About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Florida: St. Petersburg Region

Tuesday, ‎September ‎20th
After an unforgettable day of swimming with a family of manatees in Crystal River (previous post), I drove down to St. Petersburg, "the fourth largest city in Florida," located on the peninsula of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, where, after a majorly disappointing photo-flub at Walgreens (none of my photos of the manatees turned out!!!), I met Jessie, my high-energy, free-spirited couch-surfing host.  She greeted me at my car as I pulled up to the beautiful blue craftsman bungalow on the old street of cobblestone.  With a warm hello and hearty hug she excitedly showed me into her home (I was her first couch-surfer!), where I was instantly greeted with a big kiss from Snickers, her dog!  She introduced me to her roommate, then we were off to the grocery store to pick up some grub for dinner.  

From the Pier, Dusk Blankets St. Petersburg

After getting back to Jessie's, I met Rick, her friendly, mellow boyfriend, and the 3 of us took Snickers to the dog park.  A couple of Jessie's friends met us there, too, along with Noaa, another [super friendly] couch-surfing host who was willing to host me if needed (she even gave me coupons to The Dali Museum!).  We all had a great time getting acquainted while Snickers played with the other happy doggies :)  After my new friends took me on a fun little impromptu tour of the city, they sat me down to an amaaaazing home-cooked seafood feast of Cajun-style crab-stuffed oysters, salmon, spinach & shrimp salad, French bread...I ate like a KING! 

My New Friends Jessie & Rick =)

 It was the perfect night after a perfect day, and once again I am left astonished at the incredible generosity of the wonderful people out there - "couchsurfers" - who take travelers they've never even met into their homes and treat them like old friends, just because they can!  The next time I get cut-off in traffic and am feeling cynical about the world, I'll just remember Jessie and Rick, and all the other beautiful souls I've met on my trip! =D

No Need for Napkins, Snickers Has It Covered!

Wednesday, ‎September ‎21st
During a delicious breakfast of biscuits n' gravy, eggs, coffee in a "Princess" cup, lol, I learned about Jessie and Rick's great relationship; how it came to be and what makes it work, then Jessie left for work, leaving Rick and I to get to know each other better, which led to an inspiring conversation about life, family, travel and sacrifices.

I headed 45 minutes south to Siesta Key, a barrier island eight miles long, just offshore of Sarasota.  I stopped at the Sarasota County Visitor Information office on the way, and, in addition to receiving a warm welcome there, I was pleased to find a great little history museum attached, where I gained an appreciation for the area's fossil discoveries (wooly mammoth) and architecture.  

Boasting "the World’s Finest Whitest Sand (best overall sand in 1987's International Sand Contest) Siesta Key Beach is 2011's Nation's Best Beach in an annual nation wide survey - 40 acres of sugary white, 99% pure quartz crystal sand, super soft, and super fine."   Of course, when I eventually arrived at the beach it began to rain, but I didn't let that hamper the experience. I was impressed with the soft, nearly chalk white sand, and fortunately I was able to lie down, relax, and enjoy my surroundings for a good while (okay, like 10 minutes) before the clouds chased everyone away (which was pretty entertaining actually, lol).  It wasn't long before I had the place pretty much to myself; even if in the rain.  And hey, without any beach showers that I could notice, the rain proved quite useful! =D  I wasn't the only one too stubborn to leave right away.  As I let the rain wash the sand from my feet, a car pulled up with a couple guys who didn't let the storm ruin they're chance for a [super fast] Siesta Key beach photo opp!

Before the Storm

On the way to meet up with Christina, who I hadn't seen since the "old days" when we were both active members of the Methodist church in the small town where we grew up, my car decided to take a dive when out of nowhere the dashboard lights and dials stopped working!  The next 10 miles were kinda scary as I noticed the car getting worse and worse, but luckily I made it to a Honda.  Say what you will about relying on GPS, but it saved me!  I know I wouldn't have gotten very much farther before being stranded in a place I've never been.  And according to the work order, the car had gotten so bad that the mechanic reported the engine was smoking when he lifted the hood to begin his work!  After hours of sitting there waiting for them to do their thing, they told me I needed a new alternator, and they'd need to have the car overnight to finish it the next day.  Needless to say, it was pretty embarrassing, having to be picked up at a mechanic by a friend I was on the way to see after several years!  She was happy to do it; nonetheless, all the confidence I had placed in my car over the years was shaken.  I had the alternator replaced only a couple years ago :/

After a big hug I hopped into Christina's car and we wasted no time catching up.  There was much to talk about, as we found that both our lives had changed so much over the years, and though time had taken us different places and given us different circumstances, we were still us, laughing, even crying, as we exchanged our stories.

A little while later we arrived at her daughter's daycare provider - she has a daughter now! =D  I'll remember our hilarious, fun-filled evening, complete with our high-energy, anything-goes server, the most interactive [fake birthday] song ever, and waaaayyy too much Italian food at Buca di Beppo's, when I came to know Christina as a mother, and her very outgoing girl Gracie, an entertaining little ham, never shying from the camera, always welcoming a photo opp, heh heh.

Following the best dinner ever, we popped into the mall and I got to see where Christina worked, meet co-workers, etc., then we went to Christina's where we had a good chat on the screened-in deck (it was nice to laugh at the mosquitoes for once) and I spent the night.  What a great day (minus the car repair) =D 

Thursday, ‎September ‎22nd
This morning we all took our time getting up; I also took my time preparing myself for the news I would receive about the cost of the car repair, and I had some of last night's leftovers (Italian's the best for leftovers!) before Christina dropped me off at Honda.  $500 out-of-pocket later (noooooo...!) I was on the road, headed back to St. Petersburg, where I took the advice of my good friend Clarissa back home, and paid a visit to Florida Orange Grove's Winery, "Florida's original tropical fruit winery, family owned and operated for 3 generations, winner of 236 medals to date!"  

 I can make time for that! =D

 The wine attendant and I got along so well and we were laughing so hard and having such a good time together that I received 11 samples (thank god for my high tolerance, and/or it's mostly sugar,):

Tangelo (tangerine and grapefruit)
Key Limen (Key Lime) - Had to buy a bottle, YUM!
Millenium Gold (Strawberry Cream Sherry)
Florida Sunset Pineapple 
 Coco Palada (Coconut)
Flamingo Fling Port (Chocolate and red raspberry)
Mamma Guava 
Midnight Sun (orange and coffee!)
Sinfully Noble (Muscadine Grape)
Orange Cream Smoothie 
Key Limen Smoothie

Proudly sporting the St. Pete Beach shirt my dad gave me years back, I picked up a bottle of sparkling water and some limes and spent the afternoon there; a barrier island located  just off the mainland of Saint Petersburg.  Like the Badlands of South Dakota sweatshirt my bought me, it's much more meaningful to have actually been to the destination on the shirt!  People would ask me, "Oh you've been to the Badlands?  Aren't they just beautiful?!"  I'd reply, "So my dad says..." lol.  The beach was lined with layers upon layers of seashells, so I had some fun picking through 'em and finding a few keepers, before kicking back for a little  R&R.  A little driving tour 'round town to admire the beach-style homes and buildings completed my visit before returning to St. Petersburg.

Located along the waterfront of St. Petersburg, I checked out "the top-rated museum in the American South (Michelin Guide) - the new, $36 million Dalí Museuma 60,000 square-foot state-of-the-art building housing "20,000 sq ft of dedicated gallery space, for viewing the world's most comprehensive collection of oil paintings, drawings, fine prints, photographs, videos and Surreal Objects by Salvador Dalí, the late Spanish surrealist, and one of the most unique personalities and artists in world history."  

After marveling at the geodesic "Glass Enigma" of over a thousand individually-shaped triangular glass panels blobbing their way throughout the concrete ("the panes are cleaned by climbers who can bolt into anchors built into the metal grid holding the glass"), I entered the museum via a floating bridge through the grotto's "Living Wall" of tropical foliage and "Fountain of Youth" (which appears in Dali’s artwork).  

Once inside the museum, I made my way through the gift shop to the "Rainy Rolls," a 1933 Rolls-Royce Sedanca Limousine, "specially restored and outfitted to recreate Dali's 'Rainy Taxi' from the 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris.  The car is fully functional, whose mannequin driver, dressed in vintage dive gear, carries a passenger, in this case a mermaid, who is being rained on. (The water is actually coming down between plexiglass panels.)  'It's a metaphysical joke,' explains Dali Museum Director Dr. Hank Hine. 'We take refuge in taxis and cars, we think they're gonna protect us. But you find out the thing that you thought would protect you is the source of all your problems.'"

The Paintings are Great; How Much for the Stairs?

At the ticketing counter I paid the Thursdays-after-5 $10 admission (over half-price off the regular adult admission price of $21, yay!), received a map/visitor guide and audio headset, and ascended the grand, freestanding spiral staircase, "which reaches nearly the full height of the 75-foot-high atrium; an architectural representation of Dali’s fascination with the helix structure of DNA.  

Atop the third floor, which contains the two wings of gallery space, I joined a very informative, 30-minute [FREE!] docent-led group tour, which proved very useful in getting me through Dali's canvas' of holograms and optical illusions, and providing me an understanding of some very bizarre, very involved, TRIPPY dreamlike pieces, such as The Hallucinogenic Toreador (below), wherein Dali "transmits his passion for bullfighting."

Source: Wikipedia

After the tour, I browsed the rest of the two wings at my own pace (while trying my best to avoid a loud, rambunctious French kid who received no supervision at all from his useless mother), which took some time, considering 2000 peculiar items, consisting of 96 oil paintings, 125 drawings and watercolors, 2,500 prints and photographs, and 250 objets d’art, not counting a 5,000 book library, which requires a fee and advance reservation.  I then, in a backwards fashion, lol, took my place in the intimate 90-seat theater to learn about the imaginative man behind the canvas.  

Completed the Labyrinth on My First Attempt! 
It Was, However, Designed for Children, LOL

Outside, I explored the small, carefully manicured, whimsical "Avante-Garden," which includes a spiral labyrinth ("modeled after the Chartres Cathedral in France," made of seven-foot tall pine fern hedges and footpath composed of crushed coquina shells), a "wishing tree" of ribbons, "a bench that morphs into his 'melting pocket watch' motif (a design reference to Dali’s 1931 painting 'The Persistence of Memory' - certainly the most well known surreal painting on the planet)," and examples of the golden rectangle and spiral ("discovered in ancient times and used by artists throughout the centuries as the most perfect of spatial ratios") imbedded in the pavement.

The Outside In

No trip to St. Petersburg is complete without a visit with Jessie and Rick, who, along with Jessie's roomie, awaited my arrival for fun (crude!) conversation and greasy bar food at lively Courigan's Irish Pub (yummy veggie pizza and live music) just a few blocks down from The Dali, followed by a fun sleepover including beer and South Park at their place. 

Friday, ‎September ‎23rd
I said goodbye to Jessie & Rick *so grateful for their friendship* wishing them well and wondering if I'd see them again someday, as I pulled away.

7th Street, Ybor City's Main Drag

Arriving a while later back at my friend Christina's, the four of us (Christina, Gracie, Casey - Gracie's Dad, and I), hopped into their car and headed to Tampa.  After a failed attempt to find the Yeunling beer factory (Google Maps led us to the driveway of a gated residential community, and when we asked the delivery driver ahead of us where it was, he said "What's THAT?!")  we had lunch at Hattrick's Tavern, a fun sports bar with hockey memorabilia covering the dark oak walls, and TVs at every angle, located in a historic 3 story brick building dating back to 1907, in Downtown Tampa.  When the nachos were gone we hit the road and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Ybor City, Tampa's Latin Quarter and National Historic Landmark District, aka "Cigar Capital of the World;" founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers and was populated by thousands of immigrants, mainly from Spain, Cuba, and Italy. 

Don't Do It Christina!

"Walk down Seventh Avenue in Ybor City (now a section of Tampa, Florida) and feel yourself transported to a place in another time. Brick streets are lined with sidewalks of hexagonal concrete pavers and old-fashioned, cast-iron street lamps. Buildings present ornate porticos, decorative brickwork, handmade wrought-iron balconies, and ornamental tile work." 

Today it's in a developmental-restoration phase, mixing old and new - historic landmarks, streetcars, sidewalk cafes, patio bars, restaurants (and souvenir shops of course).  After poking around the little Visitor Center & Museum (designed inside to place the visitor in "the worlds largest cigar box"), I talked Christina out of buying a million hats and dresses at a vintage clothing boutique she "happened" to spot, then we hit up GaYbor, an area centered around 7th Ave and 16th St, featuring many LGBT-friendly establishments; formed in late 2007.


After returning to Christina's for dinner, she got a babysitter and took me out to a club for a taste of Tampa's nightlife scene; we danced the night away...  Until we meet again, my friend - thanks for everything!  =D


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