This month, we returned to several places that treated us well the first time around. We had just left Bradenton when we found a good friend had just moved there. Back we went. Jack’s Bait Shack in Bonita Springs entertained us years ago while visiting the area for a wedding – it’s still there, still great. And one of our favorite camping spots of the trip, Monument Lake at Big Cypress N PRES, saw our tent a couple more times as we made our way back and forth across the Tamiami Trail.
The ratio of friends and relatives increased greatly in Florida. Wonder why? Aunt Brenda, Uncle Paul, Kim, Doug, Princess Megan, Colin, Uncle Owen, Aunt Esther, Joe, Arlene, Josie, Seizo, Chris and Brandi all entertained us as very grateful house guests. Thank you all for your hospitality. This was our warmest winter, in more ways than one.
Miles Traveled (in Altima) 1,995 miles all within Florida borders
We wish we were here Next Month Award La Florida es mi vida. We love it here.
Most Curious Billboard Seasons Greetings from Rutgers Football, seen on I-95, south of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 1,243 miles from the nearest Rutgers campus that we know.
Strangest Sign Concealed Weapons Classes, advertised at Buck’s Gun Rack, Daytona Beach, Fla. Is there homework? What’s the final exam? Forget it. We don’t want to know.
Most Interesting Name for a Roadside Attraction Master Bait and Tackle, Bonita Springs, FL. Michael’s Uncle Paul pointed this one out to us.
Most Talked About Natural Phenomenon The 2004 summer storms that battered Florida. Towns like Port Charlotte are still slowly piecing themselves back together. Everyone we spoke to was affected by at least one of the storms in some way. No one was untouched.
Most Beautiful View Every single Florida sunset, especially on the Gulf coast and in the Keys. Every seat is the best seat in the house.
Best Bird Watching Site Tie Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Dry Tortugas NP.
Liveliest City Center (Towns) Old Town, Key West, Fla. And we went on a slow week.
Biggest Disappointment When, oh when, will Gab get to see a manatee?
Most Pleasant Surprise Haircuts really do improve your self-image. Michael and Gab both experienced renewed confidence after shedding pounds of hair this month.
Most Unpleasant Surprise Raccoons know how to pull off duct tape and we’re pretty sure they could have unhooked a bungee cord, too. Only an overturned canoe resting on the lid kept our food and water safe on the Pavilion Key beach, Everglades NP.
Unsolved Mystery Just what got killed and what did the killing late at night in the mangroves of Sunday Bay, Everglades NP? We heard shrieking, wings flapping, and some deep growls. A gator? Bobcat? Panther? We had no idea and were safe on a chickee (raised wooden platform) so we weren’t terribly concerned. We sparked quite a discussion in the VC when we returned, but came to no conclusions.
Mystery Solved Charlie Robeson is the country singer that was filming his video at the Santa Monica Pier (see Celebrity Sightings in the Best of October). We watched the singer (who we now know as Charlie) stumble through the surf in his tux, cuddle with his lady and lip sync to the music track, but no matter how hard you squint, you can’t see us on the Pier.
Best Florida-related Book The Orchid Thief, Susan Orleans. Left behind by Uncle Paul for our reading enjoyment in Bonita Springs, do we have this book to blame for Gab’s new orchid obsession?
Most Gluttonous Day a.k.a. A Cheeseburger in Paradise. January 24th. Burger and a beer for $6 in the middle of Key West? That sounds great! No one told us the burger was ¾ lb and came with more fries than one’s stomach should even consider eating. This late lunch at Jack Flats weighed us down for the rest of the day. No matter how many times we walked up and down Duval Street, the cow still lodged itself in our intestines. Ugh.
Sketchiest Strip Mall Hard to say, really, since everything in Florida seems to be a strip mall and looks can be deceiving. The fanciest restaurants, the most popular hang outs, the most curious shops and all kinds of services were usually housed under the same roof. Most of our meals were eaten and purchases made in some strip mall in Florida.
Most Scenic Drive (National Parks) SR9336 from Royal Palms Visitor Center to Flamingo Center through the Everglades NP and 9 different ecosystems.
Most Scenic Drive (Highways) Highway 41 from Carnestown to the Shark Valley Visitor Center. Construction and delays on 41 through Fort Meyers, Bonita Springs and Naples makes getting to this beautiful stretch lined with gators and wading birds even sweeter.
Highest Price for Gas $1.879 at the Fort Lauderdale Cruzin-N-Go
Lowest Price for Gas $1.799 at the Key Largo Hess
Most Out of the Way Site Dry Tortugas National Park. 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, accessible only by ferry or airboat. We had to extend our stay in Key West since high winds and choppy water postponed our ferry trip the first day. Don’t worry. We managed.
Best Local Cuisine Southern Florida must be the bagel capital of the South. Do you really want to know how many we devoured this month? Asiago and Everything are probably our favorite flavors, but there were many, many more.
Estimated Number of Bagels Eaten this Month 72. And that’s a conservative estimate.
Best Bartender(s) Matt at Buffalo Chips, Bonita Springs, Fla.
Celebrity Sightings Pat Croce, former President of Operations for the Philadelphia 76ers Basketball team, hanging out in Key West. We missed former President Bill Clinton’s stop in the Keys by just two days.
Worst Hotel Experience The Thunderbird Motel, Daytona Beach, Fla. Sure the price was right, but nothing else seemed to be. Bad vibes and some sketchy patrons made us reconsider this room and find lodging elsewhere. Gab’s teary breakdown (only partially acting) got us a refund and then we went inland. Big thumbs up to the Hilton Garden Inn across the street from the Daytona Speedway. It saved the day, er night.
Longest Day Saturday, January 22nd. See Worst Campground Experience
Worst Campground Flamingo Campground, Everglades NP. Drunk boaters pulling down firewood (from live trees) for their all night party, truck engines running, spotlights on, classic rock on blast is both annoying and a little scary. Are you going to go and ask them to quiet down?
Best Campground Monument Lake Campground, Big Cypress N PRES. We know we mentioned this place last month, but it stands in such sharp contrast with our exhausting night just a little further down the road, we needed to remind ourselves that camping in Florida can be a wonderful experience.
Number of Bald Eagles Spotted 6. One at close range canoeing through the Gulf Coast portion of the Everglades NP; two hanging out with buzzards in Bonita Bay; one flying overhead while walking along the West Lake trail, Everglades NP; one relaxing on a power line during the drive north through the Keys and one soaring above I-95 near Palm Coast, Fla. It is always a thrill.
Bradenton, FL • Ybor City, FL • Bonita Springs, FL • Everglades City, FL • Fort Lauderdale, FL • Fort Myers, FL • Naples, FL • Shark Valley, FL • Homestead, FL • Florida City, FL • Flamingo, FL • Key Largo, FL • Marathon, FL • Key West, FL • Coral Gables, FL • Altamonte Springs, FL • Titusville, FL • New Smyrna Beach, FL • Daytona Beach, FL • St. Augustine, FL •
Big Cypress N PRES • Everglades NP • Dry Tortugas NP • Biscayne NP • Canaveral NS • Merritt Island NWR • Fort Matanzas NM • Castillo de San Marcos NM •
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