Tag Archives: beach

Honolulu – always good to be back

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Duke Kahanamoku

A statue of surfing champ Duke Kahanamoku welcomes visitors to Waikiki

Hawaii is a mystical place that seems to exist in imagination only until you actually set foot on one of the volcanic outcrops in the middle of the Pacific. When I was growing up, Hawaii – or Hawaje in Polish – was a fairytale land far, far away. So far in fact that it might as well have been Oz. Who knew I would one day find it? And yes, as soon as the plane touches down, it’s clear that we’re not in Kansas anymore. The black-and-whiteness of mundane daily existence melts away in the Technicolor rainbow of verdant hills, turquoise waters, and golden sun, leaving newcomers temporarily blinded until their eyes adjust. I wonder if that’s the effect that sighting the islands had on the first European to set eyes on them, captain James Cook. On January 18, 1778, when he saw Oahu after months of sailing across vast and empty Pacific, wouldn’t Hawaii appear to be a slice of paradise put on his path by providence?

Fortunately, no comparably long periods of time are required of a modern traveler. But it’s still a looong trip from pretty much anywhere. In fact, Hawaii is the most isolated population center on earth: 2,390 miles from California; 3,850 miles from Japan; 4,900 miles from China; and 5,280 miles from the Philippines. It’s a strange feeling to fly for so many hours from the U.S. mainland and not need to pull out a passport. But once you’re here, you know you’ve arrived. A puff of warm tropical air penetrates the jet-way. The hot sun starts its labor of love on pale skins of temperate zone individuals. And the beach awaits. Read the rest of this entry

Un-Conventional Tampa

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Tampa

Downtown Tampa

The non-stop news cycle from the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week was for the most part nauseatingly repetitive (check the word cloud: “America” – “President” – “Mitt Romney”) and occasionally hilariously bizarre (thank you, Clint Eastwood). But now that it’s over, I want to reconnect with a meaning of the word “Tampa” that does not equal the RNC. To me that meaning goes back some years ago when I had a chance to visit.

Tampa is not necessarily on Florida’s A-list of destinations. It doesn’t have the vibrancy of Miami, history and natural charm of Pensacola, or Orlando’s Disney World (ok it has Busch Gardens but it doesn’t quite measure up). When I was there is also felt in a large part under construction with street closures and cranes dotting the landscape. So to me the highlights were a few special, memorable places rather than the city as a whole. Read the rest of this entry

The treasures of Tulum

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Templo Dios del Viento, Tulum

“We followed the coast day and night and the next day toward sunset we sighted a city or town so large that Seville would not have appeared bigger or better; one saw there a very large tower; on the shore was a great throng of Indians, who bore two standards which they raised and lowered to signal us to approach them; the commander did not wish it. The same day we came to a beach near which was the highest tower we had seen.”

That is how Juan Diaz described Tulum in 1518. Diaz was a member of a Spanish expedition of four ships and two hundred men led by Juan de Grijalva and organized by the governor of Cuba eager to find Mayan gold. They first landed at Cozumel island and continued south, soon reaching the walled city. The tower that Diaz was so impressed with was El Castillo, a pyramid facing the ocean that served as a watchtower and a lighthouse and is Tulum’s trademark till today. When I saw the ruins on my trip, I could imagine the conquistadors sailing by in their ships, mouth agape, staring at a mighty fortress perched on the top of a rocky coast. They were the first Europeans to see Tulum – or at least the first ones to write about it – and must have been quite in awe given Diaz’s admission that it could rival a contemporary European city. Seville-in-the-Caribbean survived seven decades after the Spanish conquest but eventually was abandoned when the Old World diseases decimated the local population. Read the rest of this entry

The other Florida

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Hotel formerly known as the Dunes (photo: http://www.hiexpress.com)

When the weather in the northeast turns cold, my thoughts migrate south in a snowbird fashion. Today I’m thinking about one of my favorite Florida escapes – Pensacola. More specifically, I mentally teleport to the Dunes hotel sitting on a narrow strip of Santa Rosa Island. It faces the Gulf and is separated from the mainland by a long sound, which means that every guest room faces the water. I still remember walking into my room and being greeted by the soft humming of the ocean surf, so close it seemed like I could just outstretch my hand and touch it. And I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw dolphins playfully jumping between the waves just offshore.

Santa Rosa is a perfect escape. The site of Spanish arrival in the early 16th century, this 40-mile barrier island today belongs in part to the Gulf Islands National Seashore with the landscape ranging from gleaming white beaches and rugged maritime vegetation to historic Fort Pickens on the island’s western tip. Built in 1834, it was the largest of four forts guarding Pensacola Harbor. During the Civil War, Fort Pickens was reinforced the day after Fort Sumter surrendered, later withheld the Confederate assault in the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, and became one of the few southern forts to continuously remain in Union hands. The Fort stayed under military use until after WWII when its old fortifications and gun batteries became obsolete and now is a part of the Seashore. Read the rest of this entry