Monday, December 30, 2013

Family and Fishing

Although we've been doing some family-type activities, I've been lazy and haven't blogged for a few days.

On Christmas, Daniel and Monica treated us to a wonderful afternoon dinner.  Stomachs were stuffed with ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole. 

 A few presents were exchanged, followed by talk and some adult beverage.  Daniel's friend Kenny brought delicious carrot cake.
 Barney took full advantage of the opportunity to lay on the sofa (a treat which is forbidden in the motorhome).

On Saturday, Dec 28th, my cousin Ginni, invited us to have dinner.  It was quite a busy house with Ginni and her husband,Tommy; cousin, David and his wife, Karen; as will as Ginni's daughter Stacey, her husband and four kids.  It was a really pleasant evening with talk and games played with the kids.  The pictures are from Stacy and Ginni's Facebook pages.

On Sunday, Daniel and I went fishing at Mosquito lagoon.  No luck on catching any fish.  However, the weather was a comfortable overcast with no rain and temps in the 70's.   There were also several manatees in the channel leading into the lagoon.  We also saw a number of dolphins that were constantly churning the water apparently hunting for mullet.  We netted several of the mullet to use for cut bait.  There were a number of kayakers observing mantees.

Monday, December 23, 2013

St Augustine to Orlando

You can't resit ship watching at Mayport.

 On Friday we drove about 35 miles south to America’s oldest European settlement.  The city was founded by in 1565 by Spanish Admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.  Interestingly, America’s second oldest city is Santa Fe New Mexico (founded in 1610).  The English settlement of Jamestown was founded in 1619.  The drive south from Mayport, along the Atlantic coast, was lined most of the way with beach front houses built on the sand dunes above the shore.  Many of the houses are very fancy and large with a gorgeous view of the ocean.  However, the presence of a surprising amount of wind driven dust in the air was kind of a negative factor.

 In Saint Augustine we took one of the trolley tours which can be boarded at many stops throughout the old town area.  In addition to the historic sights and Spanish architecture, there are several typical tourist trap attractions; an alligator farm, harbor boat tours, ghost tours, and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not!  We fell for the latter (no pictures).  Ripley’s is a three story museum-like building filled with a potpourri of unusual (and sometimes shockingly) weird items.  I was mildly interested while Ina was somewhat bored.

The architecture of the old town area clearly shows the city's history as a turn of the century resort city.  Several of the old hotels are still four star establishments.  Others have been converted to other uses or are now museums.
The Ponce De Leon resort was a first class vacation resort for the the rich in 1900.  It's now Flagler college, but still shows its opulence.

Ina is usually bored by old historic sites.  However, the old fort, Castillo de San Marcos, was definitely worth visiting for both of us.  The first wooden fort construction in 1565 marks St Augustine’s founding.  Many of the coastal forts we’ve previously visited had undergone major modifications.  Savannah's Fort Pulaski; Charleston’s Fort Sumter; and Pensacola’s Fort Pickens were all modernized during the Spanish-American war period.  In these forts a major portion is 20th century concrete with only half of their original construction remaining.    Castillo de San Marcos, however, has most all of its original 1695 Coquina masonry (seashell based sedimentary rock). 

 A portion of the original wood and sand city wall as it radiated from the fort has been  has been reproduced by the Park Service.

The wall connected to the city's main gate entrance to the old city.  The original gateway is preserved.
The National Park Service maintains the fort and hires volunteers to act as docents and dress as Spanish soldiers.

The rooms of the fort contain displays outlining the history of the fort which was occupied during its 300 years by Spanish, British, Americans, and Confederates.

The fort also offers an excellent view of the harbor and the city.

Numerous cannon are on display.  With several in working condition.

The park service fires one of the cannon twice a day.

The next day, Saturday was devoted to housekeeping.  We did a lot of laundry taking advantage of the free washers and dryers.  That’s right, free!  Most campgrounds charge at least $1.50 per load of wash with most parks charging $2.  The Mayport park has a very clean laundry building with six large capacity washers and a like number of dryers.

I spent some time putting things away and thoroughly vacuuming the motorhome carpets.  A lot of grit and dirt gets tracked in an RV.   We also picked up a few items at the commissary.

Sunday was a lazy day spent watching TV and enjoying some wine while visiting and sharing  war stories with several of our RVing neighbors.

On Monday we got on the road southward by 9AM.  The most direct route to The Thousand Trails park was via I-4 thru downtown Orlando.  Although traffic in the metro area was heavy at times, there were no real traffic jams.  Northbound, however, was another story.  Likely holiday shoppers created bumper-to-bumper stop and go traffic for more than ten miles.  This DC area resident felt right at home.  Not!

The sign-in at the Orlando park went smoothly.  The site we were assigned is a reasonably large back-in site with 30amp full hook-up.  The Verizon cellular signal was only one bar, but became a four bar signal with pretty good data throughput thanks to the Wilson Sleek amplifier.  Also the park is only sparsely wooded with low trees allowing easy satellite reception.  We were fully set up in short order. 

After some afternoon relaxing with an adult beverage, we got the Christmas lights out and did a little decorating. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mayport's Pelican Roost Campground

We got off to a good start by 10AM on Monday morning after hitching-up and doing our "pre-flight" checks..  We stopped to refuel the motorhome and after an easy 180 mile drive from Charleston, we arrived at Jacksonville's Mayport base by 3 o'clock. 

The campground is certainly first-class and deserves its reputation as one of the best family campgrounds in the military.  We booked a waterfront pull thru site.  Each site is quite spacious with concrete pads and full hook-ups. 

Most of the sites face basically toward the North where breakwaters form the shipping channel.  However, on the East side of Mayport's peninsula there is also a gorgeous sandy beach where Barney got his chance romp in the sand and to sample the salty surf.

Our windshield looks out on and main entrance channel to the Jacksonville port.  Over the last couple of days we have seen the passage of a number of large civilian container ships as well as some military vessels (including a cruiser and an amphibious landing dock).

We've yet to do any tourist style activity choosing instead to request mail from our mail forwarding service; do some laundry; and some necessary grocery shopping at the nearby commissary and Naval Exchange; Ina also located a fairly good sized Korean grocery store.

Here's the skyline at sunset.  If I can get up early enough there may be the chance for some great sunrise pictures.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fort Sumter

We toured Ft. Sumter on Thursday.  Admission to the Fort, a national park, is free.  However, the boat ride to the fort costs about $16 each.  It was worth the money since the fort itself is interesting with a good 20 minute informative talk by a park ranger.  The boat ride also provides plenty of opportunity to take pictures of the water front, the Yorktown museum aircraft carrier and the cable stay bridge over the  spanning Cooper River.

Unfortunately, many of the pictures I took were not good.  It turns out the photographer was not competent using the new (to me) Nikon digital SLR camera.  The camera takes excellent pictures when not set to manual mode.  An embarrassing performance for a computer geek.  After reading the manual, I hope to do better next time.

The boat ride was comfortable.

After the tour we found and excellent and historic restaurant, the Magnolia Restaurant.  Magnolia, according to a tour book is housed in the city’s original 1739 customs house.  The food was as good as it gets.  The deep fried oyster appetizer was surprisingly served on a bed of pinto beans. The spicy Cajun-like seasoning in the beans really complimented the flavor of the oysters. 

The crusted flounder lunch entre was served on a bed of rice with crab and shrimp in a wonderful sauce.  The fish was topped with a vegetable medley.   I’d give Magnolia 5 stars.  Definitely not to be missed. 

Since the weather on Friday and Saturday turned rainy; we stayed in the campground and took care of some grocery shopping at the Commissary.