Sunday, January 3, 2016

Mobile, Alabama to Pensacola, Florida

Sunday, Dec. 27th - Sunday, Jan. 3rd

Saturday we moved to Wilderness RV Park near Robertsdale, Alabama, just east of Mobile and north of Pensacola, Florida.

On our way down to Pensacola on Sunday, we stopped at the really nice Florida Visitor Center.  This monument there honors the Blue Angels who are based at Pensacola.

At Pensacola we drove down Perdido Key and went for a walk on Johnson Beach with beautiful sugar white sand.

As we were walking we started to see lots of these Portuguese Man o' War jellyfish.  They are not actually jellyfish, but siphonophores, a colony of four organisms that cannot exist on their own.  There are three species, the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Blue Bottle.  They can be seen on Florida beaches from October to February, but are most common in Nov. and Feb.  They live on the surface with a gas-filled bladder and have no means of propulsion, so they are moved by the winds, currents and tides.  They can briefly deflate in the event of a surface attack.  They can be 3 to 12 inches long and almost 6 inches high.  Their tentacles can dangle underneath the water for up to 165 feet, depending on their size.  They are common on the lower east coasts of Florida in times of east and southeast winds.  Their tentacles are covered in venom used to paralyze their prey and may remain potent for hours or even days after their death.  They are a common part of the diet of the loggerhead turtle, as their skin is too thick for the venom to penetrate.  The Atlantic coast species has the nastiest sting, but they are all very painful.  The Atlantic is the largest species and the Blue Bottle is the smallest.  They cause whip-like red welts, stinging, burning and swelling of lymph nodes.  If a person is sensitive to the venom, it can cause a severe reaction including difficulty breathing and cardiac arrest.  It is a neurotoxin that is 75% as powerful as cobra venom.  Welts can last from minutes to hours.  There have been more than 200 swimmers stung this past week at Fort Lauderdale.  Hollywood had 92 stings on Monday.  Boca Raton is reporting 10 to 15 a day and Miami Beach has had 1,020 since Christmas Day.  Its name comes from 18th century armed sailing ships and their resemblance to the Portuguese version at full sail.  It's nickname is the "floating terror" and now you know why.  I'm glad I didn't try to pick one up!  There were actually a bunch of kids playing in the water.  We stopped at the Crab Trap Restaurant where we had crab cakes, fried shrimp and shrimp gumbo.  Yum, Yum!

Monday we drove into the nearby city of Spanish Fort and saw the movie Concussion which was very good.  We ate supper at Zaxby's (okay,but not as good as Raising Cane's) before heading back to camp.  Tuesday we went back to Pensacola and drove out to Fort Pickens where we found a really nice campground to stay at next time we come this way.  We drove as far as Fort Walton just looking around and grabbed a late lunch at KFC on our way home.  Wednesday we drove over to Mobile and went through a very nice little free museum in this replica of the original Fort Conde.  It was named for King Louis XIV's bother and was built in 1723 by French Canadians to protect their colonial empire, La Louisiane.  In 1763 at the end of the Seven Years War France lost all its colonial possessions in North America.  In 1818 the U.S. Congress sold the fort and within five years nothing remained.  The Gulf Coast colonies were a place to send Europe's unwanted citizens, such as orphans, unemployed, pick pockets, smugglers, debtors and indentured servants.  Exiling undesirables ensured the colonies would be populated.  One observer wrote the entire region was "the secret asylum of pirates and vagabonds who had escaped from their creditors and from justice."  140 years later the Alabama Department of Transportation began building the Wallace Tunnel and unearthed thousands of artifacts from the fort.  I guess that's when they decided the fort would be good for tourism and rebuilt it.  Now it's their Visitor Center and and has this nice little museum.

This is bigger than his current living quarters.  He might like it here.  They do have TV and internet in prison nowadays, don't they?

Then we went kitty corner across the street to the History Museum of Mobile.  Originally called Fort Conde, the locals referred to it as Mobile, a French word for the nomadic Indian tribes who lived in the area, and it stuck.

They have a nice collection of buggies and carriages, but I liked this little goat cart.  It was made for a young boy named George by his father.  Every day little George drove it to the Southern Market (the museum building we are in) to pick up knives and saws from the butchers to be sharpened by his grandfather.  Imagine sending a young child by himself today to pick up knives and saws.

Famous boxer Joe Louis from Lafayette, Alabama served in the U.S. Army in WWII and became a national spokesman for the Army, traveling around Europe.  From 1940 to 1944 Mobile was the nation's fastest growing wartime city, going from a population of 114,906 to 201,369, with 50,000 employees in the shipyards.  They built nearly 200 ships, freighters, minesweepers, cargo ships, tankers, destroyers and Liberty ships.  It was also a national center for ship building in WWI and was chosen as one of several sites for a government sponsored project to build ships using poured concrete, when steel was expensive and in short supply.

Dorothy Doll with her ruby slippers and Toto.  "There's no place like home, no place like home, no place like home."

There were lots of little doll house Christmas scenes, but this one was so tiny, it was inside a coffee mug.

Then there was a room with doll house size models of some of the mansions around town.

So beautiful, just makes me wish I could live there!

This room had a huge, long dining table set with a different set of china at each place and lots of beautiful serving dishes, candle sticks, etc.  Each place setting had a Mardi Gras invitation next to from various years, some very old.  This is an 1882 dance card.  They were popular in the 1800s and early 1900s.  Women penciled in their intended dance partners for each song at formal balls.

Antique bath tub.

Swords disguised as walking canes were popular in the 1800s.  Gadget canes also held flasks of alcohol, compasses and other tools.

The trains of the Mardi Gras Queens are as much as 20 feet long.  Mardi Gras has its roots in Ancient Rome and has since spread around the world.  Outside the U.S. it's often called Carnival, a Latin term meaning "farewell to flesh".   From the Italian word carnovale which is from the Latin words carnem (meat) and levare (lighten or raise), literally to remove the meat or stop eating meat.  Fat Tuesday is the last day and the high point of a long party season.  The season of feasting begins about two weeks before Lent, a season of fasting.  It is celebrated with colorful parades, formal balls and parties serving traditional foods including King Cake and Moon Pie.  The early Europeans celebrated the coming of three wise men bearing gifts 12 days after Christmas on January 6th.  The day is known as "The Feast of the Epiphany" or "Twelfth Night", traditionally the beginning of the Carnival season.  The King Cake is crown-shaped and is a cross between coffee cake and a French pastry.  A tiny baby Jesus is hidden in the cake and the person whose slice it is in must bring the King Cake to the next gathering.  Moon Pie is a traditional "throw" of the mystic societies in Mobile.  The trademarked name of the original graham cracker and marshmallow cookies was created by the Chattanooga Bakery in 1917.  Mystic societies are clubs that celebrate the Mardi Gras season.  Some have parades and others simply hold a formal ball (by invitation only).  The Mobile area boasts over 60 active mystic societies.  Each has a King, Queen or both and a unique history.  Catching throws at a Mobile Mardi Gras parade is a full-contact sport.  It's every man, woman and child for themselves.  Moon pies, bags of peanuts, bubble gum, candy, cups, koosies,  frisbees, beads, stuffed animals and doubloons.  Doubloons are colored aluminum coins with the date, organization's logo and parade theme stamped on them.  Mobile has a unique phenomenon called Joe Cain Day the Sunday before Fat Tuesday.  It is dedicated to the man who revived Mardi Gras after the Civil War.  A group of "Merry Widows" dressed in black pay homage at his grave and home site followed by the Joe Cain procession also known as the "people's parade".

Native Henry L. "Hank" Aaron born in 1934 was major league baseball's "Home Run King".  He played for 23 years and hit 755 home runs.  Hammerin' Hank broke many baseball records and was the National League's MVP in 1957.  He is probably best known for hitting his 715th home run in 1974, breaking the previous record set by Babe Ruth.  They have on display his 754th home run baseball that he hit in the second game of a double-header against the Texas Rangers on July 11, 1976.  Hank's career record was 2,297 runs batted in.  Leroy "Satchel" Paige born in 1906 was one of baseball's best-ever pitchers, but because black Americans were barred from major league teams until 1947, he didn't join the Cleveland Indians until 1948 at 42 years of age.  In 1971 he was the first African-American player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Paige honed his pitching skills during the five years he spent in reform school.  His nickname originated from his job handling baggage at the railroad depot.  Lots of Mobile players made it to the major leagues.  Do you recognize any?  Hank's brother Tommie, Frank and Milt Billing, Jim Mason, Willie McCovey, Ozzie Smith, Eddie Stanky, Billy Williams, and Tommy Agee,  Cleon Jones and Amos Otis who together manned the outfield for the New York Mets as they won the 1969 World Series.

The temporary exhibit was King Tut artifacts, but we saw the original, endless display of artifacts from his tomb at the national museum in Cairo, Egypt.

Greek Orthodox Church at Malbis Plantation in Daphne, Alabama.  It's supposed to be fabulous inside, but it was locked Thursday when we stopped.

From there we continued our road trip over to Biloxi, Mississippi just to look around.  It's kind of casino alley right along the coast there.  Lots of grand new casinos since Hurricane Katrina.  But in amongst them is tucked the home and museum of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy.  We will have to check it out next time.

We had a late lunch of shrimp, french fries, hush puppies and cole slaw overlooking the water and headed home for a quiet New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Saturday we drove back to Pensacola to see the replicas of Columbus' ships, the Nina and the Pinta.  They were docked at the Perdido Key Oyster Bar and Restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway.  The puny little boat in the middle is named Gettin' Bye.  Santa Clara was the original name if the Nina.  Ships of this era were always named after saints and nicknamed by their owners.  It was owned by the Nino family and became Nina.  It is a typical trading vessel of the 1400s.   Both ships are caravels, a lighter, faster ship style developed in 1415 under Prince Henry the Navigator (son of King John I of Portugal) to stop the invading Barbary Pirates from the North African coast.  Vasco de Gama was a member of the Knights of Christ (modified name of the Knights Templar).  Prince Henry was Grand Master of the order.  They functioned well into the 16th century with members devoting themselves to maritime activity. 

The Pinta was 85' long and 100 tons and both ships were built in Brazil by 8th generation Portuguese shipwrights.  It took 20 men 36 months and was completed in 2005.  It is actually 15' longer and 6' wider than the original.  The original had 26 men aboard and all lived, worked and slept on deck.  The "hold" below was for supplies, food and fresh water.  It took Columbus and his men about 30 days to sail from the coast of Spain to the Canary Islands.  There they refitted their sails and re-provisioned and set off for Japan.  They saw land about 30 days later in the Bahamas.

This is a photo of the men in Brazil as they were building the ships.  Both ships were built completely by hand using only adzes, axes, hand saws and chisels, no power tools.  After many years of research and three years of construction, the new Nina set sail from Salvador, Brazil with a crew of 11 (the original had 24).  Their first port was 4,000 open ocean miles away at Punta, Arenas in Costa Rica where she was filmed for the movie "1492" for the 500th anniversary of the voyage.  She has traveled to over 1,000 ports in the Western Hemisphere in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Great Lakes and the Mid-western River System.  Her longest voyage so far is 5,200 miles in 31 days at sea.  The Nina has made five trips to the West Coast and ten trips through the Panama Canal.  Since the Pinta was finished, they have travel together as a new and enhanced "sailing museum" for the purpose of educating the public and school children.  The Caravels were used by many early explorers and historians call them the space shuttles of the 15th century.

This sign was on the pier next to the ships.  It sounds like it would be a great adventure.  Maybe you should check it out, Steve.

Looking for a place to eat, we stopped at the Flora-Bama Oyster Bar and Grill.  It's this huge, old ramshackle place that has been destroyed by hurricanes and fire and rebuilt each time.  They have live music 365 days a year and a polar plunge in the ocean on New Year's Day with hundreds of people taking the plunge and a huge party afterwards.  They had three live bands today at 1:00 PM, 5:00 PM and 10:00 PM.  The band playing when we came in was Jezebel's Chill'n and they were really good with an awesome female singer, but too loud for the old man I live with, so we didn't stay.  Jodi, you and Claude would love this place!  Music trivia:  Jimmy Buffett was born in Pascagoula, Alabama and grew up in Mobile.

We were upstairs looking down at the band and dance floor.  The ropes hanging above the dance floor are loaded down with bras about five deep everywhere.  I think they have some pretty wild times here.  This place is right on the Florida/Alabama state line and right on the beach.  They have a huge gift shop and several outdoor decks both upstairs and downstairs.  We ate a What a Burger, a fast food place, but they have excellent burgers.  They are everywhere down here from Texas over.

Sunday we are moving a little further south toward Panama City.
Happy Sailing,

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