Kathy & I spent the day yesterday exploring the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. I was channeling my buddy Don Brown just a little bit, as he is one of the best bird shooters I know. I was handicapped a bit by a 200mm lens on my Fuji, not really long enough for serious wildlife work. But I came away with a few shots that are reasonably well exposed, acceptably sharp and representative of what we saw.
The most amazing thing we saw I wasn’t even able to record! we walked back a trail into a wood, and soon found a group of egrets lounging in an area well off the beaten path. There were easily a hundred or more there, but the brush was so thick that there was no way to make a photograph. But the sound! I said it sounded like the morning after a frat party – lots of guttural sounds and weird noises. It was quite an experience, but you’ll just need to take my word for it!
I’ve written previously about how Kathy & I like to seek out train stations on our travels through different areas. I hadn’t paid too much attention to train stations when we planned this trip to Florida, but almost by happy accident I realized that southern Georgia and Florida contain many examples of train stations. Here more so than in other states they seem to generally be in pretty good shape, many of them currently used as museums, social halls or offices.
While we were visiting the station in Avon Park, a volunteer at the museum there told us that the Silver Star passenger train passes through there daily, and that it would be there within the hour. He also mentioned that there is a station in Sebring that hadn’t come up on my search, even though the Sebring station is an active Amtrak station.
While we were in Avon Park, a CSX freight train came through, then we drove to the Sebring station in time to catch the Amtrak train making its stop there. We aren’t usually fortunate enough to actually see trains while we are at these stations, so to catch two on the same day was a real treat!
I mentioned in a previous post about how I happened upon this scene and wanted to share a few more of the resulting photos.
Kathy & I had made a day trip to Beaufort, SC and stopped by Port Royal on the way back. In Port Royal we had stopped at a little park with a boat ramp, boardwalk and an observation tower. It was really buggy there so we didn’t stay long, but while we were at the top of the tower I noticed that there were some fishing boats farther along the river.
We stopped in town and took a little walk, then when we were back in the car and getting ready to head back to Hilton Head, I decided to just go down one of the side streets to see where it lead. As it turned out it lead directly to the dock where the fishing boats were! And just in time to make some photos of a beautiful sky before heading back to our “home away from home.”
Saturday marked the end of our second week here. It’s been interesting – we’ve been able to live in our rented “beach home” just about like we live in our “real” home. We’ve gone out to eat a few times but mostly eat in, have managed to keep our car trips to a minimum and spend most of our time doing the same kind of things we’d do at home. We take a bit of pride in the number of days our car doesn’t move from the garage, both here and at home.
Yesterday the local cable company upgraded the cable boxes and modems in our building to a new digital service. The upside for us is that the internet is now about 10X faster than it used to be, and we also have hundreds more TV channels to not watch! The picture is great! Unfortunately the content is the same, just a lot more of it.
At some point I realized that in the next day or two will have been “away from home” for the longest times in our lives with the exception of college and the 2 months or so that I lived in corporate housing when we relocated to North Carolina from Ohio.
The interesting thing is that we’ve settled into life here with nary a glitch. We talked the other day about how quickly this place seems like home. We brought a reasonable amount of “stuff” with us – mostly clothes, camera gear and electronics – and anticipated a few trips to Target or Wal-Mart to pick up things our condo didn’t have. But so far all we’ve had to buy is food, water and wine! It’s amazing how well we can live for an extended time with just the stuff that will fit in the car.
The weather hasn’t been ideal, but we’ve had a number of really nice days. For this time of the year, a couple of nice days each week is about what we expected. It’s warmer than home and a lot warmer than a lot of other places we could be! It’s easy to accept a rainy day or two when we’ve got so many to work with.
Thanksgiving will be a little weird this week, but we don’t do a lot of major family stuff and we never travel over that weekend, so it isn’t too big of a deal. We have a couple of steaks and a nice bottle of wine and will celebrate in our own way. We might even turn on the TV and watch the parades…likely with the sound off, of course!
Like a lot of folks, Kathy & I have always looked forward to having the time to take extended vacations unencumbered by corporate “PTO” allowances and other restrictions. There is always some kind of limitation, of course. Now, instead of a PTO allowance the limitation is primarily funding! While we were working and had the privilege of occasionally being able to work remotely, we thought that we might be able to “live at the beach” or some location other than our house for an extended period of time. We reasoned that “working remotely” was not location-specific, since as long as we were connected to the network and available by phone it didn’t matter where we were. Unfortunately, we were never able to convince our bosses that working from a condo at the beach wasn’t being “on vacation.” Our bosses for some reason had visions of us sitting in a lounge chair by the pool drinking Mai-Tais while we were supposed to be working. So we fixed that situation – we quit!
One of the things we have always wanted to do was to spend a month or more “at the beach.” Our beach of choice has become Hilton Head Island, SC. Not that we think it is better than any other beach or that it has some special meaning for us, but it has the atmosphere we prefer – a little more upscale, nice beaches, good restaurants and great places to stay. Because we have been here so often, we know our way around, have a rental company we like to use and just have a comfort level with the place that comes from familiarity.
As we planned our post-retirement travel, we decided to book a rental for a couple of weeks at the beginning of November. We reasoned that it was late enough to hopefully avoid hurricane season and avoid a lot of the crowds while still being warm enough to enjoy being outside. We don’t typically spend a lot of time in the water anyway, so being able to swim was not a make-or-break factor. The rates here in the offseason are very good. The weekly rates in the winter are a fraction of what they are in the summer. In fact, we soon discovered that the monthly rate for the place we were renting was only a little more than the rate for two weeks – no brainer! We gladly paid the extra and are here for the month. Even if we go home early, the cost of the extra two weeks will be covered after just a couple of nights.
Over the years we have toyed with the idea of owning a second home, either at the beach or in the mountains. We actually started down the road toward owning a “retirement” place in the mountains, but fortunately our better sense prevailed and we didn’t do it. I’ve never considered real estate to be an investment anyway. For me, housing is an expense, despite what the real estate folks say. The more my housing expenses are, the less money I have to spend on travel! If I factor in all of the costs involved with owning a property I have never actually made money on real estate. The last thing I want is to own a second place that I can only visit occasionally – that just takes time and money away from doing other interesting things. In many ways, if I could rent my present home instead of owning I might consider it to be a prudent use of capital! Owning a property isn’t just a financial responsibility either – it can be a mental or physical hindrance as well. Owning more than one just multiplies the responsibility.
So anyway, we’re starting into our second week in Hilton Head, and so far we seem to be enjoying it a lot. We both agree that it’s too soon to know how we’ll feel after a month but we’re glad that it is longer than just a week. We’re kinda done with 7-day vacations! We have a comfortable place to stay with a view of the beach, and the area we are in has a network of walking paths that we can use when we’re not on the beach. We have our computers with us, I figured out how to have all my photos with me so I can work on them when I’m so inclined, and we have books on our Kindles for quiet times. It’s almost like living at home but with a different view. The furniture isn’t quite as comfortable but the location makes up for it! And when we’re done we can lock the door and head home without worrying about hurricanes or messy renters. If we decide to come back – and we will – we can come any time, and if we decide to go somewhere else – and we probably will – we can do that too!
Kathy & I recently returned from a trip to Ohio to visit friends and family. One of the days that we were there, we visited Ohio’s “Amish Country” with our friends Bill & Cathy. There was an Amish area of western Pennsylvania when I was growing up, but I remember it as a place where my grandmother took her quilt tops to have quilted and to occasionally pick up a pie, some cookies or some cheese. It always involved stopping at someone’s farm or a small market and was always interesting because they seemed rather shy and didn’t socialize much. We did the business we came to do and then went on our way.
That was a long time ago, and I admit that the world has changed. But one of the things that struck me about this most recent visit to Amish Country was how commercialized it has become. While there are still genuine Amish farms, furniture builders and markets, they are almost overshadowed by these huge, I’ll call them “mega-markets” that support the throngs of tourists that visit each year. It is a far cry from the Amish country that I remember from when I was a kid.
As examples, what was once a small sales area of a local cheese plant is now a huge retail outlet, larger than the actual factory itself, selling something like 100 different flavors of cheese. A place that was once a general store is now a multi-level trinket outlet with countless items to take home and store in our closets along with plenty of gifts for the kids and grandkids. Kathy refers to all that stuff as the “mommy-can-I-gets.” A restaurant called “Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen” while possibly still owned by someone named Yoder, is essentially a huge dining hall with a kitchen and multiple buffet lines serving food that I wonder if the actual Amish would eat. Maybe I’m wrong but that was the impression I came away with. But the tourists love it!
While we were in Amish Country I picked up a local tourist magazine that essentially contained advertising for all the places the tourists are supposed to visit while they are there. I was struck by the number of ads for businesses that seemed to revolve around activities that weren’t actually Amish – fancy hotels, clothing stores, restaurants, music and play theaters, souvenir shops. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them were actually owned by the Amish and how much of the profits actually stay in the communities. It would be interesting to know if you could actually figure it out.
This isn’t all about the Amish or Amish Country, however, and my observations aren’t limited to one area of rural Ohio. In many ways this commercialization is a reflection of the overall focus on commerce in our society, and applies to cities big and small, islands in the Caribbean and cruise ports around the world. No longer is it enough to just enjoy the scenery on a walk down the main street in a cute little town in the middle of nowhere, but now our visit won’t be complete unless we have an opportunity to buy stuff. If you manage to even find the town itself it is almost a miracle! We’ve got antiques and gifts and fudge and restaurants galore, but too often the retail/tourism side of things has managed to erase whatever it was that caused the town to be interesting in the first place.
When we were in Italy, one of the highlights for us was exploring the towns of Tuscany on our photo workshop with Jeff Curto. Most of the places we visited seemed to be close to the original, and the commercialization fell way short of what we see here in the states. But a lot of the towns there, just like here, have undergone what I heard referred to as the “Rick Steves Effect.” Places that were once quaint and charming suddenly become famous and are overrun with tourists. Almost immediately these places lose what made them famous and become just another stop on the bus tour. It’s a lot like cruise ship ports – every one looks the same after a while because they all contain the same shops. But I digress….
I often comment about how places have become “Disneyfied” in that what tourists see bears little or no resemblance to what the place is best known for. Multimillion-dollar developments replace straw markets and rum shacks in the Caribbean. Gift and jewelry store chains promoted by cruise lines and tour companies sell merchandise in glitzy shops. Merchandise that comes from parts of the world far removed from the place in which it is being sold. There’s obviously a market for that stuff, as these companies seem to be successful and growing. But it makes it hard to experience a place for what made it worth visiting in the first place.
I know this may sound really negative, but that wasn’t my intention. It’s just that all of these things have gotten me to think about how I want to experience the parts of the country and the world that we visit. Do we want to check off a bunch of “must-see” tourist spots and buy the appropriate souvenirs, or do we want to seek out the undiscovered places that have as much or perhaps even more of the charm that made the famous places famous? Do we buy our souvenirs, take our selfies and move on, or do we slow down, look around and try to find the places that are just off the beaten path? It is an interesting challenge, for sure!
It’s not exactly an obsession, but one of the things I look for when we travel (other than lighthouses and covered bridges) is train stations. They are generally very easy to spot, as their architecture tends to be quite unique. They are usually, but not always, located next to railroad tracks. Sometimes they are still active passenger depots, but more often than not have been converted to offices, civic centers or meeting halls. I’ve seen some that are police stations, city halls and even restaurants. Most heartbreaking for me is when I see one in disrepair. It takes a lot of money to keep these places up, but they are an important part of history and I love to see them being used and maintained.
Kathy & I have been capitalizing on our newly won freedom from cubicle confinement & PTO allocation and are ready to set off on our next adventure. Nothing as dramatic as Italy this time – a quick visit to family and friends in Ohio with a stop or two along the way. Some time in Shenandoah National Park, down the Skyline Drive & Blue Ridge Parkway before returning home to do laundry. 😉 No telling what might happen after that!
“Seventy-five years ago, tourism was about experience seeking. Now it’s about using photography and social media to build a personal brand. In a sense, for a lot of people, the photos you take on a trip become more important than the experience.” – New York Times
The article mentioned above is worth a read for a number of reasons, but primarily the references to “over tourism” prevalent in many parts of the world. I mentioned in a previous post that I had never seen so many selfie sticks – and tourists photographing themselves instead of the scenery – and this article expands on that in much more detail.
One of my favorite activities when traveling to interesting locations is to photograph people taking photographs. It’s almost become too easy – like “shooting fish in a barrel” as they say. But I try to keep it interesting and include some of the surroundings as context. It is a bit aggravating, but since I can’t easily get the people out of the pictures I figure I might as well go with the flow.
These are just a few of the photos I took of “POPTP” from our recent visit to Italy.