We are baby boomers privileged to enjoy our dream of early retirement while traveling full-time. We recently traded our 2005 37' Allegro Bay for a 2015 DRV Tradition fifth wheel being towed by a 2015 Silverado 3500HD Duramax dually. We are in our ninth year of being on the road. We invite you to join us as we explore this amazing country. and navigate the full-time RV lifestyle. Our heartfelt thanks to our soldiers and their families for their sacrifices to ensure our freedom so that we can pursue our dream.
After visiting the Ringling Museum then relaxing around the rig for a day or two, it was time to head about 100 miles north to Bushnell, FL, where we are going to spend the winter.
We had previously had three of our dual-pane windows repaired at Suncoast Designers in Hudson, FL. We had to have one of the windows re-done before we left Suncoast because it had streaks and smudges between the panes of glass. When we got to Sarasota, we discovered another one of the repaired windows had similar, but fainter streaks that were also between the panes of glass. We called Suncoast and made arrangements to stop on our way to Bushnell to have the second window corrected. Suncoast said they would expedite re-doing that window to get us in and out in one day.
But there is yet another wrinkle to our window repair saga. While we were parked in Sarasota, we must have had the right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it) combination of cold overnight temperatures (it got down to 35º twice) and warm morning sun to make a completely different window fog up with moisture. This window had never been repaired before, and it had never had moisture in it before. Since we we going to stop at Suncoast Designers to get the other window re-done anyway, we planned to ask if they could squeeze in the repair of this newly fogged window, too.
We got an early start to give Suncoast as much time as possible to get our two windows done in one day. We were on the road shortly after 7:00 AM (a new record for us with the motor home) and pulled into Suncoast about 9:15.
Paul went into the office when we got to Suncoast and asked about doing both windows. They said it would be no problem and sent a couple of workers out to our rig as soon as we got backed into a space.
It was late when they finally got both windows done and came out to re-install them. Two workers stayed after their regular quitting time to get the windows back in so we could be on our way.
As they finished up, there was a triple uh-oh moment. The window they re-did looked great, but there were the faint streaks between the glass on the newly-fogged window they just repaired for the first time. Paul went back inside to give them the bad news. By this time there were only two people left in the building, and one was the owner. He came out to check the window and agreed it was not right. Since everyone had left for the day, we decided to stay overnight and have the window done again the next morning rather than to come back to Suncoast another time.
They were back at our rig the next morning at 6:45 to pull the window back out. The window was re-done and re-installed in short order. The shop manager came out to personally inspect the window and make sure we were satisfied. Suncoast offered to reimburse us for any reservation deposit we may have lost because of having to stay the night at Suncoast instead of continuing on to Bushnell as we had planned, but that wasn't necessary since Blueberry Hill just moved our reservation back a day allowing us to arrive a day later now, then leave a day later in the spring.
We were a little disappointed at the problems we had getting our windows repaired at Suncoast Designers. We had to have three out of four windows redone because of streaks between the panes of glass. We don't know if there was some peculiar problem with the way Tiffin manufactured our windows in the first place that made the old adhesive harder than usual to get off, or if we're just fussier than most people. The streaks were pretty faint for the most part, and if we hadn't seen the windows with the sun shining on them just right, we may never have noticed the streaks. However, the bottom line is Suncoast Designers were very responsive and they made everything right in the end. If we ever have window problems in the future, we will probably go back, particularly since their location is very convenient to where we spend our winters.
As a result of the problems we had, the owner said he was going to be reviewing their inspection equipment and procedures. Maybe they can find a way to detect problems right after the cleaning process instead of after the windows are reassembled.
As we said, they had our window repaired and reinstalled in short order. We were on the road to Bushnell by 10:00 AM. After stopping at Flying J to gas up, we pulled into Blueberry Hill about 11:30 and got set up.
Blueberry Hill RV Resort has over 500 full-hookup RV sites. There are approximately 100 pull-through sites in front that have paved pads. The rest of the sites in the rear are all grass and are very generously sized. There is free cable, and Wi-Fi is available for a fee.
The campground had a lot more empty sites than we remembered seeing about this same time in previous years. As you can see from the next photo, some sites are filled, but there are a lot of areas where the sites are still empty. Even with high fuel prices two years ago and the economy deteriorating last year, this year looks pretty sparse in comparison.
Of course, the economy is still pretty iffy, so a lot of people may have have been afraid to make reservations for this year. Margery heard from the hair dresser she went to in Bushnell (beauticians are always up on the latest gossip) that none of the local RV parks are booked up for the winter this year. The real snowbird rush starts right after Christmas, so we'll see what happens. Maybe they will get some last-minute fill-ins.
The weather certainly isn't cooperating to encourage snowbirds to come to Florida. For one thing, there were early snow storms in the north that closed roads and airports. We don't have snow here in Florida, at least not yet, but is sure is COLD. We always hit a cold spell or two during the winter; but not like this, and not this early.
In past years, the cold spells didn't come until January, not in December. We had two nights in the low 20s earlier this week. We also had several days with highs only in the 40s and sustained winds of 15 to 20 mph. Our weather station recorded a maximum wind gust of 36 mph. The ol' motor home was rockin' 'n' rollin'.
The weather is finally starting to warm back up, and the wind has died down, so it has gotten a little more pleasant. Paul got the bikes out of the car, and aired up the tires. We always like to ride our bikes around the campground to get a little exercise and to see how many new arrivals there are. There is also a very nice bike trail nearby.
We usually slow down during our winter stay in Florida, so our posts may be a little shorter and a little less frequent; but we do have some sightseeing and other things planned, so keep looking for our posts.
Ringling Museum Part II: Circus Museum and Art Museum
After we visited the Ringling mansion, we headed to the circus museum, which fills two buildings. One building houses the world's largest miniature circus. It was built over a period of 50 years by master carver Howard Tibbals. The model, which is built to a scale of ¾ inch equals one foot, covers 3,800 square feet and has 8 main tents, 152 wagons, 1,500 circus workers and performers, more than 800 animals, and a 57-car train. The next photo is a view inside the main tent. There is a wild animal act going on in the center ring.
The side show traveled with the circus, but it wasn't part of the main circus. It was called a side show because it was off to the side of the main activities. There was a separate admission charge for the side show, which featured oddities of nature that the crowd would gawk at as they walked through.
The second circus museum building houses a collection of costumes, wagons and circus equipment. Showy costumes like the one below are known as "spec" (as in spectacular) costumes. These were worn for the spectacular, which was a parade of animals and performers around the arena at the beginning of the show.
In the early days, the circus traveled by wagon. By the late 1800s, the Ringling Brothers Circus began to travel by railroad. They kept many of the same wagons, but they loaded them onto flat cars. When the circus train pulled into town, the wagons, performers and animals would parade through town to the place where the tents had been erected. Many of the parade wagons were elaborately decorated like the band wagon in the photo below. This is the oldest and largest wagon at the museum. It dates from the late 1800s. The band sat atop the wagon and would have led the parade through town.
Since the circus traveled by train, John and Mable Ringling bought a 79-foot Pullman car in 1905 to use to travel with the circus and to travel back and forth between New York and Sarasota. The custom-built car was named the Wisconsin after the Ringling's home state.
The next photo shows the cannon truck used by Bruno Zacchini. He was a human cannonball who was "fired" into a catch net. The first cannons used to "fire" humans were powered by springs. Later versions used compressed air. Incidentally, the world record for human cannonball flight of 185 feet 10 inches was set by David "Cannonball" Smith, Jr. in 1998 in Kennywood Amusement Park in West Mifflin, PA, right near our old hometown of Pittsburgh.
There is a group of woodcarvers who meet at the museum on certain days to work on circus-related carving projects. The photo below shows their latest project, which is a camel. It is mounted on a stand that enables the carvers to rotate the piece so they can work on the bottom. In addition to the large animals, they work on some smaller projects that can be seen sitting around the room. There are also some pieces of carved scrollwork that would have been used on some of the wagons.
The next photo shows Paul with one of their completed works.
Next, we went to the John and Mable Ringling Art Museum. In 1925, the Ringlings hired an architect to design a museum to house their personal collection of paintings and sculptures by the Old Masters. The Ringlings had assembled a sizable collection from New York auctions and from their frequent trips to Europe.
The museum is built in a U-shape around an outdoor courtyard that contains bronze casts of some of Europe's most famous statues...
...including Michelangelo's David.
John Ringling suffered from poor health in his later years, and he died in New York in 1936 from pneumonia. Ringling left the circus to his nephew, John Ringling North, son of his only sister, Ida. He left Cà d'Zan, the art museum, his art collection, and a sizable cash endowment to the State of Florida. There were struggles with creditors in the early years after Ringling's death, but the state finally won out.
Over the years, the estate and the endowment were not well managed. By the 1990s, there was a lot of decay from deferred maintenance, and security systems were hopelessly out of date. The museum and mansion had reached a critical state. In 2000, while the state maintained ownership, they transferred governance of the Ringling property to Florida State University. Under FSU management, the property has undergone a rebirth. In 2007, through a combination of state and private funds, all existing buildings were restored and several new buildings were constructed.
Visiting the Ringling estate was enjoyable, but there sure was a lot of walking. We spent the better part of the next two days just hanging around the motor home relaxing.
From Sarasota, we headed to Blueberry Hill in Bushnell, FL, where we will spend the next several months.
One of the main reasons we went to the Sarasota area in the first place was to visit the Ringling Museum. Paul went to the museum as a kid back in 1957 when he went to Florida with his parents, and he has been wanting to go back to see it again as an adult.
Plan to spend the better part of the day at the Ringling Museum, because there is a lot to see. It much more than a museum. There is the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the historic Asolo Theater, a circus museum housed in two separate buildings, and the fabulous 56-room, Venetian Gothic mansion known as Cà d'Zan (KAH-d'zahn). Cà d'Zan is from a Venetian dialect and means "House of John."
John Ringling was born in Wisconsin in 1866. He had 6 brothers and a sister. In 1870, after seeing a circus that had come to town, 5 of the 7 Ringling boys formed their own circus company and soon began traveling to perform. The oldest brother already had a job, and the youngest brother was too young to leave home, so it was only the middle 5 brothers who were involved in the circus. John was youngest of the 5 and was only 16 when he started in the circus business.
In 1894, the Ringling Brothers joined their circus with that of Yankee Robinson. When Robinson died a few years later, the Ringlings took over his show. The Ringling Brothers bought the Barnum & Bailey circus in 1907 following the death of James Bailey in 1906. P. T. Barnum had died previously in 1891.
The Ringlings ran their circus and the Barnum & Bailey Circus independently until 1919 when they combined the circuses into the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. John Ringling and his brother Charles were the only two of the five brothers left, and it was too difficult to manage the shows separately. The circus thrived through the "Roaring Twenties."
In 1911, John and Mable Ringling bought 20 acres of land in Sarasota located on Sarasota Bay. There was already a house on the property, and the Ringlings began spending winters in Sarasota in 1912.
The Ringlings traveled extensively in Europe looking for new circus acts, and they came to love the architectural style of Venice, Italy. Between 1924 and 1926, they built a 56-room, 22,000 square foot, Venetian Gothic mansion as a winter home on their property on Sarasota Bay. The house cost $1.5 million, a staggering sum in the 1920s. John Ringling was one of the wealthiest men in the country at the time. In addition to the circus, he was into oil, railroads, banking and real estate. He once owned up to 25% of the land in and around Sarasota.
Margery was intrigued by the fact that the Ringlings owned three homes: their summer home in the Hudson Valley, their apartment in New York City, and their winter home in Sarasota. They also crossed the Atlantic for their annual trip to Europe. She couldn't imagine they spent much time in any one place, so Cà d'Zan was really an extravagance.
Because clouds were moving in from the Gulf when we arrived at the Ringling Museum, we headed to the mansion first. The mansion is the farthest point from the admission building, and it is also the location of the gardens. We wanted to enjoy the gardens while there was still a little sun.
We started out our tour in Mable's rose garden. The rose garden was completed in 1913 even before Cà d'Zan was started. None of Mabel's original roses have survived, but today, the garden contains 1,200 new plants.
We were surprised at how many roses were blooming for this late in the season. Many of the bushes were taller than we were,
Over on the other side of the lawn is Mable's secret garden. It is here she planted plants she collected herself and that were given to her by friends.
There are self-guided tours of the first floor of the mansion, and there are docent-guided tours for an extra charge of $5 that also included bedrooms on the second floor that overlook the two-story living room. We opted for the guided tour, and we're glad we did. Not only did we get to see the bedrooms, but the tour guides always have so many interesting tidbits like the fact the living room chandelier came from the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. The hotel was torn down in 1929 to make way for the Empire State Building.
The Ringlings found the auction houses of New York a rich source for furnishings and decorative elements such the chandelier in the photo above, as well as paneling, doors, ceilings, and tapestries for Cà d'Zan. It was the end of the Gilded Age, and mansions in New York were being torn down in the 1920s to make way for new high-rise buildings. All the furnishings, artwork and decorative items like the Delft-style porcelain bird cage in the photo below are original to the house.
The chairs in the breakfast room are upholstered in leather painted green. Green was Mabel Ringling's favorite color.
The photo below shows the formal dining room. The table could be expanded to seat 30.
John Ringling's bedroom is furnished with pieces made in France in the 1850s. He paid $35,000 for the 9-piece set ($750,000 today). Notice the use of more green on the walls.
After we visited the mansion, we still had the circus museum and the art museum to see. We'll tell you about them in our next post.
The Red Barn Flea Market in nearby Bradenton was another of those things that turned up in our online research of things to do in the Sarasota/Bradenton area. As we have said many times before, we usually don't buy a lot at flea markets, but we are somehow drawn to them.
The Red Barn Flea Market has an 80,000 square foot enclosed market with 600 vendors. There are also outdoor stalls that run along the entire eastern and northern sides of the market. The photo below doesn't do justice to the size of the building.
The market is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays year round. They are also open Wednesdays from November through April.
It was a cool morning to begin with, and as you can see from the photo above, there were some threatening clouds blowing in off the Gulf. We decided to check the outdoor vendors first before it got any cloudier.
Produce vendors take up much of the outdoor area.
In addition to landscape plants and orchids, there was just about any fruit or vegetable available you could imagine. There was citrus fruit, pears, apples, mangoes, papayas, bananas, pineapples, numerous types of melons, and even cactus leaves and cactus pears. There was also corn, tomatoes, asparagus, artichokes, squash, lettuce, cabbage, and more. Margery picked out some jalapeños to make jalapeño poppers for a snack. We also got some zucchini and an eggplant. The lighter green vegetables to the right are tomatillos.
It started to sprinkle rain just as we finished up with the outside vendors, so it was a perfect time to head inside. It started to pour a few minutes later.
The building is laid out in a series of aisle ways that criss-cross at right angles. There were a couple of vendors selling used merchandise, but most of it was new.
We did end up with some nice produce at reasonable prices, and Paul got a new Florida T-shirt that was fairly inexpensive; but we escaped without buying anything else. By the time we were ready to leave, the rain had stopped, so we didn't have to make a run for the car. Our feet were tired from all the walking, so we headed back to the motor home to take our shoes off and relax.
There is more to report on from Sarasota, so look for our next post.