Bella Vida by Letty

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The Lincoln Memorial in Washington Dc

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC

The Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial is on my top five things not to miss when visiting Washington DC. It is something you need to experience in person. The scale and architecture is more grandiose than you can possibly imagine. I along with everyone in my party was left blown away. It is spectacular so make sure to make time to see this during your visit.

The Lincoln Memorial

What is the Lincoln Memorial?

The Lincoln Memorial is an American national monument built to honor the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The Greek Doric shaped Memorial building is 190 feet long and 119 feet wide, and reaches a height of almost 100 feet. There are 36 columns, each one representing one state in the U.S. at the date of President Lincoln’s death.

Inside you will find a 19 foot tall 175-ton statue of Abraham Lincoln.  To the left of the statue is Lincoln’s great speech, the Gettysburg Address. Every single word of the Address is etched into the wall. To the right is the entire Second Inaugural Address, given in March of 1865.

 

The Lincoln Memorial

When to Visit

Located on the western end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. across from the Washington Monument the Lincoln Memorial is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. I visited twice and each time I went during the evening. It was not too crowded and I had a spectacular view of the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument lit up at night.

Have you visited The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC?

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Florida Road Trip in the Chevy Suburban 2016

s6 Collage

This summer has been a blast.  I love when my family comes down to visit and I get to show them some of the places I love and share what makes Florida so special.  Some of our stops you will recognize as popular and others are gems that are off the beaten path.  The Chevy Suburban comfortably accommodated seven passengers as we explored some of the fun unique places Florida has to offer.  With our extended family in tow, cooler with water, picnic and beach supplies in the trunk, we caught up while we hit the road.  We didn’t have to split up.  We were able to enjoy each others company the entire trip.  The Suburban is perfect for large families.

Florida is a state where it is warm year round.   If you are not used to the heat, summers can be uncomfortable.  One of my favorite features of the Suburban are cooled seats.  Not only are the driver and front passenger seats cooled but so are the second row seats.  Another feature that saved us from the blaring heat is the fact each person can adjust the air conditioning to their liking.  I know some of my family members disagree on how cold it should be.  With the ability for each person to adjust the a/c to their liking made everyone happy and we were able to cool off much quicker than other vehicles.

South Florida

Florida makes is fun and easy to plan road trips.  There are wonderful highways that will take you all across the state.  When you are in Miami be prepared for traffic.  Especially on the weekends.  The first place I wanted to share with my family was the art district of Wynwood Walls in midtown Miami.  This entire place is a canvas for artists.  Everywhere you look you will find images and secret messages.  It is a very special place with a vibe you will not find anywhere else in the world.  I come away inspired every time I visit.  My family was blown away.

The Suburban drives so smoothly and the rearview camera with image outline made parking a breeze.  If you get nervous driving in traffic the Suburban has many safety features to put you at ease; the forward collision alert, the lane keep assist, lance changer alert with side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, rear vision camera and tire pressure monitor system.  You and your family can enjoy yourselves without worry.

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Beaches

Florida has no scarcity of beautiful beaches.  Take your pick from North to South and East or West coast.  There are beaches to be on the look out for celebrities like South Beach, or spend some quiet family time on the Hollywood Broadwalk or enjoy more quiet beaches where the locals hang out.  We love to picnic at the beach on weekends.

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Florida Springs

An off the beaten road trip you might not know about would be visiting a Florida Spring.   There are many beautiful, clean, clear water Springs throughout central and north Florida.  I chose to visit Wekiwa Springs in central Florida.  Only a 40 minute drive from Orlando it was the best way to cool off after visiting packed theme parks.  For only $6.00 per car we spent the entire day canoeing, picnicking and swimming.

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Everglades

Every time friends and family visit I make sure to take them to experience an Everglades sunset.  No where else in the world will you get a spectacular view like this.  As the sun begins to go down you’ll probably see a gator or five.  Hundreds of thousands of birds flock to the flora for a safe nights rest.  The adventurous will get on boat rides to explore the Everglades, the river of grass.  The night I drove my family to see an Everglades sunset we bumped into a group of people going bow fishing.  That’s were you use a bow and arrow to catch your fish.  I’m always come away learning something new on every road trip.

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So here are my must do and see when visiting Florida:

Experience art like you’ve never experienced art before at Wynwood Walls in midtown Miami.

Splash and play on one of many Florida’s clean soft sand beaches.

Cool off at one of Florida’s most beautiful natural wonders, the springs.

And finally try not to leave without viewing an Everglades sunset.  Beware and stay away from the gators.

Have you experienced a Florida sunset?

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Wekiwa Springs Florida State Park

Wekiwa springs florida state park

Some of the best natural attractions Florida has to offer are its cool refreshing springs. Springs are the point where groundwater flows out of the ground where the aquifer surface meets the surface of the earth and Florida has one of the largest concentrations of springs on earth. There are many beautiful clear freshwater springs throughout central and north Florida. I was blown away at my first visit to Rainbow Springs Florida State Park. So much so I am determined to visit more of them.

Wekiwa Collage

The springs are great for cooling down, swimming, picnicking, paddling, canoeing, camping, hiking and nature watching. The best time to visit is summertime because these bodies of water remain relatively cold, about 72 degrees year round. It is the perfect way to keep cool on a hot summer day.

wekiwacanoe

Florida Springs are a great alternative to pricey theme parks.

Wekiwa Springs is only a 40-minute drive from Orlando theme parks located in the town of Apopka. We visited during the week but if you are heading out there on a summer weekend call in advance. They do close their gates when they reach capacity. Admission is only $6.00 per vehicle. A big difference from pricey theme parks and we had just as much fun.

Wekiwa 3

Wekiwa Springs has a very large walled off swimming area unlike other springs. You are allowed to canoe, kayak, paddleboard other areas just be respectful of nature. There are alligators everywhere. In addition there are miles and miles of hiking trails. Be aware that Florida has a large black bear population. If you plan on hiking go prepared. The only hiking I did that day was on the boardwalks scattered around the swimming area. I saw raccoons and a variety of birds including a few gorgeous swallowtail kite.

If you visit during summer weekends arrive early.  We spent an entire day swimming, canoeing and exploring the trails.  They have a gift shop and small concession stand which serves snacks, burgers and hot dogs. Or you can bring your own picnic.

Have you been to Wekiwa Springs?

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Visiting Starved Rock Illinois State Park Near Chicago

Visiting Starved Rock Illinois State Park Near Chicago

When I visit a place I really enjoy exploring and uncovering hidden gems. Since I’m a die hard road tripper this includes surrounding areas of wherever I may be. While I visited Chicago last summer I searched for things to do within driving distance of the windy city. Starved Rock State park turned out to be the perfect place to spend the day since I love exercising outdoors and being surrounded by nature.

Visiting Starved Rock Illinois State Park Near Chicago

Starved Rock State Park is only a one and half hour drive from the city of Chicago along the south bank of the Illinois River. It is a pleasant surprise since most of Illinois consists of flat prairies. It was formed thousands of years ago by melting glaciers. The water rushed and eroded everything except the sandstone. Today you can see steep rock walls, cool dark valleys, bluffs, gorges and canyons.

This beautiful park has many things you can do: hiking, camping, fishing, canoeing, etc. There are cabins and of course the Lodge for extended visits.

hiking tip

Planning your Visit

Before you go I highly recommend checking the website or calling the park for conditions. I visited on a very hot afternoon toward the end of July. The park had experienced lots of flooding, which meant parts were inaccessible which limited the things to do. Flooding is common in the area and some people even recommend hiking in rain boots. So call ahead and find out what to bring.

Upon arrival we parked near the lodge where there were plenty of empty spaces. Head inside and grab yourself a map. They have a visitor’s center, gift shop and dining if you need supplies. In addition there are many other lots to park at depending on how long or far you want to go and what you want to see.

Visiting Starved Rock Illinois State Park Near Chicago

Since we were only there for a few hours we chose the trail leading us to the bluff and gorgeous views of the Illinois River. It was very hot that day. You can experience all four season on any given day in Illinois so I recommend layers you can take off and put on as needed. Each person in the group had their own water and snack supply. These are not easy trails. If you do not exercise regularly you may find the trails challenging. The boardwalk has many many many stairs, which take you up and down for miles and miles. There are also dirt paths you can take all throughout the park. Some were quite muddy and we had to make many detours. Our trail led us through a lush green forest of oak and hickory trees, through the canyon and to a grand view of the Illinois River.

Visiting Starved Rock Illinois State Park Near Chicago

Details

Hours: Visitors Center: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00pm

Prices: Free to Public. Prices for tours, activities and boat rentals vary.

Activities:

This is one place I would love to come back and visit to explore the other trails. During the springtime there are waterfalls and during winter ice falls and that is something I’d love to see.

Have you been?

 

 

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Things to do in Boston

Things to do in Boston

Things to do in Boston

Boston is Massachusetts’ capital and largest city. It is one of the oldest cities in the US and it’s rich political history has greatly impacted the way the US government runs today. Whatever type of travel experience you are looking for there is something on this list of things to do in Boston for you. The city is vibrant with all kinds of activities whether you’re a sports fan, enjoy the outdoors, are seeking culture or are a huge history buff.

What to Do

The Freedom Trail

Take a Freedom Trail Tour. The Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile-long path through downtown Boston that passes by 16 locations significant to the history of the United States. Starting at the visitor’s center of the beautiful Boston Common the tour led by costumed guides. It’s a great way to learn about and see some of Boston’s most important sites.

Insider tip

Wear comfortable shoes.  It’s a very long walk.

Granary Burying Ground

One of the more interesting stops on the Freedom Trail was the Granary Burying Ground. Founded in 1660 it is the city of Boston’s third-oldest cemetery. Located on Tremont Street, it is the final resting place for many notable Revolutionary War era patriots, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence; Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Robert Treat Paine.  Also, prominently displayed in the Burying Ground is an obelisk erected in 1827 to the parents and relatives of Benjamin Franklin who was born in Boston and is buried in Philadelphia.

Quincy Market

Explore South Market and Quincy Square near Faneuil Hall. Quincy Market is a historic market complex near Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. It was constructed in 1824 and named in honor of Mayor Josiah Quincy, who organized its construction without any tax or debt. There are many places to eat and shops for purchasing souvenirs.

Insider tip

This is a touristy area always buzzing with people.  Enjoy the street performers which appear at any time of day.

boston

Take the subway over to the Skywalk Observatory.  The Skywalk Observatory is located on the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower. It is the second tallest skyscraper in the City of Boston. Enjoy amazing views of the Boston’s famous landmarks like the Charles River, Fenway Park, Boston Harbor and much more.

Click here for more photos.

Boston Ducktour

Boston Duck Tours is a very fun way to explore the city of Boston. You a great overview of the city, see many unique neighborhoods and splash into the Charles River for a breathtaking view of the Boston and Cambridge skylines.  It was a blast.

New England Aquarium

Visit the New England Aquarium and check out the four-story Caribbean coral reef teeming with more than 1,000 animals.

Greenway Carousel

Ride the unusual Greenway carousel.

Where to Stay

There are plenty of places to stay in the city however, during my visit there were several conventions going on so most places were booked. I ended up staying at the Hilton Garden Inn in Waltham. Hilton is a reliable established brand with comfortable, clean rooms. It is located in a quiet area, which is just a short drive into Boston.

What to Eat

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Having some clam chowder at Finz at Pickering Wharf in Salem Ma #food #foodie #visitma #travel #instagood #bellavidabyletty

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Boston is the place to eat great seafood. It is home to some of the world’s most amazing lobster rolls, clam chowder and fish especially cod dishes.  Go try some.

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Have you been to Boston?

What were some of your favorite things to do?

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Things to do in Florida at Hollywood Beach Broadwalk

hollywood broadwalk

Here’s an insider tip for things to do in Florida.  One of my very favorite hometown hangouts is the Hollywood Broadwalk.  No, that’s not a typo. The city named the boardwalk The Hollywood Broadwalk.

Did you know there is a city in Florida named Hollywood?

Not very many people do.  It’s the complete opposite of the one out in California.  Located between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale this small beach town is very diverse receiving visitors from all over the world. It’s relaxed, laid back and family friendly.

Hollywood Boulevard ends at A1A where you can access Surf Road and the Hollywood Broadwalk. The Broadwalk stretches for about two and half miles.  On one side of the Broadwalk are seven miles of sand with the view of the gorgeous Atlantic Ocean, which changes from jade to turquoise depending on the light.  The other side of the Hollywood Broadwalk is lined with shops, cafes, ice cream shops, restaurants, hotels, inns and other businesses.

Experience South Florida the way the locals do.

Hollywood Broadwalk Collage

See

If you park at the north end at Sheridan Street there is a viewing deck where you can climb up a few stories to take in the beautiful beach view from above.

Eats

The Hollywood Broadwalk gives you the opportunity to have a seaside meal. At the north end of the Hollywood Broadwalk, just off of Sheridan Street you will find plenty of parking, shade and picnic tables.  You can use the grills or bring your own.

On the weekends there is a fresh market at the south end of the Broadwalk where you can find organic produce and drink a refreshing smoothie made from locally grown fruits and vegetables.

And in between you will find a great variety of restaurants, cafes, ice cream parlors, pizza joint and just about any type of food you’re in the mood for.

Sleep / Stay

You will find various types of accommodations along the Broadwalk from large chain hotels, small mom and pop hotels. If renting is your thing you can find anything from luxury to casual beach house.

Play

Just off of Garfield Street you can find a playground, ball courts and even an interactive dolphin fountain for the kids to splash and play.  Charnow Park features shaded seating areas and picnic pavilions.

Sand

While on the sand you’ll see all types of boats out on the water.  On weekends you might see a group of twenty small sailboats bobbing along during sail school.  At night you’ll see large cruise ships and their twinkling lights as they head deep into the ocean.  The port of Ft. Lauderdale is only about eight miles away.

Sports

The Broadwalk is always bustling with skaters, joggers and bike riders.  There are at least two places I know of where you can rent wheels.  You can pick up a racket and play ball at the ball courts off Garfield Street.

Water

In the water you can swim, float, fish. If you want to play in the water you can also rent jet skis.

Entertainment

You will find various entertainments at the different bars and restaurants. For free entertainment you can find live music performances at the band shell located off Johnson Street. The Hollywood Beach Theater hosts live music five nights a week and a variety of cultural performances just 25 steps from sand to center stage.

You can see what’s happening at the beach now via this live webcam or view a map to plan your next trip here.

Have you been to the Hollywood Broadwalk?

What was your favorite thing to do there?

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Travel Tips Round Up From Flying to Packing and More

I’m going through my travel tips articles getting ready to start planning my summer vacation.  I enjoy researching new places and going on new adventures.  Sometimes planning can be fun but sometimes it can be tedious since there are so many things to do before we get to leave and have fun.  Here’s my round up of travel tips articles to help you out.

 


 

Long List of Things to do Before You Leave on Your Trip

There are lots of details to be wrapped up before leaving on your next trip.  Here’s a long list you can use to check things off and not worry you’ve missed something.

What You Need to Know Before Flying

We do a lot of road tripping and sometimes we fly out to do even more road tripping.  Here are some tips to get you ready for your flight.

inside my carry on bag

Packing is actually fun for me.  I enjoy finding all the perfect little items that will make me and my family feel comfortable during our commute.  Here’s what I have inside my carry on.

9 Best Ways to Prepare Your Cell Phone Before Traveling

I never leave the house without my phone.  These tips will help when you’re out on the road.

 

World's Most Helpful Types of Travel Apps

Continuing on the phone theme here are some very useful travel apps.

 

Where will you be vacationing this summer?

 

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Roadtrip to Plimoth Plantation

Pilgrim Village Collage

Last summer I took an amazing road trip through the state of Massachusetts and one of the towns I visited was the famous historical town of Plymouth where the Mayflower landed and the first pilgrims settled. Plymouth is a small coastal town and it’s super easy to get around. Everything is close by and lovely views of the waterfront can be enjoyed from just about everywhere.

When visiting Plymouth a great way to spend the day is a visit to Plimoth Plantation. Located on several acres near the waterfront it’s a living indoor-outdoor museum. It’s the recreation of a 17th century Wampanoag village and Pilgrim settlement. The place is huge and with self-guided tours you can walk as little or as much as you like. We spent an entire fun filled morning and could easily have spent the day.

The place is large with a visitor’s center, cinema, gift shop, craft center and tons of grounds to cover. If you like strolling among lush green vegetation you’ll love exploring the paths, which take you to an authentic Wampanoag village and Pilgrim settlement.

Pilgrim Village

 

The attraction does a good job of demonstrating how life was for these two settlements and how important it was for their survival that they find a way to live and work together.  The staff is dresses, live, speak and act as the citizens and Native Americans did during that period. Wonderful structures have been recreated to take you back in time. They encourage you to interact and ask tons of questions. I was very impressed with their knowledge and the stories they shared. It was very entertaining.

I started through the bright green paths leading to the Wampanoag village where there was lots going on. There were people tending to the crops, women cooking, children playing and men building. I stopped at a lovely display of indigenous toys from that era. There were huts you could enter to see how it was built and another large one where I sat and listened to what life was like. At every station you are free to ask any questions.

Settlement Collage

After the village a beautiful path winding up the hillside leads you to the Pilgrim settlement. That was my favorite path. You have beautiful views of the Eel River and even a nice view of the Pilgrim Sands on Long Beach where I stayed. As the paths turn you can even see the beach and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Pilgrim Village has many structures to explore. The staff dressed in period costumes attending the crops and animals as they did in the 17th century.

Settlement

If you go Tips

–  The earlier you go the better parking you will get.

–  Wear comfortable walking shoes.

–  Bring sunblock and water.

–  Ask lots of questions.  The more you interact the more fun you’ll have.

 

 Have you been to Plymouth?  What did you do during your visit?

 

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Where to Stay in Plymouth Massachusetts Home Town USA

where to stay in Plymouth MA

Plymouth is a coastal town located only an hour south of the Boston airport and a half hour north of Cape Cod.  One of the oldest European settlements in the US, Plymouth Rock is where the pilgrims who traveled across the Atlantic on the Mayflower landed.  Today it’s a small town where visitors from all around the globe come to enjoy historical sites, well preserved Native American history, boating, whale watching, fishing, the beach and so much more.

Plimoth-Sands-Collage

After spending a stormy afternoon exploring Cape Cod I arrived early in the evening to a two story old fashioned hotel.  A variety of planters with colorful seasonal flowers; bright ruffled carnations, tall delphiniums and an assortment of daisies made a beautiful contrast against the brick facade and white trim of the building.  Right off the water and a short distance from the bustling town it felt very private.  Upon entering The Plimoth Sands Hotel on Long Beach I was greeted with a very warm welcome from friendly employees wearing casual uniforms which corresponded with the relaxed vibe of the ocean front hotel.  It felt like I had gone back in time to a place that exists on 70’s television shows where strangers treat you like family.  This is home town America.

The first thing I did was drop off my bags and although the decor is old fashioned the room was huge and very clean.  There was more than enough room to stretch and unwind.  As soon as I noticed the rain clouds dissipating I headed to the outdoor deck.

There’s a cozy lounge area with comfortable seating, games and even a book shelf and a view of the indoor pool and Jacuzzi.  I stopped at the cafe bar and ordered their specialty drink called a kiss on long beach.  It was fruity and tasty.

 

I stepped onto the outdoor deck to a most spectacular view.  The storm clouds moved inland and the sky put on a show blending the loveliest pink and blue hues.  The water was calm, gentle and its sounds relaxing.  I watched the tides change from high to low.  Slowly then suddenly a pebbled beach appeared.  Perfect for an evening stroll.  As you can see from the photo this place has its own beach which stretches all the way to the public beach.

Long-Beach-Plymouth-Beach-Collage

 

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 I spent a peaceful and relaxing evening listening to the waves and watching the fog roll in.

 

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The next morning we were able to enjoy the beach.

 

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 Have you vacationed in Plymouth, Massachusetts home town USA?

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“We are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.” Carson McCullers

“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together.” Sarah Dessen

“The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.” Louisa May Alcott

“Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.” Charles Dickens

 

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New England Whale Watching Tips

I’ve been away having secret adventures which means a brand new series of posts featuring all the fun, wacky and weird experiences I had while road tripping in the grand state of Massachusetts.  I have so much to share with you.  I’m excited to get started.

Whale Watching Collage

I’ve always wanted to see whales up close and I know this is something that is on many people’s travel bucket list.  If you get the chance you should absolutely go.  This is an activity suitable for all ages who enjoy spending hours on the ocean close to nature.  I had an amazing whale watching experience in Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts.  Thanks to the Plymouth County Development Council, Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism for all of their helpful staff, tips and help organizing this trip.

The company I sailed with is Captain John Whale Watching & Fishing Tours of Plymouth. Located on the Town Wharf in the heart of historic Plymouth it’s very easy to find. The company offers whale watching excursions, deep sea fishing trips and private group charters.  There is public parking conveniently located within walking distance.  Just don’t forget to feed the meter.  We saw so much wildlife our trip ran long, not that anyone was in a rush to get back.

There were so many people in the group that day we sailed out in two vessels.  All of the boats help and alert each other to sightings so the more eyes the better.  The large two level vessels sailed out of Plymouth Harbor and into Plymouth Bay.  We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect afternoon which is pretty amazing considering July is rainy season.  The sun was shining brightly and the flat waters were like glass reflecting big fluffy clouds.  We found several groups of humpback whales that day including two mothers with calves.  I believe we saw somewhere around 11 whales, a group of seals and several migratory flocks of birds. My one word summary = amazing.

These are my tips to prepare you to have a great time on your next whale watching adventures.  My experience was in New England and while most of the advice works for other locations I would recommend checking your local tour guides website for specific tips.

Did you know World Wildlife Fund ranks Massachusetts as one of the top 10 whale watching spots in the world? 

The best time for whale watching in Massachusetts is during their feeding season which runs from April to October.  The weather and location provide premium feeding locations for a variety of whale species.  Later when the cold weather arrives the whales relocate to warmer weather to mate and give birth.

First things first: Prepare if you suffer motion sickness

If you get seasick be sure to take any motion sickness medication half an hour before boarding.  Thankfully I do not get seasick but friends who do have told me the wrist bands do not work as well as over the counter medications.  Some boats may have some on board but some do not.  I would go prepared ahead of time.

Dress for the experience

Whales are huge creatures therefore found in very deep waters.  In order to reach those deep waters your boat captain may have to drive an hour or more into the ocean.  We were lucky to experience our first encounter only 7 miles out.  As you can imagine everyone was excited and enthusiastic about what we would see as we continued deeper into the ocean to Stellwagen Bank.  The temperature out on the ocean can be anywhere from 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the dock you sailed out of.  I recommend dressing in layers, wearing jeans, sneakers, a hat, sunglasses, a scarf and towel if you have the space.

Sunscreen

Even on cloudy days the sun will have an effect on your skin.  Protect yourself from sun damage and use sunscreen.  I managed to get a nice tan since it was such a gorgeous day I never wanted to leave the top deck.

Water and Snacks

Expect to be out on the water for at least four hours.  Check to see if your boat provides snacks and water and what their rules are regarding bringing a picnic.  We left after lunch so all we purchased was water to remain hydrated and some tasty chocolate chip muffins as a snack on our trip.

Whale Watching Collage

Choosing a Tour

I travel to learn as well as be entertained.  Our boat had a naturalist on board who entertained us with her extensive knowledge.  She identified different birds and sea life.  We saw some seals from far away.  She also talked to us about whale behavior and migration patterns.  Best of all she was even able to identify the whales we saw by name because of the particular markings on their tails.  I found her love for the ocean and it’s creatures contagious and made me want to know more.  She even keeps a blog documenting all of her finds and trips which is a pretty amazing read.  You can find it here.

Photography: Step Away From the Camera

Yes, most of the time okay always everywhere I go you will find me snapping away with a camera.  One tip I can give you is to remember to put it down and view this incredible experience with your own two eyes instead of worrying about getting the perfect shot.  In this case your subject is wild and unpredictable.  In addition the boat will be maneuvering around to get the best views and everyone will crowd together to block your view.  Make sure to live and take in this miraculous moment where you are face to face with one the planets most magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.  It is a beautiful experience I will remember for the rest of my life.

I watched two sets of humpback whale mothers diving for dinner with their calves.  They were large yet incredibly graceful.  I felt very at peace watching them.  I also witnessed several separate groups of humpback whales socializing, spouting and diving.  We were even close enough to hear the sounds they made while clearing their spouts.  It was amazing.

Whale Conservation

It is beautiful to go into the ocean to peacefully visit some of the largest creatures on Earth.  It is all of our responsibility to care for this planet.  Whales were heavily hunted until the 1970’s and even though there are many laws and restrictions whales are very slowly rebounding.  Simple things you can do to help are donate to whale conservation agencies, volunteer and the easiest one of all do not throw garbage into any body of water.

This was my first whale watching excursion and it is something I will definitely do again.  Have you been whale watching?

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Bridge of Lions in Historic St. Augustine Florida

Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine Florida

When visiting St. Augustine, the oldest US city, there’s no way you can miss the grand view of the Bridge of Lions.  The Bridge of Lions connects downtown St. Augustine to Anastasia Island and it’s most outstanding feature of course are the gorgeous pair of Medici Lions made of marble which guard the bridge.  These amazing works were created by the Italian sculptor Romanelli of Florence Italy in the mid 1920’s and donated by close friend of Henry Flagler, Dr. Andrew Anderson.  The bridge is the National Register of Historic Places and has been lovingly restored as recently as 2010 for visitors to enjoy.

I took a stroll up the bridge after dinner one early evening to enjoy the gentle warm breeze rolling off Matanzas Bay.  Don’t be intimidated, it is a very walkable bridge.  It’s not too steep and you can always stop and enjoy the view when you need to.  There is lots of traffic but there are dedicated walkways and stoplights allowing pedestrians to explore every corner of St. Augustine by foot.

el Galeon and the Nao Victoria

During my trip there were two famous Spanish pirate style Galleon Ships docked at the Bridge of Lions, el Galeon and the Nao Victoria.  What is very interesting to me is that these ships are in actual use traveling the world stopping at places like St. Augustine.  When you visit these ships you get to meet and talk to the crew which are real sailors living on board.  If you get the chance you can come aboard and explore the ship and is many exhibits and displays.

el Galeon and the Nao Victoria

On the other side of the bridge you can enjoy the view of the great fort Castillo San Marcos.  From the bridge you can even see the giant cross just beyond the fort.  You can read more about that here:   It was very peaceful watching the boats floating gracefully all along the bay.  I  enjoy taking walks especially after a very filling meal.

Bridge of Lions in Historic St. Augustine Florida

If you enjoy running, marathons or triathlons you will be happy to find out there is an annual Bridge of Lions 5k race.  This year it took place at the end of July.

I’m sure if you’ve visited the city of St. Augustine that you have seen the Bridge of Lions but have you had the chance to walk it?

 

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World’s Tallest Free Standing Cross in St. Augustine Florida

Cross in St. Augustine

The world’s tallest free standing cross can be found in St. Augustine, Florida on the historic grounds of Mission Nombre de Dios and the first Christian church in the US.  I read about it while researching my trip to St. Augustine in the roadside oddities list and was curious to see it in person.  Giant crosses are not something you see every day.

You don’t have to be religious to visit the grounds.  I’m not.  It’s a peaceful place laid out like a park with lots of shade and a winding path where every so often you will find manmade religious relics.  The path continues over a small bridge with a pond on one side and Matanzas Bay on the other leading to a cemetery and the old mission structure.  The church and gift shop are near the street and parking.  You are not required to enter either.

The stainless steel cross is located in the center of the grounds and rises 208 feet above the marshes of the Matanzas River.  It was built in 1965 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christianity and founding of the city.  It is placed where it is said the founder of St. Augustine, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés  placed a small wooden cross.  Pedro Menendez de Aviles was sent by the Spanish crown to drive out the French colonists.  Matanzas is a Spanish word that means slaughter.  These waters were named so because of the amount of soldiers killed by Menéndez and his men.  According to the NNDB database: “His letters prove him to have been a pious and high minded officer, who never imagined that he could be supposed by any honest man to have gone too far in massacring the Frenchmen, whom he regarded as pirates and heretics.”

Cross Collage

The prettiest spot here is the Chapel of the Lady of La Leche in the small cemetery under the canopy of large shade trees.  A lovingly restored building dating back to the 1700’s made of coquina stone, a natural rock formed from seashells.  It is a small Spanish mission style structure beautifully covered in bright green vines.  The chapel houses a replica statue of Our Lady of La Leche.  It is said thousands of pilgrims come to ask the statue for motherhood and other blessings.

chapel

Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered a few other coquina structures on the property.

I recommend visiting this location for a peaceful getaway from the heat and the wonderful breeze off the bay in a park like atmosphere.

Have you visited this historic place in St. Augustine?

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Fort Matanzas National Monument in St. Augustine Florida

Fort Matanzas National Monument St. Augustine, Florida

Located off AIA on Anastasia Island slightly south of downtown St. Augustine is a beautiful national park with trails, large shady trees and plenty of tables and grills for picnicking.  The main attraction here is the Fort which is located across the bay.  A short boat ride is required to get there.  Entrance is free but you must make sure to pick up your tickets at the visitors center.  It is first come, first served.  Boats leave several times a day and the park staff who is friendly and very knowledgeable love to answer questions.

Boat to Fort Matanzas

While waiting for our boat road across the bay we splashed at the sandy shore and watched an enormous amount of tiny crabs do their dance.  It was pretty funny.  I wish I had taken a video.  There are many sandbars all throughout this area making boating and other water related recreational activities the ideal.  We saw many small boats, kayaks and jet skiers too.

Once there the tour guide told us about the Fort’s history and what it was like for the first soldiers to live there.  After that you are allowed to explore on your own.  There’s even a ladder leading to the tip top of the structure if you dare climb it.

Fort Matanzas Collage

About the Fort

This fort is an American Latino heritage site preserved to reflect and engage the diverse stories and communities of American Latinos throughout American History and for future generations.  Fort Matanzas has guarded America’s oldest city since 1740.  It was built to protect and provide advance warning of attacks.  Today it is one of our most treasured national parks.

The word matanzas means slaughter.  The river, bay and fort were all named after the execution of many French Protestant soldiers by Catholic Spaniards.  The founder of St. Augustine’s Ft. Matanzas National Monument was responsible for the execution of over 250 Frenchmen.

The Spanish maintained watch and control until an attack by English forces prompted them to build Fort Matanzas.  The Spanish Crown sent money and skilled workmen and masons were recruited in Cuba. These men were Cuban convicts, Timucua, Guale, and Apalachee Indians.  The material used to build the fort is coquina, a type of stone found on Anastasia Island.  Coquina is a type of limestone formed over thousands of years from the shells of the tiny coquina clam cemented together through time and nature into a solid yet soft stone.  To make the fort as sturdy as possible the walls were built 12 to 19 feet thick.  You will notice a common architectural feature of Spanish forts throughout the Caribbean, garita also known as sentry box.  The garita is usually located atop the walls or bastions at the corners.

Have you climbed Fort Matanzas National Monument in St. Augustine?

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Picnic at the Hollywood Broadwalk #DestinationSummer #Sponsored

Hollywood Broadwalk Florida

Hello readers, I have some exciting news to share with you.  Bella Vida by Letty is participating in Kohl’s road trip across America.  Every few days a new blogger from a different state shares their personal picks highlighting their favorite things at their locations and you can follow along on Pinterest.   I’ve been selected to represent the beautiful state of Florida for Kohls #DestinationSummer.  Woo to the hoo!!

There is so much to see and do in my grand state. Today I want to start by sharing one of my very favorite hometown hangouts, the Hollywood Broadwalk.  No that’s not a typo they city named the boardwalk The Hollywood Broadwalk.   Did you know there is a city in Florida named Hollywood?  Not very many people do.  It’s the complete opposite of the one out in California.  Located between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale this small beach town is very diverse receiving visitors from all over the world and is relaxed, laid back and family friendly.

Hollywood Broadwalk Collage

The Broadwalk stretches for about two and half miles.  On one side of the Broadwalk are seven miles of sand with the view of the gorgeous Atlantic ocean which changes from jade to turquoise depending on the light.  On the other are shops, cafes, ice cream shops, restaurants, hotels, inns, playgrounds, ball courts and even an interactive dolphin fountain for the kids to play.  Every weekend there is a fresh market at the south end of the Broadwalk where you can find organic produce and drink a refreshing smoothie made from locally grown fruits and vegetables.

See South Florida the way the locals do.  The Broadwalk is always bustling with skaters, joggers and bike riders.  There are at least two places I know of where you can rent wheels.  You can also rent jet skis.  In the evenings you can catch live music at the bandshell.

enjoy the sun

Shown in the photo: The Big One® Stripe Beach Towel, The Big One® Geo Dot Beach Towel, Croft & Barrow® Radial Tweed Floppy Hat, Apt. 9® Groovy Textured Round SunglassesPatriotic ”America” Decor

While on the sand you’ll see all types of boats out on the water.  On weekends you might see a group of twenty small sailboats bobbing along during sail school.  At night you’ll see large cruise ships and their twinkling lights as they head deep into the ocean.  The port of Ft. Lauderdale is only about eight miles away.  You can see what’s happening at the beach now via this live webcam or view a map to plan your next trip here

take your picnic to the sand

Shown in the photo: SONOMA outdoors™ 3-pc. Melamine Salad Bowl & Server Set, SONOMA outdoors™ Coastal Melamine Salad Plate, Bobby Flay™ Acrylic Wine Glass, SONOMA outdoors™ Trellis TableclothFood Network™ Stain-Resistant Microfiber Check Napkin, SONOMA life + style® 12 1/2-oz. Mason Jar Candle

You can tell by my posts and photos one of my favorite things to do is head to the beach.  I find it so relaxing and peaceful.  Sometimes I go by myself and run the Broadwalk but I also like to gather with friends and family there.  Sometimes it’s to celebrate an occasion and sometimes simply to spend quality time together and get in some fun.  One of our treasured gathering places is Hollywood beach.  We have grand cookouts with tons of food.  At the north end of the Hollywood Broadwalk, just off of Sheridan Street you will find plenty of parking, shade and picnic tables.  You can use the grills or bring your own.

I created a wishlist with my beach picnic essentials to help you with ideas to create your own beach picnic.

Beach Picnic Essentials

Shown in the photo: Picnic Time® Windsor Picnic Basket, Rachael Ray Expandable Potlucker, Picnic Time® Striped Patio Umbrella, Picnic Time Striped Blanket Tote, Zojirushi Ms. Bento Lunch Jar & Tote Set, SONOMA outdoors™ 8-pc. Wine & Plate Party Set, Picnic Time® Pranzo Insulated Lunch Cooler, Picnic Time® Beachcomber Beach Mat, Picnic Time Miami Dolphins Cart Cooler

Did you know there is a city named Hollywood in Florida?  Have you been?

Sponsored post. Opinions mine.

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