Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Sunshine State Journey--a Trip through the East Central Coast of Florida

A few weeks ago, my husband and I embarked upon a trip that enabled us to, once again, explore a state that promises something around every corner. This time our excursion took us to Titusville, where we rented a very cute and comfortable VRBO. Titusville is part of what is known as the Space Coast of Florida because it is home to the Kennedy Space Center. We chose Titusville after we discovered that accommodations were a little more reasonable than they were in Daytona--the area we wanted to explore. (For those who aren't regular readers of this blog, in the past I have covered the Space Coast and the many things to do in the area. You can read all about it here. Merritt Island is not to be missed if you're a bird lover.)

When we arrived in Florida, it was rainy-- a situation that continued throughout our stay. The locals informed us that prior to our visit, the area had dealt with a lot of dry weather, so they rather welcomed it. Because of this, my pictures may seem a bit gloomy.  If I were a beach lover, we may have felt a little ripped off, but there were plenty of things to do inside, so, for us the rain wasn't as big a problem as it could have been while we were there.

The Daytona Speedway
One of the first things many visitors to Daytona like to experience is the Daytona Speedway. Located in Daytona Beach, Florida, the Speedway is a racing venue that opened in 1959 and has been the site of numerous historic moments in motorsports, including the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR Cup Series season opener.
Daytona Speedway Photos, Courtesy Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors' Bureau.
The track's banking, with 31-degree turns, challenges drivers' expertise and adds an edge-of-your-seat element to the racing experience.
The Daytona International Speedway also offers guided tours, allowing fans to explore the garages, Victory Lane and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America

The Museum of Arts and Sciences
Not far from the Speedway is the Museum of Arts and Sciences (MOAS)which includes both classical and contemporary works in the form of sculpture, painting and other mediums. It's also home to interactive and educational science exhibits which cover a large range of topics. 

Within the MOAS campus is the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art celebrating Florida's landscapes and history and containing the largest private collection of Florida art in the world.

The MOAS showcases classical and contemporary works.

An exhibit I found particularly interesting was the Coke exhibit at the Root Family Museum at the MOAS. 
Vintage Coke dispensers.

Chapman Root was a Pennsylvania boy from Wayne County who moved to Terre Haute while serving as an officer and director of North Baltimore Bottle Glass Co. In early 1901, he decided to erect his own factory and did well enough in the business to buy a 160-acre silica sand mine just outside Terre Haute for glass bottle production. Soon he was competing against 11 other companies to make the Coca-Cola bottle. Root's company won the contract in 1915 and the rest is history. The Root Family Museum showcases Root's collection of Coca-Cola dispensers and memorabilia.

More vintage coke dispensers.

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum

The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum

About 14 miles south of Daytona is the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, which beckons travelers to learn about more about seafaring mysteries of the past. The lighthouse took one-and-a-quarter million bricks to build and dates back to 1883. At 175 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and one of the tallest in the United States. Guests can ascend the 203 stairs for a spectacular view. and also roam the property, which is comprised of 11 additional buildings. Among them are the principal keeper's dwelling and outbuilding, the first and second assistant keeper's dwellings, a video theater where guests can watch a 20-minute film of the light station's history and its upkeep and more. Building #10 contains the Lens Exhibit Building, which is not to be missed. There guests can learn all about various lenses, including the famed Fresnal lenses made in France and a lens made by Chance Brothers and used at Ireland's Spit Bank Lighthouse--the last lighthouse to be seen by passengers aboard the Titanic.
Keepers of the lighthouse.

Taken inside the Lens Exhibit building.

Towards the rear of the property is an area shown on the map as "Coastal Hammock." I neglected to explore that territory, so when I arrived home and saw details in the brochure, I wished that I had paid more attention to the map they had given us. The "Coastal Hammock" was an area of importance to the lighthouse keepers in that it provided a source of items for their "cookpots," which included squirrel, opossum, snakes, birds, turtles, snakes and raccoons. Guests who visit are cautioned to bring bug spray since mosquitoes can be heavy during certain periods of the year.

The Marine Science Center

Located a short drive from the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is The Marine Science Center, a facility whose mission is to educate the public on marine education, rehabilitation and conservation. When we visited, I had the opportunity to pet a stingray and now if people ask me what that feels like, I can tell them slimy velvet. 
Guests can pet the Stingrays, which feel like slimy velvet.

The small facility doesn't take long to tour and visitors can view aquariums housing marine creatures and also enjoy the nature trails surrounding the facility. A priority for the center is sea turtle rehabilitation and guests can view the turtles and learn about the rehabilitation process. 

Frank toddles around in the recovery tank. 

Vero Beach
Next up was a trip to Vero Beach, which was over two hours to the south, but an area definitely worth seeing. It boasts beautiful unspoiled beaches along the Atlantic and features boutique shops for blocks. We're already thinking about staying in the area on a future visit.

Our first stop in Vero Beach was McKee Botanical Garden, a lush, tropical oasis that spans 18 acres of lovely, landscaped grounds containing a collection of tropical plants, palms and flowering trees. 
Water features include ponds, streams and water lily displays. The destination dates back to 1929 and was one of Florida's earliest attractions. 

An owl keeps a watchful eye over the gardens.

A unique bench to rest and observe.

Those with kids in tow might be interested to learn that McKee has a dedicated Children's Garden to engage the little ones in learning about and interacting with flora and fauna.

This cool, steampunk-looking telescope/planter enables visitors to see plants close up.

A giant mushroom.

The walk through McKee is beautiful and serene and on the November day when we visited, few people were around due to a threatening storm. Thankfully, we were able to take in the entire experience before the downpour.

The Vero Beach Museum of Art

The entrance to the Vero Beach Museum of Art.

Next, we visited the Vero Beach Museum of Art where the work of M.C. Escher was front and center. The temporary exhibit runs through the end of December and explores the graphic artist's mathematically inspired work. Escher lived from 1989 to 1972 and one of his most famous pieces titled "Drawing Hands" was among the collection. Note for left-handers--Escher was one.

One of Escher's more famous works called "Drawing Hands."

Another one that stood out to me was "Three Spheres," a study of reflective surfaces. 

In "Three Spheres" Escher studied reflective surfaces.

In addition to the Escher exhibit, the Vero Beach Museum of Art features a collection of American, Asian and contemporary pieces. It also offers programs for children, adults and families which include art classes, workshops, lectures and gallery talks. While we were there, a classroom of children were being led by a guide who was educating them on the background of the Dutch artist and his many works of art.

The Treasure Museum
Our last stop was the McClarty Treasure Museum north of Vero Beach, which is run by the Florida State Park system.  It displays artifacts from the 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet, offering an educational experience for those interested in exploration and underwater archaeology.

The 1715 Fleet, which was battered by a hurricane, was comprised of about a dozen merchant ships carrying cargoes of gold and silver from the American colonies to Spain. About 1500 men, women and children who survived the disaster made their camp at the site where the Treasure Museum stands now.
A docent stands at the ready to greet visitors and explain the story of the survivors and what has been discovered at the site over the years.

A recreation of an encampment erected by the survivors.

Artifacts found after an archeological dig.

Governor General Corcoles ended up sending a relief party to assist the stranded individuals and also recover the cargo.

At the end of the tour, visitors can climb to a lookout point outside to get a view of what the victims may have beheld. On the day we visited, the weather was threatening, so it wasn't hard to imagine how it may have appeared all those years ago.
Visitors can climb a hill to a lookout point at the end of the tour.

Well, that's about it for this blog entry. What may be surprising is that we did all this in a period of four days. Although it included quite a bit of driving, it did expose us to new and different destinations in a state that is just brimming with things to experience.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Visiting the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmittsburg

The golden statue of Mary, right outside the new visitors' center.

In 2017, I visited a beautiful landmark in Maryland I that I passed by for so many years. Almost every time I traveled through the area, I would marvel at the beautiful golden statue of the Virgin Mary gazing down from her perch from high atop a hill. For years, I wondered what lay beyond that hill, but never took the time to allay my curiosity. That is, until I decided that it was neigh time to discover the story behind the towering, gilded statue and whatever else might greet me at the top.

A cemetery along the road to the Shrine.

At the end of a winding road, I was rewarded with an up-close-and-personal view of the Blessed Mother and the breathtakingly serene retreat known as the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes located behind the statue.

A New Visitors Center

Only recently did I return to share the experience with my mother. It turns out that the fall weather was perfect to walk around, absorb the peacefulness and take in all the statuary, only something was different this time: The National Visitors Center. It turns out that we planned our trip a few months after the new facility was opened.

Grotto Director Bill Tronolone said that more than 893 families contributed more than $3.2 million to build the 4,000 square-foot facility.

Approximately 200,000 pilgrims visit the area each year and all religions are welcome at the Catholic Shrine, which serves as a quiet respite from the daily world--a place of worship, contemplation, prayer and devotion.

The History of the Grotto

This reads "Our mother of sorrows, pray for us.

The Grotto was created by a group of Catholics, who, in search of religious freedom, left St. Mary’s, Maryland in 1728 and settled in Emmitsburg and named the valley “St. Joseph’s Valley,” nestled in the haven of a place they named “St. Mary’s Mount.” Years later, a refugee from France by the name of John DuBois settled in the area and built St. Mary’s on the Hill church in 1807, the home of the current Grotto parking lot. A year later, he built St. Mary’s College located below the Grotto.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals is shown with a bird and a dog.

Throughout the years, the Grotto was tended by several stewards of note including St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the founder of the Sisters of Charity, and the Rev. Simon Brute, who later became the first bishop of Vincennes, Ind.

Saint Sharbel

In the years that followed, collegians and seminarians of Mount St. Mary’s College continued the work of beautifying the Grotto and in 1965, Cardinal Shehan, archbishop of Baltimore, proclaimed it a public oratory. Monsignor Hugh Phillips was appointed chaplain and became known as the “restorer of the Grotto.”

Pope John Paul II

Phillips served Mount St. Mary’s in various capacities until he passed in 2004. He was president of the college, librarian and director and chaplain at the Grotto—which was his passion. “He is an important part of the fabric of the Grotto history. He served the Grotto and Mount St. Mary’s and enjoyed being with the visiting pilgrims,” said Brian Baldini, who was a graduate assistant at the Grotto when we first spoke in 2017.

The Grotto Today
The crucifixion of Christ

When visiting the Grotto, plan on spending at least 45 minutes on the property to view the gardens and shrines of St. Jude, the Virgin of the Poor, Our Lady of Fatima, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Transfiguration of Jesus, to name just a few.

Take time to relax on the benches which are scattered throughout the area for visitors to reflect in silent contemplation and prayer.

And Mary pondered all these things in her heart. Luke 2:19

Onsite chapels beckon worshippers. “Our small one known as the Corpus Christi chapel contains a few pews and the Eucharist so people can come and pray,” said Baldini. The main chapel, called St. Mary’s Chapel on the Hill, also known as The Glass Chapel, was built in 1976 for visitors to celebrate mass while protected from the elements.

The Corpus Christie Chapel

The cave, which is the oldest part of the Grotto, features the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. Beneath an overhang are a series of candles that visitors can light for loved ones. Wooden boxes hold monetary donations and many take the time to scratch prayers on the papers provided before lovingly folding them and inserting them in a separate wooden box. According to Baldini, prayers are collected often. “We get hundreds of thousands of them per year, if not more. People even send them in online. Those intentions are placed at the altar and prayed for at a weekly mass,” he said.

The Cave at the Grotto where visitors can light candles for loved ones.

Grotto water is also very popular and people bring containers to fill and take home with them. “It is water that’s been running down the mountain since Rev. John DuBois came here and it’s never stopped. It attracts many visitors,” said Baldini. The Mount St. Mary’s website remarks on the popularity of the Grotto water as well. “Many believe that its natural properties are cleansing and healthy for the body and soul; others believe it can heal. Although there are no documented miracles, many have reported favors and graces from drinking the Grotto spring water,” it reads.

Visitors can partake in the spring waters that some believe have healing properties.

Although the Grotto is located on the campus of Mount St. Mary’s College, it’s funded entirely through outside donations, benefactors and through other means like “naming opportunities” where loved ones are recognized and remembered on walkway pavers, plaques or benches.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus--The Holy Family.

So next time you’re driving through the Emmittsburg area, don’t just pass by the statue of the Blessed Mother. Drive to the top of the hill and take time to appreciate the divine beauty, history and reverential inspiration behind those who created and tend to this special place.

A beautiful overlook greets visitors.

If you go:

National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes

16300 Old Emmitsburg Road

Emmitsburg, Maryland

Noon mass is held every Sunday, including Easter

Monday, October 9, 2023

Exploring Delaware Water Gap and Stroudsburg: Nature's Beauty and Small-Town Fun

My knowledge of Pennsylvania is vast, or at least I thought so. That is, until I stumbled upon some information while researching places where the fall foliage display is the most dramatic. It turns out that Delaware Water Gap, nestled in Monroe County near the Delaware River and known as the Eastern Gateway to the Poconos, takes the prize as one of the more-striking areas for viewing fiery fall foliage by foot, bike, kayak, or as in my case trolley. What surprised me the most, however, is that the small borough is also home to the oldest, continuously operating jazz club in the United States.

After touring Delaware Water Gap, I continued on to downtown Stroudsburg—a funky, friendly place where thrift shops co-exist with boutique shops and street art is intermingled with galleries. The walkable area attracts many a Delaware Water Gap visitor looking to shop, dine and perhaps take in a show.

The Trolley Tour

Pocono Day Trippers offers Trolley Tours in Delaware Gap

The easiest way to learn about Delaware Water Gap and its history is to sign up for a Pocono Historic Trolley Tour offered by the PoconoDay Tripper. When I visited, Pocono Joe regaled riders with tidbits about the area and how it was once the second most popular inland destination in the United States. On the tour, Joe also points out structures like the Castle Inn

The Castle Inn dates back to 1906.

Built in 1906, it once attracted many tourists seeking to escape the heat of the city and was the area’s first resort with running spring water and electricity. The tour also includes a drive through the Shawnee Inn Golf Resort, which was established in the late 1890s when a native New Yorker and business owner Charles Campbell Worthington made it his summer home. Over the years, the Golf Resort has hosted celebrities like Jackie Gleason and Arnold Palmer.

Riders will also hear how Fred Waring made his mark on the area. 

Fred Waring was a Penn State grad, a band leader and an entrepreneur.

Those of a certain age may have heard of Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, mostly due to Christmas albums that played in households once a year. Waring, a Penn State grad, brought to market an invention which helped revolutionize the American kitchen: the Waring blender. According to Pocono Joe, Waring was fond of using it to mix drinks for his musician friends.

Trolley Riders will also be able to disembark to take photos of scenic Buttermilk Falls, which flows down a series of rocky ledges and is a favorite spot for photographers, especially as the trees explode in a riot of color during the autumn season.

Buttermilk Falls is a scenic trolley stop.

We also stopped at a small church, which housed the Slate Belt Historical Museum and listened to an old Victrola. Now I understand why the old movies sound so "tinny."

We also saw this impressive carousel lion carved by a man named Charles Loof, who opened a carousel factory in 1880. After Loof died, this lion ended up, aptly, in a local Lions Club. You can read the story of this impressively carved lion below.

The story of the carousel lion at the Slate Belt Historical Museum.

Another stop on the trolley tour was a trip to a small town called Portland, where we picked up some chocolates at the Alexandra and Nicolay chocolate shop, and the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, which dates back to 1911.

The Shawnee Inn dates back to 1911.

The Shawnee Playhouse

The trolley also passed by the Minisink Inn, built in the 1740s on land purchased from American Indians. It has served as a stagecoach stop, general store, hotel and now a tavern.

The Minisink Inn.

The trolley trip takes between 1.5 and two hours and requires pre-registration on the Pocono Day Tripper website.

Peter Luck, owner, said, “It’s so rewarding when people tell me they enjoy the tour and our local history. It means everything to me.”

All That Jazz

The porch at the Deer Head Inn.

The Deer Head Inn is a Victorian style building with two stories of sprawling wrap-around porches, perfect for relaxing during warmer months as the music wafts its way outside. Built between 1853 and 1865, it was originally called the Central House and was renamed The Deer Head Inn in the 1930s.

The bar at the Deer Head Inn.

Jazz enthusiasts have been known to flock to the destination, especially for the annual Jazz Fest that is held the weekend after Labor Day. Those who are interested in staying awhile can choose from among eight rooms and two suites.

The stage at the Deer Head Inn.

Ian Carrig, nephew of owner Dennis Carrig, lists some of the jazz artists who have played at the club, including Stan Getz, Keith Jarrett, Phil Woods, Urbie Green, Nellie McKay and Nicole Glover, to name a few. Carrig works as chef at the establishment and turns out dishes like crab cakes, baked salmon, shrimp scampi, burgers, sandwiches and more.

Funky, Fun and Friendly Downtown Stroudsburg

Public art in downtown Stroudsburg.

Restaurants and small, independent shops are plentiful downtown.

If you like getting your shop on, look no further than downtown Stroudsburg, where you’ll find clothing boutiques, thrift shops and galleries tucked among eateries, bars and street art.

Grandpa Joe’s offers friendly service at their candy shop located at 730 Main Street. There you can find a wide range of candy, both modern and retro. 

Black Cow, Slo-Poke, Zagnut and Zotz are just a few of the candies available at Grandpa Joe's.

When I visited, they were handing out popcorn-flavored taffy and enjoying people’s reactions. (It was surprisingly good.) Not far from Grandpa’s is Carroll & Carroll Booksellers, an independent book store dating back to 1991 and selling new, used and rare books. 

And for antique lovers, there’s Olde Engine Works. Located at 62 N. Third Street, it’s one of the largest antique co-ops in northeast Pennsylvania.

If you work up a thirst while shopping, you may be interested to know that Stroudsburg is also home to Bovino’s Brewery, Stonehaus Meadery and the Raw Urban Winery and Hard Cidery, all on Main. Just outside downtown there’s the Mountain View Vineyard on Walters Road and the Eagles Rest Cellars at 188 Eagles Rest Lane. And for something a little different, there’s Sango Kura, Pennsylvania’s first and only sake brewery—but you’ll have to return to Delaware Water Gap to indulge in those libations.

You may also want to check out the historic Sherman Theatre, also located on Main. The theater dates back to early 1929 and today features comedians like Vic Dibitetto, (whom you may recognize as the man who does the “milk and eggs during a snowstorm” bit), musicians like Ace Frehley of KISS and various tribute bands, to name just a few of the acts that have entertained crowds just this year.

The Sherman Theatre dates back to 1929.

Whether you embark on a day trip, or stay a day or two, these suggestions should keep you busy as you explore eastern Monroe County—an area which offers a diverse array of experiences to cater to a wide range of tastes.