The southern charms of Jacksonville, Florida

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Updated 02 February 2016

The southern charms of Jacksonville, Florida

Residents of Jacksonville, the charmingly chic seaport on Florida’s northeasten coast, often refer to their hometown in affectionate terms. “J-Ville” and “The River City” are two of them; “JAX” is another. But after a few days here, we had a few words of our own: Charismatic, energetic, undiscovered.
Established by the French explorer Jean Ribault in 1564, Jacksonville is an often overlooked port city at the mouth of the St. Johns River with a rich culture, thriving arts scene, and a whimsical awareness of its “second city” status relative to Miami or Orlando.
Any visit here ideally should begin with a walking tour of Jacksonville’s uber-gentrified downtown area. Downtown Top to Bottom Walking Tours was our preferred introduction to the J’Ville’s vibrant urban scene.
Gary Sass, the founder and operator of this “boutique” tour company, personally escorted us while dressed in the historically accurate uniform of General Andrew Jackson (1767-1865), America’s seventh president (and Jacksonville’s namesake).
As Gary led us wide-eyed through the tunnels and up to the rooftops of seven downtown buildings, he shared amazing anecdotes about the many “firsts,” “bests,” and “largests” officially attributed to Jacksonville: Florida’s first skyscraper, world’s largest video scoreboard (Jaguar Stadium), America’s first ocean-going shipping port, first Hollywood movie location, Florida’s first “tourist destination,” and so forth.
Gary clearly loves his adopted city, and his insights on the rich history and culture of this vibrant metropolis enhanced our experience of Jacksonville ten-fold.

FROM EXCLUSIVE MEN’S CLUB TO SWANK CAFE
After working up an appetite from our morning walking tour, we set our sights on a sumptuous lunch — maybe, we hoped, “something rich and regional … topped off with a memorable, Southern-style dessert.”
We were delighted to have both of our wishes fulfilled at the Candy Apple Café.
The Candy Apple Café, an “amazing, innovative, and deliciously sweet” restaurant, is located in what was at one time an exclusive men’s club at the turn of the last century. Serving meals on three floors, the Candy Apple features “French-inspired cuisine with a Southern influence.” Their signature dish at this popular eatery: a short-rib meatloaf with tomato juice and brown butter whipped potatoes. As vegetarians, we were pleased they also had some good meals available for us, too.
As you might conclude from its name, this restaurant also features amazing desserts, some that are crafted from handmade chocolates and candies available from Sweet Pete’s Gourmet Chocolates and Candy Store. The boutique-style chocolatier is co-located within the Candy Apple Café’s distinctive Second Empire-style building.
Visitors to Sweet Pete’s can watch treats such a lollipops, licorice, caramels, and — of course — chocolates being hand-crafted by “candy artisans” schooled in age-old, European techniques.
After lunch, take a driving tour of Jacksonville’s historic neighborhoods of Riverside, Avondale, and San Marco. During your drive, don’t miss stopping at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.
Here resides a remarkable collection of traditional artwork featuring masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens, Winslow Homer, Thomas Moran, and Norman Rockwell.
The Cummer Museum is best known for its special collections, particularly its Meissen porcelains. These impressive ceramics encompass more than 700 works produced from 1708 through 1780 in Meissen, Germany. The rarest pieces were created before 1756, when the unwelcome occupation of the Prussian military nearly ended production at this world-renowned ceramics factory.

SEEING THE TOWN FROM ‘THE OUTSIDE IN’
Next, take a narrated two-hour cruise of the points of interest on the St. Johns River aboard one of the two vessels — SS Naples Princess or SS Foxy Lady — operated by Captain Mitch and his wife Carolyn.
The tour we took, which for $44.95 per person includes lunch, offers visitors a view of Jacksonville from the waterside in, including downtown skyscrapers, historic bridges, the EverBank Stadium, and other points of interest.
Later, enjoy a relaxing dinner at the North Beach Fish Camp, a “bright, airy eatery for eclectic seafood lovers.” Featuring a spectacular view of the Atlantic shoreline, this seaside restaurant offers a “beach feel,” from its exposed beams, beautiful hardwood floors, and windows offering ample sunlight. Featured dishes are Blue Crab cakes, caper Aioli, and steamed Gulf Coast oysters.
We stayed the night at the Courtyard Oceanfront by Marriott Hotel, overlooking the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville Beach. The beachfront is private, and your room key lets you through a secure gate onto their beautiful sugar-white shoreline. No better place to stay, in our opinion, in Jacksonville Beach. The glorious understated sound of surf will lull you to sleep.
For one of the best breakfasts to be found in all of Florida, charge on over to the Maple Street Biscuit Company in Jacksonville Beach.
The multi-location coffee establishment is well-known to local coffee lovers, but its homemade biscuits were voted as one of “the ten best biscuits in America.”
The Maple Street Biscuit Company is famous for its single-serving pecan pies (“Robyn’s Pecan Pies”), named after Robyn Moore, wife of Maple Street’s founder, Scott Moore. Robyn is also renowned for her apple pies, a legacy of her Indiana upbringing. Our favorite breakfast entrée, for veggies and non-veggies, is the “Iron Goat,” an egg dish with spinach and goat cheese sandwiched inside a huge, flaky, homemade biscuit.
Local patrons are particularly fond of the “Five & Dime” breakfast: biscuit, all-natural fried chicken breast, pecan-wood smoked meat, topped with cheddar cheese.

WANNA BE SUPER-COOL? LEARN HERE HOW TO ‘SUP’
Now, as you’ll need to burn up some of those calories you’ve just packed on at breakfast, finish your morning with the coolest, newest exercise ever — “Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) — we took a necessary lesson in the nearby town of Neptune Beach with Tiffany, our friendly and helpful instructor from Jax Surf and Paddle.
We urge you to go SUP-ing, but please take the short lesson to learn how to SUP properly.
There are many ways to ride a SUP: racing, flatwater, surf, long distance, fitness, eco touring, and fishing. The experts at Jax Surf and Paddle are masters of every SUP-ing technique!
Whatever SUP style you care to try, standing atop your personal SUP board is the best way to view blue herons, pelicans, cranes, ospreys, and other Florida sea birds along Jacksonville’s “flatwater bi-ways.”
Ready for some post-SUP shopping? So were we!
So we headed off to take advantage of the bargains at the 50 “fashion forward” shops at the St. Johns Town Center.
Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor, Brooks Brothers, Coach, Fossil, J. Crew, LaCoste, Lane Bryant, Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Nordstrom, Oakley, Talbots, Tiffany & Co., Tommy Bahama, Victoria’s Secret, and Williams-Sonoma, are just a few of the stores at St. Johns Town Center offering discounted wares specially priced for savvy, budget-minded shoppers.
We found a perfect way of finishing our shopping experience: lunch at the St. Johns Town Center’s fabulous restaurant, Moxie Kitchen.
A truly one-of-a-kind specialty restaurant, Moxie features “handcrafted happiness” in its local Seminole Pride beef and other locally-farmed meats, produce, and beverages. “We bring a farm to table approach in everything we serve at Moxie,” explains Sara Marie Johnston, a spokesperson at Moxie. By way of example, Sara says that the deviled eggs that they serve (“four kinds!”) come from “hens who do not ingest hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides.”
Moxie also offers entire menus for people who prefer their food vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free. We can attest that these veggie dishes were special and delicious.
Moxie even gives an additional purification treatment to the water used throughout the building where the restaurant is housed. “We have a complimentary approach to how we deal with everything we do,” Sara adds. “We are a true local restaurant. If it matters to you to buy locally, then Moxie is the place for you to eat.”

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Exploring Saudi Arabia: A journey through the lens

In 2015, Abdulaziz Aldakheel formed the Earth Aerial Documentary Team for his projects. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 16 February 2020

Exploring Saudi Arabia: A journey through the lens

  • Abdulaziz Aldakheel flies a two-seater aircraft to take aerial shots of heritage sites of Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Abdulaziz Aldakheel, a businessman and adventurer from Madinah, flies a two-seater aircraft and takes aerial photographs of Saudi Arabia that have been creating waves on social media.
“I like to explore and document sites and everything I see from the top. As a pilot, I know how to get the best spots (to) capture a good photo from the right angle. I also know the right altitude,” he told Arab News.
“Aerial photography is unique and unlike regular photography on the ground, which everyone can do.” He said he has licenses to fly over some banned areas and zones in Madinah.
It all started in 2014, when Aldakheel set off to explore a volcano crater in Madinah. “I also took photographs, which won the admiration of many of my friends and followers on social media,” he said.
“My friends and I started to search for exotic places to explore and learn more about, and also to document them, as we all shared the belief that the Kingdom boasts exotic and great archeological sites, including Islamic and historical ones,” he added.
“We decided to form a team of professional members who are capable of making such explorations and documenting what we see. In 2015, we formed the Earth Aerial Documentary Team, the first and largest volunteer team that uses light-sport aircraft for photography.”
Some of the most aspiring photography experiences for him and his team are rare natural phenomena in desert areas across the Kingdom, such as snowfall.
“Flying is our hobby. We fly twice a week ... The Saudi deserts are the most mesmerizing during the winter. Besides, flying during cold weather is better,” Aldakheel said.
His favorite photography tools are two Nikon D850 cameras. “This type of camera is the most professional and helps you capture photos with very high precision, and zoom in and out easily while flying an aircraft,” he said.
“We fly aircraft as volunteers to serve our country and with the full support of Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman and his deputy Prince Saud bin Khalid Al-Faisal. We’re grateful for their continuously encouraging the whole team. We’re proud that they put up the photos of the team in the emirate building in Madinah. We view this as a major achievement and an inspiration that will spur us on to do more,” Aldakheel added.
“Our ambition is to get approval for other sites in the Kingdom so we can document them.” He will be documenting remote areas in the Eastern Province, the Southern Region and the Empty Quarter.
“We’re getting ready for our exhibition in Madinah, where we’ll showcase our works as well as our aircraft, vehicles, photography and camping equipment,” he said.