Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving and Bellingrath Gardens

From Gulf State Park Campground, Gulf Shores, Alabama     As is our custom, Thanksgiving Day began with mimosas. It's been a tradition for Wayne and me for a long time. Joyce, Charlie, Pam and Ernie joined us this year.
My favorite bartender, pouring the Thanksgiving nectar.

As Wayne and I "dress" so seldom, we wanted to take advantage of his fresh beard trim and my application of lipstick and earrings (at the same time) to have a photography session. It's time to order new personal cards and we want a new family picture for them. I urged our friends to sit for picture taking too and here is the result.

Upper Left: Pam and Ernie, without their cat, Jasmine.
Lower Left: Charlie and Joyce, without their cat Diva
Right: Wayne, Antoinette, Lexie and Ozzie 

Pam and Joyce

Two weeks before Thanksgiving we made a reservation at Shipps Harbor Grill and our choice was a good one. The meal started with oysters and crab claws. Dinner was every bit as wonderful as we could have hoped. A perfectly sunny and warm day, good friends, nice restaurant, no cooking, no leftovers and no dishes to wash. Joyce, Charlie, Pam, Ernie and I had traditional turkey, dressing and trimmings. Wayne ordered the absolutely Divine Grouper Pontchartrain. No one was disappointed and no one left hungry.

Wayne's plate of  Grouper Pontchartrain
Our Thanksgiving dinner went on and on. We enjoyed every moment and every morsel. The sun was low in the sky when we finally left the restaurant for our stroll along Shipps Harbor's marina walkways. We looked at the boats and took more pictures.

Foreground: Pam and Joyce
Background: Charlie and Wayne 

Pam in the foreground, Ernie on the walkway in the background. 

The Wayner 

Bellingrath Gardens, Theodore, Alabama

The end of our time at Gulf Shores was drawing near and we had not seen Bellingrath Gardens. Joyce and Pam really wanted to go, the men didn't want to go and I was wishy washy at best, so I teamed with my girlfriends and "split decisions" always go to the wives.

With Thanksgiving in the books, Bellingrath's Magic Christmas in Lights display would be in place and we had been told a visit was well worth the effort it would take to get to Theodore from Gulf Shores. And it did take a certain amount of effort. Theodore is on the other side of Mobile Bay and accessible by ferry or driving around the bay. We made a plan.

The six of us loaded into two vehicles and we drove to Fort Morgan to take the ferry to Dauphin Island. From there, we'd drive north to Theodore. I forget the rate but it probably was a bit more expensive than the fuel it would take to drive around the bay. Notwithstanding cost, being on a ferry is enjoyable and worth the difference and it saved time. The Mobile Bay Ferry does not run after dark so we would take the long route back in the evening.
Our truck with Lexie and Ozzie (front console) inside.
I took this picture of Wayne, Pam Ernie (back), Charlie (back) and Joyce. 
The ferry slowed and maintained position as we crossed so a freighter could pass from port to starboard heading into Mobile Bay, I suspect. The Porto Leoni (Portugal) left a wake that concerned me a bit, but our ferry captain made crossing it look like child's play.

The Porto Leoni from the ferry
We arrived at Bellingrath Gardens mid afternoon with a plan to walk the property, see the Bellingrath home, Delchamps Gallery of Boehm Porcelain, eat in the Magnolia Cafe and then walk the grounds again after dark to see the Magic Christmas in Lights.

Near the entry, the bridge draped in blooms caused another photo op. 

Bellingrath advertises itself as 65 acres of year-round floral pageantry in a Southern estate garden. It is the property and home of Walter Duncan and Bessie Bellingrath who came to Mobile after buying the Coca-Cola Bottling Company there in March 1903.

The property was placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 1977 and on the National Register of Historic Places in October 1982.

The first Magic Christmas in Lights at Bellingrath Gardens was in 1996. Here are some interesting event statistics:
  • Bellingrath staff begin work on Magic Christmas in Lights in September each year.
  • The show has 3 million lights and 1,000 set pieces that are hand-made and installed by Bellingrath's staff.
  • There are 14 scenes, each designed specifically for Bellingrath Gardens and Home. 
  • The light show includes 14,000 strings of lights, 377,000 replacement bulbs, 5 miles of steel bar, 7,700 extension cords and 100,000 plastic twist ties. 
On the Grotto Terrace 

The Grotto

Pam and Joyce at the River Pavilion 
In addition to the entry building, conservatory, chapel, the Bellingrath's museum home, cafe, Boehm gallery and gift shop, the property has a rose garden, a great lawn, live oaks, riverside pavilion, terraces, a bayou, a boardwalk, a large lake, rockery and an Asian-American garden.  

I decided to include the Bellingrath History timeline here for future reference too. 

My favorite of the Boehm Porcelain pieces on display at the Delchamps Gallery at Bellingrath.
It was the most delicate porcelain work I've ever seen. 

Formerly a garage, now the Delchamps Gallery of  Boehm Porcelain

Joyce, Pam and me at The Dwight Harrigan/Exxon Mobil Bayou Boardwalk at Bellingrath 
Charlie, Joyce, Pam and Ernie toured the Bellingrath Museum Home while Wayne and I saw to Lexie and Ozzie who were waiting in the truck parked in the live oak shaded parking lot.  The six of us ate at Magnolia Cafe and it was dark when we returned to the gardens. Magic Christmas in Lights at Bellingrath was a pretty spectacular sight to see and I'm glad we went. The following pictures are a minuscule preview of the event.

In the rose garden 

The great lawn

Late as it was, our return route was north through Mobile and then south to Gulf Shores. 

This would be our last outing for Gulf State Park Campground in Gulf Shores. The six of us will travel west on December 1st for a week in the Cajun part of Louisiana. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Second Helping of Fairhope With A Sprinkle of Point Clear

From Gulf State Park Campground, Gulf Shores, Alabama       In 2007, Southern Living Magazine named Fairhope, Alabama the "second best small town in the south".  Pam, Ernie, Charlie, Joyce, Wayne and I liked the area so much we returned on November 28th to see the sights we missed on our first visit nine days earlier.

This trip would take us first to Rotolo's Pizza in Fairhope for light lunch using the free appetizers coupons we were given at the Oyster Fest earlier in the month.  We wanted to be hungry when we went to Peter Blohm's restaurant, Sunset Pointe at Fly Creek Marina, for dinner.

After lunch we drove to the Municipal Pier and garden area where Lexie and Ozzie ran without leashes on the grass and we took dozens of pictures. These are some of my favorites.

Wayne, Lexie and Ozzie at the fountain in the garden area at the municipal pier. 

With Lexie and Ozzie 

Thorns among the roses.
Pam, Joyce and me. 
Across the street and up the hill from the municipal pier and garden area, we walked among the memorials at Henry George Bluff Park....

Ozzie, Wayne, Ernie and Charlie. 

... Then across another street to Utopia Park where Joyce liked this giant steel seahorse so much she managed to lift it first onto her shoulder and the up... up... up... and over her head.  I told her I'd take a picture if she could do it.

Down the street and into South Beach Park.... 

Pop walking Lexie 

Another beautiful spot on Mobile Bay's eastern shore is Point Clear where the famous Grand Hotel, now owned and operated as a Marriott Hotel property, has stood for more than 165 years. That's where we headed next. There is a great history to this land and facility that dates to 1847. Originally, a two story hotel, it had just 40 rooms. Guests arrived by a steamboat that docked in the area that's now the hotel's marina.

A bit of history..... The port of Mobile, Alabama was a favored site for blockade runners in the Civil War. In 1864, the battle in which Admiral Farragut made the famous proclamation "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead", Confederates bombarded the Union army with torpedoes and sunk the mighty Union ship, Tecumseh. The Grand Hotel was fired upon by Farragut's army during that battle and later a large hole would be found in one of the hotel walls. This battle would ultimately force the surrender of Fort Morgan by the Confederates.

The Grand Hotel served as a hospital and more 300 Confederate soldiers died there. The soldiers are buried in a mass grave, shoulder to shoulder. Their names are unknown today as records were destroyed in a fire during 1869.  A monument to the unknown was later constructed at the cemetery. It is still there today. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time before dark to see the cemetery, which is probably the most meaningful site on the property to me. 

In World War II, the Grand Hotel property was turned over to the Army Air Force to use as a Maritime Training School with hotel floors referred to as "decks" -- time was kept by a ship's bell.  More than 5,000 servicemen were trained on the property.  

To this day, The Grand Hotel honors the American military in all wars with a processional that begins in the hotel lobby, weaves around the grounds and concludes with the firing of a cannon at 4 p.m. It was an awe inspiring thing to see... and hear. Loud. Very loud.
The firing of the cannon at The Grand Hotel

Putting green and walkway overlooking Mobile Bay.

Ernie couldn't resist a put or two or maybe three... 

The roses again. Making everything else look like weeds. 

Sunset over Mobile Bay 
The Grand Hotel still honors "tea time" every afternoon at 3 p.m. when tea and cookies are served. We all indulged.

I think Joyce captured this "Southern Belle at Tea Time" shot of yours truly.  Thanks, Joyce. 

From The Grand Hotel, we backtracked to Sunset Pointe at Fly Creek Marina north of Fairhope for dinner which was very good except that during dinner we received news that Pam's Mother had become ill and was taken to the hospital. Fortunately, she began improving quickly and is recovering at this writing.

Thanksgiving is almost upon us. We have a full day planned starting with late morning mimosas, a bit of photography and dinner reservations at Shipps Harbor Grill in Orange Beach.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Fairhope and The Tree Lighting

From Gulf State Park, Gulf Shores, Alabama           

On November 19th, Charlie, Joyce, Pam, Ernie, Wayne and I drove to the lovely town of Fairhope, Alabama. It's along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.

Plain ole good luck brought us to town this day. Wet happened to be here on day of the city's annual tree lighting to kick off the Christmas season.

Upon arriving, we enjoyed a delectable late lunch at tiny Bay Breeze Cafe in Fairhope. We sat at a patio table where the air was cool. The sunny areas were nice and warm after lunch though.The cafe's roasted corn and tomato bisque and pecan pie were the bill of fare prizes.

Clockwise: Joyce, Charlie, Wayne, Lexie and Ozzie (in the stroller), me and Ernie.
Pam is the photographer. Thank you, Pam.
After lunch we girls began strolling the streets of downtown Fairhope, peeping into the shops and boutiques while the husbands waited patiently, finding the occasional store that interested them. Wayne looked up an old friend, Peter Blohme,who owns several restaurants in the area. While they visited, I shopped and strolled Lexie and Ozzie, stopping long enough to buy a terrific Dr. Zhivago (fake) fur hat. Photos of it will undoubtedly be in future posts.

Tourist extraordinaire, Joyce. She never tires of being a tourist and brings out the best in me.
It was in one of the Fairhope gift shops I learned of the tree lighting celebration scheduled for that night. This will not be a lighting of a single Christmas tree. Instead, Fairhope strings lights in all the downtown trees and at dark, someone throws a switch and all the trees light simultaneously. That seemed like a pretty cool thing to see so the six of us hung around waiting for dark. Downtown Fairhope began getting crowded -- really crowded, a couple of hours before dusk.

More selfie practice as evidenced by my tongue sticking out. Trying hard to get it right.
Yes, we were photobombed by the guy in sunglasses back there. 
We found a nice looking little two story bar and made our way (Ozzie and Lexie in tow) up the stairs to the second floor balcony where we had libation and chatted with others around us.

First to the balcony, Wayne and I proved we could get two little dogs in a stroller up the steps for a bird's eye view. 

Waving goodbye to the friends we left on the balcony. 
By the time night fell, the streets were filled with people and Christmas sounds. All this and it's not yet Thanksgiving. Cool night air replaced the warm sun of mid-day but we were warm enough in whatever we could find to put across our shoulders.

Downtown Fairhope, Alabama just after the tree lighting. 

Then came the magical hour (I forgot what time) and lighted trees were everywhere. Tiny bubbles were blown into the lighted night sky. It resembled snow... well... kind of anyway.

Wayne and me. Thanks for the photo, Pam. 
There were other things we wanted to see and do in the area.  With the tree lighting, wet didn't have time to do them so it we all agreed to return another day while we're still in Gulf Shores. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

November Marches On

From Gulf State Park Campground, Gulf Shores, Alabama        Pam, Ernie, Charlie, Wayne and I played golf a few times at the state park course during late November. The five of us went to a golf clinic one afternoon and we got in some practice another day.  Looking back, I wish I'd taken greater advantage of the driving range and putting green at Gulf State Park's Refuge Course. I could sure use the practice. It was only about three miles from the campground. Such good hindsight.

Left - Wayne and Ernie discussing the shot.
Right - Wayne in full swing! 
Over the first weekend in November, friends San and Teresa drove up from Orlando to meet our group and discuss the trip to Alaska next summer. Sam and Teresa are considering going along and I think they would be a good fit. Teresa is scheduled to retire from her long working career as an CRNA at the end of January. It had been four years since we'd met them in Bradenton, Florida and our visit was good, but short. Unfortunately, I failed to take a single picture of them.

I bumped into a school mate in the campground during November. As often happens, strangers pass pleasantries and after a bit of conversation, surprise themselves when they learn of a common connection. Turns out Mike and I attended high school together. He was two grades behind me and I don't really remember him, (nor he me) but we had lots of common school friends, recollections of high school, it's people and events. This is a small world.

Pam and Ernie introduced us to McGuire's Irish Restaurant and Pub in Pensacola in November too. This is the place that advertises a famous Senate Bean Soup for 18c a bowl and yes, that is the price shown on the menu. It is said there are millions of dollars stapled and taped to the inside of McGuires and I believe there could be well over a couple million dusty, moldy, nasty, old $1 bills. The restaurant is a museum of a place with dark stairwells and corridors. It is a treasure to visit.

Inside the small bar area of McGuires Irish Pub in Pensacola.
McGuire's is recognizable by the old double decker buses on the corner near the restaurant. It is filled with animated manequins. Wayne and I had seen the busses and the building over the years when we were in the area, but had not had occasion to stop at McGuires until today.

Sandy and me (top left) outside McGuires.
Sandy and Dave in the McGuires Restaurant Gift Shop (left) and McGuires 18c bowl of Senate Bean Soup. 

When we needed a good half-way lunch place to meet up with our friends Sandy and Dave, we naturally chose McGuires. Sandy and Dave are considering a travel rendevouz with us for some spring travel but aren't interested in the Alaska trip this year.

The eight of us visited over our lunch and then drove to Joe Patti's World Famous Seafood Market for a few pounds of shrimp and fresh fish.  Dave and Sandy are staying at Emerald Coast RV Resort in Panama City, Florida and say they like the campground so we'll add it to our list of Gulf Coast campgrounds to consider in the future.

Joyce, Charlie, Wayne and I strolled the streets and scoured the shops of The Wharf at Orange Beach shopping area on another afternoon.

Most of the shops are overpriced and competing for the tourist dollar but we did find a few treasures, including a piece of sea glass for Joyce.

Wayne found something he liked too, but he didn't buy it.>>>>>

We stumbled upon a pretty good Mexican Restaurant for lunch and later noticed newly decorated Christmas trees in the roundabout where two Wharf area streets intersect.

In addition to a steel mast rigging and the Christmas trees, a big metal fish just called for us to take a few pictures. Of course, we did.

Joyce, Charlie and the Wayner 

The wharf at The Wharf!
Nice, clear, blue water provided a great reflective photo op! 
On our way back to the campground that afternoon, the four of us stopped in for cocktails at Pleasure Island Tiki Hut on the waterway.

November is winding down. There are a few more "tourist" things we want to do.

That's fodder for another post.