Saturday, January 28, 2017

Nice to Visit, But....

There is nothing like travel to learn about geography.  This time we how learned much we had totally underestimated the size of Florida and its driving distances.  Since New Orleans, we have logged over 1800 miles. It was a full day from New Orleans to Mobile, then three more full driving days to Key Largo, 100 miles north of Key West.  Most of those miles were pretty flat, boring (except for the heavy traffic), lined by trees and punctuated now and then by strip malls and casinos.  But at least the weather was a very welcome change!

We can highly recommend Hotel Hollander in St. Petersburg

Salvador Dali Museum, 2nd largest
Dali collection in the world

Tallahassee was forgettable, but St. Petersburg and Tampa were nice, as were a few parts of the Keys and Coral Gables in the Miami area.  Lodging in Tampa was very expensive, so we opted to spend three nights in St. Petersbug, at a nice historic hotel, popular with long-dead movie stars.  It was close to everything downtown, including the Salvador Dali museum and the Sunken Gardens.

Fun day of biking and frequently getting lost in Tampa
A mini cigar factory in Ibor

Cuban lunch

We drove the crazy causeway traffic to Tampa and enjoyed a nice day of bicycling to Ybor (Little Cuba), having a memorable lunch at the historic Columbia Restaurant.

The lavish Henry Plant Resort
opened in 1891

Bar at Columbia, the oldest surviving restaurant in FL
We later toured the historic Henry Plant Resort, now mostly part of the University of Tampa campus. We concluded that we would rather be low income  today than super rich at the turn of the century, with its rigid class structures, formalities, diseases, and high child mortality rates.

Wine & cheese on the dock.
Ahh, now this is what we were expecting!
Ten days after landing in New Orleans, we made it to Key Largo, the northern end of the long Florida Keys, where we finally felt like we had arrived into a warm tropical climate.  It was good to just do nothing for a whole day and evening.

Idyllic view from
our room
Not-so idyllic view 36 hours later

But 36 hours later a big storm blew in with 50 mph winds that toppled trees and made our idyllic evening dinner of wine and cheese on the dock the night before seem inconceivable.  Our Air B&B room had no table or chairs, except for those outside, but they kept getting blown over.

When in doubt take a road trip!  We drove 100 miles southwest to Key West. The Florida Keys are long.  Sometimes on the two-lane highway we are surrounded only by the Gulf of Mexico on one side, and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.  But traffic made it difficult to enjoy the view. The bridges are impressive, as is the abandoned railroad infrastructure from long ago.  Not impressive are the strip malls in the towns along the way.
The Florida Keys (some of them)

Key West is quite the tourist town, but walkable and bicycle friendly.  We toured the Hemingway home, saw Harry Truman's winter white house (used by every president from Taft to Clinton).  We rented bikes for two hours, and it was delightful when the wind was at our back.  Coming back, we nearly got blown over.

One of 53 six-toed cats on the 
Hemingway estate, sleeping on his bed

The highlight of our visit to the Keys was a private boat tour to a very small part of the salt water portion of Everglades National Park. The mangroves were a calm and beautiful oasis from the windy open water.  Many of the trees are as old or older than the redwoods and sequoias.  They protect the coastline and are protected everywhere in the world except for Indonesia, which is destroying them to make room for shrimp farms.  (Don't buy shrimp from Indonesia!).

Drifting through the Everglades

The old and slow-growing mangrove trees

We wrapped up our 17-day trip in the Miami area, staying in a delightful R B&B close to the Coral Gables country club.  It was a refuge from the insane traffic and bustle of Miami.

Our Air B&B suite was a former single car garage
We rented CitiBikes and cruised the lengthy bike/walkways along Miami beach--quite the scene of young-old, resident-tourist, gay- straight, fit-fat, tanned-pale people and art deco-modern architecture.

Most of this is a parking garage!

We ate lunch at a hole-in-the wall Cuban restaurant frequented by construction workers, then toured the over-the-top Vizcaya estate, completed in 1922.  James Deering, the founder of International Harvester, imported entire rooms and ceilings from Europe and built the home around them.
The Vizcaya estate

We spent our final full day in Shark Valley, a grassland portion of Everglades National Park.  We rented bikes and rode 15 miles along canals and grasslands and saw countless alligators and spectacular birds.  A nice ending to a mostly urbanized trip.

Photo bombed by a gator!
One of many herons we spotted

The only gator we saw moving
the whole day
Most of the Everglades are vast grasslands.
It was soooo nice to be in an official US wilderness area!
We visited with a lot of interesting people, saw nice (flat) scenery, learned a lot of history, and enjoyed warm weather in January. We ate everything from cochon to gaitor to conch fritters, all with plenty of oil and breading. We're glad we had an opportunity see this part of our country--everybody should experience it at least once--but we're Oregonians at heart.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Big Easy And the Mobile Surprise

You didn't hear it first from us, but New Orleans is a fun place to visit. We logged a lot of miles bicycling and walking nearly everywhere, plus just a little bit by trolley and our rental car on the last day.  We drank well, and ate even better--too much better!
Our Air B&B on Esplanade
We stayed in a 150-year old mansion halfway between the French Quarter and City Park.  The place was cluttered beyond belief, but at least it was interesting clutter.

Clutter view from the dining room
Our hosts, Bob and Jean were delightful, and we hit it off right away when we discovered our mutual Peace Corps connection.  He is a retired art professor and she is active in the NOLA arts and Maris Gras scene.  They connected us to their favorite restaurants and waiters and even got us plugged into a gala reception for The Creative Arts  of New Orleans foundation.  The event was black tie or toga, and since we didn't pack formal wear, we took our sheets and went toga.

Does this make us look fat?

We went on a fascinating two-hour walking tour, spent a whole day at the impressive WWII museum, rode our bikes through City Park, walked and rode through depressing flooded out neighborhoods, toured the sculpture garden, listened to jazz in the French Quarter by day and on Frenchman Street at night, rode the trolley, walked through neighborhoods of 150-200-year old homes, walked through above ground cemeteries, and visited one of the oldest plantations in the US.  Oh yes, we ate Creole, Cajun, French, and more.
At the Spotted Cat Music Club,Frenchman Street

One of countless sculptures in the garden

Above ground cemeteries because of low water table

Homes in our neighborhood

Just a small part of the WWII Museum

Two more (now broke) celebreties for John's collection
over the past 40 years at Galetorie's
For both of us, our full day at the WWII museum will stick with us the most.
The slave auction site, circa early 1700's.  Look closely and you
 can see the  word 'Exchange" above the closed arch doorways.
 It's now a hotel.  Lincoln visited this twice  as a deck hand in his youth.
It was so eucational and well done, and we left with a strange mix of pride, gratitude, and sadness.

The plantation was second.  They didn't gloss over slavery and the huge mortality rates that people of all races faced 300 years ago from disease and hardship.

The Destrehan Plantation, completed in 1790. 
Site of the 1810 slave rebellion and subsequent executions

Slave quarters for two families.  White board is a list
of all slaves from that plantation

After three full days drove through miles and miles of casinos, strip malls, and rather boring beaches to the city of Mobile, with a brief stopover at an alligator preserve, including an air boat ride.

We knew the New Orleans would be good and it was.  But we were totally unprepared for Mobile. We loved that place!  It had a very vibrant downtown, even for a Sunday night.  Once again we ate well, too well.
1860 DAR Home
in Mobile

On Monday we took a one-hour private tour of a mansion built in 1860, but the tour conducted by two aging southern ladies of the DAR morphed into a two-hour experience, which was a mix of antiques roadshow, southern culture, and  sorority organizational politics.  We could touch or sit on anything, but we cringed when they touched some priceless French paintings.

Afterwards, we spent three hours touring the HUGE USS Alabama and the submarine USS Drum, which was a good way to put some of the WWII Museum into even more perspective of what it was really like.  We don't know how those sailors did it, but they did, and we are grateful.  Both vessels saw a lot of combat in the South Pacific.  Makes my casualty of a cut head going through the bulkhead of the submarine seem pretty small.

The big guns!
The USS Alabama

Tomorrow,we depart Tallahase, on to Tampa for two or three days.

PS:  Update from our July "Racine Car Wash Blues" post:  My wallet was finally found as they cleaned out the carwash.  Only the plastic survived.  The cash and everything else turned to mush.  The stench took several hand washings to get it off my hands.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Doing Much Better!

Back at it with Trainer Sam
People ask me how I’m doing, since it’s been awhile from my last November 24 blog post, just before Thanksgiving.  Well, I’m happy to report, MUCH BETTER!  I met with the surgeon a few days before Christmas and she said that my recovery is better than average, even considering my second hospitalization.  The bad news?  She said it will probably be another two months at least to get back to my version of “normal.”

My appetite and energy level are back, and I’ve regained much of the weight I lost.  The abdominal pain is intermittent and very moderate.  My strength is way below what it was, which I was reminded of with stiffness and soreness following my first kettle bell workout with Trainer Sam last Thursday. 

We took advantage of all that staying home for the holidays has to offer:  concerts, social events, the music, quiet evenings at home, binge watching, coloring, new books to read, and of course, the food!  

Coloring and games Christmas Eve
Kathy’s almost 92-year old mom had a pacemaker installed two days before Christmas, so she spent several days with us.  It worked wonders, almost immediately.  She became enamored with adult coloring with us.  And you don't want to compete with her in a Scrabble game. 

Shortly after Doris returned home, our Uzbek exchange student daughter, Feruza from New York, spent the New Year holiday weekend with us, along with her mother and brother from Uzbekistan.  More food, dominoes, visitors calling to see them, and sightseeing in the cold weather.
Feruza and her two moms, New Years Eve
Kathy's amazing cake
Doing it the Uzbek way.
More ergonomic, she says
A special (and fattening) Uzbek feast

Silver Falls New Years Day
South Silver Falls New Years Day
We leave on Tuesday afternoon for what we call our “Almost Cuba Consolation Trip,” to New Orleans, Tampa, Miami, and Key West for two weeks.  It burns up a lot of frequent flyer miles, gives us some warm weather and sunshine, and gets as close to Cuba as possible.  And I can drink the water without worry.  I’m especially looking forward to at least a whole day at the World War II Museum in New Orleans.

We have several plans already on the books for the year.  We’re looking forward to 2017 with a new sense of “go while you still can!”  We wish you all the best and hope that you also take advantage of every single day.