Florida is a strange state. It starts out swampy and beachy like any other southeastern state but then it turns into a tropical island sort of place. My parents took me to Florida the year I was born and again when I was 12ish. Both times we went to Disney and one of those trips I remember clearly. We spent a few days in Disney and one at Epcot and we even got to go to Cape Canaveral and saw the Space Shuttle Discovery on the launchpad a few weeks before it took off. But what I remember most vividly was seeing alligators. They were everywhere. In the grass, in the ditches by the road, in every body of water. The gator captivated my young mind.
Now when I'm offered a chance to go to Florida, that inner gator hunter in me comes alive and I happily agree. This despite how hot I know it is in Florida. And how much it rains. And how far it is from my house.
When G asked if I wanted to tag along to her work conference in Tampa, I immediately said yes because I knew The Dali Museum would be close by. But I also knew we would find great food and fun things to do as well. The first stop was St. Augustine. Within 5 minutes of getting in town we were at Mojo's eating BBQ. We cooled off with peach pops from Hyppo and walked through the historic city.
It was dreadfully hot but beautiful. I wanted to get a few photos of the sky over Castillo De San Marcos so I left G in the shade and scooted across the road for a second.
As it happened, I was just in time for the afternoon cannon firing over the waterfront. So I took up my spot in the hot sun and waited through the reenactment.
Covered in sweat, I needed to cool down again with a milkshake from Cousteau's. This may be my favorite place in the city. The small restaurant only sells gourmet waffles and shakes and every item on the menu is based on the movie "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou". And waffles and shakes...come on...what could be more perfect for me?
We enjoyed a nice seafood dinner on the water at Hurricane Patty's and then walked out on the beach to sample the cool water in the Atlantic Ocean. The sun was setting on the way back to the hotel and the whole town was golden.
My internal runner's clock woke me up at 6am and the golden light was back for sunrise over the city. I got to run across the Bridge of Lions and I estimated my distance pretty well. I only had to run around the hotel once to get my mileage.
St. Augustine is beautiful. I highly recommend it.
We had breakfast at Georgie's Diner, an old reflective silver 50s style diner. We went because of the name but the food is excellent. While we were there, a dude leaned in and asked what G ordered and the people behind us spilled their ice water all over themselves.
Then we jumped in the car and headed for the other side of the state.
Neither of us had ever been to Tampa and G had never been to the Gulf Coast. As we drove in to the city, at the last minute we decided to bypass the hotel and drive out to St. Petersburg to watch a baseball game. The Tampa Bay Rays were playing the NY Yankees at Tropicana Field. This was G's first MLB game.
We had amazing stadium dogs.
And we enjoyed the luxury of a covered, air conditioned stadium.
I've head a few times that Florida is like a reversed US east coast. Meaning, the northern part of Florida is more like a southern state and the farther south you go, the more northern the state gets. I assumed this meant that there were more people from northern states moving to southern Florida to escape the cold. In Tampa and St. Pete, this proved to be truth. At least every second person we saw was from New York. At the game, the ratio may have even been higher. The Yankees have a spring training facility in Tampa and there were at least as many Yankees jerseys and fans as Rays fans. (Or in our case, Cubs fans) We pulled for the Rays out of principle but it was cool to see the Yankees. The Rays won.
We thought we dodged the rain storms inside the stadium and on the drive to the hotel. We found a mexican restaurant nearby and walked over. When we sat down to eat, the rain returned and though we tried to wait it out, we ended up getting soaked walking back to the hotel.
And in true Florida fashion, the moment the rain stopped, the beauty returned. That was the sunset view out our 11th floor window.
The next morning I tried out the River Walk on my morning run. I had a quick breakfast and then headed back to St. Pete to spend the morning at The Dali Museum. That was an experience I'll have to save for another blog post. It was great.
When our kids were tiny, they'd get really excited when they saw palmetto trees because they knew we were near the beach. You can get a sense of where you are by looking at the trees. The tall pines near our house slowly give way to spanish moss and palmettos at the coast. Then, driving south from Jacksonville, the palmettos change to these tall, beautiful palm trees. These were all over St. Augustine and Tampa. I think they're my favorite.
When I returned from The Dali, G was still in conference sessions so I walked a few blocks to the Tampa Museum of Art.
One of the exhibits was an untrained guy who started decorating baseballs. He sent them to MLB teams and coaches and developed quite a following.
This one was to honor the Cubs' 1989 Division Championship.
The figurative exhibit featured some well known artists and some personal favorites...Niki De St Phalle...
And Keith Haring.
Later we found a Maggiano's Italian restaurant and explored the town a little more.
The next morning I got a little lost on my morning run but afterward I found the coolest place for breakfast and coffee. I love my coffee and there's no substitute for the coffee I make at home. But Moxie's Cafe in downtown Tampa makes better coffee than me.
I did a little exploring after breakfast, trying to walk off the two huge coffees I had.
The Tampa Theater was showing the Mr. Rogers movie but we couldn't fit it in our schedule.
When G got free, we drove to Clearwater Beach. We stumbled in to Frenchy's Cafe and won the food lottery. The crab fries were so wonderful. G copied the recipe from the menu and we hope to try to replicate this soon.
Then we got to see the Gulf of Mexico. The water was mostly clear but it was very, very warm. We walked a bit and enjoyed watching people. We discovered that bathing suits can be very different in Florida. It was an interesting walk.
Each morning on the River Walk, I passed lots of runners, walkers and bikers. Near the Convention Center, if every second person was from New York, then every third was a nurse traveling from another place. The first morning I noticed quickly that people were not making eye contact or speaking to me. Runners normally at least acknowledge one another with a nod or a wave. After the first few people didn't speak, I made it my mission to bring some southern hospitality to the Tampa River Walk. I "Good Morning-ing" everyone and made them smile and speak.
I had another giant coffee at Moxie's and when I got back to the hotel, G was ready to hit the road again.
We drove back across Florida on a different route, taking us past farms, horses, cows and lots of small bodies of water. I'm pretty sure every road we traveled in the state was under construction. About 7 hours later we arrived in Charleston, SC just in time for the afternoon heat. We walked around the city a bit and then headed across the bridge to eat dinner at Page's. While we were there we noticed that Page's also offered breakfast. The next morning we considered several options before deciding we would go back to Page's. We made a good choice.
My runner's clock must have decided I needed to sleep in an extra 30 minutes so I missed the sunrise but I still had a beautiful run over the Ravenel Bridge.
I only stopped once for photos and I held my phone extra tight this time. The last time I took photos while running across the bridge, I dropped it and nearly lost it over the edge.
After my run I got to explore the fishing pier under the bridge.
Charleston (and Mount Pleasant) has the best light.
After breakfast, we had to go back to the beach. We decided we prefer the Atlantic to the Gulf. And South Carolina to Florida.
Now back to the alligators. If you're wondering how many gators I saw on this trip...the answer is none. Not a single one. No space shuttles either. But that milkshake at Cousteau's...more than made up for it!