Labor Day Weekend, Florida Style

September 3, 2010

AAA is predicting that more Floridians will be traveling this Labor Day weekend.  Just where will all these Floridians be traveling to?  If they plan to stay in Florida, here a few best bets.

American Music Festival (Daytona Beach):  This four-day event features concerts by the likes of Tony Bennett, Usher, the Jonas Brothers, Demi Lovato, Blake Shelton and Huey Lewis and the News.  Apparently Daytona is trying to revive its image to be something more than just NASCAR and Bike Week, and music seems to be its answer.

Surfing for a Cause (Cocoa Beach):  This is the 25th annual National Kidney Foundation (NKF) Pro Am Surf Festival.  Competitors will be male and female, amateur and pro.  In addition to the weekend long competition, there will be concerts, karate and surfing demonstrations, and lots of free stuff (from advice to surfboards).  There will also be mini-health clinics, and massages for a buck a minute. The festival is touted as the largest charity event in the world.  

Brewfest (Key West):  This three-day brewfest will provide attendees access to 60 beers and ales, including the likes of Holy Mackerel, Monk in the Trunk, Magic Hat and UFO White.  On Sunday, attendees can attend the six-course Samuel Adams Beer Dinner and have a little chilled lobster gazpacho and grilled swordfish with their complimentary ale, lager or stout.

Other events going on around the state:

St. Augustine is celebrating its 445th birthday with a reenactment of the landing, a large birthday cake, and music on the Plaza de la Constitution.  On Sunday, Toby Keith will be performing at the Ampitheater.

In Downtown Jacksonville you can learn to shag, enter your kids in a hula hoop competition, dig in the sand for Jaguar home game tickets, eat some famous gumbo and enjoy live music.

Amelia Island starts their celebration with a beach cleanup, followed by a surf competiiton, reggae music concert, sand castle contest and giveaways.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Key West

July 20, 2010

Does anyone really believe this is Culture?

In modifying my list of 50 Things to Love About Florida, I‘ve decided to include places to love in Florida, not just activities and things.  At first I considered adding Key West.  However, while most of it is interesting and fun, a few things hold it back from being spectacular–the main one being the crude entertainment that is prevalent at the bars and restaurants.  Crude as in the language and content of so-called entertainers at various locations throughout Key West.  One in particular is Irish Kevin’s Bar. One man with a  guitar on stage spent more time talking about what he would like to do to the woman at the bar than play any real music. 

It appears these “entertainers” lack any real talent and thus have found a way to make a living by being vulgar, rude and outright annoying.  Some may say that’s just the culture of Key West.  I say that’s no culture at all, but a cop-out, an excuse to be rude, lazy, and selfish.  

Still, Key West does have much to offer –the diving on the Vandenberg, the beautiful lighthouse, the Ernest Hemingway House, the Mel Fisher museum.  I’ll even enjoy a trip or two to Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Grill, where the talent is mostly lacking, but the ridiculous vulgarity is also lacking.

Instead of adding Key West to my List, I’ve decided to add the entire Florida Keys.  They have so much to offer, from Key Largo to Key West and back again.  Pure beauty and nature at every turn.

Florida’s Hemingway

July 16, 2010

I must say, Florida has legitimate claim to one of the most dynamic writers in literary history.  Ernest Hemingway was quite a character in his own right, and Florida claimed him as one of its own for some 30 years (1931-1961). When he fell for his first wife’s best friend while in Paris, divorce then marriage quickly followed.  Key West eventually became the newlyweds’ home, thanks more to her money than his. 

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Key West was a visit to the Hemingway House.  The tour of the Hemingway House is absolute entertainment.  The tour guides tell a good story, all at the expense of Ernest himself. 

Ernest Hemingway House in Key West

One of my absolute favorite nonfiction books of all time is A Moveable Feast, a memoir of Hemingway’s days in Paris.  As someone who has lived in Europe, I can relate to many features in this book, particularly the time spent in cafes.  I find his writing unique and intriguing.  This became even more evident just last year while reading Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway’s “nonfiction novel” about a month spent on safari in Africa.  I wonder if I will like any of his other books as much.  

Unsure of what to read next, I discovered that Hemingway wrote three of his books while living in Key West:  A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro.  I have already read the first two and am now looking forward to reading the third.

Barbara’s Light

July 9, 2010

In an earlier post on this blog, I mentioned that I was curious to see if I could find a female lighthouse keeper in Florida history.  Well, I have!  In Key West no less.  And, to top it off, her name was Barbara, just like mine. 


The Key West Lighthouse was first lit in 1826 by Michael Mabrity, the very first Lighthouse Keeper.  His wife Barbara was the Assistant Lighthouse Keeper.  When Michael  died of yellow fever in 1832, Barbara was appointed Keeper and kept that role for 32 years!  While not conducting lighthouse business, she raised her six children all alone as well.  She battled through hurricanes in 1835, 1841 and 1842.  In 1846, the Great Havana Hurricane hit Key West hard.  Barbara survived, along with one of her children, but the  lighthouse crumbled to the ground.  In 1848 it was rebuilt, in its present day location, and Barbara resiliently took up her old post. 

Barbara Mabrity was fired from her post as Lighthouse Keeper in 1864, at the grand old age of 82, for making anti-Union statements during the Civil War.  The legacy continued however.   Barbara’s granddaughter, Mary, married a man who would become the Lighthouse Keeper and she would join him as Assistant Lighthouse Keeper.  As with her grandmother, the husband died and she became the appointed Keeper.  She only lasted three months before typhoid fever took her also.  But the Mabrity family association with the lighthouse continued on, and their history enveloped the lighthouse for over eighty years. 

View of the Key West Lighthouse from the Second Floor of the Hemingway House

The lighthouse was deactivated in 1969 and is now the Key West Light House and Keeper’s Quarters Museum.  A wonderful place to explore!

Florida Diving – Part II

June 22, 2010


Key West has never been known for spectacular diving.  However, just this time last year they hit the big time. In an effort to establish an artificial reef, the U.S.S. General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, a 522-foot WWII transport ship, was sunk six miles off the coast of Key West.  That sinking was pretty spectacular in its own right.

This is one of the main reasons we travelled to Key West during our recent trip – to dive two dives on the Vandenberg with SubTropic Divers.  Unfortunately the visibility was only 30-40 feet on the first dive.  With a mild current, we managed to see only part of the ship.  On the second dive, the visibility had increased a little to about 40-50 feet.  Matt and I went off on our own and managed to go from the middle of the ship (where we were dropped) to the bow, then back down the full length of the ship to the stern. We didn’t have enough time to look in all the holes of the ship or swim through all the swimthroughs purposefully blown out for divers.  Not much marine life has moved in yet but I did find several Arrowhead Crabs and other small creatures already staking out their claim. 


On the way home from our ten-day trip around Florida, on a whim, we decided to stop off in Jupiter and dive two morning dives with Jupiter Dive Center.  Matt had been diving with them several times and loved the dives.  BUT….where the water temperature in the Keys had been between 80 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, recent storms had left the waters around Jupiter hovering between 66 and 68 degrees.  I thought the Dive Guide was joking with us when he mentioned this.  He wasn’t. 

For anyone who knows anything about diving and wetsuits, my suit is a 4/3 (4-mil on the core, 3-mil on the arms and legs).  This accompanied by tropical gloves and a thin beanie (hood) does not equal adequate coverage for 66-68 degree water!  Somehow, though, I managed to tough it out.  I would find a warm spot and try to stay in it as long as possible.  The visibility was horrible, maybe 20 feet if you were lucky.  It was very easy to lose sight of the Dive Guide and my dive buddy (Matt) for that matter.  This was one of those times you really had to stay tight as a group.  Three of us, along with the Dive Guide, stayed down for the entire dive, somehow surviving the cold and low visibility.  A few times I could just make out large shadows in front of me, unaware of what type of marine life it was.  I did however see some of the largest Goliath Groupers I have ever seen.  This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.  From turtles to Great Hammerheads, South Florida waters seem to grow everything big.


I have yet to dive for fossilized shark’s teeth in Venice, or dive the aircraft carrier Oriskany sunk off the coast of Pensacola.  With all these great diving opportunities in the state of Florida, adding Florida scuba diving to my List of 50 Things to Love About Florida is a must.