Posted by: glenswatman | May 19, 2008

200805-1-May USA Florida


THURSDAY 1 MAY 2008 – Back on the coastal road we reach Dayton where for $5 (£2.50) you can drive and park on a vast section of the beach. The barrier islands don’t all link up so you often have to cross a bridge back to the mainland and then another on to the next stretch. This we do to reach Merritt Island, a wildlife refuge but also home to the Kennedy Space Centre. We see smoke ahead and round a bend to find the traffic at a standstill. A ranger comes over and explains it is a controlled burn but we must wait 10 minutes or so for a pilot car to lead us past it – it actually looks almost out of control at the moment and we think they may be getting a bit concerned. Anyway unlike many other more impatient drivers who turn back we wait our turn and then drive through the dense smoke and past patches of burning forest. At Haulover Canal we head to the Manatee lookout point but it’s either the wrong time of year or they are out playing somewhere else in the channel. Detour on the mile Black Point Wildlife Drive that has lots of waterways and many different species of birds. In Titusville we aim for a known truck stop but trying to do a U turn end up on the Interstate going south. The next exit is a no return one leading to the toll road and it’s ages before we get to the next one to turn back. The truck stop charge $5 (£2.50) night and he says that because he isn’t busy he will let us stay in a motorhome. Our local host Jamie calls to pick us up as he has invited us to stay in his home. He used to work on the space programme but has now retired and lives in a senior persons mobile home site. His home is a 60’ long 12’ wide 2-bedroom version with additional screened room. We can’t believe he paid only $2500 (£1250) for it second hand. As with our last hosts he now realises we could easily park outside his place as he next two neighbours are only seasonal visitors and not here at the moment. Head back to pick up Harry and return to cook us all a quick meal. There’s a sort of clubhouse here and Thursday night is Eucre cards night. Having recently learnt the game we are more than happy to join in and refresh our skills. Howard, Teddy and Yvonne join the three of us.



Jamie has kindly offered to take us out touring around the area and asks where we want to go. Begin in town at the free "US Spacewalk of fame foundation" museum, which we find really interesting. Just around the corner the historical museum (free) is also worth the stop, especially as an elderly gentleman is just dropping off a box of his father old tools. Out on Merritt Island Jamie drives us down to check out the Kennedy Space Centre for when the kids are over. There’s a canal beside the road and we spot lots of alligators. Down at he cruise terminal we check out the casino ships and find that Sterling still offer a free cruise and buffet but today’s day trip has already left. Ron Jon the world famous surf shop is nearby in a huge building with lots of sculptures outside. At the entrance there’s a chap trying to make timeshare bookings for their nearby resort. He tempts us with a free lunch, 1 nights stay for up to 6 people in a 1-bed apartment and vouchers for the 3 of us to have a meal at Cocoa Beach. The presentation drags on to 120 minutes instead of the promised 90 but there is no high pressure and it will be a great place to come back to with our family. Our next tourist stop is the free war museum but it is almost closing time so we have to settle for a quick glance around for now. Cards went down so well last night that they have arranged an additional session for tonight and this time we get to play the even more confusing 6-handed version but it’s great fun.


SATURDAY 3 MAY – I cook us all a pork stir-fry for lunch to enable us to fit in both afternoon and evening card sessions.


SUNDAY 4 MAY – It’s a glorious day so Jamie drives us out to Playalinda Beach. It’s on the Cape Canaveral National Seashore so our annual pass saves us $3 pp admission. There are over a dozen parking areas but it’s mainly naturists that drive to the end ones. Huge signs warn that it is illegal to be nude in the National Park but apparently the beach comes under federal law and no one has been prosecuted since the 1990’s. The huge number of people reassures us we are not going to be ticketed. It’s a beautiful sandy beach with low dunes behind it. The water is pleasantly warm so we take a few dips to cool off but by mid day the sun is too hot for us to stay. The space shuttle is due to go up at the end of the month and we get a distant view of it sitting on the launch pad. In the evening we ride out with Jamie to pick up another fellow Couchsurfer Pedro. He’s from Angola but has lived in Portugal and France and very mature for his 24 years. He will be staying in Titusville for 8 months as his Angolan company is paying him to go to school to learn to fly a helicopter, in return he must work for them for at least 5 years. I cook us all dinner and then we sit outside chatting. Pedro needs to get himself organised with a place to stay and transport etc so Jamie is a real help as he knows an estate agent and also a lady in the park is selling her car.



Jamie offers use of his garden hose so Steve does a really good job washing the motor home. I set about working out a Swatours plan for when we have our visitors. Pedro arrives back in the evening and tells us a bit about his course, his house hunting along with a couple of work mates and other helpful info about Couchsurfing as he is as a nomadic ambassador.



Time to leave and continue our journey south knowing that we will be back to see our new friend Jamie when we have our grandchildren with us. The A1A coastal road runs past some lovely beaches but there are few access points. Most areas have already been developed with hotels and homes but we are surprised by just how many are up for sale. Near Sebastian Inlet we stop at the day area for lunch then walk over the dunes to the lovely beach. We lie down for a short time but it’s too hot so we take a walk but the hard sand is on a steep bank and the sand above is too soft. Drive further south with a repeat of the morning’s scenery but maybe smaller homes and smaller hotels. Mid afternoon we pull up to park at Vero Beach where we take a nap in the van. In Fort Pierce we have parking on Doug & Sue’s drive. They both work and are also renovating a property so things are pretty hectic. They introduce us to their family – 2 pot bellied pigs (one a miniature) and 2 dogs. In the evening they offer us a ride out to a car park where once a month enthusiasts gather with their old cars. To get there Doug drives us along the attractive Indian River, almost all the homes are for sale, a sad sign of the fact that owners can no longer afford home insurance following the last hurricane. The car meeting is really interesting; many people have popped the hood (opened the bonnet) to reveal the cleanest engines we have ever seen.


WEDNESDAY 7 MAY – It’s only a short drive to our destination but we stop to shop, and then join the I95 for a fast but not particularly pleasant drive south. At one point we are pushed to drive faster that we wish, as there is a minimum 55 mph minimum speed limit. Arrive in Pembroke Pines at lunchtime. We’re visiting Ricky whom we first met 11 years ago in Hungary. He lives in a lovely condo overlooking a lake and has a spare bedroom ready for us. It’s great to see him again and he makes us most welcome. Manage to park Harry in the guest parking area so we are well set up. Ricky takes us out for a quick orientation drive around the area before heading out to work in the evening teaching photography at the local college.


THURSDAY 8 MAY – Ricky drives us over to Fort Lauderdale beach, a superb area the picture perfect image of Florida. He treats us to lunch at Spazio where we can people watch. After a stroll along the promenade behind the packed beach we head to Dania Beach, where the locals go, much less crowded.






It’s a glorious day so we head to the clothing optional Haulover Beach. It’s really busy but we find a spot near the water and are soon so hot we have to take a dip. Probably spend more time in the water than out as it is the perfect temperature and easy to get in. At one stage we see a strange shadow of a fish pass us by, it is at least 6’ long but obviously not a problem as no one rushes out of the water! On the way home Ricky shows us Hollywood Beach, another attractive beach but this time with a pedestrian only promenade directly behind it. The Fort Lauderdale area makes the news with the hottest weather on record at 97F. PEMBROKE PINES 4

SUNDAY 11 MAY – Miami comprises of many districts and today we head for Coral Gables. Of the planned surrounding 8 entrance gates only 4 were built and 3 remain today on Calle Ochos. Douglas entrance is not what we expect as it precedes an avenue of new apartments. Granada entrance is a rustic arch made of the local coral stone but we like Prado best in a park like setting. Nearby is the home of the original builder, George Merrick. He quarried coral rock in the area and when he was finished turned the quarry into the beautiful Venetian Pools. His Biltmore Hotel is also extremely attractive but priced a touch out of our range with their Mothers Day brunch at $60 (£30). Scattered throughout the area are small sections with homes from abroad. The French Country has a couple of mansions, Dutch South Africa homes amuse us with the unnecessary fencing around them but the block of Chinese ones is the most amazing. Side by side the huge homes are a blaze of ornaments and colour. After a quick sandwich at Subway we head up to Little Havana settled by fleeing Cubans. It feels like you are in a foreign country as everyone is speaking Spanish. The centre of 12th Avenue is an avenue of memorials relating to the "Bay of Pigs". Also in the area we find a Cuban version of the walk of fame with stars (unknown to us) names embossed in the pavement and an interesting mural. There’s a lovely shady garden setting for the "Domino Club" where elderly men sit at tables playing dominoes and chess. With time to kill until Ricky’s Dutch friend arrives we opt for the art museum to find it is no longer free on Sundays but now, $8 (£4) and worse still they only exhibit the visiting artist and none of us like his work. We need a cool place so visit the reading room in the library opposite. Ricky gets a call to say Mathijs has missed his connection having been delayed for secondary interview by immigration so we return to Ricky’s for a meal before he drives to the airport. We met Mathijs once in Hungary but can’t really remember each other. He’s now 24 and has saved up for his trip so that he can test his poker skills in Las Vegas. His plan is to hire a car and drive up to New York then fly over to Las Vegas then back to here when he leaves in 5 ½ weeks. It’s already late so after eating and a quick chat he settles himself on the sofa bed in the lounge.





Ricky gets back from school earlier than expected and takes Mathijs to the big shopping mall. We opt to stay at home and make use of the community swimming pool. In the evening we play a game of poker using 1c coins and Mathijs wipes the floor with us, hope his luck holds for Vegas!



Head off at 8am to hit the Tamiami Trail over to the west coast. We are hoping to spot alligators for Mathijs but are amazed to see a good sized one as road kill right by the side. It makes really great photos as the only signs of its accident is a little blood trickling from it’s mouth, in fact it looks so realistic that it takes us some to be convinced it is dead and to get close! Marco Island is a really pretty spot with almost all the homes having direct access to a canal with their own private mooring. Million dollar homes abound and there is not an ugly one to be seen. Snook Inn on the waterside makes a nice lunch stop and we all enjoy our food. Tiger Tail Beach does not impress us, as it is opposite another part of the island, very commercialised and busy. Head off to Naples where there is a picture perfect beach of powder soft white sand. Of course by now it is the middle of the afternoon and way to hot for more than a short stroll along the shore. Don’t know how Ricky summons the energy to go out to work as the rest of us are nodding off on the journey home.



Today’s exploration begins north at Boca Raton where the Historical Society museum is tame, the Mizner Park Italian style shopping centre empty and the main highlight of the Boca Raton Resort only open to members and guests. At least it is a pleasant journey back down the coast along the A1A. Mathijs is happy when we travel the airport perimeter road to enable us to stand underneath the aircraft as they land. Hard Rock casino is a massive complex with mini shopping mall, hotel, Hard Rock café plus main casino. After eating in the food court Mathijs is keen to test his skills. The poker room is a separate area and has dozens of tables. It is so popular you have to go on a waiting list to play. Once he gets a game we explore the shopping area where there is a huge stadium with people limbering up for a pool tournament. Joining the casino players club gets you $20 worth of slot play and once we have fed this through the machine and taken the winnings we are ready to leave. Ricky goes back after 10pm to pick up Mathijs who has managed to win $75.



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