Pensacola (corrected).

Saturday was my first full day off from work in a couple of weeks. While my entire vacation probably won’t be particularly exciting, I wanted to get out and do something on that first day of freedom. Sleep late? No. I wanted to take advantage of having an entire day to do whatever I wanted to. I started by running for an hour, early in the morning before running would make me melt into a puddle on the pavement. That was nice.

Then, I headed to Pensacola. Even though it’s only a half hour away, I had never been to Escambia County’s seat, a city first settled by the Spanish in 1559 and then decimated by a hurricane that very fall. Some thing haven’t changed much in the Florida Panhandle, have they?

The first place I visited was Plaza de Luna, named after the Spaniard who supervised that first ill-fated settlement attempt. It was a nice little park by the water, but nothing special. The most notable thing, in fact, were the great blue herons, which were clearly used to receiving snacks from the many people fishing from the edge of the park. They had no fear of humans and simply walked around on the boardwalk. It isn’t how I’m used to seeing these birds.

A bit further along the fence, I had to stop and take another picture. One of the herons had gotten on top of a fisherman’s car, and didn’t seem keen on getting down. The fisherman laughed, but was clearly perplexed at the bird’s interest in his vehicle.

Anyway, onward. I found Pensacola’s Art in the Park festival, which was kind of cool. I liked looking at all the art – painting! photos! cool sculpture! carving! – but the thing I hate about art shows is that whenever I look at someone’s booth, I feel obligated to talk to them. Sometimes I want to, but sometimes I just want to look at the art. Sorry, artist. I’m sure the artists don’t always like talking to all of us uneducated browsing idiots, either. It’s just kind of awkward. But still, it was cool to see some local art.

Next I explored the historic part of downtown, hoping to find some cool shops to look in. Not so many shops. I was kind of disappointed actually. There was a lot of space being used for offices or other things that a tourist wouldn’t be interested in. I did find a farmer’s market, though, which was oddly enough sharing a park space with an antique car show. The car owners and the farmers didn’t seem too keen on mingling.

For lunch, after perusing the options, I picked out Sluggo’s Vegetarian Cafe. I chose it because it looked like one of the few restaurants which would actually be creative. I saw another cafe which looked cool, but it was right next to the Art in the Park, so was bound to be extremely crowded. I also chose Sluggo’s because it had a great name. Plus, it looked a little, well, dingy. I wanted to give it some business. Vegetarian places with character should be rewarded.

Once I went inside, it became apparent that Sluggo’s wasn’t actually dingy, and probably didn’t need my help. It seemed like it was a very happening bar at night, and it was a hipster heaven. The waiter and cooks were some of the most stereotypical hipsters I’ve seen in a while. Nothing wrong with that. The place had a rotary telephone behind the counter, a framed picture of JFK, and a lot of PBR in the cooler as well as on tap. There was a placard that read, “There used to be a gay bank on Palafox Street. It had a rainbow flag ATM and the lobby was purple and fabulous.”

I liked Sluggo’s.

I had a mushroom and walnut burger, which turned out to be not what I was expecting, but in a good way. There are a lot of other things on the menu I would have liked to also try, but generally not the ones involving fake bacon. Potstickers? Sign me up. Barbecue Tofu Sub? Not so much. But it was a great little cafe to discover.

Next, I drove out to the Naval Air Station.

My grandfather Peter had recommended that I go to the National Museum of Naval Aviation. It turns out that my great-grandfather, Bobby, learned to fly in Pensacola. He turned out to be an admiral, so they obviously taught him pretty well. So I took off for the naval base, which is undoubtedly very different than it was when Bobby lived there.

I did find a memento of Bobby. He’s not in this picture, but there was a display about the capture of the U-505, the first German submarine captured in World War II. The codebooks and Enigma machine found onboard helped the Allies break the Germans’ code. Here’s what my grandfather told me in an e-mail:

“Bobby was Executive Officer on the carrier that was the central ship in the operation, so he was second in command to the Captain both on the ship and overseeing the operation. He is not in the photo on the sub but there are frequent pictures of several officers on the bridge of the carrier that includes him.”

Peter also pointed out, later, after I had posted this, that the U-505 was actually the first enemy warship captured at sea since the War of 1812, making it even more significant. Go great-grandpa!

So that was cool.

I also saw a lot of airplanes. A lot, lot, lot of airplanes. I didn’t realize how many different kinds of bombers there were in World War II alone! But the most interesting ones, I thought, were the planes from World War I. It made you realize exactly how dangerous flying was. Here’s one:

It looks so… little! and flimsy! Those pilots were really, really brave. They were just out there in the air, not really protected from anything. It must have been terrifying. It was incredible to see the advances in technology since then. Besides little flimsy planes, there were also giant ones. And flying boats. I keep saying this, but it was really cool.

Finally, I hit up a bike shop to grab some supplies, and it happened to be close to The Drowsy Poet, a coffee shop I’d heard a lot about. So I went there too. I was a little drowsy by this point in the afternoon, so a nice coffee sounded great. I am ashamed to say, though, that I didn’t take advantage of the coffee which they roast themselves and is supposedly so good. No, instead I got a delicious frozen drink with a shot of espresso, coconut, and mocha. It had whipped cream and chocolate syrup on top. I don’t regret my actions at all, but I usually look down on that sort of thing. Whatever, it was delicious. I don’t care!

I finished up my day by working on my bike and cooking an Afghan dinner…. stay tuned for the details of that adventure.

Off day: check! I accomplished my goal of making the most of it and doing some new things. Hooray!