The Hernando de Soto Historical Society Crewe knows the importance of honoring the explorer’s heritage and after returning from a 10-day trip to Bradenton’s sister city in Barcarrota, Spain, the historical puzzle is now fully complete.
“There’s pieces of the puzzle that were still not together until I got over to Barcarrota,” said Zeke Eckersen, the 70th Hernando de Soto for the 2016-2017 season.
It was Eckersen’s first trip to Barcarrota, which he referred to as an “overwhelming experience.” The Crewe was met with open arms from Barcarrota host families. Together, Barcarrota residents and Bradenton visitors traveled to bars and on streets named after Bradenton.
“They’re honored we are their sister city,” said 2016-17 Captain of the Crewe of De Soto Bob Richardson. “The first trip back and forth was in 1962 and they’ve built on that for years.”
The sister city partnership evolved into an ambassador program that encourages travel and cultural experiences for Americans and Spaniards.
When they come over it’s not just new friends, but I feel like family when I’m with them.
Zeke Eckersen, the 70th Hernando de Soto for the 2016-2017 season, on his relationship with residents of Bradenton’s sister city, Barcarrota, Spain
The Hernando de Soto Historical Society received help from a donor who hopes his gift will encourage cultural teachers to travel to Barcarrota, and Barcarrota teachers to Bradenton, to help each city learn more about the other’s way of life. Shannon Glasgow, padre of the 2016-17 Crewe, said Barcarrota visitors get a full American experience.
“They do Disney World, New York, the (Florida) Keys to see all parts and they stay in other people’s houses,” Glasgow said.
The Barcarrota-Bradenton relationship not only promotes the historical significance of Hernando de Soto and his role in exploring Florida, but also contributes to Manatee County’s tourism goals.
“We had somewhere around 20 visitors from Barcarrota, Spain, stay in the homes of our members last year during the festival,” said Ray Niecestro, the society’s executive director. “They enjoyed it and had a great time. They visit all over the state of Florida (and) some of them go to New York. So they love the opportunity to come over here and see Bradenton and see what we have to offer.”
The society is mostly known for the annual De Soto Seafood Festival, the De Soto Ball and the De Soto Grand Parade. Those events, as well as others such as golf tournaments and this year for the first time the Bradenton Area Half Marathon, also help drive visitation to Bradenton.
“We are seeing more and more visitors looking for experiences and events that showcase the character and heritage of a destination,” said Kelly Clark, director of communications for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “These signature events are a perfect example of just that.”