If you're not familiar with Tarpon Springs, it's on the very north side of the whole Tampa area. It's a really pretty little town with a VERY (and I mean VERY) strong Greek culture. The main thing the town is known for is the sponge diving industry. I didn't read the history, but apparently this industry is one of the oldest in the entire countries. Besides being a vibrant and strong industry, the sponge docks are also a VERY big tourist attraction. This is where the boats come in and unload the sponges and there are tons of little shops and wonderful Greek restaurants, plus you can take boat tours, there's a "spongearama" museum, an aquarium, etc. etc. It's very picturesque and touristy, but lots of fun. As I've mentioned in the past, we've worked out this great arrangement in which I do the AVA walk and Dave rides his bike around, so we both had a great afternoon.
My walk led my past this really big Greek Orthodox church - I've attached a couple pictures - and it was kind of fun to see because there has been a lot of TV coverage on the local news about the annual Epiphany ritual that takes place here. A few blocks away from the church is a very pretty park that circles around the actual springs themselves (hence the name Tarpon SPRINGS). So what happens is that every year at this time a special wooden cross - maybe a foot and a half tall - is constructed. Everyone from the church (plus the community and tourists!) gather around the springs and the cross is thrown into the middle of the springs - then all of the young men in the community LEAP into the springs to try to retrieve the cross and whoever brings it up is given special blessings for the year for him and his family. Apparently this is a tradition that goes back decades and decades. So it was fun to see the church and springs as part of my walk. After that, I was directed around the bay and passed some absolutely gorgeous, huge homes, many built in a Greek type of architectural style. I ended up crossing over two bridges and returning to the area of the sponge docks.
We had left Brandi in the car (she is SUCH a good little dog - but her paw still seems to be bothering her so we decided to give her a couple of days off!) so I brought her out and we found a nice park bench to sit on while we waited for Dave to get back. After he arrived and loaded up his bike, we put Brandi back in the car again, and then we went to this excellent Greek restaurant names "Costas". I had gotten on the internet the night before and printed off their menu so we both had a pretty good idea of what we wanted - Dave had grouper stuffed with spinach and feta cheese, over rice, and I had a dish that was small pieces of chicken, grilled onion, potatoes and green peppers in a light tomato broth and served over pasta. Both were absolutely wonderful! Plus Dave had a Greek salad that was a potato salad with basically a tossed sald on top of the potato salad. He loved it! Normally that would NOT appeal to me (I don't like my foods to touch each other!), but in this case it was great! And I had this wonderful soup that was kind of a chicken broth but with lemon in it, and I think egg for thickening, and long-grain rice (is it called "orzo" or something like that???). INCREDIBLE - in fact, I got a big cup to go! SO - are you hungry yet? We both loved our meals, but we ended up bringing well over 50% of it home so we probably have at least one more meal, maybe two - and all for about $45! Wow.
When you walk around the sponge docks, there are lots and lots of little shops and stuff - pretty much all with a Greek touch, or related to sponges! I've attached a couple of pictures, but it's impossible to imagine without actually visiting. If you're ever in the Tampa area, this is a "must see".
So - thus ends our 9 days at Hillsborough River. It's been great! And now, tomorrow we pack up and move about 80 more miles to the south - this time to Oscar Scherer State Park which is about 10 miles south of Sarasota. So my next blog will be from there. And by the way, thanks for all the nice feedback - I love getting the emails from everyone!