Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Friday, February 24, 2012

From the River of Grass to Colorful Blown Glass

Our time in the Florida Keys came to an end and it was time to head over to the southern gulf coastal towns of Naples and Marco Island.  We had planned a visit with Betsy’s brother Mark (the hardworking Inn Keeper in Maine; see our previous posts about the Maples Inn (Maples Inn Blueberry Stuffed French Toast and Inn-keeping-101) who is taking a couple of weeks and making the rounds in Florida to see friends/family. 
Mark and Betsy with the Everglades in the background.
Our journey along the southern portion of the Tamiami Trail (the southern route through the Everglades) took us through countless miles of natural beauty and expansive wilderness that defines the southern tip of the Florida mainland.  It is evident this area is so ecologically valuable when you look at the map and realize you pass through two National Parks, two National Wildlife Refuges, one state park, two state forests, and countless other expanses of protected wild lands.  Over a million acres are filled with golden cattail swaying in the wind, menacing alligators lurking in the water, and wading birds standing majestically on mudflats.  All of this land is collectively known as the “Everglades.”  After you visit the area you can understand why it was coined the “River of Grass.”

Too bad these beauties don't fit in
the moho.
Naples activities were a myriad of hiking with Spirit (and her lab friend Ivy), shopping, arts/crafts fairs, eating, and visiting outstanding museums.  Remember, the hiking is not only because we like the outdoors and nature, but to exhaust our 4-month old puppy before we head out for the day.  After a nice  walk through “panther habitat” at Collier-Seminole State Park, we headed over to Marco Island to stroll through the arts and crafts fairs.  Our shopping bags remained empty but it was a great way to see the area and get a feel for what inspires local artists.  One quickly learns that the most inspirational landscape feature is the water.  Marco Island is beautifully perched along the southern Gulf of Mexico in a highly productive estuarine environment that the local artists depict in their works.  

Yea, dogs are allowed!
Mark discovered that the Naples Botanical Garden allowed dogs at certain times and on certain days.  So with dog in tow, we scurried over to the 170-acre gardens.  We were quite surprised that such a nice botanical garden lets dogs stroll the grounds and were pleasantly surprised to see how many other dogs were there.  A sharp eye had to be kept on Spirit so she didn’t eat the bamboo and dig and swim in the Asian water garden.  The gardens had just opened an exhibition of sculptures from Zimbabwe which were beautifully placed throughout the grounds.  We wond our way through the maze of plants that represented the flora from Asia, Florida, Brazil, and the Caribbean and thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
One of the many statues from Zimbabwe that grace the grounds of the Botanical Gardens.
Wildlife is such a part of the Zimbabwe culture and is an artistic inspiration.
One of our favoite pieces which was set beautifully in a water feature.
The Caribbean section of the gardens complete with a Caribbean-style house and steel drums inside.
The childrens section is great...a butterfly house, tree house, sand play yard, and sidewalk chalk.
Betsy's love affair
with Skyline Chili.
Rarely do we eat at the same restaurant (and order the same thing) three days in a row.  But this has been known to happen with us!  In this case it was Skyline Chili, the famous Cincinnati Chili restaurant that somehow made its way south to Florida.  Mark found this culinary treasure in Fort Lauderdale so we made it our charge to find out if there were any other locations in Florida.  After all, Betsy and Mark are   from Cincinnati and loyal to their roots.  What was started by a Greek family in 1949 has become  an institution in Cincinnati and other parts of Ohio.  Regulars saunter in, take a seat at the counter, and spout off orders that include such items as a 5-way (which is chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans), cheese coney, and chili bowl.  The Cincinnati-style chili has a distinctive flavor created by the blend of spices including cinnamon, allspice, cloves, or chocolate that becomes highly addicting.  Betsy was in heaven thinking that she may never get Skyline again after Florida so we filled up while we could and bought a can to stash in the cupboard.
A cheese coney, oyster crackers, and 5-way. 
Dig in Mark and enjoy the 5-way!
Good boy Mark, you cleaned your plate.

Too bad there were no cameras allowed inside,
the Chihuly glass was spectacular.
Saturated with chili, hot dogs, spaghetti, and cheese, we made our way to the art museum for some real culture.  The Patty and Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art is a 30,000 square foot facility with 15 galleries containing paintings, sculpture, drawings and other art forms that are unique and interesting.  Of particular interest to us were the exhibits featuring Dale Chihuly’s blown glass and Louise Nevelson’s sculptures. 

In between eating and sightseeing, we threw in some shopping.  Just a few blocks away from the Pier are Third Street South and Fifth Avenue.  Strolling down these streets it is easy to see why people are attracted to the chic boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and nightclubs.  We stopped in at the colorful Tin City, a revitalized waterfront district that was once the hub of Naples fishing industry.  Here you can shop, eat, schedule a fishing charter, and find other water adventures. 

Great shopping and eating area framed by palms and gorgeous houses.
The Naples Pier was built in 1888 as a freight and passenger dock.  It has been rebuilt
mulitiple times (due to hurricane damage).  Today it is a popular tourist attraction.
Shopping in Tin City.

Guess what else you can do in
Tin City?  Cuddle an alligator
and get your picture taken.

We had a great time with Mark and were glad our friends Bonnie and Ivy (the yellow lab) came by for a visit.  Naples and Marco Island offer lots to do and our week flew by.  We said goodbye to Mark who headed back to Chicago, packed up the coach, and headed north to Fort Meyers.

Spirit sharing her bed with Ivy.  Thanks Ivy for being such a "good sister" to Spirit.
The girls at the art show.  Each got their share of pets from festival goers.
At least someone got the message (the little tern on the left).

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure I'd survive the chili, but sure do love that botanical garden.


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