Florida Bed & Breakfasts Pamper Guests

Florida Bed & Breakfasts Pamper Guests

Florida Bed & Breakfasts – you never know where you will find one.

Wandering around Florida’s Forgotten Coast I found myself in the fishing village of Apalachicola and discovered the Coombs Inn & Suites, three lovely historic Victorian Mansions.

I stayed in the yellow and white Coombs House Inn. The vintage home gleams with polished hardwood floors, boasts tall pocket doors to rooms, high ceilings and high beds.

 

Florida Bed & Breakfast - Coombs Inn in Apalachicola

Yes, I had to hop up onto my bed and I’m five feet nine. Fun!

Breakfast, ah, what a meal. At a Bed & Breakfast your plan is to sit down and get spoiled.

At a B& B expect:

Full bodied breakfast aromas to die for.

Food made by a cook who really wants to spoil you.

A table spread with linens, fine china, napkin rings and fresh flowers.

Local and national newspapers folded nearby.

Reasons to grab your grub and run? None.

Stay and enjoy the moment, the minute, even the hour. Get to know your fellow guests (if they are up yet), chat with your cook and let out a sigh of relief at being pampered.

Perhaps ignore the newspapers for now as you are officially on hiatus from the daily angst over where the President was born and if climate change is real.

Apalachicola has one blinking light. Lots to see and do within walking distance when breakfast is finally done.

For starters, from Coombs I walked to the Orman House Historic State Park and the John Gorrie State Museum. Until I stepped inside the small Gorrie Museum I had no idea the South as we know it today would not exist without John Gorrie – he invented air conditioning as a way to cool down his fever patients. Who knew?

Apalachicola is dog friendly. Business people bring their canine friends to work. Water bowls are everywhere. And yes, Coombs has a limited number of pet-friendly rooms. They accept pets under 25 pounds for a fee of $25 a day. My Welsh Corgi, Obi, is a tad over that weight limit.

Florida Bed & Breakfasts – inside a historic home

Bed and Breakfast. What a great combination.

Partner B&Bs with a restored historic Florida home, add delightful innkeepers, make a reservation and life is good indeed.

In St. Augustine the St. Francis Inn Bed & Breakfast has been in its same corner spot on St. George Street since oh, 1791. The oldest inn sits squarely downtown in the oldest city.

This B&B was for several years my go to place for a two-day birthday break – my getaway present to me.

The cozy downstairs sitting room becomes a community center where guests catch up with each other’s days and share a glass of wine and homemade cookies in the afternoons.

Their gourmet breakfasts are the stuff of legends. They generate lots of food photos on Facebook.

I’m quite fond of sitting in their walled garden with its old artesian well, weaving stories in my imagination about all the generations of people who have walked here.

Zeke used to be the St. Francis Inn resident cat. He has since passed on but Bootsie is here now and has quickly learned the art of claiming the courtyard and taking a nap in the shade.

St. Francis Inn B&B, in selected rooms, takes pets up to 45 pounds (Obi qualifies) at a rate of $20 a day.

For your calendar notation – the months of August and September are their slow months (read – fewer tourists) with nice packages for mid-week visitors (Sundays through Thursday).

For sure there will be things to talk about back in that cozy sitting room when you take an evening sunset cruise. There are several – the St. Augustine Scenic Cruise that I’ve taken several times and dolphins joined us, leaping in the bow wake. Or the Schooner Freedom Charters with different boat tours have been sailing the waters of St. Augustine since 2001.

From November 19 through early January, when the sun goes down St. Augustine turns on millions of little lights in its historic downtown area – this is a great time to take one of those boat tours and see the lights.

 

Florida Bed & Breakfast - table set at Alling Inn, Orange CityFlorida Bed & Breakfasts – where breakfast really matters

The Alling House B&B in Orange City, near DeLand, has two really good things going for it:

one = gracious innkeepers Gerald and Nan Hill

two = an older home with five cottages ringed in a circle behind it, all part of the B&B.

Nearby must-sees include Blue Spring State Park, especially during the months of November to April when manatees claim the springs as a winter residence.

Delightful DeLand is less than five miles up the road. Take time to do the mural walk, a chapter in my book 50 Great Walks in Florida.It

It is my belief that when the Greeks are cooking, just show up – so I can highly recommend the Santorini Restaurant on North Woodward Boulevard in DeLand. They are closed Sundays and Mondays.

If you truly are smitten with B&Bs, why not buy one? The Seven Sisters Inn in Ocala is for sale and has been since April, 2016. Also the Laughing Lizard in Indian Rocks Beach is for sale.

Meanwhile, I am content to be a guest occasionally at a Florida Bed & Breakfast and hopefully take my dog with me. Perhaps Obi can meet Bootsie in St. Augustine.

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Birds and Birders Flock to Florida

Birds and Birders Flock to Florida

The guide sang out “LBB at 2 o’clock.”

Birders with binoculars swung them up tight to their eyeballs and looked off the right.

But no, not me, I am standing there clueless.

This was my first bird walk.  I have no binoculars, no field guide, no idea what she just said.

Birds are identified on birding trails

BIrds - Birders on Pepper Creek Trail. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Birders on Pepper Creek Trail

But everyone else knew what to do. Hands whipped field guides out of backpacks. Pages were turned. Discussion led to some disagreement. The LBB was not identified. Heads were shaken.

We moved on, walking down the Pepper Creek Trail at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

This very first bird walk is described in chapter 19 in my book 50 Great Walks in Florida.

I quickly learned that birders stop at a flinch from a finch, a hint of a heron, the flash of a feather, even a single note of bird song is exciting and warrants attention.

To keep up, I acquired binoculars. Went on another bird walk, this one at the Guana River Site, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (whew!) in South Ponte Verda Beach near St. Augustine.

“LBB at 12 o’clock in the big bush” the guide announced.

I whipped my binoculars onto my eyeballs.

OMG

There’s a Little Brown Bird looking mighty huge in the optics! How exciting is this?

Looking for birds can be addictive

Very. Birding is addictive, whether you do it in your back yard by putting out feeders and water and providing shelter with trees and bushes like firebush, or whether you head out the door.

Getting started can be easy and not expensive. Free birding guides by state section and loaner optics are both possible.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission promotes a network of 515 sites in Florida called the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail

birds - the Great Florida birding trail section guidesThe birds may not know it, but Florida has a Birding Trail

The state is divided into sections with free birding guides to each section. State parks carry the free biding guides. The guides can also be downloaded from the Florida Birding Trail web site and are available on Kindle.

New birders will want to take the time to read “Bird Watching Basics”, a PDF in both English and Spanish on the Great Florida Birding Trail web site.

The Florida Birding Trail has nine gateway sites around the state, major repositories with lots of resources including a loaner optics program. So you don’t have to begin by buying your own binoculars. All the gateway sites are listed on their web site.

Birding is such a no brainer in Florida. It is cheap and easy – you can do it in your back yard or travel around – take it lightly or seriously with life lists of birds you have spotted.

Birds - grosbeak at the bird feeder
Red breasted grosbeak visiting at my front yard

And bird economics are enormous. The Florida Birding Trail site says in 2011 wildlife veiwing generated $4.9 billion right into Florida’s economy. So here comes another no-brainer – save bird habitats as they generate big business.

Florida is a wildlife paradise, even with all the development degradation. Shorelines of rivers and salt water harbor wading birds, shorebirds and waterfowl. Migration of birds to Florida in the wintertime makes them truly snow birds.

Witness the popularity of  J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel, where white pelicans camp out in the winter months and visitors line up on Wildlife Drive with long lenses. Volunteers set up viewing telescopes to bring the birds up close and personal.

 birds - Cormorant on Anhinga Amble, Everglades National Park
Cormorant on Anhinga Amble, Everglades National Park

In Everglades National Park, the Anhinga Amble walk puts wading birds so close to you that long lenses are not necessary. The half-mile loop is elevated above the river of grass. Cormorants and anhingas dive for fish. Wood storks shuffle through the mud. Little green herons wait for prey. This is a truly exciting walk best done from October through April. The summer brings heat and mosquitoes. Anhinga Amble is chapter 46 in 50 Great Walks.

The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park has become famous among birders for its wading bird rookery – a ring of old cypress and oak trees around a pond full of alligators. From March through June nesting activities brings photographers from all over the world to photograph herons, egrets, ibis, spoonbills and wood storks. Surprisingly, the birds gravitate to places with alligators, as somehow they know the gators give tree-climbing predators pause.

Birds of a feather flock together so naturally there are birding festivals throughout Florida. Looking ahead to next fall. The Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival takes place Sept. 23-28 and the third annual Wings and Wildflowers Festival happens in Lake County on Oct. 3-5. These events are on the Great Florida Birding Trail site.

FLORIDA FACTOID

Warm Mineral Springs in North Port is open again! Closed for months due to contact dispute between the two owners – the city of North Port and Sarasota County, a new concession has the springs open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fees vary by age and residency. Bring your own lawn chairs. The water is wonderful.  Thank goodness it is possible to go here again – one of my favorites.

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Fountain of Youth found in St. Augustine and Elsewhere

Fountain of Youth

Fountain of Youth. There comes a time later in life when those words sound pretty attractive. For me, that time is now. So off I go, thinking it will just be a myth, a dream Juan Ponce de Leon chased all over Florida back in the 16th century.

Wrong. There really is a Fountain of Youth. De Leon was sure he had found it near St. Augustine. Today the small spring looks a little hokey all encased in a building full of stage sets, but drinking the water can’t hurt and, who knows, imbibing might help a few wrinkles disappear. De Leon couldn’t get enough of the stuff.

Fountain of Youth was a lifetime search for Juan Ponce de Leon

In 1493 de Leon joined Christopher Columbus in his second voyage to the New World. These explorers excelled at saying they were going one place and ended up somewhere else. Obviously they traveled before GPS units were available.

Columbus wanted to find a short passage to India. He ended up finding the New World. De Leon first stayed in the Dominican Republic then conquered Puerto Rico. In 1512 he got a permit (some things never change, like needing permits) from King Ferdinand of Spain to discover Biminy.

Hiring three ships at his own expense he sent out in 1513. Using a really cool instrument called an astrolabe to navigate, the ships went north then turned inland and anchored right up to land on April 2. The next morning they came ashore on what de Leon thought was an island on April 3, 1513.

Because flowers were in bloom, he named it La Florida (the flower). So much for Bimini. De Leon was just north of what would become St. Augustine. He gets the credit for discovering the continental United States. Yes, I know, back in grade school it was all about Pilgrims. Well, guess what, the Spanish were in Florida long before the Pilgrims got their feet wet jumping ship and rock skipping. Ah, the things you learn when you go discovering in Florida.

Fountain of Youth is found in more than one place in Florida

A guide at the Fountain of Youth told us the Spaniards met Timucuan Indians. Their Indian town called Seloy was right here. The Indians stood over seven feet tall. Good thing they were friendly. The Spaniards averaged about four feet eleven inches. And there was this fountain, a natural spring. The water tasted bitter (sulfur water) but heck, maybe the Indians were tall and lived long because they drank the water. It couldn’t hurt. De Leon loaded up caskets of water to take back to Puerto Rico.

After five days hanging out with Indians and drinking the water, he sailed around the tip of Florida, discovered the Gulf Stream and landed on the West Coast of Florida. Returning again to the West Coast in 1521 he tried to land and start a colony. The Calusa Indians didn’t appreciate the newcomers and fought many battles.

He also tried to make his way inland to Warm Mineral Springs, which the Calusa Indians thought was the Fountain of Youth. The Indians fought him every step of the way. He never made it. De Leon died on from a poisoned arrow wound. He was almost 61 years old, ancient by the standards of the day. Most Spaniards were only living until the age of 30 to 40. Maybe it was the water.

Another alleged Fountain of Youth is inside DeLeon Springs State Park near DeLand.

Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine covered up for generations

Surprisingly, proof that the Spanish landed in St. Augustine on April 3, 1513 lay covered up and ignored for generations. In 1904 a private landowner wanted a palm tree removed to improve the view. The gardener found a pattern of stones buried near the tree. TypicallyFountain of Youth, when Spanish explorers set foot on new soil, they claimed it by making a cross. The long arm has the number of stones corresponding to the century. This cross has 15 stones. The short arm has 13 stones. So the year was 1513. Unpretentious and unadorned, the stones of the cross lie on the ground next to the fountain.

Also found at the site was a salt container. These were used to hold documents and a parchment found inside attested to the fact de Leon was here.

The property is in private hands but operates as an attraction. You can walk the grounds and get the guided tour of the fountain, a big indoor globe that rotates (you just have to see it to believe it) and a planetarium, the oldest planetarium in America. This isFountain of Youth where they explain how navigators used that astrolabe. The stars played a major part in discovering the New World.

One building has Indian history and the grounds are open for walking. I like the huge clay jars the Spanish used to put under eves to catch water. The day I was there a group of students from a nearby charter school arrived with sketchbooks and found much to draw.

Fountain of Youth

It is pretty amazing to walk out towards the water and see the area where the small ships (they were 84 feet long) came into shore. The shoreline has changed but this is the spot. And so Florida was discovered. It already had a thriving Indian culture. More cultures would follow.

It is said these are the words Juan Ponce de Leon uttered when he stepped ashore:
“Thanks be to thee, O Lord, who hast permitted me to see something new.”
Amen.

©2008 Lucy Beebe Tobias is a freelance writer, photographer and artist in Ocala, Florida. Her book “50 Great Walks in Florida”, February, 2008, is available now at www.LucyTobias.com

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