Monday, September 9, 2013

Destination: Solomon's Castle, Ona, Florida

Solomon's Castle is one of those road-side America must do's. I first heard about it through my in-laws who insisted we go see it during one of Gman and my visits. They described it with great enthusiasm, "This man built an entire castle by hand, out of garbage. Well, out of recycled materials. He built the whole thing! You can take a tour and have lunch in the Boat in the Moat. The funny thing is the whole thing is a pun. Its a joke. Its great, we have to go!" And so finally after years of talking about it with my anticipation building, we finally went this summer.

You can only get to Solomon's Castle by car and it is recommended that you start with a full tank of gas as you exit Interstate 75. It is located pretty far into the wilderness of the middle of the state. Also bring cash with you for tour tickets and lunch. Surprisingly, its easy to spend a full day there so start your journey early in the morning. The closest large town is Sarasota, so it might be a fun day trip if you are enjoying a week at the beach. Other logistics to note, since the whole experience is run by a family who actually lives in the castle that you take a tour in, sometimes they need time off. It is closed all Mondays and the months of July, August, and September. This seems like a lot but if you have ever experienced summer in Florida, you're going to only want to be at the beach or in the AC somewhere anyways. The middle of the state gets pretty hot and every afternoon has incredible thunderstorms

Redneck Coat of Arms

"Wrong Brothers"

Editor's note: Before you make fun of me for going on a geriatric tour with the Red Hat Society, remember, they were out exploring while you were at home watching TV and surfing the internet. 

My favorite thing about Solomon's Castle is that everything there, including the building itself was crafted by hand by the owner and artist Howard Solomon. If I remember correctly (too busy enjoying myself to take notes!) he has been working on it for several decades. He created each sculpture, stained glass window, painting, or piece of architecture out of found objects. The outside of the castle, for example, is made from old printing press plates that were otherwise going to be thrown away. The tour you go on takes you through a museum of Mr. Solomon's artwork and through his home. Some of the items might seem like crudely constructed rifts on great works of art or just a wooden gun inside a box, but each piece is a visual pun. Its the epitome of everything I studied about conceptual art. I freakin' loved it! The tour guide was so dry that he barely smiled. I was laughing out loud the entire tour. For example, the image below is of Mr. Solomon's dining room window with a bunch of cameras on the ledge. Its a "picture window." GET IT?! I was dying. I could barely catch my breath as each joke rolled off the tongue of the guide. I just love that Mr. Solomon was inspired to create each concept and he had the drive and talent enough to actually follow through and make each thing. I feel like I always have these crazy ideas but then I don't take action. He didn't let other people discourage him from building his own castle in the middle of Florida. In fact his whole family, children, grand-children, all live on the property and support his fantastic dreams.

You're going to work up an appetite on the tour. Go directly to the Boat in the Moat, run by his daughter, and order some traditional Floridian cuisine. I enjoyed the classic BLT with a fruit salad and marshmallows and a sweet tea. For dessert we split a few slices of Key Lime Pie, a must! The food was simple but delicious, fresh (mostly sourced from local farms), and prepared with friendly hands.

After lunch I recommend a walk on the nature path, a stop by Mr. Solomon's workshop, and a visit to his latest piece, The Alice Shmo, a to scale replica of The Alamo. There is a gift shop too (where you purchase tour tickets) if you are in a silly mood and interested in taking a joke home with you.

If you aren't quite ready to leave, perhaps a stay at the castle is in your cards? There is a one room Bed & Breakfast located in the top of the tower. Want to bring your friends back with you? They have a beautiful room you can rent for parties of 20+ people. Getting the party out there is on you...

"Picture window"

Boat in the Moat Restaurant
"This mural is protected by fencing." 

Plant loving friends, are you impressed by this staghorn fern? I was!

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