stand your ground

building collapse floridaYet another large sinkhole swallowed up a healthy chunk of The Sunshine State on Monday. Measuring approximately 100 feet across, it opened up yesterday at the Summer Bay Resort close to Disney World, Florida, nearly taking one of the luxury vacation buildings with it while partially crumbling two others. (Fortunately, the 40 guests inside were able to get out in time and there were no injuries, although many – wisely – rushed out leaving everything behind.) Geologists are calling it a classic sinkhole, common in the Florida area due to the lands’ predominant geologic rock formations of limestone, which are water-soluble and susceptible to what’s known as raveling, a vertical and/or lateral migration of sediments to deeper voids or cavities within the limestone. This shifting of that sediment causes the collapse, which creates a sinkhole – and should remind travelers that “stand your ground” has a double-barreled meaning down in God’s Waiting Room.


chicken church

chicken church

A Tampa Bay, Florida church has become a sensation thanks to hundreds of people flocking to see the mystical face of Our Lady of the Poultry. Well, not really, but with large round windows resembling eyes and red roof tiles giving the appearance of a beak, the ‘chicken church’ is attracting a curious fan club. Congregants at the Chicken of Church by the Sea say they regularly spot passers-by stopping to get a memento of the unusual-looking building with a roof that spreads out like a pair of red wings. Threads have appeared online dedicated to the building, with hundreds of users trying to find out more about the ‘Chicken Church’. Could a meme be far behind? For the record, the church on Madeira Beach was founded in 1944 by a group of fishermen; it’s lighted cross used as a nautical landmark to guide them back to land. And the church’s bird-like features are actually a cleverly disguised compass – its wings represent East and West, while the beak and tail symbolize North and South – giving new meaning to the lyric “Jesus, show me the way”.


in praise of bond

I love the James Bond films  – even the lame ones - for so many reasons: the geeky gadgets and kooky villains for a start. Then there’s the crazy chases and death-defying stunts and, of course, Bond’s bevy of double entendre-toting beauties. Plus, there’s all the exotic locales. In film after film, few heroes have given us wider license to travel the far corners of the world than Agent 007. Here are just a few memorable highlights.

SCHILTHORN, SWITZERLAND: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) took us to the mountaintop, literally: the 2,970-meter-high Schilthorn, which George Lazenby skied down at breathtaking speed with Telly Savalas as Blofeld in hot pursuit. It’s one of the great movie ski chase scenes, now documented in an exhibit at Piz Gloria, which doubled as the Bleuchamp Institute for Allergy Research in the film. Organized Bond-themed excursions start from the car-free town of Mürren, or you can glide up the mountain yourself on a 32-minute aerial cable car trip that originates in Stechelberg. For more Bond-style adventure, ski the mountain’s 15.8 km mixed-terrain Inferno course. Experienced skiers usually cover it in about 45 minutes; competitors in the annual Inferno Race – the largest amateur ski race in the world – can do it in 15.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY: Several locations in Turkey – where East meets West on the banks of the mighty Bosphorus – are featured in Skyfall, the newest adventures of James Bond. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has been a must-see since 1461. More than 550 years later, it attracts nearly a half-million visitors daily. Presumably few of them other than Skyfall director Sam Mendes envision its narrow, crowded aisles as a location for a high-speed chase. It is, however, an excellent place to buy local handicrafts and to engage all your senses as you immerse yourself in the city.

KEY WEST, FLORIDA: Licence to Kill (1989) kicks off with Timothy Dalton parachuting in with CIA pal Felix Leiter to Felix’s wedding at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Key West after some insane aerial maneuvers. Other scenes shot in the area include a car chase on Seven Mile Bridge, the segmented concrete (to make it hurricane-resistant) span you’ll cross if you’re driving to Key West, and a scene at the Ernest Hemingway Home in which M demands that Bond relinquish his “license to kill.” Hemingway, no slouch in the adventure department himself, moved to the house at 907 Whitehead Street in 1931. A guided tour shows off his writing studio as well as the descendants of Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats, who have unlimited license to roam the house and grounds.

THE BAHAMAS: Of Bond’s many visits to the Bahamas, the most memorable is Sean Connery’s 1965 Thunderball battle in the underwater caves of the Exuma Cays. They’ve been known ever since as the Thunderball Grotto. (Connery returned there in 1983 for Never Say Never Again.) Several charter companies, including Four C’s Adventures and the Island Routes 007 Thunderball Luxury Tour, will take you out to the grotto by boat and guide you on a snorkeling route to the inside of the caves, where the light streams in and colorful fish dart about below the water’s surface.

PARIS: With an “I’m too old for this stuff” look on his face, Roger Moore chased Grace Jones to the top of the Eiffel Tower in A View to a Kill (1985), only to watch her parachute off, land on a boat conveniently waiting along the Seine, and make a spectacular getaway in one of the film’s more memorable scenes. (It was almost as good as Duran Duran’s video for the movie’s theme song.) On a tour of the tower, you’ll learn about Franz Reichfelt’s tragic demonstration of his “parachute suit” in 1912, which should convince you that parachuting off the observation deck is not the thing to do here. However, if you’re feeling fit, climb the 704 steps from the ground to the second floor. From there, you can catch the lift to the top, where you’ll find a champagne bar with killer views of its own.

AUYUITTUQ NATIONAL PARK, CANADA: Nobody does it better, ahem, than the opening sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), in which Roger Moore BASE jumps off the edge of a mountain and – whoosh – a Union Jack parachute opens and glides him to safety. The mountain, with its distinctive twin flat-topped peaks at 6,598 feet, is Mount Asgard in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island, Canada. Serious outdoors people find the 7,370-square-mile arctic park a haven of pristine beauty offering 24-hour daylight in summer. Accessible via the Inuit hamlets of Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq, which can be reached only by small plane, the park requires that all visitors attend a safety orientation before they embark on their travels. For this level of adventure, only experienced wilderness travelers — and MI-6 agents — need apply.


unexpected orlando

Mention Orlando and one thing comes to mind – theme parks. And rightly so: Walt Disney World put this city on the map, and today the Magic Kingdom battles it out with EPCOT, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and three other major parks for the attentions of 64.5 million travelers who come in search of rides, games, and Mickey Mouse ears each year.

But there’s a whole other side to Orlando.  Just steps from the fireworks, the roller coasters, the crowds, an entirely different group of attractions awaits.  From eco-safaris and astronaut training to canal cruises and historic gardens, America’s number one family destination has a whole unexpected side just waiting to be explored.

A short drive from the major attractions, Winter Park will charm you with tree-shaded avenues and a window into the world of Florida’s past. Once a major citrus-growing region, it became a popular retreat for well-to-do Northerners in the early 20th century. One of the best ways to get a peek at the Winter Park lifestyle is on the hour-long Scenic Boat Tour, a local attraction for more than half a century that takes you past lakefront mansions and through the city’s historic canals. Harry P. Leu Gardens is a 50-acre botanical park with the largest camellia collection outside California. Highlights include a butterfly garden, tropical stream garden, bamboo and palm gardens and a formal rose garden. It also includes the Leu House Museum, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

With nearly 50 museums, theatres, and galleries, the heartbeat of the arts district is the seven-mile “Cultural Corridor,” that stretches from downtown Orlando to Winter Park.  The strip includes the Orlando Museum of Art, the new CityArts Factory, which houses art studios and galleries like Keila Glassworks, where you can get hand-on instruction in the art of glassblowing and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum, which features the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, including an elaborate chapel interior.

Discover a habitat virtually unaltered by man in the wilderness of the Central Florida Everglades. Led by certified US Coast Guard Captains, Boggy Creek Airboat and Wildlife Safari Rides take you through the Florida wetlands in search of native wildlife.  Whisking across the water at speeds up to 45 mph, each ride offers a unique glimpse of eagles, osprey, snakes, turtles and alligators.  Florida Eco-Safaris at Forever Florida caters to all ages on its eco-safaris, guided horseback tours, and nature trails. They also offer the only zipline experience in the state:  a two and a half hour treetop adventure, reaching heights of 55 feet and speeds up to 25 mph through the Pine Flatwoods and wetlands.

With more than 2,000 lakes, springs and rivers, Orlando is an endless summer of outdoor fun for water lovers. For more adrenaline-pumping activities, you can get behind the wheel of a 600-horse-power Nextel Cup race car at the Richard Petty Driving Experience, skydive indoors in a high-energy vertical wind tunnel at SkyVenture Orlando, or lean to hang glide at Wallaby Ranch Hang Gliding Flight Park, the first full-time aerotow hang gliding flight park in the world. No experience is necessary. And for the ultimate rush, the Astronaut Training Experience at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex prepares intergalactic explorers for the rigors of space flight with a range of interactive, anti-gravity activities – plus the chance to take the helm at Mission Control under the supervision of an actual NASA astronaut.


be my guest

A friend passing acquaintance of mine – who regrettably must remain anonymous since a recent spate of felonious-sounding activities and an unfortunate spot of very public trouble with the authorities has caused him (or her) to go into hiding – forwarded this photo to me from his (or her) latest safe house.  How thoughtful, right? I can’t say where it is because I don’t know – honest, officer.  Although I can say it’s somewhere in the state of Florida and shot on a camera phone with the aid of a screened-in porch. I think you’ll agree it’s too good a photo to not share, in spite of its context. So here it is, my first-ever unattributed guest blog – although technically speaking it’s also my first-ever guest blog period.


obit (the dust) of the month: ooh ooh akk akk akk

If Tarzan’s co-star had been human, it’s safe to assume that news of his demise would have been greeted with glowing tributes, a Hollywood funeral and perhaps a retrospective season of his greatest cinematic moments. As it was, the death of an 80-year-old chimpanzee called “Cheetah” was announced quietly by the Florida animal sanctuary where he had spent the past five decades in retirement. There was no grand send-off for the venerable Cheetah. Even his purported role as Johnny Weismuller’s regular primate sidekick remains shrouded in mystery. The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor claims the primate arrived there in 1960 and was donated by Weissmuller’s own estate. He is believed to have been born in 1930 or 1931 and was one of a number of chimpanzees whose owners vied to have recognized as the genuine movie-star Cheetah. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the original simian star of films such as 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man and 1934’s Tarzan and His Mate was probably a composite of several animals. According to the sanctuary, Cheetah was an outgoing chimp who loved humans. Yet like many Hollywood stars, he could also be temperamental. Sanctuary volunteer Ron Priest conceded the animal had a habit of throwing his feces when discontent. “When he didn’t like somebody or something that was going on, he would pick up some poop and throw it at them,” Priest said. “He could get you at 30 feet, with bars in between.”

One Hollywood star who did mark the potential star’s passing was actress Mia Farrow, whose mother, Maureen O’Sullivan, played Jane in six Tarzan movies. “My mom, who played Jane, invariably referred to Cheetah as ‘that bastard’,” said Farrow on her Twitter account.

Read the full story HERE.


bucket list: 2010 – december

MIAMI:  A last-minute jaunt down to Miami ended the year in travel with a bang.  Yet again, it wasn’t nearly as warm as expected – a recurring theme this year, no? – but how can you complain when you’re walking around in shorts the week before Christmas and watching Micheal Jordan play golf outside your balcony?  The highlight:  catching up with old friends down in the Design District at Michelle Bernstein’s Sra. Martinez, where we wisely decided to let the captain order for us. Plate after plate of fresh tapas came out of the kitchen like a tasting menu gone wild – not that anyone’s taste buds complained. (Plus, it was good practice for next month’s upcoming trip to Madrid.) One menu item I’m determined to try at home come 2011:  crispy eggplant, drizzled with molasses and sea salt.  The delicate savory crunch, mixed with a dash of sweet and salt, was as addictive as … well, travel.


just published: spa weekend getaways – miami beach

Dangling off the Atlantic coast, South Beach (or SoBe) has been luring visitors to its white sands and magnificent blue waters since it first burst onto the social scene in the 1920s, with successive generations discovering it anew and claiming it as their own.

But don’t be deterred by the crop of buffed and bronzed hedonists that descended when Ricky Martin swayed his hips in praise of la vida loca: The new wave of pioneers are upon us, and they’re all about livin’ the healthy life, which is why Miami Beach is one of our favorite spa weekend getaways.

Read the full story HERE.


think pink

From those ubiquitous Lilly Pulitzer prints to the interiors of some of Florida’s foremost homes to the flamboyant local architecture, Palm Beach is proud to wear pink.

Now taking a cue from the local color, Think Pink is a showcase of emerging and established artists currently exhibiting in The Living Room at Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach.

Organized by art collector and curator Beth Rudin DeWoody, the exhibit investigates the use of pink and how it acquires meaning in works ranging from photography to mixed media to sculpture. The show features 30 works by 23 artists, including Takashi Murakami, Peter Dayton, Carolyn Carr, Jose Alvarez, and Will Ryman, and is an extension of a larger exhibit simultaneously showing at Gavlak Gallery, the contemporary art dealer on swanky Worth Avenue.  Think Pink Tuesdays include a walk-through and discussion of the show with the artists, along with matching cocktails, natch, like Pink Ladies and Cosmopolitans.

And as pink fever catches on at the Resort, the Spa has created two Think Pink treatments to coincide:  the exfoliating Pink Body Bliss, which incorporates an organic pink sea salt scrub and Pretty in Pink, a mani-pedi that uses a blend of pink grapefruit oil. So now you can think, drink, slink, and even pleasantly stink – all the while staying tickled pink.


naturally narcotic

08spaWhile more often than not a massage is a massage is a massage, there is something to be said for an outdoor massage surrounded by a thousand blooms.  Discreetly tucked away at the end of Naples most fashionable thoroughfare, the Hotel Escalante might not feature the worlds most exotic treatments, but it easily wins the trophy for the most exotic hideaway you’ve never heard of.

Set amid almost five acres of lush vegetation and nearby beachfront, the Mediterranean villa-cum-hotel/day spa has more in common with the Amazon basin than the garish strip malls and sun baked highways of  Southwest Florida. A wander through the compound is as much an education as it is sensory heaven.  Abundant with over three hundred species of flora, fruits and fragrant blossoms, noted landscape architects Sanchez and Maddux have created a ready-made paradise.

MusellaA precious  Chinese Yellow Banana nestles its mammoth flowers next to a Caribbean Jack Fruit, the largest fruit in the world, weighing in at up to forty pounds.  Mysterious Satake Palm, native to Japan, has  deep purple colored bark.  The odd – and aptly named – Cannonball Tree, has edible fruit larger than a grapefruit. Beautiful Mexican Lilacs, which are planted in Mexico to shade the cocoa plants (hence its Spanish name Madre de Cocoa) abound.

ylangIf you suddenly get a whiff of Chanel No. 5 during you poolside pedicure ($40.00 )it’s not a visiting society matron, you’re probably near one of  the many Ylang-ylang trees which have the distinction of being the primary scent in the famous perfume.

The overpowering fragrance of the Orange Champal, while found commonly on the streets of Rio De Janeiro, is as exotic to these parts as is the Emperor’s Bamboo.  Grown and cultivated within the walls of the Forbidden City, the striking blue bamboo stalks were the exclusive province of the Emperor’s delight.  Its appearance here in Naples is rumored to be the result of a few well-placed contraband clippings.

It must say something that the enormous purple leaves of the Winged Beauty Vine look too perfect to be real. (So do the arms-length papayas, but you’ll get to snack on one later)  The Columbian Purple Vine is not only rarely seen on American shores, but its prolific violet blooms, recall the hypnotic eyes of a  young Liz Taylor.

collage8Like nothing you’ve ever seen, the Chalice Vine has huge cup shaped flowers three quarters of a foot long, almost half a foot in diameter. It would look positively medieval if they weren’t so softly colored yellow.  Think Richard III meets Martha Stewart.

And then there are the butterflies, which seem to have found a haven at the Escalante.  They are everywhere, and with just cause:  the grounds are ripe with Giant Milkweed and Salvia, a food magnet for the graceful Monarchs that flutter about.

Lying under a vine covered trellis, happily surrendering to a Honeysuckle Sea Scrub ($90), a “friend” floats down, attracted by the smells.  Landing first along your wrist, then to your head, it flies up and away finally realizing you are not an actual flower. Though at this point you could be forgiven for thinking you are.

In the evening, Night Blooming Jasmine seems to envelope the grounds with narcotic effects.  The Florida air thickens as dusk appears.  Leaving the entryway feels like leaving Brigadoon, the mystical Scottish town that nightly disappeared into the mists.  Luckily, the bent palms that canopy the gates are open every day.

Hotel Escalante, 290 Fifth Avenue South, Naples FL  34102


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