Thursday, November 30, 2006
Beautiful Cedar Key waterfront
So the Woodstork says to the Pelican .....
For those who are of the opinion that you cannot use the words “undeveloped” and “Florida” in the same sentence, we now beg to differ. May we introduce you to Cedar Key? It is described by locals as a quaint fishing village. That might be a stretch. It is a village and, they do fish. Maybe it’s quaint after sunset. It is definitely unique. It seems to be populated by folks who may have been kicked out of Key West for failing to uphold the local moral code. Characters all!! The waterfront, of course, is inhabited by one bar after another and, they seem to be habitually, if not continuously, frequented.
In fact, we happened to set foot in one such establishment…..briefly. Being the only tourists, we nursed our beer at the bar, while listening to the neighborhood scuttlebutt. It seems that the news of the day involved a village lady shooting a village gentleman in the face as the result of a rather indelicate advance. He is apparently still alive. Rather than commiserate with either of the protagonists in this drama, the local women at the bar (all evidently single and all over 50) were commenting on how the poor victim would have fared had THEY shot him. It appears that they are more heavily armed than their village sister. One did mention something about a 357 magnum!!! I immediately decided to warn my single brethren. This is NOT a good bar to pick up chicks!!!!!
We pulled into our current location, several county road turns out of the booming metropolis of Old Town, after dark…….a new and interesting experience for us. We were cruising down the last county road at the rip roaring speed of about 5 miles an hour, trying to find the place and…..guess what? The RV Park is doing an excellent job of conserving electricity!!!! No lights! It is fair to say that the star-gazing in this region is excellent. There is NO ambient light! We finally found the welcoming ambiance of a locked gate! Fortunately, we had called ahead to advise of our late arrival and, had learned the “trick” for the gate. In the end, all went well but, we ARE stocking up on flashlights.
This part of Florida (due west of Gainesville) is undeveloped and, is likely to stay that way for some time. However, we visited a large, state run nature preserve in Homosassa that was extraordinary. They had virtually every animal and bird indigenous to Florida plus one, 47 year old, 7,000 pound hippopotamus……long story!! Most of the residents had been injured and nursed back to health. We finally saw a Florida panther and a couple of bobcats. They had literally thousands (no exaggeration) of birds: Bald Eagles, Spoonbills, Whooping Cranes, flocks of all the shore and wading species and, numerous varieties of owls, hawks and herons. Every bird you could think of. For Brenda, the hits of the place were the Manatees. We caught the Manatee feeding. They truly are gentle giants.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Elmer at work again. Double click for impressive detail.
There are waterfront properties and ...... there are ....... WATERFRONT PROPERTIES!
It’s time to hit the road again. Enough sloth!! We have spent the past month knocking around Florida, getting a tan, visiting friends and family and generally taking things easy. Had a great Thanksgiving with Brenda’s parents at their place in Sarasota and, we enjoyed visiting with friends who have a winter place on Longboat Key. We had a great evening with them. On Tuesday we will be stopping to have lunch with friends in the St. Petersburg area and then heading north to get back into some serious “exploration”.
We have been told of a wonderful RV resort in the Florida panhandle at Santa Rosa Beach so, we will “hole up” there for a few days. Apparently there are abundant wildlife and numerous nature preserves, trails, etc. so, let the exploring begin!!!
From there, we will definitely be stopping in the area of Mobile Alabama. Then, into Texas, likely around Houston. The longer we stay on the road; the more people we speak to and; the more information we accumulate; the more confused we seem to get regarding where we should plan to visit. We obviously cannot “do it all”. Input is sincerely appreciated but, at the end of the day, we’ll just have to figure it out. We’ve had wonderful advice from friends at home and people we have met along the way. All good!!
The park in which we are located in Sarasota has space for in excess of 1,000 motorhomes. To say that it was busy over the Thanksgiving weekend is a major understatement. It was a *@ zoo!! But……….. we returned “home” last night after the day away and dinner out and, abbra cadabra…….poof ………………..most of the “neighbours” were gone. Disappeared! Great! We had a quiet day today before we “saddle up”. We did manage to catch one last sand castle and, it was a beaut, on Bradenton Beach. The overturned pail of sand just won’t cut it any more. We also caught one last real castle – the Ringling Estate. According to Brenda, little houses on the river in Brockville just won’t cut it any more either!!!!
Sunday, November 19, 2006
The jolly fat man is here ... oh yeah .. Santa too
Since we will not be rolling down the highway making new (for us) discoveries until after US Thanksgiving, next weekend; we are left to ponder the more mundane differences between our life in an aluminum box on wheels and our life in Brockville. Many are obvious….missing family and friends……..sunshine ;-)…..etc. However, we are always puzzled at the wonderful selection of good wines at even the most modest of corner grocery stores. Our nearest Winn-Dixie, which must surely be one of their “B” or “C” stores has three complete isles of wine selections, albeit US-centric selections. The wines are not the usual “depanneur-plonk” found in grocery stores in Quebec but, a wide selection up to and including Opus One (a great, and expensive, California Cab). And, you have to love the promos. “Buy 3 bottles from the same producer and get the 3’rd bottle free”. I’ll bet that doesn’t apply to the Opus One! “Today only…….40% off all magnums”. As Yakov Smirnov, the Russian comedian, used to say…………”You gotta love this country”.
But………….try and buy good cheese. Impossible!!! And what the heck is Monterey Jack anyway? US cheese seems to have a high rubber content and, it all tastes the same. We bought an “aged cheddar” the other day that tasted like Velveeta. Oh what we would give for a nice ripe piece of Boursault or Epoisses. If anyone knows where Americans hide their good cheese, please let us know because it certainly has eluded us. With all of the security paranoia, maybe they think that terrorists have hatched a plot involving raw milk!
We always used to think that Thanksgiving was a much “bigger deal” in the US than in Canada. However, in this neck of the woods, they seem to have skipped right over it and gone directly to Christmas. All the decorating is in the Christmas theme with nary a turkey in sight. Could it be rampant commercialism????? Thanksgiving is still a week away but, you would think that Christmas was next week by all the “decked halls”. But………..NO SNOW!!!
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Has anyone seen my kitty?
Florida certainly has a diverse wildlife population. And, I’m not speaking of the blue-rinse Geritol Granny strutting down the main drag in pink hot-pants. Even the RV Park in which we have been located for the past week has a large Wood Stork population and a pair of Bald Eagles, as well as the usual Ibis, Egret and of course, the ever-present alligator.
We spent yesterday afternoon hiking through the Audubon Cypress Swamp, southeast of here hoping for a glimpse of the elusive Florida Panther. No luck however, the bird species were unique, for a couple of “snow birds” (Maybe that pun was intended). We saw both Gold-Crested and Black-Crested Night Herons, which kindly appeared during the day, as well all the usual Florida wading species. One large bull alligator was so still for so long on a sunny outcropping that it led one hiker to ask if it was dead!!! I wonder if we could have convinced the inquisitive hiker to go over and see. The locals seemed mighty impressed with a Piliated Woodpecker. I explained that we would gladly send them a few from our neighbourhood. You know………… the ones that are so big they actually kill trees.
Development seems to occupy every corner of this state and, even though the Audubon Swamp is ½ hour east of Naples, one of the volunteers there claimed that the number of breeding Wood Storks has declined in the past 4 years from 18,000 pair to 4,000 pair, all as a result of encroaching development!! I’m no tree-hugger but, that’s frightening!
The beach towns, at this time of year, are much quieter during the week than on the weekend. In a few days, for the weekend, we can expect the return of the Beer-Swilling Freshman and the Silicone-Breasted Cutie. Wildlife everywhere!!
Monday, November 13, 2006
Elmer at work!!
It is amazing how different from each other various communities are on the west coast of Florida. Fort Myers Beach was “chock-o-block” over the weekend, making rush hour in Toronto look like speed week. But, a few miles north, on Sanibel and Captiva Islands, you could drive around at 15 MPH and no traffic built up behind. The roads were almost empty. Our exploring continues and we have found some interesting little communities.
We also learned the secret to building the perfect sand castle……….Elmer’s Glue!!! That’s how the pros do it. 3 parts water and one part Elmer’s Glue. There was a large sand castle building contest in Fort Myers Beach and the empty five gallon pails of glue were everywhere. Kinda takes some of the “magic” out of the whole thing. Even with the glue, some of the most complex structures began to collapse after they dried out. We met with some of the builders and ……….this is their career, going from contest to contest, week after week. One of the better builders, a young woman from Burlington, Ontario claims that this job keeps her out of the dull, grey Burlington winters. There is some logic at work here! Prize money for the winner was $3,000 for 24 hours of work. But……you gotta win!!!
We’ve been on the road for a total of about 7 weeks and it looks like we are about to experience our 4’th day of rain later this week. Not a bad average and, we’re not complaining. We could not have asked for a better patch of weather. We just hope it keeps up. Hurricane season officially ends in a couple of weeks but it’s been a pretty benign season. There are actually a few clouds today!!
We’re looking forward to hearing the results from the various elections back home. We are too far south to pick up the Expressvu satellite and have to rely on the internet. The US coverage of Canadian municipal elections is a tad weak!! Canada? Where’s that at? There are so many interesting election contests in Ontario this year. Even Brockville!!
Friday, November 10, 2006
I sure hope it's the camera that's fuzzy..... not the room
Trying to pick the best bar in Key West is like trying to pick the pretty girl in a beauty pageant! After much research and hours of contemplation (some of it involving one’s navel………the contemplation…not the research) we have determined that Rob was right. The Green Parrot Bar, winner by a slim margin, requires its bands in order to win. They did lose major points given that their bands only play Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Nevertheless, they won huge “quality” points because their bands are the most professional and really do rock. The clientele was also the most “eclectic” and local. Other bars have bands playing all day, every day. In some establishments using the term “band” might be a bit of a stretch. Drunk guys banging on old guitars seem to qualify in some places.
The competition was quite tight, with honourable mention going to “Schooners Dockside Bar”……happy hour starts at 7:00 ………A.M. (You gotta give major points for that) and “Hog’s Breath Saloon”…..(“Hog’s breath is better than no breath at all”), and finally “Sloppy Joe’s”, a busy, busy Hemingway favourite. The biggest disappointment by far was “Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville”. This place is the McDonalds of KW bars. All plastic and contrived!! Methinks Mr. Buffet made his $$$ and fled. He apparently didn’t even show up for this year’s “Parrot Head Convention”, held each year in his honour. Shame!
We are learning a great deal from our fellow RV’ers and… aren’t they a diverse group! It is amazing how many people have “chucked it all”, purchased palatial “coaches” (the PC word for lavish RV’s) and lots of toys, roaming the country from end to end. Yesterday a “full timer” who spends the fall/winter in KW, the spring in Arizona and the summer in Minnesota gave us a recommendation for an outdoor restaurant on a remote Key, we would never have found in a million years. All locals…and us! Lots to learn.
We said goodbye to Key West and its sunsets and, are now heading north to set down roots for 1 ½ weeks in Fort Meyers Beach. Brenda is convinced that somewhere in the Captiva, Gasparilla area, we will find a winter home for future years. More research! We have greatly enjoyed the Bahamian Out Islands for over 30 years but, they are getting more developed and we are getting less so. We are looking to find that “undiscovered corner of Florida”………. Yes mother………we did have a lot to drink in KW!!
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Another view of our "well protected" site
After the jets
In spite of the cruise ships, we explored KW yesterday. The ships’ passengers only get a few hours on shore so, were a limited “problem”. The locals love the ships, making KW the fourth most active cruise stop in the world! KW is truly an eclectic collection of people and interests, all seeming to co-exist in harmony. At one time there were more millionaires per capita here than anywhere in the USA, as a result of shipwrecking! They even did secede from the USA, as the “Conch (pronounced Konk) Republic”, in 1982, after the US government closed down all access to the Keys in response to the large number of illegal Cubans who were heading to the Keys to escape government scrutiny. The Conch Republic declared war on the US, surrendered the next day, and then sought $3 million in foreign aid!! I’m not making this up! Anyone see the old Peter Sellers movie “The Mouse That Roared”? To say that this place is unique is something of an understatement!
The 26’th Annual Key West Offshore World Championship powerboat races begin today so, there is more than the usual amount of testosterone floating around town. These boats hit 160 miles per hour and rightfully belong “offshore” rather than on the St. Lawrence River in my humble opinion. Could be fun though!
We have found a few bars that are in the running with GPB! Determining a winner may be more than we can handle! The things we do in the interest of “journalism”. Just as in New Orleans, some bars even have outside walk-up windows where one can purchase a drink in a “go cup”. We may need help on this one.
In case I might be accused of making our current RV location seem too perfect………there is one little wrinkle! Our friends in the US Navy operate their U.S.Navy Airbase – Key West (Boca Chica) about 3 miles from where we are parked. Their local “Top Guns” seem to have a propensity to practice, practice, practice. As a result, we have seen the underside of numerous F-18’s and F-16’s “up close and personal”. In fact 4 of their jets went over our “Tiki Hut” at about 300 feet RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF COCKTAIL HOUR. Damn near spilled all the rum out of the Cuba Libres. They seem to cool it once the sun goes down so, unless the US is invaded after dark, we will likely get a good night’s sleep.
In KW it seems that everyone is laying claim to the southernmost something or other. There is the southernmost point of land in the USA; the southernmost house; the southernmost restaurant, yada yada………you get the point. We thought you might appreciate a picture of the southernmost broken cleat in the US. Told you this place is unique!
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
An RV Park with its own airport and golfcourse. OK OK so they're combined!
A view of our site in KW from our dock. RV is behind Tiki Hut.
If you double click on the Tiki Hut picture, you can actually see the RV
The further south we go the better the RV sites get. After spending a relaxing weekend in a beautiful RV park in central Florida, we finally made the long drive to Key West. (WE have yet to see Jimmy Buffet!) Our site in River Ranch, Florida had its own dock on an inland waterway and was beautifully landscaped. Check out the sign from the on site golf course and airport. Then, we got to Key West and, not only do we have our own dock on the ocean, but a furnished “Tiki Hut” and sun lounge area! Haven’t seen any trailer trash for miles!! The sun is just coming up over the water and the nighttime temperature didn’t go below 74 F. This could be IT for the winter!!
As soon as we arrived in Key West late yesterday afternoon, we DASHED to the famous (at least on this humble BLOG) Green Parrot Bar, hereinafter to be known as GPB. As promised it, was filled with a smattering of drunks, hippies (the 60’s must be around here somewhere!), and aging beach bums. Perfect!! This IS the closest you can get to the Bahamas and still be in the US. We attempted to take a picture of the exterior for our e-mail-less buddy Rob but, alas it was too dark. I am positive that taking pictures inside would likely break some ancient code of conduct. It is reasonable to assume that we will return anon, allowing for future snap-shotting. However……….. no live band until Thursday night. What will we ever DO until then?
Key West is busy but manageable however, we have been advised that 3 cruise ships are arriving today, making today a possible “lay low and sun tan” day. Apparently, we get the town back tomorrow and will explore in more detail at that time. We had a long walk back to our car, from the Seven Fish restaurant last evening (good restaurant choice Rob – Zagat’s best) through quiet, darkened neighbourhoods. The architecture of the houses is beautiful and unique, with some having recently received intensive face lifts and others looking forward to some future TLC. Sharon J. should hustle down here! Real estate is NUTS!! Prices are almost at the unbelievable stage. Think of those juicy commissions!! The “lot” on which we are located in this RV Park can be purchased for a mere $800K. No kidding!!!! And them’s REAL dollars y’all.
Our little Tiki hut has a glass-topped table in it so……………..anyone who knows Brenda really well will know what she’ll be up to on a “lay low” day. She HATES dirty glass. Better go and get some Windex now!!
Today is election-day in the Land of the Free. We have been inundated with local TV election ads all the way and, it seems the further south you go, the dirtier the ads get. Apparently every southern politician is a crook who does nothing but line his (her) own pockets and engage is secret liaisons. Who knows……..could be “truth in advertising!” It will be great to lose all these ads…..after being subjected to all the post-election “Monday morning quarterbacking”! Go Democrats!! That’s right Mary…….no typo.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
"Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last"
It is very difficult to be glib about the Martin Luther King Jr. Centre in Atlanta. The National Park Service has again created a site that is extremely well done, compelling and moving. The entire neighbourhood in which Dr. King grew up has been purchased and preserved, including the original Ebenezer Baptist church at which MLK co-pastored with his father, after his grandfather left the post. We had forgotten that Martin Luther King’s mother was shot dead playing the organ in this church several years after MLK’s death!!! A large MLK centre has been built in the middle of the neighbourhood in which both MLK’s life and the struggle for equal rights are portrayed in detail. Unfortunately, we do not need to travel to Afghanistan or Iraq to find hate. Having the entire struggle for human rights powerfully detailed in pictures, film and first-person accounts will hopefully remind us all, for all time, of the sins of the past. Will we ever learn??
What do you call a bar with a second storey patio looking out over a major Atlanta cemetery? “Six Feet Under” of course. Great seafood and good draft beers too! A hopping spot which my “bride” read about in a guide book. We could have stayed over to try it again but, thought better of it!!!
We finally bid adieu to Atlanta and are now comfortably ensconced on the banks of the Suwannee River (as in “Way down upon the……….”), near White Springs Florida. We are parked under a “live oak” tree with Spanish moss hanging down onto the roof of the RV. It damn well better not stain the white (who’s dumb idea was that!!!!) rubber roof of ours. We just put the RV through a truck wash (you always meet interesting people there!!!) on the way down here. Our auto-satellite dish won’t find the Bell Expressvu satellite due to the trees and the moss but, we have the best Wi-Fi connection we have had yet!! Life is all about compromise!!!
Lots of cotton in southern Georgia but not as ripe as further north. Hopefully some ag student can explain that to us. We are planning to slow it down over the next month and have even booked into a couple of sites for a week or more. It looks like we’ll be in Florida for the entire month of November, heading into Texas around December 1. So blog reports may be somewhat less frequent (unless we find daily reports from Rob’s Green Parrot Bar are necessary).
And now…….a special message for Rob Hammond…a good friend and great traveling companion who has been relentless in providing almost daily tips and advice to assist us along the way. The problem is Rob is a somewhat techno phobic lawyer whose e-mail system will not receive messages from us (maybe he’s smarter than we think). We have been trying to e-mail him twice a day…….morning and night. ROB…….HIRE SOME GEEK TO FIX YOUR E-MAIL SYSYTEM!!!!!!!!