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.

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!

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!  

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!

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!

 

 

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 …

 

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