St Augustine – America’s Oldest European Settlement

St Augustine – America’s Oldest European Settlement

 

Many people complain that Florida has no real history. It’s true, it does not have much compared to Europe, but the history it does have is very impressive. For example, did you know that America’s oldest continuously occupied settlement is St Augustine in Florida?

The city was founded in 1565 by Pedro Menendez de Aviles on the feast day of St Augustine, hence the city got its name. In 1702 the city burnt down and was rebuilt in the shadow of the huge Castillo de San Marcus, Many of these 300-year old buildings can still be seen today, lining the pretty narrow streets of the old town.

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In 1883, railroad magnate Henry Flagler visited St Augustine on his honeymoon. He was so impressed with the area he returned again and stayed in the grand building of the Ponce de Leon Hotel, now occupied by Flagler College. Visitors began to follow his example and soon St Augustine was a popular tourist destination, as it continues to be today.

St Augustine Attractions

Modern-day visitors will find St Augustine is a charming and unique town with beautiful buildings, interesting attractions and a fascinating historic district. It is a compact city, easy to walk around with plenty of lovely cafés and high-end restaurants. Trolley tours are a great way to enjoy an informative tour of the main historic sites with an informative guide.

Oldest House

Stroll to the old fort overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, which is spanned by the Bridge of Lions. Explore the Colonial Spanish Quarter nearby with its charming higgledy-piggledy buildings including the oldest wooden schoolhouse. This cypress and red cedar building is encircled by a massive chain that anchors it to the ground during high winds! Take a ghost tour of the city or visit the incredible Ripley’s Believe It or Not! attraction nearby.

Enter the Old City Gate and wander along the cobblestone streets to the Plaza de la Constitution. St George Street is a traffic-free area with a collection of historic buildings and small shops selling ice cream, chocolates, gifts and antiques. Some of the interesting attractions include the Spanish Quarter Museum which has seven reconstructed buildings and costumed interpreters demonstrating crafts and skills from the mid-18th century.

King Street, St Augustine

In contrast, King Street is the heart of the more modern city. Lined with beautiful Spanish-influenced architecture, it is very pleasant to stroll along and admire the buildings such as Government House with its Spanish-style loggias and Zorayda Castle with its Arabic motifs, a replica of the fabulous <a href=” http://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/ “> Alhambra Palace </a> in Granada, Spain.

Further along King Street the Hispanic-Moorish building which was once the Alcazar Hotel now houses the impressive Tiffany glass and antiques of the Lightner Museum collection.

St Augustine is a delightful city to visit on a day trip if you live in north Florida, or for longer if you are visiting from afar.

 

I go into more detail in my book “20 Best Historic Homes in Florida” available in B & W and Color versions. It is also featured in my book ” 20 Best Florida Beaches and Coastal Cities “. Both the above are also available in the Kindle Store/

 

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Planning a Trip to New York City as a First-Time Visitor

Getting to New York City is easy. This exciting city welcomes over 50 million visitors every year. Whether you are arriving from another U.S. state, or making an international trip, flights to New York City are plentiful and cheap.

Airport Transfers

Transfers to New York City hotels from LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty Airport, or John F. Kennedy Airport can be booked online. Choose a shared shuttle transfer, or spoil yourself with a limo service. One thing you won’t want to do is rent a car in Manhattan. The easiest alternative is to use a yellow cab, sit back, and let your New York driver deal with the traffic. Cab drivers are usually happy to give you some tips for places to eat and things to do, so make the most of your 40-60 minute journey to pick up some local tips.

Best Places to Stay in New York City

There’s a wide choice of hotels in New York City, from the centrally located Novotel New York Times Square to cheaper hotels further south, such as the Wyndham New Yorker or the Holiday Inn New York City Wall Street. Manhattan is a compact island, just 13 miles long and about 2 miles wide. By booking a cheaper hotel further away from Times Square and using the underground, or walking, you can save money for special treats.

Finding Your Way Around

There are several fun ways for first-time visitors to get acquainted with the layout of New York City. Excursiopedia offers a choice of tours. Interactive, cell-phone guided walking tours of various districts are a fun way to learn about the city in the form of a game. There are guided walking tours, bus tours with a commentary, or leisurely horse-drawn carriage tours around Central Park. Book a Semi-Circle Boat Cruise and get some great photographs of the Statue of Liberty and the city skyline from the water.

How to Get a Great Deal for a Broadway Show

Attending a Broadway Show is a must-do for first time visitors to New York City. There’s something for all ages and tastes, from The Lion King to Les Miserables. You can easily browse all the current shows and musicals on ScoreBig and book tickets direct from their website. If you have no particular preference which show you see, the TKTS ticket booth on Times Square has last-minute bargains. It is at the junction of Broadway and 47th Street, and is usually open daily from 3pm to 8pm.

Where to Go Shopping in New York City

Most people want to hit the shops of New York City for some retail therapy. You’ll find Macy’s department store on Herald Square (West 34th St), just off Broadway. The Burlington Coat Factory has the same brands for less on Union Square, a short walk south from Macy’s. Bloomingdale’s is another New York institution, on 3rd Avenue. Chelsea Market in the Meatpacking District is a great place to buy foodie souvenir gifts.

Any visit to New York City is exciting, and you’ll probably find your first visit won’t be your last!

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What, Where, When, and How on Your Cancún Vacation

Cancún, on the spit of sand between the Nichupté Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean, is a tropical vacation paradise in the Gulf of Mexico. Most tourists stay on the beach in the Hotel Zone, but it’s worth venturing into the authentic downtown area for shopping, inexpensive restaurants, and a taste of local Mexican culture.

Cancun Beach

Photo by Manuel Villanueva via Trover.com

Where to Stay in Cancún

Cancún’s 14-mile long crescent of sand is lined with modern Cancún hotels, from cozy air-conditioned rooms at the Hotel Sotavento & Yacht Club to all-inclusive luxury at the Riu Palace Peninsula. If you prefer an apartment, you’ll find plenty to choose from to suit all budgets, such as the mid-priced Brand New Luxury Beachfront Suite which sleeps four guests in a well-equipped suite overlooking the beach.

How to Get Around in Cancún

Buses frequently run the length of the Hotel Zone along the four-lane Boulevard Kukulcán. They connect the beaches with downtown Cancún, about 20 minutes away on the mainland.

What to Eat in Cancún

Fresh seafood and fish are cooked using traditional recipes to create some delicious, relatively inexpensive cuisine. Local restaurants create Mexican fare, such as tacos, quesadillas, and tamales, while more international cuisine is served at hotel buffets. American steaks, Thai, Chinese, Caribbean, and Italian cuisine are all widely available.

Where to Find the Best Beaches in Cancún.

Wherever you choose to stay in the Hotel Zone you will be within easy strolling distance of endless sand and the warm clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. Most of the best beaches in Cancún are located on the ocean side of Blvd Kukulcán. Many beaches can only be accessed by walking through the hotel lobby, although you have to be a hotel resident to use the sunbeds and facilities.

A breezy ferry trip away, there are yet more gorgeous sandy beaches around the car-free Isla Mujeres. It’s a great place for snorkeling right off the beach.

What to Do in Cancún

Wave runners, parasailing, sailing, fishing charters, snorkeling and diving trips, dolphin spotting cruises, and other water-based activities abound in Cancún. Garrafon Natural Reef Park is a popular attraction on the island of Isla Mujeres for snorkeling and scuba diving on the Great Maya Reef. This eco-park also offers dolphin encounters, hammocks, kayaking, cycle tours, and a thrilling zip-line.

Take a trip to the Mayan archeological site at Chichen Itza, or learn more about Mayan culture and history at the INAH Museum or the Zona Arqueologica El Rey.

The unusual Cancún Underwater Museum has 500 submerged contemporary sculptures which can be seen from a glass-bottom boat or by snorkeling and diving. The museum also has a “dry” exhibition of sculptures on Kukulcán Plaza in Cancún.

Underwater exhibits

Photo by Miriam Nolte via Trover.com

When to Visit Cancún

The peak tourist season is from December to April, as many people escape the cold northern winters. However, Cancún remains a warm and sunny destination all year round with lower prices after Easter. The hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, but it rarely affects Cancún.

With regular flights to Cancún from all over the world, it’s definitely a place to put on your bucket list.

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Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota

The title of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is slightly misleading, as those who visit will quickly discover. There is far more to this attraction than just the world-class art collection, a legacy from the Ringlings to the state of Florida, within its purpose-built gallery. This remarkable collection includes European, American, and Asian artworks ranging from Gothic and Renaissance to contemporary paintings and sculptures.

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Within the grounds there is the decadent Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, home of John and mable Ringling as well as the 18th century Asolo Theater, a beautiful performing arts venue. Perhaps most entertaining of all, the Circus Museum includes a huge miniature model of a typical early 20th century circus along with restored wagons, costumes, films, memorabilia, and the Ringlings’ original Pullman railcar. Allow a full day for your visit, or better still invest in a 3-day pass and spread the pleasures!

Circus Museums

 For most visitors, the first stop will be at the Tibbals Learning Center which houses the first part of the Ringling Circus Museum. Wander around the 3,800 square foot model of a typical travelling circus in the early 20th century. The scale and logistics of having such a show on the road become apparent as you enjoy this beautifully recreated circus “village” of animals, wagons, tents, sideshows, and rail cars that transported 1300 workers and performers, plus 800 animals over 15,000 miles each year!

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In the Golden Age of the Tented Circus (1919-1938), circuses such as Barnum and Bailey, Howard Bros, and the Ringling Brothers would cover 150 towns erecting a Big Top to seat 15,000 visitors. The model is beautifully made and can be viewed from all angles to see visitors, animals, tents, and performances along with railroad carriages and animal cages in the menagerie. The atmosphere is perfectly staged with lively circus music, lion roars, and canned laughter playing in the background.

Once you can tear yourself away, the second floor has a colorful collection of memorabilia, showcased miniatures, costumes, videos, and exhibits which all build up the picture of the workings of a 1920s circus. See the glorious bandwagon that was pulled through the streets of New York City by 40 black horses ahead of the traditional street parade and enjoy the interactive exhibits which are part of this display.

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The neighboring Museum building is just as amazing with galleries of hand-carved animal wagons and the restored “Wisconsin” Railroad Car used by John and Mable Ringling and their friends. Built in 1905 by Pullman, the private railroad car was 79 feet long, 10 feet wide and 14 feet high and it lacked nothing. Stained glass, decorated domed ceilings, a kitchen, observation lounge, dining room, and staff quarters have all been restored to their former luxurious standard. The three staterooms had upper and lower berths which converted into sofa seating, washstands, toilets, and even a full-size bathtub!

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During the winter, the circus originally rested at its winter quarters. From 1928 onwards, Sarasota was the chosen winter destination for the Ringling Circus, known as the Greatest Show on Earth. The mild weather allowed shows to continue throughout the winter for the first time.

Ringling Museum of Art

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Finally, head to the pink colonnaded buildings which were completed in 1929 to house John Ringling’s considerable art collection. The Renaissance-style buildings surround a sunken Italian courtyard garden complete with gushing fountains, water features, potted bougainvilla and many statues, including a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The original was initially installed at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

Complimentary docent-led tours of the art museum are available at certain times to help you get more from your visit to this impressive legacy of artworks, or you can stroll through the galleries reading the exhibit labels. There is also a 30-minute film of the lives of John and Mable Ringling.

The museum has some circus-themed artworks and sculptures as well as wonderful masterpieces by Rubens, van Dyck, Titian, El Greco, Gainsborough, and Velazquez. Many of these were purchased by Ringling from collections made when grand European country houses closed and sold off their assets, accumulated during the traditional Grand Tours of Europe in the 18th century.

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Two of the galleries in the art museum were historic salon interiors bought from the Astor mansion in New York City prior to the demolition of the house in 1926. As you pass from room to room appreciating this remarkable legacy, you are sure to find some favorites in the paintings, silverware, statues, busts, and 20th century photographs which make up this eclectic museum.

Along with the house and gardens, this remarkable art collection was bequeathed to the state of Florida when John Ringling passed away in 1936. It is now the State Art Museum of Florida, a national treasure, giving pleasure to many thousands of visitors each year.

General Admission includes entrance to the Museum of Art, the Circus Museums, a self-guided tour of the first floor of the Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, and the gardens.

There are many more interesting places to visit in my book Favorite Days Out in Central Florida which is available in all formats.

 

 

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Six of The Best Luxury Hotels in Stockholm

There are dozens of hotels in Stockholm to choose from, but these six have something extra special to offer, either in location, architecture, or amenities.

Stockholm

Photo by Laurel Dubreuil via Trover.com

Centrally Located First Hotel Reisen

Located on the island of Gamla Stan in the heart of the Old City, First Hotel Reisen is a four star luxury hotel close to the Royal Palace, the Nobel Museum, and Stockholm’s main shopping area. This grand hotel is situated right on the waterfront and dates back to 1760. It is decorated in a pleasing blend of contemporary designs and maritime features. Some of the rooms have balcony views of the Old City, which is beautifully lit up after dark. The hotel boasts a spa, restaurant, and one of the top three bars on Stockholm.

A Nautical Experience at the Victory Hotel

Owned by a passionate collector of maritime antiques, the Victory Hotel is a beautifully furnished boutique luxury hotel on Gamla Stan. Named after Nelson’s flagship, the Victory Hotel has a fine collection of maritime knick-knacks, ships’ figureheads, carved ivory scrimshaws, and other collectibles. Each room, or should I say “cabin,” is named after a naval captain and is decorated with a maritime-themed photographs, paintings, and antiques. For an authentic Swedish experience, try the sauna and cold water plunge pool.

Mix Old and New at the Hotel Skeppsholmen

Located on the tiny island of Skeppsholmen, Hotel Skeppsholmen is a modern design hotel in a centuries-old Royal Marine barracks building. Rooms feature furnishings and décor with simple urban lines. This luxury hotel is next door to the Swedish Museum of Modern Art and the Swedish Museum of Architecture, making it a good choice for anyone interested in art and design. As well as a restaurant, the hotel offers tennis courts, a jogging track, boating, fishing, and swimming in the sea.

A Golden Experience at the Nobis Hotel

The five star Nobis Hotel in Östermalm is in a 19th century building surrounded by gourmet restaurants, theaters, and nightclubs. This contemporary hotel has excellent facilities including a fitness center, sauna, concierge, and an Italian restaurant. The opulent Gold Bar is famous for its gold mirrors, 28-foot-high ceiling, and gold lighting. It’s THE place to be seen in Stockholm, sipping cocktails or a glass of golden champagne.

Superb Views from the Sheraton Stockholm Hotel

Soundproof rooms and waterfront views make the Sheraton Stockholm Hotel a popular choice for those wanting the assurance of a first class luxury hotel in Stockholm. Ideal for business or leisure guests, this five star hotel has a business center, fitness room, spa, and a restaurant with stunning 360 degree views of the city.

Belle Époque Grandeur at Berns Hotel

Berns Hotel Stockholm

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Overlooking the green space of Berzelii Park and the Chinese Theater, Berns Hotel is hard to outshine when it comes to its grand exterior which dates back to 1863. This luxury hotel is the choice of celebrity guests and dignitaries such as Bill Gates, Rihanna, and the Dalai Lama. Comfortably furnished guest rooms, crystal chandeliers in the restaurant, and one of the hottest nightclubs in the city, demonstrate that this hotel has something for everyone.

Which luxury hotel in Stockholm will you choose?

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How to Experience Authentic Stockholm

Stockholm, the historic capital city of Sweden, is spread across an archipelago of islands, making it a fun, water-based city to explore. It offers an authentic Swedish cultural experience if you incorporate local food, museums, and boat trips into your visit, and that’s what this article is all about. Välkommen att Stockholm – welcome to Stockholm!

Stockholm

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Language

Most Swedes speak English, so there’s no need to worry about the language beyond saying “tack” (thank you). When you hear locals chatting, listen to the very sing-song, up and down tones of this old Nordic language.

Food and Drink in Stockholm

Brace yourself for higher prices in Stockholm, particularly when it comes to alcoholic drinks. My favorite place to start the evening is at the Absolut Ice Bar in the Nordic C hotel. Admission includes warm hooded capes as you step into a -5°C (23°F) environment where everything is made of ice–the walls, the benches, the bar, and even the glasses!

Fresh smoked fish, gravlax, meatballs with lingonberries, and cinnamon buns are classic Swedish foods. Try Gubbröra, an egg and anchovy salad served with rye crispbread, or choose a  smorgasbord feast of smoked eel, herring, jellied seafood, roast beef , and cold salads. The upmarket Gondolen restaurant has superb water views for diners

Boats and a Warship!

A boat tour around Stockholm’s islands and bridges gives you a good introduction to the city. Sit back and listen to the English commentary through your headphones as the cruise parades some of Stockholm’s grandest buildings before you. Trips include passing through one of the locks connecting Lake Mälaren with the Baltic Sea.

Another taste of Stockholm’s maritime history is the Vasa Museum on the island of Djurgarden. You can’t miss the building as it has the ship’s masts sticking out through the roof!

Vasa Museum

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This magnificent warship sank in front of the royal palace on its maiden voyage, in 1628. It was left in disgrace at the bottom of the sea until 1961, when it was raised almost completely intact. Now restored, it is now one of Stockholm’s most fascinating museums.

Stockholm’s Must-See Attractions

The cheapest way to get around Stockholm is with a 24-hour ticket on a hop-on, hop-off open-top bus tour. It covers the main sights of the city around Nybroplan, the museums on Skeppsholmen, Stadsgårdskajen wharf, and the Royal Palace on Gamla Stan. The changing of the palace guard, complete with military band, takes place daily at 12.15 p.m. in summer, and at noon on Wednesdays and Saturdays in winter. The nearby Cathedral and the Royal Opera House are both worth looking inside.

Changing the guard at the Royal Palace

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Further afield, Drottningholm Palace is a UNESCO-listed attraction with wonderful gardens. The open-air museum at Skansen showcases five centuries of Swedish history though its relocated buildings and exhibits. The Kaknästornet communications tower has a café and viewing gallery with panoramic vistas across Stockholm.

Cheap flights to Stockholm will deliver you to the modern Arlanda (ARL) airport. There are regular rail transfers to the city, where you’ll find a wide choice of Stockholm hotels, from five star luxury chains to charming townhouse accommodation in the Old Town.

You may enjoy a quick peek inside the Hotel Bentleys in this article!

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Best Honolulu Hotels on Waikiki Beach

Few phrases make the heart beat faster than the words “Waikiki Beach.” Located on the beachfront in Honolulu, Waikiki is famous for its surf break, endless sunshine, and glittering high-rise architecture. Here’s an insider guide to some of the best hotels in the Waikiki neighborhood.

Waikiki Beach

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Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort

One of the best located hotels on Waikiki is the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. You’ll be able to check out the surf every morning if you book an oceanfront room in the upgraded Ali’i Tower. With a beachfront pool and Ocean View Terrace for cocktails, this top resort is in a very exclusive location, right on Waikiki Beach. Attend one of the cultural shows at the hotel and appreciate the Hawaiian singing and dancing which will be a highlight of your stay.

The Outrigger Reef on the Beach

Views of Diamond Head and the sands of Waikiki Beach make The Outrigger Reef on the Beach a top choice for anyone who enjoys surfing and watersports. This beachfront hotel offers lessons and equipment hire for snorkeling, surfboarding, outrigger canoe surfing, catamaran sailing, reef diving, stand-up paddle boarding, and body boarding. You can even take hula lessons with your partner!

Ramada Plaza Waikiki

If you want to spend your money on attractions and activities rather than upscale accommodations, the Ramada Plaza Waikiki has everything you need at an affordable cost. Air-conditioned rooms have complimentary Wi-Fi Internet access, a flat-screen TV, and a mini refrigerator. Upgraded rooms even come with balconies and beach views. Make use of the fitness center, restaurant, outdoor pool, and the airport shuttle which are all part of the amenities.

Luana Waikiki Aqua Boutique Hotel

If you are looking for a more individual condo hotel on Waikiki Beach, you’ll appreciate the peaceful location of the Luana Waikiki, an Aqua Boutique Hotel. Close to Diamond Head and Fort DeRussy, this boutique hotel is a 10 minute walk from the beach and bicycles are available for rent. All rooms have private lanais for sitting out and relaxing. Socializing with fellow guests is encouraged at the complimentary reception. The hotel has a landscaped outdoor pool, fitness center, concierge, and a coffee shop.

Moana Surfrider

The Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort and Spa is an elegant landmark hotel in a historic building that dates back to 1901. It makes a memorable place to stay for honeymoon couples and those wanting to get married in Honolulu. Weddings are performed in the lush landscaped gardens overlooking the private beach. Hawaiian musicians and traditional lei garlands of flowers make this a beautiful place to say, “I do.”

Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach

If you’re visiting Honolulu with children, the Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach gives everyone a great vacation as the hotel offers kid’s activities and specialty rooms for families. Nearby Kuhio Beach, just a short walk from the hotel, is very family friendly. The breakwater creates calm waters and safe bathing compared to the waves on Waikiki Beach.

Wherever you choose to stay, you’ll receive that famous Aloha welcome and will enjoy a memorable stay

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