Naples, Florida – a little corner of paradise

I was recently traveling along Alligator Alley on my way to the city of Naples, a city some have dubbed “the Palm Beach of Florida’s Gulf Coast.”

By BEN G. FRANK
September 20, 2014 23:28
Naples

NAPLES HAS BEEN dubbed ‘the Palm Beach of Florida’s Gulf Coast.’. (photo credit: BEN G. FRANK)

 
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‘Alligator Alley.” Whoever heard of such a name for a major US interstate? Actually, that’s just one of the names of the Florida section of I-75; the flat and straight two-lane highway is also known as “Everglades Parkway.” I-75 runs for 758 km in Florida, making it the longest interstate in any state east of the Mississippi River.

The interstate begins its run near Miami and moves along the eastern part of South Florida before traveling westward across “Alligator Alley” and the Florida Everglades, a natural region of tropical wetlands.

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I was recently traveling along Alligator Alley on my way to the city of Naples in Collier County, Florida, nestled between the Everglades and the Gulf of Mexico, a city some have dubbed “the Palm Beach of Florida’s Gulf Coast.”

First impressions are important, and Naples, incorporated in 1927, current population some 20,000, fits the tourist- destination bill. Beautiful, shop-lined avenues, piers that jut out into the Gulf of Mexico, white sandy beaches, fabulous eateries, hotels to meet every budget, boats large and small and some of the most expensive real estate in the country, with some houses selling for in excess of $40 million.

After walking up and down trendy Fifth Avenue, between Third and Ninth streets, even shop-till-you-drop Yankees from the New York area admit that, “Well, for Florida, it can be called ‘posh.’” Seminole Native-Americans once sold their handicrafts from stands on Fifth Avenue, where today over 50 buildings housing shops and stores encompass about a dozen blocks. Restaurants and night-spots, too.

Though not as affluent (but more folksy, I must say), Tin City, an open-air shopping center which housed a clam and oyster processing plant in the 1920s, is another popular tourist venue. Set on the water, and full of crusty and waterfront buildings, Tin City is actually quite attractive. Stop off at Riverwalk Fish & Ale House for a delicious fish sandwich.

After eating and shopping you can take a Double Sunshine boat ride out on beautiful Naples Bay. It’s a great tour, and includes descriptions of the mansions of the rich and famous, who pay hefty property taxes. Since much of the Florida tourist trade is wrapped around “the season,” (October- April winter months), many of these huge homes are empty during the summer.



“The only occupiers now,” jests the boat guide, “are the domestic staff and gardeners.”

Passengers “ooh” and “aah” as they watch dolphins gracefully leap into the air. Adding to the atmosphere are beautiful pelicans resting on posts. Good photo-ops.

Third Street South is another popular tourist venue. Once the business district of Old Naples, it now boasts galleries, high-end boutiques and antique shops. I stopped off at the very popular and recommended Tommy Bahama’s Tropical Café, at 1220 Third St. South, where customers can enjoy live guitar performances.

Attached to one side of this establishment is an upscale men’s clothing store and on the other side is a women’s boutique of the same name.

The retail prices of this famous “purveyor of island lifestyles,” can make a dent in one’s wallet.

Highly recommended for dinner is the Terrazza Restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, aptly known as “a corner of paradise.” This newly-designed restaurant has an inviting ambiance for breakfast, lunch or dinner. For dinner, the restaurant offers excellent fish entrees. The Ritz-Carlton Naples hotel truly lives up to its name and reputation.

Named one of the world’s most exclusive retreats in Robb Report’s top 100 Resorts list, the resort recently announced that it would offer groups an “authentic kosher experience” for weddings, galas, and bar/ bat mitzvahs, through MD Destinations, certified by the Orthodox Union, which will provide on-property rabbinical supervision, equipment and guidance to ensure sanctioned kosher events. During your stay at this magnificent resort, you can participate in one of the local rites of passage: Watch the sun set on Florida from the property of the Ritz-Carlton Naples. (For reservations or more information, call toll free in the US 1-800-241-3333, or visit the company website at www.ritzcarlton.com.)

Another popular spot to be for sunsets is the Naples Municipal Beach and Fishing Pier. There’s no fee to stroll down the 300-meter pier that juts into the Gulf. I watch the fishermen/women and kids angle for their big catch. Only a few minutes from downtown, the nine miles of white-sand beaches bring the crowds to the pier and beyond.

WHILE THE bulk of the Jewish population lives on Florida’s east coast, two Holocaust museums exist on Florida’s west coast and one of them is in Naples. (The other is in St. Petersburg). Naples has a Jewish population of about 2,000 families, and there are about a half dozen synagogues in the Naples area.

Entering the parking lot of the Holocaust Museum & Education Center of Southwest Florida (at 4760 Tamiami Trail North, Suite 7, Sandalwood Square, Naples, FL, 34103, tel: (239)-263-9200, www.holocaustmuseumswfl. org), a large boxcar similar to the ones used by the Germans during the Holocaust to transport Jews to the concentration camps looms up before you.

Amy Snyder, executive director of the center, says that researchers cannot be 100 percent sure that this boxcar – now on a flatbed truck – was used in deportations, but adds that, “This boxcar was in the service of the German railway system during the 1930s and ‘40s. The boxcar is the type of car that was used during deportations.”

According to the center, there are only a handful of such boxcars on display in the United States. However, in all those other locations, the boxcar is a stationary artifact. The center in Naples points out that it is the only museum using the boxcar as a traveling educational tool.

The boxcar is part of a unique education program; it travels to Naples area schools to assist students in their study of the Holocaust. Educating students is one of the most important functions of the museum, says Snyder.

Snyder, who is not Jewish, started out working as educational director at the center and then became executive director in 2012. Regarding the boxcar, she said that it was acquired by board member Jack Nortman and restored by the Woodworker’s Cabinet in Naples.

The museum is open from September through December 31, Tuesday through Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Guided tours are offered Tuesday through Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

The museum is closed Mondays, on public holidays and the day after Thanksgiving. Hours from January through April are longer.

“People don’t expect much when they come into this center,” Snyder said. “They are often surprised to see the [museum’s] collection... it’s very educational,” she added.

This writer agreed; the museum is well worth a visit.

The writer is a journalist and travel writer, and the author of the just-published Klara’s Journey, A Novel (Marion Street Press) and The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond (Globe Pequot Press). He blogs at www.bengfrank.blogspot.com.
twitter @bengfrank

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