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WOW in South America

Over the summer, WOW traveled to both Peru and Brazil.

Greens resident Sebastian de Almenara led six families from The Greens on a trip to his native Peru. It culminated in a visit to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.

Arriving in time to celebrate Sebastian’s mother’s 80th birthday, the group then toured Peru’s capital city, Lima, before flying to Cuzco. There they explored the ruins of Pisac and a local Incan market before visiting the Ollantaytambo ruins. On June 22 they boarded a bus to Machu Picchu, where they saw the Sacred Plaza, Temple of the Three Windows, Temple of the Condor, Temple of the Sun, the Inca Trail, the Sun and Moon Gates, and the Inca Bridge.

Enjoying the trip were the Fosters, Garmendias, Haineses, the Hermans and the de Almenaras (all from Greenmont Drive) and the Willisies from Greenpointe.

Located in South Central Peru, Machu Picchu was built in approximately 1450 as an estate for the Incan emperor Pachacuti but fell into ruin with the defeat of the Incan Empire by the Spanish in the 1530s.

While its location had been known for years by local farmers, Machu Picchu was rediscovered by the rest of the world when archeologist Hiram Bingham visited the area looking for Incan ruins in 1911 and interviewed locals. Bingham returned under the sponsorship of Yale University the following year and cleared the overgrown site. The discovery was made famous when National Geographic dedicated their entire April 1913 edition to the find.

June also found Tim, Carmen Gloria and Sarah Creighton visiting Rio de Janiero, where they took this photo beneath the famous Christ the Redeemer statue. “Every summer, Carmen Gloria and Sarah spend two months in Santiago visiting family,” wrote Tim, who said he makes it down to Chile roughly every third year. “They took the 4+ hour flight from Santiago to Rio, where they stayed in a hotel on Copacabana Beach and visited many interesting sites.”

Constructed between 1922 and 1931, Christ the Redeemer is an Art Deco statue created by Paul Landowski, a French sculptor. The statue is 98 feet tall, not including its 26-foot pedestal.  Its arms stretch 92 feet wide. Weighing 635 metric tons, it stands atop the peak of the 2,300-foot Corcovado Mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park.

We thank all the Greens families and the Creightons for sharing their trip with WOW.

Take WOW on Your Fall Trips!

Please remember to take WOW or WOW Northwest with you on your fall trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Visits the Caribbean Islands

Recently WOW traveled to Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Both islands have a shared history. Founded as Spanish colonies, Puerto Rico in 1493 and Cuba in 1511 – they remained in Spain’s control until the U.S. took them in the Spanish-American War of 1898. While the U.S. granted Cuba its independence in 1902, it held on to Puerto Rico.

Many Americans are quite familiar with Cuba and the U.S.’s repeated interventions there before the revolution that brought Fidel Castro came to power. Looser restrictions on travel have brought a host of U.S. visitors to the island in recent years.

The Cuban Boys, a group of Greens residents who dominate trivia night at Irish 31, recently made another trip to Cuba, this time to Trinidad on the south cost. “Trinidad was founded over 500 years ago,” wrote Steve Splaine. “To put that in perspective, that’s 50 plus years before St Augustine (the oldest city in the U.S.). Time has stood still in Trinidad. The streets are still cobbled and most of the houses in the old quarter are over 300 years old.”

And while Steve insists the group is throwing their signature 813 gang sign, Jeff Rosenblatt on the end appears to be so thoroughly enjoying Cuba that he’s gotten a bit fuzzy on that counting thing. (The editor may still be feeling a bit resentful about that trivia loss.)

Also visiting Cuba recently was Barbara Hessler Griffith of The Bridges. “I brought Westchase with me to Havana!” she wrote. Of her photo, she stated, “That's the ‘Capitolio’ under reconstruction in the back.”

Often compared to the U.S. Capitol, the building, however, is not a replica. It was the seat of the Cuban National Government until the revolution, when the Cuban Congress, which it held, was banned. It then became home to the Cuban Academy of Sciences. Its reconstruction, begun in 2013, is meant to prepare it to serve as the home of Cuba’s National Assembly.

In contrast, Puerto Rico, which lies just east of Cuba, remains a territory of the U.S. All Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship. Rainy, Daril and Laith Zednik of Castleford submitted a photo of the family visiting La Isla del Encanto (the island of enchantment). “Our family went to Puerto Rico in July and visited many wonderful historic places,” wrote Mom Rainy. “We took a picture of us at the world’s second largest radio satellite dish at "Observatorio de Arecibo."

Until China built a 500-meter radio telescope in 2016, the Arecibo telescope was the largest in the world. It was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2008. The telescope sweeps the galaxy as part of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program and has even proven the existence of pulsars.

We thank Barbara Griffith, the Cuban Boys and the Zedniks for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Fall Trips!

Please remember to take WOW or WOW Northwest with you on your fall trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW’s Travels Continue!

Last spring residents traveled with WOW in search of suds, sand and stock sages.

“My girlfriend and I took WOW on our trip to Dublin, Ireland from March 11 to March 18,” wrote Sergio Florez of West Park Village. “We decided to take a vacation and visit Dublin to have some fun on St. Patrick's Day. Here I am with WOW in the Temple Bar area of Dublin on St. Patrick's Day.”

In April Jackie and Larry Krauss took the WOW to the Hawaiian Islands of Oahu and Maui.  The Greens couple sent a handful of fun photos, including one taken off their balcony with the Rainbow Tower and Waikiki Beach in the background. “The Rainbow Tower is featured weekly on Hawaii Five-O,” Jackie explained.  “We hope you publish our photos and loved sharing them with you.”

Meanwhile Keiko Omori and Steve Straw found themselves in Nebraska. “My husband and I recently undertook our annual pilgrimage to Omaha, Nebraska to attend what's globally referred to as the ‘Woodstock for Capitalists,’ also known as the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting. I couldn't help but bring along my latest WOW magazine to make sure Westchase was properly represented amongst 30,000 global investors!” wrote Keiko, who stood beside a cardboard version of the most famous one. “Warren Buffet (age 86) and his partner Charlie Munger (age 93) are a true testament that age is just a number!”

We thank Sergio Florez, the Krausses and Keiko Omori and Steve Straw for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Fall Trips!

Please remember to take WOW or WOW Northwest with you on your fall trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in San Antonio and San Francisco

This month WOW is on a mission.

In February WOW visited two cities – San Antonio and San Francisco. Despite their distance from each other, they have much in common.
Specifically their early history.

Both Texas and California were initially settled not by English settlers but by Spanish settlers, migrating northward from Mexico. Leading the way were Catholic missionaries, who established religious missions in both regions and named the surrounding cities after the Spanish names for Saint Anthony and Saint Francis.

The San Antonio mission and fortress they established would be widely remembered for the role it would play in establishing Texas independence. Texas, upon winning its war for independence from Mexico, was its own independent country for a decade before its annexation by the U.S. The Texas annexation in 1845 helped spark the Mexican-American War (1846-48), which brought California into the U.S.

In February, Amanda and Dave Wynne of the Vineyards visited California with daughters, Natalie and Emery. “Our first stop was in Anaheim where oldest daughter, Natalie, competed with Bay Area Performing Arts and Casting at the Musical Theater Competitions of America (MTCA),” wrote Amanda. “Following the competition, we headed north to San Francisco where we spent several days exploring in the rain, fog and cold. Highlights included the San Francisco Botanical Gardens and the California Academy of Sciences, both in Golden Gate Park; the Exploratorium; Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square, Alcatraz and Lands End. The weather improved for our last two days in California, which were spent at Muir Woods and Sonoma Valley.”

Amanda added, “Mission San Francisco de Asis, the oldest standing structure in San Francisco, [was] founded by Father Francisco Palou under the direction of Father Junipero Serra on June 29, 1776.  The building has adobe walls four feet thick and retains the original redwood logs, lashed together with rawhide, that support the roof.  The altar screen and side altars inside the Mission came from Mexico in 1797 and 1810, respectively.  The Mission itself withstood the 1906 earthquake but the adjacent brick parish church did not.  We had read about Father Serra and the founding of the Mission as part of our history studies this year so it was especially meaningful to visit and see history in person.”

That same month, new Westchase residents Martin and Carol Huegel moved into the Tampa area, specifically into The Vineyards. “We had received our first copy of WOW and I packed it in my carry on bag to read on the flight to San Antonio,” she wrote. “Here I am with WOW in front of the Alamo."

Carol added, “WOW is very informative!”

The Alamo was first constructed as a mission to house and convert local Native American groups in the mid-1700s. It was later abandoned and in the early 1800s became a Mexican military fortress, which was seized by Texan Americans in 1836 as part of their quest for independence.

The Alamo, besieged and attacked by the Mexican Army, was no victory for the Texans. They were wiped out on March 6, 1836. The defeat, however, led to a battle cry –“Remember the Alamo!” – that helped motivate Texans in their successful fight for independence.

We thank the Wynnes and the Huegels for sharing their travels with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Takes a Cruise…or Three

WOW has recently had to be in shipshape condition.

Because in recent months WOW has floated along on a number of residents’ vacation cruises.

Marykay Selby of West Park Village submitted the photo of her standing outside the Cayman Islands National Museum. “My husband, Derek, and I took an anniversary cruise that included a stop in Grand Cayman. It was a beautiful day to snorkel and see some historical sights,” she said.

The museum is the oldest public building in the Grand Caymans. It has functioned previously as a jail, courthouse, dancehall and post office. Dating to the 1800s, the building is a focal point of George Town’s Harbor. The museum’s mission is to promote Caymanian history and culture.

Carmen and Anthony Fiorito of West Park Village also sent us a photo of them holding the WOW while cruising through the Panama Canal (their position in the canal appears on the large screen behind them). “My husband and I checked off from our bucket list for our 50th wedding anniversary (Feb. 11, 2017) a 15-night Island Princess cruise through the Panama Canal, stopping at Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Grand Cayman,” Carmen wrote. “The canal was amazing to see that after over 100 years of brilliant engineering, it still functions just with gravity.”

Carmen added that the birth of their first grandchild, Nicklas, brought them to Westchase when he was 1. “We are now blessed with three wonderful grandchildren, Nicklas Andreasen,10, Max Fiorito, 4, and Elleson Fiorito, 2 – and living in Westchase, one of the most wonderful and friendliest communities ever!”

Our third Caribbean photo is of the Kievet family of Brentford. Dave and Rita Kievets have been cruising the Caribbean for the past 10 years. Their most recent cruise in February was extra special since it celebrated their daughter Natalie's 21st birthday and their son Austin's spring college graduation.

While they have visited most ports in the Caribbean, the Kievets’ nine-night cruise visited Labadee, Haiti and Curaçao, Bonaire and Aruba, which they had not yet visited. “Everyone enjoyed a family vacation of white sand beaches, boating, snorkeling, shopping and plenty of warm Caribbean sunshine,” wrote Rita. “Of course taking a family picture with the WOW magazine sailing back from our snorkeling excursion in the clear turquoise waters of Aruba was a must! Everyone relaxed and had a great time.”

We thank the Selbys, The Fioritos and Kievets for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Summer Vacations!

Please remember to take WOW or WOW Northwest with you on your summer vacation trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Tours China and Brazil

From the eastern to the southern hemispheres, WOW traveled far and wide in recent months

In the late fall and winter, WOW visited two of the fastest developing countries in the world, Brazil and China.

Woodbay’s Jim Howell, the owner and president of Perky’s Pizza, took WOW along on a business trip to Urumqi, China, to which Perky’s Pizza expanded early this year. Urumqi is the capital city of the Xinjiang Region in the upper northwest of China. It’s about 300 miles due east of Kazakhstan and 150 miles due west of Mongolia. “[There are] 6 million people in Urumqi. The scale is unreal, and I have been to 40 plus countries.” wrote Jim. “The culture is Uyghur, a distinct culture, with some Chinese influence.  Go Google it. Cool stuff,” he suggested.

Jim explained his photo, “This is in front of the Grand Bazaar, and grand it was!”

He added, “Based on the looks I got, I am very sure, most of the people watching me get this picture had seen my type before. But great, friendly people.  And the food was awesome!”

Urumqi’s Grand Bazaar opened in 2003 and is one of the world’s largest bazaars. Its architecture reflects strong Islamic influences. Islam is the most common religion in the Uyghur area.

Meanwhile West Park Village resident Fabiana Staino traveled to Ilhabela on the southern coast of Brazil. Ilhabela is the name of a town on a 134-square-mile island which also has the same name. Popular with tourists who visit its beautiful beaches, Ilhabela lies about four miles off the coast and is only accessible by ferry.

“My aunt has properties over there,” explained Fabiana, “I stayed at her bed and breakfast.”

Fabiana added, “Tourists, mainly Europeans, visit Ilhabela all year around.”

The town, inhabited by 33,000, is surrounded by the protected lands of the Ihabela State Park. The island lies about 120 miles east of Sao Paulo.

We thank the Jim Howell and Fabiana Staino for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Summer Vacations!

Please remember to take WOW or WOW Northwest with you on your summer vacation trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Keeps Traveling

WOW kept busy last spring and summer with travels domestic and international.

Greenhedges residents Sue and John D’Auria took a cruise through the Aegean for their 40th anniversary. Along with sites in Greece, the couple took a photo with WOW in Ephesus, Turkey. “Ephesus is a very ancient and long-lived site, with occupation dating back to the Neolithic Period, 6,000 years ago, but it flourished during the Roman Period,” wrote Sue. “This picture was taken on the approach to the Library of Celsus, which was built in the 2nd century AD in honor of the Roman consul Celsus, who was buried in a crypt in the library. The building originally held 12,000 volumes (in the form of papyrus scrolls).”

Meanwhile Natalie and Nick Kuhn of West Park Village visited Johannesburg, South Africa during a summer trip with their boys. There the family went on a safari adventure on a farm called the Olifants River Game Reserve situated in Limpopo Province near the town of Hoedspruit. “This farm boasts many incredible animals including the Big Five, which are the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino,” wrote Natalie. “We were fortunate to see four of these amongst many other animals like the giraffe, zebra, crocodiles, hippos and an abundance of buck life. The WOW went with us on our adventure and we managed to get a great picture with a giraffe in the background!”

The summer also found Sabrina Wise and Matthew Rice of Stonebridge in the western United States. “We took a two week trip going down the west coast to eventually arrive at a friend's wedding. I brought WOW along with us to document our trip,” wrote Sabrina. “The very first day we arrived in Portland, Oregon and decided to drive out to Multnomah Falls (the tallest waterfall in Oregon). What a hike! Going to the top felt like doing non-stop lunges the whole way up! The view was breathtaking though and we both highly recommend going to the top.”

In a romantic twist, Matthew proposed to Sabrina the next day on May 26 at the Rex Hill Winery. “After that, as you might imagine,” wrote Sabrina, “I was a little distracted from taking pictures with the magazine.”

We thank the D’Aurias, the Kuhns and Sabrina Wise and Matthew Rice for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Spring Trips!

Please remember to take WOW or WOW Northwest with you on your spring break trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Tours the National Parks

This past summer found WOW visiting a number of national parks in the Northwest and extreme north!

In July 2016 the Westmoreland family of The Fords and the Decossas and Kelley families of Harbor Links travelled to Alaska. The three families (including five teenage girls) came up with the idea during a dinner gathering and booked the trip 10 months out to include a few days in Denali National Park and a southbound cruise from Seward, Alaska to Vancouver, British Columbia. The trip was kicked off at Denali National Park to celebrate the national parks centennial anniversary, where the three families rented a VRBO cabin. Denali National Park and Preserve encompasses 6 million acres of Alaska’s interior wilderness. Its centerpiece is 20,310-ft.-high Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), North America’s tallest peak. With terrain of tundra, spruce forest and glaciers, the park is home to wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou and Dall sheep.

Before taking scenic Seward Highway to board the cruise ship, the entire group hiked Flattop Mountain, located just east of urban Anchorage. It is Alaska’s most climbed mountain and offers amazing panoramic views of Anchorage and the surrounding area. The families’ Norwegian Sun cruise stopped in Ice Straights, Sitka, Juneau, and Ketchican and the scenery was breathtaking at all times of the day. “We never did see it get dark,” said Monica Kelley.

Alaska had many adventures to enjoy but the families chose white water rafting, zip lining, hiking, dog mushing, helicopters, sea planes and swimming (on the cruise ship). The trip came to an end in Canada’s cosmopolitan city of Vancouver.

Meanwhile Brendan and Monica Barrett of Village Green, along with their daughters Lila and Julia, traveled to Seattle and Olympic National Park, on the Olympic peninsula west of Seattle; Mt. Rainier National Park, which lies southeast of Seattle; and North Cascades National Park, which sits on Washington’s border with Canada. The parks are filled with stunning views of the snow-capped Olympic and Cascade Mountains and their pine forests.

Among the three parks, visitors can discover a combination of striking and rugged, rocky beaches, temperate forests and rapidly disappearing mountain glaciers. The most striking of the mountains is Mt. Rainier, the iconic and still active stratovolcano that is visible from Seattle.

Mt. Rainier rises 14,411 feet above sea level. The mountain was named by English naval officer George Vancouver (the namesake of the Canadian island and city), who named the peak after his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier. While beautiful, Mt. Rainier’s status as a volcano and the most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states means it represents an existential threat to Seattle. Should the volcano erupt like its neighbor Mt. St. Helens did in 1980, the melting ice would send massive lahars (mudflows) rolling down the mountain and destroying the southern portion of Seattle. Historically Rainier’s lahars have traveled as far as 30 miles to Puget Sound. Currently, the United States Geological Survey estimates that 150,000 people live on top of previous lahar deposits from Mt. Rainier.

We thank the Westmoreland, Decossas, Kelley and Barrett families for sharing their trips with WOW!

By Monica Kelly and Chris Barrett, Publisher

Take WOW on Your Spring Trips!

Please remember to take WOW or WOW Northwest with you on your spring break trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).


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WOW in Eastern and Central Europe

In recent months WOW enjoyed adventures in the old country.

Andrea Badaan sent us photos from two continents and three countries. In late June and early July, she brought her WOW along on her travels to Canada, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

“The purpose of the trip was to visit my family, in all three countries, as well as to attend cultural and historical events, and to do some sightseeing,” she said. “Of course, I had to refresh my memories from my childhood and had some delicious, old fashion Czech and Slovak homemade dishes.”

Andrea, who moved to Westchase in the summer of 2015, added, “Besides other family members I visited, it was very nice to see my 88-year-old grandmother in Brno, Czech Republic, who is a great, great grandma, as we are a five- generation family! I went to visit my father, who lives in Ziar nad Hronom, Slovakia. Last but not least, I went to visit my mom, my sister and my two adult daughters, who live in Ottawa, Canada.”

Andrea concluded, “I absolutely love our WOW magazine and I read every single page of each month’s issue!”

September found Karen and Paul Hough traveling with WOW in Central Europe. “We travelled to Zurich last month so I could race Ironman Switzerland and to celebrate our 21st anniversary,” wrote Paul. “We took a lot of photos and even remembered to bring the WOW to some of the places.”

Paul described Lucerne, Switzerland as a very charming town whose old city center featured buildings with many well preserved frescoes.  There he took photos of Karen near Chapel Bridge. “The bridge dates back to the 14th century but is practically new since it was rebuilt after a bad fire in 1993,” he stated.

The couple traveled to Switzerland and Germany as well as one additional stop.

“We also made a stop in Liechtenstein to say we were in the fourth smallest country in the world,” Paul wrote. “We even went to the tourist office to get our passport stamped.”

There he snapped a photo of Karen holding WOW in front of Vaduz’s opera house.

We thank Andrea Badaan and the Houghs for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Spring Break Trips!

Please remember to take WOW or WOW Northwest with you on your spring break trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Visits Latin America

Last summer WOW found itself in the Caribbean and South America.

Over the week of July 18-25, 2016, a group of 14 Alonso, Steinbrenner and Jesuit High School students, along with three chaperones, spent a life-changing week at the NPH International Children’s Home in San Pedro de Macoris in The Dominican Republic. One of those chaperones was Keswick Forest resident Leslie McCluskie. “Through the generosity and support of friends, neighbors and strangers donating to our fundraisers, we were able to bring toys, sporting equipment, arts supplies, dresses, backpacks, belts, money for shoes and our hugs to these deserving kids,” wrote Leslie.

They also brought along a copy of WOW.

The group lived on campus, played with the kids, worked on its small farm and toured a local village where sugar cane field workers live. “We had a couple of beach days, one of which we got the opportunity to bring a small group of NPH kids with us. Each day brought on a new degree of adventure. It was an amazing experience for all of us and we hope to go back again next year.” She added, “Of course, bringing a current version of the WOW with us.”

Participating were Emily Baer, Michelle Dobin, Maria Fernandez, Lauren Green, Colton Heath, Jacquelyn Hebard, Virginia Howell, Rachel Jenkins, Ashley Loudermilk, Heather McCluskie, Kara Mostowski, Sara Nielsen, Nick Palmiero, Kailey Smart and chaperones Lori Smart, Leslie McCluskie and Jeff Palmiero. 

If you would like to read more about the NPH International, visit

That same month, 11-year-old Sarah Creighton of The Greens visited her mom Carmen’s extended family in Santiago, Chile, where they spend almost two months every summer. Sarah is pictured holding WOW in the Plaza Italia in Santiago on July 18, 2016. 

Wrote her father, Tim, “Tens of thousands of people commute through Plaza Italia daily, making it unofficially the central hub of Santiago. Plaza Italia is where locals gather for celebrations, impromptu and expected, as well as for protests.”

Tim added that within the plaza many different cultures, neighborhoods and economic groups intermingle. “It is a great place to connect and participate in the community,” he wrote. “It is surrounded by restaurants, bars, hotels, offices and other attractions that keep foot traffic high throughout the day.”

We thank Leslie McCluskie and the Creightons for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Winter Trips!

Please remember to take WOW or WOW Northwest with you on your fall trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Enjoys the UK and Italy

The spring and summer found WOW tagging along on two different trips to England.

West Park Village resident Sarah Stokes and her family sent in the image of Sarah reading a spring edition of WOW along the famous Thames. “We moved to this wonderful area from the United Kingdom nearly three years ago and have loved it's warm and friendly family atmosphere,” she wrote. “It's a world away from the hustle and bustle of London, which is where I was recently with my Westchase WOW!

Sarah added, “Visiting the iconic landmarks of London like the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament was a real treat as was soaking up the sun in Southbank coffee shops by the river Thames. It was a much welcome trip down memory lane, however it was lovely to return to our Westchase home!”

Summer also found Greens residents Steve and Darlene Splaine and sons Jack and Sam visiting Steve’s parents in the UK. The family’s first stop was Ireland, where they enjoyed a Guinness in Dublin, kissed the Blarney Stone in Cork and cycled across the wind-swept Aran Islands.

“We next hoped on to a plane to Venice, Italy (flights within Europe are so cheap!) and took our WOW to see the prettily painted houses of the island of Burano – a 40 minute boat ride from the heart of Venice,” Steve wrote.

The Splaines’ last stop was Bristol, England. “We arrived the day of the BritEx results to find a nation that was completely flabbergasted – no one expected the ‘leave’ vote to win (including the leaders of the leave campaign),” wrote Steve. “Of course the remedy was to visit the local English village pub for much contemplation.”

There Steve took a photo with Darlene, Jack, Steve’s father John and Steve’s uncle Dave. Steve concluded, “With our bellies full, it was time for SplaineEx and the long plane flight home to Westchase.”

Take WOW on Your Winter Break Trips!

Please remember to take WOW or WOW Northwest with you on your fall trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Enjoys the Aloha and Evergreen States

Last June found WOW in sunny Hawaii and Seattle, Washington.

June found the Seligsohn family of Radcliffe in Hawaii, where Erin and Steven Seligsohn took the photo of their parents, Jeff and Nancy, on the rocky shore of Paia, Maui. “We were celebrating our daughter Erin's graduation from Georgia Tech with her Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering,” Jeff and Nancy wrote. “We had an incredible time – traveled through the fields of a pineapple planation, toured a winery that uses pineapples to make the wine, scaled Mount Haleakala (a dormant volcano), hiked to twin waterfalls in the lush forest and snorkeled with the colorful fish and giant sea turtles in the beautiful blue waters.”

Also visiting the Aloha State in June was the Duffy family of The Bridges. “We went for our family vacation and made our way around Oahu to see all the sites,” said Pat Duffey, who submitted the photo of his daughters Abby, Emma and Eli at Hanauma Bay State Park. “We figured it would be a good blowout family vacation before Emma left for college.”

Pat explained, “Hanauma Bay State Park has an amazing reef and is famous for snorkeling.”

June also found the Patterson family of Radlcliffe in Seattle, where Don and Mignon Patterson took a shot of their children, Lila and Luke, holding the WOW beneath the Space Needle.

Interestingly, while WOW has made a handful of trips to China’s Great Wall and even visited the Taj Mahal twice, this is its first appearance at Seattle’s Space Needle. Opening on April 21, 1962, the 605-foot tall Space Needle was designed for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. Its space-age design was first sketched out by Edward E. Carlson on a napkin and later transformed into the flying saucer structure by Architect John Graham. Visitors to the Space Needle can gaze out from its observation deck or enjoy the Needle's rotating restaurant with spectacular views of the city and Elliott Bay.

We thank the Duffys, the Seligsohns and the Pattersons for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Winter Break Trips!

Please remember to take WOW with you on your fall trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in Glaciers and Snow

While two Westchase families took trips in May and June, their travels took them to snowy parts of the U.S.

Despite it being spring and summer, their altitude and latitude made for some winter-white photos.

“What better way to spend a day in Skagway, Alaska then looking at the mountains, taking a train ride across the glaciers and catching up on Westchase news?” wrote Glencliff’s Judy Servidio. “My husband, Mike and I recently visited Juneau, Tracy Arm Fjord, Ketchikan, and Victoria, Canada,” she explained. “Had a blast!”

Skagway’s population of roughly 1,050 people live in an old Klondike gold-rush town that has become a popular stop for Alaska’s cruise ships. The town features some old mining railroads that take tourists into the backcountry.

Meanwhile Dan and Jen Sammartino of Castleford traveled high into the Rockies. “Recently my wife and I took a trip to Colorado where we toured five different sites in a week,” he wrote. “These two pictures are from Mt. Evans, the highest summit of the Chicago Peaks in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The summit reaches 14,271 feet high and is quite breathtaking.”

We thank Judy Servidio of Glencliff as well as the Sammartino family of Castleford for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Fall Trips!

Please remember to take WOW with you on your fall trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Visits Amsterdam and Costa Rica

The spring and early summer found WOW in Northern Europe and Central America.

This past spring Mariruth Kennedy and Linda Arns of the Keswick Forest travelled to Amsterdam with WOW. 

“We stayed on the houseboat in the photo,” wrote Linda. “The houseboat was located on a small canal just off the Amstel River in the heart of Amsterdam and was amazingly large on the inside with 3 bedrooms and a full bath. We rented the houseboat through Airbnb and found it to be a unique place to stay while enjoying the city.”

Mariruth and Linda toured the city and took a bike and barge tour through Holland’s tulip and flower fields, which were in full bloom. “We visited the Keukenhof Gardens, went to the flower auction house, climbed inside a windmill built in the 1700's and stopped at a working cheese farm,” Linda stated.

Afterward they headed to France. “We then left for three days in Paris, went to the top of the Eiffel tower (where we meant to take a second WOW mag picture but it was too crowded), and toured many museums.”

Later during the first week of June, the Schirmir family of Bennington also took WOW along for their amazing adventure to Costa Rica. Wrote April Schirmir, “We stayed at Villas Sol Hotel and Beach Resort on Playa Hermosa (Beautiful Beach) on the Pacific side of this Central American country.”

The picture with Alia Schirmer,12, and Zachary Schirmer, 15, was taken in front of Playa del Coco. The second picture is with their father, Todd Schirmer, in front of Playa Hermosa from the hotel area.  Added April, “We had an amazing views of the beaches every morning and night while dining in the hotel restaurant. We also took an excursion where we zip-lined thru the rainforest, took a horseback ride to hot springs, and went on a 1400-foot water slide made from the natural springs in the Rincon de la Vieja National Park.”

We thank Mariruth and Linda as well as the Schirmirs for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Fall Trips!

Please remember to take WOW with you on your fall trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in Asia

Westchase residents recently took WOW to the far side of the planet.

Desmond and Maryke Curran submitted a photo of the West Park Village couple standing with WOW at one of the world’s most recognizable sites, the Great Wall of China.

Wrote the couple, “A wonderful trip: 1.3 billion people, 10 airplanes, six boats, six cities  of over 20 million and 27,000 miles.  Probably a bit more than we bargained for, but wonderfully interesting. Now officially exhausted!”

The Great Wall of China, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, wasn’t constructed over a few years. The engineering marvel was a continual work, aimed at keeping various invading forces from north of China out. Its history featured a millennium and a half of building, decay and rebuilding. Construction spanned a number of Chinese empires, known as dynasties. It was begun in the third century B.C.E. and saw its greatest expansion during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), from which most of the existing wall actually dates. In the West, the wall has become a powerful symbol of Chinese engineering and strength as well as China’s historical efforts to keep the rest of the world at bay.

A great myth persists that the Great Wall is visible by naked eye from the moon. This incorrect “fact” was first reported in print 1754 and repeated in 1895. It achieved widespread belief after appearing in a Ripley’s Believe it Or Not cartoon strip in 1932, more than three decades before any human actually peered out from the moon. The wall, however, is at most 30 feet across at its widest and its stone is the same color as the surrounding ground. For it to be visible from the moon by naked eye it would have to be at least 70 feet wide and a contrasting color. NASA has stated (this claim is even disputed by actual astronauts) that under perfectly clear conditions, the wall is barely visible in a low earth orbit of roughly 100 miles. While great, the wall can definitely not be seen by naked eye from the moon.

Vineyards residents Sagun Joshi, his wife, Sajana Bajracharya, and their son Eugene recently took WOW to a county it had never before visited: Nepal. The family traveled there this past January and recently submitted their photo. Wrote Sagun, “We spent a month long vacation in Nepal to introduce Eugene to his extended family.”

Sagun said it took 30 hours to fly into Nepal. The small country, at almost 57,000 square miles, is roughly the size of Iowa but home to 27 million people. Nepal is also famous for being home to the world’s tallest peaks, including Mt. Everest. “We were greeted with warm and variety of authentic Nepali foods which we hadn't had in years here in Florida, which made us forget all about the cold.” Sagun added, “Notably Mo: Mo, the most famous food in Nepal.”

Mo: Mo is a kind of dumpling.

Sagun submitted a photo of WOW taken with his family during their visit to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Swayambhunath Monastery in Kathmandu, which dates to the fifth century. “It is a famous shrine for the founder of peace and nonviolence, Gautama Buddha,” said Sagun.

Gautama or Siddhārtha Buddha was an ascetic and sage whose writings laid the foundation for Buddhism. Nepal’s population is nearly 10 percent Buddhist while another 81 percent identifies as Hindu.

Pictured second and third from the left are Sagun and Sajana, who is holding Eugene.  Sagun’s sister, Rosy, appears far left, and his mother, Urmila, and brother-in-law, Sagar, are on the right. 

We thank the Curran and Joshi/Bajracharya families for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Fall Trips!

Please remember to take WOW with you on your fall trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in Washington and Montreal

In late winter and spring Westchase families traveled with WOW to some interesting places.

In February 2016 the Udell family of Wycliff traveled to Auberge du lac Morency. Built in1934, the traditional wooden inn and resort overlooks Lake Morency and lies about 30 miles northwest from downtown Montreal.

While in Canada, Kevin and Cherie Udell looked forward to the wedding of their youngest daughter, Shana and her fiancé, Aaron, at the end of February.  Also, their oldest daughter, Brittany, was surprised by boyfriend Brad, who proposed overlooking the snow-capped mountains and frozen lake at the resort. Wrote Cherie, “The six of us spent the rest of the week celebrating with skiing, dog sledding, ice skating, snow tubing and finding many great eating places around Montreal.”

Later, during spring break, the Muhasay Family of Chelmsford took WOW along for their trip to Washington, D.C. Ed, Melody, Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel sent in photos of them visiting two recognizable landmarks, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

The Washington Memorial was originally supposed to be an equestrian statue of George Washington. Yet after political opposition from the Jeffersonian Democratic Republicans to memorializing Washington faded in the early 19th century, the proposed statue was replaced by something grander. The monument, an obelisk at over 554 feet, is the tallest stone structure and obelisk in the world. While its construction began in 1848, its construction was halted between 1854-1877 due to lack of money, conflicts within its fundraising committee and the American Civil War. The interruption caused two slightly different shades of stone to be used in the obelisk’s base and its top. While the stone structure was completed in 1884, it officially opened in 1888.

Following a design competition in 1884, architect Robert Mills’ proposal was selected. Mills called for an obelisk surrounded by a circular colonnade containing statues of other Revolutionary heroes. The colonnade, however, was later scrapped to save money despite Mills’ purported worry that it would leave the memorial looking like a giant stalk of asparagus.

Completed in 1922 at the west end of the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial was designed by architect Henry Bacon and its interior statue was sculpted by Daniel Chester French.

French’s grand statue of Lincoln is 19 feet tall, head to foot. Its Georgia marble weighs 159 tons and was shipped in 29 different pieces. If the statue of Lincoln stood, he would be 28 feet tall.

A few myths exist about the Lincoln Memorial. Some believe that Robert E. Lee’s face is carved into the back of the head of Lincoln’s statue (Lee’s plantation lies across the Potomac River. It was seized and converted into Arlington Cemetery during the Civil War.). This, however, is not the case. And while French did have a deaf son, the National Park Service also denies that French carved Lincoln’s hands to represent the American sign language symbols for A and L, Lincoln’s initials.

We thank the Udells and Muhasays for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Summer Trips!

Please remember to take WOW with you on your summer trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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Keeping Cool with WOW

Over spring break some Westchasers took WOW for a romp in the snow and ice.

The photos offer a refreshing break from the sweltering summer Tampa temperatures.

“We did something a little different for ‘spring break’ and took a trip to Iceland,” wrote Fords resident Paul Hough, who in March sent in a number of photos of his daughter Paula holding WOW on the northern Atlantic island. “Given Paula's parka, it is pretty clear that we weren't in Florida,” he added.

Paul is quite familiar with Iceland. “I attended seventh and eighth grade in Iceland when my father was assigned to the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, an Air Force tenant unit at then Naval Air Station, Keflavik,” he said, adding that the U.S. pulled out of that base on Sept. 30, 2006.

The photos of Paula Hough include Gulfoss, a beautiful waterfall that is popular with tourists, and a photo of Paula in the street leading to Hallgrímskirkja, the church of Hallgrimur. The 244-foot structure, named for Icelandic clergyman and poet, Hallgrímur Pétursson, is a Lutheran church and one of the most iconic images of Iceland’s capital. Designed by architect Guðjón Samúelsson, the church took 41 years to complete after its construction began in 1945.

Paul even sent in a photo of a banner he came across while in the capital, Reykjavik. It says, "All are welcome, even those who would rather be in Florida." 

“Despite the cold weather,” he added, “we were very happy to be there.”

Meanwhile, to Tampa’s west, Marty and Catherine Hamilton of Brentford took their children, Erin and Ellis, skiing along with WOW – and on a tour of some national parks. Wrote Marty, “We did the Hoover Dam/Grand Canyon/Lake Powell/Zion National Park loop, but since the kids love to ski, we put a cherry on top of the trip and spent two days at Brian Head, Utah for some truly fantastic skiing.”

Marty added, “Brian Head gets over 200 inches of snow on average so there was plenty on the slopes and we timed our visit (unknowingly) to a very quiet week.  No lines, lots of wide open hills and perfect high 30s temps and blue sky in the day.”

Brian Head Resort, about one and a half hours from Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, opened in 1964 and currently features 71 runs on its two peaks.

We thank the Houghs and Hamiltons for sharing their travels with WOW!

Take WOW on Your Summer Vacations!

Please remember to take WOW with you on your summer trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Enjoys Island Life

March found WOW visiting islands in the Atlantic and Pacific.

West Park Village residents Judd and Kara Tyler traveled to Bora Bora, an island lying just west of Tahiti in the South Pacific. “We spent a week in Bora Bora celebrating Judd's 40th birthday and had the most amazing time,” wrote Kara.

The 12 square-mile island is famous for its luxury resorts, featuring bungalos on stilts above it beautiful lagoon. It’s located in French Polynesia, roughly equidistant from northern Australia and western Peru.

Behind the Tylers in the photo are Bora Bora’s famous landmarks, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu, the remnants of the extinct volcano that built the island.Fewer than 9,000 permanent residents call Bora Bora home.

Settled in the fourth century by Polynesians, Bora Bora saw its first European visitor in 1722. It was an independent kingdom until the French annexed the island and overthrew its last queen,Teriimaevarua III.

A bit closer to Florida, the Lucas family of The Greens took a cruise that brought them to St. Martin in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean Sea.

The 54.4 square-mile island of St. Martin has one peculiarity. It holds two different countries with the same name. Its north is owned by France and its south is owned by the Netherlands. Lying about 185 miles east of Puerto Rico, it is home to about 78,000 residents.

The earliest human inhabitants arrived in St. Martin (likely from South America) about 3,500 years ago. The first European settlers, the Dutch, arrived in 1633, kicking off many years of competition among European powers for control of St. Martin and the rest of the Lesser Antilles. (While Christopher Columbus documented seeing St. Martin, he never landed to make a claim.) The Treaty of Concordia in 1648 split St. Martin between the French and the Dutch but the next two centuries saw conflicts that changed the border 16 times.

There’s a reason the Lucas’ photo looks a bit odd. They were trying to get themselves, the magazine and the plane all in the same shot.

“Not the greatest pictures but we tried to get a "selfie" from Maho Beach in St. Martin,” explained Mark Gordon. “This is the famous beach where people get knocked over when planes take off and they land right over your head.”

Maho Beach, on the Dutch side, often sees airliners that are landing at Princess Juliana International Airport  pass less than 100 feet above beachgoers’ heads. Visitors are warned that the wash from larger jets can injure them or blow them into the water.

If you’re wondering about the distinction between the Leeward and Windward islands in the Caribbean, here’s the explanation. Windward is the direction upwind (toward where the wind is coming from) from a particular spot. Leeward is the direction downwind (or downward) from that spot. When European explorers cross the Atlantic in the early years, the prevailing trade winds and currents brought them to the West Indies on a line that roughly intersects with the island of Dominica. It thus became their point of reference. So the Windward Islands are the islands that are south of Dominica and the Leeward Islands are the small islands lying north of Dominica. Both the Leeward and Windward Islands are in the Lesser Antilles.

Also confused about the Antilles? (The name “Antilles” comes from Antilia or Antillia, which was a legendary island said to lie west of Spain.) The Greater Antilles refer to the larger (or greater) islands of the northern Caribbean Sea, including Cuba, Hispaniola (home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti), Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico. The Lesser Antilles include the much smaller islands that sweep south in a reverse letter C from Puerto Rico to the coast of Venezuela in South America.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

Take WOW on Your Summer Vacations!

Please remember to take WOW with you on your summer trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).


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WOW in Jordan and Cuba

Early this year, WOW found itself in two places it had never before visited –  but with different members of the same family.

A mere 6,850 miles separated them.

January found a group of Greens residents, including Mike Williams, exploring Havana, Cuba. Two months later, his daughter, Julie, took WOW to the Roman ruins in Jerash, Jordan as part of a university program.

Kicking off the new year, Greens residents Mike Williams, Alan Ashworth, Rick Hodges, Steve Splaine and Jeff Rosenblatt, along with Steve Schluchter of Nine Eagles, traveled to Cuba. Describing their trip, Greens resident Jeff Rosenblatt wrote, “The research trip included learning about the currency exchange, local finance, cable television, Internet (or lack of), medical centers, coffee shops and local real estate and vacation properties.”

Rosenblatt added, “Highlights also included visiting the historic forts, tobacco farms, museums, checking out numerous classic cars, and many local restaurants and a few mojitos.”

A few months later, Julie Williams, a former WOW Scholar now studying at Duke University, e-mailed us. “I am writing to you from Amman, Jordan, where I am part of a DukeImmerse team researching refugee experiences,” she wrote.

Julie submitted a photo of herself holding WOW in front of Roman ruins from Jerash, Jordan.

On page 24, Julie shares her reflections on working with refugees of the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts while in Jordan.

Surprised that Roman ruins can be found in Jordan, a Middle Eastern country lying east of Israel? The Roman Empire, initially established in Italy, reached its greatest size under Emperor Trajan in C.E. 117. At that point, the empire encompassed England, Spain, France, parts of Germany, the countries of the Adriatic, Greece, Romania (which takes its name from the empire), the northern edges of the African continent, Turkey and the Middle East.

Just over 150 years later, the empire was divided. While the western empire collapsed and broke apart in C.E. 476, the eastern empire, known as the Byzantine Empire, continued for one thousand more years until its defeat by the Ottoman Turks, who established the Ottoman Empire in its place.

Jerash lies in northern Jordan and is said to have been established by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C.E. As Trajan extended roads through the region, Jerash reached the height of its size in prosperity in the second half of the second century. It collapsed following a Persian invasion in 614 and in 749 a major earthquake largely leveled the city.

Closer to home, the United States has a long, complicated and still controversial history with Cuba. Long a colony of Spain, Cuba played a significant part in the Spanish-American War of 1898, which saw the U.S. declare war on Spain after the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana’s harbor. At that time, Cuba was in the midst of its own war of independence from Spain, begun years earlier by individuals like Jose Marti, who had previously raised funds for his effort in Ybor City’s cigar factories.

The Spanish-American War resulted in The Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico becoming territories of the U.S. (The Philippines was granted independence in 1946.) For four years after the war, Cuba was governed as a territory of the U.S., during which time the island’s economy became increasingly dominated by U.S. business interests. The next half century saw the island’s nascent democracy beset by political turmoil between the political right and left and regular U.S. interventions. The last democratically elected government was overthrown by dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1952. Meanwhile the island was infiltrated by organized crime syndicates from the U.S. and became beset with corruption.

With opposition to his rule growing, Batista fled Cuba in 1959. Revolutionary Fidel Castro, who was opposed to continuing U.S. influence on the island, seized power and purged the island’s economic and political structures of his enemies. His decision to nationalize U.S. oil and telephone interests and the vast acreage owned by the influential U.S. corporation, the United Fruit Company (later renamed Chiquita), prompted the Eisenhower administration to break with Castro. It imposed an economic embargo, which was later formalized by the U.S. Congress and continues to this day.

In recent years President Barack Obama has liberalized relations with Cuba, expanding the ability of Americans to visit the island and send money there. The trade embargo and travel restrictions, however, remain in place. While tourist travel is still forbidden, Americans no longer have to seek prior approval for trips and they are governed by the honor system. U.S. citizens may travel to Cuba for educational, religious and humanitarian reasons.

We thank Julie Williams, Rick Hodges and Jeff Rosenblatt for sharing their travels with WOW.

Take WOW on Your Spring Vacations!

WOW is running very low on WOW in the World photos and we need travelers’ help to keep this feature running until the summer influx of vacation photos. Please remember to take WOW with you on your spring trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW on the Rhine and in Sweden

This past fall found West Park Village residents Myra Salas and Luis Santiago in Europe. “My husband and I took a trip to Europe in November 2015 for Thanksgiving,” wrote Myra. “We took a Viking River Cruise down the Rhine River.”

During the excursion, the couple visited Switzerland, Germany, France and Holland. “While cruising on the river, we passed through what was called the “middle Rhine,” where you could see castles on both sides of the river,” wrote Myra. “Some were just ruins but others were well kept.”

The Rhine begins in the Alps and winds through western Europe, where it serves as the border between France and Germany. It eventually empties into the North Sea.

Last June also found the Hough family of Stamford in northern Europe. “We spent the first part of the trip in Motala, Sweden, where I was racing a triathlon,” wrote Paul Hough. “Then four days in Stockholm seeing the sights.”

In addition to visiting such iconic places as Gamla Stan, the Houghs also visited Abba: The Museum and Gröna Lund.

Founded in 1883 by James Schultheiss, Gröna Lund is a 15-acre park (its location limits expansion) with over 30 attractions. It’s a popular concert venue for Stockholm's residents during the summer. It offers seven roller coasters, a fun house and a ride called The Tunnel of Love.

Abba: The Museum commemorates the Swedish pop group that produced hits like Dancing Queen and Waterloo. In addition to housing band memorabilia and stage costumes, the museum’s studios allow visitors to sing and play along with the band’s songs.

We thank Myra Salas and Paul Hough for sharing their travels with WOW.

Take WOW on Your Spring Vacations!

WOW is running very low on WOW in the World photos and we need travelers’ help to keep this feature running until the summer influx of vacation photos. Please remember to take WOW with you on your spring trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in the West

WOW explored out west with two Westchase families this past summer and landed in Arizona and Colorado. The first photo was sent by the Seligsohn family of Radcliffe and shows Jeff Seligsohn standing at Lipan Point at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon with his son Jeff. They are holding last June’s WOW, which featured the 2015 WOW Scholars. Jeff appeared on a similar cover with the 2011 WOW Scholars.

In May just before they took the trip, Steven graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Computer Engineering. “Before he started his position with Deloitte, LLP in Atlanta this summer, we took an amazing trip out west to explore the Hoover Dam, both the South and North Rims of the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas,” wrote his dad.

The Grand Canyon, which has formed over millions of years, lies in northwestern Arizona. Its South Rim is a five hour car trip from Las Vegas, Nevada. The canyon was forged by two forces, both geologic uplifting that has raised the Colorado Plateau and the carving, eroding force of the Colorado River coursing through the canyon. The erosion has exposed rock strata that tell 2 billion years of earth history.

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, a mile deep and, in parts, 16 miles wide.

A few years after visiting the Grand Canyon in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt, the country’s first conservationist president, declared the area a National Game Preserve in 1906, reducing cattle grazing there. Adding adjacent forests to the area, he proclaimed it a U.S. National Monument in 1908. Mining and land interests opposed it being named a National Park for over a decade until an act of Congress, signed President Woodrow Wilson, named it one in 1919.

In odder Grand Canyon trivia, nearly 600 people have died in the canyon, including dozens of overzealous photographers and tourists. Over 240 of them died in airplane and helicopter accidents, including 128 in 1956 when two propeller airplanes that had taken off from Los Angeles three minutes apart collided over the canyon and fell – the largest airline disaster in history at the time.

Farther east found the Patterson family of Radcliffe visiting Colorado Springs, where Luke and Lila Patterson were photographed by Balanced Rock in Garden of the Gods.

The Garden of the Gods is famous for its peculiar red rock formations caused by geologic upheaval along a fault line millions of years in the past.

In 1879 Charles Elliot Perkins purchased hundreds of acres that served as the basis for the park. In 1909 his family presented the land to Colorado Springs with the stipulation it be made into a park and not developed. Colorado Springs subsequently purchased additional land, tripling its size to 1,364 acres.

We thank the Seligsohns and Pattersons for sharing their travels with WOW.

Take WOW on Spring Break!

WOW is running very low on WOW in the World photos and we need travelers’ help to keep this feature running until the summer influx of vacation photos. Please remember to take WOW with you on your spring break trips outside of Florida. Send in a photo of you or your family holding WOW in an interesting place, and you will receive between $60 and $100. Simply send the photos to with a few sentences about your trip and the location of the photo(s).

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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From Tennessee to Alaska

From cowboy boot shopping to hiking an Alaskan glacier, WOW kept busy late last summer.

Bridges resident Ryan Wendt took WOW along on a trip to Tennessee, where she took some photos with WOW.

“These were taken [in July] in Nashville on a girls’ trip to see Luke Bryan,” wrote Ryan. “The giant cowboy boot should give it away.”

As part of the trip, Ryan stopped into a store called Nashville Cowboy, which specializes in cowboy boots. How did her trip end? Ryan wrote, “Three pairs of cowboy boots later and a great concert!”

WOW also accompanied the Keefer and Lenski families of The Greens to Alaska in August of 2015.  The two families spent time in Seattle before leaving on a week cruise to Alaska.  They visited the Space Needle, the Pike Market, where they watched the fish fly, and even did a Washington wine country tour. 

After sailing from Seattle, the two families arrived in Alaska, where they visited Ketchikan and Juneau.  There they took a floatplane into the Misty Fjords, saw the Sawyer Glacier, zip-lined in the rainforest, and hiked the Tongass National Forest where they traced the glacier's path.  They even saw humpback whales engaged in bubble net feeding, which is a very rare cooperative behavior not often witnessed by people.

The Keefers and Lenskis finished the cruise with a day in Victoria, British Columbia, where they saw orca, seals, and sea lions in the wild as well as all the beauty and flora the city has to offer.

“What beautiful places indeed!” wrote Teresa Keefer.

We thank Ryan Wendt and the Keefers for sharing their travels with WOW!

Traveling This Winter?

If you’re traveling outside of Florida this winter, don’t forget WOW. Simply submit a photo of you or your family member holding the magazine during your travels and a brief description of where you visited. Whether it’s Syracuse or Sicily, we’ll publish it here and send you a check for between $50-100 as our way of saying thanks!

By Chris Barrett and Teresa Keefer


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WOW in the Baltics and Nevada

In recent months, WOW has traveled far and wide, from the Baltic states of the former Soviet Union to the Wild West of early Nevada.

John and Joyce Parcelewicz of Woodbridge traveled to Latvia and Lithuania this past summer. Located on the Baltic Sea, the two countries were part of the Soviet Union before they broke free when it collapsed. Since the 1990s, the two countries have grown closer to the West – even joining the NATO alliance – in order to minimize any potential threat from Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

John Parcelewicz wrote, “I had an opportunity in July to travel to the Baltics and visited Riga, the capital of Latvia, and Vilnius the capital of Lithuania. In Vilnius I was able to walk the street my grandparents lived on and visit the church where my father was baptized  I never imagined I would ever make that trip.”

The summer also saw Susan and Ron Wilson of The Greens making a trip out west. “We had lunch at the Genoa Bar and Saloon, the oldest bar in the state,” wrote Suan. “It was cute, and it has a story.”

Indeed it does.

Genoa Bar, which touts itself as Nevada's Oldest Thirst Parlor, was founded in 1853, 11 years before Nevada became a state. It’s Web site, apparently written by the saloon itself, states, “The electric lamps are also original to the bar and were oil but converted to electricity at the turn of the century. I'm kept warm in winter by the woodstove, and since it's the only source of heat, the locals often bring in firewood when I'm getting low. And, no, those are not blood stains you see on the ceiling (it's tomato juice) [and] while there have been many rough and tumbles here, no one was ever killed. And yes, we grow our own cobwebs here too.”

The bar was visited by Mark Twain as well as Ulysses Grant and Teddy Roosevelt. And that dusty black leopard bra hanging from the antlers?

That belonged to Raquel Welch.

We thank John Parcelewicz and the Wilsons for sharing their travels with WOW!

Traveling This Winter?

If you’re traveling outside of Florida this winter, don’t forget WOW. Simply submit a photo of you or your family member holding the magazine during your travels and a brief description of where you visited. Whether it’s Syracuse or Sicily, we’ll publish it here and send you a check for between $50-100 as our way of saying thanks!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in New York

This summer found two Westchase families visiting familiar spots in New York state and bringing WOW along for the fun.

While the Swick family of The Greens visited New York City in June, the Gambino family of The Fords traveled upstate to Niagara Falls on the Canadian border.

The Swick family’s trip to the Big Apple found Dylan Swick posing before the famous toy store, FAO Schwartz, and the statue of the Bowling Green Bull.

The charging bull statue, an 11-foot bronze sculpture by Arturo Di Modica, is located in Bowling Green Park in Manhattan’s financial district. A symbol of a rising stock market, the bull is an icon of Wall Street.

Originally created as guerilla art after the 1987 stock market crash, Di Modica’s bull cost $360,000 to create and install.

Di Modica trucked the original statue into Manhattan in December of 1989 and left it in front of the New York Stock Exchange as a Christmas gift for New Yorkers. Hundreds stopped to admire it; thousands more protested when police impounded the statue, which led the city to install it in its current spot.

FAO Schwartz, an icon of fun, was founded 150 years ago by German immigrant Frederick August Otto Schwarz, who created the memorable toy store, featured in movies such as Big. It prided itself on selling one-of-a-kind toys from across the world. In 2009, FAO Schwartz was acquired by Toys "R" Us. While the company still survives on the Internet, the store where Dylan was photographed closed last summer soon after his visit. While the company stated it was looking for space to reopen in midtown Manhattan, FAO Schwartz’s brick and mortar store, for now, remains closed.

The summer also saw John and Sarah Gambino take their daughters, Giavanna, Juliet and Veronica and Eloise, to Niagara Falls. The three oldest girls are pictured here on the Maid of the Mist. Eloise, however, actually fell asleep from the motion of the boat.

Niagara actually consists of three waterfalls, Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls, which span the border between New York and the Canadian province of Ontario. Located on the Niagara River, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, the falls feature a vertical drop of 165 feet. The amazing geographic feature was created by glaciation during the last Ice Age.

The falls have always been a tourist destination, beginning as early as the 18th century. For years the hydroelectric dams on the river have also produced significant amounts of electricity for upstate New York, powering thriving industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In recent years, Niagara, NY, however, has seen the disintegration of that industrial base and now almost exclusively relies on tourism generated by the falls.

We thank the Gambinos and Swicks for sharing their travels with WOW!

Traveling This Holiday?

If you’re traveling outside of Florida over the holidays, don’t forget WOW. Simply submit a photo of you or your family member holding the magazine during your travels and a brief description of where you visited. Whether it’s Syracuse or Sicily, we’ll publish it here and send you a check for between $50-100 as our way of saying thanks!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Tours Italy

This past summer found WOW traveling through Italy with two different Westchase families.

Paul and Ilona Fraleigh of Harbor Links visited Rome, Florence and Venice along with their children Dylan, Charlie and Liana (son Chris lives in Seattle with his wife Sasha). Joining in the fun was Dylan’s girlfriend, Jill. The family is shown here at an Italian café while Paul holds WOW beside a Venetian canal.

Venice, of course, is famous for its construction on 117 islands at the top of the Adriatic Sea between the Po and Piave Rivers. A World Heritage Site, Venice features 177 canals and 409 bridges.

Prior to the unification of Italy between 1815-1871, Venice was a major maritime power throughout the Middle Ages. The city served as a crucial link between Europe and Asia and launched the Crusades. Venetian wealth, rooted in the trade of Asian silk, spices and grains, helped finance a number of artistic movements, thus sparking the Renaissance. Its modern popularity, rooted in romance, can be credited to its unique location and the fact that its historic architecture emerged unscathed from World War II, which leveled portions of many European cities.

Our second photo is of Haley Calderone holding WOW on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Last summer Dean, Linda and Haley Calderone of Chelmsford traveled to Southern Europe. “We went to Italy for a family wedding and also toured Italy,” wrote Linda Calderone.

While there, the Calderones visited Pisa, Florence, Siena, Rome, Bari/Modugno (where the wedding was held), Alberobello, Matera, Positano, Ravello, the Almafi Coast and Pompeii. Added Linda, “The WOW went everywhere with us, but this [photo] was one of our favorites – Positano.”

Positano sits on the Amalfi Coast in western Italy not far from Naples.

Positano was a wealthy port during medieval times but by the mid-1800s the area had become a struggling economic backwater. This triggered more than half of its population to emigrate to the New World, with many of them becoming Americans.

The Amalfi Coast’s explosion as a tourist mecca dates to 1953, when a compelling John Steinbeck essay about the area appeared in the popular magazine, Harper’s Bazaar. Since then it’s become a must see stop for tourists visiting nearby Naples.

We thank the Fraleighs and Calderones for sharing their adventures with WOW!

Traveling This Holiday?

If you’re traveling outside of Florida over the holidays, don’t forget WOW. Simply submit a photo of you or your family member holding the magazine during your travels and a brief description of where you visited. Whether it’s Syracuse or Sicily, we’ll publish it here and send you a check for between $50-100 as our way of saying thanks!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Travels with Dragons and Girl Scouts

Late spring and early summer found WOW traveling with two different, fun groups.

Mrs. Heidi Heath, the Spanish teacher at Davidsen Middle School, and Lauren King, Davidsen’s Language Arts teacher, took a group of students (and their parents) to Ireland and Scotland over spring break. The Dragons visited a number of places including The Queens University of Belfast, pictured here.

Who joined the fun? Pictured (from left to right) are Alyssa and Mike Ragan, Lauren King, Sandy and Will Anderson, Heidi Heath and Nick and Kevin Connor.

Located not far from the center of Belfast in Northern Ireland, the university opened in 1849.  The university’s principle structure, the Lanyon Building, was designed by English architect, Sir Charles Lanyon.

Closer to home, in early summer WOW visited the the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia, with Girl Scout Troop 806. Low founded the Girl Scouts.

Junior Girl Scouts Casey Ingram and Kenzie McMurray wrote, “Our Troop toured the house and got to do many fun activities like dressing up in [19th century], young girl clothes. We also got to make yarn dolls and learned lots of facts about our founder. While we toured Savannah, we learned facts about how big of a role Savannah played in the Civil War.”

The girls added, “Savannah is known as one of the most haunted places in America. We enjoyed a ghost tour and learned old scary stories. We really enjoyed our trip to Savannah and it was a wonderful place to visit.”

Low founded the Girl Scouts in 1912 and remained active with them until her death in 1927. The Juliette Gordon Low house is actually known as a historic district and consists of three structures, which were named a National Historic Landmark in 1965. They are still owned by the Girl Scouts.

The Scouts who are pictured are Ashlyn Barnhart, Libby Bauder, Ann Bordin, Sadie Campbell, Amanda Crozier, Avery DeAngelo, Olivia Decossas, Sarah Grace Jaffe, Audrey Jones, Natalia Milanes, Erin Elizabeth Purcell, Emily Rieth, Jillian Stafford, Kelly Westmoreland and Brooke Williams

“We would like to thank everyone who supported our cookie sales, which allowed us raise the money to make this trips!” the girls concluded.
We thank the Davidsen Dragons and Westchase Scouts for sharing their adventures with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Visits Vulcan and Cruises the Caribbean

Springtime found WOW visiting with Vulcan and cruising with Westchase spring breakers.

The cool, spring months took the Wilcox family of Sturbridge to Alabama. Meanwhile a group of Westchase families passed their spring break on a Caribbean cruise.

Our first photo shows Martha and Grace Wilcox of Sturbridge visiting Vulcan, the original Iron Man, in Birmingham, Alabama.

This iron man isn’t the one from Marvel Comics. He’s the blacksmith for the Roman gods. What exactly is a 56-foot statue of a pagan deity doing in the Bible Belt?

Birmingham, Alabama, like its namesake in England, was founded upon the economic might of the early iron industry in the U.S. To commemorate the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair (the birthplace of the ice cream cone!), the statue of Vulcan was forged from ore smelted in the Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham. Purported to be the largest cast iron statue in the world, Vulcan tipped the scale at 51 tons.

After the World’s Fair, Vulcan was returned to Birmingham. While he was supposed to be placed in a prominent spot downtown, some Birmingham citizens protested the idea – not because he was a pagan god, but because Vulcan wasn’t wearing pants.

So city officials painted a pair of blue overalls on him and put him out by the state fairgrounds, where he could oversee the fried Twinkies. In 1938, with protests over his nude buttocks fading along with his blue overalls, the original Iron Man was shipped back to Birmingham, where he was placed upon a 12-story tower on Red Mountain, from which he was originally mined.

A green light was added to Vulcan’s spear hand in 1946 and for years it was illuminated red whenever Birmingham experienced a traffic fatality (the light, now always green, has been retired indoors).

To the southeast spring break found seven Westchase families sharing a cruise to the Caribbean. Organized by Debbie Steinfeld of Stamford, the traveling group included Steinfeld’s family as well as the Banales family of The Greens, the Byers, Clarke and Blaze/Fehr families of The Fords and the Faris and Warnke families of West Park Village.

Our second photo shows the happy group holding WOW at Dunn's River Falls, near Ocho Rios, Jamaica. The falls are a popular attraction that receives thousands of visitors annually. About 180 feet high and 600 feet long, the waterfalls tumble downward along natural stairs and into lagoons visited by swimmers. They then continue onward into the Caribbean Sea through a beautiful white-sand beach.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Keeps Its Cool

January and February of this year saw WOW in Canada and the Alps and the photos provide a refreshing respite from our current August temperatures.

Dennis Henderson of Greenpointe holds the February WOW in Austria. He’s standing along the northern boundary of the Alps along a road between Salzburg and Villach. The sign behind Dennis points the way to two popular tourist attractions in the area. The Eisriesenwelt, which in English might be called World of the Ice Giants, is the largest ice cave in the world and sees 200,000 visitors annually. Burg Hohenwerfen, or Hohenwerfen Castle, is an 11th century castle located high above Werfen, Austria, about 25 miles south of Salzburg. The castle, perched on a mountaintop overlooking the village, served as the background scene for the Do Re Mi song in The Sound of Music.

Back in North America, our two other photos show Jasmine and Harrison Colangelo, the children of David and Kay Colangelo of The Estates of Harbor Links. The siblings are holding the December 2014 WOW at Sunshine Village Ski Resort in Banff National Park, one of three ski resorts in the park. The park is located in Alberta, a Canadian province just north of Montana and adjacent to British Columbia on the west coast. The Colangelos visited the resort this past Christmas vacation. There they also visited the Ice Castle on Lake Louise.

Surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and sitting near Victoria Glacier, Lake Louise is a two hour mountain drive from Calgary. Each year when the large lake freezes over, it hosts a popular ice skating rink on whose edges staff of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise construct an ice castle that proves a popular attraction.

We thank Dennis Henderson and the Colangelos for sharing their travels with WOW.

WOW us With Your Trips!

Heading out of state on a fun adventure this summer? Take WOW along for the fun. Send in a photo of you holding WOW (and include a sentence or two identifying where it’s taken) and you can win between $40 to $100. Simply e-mail the photos and brief description to

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in Harlingen, Cancun and Muir Woods

At the turn of the year, WOW visited a wide variety of fun places with residents who generously brought us along for the ride.

Our first photo, which concludes submissions from last summer, features Lila and Luke Patterson of Radcliffe. The siblings, along with their parents Mignon and Don, enjoyed their trip to Cancun, where they are shown holding the June 2014 WOW.

Most famous as a resort island that hosts a large number of cruise ships year round, Cancun is located off the Yucatan peninsula in southeast Mexico. The area not only offers diving and beautiful beaches, it also offers a chance to visit nearby Mayan ruins. While widely known today, Cancun was an undeveloped island inhabited by only three residents as recently as 1970. It was subsequently developed as a tourist mecca but the earliest hotels were actually financed by the Mexican government when investors were unwilling to bet on the area’s future.

In November Brentford residents Stacey and Ken Clarke traveled out west to celebrate. “My husband and I just took a trip to San Francisco this week for our 20th wedding anniversary,” wrote Stacey. “We had a wonderful time hiking through Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley, CA. We were in awe looking at the beautiful redwoods and learning about the history of these huge trees. We couldn’t believe they were over 350 feet tall! An amazing site to see.”

Prior to the arrival of loggers in California, an estimated 2 million acres of woods containing giant redwood (sequoias) stands existed along the Pacific Coast. By the dawn of the 1900s, few areas remained. One area, lying just north of San Francisco in Northern California, was purchased in 1905 by Congressman William Kent and his wife, Elizabeth. They acquired 611 acres at a bargain price of $45,000 in an effort to protect the redwoods from logging. Just two years later a local water company announced plans to dam Redwood Creek, which runs through the forest. Doing so would have flooded the valley, killing the redwoods. When the company went to court to win the land through eminent domain, the Kents thwarted the destruction of the redwood forest by donating the core of it, roughly 295 acres, to the federal government, keeping the matter out of local courts. The following year President Theodore Roosevelt declared the forest the country’s seventh National Monument. Rather than being named for them, the Kents insisted the monument be named for famed naturalist John Muir, whose work was essential to establishing the U.S. National Parks system.
Our last photo this month was submitted by Greenpointe residents Jan and Toula Poort. The photo shows the Poorts on a canal bridge in Harlingen, a small city on the north coast of The Netherlands. Jan Poort was born in 1944 in Harlingen and lived his first five years there in a 350 year-old home along a small canal.

Harlingen has a long history of fishing and shipping and received city rights in 1234.
The granting of city rights was a medieval practice. It involved cash-strapped nobles in the Low Countries selling their powers over nearby towns, allowing the merchant classes living there to govern the towns. The practice led to the growth of Dutch cities and sparked the Dutch merchants to lead the way in European trade, shipping and exploration of the world.

We thank the Pattersons, Clarkes and Poorts for sharing their travels with WOW!

WOW us With Your Trips!

If you’re heading of state on a fun adventure this summer, be sure to take WOW along for the fun. Send in a photo of you holding WOW (and include a sentence or two identifying where it’s taken) and you can win between $40 to $100. Simply e-mail the photos and brief description to

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW’s Southwest Sojourn

In October the Wynne family of the Vineyards shared 10 fun days in the Southwest U.S. with WOW.

The trip took Amanda and Dave Wynne, along with their daughters Natalie and Emery, to Albuquerque, NM, Flagstaff/Sedona, AZ, Williams, AZ and the Grand Canyon, from which they sent their photos with WOW.

“Our original purpose for heading out west was to go to the Balloon Fiesta – a trip inspired by American Girl doll of the year, Saige,” explained Amanda Wynne.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Festival ( began in 1972 with 13 balloons and has grown into the largest ballooning event on earth. The festival, however, doesn’t celebrate party balloons. It celebrates hot air balloons that soar with passengers aboard. In recent years it has hosted nearly 600 balloons and 1,000 pilots. The highlight of the event is the mass ascension. Remarked Amanda, “Pictures just can't capture the experience of being there.”

As balloon teams prepare for liftoff, visitors can walk among them at the 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park. “You can talk to the pilots and crews, watch the whole process of preparing a balloon for flight,” stated Amanda. “The crews have trading cards for their balloons and the girls spent one morning session walking from crew to crew collecting the cards.”

In a fun twist, Natalie and Emery are holding the September 2014 WOW, whose cover photo featured their grandmother, then Westchase Community Association President Nancy Sells.

Once out West, the family did some other touring of well-known spots. “We were lucky to visit many national parks/monuments during our time there,” Amanda explained.

The family’s stops included the Petrified Forest, Meteor Crater and the Grand Canyon, among others. “The girls loved visiting the national parks/monuments and completing the requirements to earn their Junior Ranger badges,” Amanda said.

One highlight was the two hour railroad trip from Williams, AZ, to the south rim on the Grand Canyon Railway. “While on board, we were treated to wonderful entertainment and even a ‘train robbery’ on the way back to Williams.  During our time in the park, we took a bus tour of the south rim and were privileged to attend one of the regularly scheduled ranger programs as the girls worked toward their Jr. Ranger badge.”

The National Park Service offers over 200 Junior Ranger Programs in the country’s parks. At participating parks, kids interview Park Rangers, participate in games, and provide answers to questions about the Park Service and the specific park they’re visiting. Afterward, they are sworn in as Junior Rangers, winning a certificate and badge. For more information, visit


Congratulations to Emery and Natalie on their badges!

We thank the Wynnes for sharing their travels with WOW!

WOW us With Your Trips!

If you’re heading of state on a fun adventure this summer, be sure to take WOW along for the fun. Send in a photo of you holding WOW (and include a sentence or two identifying where it’s taken) and you can win between $40 to $100. Simply e-mail the photos and brief description to

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW East of the Mississippi

Last September, Greens resident Beverly Loranger launched a road trip up the East Coast with her friend, Elaine Reichenberg, who lives in Countryway.

“I’m originally from New Hampshire,” explained Bev. “Every year I go home to see everyone.”

The car trip took them north along Interstate 95.  “We went through 20 states and stopped at 10. I showed everyone the magazine and they loved it,” she said.

“We were gone for the whole month. It was a great, great trip.”

The traveling duo took a more westerly route on the way back, cutting through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois before dropping south through Tennessee and Kentucky. “We ended up in Georgia where my son lives,” Bev explained.

Bev submitted nearly a dozen photos of her journey, which included stops at Hersheypark in Pennsylvania, Churchill Downs in Kentucky and Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, all pictured here.

The highlight of last fall’s trip for Bev was Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. “That is very, very well done,” she said of the museum. “My son is a big Elvis fan.”

Located in Louisville, KY, Churchill Downs is the site of the famous Kentucky Derby. The horse track, which can host up to 120,000 racing enthusiasts for big events, opened in 1875, when it held the very first Kentucky Derby. The track is named for John and Henry Churchill, two landowners who leased the land on which the racetrack was constructed. In 1986 Churchill Downs was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Welcoming 3.2 million visitors a year, Hersheypark lies about 100 miles west of Philadelphia in south-central Pennsylvania. It was opened in 1906 by Milton Hershey as a family park for his employees at the Hershey Chocolate Factory. Building its first roller coaster in 1923, Hersheypark later built the first looping rollercoaster on the East Coast, opening the Sooper Dooper Looper in 1977. Adjacent to the park is Hershey’s Chocolate World, which contains restaurant and shops and welcomes visitors on a chocolate-factory themed ride. Actual tours of Hershey’s chocolate factory were phased out in 1973.

Graceland, a national historic landmark, is best known as the location of Elvis Presley’s mansion. Located in Memphis in the southeast tip of Tennessee roughly 5 miles from Mississippi, Graceland was built in the Colonial Revivalist style in 1939 by architects Furbringer and Ehrman on 13.8 acres of land. Dedicated to the music of Rock and Roll legend Elvis Presley, it opened as a museum in 1982. With 700,000 visitors each year, Graceland is one of the most visited private homes in the United States. Presley died there in 1977 and is buried on the grounds along with his parents and grandmother.

We thank Beverley for sharing her travels with WOW!

WOW us With Your Trips!

If you’re heading of state on a fun adventure this spring or summer, be sure to take WOW along for the fun. Send in a photo of you holding WOW (and include a sentence or two identifying where it’s taken) and you can win between $40 to $100. Simply e-mail the photos and brief description to

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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Eight Weeks in Europe and Asia

Last fall found Shires resident Ruben Collazo on an extensive journey through two continents and sending WOW photos of his adventures as they played out.

Ruben sent WOW nearly two dozen photos over an eight-week journey through both Europe and Asia. “It’s the way I travel,” he said of his significant time away. “I started traveling like that in college when I spent 10 weeks in Europe.”

He added with a laugh, “Halfway through that trip I had to phone home and beg my mother to send me money.”

Ruben says that autumn is a particularly great time to travel in Europe. “The trains are empty. The weather is great. It was absolutely spectacular.”

Departing Tampa, Ruben first touched down in Dublin, Ireland. From Dublin, he traveled to Instanbul, Turkey, afterwards journeying to Israel, where he spent 10 days in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. From there, he traveled by train through Eastern Europe, jumping off in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Poland. His passport wasn’t quite done being stamped, however.

“Then I worked my way west through Austria, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and The Netherlands,” he said. “I covered a lot of ground in eight weeks.”

While his trip was filled with many memorable moments, he cited two favorite spots – in countries formerly part of Yugoslavia. “The two most beautiful cities were Zagreb in Croatia and Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, just two old, beautiful European cities,” he observed. “They have a lot of history.”

Ruben added that one of the more amazing experiences was taking the train from Sofia, Bulgaria, to Bucharest, Romania. He was drawn to eastern Europe because he had always wanted to see the countries of the former Soviet bloc before remnants of their Cold War occupation had completely vanished. While most of the countries have shaken off their old Soviet era architecture, Bulgaria, he found, had changed the least. The transportation leaving the city also wasn’t impressive. “I’m glad I didn’t have the family with me because they would have been sorely disappointed to be on that train,” he said.

In contrast, the sights were astounding. “You just cross plains of food. There’s nothing but crops as far as the eye could see.”

It was clear to Ruben why the area has long been coveted by empires, from the Roman to the Soviet, as a valuable breadbasket.

Among his photos appearing here are the European Parliament Building in Strasbourg, France; the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul and Masada dessert fortress in Israel.

The Louise Weiss building of the European Parliament is where representatives of 28 different states in Europe gather. Completed in 1999, the tower was designed by a team of architects from Architecture-Studio in Paris. The tower is 170 feet high and designed to purposefully have an unfinished look.

Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia has a rich and complex history. Constructed in 537 by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, it spent its first thousand years as a Christian Church, both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic. It has changed hands multiple times, surviving sacking by Christian crusaders of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and the Ottomans in 1453. With the arrival of the Islamic conquerors, the church was converted into a mosque and served as one for the next five centuries. With Turkey arising from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, secular-minded Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, transformed the Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1935.

Located on the eastern edge of Israel overlooking the Dead Sea in the Judaean Desert, Masada was a military fortress built upon a high plateau by Herod the Great between 37-31 BCE. The UNESCO World Heritage Site famously was besieged by the Roman Empire in the First Jewish-Roman War in 73 or 74 CE. The siege ended with the suicide of the 960 Jewish rebels fighting the Roman occupation. Today the site is one of Israel’s most popular tourist attractions.

We thank Ruben Collazo for sharing his extensive travels with WOW!

WOW us With Your Spring Trips!

If you’re heading of state on a fun adventure this spring, be sure to take WOW along for the fun. Send in a photo of you holding WOW (and include a sentence or two identifying where it’s taken) and you can win between $40 to $100. Simply e-mail the photos and brief description to

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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From Georgia to Honduras

Last July found WOW visiting a national park in Georgia and an orphanage in Honduras.

Located in Helen, Georgia, Anna Ruby Falls sits within the boundaries of the Chattahoochee National Forest. The falls saw a visit by the Vijaywargi family, whose boys posed beside the visitor center there.

Anna Ruby Falls mark the junction of Curtis and York Creeks. The creeks begin on Tray Mountain, tumbling 153 and 50 feet respectively over the falls before flowing into Unicoi Lake and the Chattahoochee River. While the base of the falls can be reached by the challenging 4.6 mile Smith Creek Trail, a half-mile, paved trail, located off the visitor’s center parking lot, leads to two viewing decks from which tourists can view the falls.

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Helen, Georgia is a recreation of a German Alpine village. The Bavarian-styled town features over 200-themed shops as well as mountain cabins that are close to hiking on the Appalachian Trail and tubing along the Chattahoochee River.

July also saw Baylin Kwan of The Vineyards and Jordan Smart of Keswick Forest taking WOW along on a service trip to the Dominican Republic. The two high school students, one from Steinbrenner and the other from Alonso, spent a week at Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH) - an orphanage just outside San Pedro de Macoris. The orphanage is one of nine different NPH orphanages serving 3,300 children in Latin America.  Explained Lori Smart, “They spent their mornings working odd jobs around the orphanage, and then ate lunch with the children.  The afternoons were spent playing and talking with many of the 90 children, who ranged in age from 3 to 20.”

The story of their service trip, and how it inspired Baylin Kwan to establish an Interact Club (a service club) at Alonso, ran in the September 2014 WOW. For more information about NPH in Honduras, visit


We thank the Vijaywargis as well as Jordan Smart and Baylin Kwan for sharing their travels with WOW!

WOW us With Your Spring Trips!

If you’re heading of state on a fun adventure this spring, be sure to take WOW along for the fun. Send in a photo of you holding WOW (and include a sentence or two identifying where it’s taken) and you can win between $40 to $100. Simply e-mail the photos and brief description to

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Up High and Down Low

Last July found WOW at the top of the Andes Mountains and 80 feet underwater at a Central American reef.

Tim, Carmen Gloria, and Sarah Creighton of The Greens traveled to Peru and Chile for their summer vacation.  After landing in Lima, Peru, and flying to Cusco, the family took the scenic 3.5-hour train ride through the Andes Mountains to reach the small town of Aguas Calientes, located at the base of the famous Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. 

Their first photo shows the Creightons on top of Wanya Picchu Mountain, which overlooks the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu.

The story of Machu Picchu, its historic importance to the Incans and its scientific discovery were recently told in the August 2014 WOW.

The Creightons then made their way back to Lima, where they boarded a flight to Santiago, Chile.  Since Carmen Gloria was born and raised in Santiago, every summer the Creightons return to see family and friends. The photo depicts them on top of San Cristobal Hill standing at the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Before the arrival of the Spanish, the place where the statue is located was venerated by the indigenous population and known as Tupahue, or “Place of God.” After Santiago’s founding, a 10-meter cross was placed on the hill’s summit, where it stood until the end of the 19th century. In the early 20th century local religious leaders proposed construction of a shrine and statue on the site. Work began in 1904 and the shrine was officially inaugurated in 1908. The statue, at 72-feet tall, weighs 80,711 pounds. 

Despite the photos being taken in July, the Creightons were dressed in winter clothes. “Santiago sits in the Southern Hemisphere and has the opposite seasons of the United States,” explained Tim Creighton. “The average temperatures were 57 degrees in the day and 37 degrees at night; with some nights dropping down to 30 degrees.”

A bit closer to home, Shires resident Ruben Collazo spent part of July diving off Mexico with WOW. He’s pictured 80 feet deep along the Palancar Reef in Cozumel, Mexico. 

That depth, wrote Ruben, represented almost four atmospheres of pressure.

Part of the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, Palancar Reef is a large coral reef located on the southwest side of the island of Cozumel. The island lies southeast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the Caribbean Sea. The reef is popular with divers.

Ruben offered some orientation regarding his photo. “Everything appears in a horizontal plane, from the land lubber’s perspective,” he wrote. “You don't realize that the photographer is above me, looking down at me.”

Ruben added, “Behind me the reef drops off, almost vertically to a depth of several hundred fathoms, which is why the water appears so deep blue behind me.”

He concluded, “It's like being on the edge of the world when you hover above the drop off at ‘the wall.’”

In the early fall, Ruben also took WOW on an extensive trip through both Asia and Europe. We’ll share his exciting travel photos and tales in a future WOW.

We thank the Creightons and Ruben Collazo for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher, and Tim Creighton


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WOW in the United Kingdom

This past summer WOW found itself traveling with the Hough Family to Stamford.

Not THAT Stamford, silly. The original one!

Paul and Karen Hough, who live in Westchase’s Stamford, brought their daughter, Paula, back to the United Kingdom, where she was born as an American citizen. “We left before she was 1-year-old,” explained Paul Hough. “This was her first trip back. We took in all the typical London attractions before renting a car and touring the country.”

Paul continued, “Karen and I had actually been to Stamford before and stopped by again after visiting the nearby Burghley Estate. The attached photo is taken on the road into Stamford and shows why the town is famous as a well-preserved stone market town. So here is Stamford, Westchase-resident Paula Hough standing in Stamford, UK, the land of her birth.”

The second photo is of Paula, standing in front of a home most famous for the children’s nursery rhyme written there – a poem set to a French folk song whose tune later inspired Mozart to pen several variations.

“We took Paula to see the Abbey ruins in Bury St Edmunds because her birth certificate is recorded there and it is the site where the Magna Carta was signed 800 years ago,” wrote Paul. “Not too far south from Bury is Lavenham, an ancient wool town famous for its well preserved homes many over 500 years old. This photo is of the home known as Shilling Grange which was built in 1425 and is famous because Jane Taylor wrote “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” in 1792 while living there with her family.”

The third photo, the London Eye, may be recognizable to most readers. “Karen and I were most interested in the London Eye and the Millennium Bridge as neither of these existed in the two years we lived in England,” Paul explained of his visit there. “We took this photo across the river from the London Eye after we had been on the ride. I would say it's a must do for any visit to London.”

As someone who’s spent a good deal of time both in and outside of London in the U.K., Paul offered some helpful cultural advice. “We did try to impress upon Paula that visiting London only and thinking you understand England would be like visiting New York City and thinking you had a good understanding of America. Both are just too cosmopolitan to get a grasp of the national culture.”

Paul concluded, “We were fortunate to have experience with driving on the left-hand side and spent most of our time visiting attractions outside of London as well as seeing old friends.”

We thank the Houghs for sharing their adventures with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in the Grassy Great White, Kinda North

Over the summer WOW had the chance to visit some currently snow-covered, rather chilly reaches of the North.

Susan and Ron Wilson of The Greens visited Newfoundland, Canada this past summer, an area definitely in the north. “It is a beautiful place,” wrote Ron, “and we especially enjoyed the views from Signal Hill, a Canadian National Historic Site.”

Susan Wilson is shown holding May’s WOW at the base of the hill, which features Cabot Tower. The hill and its tower overlook St. John’s in the Canadian province, Newfoundland and Labrador. Newfoundland is an island and Labrador sits on the Canadian mainland. Newfoundland is located well north of Maine on the northeast coast of Canada, just across the North Atlantic from frigid Greenland. When the Wilsons visited Newfoundland this summer, however, they enjoyed the sunny, grassy hills in the area.

Signal Hill was the site of the final battle of the Seven Years’ War, known as the French and Indian War in the U.S. That war, ending in 1763, resulted in the British takeover of Canada from the French. The war debt from that conflict led Britain to tax their American colonies, which paved the way for the American Revolution.

Signal Hill took its name from its role in signaling ships approaching St. John’s port. Located on the island of Newfoundland, the fort represented a strategic outpost overlooking the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The late Gothic Revival Cabot Tower was constructed beginning in 1898, the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland. In 1901 it was the site of the first transatlantic radio transmission, by radio’s inventor, Guglielmo Marconi. It was used to signal passing ships by flag until the 1950s.

While Colorado arguably isn’t very north, it’s quite kinda north from Florida’s perspective. Its Rocky Mountains are famous for snow and winter sports. This past summer also found the Sidwell family of West Park Village standing on the grassy slopes of one famous Colorado site. Wrote Susie Sidwell, “When people think of Vail, Colorado, they typically think of world class skiing.  However, local Coloradans know that Vail in the summer is one of the most beautiful places on earth! Temperatures stay cool (averaging 70-85 degrees) and the mountains are green and lush thanks to the water from the snow melt.” 

The Sidwells visited to take advantage of the resort villages’ great summer deals – and to do some hiking and mountain bike riding.

“Our family tackled our biggest hike to date,” wrote Susie. “It was a four mile up-hill hike to the top of Vail Mountain. We started at 8,000 feet and ended at 11,000 – quite an accomplishment for a family coming from sea level.”

The Sidwells allowed a week to enable them to adjust to the higher altitudes, a wise choice. Their hike to the beautiful peak took two and a half hours. And afterwards? “We were well rewarded with a gondola ride back down the mountain,” said Susie.

Now North America’s third largest ski mountain, Vail’s resort opened in 1962. While welcoming thousands of visitors each winter, the town of Vail has a population of just around 5,300.

We thank the Wilsons and the Sidwells for sharing their travels with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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Hawaii Says Aloha to WOW

Over the summer, WOW found itself visiting Hawaii with two Westchase families, The Foster family of the Greens and the Simmons family of The Vineyards.

The Fosters are pictured at the USS Arizona Memorial while Maggie Simmons is pictured at the memorial, as well as Diamond Head, one of the state’s most iconic landmarks.

Located at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, the USS Arizona Memorial commemorates the losses suffered by the United States when Japan’s military attacked the U.S. naval base on O‘ahu on Dec. 7, 1941. Occurring prior to Hawaii becoming a state, the surprise attack triggered the U.S. entry into World War II.

The Arizona memorial also marks the resting place of 1,102 sailors and marines killed by their ship’s sinking. Located above the hull of the sunken vessel, the memorial, constructed in 1962, can only be reached by boat. More than one million visit the memorial annually. 

Designed by Honolulu architect Alfred Preis, the memorial cost $500,000, $64,000 of which was raised in a March 1961 benefit concert by Elvis Presley. The memorial is 184 feet long and features two peaks joined by a sweeping concave roof, a design, Preis explained, whose central sag represents initial defeat followed by ultimate strength and victory.

Under rules established by Congress, the 75 marines and sailors who survived the sinking of the Arizona could have their ashes interred in the wreck’s hull upon their deaths.

In 1999 the USS Missouri, the battleship on which the Japanese surrendered to General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz in Tokyo Bay, was moved to Pearl Harbor and docked near the Arizona, providing powerful symbols of the beginning and end of war in the Pacific.

The iconic Diamond Head, which sits off the popular Waikiki beach on Oʻahu, has an English name rooted in a misunderstanding. The name took root when 19th century British sailors confused calcite crystals for diamonds on the dormant volcanic cone.

Wrote Suzie Simmons, “Hawaii's most recognized landmark is known for its historic hiking trail, stunning coastal views, and military history. Diamond Head State Monument encompasses over 475 acres, including the interior and outer slopes of the crater.”

“The 0.8 mile hike from trailhead to the summit is steep and strenuous, gaining 560 feet as it ascends from the crater floor,” Suzie explained. “The walk is a glimpse into the geological and military history of Diamond Head. A concrete walkway built to reduce erosion shifts to a natural tuff surface about 0.2 mile up the trail with many switchbacks traversing the steep slope of the crater interior. The ascent continues up steep stairs and through a lighted 225-foot tunnel to enter the Fire Control Station completed in 1911. Built on the summit, the station directed artillery fire from batteries in Waikiki and Fort Ruger outside Diamond Head crater. At the summit, you see bunkers and a huge navigational lighthouse built in 1917. The postcard view of the shoreline from Koko Head to Wai'anae is stunning, and during winter, may include passing humpback whales.

The state of Hawaii has a fascinating history unique among U.S. states. It’s the only state whose entire boundary touches the ocean. It’s also the only state once ruled by its own indigenous monarchy.

Located in the Pacific at roughly the same latitude as San Francisco, Hawaii represents an intersection of Asian, North American and Polynesian cultures. The last state to enter the Union, Hawaii became the fiftieth state in 1959, 15 years after the end of World War II. Hawaii’s nearly 130 islands (there are eight main ones) often appear on U.S. maps in an inset box, making it difficult to see that its total land area makes Hawaii bigger than six other states. Its 1.4 million residents comprise a population that’s bigger than 10 other states.

While the subject of debate, archaeological evidence suggests the first humans arrived in Hawaii around 300 B.C. Historians also debate which European explorers first made contact, with some saying the Spanish did in the 1500s. The first documented European contact, however, occurred under Captain James Cook in 1778. Naming the islands the Sandwich Islands after the earl sponsoring his travels, Cook, however, was killed in a dispute with islanders upon his return in 1779. He made the fatal mistake of taking the king of the big island hostage in an effort to compel natives to return a small boat they had seized (likely in response to Cook’s seizure of fencing and idols from a local temple to use as firewood). Soon after the islands became a popular stop with Pacific explorers, traders and particularly whalers, who used the islands as a resupply depot.

The late 1700s saw much conflict on the islands as their individual kings fought for supremacy. The archipelago, however, was unified under the famed King Kamehameha in 1810. Soon after, the islands increasingly fell under the influence of American Protestant missionaries, who converted many of the islanders and established plantations. The 1887 constitution, signed under threat of violence from these foreigners, weakened the monarch and established land ownership requirements for voting, restricting participation by native Hawaiians. Subsequently the islands were increasingly dominated by American and European missionaries and planters.

Unhappy with this turn, Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch, moved to establish a new constitution 1893. In response the Euro-American planters overthrew Liliuokalani with the assistance of a company of U.S. marines and established a republic whose first president was Sanford B. Dole, a cousin of the founder of the famed fruit empire.

Meanwhile the American businessmen petitioned the U.S. for annexation, which finally occurred in 1898. It occurred the same year that the U.S. acquired the territories of Guam, The Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spain in the Spanish-American War, making the U.S. an indisputable Pacific power.

In 1993 the U.S. Congress passed a joint Apology Resolution, apologizing for the overthrow, and it was signed by President Bill Clinton.

We thank the Foster family and the Simmons family for sharing their tropical travels with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Enjoys Capital Trips

From Washington to Tokyo, WOW had a capital time during recent travels.

Abbotsford resident Susanna Bruno took a photo of her son James holding WOW in the capital of Japan, Tokyo. Specifically, James is standing in the midst of the Tsukiji Fish Market, otherwise known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market. Its inner market offers more approximately 900 stalls that process and auction seafood. Its outer market offers restaurant supplies, kitchen utensils and groceries. The market is said to offer 400 different types of seafood and employs over 60,000 people. Its grand size allows it to lay claim to the world’s biggest seafood market.

The market, however, is suited for early birds. Its auctions begin just after 5 a.m. and most sales activity declines rapidly after 8 a.m., with most stalls closing by 11 a.m. If you are a tourist just hoping to gawk, you can watch the action between 5-6:15 a.m.

The market is said to date from the 1543-1616 reign of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate.

A bit closer to home, Keswick Forest’s Rachel Sellers photographed her daughter Lauren with WOW at Mount Vernon, the plantation home of our country’s first president, George Washington. Mount Vernon is located about 40 minutes south of Washington, DC, and sits on a picturesque portion of the Potomac River as it meanders through Virginia.

George Washington and his wife Martha called Mount Vernon home for more than four decades in the late 1700s. During that time, however, he never threw a silver dollar across the Potomac, as legend holds. The Potomac is a mile wide where Mount Vernon sits; further, silver dollars didn’t exist during Washington’s lifetime.

Visitors to the site can tour his original mansion as well as a dozen original out-structures from its time as a slave plantation. The tombs of both Washingtons are also part of the historic site. While the plantation was originally 8,000 acres during Washington’s life, the site currently consists of 500 acres owned and preserved by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, a private, non-profit organization founded in 1853 by Ann Pamela Cunningham.

Mount Vernon sees about one million visitors every year. While Mount Vernon began as a smaller farmhouse built by Washington’s father, Augustine, in 1735 (and named by Washington’s brother, Lawrence), George Washington slowly expanded the existing home once he took over ownership in 1754. The home has been restored to look as it appeared in 1799 at Washington’s death at age 67, two years after he ended his presidency.

Hundreds once called Mount Vernon their home as Washington was a prolific slave holder, inheriting his first10 slaves from his father at the age of 11. Washington and his wife eventually owned 300 slaves at Mt. Vernon. He owned 123 and his wife owned 153 from her former husband (the latter Washington had no legal right to free). Following the American Revolution, Washington became increasingly opposed to slavery and began financially preparing for their manumission. He never freed his own slaves during his life, however. With the exception of his personal valet, William Lee, whom he freed outright in his will, he stipulated that his slaves should be freed upon the death of his wife, Martha. Fearing this stipulation gave the slaves an incentive to seek her early demise, Martha freed them a year after her husband’s death.

Washington, however, was the only Southern Founding Father to emancipate his slaves.

Take Your WOW on Vacation

Remember to take your WOW with you on your vacation outside of Florida this fall. Take a photo or two of you or the kids holding it somewhere fun, submit them with a few sentences about your trip and the site pictured and WOW will send you a check for $40-$100.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Tours Latin America

WOW recently traveled from the beach to some of the tallest mountains in the southern hemisphere – allowing us to brush up on our Spanish.

Bringing along two WOWs on their annual adventure to the Caribbean, Ed and Jennifer Siler of Stockbridge, along with their daughter Izzy, 6, are pictured at a resort in Humacao, Puerto Rico, located on the east coast of the island.

The Silers are regulars there, reported Jennifer Siler. “Actually Ed’s father lives there. He runs the resort called Palmas del Mar,” she said, adding, “We go down every Thanksgiving.”

While Ed and his dad are originally from Maryland, his father’s work took him to Puerto Rico after managing a resort in Sawgrass, Florida. “He’s been down there about 25 years now,” said Jennifer.

Jennifer offered a brief description of the area they visited, Palmas del Mar. “It’s a residential community, about 5,000 acres.” According to Jennifer, the resort also features a beautiful beach and beach club, a hotel, as well as a couple of golf courses and tennis courts.

Meanwhile, far from the beach, Shires resident Ruben Collazo took WOW an impressive journey into the Andes Mountains to the famous Incan ruin, Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

“It’s a challenge to get there,” observed Ruben. He flew into Lima then took another flight to get closer to the site. “They put you up for a night or two in a nearby hotel to get you acclimated to the altitude,” he explained.

Some visitors hike up to Machu Picchu from the base camp. “Others do the ride, which is what I did,” he explained. “It’s an absolutely fabulous train ride that takes you through these amazing canyons and gorges.”

With a laugh, Ruben added, “Every single American on the train is loading up on coca tea.”

In Peru coca tea, made from the coca plant, is widely consumed – along with the chewing coca leaves. Many believe it helps with altitude sickness. A highly concentrated derivative from the leaf is called cocaine.

The journey to the mountaintop ruin is not for the meek or unprepared. While Collazo was there, he saw an older man collapse and lose consciousness – likely due to altitude sickness and dehydration from the mountain’s dry, thin air. The gentleman didn’t finish the trip.

Ruben added that the actual mountain peak called Machu Picchu is actually to the back of the individual who took his photo. The Incan complex is sprawled behind The Shires resident.

Located in South Central Peru, Machu Picchu is the crown jewel of Incan ruins, featuring magnificent terraces and temples. It’s located 80 miles northwest of Cusco, and sits 7,970 feet above sea level. It was built in approximately 1450 as an estate for the Incan emperor Pachacuti.

The Incan Empire was the largest empire in the Americas prior to Columbus’ voyage. At its height the empire spanned the Andes mountain range, including Peru, much of Ecuador, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and central Chile, and a southern slice of Colombia. Aided tremendously by smallpox epidemics that killed millions of Incans as well as an Incan civil war between two brothers contesting the thrown, the Incan Empire was conquered by Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1532. While Pizarro had just 168 men, a single cannon and 27 horses, his effort was assisted by thousands of indigenous people who sought to throw off the yoke of the Incan rulers. In doing so, they unwittingly became subservient to the Spanish crown.

While its location had been known for years by local farmers, Machu Picchu was rediscovered by the rest of the world when archeologist Hiram Bingham visited the area looking for Incan ruins in 1911 and interviewed locals. Bingham returned under the sponsorship of Yale University the following year and cleared the overgrown site. The discovery was made famous when National Geographic dedicated their entire April 1913 edition to the find.

Machu Picchu is visited by an estimated 400,000 tourists each year.

We thank the Silers and Ruben Collazo for sharing their journeys with WOW!

Take Your WOW on Vacation

Remember to take your WOW with you on your vacation outside of Florida this summer. Submit a photo or two of you or the kids holding it somewhere fun, submit them with a few sentences about your trip and the site pictured and WOW will send you a check for $40-$100.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in the Big Apple

In recent months WOW has made two trips to the Big Apple.

In a first, WOW tagged along for a very frigid and windy Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Brennan family of The Bridges took WOW to the big event. Because of the high winds, parade officials were unsure whether the big balloons would fly, so the Brennans went to the staging areas the night before – where the balloons were inflated close to the ground. Fortunately, the balloons got the green light and flew – albeit on shorter ropes. Tom and Dawn Brennan, along with their children Sydney, Scott, Sarah and Stephanie, also took time out to see other sites. The Brennan kids are shown here at both the parade and the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island.

The Macy’s Thankgiving Day Parade was first held in 1924, when it featured employees parading through the streets in bright costumes while accompanied by animals from the Central Park Zoo. Even then the parade culminated with Santa’s arrival in Herald Square. The parade’s balloon tradition began three years later when marionette artist Anthony Frederick Sarg designed balloons to replace the live animals. In 1928, the first year the balloons were filled with helium, they were released into the air at the parade’s conclusion but surprised all when they unexpectedly burst. The following year, they were outfitted with safety valves that kept them afloat for days. The balloons are currently deflated at year’s end and reused.

The parade has been held every year except 1942-1944, when rubber and helium were needed for World War II. In 1947 the movie Miracle on 34th Street finally made the parade nationally known and it was first broadcast on television in 1948.

Designed by Frédéric Bartholdi, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France. Paid for by funds raised by French schoolchildren, ordinary citizens and scores of French municipalities, the statue was finished in 1885, with Barholdi fashioning its copper surface around an iron support structure built by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, famous for his tower in Paris.

The statue’s erection in New York, however, was delayed when Americans, responsible for raising funds to pay for its pedestal, came up short. After the New York state government and the U.S. federal government refused to allocate funds, New York World Publisher Joseph Pulitzer conducted a successful fundraising campaign among his readers, raising $102,000 from 120,000 ordinary Americans.

While the Statue of Liberty’s history has appeared her before, many Americans are unaware of the long friendship it commemorates. America’s close ties with France date to the colonial era, when the American colonies’ independence from Great Britain was won with France’s help. In 1781 France sent thousands of troops to fight alongside the colonials – and dispatched its naval fleet from the Caribbean to help surround the British forces in Yorktown, Virginia. With the British unable to escape by sea, Lord Cornwallis was forced to surrender his more than 7,000 British troops to General George Washington, paving the way for American independence in 1783.

Emily Thompson shared her trip to a more solemn New York memorial a few months later. She’s shown standing beside the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan. The memorial honors the nearly 3,000 citizens who perished on September 11, 2011, and the six who died in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The site’s design, called Reflecting Absence, was submitted by Israeli architect Michael Arad of Handel Architects. Arad worked with landscape architecture firm Peter Walker and Partners to create a field of trees surrounding two voids that feature recessed pools and mark the original towers’ footprints. Construction began in 2006 and the memorial opened Sept. 12, 2011. The site's museum opened just last month on May 21.

We thank the Brennan family and Emily Thompson for sharing their travels with WOW.

Take Your WOW on Vacation

Remember to take your WOW with you on your vacation outside of Florida this summer. Submit a photo or two of you or the kids holding it somewhere fun, submit them with a few sentences about your trip and the site pictured and WOW will send you a check for $40-$100.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Among the Saints

Whether it was a basilica named for Saint Maria or a city named for Saint Diego, WOW was close by in the fall and winter months.

Last summer former Greens residents Jennifer and Jackie Joyner (The subsequently moved to Highland Park.) spent a few days in Rome before heading north to visit a World Heritage site in Florence, Italy. Commonly called Il Duomo, the cathedral they visited actually has another name, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Famous for its polychrome marble exterior, the cathedral features marble slabs in various shades of green, pink and white. It was begun in 1296 and constructed over the subsequent 140 years. Pope Eugene IV consecrated the finished basilica on March 25, 1436. The impressive structure is 502 feet long and 124 feet wide (295 feet at the widest point of the crossing). It gothic arches are 75 feet high.

The cathedral, of course, is most famous for its dome, an engineering marvel. Still the largest brick dome in the world at 375 feet tall, it soars over Florence’s main square in the historic center of the city. Florence, most famous for being the home of Michelangelo’s David statue, lies in north-central Italy in the Tuscany region. Florence was a center of European medieval trade and finance, serving as a key location of the Renaissance.

Approximately six years after the dedication of the cathedral, a Spaniard named Juan Cabrillo landed in San Diego Bay and, despite the presence of about 20,000 Native Americans, claimed the entire area for Spain.

The Patterson family of Radcliffe, however, landed in San Diego Bay more recently and smartly claimed it for themselves. Lila and Luke Patterson are pictured at the Hotel del Coronado, located on San Diego Bay’s Pacific Coast, and in the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego’s shopping, dining and entertainment district.

In 1769, around the time American colonists began considering an independent government for themselves, the Spaniards established a presidio (fortress) and Catholic mission in San Diego, representing the first European settlement on the West Coast. It was the first of 21 missions that would spread up the California coast. The San Diego area later became part of the independent country of Mexico, which broke from Spain in 1821.

As a side note, contrary to what many Americans believe, Mexico’s independence from Spain did not occur on May 5, or Cinco de Mayo. Its independence fight began on Sept. 16, 1820, thus Sept. 16 is Mexico’s true Independence Day. Cinco de Mayo simply celebrates the Mexican army’s defeat of French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The French were attempting to recolonize the country and, after the Puebla victory, it would take Mexico six additional years to fully boot the French out. (The U.S. was firmly opposed to the French attempt at re-colonization but was too busy fighting its own Civil War to do much about it.)

San Diego remained part of Mexico until 1848, when the Mexican-American War (which helped reopen the debate over slavery in the territories, helping trigger the U.S. Civil War) brought California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah as well as portions of Oklahoma, Wyoming and Colorado into the United States.

The Southern California city, which sits near the U.S. border with Mexico, remained a small, backwater town – much like Tampa was – until the arrival of the railroad in 1878. Its proximity to a deep-water port soon drew the attention of the U.S. Navy, which established a coaling port in 1901. It later grew into a major Naval Base during World War II, which saw the population of San Diego explode. Modern San Diego’s economy is still heavily dependent on the naval base, but the area’s jobs are also concentrated in tourism, international trade (there are two crossings to Tijuana, Mexico), healthcare and biotechnology.

We thank the Joyners and the Pattersons for sharing their adventures with WOW.

Take Your WOW on Vacation

Remember to take your WOW with you on your vacation outside of Florida this summer. Submit a photo or two of you or the kids holding it somewhere fun, submit them with a few sentences about your trip and the site pictured and WOW will send you a check for $40-$100.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in the Water

From the Dead Sea to the Little Mermaid, WOW has recently enjoyed trips to many coastlines.

No, that’s not the Little Mermaid floating in the Dead Sea. That’s Brentford’s Marty Hamilton. “I reckon the WOW has been to the Dead Sea before,” Marty began (actually, WOW’s editor couldn’t recall a past visit. “This is on the Jordanian side.  I don't know that the mud did anything remarkable for my skin, but everyone else was doing it and I wanted to fit in (even though I was the only one holding a magazine).”

An iconic landmark in the Holy Land, the Dead Sea is bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel (including the West Bank or Palestine) on the west. Its waters and climate have long been touted for their healthful properties and the area served as a refuge for King David and a health resort for King Herod the Great. At 1,400 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea, which is really a 16,080 square foot lake, is the earth’s lowest elevation on land. The sea, whose primary inflow is the Jordan River, is also one of the saltiest water bodies on the planet. Nearly 10 times saltier than the ocean, the sea’s dense waters enhance buoyancy, making it particularly easy to float while reading your favorite magazine.

Yet WOW also visited the Scandinavian coastline with the Hough family of The Fords. “We traveled to Kalmar, Sweden [in August] so I could race Ironman, Sweden.  We spent a couple of days in Copenhagen, first to go to Tivoli Gardens amusement park (170-years-old this year) and see the Little Mermaid statue,” wrote Paul Hough.

Paul’s daughter Paula is pictured in both locations. She also visited the beautiful Kalmar Castle with WOW.

Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens opened in 1843 and features a pleasure garden and amusement park with 27 rides. Said to have inspired a visitor named Walt Disney with its happy atmosphere, Tivoli sees about 4 million visitors a year. (In contrast, about 17 million visit Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom annually.)

Paula Hough also stands beside a character whose modern incarnation was made famous with help from Disney. Copenhagen’s statue of The Little Mermaid statue honors the Danish writer, Hans Christian Andersen, who published the fairy tale in 1837. At 4.1 feet high, the statue weighs 385 pounds. Unveiled on Aug. 23, 1913, it was created by sculptor Edvard Eriksen. It’s been the victim of repeated acts of vandalism, including two decapitations (the current head is not original to the statue), prompting Swedish officials to consider moving it farther into the water.

We thank Marty Hamilton and the Houghs for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Traverses Eastern Europe

The magazine tagged along with Guillermo (Will) Martinez of The Vineyards, who traveled throughout Eastern Europe with his parents and sister, who traveled from Mexico City to meet him there. “All of us had been to Europe before so we thought that Eastern Europe would present a unique opportunity to see a different side of the continent,” he explained.

Will took WOW on a three and a half week trip through Hungary, Vienna, the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia before concluding the trip in Amsterdam. “I can tell you for sure that our favorite place was Moscow,” wrote Will, who described Russian food as fantastic. “Not only is the city spectacular, full of history and art, the Russians take great care of their city and are very organized, very clean and they make you feel at home.”

He added, “Red Square is not as big as I imagined, but it is very well preserved. The Kremlin was magnificent.”

From Russia, Will submitted some photos of WOW in front of three impressive Russian Orthodox Cathedrals, two in the Kremlin/Red Square area and one in St. Petersburg.

Located on the north side of Cathedral Square of the Moscow Kremlin is the Cathedral of the Dormition. The Russian Orthodox church, constructed between 1475–1479, was designed by Italian architect Aristotele Fioravanti and built by Moscow Grand Duke Ivan III. Between 1547 and 1896, it was the site of the coronation of Russian tsars, including Ivan the Terrible, the first Russian Tsar. It serves as a burial place for most patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church (the eastern equivalent of the Roman Catholic popes) The church is dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos, a phrase that refers to the passing of Mary, the mother of Jesus, from her earthly life.

The Cathedral of the Dormition replaced another cathedral, built between 1472 and 1474, after it collapsed during an earthquake, which are quite rare in Moscow. Following the 1917 Russian Revolution creating the Soviet Union, the Russian leadership closed all churches in the Kremlin and the structure was converted to a museum. With the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1990, it resumed periodic church services and was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991.

Cathedral Square lies within the heart of The Kremlin, the official seat of the Russian government and home of its president. It holds two other cathedrals. The Kremlin, a word that means fortress, is an historic citadel that includes five palaces, four cathedrals and the Kremlin wall along with its towers. The wall forms an irregular triangle encompassing 68 acres.

Red Square lies adjacent to the east side of The Kremlin and is considered Moscow’s main square. The cities’ major roads emanate from the site. The most famous building on Red Square is the colorful and architecturally dramatic St. Basil’s Cathedral, built between 1555–1561 under Ivan the Terrible. Under the Soviet Union’s policy of state atheism, the church was confiscated and turned into a museum in 1928, a status it continues to hold.

Rounding out Will’s trifecta of cathedrals is St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia. A Byzantine church originally belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church, it was built between 1818 and 1858. Designed by French-born architect Auguste de Montferrand, the church was dedicated by Tsar Alexander I. The cathedral’s main dome, which is 333 feet high and plated with pure gold, dominates the skyline of St. Petersburg. It was painted gray during World War II, however, to make it less conspicuous to passing bombers. It has since returned to its golden glory. After enjoying the cathedral’s breathtaking interior, visitors who climb the steps of the church’s colonnade can also enjoy a magnificent view of the city.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral was confiscated and converted to a museum after the Russian Revolution. While still a museum, it has returned to occasional service as a church during major feast days.

We thank Will Martinez for sharing his trip with WOW!

WOW us With Your Spring Break Trip!

Hillsborough County School District’s Spring Break runs from March 10-14. If you’re heading of state on a fun adventure, be sure to take WOW along for the fun. Send in a photo of you holding WOW (and include a sentence or two identifying where it’s taken) and you can win between $40 to $100.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Tours the Great Cities of Italy

Last July the Gabadage family from The Greens enjoyed a wonderful vacation in Italy.

While WOW’s editor customarily writes this feature, this month’s WOW in the World was written by Gangul and Nimna Gabadage, who, along with their parents, Namal Gabadage and Arosha De Silva, went on the trip.

Take it away, Gangul and Nimna…

Our trip included popular and fascinating tourist destinations in Italy like Rome (Roma), Venice (Venezia), Florence (Firenze) and Pisa. Simply strolling around these historic cities sparked wonderful feelings in all of us.

All the cities, especially Rome, are filled with ancient history and art. We were fortunate to see some major sites in Rome, including the Roman Forum, The Colosseum, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican Museum, the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain.

The Colosseum is one of the world’s greatest structures, featuring great architecture and engineering. It used to be an amphitheater built to accommodate games and gladiator fights. It was amazing to see the remaining passageways and tiered seating areas.

Another interesting work of art was Rome’s Trevi Fountain, a beautiful water fountain with great sculptures, including Neptune, the god of sea. A tradition holds that if you throw a coin into its water, you will be guaranteed to return to Rome. We therefore made sure to follow the tradition.

The Vatican Museum contains the beautiful and famous artwork from artists such as Raphael and Leonardo Da Vinci. We spent most of our visit admiring the sculptures and famous art.

We visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa, about an hour train ride from Florence. This popular tourist destination gets many visitors, who marvel at its unusual leaning.

The Uffizi and Accademia Galleries and Duomo Cathedral make Florence a must-see city. The Uffizi is a gallery featuring the work of famous artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Raphael. One of the world’s most famous sculptures, Michelangelo’s David, is the reason to visit The Accademia. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside these galleries.

The Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge) is another Florence highlight. Loaded with shops – particularly gold jewelers, it’s the oldest bridge in Florence.

Our Italy trip was worth every second. Even though we saw a lot, there are even more sights in Italy still to see.

Fortunately, we tossed that coin in the fountain.

By Gangul and Nimna Gabadage


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WOW in Wales and Venice

WOW traveled far and wide throughout Europe this past summer.

This month we share two Westchase families’ adventures with their favorite magazine.

Marty and Catherine Hamilton and their children, Erin and Ellis, took a trip to the United Kingdom during summer break. “These photos were taken at White Castle (not the little burger place) and Grosmont Castle in Wales,” explained Marty.

“Wales is home to the remnants of the original ‘Britons,’ Marty wrote. “Owing to its many mountains and valleys where the native inhabitants for centuries fought off/waited out invasions from Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, and finally the English, the Welsh are part of the United Kingdom but have retained a distinct culture.  The ‘British’ living in England were at some point conquered by all of the above.”

Marty went on to explain the origins of the castles the family visited. “The Normans, following their victory over the English at Hastings in 1066, turned to a conquest of Wales over the next 200 years.  Since the always feisty Welsh resented this, the Normans (who excelled in military organization) found it necessary to build lots of castles – very well built, state-of-the-art for the 12th century castles – on the borders of their newly acquired territory.”

Most of the castles, Marty added, are still standing today amidst farms, villages and towns in Wales. “Our favorites are the smaller, more remote castles where we usually are the only ones around and the kids are free to climb on walls and do lots of unsafe things,” he wrote.

Meanwhile Ilaria Venditto and her children, Leonardo and Veronica, headed south to Venice, one of the more popular tourist destinations in Italy. Venice, of course, is famous for its construction on a number of islands at the top of the Adriatic Sea between the Po and Piave Rivers. The entire city is a World Heritage Site.

Prior to the unification of Italy between 1815-1871, Venice was a major maritime power throughout the Middle Ages. The city served as a crucial link between Europe and Asia, serving as the launching site of The Crusades. Venetian wealth, rooted in the trade of Asian silk, spices and grains, helped finance a number of artistic movements, thus sparking the Renaissance throughout Europe. Its modern popularity, rooted in romance, can be credited to its unique location and the fact that its historic architecture emerged unscathed from World War II, which leveled portions of many European cities.

Venice actually sprawls across an archipelago of 117 islands carved with 177 canals which are spanned by 409 bridges. Its historic portion is inhabited by 60,000 Venetians, many of whom make their livings catering to the 50,000 tourists who visit the city daily.

We thank the Hamiltons and the Vendittos for sharing their travels with WOW! Be sure to take the magazine along with you on your adventures outside of Florida in the coming months. If you snap some photos and send us a few sentences about your trip, we’ll thank you by sending you $40-100 if your photos appear here!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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From Equator to the Near Arctic

In July, WOW went to extremes, trekking through equatorial jungles and mushing with huskies near the Arctic.

Dawn Spina and Mike Shannon of The Greens kick off this month’s adventures.  In late July the couple enjoyed a 10-day primate safari in Uganda. Uganda is located in central east Africa and neighbors Kenya, Rwanda, Congo and Tanzania.

Wrote Dawn Spina, “Our trip was to celebrate Mike's 50th birthday. We visited three national parks during our journey along the equator. They first one was Kibale National Park, where we tracked chimpanzees through the rain forest. The second stop was Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we had more of a traditional vehicle-based safari and saw lions, many species of antelope, elephants, warthogs, cape buffalo and mongoose. We also had a several hour boat safari where we were able to see herds of hippos, elephants and buffalo (plus a few crocs) bathing and relaxing in the afternoon sun.”

Dawn continued, “The highlight of our trip was a visit to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where we tracked mountain gorillas over two days plus had the opportunity to see them in our campsite on two different occasions!”

Dawn and Mike weren’t done with thrilling animals, however. “Upon our arrival back to Westchase, we were greeted by 50 cows for Mike's birthday. All in all, a trip of a lifetime!”

The next stop took WOW to an area of Alaska just outside the Arctic Circle, which will receive significant attention from many Westchase children in coming days. In late July, however, Linda and Joe Odda of Stockbridge took a cruise from Vancouver to Alaska. Though the whole trip had many remarkable experiences, the dog sled run on Mendenhall Glacier was the one they most wanted to share with WOW.

What follows is Joe's recap of the trip:

About 12 miles away from the state capital, Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier is 12 miles long and ranges in depth from 800 -2,400 ft. The weight of this mass of ice is so enormous that the pressure at the lower levels results in two phenomena. The first is that the glacier actually “squeezes out” all colors of the spectrum except for blue; that is why a formally-defined glacier has a light blue color visible at its face. Second, ice is compressed to such a density that it is considered a metamorphic rock and takes a long time to melt. Mendenhall Glacier moves forward several feet every day. It forms Mendenhall Lake as large portions break off at its face. Each year, the entire glacier receives about 100 feet of snow.

On July 28, three helicopters took the wave of dogsled riders for the 12-minute ride from outside Juneau, Alaska to the dog camp. It was unusually warm and sunny at sea level (60s), but when the Oddas landed on the glacier, they were glad to have heavy jackets and boots with cleats. Staff members, however, were in their shirtsleeves. To them it was Florida in July, even up there.

Every May about 160 dogs are also placed in helicopters to ride up to the campsite from the Juneau area. They have comfortable individual houses and dedicated guides. Typically 40 dogs are cared for per guide. The camp tents, kitchen equipment and other facilities are brought up the same way. In September the whole process is reversed and the area is restored to its pristine condition. This is part of the Tongass National Forest and it is vigorously protected.

The dogs in the photo are not the full-maned, squat huskies most tend to associate with the Arctic. That original husky (Siberian or Malamute) has been bred with other types of dogs to create a long-legged, slender animal with considerable speed and exceptional endurance. Their guide noted that during the more than 1,000 mile Iditarod race in March, these huskies will run in 18-dog teams for six to eight hours a day, and each dog can easily pull its own weight.

Linda’s and Joe’s sled carried the two of them and a driver. They noted a tug as the pull lines tensed up at the start, but once underway, it was a smooth and fast ride. Due to the unusual warmth, guides stopped the sleds occasionally to let the dogs cool down. However, after hydrating with a few mouthfuls of snow, every dog was barking and pulling to start running again – their instinct to move quickly and for long periods of time is astonishing. Nearly all of their 10-dog team loved being petted and praised.

Yes, Joe and Linda would do it again and hope their neighbors will have the opportunity, too.

We thank Dawn Spina and Mike Shannon and Linda and Joe Odda for sharing their adventures with WOW.

We always want photos of your travels with WOW. If you’re headed somewhere fun (outside of Florida) over the upcoming holidays, be sure to take us along – a simple photo and a sentence or two about where you visited can win you a check between $40-100!

By Chris Barrett and Joe Odda


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WOW in City and Forest

Over the summer WOW visited a very popular tourist destination and even hit the trail a bit closer to home.

Perhaps the European destination that has appeared most frequently in our WOW in the World feature is the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. This is likely because the tourist attraction is one of the world’s most popular.

This month we feature photos of both Morgan Kelly and Marcy and Jay Bunn, who visited the site.

The Eiffel Tower was constructed just over two years by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair (Exposition Universelle), which also commemorated the centennial of the French Revolution. Offering a panoramic view of the French capital, the tower was originally intended to last only two decades. It was, however, the tallest man-made structure in the world for 41 years. Its usefulness as a radio-signal jamming tower during World War I convinced the city of Paris to keep it in place. The tower now welcomes 7 million visitors annually, 75 percent of them coming from outside of France.

At 1,063 feet tall, the tower is the tallest building in Paris and stands a few feet higher than the Chrysler Building in New York City. The tower has three levels. The first two are accessible by stairs and feature restaurants. The third and highest level is only accessible to the public by elevator.

Over the summer Johnny and Marcy Bunn, along with their son, Jay, traveled to London to visit their daughter, Pauly. Marcy Bunn wrote that her daughter, who recently graduated from FSU with a degree in in Hospitality Management, was working at a five-star hotel there. Wrote Marcy, “We took a quick trip to Paris on the Eurostar train, where we cruised the Seine, had a champagne lunch on the Eiffel Tower, toured the Louvre, and returned to London – all in 13 hours!”

WOW, however, was also packed along for an adventure of a different sort. Each summer Glencliff resident Ken Blair and his wife, JoAnn Gratt, hit the road to allow Ken and some friends to hike a different segment of the Appalachian Trail. While JoAnn joins her husband for day hikes, she then drives ahead in the couple’s RV to meet him at a predetermined destination. “He carries bear spray while I carry hair spray!” she’s told WOW before.

This summer’s adventure took Ken to Virginia. “This year the section hiked was in rural southwest Virginia near the ‘booming metropolis’ of Wytheville,” he wrote. “As usual, torrential downpours occurred daily, leading to mudslides. Additionally, the normally bubbling streams turned into raging rivers.  As always, it was an unforgettable adventure!”

A rustic American icon, the Appalachian Trail (known simply as A.T. by its aficionados) has a fascinating history. Stretching 2,200 miles from Mt. Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, it is designated a National Scenic Trail. While beautiful, it features such hazards as dangerous weather, bears, biting insects, venomous snakes and steep grades. Passing through 14 states, the trail is maintained by over 30 trail clubs and managed by the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The trail, originally proposed in the 1920s by forester Benton McKaye, was slowly cobbled together through the 1930s. Earl Shaffer of York, Pennsylvania, was the first person to hike the entire trail in one continuous outing in 1948. In 1998, Shaffer, then almost 80, hiked the entire trail again, also making him the oldest to do so.

Aided by 250 very rustic shelters and camp sites, thru-hikers more commonly hike south to north. They begin in March or April and finish their treks in early to late fall.

We thank the Kelly family, the Bunns and Ken Blair for sharing their adventures with WOW.

We always want photos of your travels with WOW. If you’re headed somewhere fun (outside of Florida) over the upcoming holidays, be sure to take us along – a simple photo and a sentence or two about where you visited can win you a check between $40-100!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in Historic Europe

This past summer found WOW tucked into carry-ons, suitcases and backpacks headed throughout the world.

The response to our request that residents send in their photos to help keep this popular feature going has been wonderful. We have received some great photos and stories to tell that will last the next few months. If you sent one or several, rest assured that you’ll eventually see them here.

Yet we always want more photos of your travels with WOW. If you’re headed somewhere fun (outside of Florida) over the upcoming months or holidays, be sure to take us along – a simple photo and a sentence or two about where you visited can win you a check between $50-100!

This month we share some photos from Eastern Europe – or, as those born before 1990 know it, the former Soviet Bloc.

Our first photo is Shires residents Christopher and Samantha Collazo holding April’s WOW in Wenceslas Square in front of the Czech national museum in Prague.

Yep, you guessed right. Wenceslas Square – really a wide and long boulevard rather than a square – is named after Good King Wenceslas of Christmas carol fame. While the song was written in 1853, its subject, who is memorialized with a statue on the square, lived 900 years earlier. When alive, Wenceslas was never actually a king. He was merely the kindhearted Duke of Bohemia. Wenceslas, however, was murdered in 935, possibly at the hand of his own brother, Boleslav the Cruel, who, with that name, will likely be waiting a very long time before a Christmas carol is written about him. After Wenceslas’ death, the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I, posthumously granted him the regal title of king.

Wenceslas Square, lined with hotels, offices and restaurants, is traditionally home to the nation’s great political demonstrations.

Alas, the Collazos couldn’t step into the national museum in the square because it closed in July 2011 for extensive renovations expected to last through June 2015. The main museum building, built by Czech neo-renaissance architect Josef Schulz between 1885-1891, is in need of refurbishing, in part because of military attacks in 1945 and 1968.

History buffs will immediately grasp the significance of these dates. The first, 1945, dates to the final months of World War II. With Hitler in retreat, Soviet soldiers fought to free Eastern Europe from domination by Nazi Germany’s armies and the museum was struck by a bomb. The second dates to the Prague Spring, when residents of that city sought to overthrow the domination of the Soviet armies, who, after kicking the Nazi armies out, decided they preferred their own occupation of Czechoslovakia. The Soviets, of course, occupied nearly all the eastern European nations, known as the Soviet Bloc, during the Cold War from 1945 through 1990. The Prague uprising of 1968 was brutally crushed and the museum’s façade was badly damaged by Soviet machine gun fire.

Prague ultimately didn’t see its political and economic freedom until the Velvet Revolution in 1989 brought writer Vaclav Havel to power. In 1993, the country of Czechoslovakia, created after World War I destroyed Austria-Hungary, amicably separated into two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Like America’s Smithsonian Museums, the Czech Republic’s national museum consists of a number of buildings aimed at preserving natural history, science and the political history and culture of the nation. It was founded in 1818.

Our second photo memorializes another artifact from the Cold War. It depicts Bennington resident Marybeth Lambert and her family’s foreign exchange student, Mira Hartmeier, at Check Point Charlie in Berlin. Marybeth, along with a group of students from Alonso High School and Mr. Bruce Busch, toured Germany this summer. 

Checkpoint Charlie – or Checkpoint C – is the name the western allies, led by the U.S., gave to the most famous crossing at the Berlin Wall. At the end of World War II, Soviet armies occupied the eastern part of Germany while the U.S. and its allies occupied the West. During the nearly five-decade long Cold War, the country was thus divided politically and physically. On top of it, the capital of Germany, Berlin, was completely surrounded by East Germany. Yet, at the end of World War II, it too was divided into two parts, with the western portion run by the western allies and the eastern part controlled by the Soviet Bloc. The freedom of the western portion of Berlin gave many Germans who wished to flee the Soviet Bloc the opportunity to do so simply by crossing into that portion of the capital. In 1961, the Soviet Union decided to end this escape to the West by constructing the Berlin Wall.

Often appearing in Cold War spy movies and novels, Checkpoint Charlie was the sole Berlin Wall border crossing into East Berlin for the western allies. While the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the official booth marking the checkpoint was removed in 1990, its location is currently marked by a booth built to look like the first constructed in 1961. It remains a popular tourist destination in the German capital.

We thank the Collazos and Lamberts for sharing their adventures with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Tours Yellowstone and Grand Tetons

Some of the best known national parks out West proved a popular draw for Westchase travelers this summer.

In August’s WOW we ran a photo from one stop of the Steinfeld family’s tour of the national parks. Steven and Debbie Steinfeld and their children, Brett and Rachel, saw one of their photos from Mount Rushmore appear. This month we share one of their photos taken west of that location.

Brett and Rachel are shown holding WOW in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Unlike the more famous Grand Canyon in northern Arizona, Yellowstone Park’s Grand Canyon is just 24 miles long and 800-1,200 feet deep. It lies just south of Yellowstone Falls, which can be seen behind Brett and Rachel. Yellowstone Park’s 3,500 square miles largely sit in northwestern Wyoming but tiny portions of it are in Montana and Idaho.

Famous for its geothermal features like Old Faithful, Yellowstone sits atop one of the world’s giant calderas (or supervolcanos), an area where the earth’s crust thins and rests atop a giant plume of magma. Yellowstone’s caldera historically has erupted, decimating life across much of North America, approximately every 600,000 years. Its last major eruption occurred 640,000 years ago.

Yellowstone National Park’s history begins in 1806 when explorer John Colter, who took part in the Lewis and Clark expedition, set off on his own trek and returned east with tales of the park’s geothermal springs, boiling mud, steaming rivers and geysers. His story was dismissed as delirium and people talked of the area as “Colter’s Hell.”

Colter’s Hell now sees 2 million happy visitors annually.

After an 1871 geological survey prompted the federal government to remove Yellowstone’s lands from public auction, President Ulysses Grant created Yellowstone National Park in 1872.

Yellowstone has one of the most impressive collections of large mammals in North America. Visitors regularly spot gray wolves, lynx, grizzly and black bears, bison, elk, moose, deer, bighorn sheep and even mountain lions.

A few weeks after the Steinfelds’ visit, Village Green residents Monica and Brendan Barrett, along with their daughters Lila and Julia, also visited Yellowstone. There they discovered that even during the summer months, nighttime lows can get quite chilly. The late June morning the family watched Old Faithful erupt, the temperature was 33 degrees with snow flurries.

The Barretts also visited glacier-cut Grand Teton National Park, a 310,000 acre park lying ten miles south of Yellowstone. There Lila and Julia Barrett posed in front of the peaks for which the park is famous.

While President Calvin Coolidge created a 96,000 acre park called Grand Tetons National Park in 1920, much of the beautiful, adjacent valley of Jackson Hole remained in private hands, open to ranching and mining. The modern park owes its existence to the founder of Standard Oil, now known as Exxon/Mobil. Having visited the area in the early 1900’s, John D. Rockefeller was concerned about its commercial exploitation and secretly began to buy up tracts of valley land through the Snake River Land Company. When nearby landowners discovered what he had done and learned he planned to turn the area over to the national government to add to the national park, they were outraged and fought the effort throughout the 1930s. Submitting to pressure, Congress prevented its addition. After a frustrated Rockefeller threatened to sell it, in 1943 President Franklin Roosevelt ultimately extended federal protection over the valley by naming it a National Monument, using solely his executive powers to do so. In 1950 it was joined with other land to form the current park.

Grand Teton, the highest mountain at 13,775 feet, is 700 feet higher than the second tallest peak, Mount Owen. The range’s name came from 19th century French-speaking fur trappers, who referred to the range as les trois tétons (the three teats). The name was later shortened to Tetons.

We thank the Steinfelds and Barretts for sharing their adventures with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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From San Juan to South Dakota

In recent months WOW has enjoyed the tropical temperatures of the Caribbean and winter-like temperatures out West.

The trips were taken by the D'Auria family of Greenhedges and the Steinfelds of Stamford.

In February the D’Aurias traveled to Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island that has been a U.S. possession since the Spanish-American War of 1898. Wrote Sue D’Auria, “My husband John and I were there to visit our daughter, who is clerking for a federal judge in San Juan. (Puerto Rico is a part of the federal court system and is in the same circuit as most of New England!)”

The D’Aurias are pictured in front of one of the turrets (known as a bartizan or garita) at the 16th century citadel of Castillo San Felipe del Morro. The fortress, lying at the entrance to San Juan’s harbor on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, was constructed beginning in 1539. A small fortress at that time, its expansion continued sporadically over four centuries.  Constructed on a promontory (or morro) and named for King Philip II of Spain, the fortress protected the harbor’s entrance and one of Spain’s most significant colonial ports. In 1587 Engineers Juan de Tejada and Juan Bautista Antonelli designed and began additional construction on the fortress, significantly expanding the structure to its recognized form today. (Similar Spanish fortifications can be seen in Cuba, the Dominican Republican and nearby Saint Augustine, FL.) The fortress, whose walls are 18 feet thick and rise 145 feet above sea level, have experienced attacks by the English under Sir Francis Drake and the Dutch. The last military bombardment the fort experienced was at the guns of the U.S. Navy during the Spanish-American War. In 1961, the fortress became part of the U.S. National Park Service and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

The garita, or domed sentinel box in front of which the D’Aurias are standing, has become an iconic cultural symbol of Puerto Rico and appears on the U.S. commonwealth’s license plates.

Crossing an ocean and a half dozen states (as the seagull/crow flies) will take you from San Juan to the Black Hills of South Dakota. June found the Steven and Debbie Steinfeld, and their children Brett and Rachel, doing a tour of a number of national parks out west. While we’ll run some other shots of their trip in September, their trip culminated in a long car ride to South Dakota to a mountain named after Charles Rushmore, a New York attorney who traveled to the state to secure a mining claim for New York businessmen in 1884 and 1885.

That peak attracted the interest of an American sculptor named Gutzon Borglum forty years later. A native of Idaho and the child of Danish immigrants, Borglum was sculpting the head of Robert E. Lee on Stone Mountain in Georgia when he was contacted by South Dakota resident and historian Doane Robinson. The “father of Mount Rushmore,” Robinson proposed to Borglum that he carve a mountain to bring fame and visitors to his state. While Robinson suggested carving the likenesses of Western heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud and Buffalo Bill, Borglum insisted on figures of more national renown.

Mount Rushmore thus contains the 60-foot heads of four U.S. presidents representing the first 150 years of the country’s history: George Washington, the country’s first president and American Revolutionary War hero; Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. third president and author of the Declaration of Independence; Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th U.S. president who constructed the Panama Canal, broke up massive corporate monopolies (trusts) and fought for the rights of the common man (Roosevelt also owned a ranch in the Badlands of the Dakota territory, where he spent two years living after the 1884 death of his first wife); and Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U.S. president who saved the Union and issued the Emancipation Proclamation during the U.S. Civil War.

Jefferson’s bust was originally sculpted to the right of Washington. Unstable rock led to its dynamiting and recarving to Washington’s left prior to its completion, costing Borglum two years of work.

Nearly 400 hundred men and women worked on the mountain carving between 1927-1941, providing valued if difficult work during the Great Depression. Notably, no deaths resulted during the long project despite its height and the fact that 90 percent of the granite rock was carved using dynamite. When only three to six inches of rock were left to the carving surface, dynamiting was halted and workers drilled holes – called honeycombing – to weaken the remaining rock so that it could be shaped by hand.

The work was overseen by Borglum, and his son Lincoln after Borglum’s death in March of 1941. While initial plans for the project called for the presidents to be sculpted from head to waist, lack of money during World War II prompted the national government to declare the sculpture finished in 1941.

WOW thanks the D’Aurias and Steinfelds for sharing their travels with WOW. (To show our appreciation, each received a check for $50.)

Submit Your Photos!

At deadline WOW had no more photo submissions for its WOW in the World feature. We need our readers’ help to keep this popular feature going. If you travel out of state, don’t forget to bring along your WOW! Simply take a photo of you or your family holding the magazine in a fun spot and send it in. Doing so can earn you up to $100!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in Asia

WOW’s travels recently brought it to Afghanistan and Japan.

Between October 2012 and late April of this year, Shires resident Vince Kirsch, a retired Navy officer currently working for the Department of Defense, was stationed in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Vince is shown on a rooftop with Kabul’s impressive Hindu Kush mountains behind him.

The country’s capital and largest Afghan city, Kabul sits in eastern Afghanistan at nearly 5,900 feet above sea level. Along with the Kabul River the city occupies a narrow valley in the midst of the Hindu Kush Mountains.

Nearly three and a half millennia old, the city has been fought over by many empires because of its strategic location along Asian trade routes. Since 1978 the city has been the on-and-off again battleground of different political factions, supported by such foreign governments as the former Soviet Union, the U.S., Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have wrestled for influence and control in the region. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the Taliban’s control over Kabul ended and the U.S.-supported government of Hamid Karzai – with the support of the U.S. and NATO – has since attempted to extend its control over the country from the city.

Another Westchase resident traveled a bit farther to the east. Wrote Greens resident Keiko Omori about her recent two-week trip with her husband, Stephen Straw, “My husband and I went to Japan, where I'm originally from, to see my family in April.”

She added, “During the stay, we took a bus trip (overnight) to Kyoto, where these two pictures were taken.”

Keiko explained that the first picture was taken at Nanzen-ji Temple, a Zen Buddhist Temple built on the site of an emperor’s palace in 1291. There she had the great fortune of seeing the springtime cherry blossoms. “I felt lucky to see the cherry blossoms at this historical, sacred place as it is very difficult to guess (even for a weather person) when the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom.”

The second photo was taken at Kodai-ji Temple. “I'm standing in front of Kaisan-Do (Founder's Hall), a national cultural asset, inside of the temple,” Keiko wrote. She explained that the temple is one of a number of original buildings that have survived a series of fires since 1789. “This place was definitely old but at the same time I felt full of peace and even love looking over the surrounding ponds and garden.”

We thank Vince Kirsch and Keiko Omori for sharing their travels with WOW. Be sure to submit your travel photos with WOW this summer!

Submit Your Photos!

At deadline WOW had no more photo submissions for its WOW in the World feature. We need our readers’ help to keep this popular feature going. If you travel out of state, don’t forget to bring along your WOW! Simply take a photo of you or your family holding the magazine in a fun spot and send it in. Doing so can earn you up to $100!

By Chris Barrett Publisher


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WOW Visits the Kandahar Province

Green Beret Lieutenant Colonel Tim Creighton, a four-year Greens resident and 26-year veteran (10 years in the Infantry and 16 years as a Green Beret), is currently assigned to the First Armored Division as a combat advisor to an Afghan National Army unit in southern Afghanistan. He submitted the story and photos for this month’s WOW in the World feature. Rather than simply incorporate his observations into an article written by staff, WOW decided to run Lt. Col. Creighton’s story in his own words. WOW thanks him, his wife Carmen Gloria and his daughter Sarah for their sacrifices and his service. We all look forward to his safe return!

WOW has traveled to friendly places far and wide with our residents. Recently the magazine accompanied a hero to a land that has experienced decades of war.

Last October Greens resident Tim Creighton, a 26-year veteran of the U.S. military, departed the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill AFB – and his Westchase home and family – for Fort Bliss, Texas to conduct training in preparation for his deployment. He then departed Fort Bliss in December and arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan four days later. The flight included stops in Bangor, Maine; Leipzig, Germany; and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. His deployment is scheduled to last nine months.

Afghanistan, officially called the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country with a population of around 30 million inhabiting an area of approximately 250,000 square miles, making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world. It is bordered by Pakistan in the south and the east, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the far northeast.

Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries due to decades of war. Its unemployment rate is about 35 percent; roughly the same percentage of its citizens lives below the poverty line. About 42 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day, according to a 2009 report. Literacy rates within the population are low, around 28 percent, with the female literacy being as low as 10 percent.

Tim and his 18-man advisor team are based out of Forward Operating Base Pasab in the Zharay District of Kandahar Province. They are responsible for assisting the Afghan Army with increasing their ability to defeat the Taliban insurgency as coalition forces prepare to depart at the end of 2014. The advisors work daily with their Afghan counterparts, often developing close friendships. One would think that forming close friendships would be difficult due to the wide linguistic and cultural barriers that exist between Americans and Afghans. Tim, however, says it’s actually quite easy. “Whether working with Chileans, Jordanians, Thais, or Afghans, we all share one thing in common – we’re soldiers. Soldiers across the world have the natural ability to bond due to a common profession and pride in what they do,” he said.

Tim’s counterpart, an Afghan Brigadier General, is a very capable officer whose career has spanned the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, the country’s civil war and Taliban control of the 1990s, to the present day fight against Taliban insurgents. Tim stated, “My counterpart is an extremely professional officer and decent man. We share many commonalities and have wide-ranging discussions about a variety of topics, many of which are not military-related. I absolutely consider him a friend.”
The current Afghan Army is comprised of many interesting soldiers. Some attended KGB-run intelligence schools in Moscow during the Soviet occupation; others joined the mujahedeen to fight against the Soviets; while others enlisted in the Northern Alliance to fight against the Taliban. “It is quite fascinating to sit down and drink chai (tea) with some of the soldiers and listen to the stories from their past. In many instances, these soldiers have known nothing but war their entire lives. It is a humbling experience when you consider the hardships that many of these individuals have endured throughout the years,” Tim said.

The American advisors interact with the Afghan soldiers using Dari and Pashto-speaking interpreters. The interpreters are either U.S. citizens or local English-speaking Afghans hired through a strict vetting process. Tim’s interpreter, Habibi, is a U.S. citizen whose family lives in San Francisco. Tim also considers Habibi a good friend and wouldn’t mind visiting San Francisco in the future when Habibi returns home.

Upon completing the tour, Tim will return to Tampa, where he’ll again be assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill, AFB. Tim’s wife and daughter, Carmen Gloria and Sarah, keep him up-to-date on the comings and goings of things happening in Westchase and around the Tampa area. They are able to talk regularly through Skype and telephone. As Tim often says, “Behind every good soldier off at war is a better wife back home doing the work of two while keeping everything together.”

By Tim Creighton


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WOW in Sicily and Colonial Williamsburg

This month we share WOW’s visits to two very different locales

Last summer the Callan-Spallino family of The Bridges spent the summer in Sicily, from which mom, Rossana Spallino, hails. Jim Callan and Rossana Spallino’s children, Giovanna, Francesco and Elisa, are pictured holding WOW outside of Sciacca on the southwest coast of Sicily. On a map Sicily is the island that the boot-like Italian peninsula appears to be nudging with its toe. While unique in many ways from the Italian mainland, Sicily, like the island of Sardinia, is part of Italy.

Offering beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea, Sciacca, located in the province of Agrigento, was founded in the fifth century B.C. by the Greeks as a thermal spa. The modern town still retains much of its architecture and layout from medieval times, when it was bloodily contested over centuries by two baronial families, the Luna and the Perollo. The feuds halved its population.

More recently, the Wynne family of The Vineyards made a trip to Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown in Virginia. Amanda, Dave, Natalie and Emery Wynne traveled to the popular tourist sites in November and submitted photos of their trip to Jamestown. While predated by nearly a century by the Spanish establishment of Saint Augustine, Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the U.S. Its fort rose on the James River in the colony of Virginia in 1607, about 20 years before John Winthrop and the Puritans arrived in Massachusetts Bay.

Jamestown is part of the Historic Triangle of Virginia, which also includes Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown, where Lord Cornwallis’ surrender to George Washington ended major fighting in the American Revolution. Colonial Williamsburg, however, is a recreation of colonial life in Virginia between 1699 to 1780 and its building are far less rustic than the primitive Jamestown fort.

Natalie and Emery are depicted at the entrance to the Jamestown Fort, while their father, Dave, and Emery are depicted in a recreation of a Powhatan home (the Native American group on whose land the Jamestown Fort was constructed).

Wrote Amanda Wynne, “The museum there is really amazing and the girls had a blast learning about our American history, as did Dave and I.”

We thank the Wynnes and the Callan-Spallino family for sharing their travels with WOW!

Submit Your Photos!

After its May edition, WOW will be completely out of photo submissions for its WOW in the World feature. We need our readers’ help to keep this popular feature going. If you travel out of state, don’t forget to bring along your WOW! Simply take a photo of you or your family holding the magazine in a fun spot and send it in. Doing so can earn you up to $100!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Parks Itself Out West

This month Westchaser Nimna Gabadage tells of his family trip to two of our great national parks – with WOW along for the ride.

Over last summer the Gabadage family from The Greens, including Nimna, his brother, Gangul, and their parents, Namal Gabadage and Arosha de Silva, visited Yosemite National Park in California, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Arizona’s famed Meteor Crater.

Formed by water erosion by the Colorado River and located in north central Arizona, the Grand Canyon is one of the most powerful and iconic landscapes in our country. “The view of the rugged, multi-colored, and beautiful rock layers was breathtaking,” Nimna wrote. “To see this fascinating natural wonder, we had some short hikes in the South Rim between viewpoints and rode the Grand Canyon shuttle buses when we were tired.”

The Grand Canyon, covering 1,900 square miles, is the 15th oldest park in the National Park Service. While earlier presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, had attempted to protect the area for future generations, U.S. Senate opposition kept the Grand Canyon from being named a national park until Woodrow Wilson’s signature in 1919 made it so.

Nimna and his family also visited Yosemite National Park in California. “From granite cliffs to beautiful waterfalls, this is a nature lover’s paradise,” he said. “The overlook from Glacier Point was my favorite part of the Yosemite hikes,” he recalled, adding that he could see Half Dome (Yosemite’s famous granite rock formation, which appears to Nimna’s left in one of the photos) and Yosemite Valley from there. The Gabadages also took some short hikes to Bridal Veil Falls and to the Lower Yosemite Falls.

Covering over 760,000 acres, Yosemite, lying in central Sierra Nevada range in California, played a key role in the creation of the national park system. It was the first piece of land the federal government voted to set aside specifically for preservation and public use. The park was created by the Yosemite Grant, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. While ceded to California as a state park, damage from commercial interests that heavily logged and grazed the state lands led President Theodore Roosevelt, a noted conservationist, to take the land back in 1906 as part of his newly created National Park Service.

Nimna was also photographed with the park’s most famous inhabitants. “Another thing to explore in the Yosemite was the Mariposa Grove, which is the home to the giant Sequoia trees,” Nimna wrote. “The most fascinating thing was to me the Tunnel Tree. We strolled through a tree! It is hard to believe that these trees can extend up to 25-feet thick.”

The Gabadages also made a journey about 100 miles southeast of the Grand Canyon, as the crow flies. Their goal was the Meteor Crater in Arizona, where Nimna is pictured with his brother Gangul. The well-preserved natural crater was created by an impact 50,000 years ago before humans arrived in North America. “I really enjoyed the sight of the meteor crater and also the very fascinating movie they showed before the tour,” Nimna wrote.

The meteor crater was initially thought to have been created by volcanic activity. It wasn’t until 1903 that a mining engineer named Daniel Barringer proposed that it had been caused by an enormous, iron-metallic meteorite. After winning mining rights to the area, Barringer was convinced he would find up to $1 billion in iron ore at the bottom of the crater. By 1950 his explanation for the crater’s creation was widely accepted and studies of meteor impacts explained why the expected iron was missing – most of it vaporized with the intensity and heat of the impact. Barringer’s descendants still own the crater, however, and charge admission for visits.

We thank Nimna, Gangul and Namal Gabadage, as well as their mom Arosha de Silva, for sharing their trip with WOW!

Submit Your Photos!

WOW is currently running low of great vacation photos taken with WOW. In the coming months, we’d love to tag along with you on your trip and, afterwards, share the story here. When you head out of state, don’t forget your WOW! Doing so will earn you up to $100!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW at the Capital and in Canada

WOW continued its travels throughout North America this summer.

Among other exciting places, it traveled to the capital of the U.S., Washington, D.C., and to Canada.

The first two photos show Jackson and Nathan Ring of The Bridges at the White House and the Lincoln Memorial. The Ring brothers traveled with their parents, Karen and Sean, to the capital over their summer vacation.

The White House, of course, is the official U.S. president’s home and office complex. The existing White House is actually the fourth presidential mansion. Prior to the construction of the District of Columbia, our first U.S. president, George Washington, lived in three different presidential mansions, two in Manhattan and one in Philadelphia, the temporary U.S. capital for ten years. The first U.S. president to live in the White House was John Adams, the second president of the U.S. (Adams also lived in the Philadelphia mansion that housed Washington.)

Construction of the White House began October 1792 and its builders included American slaves. Originally called the President’s House, the President’s Palace or the President’s Mansion, the public simply began calling it The White House beginning in 1811 and the name was formally adopted by later presidents.

The building’s original construction was a simple neoclassical rectangle designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban, who had previously designed the Charleston County Courthouse. Thomas Jefferson added the east and west colonnades (designed by Benjamin Latrobe), which connect to the East Wing (built starting in 1901) and West Wing, which holds the president’s Oval Office (finished 1946). The north and south porticos that shape the mansion’s current façade were added after the War of 1812, when the White House was gutted and almost completely destroyed when the British set fire to it.

The Lincoln Memorial, designed by architect Henry Bacon, is a more recent addition to Washington, and is graced by a statue sculpted by Daniel Chester French. It sits on the western edge of the national mall.

Construction of the Lincoln Memorial began in 1914 and was finished in 1922. Its dedication was attended by Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s 79-year-old son. The monument is also an important site for the Civil Rights Movement. During the March on Washington in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his I Have a Dream speech from the steps of the memorial, where a marker sits commemorating that historic moment.

Last summer also saw a Keswick Forest family head farther north, this time to Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick, Canada. In our third photo, Jack Hessefort, Heather Greeley-Hessefort and Claire Greeley stand at water’s edge during low tide. “The Hopewell Rocks is one of New Brunswick’s premiere tourist attractions,” explained Heather. “The Flower Pot Rocks are in the Bay of Fundy and are covered by the extreme tides (the highest in the world) twice a day.”

The Flower Pot Rocks appear directly behind and to the rear right of Heather (center) in the photo. While the photo makes them appear part of the cliff, the flower pot rocks are actually separate rock formations. The tree-topped rocks are scoured by tidal waters as they pour in and out, carving them away so their bottoms are narrower than their tops. At high tide the area where they are standing is completely covered with water.

The Bay of Fundy is located in the northeast part of the Gulf of Maine and lies between the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The difference in water depths during high and low tides can range from 48 to 54 feet. In contrast, most beaches near Tampa Bay see tidal ranges of only 1.5 to three feet.

We thank the Rings and the Greeley-Hesseforts for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW at the London Olympic Games

What do James Bond, Queen Elizabeth, Mr. Bean and WOW have in common?

You guessed it! They all dropped by the London Olympic Games last summer.
While WOW didn’t parachute into the stadium, it was carried to the Olympic venues by two different Westchasers!

Last July Sylvaine and Mike Clarkin of Keswick Forest travelled to Switzerland, Sylvaine’s native country, to visit her family. “We were in Switzerland visiting my family and went for a weekend in London for the Olympics,”she said. Stating it was amazing to see all the athletes performing, Sylvaine remarked, “Once in a lifetime!”

The Westchase community was also represented at the London Olympics by Devan Martin, a Shires resident and University of Florida sophomore. She performed at the event with the Gator Marching Band. Devan’s mom Ginnie wrote, “The Gator Band spent nine days in London, playing at venues such as The Mall and Victoria Park, as well as at an event with First Lady Michelle Obama and soccer superstar David Beckham at the residence of the U.S. ambassador in London.”

The London Olympics were held July 27 through Aug. 12. The USA topped the medal count with 104 overall medals while host country Britain placed fourth, just after China and the Russian Federation, with 65. With the addition of Women’s Boxing, the London games were the first to have women participating in all sporting events.

It was the third time London has hosted the Olympics, with 1908 and 1948 being the previous years the city hosted the games. London was also supposed to hold the 1944 Olympics, but those games were postponed due to World War II.

Devan Martin is shown standing in front of the Olympic rings, hanging from the Tower Bridge. Often mistakenly called London Bridge from the nursery rhyme, Tower Bridge opened in 1894 and is an impressive representation of Victorian architecture. (London Bridge is the next bridge upriver.) A bascule and suspension bridge, Tower Bridge spans the River Thames, joining the East End borough of Tower Hamlets to the Southeast borough of Southwark. The bridge, which took eight years to construct, is 800 feet long and its two towers stand 213 feet high. Its 200-foot central span can be raised to let river traffic pass through. It’s crossed by an estimated 40,000 pedestrians and drivers daily, who must observe a 20 mile per hour speed limit (meant to help preserve the structure) or risk an automated fine due to the cameras catching speeders on the bridge.

In 1952 a double decker bus had just started crossing the bridge when the south bascule began to rise. Making a quick decision to accelerate, the bus driver cleared a three-foot gap, falling six feet to the opposite side, which had not yet started to rise. Amazingly, there were no injuries.

The Olympic rings hanging from the bridge were 82 feet across and 37.7 feet high. They weighed 13 tons and cost £259,817 to make (roughly $418,900).

Sylvaine Clarkin is pictured standing in front of the Olympic Stadium, where the track and field events as well as the opening and closing ceremonies were held. The stadium seats 80,000 and construction of it began in 2007 and finished in 2011. The stadium was also an important venue for the 2012 Summer Paralympics.

We thank Devan Martin and the Clarkins for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Volunteers Over the Summer

Community service is near and dear to WOW. Over last summer WOW had the opportunity to tag along with Westchase residents who served abroad.

In June Alex Faedo of Castleford spent a week in the community of Santa Rosa de Calamuchita as a member of an Argentine Mission Team. While in Argentina, he delivered food boxes to families and worked at a local camp for children. Although Alex plays baseball for the Alonso Ravens, he had a great time learning and playing Argentina's favorite sport – soccer. Wrote his mother, Kristie Donovan, “He feels very fortunate to have visited such a beautiful country and to have had the opportunity to help others while making so many new friends.”

Santa Rosa de Calamuchita is located in Cordoba, a province in north central Argentina. The town was established in 1700 after the Dominican order established a mission there, named after St. Rosa de Lima, patron saint of Latin America and The Philippines. The town’s current population is about 10,000.

Our next WOW in the World submission came from nearly the same latitude, but across the Atlantic on a wholly different continent.

July found Brian, Kelly and Kristen Keefer of The Greens traveling to volunteer at N/a’an Ku Sê, a wildlife sanctuary for orphaned and injured animals. The sanctuary is located in Windhoek, Namibia, a country located in southwestern Africa.

In the family photo, Kristen Keefer is holding Sheila, a 3-week-old orphaned baby baboon, whose mother was accidentally shot. Sheila chose Kristen as her surrogate mother and became attached to her around the clock. The trip to Africa was a graduation present to Kristen from her grandfather.

During their two week stay at N/a’an Ku Sê, the Keefers interacted with cheetahs, leopards, lions, baboons and other exotic animals on a daily basis.

N/a’an Ku Sê is partnered with the Jolie-Pitt Foundation to conserve the land, cultures and wildlife of Namibia. It works to advance environmental conservation as well as education and medical assistance to Namibia’s San Bushmen community. For more information, visit


The city of Winhoek, located in the center of Namibia, is the country’s capital. Located at 5,600 feet above sea level at the site of a permanent spring that had long attracted pastoral communities, the city was originally founded in 1840. Later abandoned during war, the city saw a second founding in 1890 once Namibia had become a German colony. Development of the city accelerated after 1907 and it currently is home to nearly 325,000 people.

We thank Alex Faedo and the Keefers for sharing their travels – and service – with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW up North and Far East

In recent months WOW visited two U.S. military installations in the Middle East

Lieutenant Colonel David Hoffs, a resident of The Greens, is now home from a long deployment abroad. Over the summer, however, Hoffs submitted a photo from his work site. “I realize that folks usually send in pics from fun and highly recognizable locations, but I don't think the WOW has ever been to Afghanistan,” he wrote. “I would try to get a picture in a more historic location within the city, but given the potential IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and insurgent threat, we're not authorized to stop our vehicles for ‘sightseeing’ pictures.”

While Hoffs added a smiley emoticon to the message, his comment was a reminder of the risks the members of our military face in their service to our country.

The city Hoffs was referring to was Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, where he served as Director of Intelligence at the ISAF Special Operations Forces Fusion Cell.

Hoffs is shown holding WOW at North Kabul Afghanistan International Airport. “The Soviet Army controlled it from 1979 to 1989 and the Taliban took over the airport in November 1996 until they lost control in late 2001,” he explained. “The northern side of the airport has been used by the United States armed forces and NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) since 2002. A new terminal was built on the civilian side of the airport and opened to international flights in 2009, and there are three Afghan airlines which use the airport as a hub.

Kabul, the fifth fastest growing city in the world with 4 million residents, is located in eastern Afghanistan at an elevation of 5,900 feet. It’s the largest city in Afghanistan.

More recently Brentford resident Marty Hamilton, a veteran, visited Qatar. “These two photos were taken about 30 miles apart,” he explained. “One is the skyline of downtown Doha, Qatar, and the other is from Al Udied Air Base with a U.S. barracks and bomb shelter in the background. I would have taken a photo of the flight line but that is frowned upon. Whether it's on the nose of a B-17 or a flat rock in the desert, given time, the troops will create interesting paintings.”

Qatar, an independent country lying on a peninsula just off Saudi Arabia, is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Blessed with an abundance of oil and natural gas, it lies in the center of the strategically significant Persian Gulf, just across the water from Iran. Home to an absolute monarchy, the country is only 4,500 square miles and hosts a population of just under 2 million. Qatar served as the headquarters and the main launching site of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Much closer to home, The Otero-Cesiro family of Harbor Links/The Estates, consisting of Brian, Tyler and Brendan Otero and Anna Marie Cesiro, visited New York City in June where they are pictured atop the Empire State Building. “This was the boys' first trip to the Big City and they were very excited,” wrote AnnMarie, who stated the family made the stop en route to a family reunion.

One of New York’s famous skyscrapers, the Empire State Building stands 102 stories with its antenna spire reaching 1,454 feet. Built in just 410 days at the height of the Great Depression, it was the world’s tallest building for 30 years after its 1931 completion. It is now the third tallest skyscraper in the U.S. and fifteenth tallest in the world. In July 1945 a B-25 bomber, lost in fog, actually crashed into the Empire State Building, killing 14. Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver, however, survived a 75-story plunge inside one of the elevators, which still stands in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest elevator fall survived by a person. Oliver died in 1994.
We thank David Hoffs, Marty Hamilton and the Oteros for sharing their travels with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in Iceland and Yosemite

June and July found two different Shires families on the same frigid island in the North Atlantic.

Shires resident Samantha Collazo traveled with her dad, Ruben, to Iceland as part of a graduation trip through many different European countries. Once there they had a photo snapped of them holding the March WOW in front of the Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik. The sixth tallest architectural structure in Iceland, the Lutheran church was designed by its architect to resemble the basalt lava flows commonly found on the island. It was constructed between 1945 and 1986. It is one of Reykjavik’s best known – and visible – landmarks.

In July Dean and Linda Landsman of The Shires decided the best way to beat Florida’s heat would also involve a trip to the Arctic. Wrote Linda, “We did an eight-day cruise around Iceland and crossed the Arctic Circle!  This is a picture of us in front of the GullfossWaterfall, outside Reykjavik.  It was beautiful!”

The Gullfoss Waterfall is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. Located on the Hvítá river in the southwest of the island, the waterfall drops in multiple stages before entering a steep 105-foot crevasse, giving the impression from a distance that the significant river is simply vanishing into the earth.

A bit closer to home found a third Shires family enjoying a waterfall and other beautiful sites during their trip to the national parks and other interesting sites out west. Doug and Nancy Wood and their son Jack are shown at Vernal Falls in Yosemite Park. Located in east-central California, Yosemite is famous for its granite cliff, beautiful waterfalls and impressive groves of giant sequoias. Vernal Falls, at 317 feet, is located along one of Yosemite’s popular trails. When it is swollen with spring thaw, the waterfall’s mist soaks nearby hikers.

A four-hour drive then found the Woods in San Francisco, where Jack is shown at a famous site where a popular Discovery Channel TV program is filmed. M5 Industries is Jamie Hyneman’s movie and television special effects company now largely dedicated to the filming of Mythbusters.

We thank the Collazos, Landsmans and Woods for sharing their travels with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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Island Life Suits WOW

WOW kicked off its pre-summer travels with some island hopping through the Antilles, the island chain that curves downward from Puerto Rico to South America.

Our first photo shows Stamford resident Paula Hough holding May’s WOW at Point Udall on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Paula travelled to St. Croix with her father Paul, who was participating in a triathlon race. “Point Udall is the eastern-most point in the U.S.,” wrote Paul Hough. “A sundial known as the Millennium Monument was built above Point Udall for the New Year's celebration in 2000 – it marks the azimuth of the first U.S. sunrise of that year.”

A tiny clarification: while Point Udall certainly is the eastern-most point in the U.S. by travel, it is not by longitude. The true easternmost point in the U.S., based on longitude, can be found on Semisopochnoi Island, Alaska.

The U.S. Virgin islands lie in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, about 40 miles east of Puerto Rico. The Virgin Islands were named by Christopher Columbus for Saint Ursula and her virgin followers on his second voyage to the New World, which occurred in 1743. The islands were subsequently held by many other powers, including Spain, the U.K., Netherland, France and Norway-Denmark.

The U.S. Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John and Saint Thomas. Previously called the Danish West Indies, chain was purchased by the U.S. from Denmark as part of the Treaty of Danish West Indies. The U.S. took possession of the islands on March 31, 1917 and their residents were granted U.S. citizenship in 1927. While they are an unorganized, unincorporated U.S. territory and they elect their local government, they cannot vote directly for president. Their Congressional representatives may vote in committee but may not participate in floor votes. Interestingly enough, after a draft of their new constitution was rejected by the U.S. Congress in 2010 for failing to acknowledge federal sovereignty and protect civil rights, the U.S. Virgin Islands will reconvene its constitutional convention this month to redraft the document.

Our other photos show Rachel and Mark Starner of The Greens. After marrying March 16, the couple honeymooned at Cap Maison Luxury Hotel Resort and Spa, located in Cap Estate, St. Lucia.
They’re shown holding the March WOW at the resort.

Also part of the Antilles, St. Lucia, however, belongs to the Windward Islands much farther south than the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Lucia is also an independent country. Measuring about 240 square miles, it’s inhabited by 175,000 people. Historically, the island changed possession between Britain and France a number of times. Currently it has a two-party parliamentary democracy based on British common law. St. Lucia is part of the Commonwealth of Nations, associated with the U.K.

We thank the Houghs and the Starners for sharing their travels with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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From North to South

The spring and summer months have been filled with exciting travels for WOW!

Late March found WOW traveling in Western Europe, the area of the world outside the U.S. where WOW has been photographed most. For this trip, WOW tagged along with Mark Ragusa and his son Austin of Harbor Links/The Estates. Mark took a number of photos during their visit to London, Paris and points between, including Point du Hoc, the cliff top four miles west of Omaha Beach in Normandy.

Here Austin is pictured holding the March WOW in front of the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most famous monuments in Paris. The 164-foot monument was commissioned after Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz, marking the height of the French emperor’s success. It honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. It sits at the western end of the Champs-Élysées; twelve avenues radiate outward through Paris from its location.

Housing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I, the arc’s inner and outer surfaces are inscribed by the names of French victories and generals. The arc is so large that Charles Godefroy famously flew his biplane through it in 1919 to mark the end of World War I. (The famous newsreel of the feat can be found on YouTube by searching for plane and Arc de Triomphe.

Kingsford’s Anika Smith and her father, Jim, sent in some photos taken a bit farther south. The family visited South Africa with the February WOW. Anika is pictured in front of Table Mountain. Part of Table Mountain National Park, the flat-topped peak is a prominent tourist attraction rising nearly 3,600 feet above Cape Town. Hiking is popular on the mountain and a cable car also takes visitors to the plateau at its top.

The Smiths also sent some photos of Anika holding WOW and posing with animals at Seaview Game Park, about 25 minutes outside Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. In addition to housing a large number of lions, the game park allows visitors to see giraffe, antelope, monkeys and even a crocodile up close. Anika is also pictured here at the game park because it is the first time WOW has ever been eaten by a lion.

Which fills WOW with pride. (Or perhaps it’s the other way around!)

We thank the Ragusas and the Smiths for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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Sí, WOW Habla Español!

From Mexico and Honduras to Spain, WOW has visited many Spanish speaking countries in recent months.

This month we run a first – two unrelated residents holding different editions of WOW in the exact same foreign locale at the same time!

Back in March, 17 Westchase residents and one Virginia couple set sail on the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas for a long weekend cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. Wrote participant Nancy Sells of Harbor Links, “The destination was not as unique as the fact so many friends were able to travel together.”

Holding the January WOW on the ship is Maureen Engel of The Shires. Meanwhile Katie Gailbreath of Greenhedges stands to the right holding the February WOW.

Who are between and behind them? According to Nancy Sells, “Those sailing together were Kathy and John Prible, Rose Ann and Leo Lorenzo, Katie and Hays Gailbreath and Marianne and Michael Sapsara of The Greens; Bernie and George Estock, Dick Terry, Kathy Smith and Nancy and Dale Sells of Harbor Links; Maureen and Ken Engel of The Shires; Bill Bartel of The Bridges; and Kathi and Ken Bergerson of Virginia.”

Nancy added, “Some of the activities enjoyed in port by the group were snorkeling, shopping and visiting the Mayan ruins.”

All of the Westchase women on the cruise met through the Northwest Hillsborough Newcomers Club and are still members of the group.

Our second photo is of Maggie Mularz of Chelmsford. Maggie is pictured holding the January WOW with ten residents of Orphanage Emmanuel in Guiamaca, Honduras. She worked at the orphanage for half a year before returning in March.

Orphanage Emmanuel is a faith-based home for abused and abandoned children. Living at the orphanage at the time, Maggie wrote, “Emmanuel is a forever home. We have children who are mothers with week-old infants to 20-something-year-olds who would be unable to live independently outside because of disabilities. The children live, go to school and work on the farm, in the store, or in other areas of vocational training on site in our expansive compound.”

Maggie mentioned the orphanage depends upon donations and needs even simple items like socks, underwear and washcloths; readers can visit for more information.

Our third photo shows West Park Village resident Becky Brown. She’s holding last November’s WOW in Barcelona, Spain in front of Casa Batlló, which Becky described, tongue in cheek, as “a famous gaudy building by architect Antoni Gaudí.” Commissioned by textile industrialist Josep Batlló, the home was built between 1904 and 1906. It’s notable for its nearly complete avoidance of straight lines.

A top name in Catalan architecture, Gaudí worked in Spain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is best known for his design of the fascinating and unique Cathedral of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which was recently featured in WOW in the World. Casa Batlló’s Web site states, “Many influences – oriental, neoclassical and neo-Mudejar among others – can be seen in his architecture; however Gaudí mixed these styles with new solutions and materials.”

An interesting thing to note: Gaudí did not actually inspire the use of the word gaudy, an adjective meaning ostentatiously ornamental and garish. That word dates to the 16th century and comes from the Latin word gaudium, meaning joy or delight.

We thank Becky Brown, Maggie Mularz, Maureen Engel, Katie Gailbreath and Nancy Sells for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW in the Caribbean, Europe and Asia

During the late summer and winter months of 2011, WOW traveled to the far corners of the world.

Among other fun places, it went along on one Westchase couple’s honeymoon!

Bridges residents Jennifer and Andrew Duff recently celebrated their first anniversary on May 14. After getting married last May, Jennifer and Andrew went on their honeymoon the following August and took WOW along with them. The trip took them to the Sandals resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, where they took time out by the pool and a nighttime beach party to take some photos with the magazine.

Located on the north central coast of Jamaica, Ocho Rios does not, as its name suggests, have eight rivers nearby. The name is thought to be a British corruption of the original Spanish name, Las Chorreras, which means “the waterfalls.” That name was likely inspired by nearby Dunn’s River Falls. The town is probably most notable for its appearance in Dr. No, the very first James Bond film, released in 1962. A former fishing village, Ocho Rios has been transformed by tourism and is now a port of call for cruise ships.

In our second photo Joey Lechman, 8, the son of Joe and Dinny Lechman of Keswick Forest, holds the November 2011 WOW above Rothenburg, a walled medieval town in Germany. His father, Joe Lechman, stated the family’s European trip was to take delivery of a new car for his mom. “It’s the greatest deal known to man and no one knows about it,” Lechman stated.

Lechman’s mother purchased Volvo C70 convertible for seven percent off its price. As part of the deal, Volvo threw in two round-trip tickets, a one night hotel stay and paid to ship the vehicle to the U.S. once the Lechmans were finished with their European tour. In the new Volvo, the Lechmans visited Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which sits behind Joey Lechman in the photo, is located in Bavaria in the south central portion of Germany. Its name means “red fortress above the Tauber,” as it sits on a plateau above the Tauber River. The town’s first structures date to the 10th century. The city itself was founded in 1170 with the building of Stauffer Castle. Much of the town’s protective wall and buildings were built in the Middle Ages and were protected from changes by laws adopted in the late 1800’s. The town’s quintessentially German architecture has attracted tourists for years.

Also carrying the November 2011 WOW along with them on their trip to Asia were Christopher and Michelle Evanich of Bennington.  Their travels took them to Ngong Ping on Lantau Island in Hong Kong, where they visited the Tian Tan Buddha. “To get to the statue,” the Evaniches explained, “we had the option of a six-hour hike, a 1.5-hour bus ride or 45-minute cable car ride. We chose the scenic cable car ride.”

The Tian Tan Buddha, which reportedly can be seen from Macau on a clear day, was constructed between 1990 and 1993. Nicknamed the Big Buddha, it is 112 feet tall and weighs 250 tons. Its bronze skin is supported by a steel skeleton. Visitors who pay a fee can enter the Buddha, which is said to contain some of the cremated remains of the founder of Buddhism, Siddartha Gautama. To reach the statue, visitors must scale 240 steps.

WOW thanks the Duffs, Lechmans an Evaniches for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Along the East Coast

In the past year WOW made a number of stops along the East Coast.

From the Appalachian Trail in Georgia to the Freedom Trail in Boston, WOW toured the country – and made a very special stop in Virginia to welcome home a hero.

Courtney and Callie Mehl of Chelmsford, along with their cousins, are seen here with the July 2011 WOW. Together they visited Paul Revere's house in Boston's North End. During their annual summer vacation on Cape Cod, the girls’ parents, Kurt and Penny Mehl, decided a little American history was in order. The family therefore took a side trip to Concord, Lexington and the Freedom Trail in Boston to learn about the American Revolution. A surprising fact they learned was that Paul Revere was captured by the Redcoats before he was able to warn the colonial militia in Concord that the British forces were coming. Revere’s ride of April 18, 1775, was actually completed by Dr. Samuel Prescott, who escaped capture to give the ultimate warning.

September’s WOW found itself further south along another trail. Marc and Luiza Holtzberg of The Bridges, along with their children Daniel and Adina, traveled to Georgia for some hiking. Their trip took them to Len Foote Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls State Park, where Marc and his children are pictured. From there (just north of Atlanta), they headed farther north to hike to the summit of Springer Mountain, the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. Each year between two to three million hike portions of the Appalachian Trail, which runs roughly 2,180 miles from Georgia to Maine, passing through 14 states. “We had to hike through two gaps (mountain passes), one of which had a vertical rise of 500 feet over a quarter of a mile,” wrote Marc Holtzberg. “The next morning we hiked back to civilization and went to Helen, where we rode tubes down a river whose temperature was a balmy 68 degrees.” 

Our final photo shows a special visit the February 2013 WOW made to Virginia. There Greens residents Amy Jackson and her son Dylan welcomed Amy’s brother, Randy, home from his deployment. Amy wrote, “The USS Bataan was out to sea for almost 11 months.  My brother is in the Navy and stationed in Virginia.  Their boat arrived into port on Feb. 7, and set a record for the longest deployment since World War II.” Amy, Randy and Dylan were joined by Amy’s mom Elaine for the occasion. “This was a very special day, as some of the sailors met their new babies for the first time, and families were reunited.” 

Amy concluded, “We’re glad WOW was able to witness this amazing experience with us!”

We thank Amy for including us in her family’s special reunion and thank her brother Randy – and all our generous service men and women – for their service to our country.

We also offer our thanks to the Mehls and Holtzbergs for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOW Reaches the Taj Mahal

Last summer WOW achieved a longstanding goal!

The magazine visited one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world with the Bhat family of Castleford. During their visit to India in August, the Bhats snapped an elusive photo of WOW in Agra, India, at the Taj Mahal.

WOW’s previous efforts to get a photo at the Taj Mahal ended in confiscation and failure. In the past, the mother of WOW Business Manager Tracy Urso carried the magazine to the landmark but security guards confiscated her copy of the WOW as she was attempting to take a photo. She even had to bribe them to get her WOW back!

Chaya Bhat, however, pulled it off! Here she is pictured in front one of the world’s most famous and beautiful tombs. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum constructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their 14th child. The mausoleum is a wonderful example of Mughal architecture, which reflects influences from Persia, Turkey and India.  Located in north central India, the Taj Mahal was finished in 1648 during the height of the Mughal Empire, founded by descendents of the Timurids of the Central Asian steppes and invader Genghis Khan. Mughal emperors reigned from 1526 to the beginnings of British colonization of the Indian subcontinent in the early 1800s. At its height the dynasty ruled over vast areas of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Nepal.

As the result of her getting a photo with WOW next to one of its most wished-for sites, Chaya Bhat received a check for $100.

Last summer also saw the Ballehr family of The Greens travel by plane, train, automobile and bicycle through Europe. Bruce, Kathi, Kelsey, Tyler and Trey Ballehr generously shared the trip with WOW and sent along several photos of the magazine at various sites. They made the trip to Europe to visit their old friends, the Shapiro family, who lived near the Ballehrs several years ago in Stamford. Once in London, the Ballehrs ran into another Greens family, the Splaines. (In January, WOW ran the Splaines’ photo at Stonehenge.)

During their European trip, the Ballehrs visited the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain. They rode the London Eye, visited a German castle, swam in the Mediterranean Sea off Ibiza, Spain, and took an adventurous bike ride into the Amsterdam countryside.

Returning home, Kathi Ballehr wrote, “We had to say a sad goodbye to our friends the Shapiros for now. We are looking forward to their return to Westchase in the near future.”

We thank the Bhats and Ballehrs for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher



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WOWing Europe

Last summer WOW made a number of visits to different corners of the Old Country.

The Weerapperuma family of Abbotsford travelled to Spain and Portugal this summer before heading across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco.

The Weerapperumas submitted a number of photos of their visits to places such as Seville’s Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza, one of the oldest bullrings in Spain; a Tangiers marketplace, located on the North African coast where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic Ocean; and the FC Barcelona stadium, the highlight of the trip for Dilina and Nipuna Weerapperuma, who are big soccer fans.

Shown here are Dilina and Nipuna at Sagrada Familia, the most famous Gaudi designed Roman Catholic Church in Barcelona. An expiatory cathedral (whose construction is funded entirely by donations), Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882 and should be completed by 2026.

Dilina is also shown across the strait from the Rock of Gibraltar, a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula. Located at the entrance of the Mediterranean, the limestone formation was thrust upward during the Jurassic period when the African tectonic plate collided with the Eurasian Plate. Then a lake, the Mediterranean Sea dried up. Later, the Atlantic broke through the Strait of Gibraltar, creating the Mediterranean Sea.

Stamford’s Karen and Paul Hough also traveled to Europe last summer with the August WOW. They visited Regensburg, Germany, where Paul raced in the Ironman Regensburg.  Wrote Paul, “Regensburg is the fourth oldest city in Germany and the finest preserved medieval city north of the Alps.  The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site.” 

Paul is pictured on Stadamhof Street, which was the site of the race’s finish.  St Peter's Cathedral is seen in the background.  He’s also shown at Walhalla, about seven miles outside of town on the Danube River. The monument memorializes distinguished German speakers through scores of plaques and busts. “It is Germany's most important national monument,” wrote Paul. “It is named after Valhalla (the Hall of Dead), modeled after the Greek Parthenon and was opened to the public in 1842.” 

We thank the Weerapperumas and Houghs for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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Two Hemispheres in Contrast

This month WOW shares photos from two trips separated by a year and half the globe.

This past July saw the Johnson family of The Shires heading to Central America. “The week of July fourth we took the WOW with us to Belize City, Belize,” The Johnsons wrote. “WOW accompanied us as we journeyed one and a half hours outside of Belize City to Nohoch Che'en Park, where we trekked through the jungle to go cave tubing.

Dan and Angela Johnson are shown with their two sons, Danny and Kyle.

“The Belize Caves Branch Cave is one of several subterranean sites that were carved out of the limestone foothills of the Maya Mountains by the very active Caves Branch River,” the Johnsons explained. “Belize is unique in that it has the largest cave system in Central America and the Belize Caves Branch is part of this natural wonder – most as yet unexplored or mapped.

“The site provides us with an excellent example of the erosive power of water, and the natural wonders of Belize.”

The Johnsons added that archeological evidence suggests the Mayans visited the site to conduct important rituals. “Our guides were very knowledgeable,” they concluded, “And on route, pointed out many plants that the Mayan people used for medicines and food. They even had us snack on termites and play with tarantulas!”

This month’s photos, however, also feature a trip made in late 2010 to India by the Subbamaran family of The Bridges.

Wrote Vaidy Subbaramaran, “We spent most of our time in Chennai and Bangalore, in South India. We had also planned a stay at a resort facility in Coorg in the Western mountain range in South India. The Cauvery river originates in the mountains near Coorg and Karnataka state has opened up several points along the Cauvery river banks for tourists to get up close to some domesticated elephants. Of course, there are forest reserves where you can get a chance to see wild elephants, besides other wild animals.

“On our way to Coorg, we stopped at a tourist spot on the banks of the Cauvery river, took a boat ride and got close to a few elephants. We had taken along our recent WOW magazine and used the opportunity to take a photo with an elephant receiving a bath in the Cauvery river!”

In addition to Vaidy Subbaramaran, the photo shows his wife Charu and their son Arun. The second photo also includes two of Charu’s nephews. Vaidy explained, “Coorg is also home to the Appey (pronounced app-ee) or "Abbey" falls, which in the local Coorgi dialect actually means "falls"! We also took a photo with the WOW magazine on a small suspended bridge near the Appey falls.”
We thank the Johnsons and the Subbamarans for sharing their trips with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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All Things San Diego

Among other places, the June WOW visited San Diego with different Westchase residents. Both Heather Greeley-Hessefort of Keswick Forest and the Patterson family of Radcliffe took the WOW along on their trips to Southern California.

Mignon and Don Patterson, along with their children Lila and Luke, took WOW along during their visits to Legoland California, the San Diego Zoo and Tijuana, just across the U.S.-Mexico border. Lila and Luke Patterson are pictured at the zoo and Legoland.

Describing her photos, Heather Greeley-Hessefort wrote, “WOW got to see the historic Gaslamp Quarter, which reminded me of Ybor with the restaurants and shops.” Heather added, “The WOW also accompanied me inside and into the dugout of PetCo Park, home to the San Diego Padres.  I wasn't there as a Padres fan (Go, Rays!).  My company held their annual Employee of the Year awards dinner there.  It was a wonderful event and I had a little bit of home with me.”

While originally settled by Native Americans, San Diego Bay’s modern history began as a Spanish military post and mission in the 1700’s. Even after it became part of the U.S. in 1850 as the result of the Mexican-American War, San Diego remained a sleepy, small town of less than 1,000 residents until newcomer Alonzo Horton arrived. Horton purchased land closer to the bay, built a wharf there and began promoting the town’s development. Since the early 1900’s San Diego’s economy has been strongly tied to the presence of the U.S. military there.

We thank Heather Greeley-Hessefort and the Pattersons for sharing their trips with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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From Stonehenge to Diamond Head

The June WOW proved a well traveled magazine. Among other places, it visited the UK and the islands of Hawaii.

That month Jack and Sam Splaine of The Greens visited England to attend their aunt’s wedding. “It was the first time they had been to the U.K. and they really enjoyed it,” wrote their dad Steve,
“especially the fish 'n' chips.”

The boys also had the opportunity to visit Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire. While archaeologists still debate its purpose, it was likely erected sometime between 3,000-2,000 BC. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stonehenge might have served as an early burial ground and it may also have been used as an astronomical observatory or a religious site. Each of the monument’s standing stones is around 13 feet tall, nearly seven feet wide and three to four feet thick. They each weigh around 25 tons.

June also found the Cushing family of Kingsford making a trip to Hawaii, which included an excursion to the top of one of the island chain’s most recognizable landmarks, Diamond Head. Wrote Laurie Cushing, “The Monday after school got out we flew for 10.5 hours to O'ahu with the WOW in our carry-on. In celebration of Hannah graduating from elementary school and our 13th wedding anniversary, we spent eight days exploring the island. We snorkeled, fed bonefish, went to a luau, toured the Pearl Harbor Memorial and the Dole plantation, saw sea turtles trying to beach themselves for a nap, had lots of shaved Hawaiian ice, golfed, body-surfed the waves in Waikiki and climbed Diamondhead. It was quite a trip!”

Diamond Head, an iconic Waikiki image, is actually the top of a volcanic tuff cone of on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu. While called Lē'ahi by native Hawaiians, the cone was dubbed Diamond Head by 19th century British sailors, who mistook calcite crystals in the rock for diamonds. The volcano Diamond Head rims has been extinct for 150,000 years. A popular tourist destination for visitors to Honolulu’s hotels, the hike to its top take one to two hours. Tom, Laurie, Hannah and Emma Cushing are pictured at the top.

We thank the Splaines and Cushings for sharing their trips with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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From Santa’s Neighborhood to Sri Lanka

Thanks to two Westchase families, the June WOW likely saw the greatest climatic and latitudinal extremes of any edition.

The month begin with the Butt family of Harbor Links undertaking a 16-day land and cruise tour of the U.S.’s northernmost state, way up in Santa Claus’ neighborhood. Jeff, Michelle, Andrew and Caroline Butt carried the June WOW on a long journey to the Arctic Circle along Alaska’s Dalton Highway.  Explained Michelle, “Our journey to the Arctic Circle began with an eight-hour van trip north from Fairbanks along the Dalton Highway. The Dalton Highway has recently been made famous by the History Channel show Ice Road Truckers.  Once we arrived in glamorous Coldfoot, AK (really just a truck stop), we flew from north of the Arctic Circle by small airplane back to Fairbanks!”

The month, however, also saw the June WOW in a country that sits just seven degrees north of the equator – Sri Lanka. The Gabadage/DeSilva family from The Greens visited Yala National Park and Sanctuary, where they stayed overnight in a bungalow with no walls! Nimna Gabadage wrote WOW with a description of the great experience his brother Ganjul and he had. “During a four-hour safari Jeep ride through the dangerous jungle, all sorts of exotic animals awaited us, including giant water monitors and elegant peacocks – not to mention groups of troublemaking Grey Langur monkeys.”

Nimna also sent in photos of a number of the animals living in the sanctuary. “There were wild boars moving in packs, herds of spotted deer and hulking black sloth bears,” he wrote. “Whether it’s herds of Asian elephants aimlessly lumbering through the dry plains eating scorched grass and weeds or two playful Sri Lankan leopard cubs tussling with each other on the dirt road just a meter in front of you, Yala National Park had it all.”

WOW thanks the Butts and Gabadages for sharing their travels with us!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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WOWing the Biltmore

In July two Westchase families took WOW along to visit one of America’s most famous houses.

After the White House, perhaps the most famous house in America is the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Visiting the estate this past summer were Amanda, Dave, Natalie and Emery Wynne of The Vineyards and Mary and Neal Banks of Castleford.

In addition to a photo of both Natalie and Amanda Wynne at the Biltmore, the Wynnes also sent in a photo of Natalie and Emery enjoying a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains at milepost 294 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The stop features the Moses H. Cone Manor and Memorial Park.

In addition to their visit of the Biltmore, Mary and Neal Banks also visited the lakeside resort of Skaneatelles, New York. 

The Biltmore Estate consists of both the Biltmore House and its grounds, located in beautiful Asheville, about 50 miles from the Tennessee border in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Biltmore House, the largest privately owned home in the U.S., was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt in the Châteauesque-style and completed in 1895 at the height of the Gilded Age. The estate was owned by George Washington Vanderbilt, II, the grandson of Gilded Age robber baron Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made his fortune from an extensive steamship and railroad empire. Its grounds were designed by one of America’s most renowned landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted, famous for designing Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City.

Its once far more extensive grounds consisted of 125,000 acres of forests, 85,000 of which were sold to the U.S. government by George Washington Vanderbilt’s widow and now serve as a significant part of the Pisgah National Forest.

Still owned by one of Vanderbilt’s descendents, the Biltmore House was opened to the public in March 1930. Family members lived there until 1956, when it permanently became a house museum. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

We thank the Wynnes and Bankses for sharing their travels with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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From the Far East and the Near West

Early July found the June WOW in several famous European places.

Over the summer Debbie and Steven Steinfeld of The Fords took a whirlwind tour of London. In just one day the indefatigable couple visited Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, caught Les Miserables in a West End theater and scratched another item off Steve Steinfeld’s bucket list: a visit to Wimbledon during the tennis tournament. Steve remarked that seeing the tournament’s games simultaneously played on many courts offered a unique view of an athletic event most Americans see play out on one or two.

June’s WOW also accompanied the Dukat family of Bennington, who submitted photos from Pompeii, Pisa and Paris.  In one Rachel, 17, and Regina, 11, pose in front of one of the plaster casts from the remains in Pompeii, destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption in AD 79. Located near Naples on Italy’s western coast, Pompeii was abandoned yet rediscovered in the 18th century.

The Dukat sisters were also photographed holding WOW in front of a Notre Dame Cathedral gargoyle and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tower was constructed between AD 1178-1319 and began to sink and tilt soon after the construction of its second floor. Wrote their father Rob, “Going up the tower is pretty crazy. Due to the lean, it feels like you're going through one of those fun house tunnels with the lights spinning around you.”

A contemporary of the Leaning Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, a Gothic Catholic cathedral in Paris, was built between 1163-1345 and is the setting for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. “We climbed up about 200 or so steps to get to the bell towers and facade around them,” wrote Rob Dukat. “You could see and touch the 13-ton bell Quasimodo would ring.”

WOW thanks the Steinfelds and Dukats for sharing their adventures with us!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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From the Far East and the Near West

In early June Westchase families’ summer travels took one family to San Francisco and another to Vietnam.

The Simmons family of The Vineyards took along the June WOW for their trip to California. While Brian Simmons attended the Apple Worldwide Development Conference from June 6-10, his wife Suzie and daughter Maggie, 7, took in the city’s sites. Suzie Simmons graciously sent in a photo of Maggie in front of the rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. The theater, which hosts both concerts and performances, was originally constructed in the Marina District for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Because its construction was considered temporary and it had deteriorated badly by the 1950’s, it was demolished and constructed anew in 1964. In 1969 it became home to the Exploratorium museum and since 1970 has also housed a 1,000-seat theater.

June also saw the Huynh family of Castleford send make a trip abroad. Wrote the Huynhs, “In June 2011, we visited our native country of Vietnam.  It was an exciting first visit to Vietnam for our daughters.”

In the photos Kayla and Megan Huynh are standing in front of the former Saigon City Hall, which dates to 1908, and Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon, which was completed in 1880. Explained the Huynhs, “Their architecture reflects French influence as Vietnam was a French colony for a century.  In fact, the bricks used to build the cathedral were shipped in from France.”

With the fall of Saigon in 1975, the city’s name was changed to [vulgarity] Chih Minh City. The Saigon name however, is still commonly used by both Vietnamese and foreigners, particularly for the central part of the city.

We thank the Huyns and the Simmonses for sharing their fun with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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