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Florida - December 08-20, 2003

We did our usual Christmas time trip to Florida a little early in 2003. We were going to drive, but Ernie had a bad feeling that the weather was not going to cooperate this year so we booked flights. As it turned out, the east coast from Maine through North Carolina experienced winter storms the weekend we were suppose to leave. Our flight out was booked for Saturday December 6, but the airport was closed due to weather. We finally got a flight out on Monday December 8.

This was apparently our turn to have travel problems. Upon arriving in Florida around 8:30 PM, we got our baggage and went to the car rental desk. Ernie got in line and Dale waited with the baggage.

There were 3 people in line all traveling together. They each got their own car and each had to go through every car that was available before choosing one. The salesman also insisted on going through his whole spiel even if you told him it was not necessary.

When Ernie finally got to the desk the salesman tried to get him to rent a Cadillac instead of the economy car he had reserved. When Ernie pointed out that it would cost twice as much he was told that he was only looking at the bottom line and not thinking about how much more he was getting. The additional we were to get was that people would be impressed seeing him driving a Cadillac. When Ernie informed him that, he did not want to make a negative impression when people saw him driving a mechanically inferior car that he paid a lot more money to rent, the salesman finally gave up.

He insisted on giving us an free upgrade and said he had a Ventura. Ernie being really frustrated by now said fine and finally got the contract and keys. When we got to the garage we discovered that a Ventura is an 8-passenger van. We were getting ready to put the luggage in when Ernie decided 2 people did not need a ridiculously large vehicle just to go around visiting people.

We were gone 10-15 minutes and when we returned to the counter, the salesman was still dealing with the person who had been the next in line behind Ernie. Ernie got in line behind a couple of other people, when the salesman saw him he called him up to the desk wanting to know what was wrong. Ernie told him he did not want a van and the salesman said he had told him it was one. Ernie told him that the salesman had said it was a Ventura and that he had no reason to believe Ernie would know that a Ventura is a van. He tried to convince Ernie to take a free upgrade to a convertible, Ernie asked why he could not just have the economy car he had reserved the salesman finally admitted that they did not have any ready. Ernie decided to take the convertible.

While this was all going on the salesman was still processing the other customer's contract. He turned to get something off a printer and the other customer said to Ernie that he had given up and just decided to take a van. The Salesman must have heard his comment and said, "Do you want a convertible too?" So he also got a convertible. As he left the desk he said "Good Luck!" to Ernie.

It was after 11:00 when we finally had a car and left the garage.

Most of our time in Florida was spent visiting with friends & relatives.

We did not visit any of the major tourist attractions on this visit. We did go to a few municipal & non-profit organization run places.

We heard about a country dance place in the Port Richey/New Port Richey area. We did not find the dance place, but one afternoon while we were cruising around looking we found the Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park. This is a park with a nice nature trail. Even though it was only about ¼ mile in one direction to Route 19 and ¼ mile in another direction to one of the busiest malls in the area, we found a spot where we were under an umbrella of palms where the only sounds were those made by birds.

While looking through the AAA Florida Tourbook, Dale read about the Moccasin Lake Nature Park in Clearwater. We tried to find it one day without success. We had a map that showed it on the west side of Route 19, we found another map that showed it on the east side. We went to find it and this time we were successful. They had some injured birds in cages and a really nice nature trail outside. We saw an alligator that was sunning itself on a dam, some large turtles, and a good sized water snake. It showered every once in a while, but the tree branches kept us mostly dry. Inside they had some interesting hands-on displays. Moccasin Lake Nature Park website.

We apparently did not have the camera with us when we went to Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park nor to Moccasin Lake Nature Park, as we can not find any pictures.

Dale also read about two places in Largo, Florida Botanical Garden and Heritage Village. They are actually part of one large complex of parks and museums. We went to Florida Botanical Garden in the morning and Heritage Village in the afternoon.

Florida Botanical Garden consists of several beautiful gardens and trails along a river that runs through the property. We spent a few hours visiting the gardens and following the trails seeing many beautiful flowers and plants and several types of birds and some turtles.

One of the gardens Birds along one of the trails

Heritage Village is an open-air historical village and museum. There are 28 structures, some dating back to the mid- to late- 19th century. There is also the Pinellas County Historical Museum. We had a very enjoyable afternoon visiting the many buildings and the museum. The pictures below were taken in one of the houses. Heritage Village website.

Kitchen Living Room Family Room

One afternoon we went to Mel's Diner in Port Richey for lunch. Mel's is a 50's style diner. They had a 1957 Thunderbird and a 2004 Thunderbird parked outside the diner.

'57 Thunderbird. 2004 Thunderbird.

The night before we left to come home we took some family members out for supper at Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse. It was difficult to find something really healthy to eat, but we did OK and everyone had an enjoyable meal.

We had an early evening flight back on Saturday, December 20. We had absolutely no problems traveling home.

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