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?
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
Our combined seashell booty.
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.
Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe, Clearwater.
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.
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.
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).
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!
I found this shrub interesting. Notice the fall colors on some of the leaves. I have no idea what it is.
Looking back on the beach just before sunset.
A romantic picture of my daughter and her friend as the sun sets over the Gulf.
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.
Another look at the stumps. I think they’re fascinating.
After eating out at a local and cheap Vietnamese restaurant (I never had Vietnamese food before), we drove out to Reese Park, in Port Richey. The water was at low tide, so there were sandbars and you could walk out onto wet sand where the water had been at high tide earlier. The water was nearly still. The pictures just don’t do the incredible view justice at all. I was amazed by its beauty. I felt so serene and calm there, that it’s hard to believe many of the most violent hurricanes in the western hemisphere get their start right here over this body of water. We are almost at the peak of hurricane season, but according to the weather forecasts, it doesn’t look like anything’s developing out over the Gulf.
After the sun set, we went out to Coldstone Creamery (I had a $10 gift card) and then back to the apartment complex for a lovely evening swim in the pool.
I was driving home from my therapy session tonight and saw the most spectacular sunset behind the rain clouds. I couldn’t pull over but got a picture anyway (I do NOT recommend doing this while driving!)
Moments later, the rain cleared, and I was able to get a shot of the pink undersides of the clouds, before it disappeared (I pulled over to take the second one).