We're Off to Florida!
Cold, snow, slush, shoveling, scraping, slogging, too many layers, the list goes on–winter has been a drag!…especially if you live above the 40th parallel!
So, every winter we say to ourselves “lets get out of here for a winter vacation” and this year we actually did it!
We now have several friends who have retired and are in the mode of “getting out of here” in the winter. Lucky us! We now have several destinations in Florida where we can visit, warm up and dream about shedding our winter clothing layers full time. Three months at a time may be just a fantasy for for now (for various reasons) but someday I’m sure we’ll make it happen!
For now, our visit to Florida will take us to three locations. One on the east coast and two on the gulf side. We definitely love both sides but there are advantages to either location that I’ll get into as we go along.
Living in the midwest and flying out of a regional airport, we need to pretty much allow a full day to get to Florida–unless something goes awry which can always happen when traveling in the winter.
So, for clarification, the three days covered in this post skip the travel days (for the most part). We fly into and out of Fort Myers International Airport (RHS) so our itinerary is designed to limit the time on “exit” day to a short drive to the airport on the morning we fly home. Luckily, our last stop is in the Fort Myers area and it is close to the airport.
After arriving in Fort Myers, we load up our (way too large but very comfortable) SUV (rented through Costco, by the way, saving around $100 on the week’s rate) and head east across the state. Florida is pretty skinny in the east/west direction and it only takes around 3 hours to make the trip to West Palm Beach from RHS airport which sits along the gulf side of the state. The drive is pretty easy (light traffic and flat) so we’re able to rubber neck along the way to see the green, lush Florida landscape. LOTS of green…which is a site for soar eyes that are conditioned to a lot of white-out glare from snow.
So, here we go…
Day 1 – West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens
Located north of Fort Lauderdale on I-95, West Palm Beach is a sprawling community that stretches up the east coast. Our visit took us to a rural area called Palm Beach Gardens which is a community of equestrian oriented estates and boarding facilities. Created by the excavation of interconnecting canals and using the earth to build up the elevation of surrounding properties, the development creates large open properties well suited to homes and open space for horses to live a fairly luxurious life. The alligators are right at home in the canals…I’m told.
Our friends, Laureen and Steve, are from Lincoln and spend the winter in this area along with Laureen’s two horses, Monte and Icon. Both Monte and Icon are dressage athletes and spend the winter in training. Not a bad life if you’re a horse-athlete! Or even a human-athlete such as Laureen. Steve spends his time on his second (probably third) love, fly fishing. (I’m very sure Laureen is #1!) Steve’s other love is his mastery of stringed instruments–guitar, banjo and mandolin.
West Palm Beach and surrounding communities are loaded with great restaurants and we were fortunate to dine at two of them. The Cooper Restaurant at 4610 PGA Boulevard (yes, that PGA) and Jetty’s Waterfront Restaurant (in Jupiter) were nice choices and favorites of our hosts. Featuring local fish and other fine dining choices, both restaurants were fun, have professional waitstaff and a diverse and tasty menu. I don’t have any photos of either place but check out their websites–the photos will make you hungry! If you’re in the area, check out both–and make a reservation in advance!
A few photos of Day 1
After a full day on the east coast, The morning of our second full day was spent traveling back across the state to Bonita Springs to stay with our friends Gary and LJ from Lincoln who have also become part-time Floridians over the winter.
The route we take from West Palm Beach to Bonita Springs takes us along I-75 through Big Cypress National Preserve, along Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Picayune Strand State Forest. Alligator Alley is the short name for the route.
Although we didn’t see any alligators or panthers, the scenery was beautiful. One observation about this area of Florida is that the sea level elevation (true of most of this end of Florida) is only a few feet above the ocean and gulf and it wouldn’t take much to join the two bodies of water. If predictions for sea level rise are accurate, much of the landscape will change irreversibly.
Bonita Springs is a haven for anyone who enjoys the lifestyle that goes with beaches, sun and water. Whereas the official population is listed at 56,088 (2017), there must be that many cars on the roads leading to the beaches and the coast line areas at any one time. (Note: Patience is rewarded by plenty of chances to rubberneck your way along as there is a lot to visually enjoy!) Check out the Bonita Springs visitor guides for things to do and places to see. Of course, if you’re short on time, park at one of the several private and public parking lots along the beach front access points–but go early!–and just take a long walk on the beach, fill your pockets with shells and keep your camera handy! (O.K., that was what I did…)
A few photos from Day 2.5
Day 2 (Continues)
Our Bonita Springs experiences were not just limited to the beaches and beautiful scenery.
Situated near the city of Naples, there are cultural things to experience as well. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that visiting art museums are one of our passions when traveling. Not far from where we were staying in Bonita Springs, we visited Artis-Naples and The Baker Museum.
Two exhibits were our primary focus–Philp Haas ‘The Four Seasons’ and Isabelle de Borchgrave’s exhibit ‘Fashioning Art from Paper’. The highlight was the exhibit called ‘Papiers à la Mode’ which is described as a “survey of 300 years of fashion history” and her exhibit “Splendors of the Medici” which “explores the Italian Renaissance costumes depicted in contemporaneous paintings”.
Philip Haas’ sculptures are depictions of the four seasons in the form of four 14 foot tall human busts. The inspiration for the sculptures came from paintings of a 16th century Italian Renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo. The busts are made from the collection of vegetables, branches and other organic “looking” materials that are arranged to depict the representative seasons. You just have to see it to really get it (see photos). Whimsical and somewhat eerie, take time to see the busts from all sides and be ready to be amused.
The works by Isabelle de Borchgrave are stunning. COMPLETELY made of paper that has been cut, died and glued together, the artistry and craftsmanship were reminiscent of the work we had recently seen in Denver of Christian Dior. (See my recent post of our visit to the Denver Art Museum last month.). The exhibit is all about fashion and Borchgrave has interpreted the clothing found in works of art as an expression of her own. She does not copy the fashions of the time periods but re-interprets them in stunning detail. One highlight is the side-by-side exhibit of a painting attributed to Peter Paul Rubens entitled “Portrait of Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Conde”, ca. 1610. (The painting is unsigned but authenticated to Rubens.)
A final bonus of our visit was the exterior Pergola designed by Daniel Buren. As described on the Artis-Naples website, the pergola is made with colored acrylic sheets that are arranged alphabetically according to their English names. ‘The colors that are cast to the ground by the changing sun angles shift according to the season and time of day. It is truly mesmerizing to see and experience. The pergola will be in place until June 2019.
If you’re looking for a cultural ‘fix’, Artis-Naples is a good place to visit.
More Photos from Day 2
Our third day is spent in Fort Myers which is about a half hour north of Bonita Springs. We stay at a friend of my late brother who is an Iowan-snowbird and has been inviting us to visit for several years and we finally made it!
Fort Myers is an area experiencing rapid growth–as is much of the gulf coast–and its population is roughly 80,000 although with the surrounding borderless communities, the area population most likely exceeds a million or two–just a guess.
Of the many attractions in the area which includes beaches, inland water activities on the Caloosahatchee River and several cultural sites. Fort Myers has a rich strategic history dating back to the early 1800’s as a Spanish colony; a fort built to defend settlers during the American Indian Wars of the 1830’s against the Seminole Indians and during the American Civil War as a settler trading post for Seminole and Union soldiers.
Two notable names of early Fort Myers’ history are Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Edison bought land and built a winter laboratory and home on a site alongside the coast of the Caloosahatche River. As an inventor, Edison was prolific in research to along with the 1900+ patents on which he place his name and reputation. Two of his more successful inventions are the phonograph and the light bulb but there are hundreds of other everyday items still in use today–like the telephone and motion pictures! But, I’m getting ahead of myself…
The day begins with a hike through a natural wetlands preserve called Six Mile Cypress Slough. We followed that up with a visit to the laboratory/home and museum of Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford.
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
If you’re looking for a unique, natural and safe way to experience the beauty of the everglades, find a nature preserve such as Six Mile Cypress Slough. The winding wooden walk way meanders through the trees at a leisurely pace that provides an educational experience that is great for all ages and abilities. There’s plenty to photograph, too!
Water moccasins, alligators, 100’s of bird species and vegetation around every corner will give you a unique Florida experience that would otherwise only be had wearing hip waders.
Photos from the Slough
Edison and Ford Winter Estates
Now for the architectural part of our trip!
As mentioned earlier, Thomas A Edison and Henry Ford were early investors in Fort Myers and built a large estate that included laboratories for Edison’s inventing, a botanical research facility–in search of a substitute for natural rubber during WW I–and winter residences where they could escape the cold.
Today the 21 acre estate is open as a historical museum and botanical garden. It is situated on the bank of the Caloosahatchee River which was advantageous for shipping and general access to the estate in the early days before there were modern roads.
The architecture of both Edison and Fords homes are prime examples of early Craftsman design and are furnished with original furniture and Edison’s light fixtures. The homes are not open to walk through but there are window openings which allow visual access from the surrounding porches.
The museum has numerous examples of Edison and Ford’s inventions (including cars and phonographs) but as interesting as the physical items are the descriptions and stories of these two important inventors’ relationships and how they collaborated to improve our lives through inventions–today we would call them entrepreneurs.
If you make it to Fort Myers and are looking for something to do, I highly recommend visiting the Edison and Ford Winter Estates.
Photos from the Winter Estate
What's Next? A Cruise!
There is one thing that my wife, Shelley, and I enjoy doing any time we get near large bodies of water. Take a cruise!
To end our time in Florida, we sign up for a sunset cruise on the Caloosahatchee River with our friends. Now, the river is no ordinary river. If you didn’t know it, you would think you were on a large lake. The water is slow moving and calm as it makes it’s way to the gulf. We’re on a pontoon with 42 other sunset seekers and the captain with his busy first mate (serving drinks–beer and wine) made the trip up the river to a bird rookery educational and a lot of fun.
We started out at Pincher’s (which is an overpriced seafood restaurant–we heard) which is a stone’s throw from the Edison and Ford Winter Estate. Our boat was operated by Pure Florida in Fort Myers. In hopes of seeing some dolphins or manatees, we had to settle for birds and a spectacular sunset which was just fine. If you’re going to visit the area, check out Pure Florida. Book in advance!
Aside from the usual Pelicans and other sea birds, the highlight of our ride (aside from the sunset) was (according to our captain) a flock of Roseate (pink) spoonbills. A rarity, there were 9 or 10 in the flock that settled into the grove just off our bow. Very Floridian!
Thank you for slogging through another long post of one of our trips. We feel we packed a lot into 3 days (might actually have been 3.5!) and I’ve left out some of the usual restaurant review stuff but hopefully you’ll get some ideas on how to spend your own time in Florida. We came back to the cold weather and immediately regretted not spending more time in sunny and warm Florida. Maybe next year!