Snowbirds & Matzah (& what to pack in a carry-on)

“Glad you had a nice trip home… Sorry you don’t have any beautiful scenery where you live,” I wrote, quite innocently and with unapologetic favoritism for the Pacific Northwest, in an email to a friend who lives in Florida and misses New England.

Sorry you don’t have any beautiful scenery where you live. 

Obviously I had never been to Florida!

The overpopulated, subtropical peninsula wasn’t even on the map as far as I was concerned.

Fast-forward eighteen months. “Snowpocalypse” 2019. Winter treated us to a blizzard on Groundhog Day in an extravagant kind of swan song. A song that dragged on and on for six weeks. Each morning we awoke to a whitewashed world. A fresh layer of white every single day. Nothing but white. My eyes were so tired of white, it hurt to look out the window. “Oh, look, it’s snowing again,” I would hear myself murmur. And someone would respond with a very bland “wow,” or my observation would be met with flat silence, which was more meaningful than words.

There had been a birth and a wedding in my family within the space of a month, which made me more restless than normal. Quitting my job only intensified the monomania. Plus, I’m one of those chronically cold people who wear sweaters in the summertime. So imagine how happy I was when my friend, Julie, (who used to live in Florida) told me she wanted to go back to Florida for Passover and that she wanted a travel buddy (namely, me).

Responsible Julie, of course, almost abandoned her idea when we started budgeting. “Don’t feel guilty about the price of the ticket,” I encouraged her, “You’re not just buying a ticket. You’re buying new experiences, connections, opportunities, memories… Those things are priceless.” Happily, I had my tax refund and airline credit from a flight that was canceled last year, so we went ahead and rented a car and an Airbnb for the week of Passover. Julie’s sister couldn’t take time off from work to join us, but her brother, Adam, decided to come along, and splitting the cost of everything three ways made it extremely affordable.   

Sidenote: if traveling has taught me anything, it has taught me how little I really need. Lingerie can be washed by hand and hung to dry. Castile soap can multi-purpose as shampoo, body wash, facial cleanser, and laundry detergent. Conditioner doubles as shaving cream. Less is more, especially when it comes to air travel, but a down blanket is an absolute necessity on long flights, in my opinion. Pack that baby in your carry-on (I also include a pair of wool socks), and—trust me—when the frigid air-conditioning comes on, you’ll be so thankful for it!

I had never met Adam until he and Julie picked me up on the way to the airport, but I could tell right away that the three of us were going to be very compatible. We landed in Tampa several hours later, put on our sunglasses, and suddenly there was white sand instead of snow, swaying palm trees, wild parakeets, flickers of blue lightning. I was surprised by how much Tampa Bay reminded me of Tel Aviv, and I should add that we were very pleased with our studio apartment, which occupied the second floor of an old bungalow in downtown St. Petersburg. It wasn’t The Davenport Hotel, but it was breezy, bright, and I liked everything about it–the wainscoting, the deep porcelain sink, the odd little nooks.

It was all good. Just plain, old good in the truest sense of the word.

Good to hear sounds of life in the shady street outside. Good to feel sunshine on my shoulders. Good to be young, healthy, free–even on a budget. Good to stay up late, laughing with Julie, after a day of basking on the seashore. Good to have Adam there to carry our suitcases up and down the stairs and take us exploring in the cool of night. Good to hear him talking on the phone in Russian while we women smoothed aloe vera on our sunburns.

Oh, yeah, and did I mention there was beautiful scenery?!

Julie and I spent most of our time hunting for the perfect beach, but (just to be honest, so you won’t think I’m romanticizing) every beach we went to was a bit of a letdown. It seemed like they were always too crowded. It was hard to find a place to park and even harder to find a toilet. The waves weren’t as frolicsome as we hoped. The water was too warm, too murky. I was afraid of sharks and wouldn’t go in very far because I couldn’t see what might be lurking beneath the surface.

But, yes, the scenery was as beautiful as the April weather. Driving across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at sunset was especially beautiful…

My friend, Chris, recommended Anna Maria Island, so we finally tried it on the day before we left. We regretted not trying it sooner, because it turned out to be exactly what we were looking for. It was perfect. I saw that clear, turquoise water, and then it was all over for me–I was swimming in the ocean like a piece of shark food.

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