Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Into the cities

Time to leave the more rural part of Florida and plunge into the citified Gulf coast. We ease into it by visiting Jean’s sister-in-law Chris in Seffner (an exurb of Tampa). We arrived about 10:00 and had a nice, long visit. Jean caught up on all the doings of that part of the family’ since the last time we visited a couple of years ago.

Then it was off to lunch. We went to a favorite Greek restaurant, where we had Greek salads all around. Even though we ordered the smaller sizes, we weren’t able to finish them. Jean and I were surprised to discover that the greens were on top of a potato salad. This was followed by a move to Plant City, where the Strawberry Festival was going on. We went to one of Chris’s favorite farms and got delicious strawberry shortcakes.

After some more visiting, it was time to leave. We immediately plunged into a solid stream of traffic, and went to a large (very large) mall since Jean still needed to pick up a couple of more birthday gifts. By the time that was accomplished, it was dark out and we had no idea of where we were going to stay in this urban place.

After some trolling around on our cell phones, I scored a site at a large campground called Happy Traveler in Thonotosassa. This was one of the few around that have someone available for check-in after 5:00, so we considered ourselves lucky.

Next day (Wednesday) we wanted to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit in St. Petersburg. Jean had directions to the Dali Museum, so we plunged into the traffic through Tampa and across the
Bay. We managed to score a parking place on the street in St. Pete and walked to the museum ($40 with all available discounts). The Kahlo exhibit was small but very well done with paintings, sketches, and photographs. There was a complimentary audio tour available which was quite complete. One got a good sense of her life as well as analysis of much of her art. Unfortunately, the parking meter didn’t give us enough time to also take in the reproduction of Frida’s garden.

Then we drove through heavy traffic to Anna Maria Island (west of Bradenton). The island is long and narrow with lots of development. We finally found a parking lot next to the beach, so Jean got her beach fix for the day. We continued down the island toward Sarasota. Along the way we passed Coquina Park. That is a nice-looking park with lots more parking. We even saw several RVs parked together, which made us wonder if there was camping in the park. We need to check this out the next time we are in the area.

Back on the mainland, we went through heavy traffic until we got to the Cracker Barrel in Venice. This one was much easier to find.

Jean had one more place she wanted to see before we were due at her son, Sandy’s, house in Palm City (on the east coast). So we plunged back into the traffic heading for Sanibel Island. This has the reputation of being one of the best shelling beaches in the country. Being confused about the relation of Sanibel to Captiva, we took the “wrong” road up the island. The one we took went mostly through the residential part of the island. It was an interesting road, but there was no beach access. We eventually were back on the main road and shortly found Bowman Beach, the one we were looking for.

We bought an hour-and-a-half of parking and headed out the beach. Surprise, surprise, it was crowded. We were later informed that this is Spring Break season. I set up a chair and relaxed while Jean walked the tide line, looking for shells.

A photographer and a couple of models showed up and did a swimming suit photo shoot. I tried getting some shots of pelicans fishing, but was too far away. Eventually Jean showed up with her finds.

On the way out we stopped in a parking lot for some quick lunch in the Roadtrek. Talking with a native, we found out that Sanibel and Captiva were once one island. Then a storm cut the island in half, so now they are two islands. After lunch it was time to head east. Getting off the island and through Fort Myers was miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic. I could say I spent a week one day in Fort Myers.

When we finally got clear of the mess, we headed for Lake Okeechobee. Driving through the farm country we saw mile after mile of sugar cane in all stages of growth. We ended up in a county campground in South Bay that has to be one of the best we have ever stayed in.

The facilities were very good, and we both took showers. Then, to prepare for spending time in Sandy’s driveway, I filled the fresh water and dumped the holding tanks. All set, we headed east for Palm City.

We went about half way around Lake Okeechobee before turning east. When we got into the urban area, Jean needed one more thing. We pulled into a shopping center that had a Dollar General so she could put the finishing touches on a couple of birthday presents. Meanwhile, I caught up with a couple of chores. We had lunch in a Mexican restaurant, where we were serenaded during our meal. Jean then talked (in Spanish) with the musician for some time. We were about the only people in at that time of day so he had time to converse.

Finally we were off to Sandy’s house. I managed to back us in the right place on the first try. It helps to know the drill. We will be spending some time here. All about it in the next installment.

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