Saturday, 30 January 2016

Fishy end to a holiday

Now we are back home after a shorter flight than the outward journey - partly due to to the tailwind across the Atlantic Ocean but this time without hugging the east coast of America because of the really bad weather which, in fact, had caused most airports north of Florida to close. 
Our last day in Florida was spent having a last visit to the art gallery where Kay had prepared a little 'goodie-bag' of cookies and chocolates for us. Then Kay and Mike announced that they were taking us to lunch at a very interesting restaurant. I can't quite remember the name but it was big and rustic with an enormous stone fireplace ( larger than those in Hampton Court Palace) in the middle of the room. We then drove to Tampa Aquarium.  

What really intrigued me were the Dragon Fish. I'd never come across this kind of fish before. To watch them swimming around was quite enchanting. Only occasionally when they swam past could you make out their real dragon-like features. This is one of many photographs I took which gives an idea of their movements

And this picture gives more of an idea of the dragon features

But now we are home, driven from Gatwick airport by a very dozy taxi-driver. As he was swaying across the road from time to time my young friend suggested that he ought to stop somewhere to have a coffee to wake himself up a bit. He didn't, but drove slightly better for the rest of the way home. 

On Wednesday the rain lashed down mercilessly. I headed for Hertfordshire almost blinded by the spray from numerous lorries on the three motorways I needed to travel on. My destination was St. Mary's church in Essendon where my friend Bryony Brind's memorial was being held.

Bryony died tragically at the young age of 55 after a glittering career as a principal ballerina of the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden. The youngest ever dancer to play the lead role in Swan Lake, Bryony was chosen in 1981 by the world famous Russian dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, to partner him in La Bayadere at Covent Garden. 
The Church was full to overflowing and many tributes were made, not only about her glittering career, but about her as a vibrant and lovely person. Here's one of the several miniature portraits I made of her.

I do some silly things from time to time. This week, apart from shutting my wall safe so hard that it needed all the expertise of my young friend to open it again after I'd given up on it, I managed, while bathing, to somehow hook my ring over my big toe nail! Luckily I eventually managed to extricate myself without calling for help or the need for a plumber. (Which reminds me of an old joke - A young  lady became stuck whilst sitting on a freshly painted loo-seat. Her husband couldn't extricate her so called the plumber but took the precaution of placing a bowler hat on her lap to cover her modesty as he raced upstairs ahead of the plumber. When the plumber arrived at the bathroom he surveyed the scene and said. "Well, the lady I can save but I'm sorry the gentleman's too far gone".

I ordered a new IPhone in December from my provider, Vodafone, and am very happy with it, but discovered, when I received my January's bank statement that they'd taken a fee over three times the monthly amount agreed. So I rang the Vodafone customer service number. I don't know if you've ever tried to ring Vodafone. First of all I was kept in a 40 minute queue. If that wasn't bad enough they played really horrible pop music - on a continuous loop. After about the tenth time I heard the message "sorry for the delay, we will be with you shortly" I couldn't help shouting at the phone - to no effect of course. When someone did finally answer I used my past experience of the many trips I made to India to decipher what she was saying. Apparently they had charged me for two phone numbers! As I only have one mobile phone I had to assume someone else has taken out a phone number using my bank account. After passing me on to another operator (and this time less than 25 minutes on hold - still the same irritating music) I was told that I did have two phone numbers  and there was nothing I could do about it. Their fraud department had checked it out and 'no fraud was active on  my account'. I felt totally helpless. But the following evening my young friend came to my rescue. First she tried telephoning with exactly the same result - they just insisted that I had two active telephone numbers! So being computer savvy, and seeing me in an incandescent state of distress, she found Vodafone's 'Live Chat' department on my computer. And she was soon live chatting. It took over an hour, and although they started off by insisting I had two numbers, finally agreed that when I received my new phone they'd also assigned another number to me. They agreed to cancel the extra number and credit me with £80 ( less than what I calculated they had overcharged me) which I accepted. Still haven't seen what they charged me in January and not 100% sure all is OK yet, but at least I slept happier that night. 

One of my Christmas presents from MYF was an intriguing 3D jigsaw puzzle. It's of the Taj Mahal

We're having great fun so far

I'm currently working on two very tiny miniature portraits. The heads on both are just over a quarter of an inch high. Very tricky - glad I have a new magnifying glass with super-duper bright daylight light. I have just finished another tiger painting. It's about six inches diameter.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Sponges Galore

Tarpon Springs in Florida is famous for sponge diving, Greek food and fishing. We were there on Monday and went on a boat ride around some of the islands. On the way we passed this house.

It was the main location for the film "Beneath the 12 Mile Reef" starring Robert Wagner. 

Everywhere you look you see sponges - on boats, in shops, and you could, if you wish, go out to sea in one of the fishing boats and have a go at retrieving one yourself.

Not just sponges but pirates too. 

We spent a really nice afternoon on a catamaran. Heading out to sea around a number of islands we soon gathered speed and after a mile or two came across a pair of dolphins frolicking in the sunshine. The boatman slowed down so we could have a good look, but although I saw them three or four times they were too fast for my camera. I swear one jumped out of the water here but all you can see is the splash!

After an hour we stopped on an island to walk around and gather shells. The way we moored was for the boat to drive into the sand and anchor there by manoevering a folding metal ladder onto the beach which we climbed down.

The weather was a bit cold and the wind and spray made us shiver and huddle up a bit on the way back to the docks. Certainly a very busy little town, the area has a series of little bayous leading into the Gulf of Mexico. It was first settled in 1876 by farmers and fishermen, and when they spotted  tarpon jumping out of the water they named it Tarpon Springs. In 1905 a man named John Corcoris introduced the technique of sponge diving and recruited crew members and divers from Greece. Here's one of the boats moored up alongside the jetty, and nearby a statue erected in honour of the fishermen who go to sea for weeks on end.

Later that evening we met up with artist friends in a smart Italian restaurant in Dunedin for dinner. I had the best grouper I've ever tasted served by a most friendly father and son team who own the restaurant. 
Because our hotel doesn't offer a laundry service, on the day we arrived in Dunedin my young friend Googled local laundrys eventually locating a large Laundromat just a mile or so away. I'd visited it on Saturday and arranged with an old guy called Joe to do my considerable load for me. A week's laundry for me comprised twenty items including shirts and trousers etc. I'd fully expected to pay at least $50 for the service but when I collected them in the morning, all nicely wrapped and folded with the shirts all on hangers I could hardly believe it when he only asked for $8. That's the best bargain I've had since we arrived here. 
Tuesday dawned with a clear blue sky but very cold, so we decided to drive to Sarasota in the south and spend the day at the Ringling winter residence. Circus owner and art collector John Ringling bought property in Sarasota and in 1927 moved the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey combined shows there. They then built a winter residence, CA'D'ZAN and a museum of art. Our first stop was the Big Show circus museum which housed some of the original wagons, costumes and equipment. There we were confronted by a giant mural covering more than 900 square feet, and called 'The Greatest Show on Earth'. 

Then on in to marvel at the largest model circus in the world. It's a 44,000 piece replica of the 1919-38 Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows. Here are some of the models.

Next, on to the room containing the actual wagons, props and costumes.

And the man behind the mask

Out to the gardens for a lunch snack passing by the many banyan trees. 

And finally to see the CA'D'ZAN or 'House of John' built in a Venetian gothic style reflecting the Ringling's love of Italy.

Today is Thursday and we are nearly at the end of what has been a really nice holiday, not to mention the miniature art show where we met up with many old friends. We've had some lovely meals, and at the Bon Appetit Restaurant I've had the best steak I've ever tasted. We leave tomorrow, but yesterday drove north to Homosassa Springs to see Manatees in their natural habitat, and to visit the Wildlife Park.

We soon saw a manatee swimming under a couple of kayaks. As they have no natural enemies they are not at all scared of humans. 

Views through an underground glass window these are some of the fish we saw.

And in our walk through the park we came across all sorts of creatures. 

And in the reptile house a nasty looking pink snake was curled around a branch.

It is such a lovely day today. Warmer than of late. So we drove down to St. Petersburg to see the Salvador Dali Museum. Since I was last here it seems to have taken on a completely new and even more modern personality. 

The museum houses the most comprehensive collection of the artist's work in the world. In addition to 95 original oil paintings the museum has more than 100 watercolours and drawings, along with sculptures and other objects. 

I really enjoy Dali's work - especially those paintings that combine surrealism and enigmatic images. For example this enormous painting entitled 'Hallucinogenic Toreador'

If you look closely, or half close one eye you will soon make out the toreador's nose and chin where the left breast of the second Venus from the right emerges. Or this large painting of Abraham Lincoln. Again squint through your eyes to capture the illusion. 

And here's a self portrait of me caught in a concave mirror. 

The staircase we walked down from to the cafeteria is a work of modern art itself. This view is looking up to the roof.

St. Petersburg is a very smart town . We had a nice lunch sitting in a cafe by the sidewalk, and then drove back to Dunedin via an hour or so stop at St. Pete's beach to soak up a little of the sun on our last full day of holiday. And just as we reached Dunedin this lovely sunset unfolded in a colourful farewell.

Monday, 18 January 2016

And the Rain Came Down

We'd just got out of the car at the Disney Hollywood car park when the heavens opened. And did it rain. I'd not experienced rain like that since the tropics - and at least there it was warm. Here in Orlando it was driving into us. We had to board an open sided trolley to take us to the entrance, but within minutes we were drenched - shoes, socks, hair, shirts - we found we were even sitting in water as the plastic seats were curved! Nothing we could do, so eventually, after being finger-printed, bar-coded and having our bags searched, we were in the park looking like a pair of drowned rats. We knew it would take hours to get even moderately comfortable so looked for an inside attraction. The Great Movie Ride seemed the best bet. 

We both like films, so being carried along on a ride through tableaux of movie greats was ten times better than staying outside. One of the first movie sets was, of course, Gene Kelly 'Singin' in the Rain'. On through Cassablanca...

... to The Wizard of Oz. 

Then on to the big cinema to see the Muppets in 3D. Again it really worked for me and the characters and all the fun things burst out of the screen towards us.

Just outside the cinema is a water fountain featuring Miss Piggy. 

Stopping for a lunch break we queued in front of the world's most inefficient stall to finally be presented with the second worst hot-dog I've ever had in my life. (The worst was in Las Vegas). We were beginning to dry out a little by now so went to see the story of Walt Disney's life. I knew a little about it beforehand but really had no idea how deprived and poor his early life had been. 
The sun was out by now so we explored a few of the attractions before stopping at the 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' spectacular. 

We left 'Hollywood' around five o'clock and drove west to our final hotel on this trip.

Having stayed at the Yacht Harbor Inn on a few occasions in the past we were fairly familiar with the nearby restaurants, so after unpacking we made our way to 'Sea Sea Riders' where I was looking forward to their speciality - coconut prawns. When I told our waitress we'd come all the way from England for their coconut prawns I was very disappointed to be told they weren't on the menu any more. And not only that, when we ordered a couple of cocktails she asked to see my young friend's I.D. before bringing them! (That was the second time on this holiday that this had happened to her).
Next morning the sun shone brightly - and the temperature rose  - so we decided to drive to Clearwater beach. We forgot it was Saturday so we found it very difficult to find a parking space, eventually finding one way to the north of the main beach.

Then it was time to make our way to the Dunedin Fine Art Center where our miniature art exhibition was to be held. Great to see so many old friends and welcoming faces. My young friend was especially greeted warmly as my miniature of her had won first prize in portraits. But what really pleased me was that soon I discovered that one of my entries - The Dowager Countess of Grantham - had been sold to a collector.

We stayed at the gallery for a while chatting to some of the artists until Wes and Rachelle Siegrist (both very talented miniature painters) suggested we drive to Honeymoon Island as the weather had become quite hot. Hooray at last, as January in Florida can be highly unpredictable, weather-wise. So gathering up Michael Coe who'd just arrived from England (another really good miniature portrait painter - he'd won the 'Best in Show' prize), we drove the few short miles to our destination. 

This is the Osprey Trail. We walked along here for over a mile looking out for wildlife and birds. Here's an armadillo.

And a bit further on, this gopher tortoise couldn't move as fast as me, so I managed to run round in front of him as he walked along the trail. 

My young friend spied this pair of Ospreys on their nest and took this photograph.

After walking a mile or so we came to the sea-shore. The last time we were here - about three years ago - it was so cold that the beach was completely deserted, but today with the sun shining down it was quite different. Here are Wes and Rachelle enjoying the sunshine, and then Rachelle silhouetted against the glittering waves. 

Next day was the opening of the exhibition.

Sharp at nine in the morning everyone met at the Bon Appetit restaurant in Dunedin for a sumptuous brunch followed by the prize-giving ceremony. It's always nice to meet so many old friends here. Exhibiting artists come from all over America and quite a few from overseas. I was honoured to be awarded the prize for best portrait and especially pleased to receive the major award for 'excellence in all entries'. With many categories ranging from still-life to animals and birds, and seascapes to portraits, there are a fair number of prize winners. Here we all are.

And in the early evening a number of artists and guests enjoyed dinner together.

As dinner finished early and everyone dispersed we walked up the road to Sea Sea Riders to drink a cocktail or two, stopping first to admire the sunset outside our hotel.