Saturday, June 29, 2013

Had Enough of the Beach?

Say it aint so--there is one more day to go!

Daylight comes early this time of the year; although there were black-out curtains, enough light filtered through so that when I woke up, I threw on a dress and sandles, grabbed my camera and headed to the beach for the sunrise. I missed the actual rise, but the sun was still low enough to bathe the area in warm, golden tones.
There was a nice boardwalk along the beach for those who prefer running or walking on wood, I dodged a few in my haste! Something very weird happened to my photos--do you see it around the sun? That blue blotch--I still don't know what happened. Anyway, I hung around for about thirty minutes, enjoying both the photo taking, and the peacefulness of the mostly deserted beach, which I knew, sooner, rather than later, would be filled with people having fun in the sun.
I love how a sunrise makes the water glow! The slightly curved horizon in most all of my shots was very interesting; I don't recall seeing it so readily in any seaside photographs I've ever taken. Turning around I wanted to show you how big the hotel is--there are actually two additional towers, with the  curved building being both the original and where we stayed on the sixth floor.
Eventually I knew the "boys" would be up, wondering where I'd run off to, so I made my way through the pool area which is definitely worth seeing:
How would you like to spend the day in one of those shelters? Nice aren't they? There were a few early morning swimmers,
or more accurately one. If you prefer your afternoons be spent surrounded by water you might elect to choose the pool below:
Who are these clever people who dream stuff like this up? (taken on Saturday evening) Helen was staying in one of the towers:
As I'm uploading these photos I'm really loving all of the palm trees, are you? How about one last shot of the amazing lobby where I sat while Bruce was paying the $76 for two days of parking?
 Okay, make that two!
Leaving Matt to attend his conference, we traveled North on Collins Ave, towards Haulover Beach. Remember I mentioned it the other day, suggesting you not forget the name? Finally, I'll take you there. Turns out, in the new year, Bruce is to do a restaurant there on the Intercoastal Waterway, which we passed driving South on Saturday. Reading up on the area, I learned two things of interest: 1. there are very colorful lifeguard stands, and 2. between aforementioned colorful stands 13-15 it is a nude beach. So, what do you think we were looking for? Let's be honest here--Bruce was with me so, both!

That said, it is poor form to photograph nude bathers, so there will be none of that, to which I know you are breathing a sigh of relief! Instead, the aforementioned colorful lifeguard stands:
There are several of each color, blue, green, yellow and PINK:
It's not far from Miami Beach, maybe twelve miles? We'd gone through some rain on our way and the clouds lingered. Mostly the very wide beach was empty on a Monday morning, except for some of the nude bathers. I must admit it was pretty weird seeing a naked man walking toward you, as you are strolling in the opposite direction. That said, I figure if people want to swim nude, why not?

Continuing North on US 1, our last stop was in Hallendale Beach so Bruce could show me a Yard House restaurant located in an extremely fancy shopping complex.
Shopping and/or gambling--they will take your money any way you want to hand it over.
Our early lunch was terrific! Although they serve a gazillion beers on tap, it is not your typical beer joint. Now that we've eaten there, I can't wait for one to open in Orlando. (the tubes are the beer lines)
You know what we did after our fine lunch? Got on the Turnpike in Hollywood, staying there until we saw the sign for our exit in Orlando! The long way there, the short way home. Guess who was glad to see us?
Who can resist this little face??

And now, here I am, a week later, and all of the above is history. Matt returned to London on Thursday night, and from what I can tell, brought a little Florida sunshine back with him.

Finally, I now have two married sons, Jonathan and Alissa made their union official yesterday afternoon, with both the bride and the judge wearing cowboy boots for the ceremony. I must admit, I cried while congratulating them after it was all said and done. I've had a long time to prepare myself for not being there, but that really didn't seem to help much as I was anxious as can be. On the other hand, they could have eloped, and not told us so that's some consolation. As I type they are flying to Japan for a ten day honeymoon; I can hardly wait to hear about all the amazing things they'll see.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Water, Water, Everywhere!

That should come as no surprise--this is Florida, after all, with more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, not to mention countless lakes and rivers. We saw some new water however, even traveling over it to Key Biscayne and the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, home to the oldest standing structure in Dade County.
That's it above--a lovely lighthouse, originally built in 1825, and reconstructed in 1846. Located on the bottom tip of Key Biscayne, which by the way has had some notable residents in the past, including Brad Pitt, Cher, and most famously President Richard Nixon, it stands between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. Parking the car after about a 15 mile drive, including over two causeways, fortunately low ones, we made our way onto the beach. For Matt's upcoming birthday I picked out a little "Gnome Away from Home" for him to take on his many travels, Amelie style. Sadly, although Mr. Gnome has his own name, I've forgotten it, however, here is Bruce helping Matt keep Mr. Gnome standing for his first photo shoot!
I'm looking forward to seeing where he goes in the future. Speaking of photo shoots, while waiting for the ranger to give us a lighthouse tour, we came across these folks:
The model in the white dress wore no expression throughout--very weird indeed. The ranger came, we followed, and he gave us a quick overview of the history of the lighthouse. One thing we learned is that the park land was hit directly by the eye of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, destroying most of the trees which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as most of the ones at that time were non-native. Replanting with native trees, you would never even know it happened when you visit today. 

I've been in higher lighthouses, but not by much. Round and round we went....
with me stopping every now and again to take a photograph out of one of the windows.
Looking North from 95 feet:
That is Miami Beach in the distance. Looking South this is what you see:
I wish I'd been able to capture a photo of the stilt houses in the water--I'm thinking they are just beyond the sailboat. So, what's a stilt house Gail? Just what it sounds like! A house built above water one mile from shore, or in this case several of them. The area even has it's own name--Stiltsville. People, it seems, will go to great lengths to drink and gamble. Built near the end of Prohibition, the first one was for just those two activities as gambling was legal one mile from shore. Remember the caverns we visited earlier in the month that at one time housed a speakeasy? What will we see next? !

Back on the ground we took one more look out to sea and the sheer volume of seaweed on the shoreline reminds me of our corner lot at home. Following any storm we seem to attract debris from all our neighbors homes--maybe it's the same way at this corner lot. 
From the photo above you can see the beach was pretty busy so we made our way to a less crowded one where Matt took this photo of yours truly and her adorable husband. AKA-Mom & Dad.
Matthew, having lived in London for so many years now, cannot take very much of our Florida sunshine, so it wasn't long before we headed back over the causeway. Miami has a pretty impressive skyline:
There are many new buildings, and come to think of it, perhaps some of that is because of the aforementioned Hurricane Andrew. Apparently the damage was so great, destroying over 63,000 homes, and 82,000 businesses! Now that's a hurricane! I used to work with a girl who lived in Homestead at the time, where the devasation was great. She described the storm coming overhead while everyone was piled in the bathtub. When it was all over, only a few houses were left standing in her parent's neighborhood. Understandably, every time there was a hurricane watch, she grew very nervous. 

Lunchtime was spent on Lincoln Road, a pedestrian friendly few blocks with shops and restaurants,
and more shops and restaurants. All those clouds you saw above produced a quick rain shower, and I mean quick, with this taken about fifteen minutes later. I don't know the name of these flowering trees, because they don't grow in Orlando, but I love the deep coral color of the blossoms.
Fantastic, right? Bruce is building a Yard House just around the corner:
Actually, someone else is building the structure which is almost ready for his team. Now, back to the hotel where Matt caught up on some sleep after waking very early due to the time change. Bruce and I headed to the beach which was packed with chairs and such.
That little rounded thing in the middle is a shade shelter over almost a bed! Let me tell you these were the comfiest beach loungers I have ever had the pleasure to lay on. My, oh my! 
After some swimming and lounging, we went to the poolside bar to drink ridiculously overpriced cocktails, and listen to the dj pumping out the music. Have I told you I was almost the only woman wearing a one piece bathing suit? Many were barely wearing a two piece! It is another world in Miami Beach, that is for sure! A little later Matt joined us at one of the nine swimming pools! I didn't notice it at the time, but after reading about the history of the hotel, I learned that one of the pools is in the shape of the bow tie the main architect wore. Neat. I'll show more pool photos next post. 

Finally we met Helen, Matt's boss who we were joining for dinner. She'd had a busy day shopping at Aventura Mall while we were doing our thing, so both parties were slightly tired. We decided to eat at one of the restaurants on property instead of hailing a cab, or getting the car out of valet.
She was absolutely delightful, filling us in on what our son does for a living, something we've never been able to pry out of him before. He, of course, was embarrassed by all of her accolades, but this Mother ate it up! As did his Father. We shared a wonderful meal, and before you know it, our bedtime approached. While on the beach earlier, I saw this sign, but honestly I was just too tired to watch the lobby parade.
I can only imagine....

As predicted this week has been pretty dull--good thing I have one more day to write about. :)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Moon Over Miami

Before we continue onto Miami, I interrupt my regular post to say just how happy I am that DOMA is no more. If you're like me, your life tenants, if you will, are formed by your experiences. At one time in my life, I would more than likely have been on the other side of this case, however, having a gay son tends to make a person see things in a different light. In politics it's called flip-flopping, in the real world it is simply changing ones mind based on new evidence. No one can convince me that the love Matt and Tom feel for one another is not as valid as what I feel for Bruce. End of story. Let all discrimination end now!

So, off my high horse, and into the Beemer. Like most folks, after leaving LCS we got on the Turnpike, however, that didn't last very long at all. Before getting off though, we made a quick stop at one of the renovated rest areas--very nice from the outside, and just as nice inside:
 They have modern green and white chairs, and the whole things looks very cheery indeed.

Hopping back off, we made our way onto US 1 in Boca Raton. My goodness that stretch of the road is lovely, as well it should be, for a city with a median household income of more than $67,000! I took this little part from the Wikipedia entry about how IBM played an important role in the city. What the heck, you probably won't look at it, so I'll tell you that it was here that IBM made the first personal computer. Now you know.  The Art Deco influence is not just seen in Miami. Need an office space?
The traffic was light, the sky was blue, and it was a very nice way to use up the time until Matt's arrival. Nice digs below:
Fort Lauderdale is a place we are pretty familiar with as Bruce built a Seasons 52 there nearly nine years ago. It's a lovely city, not soon forgotten. And growing apparently, as evidenced by this crazy stretch of road, making me so very grateful that Bruce was doing the driving!
For sure, this chicken would have been in panic mode wondering where the heck the road was! Eventually we came to a town called Sunny Isles Beach, which from what we could see on US1, is mostly made up of brand new high rise condominiums. One of many.
The town bills itself as Florida's Riviera. I've never been to the French Riviera, however if it is anything like this place, it must be good.

Matt called after landing, got through immigration quickly, and sorted out the hotel room after a 15 minute conversation at the reception desk. We were getting closer, in fact, only North Miami Beach separated us from our son. We did take a moment to notice Haulover Beach on our way--remember that name, we'll re-visit it in another post.

Ta-Da! We handed over the keys to the valet, and up to the 6th floor in the Chateau tower.
Oh my, what a place. I've been to Las Vegas before, so I've seen glitzy, but I haven't really ever been this close to it. During our drive I mentioned to Bruce that while traveling for work,  Matt has been to some of the finest hotels in the world. Once he had the room situated he'd called us back to warn us that the Fontainebleau was like no other hotel he'd ever been to before. That's saying a lot! The view towards Collins Avenue:
Those would be yachts docked in the Intercoastal Waterway belonging to the hotel. If you are so inclined, and have mega-bucks, they are available for rentals. Just saying...

After a reunion, we figured out a place to eat nearby. Having just handed over our keys, we decided to walk, which was both good and bad. 11 blocks gives a person lots of up close and personal with the surroundings which included multiple small art-deco buildings.
I was no match for those two! You can probably tell Bruce is on the phone which was a bit of a nuisance. I'm accustomed to it, but really, why did the air conditioning have to go out in an Olive Garden on a Saturday night with a full house? Bruce is not the kind of person who can just say, I'm sorry, I'm busy right now. Anyway, we made our way to The Palms, a hotel much tamer than the one we left. Lovely both inside and out, including this scene by the pool area:
Me, I just wanted to see the beach:
Our outdoor seating at Essensia was beautiful, albeit somewhat warm, and eventually the mosquitoes started coming out. The above clouds could have told us that much. It was here that we discovered that the bill came with an 18% tip included in the total. I mention that because most everywhere we went did the same. According to Nancy, or at least this is what she thinks, they do that because of the large number of international travelers who visit the area and are not used to tipping. Consider it a heads up because Bruce nearly double tipped!

Remembering that Matt was on a different time zone, we didn't linger. Our next stop was not nearly as glamorous--Walgreens, for a few toiletries. While leaving there, crossing a short bridge, I noticed the MOON over Miami Beach. Big and bright.
I was to later learn it was the night before the "super moon," although it looked pretty super to me on Saturday night. That was not the only bold lighting we saw on Saturday. My, oh my. The lobby of the hotel was hopping. Here's the bar which is pretty much one and the same with the lobby:
Matt was tired, Bruce was still dealing with the ac problem, leaving me with time on my hands. I plopped down in the lobby to watch the parade.
Did I mention the music was pumping? See that purply color on the left. That's the two story club entrance. I have led a very sheltered life because I could not imagine a club opening at 11 and staying open until 5AM. According to the lobby helper, for lack of a better term, most Miami Beach clubs stay open all night. What is 5AM? Part of the night? Never have I seen so many scantily dressed girls in one place. Taxis dropped them off in droves. There was a lot of this going on as well:
The shoes on display were amazing. I felt sort of dorky sitting there in my Keds. :) The helper told me what I was seeing was pretty tame compared to what would be happening in the next few hours. So, if you're looking to do it up big in Miami Beach, apparently this is the place to go.
We crept into the room so as not to wake Matthew, however, he was pretty well worn out and sleeping like a baby. We were too, soon thereafter.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Surprise, Surprise--We Took the Long Way Down!

Because Matt was not arriving in Miami until 4PM, we made a long day trip of our journey, which won't surprise you at all if you are a regular reader of Camera Crazy. Why take the straight shot when you can meander? Leaving the house a little after 7AM, we started off on the Turnpike, but not for long, getting off after only about 60 miles. Two things were on my agenda, seeing Lake Okeechobee, and Lion Country Safari, just outside West Palm Beach. Mission accomplished!
Bruce is standing on top of the bike dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee, mostly seeing water. No great surprise because the lake covers 730 sq miles, or roughly half the size of the state of Rhode Island! There are locks and flood gates along the perimeter, one such gate looks like this:
The folks who were fishing kindly informed me that the baby herons I saw in the nest belonged to Mama heron sitting on the foreground post.
Originally I thought the standing one was the Mother, but apparently that is not the case. This is the closest I've ever been to a shore bird's nest out in the wild; as you can imagine, I was pretty excited. You might just as well be looking at the ocean the lake is so big!
Apparently it is quite the hot spot for bass fishing--we saw multiple RV parks along the shoreline, or make that the canal between the dike and the lake.
Perhaps I should take this opportunity to mention this post will be VERY photo heavy?

It will be very photo heavy. There, I've warned you, bail out now if your time is limited!

Continuing SW, we saw fields of sugar cane which is kind of weird since I recently posted the picture of what you can buy in the store, nevertheless, there are fields as far as the eye can see.
For a good long while we could see a long line of palm trees on the horizon. So what? Well, in the flat landscape they really stood out for one thing, and then too, why were they there? Mr. Smarty Pants Bruce figured it out before we got closer--they were lining the long road into a sugar processing plant.
I mean that Mr. Smarty Pants in a very good way. It is so helpful to have, as your traveling companion, someone who knows more than you do, especially if you are the curious type like I am. For whatever reason, they also grow sod...
Shadows of the palms in the foreground, providing just about the only shade we saw. Not too far from here we made it to LCS, entering the animal portion through this area while listening to a CD explaining the animals and their habitat.
Just on the other side of this driveway you enter gates onto the area known as Las Pampas, or grasslands. Although you know you'll be seeing animals just doing their thing, it took me by surprise to immediately see this guy just walking in the grass.
The feathers you see in the grass on the left belong to one of many birds known as Rhea, native to South America, more specifically Brazil and below.
Before I go further, I must tell you that all the photographs were taken through the car windows, as we were warned to keep them up, with the doors locked. We saw llamas, and tapirs hanging around, then on to Ruaha National Park, or what they call the area with African wildlife including lots of animals that either resemble a deer, or a horse. Of course the males mostly have horns, but that's another story.
We got a kick out of watching these impalas locking horns:
There are a lot of the ostriches, a bird that you wouldn't want to run into in person, or I sure wouldn't.
They are so gigantic up close. Apparently they can grow to 8 feet tall! As you see, the animals roam freely and have the right of way. The lady on the cd told us to drive in two lanes, the left one as the drive-by lane, the right to stop and gawk. Unfortunately, many of the people who were visiting when we were, either can't follow directions, or won't. Obviously you can't honk, but if we were to visit again, I'm thinking a weekday might be less crowded. As I said, lots of guys with horns:
Aren't they something? I loved the white underbelly on this Blackbuck. Onward to the Serengeti Plains, home to the Waterbuck. Both the males and females have horns, as well as a distinctive "target-like" pattern on their rumps.
The above photo shows how there is room for the animals to roam at will, as long as they stay in their habitat.  Park workers provide additional feed on the concrete pads along the roadway. Here's a Southern White Rhinoceros coming out after a swim:
Those are the big boys of the park, weighing up to 2.5 tons! Why they are called white, when clearly they are not, is beyond me.
Here's another big boy called a Watusi--the original Longhorn? The information pamphlet tells me their horns can span, are you ready? 10 feet!!

Lions? Isn't this place called Lion Country Safari? Although we saw some, sadly, they were pretty much all taking a siesta under shade me a little disappointed, although as hot as it is right now, who can blame them?

I was really hoping to see some lions, as well as some zebras, and on that front I scored. There were loads of them, some crossing the road,
and some hanging out with their friends:
I can't figure out why, but the above two look like one is white with black stripes, while the other is black with white stripes. An age-old question I suppose ,but I sure can see why people have always wondered about this. So, they were great, as were the giraffes--oh my they are fantastic!
Oops--looks like someone put the window down for a moment and it wasn't me! Have you noticed how nice everything is kept? We were pleasantly surprised at how the animals all look so clean and healthy.

Just after the giraffe area, you leave the safari, heading into a big parking lot to, either exit, or park your car and see what the "walking" part is all about. We did the latter and again were so happy we did. Who isn't happy when they see the gorgeous color of a flamingo?
I got Bruce to ride the carousel, as well as take my photograph while doing so!
The main challenge was I was the pencil skirt I was wearing! Next up--the ferris wheel:
Aren't the cars super cute? Round and round we went with a nice overhead view of the giraffe area as a bonus. Although we did not participate, this little girl fed a giraffe some romaine lettuce which he seemed to enjoy very much, sticking out that 15" tongue to grab it!
After a time, he'd had his fill of lettuce, moving onto the provided hay:
 Who doesn't like giraffes?

After a nice lunch, we took to the road again. The charge for LCS is $28 a person, which later on in this trip will seem like even more than the bargain I thought it was at the time. I'm realizing just how long this post could go on, so, in the interest of both of us, I'm leaving you for today. After the weekend, this week will seem pretty tame, leaving me with plenty of time to fill you in. Stay tuned for more adventures in Florida, taking the long way!

You Just Never Know