Last Spring, I was in my “final” semester of college. I was struggling through a horrible math class, and praying I would pass so that I could get to the business of planning the rest of my life, instead of having to gear up to take a summer class. I was having the worst semester of my entire college career due to a variety of reasons, and now it was looking like I wasn’t even done yet. My mother took pity on me and let me start planning a graduation trip, even though I probably wasn’t going to pass (I didn’t, but I did get an A in summer Algebra and finally graduated.)
After the stress of the semester, I really just wanted to go lay on a beach somewhere for a few weeks, and maybe hit up an amusement park. So we bought tickets to Orlando, FL to see Disneyland and hit up a beach. I had never been to the East coast before that, so I was pretty stoked. I had, however, swam in the Atlantic while in Spain, but I had seen many pictures of the beautiful green tinted waters and white sand beaches of Florida, and I was very excited to explore a new area.
As the date of the trip drew nearer, I did what I do best, which is overanalyze and plan. I realized that we would probably get pretty bored after just a few days hanging in Orlando, so I decided we should make it a massive road trip, see all of Florida and maybe another state or two. I got down to logistics, and by the time I was done with the plan, it had turned into a 1500 mile road trip.. my favorite kind of trip!
I flew out of Alaska the first week of May to go spend a week with my best friend in Idaho. It was a relaxing week full of movies and catching up with my bestie of 9 years. After the week was up, I flew into Orlando to meet up with my mom. Now, if you’ve never been to Orlando, here’s a word to the wise. If you need to get there, I suggest flying into an nearby city and driving to Orlando. The flight in was packed to the brim with children jacked-up on candy, lack of sleep, and disney-mania.
By the time the plane landed, I was quite on edge. It didn’t stop there though! I had to land and track down a shuttle to take to our cheap Disney area hotel. It took awhile, but I was finally on the shuttle. Imagine my surprise when I realized that Disneyworld was about an hour from the airport, and the whole time we were made to watch weird Disney propaganda on the TV in the shuttle. My brain was feeling overstimulated already and we hadn’t even reached the park!
We got to the hotel and I relaxed until my mom showed up late that night. We went to bed early in preparation for going to the park the next day. Now if you know me at all, you know that I have a limited appreciation for children. In small numbers, they are fine, but in vast quantities they are crazy-making. My mother and I had chosen to go in May for the very reason that schools wouldn’t be out yet, so hopefully the park wouldn’t be as crowded. Little did we realize that this was the time period in which parents brought their younger-than-school-age children to Disneyworld. So, yes, we fought strollers all day.
The whole day at Disneyworld, I could feel tiny glimmers of childhood amazement trying to make their way to the surface, but the adult me was just too aware of how fake everything is. Mom and I did have a lot of fun, particularly when I made her go on Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain Railroad and we both screamed our lungs out. However, after one Disney-soaked day, we realized we were done with Orlando and decided to move on down the road the next day. After spending one day in a small area packed with thousands of people, it was refreshing to get in our car and head down the highway. I’m sure I’ll be back there someday with my niece though.
The next morning we got up bright and early. One thing Florida has going for it, is that it’s a lovely place to wake up in May. 80 degrees and mild humidity felt fantastic, especially since it was about 50 degrees in my hometown at that time of year. We headed down the highway towards Cape Canaveral. We were planning to visit Kennedy Space Center, but when we got there, they wanted us to pay a fee merely to come into the gift shop, so we hopped back in our car and headed South. Neither of us are space nerds.
As we got on the highway, one thing became apparent: Floridians are RUDE drivers. I have never experienced worse road manners anywhere else, not even in the few giant cities I have driven around in. It would get much, much worse as we got closer to Miami, but even out in the middle of nowhere, with plenty of highway to go around, drivers would ride up on our ass then change lines to pass us at the last possible minute before collision. It was a bit intimidating. After our detour to Cape Canaveral, it was kind of late and we didn’t want to drive for a long time, so we decided to stay in a small town called Cocoa Beach. It felt a bit like a place that may have been a popular destination in the 50′s but has long since gone into decline. It made me a little sad, especially seeing that the bums seemed to outnumber the tourists on the beach.
The next morning, we got back on the highway, heading South, destination unknown. One interesting thing I noticed about Florida, is that while it is a medium sized state, it also has the fourth highest population and most of them live within about 20 miles of the coast. Therefore we are talking some extreme population density. During that long day of travel we passed through some of Florida’s major cities, and we were already worn out on people, so we decided to bypass the bigger places and head to Key West. For those of you who don’t know, Key West is a badass little community way down South, at the end of a 120 mile long string of islands. The drive out there is an interesting one, as you are on a road suspended above the ocean for the last few miles. It’s pretty scary to think about what happens when hurricanes hit out there.
Anyway, after a super long day of travel, we pulled wearily into Key West. I was instantly in love with the place. It’s like a tropical-garden-hippie-commune-beach-paradise. I want to live there someday. Also, despite being a cool little tropical heaven, it hasn’t acquired a huge mass of expensive modern houses as other places have. There are a lot of awesome old houses and establishments there, and a lot of history to go along with them. Literary greats Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams both lived there for a decent amount of time, and President Truman had his winter retreat there and subsequently spent a lot of time there, entertaining other politicians, celebrities, and foreign dignitaries. Several movies have been made there over the years, including: Key Largo, License to Kill, Matinee, True Lies, Speed 2, Heartbreakers, Miami Vice, and many more.
Needless to say, it’s an awesome place, with lots to see and do. Our first day there, we opted to see some historical goodness. First we went up in the lighthouse there and got an amazing view of the city.
It was sweaty and full of children, so we decided to next go check out Hemingway’s house, which has been converted into a museum open to the public. It was really interesting seeing a place where such a massive literary icon had sat and written superfamous novels. We also got to see some of the 40-odd cats that live in the Hemingway house and whom are all descendants of Hemingway’s personal pets. They also are all six-toed.
It was also interesting to learn that since Hemingway was such a huge drunk, he would sometimes get lost on his way home, so he used the lighthouse, which was very close by, to guide him home.
The next day, we went to Truman’s little white house, his presidential retreat.
The house is pretty much exactly the same as when Truman lived there, and it was cool hearing stories of different superfamous people who had come to visit while Truman was there, and since. Even the Clintons and Obamas had come down to stay and check out the place. After that, we decided to go to the beach. This is where I realized something. Even though the water looked clear and green as we were driving in, up close, it was actually quite mirky. I have snorkeled before, in Hawaii, and we were stoked to do so in Key West, but I was way too paranoid to swim out far in water where I couldn’t see much around me. I love sharks while simultaneously being afraid of them. The beach was awesome though, and surrounded by palm trees. At one point, a huge cruise ship drove by so close we could clearly make out the faces of people on board waving to us. It was a strange moment having this tiny encounter with these tourists whom I would never see again.
After a day in the hot sun and sand, we were ready to do something different the next day, so I talked my mom into taking a glass bottom boat tour. I have grown up on the water & love being out on the ocean in a boat more than most things. Usually though, I’m doing it in Alaska, and fully bundled up in July. This time, we were gliding along on flat warm Atlantic waters, flying along gracefully through pleasantly humid air that smelled like salt and happiness.
Despite the fact that we couldn’t see much through the glass bottom, the trip was heaven. I could have stayed there for days. In fact, that day made me seriously consider staying there to work on a boat… then I realized I had to finish college. Despite our love for Key West, we knew it was time to move on the next day. So we woke up the next day ready to say goodbye to this humble little paradise. Before we headed out of town, however, I knew I needed to try a Cuban restaurant. Key West, being just 90 miles away from Cuba, obviously has a large Cuban influence on it. We found a little lunch place and I got a Media Noche (aptly named midnight sandwich, because it is served in Cuban clubs at that time.) It was DELICIOUS. I was immediately in love with the food, and sad also, because I knew Anchorage, Alaska was severely lacking in Cuban food.
Gastronomic craving quenched, we headed North again. Later in the day we drove endlessly through Everglades National Park, looking eagerly for Alligatory signs of life, but we didn’t see anything. Sadly, we continued our drive back into civilization. Now that we were on the Gulf Coast side of Florida, the beaches were larger and prettier while the ocean was less inviting. We decided to stop at a place called Ft. Meyers Beach for the night. We got there almost right at sunset, and as we walked out the back of the hotel to check out the beach, we were greeted with the awesome sight of a vast expansive wide sand beach leading to the ocean. There were a large number of people milling about, but as soon as the sun started to dip towards the horizon, there was a simultaneous hush amongst us as we marveled at this lovely sight.
It took just a few minutes for the sun to disappear but it sticks out in my memory of one of the most serene and beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The next day we spent the morning romping in the water before heading towards Tampa. Our plan was to go to Busch Gardens the next day so we found a hotel nearby and looked for activity. We were hanging by the pool and a huge obnoxiously loud family came in, screaming all over the place. Okay, no more pool time for us! We tried to go see a movie and got lost, so we had Thai food and it was the worst ever. We just weren’t feeling Tampa. We woke up the next morning and went to Saint Augustine instead.
A brief history of St. Augustine: It is the oldest continuously inhabited European setled city in the U.S. It was found around the 1500′s by Ponce De Leon. It’s got some very old buildings and the original city walls are still standing. Therefore, it’s pretty sensible that one of it’s main tourist attractions are ghost tours. Ma and I decided to go ahead and take one of these. I have a deep love for all things supernatural, plus it would be a way to see the city in a cool little trolley. The tour take us to locations of various slaughters and ended at Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum. It was the original Ripley’s, and was originally a mansion belonging to a family before it was turned into a Museum. It is also haunted. When the tour ended there, we got to come inside after hours and look around in the dark for ghosts. It sounds pretty stupid but if you can set your cynicism aside, it’s actually a fun time. Also, I saw a ghost.
One quick note about St. Augustine. Remember the obnoxious family in Tampa? Yeah, I saw them again in St. Augustine, 150 miles away!
We went to an alligator farm on the outskirts of town the next day and I got to see an abundance of alligators and crocodiles, it was awesome but I would not want to see one in the wild.
By this time in the trip, we had seen everything in Florida we were really interested in, and still had a few days left. I wanted to see a few more states but my mom didn’t want to drive much further, so we compromised and drove up to Savannah, GA, which was just a few hundred miles away. As we entered Georgia, our surroundings slowly changed. Palm trees turned into huge branchy mossy trees that reminded me of Scarlett O’Hara, terrible drivers became minimal, and I felt the urge to listen to old country music.
As we pulled into Savannah, I was struck by what a cool looking place it was, all red brick downtown and giant trees everywhere. Though Georgia is right above Florida, there were obvious huge differences between the two places. In Florida, the atmosphere had been very laid-back.. flip flops and skirts were the main style, and everywhere we looked were fat, white tourists being generally loud and rude. Savannah was totally different. Most of the people we passed on the street were dressed semi-formal, in nice jackets and dresses. We saw many extremely beautiful, well-dressed, dark skinned people, and all of the waiters and waitresses we dealt with where the nicest and friendliest people ever.
The touristy restaurant area is on the waterfront and is pretty much awesome looking.
The historical section of town is laid out in several huge squares, in which are little public parks with fountains, statues, benches, and lots of trees. They are absolutely lovely.
Surrounding these squares are several streets of huge old houses, remniscient of the days of hoop skirts and carriages. I found myself being severely overheated in the 80 degree humidity, and I was wearing tiny clothes… I couldn’t imagine surviving that heat in old-fashioned Southern Belle garb. One of the more famous houses in Savannah is Mercer house. It was the sight of a scandalous homicide which led to a book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” and movie based on the book, directed by Clint Eastwood and filmed in the actual house. We knew we had to take a tour.
It was a really cool house inside, because the man who had lived there had been an antiques and art dealer and collector, so there was a lot of really interesting stuff to see. Also, we found out that the house has actually been in several movies, including “Glory,” “Swamp Thing,” and others. After the tour, we spent the rest of the day walking around and sweating. I didn’t care though, I absolutely loved the place, no matter how overheated I was. A day later, despite my objections, my mom was ready to head back down to Florida to hang on the beach a few days. I was ready to stay in Georgia basking in the warm glow of the sun and historical shit. Nevertheless, we got back in the rental car to head down the road. I was full of dread. After the peaceful beauty that was Savannah, the thought of another beach town packed with people was a terrible one. Mom decided the best course of action was heading to Daytona beach to soak up the sun for a few days. By the time we got to Daytona, storm clouds were rolling in and the skies were threatening to let loose on us. The place was packed full of tourists, and as we walked through the beachfront mall, I suddenly felt like I was in Heathrow airport, because everyone we passed was speaking a different language. It was a really cool feeling, but at the same time, it made me nostalgic for “real” traveling. I know, I’m never satisfied. That night, my mom and I went to see “Bridesmaids” and laughed our butts off. We were both pretty tired of Florida by this point, so we went ahead and went home the next morning, two days early.
As we left this crazy trip behind, I couldn’t help but miss the two places I had really fallen in love with, and wished that we had just spent a week in each place instead of wasting our time driving to unenjoyable cities. Someday, Florida, I will be back, but I will be flying straight into Miami and heading down to Key West to retire. Or earlier, if I ever become a bestselling author. A girl can dream…