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Naples and Sarasota. The other side of Florida

Miami - Naples - Sarasota - Arcadia - Miami

Early in the morning on May 1st we were driving a highway towards the Gulf of Mexico. The rising sun was illuminating our way to the city of Naples.

Take away Miami’s glamour; add quiet and peaceful rhythm of life, the most expensive real estate and wonderful nature, and you get an unforgettable place to spend your time: Naples.

There, on the sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, life is quite different from Miami, although it’s only a two hours away. In late October the richest Americans head to Naples to hide there from nasty weather. People get used to seeing the same new-old faces every year. The locals call them snowbirds, referring to both the seasonality of their visits and the mainly grey hair of the senior respectable riches who can afford really luxurious living.

Naples is a very quiet place. People here rise early in the morning, do outdoor sports (golf and tennis are most popular), drive around the city in shiny convertibles. They never hurry, savoring each moment of their time. Even the gulf here never stirs: the water is warm and calm, like a jacuzzi filled with seawater.

After enjoying the atmosphere of Naples we headed to Sarasota, where we were to meet with the wonderful Erica McPhee, editor of the Dasherie Magazine and the Flourish Forum dedicated to the art of calligraphy.

We greatly enjoyed the time we spent with Erica and her interesting stories about calligraphy. She also enlightened us somewhat on the history of the city of Sarasota.

The place was first mentioned as Zara Zote in 1763 and became Sarasota in 1902. The origin of the name is unknown. Zara Zote might be an indigenous name relating to the tongue of the Caloosa tribe. Some believe a fanciful story that it was named after the daughter of famous explorer Hernando de Soto by the name of Sara.

It was quite a surprise for us to discover that Sarasota is the sister city of the Russian city of Vladimir.

Perfect warm climate, beautiful beaches and the developed infrastructure make Sarasota a popular tourist destination. The white sand beaches of Sarasota are officially the most beautiful in the world. They are chiefly located on the islands stretching along the oceanfront.

For those who get tired of swimming and sunbathing, there’s cultural life. The city is rich with landmarks and historical sites. There are 42 objects there listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Following Erica McPhee’s advice we went to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

This state art museum of Florida boasts of a rich collection of classic and contemporary art. As is obvious from the museum’s name, it was founded by John and Mable Ringling. John Ringling was quite a personality. In his times he was richer and more famous than Bill Gates nowadays. He was a very talented entrepreneur who, together with his brothers, established the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus which still exists to this day. He was also the owner and financier of several railroad companies in the states of Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Upon his death, Ringling willed his property and art collection to the State of Florida.

Today the museum boasts of a world-renowned collection of Rubens as well as other masters such as Velasquez, Van Dyke and so on.

The museum courtyard is decorated with antique and Renaissance sculptures. The complex is dominated by Michelangelo's David which is depicted on the city’s logo. There are also two magnificent fountains copying the famous Fountain of Tortoises of the Piazza Mattei in Rome and the 15th century’s Fountain of Oceanus of the Boboli Gardens in Florence.

The museum complex is located within the botanical garden founded in 1913 by Mable Ringling. The Bayfront Gardens are no less a landmark than the museum. It includes the Mable Ringling Rose Garden, the Dwarf Garden, the giant tree garden and the Secret Garden.

The County of Sarasota is also home to the Warm Mineral Springs famous for their healing powers.

The wonderful curative properties of the lake with the springs have been known since ancient times. For Native Americans it was a sacred place of worship which they called the Fountain of Youth and held in secret from strangers.

The lake is surrounded with eucalypt trees. The water in the Springs holds at F87 throughout the year, which makes soaking in it both medicinal and pleasant. The minerals in the water cure all sorts of joint diseases.

After our visit to the wonderful Ringling Museum we decided to dine in one of the small and cozy local restaurants. After that we headed to Florida’s interior, away from the bikinis and crazy traffic jams typical for the seaside. As we were flying with the wind we smelled the unmistakable scent of oranges.

We saw a truck loaded full with the citruses, and we just couldn’t stop ourselves. So, with the permission of a police officer, we sprawled out on the heap of luscious fruit whose aroma inevitably reminds us of our childhood.

Our way lay past the old city of Arcadia whose main occupation is kettle breeding. Horses still represent a significant part of the local culture. Twice a year the cowboy fever reaches its highest: contestants and enthusiasts flock there from all around the States in March and July for the historical Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo.

Finally we were on our way back. We couldn’t but visit a couple of our favourite places in Florida: Moore Haven and Clewiston near the Okeechobee Lake.

We also made a detour to the north to visit the so called Alligator Alley on the Interstate 75.

The Alley offers a chance to see local fauna, the main attraction of which is of course the alligators themselves. Their population is numerous there, and they often get out to the highway to sunbathe under Florida’s sun.

Impressed with the scenery, we headed our loyal Harleys home. We’d like to point out yet again that Harley-Davidson is an all-times motor company with the best motorcycles ever.

It is our past and, of course, our present, which we spend with our friends, catching every moment and making every day the best day of our lives!