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Five Adventures in Daytona Beach

February 28, 2011 by · Comments Off on Five Adventures in Daytona Beach 

Travel: Daytona Beach In 5…

By Debi Lander

Published February 07, 2011

| FoxNews.com

To view the video and article as they appeared on Fox News please use the following link:

http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2011/02/07/trav-el-daytona-beach/#ixzz1FI38lv4s

Daytona may be known as the “Birthplace of Speed,” but today the city beats with intensity for thrill-seeking fanatics, adventure junkies, bikers, sun worshippers as well as racecar enthusiasts. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Daytona Beach earned a reputation as the Spring Break oasis of the south. These days the busty and bawdy scene has toned down, as many college coeds-gone-wild flee to Bermuda or the Caribbean islands.

5…Hit town for the Daytona 500

Every February NASCAR fans flock to the Daytona International Speedway (1801 West International Speedway Drive) for the 57th annual Daytona 500. The day’s event pits 43 of the best stock car drivers in the world against each other in NASCAR’s biggest, richest, and most prestigious race.

Auto and motorcycle racing began on the Atlantic shores of Daytona’s hard-packed sandy beach and turned the corner onto legendary Route A-1A. The Daytona Beach Road Course holds the honor as the site of fifteen world land-speed records. In 1959, the Speedway was constructed allowing cars to move to the safer asphalt surface. The historic venue’s $20 million track repaving was completed just in time for the announcer to call the “gentlemen” to start their engines. And yes, since 1977, ladies too were called, since that was the year Janet Guthrie became the first woman to earn a starting spot.

Encompassing 180 acres and including a 29-acre lake, the speedway attracts about 250,000 spectators — their masses divided between the 165,000-seat grandstand and the infield track. On non-racing days the track offers three separate open-air tram tours through the hallowed grounds enabling a driver’s point of view of the steeply-banked course.

 

Richard Petty Experience

4…Feel the need for speed the Richard Petty way

Attending a race at the International Speedway is a definite bucket list item for race fans: those must-see places and events to accomplish before you die. But imagine instead, testing your own driving skills on the 2.5 mile course in a real NASCAR that roars with 600 horsepower. The Richard Petty Driving Experience puts you in the driver’s seat for the ultimate pedal to the metal thrill. Sit with a professional driver as he coaches you through a few speed controlled practice spins. Then, with hair raising goose bumps, your heart pounding and deep concentration, let it rip and zip around the 31-degree banked turns.

For those wanting a slightly tamer ride, choose the Ride-Along option and sit shotgun while the expert racer makes a 3-lap run. The high performance activity isn’t cheap (driving starts at $595) but the bragging rites remain priceless. To qualify you must be at least 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license, be proficient with a manual transmission, be able to climb through a 15″ high by 30″ wide window that sits 36″ from the ground and fit into a driving suit.

3…Get down and dirty during Bike Week and Biketoberfest

Every March, the leather and chains look hogs the limelight as the world famous Bike Week rolls into Daytona. This festival of vintage and custom bikes is a cultural blend of ages and income levels. Riders living the tattoo lifestyle buzz with hive-like activity hovering around the Harley-Davidson dealership, the Boot Hill Saloon local watering hole (310 Main Street, 386 258-9506) and, of course, the track. Concurrently, the Speedway hosts two weeks of intense motorcycle racing, supercross and dirt track competitions.

The va-vroom of exhaust pipes heralds another noisy week for Daytona during Biketoberfest (www.biketoberfest.org). This extravaganza tends to attract “rubs,” or rich urban bikers, executives, medical and legal professionals. They usually ride in small groups, visit fine restaurants and choose upscale lodging. But make no mistake, the event still garners “Easy Rider”-types and traditional leather-clad bikers.

For anyone wanting to get down and dirty, join in the action by renting a chopper and ride the 22-mile Bike Week Loop. The Chamber of Commerce sponsors this opportunity for novice bikers and show-offs to connect with Florida’s natural beauty.

2…Skydive toward DeLand

 

For those looking for a supreme adrenaline rush, check into Skydive Deland (1600 Flightline Blvd, DeLand, 386 738-3539, a world-class premier skydive training center located just 20 minutes from downtown. Here you soar with safety minded professionals and ‘chute yourself full of memories.

The gutsy start with ground and safety instruction, being reassured that this is going turn out fine. Then, you ascend to an altitude of approximately two miles for your tandem parachute jump. You, and the instructor strapped on your back, leap from the plane, briefly free-falling at speeds up to 120 miles per hour. The butterflies in the stomach quickly disappear as you revel in the beauty of flight. After about a minute of freefall, your instructor opens the parachute, and together you make a soft landing. To push beyond your weak knees and white knuckles and fears grants one of life’s most empowering experiences and guarantees you’ll have stories to tell the grandchildren. Be sure to hire a videographer to jump with you and record your audacious dive.

1…Yes, there’s a beach here, too

Daytona’s piece de resistance remains its 23 miles of extra wide shoreline. The “World’s Most Famous Beach” consists of sand firm enough to permit driving along designated sections. Find the original North Turn marker off Highway A1A and have lunch at Racing’s North Turn restaurant (4511 South Atlantic Avenue, Ponce Inlet, 386 322-3258 ). While waiting for your order you can peruse old beach-racing photos and memorabilia.

Bicycling enthusiasts will find the beach’s extended straightaway close to nirvana. The lack of shells affords sunbathers comfort and makes Daytona perfectly suited for beach volleyball.

Early morning walkers and runners like to bask in the sunrise as foam rolls onto the shore. But any time of day is good for a walk along the historic pier and boardwalk where you can ride the Ferris wheel and play amusement games, too. Grab a hot dog or some cotton candy and continue to stroll past the Sir Malcolm Campbell Clock tower and the 1937 Band shell which looks like a giant sandcastle. The beach scene hasn’t changed much but remains a must-do in Daytona.

The Famous Daytona Beach



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Not Quite Okey-Dokey in the Okefenokee

February 23, 2011 by · Comments Off on Not Quite Okey-Dokey in the Okefenokee 

In January I attended a photo workshop presented by John Reed in conjunction with the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The noted preserve was established in 1936 to protect the unique freshwater ecosystem and head waters of the Suwannee River. I’d never been through the Florida/Georgia swamp even though it sits just 75 miles away.

Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge

The park is vast, listed at 402,000 acres or roughly the size of 300,000 football fields. Whoa! The strange name comes from Native Americans who called it Okefenoka, meaning “Land of the Trembling Earth.” The name is still appropriate as peat continues to build up on the swamp floor and the deposits are so unstable that trees and bushes tremble when you stomp the ground.

During the workshop lunch break, I spotted an alligator sunning himself near the Visitor’s Center. His skin looked gray and dry and I suspected he’d been there quite a while. One of the rangers mentioned that gators move slowly during the winter. Since I’d seen frost on the morning drive and the temperature hovered around 38-40 degrees at noon, I wasn’t too worried. I got down on my belly atop a raised boardwalk and snapped this photo.

A Swamp Gator

Later in the afternoon, I returned and noticed a second, smaller gator. The larger one had only moved about a foot from his previous location and both barely opened their eyes. Guess most of the creatures were sleepy because my group had only seen these two reptiles and a slew of birds all day.

A sunrise shoot was planned for the next morning and the weather stayed cold. Sadly, the sunrise didn’t opt to make a dramatic entrance, so the group decided to move along. We headed in the direction of a fantastic winding boardwalk and three-story viewing platform.

But, as photographers are apt to do; we stopped after noticing some interesting tall grass. Instructor John walked along the road surveying the landscape. I was not far behind when we heard a hissing sound, like an amplified snake. John caught site of  a gator’s head rising from a small mud-puddle. I wanted to photograph this wild critter, so I ran over. Sure enough, the small head was all I could see, surrounded in a thick mud bath. Was his body buried deep below?

Perhaps foolish thinking, but I stepped closer. That gator wouldn’t or better yet, couldn’t move quickly from his location, could he? Nah. Just as I was getting ready to click the camera, he hissed at me- VERY LOUDLY. That’s a sound I”ll never forget. I jumped back and my resulting shot is a bit blurry, but you can see his open mouth. Mr. Gator was mad and I was scared. As far as I was concerned everything was not okey-dockey in the Okefenokee.

I immediately departed the scene, leaving the fellow alone. Even if I didn’t get the photo, I at least left with a gator tale.

The Hissing Gator

For information contact:
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
2700 Suwannee Canal Road,
Folkston GA 31537
912-496-7836 912-496-7836
E-Mail: okefenokee@fws.gov


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St. Augustine’s Inn on Charlotte

February 6, 2011 by · Comments Off on St. Augustine’s Inn on Charlotte 

Inn on Charlotte, St. Augustine, Florida

Hotel Review: Inn on Charlotte, a Bed and Breakfast in St. Augustine, Florida

No smoking, no pets, no kids: may sound a little harsh off the tongue, but when you connect those words with lodging, you quickly envision a quiet, clean retreat– perfect for a romantic getaway.  And that’s what you get at the elegant  Inn on Charlotte in St. Augustine, Florida.

But, why stay at this Bed and Breakfast?  Location, location, my dear. The property rests off  narrow brick-lined Charlotte Street which runs with one-way traffic and limited entrance. Plus the Inn offers free reserved parking spaces, a real plus in this part of the city. Stash the car as you won’t need to drive until it’s time to leave. All of St. Augustine’s best sites, shops and restaurants are within walking distance.

Rodney Holeman took over the 1918 Inn in September, 2010 and he is meticulous, something you can appreciate when you are the guest.  Spotless bathrooms- with new tile and fixtures, crisp linens and not a speck of dust anywhere.

The main floor boasts a warm, welcoming sitting area which leads into the dining room set with eight tables for two. No community table, so you don’t have to chat to others, unless you want to. (A lot of folks have told me they prefer separate seating.) The hall refrigerator stays stocked and complimentary wine is served from 5 to 6:00 PM, usually enjoyed on the front porch.

Find five bedrooms upstairs, plus one on the main floor,  each tastefully different and two open to the front balcony.  The rooms are freshly painted and charmingly decorated with style and pizazz.  No cast off antiques, they are adorned with high-end sturdy furniture featuring classic lines and comfort. Lovely.

Guest Room at the Inn on Charlotte

Two additional guest rooms are tucked away in the rear, separate from the main house, making them true escapes. The bungalow on the ground floor includes a  private patio and both upstairs and downstairs rooms boast a small fireplace and wall-mounted flat-screen TV.

But, visitors don’t go to St. Augustine to watch television. America’s oldest city bursts with Spanish architecture and history. Here, streets names speak the influence: Avienda Menendez , Cordova Street and Castillo Drive. The city’s treasured fort, Castillo de San Marco, reigns as a National Park landmark and must see.

Cathedral Place bordering the city park lies just two short blocks from the Inn and overflows with numerous ethnic restaurants. Athena, with great Greek cuisine and Bistro de Leon with fabulous French fare are two of my favorites. Cross the green and visit A-1A AleWorks or O.C. Whites, two popular pub type restaurants.

Guests in the parlor, Inn on Charlotte

Turn in the opposite direction and you’re a stone’s throw from Cuna Street, which leads to the pedestrian only shopping area.  Meander just beyond Cuna Street and you’re standing at the corner of Castillo Drive- perfect for a drop-in at the new Pirate and Treasure Museum and, of course, the1672  historic Fort abutting  the Matanzas Bay.

Consider a romantic retreat for Valentine’s Day or longer stay taking in Anastasia Beach or nearby Ponte Vedra Beach. The Inn on Charlotte puts you right in the heart of your desires.

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Inn On Charlotte Bed and Breakfast

52 Charlotte Street

St. Augustine, Florida  32084

Phone: 904-829-3819

Email: innkeeper@innoncharlotte.com

Front Porch, Inn on Charlotte

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