Home Turf Tourist: Tomato Art Fest in Nashville, Tennessee

Since before we placed the order for our RV we have been dreaming of all the places we want to explore, but as we get closer to actually having the RV it has occurred to both of us that we have taken our home town for granted. Like a lot of locals in an area popular with tourists, we tend to stay away from the most popular areas and when we do go explore Nashville attractions it’s because we are taking friends and family from out of town. So, with our RV delayed we decided to change that and get out to explore Nashville. This post is the first of our Home Turf Tourist series where we will highlight places and events in the Nashville area and, hopefully, entice you to look beyond the Grand Ole Opry and the honky-tonks on Lower Broadway when you visit.

For the first entry in this series we visited Tomato Art Fest in East Nashville. The festival began in 2004 when a pair of gallery owners held a series of events to publicize an upcoming tomato themed art show. Since then it has grown into a wacky yearly event that draws tens of thousands to the Five Points area of East Nashville to celebrate the uniting qualities of the fruit that’s also a vegetable. The festival features contests, tomato themed art, food trucks, contests and live music, a Bloody Mary garden party and it highlights the vibrant East Nashville community.

The opening event on Saturday is the Push, Pull & Wear parade that features people dressed in tomato inspired attire pushing or pulling homemade tomato-themed parade floats surrounded by marching bands and lots of revelers. When we arrived the parade was already in full swing and it’s quite a sight! It’s like a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans except everyone was in red and green and the floats were a whole lot smaller! But, folks pull out all the stops to create their costumes and construct their floats. The streets were jammed with revelers as the parade went by making it hard to tell who was a spectator and who was in the parade! I guess it didn’t really matter because everyone was having so much fun.

Small vendor tents lined the streets radiating in every direction featuring local artists and lots of organizations from dental offices to car insurance. About a block away the street was lined with food trucks featuring gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and other delights. There was even a tent offering a place for your dog to cool down in a kiddie pool full of ice! A valuable thing to have on a very hot August day. There were also farm stands selling tomatoes and other produce where we bought a slice of watermelon to nibble on as we walked around enjoying the music on three different stages.

The stages featured something for everyone, from a New Orleans style brass band to acoustic harmonies to rock. There was also a cooking stage featuring local chefs and the contest stage where they held competitions and announced winners. Some of the contests this year included a pet fashion show, a tomato 5K, tomato haiku, a cornhole competition, a biggest littlest ugliest contest and a home decorating contest for neighborhood homeowners to get in on the fun. Other activities included a Giant Ice Cream Sundae extravaganza, a kids art show, a tomato toss and bobbing for tomatoes.

If you wanted to escape the heat you could duck into one of the many fine local eateries located in Five Points. The area features Five Points Pizza which has incredible New York style pies, I Dream of Weenie, a creative hot dog stand and local institution based in a converted Volkswagen bus and a host of other great options.

I Dream of Weenie was doing a brisk business.

Despite all the great options, we decided to leave the festival and go find another local highlight about 10 minutes away. Mas Tacos Por Favor began as a food truck making incredible $3 tacos before settling into its home on McFerrin Avenue in the Greenwood neighborhood. There we had the chicken tortilla soup, a couple of sweet potato and quinoa vegan tacos, and chilequiles, a dish we knew nothing about beyond the description on the sign that said “breakfast nachos”. That description didn’t begin to describe the bowl of sheer awesome that we experienced. Chips covered in a thick, slow cooked tomato sauce and shredded chicken, literally exploding with flavor, topped with a perfectly cooked fried egg. It was large enough that we split it and had to get the soup to go. We washed down lunch with a pair of refreshing agua frescas in flavors of pineapple, orange and carrot.

Chilequiles topped with a fried egg. Come really hungry or be prepared to split it.

Before I finish talking about lunch I have to talk about the tortilla soup that we carried home and ate for dinner. Most tortilla soups are thick and stew-like and usually have a decent quantity of cheese on top. Their tortilla soup is nothing like that. It’s a slow cooked, deeply flavored chicken broth with a little lime juice, corn, cilantro and perfectly sliced avocado in the soup. A small bag of tortilla strips came on the side to add.

Mas Tacos Por Favor made a fine finish to our morning of exploration and it’s definitely worth a visit if you are ever in Nashville. Just make sure to bring cash because they don’t take credit cards, however, they do have an ATM in the back in case of taco emergency.

If you happen to visit Nashville during the second week of August, the Tomato Art Fest is a must see. It’s been called one of the best festivals in the south. Admission to the festival is free and activities kick off with a concert on Friday night, then go all day Saturday. Since August in the south is usually hot enough to roast a tomato, bring water, sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat… preferably in a particular shade of red.

Downsizing Details: A (Smaller, Lighter) Good Night’s Sleep

The ResMed Air Mini is only slightly larger than my hand.

When we talk about downsizing it’s usually about getting rid of things, however an equally important aspect of downsizing is finding smaller lighter alternatives for the things that we must take with us. So, what does getting good sleep have to do with downsizing to live in an RV? Well, for those of us with sleep apnea, good sleep involves help a CPAP machine. I’ve had sleep apnea for most of my adult life. I stop breathing in my sleep which causes me to wake up just enough to start breathing again. Apnea is a Greek word that means without breath. I was never aware that I was awake, but when I was first diagnosed, I learned that it was happening hundreds of times a night causing me to lose hours of sleep! Left untreated sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or accidents caused by not being alert.

I consider myself lucky that I was diagnosed in my early thirties and was able to get help then. I will never forget the first night I spent using a CPAP because it changed my life. It happened during my very first sleep study. I was covered in electrodes and went to sleep, then at some point during the night I heard the technician say, “you’re scaring me, I’m going to put this on you” then she strapped the CPAP mask to my face. I woke up the next morning and I felt incredible! Colors were brighter, I had more energy than I had ever had and I may have even seen a unicorn! Carolyn noticed the change as soon as she saw me. The feeling stayed with me but slowly faded over the next few days. I couldn’t wait to get my own CPAP! Back then, a CPAP was roughly the size of a cinder block and took up most of my bedside table. If we went on a trip I packed it along even though it took a third of my suitcase. It was totally worth the effort. But, the charm of lugging around a cinder block, even one that makes you insanely happy, begins to wear thin and even though they got smaller over the years, my last CPAP was about half the size and weighs 3 pounds. With size and weight being a concern as we downsize, not to mention if we travel internationally, I asked my doctor about options during my last visit and he told me about something new, and, it’s a game-changer (A term I normally don’t like because it has become so over used but it’s true here).

ResMed has made a travel size CPAP called the AirMini. The device is 5.4 inches long, 3.3 inches wide and 2.1 inches high (just slightly larger than my fist) and it weighs about a half a pound. It fits, along with the power cord, hose and mask, into a bag that is about the size of a football. For comparison, my other CPAP when packed in its travel case is 13”x10”x5” and it weighs 5 pounds. The AirMini is controlled by a smartphone app currently available for iPhone and Android. The app keeps track of all your sleep data, allowing you and your doctor to see how long it’s used per night, whether your mask is maintaining a good seal and how many apnea events happen per hour then combines all of it into a score that lets you know if you are using it effectively. And, best of all, the power consumption of the AirMini is rated at less than one amp which will be important when we are relying on batteries and an inverter.

Now, the best CPAP in the world can be ruined by an uncomfortable mask and I have had a few of those through the years. I have a dent on the bridge of my nose to prove it. But, the mask I got with the AirMini is the most comfortable mask I have ever used. Period. It’s lighter with more flexible connections to the head gear and magnetic connections to make taking the mask on and off much easier. The best part is that it has no plastic bar covering the bridge of my nose so my face stays clear, allowing me to put my glasses on if I need to.

Because the hose is smaller than standard size, there are only a few masks that fit the Air Mini, pictured here is the N20 nasal mask. The others are the F20 and F30 full face masks and the P10 nasal pillow.

The only negative, and it’s a big one, is that it isn’t covered by insurance. However, when I bought my unit, my sleep specialist offered a discount to help offset the lack of insurance coverage and I was able to use my Flexible Spending Account to purchase the unit.

Let me interrupt here to say something important. Getting diagnosed and getting treatment absolutely changed my life for the better. If you have trouble sleeping at night, feel sleepy during the day or your spouse or partner tells you that you snore loudly, stop breathing or choke and gasp during the night, check with your doctor about getting a sleep study done right away. Believe it or not, one of the risk factors is neck size. Men with a neck size over 17 inches and women with a neck size over 16 inches are at greater risk of snoring and sleep apnea and loud snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea. My snoring was so loud that, while tent camping at a music festival, I had someone confront me the first morning with, “did you sleep well? Because none of us did!” It wasn’t long after that I got into my first sleep study. Please, don’t wait to get your symptoms checked.

After nearly twenty years of using a CPAP, the AirMini will be invaluable as we downsize toward life in an RV. Not only is it smaller, but it can run on 110 or 12 volt power using an adapter that costs about $70 and a battery is being developed for it, but it isn’t available yet. There is also a kit that allows you to mount it on a wall, over a drawer front, or even on the side of the bed. All of which makes it great for a mobile lifestyle in 175 square feet of living space. If you’re a CPAP user downsizing to a smaller living space, the ResMed AirMini is well worth discussing with your sleep specialist.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part!

We ordered our Leisure Travel Van Unity FX in September 2018 knowing we were looking at, approximately, an eight month wait. Last week we learned that, due to a production delay, the new expected date for our Unity is September 2019. The news was disappointing because it means we’ll be watching and reading about everyone’s summer adventures while we continue to downsize and prepare the house for sale. It feels a little like being the kid who is home sick on the day of the class field trip. But, once we learned that the delay means we will get a 2020 model with new and better features we started to feel differently, so, we spent a night listing the other ways this could be good news and that is what I want to share today.

First, and most obviously, it means we have more time to continue to downsize and prepare the house for sale. We’ve learned that downsizing needs to be done in stages. Once things start coming out of closets, drawers and cabinets one or more rooms end up looking like a hoarder’s nest until we can work our way through the piles of stuff and sort them to sell, donate or trash. To our dismay it sometimes feels like malicious elves come in at night and refill all the closets, drawers and cabinets, so, we end up clearing places multiple times. But, I am amazed that the longer stuff stays around the less I love it. Things that were once difficult to let go become easier once I see them as an obstacle to progress.

Donating items or taking them to the dump is easy. But, selling items has been harder than we first thought it would be. One reason is you have to let go of what you think something is worth because items never sell for as much as you think they should. Yard sales are humbling in that way, but they are also surprising because more than once items have sold that we thought no one would ever want. We also learned that selling items online has been more time consuming than it first appeared to be. Taking time to photograph and describe each thing, then answer questions from prospective buyers takes time, and if something doesn’t sell, we have to decide if we want to drop the price on it before it gets relisted. It sometimes takes three listing rounds before something sells.

We put higher value items on eBay because eBay’s fees wipe out a chunk of the money made from selling. I learned quickly to never put a reserve price on an auction item because they charge a huge fee to do that, and once it’s done you cannot take the reserve off when the item gets relisted. Facebook Marketplace has been a good place to sell a number of items, but you have to make sure to meet potential buyers in a busy or secure place to complete the sale. The same is true for Let Go which is the newest selling app we’ve tried. An additional frustration with Let Go, however, is that it’s designed to make selling a social experience allowing people to “Favorite” your listing – the equivalent of a Facebook Like. Favorites are filling my In Box but they aren’t clearing things out of our house!

The second positive thing is we have more time to get our cats ready. We have to make the RV a safe, comfortable home for our three furry, OCD homebodies and we will need to take things in stages for them as well. Once the RV arrives, we will scent it with our stuff and plug in a Feliway diffuser which releases a calming pheromone into the air before we bring them into the RV. Then we will let them stay in it while it’s sitting still to get used to the new surroundings before we start driving. In the meantime, knowing that we will need to restrain them on occasion and also let them go outside in a safe controlled way, we purchased a harness and tried it on our most patient cat. She handled it very well, though she did walk funny while she was wearing it. Now, we will introduce it to the other two along with lots of treats and affection, though, I also plan to have the video camera ready because it will make entertaining TV once the hurting stops. We also have to get them used to a different type of litter box with the entrance on top to keep down mess in the RV. They are all older cats who have not had a lot of changes in the lives. Hopefully all these steps will make the transition less stressful for them and for us. We’ll see.

Finally, we realized that it would suck to get our new RV literally weeks before the new model went into production with all of its upgrades. Like animals in an experiment we will get a better treat if we wait. So we are also channeling the frustrated energy into planning our new home. The RV we ordered doesn’t stay on dealer’s lots, so it’s hard to see one in person. We travelled to an RV show where we knew the type of unit we ordered would be so we could spend a long time sitting in it to see if it would be truly comfortable and I also took along a measuring tape to measure ALL of the storage areas, including the pull out pantry. Lord help me, I even built a spreadsheet of all those dimensions! That way we can begin planning how to organize our new space. I’m not planning to within a fraction of an inch – I’ve been through enough construction projects to know measurements can change – but, at least we can start looking at containers we may need and we can plan where to put specific items like clothing, kitchen items, bedding and cat items. (On a side note, while cleaning out some boxes of papers I came across a floorplan my mom drew of her last apartment. It included measurements for all the spaces and the dimensions of her furniture so she could arrange them before she moved in.  This apple didn’t fall far from the tree!)

Even though we try to keep looking on the bright side, keeping ourselves motivated is hard. To help with that we read a lot of blogs and watch a lot of YouTube. There are a number of channels that we watch regularly to follow people’s adventures in their RV’s and we are always discovering new ones. On particularly hard days we will (re)watch the Leisure Travel Van video walk-through of our model. By now, we’ve practically memorized it, and, even though we’ve never met Dean from Leisure Travel Vans in person, he’s been invited into our home more than our friends or family have in the last few months. And speaking of our friends and family, I have to take a moment to apologize to all of you that we made sit through the video with us. I’m sure it was just as painful as an overly long vacation slideshow, so, thank you all for playing along and being good sports!

It’s not always easy to keep seeing the glass as half full but we keep trying to do exactly that. Once our unit goes into production we will anxiously wait for any update, but until then we have more than enough to keep us busy and before we know it we will be out on the road.

 

Downsizing Details: My Fujifilm Love Story

As downsizing means saying goodbye to more and more things, whether through sales, donations, or simply being thrown away. I wanted to address a hobby of mine that I’m unwilling to give up. My challenge has become how to reduce the size and weight of all the components that I need so they will fit in our new life. And, that is what I want to address today.

I have been a photographer since the tenth grade. I was on the yearbook staff and we had no one to take pictures of all the events that happen around the school, so I decided to give it a try. I had no idea how to operate a 35mm camera but I pulled out the old family Argus with its giant flash with replaceable bulbs the size of a fig and worked my way through my mom’s photography textbook. I was instantly hooked!

I eagerly blinded large groups of people with that flash while I shot pep rallies and other events. I became so obsessed my parents bought me a Canon AE-1 for Christmas and my brother gave me some of his older lenses. They also signed me up for a photography course at the local community college. From there, I went on to shoot for the yearbook, the school newspaper and occasionally the local paper for the rest of the time I was in high school. I would also save up my lunch money all week then go buy rolls of film just so I could go shoot. I was in love and I have held on to my AE-1 and all my lenses even though I haven’t shot on film for many years.

I switched to digital and got a DSLR. I’ve been a Canon shooter all these years, but the cameras and lenses have grown absurdly big and heavy. Carrying my camera on trips was literally a pain in the neck and sometimes it stayed behind in the hotel because I simply didn’t want to bother with it. Not to mention that I found myself having to dig through menus to set basic functions on the camera, leaving me feeling like I was fighting the camera to take a picture. I resigned myself to leaving some functions set to auto just to cut down on having to find the right menu and the number of pictures I took that I was happy with decreased sharply. For someone who had been taking pictures for thirty-plus years it was deeply frustrating. But, I continued on the same path because I had sunk so much money into the camera and lenses and I couldn’t find an attractive alternative.

Then, quite by accident, I became aware of Fujifilm in 2015 when I saw a photographer rave about his Fujifilm X-T1 in a YouTube video.  Intrigued by what I saw, I visited my local camera store and spent some time playing with one. It was MUCH smaller and lighter than my Canon, though it felt incredibly solid in my hands. It felt almost exactly like my beloved Canon AE-1. In fact, it’s close to the same size. Looking at the specs I learned that the camera and kit lens together weighed less than my Canon 7D body alone and only slightly more than my Canon lens alone. And, being mirrorless, you see exactly what your picture will look like through the electronic viewfinder. But, the feature that made me fall in head over heels in love was that all the exposure settings, except for the aperture, were on dials on top of the camera body. The aperture setting was inside the viewfinder, but it could be set using the aperture ring on the lens. (Some of the Fuji lenses actually have an old style aperture ring) I instantly knew all my settings simply by glancing down at the top of the camera. I wouldn’t have to fight the camera!

It took some time, but I eventually bought the X-T2 and the 18-55mm “kit lens” and I am utterly and completely in love with my camera again! Since I’ve had it I’ve shot every picture using manual settings because the camera is so encouraging. And, I need to qualify the term “kit lens”. It usually refers to a lens that’s mostly plastic and not particularly good. However, Fujifilm apparently didn’t get that memo. The 18-55mm has a metal body and is a very, very good lens. I am constantly amazed at how sharp my images are and how little work I have to do to fix lens problems on my computer. I find myself shooting things I never tried in the past like shooting pictures of the Milky Way, and best of all, I look forward to carrying my camera with me.

Of course I purchased a second lens, a 14mm wide angle lens with a wide aperture an old style aperture ring AND depth of field markings above the focus ring. It looks like an update of my old Canon FD lens. And, speaking of my FD lens from the seventies. I was able to purchase a $20 adapter to attach my old Canon lenses to my Fuji camera. They are completely manual, but Fuji has a very good system for manually focus called “focus peaking”. It outlines your subject in white (or red, in my case) when it’s in focus. So I expanded my range of lens for $20! It’s not a permanent solution because digital tends to show the shortcomings of the old lenses, but it sure has come in handy when I needed a telephoto lens or risked losing a photo opportunity.

So, what does this do for me in terms of downsizing? Here are some numbers:

Size Weight
Canon 7D 5.5”x4.4”x2.9” 32.2 oz
Canon EF-S 17-85mm lens 3.1” x 3.6” 16.75 oz
Tamron 17-300mm 3.02” x 4.6” 15.34 oz
Size Weight
Fujifilm X-T2 5.24” x 3.62” x 1.93” 17.88 oz
Fujinon 18-55mm 2.56” x 2.8” 10.6 oz
Fujinon 14mm 2.6” x 2.3” 8.3 oz

The Fuji kit is over almost two pounds lighter, and that makes a big difference when you carry it around!

So, I sold my Canon gear and I also my heavy Manfrotto tripod which I replaced with a carbon fiber tripod that is two pounds lighter without sacrificing height. It also folds down much smaller, making it easier to bring along. And, that is really the key point of all the changes I’ve made. By making everything smaller and lighter I’ve made it less of a pain to bring along which increases my opportunity to shoot.

Taking the Leap

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while. Life has been having its way with us. But, we really wanted to share our BIG NEWS.

This week we held hands and jumped off the cliff. We travelled to Van City in St. Louis and ordered our new RV, a Leisure Travel Van Unity FX. The experience is so new that we can still hear the wind rushing past our ears. With luck we’ll land comfortably in our ultra-leather seats in about eight months. But, until we do we are well aware that the work has truly begun. So, why did we make this choice? Glad you asked.

We first became aware of Leisure Travel Vans in 2017. The pangs of dissatisfaction had become too much and we decided to start actively looking at RV’s. I had seen videos for Pleasureway on YouTube, a Canadian manufacturer of Class B and Class C RV’s, and we both liked the idea of a smaller vehicle. That led us to a dealer outside of Atlanta and a half day introductory education in RV’s. The first thing we learned is that a Class B is REALLY small. Neither of us liked the idea of a wet bath. Imagine hosing down your bathroom every time you shower. Yeah, it was a hard limit. If we were only using it to camp, then it might be fine, but as a way of life it wasn’t going to work for us.

The next step up is a small class C, or what they call a B+. Still built on a van chassis, it has more space, a dry bathroom and a bit more room. Definitely more liveable in the long term. It was quite an education but, what we came away with is that Canadians know how to build a high quality RV. We also spent time looking at the Class A RV’s…just in case. Class As are what most people think of when they think of an RV. They look like a bus from the outside and the interiors run the gamut from basic to over-the-top luxury. Some look like a house on the inside with residential refrigerators, dishwashers and washers and dryers. We were dazzled by the amount of wood molding and the size of the upholstered furniture and came close to giving up the idea of small and nimble in favor of a big rolling house.

Then Carolyn made an accidental discovery. One night on YouTube, she came across a video by a Canadian company neither of us knew anything about. Leisure Travel Van is located in Winkler, Manitoba and they build RV’s on a van chassis with interiors full of clean lines where everything is multifunctional. No over the top moulding, which was just off-putting. The style was an ocean away from everything else we had seen up to that point. Literally. They are much more akin to European motorhomes is their style and versatility and, being fans of clean lines, we fell in love. Hard. Our challenge, though, was to see one in person. We visited Van City in Saint Louis (the closest dealer) and came to learn that they’re sold as fast as they’re built. It is incredibly rare to see one on a dealer lot. They are also very hard to find used and their rarity means they hold their value incredibly well.

To see one in person we travelled to Tampa for the Florida RV Show. Over the course of two days we got to see every model of Leisure Travel Van in person and to make another round of the Class A’s we had looked at just to be sure about our choice. It was also our first time being immersed in the RV world, you can read about our experience here. We came home feeling a bit like Superman at that moment when he has to put his glasses back on and be Clark Kent, again. We were sure of our path forward but it was time to go back to our present reality.

We also came home from Tampa with a lot of questions that were difficult to get answered in the hustle and bustle of a giant RV show. We wrote them down as they occurred to us over the next five months, then made a second visit to Van City to get answers. What we didn’t expect was to meet temptation, but we arrived during Van City’s Anniversary celebration, part of which was having a brand new Leisure Travel Van Wonder rear twin bed prototype available to tour. We wrote about it here. It was REALLY tempting to change our minds about the RV we wanted but we managed to stay on track. Despite being busy that day, the sales rep and the factory rep took a lot of time to answer every one of our questions. I can’t thank them both enough for being so generous with their time.

This past Friday we visited again to place our order. There were spontaneous giggles and maybe some foot stomping and hand clapping during the five hour drive. We arrived at Van City just after lunch time and headed triumphantly to the door, feeling like Luke and Han Solo getting their medals at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope. We reached for the door…and found out everyone was at an RV show about a half hour away! So, we got back into the car and drove a half hour to the show, parked and found ourselves wandering in a sea of travel trailers. It took some time to find the crew from Van City, but, once we did, we sat under a tent to fill out the papers and hand over a check. It was really anticlimactic. We wandered around and looking at trailers we were never going to buy.

So what did we order? The Unity is based on a Mercedes Sprinter chassis. It’s twenty-five feet one inch long and it has two living areas inside. It features a larger-than-queen-size murphy bed, a full bath and a decent kitchen with a sink, two-burner stove and a convection/microwave oven. The interior woodwork is Chesnut Cherry, the kitchen and bathroom countertops are white corian and the upholstery is a light off-white called ‘Fog”. The interior manages to be both bright and warm and it feels far more spacious than its length suggests. Pictures and more details will be coming. Oh boy, will they be coming!

Later that night we celebrated with a visit to Insomnia Cookies on Washington Avenue, a hole-in-the-wall place that sells warm cookies, milk and ice cream. They also make ice cream sandwiches out of the cookies and ice cream and they deliver. Until 3AM! While I was inside ordering, Carolyn found herself parked behind the delivery driver. She has never been so tempted to mug someone in her life. We got a six pack of cookies and two pints of low-fat milk. Yes, low-fat because we know how to party!

We are back at home. We still have a lot of down-sizing to do, and a lot of work on the house. There are many, many decisions to be made, some of them incredibly difficult. We will still give ourselves time to dream about the future, but for now, we’ve put our Clark Kent glasses back on, hung up our capes and returned to our normal lives.

Long-Delayed Gratification – Exploring Saint Louis

St Louis is often called a fly-over city.  People fly over it on their way to one coast or another.  For us, it was more of a drive through state.  For years we have driven past it on our way to other places with no time to stop and explore. Sadly, we had no idea what to see beyond the arch which stands in front of the city as you cross the Mississippi. To our credit, we did try, but our first attempt to explore the city was cut short by an emergency back in Nashville.  But, that trip gave us our first tantalizing glimpse of what St. Louis has to offer and we knew we wanted to see more.  Finally, we have had the opportunity to explore this wonderful city full of beautiful architecture, incredible history, great food and welcoming people.

What drew us to St. Louis this time was Van City’s 48th Anniversary celebration which was an opportunity for us to talk to a representative from the Leisure Travel Van factory and ask them the questions we’ve been writing down since the Florida RV Super Show which was our only opportunity to see the entire line of RV’s in person. It was also a chance to ask the dealer specific questions about the order process.  Once we were done there, it was time to explore.

Where we Stayed

Our AirBnB was located in a neighborhood called Tower Park South, named for Tower Grove Park a huge green space that forms its northern boundary. The park and the adjacent Missouri Botanical Gardens were originally part of a much larger estate. The owner gave these two tracts of land to the city specifying that they remain parks and to this day Tower Grove Park remains the only park in the city with an independent board.  The neighborhood south of the park is full of brick homes that were mostly constructed after the street car lines were expanded from downtown in the mid-19th century. The main thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, is a broad street lined with an enticing, multicultural mix of restaurants and shops.  We absolutely LOVE this neighborhood.  the architecture of the homes on the tree lined streets made for an interesting driving conundrum, as all we wanted to do was look at the houses and not the street.  Pro tip – walk the neighborhood, don’t drive.  Also, pack your parallel parking skills.

Where We Ate

You cannot go wrong eating on Grand Avenue.  Since it was dinnertime Friday when we arrived, we made our way to a vegetarian restaurant on the corner of Grand Avenue and Connecticut Street, called The Treehouse, where we had what I can only describe as vegetarian comfort food. This was not rabbit food.  I had a very rich mushroom risotto finished with olive oil and goat cheese (vegetarian doesn’t mean light) along with a glass of Rosé and Carolyn had a mushroom ravioli also finished with goat cheese. Dessert was olive oil cake with a rosewater glaze that was like pound cake with the texture of cornbread with hints of olive oil and roses. It was a perfect late spring dinner, though we both needed an after-dinner walk!

Ikea – Don’t judge.  Swedish Meatballs are a requirement. Vegetarian ones, not so much. The salmon, however, is always a good choice.

Mango on Washington Avenue – Mango is a Peruvian restaurant a few blocks away from the City Museum. And, while the City Museum has a restaurant on the roof, once we learned their specialty was nachos we decided to look for something different. A decision that paid off in spades.

Because we didn’t have a reservation we sat at the bar where our server was incredibly friendly and helpful. She guided us through the menus and answered our questions along the way. In fact, everyone we talked to was wonderful and the restaurant is in a beautiful space.

After a Grapefruit Crush, a couple of Pisco Sours and plantain chips with fresh bright green salsa we ordered Anticuchos; a trio of skewers, one chicken, one beef, and one beef heart. They were delicious and the tangy sauce with them was an amazing accompaniment. We followed that by splitting the main course, Pescado a lo Macho, a hearty dish of roasted fish with mussels, calamari, octopus and shrimp in a rich and spicy red aji rocoto (a type of pepper) sauce served over rice and potatoes. It was amazingly flavorful with just the right amount of spicy heat. We were really glad we had split the entrée because it would have been too much for one.

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Anticuchos

Sunday Brunch at Rooster. Also located on Grand Avenue, they specialize in crepes, sandwiches, and breakfast/brunch items. I guess we should have thought about it being Father’s Day. We waited close to an hour for a table and once we were seated service was incredibly slow. Overall, it felt like the restaurant should have had half the number of tables it did. Coffee arrived lukewarm, the food took a very long time and the restroom facilities were totally inadequate to the number of guests. The food, however, was absolutely delicious. Carolyn had an egg white scramble with marinated chicken served over roasted potatoes and I had a spiced black bean crepe filled with egg whites, a little white cheddar and salsa. Basically, a quesadilla in a crepe instead of a tortilla. We finished by having a crepe filled with Nutella and topped with bananas because we cannot go to a crepe place without getting a Nutella crepe. I don’t make the rules, just sayin… We were both very happy with the food and we didn’t mind the leisurely experience because we didn’t have a deadline to meet. But, it’s something to keep in mind if you go.

What We Did

Ikea – After we spent Saturday morning at Van City, we made our requisite pilgrimage to IKEA, something we always do if we are in a city that has one. Ikea broke our hearts recently by first announcing they were coming to Nashville and then announcing they weren’t, but it is simply impossible to stay mad at moderately priced home furnishings with that dash of Swedish awesomeness. Having just climbed around the insides of our dream RVs with a tape measure, I really wanted to see what kinds of storage container options I could find.  There is no such thing as a quick trip to Ikea. Park in the garage to keep your car cool.

Photo Safari – After dinner at Mango on Saturday, the sun was just beginning to set and I wanted to get a photo of the arch before the light was gone so we walked to Keiner Plaza Park for the view of the Old Courthouse with the arch directly behind it. There was a festival going on in the park which made getting photos a bit of a challenge as I had to shoot in between groups of people taking selfies with the arch behind them. After getting a few photos and listening to music we made our way back up Washington utterly in love with the architecture.

The City Museum!!!!! – We learned that the City Museum is open until midnight on Saturdays.  This seemed odd for what we were told was a children’s museum.  Let me state for the record, the City museum is great for children, but it is even better for adults.

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The City Museum

Arriving at the City Museum we paid the admission and went straight to the 10th floor so we could be on the roof for sunset. It was our first taste of the magical wonderland (on acid) that is the City museum. The roof is a garden with water tanks, strings of lights, a school bus perched precariously over the corner of the building, a pond and lots of places for children (and some adults) to climb and explore built from recycled materials. The center of the roof is dominated by the ten story slide that starts on top of the building’s cupola then disappears through the roof into the building. There is a long spiral walkway around the cupola dome that takes you to the entrance of the slide and also gives you a phenomenal view of downtown and the roof-top ferris wheel! After the sun set we made our way back to the first floor to begin exploring the museum.

I honestly have no words that can do the City Museum justice. You HAVE to see it and spend time exploring everything it has to offer. It’s a post-apocalyptic Willie Wonka landscape built with the same glee I used to have as a kid building forts in the backyard out of my family’s discarded items. We explored caves, visited an aquarium that you exit through the mouth of a whale and even went to the circus at nine o’clock at night! Every place you look there is something magical to see. Even the floors are covered in colorful and imaginative mosaics and the occasional sculpture.

The entire museum makes extensive use of recycled materials including buses, airplanes, construction equipment, metal printing plates, building materials and even whole buildings! All put together in imaginative ways. There are restaurants and bars for the adults, and there are galleries displaying monumental salvaged architectural details some of which are rented out for events like the wedding reception that was going on during our visit. The gallery graphic panels celebrate architects like Louis Sullivan, who designed the first skyscraper and mentored a young Frank Lloyd Wright, while the labels remind you that the magical surroundings come at the cost of beautiful old buildings that have been demolished.

In addition to the roof there is also an outdoor area on the 3rd floor featuring a jet and elevated walkways that kids of any age can climb around in. There is also an art space where anyone can do craft projects. After several hours, we lifted our jaws off the floor, where they’d been since we entered, and hobbled out to the car, happy and exhausted. My advice is, when you go, be prepared to be there for hours and wear comfortable shoes! You will not believe the amount of things to see and do! Pro Tip:  After 5PM on Friday and Saturday, the price of admission goes down to $12 per person.  Since it is open to Midnight, you will get plenty of value for your money.

We have just barely scratched the surface of St Louis. There are loads of public art, festivals, the Budweiser factory (with the Clydesdales!) a stellar botanical garden and, of course, a zoo. They also have a wonderful farmer’s market and good food is all around.

Leaving a place after having so much fun is always a bit difficult and we were simply blown away by our visit. If we were looking for a city to settle down in, St. Louis would be high on our list. It has a long and interesting history and friendly people. Our list of things to see on our next trip is incredibly long, now. We will definitely go again. And, you should, too.

Ways to Stay Motivated when the Work Seems Overwhelming – Part 1

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I last posted. We’ve spent the last couple weeks tearing our house apart and getting ready to have a yard sale if it ever warms up. We’re doing this while working full-time and Carolyn is also working on a Master’s degree. We’ve cleaned out bookshelves, cleaned out the attic, made trips to Goodwill and to the dump. I’ve posted items online to sell through eBay and Facebook marketplace, which means photographing, measuring and describing everything, then answering questions and making trips out to meet buyers. We have been spending a lot of time skulking around in fast food parking lots unloading our possessions for cash, a very shifty endeavor if I do say so myself. A major life change is not a simple project. So what do we do when the amount of work ahead of us feels greater than the amount behind us and that work means letting go of things you’ve collected, in some cases, since childhood? How do we not get discouraged when winter seems unwilling to give way to spring? The fact is, we have to look outside ourselves for inspiration and motivation. I am NOT a fan of self help books but we can’t do this without help. And that is what I want to tell you about. These are some of the things we’ve found that help us when we feel discouraged. I thought, some of them might help you, too.

I’ve learned that anything you want to do, simply search YouTube and you can find a video about it. A search lead me to videos by a community of people who’ve done exactly what we are doing now. They’ve sold everything, moved into an RV and adopted a nomadic lifestyle. We have a number of favorite creators and we look forward to new episodes each week. Some of the community of folks we discovered on YouTube also have blogs where they can provide more information than a short video allows. Exploring blogs has lead to tips, product recommendations, recipes and to many other folks who are doing the same thing and writing about their experiences as well. In fact, they were the inspiration for beginning this blog.

Podcasts recently came back into my life. I’ve listened to the occasional podcast on and off through the years. Mostly, I would drift in and out of subscriptions. But, recently, I’ve drifted back in and I’ve become a fan of several inspiring podcasts. Keep Your Daydream is one I listen to regularly. The host is so enthusiastic and the guests are always engaging. They are a family who moved into a travel trailer and have been on the road to almost two years now. Their podcasts though, are about other people who have followed their dreams, whatever they may be. For the 100th episode she was joined by her husband and they shared the story of how they got on the road. Their YouTube channel is also one of our favorites.

Instagram is always a quick dose of inspiration. I follow a number of travelers and travel photographers who share photos from their adventures around the U.S. and around the world. When I need to be transported but I can’t devote time to a video, Instagram provides what I need.

The funny thing is, I was never a big reader. My wife made me a reader in college by introducing me to her favorite authors which lead me to a totally unexpected love for books. Through YouTube, I discovered a book called Take Risks by Joe Russo that has provided a lot of inspiration by telling the story of how he and his wife decided to give up their stationary life and hit the road. The book details the entire process and ends with their first day on the road. The author and his wife also have a YouTube channel and blog called We’re the Russos where they share videos about their life on the road. Another recent discovery came from an very unexpected source. I read a photographer’s website which led to a video of a Ted Talk by the author of a book I had no desire to read at all. Eat, Pray, Love was also made into a movie which just looked irritating. But, I watched the author’s Ted Talk because I didn’t recognize her name and by the time she mentioned the book I was hooked so I continued to listen and fall head over heels in love with her talk. It was about how to lead a creative life without going mad. Listening to her lead me to buy her most recent book “Big Magic” which expands on the topic of leading a creative life. It deals a lot with fear and how to manage, but not necessarily conquer, it. Because that may not be possible or even advisable. Her words and her voice have been incredibly encouraging as things have gotten harder.

Finally, a another recent discovery is a Facebook group started by another couple who gave up their stationary life and now they want to guide and inspire others by building a community. It’s amazing how many people are aiming to do the same thing! We’ve learned a lot. Mostly by lurking and reading everyone’s posts. The moderators and other more experienced members are incredibly encouraging and they provide a lot of advice to newbies!

So, these are some of the ways we’ve found inspiration to keep moving forward when the work seems overwhelming. But, I also want to leave you with a piece of advice that we’ve learned along the way. When you are planning a major change in your life; and especially if that change is outside the typical pattern of getting a job, buying a house and filling it with stuff; be careful who you share your plans with. Many well intentioned people will try to talk you out of taking the unconventional path and at times when the work is hard their words carry additional weight. Derailing plans is FAR easier than following through with them, that’s why there is never a shortage of critics. Instead, seek out those who are farther along the path you wish to travel and learn from them. Look for ways to keep your own fire burning and keep yourself on the path you have chosen. Whatever your path may be.

If you have other ways of keeping yourself inspired, share them in the comments below.

Letting it All Go

After living in our house for nearly twenty years, it’s safe to say we’ve filled it up. As we begin the process of downsizing, though, I find myself wondering where all this stuff came from and what I can do to get rid of it. Which leads me to today’s topic, rehoming our stuff. Some of it is simply stuff that should have been thrown away long ago, such as instruction books and warranty information for appliances we no longer own, gadgets that have come apart and the parts have been separated over the course of years and the 2 dozen hair picks in a bowl in the bathroom (only one of us has hair).  These were the easy things to deal with, the next part is trickier and, if you are in a similar position, I wanted to tell you what I’ve learned thus far.

If you are like a lot of people in the 21st century you probably have a collection of old electronics. The question is what to do with those old cell phones, iPads, laptops, desktops computers, and cables. Amazon has a trade-in program for tablets, Kindles, cell phones and video game consoles where you get Amazon credit for each item. But, to take advantage of the program, they have to be in VERY good condition. This might be better suited to the person who looks to upgrade as soon as a new version comes out. If, however, you are like us and you use your electronics until they literally die of old age then you may have to look for another solution. For a smart phone, check with your service provider about a trade-in. We were able to trade in our iPhone 5S’s through AT&T when we upgraded to the iPhone 10. We got enough to pay for two cases so I considered that a big win. For an old laptop, like my 2008 MacBook Pro or my iPad 2, there are people on Ebay who will buy computers for parts, so I may get a small amount of money that way.

Speaking of eBay, they will charge you a fee for enabling you to sell your stuff.  Craigslist doesn’t, but it comes with other well publicized risks. A better way is to use Facebook Marketplace. Like Craigslist, you won’t be charged a fee for selling and you’ll have to set up a place to meet your buyer, but unlike Craigslist, you have access to your buyer’s Facebook profile so you have a way to get info about your buyer before you meet to close the sale. Just remember that you will almost never get the price you ask for, so take that into consideration when setting your price. I’ve sold a number of items this way and I’ve found it a lot less of a headache than using eBay and I’ve met a few very nice people in the process.

The problem with selling items one by one online is that it takes a lot of time. If you have a lot of items you might want to explore an online consignment service such as EBTH (Everything But the House) that will take your items list them online and take a percentage of the sale. You can also look for a brick and mortar consignment shop. There are shops that specialize in everything from children’s clothing and toys to designer wear for men and women. This is a great way to make room in your closet and get a little money in the process, just don’t expect others to pay top dollar for your 1980s big shoulder padded jackets. The challenge when downsizing  is to avoid the temptation to put that money into more clothes. Lord help me, I do love beautiful fabrics! If you have books, cd’s or dvd’s to get rid of, look for a consignment store that specializes in media. Here in Tennessee, we have a chain called McKay’s that will buy books and discs for cash or store credit. They generally offer more in store credit than they do in cash, so, if you’re like us and you don’t want to be tempted to buy more be ready to accept less.

As the weather warms up, plan a yard sale. It’s a great way to get rid of a lot of stuff quickly, but it also requires a lot of preparation. Depending on where you live it might make sense to plan your yard sale for the first weekend of the month since that’s when a lot of folks get paid. Also, check to see if you need a permit because rules vary from place to place. Don’t forget to advertise in the newspaper AND online and make street signs to help traffic find you if you don’t live on a main thoroughfare. Even better, talk your neighbors into ganging up for a neighborhood yard sale.  Everyone splits the costs of signage, and crowds are bigger because they can hit lots of sales in a short time period.  On the day of the sale, don’t forget to have lots of small bills and change on hand! If you need help planning a yard sale, there are lots of resources online to help you. Simply Google “how to plan a yard sale”.  Also have plenty of coffee on hand…the best yard sales start EARLY and people will pick through your stuff at the butt crack of dawn while you are still setting it up.

Carolyn works with a fair number of young adults who are just starting out and who have limited funds, so a considerable amount of our kitchen equipment has been taken to her office and given away there. Several of her nephews have also benefitted from the great kitchen purge of 2018. (Really, how many iron skillets does one couple need?) Another donation opportunity to consider if you still have an iPod, check with local senior centers and assisted living facilities because many of them use iPods in music therapy programs for dementia patients. Finally, as you plan, strongly consider helping others by donating clothes, shoes, hats, scarfs and gloves to a local homeless shelter. These are items that are always in need as are toys, reading glasses, towels, sleeping bags and blankets. Check with shelters in your area to see what they need and how to donate. Your items may mean the world to someone in need.

Lastly, what do you do with the stuff you can’t trade in, sell or give away? Check with your local public works department to see if they have places to dispose of old electronics.  Our county operates an electronics recycling center where residents can dispose of computers, phones, cables, tv’s or even cd’s and dvd’s. They only require you to bring your ID to prove county residency so I have a box packed and ready to go there.

Our downsizing process has only just begun, and these are the things we’ve learned so far. If you have other sources that you’ve found helpful, let us know in the comments below. We need the help!

 

 

 

Goldilocks and the RV Salesmen

Through visiting at a number of RV dealers we’ve met a variety of characters in the form of RV salesmen (yes, men…so far we have not encountered a woman sales person) and we have started to develop a game where we identify the type of person we’re dealing with. It’s sort of like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” only not. In this installment, I want to share some of the types we’ve encountered and what we’ve learned about them. These are not confined to the RV industry, of course, I think anyone who has made a big ticket purchase has encountered these characters in one form or another.

Before I go further, I want to make a disclaimer as well. We know we are greener than grass. We have zero experience. We’ve done a lot of research online but we have no real world experience at all. What we have are lots of questions so our only guide is how our questions are received and how we are treated for asking them. Now, let the game begin!

The Expert

Every sales pitch begins by asking what your needs are and this first type starts just like everyone else, but, as the conversation progresses they will subtly or not so subtly discount everything you’ve said and tell you what your needs are. They usually answer your questions with some version of the question, “why do you think you need that?” And, they usually pepper the conversation with their vast experience in a rig exactly like the one you happen to be standing in. Any item we asked about, if it wasn’t already installed on the coach on the dealer’s lot, we were told we didn’t need it including solar and, in one case, a convection microwave. One Expert looked positively stunned when I pointed to a recognizable lighting control and asked if the rig had multiplex wiring.  Unless you actually buy something that day the visit usually ends with “Well, come back when you know what you’re talking about” though somewhat more gently worded, of course.

Mr. Matter-of-Fact

This second type is the one who starts his pitch with “Let me level with you…” or “let’s be honest” then he will go on to tell you everything wrong with buying an RV. He’ll point out that they are a depreciating asset and that they all arrive from the factory with problems that can take multiple visits to the service department while reminding you of the saying in the RV industry that the dealer is the last fifty feet of the assembly line. But, all of that will pale in comparison to the amazing adventures that await and he will tell you stories of his own adventures. Then, with no hint of irony he tells you that you should buy your last RV first which is, coincidentally, the one you’re sitting in where he just spent the last few minutes pointing out problems.  If he is really good, you will walk away thinking it is not only okay to purchase a rolling house that will have to go back to the dealer for numerous fixes during the first year, but that it is a part of the grand adventure and charm of the process.

Mr. Smooth

This type has been parodied in every sitcom. He calls everyone “friend” and works hard to ooze charm from every pore. Here in Tennessee, that means the southern accent gets dialed up to “Dukes of Hazzard”. He’ll tell you that you can have it any way you want. He’s glad to point out the special touches and should you find anything wrong, it can be fixed good-as-new in no time. Like the old Burger King jingle, you can “have it your way”. My experience, having worked in other industries with this type, is that “your way” ends once you’ve closed the deal.

The Unicorn

We’ve been incredibly lucky to meet this last type twice. We left both experiences feeling like we could trust the information we’d been given. This type takes time to answer your newbie questions, show you different types of rigs and explain the plusses and minuses of each. He may even take time to explain the basics of financing and what kind of training they offer a buyer when they come to pick up their rig. He will leave you feeling that you are truly on the path to figuring out what is right for you.

Looking at rigs that are too long, too high, too overdone, or too dark inside can make you feel like Goldilocks trying to pick a bed. But, it’s all too easy to be treated like “The Princess and the Pea”.  And since one of the issues that causes people to trade in their RVs after a purchase is an uncomfortable sleeping experience, stick to your guns.  Keep in mind that you may be choosing your next home so it only makes sense to do all the research you can. Go online, talk to RV owners, read blogs, and join an RV Facebook group. There is a LOT of information available on almost any kind of rig and YouTube is full of people sharing their stories from the road.

Find opportunities to walk through as many different rigs as you can because nothing beats actually sitting in a rig, laying down on the bed, opening drawers, pushing on the walls and getting a feel for it.  Then talk to the dealers. Listen for clues that will tell you the type you are dealing with and really listen to the information they are giving you but always trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right to you, leave. You may only learn that you would never want to do business with them, but that’s more than you knew before your visit.  In fact, purchasing an RV is not a single visit experience.  Buyers remorse is very real and in the case of an RV, very expensive.  One salesman (Mr. Expert) mentioned that it was normal to trade in the first RV for the second within 2 years.  Perhaps it is normal, but it is not for us.  With a payment as large as a mortgage, doing the research before purchasing can save a lot of money.  Money that we can better use running away.

If you’re out shopping for an RV or have made a purchase, let us know what you have learned in the comments below.  We would love to learn from your experience.

Cava Sangria, Feral Chickens and the Hunt for the Best Grouper Sandwich: Exploring Tampa, Florida

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Downtown Tampa just after sunset. The River Walk lights change color every few minutes. Here they are purple and green.

Our hunt for the best grouper sandwich began last summer at a restaurant in Panama City Beach, Florida called J. Michael’s. It was so good that it became an obsession that led us to visit three straight days during our weeklong stay. Heading back to the Gulf coast we found out we weren’t alone in our quest when we Googled “best grouper sandwich” and found many recommendations all over the Tampa Bay Area. But, we also discovered that the Tampa Bay area offers a lot of fun things to see and do, and a surprisingly rich history.

After we landed and dropped our bags at our AirBnB we were in need of lunch. I had read about Ulele, a restaurant that features creatively prepared local ingredients in a park-like setting. It was the first and, by far, best grouper sandwich of the trip. It was also a perfect start to our Florida adventure. If you go, do not miss the Key West Key Lime stack for dessert. Trust me on this one.

After two days at the rv show we were excited to see something other than an rv. We began our first full day of exploration by driving to the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach. Hundreds of manatees gather there in the warm water near a power station when the water in Tampa Bay gets cold. No one was very active and they reminded me of potatoes in a pot of water except that the occasional head would surface for air. However, the nature trail next to the center offers a nice trail through the wetlands to a tower where you can get a good view of Tampa Bay. After spending the morning there dodging school bus loads of kids, we drove off in search of gulf beaches and another grouper sandwich. The drive took us to Clearwater Beach and a grouper Reuben sandwich. The cold air kept us from exploring the beach on foot so we drove south along the beaches eventually crossed back to St. Petersburg and made our way to downtown Tampa on a path that took us along Bayshore Boulevard. The long curving boulevard on the edge of Tampa Bay boasts the world’s longest continuous sidewalk and offers a stunning view backed by the beautiful homes of the Hyde Park neighborhood.

I love photographing cityscapes as the sun sets and the River Walk in downtown Tampa was a great place to get views of the city and the old Tampa Bay Hotel, a Moorish Revival building across the river that is now the centerpiece of the University of Tampa. We spent time watching the lights come on as the sun went down and I took a lot of pictures until it was dark and we ventured off for another less than stellar grouper sandwich before heading back to our hotel.

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Plant Hall at the University of Tampa is the former Tampa Bay Hotel.

Our last day started with French crepes and Greek coffee at La Creperia Café in Ybor City just northeast of downtown Tampa, an area that was our favorite discovery of the trip. It was founded in the late nineteenth century as a factory town to house the Cuban workers for a cluster of cigar makers. Over the years, immigrants escaping pogroms in Eastern Europe and the violence and repression that accompanied Italy’s unification also came looking for work in the cigar factories and helped create an incredibly diverse and vibrant city that was soon swallowed by the growing city of Tampa. The Ybor City Museum State Park does an amazing job of telling the story. I work in museum exhibits and love to visit other museums either to see a specific exhibit or because the subject interests me. Every once in a while, though, I am surprised by a real gem with a compelling story told well through pictures and artifacts. This is one of those special places. Located in a former Italian bakery famous for its Cuban bread, it also tells the history of the building and its huge brick ovens. A particularly harrowing story is that of the man who specialized in repairing the ovens without cooling them off! The story in six words. Water. Burlap. Nerves of steel. Yikes! My advice is to visit the museum first then walk the neighborhood. There are restaurants, bars and cigar stores where they still roll cigars in the front window. There are also families of feral chickens wandering the streets – a link to the past when workers brought chickens with them from Key West. Now, they roam the streets protected by law and they have their own Facebook page.

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Ybor Museum State Park is located in the former La Joven Francesa Bakery the brick built in 1922 by Francisco Ferlita to replace the original wooden structure built in 1895.

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Some of the wild chickens that roam the streets of Ybor City

Ybor City’s mix of cultures also gave birth to the Cuban sandwich – roast pork from Cuba, salami from Italy, mustard and pickles from Eastern Europe. A restaurant that opened in 1905 to make Cuban sandwiches for the cigar workers has become a landmark that is still owned and operated by the same family. Columbia Restaurant is an experience you cannot miss. This “Gem of Spanish Restaurants” has a menu that features dishes dating back to its opening days. It reads like a history book. It’s full stories behind the dishes and it dishes a little gossip from the restaurant’s past. We went for dinner two nights in a row after exploring RV’s all day. Carolyn LOVES sangria so we were especially excited to try their signature Sangria de Cava which features champagne, brandy, orange liqueur and fresh fruit mixed in a pitcher tableside. It was so good we had it both nights. Dinner the first night was the incredible Grouper “Bilbao”. A generous piece of grouper on a bed of tomatoes, onions and potatoes roasted in a clay pot. It was perfectly cooked and it was simply perfect for the two of us. Dinner the second night was Mahi-mahi “Cayo Hueso” which featured a piece of marinated fish with “Good Rice” (a vast understatement), yucca and plantain. The rice really was absolutely addictive and made a perfect dish for a chilly night.

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Grouper “Bilbao” at Columbia Restaurant.

Our last stop was a quick trip to the Lowry Park Zoo before driving to the airport. It’s not large but it is worth a visit. It’s divided into geographical areas; Florida, Asia, Africa, and Australia. The animals all have roomy enclosures and they do an excellent job of telling visitors about the different animals on graphic panels throughout the park. Plus, they offer unique experiences like feeding a giraffe and running with wallabys. Unfortunately, the day we visited was fairly cold so most of the animals that are used to tropical climates were either inside or were huddled in their enclosure keeping warm.

Though we went for the Florida RV Super Show, we are both really glad we spent time exploring the Tampa Bay Area. We barely skimmed the surface and we can’t wait to go back. It also makes a great starting point for exploring the central gulf coast.

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