April 2-8, 2015
Florida wasn’t high on my list of places to visit, but the presence of family can be a powerful force. Dan and I bought our tickets and headed west for a long Easter holiday.
Our flight wasn’t very convenient and we spent a lot of time in airports and airplanes. However, we finally reached Tampa at midnight and found our hotel room. It was a disappointing room but since we were only there for six hours, we weren’t too concerned. The next morning we picked up our car and headed off to my parents’ place.
Many northerners like to winter in Florida
Spanish moss gives the south a special look
We visited my brother and his wife and they took us to the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. It was a pleasant afternoon stroll along the historic waterfront and we were fortunate to have the sidewalks mostly to ourselves. We also had most of the docks to ourselves, as there wasn’t a lot of activity in the sponge business that afternoon. The smell of spices and soaps perfumed the air and the plethora of Greek restaurants lined the streets. There were sponges for sale too, of course.
A lone sponge worker, cleaner sponges on his boat
The main street of the Sponge Docks
Walking back to my brother’s house we passed by a bayou with an unexpected visitor: a manatee! We’d been assured that the manatees have all left for the season, but this one apparently didn’t get the message.
There is some lovely architecture in Tarpon Springs, as well as many small, green parks. It was a pleasant walk, despite the Florida heat (about 27C/82F). And of course it was a pleasure to visit with my family whom I hadn’t seen in years.
After dinner we went to Sunset Beach and enjoyed – what else? – a fantastic sunset.
We were still on Swiss Time, so when we woke up at 6am the next the morning we decided to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and go for a hike in the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park. We arrived before the sun was up and realized that not only did we not know what the trail system was like, but it was so dark we couldn’t even see the trails.
We eventually found a more established and marked trail and headed out into the forest. The air was heavy but not yet oppressive as we wandered down sandy trails and through pine-covered groves. The historic location of the James McNeill Homestead was a small distraction, as remains of the 1880 homestead’s well, log cabin and animal pens were barely visible through the forest litter.
The sun finally rises
Our trail eventually brought us back to our car, not too soon either, as the sun was getting higher and warmer. We drove back to the condo and took a dip in the pool, and later went back to my brother’s for dinner. This time we went to Fred Howard Beach for our sunset. Sunsets are definitely something the west coast of Florida can do well.
Walking along the causeway to get to the beach
Another Florida sunset
Today was a day for exploring space – or at least as close as we could get to it. We drove across the state to visit the Kennedy Space Center. Because of the number of photos, I’ve created a separate webpage for it. Click –> here < -- to read about it. When I was very young, my family would visit Florida every summer. Although I didn't remember many details, I did recall that we went to a place called Weeki Wachee Springs and they had mermaids! I hadn't considered going back to the park to see the mermaids, but I was interested in kayaking down the crystal clear Weeki Wachee River while my parents took a river boat cruise. The four of us headed out early in the morning and drove north. There isn't much to see on this drive other than miles and miles of six lanes of traffic and almost non-stop shopping plazas. Once again, I have to wonder who buys it all? We had a late start, so instead of kayaking, Dan and I figured that we'd join my parents on the river boat. We were all quite surprised when we realized that the cruise was actually part of the park entrance fee. We parked the car in the lot, paid our entrance fee and said "Now what?" Why, the mermaid show, of course! It had been decades since I'd seen it and had no idea of the turbulent history that had plagued the park over the years. But the girls with scaly tails were still swimming. Sorry, but my linking isn't working. For the history of of Weeki Wachee, google "history of weeki wachee springs"
The slightly out-dated seating area
Three windows looking into the spring
The spring is a natural spring and discharges a huge amount of water each day. The mermaids use air hoses while they swim (when I was last there the air hoses were hidden behind rocks and statuary) and the natural fishes join them in the show. Today’s show was “The Little Mermaid”, and pre-recorded songs and narration was shown in time with their swimming. Overall it was very well done.
She finds her Prince
After the show we had some lunch and then waited in line for the river boat. We missed the current sailing but that meant that we were first in line for the next boat! It was a half hour wait but we then had our choice of seats. As the boat started off down river I was really disappointed that I wasn’t in a kayak, enjoying more of it and at my own pace. Oh well – it was still a nice ride.
Incredibly clear water
We only went about 15 minutes down river before we had to turn around and come back. The river got narrow and shallow, and our boat was too big. Yes, a kayak would be the way to go. By the time we returned to the dock it was time to head back to the condo for some rest and relaxation.
Osprey on the river
We were almost to the entrance when I saw it: the Mold-O-Matic! This was the same machine that I used all of those years ago to make a cheap wax mold of a mermaid. I had lost track of mine years ago, but I couldn’t believe that the machine was still active. There was a woman there with her three children, molding their own memories as I watched.
What little time we had left was spent doing family stuff and then it was back on the plane for our flight home. It was for the most part uneventful (always a good thing when flying these days) but the flight from Madrid to Zurich was spectacular. The views of the Pyrenees was amazing and despite my heavy eyes, I spent a lot of time staring out the window, determined to come back and visit on two wheels.