Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fantasy Fest Photos - 2012 - Pictures from the A-Conch-alypse

I love Fantasy Fest - Key West's annual Mardi Gras style celebration – and even though I think a lot of the folks who take their clothes should put them right back on again, I applaud their freedom to let it all hang out, or rather more accurately down.

The 10 day end of October festival kicks off with Goombay on the weekend prior  -- everyone parties all week long - tutu parties, plaid parties, toga parties, headdress balls and a constant crawl up and down Duval's watering holes wearing as little as possible - and culminates in the Saturday night parade. 

Menacing Zombie
There's always a theme - and this year's was A-Conch-alypse 2012 - as in the End of the World! 

Admittedly this year’s theme was tough – while there might have been a lot of scope for clever costumes there wasn’t a lot of scope for flattering ones. After all, when the world ends, you are going to be pretty messed up … or dead.
I think that’s where the Zombie theme comes in … and as a result many folks just wore a favorite costume from their Halloween closet - or from previous Fantasy Fests. And of course, many opted to wear very little at all.*

This one had too many clothes on:

Espresso Pot
I mean, what does an espresso pot have to do with the A-Conch-alypse? Or any theme? Cute, though.

You can always count on Key Westers to reflect current events and issues in the parade - and right now we like to kvetch about the very slow project of repaving North Roosevelt Boulevard.

Not only were there curves ahead, but some Sloppy Hoe's.

My favorite float is the one I accompanied: the Four Horses of the A-Conch-Alypse:

The horses represented four Key West pestilences - chickens, iquanas, white flies and lionfish.
No one was surprised to find that the Minions of Mulcahy won "Most Creative" for this float.

Key West artists who airbrush costumes onto people are in great demand - and these next few pictures are some of my favorites from this year:

*I can't really feel I can post the more revealing photos on blogspot - so they are in a private Fantasy Fest album on Facebook - you will have to request a friendship - but I won't be hurt if you drop me after viewing the more risque albums. The Fantasy Fest Parade 2012.

Blog posts from former years: Fantasy Fest Photos 2011 and Fantasy Fest Photos 2010.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

10 Words You Must Learn Before Visiting Costa Rica

Costa Rica has, for years, been a top vacation destination for honeymooners, families, backpackers and those who just need a break. There's a special vibration that resonates throughout this Central American country that most can attribute to the Pura Vida or “pure life” attitude that the locals infuse into just about everything they do. Not only to fit in, but to make a trip to this country a special and easy going time away, this is the first phrase one needs to commit to memory.

Maybe your trip is meant to be a relaxing get away, perhaps spending your time enjoying the gorgeous views of the volcano at Lake Arenal. Maybe it's the miles of gorgeous coastline that you're craving. Whatever the case, it will be next to impossible to ignore the local fare. Costa Rica is famed for a couple of traditional dishes that are simple, hardy and when prepared with love and a hand that has been making these plates for years are, in no other words, delicious. The first you must come to learn is Gallo Pinto. This is technically just rice and beans, mixed together and served for every meal. If it's not already mixed in, salsa Lizano will almost certainly be on the table. This sweet and tangy sauce could be called the flavor of the country and goes great on salads, rice or just about anything.

Another crucial dish is the typical Costa Rican casado. This literally translates to married and is a large plate, served for lunch or dinner that has everything, meat, rice, beans, salad, fried plantains... Enjoy this as a filling lunch or dinner and accompany it with the crisp, clean taste of an Imperial, the national beer of this lush landscape. Just remember there is only a one letter difference between the word for married, casado, and the word for tired, cansado. The locals never get bored of this simple slip of the tongue which can turn into quite the joke.

While many say that Costa Rican Spanish is some of the most formal and well spoken in the Latin countries there remain some words that are strictly Tico (a contraction of the words Costa Rica that's used to describe all native peoples). Mae is used to refer to a person, male or female, and translates to “dude, man, or guy” as in “what's up mae?” Expect to hear this phrase from the national parks to the high rises in Jaco. Another of these words is mop and means essentially the same thing although it is used with less frequency.

Finally there is a phrase that most visitors would use to elaborate on their entire trip, al chile. This means with all the spice or with all the “chile pepper” and is spoken by those in the know to describe something completely crazy and amazing. In a country that has, at minimum, ten months of gorgeous sunshine, worries seem to melt away. A traveler truly has to try not to enjoy the “pura vida” of Costa Rica.

Jared is a international writer and traveler. For more information on All Inclusive vacations in Costa Rica please visit

Image Courtesy of Bee Collins.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Five Amazing Beaches to Hang Your Hammock

If you’re looking for the perfect place to swing your hammock, there are some places in the world that seem to have been truly made for the purpose --  places made for those who love relaxing in the sun beside the waves and want to be sun kissed when doing so. So, where should you set up your family hammocks for the long haul?

Curonian Spit

This beautiful area of beach, stretches  for almost 60 miles and mixes pine forests and dunes. It provides the perfect place for you to hang up your  hammock and also to bathe in the ocean when you feel like stepping out from your beach bum paradise. The area is a beautiful one and has been visited by many of the greats from history including Thomas Mann. Some have compared it to a Baltic Sahara and there is one wonderful must see dune that is more than 170 feet high in Nida – do visit.

Curonian Spit by Kyle Taylor - Dream It Do It Wold Tour!


Tanzania is one of those places that is still not been subjected to the ravages of significant tourism. This beach is the perfect and most idyllic place in the world to hang your hammock. There’s little to do as the tides are low and drink coconut milk. Watch the fishermen, read a book and just sit back and bake in the sunshine. You might even go on a boat ride in the evening when it cools down and the time feels right – but don’t stress.

Early morning on Jambiani Beach by Andrew Moir

Kerala Coast

This region of India is one of those places that should be on everyone's bucket list for its miles and miles of coconut palm lined, white sand beaches. The coast spans more than 370  miles and boasts the bluest of waters. It’s the ideal place to sit back, watch the horizon and see the evening and the ensuing sunset arrive in all its glory. Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala's capital, is a must visit if you want to see the most spectacular sunsets.

Kerala Coast by parentless_org

Isla Mujeres

This Mexican island, situated near the tourist resort of Cancun is the perfect place to bring family and friends and set up your family hammocks. It’s a tropical beach with the sought after turquoise waters and also offers you plenty of options to frequent bars and the like for some great cocktails. There are also some wonderful fishing tours, as well as golf courses resorts and all the mod-cons for those that enjoy them.

Fishing Nets and Even a Hammock by Michael C. Rael.

Ko Pha Ngant

Thailand is a tourist center for some time now, however Ko Pha Ngant though busy, still has some great spots to visit. Obviously if you're after complete peace and quiet, you want to avoid the regions where the Full Moon Partiers revel. The island is loved by the Thai Royal Family, which explains why the outlying regions are so overwhelmingly beautiful and also under developed. The island is blissful and the perfect place for a hammock once you avoid the hedonistic full moon fun.

Coconut Trees Are Good For Something Other Than Hammocks! Photo by 0005_Marco

There is nothing better than chilling out on a hammock and these areas are the perfect place for the experience.

The author writes for Westmount Living, offering a wide range of extra large family sized hammocks which are great for taking on your holiday adventure around the globe!

Tripadvisor - How To Find The Good, And Avoid The Bad And The Ugly

BeforeTripAdvisor, travelers whose hotel turned out to be more a fleapit than a Pharoah’s palace had to grin and bear it to a certain extent. Holiday disappointment almost used to be part and parcel of some holidays – and tour operators and hotel management continued to get away with misrepresentation, shoddy maintenance and lousy food, knowing that tourists could do very little about it.

TripAdvisor has given a voice to holidaymakers – and checking out hotels and holiday resorts before you book can not only help you avoid the bad and ugly – but also can help you find an even better hotel or resort.

The most common complaints that holidaymakers have include:
  • Accommodations not as described in the brochure: e.g., no sea view, balcony, entertainment or à la carte menu;
  • Tour details changed without notice beforehand – you set off and discover on arrival that your itinerary has been changed or another hotel has been allocated;
  • Shoddy and dangerous hotel maintenance – poor plumbing, dodgy electrics, broken steps and paving stones, a dirty swimming pool;
  • Poor service from hotel staff – rude staff and rooms not ready on arrival, or even not available as booked: e.g., no double bed, bath or terrace or non-smoking rooms.
Holidaymakers work hard to afford their vacations and it is hugely distressing to arrive and feel as though you have been ripped off.

Checking the reviews on Tripadvisor before you book can alert you to any recurring problems at your hotel, as well as poor maintenance, unhelpful staff, dirty rooms and bathrooms – and any amenities which have been misrepresented.

Miserable staff and a poor  reputation are also signs that all is not well, so do your homework before you book – and also take a look at other hotels and resorts on Tripadvisor, which you might enjoy more and which might even be better value for money.

If tour operators and hotels cannot deliver, the best thing to do is give them a wide berth and book with a company or hotel which can offer you your dream holiday.

Make sure you return the favor - if your trip was great, write a positive review. if there were problems explain what happened and whether they were resolved or not. At first, it may feel as though by posting your complaints on Tripadvisor that you are being petty, but even a dirty showerhead could prove fatal if it is harboring Legionnaires’ disease – and serious illnesses like salmonella or E.coli should not be included as part of a package holiday. Of course, that's extreme - but remember how helpful you found the reviews in planning your trip.

If you have had an unsatisfactory holiday, first it's best to make a holiday complaint direct to the tour operator and let them know your opinion and see what they can do for you.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Hotel Tips: What You Need To Know To Travel With Fido

Essential Questions to Ask When Booking a Pet Friendly Room

Is your pet not just an animal, but a full-fledged member of your family? If so, you would probably never consider going on vacation without your little pal. The hospitality industry is taking notice of the buying power of pet lovers and more and more hotels, B&Bs and vacation rentals, offer pet friendly accommodations.

Flagler Beach, Florida

Whether you are looking for a room at a large chain, an intimate little inn, or a vacation rental, there are pet friendly choices all over the world. Before m you book, though, it is important that you fully understand the pet policy of a particular establishment. Most places state the pet policies clearly on their website. With others, you may need to make a call to find out the details. Here are the questions you need answered before choosing pet-friendly lodgings:
  • Restrictions – Some lodgings will allow almost any pet with a deposit. Others, however, may allow only dogs. Still others may only allow very small dogs. In addition, some lodgings may have breed restrictions and will not allow certain breeds, commonly Rottweiler or pit bull. Get the specifics before making a deposit.
  • Costs – Many establishments charge a security deposit and may also charge additional fees for the privilege of accommodating your pet. Make sure to find out all applicable fees and their amounts as well as whether or not the fees are refundable. While it's worth it to you to pay extra for your furry friend, it's helpful to know how much you are paying in advance. This is also a good factor to use when comparison shopping for lodgings.
  • Location of the dog-friendly rooms – In many establishments, the least desirable rooms are designated as the dog-friendly rooms. Check to make sure that the pet-friendly rooms are of the same quality as other rooms. Ideally, you will want a room on the first floor with an outside entrance, so you can easily walk your dog when he or she needs to go out.
  • Availability of an Outdoor Area – Speaking of going out, is there an area close by where you can walk your dog? The last thing you want is to get up in the middle of the night and have to walk a long way to get to an area for your dog to do his or her business.
  • Vaccination requirements – Many places will require you to show proof of current rabies and other vaccinations. Check for such requirements in advance to make sure you have everything in order and be sure to pack your paperwork before you head out.
Having a run on the beach ...
  • Off-limits areas – If you are choosing a particular hotel or inn because of a special feature, it can be a nasty surprise to find out that your dog is not allowed there. Find out if any areas of the property are off limits to your furry companion before you make a reservation.
  • Local attractions – The vacation will be no fun for Fido if he sits alone in the room all the time. Find out if there are any dog-friendly attractions nearby, such as outdoor eating areas, parks, beaches, and more. 

Hannah C. is a writer for If you are interested in a career that lets you travel and get your career. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Riga: Architecture Through The Ages

The Latvian capital of Riga has gained popularity in recent years as a destination for tourists seeking a cultural European city break. It is no surprise, as the city hosts many fine buildings and a range of architectural styles from the Medieval period through to the modern day. Built by German crusaders the city’s earlier buildings, including its churches, were constructed in Romanesque and Gothic styles, examples of which you can find throughout Riga. However, there are also over 800 buildings in the city built in an Art Nouveau style.

Religious Architecture of Riga

St. Peter's Lutheran Church
by Arian Zwegers
Riga's skyline dominated by three steeples. If you don’t have time to visit all three churches, be sure to see St Peter’s, arguably one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in the Baltic region. This church is thought to be around 800 years old and its main facade took on a Baroque appearance in the late 17th century. Although the church tower has been destroyed on a number of occasions, it was last restored in 1973. Take the lift up 72m to an observation platform for excellent views of the city below.

The Dome Cathedral is also well worth a visit. Construction commenced in 1211, but changing architectural styles over the centuries have molded the cathedral to its present appearance – Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque features are part of the building's architecture today.  St George’s Church is also worth a visit; the church, the oldest building in Riga, was founded in 1202 and is the only Romanesque monument in the city.

Defensive Architecture of Riga

Riga’s castle was built in 1330 on the banks of the River Daugava. It housed the ruling power and its position was important to oversee ships entering the port. The castle is a square building with a tower in each corner; it has twice been rebuilt with a third floor added in the 19th century. Latvia’s current President has his residence in one of the wings of the castle.

The Architecture of Dwellings in Riga

The oldest dwelling houses in Riga, known as the Three Brothers, are located on Backer Street, with the oldest built at the end of the 15th century and the other two in the 17th century; their building style is typically Medieval. Built in 1685 by the famous Bindenschuh, the Reitern House – not far from St Peter’s Church - was Riga’s first new style of house. It was a revolution in building traditions, as it was the first time that the longest side of a building had been along the street or that high ceilings and large windows had been used in a living dwelling in the city. The facade made by a stone cutter is also of note. It is a fine example of a merchant’s house and of Baroque architecture.

Art Nouveau Architecture in Riga

Detail on one of the Art Nouveau
buildings on Alberta by upyernoz
The city has often been called Europe’s capital of Art Nouveau and this is best displayed in Alberta Street, where the buildings are exclusively designed and decorated in an Art Nouveau style. Built between 1901 and 1908 from designs by Eisenstein, Mandelstam and Pekshens, Alberta Street – named after the city’s founder – is one of the most splendid streets in Riga. While here visit the Riga Art Nouveau Museum at number 12, which was home to one of the architects; see for yourself the interior design and learn more about this style of architecture.

This is merely a taste of what this remarkable city has to offer. To truly appreciate Riga it is best to explore on foot, though there are a number of walking tours that you can join to see the architectural highlights of the city and find out more about its history.

Julia writes finance and travel articles for a number of UK websites including one of the biggest landlord advice portals.

Friday, March 16, 2012

New Travel Writer Destination: Squidoo

Squidoo is not new, of course, it's just new to this copywriter. I discovered the site a few years ago, joined and never pursued it. I think I just didn't understand its value.

A friend recently mentioned the site to me, and I thought; perfect; someplace to create more content and support some of the sites I love and manage.

Squidoo cash machineBut what caught my imagination was the opportunity to also make a little extra income. We all like that, don't we? Income generated from pay per click advertising is pooled and distributed to lens owners (pages on Squidoo are called "lenses") according to lens rank and traffic. Squids (lens owners - yeah, I know it's kind of silly; and kind of cute) can also earn income through affiliate sales via Amazon and eBay.

Since I love to write, am fascinated by Key West, its houses and its colorful history I've started with a few lenses on local topics.

  • Oldest House and Gardens - visiting this free Key West museum offers visitors to the Southernmost City a glimpse of the life of early settlers. The gardens offer a quiet respite from the noisy sprawl of Duval St. Arguably Key West's best free attraction. Of course, as a volunteer tour guide for the house, I might be a little biased ... but come let me show you around and convince you.
  • Ernest Hemingway in Key West - The 20th Century's most important American novelist was an avid sportsman. His love of deep sea fishing, the tropical clime and the laid back attitude of Key West, kept "Ole Hem" coming back. The author invited his friends to visit him in the "St. Tropez of the poor," and the Mob followed, putting the Southernmost City on the map.
  • The incredible architecture of homes in Key West is a large part of the allure of the Isle of Bones.
  • The heart and soul of the middle Florida Keys is the quiet vacation haven of Key Colony Beach, a jewel of an island city off the Atlantic side of the Overseas Highway. A long causeway keeps the island quiet, yet the amenities of the more commercial Marathon are just a few minutes by car.

I plan to follow up with more local travel lenses, including:

  • My favorite local restaurants;
  • The best homes to tour - Hemingway House, Audubon House, Curry Mansion, Little White House;
  • Sunsets and Celebrations
  • A version of my post on Free Things To Do in Key West.
  • Bone Island history

Come visit me on Squidoo and see what I've written lately.

Monday, February 6, 2012

KeysSpeak: A Bubba And A Conch Head To The Rock

From the mainland to Bone Island a Conch and his bubba ride a conch cruiser through the 18 mile stretch, over causeways and bridges, past mile marker after mile marker, bluewater oceanside, flats on the other, bights and Fat Albert on bayside, one chickee after another, home to the Rock for a Duval Crawl.

If you don't know where the Conch - a Key West native - and his bubba - a Conch - are headed, you've never been to Key West. You can translate the above using this glossary:

And you might want to check out the rest of the skinny on the island chain in the Kindle edition of Nancy Toppino's Insider's Guide Florida Keys and Key West.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Things to Do in Key West : Free Or Next To Nil

Key West has plenty of wonderful attractions for free or next to nothing. A few of my favorites:

The Oldest House - Cook House in the Foreground

The Oldest House - Go back in history and learn how Key West’s earliest settlers lived. Wreckers and pirate chasers and pretty maids, oh my. The shaded garden benches are a lovely quiet spot to get off the mad dash of Duval for a few shady Docent tours daily. Docent tours of the house are free, though donations are welcome. Open daily 10-4 except Wednesday and Sunday. While you are there, pick up a copy of the Pelican Poop Trail Guide. 322 Duval Street.

Pelican Path Self-Guided Tour of Old Town Key West - While you’re at the Oldest House pick up a free copy of the Pelican Path. The map and descriptions of historic homes and places allow you explore our colorful streets and quaint architecture at your leisure. The map and guide can also be downloaded here:

Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center – At the foot of Southard Street is a non-descript grey building that houses a world of local color. The exhibits and displays illustrate our fragile eco-system both above and below the seas. Don’t miss the 20 minute documentary (every half hour) on our underwater world. It tells the eco story of the Florida Keys through the eyes of a little girl who grows up here and can’t stay out of the water. There’s also a simulated dive to 1600 feet, and an excellent exhibit on Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. Tuesday to Saturday 9-4 33 E. Quay Rd. Key West, FL 33040
(305) 809-4750

Fort Zachary State Park – Beach and Historic Fort. Many residents feel Fort Zach is the best of Key West. It certainly is our best beach – though a bit rocky, the shore drops off quickly to for swimming, and offshore currents keep the water very clean. It’s a great place to watch the sunset – away from the crowds at Mallory Square. If you’re interested in Civil war history, this fort played a very important role in the war between the north and south and the free guided tours are very informative. Or wander around the fort on your own. Entrance to the Florida State Park: $2.50 per person on foot or bike. Noon tours of the fort are free. 601 Howard England Way - At the foot of Southard Street, then left:

Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square – Not to be missed if you like crowds, inexpensive arts and crafts, street performers and yummy conch fritters. Every night from 2 hours before sunset to one hour afterwards.

The City Cemetary is worth a wander. Key West’s first cemetery was at Whitehead Point close to the original lighthouse. When a terrible hurricane in 1846 destroyed the lighthouse and all but 8 of the homes and buildings in Key West, it also disinterred the bodies buried there and strewed bones across the island. The City soon purchased the land on high ground (16 feet above sea level) in the center of Old Town. As in New Orleans, most are buried in above ground crypts. Look for the brochure near the Margaret Street entrance and be sure to find the most popular inscription. The stele of a local hypochondriac Betty Pearl Roberts reads, “I Told You I was Sick.”

White Street Pier is worth a visit. It’s a favoreite spot with locals for sunrises (year round) and winter sunsets. When you are out at the end of the pier, you are at a more southerly point than the “official” Southernmost Point.

The Beaches are free: Higgs Beach, just north of White Street Pier and Smathers Beach, which graces the southeast end of the island are a little shallow, but have nice sandy swaths, and public restrooms. There’s a children’s park acorss the street from Higgs. Dog Beach is a great place to let your pooch enjoy the sand and water. Next to Louie's Backyard on Waddell St. Dog Beach

What's your favorite thing to do in Key West for free?