Saturday 26th December 2015
Tuesday it was time to leave Europe and begin our American adventure; our plane left Zurich at 9.30am and nine hours later we were landing in New York City at 1.30pm local time. An issue with the retractable walkway had us sitting at the gate while mechanics worked to fixed the problem; after half an hour we were moved to another gate and finally off the plane, through Customs and out to catch a cab to our hotel. I had forgotten how hair-raising cab rides through the street could be but it was soon brought back to me.
Jillian arrived in NYC at 3.30pm and was caught up in traffic worse than when we came in earlier and did not arrive at the hotel until 7pm; a quick refresh and we headed out to the Ice Hockey match at Madison Square Garden – New York Rangers V Anaheim Ducks; at fulltime the score was 2:2 and they played sudden-death with teams of three players + the goalie; the Rangers scored within two minutes and that ended the match.
Wednesday it was time for some mundane things like: organise Internet connections, washing and shopping for our stay; John and Jil went off to find a Christmas Tree and were caught in the predicted inch of rain – needless to say hot showers were needed when they returned sans tree. The evening was spent developing our list of priorities for NYC and making a few bookings to add to those made some months ago.
“I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” looked less and less likely as we looked at the forecast for Christmas – a record-breaking 23C for Christmas Eve and 21C Christmas Day! So much for the cold weather I came here to experience.
Christmas Eve was my special surprise – “The Nutcracker” performed by the NY Ballet at the Lincoln Centre.
The ballet was magnificent; I don’t care how many times you see “The Nutcracker”, you are soon caught up in its spell and enthralled from beginning to end and this time was no exception – brilliant dancers, costumes and staging. This ballet has been performed by the NY Ballet Company every year since 1954 and it still plays to packed houses every performance. A wonderful Christmas present thanks to my family.
Our hotel is two streets from Central Park so the walk to and from the Lincoln Centre was made through the park; on the way home we walked across to the skating rink to watch the skaters for some time – the ice would need a good freezer system this year with the unseasonal warm weather .
Christmas morning John, Jil and I walked down to St Patrick’s Cathedral for the 10.15am Mass with the Archbishop presiding; the Cathedral was packed well before Mass began and even the standing room was fairly crowded as well. As we walked to the Cathedral, the crowds were quite small; after the service that had changed and the footpaths were crowded and difficult to negotiate – even busier when we reached Rockefeller Centre to see the Christmas Tree.
After trying to walk around the Plaza to see the Christmas tree from all sides as well as the decorations, we gave up and caught a cab to the restaurant for lunch – as Jil remarked, this was a Christmas of firsts – being overseas, Mass at St Patrick Cathedral and having Christmas Dinner in a restaurant. I had hoped to add White Christmas to the list, but that will have to wait till next time.
After a little nap in the afternoon, we walked back to the Lincoln Centre to see “The King and I” – another fantastic show with an outstanding cast. I have watched Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr in the film version more than once and loved it. However, this version was spellbinding and rose to another level – I was caught up in the emotion from the beginning to end and will admit to shedding a tear (or three).
Saturday morning John and Jil walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and John then lined up to go through the 9/11 Museum while Jil and I went out for lunch before going to the Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes.
Jil and I caught the train on A Line at 59th Street and travelled 11 stations, including under the East River, to Brooklyn to walk back across the age old Brooklyn Bridge to the city centre. We walked on a platform in the centre, above the car lanes, and enjoyed clear views of Manhattan and Midtown.
From there we walked the short distance through Wall St to the 9/11 Memorial Site. The wait for entrance to the Museum was about 30 minutes so I decided join the queue while Jil headed back to our unit to join Gae for lunch.
The above ground entrance looks like a building lying half on its side and acts as reception and security section. From there we went underground to the original foundations of the North & South towers and remnants recovered from the fallen buildings.
Items below include one of the 99 elevator motors, the antenna from the south tower and fire truck ladder 3.
Saturday evening we all went to the Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular; it certainly was entertaining; lots of finely crafted choreography, synchronized high kicks, colourful costumes interspersed with Christmas Carols. You have to admire the stamina of these artists to go non-stop for two hours for four shows in the day.
Radio City Music Hall is an entertainment venue located in Rockefeller Centre in New York City; its nickname is the Showplace of the Nation and it seats 6,015 people. When we arrived for the show, the crowd from one show was leaving and the audience for the next show arriving and it was chaos both inside the theatre as well as outside. Every day, 5th Avenue was thronged with people from late morning until well after we had called it a day and retired. A taxi driver described Christmas in New York this year as being very quiet except for that central area.
Sunday morning John and I caught the subway to the World Trade Center to visit the 9/11 Reflecting Pools. Walking around those pools was a sobering journey, reading the names, the organisations, emergency personnel and their vehicle designators – just the sheer numbers recalled there made a stark reminder of that time. One poignant entry particularly resonated with me “”Jennifer Howley and her unborn child”.
Sunday evening Jil went to see “Wicked” on Broadway and thoroughly enjoyed the show – perhaps more background for future performances.
Monday John went to explore Intrepid.
Intrepid is a retired aircraft carrier from WWII and the Gulf war and is tied up near 12th Avenue. It is used as a War Museum and has about 20 planes on the deck ranging from Lockheed A-12, Iroquois Helicopter, Mig 17, Mig 21, Phantom II to a British Concord. On the far end of the flight deck they have enclosed the space shuttle “Enterprise” as it was almost blown off the deck in the big storms of 2013. This tin shed enabled the museum to display a space capsule and a lot of reading material.
From there I went up to the Captains Bridge and then to the lower deck where there were more aircraft and interactive displays.
There was also a submarine tie up alongside however I had run out of time and walked the ten blocks back to our hotel.
Tuesday 29 December
Time to leave New York, catching the train from Penn Station to Washington Union Station took most of the day.
Wednesday Jil had organised tickets for us to join a tour of the Pentagon; however, this long awaited highlight did not start well when the taxi driver couldn’t find his way to the Pentagon – driving past all three exits and then having to drive another two miles to find somewhere to turn to head back to our destination. The tour of the Pentagon was not much of an improvement – 45 minutes of being marched through some areas of the building, spoken at by a young Army officer who was not particularly engaged with his audience, interested only in delivering his message – no time to stop and look at anything or ask questions. Our guide was only interested in exerting his authority, complete the tour and make sure we all left the building at the end.
In the afternoon I walked from our hotel on 14th Street to 1st Street with the idea of visiting the Post Office Museum, however it was closed for the public holiday so I wandered over to Union Station to take a few photos and then on to the rear of the Capital building to check out where we should meet for our tour on Monday. On the way home I walked along Constitution Avenue past the National Gallery of Art, the National Archives & Records, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of American History (so many national buildings in a short distance).
The Christopher Columbus Fountain in front of the Union Station, recent internal renovations of the station including the gold leaf on the ceiling.
New Year’s Eve was spent walking and exploring Washington around the White House and environs before having a lovely NYE dinner at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse around the corner. Despite our best intentions, we did not last till midnight to welcome 2016.
New Year’s Day: Last August Jil had booked to collect a Chevy Camaro from the airport and take us for a drive; unfortunately, the requested vehicle was not available – apparently Hertz in Washing do not even have one in the Adrenalin Fleet! Plan B was the Big Bus Tour of Washington to learn where the points of interest were so we could explore at our pace. We had a live guide on the bus instead of an audio guide; that should have been better but the young lady spoke so quickly that all the words ran together in an unintelligible garble. The few words we could make out were about her, her life, the fact she could go to the White House if she wanted to but chose not to, or not having seen any Shakespeare recently and what she was going to cook for dinner; all we wanted was some insight to Washington and the sights we were seeing.
With a little trepidation we joined the Night Tour of Washington and thank heavens for Sam, our guide for this trip; he restored our faith in tourism in this beautiful city. Sam obviously loved what he did; he brought parts of his city to life for those on the tour giving lots of background and insights that otherwise we would have missed. The nearly three hours of the tour passed very quickly, leaving us keen to explore further.
The night tour included the Memorials of Thomas Jefferson & Martin Luther King
Saturday morning John lined up early for tickets for he and Jil to go the viewing platform inside the Washington Monument. As I don’t have much of a head for heights I decided to stay behind on this occasion.
After the Washington Monument we went on the next part of the Big Bus tour mainly through Georgetown; this time we had an audio-guided tour with a commentary we could hear clearly, filled with history and insight of the area as well as the early life and times of Washington. We left the bus at the Lincoln Memorial and after another viewing there we walked across to The Korean, then Vietnam Memorials followed by a leisurely stroll along the side of the Pool of Reflection to the WWII Memorial, past the Washington Monument and finally back to the hotel.
On Sunday morning I was convinced to take ride up to the observation deck at the Washington Monument and I was very pleased that I made the trip up to those 555 feet. Viewing the city from up here on such a clear day was an amazing sight. We then all went to the Arlington Cemetery where we spent a couple of hours wandering and reading, finishing with watching the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Monday, our last day in Washington we had organised a tour of the Capitol. The orientation video was a brilliant overview and insight to our tour and then our guide, Brandon, kept us entertained for the remainder of the time with his detail and obvious love of the building and all it means.
After a break for lunch we walked through the tunnel to the Jefferson Library and spent time viewing that remarkable building. The Jefferson Library was a beautiful building, elegant in its design, welcoming and filled with wonderful features including glorious frescoes on the ceilings and intricate mosaics on the floors.
Tuesday 5th January 2016
After leaving Washington we drove the half hour to Mount Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington where they retired after his time as President until he died 1799; George Washington was buried overlooking the river. Mount Vernon was a beautiful house and farm overlooking the Potomac River that was saved from ruin by a group of women who raised the funds to buy the farm in 1858. The only way to see through the house was on a guided tour that lasted for 45 minutes; we then sat on the front verandah overlooking the river, then wandered through the gardens and around the grounds before leaving via the gift shop mid-afternoon.
Wednesday we spent the day in Richmond; our first stop was the White House of the Confederacy that was again a conducted tour. The guide was enthusiastic and knowledgeable and was able to give us a greater understanding of the time of the Southern Confederacy. Next door was the Civil War Museum that contained many relics as well as much written information about the d13 States of the Confederacy leading up to and through the Civil War from both the army and civilian perspective.
The White House of the Confederacy is a historic house located in the Court End neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia. Built in 1818, it was the main executive residence of the sole President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, from August 1861 until April 1865. It was viewed as the Confederate States counterpart to the White House in Washington, D.C.
Jefferson Davis, his wife Varina, and their children moved into the house in August 1861, and lived there for the remainder of the war. Davis suffered from recurring bouts with malaria, facial neuralgia, cataracts (in his left eye), unhealed wounds from the Mexican War (bone spurs in his heel), and insomnia. Consequently, President Davis maintained an at-home office on the second floor of the White House. This was not an unusual practice at that time – the West Wing of the White House in Washington, DC, was not added until the Theodore Roosevelt administration. President Davis’ personal secretary, Colonel Burton Harrison, also lived in the house.
The Davis family was quite young during their stay at the White House of the Confederacy. When they moved in the Family consisted of the President and First Lady, six-year-old Margaret, four-year-old Jefferson Davis, Jr., and two-year-old Joseph. The two youngest Davis children, William and Varina Anne (“Winnie”), were born in the White House, in 1861 and 1864, respectively. Among their neighborhood playmates was George Smith Patton, Sr., whose father commanded the 22nd Virginia Infantry, whose son commanded the U.S. Third Army in World War Two. Joseph Davis died in the spring of 1864, after a 15-foot fall from the railing on the White House’s east portico. Mrs. Davis’ mother and sister were occasional visitors to the Confederate executive mansion.
The house was abandoned during the evacuation of Richmond on April 2, 1865. Within twelve hours, soldiers from Major General Godfrey Weitzel’s XVIII Corps seized the former Confederate White House, intact. President Abraham Lincoln, who was in nearby City Point (now Hopewell, Virginia), traveled up the James River to tour the captured city, and visited Davis’ former residence for about three hours – although the President only toured the first floor, feeling it would be improper to visit the more private second floor of another man’s home. Admiral David Dixon Porter accompanied Lincoln during the visit to the former Confederate executive mansion. They held a number of meetings with local officials in the White House. Among them was Confederate Brigadier General Joseph Reid Anderson, who owned the Tredegar Iron Works.
Later is the day, John went to the Capitol Building while Jil and I went shopping.
I have visited Capital Buildings in Cheyenne, Wyoming; Salt Lake City, Utah and Austin, Texas so why not visit Richmond, Virginia as it would be amongst the oldest in America being the third state.
It houses the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere, the Virginia General Assembly, first established as the House of Burgesses in 1619. The present day building was conceived by Thomas Jefferson and completed in 1788 with the two wings being added in the early 20th century. In 2003, the assembly approved $83.1 million for the renovation, restoration and expansion of the Capital. Work began in 2004 and was completed on May 1st 2007 Among major changes are a completely new HVAC control system, updated mechanical, storm water and plumbing systems, and construction of a 27,000-square-foot expansion beneath the hill on the south lawn. The expansion provides a visitor’s entrance, office space and meeting rooms and better security management. The final cost was $104 million.
I was the only one on the guided tour to the central dome with a statue of George Washington, the General Assembly and reception hall. The building also served at the Capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War and is only three blocks from the White House of the Confederacy. These two building and the Governor’s Mansion were the only building spared when departing Confederate troops were ordered to burn the City. Many statues and memorials surround the square including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, “Stonewall” Jackson and Virginia Civil Rights Memorial.
Thursday we left Richmond to drive to Charlotte to enable Jil to catch her plane for Dallas, collect a Chevy Camaro for the drive to Oklahoma and return before flying home next Wednesday night. Thursday night we had a birthday dinner for Jil before we said goodbye.
Friday John spent the day at Charlotte NASCAR Track.
First I drove into the city to visit the Hall of Fame, however it is closed for this week each year for a clean and reorganizing exhibits so I headed back up the I85 for about 20miles to the actual track site. I had just missed the 11.30 tour and the next one was not until 1.30 so I was invited to have lunch in the members restaurant on the sixth floor, overlooking the track. A very pleasant experience to wile away the time and take some photos from this vantage.
The track was built in 1959 by Burton Smith and features a 1.5 mile quad oval track that hosts three major events throughout the year. Speedway Motorsports Inc own the track now along with 13 other tracks and is managed by Burton’s son Marcus.
Our tour guide had been around since the first race and she was able to give us a lot of background to the track. We were taken inside the oval for a look at the garages and then taken on two hot laps to get a feel for the turns banked at 24 degrees. We also saw the press gallery with many photos of yesteryear.
The tour then moved over to the zMAX dragway which features the only all-concrete, four-lane quarter mile drag strip in the United States and seats 30,000 spectators. With an average of 300 workers on site during construction working 11 hour days, the complex was completed within 6 months back in 2008.
The third feature was the 0.4 mile clay oval dirt track within the 2000 acre site. The stadium-style facility, built in 2000, has nearly 14,000 seats and plays host to Dirt Late Models, Modifieds, Sprint cars, Monster Trucks and hosted the Global Rally Cross Round 8 in 2013.
A good day out for a motor enthusiasts.
Saturday we continued our journey through South Carolina to Charleston where Sunday morning we joined a tour of the old city with our driver delivering non-stop history and insights to the city from 1670 to today.
The Wyndham Hotel on Meeting Street, our home for two nights
Charleston is the oldest and second-largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina, the county seat of Charleston County, and the principal city in the Charleston–North Charleston–Summerville Metropolitan Statistical Area. The city lies just south of the geographical midpoint of South Carolina’s coastline and is located on Charleston Harbor, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean formed by the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, or, as is locally expressed, “where the Cooper and Ashley Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean.”
After the bus tour we wandered through the Markets
Market Hall is a Greek Revival-style building consisting of one raised story resting atop a rusticated open ground-level arcade. The building’s high base and frontal portico were inspired by Greek and Roman temples such as the Temple of Portunus and Temple of Athena Nike. The portico contains four Doric columns that support the entablature and pediment, and is accessed by a double flight of stairs with elaborate iron work. The upper floor is scored in an ashlar pattern. The cornice, portico, and Doric capitals are red sandstone, while the triglyphs and moldings are cement. The metopes in the entablature are decorated with alternating bucrania and rams’ heads, which are symbols for a meat market. The hall’s exterior brick walls are covered with brownstone stucco.
The City Market stretches for 1,240 feet (380 m) through a continuous series of sheds oriented east-to-west, and flanked by North Market Street on the north side and South Market Street on the south. Market stalls occupy the first story of Market Hall, and continue through a one-story shed that stretches from the rear of the hall to Church Street. The second shed stretches from Church to Anson Street, the third from Anson to State Street, and the fourth from State Street to East Bay. The sheds are simple rectangular structures with open stalls and center walkways. Since their completion in the early 19th century, the sheds have been renovated and rebuilt numerous times due to damage from earthquakes, fire, and other disasters.
John then went walking and visited the Calhoun Mansion.
It was difficult to take photos on our tour so I decided to walk along Meeting Street and take a few from street level. Calhoun Mansion was open for inspection, so I purchased a ticket and joined the next tour.
The house built in 1875 by a wealthy businessman covers 24,000 square feet and has 30 main rooms, with the hall 50 feet long and 14 feet wide. The owner also build houses next door for his children. Following his death the house was turned into a hotel and later as navy accommodation. It was restored in 1976 and is now owned by a Washington Lawyer who has it packed to the rafters with furniture he has collected from around the world and wants to share with the public.
I continued along the street and around the rivers edge taking photos of all these beautiful houses which are only seen in Charleston. In the mid 1700’s some planters owned up to 500 slaves to grow their cotton crops and amassed considerable fortunes and built residences in the township. As Charleston has a very high humidity, most of the houses have a verandah to catch the evening breeze and entertain guests.
Monday 11th January was spent driving further south via Hilton Head Island to Savannah in Georgia. The housing along the sides of the road appeared to be poorer as with the land did not seem to be productive, with stunted growth.
Driving though Hilton Head Island we began to wonder how many golf courses were needed; the area seemed to be filled with large shopping centres, housing estates that backed on to a canal, numerous golf courses and lots of cars.
Our hotel in Savannah held happy hour from 5.30 to 7.30pm so we joined in that night and chatted to a couple from Minnesota who were escaping the snow who gave us some ideas on places to visit as we headed south.
Tuesday was a housekeeping day, most of which was driving to find the few things we needed. No wonder there are so many cars on the road – you have to drive miles just to find things. Shopping in Bega is much easier.
Tuesday evening we watched President Obama’s State of the Union from the Capitol; I am not sure that politics in the US is much different from home – an hour’s speech of Obama’s view of the future followed by the other party spending two hours outlining why he was wrong about everything. It has been interesting talking to people about the current “Race for the White House”; New York and Washington people were horrified by the thought of Donald Trump becoming President; since we reached Florida all I see are Trump posters – should be an interesting electoral journey for the country.
Wednesday we joined the Trolley Tour of Savannah, again 90 minutes of driving through the historical district with the driver describing the early life of the city as well as its architecture and significant events. The tour differed from the earlier we had taken by being augmented by five different actors joining us for a few minutes as a person mentioned in Savannah’s history to provide insight to a range of local events – both historical as well as more recent events.
Savannah is the second largest port on the east coast and combined with the rail network across Georgia was dominant in the cotton period
The Savannah 90 minute Historic Overview, a fully narrated sightseeing tour of one of the largest National Urban Historic Landmarked Districts in the United States covering more than 270 years of American history; riding along cobblestone paved streets beneath moss-draped oaks and experience the “Old South” with her stately mansions, beautiful squares, romantic riverfront and abundance of artifacts.
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah, Georgia
Thursday we left Georgia and began our time in Florida starting with St Augustine who proudly boasts about being the oldest city in the US dating from the Spanish settlement in 1565.
Saint Augustine was founded on September 8, 1565, by Spanish admiral and Florida’s first governor, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés; he named the settlement “San Agustín”, as his ships bearing settlers, troops, and supplies from Spain had first sighted land in Florida on August 28, 1565, the feast day of St. Augustine. The city served as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years, and remained the capital of East Florida when the territory briefly changed hands between Spain and Britain. The city was designated the capital of the Florida Territory until Tallahassee was made the capital in 1824. Since the late 19th century, St. Augustine’s distinct historical character has made the city a major tourist attraction; it is also the headquarters for the Florida National Guard.
We headed into town from our beach accommodation to take the trolley tour around town, however a storm arrived from the north west and dampened our ideas as the trolley was open to the weather. I returned in the afternoon to look over the Castillo de San Marcos Fort started by the Spanish in 1672 and completed in 1756. The outer walls vary from 14 to 19 feet thick at the base and tapers to 9 feet towards the top. There are over 400,000 blocks of stone in the Castillo, all of it cut and set by hand. One of the major contributing factors to the Castillo’s success is the coquina stone (a sedimentary rock that is composed either wholly or almost entirely of the transported, adraded, and mechanically-sorted fragments of the shells of either molluscs, trilobites, brachiopods, or other invertebrates) from which the fortress is constructed. Because the stone is porous, it compresses under the impact of cannon fire rather than shattering, making the Castillo practically indestructible. In its 340 year history the Castillo never had its walls breached as it passed from the Spanish to the British and then to the United States.
Wandering around town you see the architecture with Spanish dominance and in particular the Flagler College, Lightner Museum and the Cathedral.
On the way home I walked the 219 Steps to the Top of the St Augustine Lighthouse to admire the coastal view. The Lighthouse was built in the 1870’s and fell into disrepair before a group of local ladies raised funds to fully restore the building and open it to the public.
Sunday 17 January Our next stop on the journey south was at Cape Canaveral so John could spend time at the Kennedy Space Centre and Museum. John also wanted a hit if he could find one; he started talking with a couple of young guys while they were hitting on the court at the hotel and they were happy to oblige – turned out they were also going to the space centre too.
The two young guy, one from Poland & the other from Norway were contractors working on the cruise ships and had the Sunday off so I offered them a lift with me to the KSC Visitor Complex about 20 miles north. We decided to visit the Atlantis Space Shuttle Building first which has a life size rocket at the entrance with the attached solid fuel tanks that carries the shuttle into orbit. Inside we had two short screen showings for background and then entered the hall that contained the Atlantis Shuttle with its huge cargo doors open to demonstrate what payload was carried into space. We viewed the national treasure as she floated gracefully in midair with every scar and scratch from her 126 million miles of space travel exposed. There was a mockup of the cabin split down the centre to allow visitor to sit in the pilots seat and marvel at the instrument panel. The Hubble Space Telescope was featured to show how big it is and how it fitted into the Shuttle.
I left the guys and took the up-close tour of the launch control centre, launch pads 34 & 37 and the crawler that transported the rocket from the Assembly Building to the Launch Pads. It consumes a gallon of fuel for every 6 feet travelled.
We all met at 4pm and returned to our hotel for an hours hit of tennis before dinner at the bar & a couple of beers and a chat.
Next day I returned for another day of “Space Travel” and started with a mission status briefing and stayed on for the Astronaut Encounter. Jon McBride wearing his astronauts suit gave us an enlightening and detailed view of his career, first as a navy pilot and then his intense training and flight into space at the shuttle pilot. He told the youngster in the audience that they were the future astronauts to fly to Mars and they should strive for the best education available. I was so impressed with his delivery that I even had my photo taken with him.
I took another up-close bus tour of the centre and ended up at the Apollo/Saturn V Centre, for a close up of the largest rocket ever flown. Over the two days I view a couple of the 3D IMAX presentations and a last look at the Rocket Garden before returning to base.
Tuesday we drove down to the Florida Keys stopping at a Cracker Barrel for lunch on the chance they were still producing the map John collected in 2006; his luck held and the staff was quite happy to give him plenty of copies – more than enough for him to colour each trip we had to the US. We stayed at Key Largo in a unit overlooking one of the myriads of waterways in the area. The whole of southern Florida and Keys are quite fascinating, quite unlike anything we have seen previously.
Wednesday was bright and sunny and the forecast was for rain later in the week, so decided to make the most of the beautiful day by going to the Everglades Alligator Farm. The day turned out rather interesting with a ride through the Everglades in an Airboat – lots of 360’s to thrill most of the passengers though not as rough as other rides we have taken.
Alligator Wrestling followed the ride in the Airboat; you have to either admire or wonder about the mental prowess of a man who will put his face onto the jaws of an adult alligator. However, it was a professional presentation about their continuing efforts towards the conservation of these animals that had been hunted close to extinction in Florida. The last show we watched was the feeding in the large pond – 250 adult alligators, up to 15 foot long, coming toward the feeding area for their share. The snapping of jaws with all those teeth was a chilling sight as well as sound – I was quite happy to stay safety outside the fence and on the top row of the stand.
Thursday we drove south to Key West; we were staying at Mile Marker 108 and Mile Marker 0 was at the gate to the Naval installation on the shore at Key West. After walking around the waterfront, we decided it was a place for the rich and fabulous; one of the luxury Royal Caribbean liners was docked alongside the Westin Hotel with the high-end shops lining the area. In contrast, the old city buildings were adjacent to this finery; these fine old buildings now re-purposed as museums and shops.
We then drove around the waterfront (as close as possible), past the colourful marker for the southern most point for the continental US and around to a beach and ate our lunch overlooking yacht racing, kayaking as well as jet skiers in full flight.
The road that running the length of the 124 miles of the Florida Keys is concrete; predominantly two lanes only and often divided by a concrete barrier. There is not a lot of land either side of the road except as you cross some of the larger islands. I lost count of the number of bridges; however, one was 7 miles long and another 2 miles, both had replaced earlier bridges that are either abandoned or now used as fishing platforms. The houses, hotels and boats at the northern end were quite modest; the closer to Key West, the more lavish the houses, hotels and boats with price tags to match I am sure.
Friday as forecast was wet and blustery so a good day for washing and paperwork. The following day we drove across the Florida Everglades to Naples on the west coast ready for John to play a tennis tournament. We stopped along the way at the Everglades Big Cypress Nature Park and walked along the boardwalk beside the canal to observe the flora and fauna they are managing. There were four large alligators sunning themselves on the bank under the walkway – I am pleased that were “asleep” and not interested in the humans just above them.
The freshwaters of the Big Cypress Swamp, essential to the health of the neighboring Everglades, support the rich marine estuaries along Florida’s southwest coast. Protecting over 729,000 acres of this vast swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve contains a mixture of tropical and temperate plant communities that are home to a diversity of wildlife, including the elusive Florida panther.
Big Cypress National Preserve differs from Everglades National Park in that, when it was established by law in 1974, the Miccosukee, Seminole and Traditional people were provided with permanent rights to occupy and use the land in traditional ways; in addition, they have first rights to develop income-producing businesses related to the resources and use of the preserve, such as guided tours. They and other hunters may use off-road vehicles, and home and business owners have been permitted to keep their properties in the preserve. As in Everglades National Park, petroleum exploration was permitted within Big Cypress in the authorizing legislation, but plans are under way for the government to buy out the remaining petroleum leases in order to restore the environment.
In contrast with those promoting environmental restoration, in 2011 Governor Rick Scott stated that he was open to expanded drilling in the Everglades.
In the 1960s, Native Americans, hunters, and conservationists succeeded at fighting an effort to move Miami International Airport‘s international flights to a new airport in the Big Cypress area. They followed up with a campaign to have Big Cypress included in the National Parks System. Although construction of the new airport had already begun, it was stopped after one runway was completed. It is now known as the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport
Saturday 23 January 2016
We spent the following week in Bonita Springs, a northern suburb of Naples Florida, while John participated in the Sterling Oaks Super Seniors Tennis Grand Prix Tournament being played at several of the numerous gated communities with or without golf courses in the area. Tennis was interrupted by two days of rain – not that rain was too much of a problem for John – lack of tennis in the past couple of months was probably the prime contributing factor to his matches. John has written his account of the tournament if you are interested in reading about it under the heading Tennis.
The area appeared well planned and laid out to accommodate the influx of people over the years: mains roads were divided and six lanes wide with additional turning lanes either side; secondary roads four lanes wide all with wide roadside area for clearly seeing what is coming in all directions with lots of traffic lights to keep it all flowing smoothly. Waterways abounded in most of the communities and linked to the coastline; the water craft also numerous and of varying sizes – didn’t see many tinnies amongst them. Most of the housing in this area appeared to be in the gated communities – advertised as 300K to 1M dollars. As we drove toward Naples, the size and value of housing and boating increased exponentially until we reached the original site of the city and I think these edifices probably began at 10M and the watercraft not much less. Buckajo is our dream place to live and we are very happy to return each time we travel.
As sample of the beaches along the coast.
Miami 2nd February 2016
The drive across the Everglades National Park (known as Alligator Alley) from Naples to Fort Lauderdale was a twin-lane road 120 miles straight across Florida with one Rest Stop and three Recreational Stops. The Recreational Stops had launching ramps for Airboats or small craft to travel along the waterways that came right up to the roadway on both sides. By the number of boat trailers in the park, many people were spending a lovely sunny day enjoying the miles of waterways. We only saw one alligator that must have been dead because the birds were picking at it with no opposition.
The road from Fort Lauderdale to Miami Beach was 20 miles due south along a sand spit; there were high-rise accommodation buildings all the along the coast, most of them were more than 30 floors high; many of the older buildings were being demolished or renovated.
Miami South Beach is renowned for its Art Deco heritage with preservation orders on several blocks of buildings. The Art Deco Welcome Centre and Museum holds many records and artifacts as a record of their history.
South Beach, also nicknamed SoBe, is a neighborhood in the city of Miami Beach, Florida, United States, located due east of Miami city proper between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The area encompasses all of the barrier islands of Miami Beach south of Indian Creek.
This area was the first section of Miami Beach to be developed, starting in the 1910s, thanks to the development efforts of Carl G. Fisher, the Lummus Brothers, and John S. Collins, whose construction of the Collins Bridge provided the first vital land link between mainland Miami and the beaches.
The area has gone through numerous artificial and natural changes over the years, including a booming regional economy, increased tourism, and the 1926 hurricane, which destroyed much of the area.
In the 1930s, an architectural revolution came to South Beach, bringing Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Nautical Moderne architecture to the Beach. South Beach claims to be the world’s largest collection of Streamline Moderne Art Deco architecture. Napier, New Zealand, another notable Art Deco city, is architecturally comparable to Miami Beach as it was rebuilt in the Ziggurat Art Deco style after being destroyed by an earthquake in 1931.
By 1940, the beach had a population of 28,000. After the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army Air Corps took command over Miami Beach. That year, tourism brought almost two million people to South Beach.
In 1964, South Beach became even more famous when Jackie Gleason brought his weekly variety series, The Jackie Gleason Show to the area for taping, a rarity in the industry. Beginning in the mid 1960s and continuing through the 1980s, South Beach was used as a retirement community with most of its ocean-front hotels and apartment buildings filled with elderly people living on small, fixed incomes.
This period also saw the introduction of the “cocaine cowboys,” drug dealers who used the area as a base for their illicit drug activities. Scarface, released in 1983, typifies this activity. In addition, television show Miami Vice used South Beach as a backdrop for much of its filming because of the area’s raw and unique visual beauty. A somewhat recurring theme of early Miami Vice episodes was thugs and drug addicts barricading themselves in utterly run-down, almost ruin-like empty buildings. Only minor alterations had to be made for these scenes because many buildings in South Beach really were in such poor condition at the time.
While many of the unique Art Deco buildings, such as the New Yorker Hotel, were lost to developers in the years before 1980, the area was saved as a cohesive unit by Barbara Capitman and a group of activists who spearheaded the movement to place almost one square mile of South Beach on the National Register of Historic Places. The Miami Beach Architectural District was designated in 1979.
In both daytime and at nightfall, the South Beach section of Miami Beach is a major entertainment destination with hundreds of nightclubs, restaurants, boutiques and hotels. The area is popular with tourists from Europe, Israel and the entire Western Hemisphere, with some having permanent or second homes. The large number of European tourists results in South Beach’s tolerance of the female monokini, aka topless sunbathing, despite it being a public beach.
South Beach’s residents’ varied backgrounds are evident in the many languages spoken. In 2000, 55% of residents of the city of Miami Beach spoke Spanish as a first language, while English was the first language for 33% of the population. Portuguese (mainly Brazilian Portuguese) was spoken by 3% of residents; French (including Canadian French) was spoken by 2%, and German by 1%. Italian, Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew were all spoken by less than 1%.
Another unique aesthetic attribute of South Beach is the presence of several colorful and unique stands used by Miami Beach’s lifeguards on South Beach. After Hurricane Andrew, Architect William Lane donated his design services to the city and added new stops on design tours in the form of lifeguard towers. His towers instantly became symbols of the revived City of Miami Beach.
The beach was right across the road – a wide expanse of beautiful white sand with plenty of room for those with beautiful bodies to work out to keep them that way – push-ups, weights, beach volley-ball; parallel and uneven bars, metal frames of various heights and boot-camp instructors with their stentorian voices urging participants to “keep up”, “push harder” or berating them for an apparent lack of motivation or commitment to their goals. Those with the not so beautiful bodies also joined the activities and tried to use the equipment, but their enthusiasm or skill did not appear to match those who spent hours on the beach. The beach was bounded by a wide concrete walkway that sees the joggers, walkers and skaters moving back and forth from early morning until late.
People were on the beach the days the sun was shining, a few in the water while most just worked on their tan and / or relaxed on beach blankets or in little beach tents while helicopters and light aircraft fly above as well as a range of pleasure craft and jet-skis out on the ocean. You could even watch the large cruise liners leaving both Fort Lauderdale and Miami Harbours and sail out beyond the horizon or arrive with a new cohort of visitors.
We arrived at Miami Beach about 4pm last Saturday and it was packed with cars and people – a range of very expensive vehicles, most with noise levels from a low rumble to a loud roar; Ferrari, Lamborghini, Chevy Camaro, Mustang and Porsche to name just a few; many open to enable the driver and passengers to be seen as they crawl slowly up and down. There also a range of equally expensive bikes and the noise created at times by their exhausts was deafening – all part of the parading experience.
The footpath from one end to the other was a succession of cafes and restaurants that you walk through with staff trying to encourage the passers by to stop, sit, drink and eat. The partying was in full swing when we arrived and the parade of people and vehicles lasted until the early hours. Saturday night the partying ended at sunrise, the partying began about midday each day and finished just a little earlier Sunday with Monday and Tuesday petering out about 3am. As well as the restaurants there were lots of nightclubs along Ocean Drive, all with their own brand of music blaring and this cacophony was our background noise while we were there. Our unit was on the 3rd floor and the noise not really dissipated by the single glazing. I could clearly hear the colourful conversations (including a range of drug purchases) as the part-goers had to shout above the music.
Sunday we went for a walk around the area, visited the Welcome Centre and then tried to find a supermarket for some milk and bread; you could buy a surfeit of alcohol, snacks, souvenirs or clothing but nothing as mundane as milk or bread.
Monday, raining today so I took the option to visit the Miami Motor Museum, a private collection owned by Michael Dezer. Dezer was born in Israel in 1941, the son of a bus driver. He served in the Israeli Air Force before migrating to the US in 1962 where he went to night school and worked in advertising before starting a typesetting business. He than started investing in real estate and founded Dezer Properties in New York City which focused on the Chelsea neighborhood. In the 1980’s, he purchased a number of ocean front plots in Miami Beach and in partnership with Donald Trump, developed numerous properties including the $900 million Trump Towers, the $600 million Trump Grande Ocean Resort and Residences and the $166 million Trump International Hotel and Tower in Fort Lauderdale. Dezer is also the landlord of the luxury auto retailer Manhattan Motorcars.
Dezer collects cars and has over 1,000 cars in the Dezer Museum in North Miami estimated at around $30 million, including the 1948 Ford from “Grease’, the 1959 Cadillac from “Ghostbusters”, the 1981 DeLorean from “Back to the Future”, the Land Rover from “Skyfall” and a T-55 Soviet tank from “GoldenEye”.
I spent around five hours just wandering at my own pace through the various showrooms, Super Car Room, Batman Exhibit, Hollywood Cars of the Stars, James Bond Exhibit, American Classics, Scooters/Bicycles, European Classics and Military Classics. Overall I took around 440 photos and would be willing to share them on a USB stick.
Tuesday was sunny and no rain in sight so I took the Big Bus Tour on three separate loops around Miami City and South Beach.
The Spanish settled the area in 1513 and exercised control over Florida for the next 250 years. From 1784 to 1821, Spain liberalized her settlement policies in an effort to develop her colony, encouraging, in addition to her own countrymen, residents of other lands and faiths to settle in Florida. In 1821, Spain sold Florida to the United States for five million dollars and one year later became a territory, marking the beginning of it march towards statehood.
Multi-millionaire Henry M Flagler brought railway to Miami in 1896 and build the five story Royal Palm Hotel which became popular for America’s Gilded Age princes, including John D Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and the Vanderbilt family.
Significant projects I the century’s first decade dictated future directions. Henry Flagler succeeded in securing federal funds for the construction of a deep water channel as well as for the dredging of the Government Cut, connecting Miami’s new bayfront port with the Atlantic Ocean lying several miles east of it. Flagler was also instrumental in connecting the Keys through the extension of the Florida East Coast Railway to Key West some 120 miles south of Miami.
The Cuban Crisis in the sixties saw hundreds of thousands make their new home in Miami and together with the Hispanic population have contributed to a vibrant, colourful community.
Miami harbor has on average around ten cruise liners leaving the port in the main tourist season and plans are underway to double the facility within ten years.
I returned in time for us to take a walk over to the beach and we later viewed a cruise liner heading out to sea. That will be us tomorrow.