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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.

 

Cell Service at Sea (Update)

Another Thought on Cruise Ship Phone Calls

We are getting ready for an extended trip, which will include a trans-Atlantic cruise and are going thru our check lists. Reviewing our communications options is high on the list involving several decisions we usually need to make.

Our primary cell service is with Verizon. With them we can choose between a 30 day package called “International Travel 100 (minutes) Talk” for $40 or “TravelPass” which costs $10 a day, only when used*, for basically unlimited calls and text and uses our data allotment. Normally we go with the Travel 100 with back-up on my OneSimCard phone. If a situation arises we can have Verizon switch us over to TravelPass during the trip.

In the last couple of years Cruise ship communications has been the biggest problem. AT&T controls this business and without having an AT&T account and buying a “cruise package”, most calls average $2.50+ per minute. As a general policy we try and restrict communications to text (incoming is free and sent messages are 25¢) and email.

We have now realized that we have some additional options. We use MagicJack for our home phone service. We’ve used this service for over six years. When we started this service we transferred our home number to the MagicJack service and since that time we have moved twice and it has allowed us to keep our number wherever we move. We also have friends that travel with a MagicJack and if they have internet they can make calls from their laptops.

Now MagicJack has a mobile App. You can use it with a cell phone, a pad or a laptop and make calls using WiFi. You can also take calls that are made to your home number while traveling (on a cell phone you can also do this thru cellular service).

We have now loaded the app on a pad we take with us and will try it out and report when we get back.

After talking with OneSimCard they suggested we take a look at their VOIP app on the phone using their sim card and call using WiFi.

These could represent serious savings. WiFi service on cruise ships has been getting faster and cheaper over the past few years while cellular service cost has been going up. Many people are now buying internet packages when they cruise and in our case, because of our frequent cruising status, we get a large allotment at no charge.

We loaded these apps and have made a few no cost test calls using our home WiFi and everything worked fine. This still needs to be tested on the cruise ship and we’ll let you know in June when we’re back.

The Gibraltar Apes Got Lazy…

A Short Story

Not paying much attention.

My first encounter with the apes of Gibraltar was in the mid 1960’s when our ship made a liberty call (Navy term for a non-working visit) at the port. Several of us joined a tour of The Rock and while out at an overlook we were visited by a family of apes. Suddenly they started running around and several grabbed things from us. I lost my hat and a woman with the group lost her camera and in a second the apes ran off. At the time I joked that the apes were trained by someone that gave them food in exchange for their haul. At that time nobody running the tours seemed to advertise seeing the apes.

The Apes Den

The population of apes in Gibraltar are actually Barbary Macaques and they are monkeys not apes. They are the only wild population of monkeys in Europe. Presently the population on Gibraltar numbers about 300 in five families.

Caverns inside the Rock of Gibraltar

Jumping forward fifty years, my wife and I visited Gibraltar just recently. We took a tour of “The Rock” and our guide seemed focused on finding a family of monkeys for us. He referred to them simply as monos (Spanish for monkey) and we located a troop at an overlook next to Prince Ferdinand’s Battery which the locals now call The Apes Den. There were more than a dozen monkeys walking around the area and they seemed to have little interest in us tourists. Actually they seemed almost lethargic and perhaps a bit over-weight but I found that preferable to my last encounter.

We were told that years ago it was common for a troop to make it into town on occasion and cause all sorts of mayhem but that it rarely happens any more. Perhaps they are victims of the good life just like us…

Surprise Gem of the Italian Adriatic Coast

Ravenna in the northern Italian province of Emilia Romagna is a bit off the usual tourist trail. Located only two and a half hours from Venice by train with frequent service starting at €12 it is well worth a side trip. This city is a treasure trove of art and history with its basilica containing an extensive collection of mosaics. The city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 AD until its collapse in 476. Today, Ravenna is home to eight world heritage sites, is known for its great food and is located on good beaches on the Adriatic coast that include world class resorts.

Old city gate

Eight Unesco World Heritage Sites

  1. The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia meant to be the resting place of Galla Placidia, the sister of the Roman Emperor Honorius who had transferred the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Milan to Ravenna in 402 AD.
  2. The Neonian Baptistery along with the
  3. Arian Baptistery with both including plain octagonal shaped brick exteriors with lavish interiors.
  4. The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo with its 26 mosaic scenes from the New Testament, the oldest in the world.
  5. The , the only chapel of the early Christian era that is still fully preserved.
  6. The Mausoleum of Theodoric built in 520 AD by Theodoric the Great, King and unifier of the Ostrogoths.

    flying buttress on the Basilica of San Vitale
  7. The Basilica of San Vitale. One of the most important churches of the early church.
  8. The Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare, located in the countryside five miles outside Ravenna.
Dante’s Tomb

The city is also the site of the Tomb of Dante Alighieri

The author of The Divine Comedy who was exiled from his native Florence to Ravenna in 1318, where he completed Paradise, the final section of his famous three part work. Dante is buried in the graveyard beside the San Francesco Basilica.

The “Basilica of San Vitale” church in Ravenna, is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe.

The Roman Catholic Church has designated the building a “basilica”, the title bestowed on church buildings of exceptional historic and ecclesiastical importance, although it is not an architectural basilica form.

The church was begun by Bishop Ecclesius in 526, when Ravenna was under the rule of the Ostrogoths and completed by the 27th Bishop of Ravenna, Maximian, in 547.

The church has an octagonal plan. The building combines Roman elements: the dome, shape of doorways, and stepped towers; with Byzantine elements: polygonal apse, capitals, narrow bricks, and one of the earliest examples of the flying buttress. The church is most famous for its collection of Byzantine mosaics, the largest and best preserved outside of Constantinople. The church is of extreme importance in Byzantine art, as it is the only major church from the period of the Emperor Justinian I to survive virtually intact to the present day. Furthermore, it is thought to reflect the design of the Byzantine Imperial Palace Audience Chamber, of which nothing at all survives. The Church also inspired the design of the church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople, and also was the model used by the Emperor Charlemagne for his Palatine Chapel in Aachen in 805, and centuries later theSan Vitale dome was the inspiration for Filippo Brunelleschi in the design for the dome of the Duomo of Florence.

Besides the history and good food the city is also a very easy place for walking with a number of wide pedestrian malls lined with good shops.

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Outside the city towards the Adriatic beaches we passed a number of canals dotted with interesting fishing huts with huge and elaborate fishing net contraptions that didn’t seem a very sporting way of fishing. Even at the beach there was a long pier also with a number of these fishing huts and nets. I’ve never found a description or explanation of how these places worked?

Minerva’s Pencil Case has a great  post HERE with some breathtaking interior photography.