Once I arrived in Port Richey, Florida, I grabbed one of those tourist maps (advertising and all) and began to scour the brightly colored page to see where I wanted to go first. There were only two criteria: It had to be close-by and it had to be inexpensive. After all, I had a full month to stay in the area and today’s money doesn’t stretch as far as one would think. Decidedly, my first stop was The Sponge Docks in nearby Tarpon Springs.
|I noticed this little vignette outside a Greek restaurant - one of many there.|
The Sponge Docks at Tarpon Springs, Florida was once the “Sponge Capital of the World”, but is now mostly a tourist attraction since viscose sponges can be manufactured easier, cheaper and less hazardous to deep-sea divers. There was a blight which spread through the fishing area in 1985 – as in other parts of the world – which caused the demise of the industry. However, sponge fishing is making a comeback. The “real thing” sponge is still quite a luxury item, these days.
Once one knows the history and process whereby these sponges are harvested, one’s appreciation grows for them. The area was settled in 1876, but Greek fishermen were later encouraged to immigrate due to their expertise. Since Greece is surrounded by the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, it contains many islands where the seas are their workplace and their home. It is no coincidence that the Greek language is heard all over town, in the tavernas, restaurants and on the streets when friends happen upon friends. Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek-Americans of any U.S. city.
|A hand-painted scene of Greek Island of Santorini on the outside wall of this bakery.|
|One of the many street-side displays outside sponge shops.|
|Just add water to the sponge to keep these plants thriving. I almost bought this, but I'm satisfied at its beauty here.|
|The weather and atmosphere could not have been more perfect for a trip to Greece in America.|
|One such working ship is the "Anastasi" - which means "Resurrection" in Greek.|
There is much a person could learn about Sponge Fishing – if that’s the proper term. Sponges are animals that live on the bottom of the ocean – sometimes at greater depths than a SCUBA diver can reach. Each captain has their own favorite fishing grounds of the Gulf. They know where the fishing is good for them for the equipment they have – and they have a lot of it.
|This Captain has an afternoon of work ahead of him on board the Anastasi.|
Obviously, that would be my choice as a Midwestern landlubber, but Greek food is mostly from the sea. I am only 1/4 Greek by heritage. My Mother’s father was Greek, but he died young. So, I was raised by my grandmother’s heritage as a typical Scots-Irish male on meat and potatoes. The Greek way of life, sadly, I was never really exposed to. It would be educational for me to explore, however. I don’t think I could ever eat deep-fried squid or octopus, though.
|The Anastasi's Captain trims unsable parts of each sponge before sun-drying.|
I’ve read some, seen movies and enjoyed being out on the Pacific Ocean onboard a U.S. Navy LST vessel during calm seas, but the Greek sailor’s lifestyle seems a bit too dangerous for me. I suppose, once exposed to it for some length of time under a good skipper, it would still be hard work, but what an adventure it would surely be. I like the style of the Greek Fisherman’s cap. I’ve been told they look good on me, but that review was, indeed, partial and therefore, highly suspect.
|This monument honors the young Greeks who came to America to deep-sea dive for sponge.|
As winds are likely to do, they shifted direction blowing the restaurant-scented winds toward the docks. The mixture of cooking food, the sweetness of salt-sea air mixed in me like I would imagine a real aphrodisiac – if such a thing existed. It did turn me on, so to speak. It also made me hungry. It was time to start “fishing” for a restaurant. It all smelled so fantastic.
|This is, perhaps, the largest Greek restaurant on Dodecanse Avenue.|
While each menu I looked at stated clearly “authentic Greek cuisine, I never doubted it for a second. Competition for your restaurant dollar seemed fierce as restaurant employees stood on the sidewalk and made sure you had copy of the current menu complete with a discount coupon to entice you further. That was fun. It brought back memories of the old days at our Indiana State Fair and during my visit to Tijuana years ago.
|I couldn't get a table at Hellas Restaurant, so I did a walk-thru - camera in hand.|
Finally, I chose a restaurant, based on immediacy. Besides, I was already in the neighborhood for restaurants. Just a few doors down was the Parthenon. The street hawker was going to give me a menu and a discount coupon, but when it looked like I was going in any way, the took back the menu and extended his arm in a welcoming fashion – no coupon. Ha-ha. Once seated, I glanced at the menu and ordered a Gyro (correctly pronounced year’-oh) with Feta cheese. It came with french fries, which I though odd, but hey, I’m an American – what’s the difference? I wanted some Greek wine, too – a red, to go with lunch. The young, non-Greek waiter brought it right out. So, I had a gyro, fries and a small glass of wine for … $21.00 with tip. (Yeah, such a deal, right?) Hey, I’m on vacation .. or retired .. or something. Its only money. The service and the food were both good.
|This is NOT a real shark.|
After lunch, there was still time for sight-seeing, window shopping (I’m trying to live small, remember.) and more photos. I shot only about 90 photos that day – at least, that’s what I ended up with after my first run-through editing process. Each one it’s one souvenir, of sorts. I’m glad they’re digital images or I could no longer afford the hobby of photography.
|Santorini wall-art for sale.|
On the way back toward my parked car and the subsequent short ride home, I snagged another shot of a gift shop selling Santorini wall-art. I walked back toward the docks to watch the people loading onto the boats which take visitors a short distance out to sea to demonstrate sponge diving with a fully equipped diver, complete with heavy Greek accent to accompany you. I didn’t go, but now wish I had.
There is always somethings to regret not doing when traveling on a budget. I didn’t get to have dinner at the restaurant Saturday night featuring the belly dancer, either. I’m sure that was a real treat. Earlier in my photography career, I was involved with a company that traveled the USA photographing Dance Teams and I really grew an appreciation for the art form.
|Yep, that bicycle is covered in sponge.|
Leaving the docks to head back to the car for the ride back to camp, I got this parting shot in a gift shop window display. I hope you appreciate the irony. For some reason, I felt a personal loss at having to leave. Perhaps something left undone.
|More "sign wisdom".|
Have a good day. Thanks for your visit.