Saturday, July 10, 2010

A last look at native Florida

Our visit was coming to a close much faster than any of us expected and there were so many more places I had wanted to show my guests. They were amazed at how many plants we have in common as many of our Florida palms and even ornamentals like bottle-brush bushes are commonly seen in Australia as well.  I wanted them to see the REAL Florida sights and people. I was secretly proud that most of the people we had encountered along the way were easy-gong and friendly, willing to help and anxious to please.

Today our adventures would take us in a southerly direction and we managed to get an early start with just coffee under our belts.

We crossed Pineda Causeway turning onto South Tropical Trail for a quick view of south Merritt Island where I told them about the mango groves and pineapple fields that once filled the island. I forgot until just now that I should have looked for some of the few remaining green parrots that easily disguise themselves among the mango leaves. They enjoyed seeing the variety of homes that face the Indian River with their comfortable docks and various sizes of boats.

Crossing Mathers Bridge from Merritt Island into Indian Harbor beach, they realized that some of those homes had a view of the Banana River from the other side of their homes because the island is so narrow at that point. They were even more amazed at the opulent homes along S. Patrick Drive as we made our way to Melbourne Beach.  Just as we turned onto A1a I spotted our target breakfast place "Sand on the Beach" and we made our way past the 1960s view mural to a table with chairs set into sand at the edge of the dunes.  It was a perfect morning for dining al fresco. A soft breeze off the beach kept us cool even though the sun was almost blindingly bright reflecting off the white sand.  Again, I was pleased with the service and food we had that morning as it was delicious and served with a smile. Our server even took pictures for us.

After breakfast, we continued south on A1a, talking and enjoying the sights of beachside living and wildlife preserves of seemingly endless palmettos and palms where endangered species of birds and tortoise can thrive. While crossing the bridge over Sebastian Inlet, I explained that the state park, which includes property on both sides of the bridge, is a popular destination for surfers, fishermen, snorkelers, swimmers and campers. In fact, we have fished and camped there many times.
Just a mile or so further down A1a, we pulled into the parking lot of the McClarty Treasure Musuem. a small building rich with history. The museum features the story of recovering treasure from the 1715 sinking of a fleet of Spanish ships that were rich with silver, gold and gems I The museum is located on what was the site of the 1715 Spanish salvage camp. A beautifully constructed narrated diorama explains the disaster and recovery story. There is a 45 minute film that tells the story of the more recent recovery of treasure that littered the seabed off the east coast of Florida. Some of it is still out there we are told.

Turning off A1a at Vero Beach we stopped at the Indian River Mall in Vero Beach for a stretch, some lunch and a bit of shopping.  The day was going fast, so we hopped onto Interstate 95 hoping to get home and get a few things done before dinner time. Tonight was to be the farewell dinner and everyone who could be there wanted to join us.. 

Troy and Linda were happy to go off on their own for a bit of exploring and last minute shopping in the afternoon and I felt very confident they wouldn't get lost since they had a new GPS system they wanted to try out. 

Again we were not disappointed as we gathered at a restaurant on the former site of an old hotel in what was once known as Eau Gallie.  The attraction here is more about location, history and Florida casual ambiance than food (which has been unpredictible through several changes of ownership). The hotel burned many, many years ago but most of the restaurant owners have been smart to keep a few photographs of the old place, walls of pecky Cyprus and other artifacts such as the original fireplace for the enjoyment of locals and history buffs. Our dinner was served in one of the enclosed dining rooms and the cool air conditioned air was a welcome relief this teamy afternoon. Usually, we would have preferred the thatch roofed open air dining room. 
After dinner, we moved to the outdoor bar area where chattering voices and laughter threatened to drown out the band. That would have been sad since there was a great Joe Cocker sound alike at the microphone.  

The sun had sunk below the horizon by the time we wandered out onto the sandy beach along the river for last minute chit-chat. 

We knew this would have to be an early turn-in night since they had a very early morning flight next day. But, it was very hard to get serious about bed time when there was so little time left. A night cap and soft conversation finally settled us down and the day was reluctantly brought to an end with a long embrace. 

After giving me a parting gift, (a much coveted fiery Australian opal pendant), we were informed of a bit of Australian law that requires US citizens to return the visit by going to Australia.  So, now we are on a crusade to add enough money to our vacation fund to visit our friends down under.

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