Arts are Alive in Fernandina Beach

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Twenty hand-painted poles decorate the alley just off Centre Street, the main drag, in Fernandina Beach.

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Painted poles represent the art and music community

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as well as the fish, sea turtles, shrimp, pelicans and other creatures found in the area.

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Several of the poles illustrate the history of Nassau County

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and others celebrate reading and writing.

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Even the area’s lighthouse adorns one of the poles.

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This project, located in the the historic downtown riverfront, was the first test of the city’s new “Art in Public Places Ordinance”. Unbelievable…an ordinance encouraging public art? Wonder what the next project will be.

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Florida Lighthouse 2: Amelia Island

How appropriate to write about our second Florida lighthouse adventure today, National Lighthouse Day.

Constructed in 1838, the lighthouse on Amelia Island is the oldest lighthouse in the state of Florida, and one we’ve tried to visit on numerous occasions. The lighthouse can be seen from across Egans Creek at an overlook at Ft. Clinch State Park as well as when crossing the creek from the road, but on several occasions we’ve attempted to find the lighthouse tucked behind houses in a neighborhood none to anxious to welcome lighthouse gawkers.

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Since this is the year of the lighthouse, we set out more determined to find this elusive beacon, and I’m pleased to say we were successful. We located a street not found on any map we have of Fernandina Beach, O’Hagan, a National Historic District street located off Lighthouse Circle. In order to reach the lighthouse, we stopped at the park at the corner of Atlantic and Wolff since we were pulling the boat and driving down O’Hagan with a trailer was not a possibility.

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Walking a few blocks was a good way to get to the lighthouse grounds, but unfortunately access is restricted except on Saturdays from 11am-2pm and on the first and third Wednesdays of each month when Helen O’Hagan Sintes, the daughter and granddaughter of former lighthouse keepers at Amelia Island gives tours. The restricted access explains why our photos provided obstructed views as we were standing on the closest point to the lighthouse taking pictures through the fence…our only option.

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As we left Fernandina Beach, WJCT, the local NPR station told the story of of the O’Hagan family and their connection not only to the Amelia Island Lighthouse, but a story about the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse as well as the importance of the O’Hagan name to Florida lighthouses.

A coincidence?  Maybe, but I think it’s an invitation to visit Ponce Inlet and a return trip for an O’Hagan guided tour of the Amelia Island lighthouse.

Amelia Island Lighthouse. That’s number 13. Only 2 more to go to meet our goal of 15 in 2015.

Shrimp Recipes – Amelia Island Style

Waiting for my Tasty burger and milkshake to be delivered to the table, the cover of the April edition of Amelia Islander caught my eye. A shrimp dish pictured along with the words, “17th Annual Shrimp Festival Recipe Issue” deserved a look.

IMG_4447Inside, two dozen shrimp recipes from some of the local restaurants. Lemon Basil Shrimp Salad, Shrimp Pizza, Jamaican Jerk Shrimp with Mango and Plantains. Just a few of the recipes waiting to be tried.

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The first weekend in May Amelia Island rolls out the red carpet for some 100,000 shrimp lovers attending the Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, a four day affair which kicks off with a Pirate Parade on Thursday evening and continues throughout the weekend with a Pirate Invasion, Shrimp Festival Run, fireworks, arts and crafts, a Shrimp Boat Parade and of course shrimp dishes sold by local churches and service organizations.

Since I won’t be in on the island for the festival, I’ll try one of the recipes at home without all the crowds.

Kelley’s Courtyard Cafe

Shrimp Pizza

  • 8 large shrimp, peeled, devined
  • 1 pita
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. barbecue sauce
  • 2 pepperoncini peppers, chopped
  • 1/4 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 strip bacon, cooked crispy, chopped
  • 1 tsp. Cajun seasoning

Looks pretty simple: spread the barbecue sauce on the pita and other ingredients with the shrimp on top in a spiral pattern and sprinkled with the seasoning. Bake at 350° for 8 to 10 minutes.

While you can’t access all the recipes yet,  the April edition of Amelia Insider will soon be available online. In the meantime, you can check out the March edition here.

 

 

11 Down; 2 To Go

Last month we walked and rode the beach in Fernandina observing the sea turtles nests hoping to see hatchlings emerging. While we were not successful in July, we studied the dates on the nests and looked at our calendar to determine when we could return for a second attempt.

Since many of the eggs were laid between June 20th and June 30th, the weekend of August 23rd seemed like time to try again. Another bonus, the tides during this weekend would allow us to ride our bikes on the beach so we could cover more territory. We made reservations, packed our bags, loaded our bikes on the car, and took off Friday afternoonIMG_0742

in the pouring rain. Another weather impaired 13 in 13 adventure.

We arrived slightly before sunset so we were unable to check out the nests and their progress Friday evening. Our plan…get up at 5:30. Begin riding north on the beach by 6:00 (in the dark since sunrise was at 7:00). We rode to Ft. Clinch, past the pier.

We encountered hundreds of critters scurrying across the beach, but they were ghost crabs, not turtles.

We came across a number of horseshoe crabs.IMG_0745

Then in the distance we saw an adult turtle on the beach. Maybe we’d see one laying eggs. IMG_0759

But to our disappointment, we found that a boat propeller had sliced its shell. No egg laying turtle. A dead one.

On our way back down the beach we stopped at every nest, noted the date, and looked for evidence of activity for a return later that evening. Many of the nests, especially in the park, had been covered by screens. Something we’d never seen before, an effort to protect the eggs from a predator, possibly a fox.

Not discouraged by the lack of hatchlings we decided to attend two excavations that evening before an evening ride in which we’d see if the nests we’d identified as promising were beginning to hatch.

The excavations eliminated two of the nests we’d identified since the turtles had emerged from them three days earlier. The Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch volunteers don’t remove the stakes after the hatch instead waiting for three days at which time they complete the excavation.

During the excavation the volunteers dig out the shards as well as any unhatched eggs. Since about one third of the excavations produce an unhatched turtle, we were hopeful that we’d see at least one hatchling make its way to the ocean. The first excavation produced 121 hatched shards and the second 79 with only about a half dozen unhatched eggs in each nest. No live turtles remained in either.

We continued with our plan riding north checking nests but didn’t notice any changes from our earlier ride. As the sun set we headed south to check out our final prospect only to find it surrounded by onlookers and a volunteer, red light in hand, explaining the hatching process.

The sand “boiled” with activity as the turtles made their way to the surface. We joined twenty or thirty people patiently watching the nest for about thirty minutes when the first turtle emerged. Once the first one escaped the nest, dozens of others quickly followed. The nest emptied in less than a minute and the hatchlings fanned out toward the ocean.

We provided a human shield to block the light from the condo behind the nest and serve as a barrier to a couple of hatchlings having difficulty orienting toward the ocean, but eventually all made it to the water.

I expected this to be a slow journey to the water, but in less than ten minutes no turtles remained on land. I can hardly believe how lucky we were to not only see the turtles hatch, but to see the hatching process.

The only disappointment…no pictures. No lights permitted. No flash allowed. I did try to take pictures without a flash…nothing! But the experience is better than a picture.

Eleven down! Two to go!

Fernandina Food Finds

The best thing about bicycling adventures is the good food found at the end of every ride. We batted a thousand in Fernandina when it came to finding local restaurants. On Friday after a long day on the bike we ended up at Brett’s Waterway Cafe overlooking the Amelia River. Most days we’d have asked to be seated on the porch so we could have an unobstructed view of the river and boats, but after sweating on the bikes for a couple of hours, we couldn’t resist the air conditioned dining room. Fortunately, we arrived around 2:00 so we didn’t offend many other diners.

We ordered a Key Lime Margarita and a Strawberry Wine Spritzer to start…a great way to cool down! Then we split a fried fish sandwich with fries and fish tacos served with black beans and rice. While I enjoyed both, I’d recommend the fish tacos. The tacos, beans, and chips with fresh salsa all hit the spot!

After a sunset walk on the beach, it was time to find a place for dinner. Our original plans didn’t work out since the Spanish restaurant we’d picked out looked a bit too formal for our attire. Across the street, we found the Florida House Inn, but were disappointed to find they only served lunch. On the next block, we were attracted by the music coming from down the street, this time to find that The Green Turtle Tavern was a bar, not a restaurant.  No problem, Kelly’s Courtyard Cafe, just down the street would be a perfect place to sit outside, eat dinner, and listen to the music. This didn’t work out either. Their waiting list exceeded their closing time. No new names could be added.

A little discouraged, we headed further down the street and found Tomoti’s Seafood Shak. Well, it may have been a shak, but one that served delicious shrimp, and after all, since Fernandina is home of an annual shrimp festival, it was a perfect choice. The banner flying out front announced their selection by Coastal Living as one of the top twenty Seafood Dives in the U.S. We tried the fried and blackened shrimp, both came with fries, hush puppies, and slaw and decided we will definitely return on our new visit. What a great find!

The third restaurant, Tasty’s, was located in a former gas station that had been transformed into a place specializing in burgers and fries. Picnic tables surrounded the building shaded by the concrete shelters that had once protected service station attendants taking care of the needs of the cars they serviced. Here we made a mistake by splitting one burger, but since we were stopping in St. Augustine later in the day for the Food Truck Wars, that seemed to be a reasonable plan. Unfortunately, we weren’t all that impressed with the food truck event. We would have much preferred our own burgers, an order of their specialty fries, and a milkshake. But there’s always another day.

Fernandina’s been added to our list of favorite weekend spots!

Fernandina Fun

We planned our weekend at Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach around watching for hatching sea turtles, but it turned out to be much more. We started out riding our bikes through the streets of Fernandina, but since I read about cars crashing into houses, banks, barber shops, and other businesses on a daily basis, I insisted on traveling on the beach or paths specifically for bikes. If drivers can’t avoid hitting buildings, what makes you think cyclists can safely share the road?

We rode on shady paths throughout Fort Clinch State Park and walked on the pier and saw our first sea turtle nest of the trip. Of course, we also toured the fort which was built shortly after the Second Seminole War and was put into service during the Civil War, Spanish-American War, and again during World War II…a nice history lesson.

We continued down to the Fernandina Harbor on the Amelia River where we ate lunch, explored the local shops, and discovered some fun public art.

The next morning we cruised down the beach at sunrise and Sarah joined us for a ride to Amelia Island State Park.

We spied some reptiles, but not the sea turtles we hoped to see. Instead, we had to settle for a two turtles swimming in a pond and a gopher tortoise.

There are still bicycle trails waiting and sea turtles hatching so we’ll be returning soon.

 

 

Turtle Talk

Last weekend we attempted to complete #10 on our list of 13 in 13. After studying the information posted on the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch website, we drove to Fernandina Beach on Friday and checked out the nests around Main Beach Park. We decided on this part of the beach based on the number of nests, dates eggs were laid in the nests, and our ability to ride bikes on this stretch of the beach. Riding bikes enabled us to cover more than three miles of beach in our search for hatchlings.

Friday evening we surveyed the nests taking note of which ones were most likely to hatch, and then on Saturday before sunrise, we rode from south of Main Street Park to Fort Clinch in search of newly hatched sea turtles making their way to the ocean.

We found eggs shells. We spied turtle tracks. We did not see any hatchlings. We were too late.

We noted the location of nests likely to hatch in the next few weeks so we can make a return trip for another attempt.

While we failed to see hatching sea turtles, we enjoyed riding bikes on the beach.

We witnessed a gorgeous sunrise.

Best of all, we spent the day with Sarah.beachpic

And we have a excuse for another trip to the beach.

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Florida

magThe arrival of Florida Travel + Life magazine inspired lots of reading and reminiscing about previous travel throughout the state. This month’s edition focused on the 500th Anniversary of the founding of Florida and it motivated me to make plans to visit sites in the state that I’ve overlooked and revisit places I haven’t been for years.

What a great way to spend a cold, holiday weekend. We gathered all the Florida books we could find in the house…I was amazed at how many we own. Then we started reading. We recalled previous trips and started planning future ones.

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The best find of the weekend was the WPA Guide to Florida. I haven’t read this book for years. It’s a Federal Writer’s Project Guide to Florida in the 1930s, but this is the revised, 1985 edition, with an introduction written by John’s dad. The first portion of the book provides information about Florida’s background with articles about the culture, history, and folklore of the state. Part two highlights the “principal” cities, but the real treasure lies in the final section called “The Florida Loop”. Detailed descriptions of twenty-two tours round out this final part of the book. Tours cross every region of the state and provide a terrific travel plan for exploring all of Florida.

Tour 6 starts in Thomasville, Georgia with stops in Monticello, Williston, Brooksville, Tarpon Springs, Clearwater, ending in St. Petersburg. While we would look at this as a single day’s drive, the tour provides details on must-see spots in each of the stops along the path. From the introduction:

The real heart of Florida, and thus the real heart of the guide, is in the countryside and the hundreds of little towns described in Part Three, “The Florida Loop”. Here is a series of tours  from town to town, crisscrossing the state following the old highway routes, many of which retrace Spanish and Indian trails.

Here in the innumerable asides, interruptions, verbal stopovers, side glances down silent, infrequently traveled roads, we hear whispers of adventures long forgotten, of mystery and magic, of earlier scandals and misdemeanors, or fears and hopes, and of minor tragedies and, sometimes, huge successes.

We are warned to watch out for redbugs, snakes, and gnats and not to eat poisonous plants. We are told of speed laws and somewhat reproachfully informed that some motorists habitually drive faster than the 45 mph than legally allowed. – John I. McCollum

wpaThe highlight for me, Tour 3, FernandinaBeach to Cedar Key. This tour plots the path we’ll take on our quest for seeing the sunrise over the Atlantic in the morning and the sunset over the Gulf in the evening. We’ll wake in Fernandina and then travel the route detailed through Baldwin, Starke, Gainesville, and finally to Cedar Key in time for the sunset. While I don’t anticipate encountering any cattle on the roadway which the book warns may be a problem near Baldwin, I do plan to look for landmarks and historical places outlined in the tour; and yes, we’ll take SR 13 and US 90 and US 301 as well as the other roads from the tour as we complete this 159.8 mile trek.

After reading this book over the weekend, I’m encouraged to drive many of “The Florida Loops”…looks like a good way to get reacquainted with Florida.