Friday, February 22, 2013

Savannah, GA

Savannah square monument

Savannah shops

After six weeks in Florida, we finally headed north to Savannah, Georgia.  This area has a tremendous amount of history and beauty.  We took a trolley tour of the historic city, which was a great way to get an overview of the city and learn many interesting tidbits of history that we would otherwise miss.  Then we walked around the historic district to enjoy the beautiful squares with their majestic oak trees and statues, and take pictures of some gorgeous homes.  The city is easy to walk because of its layout (it was the first planned city in America), with town squares every couple blocks that are surrounded by historic homes and churches.  Most of the buildings in the area are on the National Register of Historic Places.  The riverfront is all former cotton warehouses where the plantation owners would bring their crops to sell for export at the docks.  Of course there are plenty of restaurants and shops to browse.
The other really interesting thing in this area is the forts; we visited three this week.  The first was Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee River.  It was built as an earthen fort at the beginning of the Civil War to protect the plantation owner’s interests.  It remained as a Confederate defense until Sherman’s March to the Sea after the Union took Atlanta.  A Confederate soldier was there to explain the history and fire his musket for us.  Another day we visited the two forts on the Savannah River.  Old Fort Jackson was built to defend the coast during the War of 1812.  It was held by the Confederacy during the Civil War until Sherman took it in 1864.  There we had a lesson on the steps to fire a cannon, which was fired with a huge bang.  Further downriver is Fort Pulaski which was built shortly before the Civil War.  It is a very impressive fort, but was one of the last of brick construction.  Cannon technology had advanced by then allowing the Union Army to knock holes in the fort that forced its surrender early in the war.  So the Union used it in the blockade of supplies that the Confederacy needed.  You can still see the damage done by the cannonballs, a few of which are still embedded in the brickwork.  Just beyond the fort is the Tybee Island Lighthouse, which is still used today.
We finished out the week with a trip to Hilton Head Beach, South Carolina, even though the weather was cool and threatening rain.  It is strange to us west-coasters to go to a beach that is reached by walking through trees and across a marsh.  But we could see that it would be a nice summer vacation place.  It looks like it will rain here on Monday and Tuesday, so we plan on staying and visiting some Savannah museums.    There are plenty of interesting places to choose from here.
Savannah historic home

town square

another Savannah home

Savannah riverfront

Paula Deen's restaurant

Chuck at Ft. McAllister

Ft. McAllister

old cotton warehouse

Ft. Jackson soldier firing cannon

inside Ft. Jackson

Ft. Jackson

damaged wall of Ft. Pulaski

cannon shell in fort wall

Ft. Pulaski

Tybee Island Lighthouse

walkway to Hilton Head Beach

Friday, February 15, 2013

We spent the week at Flagler Beach, just south of St. Augustine.  The weather was nice for the first part of the week, so we enjoyed the beach and pool.  Then it cooled off, so we went to see the historic sites in the area.  First we went to Fort Matanzas that was built by the Spanish in 1740 to guard against a backdoor attack on St. Augustine.  The next day we went into St. Augustine.  Its claim to fame is as the oldest permanent European settlement in the continental US.  It was founded in 1565 by the Spanish to protect their commerce and trade routes.  The fort there, Castillo de San Marcos, is very impressive and is the oldest masonry fort in the US.  The construction is very interesting to see up close, built of coquina, large bricks formed by shells and sand.  Although the city was burned in 1702, the fort was never lost to the British siege.  The lighthouse on the barrier island is also very cool.  The rest of the town is quaint with some authentic old buildings.   But a lot of it is very commercialized with shops, restaurants, tours and museums about everything from pirates to Ripley’s oddities.
Today we went to Marineland.  It is the original ocean park, built for filming movies in 1938.  Much of the original park was destroyed by a hurricane in 2004.  Now it is mostly dedicated to research and protection of dolphins.  Being a dolphin lover (who isn’t?), it was a good educational experience.  Plus we saw the oldest living dolphin that will turn 60 this month.  Their normal lifespan is about 25 - 30 years.  So that about concludes our time in Florida; we will be heading to Georgia on Monday.
Chuck and Okie strolling on Flagler Beach

beautiful Florida skies

Fort Matanzas

old drug store in St. Augustine

Castillo de San Marcos

cannons at Castillo de San Marcos

inside the castillo (fort)

old St. Augustine cemetery

St. Augustine lighthouse

Marineland dolphin

Friday, February 8, 2013

It’s quite a drive to the Keys, almost 100 miles beyond Fort Lauderdale, but beautiful once you get there.  We only drove half way through the keys; they go on for about 100 miles to get to Key West. But you have to go beyond the Key Largo area to get where the road has the beautiful ocean views and long bridges between islands.  The water is the most stunning turquoise color I’ve ever seen, even better than Hawaii.  We took Okie to a dog beach there so he could pretend he was dog paddling in the Atlantic Ocean. 
On Monday we drove to Orlando.  We decided to go there instead of staying along the “space coast” area (Cape Canaveral) since Chuck had never been there.  We are kind of beyond our amusement park days having grown up convenient to Disneyland.  But there are so many things to do in the Orlando area that we’re glad we went.  First we went to Gatorland, a great place to see lots of wildlife. It’s much easier to see and take photos of gators in captivity than in the wild, haha.  The park has crocodiles, tortoises, snakes, parrots, and of beautiful birds in their gator breeding lakes.  We really enjoyed the day there.
The Disney park we chose to visit was Epcot.  It has lots of attractions that appeal to a slightly older crowd than the rides of other parks.  We enjoyed the movies and buildings from the different parts of the world.  Their Eiffel Tower reminded me of Las Vegas, haha.  The fireworks and light show are done in Disney’s top quality of production.  Then tonight we went to Downtown Disney.  It is about four times as big as the Anaheim version, and was quite crowded.  But the entertainment and shops were fun.  This would be a really good place to snowbird.  Besides the many things to do here, the weather has been around 80 all week.  We’ll be here a couple more days, then off to the St. Augustine area.
Florida Keys skies

Atlantic Ocean along Keys

feeding the tortoise at Gatorland

bird going gator surfing

gator show

wish I knew bird names here

gator sunning himself

this one's a crocodile


Epcot's French section

Friday, February 1, 2013

We had a couple laid back days in Punta Gorda.  We went trailblazing through the thick vegetation (ok, there was sort of a trail already) in Ponce de Leon Park along the coast. We were looking for the fountain of youth, but judging by the median age in Florida, it is very elusive.  So we went back to swim at the RV park and then to a seafood dinner at the Fisherman’s Village and live big band music afterward.  
On Monday we drove across the southern part of Florida on the interstate section dubbed “alligator alley”.  The route is through the Everglades, so there are no buildings for about 80 miles.  But there is fencing so no alligators get on the highway, and we saw none.  Still it’s a pretty drive, ending at Fort Lauderdale.  After setting up, we drove down to the beach.  Beaches here are different than California beaches in several respects.  Of course it seems strange to me to have an east-facing beach, but also the water is warm and beautiful shades of blue/green. 
The next day we made up for our lack of alligator sightings by going on an airboat ride in the Everglades.  The scenery was amazing, and we did see some alligators up close.  After, there was a show put on by one of the guys from Animal Planet (or was it Discovery channel?) with rescued alligators.  So now we know how to wrestle a gator if the need ever arises.  But they mostly don’t bother people; errant golf balls are a much greater hazard in Florida. 
Wednesday we went to Miami.  We decided to see the area by taking the “hop on, hop off” bus that does a city loop and a beach loop.  Miami is a very diverse city, a lot like Los Angeles but with more trees, and the Hispanics are mostly Cuban.  Miami Beach is a gorgeous beach (sorry, SoCal) with the coconut palms, white sand and clear blue water and skies.  The hotels are mostly art deco styles that are very retro cool.  This whole area’s beaches (Lauderdale and Miami) are separated from the mainland by the intracoastal waterway that is filled with yachts and docks and lined with mansions on “millionaires row”.  That name is also a throwback to a former era; a million wouldn’t get you a place there now.
We finished out the week with a trip to the Lauderdale Antique Auto Museum that is a private collection of Packards.  It had about 40 Packards, many very rare and all beautiful.  Tomorrow we’re driving down to the Keys because Jeff says it’s a must see.  So that will be as far south as we will go before heading farther north.
trailblazing in Punta Gorda


Everglades bird

friendly alligator


Gator boy in action

Miami Beach art deco hotel

Miami Beach

intracoastal waterway

Packard for me, lol