We made it to Florida in mid-October and after driving over 2,000 miles in ten days, we quickly settled into our two weeks of complete relaxation at Myakka River State Park in Sarasota. Myakka is a very large, open, and beautiful state park, which preserves the dry prairies and landscape and feeling of Florida as it must have presented itself centuries ago. Here, Spanish moss unfurls feathery fingers from the well-established live oaks that line the seven miles of roads. On a morning bike ride, it’s not unusual to spot deer in the woods, alligators in the wild and scenic Myakka River, or river otters near Upper Myakka Lake. The open marshlands often yield a pink cloud of roseate spoonbills in flight. It is a stunning place of nature’s immensity and wonder.
And we love its proximity to Sarasota, the most beautiful big/little city we have found in Florida. Even if my cousin didn’t live here, if she hadn’t introduced me to the Sarasota Ballet, or to some of Sarasota’s fabulous restaurants, or the spellbinding powder of Siesta Beach, we still would have fallen in love with the city. So when friends from California said they wanted to visit with us in Florida, we knew Sarasota would be an ideal place for their first in-depth experience with Florida-wonderful.
We planned to visit some of our favorite area spots with them, and to hit places that we had missed on earlier trips. From the top, when we suggested the Circus Museum they were enthusiastic and rightfully so. Located on the campus of The Ringling Museum of Art and the Ringling’s palatial home, Ca’D’Zan, and adjacent to the FSU Center for the Performing Arts (home to the Sarasota Ballet) this filled our first day together.
A few brief comments are in order here. Growing up, I was not a huge circus groupie. In fact, I don’t think I ever attended a circus until I became a mom and then we went to The Big Apple Circus and later several performances of Cirque de Soliel. As a kid, my exposure to circuses was limited to what I saw on the television screen – animal acts of lions and tigers and clowns and elephants, and a ringmaster and trapeze artists and jugglers that were about 24 inches in size and mostly black and white.
However, the Technicolor mythology of the circus and its transient nature has always captivated me. I loved the stories of how the big tent appeared from nowhere, got assembled, and an entire universe of wonder and awe and fantasy came to life. Then, it would disappear once more.
The first place to visit at the Ringling is the Tibbals Learning Center where one can walk around an incredible 3,800 square foot scale model (1/2 inch to the foot), which depicts the American tented circus of the golden age of circuses 1919-1938 which Howard Tibbals created.
Some facts here that are impressive to note: at this time, the circus traveled with about 1,300 workers and performers, 800 animals (including elephants, lions, tigers, camels, horses, and more). The circus (then transported by train) covered 15,000 miles in a season and performed in 150 venues, and FEWER THAN 20 of these 150 bookings were ever for more than a single night.
So logistics of moving was the constant here. The scale model is worth the trip alone – it is awesome, educational, and informative. This place is a must-see.
On our second day, we re-visited one of our favorite places, the Salvatore Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg. This museum captures the depth and breadth of the creative inspirations of this unusual artist.
Dali began painting what he dreamed (nightmares included!) and then later, in his life, painting the intersection between science and religion. His paintings are as compelling and challenging today as when they were created. After a fabulous al fresco lunch, we went over to the newly-relocated Chihuly Collection in downtown St. Pete.
We are big fans of Dale Chihuly and his fantastical glass creations, which are pure lyricism presented in glass. He presents sinuous shapes, vibrant colors, towering cathedrals in the paradox of fragility, and form that suggests nature. It was lovely and fun to share it with our friends before catching a live glassblowing demonstration at the gallery next door.
On day three, we visited the Marie Shelby Gardens, which were known to us only by reputation. The orchid collection here is jaw-droppingly beautiful and artistically presented. The Gardens include the original home, built in the early 1920s, that the Shelby’s lived in right on Sarasota Bay. It now serves as the Café and out front a lovely and serene water fountain honors the generous donors.
From the Gardens we wandered to the Mote Aquarium with its tanks of sharks and manatees and river otters and sting rays and jelly fish and sea turtles. Oh my. There was a moment of small-worldness that presented itself here.
Peter had stayed in the main pavilion and I wandered over to see the manatees in a second pavilion on the campus. Until I got to the entrance, it never occurred to me that I didn’t have my ticket from the main pavilion to show the attendant. I decided to beg for mercy (it was hot and I didn’t relish the notion of hoofing it back across the lot to find my knight-in-shining-ticket armor). I told my tale of how I had walked over from the other building, no ticket with me.
“Any receipt you could show me?” the attractive young woman asked. I responded that I was willing to check and pulled out my wallet. Attentive to detail, the young woman said, “Is that a New Hampshire license I see? I’m from New Hampshire too”. Yup, you all know where this led. She was from Keene, had just graduated from Keene State College and moved to Sarasota with her boyfriend at the end of the summer. We shared “who do you know” stories and we determined that her uncle had worked in the same department of the same company as Peter had in the late 1970s. We hugged, she let me in and I dropped off another business card, inviting her to follow our blog. Angels all around us.
We rounded out our time with our friends with a few hours on the spectacular Siesta Beach. Here, the wide open beach, with sand like white talcum powder, consistently earns praise as one of the top beaches in the country. Our California friends were impressed and we were reminded once again that this is one of the jewels in the crown that is Sarasota.
There were more places to visit and after saying goodbye to our west-coast friends, we spent time touring, cycling, eating out and visiting with family before heading south to our debut three-month gig as volunteers at Koreshan State Historic Park in Estero. Below is sunset at Myakka River State Park where we were embraced in the healing embrace of nature, quiet and great beauty. Peace.
Peter and Liz head next to three months at Koreshan State Historic Park in Estero, Florida where they will be volunteering as docents as they continue their pilgrimage to here in their Airstream.