20th Budapest International Wine Festival (Budavari Borfesztival)

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Hungary is home to 22 different wine regions, despite being a small country. I was wholly impressed with the quality of wines, one of the best kept secrets in the wine world.  One can only imagine what they could do with aggressive marketing.

I wish I could say I properly planned my Budapest visit around the 20th Budapest International Wine Festival but basically I lucked into it during my pretrip research. Held on the Buda Castle Palace grounds atop the majestic Gellert/Castle Hill, the festival was a veritable plethura of orgasmic foodie gluttony. The most skilled winemakers come to this event to provide tastings, answer questions, and engage in wholehearted merriment. Oh, I do so feel at home at events like these and local markets!

Folk dancers


The festival included roaming muscians, a 500 winemaker strong march representing the knights of the wine order, folk dances, and performances that cross almost all genres of music. The winemakers sample their wares in quaint little wooden houses and chef concoctions of the most amazing smells abound.

Slab of bacon (as thick as a steak) and duck leg

My first foray included food as it was 3pm and I had yet to eat anything during the day other than coffee and an apple. I chose a Pinot Noir from Vyvlan (winery of the year 2008) which was exceptional, paired with a roasted slab of bacon (half an inch thick with crusty chewy rind, mouthwatering fat, and smokey meat) and sous vide duck leg (with impossibly crunchy skin on the outside and the moistest fatty marble inside. Together these were enough pleasure on one plate to roll Anthony Bourdain’s eyes to the back of his head or cause a coronary, or both! It certainly exemplified the meaty, calorific culture of Hungary…and why I’m trying to only eat one meal a day here.

The next night the concierge at my hotel invited me to go with him. It was a richer experience with someone who speaks the language. We chatted with winemakers, shared different tastes of wine, and sampled foods I wouldn’t have known to order. In all, I must have tried at least a sip of more than 20 different Hungarian wines, and only found one I didn’t like.

Some of the many dishes I tried were:
Stropachka – a creamy sauce made from cottage cheese, flavored with bacon, and loaded with little potato dumplings
Some kind of latke – a large round of potato mixture fried and smeared with a tangy, cheesy sour cream mixture (sour cream here is different than in the US)
Name unknown!- like a Hungarian pizza, has thick bread on the bottom, topped with onion, tangy sour cream, bacon, cheeses, and other toppings. It’s cooked in large sheet pans in an outdoor wood burning oven and comes out bubbling
Scones made with pork cracklings or cottage cheese
Retes – strudel made with poppy seeds, apple, and walnut
Lemon basil cake – also made with cottage cheese which may sound strange, but utterly light, creamy, and delightful

Heaven on a plate

The most wonderful morsel I put in my mouth was unexpected. It was thick, soft, chewy bread with tangy, oniony sour cream spread on thick, topped with aged thinly slice ham so savory and delicate it nearly melted in my mouth. The most simple dish I ate, yes, but also perfection on a plate.

Two night of amazing foods and wine aplenty was a slice of heaven I’ll never forget. If you come to Budapest, timing it around this festival would be advisable. Should you not have that opportunity, at least seek out Hungarian wines in your local market, they are a bargain for the exceptional quality. I suggest trying a bottle from the Villany region, which was my favorite, especially the cabernets and pinots.

Other very good wines I found:
Grand Cabernet from Balla Geza
Hungaria dry prosecco
Polgar Cuvee Barrique 2005

Admission is 2,500 HUF per day or 7,000 for five day pass and tasting tickets are 100 HUF (the average glass costs 400).

Free City Walking Tours – A MUST When Abroad!

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In many countries now you can take free city walking tours. I’ve found them to be very informative, fun, and helpful in providing both orientation and advice during the first day or two of my visit to a new place. The free walking tours in Budapest are no exception, in fact they are the #1 item in TripAdvisor’s Things to Do in Budapest.

I joined one my second day, meeting at the Lion Fountain in Vorosmarty Square, on the Pest side of the city. The group was so large they split us into two separate tours, mine was led by Gee who did a phenomenal job. Her narration was interesting, funny, and gave us the fundamentals to successfully navigate during our stay.

The tour took us across both sides of the river. On the Pest side she explained the history of Hungary, shared info about the Jewish Quarter, Andrassy (a beautiful long avenue to the famed Heroe’s Square), walked around the Parliament Building (one of the largest in the world), showed us St. Stephen’s Basilica and led us along the Danube.  On the Buda side of the river, we went Gellert Hill to see the palace, Fisherman’s Bastion, cathedral, and view the Buda Hill vista.

I’ll post more on each of these sights, but these pictures are a sneak preview!

I highly recommend these tours for the first or second day of your trip. After all, there is nothing to lose as they are free (guides work for tips only), and a two-hour walk is oft needed after a long travel.  To top it off, I’ve met a number of other single travelers on these tours.  During this one, I met a student from Japan, a guy from Poland, and another guy from San Francisco.  We wound up all having lunch afterwards on top of Castle Hill and exchanged travel stories, ideas, and advice.  Always a good thing!


Shoes on the Danube Promenade, Budapest, Hungary

Shoes on the Danube

Shoes on the Danube

Among the many sights and sounds I’ve experienced in Budapest, the most compelling thus far has been the Shoes on the Danube installation.  A sculptural permanent art exhibit, it consists of iron shoes scattered along the river wall.  From afar, it simply looks as if people have left their shoes behind.  As you get closer, you begin to realize something much more poignant is afoot.

In fact, it is  a memorial created by Gyula Pauer and Can Togay to the Jews who lost their lives when the Danube ran red. It is located on the Pest side of the Danube Promenade, about 300 m south of the Hungarian Parliament and near the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

If this doesn't cause a lump in your throat, nothing will.

“The composition entitled Shoes on the Danube Bank gives remembrance to the people shot into the Danube during the time of the Arrow Cross terror. The sculptor created sixty pairs of period-appropriate shoes out of iron. The shoes are attached to the stone embankment, and behind them lies a 40 meter long, 70 cm high stone bench. At three points are cast iron signs, with the following text in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew:  “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45. Erected 16 April 2005” (source: MTI, Saturday, April 16, 2005.)

Child's Shoes

This is the site where many Jewish men, women, and children lost their lives. They were shot and thrown into the icy winter waters as a means of extermination only after they removed their shoes, which were quite valuable in those days.  I found the children’s shoes particularly difficult to see.
While many did lose their lives here, there was one story of Hungarian perserverance and determination along the river.  According to Wikipedia and other accounts, “During World War II, Raoul Wallenberg and 250 coworkers were working around the clock to save the Jewish population from being sent to Nazi concentration camps; this figure later rose to approximately 400.  On the night of January 8, 1945, all of the inhabitants of the building on Üllöi Street were rounded up and dragged away to the banks of the Danube by an Arrow Cross execution brigade. At midnight, Karoly Szabo and 20 policemen with drawn bayonets broke into the Arrow Cross house and rescued everyone there.”
Even when on holiday it is good to take time to pause, reflect, give reverence, and be thankful for all we have.
I’ve since put two and two together and realized this sculpture is dedicated to Mr. Wallenberg’s efforts:

Metallic Weeping Willow Memorial

Rudas Baths – A Must Visit While in Budapest

Rudas Baths

Hungary is one of the few countries in the world with an excess of water resources. Having been invaded and occupied many times throughout the centuries, each group of conquerers added something unique to the culture of Hungary. The Turks brought their tradition of baths and the natural mineral waters here went hand in hand.

Main Thermal Bath - Rudas, Budapest

The city is dotted with bath houses, many of them along the Danu (Danube) where there is a natural thermal fault.  Built by the Turks in 1550, the Rudas (pronounced Rudash) Baths are quite famous. I recommend going but warn that it may be a bit complicated as the culture of service isn’t as helpful as one might imagine and very little English is spoken at this facility. It took me a bit to figure things out and then I had to help three different women as I was leaving.

The baths contain a thermal pool area and a larger, more traditional pool.  I went on ladies day and used the thermal pool (traditional pool is open on the weekend for both sexes).  The thermal baths themselves are beautiful, with one large pool in the center situated under an arched dome sparkling in the dim light with colored glass and beautiful mosaic tiles. The saunas (wet and dry options) are sublime and by the time I got out of them (I couldn’t handle more than a couple of minutes) I was like a rag doll, utterly relaxed.  There are also five smaller pools of varying temperatures, from very cold to very hot.  As usual, I found it most effective to go from very hot to very cold, which relaxes the major muscles in a way nothing else does.

Rudas Pool - On Coed Days

If you decide to go, here’s a tourists guide:-

– Tuesday is ladies day while weekends are mixed and the remainder of days are reserved for men, in the tradition of Turkish baths.

– It is located below Gellert Hill right by the Danube, close to Elisabeth Bridge (Erzsébet híd), on the Buda side of Budapest.
– Address: Rudas Gyógyfürdő és Uszoda, H-1013 Budapest, Döbrentei tér 9.
Phone number: 0036-1-3561322
– Take the 86 bus along the Buda (west) side of the river, which stops right in front of the building.
– When you hop off the bus, don’t be too alarmed that the exterior and lobby look a little worse for wear, the baths themselves are very clean and architecturally/historically beautiful.

PRICES (200 HUF ~$1)
– Morning swimming pool tickets cost 1350 HUF, all day tickets cost between 1800-2000 HUF.
– Steam room tickets cost between 2100-3000 HUF.

– The night-bath ticket is 3500 HUF
– Massage prices vary from 2900 to 4800 HUF for 20-40 minute treatments.

– Upon entering, ask for thermal bath ticket. They’ll provide you with a plastic device which you will put on like a watch and wear during your entire bath visit.  
– Scan the ‘watch’ at the turnstile to get in, and proceed to your right where you will pick up a sheet (to be used as a towel) and a thin apron like cloth.  Turn to your left to go into the locker room and scan your watch at the white device on the wall (you may have to hold it there for a few seconds). The machine will flash a number, this is the dressing room that has been assigned to you.
– Find the dressing room with the number and scan your watch again to open the door. You can disrobe in the dressing room and leave your things here, it will lock as you close the door again. To get back in your dressing room, simply scan your watch at the door.

– On single sex days, go nude….when in Rome after all!  For my fellow American women, there is no need to be shy, there will be bathing beauties yes, but many more will be women whose breasts have long been laying atop of their rounded bellies. There is nothing to be shy about!
– You can, of course, wear your bathing suit, but there is no need. Do wear your flip flops, though, and bring your sheet along as well as the small apron like sheet (which I found useful to sit on in the sauna as it protected my girlie bits!).
– I think it is best to visit in the afternoon as you’ll likely leave quite wet. Their hairdryers may be okay for very short hair but after two full cycles, mine was still dripping.
– Also bring water with you as you’ll need to hydrate often. If you don’t bring it, buy it before entering the dressing room (in the entry hall) as you cannot reenter later.
– Finally, be prepared for a bit of a mineral smell. This is what makes the waters so therapeutic so don’t be alarmed.

Drinking Waters

Relax, enjoy, and soak in this extraordinary bit of Hungarian culture.  It’s unlike any other experience I’ve ever had and well worth it!

**Note, I had to borrow pix off the web, it would have been terribly uncouth to take pictures whilst ladies were bathing au natural!


Rudas Thermal Baths

Margitsziget Island A Wonderful Welcome to Budapest

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Day one of my latest adventure. I love the start of a new trip, especially when it is to somewhere I’ve never been. There’s a certain electric charge and anticipation that creates an excitement like no other.

I arrived in Budapest early in the morning and headed straight to my hotel, the Danubius Grand Hotel and Spa on Margaret (Margitsziget) Island. The island is in the middle of the Danube (Duna), smack in the center of Budapest, an oasis of nature and relaxation in the midst of big city chaos swirling all around it.

Since my trip to Indonesia a few years ago I’ve instituted a tradition of starting my holidays with utter relaxation. Usually this means decompressing from work insanity, recuperating from many hours on a plane, and the unknotting of muscles tightened with the weight of schlepping bags across the pond. So off to spa I headed.

Hungary is known for it’s therapeutic waters, ancient baths, and health remedies at spas. The spa at my hotel had a massive menu of options in addition to general areas which included pools of varying temperatures, a cold water stone foot walk, sauna, and sun terrace. I opted for the salt cave (a first!), a therapeutic aromatic bath, and a short massage.

It’s been interesting visiting spas around the world, experiencing different etiquette and standards. In Hungary the typical USA standards of a quiet, serene environment and lack of nudity are not the same. In the salt cave, I found myself with three older Russian couples who chatted the whole time and during both the bath and massage the male therapists asked me to undress and lay down (insert joke about how many drinks it usually takes me to do this!). I think of myself as pretty liberal and well traveled, but I must admit it was a reminder how uptight we Americans are about our bodies.

The salt cave experience as I mentioned was new. Think of a room with sand on the floor like a beach, lounge chairs that tilt even farther back than your grandads barkalounger, ocean soundtrack, darkened lighting with intermittent colored lights, whilst cocooned in blankets. At first I wasn’t sure what it did for me but later I did feel a strange but not unpleasant coating down my throat.

With every ounce of tension released, I headed out for a stroll around Margitsziget, and found a beer and schnitzel to complete a wonderful first day. I’ll post more on it later but the island really is something special.

Pok Pok Perfection – Take 2!

Pok Pok

En route to an important meeting, I stopped in at Pok Pok, the Portland, OR restaurant I fell in love with last year.  Since my first visit and last post, owner and chef Andy Ricker has risen among the ranks in the chef world.  He’s widely recognized as a champion of authentic Thai food and won the James Beard award for best Northwest Chef 2011.  Well deserved, but none-the-less no small feat for a restaurant that started as a living room endeavor. 

Andy Ricker

When I last visited I was blown away by the authenticity, explosions of flavor, and scope of options – drinking vinegars and whiskey flights to crispy broken crepes (just like you’ll find in Thailand at street vendor carts).  In fact, I was so enamoured with the experience I wrote to Andy asking for advice on my upcoming trip to Thailand.  I will forever be grateful for the direction he gave me…He sent me to Baanrai Yarmyin in Chaing Mai, where I had the best meal of my life – no joke! 

Ike's Vietnamese Wings

During this visit, I was plagued with a dreadful cold and jet lag but I knew Ike’s Vietnamese Wings and a steaming bowl of Khao Soi Kai would perk me up.  Ike’s wings did not disappoint – they were as outstanding as I had remembered.  Tangy, carmelized and crunchy yet moist inside.  If you go, be sure to order them spicy and bring tissues.  The Khao Soi Kai (a traditional Chaing Mai, Thailand noodle curry soup) was not quite spicy enough, but wonderful with it’s gentle curry flavor and stewed chicken.

Khao Soi Kai

Pok Pok is good enough to make me want to move to Portland!  Run, don’t walk…get here quick!


No Longer Craving Cambridge’s Craigie on Main

Craigie on Main

I visited Craigie on Main in Cambrige, MA a year or two ago with a colleague.  We stopped in for a drink and appetizer and I fell in love with the place.  It was funky, electic, and had a great menu (where else could you get a whole head served at your table?!).  From that point on I made every effort to get back there so I could experience the full shabang.  I’ve flown in and out of Boston numerous times but couldn’t quite seem to make it work until about a month ago.

Pigs Head - I borrowed this picture from Yelp

*Let me start this review by saying I debated whether or not to write it at all.  I try to be an extremely positive person and not dwell on the negative.  Ultimately I decided if I’m going to seriously share my travel and food adventures, it has to include the good, bad and ugly.  And so we begin with the undoctored truth…

Inside Craigie on Main - I was seated in the farthest back corner

I made early reservations (5:30) and intended to get through some notes and study for a big presentation the next daywhile at Craigie so I could fit it in.  Perhaps my expectations were built up too high, but it was a big disappointment.  I’d planned on having a pork-a-poolooza and even ran for an hour that morning to make up for the calorie induced coma I fully expected.

Upon entering, they seated me in the very far back, dark corner of the restaurant next to waiters milling about with nothing to do but stare and gossip- despite the fact that there was only one other table seated in the whole place.  Not a good way to start, but that certainly isn’t too big of a deal.  Unfortunately from there, the food fell flat for almost every course.

Amuse.  The waitress brought an amuse bouche of pickled cucumber which was a bit plain and uninspired.

Appetizer. I ordered the “pig tails” appetizer which I had also ordered the last time I visited.  Of all the things I tried this time, they were possibly the only thing I’d eat again.  Basically they are tails cooked with pickled peanuts, nuoc cham, cilantro.  Chewy, savory morsels of delight.

Disappointing Pork 3 Ways - I borrowed this picture from Yelp as my camera broke!

Main.  For the main course I ordered pig three ways – confit/pork belly/and ribs with a spicy crust.  The confit was a terrine-like few bites that were greasy and not flavorful.  The pork belly was good but not outstanding, and the ribs were very dry without an ounce of moisture left. 

By now, I was disappointed by the food and floored by the wait staff who were terse, wouldn’t make eye contact, and who I had to beg for another glass of wine.

Bone Marrow - I borrowed this picture from Yelp as my camera broke!

An extra bit.  I also ordered a side of bone marrow – which is a dirty, secret pleasure for me.  I was dismayed to find it somewhat cold in the center and a little stringy…I’ve eaten bone marrow countless times and have never experienced it stringy – what could they have done to it?

Dessert.  By now I was nearly ready to walk out, but decided to give it another try with dessert.  I ordered bourbon pecan ice cream tart with Mexican salt, chocolate sauce, and a bacon pecan crust.  I was certain all would be redeemed, after all how could I not love ice cream, chocolate, and bacon pecan?  This, too, turned out to be a disappointment.  It was way too cold to eat (like cutting through something frozen hard), there wasn’t nearly enough chocolate, and I didn’t taste any bacon flavor.  You know if I barely touch dessert, it has to be really bad.

By the time dessert arrived, the restaurant started to fill and began to hum with excitement.  For me, though, my disappointment was palpable and the bloom was off the rose.  I’d seen the less pleasant side of this widely acclaimed restaurant.  It was like seeing the little man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. 

Perhaps with the cover of full seats and lesser expectations than mine most people don’t notice the inhospitability, shabby ceiling, and less than stellar food.  Perhaps it was just an off day.  Sadly, it was bad enough I certainly won’t return.

Amelia Island, FL – Simply Wonderful

Earlier this year, before I started my new job I took a few weeks off and went on a road trip with the Abster – my goldendoodle.  After a couple weeks with my family I spent a few indulgent days on Amelia Island, FL.  Amelia is a true treasure.  Its laid back, green, dog friendly, home to some very good restaurants, and has beaches full of large shells.

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Located just north of Jacksonville, FL, Amelia is very accesible from the airport and is an easier Florida destination than other more southern locales.

I stayed at the Omni Resort since my extended road trip with Abby required a dog friendly hotel.  It was a beautiful facility with lots of options – biking, kayaking, boating, flying kites, etc.   The rooms were lovely and I had a fantastic view of the ocean.  Not only does this resort have so much to offer, but Amelia and Fernandina in general do as well.  On a previous trip here I went on a horseback excursion along the white sand beaches with Kelly Ranch.  It was a wonderful experience I’ll never forget.

Kelly Ranch Tour


I’ve been to the area several times, but this was my first February visit.  While it was definitely too cold to swim during this trip, I lucked out with the weather.  With a pair of shorts and sweatshirt I was able to walk the beaches for miles on end and collect a huge bag of shells for decorating.  I also spent some time kayaking and biking, which were so peaceful in the off tourist season.

If you’re looking for a place for a peaceful respite with beautiful beaches and you want to bring Fido, Amelia Island is definitely the place to go!


  Year-round temperatures:

High 78   Low 60
High 89   Low 47
High 78   Low 63
High 68   Low 47

Amelia Island Map

29 South – Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach, FL Treasure

29 South

While on Amelia Island, I found a fantastic eatery called 29 South.  I’d heard good things and decided to check it out myself.  Unfortunately I didn’t have an opportunity to go for dinner (I wanted to try the chef’s burger: half Pound of Waygu Beef/Foie Gras Blend on a ButteredKaiser Topped with Summer Truffle Brie, Benton’s Country Ham and a Conner Farm Egg) and wound up there for brunch. 

It did not disappoint, though.  In fact, I was blown away by the unexpected. The menu items are insipired and live up to their mouthwatering descriptions.  Lobster corn dogs with spicy horseradish ketchup spiked with Ketel One vodka, blackstrap molasses laquered ribs with butter pickles, sweet tea-brined DelKat Family Farm pork chop on macaroni gratin with warm blackberry preserves are just a few examples…I finished brunch with a few bites of their coffee and doughnuts which are served as a glazed doughnut bread pudding with butterscotch drizzle and mocha ice cream. 

Some of the reviews I’ve read indicate poor service, but that wasn’t my experience at all.  I brought Abby with me and they seated us outside, with a dog bowl.  Granted it wasn’t a busy dinner night, but they couldn’t have been more friendly and the atmosphere was casual chic, never a hint of snobbery.  On top of that, they partner with area farms, create their menus around available product, and make every effort to select free-range/organic/natural ingredients.  Great food, cool location, sustainable, what’s not to love about 29 South!?

Inside 29 South


Farming Partners:
Conner Amazing Acres Farms – Hilliard FL
DelKat Family Farms – Hilliard FL
29 South Chef’s Garden – Out back
Sweet Grass Dairy – Thomasville GA
The Naked Bee Honey Farm-Saint Augustine
Painted Hills Ranch – Fossil Oregon
Springer Mountain Farm – Mt Airy GA
The Boys and Girls Club – Fernandina Beach
Marcho Farms – Harleysville PA

Voted “Best New Restaurant” Jacksonville 2006
Voted “Best of Jax” – 2006, 2007, 2008
Voted “Best Chef” Jacksonville 2007 & 2008
2009 “Snail of Approval”
2009“Spirit of Slow Food Award”

 2010 Florida Trend “Golden Spoon”

The REAL Florida – A Native’s Guide For Tourists

Having traveled around the world, I’m always amazed at what people think Florida is…I suppose I should be used to it by now, but it still confounds me.

Tourists generally go to the beaches or Disney and rarely venture out into the real Florida. We are certainly proud of our beaches – I believe our best can hold their own versus almost any beaches in the world – but they are only a small part of what Florida has to offer. Even people who have moved here (aka ‘transplants’) usually don’t even understand the real Florida. If you don’t get out of the big cities, venture away from the coast, you’ll never find it.

The real Florida is so much more than the concrete jungles around the coast and natives are decidedly southern. There is an inherent love of nature and a passion for enjoying it. To have a real Florida experience during your next trip, here are a few suggestions:

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1. Befriend a local and ask them where they go out to eat.  Note – a local isn’t someone who moved here from Michigan or someone who has only lived in a big city…They’re likely to own a john boat or know someone who does – LOL.  (I realize this one is reaching a bit for most people, but I’ve had the best travel experiences around the world employing this concept).

2. Deep sea fishing is popular with lots of tourists, but try fishing in a little boat instead. Go to a lake, a river, or in and around our marshes. Maybe even go out in the ocean and float about picking up scallops off the sea floor. Just don’t go the commercial route. You’ll see plant and animal life up close, experience a slower pace of day, and perhaps start to see why we love our land so much.  Rivers to try – Manatee, Ichatuchnee, Rainbow, Crystal. 

3. Stop at a roadside fruit stand. We have such good locally grown fruit and veg, it doesn’t get much better. In February or March, stop at a u-pick strawberry field for the best berries you’ll ever have.

4. Go to the Keys but spend a few days on one other than Key West.

5. Visit St. Augustine (it’s on your way to Orlando).  It’s the oldest city in the nation!

6.  Take a break from Disney and go to Weeki Watchee – a classic Florida attraction opened in the 40’s, located an hour north of Tampa.  From their website, “Weeki Wachee is an enchanted spring — the only one of its kind in the world — and one of Florida’s oldest and most unique roadside attractions. For almost 60 years, the fun, family oriented park has lured in visitors with beautiful mermaids who swim in the cool, clear spring waters. Weeki Wachee Springs is a magical entrance into a mysterious blue underwater world of mermaids, manatees, turtles and bubbles. Sitting in the Mermaid Theater, visitors feel like they are inside the flowing spring, and are transported back to simpler times, before super theme parks and super highways appeared.”  http://www.weekiwachee.com

7.  Go to a local festival.  The best is Gasparilla – a celebration of our pirate history complete with a pirate ship flotilla invasion of the bay (http://gasparillapiratefest.com/).  Here are some to choose from: Rattlesnake Festival (just outside my hometown, Dade City!), Watermelon Festival (in the panhandle), Strawberry Festival (Plant City), Greek Festival (St. Augustine)…There’s even a Possum Festival, but then that might be taking it a bit too far!  http://festivalsandevents.com/festival.php?state=FL

8.  Go to a baseball or football game and eat boiled peanuts (Go Gators!).  Check out the Florida Marlins, minor league baseball, UF, FSU, USF, and Miami games.

9.  Take a break from the beach and go to Ginnie Springs, or another park similar for unparalleled outdoor experiences (and at $12/head is much cheaper than Busch Gardens). http://ginniespringsoutdoors.com/admission.php.  Another option is to camp at Grayton Beach in the panhandle, simply georgeous.

I have the great fortune to be a seventh generation Floridian so I know it in a way many others never will. As a kid we went arrowhead hunting in old Indian sand dunes, tubed weekly down the river we lived on, went on my first lake fishing trip when I was a baby, learned to drive on limestone dirt roads, and much more. 

To me, these things represent the great wealth of Florida yet so many people have no idea they exist.  I think it is a good rule for any vacation…get to know where you are. The resort where you are staying isn’t authentic, strike out and find it on your own! You’ll have an experience and memories that you’ll never forget.