Our Travels

Our retirement began February 3rd, 2006. This is an account of our travels. We hope you enjoy them. You can click on any of the pictures to enlarge the picture. Please leave a comment for us...we love to read them.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Installment #11

Remember, you can click on the pictures if you want to see them ‘close-up and personal’

Our last installment was in Florida. We have now travelled through Georgia and Alabama (our second time in Alabama –now in the north end). Our last adventure in Florida was in Plant City where we had an appointment to get the power steering pump replaced under warranty. Unfortunately, we had to wait another day for the repair shop to get to us. We spent the day doing laundry, checking the internet, and then spent the night in the Bill Heard (World’s largest Chevy Dealer) parking lot. After waiting six hours for the repair, we were on the road, headed towards Georgia on Interstate 75. We came upon a traffic jam – three interstate lanes of traffic came to a stop while all drivers were looking at five buffalo and one zebra in a field.

We found our way to the Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia (http://www.museumofaviation.org/). They again had several airplanes on the perimeter of the several buildings – one of the buildings shaped like the U.S. Forces star and bars insignia. One item Tony found of special interest was an aircraft engine that was steam driven. Further up the road we stopped for lunch at the Tanger shopping center (http://www.tangeroutlet.com/) Note to Rich and Luci – we finally found a butter crock for home.

Arriving in the Atlanta area (Forest Park, Georgia) to visit friends, Phyllis & John, we were given permission to stay in a church parking lot just one house away from our friends. Unfortunately, the person granting permission failed to tell the rest of the church staff and we ended up with a note on our windshield asking us to give the church a call. All was straightened out by John & Phyllis and we continued our four night stay in the church parking lot. With Phyllis and John as tour guide and chauffeur, we had a very relaxing and interesting visit in this area. The Georgia state capitol was our first major tourist stop (http://www.sos.state.ga.us/state_capitol/) We were able to get into the both the House and Senate chambers and heard a little of the history from a volunteer in the House chambers. On the way we passed the "Olympic Rings" and "Olympic torch" (picture).

Next we travelled on to Stone Mountain to see the Confederate carving in the stone and walk around the attractions at the park including a fanciful water clock. (http://ngeorgia.com/attractions/stonemountaincarving.html)

We were introduced to the Chick Fill-A (http://www.chickfila.com/home.asp) chain of restaurants where spicy chicken sandwiches are on the menu – all the rage in US right now. It seems the creator of Chick Fill-A chain started out by having a sandwich truck at the Chevrolet plant in Georgia, and tried different recipes out with the workers telling him what they thought about the sandwiches. Later we took a walk through the William H. Reynolds Memorial Nature preserve http://web.co.clayton.ga.us/reynolds/about.htm) where they had an interesting display of a bee hive and working bees we could watch.

Our second full day began with a scheduled tour to CNN studios (Cable News Network – originally associated with Turner Broadcasting). The tour wasn’t the greatest, but just being inside the CNN building was quite an experience. There was an eight story escalator (the world’s largest, of course), taking tourists up into a room at the top which looked like a world globe. We did get a short glimpse of the live CNN news room and all the "behind the scenes" reporters in the news studio. The most entertaining part was trying to get out of the parking lot afterwards – after reading signs, watching other cars, and attempting to find the right exit, and after the third attempt, we ended up having a parking attendant help us – folding up and crinkling a ticket you receive at the entrance gate is not a good idea. Tony telling the helpful attendant with his British accent, "we’re not from here" explained it all.

On drives, our tour guide/chaffeurs took us past the Georgia Aquarium (shaped like Noah’s Ark) and on a walk through a confederate cemetery. We saw huge magnolia trees and Wisteria (purple vining bushes in full bloom). We went to Captain D’s fish house so I could get "hush puppies" – Tony wondered if we were going to a shoe store at first (hush puppies are one of my favorite foods from the South – deep fried corn meal with onion flavoring). We experienced the Georgia pollen falling – evidently it was the worst it has ever been – a high count is 300 and during our stay it was 5000. All vehicles everywhere looked as if they had been spray painted with a slight green overcoat (see picture of our car).

One evening’s entertainment consisted of a 9 piece puzzle that none of us could work so we went late at night to Angie’s home to have her 12 year old son work it – unfortunately for him, he couldn’t do it either – we were very happy to leave the puzzle at their home to end our frustration.
During our stay, we often got to see Phyllis & John’s kids – Tim and Angie (who messed with our camera) & her family. Quite an unusual bed we saw in the grandson Austin’s room (picture). His bedroom light was the front grill of the vehicle (lights showing through the headlights.

Another day we went to the Atlanta Cyclorama (http://www.webguide.com/cyclorama.html) – one of three cycloramas in the United States – which houses the world’s largest oil painting and is claimed to be the longest running show in the country. After being seated, the whole seating section is slowly turned 360 degrees while the painting of the burning of Atlanta during the Civil War is described, complete with background music. The painting display has been extended to include in 3-D more railroad track, soldiers, trees, etc. After a visit by Clark Gable, he hinted that Rhett Butler should be included in the display because of the "Gone with the Wind" Georgia setting. He was later included, but the tour guide thought he probably didn’t mean to be portrayed in the way he was - as a dead Union soldier.

Our last entertainment in Atlanta was "Geocaching". This fad seems to be catching on worldwide. We now have a "travel bug" that we are responsible for – somewhere we have to either make a new cache and let the world know, or find another cache and put the "travel bug" in the cache, and then report what we have done. The picture shows Phyllis, John, and tony looking at their find. We had more fun finding three different caches with the handheld GPS…it’s certainly a good way to be entertained and get exercise at the same time. Check it out. http://www.geocaching.com/ or look at the travel bug I have – JPWFYX – from time to time to see if I have disposed of the little jeep – http://www.jeep.geocaching.com/

On the road heading west from Atlanta, we saw this cute sign – advertisement for a car with the car headlights on.

Our next little visit was to a temporary high-security private museum of antiques collected in the lifetime of an elderly couple. This museum was crammed ($9.5 million value) full of very high value artifacts (dresden, faberge, tiffany, capodimonte, remington, royal dux and many more) which were described in detail (dating back to 1600s) by the dear old lady herself – Evelyn Burrow (www.wallacestate.edu/museum)

Today we visited a the Ave Maria Grotto (http://www.avemariagrotto.com/) – by Brother Joseph, a monk at the St. Bernard Abbey for almost 70 years – more than 125 miniature replicas of biblical structures and world-famous buildings (using stone, concrete, and unwanted donated materials such as broken plates, costume jewelry, ceramic tiles, beads, marbles, seashells, etc.), such as leaning tower of Pisa, Pantheon, the Alamo, Colosseum, City of Jerusalem, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Noah’s Ark & the Tower of Babel, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and much more. (pictures).

Thanks again for all the phone calls, emails, and blog messages. We enjoy hearing from everyone.

~~Sharon and Tony

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

installment #10

Our last installment was after our trip to Key West. We took a day to recouperate after that side trip. Wal-Mart parking lot in Florida City hit a new high for overnight motorhome parking – 32 in one night. One of the motorhomes was towing a car with a special brace built for towing his heavy duty motorcycle also (picture).

We spent a day looking around Florida City and Homestead, just south of Miami. We saw the Coral Castle – what they call America’s Stonehenge (http://www.coralcastle.com/) . We sat in the very bright sun (even Tony has resorted to wearing sunglasses) to watch the Indy cars practice at the Homestead Miami Speedway (picture) (http://www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com/) . Speedway was very close to the Miami airport – it kept us busy watching the cars from the stadium seats and watching the planes go overhead every one or two minutes. Later we ended up driving through a cemetery – Tony thought I would like to go to the "Memorial Gardens" because he figured it would have some famous statute. He now knows that "memorial gardens" means "cemetery" over here.

One day we set out for Miami and Miami Beach – we have become so reliant on MS Streets and Trips and the GPS attached that when a fuse blew in the car we had to find a place to get a replacement – we now have extra fuses and an extra inverter in the car for our next "map guidance" emergency. In Miami Beach we stopped at their Holocaust Memorial – this was such an impressive memorial (http://www.holocaustmmb.org/) that we have included two pictures. Miami and Miami Beach are flooded with new growth, people, cars, hotels, and motels. We drove down Collins Avenue next to the Atlantic Ocean and very seldom could even see the beach because of the high-rise hotels everywhere. We did drive to Key Biscayne beach and were able to drive the car right up on the beach. However, most of our day was spent looking at high rises and getting honked at everywhere we turned, stopped, or didn’t turn. We were introduced to the toll system – up until now we have avoided toll roads – but we were ready to get out of the Miami area by evening and took the fastest way possible.

Our next stop heading north was Fort Lauderdale. We started on the toll road. By the time we had gone 20 miles we had given the State of Florida almost $7.00 (three axles costs more, of course). No telling how much it would have cost to go much further, but lucky for us their highway signs were misleading enough that we ended up on a non-toll road for the rest of the way to Fort Lauderdale. We stayed at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino parking lot (http://www.seminolehardrockhollywood.com/) . This is the hotel where Anna Nicole Smith was staying just before she died. It is so much more than just a casino and a hotel. They have about 30 pubs or bars (Hard Rock and Hooters included), many restaurants and, a spa, swimming pool with cabanas (cabanas have televisions in them), hot tub, waterfalls that you can walk behind (pictures of front and back of swimming pool), hundreds of lounge chairs, one sandy area, the other cement, a place to play tennis in the sand, ping pong tables, pool tables, and a wading pool for kids. We watched the water show on their lake in the late evening, set to music; listened to several different groups playing music in different areas; and got lost getting out of the place. Palm trees are lit up at night with rotating colors (picture). Friday night before St. Patricks Day they were giving out green beads to everyone. Saturday, March 17, they were giving out Guiness Green derbys (hats). Limos were everywhere, and the parking lot was overflowing. Bicycles built with an attached seat for two to transport people in the far parking lot to the main area were everywhere (rickshaws).

During the day we went to downtown Fort Lauderdale along their River Walk – parking the car for the day was $5.00. By the time we got back in late afternoon, they had raised the price to $7.00 and we noticed a $10.00 sign that would probably replace the $7.00 by evening. We saw tiny boats, mid-size boats, sailboats, motorboats, tour boats, taxi boats, and yachts (picture). We talked to one man who came off the largest yacht there at the time – he was the captain of the yacht – just there for a few days and then setting off for the Bahamas for two months. We saw a marine repair building where they hoisted a boat in need of repair right up out of the water and into their repair shop on a fork truck (picture). A wedding was taking place as we were "people watching" on one of the hundreds of picnic benches. We saw three highway draw bridges (picture) and one train draw bridge. Since it was Saturday, they were raising and closing every few minutes for the larger yachts and sailboats. Irish music was being played at the Irish Bars; waiters in the bars dressed as leprecheuns (picture). Tony is shown in the picture standing beside a sphere made of thousands of stone bricks or slates. Sharon loved the architecture of the high-rise motel in the picture.

The next day we spent driving around looking at all the "finger" roads – all dead ends with waterfront property on back side of every house with a boat, sailboat, or yacht on the water. Many for sale advertised a pool and a hundred feet of waterfront. Prices that we could find ranged from $300,000 to $600,000. Other homes we saw that must certainly have been worth more were not for sale! More colleges are having spring break this week – a drive down Fort Lauderdale Beach was interesting with the mix of retirees and college students everywhere. One sign we noticed on a liquor store - "free delivery to yachts".

We visited our first Pro Bass Shop in Fort Lauderdale – it wasn’t quite as interesting as the Cabela’s we saw last year in Dallas. Then we went on to Dania Beach. Caught a picture of pelicans checking out a kite and Tony did a time exposure of both of us sitting on the beach (you can probably tell that I’m enjoying it more than Tony).

The next picture shows a friendly gull flying off with a pretzel that we just happened to be eating. Next, it was on to see friends, Janine and Bill. We had a great afternoon with them – they live right on one of the canals. They took us for a boat ride down to the River Walk. We saw our first manatee swimming along the bank.

Notice the picture of the pine tree hit by Hurricane Wilma and now slowly growing back. Later we went out for dinner and I got a taste of tuna – it was great, nothing like tuna in a can (Tony stuck with the traditional steak). Janine and Bill each have interesting careers – Janine’s web site is http://www.jamiescountrystitches.com/ and Bill’s - http://www.makeh2o.com/aboutsearo.php .

The next morning we had a visitor to the motorhome – a fellow RVer, from Ontario, we had met in Florida City, was now parked where we were. On a drive to Plant City, Florida, we finally saw where all the Florida orange juice comes from – there were miles of orange groves, mostly unpicked. But we did see several loaded trucks. Also saw that everytime a loaded orange truck went around a curve, there were lots of oranges along the road.

The next day we located Florida’s Natural Orange Juice Visitor Center http://www.floridasnatural.com/ to learn about the orange juice process. Also visited the Bok Sanctuary http://www.boksanctuary.com/ – a guide took us on a walk through the gardens explaining everything on our way to hear the carillonneur play the carillon. We sat under the trees and watched the guy playing on a shielded video display. The good-looking guy is standing inside a cut-out of the carillon's largest bell. We learned about nun orchids, pebble walks, air plants and much more – also saw a blue heron up close, sundials on buildings and sundials in cement, Bok’s gravesite, squirrels running everywhere including on top of cars. Tony stopped to take a picture of an orange tree and just happened to come back to the car with two oranges. Interesting sign of the day "Evacuation Assembly Area".

Thanks again for all the phone calls, emails, and blog messages. We enjoy hearing from everyone.

~~Sharon and Tony

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Installment #9

Still roaming around Florida – such a big state and so many things to see – it could take us a little longer here.

We spent a little time in Chiefland, Florida, with a side trip to Cedar key – this is quite a tourist town – we walked and drove all around the town. A limosine pulled up near us, a young man - unknown to us - got out, trunk lid went up automatically, and he proceded to unload musical equipment – evidently he was part of the band for the evening at the restaurant. Saw this homemade trailer that looked like a caboose (picture). Saw a double wide mobile home that had been put up on stilts – seems to be the norm down here as we found out later.

As we neared Tampa, we saw at least six jet streams criss-crossing each other. We travelled through the scenic towns of Inverness and Floral City. Saw a bicycle rider with an umbrella attached – our first indication that this weather was going to be hotter than we imagined.
After getting parked in Tampa, we took the car to Clearwater Beach to see the sunset on the Gulf of Mexico (http://www.sunsetsatpier60.com/) . Clearwater Beach has a sunset celebration every evening with live music, jugglers, artists, vendors (and a major traffic jam getting to the beach). We saw a bicyclist doing tricks, a juggler giving a very amusing show, a guy finding metal objects on the beach with a metal detector (he had a long handled tool so he didn’t even have to bend over when his detector registered – just picked up the object with the tool and the sand sifted through, leaving his find).

We spent the next day at Bill Heard Chevrolet (http://www.tampachevy.com/) in Plant City having a Chevrolet dealer, specializing in Workhorse engines, look at the motorhome – after six hours in their very nice waiting room (free coffee, donuts, popcorn) – the guy determined the motorhome needed a new power steering pump. We will have to return to the area on our way back up from southern Florida to have the part put on. His last comment – "I hope you enjoyed your day in our waiting room".

In the evening we went to see Rob & Cynthia Monroe. Rob had been in Baghdad for six months and showed us documentary pictures of his deployment. Picture of his pictures - the cutout in the top of a very heavily armored SUV so guards could pop up out the top whenever trouble was spotted. Also a picture included of Rob & Cynthia’s back yard – we had a great evening with them.
St. Petersburg – at The Pier (picture from the top floor) – was quite a photo session (http://www.stpete-pier.com/) – arrived just as about 30 sailboats were leaving the harbor, airplanes were taking off from a nearby landing strip every five minutes, we could get as close as two feet to the pelicans (notice the picture of one of the pelicans in flight), the inverted pyramid building was a shopping mall. On the drive back we stopped off at the Bay of Tampa where we could drive the car to within 20 feet of the water. Drove around by the shipyards to see what we could find – only a gypsum plant and a ship from what we think could be Germany. Continuing on our drive we drove down Bayshore Drive. This is the longest continuous sidewalk we have ever heard of (4.5 miles). We drove back into some of the more pretigious homes…unfortunately, we were in the way of all the gardeners driving to work – we must have seen five different gardners with their pickups and equipment in a two block section. Continued our drive through historic Hyde Park and Ybor City.

Leaving Tampa, we went to the Florida Everglades to take a trip on one of the many air boats – this was quite an experience. Pictures are of the swamp boat, alligator too close for comfort, scenery while on the boat ride, and a bird flapping his wings to dry off.

Other pictures – unusual cloud scene, trees with moss hanging down everywhere and grass hut covers over picnic tables.

After getting setup in an RV park in Florida City, we took a half day off to do laundry. Sometimes laundromats are not a good experience – I think the clothes could have dried faster in the hot wind of Florida. In the afternoon, we took a small drive down to Biscayne National Park, passing the Miami Speedway. This has been the hottest day on the trip – Tony turned on the air conditioning in the motorhome, and there were no complaints from Sharon.

The next day we left very early in the morning to go to Key West. Our first picture was of the sunrise on the drive down, followed by the seven mile bridge between two of the Key islands.

We stopped at the southernmost house in the contiguous United States and at the southernmost point…people were lining up to get their pictures taken at this spot – since we are trying to be real tourists, we knew it was the thing to do.

We saw a hurricane memorial, Key West airport with what seemed like hundreds of small planes, rentals all over Key West renting bicycles, mopeds, convertibles, 3-wheeled carts for two people, bicycles built for two.

We got smart and parked the car and bought two tickets to travel around Key West all day in a trolleybus – on and off at any of 10 different stops. We visited the Flagler museum (http://www.keyshistory.org/flagler.html) (the man responsible for the railroad from Miami to Key West). A baker from a Key Lime Pie shop came up to window of trolley with a cream key lime pie and pretended he was going to throw the pie (enough to make me duck and enough that Tony was so surprised that he wasn’t even able to take a picture). The baker gave me a can of key lime candy. We stopped off to look at and watch all the planes overhead, catamarans leaving the dock, helicopters in the sky, and cruise ships in the harbor.

Another stop off took us to the top of Key West’s tallest building (to the seventh floor) for a photo session from above (the two cruise ships and a church below). This was the floor that Tennessee Williams rented years ago and where he wrote "A Streetcar Named Desire".
Another stop took us for a walk passed Ernest Hemingway’s home and the Key West lighthouse. Next stop was for a pint of ice cream for Tony and a frozen key lime piece of pie covered with chocolate for me and a place to sit down. The trolley took us by Mile Marker 0 of Highway 1 (picture). Also took a picture of a huge banyan tree (seem to be everywhere down here).
We stayed in Key West long enough to watch the "sunset entertainers" and then the sunset. The acrobatic entertainers were two brothers and a sister from England and another guy getting out of a straight jacket in three minutes. Tony volunteered me to help the guy get buckled intp the straight jacket.
Visiting Key West was quite an experience when considering it’s the farthest south we could go in USA. We just happened to pick their busiest day in the year because of Spring Break and the same day as the clocks changed and us losing an hour’s sleep – the trip from Florida City where we kept the RV was 260 miles and lasted from 6:30am to 11:00pm.

Thanks again for all the phone calls, emails, and blog messages. We enjoy hearing from everyone.

~~Sharon & Tony

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