February 6 – 20
We’d be camping the next three nights at Pine Island outside of Fort Meyers, a drive of less than three hours and so, with some time to kill we decided to check out Ybor City, a historic neighborhood located just northeast of downtown Tampa. Founded in the 1880s by Vicente Martinez-Ybor and other cigar manufacturers it was populated by thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain, and Italy. For the next 50 years, workers in Ybor City’s cigar factories rolled hundreds of millions of cigars annually.
In the 1990s and early 2000s a portion of the original neighborhood around 7th Avenue developed into a night club and entertainment district and many old buildings were renovated for new uses. Designated as a National Historic Landmark District in 1990 with several structures in the area listed in the National Register of Historic Places, in 2008 7th Avenue, it was recognized as one of the “10 Great Streets in America” by the American Planning Association.
We found a place to park in a nearby lot and headed over to Centennial Park where a weekly farmer’s market was operating. With an interesting variety of stalls to peruse, we strolled around for an hour or so before stopping at one to grab a hot dog for lunch, sitting down on the ledge of a brick stairwell to watch a greyhound dog rescue organization.
We would later come to find out that this is the last year of dog racing in the state, and those dogs that wouldn’t be moved to the remaining states where it is allowed would need to be adopted.
This is a complicated story with a lot of rhetoric on both sides, confusing enough to send Joanna to a nearby stall to get us a delicious serving of flan to soothe are troubled psyches.
We left the park to walk up and down 7th Street, which is exactly as described, full of restaurants and bars.
Quiet on a Saturday morning, we could easily imagine the type of energy that would flow from it when things got hopping later that day and evening. Done with Ybor City we drove a short distance to the outskirts of town to the Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center.
This promised to be an interesting diversion, our first exposure to some of the wildlife Florida is famous for. Unfortunately for us, although the setting was nearly perfect with deep blue skies absorbing the steam from the power plants stacks and turning it into clouds that matched those floating above us, we were at the tail end of the Manatee season. It turns out that they are thrive in water of a certain temperature which the heat from the power plant provides in the cooler months.
As adjacent water in the bay warms up, they migrate out of the power plant’s channel and thus, there would be none for us to view during our visit. That being said, the indoor exhibits provide an abundant amount of information about these mammals, their diet, reproductive cycle and their preferred habitat. And so, sighting free and yet full of more knowledge than when we arrived, we pushed on to Pine Island and our home for the next three nights, the Fort Myers/Pine Island KOA. –
This would be our first foray into communing with that global phenomenon known as the snowbird. We tend to think of this as being an exclusively American pursuit, but our travels in Spain and Portugal in May and June of 2014 enlightened us otherwise; trailer and RV campers from Northern Europe making up the largest cross section of those populating the campgrounds we stayed in. Also that year, the World Cup playoffs were in process and a number of teams from the north were in contention. It made for quite the fun time in the common areas that had a TV.
As such, every site at the park was full and as the spaces were all quite small, it made for very crowded conditions. But our space was large enough as long as we parked the car across the front of it and with the restroom just one lane over, it was adequate for our needs. After setting up camp, checking out the campground facilities, and enjoying that first beer, we took off south to towards St. James City at end of the island to explore our dining options.
The KOA had recommendations for a few places, but they seemed a bit fancier than we were in the mood for and so, after driving past them while checking out Trip Advisor (Not while I was driving) we decided to give Froggy’s a try. A divey kind of joint that looked populated by locals, except for their limited selection of beer, it turned out to be just the right place for us to be that day.
We settled in at the bar and after some confusion with the bartender about what they had on draft, we both choose cans of Cigar City Jai Alai Pale Ale. With most of the seats taken, it was fun to work on that first drink and check out the scene, wondering what it might be like to be a resident, living the Florida coast beach/island life.
As we’d noted during the first post, when you are visiting Florida or any town along the Gulf Coast, seafood is the name of the game. We quickly settled on splitting a Fish and Shrimp basket and once it arrived fell upon like a higher order denizen of the sea. When fish is simply prepared, as in fried, the difference between a fresh good product and something that is not is readily apparent. In this case the lightly battered fish fillets were succulent and lacking in a strong fishiness and the shrimp, lord that shrimp, was as good as it gets.
Each of us kept an eye on the other to make sure they weren’t taking more of those little delights than an even split dictated. Joanna outfoxed me though (nothing unusual there) and through some sort of trickery, maybe when I ordered my second beer, a Yuengling (it had been some time since my last one and had forgotten how unique and refreshing they can be), got the last odd shrimp.
We settled up for $30.75 including tip for the whole shebang and really, where else can you get this quality of food, including drinks, for that little money? Florida was continuing to look promising. The next two days would be pretty busy with full-bore tourist stuff on the agenda. But we were fueled by fresh seafood and ready to go.
Ybor City: https://yborcityonline.com/
Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center: https://www.tampaelectric.com/company/mvc/
Fort Myers/Pine Island KOA: https://koa.com/campgrounds/fort-myers/
Jai Alai Pale Ale: https://cigarcitybrewing.com/beer/jai-alai-ipa/