Friday, February 28, 2020

Waking up in a New Day and a New Place: St. Petersburg, Florida

After a decent hotel breakfast at the Hyatt Place in Downtown St. Petersburg, it's time to go for a walk. We do a lot of walking on trips for two reasons: exercise and exploration.

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While our hotel in this Tampa Bay city is not on the waterfront, it's only a short block away. At the north end of the waterfront is the huge, pink, and old Vinoy Park Hotel. Tim repeatedly tells us that it has a haunted history.

The lobby reminds me of another historic hotel close to home, the Mission Inn in Riverside, California, and signs abound saying "no photos or autographs," which explains the lack of lobby photos in this post.

The Atlanta Braves are staying here while they're in town to play the Tampa Bay Rays. We see no one looking familiar or anyone else we'd even imagine asking for a signature.

Back outside, we continue along to a short peninsula jutting into the inlet here. This jay is brave enough to park next to my shoulder to pose for a picture.

We're now in Vinoy Park which has a pretty path along the water leading north to Vinoy Beach.

I hear a splash in the water below the wall where I'm standing. Could it be one of the state's manatees that I have yet to see? Naw, it's just a few dolphins cavorting a few feet below me in the bay.

Continuing on along the seawall, we come along the beach, just past a dead stingray in the water.

Beyond the view of death, the beach is very pretty and a few people are venturing out into the water on this quiet morning.

Tim and I find a storm drain leading into the bay that we can roll out on to get a better view.

Circling back, we come across the Gizella Kopsick Arboretum.

Wheelchair accessible paths let us wind through the hundreds of different species of palm trees on display here.

Easily getting our ten thousand steps in on this beautiful morning, we go back to downtown to get a light lunch. Now, we'll rest up a bit before going to our game here tonight.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, February 26, 2020


Our ratings are...

Fully Accessible - You can access all of the attraction, with no problem, in any type of wheelchair.

Mostly Accessible - You can access most of the attraction, and all of the important parts of it, with your wheelchair.

Partially Accessible - You can access a good deal of the attraction but some parts are inaccessible and some important parts you'll miss.

Inaccessible - Kind of speaks for itself, avoid if you're in a wheelchair.

Here's St. Petersburg, Florida...

Tropicana Field - Fully Accessible. Home of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. Click on the link for more information.

Gizella Kopsick Arboretum - Fully Accessible. Palm and cycad garden on the waterfront at Vinoy Beach.

Sunken Gardens - Mostly Accessible. Spectacular jungle gardens, a preserved and genuine Florida roadside attraction. A few paths are a bit steep and there are a few steps here and there but they are easily detoured around. You won't miss anything.

Vinoy Beach and Park - Mostly Accessible. Beachfront path is easily negotiated with a wheelchair. Dolphins swam right up next to us. The sandy beach is more problematic but there is an accessible path out to the water on top of a storm drain pipe near the restrooms.

Canopy Rooftop Lounge - Fully Accessible. A fun place to relax with a drink on top of the Birchwood Hotel in St. Pete. Easily accessed by a ramp on the south side of the building, which will take you to the elevator to the roof.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 24, 2020

Taking the Long Way to St. Petersburg Florida

The worst thing about a long vacation with multiple destinations is that you also need to repack your luggage multiple times (I know, you cruisers will say you don't have to do that on a cruise...we'll get to that point in another post coming soon). Luckily, we started last night with the packing and we're getting better about only taking out what we need while we're at that destination.

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Our rental car is loaded up with precision...we have to leave room in back for Tim's travel chair along with the luggage and room for Letty in the backseat. Because of the difficulty in loading Tim into a normal car seat outside of his wheelchair means that 9 times out of 10, he gets to ride shotgun.

We're making sure he's very comfortable and secure. It's a major pain in the rear to keep hauling him and his chair out of the car so we've prepared him to be sitting in this seat for seven hours.

That's hours.

Tim's OK with it this time because he's not really a fan of flying if he doesn't need to do that. And, if you think about it, it's just a little longer than flying. An hour and a half to fly from Atlanta to Tampa, plus arriving two hours before the flight, plus an hour minimum to get to the airport, plus another hour to collect our luggage, then another to get to our hotel in St. Pete.  What's that add up to...about six, six and a half hours?  The drive doesn't look so bad in comparison.

Once we're clear of downtown Atlanta, traffic eases up and about an hour or so later, we cross into Florida. After crossing under Interstate 10 (hey, it's the San Bernardino Freeway!) we soon make a planned stop for gas, bathrooms, and snacks at the Love's truck stop in in Jasper, Florida.

Loaded up with candy, cookies, soda, and a couple of 5-Hour Energy's (just in case), we head back out on Interstate 75.

There is barely any traffic. We set the cruise control for 73 miles per hour and enjoy the lush scenery all the way to Tampa, where we finally hit a bit of traffic going through downtown.

An easy trek across a very long bridge on Tampa Bay puts us on the peninsula and into St. Petersburg. The GPS on my phone smoothly glides us to our hotel in the heart of downtown, the Hyatt Place.

We unpack the car, check in, and head up to our room which is nice but has a bit of a spartan feel to it. It's Hyatt's 'minimalistic' design but it's a nice, comfortable room with a window pointed out towards the bay. Unfortunately, the huge condo under construction next door blocks our view but, if we get closer to the window, we can see the water on either side.

The hotel manager tells me there's a row of restaurants and bars along the waterfront a little over a block away. We walk over there, ending up at Canopy restaurant and bar.

The Canopy is a rooftop bar on top of the Birchwood Hotel with a beautiful view of Tampa Bay. An elevator takes us and Tim up. It's happy hour so we order some cheap drinks and a couple of appetizers.

We share this flatbread pizza...

...and this dish of loaded tater tots.  It's very delicious and fills us up well for less than $30, including the drinks.

We're here, we're settled, so we still have some time to take a stroll along the waterfront where we find a couple of giant banyan trees.

The sun is setting so it's time to head back in. There'll be plenty of time to see this beautiful city in the next few days.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, February 21, 2020

Car Shows and Dr. King's Neighborhood: Atlanta, Georgia

There's a show on the NBC Sports network called Caffeine and Octane which is a car lovers dream. Each week, it visits the largest car show in North America. In addition to showing some of the best car porn on TV, it profiles some of those machines and owners.

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We watch it from time to time. Then, I found out that it happens just down the street from our hotel at the Perimeter Mall in Dunwoody, Georgia. On the first Sunday of the month, which is today, and it's free.

Guess what we're starting this day off with...

We wander around the large, mostly empty mall lot (early Sunday morning) and then we find it. Thousands and thousands of cars and truck. Mostly organized around type, make, or model. For example, there were a lot of Jeeps parked together as were Jaguars and Mustangs. Mostly because car clubs would show up early and park together.

This is just the outer edges. More and more vehicles make up the rings as we head towards the center. When the cars show up in the morning, the show organizers are there to cherry pick the best of the bunch. A few hundred are redirected in the center corral of the mass to be featured on the TV show.

It's both an honor and a curse to be selected...if you outside of the center, you can go whenever you want. If you're selected, you have to stay the entire show because the producers want to have a 'full' look to the proceedings and don't want cars leaving early to show empty spots.

We see many mint-condition classics, oddballs, and custom restorations. It's great fun but around the edges of the show, there a few douchebags that have to do burnouts, loud revs, and speed runs. It doesn't seem safe to be walking around out there.

After getting our fill, we leave and head back into the city for some more history lessons.

East of downtown Atlanta, in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, is Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park. It was here the civil rights leader was born, where he attended church, school, and is now interred.

There's a large parking lot on the north side of the park, across the street from the visitor's center and the current edition of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church he and his family were heavily involved with.

We start off in the visitor's center where a film on Dr. King's life is shown, along with exhibits of his efforts to secure rights for all Americans, his death, and...finally...his burial.  The rustic wooden wagon that served to carry his coffin is also on display here.

Afterward, we make our way down the block to the fire station that became Atlanta's first integrated station then on to the house, a half block away, where he was born.

Tickets for the fully accessible tour are free at the visitor's center but they had already given out that day's quota.

For us, we had to be content with the exterior, walking around the porch, and into the backyard.

On the way back, we go through the pools and fountains of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Dr. King was passionate that his cause would not be violent, at the beginning of each march, hundreds of knives and other weapons were taken from marchers so that they would not be the catalyst for fighting.

This center, adjacent to the national park, is also where Dr. King and his wife are buried in a marble tomb at the center of the pond.

An eternal flame burns nearby.

Next door is the original Ebenezer Baptist Church, now part of the park.  A docent deploys a portable ramp for Tim. Inside, a lift takes him up to the second floor sanctuary.

We wander around the space where King and his father preached from the pulpit. Much of the support and planning for Dr. King's efforts came from this building and this room.

Across the street, Sunday services are in full swing at the current church. You're welcome to attend but in our touring clothes of shorts and t-shirts, we limit ourselves to watching the vigorously spiritual service from the foyer where large glass windows and speakers allow visitors like us to watch from just beyond the back pew.

This visit makes a good counterpoint to a visit to the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Dr. King was assassinated. Here, there is more of a celebration of his life than a focus on his death like there is there.

It makes for an inspirational finale to our time in Atlanta.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018
All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2018
All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 17, 2020

We're Down with Downtown: Atlanta, Georgia

Stadium 28 now in the books, it's time to see what else this town has to offer.  We picked this  hotel, the Hyatt Place Perimeter in Dunwoody, in part because it is close to a Metro station.

We walk over and catch the train into the city at the Sandy Springs station.

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We're hungry so our first stop is an Atlanta institution for lunch. A couple of blocks due west from the North Avenue Station is The Varsity. Entering their doors and hearing the calls of their signature cry..."what'll you have"...we hang back just a bit to get our bearings and check out the menu before ordering.

A massively long counter beckons us where we head up to order a few of their famous hot dogs and a BLT for my wife.

We take our lunch to a table adjacent to one that President Clinton sat at (picture on the wall proves it!) and dig in.

While the hot dogs are indeed tasty, they're also pretty tiny. Tim and I could have easily had another two to go with the two we ate. Being in Atlanta, though, the cold Coca Cola went deliciously with those little dogs.

Back on the Metro, we continue on to the Peachtree Center Station in the heart of downtown. A short walk to west brings us to Centennial Olympic Park, which served as a daily gathering place for Olympic visitors and participants during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games when they were held in this city.

There is a computer-controlled fountain in the shape of the five Olympic rings that has frequent shows set to music to watch. At other times, you can splash in them to cool off.

It was a short distance away from here that a bomb went off during the games that killed a mother bringing her daughter to a free concert and a cameraman from Turkey who later died of a heart attack after being wounded.

A ferris wheel is across the street, offering views of the city. CNN offers tours of its studios at the south end of the park and Coca Cola has a kind of expensive attraction at the north end, explaining how the drink is made and the cultural impact it has had around the world.

It's time for us, though, to call it a day and we head back to the hotel. Tomorrow, there'll be some Civil Rights history touring for us.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018
All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2018
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Cocktail Hour - Latin Passion

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This week on the patio, we're enjoying some Latin Passion!  Stop's just the name of the drink.  This is kind of like a more sour version of a tequila sunrise.  It is very good and pretty too.

Here's the recipe.

2 oz Tequila
2 oz Brandy
1/2 oz Amaretto
splash of passionfruit syrup
2-3 oz. sweet and sour
spash of grenadine
1/2 lime

Squeeze lime into cocktail shaker that is 1/3 full of ice.  Put in just the smallest dash of passionfruit syrup, too much will make your drink too sweet. Pour in tequila, brandy, amaretto, and fill to top with sweet and sour.  Shake and strain into two old fashioned glasses about 2/3 full of ice.  Splash a little grenadine over the top and let it sink naturally...don't mix any more.

This is a pretty potent cocktail, so enjoy in moderation.  



Friday, February 14, 2020

Land of the Braves: Game Day in Atlanta

It was a very long travel day yesterday, more frustratingly long than actual time-wise long, so we slept in as long as possible. Of course, that means we would miss the hotel's breakfast hours and would have to fend for ourselves.

Luckily, when in the south, we've got a few options we don't have back home. A decent, cheap breakfast (or lunch or dinner) can always be found nearby at the local Waffle House.

So that's what we did.

Afterwards, it was back to the hotel to rest up a bit and get ready to go to tonight's baseball game where the Braves would be hosting the San Francisco Giants at Sun Trust Park.

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Sun Trust Park is the newest stadium in Major League Baseball, now going through its second year of operation in 2018. It replaces Turner Field, which was build for the 1996 Olympics, is located in downtown Atlanta, and is now home of the Georgia State Panther football team.

The new stadium is located outside of Atlanta in Cobb County. There is no good public transit to the stadium...we will need to drive and try to find a place to park.

Leaving with what we thought would be a big cushion in time to get there, we find ourselves stuck in barely-moving traffic when we get close to the stadium. There are no police officers directing traffic and it's kind of a free for all when you're trying to get close.

After following signs for the lot that had the handicapped parking, I ended up beyond the stadium and realized either I missed the last sign for the lot or that it didn't exist. We ended up paying $25 to park in a KFC parking lot and walking about a half mile back to the stadium.

Outside, a couple of faux streets have been constructed with a few restaurants and bars to give is a sort of downtown, party feel...maybe the kind it must have really had back when the stadium really was in downtown.

We make it in, find our seats by the left field foul pole, and get ready to take in the game.

As it gets underway, I go to the french fry stand directly behind our seats to get Tim an order of garlic fries. An inning later, I'm still in line and Letty has come to see if I had problems.

"No, it's just how long I have to stand in line."

About ten minutes later, I get to the counter and order. Then, I get to stand off the side for another ten minutes before I finally get the fries.

After delivering the fries, I get back in line at another stand to get our hot dogs and beer.  After a total of three innings (1/3 of the game for those of you not familiar with baseball) of standing in line, I'm finally back in my seat.

I've only missed three home runs and the scoring of nine runs in total. Not to be too concerned, though...the home team would go lose to the Giants 9-4.

It was May 4th for this game, which meant that a Star Wars theme was overlaid on the festivities, with in between inning entertainment and a special fireworks show afterward.

The Force wasn't with us, though, as we left a bit underwhelmed and saw the fireworks from a distance as we hiked the half mile back to KFC to get our car.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018
All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2018
All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 10, 2020

Travel Days are Rarely Fun: Arrival in Atlanta

After the frustrations of leaving Los Angeles have faded, we arrive at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport. It's a real breeze compared to LAX.

As we will be traveling many miles where our only non-car options are plane or bus, we decide to rent a car. Picking up at the Enterprise counter at Atlanta is no problem at all and soon we're on our way to our hotel, the Hyatt Place in Dunwoody, a suburb a little north of Atlanta proper.

There's a traffic jam so it's not until around 9PM, we check in and notice a sort of restaurant/food bar at the other end of the lobby. After dumping our baggage in our room, we come back down to eat.

I order and the guy behind the counter says it'll take 25 to 30 minutes. With nothing better to do and not knowing the neighborhood, we decide to wait.

He's chatting up others at the bar, then goes to help the other employee on duty to check in a few arriving guests, and then before you know it, it's 20 minutes and we still haven't even gotten drinks.

I go over and ask if he forgot about us..."no, I didn't forget."

He goes over to the bar, pulls out a manual with instructions on how to mix our drinks. We finally get them. 10 minutes later, there's no sign of food. I ask him again..."it'll be out soon."

I grab a bag of chips off of the counter for Tim, who's getting pretty hungry at this point, and the guy goes back into the kitchen to make our food (probably using the company handbook to figure out how to make our order).

Around 50 minutes after ordering, our food finally comes out...a microwaved mini pizza for Tim, pulled pork sliders for Letty, and short rib tacos for me (pictured).

Letty's mad because the sliders have none of the cole slaw or pickles the menu described them with. Mine is not made correctly, either. Only Tim's pizza seems to be somewhat edible.

I tell the guy about it and he explains they ran out of the missing ingredients. I told him that was unacceptable, you could have said something before you made us wait almost an hour for half-assed food.

To his credit, he struck the entire meal from our bill and we took Tim's pizza up to the room to share a little bit so we could all have a little something before going to bed.

Luckily, the room was nice and the bedding comfortable. We'll take up the rest of Atlanta starting tomorrow after we get a night's rest.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018
All Rights Reserved