Why I Like to Travel!

To see God’s beauty in nature.

Picture of swamp ferns
Swamp Ferns New Zealand ~ South Island

 

To wonder at human kind’s ancient achievements

Picture of boats made of straw
Man-Made Floating Islands in Peru

 

To marvel at human kind’s modern achievements

IMG_1176
US Space Shuttle ~ Smithsonian, Washington, DC

To enjoy simple things

Picture of food vendor
Covered Bridge Festival ~ Central Indiana

To eat foods from around the world

Picture of froot
Fruit Sampling ~ Australia

To see the sea and mangroves

 

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A Few Hours in Orlando

We took a drive to Orlando just to hang out for a few hours.  We avoided the big theme parks, Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios and went to a building near International Drive that housed the Orlando “eye,” Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum and the Orlando Aquarium.   At first I was a little underwhelmed based on the size of the building.

The first thing we did was ride the “eye.”  The most interesting thing to me was to look over part of Orlando that was packed with touristy things do do, like go to a bone museum, restaurants (some excellent, some fast food and everything in between), water parks, and lots of shops.

It is easy to see why Walt Disney changed his approach to building Disney World.  The original Disney Land is locked in by the types of business we say in Orlando, but far away from Orlando’s Disney World.

 

Kayaking Weedon Island

Weedon Island is a nature preserve along the coast of St. Petersburg,FL. Full of mangroves and open areas, the area is rich in natural wildlife, both in the salt water, on the ground and in the trees. There are guided tours, and kayak rentals to go out on your own, however, if you chose this rout, make sure you know your way around the mangroves or have a good map and sense of direction.

Our weather was cloudy with some sprinkles, good weather for kayaking in FL where it can be very hot and humid from May through September.

Getting started
Under way
Weedon Island mangroves

 

Lunch on a sand bar
Open areas around Weedon Island
Navigating the waterways

 

 

 

 

South of the Boarder

South of the BorderIf you are from or near the east coast and traveled south of the Mason-Dixon line or headed north from Georgia you will likely have seen signs for “South of the Border.”  I remember stopping there with my parents on trips to Florida and the Carolinas.  Back then, in the 1960’s it was a booming tourist attraction with humorous billboard signs north and south announcing it destination several hundred miles away.  With each passing billboard our anticipation grew.  As a pre-teen, it was exciting and fun when we stopped.

Gift Shop

 

SOB store

Turn the clock forward about six decades and the place is still there.  I was heading to Florida from Virginia, probably my last driving trip on this stretch of highway.  As I drove into South Carolina, I began to see signs for “South of the Border.”  I decided to stop and check out the place.  Over the years it had shown wear and tear.  It sure had a different feel for me now than when I was a youngster.  This time it looked run down and tacky.  Some of the fiberglass figures spread about needed repair.

PedroThe giant “Paco” looked like a sad image of the past.  For the most part, our society has moved on to more ethical treatment of diverse populations.  I think that it is going to continue to decrease in popularity for the millennials and their children.  There isn’t anything there to compete with the technology that they hold in their hands for entertainment.

 

Donkeys

Dino

 

 

My stop became a trip down nostalgia lane  It was still fun to remember what it was like, the excitement I had at the time and being with my family.  I bought a t-shirt with “SOB” on the front for “South of the Border.”  If I got the chance to stop again I would visit “South of the Border” to be reminded of the fun we had.

t-shirt store

What Good is Cold Weather in Florida? Manatee Watching

We visited the Manatee viewing area in Apollo Beach, FL the last week in December.  There were some manatee spotted about two hundred yards from the boardwalk.  The weather was still warm then, in the 70’s.

With the national cold snap, bringing snow to northern Florida and the ocean water in the mid 50’s we went to another manatee area in Homosassa at the Florida State Park.  Here we were able to see dozens of manatee relatively close in crystal clear water.  The spring in Homosassa runs about 73 degrees; creating a nice warm environment for the fish and manatee.  We some an excursion boat with people in wet suits attempting to swim with the Manatee.

Homosassa Springs

 

Manatee

 

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The University of Illinois has had a bell tower with 15 bells since 1920.  It is part of Altgeld Hall on the north west corner of the central quad.  The chimes weigh over seven and a half tons with the largest bell weighing in at one and a half ton and measures five feet across.  There is a Seth Thomas clock that mechanically enables the chime to automatically strike the hours and quarter hour to the tune of the Westminster Chime.  This runs continuously day and night.

Large Bells
Large Bells
Set of Bells
Set of Bells

Bell Clapper

There is also a clavier or keyboard used to play many types of music from the alma mater to Christmas, to star wars themes etc.  It is fun to hear the mini concerts during the lunch hour.  Sue Wood is the current chime master.  She oversees students from a variety of disciplines who play the clavier each day.  The clavier keys are connected to cables that strike the bells when a handle is pushed down about four inches.  The longest cable runs 68.5 feet.

My colleagues and I took one of the last tours of the “performing room,” the place where the clavier is located along with a practice keyboard, music and chairs for visitors.  We were also allowed to climb the tower to see the bells.  I had done the same at Notre Dame in France, these were much smaller.

"Bell Ringer"
“Bell Ringer”

Return from Irma

After escaping Irma and returning home, it was heartwarming to see how the government (federal, state, and local) and private enterprise worked together to prepare for and clean up after Irma.  It was also rewarding to see people behave themselves when stress levels are high and gas in limited supply.

Heading back south, we saw convoys of US Army troops.  Some of them worked with local police blocking highway exits into areas that were flooded (around Savannah, GA).

We were very fortunate leaving FL on Saturday, before the hurricane hit our area.  Traffic moved freely and we had plenty of gas.  However, the return was much more frustrating, driving ten hours to go about 250 miles.  And with the people came some closed gas stations and lines at others,  but we made it back to the Tampa area without any problems.

We were very fortunate as was the area where we live.  We had a downed tree that leaned up against our neighbors house but there was no damage.  Some other trees were down in the neighborhood and that was about it.  I was told that we got somewhere between one to three inches of rain, far less than projected.  Our grass had not been cut in three weeks which is nothing compared to people who are still without power nearly ten days later in our hot and humid environment.    We are slowly getting back to normal.  Children started school after a week’s respite and everyone is back to work around the Tampa area.

Dancing with Irma

Irma was born off the coast of Africa.  As she grew is size and strength she immigrated illegally into the United States, other countries as well.  First coming to the Florida Keys then boldly going northwest into Florida.  She became a large and angry.  Not very friendly.

My wife and I originally intended to meet Irma, we live south of Tampa.  We stocked up on the recommended supplies.  Some of the shelves were empty but we were able to get what we needed.

Empty Store Shelves  Empty Store Shelf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the last minute and with great pressure from a daughter, we left before Irma came for a visit, not knowing where we were going to go so we headed north.   Another daughter provided us with the Waze app which helped us navigate traffic headed north and a son reserved a hotel for us in Fayetteville, NC.

On our trip north we saw dozens of utility truck convoys headed south.  Right near our hotel over a dozen trucks were stationed by FEMA to head south when they got the call.  When the call came, sometime on Sunday, September 10, they went to Fort Bragg to pick up trailers filled with water, food and other supplies.  One of the drivers I talked with was from Chicago.  Below is a picture of a truck from CT.

FEMA Truck

Emergency Trucks

Trucks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CT Truck

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Florida governor was giving updates every several hours days in advance of the storm.  He provided information of what was being done to help the people and what they should do to help themselves.  Based on what I heard and have seen, the state and federal governments were well coordinated in advance.  For example, during our exodus, every gas station we visited along US 75 and US 95 had all the gas we needed.  Some stations had short lines.

Because of rain in Georgia, problems around Savanna, and flooding in Jacksonville, FL, we are going to head back on Tuesday, September 12.  Early reports we have from our neighborhood are that there downed trees, one of them from our yard leaning against our neighbor’s house.  We were very blessed with the help of family and friends.

 

The Waning Days of Summer and Hurricanes

Labor Day is traditionally the “end of summer,” but clearly it is not the end of the hot weather, particularly in Florida.  We visited St. Augustine and New Smyrna Beach over Labor Day weekend.  The weather was cloudy but hot.  It was a nice day to be on the beach.  Many people took advantage of the long weekend.  Interestingly, Hurricane Irma was on the mind of local residents, even though it was 2,000 miles away and the forecasters were not sure where it is going to land.

Just two days after Labor Day, people are preparing for the worst.  Irma, now a category 5 hurricane is headed toward Florida, somewhere.  While I was in Sam’s Club, the bottled water supply ran out.  People at Home Depot were stocking up on lumber and other essentials.  Having moved from the mid-west, hurricane preparation is new to me.

So will the beaches on the east coast of Florida be hit or will the west coast be clobbered.  The beautiful picture from Labor Day may soon be a memory.  It will depend on Irma.