Solitary Visit to Tampa -St Petersburg

The fun began with the bay front restaurant – Oystercatchers – in Tampa. We got to observe a breathtaking sunset as drinks and hors d’oeuvres were served. We were all cloaked in the golden rays of the setting sun, enjoying our beverages of choice. There were eighteen of us at the table. We settled in as we tried to decide which strain of conversation to follow and how best to participate. These were all co-workers, after all, and one had to be on guard and always alert about making a good impression.

For some reason, this evening, it turned out that all men ended up on the left side of the table and all women on the right. So we could hear snatches of work or golf related talk coming from the left side of the table while the right side talked about zodiac signs, children, husbands, musical preferences and other interests. For once I was thrilled to be a member of the female species.
We marveled at how the men could find anytime a good time to talk about work! Why couldn’t they get a life?

However, listening to the women talk made me think I had no life. These women were active cross-country skiers, alpine skiers, mountain-bikers, wind-surfers, campers, hikers and competitive runners or swimmers. I was so envious and so despondent about not having any such adrenalin-generating interests. I didn’t have a skiing vacation planned, where I would be able to jump from a helicopter and land on skis, and no uphill mountain-biking was about to make an appearance in my near future. What a deprived childhood! I felt like a freak for not having any such interests and was inclined to return home and perhaps find a way to get myself involved in something like extreme ironing!

The next morning was to mark the start of my mini-vacation at St Pete’s Beach, Florida, at the employer’s expense. What more could I ask for? Well, I could have asked for my husband and daughter to join me in this fun but that wasn’t meant to be. So I decided to make the most of this forced solitude. I pulled down my shades, rolled down the windows, cranked up the music in the car and set out on Route 275 South for my destination. The seven mile long bridge carried me over Old Tampa Bay and brought me to St Petersburg. But I wasn’t there yet. Still had to cross the Pinellas Parkway Bridge to get to St Pete’s Beach.

I finally arrived at the Tradewinds Resort. The weather was gorgeous and the determination to find a way to enjoy myself alone had the serotonins surging in my brain. I checked into my beautiful tropical room. Unpacked my luggage, changed into something comfortable and left the room for the beach. Another thing I have never learnt to do is swim, so I walked right past the crystal blue pool and on to the beach, and faced the heavenly blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, in all its glory, as far as the eye could see. I decided to walk the length of the beach.

This was the strangest beach I had ever seen. The sand didn’t give under my feet, it was packed like clay! That was a little disconcerting at first, but then watching other beach-mongers I learnt that one had to walk in some more, until one was knee-deep, to find the type of sand that did give, that you could feel moving between your toes. So I walked as far as I could possibly walk, waiting for the sun to set, for that one moment when it would appear perched over the horizon, before it finally vanished from sight. When this moment arrived I captured it on film.

Then I decided to walk back to the hotel and my room. Before entering the hotel lobby, I glanced back once again toward the gulf and as my eyeballs returned to a nearer focus, I noticed a sign that asked beach walkers to be aware that during the months of April through October the beach was teeming with stingrays! Tourists were advised that if they neglected to do the stingray shuffle while walking, they would have to do the first-aid hop! Nice to see a warning sign after having completed the activity one was being warned against!

The next day was Mothers’ Day. I called Anoushka and she wished me a Happy Mother’s Day in her crystal clear, trilling voice. I felt desolate and teary-eyed, how I wished I could have hugged her as she had said those words. I still hadn’t recovered from the guilt of going to India without her and now she was away from me again. I felt sickened. I closed my eyes as I thought about her smiling face and the funny things she says. I was cheered by the memory of her telling me she would make herself into a door so she could protect me from bees; this when I voiced my fears about being afraid of bees! So, duly cheered, I decided to go down to the hotel lobby where they had arranged a special Mothers’ Day brunch buffet for all their guests who were moms.

The hotel staff were a little surprised to see me, I didn’t have my husband or my daughter with me. They asked, “Are you a mom, dear?”, when I answered in the affirmative and told them I was away from home on a business trip and that I was really missing my family, they became extremely solicitous and led me to a quiet table in the corner where I wouldn’t feel too depressed, I thanked them for their efforts but it didn’t help.

I finished brunch and then made up my mind to stop moping around and to pamper myself while I had the chance. I made an appointment for a pedicure, manicure, massage and haircut and spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel spa.

Later in the evening, I stopped by at the Concierge’s desk and inquired about the sights there were to see and the best spots to visit. Armed with directions, I set out for downtown St Petersburg off exit 23 on Route 275 North. I was headed for the Baywalk stores and the place known as the Pier.

Baywalk turned out to be an open air mall with all sorts of novel stores, arts and crafts displays from local artists, street-side musicians and some popular chain stores alongside other unique boutiques that I had never before seen. I walked around eating Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream, in a waffle cone, and window shopping. I found a unique novelty store where I picked up some toys for Anoushka and then continued my browsing and walking in and out of stores, until I was politely informed that the mall was closing. It was 6:00 PM, the sun was still high up in the sky and I asked the folks at the mall how far the Pier was.

Then I walked about a mile and a half to the Pier. As the name would suggest, this was a pier at the tip of downtown St Petersburg. I noticed the largest collection of yachts I had ever seen on one side and the Salvador Dali museum on the other. It was too late in the day for the museum to be open so I took a picture and continued walking toward the Pier which was also a place where there were about a hundred pelicans just walking about, bobbing their heads to and fro, looking out for bread crumbs from tourists. There were several fishermen casting for catfish and catching quite a few. There were sailboats in the blue yonder and I found a place where I could observe a striking sunset again. I kept searching for tourists with friendly expressions so that I could approach them and ask them to take my picture. I finally found some friendly souls. I wanted to capture everything on film so that I could convince Anil that this was a good place to which we could return in a couple of months’ time for our fourteenth wedding anniversary.

This second sunset signaled the end of my vacation. I felt relaxed and calm as I remembered the words of a famous travel magazine’s editor-in-chief, who I had seen in a rare television appearance just before I had walked out of my hotel room, “Women are increasingly traveling alone, taking vacations alone. And why not, they look forward to their time away, it gives them a chance to relax and nourish their spirits”.

Well, my spirit did feel nourished, even if warning bells were sounding in my mind about being away from Anoushka so much. Now that the spirit was duly nourished I was ready for home, for husband and daughter and a more grounded existence.

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