2015 Trip 1, Feb. 16-17, Florida in Winter

Orlando, Monday Feb. 16

The morning was boring. Well, breakfast at the Sweet Magnolia Inn was nutritious, tasty, and provided good company. But the first 2/3 of the trip to Orlando was two lane road through small towns with the scenery changing from aggregate mining/lumber harvesting to dairy and cattle ranching with scrub forests in between. Seen it before, not all that exciting.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

We tried to ratchet up the excitement factor by stopping at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. It is just south of Gainesville, Florida. This park is a vast grassland (prairie), similar to those out west except for the swampy overlay. Slight uplands provide small forests around its edges. However, it is better known for re-introducing three animals that were present here in the 1700 and 1800s; bison, swamp cattle, and Spanish horses.

Part of a trail at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Part of a trail at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Bison in Florida? Ubetcha! Along with the horses and cattle introduced by Spaniards, the three animals exist in small herds in this park. The park also is home to alligators, feral pigs, and numerous birds plus your usual rodents, etc. The possibility of one place in Florida combining bison and alligators was too good to be passed over.

Part of the horse herd at Paynes Prairie

Part of the horse herd at Paynes Prairie

Alas, we either walked in the wrong areas or did not spend enough time here. We did see the wild horses but no gators, pigs, or bison. This park may have to be a destination for another year.

We arrived in Orlando just before dark. Our home for the next eight nights will be a small unit at the Hilton Grand Vacations timeshare in Orlando. It is basically a hotel room with a kitchenette. The smaller room allows us to stretch our time share allocation into 8 nights here along with four more nights in Miami Beach at the end of March. We are right off International Drive, so a quick trip to Publix for groceries was easy to accomplish.

Orlando, Tuesday Feb. 17.

Leu Gardens Orlando FL

Leu Gardens Orlando FL

Rain and high winds are forecast for this afternoon. We took advantage of the morning warmth (70-78 F) and partially sunny skies and made a visit to the Leu Gardens in Orlando. This is a botanical garden, so flowers and plants are on display but they also try out new plant species and varieties to determine if the plants will thrive in the Orlando climate. Azaleas and camellias were out but most camellia bushes seemed to be past their peak. The gardens are set alongside one of the Orlando lakes.

Leu house

Leu house

One of the frog sculptues, Leu Gardens

One of the frog sculptues, Leu Gardens

Harry Leu ran an Orlando hardware store and sold agricultural machinery that became a large industrial supply distributor. In 1932, he married his 20 years younger secretary and they became the fourth owners of the house and its grounds (almost 50 acres). They traveled and they enjoyed gardening at the home, which at that time, was “out in the country”. They donated the land, gardens, and remodeled home to the city in 1961. Now it is a lovely garden and the home is open for tours. The gardens currently have a special sculpture exhibit throughout the grounds. The artist, J.A. Cobb, has created copper frogs in various poses.

One of Cunningham's paintings, from a brochure

One of Cunningham’s paintings, from a brochure

After the gardens and lunch, we went to the Mennello Museum of American Art. Marilyn and Michael Mennello are Orlando philanthropists (I never received an answer as to exactly what Mennello did to make his money.) The museum shows exhibits of American art, with its major focus the works of Earl Cunningham. Cunningham, who died in 1977, painted folk art, sometimes his work is called primitive work, primarily landscapes. He painted scenes as he saw them or wished to see them, not trying to paint a realistic depiction. We found his use of color and imagery quite enthralling. The museum shows a video about him, his life and his works. The Mennellos were early enthusiasts who, some years after his death, began acquiring large numbers of his work to put on display. The Mennello Museum is the result of that and is now owned by the City of Orlando.

The Mennello also displays rotating exhibits. The current one is the works of Dale Kennington. Her work is realistic, she takes photographs of scenes, normally focusing on people in everyday activities, and then her painting may be a composite of elements from many photographs. Her work was also striking, frequently including subtle social messages. All in all, a pleasant time at a small museum. (We could not take photographs inside the museum; the photo included here is from a brochure.)

By this time, the afternoon was moving on and the clouds and winds had moved in. We decided to forego another museum and returned to our lodging just before the rain.

Ed and Chris Feb. 17

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