Whoosh! That’s how quickly our nearly 3 week stay at our new “home” at Riverbend went by (check out our review and dash cam video). Maybe it’s because we were so busy trying to learn the ropes, meeting with a few landscapers, doing some shopping and trying to have a little bit of fun.
Except for the last few days of our stay, temps were in the high 80’s/low 90’s with lots and lots of humidity! Yes, I know – here I go whining about the weather again but we Northerners (at least these two) are not used to being in Florida this late in the year – we’re usually on the fast track towards the north and the cooler temps. Of course as our luck would have it, temps here have been abnormally high, more like July than April. Sure we would get hot, humid days back in New England but what struck us during this stay was how hot the sun is here compared to back north. In the shade it didn’t seem all that bad but a totally different story in the super hot sun. Brutal!
Not sure if running between the heat and humidity and the AC, getting up in the wee hours of the morning to go walking, or if it was just time for my annual bout, but yours truly ended up with a monster of a cold the last week of our stay. Walking came to a screeching halt as I just didn’t feel up to the daily challenge. Oh well, at least it was just a cold and nothing more serious, more of a nuisance than anything.
Anyway, what did we accomplish during our stay? Well, a new patio set is on order to be delivered when we return in November. We met with several landscapers and based on their advice decided to leave our existing vegetation alone. Not a good idea to plant anything just before the hot summer so we decided to wait until next fall when we return before doing anything major on our site.
We did hire someone (Casey) to install pavers next to the coach house where the golf cart resides and to add a double row of pavers bordering the driveway between the coach house and the existing paver area in front of the lake. Casey is also going to fix a leak around the window of the coach house. It took some time figuring out to find the right people to talk to, what forms to submit to the HOA for approval and deciding what we wanted done, but overall we’re happy with what we accomplished during our short stay at our new home.
Something totally new to us was the golf cart. Never thought we would ever own one of these things. Funny how things change. How did we ever live without one? So handy for taking stuff to the trash, for enjoying the cool breeze during the heat of the day, for zooming around each evening getting ideas for landscaping, and for enjoying a sunset along the banks of the river. Even for taking the kitties for a ride! They seemed as happy about our new purchase as we were. It seems the golf cart has become the land based equivalent of taking our traditional late afternoon dinghy ride around Greenwich Bay when we are living on the boat.
Although we were busy trying to accomplish stuff, we did take some time out to do a little bit of sightseeing.
Several people had told us about the beautiful church in the little town of Ave Maria mentioning that this was a “must see”. Located about 40 miles south east of Riverbend and in the middle of nowhere, Ave Maria is an unincorporated planned college town built in 2005 by the Ave Maria Development Company, a partnership of Barron Collier Companies and the Ave Maria Foundation led by Roman Catholic philanthropist and activist Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza. Researching it ahead of time, I found out that in the center of town is the Ave Maria Oratory church, the facade of which displays sculptor Márton Váró’s 30-foot-tall sculpture of the Annunciation depicting the Archangel Gabriel greeting the Virgin Mary with the words “Ave Maria” (Hail Mary).
Sounded like it might be interesting and perhaps worth the 50 minute drive. So on one rather cloudy but hot day with a supposed 20% chance of rain in the forecast, off we went, first stopping for an okay breakfast a Joe’s Cafe in the nearby town of Lehigh Acres.
Breakfast accomplished we were on our way. Boy, when they said it was out in the middle of nowhere, they weren’t kidding. It was a pretty long and somewhat boring ride. Did I mention the 20% chance of showers? Turned out that that percentage was a lot higher in Ave Maria – just as we turned off the main road, following the signs to the church, the sky darkened and the clouds became more ominous looking. Then the downpour! Jeesh, what perfect timing!
But despite the weather, suddenly we were lured out of our monotony – there it was, off in the distance, looming majestically on the horizon and dwarfing everything around it. Wow! Was that the church? Must be although it sure didn’t have the typical silhouette of a church.
At 100 feet tall, one of the oratory’s most distinctive characteristics is its steel structure, much of which is exposed internally and externally – it received an architectural award from the American Institute of Steel Construction in 2008.
Although we had planned to go inside the church, it was raining and there weren’t any parking spots nearby, most likely because it was 11:45 a.m. and people were arriving for the daily Mass which is said every day from noon to 1:00 p.m. (the church is not open to the camera snapping public during that hour). So we decided to kill some time by taking a ride around, hoping that the rain would abate.
Surrounding the church in the Town Center on Annunciation Circle is an assortment of small boutique shops and cafes as well as a walk-in clinic and a Publix grocery store. It seemed rather out of place to me (not sure why) but the Visitor Center was selling tickets for an Orange Jeep Tour advertised as a 90-minute eco-adventure tour.
I noticed that there were several buildings near the church that referred to the town as the “quasi-parish of Ave Maria”. After our visit and a little research I found out that the church has the title as the world’s only “quasi oratory” — that is, a privately owned Catholic church. When the church was built, Monaghan wanted to appoint his own pastor but the local bishop would have no part of that. The doors to the church were locked for a year over this rift. Not sure how it was resolved but they do have their own priest now.
As we drove away from the Town Center, we passed by Ave Maria University and several subdivisions, each with its own style of homes. On the outskirts of the community is a water park, soccer fields, baseball fields, an area called South Park which features a dog park, an amphitheater, a lake trail and a variety of other venues, the Oasis Club, a world class amenities resort, featuring over 12,000 square feet of entertainment and recreation space, a golf club and so much more.
But we were surprised by the number of unfinished areas and roads abruptly ending and going nowhere. What’s with that we wondered? Looking at their website, everything looks so idyllic and like such a wonderful place to live. But not so fast…..
During my research to determine what a “quasi-parish” was, I came across a very interesting article in the Miami New Times titled “Ave Maria University: A Catholic Project Goes Wrong“. Despite the initial vision and dream of Monaghan, things have not evolved as planned in this small quasi-parish! According to the article (assuming the info presented is factual and unbiased), “construction has halted, leaving half-built subdivisions to mildew in the tropical heat. Lawsuits and a federal investigation have dogged Monaghan. Ave Maria University’s ambitious athletic program fell to pieces amid an unholy trinity of F-bombs, firings, and defections. And the town’s hidden, anti-democratic, and perhaps unconstitutional origins have been splashed across local news. Instead of a city on a hill, Ave Maria has become a place of secrets and sectarianism.” Ah, that must be the reason why there are so many roads leading to nowhere!
The rain finally stopped, our tour of the town was over, there wasn’t anything else to see but unfortunately it was only 12:15 p.m. We debated hanging around until 1:00 p.m. to go inside the church but that didn’t appeal to either of us so we left, to retrace the long, boring ride back to Riverbend. I guess it was a worthwhile drive just to see the exterior of the church. If it were closer or near some other attraction, we would return to see the inside of the church but I doubt we will ever go out of our way to go there in the future.
We took another excursion during our stay but I’ll cover that in a separate post.