Just a few km north of
Dunedin where the once mighty, two-time World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays conduct their annual rites of spring, tiny Palm Harbor sits adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway, with two nearby protective barrier islands - Honeymoon and Caladesi anchored in the west. It's an unincorporated community in Pinellas County, a slow, sleepy burg roughly
45 minutes from downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa, with easy access to airports.
A largely residential community, we arrive here in December to test something new, life in a trailer park (aka mobile homes). With the American economy on the skids, bargains galore can be easily negotiated to rent or purchase empty trailers; and we have chosen a park with many Canadian owners who prefer tenants with long stays.
Living here in this tight community of approximately 200 fellow snow birds allows us easy access to the sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, a mere 15 minutes away max. We can walk and bike on the nearby
Pinellas Trail, picnic at John Chesnut Park, work out at the local YMCA, and there is golf at Lansbrook public golf course. We are also close to shopping and restaurants, and with the latter, we discover precisely where locals dine - well and cheaply.
In Palm Harbor, the best eatery by far is the
Garden Grille Café located in a petite strip mall on US 19. We dine here so often that we become fast friends with owner and chef, Luis Osorio. Accompanied by Fernande and Michele Hebert, trailer park friends from Montreal, on our first night, Louis spoils us with delicious ribs for $12.95. The total bill for 2 including tax is $23.51. And it gets better. With more friends, Bill and Marcia Bailey from Virginia, we enjoy a sumptuous breakfast at Luis' place. They split a huge 3-cheese omelet for $4.99, but I wolf down the beef-lovers omelet for $6.99, which is more than sufficient for a brunch! Like moths attracted to a burning light, we return here many more times.
Other local restaurants are uncovered in Palm Harbor -
Peggy O'Neil's Irish Pub & Eatery at 1026 Florida Ave., and the
Ozona Blue Grilling Company at 125 Orange St. N., which features a swimming pool inside for kids and adults (perfect for grandparents). Their flat bread is delicious.
In Clearwater, we enjoy the "Breakfast Special" at the
Acropol Inn, 2552 Sunset Pt., again moderately priced with large portions, some of which, now that we have learned about quantity, goes directly into a doggy-bag. If not careful with these inexpensive eateries, one might easily pack on the pounds as is evident with many locals, but fortunately, we can walk daily to the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, a 76 km-long (47 mile) recreation trail that extends all the way from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs.
Fred Marquis was a former Pinellas County administrator and a tireless proponent for the conversion of the abandoned railroad corridor to the Pinellas Trail. The trail provides a unique, protected green space for walking, jogging, skating and biking. It's well marked, and I notice ample numbers of yellow-coloured 911 position codes attached to the surface along the way to assist trail users with cell phones.
On average, 70,000 people enjoy the trail each month. It links some of Pinellas County's most picturesque parks, scenic coastal areas and residential neighborhoods. Here, we enjoy deep glades of antique live oaks trailing Spanish moss, quiet waterways and tidal streams with myriad varieties of land and water birds. We appreciate both the overpasses and underpasses that allow us to easily avoid traffic at busy intersections.
In Clearwater, a few minutes away, we make good use of Cliff Stevens Park, playing disc golf (for free) and taking long hikes on trails around the waterways, enabling us to get close to the birds. The disc golf course is challenging, and with the many water hazards, it's wise to use discs that you don't mind losing. There are Pro and Am tee pads, and near one, we spot a brown snake in a ditch, perhaps a moccasin which is the name of the lake.
On hikes, we utilize many of the long boardwalks constructed to provide great viewing of abundant Florida water and shore birds. We maneuver close to the large storks, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with stout bills, searching for frogs, fish, insects, earthworms and sometimes even small birds and mammals. They look awkward on land but in flight they soar then glide, conserving energy by riding thermal air currents. We follow the white ibis with its bright red-orange down-curved bill and long legs as it preens, bites and works its feathers, and it's always a great joy to encounter a frozen-in-time heron in stalking stance, ready to zap at any instant with a long, serpentine neck cocked for a lightning-quick stab.
Celebrating Christmas in a Palm Harbor trailer park with decorated palm trees and living quite close to others in their narrow aluminum abodes may seem somewhat surreal to Canadians, but with the temperature at 21-24 C (70s F) and no need for tuques and mittens, it's a lifestyle to which I can easily become acclimatized. And as a bonus, there is both a good-sized swimming pool and a billiards hall here when one tires of lazy reading or surfing the Internet.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.