It’s hard to believe that we left The Villages 12 days ago and relocated to Holiday, Florida, on the gulf coast! We have been pretty busy and the past several days have flown by. Holiday is a town that most people have never heard of. It lies midway between New Port Richey and Clearwater. I don’t think there’s really anything of note to bring people to Holiday, but Tarpon Springs is five short miles away. Tarpon is famous for having the largest Greek community in the US, for it’s sponges and sponge divers.
One of our first days in Holiday, we met Bob’s Uncle Larry and Aunt Anita, cousin Joyce and her beau Jim in Tarpon Springs! Uncle Larry and Aunt Anita were visiting Joyce for a few weeks and our timing was perfect. We strolled the streets, enjoyed lunch at a waterside restaurant, and strolled some more. The next day Jim was nice enough to invite us to visit at his beautiful home about an hour from Holiday. We had a great time both days with lots of stories and laughs, as you can imagine. It was great to see them all!
Here’s the history of Tarpon Springs: In 1886, Philadelphia capitalist John King Cheyney came to Tarpon Springs to manage his family business interests. Cheyney was also in search of new business ventures and while touring the state observed the sponge industry of southern Florida. Cheyney learned that Florida’s Gulf waters were abundant with sponges and started a sponge business in Tarpon Springs fishing for sponges off the side of boats using long hooks.
He then met a Greek sponge buyer by the name of John Cocoris who convinced Cheyney that his method of sponge fishing was inefficient. Greek divers used mechanized equipment and special sponge fishing boats. He convinced Cheyney to try the Greek method. Word spread to Cocoris’s homeland, the Greek Dodecanese Islands, and in 1905 a flow of experienced Greek sponge divers began to migrate to Tarpon Springs where they worked the sponge, shifting the center of the sponge industry to Tarpon Springs.
By the mid 1930’s there were 200 sponge boats based in Tarpon Springs. The sponge business was yielding over $3 million dollars a year until a sponge blight in the 1940’s decimated the industry. Today, the sponges have rebounded and Tarpon Springs continues to be the world’s largest natural sponge producing industry supplying 70% of the natural sponges.
Today, it’s fun to walk down Dodecanese Street in Tarpon Springs where many of the tourist businesses are located. Street signs are in both Greek and English, Greek restaurants, bakeries and stores surround the sponge docks. A short walk away is the Spring Bayou, a beautiful inlet surrounded by gorgeous historic homes and where the annual Epiphany celebration is held.
Epiphany is a major event in Greek culture, and the Tarpon Springs Epiphany celebration is the largest in the US. We attended along with tens of thousands of others. The celebration began with a service at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church after which a congregation processed through the streets to Spring Bayou. There, the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America blessed the water and threw a cross to the bottom of the bayou and dozens of orthodox boys from the community jumped into the water to try to retrieve the cross. The boy who successfully retrieved it is said to be blessed for the year and also holds a spiritual responsibility in the community Unfortunately, the huge crowd prevented us from seeing the boys dive in, but we heard the invocation and saw the dignitaries as they passed following the event. Besides the national archbishop, the Prime Minister of Greece also attended! That speaks to the scope and importance of this event to the community.
As usual, everywhere we travel we look for dog parks so that we can tire Tessa out and, since there is no dog run in our current RV park, we have already found 3 parks within an easy drive. Our favorite is Enterprise Dog Park in Clearwater. This is a five-acre piece of land that is entirely fenced with trees and shrubs creating several paths for walking. Here, dogs can run to their hearts’ content, darting in and out of the wooded areas, and you don’t have to worry about losing them. Weekdays tend to be quiet with just a few dogs, but weekends you’ll find dozens of dogs of all sizes. There are plenty of watering stations, benches, lots of shade, and a dog washing station just outside the gate. It’s about a 30 minute drive for us to get there but well worth it!
We’ve attended a Salsa dance class in nearby Palm Harbor, threw some darts with other residents of the RV park, and attended a UConn men’s basketball game against University of South Florida (UConn lost). Last night, we met Joyce and Jim for a night of island music at a place called Tiki Cove in Land O Lakes, FL, a cool place with a huge sand beach, volleyball courts, palm trees and a big tiki bar. Today will be 81 degrees with mixed sun and clouds and a light breeze … sounds like a good day to sit by the pool! Life is good!
Finally, Bob has suggested that I incorporate a “Beer of the Week” entry into the blog. While it’s true that we do enjoy trying new beers as we travel, I hardly think our discoveries warrant a “Beer of the Week” category. “Beer of the Month,” perhaps.
So, here is the first “Beer of the Month” installment. I guess we’ll call this beer “Mr. January.”