McKinney Gypsy Caravan

One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Category: United States

Days 4 & 5- Treasure Coast,  Key Largo and South Beach

We started our day across the street in St. Augustine at City Bistro Coffee and Tea House. Fancy breakfast.We headed on down the coast down Anastasia Island past the lighthouse and drove south towards Daytona around Flagler Beach area to Washington Oaks State Park to see the Coquina “beach caves” which were really just rocks that have been weathered in the beach

IMG_0888 IMG_0890 IMG_0891 IMG_0895 IMG_0898 IMG_0899

After we saw the rocks, we decided this beach was an awesome place to lay out and swim for a bit. The sand was white and powdery, it was almost empty and the water was so shallow it was perfect for Norah to play in.

You know that meme about the Irish girl sunbathing?

Yeah, we have one of those, too! Haha laying completely under her towel! 

We had a three hour drive after that to our hotel in Jupiter and we just grabbed some pretty terrible Mexican food down the street and called it an early night. We watched a History channel show on DB Cooper that I was totally into because they made it out like they had some real info and the FBI was making an announcement … But I should have known better. Just wasted 3 hours of my life believing the History channel might actually have something real to offer.

Norah quickly settled into her bed for the evening. Lol

The next morning we woke up early and headed on down to Sailfish Marina to take the water taxi to Peanut Island but when we arrived the water taxi wasn’t running for the day. So they directed us to Riviera Beach marina… And after wandering around and finally finding the water taxi that started at 10am according to the sign…and then waiting until 10:20…. And then calling Captain Joe… He informed us that the Kennedy Bunker we were going to see was closed until Thursday. Sigh.

So, we’ll try again Thursday.

We headed on south to Homestead to visit the Coral Castle. An eccentric man named Ed Leedskalnin built this over 28 years supposedly after being turned down by his young love back in Latvia. He never shared his methods for how he built it with anyone but he would give everyone tours of his creation.

There were stones that weigh up to 30 tons and a 9 ton gate that would turn so easy that it was said a child could turn it with one finger.
IMG_0901

IMG_0903

IMG_0906 IMG_0907 IMG_0909 IMG_0910 IMG_0911 IMG_0917 IMG_0918

IMG_0922 IMG_0923

IMG_0932

Since we were close and ahead of schedule, we decided to head down to Key Largo and have some proper Key Lime pie and conch fritters… And we found them at Hobo’s Cafe.

When they brought the dessert tray around Norah got super excited about the idea of Oreo cheesecake so I let her order it (a move I would come to regret for the evening as she bounced all over the walls and was just a little jerk haha)we checked into our hotel in Miami and took a little cheesecake reset nappy nap…

Once it got dark we headed out to check out the South Beach Tuesday night nightlife but on the way I wanted to swing by the Holocaust Memorial in South Miami. What an incredible monument and amazing tribute to the millions of people who died in the Holocaust. A very moving and sickening metal sculpture that was by far better than any other monument I’ve ever seen.


After that sobering experience we drove Collins Ave and Ocean Drive to check out the Art Deco buildings and neon lights.Keeping with the Art Deco theme, we decided to eat at the fanciest Art Deco themed restaurant of them all- Checkers. haha Mostly because it was too late to eat anywhere else and Ciara had never had their French fries. She was a big fan. But Irish people…Potatoes…it’s kind of a thing. Haha

Day 3-St Augustine

We started our day from our hotel. If you come to St Augustine, don’t stay at the Magnuson Hotel if you have other options. We aren’t having great hotel luck this trip. Breakfast wasn’t even edible, beds were old and hard and they make the habit of leaving the AC completely off when the room isn’t rented making it really musty and moldy since its Florida in the summer. Come on. Anyway… We opted for the Hop on Hop off trolley through town because it was HOT today. Id like to blame it on traveling with a three year old… Or with a delicate Irish gal… But it’s mostly because of me. Ha but I think everyone was happy by the end because we squeezed two days of sightseeing into one day! Yay free schedule day tomorrow 🙂

Our first stop was the old jail in town. It’s been a tourist attraction since the 1950s but was town jail from the 1890s, built by Henry Flagler here outside of the main part of town because he wanted the land the original jail stood on to build his Ponce De Leon hotel that we went by in the afternoon. (More about Henry Flagler and the Ponce De Leon hotel further along.)

There was a kitchy little gift shop and free town museum we walked through.

The gallows behind the jail. They said the jail performed 8 executions but I’m not sure if they were all hangings… Or if they were in the electric chair.

We walked out of our way to walk down this beautiful magnolia lined street to find it under construction. Ha Not quite as picturesque with the orange cones all the way down both sides.

Magnolia Way led us down to the Fountain of Youth

We first visited the Fountain of Juice espresso and juice bar across the street. They had this old school desk And Norah wanted me to give her math problems. Nerd alert.

We paid our admission to the Fountain of Youth. They had some beautiful peacocks on the property including an albino peacock.

Next we came to the famed Fountain. Legend has it, that Juan Ponce De Leon discovered Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth… Although there is absolutely no fact or record to support this. 

Ponce De Leon sailed with Chrisopher Columbus to the New World in 1492 when he “discovered America.” He then sailed with another explorer when they returned to Hispaniola.

During that trip he received basically a free conquering pass from King Ferdinand of Spain to explore north of the Indies and claim anything he found and govern it for life in the name of the King for a period of 3 years as a thank you for all of the massacres he helped to carry out. 

So, supposedly this spot marks where PDL’s crew came ashore- although there is really no record of that either! Haha but either way, somehow some very smart guy started charging people to drink from this fountain/spring. 

So, how could you not?? 

This site is also the site of the oldest mission in the US, this is just a replica, not even in the right spot. Haha again- so typical. Hawe next got on the trolley and got off at the Old City Gates and walked down the pedestrian St George’s street. Again these aren’t the real city gates- the originals were wooden. These are replicas. After a major attack by British Governor James Moore in 1702 (I think) and the burning of their town to the ground twice, the people of St Augustine decided they needed a defensive wall . And original stood into the 1800s, but now only a couple rebuilt sections exist made out of “coquina” which is sort of a shell concrete mix. Or fossilized shells according to our tour guide on the trolley. The geologist among us was not happy with that inaccuracy. Haha

We walked past the oldest wooden schoolhouse. Not to be confused with the actual oldest schoolhouse which is somewhere in New York… But of wooden ones, this is the oldest. Seems like a technicality… British burned the city in 1702, tax records show it in 1716- so it was constructed somewhere in that range.

We stopped into Taberno de Caballo at 37 St George’s Street. Kegan and I had steak sandwiches and Ciara had a Cuban sandwich.

Next, we stopped by a little stand where a lady was doing silhouettes the old Victorian way by cutting paper by hand from just looking at the subject-the way it would have been done before there were photographs. Norah did a pretty good job sitting still for her.Next we crossed the street to the inpenatrible Castillo de San Marcos. The oldest masonry fort in the US. During that afore mentioned British attack in 1702, over 1500 townspeople took refuge in this fort, Governer Moore hit the fort for like 50 days with canons to no avail. As he was running out of supplies, they spied the arriving French or additional Spanish ships on the horizon coming to assist St Augustine and in a fit of rage at his defeat, his men retreated, setting everything on fire as they left as one final good British farewell. Due to the defeat, James Moore lost his governorship but still managed to keep killing the Spanish by making a life raiding Spanish mission towns in Florida and slaughtering people. 

I’d like to pretend the British were just in the wrong, but like 2 years later the Spanish marched up to Castletown  and tried to attack Gov. Moore’s town and take it and we’re also unsuccessful- so it’s all really just one giant chess match.

After the fort, we were waiting on the trolley and spotted The Hyppo, a gourmet Popsicle shop. I had Blackberry Clove, Norah had Banilla Vanana , Ciara had Pina Colada and Kegan had Horchata. They were very nice on a scorcher of a day.

Rode along the trolley towards the south side of town passing a few interesting landmarks.

The Flagler Memorial Presbytarian church which Henry Flagler had built in memory of his daughter who died from childbirth complications. He is buried here as well alongside his first wife. 

After seeing what Flagler built for the Presbytarians, the Baptists wanted him to build them a church, too- naturally. They asked Henry Flagler, he declined but did make them an offer to give them a parcel a land to build a church on with funds they raised themselves with one condition- it could not have a bell.  (He lived just a bit away and didn’t want to hear it ha) to this day, the Ancient City Baptist Church has no bell. 

We got off the trolley at Villa Zorayda. A very ornate replica of the Alhambra palace in Grenada, Spain. It was built by an eccentric millionaire Franklin Smith from Boston who wanted to use it for his winter home. It was the first building made of the concrete coquina mixture that almost everything after in St Augustine was constructed from as Frankin Smith pioneered this technology. The inside has alabaster walls with exact carved replicas of the walls of the Alhambra palace and amazingly intricate pierced brass lamps from Damascus and other far off places. Not a lot of photos because the lady told me I couldn’t photograph inside, but I’m a rebel. Ha


After that, we crossed the street to the Lightner Museum. Originally this building was built by Flagler for extremely wealthy snowbirds as the Hotel Alcazar but it closed in 1932. In 1947, Otto C Lightner bought it to house his enormous collection of Victorian era treasures and handed it over to the State. It is now known as the little Smithsonian. We didn’t go inside, just looked around the grounds and checked out Cafe Alcazer which is located at the bottom of a swimming pool.

Where this cafe now stands used to be the largest and deepest indoor swimming pool at over 12 feet deep. 

We walked across the street to Flagler college, the former Ponce De Leon hotel. If I understood the tour guide correctly, if you would have been invited by Henry Flagler to his amazing hotel, you would have traveled down the railway for the entire season- December through February and you would have paid $9,000 up front for the season, the equivalent of over $250,000 in today’s money.

There were Tiffany Windows all over the building, totalling over $130 million in today’s value.

We rode the trolley back towards our hotel and discovered some history I didn’t know. Martin Lither King Jr. stayed in this house in the sixties, invited by the lady who lived here. She still lives in this house at 94 years old.This is THE Woolworth’s store made famous for their sit in during the civil rights movement. Some black teens decided to go sit at the white’s only counter which pissed off the restaurant staff and the police were called. They arrested around sixteen individuals but the police offered to let the teens go to the parents as long as they would sign a contract to not participate in any more protests until they were 21. Only four families refused to sign and they became known as the St Augustine Four. These poor teens were all sent to correctional facilities and people were outraged. St Augustine has an MLK Boulevard and it’s one of only 2 MLK streets in the country that Dr. King actually marched down. The other is in Atlanta.The Whoolworth’s is now a Wells Fargo but they’ve added a fake counter back to to commemorate. The actual counter is now on display at the Smithsonian.


We ended with dinner at Mojo BBQ which was pretty good stuff!

Days 1 and 2-Orlando

Friday was just a pretty standard Disney day, so not much to tell although we did get to evacuate our stellar hotel for a fire alarm that wouldn’t stop at 3am. Norah can sleep anywhere though. Ha

 We drove over to the Magic Kingdom, rode tons of rides and met lots of princesses. It was Norah’s best day ever. Ha

She was asleep before we got out of the park! HaDinner was uneventful, some carry out sushi from a little place called Sushiology
 Saturday was our random Orlando day. We didn’t buy another ticket to Disney but needed to kill time in Orlando until Ciara’s flight landed at 6:30. Scratch that: 8:30pm. Delays. Lol 

Sent Miss Norah to the pool first thing in her “mermaid” bathing suit. Little diva

After that, we had to check out of our hotel room, but we still could go use our movie passes and arcade credits. We watched Angry Birds and Thomas the Train in 4D, played arcade games like an animal and then finished with a few rounds of Batman laser challenge. 

After we left the hotel, we played Pirate mini golf off of International Drive.

Finally, we ended at Orlando and Norah met her friend Ciara… And pretty much hasn’t let go of her hand since. So glad she came over to visit Norah. Ha

We drove two hours to St Augustine so we could have a full day of tourist stops tomorrow. 

Florida Staycation Kickoff

This whole trip started out of laziness. haha

Since we are moving, we listed our house in Florida for sale. I was discussing my summer plans with my friend Ciara (Kee-ra – i know… I didn’t pronounce it right either) She lives in Dublin and she is one of my aforementioned Irish connections made while seeking out private sector healthcare consulting needs. I told her we planned on coming over the Ireland for 2-3 weeks in July… then probably coming over for good around Sept or Oct. She said fantastic, we’ll have the craic. (pronounced ‘crack’. means to have a blast) and she took some days off work. Fast forward to actually listing our house early, being in Alabama the last couple months…and just wanting to actually spend some time in our lovely home before it’s gone forever….I decided my laziness beat out the travel bug this July… and I bargained with her. So…. how do you feel about coming to the states instead? and so it was.

Now. I cant possibly let the lass come visit us in Florida and not at least plan some fun stuff…thus- the “staycation” was born. Well…that and the fact that back when we were gone all the time, we were renting the house on AirBnb… and there was a family that reserved it for a week in July that I felt terrible about cancelling on. haha Lemons=lemonade! 🙂

So, the basic itinerary is:

Disney’s Magic Kingdom on Friday (I owed Norah this from the last few months of… just a little bit longer and we’ll go see Mickey. lol)

Saturday- we’ll hang out in Orlando and pick Ciara up from the airport in the evening and drive to St. Augustine

Sunday/Monday trolling around St. Augustine

Tuesday- West Palm Beach

Wednesday- Miami

Thursday morning- a snorkeling trip in Key Largo before heading back home.

The next week, we have some random local things planned: Butterfly World, Morikami Japanese Gardens, Swap Shop Drive in…and some other gems of South Florida.

Since I always kick off a trip with some sort of packing advice, I tried not to disappoint…but really- all I have is one little item to share:

The Lay-n-Go Cosmetic Bag

511VgJ0049L

https://www.amazon.com/Lay-n-Go-Cosmo-Cosmetic-Bag-Black/dp/B00B04V3PQ

I saw this on clearance somewhere and picked it up a few months ago to try out… and this became the perfect opportunity. Most packing solutions are organizers…with a spot for everything, which is all well and good until it never goes back together as well as it initially packed, leaving you cramming things in any pocket you can find.

Also, if like us, you go on a trip that has you in a different hotel every night or two, repacking everything is a royal pain.

So, I gave this a shot… and my laziness is a big fan. haha

You just lay everything you’ll need for the bathroom in the middle, gather up the strings and viola, toiletry bag. When you get to the hotel, release the strings, use what you need, then tie in up again! quick packing:level genius.


IMG_3618

Also, another friend-Alicia- told me about these little travel shaving cream sheets that don’t count against you in your liquids. They are just dry sheets, you take one out, like a Listerine breath strip, and rub it in your hands in the shower and it mixes with the water and lathers. Sounds promising… will report back tomorrow.

IMG_3619

So, today we headed out northbound for the land of the Mouse. We were trying to decide what we wanted for dinner, entertaining the idea of Boston Lobster Feast. All you can eat lobster buffet. But…its just pretty terrible quality food- so we quickly dismissed that but somehow the thought of Dim Sum came up. Turns out, there is a San Fransisco quality Dim Sum restaurant in Orlando! So off we went. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Dim Sum…. but its a lunch Cantonese type asian cuisine. The small almost finger foods are usually brought around giant hall type restaurants on big carts in steamer baskets and metal trays and you just point and pick out the items you want, the waiter marks how fat you are down on a receipt card and when you tap out, they ring it all up and you pay. (Ok, maybe its just to keep track…but I feel like they’re judging me. and that might be due to the fact that we can eat the dim sums. all of them. ha)
In this case, on a week day before 5pm, the restaurant was empty, so no carts- 

but we did get a paper menu to fill out and they made whatever we wanted from the menu. which-again-was basically everything.



 

  Pictured here: Shrimp Balls, Shrimp Dumplings, Taro Root Balls, and Steamed Pork Buns


Pork dumplings

 

Spicy Garlic Tripe- this was Kegan’s idea but honestly- it was pretty good

 

Baked BBQ Pork Buns


Chive Dumpling

 We left happy and our Dim Sum craving satisfied for another few months. Maybe next time we get the craving we can go to China and compare. ha


We checked into our hotel. We have stayed here before, but last time it was the Nickelodeon Suites Resort and there were characters everywhere. Norah loved it. In May, Holiday Inn bought the property and remodeled it, no more characters, but they still have a 4D movie theater, an arcade, a massive swimming pool, kiddy pool and water slides… so we decided to give it a go anyway. I’ve stayed in way better…. different is not always better. But, Norah should be happy with the water and she’s loving the movies and the arcade.



The room is nice, just not very clean…and their wifi has been out the entire we’ve been here

IMG_0878

IMG_0880

The pool is huge…and last time there were only a few people in the pool. This visit… its swarming! its like a nightmare. lol

IMG_0882 IMG_0883

This hotel does have a shuttle to Magic Kingdom, so we’ll take that tomorrow and ride the “Ariel seashell ride” until we cant stand it any longer. 🙂

IMG_0886 IMG_0884