Monday, January 30, 2023

The Gulf Islands National Seashore

The beaches are white quartz and stretch for many miles on the barrier island Santa Rosa

The National Seashore was authorized in 1971. The Santa Rosa Island where we've been spending the last 4 days was previously protected as a National Monument starting in 1939. The park has managed to bounce back from successive hurricanes in 2004, 2005 and Sally in 2020, and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010.  It's a gorgeous place, white quartz beaches that stretch forever, with day park facilities and bike paths throughout. We feel so lucky to be here as we had no knowledge of any of this when we made a reservation for 4 nights at the Santa Rosa RV Park. We just needed to spend some more time on the trip as we didn't want to get to Dallas before 2/10 . That's when our grandchildren have vacation. 

Here's our site at Santa Rosa RV Park right after we pulled in. There had been a storm the night before and it was just clearing up - it was sunny the rest of our stay!

And the RV resort was another wonderful surprise. Our site was right on the beach and next to the pool. It was level and had a concrete patio with a picnic table. The weather was cool but sunny every day. A neighbor helped us back in and then invited us to the pot luck happening at the pool - soups and pie! It was all delicious and reminded us of the cruiser life. The next day there was a singer with a/guitar & keyboard, a good musician and sang for 2 hours, mostly all great hits. Many people danced. The staff provided chili and cookies. There was coffee and donuts the next morning - lap of luxury! This does cost however, $130 a night. But the pool was big and heated so I swam laps all 4 days. There were comfortable areas with propane heaters around the pool and in front of the community center where we met people.

Here is the community center and pool with our live music and dancing. There were many more people than shown here all around the pool. 

On a walk around the site we got talking to a very interesting couple from Charlotte, Jim & Shelley, and they invited us over to their enormous motorhome for drinks one night -lovely time, we hope to see them when they come up to Vermont. Again, it felt like boat cruiser time. But we didn't just socialize at the RV Park. Our first full day we explored the barrier island up to Pensacola Beach and back, walking down the "longest pier in the east" and on the beach. We were scoping out the bike paths which are all over the area. Our lunch was at a beautiful place on the beach "Red Fish, Blue Fish" - excellent. We had gotten a little chilled so it was so nice to step into the inside part of the restaurant where heaters made it so toasty. In nicer weather there are lots of tables, fire pits etc. out on the deck overlooking the beach.

Our table at Red Fish, Blue Fish - you can see the water and deck outside

The next day we came back and bicycled down the path in the National Seashore At this point you can see both the ocean side and the sound between the island and the peninsula. Afterwards we explored the Navarre Beach area, which like the National Seashore has extensive public facilities. Finally a late lunch at the Dewey Destin restaurant near the bridge. This was a casual local place where you ordered your meal at the counter and it was delivered. Good fried fish!

Our last day we intended to bicycle again out on the island but it was so windy we didn't. Instead we did all the chores that needed doing - laundry, shopping, refilling prescriptions, cleaning the RV. But we got in a good walk and swim too. The next morning had another swim and we waited till the last minute to leave - at 11 AM. We'll be back here again and next time, we'll stay longer! But now we're off to Alabama.

Yummy fried fish, zucchini and hush puppies.

Dewey Dustin's (in cool weather inside)

Looking back at the beach from the pier.

Several surfers were working the waves. This is
the developed part of the island

A group of fishermen gather at the end of the pier
and said the fishing was good.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Mission San Luis de Apalache

Scott and our first Guide dressed as a Spanish settler. That's the Council House in the background. New thatching is scheduled for installation soon. 

If our journey isn't too long, we look for a place to stop at lunchtime, either a recreation or historical place where we can walk and/or tour. The Mission San Luis de Apalache was a perfect choice. The big parking lot provided a private spot to have our lunch before going in to explore. The Mission San Luis de Apalachee was a Spanish Franciscan mission built in 1656 near Tallahassee, Florida. It was located in the settlement of Anhaica (also known as Anhayca Apalache or Inihayca) capital of Apalachee Province. The mission was part of Spain's effort to colonize the Florida Peninsula and to convert the Timucuan and Apalachee Indians to Christianity. The mission lasted until 1704 when it was evacuated and destroyed to prevent its use by the approaching militia of Creek Indians and South Carolinians. 
Because all the buildings were burnt the post hole locations and boundaries were still visible after centuries helping the reconstruction. The Church and Council House faced each other across the central common and were about the same size 

The Apalachee were the most stratified and populous native peoples in Florida and part of the Mississippian culture of mound builders and had well-established administrative and religious systems. They generally coexisted with the Spanish buy had begun to be seriously alienated by 1698 and when the mission was destroyed, they immigrated in various directions with the largest group moving west, eventually to New Orleans. The tribe has remained cohesive there and has returned several times to view the museum and contribute. 
The grounds were quiet lovely and we were able to get in a good walk.

 The buildings at San Luis included Spanish and Apalachee residential areas , the Franciscan Church and Spanish fort, as well as the native Council House, which was one of the largest historic Indian Structures in the southeastern United States at the time holding 2,000 - 3,000 people! Beginning in 1996 Archeologists have reconstructed the church, fort, Council House and a few residential buildings.  We met several guides around the property that spent time with us filling us in on the history. It was a great break in our trip west, which was a short day to begin with. Next stop, the Santa Rosa RV Park in Navarre, FL. 
Our second guide, the resident blacksmith.

He showed us around the fort and talked about
the soldier's life and the war that caused the 
decision to burn down the settlement. It was the
War of the Spanish Succession or Queen 
Charlotte's War,

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Curries, Horse & Lavender Farms

Harpal, Jeannie and Scott outside their home.

After our visit with Jim & Renate in Sarasota we returned to Harpal & Jeannie in Winter Park for one night. They had kept our RV, Baby, for us while we tooled around Florida. Harpal made a wonderful Indian meal for us that night and gave us all the leftovers, which fed us for 2 more nights! Yum! 

Our next two nights were at Harvest Host locations. We've been a member for several years and enjoyed weeks of visits to their hosts. They have wineries, farms, historic homes, distilleries, etc. that invite RVs to spend one night free at their businesses. In return you buy some wine, drink some beer, tour the mansion or just donate at least $10. Our first night was at the Ride Baby Ranch in Live Oak, FL. They have rescue animals and we certainly got to know them - most are free range and friendly. They were even friendlier after Scott fed them apples (I warned him!). We had to retreat inside!

Our second night was a repeat from two years ago to the Southern Grace Lavender Farm in Southport, FL. The couple that run it are so nice. It didn't look as pretty this time as they had harvested all the lavender but we enjoyed their gift shop stocked with their homemade products. They keep quite a few chickens and invite you to help yourself to some fresh eggs. (no photos as the weather was not great) That night though was scary. There was a severe thunderstorm. It was a revelation on why people stay in trailers that are torn up by tornados so often. We got emergency warnings on the phone that a tornado was possible - seek shelter immediately. This was at 10 PM. Our hosts live in a double wide and we were in a group of four RVs of various sizes. There was nothing solid in sight. No where to go. Our solace was that it rarely actually happens. We listened to the violent thunder storm pass over us and it ended in blessed quiet. My heart goes out to so many people that are faced with those odds. Don't worry about us as generally we are in places where there is a good solid toilet facility that we can get into. But it was a lesson.

It was lovely afternoon at the Ride Baby Ranch
 and we sat outside for a while, until it got too crowded.

The horses had their noses right up against our's

And there was a donkey. Our host warmed us to
be careful opening the gate into the Ranch as he
and his horse buddy were "escape artists"!

We had a lovely view of their pond.

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Ringling, Sarasota, FL

Four buddy boat friends - Jim, Renate, Heather & Scott at the Ringling Museum

In my last post I explained the saga of our former buddy boat cruiser friends on Emerald Seas and their quest to make it up from Guatemala. In an amazing coincidence Jim and his brother Gerry arrived in Cortez, FL at the same time as we were in the area. We rearranged our schedule and stayed nearby for 2 nights to visit with Jim and Renate. Jim's brother managed a immediate flight home to Canada and Renate flew in to join Jim the day we arrived. 
This panorama shows the scene under the "Big Top" but this was only a small part of the amazing
scale model of the circus that Howard Tibbais started in 1956 and he's still adding to it!

Emerald Seas was all tied up at the Seafood Shack Marina in Cortez when we arrived - but where was Jim? Phone calls and texts all said "We're (I'm) here, where are you?" Finally, light dawned - we were at the boat and he was out front of the Marina. Hugs all around!!! After catching up (with a beer) with stories of the trip up from Guatemala through Mexico, we took Jim with us to the hotel to check in. We chose the Springhill Suites Sarasota Bradenton to use our Marriott Points and thank goodness we didn't pay cash - what a dump! It was too late to change plans so we just made do. The corridors had automatic scent sprayers plugged in to try and cover the mildew smell, our room was musty, and the breakfast quite awful. The rack rate was $340 - imagine, there were people who paid that!
A close up of the medical tent

And a section of the Menagerie

Dinner however was a great success - we kind of accidently chose the Maemi Peruvian Restaurant and it was a small inexpensive gem. The couple who ran it were so friendly and the food was delicious and very reasonable. I have to say it was the first time we ran a restaurant out of Cabernet Sauvignon (in 3 glasses) but I don't believe they get a lot of call for wine. We spent 2 months in Peru so we can speak for it's authenticity. 
You can get an idea of the scale here but this is 
only a tiny corner of the whole!

A section of Ca' d'Zan, the Ringling mansion
on Sarasota Bay

We returned Jim back to Emerald Seas and he settled in to wait for Renate who was arriving at midnight. By settled in I mean he ended up carousing with the big motor yacht next to him. The cruising life is a social one! Next morning we came over to greet Renate and plan our day. The Ringling Museum was our destination. The John and Mable Ringling Museum is the 14th largest in the country. It was established by John Ringling, the last of the Ringling brothers, in 1937. After a rocky start over many years due to the Depression, his bankruptcy and the reluctance of the State of Florida to take charge, the Florida State University took over and it is a huge, impressive place today. There are a number of individual museums on the property but we visited only 3 of them, and that took most of the day. 
I had to resort to a stock photo as we didn't get a good photo ourselves. This is the courtyard at the Art Museum! It really shows you the scale of this enormous place. The museum's art collection currently consists of more than 10,000 objects that include a variety of paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, photographs, and decorative arts from ancient through contemporary periods and from around the world.
The first and to me, the most fun, was the The Circus Museum which has the Howard Tibbais 3/4-to-the-inch scale model of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus from 1919 to 1938. Renate and I especially were fascinated by it and took over an hour to do it even a bit of justice. I loved it! The rest of the museum was great too. Ca' d'Zan was the home of John and Mable Ringling and built in the Gothic Venetian style (the name means House of John - poor Mabel came second here and probably always). None of the five Ringling brothers had children, only their sister (who is buried with John and Mabel not her family!). That probably explains why they had the money to build all of this. The art museum is enormous - one of my favorite parts were the 2 19th C historic rooms moved there from the Astor Mansion on 5th Avenue - Wow! 
Renate took this photo of my attempt at high wire,
half way successful. I'm sorry I didn't get a better
shot of her - she made it all the way across!

Ca' d'Zan from the Bay side

We broke up the long day walking around the huge property by enjoying a late excellent lunch at their on site restaurant, The Grillroom, on the terrace overlooking the gardens. We did justice to this amazing Museum but still missed several of the individual museums for lack of time!
Dinner at the Bonefish Grill

Another section of the scale model Circus

After naps and time off we met again for dinner, our last night together. The Bonefish Grill near their boat turned out to be an excellent choice. It's a chain but very upscale and the service and food was top notch. It was hard to say good-bye - too short a time! But we'll see them again, hopefully this summer at our Second Annual Tortugeezers reunion, probably in Montana. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Naples Botanical Gardens

Emily and Scott outside their condo

The park in the center of Venice with enormous
Banyan trees.


After leaving St. Augustine, we stopped for lunch at Scott's High School friend's in Venice (FL).  We last saw Emily and John at their 50th High School Reunion. Scott attended Friend's Seminary in Manhattan from kindergarten through graduation. Emily transferred in at 9th grade.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch and lots of reminiscences. At their suggestion we drove into the historic center of Venice and walked around. It's a lovely spot. 

There is a large lake in the center of the property with a walk all around. Water features and pools cascade down to it through the garden.

Then we continued on to visit Barbara, our cruiser friend we got to know in Trinidad and Bonaire. She now lives in Bonita Springs in a beautiful development. She has come up to spend time in Vermont with us and we've been down to see her before too. After a day lazing around the pool and taking walks, we spent the next day at the Naples Botanical Garden. What an amazingly beautiful place! Founded in 1993 it consists of 170 acres of cultivated gardens and preservation land, representing seven different natural habitants and ecosystems and features over 1,000 specimens. The orchid garden was particularly beautiful and we loved the special exhibit - Frida Kahlo and Her Garden. It transports visitors to her garden at her home in Coyoacán, Mexico City. We were happy to treat ourselves to an excellent lunch at the Boatyard on Naples Bay, great food with a beautiful view.

This statue "Circle of Friends" delighted us! By Gary Lee Price it represents one animal from each of the seven continents dancing together. The expressions and postures of each are wonderful.

We had planned to go from there back to Harpal & Jeannie's in Winter Garden, but happy fate intervened. Our buddy boat cruiser friends Renate & Jim on Emerald Seas had to suddenly leave Guatemala when the Customs officials finally responded to their request to import their boat. "Yes", they said "But it will cost 30% of the sale price of your boat. Which we will determine." They were not interested in that deal so they were given 5 days to leave the country! It was difficult but they managed to make it out in that time to Belize. Now they needed to get up to Florida but Renate wasn't able to make the trip due to health concerns so luckily Jim's brother flew down to Belize and sailed up with Jim. They had excellent weather windows and suddenly we realized they would be arriving in Sarasota just when we were leaving Barbara. So we rearranged our trip to spend 2 nights seeing them. More about this in my next post!

Barbara is sandwiched between us here!

Purple & Yellow spider looking orchids

Three varieties of purple

And then there is white...

Cascades of yellow...

And magenta...

Ponds and bamboo

I love this photo of some waterlilies, it's so dramatic

Frida Kahlo inspired "Catrina", Mexican folk
art sculptures for the Day of the Dead. There
were many of them along with animal
sculptures inspired by her paintings.

This huge sculpture is made of intertwined vines and remarkable

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Manatees and Sponges Oh My

Over 700 manatees gather near this power plant
during the winter.

Kent, Joanie, Scott and I bundled up for the cold.


We're just finishing up a great visit with my first cousin Joanie and her husband Kent in St. Petersburg, FL. We arrived on Monday and spent 4 nights with them. Our first day we went to see the manatees south of Tampa at an enormous Power Plant. Employees there feed the manatees with lettuce as there are no natural foods for them in the area, certainly not for the numbers that gather here to survive the cold days of winter. This is a big tourist attraction with enormous parking lots and hundreds of people. Piers and viewing towers have been built to accommodate everyone.  

Mary, Heather and Joanie

On Saturday we went up to Clearwater to visit Joanie's older sister Mary. She made a wonderful Sunday dinner for us, sparking memories of the meals their mother and mine made every Sunday. We watched an exciting playoff game where the NY Giants beat the Vikings. 

On Sunday we spent the day in Tarpon Springs. The sponge industry here began in the 1880s and utilized long poles with hooks in boats to collect the sponges. But in 1905, John Cocoris introduced the technique of sponge diving by recruiting divers and crew members from Greece. The sponge industry soon became one of the leading maritime industries in Florida and generated millions of dollars a year. But in 1947 a red tide algae bloom wiped out the fields and resulted in a switch towards shrimping, although the sponges gradually recovered and there is still a small active sponging industry. 

John, the diver, has his helmet fitted on by two
crewmembers, both of whom worked as divers
themselves for over 30 years.

John is slowly lowered over the side. The equipment
weighed 175 pounds!

 The town has a very Greek feel to it as many of the residents are descendants of the Greek immigrants that flocked here to work in the industry. A big Greek Orthodox Cathedral is up on the main avenue. Gift shops and restaurants line the street along the river on one side and on the other the working fishing boats and others that take tourists out on trips. We signed up with the St. Nicolas Boat Line for a trip down the river and a live demonstration of the diving technique used years ago. The Captain is a third generation descendent of a Greek diver that came over in the late 1800s. The diver works as a sponge diver on the boats and occasionally does demonstrations of the old equipment. The boat itself was built in Tarpon Springs and is a duplicate of those used in Greece. 

John poses with us before the trip.

A charming fountain with statues downtown.

We had a wonderful authentic Greek meal at the Hellas Restaurant & Bakery. We lucked out and got a table before the line stretched out onto the sidewalk, but it was a long line later to get some amazing pastries at the bakery next door! Today we head south again, first for lunch with Scott's High School friend Emily and her husband  John in Venice and then on to see our cruiser friend Barbara in Bonita Springs. 

The Hellas Restaurant where we had 

Sunday dinner at Mary's with her friend Jim,
Kent taking the picture.

We didn't need to utilize this service. Joanie and 
I were out of the gift shops before the men!