Saturday, March 11, 2017

Going to all the places - Charleston

It's time for us to pick up the pace on our road trip, moving right along to beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. On our day here we saw a little of both town (with a horse and carriage guided tour) and country (visiting romantic Magnolia Plantation).

The advantage of a guided tour is that it allows you to see all the highlights, and feeds you the history as you go. However the disadvantage is that there's no time to jot anything down. Consequently this post consists mainly of photos I snapped along the way.


Our tour started near the old Charleston City Market, and as we walked through on our way to meet our horse and carriage I couldn't resist photographing these bright wire bowls from Africa. I have one of my own at home, and the workmanship of the women who weave the plastic coated telephone wire into the bowls is amazing.


Here is just a sampling of the gracious historic homes we passed by on our tour.



 These pretty houses are part of what's known as Rainbow Row, for obvious reasons.
At the end of the ride we tipped the guide, but when we asked the horse if he'd like a tip too, he said 'Nay!'

A short drive out of town took us to the beautiful plantation of Magnolia Gardens. 


It was quite a wild garden, with nature only just held I check, but the driveway reminded us so much of the movie Forrest Gump, and live oaks were everywhere, Spanish moss dripping from their branches.


Here we saw magnolias blooming, of course, as well as azaleas and camellias.


I added another alligator warning sign to my growing collection.


And gasped at the stunning reflections on the still waters.


This Plantation has been in the grounds of the Drayton family for fifteen generations, and the Rev'd
John Drayton developed the gardens in the 1840s.

The house is interesting, though only a small part of it is original, having succumbed to fire during the Civil War.


African slaves worked on what was originally a rice plantation along the Ashley River, and the slave huts where they lived have been preserved.


By the late afternoon it was time for us to move on to our next stop, Savannah, but not before taking a look around this quaint little roadside store, the Carolina Cider Company.


Yes, we did buy a snack for the onward journey!


Friday, March 10, 2017

Going to all the places - The Biltmore Estate

The first stop on our road trip to Quiltcon, Savannah was the fabulous Biltmore Estate at Asheville, North Carolina, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, and built by more than 1,000 workers for George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895. 

Are we there yet?

The gently winding road through landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted's artfully designed forest was clearly designed to build excitement for visitors to Biltmore, with each tantalizing bend promising, but never quite delivering, a view of the house. 
I wasn't too bothered, though, as it was early morning and we were treated to scenes like this, with the late winter sunshine beaming through the trees.


This was to be our first view of Biltmore, from the top of a kind of stone belvedere. It
was reached by climbing up the deep but shallow steps of the 'rampe douce', built this way to accommodate horses and buggies.


Below is the view looking behind us, and up the hill.

Biltmore is BIG, though apparently Vanderbilt called it his 'little mountain escape'. It's designed to resemble a French chateau, and everything about it showcases its owner's wealth.


Unusual architectural features intrigued us, like the gargoyles, and the upward sloping windows in this picture with their similarly inclined shallow balconies.


 Once inside, we found that they not only followed the incline of the staircase, but each window had a door giving access to its mini-balcony.


 You could get lost in the shrubbery in the ground floor Winter Garden..


Becoming the owner of a 250 room house at the tender age of 33 years must have made young George Washington Vanderbilt II quite the eligible bachelor, and just three years later he married 25 year old Edith Stuyvesant Dresser. They had one daughter, Cornelia.

The house was designed for lavish entertaining, with a grand dining room with a vaulted ceiling 7 stories high!

We were told this room is decorated at Christmas with a 35 foot tall illuminated tree.

The two-storey library was exactly the kind any houseguest would appreciate, especially the likes of writers Edith Wharton and Henry James who are known to have stayed there.



 The bedrooms upstairs were grand. This one, the Louis XV room, is where Cornelia Vanderbilt and her sons were born, and had a fabulous view across the front lawn and beyond. When we were there the morning sun was streaming in, making it warm and cheery and it was easy to see why it was chosen as the birthing and recuperation room.

Biltmore has had plumbed bathrooms and flushing toilets since the beginning, as well as both AC and DC electricity installed. Every mod con, in fact.


  Below stairs was just as fascinating as above, just like Downton Abbey. Look at all those gleaming copper saucepans! There was one of the earliest walk-in refrigerators, cavernous storerooms for preserves and other staples, a rotisserie kitchen and a rather grim looking laundry. We also saw where some of the servants slept and dined.


Biltmore was one of only a few homes to have its own indoor bowling alley, complete with protective walls jutting out so the hapless servant whose job it was to retrieve the balls and re-set the pins could pop behind and not get accidentally collected by a wayward bowling ball.


There was even an indoor swimming pool, complete with underwater lighting and heated with steam. The ropes hanging down in the left of my photo were for less confident swimmers to hold onto.

You'll notice the pool is empty in this picture. This is because it has a leak and doesn't hold water any more. We were told that a few years ago it was filled for a special occasion, only to find that the next morning it had completely drained away!

It must have really been something in its day.


Sadly, Biltmore's heyday of hosting house parties and lavishly entertaining lasted only a short time. George Washington Vanderbilt II died unexpectedly in 1914 from complications of appendicitis.


But the Biltmore Estate is still in the Vanderbilt family, even though none of them lives here any more It's the largest privately-owned house in the United States, and well worth a visit to see how a wealthy American family lived at the beginning of the 20th century, when no expense was spared!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Tasting all the foods

Warning! Calories ahead! Just reading this post may cause drooling, lip smacking, food cravings and a serious case of the munchies.
On our weekly Saturday morning trips, in the golf cart, to the produce markets at Brownwood, Linda and I have bought farm-fresh veggies and fruits for her to juice for our breakfast each morning. So healthy!
In fact, from my very first day here in the USA, eating and drinking has featured highly among my holiday adventures. Linda's husband, Dan, an excellent home cook, has made it his mission to expose me to the widest assortment of dishes, drinks and sweet treats possible, and I've willingly co-operated!

Here's just a sampling of Dan's home cooking... Texan lasagne, Cajun salmon, Chicken Tetrazini, Waikiki meat balls, and breakfasts of pancakes, and eggs with hash browns (not shown 'cos I ate them too fast!). Linda's salads, a meal in themselves, and her amazing home made bread, have been mouthwatering accompaniments!

Here's my favorite, pizza with pastry made from scratch.

However, I confess, dear reader, this isn't the whole picture, and my sweet tooth needs a serious reprimanding!

With only a nanosecond's hesitation I've gobbled up warm roasted cashews covered in cinnamon, waffles an inch thick(!) and maple syrup, and big, soft sweet pretzels studded with crushed almonds. 

I also have a serious crush on the king-sized pecan pralines we found in Savannah. The Savannah Candy Kitchen a little too obligingly gives away free samples, and with one bite of these warm, sugary, nutty candies I knew resistance was futile! Alas, it's destined to be just a holiday romance....sigh.....because I doubt if I'll find any back home.
I'm not much of a drinker (I only drink on days of the week ending in 'y'). However, my drinking horizons have been widened with margaritas (at Universal, Orlando), Yuengling beer, 'Two Men in a Glass' (a mix of Arnold Palmer Iced Tea and Jack Daniels), and pina coladas. I've also had Cuban coffee and an old fashioned chocolate milkshake at Johnny Rocket's here in The Villages.
They said I mustn't pass up the chance to try a Cuban sandwich, and they were right! This one came from the Cuban Cafe and Bakery in the historic part of St Augustine, and was a delicious toasted bun filled with ham, mustard and cheese.
Then there were the BBQ restaurants, where you ordered your pulled pork, beef etc by the quarter pound! I passed on the Fried Gator Tail, but did have the pulled pork with 'Damn Good Corn Puddin' from the menu pictured below. It lived up to its name!
Are you ready for dessert yet? How about flan, a Cuban caramel treat, pies of every kind from a roadside shop in North Carolina, or pineapple soft serve ice cream from St Augustine.
Or a really, really special treat, enjoyed at Linda's neighbour Becky's home, cannoli filled with whipped cream and chocolate chips from Ferrara, a New York Italian pastry shop.
The least said about how much chocolate I purchased at Chocolat by Adam Turoni in Savannah the better. 
'Mouth-watering' about sums it up!


I've also conducted extensive research, in the name of science of course, to find the best Key Lime Pie. 

And I hereby declare the winner .....(drumroll).... the Publix supermarkets Key Lime Pie!


Now, in case you're imagining I'm the size of a house after a month on the 'Florida diet', I'm mighty relieved to tell you that both Linda and I have actually LOST weight! I think it has something to do with all the walking we've been doing as we've travelled around Florida, North and South Carolina and Georgia. 


More on those travels soon!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Going to all the places - Homosassa Springs


Visitors to Central Florida have been heeding this advice for around a hundred years, so Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park was a must-see on Linda's itinerary. 

It didn't disappoint! 

Here I saw so many animals, birds and mammals that I've never seen before, though the prize for the prettiest has to go to the American Flamingos, who entertained us with synchronized wing flapping, squawking, and running to and fro en masse, as if heeding a secret signal.



Those funky flamingos went camera-shy just as I was taking Linda's photo, which is ironic since she's their biggest fan! Seriously, who wouldn't love designs with these gaudy beauties on a quilt, a mug, paper clips, clothes, or in your garden?


There were pelicans, ducks and other kinds of bird life.
A cheeky otter showed off for us, while the fox relaxed in the shade and the snakes (thankfully) stayed behind glass while glaring at us disapprovingly.
There was even an American eagle, displaying his very own patriotic flag.
The bobcat paced his enclosure, looking sleek and dangerous.
And there were plenty of these mean old alligators!


All the animals in the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park are native to the Florida region, with one exception, Lou the hippopotamus. 58 years old Lou is a former movie star. He needed a place to live out his retirement and the Park was granted special permission to house him. 

Like so many human retirees he enjoys the Florida warmth and spends his days enjoying the sun, occasionally slipping gracefully into the water for a dip. He doesn't sign autographs, but if you stand in a particular spot to take a photo of old Lou he might shower you with a different sort of gift, one requiring you to have your clothes dry cleaned!


The most popular attractions at Homosassa are the manatees, huge marine mammals that take shelter from the cold ocean waters during winter, and gather in the Sprngs. If I was asked to describe one I think I'd say a manatee looks part-sea lion, part-whale, part seal, and part-trunkless elephant, with a little bit of mermaid thrown in. They're sometimes called sea-cows. 

These pictures give you a little idea and, as you can see, people can even pay to go swimming with wild manatees. 


Better still, one of the recreation centers in The Villages has this beautiful manatee mural on the wall.


Here's a familiar looking manatee!

 We took a boat for the return trip to the park entrance, through a stunningly beautiful waterway.

These people were on a boat traveling in the opposite direction.


 Waldo the alligator, sunning himself on a pontoon, bade us a fond farewell. 

He was smiling anyway, even if he might have been thinking we'd make a tasty dinner.