Friday, 18 July 2014

Summer in the sunshine state - Forth of july on Florida's west coast and the panhandle

We emerge from the everglades and made tracks for Sarasota , where we will be staying with more family friends who have found a home in sunny south Florida. Sarasota is largely viewed as a retirement community , our friends Ray and Fran refer to it as "God waiting room" however we found it to be far more diverse than that . Yes there are a lot of older people there but there are also families and young circus performers , yes that that's right Sarasota is a circus town ,who knew ?
Calhoun tiger tamer
 Turns out the city and it's keys grew out of substantial real estate investments made by Charles and john Ringling in the 1920s . John Ringling saw the place as perfect place for the wealthier members of the greatest show on earth to settle in while the circus was not on the move. He even built a palatial home there on the water it is now home to the  John and Mabel Ringling museum of art .
If you find your self in Sarasota I highly recommend setting aside a day (you'll need all of it) and paying it a visit. In addition to an honestly mind blowingly huge collection of art work there's their house it's self which will make you feel like you stepped from south Florida into a European castle. There is a museum dedicated solely to the circus, my favorite part of which being a miniature model of the circus grounds. it spans a whole room (not a small one either) and truly gives you a sense of what a huge undertaking traveling circuses were at that point in time. Wait, there's more! The museum has it's own theater. The historic Asolo theater was brought over in pieces from Italy and reconstructed in The Ringling. There you can (depending on the time of year) catch a mini circus show put on by graduates of The Ringling circus school. It costs a little extra but it's totally worth it to get the full Ringling experience.
Sarasota is made up of a series of keys as well as a strip of main land. Our friends have a condo on Lido key which has beautiful beach and a cute little downtown circle . We stopped for lunch almost every day at a little bakery and cafĂ© called Pastry Arts which make delicious coconut cakes. If your a chocolate lover you might want to try the mocha muffin. It comes with stunning reviews from Calhoun and Ray.
The circle at St. Armand features nice (but expensive) boutique's , a half a dozen little ice cream/gelato shops and cocktail spots.
For the forth of July we ventured into down town Sarasota and stopped at a busy little spot for Italian style pizza and hand made gelato. Then, gelatos in hand, we continued to the bustling water front j,ust in time for a fabulous, all be it, somewhat ashy (we were standing down wind , a bad choice) firework display . Red white and blue rockets lit the night sky over the glistening water for an amazingly long time in a truly world class display. Other fireworks set of by hotels and the like bedazzled the sky throughout the night . We took our time returning to the car stopping for a cocktail on the way through the throngs of people.
Another gem, although not in Sarasota but in St Petersburg (close enough), is the Dali museum with one of the two substantial collections of his work in the world. The evolution of Dali's work from novice to legend is displayed in this stunning building which it it's self is a work of art. We took the self guided audio tour which though you may feel a little silly wandering around with a recorder and head phones is worth it for the insight into Dali's work and life. At the end of the museum is an interactive exhibit where you can have your picture taken and be made into a Dali print your self . There is also a display of local children's work who's Dali influence is definitely present. i
It's worth checking out because some of these kids will really wow you .
On the way back from the Dali museum we stopped at another Sarasota gem called Yoder's, an Amish run market and pie shop. Calhoun swooned over their fresh produce as did I over their silky smooth key lime pie.... Mmmm, pie.
Our last day in Sarasota we hit the beach for another forth of July celebration ( they go all weekend) power boat race and all you can eat BBQ . Though boat races aren't really our thing it is so quintessentially Florida it's worth going. people in swimsuits line the beach munching on burgers and sipping beers . Others, including us, board whatever inflatable crafts they can find and take to the water to watch as boats going over a hundred miles and hour race by. All in all it was an enjoyable American day.
Next morning (well more like afternoon actually) we waved goodbye to Ray and Fran and began on our way to Tallahassee, Florida's capital.
floating on down the river
We made a stop on our way there at Ichetucknee springs, a beautiful state park where you can take a meditative float down a serene river. A tram service which is quite a pretty ride itself will take you to the launch point so you end up back at your car. Concerning intertubes , you can rent them from the local farmers for 5$ or do what we did and buy one of your choosing from the Walmart down the road for 10$ we got a regular tube but you can make the float on an inflatable alligator for a few dollars more. After a the float we visited the springs them selves. There are two of them both cool clear and beautiful. Ichetucknee spring is more accessible but it's worth the walk through the forest to get to the smaller and more secluded Blue hole spring. We really enjoyed Ichetucknee but if your going set aside the day there's a lot to do.     
Blue hole springs
A couple of days after leaving Sarasota we arrived in Tallahassee
So what is the capital of this beautiful, up beat state like? I'd heard it's a lot more southern than the rest of the state which is true, what I hadn't heard, and is also true, is this city is a dump. Really, I don't say that lightly. Downtown is not worth seeing, it's the sort of city that makes you grip your wallet tighter and makes you wish you'd paid for underground parking. Home bums line the streets hustling for change , frightened looking college students hurry back to their cars , restaurants are generic out posts running at about 30% capacity and the night life is non existent.
So why would you visit this nasty little part of the map .The answer The Bradfordville blues club off highway 61,
down a dirt road on the outskirts of the city lies one of the last remaining old school blues clubs. It's only open Friday and Saturday night and you want to buy your tickets on line because this place sells out quick. It don't look like much but this place is hoppin . We were seated by one of the owners at a table bearing the face of a famous blue musician. All the tables in the place are like that, they're painted by a local artist, choice ones are taken off their bases and hung on the walls. The bar only serves beer and wine, which was a little disappointing as I generally like bourbon with my blues. But it's made up for by the 20$ buckets of beer. The atmosphere is vibrant and it seems like the whole town is here young and old. Once the band starts playing you won't see that dance floor empty . Having found out we were on vacation and when someone with a reservation didn't show up fast enough one of the owners whisked us to the fount row.
The Dean Fowler Band
Outside the bon fire is raging and one of the local chefs is frying up a tasty plate of fresh caught fish. Try it it's relatively cheap, 10$ buys a huge plate and divinely authentic goes perfect with beers and blues.
After intermission it's back to the dance floor for another round of kick ass blues rock..
These are some of the nicest people we've meet on our journey, they even let us stay on the property after partying a little too hard.
Our second stop was at The Florida Caverns state park where you can hike beautiful trails ( bring your bug spray), swim in crystal clear cold springs which truly are cold but  very refreshing on a hot summer day, and of course tour the caverns which look pretty impressive.Uunfortunately they were sold out for the day when we arrived. Despite an impromptu rain shower later in the afternoon we spent an over all enjoyable day there before continuing on to our next destination.
Cannon ball!!! at Florida Caverns
Our last stop in Florida was at Pensacola beach for a moon lit swim which sounds romantic until you get in the water and realize there is a primal human fear against being in the ocean at night. A moonlit walk on the beach though, very romantic.
The light of the full moon shone off the hardwoo as we sped away into the night , our eyes firmly set on New Orleans.

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