I left work around 1 on that wednesday, for an attempt at an early start. We gathered items at his and my place, and hit Roly Poly for a lunch/dinner hybrid to fuel our drive. Their wraps are so good, but I really need to get better at making wraps, because they're so friggin expensive!
The traffic isn't too bad heading down, we didn't even have to deal with rain for too long. As per last year, we spent the night at the first rest stop you hit upon entering Florida. This isn't nearly as unsafe as people assume it is, as the stop is patrolled by security, and we were one of many cars that stopped there for the night.
We awoke early the next morning, whereupon I took pictures of the many little brown birds that ate my crackers. I've still yet to figure out what these are, maybe some variety of starling? Not sure. If you have any idea, let me know!
And I of course continued to be fascinated by the fact that ring necked turtledoves are actually wild there. I had an albino one named Bijou as a pet when I was a kid, they're really great birds.
So from there, we head south and contemplate breakfast. Drew is obsessed with this chain that only seems to exist down there called Steak & Shake. I have to admit that their milkshakes are really good, their chocolate chip cookie dough shake far exceeds Dairy Queen's products in tastiness. Anyhow, turns out they close on Thanksgiving.
We head over to St Augustine where lunch is at a 'Mayan' restaurant and dessert from some rather tasty chocolate store. Quotes are used as apparently the food wasn't authentic Mayan, it was nonetheless tasty. We poked around the town as well as around the fort.
These guys are pretty cute, not sure what they are either:
There's a chunk of the fort, the first settlement from the Old World to the Americas!
St. Augustine has a great deal of neat architecture. If I ever live to be 80 I'm totally gonna move there to retire as it's a rather neat little town.
From there we head south on Rt 1, following the coast to look for vaguely interesting things to do. We find a little state park and poke around there for awhile. I'm fascinated by the local parks in other parts of the country. It's pretty much the same as if I went to Rockwood Park in Chesterfield or something, but beccomes much more interesting to me because so much of the plant and animal life is so different. Here's a big ole fish!
There were also peliated woodpeckers wild there. These things are a foot long, like giant mutant woodpeckers. Too bad the pictures I took of them didn't come out at all.
Check out this mailbox!
So we keep driving south, here's us crossing a bridge in Melbourne (I think):
We get hungry around the time it's getting difficult to find any decent restaurants (it's apparently like a strip of desolation between Northern and Southern FL). So we end up having Thanksgiving dinner at some truck stop buffet. Food was pretty decent.
We had the same sort of luck with hotels, and ended up being entirely too tired and thus paid too much to stay at a Holiday Inn in Boca Raton. They had a pool, which ended up being our only swimming experience, due to the weather being unfortunately chillier then hoped for. It was a rather nice hotel at least, with a fancy schmancy entrance hall and a big ole fountain in the courtyard:
The next day we hit another park over on the shore. Unfortunately, too cold to swim, but we saw alot of little lizards as well as some very friendly pelicans. Methinks they were hanging out in hopes one of the many fishers would drop something tasty.
The only picture of me you'll see here, where I am wearing entirely too much pink.
And more of those little birds:
The skyline (no, really):
Oh man. We kept driving south, and there's some crazy houses around the north of Miami area! Like, putting the houses on Cary St. to shame sort of houses. And check out this SUV limo!
Driving-wise, we were feeling really ambitious. I'd wanted to keep driving south until it was warm enough to swim at the beath. I'd initially figured it meant getting somewhere south of mid-florida. Due to the weather and some insane ideas about the Keys, we kept driving. Here's a photo taken in Miami as proof of our driving insanity:
We ate at some cuban restaurant whereupon I purposely ordered side dishes I was rather unfamiliar with. Along with my fish in mango sauce (very tasty) I had cassave root (really similar to potatoes) and fried plantains.
So we end up on Key Largo. It's really swampy down there, we don't realise we've gotten onto a key until we'd been there for a bit, and we kept driving without realising we were moving from key to key. We don't wanna go all they way out really far, as we have limited time. Most of the shore is taken up by houses, and everythings all crowded in, and the only park we found cost money. All of this made me cranky, as it went against the image of the keys that had been built up in my head. It was late and we again stayed at an entirely overpriced hotel, this one wasn't even fancy or anything. It had beach access, which was really just boating dock area. We did eat good ice cream, however.
We learned at a kinda crappy park the next day that there's a christ statue out somewhere in the park that you can snorkel around. The trail we took at the park were overgrown and not maintained very well, as it ended and turned into a path that led to a ranger's house. I also wanted a coconut as I randomly saw coconut trees, but all I got were little tiny coconuts, seeds I'm guessing.
It actually didn't get really pretty until, later that day, we drove through the Lake Okeechobee area. The lake is giant and still and the area is rather rural.There were many places to stop along the way and so we did.
Here's the only picture of Drew you'll see, though it's hard to tell his head from a plant:
Then we found the World's Cheapest Hotels, just south of Orlando. We stayed at a Howard Johnson right behind a Steak n Shake, and we discovered the next day that it was diagonal to a Medieval Times, which I really wanna eat at at some point. Due to this area being stuffed with hotels and it being off-season, they're all competing for a limited number of customers, and as a result their rates are all really low.
So we went to Seaworld, and it was very festive. Hey look, it's Shamu!
That whale show was really neat cause you saw these giant whales do tricks with people, but they made it really cheesy with a buncha cheesy music and inspirational speeches. I would have preferred something that hit the educational angle a bit more, but it was still neat.
We ate overpriced mediocre baked goods. Aside from that, we saw penguins and walruses and manatees and pet stingrays and all sorts of stuff. The best part of the entire park was the Sea Lions & Seals section. They had them in this open area you could walk around, and you could buy fishes to feed them with. ALot of local birds, like ibises and storks, hung around as inevitably some little kid would throw a fish to the seal and miss, and a bird would get it instead. They even had signs up discouraging people from feeding the birds. I pet one at one point, and it backed away from me. Another was standing around a bit later, and I walked over to try to pet it, and it first walked away, then turned on me and started to charge me, hissing and trying to bite me. It did not succeed, and I was amused.
We totally ran around in the kid's climbing area, and I took this picture because the flamingo is wearing converses:
We again have the 'desperately searching for a place to eat' problem. Part of it was that I really wanted mexican, and we were apparently driving through an area completely lacking in mexican people. We ended up eating at Cactus Joe's, which was a redneckey bar type of restaurant with decent enough greasy food. We end up crashing that night in Georgia, and hit a final Steak n Shake that next morning before coming home.
I've still not decided if it's a good idea to do the Florida thing again next year. On the one hand, I'm rather excited about having found those cheap hotels, and there'd still be neat stuff to see. I still haven't been swimming on a florida beach (even last year it was too cold), and then seeing the Kennedy Space stuff would be neat, as well as maybe doing some Disney stuff and going and exploring more of Ocala State Park. But, having already done it for 2 years it wouldn't have that same thrill. It might also be neat to get a cheapo Jetblue ticket to some random place and stay there for a few days. There's almost a year to contemplate it, though.