facadecloserColumbia Restaurant—An Ybor City Institution

Great Food and Gorgeous Hand-Painted Tiles

The original Columbia Restaurant, founded in 1905, is the oldest and largest Spanish restaurant in the USA, and the oldest continuously-operated restaurant in Florida. It was opened as a café for cigar-makers by Casimiro Hernandez, Snr. When he died in 1930, his son Casimiro Hernandz Jnr inherited it and built it up. The restaurant has always been under the management of the founding family and is now in the fifth generation.

The Columbia is a definite feature in Ybor City, known not only for great food but also for art work in every room, notably tiles, fountains, sculptures and stained glass. It also helped popularize Spain’s cuisine in America, and through the years has played host to celebrities and world figures. In 1972, Ybor City obtained the first charter of the Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago, which is devoted to preserving Latin traditions in Tampa. Columbia Restaurant is Krewe headquarters.


St Columba story in tiles


tilesIn more recent times, Cuban dishes have also been added to the menu.

What immediately catches your eye is the gorgeous tile work on the exterior, beautiful panels telling different stories. We noted Saint Columba (is the restaurant name inspired from this?), and Don Quixote. These are hand-painted tiles from Seville. They were placed in the 1970s when third generation owners Cesar and Adela Gonzmart vacationed in Seville, Spain and fell in love with the colorful tiles there.



Part of the Don Quixote story

There’s also a Don Quixote Room inside depicting the windmill-tilting character of Cervantes’ classic novel. Second-generation owner Casimiro Hernandez, Jnr began his collection of Quixote-themed art in the 1930s with tiles from Cuba, Spain and Mexico.

This original restaurant is huge, with around 1700 seats in 15 rooms, taking up an entire city block. The restaurant now has 7 locations in Florida, including St Augustine, Celebration, Tampa Riverwalk, and Tampa International Airport.


Don Quixote and the windmill



St Augustine Columbia Restaurant

We didn’t eat at this Columbia Restaurant, but some years ago a friend took us to the one in St Augustine, which was very good, also with lovely tiled walls inside. But, our friend waxed eloquent about the flagship restaurant in Ybor City, and swore that nothing could beat that. Food is excellent and the whole place is very well run. Sometimes they have performances of Flamenco dancing.

The various Columbia restaurants get good reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor, which mostly feel the original one is the best.


Inside Columbia Restaurant in St Augustine


Great food (St Augustine)


The sangria was delightful

Look at their excellent web site—-for history, locations, events etc.




memorialThe 9/11 Fallen Heroes Memorial

There’s more in Ybor City than we realized. An unexpected find: another memorial to that fateful day, and a symbol of courage, healing and hope.

This memorial was unveiled September 11, 2014 by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at the Hillsborough Sheriff’s operations center in Ybor City.

The sculpture titled “Fearless Champions” represents and pays tribute to the first responders and survivors of that fateful day. It is by artist Becky Ault. The figures of firefighters, police and civilians are life size, and made from stainless steel. The centerpiece of the memorial is a steel beam recovered from wreckage of the World Trade Center. The Tower 2 memorial has the text: ‘In Memory of World Trade Center 2

One might wonder why this memorial is here in this city. Probably it’s because of the following two people.memorail2

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Capt. Brian Muldowney was present when the memorial was unveiled. Muldowney’s brother, a New York City firefighter, died in the line of duty on 9/11.

Retired Navy Capt. Jeff Cathey spoke at the opening. Cathey served in the U.S. Navy for 29 years. He also worked in Washington in the Secretary of Defense’s office. Cathey was raised in Tampa, played football at the University of Tampa and received a degree from the University of South Florida.

The memorial is located near the junction of E. Eighth Ave and 20th Street, Hillsborough Sheriff’s operations center in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida.


chickencrowingWe found Ybor City, Florida, really interesting for 4 main things: the old cigar stores and stories; the Columbia Restaurant; the World Trade Center Memorial; and a fairly large population of feral chickens (which is what Rod was looking for there as part of some research).

Ybor City is a historic neighborhood in Tampa, Florida, just northeast of down town. It was founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers, and is named after Vicente Martinez Ybor. Ybor was a Spanish-born cigar manufacturer, who moved his operation from Cuba, to Key West, to near Tampa. Thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain and Italy, came to live in this area, many as cigar workers. For the next 50 or so years, workers in Ybor City’s cigar factories rolled millions of cigars each year. It was an unusual immigrant community in southern US at that time because of its multi-ethnic and multi-racial population.


cigar2Another historical tidbit: A plaque tells us that the Rough Riders rode by here in 1898. “The intersection of Seventh Avenue and Twenty-second Street was a sandy cross-road connecting three army encampments in the Ybor City area during the Spanish-American War. At this cross-road was a water-trough where the Rough Riders watered their mounts. Col. “Teddy” Roosevelt frequently rode by here on his horse “Texas” followed by his little dog “Cuba”.”


Lions Club

A plaque at Columbia Restaurant explains the involvement of the Lions Club

During the Great Depression a slow exodus out of the area began and became worse after WW2, leading to a time of abandonment and decay. From the early 2000s, part of the original neighborhood has been redeveloped into a nightclub and entertainment district, with movies, restaurants and shopping opportunities.

The neighborhood has been designated a National Historic Landmark District and a number of structures in the area are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2008, 7th Avenue (the main commercial street in Ybor City) was recognized as one of the “10 Great Streets in America” by the American Planning Association.

In 2010, Columbia Restaurant was named a “Top 50 All-American icon” by Nation’s Restaurant News magazine. Besides serving food, this restaurant has played a large role in the history of Ybor City. For example, it’s the headquarters of the Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago, and the Lions Club of Ybor City was organized and met here.chickensbycar

See next posts for Columbia Restaurant and the World Trade Center Memorial.

How the chickens came about, who knows? But they are very pretty birds.


Flying Easter Bunny

Easter Bunny with a modern twist—A Marshmallow Drop, a Sweet Alternative to Egg-Hunting

ingardenThe Easter Bunny has been charming children in many parts of the world for years. The tradition is that the Easter Bunny leaves Easter eggs on Easter Sunday. Parents hide eggs in the garden and the children go on an egg hunt to find them. This used to be real eggs, dyed different colors, and perhaps decorated.

How did this tradition come about?

Rabbits have been associated with springtime since ancient times. Many believe that the Anglo-Saxon Pagan Goddess of Spring, Dawn and Fertility—Eostre—had a hare as her companion. Legend says this was after she transformed a wounded bird into a hare as a way to help it—hence an egg-laying rabbit. The hare symbolizes fertility and rebirth. The symbol of the hare later changed to the rabbit.

Eggs also represent new life, and it’s thought that decorating eggs for Easter dates way back to the 13th century. “Eostre” became “Easter”, and the link between rabbits and eggs much firmer.

Some sources say that the Easter Bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants, who settled in Pennsylvania and brought their tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” Their children made “nests” with their caps and bonnets and, if they were good, this creature would leave them colored eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the mythical rabbit’s Easter morning deliveries grew to include chocolate and other types of candy and gifts, and decorated baskets replaced nests. In addition, children often left out carrots for the bunny in case he got hungry from all his hopping.

I find the parallels between the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus very interesting: a “person”


Easter Bunny photo op

who brings gifts to children if they are good at a certain time of the year. The Bunny and Santa both usually come in secret, get around the whole world quickly, and children often leave out food of some kind to help them on their way. Sadly, it’s also true that both have become much more commercialized, there are far more candy and various gifts involved now, and we find the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus in public places, like big shopping malls, dressed up, ready for photo ops. The bunny has a white furry costume and a big smile and is ready to hand out candy or chocolate eggs, or sit for a photo.



Helicopter starts dropping thousands of marshmallows


Kids wait patiently behind the pink ribbon

So, back to the flying rabbit.

This Easter we encountered a new Easter Bunny tradition, not in the “normal” style at all. This Easter Bunny was in a helicopter, and pushed out thousands of white marshmallows. In Oviedo, Florida, on Easter Saturday was the city’s annual Marshmallow Drop. Thousands of children and their families gathered on the softball and baseball fields at the Oviedo Sports Complex on Saturday morning for a chance to collect marshmallows and redeem them for a goodie-bag. Four different fields were used for four age group: 0-3 years on one field; 4-5 years on another; 6-8 years on another and 9-12 years on the last one.


More marshmallows dropping


Kids run towards the marshmallows on the second field


Marshmallows raining down!

Kids lined up behind a ribbon on the edge of their field and waited. Soon, a helicopter appeared in the sky, landed in an adjacent field to load up with marshmallows, and then circled over the first field. It hovered, as the door opened and the Easter Bunny pushed out thousands of marshmallows, which tumbled onto the ground. The MC called out “1-2-3” and kids rushed out onto the field to gather the sticky white blobs in their Easter baskets.


kidspickingThe helicopter went to fill up with marshmallows again and the whole procedure was repeated for each field. Kids were super excited, but we didn’t see too much pushing and shoving, and we even saw kids allowing a child in a wheelchair to be pushed across the field. By the time all the marshmallows were collected they were actually grassy and dusty so not terribly edible really (although a few kids did try). So, kids proceeded to the Marshmallow Trade-in, dumped the marshmallows in the bin, and each child got a blue goodie-bag instead—like a small backpack, with some plastic eggs with jelly beans inside and a couple of fridge magnets.


Afterwards, kids could meet the Easter Bunny, play on the “jumpy castle”, get snacks at stalls etc. Great excitement and great fun. Cost? Only $3 per child.

A new experience for some of the kids, and certainly something we’ve never come across before!


A blue goodie bag instead of marshmallows

coppercatUrbana, IL: Mountain Lion in Town

Walking on Main Street in downtown Urbana the other day I came across an intriguing outdoor sculpture in front of the Cinema Gallery. A lean, metal feline.

It’s “Western Mountain Lion”, 2015, by Tim Summerville from a small nearby town, St Joseph, IL and it’s sponsored by the Cinema Gallery.

This fierce-looking lion is made of ¼-inch rods, with 660 feet in total, and it weighs about 120 pounds.coppercat2

Summerville describes himself as a copper sculpture artist. Each sculpture is created using large copper sheets and simple hand tools. Elements of the design are free-hand hammered using no forms or patterns. They are joined together with a copper alloy brazing rod and an oxy-acetylene torch, which makes a very strong joint.

He has made many birds (small hummingbirds, herons, red-tailed hawk, for example) and a rooster weather vane. He’s also done copper bird-houses, and bird feeders.

Nice to have such talent in our midst.

Animals On Parade


Horse “parading” in a garden in Urbana, IL


Cows on Parade, Chicago 1999

Animals on Parade

Many cities have, over the years, put up an outdoor exhibition of “Animals on Parade”. The city chooses a special animal—horse, cow, pig, buffalo—and many of these animals are made in fiber glass. Different companies, businesses, shops, institutions adopt an animal and paint it any way they want—usually somehow reflecting their business—and it is placed outside. Some are bright and cheerful, some very whimsical, some symbolic, some rather strange. After some months, there is usually an auction and the animals are sold to benefit a charity. Sometimes the business will keep its own animal, but sometimes it goes to a new home.

We have also seen city benches in Chicago as a theme, and St Louis recently has its 250


Cows on Parade, Chicago 1999

years celebration with 250 fiber-glass cakes dotted around the city. Same great concept.

We’ve seen a number of these collections on our travels and it’s a lot of fun, especially if there’s a list and you can try to track down all of them. Visitors and locals all love these, and it obviously benefits the city to have this extra interest in a temporary exhibition of wonderful outdoor sculptures.

The first “parade” that we came across was the “Cows on Parade” in Chicago in summer 1999 and I wrote about that then. See here http://www.viviennemackie.com/Illinois/Chic-cow-go.html .


In summer of 2002 we saw the “Buffaloes on Parade” in Salt Lake City and nearby Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.


Buffaloes on Parade, Salt Lake City 2002


Buffalo parading on Antelope Island, 2002

And the following year we found many of the “Lipizzaners on Parade” in Vienna, Austria. All gorgeous.


Lipizzaners on Parade, Vienna 2003


Lipizzaner parading in Vienna, 2003

In 2014 we went on a serious “Cake Hunt” for the St Louis birthday “Cakes” (which I documented in a special blog: https://mackie250stl.wordpress.com ). And in Chicago we had fun finding some different horses. These were for the Police Memorial Foundation and were called “Horses of Honor.”


Vera M with  Horse of Honor, Chicago 2014


Horse of honor, Chicago 2014


A gorgeous Horse of Honor, Chicago 2014


A lovely horse in an Urbana garden

So….walking around my own neighborhood in Urbanathe other day I was intrigued to find a painted fiber-glass horse in someone’s garden. It’s very pretty with a black and white pattern, but its stance didn’t match any of the “parades” that I’ve seen.

I’m very curious—-where did they get it, what does it represent? I don’t know these people at all, so I may never know.

But, I’ll be sure to walk that way again.



Quito 119

A woman in Quito making wonderful crafts for sale


Mongolian singer at a conference we attended

International Women’s Day (IWD)

This day is celebrated on March 8th each year, in varying ways in different parts of the world, supported by many different organizations and institutions. In some countries it is a national holiday but not in others, in which case they celebrate in other ways: a fun run, a dinner gala, conferences, breakfasts, festivals, tech talks etc.

Each year, the UN picks a different theme for IWD. In 2015 it was “Empowering Women. Empowering Humanity.”


Ronel in Australia is co-captain of this boat


Graduate students of Beijing Agriculture University visit the Forbidden City

The 2016 theme is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”, or “Closing the Gender Gap, or Gender Parity.”

These goals are all good, but I think it’s also a time to just celebrate women and honor them all, whether famous, powerful or not; to acknowledge what they do, however menial, as it contributes to the good of their society in some way.

To that aim, here are some pictures we’ve taken over the years of various women in different countries, involved in a number of differing activities, or just smiling for us.


Marching in the Gay Pride parade, St Louis

Quito 021

Handicrafts seller at the Equator, Equador

But first, a bit of history.

On March 19, 1911 the first official International Women’s Day was celebrated in Europe. At that time, in many European nations, as well as in the USA, women’s rights and women’s


Curio vendor on Grenada Island

suffrage were hot topics.

It was honored in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, to vote, to be trained, to hold public office and to end discrimination.

However, many people believe that there were earlier events that were a build-up to this first official IWD. Some say the first International Women’s meeting was on March 8, 1907 in the US. This was to commemorate the garment workers’ strike 50 years earlier, an event that many think was the initial trigger for a deeper consciousness about women’s issues.



Guide at the Secret Garden in Seoul, Korea


Kirsty from Norway

What happened 50 years before? On March 8, 1857, garment workers in New York City marched and picketed, demanding improved working conditions, a ten-hour day, and equal rights for women. Police broke their ranks, quite violently.

One year after the women’s gathering in 1907 there was another march. On March 8, 1908, the garment workers’ sisters in the needle trades in New York marched again, honoring the 1857 march, demanding the vote, and an end to sweatshops and child labor. The police were present on this occasion too.


Old meets new in Kyoto


Traditional Mayan-style dances in Merida, Mexico

The first official meeting in 1911 came about because earlier in 1910 at a meeting in Copenhagen, German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed an International Women’s Day, to commemorate the US demonstrations and honor working women the world over.

After 1911, because of WW1, the Depression, and WW2, interest in a women’s day was low, but in the 1960s the women’s movement began a new revival, mainly because there was a growing sense that “history” as taught in school was incomplete and had a male bias.


A street vendor on Insadong, Seoul, Korea

In 1975, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8


Mayuko from Japan enjoys a bridal shower in USA

March during International Women’s Year 1975. And in 1987, a group of women in the US campaigned with representatives from museums, schools and libraries to expand the celebration, and Congress responded by declaring the entire month of March as National Women’s History Month.

On the 100th anniversary of IWD, March 8, 2011, the IWD Organization collaborated with women’s organizations around the world to present gatherings and celebrations in 152 countries. In the United States, President Barack Obama honored the day and the then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, launched the “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges“. In the UK, celebrity activist Annie Lennox lead an amazing march across one of London’s iconic bridges, to raise awareness in support of the global charity, Women for Women International.


Nora helps sell flowers in KZN, South Africa


A worker at the Gouyave Nutmeg Station on Grenada explains the spice to us


A new employee at Uva Mira Wine Estate in South Africa explains a wine to Rod M

So, since those early years, International Women’s Day has taken on a global dimension for women in both developed and developing countries. Other well-known charities such as Oxfam have actively supported IWD, as have many celebrities and business leaders. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate small acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have tried to help their countries and communities.

See the official website:



Last but not least, my mother Joy Vermaak (left) with a friend. Mothers make all things possible!


Last, but not least, my mother-in-law Peggy Mackie


Colonial times in southern Africa


April gets married in a semi-traditional Shona wedding in Zimbabwe

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