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Clearwater Beach

I’d have to say one of the best things about living in Tampa is being less than 30 minutes away from some great beaches. Clearwater Beach is consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in the United States. It has wide strips of white sand, warm water, amenities, and a vibrant downtown if you want to go for a walk or find something to eat. I would add one disclaimer, though: The water is not as clear as you might imagine. We would put it at a 7 on our scale where 10 represents the Caribbean and 0 represents the Chesapeake Bay.

We have been to this beach two Saturdays in a row. You probably want to get there very early (before 9 AM) to find parking. If you want to rent a beach umbrella and chairs you really need to get there before noon..

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My Walk Through History

I was doing some thinking this weekend about all the historic places and events I’ve witnessed and devised a chart to cover some of them.

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Tarpons Baseball

My earliest memories of professional baseball are going to minor league games in Hagerstown. The Hagerstown Suns were a Baltimore Orioles-affiliated minor league team at the time, so occasionally you would see a major leaguer that had gone down to the Suns for rehab. I had some of my best birthday parties at that minor league park.

I learned how to keep a scorecard under the tutelage of my father; a skill that came in handy when I got myself a job as an assistant coach for my sister’s softball team. I guess those memories are what has always attracted me to going to see a minor league game, even more so than the major leagues. The stadiums are never as big, the crowds as big or the lines as long.

I decided to take a little time (and leave Amanda to do some work on a presentation without me distracting her) and go see the New York Yankees’ single-A affiliate in Tampa, the Tarpons. The team may be the lowest rung on the minor league but the stadium definitely is not. The Yankees use the stadium for spring training so it is one of the largest single-A stadiums I can ever remember seeing.

I got to the stadium and bought my $5 ticket at the window just in time for a thunderstorm to roll in; the game was delayed. The rain only lasted for about 20 minutes but there was an eye on the sky has several thunderstorms had been predicted for the day. I didn’t mind sitting under the overhang as the rain came down. I really didn’t have anywhere I needed to go.

The sun was reluctant to come out but the game continued giving me a peek at my new home team.

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Under the Sea Out of the Sun

We did a little exploring yesterday and found ourselves at the Florida Aquarium. The compact aquarium on three floors along the water in downtown Tampa seems to be a great way to beat the heat. You get the chance to have some close encounters with various animals for free, too. The Ray pool lets you reach in and touch the graceful rays and small sharks as they swim by. You can even pet some of invertebrates like starfish in the “No Bone Zone.”

We found one of the best parts to be the introduction to many of the local species of fish, bird, and reptile. The admission was about $33 per adult. You will actually pay less at the official parking for the aquarium than one of the private gravel lots. We left the Florida Aquarium happy that it was our chosen way to spend the day.

A Sea Turtle

A Different Kind of Sea Turtle

Alligator

Turtle Swimming

Nurse Shark

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Going Greek in Tarpon Springs, Florida

We’ve written about Tarpon Springs, the capital of the natural sponge industry, before but that article was mainly based on research. We’re now living only 25 minutes from Tarpon Springs and figured it’d be a fun way to kick off our holiday weekend.

The first thing we want to tell you is don’t use the first parking lot you see. It can cost three times more than the smaller lots farther down the sponge docks. The sponge docks is a street of gift shops, restaurants, and museums dedicated to the sponge industry. You will also find several tour boats offering one- and two-hour tours that focus on the ecology and history of the region. We hopped on a one-hour tour that took us down the Anclote River to the Gulf of Mexico. We didn’t spot any dolphins but enjoyed the chance to get out on the water.

We also took a few minutes to enjoy the Hellas Bakery, which features a wide variety of Greek and Greek-inspired desserts and sweets. The air conditioning and shade was almost as sweet as the baklava tiramisu.

The sun is intense in Florida. You’ll want to make sure you’re wearing sunscreen even if you’re only walking around visiting the shops. We plan on making more trips to this wonderful little seaside hamlet during our time in Florida.

Sponge Boat

Sponge Diving Mural

Sponge Boat in Dry Dock

A great welcome sign—- it is also next to the most expensive parking lots

Baklava Tiramisu
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A Little Honeymoon

We’ve been living in Tampa for almost a month now and we’ve finally settled in enough that we decided to take a little trip to the beach. Amanda asked around at work and the gym to get recommendations for which beach to try first. She got several answers and after doing some research we settled on Honeymoon Beach at Honeymoon Island State Park.

Honeymoon and its sister Caladesi were originally one island; they were halved by a hurricane in 1921. The island became a popular destination in the 1940s when it was marketed as a honeymoon get-away-from-it-all spot. The second world war closed the resort and it fell into disrepair. The state of Florida purchased the island in and its sister in 1974 and created the state park in 1981.

The trip there from our apartment only took about 30 minutes. It’s the fastest we’ve ever made it to the beach from our homes in our lives. We got there around 11 and the park was filling up fast. Entry to the park costs $8 per vehicle (up to 8 passengers). The beach itself is rather narrow so getting there early is the only way to secure a good spot. We opted to rent a couple of chairs and an umbrella for $25, it’s worth it considering the sun down here is far more intense that we are used to. The water was warm with visibility of about 2-3 feet. You had to swim across a significant stretch of rocks to get to the sand bar. Once you were on the sand bar it was quite pleasant.

The second wave of people began to head to the beach around 1 p.m. and we decided to be best to free up some space. We grabbed our bags, dusted off the sand and took the short walk back to the car for our quick trip home.

We have plenty of beaches on our to-be-explored list but Honeymoon is one we’ll definitely return to.

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Launch Director Tour of Space Shuttle Atlantis

Atlantis STS-132
Courtesy: NASA Archives

We know Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is on the other side of the state from where we currently live in Florida but it is really tempting for space nuts like us. The Launch Director Tour of Space Shuttle Atlantis with Mike Leinbach gets you an inside look at the shuttle program with its risks, rewards, and failures. Mike Leinbach, the last launch director of Atlantis, will share his first-hand account of the shuttle program and his time as the head of the Columbia reconstruction mission after the orbiter broke up during re-entry.

You will, of course, get to see Atlantis on display. The shuttle went on 33 missions spending a total of 306 days, 14 hours, 12 minutes, 43 seconds in space. Another interesting Atlantis fact: when it was built, NASA ordered duplicate parts of every part of the shuttle. The Endeavour, which was assembled to replace the Space Shuttle Challenger after it exploded after liftoff, was made from all the duplicate parts. It’s essentially a clone of Atlantis.

Mike Leinbach was the final Space Shuttle Program Launch Director at KSC. He was responsible for overall shuttle launch countdown policy, planning, and execution activities for the final eleven years of the program.

If you would like to take part in this program it runs through the summer.

May 30, 2019 | 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM

Jun 13, 2019 | 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM

Jun 27, 2019 | 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM

Jul 11, 2019 | 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM

Jul 18, 2019 | 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM

Aug 08, 2019 | 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM

Aug 29, 2019 | 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM

Ticket Information:
Price: $65 for adults, in addition to daily admission
Space is limited to 30 participants, so reserve your space early!