Category Archives: Travel

Hop on Hops

Hops plants growing in a field near Greenford, Ohio

The daughter and son-in-law of friends of ours in Columbiana, Ohio – in addition to being a occupational therapist and family physician, respectively – like to play around with farmer stuff.  They are currently growing hops in their front yard and have a bee hive in their back yard.  That’s way more ambition than I had, even when I was working!  I think they are hoping to brew beer from the hops, but I don’t know their plan for honey.  Maybe mead?  We’ll have to see.  We visited their place while they were off at work in order to check out the progress and to take a few photos.

Bee hive near Greenford, Ohio

Roadside Finds: Blacksville, SC Train Station

Old train station in Blacksville, South Carolina that now houses the Blacksville Public Library

I mentioned this find in the previous post, and here are a few photos.  The rotunda design reminds me a bit of the station in Hamlet, NC but that station is much larger.  This station now houses the public library. I like to see these old stations repurposed and maintained as they should be, respecting their history.

Old train station in Blacksville, South Carolina that now houses the Blacksville Public Library
Old train station in Blacksville, South Carolina that now houses the Blacksville Public Library
Old train station in Blacksville, South Carolina that now houses the Blacksville Public Library
Old train station in Blacksville, South Carolina that now houses the Blacksville Public Library
Old train station in Blacksville, South Carolina that now houses the Blacksville Public Library

Roadside Finds: Kline, SC Train Station

Train station in Kline, South Carolina

There are rail lines all over rural South Carolina, and on our backroads travels we often find them paralleling the highway.  Every time we go through a small town, we look for a likely spot for a train station.  Many of them are long disappeared, but occasionally we come across one.  As we passed through the town of Kline, SC we came across this old depot.  Still in pretty good condition but could use a little TLC.

Roadside Finds – Murray Gin Mill

Murray Gin cotton mill on SR 3/Whetstone Road near North, South Carolina

Kathy & I like to joke that “no one turns a 5 hour drive into a 7- or 8-hour adventure like we do!  Even going to the beach we like to take back roads and explore what we find along the way.  For this recent trip to Hilton Head we decided to take a picnic lunch and stop at Barnwell State Park, located a few miles off our usual route through rural South Carolina.  The route to Barnwell took us down a road we hadn’t been on before, and we passed this mill along the way.  I didn’t stop, and kicked myself several times before we were too far away to turn around.  I promised myself that I would stop on the way back, and I did.

I haven’t looked too hard yet, but have not come up with any kind of history on this mill.  I did find some indication that the name “Murray” appears on a number of cotton mills in the area, but nothing so far that tells me more.  I’m guessing that the mill is no longer operational, but I’ve seen places that look worse than this still churning out product once a year.

And yes, there is actually a town called North in South Carolina! 🙂

Clet The Sign Guy

Florence, Italy

I had heard or read about this guy long before we visited Italy two years ago.  When we were in Florence I started seeing some of his art, which consists of “modifying” street signs to make whimsical or sometimes political commentary.  I only saw them in Florence, although I understand that he (or copycats) have made this art all around the world.

Clet Abraham was born in the UK in 1966 and was educated in art at Rennes before moving to Italy in the early 1990s. He is a well known and respected painter, sculptor and restorer.  The “modifications” are easily removable adhesives that Clet and a few friends apply at night, sometimes in plain view of security cameras.

The artist explains:

My street sign work stem from a reflection upon our “common visual space”. The omnipresence of street signs, other than being a sign of the [Italian] culture of “anti-responsibility”, can verge on the absurd. The message is very poor (sometimes I feel like I’m being treated like an idiot by them) and yet they have a highly invasive aesthetic. As a professional in the world of visual space, I feel called to intervene, both to notify the public of the absurdity of the situation, and to propose a constructive and respectful alternative. My adhesives are developed to add a further level of reading [to street signs] constructed on the base of their original signification in order to maintain its utility but give it some intellectual, spiritual, or simply amusing interest. The final objective? That traffic keeps flowing without us feeling spoken down to!”

I had forgotten about these photos until recently, when I was selecting photos for the last post.  I’m glad I was able to dredge them back up!

Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy

More From The Everglades

View from the observation tower at the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park

I had always thought of the Everglades as a swamp, but it’s not.  While there are swamp areas in and around the park, the Everglades per-se is actually a 60-mile wide freshwater river, running from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.  It is only a few feet deep in most places.  Because the water flows across a limestone shelf, there is little or no silt or sediment, so the water is remarkably clear.  The flow of water has been greatly impacted over the years by development and diversion of the water to major cities, but recent efforts to stem the loss of wetlands has at least slowed the loss of this ecosystem.

Observation platform on the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park

For our visit, we wanted to see as much of the park as possible, so we didn’t really spend a lot of time in any one place.  It would be possible to spend weeks in any one area, but to get a good overview we concentrated on three main areas.  We stayed in south Miami near Homestead, so we had a good bit of driving to do to get anywhere, especially the second and third areas mentioned below.

Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park, Florida
The Gumbo Limbo Trail in Everglades National Park, Florida
Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park, Florida

The southernmost part of the park starts near Homestead and stretches from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center down SR-9336 to the Flamingo Visitor Center.  We spent time on the Anhinga Trail, which is an easy 0.8-mile path and boardwalk through an area that is home of a large number of wildlife.

Baby alligators along the trail from the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park
Tram tour from the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park

The section that is probably most familiar to visitors to south Florida is the section that is bisected by US-41, known as the Tamiami Trail.  Because the Tamiami Trail only borders the National Park on the south side, and only in a relatively small section, this is the place where all the air boat rides, ‘gator rasslin’ places and trinket shops are located.  The Shark Valley visit center is probably the most visited center in the park, and unfortunately has the smallest parking lot.  It’s not unusual to have to endure long waits to get into the parking lot, with the alternative of parking on the road and walking about a half mile in to the visitor center.  That wouldn’t be bad in February, but I wouldn’t want to do that in August!  Then again, I want very little to do with south Florida in August!

We were fortunate to have only a relatively short wait to park, then lucked into a tram tour that left about an hour after we arrived.  The “loop road” that goes to an observation tower is a 15-mile round trip.  Walking it would be the ideal way to experience the trail and the wildlife, but 15-miles is a long way!  It’s also possible to bicycle the trail, and it’s possible to rent bikes there.  But the tram tour goes slowly enough and stops whenever wildlife is encountered, so for tourists like us it’s a pretty good way to get around.

White Pelican and Cormorants during our Everglades National Park
Historic Smallwood Store on Chokoloskee Island, Florida

The third area, which is probably more a sub-area of the second, is the area around the towns of Everglades City and Chokoloskee.  From Chokoloskee we took a boat tour through the Chokoloskee Bay toward the Gulf of Mexico.  We opted for a tour in a small motor boat rather than an airboat, since the motor boat is slower and quieter I think we were able to see a lot more wildlife.  Airboats are not allowed in the National Park, so any of the airboat companies up along the Tamiami Trail don’t actually take you into the National Park.  Not a big deal, but I wanted to experience the park proper, not just the Everglades in general.  We lucked out and only had 4 people on our tour plus the guide.  Compared to the option of the airboat I think we made the right choice.  I’d love to take an airboat ride sometime, but I think of it as more of a thrill ride than a way to see wildlife up close.

Everglades National Park contains a number of these shell islands that were constructed by the Calusa Indians using only shells. The shell layers are visible along the edges of the water.
Everglades National Park boat cruise with Everglades Area Tours
Dolphins during our Everglades National Park boat cruise with Everglades Area Tours

I’ve got plans for a few more posts detailing some of the highlights from these various areas.  I didn’t want to clutter this post up with too many more words or photos, so those will come later.

Thoughts on Three Cruises In Four Weeks

Brilliance of the Seas docked next to Liberty of the Seas in Cozumel

We didn’t set out to book three cruises, honest!  It just sorta…happened. 🙂

Carnival Breeze in San Juan, Puerto Rico

We had previously booked two weeks on Royal Caribbean’s (RCCL) Freedom of the Seas out of San Juan in January.  The ship was scheduled to go to drydock for extended renovations the week after we were due to get off.  But due to lots of reasons irrelevant to my post, Royal Caribbean needed to move the drydock back one week and cancelled the second of the two weeks.  We didn’t want to travel all the way to Puerto Rico for just a week (our preference – lots of people do it), so we decided to cancel the first week, too.  We re-used the plane tickets to go to San Juan this past November instead.

Norwegian Dawn in Roatan, Honduras

Because of the cancellation of the first week, we ended up with a credit that needed to be used by February, so we found a 5-night cruise on Brilliance of the Seas, another RCCL ship sailing out of Tampa.  We had never sailed out of Tampa before, and figured with our credit that this would be an inexpensive way to take a short cruise and check out Tampa.

Sunrise aboard Brilliance of the Seas

Meanwhile, friends of ours had booked a Carnival cruise out of Port Canaveral for the following week and “suggested” that we might want to go along.  It doesn’t take much “suggestion” to get us interested in a cruise!  So, we booked a cruise on that ship for the next week.

Aboard Brilliance of the Seas

Our son Kevin likes to cruise also, and he has been sailing with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).  He mentioned that he wanted to take a cruise in February and suggested (there’s that word again!) that it might be fun if we went together.  So we checked around and found a cruise on Norwegian Dawn out of Tampa.  But the catch was that there was a week’s gap between the two cruises, so we would need to find something to do for a week.  In Florida, in February?  Not hard to do.

Schooner Bar aboard Brilliance of the Seas

We have been working on visiting different National Parks, and had never been to The Everglades.  So we decided to find a place to stay in South Florida for a week, where we visited Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park and drove through some of the Florida Keys.  More on those later.  Then we drove back to Tampa to meet our son and take the third cruise.  When it was all done we had logged about 3,000 car miles, who knows how many cruise miles, and about 4,000 photos!

Grand Atrium aboard Norwegian Dawn

A few thoughts:

– People ask us about the different cruise lines, and although it sounds like a cop-out, they are all good.  Different lines tend to cater to slightly different demographics, but things like ship size, home port and cruise length tend to make a bigger difference than the name of the cruise line.

– We tend to prefer smaller ships and this was borne out on these cruises.  The RCCL and NCL ships were each about the same size – approximately 2,000 passengers, while the Carnival ship was about 4,000 passengers.

– We’ve always assumed that shorter cruises would attract more of a party crowd, but the 5-night RCCL cruise was one of the most laid-back we’ve done, and seemed to have a very high number of repeat cruisers.  The Diamond Club, a lounge for passengers with a certain level of cruises with the line, had so many people that it overflowed into an adjacent lounge.  The Carnival and Norwegian cruises each had a high number of first-timers – a very interesting contrast.

– Cruise line food is very good regardless of the line.  Dining choices are either fixed, with the same table and waiter at the same time each night, or flexible, where you eat where ever you want each night, but with a different waiter and different table each time.  We have always preferred fixed seating, as we like to establish a relationship with our waiter.  But one of the disadvantages of fixed seating is that a lot of the food has to be prepared at once and can sometimes be overdone.  Flexible seating tends to be more cook-to-order, so the food is often fresher, hotter and usually properly done.  This is especially important with fish!

– We really liked cruising out of Tampa and did it twice.  The city is nice – much like Charlotte in terms of age and size, but on the water.  The port is very easy to get in and out of, and parking is a snap.

Sunrise aboard Brilliance of the Seas enroute to Tampa, Florida

I’m sure that’s more than anyone wants to read about my vacation, so I’ll leave it at that for now!

Big A$$ Yachts

Charlotte Amalie Harbor, St Thomas, USVI

One of the things I enjoy while cruising is checking out the huge yachts that appear in Caribbean ports.  They can be seen year-around, but mostly during the winter when it’s too cold for the French Riviera or Monaco, I guess.  They seem to gravitate toward St. Thomas, St. Martin and San Juan, probably because they have harbors and marinas large enough to handle ships their size, and airports to handle the private jets of the owners.  My understanding is that the owners don’t actually sail on them, they just have crew to take the ship to whatever port they wish to sail from, then the owners hop in on the private jet for a long weekend or a week.

Here are two of the notable spottings from our recent cruise.

Yacht “Eclipse” in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

From Wikipedia: M/Y Eclipse is a superyacht built by Blohm+Voss of Hamburg, Germany. Her exterior and interior were designed by Terence Disdale. The yacht was delivered to Russian businessman Roman Abramovich on 9 December 2010. At 162.5 metres (533 ft 2 in) long Eclipse was the world’s largest private yacht until the Azzam was launched in April 2013, which was 17.3 metres (56 ft 9 in) longer. The yacht’s cost has been estimated at €340 million. (Note: the Carnival ship we were on was 306 meters or 1004 feet long, but carried 4000 passengers and 1400 crew!)

Yacht “Excellence” in St Thomas, USVI

From Wikipedia: The 80m Excellence yacht was built in 2019 by Abeking & Rasmussen. She features an exterior design by Winch and an interior by Winch. She cruises at 14 knots and reaches a top speed of 17.0 kn. She can sleep up to 14 guests taken care of by a crew of 20.

Oh, and while not exactly a superyacht, a properly-equipped catamaran is always a pleasant sight. 🙂

St Thomas, USVI