Thursday, June 30, 2011

South Florida Driving

How do you turn a 15 minute drive home from work into an hour? 


Or have a little fender bender, or construction, or a cell phone, or an event, or the president, or just about anything really. Of all the little driving problems that we face here in South Florida, it always seems that rain is the worst. It's comforting to know that I have "Organ Donor" stamped right on my drivers license. Gives me incentive to pay attention and not put it to use. I found this great article about driving in Miami. Should be a mandatory read before driving here. We need the rain no doubt but it would be nice if it came with a little patience, attention, and care.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Key Largo Neon

There is not a lot of neon or lights of any kind in Key Largo. Just a few signs and street lights. I found this an interesting exception. I added my Flickr Photostream to my blog and it will display my most recent shots. Next time I'll bring a tripod but this came out pretty good for a hand held pocket camera.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Batten Farms is back!! - Davie

When I moved to Davie 25 years ago, one of the first places I was introduced to was Batten Farms. Mostly local produce and a fantastic strawberry field where you could pick your own. I have the best memory of my then, 2 year old daughter eating more strawberries than she was putting in the basket. When she grabbed a very over ripe one, it squished between her fingers. What a terrible time to not have a camera handy to capture the shocked look on her face. Battens closed in 2008 but has recently opened as Batten’s Farmers Market and Davie Agri-Tourism Center.  I paid a visit this past weekend, partly for the memories and mostly for the fresh produce. I love farm fresh tomatoes, string beans, and pineapple all of which I  found and more. It was pouring rain on my visit so I left the camera in the car. I found the selection sparse compared to how I remembered it years ago with so much produce it was hard to walk the aisles and harder still to choose from the overwhelming selection. Since I was stuck under cover by a sudden cloud burst I purchased a smoothie and got some information. I was told a produce manager was coming on board this week and the selections will be greatly increased. The U_pick-em will come along a little later near the fall and there may be a pumpkin patch in October if all goes well.

I hope that is the case. Batten Farms was extremely popular when I lived out that way and I'll be only to happy to drive there now to purchase local produce. There are too few farmers markets left in South Florida. Judging by the amount people who braved the Florida summer storms with me, Batten's will be right back to the way I remember very soon.

Friday, June 24, 2011

John Pennekamp State Park - Key Largo

I have been to Key Largo several times over the years and somehow never managed a visit to John Pennekamp State Park. Until last weekend that is. Snorkeling is not really my thing so it seems silly to go to a coral reef park. I've known so many people who have gone and enjoyed it, I finally decided to check it out for myself.

To get in the park is $8.00. I arrived early but not early enough to catch the first glass bottom boat tour. The weather when I arrived looked ominous and the boat captain was urging passengers to buy sea sick pills. Not a good sign. The next boat was not till noon. The best thing to do, it seemed, was to investigate the nature trails and see how the weather panned out.

I am not kidding when I say I walked 20 feet down the path of the first nature trail and I was covered in mosquitoes. Even as a long time Florida resident I have never seen bugs that thick. No problem. Just walked over to the car and soaked myself in OFF. Good thing I brought it with me but I noticed they had plenty at the concession stand later in the day. I actually had to spray the brim of my hat to keep them out of my eyes and ears. The mosquitoes followed inches away like paparazzi  following Lady GaGa but at least stopped biting. After about an hour the weather cleared and I decided to do what I came for. Kayaking.

Pennekamp has several snorkel and swimming beaches and hundreds of kayaks and canoes to rent but if you bring your own, there is a tiny little launch site over a wooden bridge at the end of the park. There is not much parking but there were only two other cars and a nice little sandy beach to launch from. There were plenty of people launching at the rental area and most looked like they have never kayaked before. I paddled right past them and into the mangroves.

The trails were very different from what I'm used to. They were wide, deep, crystal clear, and have quite a current as the tide heads either in or out. The fun part is the current runs through the mangroves and unlike a river, might pull you right into the trees. The paths are wide enough that you don't need any real skill but you do need to pay attention if you stop and try and take a picture. I spent about an hour in the mangroves and never saw another kayak until I was approaching the beginning of the trail. Looked like everyone else just wanted to bunch up on the beach.

To get the full enjoyment out of Pennekamp, you should really take the snorkel or glass bottom boat tours. Now that I've gotten my feet wet so to speak, I will look forward to doing that my next visit.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sea Turtle - Miami

I've been working on my nature photography. Granted this big guy was in a pool at Miami Seaquarium but the shot came out so well it's now hanging in my living room in an 11" X 17" frame.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bay Cove Motel - Key Largo

Bay Cove Motel shot from the complimentary kayak
Life has been challenging lately and a weekend getaway was desperately needed. Where can you escape from Miami and be in a whole new world in about an hour and a half. The Florida Keys of course. Time and money were going to be a consideration on this trip so Key Largo seemed the perfect place. Now for a hotel. I didn't really want a big name place and I didn't really want to tent camp. I wanted something very quaint and quiet. A lot of Internet searching and I came across the Bay Cove Motel. After a very pleasant conversation with Margot, I settled on a cottage at a very good rate.

I could feel the tension lifting as soon as I was South of Miami. I had no real idea what to expect when I arrived at my destination but for me, that's part of the fun. I checked in with Pat and I instantly felt like I was staying with relatives. The property is a quirky mix of one and two story cottages and a few big travel trailers thrown in for good measure. Everything is sand, rock, and large, old trees. The cottages are more or less squeezed in around the nature. An enormous departure from the straight line concrete jungle I just left a few hours ago. The room was exactly as I had pictured it. Perfect for this adventure. Five minutes after dumping the bags I was back at the office asking Pat about a place for dinner. With some simple directions and a $5.00 coupon, I was off to the Pilot House.

What a great place. So typical of the Keys with the friendly staff and great food that you would expect. I got myself a nice high top table on the rail and watched a school of fish in the crystal clear water swim right up to me and then under the big glass plate in the floor under my feet. How I didn't notice I was sitting on glass I don't know but it was fantastic.

I made it back to my weekend home base just in time to watch the most beautiful sunset. The Bay Cove Motel has a little dock giving me a front row seat. A little later in the evening I returned to the dock to listen to the quiet. The water was on fire with little green lights. A swarm of bioluminescent sea worms were lighting the water as far as I could see. In an hour they were gone. I've lived in Florida a long time and that is the first time I've seen that.

As you may know if you follow my blog, I'm a big kayak fan. The Bay Cove Motel has a few you can borrow for no charge. I was at the front desk at 9:00 am asking for a paddle and didn't get back till noon. This was mostly an open water trek but I pulled up mid way into the mangroves at the North end of the bay for a little snack, a little shade, and a huge gulp of water.  Upon my return, I was understandably starving and the best way to cure that was walk next door to Mrs. Mac's Kitchen.

From the road, or even from 10 feet away walking up to Mrs. Mac's Kitchen, you would think it was a road side hot dog stand. Things are not always what they seem in the magical world of the Florida Keys. The place is huge inside and it feels like you are in someones house. The perfect companion to the place I was staying. The menu was as large and varied as the restaurant itself and the staff was very friendly and attentive. I had the smoked fish dip and crab salad Pita. Delicious! I'm starting to notice a theme with dining in Key Largo.

The rest of the day was taken up with walking, shopping, and resting. Right up the road I found the African Queen from the 1951 movie starting Humphrey Bogart. Seemed like a crazy place for a movie prop. Time passed quickly and what do you know. I needed a dinner place. Just a short walk from my cottage and I was at the Bayside Grille. The bar is downstairs and the restaurant is upstairs. I had a window seat with the most incredible view of the bay and I'm not sure which was better, the view or the food or if they just complimented each other. Even with the sun setting in the distance it was a tough call. My luck with food continued to my final morning even if it was just coffee I made in the room and muffins I brought with me. My cottage was only 30 feet from the bay where I settled into a beach chair. It didn't even seem like much of a chore to refill my cup at the room and return to the waters edge.

This was exactly the relax-a-cation I was looking for. Not my typical high energy vacation but it wasn't supposed to be.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Chapel Trail Nature Preserve - Pembroke Pines

There are plenty of places to bike ride in South Florida. I try and stay on the trails and off the main roads but to find those trails, sometimes you need to go exploring. Last weekend was one of those times. I headed West and found a place I had never even heard of before. The Chapel Trail Nature Preserve. When I moved to Florida in 1978, the Everglades were about 70 blocks from the beach. Well here I was 198 blocks from the beach and there is hardly a square foot not developed. I was glad to see there was a tiny little bit of nature left so that people could see what the "Glades" once looked like.

Keep in mind this is June at noon and the temperature is about 92 degrees. The Everglades is really a river of grass that used to cover the entire southern end of Florida. Normally the water is only a few feet deep but on the day I was there, the water levels were zero. A lot of the park was bone dry. Add to that the reflective surface of the recycled plastic board walks and it was hot enough to clean an oven. Not surprising there was no one at the park. It takes a real South Floridian to venture outside in the summer time. Mostly we travel in little pockets of A/C from the house to the car to the store to the car to back home.  The wildlife pretty much has the same idea. Not much moves at mid day and nothing at all seemed to be around this visit. So is it worth making a trip for? Absolutely but plan your trip after it rains a bit. There are long winding boardwalks with signs for wildlife spotting all along the way. I had just started down the walkway when an alligator made it's presence know with loud barks and grunts. It was right under me as it was the only shade and just a drop of water. The smell of drying muck is not the most pleasant but I had never seen water this low before so I pushed on to see what was out there. Aside from a few birds and one lone gator - nothing.
Later in the day a typical summer storm popped up with 60 MPH winds, hail, and about an 1/2 inch of rain all within 30 minutes. Summer is here and it won't be long till the Chapel Trail Nature Preserve is full of water and critters. For a real thrill, rent a canoe and see if you can find that toasty, hungry gator.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

City of Hollywood ArtsPark

ArtsPark Grand Opening 6/3/11
Many years ago, Hollywood's downtown park was known as Young Circle. If you have lived here a while, you remember events like the Jazz Fest and the Wing Ding festival playing at the Bandshell. At the time, I lived near downtown and these events were very popular. Also at that time, Hollywood had a sleepy to nearly dying downtown with empty store fronts, terrible eateries, and pawn shops. Once the event was done, so were the crowds. Now the downtown is a revitalized, happening place to be. Young Circle has been transformed into the ArtsPark with one glaring omission. The Bandshell was torn down years ago and not replaced. That  is until the grand opening of the new amphitheater on June 3rd.  Hollywood is back on the map with not only a tremendous new concert venue but also a downtown to support the visitors.

I was there last night for the grand opening and I noticed two things. The audience started out very small with a lot of people asking why this was not advertised better. Second, everyone was calling friends to get down to the ArtsPark for the free concert. I was doing the same. By the time Expose hit the stage at 8:30 pm the place was packed. I would guess there were about 2,000 people and 200 dogs enjoying last night's show. I would expect the same for tonight's free concert featuring En Vogue. I was parked in the downtown garage and as I was leaving there were still open spots. Seems like a lot of the people enjoying the show just walked over from their homes. That has not happened in years. I hope Hollywood makes free concerts a regular thing. I know I would be a regular visitor if they did.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Las Olas Blvd - Fort Lauderdale

A friend of mine asked me to describe Las Olas Blvd after reading my blog about downtown Hollywood. I started to, then decided to just jump in the car and act as tour guide instead. I have not been in a while and it seemed like a great way to spend a South Florida afternoon. I have been going off and on for about 30 years and have see many changes. Mostly for good. The recession was not kind to any of us and especially to Las Olas Blvd. A strip of galleries, restaurants, and specially stores right off of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Last time I was there, several stores and resturants had closed so I didn't fully know what to expect.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving was that parking was reasonable to down right cheap. That was new. Also there was practically no one on the street. I usually visit in the evening or during art fairs and the place is packed to sardine can, can't walk down the street packed. If you are not a fan of blazing heat and blinding sun light, then high noon might not be the best time to arrive at Las Olas. I live here so it does not bother me a bit. We turned the corner from the parking lot and popped into the Hamilton Gallery. There we met Wendy who informed us that somewhat of a rebirth had occured on Las Olas and there was nearly full occupancy. She even gave us a few tips on new resturants. This was going to turn out to be a great day after all.

We did our level best to visit all the galleries and stores. One gallery opened just the month before. Everyone was friendly and we took the opportunity to really immerce ourselves in the art and discuss the artists. I walked my friend all the way East to the Floridian diner. The place is ancient in Florida terms, serves the best breakfast on the block, and is a local favorite hangout. By the time we were half way back to the car, we were pretty hungry and standing outside one of my favorite eateries - Noodles Panini. Normally I like to sit outside if I'm lucky to not have to wait too long for a table. Considering my shoes were melting to the pavement, we wisely chose a seat inside and actually had a choice of tables. The patrons were out numbered by the wait staff but that looked to be only temporary. As we were headed out at about 3:00 pm, there was a steady stream heading in.

Las Olas is easy to get to. If you are looking for a great date night with a special someone or just a place to find a fantastic, relaxing meal with a friend, you can't go wrong with Las Olas.