Archive for the ‘Florida’ Category

spanish moss

In Winter Park



The boardwalk at Blue Spring State Park (where you can see manatees)

One of the things that always strikes us whenever we visit Florida is the Spanish Moss on many of the trees as it’s a very familiar part of Florida’s environment. The trees and general vegetation are so different to what we have in Illinois, and seem rather ”exotic”. Despite its name, Spanish moss is not a moss at all.

Spanish Moss is actually an epiphytic plant related to the pineapple, as it is also a bromeliad (who would ever have imagined?!). That seems pretty exotic to me. It is not a parasite, but gets its food and water from the air.

It forms hair-like tufts of gray-green strands that can be up to 25 feet long, on the trunks and branches of many trees in the southern USA, Central America, and West Indies. The tufts can be long and thick, short in dense clumps, or sparse whiskers. In all cases they do look a little like a vegetative beard, which makes the legend very apt.



The Spanish Moss appears to grow on any type of tree, at least in Florida, as we see it dripping from tall oaks and smaller bushes and shrubs. There is even some on the magnolia tree in our son’s yard. It seems to do particularly well in places close to water.


Blue Spring State Park (the water really is that gorgeous turquoise color)


dripping3It’s also interesting that there is a special legend linked to Spanish Moss. The legend goes like this: A bearded brute, Gorez Goz, bought a beautiful Indian girl for a bar of soap and a yard of braid. She was so frightened by the sight of this Spanish man that when he arrived to claim her she ran away. He chased after her and she climbed up a tree. As Goz climbed up the same tree toward her, she dived into the water below and escaped. His gray beard became entangled in the branches of the tree and he soon died. To this day we can still see his gray beard as the Spanish Moss dangling from the trees.wpark2

A fun story, and a good example of how legends, folk tales, and fairy tales try to explain natural phenomena and human behavior.


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Swan boats on Lake Eola


The lady covered in green


The lady being prepared

greenfacehandsMuse of Discovery

Outdoor Sculptures That Make You Think.

Found in Lake Eola Park, downtown Orlando, FL

As most people probably know by now, I am a huge fan of outdoor art of any type, but especially sculpture. Public art is so important as it’s available to all, and I don’t think anyone (except perhaps the current USA Administration!) would disagree that art enriches people’s lives in many ways.

Whenever we travel, I’m always on the look-out for public art, both new and that seen before.

I wrote before about the “Muse of Discovery” in Eola Park, Orlando. See here


So, we were delighted on our recent visit to Orlando to find the lady still there and to discover that she is organic and changing. I’ve included photos of both our visits, as a way of comparing.


greenfaceTwo years ago, the lady was covered in live greenery and our then-5-year-old granddaughter dubbed her “The Lady with a Green Blanket”, which was very apt. At that time, the grass was ‘resting’ for winter and visitors could not sit on the statue’s hands, as the artist encourages the viewer to do. The artist invites the viewer to “ sit in the hand of the Muse and discover your hidden potential as she whispers to you”.

This time, we could sit on the lady’s hand but she wasn’t covered in greenery. In fact, a group of gardeners were working on the mound of soil over her body, preparing it for planting a lot of flowers. I’m sure that will look stunning in the summer.


us3The lady, with a very pretty face, is reclining in the park, her head, hands and limbs made of limestone. The information board tells us that the name is “Muse of Discovery”, by Meg White of Stephensport, KY and was gifted to the City of Orlando by Wayne M. Densch Charities, as part of the See Art Orlando Public Sculpture Program, 2013.

I can’t say there was an opportunity to discover hidden potential, as we were trying to get the kids to smile for the photo, but still it was fun!


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Boardwalk onto the beach



Be aware of Rip Currents

Central Florida: After our great lunch at Fishlips (see previous post) we drove a short way to the beach at Cocoa Beach.

A long sandy beach, perfect for making sand castles, playing ball or frisbee, or taking walks along the water line looking for shells. There is a lifeguard, but one must still be aware of potential rip tides.

Cocoa Beach is a small city in Brevard County FL, along Florida’s Space Coast, not far from Titusville and Merritt Island (a wonderful nature reserve). It’s the closest beach to Orlando, so if you’ve come to visit Disney but you also want a beach experience, this may well be where you’ll come. It has a sunny shoreline with many activities besides beach swimming, such as para-sailing, casino cruises, and the Brevard Zoo.


Sand play


Cousins watching the waves


Hope the sea turtles continue to come here

This area was first settled by freed slaves after the Civil War. In 1888 a group of men from the nearby town of Cocoa bought the tract of land, but it remained undeveloped until 1923 and was incorporated as Cocoa Beach in 1925.

The town started its major growth during the 1960s because of America’s space program—-NASA’s John F Kennedy Space Center is about 16 miles north of town.

It has a humid sub-tropical climate and even in the coolest months the high temperatures are around 72 F (22C)—on December 26 a couple of our party got into the sea to swim even!


Getting into the water on Boxing Day!

The economy is based largely on tourism—the beach and surfing, and cruising—with


Beach, and Cocoa Beach Pier in the distance

2.4 million day trippers annually (a parking nightmare). Ron Jon’s is a famous surf shop (supposedly the world’s largest) and Cocoa Beach is home to the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame. There are also surfing festivals and a surfing parade.

One of the landmarks is the Cocoa Beach Pier, built in 1962 (formerly known as the Cape Canaveral Pier).

More information here http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/cocoa-beach.html

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glassesFishlips—an Intriguing Name for a Restaurant

Fishlips Waterfront Bar & Grill, 610 Glen Cheek Drive, Port Canaveral, Florida

Their slogan: From hot burgers and cold beer, to fresh fish and fine wine – Fishlips Waterfront Bar & Grill in Port Canaveral has “Something for Everyone!”

There is a row of four or so restaurants near the port terminal at Port Canaveral, but our Florida family has been to Fishlips before and we were happy to be guided by them. We were not disappointed.


Our family group


The baby loved the boats and birds


An interesting logo

This lovely place is close to Cocoa Beach, so if you’re planning on spending some time at the beach, this is perfect for lunch or an early dinner before driving back to Orlando. You pay $15 per car to park in Jetty Park for the beach, but parking at Fishlips is free.

On Boxing Day (December 26) our large extended family group did just that: drove to Fishlips for lunch and then spent the afternoon at the beach. Coming from the Mid-West, where frigid and icy weather had been the norm, we were so happy to feel warm sunshine.

It’s a nautical-themed seafood grill and bar, with an extensive menu (see here http://fishlipswaterfront.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/FishlipsMenu_March2015.pdf ). They have a special Sunday brunch, and can also offer special facilities for parties, banquets etc.


A surfing photo op!


View from waterfront patio


Cod encrusted in mashed potato

You can dine downstairs inside, or outside on the waterfront patio. They also offer an indoor sports bar, and sun deck with Tiki bar upstairs. We opted for the outside waterfront tables that face the port inlet and it was wonderful to see and hear the sea birds wheeling and calling, to see dolphins splashing in the water, and to watch boats of different sizes and shapes glide by: from a small motor boat with two people and a dog, to a ferry, to fishing boats, to a huge container ship. Cruise ships apparently also pass by here, but none came the day we were there.


Fresh oysters


Triple skewers

We were a large group, with varying tastes, so many different items on the menu got chosen. Everyone in our group seemed to be pleased with their choice—from a dozen fresh oysters, to conch fritters, to coconut shrimp, to baked cod, to burgers, to a crabcake sandwich, to scallops risotto, to mention some of the dishes. My daughter has a baby and our server was very happy to bring small side dishes of vegetables for her. Considering the number of people in our party, we thought that our server did very well—she was accurate and always smiling and pleasant. Prices are pretty reasonable too, if you remember this is Florida and this is close to where huge cruise ships dock.


Fried conch

I hope that we can return here on our next visit back to Orlando.

Open 11am-2am

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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.




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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.

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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.


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