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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Things to do in North America’

New York number one tourist destination in the US

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There were 1.5 million overseas visitors to New York last yearNew York City overtook Orlando and Las Vegas to capture the top spot in total tourism spending in the US last year, according to new research.

Figures from Global Insight, the financial analysis and forecasting firm, revealed that the influx of international visitors is driving growth in the Big Apple.

New York gained about 1.5 million overseas visitors last year and increased its share of total international visitors by 3.3 per cent in 2007.

Foreign visitors also pushed up Washington DC, Miami, Seattle and Santa Ana/Anaheim in the rankings.

"Exchange rate advantages, economic growth at home, and redoubled promotional efforts are behind this success," explained Christopher Pike, Tourism Principal at Global Insight.

Meanwhile, an expert has said that despite the credit crunch, Britons are sill taking holidays.

Bob Atkinson of travelsupermarket.com said: "Those [people] with budgets or those who have to be a bit more careful are still taking their main break."

New York – From the dizzy heights of the Empire State Building to the serene Central Park New York has it all!
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Romantic Dream Getaways

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Ok, so I’ve learned a thing or two about our loyal readers and customers after plowing through some of the recent ‘Perfect Holiday’ contest entries…

Namely that you are a bunch of sappy romantics!

Seriously, though, we’ve received some descriptive and inspiring responses to our call for entries (to win a £500 isango! voucher), many of which I will posting on the blog in the coming weeks. To keep up with the competition entries, just select the ‘Perfect Holiday’ tag under ‘TOPICS’ on the right hand side of the page – we will be posting entries frequently.

Today’s Topic: Romantic Getaways.

OK lovebirds, I’ve done some research in response to your *heartwarming* descriptions of paradise.

Your entries, my suggestions….here goes!

1. ‘SILVER SMILES’, by Diane Russell.

“Toronto is a place I would love to see – all that colour, the lights flickering across the waters. Flying in a helicopter across Niagara falls…imagine the spectacular view!…WHY, you ask? Because the 20th of August 2008 is our Silver Wedding Anniversary. 25 years…WOW, that sounds like a long time.

( – Indeed!)

But I can honestly say, with my hands on my heart, that he is the man I always want to be with. We have a partnership, we share, and we work together to achieve our goals. LOVE is the word.

( – Awwww, how sweet…)

Romance in Toronto – this would be an experience of a lifetime…warm beaches…just our kind of paradise – the ultimate romantic escape for the perfect Silver Wedding destination. To be able to indulge ourselves in luxury…just closing our eyes and dreaming about the perfect week vacation…our perfect romantic getaway…”

Niagara Falls View

OK Diane, that’s quite a tall order – your 25th Wedding Anniversary! I’ve come up with a few activities that seem to meet your criteria:

1. Helicopter ride over Niagara Falls

Diane, this exhilarating flight over the Falls will provide you and your hubby with all of those magnificent views that you have been dreaming about! (You also may want to consider the Evening Light Tour of Niagara Falls).

2. 30,000 Islands Scenic Cruise

In response to your comment about ‘warm beaches’ (which, I must admit, I was initially confused by as I have never been to Toronto!), after some research, I discovered an island hopping excursion that sounds absolutely amazing…

The Miss Midland 30,000 Islands Boat Cruise departs daily from Midland, Ontario (which is just a scenic coach ride away from Toronto). You can explore one of the most scenic parts of Lake Huron, the Muskoka-Georgian Bay. The protected islands of this region can only be reached by boat and are supposed to be spectacular…

And on to our next entry…

2. Untitled, by Joy Lontine.

“I wake up to jungle sounds and sun streaming in an open window. Pour myself the perfect cup of coffee and step barefoot onto the deck which overlooks azure waters in the Caribbean Sea. I take a walk with the love of my life down to the palm tree lined secluded beach, picking the perfect ripe mango off a tree along the way. He and I slice the mango which is still warm from the sun and have the perfect breakfast. We board a small boat which is equipped with our scuba gear and take it to a secluded cove where we dive in warm, crystal waters. After an afternoon of diving and napping on the sands, we return to our bungalow then set out for a night on the town with the locals. We dine on succulent lobster which has just been caught that day. We dance barefoot to steel drums enjoying our mojitos. After enjoying a glass of champagne under moonlight, we kiss goodnight and anticipate tomorrow!”

Joy, have you ever considered the Florida Keys? I’ve visited them several times with my family—the islands are all quite beautiful, and if you do some good research, you will be able to find the secluded little resort that you have your heart set on.

And, from Key West, you can take this Caribbean Cruise, which similar to the one that you described (I have been on a snorkeling trip from Key West myself – it was amazing!)

You can choose from either a day snorkeling outing, which includes the equipment, or a ‘Champagne Sunset Sail’, which includes the booze… (or do both!).

Your dream vacation sounds very plausible and affordable.

Good luck!

More Romantic Getaway Ideas?

Send in your wildest, most imaginative holiday ideas (here), and we will attempt to match your requests with some exciting tours and excursions.

Dream big!

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Survey reveals where Brits want to go before ”kicking the bucket”

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The Grand Canyon was number one A new survey reveals where exactly in the world Britons want to travel to before they ”kick the bucket”.

The number one response was the Grand Canyon, followed by the Pyramids in Giza and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Two Canadian destinations came in at number four and five – Niagara Falls and the Canadian Rockies. These were followed by the Great Wall of China. Numbers seven to ten were cities – New York, Sydney, Rome and Venice.

Women were more interested in visiting the Pyramids (44 per cent) compared to men (38 per cent).

Women were also more interested than men in visiting cities for romantic breaks, while men who were keen on going further a field to more exotic locations including Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal and Sydney.

The survey was conducted to coincide with the release of the film The Bucket List where the two characters in the film learn they are terminally ill and decide to make the most of the time they have on racing car driving, sky diving, climbing the Pyramids, a lion safari in Africa and a trip to the Taj Mahal.

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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New musicals to hit Broadway next year

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Dolly Parton starred in the original film and has penned songs for the musicalA musical based on the 1980 film Nine to Five is set to open on Broadway on April 23rd next year, following a short run in Los Angeles this September.

Country star Dolly Parton – who received an Oscar for the title song – starred in the original film with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

The musical, about three colleagues who plot to turn the tables on their sexist, lying boss, includes Parton”s original score as well as 20 new songs.

Nine to Five will star The West Wing”s Allison Janney in Tomlin”s role, Stephanie J Block in Fonda”s part and Megan Hilty as Parton”s sexy executive secretary. Marc Kudisch plays their bigoted boss.

Also moving to Broadway next year is Mary Stuart, Friedrich Schiller”s history play that was a recent hit in London.

Variety magazine reported that the show, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, will arrive next spring at a yet to be named theatre with its stars, Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter.

New York – From the dizzy heights of the Empire State Building to the serene Central Park New York has it all!
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What’s your ‘perfect holiday’?

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Ladies and gentlemen, get excited!

TOMORROW (July 11th, 2008) marks the start of our first ever ‘PERFECT HOLIDAY’ CONTEST.

Basically, you will get the chance win a £500 isango! credit towards your dream holiday by sending us your inventive description of what, exactly, constitutes your ‘perfect holiday’.

Watch this space for more details.

***Update – 14 July 2008***

Official ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest entry site:

 

http://www.isango.com/PerfectHoliday.aspx

In the meantime, to get your creative juices flowing (because I know you’ve all been dreaming of that perfect, exotic and adventurous getaway and thus will be entering the contest), here is a sample list of some perfect, exotic and adventurous ways that you could cash in that grand prize!

isango!’s 2008 Staff Picks…

1. Diving in the Red Sea

Diego’s love of wetsuits has drawn him to the warm waters, beautiful coral reefs and colourful exotic fish of the Red Sea. A haven for divers, the Sinai Peninsula coast offers some of the world’s finest underwater excursions; the chance to explore this rich biodiversity tops many travellers ‘must do’ lists. A truly unforgettable experience!

2. Golden Triangle Tour in India

This vibrant, picturesque journey takes you to three of India’s most fascinating cities, bringing the colourful history of the country to life. Delhi’s heady mix of cultures enthrals visitors, while the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur (which matches most of Bernie’s clothing—his reason for selecting this fine tour) is thought to offer the finest examples of Hindu architecture in the world. The unquestionable highlight is, of course, the magnificent Taj Mahal.

3. Amazon River Cruise

Single and sassy, Sarah likes to make the most of her (exotic!) holidays. Aside from Brazilian men, she enjoys a fair bit of rainforest adventuring.

Covering half of Brazil, the Amazon Rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world and home to over a third of the world’s species. At its heart, the lifesource of the rainforest provides the intrepid traveller with a pathway through this region’s rich ecosystems.

4. Helicopter Ride Over Grand Canyon

When he’s not lounging in his leer jet, Ranjan likes to take fancy helicopter rides across America! He reports that photos, guidebooks and superlatives cannot do justice to the overwhelming landscape of the Grand Canyon. The only way to truly appreciate the scale of this natural wonder is to soar above its cavernous depths and majestic colours on an exhilarating flight.

5. The Inca Trail: Cusco and Macchu Picchu

An anthropology geek (yes!), Carrie’s excursion of choice must be, she reports, ‘enriching’ and ‘educational’. Among millions of other culture-hungry travellers, she is enthralled by the sacred legacy of Peru’s Inca civilisation.

This fascinating journey begins in the ancient city of Cusco and continues through the most significant of Incan archaeological sites (sigh!). Its climax and undeniable highlight is the dazzling, mountain top “lost city” of Machu Picchu.

6. Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater

Ajay and Amrit are up for an African safari adventure!

Arguably the world’s finest nature reserve, the Serengeti National Park and the magnificent Ngorongoro Crater provide a refuge for a fascinating variety of wildlife. After encountering some wildebeasts, zebras, lions and elephants on a guided land excursion, take to the skies on a breathtaking hot air balloon ride! You will come to understand why the term Serengeti, meaning ‘endless plains’, is so apt.

7. Diving with the Sharks in Cape Town

This is one for the thrill seekers, like our globe-trotting Emma!

Leave behind Cape Town’s white sands, blue skies and rolling green mountains and dive deep into the ocean for an experience that is sure to stay with you forever. Nothing can prepare you for the rush of adrenaline you will feel when you come face to face with one of nature’s great predators (so we assume that she would have reported).

8. Great Barrier Reef Cruise

Like Sarah, Jess is constantly on the move. On a quest for friendly adventure (and Aussie love!), she has most recently set her sights on the coast of Queensland.

The largest single structure made by living organisms, the Great Barrier Reef stretches for over 2000km along the northeastern Australia. Home to an abundance of plant and marine life and blessed with year-round sunshine, the reef and nearby tropical islands attract divers, snorkelers, swimmers and cruisers from around the world (providing the perfect backdrop for some romantic dinners!).

9. Adventure Cruise in the Galapagos Islands

When Daniele is out of the office, we suspect that he is hiding on an exotic island with his blackberry. It was thus no surprise that he selected this remote archipelago off the coast of Ecuador.

Boasting some of the world’s most unique animal species, the Galapagos were long untouched by man until made famous by Charles Darwin’s natural selection studies. And though many have followed in his pioneering footsteps to explore the islands’ unique ecosystems, the natural habitats have been well protected and preserved.

Escape the office to join Daniele, and you may encounter some giant Land Iguanas and Blue-footed Booby birds!

10. Giza Pyramids Tour

Rish’s macabre fascination with embalming fluids has made Egypt his destination of choice. His obvious starting point: the alleged tomb of King Khufu.

Travellers will delight in the mystery and legacy of the Pyramids of Giza! Surrounded by a necropolis of ancient monuments, including the world famous Sphinx statue, the Pharoah’s tombs envelop some of the world’s fascinating secrets, as preserved for over 5000 years.

Excited? Inspired?

The isango! ‘PERFECT HOLIDAY’ CONTEST starts tomorrow! Stay tuned!

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What’s for Breakfast?

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Good morning! Awake yet? Hungry? Ready for some stir fried noodles? How about some blackened cow’s blood? Some fried, mushed up pig’s ears?

Mmm, mmm, mmmm…..

I’ve noticed that, when I am traveling, breakfast is often the most difficult meal for me to compromise—it’s early, I’m tired, I may or may not be hungover, and I just want a bowl of Cheerios and a skinny cappuccino to go (yes, to go!). The morning is not the best time for me to be testing my gastronomical limits…..

I find that it’s easier to psych myself up for an exotic, adventurous dinner—or even a crazy lunch—but there’s something sacred about breakfast foods and morning rituals.

Just think about it—we all like our AM dosages of caffeine to be prepared in certain ways, whether small and concentrated, medium and diluted, or large and in charge with 3 added flavors, Starbucks style.

Take a New Yorker out of his or her nest, and you will be hearing about H & H bagels for weeks.

Go on a coffee date with an Aussie, and you’ll doubtlessly depart well-versed in the delightful nuances of ‘flat whites’ and Gloria Jean’s hazelnut lattes.

How do you start your day? One man’s commonplace routine can be another’s most memorable adventure (or worst stomach ache). I’ve surveyed some colleagues and friends, and here are some of the interesting breakfast destinations (Breakinations?) that we came up with……

1. Anchovies, anyone?

Forget your Frosted Flakes …how about a fresh bowl of sweet rice…topped with anchovies?

Yum…

If you’re craving new and exciting cultural and culinary experiences, take a jaunt down to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and kick off your travel adventure by stopping at a roadside stall to delight in the country’s most popular breakfast dish: nasi lemak. The sweet, coconut creamy rice base is typically served with eggs, pickled vegetables, cucumbers, roasted peanuts, spicy sauce, and, of course, anchovies!

2. It’s spicy, it’s sweet, it’s deep fried…it’s Delhi!

If you’re hungry for more adventure, skip over to Delhi, India to sample one of their most popular mid-morning snacks: kachori with aloo dum.

One of my colleagues, originally from Delhi, describes this as one of his favourite breakfast dishes. Basically, a kachori is a deep fried, hollow bread made of wheat and lentils. Kachoris can be filled with various different meat and vegetarian ingredients; in this case, they are stuffed with spicy potato concoction and typically followed by an orange, spiderweb-shaped sweet called a jalebi.

Mmm…

4. Health nuts to Sydney.

Are you turned off by all of the fried, spicy, sweet aforementioned craziness?

Then I suggest going Down Under for some healthy, beachside cooking….

Start of your Australian beach holiday with a traditional Sydney breakfast: smoked Tasmanian salmon on sourdough bread, served with spinach, poached eggs, OJ, a shot of wheat grass, and, of course, a skinny ‘flat white’ (glorified term for a latte). You will be feeling fit in no time!

Heading back home…

Right, so, exotic destinations aside, I can’t get over the English tradition of black pudding, which tends to accompany the full English breakfast (of toast, jam, marmite, fried eggs, sausages, bacon, baked beans, tomatoes, and mushrooms…). It’s fried blood, for crying out loud! Who thought that one up? Weird (but actually…not so bad.)

And to finish on a note which is close to my home and heart, I present to you an American delicacy that most of the world has never heard of: SCRAPPLE.

A patty of finely chopped pork scraps and cornmeal, typically fried and served in a breakfast sandwich. Scrapple is unique to the US Mid Atlantic region (Delaware, Maryland parts of Pennsylvania).

Here, folks, is a segment of the typical ingredient list for this breakfast dish with a cult-like following:

Pig tongue, skin, brains, eyes, ears, head, heart, and liver.

(The hog entrails du jour will vary from patty to patty…)

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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 Peacock Parade…

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Peacock Ruffled Feathers

It wasn’t until I started writing blogs that I realized just how fascinated I am with wildlife; indeed, I spend more time staring at lizards, bugs and squirrels than I do learning about important monuments and historical landmarks. 

If you’ve already read the birdwatching blog, you know just how fascinating Bowerbird courtship behavior can be (check that blog out here  here if you haven’t!). Yet sometimes animal behavior is inexplicable—it was just last week that I experienced my most surprising, amusing bird encounter of the year: I was strolling through the Fountain of Youth Park

 …when I was almost attacked by a Peacock.

While I don’t have photographic evidence of the bird’s sweeping dive towards my forehead, I did, after coming to terms with the insanity of the situation, manage to photograph his beautiful feathers from afar:

 

Peacock Feathers Fountain of Youth

The Peacock Parade…yes, indeed…it’s on display, every day, at the Fountain of Youth Park in St. Augustine, Florida

You should go there and check out these beauties for yourselves:

Beautiful White Peacock St Augustine

 

Peacock Open Feathers

But be sure to watch your heads!

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The Omnivore’s East African Dilemma

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A recent rabbinical revelation, which qualified giraffes as amongst those lucky, split-hoofed and cud-chewing animals deemed kosher, got me thinking about my personal meat consumption. From where I’m currently writing (in the American northeast), if I want to eat locally, I’m pretty much restricted to sheep, cows, pigs, goats, and various poultry (minus one if I’m eating kosher!). It thus seems my giraffe-eating opportunities, rabbi-sanctioned or not, are limited. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a vegetarian since the 8th grade…).

But while giraffe remains novel, I did eat zebra once. Well, not really, but I very seriously considered it. I had it on my fork, raised it to my mouth and everything. Alas, at the last second, I got cold feet and finished my meal with my vegetarianism in tact.

Where, you ask, did I have this unique opportunity to test the (narrow) limits of my gastronomical bravado? Certainly not in Philadelphia. No way. I’m afraid enterprising eaters must travel to Kenya to try such exotic and gamey culinary delights. There you must head to Nairobi to have a lunch or dinner at the world-famous restaurant The Carnivore.

While I can’t promise giraffe, you can certainly enjoy such carnal treats as crocodile and antelope. And for those of you with less adventurous palates, grilled and barbequed beef, pork, and chicken are also available.

My vegetarian experience of The Carnivore was limited to some pastry-like, lasagna-esque dish, which I shamefully ordered as my more courageous colleagues had wildebeest and ostrich shaved onto their already overflowing plates. I’m not kidding. Attentive, waistcoat-clad servers literally shaved the meat from spits using very large carving knives at the table!!! (And for the record, my veggie meal was delicious, if embarrassing to order).

After stuffing themselves with as much meat as they could handle, my co-diners surrendered to their protein-induced food comas by raising a white flag. These flags are conveniently left in the middle of the table and signal to the diligent servers/meat-carvers that their customers have had enough game and are ready to move on to dessert.

Okay, so perhaps you’re not down with eating giraffe. I don’t blame you. I prefer my blue-tongued, acacia-eating ungulates without barbeque sauce, thank you very much. If you’re like me then you might favor heading just outside Nairobi to the Ngong Hills. There you’ll find the former house (now turned museum) of Danish author Karen Blixen. Drawing a blank on this one? Think: Meryl Streep, and more importantly, Robert Redford <sigh>, in Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa, the movie based on Blixen’s life and work. In addition to re-living favorite moments from the academy award-winning film while touring the house and its bordering grounds, you get to visit the adjacent Giraffe Center. Here you will meet Daisy, the famous Rothschild giraffe, and also have the chance feed the center’s towering twiga, as the animals are called in Kiswahili.

Of course, there’s nothing like seeing animals in the wild. And for that, Kenya’s certainly the right place! After a few nights in Nairobi, head out of the city for a safari (Kiswahili for “journey” or “travel”) in any number of the country’s National Parks and Wildlife Reserves. In the lush landscape of the Masai Mara, you can see the majestic twiga in their natural habitat, not to mention simba (lion), ndovu (elephant), and kiboko (hippo).

The memories alone are enough to whet my appetite and start me dreaming about Landrovers and acacia-dotted landscapes. Sadly, from where I’m presently sitting in Philadelphia, these exciting meals and safaris are nearly half a world away. So despite the rabbis’ green-light on the ingestion of my favorite ruminant, until my next East African adventure I guess I’ll have to satisfy my giraffe-cravings at the local zoo.

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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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