Saturday, May 30, 2009

This is the real Florida

There are over 15 million people living in the state of Florida. You would have to multiply that number at least 25 times to account for all of the bugs that live there as well. That does not account for the reptiles that inhabit this state as well as people and insects. That being said, Florida does have a lot to offer the tourist. Put aside all of the theme parks that exist, especially in central Florida, and you still have a lot of interesting places to go and things to see. I'll assume that if you want to visit Florida you can research most of that information on your own. Here are just a few things that you will certainly find in the Sunshine State:

Here is a lovely bug we saw down in the Everglades National Park. I couldn't believe my eyes when I first encountered this one. I zoomed my camera lens in on him to take this photo. It was at least 6 to 7 inches long and it was about 4 inches high from the rail it is sitting on to the tip of his bent "hopping leg". It looked like a grasshopper from a Star Trek movie. Ewwww.....I never want to see another one of those again.

Due to these larger-than-life bugs and all of the trillions of other flying insects they have here, people have taken to screening in whole backyards. Not just a screened cover over the many of them do....but screening in the entire backyard. This home even screened it up to the top of the second story of the home.

Florida does have some of the very best beaches in the country in which to swim or sunbathe. (bring plenty of sunscreen) This is Bradenton Beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The water is a beautiful greenish color and the sand is like sugar. This beach would rival some of the great beaches in the Caribbean we've gone to.

One thing is for certain. If you do want to relocate permanently to Florida and you are over 55 years old, there is no end to the opportunities in neighborhoods to choose from. They have so many 55+ parks and communities you cannot believe it. Some people live here all year and choose to enjoy a "park model" as shown below. Even some people that have wanted to downsize a lot have chosen to live full time in one of these very small homes. They take the basic home and then they usually add huge screened rooms on one side that will enlarge their living space. This home, shown in the photo, is your basic model that is for sale at the park we are at right now.

Then you will need your own personal golf cart at one of these senior parks. Some of the parks are very large with over 600 homes or RV spaces. Most of the permanent or long-term seasonal residents all have these golf carts to buzz around in. I do around in. They go faster than the park speed limits most of the time. Well, they do have to hurry up and get to the clubhouse for bingo, pot luck suppers, morning coffee talk, craft time or dance lessons. Then you simply MUST have your pool noodles firmly attached to the back of your golf cart so they don't go flying off when you round the corners. The ladies mainly use the pool noodles when they swim. Well, they don't actually swim as much as they clutch the noodles while they are in the water so they can just float around and enjoy conversations with all of their friends. You never see people at any of these parks without smiles on their faces and they always give you a friendly wave even if they don't know you.
We are leaving the Winter Quarters-Manatee park in Bradenton on Monday, June 1st. Then we will have only 7 more days until we get to check into the Fort Wilderness Campground at Walt Disney World. We will be staying in Kissimmee for 7 days in the meantime.
Dates to look forward to: Monday, June 8th----we go to Fort Wilderness
Tuesday, June 16th----our grandkids arrive for 2 weeks!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Twitter anyone ?

I've read a lot of articles lately on "twittering". I know that Twitter is all the rage with folks across the nation --- young and old, celebrity or ordinary Joe. Personally, I don't Twitter. There is nothing wrong with being a twitter freak, but it just isn't for me. First of all, I wouldn't know where to begin as I'm a real dud with technology. I'm doing good just to get this blog out there! My days aren't that exciting normally and my twittering would probably go something like this:

6:30 am - Alarm went off and I just stumbled out of bed.

7:00 am - I managed to get dressed and I am out the door for a one-hour walk.

8:00 am - Back now, and I got a few more bug bites on the walk.

11:09 am - We're on our way to Costco up in Brandon. It's 30 miles from here.

11:15 am - I'm scratching my bug bites.

11:34 am - I'm eating a Costco Hot Dog for lunch. I'll hate myself tomorrow morning when I step on the scale.

1:30 pm - We just bought salmon, granola bars and Tide at Costco.

2:00 pm - Had to stop at the Rest Area on way home, needed to use the bathroom.

2:10 pm - I'm scratching my bug bites.

3:00 pm - Took Annie for a walk and all she did was want to come back. It is too hot.

4:00 pm - I'm scratching my bug bites.

4:30 pm - Just ate a granola bar for snack.

5:01 pm - Looked out the window and saw some nice squirrels running around the lawn.

6:00 pm - We're eating dinner now....salmon, corn on the cob and carrots with zucchini.

6:10 pm - Went to get the anti-itch cream because I keep scratching my bug bites.

7:00 pm - Big thunderstorm just struck and Annie wants to hide her head from the sound of it.

8:00 pm - I'm watching Law and Order SVU on television.

8:10 pm - I'm still scratching my bug bites....the cream didn't work well.

9:00 pm - Playing Backgammon with Bruce.

10:30 pm - Went to bed. Still scratching my bug bites.

11:10 pm - The phone just rang. It was from a friend at church in Tumwater. She forgot about the 3 hour time difference and it was only 8:10 where she was.

11:20 pm - Trying to get back to sleep after the phone call. Bug bites still itching.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's Wednesday in Bradenton, Florida

It's Wednesday and we are here in Bradenton, Florida at the Winter Quarters Encore resort. It is a nice place and we got here on Monday and will stay for 7 nights. Yesterday we were busy cleaning house (yes, I still have to do that in an RV) and going grocery shopping at WalMart. We got our prescriptions filled for the month there also.

We decided to take a little trip today. The day didn't start out too great as far as I was concerned. After our usual 1 hour walk and then showering, I got my clothes for the day out of the closet. I put my polo shirt on and then I got my pants off the hangar to put on. I got a pair of those cropped pants, or whatever you call them, at J.C. Penney's. Anywho....I put the pants on and was tying the cord at the waist and I see this HUGE bug come out of the pants leg and run around in circles on the floor. I mean this was a HUGE BEETLE of some kind. The bug ran under the bathroom door as I was shrieking and it went into the living room. Bruce came to see what I was screaming about and I told him it was a huge bug out of my pants! Then we saw the bug on the carpet in the living room. Quick...grab a tissue and smash him! Hey, not me. I gave Bruce the tissue and he grabbed it and smooshed that bug up real good. Dead! Bruce then proceeds to lecture me on not screaming like that as it is just too alarming when it wasn't anything serious. Is he kidding me????? Did he have a bug crawling around in his pants?????? I told him that I'll be shrieking or screaming anytime there is a large bug crawling anywhere near me. No kidding, this bug was about 2 inches long and very ugly.

We got the rest of ourselves ready to go and I also packed us up a picnic lunch. It was the day for Annie, the Schnauzer, to get her hair cut at the PetSmart. We had an appointment in Bradenton for that. We deposited her at the grooming salon and left to go eat English muffins at McDonald's. It was "Muffin Wednesday" after all.

We finished our breakfast and set off going north to St. Petersburg. We had planned to go to the Florida Holocaust Museum. We took the interstate and went off on I-275 to go across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. It is a toll bridge that connects the Bradenton area to St. Petersburg. It is a beautiful bridge and only costs $1.00 to use it.

Here is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as we get closer to the toll plaza.

Here we are on the bridge itself. Florida is the "Sunshine State" so this is named the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and they have painted part of it a sunny yellow color. It goes over Tampa Bay by the Gulf of Mexico.
This is the outside of the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. We could not take photographs inside the museum.
The purpose of this museum is to honor the memory of millions of innocent people who suffered or died in the Holocaust. It is dedicated to teaching members of all races and cultures to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of human life in order to prevent future genocides. There are 3 floors of exhibits and displays. One of the most notable exhibits is an actual boxcar that had been used to transport the Jews to the Treblinka death camp. It has not been restored and is in exactly the condition it was in during the transportation of Jews. It rests on original railroad tracks from the Treblinka camp. It was a wonderful museum to tour, although sobering in content.

After spending about 2 hours at the museum, we left St. Petersburg to head back toward Bradenton. Just before going through the toll plaza for our return trip on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, we pulled off at this rest area to eat our lunch. We enjoyed the sunshine and the breeze off the Gulf kept us cool enough. Here I am with the beautiful blue water of coastal Florida behind me.

After our lunch break by the water, we continued on across the bridge to Bradenton. We stopped by PetSmart to pick up our Annie. She got a great hair cut and a bath. Isn't she cute? (Annie, that is)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Our visit to Everglades National Park....part 1

Today was our last day in south Florida. We finished up our tour of the area by driving the few short miles to the Everglades National Park. Dogs are not allowed in any of the habitat areas or the visitor centers, so Annie had to stay behind in the RV with the A/C running to keep her comfy. We packed a picnic lunch and left home around 9:30. Good news....since Bruce is now 62 years old he was able to purchase the National Parks Dept. Senior Pass for $10.00. This will now enable us to get into many of the Parks Department run places, including all national parks for FREE! It is a lifetime pass. Lucky me for hanging around with such an old guy!

Although Everglades National Park is very large, there is really only 1 road on the eastern edge of the park available for vehicle traffic. By car you enter via the main gate and the Ernest Coe Visitor Center. If you have access to watercraft, you can enter by the Flamingo Visitor Center on Florida Bay. The auto road is 41 miles from park entrance to Flamingo.

There are many canoe trails in the park, but since we do not want to have a canoe they did not interest us. There are also a couple of primitive campgrounds in the park. If you are a birder, then this is your place as there are many different species of birds within the park. Many of them migrate elsewhere in the summer months.

Florida has been in a drought situation for quite some time and this is reflected within the Everglades Nat'l. Park too. We've been told that many places that usually have water are now dry. The glades are actually a giant, slow-flowing river that is 50 miles wide but averages only a few inches deep; the whole system is fed by Lake Okeechobee.

Our first stop in our tour took us to the Royal Palm center. From here you can take 2 trails; Anhinga Trail or the Gumbo Limbo Trail. We opted for the Anhinga Trail which is part asphalt and part boardwalk. It is a 1/2-mile loop trail. This loop trail meanders around the Taylor Slough. This slough goes from here and then south towards the coastline. Apparently the gators enjoy the habitat this slough provides for them. This was the best (and only) place for spotting alligators without going into some back country area by canoe. Right off the bat we spotted several big gators.

This is part of Taylor Slough and the asphalt trail alongside it.
Here is a really big alligator. He wasn't hiding and was easy to see.

This one was lying among the grasses that edge the pond.

This one is a little harder to see...but he is there in the center.

This was another one who appeared to be showing off for those of us watching him.

We spent about an hour here before we moved further on into the park. Look at parts 2, 3, 4,and 5 for more information and photos.......

Everglades National Park....part 2

We continued our scenic drive through the Everglades and next turned into the Pa-hay-okee Overlook. This has a 1/4-mile boardwalk that leads to an observation platform offering a panoramic view of the River of Grass. This is the saw grass that grows in many places in the park. It isn't really grass, but a member of the sedge family of plants. Here you could see evidence of drought with the dry, parched earth visible in many places.

This is the view from the boardwalk area. No wildlife to be seen here although there are sometimes panther or deer in this area.
Once again out onto the road we came upon this sign. We thought it was funny.
Continuing on we just enjoyed the scenery. Soon we saw an unnamed turn off that had a marker with a camera symbol on it. We turned in and found a bird nesting habitat. We got out of the car with our camera and from across the pond you could hear this loud squawking sound from about 200 birds nesting on the small hillside. It was awesome. A guy was there with a huge camera on a tripod taking photos of the birds and he told me they were Wood Stork and a few Ibis. Mainly, the ones making the racket were the Wood Stork. It was an interesting sight...and sound.
Here is the hillside habitat with the birds nesting.

More of the same but with a Wood Stork in flight (upper right corner).

Flying Wood Stork

Proceed to part 3.....

Everglades National Park.....part 3

We got to the Flamingo area of the Everglades National Park. This area used to be an actual town as well as part of the park. The town has disappeared and all that is left is the Flamingo Visitor Center and a marina store with trinkets for sale and the opportunity for a boat tour. It was 92 degrees by now and the boat was a slow moving pontoon type and that didn't interest us at all. It would take passengers into some of the water passages but it did not go out into Florida Bay, which would have been more interesting. So, we skipped the boats.

We drove into the campground area here and sat at a picnic table and ate our lunch. There were only 3 campsites occupied for this Memorial Day weekend. There were a lot of boat trailers, however, where folks had driven in with their boats and were now out enjoying the water.

After lunch, we decided to stop back at the Royal Palm center on our way out of the park. We wanted to check out the situation for more alligator viewing. We got there and grabbed our camera once again. We took the 1/2-mile loop trail as before but there were not quite as many gators visible this time. The ones we saw were big, plus we saw a few baby alligators this time.

This is the first one we saw and he was providing quite the show by swimming the distance of this one pond area.
This is the boardwalk provided for good wildlife viewing.
Here he comes again!

This is a different gator and this one got a little weird. He was just swimming along and then as we walked by on the asphalt path before we got to the boardwalk he just cruised along beside us. It seemed like he may be watching us.

Then as we stopped to take his picture he actually turned in the water to face us and look us over. Yikes!! We began walking toward the boardwalk. These gators in this pond area are not fenced in. There is a small bank that is about 3 feet from top to the water surface, but I know alligators can walk on land and do it often.

For more photos, proceed to part 4......

Everglades National Park.....part 4

Here in the Taylor Slough at the Royal Palm center, we almost walked right by this one. He was back in the reeds with just his head sticking out of the water.
Holy Smokers! Look at this big old head. Here are 4 baby alligators. Don't they look cute? Would you like one for a pet?
This little baby decided to take off for a swim all by himself.

Here he is again.

Please proceed to posting #5 of the Everglades....

Everglades National Park....part 5

This is an interesting looking fella who is one of the many "friends" we made while walking the boardwalk at the Royal Palm center in the Everglades Park.
We don't know what kind of bird this is, but Bruce got this good photo of him. When we were at the Royal Palm area this morning, this bird was there and in the same spot that he is still in a few hours later.

This morning we didn't see many turtles in the slough. This afternoon we saw many of them. This guy kept sticking his head out of the water and he was probably looking for some insect to eat.
This guy was the best turtle sighting yet. I'm not sure what he was going after, but he kept trying to climb out of the water and get up onto the asphalt path of the trail. He probably measured around 2 feet from his nose to his tail; he was a big guy.

He's almost there!
I think we've had our fill of alligator viewing now after going to the Big Cypress Swamp National Preserve and the Everglades National Park. Both were amazing places and we are glad that we decided to come down here to see them.

I don't think I'll ever want a pair of alligator shoes after seeing those scary beasts!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Big Mistake....

Most of the time we are unaware of what the date is. We do not live by the calendar when we are out doing our full-time thing. So, I have to admit to my loyal readers how stupid we were today....Saturday, May 23.

We are still in the town of Florida City, way down in south Florida. We thought that today seemed like a great day to venture over to Miami Beach and the South Beach area. Hey! Why not have lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes? We got the map but left Annie, the Schnauzer, at home with the A/C going full bore. It took us a while to find the right way to get onto the MacArthur Causeway from Miami to Miami Beach, but after a few unsuccessful attempts we found the right road.

We got on the right road OK....along with the thousands of other people in their cars heading over to the beach. Duh! Thwack! (that is the sound of us smacking our heads with our hands) It is the Memorial Day weekend! The traffic was bumper to bumper all the way from the causeway to Ocean Drive, which runs along the beach area. No parking to be had for love nor money at this point. And those sidewalk cafes? Ahhh...we could see them from our car windows and they were jammed full, too. If it wasn't so blasted hot and humid, we would have rolled down the windows and hung our heads out to smell the delicious food. All I had wanted was a walk at the beach and then to find a cafe and eat a Cuban Sandwich. Was that really too much to ask? I guess it was on Memorial Day weekend.

Maybe next time.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Going to Key West....part 1

Early this morning amidst a thunderstorm, we set out on the long trip from mainland Florida via the overseas highway (Highway 1) to Key West. We figured the storm wouldn't last the whole day and armed with our picnic lunch and Annie, the Schnauzer in the car, we left our RV park in Florida City.

You get to the ultimate destination of Key West on this overseas highway, which connects the numerous keys (small islands) by bridges and causeways. It will be a little over 125 miles one way. It is mostly a 2-lane road going the entire distance.

The first major key is Key Largo and it is the largest. This place is a mass of "stuff" that you would find in any normal town....a Home Depot store, McDonald's, schools, grocery stores, and lots and lots of places to purchase boats or diving equipment. There is also a 4-mile stretch of seashell stands and margarita bars. Rather tawdry looking, but part of the local culture.

This is what part of Highway 1 looks like in the Upper Keys area just past Key Largo.

After Key Largo, the next major location is Islamorada. This is the self-proclaimed "sport fishing capital of the world". Islamorada is home to plush hotels and condos. You can also spot beautiful homes, like these in the photo below, in many locations. Not too shabby!
Here is part of the 7-Mile Bridge, which is part of the longest section of causeway on the whole trip.

More of the 7-Mile Bridge ---

Yes! Even in the beautiful Florida Keys we could not escape the various fast food restaurants, including the ever popular McDonald's. They were good for a bathroom break.

After Islamorada, we went through the town of Marathon and the little keys on either end of it. Then we entered the Big Pine Key area and finally we got to Key West.
Keep reading into the next 3 segments of my postings on Key West......

In Key West, part 2

We got into the center of town on Key West and immediately found a parking lot down by Mallory Square. We wanted to find a place to eat our lunch and this seemed like a good one. As we enjoyed our picnic lunch we had a wonderful view of the Gulf of Mexico.

Here was our view during our lunch break ------

One of the famous landmarks in Key West is this marker indicating that this is the Southernmost Point in the continental United States. I had to take a picture to prove we'd been here.

If you could see it...Cuba is only 90 miles away in the distance.

This is the view of South Street as seen from the "Southernmost Point" marker. It is a very nice neighborhood with beautiful homes.

It was 91 degrees and fairly humid in Key West today. We managed just fine and so did our Annie. We took her water bowl and a jug of water with us as we walked about the town. It did feel good, though, when we got back to the car and that sweet air conditioning!

In Key West, part 3

In the middle of Key West, on Truman Avenue, is the official "Mile O" marker to signify the beginning of Highway 1. Conceivably, you could take this same Highway 1 all the way to Maine.
Here is an ordinary neighborhood on an ordinary street in the town of Key West, not far from the beach.
This is Duval Street which has been overrun by tacky souvenir shops according to our Moon Travel Guide. If you want crummy T-shirts and a wide variety of flip-flop stores, this is your place. Plus, any type of bikini swim suit you could want. It is still a great place for aimless wandering and people watching. You can also find a large number of restaurants and several bars to serve you.

Here is one of the nicer restaurants on Duval Street.

On our walk through the tourist area, we passed this bar which was open to the street. Even at 10:00 am the bar had many patrons plus a lively Elvis impersonator. So I stopped to snap a photo of good old Bobby J, but as I took it he stuck the microphone up in front of his face.

You never know what you might find in some places. Since we had Annie with us, we couldn't go into the bar to really listen.

Proceed to part 4.....

Our drive back to the mainland from Key West, part 4

After spending a few hours all the way out at Key West, we began our return drive to the mainland. We had enjoyed a great day seeing world famous Key West.

Here is part of the overseas highway, heading north, looking at the town of Marathon in the distance. Marathon is just about in the middle of the highway from the mainland to Key West.
The old highway was left in a lot of places after the new Highway 1 was built. There is so much fishing in the Keys that gets done from the bridge areas, so these fishing platforms were installed on parts of the old highway bridges to keep fishermen (or women) off the main highway bridge.

As we drive back to our RV park, we can see that it is low tide.
Here is a view from one of the Keys looking out at the Atlantic side. The water was so beautiful.

We had originally planned to skip visiting the Florida Keys and return on another trip in another year. Then we changed our minds and thought if we were all the way down into south Florida....why not finish the deal and see the Keys? Made sense to us and we are so glad we changed our plans.