Posts Tagged ‘Naples’

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There are only two cities in Florida that I know of that are named after cities in Italy; Naples and Venice. This post will be about the former.

Going south on the west coast, Naples is the last large city you’ll encounter. It’s the county seat of Collier County, having supplanted Everglades City decades ago. That happens more often than you’d think, that changing county seats thing.

I’d heard that Naples has lots of golf courses, and according to Discover Naples, it has more per capita than anywhere else. Which also means that Naples has a ritzier population than most cities in the state. It’s one of the best maintained cities I’ve seen in Florida.

I’ll wager another of the attractions is that there are several pockets of nature nearby. Like Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Picayune Strand State Forest. It also has one of the top ten busiest parks in the state, Delnor-Wiggins Pass. I was there on a Monday around noon, and it took half an hour to get in. I’ll bet on weekends it fills up right after it opens.

Plenty of culture, too, with museums and art galleries scattered hither and thither. (see Google map)

But I’m all about the historical, and Naples has that too. I don’t know how much has been lost over the years, but there does seem to be a significant amount of historic structures in the area. The one historic district covers both commercial and residential buildings. Make sure to talk a walk to the end of the 1,000 foot long pier, ’cause you’ll get an amazing view of the Gulf and Naples when you get there. (see Google map)

There are a couple of NRHPs on the outskirts which you may be able to get to, if you have the means. The ruins of the Horr House looks to be in a gated subdivision. Key Marco Estates, I believe. So unless you know someone living there, you’re unlikely to be able to get in. But I think it might be accessible by bicycle. I’d check first, since even with a bicycle, the house is some ways from the entrance. The other site is the remains of the Keewaydin Club. No roads to it; your only option is a boat. I don’t even know if you can land on the island it’s on. You might only be able to see it from offshore. I think there are tour bouts that go there, if this is any indication. Should anyone actually makes it there, tell me how it goes, will you? (see Google map) (see Google map)

Head southeast out of town on US 41, ’cause we’re going into the Everglades. There’s a bit of driving before you get there, though. In the meantime, you’ll be passing through a region I’ve covered previously. That is, the whole Everglades City area. I’m including the sights below, in case this is your first time through, or you want to revisit some of them. There’s also Monroe Station, which I need to get to one of these days. (see Google map)

If you decide to travel the length of the Tamiami Trail to Miami, your last gas stop is at the SR 29 intersection. Make sure you top off your tank, get munchies and avail yourself of the facilities before you get past. It’s about 60 miles of wilderness before you’ll see signs of civilization again.

This is the only large section of the state I’ve not visited. There’s not been enough on the way to entice me. It’s just one very long drive to Miami. I know I’ve said I like to just drive, but even for me, I need a bit of stuff along the way to break up the monotony. The road is kind of historic, since it follows the original route from Miami to Naples. Another thing I’ll get around to eventually, but not high on my priority list.

Should you go this way, you’ll get to Miami in about an hour. Well, Tamiami first, where you can see the Frost Art Museum, I suppose.

So, that’s southwest Florida done. I’ll be getting to the less south part (Sarasota and such) in a while, never fear. Until then, see you on the road!

Route length: 100 miles

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Mom’s E.T. in the hotel bed

Looking out the hotel window, towards downtown Naples

Even with all the curtains closed, I still woke up at 7:30. So much for long sleep, but it did help.

The room bill was slipped under the door, so I could leave the key in the room and not have to go to the front desk to formally check out. Which was just like the hotel in Clewiston. Maybe it’s a new trend. If so, I’m liking it.

The Weather Channel had said the weather would be nice, and gazing out the hotel window, it looked that way. Once I started loading up the car, I discovered it was cool and breezy like the day before. Even knowing it wouldn’t last until noon, it’s always nice to start a day of travel like that.

It was rather strange to be jaunting about on a Monday. Haven’t done that since the two week hurricane evasion trip with Mom back in late 2004, when I was still working for WebMD. I will have to recount that trip here at a later date. Down side is, that one was pre-digital camera, so the pictures aren’t as good. But Street View will help, and I can find other photos to supplement the postings.

While flipping around on the radio, I stumbled across the Bob and Sheri Show. I forgot about them completely. I used to love listening to them. They don’t play on any stations in Ocala. Might have to see about podcasts and such.

Almost within walking distance of the hotel was the first thing on my Naples list, the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Depot. I think it’s a museum now. It wasn’t open, which was nice in a way, since it meant the parking lot was empty and I could get shots unobstructed by cars.

I got to the historic district (street view) shortly after. I parked in the shopping part, coincidentally in front of one of the buildings specifically listed in A Guide to Florida’s Historic Architecture, the Naples Mercantile Building (now a restaurant). The area is very upscale and schmantzy. There was at least one sign with a map indicating where all the businesses were. It made the place feel like an outdoor mall. Got an espresso at Bad Ass Coffee, and that jolted me into further wakefulness.

Back in the car and drove over to the Palm Cottage (not be confused with the one in Miami), finding a spot pretty close to it. I saw a tour group ride by on Segways, how modern. The Cottage is run by the Naples Historical Society. It wasn’t open, but even with all the trees around it, I was able to get decent enough shots.

Looking towards Naples from the end of the Pier

Then I strolled over to the Naples Pier (photos). Now that is a landmark. The thing’s 700 feet long! And there were tons of people there. Why weren’t they all at work on a Monday? I strolled all the way to the end of the pier and back. It mayn’t have been high on my priority list, but it was one of the more fun things I got to see. Then I walked around the residential section of the district. Nice houses, but not gaudy or grandiose. Maybe ‘cause they’re so close to the beach.

Got all I needed in about an hour and was on my way. All in all, I rather like Naples. There’s a few spots I didn’t get nearby, so I look forward to returning.

Let me mention a great trio of books about out of the way Florida. They’re the Best Backroads of Florida series by Douglas Waitley. Wherever I go in the state, I usually have the one covering the area I’m visiting. In this case, it was Volume 2 (Coasts, Glades, and Groves). He recommends avoiding US 41 for a while, and continuing up Gulf Shore Boulevard. Doug’s rarely steered me wrong, so I tried it. The upscaliness increased. All too soon it gave way to high-rises. Reminded me too much of how overdeveloped Miami Beach got. And that was over twenty years ago; to think of what it must be like now. Anyway, the roads got twisty and I wasn’t sure where I was going at this point. But I figured as long as I was heading generally north and east, I’d find Tamiami Trail.

And so I did. Fortunately, only a bit south of my next stop, the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida (above), which wasn’t open because it’s closed on Mondays. You know, I’ve never seen a museum in an office plaza, but that’s where this was. A cute 2-story one. Better than no space at all. It was still breezy, maybe more so than earlier. Not complaining at all; made it much more comfortable.

Now the next stop floored me, even though I was warned. It was the Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. I’d read it was popular, but crikeys! There was a line of cars before I even got to the entrance. I didn’t check my watch as to my exact arrival time, but I know it took me at least a half-hour to get in. On a Monday, around noon! I wondered previously at all the folks at the Naples Pier. Well, that was deserted compared to this. It seemed like everyone in the area had decided to take Monday off. At first I couldn’t figure why the cars moved so slowly. As I got closer, I realized they were only letting a car in when another one left the park. Once I was in and to the ranger station, I commented how they must support the whole state park system almost singlehandedly. They said they were one of the top 10. I think they’re five of them all by themselves.

Was it worth it? Yes and no. Got the stamp for the park in my state park passport. The main attraction was the beach. The sand was brilliant white, and the waters were the turquoise I saw at the panhandle beaches, which surprised me. But I’m not a beachy guy, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as others might. I also spent less time in the park than waiting to get in. Another thing that bugged me was that, with all the waiting, there were at least half-a-dozen empty parking spots. They could have let a few more cars in. Maybe they don’t want to fill it to capacity in case people have to get out fast?

As I was leaving, I swear I saw a lovebug. In the beginning of April? I wondered how bad they’d be come the end of May. It looks as though I worried needlessly, as I’ve seen hardly any since. Usually Memorial Day weekend is swarming season, but I haven’t seen a sign of the cursed things, thank goodness.

I was completely out of Naples not long after leaving, and with only a smidge of dificulty found Bonita Springs School (photos). And don’t think this was the last one; far from it. It was 12:30 and closed, so spring break must’ve been this week. After getting pictures, I called my cousin Lynn for my mid-morning check-in. By the time we were done, it was 1 o’clock and time for lunch.

On the way to the school I’d noticed a building that looked like an old-style ice-cream place, but remember seeing a sign indicating it was a restaurant. I thought I’d try it, and it was a food highlight of the trip. The name of the place was Taqueria San Julian (street view). Not a big place, but nice enough. They had a menu written on the wall, and one of the first things I noticed on it was tripe. I’m not a big tripe fan. I made pepper pot soup (a Pennsylvania Dutch sort of menudo) years ago and it was OK, yet I wouldn’t go out of the way to get it. The thing is, them having tripe on the menu (and tongue!) indicated to me that it wasn’t your typical fast-food generic Mexican restaurant.

I will say the one atypical thing was the service was slow, which I’ve not had happen in a Mexican restaurant. It might have been my invisibity curse acting up, or just my day to get slow service. I obtained a regular type menu, and saw they had four locations, one of them back in LaBelle. After eating at this one, I’ll remember to look for the others if I’m in the area.

What’d I get? A pork taco, which was like a mini-burrito. And speaking of burritos, I got a shrimp burrito, which I’ve never had. I’ve also never had it cut in half, which made it even easier to eat. Neither was huge, but then the prices were very inexpensive. Altogether it was around 7 bucks, which is insane for food that good.

Oh, and did I forget to mention the hot sauces? Three of them, served in a metal container like you’d find in a fancy restaurant. Here’s a more extensive description, with pictures of the salsa purveyor and some of the food. It’s about the one in Fort Myers, but equally applies to the one in Bonita Springs. I left before 2 PM, which wasn’t too horrid, time-wise.

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In LaBelle, looking north along SR 29

Finally reached the booming metropolis of LaBelle. I say that sarcastically, but it is a nice town, and bigger than I expected. It looks isolated on a map, but it’s not far from Fort Myers, and is the county seat of Hendry County. Crossing the Caloosahatchee River bridge (above), I was right at the beginning of the local historic district (photos and street view). I parked and started walking. There was some sort of church party going on at the park there, then realized, of course, ‘cause it’s Easter. Another small district, only a block long (I like those). Just beyond it was the Forrey Building (photos), which looked rather modern and not NRHP at all. There was a restaurant in it and I was hoping I could eat there (theme 3, if anyone’s counting, or is it 2), but it was closed.

Back in the car and heading south for my next stop, the Old Hendry County Courthouse (photos). Can I just say I think it’s neat? The tower on one side is so odd, and makes it different from any of the other courthouses I’ve seen. I got shots of it and the local history museum a couple of blocks away. Stopped at Wendy’s for lunch, since I needed something and the Forrey place was closed. Next went to city hall that was about a mile away. Very impressive, very solid. Then it was to the Capt. Francis A. Hendry House. Captain Hendry was the person after whom the county was named, big surprise. I could tell the house had been reno’ed, and a very expert job was done. It looked spiffy. That finished LaBelle.

Or so I thought. After I left and was a good many miles away, I was checking my lists, and realized I’d missed one NRHP site, the Caldwell Home Place. Oh, I was peeved to no end. The thought of having to make a special trip back to LaBelle, which really isn’t on the way to anywhere I still need to go. I’ll just have to make it be on the way for some trip. Maybe to Fort Myers, as there’s a few spots I didn’t get to on this trip. Of which, more later.

Speaking of Fort Myers, the next leg was a jog almost to there. I was planning to go through it via Naples, but there were some spots on the eastern outskirts that weren’t too far from LaBelle, so I thought I’d hit them up. First was Fort Denaud (photos), not much more than a traffic sign on SR 78. I crossed a bridge over a small canal, then stopped at the local cemetery. Because I have a thing for cemeteries. The historicity of them, doncha know. Didn’t get out, just drove by and snapped a couple.

Panorama view of the Alva Consolidated Schools

Continuing west, I began the next phase of the schools theme. Three in a row. The Alva Consolidated Schools, Olga School and Buckingham School. The last two are now community centers, but it’s nice to see them all still being used, in whatever capacity.

Construction on SR 82

When I got to SR 82, I took a wrong turn. I wondered why I was seeing multi-story buildings, then realized I was headed towards Fort Myers. Not yet! I U-turned and headed east, where I meant to go. And oh goody, construction for miles and miles (above). Just before I got to SR 29 again, I saw Hotel 82. Looks well-kept, but how it stays in business when it seems so isolated, who knows?

Not long after I got to Immokalee. The Roberts Ranch (part of a museum) was the only thing I needed, and of course it was closed. Yeah, Easter Sunday. Found out it’s open by appointment only anyway. Got what I could from outside the fence. I could try coming back in future, but I won’t cry if that doesn’t happen.

SR 29, a few miles south of Immokalee

Now was a good stretch of driving. SR 29 is very straight around here. More lush vegetation around, which ain’t a surprise, since I was getting near the Everglades. Then I entered the Florida Panther NWR, and suddenly there were tall fences on both sides of the road. There looked to be culverts here and there too, so panthers could pass under the road. And for the first time in all my travels, I saw signs that had day and night speed limits listed. To reduce the risk of hitting stray panthers, one supposes.

Eventually I got past the NWR. I wanted to see Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, but too much else to do, so more skipped. Reached I-75, which SR 29 goes over. I like the look of the area, see if you agree (street view). After another 10 or 20 miles I got to US 41. Or as this stretch is better known, the Tamiami Trail. Since it connects Tampa and Miami, doncha know.

Everglades Community Church

I’d return to it later, but continued south into Everglades City, which was only 4 miles further. Now this is a place I could see myself revisiting. I don’t know why I like it, but I do. Maybe the small townyness, but not too small. I was a little confused getting around at first, but sorted that out. Found the traffic circle where the old community church was, and the old county courthouse (photos) almost across from it.

Quick history. Everglades City was the original county seat for Collier County. Then in the 1960s the seat moved to Naples, most likely because it was larger and not as remote. The original courthouse building still stands though, and now is the city hall (street view). Apparently it got seriously damaged during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, but it was restored, thank goodness.

All the stuff I needed photographs of were on or near the circle. Besides the two previously mentioned were the Bank of Everglades Building (for sale), the old depot (now a restaurant), Everglades Laundry (a local history museum) and the Rod and Gun Club, one of the oldest such clubs in the state.

Another 4 miles south was Chokoloskee, on Chokoloskee Island. A veritable mountain in the area, about 20 feet above sea level. Mostly because it’s a giant shell midden. Some mild confusion again, but found the Ted Smallwood Store (photos). Would have been nice to get there earlier, ‘cause the light wasn’t as good as I would’ve liked. But hey, if I ever get back to Everglades City, Chokoloskee’s only a shell’s throw away. The store is another one of those buildings I’m amazed is still standing. That it’s up on high pilings helps, I’d think.

Tamiami Trail, looking west at the SR 29 intersection

Back the way I came, and I’m at the Tamiami Trail in no time. Well, some time. But not much time. Another skip, Monroe Station. It’s too late, and too far east. So it’s west on the Trail, to Naples.

I can only imagine what it was like driving between Miami and Naples back in the day. I think Mom and Dad made the trip a few times, though maybe it was on Alligator Alley. Even now, there’s not much of anything, except swamp. And I don’t think the road was in as good condition years ago. Many would consider the area desolate, even though there’s a whole complex ecosystem working all around. There’s a simplicity of purpose to places like this. Maybe it’s the lack of human presence that I find so serene. You can forget about all the complexities of modern life. I think it’s one of the big things that attracts me to the backroads.

I reached the Collier-Seminole State Park (photos), which was still open, but not for long, since sunset was soon. The pictures I got weren’t great, but they’ll do. The Bay City Walking Dredge No. 489 impressed me a lot.

After leaving the park, it was less than 10 miles before I reached the outskirts of Naples. The backroads part of the trip was over. It’d be big city roads after this.

It was about 7, so well time to find somewhere to crash. I wasn’t going to, but I decided to try the Bayfront Inn, pricey place though it looked to be. My luck was good, though, since I got a 3rd floor room for about $100, about $30 less than normal. Probably because it was a Sunday night, and what with the economy and all.

The hotel was part of a mall type of complex, so I walked around after checking in and found an Italian restaurant, Portobello Cafe. Which was ironic, since the only portobello dish on the menu was an appetizer. They had the doors open, which was a thrill, since it was definitely toasty and muggy. I toughed it out, and it was so worth it. I got chicken veggie soup and garlic bread to start, and spaghetti and meatballs. Sometimes simple is best, and that was the case here, ‘cause it was all good to very good. The one curious note was that the staff all seemed to be Hispanic, nobody Italian there at all. But hey, considering the results, maybe there should be more like that.

Back at the hotel I watched Iron Chef America. It was Morimoto and the secret ingredient was leeks. Mister Iron Chef won, as expected. Mom would’ve like this one, she had grown rather fond of leeks.

I had been tired on and off since 2 pm, so a good night’s sleep would do me world of good. Yet I stayed up later than planned doing map and itinerary sorting. Still, went to be bed about 12:30, which wasn’t that awful.

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