Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bok Tower Gardens

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It was a beautiful sunny day in December when we visited Bok Tower Gardens. Christmas carols rang from the carillon in the Tower and the sweet fragrance of camelias drifted through the air.

At first I mistook the camelia blooms for roses, because their smell and appearance are similar.

The intricate details and colors of the Tower are amazing. The exterior is made of colored marble. Scenes of trees, flowers, and wildlife are depicted on colored ceramic tiles. Adam and Eve are in the tile scene at the balcony.

Marble eagles stand like sentinels around the crown of Bok Tower.

There are many places to sit and enjoy the setting.

The hill that Bok Tower stands on is at the highest point of elevation in Florida. You can see the ordered lines of orange groves for miles.

Bok Tower bears the name of Edward Bok. He was a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, and editor of "Ladies Home Journal" magazine during the late 1800's. Nearby Pinewood Estates was the Bok family's winter residence.

Bok became enamored by the natural setting around the hilltop and wanted to preserve it. Bok Tower was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge after its completion in 1929. The estates were donated to the American people after Bok's death in 1930 as a sign of gratitute for the opportunities they had given him.

We had lunch at the cafe by the Visitors Center and then set out on a path towards the Pinewood Estates' manor house.

The mansion was decorated for Christmas.

A grand old oak tree shades the back of the house. I was impressed with how much of the architecture and decor was Spanish, considering Bok was from the Netherlands and owned a business headquarted in the Northeastern U.S. I asked one of the docents about the Spanish influence and she said that Bok traveled to South America often and admired Spanish styles.

A fountain on a patio near the entrance covered with painted tiles reminded me of the painted tiles at The Columbia restaurant in Ybor City.

I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland walking through a grove of tangerine trees cut into identical topiary shapes as we left Pinewood Estates. I thought about the words of Edward Bok over the entrance to the grounds as we departed, "Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it."

Lake Wales, Florida is about an hour's drive east from Tampa on Route 60.

Admission Fees
Parking is free. Admission to the grounds is $10 per person. Admission to the Pinewood Estates manor house is $8 per person.

More photos of our visit to Bok Tower Gardens and Pinewood Estates.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wildlife at Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center

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Tampa Electric's Big Bend power plant releases warm water into the bay as part of its production process. Manatees and other wildlife are attracted to this area in the winter. You'll see manatees here in large numbers when the Gulf water temperature dips below 65° Fahrenheit (18° Celsius).

Here's one of the viewing platforms with the power plant in the background.

There are all kinds of interesting contraptions around the power plant.

You don't have to walk far to see the wildlife. There are several viewing areas to explore.

You can find the manatees where ever there is a disturbance in the water.

Manatees are large air breathing mammals. You can see them surfacing often to breathe.

Here is a needlenose fish and a sting ray.

A pelican enjoys a spot in the sun to preen. The Manatee Viewing Center is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.

Admission is free. The Manatee Viewing Center is open to the public from 10am and 5pm between November 1st and April 15th.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Lights at Florida Botanical Gardens

We saw some interesting things at Florida Botanical Gardens as soon as we arrived. There was a tree with an odd shaped trunk aptly named "bottle tree," a fig tree with large fruit growing from the bark, and a white heron that arrived in the parking lot at the same time we did.

I wanted to see more, and followed the heron across a bridge.

The focal point of this scene is the Christmas tree in the Wedding Garden. The lines of the bridge seem to point right at it. If you look close you can see it in the midst of the palm trees. (You can click on the photo for a larger version.)

Pay attention and you might see an alligator, but don't get too close. The wildlife here is not in a zoo. It is their natural habitat.

We looked in the water and found some turtles.

The Christmas tree in the Wedding Garden.

A yellow hibiscus with colorful lights in the background.

It was interesting to see the transition between twilight and darkness as the lights came on.

Heron figures around a small pond. The white glow in the background is the Wedding Garden.

The Wedding Garden came alive with color after dark.

The gardens became a magical place.

Festive lamps on a bridge.

There are two properties adjacent to Florida Botanical Gardens that would be worth seeing in the daytime.

Heritage Village is in a natural pine and palmetto setting with historic buildings. The pines seemed unusual for Florida. It reminded me of northern pine forests.

We wandered through an open gate and peaked inside some of the buildings right before closing.

The Gulf Coast Museum of Art property has gardens with modern sculptures, classrooms, and the museum. They are closed at night, and there were signs directing us back to the light display area at Florida Botanical Gardens.

More pictures of our visit to Florida Botanical Gardens

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Space View Park in Titusville

The Mercury monument at Space View Park.

We drove around Titusville the next morning after the space shuttle launch. I had mapped Space View Park online and thought that it might be a good place to view a shuttle launch.

The gray rectangle on the horizon is the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The Gemini monument.

It's a nice looking park with a good view of the space shuttle launch and landing sites. There was evidence all around that there were a lot of people here last night to view the launch. I don't think I'd pick this place to view a launch, because there wasn't much parking. You would have to arrive early and camp out for hours before a launch. It might be a good location to view a space shuttle landing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Night Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour

We went to Titusville to see the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavor for mission STS-126. It was the last scheduled night launch before the space shuttle program is retired in 2010.

(Click on photos for larger images.)

The moon rose behind the launch pad area early in the evening. We were across the Indian River about 12 miles away. Launch pad LC-39B is on the left and LC-39A is near the right edge of the photo. LC-39A has shuttle Endeavour on it ready for launch and is illuminated by spotlights .

The moon was orange and looked huge (magnified by moisture in the Earth's atmosphere at the horizon). Its size appeared smaller as it rose higher and the color brightened to white.

The launch lit the sky like the rising sun. We couldn't see the spacecraft. It looked like a big ball of white light that momentarily turned night into day.

After lift-off we saw a long amber flame as it passed by the moon. It wasn't until then that we heard the sound which started as a crackle and built into a loud rumble. The light from the moon cast a shadow behind the cloud trail. It was a beautiful sight.

The exhaust cloud over our hotel, backlit by the moon, takes on a zig-zag shape as it's torn up by the wind.

Given the political climate in the world today, I wonder when we'll be going back to the moon.


Travel Recommendation
We opted to stay the night in Titusville rather than sit in traffic. If you go to see a space shuttle launch I highly recommend avoiding State Route 528 (the Beeline) towards Orlando. It can take 4 hours just to get to the first tollbooth.

YouTube Videos - turn your speakers on

See you later, buddy 2:43

Big Rumble 1:29

Moonlight and shuttle launch over water 1:50

NASA Video 10:01

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Guavaween 2008 in Ybor City

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We had a blast at the Guavaween celebration in Ybor City.

There were several sound stages.

Beads were thrown from parade floats and balconies. I love the wrought iron balconies. This is in the historic district of Ybor City in Tampa, Florida.

There were some amazing costumes. I can't figure out how this guy was able fit in the cart. Then he had to drive it backwards.

Our friend had a creative spider costume.

A ghoul on stilts walks through the crowd passing an elaborate wrought iron gate.

See more photos from Guavaween 2008