Our plan was to meet in Tampa and go diving in Clearwater for three days, the first of which will have diving canceled at 8:30 am (after the fishermen go out for an update and to catch lunch) due to high seas. We take this opportunity to drive to Hillsborough River State Park and walk from parking lot 2 to the River Rapids Nature trail, across the suspension bridge to the Baynard loop, before catching the second half of the RRN trail to get back to the car.
We will spend the 2.3 miles looking at all the details — from spiders and ferns to mushrooms and moss to tree roots that look like legs — and reminiscing about our time in the forests of Florida. Each geographic region has its own qualities and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to experience so many. A common question in the US is, “What’s your favorite state?”, but for those that have been to them all, we have a special place (beach, restaurant, park, museum, etc.) in one or more of them that stands out as a great place to live or to avoid — such as the Everglades, which is why we camped there twice.
Caleb begins to wonder what is going on in the bathroom as I’m taking an ample amount of time to switch from a toilet that is too tall to the big stall with a view. There’s something spectacular and ancestral about peeing while looking at trees. I didn’t get a good photo though as the screen was in the way. I think about putting a picture on the wall in front of the commode when I get home and then remember that my husband is standing outside the door waiting.
Under the pavilion nearby is a woman sat in front of her travel-size (29”) flat screen TV while her partner is busy setting up the food and the rest of their planned picnic party. I get the appeal of having a cell phone within reach for emergency situations, but when did America feel the need to fill every bedroom and waiting room with a TV or screen — when cheap, non-scripted reality television with digital recording became a thing so that people can binge watch on airplanes, in bathrooms, and on their daily commutes.
I’m not saying TVs are terrible as there is a time and place for classic films, the Discovery Channel, and finding awkward shows to watch while on vacation or doing handy crafts but I don’t like being bombarded with someone else’s idea of important media or having company distracted by a moving picture while we are out; phones are bad enough. Anyway, we leave the lovely couple to enjoy their day in the park and drive along the 301 in search of the Fort Foster State Historic Site.
The gate to Ranch Rd was closed so we assumed the site was too (because it’s only open weekends and for Rendezvous). It’s a reproduction of the fort rebuilt there in December 1836 during the Second Seminole War to defend the river and the soldiers’ supplies. The property was given to the state in 1972 and opened to the public in 1980. With no history to walk through here, we drove south to the Lettuce Lake Regional Park but only the state park is open every day — not even national parks do that.
Those were the two items on my list in this area so Caleb chose the Tampa Riverwalk next so we could experience 2.5 miles of museums, art, and manatees. We park near MacDill Park and go left first. I spend most of the time looking up at the buildings but stop to read about the accomplishments of Moses White before taking notice of the beautiful building across the water (later research will tell us it’s the University of Tampa we are so enamored with).
Walking the other way we pass a penguin’s sand igloo, a closed skating rink, and two kids “playing” on the public piano. We continue over the railroad track towards the Straz Center to read about Eleanor McWilliams Chamberlain and her 37 years of advocating for women’s right to vote before it was finally ratified. There are some large paintings on a lawn, a seat turned metallophone, and three bench swings to keep us entertained before we return past the dog park to see children using it too.
There’s still time on the meter when we return to the car so we cross the street to appreciate the architecture of metal, glass, and bricks among trees (while looking for a restaurant that might be open) and learn about the Great 1909 Auto Race that inspired the bonds to get highways built between Tampa and Jacksonville. We return to the hotel for 20 minutes while we look at menus of places such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House and decide on Flames Indian Cuisine for half the price.
Sitting down I notice they serve us ice water while the rest of the room is given theirs at room temperature. When I ask for a refill with no ice I’m brought another glass. I’m hoping the food doesn’t come out bland and we’re given more time to wonder while the family that came in after us is served first because there was an issue with the printer.
A guy walks in, while Caleb is going to the car to get my jacket, who reminds me of a scene from Monty Python (which is much more graphic than I remember). Our food arrives at a decent spicy level but Caleb thinks that our garlic naan is just regular — and he is right, so we’re gifted some to-go and I give up the chance to try a chocolate filled samosa, though maybe I could’ve used the sauce for a second purpose.
Back at the room, we learn about the time that goes into crafting the art of sushi through generations and the simplicity of preparing sukiyaki in Japan, and the significance of prepping pork overnight in South Carolina for BBQ from Anthony Bourdain’s show “Parts Unknown”, his last series he would produce as a traveling chef of 16 years. He got his start at 44 years old after writing a book, which would be the first of many, about the behind-the-scenes in a restaurant kitchen.
I have a mix of the Thai curry and Indian lentil leftovers for dinner while we watch the men on TV sample different meats and Caleb makes a comment about spicy in – spicy out and we have a laugh about the future smell of my food combination. This is our foreplay conversation before we get out the tingle cream for round two, which is how I will discover that it’s mentholated and provides an icy hot sensation that makes me debate whether I would try it again — we both like the results.