Cape Canaveral, Florida 12/16 – 12/19

Cape Canaveral, Florida:  Population =  10,569, elevation = 10 feet, average January low temp = 51.0, Average July high temp = 90, average sunny days = 240, annual snowfall = 0”, annual rainfall = 51.7”, air quality index = 72.9, water quality index = 60, comfort index = 30, median age of residents = 49.4

I am using Cape Canaveral as a sort of “average” of where we spent our time.  Cape Canaveral lies between Cocoa Beach and the Kennedy Space Center.  We slept and had a couple of meals in Cocoa Beach, but we spent most of our time at the Space Center.  While we were in Savannah, we found out that there was going to be a launch at the Cape so, this being a Bucket List item, we had to see it.

Mid December in Cocoa Beach

There is so much to see at the Space Center, it is hard to organize it into some sort logical order.  Let’s say they want to launch a satellite into orbit.  How do they do that? The first step is to assemble the rocket stages and payload in the Vertical Assembly Building.  This is the largest single story building in the world.  It stands 526 feet high by 716 feet long by 518 feet wide.  Each of the stripes of the flag painted on the side is 9 feet wide. It is so big inside, they actually get clouds in it on humid days.


Once the rocket is assembled, it is loaded onto the Crawler-Transporter for the trip to the launch pad.  This monster weights about 6 million pounds, and will carry up to 18 million pounds.  It can carry a rocket at a blistering 1 MPH, perfectly level while climbing a 5% grade, burning 125 gallons per mile for the 5 mile trip.

The Crawler-Transporter takes a 31 man crew to operate. (thanks to Wikipedia for photo)

After the rocket is secured on the launch pad, the final preparations and checks are made and the fuel tanks are filled.  Pure liquid oxygen and hydrogen combine for the intense power.  Notice the water tower in the photo.  At ignition, the rockets are so loud that the sound waves reflecting back up would destroy the sensitive equipment and kill the astronauts.  To lessen the sound waves, all 400,000 gallons of water in the tower is splashed onto the launch pad in just 30 seconds.

This is the launch pad that the shuttles used.

Launch Control at Kennedy Space Center is in charge of the rocket for only part of the liftoff.  Once it gains altitude, Mission Control in Houston takes over.

The Launch Control room from the Apollo missions
Launching a satellite into orbit 12/18/16. At about this point the deep rumble hits the viewing stands, 5 miles away.

Here is some of the space hardware on display, up close and personal:

The business end of a Saturn 5 rocket. That is Marylu standing under it.
The command module from the Apollo 14 mission to the moon.
The backup Lunar Rover
The Extra-Vehicular suit worn by Gene Cernan on the moon still has moon dust on the boots
The shuttle Atlantis hangs from the ceiling of its own building
One of the Atlantis missions was to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Gemini 9A capsule was launched to attempt the first orbital rendezvous and docking

If you are ever in the area, stop in and see the Kennedy Space Center.  Even if you are not the all-out space geek that I am, the park is still very impressive.  The shows and displays are dramatic, the hardware is jaw-dropping enormous, the history is awesome.

Next up: Panama City Beach, Florida


St. Augustine, Florida 12/9 – 12/16

Saint Augustine, Florida:  Population =  12,975 (Metro area = 69,173), elevation = 9 feet, average January low temp = 45.0, Average July high temp = 90, average sunny days = 223, annual snowfall = 0”, annual rainfall = 48.4”, air quality index = 82, water quality index = 10, comfort index = 29, median age of residents = 41

When we booked our room in St. Augustine, we didn’t realize that we were actually going to be miles away, in the World Golf Village.  This is a huge area (6,300 acres) that was developed by the PGA to house resorts, golf courses, shops, restaurants, and the Hall of Fame.  On our first couple of days here, we explored the Hall of Fame and had some beers at The Caddy Shack, a nice sports bar run by Bill Murray and his brothers.


The Caddyshack Bar and Grill has walls of Bill Murray posters and photos
The winner of the Open tournament gets his name on the Claret Jug
Arnold Palmer locker contains things he donated to the museum

St. Augustine claims to be the oldest city in the USA.  Or, to add all the qualifiers, the “oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the contiguous United States”.  It was founded by the Spanish conquistador, Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565.  For the next two centuries, the city was fought over and repeatedly burnt to the ground.  Somebody must have stayed put though, for the “continuously occupied” to apply.

The Castillo San Marcos fort once defended he city
At one time, there was a wall surrounding the city. This was a gate in that wall.

From all accounts, parking in St. Augustine is rare and expensive, so the best option is to take a trolley and park free in their lot.  We bought our tickets and set off in Old Town’s little train of open cars for the circuitous ride through the city.  Our first hop off the trolley was at the ancient city gate.  This leads into St. George Street, the main tourist “pedestrian mall”.  There are a few old historic sites along St. George, embedded like chocolate chips in the big bland cookie of arts galleries, souvenirs stands, ice cream and fudge shops, and “historic museums”.

St. George Street is a mix of old and new
The Shrine of Saint Photios on St. George St. is dedicated to the Greek Orthodox settlers of 1768

The historic houses are layered according to the era of construction.  In the mid 1700s, the Spanish built little square stone houses with a gated wall around the courtyard.  In the mid 1800s, upper floors of wooden construction were added.

The first story of this house was built about 1761, the second story about 1834.
The original house here was built about 1702

Of course the oldest city would have the oldest church.  This would be the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augusta, founded in 1565.  Like the rest of the city, the actual building was raised and burnt down a few times and other sites were used temporarily.  The current building was built between 1793 and 1797.




Some of the finest architecture in the city was built by Henry M. Flagler, an oil and hotel tycoon would spent lavishly to make St. Augustine into his vision of a retreat for the wealthy.  His Ponce de Leon hotel eventually became Flagler College but, in its heyday, it housed the well-to-do in impressive style.  The original Tiffany windows, still intact in the student dining room are reputed to be worth upwards of $13 million.




Behind the Tiffany chandelier, note the extremely rare Thomas Edison clock. This clock uniquely has IIII instead of IV as the number 4.

St. Augustine may be a historic city, but I found as much “historic” as actual history.  There are tourists attractions everywhere with trolley stops in front of them.  They have a little but they sell a lot.  Parts of the city are old and rare and beautiful, but most of it is pretty ordinary for a Florida beach town.  An interesting place to visit.

Next up: Cape Canaveral

Savannah, Georgia 11/25 – 12/9 (part 2)

A large part of the history of Savannah has to do with religion.  In 1733 a group of Jewish settlers, fleeing the Inquisition in Spain, arrived in Savannah and organized their Congregation Mickve Israel.  At the time, residents of Savannah were suffering from tropical diseases so they welcomed the Jewish doctors and the congregation into their community.  In 1887 they consecrated their synagogue on Monterey Square.

Mickve Israell Synagogue looks a lot like a church, with its transept and nave construction


General Oglethorpe, the founder of Savannah, banned Catholics (also slaves, liquor, and lawyers) from his settlement.  After the American Revolution, the bans went away, Catholic congregations were formed, and churches built.  The dual spires of the Cathedral of St. John The Baptist have towered over Lafayette Square since 1873.



After General Oglethorpe went back to England in 1743, his bans eroded.  Savannah’s plantation owners adopted slavery.  George Leile, a slave, became the first African American licensed to preach as a Baptist.  His owner set him free and he preached salves on plantations.  With the advent of the Revolutionary War, Leile fled to Savannah, where the British protected escaped slaves.  When Savannah fell to the Colonists, most of the freed slaves were evacuated by the British, but a few stayed on, including Andrew Bryan, one of Leile’s converts.  Bryan established the First African Baptist Church in 1788.  By 1794 they had built a church.


With very old churches, you get very old cemeteries.  We went to visit the Bonaventure Cemetery (famously featured in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”), but due to recent hurricane damage, it was closed to the public.  Next to it though, is the Greenwich Cemetery.  The giant old live oaks lend an aura of venerability not to be found in Northern cemeteries.


Modern Savannah is an interesting mix of the old and the new.  There are whole districts of stately old mansions, some impeccably maintained and restored, and some old and tired.  Just out of downtown, there are long straight boulevards with grass medians flowing under their canopies of live oak and palm trees.  The downtown is very modern and busy and parking is hard to find.

On Whitaker Avenue, across from the park



The Factor’s Walk leads down to the riverfront

Beer was a disappointment in Savannah.  Not that there isn’t a lot of great beer made in Georgia.  The problem is political.  The laws do not allow breweries to have taprooms.  As a kind of work around, it is OK for a brewery to give tours and sell 32 ounce “souvenirs” onsite or 64 ounce “souvenirs” to go.  The Breweries are still fighting for taprooms.  The one exception we found was Moon River, which is also a restaurant.

Having a beer with the Vets


The food in Savannah is all over the map.  We found lots of ethnics and some deep Southern cooking.  I would be a terrible food critic.  I tend to grab my fork before my camera.  But here are a couple meals we loved:

Dinner at Rancho Alegre features fine Cuban food.
Low Country boil at the Crab Shack

Savannah is an interesting city to visit and tour.  It is a big, modern city though, and has big, modern American problems.  We saw a big cluster of police cars on a night when the news reported busting six crime spots on that night.  We enjoyed strolling through Forsyth Park during the afternoon before the news reported a robbery there that night.  Unemployment is high and wages are low for the majority of residents.  We never felt threatened in any way, but know we should always be aware of our surroundings.

Next up: St. Augustine, Florida

Savannah Georgia 11/25 – 12/9

Savannah, Georgia:  Population =  145,674 (Metro area = 379,199), elevation = 49 feet, average January low temp = 38.9, Average July high temp = 92, average sunny days = 216, annual snowfall = 0.3”, annual rainfall = 48.8”, air quality index = 77, water quality index = 47, comfort index = 30, median age of residents = 32.4

The city of Savannah and the State of Georgia were founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorp for the British.  When he arrived with his settlers, he had a plan for how a city should be laid out.  His vision for a city included many square wards.  Each ward had a central park, with 4 long blocks of residential North of the park, 4 short blocks of commercial East and West of the park, and 4 more long blocks South of the park.  Today there are 24 wards in the Downtown Historic District.  The parks are lush with gardens and trees, fountains and statues, and surrounded by stately old mansions.  It makes for a beautiful city, but it gets complicated driving between all those parks with their one-way streets going every direction except where I want to go.

The original plan for Savannah (thanks Wikipedia)





By the time of the Revolutionary War, Savannah was the southernmost commercial port of the Thirteen Colonies.  The British invaded and took the city 1778.  The next year the Americans and their new allies, the French, beseiged and attacked the British but were soundly defeated.  The British held the city until 1782.

British infantry uniform, revolutionary war
Colonial infantry uniforms

After the War of 1812, several forts were built in along the American coast to prevent further invasions.  Fort Pulaski was one of these.  The fort lies on an island at the mouth of the Savannah River.  It was built of brick walls eleven feet thick and thought to be invulnerable to the smooth bored cannons of the period.  When Georgia seceded from the USA, Confederate forces took Fort Pulaski and reinforced it against attack.  The Union forces, under cover of night, installed batteries of the newly invented rifled cannons and proceeded to knock down the walls.  When they were close to getting a clear shot at the powder magazines, the Confederate general surrendered the fort to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.  At the end of the Civil War, General Sherman’s march to the sea’s objective was Savannah.  A peaceful surrender was negotiated and destruction avoided.

These smooth bore cannons could shoot an 8 pound ball a half mile. The Union cannons were rifled and could shoot a bullet shaped ball a full mile.
Inside Fort Pulaski. The round openings are casements and held troops, supplies, or cannons. The leaning timbers were covered with dirt to form a blindage, where troops could walk inside safely during combat.
Civil war uniforms

Today’s Savannah is a combination of the very old and the very new.  From the historic old downtown, with its many wards, wide boulevards with canopies of huge live oaks pass by the many stately mansions, old and new.  Even when viewed in December, the gardens are thick with every kind of flower and tree.

Victory Drive passes under miles of live oaks and palms


Next time: more Savannah