Monday, October 31, 2011

St Michael's Cemetery – Pensacola

My Daughter
So where does a father take his college student daughter for a nice day out on the town. Well if his daughter is studying Forensic Anthropology, the cemetery of course. It was nice of her to dress for the occasion.

Pensacola has a century old and recently restored cemetery right in historic downtown. The St. Michael's Cemetery is easy to get to and free to those above ground. On our exploration we found markers from the early 1800's right up to 2003. The amount of children's markers was alarming but a reminder of how far we have come in the last century.

Maybe not the first choice of most visitors to Pensacola but this was a good excuse to take out my camera. I took plenty of pictures to add to my tombstone collection. For those tracking their family tree or researching notable figures in Pensacola history, the cemetery has been very well mapped and has it's own APP. What doesn't these days? If you like the few photos I put in this blog, check out my larger collection on Flickr.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Historic Pensacola Village

My daughter has been living and attending college in Pensacola for over three years and had never heard of the Historic Pensacola Village. Always in search of the less traveled path, whether home or on vacation, I thought it would be worth a look. That and my daughter being an Anthropology major, it seemed a good fit for the money I spend on her education.

The Historic village has two museums, Commerce and Industry, and a collection of old homes. One thing I found interesting was that the homes were all in their original location except one that was moved from across the street. Some of the homes now house businesses and a few are available for touring. I opted for the $6.00 tour to get the most out of the day.

We learned that Pensacola was the first of the Spanish colonies in America and was established in 1559, before St Augustine who currently holds title as the “Nations Oldest City”. The reason, of the original 11 ships, 5 went down in a hurricane soon after arriving with all the colony supplies on board. Not a great start. The colony only lasted about a year and was not re-established for another 135 years.

Pensacola was also under more flags than any other city in America. Spanish, French, English, Confederate, and finally the United States. There is a lot of history in Pensacola. My daughter will soon be sifting through the sands of time (dirt) to re-discover it. I prefer getting my history lessons in air conditioned comfort and on walking tours. Looking forward to seeing her work on display one day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

National Navel Aviation Museum - Pensacola

On my last trip to Pensacola, I visited the National Naval Aviation Museum. It was so memorable, I wanted to revisit it here in my blog.

The first thing you should know, it's on an active military base and there are ID checks and base passes to deal with. A little intimidating but not much of a hassle. The base is huge and the pass only covers the museum. Best not to stray off course. 

I've been to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC before and was not expecting to be wowed by this museum. I was very wrong.

I remember making model airplanes as a kid and hanging them from strings in my bedroom. Same concept here only they use actual planes. The museum is enormous and loaded with planes from the entire history of naval aviation. Not just planes but a hydrogen bomb, anti-aircraft gun, and many other related items as well. This is not the kind of place where you have to stand behind the ropes. You can touch the planes, crank the anti-aircraft gun around, and squeeze into the cockpit of fighter jets and helicopters. I nearly needed air rescue to pry myself out of the fighter jet. I'm guessing there is not a lot of call for 6' 4" fighter pilots.

The museum even has a space capsule. It is hard to imagine the courage it took to sit in it with the door closed let alone ride it all the way to space and back.

Click the link above and take a look at the planes in inventory. You will get a good idea of the scale of this museum and why it's a must visit when you are in the area. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

663 Miles and it's Only Day One

South Florida is an exciting place to live, there is no doubt about that. I spend a lot of my free time looking for the less exciting things to do. A lot of stress can build up in a week and I find I decompress best with a little nature, a little art, some music, a show, a nice meal, or a weekend get-a-way. Sometimes, the best part of living in South Florida is watching it disappear in the rear-view mirror.

For those of you not familiar with the east coast of Florida, it's basically one continuous city from the Keys to West Palm Beach, and from the protected Florida Everglades right up to the waves crashing on the shore. There are a few natural spots along the way, the places I write about, but the rest is endless concrete and steel. A couple of times a year, I like to leave it all behind and recharge somewhere else. I don't normally take my blog along with me but since I want to take it all the way to Japan, I thought I would give blogging from the road a try.

Once you pass West Palm Beach, you realize what a flat, empty, long and boring state Florida really is. Perfect for a little mental recouping. You can drive hundreds of miles without a single car horn or police siren blaring. Once you reach Ocala, the road undulates a bit from the dead flat of South Florida.

North Florida Rest Stop
On this trip, I'm heading to Pensacola. Florida is shaped like a boomerang and I'm driving from the southeast tip to the northwest corner. You know you are truly in North Florida when the rest stops are nicer than the city parks back home. This being October, there is also a chill in the air. Something that happens very rarely in Miami.

The purpose of this trip is to see my daughter then head even more north for a little mountain air. And to see if I can drive and blog at the same time.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Glam Doll Strut - Fort Lauderdale

Broward Ladies
I was told last week my blog needed a little more excitement and a little more color. I'm not the kind of guy who does "a little more" very well. A lot more is more like it. Thanks to Channel 7 morning news, I found my inspiration.

I took my camera and a glamorous friend to the Glam Doll Strut in Fort Lauderdale for the excitement, - the color of the day - Pink.

As this was the first I heard of it, I arrived a little early as I didn't really know what to expect. This is an annual event I found out, and was celebrating it's 5th year. The motto of  Glam-A-Thon is "Kiss Breast Cancer Goodbye". That seems like a very nice sendoff to a brutal disease.

This year the Glam Doll Strut had 1,000 participants and raised $150,000.00 to fight breast cancer. What do the participants do? They form teams to raise money for the cause then strut their stuff down the street and in front of celebrity judges. High heels being a perfectly acceptable form of footwear.

I have personally known several women who have fought breast cancer and won. I met several more while I was at the event and not shy to mention it. I am very fortunate to have not known anyone who has fought and lost. There were several participants with memories of loved ones written on signs and T-shirts. Much progress has been made but clearly much more needs to be done. If you missed this event but still want to participate, click the Glam-A-Thon link above. They will be glad to take your donations any time and have plenty of events to keep the message going.

One of the best things about this event was the crowd. Whether they were part of a team of 2 or 50, or just a spectator like me, everyone was friendly and having a great time. Even with such a serious cause, it felt more like a big, pink street party.

The highlight of my day was meeting celebrity judge Julie Durda, Channel 7 meteorologist. She comes into my home and office every morning. It was a thrill to just walk right up to her and say hi. Lynn Martinez, news anchor and host of Deco Drive, was there also. Not so easy to talk to as she was doing interviews and hosting the event pretty much the entire day.

I have quite a few event photos on my Flickr page. If you were participating, there is a good chance you might find yourself posted.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sign Me Up!!

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
10,000 Free Round-Trip Tickets to Japan. That's the headline. Click the link for the details. I did about 17 times already. The catch is you need to blog about the trip or post about it on social media.

No Problem!!! I'm blogging about it right now!! I know, if you follow my blog you are saying to yourself "What is he thinking? He just writes about cheap fun in South Florida". True. That's how I manage to save money and travel the world. In the last several years, and in no particular order.... London, Paris, Norway, Iceland, Shetland, Faroe Islands,  Ireland, Scotland, Costa Rica, San Francisco, Yosemite, Alaska, Dallas, Asheville, Vancouver, and thousands of driving miles with visits to little towns all along the way. I like nature because I live surrounded by metropolitan areas but I have no fear of exploring the urban jungles of the world. 

My Blog has a regular, world wide following - Red Nomad Oz from Australia and TexaGermiNadian currently residing in Finland, as well as my friends and family and 10's of random hits from around the US and the world each day. But hey - that could shoot up with proper marketing. Say like winning Free Round-trip Tickets to Japan!!! Unlike many bloggers, I seek out the best things in life, the simple pleasures, the most fun for the buck, and love to blaze the trail for those that want to follow. 

In addition to this blog, I have a Facebook account and  a Flickr account. My go to travel camera is the Nikon D70. The camera is great but the photographer still has a bit to learn. The percentage of post-able photos goes up each trip so that's a plus. 

Let's talk about my next big travel adventure. I was planning to head to Italy on a 14 day tour this year but I have a daughter in college and in need of a car. That took financial precedence. Japan has certainly been on my bucket list. My parents went several years ago and came back with glowing reports. I can manage a trip/tour but add to that a flight half way around the world and Japan is just a little out of my reach. All things being made equal with once in a lifetime Free Round-trip Tickets - Japan suddenly goes right to the top of the travel list. 

I am a big fan of sushi and have been for decades. I can eat an entire meal with chop sticks from salad to the last grain of rice. I tend to go for the baby octopus, sea urchin, eel, and anything I've never tried before. Eating will not be a problem for me in Japan. Sake might be. I'll stick with the Kirin Ichiban and  Sapporo. My favorite meal at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens is always the Bento Box lunch . The best sushi I've ever eaten was in Vancouver. Closer to the source I suppose. 

I think that covers my qualifications for a free ticket. So where do I sign up? Who do I need to call? Which of my fans can help me out here? Most important - Who wants to go with me?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Groupon Posted my Blog !!!!!!

This has been quite a month for the South Florida Guy. First being recognized by several South Florida bloggers. Now Groupon!! Of course it would be one of the postings I made while not actually in South Florida. I may need to change the name to "All Florida Guy but Mostly in South Florida where I Live". This is an outrageous honor for a beginner blogger like myself.

I always like to check my stats. You know, to see if Mom read my latest posting, and boom - almost 200 hits in the last two days. What's up I say. Still getting buzz from the South Florida Daily Blog but now there is a new heavy hitter. Groupon! I'm not even a subscriber.... as of  8:00 AM this morning.

The posting getting the hits would be the trip I took in March with my daughter to Adventures Unlimited. On the day of my visit, my daughter and I had the good fortune of pairing up with the most awesome zip line partners and staff. Near the end I found out the one of our fellow zippers worked for Splash Magazine in Pensacola. I didn't think much of it till my daughter called months later and let me know my picture was all over her college campus. Seems like they had a good time as well and were nice enough to publish my photo crossing a swaying sky bridge with a great look of determination (fear) on my face. If you think it looks easy from the ground... try being 6' 4" and standing in the tree tops on an itty bitty wooden platform. Nope - not so easy. Certainly unforgettable. The Groupon Coupon has 5 days left. If you are kinda thinking about it but not sure, Do It!!! I'm already planning to head back.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Long Key and Windley Key State Parks

To finish up my visit to Islamorada, I decided to explore the two state parks in the area that did not need a boat to reach.

Long Key State Park was a few miles south of the resort I was staying so that was the first stop on the list. Long key has a large camp ground and by the number of motor homes heading in and out, a popular one. There were also several primitive camping pavilions right on the beach with tent tie downs in the floor and hammock hooks on the posts. Not my first choice of keys lodging and after seeing the snake cross the path, not even on the top 100. There is a mile long nature trail which clearly states may be subject to being underwater. It was a bit soggy in spots but luckily we timed our trek for low tide. For about half the walk we were shadowed by a pair of osprey. The other half, carefully stepping around scurrying crabs. In between dodging dragon flies and spider webs from various species of spiders. It is pretty safe to say that watching out up, down, and straight ahead was a must. Most of the walk is inland with views of thick green foliage but at the one spot, where it's open to the ocean, a flock of wading birds were just waiting for my camera.  If you are big on camping and walking in the tropical Florida jungle then Long Key is for you.

From my seat at
On the way north, it was getting close to lunch time and Robbie's of Islamorada was the only choice. Robbie's is a full service Florida Keys style entertainment center. The best place to rent kayaks, jet skis, boat charters, grab a meal, and do a little shopping. My favorite entertainment is watching the tourist feed the Tarpon. I grabbed a seat right on the dock and watched the show while I had lunch. For a couple of bucks, you can get a bucket of fish and toss them to the giant, always hungry fish that swim right under and around the dock. Never a good idea to tease them as they will leap out of the water and try to get the dangling fish and maybe your hand. They don't have teeth but they do have a huge mouth with bony plates and will leave quite a mark and emotional scars on the little ones.

Just up the road at mile marker 85 is Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park. Fossilized coral that took hundreds of thousands of years to create was chopped out of the ground and used as fill for Henry Flagler's railroad. Around the park are the remains of the quarry and some of the coral cutting machinery. Even as late as the Sixties, the quarry was cutting decorative stone for building facades. There is a self guided tour around a maze of trails but be warned, the mosquitoes are a nuisance. Luckily I carry a spray bottle of OFF for just such South Florida emergencies but the mosquitoes were like a cloud just following and waiting for the moment I ran out of juice. The guide book loaned at the office has some 80 points of interest along the pathways. I think I learned about every tree in Florida both native and non native. Glad there was not a quiz at the end.

To walk the same ground that only a hundred years ago, men worked day in, and day out with no relief from the heat and insects and built a railroad through the jungle is almost impossible to relate to. Who now could last ten minutes in that environment. I would like to thank everyone who went before me so that I could drive home quickly and safely on a straight, smooth road in my air conditioned car, while day dreaming about this fantastic trip to Islamorada and the Florida Keys. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Big Surprise Today

I interrupt this irregularly scheduled blog with some very interesting news. The South Florida Daily Blog posted an article about my blog today.  There are a lot of blogs in South Florida and the South Florida Daily Blog is one of the best. Mere mention has gotten me 5 times my normal hits today. I often wonder if anyone really reads my work beside my Mom, my friends, and family. Oh and my blogger friends in Australia and Finland. Hopefully I can live up to their kind words.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Kayaking Islamorada

Even though I was staying at the beautiful Pines & Palms Resort,  I couldn't wait to get away, so to speak, and out on the water. From the front step of my ocean front cottage, I inflated my Sea Eagle 370 kayaks and hauled them a few yards to the boat launch. There was quite the audience to see me off. Seems like everyone was up and enjoying a cup of coffee at 8:00 AM and fascinated with the 20 minute process of inflating the kayaks.

If you have been following this blog, you know I have been floating around South Florida and each time I write about it, I've stretched the limits. This trip stretched my limits of endurance, heat tolerance, and fear. The entire trip was about 6 1/2 miles, two islands, several channel crossings and four foot seas.....ok like maybe two foot seas but the kayak is only 18 inches tall.

The day started out easy for the first five minutes but a strong current heading in one direction and a steady wind in another made for some very difficult tracking with the Sea Eagle. Being an eleven foot balloon, it's very easily redirected by the wind. The current in the channels certainly did not help as the tide was changing from low to high as we began our journey.

Lignumvitae Key Way off in the distance
The only way to overcome the forces of nature was to paddle hard and maintain maximum speed. Something we did for three long miles to Lignumvitae Key. There were several fellow kayakers close to shore but as soon as my friend and I headed to open water, we found ourselves very alone very quickly.

This was the most open ocean I ever tried to cross in the Sea Eagle (or anything without a motor) and it was quite a ride. Waves with an occasional white cap struck the kayak from the front or side fairly randomly and regularly but after taking a shot or two over the bow, I realized it was going to take a lot more to roll the kayak over. I was concerned being so far offshore with Florida's notoriously unpredictable weather but it was obviously going to be a better afternoon than morning so I stopped dreading and started enjoying.

We pulled up to Lignumvitae Key and had a little picnic on the dock. After a small snack and a big drink of water, we decided to explore the island. Since this is a state park, we met a very enthusiastic ranger who gave us a seemingly complete history of the island. I was not all that excited to get right back in the kayak and paddle 3 miles home so sitting and listening to some well narrated Florida history was just fine. That is right up to the point we were told about Indian Key. As far as I could tell from the map, visiting Indian Key was going to take us even farther from home. My friend was ready to increase our kayak challenge to an extreme adventure day and I reluctantly agreed.

We hopped back in the kayaks and at 11:15 AM we headed for our next and very unscheduled stop. We rode part of the way close to the channel so we had a bit of a push.  Indian Key looked like a spec of trees on the horizon when we started out but after much paddling, we discovered a pretty sizable island. Luckily the wind was with us this time and the wave action has subsided considerably. We made landfall on a sharp coral clearing and carried the kayaks to the beach so as not to shred them miles from the mainland. The first thing we saw was a little shell rock road with a street sign. Seemed like a joke until we realized the entire island was crisscrossed by little roads. In 1836, it was actually a thriving town and the county seat for Dade County. Hard to imagine. There are plenty of little signs around the island to in case you want a full blown history lesson.

Ok, enough fun in the sun. Time to paddle back. Water was running low and home was against the wind. For the first time we took some breaks and really took in the beauty around us. Jelly fish the size of dinner plates floated by, a Tarpon shot under the kayaks like a three foot torpedo, and some fins popped out of the water in front of us. My friend thought they were cute little dolphins. I'll let her keep thinking that until she realizes there was no spouting.

We made it back to the hotel about 3:00 PM, had the kayaks rinsed, dried, and in the bags by 4:00 PM. A fantastic day deserved a fantastic dinner but first a beer with our new friends on the pool deck. I was happy to have made it back with no problems but even happier I packed so much sight seeing into a single day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pines and Palms Resort – Islamorada

As anyone who follows this blog knows, as a rule, I like my fun to cost as little as possible. When picking a hotel for my Islamorada trip, I wanted something on the water, small, quaint, and inexpensive. I found several hotels that were a perfect match for what I was looking for. Unfortunately, due to the short lead time I allowed for this trip, they were booked so I stayed at the Pines & Palms Resort in one of their ocean front cottages. Not inexpensive, but in a world of “You get what you pay for” I would say I got much more than the price of admission.

Shopping hotels on the internet can be hit and miss but this one was truly as beautiful as the brochure. Right from the moment I checked in, I knew I was in the right place. Situated at the bottom end of Islamorada on the ocean side, the view was endless sea and in the distance, the Alligator Reef Light House three miles off shore. The entire property is sand with a beautiful beach sand deck right on the ocean and ten steps from the door of my cottage. Every morning the sand is raked like a Zen Garden. There are a lot of cottages on the property but only a very few at the waters edge. I spent my time kayaking, bike riding, on the beach chairs, in the pool, or at the bar right next to the pool. There is a boat launch and dock for at least six boats as that was the number I counted while sipping my morning coffee on the porch. The Pines & Palms Resort does not have food on the property but they provide a very nice list of the fifteen or so eateries within a few miles. I chose two so close, I actually walked to them.

Staying with the theme of spending a few bucks this trip, I chose Uncle's and The Green Turtle Inn. Neither had a view and both made up for it with excellent food. Uncle's is very deceiving from the street. It did not look all that fancy or big from the outside but once inside it was a different story. I had the frog legs appetizer and lamb chops with shrimp while my friend had something called Lobster Schnitzel. Sharing our meals back and forth, we could not agree on who had made out better.

The Green Turtle Inn is a renovated historic building and looks as impressive on the outside as it does on the inside. They also have a collection of unique dishes. I went for the Five Spice Tuna while my friend had a scallop dish that was out of this world.

Taking sunrise photos on the last morning of my stay, I knew this place would hold special memories. Not only was the hotel itself a pleasure, we made a few friends around the pool deck as well. Just part of the magic of the Florida Keys.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Islamorada – Florida Keys

Islamorada is one of the northernmost Florida Keys. It comes right after Key Largo, and Tavernier. Most of my adventures in the keys have involved either Key Largo or Key West with barely a passing notice to the islands in between. As this was my first real visit to Islamorada, I decided to do it right and spend some time staying and exploring. I spent about two weeks exploring on the internet first and had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to see. My first stop was Marker 88 for lunch.

This was my first visit to Marker 88 and as the name implies, it's right at mile marker 88. Key West starts the whole mile marker thing with mile 0 and addresses along US-1 are based on the mile markers all the way up thru the Keys. This visit almost didn't happen as the sign literally jumped out at me and the entrance turn-in was about a foot and a half long. Even with a two second peek in the rear view mirror I knew it was a place I wanted to see so a U-turn was in order. Not something for the faint of heart on US-1 in the Keys.

Our meal started off with the most pleasant server I've met in a long time and a menu that had some unusual items. Something different is always my first choice so I had a Cuban Sandwich with Thai Green Beans. If you have a taste for something new and spicy, get the green beans. My travel companion on this trip had the Tuna Steak served burger style with a chutney topping and sweet potato fries. Everything was done to perfection and served with a smile.

The restaurant is actually a giant patio right on the water. There are a few shade covered seats which we were lucky enough to get and an indoor section for those that don't find blazing heat appetizing. We hated to leave but we had more to see so we broke away from our pleasant conversation with our server and moved on. Little did we know this entire long weekend was going to be a string of pleasant conversations with strangers.

Our next stop was just a mile marker down the road. The Rain Barrel - A Village of Artists. You can't miss it. There is a lobster sculpture the size of a bus right out front. We stopped to take a picture and found the most amazing collection of artists just behind the lobster.

The first gallery we entered was Emerald Bay Trading Company. The gallery was the size of a walk-in closet yet filled with items from all over the world. We asked the simple question of how did this all get here and wound up with a half hour conversation on the subject. Donna Davis, the proprietor, was mainly a basket weaver and her medium of choice - Pine Needles. Her work is intricate and extraordinary and her collection of world wide items is a passion. The Rain Barrel is a cluster of little houses and buildings with a winding, shady walkway connecting them. Heading to the back we found the pottery shop. The pottery is all made onsite in a workshop in the back. We got a little history of the shop and information about the area from the owner as we watched her create a made to order piece right in front of us.

We skipped a few stores on the way to the pottery shop but one was a must see on the way back. The SeaSide GlassWorks owned by Stephanie Martin was one that needed a much closer look. The glass work was like nothing I've ever seen before in both intricacy and bursts of color. This seemed to be the day for an education and Stephanie was perfectly willing to share all her secrets in making her mystical glass creations. Obviously knowing the secrets is not enough to actually producing the art just as viewing her web site is no substitute for seeing her larger pieces in person.

It was only our first few hours in Islamorada. We felt like everyone was an ambassador for the island and we were very special guests. Not a typical day in South Florida but just another day in the Keys from what we learned. There is a lot more to this story so check back for the next chapter coming soon.