Wednesday, March 23, 2016

2.18.16 – 2.26.16 - Sarasota, Bradenton, Ruskin

Moving up the coast, we stopped to see an old high school classmate of Tom’s who owns an ice cream business in Venice (Bentley’s).  Catching up on old times was great and we really enjoyed seeing the ice cream production in action.  We didn’t see much of Venice, but we liked what we saw.  It is on the list of places to re-visit.
Lunching with Marty and Grace, seeing their beautiful condo, and walking on the often voted #1 most beautiful beach in the country gave us a brief preview of Sarasota.  Now our heads are beginning to spin with possibilities!  The sand was nearly as fine as baby powder.  We'd never seen anything like it before.

Just north of Sarasota, in the town of Bradenton, we dined with long time friends, Ed and Janet who have retired to Florida.  They were kind enough to arrange our boondocking in their church parking lot.  It was much nicer than Walmart, Cracker Barrel, or Flying J – all of which we have done!

Also in Bradenton, lives the Ringling museum.  You’re thinking circus museum … right?   Welllllll, there’s a lot more to it.  This is the state art museum of Florida, holding a large (21 galleries, 10000 objects) collection of European paintings, sculptures and antiquities amassed by John and Mable Ringling.   

In addition to the art museum, the property also includes Ca d’Zan (the estate home) and rose garden with European sculptures throughout, the Circus museum, a large historic theater (built in Italy in 1855, disassembled and purchased, imported and reassembled by Ringling Museum) and the largest art reference library in the southeast.  We could have spent longer at the museum complex, and could have moved right into the house!

Ca D’Zan was our favorite of the luxury homes we toured.  It was completed in 1926,  (about the same era as the Flagler and Vizcaya homes which we had toured earlier in this trip) as a winter residence.  

The architecture is Mediterranean Revival, inspired by Doges palace in Venice (we have been there).  The Ringlings traveled extensively and the home has many items collected from their travels.  We could identify with that approach to decorating.   

The residence was restored in 2002 with most details of the original construction and decoration faithfully restored.  The approximate cost for the original construction converts to about $21 million in 2013 dollars.  Love the whimsical ceiling paintings

The roof tiles came from Barcelona – from homes demolished for road construction.  Ringling had two shiploads imported for his home construction

These windows, clearly inspired by circus themes, look out onto an elegant marble terrace and dock area.

Mable Ringling had a gondola kept at the deck and frequently had servants propel her along the shoreline

Mable Ringling died in 1929, just 3 years after the completion of Ca’ d’Zan. As a result of the depression and bad investments, Ringling had $311 to his name at his death in 1936.  To save his beloved home and art collection from creditors, he willed the assets to the state of Florida.
The circus museum, established in 1948, offers a collection of Ringling circus art and artifacts. 

There is a wood carving studio where woodcarvers have been working since the 1960's to continue this tradition

John Ringling was the youngest person in the country to own a private Pullman car.  The walls are mahogany with intricate moldings and gold-leaf stencils.  The car was built in 1905, it is 79 feet long.


I always wanted long lean legs

Other fun circus items:


Our last stop (for 5 days) on this leg of the trip was in Ruskin.  Ruskin ?? you ask.  It is southeast of Tampa, inland, on the Little Manatee River.  We met Jerry and Sherri in Alaska and have visited and stayed in touch since then.  They invited us to park the RV in their driveway and enjoy their little winter residence slice of heaven.  From their back deck:

We had a wonderful time with them, and in their neighborhood.  We kayaked, played pickleball, tennis, golf, picked fresh oranges, met neighbors, and painted.  

Kris has been turning wrong side out trying to figure out how to see sand hill cranes, in South Dakota, in April, during their migration pattern.  Who knew that they would be right here in Ruskin !



This community was SUCH a good cultural and geographic fit, we are on a wait list for a rental next winter.  


Next Post:  Moving North

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Herons and Pelicans

We have taken soooooo many pictures of herons and pelicans, that the topic will get it's own post.  These two birds are abundant on the Gulf coast.  Co-mingled with the pictures is a bit of info about the birds, particularly for the grandkids (and anyone else who might be interested).  Enjoy!


This paragraph was previously posted:  Great heron is a wading bird, 36-54 inches tall, with a wing span up to 80”, and they only weigh 5 pounds !  They’re found all over north America.  Their primary food is small fish, which they swallow whole. 

They breed in colonies with over 100 nests in a colony.  The nests are re-used in subsequent years.   Males pick the nest, then start courting females.  

The males choose a different nest each year.  Nests are made of sticks and can be up to 50 inches wide.  The female lays 3-6 pale blue eggs about 2-3 inches long.  Eggs are laid in March-April, incubate about 27 days.  Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the chicks.  The chicks first fly at 55 days old.

Adult herons have few natural predators.  Occasionally an eagle, or great horned owl will attach a smaller adult heron. 

Brown pelicans

We have also seen many brown pelicans, especially in tourist areas.   They are very accustomed to people making them easy and fun to photograph.  A frequently heard question … “Kris, how many pelican pictures do you need?”    

The Brown Pelican is the smallest of 8 pelican species but is still a large bird with a length up to 54 inches and a wing span up to 8 feet.   It has a large bill with a ‘gular’ pouch, used to strain water from the scoop that brings in fish, then thy swallow the fish whole.

They are exceptionally buoyant due to internal air sacs under their skin.  They feed by dive bombing for fish, ore more passively by setting in the water and reaching down to pick up fish.  By either method, they strain out the water that was picked up in the scoop, then wholly swallow the remaining fish. 

The breeding pattern is similar to that of heron.  Pelican nests built on ground is subject to alligator predation. 

The brown pelican is the state bird of Louisiana.The brown pelican was listed as an endangered species until 2009

Next Post:  2.18.16 – 2.26.16 - Sarasota, Bradenton, Ruskin

Monday, March 14, 2016

2.17.16 – 2.18.16 – Ft. Myers Area

Working our way around Florida, we have now come down the Atlantic side, Key Largo, the Everglades, and are now working our way up the gulf coast side.  We wanted to see Ft. Myers area because our friends Tom and Bobbi winter there.  This is the first place where we got some real beach time, sand shells, birds, and waterfront restaurants … the whole experience.

Sanibel Island was beautiful, but the traffic to and fro was bad.  There is a campground on the island that could be a fun place to stay, if we were to return.  There is a shell museum with a naturalist talk where we learned more about shells and mollusks than we ever thought we wanted to know. 

These beautiful shell art Valentines were made in the 1800's.  They were not made by sailors to pass the time, but rather, were made in the Caribbean as tourist items for sailors on whaling ships to bring home to loved ones.

Shells historical used for cameo style carvings

These patterned indentations in the sand are the marks made by the snail as it moved across the sand.  Experts can identify the mollusk by the mark it leaves as the marks are different one mollusk to another.

This bird worked very hard to pluck the low tide exposed oysters out of their shells.

Kris picked up many shells on Sanibel Island, dragged them back to the campsite, gave them a bath, bagged them up and tucked them away in the RV.  A couple days later, our little house smelled like something had died in it.  Double and triple bagging solved that problem.  She can deal with them when we get home.

After lunch overlooking the harbor, we walked over to see the fishing boats.  

The shrimp fishing had been pretty good.  We talked to the young men on the boat who grew up in fishing families.  They live in New Orleans and fish down in Ft. Myers area this time of year. 

Stinky is traveling really well.  He’s absolutely exhausted at the end of a day.  Night night.

Next post pelicans and herons