Every now and then the stars align and a suggestion mooted becomes an actuality. The initial idea, prompted by a birthday card showing three women of the slightly older variety in a convertible on a road trip, was my husband’s idea. One of our party needed something to look forward to following an illness.
Well we’re not in a convertible – one of our group not being keen and, truth be told, neither am I. It’s not that I’m fussy about my hair, but wind and sunburn take on a whole new meaning when you’re wheeling along the highways and byways of the southern states. Oh, and we haven’t done any flashing.
Two of our group flew from St Croix, USVI to Orlando, Florida, and before you throw your hands in the air and think – in common day parlance – OMG these biddies are going to Disney, we weren’t. Instead we met up with the third member of our triumvirate to spend a happy few days seeing Winter Park.
Now I’m not really a suburban kind of gal, but it was pretty, though maybe a little too manicured for my more Bohemian side, however the museums and galleries were a delightful surprise. But before we could admire the culture we needed sustenance which came in the form of a three-tier slab of carrot cake.
If glass is your thing, hotfoot it to the Morse Museum of American Art. It houses the largest collection of work by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the world – pieces that bedazzle the mere mortal with intricate designs that seem to glow from within. Dedicated to the Chicago industrialist Charles Hosmer Morse, the museum was founded in 1942 by his granddaughter, Jeannette Genius McKean. Keeping it in the family, though they weren’t married until 1945, Jeannette installed Hugh McKean as the first director. But it wasn’t nepotism alone that got him the gig. McKean was a talented artist who, in 1930, had been selected by the Tiffany Foundation to work, along with other artists, at Laurelton Hall on Long Island – the home of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Their work was ‘gently critiqued’ by Tiffany himself, who often joined the artists for evenings of organ music in the great Fountain Court.
It was not surprising then that when McKean learned that Laurelton Hall had been destroyed by fire, he and his wife made a concerted effort to purchase anything that could be salvaged. One such element was part of the 1893 Byzantine-Romanesque style chapel designed by Tiffany for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Other bits of the chapel that had been sold off over the years were found and now form an exquisite space that gleams with an incandescent glow as one looks in awe at the thousands of glass tiles, the mosaic windows and baptismal font – truly a space as Tiffany said, “in which to worship art.”
Winter Park overlooks Lake Osceola which we felt duty-bound to sail around. The homes of local worthies from days gone by were pointed out – their foibles as well as their good deeds. One chap was having difficulty in plucking his wife from her New York roots and so built an exact replica of their home up north in order to tempt her to the Sunshine State. Personally, crocs clambering up my gently sloping lawn would put me off.
However, meandering around the grounds of the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens made me forget to never smile at a crocodile. The gardens were filled with statues of men and maidens, some disrobed. Many allegorical, some magical in the fluidity of the marble that seemed to almost breath in the soft breeze shimmering off the lake to tease the leaves of the full-bodied magnolias, the trembling asters, or the drooping and aptly named Angel’s Trumpets.
Winter Park was fun but we needed to head west and so, abandoning Laurie’s rather lovely baby blue Mercedes coupe named Lady, we picked up a sturdy black mammoth we instantly named Bruiser. First stop the Gulf Coast south of Tallahassee where we shared space with a group of Harley-Davidson riders from Germany in a hotel very close to the wonderfully named Sopchoppy.
Now you may not know this, but Sopchoppy came into existence in 1894 after a railroad was built to encourage people to settle in the area with the promise of fertile land and a pleasant climate. The railroad company was referred to colloquially as the Gopher, Frog and Alligator Company – perhaps a clue as to why the town is only home to approximately 457 bodies. I could go on about how the township got its name but really I’m sure you’d much rather know about the annual Worm Grunting Festival. I have led a sheltered life and had not come across such an activity before but understand it to be quite an art. Worm charmers – yes, there is such a thing – hammer wooden stakes into the ground, then rub them with metal slabs. The resulting vibration tease the worms up through the soil where they are gathered and sold for bait, with the grunter gathering the most worms, I’m sure, being bestowed the title of Champion Worm Grunter.
But the miles were calling and we couldn’t linger long in our next stop, Apalachicola – say that very quickly after a couple of Margaritas. It is a pretty town on Apalachicola Bay in which the original French Consulate is now an inn, and where a charming independent book store offered literary temptations. After succumbing to temptations of another variety, where decisions had to be made as to whether a hand-made milk-chocolate covered pecan would be better than dark-chocolate covered fudge, a conundrum decided by purchasing both, and a few others, we hustled across I10 and through the by-roads of Alabama to Montgomery where….