A Florida Gulf Coast sunset!
(All photos by author).
Sometimes, you have to go just beyond your own backyard to catch what you’ve traveled the world for and never seen. Earlier this week saw the start of our triumphant “return to the road,” and our grand tour of the U.S. southeast. We’ll be reporting on our adventures from the road weekly, and of course, you can always follow our daily escapades, musings, and ramblings on Twitter @Astroguyz, 3G willing.
Our first stop was an overnight at the fine Hyatt Regency just stumbling/walking distance from the Clearwater Beach Uncorked event in Clearwater, Florida. This was a fine drinking and eating event right on the beach, sans shoes and very causal.
We sampled a fine pumpkin liquor, some awesome sushi, a snort of Pig’s Nose Scotch whiskey, and much, much more! We even had an astro-wine sighting;
A vision shifting vino!
But it was farther south that we discovered a true gem of the Florida Gulf Coast. For many, Naples Florida is merely where you “turn left” enroute to Miami, but we found it to be a fine nature and dining experience on its own. We spent the very first night at the excellent Inn on 5th, a grand old structure (and a former bank!) turned into a hotel. The Inn is just above McCabe’s Irish Pub & Grill, a real Irish pub that was literally brought over from Dublin, Ireland brick by brick.
But the tour of the mangrove forests just off shore was the highlight of the trip. We did two tours with Naples Marina & Excursions Inc. to explore the nature and wild life up close. We would heartily recommend both. The sunset cruise not only got us up close and personal with the wildlife, but was the first time that we managed to catch the elusive green flash;
Caused by the atmospheric refraction of the Sun’s last rays, we’ve never seen this elusive event. A flat, uncluttered horizon and clear steady air is needed to see it, conditions that frequently occur off of the Gulf Coast of Florida. Florida is also a birders paradise, and you just might cross that elusive blue heron or other spurious bird sighting off of your “life list.”
But if you want to get really up close, the kayak tour may be more your speed. Be ready to get wet, and block off about three to four hours and be ready for a moderately strenuous affair. It’s fascinating to see the ecology of the mangrove forests, with plants uniquely adapted for the salt water environment. Florida’s network of mangrove forests is one of the largest in the world.
Florida Dolphins in action.
Dolphins are also part of the Florida ecosystem, and we got the chance to catch these fascinating creatures in action on the Dolphin Explorer tour. Part of the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project, this citizen science project broadcasts live to classrooms worldwide. The project also identifies and tracks individual dolphins in an effort to characterize the local marine population. It’s fascinating to see these creatures in the wild, or just stand on a deserted beach on an island off of the large main Marco Island.
Alone (but together) on a beach somewhere in Florida…
One of our best dining experiences thus far was Tommy Bahamas. The very first original “island store” is located in Naples, and they have an excellent and diverse vegetarian menu as well as some great signature fish dishes.
An action-packed transit across “alligator alley” saw us arrive at the fine Colony Hotel in on the Atlantic coast of Florida in Palm Beach. The Colony is a hotel in the grand old style of the early 20th century, complete with olden style elevators and an old multi-story slot mail drop chute! (Hey, we notice such things!) A memorable Spaghetti Nite was observed at the Buccan, complete with black truffle ravioli & gnocchi (and copious amounts of vino!)
& what’s next? Well, we’re resuming a slow arc northward along the Florida Atlantic coast this week. Scopes (plural) are packed, and we may stop by and review a dark sky site near YOU. Stay tuned for more adventures and dispatches from “Behind the Deep-Fried Curtain!”