for a wine tasting at the local vineyard.  Adventures are all around us!

For lunch, our friend took us to the Singing Bamboo for dim sum.  It was delicious!  I miss Houston’s many choices of Chinese restaurants.  One, Fat Bao, is focused on the bao, a bread bun or folded bread with different fillings.  When we get home, I want to try the (ahi?) tuna tacos.  They’re pricey and I heard baos are half the cost in N.Y.  We’ll be there in a few days!

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Day 11: Boca Raton, West Palm Beach

Saturday,  September 14, 2013

Hilton Hotel, Ft. Lauderdale
Hilton Hotel, Ft. Lauderdale

“Farewell, Hilton.”

This is the last time we will ever see you.

We drive into Boca Raton just in time to have lunch with an old friend.  He takes us to JB’s on the Beach in Deerfield Beach.  We walk along, breathing in a beautiful day.

Taking a stroll after lunch
Taking a stroll after lunch
Beach in Deerfield, FL
Beach in Deerfield, FL
Lazing on the beach
Lazing on the beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Havana Cuban Restaurant
Havana Cuban Restaurant

 

Afterward, we head over to West Palm Beach to stay with another old friend.  It is a blessing to be able to spend time with dear ones we haven’t seen in many years.  She tells the family we’re coming and everyone meets at Havana, a popular local Cuban restaurant.  So good!

 

 

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Day 10: Miami, Fort Lauderdale

Friday,  September 13, 2013

We drive over to South Beach.  Finding parking on the streets is impossible so we go to the public parking garage.  What a deal, only $1 an hour!

Yummy spinach at Pizza Rustica!
Yummy spinach at Pizza Rustica!

We book a bus & boat tour and go next door to Pizza Rustica, 9th and Washington, for a quick lunch before the tour.  My spinach pie is delicious!  My husband’s is just as tasty.

The gigantic Cuban cigar one exile will smoke when Fidel Castro dies.
The gigantic Cuban cigar one exile will smoke when Fidel Castro dies.

One of the tour stops is Little Havana.  The cigar shop we visit is owned by a Cuban exile.  Our tour guide shows us the humongous cigar the owner will smoke when Fidel Castro dies.

An Azucar employee scoops up a big helping of Cuban Flan ice cream!
An Azucar employee scoops up a big helping of Cuban Flan ice cream!

Further down the sidewalk, I see people coming out of Azucar ice cream parlor.  Went in and asked for something different from the others.  He goes back into the kitchen and brings out a metal container of creaminess. Out of the shop I walk, luscious Cuban Flan ice cream in hand!

Maximo Park is a popular meeting place
Maximo Park is a popular meeting place

 We wander down the street to the local gathering place, Maximo Gomez Park.  The men tell me they don’t mind my documenting a slice of their daily activities.

   

 

Local lobster diver
Local lobster diver

There is live music on the pier as we wait for the boat tour to begin.  A scuba diver with a buoy and waving flag attached swims by.  We’re told she has a boat in the marina and is scouting for lobsters.  Once she locates them, she’ll take orders from customers and go back the next day to get them!

House on the right is Jackie Chan's.  Think the right side house is Sylvester Stallone's.
House on the right is Jackie Chan’s. Think the right side house is Sylvester Stallone’s.

The celebrity tour takes us around South Beach.  There were so many celebrity  homes they start running into each other.  It’s a beautiful day for sightseeing.

 

I have included a Qwiki of how others have enjoyed a visit to Miami:

We arrive at the Hilton near the airport.  It’s an older, but nice hotel.  I start to talking with the bellhop as we go up.  He tells me the hotel is closing April 1, “No joke.”  Explains that the airport is expanding and the Hilton is two stories too tall for aircraft clearance.  😦

Grampa's
Grampa’s

We go to Grampa’s Bakery down the street.  Grampa is not a name of affection.  It’s the owner’s last name.  We’re told the breakfast is the best in town.  Wonder if I can get up in time to do it justice …

 

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Day 9: Naples, Miami

Thursday,  September 12, 2013

We have breakfast before checking out of Inn of Naples.  Down the street we meet a local who recommends heading further down the coast to Marco Island, the largest barrier island within Southwest Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands area.  It’s a lovely isle with beautiful people, beautiful restaurants and a comedy lounge/restaurant that showcases famous comedians that don’t mind having their picture taken with you.  Many of the restaurants offer a daily printout of the day’s catch.  They will list the captain and sometimes a photo of the boat that brought in their fish.  You can book fishing trips on those boats and then bring back your catch to sell or donate to the restaurants.  If you’re considering driving to Key West, Hwy 75 gets you there faster but Hwy 41’s scenic route is a great way to view another side of Florida.  It allows you to see all the different communities along the way and you will really see the Everglades. There’s a good chance you will see alligators.  There have even been Florida panther sightings!  Another way to see Florida is aboard the ferry that goes from Ft. Myers to Key West.  Cars load onto it for the approximately 4 ½ hour ride.  If you arrive early enough, you can see dawn break over the water.  You can even purchase a glass of wine to sip as you relax and enjoy the view from the second level.  Arrival in Key West is around noon.  After you spend a wonderful day on the key, the ferry picks you up for a sunset ride back to Ft. Myers.  The $150 fee can be factored in as part of the experience.  Thanks for the tips, Mike!

We go by the beach one more time before leaving town.  There, we meet two simply charming sisters.  One from Boston, the other from The Woodlands, Texas – just north of Houston!  We compare notes on travel.  They bought a condo for their parents and leave a car here so it’s easy to get around whenever they fly in to visit.

View from 5th Avenue Coffee Co.
View from 5th Avenue Coffee Co.

They tell us about 5th Avenue, the fancy part of Naples.  So, we follow them out as they drive through it.  We lunch at 5th Avenue Coffee Co.  It’s casual, with affordable, good food.

Here we are, Miami!  Coconut Grove is an area that has had it’s heyday.  It is the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood in Miami.  I am so glad to see the Courtyard Marriott has a recycle section in the trash can.  We recycle in Sugar Land and I feel so guilty throwing perfectly good, clean maps and brochures into a regular trash can!  On our trip, only Courtyard and Sheraton have offered recycling.  Wish more hotels would recycle.  This is the first time during the trip that we could actually walk down the street to dinner.  The restaurants on the side streets were filled with locals.  There’s a nice neighborhood feel.  I liked how one place described their style:

A Coconut Grove restaurant shows some local attitude
A Coconut Grove restaurant shows some local attitude
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Day 8: St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Naples

Wednesday,  September 11, 2013

As we head down Central St. straight to the pier, there are shops, restaurants, tattoo parlors.  A trip to the pier in St. Petersburg before leaving town sounds good.  We want something local, not another chain restaurant.  Leafy Greens Cafe caught my eye.  It’s vegan.  Never had it.  Vegetarian, yes.  Vegan, no.  I LOVE it!  Every spoonful of their Thai Curry Soup is full of flavor.  Spices roll over the tongue, cool bits of cucumber give a rich pop of freshness.  Hubby struggled with his burger.  He’s so used to red meat that it threw him a little.  It’s pricey, but expected for raw dishes that require the safest of preparation procedures.

We see flags flying at half mast today in memory of 9-11.  I thought of a friend who was part of the mass exodus from New York City to the suburbs after the Twin Towers came crashing down.  No city transport services were working.  She, along with hundreds of thousands (dare I say even a million?) of others walked for hours to reach their homes.  The disbelief, shock and fear that transpired was earthshattering.  A year or so ago, we talked about it.  I ask if she thinks about that day.  She says, “Yes.”  It never goes away.

Sarasota was the winter home of the John & Mabel Ringling.  They left a rich legacy for all to enjoy.  You can go to http://www.ringling.org and be amazed at what 20 acres can house!

One of two centaurs guarding the Ringling Museum of Art
One of two centaurs guarding the Ringling Museum of Art

It’s said that one morning, one of the centaurs at the front of the museum had been pushed over.  After questioning everyone, it was discovered that a group of Russian musicians, who had performed at an event on the grounds the night before, had imbibed a bit too much and pushed over the centaur!

Ringling Museum of Art
Ringling Museum of Art
A 1200' terrace with fantastic views at Ca d'Zan, the Ringlings' palatial home
A 1200′ terrace with fantastic views at Ca d’Zan, the Ringlings’ palatial home

We would like to thank Francesca, one of the golf cart shuttle drivers, who went past her shift time to give us one last view of each of the buildings on the Ringlings’ vast estate!

Arriving in Naples around dinner time, we check out a local restaurant, Noodles & Sushi.  I recommend it for an eclectic meal in a trendy atmosphere!

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Day 7: Tampa, St. Petersburg

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

We enjoy a wonderful breakfast, compliments of Sheraton East Tampa!  Yesterday, when we checked in, my husband gave them the spiel about our birthdays, retirement, leasing out the house and being nomads, without a home.  He asked if we could get complimentary breakfasts.  Isaiah thought about it a moment, smiled and said he could do that.

As we check out, hubby comments that most of the hotels we’ve visited on our trip don’t charge for internet service.  He was told that they could do something about it if he mentions that on the next visit.  Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.  The worse thing that could happen would be that they say, “No.”

Henry B. Plant Museum
Henry B. Plant Museum

The Henry B. Plant Museum is a fascinating trip back into early Tampa.  It’s the former Tampa Bay Hotel, flagship of Mr. Plant’s eight luxury hotels during the Victorian era.  Plant also owned railroads and steamships.  The museum is the perfect snapshot of America’s Gilded Age.

We take a quick ride to Ybor City, the Cuban area of Tampa.  We go by the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn. It has a lot of history.  Even Fidel Castro has a part.

We’re told Carmine’s has the best deviled crabs, that all the other restaurants use frozen crab.  It is s-o-o-o good!  You can see the pieces of shredded crab and the waiter shows us how to eat it.  My husband has the house-made tartar sauce and ranch dressing with his.  We split a big Cuban pork sandwich that the man at the next table said was very good.  He was right!

Well, it’s time to head to St. Petersburg!  The Holiday Inn had complimentary bottled water and a snack waiting for us at check-in.  Wonder if it’s because we’ve stayed at their inns 4 times in just over a week.  (Priceline is their friend!)  We head to Madeira Beach to catch a sunset.  Wow!  Drove about 10 miles before we could find a public beach access among all the hotels and condos squeezed in front of the water.  It was another beautiful sight.  Heard from one senior joking with another as that woman banged an aluminum chair on the concrete to shake off the sand, “Take care with my valuable furniture!”

Another stunning Florida sunset on Madeira Beach.
Another stunning Florida sunset on Madeira Beach.
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Day 6: Ocala, Tampa

Monday,  September 9, 2013

The Lunchbox is a cozy diner just off the square in Ocala.
The Lunchbox is a cozy diner just off the square in Ocala.

We go back to the square in Ocala to wander the shops before leaving.  Just off the main street, we see a little diner called the Lunchbox.  Kids’ metal lunchboxes are displayed and locals fill the tables.  The wait staff is friendly and give good recommendations.  My fish sandwich is delicious.  The broccoli is buttery and gently seasoned.  Haleigh, our server, says that customers tell her if they had had Lunchbox’s broccoli when they were growing up, they’d have eaten it.  Haleigh says, “Eat your broccoli!”

After lunch, we drive down the street to the Ocala Stud Farm.  We had wanted to visit a horse farm or ranch that gave carriage rides or guided horse rides.  When I ran across this listing, it sounded interesting.

Leon holds on to a playful nipper
Leon holds on to a playful nipper

So down the road we go! We find a groom, Leon, who makes time to take us around. Petting the velvety soft muzzle of young thoroughbreds is a memorable experience. To me, horses are the most beautiful of animals.

We get into Tampa in time for dinner.  The Sheraton East Tampa is nice and spacious.  It’s a conference center and the staff is efficient and friendly.  Two complimentary bottles of water greet us as we step into the room.  When asked for the name of a good local restaurant, the hotel front desk says that Jesse’s Steak & Seafood in Brandon has been around for years and that’s where locals go for good steaks and seafood.  The décor is somewhat dated, but it’s been there a long time and seems to do well.  Our waitress is friendly and helpful.  When we say we’d like to share the 16 oz. prime rib, she suggests that for $5 more, a second baked potato and salad could be served.  The prime rib comes au jus and with mushrooms.  The chef was kind enough to cut the steak in half.  It’s tender and flavorful.  We agree and later realize that we should have split the 12 oz. portion as there would have been plenty to eat!

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Day 5: Tallahassee, Ocala

Sunday,  September 8, 2013

We enjoy a complimentary breakfast at LaQuinta before leaving Panama City Beach at 11am. (I try to balance 2 biscuits & sausage gravy with rice krispies, low fat milk and apple juice.)

This squirrel pauses to stare back!
This squirrel pauses to stare back!

 We arrive in Tallahassee and head to the Tallahassee Museum of History & Natural Science.  What a nice outdoor venue!  The museum covers 52 acres and has many outdoor exhibits, lots of water (or is it considered a swamp?), zip lines and an obstacle course.  Shady trees keep it from being unbearable and areas such as the science lab and art gallery are in air-conditioned buildings.

This torn web reflects the fierce struggles of the spider's victims
This torn web reflects the fierce struggles of the spider’s victims
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Big Bend farm building
This tiger eyes an intruder
This tiger eyes an intruder
Relaxed feline contemplates its day
Relaxed feline contemplates its day

Is the sea otter hiccuping?

Today, the John Spohrer wildlife exhibition opens in the museum’s art gallery. Mr. Spohrer has his photography book available and takes time to give us a tour of the photographs.

Dinner at Harry's on the Square
Dinner at Harry’s on the Square

Dinner found us at the Ocala town square. We were told that Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grill has good food with a New Orleans flair. The dishes we had were quite good! And the gumbo is how I like it – with celery and bits of other vegetables in the thick broth.

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Day 4: Biloxi, Mobile, Panama City Beach

Saturday,  September 7, 2013

Biloxi, Mississippi has a lighthouse smack in the middle of a highway.  At one time, it was a working lighthouse.  Eventually, the town grew around it.  Built in 1848, the lighthouse has a rich history with two generations of one family operating it from 1866 to 1929.  We’re too late for the last tour at 9:30am, but are able to glean more information about it from the Mississippi Visitors Center next door.Biloxi lighthouse

The center is the most beautiful visitors center I’ve ever seen!  Rising like a grand southern mansion, it’s a mini museum of exhibits, a theater, and an event venue.  There’s a model of the lighthouse, a video on Marlin Miller’s journey to beautify the Gulf Coast, Elvis Presley’s jacket, Bo Diddley’s square guitar and more.  On the wide veranda, two sisters are enjoying the beach view. They came in for a Girls’ Week.

Off we go to Alabama!  The Visitors Center that we visit may be an older building, but they sure make us feel welcome.  An enthusiastic young woman, by the name of Amanda, greets visitors with a mile-wide smile.  Every guest I saw her interact with was treated with attention and lots of suggestions for places to go and what to expect, her ponytail bouncing as she emphasizes points of interest.  So far, she’s the best visitors center employee we’ve encountered.  Wished I’d asked her for a picture so you could see that mega-watt smile.

We stop by Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile to see the USS Alabama and decide we didn’t have time to tour it and still make it to Panama Beach City, Florida at a decent time. But, we did get some photos …

USS Alabama
USS Alabama
This beautifully rendered American flag was painted on the side of one of the buildings two days before!
This beautifully rendered American flag was painted on the side of one of the buildings two days before!
U.S. Coast Guard plane
U.S. Coast Guard plane

Minutes down the street, we have a late lunch at Felix’s Fish Camp Grill in Mobile. It was very pleasant. My husband had Grilled Red Snapper with Green Beans Almondine. I enjoyed the Ahi Tuna Salad. We’re trying to eat lighter as hours of sitting in the car doesn’t burn many calories.

Lunch at Felix's Fish Camp Grill
Lunch at Felix’s Fish Camp Grill

We come into Panama City Beach as the sun begins to set and pull over to see our first Florida sunset on the trip. I’m so happy!

Another gorgeous Florida sunset!
Another gorgeous Florida sunset!

When asked where to go for dinner, the hotel front desk clerk recommends Capt. Anderson’s. We drive a mile or so down the street to the Marina. There’s a one hour wait at Capt. Anderson’s, so we decide to try the Marina Cantina next door. We had Chicken Chapatula and Fish Tacos. The food was alright, but the view of the marina was better.

Capt. Anderson's Marina
Capt. Anderson’s Marina

To top off the night, we went to Bruster’s Ice Cream next to our hotel, where the ice cream is made fresh daily.

Dessert!
Dessert!
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Day 3: Baton Rouge, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport

The towering Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge
The towering Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge

Friday,  September 6, 2013

Not so bright and early, we drive to the State Capitol building, where we meet Miss Lulu! She greets us and says that we are free to take a self-guided tour. When asked if someone could please show us around, she, with a big dollop of southern charm, proceeds to proudly share the Capitol’s history. We walk through the Great Hall as she tells us that this is the tallest State Capitol building in the United States. I ask if we could please go up to the gallery overlooking the Senate. It is roped off, but Miss Lulu has connections! The security guard allowed that we may go up the marble staircase as she was with us. Once there, our enthusiastic guide gave us a brief history of how a pencil wound up stuck into the chamber’s ceiling.

With such a friendly tour guide, we talk about what we experienced on the trip so far. (Miss Lulu is 77 years young and has a boyfriend!) We thank Miss Lulu and proceed up the elevator to the observation deck. It’s a clear day and so cool to see Baton Rouge from all angles!

Coming down and out of the elevator, we notice a flyer with the day’s lunch menu. Hmm … catfish ‘n fixins. We head down to the lunchroom. Visitors can sit in a simply furnished area. There’s a separate room for employees. It’s only 10:30am and we hadn’t taken time for breakfast. We’re ready! It was a good deal: 6 pieces of fried catfish, two sides and garlic bread. Done. Happily, we are on our way.

Louisiana State University campus, Baton Rouge
Louisiana State University campus, Baton Rouge

I want to go by LSU (Louisiana State University) to see Mike, the school’s mascot. Heard he had a $4 million dollar home! Well, that sounded interesting. We arrive and start over to see Mike. My husband pops into a store to buy yet another school t-shirt. He likes to collect school t-shirts where ever we go. When he wore the Oklahoma State shirt, our daughter looked at him in disbelief – Oklahoma State and the University of Texas are sworn football enemies! We eventually find Mike. With such a nice home, yard and pool available, he was taking an afternoon nap in the dirt next to a concrete wall. As we leave, a group of girls ask to take a picture with us. We oblige and I ask why.

Floating around the Mississippi Visitors Center
Floating around the Mississippi Visitors Center

Off to Mississippi! First stop, Visitors Center. We like to stop at Visitors’ Centers to stretch our legs and maybe hear of places we didn’t know about. There are usually corny cutouts to pose behind too!

This center had a nice wood sculpture by Marlin Miller, an artist who gave two years of his life to carve wood sculptures out of trees left after the devastation from Hurricane Katrina. What a beautiful gift he has given to the Gulf Coast!

Tree sculpture by Marlin Miller
Tree sculpture by Marlin Miller
Take a break in Bay St. Louis!
Take a break in Bay St. Louis!

We stop off at Bay St. Louis to admire the wide expanse of water and browse the shops. The Redfish Gallery had some wonderful art – from signed and numbered editions to delicately rendered original watercolors. I thought what the owner and his wife did for fun was also interesting – they like to go alligator hunting! Twin Light Creations is a shop filled with eclectic home and garden items. The owners live in the apartment above. But, after many years, they are ready to sell. If you have a hankering to own a shop by the bay, give them a call! I bought a pair of starfish earrings to enjoy and to remember our trip by. Strolling along, we saw a shop that had a curious name, Serious Bread, Handmade Artisan Breads. We HAD to go in. Al Jensen is a retired oceanographer. He uses a sourdough starter that takes many days to develop the flavor of the bread. We didn’t want a full loaf as we were worried it would go stale too soon. Serious Bread doesn’t sell half loaves. We asked if we could have half of the loaf he was cutting for samples. He thought about it, then named a fair price. The bread lasted several days and every time we untied the plastic bag, a wonderful just baked bread smell floated out.

There are many little, and I mean LITTLE, towns on the way to Gulfport, Mississippi.Bay St. Louis

Bay St. Louis 3

Bay St. Louis 2

Best Western Sea Way's complimentary breakfast buffet
Best Western Sea Way’s complimentary breakfast buffet

From the outside, Best Western Sea Way did not compare favorably to newer hotel chains nearby, so we were a little concerned. Sadly, we were in an outside room that could use a paint job on the building front and the interior walls were kinda thin. Thankfully, it’s been renovated and had some nice touches. I assume that because they are an independent, they don’t have soap, shampoo and conditioner under the hotel chain name. I really liked that they used name brand products such as Pantene shampoo and conditioner. There was a problem with a lamp and the maintenance crew was pretty quick to replace it. We were happily surprised see sausage and eggs included in the complimentary breakfast. They did a really nice job updating the lobby and public restrooms.

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iPhoneography Travel Uncategorized

Day 2: Beaumont, Port Arthur, Baton Rouge

"Is he here?"
“Is he here?”

Thursday,  September 5, 2013

 

We went by the Edison Museum on the way out of Beaumont.  It’s behind the Edison Plaza building.  We were told that it was the brainchild of a group of employees from the local electricity company.  They had a passion to promote the wonderful inventions that Thomas Alva Edison created to make the world a better place.

Would you name your child "Dot" or "Dash"?

 

 

There are many interactive displays and equipment, along with Edison’s thoughts and quotes.  (Would you name your child “Dot” or “Dash”?)  It’s a pocket museum that is well worth driving back into town to visit – and it’s free!

Sculpture of Janis Joplin
Sculpture of Janis Joplin

We drove to Port Arthur to see the Museum of the Gulf Coast. Brittney,the manager at Floyd’s restaurant, is from the area and said we really should “see Janis Joplin.” Well, there are absolutely no restaurants near the museum, so we drove back into the middle of downtown to get lunch. Wound up at Tony’s BBQ. It looked familiar to my husband, then he realized he’s eaten at the Tony’s in Houston.  That’s another franchise we’ve mistaken for a local eatery.

A canon was used as a novel safety tool!
A canon was used as a novel safety tool!

 

We did enjoy going through the museum.

Janis has her own little corner of memorabilia. There are several areas to explore.  I liked the story about the canon that was used in the early years to put a hole in a burning oil tank to relieve the pressure so it wouldn’t explode. It was an interesting idea. When it was finally used, the canonball went through the first tank and through a second tank that was fine, before lodging in a neighboring field!

Heading into Baton Rouge.
Heading into Baton Rouge.

 

 

 

As we headed toward Baton Rouge, the last of the sun’s rays bathed the sky in warmth.  The lovely combination of a beautiful sky and sparkling water is one of my favorite views.

Zea Rotisserie & Grill's specialty dishes are s-o-o-o good!
Zea Rotisserie & Grill’s specialty dishes are s-o-o-o good!

 

 

 

Zea Rotisserie & Grill was wonderful! It IS a chain, but it’s a small chain. Reviewers gave it high marks. My Shrimp and Corn Maque Choux was flavorful.  It was late and we didn’t want to go to bed on a heavy meal, so we split the Twice Cooked Crispy Duck with Snap Peas and Roasted Corn Grits.  

Holiday Inn Baton Rouge has nice rooms!
Holiday Inn Baton Rouge has nice rooms!

 

Looking forward to a good night’s sleep.  Hubby bid on another good deal.  Holiday Inn Airport is a 2 ½ star for $50.  He told the front desk that we both hit a milestone birthday this year (which is true) and we were taking a long road trip.   She congratulated him and upgraded us to a room in the main building – much nicer!    

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iPhoneography Travel

Day 1: Winnie, Beaumont

Wedneday,  September 4, 2013

We didn’t venture very far the first day.  There are things to see in Texas too!

Stuckey's was the precursor to the Texas-sized gas stop, Buccee's.
Stuckey’s was the precursor to the Texas-sized gas stop, Buccee’s.

We stopped by Stuckey’s for old times’ sake. It’s a gas stop/convenience store that was very popular decades ago that was the precursor to Buccee’s. Nowadays, when driving through Texas, many residents know to stop at Buccee’s for gas, food supplies, baked goods, deli food, gift items and CLEAN, CLEAN restrooms!

We had lunch in Winnie at Al T’s Seafood & Steakhouse, a tripadvisor.com pick.  

Overheard from one customer to another: “I’m sure they have healthy choices, but I’m not here for my health!” My husband enjoyed his chicken fried steak.  My gumbo was different from what I’m used to.  There was no okra.  😦   I will say that 30 shrimp are a LOT to put in one bowl!

A veteran fireman with his grandson,  possibly a future firefighter?!!?
A veteran fireman with his grandson,
possibly a future firefighter?!!?

Beaumont is a nice town.  We went to several museums.  My favorite is the Fire Museum of Texas.  There are descriptions with the displays but I was able to persuade the museum’s manager, Ami Kamara, to give us a tour and let me videotape some of it.  She took a little heat (pun intended) from the firefighters about being on YouTube, but she handled it well.  As we walked past a rack of pint-sized yellow firefighter jackets and boots, I wished I had a little one along to enjoy activities geared for the younger set.  Ami was a good tour guide. Watch her spiel about the origin of “tapped out” and how they received a 25′ fire hydrant from Walt Disney Studios!  The tale of superbly trained fire station horses is my favorite:

A note of encouragement to young women aspiring to excel in their chosen field – Ann Huff was a rookie firefighter in the 1980’s when she helped design and build the Beaumont Fire Department’s Fire Safety House.  As their current Fire Chief, Ms. Huff is setting a wonderful example of perseverance and following your dream!

Texas Energy Museum Executive Director, D. Ryan Smith, chats with my husband.
Texas Energy Museum Executive Director, D. Ryan Smith, chats with my husband.

The Texas Energy Museum had some nice interactive programs.  One, at the end of the exhibit, gives you a quiz on what you remembered about the historic discovery of oil at Spindletop.  My husband missed just 2 out of 20 – an “Excellent” score!

We went by Ana’s Mexican Bakery to get a couple of pastries to hold us ’til dinner. The Texas Energy Museum’s Executive Director recommended it for a quick snack with an interesting twist.

Does this sculpture speak to you?
Does this sculpture speak to you?

The Art Museum of Southeast Texas has works from local and national artists.  It may be a small museum but it is nationally accredited.  We were the only visitors and the security guard actually followed us around.  Finally, I turned to him and said, “If you’re going to be following us, you might as well tell us something about the art.”  Surprisingly, he did!  He also brought over the Curator of Education/Outreach, Andy Gardner, to speak to us:

“We had a delicious dinner at Floyd’s Restaurant.  Brittney, the manager, talked with us about the owners of the multi-store company.  They are two Floyds, plus one: Floyd Landry, Bret Floyd and Gary Pearce.  Floyd Landry is a member of the family that formed the very successful Landry’s, Inc., which is among the nation’s largest and fastest-growing restaurant corporations. Floyd probably wanted to do things his way and broke off to go on his own.  He oversees his Sugar Land restaurant and can occasionally be seen hitting golf balls in the parking lot.

We stayed the night at the Holiday Inn for $50, booked through Priceline.com. It has a 3 star rating.  They turn the gushing, tiered fountain off at 11pm nightly so visitors can get a good night’s sleep.  The beds were well-padded and everything was in order.  

Good effort to be Texas proud, but the Lone Star is off kilter.  :(
Good effort to be Texas proud, but the Lone Star is off kilter. 😦

The only real complaint I have is with the huge Texas flag hanging in the multi-story atrium. As you walk in, it grabs your attention, being six stories tall. It’s a lovely effort to honor our proud state, but it obviously wasn’t installed by a Texan. It’s backwards. Oh, well, it’s time to think about other, more pressing matters, like getting some shut eye. Nite-nite!

 

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iPhoneography Travel

A Welcome Break!

Lobby of the Houston Marriott Westchase
Lobby of the Houston Marriott Westchase

What happens when you’re pushed to your limits and beyond? You break! You can break, as in crash and burn, or you can step back and take a break.

In our case, my husband and I took a breather for a little cosseting before starting our trip. After the mad rush to pack up the house so we can “Get out of Dodge”, staying at the lovely Houston Marriott Westchase was a welcome break. Several friends and relatives offered to put us up before we left, but we didn’t want to inconvenience anyone and chose to find a hotel through @priceline. My savvy husband usually starts off at $40, changing prices and locations to get the best deal. We have found out that booking a room the day of our stay brings the best price. (Maybe that’s when hotels release rooms that were previously reserved.) He went for a 3 star hotel and nothing popped up. Then, a message said they could offer an upgraded room at $46 (plus taxes) in the same area. Hubby agreed and found out that it was a suite at a 3 1/2 star property. “Yippee!”

Comfortable bedroom!
Comfortable bedroom!

We are so enjoying the stay. It’s an older hotel that brought back fond memories. I remember when this hotel was named “Adam’s Mark.” Many years ago, it was special to come to wedding receptions here. There was a gracious air about it then that I can still feel as we walk down the corridor. The bellhop said they still have nice events here. For instance, a Nigerian couple recently renewed their vows and a Vietnamese wedding reception had 500 guests.

Sitting room in our suite
Sitting room in our suite

Wish we weren’t so tired that we couldn’t invite people over for a little get together. 😦  We could all reminisce. Those were the days of younger ideals and attitudes.

Normally we would leave the hotel to eat. We were beat, so decided to try out their restaurant. It was good to wind down with a nice meal. We skimmed complimentary issues of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today while waiting for dinner. My Waldorf salad was a bit overdressed, but my husband’s schnitzel was tender and crispy. 

Eating in-hotel
Eating in-hotel

The raspberry/peach/blueberry cobbler was fine. Now, it’s time for bed. Let’s see what awaits us just ahead!