Is St. Petersburg Florida really that dangerous?

The unknown other side of Florida

From TRAVELBOOK | July 10, 2019, 1:15 p.m.

For a long time, the west coast of Florida was overshadowed by the cities of Miami and Orlando. Now the area around Tampa, Saint Petersburg and Clearwater is trying to attract tourists. What does it have to offer? Miles of beaches, protected nature, a young gastronomic scene, small-town idyll and Cuban influences. A journey of discovery to the hidden destinations in the Sunshine State.

If you want to understand Tampa, you have to start with Cuba. Tampa was the most important port for trade with Havana, 540 kilometers away. American ships brought live cattle, corn, rice, and manufactured goods to Cuba, taking mostly tobacco on the way back. In the wake of the Cuban revolution and the embargo, Tampa suddenly lost its function in the 1960s.

Today it is exactly that, the influence of Cuba, that is why people come to Tampa. To the city that has long been considered the center of cigar production in the USA.

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Ybor City, the Cuban Quarter

Little Havana is also known as Ybor City, the cigar district of Tampa, which was named after the businessman Vincente Martinez Ybor. It's the big brown brick houses along 7th Avenue that are reminiscent of that time. Here, Cuban, Italian and Spanish immigrants rolled cigars every day in a total of 120 factories. In 1901 alone they produced 400 million pieces.

What remains apart from two factories is the flair. The smell of tobacco leaves is still in the air today, the small, white-painted workers' houses of the past are not far. And if you close your eyes for a moment, you can imagine what the mini version of Havana must have looked like in its glorious years. The end came with the Great Depression, and finally the conflict between Cuba and the United States.

Today, the historic metal signs and palm trees that line the long main street are joined by colorful graffiti and flashing neon signs indicating tattoo parlors, thrift shops, grocery stores and restaurants. In the evening, young people rumble through the street in large vintage cars. At night the district transforms into a meeting point for subcultures, pounding beats and tango music emanate from the pubs and bars. Through the steamed-up windows you can see the outlines of the people who drink craft beer and cider here. Outside, shopkeepers are courting customers. You are sitting on chairs with a cigar in the corner of your mouth. Your American sounds a little more gibberish when you speak it than it already does.

The windiest square in town

Fogged windows are not only found in Ybor City. Summer and early fall are tropical and hot in Tampa. The sun is burning, the sweat sticks to the skin. In addition, there are short but heavy showers, as we know them from Asia. But none of them let it spoil their mood. On the contrary, in Florida rain is simply called "liquid sunshine". The city is surrounded by water, but you won't find any public bathing spots. The solution is to escape to air-conditioned galleries, restaurants or cafes. Or on the terrace in front of the Tampa Museum of Art - supposedly the windiest place in town.

Whether the superlative with the wind is correct remains to be seen, but it is definitely worth taking a break for a look at the historic University of Tampa. The 1888 building, which now teaches pretty much everything from art to Chinese, was once a 500-room hotel. Thanks to the sugar bonnet turrets, flourishes and ancient Virginia oaks in the front yard, you can't get rid of the feeling of having ended up in a magic school.

A few minutes' walk from here is the Oxford Exchange, formerly part of the Tampa Bay Hotel, then the seat of an insurance company and a dental practice, and today a restaurant and concept store in one - and the place par excellence for Instagram lovers. Hip furnishings, a bookstore not just for gray rainy days and a restaurant including a winter garden, in which stacks of pancakes, eggs benedict and other sticky and powerful, but simply perfect breakfast and brunch dishes are served. Everything is draped in such a way that you only have to put a filter on it and then upload it to social networks.

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Tampa boat trip

Back to the water and the Hillsborough River, the river that flows through the city and turns so black when exposed to certain light that you would think there was an oil spill just before. Fortunately, the coloring only comes from plants from the swamps through which the river flows on its way. Captain Larry knows things like this. The 61-year-old shows tourists the city on the water with his boat “Never never Land”. "Tampa is the only city in North America I would live in," says Larry. And whoever thinks it is because the typical Florida pensioner lives here anyway - if you want to put it in such a stereotyped way - is wrong. “It's a surprising city, a very polite city where people say 'good morning,'” explains Larry. “Nobody is concerned about your origins. On the contrary: They want to know something about your culture. "

And even though Larry has only lived in Tampa for 13 years, he indulges in stories from earlier times. As if he had seen them all for himself. Today Tampa has a population of just under 353,000, making it the third largest city in Florida after Jacksonville and Miami. "And the city is growing very fast," says Larry proudly. "Even companies from New York are moving here."

Shortly before the end of the boat trip, Larry wants to explain the above sentence, maybe straighten it out a bit: "What I mean is that we are not a classic tourist town, but one that is on the way there." , the number of European tourists visiting the city on Florida's west coast is increasing. In 2006 there were 886,191 European visitors, in 2014 there were already 1,081,212 - that's an increase of 18 percent in eight years.

And then Capt’n Larry says: “But Tampa doesn't have any major attractions or beaches, which is why people come to Florida. But what we have is culture and our friendliness. "

Tampa has the heart of a small town. People stop and talk about themselves and their ideas. There is a microbrewery here whose owner says: “My job is to make you happy.” Or the associated restaurant Ulele, named after a princess from a legend, in which grilled oysters are served on the plate today - over an open fire grilled, poured garlic butter and sprinkled with parmesan.

Street food in St. Petersburg

A good half hour drive from Tampa is St. Petersburg, a city whose name was decided by a coin toss. If it had landed on the other side, it would be called Detroit Florida today. You won't find any Russian tourists in St. Pete, as the locals call it. What you can find here are again many places to eat - of course, we are in America. For example, the Sea Salt, in a new but rather abandoned shopping center, which brings a classic Caesar salad in sushi form and forms caviar balls from tomatoes. Or the Locale Market, a market hall with street food - from lemon tarts to dried beef jerky.

And St. Pete has something else special: Here the sun supposedly rises out of the water, in Tampa Bay, and also sets in the water, in the Gulf of Mexico.

Where to find “money” on the beach

You can find lonely, beautiful beaches if you drive a little further. Past Clearwater until you land in the far west of Florida, on a long island, almost a sandbar, and then further north. The streets here have beautiful-sounding names like “Sunset Drive” or “Princess Street”. Once on Honeymoon Island, a ferry takes visitors within fifteen minutes to Caladesi Island, a state park where you hardly ever meet people, but animals and plants. If you are lucky, you will be accompanied by jumping dolphins on the way there.

On the beach and in the sea, the Gulf of Mexico, you can see large, proud, brown pelicans and small puffer fish, rays and all kinds of birds. And the most beautiful souvenir can also be found here: the skeleton of a sand dollar. Just like with the dolphins, you need luck and patience to find the flat white sea urchin slices. Ingredients that bring with them those places that are (still) in the shadow of others.

Travel time: The best time to travel is spring and autumn, although strong storms can occur during the hurricane season from June to November. In summer it gets unbearably hot in Tampa, up to an average of almost 33 degrees with a humidity of 70 to 80 percent.

How to get there? Lufthansa and United Airlines fly from Frankfurt to Tampa several times a week. Return flights from 629 euros.

The trip was supported by Lufthansa and Visit Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg / Clearwater. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at www.axelspringer.de/unabhaengigkeit

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