Day 1,295 of Traveling the World, Sarasota, Florida. May 10, 2021.

Who doesn’t love a circus??? And, visiting the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, we had the opportunity to love and appreciate many different, early circuses. The museum traces the history of the circus, focusing on its heyday in the first part of the 20th century. This is a real piece of Americana, when the Big Tops traveled the circus by rail, unloaded their riches at huge empty lots, and (at least in the larger cities, like New York) attracted up to one million attendees. It took days to erect the multiple tents, which you can see in several photos after the circus posters. And look at the daily food orders for the circus cookhouse: can you imagine going through 2,470 pounds of fresh meat per day??

The various circus wagons were fun to look at, as were the unicycles, thinking of someone perched that high off the ground. And one of the best items in the museum was that silver human cannon! Check it out: can you imagine being stretched out in that cannon barrel, just waiting to fly into the air? It was a great museum!

Also on the grounds is Ringling’s opulent mansion on Sarasota Bay, with its own dock and its own promenade of trees winding down through the property. Then there is the Art Museum! There are two long wings of 21 galleries filled with over 10,000 pieces of priceless art, surrounding a planned garden. You can see the garden in the photo with the colonnaded building. Also included are some photos of the greenery on the site, as well as ponds with fountains. The feel is all very lush and lazy, elegant, and so pretty. It is a trip back in time. Our comment, after wandering around the property for hours was…this is what selling millions of circus tickets will get you! The last photo of the Ringling grounds is the Masked Man, who guards the entrance.

We end this post with photos of proper social distancing signs that we saw in an Amish restaurant in Sarasota. Do you think food is always on their mind, even in pandemic instructions? We found these three floor signs to be so creative, fun, and…..informational!! Enjoy!

Day 1,282 of Traveling the World, Lake Wales, FL. April 27, 2021.

Such a pretty place to find in all the busy-ness of Florida! Bok Tower Gardens offers serenity, quiet, and solitude, even though there were streets, cars, parking lots, and a youth group just steps away. All we heard was the wind rustling the leaves of the trees and the fronds on the palms. Utter bliss. In the middle of all this beauty stands Bok Tower, a 60-bell, 205-foot tall carillon (also called the Singing Tower). Twice a day, a carilloneur plays a 30-minute afternoon concert! The tower is surrounded by a moat, and regular visitors are not admitted inside.

The site, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was established in 1929 by Edward Bok, editor of the Ladies Home Journal. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who was instrumental in bringing New York’s Central Park to completion. The park consists of 250 acres of various types of gorgeous gardens. Some are manicured lawns with carefully planted oaks, while others evoke the desert, and yet others have the feeling of a wildflower field. As you can see in one of the photos, we even found a “Nun’s Lily.” Wild turkeys and cranes are commonly seen on site. Early on, flamingos were intended to be one of the park’s attractions, but the winter proved a little too cold for the tropical birds.

You can see the tower in the first few photos, along with a photo of the kiosk broadcasting the live feed of the person inside playing the beautiful songs. At the very end of the photos is a short video clip to give you an idea of how lush and gorgeous the bells sound. The man next to Mike fell asleep!

One thing we found curious is a small building that was built on the property called Window by the Pond. We couldn’t find it, as we passed this building several times, thinking it housed the restrooms! We met a lovely couple named Debbie and Tom, also looking for it, and Tom disappeared inside – he had found the window on the pond! It was a small room with six or seven benches facing a large window, and everybody sat and looked at the pond, seen in the last photo before the video. That was it; no video, no explanations. So, of course, it led to conversation!

Building a carillon tower in the middle of a garden is certainly an unusual idea, one that we haven’t encountered anywhere else in our travels. It was a great way to spend a day.

Day 1,265 of Traveling the World, Miami, Florida. April 10, 2021.

Oh, what a grand day! Roosters everywhere. Street art galore. Colorful frescoes. Cigar stores by the dozens. Brightly painted storefronts. Lots of whimsy and fun. Plentiful Cuban cuisine. Street vendors selling peanuts. Mojito specials in all the bars. Ice cream! And did we mention….roosters, roosters, roosters? What a wonderful time we had in Little Havana.

So, why roosters? The rooster is important in Cuban folklore, representing strength and power. It is a compliment for a Cuban man to be called a rooster. These rooster statues, all over Calle Ocho, were the biggest draw for selfies as well as regular photos. As you can see below, in both statues and wall frescoes, the roosters are colorful, whimsical (do you see the FEMALE rooster???), and ubiquitous. Little Havana’s main drag, Calle Ocho, or 8th Street, is six or seven blocks of restaurants, live theater, cigar shops, and other retail businesses. Yet with so much art happening, the district felt much larger. We delighted in every part of it, but that may be so because we have been quarantined for a year!

After the rooster photos is Domino Park, which we were eager to see, but it was closed. It is where people gather at the small tables inside to play dominoes, and has been described as the heart of Little Havana. But that will have to wait for another visit, after the pandemic. Following that photo – here come the cigar shops! Lots of wooden Indians on display! In one, you can see a young man in a yellow tank top rolling cigars. Quite amazingly, each one looked like a clone of the one before…same thickness, same length, just perfect. And the man in the blue shirt is enjoying his cigar at an inside table, but we didn’t venture inside to “experience” the smokiness.

You can see in the next photo that even the trash cans are decorated with artwork. They were each unique and quite pretty. The split photo depicts a planter on the street that looked beautiful from a few feet away. When we got close, we discovered the topless dancing women. It looks more like the Moulin Rouge to us, but maybe these types of shows were common in Havana, as well.

The next several photos show some of the street art we encountered on our walk through the district. Just beautiful. We are not sure of the entire translation of the long “cartoon,” but it looks like a very well-endowed woman is found to have….silicone! And then, she deflates. At the end of the street art is a photo of a lovely little patio, which sadly had few takers, BUT it was only early afternoon. There were a fair number of people walking around, and we passed by several tours, but the pandemic is still keeping the crowds away.

The montage of the four Picasso-esque women actually was on….outdoor dining tables! What a delight to walk by and discover them. Following that is Miami’s most famous ice cream store, Azucar (Spanish for sugar). Some storefront, huh? You can see the flavor board. They had many unusual flavors. We passed on Avocado, Chocolate Guinness, Corn, Pigs in a Blanket, Coca-Cola, and Burn in Hell, Fidel! We settled on Cafe Con Leche (chocolate ice cream with Cuban coffee and oreos) and Mulatica (cinnamon ice cream with oatmeal raisin cookie bits). They were very, very good. But, in case Mom is wondering, yes…we also had real food. We shared a Cuban sandwich for lunch!

The last six photos gave us the best laugh of the day. They were taken at a bar with pretty funny signs outside and in (“Bring your girlfriend: 20% off; Bring your wife: 45% off; Bring both at the same time: FREE). There were also lots of Lucha Libre masks, a Wall of Shame, and two restrooms at the back labeled “Confessionals.” Hmm. The last photo is a sign with their business hours, which we also greatly enjoyed. All in all, we have walked through some of these sorts of ethnic areas around the world, and mostly feel they are just a loose collection of themed buildings and stores. Here in Little Havana, we had so much fun discovering something every few steps. It gets a big thumbs up from these two world travelers!

Day 1,254 of Traveling the World, Miami, Florida. March 30, 2021.

Please notice that for the first time in about a year, the above title doesn’t use the word “Retrospective.” We actually went out yesterday and spent time at a museum. Since it was largely outdoors – gorgeous gardens! – and people in the few rooms were both masked and distanced, we felt comfortable.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is located in Miami, in the upscale neighborhood known as Coconut Grove. It is a National Historic Landmark, and is the former Italian villa-style estate of the cofounder of International Harvester, James Deering. Located on Biscayne Bay, construction took place between 1914 and 1922. It has been the filming location for about a dozen movies, and is where President Ronald Reagan hosted Pope John Paul II in 1987 on his trip to Miami.

The estate feels a lot like Hearst Castle on the central California coast, albeit much smaller and with direct ocean access. The first several photos are the first areas you encounter upon entering the property. The third is very interesting…running down both sides of the main driveway is a descending water/pool system that culminates in three or four pools along the way.

Upon entering the home, you are greeted by the statue that is fronted by purple orchids. The photo after that is just behind this statue, and is the center axis of the home: a large airy glass-ceilinged atrium filled with fountains, statues, and greenery. It is off this main atrium that you walk the porticos in the next photo, and all around the edges of the house are the living areas. The upstairs bedrooms, with views to the bay, and surrounding the atrium, are being renovated, and access was prohibited for now.

You can see maritime motifs throughout, with a ship in stained glass and another hanging in the main entrance hall just off the bay. Very interesting is that the property’s breakwater was designed as a ship, with a walkway in the middle of it leading up to the home. After that is shown the indoor/outdoor swimming pool, rumored to have only been used once by Deering himself, although his family used it for decades. There is an unusual ceiling mural inside of an underwater fantasy, one of two in existence by artist Robert Chanler. In 1992 and 2005, hurricanes submerged the grotto and mural, making for a challenge in preserving this valuable artwork.

The gardens are extensive, with many statues, fountains, mazes, and varieties of ferns, trees, and flowers. There is a wild swamp area, with a sign warning of alligators. That made us hurry to the next place! The four-tiered waterfall is most impressive, leading up to yet another level of gardens. The two birds you see drinking from the fountain are glossy ibises. Their long sharp beaks would be frightening if they were digging into your skin, but as we passed them, they flew away from us!

The young woman in red was being photographed all over the estate. At first we thought she would be part of a performance, but it seems that this was part of her Quinceanara celebration, her 15th birthday. The photos following the lady in red are of the estate living spaces, including a music room as well as a small pipe organ in another room. Each room has windows to the outdoors, but as you can see, are kept dim to preserve the textiles and objects from a century ago. We liked the last two, a strong arm holding a torch, and the sea god, Neptune, looking like he is worrying about his “hair” getting mussed!

All in all, an amazing day, if only because it was a small taste of getting back to normal and doing something touristy. It was hot, 82 degrees F but “feeling like” 86. It isn’t yet April, but the steamy and humid weather has returned! There were a “good” number of people visiting Vizcaya, but it wasn’t wall-to-wall visitors. Most everybody followed the signage about masks being required, even outdoors. People avoided getting too close to one another. We chatted with some Chinese teenage students going to school in Illinois (a word they said carefully and were clearly pleased to be pronouncing for us) after volunteering to take their photos. It felt like a life that was somewhat back to normal, and after a year, that was a very good thing.

Day 1,250 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Lake Geneva: Lausanne, Switzerland; Evian-les-Bains, France; La Cite Medievale d’Yvoire, France. March 26, 2021.

Flowers everywhere! You would never ever think that this was October in Europe, as it looks like Spring is bustin’ out all over! We visited the Lake Geneva area from October 7-9, 2014.

The first four photos are of Lake Geneva from the Switzerland side, in Lausanne. Our hotel was in Evian, France, across the lake, so we crossed over, but in the morning returned to Lausanne to explore its Old Town. It is such a pretty city! The next five photos are from the old quarter. We found an American Store there, which most large European cities tend to have, and found chunky peanut butter and Tabasco sauce. Don’t laugh…scoring “real” peanut butter across the sea is huge. Local brands don’t taste very good. For lunch that day, we threw caution to the wind and tried a sandwich of Brie with fresh raspberries (rather than ham or turkey) on rustic raisin bread. It was beyond amazing!

The rest of the photos are of Evian and Yvoire, which is a bona-fide medieval city established in 1306. We took two 20-minute bus rides from Evian to get there, about 20 miles to the west of us, on the shore of Lake Geneva. As you can see, every business, every porch, every back yard was just blooming with pretty flowers. And all glimpses of water that you see are, of course, Lake Geneva. We both recall that it rained about half of the time we were there, so we didn’t get to see as many of the villages surrounding the lake as we had intended. It seems we need a longer stay to give you a more thorough report! As soon as the world opens up again…

Day 1,238 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Pattaya City, Thailand. March 14, 2021.

The Sanctuary of Truth creates an impressive sight on the Gulf of Thailand. Constructed entirely of wood, it was started in 1981, and completion is not expected until at least 2025. As you can see in some photos, since it is still under construction, hard hats are required inside. Every surface of the structure is decorated with ornamentation from the Hindu, Buddhist, Thai, Chinese, and Khmer traditions.

We visited Pattaya on February 13, 2016, as part of a 28-day cruise around Southeast Asia. We rarely choose to take the ship’s excursions, as they are notoriously more expensive than they need to be and often include stops with their shopping “partners” so that the cruise line can get a kickback from your purchases. At the port, we found a small company selling tours to the Sanctuary, about 7-8 miles away, for $23 per person. In all, a group of nine of us were on the minibus, and we got to know each other on the way there. We were told to meet back at the bus at noon, giving us about two hours to explore the sanctuary and take photos. Like most days in the region, it was hot – humid – sweltering. At noon, seven of the nine of our group were on the bus, waiting for the last two. Still waiting at 12:20. Still waiting at 12:40. Ten minutes after that, they came strolling slowly toward the bus, stopping to look at tables of souvenirs. Then, unbelievably, they walked past the bus and toward the large gift shop! We couldn’t believe our eyes. Two of the men ran after them, told them all of us and the driver had been waiting in the heat for them for 50 minutes, and they replied nonchalantly, “Oh, we are looking for water. We’re only 15 minutes late.” Needless to say, we have been very reluctant since then to book a shared van experience with others!

As you can see from the photos, the sculpture detailing in the wood is magnificent. There was something to see in every part of the interior. There were also elephant rides being offered! We walked through the town when we returned from the tour and took advantage of a Thai massage session. Two hours for two people cost us just under US $30. And it was amazing! We also stopped for Pad Thai and Tom Kha Ghai soup, a slightly spicy Thai soup made with coconut milk that is one of our favorite foods on the planet. It was this experience in Thailand that compelled us to revisit in 2019 for a month. The people are great, the sights are unique, the food is amazing, and the prices can’t be beat.

Day 1,230 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Croatian Riviera. March 6, 2021.

Looking at these photos, you would be hard pressed not to think it was the coast of California, the French Riviera, or even Tahiti. But think again…it is the gorgeous Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, driving along the Adriatic Sea.

We drove the coast north to south in mid-October, 2015. Along the way, we visited the fabulous ancient city of Split and stayed several nights on the island of Korcula, located between Split and Dubrovnik. As we drove, we ooohed and aaaahed over the beautiful beaches and the views of the Adriatic. We said, more than once, how much it reminded us of the French Riviera. We stopped at the beach cafe in the fifth photo for breakfast and felt like we were back in California. It was just spectacular. Lo and behold, when we got farther south, there was a sign proclaiming, End of the Croatian Riviera. We laughed, as we had no idea it was thus named, of course.

We would like to note that traveling in this part of the world, prices are extremely low for just about everything. We rented our car in the capital, Zagreb, for $69 for seven days, and even the Hertz agent asked how we had snagged that rate! (It was simply advance planning.) Looking back at emails we sent during this trip, our full breakfast for two with coffee at the outside cafe amounted to US $6! In our beautiful hotel one night, both dinner and breakfast the next morning were included with the price of the room, a huge buffet with everything you can imagine. The room (with meals for two) cost US $65. And when we bought coffee for both of us with two croissants in Dubrovnik, it was a mind-bending US $1!!!

With the way that Yugoslavia was split into separate countries in 1991-1992, there is one little glitch while driving down the coast of Croatia, just before getting to Dubrovnik. For 23 miles, the road passes through Bosnia-Herzegovina. So yes, you got it…we got slowed down, as we needed to stop at passport control on the Croatian side. It is so delightful that the Bosnians call this stretch of road – wait for it – the Bosnian Riviera! Apparently, Riviera is the name everyone wants for their little stretch of coastal highway, as it sounds so exotic and romantic. You may also know that there is an Italian Riviera. We have found, traveling the world, that any time you are on a road adjacent to an ocean or sea, beautiful vistas will unfold before you. It was no different in Croatia, where we would love to return in the future.