Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mardi Gras Parade In New Orleans

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1 Adele and cousin Fran
2 Adele and 2 Irishmen on Bourbon St!
3 A load of BEADS
4 Behind all this is a English man looking for tips
5 Could this be my brother TOM ?
6 French Canadians
7 More spectators
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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mardi Gras

On our way west along the Gulf Coast we passed into another time zone before leaving Florida for Alabama; the time zone cuts into the Florida panhandle and just before Alabama, interestingly, Eastern Time does not span the width of Florida this far south.

Our first post of call was Bella Terra; a really spectacular RV Resort in Foley, Al. Really bad weather was in the forecast for the weekend so we headed into Mobile on Friday to see our first Mardi Gras parade. We walked around downtown Mobile, a lovely town with beautiful, balustrade balconies on most buildings along the route of the parade. Before the parade we had dinner in the Battle House Hotel a historic old hotel, beautifully restored while keeping all the decoration of the anti bellum era. General Andrew Jackson used as his headquarters during the 1812 war; and you know those men always knew which were the most comfortable places in town. 
Watching the parade we stood beside a family group and the little ones were astonished we were enjoying it so much as the adults in their group were there so the children could enjoy the parade. Columbus was the theme for the parade which started with floats of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria followed by floats representing different Captains - Captain America, Captain Crunch, Captain Hook, Captain Jack Sparrow, Captain Nemo and many, many more - they just kept coming. The costumed people on the floats threw colored beads, cookies and toys into the crowds, as we were in the front row we kept the beads and gave the cookies and toys to the children. The parade went on for hours and we stayed for the whole parade.

Our next stop was New Orleans (N'Awlins to the locals) and as luck would have it we were able to arrange to meet Adele's cousin Fran and Alex her husband from Vancouver BC, who were traveling west to east on I-10. Tom drove nonstop to ensure that we could spend as much time together. We parked the RV and headed into town on the shuttle to meet Fran and Alex at Starbuck’s in Harrah’s Casino – couldn’t be easier than that. N'Awlins was just heaving with thousands of people watching parades, walking around and generally enjoying themselves. For the most part the French Quarter is pedestrian only.
We watched the parades, collected more beads, had dinner and then walked down Bourbon Street; this is where the real action is - pub after pub, strip joint after strip joint, people fully clothed and partially so - both women and men, throngs more on the numerous balconies throwing beads indiscriminately. In summary - adult fun!  Amazingly, everyone remained very well-mannered and polite even when drunk or perhaps it the police presence! We all felt very safe and enjoyed the day together, afterwards Alex and Fran drove us back to our RV where we had a civilized cup of tea, biscuits and talked well past midnight.

Monday we headed back in to N'Awlins again - we just couldn’t get enough of the parades. We had promised each other we would not shout for more beads - we would need much longer necks if we added more; we collected more, just couldn’t resist the temptation! That evening we dined at an upmarket restaurant Dickie Brennan's on Canal Street which had been recommended to us for its desert Banana Foster which the waiter flambĂ©ed right at the table - it was scrumptious - the rest of the meal delicious.
Next day – Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras. It was an early start for us as the parades start at 8.00am; we noticed that there were far more people marching in the parades on Fat Tuesday. The first parade was the Zulu parade which was magnificent, followed by the Parade of Kings - any King (yes, Elvis included) from anywhere, we lost count of the marching bands. The final parade comprised all the branches of the Armed Forces, needless to say the uniforms, music and marching was terrific. Then unscheduled, about 100 trucks floats came by. Interesting trivia, banks and shops did not close on Presidents Day but closed for Mardi Gras enabling all the locals not participating in the parade to watch and enjoy!

On Ash Wednesday we took a Grayline city tour – the subject for our next blog.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Redneck's Riviera

The coast along the panhandle gulf coast, sometimes referred to as the Redneck’s Riviera is a beautiful place spanning miles and miles of sandy beaches with gorgeous white sand, sea shells literally by the bucket-full, no seaweed and remarkably clear blue water. The drawback for us was that at this time of the year the gulf water is cold so only the brave or wet-suited clad venture in. 

We parked at Point St Joe in a State Park almost at the end of a barrier island. In some places it is no more than 100 yard wide, one can look either way and you can see the water. We took long walks on the beach and long cycle rides to get Wi Fi.  We had hoped to lie on the beach and get a suntan but it was not to be as a cold front was passing and we ended up putting our electric blanket and winter duvet on the bed for a few night before this a blanket was nearly too much. Seemingly Florida has had warm weather this year - it has, in fact - been warm for us since we arrived at the beginning of December.
As we were preparing to leave for our next destination our T V antenna would not retract - it is controlled by a handle inside the RV - the handle comes off in Tom’s hand. Off must come the bikes from the ladder and Tom heads up on the roof where he removed retaining pins to manually lower the antenna; replace the bikes and off we go to Navarre, FL.  Once again the luck was with us as the RV industry is big in Florida. We found a local RV repair facility where we meet the owner, a most interesting man who has travelled the world; he graduated as an engineer and lived in many countries.  Adele’s strong Irish accent (although she has been asked is she a German, Dane, Norwegian, Australian, Canadian or Scot) has a person ask where we are from. We tell them and relate our travel and they tell us theirs and impart their advice.

Adele is holding out on a good BBQ story for the next blog.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Manatees & Rare birds

1 Getting into wetsuit
2 Manatee and baby
3 Searching for the manatees
4 beautiful Bald Eagle ( one wing )
5 Kestral
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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Swimming with the Manatees

First, an RV travel related update. We stayed in Port Richey for a week and forgot that we had a slow puncture in the tow dolly (did not pass a convenient tire shop to have it repaired and had no spare). So we load the car onto the dolly and “puff” the tire flattened (it looked OK before the car was loaded); lucky for us had we accepted advice to load the car in a nearby empty car park just outside the RV Park. Thankfully there was an auto repair shop right across the road, so we unloaded the car drove the dolly across to the repair shop, had the tire inflated and off we went 60 miles up the road to Crystal River - our next stop; right beside us was a tire center. Next problem - we didn't have the correct wrench to get the wheel off - the car and RV wrenches were either too big or too small. Beasley Tire Center very kindly loaned us the correct tool. We ended up buying the correct 21mm wrench and a spare wheel and are now all set until the next time. So far luck has been on our side. And yes…we do have very good roadside coverage, but lack the patience to wait.

The whole purpose of visiting Crystal River was to visit and swim with the Manatee’s whose closest relative is the Elephant, so much so that they share many features – vegetarian, proboscis, toe nails on their fins, mammary gland just under the fin and a 13 month gestation period. This will certainly be a lasting memory for Adele having had the opportunity to get into the water with these enormous 1,500/2,000lb gentle giants.

Manatees live in very shallow warm water and love to congregate near natural warm springs; they are now a protected species, thankfully their numbers are slowly growing – remember that their gestation period is 13 months and they give birth to only one calf. Like most animals Manatees do not become pregnant again until they have reared their calf. Imagine what the world would be like if this was the case for us humans – the world’s over-population problem would be solved in one generation.

Afterwards we took a boat tour on the Crystal River which has many hot springs at a constant temperature of 72F the springs originate in the Carolina's and come to the surface in western Florida. The manatees rest around these springs, travel to find food, as we mentioned they are vegetarian and eat as much as 150lbs of grasses every day; lots of chewing! Adele got to rub two of them, they have skin like an elephant with a coating of green algae, so when rubbed a cloud of spores rises off their backs. Manatees eyes, again like elephants are tiny. Ancient sailors mistook manatees for mermaids – maybe they had consumed too much rum after which anything can look beautiful!

We also visited the nearby Homosassa Park which was well worth a trip. It is a Manatee sanctuary catering for injured or orphaned animals some of whom are released back into the wild; others unfortunately need to be held in captivity. The park has an underwater aquarium in the middle of the river on top of a warm spring - the number and profusion of wild fish swimming around the viewing area was phenomenal, as was a cormorant we saw dive and chase fish rather than catch any. Another feature of the park is that it also acts as a rescue area for rare and endangered birds – we saw three Bald Eagles, two with only one wing.

Our next stop will be St Joe State Park on the Florida panhandle, sometimes referred to as the redneck's Riviera.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Gulf Coast

We are now heading up the Gulf Coast of Florida where our first visit was to Sharon and Bill Blasdell in Placida. Sharon, who had moved to Florida 3 years ago, was in Adele’s tennis group at the Los Gatos JCC– a joyful reunion for Adele and Sharon! Our visit relates like a comedy of errors, Sharon had been out on her bike the day before we arrived, skidded, fell over the handle bars and landed (on shale) on a friends driveway ending up with a terrible cut on her eyebrow, an enormous black eye and bruising all down her cheek. We knew nothing of this until we arrived at their door to be greeted by Bill and Sharon hiding behind a pair of dark glasses; she looked like she could be in terrible pain but denied being so.  Sharon had a lovely lunch of lobster rolls ready for us, memories of our stay with Eileen and Carl in Maine where Eileen, Tom and Adele ate as many lobster rolls as we could. 

As Bill headed to his eye doctor Sharon took us to Gasparilla, a beautiful island in her neighborhood - it was a $5 toll to drive over a small bridge, they certainly want no riffraff on that island.  The beaches were long, white and sandy with thousands of pretty shells; one could feel and see that the sand was comprised of crushed shells. This is one of the things that we love about our travels around America…one can see how the earth evolved through observing Americas beaches, mountains, waterfalls, geysers and deep, seemingly bottomless pools. We had afternoon tea in a beautiful hotel which will be one hundred years old next year, a unique decorative feature in the hotel were spectacular pieces of art made entirely from sea shells known as “Sailors Valentines” prominently on display throughout. As we sat in the lounge we were entertained by a guest playing the piano – she must have been a concert pianist. Adele felt like a million dollars sitting there! Sharon forgot to take her cellphone and purse with her (her eye must have been bothering her) and when we got back we discovered that Bill had been trying to call her as his Doctor wanted to do a procedure on his eye which would have prevented him driving; he had to go back the following day to have it done.  We went over that little expensive bridge again to have dinner, only the rich can keep doing that - we reckon the Golden Gate Bridge is about the same price. We had a really lovely day together. Adele called Sharon a few days later, both were doing fine, although now her cheek was turning green.

Eileen and Carl decided to drive down from Maine to Clearwater in time for the Super Bowl weekend and as we had missed out on visiting Sanibel Island we decided to reverse ourselves and head south once again to Fort Myers. The RV Park had an exercise room so we both took advantage of it, however after a fast (what else?) 2 miles on the walking machine Adele ended up with a bad bout of Bronchitis; we wonder was it the fast walk or something she picked up off the machine handles, we don't know but Adele vowed to avoid exercise rooms from now on. Sanibel Island is lovely and once again only the rich can afford to live there and visit, it costs $6 to drive over the bridge, this bridge is substantial and worth the $6 – the catch however is that every time one parks ones car near a beach the cost is $2 an hour, making for expensive sunbathing and swimming.
The residents all cycle everywhere as there are very good cycling lanes all around the island, a cyclists paradise; in fact at every cross road the law is that car drivers give way to cyclists. The beaches were again long white sand stretching out for miles and miles; on one Adele saw 2 magnificent sculpted competition category sandcastles, a pity that she didn't have her camera and as we were coming to the end of our $2 parking, no time to get photos.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Everglades Photo's

1. Wood Stork

2. Alligator Horgan

3. The ones that got away!

4. Turtle

5. Non-paying Air Boat passengers

6. Air Boat dock
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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Florida Everglades

The Everglades is a Florida “must see” it is so diverse that where to explore it is a challenge. However, once again relying on the advice of friends, we decided to do an East side/West side exploration. So heeding their advice we first headed into the (East) Everglades just south of Miami at Royal Palms and started our tour on the Anhinga trail – the Anhinga is a relative of the Cormorant (popularly known as “ducky divers”). This proved a wise choice and is by far the best spot to explore the Everglades. We saw so many alligators that we stopped counting them. The trail is on a man-made boardwalk that runs in a mile long circle and every foot has wild birds or animals close by. There were many large Blue Heron, Ibis, Egrets, Cormorants, Ospreys and other birds of prey; several had their wings spread out to dry in the sun, fascinatingly, the Anhinga's wings are like piano notes!

We saw an Anhinga spear a fish with its beak (that's how they catch fish); they then flip it up in the air and swallow it whole. In one spot we saw what looked like a nation of alligators, some were lying around sunning themselves, others swimming with only their snouts above water – and…can they can move given the room! It is difficult to describe the diversity of the terrain, in the Everglades a slight incline (think 6”) can create a totally different environment of vegetation, with perhaps a little hill of trees (oak and cedar called hammock); the next level down has grass which may grow under or over water and then below water level mangrove trees which are like trees with legs.
A few days later we drove across to the west side of the Everglades on Highway 41 which goes right through the Everglades and has lots of alligators along the canal at the side of the road.  We stayed on an island called Chokoloskee, definitely a fisherman’s paradise. When we arrived at the RV Park in Chokoloskee (at about 2pm) we were both ravenously hungry, it was a late-late lunch. Tom started on the hook ups while Adele prepared lunch and as it was a warm sunny day with hardly any shade we extended the awning to sit in the shade of the RV. This meant that we both had to sit on the same side of our patio table – a two-sided bench with an attached table. Once Tom's bottom hit the seat (Adele was already seated) over we fell backwards, heels-over- head. The bench was so tight and small that we can't stand so…we slowly tumble backwards and our lunch lands on top of us - large iced drinks, fruit and sandwiches - we end up soaked wet and the food is covered with sand. Adele scraped her back, Tom scraped his elbow and we both just lie there laughing happy that neither of us is hurt. Extracting ourselves from under the table took some maneuvering, if someone had been videoing we think we would have won a prize on Americas Funniest Videos! 

We will never again sit on the same side of the table.
The west side of the Everglades is the watery side and from there we took an airboat tour of the Everglades, out to an island and then into the mangrove swamps - the boat can move on 6'' of water. The drawback is that the big engine and fan make a lot of noise, not too many animals (or humans) like that loud sound so it was more of a boat ride than sight-seeing animals.

One evening Tom went for a run and I decided to pick him up so that we could watch the sunset, we met a couple from South Dakota who were very disappointed that we were not the genuine article. We chatted away about the places we have visited so far; all the while unknown to us “no-see-ums” were feasting on Toms legs and arms – after a couple of weeks he still looks like he has the measles.