Tag Archives: art

Trendy, arty and sunny….that’s St. Pete.

If you are coming to Florida, St. Petersburg (or St. Pete, as they call it) should be on your list for many reasons. Trendy, arty, young and a few steps from some amazing beaches. I visited St. Pete during the summer of 2014 and I immediately loved it. Accomodation in St. Pete is not cheap and we had to look around to find something in a decent area not too expensive. Taking advantage of a very good last minute rate around $80, we stayed at the Hollander Hotel, not far from downtown. Their TAP bar was always very busy and with a great atmosphere (live pianist on one of the evening that we were there was truly impressive) and their Sunday brunch with a proper Bloody Mary station was excellent too.

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Hollander Hotel room

They are not far from downtown but for those that do not wish to walk, they do offer a buggy service but we walked most of the time. B&B in general seemed particularly expensive and quite old fashioned with the exception of the Watergarden Inn at the Bay: we wandered in to ask information and it looked absolutely lovely (and beyond our budget!). If you are in the mood of splashing out, I think that The Birchwood on Beach Drive could be a good choice. St. Pete is trendy and fashion and this place has absolutely got it all.

Once the accomodation is sorted, it’s time to concentrate on the big attraction of St. Pete: Salvador Dalí Museum. I am a Dalí fan, I loved Figueres and Cadaqués and this had been on my top list for a while. This impressive museum that includes some of Dalí’s masterpieces is the result of over 25 years of collecting by Reynolds and Eleanor Morse (patrons and friends of Dalí for decades).

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Dali Museum in St. Pete
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Dali Museum interior
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The Hallucinogenic Toreador, 1968-70

Get the audio guide and take your time; it’s a great museum, the collection is truly impressive and absolutely worth the entrance fee. St. Pete has got plenty of other museums, galleries and open art districts worth a visit. Have a look at Chihuly Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts, take a stroll around the 600 Block. For a more hippie vibe, head to Gulfport, a stylish and low key suburb a short drive from downtown. I didn’t find it particularly exciting (it was pretty quiet when I visited) but it’s true that it has retained a kind of 70s feeling with plenty of artists, craftsmen and performers still living there.

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Gulfport Casino
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Sunday morning stroll with the baby goat in Gulfport

In St. Pete, street art is pretty interesting too and worth a drive around to spot some nice murals.

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Once you have done your good bit of sightseeing and driving around, don’t forget that St. Pete is nicknamed the Sunshine city and with an average of 361 days of sun a year, it’s easy to understand why. You are a short drive from some amazing beaches, such as St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and the paradisiac Fort de Soto Park and, once there, you completely forget you are next door to a big city. Or not?

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Treasure Island, early morning

The evening scene is very good too. Plenty of busy restaurants, lively bars and independent cafes for all budgets. The best scene that we found was on Beach Drive and Central Av./3rd St. N where plenty of options are lined up for everyone’s taste (and pockets). The Canopy rooftop on Beach Drive NE (that’s the bar of The Birchwood hotel) is a great choice for some nibbles and cocktails: buzzing atmosphere, live music and great views of St. Pete are the perfect match!

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Rooftop setting at The Canopy

Up to now it sounds like the perfect city to live. Unfortunately, safety is a big issue here and St. Pete ranks very high in violent crime in Florida. During our stay, we didn’t have any problem at all in walking around the city and driving to different neighbourhoods but you can’t help noticing that, as in many US cities, you just need to take the wrong turn to end up in a truly rough area. Some streets are very dark and poorly lit and I wouldn’t have felt safe in walking during the night outside the main spots where all the action is (Beach Drive). So, as always, the best advice is to keep your eyes open, stick in the busy areas, get a cab back to the hotel and enjoy the city safely!

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In the heart of Catalunya: Girona and Figueres

Not far from the French border, Girona (in Catalán and Gerona in Spanish) is less than 100 km from Barcelona. Ryanair planes fly here so it could be a great destination for a short and not too expensive getaway. I have been here a few times, the last one being April 2015 and once again I find myself in a pretty city with nice architecture, away from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona, with a lot of character and just a short drive to one of the most gorgeous coastline of Spain.

Girona is not a big city, you could easily explore it in less than a couple of days (depending how much time you want to dedicate to museums etc). It’s very pleasant to walk around since plenty of areas in the historic district are car-free. There is plenty to see in the old town: the Cathedral, Sant Pere de Calligants, the Jewish quarter, Plaça de la Indipendencia.

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Girona Cathedral
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Plaza de la Independencia

If you’ve got a car and a spare day, go and visit the former Benedictine Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes (almost an hour from downtown Girona).

When we visited Girona we based ourselves in a budget hotel just outside the old town, Hotel Margarit: very reasonable room rate, super clean room and walking distance from the centre. For lunch, we had a quick and reasonable menu del dia (daily menu) in one of the many restaurants in Plaça de la Indipendencia and then we started exploring. In the evening, we treated ourselves to a nice meal out in Placa del Vi, 7 in the namesake square. Despite reading some negative reviews on Trip Advisor, we personally had a very good meal with great choice of wines by the glass (I particularly enjoyed the Riversaltes dessert one). Unfortunately (as sometimes happens in Catalunya), despite noticing that we were foreigners (I can speak Spanish but not Catalán) the staff didn’t make a lot of effort to try to communicate with us other than in Catalán. Not a problem of this particular restaurant, since it has happened to me on more than one occasion in this region so I suggest you don’t get put off by this and just enjoy the nice food and lovely atmosphere.

If you are not here on a budget and you are prepared to pay some serious money to taste some amazing food, don’t forget that Catalunya region has got plenty of Michelin starred restaurants (53 as of Autumn 2015), including El Celler Can Roca (3 Michelin stars).

Not far from Girona there is another small town well worth a visit: Figueres, the birthplace of Salvador Dalí, one of my favorite artist. Figueres is twined with St. Petersburg, FL, another great city where for Dalí’s fans. It was an absolute genius and his Teatro Museu is true testament of that.

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He once said: “I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream”. Once you are in you will soon understand that he has fully achieved his purpose.

Figueres is a relatively small town so you could easily spent just half a day here and combine it with a visit in the nearby Cadaqués or Port Lligat, another one of Salvador Dalí hot spot.