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.