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Bus Trip to International Plaza & Bay Street or Historic Ybor City
The Lynnhaven Ladies gathered at the Walmart parking lot for the club's annual bus trip on Thursday, November 13th. This year we had our choice of going shopping at International Plaza and eating at one of the eateries on Bay Street, or going to historic Ybor City. Most chose to visit Ybor City. As we entered the parking lot... no bus! Did we get the location wrong? Too late to go anywhere else... then we saw some familiar faces. Then we saw the bus coming around the corner. Whew! Shortly afterward, Kathy Warner positioned herself next to the door to check us in and we boarded. A representative from Yankee Trails greeted us and to feel free to take one of their trip booklets that also comes through The Villages Daily Sun once a month. They are located on CR 466, just past Rolling Acres Road, on the left side. They have some great trips coming up. They also do cruises, providing transportation to and from the port of call, at a discount if you book through them. He then introduced our driver Jose and assured us we were in good hands.
Jose started with the jokes, and when everyone who signed up had arrived, we were underway. About halfway to Tampa, Kathy asked those who were going to the mall to raise their hands and handed out a map to the mall complex and a passport to savings (a passport-like booklet full of discounts offered by various participating stores). Those who were going shopping then had time to plan their shopping before arriving. She had the drawing for bus prizes and would have them now. Each winner received $10 in cash to spend. June Klink was the first lucky winner, but walking on a moving bus was unsteady, so Kathy just passed the envelopes back to the other lucky winners: Bonnie Darling, Chris Barnard, Karran Dagon & Lauren Sweeny. Congratulations, ladies! For those of us who hadn't won any cash, Kathy was passing some candy around.
The bus pulled up to one of the mall entrances, about 10 women got off, armed with their passport to savings and the map of the complex, and were told when they had to be back there to be picked up. The rest of us stayed put and Jose took us to Ybor City. Kathy asked how many of us were going to the Columbia restaurant for lunch? She had to phone in a final count. We then sat back and were thinking how lucky we were that we weren't driving in that traffic. Jose was able to park the bus in an empty lot across the street from the La Segunda Central Bakery. We headed for the bakery and walked around the back of the building, where trucks were being loaded with baked goods. We had been warned ahead of time to wear closed-toe shoes if we wanted to take the tour. White paper hats were handed out before we could enter, as well. The bakery is family-owned and one of the owners was our tour guide, providing some history. We passed pallets of rising bread dough as we entered, which were put on a conveyer belt and fed into a roller that shaped the dough into rolls.
They were laid out in preparation for the next step, where slivers of palm fronds were pressed into the tops (other bread factories use a knife to slice across the top of the loaf; they use the palm slivers to make the cut). The loaves are left to rise some more, then fed into the rotating oven. Several people commented on how unbearably hot it must be in the summer. That day was very pleasant and they still had large fans blowing at high speed for the workers throughout the facility. Once baked, the palm slivers are removed and the loaves packaged and shipped out. The loaves are very long because they were meant to feed an entire family in Cuba, but we could order half loaves if we wanted. They also make pastries and a woman in another area was making a pastry where fresh fruit was put in the center. She was filling them with fresh strawberries that day.
Did someone say we could purchase some of the goodies being made at the bakery? We exited the loading bay and headed for the storefront. There was so much to choose from and they all looked scrumptious. We placed our order and paid, then waited for our name to be called when it was ready for pickup. It didn't take long until we headed back to the bus with our load.
Once Kathy confirmed that everyone was back on the bus, Jose took us to the heart of Ybor City and the visitor's center where he was able to park temporarily so we could get out. Kathy went inside and got some maps of the area for us, but they only had a few available. Since we had to walk about five blocks to the Columbia restaurant and our reservation was soon, she suggested we eat first, then tour the city.
Surprisingly, even though Kathy gave the restaurant a count of how many would be coming for lunch, they did not sit us all together. A small group was seated together, while others were seated in another area of the dining room, and some of us were placed in a different room. After some time, Jose was able to find a spot to park the bus and he was able to rejoin the group. Again, surprisingly, Kathy Giles and June invited him to join them, he was seated and was looking over the menu when the woman taking reservations and seating people came over, confirmed that he was our bus driver, then asked him to eat in the bar. She did indicate that his meal was complimentary, but we were shocked at how poorly she handled it, that she hadn't directed him there when he came in, embarrassing him... and us because we were witness to it.
Everyone seemed to enjoy their meal... and drinks (they really looked exotic). Quite a few of us couldn't possibly eat all their food, especially those who ordered half a sandwich and salad. Half of the Cuban sandwich (half of the half) was more than many of us usually eat for lunch at home... ditto for the salad, which was outstanding. We ended up taking more of it home for later (hope the salad held up until it got home).
Those who were finished eating started wandering the streets and shops, and some of us headed back to the visitor's center to watch a short film on the history of Ybor City, seated on the same chairs that some of the rollers in the cigar factory sat on. Interestingly, it said that the entire family would come to the factory to eat together, but when lunch time was over, the men would go back to work, but the family stayed, as well, listening outside. To relieve some of the monotony of rolling cigars, the company had readers who were seated above the workers, reading stories and great literary works. The families would listen outside. The film asserted that cigar rollers and their families were the most educated of any industry.
While perusing the museum and gift shop afterward, we asked if cigars were still rolled there. Oh, yes. We were directed to Tabanero Cigars down the street, where they still hand-make cigars. The men who were working were friendly, but couldn't speak English. The owner came over to answer our questions and tell us how the cigars are made, the kind of tobacco leaves are used, the quality of leaves, etc. A chart showed the use of the leaves of a tobacco plant (the top, middle, and lower leaves). We wondered whether the workers ever suffered from nicotine poisoning, but he said that there isn't a problem handling dried leaves; it's only a problem for the pickers and those hanging the leaves to dry.
Others went on to learn about the cigars made and sold there, the qualities of each (mild, mellow, stronger taste, etc.). There was a coffee bar at the rear of the room, and several people got an iced coffee to enjoy on the patio out front. I have it on good authority that it was sooo good. Checking our watches, it was almost 2:45 p.m. when we were due to be picked up outside the visitor's center, so we headed back. Some of us forgot that we dropped people off at the mall and were thinking we were going in the wrong direction. Good thing we weren't driving.
Jose pulled into the mall a little early, so not all our shoppers had arrived at the pickup spot. Broad smiles were on our happy shoppers faces. They got some great gifts and items.
We were surprised that it was Doris Bouffard's birthday, so we all sang Happy Birthday to her. Happy Birthday, Doris! We then settled in and relaxed for the trip home. The candy basket was passed around again and we cleaned it out. We were happy but tired was Jose pulled into Walmart again. We grabbed all our purchases and headed for home again. It was a good day. Thank you, Kathy, for another great job!
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