I’ll be honest, a trip to Florida is not really my idea of travelling. I’m not newly wed or nearly dead so it’s hard to find my kinda people or entertainment in some parts of this southern state. Still, you can't beat a long run on St. Pete’s beach in the middle of a Canadian winter and in January, I did just that. You see, 'my people' actually are there. My parents are Snowbirds and have been for as long as I can remember. They’ve got it knocked, as my father says. And, I suppose, I do too. I dart down some years to defrost and crash with the folks for a week in the heat.
They love their seasonal sanctuary. It’s familiar, it’s safe and Pinellas County seems to have a Marshall’s or T.J. Maxx on every corner. I didn’t inherit my mother’s 'shop ’til you drop’ gene, though, so those discount stores don’t hold my interest for very long. And Gulf Blvd, well, that strip is almost like Kenmount Road, although the gorgeous palm trees are a fine replacement for dirty snow banks. On this most recent trip to Florida, I was determined to get to know the more sophisticated side of St. Petersburg my parents talk about from time to time. Off we went to the downtown area, in search of a little culture.
There are lots of trendy little outdoor cafes and shops all along Beach Drive and a walk along the waterfront will acquaint you with some major points of interest for your day downtown. Start at Vinoy Park and drop into the pink and posh, Vinoy Hotel. This spot was built in 1925 and has an interesting history. Baseball great, Babe Ruth, Hollywood's Jimmy Stewart and US President Herbert Hoover are all known to have stayed there. During WWII, the US Army took over the hotel and used it as a training school.
The hotel fell into disrepair in the 60s and closed its doors in 1974. Homeless people are said to have been living inside for years after the closure. In the 90s, the property was bought by Renaissance Hotels and Resorts and underwent a 93 million dollar renovation. The Vinoy has regained its reputation as a playground for the elite. Take a peak inside at the incredibly colourful furnishings and a stunning blown glass ballroom chandelier by world renown artist Dale Chichuly. A permanent collection of Chichuly's work is on display in a gallery a short walk away from The Vinoy. http://www.moreanartscenter.org/content.php?id=91
Continue along the waterfront boardwalk and you’ll soon find the St. Petersburg Museum of History and across the street, the Museum of Fine Arts. MFA is celebrating 50 years in 2015 and a has a number of exciting exhibitions including Monet to Matisse, exploring impressionist visions of the coast of France (February 7th to May 31st). If art is a passion of yours, then you’ll also want to allow time for a lengthy visit to the Dali Museum.
Salvador Dali is one of those artists we probably all know a little bit about. Remember those poster sales they’d hold at Canadian universities? If you were like me, you walked away with a few of Dali’s famous images rolled up under your arm. His warped clocks adorned my Toronto apartment walls when I was in journalism school. I never took much time to understand the man as an artist, then. I just thought he must have been very much into LSD. Turns out, Dali had a long history as an artist well before his timepieces melted. http://www.biography.com/people/salvador-dal-40389
The museum in St. Petersburg was started by an American collector and it will take you on an incredible journey through this famous Surrealist’s life. My favourite piece in the museum is of his wife, Gala, entitled “Gala Contemplating The Mediteranean Sea”. When you view the painting up close, you see Gala in the nude, looking out to the horizon. When you view the same painting from 20 metres away, you see the head of Abraham Lincoln. It’s baffling to imagine how he achieved this double image in 1976, long before the high tech world of computers.
There are plenty more double images that will astound you and when you’re done with the real works, you can make your way to the gift shop where you’ll find clever and quirky souvenirs of your time spent with this famous moustached man. Click on this link to get to the museum's website:
Now, depending on how much money you spend in the gift shop, shopping on Beach Drive or your very cultured lunch, your day in downtown St. Petersburg might set you back quite a bit. A ticket for the Dali museum, for example, will cost you about $25 and add on another $10 to park. Not quite as economical as frolicking in the sand and enjoying nature’s own masterpiece, the sunset at Passe-A-Grille beach. What the hell, shake it up a little. There’s a lot more to Florida than flee markets, shuffleboard or lying ten toes up in the sun. Besides, if you’re not one of the newly weds, you might be one of the nearly deads and there’ll be plenty of time for lying down later on.
If you really can't get yourself up off that lounge by the pool, you might want to check out my photos in the gallery. It'll be almost like being there!
Until next time,