US trip: 17-19 March 2017

20 03 2017

This year my conference is in St Petersburg, Florida, so I headed over a few days beforehand to allow enough time to deal with the jet lag and to see the Tampa/St Pete area, where I’ve never been before.

The flights

It’s along haul to the other side of the world, so where I can, I go Business Class — being cramped up in Economy for 30-odd hours is not my idea of fun! The first leg was the 4-or-so hours from Perth to Sydney (Qantas A330, with the lay-flat seats).

Domestic Business Class menu

Pre-flight drink — sparkling cabernet, showing controls for seat behind

Chicken and vege soup

Pork cutlet

I overnighted in Sydney at the airport, then caught the BIG flight the next day — Sydney non-stop to Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), some 15-16 hours in the air. We were late leaving Sydney (strong winds and driving rain), so were late getting into DFW, which meant my original just do-able 2-hour connection time was now fewer than 90 minutes. Immigration was super quick and fully automated, and Customs was quick too, but waiting for my luggage took ages. Then I had to get it through Customs and to the drop-off point for the transfer to the American Airlines flight to Tampa. Next was the TSA security line (there’s no TSA Pre-check for boarding passes issued by Qantas), then through to check the board for the terminal and gate my flight was leaving from — of course, it was the farthest terminal from where we had landed! It was all a big rush and I made the boarding gate with 5 minutes to spare before the first boarding call. At that point I was fine, but I was hoping my luggage would make the flight too.

The flight from DFW to Tampa left about 10 minutes late and arrived in Tampa a little late too. Coming in over the Gulf of Mexico was great — even though I wasn’t in a window seat, the person who was let me look at the stunning scenery.

After arriving, I eventually found the guy meeting me at the airport and taking me to my destination — an AirBNB house I liked the look of from the pics and reviews on the internet. Charles the driver was great — a good driver, and a keen wit and intelligence. I’ve requested him again for the return trip to the airport on Sunday.

The initial accommodation

This time I decided to take a punt and give AirBNB a try. I’d researched several places in St Pete and Tampa and one kept standing out and I kept coming back to it. After emailing the owner several times with my newbie questions, I booked 4 nights there. This was back in May, and I just hoped it would be as the internet pictures and reviews indicated it would. It was! What a wonderful house — there are 6 bedrooms, all with en suite bathrooms. The house overlooks the Hillsborough River, and all the guests have full run of everything except the owners section – kitchen, living rooms (one upstairs JUST for the guests), pool, dining area, balconies, fire pits, and even the grand piano!

My bed is like a dream — super comfy mattress and pillows. And the entire house is air-conditioned. Breakfast is ‘make your own’ from all the food put out each morning, including bacon and eggs. The hosts are delightful too. All in all, this has been a very positive experience. I’ve also met and chatted at length with some of the other guests, all of whom are nice. And all this for less than the price of an impersonal hotel room.

Oh, and did I mention the three full-size poodles, and the African grey parrot who talks and whistles at you, and the cockatoo?

Out and about Day 1 (19 March)

I picked up my rental car from the airport at noon, then headed out to Clearwater Beach on the recommendation of a friend. Problem was, it was a beautiful spring Sunday and everyone else had the same idea!!! Traffic was a bit of a nightmare, so I didn’t bother trying to actually SEE Clearwater Beach up close and personal — instead I saw how white it was from the road, and kept driving south down to St Pete Beach. The traffic was much lighter and many of the public carparks for these beaches weren’t full — to me the beaches looked the same, so I’m not sure what the attraction was with Clearwater.

After St Pete Beach, I looped back to St Petersburg itself, driving by the hotel where the conference will be to get my bearings (it’s close to the Dali Museum, where there’s a Frida Kahlo exhibition on at the moment). Then ┬áheaded back to the AirBNB, after stopping for a late lunch (3pm) at a southern-style restaurant on North Florida Ave (Fodder and Shine).

This evening was quiet early on as everyone was out, so I started writing this blog post. Then people started coming home and we started chatting. Two hours later… and I’m finished for today.