The last post was a long time ago, it seems! And I was talking about our visit to Satellite Beach Florida and West Virginia. Since then we’ve been very busy.
We’ve toured Florida before many times, but this time got us into some different areas. I thought I knew Florida, but I was surprised.
When most of us think about Florida, we think “snowbirds” from the north, beaches, the TV show “Miami Vice”, boats, warm temperatures, retirees, Disneyworld, Beautiful People, or Key West. But there’s a lot more, and I think you could just about find anything there that would suit you (if you were so inclined to give up on winter).
We returned from West Virginia to a place called The Villages. Situated in central Florida near Ocala, this is a retirement development of about 100,000 residents that bills itself as “Florida’s Friendliest Retirement Hometown”. Most of them live in gated communities in single family homes. Even if they don’t golf, they drive golf carts. EVERYWHERE! In fact, there’s a secondary road system built just for golf carts!
You’ll find golf carts everywhere, and some of them are quite distinctly personalized.
But it’s the amenities that make The Villages remarkable. Virtually anything you want to do or try out can be done there. Want to learn woodworking? There are workshops for that. Pottery? Ditto. There are theatre companies, bridge clubs, golf clubs, bowling alleys, line dancing classes, even a polo grounds! I believe the largest quilt guild in the country is here – they have 17 chapters and over 900 members! Here’s what our concert hall looked like.
The next morning, this room was transformed into a ping pong emporium, with about 25 tables set up. Next door to the Mock Mola class I taught (in another recreation centre) were ongoing yoga classes and we were serenaded in the morning by a pretty good R&B band rehearsing a couple of rooms over (I’ve always wanted to sing in an R&B band since I saw the movie “The Commitments”, and I very nearly ran over and offered my services as a “chick singer”!!! LOL). It’s like that, in The Villages.
My scratchy throat in West Virginia had progressed by this time into me feeling really sick, and I had to cancel our show in Gainesville, unfortunately. It turns out I had bronchitis, and spent the weekend in bed (with antibiotics) to get better. I’m very regretful that we had to cancel our performance for the Quilters of Alachua County. I hope we can make it up to them on our next trip.
Gainesville is a very different city. I guess there are retirees there, but it’s really a university town, and everyone is mad for basketball (especially when we were there – Gainesville made it into the top four of the college basketball championship). The university gym is open 24 hours a day, and whenever we drove by at night, it was full of people. It seems like a vibrant city, with lots going on. (Alas, I didn’t get out very much, but I started feeling better in a few days, thankfully.)
Our next stop was St. Augustine. This is also in the north of Florida, on the Atlantic coast. It is the oldest continuously occupied city in North America, having been founded by the Spanish in 1565. History is everywhere in this tourist mecca. Ponce de Leon thought the Fountain of Youth was there, and there’s still a park dedicated to it, with evidence of Spanish conquistadors.
We took a great trolley ride through the city, and did a bit of walking too. We arrived at the chocolate factory and look what I saw across the street! We had to get off and explore Magrita’s Quilt Shop!
The architecture everywhere was extraordinary. There was some serious money put into the development of huge hotels, especially when Henry Flagler, a business partner of John D. Rockefeller, decided to turn the city into a winter resort for the wealthy elite from the north. Some of these buildings now house the university, museums and this one, City Hall.
St. George Street was a narrow and charming pedestrian walk, with beautiful flowers and interesting old buildings. It doesn’t seem that they’ve changed a lot over the centuries in the central core.
The oldest wooden schoolhouse can be found on this street, too.
The “oldest house” is also known as the Gonzalez-Alvarez House, built sometime in the 16th century. Tucked in behind the walls, there is a beautiful garden and a peaceful place of contemplation.
There’s much more to see in St. Augustine, but I’m glad we saw what we did. This city feels so different from the rest of Florida. The history really adds a lot of interest and character to the place. We sang a show there the next morning, then headed a bit north along the coast to sing that night on Amelia Island, a different place again.
Amelia Island has a great community. I didn’t get the sense that there are as many temporary snowbirds there, as there are in places like Anna Maria Island (just south of St. Petersburg), where people rent a condo for a month or three at a time to escape winter. Here, people who have “come from away” have come to settle. It’s a mecca for escapees from the northern snows, being the most northerly beach place in Florida, and it was busy down by the beach. All the spots look like they’re geared for high school and college kids and families. The restaurants have over half their seating outside, and there are festive umbrellas and cheeky t-shirt clad servers making everything cheerful. But the people who live there have another side to their lives: TRIVIA! It seems that the trivia buffs on the island take their bar-centred trivia contests very seriously. We went out to the Salty Pelican bar and restaurant for dinner with our friends, and it was packed with people playing trivia!
Too bad we were trying to have a conversation, or I would have been right in there with them!
Our last gig in Florida on this trip was over to Tallahassee. We’ve sung here before, and spent time between shows as well. In 2010 we watched the final US-Canada Gold Medal hockey game here. I think there were only a handful of us Canucks in town jumping up and down at the end of the game! I was busy this visit, with a concert and two classes (Mock Mola and Notan). Here are a couple of pictures of the results from those classes. First, three Mock Molas:
Then a few Notans:
Thank you Florida: for the creative work you did, for the enthusiasm for our shows (3 standing ovations!), for the warm weather, and for the interesting new experiences. We’ve already had a nibble for next time from a guild who missed out on this trip, so we’re bound to be back again. I hope we can continue to learn about new, interesting places to visit.