22 January 2012

Florida 2012 - Family Visit

Up, coffee, breakfast…see previous days…

It was dead calm outside so not a good day to fly a kite on the beach. However, it was perfect for disc golf so we headed for Maximo Park…a disc golf course we'd played before.

I remembered that, last time, we'd had trouble finding the place because we knew where it was on the map but not how to get there. This time, I was careful to get specific directions from the internet, have them printed out and with us.

The problem this time was that the directions were impossible to follow. They told us to get off the Pinellas Bayway onto I-275 south then get off at the #16 exit. However, the ramp from the Bayway to 275 doesn't actually join 275 until after the #16 exit…there was no way to get there. So we had to pay the toll on the Sunshine bridge and pull a u-ey at a fishing pier to get on 275 north…from which we could take the #16 exit. Argh!

Anyway, we found it and were soon merrily flinging our discs into palm trees, interstate ramps forgotten.

There's a basket down there somewhere...

Al teeing off

There's a basket in front of the white truck...I'm not saying how many throws it took me to make it.

Spanish moss...it was everywhere in the park

We played 12-13 holes and then decided it was time to start heading toward Joe and Kelly's house. We stopped at the hotel to get the directions then headed north.

We decided we'd stop for lunch somewhere along the way and ended up at Leverock's for fish spread and bowls of clam chowder.

As we continued, we kept thinking that something in the car really stunk. With the windows down it wasn't bad but when we stopped at lights, phew! We eventually figured out that it was dog doo stuck to the bottom of my shoe. We stopped at a small streetside park and I scraped off as much as I could on a brick then rubbed the shoe in the grass. But there was still quite a bit stuck in the tread and no water in the park. We didn't have a plastic bag and were going to just shut the shoes in the trunk but the car we have has a hatch…no real trunk…so that wouldn't help. We just kept going and I made a mental note NOT to walk into the house without taking my shoes off first.

When we arrived, I took the shoes off and Joe took the offending one around to a garden hose to clean it up then left it on top of a hedge to dry while we visited. We visited Joe and Kelly for a couple hours then headed back.

When I went to retrieve the shoe from the hedge, Kelly suggested I check it for snake first, since there was a black racer that lived under the porch and liked to sun itself on the hedge occasionally. From the sound of it, it was far too big to have crawled inside my shoe but I checked all the same.

We got back to the hotel in time for Happy Hour and then I thought I'd try one more time to fly a kite on the beach. But there was still no wind so we went for a short 1.5 mile walk and watched the sun set over the Gulf.

We went to Pass-a-Grille for supper and ended up at a place called the Wharf. It was just what we were looking for! We doubted a bit as we first walked in past a noisy group of people outside the front door watching football playoffs but once we got inside it was just the sort of local, unique place we like to go to. We got a table along the water (intercoastal waterway) and soaked up the ambiance. I got a clam basket with slaw and red beans/rice and Al got a grouper sandwich. Both were really good. Then we split a piece of snickers pie for dessert. Also very good.

As we were leaving the restaurant, we decided to drive around Pass-a-grille just to see what it was like. We'd never been that far down the island. It's a sleepy little waterfront town, historic and quiet.

We headed back to the hotel, gassing up the car en route, then packed up for going home tomorrow.

21 January 2012

Florida 2012 - Segway Day

We got up around 8 and Al had coffee with the gang in the social room. I called the Segway guy to set up a tour time for us. I asked about "sometime today" and he said, "How about now?" I told him we were in St Pete Beach and would need to get there. We eventually agreed on 9:30.

I went to tell Al we were booked. He finished his coffee and we went to our room for breakfast then headed out to Fort DeSoto for our Segway tour.

There was a park entry fee ($5 per car) that was new since last year but otherwise the trip was very familiar. We waited for Remi at the park headquarters and he was right on time. We followed him out to the north end of the park to start our 90-minute tour.

It was a lot drier and sunnier than our last tour. We had great views of Egmont Key, Shell Key, the beaches and nature trail. There were lots of people in the park. At one beach, there was an art class…several people had paintbox easels set up and a woman was walking around helping people as they worked. It looked like they were working with watercolors.

At the headquarters parking lot there had been a group of photographers. They were coming back to vehicles carrying tripods and cameras and bags of gear. I overheard them talking about technical photography stuff with one of the guys providing most of the info so I assume he was the teacher. Although they all looked like college kids…

There were also several groups of birders around the park as we toured. It was just a great day to be outdoors doing about anything.

After our tour it, was about 11:00 and we were hungry. We decided to try Bella Habana one more time on the off chance that they were open for lunch on weekends. Nope.

We went to Morgan's Grill…a place we'd driven by while looking for lunch yesterday and the Seattle couple from the cruise said was good. Admittedly, their criteria was watching sports and ours was eating lunch but they did say the food was good too.

They had Cuban sandwiches!!! And the best fries I think I've ever had. I'm not generally big on fries but these were really good.

Back at the hotel we rested a bit then went for a walk on the beach. We went the other direction (north) this time and could only go about a mile and a half before we hit the end of the beach with no good way to continue, so we turned around and went back.

It was sunny when we started but overcast and cooler by the time we got back. It still beats being in Iowa!

After our walk, I showered while Al ran. Then he showered and we headed to the social room for happy hour.

Happy Hour at the Plaza Beach is in the social room every day from 4-5pm. They provide beer and wine and people can just show up and hang out. The wine isn't good but, hey, it's free. And fun to hang out with the other people.

We got to talking about everyone's evening plans and I mentioned we were thinking of going to the south end of the island (Pass-a-Grille). Someone said that we might want to rethink that…they'd been out that way earlier and there was some sort of arts festival in Pass-a-Grille. Streets were blocked off, parking was practically nonexistent, traffic was snarled… they suggested that if we wanted to eat in Pass-a-Grille, we take the trolley instead of our car.

We decided to go to the SeaHag instead. I don't know what we'd have had in Pass-a-Grille but the seafood chowder we had at the SeaHag was great! It had chunks of fish, potatoes, leeks, shrimp, and clams. The peanut butter chocolate and key lime pies were great, too.

While we were waiting for the pie, we took bets on the number of pounds per day we would gain on this trip… We'll see when we get home.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Publix to get more milk, some carrots and super glue. Ok, the milk seems obvious and I like to snack on carrots but the super glue may seem like an odd thing to buy on vacation. Somewhere along the way I got the bright idea that I might be able to glue my knitting needle back together. It's an acrylic needle and if I could mate the broken ends together properly, the super glue should hold it. It was worth a shot.

I messed with that while Al watched Syracuse vs Notre Dame on TV.

20 January 2012

Florida 2012 - Sunset Sail

We slept pretty well except for the early-risers upstairs walking around on their tile floor. Next time…top floor. We went to the hotel social area to get coffee (for Al). My tongue is really sore and I can't even think about drinking something hot. So I bought a can of pop from the machine.

Back at our room, we had breakfast (cereal, milk, yogurt) and I called about getting us signed up for the sunset sail we wanted to do later. I got a recording. The dock where they sail from is only about a block and a half from our hotel so we decide to walk over and check it out.

When we got there the sign in the window said they'd be back at 9:30, which was only a few minutes so we decided to wait around a bit. She arrived on schedule and we got signed up for today's sail. They require a minimum of 4 people to sail and we made 2 so she took my cell phone number so she could let us know when it was a go or if it was canceled. She said it was very likely to happen, since it was a weekend but she'd let us know either way. They'd make a final decision no later than 3:30.

Walking back, we went past a kiosk in the parking lot advertizing Segway rides. Since we've become addicted to taking Segway rides pretty much wherever we find them, I took a card. It was for the same guy we toured with the last time we were here. Also, since Publix was in the same parking lot, we stopped in to get a 2-liter bottle of pop so that I could have some cold caffeine in the morning until my tongue got better.

Back at the hotel, we picked up jackets, sunglasses and hats and went for a walk on the beach.

Before we got here, I found a walking map program on the internet that let you map routes and it would tell you how far you were walking. I'd mapped out a number of walks on the beach of various lengths so that we'd have some idea of how far we were walking.

If we left on the beach from our hotel (south) and walked until the island ends then back again, that's 5 miles. We did a walk that was just shy of 4 miles. We didn't break any speed records doing it, though. We did lots of looking at shells and stuff along the way.
Al on one of our beach walks.
Birds on the beach.
Little crab buddy

Cute little birds

Horeshoe crab

Red sponge

Hey, this white stuff isn't snow!

Back at the hotel, we ran into Lee and Ginger…a couple we met here last year. They come every year and stay at the Plaza Beach for 2 months.

I took a shower while Al went for his run on the beach. He's in training to run a 5k on the 4th of July.

Then it was time for lunch and we were looking forward to Cuban sandwiches at Bella Habana. Unfortunately, it wasn't open for lunch. So we drove up Gulf Blvd to see what else we could find.

We ended up at Historic Corey Avenue…kind of like an old Main street with lots of little shops, boutiques and restaurants. We walked a loop of the district and decided on Madeleina Cottage. It's place with a decidedly British feel...what with bangers and mash, toad in the hole, and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding on the menu. We had Reuben sandwiches…Al with a cup of clam chowder and me with a salad.

We walked a little further and found Kapfer Glass Studio. I'd read about this on the internet and it was on my list of things to check out if we had time. It was a wonderful little place. The woman running it was a glass artist and her working studio was on site. She did a lot of stuff with dichromic glass that was beautiful. She also had a lot of stuff by other artists in the shop…there were these great wooden puzzles made nearby, some whimsical metal sculpture things made by an artist out west, some calligraphic cat cards that I thought were gorgeous, copper jewelry from an artist in Madison WI, etc.

Al got a couple puzzles as presents for his boys' birthdays coming up and I got an interesting graphite drawing tool that I thought an artsy friend of mine would really like. Then we wandered through some of the other cool shops in the area but didn't buy anything else.

By then, we were tired of walking and standing and still had a couple hours before our sunset sail. Al made coffee in our room to go with the chocolate chip cookies he made at home before we left for just such an occasion.

We took coffee, cookies and water (for me) out to the cabana area to enjoy the sun and read.

Little lizard buddy who came to visit while we were sunning and reading.
Then it was time to walk to the dock for our sail. We changed into long pants, grabbed a bottle of wine and headed for the dock.

We got there right at 4:15. There were 13 people signed up…the boat can take a maximum of 20. We stowed the wine in the cooler at the center of the boat and then went up front to sit.

We sat next to a couple from Seattle who turned out to be staying at our hotel. They'd never been to St Pete Beach before and had been there almost a week. They were heading back on Sunday. We exchanged info about restaurants and things to do in the area. There was also a younger couple up front with us. They were from southern California, in town for a wedding, and we also exchanged restaurant/activity info.

Al talking with Cap'n Jim

The drawbridge is opening for us.

Our boat for the sail

Sailing buddies
It was a wonderful sail! We went under the drawbridge (a sign posted said $25,000 fine for any boat captain causing unnecessary opening of the drawbridge), saw dolphins and a fabulous sunset, and the Sky Dude. The Sky Dude was some guy with what looked like a kite-boarding kite but he was seated in a chair kind of thing that had a big fan attached to the back of it powered by a small gas engine. He buzzed around the bay almost the entire time we were sailing and came down close to the boat a few times so we got a good look at the contraption.

The Sky Dude

After the sail, we walked up Gulf Blvd to Spinners for supper. Spinners is a revolving restaurant at the top of the Grand Plaza hotel. We'd eaten there before. The food is very good, not inexpensive, and the view is fabulous. Over the course of a meal, you get a 360-degree view of the area. If it's night time (like when we were there), the whole Gulf side is dark but it's still an impressive view.
Night time view from Spinners restaurant

We shared an appetizer of shrimp, scallops and smoked fish spread on crostini then a dinner of crab-stuffed grouper with steamed squash and new potatoes. The menu specifically says (many times) "split plates not allowed"…so we didn't split them, we shared them. And the caramel lava cake for dessert.

We walked back to the hotel where Al called his nephew (Joe) to set up a time for us to get together. We settled on Sunday at 1:00pm. Al watched the end of the Lakers/Magic game on TV…he'd seen that it was on a TV in the bar at the restaurant. I googled directions to Joe's on my PDA, then we went to bed.

19 January 2012

Florida 2012 - Travel to St Pete Beach

We were just getting around to thinking about heading toward the airport for our 11:30am flight when Al checked email one more time. He saw a message from Delta about a change in our flight. He called and it appeared that our flight through Memphis had been canceled and we were rerouted through Detroit on a later flight. We were really disappointed because part of the trip we were really looking forward to was BBQ at Jim's Interstate BBQ in the Memphis airport. We'd specifically scheduled a flight through Memphis around lunch time just so we could eat there. Also, the later flight time would have us arriving at our hotel very late instead of in the afternoon.

In poking around with flights, we found another flight that left earlier and got us to Tampa only an hour later than originally planned, going through Atlanta. I suggested we go to the airport to deal with it.

At the Delta counter we discovered that our Memphis flight was back on…apparently there was a mechanical problem that caused them to cancel the flight but then they managed to resolve it and uncanceled the flight. Unfortunately, when Al talked to whomever on the phone, they had rebooked us on the Detroit flight. So the counter person rattled keys on her keyboard and called a supervisor over and somehow managed to get us back on the flight we were originally scheduled for.

Memphis BBQ and early arrival are back in the picture!

Our plane was a half-hour late leaving Des Moines but we made up time in the air with a tail wind and arrived in Memphis only a couple minutes late.

We got our BBQ (and it was every bit as good as we remembered!) then headed to the gate, where they were holding the door open for us. (oops…)

We had seats in the very last row but at least we had seats. Al pulled out his book and I pulled out my knitting project for the trip…a black mohair lace scarf that I was really looking forward to working on and hadn't started. Unfortunately, when I was pulling out the acrylic circular needle I dropped it between my seat and the wall and it somehow got stuck. I couldn't get the needle loose or figure out how it got to a place where it wouldn't come out. I tried to be careful and patient with it but disaster struck. One of the tips broke. I said some choice words, let me tell you. The needle was part of a set I ordered on-line where you screw the size of tips you need onto the cable. Meaning … I can't just walk into a store somewhere and buy a replacement tip.


Oh, well. Good thing I also packed a book.

We arrived at Tampa and took a shuttle to the rental car place off-site. We got a Nissan Versa (never heard of it) and headed down I-275. As we were crossing the bay bridge, traffic was backing up, then slowing to a crawl, then stopping/going. Several emergency vehicles zipped past on the shoulders so we figured there was an accident up ahead somewhere. As we got closer we saw that there was, indeed. All lanes of traffic were being funneled down to one.

It was a minor annoyance in the overall scheme of things. The sunset view from the bridge was fabulous, we were in Florida with the windows down and we were On Vacation!

Eventually we got past the accident and traffic rapidly got back up to speed. We made it to St Pete Beach and our hotel without further incident.

We checked into the Plaza Beach Resort, room 112. It was a really nice room with a kitchenette and living room area. All 39 rooms of the hotel had been renovated since we were there last year so everything was new.

It was dark but we walked out on the beach just to say "Hello" to the Gulf. Venus was incredibly bright and it looked like the tide was near full.

We went back to the car to look for air for a low tire and get some milk for breakfast tomorrow. We went to the Publix about a block up the street and got milk, yogurt and wine. Then to the Dollar Store next door to get a corkscrew. We stopped at a gas station for air but they were charging for it and the tire wasn't that low so we didn't air it up.

We went back to the room and watched Big Bang Theory on TV while sipping wine and being On Vacation.

Then we decided it was time for supper so we went on foot to find a place to eat. When we were looking for air, we saw a place called the Drunken Clam that looked local and unique in a hole-in-the-wall kind of way so we headed there. We walked in the door and it was basically a dive bar…very loud, VERY smoky and not at all what we had in mind. They did have food but even the outdoor 'porch' area was too loud and smoky for us so we walked on to Crabby Bills. We got an appetizer of jalapeƱo cheese fried-raviolis then split a baked seafood sampler of crab cake, fish filet, shrimp and scallops with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and cole slaw. Yum!

The only down side was that I burned the heck out of the tip of my tongue on napalm-like cheese in the ravioli. Ouch.

We walked back to the hotel and went to bed.