Name your dream vacation spot: sultry South Beach, artsy Asheville, dicey Vegas.
Now ask Wesley Chapel couple Elena and Chris Mayberry to conjure their ideal getaway.
They'll direct you 25 miles south to Ybor City, the ever-evolving arts and entertainment district.
"We've coined the phrase, 'Paris is the Ybor City of France,' '' Chris said. "No need to get on a plane. We can go there every weekend."
The trip to their Palm Avenue condominium takes about 30 minutes from their home in the Meadow Pointe subdivision near New Tampa.
"We drive down Friday night or Saturday morning, spend one or two nights, than go back and suburbanize,'' said Elena, 55.
Your first thought: Wow, these are some serious partiers. Too inebriated to drive home after a night of clubbing?
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
"We're matinee movie people,'' Elena says. "We usually go out to lunch instead of dinner. At night we sit side-by-side and read or watch Murder She Wrote and Columbo DVDs." On occasion, they'll go to a Big Band concert at Arts on 9th.
Now you're thinking: Second home, rich folks. Must have a trust fund.
"People saw us here all the time, and said why don't you just buy," said Elena, a reading strategy teacher at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel.
Chris, a 24-year Navy veteran, has been tele-health coordinator at James A. Haley VA Medical Center since December 2003, overseeing doctor-patient video teleconferences.
The Quarter at Ybor condominium developers were making deals like crazy, Elena said. Interest rates and closing costs fell in their favor, too. In April 2008 they paid $132,000 for a 900-square-foot, one bedroom, one bathroom unit.
"We are not rich by any means. Just very fortunate we can do that,'' she says, standing in the compact condo decorated with artwork from her three favorite cities: Havana, Paris and, of course, Ybor City.
Why the ongoing Ybor City staycation?
"People, buildings, statues, history,'' said Chris, 55.
"Wesley Chapel is a wonderful place, but there's a sameness about it. It doesn't have the diversity of life."
Their house criteria when they first moved to Tampa, he said, included "new, in proximity to the VA hospital and made to hurricane construction" codes.
But now every Saturday starts with breakfast at La Tropicana on Ybor's Seventh Avenue. Elena orders her usual: eggs with cheese and chorizo, Cuban toast and large cafe con leche. "Very strong, very hot," she says.
Chris gets the same, only piled on a Cuban toast sandwich.
About an hour later, the couple are a block away at the Ybor Market. They'll buy fruit and vegetables from the vendors and chat with merchants.
"We know more people down here than in Wesley Chapel," Elena says.
They'll stroll over to the casitas, former cigarmakers' homes renovated for businesses. They'll use the Bunker's WiFi connection and visit Arnold Martinez's art gallery. They'll catch up with handbag artist Sharon Rose at the Mermaid's Slipper.
"They embraced Ybor and Ybor embraced them,'' Rose says.
Or Chris might scoot back to the condo and grab his guitar. Ybor is inspiration for the folk songs he writes and sometimes performs at the Bunker. A statue of an immigrant family in Centennial Park inspired him to write a song called The Immigrant. He's working on a tune he'll call The Old Geezer, named for a popular park musician.
Food plays into Elena's earliest memories of Ybor. She was born in Cuba but grew up in Miami.
"After my parents divorced, my father moved to Sarasota and we would come here to eat Cuban food," she said.
The couple prefer non-chain eateries, like Acropolis and L'Olivier. From sprawling Meadow Pointe, "the nearest major road, with the nearest restaurant, is 4 miles away," Chris says. "Here we can walk, and we've never had a bad meal."
The Mayberrys soak up the history and architecture on those walks, narrated by Elena, who earned a bachelor's degree in historic preservation from Mary Washington College, now University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, Va.
"I made extra money working as a tavern wench and tour guide," said Elena, who also has a master's degree in elementary education from Carthage College in Wisconsin.
Their pace slowed last summer. Elena underwent radiation treatments to shrink a benign tumor on her brain. The tumor, called a meningioma, was diagnosed in 2002. A follow-up in November 2007 showed it was growing. She takes steroids for the swelling and wears puffy and colorful berets she sews.
"I'm cultivating an artsy-fartsy, academic renaissance look."
In Ybor, she fits right in.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332.