Saturday, November 28, 2015

Trip Wrapped Around a Seminar: Florida

In January 2013 I went to a seminar in Orlando, Florida. I'd not been to Florida before, so I decided to take in some sites both before and after the seminar to take advantage of the weekends. My wife Judy joined me after the seminar. I give a brief description of what I/we did and then link to posts we did related to our Florida activities. 

On Friday evening, I took a non-stop night flight from Los Angeles to Orlando. It arrived in Orlando at 5:35 a.m. I picked up a rental car at the airport and immediately started driving northwest to Crystal River on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It was 99 miles and just under a two hour drive. I had to be at Crystal Lodge Dive Center at 8:00 a.m. to take a boat out looking for manatees. I got off late, because of waiting for luggage and getting the car, so I drove fast and managed to make the boat, even though I was about 20 minutes late. I saw several manatees, one when I was in the water snorkeling and one from the boat. Afterwards I stopped for an early lunch at Pecks Old Port Cove where I had blackened grouper stuffed with crab cakes and a shrimp based cream sauce. Then I set off for St. Augustine, 123 miles east (2 hours, 50 minutes) on the Atlantic Coast. On the way out of Crystal River I spotted a sign for "piss clams."  I'd never heard of them before, so I stopped, ordered a pound to go, and ended up eating them there after the waitress showed me how I needed to eat them. They were the best clams I've ever eaten. I got to St. Augustine and loved it. I knew from grade school that Ponce de Leon discovered what he thought was the fountain of youth there, and I'd learned it was the oldest settlement in the U.S., but it has much to recommend. I visited Castillo de San Marcos and Mission Nombre de Dios and Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche where the Spanish first landed. I spent the night at the Regency Inn near the ocean. 
     Florida Manatee  (Bob)

Sunday morning the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park caught my eye and I made an unplanned visit. They had crocodiles and alligators from all over the world, and most impressively, a massive enclosure with hundreds of alligators. There I heard massive alligators raise their heads and push air out of their mouths making a sound like an African lion growling. I had a marvelous lunch at the Floridian, a place I stopped because it was there and I was hungry. Great choice. I visited several beautiful churches, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine and Memorial Presbyterian Church. I walked through downtown St. Augustine and enjoyed the fun little shops and beautiful January sunshine. I'd thought of driving to Orlando to eat, but I'd enjoyed the Floridian so much for lunch that I went back there for dinner. After dinner I drove about an hour and 45 minutes (107 miles) to Orlando where I checked into a Quality Suites hotel. 

My seminar started Monday and went until Friday at noon. It was in a massive hotel that was expensive and full of people, so I ventured out for lunch and dinner to different places to eat. King O Falafel in Kissimmee was my lunch destination three of the days. It served great Middle Eastern food and was not crowded. I also tried Jerusalem Restaurant in Kissimmee and did not like it as well. For dinners I ate at Ethos Vegan Kitchen in Winter Park, the fabulous Cafe 118 Degrees in Winter Park (twice because I liked it so much) and the funky Dandelion Communitea Cafe in Orlando. 

I skipped Friday morning of my seminar and met Judy at the airport in Orlando at 5:35 a.m. Once she got her luggage we set out by car for Miami in southern Florida and ultimately to Florida City, outside the Everglades where we had a reservation for the night. The drive to Florida City was about 268 miles (just under four hours). On the drive down we looked on-line at Trip Advisor and decided to visit Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami. As we were leaving I asked someone in the gift shop about a restaurant I'd read about that served stone crab. She called and found out an address and when it opened and we drove to South Beach to Joe's Stone Crab where we had some good seafood served by waiters in tuxedos - a very fun experience. Then it was off to Florida City, kind of a rundown area that seems to exist solely as a place for people visiting Everglades National Park to stay at night and to get something to eat. We drove into Everglades late afternoon and visited the Visitors Center, the wonderful Anhinga Trail, and the Gumbo Limbo Trail. We had a good grilled alligator sandwich just outside the park at Gator Grill. We spent that night and the next at a Travelodge that was highly rated on Trip Advisor but pretty mediocre. 
     Florida: Miami  (Judy)
     Green Heron  (Bob)

Saturday morning we got up early determined to spend the entire day in the Everglades. We went back to the fabulous Anhinga Trail where we saw lots of alligators and other wildlife. It is the best spot in the Everglades for wildlife. Then we continued down the road deeper into the Everglades and did the Pinelands Walking Trail, the Pa-hay-okee Overlook, the Mahogany Hammock Trail, a walk into West Lake, did a 3.2 mile walk on the Snake Bight Trail and drove to the end of the road at Flamingo. On the way out we stopped again at the Anhinga Trail. 
     Florida: The Everglades  (Judy) 
     Florida Chicken Turtle  (Bob) 
     Florida Redbelly Turtle  (Bob)
     Double-Crested Cormorant  (Bob)
     Great White Egret  (Bob)
     Snowy Egret  (Bob) 
     Great Blue Heron  (Bob)
     Little Blue Heron  (Bob)
     Tricolored Heron  (Bob) 
     American White Ibis  (Bob) 
     Wood Stork  (Bob)
     Black Vulture  (Bob)

Sunday morning early we went back out to the Everglades and Anhinga Trail and had the best experience there of the multiple times we visited. We saw alligators basking everywhere. The Anhinga Trail is a treasure. Then we set off for the Florida Keys, a two and a half hour drive (126 miles). The drive through the Keys is spectacular, up and over long bridges, small islands, water on each side of the road. We drove all the way to Key West, on the last island, and first visited the Ernest Hemingway home, then the Little White House where President Harry Truman used to vacation. Afterwards we had dinner at The Cafe. We spent the night at the Fairfield Inn in Key West.
     The Cafe - Key West  (Bob)      

Monday morning we drove back to Miami and had lunch at Green Gables in Coral Gables. Then we dropped off our car at Miami International Airport where we had a 3:55 p.m. flight. Unfortunately, our American Airlines flight had problems and we spent the night sleeping on the floor in the airport. We did end up getting back to Los Angeles the next day. 

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