Friday, January 12, 2007

Clearwater Beach Hostel

Lodging is fairly expensive in Clearwater Beach, but there is one inexpensive option remaining. The Clearwater Beach Hostel at 606 Bay Esplanade offers beds in a shared room for only $15 a night, and private rooms starting at $46 a night. It seems clean, there is a small pool and attractive garden area and a shared kitchen and laundry and it is just a couple of blocks from the beach, the recreation center and tennis courts. It is also possible to rent bikes here for as little as $5 a day. The phone number is 727 443 -1211, email The building is up for sale, so it may not be there much longer.

Prices at other places to stay vary a lot depending on the season. In low season (generally any time other than the Christmas holidays, February, March and April) it may be possible to get a room in one of the few remaining small motels for as little as $39 a night, but in high season it will probably be hard to find anything for less than $100 per night. Weekly rates and monthly rates are usually lower per night than daily rates. The upside is that many motel rooms have kitchenettes, so it is possible to prepare your own meals and save money that way.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

free computer classes

One of the good freebies in the Clearwater FL area is free computer classes offered at various libraries of the Pinellas County system. If you are willing to travel between libraries, you can learn various aspects of the computer world for free --Internet, email, Word, Excel, even Ebay. Most of the classes are fairly low level, but if you are largely self-taught about computers as I am, you will often pick up some interesting tidbits from the courses. I have attended classes at the Clearwater Main Library, a beautiful new building with a lovely view of the bay, and at Dunedin Library a little farther north. You can pick up brochures listing events at the libraries each month in the libraries, or check online at

There are other classes, many geared to seniors, on topics such as resume writing, retirement planning and so forth. In addition, there are free lectures and free movies, and a bookstore where you can buy discarded books and magazines for low prices. For those who are intellectually inclined, public libraries are a wonderfu lfree resource and the libraries of Pinellas County are among the best I have seen.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Florida birds

This morning there were 6 or 7 white ibises, also called curlews, on the lawn beneath my apartment. On occasion I have seen as many as 30 in the same area. The variety of bird life on the Gulf Coast of Florida is one of the big attractions here. One morning while bicycling I came across a flock of green parrot-like birds flitting through palm trees --according to a local source, they are monk parakeets.

Great blue herons, cormorants,pelicans and several other types of herons, egrets, sandpipers and gulls are common in this part of the world. Rarer visitors include sandhill cranes,whooping cranes, roseate spoonbills, wood storks.

There is a great organization here called the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary whose mission it is to care for and rehabilitate injured seabirds. When possible, the birds are released again into the wild, but some are so badly injured that they must be kept on the premises at Indian Shores. The Sanctuary sits on prime seafront real estate surrounded by hotels and high rises. This year the Sanctuary is in particular need of financial support because they have received more than the usual number of injured birds. Unfortunately, some of the birds are deliberately abused by humans. The beautiful sandhill cranes that winter here and spend summers in the northern plains have been attacked on a number of occasions in Pasco County, just north of here. If one of your New Year's resolutions is to contribute more to charity or to act on behalf of animals and the environment, the Sanctuary is a worthy recipient of your largesse. I volunteered there for a few days a couple of years ago (cleaning cages, including those of vultures and hawks--yes, you have to walk into the cage with the birds)and it seemed to be a well-run organization. The Sanctuary is open to the public for free, although donations are always welcome. It is one of the few free, non-commercial attractions on this over-commercialized coast, and for that reason alone it deserves support.

credit cards

Hello again and Happy New Year. I recently discovered that it is not wise to travel with just one credit card, as I usually do. I have been a fan of Royal Bank Visa Gold for many years, mainly because it offers, among other perks, 31 days of emergency health insurance if you travel outside of Canada. You don't have to sign up or answer any questions, which is well worth the card cost.

However, during December I called my home number and had a message to call Royal Bank Visa security. Because of some unusual activity on my card, Visa had temporarily cancelled the card. Fortunately, I had not had to use it for a week or so. After I assured them that I was indeed the one using the card, the account was reinstated. But I wonder what might have happened if I had been travelling, as I like to, in a remote area where it can be difficult to telephone North America. I could have found myself up the Zambezi without a paddle, or in other words in deep do-do.

Because of this experience I realize that I will reluctantly have to apply for another credit card for use in emergencies. I prefer the simplicity of using a single card, but it is obviously too risky now with the banks ready to suspend your card with very little provocation. I suppose that because they are on hook for unauthorized use of the card, with the possible exception of a nominal amount, they want to be extra vigilant. But that attitude can be costly to customers. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be now to purchase an airline ticket or check into a hotel without a working credit card.

Forewarned is forearmed. Don't leave home without at least two credit cards.