A Morning Walk on South of Fifth

After months of sheltering at home due to the global pandemic, this weekend we ventured out to one of the beautiful neighborhoods right in our backyard. South of Fifth, known to the locals as SoFi, is a small and affluent neighborhood in South Beach, Miami Beach. Surrounded by water, modern and historic apartment buildings, iconic restaurants, marinas, and the beach, Sofi is a highly desirable place to live and play in Miami.

This “walkable” neighborhood goes from South Point Park, the southern tip of Miami Beach, north to 5th street from east to west. Once a dying area of Miami Beach, SoFi came to life in the early 1990’s when a German man, Thomas Kramer, envisioned creating a tropical version of New York’s Battery Park City. His vision transformed this once seedy and crime ridden neighborhood into a Miami gem.

You can live in a city for years and still be surprised by its beauty. I often take for granted that I live in a place most people consider paradise. This morning’s walk reminded me of how lucky we are to be able to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds us. Walking on a serene path along the beach I felt a sense of peace and contentment. The beach, with its powdery white sand and tranquil ocean, was devoid of crowds in the early morning hours–just the way I like it.

Thoughts of the sadness, turmoil, and worldwide devastation that the year 2020 embedded in my heart and mind disappeared, if only for a moment.

At the end of South Pointe Park is South Point Pier. You can fish, enjoy a sunset, watch the cruise ships sail out to sea, catch a glimpse of dolphins, or relax and take in the view.

Standing 55 feet tall is the quirky “obstinate lighthouse” greeting visitors and locals with a choreographed light display. This lighthouse, by artist Tobias Rehberger, is the 18th art installation in the Art in Public Places Project started in 1979 with the Mermaid, by Roy Lichtenstein.

One of my favorite things in any urban hike is meeting interesting people. Although Covid has limited the opportunity to engage in friendly chatter with strangers, we managed to meet a couple and their unique pet. We met Jolly Roger, an adorable and friendly mini pig, who charmed and delighted my husband. Now to convince him that we don’t need an addition to our family! Though I must admit, Jolly Roger was very cute.

In a neighborhood where modern luxury high rises coexist in perfect harmony with historic art deco buildings, with the panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean, Biscayne Bay, Fisher Island, and downtown Miami, it’s easy to see why Sofi attracts locals and foreigners alike.

Jetty Park Campground, Cape Canaveral FL

On the road again on a Friday night, except this time, we left our Toyota Camry behind to ride in a 36 ft. Holiday Rambler Neptune motor home with friends. We’re headed to Jetty Park, a campground on a stretch of beach along the east coast of Florida in Cape Canaveral.

We are always up for a camping trip. With all of the preparation that goes into preparing for a camping excursion, the experience is easier when you’re camping out in a comfortable motor home. Some campgrounds tend to pack the motor homes too closely together to make better use of the available space, while primitive spots are more lush and private. Jetty Park offers both options.

Nicely tucked away, this primitive site is very cozy.

You can also rent small cabins that comfortably accommodate a family of four. The cabins are air conditioned with a queen size bed, a set of bunk beds, a half-bath, mini fridge, a small porch, picnic table, and charcoal grill.

Jetty Park is the perfect campground for beach lovers and fishing enthusiasts. With a 1,200 ft. long fishing pier, equipped with running water and fish cleaning stations, you can fish from sunrise to sunset. No need for a fishing license to fish off the pier. No bait, no problem. You can purchase bait in the Bait Shop right on site.

If fishing isn’t your thing, Jetty Park offers 4.5 acres of sandy beach where you can lay back, relax, and soak in the sun.

Kayaks, boogie boards, chairs, and umbrellas can be rented right on the beach. Bring your snacks or visit Fishlips to purchase food, beach, and fishing items.

About a half hour drive from the campground, an exciting experience awaits at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge Indian River Lagoon, between Cocoa Beach and Titusville, FL. The Bioluminescent Kayak tour with BK Adventures was the most exciting part of our camping trip to Jetty Park. Bioluminescence is light produced by a chemical reaction within a living organism. Plankton, a microscopic aquatic organism, cause the mystical bioluminescence in the waters of the lagoons we visited on our BK Adventure night tour.

Our tour began at 11 p.m., on a night with little moonlight, the perfect condition to experience bioluminescence. We booked the Clear Kayak Tour for $72 per person. The tour guides greeted our group of six, and after a short explanation of the tour, and a generous application of bug spray, we set out on our 1.5 hour kayak tour.

This tour was nothing short of magical, with the exception of arguing with my husband about which way to paddle. Our tour guide led us into the mangroves as we watched in amazement the glowing water around us. The illuminated fish beneath us, and the perfect starry sky above were breathtaking.

Towards the end of our kayaking experience we witnessed something unexpected. Our friends noticed a few large humps peeking through the surface of the water. Our guide shone a flashlight in the direction of the humps triggering an explosion of glowing water as startled manatees, disturbed from their peaceful slumber, offered us an exciting end to a unique adventure.

Although we didn’t have an opportunity to visit during this trip, the Kennedy Space Center is a must see.

Whether you prefer to relax in the serenity of a sandy beach, pitch a tent on a primitive site, enjoy the magic of a bioluminescent kayak experience, or explore our history in space travel, Jetty Park Campground offers something special for all who visit.

Discovering NOLA

When you start a bucket list in your twenties, you don’t really think about it much. At least I never did. Now in my mid-fifties, there’s a different sense of urgency as I get older to explore and enjoy the places and experiences I planned to live in my youth.

One of the places on that bucket list started long ago is visiting New Orleans. Today, via the Florida Turnpike, we hit the road to The Big Easy with great expectations, a detailed itinerary, and ready for a new adventure.

We arrived in New Orleans and immediately headed for the historic French Quarter. Our excitement was only trumped by the overload to the senses of the smells, sounds, and sights of this vibrant city. We couldn’t wait to explore; we couldn’t wait to savor some of Nola’s Cajun cuisine!

 

We arrived at lunchtime and found a charming restaurant on Royal Street in the French Quarter named Pere Antoine. This restaurant was not on my list of must see and visit, but we were hungry. We ordered Seafood Gumbo and Gumbalaya, a combination of Gumbo and Jambalaya. The food was tasty and spicy, exactly what we expected, and the service and ambiance were lovely.

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The restaurant is named for a Spanish friar, Antonio de Sedella, lovingly known as Pere Antoine. He was the people’s priest, and his death in 1829 at the age of 81 was mourned by the entire city. If you’re into ghost stories like me, you should visit the street named for Pere Antoine, where his ghost has been known to visit. The main entrance of St. Louis Cathedral is on Pere Antoine Alley, right by Jackson Square.

We were off to explore the city before checking into our Airbnb.

Walking through the French Quarter we found by chance a must-see on my list, Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo.

As voodoo shops go, Marie Laveau’s is pretty touristy. With an array of religious and spiritual paraphernalia, tribal masks, charms, herbs used for sacred rituals, and more, this shop will immerse the curious visitor into the misunderstood world of voodoo. Spiritual private readings, as well as an alter with offerings to the high priestess of voodoo, Marie Laveau, are part of the experience.

Exhausted from the road trip we headed to our Air B&B to relax and get ready for dinner.

We have been staying at private homes through the many rental companies available like Air B&B, VRBO or HomeAway for years. It gives us the opportunity to experience all kinds of homes, with space and privacy that truly help us relax and unwind. This home is a remodeled shotgun. Gorgeous high ceilings, crown moldings, hardwood floors, and open living space, made this home the perfect home away from home to enjoy our short stay in New Orleans.

 

Since our house was Uptown in the Carrolton neighborhood, we chose a restaurant for dinner only a few miles away. Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar, located on St. Charles and Napoleon, is easily accessible by the St. Charles Streetcar. The restaurant’s old world charm with rich wood, brick walls, a bar imported from Paris, Parisian chairs and antique accents is only second to the cuisine. Oysters, a New Orleans staple, are offered in a variety of ways in the full-service oyster bar. The seafood was fresh, perfectly prepared, and a delicious ending to our first day in the city.

 

Day two promised to be a day of discovery, with a few planned activities starting with breakfast at the world famous Cafe Du Monde, where visitors line up all day to savor their Beignets and Cafe Au Lait. Even on a rainy day, you can see the line forming early morning. But here’s a secret, you really don’t need to stand in line. You can simply walk in and find an empty table and just sit down and wait to be served. Don’t tell, it’s our secret.

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Cafe Du Monde opened in 1862 and was part of the French Market. If you’re looking for eggs and bacon you’ve come to the wrong place. This coffee shop only serves the famous savory fried square doughnuts smothered in powdered sugar, coffee, and hot chocolate twenty-four hours a day.IMG_9269 - Copy - Copy

The French Market, with six blocks of shops, a flea market, restaurants, a farmers market and more, is a favorite gathering place to shop, eat, drink, and enjoy music and entertainment. You can find pretty much everything here–from art to pralines that come in all kinds of flavors–you can check off most of your souvenir gifts at the French Market.

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With satisfied appetites and some shopping done, we head off to explore the city.

To stroll the streets of the French Quarter is to go back in time. The rich Spanish and French history is visible in the city’s architecture, the names of the streets and businesses, and in the eclectic and diverse backgrounds of its residents. Street performers abound, and music fills the air.  And although Mardi Gras had long passed, hints of the traditional celebration was still everywhere with beaded necklaces hanging from balconies and trees.

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With the latter half of day two rained out, we headed back to our Nola home to relax and dry out.

 

The streetcar is a great way to get around in New Orleans, and for $1.25 you can purchase a one-way ticket.

On this rainy day, we headed back uptown on the St. Charles streetcar, which began transporting locals and visitors back in 1835. Immerse yourself in a time long gone, as you ride the St. Charles line past stately mansions in the Garden District. A walking tour is the best way to explore the beautiful homes of this historic neighborhood.

It was time for lunch, so we stopped at the Blind Pelican, right on the St. Charles line. Offering a casual ambiance and moderately priced menu, this restaurant was one of our favorites.

Famous for the oysters, you can order a dozen raw for $3.00, and $7.50 for a dozen chargrilled. Other southern favorites like fried green tomatoes, and shrimp, roast beef, or oyster Poboys are must haves.

No trip to New Orleans is complete without a tour of one of its unique and iconic cemeteries. Because New Orleans is below sea level, burying the dead below ground is not an option. Instead, above ground tombs and family vaults are spread across the city, with the oldest cemetery dating back to 1789.

 

Saint Louis Cemetery Number One is the resting place of Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau. It is also the home of a nine-foot tomb in the shape of a pyramid, the future final resting place of the tomb’s owner, actor Nicholas Cage. Some say that the unusual tomb is in honor of Cage’s National Treasure movie franchise; others believe that the pyramid is linked to the actor’s possible involvement with the secret Illuminati society.

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The best way to visit one of New Orleans cemeteries is to hire a tour guide. You don’t want to miss out on the interesting stories and history that lie within these cities of the dead.

The National WWII Museum was next on our list of attractions. This museum is worth the visit. You can purchase tickets to the museum at $27 for adults to free for veterans. For an additional $6 you may purchase tickets to see the movie “Beyond All Boundaries,” produced and narrated by Tom Hanks. This 4D movie is spectacular! It was my favorite part of the visit.

We continue exploring The Quarter, peaking into gardens, and enjoying the sounds and people of the city.

 

Here are some of the local colorful characters of The Quarter. 

 

We ended our visit to New Orleans with a fun Segway tour. This was a first for us, and I was a little bit nervous. However, just ten minutes of practice on the Segway was all we needed to feel completely comfortable. This is an activity we should have done at the very beginning of our visit, because the tour takes you through the entire French quarter and beyond; a great way to become acquainted with the city.

Every city has a bookstore you can lose yourself in. Right next door to City Segway is Beckham’s bookshop. I could have stayed in this bookshop for hours. Specializing in rare books, Beckham’s opened its doors to book lovers in 1967. Dogs are welcome, but have to play nice with Juniper, the resident cat. Check out Juniper’s blog at http://www.beckhamsbookshop.com.

Our Segway tour guide recommended the Gumbo Shop for our last meal in Nola.

A favorite with the locals, the Gumbo Shop was the perfect ending to our unforgettable visit to New Orleans.

Nola is now checked off my bucket list, but I’m not done with this fascinating city. We are already planning a trip back to the Big Easy.

Flattop Mountain Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

You know you’ve been in Miami too long when the sight of mountains literally takes your breath away. Our long awaited trip to Boulder promised to be one of our best hiking experiences. A weekend is not enough time to explore the many trails in this part of the Rocky Mountains. So many trails, so little time.

A scenic one hour drive from Boulder brings you to the quaint and charming mountain town of Estes Park, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park.img_2383

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Not knowing the area we were pleasantly surprised to come across The Stanley Hotel, known to be the inspiration for Steven King’s, The Shining. We decided to take a moment to visit the hotel. Giant Bull Elk are an attraction at Estes Park, wandering through town and around the Stanley. What a sight to see these massive animals coexisting peacefully with people.

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The views from the Stanley were breathtaking.

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img_2468.jpgIt’s time to head to the trailhead at Bear Lake. We had decided on a moderate trail, but soon realized we were mistakenly on a challenging and difficult trail. Flattop is an 8.8 mile, in and out trail, beginning at an elevation of 9,475 ft. at the Bear Lake trailhead, and climbs approximately 3,000 ft. to the top elevation of 12,324 ft. We began our climb on a chilly 35° temperature day but quickly needed to peel away outer layers of clothing as our body temperature rose from the uphill climb.

A short distance into the hike we are at Bear Lake. Several trails, from easy to strenuous, begin at the lake.

 

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You can expect many tourists in this high trafficked area since the lake is easy to get to, and is a scenic stop before heading on to your trail of choice. After a moment of reflexion and many photos later, we begin our hike to Flattop.

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The most difficult part of this hike was the constant upward climb. For two Miamians not used to the altitude, it was also a slow climb. Most of the terrain at first consisted of a narrow smooth and fairly even trail. We were very excited to see snow on the ground, and in true tourist fashion, we had a little bit of a snowball fight.

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After hiking about a mile, we came to this awe inspiring scene. We sat on a rock, let the pure and crisp air fill our lungs, and took it all in.

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The physical strain on our bodies came second to the spiritual high of being surrounded by the beauty of the mountain. For a moment I felt all of my day to day worries and stresses dissipate on the trail.

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The trail overlooks Dream Lake and Emerald Lake, seen in the picture above.

The higher we climbed, the rockier and more difficult the trail became. The steady steep climimg_2486b, and maneuvering your way around the rocks to get a secure footing can be challenging. After one wrong step, my husband’s knee gave out and we were forced to descend before reaching the peak of the trail. We were disappointed; we were so close.

Although not completed, our hike on the Flattop Trail was worth every step. This trail will challenge your body, heighten your senses, and nourish your soul. We will return someday to complete the journey.

 

 

Miami Hauntings

What do Miamians do on a Saturday when there’s nothing to do?  Visit haunting sites of course! Well, maybe this Miami resident, who also happens to be fascinated by all things ghostly.  October has always been my favorite month of the year.  Awakening memories of childhood birthdays, crisp autumn air, and spooky Halloween fun, I am always in the mood for a good ghost story.   Always ready to indulge me in my crazy adventures, my husband is happy to drive to each of the famously haunted Miami places on my list.

First on our tour is the City of Miami Cemetery, located at 1800 NE 2nd Avenue.  On the U.S.National Register of Historic Places, the cemetery was founded in 1897.  The 10 acre plot sold to the City of Miami by Mary Brickell for $750, is the resting place of some of the oldest and most prominent families of South Florida.  img_3278
We came across the grave sites of Julia Tuttle, known as the “Mother of Miami,” the department store Burdine family, and John Sewell, the third mayor of Miami.

On this beautiful October morning, there was no hint of the ghostly voices this cemetery is notorious for. But if you are in the mood for some local haunted history, History Miami Museum offers an annual Ghosts of Miami City Cemetery Night Tour every October.

img_3317Named the “most haunted house in Miami” by the Miami Herald in 1989, Villa Paula has a rich history of haunting activity.  Located in what is now Little Haiti, Villa Paula was built in 1926 for the first Cuban Consulate, Don Domingo Milford, and his wife Paula.  Paula died shortly after, due to complications resulting from a leg amputation.  The house has had several residents, later becoming a home for senior citizens, before falling into abandonment and overrun by vagrants in the early 1970’s.

Rescued in 1974 by Cliff Ensor, Villa Paula’s supernatural activity began to manifest itself, and was documented for the first time.  Apparitions of a woman floating through the hallways with only one visible leg, the smell of coffee and roses lingering in the air, the movement of items, the sound of footsteps and heals on the veranda, a chandelier suddenly falling from the ceiling, the sound of a piano playing, and the death and disappearance of cats were some of the reported incidents.  Ensor went as far as conducting regular seances to keep the spirits at bay, after learning from a psychic that five spirits occupied the house, including one of an abused maid who buried her illegitimate baby in the garden.

Current owner and art dealer Martin Siskind has restored the neo-classical mansion to its former glory, turning the home into an art gallery open to the public.  The stories of hauntings continue.

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The iconic Biltmore Hotel, gracing the upscale Coral Gables neighborhood since 1926, has been through many transformations throughout its almost 100 years.  Built in the roaring twenties by Coral Gables founder George Merrick, the Biltmore was a place of lavish parties, golf tournaments and fashion events, and frequented by celebrities, influential personalities, and gangsters.  When a gangster named Thomas “Fatty” Walsh was murdered in the Al Capone suite on the 13th floor of the hotel, a ghost story emerged.
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The Biltmore’s golden years were stunted at the onset of World War II, when the splendor of its golden years was halted, and the hotel was re-purposed as a military hospital.  The hospital continued to service veterans after the war, until it was closed and abandoned in 1968.

For years the beautiful landmark remained empty.  Stories of ghosts resurfaced, as neighborhood kids sneaked into the hotel and roamed through the scary rooms and hallways.  Could the spirit of the murdered gangster Fatty Walsh still haunt the 13th floor? Were the spirits of deceased soldiers still restlessly bound within these walls? The resounding answer is YES.

Today the Biltmore Hotel stands as a proud and elegant piece of Miami history.  The stories of ghosts continue to draw visitors, like me, fascinated by the mysteries of the spiritual world.  We weren’t able to go to the 13th floor, but we enjoyed an afternoon in one of the most historic and beautiful hotels in Miami.

Nothing guarantees a haunting like a mansion built on an ancient burial ground! Located on 444 acres in an idyllic setting in Palmetto Bay, the Deering Estate consists of a three-story cottage, once known as the southernmost inn in the United States, and a three story stone mansion built in 1900, and purchased by philanthropist and businessman Charles Deering.  Deering moved to the estate in 1922, and died a few years later in 1927, leaving the estate to his wife and children.

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Now owned by the State of Florida Miami-Dade County, the estate hosts concerts on the lawn, moonlight canoe trips, art exhibits, family and children educational events, culinary events, ghost tours and spookovers.  In October of 2015, as a birthday present and pre-Halloween treat, my husband surprised me with an evening ghost tour.  My love of history and historical homes, together with my interest in the paranormal, made this ghostly adventure special. Their was an energy and excitement in the air as the group was ushered from room to room by our ghost tour guide.  She was colorful, animated, and knowledgable, producing spirit voice recordings and pictures of apparitions.

As our guide talked about Mr. Deering, pointing to a wheelchair he spent most of the last years of his life in, I took several pictures of the chair.  Later, when we uploaded the pictures to the computer, we noticed something in one of the pictures.  The mist that seems to be floating onto the chair may be an illusion created by a light or camera malfunction, but some may agree that we captured some sort of spirit form.  I guess we will never truly know.

In this month of spooky tales and trick or treating, consider visiting some of Miami’s famous haunted places.

New York and a Wedding

New York City.  As I type the name I’m thinking, “how can I possibly express what this city means to me?”  NYC floods my mind with memories of my youth, my family, my dad.   From my upbringing in the Bronx, to my school days at Mother Cabrini in upper Manhattan, to later beginning a career in banking in midtown, this city has shaped my life.  Yet every time I return I feel like a tourist, seeing its wonders for the very first time.

This account of my favorite city comes from the eyes of a non-native, a native, a pseudo-tourist.  Every trip to NY brings new experiences, discovered neighborhoods, new culinary delights, and the best part of each trip, spending time with family and friends.  Dare I say it, !  There’s a reason why the now iconic phrase and logo reaches the sentiment of so many New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike.

We arrived at JFK airport in June, excited to be in a city we love, to celebrate the nuptials of two of our favorite people.  A spring wedding in NY, what could be better.  Unlike other trips to the tri-state where we stay in New Jersey with family, this time we decided to really experience the city as tourists.  We stayed at a Hilton in the financial district, a neighborhood I had only briefly visited pre-9/11.  A vibrant neighborhood where women and men, smartly dressed in business attire, reign in the pedestrian hustle through the bustling streets.

Our first stop in our city tour is the 9/11 Memorial. The memory of the horrific events of 9/11 is palpable still throughout the city.  The somber visit to the Memorial, honoring thousands of lives lost in this senseless act of terror, filled our hearts with sadness and pride. Sadness for those forever marked by the loss of their loved ones; pride for a city that stands strong and united.

Walking through the 9/11 Memorial was a surreal experience.  I can only imagine that the brave people of NY who were in the front line, as victims, or to rescue and aid, must find it difficult to come back to the site where it all happened.

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A short walk from Ground Zero we came across Saint Paul’s Church.  Built in 1764, it is one of the oldest churches in NY. St. Paul’s is located right in front of the old World Trade Center, and it became a sanctuary for the victims, workers, firemen, policemen, and all who needed a place to rest, talk, and a place where hugs were abundant in a time of great sadness.  The church is also a memorial, filled with pictures, mementos, prayers, and artifacts of that fated day September 11, 2001.

 

 

The new world trade center, One World Observatory, opened recently in May 2015, is a must see.  From the moment you enter this impressive building you are immersed in a visual experience of the history of New York, culminating in a 360 degree observatory where you can “see forever.” One World Observatory is a stoic reminder that we will never forget, we will persevere in the face of terror.


It’s time to continue our city exploration on foot, and subway.  In search of the perfect NY
pizza, our next stop is Little Italy.  I’m beginning to feel a resurgence of that old NY accent buried deep within, silenced long ago by cafecito cubano, tostones, and Miami living.  We didn’t find the perfect pizza, but we did have lunch in one of the many “A” restaurants in the city.

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I love the intricate ironwork of the fire escape, and the beauty of the historic buildings that grace this city.

 

IMG_9683From Little Italy, to Chinatown, to Tribeca, to Chelsea, each NY neighborhood we visited offers its unique personality and culture.
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Exploring the city always brings surprises.  No matter how often I walk these streets, I find new places to visit.  IMG_9743One of my favorite discoveries this trip was the High Line.  An abandoned train track is reincarnated as a beautiful urban garden.  High above the city, residents walk through gardens growing varieties of flowers, trees, and exotic plants.  Sitting areas nestled within the 1.45 mile long garden invite you to sit, relax, and take in the view.  Some of the apartment buildings along the High Line offer eye level views inside chic New York apartments.  Residents of these apartments must truly enjoy the constant presence of pedestrians strolling by their windows.  The High Line is a treasure New Yorkers so graciously share with all who visit.  You can’t visit the High Line without exploring the Chelsea Market, filled with specialty shops and restaurants, this market will delight your senses.  Our first day in NY was perfect, but the best was yet to come.

On June 4, 2016 a couple in love were joined in marriage, sharing their love and commitment to each other in an intimate ceremony with friends and family.  In a perfect setting, on a perfect day, I was lucky to witness one of my favorite people marry the love of his life.  Two very special men are now joined as one.  And so a new life begins, and I embrace my new family.  Here’s to NY, and to George and Giunero.  May you enjoy life’s adventures and love for each other forever.

 

Wynwood, Graffiti Wonderland

In an effort to revitalize a Miami warehouse district, Wynwood Walls became the project of the late neighborhood restorer Tony Goldman.  His idea was to resuscitate Wynwood by bringing the under recognized art form of graffiti and street art to its warehouse walls.  The idea brought to life this Miami neighborhood, making it one of the most visited by tourists and natives alike, and a haven for artists worldwide.

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Walking the streets of this urban outdoor art gallery is a visual treat.  One of my favorite murals reminded me of one of my favorite cities, New York.  I later learned that the scene is a NY scene created by Brooklyn, NY native Logan Hicks. Hicks creates his murals from templates based on his photographs.  The end result is a mural which makes you want to jump into that city scene.

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If you build it, they will come.  Art revived a dying neighborhood, and with the art came trendy eateries, shops, and micro-breweries making Wynwood one of the hippest places to visit in Miami.  While running from a downpour, we came across a restaurant opened just three months ago Kyu, a modern Asian fusion eatery.  We had some interesting and delicious appetizers–pork belly on a steamed bun, soft shell crab on steamed bun, roasted cauliflower and goat cheese, and spicy Korean fried chicken.  The environment is relaxed, with an organic industrial vibe.

If walls could talk!  The walls of Wynwood speak volumes. Stories of love, despair, happiness, sex, war, life, passion fill every corner of these streets.

We especially enjoyed the messages right at our feet.  Words stamped in concrete, some inspirational, some political, some purely whimsical.

It took the vision of one man to completely transform a decaying neighborhood.  Makes you think how much one person can inspire change.  Whenever you think, I’m only one person, what can I do?,  think again.

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Bird Rookery and Swamp, Naples, FL

Serenity with a dose of danger defines this enchanting trail.  Bird Rookery and Swamp trail is one of the most beautiful and peaceful trails we’ve hiked in Florida.

On the road at seven a.m. headed north on I-75 to Naples, exit 80 to our destination, the Bird Rookery and Swamp.  We arrive at a small parking lot equipped with two porta potties.  A gravel road bordered by swamp leads to the beginning of this 12 mile trail.

The trail begins with a boardwalk;  1,800 feet of easy walking that allows you to freely and easily observe some of the most beautiful scenery in south Florida.

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As we begin to walk the serenity of this place embraces you, instantly enveloping you in its peaceful environment.  I’m immediately entranced by the songs of the birds that surround us and, for a moment, except for the man-made walk we stand on, I am transported to another time.  All thoughts of the daily hustle and bustle lift away.  This is where I am meant to be at this very moment, and I stop to take it all in.

The boardwalk ends and the trail begins.  A grassy, sandy trail with swamp on either side.  The lushness of the cypress trees, palm trees, flora and fauna is a nature lover’s dream.  This land is truly beautiful. Busy taking one picture after another to capture the beauty that surrounds me, I hear my husband talking to someone further down the road.  A man is taking his own pictures with a much better camera than my iPhone, but his focus isn’t on the flora.  A very large alligator rests comfortably on the side of the road, probably observing the strange humans staring at it.  This is our first encounter with the Florida alligator, we would cross many more in the course of our hike.

We briskly pass the roadside gator and continue on our hike.  I have to say, it was a bit scary to be that close to this potentially dangerous creature.  This encounter intensified our excitement.  What other adventures awaited us on this trail!  We would soon find out.

One of the things I enjoy most on our hikes is having long, uninterrupted conversations with my husband.  Conversations of family, work, future,  next adventure;  conversations that feel carefree, no doubt because we are temporarily devoid of stress; conversations that are sometimes interrupted by a new discovery on the trail.

Having passed a few hikers and bicyclists in the beginning of our hike, we were alone for the majority of the time.  Well aware that we were visitors in this lovely place, we were careful and vigilant of our hosts.  As we continued on the path about 2 miles in we came across a lake.  Could this hike get any better?!

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Onward and further into the hike the terrain is primitive, and we are lucky to witness this natural habitat of so many creatures, including the Florida panther and black bear. But the alligator reigns here, and we are acutely aware that this is their home, as we listen to a chorus while strolling through the gator den.

Determined to complete the 12 miles we continue to enjoy our eventful trek.  Almost 5 miles in we spot something blocking the path in the distance.  As we get closer we see that our roadblock is not one we can easily bypass.  We decide to play it safe and alter our course.

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This gator is a little too menacing, too big, and too close for comfort.  He reminded us that this was his domain, and he wasn’t about to move out of our way.  We headed back hiking 9 miles instead of the 12 we set out to do.  I was a little disappointed, but in the end, we were happy to have experienced the Bird Rookery and Swamp Trail.

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Tree Tops Park

Sometimes the stress of work can make you forget why you work in the first place.  After a week of long hours, never-ending emails, and growing To Do lists, the weekend plans bring renewed energy and life to a tired body and spirit.  Ending the weekend along 5,000 people gathered together to pack meals for the elderly is especially fulfilling.  How else do you follow an early morning assembly line to feed seniors in need, with a local hike of course!

Tucked amidst a residential community in Davie, Florida, is Tree Tops Park.  With various walking, nature, biking, equestrian, and canoe trails, Tree Tops is a family friendly park on 243.3 acres.  Surrounded by oak canopies, the trails are easy, serene, and beautiful.  Tree Tops Park connects to Pine Island Ridge Natural Area.

IMG_9087Pine Island Ridge was an important Seminole settlement area and the location of many of the Seminole religious ceremonies.  It was also used for raising crops.  This land remains a sacred and meaningful place for the Seminoles.

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Although the horse trails are enticing, they are narrow in some parts and you may run into some riding groups, or someone horse playing around!

Walking the trails at Tree Tops Park was a welcome treat on a perfect Sunday morning, and well worth the visit.

 

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Old Ingraham Highway

The more we get outdoors, the more we disconnect from our everyday life.  Not the great everyday life that includes our friends and family (although I guess that depends on your family), but the stuff that everyday living is made of.  We rush through our days, wishing for the weekend, then wishing for the next weekend, then the summer, and forward to the next holiday or vacation.  We do this over and over, and before you know it, years pass. . .many years pass.  You begin to think about your life and suddenly those things you covet, that house, that car, those sexy must-have pair of high-heeled pumps, becomes a shallow reminder of a life missing something that isn’t measured in material possessions.

And here we are, it’s the weekend, and time to disconnect once more to experience life in its simplest form.   We set off to hike one of the many trails in Everglades National Park, Old Ingraham Highway.  Prepared with our hydration packs, sunblock, and insect repellent, we are well equipped to manage our weekend hike.

Ingraham Highway was completed in the early 1900’s and was named after James E. Ingraham, president of the Model Land Company and vice president of the Florida East Coast Railway.  He worked together with Henry Flagler in the development of South Florida.  Ingraham Highway ran the distance from Homestead to Flamingo.  Flamingo, once thought to become a booming town with the prospect of Henry Flagler’s plans for the East Coast Railway to Key West, is today no more than a ghost town.

Map of Ingraham Hwy, Homestead, FL

The abandoned highway in the middle of the Everglades now offers an interesting biking and hiking trail.  The views are typical South Florida. With sawgrass, cypress trees, and hardwood hammocks in the distance, this serene environment is home to alligators, wading birds, snakes, turtles, amphibians and more.  We heard the deep growling sound of several alligators, but none joined us on our walk.  If you have a fear of bugs, the flying kind or any other, you will need to keep an eye out and walk briskly.  We found many of these toxic insects on our hike— the lubber grasshopper.

IMG_8980 Since we started late in the day, we hiked no more than four miles of this trail.  It was a perfect warm, breezy, and sunny day.  Thoughts tend to wander in the serenity of our surroundings.  Thoughts of friends, children, grandchildren, what I’m making for dinner, my dad, my husband, where we’ve been, and what the future holds.  I can’t help but smile and feel completely at peace, and looking forward to our next hiking adventure.

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