02.01.2019 St. Pete Beach, Florida.
Not a great night in the BLOC Hotel at Gatwick. It is a type of hotel that is a cross between a Japanese capsule hotel and a Motel 6. Cleverly, all the lighting, heating and blinds in the room are controlled by a tablet screwed to the wall. It’s probably good when it works but this one didn’t. We had to use our phones as flashlights to use the bathroom and we slept in the cold with a purple light streaming in through the window. To be fair, we got our money back after H savaged the management.
We flew Norwegian in a premium cabin with good seats. It was OK for the money but not really a proper business class. The border controls in Tampa were very nasty with a 2-hour shuffle to see an Immigration person and two lots of photographing and fingerprinting on the way. Maybe it was something to do with this partial government shutdown they have going on. Build the wall, Donald. Using two step-ladders will be much quicker.
We rented a car and drove through the dark evening to The Don CeSar Hotel at St. Pete Beach. This is classed as an historic hotel, by US standards, as it opened in 1928.
03.01.2019 St. Pete Beach, Florida
They call The Don CeSar the “Pink Palace” for obvious reasons. The hotel is right on the very pretty beach of St. Pete. The sand looks like sugar and near the water there are many seashells to be found. I would have collected sackfuls as a kid. There are only four or five kinds of shell but they are mostly unbroken. There are oyster-like things about the size and shape of a bike seat that are iridescent with mother-of-pearl. There are also big cockles and scallops and many smallish conchs. Brown pelicans diving into the surf rounds off the scene.
04.01.2019 St. Pete Beach, Florida
The main reason we came to this place is because a long time ago H did a legal internship in St. Petersburg. Her parents also visited this area many times and H thought it would be a good place for Roland to rest up after recent health scares. I don’t know what’s so restful about wandering about in Walmart’s and dollar stores but it takes all sorts.
A massively calorific breakfast was in Denny’s which is my favorite breakfast place. Lunch was back at the hotel near the pools where there was live music. It was threatening to rain but it held off until I finished my chicken quesadilla and margarita.
Dinner at the Hurricane Restaurant in St. Pete Beach.
05.01.2019 Anna Maria Island, Florida
breakfast again at Denny’s then we checked out some old places in Palmetto trying to track down long lost friends but with no luck. Later, we moved into a rented house at Holmes beach on the bayside of Anna Maria Island, one of the barrier islands south of Tampa Bay. We will be here for the rest of the trip.
06.01.2019 Anna Maria Island, Florida
Due to the remains of confused jet-lag we were up early and saw the sunrise from the the end of the boat dock that comes with the house. Overnight a black rat had fallen in the pool and was frantically swimming around and needed to be rescued with a net and set free in the mangrove.
This being Sunday we drove to the Wagon Wheel Flea Market which is a place H used to hang out at many years ago. A ridiculous bit of Americana with hundreds of stalls. Heike and Roland went into a feeding frenzy loading up on junk. I had some apple fritters and invented a photo competition to capture the most useless shit on sale. I believe I have a winner with a stall selling Before-You-Go Toilet Spray and advertising with a giant poo. How useless is that?
on the way back we stopped off at Hungry Howie’s Pizza Buffet for lunch. An all-you-can-stuff-your-face-with place. Then we bought some huge steaks at the Chop Shop Deli which I did on the grill for dinner. Unusually for Florida it was a bit too chilly to eat outside. Our consumption of fat must have tripled in the past few days.
07.01.2019 Anna Maria Island, Florida
A walk on the beach then a day of driving around and visiting malls. The usual stuff.
08.01.2019 Anna Maria Island, Florida
A long drive for lunch today. We went to a restaurant in Ybor City, a suburb of Tampa. H had been here many times before. Ybor City is an old Cuban district of Tampa which specialized in hand-rolled cigars. There are still some cigar shops but the place now is famous for old buildings dating way back to the early 1900’s and restaurants. The most famous is Columbia which dates back to 1905 and now sprawls over a whole block and is stuffed with Spanish Colonial style decor.
We had some good tapas and a pitcher of sangria. We have a near identical pitcher at home but I always thought “Ybor” was some kind of spelling error.
09.01.2019 Anna Maria Island, Florida
We had our usual breakfast in the morning sunshine overlooking the bay. Three breakfasts that are completely different. I usually make bacon, fried eggs, toast, coffee, orange juice. Heike mixes up some slime in a pan made from Eggbeaters, spinach and fake cheese. Roland does the full German with Leberwurst and bread. Fortunately we have time enough for all this nonsense.
Most of the morning was spent cooking ribs on the barbecue. Two huge slabs which was supposedly most of a pig. They have to be cooked slowly and for a long time otherwise they are no good. They were eaten a lot faster.
Apart from that we just napped and hung around the pool. Except when the pool guy came and chucked chemicals in the water. In the evening we watched some news channels on the cable TV. It seems to be necessary to flip between channels as there is no such thing as balanced reporting here. CNN makes the most sense to me but Fox News is always good for unintended humour and bizarre looking presenters. Trump seems to have backed himself into a corner with the government shutdown over this wall thing. Can’t say I care all that much one way or the other as it’s not my money he’s hoping to waste but I will be less than happy if this causes big delays with air traffic control, customs and airport security when we leave.
10.01.2019 Anna Maria Island, Florida
Another fun day snapping up bargains on sneakers, socks and underpants in outlet malls.
I had another go at trying to catch fish from our dock. The guy in the local bait and tackle shop said that the fish I have been trying to catch are herbivores and can’t be caught with a hook and frozen shrimp. There are other species out there but they seem to have gone veggie as well.
We had a Caribbean Night for dinner with jerk chicken accompanied by steel drum music. Excellent cheffing if I say so myself but the barbecue is going to need some work in the morning.
It’s very cold here for Florida although mostly sunny. It’s been a bit chilly getting out of the pool and I had to turn the heating on in the house. Not what we came here for.
11.01.2019 Anna Maria Island, Florida
Just hanging around the pool and buying groceries. Livin’ the American Dream.
12.01.2019 Anna Maria Island, Florida
H and R went to some coffee morning at the Tropic Isles trailer park in Palmetto to try to find old friends and try to track down some cheap accommodation for a possible trip later in the year. Then to yet another flea market. Not wanting to overdo the flea market thing, I stayed home, made breakfast burritos and watched Saturday morning TV. Fox News; SpongeBob SquarePants, it’s all the same.
I had another go at fishing from our dock and again no bites. This time I had an osprey sat on a pole next to me scanning the water. I might have imagined it but it seemed to look a bit sympathetic. We watched the sun go down from Holmes Beach.
13.01.2019 Anna Maria Island, Florida
Just chilling by the pool and a walk on the beach at sunset.
14.01.2019 Anna Maria Island, Florida
Heike tracked down old friends Mike and Carol in their retirement home in South Pasadena, St Petersburg, and we had lunch with them. H has been relating stories about Mike and Carol for years and I mentally had them pegged to be in their early 50’s but of course time moves on.
15.01.2019 Anna Maria Island, Florida
After hearing of my frustration of unhookable fish swimming under our boat and under the dock at this house, Roland bought me a casting net as an advance birthday pressie. It is going to need practice on a large lawn first and I have no idea if it can be used off a sailboat with standing rigging and ropes everywhere.
16.01.2019 Tampa, Florida
We packed up and left for Tampa Airport for the flight home. H went out of her way to thanks the TSA people for still being at work with no pay. I know I wouldn’t have been.
Arrived at Gatwick and got a taxi to London Bridge Hotel. This hotel seems to be coming our regular base in London. Many years ago when I was an expat in the US, I travelled to London sometimes on business trips and this is where I stayed. Since then I must have stayed here more than half a dozen times.
Our jet-lag was bad so we took to our beds for several hours. My first grandson was supposed to have been delivered a couple of days earlier and in theory our timing arriving in London was perfect but unfortunately the baby didn’t get the memo. H and I met up with my daughter, Niamh, her partner, Thom, and my son, Tom, in the Royal Oak on Columbia Road, Bethnal Green and had beers and fish and chips, all expecting waters to break at any time.
The Royal Oak is reputed to have had something to do with the infamous gangsters, the Kray Twins, but in reality its only connection with Ronnie and Reggie was as an interesting film set in the making of the 1990 movie The Krays.
The proud parents-to-be are not saying anything about baby names at this stage. Both Ronald and Reginald are illustrious given names in my family, including my recently deceased Uncle Reg, but I would advise against using these names in this part of London.
18.01.2019 London to Berlin
We took a taxi from the Tower Bridge to London City Airport the a flight to the snowy wastes of Berlin. The jet-lag was still bad and it was all we could do today.
19.01.2019 Schulzendorf, Germany
I drove H to Tegel Airport, Berlin, where she goes back to work via Istanbul to Bangkok. Heike will be on the AIDAbella for a while. The ship’s real-time location can be seen on the Maps page of this website.
I will be heading out that way myself once I have some medical checkups done here in Berlin. So, in two to three weeks time I should be able to continue with journeys in the South China Sea.
For now this blog is taking a break.