Apache Camper Blog

  • Published on Sep 24, 2015
    "State-cation" Florida Style

    Well, last year was a state-cation, and we had fully intended on doing the southern route camping in Nebraska this year, but we had an opportunity to go really “down south”, so we headed to Pensacola, Florida to spend the week with our dear friends from Tampa who met us there. 

    Both of our friends are retired military, so we had the unusually rare opportunity as non-retired civilians to stay at the Blue Angels campground on the Pensacola Naval Station.  What a treat. Our friends drove up from Tampa with their toyhauler fifth wheel, and we camped with them all week.  My husband and I in the garage area on the bunk, and our friends in the master bedroom.

    What a relaxing time, and the view of Perdido Bay was spectacular. We arrived Labor Day weekend, so there were loads of things happening on the Emerald Coast in Florida.  Our first day, we loaded into the truck and headed further onto base to visit the Naval Aviation Musuem.  If you ever have the opportunity, this is a must see. You can find more detailed information at: www.navalaviationmuseum.org.

    We walked into the museum after showing our I.D. at both the main gate and at the entrance of the museum, and from there our jaws dropped.  Our friends were both in the Air Force, and I was in the Army, so the Navy experience was awe inspiring.  The displays were immense, and presented in a friendly way with easy to read explanations of all the air craft.  For me, one of the first airplanes in the museum drew me in and I just couldn’t get over the immensity of the aircraft especially since it was built and used at the beginning of the 20th century. This plane was I believe the first to make a trans-Atlantic flight.  Unbelievable that it was so intact.

    Every aircraft on display had so much history both of the military but also of science and aeronautics.  The displays on World War II were a way to see the scale of the planes used in combat, and some of the advances made during this time.  There was a replica of the bomb dropped from the Enola Gay, and a model of an aircraft carrier.  I could go on and on.  We traveled from that area into another “hangar” or building and saw some of our most recent history including Desert Storm, and the moon landing. 

    The display that spoke most to my friend and I was the area on female aviators and the training that they went through as well as the challenges faced by the first females to break into that field.  My friend Gigi was a combat nurse and actually went through the same training as on the film because she needed to train for water rescues.  I learned a lot about her as well as the military as a whole there.  We could have spent another whole day there, but we wanted to move along.  Unfortunately, after leaving, we realized after we left the base that we had missed one entire building.  I guess that is my excuse to go back another time….

    From there, we took a drive into downtown Pensacola – a beautiful town with quirky shops and great places to eat.  We found a place that is a complex of Airstream trailers that are set up with separate eateries in each one.  This is definitely something you won’t see just anywhere.

    Our friends being from Florida wanted us to get a complete feel for the entire area, so we drove around quite a bit, and discovered little holes in the wall as well as the iconic honky-tonk the Flora-Bama.  This place is like nothing else you will experience or see again.  It is a ramshackle set of buildings that have been stitched together over the years, with several bars and each bar has a stage set up and usually there are musicians playing any sort of music.  The owner of the Flora-Bama has always supported struggling songwriters, composers and performers – many from Nashville and elsewhere.

    The key part of the Flora-Bama as well as the reason for the name is that the bar sits on the border of Florida and Alabama.  You can literally walk from one side to the other and say that you have visited 2 states.  Crazy fun and another don’t miss place even if it is just for the experience.

    We stopped off at a couple of other places, then headed back to the campground and grilled out and dined al fresco along with the ants and the humidity.  Peaceful surroundings, and great friends along with a fantastic dinner – can’t ask for anything better.  A fierce game of cornhole was the end to a fine evening.  (I need to definitely step up my game on this)

    In the mornings I would wake up and look around the campground and see the people who were there in all types of RV’s – from old travel trailers, to high end diesel motorhomes.  The one binding factor was the patriotism of each person there.  You didn’t have to look very far to see the American flag proudly displayed or hung at nearly every campsite.  There were young seamen, grizzled veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars as well as our friends who were veterans of Desert Storm – The histories were rich, and the love of country was palpable.  It is just so hard to describe, but awe inspiring nonetheless.  The song “Proud to be an American” describes it well.

    One other thing that is wonderful on a military campground is the cleanliness.  I walked into the showers which were family style and huge as well as sparkling.  (One of the few public showers that I looked forward to using).  The laundry facility was sparkling as well, and everyone was polite, not monopolizing machines like you will see in other areas.  All in all, if you are retired or active military, camping at the base campgrounds no matter the branch of the military, you will see the prettiest areas, have the cleanest facilities and have generally one of the more enjoyable ways to explore the country.  For my husband and I to have been able to experience this was a special treat, and really made me more aware of the need for better military funding  not only for armory, etc., but also for the support of the active and retired military.  As simple as this was, the fact that a veteran can rent a campsite for an affordable price and be welcomed with open arms by others in the campground seems to be one of the support systems that the government can’t relinquish.

    Okay – enough on that thought.  Onward and upward!  My husband and our friend John went onto the tarmac on base and were able to experience a practice for the Blue Angels.  As practices go, this seemed more like a full blown air show.  Even after all the years of the air shows at Offutt and the way the jets would turn over our Bellevue location, there is just something special about actually experiencing the show first hand.  They both came back to the camper sunburned and as excited as kids about what they saw.  Yet another reason to visit Pensacola.  The practices are generally on Tuesdays and/or Wednesdays and open to the public.

    We decided later on to drive up the coastal road and saw some incredible homes, and stretches of beautiful beaches.  We meandered up and down and even drove through some of the neighborhoods.  It is always a good way to get a “feel” for an area.  This area has many protected areas and interspersed in between the protected areas and the neighborhoods were the condos and the restaurants, lounges and activities.  I think that this area has something for everyone – old or young.  If you get bored in this area, you just aren’t trying very hard.  We stopped at the Sandshaker bar and experienced the home of the original Bushwacker frozen drink.  Yummy drink and great on a hot muggy day kind of like a chocolate shake with a kick. 

    We then drove to the famous McGuire’s Irish Pub.  This place is a one of a kind with dollar bills hanging from every square inch on the ceilings and rafters.  Funky signs and memorabilia line the walls, and it is a treat to just have a late lunch there and then wander about.  When we got there, I had to visit the restroom, and was pointed in that direction by the waitress.  There I was greeted by a sign that read “Not the Men’s Room” with a pointing finger aimed at the other door.  Boy, if you aren’t paying attention, there is plenty of room for embarassment!  McGuire’s has an eclectic menu with one of the star features being what they call the Senate Bean Soup.  The description reads:

    “Same recipe as was served in the U.S. Senate for 18 cents when we opened in 1977.  We’ve been selling this wonderful homemade soup at this price since then.  The Senate cafeteria has raised their price to $6, but we all know Washington can’t control costs. ($18 if this is your only purchase)”

    My husband and I shared what was called a steak and mushroom pie – a taste treat with incredibly rich flavors topped with a puff pastry.  This place is definitely a place that I would term “repeatable” which is the highest praise I can offer for anyplace.  By the way, the Senate Bean Soup tasted just like my Mom used to make – fantastic!

    We spent one day just lounging at the campground – kind of a re-charge day to just relax and visit, read or watch the TV.  Definitely a must for anyone who is trying to experience this area.  Sometimes you just need to switch everything off.  We grilled out Bubba burgers with my famous coleslaw, Relaxing and the perfect way to break up the week.

    The week was winding to a close, and thanks to my friend and neighbor Deborah, who used to live in Pensacola and who was married at the base chapel to her husband, we had a list of places to check out.  So far this week, we had checked off roughly 70% of the items on her list.  I really need to thank her for taking the time to make that list with highlights of the area since she was a native.

    Our friend John is an MS patient and has been doing speaking engagements around the country on behalf of a new medication available for treatment of the disease and which he has been taking for 3 years – the reason that his symptoms have been in check, and we have seen a marked improvement.  The drug company called and asked if he would be willing to do an engagement in a place called Fairhope, Alabama, and since it was less than an hour away from where we were, he accepted and we were able to see him in action.  We learned a lot about the disease as well as more details about John’s journey with MS.  Some of the stories of the people there were heartbreaking, but after the talk, there was a feeling of hope, and I will be keeping up with the MS foundation more closely in the future.

    Thanks to the speaking engagement, we were able to experience a wonderful small town with a unique history, a beautiful pier and coastline and quaint shops and antique stores in the downtown.  Fairhope is one of the last towns that is part of the utopian society or the Single Tax Corporation which is still operating today and which started in 1894.

    We actually liked the town so much, we revisited Fairhope on another day and strolled through the antique stores.  My husband and I visited the Fairhope museum which was so interesting and with so much history and an explanation on the reasons for starting the colony along with artifacts and exhibits.  It is a historic 2 story building which used to house the jail as well as the mayor’s office and the fire department.  We probably spent the better part of an hour touring on our own through the museum.  The neighborhoods were pristine as was the downtown area and the historic pier.  You don’t find a place like this very often and when you do, you need to remember to go back.  Small town America is alive and well in Fairhope.

    Sadly our last day was upon us and we again took off in the truck and visited a few other sites along the Gulf, straying onto the Alabama side once again.  We stopped at a place that we had heard of which was on the waterfront and under the overpass which completely made of shipping containers put together and which had a gift shop as well as a couple of bar areas and a beachside restaurant.  Beautiful views from the gulf side with white beach and we were able to see fishing boats and a huge sailboat floating through the channel. 

    Our last stop was a place called Fisherman’s Corner – a little shack under yet another underpass that we wondered about once we saw the weathered wood, sagging porch, and dirt parking lot.  According to Trip Advisor, it had rave reviews, so we took a deep breath and walked in.  Surprisingly, there was a waiting list, and we were told that we should have made reservations for a Friday night.  Who knew???  Luckily for us, someone didn’t show up for their reservation and we snuck in.  What a taste treat this was!  The service was great, the portions huge, and the flavors wonderful.  We had pasta dishes, a gluten free seafood dish, and even though it was a seafood place, I opted for the chicken parmesan.  Wow on all counts!  The chicken parmesan was one of the better versions that I have tried.  I have a feeling that you just can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.

    The next morning, we started the sad task of re-packing our suitcases, and saying our goodbyes.  We spent 8 days in the back of a toyhauler and lived to tell about it.  It actually was really fun and relaxing, we had our privacy with a separate entrance, and with satellite TV, the guys didn’t miss any football or Nascar.  We were living large and had a wonderful time.  Now we are wondering where the next camping adventure will be, and the choices are endless. 

    Here are some links to the websites of some of the places we visited:

    www.beautifulfairhope.com

    www.navalaviationmuseum.org.

    www.florabama.com

    www.visitpensacola.com

    www.fishermanscornerpk.com

    http://www.mcguiresirishpub.com/

    www.sandshaker.com

    If Florida is on your bucket list, make sure to visit the panhandle region and the Emerald Coast.  Adventure waits around every corner!

     

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