Thursday, February 19, 2015

Florida Wrap-up

Before our trip to Cuba, we are spending 10 days in Florida, both to visit family and tour the state. From San Jose CA we fly Southwest to Jacksonville FL. It pays to carefully research plane fares to Florida. Depending on your final destination in Florida, air fares can differ by hundreds of dollars. For example, it costs much more to fly in and out of Miami or Orlando versus Jacksonville or Fort Lauderdale.

As always rental cars are well worth shopping around for. Since we were picking a rental car up in Jacksonville and dropping it off in Miami, we found Enterprise to offer us the best one-way deals, especially using my membership and USAA discounts. For a few dollars more, we upgrade to a Ford Fusion hybrid, which saved us more in fuel than the cost of the upgrade. Overall we were pleasantly surprised by how well we liked the Ford Fusion.

Below is an interactive map showing the places we visited and the route taken:


Favorites - our top three

On the Silver River with Captain Tom

Silver Springs State Park and River 


Although we initially didn't plan on visiting this area we're really glad we did. A neighbor who grew up in Florida spoke glowingly of her trips here as a child. She was right, it's an incredibly magical place. We especially enjoyed our morning with Captain Tom on his tour of the Silver River

Inside the entrance of the Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center Cape Canaveral


After watching many space launches at Cape Canaveral on TV over the years, we both wanted to visit this important center.  We went as a family group and all enjoyed ourselves. By the end of the day, we all agreed one day is simply not enough time to explore this center.
'Gator at Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress

The Everglades


Several years ago I was invited on a women's kayaking trip through the Everglades. As tempting as this offer was, I wasn't able to go due to family and work obligations.  Since we were in the area, driving Hwy 41 through the heart of the Everglades gave us a taste of what it's like. Yes - I'm still thinking about a more extensive trip. Although having to camp on special elevated platforms to keep safe from the gators, does give me pause.

Best Resources/Reading

Road map of Florida

Florida Road Map


We forgot to bring a AAA road map of Florida with us, so we had to buy one. We were surprised to find out it was harder to find one than we expected. If you're just going to stick to the main freeways between cities, you probably won't need one, but if you want to see more than asphalt, concrete and steel, a good road map is recommended.

Carl Hiaasen books


Pictured here is just one of Carl Hiaasen's many funny and insightful books about Florida's politics, environmental issues, and the colorful characters that inhabit this state.

Treasure - The search for the Atocha


Who hasn't dreamed of sunken treasure? I certainly did as a child reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. So when Robert Daley's new Kindle book was offered via BookBub at an introductory low price, I jumped on it.  Although a little uneven at first, he tells the decades long tale of Mel Fisher's obsessive and eventually successful search for the Atocha, the richest of the sunken Spanish galleons to be found yet. It's a real page turner. My only regret is it doesn't have any photos of the recovered treasure. Looks like we'll have to come back to see Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum.


If you plan a road trip through Florida, you'll probably want to take some of the toll roads. They are worth taking as you'll save time on these nice wide highways, without heavy traffic. Other than carrying a bag of quarters to pay tolls, it's faster and easier to sign up for a Florida Sun Pass. We certainly intend to purchase one before our next trip to Florida.

Wrapping up the Wrap-up

We both have to admit that we enjoyed Florida much more than expected. It's a fun state with lots to do. Admittedly, heavily populated Florida is short on wide open spaces, but traces of "Old Florida" can be found and the beaches are excellent (oh yeah, the dive bars are fun too). We'll be back.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Relative Madness in Florida

We start our Florida trip in Jacksonville, where Peter and his sibs meet at Mark & Jill's condo.
Jacksonville condo complex

Mark & Jill in their condo kitchen

While visiting, we get to know Enzo, their weimaraner dog. He's quite a character with an expressive face. It's easy to see why photographers love them.
Such a handsome hound

Feed me! PLEASE fed me now.

The evenings are spent relaxing together.
Peter shows his brother Philip some iPad tricks

Holly and Peter review family legal docs

Since Jill has done an excellent job of managing family affairs, Peter and Holly give Jill a piece of art glass she'd been coveting.
Holly & Peter celebrate scoring a hit gift

gift vase

Yes - it looks like Jill loves it

The next stop on the family reunion tour is at Aunt Gertrude's in Clearwater FL.
Aunt Gertrude's neighborhood

Still feisty after all these years

and loves keeping in touch.

Ummm - seems to be a strong family resemblance.

Aunt Ann's and her son Mac's homes host another family gathering in Oveida FL.
Peter & me in front of Aunt Ann's

Aunt Ann

and her cat "black man."

Jetty Park is the next venue for more family fun and camping. We ask Jill & Mark about a sign they have posted in their Navion.  Apparently on their first outing driving the Navion, they meet a fellow camper named Gary. He's a full timer who enjoys taking each day and living it to the fullest. They were so impressed with Gary's approach to life, it became their camping motto.
Mark, Enzo, and Jill

Camping philosophy

Enzo agrees

The Kennedy Space Center provides us with another family adventure.
Holly wearing her BM shades

The usual suspects

Bespectacled for a 3D showing

Back at Jetty Park, we line up for family photos.
The Biologically Hazard Camp (sign by Holly)
Holly gives a belated gag birthday present to Philip. It's a battery operated older gentleman on a toilet.
Holly presents Philip his gag gift

who accepts it in good humor

Enzo's fascinated by it especially when in action

Many of the Hazardous clan have moved down from the chilly Boston area for their retirements. Indeed retirees form a large part of Florida's population and many businesses cater to their needs. Most conspicuously are the many 24 hour drive through pharmacies. CVS seems to be outpacing their nearest competitor, Wallgreens, about 3 stores to 1.

Road billboards are often targeted to retirees. 

Hummm.... maybe I should call this guy.

Other than the warm weather, retirees are attracted by Florida's legendary Fountain of Youth. Florida and the Caribbean have long been combed by European explorers searching for this mystical fountain. Even though, the true Fountain of Youth has never been found, it certainly hasn't stopped businesses, such as local spas, to capitalize on this popular Floridian myth.

Florida does have a rejuvenating effect on this family

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Everglades FL

After leaving Sarasota a few hours drive brings us to Chokoloskee Island where we are staying the night at the Parkway Motel. Chokoloskee Island's a bit off the beaten track, but it's known as a great place for fishing and as a jumping off point for exploring the Everglades.  After settling in, I explore the area with camera in hand.
Parkway Motel

Chokoloskee Marina

That evening we have dinner on the deck of the Camellia Street Grill, chosen based on recommendations from Yelp. Again Yelp hit the mark (although not always). The grouper was the freshest of all the restaurants I had tried in Florida... the waitress said it had been caught locally that morning. Peter tried their stone crabs and they were excellent.  Locals tell us they only harvest one claw from each crab at a time so it can still fend for itself and with time, grow it back - a renewable way of harvesting a resource, but labor intensive. No wonder stone crabs are so expensive.
Entrance to Camellia Street Grill

Local fishing is big

We really enjoy the view of the sunset from our table on the deck. However we soon discover why most of the locals are sitting inside - the no-see-ums come out and are soon making us uncomfortable. Fortunately, a quick application of deet keeps most of them away. Deet's good to have handy for this part of Florida.
View of the sunset from our patio table

After a nice breakfast at the Havana Cafe (to get us ready for Havana tomorrow), we book a tour of the Everglades with Speedy's Airboat Tours, which was recommend by the owner/manger at the Parkway. While waiting for the tour to start, we amuse ourselves with the gator kitsch and trinkets for sale. David, I promise to get you a gator tooth necklace the next time we're in Florida.
Sign at Speedy's

That big or a gator can do you some harm

Gators must be common around here

I'm hoping to see some gators up close on this tour. Several years ago I had the opportunity to go on a kayaking trip through the Everglades with a group of women. They said nightly camps were on specially build platforms to keep campers safe from gators at night.  Even though work and family prevented me from going on this adventure, I've been curious about gators and the Everglades ever since.
Getting ready to leave on our airboat

Our guide starts down a narrow maze of tunnels through the mangrove swamp

Then we break out into the wide open grasslands

Grasslands in the Everglades - so where are the gators?
Our guide takes advantage of the more open water by doing some high speed turns and even a 360 spins. It's great fun, but where are the gators?
Airboat wake on a high speed spin

There's a gator lurking under the tree. Wow, they are hard to spot at times

All too soon, it's time to return through the mangrove maze back to the harbor.
Tunnel through the mangroves

That looks like a fun place to live

Harbor at Everglades City

From Everglades City we head north and then east on Florida Hwy 41, also known as the Tamiami Trail and a scenic route through the Everglades. Our first stop is the Welcome Center at Big Cypress National Preserve where we learn about the local fauna and flora, including the nesting habits of gators, but still no live gators are to be found. Our next stop is Kirby Storter Roadside Park in Everglades National Park. Besides restrooms, this stop features a short hike to a gator hole. Gators must be close.
Gator tracks in concrete at Big Cypress Welcome Center

Boardwalk trail to gator hole

over and though the cypress swamp.

Gator hole is beautiful, but where are the gators?

Nice short hike, but still my quest for gators goes unanswered. Our next stop is the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve. The Ranger at the Welcome Center promised us we are almost guaranteed to see big live gators here.
This is looking promising - although this sign would seem like common sense. Guess you never know with tourists.

Look! A big one lurking in the shadows

Not a great place for a heron to hang out

The Ranger was right. There are big gators everywhere in a gator hole just in front of the Oasis Center.

Happy to get my fill of gator snaps, we get back in the car and drive to Monroe Station where we turn onto the mostly gravel single lane Loop Road (click on map link). We are delighted to find lots of birds and virtually no traffic.
Why does a crane cross the road?

Large vulture

Wood Stork

Occasionally we see more gators lazily hanging out on the grassy strip alongside the road. Towards the eastern end of this scenic loop we come to the remains of Pinecrest, which was a thriving logging community in the 1930's. Because of the area's seclusion, Al Capone is rumored to have hung out at a local speakeasy run by one of his relatives. However, it's evident Pinecrest's glory days have come and are long gone.
Do not feed the gators

... or the Rednecks in Pinecrest for that matter.

We've enjoyed our day of cruising through the everglades and hope to return to again to explore it more fully... but Cuba beckons and it's time to check in with our travel group in Miami.
Sunset at Everglades City

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Retired and enjoying life.