The Wynwood Walls in Miami, Florida has become a major tourist destination since its inception in 2009. The neighborhood is like one giant street art museum, where walls of warehouses and other commercial buildings have become the canvases of well-known street artists. Wynwood is located in a gritty part of Miami and was the brainchild of real estate developer Tony Goldman, who built his reputation by purchasing distressed properties in downtrodden neighborhoods, refurbishing them, helping to revitalize the surrounding communities. By creating the Walls, he helped bring visitors to a community that they wouldn’t ordinarily visit. A trip to Wynwood is well worth a visit for great photo opportunities, interesting art galleries, good food, and hip clothing boutiques.
The cars that populate the streets of Cuba are relics of a bygone era when tailfins and chrome grills, last popular in the mid-1950’s, were all the rage. The vintage car culture there is a product of necessity not luxury. Few people can afford cars, so many of the vehicles on the road today are left over from long ago. Many of the cars are held together by ‘spit and glue’ since original American car parts are nearly impossible to get. Some are retrofitted with Russian and Chinese engines. The cars are visually appealing because of their vintage status and vibrant colors.
Life will be changing there, though, now that the United States and Cuba have resumed diplomatic relations. American Secretary of State, John Kerry, arrives in Cuba today to attend the opening of the American Embassy, which has been closed for over half a century. It remains to be seen if the brightly painted vintage cars go the way of the dinosaur or if they remain part of the new Cuban culture.
Cuba is a mere 90 miles off the coast of Florida, yet it is worlds apart from the United States in every imaginable way. Until Fidel Castro rose to power in the late 1950’s, Cuba was the playground of America’s rich and famous, but all of that changed when Castro allied himself with Communist Russia during the Cold War, creating a classless society, in which the government controlled every facet of life. Tensions flared between Cuba and the United States, leading to a trade embargo and a breakdown of diplomatic relations, which has lasted for over fifty years. During this time, Cubans have not been free to travel out of the country and Americans were not permitted entry to Cuba. Cuba’s isolation from the United States left it in a time warp, stuck in1959. Cars of that era still dominate the streets and the infrastructure seems frozen in that time period, too, with buildings and roads crumbling and in desperate need of repair.
Recently, President Obama announced that trade and diplomatic relations would resume between the United States and Cuba and that travel restrictions would begin to ease. American citizens must still get approval from the United States government in order to travel to Cuba. As long as they meet one of twelve approved purposes, which in my case was a people-to-people cultural exchange, they are good to go. I had a very memorable two weeks in the country, interacting with Cuban citizens and learning about their culture and way of life, through dance, music, cooking, and a home-stay. I will be documenting my experiences in the next few posts.
Located about seventy-five miles down the coast from San Francisco are the beautiful beaches and towns of Santa Cruz, California. Broad beaches, some surrounded by tall rocky bluffs, quaint towns, and a boardwalk from a bygone era are some of the attractions that draw visitors to this beautiful stretch of coastline. After a windswept day at the beach, I enjoyed a stroll along the boardwalk with a chocolate covered ice cream cone in hand. The boardwalk, with its colorful rides, is reminiscent of Coney Island in my hometown of New York City. The main attractions of both boardwalks are their old-school, wooden rollercoasters. The Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz, built in 1924 is one of the oldest roller coasters in the world and bears a striking resemblance to the Cyclone, which was built three years later in Coney Island.
On the northwestern coast of France, on the shores of the English Channel, otherwise known as La Manche to the French, lay the great beaches of Normandy. We often think of Normandy for the famous battlegrounds of D-Day, where so many young Americans lost their lives liberating France from Nazism. In addition to the historical sites of Omaha and Utah beaches and Point du Hoc, there are many picturesque towns along this stretch of coastline that are the playgrounds of chic and wealthy Parisians. They come here for the grand beaches, hotels, casinos, and shopping that towns like Deauville offer its visitors. Deauville is also known for the colorful umbrellas/cabanas that line its beach. Quaint towns such as Honfleur, located at the mouth of the Seine River, are postcard-worthy with narrow cobblestoned streets that climb its hilly terrain. The streets are lined with slender, old buildings of varying architectural styles that look like they could have been painted onto a scenic backdrop. A few days in Normandy only whet my appetite for another, lengthier visit in the future to see sights such as Mont St. Michel and towns such as Bayeux, Rouen, and many others.
We visited the sites where the United States, Britain, and Canada arrived on that fateful day known as D-Day on June 6, 1944. World War II had been raging on for five years and countless lives were lost at the hands of the Nazis when the allied troops lead by General Dwight D. Eisenhower stormed the beaches of Normandy. The attack, which was planned for two years and involved thousands of boats, aircraft, and servicemen was done in such secrecy that it took the Germans by complete surprise. The brave men who were involved in this invasion changed the course of history forever. There were several thousand casualties on that day and at the end of a two and a half month period, more than twenty-five thousand allied troops lost their lives and countless others were maimed. However, their heroics lead to the liberation of France and the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime. We visited the cliffs overlooking Omaha beach and saw the bunkers that the Germans used and the craters that were created by the bombs that fell. We visited a museum that displayed evidence and testimony of D-Day and commemorated the lives of the fearless troops that perished. Omaha beach is a beautiful, wide, sandy beach, surrounded by pretty beach homes, where children frolic and people walk their dogs. , where some of the worst casualties of the war took place. We spent some time in a torrential, freezing rain at the Normandy American cemetery where over nine thousand American servicemen are buried including 45 sets of brothers and a father and son. It was very moving to see rows upon rows of crosses and a few Stars of David, under which the remains of young men live in perpetuity. It was apropos that it was raining because it was as though tears were falling from heaven.