Category Archives: Florida travel

St. Pete Wine & Food Festival on now through Sunday

The Tampa Bay area’s premiere culinary event, the St. Pete Wine & Food Festival is a showcase for this vibrant city!

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Set against the backdrop of sun dappled Tampa Bay, the 2nd annual St. Pete Wine and Food Festival is in full swing now from November 3 – 6.  St. Petersburg, Florida has established itself as an art and restaurant destination on the Gulf of Mexico coast. From stunning restorations of historic hotels to vibrant arts districts and such new restaurants as Sea Salt offering 130 artisan salts to stimulate one’s palate, St. Petersburg is a world class city content that it will be on everyone’s travel and food list.

Grand Tasting from the 2015 festival
Grand Tasting from the 2015 festival

One does not normally think of a supermarket chain and fine food in the same sentence. Yet Publix is not only the major sponsor of the St. Pete Wine and Food Festival, it has positioned itself as a choice equal to its amiable competitors Trader Joes and Whole Foods. The surprises don’t end there because a significant percentage of the festival’s profits go to the St. Petersburg Arts Council and the Waterfront Parks Foundation.

Wine selections at the Grand Tasting from the 2015 festival
Wine selections at the Grand Tasting from the 2015 festival
Tequila tastings
Tequila tastings

Lest one think St. Petersburg is an example of the old joke that Florida is ‘God’s little waiting room,’ The SPWFF attendees  are from all age ranges offering such events as Tequila tasting and Beer nights!  St. Petersburg is attracting residents from a vibrant cross section of educated world citizens that thrive on the arts, sun, beach, boating and fine food. An explosion of fascinating venues more than satisfies all of these eclectic tastes.

St. Pete Beer Night from the 2015 festival
St. Pete Beer Night from the 2015 festival

After Beer Night St. Pete tonight November 4 at the St. Pete Wine & Food Festival get ready for the signature event both Saturday and Sunday afternoons November 5 and 6  – the Grand Tasting.  Sample dishes from dozens of area restaurants and wineries and watch Tampa Bay’s most talented chefs create signature dishes in the demonstration tent.

Chef demos Grand Tasting from the 2015 festival
Chef demos Grand Tasting from the 2015 festival

For all event details check the St. Pete Wine and Food Festival web site.

 

Festival venue North Straub Park, Saint Petersburg
Festival venue North Straub Park, Saint Petersburg

 

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Florida sunsets at Clearwater Beach

sunset at Pier 60
sunset at Pier 60

img_4607Clearwater Beach is one of a series of beautiful barrier island towns that stretch along Florida’s Pinellas County Gulf of Mexico coast. Blessed with powder white sand it’s a favored playground for tourist worldwide.

 

Clearwater Beach
Clearwater Beach

At dusk throngs gather at Pier 60 to enjoy a typically stunning sunset that for residents is one of the perks of living along the Gulf of Mexico. Pier 60 juts over 1,000 feet into the Gulf. In the daytime it’s a popular fishing pier.

Sunset at Clearwater Beach
Sunset at Clearwater Beach
vendor on Pier 60
vendor on Pier 60

But after 5:00 p.m. it transforms into a free sunset party complete with buskers, musicians and vendors selling a myriad of arts and crafts.

 

 

Clearwater Beach
Clearwater Beach

After sunset walk over to Pier House 60 Hotel and take the elevator to the 10th floor. Jimmy’s Crows Nest Bar & Grill offers  panoramic views of Clearwater Beach that at night are particularly impressive along with great burgers and drinks.

Florida, the Sunshine State, can just as easily be dubbed the Sunset State after spending an evening on Clearwater Beach.

Night view of Clearwater Beach from Jimmy's
Night view of Clearwater Beach Marina from Jimmy’s

 

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Before I die: expressing aspirations in Saint Petersburg, Florida

Before I Die

I dislike the term bucket list. I especially dislike it when it’s attached to travel. Adventure and exploration should be the impetus for travel, not checking off a predetermined list of must-see destinations.

Yet when it comes to life, reflecting on one’s innermost aspirations is healthy. How often do we express, especially to ourselves, “No, I can’t do that.” I’m not capable, talented, have no time, I’m afraid.

live

That’s the thought behind Saint Petersburg’s “Before I die…” wall located at 1049 Central Avenue in the heart of the Grand Central Arts District. A safe place to publicly express our aspirations shares a street bustling with cafes, art galleries and murals created by some of the city’s most talented artists.

 

figure this life out
figure this life out
sing
sing
get a passport and use it
get a passport and use it

A plastic bag of large colored chalk is available for all to use. The Before I die wall project started in New Orleans several years ago and has grown in popularity. I found it challenging, which sounds odd for a professional writer.

I also found reading the wall profoundly moving. I didn’t want to leave. I felt inspired and humbled by the aspirations of others in a way no bucket list blog ever achieved.

be the person my children aspire to be
be the person my children aspire to be

Saint Petersburg has been undergoing a major revival ever since the late 1990s despite the 2007 recession. Sprawling neighborhoods that radiated from a once decaying downtown were inconsequential to the trend towards the urban renewal of the 1960s-1980s, which often resulted in the destruction of low-rise residential and commercial streets. In the past decade a steady influx of young professionals with families, artists and entrepreneurs have found a treasure trove of Craftsman and art deco housing and sturdy commercial structures.

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In an enviable partnership between business owners and artists – some who got their start defacing decaying buildings with graffiti – vast walls have been transformed into stunning murals.

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The nearly 50 murals decorate walls in Saint Petersburg’s seven arts districts. And they’re not defaced. Provide a neighborhood with beauty and it will be respected.

make friends rich

Perhaps the greatest of human aspirations, when given a chance, is simply to be good.

 

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Ca’ d’Zan: an impresario’s palace

Ca' d'Zan
Ca’ d’Zan

John Ringling was the greatest impresario of his day. He created the iconic circus venue of 20th century legends,  and he knew how to make money.

(left) grand hall with original Waldorf Astoria Hotel crystal chandelier, John as cover story in a mid-1920s Time magazine, John's sterling silver office phone at Ca' d'Zan
(left) grand hall with original Waldorf Astoria Hotel crystal chandelier, John as cover story in a mid-1920s Time magazine, John’s sterling silver office phone at Ca’ d’Zan

Commenting on a huge portrait of Ringling in the grand hall of Ca’ d’Zan, the incisive social commentator of the 1920s, Will Rogers, said it was the first time he saw John’s hand in his own pocket…

(left clockwise) dining room, built in electric refrigerator, painted ceiling in the grand hall and pillars in the game room
(left clockwise) dining room, built in electric refrigerator, painted ceiling in the grand hall and pillars in the game room

The love of his life, Mabel, was also a savvy art lover especially of the popular Italian Venetian Renaissance era. With unlimited funds, John and Mabel prodigiously purchased great master artist of the era , furniture and a queen’s entire opera house. They employed top artist to paint original works of art throughout Ca’ d’Zan on ceilings, inside bathroom cabinet doors, on pillars – every square inch of this Venetian palace is art.

interior of every bathroom cabinet was painted with original art
interior of every bathroom cabinet was painted with original art

Ca’ d’Zan was Mabel’s project. It was meant from the outset to be a showplace, just like her husband’s circus. At a cost of $1,500.000 ($20,000,000 in 21st century dollars) the mid 1920s Venetian palace on the shore of Sarasota Bay is a palace.

Ca' d'Zan
Ca’ d’Zan

Although Mabel died nearly a decade before John, he respected her wishes donating Ca’ d’Zan  and its priceless art collection in his will to the state of Florida. Florida State University maintains the mansion, its art museum and the opera house as an integral component of its Sarasota campus.

Final resting place of Mabel, John and his sister at Ca d'Zan
Final resting place of Mabel, John and his sister at Ca d’Zan
original Volcun gas stove in Ca' d'Zan kitchen
original Volcun gas stove in Ca’ d’Zan kitchen
Sarasota Bay from the roof top terrace of Ca' d'Zan
Sarasota Bay from the roof top terrace of Ca’ d’Zan

 

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Louis Comfort Tiffany: reinventing interior design

Garden doors, 1905, August Heckscher house
Garden doors, 1905, August Heckscher house

Tiffany conjures images of ultimate luxury. Diamonds and gleaming silver flood our minds at the sound of that name. Yet Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of Tiffany & Company founder Charles, was an artistic polymath who put his stamp on paintings, shimmering glass, mosaics, architecture, pottery, bronze and objet d’art. He was the genius that reinvented interior design for the generation of the Gilded Age.

Louis Comfort Tiffany glass & lamp, Morse Museum
Louis Comfort Tiffany glass & lamp, Morse Museum

For lovers of Art Nouveau in America as envisioned by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 – 1933) mecca is the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art owns the largest and most comprehensive collection of Tiffany art in the world. Like the era that fostered both Louis Comfort Tiffany and affluent Winter Park, the museum is the product of a vast Gilded Age fortune.

Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL
Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL

Jeannette Genius (1909-1989) was the granddaughter of Chicago industrialist Charles Morse. Charles had a keen appreciation for art and warm Florida winters. First wintering and then retiring to this wealthy suburb of Orlando in the late 19th century, Charles Morse became a major benefactor and real estate baron in Winter Park.

A glimpse at Winter Park, FL
A glimpse at Winter Park, FL

Jeannette’s mother, Elizabeth Morse Genius, was an accomplished artist and patron of the era’s modern art – American impressionism, and Tiffany Studios. Jeannette inherited both wealth and an artistic passion, pursuing her own successful career as an interior designer. After spending much time with her grandfather in Winter Park she chose the town as her permanent residence.

recreation at the Morse Museum of the entrance fountain & display at Laurelton Hall
recreation at the Morse Museum of the entrance fountain & display at Laurelton Hall

Her family’s philanthropy had already made a mark on Winter Park’s Rollins College, and at the age of 27 Jeannette started a decades-long association on the Board of Trustees. More importantly she met and married a dashing Rollins art professor, Hugh McKean (1908-1995) who himself had an intimate connection to Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Tiffany had designed his magnificent Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall, in 1903 as a showcase for everything he loved. He intended that it would eventually become a residential institution to foster young artists. In 1930 a young Hugh McKean spent months at Laurelton Hall as one of Tiffany’s students. Although Hugh’s family was well to do, it was the match of love, art and Jeannette’s vast fortune that allowed the couple to fulfill their dream.

(top) jewel mosaic necklace & detail (lower) Opel mosaic box & detail
(top) jewel mosaic necklace & detail (lower) Opel mosaic box & detail

It’s difficult to believe that even before the death of Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1933, his designs had become passé. During the 1940s and 1950s Jeannette and Hugh amassed a personal collection in every medium of  Tiffany Studios designs. They established the Morse Museum and the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation, which owns and funds museum operations. More importantly, through their work they revived the keen international interest in Louis Comfort Tiffany that grows stronger as time passes.

Byzantine Chapel, 1893, at the Morse Museum
Byzantine Chapel, 1893, at the Morse Museum

Upon hearing in 1957 of the tragic fire that destroyed Laurelton Hall they set out to salvage and restore everything they could from stained glass windows, architectural artifacts and Tiffany’s masterpiece, the Byzantine Chapel he designed for Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition. The chapel was a creation of love and a marketing tour de force that catapulted Tiffany’s career to international fame. From its hand carved door, shimmering mosaics, stunning blue baptistery window to the revolutionary eight by ten foot, three dimensional Byzantine cross, the Electrolier, electrified with the aid of Thomas Edison, the chapel alone is worth a visit to the Morse Museum.

The Electrolier, Byzantine Chapel, Morse Museum
The Electrolier, Byzantine Chapel, Morse Museum
How Tiffany Studios assembled a lamp shade, Morse Museum
How Tiffany Studios assembled a lamp shade, Morse Museum

A visit to the Morse Museum is more than just gazing at beautifully displayed art. It’s meant to be an educational experience on Tiffany’s life and genius. Free detailed booklets in each gallery meticulously explain the exhibits. The lighting is stunning, illuminating objects in the manner intended for their original owners and eliciting sounds of awe as glass comes alive in shimmering glory. Archival videos and displays demonstrate the actual methods used by Tiffany Studio artists to create these magnificent objects.

The iridescence of Tiffany glass
The iridescence of Tiffany glass

An entire wing of the museum recreates as much as possible the feel of Laurelton Hall as Louis Comfort Tiffany would have wanted his guests to experience from the impressive entrance hall, his very modern dining room and what was salvaged of his beloved Daffodil Terrace. The Daffodil Terrace highlights Tiffany’s love for that flower and his skill in ceramics. In a glass walled enclosure complete with comfortable wicker chairs, the terrace invites museum visitors to relax, read and contemplate beauty. Contemplating beauty is the successful legacy of Tiffany, Jeannette, Hugh and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.

Daffodil Terrace installation at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL
Daffodil Terrace installation at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL

When you go: Winter Park is 15 miles north of Orlando International Airport. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is open six days a week, closed on Monday and most major holidays. Parking is free.

Dragon Fly lamp shade, Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL
Dragon Fly lamp shade, Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL

 

 

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Animals find refuge at Florida’s Homosassa Springs

Bald Eagle, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida
Bald Eagle, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida

There are many parks in the United States but Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an animal refuge. It’s also enjoyable to visit.

Great Horned Owl, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Great Horned Owl, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

From the Florida brown bear to iconic bald eagles, these animals were rescued after injury. What may at first seem like a zoo is a haven for these beautiful creatures.

Lucifer, an African hippopotamus at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Lucifer, an African hippopotamus at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
floating on the Homosassa River at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
floating on the Homosassa River at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

What was once a zoo-like Florida attraction starting in the 1940s became the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in the ‘80s. The goal was to give refuge to animals indigenous to the tropics of the western hemisphere with one exception. Lucifer, the locally popular African hippopotamus, first purchased by the original developers, was designated a Florida citizen by the state legislature. The 50+ year old hippo enjoys a charmed life at the park.

Abundant varieties of fish at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Abundant varieties of fish at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
some of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park's animals, such as this squirrel, simply enjoy living at the park
some of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s animals, such as this squirrel, simply enjoy living at the park

The Homosassa springs bubble up from the depths of the Earth at a constant 72° F. This warm water attracts an abundant variety of fish and aquatic animals. The Fish Bowl underwater observatory provides a unique experience to view life under sea level.

In some cases the animals heal enough to be released back into the wild. A park ranger told a story of one owl they thought would not be able to fly after its injury. To their surprise, it was gone one day. Yet the owl seems to miss this refuge. She returns frequently and sometimes stays the night.

A manatee through the underwater observatory at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
A manatee through the underwater observatory at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Of great importance is Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s manatee program. The endangered manatee, the object of many fatal encounters with Florida pleasure boats, receive expert health care in a state of the art facility. The park is one of the finest locations to view this massive gentle mammal.

Your visit to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park starts with a slow and picturesque barge trip from the visitor’s center on the Homosassa River. Thickly lined with vegetation the fifteen minute trip is visually beautiful with sunlight creating mirror reflections in the slow moving water. The barge docks at the entrance to the mile-long path that meanders through the various wildlife habitats.

Barge from visitor's center to animal park at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Barge from visitor’s center to animal park at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Homosassa River at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Homosassa River at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

The park is well designed for disabled visitors, and given the reality that Florida summers are hot and humid, there are sitting areas and concessions selling items from bottled water to ice cream. The air conditioned reptile house is a quiet place to cool down. Knowledgeable rangers are eager to share their stories.

A day at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an enjoyable education of what our Earth can be like when humans live in harmony with nature.

flamingos at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
flamingos at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

When you go:

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is located 85 miles north of the Tampa Bay area  or 100 miles west of Orlando – both easy 90 min to 2 hour drives.

There are admission fees and the park is well equipped and accessible to accommodate visitors with a wide range of disabilities.

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Nature creates

Nature creates a “cubist painting” – reflection in the Homosassa River, Florida

Homosassa River, Florida
Homosassa River, Florida

 

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Waiting to Invent: Thomas Edison in Florida

This photo at Seminole Lodge is titled "Waiting for another invention" – T. Edison (on ground), H. Firestone (left) & Pres. W. G. Harding 1921 in Florida
This photo at Seminole Lodge is titled “Waiting for another invention” – T. Edison (on ground), H. Firestone (left) & Pres. W. G. Harding 1921 in Florida

Much is written in the media today concerning the inability to disconnect while on vacation – professionals glued to email and cell phones around the pool. Yet that’s hardly unique to the 21st century. In 1885 when Thomas Edison purchased 14 acres along the Caloosahatchee River as a winter retreat in the remote southwestern Florida farming hamlet of Fort Myers he had no intention of turning his mind off.

The guest house of Seminole Lodge, Fort Myers, FL
The guest house of Seminole Lodge, Fort Myers, FL
Edison's office in the Moonlight Garden
Edison’s office in the Moonlight Garden

Although Thomas (1847-1931) Mina (1865-1947) and their children spent most winters at their Seminole Lodge estate, his office provides ample evidence he was still connected by correspondence to his invention laboratory at Menlo Park, NJ. Along with good friends Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford the Edison Botanical Research Corporation was established and a laboratory constructed on the estate in the 1920s. The goal was to make America independent of foreign rubber.

Edison Botanical Research Corporation laboratory at Seminole Lodge
Edison Botanical Research Corporation laboratory at Seminole Lodge

Edison dubbed Seminole Lodge his jungle. He and Mina surrounded their home with lush gardens. But first, they had to construct the houses.

Seminole Lodge
Seminole Lodge
Entrance & pilings remain of the 1,500' pier at Seminole Lodge
Entrance & pilings remain of the 1,500′ pier at Seminole Lodge

The railroad was not extended to Fort Myers until 1904, which meant convenient travel was by ship. A 1,500 foot pier was built as a landing for family, guests and the materials necessary for Seminole Lodge. Prefab houses were also not new to the 21st century. The lumber for the two identical mirror-image houses that are Seminole Lodge was fabricated in Maine, shipped to Fort Myers and assembled on site.

Seminole Lodge, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Seminole Lodge, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Dining room at Seminole Lodge
Dining room at Seminole Lodge

The adjacent second house was originally the winter home of business partner Ezra Gulliland, but was bought back by Edison after a serious split with Gulliland. The spacious, airy wood structures were connected with a pergola and the second house turned into combination guest quarters, dining room and kitchen for Seminole Lodge. Both houses were electrified, of course, with power from both generators and batteries – all the product of Edison’s fertile mind.

Henry Ford house, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Henry Ford house, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Ford Model T, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Ford Model T, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL

Children of America’s great industrial age, Thomas and Mina were friends with other magnates of the day, especially Henry Ford. A frequent guest of the Edisons at Seminole Lodge, Ford purchased the beautiful yet modest Craftsman house in 1916 adjacent to Seminole Lodge. Although the Fords only used the home for two weeks each winter to celebrate Edison’s birthday, their friendship and business partnerships were life-long.

(clockwise left) motion picture projectors, water powered cylinder phonograph c.1890, early record players, electric industrial tractor c.1917, Edison Manufacturing Co. electric fan c. 1900
(clockwise left) motion picture projectors, water powered cylinder phonograph c.1890, early record players, electric industrial tractor c.1917, Edison Manufacturing Co. electric fan c. 1900

After Thomas Edison’s death at age 84 in 1931 Mina continued to winter at Seminole Lodge. Mina was Edison’s second wife having been widowed in the early 1880s when only in his 30s. The daughter of an inventor, university educated and an employee at the Menlo Park lab, Mina was as much an intellectual equal to her husband as a wife.

Fountain of natural coral at Seminole Lodge
Fountain of natural coral at Seminole Lodge
At Seminole Lodge: the 1st private swimming pool built in S.W. Florida, 1911. The above ground pool constructed of Portland cement – Edison held the patent
At Seminole Lodge: the 1st private swimming pool built in S.W. Florida, 1911. The above ground pool constructed of Portland cement – Edison held the patent

Mina was active managing their households, the botanical gardens and the Edison business ventures. Edison was said to greatly appreciate Mina’s intellect and input in discussing his many theories for everything from the phonograph, electric batteries to motion picture cameras. In 1947 Mina deeded the estate to the City of Fort Myers on condition that it be preserved as a public memorial to her husband’s genius.

Edison's "jungle" at Seminole Lodge
Edison’s “jungle” at Seminole Lodge

Henry Ford sold his house in 1947, and it remained a private home until the city purchased it in 1988. The Edison & Ford Winter Estates is operated and maintained as a non-profit offering a plethora of tours and activities including an extensive museum dedicated to the genius of these two men. A visit to Edison’s jungle is to step back to an age where great ideas were conjured in the mind rather than by an electronic device – although Thomas probably would have invented the computer if he’d had time.

Sunset over the Caloosahatchee River at Seminole Lodge
Sunset over the Caloosahatchee River at Seminole Lodge

You can read part 2 on Seminole Lodge:  Edison’s Jungle in Fort Myers, Florida

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Chill is one of 20 St. Petersburg Florida restaurants

featured in my new article

Twenty good Florida eats in Saint Petersburg

Chill Restaurant & Bar, St. Petersburg, Florida
Chill Restaurant & Bar, St. Petersburg, Florida

With an emphasis on independent ownership, Saint Petersburg chefs have the freedom to experiment or just create the best grilled grouper sandwich on the beach.

Lobster & Mango Salad, Sea Salt Restaurant, St. Petersburg, FL
Lobster & Mango Salad, Sea Salt Restaurant, St. Petersburg, FL

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