FLORIDA TRIP AND GENEALOGY CRUISE
Oct. 22 – Nov. 5, 2007
Monday, Oct. 22
What an auspicious start to our trip: it began raining about 8:00. Tommy got the large bags in before the rain, but the rest of it we loaded mostly in the rain. We left the house at 10:00. Had to stop at Kenneth’s to leave some tomatoes and cottage cheese that would not last 2 weeks. Then we headed for . . . Paris – yep, not the way to Florida from our house, but . . . we have a list of 8 stops to make before we can leave town! Typical.
Left Paris at 11:20. Had showers off and on all the way. Only had hard rain in Dalton, GA. Otherwise it was just showers and sprinkles. We got gas at Wildwood, GA, $2.69 – same as we got at Murray Saturday night. Tommy drove through Nashville, Chattanooga , and Atlanta, and I got Monteagle and the run south from Atlanta to Macon. We stayed at Econo Lodge at exit 3 (U.S. 80) on the 475 bypass around Macon. Tommy has sinus infection – fever 101. We stopped at Dr. Harrison’s and got Amoxycillin before leaving Paris, so hope it makes a dent in the infection.
Tuesday, Oct. 23
We stayed in bed till after 8:00 – Tommy had trouble sleeping and didn’t really start resting until 3:00 or so. Ate breakfast at our usual – Waffle House – and got on the road about 10:00. Tommy wasn’t feeling well so I started driving. Traffic was not bad and we moved into Florida on schedule. We had lunch at Burger King. As we got to Venice, there was a real slow-down on the interstate so we got off to get gas and moved down US 41 getting back on the interstate two exits farther down. As we moved south of Port Charlotte, the sunset began to look really pretty so I got the camera out and started taking pictures; got some really good pictures including a couple over water.
We stopped for the night at exit 116 – Bonita Springs, staying at the Comfort Inn. Tommy has a little fever, but not like last night, and he is generally feeling better. We got a small pizza from the Bistro downstairs and that was supper – but it was really pretty good.
Wednesday, Oct. 24
We got up about 8:00: Tommy slept really well, but I was awake till about 3:00 – watching the 150th show celebration of “Dirty Jobs” on TV. We had breakfast in the motel – great waffles and hard boiled eggs. We went to the beach first – I got my feet wet in the Gulf waters and got a nice snail shell and lots of pictures of birds.
We wound up taking US 41 through Naples and – eventually – into Miami. The road crosses south Florida south of “Alligator Alley “ which is the toll road. This part of US 41 is called the Tamiami Trail and was originally constructed in 1928. We were headed for Big Cypress National Monument which was about halfway across Florida on US 41. We took a scenic drive off of 41 onto Turner River Road and then to Upper Wagon Wheel Rd., and then back to 41 on Birdon Rd. – the route made a loop through the swamp and grass. Occasionally we would see houses (not very well kept) and found out later these were people who refused to sell when the park was created; most are “snowbirds”: only down for the winter months.
We had not gone any distance at all on Turner River Road (which was a gravel road) when I sawn an alligator. Of course we stopped (as did other cars behind us) and took pictures. This set up the pattern for the next few hours: move slowly forward, stop and take pictures. Sometimes the birds would “pose” and pose; sometimes just stopping the car would send them flying – especially the Great Egret. There were also a lot of ducks – at least we thought they were ducks; we found out later they were Common Gallinules which is a type of small wading bird which has a red bill with a yellow tip on it; the bird really looks like a duck but does not have webbed feet. The birds we saw were a variety: Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Cormorants, and Anhingas. The variety of grasses and the huge expanse of the ”river of grass” was truly unique.
We finally got to the Big Cypress National Monument Visitor Center about 3:30. At the gate we saw that this was a fee area. We debated about whether to pay the $10.00 for the day or get an Everglades Pass for $25.00 since we were going to be spending at least two days in the park. When we drove up to the gate, we told the Ranger our debate and he mentioned the “Senior Pass” and asked if either of us was 62; I had thought you had to be over 65 to get the pass, but he said no, we could get it at 62. So now we have a Senior Pass for National Parks! That was worth the trip right there! Now we can get 3-4 other people in with us. This will be great for Alaska next year! The visitor’s center had the Audubon Butterfly book that I had been wanting, so we got that and some magnets and a couple of games. After that we headed for the Shark Valley Visitor Center for the Everglades, farther along US 41 (with a couple of stops along the way for some more bird photos and an excellent alligator picture). There were showers along the way which afforded some great pictures of rain in the distance.
Following US 41, we found that directional signs are not the best in Florida – we missed our turn to go south and just went into Miami and made our way down to US 1, thinking we could find a place to eat (since we had skipped lunch). We wound up at Tony Roma’s and had really good meals: Tommy had a grilled shrimp and I had chicken and pasta in a lemon Alfredo sauce. After that we made our way down US 1 to Florida City and the Econo Lodge that we had reservations for – we’ll spend the rest of the nights here till we go on the cruise.
Thursday, Oct. 25
We got up about 9:00, but Tommy is feeling better today. We were too late to go to Biscayne National Park for the glass bottom boat ride, but we knew we wanted to go back to Shark Valley Visitor’s Center to take the tram ride through the park. So that was where we headed. We needed to be there by 11:00 or we’d have to wait till 1:00 for the next tram. We first had to find the road we wanted: 997 going north out of Florida City. It was not easy to find, but we finally did: it was labeled as a street until we left the city limits – then we found the 997 sign.
And – on route 997 – we found Florida’s nursery and vegetable sector! Nothing but fields of vegetables and exotic plants as far as you could see! Just like seeing rice in Arkansas or corn and beans in Missouri, but here it was squash or tomatoes or strawberries or Mandavilla plants. This is apparently planting time for the winter crop as people were setting out plants or turning ground everywhere. We saw long rows of tomatoes set in plastic; the plastic was apparently put down mechanically as it fit the hilled up rows perfectly and the edges were buried perfectly. Also there seemed to be plastic pipe put down in the row for irrigation – and all this before any plants were set! Fascinating!
We got to the Micosukee casino (which we had found yesterday in looking for food) and decided to stop at the gas station (quick mart) across from it for a restroom break and to get “breakfast” (honey bun and Ding Dongs for Tommy and Hostess Cup Cakes for me – junk food supreme!) We only had 15 minutes to get to the train ride, and figured we wouldn’t make it (took FOREVER to get checked out at the quick mart and there was only one person in front of us!!!). But we were lucky – they were just loading as we drove up: I got the tickets and Tommy parked and we got on the train. Swuft!
The tour was great! Anthony was our driver and he stopped for birds and eco systems and alligators, and anything else he could think of. He even waded in the water and got some of the phytoplankton that is the basis of the food chain and let us feel it. Awesome! We saw lots of alligators, two alligator nests, and one set of babies. We learned to tell the female from the male Anhingas (females have a “brown sweater” – name is pronounced an – heen’ – gah). We saw a white version of a Great Blue Heron. We saw the 5 types of ecosystems and learned what the purpose of each was in the wet or dry season. The willow trees meant there was water there all year; hardwood hammocks had dry ground all of the year; this was where the humans lived and where the panther, deer and fox live. The sawgrass was the most abundant plant and make sup the “river of grass.” If you rub your hand down the blade, you quickly discover the “teeth” of the saw. These teeth collect the dew and the water flows down the “trough” of the leaf to the roots. Halfway through the 2 hour tour we stopped at a lookout tower (and restroom break) – the view was awesome! Our guide said the site had been a place where Standard Oil had drilled for oil but the oil had a high sulfur content and at the time the technology had not developed to remove it, so the oil company donated the land the federal government.
As we continued our tour, the baby with the German couple sitting in front of us was VERY UPSET at not being allowed to walk around (on the moving tram!). At one point when she was quiet, I did the “camera trick” of turning the screen around so she could see herself – and like all children who have seen it, she loved it, kept pointing to the camera when I would turn it off. Then Tommy played “high five” with her; she stayed quiet till we got to the end of the tour.
After the tour, Tommy went with me on the “Bobcat Boardwalk” – a boardwalk through the sawgrass. When we got to the end of the walk, I wanted to go back to the beginning because I wanted to walk the end of the tram tour to see some birds and butterflies. Tommy was tired and went to the parking lot and I went back to the end of the tram tour. I got some pictures of a female Anhinga, two types of butterflies, several flowers, and a black water snake!
After a run through the gift shop, we left and went to the airboat ride across from the Micosukee Indian village because I wanted to ride on an airboat in the Everglades. And that was what we did: with cotton in our ears to help with the noise, we rode through the sawgrass and lily pads to a hardwood hammock where there was an Indian village set up the way it would have been inn earlier times. It was interesting, but there was no interpretation of what we were seeing: our air boat driver just ran the boat, nothing more.
From there we went back through the “vegetable land” of Hwy. 9336 to Coe Visitor Center, by way of a restaurant (in a vegetable processing plant) which advertised “fresh” vegetables; we had supper – nothing special, but good – and then got to Coe center after it was closed. We decided to go to Flamingo Visitor Center – at the bottom of Florida and the Everglades – and hopefully see some different animals. And we did! Almost to Flamingo we saw a Bald Eagle – my first that was not in a cage (well, first that I KNEW was a Bald Eagle: the one in Lake Superior area was PROBABLY a Bald Eagle, but we never knew for sure). Then down the road there was another! Both were juveniles – heads not completely white. When we got to Flamingo, we were disappointed. The Visitor Center was closed, of course, but the area looked as though it had been abandoned and then suddenly people had been trying to fix it up. Which, apparently, was close to correct: at the gift shop the lady said the area had been hit hard by hurricanes two years ago and “fixing up” has been slow coming. In addition, we encountered our first mosquitoes in Florida – which the lady at the gift shop said was characteristic of the area. Driving back was in the dark, so we saw no animal life. All-in-all, Flamingo was our least productive excursion, but I would have missed my Eagles if we had not gone, so that quality made up for the lack of quantity.
Friday, Oct. 26
Not an auspicious start to our day. Rain (that curse from Hawaii has found us). The glass bottom boat at Biscayne National Park does not go out except on sunny days, and only for a minimum of 8 people. We were the only two to call, and it is raining . . . so . . . we are headed to the Keys. Before we were too far down the road, the lady from the glass bottom boat tour called and said that the boat captain had checked weather for tomorrow and determined he was not going to take any boats out. So we have scrapped our glass bottom boat tour for now.
The rest of our day turned out to be really “just right,” though. It was drizzling rain when we left Florida City and continued to do that through most of the Keys. But as we got close to Key West, the rain cleared and it became almost sunny. Tommy was tired, so I drove the last bit and wound up driving into Key West. The traffic was ASFUL! Bumper to bumper and moving at a snail’s pace (actually at biker’s pace as they would ride out in the middle of the land! I had seen a billboard for Ron Jon’s Surf Shop in Key West; we had been to the one in Cocoa Beach with the boys when we came down to see Cochey and Emily, but I did not know there was a Ron Jon’s in Key West. So I wanted to go there and get my souvenirs. I also wanted to go to the end of US 1 – which we did. And I wanted to see Duvall St. – which we did . . . BUT . . . there was a FESTIVAL in town – the reason for the traffic – and Duvall St. east of US 1 was blocked off and there were vendors all down the street. Parking was at a PREMIUM!!!! Worse than Gatlinburg on a busy day! So we were looking for a place to park and finding none. I turned down a street and came to a dead end, and as I started to turn around, I saw a parking place right beside the drive where I turned around, so I pulled into it. We determined that the parking meters took quarters so we put in 75 cents for 30 minutes and headed for Ron Jon’s – which just HAPPENED to be just off of Duvall St. Then we walked to the harbor and back. We didn’t go to the “end of the US,” but decided to head back and find some lunch.
We thought we would just find a restaurant, any one would do, as we were hungry. But it seemed that every place we saw was a “bar and” whatever – people of the Keys love their alcohol. Tommy had remembered seeing an “all you can eat” seafood somewhere, but it was close to the beginning of the Keys. We also wanted to stop at a beach area, so we drove on looking and finally decided to get a snack and keep looking for the buffet.
We got our snack and kept driving north. Finally, close to the northern end of Islamorada we found the buffet: Whale Harbor All You Can Eat Seafood Buffet. But it was 3:30 and the buffet didn’t open until 4:00. So we decided to go back south to a couple of beaches we had seen. Of course, by now it was sprinkling very well – so the umbrella came out.
The first beach had mangroves on it and was rather soft mud close to the water (very heavy clay content to the mud). We were surprised by a pair of small birds with yellow down the sides of their tails. They were not shy and hopped around “posing” for the camera. Later I found they were Nashville Warblers.
After that we went to another beach and found an area of gravel with hermit crabs in the water – they were really fun to watch. Also, out from us, there was a boat – apparently a guided fishing trip; the boat was pretty much flat bottomed with a raised platform on the back where the guide rode with a pole as long as the boat; the guide used the pole – whose end looked like the stick used in shuffleboard - much like the gondoliers of Venice did, moving the boat or keeping it still while the client fished from the front. This was a new type of charter fishing for us: reef fishing.
After playing in the rain, we made our way back to the buffet. And WOW – were we pleasantly surprised! They had a WIDE variety of seafood, amazingly good food – we kept sampling and going back and sampling and going back. They had oysters and shrimp and crab legs of course, but also had a great variety of cold items – octopus, for example – that were really good! They also had fried yellow tail and stuffed plantain which were delicious! And an absolutely wonderful seafood chowder. The only thing we tried and did not care for too much was the conch chowder: the flavor was good, but you did not want a lot of it. The seafood chowder reminded us of the sauce we get at J. Edwards in Murray. I told Tommy this was a place worth flying in and going there to eat. It is located at the southern edge of the bridge over Whale Harbor Channel – at mile marker 84 on US 1. We’ve got to go back again someday!
One final stop that I wanted to make was at a shell store. There were several that we passed, so we stopped at the last one before we left Key Largo. It was typical of the shell shops with all kinds and sizes of shells and a wide variety of “touristy” souvenirs. I got my Key Largo T-shirt and shells for everyone and then we headed back through traffic to the motel for a much needed rest!
Saturday, Oct. 27
We got a good start today and had breakfast at our “usual” restaurant and then headed for Biscayne National Park. The wind was very strong and it was good that we did not go out in the glass bottom boat. We walked to the end of the walk – a peninsula of land out from the visitor’s center – and saw a small barracuda and some birds, then we went into the visitor’s center to stamp my National Parks Passport book. The volunteer on duty asked where we were from – turned out he was born in Chattanooga and had graduated from Memphis State and gotten his masters at University of the South at Sewanee! We had a nice long talk with him and then left to go to the Everglades again.
We went to the Coe Visitor’s Center again so I could get a Passport stamp there and then we went to the trail which were behind the center. We walked the Anhinga Trail first – it was a paved trail beside a water channel and then a wooden walkway back through the mangrove growth. On the way back, I saw a female Anhinga in a pool, hunting for fish. She was diving, swimming under water with her tail fanned out. Suddenly I saw her move quickly and then she surfaced with a fish in her beak – she shook her head and flipped the fish and swallowed it – head first. I got it all on videotape!!! It was an awesome experience!
After that we went along the other trail, the Gumbo Limbo Trail. This trail was through a hardwood hammock. A hardwood hammock is an area that builds up over years – usually from an area that an alligator has cleared out for a nest – and eventually as plants grow and die, the ground builds up until it is high enough that part of it stays dry all year; this allows hardwood trees to grow on the land and is the area where people and many of the mammals of the Everglades live. It harbors a distinctly different ecosystem from anything else in the Glades. This was where we saw the Gumbo Limbo tree – a tree with red, peeling bark which has a variety of uses among which were that rooted limbs could form a rot-proof living fence, resin produced various medicinal salves and incense for the Mayas, and the wood was once used to carve merry-go-round horses! I saw my first tree snail along this trail. There was a big difference in the two environments on the two trails which were just feet apart. Really fascinating.
Next we drove to the Pinelands Trail. Tommy was too tired, so I walked this trail by myself. It went through a pine stand which had many small palm trees growing there. The limestone underlayers of South Florida were clearly visible all along the trail. Halfway through, the trail went into an early hardwood forest. Here there were several tree snails, all with different color patterns. One of the signs along the trail said the snails of a hammock would interbreed and so the ones of each hammock would be distinctive from those of other hammocks. In early years, shell collectors would come into a hammock, take the snails they wanted and then burn the hammock to end those snails from producing again thus increasing the value of their collection. People really have done some awful things to the Everglades over time.
After that we were ready to find some supper. We decided to look for something different – we moved over closer to the coast but wound up in a residential strip. We saw some incredibly beautiful homes, some right on the coast. It was a beautiful drive, but produced no supper. We turned back west and came into downtown South Miami. There we turned south on US 1, but wound up back at the same Tony Roma’s where we ate Thursday night. Oh, well. Food was delicious again. Then it was back to the motel a little early, but we have to repack for the ship tomorrow, so time is well spent.
Sunday, Oct. 28
We finished repacking for the cruise, ate breakfast at the Market Fresh Restaurant in the vegetable processing plant one more time, and were on the road about 9:35. We got to Ft. Lauderdale at 11:30, but could not check in for the cruise until 1:00, so we went to the beach – it wasn’t spring break, but it was Ft. Lauderdale beach. With the boat show at the convention center, parking was at a premium – and I DO mean PREMIUM! Parking lots everywhere had sings out with prices taped over their usual prices. The new prices were like $30.00 and $40.00!!! People were standing out in their driveways with signs to park there for $40.00!!! We continued driving down the beach road and eventually came to where there was parking on the sides of the street (since it was Sunday). Eventually we found one on the other side from the beach, Tommy made a U-turn and parked and we went over and waded in the Atlantic Ocean and just passed the time enjoying the surf activity. There were surfers all around, but very few rode waves in. Also there were some parasailers – one close to us who went up and down the water in front of us – both with and against the wind. We washed the sand off our feet at the “shower” they had there and then headed toward the ship.
When we got to the parking area, there was a sign (and we had been told when Tommy called and got directions this morning) to park in the mid-port parking area. But when we got to the gate, the man said yes, we could park there for Princess – that the sign was just because of the boat show using some of the parking area; but since it was close to the end of the show, I guess they let us in. Anyway, we were going to have to catch a shuttle bus from the mid-port lot, but where we wound up parking was right in sight of the ship – we dropped our three big bags off with the ship’s porters then we parked, got our carry-on bags, and just went down the elevator and walked across the street to the line going on the ship!
As far as checking in, we had been told to check in after 2:00 for faster check-in. But we were going in at 1:00 and if check-in had been any faster, we’d have had to RUN! We went right on through. We got to our room by 1:30. The room is nice with anice desk, good space for clothes and bags – very nice. The food is good – just don’t seem to have our favorite item: hot chocolate. Maybe we’ll find it tomorrow.
At 5:00 we went up on deck to watch the ship leave port. I went back to the cabin and got the camera – the clouds were beautiful and I thought the sunset would be spectacular. But as we sailed east, we ran into rain showers and then were in and out of clouds from then on. We went to the back of the ship and watch the clouds change color; I got some pictures, but none were as good as we had expected.
We met some ladies from the genealogy group on the elevator and wound up eating lunch with them. We saw them again at the get together at 7:00 and learned theya re in the room next to us! Also met another lady in the elevator and talked with her mother later about using TMG – going to get back with her later.
I figured out that I had a 10:15 p.m. one-on-one meeting with Bob Velke. I had wanted to ask Bob about sources and citations in TMG. We had a pleasant conversation – I learned that I am a “lumper” in citing my sources – and I was back in the room by 10:30.
Monday, Oct. 29
We started genealogy lectures this morning and had a 2 ½ hour break for lunch then more meetings. We have learned on other cruises that the buffet on Lido deck are the preferred place for us to eat. On this ship there are two buffets: Café Caribe and The Horizon Café. They each have a slightly different menu, but everything we’ve had so far is delicious. Today was good for what I got from the genealogy, and very good in the food department. Sunset turned out to be kind of a dud as it had rained some and there was a lot of cloud cover.
Tuesday, Oct. 30
Well, Tropical Storm Noel is making his presence known. Seas are 7.5 – 12 ft. and the ship is really “ rocking and rolling.” Genealogy and food again were the activities of the day. About mid-afternoon I began to develop a headache – beginnings of seasickness. Tommy went up to Lido (deck 15; our meetings were on 7) and got me some crackers. That made things tolerable, but after the meetings I couldn’t wait to get to the room (we learned later that many people had the same problem). I took a meclezine and lay down. Eventually I was better and decided I needed to get food on my stomach. We went up, but nothing except watermelon and grapes looked good. So I had three plates of that. When we got back to the room, I went right to sleep. We later learned that the ship did a sort of see-saw action with Noel: as it went across Puerto Rico and the islands there, we were going south; then as it turned north, we were east of it – that was today’s rough ride – the captain had actually gone farther east trying to miss the heavier seas of the storm.
Had to get up early today as I had a “hosted breakfast” with John Cardinal who makes one of the genealogy support programs I use with TMG. It was a great sharing time – there were 7 of us and John – a lot of discussion about his software and techniques with it.
At 8:00 we went ashore in St. Maarten – the Dutch side of the island – in the port of Phillipsburg. We found the car rental place and were immediately hit with a “fisherman’s wharf” atmosphere as they all tried to get our business. We checked with each (Tommy did) and Hertz won out (we really only wanted to go with either Budget or Hertz anyway). We got our car, a white Y____ - nice small car which turned out to be exactly what the roads required. They had speed bumps all over the island, but we only encountered one traffic light. Other than the speed bumps, the potholes pretty much regulated the speed. We never really go up to speed on the Dutch side, but the roads on the French side were slightly better.
We started by parking and going shopping in the main street to get the coupons cashed in that we had picked up on the ship at the shopping program. We then got in the car and started around the island. We went ALL the way around – the long way, as it turned out – due to a turn choice that we made in Maginot (capital of the French side); once we made the turn,, we looked at the traffic on the other side of the road and decided not to turn around. IT turned out to be a good choice – the traffic was moving slowly in many places on the other side, but we moved easily down the road.
The scenery was really beautiful – flowers all around but mostly planted ones – the “natural” plants were cactus and small shrubs – not any really tall trees. But BUTTERFLIES! WOW! There were white butterflies EVERYWHERE – apparently it was a mating swarm because they never really lit very much – even though there were flowers around. I kept trying to get pictures of them, but finally only got a few and those were not too good. There were some that were orange and black, probably monarchs, but there were few of them and I probably only got one picture and that isn’t a very good one.
We found a really nice rocky “beach” to pull off at and took time to walk along the water’s edge. The water was shallow and very clear, but we didn’t go wading. There were some soldiers there who were on some kind of maneuvers and were taking a break (for obvious reasons!) They came up the beach to where we were (there was a lookout tower and we were standing under its shade which felt good to us and to them); it was rather startling to me when one young soldier came up beside me under the tower and casually dropped his automatic weapon on the concrete; also interesting that it really didn’t make much of a metallic clang – guess they keep the metal to a minimum in these weapons to reduce the weight. We are so sheltered from that reality.
There were butterflies all around at the beach, but they didn’t light there either. I spent some time trying to get pictures, but really got nothing of the butterflies there.
There were some places that I had listed before we left home that we should see. One was Great Bay Salt Pond which we saw quite a bit right after we got the car and began to look for a parking place near the shopping area. Another was Baie de L’Embrochure which we saw at a distance since most of the accesses we saw were private – very private and VERY expensive. But the main point of interest I had on the list was Pic Paradise (Paradise Peak) on the French side – supposed to give an incredible view of the island. There was just one small problem with this: we had read in a blog – before we left home – that some people had had their car robbed while they were on the path from the road up to the top of the mountain. But I still wanted to see the view – and we didn’t have anything of any value to leave in the car since our camera was the only valuable item with us, and it would be with us on the trail (but one blog entry had said the PEOPLE had been robbed at knife point, so that was in the back of our minds). We saw the sign for the turn on the road and headed up. Tommy stopped pretty quickly and said “Are you SURE this is where you want to go?” The road was one lane wide, tree lined and not too well paved – definitely not the most inviting road we had ever taken – and in the back of our minds was that blog . . . We got almost to the top – encountering long stretches with mangrove covered rock walls on one side and wooded drop-offs (no guardrails) on the other – when we met another car; obviously one of us was going to have to back up. Tommy started to put the car in reverse when the lady in the other car backed up to a wide curve in the road, giving us room to go by. As we came us beside her, she motioned to Tommy and he rolled his window down.
“There are teeves in the booshes,” she said.
Tommy wasn’t sure what she said, and she repeated it. Then I figured it out (remember the blog) and we thanked her and went on toward the top – but with a wary eye to the trees (and BUSHES) on either side.
We reached the end of the road: a locked gate (as described in the blog) and a house and gate (with some LARGE dogs) to the right. Between the two, following the fence of the former, was a definite path leading a short way to the top of the peak where a tall antenna stood sentinel over the view. Though the distance to the top was short, it went through trees and would definitely put us out of view of the car. So . . . Tommy turned the car around and parked, thinking we would hike to the top – typical of all other situations like this that we’d ever encountered. But I told him to keep the car running and I would go far enough up the path to get a good view, take a picture, and come back. Which is what we did. The view was incredible (Tommy locked the car and came to where I was – still in view of the car) and we never saw the “teeves” which was just as well – the drive up and back down the road was adventure enough! I have some pictures of the road – incredible hills and turns!
We continued on through Grand Case and into Marigot, capital of the French side. The streets were narrow and winding and – as I said before – full of cars, especially going opposite to us. So we struck out for the long way around the island – across the narrow strip called Sandy Ground, past Baire Nettle, through Cote D’Azure and Cupecoy, past Juliana Airport and back to our starting point.
We still had some time before we had to be back at the ship and we were hungry. We had been looking since Marigot for aplace to eat, but had seen nothing (open) that did not say “bar” first in its name. So back in Phillipsburg, we decided to go into Chesterfield’s Seafood restaurant – “waterfront dining.” It was close to the shops (which we wanted to visit again) and to the ship, but there were a lot of local cars there (our typical measure for picking a good restaurant). We lucked up on a parking place and went in.
The “door” was actually an open hallway that led to a porch at the back on the water’s edge (well, it is the tropics after all; why construct a door you don’t really need). We sat at an open air area next to the water and had an absolutely DELICIOUS meal! This is almost worth flying down for! We both had a seafood platter and EVERYTHING on it was superb! From there we made our way back to the shops to pick up items we had left for later – if we had time. Then we drove back to the port area, turned in the car and returned to the ship. With our meal at Chesterfield’s, we were not really hungry and so did not eat until after the TMG lectures.
But that was only half the day . . . it was, after all, Oct. 31 – Halloween – and I had brought my witch’s costume AND my broom. This had attracted a LOT of attention as we boarded the ship on Sunday (it had to go through the x-ray machine jut like everything else!). And when I got the costume on, there were MANY compliments and comments. We went to Club Fusion where they were having a Halloween party and at midnight a costume parade. The music was pretty good and it was fun to watch the other people dance. They had an apple bobbing contest and a “spin” on musical chairs that was very entertaining. When the time came for the costume parade, a lot of people had left, but there were some good costumes left. I didn’t win, but it was fun being a part of the group.
One of the activities they had was a pumpkin carving demonstration by one of the ship’s staff. He said he was actually an ice sculptor but he did other things – the watermelons which decorate the food area at meals. He carved two pumpkins in less than 5 minutes and they were great! He did some sculpting – in fact he cut the orange off the front to start with exposing the lighter color’ Meat” below. Then he cut the major features out and “sculpted” the wrinkles and other “accents” on the face. He was really good. We have pictures of the ones they ha in the main lobby area – there is a lot of talent in the cooking staff.
Thursday, Nov. 1
We docked at St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands at 7:00. Since we had been “out of the country,” we had to go through immigration – EVERYONE on the ship had to (well, all US citizens. We got in line – about halfway back on the ship – and had to present our passports and cruise cards and a paper with our name on it that had been given to us the night before in our “mail.” This really didn’t take us too long and then we went to breakfast and headed out to get our car. The (mis)adventure begins . . .
Tommy had reserved a car with Avis on the Internet – with the understanding they would meet us at the dock. Well, they have built a new dock at St. Thomas, and there are no car rental places there. So we wandered through the “shops” area around the pier and found a local grocery with a very nice young man who let Tommy use his cell phone to call Avis and see if they would come and pick us up. Their answer was “No” and Tommy’s reply was “ . . . cancel the reservation.” Then the young man offered to take us to the airport where we could rent a car (we have repeatedly met nice people on these islands!); it would have cost us $16.00 to take a taxi to the downtown area where we could have gotten a car, so we paid this young man for his trouble.
Continuing the adventure . . . the first thing we noticed was that they drive on the left side of the road, here – a throw-back to when it was under British control – but the cars have steering wheels on the left! Well, that was going to be a challenge, but one we’d have to deal with (or rather Tommy would deal with as he did all the driving).
We arrived at the airport and went to the Hertz desk and after some discussion got a small car with radio and air conditioning, but manual window cranks and door locks . . . interesting. But it was small, and – as it turned out – that was as important in St. Thomas as it was in St. Maarten. The streets were not quite as narrow (for the most part) and there were more traffic lights than sped bumps – though there were plenty of both. One thing we saw immediately : this was a larger island with more people and, ergo, more cars.
As we looked at what I had listed as things to see, it appeared that we needed to tackle the Virgin Islands National Park first. My first attempt to find out where the national park visitor’s center was located proved an exercise in futility: neither of the people I talked to at the “information center” we went to knew what I was talking about and one directed me to the city’s visitor center – obviously only picked up on the “operative” word out of my query). So we started off toward the only National Park area we could see on the St. Thomas map. This proved to be a “red herring,” but did eventually – and accidentally – lead us to a park ranger who told us we would need to take the ferry to St. John’s Island. Okay, some of what I had seen in preparing for the trip now made sense.
So we had to find the ferry – not the easiest thing to do, but we finally did find it and it was loading as we drove up. Tommy had to back the car on, but they had 4 lanes of vehicles PACKED on the boat – we were in a VERY mixed company: dump trucks to compacts! The trip over was 18 minutes (so the lady told us) and the seas were NOT smooth. But the captain steered the boat really well and we arrived safely on St. John’s Island – still driving on the left side. And the adventure continues . . .
The map we had for St. Thomas had a break-out map of St. Johns . . . which did not indicate where the National Park Visitor’s Center was! Apparently almost all the island was in the park, but which place had the visitor’s center and the stamp for my National Parks passport book? Streets here were more narrow than on St. Thomas and not clearly marked – in fact there was NO center line at all in some places (we learned this was because the paint is worn away by cars driving on the paint and wearing it away! Ahem . . .). We finally turned into a hotel entrance which had a security guard, and he told us where to go to find the visitor’s center. Success!! Turns out we had passed it, but did not see the sign because the sign was on the road AFTER you turned – not on our road. And even after we found it, we though we were not going to find a place to park. They had ONE parking place for visitors and one for handicap – all others said government or staff. We learned inside that if we wanted to hike they would give us a permit to park in the government spaces.
I got my passport stamped, and we set out to explore. We drove a little bit in the park, but we had used so much time getting the car, getting the ferry, and finding the visitor’s center that there really wasn’t time to do the 1.2 mile hike to the petroglyphs that we had wanted to do. Besides, it appeared from contours on the NP map that this “little” 1.2 mile hike was like the “little” 1 mile hike we took at Fontana our first year there: all uphill! So we decided to head back to the town and get some lunch.
The biggest factor on where to eat was where would we find a parking place: I told Tommy if he could park we could find a place to eat! Luckily we found a place right in front of a restaurant I had seen earlier and wanted to try. But . . . the adventure continues . . . we went up some steps and the area opened up into a series of shops and a beautiful garden area going up the hill. We followed the steps and walked and suddenly found Bad Dog’s Sandwich Shop – a small building with tables set in the “alley” between two buildings. We decided to try it. And, again, our luck held – absolutely delicious food! I even managed to buy a necklace at one of the shops beside us while our food was being cooked! A beautiful setting for an excellent meal!
From there we headed for the ferry – we wanted to be sure we got back to St. Thomas in time to turn the car in and get back to the ship. Ferry . . . right . . . the adventure continues . . . We got lucky (??) and the ferry was almost loaded when we drove up. Tommy backed in where they directd and we got out and moved to the back; this was a smaller boat than the one we came on earlier, so we had to find the stairs and then moved up on top. We no more than got settled when we noticed a lot of frantic movement up and down the stairs by the person we assumed (correctly, we learned later) to be the pilot. A few more cars came on board and we had a full boat, but the boat wasn’t moving away from the shore – it had started to earlier and then gone back to the loading position and there we still sat.
Finally we saw the workers down front motioning to the drivers in the front to leave the boat and get on a boat that was next to us: the one we had ridden this morning! It turned out that a cable had come lose on the other boat. The mechanic – or owner, we were not sure – showed up and as we pulled away from the dock on the second boat, the first boat was pulling out behind us. By the time we got to St. Thomas, the people there had the vehicles already turned around and lined up ready to back onto the boat as soon as we cleared it.
So we arrived back on St. Thomas – still driving on the left side – and we still had some coupons we had not turned in. Finding a parking place was a challenge – as usual – but we eventually found a 1 hour parking place and left to go down the main shopping street. We stopped at each of the stores we had marked and picked up the free gifts, but at the Tanzanite International we found a nice loose stone which will match the ring and pendant I already have – it is absolutely beautiful and was a really interesting shape.
I stopped at one of the local “flea market” stalls that was where we parked and got a t-shirt and then we headed back to the airport to turn the car in. The attendant met us in the lot with a remote “terminal” where he printed out the credit card slip. Tommy told him the lady had told us the boy would drive us back to the ship; the boy turned to another boy who was there and told him to drive us to the ship – we got back in our little car and were back at the ship in five minutes. Five stars for service for Hertz on St. Thomas!
We went through security and got back to our room. IT was then that I realized I had not gotten magnets for St. Thomas. So while Tommy was taking a shower, I ran back to the shops on the dock. At first I thought I was going to have trouble: the port is new and not all of the buildings have shops yet, and the shops all seemed to be jewelry stores. I finally found a small store that had t-shirts and other souvenirs: the selection of magnets was slim, but “beggars can’t be choosers.” I also made an “impulse purchase” of a CD of steel drum Christmas songs that were on the counter as I paid for the magnets. We had seen a steel drum player on the ship – he was really, really talented and the music is really beautiful. As I came back to the ship from getting my magnets, Tommy was on the deck with the camera taking my picture.
The big difference in the two islands – St. Maarten and St. Thomas – was really in the apparent extremes of wealth: in St. Maarten there appeared to be the very wealthy and the poor people with not much “middle class” (and of course this is judging by the housing conditions we saw on our driving area); on St. Thomas there was a larger population – first of all – and generally an apparently better standard of living with better housing in the poorer areas and a definite “middle class” feel to the shopping areas we saw. I don’t know that I would say either island was cleaner than the other, as judged by trash on the roadsides and beaches and the “upkeep” of the houses of the non-wealthy residents. But both islands were beautiful and we enjoyed our time there.
Friday, Nov. 2
We had an 8:15 lecture by Bob Velke on TMG, so we were up at 7:00 to get breakfast. There were two lectures in Club Fusion and then we moved to the Palm Dining Room for Dick Eastman’s talk on preserving our research. In the middle of Dick’s talk – deja vu – the captain came on the intercom and said because of damage at Princess Cays by Tropical Storm Noel, we would not be stopping there: this happened to us on the first genealogy cruise when Hurricane Wilma hit Cozumel and cancelled our stop there.
Immediately Bob Velke went into action and made some arrangements for our group. One of our speakers is Hank Jones, an actor who played a lot of different roles in a variety of movies and TV series (he was Robbie Douglas’ nerdy friend in “My Three Sons”). One of his Disney movies was Blackbeard’s Ghost and it happened that the son of one of the people in our group had a DVD of the movie and originally we were going to get to watch it at 11:30 tonight. With the change in schedule, we got to schedule the viewing at 10:00 tomorrow morning. He also got the Princess Theater for us from 1-5:00 tomorrow for more lectures (Great!!!!).
Saturday, Nov. 3
Our last day at sea. I got up and went on deck to take some sunrise pictures. Nothing spectacular, but nice. We had breakfast and went to the viewing of Blackbeard’s Ghost which starred Dean Jones, Suzanne Pleshette, and Peter Ustinov. Hank told us some stories about the filming of the movie. He said that on a Disney movie everyone was family – you ate together and worked together. He said that Walt insisted on everyone calling him “Walt” – they were not allowed to call him “Mr. Disney.” Hank also said that it was during the making of this film that Walt Disney died, so he said there were some sad memories as well as some happy ones associated with this film.
Hank told about his 40 + years work on documenting the German (Palatinate) families that came over here from the Pfalz part of Germany in the early 1700’s. it was interesting to find out that these people came here, not for religious reasons, but to escape a VERY cold spell of weather (church records said the old people could not remember a time that cold) [I think geologically this is referred to as a “little ice age”] where the river froze and thus the mills froze, crops did not make, etc. and so there was no food: people were reduced to eating grass and many – sometimes whole villages – died of starvation; church records told of elderly people who simply wandered out of the village into the snow to die to leave more food for the younger people.
Then there were the taxes which were levied by the nobility on the peasants: these taxes were what sup-ported the nobles, but of course the peasants now had no way to pay. And the really big reason was the wars of the period: various forces moved back and forth across Germany during this time and the armies of both sides ravaged the countryside with no consideration for the people living there. Hank was relating this to make a point about “family traditions” and how the facts can be distorted over time with each retelling. This makes me want to look again at our Swett story – to find who that original Swett was.
Great surprise!!! Tommy’s name was drawn for a prize and it happened to be a CD of hank Jones’ songs! (He started out singing as half of the duo of “Hank and Dean” and sang for some time with Tennessee Ernie Ford) So when Tommy got the D, we took it up to get Hank’s autograph on it. That is going to provide us with some good listening music going home!
We went to the farewell cocktail party sponsored by Wholly Genes. John Titford sang a variety of songs and finally got Bob Velke and a couple of other people from the group to do guitar and then they did some Elvis and other songs. Lots of fun!
About that time Tommy told me the sunset was beautiful. Of course I didn’t have my camera, so had to HURRY back to the room (other end of the ship) to get it. By then most of the good color was gone, but I got some pictures.
Well, time to pack. WE have opted for “walk off at 7:45 which means we haul our own luggage. That is going to take some “creative packing.”
Sunday, Nov. 4
Walk off was absolutely the best choice! We got up at 6:00, got dressed and went to breakfast. BEAUTIFUL SUNRISE!!! I COULDN’T GET MY BREAKFAST FOR RUNNING OUT AND TAKING PICTURES! But we finally finished and went back to our room. Final packing and “stacking” for compactness done, we headed down to the Palm Dining room to await our call to get off the ship. We were scheduled to be there at 7:45, but we were early – and so were all the other 7:45 people! The down elevators were full when they got to us, so I said let’s go UP to go DOWN. Worked great: another couple got on with us and we went through several stops but only had room for one gentleman who got off at 15. On the way back down there were even more stops and we saw other people who had not yet figured out the solution to their problem. We FINALLY got to the 5th level and found that the “queue” started at the elevators! But the GOOD news was that this was the queue for OUR group! Even though we were early – by about 10 minutes – we were in the line moving to go off the ship! The line curled its way around the Palm Dining Room and through a customs inspection point (they REALLY gave my broom the once-over!!!!) and then we were off the ship, through a second customs check and then found ourselves at the car at 7:50! Amazing! Had we opted to let the ship manage our luggage, the earliest we could have MET in the Palm Dining room to depart was 9:15! By then we were well on our way up the coast!
We then proceeded to do the second “repacking” for the trip home – putting things that we’d put in the trunk back into the inside and putting our luggage in the trunk. We had already done our “sorting” and put what w would need for the trip home into one duffle bag. Then I took our last pictures of the harbor and all the cruise ships in it and we left. We went through the toll booth at 8:10 and headed for De Land where I want to get some cemetery pictures.
Oops! Slight detour . . . east of De Land we have found annotation on the map for “Turtle Mound Archaeological Site.” I have heard of it but can’t remember why. From the Florida map we can’t really tell where it is – whether it is off the mainland or in the narrow barrier peninsula that forms Canaveral National Seashore. Good ole’ Rand McNally, however, shows it to be on the peninsula, so I am going to get another stamp in my passport book!
We got to the gate of the park – a fee area so we showed our wonderful Senior Pass – and the ranger there tells us what all to look for; a really nice, helpful man. Our fist stop is Turtle Mound which turns out to be a HUGE (and I do mean HUGE!) shell midden: a trash pile of shells thrown away by the Timucuan Indians who lived here over 2000 years ago. They would hunt in other areas of Florida in the summer, but in winter they would come to this area and live off of the abundant sea life.
And there were shells – everywhere you looked! It was hard to believe – with all the vegetation on top of it – but underneath was a huge pile of shells! The information signs said that there used to be mounds like this all over the area, but when the area began to be developed and highways were being built, the shell middens were used for road fill!
There was a boardwalk out over the midden: the area sits between the dunes on the east (with a LOUD pounding surf) and the wide expanse of Indian River on the west (yes, where Indian River grapefruit gets its name!). The boardwalk splits at one point and you can go right to a view of the river and the ocean and left to a different view of the river and ocean. Incredibly beautiful! We saw dolphins surfacing in the river, but could not get good pictures of them. And butterflies! Again very flighty and hard to catch, but there were large orange Gulf Fritillaries, a giant Zebra Longwing, and a very small Cassius blue with mottled white underneath. We also saw some lizards with VERY long tails – obviously mainly tree dwellers.
After taking in the boardwalk, we went to the visitor’s center where I got my passport stamped and got some souvenirs. WE watched the video which was very informative about the history and natural features of the area. Then on our way out we found an access to the beach. Absolutely MAGNIFICENT!!!!! HUGE waves rolling in, cresting far out and then pounding the beach. The sand here was coarse and mainly made up of tiny broken shell parts! No wonder the Indians found this to be a great food source! It was fascinating to watch the water wash the sane up the beach – the water was sometimes BROWN as it broke on the shore! – and then the same would form a glistening river as it “flowed” down the beach with the receeding wave only to be caught up in the next one! It was fascinating! Unlike anything we had ever seen before. And the little Dunlin and Ruddy Turnstone birds (identification not absolute, but the only thing I could find to resemble what my pictures show) were fun to watch as they stalked the edges of the waves, frantically probing the sand for small morsels and then running from the next incoming wave. Occasionally they would miscalculate an incoming wave (as we did also) and they would have to spread their wings and fly. Unfortunately we had no wings, so we wound up with wet feet! This is definitely as “must see” place!
Back on the road, we headed west for De Land. Well, De Land was a PARTIAL success: we found the library – a very nice facility – and it was OPEN – on SUNDAY – which was VERY lucky for us. We were looking for where Richard McCaskill, brother of Mother’s uncle, Robert N. McCaskill, was buried. He died Feb. 11, 1977, but the cemetery records there only went to 1972. Some researcher notes that had been collected there had the death of a Mrs. D. D. McCaskill in 1918 in Pensacola, but nothing on my Richard. So we went to the actual newspapers which were on microfilm. Bingo! Found the obituary in the Feb. 14, 1977 paper. Bad news was – it gave the funeral home, but no burial site.. And of course the funeral home was closed.
We decided to cut our losses and move on down the road, aiming for St. Augustine, Tommy’s one “place to see” on the trip. Unfortunately by the time we got gas and a quick sandwich at Burger King, we were going to be too late to get into Castillo de San Carco which was our objective at St. Augustine. It was really too early to stop for the night, so we decided to go on our way. We stopped at the Macon, GA Econo Lodge where we had stopped on the way down: our stays at other Econ Lodges had given us enough points for a free night – not bad!
Monday, Nov. 5
I was up about 7:30. Tommy had done all but a couple of hours of the driving yesterday, so he is still sleeping. We will head home today (he has someone who wants a bale of hay in the morning). Hope to stop at a Le Creuset outlet north of Atlanta and maybe find an Orvis Outlet somewhere on the way.
After breakfast at Waffle House and a short $5.00 gas stop (no BP in sight and we are down to 7 miles to empty on the tank) we are finally on the road at 10:15 – still looking for a BP where we can fill up at get us to Wildwood, GA for best gas prices on the interstate.
Trees are BEAUTIFUL! They are really beginning to have color which we did not see in Florida – of course we drove north Florida in the dark last night, so probably missed some there.
Our first attempt at being “productive” in Atlanta failed due to our choice of days: the state library is closed on Monday, which, of course, is what today is. We wanted to find a Claxton book that Tommy had seen years ago – whether in Atlanta we are not sure, but it was a genealogy of Claxtons in Georgia. So we started by trying to find an Internet connection – we needed to find the NAME of the book, right? Of course there are Internet connections in a variety of places: Tommy said look for a Pilot Truck Stop – but of course we were into metro Atlanta at this point, so no Pilot stations appeared. Next Tommy said to try McDonald’s – fome of them are supposed to have Internet. So . . . we got off the interstate and found – as luck would have it – a McDonald’s with “Wi-Fi” on the window. It was next to the Quality Inn and we picked up both signals. When Tommy connected to the McDonald’s network, we learned the “kicker” to the Wi-Fi ad: the first choice was log in using your credit card. So much for McDonald’s service.
So we decided to try the Quality Inn, but we could never get a connection to them. WE changed parking lots to another motel and finally go a signal we could connect with. But then none of our searches turned up the book we wanted. So we decided to try used book dealers – like Elder’s in Nashville. We found one that sounded great. WE got the address and with some difficulty decided on the best way to get to it. We found it with no trouble – it turned out that it was open six days a week – NONE of which was Monday! Well, our luck was holding anyway – just happened it was BAD luck.
So maybe there were other book dealers like this one – we needed a yellow pages – and a restroom. Found both at a CVS just down the road. And, indeed, there were a couple of other dealers, but calls to them prevented us from having to get directions to them: no book and no offer to look for it.
We had also looked up a Le Creuset dealer to check on what they have new in the enameled cast iron cookware that I like. We called and the lady was very nice about giving us directions: she was only about an hour’s drive north – well SHE said north, actually it was northEAST and at that point I-75 was heading northWEST which was going to make the trip to her actually cost us at least two hours of extra driving. We decided to save that stop for when we come down for the dance at Commerce, Georgia in summer. Orvis? Outlet stores seem to be in the UK, so probably won’t make it this trip.
So we killed about two hours in a fruitless search to find things we wanted from Atlanta. 1:20 p.m.– time to get back on the road. Tommy suggested getting lunch – as we got BACK on the interstate and away from the local streets where we might have found something not of the usual fast food chains. So I was kept busy watching for restaurant signs while Tommy negotiated downtown Atlanta traffic: the speed limit signs might say 55, but if you went 55, people would run you over! Suddenly on one of the interstate food signs I saw – among the familiar fast foods – the Spaghetti Warehouse. I said it and said next exit, then said, “You can’t make it.” Wanna bet? Tommy managed to cross 10 lanes (I COUNTED them – there were TEN!) and get to the exit JUST in time to get off! What a ride!
The Spaghetti Warehouse turned out to be another super good choice for us. The food was delicious and the decorations were fascinating antiques – including an old trolley car in the middle of the room! I HAD to take pictures!
4:00 (eastern time): Back in TN – going to be rush hour in Chattanooga, but it went better than we thought – maintained a good speed all the way through. Colors of the trees are REALLY pretty and I’ve got some pictures. The sun went behind a cloud just as we were coming around Lookout Mountain – BEAUTIFUL rays! Thought we would pull off at the Nickajack rest stop, but colors there were not as pretty and the sun was out away from the clouds. So we headed for Monteagle, hoping for some color/sun combos there. Tommy pulled off at Monteagle exit and then we decided to take the old road down the mountain – it was a beautiful drive, but, as in “the old days” no pull-offs; so really no way to stop and take pictures. As we got to the bottom, we had the mountain to our left across the valley with the sun almost setting behind it. We pulled off at a good spot and waited for the sunset. While we waited, a cat from the house next to us came and got up on our trunk; didn’t stay long, but I’ll bet the cats at home give that spot a good once-over!
As we moved back onto the interstate, the sun went down in a haze that gave it that “red-rubber-ball” color and I tried taking pictures – we’ll see what comes out.
RAIN! Coming into Nashville the lady on the radio was talking about a severe storm warning and tornado warning for right where we were headed! There were a LOT of lightning strikes – I have some on video. But when we got in the really bad rain, traffic almost stopped – you could barely see the reflectors on the road! We ran through several downpours like that all the way through Nashville, but once we got onto I-24 headed for Clarksville it pretty well slowed down; when we got to Clarksville it had stopped and we really didn’t encounter any more rain. Got home at 8:15 p.m. (CENTRAL TIME again! Yea!)