Saturday, January 28, 2012

Florida's Faces and Last January in Southern Spain:Reflections.

A year ago about this time, we spent three weeks exploring southern Spain. I loved the experience for two basic reasons. First of all, I found the places to be interesting to explore and the people to be warm and welcoming. Secondly, it was a break from Wisconsin's winter and it made that season not last so long. As a result, I vowed that in future winters there would also be a break. Any place that we visited had to meet three criteria: warm (above 40 F), a large body of water, and palm trees. This year we ended up in Florida.

When I think about last year in southern Spain and this January in Florida, I am torn. The southern Spain that I saw was mostly urban (Seville, Malaga, Granada, Cordoba). Part of the time was spent traveling with a tour group and part on our own. Wandering around those cities was wonderful and I was able to gain a sense of history and culture, at least as much as you can experience in three short weeks relying on walking and public transport. The whole trip was a form of mini-immersion.

Florida has also been a good experience. We've explored parts of the Gulf Coast side of the state from central Florida to Key West. While there have been smatterings of Florida's history and cultures, it has been a difference experience. Different does not necessarily mean bad. First of all, many of the people with whom we've interacted are transplants from other places or "snow birds" (people who spend their winter months in Florida and live elsewhere for the rest of the year). While I have enjoyed sharing stories with them, I really wonder how many people native to Florida that I've met. The other main difference is that, due to Florida's unusual natural diversity, we have had a lot of our time seeking alligators, manatees, pelicans, crabs, fish, and other creatures either in the wild or in controlled environments. All have been enjoyed and duly photographed, from the iguana that was on the pier in the Keys to the manatee next to a power plant in Apollo Beach.

Given all of that, which surprises me as this is not what I intended to blog about today; let me tell why I included the images that I did this time. When I created this post, my intent was so show those of you not familiar with Florida some of its aspects which I have come to appreciate during the four weeks that I have been here.

-Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West..the place where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out when he visited the Keys. It's an example of the laid back culture of key West.

-the beaches of Marco Island...more crowded and developed than many of the other beaches that we visited. A source of conch (later to become tasty fritters and stews, beautiful in their shells).

-the expanded puffer fish held by a Mote Aquarium-based naturalist during a boat tour of Sarasota Bay (dolphins, nesting birds, and other aspects of nature were seen in the wild that day).

-an interesting building under Key West's brilliantly blue sky...hints of Spain.

-a fisherman and a pelican patiently wanting for a nibble around the quiet curve of Apollo Beach...a peaceful way to spend retirement.

What it all comes down to is the question of what you want to experience during travel. Both the trip to southern Spain and the trip to Florida are ones that I'd like to do again in the near future. When I revisit Florida, I'd like to experience more of its people and its cultures. When I go back to southern Spain, I'd like to see more of its natural beauty. All of this, of course, in addition to revisiting the parts that I have enjoyed in the past.

As I write this, I feel extremely fortunate that I am able to travel as I do. I also hope that there will be many more travels ahead-so many new places to explore and old favorites to revisit. Thank you for visiting. May your own travels be interesting and enjoyable.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Florida Keys/Places You Happen Upon and Fall in Love With

Have you ever traveled to a place just to see what it is like and fallen in love with it? It happens every so often and takes you totally by surprise. As I write this, I think of Paris, Seville, Lamu, Albuquerque, Boothbay Harbor, Sheboygan, and now the Florida Keys. There is a different reason that I have this strong feeling for each of the places that I have named. I don't really think that other than the gestalt of a place that the reason for this attraction can be clarified and, to be honest, it doesn't really matter. The feeling is there regardless.

The photos I've included in this post are aspects of the Keys that I have enjoyed. The laid back atmosphere of Key West as found in Margarittaville with the Young Rebel Goombas playing their 1970's riffs. The natural beauty found on the docks and beaches of the Keys. Conch chowder and other savory food waiting to be experienced. The people who live there and the people who return year after year for however long they can. The whole experience is much, much greater than the sum of its parts. And, yes, I have seen evidence that even paradise isn't perfect. The force of the hurricanes and the poverty in the trailer parks where service workers live speak for themselves. Still, it can be a good place and can be made even better.

My Florida travels are not over until the end of the month. We have, however, left the Keys and are heading back towards central Florida to the Tampa Bay area. While Tampa Bay is enjoyable, it stands in the shadows of the Keys. We will return to the Keys sometime in the future and continue to enjoy it. I will share other photos at a later time. It's been a bit of a long day, but I wanted to share some of this with you.

Thank you for visiting, feel free to stop by again. In the meantime, may your own travels be interesting and enjoyable. Remember-dare to go beyond your present horizon, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Ybor City, Florida Revisited

Today I visited Ybor City for the second time in a week. It is a colorful section of Tampa, rich in cultural heritage. Although there have been nontraditional additions such as tattoo parlors and night clubs, the total flavor is one to be experienced and enjoyed. In between travels I thought I would share these images with you, and also a link to much more information about Ybor City than I could give you from my visits. I f you are interested in learning more about the city, I recommend that you visit:

Thank you for stopping by; feel free to come again. In the meantime, may your travels be interesting and enjoyable.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Florida-Experiencing the Unusual


conch fritters



banyan trees

Why travel? One reason to leave your comfortable home environment is to go beyond your present horizon and experience the unusual. Many of us seem to have that drive to do that, even though it is sometimes personally risky to try something new. Some people are content in life to go from one McDonald's restaurant to another. Others of us see conch fritters (a kind of snail) on the menu and just have to give it a try. Pardon my food analogy, but conch was one of the attractions for me when considering Florida.

I have been to other tropical coastal locations, but I have to admit that so far I have found Florida to be outstanding in its natural diversity. The endangered manatee, a myriad of bird life, banyan groves with air roots that become tree trunks-I'm definitely not in Wisconsin any more. And,yes, I have had my first taste of conch and thoroughly enjoyed it (even though the woman who took my food order warned me that some people have been known to return the dish as something beyond their taste adventure limits. I mentioned that when teaching in Kenya, I joined my students by sampling live flying ants as a one-time experience. She grimaced and took my order for conch fritters with a slight shake of her head).

There will be other images as time goes on-Florida has a rich history and a diverse population in addition to its natural attractions. I'll post as travel permits and more after I return to Wisconsin's winter in early February (that time and place seems so far away to me at this point in my travels).

Thank you for visiting, please feel free to stop again. In the meantime, may your travels be interesting and enjoyable.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Florida First Impressions

I haven't been in Florida long enough to have a real understanding of the land or its peoples. Still, I thought I'd share a few photos of my first impressions. If you go back the the post before this one, you can see that I'm in a definite state of transition, and a pleasant one at that.

So far, I've been impressed by Florida's natural beauty and its incongruities. Beautiful sunsets, palm trees, new wild life and plants-much to explore. Christmas lights on palm trees, inflatable plastic Frosty the Snowman, elderly golf cart drivers in customized carts, gated communities of more than 100,000 people- different than what I am used to.

A month from now I may have developed some conclusions, it's too early now. In the meantime, new experiences while traveling are ahead of me. New horizons! As I discover more in the next month, I will start to share my impressions with you.

Thank you for visiting, please come again. In the meantime, may your travels be interesting and enjoyable.