Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Arts festival and a picnic in Sarasota, Florida

Art Festival and Sarasota downtown
O'Leary Tiki Bar and dinghy dock
Notice the handle bar on the dinghy? How ingenious of the owner!
We discovered Sarasota when we cruised into Sarasota Harbor several years ago. We like the city so much we keep coming back to visit. Strolling around Bayfront Park, downtown and St Armands Circle are some of our favorite activities. Other fun and interesting places to visit include The Ringling Museum, Siesta Key and Myakka State Park .

We have always been impressed with the arts and culture in this classy town. The arts festival, held in downtown Sarasota every February, features some very unique and talented artists from around the country. This past weekend was its 22nd Annual Festival of the Arts, and once again, these artists shine through with their creative work and exhibits of glass, ceramics, sculptures, paintings, photography, etc.

The Tampa Bay area had unusually cold weather since early January. This was the first nice weekend with sunny blue skies and temperatures in the low 70s, perfect for venturing outside. The crowd at the festival wasn't too bad, but when we left South Lido County Park after our picnic and walk on the beach, we were stuck in traffic for an hour just trying to get back to the main road:-(! A turn into the back road gave us the opportunity to ogle at some gorgeous homes in the area.

Check out the video to see the beautiful artworks at the arts festival!

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Manatees dying from the cold in Florida

If you're a snowbird, you typically go south for the winter. And that usually means Florida. Imagine sunny blue skies with temperatures hovering in the 70s. That would be typical, but nope, not this year. The deep freeze in January which lasted more than a week brought snow flurries to as far south as North Miami. It was so cold the last two days (in the 40s) that we decided to go to Walmart to buy a portable heater. Is it any surprise that all the heaters were sold out? And at Lowes too!

CNN caught my attention yesterday when it reported that 280 or more manatees have died this year due to the unusually cold weather we've had in Florida. On very cold days, these gentle creatures are normally found huddled in warm water refuges - water discharged from electric plants, with temperatures around 78 degrees. You can see manatees at the Tampa Electric Plant in Riverview, 20 minutes south of Tampa. The Manatee Viewing Center is open from Nov 1 to Apr 15, and admission is free.
Manatees at Tampa Electric Plant

Further south in Marathon, manatees are known to drink water from boats, as you can see in the video below. Hopefully, this week's cold spell is not as damaging as the last.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Top 5 things to do in Miami

Florida and I go way back. My very first job was in Fort Lauderdale. I was a young professional, and in the 80s, life in Florida was real slooow. After a six months stint, I quit and moved back north. Fort Lauderdale and Miami had undergone so much development that when I returned for a visit six years later, I couldn't even find the place I used to live!

When I arrived in Miami by boat in 2002, I thought I had landed in a foreign country. Nobody at Rickenbacker Marina (dockhand and boat neighbors) spoke any English! Even the Asian girl who worked at the marina spoke Spanish. How could she not? She's from Panama!

Rickenbacker Marina has a stunning view of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline. Because of the proximity to the Intracoastal Waterway and the inlet, our boat rocked and rolled much of the time, especially on the weekends when the local boaters were out and about. Miami is very cosmopolitan. Its skyline reminded us of Boston, a small city with lots of energy, albeit with a Latin vibe. We loved it so much we stayed for three months.

View of Miami from Mai Thai's port side

If you are in Miami for the Super Bowl football championship tomorrow, or for the Valentine's holiday or to embark on your cruise, you'll be in for some fun times. Here's a guide for things to do in this electrifying city!

South Beach
This is probably the number one hot spot that is on everyone's list of things to do while in Miami. And rightly so. Where else can you see colorful art deco architecture, wild parties in full swing from early afternoon to the wee hours of the morning at cafes and bars like Mango's (see video below)? There are lots of beautiful people and fancy cars parading up and down Ocean Drive, just begging to be discovered. Need I mention the famous beach and the beauties who hang out there in search of some tan?

Lincoln Mall Road
Several blocks northwest of Ocean Drive between 16 and 17th Streets is an outdoor pedestrian mall. It is lined with retail stores, art galleries, outdoor cafes and restaurants. A great spot for people watching. On Sundays, there is a farmer's market. Just before the vendors close up shop, they offer their goods at a steep discount. I had the unforgettable experience of purchasing four dozens of gorgeous long stemmed roses for a mere $10 bucks!

Coconut Grove
A charming suburb of Miami, Coconut Grove is where the locals hang out. There are plenty of dining and shopping options here. The Coconut Grove Art Festival, one of the nation's premier fine arts festivals, is held here annually. This year's festival will take place Feb 13-15, which coincides with the Valentine and Chinese New Year weekend.

Little Havana
For a taste of Cuba, drive over to Little Havana, a short distance from downtown Miami. Try some classic Cuban food at Versailles (3555 Calle Ocho or SW 8th Street). My favorite is the Fried Snapper, served whole, complete with head and tail.

Fort Lauderdale
Dubbed as the Venice of America, Fort Lauderdale is laced with canals and palatial homes. You can get from one end of the city to the other via the water taxi, and you can get off at various stops along the way. Check out the chic stores and artsy boutiques on Las Olas Boulevard. Nearby Riverfront is also a nice stop for dining, shopping and some free entertainment.

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