Ybor City, Tampa

Ybor City State Museum

Ybor City State Museum

Before we visited Tampa, I had no idea that it had a historical area of such significance. From the periphery, Tampa looks like many other modern cities in Florida, with the exception of Miami and its wonderful Art Deco buildings. Ybor city was named for Vincente Martinez Ybor, an entrepreneur who had moved his cigar business from Cuba to Key West.

Mural with Vincente Martinez Ybor

Mural with Vincente Martinez Ybor

That hadn’t been entirely successful so he decided to settle in Tampa in the 1880s. The cigar workers were skilled so many of them came from Cuba and Spain, followed by an influx firstly of Italians, then Eastern European Jews, Germans and Chinese, many of the next stage immigrants serviced the city with restaurants and other industries.

Columbia Restaurant

Columbia Restaurant

cigarshop

Cigar Shop

It was an eclectic mix that was stable because each ethnicity had their own social club with welfare and benefits. Additionally, the work was plentiful and well paid. Each worker had their own little Casita, some of which are preserved, others have been renovated. The docent at the Ybor Museum told us that they used Ybor City’s welfare system as a template when they set up Medicare and Social Security in the 40s. That fascinated me more than anything else.

Streetcar in Ybor City

Streetcar in Ybor City

Ybor City reached its zenith at the beginning of the 1900s but cigar making started to decline after the Great Depression and World War II. Surprisingly, many of the original buildings remain with their exotic tile work. Artists started to flock to Ybor in recent times and it is being renovated block by block. It is a peaceful little oasis in a busy modern city with lovely tram cars. There are free range chickens on every porch because they outlawed harming chickens to stop cock fighting. You can read more of this in the The Chicken Murder. I noticed with a chuckle that you can have an event or a wedding in the garden of the Museum , but just look out for hungry hawks…
spanish street posters2

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Big Cat Rescue, Tampa

Tiger eating his breakfast Big Cat Rescue

Tiger eating his breakfast
Big Cat Rescue

Our recent short vacation to Tampa had been long wished for because of the proximity to a large cat sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue. For many years we have been watching their funny and sometimes poignant Youtube videos and sponsoring their cats. Basically they rescue large cats such as tigers and lions that have sometimes been abused, are circus cats or kept by inappropriate owners. Many of the US states have introduced new legislation to prevent any Tom, Dick or Harry from buying a tiger cub. Unless current owners are able to provide a safe, specifically fenced, environment then they must give their animal up. There are many sanctuaries all over America but it is very expensive to feed and house these large animals.

“Hurry Up!”

Big Cat Rescue is one of the more successful sanctuaries by taking advantage of social media to promote their sanctuary and reform of the law. Although it wasn’t Nirvana, the animals have reasonably sized habitats with rotation into a larger vacation area with water and trees. The caretakers obviously love the animals and take great care of them, attending to all of their medical and holistic needs. It is situated just north of Tampa on a large tract of land but it is not a zoo. You can pay for a short visit at certain times and they do have educational tours. We decided to pay for a feeding tour where we could get up close and personal with some of the cats.

The ashes of previous residents are buried here

The ashes of previous residents are buried here

When you look at my photographs, you may think that their cage area is very small but this is just the feeding area. This small compartment allows the staff to look closely at the animals, watch their appetite and any problems with chewing. Many of them are very old and get supplements or medication for arthritis and the like. Teddy and I were so excited to see them at last! So many years of laughing at their silly antics, shedding a tear as a favorite old cat dies or cheering as they release a local bobcat into the wild. It was everything we hoped for and a little more. We were alone on the tour because it is low season and got very close the big cats.

"I want some!"

“I want some!”

I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t take notes of who was who and I might not even have the species correct. White or cream tigers are a mutation, bred for their looks. The same thing happens with ‘domestic’ Bengal cats. They are half wild and not appropriate for a regular household. I can’t see any reason why you would have to buy a cat at all – just rescue one, unless you need a specific breed for allergies.

This is not a natural mutation, this tiger is the result of selective breeding

This is not a natural mutation, this tiger is the result of selective breeding

Bobcat with orange ball

Bobcat with orange ball

The old cats who have always lived in captivity, sometimes in very small cages, are now in their forever home but they also have local bobcats brought to them who have been injured or orphaned (usually in a car accident). If it is possible, they are always released back into the wild. They also socialize small domestic kittens in a separate area which then are housed by the local charity. Below is Sabre, an elderly black Asian leopard. Here he is chillin’ in his pad. We watched him eat a large piece of meat quickly because he was so excited to get his breakfast. I think we all knew what was going to happen. Sabre looked as though he had bitten off more than he could chew and retreated back into his enclosure. Then he burped, threw up the meat and then proceeded to eat it again. Hilarious! Just like our little cats.

chillin

Sabre, the black leopard, chillin’

You don’t have to go all the way to Tampa to enjoy them – just browse the Youtube videos.

Do Big Cats like Boxes?
Do Big Cats Purr?
Funny Crazy BIG CAT SOUNDS!

Water and light

Old Tampa Bay

Old Tampa Bay

Morning view from the Grand Hyatt in Tampa of the old bay. There is something about sunshine, water and palm trees that makes us all feel good. There is a manatee viewing point beside a power plant just down the coast from Tampa. Off we went, excitedly, only to find it is closed in low season. It is weird to think that summer is low season anywhere! So no manatees but we drove down to a lovely marina near Apollo Beach and spotted an osprey in her nest in a palm tree. It seems such a short time ago that ospreys were endangered and now you can see them almost everywhere. That makes my heart sing.

Osprey in her palm tree nest

Osprey in her palm tree nest

The marina was small and less grand than many. We had a lovely lunch in the Circles Waterfront Restaurant looking out at this lovely vista, below.

marina

I was fascinated by this boat ‘car park’ at Land’s End Marina. There are also boats at the forefront in dry dock. How many thousands of dollars are parked there, I wonder? 🙂

boat car park

Birds and vodka…

Yellow crested night heron, Tampa FL

Yellow crested night heron, Tampa FL

As I mentioned in a previous post, The Chicken Murder…, Teddy and I went on a hastily arranged trip to Tampa before he started his new job. Once again, air miles paid for the flights and I booked the hotel via Hotwire. My, ‘don’t know which hotel until you book’ worked so well in Charleston, that I thought I would try again. Wow! This one was even better. We were in the Grand Hyatt, on Old Tampa Bay, with a private beach, mangrove, nature walk with an amazing view across to the bridges. As I arrived to check in at the desk, the British receptionist asked me if I would like to upgrade to a sea view for $15 per night. That seemed like an excellent deal and we just gasped when we walked into our corner room on the 8th floor with floor to ceiling windows looking over the bay.

Grand Hyatt Tampa

Grand Hyatt Tampa

The mangroves were calling us, so as soon as we had showered off we went. Just before we reached the mangroves, an older couple from the North called us to tell us that there were FIVE nests of yellow crowned night herons in the tree above us! They noticed the cameras and thought we might be bird-watchers. It was so exciting to see a new bird (to us) and so many in a tree. They were very high up so my first shot has been cropped and not quite as sharp as I would have liked. Little did I know that when we walked back to the hotel, we would see others just chilling beside the tourists at the pool, at their own little pond. Completely fearless…
yellow crested2
After that, we went to investigate the roof-top bar and restaurant. What a treat, sipping on vodka looking at ospreys and roseate spoonbills diving for fish, with the sun beginning to set. After another two vodkas, we asked for the bill and then realized we were at the Grand Hyatt – 40 bucks for 4 drinks!!! At least the free snacks meant we ate less at the Plebeian bar downstairs… Just before bed I took this lovely shot just before sunset.
dusk birds
It was blissfully quiet in our oasis with the buildings at the other end of the peninsula in the distance. We left the curtains open all night and watched night fisherman with tiny lights.

Postcard from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

fort lauderdale waterway

Before I started this blog, I used to write travelogues much like the ones on Postcards from Kerry. I sent them to friends and family who are all over the world as a way of keeping in contact. As you know, Facebook is my bete noire, and I thought my PDFs were a tad more interesting… A few years ago I took a solo trip to Fort Lauderdale in Florida to relax with the excuse that a friend from Texas had recently moved there. I thought it was idyllic, so much prettier than Miami and less frenetic. The airport was small and friendly but my Haitian taxi driver had all the rude qualities of a Parisienne driver with no Caribbean chill. Whoosh, I was at my fancy Marina Hotel at brake fast speed.

Once I got my breath back, I was enchanted by all the waterways and canals. As soon as I put my shorts on, I set out to find the Waterway taxi which was at the end of the marina. There was the most magnificent sleek black yacht moored there and a friendly gentleman told me it was Stephen’s Spielberg’s. It certainly looked like something out of the near future. I was wondering why the men were particularly friendly until I realized that I was a hot, young chick (over 50) in an ageing population.

As usual I headed off in search of critters to the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park and I went the whole way by water taxi – it was so EXCITING!!! I wanted to see alligators but I have seen them many times before but fortunately I was lucky enough to see the threatened gopher tortoise in the park. Does that mean he eats gophers?

Fort Lauderdale Gopher Tortoise

Fort Lauderdale Gopher Tortoise

It was a hot day despite being winter and I was tired but happy sitting at the Waterway Taxi stop dangling my feet in the canal. I noticed a lovely yacht slow down, turn around and an attractive man asked me if I would like a ride anywhere. I looked at him, assessed his potential wealth, thought about Dexter and politely said, “No, thank you!” with a laugh. That’s the best pick up line I have ever had apart from when Teddy was offered myriad camels and the man’s mother in exchange for me. Given my lack of desire for cooking and the possibility of a good Egyptian cook, I could see my husband assess this offer in a similar manner!