The streets were still empty when we arrived in Ybor at around 3 in the afternoon. Being accustomed to the big crowds and the outrageously festive atmosphere of Philippine holidays, Daphne found it rather strange to see Tampa's historic district empty during a national holiday. But after spotting barricades along 7th Ave., we realized we were in for a cool Independence Day surprise. Having lived in Tampa Bay for almost a decade now, I have learned to expect surprises—both good and bad—when in Ybor.

Tabanero Cigar Rollers - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

While scouting the streets for cool shops to visit, we saw cigar rollers working behind the Tabanero Cigar shop's window and decided to take a closer look. A heavyset man in a blue Guayabana shirt and a fedora hat greeted us at the door and lead us to small lounge. He walked around a lot to greet other customers, but every once in a while, he would stop by our table with a cigar in his mouth to discuss the art and business of cigar making.

Tabanero cigar shelves - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

"We have six full-time employees from Havana making our cigars," he told us. We watched his cigar dangle precariously from his lips every time he spoke, but it never fell. He showed us the shelves stocked with all kinds of handmade cigars that reached the ceiling, remarking that they make all their cigars locally and deliver them worldwide.

Before we left the cigar shop, the man mentioned something about the Shrine Parade later in the afternoon. Despite having very little idea about who the Shriners were, we decided to stick around and wait for the event.

To kill some time, we walked around Ybor's cobblestone streets and marveled at all the beautiful architecture that surrounded us. The district has been around for more than a century, yet it seemed like it hadn't changed much at all.

Skating the streets of Ybor - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Founded in the 1880s, Ybor City was a thriving industrial area that produced millions of cigars yearly during its heyday. However, the city's population—mostly made up of Cuban, Spanish, and Italian immigrants—began to decline during the Great Depression and diminished furthermore after WWII, leaving the district in decay for many decades.

Ybor's restoration beginning in the 80s eventually filled the old brick buildings and factories in the district with new businesses, slowly evolving into one of the exciting tourist destinations in Tampa today.

Ybor's strong heritage can still be felt to this day and small cigar shops like Tabanero Cigars work hard to keep Ybor's legacy alive. In recent years, the district has also become known for local craft breweries such as Cigar City Brewing and Coppertail Brewing Co., serving award-winning beers that put Tampa on the map as one of the best beer towns in America.

Centro Ybor - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

We ended our short walk in Centro Ybor—a scenic, brick-walled commercial complex that houses several cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, and theaters. By the time we arrived, the place was already buzzing with activity. People were starting to fill the sidewalks, and dozens more were pouring out of the vintage streetcars parked on 8th Ave.

Vintage Streetcar - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

As soon as we heard the Egyptian bagpipes, we immediately ran to 7th Ave. to witness Ybor City's very own Independence Day spectacle sponsored by the Shriners. Headquartered in Tampa, the Shriners are a Freemasonry-related fraternity with a penchant for wearing red fezzes on their heads and participating in outlandish parades.

Box Cars - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Hundreds of spectators watched as dozens of colorful floats and miniature cars commandeered by the Shriners in Oriental costumes passed by. There were a lot of kids wearing red, white and blue ensembles, waving their arms in the air tirelessly while their parents carried them in their arms or on their shoulders. Gay couples lounging outside the gay clubs along the avenue greeted us with big smiles as we passed by. Ybor has been dubbed Gaybor for its warm acceptance of the gay community. It is one of the few places where Rainbow flags are proudly displayed alongside American flags every day of the year.

Fourth of July Parade - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

After spending almost an hour watching the seemingly endless cavalcade of colorful floats, we got really hungry and went to NYNY Pizza for dinner. The place was just a regular pizza joint, but Daphne really enjoyed the restaurant's classic diner interior with moody lights reminiscent of Edward Hopper paintings. She sat curiously on her bar stool, taking pictures of the neon signs hanging on the brick walls and watching the waiters hustle as more guests came in.

It didn't take long before our pizza was served. After spending the whole afternoon walking around, all I had in mind was food. I was about to take a bite of my slice when I saw Daphne looking around as if she had lost something. A few moments later, she looked at me with a confused face and asked: “Do Americans eat pizza with hot sauce?”

We both laughed. It had been a month since she arrived in the United States, and up until that point, she seemed to have acclimated really well in her new home. I honestly didn't think her first bout with culture shock would come in the form of a condiment.

Post a Comment

Thank you for visiting our travel blog! We truly appreciate your comments and hope that you check out our future posts!


Design by The Basic Page