Earlier last month, E. and I had an amazing time in Florida in the company of Rebekah and her husband F. They live in Tampa and we stayed there a little bit before and after taking a road trip down to Miami and the Florida Keys together.
Florida is still very warm in September and it is also quite humid in general, meaning not only some incredibly frizzy hair but also the perfect condition for mosquitoes. Luckily, my mum had sent us an amazing French mosquito repellent spray and it worked wonders. Else, I think we would have been covered in bites.
We spent a fair bit of time relaxing with our friends at their house, cooking delicious things for each other and going food shopping (I love checking out supermarkets when I travel to a different country and I almost get lost every time we visit one in the USA, it is just so big!).
We also did a bit of local exploring in Tampa and St Petersburg together and I thought I would share a few things here.
Actually, being able to travel by car was a plus in a lot of places we went to. E. and I picked up our international driving licences before the trip and if you are European traveling to the USA, don't forget to get one if you are planning on renting a car and driving there!
Tampa is really spread out and we were amazed by how long it took to get from our friends' house to the city.
We happened to arrive during Labor Day weekend so our visit of the city on a Saturday was relatively quiet.
Our first stop was a local spot for breakfast. If there is something I always look forward to when I visit the USA, it's breakfast! The choices are always so varied. That morning, I had pancakes with Canadian bacon and eggs sunny side up. I also had a side of cheese grits because I had never tasted grits before and when in the South, you may as well get a taste of Southern food. As you can imagine, this left me really full for quite a while!
In Tampa city centre itself, we visited the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, how could we not with two of us being photographers! There we saw works by Jerry Uelsmann (which reminded me a lot of Magritte paintings) and Shai Kremer. There seems to be regular interesting exhibitions there, a stop worth it if you have an interest in photography!
We then went to Oxford Exchange for a refreshing drink and a bite (this had to wait a bit since we were all still full from breakfast). The place is divided in little areas: coffee station, tea station, a beautiful shop, a restaurant and, I believe, even membership work space upstairs. You could easily spend the day there, set up your computer and do a bit of work while sipping iced tea or just people watch (there was a great collection of 'who is going to be the most dressed up to go get coffee or tea' type of clientele). We grabbed some takeaway drinks (I had a wonderful unsweetened Madam Apricot iced green tea from the Tebella Tea Company) and browsed all of the pretty things. And you could indeed get some very pretty things for your house there, including some lovely candles and lots of beautiful Rifle Paper Co. stationery. When we finally got a bit hungry, we went to the restaurant and shared a chicken burger with sweet potato fries between us. It was really flavoursome with jalapeño and feta mixed in the burger. We also ordered fried avocado wedges and this was truly the highlight of our meal, they were so delicious!
On our way back home, we felt obligated to stop at the Mini Doughnut Factory. How could you resist those adorable little doughnuts! The queue was quite big when we got there. Once we placed our order, 4 mini doughnuts each, we waited for nearly an hour but it was all worth it. Each order is very individual (as well as existing flavours, you can make up your own) and it was fascinating watching all of those miniature doughnuts being made and decorated with care. Our range included such flavours as s'mores, Homer Simpson (strawberry glaze and sprinkles), Boston Creme, maple syrup and bacon, birthday cake, etc. The little doughnut texture itself was really lovely and fluffy. We did not eat them all in one go (even though that would have been easily done, they are so tiny!) and paced ourselves throughout the evening.
For the rest of our stay while in Tampa, we mostly shared meals at home, cooking for each other.
On our last day there, we all went to Rebekah's parents' house where her mum had prepared a delicious array of Southern dishes for lunch. This is one thing to travel and eat different foods but having a homemade meal by someone local is even better! We had fried chicken, potato salad, lettuce and an assortment of salad things, mac and cheese (I want to insert all the heart eyed emoticons here), warm bread rolls straight out of the oven and delicious apple pie for dessert. This is comfort food at its best!
And when in America... go and hit some balls at baseball cages! While Rebekah and F. had to do some work, E. and I borrowed their car to explore the neighbourhood and go and try the baseball cages at a local game centre we had spotted. I went straight for the softball area and slower balls so I was able to hit quite a few. It was fun watching the line of kids beside us training for little league baseball. Also, they were wayyyyyy better than us!
Now, let's explore St Petersburg, or St Pete, a little bit!
The SHINE St Petersburg Mural Festival was on and we definitely wanted to check out the street art the city has to offer. There are definitely lots of murals everywhere so it would be hard to miss it.
After walking for a while in the hot sun (I guess it is called the 'Sunshine City' for a good reason), we stopped quickly at The Hyppo for a refreshing gourmet popsicle before continuing with our walk and exploration of the city centre. There was so much choice it took us a while to decide, meaning we could spend a bit longer in an air-conditioned environment too! I eventually settled on a guava and hibiscus popsicle and E. picked one with pistachio and rosewater. They were so delicious and packed with flavours, you could definitely taste the freshness of the ingredients. We sat for a few minutes at one of the tall tables enjoying our iced treats and went on with our walk.
I had taken note of a few spots for lunch and since a few were closed for the weekend, we walked further and found another place we had heard good things about: Bodega. We only went there for one thing in particular: their famous Cuban sandwich. And because we were all so original that day, we ordered the same sandwich. Well, we knew from the start there was no way we would be sharing so that's that! We also added sides of rice, black beans and caramelised plantain. One bite of the Cuban sandwich and we were all in lunch heaven. It had roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mayonnaise and pickles. The pork was so tender and juicy and well balanced with the creaminess of the cheese and mayonnaise encased in some wonderful toasted Cuban bread. I will dream of that sandwich for a while and my friends will confirm its deliciousness: out of all the Cuban sandwiches they have tried in Florida, it is the best for them so far. A little pause and plenty of water later, we walked back out and went back to the car so we could take a little drive towards the harbour.
It was getting a bit hot outside so we quickly checked out the Dalì Museum building (E. and I had already visited an incredible exhibition of his work back in Australia) and headed back home for a bit of Sunday evening relaxing time and also packing our bags for the next few days in Miami and the Florida Keys.