St. Pete, Kids, Birthday and Home Again

We drove from the Melbourne gam across the state to St. Petersburg, Florida. It's not a long trip and not particularly scenic, but it avoided tolls (there's that budget kicking in again) and was pleasant enough as we chatted and re-lived the highlights of the gam, especially reacquainting with so many old friends. We arrived in St. Pete mid-afternoon and were welcomed by Brennan and Hannah, and our grand-dog, Olive. Olive's main preoccupation in life, beyond eating, pooping and sleeping, is “ball”. olive and her ball

The “kids” purchased their first home this past year in the “Historic Kenwood” area of St. Petersburg and it was our first chance to see it. It's a 1923 sweetheart of a place with lots of character and funky nooks and crannies which they readily admit might be a money pit. They've already done lots of work and the projects continue to roll on. In other words, they love it and so did we. We even had our own “parents” apartment all to ourselves. Quite the luxury!

b & h historic home

We celebrated my birthday one evening with dinner at Gateway to India, an upscale Indian restaurant with great food. We're not a gift-oriented family for birthdays, but being with them to celebrate for the first time in ~20 years was pretty special … despite good-natured ribbing about my increasing years and parsimonious nature.

marcie's birthday cards

Even Google wished me a happy birthday! Talk about Big Brother always watching. Actually, it's FB since it wishes both us a happy b-day and David's is in July. FB snitched!

a happy birthday from google

Having missed our daily morning walks lately, Brennan and Olive took us on a lovely 6.5 mile walk along St. Pete's Central Avenue down to the bay and back again. Street art is definitely alive and well in St. Petersburg's downtown artsy area. Though we missed the MFA and the Dali Museum (on the list for next time), walking by the galleries and decorated buildings was interesting and inspiring.

st petersburg florida street art

All too soon, it was time to head to Orlando and board the flight back to Vegas. We had opted for “low fares” when I made the reservations. We'd forgotten that “low fares” meant NO amenities whatsoever (including no reclining seats) AND two stopovers … one in Cinncinati and a plane change in Denver. It was a long, long day punctuated with long waits, too much coffee and sore necks, but we survived. The extreme turbulence arriving in Vegas prompted the passengers to hoot, holler and applaud as we landed. Our luggage got lost somewhere along the way, but Frontier promised they'd find it and deliver it … soon. Mary and Paul were there to meet us at the airport and whisk us away to the “big house”.

All is well. We're right back where we started from 10 days ago, ready to resume our morning walks on the golf course and prepare for the holidays and our next adventure. Where to next? Stick around … you know we love to share.

Off to Florida - Fun and Friends

It's been a hectic, crazy whirlwind of a time in Florida. We took a red-eye, non-reclining seat, uncomfortable Frontier flight from Vegas to Orlando. The usual … it sounded cheap, but by the time we paid for baggage, reserved seats together (in the back of the plane, no less), it ended up being fairly expensive. Bleary-eyed and tired, (although I still had time to pose with Snow White… after all we are in Disney territory), we picked up our rental car and made our way to Davenport, just south of Orlando to visit old cruising friends, John and Nicole, whom we'd first met in Tahiti. marcie and snow white

Nicole and John are most excellent hosts and very hospitable folks and excused us early the first night so we could catch up on our zzzzz's, and we did. They live in a gated community with lots of walking paths lined with live oak trees, draped with Spanish moss, aka old man's beard. We walked each morning we were there. The inhabitants in these marshy wetlands and lakes are a bit different than we're used to seeing in the Las Vegas desert. We saw a sign warning us not to swim, feed or touch the alligators. As if!!!

gator warning sign in florida

Then we saw the alligator. Yikes! Watch out, poodles!

gator sighting in florida

Our visit centered around eating, chatting, drinking, eating, drinking, eating and local exploration. Recovered and rearing to go, our hosts whisked us away first to lunch at the Cherry Pocket, a local, well-known hole-in-the-wall restaurant that served up excellent seafood in a rustic sort of atmosphere.

cherry pocket cafe in florida

We ate on the deck, enjoying the warm Florida sun and watched anoles and geckos skitter across the floor. A big turtle dawdled near the water's edge and wood storks plied the nearby waters for lunch.

wood stork in florida

One day we visited Winter Park and took the scenic lake tour on a pontoon boat. There's lots of old money here and the “cottages” spoke to early 20th century wealth and luxury. The shallow-draft boat wended its way through circuitous, narrow canals lined with lush trees and foliage that connected one lake to another.

canal bridge in florida

We were surprised, as was the tour guide, when David spotted a bald eagle perched on a treetop.

bald eagle in florida

Lunch was at Bosphorous, a Turkish restaurant that John and Nicole knew well. The surroundings were Turkish antiques and the authentic food was awesome. The desserts looked tantalizing, but the appetizers and mains in which we indulged didn't leave room. Maybe next time?

puncturing lavas in florida

Not far away was the Morse Museum, the foremost collection of Tiffany glass in the world.

tiffany lamps at the morse museum in florida

We waltzed through the galleries of exquisite stained glass windows and lamps and art deco creations. The lighting was perfect to take advantage of the rich colors and intricate designs. It was almost dreamlike.

tiffany collage

We headed back to John and Nicole's in time to watch the election returns together. In years past, David and I had a tradition of ordering in Chinese food and sitting in front of the tube to watch the news coverage of the election and our hosts were only too happy to oblige us. We noshed on Chinese and watched as the results of this most contentious contest rolled in. Though unhappy with the results, we were oh so happy it was finally over.

And then, just like that, it was time to leave and head to the upcoming SSCA gam. Our presentations were still not completed and we were feeling a bit of angst as we hugged John and Nicole goodbye and caught up with reality during the drive to Melbourne, Florida.

Stay tuned for more angst as we “gam it up” in Melbourne.

14 Free Things to Do in St. Augustine

I knew if I looked hard enough I'd uncover a bunch of free things to do in St. Augustine. It actually wasn't hard once I started looking. See for yourself … st. augustine, florida

1. Take a self-guided city walking tour.

We found we really didn't need to buy a guidebook at all. It's easy to explore the city by just wandering around. There are signs and info placards in front of places of interest throughout the city. Look for statues (Ponce de Leon, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Henry Flagler), city landmarks (City Gate), churches and cathedrals. Don't forget to walk along the narrow streets in the residential areas for unique, picturesque gates and gardens. The trolley tours of the city are modestly priced, but if you enjoy walking and wandering … and St. Augustine is a good walking city … just check out the trolley tour route on-line in advance. It provides lots of information, as well as the main sights to see.

trolley tour map st. augustine, florida

2. Walk over the Bridge of Lions to Anastasia Island

The Bridge of Lions is beautiful and it's a short walk across. Check out the Carrera marble lions on both sides of the bridge. If you're lucky, the bridge will open while you're walking across and you'll see sailboats or even the Black Raven, the local pirate ship, heading through on the Intracoastal Waterway. Except during the busiest traffic hours (0800/Noon/1700), the bridge opens for boats on request on the hour and half hour. You can monitor the bridge on VHF Channel 09.

pirate ship in st. augustine, florida

3. Beaches

The beaches here are lovely and access to the public is free. Parking is at a premium, but some of the beaches are the type you can drive right up to and actually park on the beach. Come early to stake out your claim.

vilano beach, st. augustine, florida

4. Free Distillery and Winery Tours and Tastings

The St. Augustine Distillery and the San Sebastian Winery both offer free tours and tastings (age 21 and older). They are located right in the old city, an easy walk in historic downtown St. Augustine. Additionally, if you're an olive oil or balsamic vinegar connoisseur (or would like to be), The Ancient Olive offers tastings of olive oils and balsamics.

san sebastion winery st. augustine, florida

5. Aviles Street

Brick-paved Aviles Street, named after the city's founder Pedro Menendez de Aviles, is touted as the oldest street in America. It's lined with boutiques, antique shops, bistros, cafes and historic houses. Browse, explore, window shop. It doesn't cost a penny.

aviles street, st. augustine, florida

6. St. George Pedestrian Mall

More touristy and crowded than Aviles Street, this pedestrian mall in the old Spanish Quarter is still interesting to explore. Multiply the offerings on Aviles Street by 10 and that's St. George Pedestrian Mall. If people watching is your thing, this is a good place for it.

7. St. Photios Shrine & the Peck-Peña House Tour

While you're on the St. George mall, you can duck into St. Photio's, a Greek Orthodox shrine, rich in Byzantine décor, statuary and historic significance. The Peck-Peña House is just up the street from the Shrine and, unlike most of the historical houses in town, offers a free historic house tour at designated times throughout the day.

st. photios shrine, st. augustine, florida

8. Fort Matanzas National Monument

This small, but interesting fort, is about 14 miles from the old city on Anastasia Island. There is no admission charge for this US National Park facility and even the ferry ride to Rattlesnake Island where the fort is located is free. There's a movie and interesting displays at the Visitor's Center. The fort is small, but worth the visit and a ½ mile boardwalk trail through the beach flora is pleasant. You might even spot one of the gopher tortoises that make their home there.

9. Free exhibits at the Visitor's Center and Government House

We were pleasantly surprised by the city's Visitor's Center. There are several interesting displays and lots of information available. This is also the main parking facility for the old city area. Parking, unfortunately, is not free.

visitors center, st. augustine, florida

Near the Plaza is the Government House which offers free exhibits from time to time. While we visited, an interesting exhibit on Dugout Canoes was available.

st. augustine, florida

10. Free concerts and movies

There are two venues for free summer concerts in the city. There's a Music by the Sea Concert Series at the St. Augustine Amphitheater and Concerts in the Plaza, right on the old city plaza in front of the Cathedral. Just Google “free concerts st augustine” or “free movies st augustine” for current scheds and movie/performance offerings. Bring your chair or blanket and your dinner if you wish, but no alcohol is allowed.

11. Davenport Park Carousel

This is a good place to bring the kids to run off some energy. Entrance to this city park is free and there's plenty of playground equipment to keep the kids occupied. The 1927 restored carousel is $1/ride … almost free.

carousel, st. augustine, florida

12. Lighthouse Park

If you continue across the Bridge of Lions along A1A, you can walk to Lighthouse Park. Entrance to the lighthouse is not free, but you can easily view the lighthouse, check out the displays and shop in the Visitor's Center, view the lighthouse keeper's house and walk down to the beach without charge. Wandering the neighborhood and checking out the historic houses (19th/20th c) around the lighthouse is pleasant walking along shady, flowery streets.

lighthouse, st.augustine, florida

13. Magnolia Street

This street, where the Fountain of Youth Park is located, is misnamed. Instead of magnolias, it is lined with magnificent live oak trees. Spanish moss, aka old man's beard, hangs from the branches and provides a great opportunity to take advantage of one of St. Augustine's most photographed streets.

magnolia street, st. augustine, florida

14. Churches, cathedrals and old hotels

The St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica and the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church are just two of several churches that can be visited in St. Augustine. You don't have to be religious to appreciate the architecture and detail of these buildings.

Though tours and museums are available for the old hotels, you can wander the luxurious grounds and take in the delightful decadence without admission. The old Ponce de Leon Hotel, one of Flagler's flagship hotels, is now Flagler College. Walk past Flagler's statue and through the arches and enjoy the lavish surroundings and detail. A tour is available if you're interested.

ponce de leon hotel, st. augustine, florida

Across the street, the Lightner Museum and City Hall are located in the old Alcazar Hotel, also one of Flagler's hotels developed for the rich and famous in the 1920s. Past Pedro Menendez de Aviles' statue, again you can enter the lavish courtyard and cross the bridge to view the huge koi in the pond. There's a small bistro and several shops surrounding the gardened courtyard. The Lightner Museum, one of the city's premiere museums, is located here and, in our opinions, is well worth the admission price ($10/pp).

There are coupon books and city maps galore available at the Visitor's Center, many retail stores and the trolley/train ticket outlets. The coupon books offer discounts for restaurants, tours and most attractions allowing you to save a few bucks when you do opt to splurge. Senior discounts are offered at most attractions.