OK, you know it was a great trip when you’ve already forgotten about the excitement of a tornado! Deb reminded me that I forgot to mention in my post about the VRBO and beaches that we were awakened on the second morning by emergency alerts on our phones! We could hear squalls of rain hitting the windows, so we hunkered down until the weather radar indicated that the worst had moved past us. By midmorning when we were going through Iona (about 10 miles away as the crow flies) to get to the beach, there were several emergency vehicles out dealing with downed power lines. Crews must’ve already had time to clear the roads of debris by the time we went through, but there were bunches of large tree branches and metal signs and building parts strewn about on the side of the road. We learned later that an EF2 tornado had destroyed 28 homes and damaged dozens of others in that area. Whew, we were lucky!
With all that excitement behind me, I headed for Tampa on my continued quest to avoid the cold weather back home in NC. My first stop was in Bradenton, just south of Tampa, FL. Built along the Manatee River, this city’s historic downtown offers everything from swanky riverfront dining at Pier 22 (delicious shrimp salad for lunch!) to learning about the planets and manatees at the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature. I plunked down in a seat in the planetarium after lunch to view a 25-minute film on the Dark Universe narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Although way over my head (literally and figuratively!), it was fascinating information and the spectacular images playing across the domed ceiling made my first experience in a planetarium unforgettable.
After the film, I made my way across the museum to the manatee habitat. Super cool! There were three adult manatees in the rehabilitation habitat that I could view from the top of the pool and from ground level of the pool through a glass observation gallery. Being a workday, this retiree had the habitat all to herself! Manatees are a federally threatened species due to boat strikes, loss of food (seagrass), red tides, and cold water. A few tidbits about the manatees that I found interesting: baby manatees (calves) are 60-70 lbs and 3.5-4.5 ft at birth, adults grow to 1000-3000 lbs and 10-13 ft, average life expectancy for a wild manatee is 13-17 years, and they can hold their breath for 20 minutes! I was surprised when we saw a manatee swimming in the Gulf off Sanibel Island while we were shell hunting, but these gentle giants inhabit both fresh and salt water. Once rehabilitated, the three manatees currently at the habitat will be released back into the wild into designated warm water areas, then will be tracked with monitors by scientists to ensure they are readjusting to wildlife conditions. You can even follow the progress of released manatees online!
From Bradenton, I made the short drive to Tampa to overnight at Rob and Marcia’s house. Rob and I have been professional colleagues and friends for at least a dozen years. The three of us got caught up over Marcia’s delicious chicken adobe that night (thanks for sharing recipes!). While poor Rob had to head off to work, Marcia took me for a stroll around her local park, then to a bayside lunch at the Salt Shack. The cherry on top of a delicious lunch with great company was the pod of dolphins frolicking right in front of us with Gandy Bridge as a backdrop. Amazing!
I said my good-byes after lunch and made my way a little farther north to The Villages for a visit with Terri and Ralph. Terri was the Director of Food and Nutrition Services at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) when I worked there. Despite the traditional friction between dietitians and dining service professionals (health/performance versus taste/satisfaction), we forged a bond at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games that would result in an incredibly productive collaboration that continued well past my time at the OTC. A scrumptious meal at their favorite Italian restaurant, Mezza Luna, and an introduction to a really cool board game, Sequence, made for a relaxing visit. It was so good to witness firsthand the wonderful retirement life she and Ralph have made for themselves.
The next day, I was off to my next destination – a return to Mayport, FL with a stops at Salt Springs and St. Augustine along the way. . .