January 22, 2014

Florida Time with the Snowbirds

"Stuff your eyes with wonder.  Live as if you'd drop dead in 10 seconds.  See the world.  It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories."  Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Carol writes:  We have spent the last four weeks in Jacksonville, Florida, soaking up some of life’s simple pleasures.  In retrospect, we realize that our gypsy life this past year on the road in Western Europe was a very primitive  one, with all the necessities of life, but on a very basic level; however, throughout our 8 months in Europe, we never felt deprived in any way.  After all, we were fed, we had access to campground bathrooms/showers much of the time, and we had shelter and a bed to sleep in.  Our simplified lives really required nothing else, and we always looked forward to the next day’s great adventure. If we had fixated on the things we missed, the joy would have been sucked right out of our grand European camping experiment.  Much of this blog has concentrated on our appreciation of what we learned about European life, history, art and culture as we progressed in our travels.  Once we were back on American shores and began a gradual assimilation back into daily American life, we realized that we had also acquired a unique, even deeper appreciation of many aspects of our wonderful American way life, culture, and freedom here in the ‘New World.’

We have spent the entire past four weeks hopscotching from one facility to another here at Naval Station Mayport—from pampering at the Navy Gateway Inn with its incredible ocean-view rooms right on the beach,

 
to the Navy Lodge for New Years, then to a cozy campground cabin for a 2-week stay at the Naval Station’s Osprey Cove RV site.

It was nice for a change to have a separate bedroom, full-size kitchen, living room, and rocking chairs on our covered porch.

It has been a typical Florida winter so far—near freezing temperatures for several days followed by a string of balmy sunny days.  We took advantage of one of those priceless warm Florida winter days and made a day trip to St. Augustine to visit its historic fort…

 
and to have some good Mexican food, our favorite cuisine, and one of the staples of the American restaurant scene that is almost nonexistent in Europe.

We had Christmas dinner in the troop chow hall, along with many other military families.  Somehow the true meaning of Christmas seemed easier to appreciate with our no-frills holiday season.  As the days of the new year slowly ticked by, we followed the progress of the Hoegh Singapore autoliner as it made several port calls in the Caribbean.  After 32 long days at sea, we were relieved to see that the Hoegh Singapore had finally docked in the early morning hours of January 13th.  We were reunited with our RV the following day at the Port of Jacksonville.  Our emotions were flooded with a huge sense of relief when we saw that everything was in excellent condition!  Only two hiking hats, a safety vest, and a well-used screw driver and needle-nose pliers had acquired ‘walking legs’ out of our RV at sea. 

Our final ‘home’ at Naval Station Mayport has been at the Pelican’s Roost Campground, which is located along the shore of the Port of Jacksonville shipping channel. 

 
It has been fascinating to watch all the ship traffic float by our “front porch”—numerous Navy ships,

 
 (USS New York, which has steel from the World Trade  Center incorporated into its structure)

civilian container vessels, and constant barge and tug traffic.  As this Danish Navy sailboat passed down the shipping channel one morning on its way out to sea and back home across the Atlantic, fellow RVers scurried out of their campers with cameras in hand. 

I have come to appreciate the custom of playing the national anthem at the start of the day at all US military bases that we have visited.  The presence of the Danish Navy explains why two national anthems were broadcast over the loud speaker.

A sizable number of RVers from both from the US and Canada have created a large subculture of retirees who winter in Florida in order to escape the cold and snowy months where they live—the so-called “snowbirds.”  We have met several fellow campers here at Pelican Roost who come to Naval Station Mayport during the winter months every year.  RVers are a very sociable group and it is never hard to join in on a conversation.  One evening we finished supper early in the RV and decided to go up to the clubhouse and check out the ice cream social.   Along with another couple, ice cream sundaes in hand, we headed to the only vacant table in a very crowded room.  As we sat down we exchanged a few words of pleasantries and it soon became apparent that they were also from Cincinnati, where I was born and grew up in the small community of Mt. Healthy.  When I mentioned Mt. Healthy and told them my maiden name, they both looked stunned!  It turns out they still live in Mt. Healthy.  Both of them attended Mt. Healthy High School and were in the class just two years ahead of me!  We had numerous acquaintances in common, even a distant intermarriage between our two families.  We had quite the enjoyable ice cream social and plan to keep in touch via email.  Quite the cosmic coincidence!

Today we are starting the slow crawl west back to our home in Colorado.  Meanwhile, we plan to linger with friends and family along the way...

"I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine."  Caskie Stinnett