Category Archives: Southern States

Fort Lauderdale

I spent three days in Florida with Harley and Nancy, whom I met in Cuba last year, before departing on a Caribbean cruise.

Nov 22 – Flight to Florida

I enjoyed seeing the diversity of the geography across our country on a non-stop flight to Fort Lauderdale. Harley and Nancy picked me up and took me to Mai Kai, a historic bar-restaurant filled with Polynesian themed artifacts; it felt a bit like the Tiki Room at Disneyland and I kept expecting the totem poles to break out in song.

Nov 23-25 – Thanksgiving in Florida

 Each day we toured part of Fort Lauderdale and the surrounding the area, including Hollywood, named after the city in California where a few of the old seaside bungalows still remain, though high-rises are rapidly approaching, and the gardens of the Bonnet House, it’s remaining 35 acres now surrounded by Fort Lauderdale; we glimpsed one of the small moneys that live in the trees.

We celebrated Thanksgiving in Lauderdale by the Sea, a town of human-scaled buildings with a darling beachfront. I joined a large gathering of Nancy and Harley’s friends in a backyard under a sprawling mango tree, my first Thanksgiving in shorts and sandals. In addition to turkey with all the fixings, there were plenty of side dishes and, for me, unusual desserts, such pumpkin bread pudding with rum sauce and mango key lime pie.

Thanksgiving in Virginia

Nov 23 – Dec 1

It was 75o when I left Miami, 30 o when I landed in Virginia. Burr! (I forgot to pack a jacket and scarf, so I bought some the next day). My sister, Jennifer, picked Alex (my older son) and me up and drove us to her home in the middle of nowhere. I woke up each morning to the sound of a rooster crowing.

We took day trips to Richmond, Charlottesville, and Alexandria (too far, but Jennifer wanted to visit a dog breeder). We got out for a couple short hikes before the rain came. I spent much of time reading, sorting Cuba pictures, and watching too much television. There were ten of us for the Thanksgiving feast prepared by Jennifer’s boyfriend, Michael, including most of our grown children and a couple significant others. After dinner, we had a fun poker game (I lost). Their new dishwasher stopped working the day before Thanksgiving and the oven the day after, but Michael kept us well fed all week. Thanks!


I’m in Florida for the first time since visiting my grandmother in 1988. She retired to West Palm Beach and when I visited her that summer, I vowed never to return. The humidity isn’t as oppressive this time, “only” 75%. Perhaps the unusually high humidity we experienced in San Francisco this year helped prepare me for it. This is my first venture into the southern part of this lush green state. I’ve enjoyed living in shorts and flip-flops.

 11/9/15 – Getting to Florida

 The shuttle picked me up at 4:00 a.m., expediting my adjustment to the East Coast time zone. Our take off was delayed a bit, due to a mechanical problem with a cargo door, so I entered commute traffic when I left Miami in a rented Hyundai. It was dark by the time I got out of town, so I saw nothing but taillights as I drove the Tamiami Highway to Everglades City, near the northwest section of the national park. The animal crossing signs were flashing, but no one slowed down for the wildlife. Fortunately I saw no dead panthers or alligators, though cars kill many of them.

11/10/15 – Boating in the Everglades

Considering the time change, it was mighty early when I got up to go on a four-hour guided canoe trip into the swamp. The mosquitoes were swarming when we got to the launch site, but they didn’t bother me on the water. The trip was great fun, in spite of a couple chatty couples sometimes spoiling the quiet; the little alligators quickly sunk beneath the surface as we approached. It was almost as magical as the Amazon jungle and not nearly as toxic. My favorite part was going through mangrove tunnels, especially when I was the lead canoe and had smooth reflective water in front of me. If I return, I’d consider doing the ten-mile trip from the launch site back to Everglades City, provided someone had recently gone through the tunnels and cleared the spider webs.

After lunch at Camilla Street Grill, a pleasant spot on the water right in back of the Ivey House where I’m staying, I headed south to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center and took another boat ride (the best way to see this place is definitely on the water). I saw a few of the Ten Thousand Islands. We spotted several dolphins. Afterwards, I toured the Smallwood Store in Chokoloskee, now a “museum” containing an eclectic collection of old stuff, ranging from Indian tools and giant snakeskins to old jars and equipment. I enjoyed chatting with the proprietor. By then it was almost time for sunset, so I watched the clouds turn yellow, a very pleasant end to a great day.

11/11/15 – Big Cypress National Preserve

I considered canceling my pole boat tour, because I would be returning to the Turner River, but I’m glad I didn’t. This ride was more peaceful and better for photography than canoeing, especially since I was the only passenger. We were the first on the water and were able to see more wildlife. After the two-hour tour, I returned to the Skunk Ape Research Center, worth a stop, and got a personal tour of Rick’s collection of critters.

I then spent a couple hours driving around Big Cypress and stopping numerous times to photography birds and trees in the swamp.

11/12/15 – Ding Darling

I drove west to Cape Coral hoping to see lots of birds at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. I did see quite a few, but most of them were too far away to photograph, and I’m not sure it was worth the detour.

11/13/15 – Miami Beach

On my way to Miami, I stopped for a stroll in a sauna. At least that’s what my 3-mile walk in Shark Valley felt like. My shirt was soaked by the time I got back to the car. For my efforts, I was rewarded with several birds, a couple alligators in the water, a variety of flowers, and beautiful clouds. My favorite sighting was an Anhinga swimming underwater.

It was too early to check into our Airbnb when I got to Miami Beach, so I sauntered along the boardwalk, admiring the turquoise water and colorful umbrellas. That didn’t last long; soon I retired into an air conditioned restaurant for lunch. I take back everything I said about the weather not being oppressive. It got up to 90o F (that’s 32 o for you Celsius-minded folks) down here in the land of endless summer – too warm for me, especially when it’s humid.

Anne arrived early in the evening and we walked next door for a mediocre dinner – lousy wine and salty food.

11/14/15 – A Wet Day in Miami

We almost got back from a morning walk along the beach before the rain started. Since the sky was grey, we changed into dry clothes and braved the Aventura Mall, shopping for shirts and ponchos. The rain long stopped enough for us to take a short walk in the Wynwood area, filled with murals, galleries, and cafes. It started pouring just as we finished lunch at Coyo Taco, so we ordered hot beverages from Panther Coffee and waited for it to slow down. We headed out during a lull, but it started again and we were soaked again by the time we reached the car.

Goodbye Virginia

October 27 – Rest Day

We fed chickens, walked dogs in Fighting Creek Park, shopped for groceries, did laundry, and puttered on our computers. As I write, it sounds more like running errands than resting, but it was a relaxing day.

October 28-29 – Shenandoah National Park

I borrowed Jennifer’s car and enjoyed a leisurely tour of this park; her sporty Volvo was perfect for the road. I started at the southern end. Skyline Drive connects to the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway; together these two roads provide almost 600 miles of scenic driving, though at 35 mph, plus stops, that would take a long time. I spent almost a full day traversing the lower two-thirds of Shenandoah. Needless to say, I made numerous stops for photos. As was the case down near Ashville, the viewpoints on the east side were a bit better than the west, so making a south to north drive perfect for me. I also took two hikes, one on a bit of the Appalachian Trail where a sign warned of copperheads, the other to Dark Hollow Falls where a sign warned of nuisance bears. I saw neither. My favorite was the popular hike to the falls, though on parts of this trail the sound of the stream was overpowered by the sound of rangers with leaf blowers. Nature is not what it used to be.

Late in the afternoon, I exited the park and drove a short distance to Luray where I stayed in the very cute Mayneview B&B. I was pleasantly surprised to find live jazz at the restaurant recommended by the owner. After dinner, another guest, a former San Franciscan, and I watched the beginning of game six in the World Series; we both gave up after a few innings. The resident tabby cat, Molly, followed me up to my room and spent the night curled up at the foot of the bed. I look forward to being reunited with Timbre and my other critters soon.

I had planned to do another hike in the morning, but it started to drizzle at about the same time I reached the parkway. Instead I drove through the upper third of the park, stopping for a few photos in the increasing rain, then headed back to Powhatan where I enjoyed a delicious dinner, Mediterranean tacos, prepared by Jennifer’s partner, Michael. Afterwards we all watched the Giants win the World Series. Though I rarely watch games, it was fun surrounded by avid sports fans.

October 30 – Charlottesville

Jennifer and I spent much of the day in Charlottesville, about an hour away. We took a four-mile walk on the Saunders-Monticello Trail. This accessible trail, on crushed rock and boardwalks, goes though a beautiful forest. We didn’t visit Monticello, as we’ve both toured there before (I was here with Joe and the boys in the late ‘90s). Instead we headed over to the mall in the historic downtown. A lone street musician braved the chilly breeze and played a piano. The outdoor tables were deserted, but I can imagine this as a lively scene at another time of year. We ate lunch and browsed in several cute stores.

October 31 – Powhatan

I spent a leisurely last day with Jennifer. We walked around Powhatan and watched the Giants victory parade on television. I sorted photos while she took care of chores. In the evening we drove into Richmond, where she treated Michael and me to dinner to celebrate the sale of her condo in San Francisco; it looks like she’s here to stay.

November 1 – Home

I fixed fresh eggs for breakfast and then Michael gave me a ride to the airport. The temperature was dropping with overnight frost predicted, so I left at just the right time. It took about twelve hours door-to-door to get home. After my laptop died, I entertained myself taking pictures out the window. I look forward to the time when electrical outlets are standard on planes. I don’t have any trips planned for the next few months, so I probably won’t post again until early next year. I hope you all enjoy the upcoming holidays.

North Carolina

October 24 – Slow Drive to Ashville

 We broke up our drive to North Carolina with a couple stops. In Farmville, Jennifer took me to a store with gorgeous Amish furniture; I’m temped to order a chest I saw there. We walked through the historic section of Winston-Salem and drove through the Wake Forest campus where one of my niece’s attended college. By the time we got to Ashville, it was dinnertime. We managed to get one of the last tables available at Blackbird, where we had the best meal I’ve eaten on this trip, a vegetarian farm dish with mashed sweat potatoes, grilled Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and asparagus, with each item deliciously prepared. Our airbnb, the basement of someone’s home, was cute and comfy, but we both felt that one of the closets was haunted.

 October 25 – Train Ride through Nanthala Gorge

In the morning, we returned to Biltmore Avenue and got in line at the Green Sage Café so Jennifer could get coffee. We then visited the Folk Art Store on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which had a great variety of beautifully crafted items by local artists. Afterwards we drove to Bryson, where we had pre-purchased tickets for ride with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad through Nanthala Gorge.

Our slow half-day train ride wasn’t as scenic as either of us anticipated. There were nice views of the river and some colorful foliage, but nothing that wowed us. (The views were a bit better on the left side of the train). However, it’s a pleasant ride for train buffs. The weather was perfect and we kept the windows open; the same type as the yellow school buses from my high school days. When we took an hour break at the Nanthala Outdoor Center, I went for a short walk on a segment of the Appalachian trail; I’d like to hike more of it some day. A guitarist played blue grass music on the train and at our rest stop.

Back in Bryson, the restaurant was crowded so we shared a table with a young couple from Tennessee. Our lively conversation covered many subjects, from atheism to politics, child rearing, and the benefits of travel. 

October 26 – Blue Ridge Parkway

The morning started our cool and foggy, but soon cleared and warmed up to t-shirt weather. After another stop in Ashville for coffee, we spent much of the day driving a 100-mile segment of the parkway, something best done with someone more patient than my sister. It’s a beautiful drive, especially at this time of year. At the beginning, it felt like we were driving through a colorful tunnel with an amber glow. The trees were a mix of yellow, ochre, and orange with a splash of red now and then. As we climbed in elevation, there were more brown leaves and at the highest point, near Mount Mitchell State Park, the trees were barren. At one stop, overlooking a multi-colored hillside, a local told me that this is not a good year, with much less color than usual.

We took a break for a two-mile round-trip hike to see Linville Falls. It felt good to stretch my legs, but the trail was quite crowded with people and dogs (that’s what we get for selecting one of the shorter hikes and going on a Sunday). Our last stop before departing the parkway was the crafts center at Moses Cone Memorial Park. It was a smaller, less impressive one than the Folk Art Store, though I bought a handmade wooden spoon.

We had planned to stop in Roanoke or someplace else along the way, but instead decided to drive all the way back to Powhatan, covering almost 1000 miles in three days. We stopped for dinner along the way and listened to the fifth game in the World Series on the static-filled radio. Go Giants!

Hello Virginia

October 21-22 – Powhatan and Richmond

 I relaxed at my sister’s place in Powhatan, a rural county in central Virginia to which she recently moved. She and her partner live in a spacious house surrounded by acres of deciduous trees; theirs are just beginning to turn color. Her younger daughter is living with them, along with three dogs and five chickens, young hens just beginning to lay eggs. Jennifer has a part-time job at the YMCA teaching swimming and lifeguarding. I met her one day after her shift and we swam laps in the pool now covered in a bubble for winter.

On Wednesday, Jennifer’s birthday, we drove into Richmond, about a hour away, and visited Carytown, a hip street lined with restaurants and shops. We had a delicious Thai lunch at Mama’s Siam, bought sweets at I Love Chocolate, a giant candy store, and pet a small pig at The Stolen Pig, a shop with an eclectic mix of stuff. We also stopped at the Tredegar Iron Works where canons and other munitions were manufactured during the civil war. Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States of America and it’s capture lead to the end of the war.

 October 23 – Crabtree Falls

We drove a couple hours to the George Washington National Forest, southwest of Shenandoah, and took a four-mile round-trip hike along Crabtree Creek. The trail, covered with fall leaves, led though a beautiful yellow-leafed forest. Along the way we saw many cascades and waterfalls, cumulatively forming the highest vertical-drop cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi.

Apparently I damaged more than the lens when I dropped my camera in Pisa. The automatic functions have been failing one at a time and I’ve now resorted to using it in full manual mode. Fortunately the light meter is still working; I hope it lasts until I return home and can send it in for repairs.