When we left our beautiful spot at Manatee Springs it was raining and I was full blown sick, so Tom had to maneuver to our new spot on his own. This navigator was out for the count and I slept the whole way to Brandon near Tampa and also as Tom set up camp for the next six nights at the Elk’s Lodge there.

However, because I slept for nearly 24 hours straight, I felt good to go the next day. The rain was gone as well, so off we went. With a general direction of “the beach” we headed towards Tampa and decided to stop at the Sunken Gardens. Built in a sink-hole fifteen feet below the ground, the gardens were beautiful.IMG_0835

Massive old trees were homes to all kinds of air ferns and bromeliads. We sat often on the benches sprinkled throughout the park and talked about how it looked like what we had envisioned for our backyard in our former home. (pictured on the right below)

We have such fond memories of our old backyard, but we never had the time to enjoy it fully. Here we were just chillin’ in the park admiring all of the flora and we didn’t have to worry about pulling weeds or cutting grass or trimming bushes. No, we decided we didn’t miss our former backyard at all!

We went on to the barrier islands of Tampa Bay and found them full of hotels and homes, but did find a public spot to take a walk on the beach and out on a pier.IMG_1218

We are still seeing signs of hurricane damage, such as this one on the pier. On this beach, there were so many tiny seashells I could have beachcombed all day, but my collection was already too large, so I had to just look!IMG_0955

The next day was a down day kicking back at home. We received an invitation to meet from fellow RVillagers who live in the area, so we met for lunch at a local IHOP. It was great fun to make new friends and compare notes about downsizing and boondocking.IMG_0976

Then we finally got the kayak out and took it on an official kayaking trail at Weedon Island Preserve.   The weather was near perfect – just a bit warm. In the preserve there was a four mile trail through the mangroves that was marked with sign posts in the water. I kept thinking that if we didn’t have signs to follow we might still be paddling around out there as it would be so easy to get lost in the maze of tunnels and islands.

It was really enjoyable but my arms were pretty tired on that last half mile. It seems like we put more effort into paddling our inflatable tandem kayak than we would if we had regular hard plastic kayaks that sit on top of the water more. But you can’t knock the convenience. In a few minutes we had it deflated and packed away in the Jeep.

Down the road we stopped in the air conditioned museum. It was really well done, but late in the day and we had to leave due to closing time. So we headed home.IMG_1032

In looking at our Florida map, I saw a Ringling Museum, or “The Ringling”, on the south side of the bay in Sarasota. So that was our next destination. We got an early start to try and beat the heat and the Saturday crowds. Not early enough! We arrived an hour after opening and left because they were closing and we could have easily stayed a few more hours.

It was the winter homesite of John Ringling, one of the brothers from the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, which I’ve seem many times. Sadly, the circus is no more, and I will never get to take my grandkids to see a real circus. At least they still have the circus museum. We had a lot of fun there and Tom got to clown around.

That was just one feature of the 66 acre park. There was also tours of their mansion home, called the Ca’d’Zan. The home was incredible, right on the bay.

The Ringling also contains the state’s oldest rose garden, an amazing Museum of Art, IMG_1094and – possibly the most amazing part of all – a miniature model of an old time Big-Top circus set up. One man’s lifetime project, it was absolutely amazing. And so much fun.

Our day was filled with learning about the early hey day of the circus and how the Ringling Brothers got started and expanded into the Greatest Show on Earth. We learned how John Ringling built and lost his fortunes and got to admire some incredible renaissance art works.

We also enjoyed the Bayfront Gardens and grounds along the gulf waters and I especially loved the magnificent and old Banyon trees.

This one on the right swallowed up some of the artwork sprinkled about the grounds.  It was a great park that is now owned by the University of Florida, and I would definitely recommend it as something to see in the Tampa area. Well worth it!

Tampa Bay, like much of Florida, is on the grow, and we saw signs of construction everywhere. We heard someone say 500 people a month are moving in.IMG_1043

Our final day in the Tampa Bay area was again wet and stormy. We stayed in and had the TV tuned to local weather as they were issuing tornado watches and then warnings in our area. We lucked out and the fast moving storm dissipated as it came inland. Thankfully because we really didn’t have an evacuation plan. I continue to count our blessings when it comes to weather.

Next on the agenda is heading down to the everglades.

Happy Travels,

Peace & Love, Joy