Saturday, November 03, 2007

In the Gulf: Early in the month I managed to squeeze in a short family visit down to Sarasota, including a not entirely planned stay slightly north in St. Petersburg. Sarasota remains quite lovely, and also quite busy. I stayed at a terrific place right out on Lido Beach called (not surprisingly) Lido Beach Resort. Big suites, two pools, koi garden, tiki bar, and walking distance to St. Armand's circle where they have my all time favorite chain restaurant, Tommy Bahamas.

I spent an interesting evening their in the thrall of a Rainman-type character who was amazing everyone at the bar with his ability to identify the day of the week of everyone's birthday in between pontificating about the need to apply probability curves to universal constants to resolve metaphysical dilemmas. He was faily entertaining until he got so drunk on chocolate martinis that the bartender had to cut him off and he staggered away.

Lido beach itself has a great reputation but I don't think it's all that. It's a bit seaweedy for my taste. The Gulf beaches are better further south, in Sanibel or Naples, but there is no arguing with the sunset views.

The "new adventure" for this trip was a lunchtime cruise around Sarasota Bay on the Marina Jack cruise boat. It's a bit of a disappointment food-wise, but Sarasota Bay is a sparklingly beautiful setting, and cruising along within about 20 yards of the super-expensive mansions on Bird Key and under the picturesque Ringling Causeway makes up for the bland fare.

Up north across the Sunshine Bridge live the sister cities of Tampa and St. Pete. Tampa is the serious sister; the serious commercial center. St. Pete is the prettier sister who gets all the longing looks. I had never been to St. Pete before and it's a decent place. There are bits of college town, bits of historic village, and bits of tourist center on display.

St. Pete is situated on a peninsula that reaches south, meaning one side of the city faces the Gulf and the other faces a Tampa Bay and looks across into the city of Tampa. Interestingly, most of the commercial area is on the bay side. St. Pete is quite large and very affected by its big city relationship with Tampa, so there are only hints of seaside community here. But the Mediterranean style architecture stands out, and there are sweet little touches, like the trolley that will take you throughout the city for a quarter, including narrated history.

The Pier is a center of tourist activity. Here you can sit by the bay and eat and drink to your heart's content. You can rent watersports equipment, you can feed the pelicans. There is unpretentious little public aquarium on the top that only costs $5 (and that price is about right). Nice place to hang out on a sunny day.

The artsy gem is the Dali Museum. Highly recommended should you be in the area. Dali is not always considered a serious artist, because of the commercial appeal and bombastic nature of his work. Dali was also refreshingly non-self-destructive and more than a little religious, which also probably kept him on the outs the elites of the salons. I think some of his work is absolutely mesmerizing. Specifically, the Hallucinogenic Toreador is one of my favorites. The displays are nicely done and correspond to Dali's life in roughly chronological order. Excellent doyens. Getting in on the (free) tour is worth it here.

St. Pete wouldn't be my first choice but I could certain hang there for a while and there is a good deal of exploring left to do there. Might be a nice gateway for an extended South Florida trip. As far as the Florida Gulf Coast goes, Sarasota remains my favorite city, but I prefer the beaches further south, Naples in particular, although that might change if I took some time to do some serious beach trolling on Siesta or Longboat Keys. Oh, well. It's not like I won't be back.

Oh, I almost forgot: pics.

Sunset on Lido Beach
Bridge over Sarasota Bay
Flower at Lido Beach Resort
Pelicans on the St. Pete Pier
Why they hang around
Architecture snippet
Get funky; get purple