Guide

A Brief Guide to Tampa, Florida. by Allan Hinton

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Tampa is an "outdoor city", it's got a great young cultural buzz and it has a super interesting and multicultural history that's worth learning more about. It's very dynamic. If you like sunshine, speciality coffee, good food and cigars (!), all set within a youthful liberal buzz Tampa could be the place for you. Read on to find out more and I hope I can help you to plan part of your own Tampa experience.

The very popular and colourful Frida Kahlo Flower Wall at the Dali Museum.

The very popular and colourful Frida Kahlo Flower Wall at the Dali Museum.

THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN TAMPA

Gasparilla Festival:- Once a year Tampa host the United States third biggest street parade; Gasparilla. This is a celebration of the legend of Jose Gaspar a mythical Spanish pirate who supposedly operated in Southwest Florida in the early 1800's. To say it was a wild affair would probably be an understatement. Dressed in themed attire and armed with a few cocktails I felt lucky to experience such a unique yet huge event.

Docked pirate ship signals an end to this years Gasparilla festival.

Docked pirate ship signals an end to this years Gasparilla festival.

Museums:- Before I headed to Tampa I did not know so much about the art scene here so it was a pleasure to come across the fantastic Tampa Museum of ArtThis building is beautifully lit in the evening and sits next to creatively multi-coloured palm trees.... so it's well worth checking out this area by night.

We also took the short ferry (with dolphins jumping elegantly beside us) over to the stunning Dali Museum, already getting a decent reputation for its great curation (that's an unintentional tongue twister!), and then popped next door to see the Chihuly Collection. It's worth going to the former for the architecture alone!

Amazing architecture at the Dali Museum near Tampa.

Amazing architecture at the Dali Museum near Tampa.

Historical Ybor City and Guided Tour:- Start the day by taking the yellow tram to Ybor City if you want to start the visit to Ybor in a vintage, leisurely and classy style. 

Ybor City is fascinating. Founded in the 1880s by Vicente Martinez-Ybor and other cigar manufacturers and was populated by thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain, and Italy. For the next 50 years, workers in Ybor City's cigar factories rolled hundreds of millions of cigars annually. Make sure to pop your head into one of the cigar making stores, it smells amazing and is rather mesmerising to watch.

Whilst here we went to the Ybor City Museum and met up with the super adorable and knowledgeable local historian, Wally Reyes. Even if you thought tours were not your thing please do get in touch with the museum just to see if Wally is available. I am certainly gutted I didn't get a video or portrait of him so you'd get an idea of how charming he is!

Cigar makers in Ybor City.

Cigar makers in Ybor City.

Kayaking within nature:- I drove to the outskirts of Tampa to immerse myself into some backwaters by canoe. I was accompanied by a very lovely and knowledgeable guide at Canoe Escape. Abundant wildlife, including crocodiles and sunbathing turtles, led me to attempt some nature shots, such as the below, whilst ambling along and enjoying moving at a little slower pace and enjoying the fresh air.

We spotted some incredible wildlife whilst out on the kayak. Such as this bird above.

We spotted some incredible wildlife whilst out on the kayak. Such as this bird above.

Skydiving and an exciting new Golf concept:- Just a short drive along the highway one evening I took a super thrilling indoor skydiving class at iFly and had a great laugh playing the novel new kind of driving range style golf at Top Golf - both on the same site. Top Golf is a new craze taking over America where you hit electronically tagged balls into lit targets on a driving range field. Super unique. The food and beer here was on par with a decent American diner.

Beaches, Sunset and Picnic Spots:- This is Florida. This is the Sunshine State. The super Sunshine State! So I guess like me you're going to want to know a little about the beaches and spots to get beautiful sunset photos. The great thing with Tampa is that you get the benefits of city life but within 15 or so minutes you can take yourself to stunning spots to relax and watch the sunset. 

First up I recommend Ben Davies Beach, just by Whiskey Joes (a great place to watch the sunset and have a cocktail). This is the location of the well "Instagrammed" three clustered palm tree spot too, so you can walk away with a photo that is bound to get a good response from your friends back home!

A cute little shell found along the sea shore at Ben Davies sunset spot.

A cute little shell found along the sea shore at Ben Davies sunset spot.

The most secluded spot, and well worth the small drive south, is called Picnic Point Park. There is also Cypress Point Park if you wanted somewhere more on the north side, and closer to the highways, part of Tampa.

Glorious and golden sunset light at Picnic Point Park, South Tampa.

Glorious and golden sunset light at Picnic Point Park, South Tampa.

If you are a sunrise fanatic like me, you need to head to Ballast Point Park. Here you can get a view of the whole of Downtown Tampa. If the season is right (around summertime) the sun will rise directly behind the impressive sky rises across the water.

Florida Aquarium. The last tip for things do to would be to check out the Florida Aquarium when you're looking to escape the sunshine. There is an interesting array of local fish and birds and there are affordable options to swim in the huge shark tanks - if you wanted to be extra daring!

Cute and cosy sleeping Lemurs at the Florida Aquarium. Its not just about the fish!

Cute and cosy sleeping Lemurs at the Florida Aquarium. Its not just about the fish!

 

EATING IN TAMPA.

The Oxford Exchange is a restaurant, bookstore, lifestyle gift store, co-working space, design studio and event venue in Tampa, Florida. Its simply stunning. I couldn't get enough of this place. I ate here for brunch and went back twice for coffee and twice to visit the Warby Parker store to choose some glasses and each time I swung by Aesop, just to take in some smells. I said to my American host how Aesop had taken over London and Berlin and that setting up shop in the Oxford Exchange speaks volumes for the type of cool (read: uber hipster!) this place must be.

The classy establishment of The Oxford Exchange. I could have taken 100 photos from inside here!

The classy establishment of The Oxford Exchange. I could have taken 100 photos from inside here!

Ulele was the early food highlight for me. The food was exquisite and the interior space and busy and upbeat atmosphere made it my top tip for the downtown Tampa area. The restaurant and brewery serves native-inspired food and spirits from a rich variety of multicultural influences, so you are bound to find something unique here.

For starters you simply have to try the Alligator Hush Puppies. You. Will. Not. Regret. This! I am not joking but I popped in to get these for take-away on a second day. The sauces are mouth watering!

Columbia Restaurant is something different but a long standing classic (it's been owned and operated by 5 generations over 110 years!) and you sit within what feels like a grand Cuban hotel from the 1960's. The queue, even mid-week was long, and that simply showed how popular and worth a visit it was.

If I could give you one tip it would be to try the Columbia Original "1905" Salad to go along with your choice of mains.

Elevage. Just take a look at this menu! We had Lobster Gnocchi and BBQ Oysters to start. These both totally blew my mind. The flavours were out of this world. This place is worth the treat.

For mains we had Blackened Grouper with Crispy Brussel Sprouts and Grits for sides. The dinner for two options come highly recommend. 

Bern's Steak House. Opposite the Epicurean and Elevate is one of the most famous steak houses in the USA, Bern's Steak House.  It may be pricey and busy but it will be a once in a lifetime type steak experience. If you come to Tampa do consider to check this place out and book ahead if you want to go!

Mini Doughnut Factory. I have focused a lot on dinners here but one morning we ate something of a new trend - "mini-doughnuts" from Mini Doughnut Factory. These may be small but they were voted Tampa's tastiest doughnuts and the benefit of mini doughnuts is that you will get to try at least... four flavours! ;)

Alternatively you could try out Dough for normal sized doughnuts. I didnt go here but this place is highly rated on Foursquare and Facebook.

DRINKING IN TAMPA

Beer, Beer, Beer!

Taste multiple beers with Brew Bus "the ultimate craft beer experience".  For me Sunday was the best time to make the most of this opportunity as locals and tourists alike will keep the atmosphere lively but take a look at the different tour options here to see whats right for you.

 

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee! 

I'm a bit of a coffee addict, maybe you could call me a snob! Tampa has a thriving coffee scene and during my time there I've been to and can recommend Buddy Brew (there are three! but the Hyde Park branch was favourite and if the seats outside are free in the morning I'd go for them as they're facing the morning sun), Foundation, Caffeine and The Lab. I didn't get the chance to try this one, due to the name, which would probably suit me most; Ginger Beard Coffee. I'm listing all these as I did a fair bit of research and digging to discover them - hopefully saving you some time but giving you faith that you can go to Tampa and have a high standard third-wave coffee! All, mostly, served by friendly and chatty baristas. This hospitality in the service industry is a reason why I love travelling to the States.

 

ACCOMODATION.

Downtown there is the contemporary Aloft and the impressive looking Le Meridien set in a stunning old federal courthouse.

Epicurean was the standout place and coolest and most hip spot for me. An upscale boutique hotel especially good for the foodies out there. There is a culinary theater, restaurant, wine shop, patisserie, spa and lovely rooftop bar all within the locations.

 

I was a guest of VISIT FLORIDA and Tampa Bay, with car hire provided by Hertz.co.uk. See loveflorida.co.uk for more on Florida. 

 

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A Weekend guide to Naples, Italy. by Allan Hinton

Are you flying Naples to head to the Amalfi coast this summer? Have you considered making a stop off in Naples en route? Well last week I spent a few days exploring Naples on a photography type press trip and I hope my insights here can give you some inspiration and encouragement to make a stop off in this wonderful and charismatic Italian city.

Locals hang their washing out to dry in pretty courtyards.

Locals hang their washing out to dry in pretty courtyards.

 

THINGS DO and see IN NAPLES. Museums, Churches and A Banksy. 

A highlight for me, as ever on these kinds of trips, is simply wandering around the old towns, finding small decaying streets to get lost in, soaking up the atmosphere and eating and drinking as much as I can. For this the Historic part of Naples is perfect for that kind of activity and will give you plenty of inspiration to whip out the camera and take a lot of pictures. Here are things you can do and visit whilst out and about touring the streets.

Modern shops in Naples have left the original vintage designs as external facades.

Modern shops in Naples have left the original vintage designs as external facades.

Churches:- Naples is a city filled with churches, 500 of them in fact, and if you go to just one then you simply have to make a stop off at the main "Duomo". Its a lavish cathedral with gorgeous neo-Gothic facade & art-filled chapels, plus 4th-century mosaics & relics.

Looking up inside the impressive Naples Duomo (or Cathedral to us non-native Italian speakers)

Looking up inside the impressive Naples Duomo (or Cathedral to us non-native Italian speakers)

A photo posted by eelco roos (@croyable) on

We also visited the beautiful, serene and walled courtyard of Santa Chiara, one of Naples most beloved churches. I found it a great place to find your zen and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Inside Santa Chiara you will also find fascinating tombs, ancient bath and an archeological museum. 

Gallery Borbonica. For a super unique and somewhat eery experience that you probably won't find anywhere else I highly recommend going deep underneath Naples by visiting the underground caverns and "bourbon tunnels" at gallery Borbonica. You'll be blown away by the sheer size of this place and they've a number of fantastic tours if you want to be guided through each cavern. Also when the tunnels were re-discovered several vehicles and motorcycles of the 40s, 50s and 60s as well as statues and remnants of World War II were left to rust and the gallery allows you to get up close so you can inspect for yourself. It also only cost 10 euros to get in (a total bargain!) and is currently sitting at number 2 on Trip Advisor for "Things to do in Naples" so you really don't want to miss out.

Its worth noting that for the 'Standard tour" there isn't even a need to book in advance and you can start the visit every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 10.00 12.00 15.30 17.30 starting from either of the entrances.

Parco Sommerso di Gaiola Area Marina. An hour long hike which includes trekking through a fascinating tunnel, which was used to shelter people during World War ll, takes you to a peaceful coastal park. If the weather is right I hear its a great place to relax, kayak and with snorkelling that allows you to see ancient ruins.

We were unlucky with the weather but it was still an awesome place with great coastal views!

We were unlucky with the weather but it was still an awesome place with great coastal views!

City Bus Sightseeing. Without trying to state the obvious but this is an open top bus that tours Naples, provides historical information on each site and allows you to hop on and hop off at your own pace, and all for about £18 for 24hr. We did this and it took us to some great photogenic vies of the city and surrounding volcanoes. Its starting point for us was near the Gaiola Area Marina and Gallery Barbonica so it was another way of getting us transported back into the historic centre.

Graffiti and street art fans would love getting lost whilst wandering around central Naples thin alleyways. This place has some seriously interesting street art. The highlight for me was the Banksy. A piece of his called the Holy Virgin is, I believe, his only work in Italy. 

Banksy street art in Naples historical disctrict

Banksy street art in Naples historical disctrict

If you want to cheat feel free to check my map which shows the exact-ish location of the Naples Banksy.

 

 

Eating and drinking in the Centre of Naples

If you live like me and think PIZZA IS EVERYTHING then let this be the main reason you make a stop in Naples. I can say without a doubt I ate the best pizza in my life over at Sorbillo. The foodies from London that have witnessed the rise of Franco Manca will have already been lucky enough to of had a taster of what Napoleon soft sourdough pizza has to offer and how it can bring pure happiness. This place is like there but with 10 times more flavour.

It also only costs around £3 for a margarita and £5 for something slightly more fancy. Unbelievable really when you think about it. Such value for money.

pizza-naples-from-sorbillo.jpg

For dessert, after dinner, we went over the road to a super local cafe called Mazz (Via dei Tribunali 359) and had coffee and cake.  I had the Sfogliatella a shell-shaped filled Italian pastry native to Naples and Campania. Sfogliatella means "small, thin leaf/layer", as the pastry's texture resembles stacked leaves. Be warned. Crumbs will go everywhere! If you want a softer, easier to eat, dessert go for the rum baba. The alcohol in this one really making it a perfect post dinner treat! (or have both like I did, ha)

  Sfogliatella from cafe Mazz

 Sfogliatella from cafe Mazz

And what about in the evening? Its Saturday night and you want a bit of fun? Well after a bit of aimless wandering and asking the locals we found out that Piazza Bellini was the place to be. Its super lively and even though there was a drizzle coming from overhanging clouds many people were still out on the streets enjoying a drink or two. We opted for a rather random but nice and busy bar in the square and had reasonably priced cocktail (£4-£6ish).... I of course, like always when Italy, had a the classic Aperol Spirtz!

The coolest and most quirky bar in town appeared to be a bookstore, Libreria Berisio, that turned into a bar at night with an intimate stage where a very decent live band was playing. Its not the biggest place but that just makes it feel a whole lot more cozy. If you don't believe me it's been voted the 2nd best place for nightlight on Trip Advisor.

 

Accommodation options in Naples

If you only have a weekend in Naples then its 100% best to stay in the centre and within walking distance to the Historic Centre and a short ride to the port.

We stayed in the rather glamorous 4 star Marriott owned Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterranean. Prices for a double or twin start at around £97. And the key highlights for me were the breakfast views over the city and port, the option for a rooftop hot tub and Its very close to the Toledo metro station stop (worth in itself exploring due to the unique modern design!). Its only 2.5km from the train station too and 5.9km from the airport. See more helpful reviews on Trip Advisor.

Just one of the beautiful views from the Renaissance hotel Naples. The other view looked over a local volcano!

Just one of the beautiful views from the Renaissance hotel Naples. The other view looked over a local volcano!

Looking for cheaper accommodation in Naples? Well on Airbnb there are some great options for hiring a room for around £24 to £35 and you can get your own place or penthouse with wonderful sea views for around £65 per night.

 

Transportation into and around central Naples

All the connection from airport to the city centre by bus are managed by the society Alibus. The bus does three stops connecting Airport - Train Station - Port . Routes every 20 minutes and the ticket is just 3 euros. Its all pretty simple stuff.

By Taxi It only costs around £12 to get into the Historic Centre or the main train station from the airport. Here you find all the taxi costs and more helpful info: http://www.aeroportodinapoli.it/taxi/#english

Within Naples itself there is also an easy to use underground network. Click here for a helpful Naples metro map. It appears that the metro runs from 6am to anything from 10.30pm to 12.30am depending on the line. The PDF provided has more details.

The grandpa's of Naples are very fashionable and all dress so smart! 

The grandpa's of Naples are very fashionable and all dress so smart! 

AND THATs it FOLks, do let me know what you think in the comment section below!

This is my first blog post on the new blog so any feedback will be so greatly appreciated.