Friday, June 14, 2019

On the Road - St. Augustine, FL

When we bought our condo we did it knowing we would still be RVing through most of the summer and fall. We already had a big picture travel plan for 2019 including a wedding in Kentucky in June and a three month stay in WashPA. After buying a place, that three month stay will include last time visits to our various doctors in Pennsylvania and making plans for all our records to be forwarded to Florida when we get new doctors there. In September while in WashPA we are going to Europe for a river cruise. When we head south in October we are going to the Outer Banks where we will be celebrating our 50th anniversary. From there it will be back to Florida for the winter.    
Since June 1st was the start of hurricane season, we felt this sign was appropriate as we headed out. One good thing about our condo, it was built under Florida's newer, stronger construction standards. We wanted an easy drive the first day so we went only 215 miles to St. Augustine.
We have been here a couple times and did many of the oldest city in the country's attractions. One place we had not toured was the Ponce de Leon Hotel that was built between 1885 and 1887 by Henry Flagler. We wrote about touring Flagler's home, Whitehall, in Palm Beach a couple posts ago. The hotel, which was built in the Spanish Renaissance style, was the first major building in the country constructed with poured concrete. 
In 1968 the building was turned into Flagler College. Lawrence Lewis, a great nephew of Henry Flagler, was the driving force behind the renovation of the hotel and its conversion to a college. The campus today covers 19 acres and the rooms of the old hotel now serve as the freshman women's dorms.
The courtyard entrance of the hotel. When it opened in 1887 it catered to wealthy Northerners who wanted to escape winter weather. People paid $4,000, about $300,000 in today's money, to stay here for three months. 
The murals in the rotunda and dome were painted by George W. Maynard. It is very impressive as you walk in and look up.
Statues around the rotunda were carved from one piece of wood that was set in place and then carved. While they all depict a woman, each is a bit different.
In the main dining hall, now under renovation, all of the windows were done by Tiffany & Co. It was the largest collection of his work in any privately owned building. Most of the windows had clear glass because Flagler wanted the room to be filled with natural sunlight. 
There was a balcony at each end of the main hall were bands would play to entertain the dining guests. When the band at one end took a break the other immediately started to play. The murals here were also done by Maynard with the theme of Spanish galleons.
Painted around the windows are the shields of each Spanish state.  
The ladies parlor was the gathering place for all the women. It was a grand hall with beautiful chandeliers. As in the dining hall, the ceiling was painted with amazing pictures. The face of the ornate clock above the fireplace is one large piece of quartz.
Shown above are gowns worn by the ladies at the time and the menus of the meals served each day. I guess this must have been like the all-inclusive resorts we have today with every need of the visitors being taken care of by the staff. 
This is a wedding portrait of Henry Flagler's third wife, Mary Lily. For her wedding gift he built Whitehall, which is now the Flagler Museum that I wrote about previously. She was 38 years younger than Henry so he had the artist paint her with an older looking face on her actual, much younger body.
There are two of these towers at the hotel. Originally they each held 4,000 gallons of water to supply all the rooms with running water. During WWII the Coast Guard used the hotel as a training facility and the tanks were used as the brig.
Across the street from the Ponce de Leon Flagler had the Alcazar Hotel built in the same Spanish Renaissance Style. This hotel had a steam room, massage parlor, sulfur baths, gym, the world's largest indoor swimming pool and a three story ballroom. Guests from the Ponce could use all these amenities, while the guests from Alcazar were not allowed in the Ponce.  One of Flagler's unique ways of letting people know where he felt they stood on the social scale. These hotels were both part of his plan to make St. Augustine the go to winter destination for the wealthy. That changed a bit when one winter day it was only six degrees warmer than in New York. That is when he decided to build his first hotel in the Palm Beach area.
One of St. Augustine's interesting narrow streets. We have always liked this area and it looks like it will be a regular stop as we move in and out of Florida.
We stayed at the Elks Lodge in St. Augustine and the weekend we were there was the grand opening of their new outdoor patio. The entertainment was really good and the patio makes this an even nicer place to stay.

As we write we are in Berea, Kentucky for a wedding and then we'll be heading slowly back to WashPA for a three month stay.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Feeling Like Home

We arrived back in Stuart from Betty's for a six-week stay before heading out again. We had a pretty long to do list to get the condo feeling more like our home than a B&B. High on the list was getting to know the neighbors better. We had some people over for drinks and snacks. We are happy to report that the people we have met here are much more welcoming than the ones we wrote about in Tallahassee. When we are out for our morning walks people wave and are genuinely friendly. Just before we left, one of our neighbors had a few people to their place so we are making new friends. I have read a couple articles about the area in the Washington Post and Travel and Leisure. One comment I liked in one of the articles was that Martin County was a part of Florida for people who think they don't like Florida. We find this to be true. Even though we have all the conveniences such as stores, restaurants, ocean and beach nearby, we are mostly north of the Homestead to Palm Beach urban sprawl of South Florida. 
As soon as we got back we had Nis Air install the new air conditioning cooling coil. They discovered the problem when doing annual maintenance in February. The good news was the part was under warranty and the insurance that was part of the home inspection paid the labor. 
Another Sunday we went downtown for another Stuart Main Street Rock'n Riverwalk. The band Burnt Biscuit was fantastic. We really like the local music scene and much of it is free.
This is the river walk along the banks of the St. Lucie River. It is great being where one can be outside year round. The weather in May was warmer with highs in the 80's, but still not too hot to be outside.  
We had Consider It Done take care of several small issues the home inspector had found. They installed two new ceiling fans, changed a couple light switches, installed new door locks and repaired the grout in both showers.  
The biggest job we had for them was installing a storm door.  Since we now live in a condo, we had to have this project approved by the HOA architectural committee.
The big reason we wanted the door was to let more light inside. We are now able to leave the door open and when it is cool we can lower the glass and get fresh air. 
The new door looks great. Most days we had the door open and set the AC high enough that it did not run most of the day. With the ceiling fans on it remained very comfortable.
In some ways condo living is like RV park living. There are many rules, we have to take our trash to the dumpster and, as you can see, not everyone picks up after their dog. 
Did you know Wayfair has free shipping? True but everything we bought came with a "some assembly required" warning. This was the easiest to put together.
The new headboard in the guest bedroom looks great. Both our guests said the bed was very comfortable, so we may need to get a different mattress:-)
The entertainment center was the biggest assembly challenge with many parts. We took two days to put it together and only had to take one piece apart as we put one board in backwards.
Here is the finished product. It takes up much less space than the armoire, which we moved into the bedroom. When we return in the fall the shelves will be filled with many nick knacks we have collected during our travels. I also see a bigger TV in my future. The heron print was my house warming gift to my wife.
The hall table also required assembly. We found the welcoming pineapple lamp at a thrift store and the crawfish bowl came from a potter in Louisiana. These small improvements are starting to make the place feel more like our home.
We had not been to the Jupiter Jazz Society Sunday jam since getting back in the area. The day we went the featured players were young students, some only 10 years old. Getting young people interested in Jazz is one of the missions of the society.
When the regular jam started we were surprised at how few players there were. Turns out, here in South Florida "the season" is over and many of the musicians have headed to their homes up north. Even though many of the regulars weren't there, the music was still great. 
One day we took advantage of the nearby beach (about a 20 minute drive) and went to Hutchinson Island for our morning walk. I wanted to walk to the St. Lucie Inlet where the river flows into the Atlantic. Across the Inlet is Long Island, a state preserve that will never be developed. While Florida's population has grown, the state has set aside a lot of land as preserves.
There are many huge homes on this part of Hutchinson Island but the beach is still open to the public. The wind was from the east the day we walked so the beach was covered with seaweed. We heard this happens every spring.
When we started our walk we saw all these stalks with ribbons and thought the were surveyor markers. Turns out they are marking turtle nest. They come ashore, usually at night, and lay their eggs which will hatch in sixty days. The date the nest was built is written on the stalks so they have a good idea when they will hatch. Going out to see this some time is now on our bucket list. 
George and Nan recommended another music venue for us to check out, the Sneaki Tiki in downtown Stuart. It's a neat little outdoor restaurant that we discovered and it's also a Pittsburgh bar with Steeler and Penguin banners. We will sure be back there even with our Pats friends.

We have been in and out of the condo three times since January, but this time we will be gone for five and a half months so there was much more preparation. The number one priority was getting someone to keep an eye on the place, even though we have a security system. Our neighbor Nick told us he checks on several places and would be happy to add us to his list. He will go in every week or so to look the place over and take care of anything that needs done. In addition, June 1 starts the beginning of Hurricane season, a season we have never worried about before. Hurricane shutters came with the condo, but they need to be put up and taken down with each storm. (You can't leave the shutters on because if there was a fire the fire department could not get into the building.) Nick has someone lined up to do that job so we are very comfortable leaving our new home until November. 

As we post this we are now near Asheville, NC after stops in St. Augustine and near St, Marys, GA. We are happy that it is much cooler in the mountains than it has been along the coast. Next week we will be going to Berea, KY for a wedding. It is great being back on the road.   

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Family, Friends, Flagler, Fun in Florida

We have been busy around the condo slowly making it feel more like our place. (More on that in the next post.) With the place shaping up, we decided it was time for more guests. We've also tried a couple new restaurants and are enjoying the local music scene with family and friends.
We had our first dinner party with our Stuart best friends George and Nan whom we met at Betty's. They also just bought a condo this year not far from us and we have had a lot of fun together. Nanc made her famous linguine with clam sauce seafood pasta dinner and it was a huge hit.
We invited Nanc's sister Michelle and her husband Keith to come down for a visit. Unfortunately, he could not make it so Mike flew down by herself. We tried to give her the full South Florida whirlwind tour, starting with a stop on Worth Avenue to see how the 1% lives. Here are Nanc and Mike on the beach in Jupiter.
 
On Sunday we headed to downtown Stuart for Rock'n Riverwalk, a weekly event with a farmers market and live music. Check out the beautiful tree by the market. Having flowers blooming year round is one of the great things about living in South Florida.
Of course the ladies had to do a bit of shopping. I caught Mike with money in hand buying a much needed new purse. They also hit several of the local shops.
The band this week was Micah Scott Project and they had the riverwalk rock'n. What a great venue for a concert overlooking the St. Lucie River. 
We were glad she was here and we have an extra seat for Keith on the next visit. Being able to comfortably dine outside on the water is another great thing about our new home. 
We even have birds to entertain us at every turn. This one seemed to be waiting for a handout (a big no no) while keeping an eye on the water for a meal.
Monday we went to Jensen Beach to do more shopping and these two could not resist the chance to sit in the big chair.
We finally made it to Bathtub Reef on Hutchinson Island. The last time we tried we could not get a parking place because it was still high season. It's a neat area with a reef you can walk to at low tide and a nice beach for walking. As you can see it was a beautiful day behind us looking north....
....but looking south these ugly storm clouds were quickly blowing in. You sure don't want to be on the beach during a storm as Florida is the state that has the highest number of people killed by lightening in the country.
We saw this pillow in a shop on Worth Avenue, but resisted buying it while we had a guest with us. Tuesday, the day Mike was scheduled to leave turned into one of those "If the world gives you lemons, make lemonade", kind of days. We were all up early, ready to drive Michelle to the Palm Beach Airport when she got a message that her 11:00 AM Jet Blue flight was delayed until 1:00. That was okay we would just hang out at home a bit longer. Before we left the condo the delay was extended two more hours so we decided we could go to lunch on the way to the airport. That four hour delay became six so we had time to tour the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum and one last lunch in West Palm Beach, making the best of a bad travel day for Mike.
Whitehall the 75 room, 100,000 square foot winter home of Henry Flagler was built as a gift for his third wife in 1902. They only spent six or seven weeks a year here. It was built in only 18 months and included all the modern conveniences, indoor plumbing, central heating, electricity, phones and more that were available at the time.
Henry Flagler made his fortune as one of the founders of Standard Oil. In the 1880's he came to Florida because of his wife's ill health. Seeing the potential he built the 540 room Hotel Ponce de Leon in St Augustine. He bought a small local railroad and over the years turned it into the Florida East Coast Railway which eventually became the Over-Seas Railroad going all the way to Key West. When he found St. Augustine could be chilly in the winter he built another hotel in Palm Beach in 1894. 
Whitehall is a classic example of the homes of the wealthy during the Gilded Age. The first floor has a huge grand foyer, library, music room (above), billiards hall, breakfast room, dining room, grand ball room and a parlor all to entertain guests.
The billiards room was were the men gathered to smoke and discuss business. It was one of only two rooms with a cuspidor as Mrs. Flagler did not like the habit.
The 3,200 square foot Grand Ball Room was the second largest room after the foyer.
After the Flaglers both died, an eleven story, 250 room hotel was built onto Whitehall. The hotel was open from 1925 to 1959. This was the lobby of the hotel. 
The dining hall was not large enough to accommodate all the guests who stayed in the 12 guest rooms. Only Flagler's best friends ate here while others were transported to his nearby hotel that had a huge dining room. I guess he knew how to let people know where they stood with him.
The parlor with a baby grand piano that was built especially for Mrs. Flagler who loved music. The music room also had a pipe organ. 
Several of the rooms have painted ceilings of Greek and Roman gods. The trim around this painting was aluminum leaf which was more expensive at the time than gold leaf.
Three of the second floor guest rooms which were facing east to get the warm morning sun. Each room was decorated with a different theme.
Nanc and Michelle in the Flagler's master suite. It was on the Southwest corner so it would get the winter sun for most of the day.
The master bath had it all; double bowl sink, toilet, tub and shower. There was even a phone on the opposite wall.
The servants had rooms on the second and third floors. Some were staff who traveled with the Flagers as they moved to each of their four houses each year. Others were permanent staff who stayed at Whitehall to maintain the property. 
In 2005 a pavilion was built to house Henry's personal rail car #91. This was the car he traveled to Key West in when the Over-Seas Railroad was completed in 1912.
When Whitehall was built the view across Lake Worth was of the Everglades. Today it is West Palm Beach and a marina for yachts. Believe it or not these were not the biggest yachts we saw docked here. 
We had a little more time to kill before going to the airport so we did a drive by of Mar-a Lago Club, the winter retreat for the rich and famous including President Trump. This was as close as we could get without activating the alarm for the secret service. We had a great visit with Michelle and feel like our new home is a welcoming place for friends and family.
On Friday evening we had one last get together with George and Nan before they head to Connecticut for the summer. We went to Terra Fermata, a great local music venue we discovered last year. It is outdoor and they only serve drinks. We went across the street and got Thai takeout for dinner and got to hear two great bands, The Shakers and Blues Beatles. It was a fun evening and we are already planning for our return next fall.