Rusty was pretty insistent at 5 in the morning that we go for a walk. I held him off for ten minutes but he was an irresistible force and we left over very comfortable eighth floor room in the hotel to head out into 57 degree St Petersburg morning.
I had planned the night before to walk the alleys that I used to enjoy exploring when I lived in St Petersburg 30 years ago. When I am on the road and looking for a place to run Rusty I usually look at a satellite view of Google Maps on my phone. Checking the St Petersburg peninsula there wasn't any obvious interesting open space so I decided to walk the alleys early on Presidents' Day morning before the world was astir.
This is a city with an extraordinary number of murals, artistic merit cannot be denied but neither can the optimism of painting vast murals on the walls of buildings that merchants expect to occupy for a a very long time. This city does not exude the sense of being a transient population.
I parked on Central Avenue and led Rusty to the entrance to the alleyway. He was fascinated, once again demonstrating his amazing curiosity which I enjoy so much. He ran back and forth, pausing as I struggled to take a picture, pausing for the occasional car, waiting for me at cross streets...the perfect companion.
For those worried about my safety, and there are always some worriers when I show pictures taken before dawn, I carry only a leash, a plastic bag and my phone in my pockets, with my camera (Lumix FZ300) in hand. No one ever bothers me but if they did Rusty would be a formidable opponent. He is very friendly normally but once when I was playing with a friend he intervened in no uncertain way to look after me. My friend was quite surprised, as was I. Good dog.
It was a still morning, cool and fresh and I was glad of my vest over my shirt. It wasn't cold enough to see my breath or anything wild but it was quite a bit cooler than the Keys.
There is a lot of neighborhood renovation underway all around St Petersburg, as evidenced by all the paint variously applied:
St Petersburg is a large city by area occupying much of the peninsula that is Pinellas County. Incomers pronounce it Pin-ell-ass while crackers call it Pine-elass and as I was never more than an incomer I was always used to the more prissy pronunciation. Its a huge chunk of land 140 square miles of city on the sandy peninsula. Clearwater is the county seat of Pinellas County but St Pete is far bigger with a population of 250,000 people and rising. Its a popular city as its very livable, housing averages less than $250,000 and you've got beaches and lots of arts going on here and across the bay at it's arch-rival Tampa the grittier former industrial city and major commercial port.
The bits I don't much like about St Pete are the summers which are long and hot and still. It rains like clockwork every afternoon on the Gulf Coast of Florida, a heavy downpour for an hour or two with thick vapors left behind as the sun burns the moisture off. Also you have to drive a long way to get anywhere. There's one of everything at least in St Pete but the city is so scattered it takes an age to get wherever it is. And it's reputation as a retirement center still lingers making it less than hip even though it is undeserved as younger people are flowing into this city. If you are looking for a home in the sun St Petersburg is an interesting possibility.
I have my home in the Keys and we have pensions to earn so a change of residence isn't in the cards. Besides which the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are rather murky and brown which is a bit of a change to the clear waters of the Florida Keys I am used to.
Rusty was doing a nice job of waiting for me when he got too far ahead. At one corner I was slow catching up and I came round the building to find him sitting on the sidewalk rather in the way photographed below. Some young guy going to work was getting out of his car and saw Rusty being perfect. He couldn't believe how he waited for me and didn't run out into the street.
St Petersburg has a mixture of old and new, business industry and residential. There is some tourism but I don't see much of an impact compared to Key West which gets overrun all winter.
There are tons of locally owned coffee shops, yoga studios, craft beer outlets, furniture and consignment stores and furniture outlets all over the city. Not a chain store to be seen.
We sat on the sidewalk a while watching the sun come up. The plan had been to see the Kahlo exhibit at the Dali Museum but the crowds were so thick we had to line up and wait to get into the parking lot so we decided to come back another day. Nevertheless it wasn't a bad visit to the Sunshine City, and I'm looking forward to going back. It's a lot nicer than Miami or Tampa and less frantic than Orlando.