Aquarium of the Bay

On Tuesday, I caught the CalTrain from Sunnyvale, where I’m visiting family, up to San Francisco.


That experience is a blog in and of itself that I’ll save for later.  Once in San Francisco, I caught the E light rail trolley down to Fisherman’s Wharf and over to Pier 39, home of the Aquarium of the Bay.


You begin on the 3rd floor and look at some of the denizens who reside in San Francisco Bay.


Then you take the elevator down to the first floor and the walk through tubes that represent the waters of the Bay, without all the cloudiness that is actually present.



The jellyfish are set to the side, then you begin your walk-through.  I guess it is tiring being a display fish, as I found several just resting on their laurels (or tank shelf).





There was also two large fish that looked like something you would find in the fossil record.


Certainly made it easy to photograph them.  Next, you come to a small break with displays of some other creatures that wouldn’t do well in the tunnels, including crabs and rock clingers.


Oh, and this guy.

Then, you move on to the larger tunnel, featuring sharks, rays and sturgeons.



Finally, you take the elevator back upstairs to see the touch labs and the river otter exhibit.


We arrived just in time to watch the feeding and the training they do with the otters.


While not the least expensive place I’ve ever visited, if you keep in mind this is California, then the prices aren’t as bad.  For anyone 13-64, general admission is $26.95, ages 4-12 is $16.95, and seniors 65+ are $21.95.  There are optional add ons of behind the scenes tours or shark feedings plus options of adding on other attractions in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.



Jolley Trolley

After living in the Tampa Bay area for the last 15 years, I finally took the time and rode the Jolley Trolley.  I mentioned the Trolley in my last post, when I finally made it over to Clearwater Beach.  I was going to try it yesterday, but the timing didn’t pan out, so I drove up to Dunedin to catch it, since Dunedin lies in the approximate middle of the Coastal Route.



I decided to try and start on the Northbound route, which took me up to Tarpon Springs, which Mom and I visited when we came home for my doctor’s appointment in August.  Since it was one of the first runs of the morning, the trolley was pretty empty.  That gave me my choice of seats (so I snagged a window).  Then, we were off to Tarpon Springs.



Since I’ve already talked about Tarpon Springs, I won’t go into details, but it was nice to be able to get off and stretch my legs.  I walked around for a little bit, but my main goal today was to ride the Trolley all the way, so I hopped back on and headed south to Clearwater.


Also already talked about, but once again, Florida was showing off her beauty, so I had to snap a few shots as the Trolley rolled from North Clearwater Beach to South, over a causeway.


I snapped one more shot before deciding to call it a day, though I could have easily kept on the trolley for hours.


For $5, you can ride all day and get off and on as many times as you wanted.  You can stop for lunch on the beach, head back up to Tarpon Springs for dinner and still be able to ride until the last Trolley goes to bed.  I’m glad I was finally able to get to do this Clearwater staple and highly recommend it for anyone who wants to see these areas without having to shell out for gas.


Clearwater Beach…Take 2

After yesterday’s clear signs that I wasn’t supposed to go to Clearwater Beach that day, I decided to try again this morning.  Based on the lack of lost dogs or multiple fire trucks, I figured I was safe to head out there today.  And I was RIGHT!


It was slightly warmer today, though not what many Floridians would consider hot, so the beach was relatively clear.  There were people there, but nothing like what it would be during Spring Break or the summer months.  And I noticed that the items washing up on shore were different from what I had been seeing on Indian Rocks beach.



Multiple sponges and horseshoe crabs were littering the tide line, along with many fish carcasses, but since those are less than picturesque, I opted not to digitally collect those.

I parked down by Pier 60, a major landmark along Clearwater Beach.  Parking was $3 per hour, but still worth it.



They were doing some cosmetic work up top, so I opted to get the view from below.

Before I decided to stroll along the Beach Walk, I opted to check out the different boat tours operated out of the marina.  The first one to catch my eye was The Original Pirate Cruise aboard a pirate ship.


It has been in operation for 40 years and is one of the more recognizable in the Clearwater area.  But it isn’t the only themed ship to sail these waters.  I also checked out Mega Bite , a 40 foot dolphin sighting tour.


There are even more than what I’ve listed here, including the Encounters with Dolphins sightseeing cruise, that also stops at Compass Island to collect seashells, snorkel and treasure hunts for the kids.  Prices vary with each tour company, so check their websites out to see which one is more in line with what you want to do.


One great thing about the area is the Jolley Trolley, which runs from Tarpon Springs to the north down into Clearwater Beach, with stops along the way, including Dunedin (which I talked about in an earlier blog).  You can ride all day and get on and off multiple times for only $5.  Multi day tickets can be purchased from their website as well.



With multiple hotels and restaurants dotting the main road and facing the beach, there are lots of places to stay and play along one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida.  Easy to get to even if you’re not staying right on the beach, a trip to this destination should be high on your list when you’re in the Tampa Bay area.


Not Meant To Be

So, this morning, I planned on heading into Clearwater Beach and getting some pictures of it.  The temperatures were low, around 50 when I was first heading out, perfect for leaving the beach with less beach combers.  As I unlocked Red Rover, a small black dog, looking like part Shih zu or Brussels Griffon with a severe underbite, came running up to me.  He had no collar and looked like he had been out for a day or two but not terribly messed up.  He, well, we’ll call it a bark, barked a bit at me.  I took his picture and sent it to my sister-in-law, but she didn’t know if he belonged to anyone in her neighborhood.  So, I called up animal control.  As I was talking to the lady, the dog jumped into Rover and settled down in the passenger seat.  So, instead of heading out to the beach, I took the little cutie to animal control, who didn’t find a chip, but promised to look for his owner.

Okay, so I head back to the house to shower and change (because he could have had fleas, even if I couldn’t see them), throwing my original clothes in the washer, before once again heading out towards the beach again.

As I began to get close to the overpass, a fire truck and ambulance went flying by me.  But I continued on, figuring they could be headed anywhere in Clearwater.  Then another couple fire trucks and other police and fire cars went flying by.  Soon, I’m stuck in a line of cars are more fire and law enforcement fly up the opposite side of the street.  Twenty minutes later, I realized that there was no way to get to the beach.  The main street was completely closed down.  I turned around (and around and around) and headed home.

Obviously, I wasn’t meant to go to the beach today.


Shell Collecting

It was a beautiful Florida winter day, so I decided to grab my camera and head over to Indian Rocks Beach on the Gulf Coast.  The wind was blowing off the Gulf, making it a pleasant walk as I did my version of shell collecting.  I like to leave them for everyone to enjoy, so I just take pictures to carry them with me.






While the perfect ones are pretty, its the ones that are slightly broken that I really like, because they still have beauty in their imperfections.

I don’t want you to think I ignored the water.  I let the soothing shushing sound act as background noise.



And no trip to the beach is ever complete without the presence of those loud, squawking beach combers, seagulls.



I parked at the 17th street public park, where parking is $2 for 2 hours.  Plenty of time to soak up the sun and let stress slip away for a bit.  A trip to Indian Rocks Beach should be on your list if you’re visiting the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area.


On Pause

A few weeks ago I wrote about Mom going into the hospital and our positive views on her getting out.  While she did get out, her heart just wasn’t strong enough and she left this plane of existence to join my Dad in the next.  She will be extremely missed by my family and her friends near and far.

That being said, what does this mean for me?  Well, I’ll be focusing on getting everything settled and pretty much stationary in the Clearwater, FL area.  Perhaps there will be a trek or two around the Pinellas County area, but for now, it will probably be quiet for the next week or two.  Please keep your email notices on and hopefully I’ll have something coming down the pike in a bit.  Thank you for all your thoughts and well wishes during this time.




Our Medical Saga cont.

So, how did we end up sitting in a hospital outside Orlando for over 2 weeks?  Well, after leaving Crystal River, Florida, we headed inland towards Ocoee, a suburb of Orlando, to stay in a boat house on Starke Lake for the holidays.  Set up like a studio apartment, the view was stunning, right on the water.  We spent Christmas watching bits of the fireworks from Walt Disney World and just relaxing.  It wasn’t until we closed in on New Year that things took a turn.

The evening of the 28th, we had done some grocery shopping and had pre-made items from the local Publix.  Mom suddenly became sick, but we looked up the symptoms and found food poisoning.  We went with that hypothesis because by morning, Mom was feeling a bit better, but not perfect.  In the middle of the night, though, things turned again.  She was having trouble breathing and feeling anxious and some chest tightness.  She’d fall asleep sitting up but then wake up an hour or so later unable to breathe.  Finally, we called 911.

They had to off-road to get to the boat house, but they got Mom out and on to a stretcher, then loaded her into the ambulance.  Then, I hopped in Red Rover to follow.  There were a few moments of panic because they turned on the sirens and lights and blew through a light.  Since the Kia Soul does not come with such a light and sound package, I had to wait at the light until it turned. Luckily, I was able to use the GPS to find my way.

No one seemed especially worried when I got in, but about half an hour in, a young ER doctor popped in, casually announced Mom was in the middle of a heart attack and that they were taking her up to the heart cath lab to get checked out.  He made it sound almost routine.  So, I was escorted up to the waiting area and told someone would be out to talk to me once they were done.

Two hours later and several paniced text between my brothers and myself,  the cardiologist came out and informed me it was a significant heart attack and laid out exactly what happened.  She had one artery that was completely unusable.  A second was blocked at 70% and they blew the clot out.  The third artery they had to put a stent in.  Because of the blown out clot, they inserted a balloon pump to act as a way to keep the clot from settling somewhere else.  It was a temporary measure and only in for a little over a day.

Because of the damage the heart had sustained from the attack, some of her other organs got into disarray and began acting up.  Fluid started filling her lungs.  Her kidneys didn’t want to do their job.  Even her liver seemed to be throwing a minor temper tantrum.  The heart was fixed, but then all these other issues kept popping up, making her recovery time longer.

So, at the end of the day, we’re still waiting on her release from the hospital, but she has heart failure and will have to wear an external defibrillator, of which I am familiar as I wore one after my own heart failure hospital stay.  She’ll also have to have some physical therapy and our diet is going to take a big change.  More ‘home cooked’ food, less pre-processed.  Moderating our sugar and salt intake will also be on the agenda.  We’re still hopeful that her health will improve enough to travel again.  She’s a strong woman and I have full faith in her full recovery.

So, we might not be posting as often and it will likely focus on Florida for the next while, but we’re still planning on getting out and seeing things.  Hey, Florida is a big state and there’s more to see in Central Florida than just Disney and Universal.  So our adventures will be slightly closer to home for now.


Why We’ve Been Quiet Lately

Some of you may have wondered why we haven’t posted since our stay in Crystal River last month.  Part of it was due to the holidays. Being home with family can take up quite a bit of time.  But, for the most part, we’ve been quiet because Mom suffered a heart attack on December 30th.

Which brings us to our topic of this particular post, what happens when you have a medical emergency while traveling.  We can’t speak to traveling in a foreign country, only here in the US for US citizens.  For that, I would suggest to check with that country before traveling.

Before you travel, check to see that your health insurance will travel with you.  If you have an HMO, contact your insurance provider to see what their policy is if you get sick when out of your home area.  If you’re the proud owner of a PPO, you’re pretty safe, though you’ll be paying more out of pocket than you would back home.

Find out where the nearest medical facility is.  Even if it is just a ‘doc-in-a-box’, aka Urgent Care Clinic, know where it is and how to get there.  It is better to be over-prepared in a medical emergency situation than under prepared.

Make sure your wishes are known.  Even if it is just a card in your wallet, have something prepared that let’s the medical personnel know if you want to be resuscitated or intubated or who your medical proxy might be.  If you have a traveling companion, make sure they know what your wishes would be in this instance as well.  There were some times when I had to be called on to make decisions for Mom while she was not able to make them on her own.

Trust local medical professionals.  When the ambulance came to get Mom from the AirBnB we were staying in, they asked where she wanted to be taken.  She asked for the best one and they made the decision based on their experiences.  And I can honestly admit that she has had the best care.

No matter what, you can’t plan for everything.  There are just too many variables that could take all your careful plans and flush them down the toilet.

More to come tomorrow.


Weeki Wachee Springs-Home of Florida’s Mermaids

This morning, we headed down the road about half an hour from Crystal River, to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.  Weeki Wachee is a Seminole phrase for Winding River and is an appropriate name.  The river winds down into the Gulf of Mexico from a deep spring that remains a constant 74 degrees year round and is 99.8% pure water.  The attraction was established in 1947 by former frogman Newt Perry, who took his Navy diving knowledge and taught young women how to use hoses to breathe underwater, becoming mermaids.  It was a privately owned attraction until the state of Florida took over operations in 2008, turning it into a state park.



With the holiday season upon us, we opted to get there early so we could see the early show of the mermaids.  There is also a water park attached to the main attraction, which is included with your admission.


Mom thinks she missed her calling and should have been a mermaid herself.


But it was time to watch the professional mermaids make breathing underwater look easy.



It can take quite a bit of time to learn how to swim in the mermaid fins and breathe through the hose, as well as learning how to go up, down, sideways and all the other tricks they perform underwater in front of a theater that can hold up to 500 people.



After being thoroughly impressed with the performance of the mermaids, we decided to take the 25 minute boat trip up the river that feeds out from the springs where the mermaids perform.


Florida state law prohibits the touching or feeding of manatees and Weeki Wachee made sure to reinforce that information in the nicest way possible.


No manatees were in the Weeki Wachee today, but the ride was still nice and we got to view some Florida flora.



Upon disembarking, we ran into the other creature that Weeki Wachee is known for: their wild peacocks.  One decided to go on full display.


Then he decided we needed to see what the back of the feathers looked like.


The admission is very reasonable, at $13 per adult, children ages 6-12 are $8 and anyone under 6 is free.  The ticket includes all the shows as well as admission to the water park, Buccaneer’s Bay.  The mermaid shows do change and can be cancelled due to weather.  This is Florida, after all.  This state park is a good glimpse back at ‘Old Florida’.  It really is some place that should be experienced if you’re ever on Florida’s Nature Coast.


Scenic River Cruise to King’s Bay

On our holiday trek back to Florida, we’re spending the next few days at The Plantation on Crystal River, in Crystal River, FL.  One of its many offerings is an hour long cruise on King’s Bay, the outlet of Crystal River before spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.  One of the things Crystal River is known for is being one of the wintering spots for manatees.  When the Gulf gets cooler, manatees head up the rivers on Florida’s Nature Coast, gathering in large pods to keep warm.

There was only another couple on the boat with us, so it was easy to move around.  The captain, Brian, and his one person crew, pulled us out of the berth and out into the open water.  It was in the upper 70’s, a perfect Florida winter day.  The wildlife were definitely out.



The first picture of two trees shows an island that once held a house.  The second is another abandoned house sitting on its own island.  Both were made uninhabitable by hurricanes.  Then, we found manatees.






Some sped on by while another manatee just cruised along with our boat until stopping for a snack.  As we cruised along, looking for others, we spotted dolphins.  The dolphins find a school of fish, circle around them, and then dive in to snatch up a fish or two.  They did this a couple times as we watched.




Once they were done, they opted to cruise along the bow of the boat for a bit.




At only $15 per person for adults and $10 for children under 12, this is a wonderful way to spend an hour on the water.  You don’t have to be staying at The Plantation on Crystal River to partake of the tour.  Because the manatees and dolphins are wild animals, no guarantee of sightings can be made, but the captain will do all they can to make the trip as enjoyable as possible.