Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fort Myers Beach

It's been a good 15 years since I set foot on Fort Myers Beach. If you have been following my blog for even little while, you know I live on the southeast coast of Florida and spend plenty of time on my own beach. Fort Myers is only a two hour trip to the west coast. It has not made a lot of sense to actually book a room and stay there. That was until this past weekend. Now I feel like I have truly been missing out. 

My motivation was to see a few of my friends performing in town and at the very last minute I decided book a room and turn a "quick there and back" into a weekend adventure. I learned right away about something they call "High Season" and this was the first big weekend tourist season. After three hours on the computer I found I could not book a room on the beach for under $250.00 and nothing I really wanted for any price. It's been a long time since the east coast had a definable season so I was totally unprepared for this level of disappointment.

The north end of Fort Myers beach is where all the action is. The south end is mostly condos and Lover's Key where I wanted to be. Dead center there was a Holiday Inn Fort Myers with one room available at $119.00. It was one day before the trip and I booked it with out hesitation. I wasn't really expecting much. Here's where the story gets interesting. 

When I arrived, I was expected and greeted by name, the room was perfect, the band was cranking out the tunes on the patio, the booze was flowing, the dance floor was jammed, the party was in full swing, the average age was about 65. If this is retirement in Florida, I want me some. It was standing room only at the outside bar so I headed inside (sort of). With all the sliding glass doors open, the sea breeze pouring in along with the live music, it was still like being outside. In five minutes I was in conversation with the bartender, two couples to the left of me and a couple of folks to the right. All about my age and all world travelers. We had plenty to share. The north end of Fort Myers is still more of a 20 something vibe. Either end of the beach has a more Midwest crowd which is the complete polar opposite to the New York, Philly (my town), Boston and generally north east folks. Friendly, polite, happy people make for a much better vacation experience. I hung out till the band shut down at 10:00 then headed to the beach. 

The water's edge was so far from the hotels and condos and the light so dim (so as to not confuse the turtles), I saw stars for the first time in years. Not only that, the sky was so crystal clear, I saw the space station pass over. (I used the free wifi to check the NASA site when I got back to the room to be sure). 

I had stuff to do in the morning and a huge headache from the hours at the bar so I got up early, washed down some Tylenol with the morning coffee and hit the beach. In the daylight the beach is even more impressive. It's endless. You almost need to pack a sandwich to make the trek to the water's edge. The sand is pure white and cool but dense enough to build monumental structures that last for days. I saw several people riding bikes right on the sand. The water's edge is loaded with shells. Most of which had something still living in them. I've been all over Florida for 30 years and it's the first time I ever saw a live sand dollar. 

The really nice thing about this particular hotel is that it's smack dab in the middle of condo row. People who live on the beach every day don't use it much. I walked about two miles south then two miles north and saw very few fellow walkers. A couple miles away, the beach is much smaller and beach umbrellas are so close you can practically walk on top of the. . 

I hated to leave but on the way out of town I stopped at an iconic beach restaurant. Doc's Beach House near the south exit of the barrier island in Bonita Springs. Very old school, order and pick up type place but with a nice collection of tables right on the beach. It would be hard to find a more beautiful way to enjoy breakfast. I have a few more photos on my Flickr site for you to enjoy. My suggestion would be to go and get your own pictures and some lifelong memories. I found plenty of kayak areas and Fort Myers is far easier to get to than the Keys for me so I should have a few more posts from the other coast coming soon. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Medieval Faire - Fort Myers

Barely Balanced
I have been attending local Renaissance Faires for over ten years. Prior to that I was perfectly happy to get the bulk of my entertainment from the comfort of my couch at the end of the TV clicker. I would only consider live acting if it required a $70.00 ticket.

I brought my young daughter on my first visit to the FL Ren Fest. I was never a big fan of street performers but when I saw the absolute wonder in her eyes, I took a long, hard second look. The performers at these events are unbelievably talented yet every single one of them will sit down after the show and have a conversation with you. Same with every one else who works at the fair. I now consider myself a huge fan and I have even gotten to know several of the performers quite well over the years.

My all time favorite acts, Barely Balanced as well as Tribal Circus were not performing locally this year. There was nothing to do but make a pilgrimage to the Fort Myers Medieval Faire to catch their shows. Just a two hour drive from Fort Lauderdale.

This being my first visit to the Medieval Faire I was not sure what to expect. I found a smaller show than I was used to but it still took a full day to enjoy it all and less than $20.00 to get in. There were plenty of acts and vendors and absolutely no shade on a brisk 80 degree winter's day in South Florida. The crowd was pretty sizable on the day I went and the shows were packed and loaded with energy.

Shelli Nock
Barely Balanced is the first show I saw on my first ever visit so I have a particular fondness for them. The cast has changed over the years but Margret (Small) who I met in person for the first time this weekend came up and talked to me like we had known each other 20 years. It helps we have written back and forth on Facebook but it is certainly a never ending thrill that such amazing and famous performers will talk to their fans like they are just hanging out in the living room.

Martin Hill
Shelli Nock, former BB member and now in her own show Tribal Circus with Husband Martin Hill was also at the faire. If you want to get a taste of what these live shows have to offer, visit my Flickr page. There are plenty of action shots and a few from around the show grounds.

If you have been going to the shows as long as I have, there is a pretty good chance you will find yourself on stage. As much as I try and avoid it, I've been called up twice. This weekend I saw a new act, The Davinci Bros Comedy Opera. I know when I was on stage, the audience did not really get their money's worth. Bob Davinci's show consisted of himself and 4 audience members. By sheer luck he picked the most hilarious people ever. I had tears literally running down my face and totally forgot to lift my camera for even one shot. Everyone in the audience had to sing before the end of the show and the sound was so loud people came streaming over to see that was going on. You really can't get that intensity staring at the TV.

There were plenty of other things to watch like the jousting or enjoy like a Scotch Egg at the concession stand. The thing to keep in mind is that all these acts work for tips. You get to see the show first then decide what it's worth to you. If only everything in life worked that way. If you have never been to a Ren Faire I urge you to give it a try - just once. If you become hooked - then you will probably see me there.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Everglades Holiday Park - Fort Lauderdale

Sometimes it amazes me how few people that I know have ever taken an airboat ride in the Everglades. One of the first things I did over 30 years ago when I arrived from Philly was to drive way out west to 

Everglades Holiday Park and see what the Everglades were all about. 
Well it's not so "way out west" any more. South Florida has grown up amazingly fast and if there were not a line drawn in the muck, it would have kept on going. Over the years I've taken quite a few rides so I know my way around a bit. For this visit, my daughter and her boyfriend joined me. We picked the only day of the year with a chill in the air and the gators were scarce but there were plenty of vultures - in the sky and loading up the trees. Yes - they migrate too. 

So let's talk about airboats. Everglades Holiday Park has the big ones. They seat about 25 -30 guests, twin engines, and no ear plugs required. I prefer the little ones that give a much more thrilling ride but these boats are pretty impressive when running flat out. We had a full boat on our visit and only my daughter and I had been to the glades before. Our captain was crazy enough to eat a bug. No really. In the middle of our ride he hopped down from his perch, grabbed a floating plant, tore it open to find a little worm, then ate it. He told us about all the other plants one could eat if they found themselves trapped out in middle of the swamp. Yeah - that's not going to happen. I was sure to tip him at the end of the ride so he could get himself a sandwich.... or mouthwash.

Gator Boys
I managed to catch a few shots of the wildlife as we zipped around. You can see those on my Flickr page. The gators all decided to hit the bottom to stay warm. The Everglades is only a few to maybe six feet deep, 60 miles wide and 100 miles long. The water is mostly crystal clear but looks black from the muck at the bottom. That's a lot of hiding places.  In the summer they are pretty much all over but it was our luck to see none. Off to the gator show then - free with the air boat ticket.

In years past as I remember, the alligator wrestlers were always missing a finger or two. Not only did our performer have all his fingers and toes, he was one of the Gator Boys Alligator Rescue team as seen on Animal Planet. I've seen plenty of gator shows but this one was different. He handled the gator like it was a pet dog and even stuck his head very close to the business end. I've been witness to a slight performance mishap many years ago and saw firsthand how fast and unpredictable these critters can be.

Living in the city is nice but all of South Florida looked like the Everglades just over a hundred years ago. It's great that there is this much left but it's hard to believe how much has been destroyed in such short time.

Just around the corner is the town of Weston. Mostly luxury homes and shops. My daughter's boyfriend was much more impressed with the Lamborghini and Aston Martin we saw 5 minutes down the road. Fancy cars are about as common as gators in South Florida. I'm sure the Gator Boys will stay busy rescuing alligators from the backyard pools and parking lots that were their swampy home just a few years ago.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Stuart by the River

 Downtown Stuart is one of the most pleasant downtowns to visit in all of South Florida. I spent a lot of time there this holiday season. Mostly because my family lives in the area but partly because there is very little else that interests me in Stuart and Palm City. Mostly houses, gated communities, and big box stores, there are not a lot of entertainment choices.

Downtown Stuart is like a little cultural oasis. There are plenty of shops where normal people may actually want to buy something and food of every description. It would be impossible to visit and not come away with a fine meal and maybe some art, jewelry, or a trinket or two.

When I was there last weekend, I found a little boardwalk along the river and decided to follow it. I remember the hurricane a few years ago put a hurting on the docks and boardwalk and I was very pleased to find it was even better than before. I kept walking all the way to Roosevelt Bridge. I was happy Mom and Dad were in a walking mood which gave me the opportunity for some exploring.

Most people driving around Stuart only see the top side of the bridge from US1. It does not look like too many people venture underneath on any given day.  A few walkers and some folks fishing. The rest are missing out on a concrete and steel wonder.

One of the things that amazes me like nothing else living in South Florida is the rate of change. A hundred years ago almost exactly, this entire area was accessible only by boat. Then came the famous Henry Flagler and his railroad. His achievements have been referenced several times in this blog and here once again I found a bit of his legacy. The railroad bridge may look like it's 100 years old but trains still pass over it.

At the base of the bridge we found the Pelican Cafe. Certainly far from my first choice of eateries with so much to pick from downtown but something caught my eye. A beach. That's right, all those little picnic tables are sitting on white beach sand. Even though Mom and Dad have lived here for many years, they never took the chance. They were a little hesitant at first but having lunch at the mini beach turned out to be a good bet. The food was great and you just could not beat the view. There is a deck around the corner, also on the water, just in case sand in your shoes is not part of your plan for the day.