Pictures from Tampa and Clearwater (4/20/19 – 4/28/19)

I took fewer photos than I have on earlier trips to see my son in Florida, but that was fine because I actually got more time to spend with him, and I just wanted to enjoy our time together.

Here are the pictures I did take during my week there.  We both had a fantastic time.

Tampa River Walk, Tampa.   I took these on April 20, the first night I was there, after the 12 hour long car ride.   These were taken just before, during, and just after sunset. I was sore from the car ride but still managed to walk quite a bit.  It was definitely worth it!

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I’m the one in the gray sneakers. 

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Clearwater Beach

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Sign greeting me in my hotel room.  The beachy decor was adorable.

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The surf was rough on this day (4/24) due to storms in the area, so there were few people swimming,  and there was a rip current warning.  The waves were very high for the Gulf.

I will never get enough of those Clearwater sunsets:

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Anclote Key sandbar (via boat ride from Tarpon Springs):

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The photo doesn’t do this justice.  Anclote Key is a state park and camping area, accessible only by boat, about 4 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.  It is very remote.  The sand is as white as snow, and is almost blinding in the sun.  The many tidal pools are filled with shells and hermit crabs.

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My son took these two photos of the seabirds at Anclote.  This post wouldn’t be complete without them.

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Dessert at Hellenas Greek Bakery, Tarpon Springs.

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My Clearwater and Tampa, Florida trip.

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Sandbar at Anclote Key Preserve.

More than two months ago, my daughter and I spent 8 days in Tampa and Clearwater Beach, Florida.  I never got around to writing about my trip, even though I kept promising to.  Well, I finally got around to it.  Better late than never, right?

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Horseshoe crabs — one of them crawled right over my feet!

I got to see my son while we were in Tampa, even though he had to work most of the 4 days were here, but we did all go out to dinner a couple of times, spent some time lounging at the hotel pool and hot tub.  On our last day together, we all went to ZooTampa.  It was a bit pricey, but worth it.   We got a late start, but still managed to see almost the entire zoo, except “Australia.”  The sections we saw were “Florida,” “Africa,” “Asia,” and “Primates.”   The zoo is very large so if you go, be prepared to spend lots of time walking!  Stay hydrated.   As we passed through the indoor reptile area (a welcomely cool respite from the heat), there were colorful decorations all over the ceiling that resembled deep sea creatures and looked as if they were made of glass — but they were actually sculptures made from recycled soda bottles and other plastic trash!

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We loved seeing all the different animals (there were even river otters — my favorite — in the “Florida” section).  My daughter seemed quite taken with the pink flamingos, who were very entertaining and funny.   There were so many of them!  We spent a long time just watching their antics.

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One of the days my son was working, my daughter and I decided to drive to Tarpon Springs, a small Greek fishing village which is known as the Sponge Capital of the US.  It was my third visit there.  It’s one of my favorite places in the Tampa Bay area. On a whim, we decided to take the Sponge-O-Rama cruise out into the Gulf.  It’s a two hour cruise and pretty cheap at only $20 per person.   We had to wait a while for the boat (a sort of ferry) to fill up, but when we took off, the water was pretty choppy from recent storms, and I had to hold on.  Drinks were served but it was hard to hold onto them without them splashing everywhere.  After we got out into the Gulf, the dark water from the marina and inlet suddenly turned bright aquamarine.   For a minute I thought someone had slipped some LSD into my beer!  But this is the actual color of the water.

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The boat’s captain, a youngish Greek man who had been raised in Tarpon Springs and worked with the boats all his life (his name was Atticus!) explained the reason why the color of the water changed so abruptly isn’t so much due to the depth, but because once you leave the river and enter the Gulf proper, the water changes from brackish (almost freshwater) to salt water.  The mangroves dotting the area suck up the nutrients from the water, making it clear.   He pointed out other things we were seeing along the way.

Finally, about three miles out into the Gulf, he pulled the boat over next to a large sandbar.   This was part of Anclote Key Preserve State Park, a group of very small mangrove islands so remote there is no way to get there except by boat.  The sandbar is a semi-permanent fixture, with a few low growing plants and grasses and a lot of seaweed washed up on the sand.   The sand was absolutely blinding white, like snow, and surrounded on all sides by the clearest aquamarine water I’ve ever seen.  In the shallow areas the water was so crystal clear you could barely see it.  Our group (there were about 20 of us) spent about 30 minutes exploring, collecting shells, or swimming.  We were each given a plastic grocery bag to collect shells in.   I didn’t spend much time shelling.  After a few minutes, I ran out into the pristine warm salt water and just let it engulf me.   The whole experience was exhilarating, even though 30 minutes wasn’t nearly enough time!

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The above photo is my absolute favorite.   The juxaposition of the white sands, aquamarine water and fluffy white clouds stirs my soul.  I have made this photo the background on my laptop!

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Our combined seashell booty.

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The marina at Tarpon Springs (notice how much darker the water here is)

We drove to Clearwater for the remaining 4 days.  The 10 mile drive over Tampa Bay into Clearwater is very pretty.   We stayed in a cute hotel right on the beach, but the weather during our stay could have been better.   We only had two days of good weather, but being right on the boardwalk, there was still more than enough to keep us busy.   Our first night, we ate at Clearwater’s most famous eatery, Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe.  The beach was wonderful, and not too crowded.  One day we decided to drive out to Treasure Island in St. Petersburg, even though it was raining.  Hey, why not?   It rained during the drive, and the entire time we were there, but the beach was still pleasant and the water warm.  We didn’t stay long, but it was nice having the beach almost completely to ourselves.

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Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe, Clearwater.

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Treasure Island in the pouring rain.

The sunsets over the Gulf were incredible.    I just can’t get enough of Gulf sunsets, and here are the pictures proving that.

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Sunlight from sunset reflecting off the clouds to the east.

On our second day, we had beautiful weather (even though the morning forecast had predicted rain), so we decided to book the Pirate ship for its Champagne Cruise, which takes off in the late afternoon.  There are two champagne cruises; ours was the first.  The next one takes off at sunset.   I would have liked to go on that one too, but we’d already had way too much champagne.  Yes, I confess both my daughter and I overindulged (you pay your $40 for the cruise, and the drinks are unlimited), but we had so much fun, and the views from the ship were amazing (a few are pictured below). The pirate theme was fun, and the appropriately costumed staff were friendly.  The nice young man pictured below (I can’t remember his name) even hung out with us on the upper deck for a few minutes.

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Me with view of the beach in the background

One thing I noticed this time was how good I’m getting at finding my way around the Tampa – St. Petersburg – Clearwater metro area.   It’s my third trip to this area, but this time I was finally getting comfortable just driving around and finding my way from one place to another.   I’m generally not good with directions and navigation, but  because everything’s pretty much laid out on a grid here, it’s a lot easier to get around the area than where I live, where there are mountains and no grid to speak of.

It seems so much longer than two months ago I was in Florida, but in some ways it feels like it was just yesterday.   To end this post, here’s a little video I made just after sunset of the patterns of the surf (it’s actually the first video I ever made from my phone).

Checking in!

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This is a VERY short post so no one worries about me, since it’s been almost a week since I last posted.

We are here in Clearwater Beach, FL having a WONDERFUL time.  I’m very frustrated at the moment though, because I just made my first little video of the moving Gulf water after sunset and the interesting patterns it was making, but even though it’s possible to post it here, it isn’t possible to remove my real name from the video (which I have never used on this blog).   So I won’t be able to post it after all.  Grrrr!    Trust me, it was very cool.   If I can find a way to remove my identifying info, I’ll definitely put it here.

I have about a gazillion photos, so I’ll be writing a longer post using some of those pictures in the next few days, or I just might wait until I get home on Sunday.   It’s so nice to see my son and swim in the warm Gulf waters again.

The picture you see above is from Anclote Key, a remote sandbar several miles out into the Gulf of Mexico and accessible only by boat.  More about that later!

I hope all of you are well. See you again soon!

 

Thank God my vacation is finally here!

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I’ve been feeling more anxious and depressed every day about the political situation, and I don’t feel like any of our efforts are really helping.   Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind.   It’s so easy to get bogged down in negativity, fear and hopelessness when the opposition is so nasty and overwhelming and you no longer have the slightest doubt of the horrifying reality that you are being held hostage in your own country — a country that is being run by the worst human beings imaginable.

I definitely need to clear my head and get away from all that for awhile.  My annual trip to Florida to visit my son can’t get here soon enough.   I leave tomorrow before dawn (I love driving before dawn on a long road trip — here’s an article I wrote in 2016 about that).   Depending on traffic, we should arrive in Tampa (that’s where he lives now) late in the day.

Our hotel has a lovely pool and hot tub, and serves continental breakfast.  We’ll be spending time with my son when we can (he can’t get off work).  I think this time one of the plans is to hit Treasure Island!  We had planned to go last year but never got around to it.

After four days there, my daughter and I are driving to Clearwater Beach and spending four days there, right on the beach!

I’ll be posting pictures, so keep checking back!

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Further reading:

8 Ways to Survive a 637-Mile Long Car Trip In Just One Day (and make it amazing!)

15 Things I Love and Hate About Long Road Trips

The Longest, Hottest, Most Boring Drive Ever 

I was an honorary furry for a few days last week.

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Me trying on one of my son’s fursuit heads during my August 2016 trip.

I completely forgot to mention this in my posts about my Florida trip.   I met a few of my son’s friends in the Tampa area furry community, and they are all awesome people — very chill, extremely friendly, and best of all, very supportive of each other.

I actually attended a furry party my son threw at his apartment.   I was an honorary furry for that night!   No, I did not wear a costume. In fact, no one did.  It was just good clean fun, nothing questionable or too weird going on.  We watched a furry dance competition on livestream on my son’s Mac, played Cards Against Humanity (it’s a hilarious game), and watched a couple of bad (non-furry) films.   (One of my son’s hobbies is throwing “bad movie” get-togethers for his friends — they watch these movies ironically and laugh at them — if you remember Mystery Science Theatre 3000, that’s the general idea here).  After all the silliness, we all headed down to the apartment complex’s pool and hot tub for an evening swim and relaxation.

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Two views of the bumper of the car that belongs to one of my son’s friends who was at the party.    She can’t get enough of ferrets and owns four of them.  It’s hard to see it here, but her car is a lovely frosted pink and is awesome.

Speaking of science, tomorrow is Earth Day, and I will be attending my second protest — a March for Science taking place here in my city.    I haven’t made a sign yet (and am not sure I’ll have the time), but I’ll be picking up a tee-shirt I paid for in advance (proceeds go to help the cause).    I’ll be wearing this tee-shirt along with the buttons I purchased at the last protest I attended about the ACA and healthcare.

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I’ll definitely post about my experience at the march tomorrow and will take pictures, as I did the last time.

The rest of the weekend I’ll probably be engaged in the tedious task of pulling posts from this blog I may want to use in my book.   That’s my intention anyway;  I can’t say I’ll actually commit to doing it.   Actual writing is so much more fun.

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Happy Earth Day 2017!

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Getting away is good for my soul.

pine_islandI couldn’t have asked for better weather since I’ve been here in Florida.    Everything about this trip has been perfect.  I have so many pictures, but I won’t upload them all here right now because it takes so long.   Most of them have been posted on my Facebook, but when I return home I might share the rest here.   Today is my last day.  I’ll be leaving very early tomorrow and spending most of the day driving.

The pictures posted here were taken yesterday evening in Pine Island — I can’t get over the beauty of the sunsets I’ve been seeing.

There’s an additional benefit to going on vacation.  I haven’t followed the news AT ALL!   In fact, I’m oblivious to what’s been going on in politics this week — and I’m fine with that.    This is not only a vacation from the daily grind, but also from all the negative events in the world right now.     It’s been very liberating being outside and active, instead of sitting indoors glued to MSNBC, getting depressed and anxious over things I can do very little about.

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That doesn’t mean I’m giving up and becoming complacent!  No way will that happen. But it’s definitely a good thing to take a break from all that.   There’s truth to “ignorance is bliss” as long as it doesn’t become a permanent way of being.

 

Pictures: 4/8/17

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Seagulls all facing the sunset.  You should have heard the din they made!

 

I haven’t had time to write much, so I’ll just share the photos I took yesterday and caption them.   We had a wonderful day.  It was a little too cold to swim, but we waded in the shallow water on the beach, spent some time relaxing in the hot tub, went back to the beach at sunset where I took most of these photos, and then went to a party at my son’s apartment where we met some of his friends.   It was a fun day!

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I found this shrub interesting.  Notice the fall colors on some of the leaves.  I have no idea what it is.

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Looking back on the beach just before sunset.

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A romantic picture of my daughter and her friend as the sun sets over the Gulf.

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I don’t know what these are exactly but since they were at the top of the beach, they appear to be the stumps of some kind of shrubs where the tides have come in and cut them off.

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Another look at the stumps.  I think they’re fascinating.

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So moody!  I love this.

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Seagulls at sunset.  They were sure noisy!

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Safe arrival.

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That’s my son at Hudson Park.   It was windy and rather chilly!

I’m just checking in to let everyone know I arrived in Florida safely.

The 12 hour long car trip was, well, a trip.    When I left my house at 4:30 AM the weather was horrible.  It was very cold and extremely windy, with a heavy, slushy rain that fortunately wasn’t icy enough to accumulate on the roads but left slushy patches on my windshield that the wipers could barely keep up with.

Driving down out of the mountains was kind of hellish, because I don’t see well driving in the dark to begin with , and it was made worse by the glare of the rain on the roads.    The roads weren’t icy, but were slick so I had to drive slowly.    The good thing about that was there was no one on the road at that hour.

When I entered South Carolina, the rain stopped, but it was still dark.  Early morning traffic was beginning to pick up,  and I stopped at a gas station in a tiny village called Joanna.   The sky was just beginning to lighten, which is pictured below, taken from the station’s parking lot.

 

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Bizarrely, the gas station specialized in selling New York City souvenirs — coffee mugs, T-shirts, plates, collectibles.    I asked the Indian owner (who was running the register) about that and he said it was because he was from New York City.   We wound up having a conversation about New York because I grew up and around that area too.  Silently I wondered why the heck he had moved to this unknown village in South Carolina that had nothing much going for it.

The sun rose just as I entered Columbia, just in time for early morning rush hour.   I stopped a few more times to stretch or use the restroom, but I didn’t have to stop long anywhere because I had brought snacks with me in the car to avoid time wasted eating or purchasing food. Besides, eating too much on a long drive makes me sleepy.   High energy snacks like granola bars, pre-wrapped slices of cheese, or cookies work best for me on a long drive.  They keep my energy up without making me groggy.

Still, the drive was exhausting.  By now the sky was bright blue and clear as a bell.  Despite the wind, it was hard to believe I’d left that morning in a slush storm.

By now, it had heated up, although it was still windy (and would remain so all the way down to where I was going). At the Georgia welcome center I stripped off my coat and hoodie, which I hadn’t been able to remove in the car, and changed from boots and socks into sandals.   Ah, much better.

By the time I arrived at the Florida welcome center (where they give you a free cup of orange or grapefruit juice), I felt like I’d run a marathon.    Why is it that sitting in a car all day is more exhausting than working out for hours?

As I entered Florida, my daughter texted me telling me they were leaving the house.   She and her friend planned to drive separately, although we were to all meet at the hotel.    Well, they didn’t leave my house until 12:30 — 8 hours after I did!     I continued on.   The drive into Florida is pretty much a straight shot — I-26, and then I-95.   But after Jacksonville it gets hairy, because there are so many road changes and they are easy to miss.     Thank goodness I had my GPS!   Even so, I missed one turn as I entered the county my son lives in and had to backtrack — in heavy rush hour traffic, which was more than a little scary.    I thought of my daughter and her friend and hoped they were safe.  I’d asked them to text me every so often to let me know where they were, and for the most part, they did.

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I arrived at the hotel and my son was already there waiting — in his new Chevy pickup!   Well, it’s not exactly new (it’s a 2006 model) but it looks and runs like new.    We went to Wawa (a convenience store chain) and ordered sandwiches.  Wawa sandwiches are awesome because you can special order ANYTHING on them via computer.  I had my tuna salad done like a Jersey Mike’s sandwich — with spinach, lettuce, oil and vinegar.    We got some donuts to take back with us.

He wanted to show me around so we drove a little bit.  We went to a park where he plays Pokemon Go!  (a game where you actually go outside to capture creatures on your phone) and walked around a bit.    A strong wind was blowing off the gulf, and it was COLD!  I could hardly believe this was Florida.   I was glad I’d decided to bring my hoodie.

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Look how strong the wind was blowing.   The buildings in the background, including the one with the thatched roof, is a bar/restaurant that plays its music LOUD!  I was jamming to it to stay warm.

It was too cold to swim, but when we got back to his apartment, we went in the hot tub and just relaxed and caught up on everything.    The hot tub worked wonders on my sore muscles from the long drive.    After I dried off, he drove me back to the hotel room where I unpacked and watched TV (not the news, for a change!)

I started to worry about the kids, because it was dark now and I hadn’t heard from them in awhile.  Being me, I had visions of them being in a terrible accident.

I called and talked to my daughter’s friend.  He said she’d fallen asleep and since he was driving he hadn’t been able to call for awhile.    They finally arrived right at midnight. We ate the donuts I’d brought back and went to bed.  They were as exhausted as I was!

The weather is supposed to warm up and today as I’m writing this I can already feel the change.    I’m not sure yet what we’ll be doing today, but whatever it is should be fun.   I’m still a bit sore from the long drive, though!

Back to the Gulf Coast!

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Sunset off Clearwater Beach.

In just a month (April 7th), I’ll be driving back to the Tampa Bay area again to visit my son. I’ll be there for 5 days, until the 12th.   This time, my daughter is coming along with me, since she hasn’t seen where he lives before.

When I went in August last year, it was the first time I’d ever been in Florida, and since my son was working most of the week I was there, I had time to spend alone exploring the area.  One of my favorite discoveries was the bath-warm waters of the Gulf near his home, with its ever-shifting tides that expose the silt-like sand at low tide.   There aren’t a lot of tourists there in August (too hot), so that trip actually turned out to  be not only a peaceful, but also a spiritual experience — not to mention that I got to see my son and spend time with him and do some fun things together.

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The tide going out at Rees Park.

For me, the worst part of any vacation is returning from one.    I remember how hard it was to re-adjust to my daily routine when I came home.  For a while, I wanted to move to Florida, but I have changed my mind about that for a few reasons, mostly because of global warming.  Central-west Florida may be submerged in the near future.   I also don’t think I’d care much for the weather, due to the near-constant threat of severe storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes.

This time, I won’t be returning home just as my SAD (seasonal affective disorder) sets in.  Spring is my best time of year, and my mood improves with the lengthening days, so I shouldn’t be blindsided by the double whammy of oncoming SAD and post-vacation blues at the same time.

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My son may have to work again for part of the time I’m there, but he thinks he can get off most of the days I’m there, so that means more time spent together.   Clearwater Beach is definitely on the agenda, and this time we are going to visit the famous aquarium there too.   We might even drive to Disney World, but  I’m not sure yet.   None of us have ever been there.   I might try my hand at fishing again.

Whatever we wind up doing, it’s going to be a lot of fun.  I’ve already booked the room (because there are two of us this time, we’re staying at a nearby motel). I’m   getting excited about our road trip!

I’ll be bringing my laptop along with me, just as I did in August, so I can still blog while I’m there.

All photos you see here were taken by me during my trip in August of last year.

The last beach photo.

Kind of a quiet day. We went to a nearby Chinese buffet and the rest of the day was spent hanging around the apartment and doing a load of laundry so I don’t have to bring home dirty clothes and towels. The weather wasn’t that great anyway because of a tropical storm developing just to the south of here. I drove by Rees Park just to snap this photo but I didn’t stay.

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