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Posts in ‘Things to do in Europe’

Where to Dine in Nice, France

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This is the second, juicy post in the Nice, France, series (check out the Nice, Part I blog here). In fact, this will probably be the juicest post of all, given that it’s all about food and wine!

After 7 years living in Nice, I’ve experienced lots of good restaurants…and lots of places to avoid!

I’ll save you 7 years of exploration with these few lines.

Local Specialties

The local cuisine is strongly Mediterranean – think olive oils, vegetables, fresh fish and delicious, roasted meats. Local specialties include the socca, a thin waffle made of chick peas, the pissaladiere, a thin, pizza-like bread with onion and olives, petits farcis, which are roasted vegetables stuffed with flavored meats, and, one of my favorites, la daube, which is basically beef stewed in red wine and served with fresh tagliatelle or ravioli.

There are many small restaurants in the Old City serving local specialties at decent prices – just ask around for a place that serves fresh socca. To try most local specialties in one sitting, look for L’Estocaficada, which has prices around 35 euros and serves 12 or so local specialties.

For some more upscale cuisine, try to get a seat at the bustling La Merenda. They don’t take reservations and only accept cash – it’s very small and always packed, so you can imagine how good the food is!

Local tip: just behind the Nice Etoile shopping centre (tramway stop Jean Medecin), there is a small, hidden street called rue Biscarra with 4-5 small restaurants that have terraces and small tables. These restaurants are beyond the typical tourist radar – definitely worth a visit! The best one is Vin Sur Vin, a winery serving wine (yes), cheese and sausages platters, fantastic meat and a consistently tasty dish du jour.

The old town is also full of hidden surprises. If you want join some locals for a few drinks, look for Les Distilleries Idéales or La Civette du Cours.

A (Michelin Star) Japanese Chef in Nice.

Yes, Keisuke Matsushima is a Japanese chef who has practiced French cuisine with top culinary experts; lucky for us, he ended up in Nice, where he setup a comfortable Zen-style restaurant, “Keisuke Matsushima” (previously called Kei’s Passion). This French restaurant – with a Japanese twist – is definitely worth a visit: think wasabi beef or fried zucchini with green tea sauce. Yum. His Michelin Star means prices are in the range of: 40-50 euros (lunch) and 130-150 euros (dinner).

(If you can’t live without your Japanese food while on holiday, there are plenty of sushi/Japanese restaurants in Nice, but they are mostly managed by Vietnamese or Chinese staff. In fact, there is only one real Japanese restaurant called Kamogawa, with real Japanese staff. Sushi-ya is a decent sushi shop with a Chinese chef, who did actually work for years making sushi in Japan. MySushi in the old town has a real Japanese chef but it’s overpriced , probably due to it’s centural location.)

Italian Restaurants in Nice

Given Nice’s proximity to Italy (and remembering that the Nice region was once part of the Italian Kingdom!), it’s not a surprise to find a flurry of Italian restaurants – pasta, pizza and all the rest – scattered throughout the city. But beware! Most of them are pale imitations, copying the Italian menus but delivering bland versions of the dishes. For a relatively safe bet, try La Villa d’Este and La Voglia (same owners, different locations – the first in the pedestrian rue Massena and the second just next to the Cours Saleya or “flowers market” in the Old Town). Both places serve wood oven-fired pizzas, abundant antipastis and pasta al dente. Unbeatable is their spaghetti ai frutti di mare (with seafood), served in the perhaps the largest individual bowl I’ve ever seen. Also delicious is their tiramisu dessert.

For something upscale, right across the street from Villa d’Este is the Boccaccio, famous for its seafood platters. For fresh seafood, don’t miss the traditional Cafe de Turin in Garibaldi Square. Another nice pick is the vegetarian-friendly La Zucca Magica, next to the port, with a fixed price menu (around 30 euros) changing every day.

Ice Cream (French – glace ; Italian – gelato) in Nice

Despite its proximity to Italy, the vast majority of ice cream shops in the French Riviera are rip off joints, only serving scoops of the same industrial ice cream that you can buy yourself in any supermarket.

A couple of exceptions can be found in Nice: Fenocchio and Crema di Gelato.

Ice Cream in Nice, France

Fenocchio has 2 shops in the old city, the largest one on the small square Rossetti, where they serve many flavors including local herbs (and even flowers!), such as tomato, garlic, lavander, thyme, violet, or rose. A must try experience.

Fenocchio’s icecream is produced in-house and is colder and icier than the real Italian gelato (if you squeeze it with your teeth you will feel like you are crunching many microscopic ice crystals….)

Crema di Gelato, on the sqare facing the Justice Palace, is totally Italian (so Italian that the owners barely speak French) and only serves 15-20 flavors, but the quality is divine. Unmissable are nocciola (hazelnut) and amarena (sour cherry and cream).

(Italian gelato is softer and smoother than ice cream as you may know it…)

Two other excellent gelato shops, which are located less central, are La Gelateria Torinese in Avenue Gambetta, and Arlequin on Avenue Malaussena.

Nice’s Nicest Beach Restaurants

Don’t expect to find fancy food here, but the charm and atmosphere of dining on the beach – overlooking the blue sea and sailboats zigzagging around the bay – is unmissable. I guess this is why the food is generally overpriced.

I’ll never remember a beach restaurant for the food that they served me…but they are worth the extra cash for the scenery, especially if you’re with good friends or on a romantic getaway.

Two are worth noting here: the first one is the Castel Plage, which the ‘leftmost restaurant’ on the Nice beach (when you’re staring at the sea). It’s quite posh and located just below the rocks, which makes the scenery even more beautiful.

The second one is the Hi Plage. This is brand new – just opened in the summer 2008, and I haven’t tried it, but it sounds great: the interior is apparently designed by the uber-trendy Hi Hotel, and the food is prepared by the one and only Keisuke Matsushima – him again! Can’t wait to try this one!

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Balloon in Paris tests air quality, becomes tourist attraction

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At 150 metres above ground, visitors can enjoy beautiful views of ParisA hot air balloon tethered above Paris is providing information about air quality, as well as becoming a tourist attraction.

Floating at 150 metres above the ground, the balloon scans the air for harmful contaminants like nitrogen dioxide. It changes colour using an easy-to-understand coding, with a spectrum ranging from red for high levels of pollution to orange for polluted, yellow for moderate, light green for clean and green for very clean air.

Tethered in the Parc Andre Citroen, in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, the balloon can also lift up to 30 passengers at a time to enjoy great views over the French capital.

Manufactured by Aerophile of France, the balloon is filled with some 6,000 cubic metres of helium and attached to the ground with a movable cable controlled by a hydroelectric winch.

The balloon is visible from more than 20 kilometres away and offers fantastic views over the city.

Paris – Enjoy the view from the Eiffel Tower or see the Mona Lisa in the "city of light".
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New Acropolis museum in Athens

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The Parthenon marbles will soon have a new homeA new museum to house the world-famous Parthenon marbles is being built in the shadow of the Acropolis in Athens.

The museum, which has been planned for three decades and has cost the Greek government more than £100 million to build, will at last provide a permanent home for one of the greatest treasures of the world, safe from the city’s corrosive, polluted air.

It will display sections of the marbles that remain in Athens, as well as plaster copies of the friezes that have controversially been on display in the British Museum in London since the 19th century.

They were sent to London by Lord Elgin, the British Ambassador, who hired a team of workers to hack away at the monument as the Parthenon was under attack by looters.

Taking many of its finest sculptures and large chunks of the marble frieze that lined the inside rim, Elgin shipped the treasures back to England and then sold them to the British Museum for £35,000.

The opening date for the New Acropolis Museum is yet to be fixed, but is likely to be in October or November. At present, the ground floor is open from 10am to noon daily.

Culture and Sightseeing – City Tours – Whichever city you are in these tours will help to ensure you do not miss a thing.
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The Counting Crows are ‘back’, apparently.

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Yesterday, while the rest of London was immersed in the sporting event of the year—the final, epic match of Wimbledon 2008—I had the privilege of attending the city’s (equally as epic!) music event of the year—the 02 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park.

From Queensland-bred rock band Powderfinger, to Guyana-born reggae star Eddy Grant…to hip hop icon Jay-Z…London was, literally, booming with the festival’s diverse lineup of performers…especially with this year’s headliner: the Counting Crows.

After the band’s 5 year hiatus from album production, UK fans were ready to rock out—to both old favourites and new hits: in other words, we were ready for a CC comeback!

Counting Crows at O2 Wireless, London

As lead singer Adam Duritz expressed towards the end of the show: “we’ve been gone for a while, but now, we’re back…and we thank you for being here for us.”

And a welcoming, patient crowd we were…

All I have to say to is: Adam, it’s time to lay off the booze, really. You were more lucid when I encountered you belting Madonna covers in a Bourbon Street bar during Jazz Fest ’03 (a memorable moment, to say the least…)

We love your music, we love your voice, and we even love your wild antics…your flailing appendages…your crazy dreads…but last night was too much—you were falling all over the place! (that must have hurt?). I nearly left after the third song…

However, I (reluctantly) stayed, and I am glad that I did: the band did, miraculously, pull their act together in the second half—Duritz managed to somewhat sober up; he even threw in a few British tunes for audience kicks…but still, I am skeptical regarding this performance’s degree of ‘comeback’ worthiness…

Either way, for die hard fans that missed the London show, the Crows will spend another week taking the UK and Ireland by (a drunken?) storm…at the following venues:

Liverpool Arena, Liverpool, UK (July 7th)

Ambassador Theater, Dublin, Ireland (July 10th)

Oxegen Festival Punchestown, Kildare, Ireland (July 12th)

T in the Park, Scotland (July 13th)

But, whatever you do, beware of the front row: you may well end up cradling a flailing, drunken fireball of a lead singer…

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Wimbledon – my freebie 2 hour taster

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I’ve lived in London now for 10 years. I’ve been a tennis fan for over 20. I’ve never been to Wimbledon. Go figure! The excuses to date have ranged from ‘tickets are too hard to get hold of’ or ‘I can’t afford the time of work’ to ‘I hate crowds’ (when I’m at my most curmudgeonly). And if I’m totally honest, my interest in tennis peaks and dives with the attractiveness of the top 5 male seeds…. (The Agassi and Pat Rafter years saw my tennis interest become a mild obsession. I digress…)

So finally, after all these years, I get an email from a friend at 4pm on a rainy Wimbledon afternoon, with the faint prospect of tickets to the late afternoon Murray quarter final. I’m all about the spontaneity (and the ‘free-ness’ of free tickets of course), so I jumped at the prospect, tied up my loose inbox ends and ran up and down tube escalators and train platforms to get to Wimbledon station from Oxford Circus in a record 32 minutes.

It wasn’t until my friend and I were sat on the shuttle to the ground that she revealed her failure to get anything resembling a ticket – but by which case I thought ‘what the hell’ and started window gazing for my first sight of Centre Court. To my surprise, at 7pm on quarter final Wednesday of Wimbledon, gate staff aren’t as attentive as they can be, and it’s fairly easy to slip into the Wimbledon ground unnoticed and free of charge. Bonus! Next stop the bar. Next stop, the famed ‘Murray Mound’ or ‘Henman Hill’ of yore. Huge screen, 1000s of people, not an inch of grass to be seen.

We perched ourselves on the concrete right at the front, next to the over-officious ‘No stopping! Move back!’ stewards and settled in for the final 2 sets of the match. I would have said the atmosphere was electric amongst the passionate masses but that would be a lie. Murray lost in 3 straight sets and the Murray Mound masses were fairly quiet, a bit despondent and at one point, much more interested in the ejection of 2 fairly harmless drunks by an unnecessary 8 policemen. I wasn’t disheartened, I thoroughly enjoyed my free 2 hours at Wimbledon (and I don’t really like Murray anyway – he’s anti English). I cheered the 3 points or so he won with everyone else, groaned at the dubious line calls and just soaked up the sights and sounds of something I’d only ever seen on TV: the pleasant sounding ball-thwacks, player grunts and polite applause, the well-behaved, well-dressed spectators, strawberries and Pimms.

We wondered around the different sections, picked up a free (normally £9) souvenir programme off the floor, got a glance at John McEnroe punditing from a roof top above us, and even wondered into Court 1 (ticketless, again) to watch the final points of the other quarter final. Wimbledon’s got atmosphere. You can’t deny it. Even just wandering around outside of the courts you can soak it up, and it’s all so very civilised and English.

The sun had returned and on leaving at 8.30pm, we looked back to see the ground framed by the most gorgeous pink sunset. As I weaved my way past the polite, orderly taxi and shuttle bus queues, my taster experience felt all too brief and I resolved to return. Next year: tickets (paid for), a day or two off work even and fingers crossed for some better looking top seeds.

Wimbledon Murrays Mound

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Oktoberfest 2008: Plan Ahead!

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One of the biggest mistakes that I made when I was living in Florence back in 2004 was not preparing myself—mentally and logistically—for the craziness that is Oktoberfest. I decided to travel to Munich, Germany for the beloved international beer-a-thon on a last minute whim…fun and exciting, I know. But also…stupid. Young people actually do end up sleeping in train stations, and hotel owners do actually check to make sure you haven’t crammed 14 people into your two double bed shanty…..

Don’t get me wrong—my weekend at Oktoberfest was one of the most amazingly fun weekends EVER. I highly recommend going if you have the energy and the funds!

If you are aching to prost the night away with a group college pals and local, lederhosen-clad brethren this year, then don’t put off organizing your excursion until the last minute. There are a few details that you must consider…now!

First of all, Oktoberfest doesn’t really happen in October: the festival runs for sixteen days up until, and including, the first Sunday in October (it starts on September 20th this year). Most of the “regulars” have their accommodation and traditional costumes sorted out months in advance (the costumes, I learned, are actually a big deal for German participants, serving as important markers of cultural status/pride), if not on the day that they left the festival the previous year.

The most resourceful students on my study abroad program had booked their flights/trains and hostels the previous July …i.e. NOW, if you are planning to travel to Munich this September/October. I made the mistake of waiting until September to plan my trip, and, by this time, there were virtually no flights left. The few available seats that remained were outrageously priced, so I ended up taking a long, expensive overnight train. Book your flights now!

By the time I looked into accommodation, there was not one single hostel bed free in the city. I definitely do not recommend the “figure it out when we get there” approach—over 6 million visitors will be sleeping in and around Munich when you visit. Fortunately, someone in our group was resourceful enough to find us a reasonably-priced hotel room (reasonably priced because we split it 9 ways! And – eek – almost got caught! I do not recommend this approach!) …just two weeks before our visit.

Once you are finally at the fest, another useful tip: instead of gulping down a breakfast beer, start the day with a shandy (a tasty mix of beer and lemon soda), rather than overflowing steins of potent booze. The locals have already caught onto this trick, and they will be the ones that start at 10am and are still table dancing at dusk. Mix it up! You have all morning, afternoon, night, followed by the next afternoon, morning, night… afternoon…

Lastly, after a few days of tabletop debauchery, I realized that there was so much to see in and around the beautiful city of Munich! I definitely recommend planning a few excursions and activities; I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city on a bike tour, which was led by a lively guide and, of course, included pub stops!

Also, though it feels strange, and even ‘wrong’, to abandon the world’s largest drinking festival to visit serious and solemn historical landmarks, you must consider: what is the likelihood that you will ever be in Munich, or for that matter, Germany, again? I personally chose to spend a day exploring the history of the region and took a trip to nearby Dachau; my visit to the Memorial Camp was life-changing, and I definitely do not regret it.

Well, that’s all on Munich/Oktoberfest for now! Do post a message if you have any questions or insights, and I will get back to you as quickly as possible.

I do hope that you make the most of your German adventure by planning smartly and traveling safely…

Good luck, and have fun!

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A Summer of Shakespeare

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Celebrate Shakespeare’s 444th birthday in London and Stratford-Upon-Avon.

This summer marks the celebration of two important milestones:

1. William Shakespeare’s 444th Birthday.

2. Somewhat reasonable English weather…

…which means that it’s time to get into the Shakespeare spirit…by witnessing his creative genius…at some of the most authentic of venues…

1. The Globe Theatre, London.

Start by paying a visit to the one and only Globe Theatre, located on London’s South Bank; I had the pleasure of witnessing the ‘official’ celebration of Shakespeare’s Birthday here on April 23rd. And from the spontaneous, mid-afternoon “Happy Birthday” serenade by a lively group of pub crawlers…to a vibrant musical performance, staged on a floating Elizabethan theatre in the middle of the Thames…it was an event not to be missed!

There are still plenty of opportunities to immerse yourselves in this unique, historical celebration in the coming months…namely, by attending a Shakespeare play at the Globe!

As stated on their website:

“This year we perform his most searching tragedy, King Lear; his most wild and inventive comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream; his most thrilling and savage satire, Timon of Athens, and his invention of a new form, the sit-com, in The Merry Wives of Windsor…”

Join in on one of the Globe’s most exciting theatrical runs to date!

2. The Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford Upon Avon.

After experiencing the wonders of the Globe, you could take an overnight trip to Stratford Upon Avon—the birthplace of Shakespeare—to get a feel for his earliest sources of inspiration.

Wander through the town’s quaint, cobblestone streets, visit Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and see a Shakespeare play, performed by the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company.

This summer’s RSC productions include: Romeo and Juliet, Don John, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, and Hamlet.

The Oxford, Warwick Castle and Overnight in Stratford Tour departs from London daily and includes lodging at a 3 star hotel—a fantastic way to experience some of England’s most famous historical landmarks.

Happy Birthday, Will!

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Unique Learning Holidays

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Are you aching to break free from the office mundanity?

Do you ever daydream about that hobby, vocation or artistic skill that you never took the time to pursue?

Then why not combine relaxation and leisure with personal development on one of these unique learning holidays………

1. Get Creative in Paris

If you’ve ever strolled through the bustling Montmarte area of Paris—and witnessed the artists happily immersed in their craft—then you’ve probably romanticised your own potentials as a painter.Next time you’re in Paris, rather than purchasing a postcard of a painting, why not paint a pretty postcard yourself!

Get creative in Paris on a half day painting tour, through which you will learn the compositional basics of watercolor painting as you replicate a charming Parisian scene on a postcard.

Make mum proud!

2. Learn to Cook in the Mediterranean.

Do you dream of the fresh fish, cheeses, olives, and fruits of the Mediterranean? Want to learn how to recreate the deliciousness of Eastern Spanish cuisine in your very own kitchen?Then I suggest first embarking on a trip to Malaga, Spain, where you can partake in a Mediterranean Cooking class.

Shop for fresh veggies at a local market, learn to make authentic dishes from a local chef, and at the end of the day, enjoy a nice sit down meal, as you taste your very own creations—and some delectable wines—with your new friends.

3. Pottery Making in Africa

Get down and dirty…behind the pottery wheel…in Tunisia. Immerse yourself in the culture of Nabeul, known for its pottery and ceramic making, as you develop talents of your own!

You will not regret having immersed yourself in the therapeutic process of pottery making; the beauty of this course is that it runs daily—you can pick and choose which days you want to learn and how much time you wish to relax and soak in the beautiful scenery of the Tunisian coastline…It’s time to get creative!

Other Courses:

Photography Tours

Cooking Lunch with the Countess in Paris

Bumbu Bali Cooking Class

Belly Dancing in Tunisia

Blue Elephant Cooking School in Bangkok

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Cool things for American Expats to do on 4th of July in London.

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“Yankee Doodle came to London, just to ride the ponies…”

You are that Yankee Doodle Boy! (or Girl!)

While I am not aware of any upcoming pony parades through Parliament, I can offer my fellow American expats some festive suggestions re: things to do on the upcoming day o’ independence…

What: The Great American Beer Festival
Where: White Horse Pub, 1 – 3 Parsons Green, London, SW6 4UL
When: July 4th-6th, 2008.

No, no, no—not just a bunch of bottles of Bud Light and Michelob Ultra (AKA ‘water’). Tons of specialty American microbreweries (with some British favourites mixed in) will be represented at the famous White Horse Pub on the weekend of the 4th. From Chicago’s ‘Goose Island’ Beer Company to Denver’s ‘Flying Dog’ Brewery, there will be tons of flavors to whet your palette as you soak in the youthful vibrancy (and, hopefully, sunshine!) of Parson’s Green. Get ready for, beers, BBQ, line dancing, live music, and more!

What: O2 Wireless Festival
Where: Hyde Park, London
When: July 3rd – 6th, 2008.

There’s something for every homesick Yankee at the 02 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park; this 4-day extravaganza features performances by Counting Crows, Jay-Z, Goo Goo Dolls and Beck…to name a few. With 5 stages and 100 + performances, this is the biggest London music festival of the year! Again, let’s hope for sunshine…

What: 4th of July Barbeque (Organized by the London Expat American Meetup Group)
Where: Mile End Park, Grove Road & Clinton Road, London, E3 4PE
When: July 5th, 2008 from 2: 30 pm.

If you are looking for something a bit more casual and relaxing, why not whip together Grandma’s best potato salad recipe, grab a case of beer, and join in on the patriotic, picknicking fun with some fellow Americans on Saturday afternoon?

But first, you must join the American Expat Meetup Group (just Google it)—a very useful forum, especially for London newbies!

(And yes, bring your kids, but leave your fireworks at home.)

Know of any other 4th of July events going on in London? Then post below!

HAPPY 4th!!!

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The Fountain of Youth.

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Fountain of Youth Ponce de LeonFountain of Youth Ponce de LeonFountain of Youth Ponce de Leon

“When I arrived, I was 135 years old, and now I feel 60 again!” remarked my father after tasting some authentic, sulphur-saturated water from the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Florida.  Our tour guide assured us that, had Spanish explorer Ponce de León not been shot in the thigh during battle circa age 60, he surely would have, given his daily Fountain bathing regimen, lived to be at least 100, too…

And no, the sexy diorama above—complete with a statue of old Juan in his fatal, thigh-exposing get up (“the shorter the skirt, the higher the nobility!” –  our tour guide)—is, sadly, not the actual Fountain of Youth, but rather, a tourist mock up.  The actual historic site of the famed, bubbling source of vitality, as sought and discovered by Juan Ponce de León in 1513, now appears as a pit in the ground; the rejuvenating “Water of Life” is currently filtered through a man-made tap for tourist-consuming purposes.  Ever smelled and/or tasted warm sulphur water on a scorching summer day? Yummm…

Fountain of Youth tour guide

The Fountain of Youth Park in St. Augustine actually provided several hours of amusement for my not-so-keen-on-sightseeing parents (and for my super touristy self!).  I actually did—as cheesy as it sounds—feel somewhat connected to my country’s 400 + year old history of European inhabitation while perusing the 15 acre grounds. 

Upon entering the Park, you will be brainwashed—i.e. “America is so old” and “La Florida came first!”—as the resident historians emphasize their favorite take home lesson: Chris Columbus may have “discovered” the “New World,” but it was good old Juan who established the first European settlement on American soil—St Augustine.

And what a charming little city he left behind!

Do take the St. Augustine historic trolley tour and stop off at the Fountain of Youth Park, which provides enough activities to entertain a family of 10— an archaeological park, a planetarium, and a discovery globe, to name a few.

Oh yeah, and there are tons of beautiful peacocks (which are actually kind of scary, in my opinion…).  Stay tuned for the upcoming peacock blog if you would like to view some more images of these fascinating creatures!

In conclusion:

Gracias, Sr. Ponce de Leon….queremos beber de la fuente de la juventud cada día!

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