The Best Free Thing to Do in Tampa

Put on your walking shoes and trek off to the best free adventure in Tampa.  You have two choices:  explore the Riverwalk or discover Bayshore Boulevard. Better yet, do both. Walk until your drop.  You won’t be bored.

Join me for a “speed walk” in Tampa through photos, starting at Riverwalk’s 2.5 mile pathway past the city’s best museums, parks, hotels, and restaurants. Being there at the end of a rainfall with the setting sun sneaking past the leaden clouds was a serendipitous experience. Reflections, refractions, rainbows, remarkable!








Walking Bayshore Boulevard the next day, I experienced a different vibe from Riverwalk’s urban scene , as the 4.5 mile path winds parallel to the expansive Tampa Bay.   Prestigious mansions, sculptures, and wildlife (elusive the windy day I was there) provide non-stop entertainment along this route.




If you are lucky enough, you will see another form of “wildlife”:  a pilot flying and landing the ICON A-5 Amphibian Aircraft.


Tired of walking but want to explore some more?  Take a short drive to Ballast Point Park and enjoy the views from a bench on the pier and reflect on your two days of walking in Tampa:  Cost:  $0.0; Experience:  Priceless.


Lights of Joy on the Outer Banks of North Carolina: Beyond Sun, Surf, and Seafood

What sights come to mind when envisioning the Outer Banks of North Carolina? Sun, surf, and seafood are the obvious choices.  At this time of year, you can add Winter Lights at The Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. For twenty-two days during late November, December, and early January, the gardens glow with sparkly holiday joy.



Queen Elizabeth I herself welcomes guests at the beginning of a leisurely walk through her namesake gardens.  Her roses are not in bloom at this time of year, but seasonal sights and sounds beckon you to take a walk of discovery.



You won’t be the first discovers here. Other displays of Elizabethan characters, including one with the Queen and Sir Walter Raleigh awashed in rose-colored light, remind visitors that these gardens are built on the historic site of the first English settlement in the New World. In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh, as directed by Queen Elizabeth I, recruited 117 men, women, and children to establish this inaugural colony. By three years after their immigration, the colonists had inexplicably disappeared, thus earning the sobriquet, The Lost Colony. These gardens, which memorialize the brave colonists, were designed to be a “garden Elizabethan in spirit and style but adapted to the present.” Luckily, the Winter Lights celebration is a magical adaptation that transforms the gardens into a night-time wonderland.


Wonders galore await along the paths that meander throughout the gardens.  Strollers can get up and personal with four-legged critters that don’t become skittish and run away.


Their home, the dark forest, twinkles with red, white, and green fireflies birthed by lasers and brought to life on the trees’ bare branches.



Suddenly, a famous bird appears on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” path, which plays homage to this popular holiday song. The partridge in the pear tree points the way to discover the next eleven days of exotic gifts. By the way, if this colorful display inspires you to give two turtle doves, three French hens, etc., you better have deep pockets. Cost? $34,130.99!



Other paths lead to fantastic creatures like lavender butterflies, whimsical crickets, and albino peacocks.



The trek down the Gingerbread House path offers a visual taste of the sweet side of the season with not a wicked witch in sight.




For a reminder that this venue is a botanical garden, there is a glistening topiary highlighting the flowering cabbage patch and an illuminated container of seasonal greens and flowers lighting the way to an event tent.




While the above two images will appeal mainly to adults, children and the child in all of us will discover kid-friendly activities on the Great Lawn area. Sit on bales of hay and watch the movie about a much-loved snowman and then roast marshmallows over the toasty fire pit, (marshmallows and graham crackers provided) while listening to local choirs singing songs of comfort and joy.



Before the evening is over, stop by to visit Santa and whisper your secret Christmas wishes in his ear.


On exiting through the gift shop, you don’t have to leave the sparkle behind. You also can purchase glittery presents to take home.



Before departing Manteo, take a short drive to the waterfront and see the illuminated boats, including the ship, the Elizabeth II, a reproduction of one of the seven English merchant vessels that brought the ill-fated colonists to Roanoke Island.


Photo by Bruce J. Holmes

If there are any doubts about finding Christmas joy on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Fishing Santa reminds you otherwise.  Listen closely to hear him exclaim:  “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good Winter Nights!”


Hungary’s Warning to the World, 2016


Liberty Monument on Gellért Hill at the site of the Citadella in Budapest.  Three statues there commemorate the Soviets freeing the Hungarians from Nazi control at the end of World War II. Later, the Hungarians learned that their Soviet savior had become their oppressor. Because of the Revolutions of 1989, the Soviets started leaving Hungary in 1990 and withdrew their last troops in 1991. This statue glorifies the Slaying of Evil across the decades.

The dragon invaded your lair.

Smoky grey portends demise.

Brave blue beckons courage.

Rise up!  Rise up!

Your savior can become your oppressor.

Fight the flames of racism, religious intolerance, and misogyny.

Raise your fist to injustice.

Knee intolerance to the ground.

God fights the good fight with the righteous.

Victory is yours.


Liberty Monument:  The main statue celebrates Liberty extending the palm leaf of victory over Budapest.

Make Liberty your goddess.

Place her on a pedestal.

Crown her with a palm frond.


Liberty Monument:  This statue showcases the promise of Progress in a free Hungary.

Like the Phoenix rising from the blazes of bigotry

To soar through the conquering blue,

A new world will be born.

A world of Progress.

A world that lifts the torch of freedom for all.

Remember the past.

Don’t repeat it.

Ljubljana: Difficult to Pronounce, Pleasurable to Explore


View of the Triple Bridge,  the Ljubljana River, and Pogačarjev Square

Ljubljana:  I bet you can’t say that fast three times.  Heck, I can’t even say it once slowly.  (It helps, though, to know that the in Slovenian is pronounced like a y.)  However you say her name, Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is a gorgeous, friendly lady, and I was thrilled to make her acquaintance.


We had left Sežana and now were staying at the comfortable Slovenian House Vida on the outskirts of Ljubljana, a short convenient bus ride from the city center. This guest house has large rooms, some with kitchenettes, and a funky subterranean breakfast room decorated with antique radios and toasters.

Our first meal, however, was dinner not breakfast.  On the innkeeper’s recommendation, we booked at table at Gostilna Sokol, the best restaurant in town for traditional Slovenian food.  While we found the food in Sežana to have a Mediterranean influence because of its proximity to Italy, the food at Sokol didn’t have that same lightness.  This restaurant celebrates the land of game, sausage, dumplings, and gravy.


We rode the bus to town and got off to walk around the Old Town area.  Our way to dinner was artistically lit with the highlight being the green hue of Ljubljana Castle. This is an appropriate color as Ljubljana is The Green Capital of Europe 2016, an award it won for its “high environmental standards.”



We strolled by closed shops, wishing that this attractive book store had been open. On second thought, I am not sure I could have found a book in English here. For example, the book in the foreground is Platon, which in Slovenian is Plato. It still would have been fun to poke around.



Arriving at Gostilna Sokol, I shook hands with the cute chef who greeted us at the door. Inside, we found a warm, inviting room with white-washed walls, wooden tables and chairs, and knickknacks placed about, kind of like being at your Slavic grandma’s house. We found authentic Slovenian delicacy on the menu that was too “authentic” for our taste: foal. Other restaurants offered this local fare, too, but they called it horse outright.


I was not too hungry and rather vegetable deprived, so I ordered the vegetable casserole, which actually was a very pretty, tasty vegetable terrine. Bruce’s dish won the “wow factor,” however. He ordered the game plate, which came with “deer medallions in . . . cherry sauce, stag stake (sic) with porcini mushroom sauce, wild boar with green pepper, cheese rolls, polenta, and dumplings.”  



Obviously, there was no room for dessert, so we began our walk back to catch a taxi, but we had to make one stop.  We took this “tourist photo” (We are tourists, after all!) in front of the 1751 Robba Fountain named after its famous creator. This major landmark is also known as The Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers. It is a replica; the original sets inside the National Museum, safely  out of the harm of hot sun and freezing temperatures and snow. I like knowing this fact since Francesco Robbo bankrupted himself to finish the piece, so its preservation validates his sacrifice. I think Robbo would be pleased.



After a good night’s sleep, our husbands went to work, and Marcia and I went to explore Ljubljana by daylight. This is the City of the Dragon. According to legend, a ferocious dragon guarded the area, preventing any settlement here.  Then, Jason and his Argonauts of Greece fame encountered this fire-breathing beast and slayed him.  Local people were ecstatic and began to settle along the river. Look closely today and you will see the omnipresent dragon:  on the city’s coat of arms, on top of the castle tower; on the Dragon Bridge, on the flag, on souvenirs, etc. (Photo of a dragon sculpture on the Dragon Bridge from Ljubljana Tourism E-News Letter.)


Ljubljana has several attractive town squares, or trgs; historic buildings with architectural charm; and memorial sculptures, such as the one below of Slovenia’s most famous poet, France Prešeren. Marcia and I strolled by admiring the local color, but we didn’t stop because we were on a mission: shopping for souvenirs.


We headed toward The Central Market,  which is composed of both a covered market and an open-air market, in a space between the Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge. Starting at the open-air market, we inspected a flurry of flowers, colorful  glassware,  beautiful leather goods,  art prints, and other tempting offerings.


Flower vendors with merchandise vendors in the background


Marcia chose a lovely red wallet bought directly from the artisan who made it, and I became enthralled with the story of the beehive prints and bought two of those. Folk artists began painting the front of beehives’ wooden panels in the mid-18th century.  The artists produced more than 600 religious and secular motifs.  The belief was that if each hive had is own individual art work, then this would help the bees’ orientation.  They would always be able to identify their home.The prints show slices of 18th and 19th-century Slovenian life that are still relevant today.  While the religious motifs are serious motifs, there are light-hearted, humorous one like the one I bought.  We have beehives in our yard, but we aren’t the beekeepers.  Our friends, Steve and Fran, are. I bought them a print of a couple dancing next to the beehives.  I  then saw this print and immediately thought, “Oh, there’s Bruce and Connie bearishly eating the honey, and Beekeeper Steve is behind the tree.”  Gotta have it!



I also was on the lookout for something to take home to share with my herb group friends. I found dried lavender products, but those are ubiquitous all over the world; I wanted something different. We sought out Rustika, a gallery which features the country’s largest selection of high-quality Slovenian handicrafts. Delicate lace linens, hand painted wooden products, kitchen witches, and corncob dolls tempted me, but the artisan chocolate grabbed my attention.  There were several options with unique combinations of chocolate, herbs, and fruit.  I settled on an exotic one I had never seen before, Chocolate with Apples & Tarragon, which I will happily serve at a future luncheon for my friends.



We were lucky to be there on a Friday when Pogačarjev Square  hosts scores of food vendors serving all sorts of international delicacies. I had seen pork dishes, like stir-fried pork and pulled pork, served on the street, but I had never seen a whole pig staring at me.

La Caja China

La Caja China

We strolled past Chinese food, Thai food, and African food, deciding to choose traditional Slovenian food instead–kinda.


We didn’t have the courage to try the tripe stew.


Veal with peas, truffles, and vegetables (yes, truffles from a street vendor) tapped Marcia on the shoulder, and stuffed pepper with mashed potatoes and tomato sauce wrapped me in its comfortable arms.

fullsizeoutput_1d8dThus captured, we ordered glasses of excellent Slovenian wine for only three euros each.Time slipped seamlessly by while we ate our lunch, people watched, and enjoyed our hostess Ljubljana, a gracious, modern lady.


One of the many wine vendors


It was then time to return to our lodging. Marcia bought some red and amber votive holders as we left the open-air market. Unfortunately, we never had time to visit the covered market.  Return trip?  I hope so.


Prešeren Square

Working and Playing in Slovenia: Airplanes, Horses, and Gourmet Dining



Slovenia:  Land of Surprises!  This was primarily a work day, but it was full of serendipity. My husband, our two friends, and I discovered the future of aviation at Pipistrel, a light aircraft manufacturer and one of the world’s leaders in aviation. Its paradigm-breaking aircraft include electric models and the first hydrogen fuel-cell airplane. Before the day was over, we also made three more discoveries: the iconic Lipizzan horses, the illusive bottle of gin. (See Really Life? You’ve Now Taken Me to Slovenia?), and another gourmet dinner at our guest house.

After meeting Ivo Boscorol, the company’s general manager and founder, we took a factory tour led by his genial daughter and public relations manager, Taja. Her enthusiasm was not hype. We saw the ground-breaking airplanes and the technology that produced them:  3-D printers; a water-jet cutting machine and an 8-axis robot-mill to fabricate parts; a quality control system designed and used by Toyota; and the building itself, a “green building,” which is energy-efficient and self-sufficient. Seeing the creativity of the process from conception to execution, plus observing the human team making all this possible, made us appreciate Taja’s animation even more.

Pipistrel is the winner of many aviation awards, but the one that is garnering the most attention lately is the NASA Green Flight Challenge Award, which has a prize of $1.35 million, the largest prize in aviation history. According to NASA, the award was “created to inspire the development of more fuel-efficient aircraft and spark the start of a new electric airplane industry.” The goal was a lofty one:  to design an airplane that could fly 200 miles in less than two hours while using less than one gallon of fuel per occupant, or the equivalent in electricity. Pipistrel’s electric-powered Virus not only reached the goal, it exceeded it.  It flew using just over a half-gallon of fuel per passenger, thus achieving twice the fuel efficiency required. Pipistrel not only won this award once, it won it three consecutive years.

My husband understands firsthand what technological leaps Pipistrel took to win this award. He worked at NASA Langley in Hampton, Virginia, for 33 years.  During that time, he was a member of the government-industry partnerships that developed technologies that now inhabit virtually every airplane around the globe, including the Virus:  glass cockpits, composite airframes, crash-worthy airframes, and laminar flow aerodynamics.Today, his consulting business has taken him to work in the field of hydrogen fuel-cell electric propulsion. How  satisfying it is for him to see his work reach such a successful conclusion!


Our only disappointment of the day was that we were not able to fly in one of these awesome aircraft.  Pipistrel’s headquarters sets in a valley in Ajdovščina which falls victim to some very forceful predatory winds.This day, the Bora wind phenomenon was clocked well below the 125 mph that can occur, but high winds still held us hostage, so we were grounded.



After my husband finished his business with Pipistrel, we were able to hurry over to Lipica, the home of the oldest European stud farm to be continuously breeding the famous Lipizzan horses. We arrived too late for a tour, but early enough before sundown to see these beautiful horses grazing in the field. A return trip is warranted!



We made one more stop in Lipica at a Lidl grocery store where we finally found a bottle of gin after a two-day search. There was one choice only, Castelgy London Dry Gin.  If we had wanted schnapps, our shopping cart could not have held the selection. I discovered that we found a very special brand of gin, Lidl’s own. The Guardian reported that in a taste test of both inexpensive supermarket brands of gin and more-expensive brand-name gins, Castelgy, the cheapest at 9.99 euro a bottle, did very well, earning second place.  (Beefeaters came in fifth.) We also un-expectantly found a bottle of bitters, so visions of Old Fashions started to dance in our heads.  Along with the gin and the bitters, we bought an orange, a lemon, and sugar cubes, so Happy Hour was just a car ride away.

Back at Apolonia Guest House in Sezana, the four of us raised a toast to a fun, productive day with three classic Old Fashions, plus a new concoction of gin, lemon, and a dash of bitters. The cocktails were elevated compared to ones we drank the evening before and a fitting introduction to another gourmet dinner prepared by our innkeepers, Marissa and Manuella.The first course was End of Summer Zucchini Soup, which was a work of delectable art in a bowl.  I don’t know what herbs and / or vegetables other than zucchini the gals put into the soup to make it so green.  The vibrant green was a beautiful canvas to highlight the dabs of pink shrimp, brown croutons, and the white dollop of cheese wrapped in a sliver of cucumber.  It was as delicious as it was beautiful.


Tonight was “Fish Night,” and Salmon with Sage made an impressive main course.  It was moist and flaky, garnished with tomatoes and sage leaves.  Accompaniments included buttery potatoes and grilled zucchini slices.I have never had sage with salmon before, but the flavors marry very well. In fact, I found a similar recipe from NYT Cooking  that I want to try at home.


A crisp Slovenian white wine, which I won’t be able to find in Virginia, complimented the dish. Instead, I believe I will pour a glass of Citizen Cider’s Unified Press; it’s off-dry, crisp, and excellent with all seafood.


Manuella, with a bottle of excellent Slovenian white wine,  is an accomplished chef and gracious hostess at Apolonia.

Dessert wasn’t an afterthought.  Even though it was called “A Cream with Fruit Sauce,” its plebeian title didn’t distract from its royal taste.  In fact, it was so good, we didn’t even take time to ask what fruit concoction the rich, creamy pudding was swimming in.  The puff pastry cookie  and crumbles on top added the perfect “crunch.”   When we thought the meal couldn’t get any better, Manuella brought out house-made blueberry liqueur to end the evening sweetly.


We still had one more meal to look forward to at Apolonia:  breakfast. Each day starts  with an omlette or sunny side up eggs, three kinds of meats, cheese, a basket of rustic bread, fresh croissants, and rugelach, plus juice and coffee.  As I write this, I have been in Europe for two weeks, and Apolonia has  had the best accommodations and the best dining of any of the B & Bs / guest houses we have stayed in.  Thank you, Marissa and Manuella!

Now, it was time to return to our rooms and snuggle into our large, comfortable beds.  Visions of not only sugar plums, but also airplanes, horses and gin would swirl in our heads, never a nightmare, just a perfect dream of all the varied surprises we found in Slovenia.

Opening Day of EAA AirVenture 2016: Visiting the Vendors Through Photos


Today, the opening day of the convention, my husband Bruce and I visited the vendors.Yes, you can buy airplane parts, hangar doors, parachutes, wind socks, etc., etc., but there is so much more. Below is a peek at the fun side of shopping the 700 vendors at the show.


Everyone loves neon!



Pilots do not take themselves too seriously!



A “big ass” is quite cute.



Yes, dog go flying too and need goggles to protect their eyes.



Oxygen for Fido!


Need ear muffs for your flying dogs? Contact


Looking for mermaids out of your airplane’s window? Check out Heaven’s Landing in Georgia.


What else could “A” be for?


Obviously, pilots need a “60 Second Eye Lift” to see.  If you don’t believe me, just talk to the several vendors scattered across the field hawking this very expensive wonder cosmetic.




After meeting with customers and visiting the vendors, Bruce Holmes is recuperating in style, getting energized to visit the plane manufacturers tomorrow.