Tarpon Springs


It’s hard to believe that we’ve been home for two weeks and I’ve had no time for any writing. Welcome back to reality! Returning home in late spring, after over a month of travel, meant lots of work to catch up on, especially yard work.  And there were the elderly mother’s who were long overdue for some attention. The passing of my brother-in-law, who we’d just seen in Florida, just three days after we got home, added to the mental mayhem.

Now things have settled down somewhat, so I’m finally going to tell you about our visit to Tarpon Springs.

We arrived at Tarpon Springs Florida mid-afternoon — an easy day-trip from Punta Gorda. The route we chose took us straight to the historic area, which had the atmosphere of  a quaint little Greek “fishing” village with numerous old wooden boats squeaking against the docks where they were tied. We were at first concerned about finding a place to park the RV, since the streets were quite narrow, but we saw a large parking lot with a fee of $5.00 for the day.  A nod to the man at the gate and his ten finger reply told us that we could park there for $10.00.

The boats  aren’t really fishing boats, but sponging boats. A sign over one of the many gift shops claims Tarpon Springs, Florida to be the Sponge Capital of the World.There were certainly a multitude of sponges of various sizes, shapes and quality available in nearly every little shop along the street.

Sponging Boats, Tarpon Springs, Florida

Sponging Boats, Tarpon Springs, Florida

 

 

 

 

 

Sponge Capital of the World

This sign says it all

One shop in particular caught our interest because of the variety, and it sold very little else besides sponges.  We had a chat with the owner. He assured us that all of his sponges were authentic, harvested from the port of Tarpon Springs. He owns some of the boats sitting at dock.  They are in dock because he can’t find enough people who are willing to take on the hard work of sponge harvesting. The money is good, but the work strenuous and if the weather is good, the boats could be out for a week or two straight, until the boat is filled with sponges. His family has been in the business for three generations.

Sponge Shop

Sponge Shop, showing some of the larger, quality sponges available

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sponge Shop

More varieties of sponges

 

 

 

 

 

We wondered how the sponges could continually be harvested without eventually being completely depleted. He explained to us that the sponges are never pulled out from where they are rooted, but cut off a few inches above the base. From that bit left, the sponges rejuvenate themselves, thus never growing too big and too old and eventually dying. That is why there is a never ending supply. The best quality sponges are found 150 feet down. Harvesters wear wet suits and masks, but unlike in the old days, they don’t wear oxygen tanks. Instead, they wear weights to take them to the bottom and they are attached by hoses to  large oxygen tanks aboard the boats. They walk the bottom looking for sponges, which are usually spread out. It is a rare treasure to find a full ridge of them.

In his Tarpon Springs Sketchbook, Michel G. Emmanuel, a native of Tarpon Springs and whose Greek born father had been a sponge broker, tells us:

“The sponge in its natural form is one of the lowest and most ancient forms of marine life.  It is composed of many animal cells and attaches itself to a rock or coral reef.  In it natural state the sponge is hard and covered with a tenacious black skin.  The tiny sponge cells are filled with a gelatinous matter called ‘gurry’. When the sponge is taken from the sea bottom, its animal matter is allowed to decompose under controlled conditions and then the gurry is removed by scraping and squeezing.  This leaves the skeleton of the sponge which is the gray, porous product of commerce.  Sponges are frequently bleached to give them a lighter, more attractive colour. The common types of Florida sponges are sheepswool, yellow, grass and wire.”

By the time we got to Tarpon Springs, we were feeling that our budget for souvenirs was about depleted,  so we didn’t purchase any sponges, which sold from about $3.00 for very small, harder ones, to $50.00 for large, good quality ones. Nor did we follow the aromas wafting from the many Greek restaurants to sample the cuisine. It was time to get back on the road, but we learned some amazing things about sponges during the two hour diversion.

When I later did a Google search for Tarpon Springs, I was surprised to learn from the website that it isn’t a village at all, but a city of over 23,000 inhabitants.  Apparently we could have spent many more hours there, being fed and entertained, had we had the time. Perhaps next time we’ll plan to stay longer. 🙂
We did find a Walmart where we replenished our supply of groceries, but RVers take note: it is not one with a large enough parking lot to accommodate over-night parking.

The Last Sunset


Tonight we are at the Westfield KOA, NY. We took our time today and by the time we got this far it was just too far to go to get home at a decent hour, so we stopped in at this lovely site on Lake Erie. This is the end of this adventure — we should be home tomorrow afternoon.

We left Pigeon Forge after lunch on Monday and got as far as Renfro Valley, Kentucky before stopping at the KOA.The drive was hot and uneventful, as was the next day, when we drove through to Columbus, Ohio. The traffic was heavy when we arrived in the outskirts of the city and there were some very rude drivers on the road.  When we were driving in the right-hand lane, passing an exit ramp, a woman in a van to our left suddenly decided she was going to go off at that exit. She pulled in front of us and stopped dead in our lane because the exit ramp was already full.  She waved her hands at the driver of the car beside us, motioning him to back off and let her in! What nerve! It’s a good thing that Jim had already slowed down to a crawl because of the already slow moving traffic (turned out that there was an accident up ahead, causing the jam). So many people don’t realize the weight of a 32′ motor home, pulling a bike on a trailer.  We can’t stop on a dime!

We enjoyed a great meal at The Cracker Barrel and didn’t feel like going any further, so with the permission of the manager we set up for the night in the parking lot. There was some shade and we were the only ones in the large lot after the restaurant closed at 9:00 pm. At 9:30, just when we were thinking of going to bed, a semi pulled up right beside us, left his engine running and his lights all on, including his signal lights, and crawled into his sleeper cab and went to sleep! If you’ve ever been parked next to one of these for any length of time, you know all about the many loud noises they make.  If he had to nap there, could he have not at least had the consideration to go to the other side of the lot? We debated about pulling out and trying the Walmart lot instead, but I was too tired.  We were thankful to hear him leave an hour later.

Tonight, after a dinner of left overs, we  took a walk to the park across from the campsite to capture some pictures of the sunset over Lake Erie.

Sunset over Lake Erie

Last Sunset of This Adventure

Sunset over Lake Erie

Sunset over Lake Erie, Westfield, NY

Sunday in Dollywood, Yes, we went to Dollywood


I was looking forward to going to Dollywood, just to see what it was all about, but I really doubted that we would need the two-day pass offered for half price at the KOA office. We bought it anyway. Once again I had a preconceived idea of what it would be like, especially after seeing the main drag of Pigeon Forge — glitzy and loud.  Again, I was surprised, this time, pleasantly.

Almost at the door of our campground, we boarded the Trolley car that travels around the town, picking up people and delivering them to the various tourist venues. The cost, just 50 cents per person each way! It wasn’t worth putting on gear and taking the bike up the hill for that price.  Besides, it was threatening rain, and we did get some during the morning.  That meant not such a crowd of people and no long waits to get into things.

Trolley

Trolley

There are no flashing lights, nor garish billboards at Dollywood, and it’s located well off the local streets so doesn’t create a distraction. Dolly has done it up very tastefully, making use of  naturally treed land,and various artifacts from the days of her childhood. The  price of tickets is much less than what we’d have to pay at Canada’s Wonderland, or Disney World, and it’s not all about rides and carnival games.

Welcome

Welcome, to Dollywood

Our first stop, after grabbing a coffee at the Sandwich and Pastry Shop, was The Front Porch, a covered outdoor theatre area extended from the front porch stage of the replica house where Dolly was born. For a half hour we enjoyed listening to the sweet harmonies of Dolly’s Uncle Billy Owens, her cousins and niece, accompanied by Dolly’s Family Reunion Band.

Dolly's Family Reunion Band

Dolly’s Family Reunion Band

From there we walked to the train station to catch a ride around the park on train, pulled by an original coal-fired steam engine. Jim especially enjoyed listening to the whistle tunes played by the engineer.

Steam Train

Steam Train

When we disembarked, we took a ride on the authentic looking, although synthetic, old style carousel at the Country Fair. It didn’t matter that we were the only adults that had no children to accompany 🙂

There were only two things at the park that cost extra. The first one, of course, was food, and that was expensive — $21.00 for two pulled pork sandwiches with a small bag of potato chips and one ice tea for lunch. The rain had finally stopped by the time we finished eating and we strolled down to the Wilderness Pass, where the roller coasters, zip lines and a few other challenges were located. The Wild Eagle looked like a “must do!” Up we went, and down we went, hanging on for dear life and enjoying every minute of it. I can’t believe I’m saying that, since even as a child and up to the time of my mid-life turnaround, I would never go near anything more “scary” than a Ferris wheel! At Timber Canyon we survived another roller coaster ride called Thunderhead. It was at first easy until we were suddenly plunging head first into a coal mine shaft! Yikes! It was as rough ride and not nearly as much fun as the Wild Eagle. We asked about doing the Zip Line, but since there was an extra charge of $30.00 per person, we passed.

Wild Eagle

Wild Eagle

Wild Eagle

Wild Eagle,Flying off the edge

There are lots of little shops and restaurants in the park, but we went into only one shop — Dolly’s Closet, a ladies clothing and accessories shop, where I expected the quality items to be much more pricey than they were.

We toured the Chasing Rainbows Museum, and hoped to get a peak inside Dolly’s touring bus, but it wasn’t open that day. There were a few things that we could have gone back to see and it would have been nice to listen to some more music, but by five o’clock we’d had enough and caught the trolley back to camp, sticking to our original plan to leave on Monday. It was another great day.

Village Square

Village Square, Dollywood

One of Many Ponds

One of Many Ponds

Tonight, Monday, we are at another KOA at Renfro Valley, Kentucky, on our way home.

Pigeon Forge and Deals Gap


Although I promised to tell you about Tarpon Springs in my next post, I’ve decided to leave that and Atlanta for future posts, and bring you up to where we are this weekend, since it may well be our last interesting stop. The days are counting down to the date that we need to be home, so there won’t be much more time for being tourists.

Yesterday, Friday June 8th, we arrived at the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee KOA campgrounds late in the afternoon. The day had been much cooler than the few days before and the drive was pleasant. But when we arrived here we were hit with more heat and humidity and high air pollution.  There is lots of traffic in Pigeon Forge these days. After a quick dinner in the RV we hopped on the bike and did a tour of the downtown area. This is my first time here. It’s not at all what I expected! There is an Historic Area where there is a beautiful old flour mill and an old fashioned General Store.  We enjoyed an ice cream cone at the Creamery, and took some beautiful evening photos in this area before returning to the main street.

Flour Mill, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Flour Mill, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Flour Mill, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Mill Power Dam

Mill Power Dam

Mill Power Dam

Main Street, Pigeon Forge is a  completely different world. If Las Vegas is Tinsel Town, then this has to be Tacky Town. There are no gambling casinos, but there are just as many lights and signs flashing everywhere. It could be a fun  place to spend the weekend with kids, or be a kid yourself if you have money to spare.  There is no shortage of go-cart tracks or entertainment halls, or flashy hotels. There is an area of carnival rides, and a House of Magic. Even King Kong can be seen watching over the strip.

Go-Kart Racing, Pigeon Forge

Go-Kart Racing, Pigeon Forge

Go-Kart Racing, Pigeon Forge

Go-Kart Racing, Pigeon Forge

King Kong Takes Pigeon Forge

King Kong Takes Pigeon Forge

It was an interesting evening, but today, Saturday was much more our kind of day. We were up early and on the bike by nine o’clock, on our way to Deals Gap. The bikers reading this will know what this is all about.  For those who aren’t familiar, Deals Gap is a stretch of road that claims 318 turns in its eleven mile length, a biker’s dream run. People come from all over the USA and Canada, just to do the “Tail of the Dragon”, as it is also dubbed.

The air was clear and fresh, as we journeyed along Hwy 441 towards Cherokee. Once out of town the road began to gently twist and turn beneath the tree canopy through Smokey Mountain National Park. It was exhilarating. You can’t really experience such a ride from a car or certainly a motor home, the way you can on a motor cycle, the smell of fresh air, the colours, the wind on your face. We made several stops to take pictures of the smokey mountain range and it was nearly lunch time before we reached Cherokee. There we took time to stroll through the Cherokee Voices Festival, chatting with various native crafts people who were demonstrating their crafts, before filling up both the bike and our stomachs in preparation for the rest of the journey. It was still another hour ride before we reached the beginning of our destination — Deals Gap.

Smokey Mountain National Park, Tennessee

Smokey Mountain National Park, Tennessee

Smokey Mountain National Park, Tennessee

Smokey Mountain National Park, Tennessee

On our Way to Deals Gap

On our Way to Deals Gap

Native Potter, Cherokee Voices Festival

Native Potter, Cherokee Voices Festival

Basket Weaver, Cherokee Voices Festival

Basket Weaver, Cherokee Voices Festival

Elder Potter, Cherokee Voices Festival

Elder Potter, Cherokee Voices Festival

When we finally reached Deals Gap and the beginning of the Tail of the Dragon run, we found ourselves among many, many bikers. Thankfully today, there were no fools riding, at least not that we know about. Sadly, there have been many lives lost on this route because of careless riders who want to see how fast they can do it.  The curves and road grades require respect. We took our time and enjoyed the ride.

Deals Gap

Deals Gap

Tree of Shame

Tree of Shame. Foolishness is not encouraged. These bikes didn’t make it.

Caution at Deals Gap

Caution at Deals Gap

Enjoying the ride on The Tail of the Dragon

Enjoying the ride on The Tail of the Dragon

We were exhausted by the time we arrived back at camp at five in the afternoon, but it was an amazing trip.

Last Few Days in Florida


There wasn’t too much to blog about during the last week in Punta Gorda, as our time was spent mainly relaxing in the pool, or catching up on email business.  We did take my sister on a day trip to Marco Island for a tour down memory lane. She’d spent a week there forty years ago and for some reason wanted to see if she could find the house that she’d stayed in.  If you enjoy looking at grandeur and seeing how the wealthy live, then Marco Island is the place to go. Although I got a few photos, it isn’t a place that I would go to again, and the five hour trip proved to be not what my sister expected.  We did find the street where she’d stayed, but the house had either been renovated beyond recognition, or had been torn down and replaced. The water front avenues now are lined with huge mansions or high-rise condominiums, most gated and preventing public access to the beach.

This past Monday, we all went on another road trip, this time to Miami where my sister had a day of hospital tests booked for the next day.  We arrived early in the afternoon so had enough time for some shopping and an excursion to Miami Beach. That’s a funky place with it’s renovated retro style restaurants and outdoor cafes and lots of colourful people!

Miami Beach

Interesting drinks! None of us was up to trying one.

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Main Drag, Miami Beach

Retro Renovations

Retro Renovations, Miami

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We stayed at the Springhill Suites Marriott Hotel in Miami and we were all impressed with the cleanliness, the very accommodating staff, and the large modern rooms at a very reasonable price. I would highly recommend it.

Jim and I had Tuesday to ourselves, but it was too hot to be outdoors for any length of time so we took refuge in the massive Dolphin Mall for a few hours. After a light lunch and a yummy dish of gelato, we took a drive through “Little Havana”, a stroll down memory lane for Jim as it reminded him of his trip to Cuba many years ago.

Little Havana Architecture

Little Havana Architecture

Little Havana

Little Havana

Little Havana

Little Havana

We were back in Punta Gorda in time to pick up the RV (we found out that with a permit it could be parked in the driveway for up to a week) and started to get ready for our departure on Wednesday. We’d planned to make it into Georgia by Wednesday night, but by the time we got away and then decided to make a side trip into Tarpon Springs, we didn’t get quite to Ocala!

Tarpon Springs was worth the time. I’ll tell you more in the next post.