Sunday, December 15, 2019

Gilbert's Bar House of Refuge Museum

Last weekend was the annual holiday open house at the Gilbert's Bar House of Refuge Museum. This event took place on December 8th. Admission and tours were free between the hours of 1-3pm. 

The museum was festively decorated for the holiday and a pianist was playing holiday music on the porch. They also offered free refreshments which included cookies and warm cider. We had a really nice afternoon touring the museum and meeting the wonderful volunteers that work there.

Gilbert's bar is a shoal of Anastasia rock, which is a formation of shell and limestone compressed by the sea over thousands of years. The shoal runs along the coastline and has caused many wrecks for unsuspecting sailors.

Gilbert's Bar is named after the legendary pirate Don Pedro Gilbert. The son of a Spanish nobleman, Gilbert reportedly sailed his ship in the Hutchinson Island vicinity during the 1820s and 30s. He and his crew would start a fire to deceive ships passing in the night forcing them to run aground on the rocky shoal. They would then kill the men, steal their cargo, and burn the ship.

In 1874, The United States Congress authorized the construction of five houses of refuge. They were placed at 26-mile intervals along on the unpopulated east coast of Florida where shipwrecks often occurred close to shore. Shipwreck victims were usually able to reach the beach safely but would eventually perish without food, shelter, or water. 

Houses of refuge were part of the United States Life-Saving Service (USLSS) and were manned by a Keeper and his family. Keepers were required to walk the beach following storms in search of shipwreck survivors.

By 1885, there were ten houses of refuge with room and supplies to accommodate 20 shipwreck victims for two weeks.

Gilbert's Bar House of Refuge, completed on March 10th, 1876, is the only house of refuge remaining of the original ten houses. It is the oldest structure in Martin County and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The museum tour begins in the basement with a timeline of the human occupation of Southeast Florida.

The Ais or Ays were a Native American tribe of Florida. They inhabited coastal regions of eastern Florida from Cape Canaveral to the Indian River.

The basement has an exhibit that includes several small displays of Ais Indian artifacts and historical lifesaving equipment.

Shown in the picture above, are life vests, blankets, and one of the cots that were supplied to shipwreck survivors.

The Breeches Buoy was a piece of life-saving equipment used by the House of Refuge prior to the invention of the helicopter. It consisted of a cork ring-used to keep the person afloat-with canvas breeches attached to it. It hung from a pulley that could be pulled back and forth by hauling lines. A line was fired from the shore to the distressed ship and attached to a high point on the vessel. One by one, the crew and passengers were pulled safely to shore.

The floor plans of all the Houses of Refuge were identical. This was the Keeper's bedroom (shown in the picture above). On the east and west sides of the house, all the doors and windows line up with each other to take advantage of the cross breeze. This was not only to keep the house cool but to keep the bugs out as well. The windows on the west side of the house have a view of the Indian River and the windows on the east side of the house are facing the ocean. If I had the misfortune of being shipwrecked, I wouldn't mind winding up at this House of Refuge.

This artwork, known as hair art, was a popular art form in the Victorian Era. It is woven out of human hair.

The parlor was used for entertaining. The Keepers were provided with trunks that contained books for entertainment. A few of them also had a Victrola or Edison, an early version of the record player. They often owned music boxes.

The brass lanterns above the settee were recovered from the Cosme Colzada which came ashore during a storm October 17, 1904. The surviving crew was housed at the House of Refuge.

The paintings were donated by local pioneer, Curt Whiticar, in 2016 when he was 105 years old.

This is a display of beautiful Seminole Indian Dolls.

This clock is an Admiral Dewey shelf clock, made of oak, circa 1889.

The dining room (shown above) displays china and a lace tablecloth that belonged to Mrs. Bessey, a Keeper's wife. The glass pitcher belonged to the Craigs, a pioneer family in Stuart. The portable oil heater is the only heat source in the house other than the fireplace in the kitchen.

The shotgun hanging over the door in the kitchen was always loaded and ready as bears were a real threat. During turtle nesting season bears swam to the island to raid the turtle nest and eat the hatchlings. 

The fireplaces on all the Houses of Refuge were not very functional. The smoke came back down the chimney into the house. Due to this and also the heat it would have created in the house, a lot of the cooking was probably done outside. In later years the Keepers had stoves.

Ironing was done with cast irons which were heated in the fire. The ironing board is on exhibit in the basement as it is an artifact from the Georges Valentine. It never had legs but was balanced between two flat back chairs.

Museum visitors were not permitted on the second story but according to the sign, the second story is one big room the length of the building. It was equipped with cots and provisions for the shipwreck survivors. If the Keeper had any children they may have slept up there.

The Keeper was paid a salary and had to provide for himself and his family. The closest place to buy supplies was Titusville. He had to travel by small sailboat up the Indian River lagoon and it could take up to two weeks. The longest supply run recorded was two months when one keeper was stranded in Titusville by two hurricanes.

This ship's wheel is from The Adonis. It was built in Bridgetown, Nova Scotia in 1903. She was abandoned at sea on October 19, 1920, 20 miles northeast of Jupiter while bound from Jacksonville to Sagua. She drifted ashore and was a total loss.
In 1915 the U.S. Coast Guard was formed when the U.S. Life Saving Service merged with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. The House of Refuge became the U.S. Coast Guard Station #207. A lookout tower and additional buildings were added to the property after German U-Boats torpedoed freighters along the Treasure Coast in 1942.

The House of Refuge closed its doors from April 1945 until 1955 when the Historical Society of Martin County opened it in 1956 as a museum.

The House of Refuge is located at:
301 Southeast MacArthur Boulevard,
Stuart, Florida 34996

The museum is open Monday-Saturday from 10am-4pm and Sundays from 1 pm-4pm.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Palm Beach Balloon Festival

The Palm Beach Balloon Festival took place over the Thanksgiving weekend at the International Polo Club in Wellington, Florida.

It was organized by the Midflo Balloon Glow Tour. While they've held other balloon festivals throughout Florida, this was the first time the event was held in Palm Beach.

Aerial view of the Polo Club from inside the hot air balloon

I was slightly apprehensive about going because some of the online reviews for the event were not very complimentary. Some people who attended other events complained that they purchased tickets for balloon rides that were canceled and then they were not refunded. 

I've always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon so I decided not to let the reviews deter me and I pre-purchased tickets. The tickets did state that they were non-refundable in the event that the balloons could not fly due to unfavorable weather conditions so I set my expectations low and told myself to be prepared for disappointment. 

Some other poor reviews were about how disorganized the other balloon festivals were, which I will agree with. Aside from the parking, which was extremely organized and well-staffed with friendly employees, there was seemingly no order once you entered the venue. We could not locate a single staff member to direct us to where we needed to check-in for our balloon ride. There was no signage indicating where we needed to go either. 

There was someone making announcements but because the International Polo Club is a massive arena, if you were on the other side of the field, you couldn't hear what was being said. Despite it being disorganized and understaffed, it didn't take us too long to find the line to check-in for the balloon rides because all of the other patrons started directing each other where to go. At one point, an announcement was made asking for people to volunteer to help inflate one of the balloons. Because of the lack of staff, the balloon festival turned into a very hands-on event and guests truly got a behind-the-scenes experience!

I'm so glad I didn't let the poor reviews deter me from attending the event because I had so much fun. It far exceeded my expectations and my only complaint was that the balloon ride was too short. I loved it so much that I wanted to do it again. 

The balloons were tethered and very safe but there were plenty of other things to keep people entertained. They had music, games, and carnival rides for the kids and people who didn't want to go up in the balloons. Several bars were set-up for serving adult beverages and there were many food trucks to choose from where I had the best food truck meal I've ever had. 


There were 18 balloons at the festival and once the sun had set and it was completely dark all 18 balloons went "full burn" and lit up. 


I had such a fantastic time at the Palm Beach Balloon Festival and I can't wait to go again next year.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Shop Small

November 30th is Small Business Saturday

Shop Small and support small businesses. ⁣

I’m running sales this week in all of my stores ranging from 10%-60% off & free shipping.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Travel Sketchbook

I've been to Lovely Ireland six times and I've written quite a lot about my trips. So I thought I'd do something different this time and I'd share my travel sketchbook from my most recent trip this past summer. I made the sketch above while on the plane. It is a fairly accurate map of Ireland. Well, at least it is according to me!

This sketch is of Hook Head, the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. You can learn more about the Hook Lighthouse in my post, Wexford, Ireland.

I ran out of black paint while trying to sketch the Doolin Cave so I had to improvise with some colored pencils. The drawing on the left is of my husband standing in the tunnel to the cave wearing his hardhat. The drawing on the right is illustrating my little self pointing at the Great Stalactite. To read more about the Doolin Cave click here: Doolin Cave.

This is a quick little sketch of the Cliffs of Moher but no painting, photos, or videos could ever do it justice. It really needs to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. Click here to find out more: Cliffs of Moher.

And last but not least, an experience I will never forget. This is my depiction of the very turbulent and nauseating boat ride to the Aran Islands. You can read all about it here: Aran Islands.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Aran Islands

The Aran Islands are a group of islands with a population of just 1,200 people located off the west coast of Ireland. There are 3 islands named Inishmore (Inis Mór), Inishmaan (Inis Meáin), and Inisheer (Inis Oírr).

My husband grew up in Ireland but had never been to the Aran Islands. It was a place that he talked about visiting for a long time. He spoke about it as being authentically Irish because of its culture and because it's part of the Gaeltacht. The Gaeltacht refers to the regions in Ireland where the Irish language is the primary language spoken.

View of Cliffs of Moher from the Doolin ferry port

To get to the Aran Islands you have to book a ferry from Doolin or Galway. We watched the weather reports daily and booked our ferry for the only day that week when rain was not expected. We paid a little bit extra for the combo trip which would take us to Inishmore and then around the Cliffs of Moher on the return trip. We couldn't have asked for better weather as we had nothing but rain, wind, and fog all week. There was a beautiful clear view of the Cliffs of Moher from the ferry port. It was a great day for a boat trip. I love boat trips and I was excited.

Doolin Ferry

The brochure showed luxurious looking boats that looked like miniature cruise ships. Most of the tourists going to the Aran Islands via the Doolin Ferry that morning got on those boats. For some reason, a small group of us were told to wait in line for a different boat. The wind picked up and the sea looked very rough. My husband and I started to get very nervous when the boat that showed up to transport us to the Aran Islands looked like an old fishing trawler. He kept saying that our boat did not look like the boat in the brochure but assured me that it would only be a 20-minute trip. 

Our ride to the Aran Islands

Once we took off, the boat began violently rocking side to side and bobbing up and down. We were sitting inside and it soon got very hot. Within 15-minutes of leaving, a little girl got sick and we were all trapped inside with the heat and the smell and the violent rocking. All 75 passengers began to simultaneously get sick. Everyone ran for the sick bags and the outer deck.
It was a nightmare. 

A travel sketch that I made depicting our experience

I kept telling myself that it would be over in 20 minutes. Except it wasn't. The trip lasted over an hour. We all crowded onto the bow of the boat for fresh air so by the time we arrived in Inishmore everyone was soaking wet, shivering, and nauseous. 

Horse and buggy

There are a few transportation options for exploring the island. You can rent a bike which at that particular time was out of the question since we were still feeling very ill. You can also take a horse and buggy tour but sitting at the back-end of a horse was also not appealing after what we had just endured. There were also a few vans driving around that offered rides for a fare. 

Before we decided on moving again, we found a café where we could sit, drink tea, and warm up on the solid ground. The family with the little girl that started the vomit-palooza on the boat were seated next to us at the café. They were all still feeling sick except, of course, for the little girl who was now in a happy mood. 

Before we could decide on what to do for the rest of the day, my husband had to call the office at the ferry port. While on the boat he realized that he forgot to buy a parking ticket for the car and that we'd return to Doolin to most likely find our rental car had been towed. The woman in the office spoke to the Harbor Master who located our car and paid for a parking ticket for us. We couldn't believe how nice they were. The day was starting to look better. 

Most of the passengers from the fancy-looking cruise ships seemed to be completely fine and immediately took off on their rented bikes. We took our time recuperating and walked around visiting the local shops. Inishmore is the largest of the three islands but being that the island is only 12 square miles and home to about 800 people, there is only a need for a few shops. One of them includes Aran Sweater Market, home of the world-famous Aran sweater. There is also only one grocery store on Inishmore. We went there in search of Dramamine or any kind of seasickness medication only to discover that there is nowhere on the island that sells it. The only things we could find to help with nausea were ginger beer and some candied ginger. We had only arrived and I was already dreading the trip home.

When we finally started to feel a little better we decided to rent bikes and ride around the island. The island is very hilly but the bikes were hybrids and very easy to ride. 

We rode up and down rolling green hills. 

We saw many stone walls, 
the remains of old churches and houses,

gravestones, and ancient Celtic cemeteries.

We were surrounded by views of wild landscapes

and the ocean.

The island also had beaches

and many thatched cottages.

It's no wonder Inishmore is famous for its Irish culture.

From this vantage point, we could see the other islands.

When we finally made it to the other side of the island, we found out why the other passengers rushed off their boats to rent bikes. If we wanted to climb up to Dún Aonghasa, we wouldn't make it back in time to catch the ferry back to Doolin. Dún Aonghasa is a prehistoric fort that archaeologists believe was built sometime around 1100 BC. The 14-acre site sits on a 300-foot cliff which has spectacular views, or so I'm told. The climb up to the fort was packed with people. It would've taken at least an hour to climb up, tour the site, and climb back down. We were so disappointed when we realized we had only one hour left to cycle back to the ferry.

View of the Cliffs of Moher from the ferry

If you want to take a trip to the Aran Islands, my advice would be to spend a little extra money on the combo trip to see the Cliffs of Moher on the return trip to Doolin. The downside of this is that you have to go on the little fishing trawler packed with seasick passengers. However, if you take medication for seasickness beforehand and start cycling to the other side of the island as soon as you get off the boat then you should have plenty of time to make it up to Dún Aonghasa.

View of the Cliffs of Moher from the ferry

We were put back on the dreaded fishing trawler for the trip home but we made a short stop at one of the other islands to switch to the more luxurious boat before heading to the cliffs. 

View of the Cliffs of Moher from the ferry

We had a much smoother and more comfortable ride on the new boat and not one person got sick! We had visited the Cliffs of Moher the day before (read my post: Cliffs of Moher) and while the views are sensational from both vantage points, we were able to see far more of the cliffs from the perspective of the ocean. I don't know if it was worth turning green on a boat for the first time in my life or having to miss experiencing Dún Aonghasa but if you take my advice and plan accordingly then the combo trip will definitely be worth the extra money.