Thursday, October 26, 2023

Good grub includes barbecue, gator bites on Cocoa Beach foodie trek

Cocoa Village boasts a super food tasting experience with entrepreneur Halim Urban, who runs his popular tour with wife Jessica. With 20 years in the food business, they offer lively sampling options. 

Ribs and brisket, sausage and all the trimmings
are on tap at Crydermans Barbecue, beloved
institution which offers a range of feastings. 



IMMERSE YOURSELF in Cocoa Village,  tasting its fabulous food, strolling its pleasant streets, enjoying the story of this historic town of 20,000 people.

Your lively guide shows you around town and stops at favorite dining haunts while pointing out art and architectural highlights.
Cocoa Village has been around a long time, since fisherman founded it in 1860. 
It is known for fine food: delicious burgers, brisket as good as any in the world, pizzas with pizzazz, succulent seafood, fabulous barbecue and bakery, and satisfyingly tender deep fried alligator. It boasts a variety of fun ethnic
Ossorio's chicken curry
salad with balsamic
vinegar on a warm
croissant is yummy.

restaurants, ranging from an eatery serving mean drunken noodles to a quaint bakery with mouth-watering curried chicken salad served on a  warm croissant.

Gator bites at Pub Americana, deep fried and tasty.
WE ATE ourselves silly -- well not quite -- at four distinctive and different eateries.  First, Pub Americana, a colorfully decorated, popular dining joint serving tasty gator bites. Then on to the welcoming and busy Ossorio Bakery and Cafe, a flashy Asian restaurant called Thai Thai serving fabulous drunken noodles, and a classic "meat house" called Cydermans, one of the town's most popular places for an authentic, succulent range of meats of every description.

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie"
Meyers, on the food tasting trail
in the fun town of Cocoa Village, Fla.
Halim opens the door for a tasty
helping of drunken pork noodles
at Thai Thai, where he once worked.
The Original Cocoa Village Food Tour is well planned and bountiful with friendly hosts and chatty personnel in the eateries. The attractive town -- on the east coast of Florida -- is just a 45-minute drive from downtown Orlando. Besides its food, fun nightlife and theater, the area is famous for its fine beach, gentle surf, laidback lifestyle and unspoiled, natural landscape. We met several couples and many families, enjoying relief from "big city life." 

Food tour Halim guides visitors in a tasty tour of
 Cocoa Village food treats, here at Pub Americana.
Our amiable guide, Halim Urban, runs the Original Cocoa Village Food Tour with wife Jessica. The pair has flair, a low-keyed charm and vast knowledge of the quaint little town they calls home. Over 200 merchants run pretty galleries, intriguing shops, attractive restaurants, bars and more. The town's ethnicity ranges from French, Mexican and Cuban to Thai, Chinese and Greek.
HALIM PROUDLY described the cattle farming, citrus growing, fishing and luxury travel that mark the town's early days. Walking from restaurant to cafe is a superb way to sample the food as well as the spirit of the town. We had a great time and heartily recommend these tours. Several options and themes are offered by the enterprising Urbans.

Airboat Rides, out of Melbourne, offers fun
 swamp tours with gators, birds and lively chat.
work off the treats, head for the swamps for a different kind of "feasting" -- this one with the eyes, to savor the moist green mangroves, the call of birds and the swoosh as alligators slither through the water, bobbing and surfacing in search of a meal. 
WE RECOMMEND recommend Airboat Rides. Its small, smart staff of locals launches fast but comfy boats from two locations with spirited commentary and knowledge of the swamps. The operation's main launch is from the Lake Washington Boat Ramp and Park in Melbourne, at the headwaters of lovely Upper St. John's River.
More information:
Village Food Tours:
Airboat Rides Melbourne:

Magnificent lions await a visit in Florida's Brevard Zoo,
home to exotic and endangered animals from all over the
world, a highly praised facility for its preservation efforts.

While we're in the neighborhood, we visit a world class zoo in Florida. Come with us to explore one of the nation's highest rated zoos. Brevard Zoo, a 75-acre nonprofit facility in Melbourne, Florida, is home to more than 900 animals and more than 195 species from Florida, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The zoo was the vision of volunteers in the early 1990s and is internationally know for its education and preservation efforts. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, the arts, family and more:


Thursday, October 19, 2023

Florida's Space Center showcases our labors in space

Kennedy Space Center's extraordinary exhibits symbolize American ingenuity while feeding the
curious soul. The Center's intriguing Visitor Complex offers close-up views of space projects
including an opportunity to come nose-to-nose with the giant space shuttle Atlantis.

Happily "blasting off" into Kennedy Space 
Center, are Christene "Cookie" Meyers and
Bruce Keller, enjoying this wonderful place.

All systems go: Launch yourself into a world of wonder, exploration, adventure in space


NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center is a Disneyland for space nerds and anyone interested in the marvels of space exploration.
The Center has played a pivotal role in NASA's mission, as the departure site for the first human journey to the moon.
It's also the starting point for hundreds of scientific, commercial, and applications spacecraft; and as the base for Space Shuttle launch and landing operations.
For us, it was a wonderful launching pad deep into a world we've known only on the surface.
Actual modules and vehicles used in the space program are
grouped and displayed in attractive user-friendly exhibits.

From the Astronauts Hall of Fame to a convincing moonscape, and simulated launches to Mars and beyond, we were "hands on" at the control panels of our adventure.
The Center -- KSC -- boasts an enormous and welcoming Visitor Complex organized into Mission Zones where attractions and tours are grouped by chronological era. Massive rockets tell the daring story of space exploration, from the dawn of space adventure and discovery to current missions. We visitors got a fascinating, up-close feel for the story of humans in space.
WE STARTED our adventure mid-morning at Project Mercury and ended our day with the Space Shuttle Program, a moving testimony to the bravery, daring and sacrifice of American astronauts.
We visited
Launching themselves into a day of exploration at
 Kennedy Space Center, Bruce Keller and Christene
"Cookie" Meyers share tips on how to make the
most of a visit to this internationally known attraction.

the memorial honoring the astronauts who lost their lives during space shuttle missions STS-51L Challenger and STS-107 Columbia. Those heroes are lovingly remembered and honored in a beautifully curated display.
We saw the real Lunar Module 9 with a life-sized scene from the Apollo 11 Moon landing. User friendly, interactive exhibits helped us understand this remarkable vehicle and how astronauts landed it on foreign terrain.
Apollo's moon landings excited the world and people of all backgrounds and ages. We watched as a three-generation family viewed an actual lunar module. The five-year old was thrilled to touch a real moon rock.
WE COULDN'T resist going for a launch -- in fact, we signed up for two launches to experience the
sights, sounds and sensations of blasting off into space aboard the space shuttle. Lines for the various launches get long as the day winds down, so come early and plan to spend 6 to 8 hours.
It's possible to discover NASA’s plans to explore deep space, get close to life-sized Mars rover replicas and test your skills as a recruit in Journey To Mars: Launched by United Launch Alliance.
Daily schedules include astronaut encounters, 
a huge array of exhibits and many tours,
including a fascinating Atlantis Walking Tour.
Several space-themed films are shown at various times. We caught "Journey to Space" and a new 3D movie, "Asteroid Hunters," with stunning images of space, amazingly real.
IF YOU WANT to feel "official," you can take notes as you participate in a Mission Status Briefing to discover what’s happening with current NASA missions. You'll get a peek into the latest operations at Kennedy Space Center and launch activity at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
A young couple from Houston enrolled in the Center's "Astronaut Training Experience" (ATX). They said they'd be training to live and work on Mars through an immersive simulation program. We didn't have time to join these enthusiastic space explorers but it sounded like fun.
Many activities are included in admission, so check that out when you book and arrange your day. A colorful restaurant offers reasonably priced food and indoor and outdoor seating. We sat outside on comfy chairs and enjoyed the casual setting. Actual NASA astronauts were strolling to answer questions, both indoors and in the outside spaces.
MORE INFO and tickets:

Bruce Keller, Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Halim Urban
enjoy alligator in a fun stop with Village Food Tours.

We're continuing the fun in Florida with a delightful food tour and a journey by air boat into the swamps.  Come along with us to the Orlando area, as we headquarter in Melbourne and Cocoa Village for a few fun days with  "grub and gators."  We spend a lively and tasty afternoon with Village Food Tours, run by an enterprising couple, Halim and Jessica Urban. Then we head into the swamps for a close-up look at the resident critters. We have a good time wherever we go and remind you to explore, learn and live and enjoy our weekly column for a fresh spin on travel, performance, culture, food, the arts, family and more.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Have a whale of a time with resident visitors in Depoe Bay, Oregon

Depoe Bay's small, beautiful harbor leads the way to an exciting time with resident whales. 

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
enjoyed four days with the whales of
Depoe Bay. They're called "residents'' because 
they stay several months during migration.




Carrie Newell's passion for whales is
apparent in her enthusiastic introduction
to whale watching in Depoe Bay.

FIRST, THERE is the irresistible lure of  the whales. It's not to be ignored, and one brilliant and dedicated woman makes sure you understand that.

She's Carrie Newell, distinguished marine biologist who has spent her impressive 35-year career
researching the whales in this quiet and peaceful cove on the Oregon coast.  Depoe Bay is a marine biologist's dream. So it's no surprise that it has attracted the likes of Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of famed oceanographer and naturalist, the late Jacques Cousteau.  The younger Cousteau and colleagues have visited Newell and benefited from her expertise and research, joining her on multiple expeditions.

BETWEEN outings with our whale watching expert, we relaxed and hiked at Inn at Arch Rock. It's a perfect place to unwind between whale watches and fine dining, which is abundant in Depoe Bay. 
This magical corner on the Oregon coast is
Carrie Newel, center,
returns with happy
whale watchers.

A grey whale spout is a stinky exhale which Carrie's dog
Koda is trained to smell, react and track to visitors' delight. 
the world's smallest natural navigable harbor. It covers six acres, with a 50-foot wide, 100-foot long rockbound, dog-legged channel connecting to the Pacific Ocean.

CARRIE'S WHALE watching is enhanced by her remarkable dog, Koda, whom she trained from an early age to spot and respond to whales. They're named and called "residents" because they hang around several months -- May to November -- feeding and enjoying the warmer waters while others move on north to Alaska.  

Koda was trained from her early puppy days to smell
the blow of whales and recognize that as a sign to bark.
It is a clever way to alert whale watchers to a nearby whale.
Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers,
and behind them, Carrie Newell, on the trail
of the grey whales in Depoe Bay.
Carrie coached Koda to get excited about whales when the dog was a pup. The instruction included taking Koda along with a small boatload of whale watchers, downwind of a gray whale. Once Carrie spotted the critters with her "eagle eye" for whales, she  encouraged the dog to smell the blow. It's an aroma like bad gas or hard-boiled eggs, a sulphury blast to the nostrils. The dog learned that the blow meant the whale was near.  Koda heard and smelled the blow and alerted passengers. Soon, all could see the whale and watch for another blow. Koda's watch continued with Carrie's encouraging “Whale, whale, whale.” The dog connects the dots and responds, all without treats, just praise. "Koda's pay is lotsa love!” says Newell.
BACK ON LAND, Carrie's museum is a trip in itself, a wondrous exhibit of sea treasures, lovingly collected and curated by Carrie herself.  Her lifelong love of all things ocean-connected is evident in the array of shells, nautical photos. artwork and other memorabilia -- an amazing amount of information, displayed in a compact, efficient and eye-catching way. 

RETURNING TO the inn, you'll find yourself on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean, relaxing in one of 19 comfy units. They range from quaint and cozy rooms for two, to grand and spacious two-bedroom suites for up to six guests. Each room is individually appointed and all but one have spectacular ocean views. Trails to the ocean and a private beach are a stone's throw away. We saw whales from the balcony, and reveled in that during our too brief three-night and four-day stay.

Inn at Arch Rock offers stunning views of the ocean,
and often whale spouts and flukes. It's a lovely retreat.
THE HOSTS are Nate and Polly Neet,  a genial couple devoted to service and the pleasure of guests. The Neets are proud, hard-working innkeepers, with a love of hospitality and a dedication to the place they've nurtured and improved with meticulous but natural looking landscaping and other loving touches.

They are fonts of knowledge about the area they love, and suggested we hook up with Carrie's unique and thrilling enterprise. We did that on the first afternoon and loved it so much we made return visits each day of our stay. A bountiful breakfast is part of the room fee, and the Neets' genteel hospitality combines with a genuine affection for people and their bird's eye knowledge of the area's attractions. They'll help with restaurants, hikes, shopping or whatever's your pleasure. Their appreciative clientele spans the globe.
Carrie Newell and her expertly trained colleagues navigate
boats in and out of the narrow, rocky switchback. The
 dramatic harbor is one of the world's smallest.

OUR SECOND-floor room was spacious, modern and smartly appointed with whaling and sea life decor. Add those spectacular views of the whales from the balcony, and a pair of binoculars to enhance sightings and you're a happy visitor.
A lavish breakfast of fruit, eggs, muffins, biscuits, bacon and yogurt awaits. You'll enjoy the inn's own coffee label. At day's end, comfy beds point the way to sweet dreams of whales, an enterprising marine biologist and that endearing retriever. 

MORE INFO:  Carrie Newell's spectacular Whale Research EcoExcursions:

Nate and Polly Neet and their welcoming 


Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers blast off for Kennedy
Space Center, where they enjoy the exhibits and take fascinating tours
of the internationally known center of space research and enterprise.
UP NEXT: We're blasting off for Kennedy Center. Reaping the "labors" of the ambitious U.S. space endeavor,  we offer a two-part look at Orlando, Florida, and its wonders. The booming area attracts visitors 12 months of the year with Epcot, Universal Studios and Disney World. We explore internationally known Kennedy Space Center, take a delectable food tour, and a foray into the swamps on the trail of alligators and we take a look at a top-ranked zoo. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, family, performance, the arts and more. 

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Eye-popping Honolulu Museum of Art opens minds, eyes, imagination

Honolulu Museum of Art's extensive collection includes significant holdings in Asian art, American and European painting and decorative arts. The Asian collection is among the Pacific's finest.


"Lobster,"  a work by Hawaiian artist Noah Harders, is among eye-catching
pieces on view at the magnificent Honolulu Museum of Art in Hawaii.



A MUSEUM should draw the viewer in, stimulate the mind, recharge the brain and conjure thoughts of  life in other cultures.

The splendid Honolulu Museum of Art does all that and more.

From the Bronze Age to contemporary times, including dozens of countries and cultures, this fascinating museum opens the eye to a world of change and creativity.

Founder Anna Rice Cooke had a vision.  Born into a prominent missionary family in Oahu, she grew up in a home that nurtured an appreciation for the arts.

The design of the building incorporates architectural touches
from many cultures, reflecting Hawaii's mix of influences.

As a young woman in the 1880s, she began the collection that would become Hawaii's first visual arts museum, reflecting the islands' intriguing cultural mélange.
THE MUSEUM is a treasure trove 
An installation by British artist Rebecca Louise Law
provides an enchanting walkway for Bruce Keller.
of stunning art from around the globe. Cooke's philanthropy encouraged other donors.  As she might have  hoped, her gift encouraged other donors. The museum's African art, for example, includes 230 unusual objects which began with a gift of textiles from Mrs. Charles R. Hyde in 1931. Since then, the African collection has grown to include sculpture, mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries.  Other pieces include a terra cotta kneeling figure from the 5th Century BC culture of present-day Nigeria to a centuries later piece created in the 1800s, a beautiful carved wood female fertility figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
ANOTHER stand-out piece in this wide-ranging museum is a stunning "wearable art" work, "Lobster," of found organic materials. Artist Noah Harders says he "reimagines" flora, fauna and found objects through his passion and "crazy progression in finding myself."  His Hawaiian ancestry and study at Chicago's famous Art Institute complement one another in his bold organic inspirations. The piece on this page uses flowers, leaves, molted crustacean shells, and fishbones, an intriguing work of art.
THE MUSEUM promotes beauty, harmony, learning, self-awareness, and connection with nature, with its continent-spanning holdings in Asian art, American and European painting and decorative arts. Add to that 19th- and 20th-century art, an extensive collection of works on paper, Asian textiles, and revolving installations such as a lyrical display of leaves and blossoms by Rebecca Louise Law of Britain.
ALL THIS beauty stems from the generosity and curiosity of Cooke and her daughter Alice Spalding, who by the 1920s were cataloguing and researching  
dozens of art pieces.  They obtained a charter for the museum from the Territory of Hawaii in 1922 and the family donated their Beretania Street land and $25,000 for the museum's 500 works.
Their home was torn down to make way for the building whose unique design is the creation of New York architect
A Deborah Butterfield horse frames Christene "Cookie"
Meyers in one of the museum's corridors. Both women --
the internationally known sculptor and writer -- have
Montana roots and Cookie has photographed Butterfield's
magnificent horses in various settings around the world.

  Bertram Goodhue. He used natural light and Hawaii's temperate climate as his inspiration. When Goodhue died before the project was completed, his colleague Hardie Phillip finished the job. Over the years, the museum’s architectural style grew, incorporating Hawaiian, Chinese, and Spanish influences. This appealing blend has been imitated in many buildings throughout the state.
Mrs. Cooke's desire was “That our children of many nationalities and races, born far from the centers of art, may receive an intimation of their own cultural legacy." She wanted people of all persuasions "to wake to the ideals embodied in the arts of their neighbors." 
The Honolulu Museum of Art's extensive collection begins in the yard.
It began when the Cooke family's collection outgrew its home more 
than a century ago. Its collection is highly regarded internationally.  

In a lovely statement delivered at the museum's dedication on April 8, of 1927, she expressed her hope "that Hawaiians, Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Northern Europeans, South Europeans, and all other people living here... would perceive a foundation on which a new culture, enriched by all the old strains may be built in these islands.”
The museum also offers workshops, school tours and many other outreach programs to involve and educate the community.
MORE INFO or to book tickets:

We recommend a fun way to get there, the "hop on and off" Waikiki Trolley:

Whale watching is a passion worldwide for Bruce Keller
and Christene "Cookie" Meyers. Next up, a whale watch
with resident whales in Depoe Bay, Oregon. 

UP NEXT: Whales are a passion for both of us -- writer and photographer of this weekly endeavor -- and one of our most exciting whale watching adventures was in Depoe Bay, Oregon, where resident humpback whales spend a few months frolicking and enjoying the beautiful warm waters. We went out four days with one of the country's best guides, and report back next week. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live -- respecting nature -- and checking out our blogs on travel, nature, the arts, family and more at: