Florida in February

We took a short trip down to the Tampa-St.Pete area on the Gulf Coast to celebrate my sister’s wedding. The weather in February was perfect. St. Petersburg is a vibrant town with impressive parks, restaurants and spaces for art. 

St Petersburg, FL, USA –February 15, 2019. Boats are moored in a Florida marina on a February morning.

We stayed at the Don Cesar, a first rate hotel, and met some friends who live nearby for dinner.

The Don CeSar Hotel

We also headed out to visit Fort De Soto Park in Tierra Verde. It’s the largest park within Pinellas County. It is made up of 5 interconnected islands and encompasses 1,136 acres. It has 7 miles of waterfront that includes 3 miles of sandy beaches; there are campsites, a museum, a ferry service, food concessions, birdwatching, swimming, nature trails—you name it. And if you don’t have a car, you can just Uber over and back. 

 

Beach chairs and lounges decorate the beach at dusk

 

Fort De Soto Park, Florida — February 17, 2019. Photo of three men fishing off a pier into the Gulf of Mexico.
Beach at Ft De Soto Park in Florida
Fort De Soto Park, Florida — February 17, 2019. Photo of a long pier in the Gulf of Mexico with fishermen and tourists.

JFB

 

Colonial Williamsburg

We took a short trip down to the historic triangle which encompasses colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. This is not a trip to be missed. Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the new land and the place where the mighty British Empire established its first presence. Not surprisingly, Jamestown served as the first capitol of the Colony of Virginia, from 1618 until 1699. It was also the home of the county’s courthouse.

 

Williamsburg, VA, USA — January 9, 2019. Actors in period costume, surrounded by tourists, put on a mock trial in colonial Williamsburg.

It is difficult in the modern age for us to even imagine the dangers and hardships the settlers endured. For instance, from 1609 to 1610 over 80% of the settlers perished from disease and starvation, in what came to be known as the “Starving Time”. During this time the the settlers dug graves for the fallen, but hid the site so the Indians wouldn’t realize how weakened their position had become. 

A simple gravesight, recently discovered, secretly established by early settlers of Jamestown VA.

It was also in Jamestown that the first Africans arrived—aboard a Portuguese slave ship. Thus began America’s long history with slavery, which was not to end until the civil war (1861—1865).  But some effects linger to this day. 

Yorktown, VA, USA — January 10, 2019. Photo of a small reconstructed wooden building that served as slave quarters on a Yorktown farm during the colonial era. Four to six people would have been housed here.

Virginia is a living museum to the American experiment in self government, and the historic triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown tells an important part of the story. 

Williamsburg, VA, USA — January 9, 2019. Photo of horses, carriage and drivers in period dress by a hitching post by shops on the streets of colonial Williamsburg.

 

Williamsburg, VA, USA — January 9, 2019. Photo of shops, pubs and Inns in colonial Williamsburg, VA on a cold and cloudy winter day.

 

JFB

Touring Banff: Walking on Glaciers and Sailing on Turquoise Lakes

Banff deserves a priority listing on any to do list. The place is a natural wonderland, with spectacular mountains, valleys and lakes. It is full of good restaurants; it has wonderful hotels, the service is first rate and there are numerous tours lasting from a couple of hours riding a tour boat on a lake to weeks long camping trips. Among other things, we booked a tour that allowed us to walk on a glacier. 

We also booked an all-day tour with a guide named Sam who took us all around Banff, Lake Moraine and Johnston Canyon, where we did a considerable amount of hiking around. One place was more spectacular than the next. (Thanks Sam!)

Now we are back in the airport in Calgary waiting to fly back to DC. It was a great trip and belongs on everyone’s to do list. Here below are a few shots from the tours.

JFB

Our Hotel in Banff
Tourists take a walk on the Athabasca Glacier in Banff.
Alpine Glow in the Canadian Rockies
Photo looking over Lake Minnewanka from a boat with a colorful sky and the Canadian Rockies in the background.
Sam, Mary Anne and Joe at Lake Morraine

Banff, Canada

Banff is nestled in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, Canada. It is a place of spectacular beauty, which may explain the proliferation of one of the banes of modern life. I refer to that most horrid of devices: The Selfie Stick. It seems like everyone in Banff has at least one, ever ready to snap a photo of the owner with a mountain or lake in the background. Which is not to short change go-pros; they are everywhere as well, if only slightly less obnoxious. 

But even the ever present selfie stick fades into insignificance in the midst of the breath taking beauty of Banff. The Canadian Rockies are ever present; the lakes and rivers are a clear gorgeous turquoise, and there are massive glaciers all over the place. Our initial outing included a trip to Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, and the Athabasca Glacier, which we got on chance to walk on. It doesn’t get much better than that. 

Here are some photos below. More will be posted in the coming days.

JFB

Athabasca Glacier, Banff
Wide angle shot overlooking Peyto Lake in Banff Canada. Note the selfie stick photographer in the lower right corner.
Wide Angle shot of Lake Louise
Bow River, Banff Canada
Main street in Banff with mountain rising in the background

On to England

After spending some time in Ireland doing some sightseeing and visiting family, we made our way over to England to visit (and stay with) with our good friends Michael and Sally Oxlade who live in the country side. They were kind enough to take us on a 2-day whirlwind tour that included Winchester Cathedral, Highclere Castle (where Downton Abbey is filmed) and the Winchester Museum that, among other things, includes a re-creation of King Arthur’s Round Table. These are just a few of the spots we visited. Perhaps most importantly we all went to the village pub to relax and share some memories before having one of Sally’s delicious dinners.

Thanks, Sally and Michael (and your son Charley) for a wonderful time.  Here are a couple of photos of places we visited on the too short visit.

JFB

 

The Highclere Castle–where Downton Abbey is filmed
Winchester Cathedral
The Winchester Museum
Inside Winchester Cathedral
The Town of Winchester
Street Musician in Winchester
Sally and Mary Anne

Ireland in Summer

We are just back from a short trip to Ireland and England to visit family and friends. While in Ireland we spent several days in Dublin and then headed west to the Atlantic Coast and Westport in County Mayo. There is an interesting and stark difference between the two.

Dublin has become a wee bit less distinctively Irish and more like other large cities in Western Europe. There are lots of nationalities represented in the city as well as lots of different languages. The government is still trying to encourage the use of Gaelic, but that looks like a lost cause.

The coastal area around Westport on the other hand seems to have retained much, if not most, of its traditional Irish character.  It remains mostly rural and has kept its stunning views of mountains and ocean.  There are lots of farms and sheep stations and large expanses of green hills and valleys.

 

Here (below) are a few shots taken in Dublin and around the coast on our recent trip.

Shops and stores in Dublin
Bicycle Tourists look over the River Liffey in Dublin
A sheep station on County Mayo near the Atlantic
An old abandoned row boat near a dried up river in County Mayo

Joe Benning

Wasting Away in Margaritaville

Well, here we are in Key West, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, also known as the Conch Republic. It is quite a scene. In some respects, it bears a faint resemblance to Nashville’s honky-tonk scene. There are lots of bars and restaurants with working musicians playing guitars looking for a break. Like Jimmy Buffet. But Key West is far more upscale.

Welcome Booth

Located in the Straits of Florida, Key West (Cayo Hueso in Spanish) is an island city at the Southernmost point of the North American Continent. It is closer to Cuba than it is to Miami. He island is very small—only 1 mile long and 4 miles wide. If you walk the length of Duval Street (the main street) you will have walked from the Gulf of Mexico at one end to the Florida Straits and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.

 

The permanent population is about 25,000, and tourism is a very big deal here. And the tourists arrive by plane, auto, ferry and cruise ship. In the first three months of 2018 alone, cruise ships brought about 275,000 tourists to the island and airplanes brought about 120,000.

Key West is (or was) home to quite a few notables, including Earnest Hemmingway, John Dos Passos, Tennessee Williams, John Dewey, Winslow Homer and Calvin Klein to name a few.

Anyway, Key West is a more than a bit bohemian with an independent streak and a live-and-let live attitude that is kind of refreshing. More than refreshing, actually. There may be a lesson here.

Here (below) are some photos taken during our too short stay.

JFB

Famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar
Fat Tuesday
Rick’s Bar on Duval Street
The Customs House Museum

St. Bart’s: Land of the Rich and Famous

St. Bart’s, St. Barth’s, St. Bartholomew—take your pick, the names are used interchangeably—is one of the 4 islands that make up the French West Indies. The other three are Martinique, Guadeloupe, and the French side of St. Martin. Most notably, St. Bart’s is where the beautiful people come and play, including the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio and Mick Jagger. (Mick sends his best).

Gustavia Harbor

St. Bart’s is deservedly big in reputation, but small by area and population. There are only about 9,300 full time inhabitants, and its total size is just under 10 square miles. Tourism is its most important business. The small island attracts over 200,000 visitors each year. The island and its visitors are well-matched: they are relentlessly upscale. Upmarket shops dominate the capital city Gustavia, the harbor is full of yachts and the hotels tend toward the boutique.

 

About the hotels: there are about 25 of them scattered around the island. Most have 15 rooms or less. Instead of regular hotel rooms, most hotel accommodations take the form of villas. One of the most notable is Eden Rock, where we stayed about 15 years ago.  Then again there is the Hotel Le Toiny where the rooms / villas start at $2,000 per night in January.

 

We spent our time in St. Barth’s wandering around the beautiful town of Gustavia, which is right on the water. Here below, are some photos taken there.

Street Signs in Gustavia
Shopping Area in Gustavia
Jet Skis in the Harbor

JFB

 

On to the Caribbean—Aruba

After traversing the Panama Canal, we arrived in the Caribbean Sea, leaving South America behind us. Our first stop in the Caribbean was Aruba.  It is a small island, just 19 miles long and 6 miles wide and a population of about 104,000.

 

The geography of Aruba is very interesting. One side of the island is the Caribbean. That is the side with the large tourist hotels and white sandy beaches. The other side faces the Atlantic Ocean where the sea is fairly turbulent. The Atlantic here is violent enough to have carved out from the cliffs the highest and most spectacular natural bridge in the Caribbean. (It collapsed in 2005).

Aruba’s Atlantic Coastline

We went touring mostly on the Atlantic side of the island, visited the rocky shores of the Atlantic side as well as desert-like areas and a butterfly farm. Some photos are below.

Cactus Plants
At a Butterfly Farm
Atlantic Ocean Crashes into the Coast
Desert Like Area in Aruba

JFB