By Thomas Swick
City & Shore Magazine
Tourists, like armies, march on their stomachs, which is why this city, sometimes called The Big Guava, warrants your attention. Chefs like Greg Baker (don’t miss his Cracker cuisine at Fodder & Shine) have put the city on the culinary map. Last summer, when Miami was still talking about food halls, The Hall on Franklin opened just north of downtown, a short walk from Ulele, the popular restaurant of “native inspired foods and spirits” on the Riverwalk. Of course, there’s still Bern’s Steak House, with its famous dessert room, and the historic Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, the old cigar-manufacturing quarter that has become a lively neighborhood again, with cafes, smoke rooms, and, soon, the Tampa Baseball Museum. Streetcars connect it to downtown, passing the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Bay History Center (with its own Columbia Café). Cross the Hillsborough River and stop at the Henry B. Plant Museum, dedicated to the west coast’s Henry Flagler. (It’s in his old, Moorish Revival Tampa Bay Hotel, now the signature building of the University of Tampa.) Then, because all this sightseeing makes one hungry, walk over to the Oxford Exchange for tea and pastries.
St. Johns River
For people looking for natural beauty, and a touch of Old Florida, there are not many places more rewarding, or encompassing. The state’s longest river flows south to north for 310 miles and touches 19 counties. And the best – sometimes the only – way to experience it is to get out of your car (this is what is meant by “Old Florida”). There’s boating, of course – everything from airboats to kayaks – as well as hiking, bicycling and horseback riding on designated trails. You can camp – tent or cabin – fish and hunt (provided you have the appropriate licenses). The river connects to 14 lakes and numerous springs, one of which – Blue Spring State Park – is a manatee refuge. So bring your swimsuit and even your scuba gear. The birdlife is extensive – herons, ospreys, egrets, etc. – and you’ll also want to keep your eyes out for bears.
We hear a lot about our state’s capital – not always good things – so it’s worth going up to see the reality. The news stories might sometimes suggest otherwise, but this is a gracious city of live oak trees and dappled light. It’s where Florida meets the South. And you’ll find not just legislators and lobbyists but Rattlers and Noles (Florida A&M and Florida State), the latter occupying one of the region’s prettiest campuses. Note, on your stroll, the modest statue to the school’s founder, Francis W. Eppes, who was the grandson of Thomas Jefferson. And before leaving, check out the Museum of Fine Arts. Downtown, you can take the elevator to the top of the Capitol building, for a good overview, and once back on the ground, you can visit Mission San Luis, a former Apalachee village that became a headquarters for the Spanish. Then check out Midtown Reader, a warm, independent bookstore that often hosts readings. If there aren’t any that evening, see what’s playing at Theatre Tallahassee. Before the performance, fill up on delicious barbecue at E & J Rolling Rib Shack.
In the United States
This city has been “in” for a while and it keeps getting better. The Ryman Auditorium – “the Mother Church of Country Music” – still rises above the honkytonks on Broadway, out of which the wails of guitars spill from morning till early morning. And now, down one of the side streets, there’s the Johnny Cash Museum, a kind of satellite to the high-tech and memorabilia-stuffed Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum a few blocks away. The homage to the Man in Black sits, a bit incongruously, across the street from the Goo Goo Shop, selling the legendary clusters of caramel, nougat, marshmallow and roasted peanuts covered in milk chocolate. Buy a few to eat after lunch at Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, where you can observe the pigs roasting on spits. For something more upscale, there’s The Southern which, in a bright, bustling, circular room, offers Jamaican Fried Shrimp or Meat ’N 3 for lunch and Chicken Fried Chicken or Banh Mi Tacos for dinner. The city has long been known for its Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the one in Athens, and now to complement it, Hellenically speaking, is Parnassus Books – “An Independent Bookstore For Independent People” – where you can sometimes find the owner, best-selling novelist Ann Patchett.
Amtrak’s Empire Builder (Chicago to Seattle)
The beauty of train travel is even greater now in the age of frustrated flyers. Boarding is easy and tinged with a real sense of adventure. Your seat is like something from a luxury Cineplex, which is fitting, because the view out the window is as good as a movie (often better). You get, at the beginning of this journey, three great Midwestern cities – Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis – before heading farther north, and then west across the Great Plains in North Dakota. You skirt the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in eastern Montana, and then go through the home of the Black Feet, before your passage across the Rocky Mountains. At Whitefish you might want to get off for a visit to Glacier National Park. Back on the train (it runs daily), you’ll travel to Spokane (where some of the eastbounds veer off toward Portland), pass by Wenatchee (“Apple Capital of the World”) and glide through forests of fir before arriving at your destination, the first city in history, resident travel writer Jonathan Raban once wrote, “that people moved to in order to be close to nature.”
This is another seat of government you’ve been hearing a lot about. Our nation’s capital has always been a great draw for its monuments and free museums, the newest of which is the one-year-old National Museum of African American History & Culture. But it has also become a city of great neighborhoods. The most famous, Georgetown (stylish shops and stately row houses), is connected to the Kennedy Center by a lovely riverfront promenade. Farther south along the Potomac sits The Wharf, an ambitious entertainment-shopping-dining district that opened this past fall. The ethnic richness in Adams Morgan – everything from Guatemalan to Ethiopian – has attracted young professionals and hipsters not just for the restaurants and nightlife but the (somewhat) less expensive rents. Nearby, the U Street Corridor – once dubbed the “Black Broadway” – is full of life again. Catch a reading at Busboys and Poets – a restaurant-cum-bookstore that hosts cultural events – and you’ll think you’ve walked into the Harlem Renaissance.
In the world
People have been going here for decades, but mostly to visit the Galapagos. In their pursuit of wildlife they never discover that this small country has remarkable diversity: In a day you can travel from the Andes to the tropics. There are beaches and rainforests and mountains and hot springs. (One town is called Baños). Guayaquil, once nothing more than a steamy port, has become an agreeable city with an attractive riverfront, and Otavalo, a two-hour bus ride north from Quito, has South America’s largest outdoor market. (A great place for buying colorful handmade textiles.) The capital is a bustling city that has as its heart a wealth of well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture. Cuenca to the south is a charming university town that has long attracted artists and is now drawing retired Americans. And you don’t have to worry about when to visit: Because the country is crossed by the Equator, it enjoys, at least in its elevated regions, eternal spring.
This island nation is sort of the opposite of the Galapagos in that it tends to get overlooked. And many of its pleasures are decidedly urban. Taipei 101 is one of the world’s tallest buildings. (Guess how many floors it has.) Taipei is an exciting city, especially for foodies, who find an astounding assortment of restaurants and markets. You could happily spend your days just eating dumplings and noodles. Outside the capital, it’s another world: Taroko National Park encompasses a spectacular marble gorge, while Yushan National Park contains Jade Mountain. Three years ago, Cycling Route 1 was completed, a 500-plus-mile bicycle path along the island’s perimeter. So if you want to work off some of those dumplings, here’s your chance. Former New York Times travel writer Matt Gross recommends the Taitung to Hualien stretch, which will take you along the scenic east coast and close to Taroko Gorge.
River cruise on the Danube
The only thing that can possibly compete with taking a train through the United States is taking a boat through Europe. In this country, travel is often about open spaces and dramatic scenery; on the continent, it’s more about civilization and culture. And both took root, usually, on the banks of rivers: the Tiber, the Seine, the Rhine, the Danube. The Rhine winds past castles and vineyards, the Seine flows through the middle of Paris, but the Danube takes you through what is often called “the heart of Europe,” part of which was cut off from the West until a few decades ago. Vienna and Budapest are the stars of this cruise – Austro-Hungarian architecture, classical music, sumptuous pastries – but there are other attractions, like the medieval city of Krems in Austria (and the nearby Göttweig Abbey) and Nuremberg, Germany (home of Albrecht Dürer and the famous trials). And traveling by boat you get to experience everything at a slow, appropriately old-fashioned pace.