A Travellerspoint blog

MIAMI

Kissimmee to Miami

sunny 25 °C

Tuesday December 3
We left Kissimmee early for the 5-hour drive to Miami via the back-roads past Lake Okeechobee where we encountered the most deprived area either of us have ever seen in the USA – Pahokee, in the middle of the cane fields and only 90 minutes from Miami!

We checked in to the St Michel Hotel just off the Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. This street is supposed to be one of the best in Miami but it is very ordinary. However, it is only a short drive the wonderful Biltmore Hotel where we spent a very enjoyable cocktail-hour on the edge of their beautiful swimming pool (one of the largest hotel pools in the world). The St Michel was OK for 1 night but with no fridge, no tea/coffee and a saggy mattress, it was not good value at the $170 per night

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Posted by kforge 02:53 Archived in USA Comments (0)

KISSIMMEE

Parrish to Kissimmee (then trips to the Space Coast, Orlando, Lakeland)

overcast 20 °C

Sunday November 24
It was just a 2-hour drive from Parrish to Kissimmee and after some slow, final minutes through the hectic traffic near the theme parks, we turned off the busy highway into an area that was really quite rural. The weather was changing drastically and over the next few nights the temperatures dropped to around 4C

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Monday November 25
An hour's drive took us to the Space Coast and the Kennedy Space Center. It was a place that Ken and I wanted to visit last year but we were forced inland by the start of a hurricane. It was truly amazing to be so close to so many of the early rockets, and also to the Saturn V which was used to send Apollo 11 to the moon BUT

Why oh why, must they turn it all into a theme-park that even children were obviously bored with? And $50 + tax for the lowest priced ticket and $10 for parking (when it's very difficult to get there by bus) is just over-priced. If it had been a more scientific/historical set-up like the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina, then maybe the price would be justified but as it is, it's just a rip-off. If you can avoid going on the bus around the whole site, do so at all costs - it is very boring and the commentaries by the drivers are hopeless

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Tuesday November 26
On Tuesday we decided that we needed a little culture, so drove a few miles north to in Winter Park, Orlando. It's a beautiful suburb with a very interesting main street with, unusually for the USA, people walking around and many museums and galleries. First stop was the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College on the shore of Lake Virgina. It is a small gallery with changing exhibits and on this day we saw works by Bacon, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Hockney and Durer and many others. Entry is free

Nearby is another excellent gallery - the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933) is housed at The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. The Museum’s Tiffany collection includes jewellry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass windows and lamps, and the chapel interior the artist designed for the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago. Entry is $5

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Wednesday November 27
A quiet day for me and a shopping day for the others

Thursday November 28 - Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving is a big thing in the USA, probably bigger than Christmas, so in celebration of this we had a Thanksgiving Breakfast at Denny's! And because we'd all eaten far too much, we decided that a driving tour around the citrus-growing area was all we could manage. It's obvious that Florida is suffering from cheap citrus imports - as with the Brazilian imports in Australia. We suddenly realised that we were near Florida Southern College in Lakeland - their campus has the largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in one place n the world - 18 were planned but only 7 were built. What a collection!

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Lakeland - Frank Lloyd Wright building8 at Florida Southern College

Lakeland - Frank Lloyd Wright building8 at Florida Southern College


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Friday November 29
A silly morning at Congo River Golf - I hadn't played a round of crazy golf since Southend and Jeni had never played. Very good fun for all, especially for Jeni when she was 1 cm from a hole-in-one

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In the afternoon, we walked through the two sections of the Shingle Creek Regional Park. The 1st section started just metres from the 6-lane Hwy 192 but in moments we were in dense re-growth forest (with tiny areas of Poison Ivy) which led to the Pioneer Museum where old, rescued buildings have been re-erected. The 2nd section was adjacent to the rural road where we were staying. There were lovely walks down to Shingle Creek where early pioneers had set up a landing - it's the northernmost waterway feeding the Everglades ecosystem

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Saturday November 30
We drove back up to Orlando to look at the old downtown area and to take a stroll around Lake Eola. A new collection of large sculptures has been installed in this area with 3 actually on the lakeshore

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Sunday December 1
We drove just a few miles to the strange town/village of Celebration. It was created by Disney in 1996 as a planned community for some of their employees and is actually a very pleasant place to spend a few hours and seems to be a very comfortable place to live. The Disney Corporation has now divested itself from most of its holdings and the 7,000 people, the roads, the lakes, the community swimming pool and tennis courts are managed by several committees

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Monday December 2
Steve and Carole and I went for a drive to what we thought was a regional park at Boggy Creek where they and the family had taken airboat rides several years ago. The regional park turned out to be a huge soccer camp and the Boggy Creek lakeside area had turned into a depressing run-down RV park. On the way back, we stopped at the 3rd section of the Shingle Creek Regional Park near our house – a lovely area of walks and a wide section of Shingle Creek. And just a couple of hours later, Jeni and I were dropping off Steve and Carole at Orlando Airport for their flight back to England. We were also dropping off the huge SUV at the Alamo office – we had booked a smaller SUV through Auto-Europe but were “forced” into an upgrade when we first arrived in Orlando. Calls to Auto-Europe had been completely fruitless during the last 17 days but I decided to have a chat with the Alamo manager while we were picking up a small National car for our drive to Miami. As soon as I explained what had happened, she apologised and agreed to completely cancel the upgrade fee – very impressive. So forget using Auto-Europe and go direct to Alamo

Posted by kforge 02:46 Archived in USA Comments (0)

PARRISH

Venice to Casey Key to Sarasota to Parrish

semi-overcast 20 °C

On Saturday morning we left Venice and took a small road onto Casey Key - what a find this place is. In the first couple of miles near Venice, there are several small, inexpensive beach-side hotels and motels and then this very narrow island becomes a millionaire's paradise

From here we drove on to the C'a d'Zan mansion in Sarasota, the winter home of the Ringling Circus. An amazing property and grounds on the banks of Sarasota Bay. Entry to the grounds is free (you can view the mansion up close) but it costs $25 to enter the mansion and sculpture garden. There are 2 cafes at the entrance and 1 more in the grounds. Well worth a couple of hours

From there we drove about 30 minutes north to our friends Steve and Diane's place in Parrish. The two Steves had not seen each other for 30 years or more and together with their friends Brian and Dee, we spent a raucous evening around the dinner-table. The following morning was time for sport - watching Formula 1, sandwiched between 2 English Premier League games. Around lunchtime, we decided it was time to let Steve and Diane have some peace and quiet for the last few hours of the weekend and headed out for the 2-hour drive to our new, temporary home in Kissimmee in central Florida

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Posted by kforge 14:14 Archived in USA Comments (0)

VENICE

Sanibel Island to Venice

sunny 27 °C

We left Sanibel Island mid-morning for a short 90-minute drive to Venice - it's a lovely, small town with a real main street where people actually walk up and down. In the evening we strolled from our apartment to the centre of town and listened to some blues at the Centennial Park bandstand and then continued on to the Made in Italy restaurant where Steve and Carole had dined 18 months ago. The food and wine was excellent

We stayed in the Venice Beach Villas in Menendez Street - good value at $161 for a 2-bedroom apartment

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Venice - Jeni and Carole on main street

Each year there is a different animal theme for the sculptures down the main street - this year dolphins, last year pigs!

On Saturday morning, we headed towards Sarasota and our friends in Parrish

Posted by kforge 11:15 Archived in USA Comments (0)

SANIBEL ISLAND

Sydney to Los Angeles to Orlando to Sanibel Island

sunny 27 °C

Friday November 15

We stayed last night at the Sydney Boulevard Hotel (Bayview) - pretty good value at $180 at current Sydney prices. You can walk to the Art Gallery of NSW in 15 minutes and then continue down to the Opera House through the Domain Botanic Gardens

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Our Qantas 747 flight to Los Angeles was constantly hit by turbulence for just about all of the 14 hours and arrived late. We were getting worried about our connection to Orlando but Qantas arranged Express Passes for all connecting passengers and we breezed through Immigration and Customs in minutes with the help of strangely friendly US officials

The 4.5 hour flight with American was uneventful and just minutes after arriving, we had met up with Steve and Carole who had flown in from Gatwick 45 minutes earlier

We had the usual hassle with the car rental (this time with Alamo) when the intermediate 5-suitcase SUV booked through Auto-Europe turned into a 2-small-suitcase, short-wheelbase Toyota RAV - we ended up having to cough up another $340 for an upgrade. Discussions with Auto-Europe have commenced

Finally, after a 3.5 hour drive we arrived at our friend Janet's house on Sanibel Island

Sitting on her netted deck, she explained all about the voracious no-see-um insects that were already eating us alive (the next few days were even worse with chiggers entering the scene!)

Saturday November 16
After a long breakfast, Janet escorted us to Bailey's Market so we could stock up with groceries, and then transformed into a tour-guide (and a very informative one) for an hour-long visit to San Carlos Bay and the 1884 lighthouse

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In late afternoon, Steve and I found ourselves the only swimmers in a warm Gulf of Mexico

And in the evening, we took Janet to Matzaluna Restaurant as a small "thank you" for letting us stay in her lovely weatherboard for the next week. The food was good, the service was fine, but the 18% service-charge was a little excessive

Sunday November 17
It was goodbye Janet and "thank you" as she headed back very early to Washington

At lunchtime we met up with our old school-friend Steve Adams and his wife Diane at Doc Ford's restaurant

After a very pleasant late-afternoon swim, we all had to run off the beach as we were attacked by insects again

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Monday November 18
After a slow start, we drove just a couple of miles to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge but were driven out by all the insects, so headed the few miles up to Captiva Island and had a couple of hours at Mucky Duck's "English" pub, sitting in their sand garden just metres from the sea - it has to be a contender for one of the top 10 beach bars

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Carole, Jeni and I have been severely attacked by insects over the last few days despite using everything suggested by the pharmacist. For some reason, Steve is virtually untouched!

Tuesday November 19
Drove 30 miles to Fort Myers to visit the Edison and Ford Winter Estates - a superb setting on the Caloosahatchee River and a marvellous history lesson about two of the world's great inventors

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Discovered that no pre-paid SIM card from any US cell/mobile phone plan will allow you to tether/hotspot

Wednesday November 20
We spent several hours on the spectacular Bowman's Beach and then drove back to the Mucky Duck pub to spend several hours watching the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico, drinking Florida Avenue Ale and listening and dancing to a local musician

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Thursday November 21
Just about a repeat of yesterday except that we spent some time at the excellent Sanibel Library - a very well appointed library with the bonus of fast, free wi-fi. We had been going to the Sanibel Bean most days to check our emails but it's not that fast and the coffee can be hit and miss (and it's not on the beach despite the images on the website)

And we just couldn't resist Bowman's Beach and the Mucky Duck pub again

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Friday November 22
We left Sanibel and made our way to Venice for an overnight stop on the way to see our friends Steve and Diane near Sarasota

Posted by kforge 11:04 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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