Sunday, August 15, 2021

Heading North - St. Augustine and Lake Norman

Since leaving the Keys at the end of January 2020 we have not ventured very far from our place in Stuart other than our trip to Mexico. We sold Opus in July so on our trip north we planned on staying in hotels. When we left Stuart covid cases were around 30,000 a day but climbing. We felt traveling would be safe since we have been fully vaccinated since February. But as I write, cases have climbed to over 128,000 daily. The good news for us is, though Florida is the worst place in the country, we aren't there. 
Our plan was to drive to St. Augustine on Routes 1 and A1A thus avoiding I-95. It was much more relaxing and we got to see some beautiful beach towns. We even saw the Blue Origin buildings near Cape Canaveral a few days before Bezos went into space atop one of their rockets.
We have been to St. Augustine several times in Opus, but this was the first time we stayed close enough to be able to walk to all the local attractions. It was a short walk downtown across the Bridge of Lions where you could view the boats anchored near the shoreline. In the background is Castillo de San Marcos National Monument that we toured on an earlier visit.  
Beautiful downtown St. Augustine.
One of the many lions near the appropriately named Bridge of Lions.
On our last visit we toured Flagler College located in the old Flagler Hotel. This time we went to the Lightner Museum, the building across from the college that was formerly another Flagler hotel. The Alcazar Hotel was the second one he built here before deciding that the winters were too cold so he built another hotel further south in Palm Beach.
The museum has an eclectic collection of art and artifacts. This child mummy is in a recreated Egyptian tomb. Strange but interesting.
Part of the huge collection of glassware and pottery that includes these beer mugs. 
This stained glass window, Woman on Garden Bench, was made for H. J. Heinz in Pittsburgh.
A large part of the hotel was a spa and fitness center with steam room, sauna and this pool.
Today the pool is a cafe. The Lightner is an interesting museum and well worth a visit.
A few miles south of St. Augustine is Fort Matanzas National Monument. The first historical event here was the massacre of French shipwreck survivors by the Spanish on 1565. In 1564 Spain learned that the French had built Fort Caroline on the St. Johns River near present day Jacksonville, land claimed by Spain. In 1565 both countries sent reinforcements to Florida. When the Spanish arrived they found Fort Caroline abandon so they proceeded to the newly established St. Augustine. The French plan to attack St. Augustine was disrupted by a hurricane that carried their ships south, before wrecking them. When 130 survivors were found near the inlet, all but 16 who were Catholics or artisans were killed. Two weeks later near the same place 250 more survivors were found and met the same fate. These two events led to the inlet being called Matanzas, Spanish for slaughter.  
While waiting for the boat to the fort we took a walk to the beach along a short nature trail. All along the trail we saw many of these Golden Silk spiders. The smaller one is the male, the larger the female. The male stays on the opposite side of the web from the female until they are ready to mate. As soon as that happens she eats him to provide nutrition before the babies are born. They were neat to see and generally harmless to humans.
Fort Matanzas, really a watchtower, was built by the Spanish in 1740 - 42 to protect the inlet from British ships trying to attack St. Augustine. The fort is on Rattlesnake Island, a name that may have been used to keep people away. That said, the ranger told us you are just as likely to meet a rattler in the other part of the monument back across the inlet. 
While the fort never came under attack, today it is often under siege from many boaters. Access to the fort is on a free park service boat with ranger guides.
Nanc heading up to the watchtower for a better look.
As with all park service forts there are old cannons that would have been used mostly to discourage invaders.
Each of these poles was used in the firing of the cannons. Each had a specific job such as putting in gunpowder, packing a cannonball on top of the powder, then cleaning out the barrel for the next shot. 
A couple more cannons and the guard tower.
The whole fort is quite small and would have had only a few soldiers stationed there at any time.
This 1939 photo shows the fort after it had been reconstructed. The fort and surrounding area is well worth a visit if you are in search of a day away from the crowds in St Augustine.
We have been to St. Augustine a number of times but this time we found two or three restaurants that offered much better food than we had in the past. As you can see, Harry's is "the" place to go. This line was just to get to the hostess to put your name on the waiting list. Our overall wait was about 40 minutes, but well worth it.
While standing in line we ran into Kristen Chase Gore, a former student, and her husband Randy who were vacationing on Florida. We always say meeting people on the road is the greatest thing about traveling. Great seeing Kristen and Randy. 
Harry's served Cajun food and I'm happy to report the crawfish etouffee was wonderful.
If there is a lighthouse we will climb. Our motel was close enough that we walked to the St, Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum. There are 219 steps to get to the walkway around the 165 foot tower. It was built between 1871 and 1874 following the same plan used for the Bodie Island and Currituck lighthouses in North Carolina. 
The view looking toward the Atlantic Ocean.
The view looking toward downtown St Augustine.
There is a wooden boat exhibit where volunteers build a boat every year that is raffled off to raise money for the museum.
A model of the original lighthouse that fell into the ocean in 1880. The light keeper's house has been restored and is furnished with period pieces. There is also a special exhibit about the German U-boat attacks on US ships off the coast of Florida during WWII.
The lighthouse is another must see stop. The climb is not too bad and is worth it for the view. 
We left St. Augustine and headed to Mooresville, NC to spend a few days with my brother Rick and his wife Denise at their beautiful place on Lake Norman.
We went for a boat ride and enjoyed a dip in the water. Nanc and I both paddle boarded but we did not get a picture.
A beautiful sunset through the haze of the wildfires a couple thousand miles away. 
Something new to us that we discovered on our way north was bars offering exotic mixed drinks. There were a couple places in St. Augustine and this one at Barrel and Fork in Cornelius, NC where your drink was as much about watching the bartender preparing and mixing your drink with fresh and homemade ingredients, as it was getting to enjoy it. Yes, where there is smoke there is fire, that burned on the bar while this Old Fashioned was being made. 
As you can see it was not just a bartender mixing and serving a drink, it was a show right down to the crazy goggles.
Nanc had a Ghost of Shiloh made with bourbon, blackberries and beet shrub, fermented honey, cocchi Americano, lemon juice and aromatic bitters. It sure put a smile on her face.
Relaxing on the dock. We always enjoy our time at the lake.

We are now staying in an apartment in WashPA until September 19. Some of our plans have been disrupted because of rising covid cases, but we are having a good time in our old hometown.  

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

End of an Era - Stuart Life

It has been a long time since we posted a blog. As we said in the last post,we are much more comfortable being out and about since we were vaccinated and we have been enjoying that new freedom. Some things have changed, while in other cases it is like we never stopped what we had been doing pre-covid. We have tried several new restaurants, been to the beach, took in a baseball game and continue our weekly gatherings here at Lex Lakes.
As the title says, an end of an era. Nanc decided it was time for her to move beyond her old flip phone and move into the 21st century. We went to the Verizon store and she got a new iphone. It took a couple days and one return visit but she is now all set.
Wow, she gets a new phone and all she wants to do search the internet!!!! Yes, a new era has begun:) For those who want to call her, her number is the same as the flip phone. The difference is, she will now have her phone with her and turned on most of the time. 
Every Wednesday the Lex Lakes Happy Hour group gathers in the driveway. One week it was very rainy and muggy so we invited the group inside our place. We felt safe knowing we all had our shots.
We were on the patio one evening and caught this peeping Tom looking inside our place.
Here in Lex Lakes we have all our ducks in a row.
It's great having the beach so close. This is the Bathtub Beach, so named because of the reef, were the white waves are, keeps the water calm. It was low tide when we were there and you could walk to the reef and not get your bathing suit wet.
Soaking up the Florida sunshine. One thing we learned being here since November 2019, there are more cloudy days during the summer than the Chamber of Commerce likes to talk about. 
A egret rookery. It is hard to see but there was one blue heron that tried unsuccessfully to butt in.
Our neighbor Morgan was doing a fundraiser at the St. Lucie Mets game. The Mets class AA team plays at their spring training facility.
We had great seats looking down the third base line. It was great being at a game in a neat little ball park and watching the Mets bring home a win.
Morgan (right) on the big board presenting a bat to one of the donors for the event. Being at a ballgame is another sure sign for us that things are slowly getting back "normal".
There are three lakes at Lex Lakes and this picture taken at the end of May shows that we were in need of some rain. As we are now in the rainy season the lakes are filling up. 
Don't ask me why I did not get a picture with the real person. We knew Broadway Joe, a Western PA native, had opened a new restaurant in Jupiter that we wanted to check out. As we were walking in Joe was walking out. I called his name and told him we were fellow Western PA natives. When he asked where we were from I told him Washington and his response was, yeah, Little Washington. As any native would know, that is what the locals call it. We had a nice chat for a couple minutes. He was very open and friendly and I was impressed that he did not try to sell us Medicare insurance.
Our view from our table at Lucky Shucks. The food was very good. This is one of three restaurants in the complex that vary from up scale to pub like with different food offerings and pricing. 
A new mural in downtown Stuart is of the House of Refuge at sunrise. The city does a good job keeping the town looking good. 
One thing we really missed during covid was the Sunday afternoon Rockin Riverwalk concerts. There are different bands 50 out of  the 52 weeks a year. This band was a very good bluegrass band.
On the 4th of July the band was Burnt Biscuit, a band we heard last year and really enjoy. They had the place rockin for three hours. After the concert we had an early dinner but did not stay for the fireworks. We are glad we left as the display of flashes and noise in the sky were both man-made and natural. 
Nanc getting rid of her flip phone was not the only era that ended this month. We are now without an RV. Since we had not used Opus for nearly a year and a half we decided it was time to sell. Even while not using it was costing us a lot of money for storage, insurance and a repair we wrote about a couple posts ago. This does not mean we are done traveling and a smaller one may be in our future.
Even though we had removed all of our clothes and many other things from Opus, we still spent three days cleaning and removing everything else. Some of the boxes fit on the shelf I built in the garage last year, but more storage was needed for the rest of the stuff as having things on the floor make it impossible to get out of the car.
We have a small storage area off our patio where all this stuff was just stacked, meaning if you wanted something on the bottom you had to move many things.
I had three 2 x 4s that one of our neighbors gave me and some plywood and screws left over from the garage shelf project. I only had to buy a small 2 x 2 sheet of plywood to finish the job. Of course this was when lumber was very expensive so I asked for an armed escort to protect me on the way to the CRV.  
The completed shelves with all the stuff from the picture above in place. Almost all the RV stuff that was on the floor of the garage fit on the top shelf, so the passenger can get out of the car in the garage when it is raining.
Nanc had another project. During our twelve years on the road we collected a lot of memorabilia of the many places we visited. Nanc wanted to display much of it on our glass coffee table.
We found a slightly smaller piece of glass to put under the top and now have a beautiful collage with reminders of our twelve year adventure traveling across the USA and Canada. That time being full time tourists and retired travelers is something we will always look back on with the fondest memories of the places we visited and the many, many people we met along the way who became a part of our lives.

Even though Opus is gone we still plan to travel. We will be leaving Stuart this week, slowly heading north. We plan to spend a few days in St. Augustine, then visit my brother Rick and his wife Denise in North Carolina before spending two months in an apartment we rented in WashPA. We will have plenty of time to get caught up with family and friends as we won't be doing all our doctors and dentist appointments back there. On our way south in the fall we are stopping in Washington, DC and then spending a week on the Outer Banks at the old motel we stayed in many times before we went on the road. We also have reservation to spend our anniversary in Punta Cana. 

One thing I don't know is what will happen to this blog. It is a journal of our travels and I don't want to be writing about the routine things we do here in Stuart. I may blog about our travels this summer and see how that works.
One thing we know for sure. We will still continue to LAISSEZ LES BON TEMPS ROULER!!!!!