Taking Care of Business in St. Pete’s

Our last two weeks have been spent on the Florida Gulf Coast in Madiera Beach, adjacent to St. Petersburg. The St Petersburg/Madiera Beach KOA was a great basecamp for exploring this area and for taking care of business. After three months on the road it was time to stay put for just a little while.

During our time here we saw the dentist for cleanings and six fillings between the two of us. I saw a great physical therapist three times a week to address some lingering issues with October’s foot surgery. We also took Bob to the vet to have his Addison’s Disease checked out, and he is in great shape! Three of the four of us got haircuts and one of us got a massage. It was a fruitful two weeks!

Our site at the KOA backed up to a mangrove and we had a nice “backyard” where we could enjoy a fire, games of Scrabble, and dinner at the picnic table.

The campground is located along the Pinellas Trail, a paved, multi-use trail that runs from before Clearwater to downtown St Petersburg. Steve did his daily runs on the trail and Bob and I worked on increasing our walking distance, per the orders of the physical therapist. We are now up to about 2.5 miles on most days! We took the bikes out a few times too.

On many days we spent a few hours exploring the nearby beach towns. Treasure Island had a nice beach boardwalk, and Madiera Beach had kitschy shopping area with restaurants, bars, t-shirt shops, and ice cream shops.  Both communities have a weekly market, so we hit those as well.

Clearwater Beach also has a great boardwalk along the water. Steve was scheduled to do a marathon here but the race has been postponed, so we just explored. Brightly painted dolphins, as many as 120 of them, are scattered throughout the Dolphin Trail. We tried to capture a few of our favorites along our walk.

The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg is world-renowned, and it’s hard to walk away from it without being in awe of the Spanish artist’s abilities. While often weird and distorted, his works are filled with meaning, and learning about each works’ interpretation was fascinating.

In particular we both loved The Hallucinogenic Toreador, a multi-level painting that combines symbolism, optical illusion, and visual language to tell Dalí’s story. I won’t go into the full meaning of the painting (Google it) but it’s really cool. 

On another day we took the drive across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which links St. Petersburg to Bradenton and Sarasota over Tampa Bay. 

Driving the bridge itself was exciting, but our destination was even more of a circus. No really, we visited the Ringling Museum and learned about the history of the circus and in particular, the Ringling Bros. circus. As a child, I was enthralled every July when the circus visited Phoenix.  I poured over the circus programs for months after attending each year.

The Ringling Circus Museum is just one part of a very large museum complex which also includes the Ringling’s large mansion, Ca’ d’Zan, and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. We focused on the circus museum and strolled the bayfront gardens

Steve went fishing one morning with Hubbard’s Marina and had some little success. Luckily a few other fishermen on the boat didn’t want their catch, so Steve brought home a big bag of fresh fish for the grill that night. 

The Tampa area is in a frenzy for the Super Bowl which will be held in just a few days. It’s the first time in ages since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been in the big game and the first time ever a team has played the Super Bowl in their home stadium. And of course, there’s Tom Brady. We stayed away from the festivities in Tampa but couldn’t avoid the hype! It’s everywhere and even Bob was getting into it!

We continue to enjoy our RV lifestyle. We’re heading inland to a few of Florida’s state parks now and then on to the other coast. Stay tuned for more fun!

2021 Tampa RV Supershow

RV shows and rallys are where RVers learn about the latest new products, swap stories about time on the road, and connect with others who share the passion for road living. The Florida RV Supershow, held every January in Tampa, FL is the big daddy of all the shows, so it’s been on our agenda since we bought our first rig. The 2021 show was probably not as big and crazy as in the past due to the pandemic, but we still enjoyed the experience.

For five days we had full access to the Florida State Fairgrounds and the over 1500 RVs and hundreds of related-vendors. There was roving entertainment, fair food, and lots of opportunities to learn, shop, and gawk.

We toured big, million dollar Class As, truck campers, lots of fifth wheels, and even camper vans. No, we didn’t buy a new RV, though we looked at plenty!

We did, however, buy a bunch of stuff to make our lives on the road a little easier.  Here are a few of our fun finds, including a sign for the rig, a new rug, a garden flag stand, a new Garmin 890 RV GPS, and a new travel journal. Not pictured is a new Blackstone griddle which is still in the box, but sure to produce some great dinners in our future.

We also participated in our first RV rally during the show as part of Lippert Scouts. Lippert is a major RV and marine component company, and we are part of their Lippert Scouts ambassador group. Along with about 20 other Scouts, we camped on the grounds of the show, had easy in and out access for the entire time, and met a bunch of other fun, like-minded people. 

Being part of the group really enhanced our experience and we loved the nightly campfires. Around the fire we shared ideas for living on the road, campgrounds to visit, national parks to explore, and strategies for navigating in a big rig. We now have a group of friends from around the country who completely understand our current way of life.

The show and rally required masks inside and outside, had hand sanitizer available everywhere, and limited the number of people inside each rig at a time. We were careful to follow all the protocols and are feeling great. We know there is a risk to traveling during the pandemic and the risk is increased by attending events like this. However, we are determined to stay active and continue our explorations, with as much care as possible. So far, so good.

And the verdict on RV shows and rallys? We’re already planning to attend next year’s show, hopefully again as part of Lippert Scouts.

Kayaks, Hemingway, and Dry Tortugas NP

For the first time in our short RV career we welcomed overnight guests into our rig and it was so much fun! After our first week in the Florida Keys my cousin Mitch and his daughter Lauren joined us to celebrate Lauren’s 21st birthday and New Years.  Our time together was filled with laughter, toasts, and new adventures in some of the most beautiful spots on the planet. 

As soon as they arrived we headed into Key West to explore a bit, hit a few happy hours, and watch another spectacular sunset. We then headed to the nearby El Meson de Pepe for dinner (our second of three total visits to this great Cuban restaurant). 

The next day we headed back into town for more exploration. In particular we took the tour of the Hemingway Home and met the famed six-toed cats. Many of the 40-50 cats on the property can be traced back to Hemingway’s cat Snowball. They were very friendly!

We also saw the penny that is embedded in the cement next to the swimming pool his wife Pauline built when he was away. In 1938 it was the first pool to be built in Key West at a cost of $20,000. Exasperated at the expense, Papa Hemingway reportedly flung a penny towards Pauline and said, “You’ve spent all but my last penny, so you might as well have that too.”

One evening we took a night kayak trip with clear-bottomed LED-lit kayaks. Paddling through the mangroves we could see fish and coral right below us! We saw some cool sea creatures and got a great sunset as well.  

On Wednesday we had hoped to make it a beach day but the weather didn’t really cooperate. In fact it rained off and on all day. So, we made the best of it with a few more cocktails at some of Key West’s finest establishments and brunch at the legendary Blue Heaven. Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict with lobster made the rainy day seem not so bad!

On New Year’s Eve we spent the day on the water with a fun kayak through the mangroves, including a portion where you had to use your hands to guide and propel the kayak. It was fun until Mitch and Lauren saw a snake! We also saw lots of Cassiopeia, or upside-down jellyfish, and crabs. 

That evening we watched the sunset once more and then had a wonderful tapas dinner at Santiago’s Bodega. Due to the pandemic Key West instituted a 10:00pm curfew over the New Year’s weekend so the crowds were very small. Masks are mandatory inside and outside. Still, we headed home very early before the police began their sweep of the area. 

Our last big adventure in Key West was a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, the most remote national park in the country–almost 70 miles west of Key West. We boarded our ferry, the Yankee Freedom III, early in the morning. It was so early Cuban coffee was required!

After a two plus hour voyage we docked at Garden Key and Fort Jefferson, the largest man-made masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. The fort was built during the Civil War to safeguard U.S. shipping and to defend the Gulf of Mexico from potential enemies. Though never completed it served as a military prison and active military outpost, housing hundreds of Union soldiers. 

We explored the fort from top to bottom and enjoyed the spectacular views from the top level amid cannons and powder magazines. 

Dry Tortugas is also known as a primo snorkeling destination. The boys explored the waters while Lauren and I stayed on the beach and soaked up the sun. It was the perfect place for a little photo shoot too!

The water was chilly 75 degrees and the guys said it was “perfect.” It was truly an experience of a lifetime, and we are so grateful to have shared it with Mitch and Lauren. 

Too soon our time in the Keys came to an end, Mitch and Lauren headed home to Arizona, and we are headed north. But our adventures are continuing so stay tuned for more soon!