Sea Oats

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mystic Seaport - Stepping Into the Living Past

Mystic  Seaport

You are standing at the rail of your ship as she races home with a bone in her teeth. Gone almost two years, you can smell land even though it is only smudge on the horizon. With every smooth rise and fall of the hull, you know you are getting closer. The crew is oddly quite. No boisterous calls of land ho, but everyone knows where they are now.

Soon the ship rests in her slip. Sailors make their way down the gangplank, many headed for their homes in Mystic, Connecticut, others to lodgings at the inns and taverns and yet others head to distant cities to try to find another berth. As you leave her, you throw a glance over your shoulder. You smile a bit, good to be home and now you're leaving the ship that has been your home for so long and has carried you half way around the world.

As much as the crew needs rest and time to refresh themselves, so do the ships that carried them to far-flung parts of the world, past the places where the charts tell them, "There be monsters here."

At Mystic Seaport, the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard is where you can watch artisans restore antique vessels using traditional methods and tools. Logs and rough wood planking are delivered to the yard where craftsmen work with traditional tools to shape the wood and make the iron fittings for the ships that lay alongside the wharfs.

I wandered around the yard, looking at the various shops where children can make their own model ships to where actual parts are made and repaired for the museum's collection of old boats and ships. Since it was cold the day I visited, I followed my nose to a building with a place to burn real wood. I figured this would be a great place to get warm. I found more than I bargained for. Inside was William "Bill" Scheer. Mr. Scheer is one of the blacksmiths who works in the yard. He is also an instructor for various blacksmithing classes, both here and at a nearby college.

Bill showed me around the shop. The variety of tools was overwhelming, but he seemed to know what each is used for and how to maintain it. They have a hand run drill press that Bill estimates to over 100 years old. "Keep the fly wheel well oiled and tighten things as they need and the tools will last a long time. " The proof is here in this shop.

At first, I thought the blacksmith shop was just an exhibit, but Bill told me quite simply that for the yard and boats in her, "We make what we need," said Bill. Deceptively simple. They make the drift pins for the keel, the fittings for the mast hoops and every other metal fitting that may be needed. Bill spent time going over the various tools and the fittings for the ship. I could not have asked for a better presentation. A group of schoolchildren came in and Bill's face lit up like one of his forges. These kids were luckier that they knew. Bill and I shook hands and parted company.

As I made my way through the yards, I came across the woodshed. Outside, but in a covered area, was a huge band saw. Men were sawing full sized logs into rough planking that would soon find its way to the Charles W Morgan, which had pulled from the water to be refitted. There is an incredible amount of work that needs to be done before the lumber is taken to the ship itself and then even more is needed to fit each piece perfectly. The open sea is no place to find a plank that doesn't fit as she should and is now letting in water. These careful craftsmen and women will make sure the vessel will be ready for the Roaring 40's should he captain wish to take her there to pursue the whales that lie on the other side of the world.

"The "crown jewel" of Mystic Seaport's collection, the Charles W. Morgan has outlived all others of her kind. Built in 1841 at the yard of Jethro and Zachariah Hillman in New Bedford, MA, the Morgan is America's last surviving wooden whaleship and a precious piece of maritime history.

The Morgan's overall length is 113 feet, with a 27-foot 6-inch beam and depth of 17 feet 6 inches. Her main truck is 110 feet above the deck; fully-rigged, and she is capable of carrying approximately 13,000 square feet of sail. The huge try-pots used for converting blubber into whale oil are forward; below are the cramped quarters in which her officers and men lived for years at a time."

The above two paragraphs are from the Mystic Seaport pages ( )

We now understand how wrong whaling is and have stopped the process in most places through out the world. But if you have an interest in America's nautical heritage, this is a place you must visit. The friendly staff and the wonderful exhibits will take you back to a bygone era.

The Charles Morgan is now in dry dock for refitting and should be back in the water in 2013.(Quality workmanship takes time after all.) So please call ahead to see what exhibits might not be open. As of now, you can still board the Morgan while she undergoes refitting.

There are many exhibits to ignite the imagination of young seafarers and displays and real ships to board for old sailors and those that love the sea. This is a must see exhibit.

I would go a little earlier in the year. I went in October and the wind coming off the water was a little bit chilly for this South Florida boy. But don't miss it just because it's winter if that's the only time you can go.

A roving you should go, matey.

A thing about Connecticut drivers. They love to tailgate. They'll change lanes just to tailgate. And I know tailgating being from here. Just be aware of it as it can be a little unnerving on the many two lane roads in the area.

Contact info:
Mystic Seaport
P.O. Box 6000
75 Greenmanville Avenue
Mystic, CT 06355-0990

Phones:  General Information: 860.572.5302 or 888.973.2767
Visitor Services: 860.572.0711

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Florida Eco Safaris - Through the Tree Tops

Ever wanted to sail through the treetops like the kids in the movie ET? Long to take your mountain bike to new heights? Do you want to really commune with nature on its own terms? If you have never been in the deep woods of Florida, you have a few surprises coming.

Not too far from the Mouse House is a refreshing step back into the real Florida. Florida Eco Safaris and Forever Florida offer a unique look at a Florida many of us have forgotten. Instead of the concrete envelope looming overhead as in Miami, Jacksonville or Ft. Lauderdale, here the canopy is made of what it should be. Trees. What better way to see nature in its natural state than from a bicycle that roams the tree tops.

Nowhere else in the United States can you experience nature by being on top of it all, on a bicycle, and the perspective is eye opening.

From left to right; Kristen, Leslie & Emily
Your adventure starts at the reception desk. Greeted warmly by the staff, you will have some  paperwork to fill out and instructions and cautions will be given. I was walked through the process by Emily, Kristen and Leslie, who later turned out to be our swamp coach driver. I had made a reservation the day before for the early morning Cycle in the Canopy, as I wanted to avoid the day's heat as much as possible. Didn't work. More on that later. The check-in process was smooth and the women really know their jobs. They know their stuff and you can tell it's not a memorized script. During check in you will be asked several questions to determine if  your chosen activity is suitable for you. This is not a ride. You participate fully in your outdoor adventure. There are easy adventures, such as the swamp coach tour or slightly more strenuous ones, such as the Cypress Canopy Cycling tour. The ranch is so large and diverse there is something for everyone. All physical skill levels can be accommodated.

I asked about the history of the 4,700 acre ranch, and the staff told me how it was the dream of the deceased son of the Broussard family. Allan Broussard grew up here and his life ended far too soon at the age of 28 after battling Hodgkin's disease. His dying wish was the continued preservation of the area in as much of a natural state as possible. His family makes sure his wish is fulfilled every day.

Leslie rounded up our diverse group, some Zip Liners and I, the intrepid cyclist. We boarded the coach, a swamp buggy, and rumbled, rocking and rolling, into the hinterlands of the ranch. Leslie filled us in on some of the history of the ranch and pointed out wildlife such as alligators, horses, several breeds of cows and even deer as we made our way to the interior of the ranch. Ask her where the hamburgers for the café and grill come from. We passed workers who were building even more adventure trails and lines and soon arrived at our destination. We split off into our respective groups. Zip liners one way and I, sole cyclist in another.

Jessica demonstrates the proper technique for riding the Canopy Cycle.
A very professional staff greeted me. They asked again if I had any issues that might keep me from participating and I replied I did not. I am an older, out of shape boat captain who still thinks he is thirty-five, but I was determined to do this. Despite their misgivings, we pressed on. I was advised to take everything out of my pockets, as the motion of pedaling could cause items like wallets and keys to fall out and into the waiting jaws of a thirteen-foot alligator named George. They locked everything up and on we went. Jessica and the people on the staff cinched me into a safety harness and then adjusted the cycle's seat to meet my leg length. While doing so, they told me to watch for wildlife along my path, although it would be below me. 

Trussed up and in place, they gave me water for my trip. Do not turn this down. You'll need it, especially if the weather is warm. A few more reminders about what to do and what to look for and I was off. As they had informed me, the first third of the track was slightly uphill. After bit of trial and error, I struck peddling rhythm that worked quite well. Looking down from the lofty cycle was unique.  I have spent a lot of time humping through the underbrush, but never gliding over it. By the time I reached the top of the first incline, I was proud of my accomplishment and thoroughly soaked in perspiration. I took a quick breather, as per Jessica's instructions and admired the view. Up ahead, the forest closed in and I was looking to get out of the sun.

It can be a little disconcerting to be hanging underneath the cable on your cycle twenty-five feet in the air and realize that you are the engine. No motors or gears on tracks to pull you along. You peddle or you do not go anywhere. I pushed on. I heard screams in the distance and smiled smugly to myself as I pictured my fellow adventurers slamming in to trees at twenty miles an hour while I serenely peddled in the shade of slash pines and cypress trees. Turns out their yells were of pure joy. They were having so much fun they could not contain themselves.

I was about half way along the course when some movement below me caught my eye. Two deer walked casually below through the swampy water, while hardly taking notice of me. Their tan backs dappled by sunlight they made their way silently through the area. This is wild Florida and I could have seen a Florida panther or even bears.

Jessica had offered me two bottles of water, which I declined, taking only one. It was gone, and now I was wishing I had the other. I am sure they had told me the first part was on an incline and yet ahead of me sloped up into the sky what seemed to be one of the cables from the Golden Gate Bridge. I pushed on.

I made it. Just barely. I peddled with everything I had and when I reached the top, a very welcome downward slope greeted me. I took another break and then glided down the next section. I made my way around to the pond where the gator, George, lives. Jessica had assured me he was not the jumping kind, but I went past his pond at top speed, looking at a cable I could swear was a lot thinner than the section than the one that was in the relatively safe woods. George, like the deer, ignored me and I sailed on. I assume he is related to the gator who took Captain Hook's arm in Peter Pan. I could swear I heard the ticking of an alarm clock off in the distance.

Photo courtesy of Florida Eco Safaris
Back out in the open and away from the trees, a small plain stretched out around me. It was so quiet I could hear frogs chirping the distance. I rested again, not wanting to show off for the staff by completing the course before dark. The perspective from my perch was amazing. Vistas seldom seen by those on the ground stretched out before me. 

I was the only one on the early morning ride, but I knew the staff wanted to be home in time for supper, so I peddled on. The humidity was high and I had lost a lot of water so I was anxious to get back. Up ahead, the bright yellow shirts of the staff were visible on the platform. I peddled as if I knew what I was doing and reached home safely. I climbed out of the bike with their help and made a dash for the water.

After I shed my harness and was settled, my traveling companions returned from their zip line adventure. Four of them in a row with what looked like one big smile. They had had great time crossing rope bridges and flying down cables over the prairie. I can tell you, I am pretty sure they didn't have as much fun as I did. Or maybe they did. Either way, it was a great adventure. I tipped my crew. Watch for separate tip jars for the Zip Liners and the Cycle crew. Make sure you tip the right team. They deserve it.

We rode back with Leslie who told us even more about life on the ranch. There are horseback rides, cattle roundups, bird watching, swamp coach rides and camping. Something for every level of excitement and age group.

Reservations are recommended and there is a strict policy about canceling, so make sure you understand what is required. The ranch is open 365 days a year, rain or shine, and unless there is dangerous weather like lightning or such, events go on.

This is wild Florida and you never know what will be around the next bend. Watch out for fire ants. Their little sandy mounds can be seen from time to time and a fire ant's bite can be very painful. Watch where the kids step.

If you are looking for an alternative to the hustle and bustle of Orlando/Kissimmee area, this is your spot. Fun, exciting, remote and even educational in way you and your kids will enjoy, Florida Eco Safaris cannot be beat.

Check the web site for a complete listing of activities available. You're going to love this place!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Doc Ford's Rum Bar and Grille

Let me preface this review with a bit of an explanation. I do not have a sophisticated palette. If I eat out when I am working, I usually just grab some standard fast food fair. But every once in a while, I like to treat myself. I don't know much about ingredients. I have actually been accused of burning water, so no chef am I.

The last time I saw saffron, it was a triple word score on a Scrabble board. I wouldn't know a béarnaise sauce if it came up and bit me on the ass, but I do appreciate good food and good service. That is what you can expect at Doc Ford's.

Doc Ford is a marine biologist in a series of great books by author Randy Wayne White. A good read in the vein of Steinbeck's Cannery Row and John McDonald's Travis Mcgee series.

Doc Ford's Front entrance, Ft. Myers
Doc Ford's on San Carlos Bay, at Matanzas Pass just before Ft. Myers Beach is a great spot for lunch or dinner. It sits overlooking the bay and the adjacent marina. Just off in the distance is where the commercial fishing fleet docks. Mostly shrimp boats with their rigs raised in salute as they return with the day's catch.

Large windows face the bay giving diners a great view of the boat traffic. I chose to dine inside because it was 94 degrees outside. Over the years, I've proven my ability to eat under almost any conditions. Such as in the cockpit of a sailboat in ten foot seas on a delivery, where no matter how good and warm the food was in the galley ten minutes ago, in the cockpit it tastes like cold oatmeal made with sea water. If the weather is right, there are several outdoor dining areas, all with a view. Inside the main dining room, there are two levels. I was on the second level as there were no seats empty near the windows.
Outdoor seating for weather where the temps are lower than 110 degrees.
My server, Nicole, a bright and attractive girl, brought me a menu and returned quickly with my big glass of iced tea.

When I eat at a restaurant for the first time, I like to think about what I'd like and then try to match my bright idea with something on the menu. I've had a lot of fish over the years, caught by me, prepared usually by more competent souls and have enjoyed many a good fry up. Fish buried in batter is just that. You quite often don't actually taste the fish itself. You taste the batter. There is nothing wrong with that as there are many fine ways to batter fish that lend a great taste to it. This time I wanted grilled.

The choices were confusing to someone with a drive up mentality.

DEEP WATER MAHI-MAHI - freshly filleted mahi-mahi seared in sweet soy sauce, placed on a jasmine rice stir fry with a prickly pear ginger vinaigrette. $19.95

Or,  BANANA LEAF SNAPPER - snapper wrapped in a banana leaf lined with Masa Harina, Ancho Chili Purée and Pine Island lime juice. Steamed, paired with black beans and rice with a Dynamite Lime Cilantro Roasted Pepper pesto. $21.95

Or, CEDAR PLANK SALMON - freshly cut salmon filet topped with a mango chipotle glaze, served with au gratin potatoes, wilted spinach and caramelized mushrooms. $21.95

Or yet again, ACHOATE GRILLED GROUPER - fresh grilled grouper seasoned with a blend of South American spices, served with saffron rice mixed with broccoli and mushrooms, topped with pineapple salsa. $24.95

I chose the Deep Water Mahi-Mahi. I've never heard of anything else in the description, except for the mahi-mahi. I was amazed. A large two piece slab of Mahi on top of the rice. The rice has veggies in it, like little tops of broccoli, onions and some other things I didn't recognize. I now like sweet soy sauce and prickly pear ginger vinaigrette.

Mahi-Mahi is easy to screw up. Overcook it and it comes out like rubber chicken. Undercook it and it tastes like wallpaper paste. This was done perfectly. There was not a scrap of Mahi or a grain of rice left when I finished.

Nicole kept my iced tea topped up without me asking. And then she pulled a very classy move. I was about half way through with lunch, and since there were no tables left on the lower level, she had to seat a couple near me. I thought, "Oh well, I'm sure they'll be quiet and let me finish in peace." Well, Nicole put them two tables down. When I commented to her that I appreciated that move, she replied, "I don't like have people seated on top of me either." Almost every other restaurant I've visited seated everyone at one table after another, even if there were open seats where everyone could have some space. I know it is easier for the servers, but it makes all the difference in the world to the diners. Nicole's tip went up right there.

Pretty full, but still having small hole in my appetite, I looked at the desert menu. I judge quite harshly seafood restaurants by their Key Lime pie and almost everyone one of them serves some version of it. Some have it brought in from Key West, which is very, very good Key Lime pie and others buy local with mixed results.

Outdoor seating overlooking the waterway.
Doc's makes their own. It came on a chilled plate/bowl about the size of Frisbee. The slice was man sized, not one of those little thin slices that the ladies like to share. ( I appreciate the effort ladies, but I'm a guy.) It had whipped cream to one side with a mint sprig on top Don't eat the mint sprig. It sticks to your teeth and is not as tasty as it sounds. On the other side was, and I'm guessing here, was raspberry sauce. Whatever it was, it was gone with the pie.  

That did it. Pleasantly stuffed, I shuffled towards the door and went to my room to take a nap.

I am not qualified to be a restaurant critic in any way except that I know what I like. My grandmother said I was a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Well, Grandma, I like fish too. This was truly one of the best meals I've had in a long time.

You'll be hungry by the time you find the place too. While visible form the bridge going over to Ft. Myers Beach, you going to have rough time finding how to get there. You'll need Capt. Jack Sparrow's compass from Pirates of the Caribbean, "an island that cannot be found, except by those who already know where it is hidden." Captain Sparrow uses his unique compass - rather than pointing north, it points to what its holder wants most, and you'll want this restaurant.

You have to go under the bridge on a little road that is not well marked. There is a sign for Doc's next to a bus bench if you are coming from the east. That's it. Well worth the effort though.

Doc Fords Ft Myers Beach
708 Fisherman's Wharf
Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931-2204
(239) 765-9660

Monday, August 8, 2011

Jekyll Island, Georgia

                                                          TheJekyll Island Club
                                                     Southern Comfort At Its Best.
Photo courtesy of the Jekyll Island Club
"Have someone bring up some coffee, and strawberries in fresh cream, please.  Thank you." You replace the phone and stroll out onto your balcony. The soft click of croquet balls reaches you. Below, ladies in traditional white, move silently around the green velvet carpet of grass, lining up their next wicket shot.
Photo courtesy of the Jekyll Island Club
The sun is still below the tops of the one hundred and fifty year old oak trees bearded in Spanish moss. Turning back into the room you ask, "Should I have the Rolls brought around?" On this island it's hard not to imagine yourself as one of the elite in a bygone era. Here, the crème de la crème once sought quiet months of solitude hidden away from the pressures of business. Yet, in the paneled smoking rooms of the Jekyll Island Club, the very foundation of modern banking, the Federal Reserve System was hammered out. Even here, in the quiet solitude that only the richest of the nation's capitalists could afford, the demands of business interrupted vacations.
The Turret Room. Great romantic rental. Photo courtesy the Jekyll Island Club
All that has changed for the better. Where once the captains of industry strolled, couples now ride bikes and walk wooded trails. At the dock where J.P. Morgan tied up his 340-foot yacht, the Corsair II, lovers watch the sun set over the salt marshes of Georgia's Golden Isles. Jekyll Island retains the ambiance of its moneyed past. Quiet lanes wind past private homes with lush green lawns. The multimillionaire's summer cottages of  yesteryear, which even by today's standards are luxurious homes, sit silently, their vacant windows overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. Jekyll Island is for those wanting to immerse themselves in the restive atmosphere of what was once called ". . . the most exclusive playground in the United States," without breaking the bank.
For modern day business moguls and mavens looking for a way to unwind, Jekyll Island has much to offer. There are four golf courses, including the nine hole Oceanside Course, which has been played for almost a century.
Circling and intersecting the island are twenty miles of bike and jogging paths. The paths parallel the roads around most of the island. There are very few instances where you will share the roadway with vehicles, making it a safe and enjoyable way for to tour the island. And what jogger wouldn't be inspired on their early morning run by spotting the fleet-footed deer as they make their way through the pines that line the paths?
Biking is a great way to spend a day touring the island. Bikes are available from several different vendors. You can rent them from the mini-golf course, most hotels, the airport, the Jekyll Island Marina, or at the campground. Have your hotel pack you a picnic lunch and head to the beach.
One of the most underrated activities is hardly an activity at all. Lounging. At the Jekyll Island Club, balconies and porches with wide brimmed overhangs, surround the hotel. Pull up a comfortable chair or lounge, order a drink from the bar, and pretend you own the place. Or you may wish to go beach combing, strolling the nine miles of sand on the island, while the Atlantic washes away your footsteps. If you would like to wet a line, there is a fishing pier that juts into St. Simon's Sound at the north end of the island.
King Room with Jacuzzi. (Not shown.) Jekyll Island Club photo.
The Jekyll Island Club is a Four Star, Four Diamond, Radisson Resort. Paneled walls, wide wooden staircases, and beautiful appointments take you back to an era when even "regular millionaires" weren't invited to spend the summer. Pearl Johnson, a concierge at the club says, "The Club was completely restored in 1987, just in time for the 100th anniversary. The deluxe suites have Jacuzzis and some have double fireplaces. Each room has been furnished with faithfully reproduced 19th century custom furnishings. If the original founders of the Club, the J.P. Morgans, the Pulitzers, and the Rockefellers, were to come here now, they would be very pleased. Everything has been upgraded. It's all very nice." Ask Ms. Johnson to show you the hall of mirrors. They are slightly concave, and you can see yourself endlessly in their reflections.
If you want to dance the night away, take the short ride to world famous St. Simon's Island. Just ten miles up the coast from the Jekyll Island Club, it offers a variety of shops, restaurants, boutiques, and night clubs.
The Jekyll Island Club offers several accommodation packages. A very popular option is the "Romantic Fantasy." It includes a deluxe suite with  Jacuzzi for two nights, continental champagne breakfast in bed one morning, long stem roses at turn down, and gourmet chocolates upon arrival. You also receive free use of a bicycle for one day and a complimentary picnic lunch. If you have any energy left, free tennis is also included. And to help you save the memory of your interlude, you'll receive a commemorative photograph. Rates are $169 to $439 per room, depending on the season. Other packages, including golf and tennis combinations, are also available.

The Jekyll Island Club gives you the chance to feel like a millionaire, without spending like one.

Hotel offers a smoke free environment in all sleeping rooms and public areas.

Room Amenities

  • iPod Dock Clock Radio
  • Color 32″ LCD Flat Panel TV with Cable and DVD Player
  • Iron / Ironing Board
  • Hair Dryer
  • High Speed Wireless Internet Service
  • Phone with V/M & Data Ports
  • In Room Safe
  • Refreshment Center
  • Coffee Maker

Meal Plans

  • Full American Plan (3 meals daily, breakfast, lunch and dinner) – $92.00 per person per day*
  • Modified American plan (2 meals daily, breakfast and dinner) – $72.00 per person, per day*


Monday, August 1, 2011

Morikami Japanese Gardens and Museum

A little peace and quiet. That’s all you want. Just another five minutes. Is that too much to ask? Five more minutes without the kids yelling that somehow your youngest daughter is stuck on the roof, the dog is barking at the cat who is squalling like it hasn’t been fed in a week. Please, just stop it.
Ironically, snuggled between two very noisy highways, the Florida Turnpike and I-95, is a sanctuary of serenity. Morikami Gardens &Museum.  The Roji-En, the “Garden of the Drops of Dew” awaits.
As you enter the garden grounds, you can feel the enveloping arms of the soft shade trees lining the winding drive. Park and enter the museum building after passing a quiet waterfall. The air-conditioned building is shaped like a pagoda.  The curved eves of the roof were originally designed to deflect marauding evil spirits, but today they seem to deflect all the worrisome rattle and clatter of the outside world.

After one of the people at the desk gives you some basic directions and pamphlets, you then pass through the large doors leading to the garden. You are immediately greeted by a still lake with barely a ripple on its surface.  Across the water is small building that looks something like a Shinto shrine.
Turn to the right and ahead of you is another small lake with trees growing along the edges. A bridge lies to your left. It arches gracefully over the water and leads to a wooded area. As you cross the bridge, everything around you seems to grow quieter. You turn around to make sure you didn’t leave the kids in the car. The water has that affect on people. Even kids. Various wild birds wade along the shore. A snowy egret, resplendent in a gown of white, stands guard while cormorants doing their impression of mighty eagles, stretching their wings out to dry after a morning of diving after fish.
The overall Garden is divided into smaller gardens reflecting the different periods of Japanese history. Such gardens as the Shinden, Paradise Garden, Shishi Odoshi (Deer Chaser) all have their own unique character.
A short way down the path you will find a Kodai-mon, an Ancient Gate, shown at the top of this post.. Enter through the gate for another peaceful view of the lake. There are many benches throughout the gardens for sitting and letting the “talking bamboo” carry all your worries off. Many flat boulders are also available to rest on, just make sure the kids don’t climb every rock in sight. The little dears might trample the orchids.
Rock gardens, later known as flat gardens, favor rocks instead of plants, which are carefully placed in the landscaping to represent water, islands, and nature condensed into a small, contemplative space. Japanese gardens often tie the inside of the home to the outside. So instead of tripping over bicycles and the swing set, the garden flows calmly from the cool interior to a small garden of stone, lilies and a koi pond.
After you’ve been in gardens for a short time, you may not notice how quiet everything is. I heard one airplane go by but other than that, it strictly the sounds of nature. It was once pointed out that there was hardly a place in the United States you could go without hearing the sounds of human activity for more than fifteen minutes. We may have just found one of the exceptions.
Half way around, we discover the building we saw earlier across the lake. It houses a children’s museum and information center.  There are several interactive displays and the reproduction of a typical classroom. Kids can see how students in another land attend class. In addition there is a typical Japanese apartment. With tatami mats on the floor and shoji screens, you might believe you are in Tokyo. Except for the blissful lack of noise.
There is a small bonsai display outside, some of which are made from plants native to Florida. Take a class in training bonsai and find out what can be done with a little patience and a lot of skill.
Working your way around the lake, you will come to a small alcove. Listen and you’ll hear a soft melodic sound. Follow the path around and almost unexpectedly under the trees is a waterfall. Once you’ve found a place to sit, you won’t want to leave. But you must.
Walking towards the main building, the lake on your left, you have almost forgotten how wonderful quiet can be.
As you climb the short set of steps up to the main building, you will notice on your left a small café named the Cornell. The unassuming respite at the end of your journey offers a variety of selections. The café has been rated among the top three in museum dining experiences by the Food Network.
Gather your brood and make your way back into the main building. Off to the right is a small museum with ever changing displays. I saw cases and cases of movie monsters in addition to traditional kimonos. Something for everyone.
There are self-guided tours available. The whole garden will take about an hour to see, but it will be an hour spent in blissful serenity. The garden opens at 10:00 AM. Go early in the day in the summer to avoid the heat.
Along with the various Japanese festivals celebrated on the grounds, group tours, special corporate events, and weddings can be held in the gardens. Nearly all of the garden paths are handicap accessible. Anyone with mobility issues will find the gardens easy to navigate. There are coolers with cool water path along with paper cups stationed around the grounds. They are on the sides of the trash receptacles. Not nearly as unsanitary as it sounds. I would bring a bottle of water, especially during the summer time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The International Game Fishing Association

The first time I caught a fish, I was three years old. Well, I didn’t really catch that fish. My Dad did. I had a stick, a piece of string and a safety pin. My dad caught a sheepshead, hauled it in and put it on my line. Since it was still alive it kicked and jerked. That’s when I got hooked on fishing. This all took place on Kelley’s Island on Lake Erie. I spent every summer from then on until I was 18 there.
To this day, I believe that taking a kid fishing is one of the best things that can happen to the kid. A day out on the water adds such enrichment to child’s life and the payoffs can exceed your wildest dreams. You need to have extra patience with a child. They are trying to learn. They are dealing with icky bait and slimy fish. Give them a chance to be overwhelmed. You probably were when you were a child, or maybe you just had an understanding parent.
People visit Fort Lauderdale for many different reasons. If you come with your family, you are missing out on one of the least expensive and fun things you can do with your kids. You have big pool called the Atlantic Ocean right outside your door. You can fish from piers, docks, seawalls, bridges, head boats and even rental boats. Remember the Wind in The Willows?
 "There is nothing- absolutely nothing-
half so much
worth doing
as simply
messing about in boats."

That's what Ratty said to Mole in Kenneth Grahame's beloved classic, The Wind in the Willows. "In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it.". . . Ratty continued.
Not big fisherman yourself? Too busy being a Mom or Dad to really get into all the details of fish and fishing? Then while you are inFort Lauderdale, you need to visit the IGFA, the International Game Fishing Association, in Dania Beach, Florida. They have everything you need to get up to speed on fish and fishing for less than $30 for a family of four. That is less than going to the movies and so much more rewarding. Less than a mile in a straight line from the airport, it is very convenient.
The IGFA buildings are right next door to Outdoor World so if after your tour you get the urge to go out into the real world, you can pick up all the gear you need without even moving your car. The IGFA has a theater that shows short films in the Orientation Theater.
There are rooms that show the history of fishing and the various tackle and how it developed over the years. Displays containing living and replica fish are around the hall. If your pursuits tend towards the more scholarly, there is a complete reference library on the second floor. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and helpful. I did research on marlin years ago and the article I wrote would have been much less without the staff’s help.
An interactive room will allow everyone to fish for sailfish, bass, tarpon and others. The sounds and sights are very realistic and there is a staff member standing by should you need help in landing your catch. All the fun of sportfishing without the throwing up. There  is even an app for identifying your catch and checking records. Couldn't be much easier.
Don’t forget to look up. Mounted on the ceiling are nearly a hundred different fish in full glory. They are of course, fiberglass replicas, as one of the tenets of modern fishing is preservation. In the World Record Room, you will see photos and displays showing the records for various species from all over and some stories about what it took to catch them. Who knows, maybe your child’s name will be here one day.
The Fish Gallery has displays showing the various parts that make up a fish, how they live and their habitats. There is plenty see here for people of all ages. You owe to yourself to drop by and learn about what lies just off the beach where you are working on your tan.
You may just change the life of a child.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Islamorada In the Florida Keys

The Lorelei on Islamorada
Islamorada is a lush, tropical paradise surrounded by azure waters.  However, this has not always been the case. A mere 10,000 years ago, the island was a reef. It was part of a reef line which runs from Miami out to the Dry Tortugas. As the global climate changed, Islamorada and the other Keys popped their heads out of the waves and the Keys were born.

The islands were inhabited much later by the Arawak Indians, a fierce and independent Caribbean tribe. They called the island Frank’s Island. Named after a wild-eyed old guy who ran around the island naked yelling at anyone who would listen about how the sharp coral rocks were ruining his clam digger. Rather than listen to Frank, they moved down the Keys to Indian Key, where they lived quietly for years until they took part in a particularly rowdy Bartenders Weekend party, burned down a house and were asked to leave.

Later, the Spanish were traveling along the Keys on their way to conquering the Indians of Central America and stealing all their gold. They stood on the deck of their ship, and as everyone has done since, looking through their glasses of Madeira wine at the sunset they noticed the islands had a particular color.

“Do those islands look purple to you?’
“Sort of.”
“Hold your glass higher.”
“Yeah, now they do.”
“Let’s call them the Purple Islands.”
“That won’t look good on a brochure years from now.”
“How do we say Purple Island in Spanish?”

Had they looked at their charts, they would have seen the island already had a name. Cleveland. But they didn’t, so the name Islamorada stuck.

As your drive down the Keys, you will notice that many of the towns along the Keys have signs with sayings welcoming you to their towns. “Key Largo – If you are too tired to drive farther.” And Layton, “If you blinked, you missed us.” Big Pine Key – Where the Deer Hunter Meet Bambi.” Key West “The End of the Road. No U-Turns.” And of course Islamorada – “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Akron anymore.”

Day's End
Islamorada is now known as the fishing capital of the Keys. Dozens of stores and bars sell T-shirts proclaiming “Islamorada, a quiet little drinking village with a fishing problem.” You can fish the back country, the side of the islands that face the Gulf of Mexico, for tarpon, permit, bonefish and rod busting scallops. Or you can venture out front into the Atlantic to fish for bigger species like sailfish, marlin, yellow tail and the powerful amberjack. A forty-pound amberjack can feel as though it is tied to the bottom with a chain. The jack can pull a 12 year boy, who insisted that he could only catch fish if he uses your Penn International reel and Daiwa rod, and all the gear overboard when it digs for the bottom.
Islamorada is different from most of the Keys. It is not like Key Largo which is a welcome center to the Keys for people driving down from the North.  While the people in Islamorada can party with the best of them, it is not quite the crazy town Key West can be. There is a lot more to Key West than many people realize, but we will cover that in another article.
Islamorada covers seven islands, but that is not apparent when you are driving around. The Hurricane Memorial is here, remembering the people who died in the hurricane in 1935. They also have a library on the island. Not so rare, even for the Keys, but this library has a unique feature. It has its own beach. A real, fully sanded and protected beach. The current between the beach and the mangrove island across from it can be quite swift on tide changes so you need to watch the little ones. You can see the librarian about checking out a book, free wifi access and suntan lotion. Due to budget cuts, the library has reduced operating hours, but the beach is usually open from dawn to dusk and it is pretty quiet.
At the library beach, Islamorada
There are several good restaurants, as there are on almost every Key. Some of my favorites are the Lorelei, pictured at the top of the article and simply one of the best places to watch the sunset, Uncle’s and Bentley’s. There are less expensive choices, such as Islamorada Fish Company and Mama’s BBQ.
Be sure to check out the Diving Museum, even if you’re not a diver. If you just have to shop, try Blue Marlin Jewelers. Handcrafted pieces that will give your credit rating a run for the money, but I have bought a few pieces there for reasonable prices. Take a towel with you so you can wipe up your drool from the counters. Ask for Michelle.

The island is green and usually quiet. Take some time to drive around the back streets. You can’t really get lost. If you have a regular car you can go down all kinds of narrow streets and alleys. If you drive a camper, you’ll have a lot of backing up to do. Just respect other people’s property.
I like Islamorada and its people. After you have gone there a few times, people will get to know you. I like how they call out to me when they see me. “Hey Frank, how’s the clam digger?”

Where to stay:  There are all different levels of motels and hotels to choose from. Three that I am personally familiar with are, The Key Lantern, The Islander and The Cheeca Lodge. The Key lantern is nice. It’s quiet, safe and clean and inexpensive. $39 a night in the off season.  I’ve stayed here quite a bit over twenty years, and apparently have had the same mattress every time. However, for the price, it is hard to beat.
The Islander is a step up in price, but has nice facilities and views of the ocean and a great pool.
Rental bungalow at the Cheeca Lodge
The Cheeca Lodge is top end. Every six months or so they set their tiki hut bar on fire for the entertainment of the guests. OK, not really, but if you know the Cheeca, you know what I mean. Wonderful bar and award winning restaurant inside. The private beach and grounds cannot be beat. If you want to stay for a week or so, check out the bungalows for rent. You’ll never go home.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Alluring Charleston

Alluring Charleston

Sightseeing by carriage in Charleston.
Some cities are just meant to be visited.  San Francisco, San Diego, Carson City, Nevada, Mackinac Island, Mystic Seaport, Savannah and of course, Charleston, South Carolina. No city I can think of embodies friendliness, charm and residential beauty more than that of Charleston. 

Years ago I described Charleston in article as the place where Rhett Butler meets Laura Ashley. You get off I-95 onto I-26 and then you slide gracefully in the 18th century. Cobblestone streets, homes built in the 1600’s painted in soft pastels, looming and imposing government buildings, some of which actually held pirates in their cellars. In addition, some of which had pirates in their offices disguised as public officials.

However, Charleston, more than any other southern city, is the quintessential home of southern grace and charm. As I made my way through the streets shooting pictures and admiring the flavor of the city, I found a house, which had some interesting shutters. As I stood on the sidewalk shooting, two people greeted me and said I was quite welcome to get up closer and to walk through the yard. I declined, saying I did not know the owners and did not feel it was right to trespass just to get the shot. They said it would be perfectly all right as they were the owners and had just returned from downtown where they had breakfast. They opened their house and their yard to me.

The town has a warm welcoming feel that is just hard to resist. You find yourself caught up in the gentility of the place.

I worked my way through the narrow streets and byways, shooting as I went. After roaming all morning, I made my way back to the Old Central Market. The sweetgrass straw baskets, hand woven, competed for your attention with clothing, preserves and art work. The Market has a past as a slave market, but from the mix of cultures present nowadays, it is hard to remember how horrible this place must have been for the people being sold there.

Charleston, bound by two rivers, the Ashley and the Cooper, nestles at the end of a peninsula. You can walk down just a few blocks from the Old Market and you will be at the Cooper River. Here there are ferries to ride out to Ft. Sumter, the place where the Civil War began . There are also harbor tours and across the way is the aircraft carrier Yorktown. Surprisingly, the waterfront looks more industrial than it need be. It is not till you move farther to the East that you get to the beautiful waterfront parks and homes. Rainbow Row, where multihued homes face the river, is now obscured somewhat by the trees that have grown and slightly spoil the view I had twenty years ago, but it still affords a beautiful view of the homes that line the street.

On the Ashley River are three of Charleston’s largest and best equipped marinas. The City Marina, the Ashley and the Bristol marinas. All have well laid out docking and fuel systems. The folks are helpful and knowledgeable. (At a future time I may go into cruising details, but for now, this is just a quick overfly of the area.)

Just outside Charleston live two well-known plantations. Magnolia and Boone Hall. I toured the Magnolia Plantation. Absolutely beautiful.  If you interested in the antebellum south, these are worth the drive out and you can stop and see Boone Hall on the same road.

I would go in February or March as the weather is normally good and the temperatures have not climbed to their soul killing best yet.

If you want to experience the South at its absolute best, Charleston is for you.

Where To Stay: I stayed at the La Quinta in in N. Charleston. Good rates, pretty clean and friendly staff. You can see my review on TripAdvisor. I go for good value. But I have to tell you, if you can do it, a great place to stay in town is the Francis Marion Hotel.

Of course there are other packages available including a La Quinta downtown.