Category Archives: North America

Miami Carnival: Calle Ocho

Calle Ocho, Spanish for Eighth Street, which is where the festival takes place, was founded in 1977 by a group of Cuban-Americans, and it closes the Miami Carnival festivities. It is nowadays organized and sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana and although it is a far cry from its heyday in the 80’s and 90’s it is still one of the largest street festivals in the world, with over one million people attending each year. The festival has broken many records, the most notable in 1988 when it made it to the Guinness Book of World Records by forming the world’s longest conga line with almost 120,000 people. Originally 24 blocks of SW 8th Street became a sea of people dancing, with food and drinks stalls, and 30 stages with live entertainment. In 2017 they only closed down 15 blocks of 8th street and there were only about 10 stages. It is still definitely something to see if you are visiting south Florida in early March. One thing to note if you are a visitor is to leave before sundown. Things can get a little rowdy and occasionally violent as some people get drunk and tend to misbehave. Otherwise enjoy this Pan-American  apotheosis of flavors and sounds.

The Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve


In this weeks video and blog post we are going back to the Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve to do a couple of things we haven’t done before.

We are staying at Monument Lake which is one of the few places this time of the year with any site available. We’re visiting in February at the peak of snowbird season.

In the video and blog post I use Everglades and Big Cypress interchangeably because they are very similar ecosystems. Big Cypress my favorite of the two areas is, as the name suggests a lot more wooded. The first activity we attempt is to walk a short section of the Florida trail. In South Florida, besides alligators, pythons, panthers, great blue herons, and anhingas, the most abundant member of the animal kingdom is the mosquito. The mosquitos are relentless on the Florida trail. I was under the impression that the winter was the non mosquito season. I was obviously greatly misinformed. It has also been an unusually hot and humid winter.

After our epic fail at the Florida Trail, we decide to the next best thing, which is a loop road that goes pretty deep into the Big Cypress National Preserve. This is truly the highlight of the trip, and the highlight of the loop road is the Sweetwater Strand. In the strand, which is like a river crossing the swamp, we can see all kinds of different birds and the heavy vegetation provided by the taller Cypress tress, makes it feel a lot cooler than the rest of the area. We see all kinds of different birds, and plenty of gators, some of them perhaps too close for comfort.

On the next day we visit Shark Valley, which is one of the most popular and famous places on the Everglades National Park. The is a loop trail where you can ride a bicycle and if you are lazy like us, there is also a tram. The tram is noisy and uncomfortable, and very much overdue for an upgrade. There is an observation tower at the far end of the road. The views are fine, but I guess my expectations were so high that I end up a little underwhelmed. We plenty of wildlife as well. The tour is presented by an elderly couple, and it is full of anecdotes and valuable information.

The culinary highlight of the trip is Joanie’s Café, in which the swamp platter which includes gator bites and frog legs is a winner.

Stay tuned for another compilation video coming soon about the 3 or 4 mail things to do in The Everglades National Park, and the Big acupressure National Preserve.

Tampa, Florida | Traveling Robert

In this final installment of the Tampa Bay series we are going to visit Tampa proper over the course of three afternoons. We are attending the Florida Rv Supershow in the morning.

On the first day we stay in the car most of the time, just getting a little bit of the lay of the land. We drive on the street that claims to have the longest sidewalk in the world, Bayshore Boulevard. We also drive through Hyde Park, a historic district, home to the famous Bern’s Steakhouse. The southernmost point of our exploratory trip is Ballast Point Park, from where we get extraordinary views of downtown across the bay.

On our second day we have lunch at the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Florida. Also the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States, and one of the largest in the wold. Its name is The Columbia. While we are in Ybor City we explore some of the historic sites and take a round trip on the TECO line street car to downtown.

On our third day, we eat at a trendy restaurant called Ulele, on the riverfront. We also explore downtown a little bit and the University of Tampa on the other side of the Hillsborough River. The Henry B. Plant Hall, is a historic building, formerly the legendary Tampa Bay Hotel. Nowadays it hosts the Henry B. Plant Museum as well as some of the University services.

Overall it was a great time. On our way out we bid farewell to one of Americas iconic roadside attractions, the Airstream ranch, which was demolished just a few days after our visit.

Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, and Clearwater Beach, Florida

This week we are visiting Tarpon Springs, a historic Greek community built by the sponge industry, Dunedin and its popular causeway, pleasant downtown and historic microbrewery, and Clearwater, one of the best beaches of the Sun Coast of Florida.

We begin our trip by driving to the northernmost point of Pinellas County, and the Sun Coast for that matter: Tarpon Springs. A great number of Greek immigrants arrived to the area during the 1890’s to work on the emerging sponge industry, thus today it has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States. It is known as the sponge capital of the world because of its beginnings.

In the historic downtown we encounter one of the main landmarks here: the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Completed in 1943, the cathedral replaced a church from 1907. It was built with marble from Greece, Czechoslovakian chandeliers and it has 23 stained glass windows.

Next we go to the historic sponge docks, to find something to eat.

The Sponge Docks is the area where the sponge industry originally began and helped build this Greek community. It is nowadays very commercialized and touristy with places like the Spongeorama. We eat at the famous Hellas Restaurant and Bakery, family owned since 1970.

Out next point of interest is Wall Springs Park. In the 1920 the park and the natural spring used to be a health spa known as Health Springs. There’s an observation tower and the park is overall a nice relaxing place with Spanish moss draped trees and a boardwalk, but there’s nothing really unique about it.

Next we continue towards the City of Dunedin. First we stop by the Dunedin Causeway, which takes you to Honeymoon Island State Park. It seems to be a nice place, where what seems to be mostly locals, come to relax, fish, paddleboard, or just chill by the beach.

In Dunedin propper we encounter the Pinellas Trail which goes through downtown, and goes all the way from Tarpon Springs to Saint Petersburg. The city stands out for its unobstructed views of the Intercoastal Waterway, which we’ll see soon enough, and for the absence of any chain stores or franchise restaurants. Everything seems to be local, which is a good thing. There’s also Florida’s oldest craft microbrewery, established in 1995. Yeah, way before craft beer was popular. It is called, appropriately enough, Dunedin Brewery.

Our final stop is Clearwater, which is supposed to be one of the finest beaches in Florida, so we’re dying to check it out. Too bad we forgot to bring our bathing suits. We are going to get there just in time for the sunset, and apparently they have some kind of sunset celebration like they do in Ft. Myers, and Key West. It is called Sunsets at Pier 60 Daily Festival. They do have street performers and friendly pelicans.

I hope you enjoy this week’s video and see you on the road!

Saint Petersburg, Florida

This weeks travel video is the second installment of the Tampa Bay series, which takes us to Saint Petersburg, Florida.

After exploring a short section of the Pinellas Trail, we drive to Downtown St. Pete, as it is locally known. We take a leisurely stroll on Demens Park, eyeing the numerous sailboats, and small aircraft flying from nearby Albert Whitted Airport, the birthplace of scheduled commercial flight. We can see downtown Tampa in the distance with the now demolished St. Pete Pier in the foreground.
The next stop is at the city nutmber one tourist attraction: The Salvador Dalí Museum. It holds the largest collection of Dalí works outside of Europe and outside of Spain, and also the second largest collection of Dalí’s master works, the very large canvas that took over a yes each to complete. There’s also a somewhat gimmicky but way cool virtual reality presentation in which you get to go inside some of Dalí’s more famous paintings.
The Museum left us hungry so we eat at the lively Central Avenue, where the is a plethora of choices. We end the day by cruising along the avenue, and driving by the Historic Roser Park district of the city.

RV Dinette Removal and Replacement Project

Ever since we acquired our Winnebago Micro Minnie 1706, christened Minitini, we’ve had two main sources of dissatisfaction. The first one you probably know about if you follow my videos at rvvlog.com, which forwards to my YouTube channel TravelingRobert. Our Atwood OD50 on demand water heater has been less than stellar to put is mildly. Our other source of grief has been the uncomfortable dinette, which kind of barely converts into a twin bed, but is far from an optimal solution. I finally decided to try my hand at woodworking and come up with a more comfortable and flexible solution.
The first part of this metamorphosis involved a lot of unscrewing, but a couple of hours later the old dinette was completely removed.

The next part of the project involved making some kind of cabinet or enclosure to hide the unsightly wheel well, which besides being unattractive looking is made of the flimsiest metal, just a step up from aluminum foil. So I measured twice, went to Home Depot, and bought some wood to tackle the project.
My original idea involved a large folding two-pane table, which could be used in the folded position and then expanded if needed. Luckily we stumbled upon this table from IKEA which takes us 80% of the way there. It is a smaller folding wall table which is practically unusable un the folded position, but we came up with the idea of having two of them for even more flexibility.
One major challenge was fastening the tables to the wall. Our trailer, like many other RVs, has what they call laminate walls. They consist of two thin sheets of some hard material and no studs to be found. The thin ¼ inch material was unlikely to hold the weight of the tables plus whatever we put on them. After much research, I figured the best solution was to fasten a larger piece of wood to the wall first, In order to distribute the weight among more wall anchors.
To this nice setup we added two office chairs, also from IKEA and we are still on the fence about installing the armrests for fear that they might become too bulky. As you know inside a small travel trailer every inch counts.
Check out the following video in which I go into more detail.

The Drive to Tampa Bay, and Madeira Beach nightlife

If you like driving videos, this week’s installment will be the one for you. We are going to go back in time to the beginning of our recent trip to Saint Petersburg and Tampa, in which we eventually visited the Florida RV Supershow.

In this video we day view what I’m calling the tri-camera setup, which is still very much in beta. I have place another two cameras on the trailer to give you different views of the road. One is on the side and one looking backwards. Eventually I want to have cameras looking in every direction, maybe even a 360° setup.

We get to see the Alligator Alley from a whole different perspective as well as the famous Sunshine Skyway bridge.

After the long drive, we leave the trailer at our campsite at the St. Pete/Madeira Beach KOA, and decide to go to John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk for a couple of beers and dinner.

Over the next few days we explore the area quite a bit, but that will be the subject of the next few videos. Until next time, thank you for watching and see you on the road!

 

Florida RV Supershow 2017, and the winner is…

The Florida RV Supershow, which happens yearly in mid-January, is arguably the largest RV show in the United States of America, a title it disputes with the Hershey Show in Pennsylvania. If you are in the market for a new RV, this show will have the largest selection available anywhere. You are almost guaranteed to find the model and floor plan you are looking for. If you are not in the market it is also a good place to see what’s new, innovative, or just plain curious or ridiculous. There are also two large pavilions with vendors from cookware manufacturers to RV resorts.

This year I was lucky enough to attend on Industry Day, which is a day not open to the public, so you can explore all the units at leisure without the large crowds of the public days. That being said it was not what I expected. I expected it would be a day where you could speak to manufacturers and dealers, get interviews, and more in depth information, but that was not it at all. Industry Day is nothing more than a dress rehearsal, a soft opening, where everybody is still setting up, nobody really want to talk to you, and they don’t even have prices or information yet. Some of the rigs were even being used as storage for beverages and promotional materials for the next day.

That being said we were able to see a lot of RVs, and cover quite a lot in a relatively short time. We began in the pavilion by the entrance where all the Pleasure Ways, Roadtreks, and other class B’s were. On the other side of the floor They had the Prevost luxury motorhomes, and the Airstreams that we decided to leave for another day.

I have really tried to like these two particular brands of Class B, Roadtrek and Pleasure Way for a while now, particularly Roadtreks, which was recently purchased by German manufacturer Hymer. Even though some of them feature the latest in technology, lithium batteries, under the hood generators, heated floors and massive solar arrays, there is something about the floor plans that we just can’t get over. They feel cramped and uncomfortable, and they all have the same cookie cutter floor plan with a sofa bed in the back, galley and refrigerator on one side, bathroom and closet on the other, and the narrowest possible hallway. Want a table to eat? Most of the time you will have to assemble it, usually hidden in some closet out of the way. We are lazy when it comes to that. We want a permanent table and a permanent bed, because sometimes RV dwellers have different schedules.

There was also a B+ Pleasure Way with a murphy bed and a dry bath that was adequate. The problem with the murphy bed, again, is that everybody in the rig has to go to sleep at the same time. Why those are so popular lately is beyond my comprehension.

Moving right along there was a very nice 4X4 custom sprinter van by Spotsmobile which unfortunately didn’t have a bathroom. I wish more companies would come up with innovative floor plans on 4X4 chassis, so you can boondock in even more remote places.

Our next point of interest was the Hymer booth. Hymer is the largest manufacturer of RV in Europe, and their recent acquisition of Roadtrek, means we might be seeing a lot more of their products trickle to this side of the Atlantic. They were featuring two motorhomes based on the Ram Promaster/Fiat Ducato chassis and two travel trailers. One of the motorhomes we had seen before, the Hymer Aktiv, formerly the Grand Canyon. Measuring a mere 19.5 feet long it is one of the shortest class B motorhomes available. It features a pretty innovative collapsible bed in the back, a wet bath with cassette toilet and fold up sink. It is one of my favorite class B floor plans of late. Of course new for this year there is a slightly longer model with a convertible sofa bed in the back that looks like a direct transplant from a Roadtrek and really felt out of place in an otherwise innovative floorplan. Then there was the Sonne, not available yet in the USA, only 17 feet long with a pop-up shower which also doubled as counter space when in the down position. Both travel trailers had a pop up roof, no holding tanks, and apparently were light enough to be towed with a light SUV or even a car. We love to see innovation from a new comer to the marker who really thinks outside the box.

Our next stop was at the Winnebago booth to pay a visit to our old friend the Winnebago Travato, based on a 21-foot-long Promaster van. That was our favorite RV of 2016, but this time, after spending some time inside, and speaking to other owners, it has fallen a little out of grace in our humble opinion. We have realized we may need something slightly bigger, with more storage, in order to be comfortable.

We also paid a visit to the newer version of our Micro Minnie and then discovered what may be our new favorite motorhome: the Winnebago Trend 23L. At only 24 feet in length the Winnebago Trend may be one of the more complete Class C in the market. Even though it is marketed as a class C it features the more streamlined design and swiveling captain chairs of their B+ cousins.

I could write a short book about all the Class C, travel trailers, fifth wheels, truck campers and big rigs that we saw, but instead I’ll follow up with links to the rest of the videos I published during the week we spent at the Florida RV Supershow.

See you on the road!

Miami Beach walking tour through the Art Deco District

For many years now, I have been meaning to make a video about Miami Beach. The problem is that since Miami Beach is practically in my backyard, it is one of those places that I don’t think of visiting all that much anymore. Anyways, taking advantage of some great December weather and the fact I had a couple of days off, I decided to pay a visit to my old playground: South Beach.

We begin our South Beach walking tour at its southernmost point: South Pointe Park. From here we enjoy great views of Fisher Island, Downtown Miami and the Port of Miami to the west. To the north we can see commanding views of South Beach in all its glory, especially from its newly reopened fishing pier.

From here we walk north, first on the Beach Walk trail and then on Ocean Drive towards the most iconic area, the strip with all the historic Art Deco hotels, bars and restaurants. The main drag is about a mile long, from 5th to 15th street, and it is, as I say in the video a one mile long tourist trap, although it is nice to see. From here we go into a different area, a couple of blocks to the west, called Española Way. This is a narrow pedestrian street with a bunch of restaurants. To be honest I am a little disappointed that it is perhaps a little run down and under construction, and that our favorite restaurant of yesteryears is closed at the moment.

The main crossroad is Washington Avenue, and the main landmark at the corner of Española is the Cameo Theater. The Cameo is another iconic art deco structure, which was converted into a night club many years ago.

A couple of blocks north, between 16th and 17th streets we encounter the Lincoln Road Mall. This is one of the first pedestrian streets in the United States, dating back to the 1950s. Here we also have a plethora of restaurants, shops, boutiques, art galleries and even an historic church.

After walking around Lincoln Road for a couple of blocks we decide to get away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy area and continue about a quarter mile further north to visit the Holocaust Memorial.

From here we slowly return back south, to where our four-dollars-per-hour parallel parking spot is located, but before we go back to the mainland, we decide to hang out at South Pointe Park to see the cruise ships leave port.

What follows is a map of our trajectory north along the streets of south beach.

See you on the road!

The Gear I Use, December 2016 Edition

It has been in fact too long since I did a video showing my cameras and other gear that I use to produce my travel videos. Well, the wait is over my friends because here it is.

the-gear-i-use-2016-thumb

In this long overdue video I begin with my two newest acquisitions, my two main cameras which are the Sony FDR-AX33 and my new phone the LG V20.

The Sony FDR-AX33 shoots video at 4K ultra HD, and it has excellent sharpness. Other key features include superb stabilization, viewfinder, microphone input and manual controls, although I must say the manual controls are a little cumbersome to use. Among the negatives, the image can be a little overexposed and undersaturated at times and the autofocus is painfully slow, especially when zooming in.

The LG V20 is the latest flagship phablet from LG. I has one of the best cameras on the market, with amazingly easy to use manual controls. The camera shines especially in video mode.

My third camera is a GoPro Hero 3 White edition, which I’m sorry to say is starting to show its age. The video quality doesn’t hold a candle next to the Sony camcorder or even the LG V20. The only reason I still have it is because it still works, it is practically indestructible and I have been reluctant in spending $300-$400 on another flagship action cam. I am undecided between the GoPro Hero 5 or the new Sony 4K action cam.

Since my last video showing my gear, I have gone back the the Audio Technica ATR 3350 condenser lavelier microphone. The audio quality is great, as long as I remember to turn it on to record, and then off so I don’t deplete the battery.

I also still use my handy Zomm H1 portable digital recorder, although since I acquired the Sony camcorder with the microphone input, I don’t need it as much anymore.

Other gear I show in the video includes my tripods, selfie sticks, and my aging drone, the original DJI Phantom.