The other day Jason and I were trying to remember a day when we both felt good at the same time and its been awhile. Jason got sick with Bronchitis soon after we got to Colorado (in November) and it hung on forever. Just as it seemed as though he was starting to feel a little better, I (the person who never gets sick) ended up coming down with this awful cold/flu thing just in time for Christmas and its been with me ever since. We’ve had some days where we felt okay, and others where we felt like complete crud but it hardly gave us the motivation to update the blog or much else. We did have a couple good days we were able to get out and ride our bikes, only to be completely drained when we got back. I wonder if we’re actually picking different illnesses up as we go along since we’ve been traveling so much. I think we’ve finally turned the corner though and even though this cough seems to have taken up permanent residence in my lungs, we’re able to get out and enjoy the area a little more finally. And feeling well or not, waking up to the blue skies of Florida and ocean just out our front window is far better in our minds than being so cold in Iowa. We’re hoping to get everything caught up within the next few days.
One of our first stops on the way here was in Nashville at a place called Redkite Bicycle Studio. Ron, at Skunk River Cycles in Ames had located another Raleigh Sojourn and since we were headed southeast anyway, picking it up worked out perfectly and saved us a ton of money in shipping. These guys are actually more into the racing aspect of biking but they had the bike we were looking for and they were getting all tweaked and ready to go when we walked in. We were immediately greeted by Patrick and Shannon and the first order of business here is to share stories and get to know each other a bit over coffee or a beer, depending on the hour of the day. We hung around for a little while talking about bikes and complaining about the frigid temperatures we’d just left. I don’t know why they did it, but they only charged us cost for the bike. In other words, these bikes usually cost around $1300.00 but they charged us only just over $700! I don’t know if it was because we shared our story with them, or if they just wanted to get the bike out of the showroom but given some of the luck we’d had recently we were reminded that there are still some caring and decent people out there. I don’t know if we’ll ever make it over there again but we would gladly spend our money there if we ever decided to add racing as one of our hobbies.
We wanted to get out of the car and stretch our legs a bit so we scoured TripAdvisor looking for something to see in the area. I gotta say, when you’re on the road an Iphone and TripAdvisor are the best thing there is when looking for something to do or somewhere to stay. We stumbled across a place called Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama. Its located on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey, which is the only Benedictine monastery of men in Alabama. We stopped to pay admission and met Brother Christopher who shared the story with us. On the site of a former quarry that was used by the Abbey, the grotto was opened in 1934 to display the works of Brother Joseph Zoetl who came to the Abbey in 1892 where he spent his life in prayer and working in the powerhouse. When he wasn’t shoveling coal, he was creating miniature replicas of famous buildings and churches from all parts of the world using stone, concrete and and other found or donated objects like broken plates, jewelry, seashells or the like. They were built and installed along the hillsides of a 2 block pathway in the gardens of the monastery. What I found amazing was that of all these 100’s of little buildings and structures he had only actually seen 6 of them in person. The rest were inspired by photos people had sent or just printed descriptions. I couldn’t imagine how he was able to create these in such detail only using a written description. He started his first structure 1912 and continued on even after a back injury caused him to have a haunch back and completed his last work in 1958 at age 80 which was miniature of Lourdes Basilica Church. The difference in his craftsmanship from his first work to his last is very distinct. As we walked around we were completely overwhelmed with the sheer number of these things. We could stand in front of a small portion of the hillside and look for a half hour and still not see every creation in the 4 foot section before us.
Out of all them a couple of my favorites were Vatican City where you can see things like St Peters Basilica and The Colosseum just to the upper right..
…and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
I loved finding this unexpected treasure along the highway in Alabama. I find myself constantly drawn to the unusual, less publicized places that people have created with their own two hands for no reason but to share their passion of something for anyone who cares to go find it. If you find yourself along I 65 near Cullman Alabama, take a break, get out of the car, and fork over the $4 and go see this place. Talk with Brother Christopher who will tell you the story about how the F4 tornado of 2011 ripped through the city stopping only a block from the Abbey before it abruptly changed directions, or how the huge tree fell in the garden missing many of the structures in the grotto by inches proving to him that the Abby is a safe and sacred place. Don’t forget to stop at the gift shop before you leave and pick up some Mystic Monk Coffee and some Strawberry Rhubarb preserves!
We arrived in Laguna Beach, FL which is right by Panama City Beach and we’ll be here through the end of January. Even though we aren’t right on the beach, we can look out the window every morning and see it right across the street which is good enough for us. After getting yelled at on our first day here by an old busy-body dude, we found out pretty early that most of the beach front here is dog UN-friendly but there is a dog beach just a few miles up the road. After speaking with the locals we found that most of them take their dogs anyway. Yesterday we were feeling like rebels so we took them down for a little bit and luckily didn’t face an encounter with anyone else who chose to set us straight. Jude loves the water and looked like a little kid trying to body surf. Lucy….not so much. She ran like hell every time she heard a wave crash. We’re hoping to extend our stay for a little while but haven’t decided how long or where we want to go. All we know is that we aren’t ready for the bitter, nose hair freezing air in Iowa just yet.