It started as a fleeting thought brought on by cooler temperatures and sunny skies.
"It's interesting how all these museums are so close together," I muse aloud, flipping through a Calendar section.
My editor's head swivels toward me. Her eyes light up.
"Do you think you could get to them all in one day…" she begins as a puzzled look spreads across my face. My brain's whirring, "Well, of course, I could because obviously…"
The other shoe drops.
"…if you were walking?" she finishes.
I'm (reasonably) young, I'm (reasonably) in shape. So I immediately answer "yes."
After all, I've hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Of course then, there was a guide who carried tea for us and cooked us supper.
And it wasn't 86 degrees (just my luck, a freak heat wave in February).
And there wasn't the danger of Orlando traffic just inches away.
Uh-oh. What am I in for?
Another day at the office quickly becomes a strategic planning session. There are five major museums within a couple miles of each other: The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, the Morse Museum of American Art, all in Winter Park, and Orlando's Mennello Museum of American Art and Orlando Museum of Art.
Where to start, which roads to take. Various routes are considered. There's a timing factor. All the museums but the Mennello are open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The Mennello's hours are 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. So to maximize my time, the Mennello should be my last stop. My pencil starts redrawing my route. I mentally hear that GPS lady say "Recalculating."
The average person takes about 20 minutes to walk a leisurely mile. My route will be seven miles. Hmm, quick math: With a couple of rest breaks, that will only leave about four hours for actual museum time. So, in other words, this will not be a comprehensive exploration of any of them. Think of the endeavor as good exercise — with periodic cultural respites.
And suddenly I am lacing up my sneakers, strapping on a pedometer and on my way.
Orlando Museum of Art
I pat the hood of my car as I leave it in the Loch Haven Park lot. I won't be needing it for a while, no siree. I stride confidently into the museum, almost bouncing — bouncing, I tell you — in my sneakers I'm so eager to get going.
The major exhibit is a celebration of studio glass. I have an ace up my sleeve: I've already seen it. So, I think, I'll just revisit a few favorites and be on my way. Must use time efficiently.
Does time work differently in an art gallery? I suddenly realize it's 11:15. I've been drinking in the colors, studying the light refraction, admiring the intricate detail. What I haven't been doing is watching the time.
I scurry outside and head north toward Winter Park. Hmm, could it have gotten that much warmer already?
This is the longest trek — about 3 miles. Cars whiz by as I gawk at the birds strolling on the edge of Lake Estelle, Florida Hospital gleaming on the far shore. I stop and watch a little brown lizard curl up in the sunshine. He doesn't seem to have an issue with the rising temperature.
Along Mills Avenue to Orange Avenue, where I successfully cross the street. (Trust me, it's an achievement.) I veer off onto Holt Avenue, a shady brick-paved street that leads right into the heart of Rollins College. Suddenly, I have to share the sidewalks. A woman's walking two rambunctious dogs. Loaded down by backpacks, students meander by. One young man is singing quite animatedly to his companion; a music student, I think.
With sweat pouring off me, I rejoice at a banner heralding the 35th anniversary of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum. Lead on to the air-conditioned promised land!
Cornell Fine Arts Museum
Visiting the Cornell right now is like getting a history lesson of the museum. Its main exhibition, "Collecting for the Cornell," traces the development of the institution.
Did you know the Cornell has artworks dating to the 16th century? Did you realize there are pieces in the collection by Picasso? Dali? Degas?
It's a wonderful introduction to the treasures of the Cornell, and perhaps it says something about my eclectic taste that I am particularly drawn to two works, a depiction of Jesus and a groovy feline.
Lavinia Fontana's 1581 oil painting, "The Dead Christ With Symbols of the Passion" is one of only six paintings in U.S. collections by Fontana, the first female painter known to have a successful career.
That colorful kitty is Karel Appel's "Sunshine Cat," a 1978 lithograph featuring vivid blues and reds against a shocking orange background.
A bronze sculpture of Albin Polasek's "Mother Crying Over the World" reminds me of my next stop, so on I go.
The Polasek is even closer to the Cornell than I realized. In just about five minutes I'm there. Considering traffic on Fairbanks Avenue as it becomes Osceola Avenue, I'm probably making better time on foot than in a car, I think smugly.
The main gallery is home to "Life in the Fast Lane," a look at David DeLong's racing art. Motorcycles, pit stops, the Daytona Speedway — all are depicted in paintings, pen-and-ink drawings and sculpture.
I'm ready to slow down at this point, so I take a seat in the gardens, first seeking inspiration in "The Victorious Christ," created by Polasek in 1939.
Then, I move to a bench near the corpulent "Wasserman/King Under the Sea." That jolly fellow, clutching a fish in each hand as he leers at the sky, was sculpted by Polasek in 1962.
It's amazing what just 15 minutes of relaxation, surrounded by great art, will do for the human spirit. I am ready to move on.
Perhaps seeing the Wasserman's fish has activated hunger pangs, but walking up Park Avenue I realize breakfast was a long time ago. And Park Avenue is full of temptations: Thai, Turkish, gelato, pizza. Oh, no, is that a chocolatier?
My head overrules my stomach. Must stay on schedule.
I chuckle as I watch the desperate drivers, haunted looks in their eyes, hunt for a parking space. Suckers.
Everyone knows the Morse is home to the world's best collection of glassmaker Louis Comfort Tiffany art, but I decide to try something new.
The museum recently opened an Art Nouveau exhibit, and I spend a good hour nosing around it: A charming clock with the whimsical inscription "Prithee, what's o'clock," a handscreen made of lush peacock feathers, an earthenware wall sculpture titled "Die Nacht (The Night) Masque."
I want to stay longer and study the vases, candlesticks, figurines and jewelry. But I'm increasingly aware of the passing time. And, frankly, of my stomach.
I grab a quick sandwich across from the museum at Panera Bread — fuel for the trek back to Orlando — and head down the homestretch.
It takes about an hour to retrace my route back to Loch Haven Park. I can't imagine why but I seem to be taking a slower pace than in the morning. I take a cool-down lap around "The Big Dog Show," Dale Rogers' huge sculptures outside the Mennello, and then head inside.
It's 3:50 p.m. I have 40 minutes to view the African-American art exhibit, curated by the Smithsonian Institution. As in every other museum, it's just not enough time.
But it is possible to admire the scope of the exhibition, which contains nearly 100 works. Some are abstract, created by African-Americans, others are inspired by real life — the Ku Klux Klan, the Rodney King police-brutality case in Los Angeles.
Sculpture, documentary photography, paintings: The exhibit is a fascinating look at the history of a people. I feel a surge of hometown pride that our Mennello is one of only seven museums nationwide chosen to host the exhibition.
And then it's closing time. I did it. Seven miles, six-and-a-half hours, five museums.
I'm exhilarated. I'm sure the energized feeling is due in part to those endorphins workout fanatics are always raving about. But I have to think it's an uplifting of my spirit, as well, from the beautiful things I have seen on my journey.
• Orlando Museum of Art: 2416 N. Mills Ave., Orlando; 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon- 4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; $5-$8; "Contemporary Glass Sculpture: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Studio Glass" runs through March 31.
More information: 407-896-4231 or omart.org
• Cornell Fine Arts Museum: 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; free; "Collecting for the Cornell" runs through May 12.
More information: 407-646-2526 or rollins.edu/cfam/
• Albin Polasek Museum: 633 Osceola Ave., Winter Park; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Sunday; $3-$5; "Life in the Fast Lane" runs through April 14.
More information: 407-647-6294 or polasek.org
• Morse Museum of American Art: 445 N. Park Ave., Winter Park; 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday; 1-4 p.m. Sunday; $1-$5; "Lifelines," the Art Nouveau exhibit, is long-term.
More information: 407-645-5311 or morsemuseum.org
• Mennello Museum of American Art: 900 E. Princeton St., Orlando; 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-4:30 p.m. Sunday; $1-$5; "African-American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond" runs through April 28.
More information: 407-246-4278 or mennellomuseum.com
• My route included Mills and Orange avenues so I could see what is was like to walk on such busy streets. Surprisingly, I didn't feel threatened by the zooming of the nearby cars. There are more peaceful options, though, by walking along residential streets.
• Riding a bicycle is also a fine idea. All the museums I visited have bike racks available nearby.