Monday, June 23, 2014

Sarasota, Florida


Time for another Dana & Mom road trip!!
Our journey begins in Miami, and takes shape as a road trip back home through Sarasota, FL; Macon, GA; and Memphis, TN.  My sister, Marissa, performed her senior voice recital at UM in March, so naturally we all went to go see her.  We arrived in Miami around 2 am on Saturday night, just in time to thaw by the pool on Sunday morning.  I basically collected an entire winter's worth of vitamin D, and it was nothing short of glorious.  After such a terrible Chicago winter, I was actually starting to doubt that warm weather still happened.

This is how it feels to finally see the sun again.

Going outside in a bikini, a beach cover up, and flip flops, and feeling a gentle, warm breeze on your skin is overwhelmingly tension-relieving after you've been dreading going outside in multiple wool sweaters, a scarf, a down coat, two hats, a hood, gloves, fleece leggings under your jeans, multiple pairs of wool socks, and heavy snow boots daily for the past five-ish months.  Oh, and I forgot to mention covering your face with your gloves as you walk so the snot doesn't freeze in your nose.  In my mind, especially on that morning, Florida was pretty much the best place in the entire world.  Shout out to Marissa - Thank you for attending college in Miami.  Seriously.


Rehearsing Before the Recital
I pretty much basked in the sun until Marissa's recital later that evening.  We're super proud of her and look forward to seeing her upcoming performances in graduate school at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. (Congrats, Marissa!)

The day after the recital, we visited Marissa's house off campus and met her roommates.  Her house totally reminded me of the apartment I inhabited for one summer in Boston where the kitchen ceiling caved in during a rain storm.  It felt  Only college students put up with such odd living arrangements.

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Monday, before leaving the area, my sister suggested that I visit Miroa, one of her favorite stores in Sunset Place.  She's not a shopper, so if there's a store she actually likes, you can bet it's a good one.  As it turns out, the store was pretty fabulous...all the prices are cheap, and the quality is mid-range.  By mid-range, I mean higher than Charlotte Russe's and Forever 21's quality.  I picked up a few dresses and restrained myself from buying a t-shirt that read, "I belong in Florida."

All Together, Minus the Beagle

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Tuesday, my mom and I began our road trip!  We set out for Sarasota to visit my travel buddy and super amiga, Katie.  Last time we visited her on the way home during a road trip, we arrived late for the visit because we got caught up photographing alligators on Sanibel Island.  This time, we were drawn to this amazing store in Boca called Marmi.  Driving around Boca, we noticed that there is literally a country club everywhere.  Everything is pruned, pristine, and luxurious.  I'm pretty sure the people who live there exhale money instead of carbon dioxide.  Anyways, Marmi is the most amazing shoe store (I even prefer it over Nordstrom's shoe department.) because nearly all their shoes are available in narrow and super narrow widths.  In my entire life, I've never been able to try on as many shoes in one store that fit as I did that morning.  The store sells this delightful brand called Van Eli, which comes narrow and costs about as much as half a pair of narrow Stuart Weitzman shoes.  Their Sesto Meucci shoes come narrow too, but those are a little pricier.  The chaotic store was packed with people who had narrow feet like ours and had driven multiple hours to shop there.  Since it was a little crowded for us, we purchased our shoes and continued on our way, tentatively planning to stop in another Marmi store at the Saint Louis Galleria Mall on the way home.

Pulled Fried Pork Taster - Jose's Real Cuban Food
My mom and I are not the world's fastest shoe shoppers, but we managed to arrive in Sarasota by dinner time.  We met Katie for dinner in Bradenton at a dive called Jose's Real Cuban Food that had been featured on Guy Fieri's show Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives.  The very friendly server welcomed and seated us right away, and brought us a sample tasting of their signature pulled pork since it was our first visit to the restaurant.  None of the three of us is a pork eater, but we all tasted the sample and agreed it was pretty tasty.  We also tried this side dish called Yuca, which has a potato-like texture.  After chomping a much of our gigantic dinner portions as we could, we boxed the food and ordered some flan for dessert.  Normally, I'm not a fan of flan, but Jose's Real Cuban Food's flan was so good we had to order a second one.

Travel buddies reunite to eat fried plantains and flan in Sarasota!

Brisket, Yellow Rice, JRCF's Original Spicy Sauce, and FRIED PLANTAINS!  Yum.
The flan has cinnamon, and a texture that suggests some graham cracker crumbs might be mixed in.  It definitely doesn't wiggle as much as normal flan.  Highly recommended!

Best Flan Ever
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On Wednesday morning, we decided to meet Katie at one of Sarasota's biggest attractions: the John and Mabel Ringling Circus Museum & Estate.  Tickets for students are hugely discounted, and the admission includes access to the mini circus, the Ringling Estate, the Cà d'Zan, the Ringling Art Museum and more.

Clown Makeup Demo
The circus museum, which includes the mini circus, houses an exhibit to introduce guests to the circus mindset and schedule.  A few weeks before the circus would arrive in town, every available surface within 50 miles would get covered in circus advertisements filled with exciting, bombastic language about "The Greatest Show on Earth" and images of acrobats, animals, and human cannonballs.  One day, enormous trains filled with tigers, sequins, and other things that aren't normally part of country life would roll into town.  In two hours, the big top tent rose, along with the food tent, the sleeping tents, and some others.  A colossal canvas city basically appeared out of nowhere.  The circus brought about 1500 people, including 40 cooks, and brought food with them since you couldn't just walk into a local town's grocery store and ask to buy 4000 oranges.  The spectacle mesmerized people and caused tremendous anticipation and excitement.  By the end of the day, after the show, the circus deconstructed, disappeared, and had rolled into the next town to start the process once again.  In a typical season, the exhibit mentioned that a circus could visit 150 cities. The museum featured circus posters, costumes, a video about how to apply clown makeup, and a practice tight rope.

Tight Rope Practice in the Ringling Museum

Howard Bros. Circus
The mini circus, or the Howard Bros. Circus, is a ¾ inch scale model of an entire real circus, modeled after the Ringling Circus.  Howard C. Tibbals built the model, complete with elephants, trains, electricity, sequin-clad performers, and guests, over a period of about fifty years, beginning around 1956.  Some of the circus posters that advertised a circus' arrival were also included in the model.  Typically, circus posters were printed on thin paper with a high acid content, and were designed, like the circus, to last only as long as they were needed in any given town.

Howard Bros. Circus
Very few buildings that aren't The Art Institute of
Chicago can pull off lion sculptures lining the entryway.
The Cà d'Zan is one of those few buildings.
The next building we toured, the Cà d'Zan, was the winter home of John and Mabel Ringling.  Our guide informed us that the pair had completely opposite statures and personalities.  While Mabel sounded like a sweet, charming hostess and accomplished horticulturist, John was loud, pushy, and liked to pressure business deals out of his guests.  The house is a typical 1920s mansion, which basically means that their kitchen is larger than my entire apartment.  The kitchen in the mansion had a solid silver sink, which actually seems like it might cause some problems regarding heavy metals getting all over your dishes.  The only thing our living spaces have in common is that I also have a vase from the Murano Glass Factory in Italy.  On the tour, our guide asked if anyone knew where the glass came from.  Recognizing the Murano pattern right away, I answered, "Venice."  Though I was right, the guide thought I meant Venice, FL because most young people don't travel so much, and laughed.

Outside the Cà d'Zan
Inside the Cà d'Zan
As was typical for the upper class back then, John and Mabel each had their own bedrooms and bathrooms.  Oddly though, John's room had two beds, and to this day, no one knows if he slept in one, the other, or both.  It seems to me that a better idea would have been to push the beds together to form one giant bed.  John's bathroom features a tub carved from a solid block of Siena marble.  I guess he was a big fan of Italy.  He prided himself on the fact that he was the only person to have bathed in a solid block of Siena marble until he found out that one of his hired contract workers had been bathing in it.  Still, he was probably the only person to own such a bathtub.  One of their bathtubs (I forget if it was his or hers) had five water handles.  One to turn the water on, two for hot/cold water, and two more for hot/cold salt water.  If you could control and increase the salt concentration, it would be like bathing in your own private, mini Dead Sea.

The guide told us that when the stock market crashed in 1929, John Ringling absolutely refused to sell his house, estate, or any other assets to pay off his debtors.  Instead, he donated the estate to the people of Florida, and never repaid his debts.

Colored Glass Fills Most Cà d'Zan Window Panes
The Cà d'Zan has this ceiling where each painting features a different traditional dance from a different country.  The rooms corners portray four American dances.
Shouldn't everyone have a 1920s winter mansion in Florida?
Before it got too late in the evening, we stopped for a quick snack with Katie, and drove off toward Georgia.  ¡Hasta la próxima, Katie!  

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