When we moved to Racine, this harbor wasn’t there. Well, at least the harbor wasn’t there looking like this – no boat docks, no buildings, no walkways, no parking lot, no trees, no restaurants … just water … and more water.
But then the city decided they wanted a harbor so they took rock out of the quarry “up Douglas Avenue” and filled in the lake until there was enough rock in the water to build on top of it.
We lived near the quarry and early every morning we would hear the beep-beep of the construction machinery as they backed up and maneuvered their machines. We’d see trucks with huge tonnage of rocks heading downtown.
And after months of this, Racine had a harbor with a restaurant, a jogging path, walkways, trees, parking lot, boat slips/docks, fish-cleaning station and so much more.
Interesting to think about what it was and what it is.
So, I saw that a friend was visiting the Home Office with her husband except that her husband was in meetings all day while she was feeling sort of stuffed up with a cold. And we were chatting and catching up on everyone’s life and somehow the subject of Wisconsin came up. She said, “I was born in Wisconsin and we often came back to visit, but it’s been awhile since I was there.”
“Someday we’ll have to take a road trip,” I said, kiddingly.
And she said, “That sounds like so much fun.”
Quickly, I thought through my schedule. I had been fairly focused this week and had gotten a lot done and I could double up on some other things and …
“Like tomorrow?” I asked. “I could get you to Wisconsin tomorrow.”
And that was that. Because of course, I know how to get to Wisconsin and I know where to go when I get there.
Off we went. Because it was rush hour, we made our way to the highway through the Northern Illinois horse farms – 25 mile speed limit, but beautiful, beautiful country … and horses.
When we reached Racine, I headed right to the lighthouse. We didn’t have a lot of time and I wanted to make the best of it. When I left the house in the morning, I felt drops of rain – but now the sky was brilliant blue and the sun was glistening on the water.
Taking pictures of the lighthouse is always fun, but I’m guessing I have about 100 of them already with an assortment of family and friends standing in front of it, (We used to live close enough to bike to it.) but I can never resist taking more.
But oh, what a beautiful day and what fun to take pictures.
Ok, I never heard Tampa called the Sunshine City, but the sunshine was certainly sunshining down that afternoon. So we headed for the boats and a leisurely journey around Hillsborough Bay.
The boat “host” was friendly and welcomed us all – however there weren’t a lot of people to welcome. Mostly us and a boy and his mom. We were on the boat because we liked boat rides and because taking a boat ride seemed to be a great way to see Tampa and a great way to spend a hot afternoon.
The boy was on the boat for one reason … to see Derick Jeter’s house. In fact, as soon as we pushed out from the dock he asked, “Will we see Derick Jeter’s house?” The friendly boat guy said that we would.
Being that the boy was at that age where talking is a great hobby, he started asking questions. “What did the house look like? How big was it? Was the friendly boat guy sure we would see it?” And being that the boat guy also liked to talk and we were content to just look at our surroundings, he concentrated on talking to the young boy …. mostly about Derek Jeter.
Obviously, this was the highlight.
Downtown Tampa is a group of big, shiny buildings reflecting off the shiny water … and downtown Tampa is hot. (Oh, wait, I think I said that.) The boat ride was enjoyable … though the scenery was mostly wealthy people’s houses.
“Is that Derick Jeter’s house?”
“No,” said the friendly boat guy. “You will know when you see it. Men like it. Women don’t.”
“Why don’t women like it?” the boy asked.
“Too … ,” said the boat guy. “I don’t know, they just don’t. Would you like to be captain of the boat for awhile?”
“Me?” said the kid.
“Yes, you,” said the friendly boat guy. So boy took his place behind the wheel and off he went on his own hunt for all things Jeter.
The boat guy pointed out houses of famous, wealthy people that Tampa people would know (but I didn’t.) And then our boat went around Davis Island.
“There,” said the boat guy. “There’s the house.”
“Whoa,” said the boy. “That’s big.”
No one could argue with that.
We were at the end of our ride and headed back through the channel to the Tampa Convention Center where the hunt for Derek Jeter’s house had all begun. And for a couple hours … we had been cool or at least cooler. Fun ride.
… Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps; And your cider-makin’s over .. When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!
Yes, the Columbia is the oldest restaurant in Florida.
Yes, the Columbia is the largest Spanish restaurant in the world.
… and yes, everyone in Florida and the world seemed to be eating at the Columbia that Sunday. Seriously, I have eaten in hundreds (probably thousands) of restaurants and I have never, EVER seen a longer wait line. Not even at Grand Luxe, a place where you can actually do most of your Christmas shopping between giving the hostess your name and actually getting seated. The line outside of the Columbia, stretched down the entire blog and someone said she had already been waiting an hour …
So, sadly, we left. We headed over to the history museum (where our new friend Henry was docent) and ate at the Columbia “branch” cafe. The food was the same, but the room was open, airy and contemporary and for some reason I took no pictures. So much for old world Tampa ambiance.
The Columbia signature dish is their 1905 salad, named for the year the restaurant first opened.
The 1905 (according to the website) as the following ingredients.
4 cups iceberg lettuce, broken into 1 ½” × 1 ½” pieces
1 ripe tomato, cut into eighths
½ cup baked ham, julienned 2″ × ⅛” (may substitute turkey or shrimp)
½ cup Swiss cheese, julienne 2″ × ⅛”
½ cup pimiento-stuffed green Spanish olives
“1905” Dressing (see recipe below)
¼ cup Romano cheese, grated
2 tablespoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce®
With the following dressing:
½ cup extra-virgin Spanish olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
⅛ cup white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
We were also on a hunt for the best piece of key lime pie, ever. The Columbia’s was good, but a little thicker than we liked, but the best was yet to come. (By the way, true key lime pie is yellow, not green.)
The cafe was delightfully air-conditioned with some delightful iced tea because that Florida sunshine was still weighing down on us.
Sunday morning … and the air in Florida was heavy with sunlight. A casual walk across the hotel parking lot left me feeling “stuffy” as if I needed to kick off my sandals and find a sprinkler somewhere to lower my temperature and the time was only 8:15. I liked Tampa, but Tampa was hot!
Susan (my Tampa friend) picked me up and we drove through the quiet Sunday morning streets, She pointed out the abandoned cigar factories, brick fortresses against the blue sky. She told me we would eat at the Columbia for lunch, the oldest restaurant in Florida and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world.
But first she had something to show me. Something, knowing my love of history, she thought I’d like – the Hyde Park neighborhood of Tampa. Back in 1882, after Mr. Plant (of Plant City fame – home of the strawberry shortcake) built a bridge across the Hillborough River, another man built a house. With the bridge in place, more and more people saw the beauty of the land and within 20-30 years, the neighborhood was in place … houses with nooks, crannies, and turrets. Houses not very expensive back then, but houses which have steadily increased in value. Wide, open porches adorned with swings and rocking chairs added to the charm. A pastel paint pallet was used to create a colorful landscape.
As we drove down the streets, I could only describe my surroundings as”dripping” with tropical plants and trees. Spanish moss hung from the branches as if storybook witches needed a place to hang their hair. Occasionally, a sports flag, incongruently hung from a pillar. (So many transplanted people, keeping their team loyalties firmly in the North.)
“How much are these houses worth?” I asked.
“A million or more, I’m sure,” Susan said as she pulled along the curb to check real estate prices on her phone.
And here is where the real fun started.
I got out of the car and took a picture down the street, marveling at the variety of green foliage lining the sidewalk.
Then I noticed a lizard and even though I have lots of pictures of lizards, I took another one, stooping low on the sidewalk. I got back in the car and Susan was about to pull away, when someone knocked on the window.
We had the windows up and looked skeptically at the lady standing there, but she looked harmless, so I hit the window button.
“Were you wondering about that plant?” she asked.
“No, I was taking a picture of the lizard.”
“Oh, well, it’s called a coontie. Here let me show you the red berries. You don’t see them unless you look.” I looked at Susan who looked back at me. I got out of the car. Susan turned the car off and followed me.
And so began a conversation with our own personal Hyde Park tour guide, Joanne. Not only did she tell us about the plants in her front yard, but also about all the houses (worth a million plus) on the street. We learned which ones were original, which ones had been tampered with (and are no longer considered part of the historic register), and which ones had owners who had lived there for 40 years or more (like she had).
After a very thorough tour, she asked if we wanted to see the backyard and we dutifully followed her. She showed us her lemon tree and where the house got in the way of a tree and the two banana trees she rescued when they were digging up land for the Wal-Mart parking lot. By this time we had been there for at least a half hour and then she wanted to know if we wanted to see the inside … and since we now saw her as our new friend, we said we did.
There we met Henry, her husband who was a retired professor (as she was) and is now the docent at the history museum. We learned about all they had to do to make sure their home stays on the historic register – type of wood in the floors, the fireplace, etc. She then took us upstairs and out on their very Floridian balcony.
Truly we could not have had a more informative tour if we had paid for it.
An hour later we left the house of strangers with smiles on our faces knowing we would never forget the Sunday morning in Hyde Park.
(By the way, although the interior of the house was charming … and historic … I did not take any pictures out of respect for our “spontaneous” hosts.)
The next day was the conference … at a very friendly church with friendly people. The workshops went well as the leaders were fun and responsive. They were also thoughtful and added some great comments.
Afterwards we went to Lee Selmon’s for supper. Lee Selmon was a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and then became athletic director at the University of South Florida (and developed his restaurant business). He died of a stroke at age 56 (2011) and his funeral was held in a church that has an Awana club (just some added trivia).
So after getting back from Oxford, I headed down south again – this time to Tampa. I flew to Florida and was suddenly in the land of palm trees and overgrown houseplants – the little, tiny plants we grow in our houses are huge trees in the yards of Floridians.
And there was Raymond James stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and further down the road George Steinbrenner Field – spring training home of the Yankees.
I’ve been through Tampa before, but haven’t spent time there. I’ll admit, I was impressed. My hostess, Susan, was a great tour guide. I was hungry, so we headed to the best Cuban restaurant in West Tampa – an area with a lot of Cuban influence. Being that I’ve been to Cuba, and have truly eaten some indigenous Cuban food, eating at a Cuban sandwich shop sounded fun.
“The Cuban” is a sandwich made of mustard, ham, cheese, pork, thinly-sliced dill pickles and sometimes salami. No one is sure where it came from, but the most accepted story is that it’s the sandwich Cubans ate while working in the sugar-cane fields and cigar factories. When the cigar industry moved to Tampa, the sandwich came with it. Now it is considered the “signature sandwich” of Tampa.
The restaurant doesn’t look like somewhere you’d gravitate to if you didn’t know it was there, but a lot of people DO know it’s there. The parking lot was full and inside most of the tables were also full.
What makes the Cuban sandwich different from a regular ham and cheese sandwich, is the “pressing.” After the sandwich is assembled between two slices of Cuban bread, the whole thing is pressed on a plancha grill … sort of like a panini, but without the grill marks. All in all a fun experience.
Oxford, Mississippi has to be one of the coolest towns I’ve ever gone to for a conference. Wait a minute – make that “hottest” towns – because Oxford was VERY hot, like I’m-not-sure-how-much-longer-I-can-breathe-the-air hot. But at the same time it was cool as in a beautiful, quaint town.
Ole’ Miss is located in Oxford – in fact, they named the town Oxford after the English University hoping that would encourage the Mississippi where-should-our-university-be planners to choose THEIR town. The name worked and the entire town is very much Ole’ Miss crazy.
Downtown is centered around the courthouse square. The square is lined with shops and restaurants in historic buildings. Many of the shops had ice water and cups out front to quench the thirst of the people walking by.
The church was a block or so off the square and in itself, quite historic!
I’ve already said Faulkner lived in Oxford. John Grisham and Eli Manning also have homes there as do a lot of other authors, artists, etc.
We had just gotten out of our car when a lady walked up to us and asked if we were looking for a parking place. We told her we were looking for a place to get iced tea … and she proceeded to walk with us and give us a partial tour of the town and tell us her life story … which we thought was kind of funny. (Her story wasn’t funny, just that she attached herself to us – that was funny.) But considering what happened a few weeks later (another blog post) this lady’s friendliness was just a blip on the screen of life.
Oxford has been voted one of the best 100 towns in America by USA today and I would agree with that – not that I’ve been in every town, but this was full of history, of quaintness, of charm … and with all the university students – had an upbeat vibe.
And besides all that – Michael Scarbrough was born there.
I have Faulker’s TheSound and the Fury, a novel of an aristocratic family living in Mississippi and the challenges they faced over the years. I did not like it. And because I didn’t like it, I don’t think I’ve read any of his other books. However, I do know who he is and I know that a lot of his books are written about the area around Oxford, Mississippi – which is where we were. His house is almost as well-known as he is .. and so we went to Rowan Oak.
Funny, when we got there, a lot of construction was happening and I think we walked around it twice before we figured out that there was actually a door that we could go through.
The Faulkners bought the house in 1930 – William thought of it as his haven, a place where he could get away, be private and write. He researched the history of the area and wrote about it. He lived at Rowan Oak until his death in 1962.