An April 2009 trip
to Pensacola by Wildcat Dianne
Quote: Springtime brings a lot to Pensacola and myself. In April, it was my 42nd birthday which meant lunch with two new birthday buddies. In June, Mom and I went downtown to check out the Juan Sebastian da Elcano, a Spanish Tall Ship in port.
The Juan Sebastian de Elcano is the third largest Tall Ship in the World and was named after Basque/Spanish Navigator Juan Sebastian de Elcano (1486 or 1487-1526) under the command of Ferdinand Magellan during the latter's trip to the Spice Islands in Indonesia from 1519-1522.
Elcano was the oldest of four children born in the Basque country of Spain and became a sailor at a young age. He became a Commander Subject under King Carlos I and joined Magellan's fleet to the Spice Islands in 1519. The trip to the Spice Islands was to be a short trip, but mutiny in Argentina, starvation, and battles with Natives in the Philippines prolonged the trip even further. Magellan was killed by natives in the Philippines at the Battle of Macatan on April 27, 1521, and Elcano took command of the Spanish fleet and headed back to Spain. After another ship was left behind because of damage, Elcano in command of the Victoria returned to Spain via the Indian Ocean and the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. After three years at sea and the deaths of 237 crew members, Elcano and 18 surviving crew members returned to Cadiz, Spain on September 6, 1522.
After completing the first trip around the world by an explorer, Juan Sebastian de Elcano was awarded a coat of arms by Carlos I along with a small pension and still remained as a commander under the Spanish King. In 1525, a second trip to the Spice Islands similar to the first trip was planned with the Loaiza Expedition, and Elcano became a captain of one of the ships along with another ship's captain. Elcano died at sea from starvation during the second expedition on August 4, 1526 along with the other captain, but several sailors took command of the expedition and were able to return to Spain the same route Elcano took the Victoria in 1522.
Today the Tall Ship Juan Sebastian de Elcano bears the explorer's name and is used by the Royal Spanish Navy as a training ship for its sailors and travels around the world on a mission of peace and friendship. The schooner was built in Cadiz in 1927 and has four masts and is 115-meters-long (370 feet) and is constructed of wood and metal.
As a child growing up in Rhode Island, my family and I were treated to a 1976 Bicentennial celebration of several Tall Ships from around the world in Newport, Rhode Island, and the idea of seeing another Tall Ship in our lifetime was a rare and special opportunity for us to enjoy. Plus we are facing another move to our new home in Milton and was looking forward to what could be the last recreational trip for us for a long time.
So after dropping off a check for a surveyor of our new home to our realtor, Mom and I were on our way to Downtown Pensacola and the Juan Sebastian de Elcano. The trip downtown from our Pensacola condo is a short one, so we made it downtown in about 15 minutes. We thought we saw some Tall Ship related activities in Martin Luther King, Jr. Square, and parked the car near there in one of the parking lots. But after we got out of the car, I realized I had left my camera at home and packed only my batteries. I wasn't going to see a Spanish Tall Ship and not have photos to prove it, I told Mom, and we had to make a made dash back home to get my camera, which was on top of my entertainment center in my bedroom.
Camera in purse, Mom and I made the short trip back to Downtown Pensacola. There were Spanish flags festooned down all of Palafox Street, but the activities going on in MLK, Jr. Square turned out to be a Farmer's Market, and it was closing up for the week as we came back to town. Oh well. Mom and I went further downtown to Commendencia Street, where free parking was available near where the Juan Sebastian de Elcano was docked. A long line was forming for the next group of free tours on the Spanish Tall Ship that were to begin at 3 p.m. Mom and I decided to forgo the line for the time being and check out the Juan Sebastian de Elcano from the pier on Commendencia Street before suffering in a long line on a hot June day.
There were many people walking the pier and enjoying a view of the Juan Sebastian de Elcano and many people including myself were taking pictures and enjoying the breezes blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico. One man went even further and had set up an easel on the pier and was painting a portrait of the Juan Sebastian de Elcano, and I said to Mom I should think about starting to draw again after a long absence from paper and pencil, and she agreed with me.
Mom ran to the car to get another pair of shoes because the ones she had on were uncomfortable. I got a place in line for both of us and got talking with a couple who came to see the ship from Mobile. The breezes from the Gulf were a godsend and a great relief from the heat, but I wish I had put on my SPF 30 instead of my SPF 15 moistruizer because my shoulders got a little red while waiting in line.
Near 2:30, Mom and I got talking with the couple in front of me, and the husband was a bounty of information on Naval history and rules since he served in the Navy a long time ago. His wife was funny and thought the masts came down like in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, but her husband told her no, and Mom and I joked that Johnny Depp wouldn't be on board the Juan Sebastian de Elcano that day.
Finally, the uniformed Escambia County Sheriff stationed at the gate opened the gates to the Juan Sebastian de Elcano and we flowed in towards the Tall Ship taking in its majestic beauty along the way. Another 30 minute wait was before us, but there was a refreshment van near the ship for anyone who needed to buy soda or bottled water. Mom and I had brought water with us and were sipping from it while waiting and enjoying the breezes.
Finally Mom and I got on board the Juan Sebastian de Elcano. A good-looking Spanish sailor was stationed at the boarding dock to make sure that only a certain number of people were on board at a time, and I greeted him as I climbed on board.
If one is to tour the JSE, you need to be in good shape and not be afraid of heights. Usually heights is a deal breaker for Mom for any adventure, but she was a trooper climbing up the steep ladders of the JSE throughout the ship behind me. We posed for many pictures along the way at the big captain's wheels and other locations on board, but I was too shy to pose for any shots with the sailors, who were some of the cutest sailors I have laid my eyes on.
The entire tour of the Juan Sebastian de Elcano took us about 45 minutes and was very informative and an awesome experience for all. I would have loved to have stayed on board all day to enjoy the Gulf breezes, but I don't think they would allow me to stay. Reluctantly Mom and I left the ship and headed home happy to have the experience to see history and a Tall Ship.
If you live on the coastal USA and a Tall Ship is visiting, don't miss it. Our tour of the JSE was free and great for people looking for budget fun. We were lucky to get free parking right near the ship even though there was a parking lot nearby charging $5 for parking. If you are in the Pensacola area now, the Juan Sebastian de Elcano will be docked at Commendencia Street Pier until June 9 before it heads to other stops on its tour.
Restaurant | "Mothers Day Ice Cream Treat"
So Mom and I went back across the bridge into Gulf Breeze in order to find a restroom and possible an ice cream place to eat. In the Publix Plaza, we discovered The Marble Slab Creamery, which had just opened in Gulf Breeze and decided that was where we were going to stop for some ice cream.
We were greeted nicely by the girls behind the creamery's counter before we headed to the restroom in back. While I was waiting for Mom to get out of the bathroom, I started to look at the ice cream flavors in the freezers in front of me. One of the girls behind the counter offered me a sample of the flavor of my choice, and it took me a minute to decide on the Vanilla Cinnamon ice cream. It tasted like apple pie a la mode and was heaven on a spoon, and I started to look at the menu to see what toppings and other goodies would go well with Vanilla Cinnamon ice cream.
It took me quite a while with all of the topping selections and flavors of ice cream on the menu at Marble Slab, and Mom didn't take long to decide on the Caramel Chocolate Crisp Sundae. Mom told me I needed to make up my mind, but I was drooling over everything before deciding to have a Caramel Sundae with the Vanilla Sugar Ice Cream. Both Mom and I had our sundaes in waffle cones and were able to watch the girls behind the counter make our sundaes from scratch.
All of the ice cream is made on the premises and they soften it up on marble slabs in front of you. The girls behind the counter didn't take long to make our sundaes, and Mom and I were sitting down at one of the few tables in the creamery to enjoy our treats. Mom's sundae didn't have any toppings on it with all of hers being mixed into the ice cream, but my sundae was a classic sundae loaded with whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry on top. The Vanilla Cinnamon ice cream added a different flavor to my sundae, and both Mom and I satisfied our sweet tooths in a flash.
Marble Slab Creamer in Gulf Breeze is located on Highway 98 or Gulf Breeze Highway on the way to Pensacola Beach. It is open seven days a week, and the prices are reasonable for homemade ice cream. Mom and I spent about $5 each for our sundaes and were able to enjoy them and a nice Mothers Day treat even though we couldn't walk the beach!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 11, 2009
Marble Slab Creamery
840 Gulf Breeze Parkway
Gulf Breeze 32561
Restaurant | "Birthday Dinner with Family and Friend at The Fish House"
I invited some friends to join me on my special day but scheduling and the restaurant being quite a distance from their homes in Pace/Milton kept some away except for my buddy Carole in Flooring who met us at the restaurant. Erika had a veterinary emergency of sorts with her cat Pesto and would meet us shortly afterwards, but she told us when she called that afternoon to get our name on the list or we would never get into the restaurant. Luckily, Mom, Carole, and I were there about 5 p.m. and had our choice of dining inside with the big fish tank that was inside or outside. It was a beautiful and breezy evening, and we chose to eat outside and were brought outside to a table with a view of a little marina with some boats docked and the bridge to Pensacola Beach.
Our waiter Kevin was right there with the hostess to take our drink orders, and Mom and I ordered a Sam Adams Boston Lager, but Carole waited until almost dinner time to get a glass of water. Kevin, who seemed to me to have no personality, kept his distance knowing that Erika was on her way and we would order after she showed up. While waiting and enjoying our beers, Carole gave me a nice necklace and earrings as a birthday gift and we talked about work, sports, and other subjects while enjoying the view of the marina and a heron flying around the dock.
Finally Erika showed up, and we decided to make our final decisions on what to eat in order not to tick off our waiter. Kevin read the evening's specials which didn't seem too appealing except for the fish of the day which was tillapia. Erika already knew what she wanted and got the Ginger Chicken ($17.50) while Carole, Mom, and I chose the Fish of the Day ($19.50). The fish dinners came in your choice of preparation, and Carole got the Ginger Tillapia while Mom was brave and got the Blackened Tillapia, and I got the Pecan Encrusted Tillapia. All of our dinners came with salads and two side dishes. Carole, Erika and I chose the chile herb rice as a side while Mom was brave again and got collard greens with veggies, and I got fried okra in order to go with the Southern flow of things. Erika and Carole got veggies as their second side dishes.
Our salads came rather quickly, and they were beautifully presented on white square plates with nice green lettuce, grape tomatoes, pickled cucumber slices, red onion, and a slice of bread with our choice of salad dressing. The salads were good and we had enough time to digest them before our main courses arrived.
About 15 minutes later, our entrees arrived, and we took a few minutes to admire the plating of the food before digging in. Our fish was a nice piece of tillapia in our choice of finish surrounded by our side dishes and was very good. The chile herb rice had a little bite to it and I enjoyed my fried okra and was dipping it into the aioli tartar sauce that came with my fish. However, Mom took one bite of her collard greens and didn't like them at all. They went to the side while she enjoyed her fish and veggies. Erika said the last time she was at the Fish House, her Ginger Chicken was so hot she thought she would need a fire extinguisher to put out the fire in her mouth. This time, Erika said her chicken was more sweet than spicy, but was good. Everyone pretty much cleared our plates with enough room for cheesecake back at our place for my birthday cake, and we turned down the waiter's offer for no dessert, and he didn't even crack a smile when I said we were going home for birthday cake. A band had started to play music on the huge patio, and it was slow music which earned an eye roll from Erika and I, who are used to loud rock and roll like The Dropkick Murphys and other heavy metal greats.
Both Erika and Carole's food came to about $20 while Mom paid for my meal and hers and it came to close to $50 plus tip. The Fish House is a bit expensive, and I thought our waiter wasn't very personable, but was quick in getting our orders. The Fish House is supposed to be one of the best places in town, but my co-worker Roy may have been right saying it was overrated, but to me it had some good points in good food with a Southern twist, but the prices and so-so service will have me thinking of other places to dine in the future. If you do decide to eat at the Fish House, make sure you get there early or you will be waiting for a long time for a table and be prepared to spend some money.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 2, 2009
600 Barracks Street
Pensacola, Florida 32502
Restaurant | "An Early Birthday Lunch With My Birthday Buddies!"
Having an early birthday celebration on one's lunch hour means many things. We needed a place near work that was inexpensive and had quick service and good food. Laurie suggested La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, which fit all of our criteria needed for a nice lunch. Plus Laurie said that we could all wear birthday sombreros while enjoying lunch. Uh, I think we will pass on that, Valerie and I both thought.
Laurie, Valerie, and I got to La Hacienda before the lunch rush on Thursday afternoon and were immediately seated near the fountain in the center of the restaurant. Laurie had asked for three sombreros, but I don't think they heard us, so (WHEW!) we weren't subject to the slapping of the big hats on our heads and Happy Birthday in Spanish. For an inexpensive restaurant, La Hacienda is a gorgeously decorated place with bright colors and hand-painted chairs with images of Mexican life reminiscent to the artistry of Frieda Kahlo, the artist from the 1930's and 1940's whose life was portrayed so brilliantly by Selma Hayek in the biopic Frieda a couple of years ago.
A bowl of tortilla chips and spicy salsa was placed at our table as soon as we sat down along with the menus, and our waiter took our drink order quickly. While perusing the menu, Laurie, Valerie, and I chatted about how old we were going to be on the 30th (Laurie is the oldest turning the big 5-0 while I will be 42, and Valerie is the baby at 30). The lunch menu at La Hacienda is very reasonable with meals going from $5.50 up to about $8 which is good for Home Depot employees on tight budgets. Laurie, Valerie, and I quickly decided what we wanted to eat, and our waiter was right there to take our orders. Valerie got Corn Tacos with Chicken while Laurie got Beef Fajitas, and I went veggie and got the Bean Burrito/Spinach Quesidilla Platter. All meals were about $5.50 each, and the food was at our tables in under ten minutes.
For a cheap meal, all of our portions were just right and filled us up nicely. My bean burrito and Spinach Quesidilla came with Mexican rice that was flavored nicely. The quesidilla came with Monterrey Jack cheese and was fresh spinach and good. Valerie said her chicken tacos were a little spicy but very enjoyable and Laurie's sizzling fajitas were very good, according to her. We all enjoyed our meals, and our waiter was very attentive and nice keeping our drinks filled up (too bad we couldn't have margaritas, but I don't think our boss Dan would approve of three tipsy ladies coming back to work) and making sure we were enjoying ourselves.
Time was short, and we didn't have time for the complimentary birthday cake, but Laurie didn't say anything to the waiter so Valerie and I wouldn't be embarassed (another time), and we had to return to work vowing to do more lunches and dinner even though it won't be our birthdays. My meal with a diet Coke cost $7.66 plus tip while Valerie and Laurie got away with meals under $10, too. Service was great and the atmosphere is very bright and informal. La Hacienda is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner and the prices and portions are great, and they do take-out for those who wish to dine at work or home. I highly recommend dining in because of the great decor and I will return when I have more time to try out other menu choices.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 25, 2009
La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant
4601 Highway 90