Good Friends Gather Once More – Punta Gorda, FL

Comments 27 Standard

We are continuing to meander up the southwest coast of Florida, on our slow northward migration.  Our next stop was in the city of Punta Gorda, spanish for “fat point”.  It sits at a point where the Peace River meets Charlotte Harbor.  On our way there we caught a glimpse of this interesting car.  Would you ride in this red wagon?  Steve said he would!

Immediately after settling in, we contacted our friends Dave and Sue, John and Pam, and Joe and Judy to make arrangements to get together one more time before we leave Florida.  Fortunately they were able to carve some time away from their “busy” retirement schedules to meet us for meals.  But more on that later, as Steve and I had some exploring to do around our new home base.

Harbor Bridges, Punta Gorda

Harbor Bridges Mural

During our walk along the Punta Gorda Harborwalk we discovered the cool Harbor Bridges Mural.  It depicts Theodore Roosevelt (who came to Punta Gorda in 1917) and his guide in the foreground with a Manta Ray they had beached.  The center of the mural shows Charlotte Harbor, and the sides show the old and new Harbor Bridges.  The arrow indicates the locations of Punta Gorda and Gasparilla Island, our points of interest while staying in the area.

Punta Gorda Harbor Walk

A section of the Harborwalk with the Harbor bridges (highway 41 north and south) in the background

Steve and I had been lamenting that our walks here in Florida lacked elevation.  The walking/hiking trails are almost completely flat, and we were hoping for some changes in elevation as we walked around scenic Charlotte Harbor.  The pathway is quite popular, well maintained and cuts through various city parks.

As we neared the east end of the pathway, it branched out.  One path went safely under the bridge and the other lead across it.  We followed the one onto the northbound US 41 bridge, and ahead of us was the steepest incline we have seen in months – the bridge itself.  Pitiful!

US41 bridge heading north

Hey, look at that hill!

Harbor Bridges

Twin bridges, US 41 Northbound and Southbound

Walking across bridges is obviously not our favorite way to exercise, what with the noise and car emissions.  But we walked both of them, and after adding that to our harbor walk we had covered several miles.

Harbor Bridges, Punta Gorda

The Harbor Bridges (also called the Highway 41 Twin Bridges) cross the Peace River and connect Punta Gorda to Port Charlotte to the north. Our efforts were rewarded with several wildlife sightings – dolphins, jellyfish, stingrays and other fish.  Not bad after all!

In another area we saw these feathered friends frolicking and scurrying for food in the the pond at nearby Fishermans Village.

On another day we hauled our bikes to Gasparilla Island, part of a chain of Gulf Coast barrier islands.  We paid the $6 causeway toll and a $3 parking fee before beginning our ride from the south end of the island where the restored 1890 lighthouse sits.

Boca Grande Lighthouse

A restored 1890 Boca Grande Lighthouse

From there we followed the Boca Grande bike path, a paved 6.5-mile trail which is credited as Florida’s first rail-trail.  It travels the length of the Gulf Coast barrier island. The northern section has a separate jogging/walking path that is privately maintained and beautifully landscaped.  We shared the bike path with an ocassional golf cart, which appear to be the preferred mode of local transportation in this upscale area.

Boca Grande Bike Path

Landscapde Boca Grande bike path

On our way back home we stumbled upon a Fishery Market and Restaurant in Placida. We saw fresh-caught fish being unloaded from a boat and taken directly to the market. I was so excited to see not only the various fish, but they also had blue crabs available when we stopped by.  I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity!  I got 5 crabs and 3 various kinds of fish for a measly $17!  After packing them into our trusty ice chest that never leaves the car, we proceeded to have a fabulous lunch at the Fishery Restaurant. Then we raced home so I could clean my yummy catch in time to have some more for dinner!

One day we hopped on a boat cruise that took us across Charlotte Harbor for Sunday brunch at a place called Burnt Store.  Legend says the Trading Post there was burned down by Billy Bowlegs, the leader of an Indian settlement who was pissed off when settlers invaded their territory.  The Trading Post was never rebuilt, and the name Burnt Store stuck.  The road leading to it – and the one on which we stayed at Gulf View RV Resort (see Steve’s review here) – is Burnt Store Road.  Although the boat cruise was relaxing, the brunch was not very good and there was nothing much else to see or do at Burnt Store.  However, we were happy to see the migrants just offshore, White Pelicans hanging out on a sandbar.  It’s hard to tell in the picture, but these guys are huge – much bigger than a typical brown pelican.

White Pelicans

White Pelicans migrants

The birthday boy, Steve, celebrated his birthday by going to the Muscle Car City Museum after reading Sue and Dave’s recent post about it. He discovered that the museum  was right up the street from our RV park.  It had an amazing collection of Corvettes, at least one from every year it has been produced.  He also salivated over the Camaros, Chevelles and El Caminos, all of which he had worked on and rebuilt in his earlier mechanical life.

Muscle Car City

Muscle Car City Museum

This guy bought a former Walmart store and filled it with classic cars – how cool is that?

Muscle Car City Museum

Steve had a good laugh at this sign in the restroom

Finally, the chance to gather with friends had arrived.  We first met up for lunch with Joe and Judy at Ft. Myers, a midway point between Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda. They were so kind to restock us with fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice from Sun Harvest.  After our BBQ meal we talked about where we might meet again and said our goodbyes.

Next we drove to Venice, Florida to meet up one more time with Sue and Dave of Belugas Excellent Adventure, and John and Pam of Oh the Places.  We had a delicious lunch at Sharkys by the Pier and then walked to the Venice pier and along the beach.  Sue introduced us to fossilized shark tooth hunting/collecting.

Sue told us that collecting prehistoric shark’s teeth has been a favorite pastime for visitors and residents of the Venice area for years.  They may be black, brown, or gray, depending on the minerals in the soil in which they have been buried.  They range in size from one eighth inch to three inches, and on rare occasions larger.  Collectors or enthusiasts bring their metal sifter, scoop up a bunch of sand, then dump it on the beach before sifting through for the teeth.

During subsequent walks I have collected some items, but I think only one of them might be a shark’s tooth.  Am I right Sue?

Fossilized Sharks Teeth

Fossilized Sharks Teeth?

After the beach adventure we followed our friends to Snook Haven, where the sign says it all:

Snook Haven

After enjoying a refreshment and more talk, the cool people had to split up and be on their way.  We vowed to meet again somewhere in this vast land of ours, perhaps this summer.  Thank you friends, for hanging out with us – and lets keep in touch!

Next up:  A 2nd Anniversary Post of our Top Ten Hikes

*******************************************************************

Hanging out in Lake Monroe, FL

Comments 14 Standard
Ibises

We usually don’t make RV park reservations six months in advance, for doing so can mess up our flexibility (we call it “jello planning”) as we travel along.  But we were forewarned that snow birders from the northeast flock to Florida during the winter and parks fill up fast.  Now, six months later, we arrived at Lake Monroe, Florida for a month’s stay at Town And Country RV Resort.

Town and Country RV Resort

Even the golf carts are in the holiday spirit

We learned long ago not to be fooled by the “resort” designation, as it is often misused to make a park or campground sound like what it isn’t.  We chose this park for its proximity to Orlando Int’l Airport, from which we’ll be departing for our vacation.

Town and Country RV Resort

This place is not exactly the stuff you write home about.  In fact, the campground has been sold to a developer and in its place will be homes which will be constructed next year.  No wonder the park is not crowded; on the contrary we’ve seen several of the “perms” packing and moving elsewhere.  We feel bad for them, as many of them live in structures that cannot be moved and will have to start over.  But to our advantage there are fewer campers, no crowds, less noise and spacious surroundings.  We’ve kept ourselves busy – I with my household chores and reading, while Steve does maintenance and minor repairs.

We have a great site, an end spot under a huge oak tree with a canal view 🙂 (site #9).  The local “feathered residents” are so welcoming as they check us out daily – early in the morning, around noon and again in the early evening – showing off their plumage.

As you may know, Florida is teeming with birds and I don’t have to walk far from our site to observe these waterfowl quarry for food in the canal next to our site.

The weather here during the past week has been astounding – 80’s during the day and mid-60’s at night – as we leave our windows open while we sleep.  This, while most of the nation is suffering such a cold snap.  We almost feel guilty!  Our friend Marcy advised us that a “National Hate Florida Day” has been designated because of our fantastic weather break.

Lake Monroe Conservation Area

For our exercise, we drove to the nearby Lake Monroe Wildlife Conservation Area to tackle their yellow, red and blue blaze trails.  We went there twice and never encountered another human during our long walks (although we did chat with several cows).  Is that cool or what!

wpid19831-2013-12-04-FL-1220669.jpg

Gee, hope I don’t get a sunburn!

Lake Monroe Conservation Area

They must think we’re trespassing – we’ll just keep mooooving!

Sandhill Cranes

Lake Monroe Conservation Area

Ground Spider

~Thousands of these spider webs were all over
the dew-covered fields when we arrived.

The city of Sanford was only 10 miles away, so on another day we loaded up the bikes after deciding to ride along their “Riverwalk” – thinking it would be a nice a long path.  Well, it was actually quite short, but we enjoyed riding its length several times while checking out the abundant waterfowl that seemed quite comfortable in this urban setting.

Riverwalk, Sanford Florida

Wow, it’s really warm out here today!

Riverwalk, Sanford Florida

This woman is in “bird heaven”

Armed with a tip from Steve’s barber, we took another trip to a more promising bike path at Big Tree Park, which follows the Cross Seminole Trail.  Before our ride, we walked down the park’s boardwalk to see “The Senator”, an approximately 3,500 year old Bald Cypress Tree that was lost to an arson fire in January of 2012.  Steve angrily commented that he hoped whoever did that would himself burn when the time came.

About 40′ feet away is the Senator’s sister tree – “Lady Liberty” – another Bald Cypress Tree estimated at approximately 2,000 years old.

The Cross Seminole Trail was not one of our favorites, because a large section of it ran through residential areas and paralleled a heavy traffic road.  But part of it was nice as it passed through 3 miles of Big Tree Park and over U.S. Highway17/92 via a large overpass.  The signage was a bit confusing and we ended up stopping after 10 miles.

I know it seems like we are running around all the time, but yes we do take a break now and then to just sit around or read while waiting for our feathered friends to come and visit us.

Town and Country RV Park

Our afternoons at the site.  Did I mention how warm it is here?

I still have a post to write about our exciting visit to the Kennedy Space Center, but I’m running out of time.  By the time you read this Steve and I will be on our way to San Juan, Puerto Rico to hang out for a few days before hopping on a Royal Caribbean liner for a seven-day cruise in the southern Caribbean.  Steve calls this “a vacation from our vacation”, for he will not have to drive Betsy during this trip.  We’ll be back a few days before Christmas – happy holidays to all of you!

Lastly, just for laughs this holiday season, somebody does not know their spanish…

Funny Sign

Next up:  Touring the Kennedy Space Center, FL

*******************************************************************

Finally, sunshine in the sunshine state, Florida

Comments 21 Standard
Fuente de los Canos de San Francisco

An obvious perk of being able to take your home with you is the ability to move away from any place that is icy, snowy or just plain cold.  During the past few months we’ve been hanging around the beaches of the Carolinas and Georgia as we headed south.  And just like the Canadian geese, we’ve migrated toward warmer weather and lots of sunshine.

Canadian Geese

Hey down there – follow us!

And where could that be?

Welcome sign, Florida State

We’ve arrived at our winter destination – the sunshine state of Florida – where we’ll be wandering around for the next four months. This will be the first time we’ll stay in an RV park for a whole month.  Our plan is to slow down and move around this big state, beginning in eastern Florida near Orlando for December.  We’ll spend January with friends in Bonita Springs on the gulf coast.  In February we’ll stop for a week each in the Miami Everglades, Key West and Ft. Lauderdale.  Finally, in March we’ll head back west and cruise up along the panhandle.   At least that’s the plan at the moment, no telling if or how it might change along the way.

We spent Thanksgiving weekend at St. Augustine, which of course can be a crazy time to be anywhere.  With a cold snap lingering and the weather being crappy, we thought folks might just stay home to watch tv or something.  Wrong!  The shopping crowd was out in full force when we arrived at the historic downtown.  The cold and wind didn’t stop these crazy shoppers from enjoying the holiday spirit.  Oh wait, we were there – does that make us crazy too?

Downtown St Augustine

St. George Street , old St. Augustine

We joined the crowd, doing a little shopping and wandering around the old streets.  But only after filling our tummies for the first time with a delicious and authentic Cuban lunch and a glass of sangria.  Yum!

Since we were in an urban setting, I had to settle for people watching instead of bird watching, as we enjoyed our sangria.

St George St. Old St Augustine

Next we took our own walking tour of the “oldest city”.  The city of St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest permanently occupied European settlement, having been founded by the Spanish in 1565.  We didn’t delve too much into the city’s history, instead we chose to simply enjoy the feel of the history by strolling the narrow old-world streets.

Old City Gate, St Augustine

These gates were once the only entrance into St. Augustine.  They were built in 1808 as a line of defense, in conjunction with a wall that surrounded the city.

Alcazar Hotel ça 1888, Lightner Museum

Lightner Museum, formerly the Alcazar Hotel (ca 1888)

Even if history was not our center of interest this time, we couldn’t help but appreciate the rich heritage that makes St. Augustine a unique city.  Strolling along the narrow streets, we noticed that the street patterns and architectural ambiance reflected Spanish origins.

Aviles St, St Augustine

The oldest street in St. Augustine, Aviles Street

Historic Flagler College

Historic Flagler College, formerly the Hotel Ponce De Leon

Fuente de los Canos de San Francisco

A reproduction of Fuente de los Canos de San Francisco, created in City of Aviles, Spain

The following evening we headed back to the city, as St. Augustine was said to glow at night with holiday magic – from the ground to the rooftops.  The town boasted being selected by National Geographic in 2011 & 2012 as one of the ten best holiday lighting displays in the world.  The Nights of Lights features millions of tiny white and colored lights that create a magical atmosphere in the old city.

Night of Lights

Steve shows off his cool Holospex shades

Donning the Holospex glasses provided by Holly Jolly Tours, we saw the city sparkle to life as all of those lights were transformed by the glasses into snowflake shapes.  We have to say this was a pretty cool tour and a good way to get into the holiday spirit, as the trolley cruised around town blaring classic Christmas tunes for everyone on the streets to hear.

Night of Lights, St Augustine, FL

Regular lights sparkle and glitter like snowflakes when viewed through the Holospex glasses

We joined in the revelry, yelling Christmas greetings to passersby and singing Christmas carols as we toured around town – and we were sober!  We were glad the forecasted rain did not materialize to dampen our holiday spirit.  Hopping off the trolley tour, we were greeted by folks who served us hot apple cider and cookies – yum, again.  We continued walking on our own, admiring the millions of lights that transformed downtown St. Augustine into a holiday wonderland.

Night of Lights, Plaza de la Constitucion

Night at the Plaza de la Constitucion

We enjoyed a fun holiday stop at St. Augustine.  Now, back to our hideaway to live a quieter life with wildlife as our main entertainment.

Next up:  Lake Monroe, FL and a vacation from our vacation!

*******************************************************************