Sunday, 28 July 2013

On to the end of the road

Thankfully, when we left Florida City the next morning, the storm had disappeared.   As we were passing through Key Largo we drove past what looked like a brand new RV Park, right on the ocean, which, we think, was called Point of View RV Resort.   I’m not sure we’ll ever get across to Florida with BT & the Cougar but it looked like it’d be a good place to stay.

After the obligatory Starbucks in Key Largo, although why when it was so hot I really don’t know, we continued on our way to Key West, stopping off at beautiful Bahia Honda State Park along the way.

Now this is what you call a beach, and you know what, we practically had it to ourselves, how lucky is that?

Someone made this cute little turtle in the sand.

After a couple of hours of sunning and swimming, we carried on to Key West and checked in to our hotel, after which we headed out to watch the sunset celebrations on Mallory Square.

While we were in Key West we didn’t do a great deal we did however visit Fort Zachary Taylor beach, it’s a pretty beach, but not as nice as Bahia Honda.  

We strolled around the harbour where we took advantage of the benches, ate some ice-cream, admired the statues, some of which we didn’t remember seeing before.
just for a split second as I looked up I thought these were actual people

 close to Mallory Square

further round we walked past this happy houseboat

followed by a look around 'Woolwurth’s'

then we enjoyed a Cuban coffee, and, I’m pleased to say, the cockerel on the counter was wooden.   I don’t like birds of any kind wandering around near to me, which as you can imagine can be something of a problem in Key West.

old style Key West

 I think this was once the Cuban Embassy

After another trip to Bahia Honda, where once again we mostly had the beach to ourselves, ah bliss!

We drove back to Key West, returned our hire car, packed our cases and flew home, to........................ arctic weather, oh joy!

Have fun, we are!

Shark Valley

Shark Valley is part of the Everglades National Park along Highway 41, on the Tamiami Trail, and no I can't remember how it got to be called Shark Valley. 
Our previous trips, this was our third, have always been in the winter so we were interested to see how things would be different at this time of the year.

There are two ways of exploring Shark Valley, one is to take the tram tour; the other is to cycle round the 15 mile paved loop trail.   Partway round the loop there is an observation tower, it’s an easy climb to the top and you have wide ranging views out across the ‘Everglades’ and down into the ‘gator’ pool below.
However you arrive at the observation tower, you’re warned not to leave any zipped packs unattended as they will be broken into.   By crows!  The clever, or pesky, (depending on whether or not it’s your pack they’ve been rummaging through) critters have learnt how to undo zips in search of food. 

We usually take the tram tour as we’ve found that the guides are informative and interesting, they tell you about the ‘River of Grass’, what animals you might or might not see and usually see animals before you do. 

The tram road heading off into the distance.

One thing we discovered this time is that the Everglades have a problem with boa constrictors that have been released into the wild; apparently they eat almost everything in sight and breed like rabbits.   At present, apart from hunting them, which is extremely dangerous and only kills a few, they have no real idea how to get rid of them and stop them continuing to disturb the natural ecosystem. 

When we arrived it was a hot sunny day, very humid though and as we climbed the observation tower we could see a thunderstorm in the distance that seemed to be heading our way. 

We saw quite a few alligators, some baby alligators, mother alligators are like most mothers, extremely fierce, anhingas, herons, storks but thankfully no boa constrictors! 

I think this was a tri-coloured heron, but I could well be wrong.

This guy swam very fast towards us I really hoped he wasn’t thinking of a lunchtime snack!

Not sure what type of bird this was.

I am pretty sure this is an anhinga drying its wings.

One difference we found visiting in May, (yes I am still catching up) was that we didn’t see as many alligators as there was more water than during the winter and luckily for us the mosquitos were absent as well. 

As we were staying overnight in Florida City, this, of course, necessitated a side trip to our favourite fruit stand ‘Robert is Here’ for, in my opinion, the best key lime milkshake in the world. 

Needless to say on our way we drove straight into the storm and my ‘short cut’ that seemed totally logical, (this, of course, is what happens when you don’t put your glasses on to actually read the map properly, because after all you’ve been lots of times so you know where you’re going, don’t you?    wrong!!!) took us way out of the way round countless country roads before we finally arrived.   Of course, by then the rain was so heavy we had to wait in the car for quite a while before making a run for it.   It was still pouring down once we’d got our milkshakes so any thought of sitting outside in the sunshine to enjoy them disappeared as trying to dodge the rain drops (impossible!) we hotfooted it back to the car.   Was it worth the detour in the pouring rain just for a milkshake?   Absolutely, after all who knows when we’ll be back this way again, we certainly don’t.

Have fun, we are!

Simply Sanibel

Simply gorgeous Sanibel Island, one of our favourite places, what more can I say.   We’ve always stayed in the same hotel, but this trip we opted for the Seaside Inn, we were glad we did, it was simply lovely.
Our first day was spent on the beach and swimming in the sea, you can see what a tough time we had.

Sanibel is a shellers paradise so our beach shoes would’ve come in really handy, needless to say they were at home, I’d put them in a spot where I couldn’t possibly ‘forget’ them.   Hmmmm!  

All I could say was ‘ouch!’ ‘ouch!’

Storms were forecast, but the next morning I paddled slowly along on the edge of the sea on my way to the lighthouse, admiring the view, never thinking to look behind me.    When I did……………..

believe me my return journey was an awful lot faster!   Once back we sat on the verandah had coffee and read enjoying the still fine weather, then this happened.
How lucky was I not to be caught in the beach on this.   The storm lasted the rest of the day and overnight, but luckily for us the next morning it moved further east and we were back to gorgeous skies, although the sea was still quite rough.

This time as we meandered along to the lighthouse we didn’t need to check the sky, we just enjoyed watching the dolphins swimming alongside us.

Sanibel is one of those places we never want to leave, but sadly there is always that trip back over the causeway.
One last look...........

Have fun, we are!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee is the third largest freshwater lake in the US and covers 730 square miles.   Its source is the Kissimmee River and it flows out into the Caloosahatchee River, five different Florida counties meet near its centre.  The lake is the headwaters for the Everglades and when it’s full holds 1 trillion gallons of water.
After a massive hurricane in 1928 when over 2,500 people died the Army Corps of Engineers built a 30ft high levee around the lake so it can’t be seen from the road.     The levee around the lake is part of the Florida trail and can be used for hiking or biking.
On our way cross country we’d decided to hike part of the trail, well that was the plan.   We drove through the rolling green fields in lovely sunshine but once we hit Okeechobee a storm rolled in and rain absolutely lashed down, so our plan vanished.   Luckily for us a little further on the sun came out again and we were able to drive up as near to the edge of the lake as we could get.
By this time it was hot and humid so we decided against the hike and continued on our way being bombard by ‘kissing bugs’ as we drove, BT has been covered with bugs many times, but I’ve never seen anything like the bugs on our hire car, they must’ve been at least an inch thick.   I should’ve taken a photograph but didn’t think of it at the time.
Have fun, we are!

Fly me to the moon!

Well maybe not, I think a trip to the Kennedy Space Centre is probably as close as we’re going to get.
We took the tour round the rocket garden, 

informational boards give details about the first rockets, the astronauts who commanded them, the space race, and, that when the rocket launches the astronauts are effectively sitting on what is a huge bomb.   I never thought about it quite like that before.

Our ticket price included quite a few things one of which was a trip out to see a Saturn rocket.   It was quite a drive to get there we drove past launch pads with massive doors that take 45 minutes to close.  

On arrival we watched some informational films about the moon landings and then we were able to visit an actual Saturn rocket, it is huge.

It was so long that no matter how we tried we couldn’t get it all in at once. 

On the lunar landing craft, the orange material that looks like cooking foil is actually Kevlar, if you tried to climb the steps while it was on earth your weight would break them, but as there is no gravity on the moon they work just fine.
The space suit below is on loan from Captain James Lovell.

It’s a fascinating place and even though we arrived right on opening time there was just so much to see, we didn’t have time to visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame.    

Have fun, we are!

Saturday, 6 July 2013

A last few places from St Augustine

St Augustine is also home to the Villa Zorayda which is an exact scale replica of the Alhambra in Granada, not of the whole place, just one wing.
Built for a Boston millionaire in 1883, it was then owned by Alfred S Mussallem who was an authority on Egyptian antiquities.   It’s an interesting place and at one point was a nightclub and casino, well until Florida banned gambling that is.
Inside is like stepping into a Moorish palace, ornately carved tables, lanterns, a sultans couch, Moorish style tracery, marquetry tables, a very comfortable looking harem swing (needless to say you couldn't actually try it out), an ancient carpet, complete with curse, even a roulette wheel from the buildings time as a casino.   Photographs aren’t allowed inside, but it’s an interesting place to visit.
We, well I should say I, as by this time DB was all visited out, also visited the Gonzalez-Alvarez House, which is the oldest house in St Augustine.
Originally a one room building, the building was expanded and changed over the years, at one time the paymaster for the Dragoons owned the house and turned part of it into a bar, after he’d paid the soldiers they all trooped across to his bar and spent their money, a pretty nifty way to get a second income. 
After that we meandered back through the narrow streets of the old town
as we did we came across a real blast from the past on the doors of a shop undergoing refurbishment.

Historic St Augustine is a lovely place and we enjoyed the fact the unlike most American towns you can actually walk around instead of having to drive everywhere.   Yet another place to added to our ‘to re-visit list’. 

Have fun, we are!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Flagler College, St Augustine

Just across the street from the Lightner Museum is what was once the magnificent Ponce De Leon Hotel and is now Flagler College.   Constructed of poured concrete, a mixture of sand, coquina shell and cement, it was built in the Spanish Renaissance style between 1885 and 1887 by the railroad magnate Henry Flagler. 

Only open for the months of January, February and March each year the Ponce De Leon Hotel was where the really seriously rich wintered.   The cost was $8,000.00 (about ¼ million today) for the 3 months, if you stayed a night or the whole 3 months the price was the same.  
After crossing the courtyard
we entered the magnificent reception hall, which with its Tiffany glass dome created lots of light.

On arrival ladies were ushered to the left and into a beautiful ladies only parlour, it was thought that if they knew how much it cost to stay at the hotel they’d go blind!   Either that or their husbands didn’t want them to know just how much money they’d got, but then again, back then even though the men swam, played golf and tennis ‘Ladies’ weren’t encouraged to strike out on their own.   It must’ve been terribly boring, but I guess if that’s the sort of life you’re used to.
Although it did have some compensations as the ladies parlour is a gorgeous room, full of marble, ivory and if it looks like gold, it is 14k gold, blue velvet sofas line the walls, irreplaceable crystal tiffany chandeliers (all of which are wired for electricity) hang from the ceilings.
From there our tour guide took us through to the main dining room, we entered through the ‘elite’ entrance used by the multi billionaires or by invitation only.

The average common or garden millionaires and billionaires would enter through another door.   The pecking order started with Henry Flagler, the closer you sat to him the more important you were.

All the glass in the dining room is by Tiffany and unsurprisingly it all has protective coverings.   An unusual feature of the dining room was that wheels were added to the front legs of the dining chairs, as the ladies, when dressed in their evening finery, wearing their whale bone corsets and covered in jewels added as much as an extra 45lbs to their weight.  This nifty solution was devised to stop the men looking like complete wimps as they tried to move all this weight around.    

This beautiful building is now a busy college, and the once grand dining room is now in daily use as the college dining room.   I wonder what Henry Flagler and all those billionaires would think of that? 

Have fun, we are!

The Lightner Museum, St Augustine

Opened by Henry Flagler in December 1888 this was once the luxurious Alcazar Hotel, boasting a casino, grand salons, steam rooms, a bowling alley and the largest indoor swimming pool of its time.   The hotel was the centre of social life in St Augustine until it closed in 1931.
In 1947 Otto Lightner purchased the building to house his collection of antiques on his death in 1950 the building and collection were left to the citizens of St Augustine.
This highly decorated Belleek tea pot is part of a large tea service.

Among a huge collection of cut glass, this fabulous glass lamp caught my eye.

I would’ve dearly loved to try out this 18th century carved and gilded English Regency rocking chair. 

At each end of the gorgeous ballroom a semi-circular seating area leads out onto a terrace, presumably where the gentlemen retired to smoke, it reminded me of something out of ‘The Great Gatsby’. 

The courtyard is a lovely spot and soft classical music encourages you to linger on one of the benches or, 

as we did, enjoy coffee and absolutely gorgeous homemade cake at the Café Sol Brailéirisimo Café of St Augustine, definitely some of the best cake we’ve ever eaten and definitely on our ever expanding ‘to re-visit list’. 

Today this beautiful building is home to the Lightner Museum and City Hall, it has to be one of the most gorgeous City Hall buildings I’ve ever seen. 

Have fun, we are!