"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... And sorry I could not travel both. I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference." --Robert Frost

Monday, May 31, 2021

Jacksonville, Florida - More Friends!

Jacksonville, Florida
Katherine Abbey Hanna Park

After a 4 hour drive from Brandon on the west side of Florida we headed up to our final stop in Florida, Jacksonville, on the very upper northeast side of the state.  There are many water crossings over here and interesting bridges.

The roads through Hanna Park, as they call it, can be quite narrow.  There are no one way signs posted so it's a bit crazy getting in.  But it is one gorgeous park.  It's a large city park that really has it all.  The campsites are in a very thick, lush setting which makes the sites private.  It is right on the ocean so there are many shelter access points, lots of parking, laundry, lakes, walking paths etc.
There are all combinations of utilities, we had FHU in site #108, $30.
The online maps are very informative of the sites.  Length, levelness, etc.  This is a great campground if you are in the area.  There is much to do in Jacksonville.
We would've like to kayak the lake but there were so many alligators it was advised against.
On one of our walks this little guy is the only one we spotted.  Much of our week here was quite hot and very humid with a little rain on a couple of days.  We didn't do too much during the week while Steve worked.  I caught up on laundry and took the truck in for an oil change.  It was really too hot and humid outside for us.  The temps never cooled much at night so we never had a fire either.

Our excitement came on the weekend with more friends to catch up with.  Friday night we took our daughters high school friend out for dinner.  Ciarra was at the wedding and we told her we'd look her up when we arrived in Jax.  We watched her grow up back in Placerville.  Her family moved here after she graduated high school.

Saturday we drove down to Flagler Beach and visited a good friend from our New York days.  Jeff couldn't make it but Yvonne brought us to a great spot overlooking the ocean for breakfast as we caught up with the past few years.
Nice view from the outside, upper patio.

Then it was off to Beverly Beach to visit with RV Friends Mario and Ellen (good 'ol Class of 14)
This is their new home just across from the beach.  They are off the road now.  I love their outside patio.
So cute and bright inside.
They put together a very nice appetizer board.  We had a couple drinks, chatted a bit then they drove us around their new neighborhood in their golf cart to show us around.  Great place they have! 
We took our wine and walked along the beach.  It was a very breezy day and the clouds were very dramatic.  The layered colors in the ocean were so pretty with the bright blues and greens.
There was a nesting turtle site that was roped off to protect it.

Steve and Mario trying to keep up with us.  I think they gave up.

They beach has a pretty fine, pebbliness to it with many shells.  Reminds me of Italy.
We piled into the golf cart and took a ride down the beach to the pier and walked that.

There were several people fishing.  This guy caught a small Catfish.  I didn't know they had those in the ocean.  Another guy at the end caught a small Hammerhead shark.
Mario, Ellen, Me & Steve

We had a great pizza lunch outside and visited a bit more before we said our farewells.  It was so good to see them again.  We adore these two!  It's been a great stay in Florida but now we head up to Virginia for a family reunion with Steve's family.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Kayaking with Manatees, Old Cities and Friends - Florida

Wimauma, Florida
Little Manatee River State Park

After spending a week near the wedding in Orlando, we are now on the west coast of Florida at another small state park.  There isn't much to do in the park itself unless you kayak and there isn't really anything to do in this off the beaten path town either.  We're here as it's central to some friends we'll be visiting with this week.
Boats zipping all around the bay having a great time.
W/50/Dump, $22, #10
It's starting to heat up this week.
One evening we took a drive to Anna Maria Island to see Bean Point.  This is my friend, Rita's, favorite beach.  It reminds her of her hometown in Italy.  It was very pretty.
The flowering trees were in full bloom.
As were the Plumeria which smell Heavenly.

It's hard to tell, but the Seagull in the center of the pic kept landing on the Pelican trying to snatch his fish away.
It was pretty windy on this side of the point.
On the other side it was a bit calmer and there were more beach access points between the very expensive homes.

While Steve worked the next day my sister, Kris, and I took the kayak to a small private spot a few miles from the campground so we could launch right on the water.  With rain being so scarce the past few weeks the river level was very low and the owner told us we'd  probably have to portage over several sand bars.  
It started out well but we counted 12 short portages along the way until the river deepened.  Most spots the water was crystal clear as it flowed over the brown pebbly bottom.
It was a hot, muggy ride but we saw so much wildlife we didn't notice too much.
One of the many turtles along the way.

Good thing we can duck low in the kayak!  We cooled off in the shallow clear sections but only for a minute as Kris did spot a small Alligator in the deeper water going over a log.

The next day was her last day in Florida so we drove over to the coast this time to paddle at EG Simmons Park where my friend, Tina, recommended.  Wow, what a great park! 
It has 2 camping areas which almost all campsites are on the water with perfect launching.  The picnic areas, parking, grounds and marina are beautifully kept and laid out perfectly.
Look at those prices!  I couldn't believe they only charged us a $2 entrance fee to enter the park and launch our kayaks!  If we camped it would've only been $18 for W/50/30.  I think some had FHU.  If I were in this area this is where I'd camp.  So much to do.  Right outside Bradenton.
We paddled all around the Mangroves looking for the Manatees that swim here.
Click HERE to see this sweet Manatee up close that came to see us if you don't see the video above.
You could see the propeller scars from boat encounters.  We named this guy Zorro.
HERE Zorro is playing with our kayak, gently pushing us around.  His friend is blowing out air at the end.
Click HERE to see a close up of a cute Manatee face.
We sure got lucky to float around with 4 or 5 of these beauties.  What a great way to end our stay and my sisters vacation!
In some of the lagoons there were nesting Osprey and fish jumping all over.  There were schools of Stingray swimming by, Horseshoe Crabs, Manatee and one snake spotting.

Spotted some Horseshoe Crabs as we were pulling the kayak out of the water.  Click HERE
And then a snake swam by. HERE
Of course when we got back Hurley was very excited to see us when Steve let him out and he found an old fencepost to strut about with.

Kris could not change her flight from Orlando to Tampa so we got up at 4am and I drove her the 1 1/2 hours back to Orlando.  Bye Kris.  Glad you came out.  It was sure fun Sister Time!

The next night Steve and I met up with RV Friends, Mark & Patty, for dinner.  Last time we saw them was 4 years ago in Texas.  They now have a home nearby but still travel on occasion in a smaller RV.

Brandon, Florida
Brandon Elks Lodge
Somehow I made a mistake in our reservation.  I thought we were staying through Memorial Weekend but we were actually supposed to leave on Friday.  Oops!  They were booked for the holiday of course so I had to find something else.  This is where the Elks come in handy.  Almost always one around.  Just a half hour to Brandon and we had a place for the weekend.  Only a couple of others were here.  Very nice campground-like layout.  We grabbed the shadiest spot under some huge oaks.
W/50/Dump, $20, #4.  All this so close to the coast for $20!
Well it was off to meet more RV Friends.  Gene and Eileen were part of our "Class of 2014" group that all went full-time at the same time.  It had been a few years since we last saw them in Colorado.
They picked a great cafe on the beach.  We met for lunch but it was almost dinner by time we left!  Great to see them again and we hope to cross again maybe back in Colorado on our way home.

It was getting late by time we left Gene and Eileen but I wanted to take Steve back to EG Simmons so he could spend some time with the Manatee if we were lucky enough to see them.  It was windier and unfortunately we didn't see any.  As we headed back we spotted something bobbing up and down and thought it was an escaped buoy.  We paddled over to pick it up then Steve noticed it was a tracker. Wait a minute, it's a tagged Manatee.  Cool. Well he wasn't friendly like the others and we couldn't see him through the water.  He would dive down, then come back up further away.  Pretty cool to see.

Ybor City, just outside of Tampa, was a fun place I picked for Steve on our last day.  It is a National Historic Landmark District with a Spanish-Cuban influence founded in 1886.
They are known for their coffee, food, drinks, music, cigars and chickens!

We left early and headed straight for Foundation Coffee Roasters.  It was still hot and humid out so I got an iced mocha and we bought some pecan raisin oatmeal cookies and a banana nut carmel muffin. I also picked out some whole bean coffee too.  Then we began our walk around the neighborhood.
Just like back home in the town of Citrus Heights, they have free roam chickens all around town.  We spotted an Easter Egger (which is a Araucana/Ameraucana hybrid.  We used to raise these back on the ranch.  They lay colored eggs).  This one had 3 chicks with her.  They blend in so well.  They are on the right side if you zoom in.
Italians and Jews immigrated here also.  This area still has a latin flair with the food and architecture.
The roosters seem to tolerate each other.
We walked through the Visitor Center to watch a movie about how the town started and it's huge beginnings with cigar factories.

Steve isn't a huge cigar smoker but he does appreciate one now and then and has taken classes before.

The chair on the balcony held an important person.  This person would read sections of the newspaper to keep the cigar workers happy.
Cigar artwork.
The town is very walkable and the architecture had that Spanish/Cuban look to it. 
Zydeco was one of the breweries Steve chose to visit.  The other brewery and the Cane Distillery were closed for the Memorial holiday unfortunately.  Turns out the JC Newman Cigar Company was also closed.  Darn the luck.

Steve had a flight and I had an Italian Spritz.  I loved these over in Italy.
We found a different place to get cigars and then headed over to the famous Columbia Restaurant where we had some great Cuban food and Sangria.  It was a long wait but worth it.  For dessert we walked a bit further down the road and had some Panna Cotta on the rooftop terrace at the Italian Casa Santo Stefano.  They food looked amazing too.  More walking and enjoying the lively little city and we finished our day with one last coffee at The Blind Tiger Cafe.  

Steve, Me, Bethany & Sammy
While we missed an evening out with one of our old NY neighbors, we did get together with one of Steve's friends he grew up with in Virginia who has lived in Florida for many years.  We had dinner at an Italian restaurant where their daughter works.  It's been 6 years since we were here last and their two kids have grown up so much.

That wraps up our week on the the gulf side of Florida for this trip.  It was a busy time.  Next we spend a week on the far northeast part of Florida up in Jacksonville.  First though I wanted to introduce you to a new member of the family.
This is Rocko.  Well, he belongs to our son and DiL, Brennan and Alex.  He's adorable! He's very sweet and already learning to retrieve.
And a Meatball pic.  Ryan, Jaxon and Diana.  I can't believe Jaxon is over a year already!  He loves cars like his Daddy, has a sweet smile like his Mamma and loves dancing to Elvis.  Especially when Jailhouse Rock comes on.  We sure miss him.  We have been buying him themed items lately in each state.  So he's got a book about alligators, some alligator socks and a stuffed alligator coming to him in the mail.