Friday, January 21, 2011

Florida Trip - 1/14-19/11: PART ONE

BALTIMORE, Md. - Every January, my special lady friend and I take a vacation. In the beginning, we took a couple of trips to the UK, each one an adventure, but also...well, cold.

A few years later we wised up and began heading for warmer climes this time of year: New Orleans, Grand Bahama, the Florida Keys. We've taken a special shine to the lattermost, having returned time and again, staying everywhere along the 120-mile archipelago from Key Largo to Key West. Usually on the fly, which has always been our modus operandi. That first trip to the UK, for example, involved a rental car, and in 12 days we drove from London to Brighton, Brighton to Dover (where we took a short respite from the car as foot passengers on the ferry to Calais), Dover to Whitby, Whitby to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Glasgow, Glasgow to Cardiff, and from there back to London. Staying with friends, friends of friends, in hotels, squats...even the car itself. All the while seeking out the lesser-known (and often morbid) sights, of course.

Indeed, our "vacations" would probably seem like too much work to many people – at least those whose idea of getting away is wiling away their time poolside at some pre-fab, all-inclusive resort. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if that's your idea of a good time...

But that's not us.

Many of our trips to the Keys have involved a night or two in Islamorada, then down to Marathon, then Big Pine Key, Key West, or anywhere in between. Always a tireless blend of outdoor activity (i.e., biking, hiking, kayaking or snorkeling) and nightlife – the last primarily in Key West: be it drinking or drag bars or simply wandering around the island.

However, for as many times as we’ve been to the Keys, and South Florida in general, neither of us had much experience with North/Central Florida, or the state’s Gulf coast. Florida is a bigger, and more varied, territory than many folks realize, not to mention filled with the kind of weird shit on which Carl Hiaasen has built himself a notable career as a novelist. Hence, looking for a change of pace (and with our then-4-year-old in tow), we flew to Jacksonville, FL, in January 2010 for a look-see at what Florida's more boreal reaches had to offer.

From JAX we drove approximately 30 miles south to St. Augustine, America’s oldest city (founded in 1565 by the Spanish). A few days there, then we were off across the state, through Ocala National Forest, for a stop at Silver Springs ("Nature's Theme Park"), and a night in Gainesville. After heading a few miles south, to Micanopy, and Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park (the best 'gator-viewing around), we shot up and across the Georgia border to fulfill her lifelong dream of visiting the Okefenokee Swamp. We closed out the trip with a final night in St. Augustine before flying home to Baltimore.

This year, we decided to give the Gulf coast a shot. Scheduling a flight to Tampa International proved problematic for us, however, and we once again found ourselves booking a flight into Jacksonville. No problem. Slight modifications to our original plan (which always includes several "Plan Bs" and a healthy dose of spontaneity, anyway; like Bruce Lee said, "Be water, my friends...").

This year's trip would take us from Jacksonville to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, from there up the coast to the tiny fishing village of Cedar Key, and from there we would once more close out our vacation with a night in St. Augustine – as much for the kid's sake as our own; he had asked if we could go back and stay at the colorful Pirate Haus Inn, as we had the previous year. But more on that later...

What will follow over the next few days (or weeks) is a loose travelogue of the trip – January 14-19,2011 – and our motley assortment of destinations. Stay tuned...

To be continued...

[Photo: Rest stop on I-4 westbound, Polk County, FL. Photo by WPT.]

1 comment:

  1. I love Baltimore. My friend always sung this song (Good morning Baltimore) every time she woke up in the morning. That was a great Florida trip. Hope I could make it there in Baltimore.

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