Travel articles you can use.

Painting with Pasta in the Keys

July 26, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

Art by Pasta Pantaleo

I am not an artist; the closest I come is through photography.  However, I recently found myself in Key Largo and was offered a painting class with Pasta.  Hmm. My thoughts ran to my grandkids and those colorful necklaces and bracelets they make with painted pasta shapes.


No noodles here. I entered a fabulous artist’s studio and gallery where I met Roberto Pantaleo, a.k.a. Pasta, my instructor.  Pasta is an artist who paints vibrant scenes of the Keys, mostly fish and marine life. I adored his lines and design in the above fish and was drawn to the peacefulness of this mangrove tree with criss-crossed  roots.

Pasta Pantaleo and the Mangrove Tree


I was to paint a Leatherback turtle–okay!  First, I sketched oval egg shapes on a piece of paper and Pasta showed me how to blend those into the turtle’s head, body and limbs.  Next, I drew a similar animal on canvas.  So far so good.


Painting the water

Now it was time to pick up the brush- a daunting task.  “Just mix blue and green together and drab them onto the canvas like Monet,” said Pasta.   Sure, I thought.


“Lovely colors,” he said. “Do the same thing with beige and browns to create the beach.”


Amazingly, my little turtle was coming to life better than I expected and the thing was — I was having a blast.  I forgot about time and felt like I was floating in the water with my tortoise.  I was literally living in the moment.


When I tried painting my turtle’s shell, my efforts didn’t achieve much depth. But, a few strokes from the master greatly helped the cause. I ended up with a painting I’m rather proud of. Sure, I know it’s a  primitive work but I had fun. Wish I could take another class.

Turtle by Debi


Pasta Pantaleo is the ideal teacher; he’s encouraging and helpful, never demeaning and an all-around happy person. Might be the island’s aura, but the Keys seem to bring out art in everyone.




Pasta Signature Gallery

Mile Marker 81.5

Islamorada, Florida 33036

305 849-3968

954 290-4262

Key Largo on Dwellable

Riding Camels Here and There

July 15, 2012 by · 1 Comment 


Camel riding isn’t a popular means of transportation in the United States, but a method I’ve always wanted to try. As luck goes, I was blessed with two diverse opportunities within one month.


The first came when I traveled to Jordan and spent two nights in a Bedouin tent camp. The  desert at Wadi Rum reigns as an ideal location for a camel trek. Lawrence of Arabia described the landscape as, “red sands that stretch like seas between mountains of crimson sandstone. The rock monoliths sculpted by nature resemble the drippings of candle wax on a monumental scale.”


On the morning of my ride, owners in long flowing robes crossed the dunes and walked alongside their herd. The scene looked like it a sepia-tinted photograph from a history book, except the two Bedouin were talking on cell phones.  Okay, I thought — digital age dromedaries.


They cushed the camels (lowered to a kneeling position) and covered their basic saddles with blankets. Stirrups are not part of a camel’s gear, so one grips the tufts of hair atop the hump. To get on, I flung one leg over the beast, feeling my yoga class stretches coming into use. I casually shimmied my butt into place and hunkered down.


Suddenly, my camel erupted upward nearly tossing me off its back as it leaped to its fore-knees. Then, in a two-stage process, its back legs extended, and I was nearly catapulted forward over its head. I then found myself riding at the height that would guarantee a slam dunk into a basketball net.  Woo-hoo!

Desert camel riders in Jordan

The first few minutes gave me a bumpy, disconcerting ride, as my body jostled to and fro. But soon I began to adapt and enjoy the feel of the gentle compression of my camel’s hooves into the sandy sea. The view on camelback is spectacular, you’re about twice as high as when riding a horse and the desert scenery gorgeous.


Later in the month, I found myself at the Safari Wilderness Ranch in Central Florida. Believe it or not, I mounted a camel here for another ride. They use an easier method to get of on and off, but honestly it’s not as much fun nor as hair-raising as my original.  Polk County camel riders step up onto a platform at the dromedary’s height. Then, riders simply toss a foot over. The camel does not rise or descend. In Florida, the saddles had metal frames which guarantee a secure ride.


Once beyond the loading zone, the sensation of riding is identical, except the safari traverses grass instead of sand. While riding through Wilderness Park I saw zebras, lemurs, wart hogs, cattle, deer, antelope and Water Buffalo. Safari Wilderness Ranch is not a zoo or theme park. There are no crowds and no lines; it’s a natural adventure with guides who explain the herds of exotic game. Safari vehicles fitted with shade canopies offer an alternative tour.


I highly recommend a trip to Jordan; the country is safe, the people are friendly and the archeological ruins outstanding. A camel ride across the desert is a cherished memory, but I have to admit, a three-hour car ride gave me a similar, close encounter with the humped beasts.


Wilderness Ranch Zebras



If you go:

Safari Wilderness Ranch:

Tours in Jordan:


Southern Beach Destination Weddings at Casa Marina Hotel

July 4, 2012 by · Comments Off on Southern Beach Destination Weddings at Casa Marina Hotel 

Wedding Couple at the Casa Marina

Brides historically chose June as the most desirable month for their ceremony, but destination weddings have throw out the calendar. Exchanging vows somewhere other than a hometown church is the growing trend. Resorts and exotic locations temp couples with gorgeous settings, warm winter weather – if desired, and assistance with planning.  Plus, family and friends can enjoy a getaway, too.


Hotels embrace the concept because lavish functions and even those more low-key produce big income. Host facilities maintain a list of reliable vendors like florists, bakeries, photographers and transportation options to help coordinate nuptials. They essentially become “the wedding planner.”


Destination weddings do not necessarily mean an international venue. Some brides choose a place where the family has vacationed for years, a place that holds memories.


In the Southeast region, the Casa Marina Hotel on Jacksonville Beach, Florida, reigns as one of  the most popular choices. Rebekah Blakely, the hotel’s Director of Catering says, “We have an intimate facility and only hold one wedding per day. We assure exclusivity and our entire staff is committed to delivering dedicated service.”


The historic hotel must be doing things right because the Casa Marina earned a Best of Weddings listing from The Knot, a premier wedding website. General Manager Mark Vanderloo said, “Back in 2004, the hotel hosted about 30 weddings but the number grew to approximately one hundred by 2011.”


 Wedding Photos on the Beach

Wedding Photos on the Beach

Brides are choosing the ease of holding their wedding and reception in the same locale. Beach weddings have tremendous appeal and Casa Marina brides can choose between an oceanside ceremony or the hotel’s courtyard which lies just steps off the shore. When brides realize they can eliminate the complications of sand and rent a tent in case of bad weather, they often choose the courtyard. This also negates the need for a beach permit.


To match the non-traditional setting, many couples want flower arrangements or favors that feature a beach theme. They often incorporate shells, driftwood, starfish, floating candles and sand. Some couples select a seafood menu and specialized wedding cake featuring nautical designs.  For example, Classic Cakes of Jacksonville Beach offers wedding cakes with white chocolate sea shells and brown sugar sand.

Beach Themed Wedding Cake

Beach Themed Wedding Cake


Wedding photographer Emily Martin suggests working the beach as a romantic backdrop. She frequently whisks the couple onto the sandy shores for a quick sunset photo shoot. Sunrise is the best, she adds, ” but few brides select early morning ceremonies. ”


Today’s saavy brides know what they want and they want a memorable day that runs flawlessly.  We can’t guarantee the weather, say Blakely at the Casa Marina, but we can take the worry out.  Weddings are our specialty. We pride ourselves in excellent management of every detail. No wonder brides and mother-of-the-brides are choosing the Casa Marina.