Sunday, January 15, 2017

Anniversary Trip: Florida Day 3

We started the  third day of our trip in Haines City. Haines City has grown a lot since Ryan was there, and as we were first driving in he was kind of disappointed because he didn't recognize anything. Happily, though, once we got to the part of the city that had been there longer, he felt like he was in the Haines City he knew. We spent some time in the morning driving around, finding his old apartment, finding the church, seeing old orange groves and places he'd taught, driving up a crazy long and steep hill he used to bike ride up, and generally walking down memory lane. I think Ryan was most excited to find La Placita, a little Mexican market with a lunch counter where he and his companion used to get amazing burritos. La Placita, apparently, looked exactly the same now as it did 15 years ago.

We had a few misses that day. One was Webb's "Candy Making Factory" which sounded like a place where we could see the factory and watch candy being made but which actually turned out to be a candy shop with 5-6 pictures of the factory and a very brief history. The other came later in the day, when we went to the Florida Natural Orange Juice "museum," which was essentially a gift shop across from their factory--and we didn't get a good look into that factory, either :) The best part of the "museum" was the free taste or orange juice we got. It was right on our way, though, so we weren't too worried about the 10 minutes we spent there.

One big win of the day was Bok Tower. While Ryan was on his mission, his area got special permission to visit Bok Tower, so he'd been there once before. Bok Tower was on of the places he definitely wanted to see while we were in Florida. And I'm so glad it was part of our plan! The tower itself is beautiful--it is 250 ft. tall, set on a hill, and nothing else around the tower is remotely tall, so it towers (hehe) over everything. And its height is not the only striking feature of the tower--it's made of beautiful stone, has stained glass windows, has sections of ornate carvings, is surrounded by a mote (!), and has an amazingly gigantic carved brass door. The tower houses a set of Carillon Bells, which are pretty rare. Every day, the carilloner plays two concerts on the bells. We got to see the carilloner ENTER THE TOWER WITH A SPECIAL GIGANTIC BRASS KEY, which was like something out of The Secret Garden. Then we got to hear him play while we walked through the gardens, which was also amazing.

The property is covered in beautiful gardens. One of my favorite parts was the pond that was in front of the tower. The pond had huge lily pads that we later found out can hold up to 120 pounds! Real lily pads! That were huge! Anyway, I was a big fan of the lily pads. We were also surprised by a snake when we were taking a photo, so that was kind of exciting. I also really enjoyed the children's garden, which had interactive instruments and things for kids to climb on. It was kind of funny that we visited the children's garden without our children. I also enjoyed the "window" which was a structure you went in--to look through a giant window of the pond outside! Adjoining the Bok Tower property is the Pinewood Estate, which we enjoyed touring. The architecture was gorgeous and the carved doors and ornate tiling throughout were amazing. Bok Tower was one of my favorite Florida stops.

Other items of note that day were my first experience driving in Florida and our trip around the humongous Lake Okeechobee. I'll preface my driving by saying that Ryan prefers to drive and that I don't like two-lane highways. But we made it, I passed cars, and no one was too stressed out. The lake is another story. We decided to take the "scenic route" that was a little longer because we thought it would be really cool to see the lake, which is truly gigantic. In a somewhat ironic twist, you literally couldn't see even a glimpse of the lake because of a large land barrier that had been thrown up around the lake to prevent flooding during hurricanes! After driving for almost half an hour with no lake views, we decided to take matters into our own hands. We consulted google maps and found a road that cut across the "moat" around the lake and went up the land embankment. From there, we could finally see the lake! The lake is so big that we literally couldn't see across it--not even close. We did found a spot to park so we could watch the sunset on the lake, but as soon as we got out of the car we were attacked by bugs. We surrendered and watched the most amazing pink sunset from the car.

After we'd had our fill of lake views, we headed to the coast. We saw alligators in a canal by the road (and my Florida dreams came true). We reserved a hotel while we drove and after we found it and checked in, we went to Publix (trip 2!), got ice cream, and went to once again attempt to eat our ice cream on the beach. This time, we got lucky! We found a pier that extended about 1/4 mile out into the ocean, which we sauntered down until we found a bench to enjoy our ice cream on. The ice cream was tasty (salted caramel with chocolate chunks, yum) and listening to the ocean was super relaxing. We had another wonderful day in Florida.

Sunset! The sun looks so huge when it sets with no mountains in the way.

View from the pier, looking back at the beach.

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