Tag Archives: Florida

Panama City Beach, FL – ‘Sugar White’ and ‘Squeaking’ Sands

St. Andrews State Park. Photo by Richard Varr

St. Andrews State Park. Photo by Richard Varr

I have seen my fair share of beautiful beaches after visits to maybe 30 islands or so in the Caribbean and South Pacific, and also the beaches of Mexico, along the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast. But I just visited a Florida beach where the sand not only crunches beneath your feet, but actually “squeaks.”

Photo by Richard Varr

View from the 18th floor of the Sterling SPLASH! Resort. Photo by Richard Varr

I’m talking about the beaches of Panama City Beach, Florida, touted by the locals and tourism folks there for their “sugar white” sands and emerald-tinted waters. Well, I’ve certainly written words like “pure white” and “sparkling” when describing the many fine Caribbean and other beaches I’ve visited. But when walking along the shoreline of a few spots in Panama City Beach, I was amazed to find that the locals’ descriptions are true. And I had to find out for myself whether the sand actually squeaks, which I was amazed to learn it does! (See my YouTube video below.)

Photo by Richard Varr

View from the 18th floor of the Sterling SPLASH! Resort. Photo by Richard Varr

According to the Visit Panama City Beach Magazine, website and other sources, the sugar white, fine-powder sand is made up of quartz crystals that flushed down through rivers and streams from the Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico during the last Ice Age, nearly 20,000 years ago. Through the millennia, the crystals that have formed the protective dunes and sandy shores have ground down to fine particles by the surf and storms.

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St. Andrews State Park. Photo by Richard Varr

I visited the sparkling sands and shimmering green-tinted, clear water of St. Andrews State Park including Shell Island – what many might consider the jewel of Panama City Beach. I found it to be just that; in fact, the beaches of Panama City Beach and St. Andrews have been rated within Florida’s top 10 and within the world’s top 100, according to a wide range of different reviewers and media outlets.

Photo by Richard Varr

Photo by Richard Varr

As for the squeaking, check out the following video. Yes, those are my sneakers “squeaking” on the sand! I’ve experienced a lot of “crunching” when walking on different sandy beaches, but this is my first time to hear the squeaking.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

http://www.visitpanamacitybeach.com, http://www.sterlingresorts.com

Mardi Gras, Florida Style

I just returned from this year’s Mardi Gras in Panama City Beach and was quite impressed. Costumed partiers crammed into maybe a couple dozen or so floats and tossed seeming endless strings of beads into the crowds lining the beachside parade route leading into the Pier Park commercial development.

Photo by Richard Varr

Photo by Richard Varr

Photo by Richard Varr

Photo by Richard Varr

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Fort Lauderdale: Water Taxi Rides in the ‘Venice of America’

Water Taxi.  Photo by Richard Varr

Water Taxi. Photo by Richard Varr

I spent the afternoon on the water during my November visit to Fort Lauderdale – no, not on the Atlantic or off the beach, but instead on the Intracoastal Waterway on a bright yellow water taxi. One of the city’s most popular tourist activities, the Water Taxi chugs along the busy waterway skirting high-rises, commercial centers, restaurants and bars, and along Fort Lauderdale’s canal-front downtown.

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Home along the canals. Photo by Richard Varr

We pass under bridges, pass by the mansions of the rich and famous, and skirt the many canals off the Intracoastal waterways that have given Fort Lauderdale the nickname, “Venice of America.”

Photo by Richard Varr

Photo by Richard Varr

“You will not see these homes from the street. You need to get on the water taxi, the best way to see the million dollar homes and see how those folks lived,” says Eric Roberts, one of the crew who also serves as a tour guide, pointing out the homes of movie stars and industry barons. Roberts and his fellow crew members tell tales of who lived where and when, with an amusing twist and some bad jokes that are actually funny, albeit not necessarily completely factual.

Yachts on the waterway. Photo by Richard Varr

Yachts on the waterway. Photo by Richard Varr

The Water Taxi’s three routes have 19 stops, from downtown to the northern part of the waterway and south to nearby Hollywood. Highlights include high-rise condos along waterfront plazas with palm trees, marinas with sailboats and shining white yachts, and multimillion-dollar homes shaded by trees and with balconies overlooking grassy backyards facing the city’s many canals. The route also passes along Port Everglades often filled with cruise ships. The downtown route narrows with stops close to museums, attractions and restaurants.

Downtown canal. Photo by Richard Varr

Downtown canal. Photo by Richard Varr

For more information: www.watertaxi.com

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AIRBOAT ON THE EVERGLADES

Airboat on the Everglades. Photo by Richard Varr

Airboat on the Everglades. Photo by Richard Varr

Also, it was a real thrill riding an airboat on the Everglades – this one outside Fort Lauderdale at an attraction called Billy’s Swamp Safari. Check out the video below.

Wynwood Walls – Miami’s Bold Outdoor Street Art Museum

By Richard Varr

The paint strokes are broad; the theme, boisterous and angry.  I’m studying a bold depiction of a small South Beach uprising, reminiscent of medieval peasants storming a castle.  With sharpened wooden poles and even a rake and hammer in hand, pedestrians are confronting the pesky salespeople – those with happy hour menus who try to woo passersby to imbibe at their street-side cafes and restaurants.

Mural by Greek painter Stelios Faitakis at the Wynwood Walls, Miami.
Photo by Richard Varr

“This is obviously a battle scene,” says Joe Furst with Goldman Properties, one of the companies involved with creating the Wynwood Walls.  “If you’ve ever been to Ocean Drive, there are always these hawkers trying to get you to sit at their restaurants at happy hour with half price drinks.”  Furst says the artist, Stelios Faitakis from Greece, felt like he was in a battle.  “He put the happy hour sign in the artwork to demonstrate how he felt walking down Ocean Drive.”

Murals at Wynwood Walls, Miami. Photo by Richard Varr

The mural is just one of 40 or so painted by international artists on warehouse walls, rolling storefront steel doors and solid fences that encompass this outdoor street museum.  Wynwood Walls in the thriving Wynwood neighborhood, just north of downtown Miami, began in 2009 and is free and open to the public year-round.  The neighborhood is home to more than 70 art galleries, artist studios, museums and other art related venues.

Murals and courtyard at the Wynwood Walls. Photo by Richard Varr

“We call this our urban town center,” says Furst of the Wynwood Walls.  “As some developers would do it with a (supermarket and drug store), we do it with food and beverage, culture and the arts.  It serves as a place for the public to come and congregate in the neighborhood.”

“Street art is one of those things that people always see, but they don’t always feel comfortable in urban areas to sit and take it all in,” he continues.  “This is an environment that allows them to really do that.”

“Little Hulk” at the Wynwood Walls. Photo by Richard Varr

Artists have used brushes, rollers and spray cans to enliven the walls with their luminescent and bold colored murals.  There are also artworks with paper collages.  Murals include faces beaming with expression, quirky caricatures, glowing cityscapes and a mishmash of frivolity.  One mural capturing my eye is the bright green baby caricature in the artwork entitled “Little Hulk” by American artist Ron English.

Mural at the Wynwood Walls. Photo by Richard Varr

“We don’t commission their work, but the artists want to be here to be part of the project and they come from all over the world,” says Furst.  “It’s to rejuvenate the area and create a sense of place.  When you come to Wynwood Walls, you’re somewhere unique in the world.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

www.wynwoodmiami.com

Entrance at N.W. 2nd Ave. and N.W. 25th Street, Wynwood.

Dragonfly Expeditions  gave us an Architectural Tour of other Miami neighborhoods, including Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, Downtown and South Beach with particular detail to the city’s history, and Miami Modern and art deco architectural styles.  For more information: dragonflyexpeditions.com

Murals at the Wynwood Walls across from a restaurant. Photo by Richard Varr

The African Queen Steamboat: From Africa to Key Largo

By Richard Varr

African Queen. Photo by Richard Varr

It still chugs along with its engine clanking and smoke pouring from its blackened smokestack.  Its whistle is piercing and clear.  But instead of maneuvering along daunting waterways on the Dark Continent, the African Queen now sails within placid harbors and along clear water canals in Key Largo, Florida.

African Queen. Photo by Richard Varr

The original open-top boat, featured in the popular 1951 movie with the same name, has been restored and is now available for canal and dinner cruises.  It’s especially popular with those wanting to relive a moment or two from the movie that starred Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, whose characters use the boat after a run-in with German soldiers during the onset of World War I.

“I think we have to be very careful with her.  We have a big responsibility to keep her going and maintained,” says Suzanne Holmquist, who along with her husband had the boat restored.  “We want to take her on some new adventures – I don’t think she’s finished yet.”

African Queen. Photo by Richard Varr

Built in 1912 in Gloucestershire, England, this year is the African Queen’s 100th anniversary.  It was used mainly as a shuttle to move cargo and passengers across Lake Albert in central Africa.  The boat’s boiler is a reproduction from the original vessel, and its boiler burns coal and wood as well as diesel fuel to drive the boat’s clanking engine.  The vessel’s hull has a rope around it, and a faded Union Jack flaps along with American flags in the wind.

“Basically she has an 1800s steam engine and boiler which still builds up enough steam pressure so the engine can operate,” says Holmquist, whose husband restores boats.  “For me, I have a background in film and television.  Restoring it kind of blended both mine and my husband’s passions.”

African Queen. Photo by Richard Varr

“It put-puts along, and people love it,” Holmquist continues.  “She’s quite slow so it’s a relaxed cruise that they go on and they just enjoy the sounds.”

“It’s hot, but the sound is unique in all the world.  Everyone remembers that noise from the movie,” says Michael Huett, one of the boat’s captains.  “I love it.  We’re trying to preserve a piece of history.”

“I just think she still has a lot of adventures left in her,” adds Holmquist.

For more information:  www.africanqueenflkeys.com

Haunted Key West? Ghosts and Orbs

Notice the orb above Key West’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church tower.
Photo by Richard Varr

Are they ghosts or simply specks of dust or water vapor droplets reflecting from my camera’s flash?  Both are possible explanations of the orbs my camera captured in Key West while on a ghost tour.

Orb above church tower. Photo by Richard Varr

In the four photos on this blog, look closely for the orbs.  The photos were taken within a few seconds of each other and the orbs move and change.  They are floating above and around Key West’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, founded 1832, with the current building dating back to 1912.  The area is said to be one of the more haunted spots on the island.

Orbs seemed to have move from previous photos. Photo by Richard Varr

“Behind the church, this used to be the graveyard which extended all the way up the block,” says tour guide Tim Glancey of the Key West Ghost and Mysteries Tours.  “In 1846 we had a huge hurricane, and it basically washed up the graveyard.”

Orbs have moved again. Photo by Richard Varr

A prominent orb can be seen atop the church steeple in two photos, with fainter ones floating to the right in the other two.  I should note that of the couple dozen or so night shots I took while on the tour, and except for the photos above, there were no orbs of any kind!

For more information:

www.keywestghostandmysteriestour.com