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Guest column: So much to miss about Tampa after five years living here

By Cristina Duschek, Special to the Times
The Glazer Children's Museum is a highlight of life in Tampa for many local families. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

For a few weeks my heart has ached uncontrollably. I am leaving Tampa, my soul city. I have crossed out and added lists of things to do and places to revisit once more ó walks in the park, favorite haunts for hawk and osprey sightings, moon paddling on a stand-up board, staying up late enough after a long day to count cricket chirps.

With our kindergartener, Iím trying to squeeze in the pleasures of everything kids can do here ó the pink flamingos at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the gentle manatee giants at Tampaís Lowry Park Zoo, the awesome new play pad at The Florida Aquarium. We burst out laughing every time as we quiz each other on the lemursí question-mark tail.

Weíre running out of time to play Publix check-out lady at The Glazerís Children Museum or to sit in the cowboy saddles at The Tampa Bay History Center. For me, the food and drink pleasures of this city are too many to list or to check in the short time left here. During my last week of work I am savoring every bite of Uleleís heavenly charbroiled oysters and okra fries one more time and cross Oxford Exchangeís long and unbearably cool walkway from one end to another, just to hug my friend Jimmy, the handsome shoe shiner.

I have just enough time for a couple more lavender lattes from Kahwa Rivergate and as many Kentucky Champagnes as possible, mixed by my friend and spirits master, Ro Patel. I am already craving Ichicoroís mushroom ramen, my own remedy for colds and stresses.

I feel honored and privileged to have promoted our city to national and international press. Work never felt like a job, but rather an opportunity to see and do more in our booming city- and to show it off, over and over. I never tired of walking our streets and experiencing our attractions.

I always learned something new and I always looked forward to reconnecting with industry acquaintances, many of whom have become friends. I rarely felt the heat, and when I did I reminded myself how cold I felt in many of the northern places I have lived.

I arrived here as a visitor almost five years ago and instantly fell hard for this city. That first weekend, with Allie as a toddler in tow, I became enchanted with Ybor City and its cigar heritage. So pleased with my curiosity, the visitor centerís keeper put on for us a special showing of the black and white documentary on Yborís cigar history.

Later that day we walked through the Hyde Park farmerís market marveling at its crowded artisan stalls and walked along Bayshore Boulevard, only to be teased by dolphins jumping in and out of the water, beguilingly. I was instantly charmed.

Even as a resident I still approached Tampa with the eyes of the visitor, and it helped me see our city fresh every day. I hope every Tampanian makes the most of our treasures. We are lucky to have everything here: the weather, the nature, so many attractions. Every day and every weekend, the question for us is never what to do, but rather what to choose. And I think we did a lot.

I am very happy our little daughter can name an ibis and a limpkin and knows the difference between a roseate spoonbill and a flamingo. Allie scored her first soccer goal in Tampa and hit her first tennis ball here, as well. We both got lice, and I can look back and laugh at the nights we came back from an intense hair treatment, oiled up all over, and we sat outside at a restaurant patio and had dinner and laughed.

Tampa made me feel at home from the beginning. It has been so easy to make friends, lots of friends. I hope our city never loses its authenticity as it grows more and more glamorous. If Jennifer Lawrence can do it, so can Tampa. I know I will be back in time. I will come back as a visitor and it will fall back in place right away, like the first time around.

Cristina Duschek was an international media relations coordinator with Visit Tampa Bay, the tourism agency. She and her family have moved to Tucson, Ariz.


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