St Augustine Tour and drive to Daytona Beach FL Oct 21,2011

We want to thank our friend Bob for suggesting we stop at St Augustine to take in the sights. We went down to the complimentary breakfast to find it lived up to the horrors of the room, so we opted to park in the Trolley Tour parking lot and look for a restaurant close by so we could have a hot breakfast.  I was getting tired of coffee and bagel for breakfast.  The only place within walking distance was a Dunkin Donut…so I had the usual breakfast.  At least I could sit down to eat….the hotel provided breakfast but nowhere to sit!  That was a first!!!

We bought tickets to tour Ripley’s Beleive It or Not ( Brian’s choice), Flagler College – formerly the Ponce De Leon Hotel ( my choice) and got tickets to tour the jail….I goofed…Brian wanted to tour the pirate museum and I bought the wrong tickets!

I absolutely cannot take photos to do this place justice, nor have time in this blog to tell the fascinating story of builder – Mr Flagler, the interior designer Mr Tiffany…yes that Mr Tiffany and artist Maynard.  I encourage you to check out www.drbronsontours.com and check out the various choices provided.  It is amazing this huge hotel was constructed in just 18 months.  It took well over 1000 men to complete it in that time. It would likely take 5 years now.  Thomas Edison personally oversaw the installation of the wiring and lighting in the hotel.  The first hotel to have same.  In order to provide the electricity they had on site steam generators.  In later years Mr Flagler drilled a well miles away and piped in fresh water to provide water for the indoor plumbing.  The towers were retro fitted with huge tanks to hold enough fresh water to supply the hotel.  The first water source was local and contained a high amount of sulfur so the guests, the linens and the rooms smelled of rotten egg gas.

Mr Flagler felt no one would want to come to Florida except in the cold months, so the hotel was open Jan, Feb and March and closed the rest of the year.  He wanted an exclusive clientelle so you couldn’t stay there unless he invitied you.  The staff/guest ratio was 1:1.  If you were going to stay at the hotel you had to pay for the entire three months and in today’s dollars, the stay would be upwards of $250,000.00.

This tour took about 2 hours but I think I could have stayed all day.  At every twist and turn there was another jaw dropping design, feature or piece of art.  The Tiffany stained glass windows appear everywhere and one can only imagine their worth.  In the ladies parlour are 11 Australian crystal chandeliers designed by Mr Tiffany.  I don’t think any hotel currently designed, could stand up to the beauty and granduer of this place, which is now a working College.  It was quiet a sight to see the students in the grand dining room sitting on the original Tiffany chairs having their lunch.  I would have thought the tuition to attend school here would be very high but in reality it’s half the mean average cost.  I hope these kids enjoy and appreciate the building they attend school in.

It was time for lunch and we hopped the Trolley to go to an Irish pub for lunch. I had the sliders ( an appetizer) and got a full plate piled high with brisket cooked in Guiness, topped with mushrooms and a mile high mound of string onions rings.  I could only eat a 1/4 of what I received.  Brian had a Rueben and the sandwich was at least 4 inches thick with meat, kraut and cheese.  His came with a side of hand cut fries.  Again, more food than one person could eat.

Next stop – Ripley’s Beleive It or Not.  This is his original museum with lots of his artifacts, photos and  collectables from around the world.  Some of the stuff was just plain weird and other stuff left you in awe.  I got a lesson in how to shrink a head.  I think this is a skill one wouldn’t use much….I dearly hope.  We saw a stuffed cow with two legs sticking out of her back, a lamb with two heads….you know…lovely collectables for your parlour.  I think Brian could have spent the day there.

Final stop – the jail. Besides the gruesome displays at Ripleys, this place capped off the demonstration of man’s inhumanity to man.  It was a place of torture, starvation and death.  A sentence of 5 years usually meant a life sentence as many prisoners did not survive the diet, the rat infested cells, and the filth – a pail for a toilet of ten men, emptied weekly. They have a life sized illustration of the longest serving warden.  He was a big guy, well over 6’6″ and 350 lbs. Here I am having a little fun with him.

LATE ENTRY: Upon review of this, I see it’s not clear in this photo where my hand is. It’s on MY KNEE!!!!  I’m not sure if these blogs are checked for content…I may be in trouble…but I am innocent!!!!

We ended up taking longer on the tours than anticipated, so we didn’t leave St Augustine until 4 pm.  We drove over the Lion’s bridge to catch scenic highway A1A along the outer coast.  Bob was so right, this is a beautiful road and we didn’t mind travelling the reduced speed of 45 mph.

 Before I sign off I have an interesting story regarding this photo on the right.  There are two replica’s of Michangelo’s “David” one is in Vegas and the other sits outside of the Ripley’s Beleive It Or Not Museum in St Augustine.  When this piece was placed on the grounds the people of St Augustine were not happy to have this nude David for small children to view so insisted it be removed or shrouded from view.  The museum decided to plant tall shrubs all around it, so it’s like a maze to actually get in to see it.  You might think people were prudes in those days…but those days were only two years ago!

Daytona Beach Fl Oct 22,2011

Today was a great day with one exception which I will mention later. We had a lay in and a late breakfast at Dennys. We booked a tour on the Mantee to sail along the Intercoastal waterway to see some wildlife, dolphins, river front homes and the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse.

As we had an hour’s drive to go to the marina, we didn’t have time to take the tour at the Daytona Speedway however we did stop in and had a peek.  We were allowed onto the grandstand.  You can pay $250 to drive your car on the track and this morning several people were doing just that. Of the perhaps ten cars on the track only one would go high on the wall.  Most cars were sports type cars and were going pretty fast.  They just zipped past at lighting speed and they were loud.

After a quick look around we hit the gift shops.  To date we have not purchased any souvenirs, but we did today.  I think I have something for Grandson Brenden.

I couldn’t help but think of my friend Joanne and her hubby Bill.  They have a huge vintage car show going on in Daytona this weekend and their orange baby would fit right in.  I know they would have liked the speedway….but they have been here for race day, so they are far ahead of us.

We left the speedway and went to the marina to board the “Manatee.”   The Manatee was originally made for the army to use as a river boat in the Vietnam war, but never saw action as the war ended before it was deployed.  It’s been sailing the waterway for the past 30 years.  As we slowly sailed along, we passed many gorgeous homes, most of which have one thing in common…and that would be ….not a soul to be seen.  Our captain John said many of the homes were vacation homes and some used as little as a couple of weeks a year. If I knew who owned them, I’d like to offer to use the home in their absence!!!  We saw one home that was given to Cher as a wedding gift  by her second husband.

The tour ended just after 3 pm so we slowly head back towards Daytona. We stopped along the beach front to enjoy the sunny warm (24C) day.  At this point on the beach, cars can access the beach and you can drive on the beach during the daytime.  I understand the first races here did not occur on the track but rather on the miles and miles of hard packed sand beach. We didn’t see cars on the beach today, just lots of sun bathers and fishermen.

As the highway 1A1 is right on the Atlantic, most homes have hurricane shutters on them.  It’s quite easy to spot who is at home and who isn’t.

If you look closely at this apartment condo, you can easily see which units are currently occupied.  As you can see, quite a few have their hurricane shutters in place.

During the day today I broke the nose piece of my prescription sun glasses, so I dropped Brian off at the hotel and hit the mall.  Thanks to Lens Crafters who repaired the glasses at no cost.  I took the opportunity to wander a bit….hello….I’m in a mall without Brian!  I walked past a place called Mr Dunderbak’s Restaurant and Deli.  It looked like a really unique place, filled to the rafters with stuff and a few tables and a long bar.  They had menus out front so I grabbed one and took it to the hotel.  We went back for supper and I am sorry I left the camera behind.  I toured the place and you simply could not place any more goods in the place.  It was filled with deli cheese and meat/sausage, knick knacks,signs, beer, wine, European foods of all kinds, beer steins and more stuff than the eyes could take in.  We had a great dinner and bought another souvenir for our friend Bob…a sign for his bar! I encourage you to check out www.dunderbaksdaytona.com You have to check out their gift shop and menu.  They carry over 200 brands of beer.  They have won the Readers Choice award for best all around German Restaurant  & Best Beer for the past 22 years. 

As I said at the start of this blog, this day was marred.  I received word today, one of my oldest friends, Cecile Powaschuk died.  Cecile and I have been friends for 45 years.  She was an incredibly strong woman who sacrificed herself for her husband and boys. She helped me through many tough times and never judged me.  We shared many many laughs and more than  a few tears.  She was adopted at an early age, but belonged to a large family.  Recently she made contact with a brother and “someday” she hoped to meet him.  Family meant a great deal to her and she adored her grandchildren. She and I talked about going on a trip together and I was hoping to do that next summer.

In her honour, I ask you to call a friend and tell them how much they mean to you.  I wish I had!  Cecile, may you now have the peace  you were never able to find in life.  Thank you for being my friend.

Daytona Fl to Wellington FL Oct 23,2011

After a second breakfast at Denny’s we hit the road.  Forecast high today high 70s or lows 80s.  We’re off to Wellington which is west of West Palm Beach.  We chose to leave the Interstate and took Highway 1 hoping it would provide better scenery.  We knew Highway A1A would be very scenic but the usual speed is 40 mph.  Well Highway 1 took us through all the small towns, complete with stop signs and traffic lights.  By 11 we knew we weren’t going to make it to Wellington at 1 p.m.  The towns we did pass through looked old and worn down and looked like dying communities.

Today we had another adventure.  Brian was driving and I navigating with help from you know who.  We needed to get back onto the Interstate so I reprogramed our friend and followed her lead.  I was pretty sure we were in trouble when we went through some gates…looking very much like the parking pay gates at the Calgary Airport.  After awhile, I figured it out.  Our dear Nav system took us onto the Turnpike which is a toll road.  The signs say if caught without paying, the fine is $100.  We finally found our exit and in front of us was another toll gate.  The earlier sign said this gate did not accept cash, but we pulled up to pay and hoped for the best.  The gentleman ( we will see if he is) laughed and called us dumb Canadians.  I said we didn’t mean to travel without paying and would gladly pay now.  He charged us $12.10 and took our cash.  We were so greatful and just drove off without a receipt! 

I will jump ahead to when we booked into our hotel.  I was telling the man at the Best Western about our little incident.  He smiled and said “Maam…  I think you’ve been had.  He likely took your money and put it in his pocket.  I rather expect you will receive a ticket for $100 in the mail.”  Bob…keep an eye out for it!   When we left my Aunt’s home today, that Nav system wanted the Turnpike again and I told Brian, just keep driving as I knew the toll free Interstate was ahead.  We no sooner passed the Turnpike turn off and she reprogramed to take us to the Interstate.  I think I read where I can set the system to avoid toll roads, so some reading is in my future…….but I hate those manuals.

We arrived at my Aunt’s in Wellington at 2 p.m.  We had a lovely 3 hour visit and caught up with the family news.  Aunt Jean is remarkably clear and healthy at 93 but is considering Assisted Living while she is able to make her own choices.

I just want to share a little tid bit I found out today.  In order to reduce our out of pocket expenses, we cashed in our Air Miles for gift cards for Best Western.  I was already a rewards member and I am also an AAA member. I usually book a hotel one night ahead and book on line.  On our travels we have seen and looked through a magazine found at service stations as a rule called Room Saver.com  We noticed the hotel we wanted to book was listed for $12 less per night than the AAA rate.  When I booked the room, under special requests, I indicated I had the coupon from the book.  The reason I did that was when you book on line, before your final submission you are agreeing to the rate.  This way they had notice I had the coupon.  When I checked in I provided my photo ID and credit card and the clerk asked if I didn’t have something else to him him.  I realized he was referring to the coupon, so I ran out and got the book.  He even clipped the coupon out of the book for me and gave me the $59 per night rate.  I have been skeptical about the coupons as they always say “based on room availibility.”  You can bet I’ll be clipping those coupons now!

We’ll have a sleep in tomorrow then head to Duck Keys.  We can’t check in until 4 pm so will take Highway 1 and avoid the Turnpike and Interstate.  I will be glad to land in the Keys where we can unpack for ten days.  Forecast high tomorow…in the 80s.  I will finally pull out the bathing suit…and hope it fits.  This restaurant eating isn’t doing me any good I’m sure.

Wellington Fl to Duck Key Fl Oct 24,2011

The hotel we stayed in was only blocks from the Interstate 95 so we did not program the Nav system……we didn’t want to end up on the Turnpike again.  According to our map, if we stayed on 95 the entire time, it eventually turns into Highway 1 which goes into the Keys.  The traffic and freeways in the Miami area were daunting but we stayed the course and made it through without difficulty…..although slow.  Once 95 turns into Hwy 1, you have multiple stop signs and lights, none of which seem programed.

Looking at the map it didn’t look like much ahead after Homestead, so we pulled in to have lunch. I’m not totally sure but I think the name of the cafe we stopped at was called “The Big Cheese.”  It’s actually a restaurant with a huge menu…..mostly Italian. Neither of us were particularly hungry so we both opted for a bowl of soup.  I got the homemade chicken noodle and it was homemade.  The waitress asked if we wanted garlic buns and like dummies we said sure.  Never in my life have I had such a garlic experience.  They make all their own pizza dough and bread.  These were fresh buns and still warm.  I rather think they crush their own garlic and keep it in oil, which they ever so generously slathered on the top of the buns.  After one bite I scraped the garlic off as much as possible and despite numerous mints, gum and teethbrushing, I still tasted garlic when I went to bed.  So glad I didn’t have to get up close and personal with anyone other than Brian…and he ate the garlic!

As you can see by this photo, we were in a more tropical local.  I think this was taken in South Miami Dade County.  The road into the Keys is generally two lane traffic and only the occasional passing zone which was fine with us.  We saw large fences on either side of the road as we drove through part of the Everglades.  It was a pretty swampy area so I think the fences are to keep the critters off the road….who would want to hit an 800 lb alligator? 

I found it somewhat unnerving to drive along with water on both sides.  They have cement barriers but I think at high speed you could jump a barrier and end up in the drink.  Not something I would wish to consider.

We still hadn’t programed the system and thought we would do that closer to Marathon, when all of a sudden I saw the sign for Duck Key on the left so we turned in and intended to stop, when I saw the street we were to drive onto, so another left turn and straight ahead was the unit we are renting.  We found it all by ourselves….but then how hard is two left turns?  The cleaning staff were still hard at work so we head out looking for a grocery store.  About 19 km down the road we 

spotted the Winn Dixie so set out the buy enough to tide us over the next few days.  With all other rentals, we have found the homes were stocked with spices, condiments, tea, coffee, sugar etc so we didn’t buy any.  We arrived back at the house just after 3pm and were able to occupy the house.  They had a sign on the counter indicating any food left, would be removed by the cleaning staff and donated to the poor.  We’ve often had to toss out milk, eggs, bread etc so this seemed like a good idea.  However, the cleaning staff have taken this idea to a whole other level.  The refrigerator and all cupboards were devoid of everything, no salt, no pepper…nada! Fortunately I had our picnic basket with us so at least we had salt and pepper.

We hauled all our gear into the unit and unpacked. It was nice to get settled into somewhere for awhile.  I tried logging onto the internet but the unit’s system isn’t and won’t log onto the internet, so I am using the internet cafe down the street as my connection.  It’s often slow and occasionally boots me out, or won’t let me log in.  Having learned my lesson, when I’m entering my posts, I update frequently so I don’t lose my work.

The unit is clean and well kept however is not particularly well appointed.  It’s owned by a guy and while I hate to be sexest, it’s the kitchen that is sadly lacking. No fry pan, no cutting board, no large sharp knife, only two towels to dry dishes, no potato peeler and of course the cleaning staff made off with the dishsoap, saran wrap and foil.

After a dinner of fried chicken ( the BBQ was disgustingly filthy) and salad, I hit the road to buy more supplies.  I beleive my husband has complete faith in my abilities to find a store as by now it’s dark and the store quite far away.  He stayed behind and set me loose.  I found a K Mart and the Winn Dixie and load up with more supplies and tools and got back after 9 p.m.  I’m not sure why, but the groceries are very expensive, so may explain why the cleaning staff take everything.  I will however have to return to the store to purchase paper products – kleenex, toilet tissue etc.

After catching up with “The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills” it was off to bed.