Index to America Articles



Thanks for visiting and we appreciate your support.

We will be traveling starting April 14th with very limited access to the internet until mid May. I will hope to make a few posts along the way provided I can get to the net. Hope to see you again when we get home.

Winter Garden, Florida

A Cute Town With A Juicy Past

Orlando is a massive metroplex with dozens of suburban towns that include Walt Disney World in the west and Winter Park in the Northeast. Within the Orlando orbit and located twenty miles due north of Disney World is the town of Winter Garden.

It was a thriving town in the early twentieth century with it’s principle focus on growing oranges (juicy past). It was located in Orange County and at one time shipped more fruit than any other spot in the nation. Centrally located. two railroad lines passed through the town bringing in tourists and hauling out oranges. Many of the tourists came to fish Lake Apopka, once an international capital for bass fishing.

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By mid-century the lake was terribly polluted (mostly from agricultural runoff on its north shore), the orange industry had consolidated around mostly larger corporate groves that had moved farther south and the town was drying up.

The town has enjoyed a rebirth recently. In 1994 the West Orange Trail opened on the former Atlantic Coast Line rail bed and become one of the states most popular biking and walking trails stretching out to twenty some miles. Created by Orange County the trail included way stations and rest stops doted along its length. On weekends Winter Garden plays host to throngs of bikers from all over riding the West Orange Trail. The middle of the trail runs right through the center of Plant Street, Winter Garden’s main downtown strip.

For several decades Lake Apopka has seen extensive efforts to reverse its pollution and the results are showing signs of making a difference. Anglers are catching bass again and boaters are using the lake for recreation. The town is making use of a lakeside park for concerts and Forth of July celebrations and there are plans to improve the waterfront.

Located on Plant Street along with two bicycle shops are a number of noteworthy attractions including the Edgewater Hotel. Developed in the 1920s as a state-of-the art accommodation for the anglers who visited Winter Garden to fish largemouth bass, it now operates as an upscale boutique bed and breakfast.

Also there’s the Plant Street Market, a new facility that looks a lot like Winter Park’s original Farmer’s Market. On the outside, the brick building looks like a survivor from the earlier century, but inside it’s 21st-century modern, with a craft brewery along with a number of food venue choices.

The town includes the Garden Theatre, which originally opened in 1935 as a modern motion-picture theatre and was restored in 2008 to become a performing-arts center that now offers plays, concerts and movie festivals.

The downtown district covers an area about eight blocks long and two to three blocks wide and within this area are two museums, several gift shops, four women’sdress shops, more than ten restaurants and three café/coffee shops.

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Weekends are full of events with Friday night music on the square in the town center, along with additional music usually available in three or four other venues around town. Live music is usually featured all weekend at The Attic Door wine café, Pilars Martini Bar (Pilars also features a great open-mic jazz Sunday) along with the Crooked Can Brewery in Plant Street Market. Saturday mornings start with one of the best Farmers Markets in Florida and continues with more live music around town going right thru Sunday. Recently on one Saturday evening there was live music going on at seven different locations in town.

Winter Garden is also noteworthy for a number of special weekend events throughout the year. There is the Spring Fling Garden Show, Blues and Barbeque, Classic Car nights, Halloween Treats in Town, Holiday Light Up Winter Garden., Orlando Symphony on the Lake, along with a couple of music concert weekends taking over the length of Plant Street.

If you are visiting Orlando or live within driving distance and are looking for a fun day consider a visit to Winter Garden. Unfortunately other than the Edgewater Hotel there are not a lot of hotels nearby.


Yellowston’s Old Faithful Lodge

Last summer, after years of trying to plan a trip to Yellowstone, with a stay at the Old Faithful Lodge, we actually got there.

The Old Faithful Inn is as much an icon of Yellowstone Park as the nearby geyser(s) and was an experience we had looked forward to for a long time. We planned that trip around a land tour with Caravan Tours which included the two nights at the lodge and we couldn’t say more about the tour.

Named for the famous geyser in the basin its construction started in 1903, the Old Faithful Inn epitomizes the use of rustic architecture on a large scale and has been copied a number of times. Construction was done using local stone for the building’s foundation, and local lodgepole pine logs for its walls. Craftsmen framed the windows and stairways with gnarled wood selected for its beauty in the construction. It was designed by architect Robert Reamer, and the inn combines rugged materials and organic motifs in a way that expresses both frontier sensibilities and elegance.

The Old Faithful Inn opened in 1904, and was equipped with electric lighting, but Reamer designed the light fixtures to look like candlesticks. Both the electricity and the radiators were fueled by a unique steam generator. Dinner was accompanied by a string quartet (which still plays in the lodge), and dancing was customary on most nights. The east wing was added in 1919 and the west wing was added in 1927, both under Reamer’s supervision, bringing the inn’s total number of guest rooms to about 340. Since that time annexes have been added to increase occupancy and provide for park staff.

Just being in the Upper Geyser Basin is the experience of a lifetime and spending time at the inn is just icing on the cake. The lodge is a magnificent structure with a lobby that stands four stories high with numerous seating areas, a huge fireplace and includes a main dining room, a snack bar and a bar that features light fare. The rustic architectural details are worth special attention and there is a front deck where you can sit and view the geyser.

It seems almost a requirement to have at least one meal in this historic log dining room with its impressive stone fireplace, more for the ambiance than the food. Its best buy is a buffet breakfast and lunch along with a buffet option at dinner. There are several other eating options in the main lodge including a snack bar as well as out-buildings. The general store just down the hill has a good lunch counter and there is a cafeteria in the newest building off to the side of Old Faithful.

We had a good breakfast and dinner in the main dining room and really enjoyed the bison chili and burger in the bar. Prices are not really excessive considering the location. There is very little to brag about in the Spartan guest rooms that have no air conditioning, TV or WiFi but luxurious accommodations are not what we came for.

Old St. Augustine

Castillo de San Marcos

Often people talk about “old Florida” and it probably means different things to different people and at different times, but you can’t get any older historically than St. Augustine. Founded in September 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain, St. Augustine is the longest continually inhabited European-founded city in the United States – more commonly called the “Nation’s Oldest City.” Americans like things that are the biggest or tallest or oldest and St. Augustine lays claim to a number of “oldest” structures in the country. Starting with the Castillo de San Marcos and including the countries oldest school house.

Hotel Ponce de Leon

The area was noted in the journals of Ponce de Leon in 1513 while searching for the fountain of youth and later fortified into a Spanish stronghold. The cities defenses are the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, the Castillo de San Marcos is a large Spanish stone fortress built to protect and defend Spain’s claims in the New World. It’s a National Monument and, at over 315 years old, it’s the oldest structure in St. Augustine. It’s also one of the main attractions visitors to St. Augustine come to see.

Old Town St. George Street

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After visiting the National Historic Site of Castillo de San Marcos spend some time taking a stroll down St. George Street in the Old Town. There you can stop for breakfast, lunch or dinner at one of the many great restaurants and cafes or have happy hour at a wine cellar. Browse the retail shops, and museums and visit the other historical sites.

Canon demonstration at Castillo de San Marcos
The Schooner Freedom

St. Augustine’s rich heritage makes the city and its surroundings a unique getaway for visitors who are drawn to the old city and the fort. But the city  also has dozens of other options to occupy the visitors time.

  • There is Marineland Dolphin Adventure Featuring a variety of interactive programs, which range from programs for land-loving guests to enjoy dolphins up-close, to ones that offer the opportunity to immerse yourself in the dolphins’ aquatic world as you swim with our gentle residents.
  • Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium is the very first permanent Ripley’s attraction! Set in a beautiful historic castle, Ripley’shouses over three floors of family friendly fun!
  • Potter’s Wax Museum has been rated as one of the Best St. Augustine Attractions for more than 50 years, Potter’s Wax Museum was the First Established Wax Museum in America.
  • The Fountain of Youth Park –  which gives visitors a chance to experience history at this important archaeological site and to claim that they drank from the famous springs.
  • St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum – You can also relive the Golden Age of Piracy at Pat Croce’s St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum with the world’s largest collection of authentic pirate artifacts; interactive and educational exhibits, including the award-winning Book of Pirates and the spine-tingling Disney Imagineer-designed Below Deck sound experience of Blackbeard’s last battle; the world’s only pirate treasure chest and one of only two existing 17th century Jolly Rogers; and rarely-seen shipwreck treasures from the Florida Division of Historical Resources.
  • The Oldest Schoolhouse

    The Old School -Located in the historic district, this is a true “American Landmark”. The original Colonial house is handmade of red cedar and cypress and dates back to the 1700’s. Juan Genopoly purchased this homestead and transformed his living area into a classroom for the children of St. Augustine’s newest residents, the Minorcans .

  • St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum – Once a week you can catch the sun set and the moon rise from atop the St. Augustine Lighthouse, and enjoy complimentary champagne and snacks.

    St. Augustine Lighthouse

If you are in the area or are planning a Florida trip, go ahead and be a tourist for a day or two. We did and it was actually a lot of fun. In case you are wondering, yes St. Augustine has a good beach with a number of ocean-front hotels  in case you get tired of being a tourist.

Christmas in St. Augustine

P.S. If you are going to be in Florida this holiday season St. Augustine puts on a great show called The Festival of Lights where the entire downtown and historic district are decorated in lights. (In 2017 it started on November 18th)

Visiting Liberty

Get to Know an Old Liberty Ship

Looking forward, bridge SS American Liberty

I admit I have a strong attraction to a specific type of ship that has almost vanished from the planet. Currently there are very few of these historic ships still in existence. My fondness for this ship is because I spent a little over two years serving on one in the 1960’s while in the Navy.

Before the United States entered World War II, England was fighting for its very survival. England is an island nation and depends on its merchant ships to keep its industries supplied with raw materials along with its people fed and their gas tanks full. Nobody knew this better than Germany and they had a plan to choke off England.

The bridge on the SS American Victory

At the outbreak of war German U-boats spread out over the North Atlantic with orders to sink any merchant ship flying British flags. As the war advanced Germany launched more of these submarines with more range and munitions and eliminated over a third of British merchants.

Even before the entry of the U.S. into the war England placed emergency orders for ships to be made in American shipyards using a British design. The class was developed to meet British needs for transports to replace ships that were being torpedoed by German U-boats. These ships became known as Liberty ships.

The Liberty ship featured a simple design and low-cost construction and soon were being mass-produced on an unprecedented scale and the ship came to symbolize U.S. wartime industrial might.

In the 1950’s the U.S. Navy upgraded and converted a number of these Liberty ships to serve as support ships in the active fleet. Some were configured as ammunition supply ships designated AE, others as refrigerated supply ships designated AF and a few like the USS Liberty (AGTR-5) were used as technical research ships (electronic spy ship). The USS Liberty was attacked by Israel Defense Forces during the 1967 Six-Day War. She was built and served in World War II as SS Simmons. By the 1960’s the Navy was fazing out these ships for modern, specially designed ships called “fast fleet support ships”. By early in the 1970’s all of these WWII work horses were retired.

SS Jeremiah O’Brien in San Fransisco

Only three operational Liberty (Victory) ships still exist and they are museums, the SS John W. Brown in Baltimore, the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, home ported in San Francisco and SS American Victory in Tampa.

Main deck forward, SS American Victory

We have visited the O’Brien some years back and she is well preserved and actually still makes cruises. We also found out that the engine room scenes from Cameron’s movie The Titanic were filmed on board.

This past summer we visited the American Victory in Tampa and discovered that she is a work in progress and could really use donations and volunteers. She is docked right next to the Florida Aquarium with free admission (donations welcome) and free parking (which is worth its weight in gold in that area). While, as I said, I have a soft spot for these old ships it is probably a good opportunity to get acquainted with these pieces of American history.

A Tale of a Whale

A Short Story

Sunset at Icy Straight Point

Whale Watching In Alaska

Kayakers searching for whales

A few years ago while on an early season Alaska cruise our ship stopped at Icy Straight Point. For a number of reasons we had decided to take it easy that day. The ship was anchored out and we had gone ashore early in the morning and took a nice hike thru the forest. We were back on the ship well before noon and had gone out on our balcony to read.

Some of our friends had taken the opportunity to go on excursions in the port and whale watching seemed to be the choice of the day. Of the whale watching options one was a kayak trip and as we sat on our balcony we could see the kayaks move along the shore and head out toward open water.

Whale at Icy Straight Point

A little over thirty minutes into our reading we were startled by a load noise coming directly below us. It was a large Humpback whale that had crossed under the ship and was blowing as it surfaced directly below our stateroom.

We had been whale watching before and had seen whales off of Hawaii, Vancouver Island and in Alaska. On one cruse up the Inner Passage we had a pod of Orcas pace the ship for over a half hour. With them I never got a picture because we never knew where they would surface next and before you could react – they were gone.

Whale pod encounter off Vancouver Island

This time at Icy Straight Point our Humpback stayed near us for twenty minutes, circling and diving and putting on a real show. Most of our fellow passengers were off exploring and it didn’t seem this whale was drawing much attention at all.

That evening talking to our shipmates it seemed that the whale watch tours were mostly a dud. The kayakers had seen whales but none had come anywhere near the group and one whale watching boat had not seen any whales at all.

Sometimes lady luck just smile in our direction…