The Batmobile used in the 1989 movie starring Michael Keaton, on display at the Dezer Collection Car Museum in North Miami.
St. Augustine – If you've learned about centuries-old battle tactics by watching Hollywood interpretations of Robin Hood and William Wallace, don't bother bringing that knowledge to St. Augustine's School of the 16th Century.
The seminar, offered a couple of times a year, instructs participants in how soldiers of the era dressed, fought, ate and navigated their way around the New World. And authenticity is the star of this show.
"One of the first things we tell people is, 'OK, forget every movie you ever saw,'" says Chad Light of the Fountain of Youth, a professional re-enactor who portrays such critical Spanish explorers as Ponce de Leon and Pedro Menendez de Aviles. "Whatever you do, don't raise your hand and say, 'But in Braveheart, they did this.'"
From pike drills and horsemanship to how to navigate using only the stars, the seminar exposes participants to 16th century soldier life in one- or three-day training exercises. The next School of the 16th Century will take place over three days in January.
Information about upcoming offerings of the school is available at fountainofyouthflorida.com. Typically, one-day seminars are offered in July and cost $30; three-day seminars are offered in January and cost $150.
Some participants who complete the course are simply St. Augustine visitors looking for a hands-on learning experience. Others go on to use their re-enactment skills at venues around St. Augustine, from Castillo de San Marcos to the St. Augustine Lighthouse.
In fact, part of the schooling focuses on how to develop a historical personae.
"I think the evidence is self-evident, when you look at role-playing games and all the things people do," Light says. "Historical re-enactment is a more academic way of doing that same thing. Rather than pretending you're some pointless character in a computer environment, you have a chance to make it real yourself. It's a fascinating and interesting way to learn, both for the people who are portraying and for the people who watch them."
The School of the 16th Century is offered at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine. Like so many sites in St. Augustine, the lush, 15-acre waterfront park is rich in history all its own: It was the site of a Timucuan Indian village before the Spanish arrived in 1513; later, when Menendez came ashore in 1565, he founded St. Augustine on the property.
Centuries later, the property became known as the Fountain of Youth when its enterprising owner, Dr. Louella Day McConnell, took advantage of St. Augustine's arrival as a tourist destination and began charging visitors admission to drink from the natural springs found on the site. But in the 20th century, archaeological digs uncovered evidence that the Fountain of Youth site had historical significance as more than just a tourist destination.
Light is the instructor at the park's School of the 16th Century, and his life experiences make him the ideal person to train others. Growing up, his father was a professor of history and ancient languages, and they commonly had antique arms and firearms hanging on the walls of their home.
When friends were learning Asian martial arts, Light was learning European martial arts from the medieval period. "My dad brought me into this as a child," Light says, "so by the time I was an adult I had an extensive knowledge, and that's been extended by formal training."
At the School of the 16th Century, students benefit from training by learning such skills as how to handle swords, tomahawks, muskets, cannons and matchlock weaponry. Students also participate in pike drills, involving legions of soldiers fighting with 14- to 16-foot piles with spear tips.
Typically, the class includes about 50 participants, but Light says he could accommodate as many as 150. "No commander in history," he says, "has ever said he had too many men."
One of the hundreds of reasons I love living in Florida is that I can hit the road any time of the year. When I have a desire to ride a remote two-lane that blazes through a tunnel of trees, I go. If I want to scale the rolling hills in Ocala horse country, they’re waiting. Then there’s A1A, the road that favors Florida’s Atlantic Coast. This would be a short 65-mile journey between St. Augustine and Amelia Island and so, for convenience, I started at Point A.
You’d think at more than 400 years old, St. Augustine would show signs of slowing down, but America’s oldest city looks like it’s just getting started.
For the best overview of the city, the sightseeing trains (Ripley’s or Old Town Trolley) will pique your interest with the history and layout of St. Augustine as you note places to return. The historic district, where most visitors spend their time, is accented by dozens of beauty marks that create one of the loveliest cities in America. Stroll the promenade along the broad waters of Matanzas Bay, hear the steady hoofbeats of horse and carriage, explore sturdy Castillo de San Marcos, and peruse the shops of St. George Street, the extremely popular pedestrian mall that is lined with gift shops, art boutiques and restaurants. That evening, walk to the marina where gleaming yachts from around the world sparkle under starlight.
Between St. Augustine and Amelia Island, A1A sticks to the Atlantic Ocean for a fair share of the way. On the north end of America’s Oldest City, leap over the Vilano Causeway to reach the waterfront community of Vilano Beach then simply follow A1A north along the shoreline, either resisting or giving in to the temptation to stop along the way and enjoy the solitude of this quiet shoreline.
Mile after mile, you can ride or drive and enjoy the sight that draws people from around the world to Florida, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the sands of the Sunshine State. Approximately seven miles north of Vilano Beach, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve is a 73,000-acre sanctuary for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and birdwatching among the hammock, scrub and flatwoods, with convenient parking areas on the west side of A1A providing access to the ocean across the street. For many miles opposite the reserve, you’ll find beach houses, some ostentatiously grand and hidden behind walls of foliage, others small and rustic and open.
Too soon, A1A leads away from the ocean, becoming a wide commercial avenue through planned communities and business districts. If you have time and curiosity, at the intersection of A1A and Mickler Road turn right to reach Ponte Vedra Boulevard, followed by Duval Drive and Ocean Drive, which do their best to keep you close to the shore although rows of homes and hedges may limit your view. If you choose to follow these roads less traveled, you'll be able to stick close to the ocean past Jacksonville and Neptune and Atlantic beaches (see the Jacksonville Beach Pier) while staying within easy reach of A1A.
Either way you go, there’s a payoff ahead. When you arrive in Mayport, a sign tells you the village was established in May of ’62.
In addition to longevity, Mayport’s known for a most interesting feature: the St. Johns River Ferry that carries pedestrians ($1), motorcycles ($3), and cars and trucks ($5) on a five-minute journey across the waters. On the opposite bank, turn right and Amelia Island is only 10 miles away and the island’s only city, Fernandina Beach, 17 miles distant. With wide swaths of open marshland spreading east and west, the surrounding scenery places you in the middle of a Florida Highwaymen painting, offering a sense of the state’s magnificence and a gathering place for migratory fowl that follow the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Through Little Talbot Island State Park, one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier islands in northeast Florida, and Big Talbot Island State Park, A1A consistently delivers incredible views.
Soon, manicured landscaping lets you know that elaborate resorts are somewhere along the waterfront, but as you cross the bridge onto Amelia Island the destination’s true character is seen in produce stands and canopy roads that open to a row of homes fronting the broad ocean. It is all part of a most extraordinary place.
You could search from Key West to Anchorage, but you’ll never find a place like Amelia Island, which, in its history, has been ruled under eight flags. In its 450 years, Amelia Island was controlled by the French (1562-1565), the Spanish (1565-1763), the English (1763-1783), the Spanish again (1783-1821) with interruptions by the "Patriots" (1812), Green Cross of Florida (1817), Mexican Rebels (1817), United States (1821) and the Confederacy (1861).
Things have calmed down since, and if you’re not relaxing on the waterfront, you’ll likely be exploring Centre Street, which is the island’s most active commercial district with antique shops, art galleries, bookstores and gift shops. Downtown, the old train depot is now the community visitor center and the historic Palace Saloon, which opened its doors in 1903, is still welcoming visitors despite a fierce fire in 1999.
Take time to explore. A few miles east of the shopping village, turn left on 14th Street and you’ll find Bosque Bella, a cemetery established by Spanish settlers in 1798. A short distance beyond, Old Town was platted in 1811 as the island’s original town. Now more than 200 years old, a small number of homes are still here, perched on a small rise above the Amelia River.
It may only be a short distance between St. Augustine and Fernandina Beach, but when you add in 450 years of history, 65 miles of scenic Florida and the charm of A1A and other oceanfront roads, this is a journey of historic proportions.
Michael Dezer's 1949 Plymouth didn't stay gray for long.
His father owned a rental car agency near his home in Israel, so he got to see all types of cars from the '40s and '50s. But this one was different. He bought this one. This one was his.
Eager to transform his new car into a real hot rod, Dezer painted over it – dark blue on the top and light blue on the bottom. And when he was through, it was like no other car in Tel Aviv.
When Dezer, then 18, purchased the Plymouth from a local doctor in 1959, his love affair with the automobile was just beginning. More than 50 years later, the Israeli-American real estate developer now houses a collection in North Miami of about 1,200 vehicles – from cars straight out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to classic Schwinn bicycles.
In fact, the Dezer Collection is the largest private exhibition of vintage automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, scooters and fantasy vehicles in the world – with planes, helicopters, submarines and a Russian T-55 tank thrown in for good measure. The museum, which opened in February, encompasses more than 225,000 square feet and has an estimated value upward of $80 million.
Dezer is a self-professed addict of postwar American pop culture. Accordingly, his facility has party and event rooms with '50s paraphernalia and a '50s diner where Elvis still lives and where you can eat in "cars" as if you were in a drive-in. Here, you'll find gasoline and automobile signs from companies that haven't existed in 50 years.
"As I got older, I really fell in love with that time period and with the great American cars from that period," Dezer says. "To me, it spoke of America and the freedom to hit the open road. And when I was able to, I started collecting cars from that period."
But the Dezer Collection is hardly restricted to the '40s and '50s.
The museum is home to the largest collection of Bond items anywhere, much of which were brought here by Doug Redenius, the Dezer Collection's managing director/curator. Redenius is former vice president of the Ian Fleming Foundation (named for the creator of the fictional spy), and the museum includes 15,000 items from his Bond collection.
Here, you can find the iridescent green Jaguar that villain Zao drives in 2002's Die Another Day – complete with mounted machine gun and missile launchers. There's the T-55 Russian tank that Pierce Brosnan drives in GoldenEye, the helicopter flown in From Russia With Love and the jet owned by one of the original Bond bad guy, Goldfinger.
And that's just the tip of the Bondberg.
You'll also find the small, three-wheeled taxi, called a "Tuk Tuk," that henchman Gobinda used to chase Bond in Octopussy. Plus, there are two Aston Martins from The Living Daylights, the space shuttle from Moonraker, Q's boat from The World Is Not Enough – and the two-passenger plane from Licence to Kill that, according to Redenius, sat outside on U.S. 1 for 20 years as a prop for an advertisement for a long-forgotten sky diving business.
The Bond section, however, is just one of nine exhibitions. There's a Hollywood section, with items such as Diana Rigg's Lotus from The Avengers and Mel Gibson's black Ford Falcon from Mad Max. If you're a fan of Burn Notice, you'll love the pink Jeep. And if you saw Starsky and Hutch, you'll recognize the Gran Torino. The car from the Green Hornet movie is here as well, along with 14 Batmobiles from the TV show and the movies. And so is Tom Selleck's red Ferrari from Magnum, P.I.
Something from the lighter side? How about Grandpa Munster's car? Or the "Mase-rocky" from The Flintstones movie?
The Dezer Collection includes a 37-foot-long pink Mercedes convertible with a heart-shaped hot tub, as seen on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It also features the world's smallest drivable car, a Bamby Peel (4 feet 5 inches long, 3 feet 3 inches wide and 3 feet 10 inches high), of which fewer than a hundred were made in Great Britain in 1963.
"You'd be amazed where we find some of these cars," Dezer says. "You can find them at auctions and car shows, where someone is really anxious to sell. We found our first Duesenberg that way 25 years ago. The car was worth $500,000, but we paid $81,000. We bought one of our Batmobiles from an elderly woman who needed the money. We've even found some cars on eBay. And sometimes, people just find us."
Dezer loves all his cars. But there's a gleam in his eye when he speaks of his favorites: the classics from the '40s and '50s, the ones he fell in love with as a teenager.
"My hope is that the collection gives other people the same pleasure it gives me," Dezer says. "Even after so many years, I still get a great kick out of it. And I still enjoy occasionally taking one of them out on the road!"
The Dezer Collection, located at 2000 NE 146th St. in North Miami, is open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The collection is divided over two buildings, and regular admission to a single building is $25 for adults, $10 for children and $15 for seniors. Regular admission to both buildings is $40 for adults, $15 for children and $25 for seniors. Tickets and special offers are available at dezercollection.com. For more information, call 305-354-7680.
Steve Winston has written/contributed to 17 books. His articles have appeared in major media all over the world.
A few weeks ago I asked my Facebook ‘Off the Beaten Path friends to suggest some cool, casual waterfront hangouts around the state. This blog will begin what I hope will be an ongoing series where readers suggest old, authentic, and/or out of the way diners and restaurants and watering holes where you can do exactly what you should be doing: chilling out.
From my first request for suggestions, in Panama City Beach Catherine Lingar suggested the Barefoot Beach Club which, she says, “has great food and awesome drinks” while Michelle Perez recommends Matty’s Irish Pub where you can take in a beach view.
On Anna Maria Island, Chris Thibaut recommends a visit to the Rod and Reel Pier while the folks from the Levy County Visitors Bureau would like to direct you to Cedar Key and the Black Dog Bar & Tables, “a cozy pub featuring craft, micro, and imported brews, wines, and fine cigars.” It even has its own facebook page: www.facebook.com/CedarKeyBar
Deborah Sperlunto Zadroga really knows her stuff. She points travelers to four waterfront destinations around the Tampa Bay area including the Tarpon Pointe Grille and Tiki Bar in Bradenton, O’Leary’s Tiki Bar in Sarasota, the Island Time Bar and Grille in Bradenton Beach, and Sharkey's on the Pier in Venice. I’ve been to Sharkey’s and I like it!
Deborah has a friend in Luellen Fuller Warren who has even more recommendations including Rick’s Crab Trap in Miramar Beach; the Whale's Tail and Pompano Joe's in Pompano; in Destin the trifecta of AJ's, the Boathouse Oyster Bar, and Harry T's. Head to Fort Walton Beach and Deborah will direct you to the Black Pearl, Angler's, and Helen Back. Down the road in Navarre Beach is Juana's Pagoda and further west is Landshark Landing in Pensacola Beach.
If you travel to the Indian River near Sebastian, Cynthia J. Kelly Schuster would like you to visit Suzy's Tiki Hut, Capt Hiram's, Earl's Hideaway, the Boat House… and many more.
Not every place is on the coast. In DeBary, Tiffanie Springer Beecham mentions The Swamp House at the High Banks Marina on the St. Johns River. The Ocala National Forest is also miles from the coast, but Ellen S. Karp-Bendana’s favorite is Cactus Jacks in Salt Springs.
If you have more suggestions, join my facebook page and post them there and when there’s enough I’ll add Part Two to this impressive list of Florida’s waterfront watering holes.
Bakers across Tampa Bay work in the pre-dawn light while we sleep, ensuring we wake up to warm bread, fresh muffins and crispy cookies.
In an area as diverse as the cities surrounding Tampa Bay, visitors can try confections from many countries, including Italy, Cuba and Greece. Some bakeries produce hearty breads that will get you through the day. Others make tasty bites for a great mid-afternoon treat. We stopped by some of the city's best.
Tampa icon Alessi Bakery celebrates its 100-year anniversary in September. Its bakers produce delicious Italian pastries every day, ranging from Italian wedding cookies covered in powdered sugar to tiny, sweet cannolis that disappear with a few bites.
Nicolo Alessi opened the Alessi Bakery in 1912. He came to Tampa from Italy and delivered Cuban and Italian bread by horse and wagon. The bakery became known for its elaborately decorated cakes. Today, customers visiting Alessi, at 2209 W Cypress St., can watch decorators put the final touches on wedding cakes.
The Italian bakery is also known for its black-and-white cookies (more cake-like than cookie) and its scachatta – a room-temperature pizza cut into small squares.
Scachatta means "smashed bread" in Italian. In Sicily, this dish was traditionally made from leftover dough and ingredients from the day's pizza. It's made daily and doesn't stay on the shelves long, said Alessi general manager Wes Wilson.
In St. Petersburg, Mazzaro's Italian Market deserves a visit. At its quirky shop at 2902 22nd Ave. N., Mazzaro's set aside a room dedicated to about 300 cheeses, many of them hard to find elsewhere. In a back corner, homemade marinara boils on the stove next to fresh ravioli.
But nothing draws the eye like a case filled with desserts. Mazzaro's offers more than 30 varieties of Italian cookies – including homemade biscotti. And Mazzaro's bakers make two different types of éclairs: the traditional version with dense cream filling and the "Mazzaro's éclair," a sandwich filled with a lighter, whipped cream.
You can get Cuban bread from most Tampa Bay grocers, but nothing compares to the crunchy crust and warm, soft center of a loaf that comes straight from the source.
La Segunda Central Bakery claims the honor of being the city's oldest Cuban bread company. Juan More officially opened La Segunda in 1915, though many believe it pre-dates that year. More, a Spaniard by way of Cuba, sold this hearty bread daily to some of Ybor City's earliest cigar factory workers. Today, La Segunda, located at 2512 N 15th St., produces about 12,000 loaves daily and sells them from Minnesota to Texas.
Each day, bakers work methodically, kneading the dough and pulling it into long shapes. Each one gets a thin strip of palmetto frond placed on top, which helps split the bread down the top.
Demand keeps increasing. So a couple years ago, current owners Copeland More and his father Tony More purchased a machine that would automate part of the process. Turns out, humans worked more consistently than the machine. The machine failed to take into account factors like weather and flour changes. So La Segunda went back to the old, handmade way.
And though they're known for their bread, La Segunda's flaky guava pastries filled with a not-too-sweet, tangy guava paste are as delicious as they are messy.
If you'd rather sit down and have your Cuban bread served to you, it's hard to beat La Tropicana Café at 1822 E Seventh Ave. Situated in the heart of Ybor City, it serves the buttery, toasted version with a heavy-on-the-milk café con leche. Go early enough and you can sit with the loyal locals who've been coming for years.
Visit Tarpon Springs' main tourist drag any weekend and you'll see hungry visitors pining over the goodies behind the long pastry case at Hellas Bakery. The pastry case provides a beautiful sight that makes picking just one item nearly impossible.
Located at 785 Dodecanese Blvd., Hellas has been a staple since 1970. Stop by the restaurant for a Greek salad. Then head to the giant trays of gooey baklava under the lighted case – that is, if you can pass by the tall personal chocolate cakes or mini tarts with colorful fruit.
Wright's Gourmet House opened in 1963, launched by a widow and widower looking for a new venture. It evolved over the years into a popular lunchtime spot and busy catering company. Its cakes, though simple and unchanging, rank among the best in the Tampa Bay area.
Each year, Wright's – located at 1200 S Dale Mabry Highway – produces between 25,000 and 30,000 cakes in eight flavors. The most popular? Chocolate cake with chocolate icing. During the winter holiday season, Wright's cake-makers work almost around-the-clock, says business manager Rob Hosmanek. In November and December alone, Wright's goes through about six tons of sugar.
They came. They brought. They conquered. They changed.
And 500 years later, visitors to the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee can get a close look at the Spanish impact on the people and landscape of the place they named La Florida.
With artifacts, paintings, pottery, maps, life-like figures and reproductions, the exhibit "Forever Changed: La Florida 1513-1821" bookends the landing of Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon and Spain's ceding of the territory to the United States. The exhibit is part of the celebration of Viva Florida, the 500th anniversary of European exploration of the region.
"Florida was a Spanish colony longer than it was part of the United States," said senior curator Lisa Barton, who spent two and a half years preparing the exhibit, which has attracted between 200 and 300 visitors a week since it opened in March.
The exhibit is designed to be entertaining and informative for both adults and youngsters. "We've had many school groups come in and interact with the exhibit," Barton said. "It's always nice to see students learning and enjoying themselves at the same time."
The first section, "Land of Many Cultures," highlights the lives of the roughly dozen native peoples living on the peninsula when the first Europeans arrived in 1513. Maps, paintings and artifacts recall the names, home regions and customs of the canal-building Tequesta and Calusa peoples of southwest Florida; the Matscumbe and Tocobago of the region around Tampa Bay; the Timucua and Guale of northeast Florida, around the St. Johns River near Jacksonville; and the Apalachee, Apalachicola and Panzacola of the Big Bend and northwest Florida. Anglicized, their names are inked into the modern map of Florida.
"Florida has always been a diverse place; when Europe and Africans came, it was even more diverse," Barton said. "1513 led to changes that would change Florida forever."
The exhibit's 136 artifacts and reproductions came mostly from the Florida Division of Historical Resources' Bureau of Archaeological Research and long-term loans from six museums, including the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
The Spanish Exploration segment features a reproduction of a Spanish ship with barrels, stove and other necessary equipment explorers used. Illustrations show how horses were shipped in slings to keep them immobile during the long, perilous voyage. The Spanish introduced cattle, pigs and horses to Florida.
"We don't have anything like this in Pensacola," said Bethany Robinson, who visited the exhibit with her three children, daughter Hannah, and twins Jonah and Elijah. She sees the exhibit as a wonderful instructional tool for her children. They learn history in schools, but that's in the books. Here they could see it brought to life.
"I don't remember much history from school," Robinson said. "I enjoy coming here."
The third section, "The Meeting of Peoples," covers early European exploration from Juan Ponce de Leon's landing off the Atlantic Coast near Cape Canaveral to the founding of St. Augustine in 1565. That segment of the exhibit includes interactive multimedia and life-sized figures whose lives tell the story of early Spanish life: Juan Ortiz was captured and lived with the Uzita and Mocoso Indians near Tampa Bay for 11 years.
The exhibit also tries to fill in the gap about the early presence of Africans in Florida. One lifelike figure celebrates Esteban, a West African, who was one of four survivors of the ill-fated Panfilo de Narvaez expedition. Esteban was the interpreter and negotiator when they met native peoples. A drawing of the conquest of Mexico in 1519 includes a depiction of Juan Garrido, a free black man who sailed with Ponce de Leon in 1513.
According to historians, two free Africans accompanied Ponce de Leon in his voyage to Florida in 1513. Fifty blacks were part of the French settlement attempt in 1564. "Africans are often overlooked in European accounts of early exploration," the exhibit said.
Scotty Howell lives in Bay City, Texas. He visited his home state with girlfriend Davine Summers, who was visiting Florida for the first time. She loved the Florida sand and water and the exhibit.
"I knew about Ponce de Leon, but not the specifics," said Summers, an East Texas native.
Visiting the museum and seeing the new exhibit reminded Howell of history lessons he might have missed as a young lad growing up in Perry.
"It's very informative," he said. "It's a wonderful display, with all the new artifacts."
Phase Two of the exhibit dealing with European settlement, forts and missions is expected to be completed in 2013.
Museum of Florida History
500 S. Bronough St., Tallahassee
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday and holidays, noon to 4:30 p.m. Admission and parking are free.