Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Adventures n Florida, Part 5: Meanwhile, Back at the Lighthouse ...

Monday morning in Saint Augustine dawned bright, hot, and humid just like the day before and as Jamie and I packed up the rental car to head south, it was already pretty darned warm at 9:30 in the morning and promised to only get warmer.  Oy.

Before getting on Interstate 95, the plan was to make a quick stop by the Castillo de San Marcos which is the oldest masonary fort in the United States before crossing over the Bridge of Lions to make a quick stop at Saint Augustine Light before going over to the hotel where Sandy and Dick were staying so that we could at least have a quick get-together while we were both in the same area.  Whew!

That plan changed a bit though when I decided that it was already too hot to spend any amount of time at the Castillo even for quick pictures.  I'd driven past it several times the day before while Jamie and I were checking out the city and I had noticed then that there was nary a scrap of shade anywhere around the 1672 Spanish structure.  As much as I would have liked to do some exploration, common sense told me that it would be better to wait until perhaps another time when it wasn't hot enough to cause a person to break out into a sweat just getting out of the car!  

Lighthouse Entrance & Visitors CenterOh well, it gave me another good reason to someday return to Saint Augustine as I scratched that part of the plan and just continued down Route A1A across the Bridge of Lions and out to the lighthouse where I wanted to take some daylight pictures to supplement those I had taken the night before on our GhoST Tour.  As we pulled into the parking lot in front of the Lighthouse Entrance and Visitors Center I noticed that there were only a few other cars which meant I'd be able to get pictures without a whole of other people in them.  Woohoo!

Air-conditioned camera meets Florida humidity!Climbing out of the car, I whipped my Nikon out of its carrying case, popped off the lens cap, and took a picture of the lighthouse which ended up looking like something out of the previous night's ghost adventure with its ethereal glow.  However, this wasn't the result of leftover remnants of our evening in the hearse but my camera lens fogging up as it tried to adjust to the fact that it was no longer in an air-conditioned car.  Isn't it nice to know that heat and humidity play havoc on your electronic devices, too?  I thought the picture looked kind of cool so I kept it!

As much as I would have liked to try to climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse and check out what was sure to be a beautiful view, I decided that giving myself a heart attack probably wasn't the best way to start the day and would really put a kibosh on the rest of the trip.  Instead I settled for walking around the grounds and taking a few pictures from ground level.

Saint Augustine Light
Jamie @ Saint Augustine Lighthouse
I even got Jamie to branch out a little and pose for a picture with one of the oaks that surrounds the lighthouse; I suppose I should have warned you about the bright colors first, though, so you could have grabbed some sunglasses!

Jamie Branches Out
Following pictures at the lighthouse, we then continued down the highway in search of Sandy's hotel where upon our arrival I was greeted with a big hug by an extremely nice lady - the blog mistress of The Traveling Bells. Before we retired to the lobby to sit and talk I was given introductions to some of the other members of Sandy's family who were heading down to the pool to spend some time in the cool water. Dick was going to stretch out on the bed in the hotel room and try to sneak in a nap while everyone else was occupied at the pool.  That sure sounded like a good idea to me! 

Sandy and Dick are both pilots as well as travelers of the open road in their Moho and they were going to be flying back up to their part of Georgia on Tuesday to get ready for a drive westward.  It was just real fortuitous that they were in Saint Augustine attending a family function at the same time Jamie and I were there and even though we only had time for a brief get-together, there was no way that I was going to be in the same place at the same time and not meet Sandy and Dick!

Sitting and talking with Sandy was like sitting and talking with an old friend that I'd met before and way too soon it was time for Jamie and I to head south if we were going to make it down to West Palm Beach in time for dinner with Miss Bee and Sarge Charlie.  Before going, though, Sandy got her hubby Dick to take a picture of the two of us.  Even though she said it was way too hot for her, too, I think Sandy looked a lot more cool, calm, and collected than I did!

Myself & Sandy B.
Following promises to get together again for a longer meeting, Sandy gave me another big hug, waved good-bye to Jamie who had retreated to the rental car with my iPhone while we adults were talking, and then we continued our journey south towards West Palm Beach where we were going to meet more blogging royalty in the land of royal palms!  First though, we had about four hours to drive ...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Flap Over Fourth Fireworks

Fireworks over Norwich, CTOff the Florida topic again but I just had to address an article that was recently in the Norwich Bulletin about this year's Fourth of July fireworks display.  The article is titled "A first for Norwich fireworks this year:  tickets"; the online version of the story allows for readers comments and boy howdy, are there some comments on there that just go to show how people seem to think they have a God-given right to things that were never in the Constitution - like the right to free fireworks shows at the downtown harbor.

In a nutshell, fireworks celebrating the Fourth of July in Norwich have always been held downtown where thousands of people who don't live in Norwich, don't shop in Norwich, and never have anything else to do with Norwich would flock to create traffic gridlocks, impossible parking situations, a lot of litter and other assorted mayhem.  A good number of those people would also utilize the 911 system to call and ask when the fireworks were and where was the best place to park?  In years past, those same crowds would also cause traffic problems so bad that the police, the fire department, and ambulances could not respond to emergencies in a timely manner.

Suffice it to say, it was a mess and I'm pretty sure it didn't add to the revitalization of downtown Norwich at all as people would swoop in like a horde of locusts early enough to get a good spot and then crawl back out again in major traffic after the last boom had echoed through the city.  I doubt very few of them took the time to visit any of the downtown businesses that might be open unless it was to see if there was a public restroom available.

Last year the downtown fireworks came really close to not happening due to the downturn in the economy which caused not only the great Mashantucket Pequot Nation and Foxwoods Casino to pull their sponsorhsip but a lot of other small businesses just didn't have the money to contribute either. Norwich - like so many other cities in the country - just didn't have the money that it cost to put on a fireworks show that wouldn't leave people mumbling and grumbling that they drove all the way to Norwich for this?  Things were looking pretty grim until Ron Aliano, my boss and the owner of American Group, stepped in and saved the day.

Even though he wasn't a native son of Norwich, Ron loved Norwich and did all he could to promote it and put it in as good a light as possible.  Ron was also a patriot who loved his country and the Fourth of July so he worked tirelessly and rallied support from others as well as kicked in a large chunk of money of his own to make sure the fireworks happened.  Sadly I doubt that very many of the thousands of people who packed downtown Norwich last year even knew that it was Ron who had saved the day - they just knew they were going to watch free fireworks.

Unfortunately for those of us at American and the city of Norwich, Ron passed away last year and the city lost probably it's very biggest fan.  Without Ron's driving support and devotion to the city that he loved, it looked like there were going to be NO fireworks at all in Norwich to celebrate the Fourth of July  - the money still wasn't available in the city's coffers nor was it forthcoming from any other place as no other sponsors were stepping up to take over where Ron had left off.  The Norwich Arts Council and Rose City Renaissance were doing their best to get something put together for downtown but without funding, it just wasn't happening.

Just as it looked like the skies above the Rose City were going to remain dark over the Independence Day weekend, the Connecticut Tigers stepped up and offered to give the city a fireworks show at Dodd Stadium in the industrial park.  The Connecticut Tigers are the Single-A ball club of the Detroit Tigers who now occupy the stadium that the Connecticut Defenders abandoned; they just opened their inaugural season here in Norwich last Saturday and are doing their best to become part of the community.

As the article in The Bulletin states:
“Only several weeks ago we were thinking there would be no fireworks,” Rose City Renaissance Executive Director Rick Kramer said, praising the Tigers. “They came forward and kept the tradition alive.”
“We’re excited,” said C.J. Knudsen, vice president of operations for the Tigers. “We’re looking forward to it.”
Now even though this is definitely a good thing, here's where all of the whining comes in due to the fact that rather than the fireworks being a free-for-all at the harbor, tickets are going to be issued (for free) as there is obviously limited seating at the stadium.  Along with that - and this is REALLY where the whining comes in - there will be parking available at the stadium for $5 per car or free shuttle service available from just down the road at Computer Sciences Corporation.  It seems that most people are completely and totally aghast that they are going to have to pay for parking to go to a fireworks show that's being put on for free and how does Norwich have the unmitigated gall and nerve to not be putting on a free show in the harbor??

Okay, nothin' for nothin' folks but fireworks are expensive and not only is the cost of the display something that needed to be factored in but there's also the cost of clean-up for when those hordes leave the downtown area, the overtime cost of all the extra police officers that have to be brought in to keep the unruly crowds under some sort of control, the cost of insurance which is always very high, and other costs that add up very quickly.  Just who did everyone think was going to pay for this??

Instead of being grateful that the Connecticut Tigers offered to hold a fireworks display at their stadium, people are carping and complaining and whining that this is what's killing the downtown area of Norwich.  Seriously?  What's killing the downtown area of Norwich is not the absence of the Fourth of July fireworks but the absence of anyone having any interest to go to downtown Norwich at other times.  How many of those people commenting on the article have ever done more than passed through downtown on their way to someplace else?  Chances are good I could count them on one hand and have fingers left over.

People also seem to think that somehow the Tigers are going to be getting rich off of charging people $5 to park at the stadium but I sincerely doubt that's the case as the Tigers are no doubt putting out a good chunk of change for this event.  The team is out of town for road games but there's the cost of electricity, the cost of stadium employees, the cost of insurance because you sure the heck can't have fireworks and thousands of people in one place without insurance, and the cost of the fireworks themselves.  Granted, the Mohegan Sun and Atlas Pyrovision have also stepped up to help sponsor the show but these things are expensive and I doubt that charging $5 per car to park is putting any large sum of money into anyone's coffers.

I just don't get why people seem to think they have the right to a free fireworks show on the Fourth of July; that instead of saying 'thank you' to those who have made this event possible they want to complain and criticize and even suggest that the director of Rose City Renaissance should be fired.  Seriously?   What is wrong with people that they all seem to think that they are entitled to things that cost other people a whole lot of money and that they are entitled to those things for free?

It's been mentioned in the comments to the article that Ron Aliano would be rolling in his grave about the decision to not have the fireworks downtown but even though I'm sure he would have been disappointed, I think that as the good businessman that he was, he'd understand the reasoning behind having the fireworks at Dodd Stadium and would have been glad that someone stepped up to the plate to offer Norwich some sort of fireworks display AT ALL!

Perhaps in the future the City of Norwich should set up a fund that people can donate to throughout the year for the cost of each year's fireworks extravaganza.  Heck, put a PayPal button on the City's website and put donation tins at all those downtown businesses that no one goes to and then next year the fireworks display could return to the harbor.  I don't think that would be asking so much but I'd be willing to bet that there are people out there who think they should be able to watch fireworks free and clear without ever paying a dime or think about who it was that foot the bill on the whole she-bang; the City of Norwich owes them a free fireworks display in the harbor!  To me, that's pretty much what all of those readers' comments on the article were saying and that's just too bad because that's not the way it should be.

Personally I'd like to thank C.J. Knudsen and the Connecticut Tigers for offering to light up the skies for the holiday even if it's not the usual skies that are lit up and I sincerely apologize for the lousy welcome you've received to Norwich but alas, that's why the city suffers like it does and nothing good ever comes here or stays here.  If it isn't apathy then it's complaints.

As for those who want to do nothing but complain about the fireworks that almost weren't at all, go to Sailfest in New London/Groton next weekend and battle the crowds down there instead.  Chances are good you're going to spend a lot more than $5 in the long run as well as spend a lot of time in gridlock trying to get out of there but hey, they're free!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Another Interruption ...

I know, I know ... I said that my next post would be my continuing adventures through Florida but I'm interrupting myself briefly for - what I think - is some rather exciting news!   I believe I may have mentioned a time or two that I have never been on a cruise of any sort unless you count the ferry over to Block Island and as nice as that is, I don't think it actually qualifies as a cruise, does it?  I've definitely been wanting to go on a cruise but the thing is, they all have that double occupancy restriction that makes it rather prohibitive for those of us who have neither significant others or friends or relatives who like the idea of being out in the middle of the ocean for an extended period of time. 

I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't think that a cruise was a wonderful way to spend a vacation!  I can just picture myself parked on a deck chair with or without a book for an extended period of time with the occasional drink to keep me company and maybe a nap thrown in for good measure; to me that sounds like pure bliss!  How could it not?  But I was beginning to lament that the closest I was ever going to get to being on an honest-to-goodness ocean-going vessel was my visit to the Queen Mary that's docked out in Long Beach as a floating museum.  That was nice but it sure wasn't a cruise!

While I was in Florida there was a lot of talk about the Bloggers Cruise on the Carnival ship Glory that is hosted by John Heald as Sarge Charlie & Bee were already booked to go and Sandy and Dick were going to be making their reservations to go, too.  It sounded like it was going to be a lot of fun but I didn't really give much thought to it as I figured there was no way on God's green earth that I would be going.  Well, just goes to show what I know as I got an email from Barb the other day asking me if I would be interested in going and sharing a cabin with her.  Originally she was going to be taking a cruise with her mother and Sisters Dear but there was a date change and Barb was now available to go on the Bloggers Cruise. 

Hmmm, a 7-day Eastern Caribbean Cruise at the perfect time when I'm about ready to pull my hair out from yet another horrid New England winter?  Hmmm, a cruise in the company of some of the nicest people I've ever met?  Hmmm, the chance to finally live the dream of lounging on a deck chair with a tropical drink in my hand?  Hmmm, was I crazy to even think about NOT going?  Well, I may have my bouts of insanity but I'm not totally crazy yet - sign me up!

Of course, there are still some logistics that are going to have to be worked out on my end like time off from work and getting myself down to Miami where the cruise originates and getting a passport and trying to figure out what on earth I'm going to pack as I have THE worst wardrobe ever and hoping that I'm not going to be seasick and ... aw heck, I'll deal with all of that later! 

As an added bonus after a little cajoling from Barb, Sandee and her handsome hubby Zane have decided to join us from California and we're doing our darnedest to wheedle Hank and Lois into coming on-board, too.  Truth be told, I wish I could round up all of my blogging friends and take them with us and I would if I could ever win the Powerball but it seems like I can't even match one darn number - never mind all of them!

Anyhow, in honor of the occasion, I have put a new countdown widget on my sidebar as a reminder to myself that occasionally dreams do come true - you just have to wait a little while for them sometimes.  If anyone else wants to join us on the cruise, click on over to Bee's blog where she has graciously left all the details in a post but just be warned, she has already called Queen of the Ship so if you're hoping to be a member of the Bloggers Cruise Royalty you'll have to take a lesser position.  I believe there are plenty of openings for Lords and Ladies in Waiting but  I, for one, plan on retaining my title of Duchess of Norwich Upon the Thames.  Darn, that reminds me, I gotta get a tiara!

I gotta make a list ... !

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Adventures n Florida, Part 4: In the Dark, In a Hearse

Jamie & IA couple of days ago, I ended my post with a picture of Jamie and I getting ready to start out on a Sunday night adventure while in Saint Augustine which is the nation's oldest city.  Now I suppose that it would go to follow that the nation's oldest city might also be the nation's most haunted city so with that in mind, I checked out the myriad of ghost tours that were available and decided on one that actually conducts the tour via transportation in a 1977 Cadillac hearse.  The tour is offered by GhoST Augustine and even if there were no ghosties to be found, it seemed like it would be a pretty cool thing to do even though I knew Amanda was going to be upset that she missed the chance to ride in a hearse.  It definitely gave Jamie some bragging rights!

At 9:00 p.m. we met up with Bill, our driver who originally hailed from Massachusetts, and a young couple who were staying at the Saint Francis Inn Bed & Breakfast which has been in operation as an inn since 1791 and is supposed to be one of the more haunted inns in Saint Augustine.  The couple that we were with were raving about it so much so that I've been thinking if I ever go back down that way, that may be the place to stay!  It would certainly beat the heck out of the nasty Quality Inn that Jamie and I were staying in!  But alas I digress ... back to the tour!

Our Ghost Tour Hearse
After the four of us had piled into the back of the hearse, Bill explained that even though it was a ghost tour he liked to emphasize the historical aspects of the city and I knew right then and there that I was certainly going to enjoy the evening as Bill was speaking my language!  The first stop on our evening's journey was The Kenwood Inn which was built as an inn back in 1865 in the Queen Anne Victorian architecture style  - it also looks like it would be a lovely place to stay especially with that beautiful second floor porch!

The Kenwood Inn
According to Bill, the inn is haunted by a young lady who had been a mistress of a local doctor before he had her killed; her spirit still lingers at the inn along with the spirit of a gentleman who also owned the inn at one point and who just likes to make sure that the current guests are well taken care of.

Ghost Hunter JamieAs part of our tour, Bill had handed each of us an EMF meter when we arrived at our first stop.  For those not familiar with them, an EMF meter is an electromagnetic frequency meter which is a tool used by all the cool ghost hunters!  The theory is that spirits put out EMF and these meters will help you to detect when there is some sort of paranormal activity present in the area.  Anyone who has ever watched Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventurers or any of those shows are most likely very familiar with the equipment.  I had actually used one once before when Amanda, Darci, and I did our ghost tour in Gettysburg last year but this was Jamie's first time with one.

As we stood outside the wooden gate at The Kenwood Inn and Bill told us the story of the murdered mistress he added that he wasn't sure how accurate the story was as it was one that had been handed down through the ages and for all he knew, it could be completely different and she wasn't really murdered.  As soon as he said that, all four of our EMF meters briefly went crazy with flashing lights even though there had not been a single indication of any EMF prior to Bill's statement.  I guess the murdered mistress didn't like him disparaging or doubting her history!

From The Kenwood Inn we proceeded down the road to the place where our companions were staying - the Saint Francis Inn.  There's a small park across the street from the inn where we spent a few moments with our EMF meters and just walking through the park and getting a feel for the place.  This statute of Saint Francis stands near the water fountain that has been there for years and years but it was hard to see too much of anything being that it was almost pitch black!

St. Francis Statute
Jamie checks her EMF meter
As everyone else went across the street to check out the Saint Francis Inn itself, Jamie took a couple of moments to check out her EMF meter in the park.  Bill had told us that there was a large underground electrical cable in the area that might give us some "false readings" and that could be what she was looking at here.  Well, either that or she was just waiting for me to catch up!

Saint Francis InnWe sat outside the Saint Francis Inn on a low wall across the street while Bill told us the sad story of Miss Lily and the man whom she loved but it was a love that society forbade being that she was black and he was white.  Her lover was sent off to serve in the Civil War and never returned and Miss Lily haunts the inn to this day.  Our companions were actually staying in Miss Lily's room and were hoping for some sort of ghostly encounter later that night but even if they didn't get one I don't think they would have complained as they said the old inn was a wonderful place to stay with fantastic food and in-room cognac, too.  Definitely sounds like a place I'd like to check into one of these days!

Before continuing, I should mention that my Nikon is not the best camera to be using when on a ghost tour as it's very difficult to take low-light pictures with it.  Ideally when taking night shots my camera should be on a tripod and used without flash as when using a flash, it has a hard time focusing.  Point-and-shoot cameras are much more suited for this sort of thing but alas, the battery in Jamie's camera was dead and her step-mom had accidentally sent along the wrong charger so we had to make do with my camera so consequently the pictures are not as clear as I would have liked due to some camera shake on my part.

Leaving the Saint Francis behind, we climbed back into our hearse and drove over to our next stop - the Saint Augustine National Cemetery. This cemetery is the smallest national cemetery in the country and is adjacent to what is now the Florida National Guard Headquarters on the grounds of what was once a Franciscan monastery.

Saint Augustine National Veterans Cemetery
The Saint Augustine Burial Ground was not designated as a national cemetery until 1881 though the first interment took place in 1828. Most early burials were soldiers who died during the seven-year long “Indian War” either in battle or due to sickness and disease which was pretty common in Florida's subtropical climate.

SA National Cemetery
I found the following information on the cemetery's official website which fleshed out nicely what Bill had told us while standing outside of the cemtery that night:

Pyramids in the Cemetery
"On Dec. 23, 1835, Maj. Francis L. Dade and his company were ordered to reinforce Gen. Wiley Thompson’s troops stationed at Fort King, Ocala. During the trek from Tampa to Fort King, Dade became lost and announced to his men that they had successfully passed through Seminole-controlled territory. As a result, he failed to take appropriate precautions. The heavy winter garments of the soldiers covered their weapons, so that when the Seminoles staged an attack, Dade's troops were virtually wiped out—only one soldier purportedly survived. A few months later, when travel in the area was again possible, the massacred soldiers were buried at the site.
Pyramids at the SA National Cemetery
In 1842 when hostilities ceased, the Army proposed to transfer the remains of all who died in the territory, including those who fell with Dade, to a single burial ground. Reinterment took place at the St. Augustine Post Cemetery. In addition to Dade's command, more than 1,400 soldiers were interred in three collective graves. Three distinctive pyramids constructed of native coquina stone were erected in their memory, as well as several nearby plain white markers to designate the graves of Seminole Indian scouts."
SA National Cemetery at Night
"The three distinct pyramids are constructed of native coquina stone which were erected in 1842 and were originally covered with white stucco. The memorials were dedicated at a ceremony on Aug. 14, 1842, that marked the end of the Florida Indian Wars. The pyramids cover vaults that contain the remains of 1,468 soldiers who died during the Florida Indian Wars, from 1835 to 1842. The Dade Monument, a coquina stone and marble obelisk, was erected in 1881 and commemorates Maj. Francis L. Dade and the men who died with him at the 1835 massacre. Soldiers stationed at the St. Augustine post contributed one day’s pay to fund the memorial."
The cemetery was expanded to its current 1.36 acres in 1912 and in 1970, Saint Augustine National Cemetery was included in a National Historic Landmark historic district that encompasses the oldest part of the city.  All in all it was neither creepy or scary but very reverent as it should be.

Just down the road from the Saint Augustine National Cemetery is the site of Saint Augustine's most famous murder that occurred in 1974 when 56-year-old Athalia Ponsell Lindsley was hacked to death with a machete on her front lawn.  The story is very similar to that of the O.J. Simpson case and there was even a book, Bloody Sunset in St. Augustine, that was written about it.  I have to remember to see if the library can order it for me so I can read more about it.  It was rather hard to believe that such a brutal murder could occur in such a peaceful neighborhood but obviously one did.

Jamie and the hearse
Climbing back into our hearse, we then drove out to Anastasia Island and our next stop -

Saint Augustine Light Station Sign

Saint Augustine Lighthouse at nightBuilt in 1874 to replace the original lighthouse that was lost due to erosion, the Saint Augustine Lighthouse is reported to be haunted by quite a few spirits including the spirits of several children that were killed during a tragic accident while the lighthouse was under construction as well as a former lighthouse keeper and a disgruntled neighbor.

The team from TAPS (i.e, Ghost Hunters) visited the lighthouse in 2006 and then again in 2008 and it also received a visit from Ghost Hunters International in 2009.  Not having seen any of the episodes I'm not sure what they did or didn't find but Bill told us that it most definitely stirred up interest in the lighthouse. 

We all got some rather interesting readings on our EMF meters from time to time but I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to that as I was too busy trying to get a decent night shot that wasn't completely and totally out of focus or blurry from shake!  I kept wishing I had my tripod with me at the hotel as I would most definitely have made the drive back out after the tour to try to take some decent pictures but alas, I hadn't brought it with me on the trip.  Next time!

My camera was good for taking pictures of the creepy looking trees that grow near the lighthouse, though!

Night branches
Night branches
While hanging out by the hearse and talking to Bill before we left the lighthouse, I found out that one of our companions had lost a cousin in the September 11th attack on the World Trade Towers when he stayed behind to help out a co-worker who was in a wheelchair.  He said that was one of the reasons that he really believes in spirits as he felt his cousin, whom he was very close to, was still with him.  Seems to me that's as good a reason as any to believe in the paranormal especially if it brings him a certain measure of comfort.

Bill the driver
Finally it was time to climb back in to return to Saint Augustine proper and call it a night.  All in all I think it was a wonderful tour even though I think Jamie might have liked to actually encounter a ghost or two.  Either way though we both agreed that it was so much better than the Ripley's Museum and that Bill had been a wonderful tour guide.  I tell ya, that's the kind of job I need to get one of these days- spouting history while looking for ghosts!  It would definitely be right up my alley!

Our hearse
Wrapping up the night I stopped long enough on our way back to our crappy hotel to take a picture of some of the Spanish moss that looked even creepier at night than it does during the day.  I liked it so much better at night, though, as it was finally cool enough to stand outside without breaking a sweat and not be surrounded by tourists! I must say I rather liked Saint Augustine at night!

Spanish Moss at Night
Next post we continue our way south for the best gravy south of the Mason-Dixon Line but not before meeting another Georgia Peach!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

We Interrupt My Adventures in Florida ...

... for yesterday's Five on Friday musical summer interlude and an actual day off today with a list of things to do being that I won't get another full day off until this same time next week.  We're a bit short-handed in ye olde dispatch center with a fellow dispatcher out on leave for a little bit so I've been doing my part to pitch in and help out - and make some extra money - but it hasn't exactly left me with a lot of time to get all of my pictures edited and stories written. 

In the meantime, though, I had left you with a bit of a tease in my last Florida post as to what sort of adventure Jamie and I had planned for our Sunday night in Saint Augustine.  For today, I'm going to give you another tease of our Sunday night activities just because I can - and because I don't have time for the full post just yet!

Saint Augustine Light at night

Until next time, I wish you all a wonderful Saturday no matter what your day has planned for you!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Five on Friday - The Summer Version

Driving home from my 16-hour dispatch shift last night I was kicking around ideas for songs that might be good for this week's addition of Travis' Five on Friday meme when the word 'summer' popped into my head.  With this week being the first official week of summer it seemed like the perfect choice for a set of songs - particularly after the 90 degree heat and humidity that had blanketed Connecticut on Thursday.

Without further ado I give you five of my favorite songs of summer and suggest that if you like to listen to different types of music that you check out Trav's Thoughts - the home of Five on Friday and links to those who are playing along in this fun Friday meme that gives you the chance to share some of your favorite music with others.  Perhaps you'd like to join us one of these Fridays and share some of your favorite music, too?

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Adventures in Florida, Part 3: Believe It or Not!

It didn't take long for Jamie and I to cross back over the state line into Florida after leaving Valdosta and the true southern hospitality of Barbara and her family.  Unfortunately, though, crossing the border didn't leave any of the Georgia heat behind as it trailed right after us on our way down to Saint Augustine, which isn't too very far past my original starting point of Jacksonville and Orange Park.

Following a couple of stops along the way for flip-flops at Wal-Mart, a cold beverage or two, and gas which is A LOT cheaper in Florida than in Connecticut we arrived in Saint Augustine a little after 3:00 and checked into our hotel which really isn't even worth mentioning.  It may be worth writing a letter to the Choice Hotel group, though,  as I was pretty disappointed with the accommodations.  The location was good though so after a late lunch/early dinner at the local iHop, Jamie and I checked out the lay of the land which included this place:

In spite of my protestations that it was going to be a rip-off, Jamie had her heart set on going to the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum which I really had absolutely NO interest in going to but I figured it was her vacation, too, and it wouldn't be right to not let her do something she wanted to do even if it turned out to be a bust ... which it was as you can tell by the look on Jamie's face.

I guess I'm just not into all of the oddities and freak-show type objects that Ripley's specializes in and I'm also not exactly the 'tourist' type either.  That probably makes me sound like a snob or something but generally speaking, I just don't like following the crowd and would rather take the road less traveled when it comes to explorations and the like.  The museum was most definitely a very traveled road that Sunday afternoon probably because it was too bloody hot to do anything else so it seemed like a lot of people had escaped to the air-conditioned strangeness of Ripley's where they were backed up behind the cases and displays trying to get a look at the six-legged cow and shrunken heads.  Great ...

Leaving Ripley's we drove around downtown Saint Augustine a little bit just to see what they had.  I really wanted to stop at the old Spanish fort but ended up just doing a drive-by as it was a) too hot to get out of the air-conditioned rental car and b) even if we had wanted to get out, there was no place to park!  In spite of the heat, the place was hopping and popping with people of all shapes, sizes, and ages.  Still, there was some beautiful architecture to be seen and lots and lots of towers!

I wish that it had been just a bit cooler and less crowded so that I could really check out Saint Augustine as I could just feel the history seeping out from the walls of the old buildings and see it down every narrow alley but alas, just like it's hard to sometimes see the forest for the trees, it was hard to see the beauty of Saint Augustine through the haze of tourists. I made a mental note to make a return trip to America's oldest city at a time when it was less crowded - if there is such a time! - and then Jamie and I went back to our hotel room to rest up a bit before our planned activity for the evening:

I do believe that this will be the part where Amanda gets jealous .. stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Adventures in Florida, Part 2: Georgia On My Mind!

Shortly after the completion of Jamie's graduation ceremony in Orange Park, the new graduate and I pointed the rental car in a northwesterly direction and began the 2-hour drive to The Swamp ...

... where homemade lasagna, chianti, and new friends awaited us.  The drive up to Valdosta was a pleasant one as Jamie and I had the chance to chat when she wasn't using my iPhone to catch up with all of her friends in "the outside world"!  Ah, technology ... such a magnet to teenagers!

We arrived at Barb's beautiful home right around 5:30 where we met Barb's parents as well as Al and his wife Barbara and then later on Barb's neighbors from across the street - Mike, Peggy, and their daughter Vicky.  Such a nice group of people all the way around and there was none of that awkward first-meeting stuff going on as when you meet someone you've met through blogging it's like you've already met before and you're just picking up where you left off since the last get-together!

And of course there was Whitey who I briefly thought about trying to fit into my suitcase so that I could smuggle him out!  What a grand fellow he is and just the nicest cat ever!  And soft!  Oh my gosh is this guy soft! 

There was also Gracie who is so petite and cute and who gets along very well on that poor little leg of hers that was broken in so many places; she was such a little doll and I can fully understand how she managed to capture Barb's heart.

Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of Gandalf and Grayson as apparently I was suffering from heat stroke and wasn't smart enough to take pictures of a lot of things!  Matter of fact, you'll find no pictures of the delicious homemade lasagna and meatballs that Barb's mother made or much of anything else for that matter!  I'm really not quite sure where my head was but I can tell you that my camera was in the car for most of the evening!  The pictures above were all taken the next day as I took NONE at all on Saturday evening - not even with my iPhone!  Bad, bad blogger!

Anyhow, after dinner Barb and I chatted and sipped wine into the late hours until I looked at a clock and was surprised to see that it was 1:00 a.m.!   Those who read Barb's blog know that she's a very early morning person and here I was keeping her up to almost the time that she gets up!  I'm going to blame that on her, though, as she's just so darned easy to talk to and somehow the Chianti kept reappearing in my glass and well ... you know!

Finally calling it a night I slept like the proverbial rock and once I managed to drag myself out of bed at 8:00 a.m., Barb's father made us a wonderful breakfast after which I finally remembered to take some pictures!  The one above isn't exactly the best but I had to edit my fat head out of it as I had my patented stupid look on my face and I really wanted to show you what a beautiful smile Barb has rather than how goofy I looked!  The picture really doesn't do her justice!

Before packing up to head south towards Saint Augustine and the next stop on our trip, I took some pictures of the swamp behind Barb's house.  The geese and their goslings weren't there but the swamp was still beautiful regardless.

 The temperatures were already starting to creep into the 90's so it was most definitely going to be another scorcher in south Georgia but I could definitely see the allure of the area in spite of the fact that just breathing made one break out in a sweat! It rather reminded me of the time I spent in Biloxi, Mississippi when I was in the Air Force but a whole heck of a lot prettier!  Too bad I hadn't been stationed at Moody Air Force Base instead!

Following hugs good-bye and talk about getting together again sometime (perhaps when it's a bit cooler!), Jamie and I began the next leg of our journey but not before I stopped off in downtown Valdosta to take some pictures:

What can I say?  I'm a sucker for beautiful architecture and the Lowndes County Courthouse is certainly that!  The whole downtown area looked to be quite charming - not to mention empty on a hot Sunday morning - and I wished I had more time to explore but Jamie was patiently waiting in the car wearing down the battery on my iPhone again and it was time to hit the road with a cooler full of lasagna on ice that needed to arrive in West Palm Beach on Monday.

Of course, once I arrived home I just had to do a little research on the place where my former-Yankee-turned-Southern-belle blogging friend lives so here's a few fun facts about Valdosta, Georgia:
In 1837, the city of Troupville became the Lowndes county seat. When the Gulf and Atlantic Railroad decided to put a right-of-way four miles south of Troupville, the citizens of Troupville made an interesting move to ensure the future prosperity of their town – they picked it up and moved it four miles.  The town was then renamed Valdosta , in honor of “Val d’Aosta,” the plantation home of former Governor George Troup. In 1860, Valdosta was incorporated as the new seat of county government.

Valdosta’s history has been closely tied to the soil. The sandy loam allowed the city to become the inland capital for Sea Island cotton. When cotton crops were devastated by the boll weevil in the early 1900s, other crops such as pecans, peanuts, and tobacco rose in popularity.

Valdosta is the 11th largest city in Georgia .
Valdosta has a population of over 48,000+.
The composer of “Jingle Bells,” James Lord Pierpoint, was from Valdosta .
Famous gunfighter and gambler, Doc Holliday, was from Valdosta .
The Valdosta High School Wildcat football team which has won more games than any other high school in the nation has given rise to the city’s nickname — “Winnersville.”