After Florida I went to Vermont, February 2018

From blistering heat to bitter cold, from sand to snow, I traveled from Orlando to Philadelphia and up the East coast to visit friends who had moved to Bennington, VT. The older kids had other things going on, so it was just the twins, Mr. Fantastic and myself for this adventure.

We drove on country roads as we got closer and soon saw a tall monolith on a hill. We went directly there and found a locally contentious memorial dedicated to the 1777 Battle of Bennington, which actually occurred across the border in New York state about 10 miles away. The Vermont site is, however, almost at the exact spot where a certain Catamount Tavern used to be, and we all know which the soldiers preferred so it all works out ok. It is very tall and isn’t open in February, by the way.

Below are the twins with John “live free or die” Stark

Bennington was adorable, we especially liked the candy store we found! Here I am (below) with chocolate moose! Two of them! This was at The Village Chocolate Shop. And for those of us who don’t eat refined sugar, this may not be a secret but it was a lovely fact- Vermont has maple syrup everywhere! I had a maple latte, maple cream pretzels, maple pecans, and maple syrup on unsweetened (well probably not 100% sugar free) pancakes. We also liked The Brown Cow CafĂ©.

I took a lot of pictures, everything is just too beautiful. Here’s our friend’s gorgeous house, with a cozy fireplace:

And their neighbor has horses and a barn, so picturesque:

We went to a nearby town called Manchester and spent time at the Northshire Bookstore. It has a loft in the kids section!

Our friends hooked us up with housing at the Bennington campus in an adorable little place.

And to top it all off, it SNOWED!!!!! You need that for the full Vermont experience.

It was so beautiful watching the snow out the window from the cozy places we were at- bookstore, little red house on campus, fireside at our friends’ house.

The area has little rock walls, winding roads, and houses with cedar shingles. The skies were beautiful. The campus was cute.

Vermont is really not too far away and I plan to go back to do more exploring of The Green Mountain State.

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Ohio, May 2018

Nothing major to report on this trip. We went to see my parents, which is exceedingly difficult now that the kids have so much going on and I have to work weekdays. We did have the excitement of a kitten in the car! Kermit Serendipity Marvelous, or Kiki for short, is an adorable street cat rescued by the kids who we are fostering and maybe keeping. We figured she would be happier with us than at home with bachelor-for-the-weekend Poppa. Here are notes from this trip:

Unseasonably hot.

Garage sales, thrift stores, and strip malls

Agatha Christie movie- 2017 version of Orient Express movie. My mom and daughter are Agatha Christie fans, I guess it skipped a generation!

Patio furniture, grill, watermelon, ice cream cake

Biking with my dad around the development

Drive back through rural pa- Pine Grove was an especially cute town we passed through

Day trip to New Jersey, April, 2018

North wildwood seawall

Sometimes a change of scenery for just a day can feel like a vacation. I am fortunate to know the Delightful family and to occasionally tag along on their adventures, often with the kids. When they called with just a few minutes notice on a day my kids were at the cabin with Mr. Fantastic, I jumped at the chance. This trip was a last-minute jaunt to Wildwood and Cape May on one of the first springlike days of this year. They said to bring my bike.

Entrance to Wildwood boardwalk below. “Through this arch walk the happiest people in the world” Yes!

While I rarely want to drive anywhere on my days off, the Delightful family have no qualms about heading across state lines to PA’s eastern neighbor once in a while. They had their two golden retrievers, their youngest child (his big sisters were with my kids), and their bikes. I joined the gang and soon we were crossing the Walt Whitman bridge over the Delaware river.

Tidepool by the seawall

We took the scenic route out of the urban area near the river, and soon I was gazing at rural New Jersey. There were historic houses both restored and decrepit, some newer buildings, and everything in between. We saw some gardens beginning to blossom. We drove by a beachside neighborhood they knew with ramshackle hand-built homes. Then we came to the seawall in North Wildwood. We parked and got the bikes and dogs ready.

“America’s boardwalk”- two miles of carnival attractions, greasy food, souveniers, and the like- was more crowded than I’d expected but far from summer-crowded and completely enjoyable. By bike, with no kids clamoring for anything (Mr. D, with kid and dogs, let us go ahead) Ms. D and I cruised first the seawall and then the boardwalk.

After a while, we piled back in the car and headed to Cape May. Mr. and Ms. Delightful are both architects and pointed out the doo wop architecture for which Wildwood is famous as we drove south. Plenty of 1950s diners and motels with bright colors, fake palm trees, and huge distinctly lettered signs. Cape May was a short drive away, and soon we were back on the bikes. It was a flat terrain, amazing restored Victorian buildings were everywhere, and the traffic was serene. I am not a huge fan of the Jersey shore, but the drivers are beyond polite to pedestrians and cyclists alike and the architecture was enchanting so I was enjoying the afternoon immensely.

Our last stop was The Lobster House, where I devoured not only some lobster, but scallops and shrimp as well. This is out of character for me, since I am mostly vegetarian and have disliked seafood since childhood. The essence of vacation is doing things that are not ordinary, though, and I relished the experience. Who knew I would suddenly get excited about scallops? But I did. And the lobster house, a sprawling historic building next to a marina, was a glory in itself. Don’t be fooled by the fancy-pants website; there are many levels of dining here. There is a dark wood restaurant with cloth napkins and genteel atmosphere, a deli-style take-out, a diner with stools and a long counter, and an outdoor deck by the boats where we had our excellent lunch. Surrounded by seagulls and the gently tipping masts of sailboats, we dug into our meals and reflected on a lovely day.

SoFlo Road Trip Part 5

We awoke to a cool, overcast day and decided to see the ocean. To be honest, we had discussed seeing the sunrise since we were on the east coast and all, but we weren’t overly enthusiastic about waking up early and the cloudy sky masked the sun at any rate. But it wasn’t raining and we were a short walk from the shore so we went. It was a nice beach and we walked along the receding tide. We found a few seashells and went back to pack the car and start the day’s journey. It was our last day in Florida and we were excited about manatees. But first, breakfast.

Below, the beautiful waters of Blue Spring State Park without manatees (my photo) and with manatees (photo from park website)

Chicken’n’biscuits! Grits! I was still fighting the flu and wasn’t eating with my usual enthusiasm, but I was bound and determined to have something regional on my plate. I had some cheese and grits which was fine, but not too exciting. We headed back towards Orlando to Blue Spring State Park. I had never considered that Florida would have state parks, in addition to all of those over-commercialized theme parks, but of course they do, apparently 175 of them! This one was nice, impressive even. A co-worker had recommended this park to me as a place to see manatees, and indeed it was their breeding grounds at this time of year. We walked on the boardwalk and checked out the beautiful blue waters and saw many gars- very cool looking fish that go back to the Jurassic period and have long toothed jaws (2 gars below).

Unfortunately, despite the fact that we were there during the breeding season, the manatees had other plans that day. We walked the length of the boardwalk, enjoyed the views, and saw a video of what it looks like when the sea cows and their babies are hanging around. I’d like to go back someday. We consoled ourselves with this mosaic manatee sculpture selfie and headed to a last-minute destination that we ended up enjoying quite a bit.

Off we went to Winter Park and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. It has the largest collection of Tiffany pieces in the world. I refer, of course, to Louis Comfort Tiffany of art deco and lamp fame. And, wow, was this guy prolific! From his early sketches to the well-known stained glass, to his jewel of a home – Laurelton Hall on Long Island, colors flashed and glowed in glorious design.

There were other wonderful things to see at the museum, notably American pottery and prints. We spent hours here, happily immersed in beauty. It is difficult to choose a few photos to represent the place. I can’t, for example, portray accurately the exhibits of Laurelton Hall rooms or Tiffany Chapel (below, middle) that are architectural pieces from the original sites one must walk through to experience.

After the museum, we had a fabulous Greek dinner and stayed with a relative of H for the night. I was off the next morning before dawn to a flight back home. It had been a delightful vacation with a dear friend in an unlikely place- who could ask for more?

SoFlo Road Trip Part 4

Grand lobby ceiling at Flagler college

And so it was time to head north along the Atlantic coast to Saint Augustine. I had been unsurprised, yet still disappointed, in the vast majority of architecture we had witnessed thus far in our journey. I know Florida has its charms, and certainly natural beauty where it has been allowed to exist, yet I crave interesting, and to be honest, historic buildings. When a history PhD I am lucky to know mentioned that St. Augustine is the oldest city in the USA I was drawn to the place. It became one of the top places I wanted to see, HC was game, so northward we went.

Streets in St. Augustine

It was about five hours from southern Miami to Saint Augustine. Though we paralleled the eastern Florida coast, we really didn’t see the ocean until we took scenic A1A for the last hour or so. We passed beach towns and enjoyed seeing sand and water out the window. We arrived at our housing for the night, a few minutes south of St. Augustine. It was a modest house in a neighborhood of similar houses, quite the contrast to the towering beachside mansions we had been passing. We could hear the ocean from our room. We didn’t stay long, though, we were bound for the oldest city in the USA for the rest of the day.

Cannonball embedded in wall at Oldest House Museum

We crossed the majestic Bridge of Lions into the small city. I wish I’d have paid more attention to this historic bridge, opened in 1927 and flanked by Medici lion replicas. These are sculptures of a lion with a sphere that reminded me of Venice and have origins in second century Rome- majestic! Across the bridge were historic buildings galore. We found parking near St. George street, the center of the pedestrian mall, and went inside a beautiful church called the Cathedral Basilica. The site has a history going back to 1565! The current building was completed in 1795. It replaced several that had burned down and holds the title of oldest Catholic congregation in the US. Inside is gorgeous painted wood and a beautiful altar (below).

From there, we walked through the town to the Oldest House Museum. We noticed the peculiar building material in many structures, and learned of its importance in St. Augustine. Apparently it is called coquina and was quarried nearby as the town grew. It proved to be quite resilient, as evidenced by the 17th century fort (“oldest masonry fort in US”) known as the Castillo San Marcos on the Matanza Bay in town. We drove by the impressive fort but did not tour it. We went to The Oldest House instead.

Coquina is a type of rock with visible seashells, an historic building material

The Oldest House Museum admission included a guided tour to the house as well as entry to the museum, gardens, and colonial kitchen. The museum was basic and enjoyable and, incidentally, explained coquina nicely. Our very earnest guide explained the different levels, uses, and construction styles of the house, which is also called the Gonzales-Alvarez house after two of its inhabitants. There were interesting details about how the house fit into life under Spanish and British rule, as well as after US independence. Afterwards, we wandered the grounds and also saw a map display in the exhibit area of the research library on the property.

Below: oldest house, colonial kitchen, map display, another view of the colonial kitchen with garden.

We walked back to the pedestrian area and had a great dinner. It was getting dark but we really wanted to see the Flagler college area. We were not disappointed. Beautifully lit and with gorgeous woodwork and Tiffany stained glass, the main building was built in 1888 as a hotel by Standard Oil founder Henry Flagler. We walked around the grounds and admired the domed entryway, which was the only part of the building we could access at that time of day. There are tours, and if I go back I would try to take one because the small part of the place we saw was impressive!

Dinner al fresco with 2 hams LOL, Flagler inside and out, tiffany lamps from hotel near Flagler.

Nearby is an amazing hotel, where they allowed us in to ogle the decor, such as the Tiffany lamps in a private dining room above (HC is great at getting strangers to welcome us and show us around!!), and a city building with a small plaza and fountain (which did not photograph very well at night). Take my word that this part of St. Augustine had gorgeous archetecture and I wish we’d had more time. We walked back to the car through lovely residential streets, cozily lit in the night, and back to our digs for the evening. I fell asleep listening to the ocean and thinking of the excellent day we’d had.

SoFlo Road Trip Part 3

We woke up in Homestead and off we went. It was not far to the Earnest F. Coe visitor center, yes that Earnest F Coe who, at age 60 as a retired landscaper from Connecticut moved to Miami (this was the 1920s) and saw the destruction of the southern Florida ecosystem. He fought for over 20 years to save it, having little success but persevering at a time when the area was being destroyed for real estate, rare plants were removed for fun and profit, and local birds were being killed in large numbers, their feathers used for hats. Millions of birds slaughtered for hats! Eventually the government became involved in protecting and preserving the unique ecosystem and the park grew from fragmented parcels that hugely disappointed Mr. Coe to its present size of 1.5 million acres, or 2500 square miles. I think he must rest easier now, and we were excited to see more of -and I quote from the National Park website-“the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States”.

We took a glorious wrong turn and found ourselves on a thin highway heading towards the Florida keys. Teal blue water on either side, the windows down, talking a mile a minute, good music on the car stereo, trying to catch up on each other’s lives, it took us a while to realize we were going the wrong way. The keys looked to be beautiful but we were far more interested in the everglades. We righted ourselves and soon we approached the National Forest.

The visitor center was nice. There were maps, educational displays, and very helpful staff. The older man at the desk, from Ohio as it turned out, told us about his favorite hiking spot called Snake Bight trail. We learned that it’s a play on words; a ‘bight’ is an inlet, or inward curve of land by water. We decided to take his recommendation.

First we went on the boardwalk trail just down the road from the visitor center. It was beautiful- breezy, full of birds, long views of the landscape, and close-but not too close- alligators.

See the alligator below?

We drove through more of the park and stopped at the Snake Bight trail entrance, parking by the side of the road. What followed was not the best hiking experience, in fact we discouraged hikers who asked our advice from continuing as we made the return trip, but the trail was flat and easy to follow.

What we thought we’d find at the end of Snake Bight trail:

There were many, many mosquitoes, despite the time of year being favorable for avoiding them. At the visitor center we had seen that the bug level- mosquitos and black flies seem to be quite the nuisance here- was as low as it gets. The Snake Bight mosquitos, however, had not gotten the memo and were out in full force, lucky for me they favored HC. We did our best to ignore them and walked. It was two miles of flat hiking through an unchanging landscape of marsh trees, ending at a dry marsh in harsh sunlight, the water just visible in the distance. Then we walked the same two mile trail back to the car.

Trail and end of the trail:

Back in the car, we decided to go to the end of the road, the Flamingo Visitor Center. It was a strange place, a bit desolate with cement structures, a few abandoned buildings and some damage from hurricanes, most recently Irma. There is camping available, and we were surprised that no one seemed to be using it, since hotels were booked nearby, bug counts were low, and it generally seemed to be tourist season. It was nice to talk with the staff, look at the simple displays, and watch the water from the elevated viewing area. The day was getting on, though, and we were ready to continue.

We drove back through the park, enjoying the scenery and somewhat sad to leave, however we were pleased to have the novelty of planned housing that night. P, a friend of HC, lives in the southern suburbs of Miami. It was closer than we’d thought, and soon we were enjoying dinner at a wonderful Columbian restaurant with excellent company in the warm night air. We relaxed and had a splendid night of food and conversation. The next day, we would see the oldest city in the US.