Well this week was much better…although trying to establish new residency is a major pain in the tush…and on Saturday we decided to visit Tarpon Springs. Several people have said it’s a “can’t miss” place and since I like sponges as much as the next person and the weather was too overcast for a nature park we decided to check it out. We took our time driving there along the coast and it was really pretty with the wind causing huge white wave caps along the beaches. It did take more time that way though, and I decided to stop at a Greek restaurant right outside of the dock area instead of waiting until we got into the sponge dock area. Two reasons, I thought it would be easier to get in and out of, and cheaper. The Original Mama Maria’s was easy to get into and the prices were very reasonable. $9.95 for lunch which included one of 6 entrees, a salad or soup or fries and a drink. Lee absolutely loved his grouper sandwich and I had a gyro which was very good but as usual messy. I swear I can never eat one of those without dropping some of it on me, but it’s worth it!! Plus I loved the story. In 1959, John came to America as a sponge diver from Greece. In 1978 he had to stop sponge diving because of “the bends” which is a crippling affliction which happens to many divers. His wife Maria stepped in to support the family and opened the restaurant which is still in operation today. Go girl power!!!
Fortified with lunch (which I counted as an experience not just fuel so $26 including tip was a reasonable price) we drove down to the wharf. We found a place to park for $3 and then walked into the Sponge Factory. Let me say there are many great Greek owned sponge places along the wharf but this one was in my estimation by far the best. The gentleman who ran it was so sweet. He gave me the 10% off coupon that was in the local map (even though I had no idea there was a coupon) and even though I didn’t quite spend $50 he gave me a free gift. I was super excited about the sponges. My friend Deb has a plant in her bathroom on the shower seat and I have been wanting something in that spot ever since I saw hers. A large sponge seemed perfect since we wouldn’t have to actually remove it when we took a shower, but I couldn’t figure out which sponge to buy. I seriously spent at least 20 minutes looking at every large sponge in the place and finally my very creative husband stepped in and helped me put together this arrangement. He even added a dried seahorse which was so perfect. It was a little pricey for all of it, but it really makes me happy so I am counting it towards our entertainment budget for January which we haven’t spent hardly any of!!
After depositing my sponge safely in the car we walked down into the main part of the wharf. Unfortunately the meal and sponge factory were my favorite parts of the day as I found the rest of experience pretty touristy. Neither of us liked the hawkers who seemed to be everywhere and tried to get us on this boat or that one. Occasionally we saw something neat but mainly it was a ton of touristy shops. I did enjoy seeing the sponge boats though and recommend if you go traveling down the side streets as those shops were still owned by Greeks and seemed more authentic. I do recommend a visit to the Spice and Tea Exchange. They have numerous homemade spice blends and tea blends and I saw combinations I have never seen before. Their prices were too steep for us but if you’re a spice junkie this is definitely the place for you.
Sunday was absolutely gorgeous. Not a cloud in the sky and cool enough to make a walk pleasant. We decided to visit Boyd’s Nature Preserve because it opens at 9am on Sundays (unlike the other parks which open at 12pm on Sundays. The preserve was absolutely terrific. It costs $3 to get in (well worth the fee just for the educational area and raptor cages, and they allow bikes on their trails and have a $2 tram ride at designated times. We chose to walk (although if we went back I would take a bike) and took the 1-1/4 mile main loop around the preserve. The signage was great, paths were clear, and there were multiple ecosystems including a swamp, and a small island you could walk across to. Plus we saw tons of birds very close up as they seemed to have no fear. Early on we were on a wooden bridge and I was taking a picture of an Ahinga when it flew straight at me. I backed up into Lee and it perched less than 3 feet away on the corner of the railing and posed for me…amazing!! By the way we see birds almost everywhere we go. I am constantly adding them at the top of the bird sighting page, but today I will also put them in the blog because the sighting was so very cool. Anything is a cage doesn’t count for bird sighting purposes but we were so close to the injured raptors below I had to add a couple of pics.
The walking paths were absolutely beautiful, in particular we enjoyed the island and the boardwalk that was over marsh area. All of these paths are wheel chair accessible btw and not that far from the main building.
Throughout the park they had a some art works that were really well done.
The most exciting moment though was when we saw a large bird and tracked it to a tree. We used the stand (shown below) to get some great shots of what turned out to be an osprey. It was very exciting and close enough we could see it well with the naked eye. They are very fluffy. Of all the birds shots we’ve gotten so far this was definitely the most challenging.
It truly was a wonderful morning and I soaked up some sun in the afternoon since I am heading up to New Jersey for a training class next week. Excited about the class in change management. Not so much about having to get my winter coat out 😦
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