Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Finding Christmas on Treasure Island, Florida OLA

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Finding Christmas on Treasure Island, Florida OLA

the colors of the Holidays...on the beach! 
This Christmas felt different from the others Bill and I have spent together. 2007 was white and freezing at -31 degrees C (-24 F) in Calgary, Alberta with Claudine and family!  In 2008 we were with Trisha and family, wet and cool in Seattle, Washington. Then it turned sunny and warm at the Suwannee River Music Park in Florida on our first Christmas in the RV. Back in Seattle in 2010, it was unfortunately white and cold! This year, it was particularly hard to find the spirit, especially after Bill’s close call (please see .

Bill and his glass of wine at the condo
So we went to find it in another new place but, this time, away from our everyday home, a vacation from the RV! We booked a unit at the Sand Pebble Resort of Vacation Internationale (Bill’s time share) in Treasure Island, Florida, one of thirteen beaches around the Tampa Bay area, the region of west central Florida adjacent to Tampa Bay, almost 2 hours from Orlando. It is also known as the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area with an estimated population of 4 M.
the quiet beach at the back
                                                                                                                                                                                                     We had almost forgotten how comfortable condo living is! Our 1-BR unit was spacious enough for 2 couples and had a view of the Gulf of Mexico from the balcony. At the ground floor of the resort is a hot tub, heated pool, pool table, and bar. Every afternoon there was an activity: bingo, ice cream socials, count the shells, etc. But it is the quiet beach at the back that was the best of all!

Like the other years, we got busy looking for stocking stuffers for our Christmas Eve opening of gifts. Bill and I happily lost each other at the Mustang Florida Flea Market for an hour to hunt for the little treasures. Not satisfied with our haul, we went to the Tyrone Square Mall to complete our finds. Each stash was carefully guarded and closed tight so no intruder can take a peek until the proper time! I spent a total of $25; I hoped that Bill did not spend too much more!

another kind of White the beach!
 The following day we went for a long drive…all along the Gulf Blvd that connects all the 10 barrier islands and 13 beaches, collectively known as the Tampa Bay Beaches.  It was never-ending miles of beach homes, condo-resorts, and palm trees. The best of them all is to the north in Clearwater, Florida, just before reaching the Honeymoon Island State Park…Clearwater Beach, famous for white powdery sand (Boracay in the Philippines is pink powdery). We discovered a beach haven much bigger than the Keys, adjacent to a good metropolitan area, and a place where we could conceivably settle (we whispered to each other).

cigars being hand-rolled at Ybor City
Then the next day we discovered legendary Ybor City in Greater Tampa, Florida which became the ‘Cigar Capital of the World’ after Don Vincente Martinez-Ybor moved his cigar factory from Key West to Tampa in the early 1900s.  Other cigar-makers followed, building their own factories. Immigrants from Spain, Cuba and Sicily came to work in them, Romanian merchants opened stores while German lithographers brought the latest in technology to print the cigar labels. Today it is a lively entertainment and arts district, complete with demonstrations of hand-rolling cigars.

at the condo's living room ready for Noche Buena
On Christmas Eve, Bill and I attended a joyous mass at St. John Vianney in St. Pete's Beach, Florida with a little pageant of kids as angels, shepherds, and the Three Kings around the Nativity Scene at the altar.  Then we came home to our Noche Buena of maple/honey glazed ham, Dubliner cheese, fancy crackers, and Christmas stollen. At almost the stroke of 12, Bill got his new polar bear jammies, pristine white hankies, and a heart warmer for cold hands!  He definitely spent more! I got new diamond earrings (to replace the ones I had lost), new fit-over dark glasses (to replace the one I lost) plus a little purse! Talks with my kids on the phone capped our Christmas Eve.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge
After a light left-over breakfast, off we went to complete our drive to the south end of Gulf Blvd for a couple more beaches and the feat of engineering, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge!  Back at the condo, a light lunch preceded our one last time at the hot tub and Skype sessions with Bill's kids.  And to cap a relaxing vacation, we went to see Mission Impossible on the big screen and dined at Joey's Famous Pizza Kitchen in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida to spare me from more cooking!

Christmas tree among the palm trees
Christmas this year was surely different, reliving life in a condo.  We found it in bits and pieces everywhere. But we found it most in us and in Him.  We are a couple who found each other late in life but early in dreams. The Christmas spirit, after all, is the special kinship He has made possible and why we are here, together.