St. Leo’s Benedictine Abbey

 

San Antonio, Florida, in Pasco County, has many photo opportunities:  The San Antonio Pottery,  lovely places to hike, and the St. Leo Benedictine Abbey,  justify a trip to this tiny town north of Tampa.  Often in passing through town to do the other two, I had seen a sign on the campus of St. Leo’s University for the Abbey.  Last week after a quick visit to SaintLeoAbbey.org, I set out with my trusty Olympus OM-D, EM5, to take some photos.

On arrival, sandhill cranes congregated in the parking lot and made me feel welcome as did the welcome center.

Gathering in Greeting in the St. Leo’s Benedictine Abbey Parking Lot

I’ve always wondered about San Antonio as It seems fairly isolated. The 1880s, though, things were hopping.  The South Florida Railroad passed through nearby Dade City and the Orange Belt Railroad stopped in San Antonio on its way to St. Petersburg.

In 1889, Benedictine monks established a monastery and Catholic high school and founded the town of St. Leo (later incorporated into San Antonio). The monastery became an Abbey in 1902. The Benedictines constructed the first concrete block building in Pasco County, St. Leo Hall, begun in 1906, completed in 1911 and still standing.

St. Leo’s Hall

The construction of the Abbey church began in 1931 and the church was finally consecrated in 1948.  The  Abbey website has more detail on the history and construction. I love the part of the story where the monks barter oranges for church furniture and building material with another group of monks in Indiana. Great stuff!

The lovely abbey, typical of many important pre second world war buildings, is in the Florida Mediterranean style. I have more description of this architectural style in a couple of my posts: Wakulla Springs and Bay Pines VA.

 

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The intensely hot, bright July day proved attractive to multiple butterfly species.  It gave my telephoto lens quite the workout.

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I hope to go back on a day where I can photograph the lovely stained glass windows (the light was just too much) and the grotto on the grounds. Stay tuned for Part 2!

 

 

Two “New” Small Chicago Musems

Well a museum that has already been open for nine years isn’t exactly a new museum, but for a native anything that I didn’t visit on a YMCA field trip as a child, I classify as new.  I left Chicago for other parts during the 1980’s but have visited pretty much every year since.  Of course, visits with children tend to usually include lots of family events and visits to those tried and true museums I visited as a child.  But life moves on and since the kids are grown, we decided that the time has come for new explorations.

Unlike the lucky folks who live north, when we South Siders visit the central city it always requires planning.  Driving has never been an option. Even less so now that every Chicago parking spot requires an investment. Traveling downtown by public transportation usually means caging a ride from a willing family member or a long, tedious bus ride.

Riding the El in Chicago
Riding the El in Chicago

On this last visit when the weather was looking good, we caught a ride to the Orange Line and set out for the north loop. The Driehaus museum and the  recently opened American Writers Museum  are less than a mile apart and  we thought would be a great way to spend a day in the city.

We started at the Writers museum.  The lobby is lovely (despite snide comments in many reviews), with nifty elevator doors and a great looking guard desk. Ordinary, perhaps, when built, but now unique.

Museum Lobby

The American Writers Museum requires a slow ambling view, or you may miss the point here.

As with many small museums, one needs to look up, down and all around to truly appreciate the setting, as designers must work within a small space.  The museum entry has a ceiling covered in books and all walls display important info.

Museum Entrance
Look up at the Entry Canopy

The main hallway has authors in a chronologically ordered timeline.  Walk too quickly and you will miss moving the informational blocks to study different aspects of the writers. Clearly many of the authors will be known. I found it to be great, that I had somehow missed knowing about a few of these authors.  Flip the blocks and find out more or take a photo for future research. Each author has an in-depth discussion of why they were significant. I just started reading a book by Francis Parkman, one of America’s first travel writers.

Check out the word waterfall!  This, on the surface, looks to be simple phrases lighting up. A look through the camera lens reveals a 3D multimedia sculpture.

Book Scroll
Jack Kerouac’s Scroll of On the Road

A special exhibition of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road included the original scroll. I’m a fan, but I did not realize that one of my favorite books was written in this fashion.  Very cool!

After a lunch at Protein and Kitchen Bar, a favorite, we set out for our next museum

A pleasant walk across the now sparking Chicago River (a shock to those of us with long memories) lies the Driehaus Museum.  This museum, housed in the former Gilded Age home of banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson had spent most of the twentieth century as headquarters for the American College of Surgeons. Philanthropist Richard H. Driehaus purchased the building in 2003. After a five years restoration,  the building now appears as it did in the 1800s.

Dramatic Entrance to the Driehaus Museum

The building houses surviving furnishings paired with elegant, historically appropriate pieces from the Driehaus Foundation  Collection of Fine and Decorative Arts. The first floor houses the collection and the second floor a rotating gallery.

Poster
Posters at a Special Exhibition

On this visit the gallery exhibition, an Art-Deco poster collection, featured five different artists.  The guides in the museum were incredibly helpful, offering many additional insights.

They have an amazing collection at the museum as the tradition of the time amongst the wealthy was to employ as many different crafts people to decorate and buy as many things as they could afford in order to impress their peers.  These buildings would have been completely packed with paintings and other artwork.

We certainly enjoyed our visit to these two “new” museums and look forward to finding more of these small gems.

I took these photos with an Olympus Tough as I was traveling light this trip.

Tiffany Lamp
The museum Houses an Impressive Tiffany Collection

Rainbow Springs State Park: An Antidote to the Florida Heat

Rainbow River

According to the Website floridasprings.org, “Rainbow Springs is Florida’s fourth largest spring and is designated a National Natural Landmark…The spring pool is about 250 feet wide and shallow, with especially clear blue water flowing over the beds of green aquatic plants and brilliant white limestone and sand…Seven vents contribute to the first-magnitude group near the spring bowl and are augmented by five more springs and hundreds of sand “boils” to create the Rainbow River. The river runs about 5.6 miles before joining the Withlacoochee River.

During the early twentieth-century the area was home to phosphate mines, parts of which can still be seen on park hiking trails.

Waterfalls built on old phosphate mining waste

The 1930s brought tourists and the spring became a theme park that included a zoo, gardens, rodeo, monorail, a swimming pavilion and artificial waterfalls built on old phosphate tailings.

Like many of Florida’s older tourist attractions, it couldn’t compete with the mega attractions in Orlando so closed in 1974. It reopened as Rainbow Springs State Park in the 1990s. after local volunteers supported the acquisition and restoration of the park.

Today pleasant  gardens and shady hikes invite a visit.  Butterflies and ancient trees abound.

Monarch enjoying a meal

 

Zebra: A common Florida Butterfly

 

Gulf Frittilary

The  Park provides a great place to escape the heat and swim in seventy-two-degree water in the head springs or kayak or tube down the river.We try to visit the park about once a year as this is the closest major spring to the Tampa Bay region. Florida springs are the perfect antidote to beat the Florida heat.  The gulf water and pools around our areas are all in the 90s.  The spring water though, ah a lovely seventy-two degrees!

Rainbow Springs State Park Swimming Area

The park tubing concessionaire, Nature Quest, rents tubes and provides tram service every twenty minutes up the river.  You grab your tube, float with the current, and two hours later you are pleasantly cool.  Tubing is available between April and the end of September (Before Memorial Day and after Labor Day rentals are limited to weekends)

Nature Quest Rents Tubes and Kayaks at the Park

We arrived around eleven: a reasonable time for a week-day but we probably would have been too late on the weekend as the park closes when the parking area fills. Early arrival is also advised because of frequent afternoon thunderstorms in the summer. For people, desirous of a quieter experience, I suggest a visit during the week or early or late in the season. Between the entry and two tubes, it cost us $45.  This includes the state park admission, tube rental and the tram ride north.

We floated two miles in about two hours. All manner of boats, tubes and kayaks take advantage of the cool water.  Given the crowds, we still saw quite a few birds, including anhingas, blue herons, and ibises. The water is clear, and feels just wonderful, as the air temperature was in the nineties.

A few important details: alcohol, coolers and disposable packaging (water bottles, food packaging and the like) are all prohibited on the river. The outfitter will keep your keys for a small fee. Additionally, even if you bring your own tube, you will still pay the $15 per person fee.

Perhaps the only drama occurred when I tried to pose for a photo at the end.  I did find out that the current near the end is strong enough to make it difficult to paddle the tube against the current.  Thus, into the water I went to paddle back to the ramp and off floated a sandal and hat.  Just a word to the wise.

An Unplanned Ending to a Great Tubing Trip (Photo Courtesy of Caity Mellicant)

 

Lettuce Lake Park-A Photographer’s Dream

About a month ago for one of our weekly field trip, the Florida Center for Creative Photography sponsored a photo walk to the Lettuce Lake Regional Park, north of Tampa. I’d been to the park a few years back sans camera, however, this visit found me well-equipped, with lenses in hand and accompanied by three expert members of the club. We got some great shots, so I decided to head back  to the park with my daughter and see it from the river in one of the park’s rental kayaks. Most of these shots are from the first visit, since I didn’t take my Olympus OMD out on the water and instead used my Windows 920 cell phone camera.

The Hillsborough River creates Lettuce Lake, via an overflow of river water. The river creates the swamp, named for the ubiquitous water lettuce plants.

Lettuce Lake
A peaceful morning paddle on the lake

In addition to lovely lake vistas, birds abound here.  Just a few minutes into my walk with the club, we came upon these two Limpkins.  They seemed to be literally posing for us for a good twenty minutes, until they finally caught some food and scuttled away.

 

Cyprus knees along the lake
Haunting Cypress Knees

The park has quite the collection of massive old cypress. pine and hardwood trees.  These trees seemed to have avoided the clearcutting that took out most of the woodlands during the 1920s and 30s. Perhaps because the area remains under water much of the year.

 

Swamp lily
Swamp lily hiding a cypress knob
Boardwalks
Boardwalks keep us above the swamp but allow for safe viewing

 

 

 

 

Swamp lilies, a native Florida plant, grow throughout, with waves of flowers bordering the river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty-five hundred feet of boardwalks, a multistory viewing tower, and a 1.25-mile paved trail allow easy access to wildlife, views of the lake and picnics.

canoes and kayaks
Rental boats make for great views of the park from the river

 

 

Kayaks and canoes can be rented here. We rented kayaks for four hours at the bargain price of $25. Rentals include all safety equipment and paddles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The park is home to the Audubon Resource Center where folks can find more information about the park. The website provides information on kayak and canoe rentals here and in other Hillsborough County parks.

Riding the Cross-Bay Ferry

Checking in!
CCross-Bay Ferry in St. Pete
Cross-Bay Ferry in St. Pete

Some experts suggest that the future of public transport in the Tampa Bay region lies with the use of our waterways.  With that in mind, a few communities have ferry demonstration programs.  The Cross-Bay Ferry  began to travel between St. Pete and Tampa as a six month pilot project that will end this month.

Since the pilot was ending on April 30, I figured it might be the time to try this out. I visited the website last week to check out the schedule.  The first thing that struck me was that this really isn’t a commuter ferry.  On weekdays, the first ferry out of St. Pete is at noon and the last ferry out of Tampa is 5:30 PM.  I guess for folks lucky enough to work four hours per day, this might work! But for someone working eight hours per day, not so much. For retirees, tourists, and some late rising students, though this is probably about right. We saw one person who actually looked like a commuter. Nearly everyone we talked to was, like us, a local…curious about the service.

I had read that the ferry was lightly used during the week, so I didn’t buy my tickets online.  Turns out that was almost a mistake.  We left home early, at 10:45, and arrived around 11:15, to get the noon ferry. Tickets were initially plentiful, but by 11:30, all the tickets for the returning 5:30 PM ferry had been sold. Parking was free for ferry riders and ferry tickets were $5 per person.

We boarded the boat 15 minutes before launch.  My daughter, Caity and I sat up on the upper deck…seemingly less popular than the air-conditioned lower deck near the bar.  The ride was uneventful, and took 55 minutes. The seas were calm. Many photo ops along the way.  I rediscovered a filter on my camera that makes for interesting water shots. Most interesting is the Port of Tampa.

From the Ferry
On the Ferry
Kicking back

Once we arrived in Tampa, we had numerous options to enjoy ourselves.  We decided to take the streetcar to Ybor City.  I hadn’t been there for a while.  We could also have headed up the Riverwalk on the west side of downtown.  Strangely many of the bus options downtown don’t run this time of the day, so getting to Waterworks Park at the end of the Riverwalk, north of downtown Tampa, would have been a long walk.  We had decided against bringing our bikes as we didn’t want to worry about them. We had also decided against the Pirate Water Taxi  as being too expensive ($18 per person). It did look like a neat idea if one were spending a whole day visiting central Tampa.

streetcar
Catching the streetcar
Water taxi
Water taxi

The streetcar trip to Ybor City took 20 minutes.  Lunch was at Hamburger Mary’s where I blew up my diet for the day with a bean burger and an awesome side of sweet potato fries.  Coffee afterwards was at a neat place called the Blind Tiger…great coffee. Ybor City is quiet on a Friday afternoon, and I think most of the folks we saw walking around had come over on the ferry with us.

The trip back was at 5:30 and we were tired by then.  I took more photos on the way back.  The light is good that time of the day.  For those who had missed out on tickets home, folks were selling unused tickets near the kiosk.  We arrived back at about 6:30 and were home for dinner by 7:30.

on the streetcar
Caity on the streetcar

Hopefully, the service continues as I think most of the people using the service seemed to enjoy it.  Would I use the ferry rather than drive into Tampa?  Probably not, as it we live too far from St. Pete and this adds at least an hour each way to the trip into Tampa.  If someone decided to develop a service from our side of Tampa Bay to Tampa, I would definitely consider it.  The problem though is likely to be cost.  The initial cost was to be $10 per person. At that price, I might have been hesitant…particularly if parking wasn’t free. Apparently, private sector support has allowed the price reduction…so it isn’t clear whether this will be affordable.  But for tourists staying near the waterfront, this is a great way to see the other side of the Bay.

Ferry
The End of the Day

A Day at the Kite Festival

A Day at the Kite Festival

We were out photographing the Twentieth Annual Kite Festival on the Treasure Island Beach  this past weekend with a myriad of other photographers.  Kite festivals make for great photo opportunities and attract us like flies.  You also have multiple colors plus much activity taking place on a beach or some other photogenic location.

Wide-angle lens gets a work out

I’d been to the festival during previous years and been somewhat disappointed for various reasons…bad weather, rain, grey skies…etc.  As I recall, I wasn’t yet equipped with a selection lenses and I hate looking at photos of places where people have clearly Photoshoped blue skies.  This time around I switched between my various lenses…and early in the day we at least had some blue sky.

Each time I photograph an event I become a better photographer.  Especially when I compare my photos to the 100s of other people posting on the internet.  Be-that-as-it-may, I came away resolved to improve my video skills as kite festivals are perfect for that modality.  As I am wont to do I looked at what I had on my computer in the way of editing software, as most of my past videos have simply been automated slide shows created in iPhoto or Photo.

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I reloaded my old copy of Premier Elements 11 (three versions out of date) and tried to work with iMovie.  I was trying to do something simple, flip my images and remove the guy in the corner of my video who was clearly picking his nose.  I’m still working on it. But…I did discover a great Adobe resource. For those of us who don’t buy into the idea of paying for every update, this is the place for us. I’m still working on that  guy but my daughter, Caity Mellicant, and I got some great photos.

Almost blue sky

Bok Tower and Gardens

Bok tower
Bok Tower

Every Holiday season I visit Bok Tower and Gardens.  The visitor’s center, café,  gift shop, and Pinewood estate glow with lovely festive plants and creative decorations.

Garden Entrance
Bok Tower Garden Entrance

Bok Tower has a great website where you can check out events, learn more about the Gardens and its founder Edward Bok and plan your day.  The visitor’s center is also a source of information on the gardens.

What's in Bloom?
What’s in Bloom?

The historic tower carillon bells chime with the sound of holiday music as they have since the garden opened in 1930 with daily and special concerts. Bok Tower is located near the town of Lake Wales in central Florida, about an hour from downtown Tampa.

We usually spend a half day here, but one could easily spend days photographing this ever-changing landscape, with its lovely collection of colorful plants, and still not see everything here. Certainly, one could spend weeks here with a camera.  Most gardens are macro photographer’s heaven and this place is no exception with lovely flowers and many butterflies.

Butterfly Visit
Monarch on a visit to Bok Tower

But the garden features an opportunity for the landscape or architectural photographer. My strategy is to circle through the gardens switching lenses with each circuit (OLYMPUS M.: 9-18mm, F4.0-5.6; 75-300mm, F4.8-6.7; and 12-50mm, F3.5-6.3).

Bok Tower, the Art Deco Tower/Neo-Gothic center piece of this garden, perches atop the highest elevation in Florida. The 205-foot tall Singing Tower is a great example from the Art Deco movement.

Art Deco Windows
Art Deco Windows are great examples from the Art Deco Era
Golden Door
Golden Door at the Singing Tower

Industrialist C. Austin Buck built Pinewood Estates, a twenty-room Mediterranean Revival mansion in the 1930s.  Bok Tower Gardens acquired the mansion in 1970. Holiday decorations abound.

Pinewood Estates
Pinewood Estates

The new Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden provides unique approach to encourage kids to get outdoors. I wish I’d had such a playground when I was growing up!

December is a great month to visit these gardens as in addition to the holiday decorations, the huge camellia collection starts to bloom.

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We at lunch at the Blue Palmetto Cafe at the Visitors Center. In addition to sandwiches and wraps they have beer, wine and snacks.

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Bay Pines VA Hospital

Building 1
Bay Pines VA Building 1

Florida’s history is brief compared to other areas but does have its hidden history often only dating from the 1920s and 1930s.  Many of these in the Mediterranean revival style that I’ve mentioned in previous posts.  I found a great example of this architecture down in South St. Pete at the Bay Pines VA Hospital (now part of the C.W. Young VA Medical Center).  While I was hunting through my photos I found these photos that I took three years ago, with my brand  new Olympus OMD EM-5 in tow. I spent a morning photographing this great architecture. As I write this, I realize  that I made a typical rookie mistake of not researching my subject. I saw stuff I liked and snapped away.  But this really is a great place to spend a winter morning camera in hand.  Now that I know more about the history I plan to go back and take a more systematic approach.. Enjoy my rookie photos.

Construction began in the 1930s with Building 1, 2 and 13 with completion in 1933 . Fortunately these buildings still exist, though most have been repurposed over the years as more modern buildings replaced older buildings.  Newer buildings intermix with the old. This makes for a bit of a challenge sometimes if you are trying for iconic views of the facades.

Building 1 itself is a work of art.  Now housing offices, it is most noted for its three level entrance

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Nearby Building 24, though newer, is more accessible for photographic detail

Entrance
Building 24 Entrance

 

I searched for some historical photos of the buildings.  A few exist in the Florida Photo collection but many of these are old post cards. In 2011 the National Park Service published an extensive history and  background discussion of the buildings.

It isn’t necessary to obtain permission to enter the grounds to photograph the old buildings.  When I took these photos, I only had one lens, my Olympus M.12-50mm F3.5-6.3, but on my return visit I will go back with a better selection. These photos are exterior, taken early in the day. In the future I hope to do some of the interior (after getting permission) of the tile work.

This map will help you find the buildings. Of interest are Buildings 1, 2, 13, 20 and 24.  Parking can sometimes be challenging here…but visitor parking is well-marked.

Sunken Gardens

Sunken Gardens
Sunken Gardens is located in a great St.Petersburg neighborhoodFlorida

Florida has forty-two different botanical gardens to choose from. At 4 square acres, Sunken Gardens is perhaps one of the smallest Botanical Gardens in Florida.  But, what it lacks in acreage it makes up for by its location near downtown St. Petersburg, with its great music, art scene, and huge selection of eateries.  The Gardens are also co located with a children’s museum housed in an historic building.

Sunflowers
Colors lurk in interesting places
dutchmans-pipe
Look up for unique plants

Most of Florida’s old roadside attractions have been well catalogued, though Sunken Gardens seems to have missed out..perhaps because only bits and pieces still exist.

Old Forida
A Doorway to Old Florida

But, it exemplifies the kind of hybrid garden/zoo that was common in the state.  Thus the unique collection of birds here and the occasional interloper.

Chilean Flamingos
Chilean Flamingos
parrot cages
One of the many parrot cages
Racoon
A raccoon visits

Because of its age, this garden has some of the oldest trees and bushes that we see in the metropolitan area. Remnants of old Florida remain with the fauna here relatively unique. From the photographer’s perspective this  clearly provides opportunities.  It’s possible to come here mid-day and still have shade.  The flamingos, common in the past, in front of hotels and the like are now limited to places such as Sunken Gardens.  There are many flowers and birds that provide macro opportunities, but a wide-angle lens is useful for capturing the amazing landscape provided by the old live oaks, ferns and colorful Bougainvillea. On the other hand, the day I took these photos had started out bright, but my sun disappeared….making for a pretty dark day as reflected in these photos.

The small size of the garden and the seemingly steep entrance fee here are issues. The much larger Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo is free (described in a future post).   However, members of the American Horticultural Society, available with nearly any Botanical Gardens, membership will get a free pass here and Groupon has discount offers. These Gardens are worth a visit in conjunction with a visit to the ever-improving downtown St. Pete, or perhaps the Children’s Museum.