(Photo) A great place to contemplate life in Sunken Gardens

A great place to contemplate life - Sunken Gardens

“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.” -William S. Burroughs

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Bitten & Bloodied at Sunken Gardens

By JP Chartier

I slap them hard! Once… Twice… Three times! The slapping continues until I spill blood – my blood, and their blood. I never wanted it this way, I can assure you of that. And to think this all could have been so easily avoided…

More on this later.

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My day begins innocently enough – I awake early, grab a bite to eat, hop on my bike and aim it south along 4th Street. I maneuver the roadways of St. Petersburg, Florida for the next eight miles until I arrive in front of a large, old fashioned-looking sign that reads “Beautiful Sunken Gardens.” Sunken Gardens Sign If it wasn’t for this sign, I would have never known that the place was even here. It’s amazing that four-acres of lush vegetation, containing five-hundred different varieties of over fifty-thousand tropical plants, trees and shrubs can be hidden so inconspicuously on the side of a very popular roadway in the heart of a bustling city.

But it is!

“That’ll be eight dollars sir,” says the young lady behind the ticket counter to me.

“Ah, yes, g-good morning,” I stutter as I straighten my back and suck in my gut. “I’m writing an article about the f-fine establishment you have here for a b-blog that reaches an audience of… (should I do it? should I lie?) …ah (why the hell not, it’s only a little white lie anyway) …ahh, that reaches an audience of thousands and thousands of potential visitors, and I was wondering if you had a special rate for folks such as myself?”

What?!? Did I really just say “…for folks such as myself??” What does that even really mean?

Looking and feeling like a dumbass, the woman’s face says it all – it says, not only will I not succeed in obtaining a free ticket today, I won’t even be receiving a discounted ticket today thank you very much!

So needless to say, I stand there saddened and dejected, shoulders sloped, head slightly down, and I hear the words that I expected to hear cut through me like a knife!

“No sir we don’t give free or discounted tickets to bloggers, that’ll be eight dollars please.. Sir.”

<< So I ask you, my readers, what did I do wrong here? Can anyone help me out with how to go about this correctly? Have any of you ever successfully obtained a free or discounted ticket at a place you were going to write about?>> 

I begin digging sheepishly through my backpack for some cash when I notice that a fairly long line of older folks has sprung up all of a sudden behind me, and it appears that a few of these folks are a bit disgruntled.

And that’s when I overhear a loud whisper rise up from the geriatric group say something to the effect of, “You’d think he’d already have his cash out before getting in line, this is ridiculous.” And another loud whisper answers with, “He’s trying to get a free ticket and the lady said no, but he keeps trying, give it up already!”

Thankfully, before things got out of hand and I got my ass whipped by a stretchy-waist, polyester pants wearing grandma, I hear the following beautiful words from the other employee behind the counter echo out in slow motion, as if sent from the heavens above:

“Go ahead and give him the AAA discount.”

What’s that? What did I just hear? A discount? “Oh thank you Lord! Thank you so much!” I think to myself.  At least I’ve saved my ego from total annihilation on this day. So with another thank you, I accept my ten percent discount (baby-steps okay) with a victorious smile, and I stroll through to the entrance of the gardens to begin my journey. 20140508_104352 The smell of fifty-thousand plants and trees hit me like a gigantic fragrant tsunami as I enter the gardens, and I feel the tightness in my chest and shoulders disappear. A turn of the first corner and I feel as if I’ve been transported back to a time when only vegetation ruled the earth. 20140508_104327 The land that contains Sunken Gardens today, believe it or not, was originally a shallow lake that sat ten feet below sea level back in 1935. Then a plumber and avid gardener by the name George Turner Sr purchased the land containing the lake and promptly drained it. And over the next twenty years, Turner consistently planted papayas, citrus fruits, palm trees and other exotic plants to expand his beloved “Sunken Gardens.”

In 1998 Sunken Gardens was designated a local historical landmark, and the following year, the City of St. Petersburg purchased it. After years of restoration, visitors can once again enjoy the beauty that George Turner Sr started here one hundred years earlier. Today the gardens is operated mostly by volunteers.

I’m immediately greeted by the relaxing sounds of trickling water from this small, quaint waterfall. 20140508_103958 My senses feast on the botanical and biological wonderland before me! I feel as if I’m lost in Jurassic Park for a moment. 20140508_105835 The late morning light spills through the canopy above populating the path before me with freckles of sunshine.

Smack!

I pass a cactus garden on the left, then up a little ways on the right, I notice the “Japanese Garden,” which looks in need of a little TLC to be honest. I have to say, the vegetation throughout the park is well cared for and nicely trimmed, however there are a few eyesores – like a partially falling down wall that looks to be rotting, a couple worn-out looking benches, and an amphitheater in dire need of a coat of paint.

Smack! Smack!

“Look mom,” says a little boy pointing at me up ahead, “that guy is all bloody.”

I look in horror at what this kid was pointing at, and that’s when I notice several disgusting ‘splats’ of blood on my legs! The mosquito’s here are ravaging me! I’m being eaten alive!

I know, I know, I should have protected myself with some sort of bug repellent before entering the gardens, I wasn’t thinking. So here’s a huge tip if you plan on visiting Sunken Gardens in the future:

BRING MOSQUITO REPELLENT!

20140508_110546 Besides the lush vegetation, I would have to say the “Koi Fish Pond” was probably my favorite area of the park. The picture below doesn’t begin to show you just how large these guys were, they were huge! 20140508_111203 There are a few small ‘attractions’ inside the park to check out, including: “The Growing Stone,” which is a fossilized limestone rock shaped somewhat like a bench that legend says will grant ‘he who sits upon the ancient stone tranquility, inner harmony and the talent to make things grow.’ There’s also a “Wishing Well,” a “Photo Ring,” a “Wedding Lawn” for weddings, a “Amphitheater” and a “Meditation Patio.”

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Apart from the mosquitoes and a few minor maintenance issues, Sunken Gardens is an affordable and enjoyable place to go relax and read a book, or take a yoga class, or to just soak in all the wonderful plants and trees. So if you’re in the St. Pete area and want to forget the rush of the ‘real-world’ for an hour or two, visit the Sunken Gardens – St. Pete’s version of the Garden of Eden.

Share below any botanical gardens that you have visited during your travels.

Scenery Along the St. Petersburg, Florida Shoreline on the “North Bay Trail”

By JP Chartier

Nothing like an early morning, springtime bike ride along the Tampa Bay shoreline in St. Petersburg, Florida, USA to get your day started right. I got to tell ya, the beauty and the serenity of the area is mesmerizing, especially in the early morning hours before the rush of the crowds drown it out. Opulent solitude surged joyously in me, as I took in the early morning smells of the sea.

With the temperature hovering around in the low 70’s, and humidity a non-issue, my bike ride along the scenic shoreline of the Tampa Bay has become a type of “mobile meditation” for me. With each thrust of the pedals, my bike moves at a leisurely pace into the warm Florida sunshine, I feel the sea breeze at my back, washing over me, soothing my mind and soul, all the while carrying away my burdens.

City Trails St. Pete

Today’s ride on the North Bay Trail starts at the sun-kissed marina of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, where sailboats, yachts and catamarans bob rhythmically with trance-like perfection.

Above, the cries of seagulls blend harmoniously with the wind rushing through the palm trees, I feel my pulse quicken from the excitement, causing me to think to myself, “It sure is good to be alive!”

Marina, St. Pete

A short distance from the marina I’m greeted by two behemoth trees, looking magnificent with their stoic demeanor and muscularity! This is a favorite gathering spot for locals and visitors alike, and is the perfect place to catch some shade, to use as a meeting place, or to contemplate life.

Trees at St. Pete near shoreline

Up close tree in St. Pete

Across the street from the trees are several shops and restaurants with outside seating, so one can soak up the sunshine and take in the tropical beauty of the surrounding area.

A view of downtown St. Pete

The trail continues past a few parks, including the Vinoy Park, which is a popular spot for large outside concerts and shows.

A bit further down the trail is the Vista Point Park which contains a very interesting human sundial. It’s easy to miss, I’ve missed it on several earlier rides.

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“The Centennial Sundial at Vista Point” is an interactive granite sundial which stands near the original sundial built back in the 1930’s.

Sun Dial at St. Pete

A semi-circle of markers denotes each hour, when a person stands in front of the half-circle facing north, a shadow is cast upon the correct hour marker, showing you the time. Pretty cool!

St. Pete Pier

The views are stunning throughout the entire trail, including this one of the St. Petersburg Pier in the not too far off distance.

“The Pier,” as it’s known here, is shaped like an inverted pyramid, and served as a focal point for tourism for years, but closed in June 2013 due to structural deterioration. In 2013 the mayor, Rick Kriseman, had the fences removed from around the building. Now the Pier approach and Pier head are open to the public for pedestrian access, fishing and other related activities.

I continue onward with my bike journey, and the trail leads me to a renown St. Petersburg landmark, “The Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club.”

The AAA Four-Diamond pink hotel stands triumphant and stoic-like, encircled by palm trees standing at the ready, with a wonderful view of the nearby shoreline of the Tampa Bay.

The historic hotel has been offering comfort and elegance to its patrons since 1925, and can be found on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Vinoy Hotel St. Pete

Over the years, there have been reports of supernatural activity at the hotel. Interestingly enough, many of the reports come from the visiting professional baseball teams, who are in town to play the Tampa Bay Rays.

The trail hugs the shoreline around to a bridge, which leads to the very wealthy neighborhood of Snell Isle, and the conclusion of today’s bike ride.

Snell Isle St. Pete

Where are some of your favorite bike trails located?