16 August 2010

Orlando ...

Written for a challenge on a travel journalism website.

Orlando, Florida is a contradictory, diametric construction of dirt and cartoon fairy tales, poverty and lazy timeshare vacations, excessive wealth and mind-numbing poverty.  Newborn from farmland in the mid-1970s, it still carries a displaced air of rural homeliness.  For all of its urban sprawl, it cannot keep up with its own clumsy growth.  A teenager, gangly and unaccustomed to its own stretching limbs, Orlando is forever under physical construction and constantly expanding in population.  The whole world lives here.  Any kind of person that one could possibly venture to imagine lives here.  Extreme dichotomy is the norm, and just like a teenager with impossible mood swings, the Land of the Mouse will constantly surprise you.

When tourism fuels an entire city, it is often difficult to distinguish just one true identity of a place.  But even so, it’s a glorious and expansive place, full of good finds; learning about Orlando is like picking through a really amazing flea market.  One could find almost any kind of cuisine here:  Vietnamese, Columbian, Peruvian, Thai, Japanese, Italian, Mediterranean.  There are New York style pizza carts, hot dog stands, vegan restaurants (even a ridiculously yummy vegan hot dog stand), Argentinian steakhouses, absurdly decadent brunch buffets, roadside BBQ … you name it, Orlando has it.  It is, without a doubt, a gastronomic paradise.

Its traffic is notoriously horrible and slow, the toll roads are expensive and never ending in construction.  Conversely, there is a budding population of residents who have taken to their bicycles in lieu of cars, riding in packs through the streets of downtown.  Orlando’s downtown district is strange, new and old smashed side to side like two strangers on a bus.  Hibiscus Court is rumored to be the oldest street in town; in actuality, it isn’t even a street, it’s an alley with houses on either side, pressed comfortably up against each other.  It’s an impossibly narrow one-way street, littered with feral cats and strewn with Christmas lights on palm trees, fashioning a quaint Key West-like atmosphere.  Walk two streets in any direction and you will find yourself surrounded by towering glass bank buildings exploding out of the concrete or gorgeous Lake Eola homes reeking of money, class, and sophistication.  It’s an oddly beautiful unpredictability, making clear the fact that this city is juvenile and unsure of itself.  Lake Eola was once consistently dotted with the homeless population. Now it is illegal to feed Orlando’s homeless and it is illegal for such a person to become too comfortable on an Orlando city bench for too long. Outrageously expensive condominiums sprouted up around the Lake, and the gentrified new residents insisted on cleansing the area of its previous inhabitants.  The City Beautiful is not well-known for taking care of its own.

But if you head towards the east outskirts, near Christmas, Florida, there are clear enough skies to see meteor showers shaking the atmosphere.  Head towards Geneva and there are olfactory seducing orange groves, brazen clusters of wild turkey, and elegant sand hill cranes.  Orlando is old, young, uprooted, uneasy, callous, cocky, growing, and very much alive in all of the right ways.


  1. I spent 22 years living in Florida. Started out in Ft. Lauderdale, went to Tampa, then Jacksonville. I used to love living there until I discovered California and all its beauty. Imagine... desert, beaches, & mountains all in one state. It's amazing to be on the beach with palm trees while seeing mountain ranges in the distance covered in snow. Big plus: It NEVER rains in SoCal. When you guys make it out to Disney (where I'm at now) would love to meet up with you. I wish you well on your journey & hope it ends up being the best time of your lives! I'll be keeping up with your travels. Feel free to keep up with mine (http://sunnyjogardner.blogspot.com/) as I am a full time RV'er. You might want to check out my friend's blog (Wandering Solo) as she gave up everything she owned to travel abroad. Lots of us have the travel bug, few of us act on it. Welcome to my world!

  2. this is so well done and so true!

  3. Well I always wanted to live in Florida... It is my dream to work and live here forever. For me Florida is the land of beauty and dreams.

  4. If you want to travel with the whole family, I think Florida is just the perfect place to be especially for children. It has a lot to offer and definitely you will not waste or regret spending a penny. I invite you all to visit the beautiful Florida.