Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Nature Trails in Local Parks

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 3, 2018

While our South Florida weather was perfectly temperate last weekend, we took advantage by exploring our local parks. Once the humidity kicks in, it’ll get too hot and buggy. So here’s where we took our daily walks:

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

On East Sunrise Blvd near A1A is the turnoff into this state park. We parked in the first lot and took the woodsy trail, enjoying the shade and searching for wildlife. We’d seen big turtles here before but they were hiding this time.

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Then we strode down a sandy path to the café and gift shop. Beyond this you can cross to Fort Lauderdale Beach. We walked a while along the street, admiring the glistening ocean and the boats in the distance.

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Our stomachs hungry for lunch, we stopped at the café on our way back and ate burgers. Then we drove around to the Intracoastal side for another stroll, watching the yachts and water taxis glide by.

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Tree Tops Park

Off Nob Hill Road near I-595, this shady park offers nature trails among decades-old trees, a boardwalk over a freshwater marsh, picnic tables, rental boats on a lake, and equestrian trails. It also has a trail on Pine Island Ridge, the highest elevation in the county at 29 feet above sea level. There’s a sculpture dedicated to a great Seminole leader as well behind the main building complex. The park is also listed on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

We like the woods and started at the path near this tower that we climbed to the top for a view among the tree canopy.

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Then we followed to trail to the swampy area where we could see catfish and turtles in the murky water. I noticed an abundance of snails that hadn’t been there before.

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Plantation Preserve Linear Trail

The Linear Park at Plantation Preserve Golf Course & Club is a pleasant trail that loops around for 1.1 miles. This trail offers a historical Indian burial mound, varied native shrubbery, birds, and rabbits. Yes, this was the first time we’d seen the critters, and I counted about eight of them as we strode on.

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Dining Adventures in Orlando

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 30, 2018

Aside from our culinary rounds at World Showcase’s marketplaces in Epcot as mentioned below, we sampled the cuisine at a variety of places in and around Orlando over the weekend. At Disney Springs, we ate at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Florida Kitchen. The atmosphere was lively in this popular Orlando eaterie, and the service was good. I got their famous fried chicken with creamy mashed potatoes and a cheese biscuit while Richard got a fish sandwich. My dinner platter came with three pieces of chicken. My opinion? The chicken had too much breading. I filled an entire salad plate with the pickings. You can get better fried chicken at Publix for half the price. The mashed potatoes were creamy as advertised but nothing special. The biscuit was surpassed by the ones at Red Lobster. This restaurant is a fun place to try once, but we weren’t impressed enough to return.

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Next stop was a repeat visit to The Big Easy, a New Orleans-style restaurant across the street from our condo in Windermere. I had the red beans and rice that came with corn bread. It was a tasty meal and a large enough portion for me to have leftovers, but it would have been even better if it came with a small salad. Richard had a Caesar salad with shrimp. There was live music and the bar was filled, so it can get pretty noisy inside. We like the food and the prices and will doubtless return here.

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Another night found us at Landry’s Seafood Restaurant, where I had salmon with asparagus couscous and Richard had the crab cake appetizer as his meal. The main entrees came with salad and garlic bread. I like the menu choices here and the prices are reasonable. The crowd tends to be older, but we seniors know a good bargain when we see one. Ask for an AARP discount.

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Following the Orlando Book Festival at Orlando Public Library, we met our family at Shari Sushi in the Thornton Park district. I ordered citrus crusted Scottish salmon with quinoa salad and Greek yogurt, while my husband had the crab meat salad. Neither of us was terribly impressed, although the younger folks among us loved the sushi there. Shari is a popular restaurant, so it clearly has its repeat fans.

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We couldn’t resist a visit to Beck Brothers Blueberries to pick our own basket full of plump, ripe berries. These are always good, and they stay fresh for a long time.

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All of these dining experiences made me gain two pounds, so now I have to work on getting the weight off so I can fit into my mother-of-the-bride outfits.

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Dining at Walt Disney World

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 28, 2018

We always enjoy the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival at Disney World. We bypassed the attractions in Future World to head straight back to World Showcase. The display of flowers floating on the pond and arrayed on its grassy banks provided a splash of vibrant color. The weather cooperated by being sunny and temperate. We turned right toward Canada, beating most of the crowd that seemed to start in the other direction toward Mexico.

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Richard started our culinary tour with the Pear Cider-Brined Shredded Corned Beef and Braised Cabbage from the Cider House at the United Kingdom. $5.50.

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I got the duck confit aka Confit de Canard aux Gnocchi a la Parisienne at France. The tender meat came with gnocchi in a tasty mushroom gravy. $5.75.

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Next we indulged in the Potato Pancakes from Germany at the Bauernmarkt. These were two thin pancakes like you’d make at home on a griddle, topped with fresh apple sauce. $4.25.

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For dessert, we couldn’t resist the Wild Berry Buckle at The Berry Basket, near the entrance to World Showcase toward the Mexico side. It was divine. Blueberries topped a piece of cake that was accompanied by a scoop of berry gelato. $4.50.

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These selections were enough to fill my stomach. I stopped by Club Cool for a free drink of raspberry soda. Here you can sample a variety of soft drinks from around the world. Needless to say, I gulped down multiple samples until my thirst was quenched.

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Another day, we ate lunch in the Wilderness Lodge at Whispering Canyon Café. This was a fun meal with the waitress throwing straws and napkins on the table and people screaming they needed ketchup. Then other patrons would run over with a dozen bottles or so. You could order an all-you-can-eat skillet with chicken, ribs, pulled pork, corn-on-the-cob, mashed potatoes, baked beans, and sausage. I had the tuna melt that was really good.

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A loaf of corn bread with butter started us out. Our son ordered root beer and got a giant glassful.

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After our stomachs were filled, we meandered through the western themed hotel and outside by the pool. Numerous other restaurants and an inviting lounge will necessitate another visit.

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Magic Kingdom is Magical

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 3, 2018

All your dreams seem possible at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. This is where my husband and I came to celebrate our engagement over forty years ago and again when I sold my first book. That title was Circle of Light, and The Lion King had just come out with the song, “Circle of Life”. To this day, I associate that song with my very first published title.

Since we have annual passes and have been on most of the rides, we usually take a stroll, have lunch, and leave. I took a few short videos which you can watch on my YouTube Channel. These include a live show on the main stage beneath Cinderella’s Castle, the train ride, and the ferry from Magic Kingdom back to the Ticket and Transportation Center.

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We ate lunch at Harbour House across from the Haunted Mansion. It’s a fast food place but with more healthy choices. We split a cup of clam chowder and a tuna sandwich on multigrain bread, if I remember the items correctly. It was enough for the two of us.

My favorite attraction, the People Mover, had a line for the first time I can ever remember. We bypassed that one and headed to the Carousel of Progress, another favorite. I love the cheerful song with its message of hope, and how the people in each era thought their time was the most progressive. Don’t we feel that way now about our technology and ease-of-living devices?

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What’s your favorite attraction when you visit the Magic Kingdom?

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Food Frolics in Florida

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 30, 2018

Once again, we dined our way through another Orlando visit. Our first stop on this culinary journey was dinner at The Big Easy in Windermere. My husband had a vegetable po-boy, and I had breaded tilapia with rice and beans and sautéed veggies. The rice and beans were really good and would make a meal in itself with a side of corn bread. We actually returned here for lunch but I got a cobb salad that time. I like the New Orleans-style decorations and the lively bar scene.

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Our next foray was to Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs. They celebrated cherry blossom festival with flowering plants and dinner specials. I ordered the sake sangria. My meal was two appetizers, the Portobello mushroom fries and chicken dumplings.

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We detoured from our usual route to explore St. Augustine. Lunch was at Harry’s where I got the crab meat and eggplant Napoleon. It was delish. This is a favorite restaurant of mine in this city, especially if you sit outside in the breezy courtyard. I wouldn’t do this in the heat of summer, however, with the scorching sun overhead and hungry mosquitoes looking for bait. Then I’d ask for a table indoors.

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Now we’re back home, and I have to lose the extra weight I’d gained. That’s the problem with culinary adventures. You pay for the calories and salt intake when you resume your normal routine.

 

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A Day at Disney World

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 8, 2018

We spent last weekend at Epcot in Walt Disney World for the Festival of the Arts.

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The weather cooperated as we strolled along, enjoying a concert midway. See the video here: https://youtu.be/nFNaTpRF_Is

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Art exhibits tempted buyers all along World Showcase. Here’s an art class in progress by the France pavilion. Disney art, Star Wars, and other subjects appealed to the crowds.

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We stopped to taste some of the marketplace wares. At the Pop Eats! Booth, we tried the Sous Vide Poulet Rouge Chicken Roulade with Apples and Sage, served with Warm Brie Fondue, Blueberry and Beet Gel, garnished with Apple and Beet chips. This dish was quite good. I would have liked to try the Almond Frangipane Cake layered with Raspberry Jam and Belgian Chocolate but was avoiding sweets.

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At L’Arte di Mangiare, I had the Sformato di Melanzane e Pomodori: Tomato and Eggplant Terrine with Fior di Latte Mozzarella. This was tasty and worthy of a main meal.

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Prices seem to have gone up so we didn’t try too many. Plus, my temporary crown prevented me from eating anything sticky, crunchy, or with nuts.

That evening, we headed over to Disney Springs and dinner at The Edison. This cool steampunk establishment has numerous dining rooms, some overlooking the lively bar. At night, one of the downstairs spaces turns into a cover-charge nightclub. I ate a bowl of creamy tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich (3 layers of bread). Husband had crab cakes. Next door is a new Italian restaurant we’ll have to try another time.

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Outside, we peeked at Enzo’s Hideaway around a curve and down a level from The Edison. You go through a tunnel to a bar and yet another cozy Italian restaurant.

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On the way back to the Lime parking garage, we saw a very unique rolling piano. See the performances here: https://youtu.be/nzomu4xLb5Y and https://youtu.be/kLYj5ev-zkk

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Curacao

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 29, 2017

We took Shore Excursion CUR – 100 from the Royal Princess in Curaçao. Beautiful aqua water greeted us at the pier. On land, we met dry terrain with cactus, a civilized city with houses that looked like places in Florida, columned municipal buildings, a cathedral, and a swing bridge into town.

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From the pier, you could walk to the right toward the Renaissance Hotel and follow the signs to cross the bridge into town. It’s a twenty minute walk, but it will seem much longer if you are carrying heavy packages. If I heard our tour guide correctly, the main industries are oil refining, salt, tourism, and producing Curaçao liqueur.

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Our drive took us first to the Curaçao Museum in a colonial-style building dating back to the 1800s. The rooms held paintings and antique furniture with windows wide open and no air-conditioning. An airplane cockpit rests in a secured outbuilding. The shady grounds are pleasant to stroll while waiting to get back on the tour bus.

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Next we toured Hato Caves, an above-ground cave. We had to climb a steep set of 49 steps to get there. Once inside, you had to duck and hold onto a hand rail to reach the various caverns. The usual views of stalactites, stalagmites, and calcite columns are present. Total blackness yawns from areas that are unlit, while bats hover overhead.

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Outside, we caught an iguana on the grounds. A snack bar and restrooms are available. The natives like iguana stew, the “poor-man’s chicken.”

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We visited the Chobolobo factory where they make the famous branded Curaçao Liqueur. It’s said the soil of the island changed the sweet Valencia orange brought by the Spaniards into a bitter fruit. But the peel contained an oil with a pleasing fragrance. The famous Blue liqueur comes from the peel of this fruit.

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Inside a building, the distilling process is explained in a museum-like setting. Their famous liqueur comes in an orange-shaped bottle. If it’s in another container, the product isn’t theirs. It comes in classic original orange flavor plus chocolate, coffee, rum raisin, and tamarind. An enticing gift shop offers a wide selection of liqueurs and other souvenirs.

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We crossed the Queen Juliana Bridge with vistas of the port city on our way back to the ship. At the port were a decent number of native huts selling souvenirs, hats, Curaçao liqueur, magnets, spoon rests, dresses and shirts, and Delft figurines. Waves crash onto the rocky breakfront by the pier where you can also enjoy tropical drinks at a bar.

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Our tour was well worthwhile, although we did not make a photo stop at the salt flats as listed in the tour description. Nonetheless, we need to make a return visit to go into Willemstad and roam the city streets. A brief glimpse wasn’t enough.

View All Photos Here

This concludes my review of our Royal Princess cruise and the ports of call. I hope you’ve enjoyed my descriptions. Happy Sailing to you in the New Year!

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Bonaire

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 28, 2017

Our Shore Excursion from Royal Princess was BON-105. It took us on a drive along the coast with gorgeous sparkling ocean to the left in aqua to navy hues. We passed a group of divers as one beautiful sea vista after another exposed itself to us.

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Cactus in many varieties dotted the dry soil on this island. Tall trees were sparse, but plenty of bushy vegetation grew along the roadside. To the right rose a rocky cliff with caves. Eventually, we curved around and ended up on the other side of this cliff. Donkeys roamed free on an open plain.

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At Goto Lake, we spotted native flamingos wading for food in the water. Having seen many of this species at Flamingo Gardens in Davie, Florida, I was impressed to view them in the wild.

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In Rincon, the oldest settlement, it looked like any other Caribbean village with colorfully painted houses. We’d been driving nearly an hour and hastened to the single restroom at our stop. There wasn’t any toilet paper but there were paper towels. We were given a taste of cactus liquor that tasted minty. Snacks were available for purchase here at the Rose Inn courtyard. The stop seemed to benefit the tour guide more than us. We stood around waiting for her to finish her cold drink so we could head back to the bus.

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We were supposed to stop at a cultural park next, but this visit never materialized. Instead, we drove past the port and beyond to reach the salt flats on the other side of the island. A brown pond stretched into the distance. At the roadside, salt crystals bubbled and burped by the highway. A mountain of salt rose ahead as the guide explained the salt-making process.

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If I’ve gotten this explanation right, salt water is brought into the pond on the far side. This water is allowed to evaporate under the sun until it reaches a certain level of salinity. Then more water is added and the process repeated until it’s so concentrated that the salt begins to crystalize. We passed a freighter that might have been taking on salt, this island’s main export. It was fascinating to see the huge mound of salt and the crystals bubbling from the pond.

Then we stopped at a beach made from coral to view a cluster of slave huts. Slaves had to walk from there all the way to Rincon to go to church and receive provisions. It took them the entire day. With the low ceilings and cramped space in the huts, I don’t know how anyone could live there.

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This tour was too long. The drive to Rincon, while scenic, needs more stops. Rincon itself was unimpressive. We didn’t see the cultural center mentioned on the excursion listing unless the itinerary had changed. If you don’t mind a long drive to see most of the island, this tour will work for you. Otherwise, I’d suggest a shorter trip to see the scenic ocean vistas while heading to the salt flats. Then go shopping in town, a short walk away from the port. This tour took 3 hours.

See All Photos Here

Coming Next: Curacao

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Grenada

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 27, 2017

We took Shore Excursion GD-330 on our Royal Princess cruise port stop at Grenada to Spices of Grenada and the Westerhall Rum Distillery. This time we had an air-conditioned van, which is better than a bus because you have fewer people to wait on to get in and out. We passed buildings painted in colorful hues of lime, coral, lavender, and sand.

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Right away, we got the impression of a more upscale island. We drove through crowded port city streets to our first stop, De La Grenada Industries. Here they package spices grown on this fertile mountainous island. Inside the single building is a view of the machinery. There’s a tasting area where we had a sip of rum punch that was very good. The gift shop has a decent selection of packaged spices, nutmeg liqueur, and rum punch bottles.

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We drove on through lush tropical hillsides to Laura’s Herb and Spice Garden for a tour in the rain of a botanical garden. The knowledgeable guide told us about the medicinal values for all the plants grown there. As the downpour got heavier, our hosts provided umbrellas. We donned our ponchos that we’d brought along. I learned that onion boiled with sugar makes syrup that can be used as an emetic. This might come in handy for a story if it works. The outdoor path is made from nutmeg shells. Inside the lone building, there wasn’t much to buy at the small sales counter except for some spice packets or vanilla extract bottles.

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Our drive took us through more mountain rainforests. We passed goats, cows, and graveyards that had white above-ground tombs. Houses appeared to be concrete. Roofs looked like tile but were sheeting of some sort.

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At the Westerhall Rum Distillery, it was raining too hard for a tour. They took us to the tasting hut where we got straight rum samples while standing outside under cover. I wasn’t sorry to miss the tour. We’d seen better on St. Croix, and had better tastings too with mixed rum drinks. Here you could see rusted wheels and other implements littering the grounds. There didn’t appear to be any shop.

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We sloshed back into the van for a drive through a wealthy gated community to view the impressive homes overlooking scenic views. Finally, we were dropped off back at the ship. This tour took about 4 hours.

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One of the best places for shopping is Esplanade Mall right at the pier. I bypassed the jewelry stores to browse the spices, coffee, shirts, hats and souvenirs. It’s a great place to buy gifts for people back home and spices to use in your own cooking.

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See More Photos Here

Coming Next: Bonaire

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Martinique

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 26, 2017

Martinique

On the fourth day of our cruise on Royal Princess, we visited Martinique. This mountainous volcanic island boasts lush tropical vegetation and spectacular views through the rainforest. We docked at Fort-de-France, a big port town with narrow streets. From here, we boarded an air-conditioned bus for Shore Excursion FDF-100 to St. Pierre and the Depaz Rum Distillery. Our first stop was Sacré-Coeur de la Balata, a historic church on a hilltop. This was built in 1925. We drove up a curvy road with scenic vistas to the church.

 

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Next we went through the dense rainforest toward the Depaz Distillery, where rum has been made since 1651. The views along the road were spectacular. At the plantation, we trudged up a grassy hill to admire the owner’s mansion. We toured the distillery past machinery and rooms with barrels for the aging process.

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Rain fell as was appropriate for the rainforest. Sugar cane plants stretched into the distance.

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The gift shop looked interesting, but we didn’t have enough time to browse. Wares included packaged spices, bottles of rum, and souvenirs. We got tiny tastes of one sweet coconut rum drink that I liked. Another tasted like straight dark rum that burned my throat.

We hurried back to the bus for a drive to St. Pierre. At the foot of Mount Pelee, this village was destroyed in a massive 1902 eruption that killed 30,000 residents. The only survivor was one man in a stone prison. The town has narrow streets and ruins all around that had formerly been buildings made from rock. At the museum, we took a quick glance at the artifacts dug out of ash, a damaged bell from a cathedral, and photos of the town before and after the disaster. The air-conditioning was off, making it very hot inside. No photos were allowed. This museum is on the site of an old gun battery and has scenic views.

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Outside, we climbed some stone steps to the ruins of a theater. We spied the jail down below on the side near the mountain. All was gone except for some stone walls and a domed stone prison where the single man survived.

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I got hot and sweaty in the heat. We had periodic rain but not so much on this drier side of the island. We noted netting against the cliffs on this side to prevent rockslides onto the roads. We could also see cannon ball holes left in the rock walls facing the water.

This tour took 4-1/2 hours. A native market outside the pier held nothing interesting. The best shop was at the rum distillery. My advice for anyone going here would be to see the house and skip the distillery tour. Go straight to the shop. You could buy snacks there too and restrooms are available. Bring an umbrella. 

See all trip photos here.

Coming next: Grenada

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