Florida Footloose

Florida Footloose

The embargo on Cuba is firmly in place. And Cuban culture seeped into the fabric of the southern states of America. And, this is not a bad thing actually. In fact, it is this very culture that adds a vivid colour to the cultural landscape of some of the cities of Florida, especially Tampa.

Because of the high quality of life and easy conveniences that make this city an attractive option to retire in. So, people often sardonically refer it to ‘God’s waiting room’. But the fact is that the Tampa of today is vibrant and stylish. The city’s showpiece is its Tampa Riverwalk that connects most sights. And north of the Riverwalk is the Tampa Museum of Art and the Glazer Children’s Museum.

If art moves your soul, then the former will leave you happy and mellow. Because it houses a collection that includes ancient and modern masterpieces. After dark, the museum becomes a work of art itself. At this time, its facade comes to life with thousands of shifting colours in Leo Villareal’s ‘Sky (Tampa)’.  Right in front of the museum is the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park that hosted many of the events from the 2014 International Indian Film academy (IIFA) awards ceremony. It was held in Tampa.

A six-minute walk east, away from the Hillsborough River will bring you to the Tampa Theater. It will grudgingly make you believe that the USA can claim to have some architectural  history. Built in 1926, the movie palace was Tampa Bay’s first air-conditioned building.

Today, the theater is operated as a non-profit company and has a repertoire focused on art-house films and classics. Every show starts with a performance of the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, installed in 1926 and maintained by volunteers. Inside, the theater still has most of its original furnishings and plaster-work decorations. They include grotesque faces that were quite the fashion then.

But it is in Ybor city in the heart of Tampa that shades of cuba start coming at you. Here the coffee, the music and the food all reflect life on that little island. By evening, Ybor City’s streets transform into south west Florida’s hottest bar and nightclub scene.

The aromatic fragrance of cigar smoke hangs heavy in the air and interspersed between restaurants, cafes, barber shops and art shops are cigar shops. Here, through shop windows, you will see cigar makers hare at work, sometimes with cigar clasped between their lips.

The Ybor city State Museum gives a great insight into the unique history of Tampa Bay’s YborCity neighbourhood. The former Ferlita Bakery has been reborn as a museum and state park. And if you have interest, here you can learn about the economic forces that turned Tampa Bay into the Cigar Capital of the World between the 1800s and 1940s.

Discover how immigrants from Cuba, Spain, Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe combined in Ybor City to create their own distinct culture and community. It is a legacy that continues today in hand-rolled cigars, hand-crafted beer and the classic Cuban sandwich.

Speaking of which there is also a Cuban Sandwich Festival held in Ybor City. Here you can  sample delicious varieties of this healthier import from Cuba. The festival is not just about sandwiches, it is a jamboree of live music and dance from Cuba and features over 100 booths with food vendors, art, cultural exhibitors and much more.

Many believe the Cuban Sandwich to be a work of culinary art. Though the main ingredient is ham and cheese, pickles, salami and mustard are also slapped in between freshly baked Cuban bread.

With this blend of bread, meats and other ingredients, the Cuban sandwich has inspired thousands of different versions. But those who are in the know (or reisde in Tampa) will be quick to tell you that the only true Cuban sandwich comes from Tampa Bay.

The sandwich was invented in the 1880s at Ybor City’s Ei Pasaj hotel to provide a quick, filling lunch for thousands of Cuban and Spanish cigar makers working in Tampa Bay. The ingredients reflect Ybor City’s cultural mix at the time: Cuban bread, ham (Spnish), pork (Cuban), salami (Italian), pickles (Jewish), mustard and cheese (German).

Every year, chefs from across the country gather in Ybor City for the Cuban Sandwich Festival to see who makes the best Cuban sandwich. The taste greatly varies on how the ham has been prepared and the kind of cheese used.

Even if the festival is not on, the Columbia restaurant that turned 100 years old in 2015 is the place to head for a very special meal in hallowed and atmospheric surroundings. It occupies an entire block and consists of 13 sophisticatedly decorated dining rooms and quixotic, fountain-centred courtyards.

Gloved waiters- many have been there for a lifetime-glide about delivering platters of food. The Cuban sandwich here is delicious no doubt. But one of the iconic items on the menu is the copyrighted 1005 salad. It is tossed right at your table.

Another great place where you can experience the soul of Cuba while eating some great food is the Carne Chophouse. Ybor City’s unique history envelops this restaurant in the landmark centro Espanol. One of five ethnic social clubs that were the hubs for life among Ybor City’s immigrant-rich community. The Centro Espanol served Ybor’s Cuban and Spanish communities through the 1950s, provding cradle-to –grave support. Other clubs that remain in operation are the Cuban Club, the Italian Club and the Spansih Centro Asturiano.

Florida Footloose not only this, but also the following………….


Florida Footloose not only this, but also the following………….


Florida Footloose not only this, but also the following………….

Delightful Destinations

Florida Footloose

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