Whew! After the (not) overwhelming response from my last post I needed a break. Actually, I just kind of got distracted and forgot that I hadn’t finished the series from our Florida trip.
If I had any boyhood heroes that weren’t astronauts, one of them would certainly be drag racing legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. Garlits’ name is to drag racing fans what Richard Petty’s or Mario Andretti’s names are to stock car and Indy car racing. Old fans, at least. 😉
As we were driving past Ocala, FL on I-75, I saw a sign that said “Drag Racing Museum Next Exit.” Then I saw whose museum it was! We didn’t have time to stop on our way south, but made a point to visit on the way back home from St. Petersburg. Yes, it was another museum, and art of a different kind than painting and glass! And of course Kathy was thrilled to have something else to look at besides airplanes. 🙂
Here are way too many photos from our visit. But there were way too many cars, and even this is a small sliver of what we saw. Highlight of our visit, of course, was that “Big Daddy” himself was there, giving a personal tour to a small group of fans. We listened to a few stories before they disappeared behind a door that said “Employees Only.”
Garlits has assembled an impressive collection of not only his own cars, but cars from the history of drag racing. And that is just in one building! A second building houses hundreds of mostly stock cars from the 30s forward. A few even older than that. Many of the cars are from Garlits’ personal collection, but a lot of them have been donated over the years by thoughtful and generous owners. We spent a couple of hours there. I could have spent longer, but we needed to move on up the road. So we could get home just in time for a winter storm!
When a restaurant bills itself as “The Best Italian Restaurant in St. Petersburg” and is walking distance from your motel, you need to go, right? Such was the case with Gratzzi Grille. Yeah, maybe the name isn’t spelled ‘correctly’ but I’ll bet it gets pronounced correctly!
One of the items on their menu is what they call ‘Cavatelli Bada Bing.’ It’s prepared tableside by one of the owners, and uses a lot of flaming vodka to prepare a very cheesy, very delicious cavatelli dish. I had to try it! It’s a bit more of a show than it is an example of fine Italian cuisine, but it was fun.
I didn’t take photos or videos, because I just wanted to watch. But the video below shows it better than anything I could have shot anyway. And the guy doing the cooking is the guy who did mine.
Despite being a photographer for years, I’ve never had much more than a passing interest in art, and artists, in general. Sure, I’m aware of a lot of the famous names. We’ve attended galleries and shows, and even a few art auctions on cruise ships.
After visiting The Dali’ – the museum dedicated to art by Salvador Dali’ – I now know that Dali’ was much more than the guy with the weird mustache that painted even weirder pictures. After reading and learning about the surrealist movement and the motivations and inspirations behind it, it starts – starts – to make a bit more sense. I have to believe that substances of some kind must have been involved.
Admittedly, though, seeing Dali’s art in person doesn’t really make it easier to understand or explain the imagination that must have been crucial to developing the ideas and concepts that resulted in this work. But that is what genius is.
We missed by a week being able to see work by another famous artist – Picasso. A Picasso exhibition was opening the week after our visit. That would also have been interesting, but will have to wait for another time.
Visiting both the Dali’ and the Chihuly museums is a strong reminder that there are lots of fine and worthy galleries everywhere. Charlotte even has a number of them, and we need to keep that in mind as we think about things to do and places to go.
One of the other positive things I found in both museums is that in each of them, signs said that “Photography is encouraged!” Of course they want you to tag them on social media, but that’s OK. It was a welcome approach in this age of restrictions and paranoia.
One of the highlights of our visit to St. Petersburg was The Chihuly Collection, part of the Morean Arts Center. I’ve been familiar with Chihuly’s works for years, of course, having seen pieces in several locations throughout the country. There was an exhibit in Asheville some time ago, but we didn’t make it to that one. Our most familiar example is the ceiling in the visitor center at Makers Mark Distillery in Kentucky.
I suppose all of Chihuly’s works are portable in some way, although the large chandeliers and huge static pieces would require a bit of planning, effort and logistics. It was nice to see such a nice selection all in one place.
One tip I learned at the Dali’ museum (which we visited before this but I’m going out of order) was to be sure and watch the video presentations. Although the video room at The Chihuly Collection comes near the end of the exhibit, it is still worth taking the time to learn more about the person and the process, both the artistic process as well as the actual making of the art. Quite the place!
As I mentioned in a previous post, once we found out that our cruise had been cancelled, we began looking for something interesting to do for a few days. We originally looked into a beach resort, but the temperature forecast – while warmer than North Carolina and a lot warmer than places farther north – did not seem to us to be warm enough for beach time. Maybe it was just a letdown from not being able to go to Cozumel? 😉
We settled on St. Petersburg for a number of reasons. We had never been there, it is on the water (Tampa Bay), has a number of interesting museums and looked to have some interesting restaurants. We found a Hampton Inn right downtown near the waterfront for a reasonable price, and headed that way after our time in Lake Wales.
We found St. Petersburg to be a youngish town, and in a lot of ways it reminds me of Fort Collins, but with water instead of mountains, sandals instead of hiking boots. There is a vibrant arts scene there, plenty of public space, a good selection of restaurants of all kinds, and a pretty open and accepting mindset toward people of all kinds, ages and preferences. We really felt welcome there.
After visiting a town, Kathy & I often wonder aloud about how it would be to live there. The downtown area has plenty of condos and apartments, and there were at least two grocery stores within easy walking distance of our motel. With the restaurants, shops, waterfront and museums, there would be plenty to keep anyone occupied. Of course we aren’t looking to relocate, but the hypothetical is still interesting. It looks like it would be pretty expensive, and one of the things we love about where we are is that it is not expensive, which allows us to do the travel we do. So we visit!
I’ll write separately about the museums, but wanted to share a few of the photos I made while wandering around the town on our various outings. We had lovely weather which helped a lot. There is nothing like a blue sky and sunshine to provide a feeling of warmth, especially when it is 25 degrees with snow on the ground as I write this!
We had driven past the entrance to Bok Tower Gardens several times, but it took us until the 4th visit to our friends Bill and Cathy to actually get there. It is quite a beautiful place!
The tower and gardens are the creation of Edward Bok, who was editor of the magazine The Ladies Home Journal. Ed gets most of the credit, although it appears that the money actually came from his wife, Mary Louise Curtis Bok. Mary Louise was the only child of newspaper and magazine magnate Cyrus H.K. Curtis, founder of, among other publications, The Ladies Home Journal (coincidence? 😉 ). With her daddy’s money Mary Louise founded the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She also did a lot of other good and charitable work, especially toward supporting talented young musicians.
The tower and gardens are on the National Register of Historic Places and the grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., son of Frederick Law Olmstead, Sr., known for his work with the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, Central Park in New York City and other important landmarks.
In 1925, Bok decided build a stone water-and-bell tower. He hired architect Milton B. Medary to design “the most beautiful tower in the world”. The 60-bell carillon occupies only the top of the Singing Tower, some of the rest contained large water tanks to irrigate the gardens, with Bok’s baronial study at the base. The 15-foot-wide moat surrounding the tower’s base now serves as a koi pond.
The Gothic Revival tower was built at the highest elevation of the site, south of a reflecting pool that reflects its full image. The tower is 51 feet square at its base, changing at the height of 150 feet to an octagon, with each of the eight sides 37 feet wide. It is built of pink Etowah marble and gray Creole marble, mined in Tate, Georgia, and coquina stone from St. Augustine, Florida.
The tower’s 60-bell carillon was cast by Taylor & Company, of Loughborough, England. The bell chamber is on the eighth floor of the tower, and just below it is a playing room that houses the clavier, or keyboard, that controls the bells. The bells are stationary, only the clappers move to sound them. The sixth floor is a studio for the carillon player. Recitals are given daily. We got to hear one of the recitals, with the carillonneur easily viewed via video feed to a sitting area within view of the tower.
We were very thankful to have visited the tower and gardens on a day that was relatively cool, with low humidity. I can only imagine how warm and sticky it would get on a sunny day, especially in summer.
For anyone wishing to figure out the sundial, we visited on January 9. By following the instructions below the dial, it is pretty easy to calculate the (approximate) time. Yes, the answer can be found in my metadata (convert from GMT). 🙂
I haven’t felt especially wordy lately so I haven’t been posting much. But I did finish processing the photos from our recent visit to Florida. I have posted a gallery on Adobe Portfolio of a selection of all of my photos from this trip.
So what do you do when you’re in Florida for a cruise and the cruise is cancelled? Well, for Kathy & me, we find something else to do! We had already been planning to visit our friends Bill & Cathy, who spend the winter in a community near Lake Wales. Our original plans called for us to visit them after our cruise, so we called them and said, “guess what?” They were somewhat relieved that we would not be coming to visit them after having spent a week on a Covid-infested cruise ship, even though we had planned to take a test after getting off the ship.
We were able to shift our motel reservation to a week earlier than our original plan, then take a few days there to decide what to do with our newfound time (and money). Since the cruise line cancelled the cruise, they are going to refund all of our money PLUS give us the equivalent amount in credit toward a future cruise. A deal for us – we get a few days in Florida and still get a free cruise in the future! Some strings are attached, of course, but nothing we can’t deal with.
We decided to play tourist in Lake Wales while we were there. We visited the Bok Tower Gardens, a relatively famous landmark that we had heard about but never visited. We stopped by the Florida’s Natural Visitor Center and learned about the history of Florida Orange Juice. Who knew?
So what to do? We looked at the weather forecast and decided that it was just going to be too cool to head to a beach resort somewhere. Yes, the temperatures were forecasted to be in the upper 60s to low 70s, which is warm if you are coming from Minnesota or Canada, but for us thin-blooded North Cackalackians it just wasn’t warm enough! We settled on a few days in St. Petersburg, another town we had heard about but never visited.
Over the course of three days in St. Petersburg, we visited the Salvador Dali’ museum, the Chihuly Glass Collection at the Morean Arts Center, and generally wandered around town exploring.
On our way home we stopped by Ocala and visited the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, and were even treated to a “Big Daddy” sighting!
We’re home now and watching an assortment of winter weather passing through the area. Yes, it might be warmer if we had stayed in Florida, but it is nice to be home in our house any time. We’re well stocked and shouldn’t have to leave the house for a few days. So it can snow/sleet/freezing rain all it wants – the sun will probably be back out tomorrow then it can be almost spring! 🙂
Kathy & I were halfway to Tampa, FL last Friday, and in fact had just crossed the Florida state line, when we got a message that our cruise, which was scheduled to depart the following day, had been cancelled. Well, dang it!
All was not lost, of course. We rearranged some plans, made some new plans, and salvaged a few days of sunshine. We returned home this afternoon just in time to hunker down for a winter storm. But we figure better here in our own house than somewhere else!
I’ve got stories to tell, but it’s late and cocktail hour is underway. More to come as I develop my film!
I know not everyone is able to share this sentiment, but from my perspective, 2021 was actually quite a fantastic year. I admit that we were quite fortunate to have not faced a lot of the trials that impacted others. Luck, circumstance, perspective and attitude make a huge difference, of course, as do flexibility and acceptance. Kathy & I are happy, positive people with a good outlook on life, a sense of adventure, and it doesn’t take a lot to make us happy.
What matters to us most are three things: (1) are we healthy?, (2) are our family and friends healthy and safe? and (3) can we pay the bills? The first two have gotten a little complicated lately, but we deal. The “New Normal?” Nah, that’s just Life. And in the words of (Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon made famous by) Mr. Sinatra, “as funny as it may seem, some people get their kicks stompin’ on a dream. But I don’t let it, let it get me down ’cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin’ around.”
This is not intended to be a political or philosophical post, but I think what gets a lot of people down is that they pay too much attention to shit that doesn’t affect them. Kathy & I remain peripherally aware of current events, just enough to know what big things are happening in the world. We spend very little time on (anti)social media, stay mindfully aware of and avoid the hysteria boobytraps that lurk there. Yes, we’re aware of all the boogeymen (and boogeywomen?) out there, but for the most part the idiot politicians, celebrities and bazillionaires (real and imagined) have very little direct impact on our life or our happiness. And hand wringing about things that are out of our control is pretty much pointless. Play on!
We’ve traveled, mindfully and – where necessary – carefully. We drove over 22,000 miles, visited 12 new states, met some new friends and caught up with some long-time friends. We even took our first cruise in nearly 2 years. And I took over 16,000 photos – not quite as much as 2000 but almost! Some of the precautions and protocols inspire a forehead slap or an eye roll. But if it needs to be done to do what we want to do? Roll with it and move on. Complaining about it just makes you look like another idiot – not the image we want to present to the world.
So anyway, I took some photos. I don’t generally feel the need for a “My Year In Review” retrospective, but it is sometimes interesting to go back and look at what I saw and aimed my camera at. I don’t try to a “Best Of” or even a “Favorites” post, because as we discussed on Joe’s Blog a few weeks ago, the selections tend to change every time we look. I’ve long contended that for most people the quality of the memory is more important than the technical quality of the photograph. Which is why you see so many cell-phone-out-of-car-window photos, selfie sticks and other various head scratchers.
I chose a group of photos that show my year. I didn’t even limit them to 21 (as in the year 2021). Some of them are pretty good technically, some of them might even be OK artistically. But mostly they say, I was here and this is what I did/saw/felt/experienced. And ultimately it doesn’t get a lot better than that.
Kathy & I send our sincerest wishes to everyone for a healthy, happy, amazing and fulfilling 2022!
As promised in a previous post, here is a selection of my photos from the Vermont Toy Museum in Quechee Gorge Village near Hartford, Vermont. The museum’s website is down, possibly due to the recent AWS issues, but I got the following from Atlas Obscura:
Nestled above a charming general store near the Quechee Gorge, the Vermont Toy Museum’s vast collection of dolls, action figures, lunchboxes, yo-yos, and matchbox cars is a hidden treasure right off the White River Junction. Around 100,000 toys are housed inside the museum.
The museum’s items largely came from members of the local community. They were collected and compiled decade-by-decade, which displays the evolution of toys and games from the 1950s to the present day. Though it’s unknown who operates and maintains the museum, it’s closely watched by the employees at the downstairs Cabot Cheese Store and the antique mall next door.
The museum also houses an intricate model train exhibit that takes visitors through the four seasons of the Green Mountain state for only a quarter. This museum’s tireless attention to detail, nostalgia, and cozy atmosphere make it a must-see for travelers on Route 4.
It was a fun visit. A place we might have spent a lot more time, but just like the camera museum in Staunton, Virginia, there is only so much time…. 😉 As it was, we spent a lot of time saying things like, “I had that!” or “I remember those” or “the kids had these.” Fun stuff!
Almost forgot! I have completed processing my photos from our New England trip and have posted them on my Adobe Portfolio site.