My last stop in Florida was back over to the Gulf coast to attend a teacher workshop outside the St. Petersburg/Tampa area. The workshop was through a regional association for outdoor focus schools (ERAFANS), so it would be interesting since that’s my area of interest while also being great networking and to gather intel about where I might try visiting in the future. Coincidentally enough, the organizer had come from right outside my hometown and had done some professional development this year with the school at which I’d been teaching until recently, so we knew some people in common. Go figure.

The training itself had some great sessions, some outside and more active and some more traditional presentations and brainstorming sessions. It was held at a local Waldorf school so there was a focus toward that approach to some extent, but applicable to a number of settings. After the workshop some of us visiting from out of town got together at a restaurant for dinner and drinks with a nice view of the water. It was fun to hang out with a group of like-minded people for the evening, and I felt like I was on a good path towards whatever lies ahead professionally.

Not far from the school hosting the workshop I discovered a magical roadside attraction called WhimzeyLand. These two properties across the street from one another in a random suburban neighborhood are covered in mosaic art and adorned with bowling balls, bottle sculpture, and all sorts of colorful craziness. Wow.

I stayed two nights at Dunedin marina, and on my second night followed some music I could hear from my van over to a bar in town right behind the parking lot, which had a performer in the pedestrian alley who looked like a Tom Hanks ala Forrest Gump wannabe. Tables outside were at a premium and I stood around for a few min before a table of older men invited me to come sit with them since they, too, were laughing at a group of bagpiping teenagers attempting to perform inside, and every time the door opened to the patio a less than pleasing sound competed with the singer. Allegedly one of these guys, a local retiree who was hosting the other friends visiting that evening, is head or CEO or inventor (I was obviously paying close attention) of some popcorn company like Jolly Pop or Jolly Time or something with a J. Who knows. I chatted with them for a bit, and when they left I paid forward the table sharing and invited a birthday group to join me, and turns out the birthday gentleman had had a stroke recently and was very glad to sit. They were all very nice, and I talked to them for a bit while enjoying the music until it was a respectable bedtime hour.

I’ve never been a super extroverted person, but one side effect of the whole solo travel is being forced to talk to strangers. This has been the case over the many trips I’ve taken alone, particularly overseas trips, but this extended time has made it noticeably more ingrained and instinctual. Maybe too much even, which is something I would never in a million years have guessed would be the case.

But as I discovered the next day, my new tendency towards chattiness does not equate with a love of being around people in all cases. On the recommendation of my godmother and her gentleman friend (it seems wrong to say boyfriend about someone in his 80s for some reason) I visited the Dali museum in St. Pete’s, which was very cool and totally worth going to. The building and garden alone are works of art, and I liked the self guided tour options on their app. I went through the exhibits of the surrealist movement in Paris in the 20s, and of Dali’s art and life.

His amazing ability to design and implement these double-take visual tricks is fascinating, and I thoroughly enjoyed the museum… until towards the end the layout of the room got very cramped and maze-like, and I found myself trapped in a narrow aisle between two different tour groups and in the midst of a mild panic attack. Oops. I had to hug myself until an opening in the crowd appeared and I was able to slip out into the hallway, where I promptly backed up to the wall and closed my eyes to breathe. A well meaning woman tapped me to ask if I was okay, which totally surprised me and I jumped and yelped. Oops again. Then I had to go cry in the bathroom for a few minutes until I could pull it together enough to escape outside to the garden where I felt better. I don’t love crowds and get antsy in places like packed farm markets, fairs, etc. but rarely does it manifest like this- I can really only think of once or twice before.

Anyway, the garden was beautiful with cool sculptures, views of a boat race, and a tree where you’re invited to write a wish on your entry wristband and hang it before leaving. My wish may or may not have been to never feel like that again. So far so good.

The remainder of my last day in Florida was spent at my happy state of chilling on the beach. I found a quiet spot on Sunset Beach on Treasure Island to nap, read, relax, and take a final dip in the warm water before heading north for a bit. My month in the Sunshine State was a pretty memorable one and I’m still not 100% sure I’m not crazy for leaving.

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