Thursday, January 4

The first day was long and uneventful. We got up at 4 AM (!), got to the airport, and caught our flight to Tampa, with a short layover at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC. We flew United, and I enjoyed listening to United's "Channel 9," which lets passengers listen in to the communications between the pilot and the traffic controllers.

NOTE FROM TERRY! I am going to be adding these jewels of observation from time to time (they'll be in italics). I would like to point out that, while flying, my husband is virtually "incommunicado." My thoughts are that we should begin our vacation by being loving to one another, talking about how excited we are about going wherever we are going, etc. but, alas, no. Grinnell sits, headphones glued to his ears, for hours on end, listening to jibberjabber from the pilots. But, didn't I say something 25 years ago (did I really?) about "better and worse?"

So we got to Tampa, picked up our rental car, drove to our motel and got checked in. We went to dinner at a steakhouse next door to the motel, and then took a walk. It was a warm, pleasant evening, and we just kept walking. Later, I checked and discovered we had walked three miles.

Friday, January 5

Okay, this is where the real vacation starts.

Like good vacationers, we started by sleeping late. Then I made a run to the store to pick up some things we forgot to pack. Finally, we got out of the motel, and had breakfast at a nearby cafe. I don't remember the name of the cafe, but it was very good. There's a lot of Cuban influence in Florida, so I had a Cuban breakfast sandwich. The place was apparently run by Christians, and it had a very friendly staff, and a wide variety of good stuff.

After breakfast, we went for a drive. I enjoy driving, and Terry enjoys riding, so we spent most of the day driving around the Tampa area. Here's a map of the area (courtesy of Google Maps), showing where we drove:

The large red dot shows the approximate location of our motel. As you can see, the city of Tampa itself is located on and around the small peninsula in the middle of the bay. The large peninsula on the west side of the bay contains the cities of Clearwater and St. Petersburg, among other smaller cities.

Looking at the map, I noticed that on the western shore, there was a chain of skinny offshore islands, and a road that ran down along the shore, hopping from island to island. I thought that would be a nice scenic drive, with water on both sides of the road. Should have known better. The islands are skinny, but not too skinny to build on. I hardly ever saw any water; all I saw were houses, stores and hotels. Lots of resort hotels.

At one point, we parked the car and walked out onto the beach. The sand was white, and when I bent down to take a closer look, I discovered that it was more crushed shells than sand. Very pretty.

Down at the tail end of the chain is an island called Mullet Key, on which is located Fort de Soto County Park:

Following my usual inclination to "drive to the end of the road," I drove to the southern tip of the island, where I got a good view out to sea. That isn't actually the end of the road - there's another island, Egmont Key, a little further south. But you have to take a ferry to get there, and we didn't take the time.

There's a little historical museum on the island, and we spent some time there. One interesting tidbit: in the 1800's, the island was surveyed by a party of soldiers, to evaluate the island's potential as a military base. The party was under the command of a young Army colonel named Robert E. Lee.

After looking at the museum, we walked around a little. We saw several shorebirds running up and down the shoreline - I counted at least three different kinds. And we also saw a flock of parrots sitting on a telephone wire.

We then left the island, and crossed the bay on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and drove up the east side of the bay on State Highway 41, also known as the Tamiami Trail (pronounced Tammy-ammy). I'd heard about this road, but this was my first time to drive on it. The part that we saw was just an ordinary highway, but apparently, the road continues south, and then turns and cuts across the southern tip of the state, right through the Everglades, until it gets to Miami. I'd like to take that drive someday. Click here for more information.

Anyway, we drove into Tampa and parked the car. We spent the late afternoon wandering around Ybor City, a historical section of the city, not far from downtown. Ybor city was once home to the city's Cuban and Italian popuations, and a major center of the Cuban cigar industry. Today it's sort of a touristy "old town" area, complete with cobblestone streets. Click here for more information.

So we spent a little while meandering about the area. Now, by this point, some of you may be wondering, "So where are the pictures?" Well, the first roll of film that I used must have been bad, because the first few pictures on the roll didn't come out. So here's the first picture:

Ferlita Bakery

This is the Ferlita Bakery, a neighborhood bakery operated by the Ferlita family, Italian immigrants who established the business at that location in 1896. It now houses the Ybor City Museum.

Columbia Restaurant

Columbia Restaurant is, according to their website, "Florida's Oldest and the World's Largest Spanish restaurant." It also has very impressive tile murals on the outside walls, including this one of Don Quixote:

Don Quixote mural

While cruising the streets of Ybor City, I noticed this place:

Alaskan Tacos

...and I thought, "Alaskan tacos? What, are they filled with salmon?" I had to go in and ask. The man I spoke to explained that his grandparents had lived in Alaska for several years, because his grandfather had been stationed there while in the Army. While they were there, his grandmother met a Mexican woman, who gave her the recipe for her tacos. When they came back to Florida, she opened the restaurant. I said, "So there's nothing particularly Alaskan about the tacos - the name just reflects the family history of the owners?" He answered, "That, and it got you to come in!" That's what I call savvy marketing.

We then got on a streetcar...

Ybor City streetcar

...which took us into downtown Tampa. We walked a few blocks to a restaurant called Spain, where we had a very nice meal of tapas. "Tapas" are an assortment of small plates, sort of the Spanish equivalent of dim sum. While we ate, we were entertained by a pair of musicians:

Restaurant musicians

...playing flamenco music. The guy on the right is playing the cajon, a percussion instrument which is basically a wooden box that you sit on and beat with your hands.

After dinner, we walked back to the streetcar, rode back to Ybor City, picked up the car, drove back to the motel, and went to bed.

One of the things that I noticed while wandering around Ybor City was the fact that you really didn't hear a whole lot of activity. It was kind of like: "If this is a touristy place, where's the action?" In any case, there were many cigar establishments, all claiming to be the best with the best-made cigars that some owner learned to roll in Havana. The street car ride was interesting, and there were some nice folks that we met: one man I eavesdropped on with his kids, etc. There was one girl who I would have like to have slapped and told her to watch her language. Coming from me, who has been accused of swearing like a truck driver, that's going some. This girl had the filthiest mouth I'd ever heard, and she didn't care who knew about it. I started making remarks, hopefully not loud enough for her to hear, to which Grinnell gently reminded me to "shut up!" This was on the way back, when I had probably had enough wine to make me not really care if I got punched.

Back to the intro page - On to January 6
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