I’m writing this while tucked cosily into a 2 bedroom cottage, situated on the edge of Lake Erie.

It’s raining and cold outside… but here, inside, it’s toasty-warm.  The kids are snuggled up in their little bedroom, watching a movie.  Nick is lying in bed, recovering from the day’s drive… and I have a pot of coffee on the go in the kitchen.

We’re on the road again… this time, heading towards New England – and hopefully, right into the arms of a white Christmas.

A lot has happened on our road-trip so far…  we’ve seen and done some amazing things and we’ve connected (and re-connected) with some very special friends.    For now, though, I just want to stop and reminisce…  and take you back to a few weeks ago, shortly after we left Orlando… and Disney World… and Universal Studios… and we decided (upon recommendation from a friend) to visit Tampa.

Tampa is on the opposite side of Florida to Titusville.

Both have beaches.  Titusville beach overlooks the Atlantic while the Tampa Bay area has beaches that overlook the Gulf of Mexico.  It was a fairly short and uneventful drive to get us from Orlando to Tampa…  I managed to read the kids an entire book about Tutankhamen during the drive.  The kids had seen The Mummy ride at Universal – and were suddenly interested in Egyptian history and ancient tombs… (so I pounced on the moment – and “King Tut” became the hot-topic for the next couple of days).

I must admit… after the non-stop, octane-popcorn experience of Orlando and all the theme parks…  I was a bit worried that our kids would cry “boredom!!!” afterwards.  Had we set their expectations too high?  Would they spend the rest of the road-trip yearning for Disney fireworks and parades – and not be satisfied with anything less… uh… action-packed?

We needn’t have worried.  We checked in to a very average roadside motel… and the kids immediately launched into an enthusiastic game of “Squirrels”… right there in the Ramada Inn Parking Lot.

According to Morgan and Joah, all squirrels go by the name “Bucket” or “Bruiser”… and all squirrels need kind children to leave them secret nut-stashes in secret hiding places.

My kids can invent games out of anything…. anywhere.

This pleases me.

Playing "squirrel" in Ramada Inn's parking lot...

Playing “squirrel” in Ramada Inn’s parking lot…

After settling in to our hotel, we decided to visit Clearwater Beach.

Clearwater kinda reminded me a bit of South Africa’s holiday towns… like Margate or Umhlanga Rocks…  it felt.. familiar.  The beach sand was the finest, most powdery sand I’ve ever walked on… and we watched the kids splash in the waves… and the pelicans dive for fish… and the beach performers and acrobats busking and flick-flacking for change.

After a spectacular sunset, we discovered a family-owned Greek restaurant (which I’m convinced… are the same… everywhere in the world!)… and Nick ordered souvlaki while I ordered gyros… (which most Americans pronounce “jiy” (rhymes with pie) “rows”…. whereas Greeks pronounce it “yi” (rhymes with pea) “ros” (complete with a soft rolling of the “r”).  If we don’t pronounce the American version of the word – the waitresses usually don’t understand what we’re asking for.

Anyhoo…

Day 2 in Tampa…

… began with a trip to the MOSI Science Museum.  I had great hopes for this museum… and yes – it was fun… and yes – there was lots of interesting things for kids to do (and ways for them to learn)… but I would put it only slightly more impressive than Joburg’s Sci-Bono.

What it did have, though was the first domed I-MAX theatre we have visited.  We watched a doccie on Great White Sharks.  Nice.

And – we took the kids to the planetarium (which was a first for them).   The kids were politely bored with the planetarium – but I learned a whole bunch of new things.  

Oh… and the kids enjoyed a hurricane simulator.  Here’s a pic:

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But the big highlight of the day… was when Morgan lost her tooth during the clown show… and with a whoop of glee, and a huge, bloody grin… she held the tooth aloft while Nick and I applauded proudly.  Milestones, milestones…

Here’s a pic…

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Day 3 in Tampa….

…began with a trip to Ybor (pronounced yee-bor… not why-bor) which is the historical Cuban district of Tampa.  It reminds me a bit of Joburg’s Melville – except the buildings are taller.  Ybor is all about Cuban cigars… (it used to be the place for authentic Cuban everything… back in the 1800’s).  Now – it’s a bit touristy… and between the cigar lounges, bars, night-clubs and tattoo parlours, there’s souvenir shops selling predictable T-shirts and key rings and what-not.  Nick bought some cigars (which he usually uses to celebrate various milestones with his closest friends)…

We found (another) Greek restaurant…  and ordered coffee and Nutella pancakes.

At the Greek restaurant in Ybor...

At the Greek restaurant in Ybor…

While the kids were stuffing their cheeks with chocolate, I jotted down some notes on the following topic:

How to know whether you’re in a restaurant owned by a Greek family (regardless of where in the world you find yourself):

  • Shiny floor tiles (or wall tiles)
  • Framed, faded photograph of Greek ancestors on the wall
  • Slightly newer photograph of entire Greek family (also displayed on the wall)
  • Greek flag
  • Photographs or postcards of Greek islands
  • Various travel knick-knackery and souvenirs (mostly from Greece – but sometimes from Italy or other parts of Europe) displayed proudly on shelves.
  • Greek relative manning the till (because the xenos can’t be trusted with the lefta)
  • Framed picture of Greek Orthodox Saint
  • Fake plants
  • Blue trimmings on the decor (as general reference to the Greek flag)
  • White pillars
  • Marble statues of naked people
  • Cluttered family office with window or view of the goings-on
  • Shouting sounds emanating from the kitchen

Hmmm.  Speaking of which – the cafe where I typed the list above had blue-only lights on the Christmas tree.

The coffee was good though.

After Ybor, we hopped on an old Street Car (sometimes known as a trolley).  That was fun.  It was our first Street Car experience.  Here’s a pic:

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It took us to downtown Tampa… and the Glazer Children’s Museum.

Child-sized dinosaurs to clamber on...

Child-sized dinosaurs to clamber on…

Joah discovered a bee outfit...

Joah discovered a bee outfit…

The museum was more than just a little bit over-priced for what it offered… and there were many bored-looking parents milling around, waiting for their excited offspring to tire themselves out.  It all ended up with Nick and I sitting patiently in a mini “restaurant” while Morgan and Joah rushed around excitedly – preparing food and serving it up to us on plastic plates.

Here’s what was on the menu:

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Afterwards, we took a stroll across the river to… possibly one of the most gorgeous buildings I have ever laid eyes on:  the Henry B. Plant Museum.

I deeply wished that we had skipped the Glazer museum and spent an entire day, wandering the halls of Henry Plant’s ridiculously opulent hotel (now a museum and university).  I wandered around… utterly gobsmacked.  Making embarrassing “oooooh!” and “aaaaaah!” noises.

If you’re ever in Tampa – and, like me, are rendered giddy by the sight of brilliantly and beautifully constructed old buildings… you really should pay it a visit!

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After a busy day… we enjoyed dinner at Olive Garden…

Then, drove about 2 hours north of Tampa… and stopped for a night at a cheap motel.

I was fully expecting a dodgy motel (due to the cheap-cheap price… and the fact it was situated on the highway and was a popular truck stop)… but – it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise!  The rooms were immaculate – and best of all, there was a hot jacuzzi outside by the swimming pool.  The kids boiled in it until they were waterlogged little prunes.

Jacuzzi fun at the roadside motel...

Jacuzzi fun at the roadside motel…

We all slept like content babies… and I even dreamed of silver turrets.